Stability or: Arguments For and Against Slowing Down

There’s a dread in us that builds as we age. We feel it’s physical grip in our bones and tendons, our heart and lungs. We’re slowing down; dying. Every breathe, every heartbeat and second we get closer to inevitable and final shutdown. Mentally, that’s pretty dismal, isn’t it. That thought. We don’t like to think about it if we can otherwise distract ourselves.

It’s weird, as a relatively fit, young person to have these thoughts. You never really think about them when everything is going perfectly fine, when your body hums along like a perfectly oiled machine. Then, one day, you wake up and notice a squeak and suddenly you feel different in the mirror. The man on the back of the bathroom door is squeaky. Uh oh.

So we assess everything: am I getting enough sleep? Yup. Enough fruits and veggies? Better stock up on bananas, but sure; check. Exercise? Usually. Unusual or otherwise high stress? No, I’m pretty good. Work-life balance? Well, that’s a hard one, since they’re one in the same. Interesting.

My work stops when I leave the door at 4:30 but my sitting for hours in front of Photoshop or a page of CSS doesn’t. I just work on different projects. Personal projects. Fun projects. My work life and my life’s work are in the same medium.

And I wonder, is that ideal? I’ve found, throughout the years of doing design work during the day and night and doing menial work during the day and night and each mix of the in between that I do feel best when I have a mix, but only in the right speeds.

I compare this to walking.

We have a left and a right leg and since no races are won by hopping, we tend to use them both. With each step we throw our body weight over one and wait for the inertia to bring us over. We start falling. The other leg comes forward to catch us and as the original foot kicks off again we repeat this process. Walking, really, is just falling side to side with the illusion of control and the end goal being somewhere in front of us. Have you ever watched a toddler toddle? It’s fascinating.

Now, these legs, perhaps, are the mediums of action. I say action because “work” and “play” in this context are meaningless. But I wonder if, like my work and play lives are in the same medium, I’m actually walking with two left legs. Sure, it’s somewhat sustainable, but is it useful? More importantly, is it healthy?

One one hand, I – and I’ll bet you too – feel better when doing something productive. That’s why I do it. I like it. Some people like lifting weights; I don’t understand this. Some people like making money or wooing members of the opposite sex. I like making things. Is this argument enough for continuing to do it? Is there truly any more to life than finding the thing you love and then doing it until you can’t anymore?

Or! a third option, which shatters the leg metaphor (or perhaps merely replaces one of the legs) and it’s simple: doing nothing.

As a lover of history, we see many rises and falls of doing nothing as virtue (or, at least, goal). Even within the same American Dream we see the New York “You can do anything with a little hard work” ideal and the jet age “You’ll never have to work again, thanks to technology!” sloganeering come full circle. Here we are roughly 100 years later and we see this boom of “Hustle, it’s the only way to make your mark on the world” startup mentality. Entirely valid, sure, but is making a mark truly the same as enjoying life? What’s the actual goal here?

Another transportation metaphor: the car with the one bad wheel. At slow speeds you feel the vibration, the bump and trouble but at some point you can drive fast enough that it becomes one constant frequency too fast for you to notice. Too fast for you to realize that there was ever a problem with that tire. Until one day, it breaks. Or! Until you slow down enough to feel that old shimmy again and you can do something about it before catastrophe.

So, arguments for an against never slowing down: sometimes you can ignore that wheel and just go on going on. Maybe you’ll even get ahead that way. Maybe running with two left legs isn’t so bad. Maybe that’s simply what makes you happy.

But maybe, maybe you want to slow down and make the opposite step the silent one, the introspective one. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself as the people around you are lauded for not stopping and wouldn’t stoop to what they see as “lazy”.

This is my first post back after a summer of just that, and I’m still not sure which one is best. But someday I’ll die and if I put myself in that bed I want to know that what I did to get there was worth it.

Welcome Back: a Few Changes

First off, hello everyone! I hope your summer was pleasant. Mine was.

I’ve been busy in the meantime and will eventually get around to logging and posting it all, which is exciting as always. I’ve gotten a good number of submissions from people so those will be going up over the next couple of weeks, and in advance: thank you. Even to those who probably won’t make the mainstream blog I’ve enjoyed seeing your work and as mentioned in my various replies, keep it up.

Now, the hard part. There’s some good / bad news, depending on why you read this column. The format will be shifting slightly. Of course, given my background and interests there will always be design and architecture being pushed, but I’m not limiting myself to that in any official sense anymore. I wasn’t really in practice before anyway, but this shift would just allow those sort of posts through into the official space instead of being guilty little slips into otherwise related content.

Acrylo won’t be an exclusively art and design blog as much as an amateur’s journal of review and critique; selfish insight into just about everything – most of which just happens to be art and design. In parallel to my life’s goal of trying everything I can reasonably and safely do, these writings will grow into more experience based commentary. Since my personality and attitude is inherently very practical and factual, I suspect the format can’t be escaped regardless of whatever I set out to do. Still, I hope to include other interesting things such as reviews and short form journalism as part of the whole repertoire.

In practice, the 1+ post per day average maintained over the past year probably won’t remain. There will be some schedule, as part of a personal discipline (which happens to be more convenient for you readers anyway) but that’s yet to be found out and scaled. This brings me to the next idea:

A new addition, hosted externally on the as of yet unmade LTKMN.com will house my fictional works, which is something that I’d like to branch more into. I’ve written a lot over the years and haven’t published them (they’re largely WIPs unfinished), so it’ll house those as a public archive as well as being a place of perhaps fortnightly or monthly updates.

