some writing

aiming for bastard lovechild of
R. Buckminster Fuller
and hunter s. thompson
(Lord help me.)

THIS IS SOME OF What's on my mind:

Maybe Depressed, Not Discouraged (4.8.24)

Published on Linked In on April 8, 2024

A year in the life of someone who was laid off from the best job ever.

I need a damn job.

A little over a year ago, I and about 7,000 of my Salesforce colleagues were caught in the boardroom crossfire between a founding CEO and some #ActivistInvestors, and…well, let’s just say we received generous severance packages. 

To add extra spice to the situation, I got the news two hours earlier than the rest of my West Coast-based crew. It was the loneliest two hours. And the end to the best job of my life.

When I first saw the “Important information about your role” subject line at 6 a.m., my knees buckled. And then I read “As we announced earlier today, we’re reducing our workforce by about 10 percent, mostly over the coming weeks. Unfortunately, as part of this reduction your role is being eliminated.” I almost threw up on the kitchen floor. 

After a couple of deep breaths, I made some coffee and sat down at my desk and waited to hear from the rest of the crew, hoping that some vestiges of our team and our remit were still standing. 

Let me start at the beginning. Salesforce provides a massive infrastructure of customer relationship management software products that help marketing, sales, commerce, service, and IT teams connect with their customers. The Salesforce Design remit was to scale design excellence to drive business outcomes through education, community, and thought leadership.

In late 2020, I was brought in as a learning designer, and it didn’t take too long for my "keep it moving" generalist capabilities to become useful to the team. I proved to be a good thought partner for our leaders – I've always had an affinity for strong creative personalities, and I enjoy encouraging and managing big ideas. My project manager inclinations (thanks OCD) proved useful as we built and launched several blended learning initiatives from the ground up. I spent a lot of time thinking about signal-to-noise. I often found myself reminding the team to make sure we were still asking the right questions and then using those answers to build something actually useful for actual humans. After a couple of years of contracting, I was offered a full time position in 2022, and it was the most satisfying job of my entire career. 

OK, back to D-Day. As the West Coasters woke up, the news started to trickle in, and we learned the team was gone. It was more sweet than bitter to learn that a couple of our folks got shuffled around and were still “safe” – whatever that meant in this context. We virtually mourned together for a couple hours, folks sliding into and out of the Zoom, all of us with rueful smiles and disbelief in our eyes. I love that crew, and I still actively miss working with those people.

I’m not going to lie, 2023 was pretty rough. After two months of unemployment, a former co-worker from a different era of my life recommended me for a role at his current company. It felt nice to be wanted. But my spidey-sense was tingling and, after a couple of back and forths, I sensed that we weren’t aligned on what the business challenge was and how to fix it. I declined the offer two separate times. They countered with a salary that I just couldn’t ignore — and did I mention it felt nice to be wanted?

So I took a job that didn’t sing to me and did the best I could for four months. And finally, the truth of our mismatch was proven out and they let me go. That was really hard. Despite the fact that I knew better, I let it impact my confidence.

Then I just sat still and licked my wounds for a while. Lots of quiet time, doing projects around the house and staring into the fire pit. This happened to be right at the same moment I was watching some of my old Salesforce friends, who had been more patient, get cool new gigs. Again, more sweet than bitter, and now with a trace of personal regret.

So, I’m lacking confidence and actively depressed, which is a hard way to conduct a job search. Almost 50 applications and only three interviews later, it takes active effort to not be discouraged.

Part of that active effort has been articulating what I’m good at at this stage in my career. So I sat down and reworked all my professional collateral. When I realized that I’m experienced enough that my resume is five plus pages, as a design experiment, I created a cool one-pager. (It’s interesting to contemplate how professional development happens even when we’re not working, isn’t it?) This process forced me to pare it all down to the essentials, and here’s where it’s landed for the moment: 

It’s taken a couple of months to start feeling like myself again, and it takes consistent energy to stay positive. Walking the dog helps, picking up freelance projects helps, my loving friends and family help. I’ve got good energy. I’m ready to be useful. And I need a job.

I know there’s a ton of us mid-career folks out there who are currently experiencing this exact crisis of confidence – and I’m simply sharing my story to remind us all – we aren’t alone. Stay the course. 

And for anyone that’s responsible for hiring at this moment in time – I know you have an incredible pool of talent to choose from right now, and that it's harder to find obvious fits for people with wildly varied experiences, but please give us a chance. It might take some imagination to find someone who can handle just about anything thrown at them and can make a team hum – and it’s worth the chance.

h/t to Hsiao-Ching Chou for the inspiration and editorial assist. 

h/t to Denise Burchell and Teddy Zmrhal and Victor Saad for being with me every step of the way. 

Quality of Life (12.9-13.23)

December 13, 2023

My gorgeous perfect amazing dog Nina is on her last legs. More specifically, her 15 year old Shepherd hips have finally caught up with us. We’ve been so fortunate with her health for so long that it’s been easy for an invincibility narrative to have subconsciously taken hold, and she’s always had so much personality and been so decisive and athletic and confident that we relaxed into an eternal capability vibe. We told ourselves that the mutt parts of her, the Husky and Lab parts, were mitigating the notorious Shepherd hip problems, and they really were. Over the past 5 years we’ve watched other dog friends get older and slower and Nina just kept on keeping on, being bossy and opinionated. Maybe she wasn’t at the front of the pack when running at the dog beach anymore, but she was still in the mix. No problem. 

And then last spring, she got Old. She slowed down on our walks, and she stopped running with the beach pack. She still picked her spots, but the difference was noticeable. We live on the first floor, and in our Chicago three-flat, that means we’re 9/10 steps up from street level. That’s the first place I noticed some real wobble in the back end, as she was working her way up after a walk. Most of the time it was just some shaking, but a couple of times she needed a little push or lift. No problem. Every once in a while she would have an overnight accident and so we got into the puppy pad game. No problem.   

And then last Thursday, she got Really Old. In one day. Our morning walk was short but productive, which is our household’s preferred euphemism for taking a shit. (Note: This euphemism has traditionally been used in reference to Nina and her walks, but the fact that I need to offer this clarification has me considering trying it out with humans.) Our afternoon walk, which is generally the big walk of the day, was even shorter and productive. No… problem? Our evening walk was the slowest and wobbliest and least productive walk of our 13+ year history. She was miserable, Keely was working late, and I was officially worried. I was asleep when K got home, so I did not communicate my concern. When I woke up the next morning to help feed and walk the animals, everything fell apart. 

