Five weeks frozen and 5:15 am on a Saturday. Issue #101.
Plus my time in a floatation tank.
Welcome back to Gornisht, where I (and eventually others) review the state of design, the nature of mind, and their occasional and occasioned intersections. This newsletter is small a labor of love. If you like it, please consider sharing it with others. Here’s a pretty blue button.
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Five weeks frozen (or, hey, what happened?)
After releasing seven issues of Gornisht — nearly one a week for a few months — and then zero issues for the past five weeks — I thought I might explain what happened.
Two words: I froze. Not literally, though temperatures in Winnipeg are in the -20s right now. No, I found myself unable to create a new newsletter. I was still writing, still working out ideas, still trying to make sense of this little project in my off hours. But I became fully and maddeningly overwhelmed at the prospect of publishing something that is at the same time so important to me while simultaneously feeling that I was failing you, my dear readers, and me and my own high expectations. The disconnect between what I wanted to do and what I was actually printing became too much and, in turn, I let my anxiety do the speaking.
And you know what anxiety says over the course of five weeks? Bupkes. Which is ironic, right, because this little newsletter is purportedly about nothing, or nothingness, anyway.
I tripped myself up on the way to the Substack machine, with my shoelaces somehow tying my tongue in tight and tricky knots.
This is not new to me. I have a long history of chronic anxiety taking over my personal projects, shearing my self-confidence, and shouldering none of the weight. How does anyone ever release their work to the world?
Those of you who meditate know that the only way out is through. On the cushion, when you catch yourself captured by thought or emotion, the idea is to simply unhook, and without self-judgement, move back to a state of observing. You dust yourself off, and despite the doubts, the darkness, and the drama, you resolve to simply start again, in light, love and maybe laughter.
And so, here I am, publishing #101, an apt number for an issue that is instructional, at least for me.
From Seth Godin’s 2010 blog post, Fear of Shipping:
Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.
Every time you raise your hand, send an email, launch a product or make a suggestion, you're exposing yourself to criticism. Not just criticism, but the negative consequences that come with wasting money, annoying someone in power or making a fool of yourself.
It's no wonder we're afraid to ship.
It's not clear you have much choice, though. A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact it's certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure.
Since you're going to ship anyway, then, the question is: why bother indulging your fear?
That oh-so-fresh 5:15-am-on-a-Saturday feel
Four weeks ago, I woke up at 5:15 am with a jolt. It was instigated by thoughts neither profound nor unique. Instead, I was reminded of an estimate that I needed to get out the door that weekend and a phone call that I should have had the previous day. It was a Saturday morning, a day when many people are working hard to not work hard, a day that was established for rest and repose.
(Saturday, also known as Saturn’s day, was established by the Romans in the second century, and its derivation is partly from the Hebrew, Shabbat (שבת), which is a universal day of rest that arrives at the end of — for most of us, every — week. Shabbat actually begins Friday evening, but still.)
I lay awake in bed until 5:45 am, thinking of estimates, emails and exercise. And then one of our three cats, Peter, decided to make it clear that he, too, needed to get moving. A dozen capital meows later, I bolted out of bed and got going.
So much for a calming start to Saturday.
I barely get enough rest most of the week, between work and other mean pursuits. My schedule is not unlike most others I know. I awake about 6 am most workdays and start in on planning and projects around 7:30 am, punctuated by a bout of meditation. I work until around 6 pm. I may put a few hours in as needed in the evening, as well. I typically also work on Sundays. This newsletter, I try to write a bit during the week and then on Saturdays.
That’s a pretty full week of work — work that is mostly of my choosing as to when and how it is accomplished because I run my own studio and because I have a phenomenal team that helps me help our clients. To be honest, it’s also exhausting.
And yet, if I’m one of the most fortunate of workers, what are others doing? Well, a lot are just walking away. Rogé Karma, a protege of Ezra Klein, interviewed journalist Sarah Jaffe on The Ezra Klein Show (podcast) about her new book, Work Won’t Love You Back. In a phenomenal and wide-ranging conversation about corporate virtue signalling, they also discuss the great resignation among Millennials, the hard work of nonprofits being funded by the wealthy, and the "putting smiles” on faces that poorly paid Amazon workers do.
In discussing the history of unions and unionization since the 1950s, Jaffe notes that part of the challenge around work is that our social contract has frayed — that we no longer connect with one another about our work, despite the fact that technology connects us better than ever. After a long day or week of work, who wants to talk about work?