So, there’s a good hustle I’m yearning to return to and while this will be my least planned out adventure, I suspect that’s exactly why it’ll be better than the first year.

Acrylo, Season 2. Next week.

Soulcraft

You could watch the above with a rational heart and announce “what a load of crap”; I couldn’t argue with you in any logical sense. Still, I’m willing to admit I have cried watching Speed Racer in the past. There’s a scene in the end – and unfortunately not on Youtube – where the car dies and he needs to restart it, ignoring the Grand Prix around him and just listening. Feeling. There is something to these vehicles that transcends the mere logic of metal bits moving about and propelling us forward.

I never understood, having a younger sister, why girls liked horses so much. They are, to my mind, ugly plodding things that emit noxious fumes and are generally impossible to control. They are uncomfortable to be on or around and grossly underpowered compared to the vehicles in the stable’s parking lot. But there is something – and I haven’t experienced it myself – that I assume happens: you become one with the horse and it stops being two free-willed animals attached to each other and starts being one machine, one connection of control. I look at my car, at my seat that fits my back and the steering wheels that bears my thumb prints and I can’t help but think that sometimes it is an animal of it’s own. Somehow, these parts come together and create something better than a mere metal sculpture.

My car (above, photo taken by my father before I was born) is not impressive to most, boasting a whole 70 horse’s power when new (and surely many have run away in the meantime) coming from the ’88 E16s 1.6L engine. It was my parent’s car when they were first married and will be an antique next year. It was a car that I rode in the back seat of as a small child and the one I learned to drive standard in, eventually just buying it outright. I love her.

I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past my love for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I just started Shop Class as Soulcraft yesterday – two books that compliment each other really well both in terms of message and application. I don’t yet own a motorcycle, although the lessons transfer to not only other vehicles but life itself. That’s why they’re in the philosophy section of the bookstore, I suppose. The medium of machinery is a very good metaphor for the machines that are us, the being of human. I appreciate that in both cases the underlying text is that we as people have sort of detached, like a rider and horse, into separate beasts. Mind and body and white collar and blue collar and emotional states and our very perceptions of things are all in these broad divides. I think the case they’re trying to make is that we need to mount the horse or get in the driver’s seat and become one with ourselves again. That we almost look at the things around us with that same cold calculation that we look at cars as just hunks of metal when really, they are a thing to experience and identify with.

The scene at the end of Speed Racer is the perfect metaphor for our internal, personal divide. The protagonist asks of the car, “What do you need?” and although getting no explicit response, proceeds to listen and to know. To be intuitive about the smallest things. I think we ask ourselves this every day and find ourselves frustrated when we aren’t in tune enough to find the answers. We don’t trust the gut enough to act on those little, unspoken ideas and feelings that pour forth.

Is it silly that I treat my search for a new car much like I’d treat the search for a new stallion or a good German Shepard? Maybe. Is it silly that my eyes get a little watery over the course of a kid’s movie? Yeah. Will I sob violently when I have to say goodbye to my darling Pulsar? Definitely.

But I do think, and I say this as an extremely logical, meticulously practical person, that we need to simply feel and listen more and act on those gut instincts. That we can look at ourselves and know things are wrong much like a mechanic on a motorcycle can feel when the gas mixture is too lean or when a spark plug has build up. The sounds and smells and vibrations are all there, but we have to not only learn to identify with them but to act accordingly and fearlessly.

Curiosity is Safe!

It still blows my mind that we can fling a 1 ton robot from a spinning, moving rock to another spinning, moving rock and get it not only within a km target zone but have it not explode in any way. Like. Wow. So cool.

It was awesome watching the live feeds and simulations in one monitor and watching Twitter absolutely explode with commentary in the other. It was cool that we got to see the first pictures come back at the same time as the awesome guys and gals at NASA itself. It was cool that the New York streets erupted chanting “Science science science” as they displayed the feed on the huge screens in Times Square. It was cool to watch as the control room hushed for terrifying minutes and then poured forth high fives, hugs and tears as the systems were checked and good to go.

It’s cool to think about the implications of water on Mars.

It’s refreshing to see that there quite a few women in that control room, and the Twitter crowd favorite mohawk guy. Science isn’t just for 60 year old white men anymore.

Earlier today we saw Jamaica’s Usain Bolt utterly crush Olympic 100m records (which he himself had set previously in Beijing). We’ve seen a lot of fantastic things today. These weeks.

Then it hit me. I made a quick graph:

Please excuse the terrible kerning – I couldn’t seem to change that. Suffice to say, in order: American Military Budget, London Olympics and sending a drivable laboratory to another freaking planet.

We could send 680 Curiositys in exchange for one year of America’s defense spending. Imagine the things that we could actually do.

I don’t want to be a killjoy. I don’t want to seem unappreciative of all the awesome that happened today; quite the opposite: I want more awesome to come from not spending that money on useless things like war.

Man must explore. Why torture and kill people for having a different imaginary friend than you? It’s especially ironic since the Christian God and the Muslim God is the same guy.

Anyway, before this devolves into a politico-religious rant I do want extend my hopes for a better designed future. We get to make whatever we want! How awesome is that possibility. How much could we do. As a product designer my contributions are such a micro thing. I can improve the life of police officers with my designs. That’s really cool, but what gets me excited is the next generation of politicians. The ones that grew up on the internet. The ones who look at all these things and like me ask “Okay, wait. Why do we do this, anyway?” – that’s such a neat prospect.

Obviously, I’m ignoring the huge elephant in the room regarding debt, but what would you do with 1.7 trillion dollars? One million million dollars. Every. Year.

I smell a Brewster’s Millions sequel.


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