Nina was unable to stand. And then I really looked at her. And for the first time ever, she was defeated. Her body language was so feeble, her proud and amazing ears were limp and her tail was entirely tucked between her legs. I’d never seen her like that* before. I almost didn't recognize her. I totally lost my shit. 

She wouldn’t eat or drink and I spent 4 hours convinced that I was watching my dog die. I snuggled down with her and put my face on her face so I could feel her breath. I had my hand on her chest so I could feel her heart. She was hyperventilating and her heartbeat was all over the place and her eyes were empty. I whispered so many things to her, I asked her so many questions, and ended up just repeatedly telling her it was OK, that whatever she needed to do was OK.

We called her two best human friends, Cort and Liz, and they came over and cuddled and cried with her for a couple hours, and we were all actively resigning ourselves to her passing away. We contacted an in-home pet euthanasia company and scheduled an appointment. For some macabre reason, I started listening to Nina Simone. Everything was so raw, it seemed like the right move was just to stew in it. Sinnerman was a tough lift, and Feeling Good made me feel awful. In retrospect, it was an unnecessarily extreme move. But there I was, stewing in the raw and crying crying crying. 

And then Nina looked up at me. And there was a glint of intention. So I asked her if she wanted to get up and she glinted at me again. So I helped her stand up. She wobbled down the hallway to where K and Cort and Liz were, and we scooped her up and brought her down to the backyard and lit a fire and settled in for the day. This mainly entailed her stumbling around and us encouraging her to snack and drink water and be productive. With all 4 of her favorite humans in attendance, she was able to relax a bit. We all relaxed a little bit.

And then we did a backyard virtual telehealth session with Chicago Veterinary Geriatrics, which might be the most 2023 Urban Caucasian sentence that has ever been written. We had a conversation about pain and pain management, and the cool vet (in retrospect of course someone in that particular sector of that particular field understands it’s just as much about helping the humans as it is helping the animals) shared some super simple common sense truths about animals and pain that were so super simple and common sense that I’d never thought about them before. The idea that we all try to hide our pain, and that we all search for subtle ways to compensate. The reminder about how exhausting being in permanent pain is. He introduced the idea that she’s probably been quietly hurting for months and months and that she just ran out of energy and that maybe with some pain relief she’d be interested in moving around again? He could immediately tell which leg was actually failing and which were being strained trying to compensate, and we quickly got some painkillers and CBD into her. And a little while later Nina looked up at me again, and I fully recognized her. And we canceled the appointment with the in-home euthanasia. 

And this Sunday morning she’s still recognizable. And standing and moving around on her own. And eating and drinking. And needing to be carried up and down the stairs to the backyard. No problem. 

* She was in really bad shape once before when she ate some grapes and weed resin out of the trash and was super sick and stoned, but that look was more confused than defeated and that's the last time I cried like I've been crying for the last 30 hours. 


Monday update

Here’s the update after an in-person vet visit. Some of it is difficult to parse but most importantly Nina is OK right now. She’s definitely dealing with advancing arthritis in her hips. The doctor was able to do an x-ray (that also showed evidence of arthritis in her spine) as well as a blood panel while we were there to rule out a bunch of issues.

Dr Schoen thinks it’s likely that in addition to the hip stuff there was an abdominal bleed of some sort that contributed to her lethargy on Thursday and her inability to get out of bed on Friday morning. This is where it gets hard. 

The blood panel did show that her numbers were lower than they were the last time we did a test, but not 100% conclusive for if there was in fact a bleed. (Happily, the results did not indicate anything else to be alarmed about.) Obviously an abdominal bleed sounds really scary and the way that Dr. Schoen described it seems like it does happen in large dogs sometimes even as young as age 6. Ah, the crapshoot about choosing a large breed canine. Other possible steps that could be taken would be an ultrasound or exploratory surgery, but she gently discouraged us from doing these kinds of costly and invasive procedures. 

Again, Nina seems to be doing well at the moment and we’re concentrating on quality of life, which entails pain relief and maximizing her comfort and loving our time together. 


Wednesday update

We’re all exhausted. Anger finally caught up with me on Monday, and it caught up with K last night. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’ve always been more comfortable with anger than most folks, and it’s often been the fuel for me to actually solve problems. When I was younger, it was a touchy proposition, because I had a bit of a temper as well. Wait, aren’t these the same? Not really, at least not for me. Not for Carlos Todd PhD LCMHC either, according to their blog The Difference Between Temper and Anger:

Anger is typically a transient emotion that arises in specific situations and may dissipate quickly. It can range from mild annoyance to intense rage but is often a temporary emotional state. In contrast, temper is a prolonged emotional state that characterizes an individual's baseline temperament.

For years my baseline temperament was deep dissatisfaction. Disappointment with the current states of most institutions. Frustration with people who weren’t seeing the same things and reacting the same way that I did. In retrospect, I had a lot of energy at the time, and my anger expressed itself in not-so-constructive ways. I was really lucky though, and shouts out to the Park Forest and Bloomington and Chicago police departments, and of course white privilege, for never pressing charges.

But in this moment, some anger was inevitable, and I was prepared for it. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, heavy feelings are really hard, and after some huffing and puffing K and I were able to talk through these tough moments with real affection and regard. (I need to take a specific moment to say Keely is pretty damn amazing. She’s so solid in a crisis, she’s calm and keeps her eye on the prize and is ready to get her hands dirty. This strength and resilience are kind of bonuses, since I originally just fell for her sexiness and effervescence when we were both like 18 years old and really dumb and horny.) 

Ahem, sorry. Where were we? Oh, right, anger. 

Whenever I’m in a moment of loss, I get mad at Elisabeth Kubler-Ross for suggesting that the stages of grief are linear. But just for fun, here’s the list in the order she presented in 1969: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Over the past 6 days, I’ve felt 3 of those things a lot and in no particular order. Denial isn’t generally a problem for me, because for most of my life I’ve lived by the idea that when winning is The Most Important, one should take gravity and entropy into account and face the fucking facts and wager with cynicism. Bargaining isn’t really a thing for me either, at least when it comes to mortality. So that leaves me with anger, depression and acceptance, and they’re kind of all happening all the time. On Friday, when I whispered to Nina that whatever she needed to do was OK, I was accepting the loss. So Dr. Kubler-Ross, why was/am I so angry after that acceptance? Seems to me like someone needs to go back to the drawing board with that whole shit if we want it to be useful. 