It’s not actually high tech at this point, or it’s high tech that’s still like sort of attached to a physical human’s body. So when an Uber driver logs into the app with facial recognition, that’s actually being sent to a human sometimes who has to look at that and decide, and these are things we think are high tech, but it’s actually people [emphasis mine]. And you are only able to get all of this happening by sort of pretending that that’s not people, by pretending that you don’t know that somewhere in that Amazon warehouse, somebody is sprinting across, or whatever to get your book and your rubber chicken, or whatever it was, off-the-shelf, and put it in a box, and send it to you, so you can get it in 24 hours. That has to be made invisible, that process, and making it visible again is hard, but it is what’s happening right now.
Most people do not know what kinds of work others do.
Heck, most of the time, I don’t even know what kind of work I do most days. I know that I typed things out on a computer screen.
What do we do about all of this? Here is Jaffe again:
This is where I get really optimistic. I actually think people want to work together and to live decently and to take care of each other, and that is something that is underutilized in our world. And it’s a lot of people because, again, being able to get a job that you love is limited to a tiny amount [sic] of people, and a world that actually cared about people being able to develop their purpose wouldn’t have a limited amount of lovable jobs out there. It would be one that gives everybody time and space to develop what gives them meaning, even if that’s gluing macaroni to a paper plate, if it is literally like making bad art like, great, I want you to have time to do that.
There is a lot of talk about creating meaning in work, and often it comes under the rubric of “purpose”. I will often describe Manoverboard, my business, as a “purpose-driven” enterprise, which means that we use the power of design to create and model social change. Purpose, rather than profit, is my driving force in the work that I do and it always has been.
But perhaps we need to get to a place where work is not about purpose. Can a 30-hour, 40-hour or 60-hour week really be that purposeful?
We need to get clear that work is sometimes just that — work. Purpose is a powerful proposition. But sometimes work, even for me running a "purpose-driven” organization, is just a job. Meaning is injected in our daily work, not as an afterthought, and not by corporate inoculation, but by the measure of our moment.
In other words, meaning in work derives not only from purpose — it comes from personal practice, from the deep and deliberate activity of being, in both time and place.
We need eggs
Earlier this week, I took the time to connect (or disconnect) for about an hour and a half in a floatation tank. This is the second time this year that I floated at Float Calm, which is mostly what I did.
If you are a meditator and you have not had the opportunity to try it, I would highly encourage you to consider it in 2022. If you’re interested in learning more, let me know (hit Reply) and I will detail my experiences of and impressions about floating in a future issue.
(And, yes, you float buck naked.) Here’s what a brand new tank looks like:
Found: A new housing project in Shanghai that planted 1,000 trees in large, standalone kitchen sinks as a means of “greening” the concrete jungle that it created. Below is Will Jennings’ thread about how trees actually grow versus what these architectural designers allotted for these poor plants.
Trees, like humans, evolved to connect and to learn from one another via highly evolved systems that sit far below our daily and common experiences.
The comments on Twitter are unsparing.
Reading: I’m really enjoying a new book I received from my wife for Chanukkah called Numbers Don’t Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World by Vaclav Smil. A prof at the University of Manitoba, Smil offers up short numbers-based takes on modern living from COVID to cars to chicken. It’s the first time I read Smil, but I have read about him previously in Bill Gates’ often entertaining Gates Notes.
How many people do you think it took to complete Khufu’s Great Pyramid about 4,600 years ago? These are large structures — 146.6 meters (470 feet) in height. Maybe 50,000? 200,000?
Here’s what Smil says:
And in order to cut 2.6 million cubic meters of stone in 20 years, the project would have required about 1,500 quarrymen working 300 days per year and producing 0.25 cubic meters of stone per capita by using copper chisels and dolerite mallets. The grand total of the construction labor would then be some 3,500 workers. Even if we were to double that in order account for designers, organizers, and overseers, and for the labor needed for transport, repair of tools, the building and maintaining of on-site housing, and cooking and clothes-washing, the total would be still fewer than 7,000 workers.
That’s the size of the workforce for City of Vancouver. Or the University of Toronto. Think of what we might accomplish if 7,000 of us got together to create something like a new pyramid of climate action.
Thank you, dear friend, for reading to the end.
Wishing you a peaceful year of grace and gratitude — one in which kindness, good fortune, and generosity are extended to you and to everyone in your circle.
See you in 2022.