Also, this loss is different for me. It’s about stewardship, and the value and lessons associated with that duty. I’ve certainly experienced the passing of loved ones before, and this week I learned that it's different when it's a dependent. Of course Nina and I are mutually dependent, but logistically I am responsible for her day to day quality of life and overall well being, so when that starts to decline in addition to just loss there's an overactive sense of responsibility and handfuls of questions like “Have I done everything I should have done?”

Sigh. Now we finally get down to it, and how I’m not just angry and depressed (and accepted?) about Nina. 

I see my moms living with this responsibility for my 97-year old grandfather, who’s been in an extended care facility for a couple of years now. Whenever we visit him, I’m struck by quality of life questions, and I can’t help putting myself in his place. It’s super easy for me to say clever things like “I’m here for a good time, not for a long time” but I’m still pretty far away from that level of infirmity. Does life become more precious when you’re that close to the end? I don’t know, but I want to think that once it’s all denouement, I’ll be ready for a nice forever nap. When I look into my Gramps’ eyes, there are occasional moments of Uno-inspired clarity, but I think he spends most of his day just breathing. I’d love to think that he has some fun shit happening in his head and in his heart, but again, if winning is the most important thing it’s probably time to face the fucking facts and wager with cynicism. But what does “winning” even mean in this context? Most importantly, what does my mom, who is directly responsible for his day to day quality of life and overall well being, think it means? The options for humans are different from the options for dogs. 

Forever nap. Put down. Put to sleep. These euphemisms drive me crazy. The word euthanize means ​​put to death humanely. Death. OK, alright, now we finally really got down to it. The look on Nina’s face last Friday taught me where our limit is. The next time she gives up, I will honor that choice, and we will keep her comfortable and let her go. Heh, see, I did it too. Let’s try again. The next time she gives up, I will honor that choice, and we will keep her comfortable and put her to death humanely. My gramps hasn’t given up,and my mom is honoring that choice, and if I thought the last week has been exhausting I can only imagine what the last 2 years have been for both of them.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Meh. If you really love someone I think it’s probably more like “do unto others as… they would have you do unto them.” My gramps is here for a long time, not a good time. No problem. 


February 16, 2023

As a component of my Salesforce Individual Development Plan, last fall I signed up for a drawing class at a funky local studio. The class started 4 days after I was laid off, and while I was in my feelings about it I opted to dive in. And it’s been a real trip.

As I’ve worked through the sessions, I’ve been keeping an eye out for what my real question is. Why am I really there? How does enhancing those skills help me? When I signed up I think I’d had “better sketching skills” as my targeted takeaway and as I worked through the early perspective and measuring exercises, I felt very satisfied. I want to communicate better visually, and the practice of using math consistently and not expecting to get every line right the first time is a gift.

And then we got to still life. Ugh. I quickly learned that I don’t care for easels or charcoal, I’m a flat on the desk with a pencil-man. That’s what I prefer. But that is not all our instructor (hilariously I still don’t know what the teacher’s name is, something eastern european that starts with B?) is trying to teach. I started strong, with the math and the measuring and the patient lines, and within a couple of hours I had a layout that I liked. And then I just… stared at the drawing for a bit. I realized that it was indeed answering the question I asked, and also I realized that my teacher had other questions she was encouraging us to tackle. I considered finding a moment to talk through my intentions with her, and perhaps explain why some of the things on the curriculum aren’t particularly germane to my exploration. Then I had a wry laugh and thought “For god’s sake Dimond why won’t you just let the teacher teach?” I really thought it was hilarious, and so now here’s me just giggling listening to “The Girl from Ipanema” and trying to learn how to do shading (which, by the way that’s the reason to use charcoal on This Particular Assignment because doing that much shading work with a pencil would take a Very Long Time, something I”m pretty sure B was clear on when she made the curriculum) and it’s really difficult for me. Getting the ratios and relationships between objects right is the quest I am on, and I’ve only historically concentrated on the finish of an item as I crafted it with my hands. Grr.

And then it hit me. I was looking at these items in a brand new way. When you’re carefully looking at where the light is hitting an object, you start to notice more things. When you study something it’s different than just noticing things about it. So, I signed up for a drawing class to improve the way my hands work, and as it turns out I am really learning how to see more intentionally.

I think this B person is a pretty damn good teacher. 


February 4, 2022

I crashed my favorite car last August. 

The actual mistake that I made happened at least 60 seconds (a fucking year in CrashTime*) before I firmly planted the front end of a lovely little 1972 BMW 2002 into a surprisingly sturdy guardrail. It wasn’t a driving mistake. People in the know will nod when I say from a technical perspective I believe I crashed that car perfectly. It was entirely an error in judgment. And that error was the result of a harsh realization that I’d just made a navigation mistake of unknown severity - and that was a realization that I had fully at speed, bombing down a 2-lane mountain road.

So. It was time to recover. In the context of this game, that generally means making up time, so I planted my foot into the firewall as I engaged in a conversation with my rally partner, trying to get a sense of what the earlier mistake was as identification is a step in recovery. This actually happens fairly often in the game, so these moments of adrenaline are kind of part of the fun. As a result of my partner having their head down doing some math (it’s a weird game) they didn’t have a sense of what the mistake was, and I’d been busy keeping the car on the road and, you know, making the mistake, so I also was not a reliable witness. Again, at speed, we mutually agreed to Just Stay Alive. At that moment I saw that we were coming into a hard 90 degree turn to the right, and as I mentioned earlier we were pedal to the metal. I immediately shifted into technically managing the turn, and while we hit it hot, we came out in control, but going fast. Ok, whew, we’re ok. I blinked.  

And then 100 yards in front of us I saw a really severe, downhill 180 degree hairpin turn to the left. Blink. Shit, right back to technical management. 80 yards. Ok, downshift, I can do this, nothing drastic, downshift, micro-inputs, I can see the line through the curve. Ok. Blink. 50 yards. That’s when I noticed that the pavement in the corner was a different, darker color than the rest of the asphalt. I thought, “That’s wet.”

At that moment everything stretched out and contracted and became inevitable. Actively thinking about how much love I have for the person sitting next to me, I picked the spot on the rail and then I picked the part of the car I was going to smash into it. I made eye contact with my man. Just Stay Alive. Boom, done. Everyone intact. All things considered, it was a really good crash. 

And my confidence has been at least slightly shook ever since. Being a kickass driver is actually part of my identity, and it has been since I first got behind the wheel at 15. I love it. Getting into a car, getting a sense of its capabilities, playing along the edges. Where’s its center of gravity? How does the length of the wheelbase affect the way it handles an apex? How far can I push it and still keep it in between the ditches? Learning the car, and feeling your spine relax into the seat. It’s fun. 

It’s fun to be good at things. Growing up a combination of my lack of eye-hand coordination and my tendency to pretty consistently hang out with Cool Kids made it such that I wasn’t quickly good at the things that kids generally get accolades for being good at; video games take time for me to figure out and hitting a baseball is still a touch-and-go proposition. So I got used to putting effort into things I want to be good at, and kind of just letting the rest of it go. The release was surprisingly easy. But that effort, that’s where things get tricky. There’s a narrative that being good at things is cool and there’s real value in putting that effort in, sooo via the reverse transitive property since I am putting in that effort… I am valuable? So far so good. But, for reverse-transitive thoroughness sake, does that mean that I’m only valuable when I’m good at things? I’d never really thought about that until my therapist brought up the idea of toxic capability during a post-crash session. 

When I recall moments of embarrassment, I physically react. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if I wasn’t such a mistake-making motherfucker, but c'est la guerre. When I occasionally blink and see the crash replayed on the inside of my eyelids, I flinch and wince and sometimes even verbalize a distressed “No.” I feel it in my chest. upon recollection, I think I actually feel more in the recollection than I did in the embarrassing moment - again, I’m generally too busy actively making the mistake to feel much in real time. 

I’ve made a conscious lifelong decision to learn this way - making mistakes. It’s my own personal scientific method; imagining hypotheses, then imagining experiments to try to break those hypotheses. It’s learning through experience. Errors of commission over errors of omission. The cool shit happens at the edges. The interesting shit, the shit that sometimes costs you some paint on a guardrail because rubbin’ is racin’, and sometimes it costs you a whole front end. I shake my head as I write this, but the lesson is worth the price. The cool shit happens at the edges because we are nourished by novelty; too much sameness and the world goes gray. 

I’m pleased with the way I handled the adversity of the pandemic. In lieu of an external structure, I built an entirely arbitrary one that got me back into reading and writing and thinking and when an opportunity came up, I was in good enough shape to take advantage of it. Once I was back in the game, I thought I would inevitably get into game shape. And over the last year of doing contract work, while there have been tons and tons of engaging and energizing moments, I’m less pleased with the way I’m handling prosperity than how I navigated the listless unemployment. I’d really like to be a bit more focused and more efficient, get back up somewhere into my 90% effective range. And at the same time it feels like after this past couple years just staying on my feet and doing things to help my various peoples also stay on their feet might have to be enough. 

I was driving in snow and ice this morning and I was so fucking timid I was disgusted with myself. But my body gave me a message, and I listened. Now, sitting on my cozy couch, my lower back really aches and I certainly didn’t drive my ass off but I can tell you that I did not crash my second favorite car today. So that’s pretty good. 

I also just accepted a life-changing full-time job with an amazing crew. And that’s pretty good too. 

*If you’ve ever been behind the wheel for a car crash, you know exactly what I’m talking about - everything slows down in a horrifying way. It’s like the worst parts of BulletTime in The Matrix.

RIP RWP (11.26.21)

November 26, 2021

Alright, hold onto your butts, I’m going to say something crazy: Ray Pempek was one of my role models.

He was one of a handful of men that was around at a formative age and that helped keep an eye on my young only-child-of-a-single-mom self. Over my life, I’ve been blessed to be looked after by a small collection of relatives, neighbors, teachers, a couple of my mom’s boyfriends... 

And Ray.

Ray was always… something else. Early on, my moms ran with a bunch of freaks and hippies - shout out to the Aunt Martha’s crew - and I remember a lot of cool, shaggy people doing progressive stuff in the south suburbs. If memory serves, Ray was friends with some other activist guy that my moms dated for a while, and when that relationship ended Ray was still around. And like I said, he was different. He wasn’t exactly shaggy. He had longer hair, but he wore suits. He was a hippie with a briefcase.

My 11 year old self didn’t really know what that meant, but it had connotations of responsibility and organizing. He was on the phone a lot. Politics. He was on the move a lot. Big willie shit. He swore A LOT. Big energy. RockandfuckingROLL. I loved every bit of it. 

(Side note, I might be having a correlation/causation moment here, but I feel like I “met” Hunter Thompson at roughly the same time I met Ray. I think it was actually a “picture” book that first caught my eye  - The Curse of Lono - Ralph Fucking Steadman, man. Whew. So grotesque and so so compelling. And then that prose. That gonzo, gonzo prose. Can you tell that I like it? I think you can tell that I like it. It was one of my first experiences of intellectual thuggery. So intelligent, so ready to brawl. Outlaw shit. And hanging with Ray kind of always felt like being in an HST story. Side side note, probably because Hunter Thompson signed all his shit HST and Ray Pempek signed all his shit RWP, in 1982 teachers at Algonquin Elementary School regularly received assignments signed NJD, because that shit was cool.)

I’m not romantic enough to suggest that there was Fear and Loathing to be found in a Lincoln Park aldermanic race, but I did really get to know Ray On the Campaign Trail and that shit was so fun. I remember cold election headquarters offices in abandoned storefronts, reams and reams of old-school dotmatrix print outs, and stacks and stacks of campaign handouts. I spent days at a time riding shotgun as we bombed around in that green Dodge whatever it was. Why was I up there so much? Was I missing school? Who was that old leftie that taught me how to shoot pool in that random northside tavern? What did we eat? Where did we sleep? The answers to all these questions must join the great mysteries of the ages, because in retrospect it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. But damn, it felt so cool. And I guess I must've been at least a semi-reliable wingman, because we kept hanging out after Jim Mancini lost that race. 

What does “hanging out” mean for a pair with that particular 20 year age gap? Sometimes it was random errands. And every couple of months, when he remembered he lived in one, he paid me to help clean his house. And by that I mean he taught me how to clean a house. How much money did I make? I do not remember, but every time I clean the bathroom to this very day I think of his lesson: “Jesusfuckingchrist Nic, it’s not actually clean until you actually dry it off. Jesus Christ.” Heh. It’s not only the lessons about finishing what I started and doing things The Right Way that stuck, his lack of patience for stupid left a mark as well. He showed me it’s OK to be dissatisfied, it’s important to recognize when things aren’t good enough and if you need to make some goddamn noise about it, well then get to it. 

Make. Good. Trouble. Freak power. Seize the means, motherfuckers. 

He certainly had his demons: booze, tobacco, discreditable relationship choices. It was fascinating to have that as a role model, and as I grew older, he helped me understand the idea of paradox. Watching him, one of the smartest and sharpest people I ever met, just make bad decision after bad decision, forced me to come to terms with the fact that opposite things could be simultaneously true. In this case, he was an occasionally brilliant and inspirational leader, and he was simultaneously a total disaster. It’s OK. It happens. 

At the end of the day, he did some really cool shit. And he did some shit that was downright reckless and irresponsible and goddamnit he should’ve known better. And he ended up paying all different kinds of prices, all different kinds of ways. 

Over the past several years, he’d seemed so fucking fragile. And also somehow, to me... still immortal. 

I hope he’s found some peace and quiet. A nice porch to sit on. A cold can of whatever beer is on sale and a Benson and Hedges menthol. He deserves that. 

I love you Ray. Thank you. And hey - save me a spot on that porch. 



Investing IN IMagination (10.30.21)

October 30, 2021

What's the difference between travelling and being a tourist? This morning when I randomly mumbled the question as we were untouseling the sheets and settling in for a quick post-sleep nap, my wise and shiny partner answered quickly and simply: wonder. 

We’ve gotten ourselves into a jam. We’ve been around for about 200,000 years, developed a capacity for language about 50,000 years ago, and according to various scrolls and whatnot we’ve been actively cooperating for about 5,000 years. Comparatively speaking, for about 99% of human history when you saw another homo sapien that you didn’t grow up with the appropriate response was apprehension, and if you saw an entire group of strangers the appropriate response was to run and hide.

You might think that this is the beginning of an argument for tribalism. Nope. History is context, and this is an argument for evolution. All of this mixing and matching and sharing and exploring is pretty new, and very cool and I’m wondering what we can do to help this process. 

We know appropriation is bad when corporations do it for marketing purposes. (There’s certainly an argument about how unhealthy it is in general to have Marketing as an area of human expertise, but that’s the next TED talk.) 

We know appropriation is bad when people do it for… aw fuck, I have no idea how to end that sentence. This is where the tourist/traveller question comes in, because I respect a [insert any non-colonial racial/ethnic background here] person’s concern about white people perpetuating stereotypes at costume parties, and I am also curious about the amount of empathy that can be created by literally walking in another person’s shoes with radical curiosity. With wonder. With imagination.

From my man Joel Fariss:

The algorithmic fetish and the subsequent dataism that has become the enterprise maxim for value creation has seeped into every crevice of our corporate psyche, shackling our creativity in the bonds of empiricism. This has perpetuated a myopic perspective of the im/possible, constrained by feasibility and expertise. We need liberation. To address the confluence of crises we face as humanity, we need more than new answers, we need the great liberator: new questions – questions that transcend the next big technology product, questions that create space for new paradigms, questions that provoke a reimagination of what it means to be human, to be a part of a larger whole. To evoke this liberation of inquiry, I propose we reintroduce the ancient practice of non objective imagination and speculation, untainted by the colonization of economic ends. Those innate yet deeply buried human gifts that have propelled us through the millennia; those tools of sensing so familiar to artists, poets, prophets, and esoterics. I call this practice Dream Thinking. Dream Thinking is the practice of encountering, exploring, understanding, and communicating stories of possibility. We call these stories Functional Fictions—the narrative scaffolding by which our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are built and shared with others. The stories that catalyze a faith in the possibility of the impossible; a new way of being, together.

Functional fictions? Nice. Theatre people get to do this all the time. Having it be your job to climb inside a character and merge those pre-written intentions with your own spontaneous hopes and dreams and fears requires a special kind of imagination and empathy, and there are lessons to be learned from this community. In my experience the most compelling art is designed to express something or to explore something, and in the right hands both/either of those things is an act of sharing. 

I’m really interested in how imagination can inspire a posture of curiosity that helps identify and solve problems and drive positive outcomes. Sometimes those problems are tangible and the benefits that imagination can provide are tangible… and sometimes neither of those things are true. And still, we know that there are many non-measurable things we consistently feel the benefits of: basic human communication, for example. We know that people feel healthier and have greater senses of wellness when they’re consistently reminded that they’re not alone, and we understand that comfort comes from affection being shared. How is that wellness really measured? There are certain KPIs that if we organize correctly and squint at just right might tell us productivity benefits or spending habits changes associated with dynamic states of wellness, but do we really need to do that to feel the benefits of functioning in a happy community?  

The world we’re working in and the challenges we’re facing are only increasing in their complexity. That complexity makes it so that we have to be increasingly comfortable with ambiguity.  Imagination, functional fictions, radical empathy. These things help create that comfort.

It’s time to let go of 99% of our experiences as a species. It’s time to move on. That’s a crazy fucking task. There’s got to be some mourning. Again, we know that grief has always been communal and that we need the healing touch of others, an atmosphere of compassion, and the comfort of ritual in order to fully metabolize our grief. 

Imagination will create those new rituals. 

Imagination will identify the most important new questions about what it means to be human.

Imagination will spark wonder.

It’s our only chance. 

be easy (5.8.21)

May 8, 2021

I am an arrogant pain in the ass. Other than that, I think I’m a pretty good hang. 

I’m better at thinking than most people and I’m generally more capable and I’m direct to a fault. I also have an overactive sense of responsibility, and I generally believe that there’s a Right Way to do things. All of this introduces what I call The Spiderman Conundrum: Does great responsibility automatically come with great power?*

I authentically operate with this as a basic life concept - there’s some socialism vs. capitalism stuff lurking here. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs, right? Different people can do different things, and we all need help in different moments, and if I’m a bit stronger in this area it makes sense for me to do that work because it's an efficient use of energy. I believe this. And also, there are moments I cannot avoid resenting the hell out of it. 

Especially with thinking. I’m increasingly angry when people who I know are capable of it leave me to do the hard or unpleasant thinking, or do some thinking that must inevitably end up with an answer that they don’t like. I’m just so tired of explaining why something or other won’t work to people I love. It’s a fucking drag. And it makes me feel like a bummer of a person, especially when all I really want to do is bang on the drum all day

Captain Jack Aubrey, one of the co-protagonists of the Master and Commander series of novels, often refers to people whose company he enjoys as “eager to be pleased.” I’ve come to believe this is a great compliment and being that type of person has become a life goal. “Be easy.” Parts of it are right there (I love laughing hard, it’s absolutely my favorite feeling) but figuring out how to reconcile those impulses to be delighted with my authentic hypercritical predilections is… very difficult to do consistently. So while I’d love “Dimond is so damn fun.” I’ve come to settle for “Dimond is pretty damn solid.” 

I know my approach can be perceived as negative, and that it makes me difficult to live with. It’s what made me decide at an early age that it was likely the best thing if I just kept to myself. That while when it comes to work I can see the benefits I bring, when it comes to really intimate interpersonal relationships I mainly focus on how hard my standards are for me to live up to, much less some poor person who was just minding their own business and decided I might be interesting. Later in life, I took some risks in this area. And mistakes were made. I keep taking risks, and mistakes keep getting made. And it feels right-er than the isolation. So I want to keep trying. 

Historically I haven’t thought of myself as high maintenance, but I am coming to understand that’s not exactly true. I require a certain amount of intellectual rigor, and when I’m in a challenging moment I’m arrogant enough that I regularly think “Well, this poor mfer just brought a knife to a gunfight.” or “Get your weight up.” We can agree that these are very obnoxious responses, yes?

Why do I do this? 

First, me and several of my friend groups enjoy the scientific method meets improv approach to conversation. This essentially means holding ideas in non-precious space and testing and poking and prodding at them and seeing what happens and where they get stronger and where leaks spring. Most of the time we don’t really care if what we discover supports or contradicts… well, anything. It’s the “Yes And” of the journey and any laughs that we find along the way that really matter. This is actually pretty fun. 

I also sometimes wonder whether my authenticity value is a defense mechanism so my anxiety and anger have a pre-existing excuse? Mmm, I think the authenticity is just as important when it comes to justifying fun and playfulness, so I dunno... 

My final and least fun answer as to why I obnoxiously require such rigor is that I know there’s always something about setting precedents and teaching people how to treat me. In a relationship finding the mutually acceptable space is like drawing an emotional Venn Diagram, and I think that starts with each person being clear about their own space and being able to communicate it - this just expedites the exploration and mapping. And once we know what our mutually happy space is, we can get to the umbrella drinks quicker! So from a certain perspective, I’m an asshole today in the name of tomorrow’s sustainability and partying!

While this is a very charming framing, I know this is a slippery slope. Naw, that's too cutesy a phrase for it. This has cost me friends. It’s a kind of interpersonal broken windows policing. There’s some violence. And as someone who is proudly anti-bully, this has some whiffs of hypocrisy. And that I cannot live with. 

I really do believe in the power of anger and I don’t want to lose it, so how do I have both? Critical thinking and being easy? Helping my loved ones enjoy the benefits of my capability without so much of the intellectual cage matching? 

After recently dropping my ridiculously self-involved superhero theory on her, my therapist first did a great job of not laughing in my face and then she very reasonably said “It’s not on you to make sure we all get out alive.” I’m trying to believe that. And I know the fact that it requires an effort is a kind of selfishness. Now what do I do with that selfishness, practically speaking? 

I believe the Right Way is to really sit with it and hold it. I take these hours to write this shit out to try to understand it better, so I can maybe make a different mistake next time. Please wish me luck.

*FWIW it seems that someone named Voltaire said it first


November 15, 2020

I derive my identity from my whole life, not where I earn money. Over the years I’ve cashed checks from grocery stores and youth service agencies and bookstores and synagogues and gas stations and not-for-profit arts orgs and world-class exhibit builders and Big 5 Consulting companies and I can easily say that all that money spends the same. And when people ask me what I do, I generally start by describing the most interesting recent thing I’ve got going on whether it's a classic car rally, a personal fabrication project or a cool design initiative.

When I was just starting out in my theatre career in the storefront scene in Chicago, I knew that I wanted to direct. I figured the best path to those opportunities was to find a small company that needed something I had and giving it to them. By that point I had a good 5 years of building experience including a year doing props at a regional theatre in New Jersey, and my day job was at Steppenwolf Theatre, which has a nice reputation. So, laden with hubris, I cold-called the Artistic Director of a cool little company with a funky 2nd-floor space with 10’ ceilings and I breathlessly said that I’d never designed anything before and suggested that in these intimate spaces that construction quality mattered even more than it did in the big spots because in the storefronts the farthest person was generally 20’ from the actors and on the spot I offered to design and build a set for them. The offer was accepted, and all of a sudden I was a Set Designer. No training, mind you, but over the next couple years I actually earned a small reputation (and even smaller money) designing sets in some amazing and some awful, awful spaces. 

After starting my career in theatres and scene shops in the late 90’s I was randomly offered a chance to join a startup (post acquisition, dammit) that built web-based simulations for corporate training. I was effectively pulled out of shop life and pushed into the World of American Business which was… new. I’d been focused on Pinter and Shakespeare not stocks or industry verticals. This new world and it’s accompanying vocabulary seemed at best vaguely fraudulent and at worst designed to actively exclude lots of people and create an impression of intelligence by way of flexing education. Whenever people used the word “utilize” my judgy eyebrow went up a little. I grew up thinking that if you were actually smart it would come out in the quality of your ideas and how simply and directly you were able to communicate them. But of course eventually I learned to relax into the jargon, and soon I could talk that shit with the best of ‘em. 

It helped that Learning Design genuinely piqued my curiosity. In several ways it seemed to mimic some of the structures that I’d used when directing and producing plays: start with sharing relevant foundational knowledge, then create a safe playground for people to practice applying that knowledge, and finally present an end product that allows everyone to collectively show their stuff while still moving forward in their own personal trajectories. It was also pretty natural for me to imagine stories that could link the knowledge to the playground to the product, and I really enjoyed building simulations. I remember that there were different kinds of modules that we could include in our Learning Paths; Conversation, Analyze and Manage, I think. (Any old Learning Productions people who happen to read this please feel free to chime in.) Essentially these things were Corporate Training Choose Your Own Adventure Books, and it was fun putting myself in other people’s shoes and getting an understanding of the things that stressed them out at work and imagining ways to reduce those stresses. I evolved into enjoying different kinds of Performance Support, imagining and building simple little tools to help people do their jobs better and faster. 

At some point in time I realized that I was designing and building custom software. Again, zero formal design training, and over the next couple years I actually earned a small reputation (and some good money) designing random eLearning and websites and applications for some amazing and some boring, boring companies. 

I recently came across the term Accidental Designer and for reasons detailed in the previous 700 words, I quite like it. I’ve also recently come across the term Relationship Design, and I like that a lot too. When I immediately like something like that, I get suspicious of my motivations and I try to figure out where the attraction comes from and what it means. And this reflection forced me to come face-to-face with The Big Question about Design as a simultaneous philosophy and practice: So what?

Given the scale of the problems facing the world, so what? Predatory capitalism is gunning for all of us, how does fancy thinking help regular people in their everyday lives. 

One of my great friends has been poking me to study up on Data Visualization for awhile, and he recently started mentioning Foresight as a practice. When I pressed him “Why, what are the benefits? Where are the righteous frontiers?” he replied:

Data visualization, like foresight (and science fiction and some art), is ‘just’ another tool to give us perspective… often from an altitude we’re not accustomed to, and it helps us get a different sense of scale and impact.

Two examples (sometimes I think links/examples in your writing would be helpful, and over time, links to others’ work) would be: 

Data viz primarily uses our eyes. Foresight is a way to expand the zone of potential narratives, to open the aperture into ‘larger’/different acts of imagination… it uses words and experiences to affect our minds and hearts. These two, used together at the intersections of design and equality/sustainability/ethics are where the interesting ‘frontiers’ lie, I think. This can move us towards liberation/decolonization?  I really don’t have words… 

(First off, did you catch my man slip in the footnote suggestion? And then not be able to locate his second reference?!? That’s what friends are for. In the interests of full transparency last week I did say to him with a 100% straight face “I think you read too much” so I guess that’s where all of that shit’s at.) 

The word that caught my eye was imagination. For a hot minute now I’ve been convinced that if there is indeed a way out of #ThisMessWeAreIn it will come not from simple hard, grinding work, but from imagination. Designing a better normal starts with giving ourselves permission to imagine that better normal first, right? More tools for larger and different imaginings = more swings at the pinata. Ok. Ok. 

This past week I edited a piece of text that will be posted on the Official Learning Platform of a megamultinational technology company that advanced a serious-minded discussion of the pros and cons of stakeholder capitalism vs shareholder capitalism. It is entirely a conversation about imagination, and if that’s one of the benefits of all this fancy thinking I believe this is time and energy spent righteously. 

And that’s a part of my identity I can be pleased with.  

T’s Suggested Bibliography 

On the Data Viz, see Stamen or SYPartners

On the Forecasting, see Stuart Candy and Jake Dunagan’s work for best future experience designers

Oh, one more… Design to Divest

CIVICs WAR (9.22.20)

September 22, 2020

Sometime in the 90’s I heard someone - either a stand up comedian or an NPR host - posit “The question of the 21st century will be how tolerant are we meant to be of lack of tolerance?” I thought it was kind of genius. At the time I was thinking about it in terms of radical, fundamentalist approaches to religion across the globe. Remember that type of thinking? Quaint times... 

We have arrived at a place where I'm no longer interested in hearing from ~40% of citizens in these United States of America. I don’t want to make space for meaningful dialogue. I don’t want to pretend that I’m OK with craven, narrow-minded definitions of being An American. The value sets are too far apart, and trying to collaborate seems disingenuous at best. No more tolerance of lack of tolerance. I’m done putting real energy into it. I want to put my energy somewhere else. I want to put my energy into getting back to 1864. Yes, that is what I’m saying. 

(See Figure 1 below.)

I realize there are some logistics challenges here, and I’m willing to spend energy building an exchange where people from the United States of America and people from the Confederate States of America can execute a simple swap of North/South real-estate holdings - I mean, we don’t want total chaos. I understand there are other practical questions as well, and I’d be happy to help establish friendly trade and travel policies. There are other issues, I know. The pre-existing Mason-Dixon line is a good start, but it’s pretty obvious we’re going to have to give up New Mexico and Arizona, and probably even Colorado and Utah. I can live with all of that. I know there are conversations to be had about Nevada, and maybe even Wyoming, BUT THEY CAN’T HAVE OREGON AND WASHINGTON STATE BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE I DRAW THE LINE. LIterally, I just drew the line:

(See Figure 2 below.)

Are you seriously talking to me about California right now? Seriously? You can’t be serious. Wait, you’re serious? See, this is why I can’t take you seriously right now...

I know I sound cavalier (humor is my survival tactic) and I want you to know that I am serious as a heart attack. In my opinion we’ve gone beyond the pale, and violence is inevitable. This is simply a proposal to skip the middle acts and maybe reduce the bodycount. 

Ultimately, I blame Thomas Jefferson:

The United States president Thomas Jefferson was an agrarian who based his ideas about the budding American democracy around the notion that farmers are “the most valuable citizens” and the truest republicans… ...While praising the rural farmfolk, the Jeffersonians felt that financiers, bankers and industrialists created "cesspools of corruption" in the cities and should thus be avoided.

Most valuable citizens, eh? Corrupt urban bankers, eh? I honor that he believed “the will of the people, expressed through elections, provided the most appropriate guidance for directing the republic's course.” That's really dope and legit progressive. I simultaneously resent the fact that such an elegant thinker reduced such-an-important-for-the-viability-of-our-country balancing act to this bullshit binary of White Country Farmers versus Not-As-White City Not-Farmers. It’s the echoes of this weak-minded virtue signaling and dog whistling that are violently manifesting themselves today, right now, all over the country. We are literally killing each other. In mobs. At least let’s get a little fucking organized, can we?

This morning I found myself playing around with the difference between the words Civil and Civic. Seems like they come from the same root, right? What made that conflict in 1860 so civil? Does anyone remember taking Civics in high school? What do these words actually signify? So after 2.5 seconds of searching, I found: 

Civil: Relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters. Courteous and polite.

Civic: Relating to a city or town, especially its administration; municipal.

I was struck by 2 things. That the definition for Civil places the term “ordinary citizens” in direct opposition with military or religious leadership. Hmm. But even more surprising to me was the fact that Civic seems to be specifically referring to Urban living. I don’t know why I find that so odd, but I do. Is it that whole Civics Class thing? That the courseware we used to teach our citizenry about being citizens is named after the approach we use when we gather together and live in large groups? What did they call those classes in those virtuous, white picket fence-ass farm communities?

Civics War it is. Don’t blame me. Blame Jefferson. 

Figure 1

Figure 2

BLM (6.16.20)

June 16, 2020

Black lives matter. 

It seems crazy to have to say it, and I understand at this moment it’s particularly important to announce your side with your chest. I’m eager to live in a world where police are obsolete and at the same moment I don’t believe that All Cops Are Bastards because I was raised to believe that Not All Anything Is Anything. That’s too reductive, too convenient. Wait, shit, we’ll get to some of the problems with how I was raised in just a sec, I totally jumped the gun... 

I honor the fact that Black Americans have been and are Directly In The Shit and thus I say this with self awareness; this moment is heartbreaking for me because I allowed myself to be mistaught. I knew better and I didn’t do better. I could see that the pieces didn’t fit from jump, and I didn’t chase down those leads. There’s real shame in that. I wanted to believe all that flowery language, I wanted to be living in a merit-based society, I earnestly grew up wanting that to be true. Shit, I keep jumping that “how I grew up” gun... 

Being a white man is only one of my millionish privileges. This is me sharing my perhaps more significant, more insidious one. 

The last couple weeks I’ve been building a deck for some childhood friends down in the South Suburbs (hell yes that shit gets Initial Capped) and as I cruise around down there I’m reminded that we grew up in Park Forest at a magic moment. (PF is a genuine post-WW2 social experiment that’s had an exhibition at The Smithsonian. Look it up.) And as it happened we grew up in the Co-Ops during a moment when the experiment was “succeeding.” At the time it felt like we weren’t focusing on the things that were different about us because we were all the same kind of aspirationally broke. This is the insidious privilege. I didn’t understand it at the time but the Co-Ops were kindof a hippie projects in that they were designed to be affordable housing that required a relatively small up-front $ investment, and then a reasonable monthly assessment. These parameters created a whole series of working class neighborhoods centered around “courts” where a couple dozen townhouses surrounded... parking lots, what else? The up-front $ requirement successfully created a sense of community investment and I can tell you most of those neighborhoods were really lovely and well cared for. Did I mention the ultra-convenient Metra (it certainly wasn’t called that back in the day) Station? Downtown in 47 minutes! Surprisingly good public schools! Whoo hoo! It was almost idyllic. Well, as idyllic as you can get at 226th Street. Ah right. 226th Street. 226th Street is where things get interesting. And by interesting I mean a particularly kind of openeyed shame.

From fourth through sixth grades I went to Algonquin School which was right across 226th, and it was perhaps the worst time of my life. (OK, junior high at Forest Trail was also a super drag and it seems right to mainly attribute that to puberty and angst and horny boy-related-stupidity, oh shit that’s all super redundant.) Ahem, Algonquin School. When I look at it in satellite view on GMaps, I’m struck by two things: one, the train tracks just north of the school’s playground. And the name of the first street just north of the tracks; Beacon Blvd. Those train tracks that every student looked across from the swingsets were the proverbial set of tracks that there was a Wrong Side of. We were swinging just on the other side of the tracks from Beacon Hill, a very much failed public-and-affordable-housing community, and of course Algonquin School included students from both sides. This playground, this swingset is where I first met real anger. 

I’m Jewish. I know, it’s pretty cool, being one of The Chosen People and all. Pret-ty cool. We have some cool symbols, the menorah is nice, and the Star of David also represents visually pleasing design. It also happens to be a big symbol of a powerful American street gang, and this is where things got sketchy at Algonquin. Early on my super fresh gold chain resplendent with a dope Star o’ David caught some unwanted attention from some fellow students who were being raised in a different culture than I was enjoying in Area B, Court B-5. The Beacon Hill culture was steeped in systemic economic and police oppression. A culture that created resentment and anger. Real resentment and anger. 

Scene: End of 1st Week of 4th Grade

Mark Price: “Ayo, what’s that shit on your neck?” 

Nic Dimond: [Looks at Mark and his couple/three pals, sees his desperation for a fight he can win, and quickly turns and sprints all the way home.]

Repeat Scene Virtually Every School Day For Three Years

Mark was my classmate. And he was mad. And while I didn’t all-the-way understand why, I could feel that there were clues. Mark was a decent, sharp kid. And I didn’t know why he was picking on me, but it felt like my Star was only an excuse. There were clues. The other scruffy kids. The Other Kids who were clearly in hand-me-downs. The Other Kids that received and used those shameful free-lunch tokens. The Other Kids that came from single parent homes. 

We’re talking about The Other Black Kids.

The Black Kids that lived on the Wrong Side of The Tracks. 

The Black Kids that never had visibility to the benefits of citizenship. 

The Black Kids that were righteously angry, even if they didn’t know why. 

As broke as me and Moms were, I wasn’t one of The Black Kids. I knew them. And I sensed that what they were fighting against made sense. I knew it wasn’t me directly and I knew it was me directly and I defended myself as best I knew how at the time. I stopped wearing the Star of David. I ran. Shame. 

They caught me a couple times and those were some righteous 10-year-old ass-whuppins and I’m absolutely certain that I’m on the “winning” end of this equation. And that is genuinely heartbreaking. And I understand that the only bit of any of this current conversation that has anything to do with me centers around what am I willing to do, what I’m willing to sacrifice, to try to better balance that equation. 

No more running. Listening. Learning. Working. I will do better. 


May 21, 2020

It’s been a tough week, but hey you know they say - the 10th week is always the hardest. 

The tension is getting to me. At the start of this I made the decision to only track the behaviors of my immediate family unit, and I’ve been pretty much ignoring what everyone else has been doing. It’s a kind of Quaran-Libertarianism. When housemates return from a trip into the world they come back wide-eyed at how cavalier the world seems to be taking it, expressing dismay at the conduct at the Jewel and alarm at the number of people walking their dogs. I’m not that guy, I really try to let it go. And the tension is absolutely getting to me. 

This whole shit has been trending political for several weeks now, and the messaging coming from the conservative voice of the country has been steadily challenging the value of expert opinions and diminishing the importance of the government’s leadership role. But everyone is getting tired and last week I started anticipating the upcoming progressive think pieces about the value of a life not fully lived, and the world did not disappoint.

I’m an inherently authority questioning motherfucker, I really am, and I’m also squirrely and anxious to get back to work and the world. I agree with the idea that not all places in this great land of ours should be on the same timeline, but I do think we should all be using the same standards. And I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Because while we still have no real idea how many people are infected, we’re still not seeing declines in even reported cases. At least this is what those damn pesky expert scientists and doctors are saying. 

This morning a dear friend sent a note that said amongst other things “I really wish they, in this case the [local state] gov, would have let the young people continue to work.” And it broke my heart a little. This is an older friend who trained as an actor and quickly married an amazing partner who just happened to be a Captain of Industry, and subsequently became a genuine philanthropic lion. This person has maintained a crew of young and shiny friends so their opinions have stayed fresh. They grew up in the South Suburbs (represent!) and they are Thoughtful and Kind. And they’ve been living a life that most people only dream of. They can’t wrap their head around the idea that most people don’t get their sense of identity from work, they mainly get a paycheck and those paychecks are tiny percentages of all of the capital that is roiling everywhere around them. They don’t understand how hard it is to not resent that. They can’t perceive the system as inherently predatory. They don’t understand that the American Mythology of Industrious Bootstrapness is and always has been a tool for the oligarchs to keep the rest of us striving and aspirational, while maintaining their control of most of the wealth. I’ve been on unemployment for the first time in my life and honestly it feels kind of great because fuck this system that values the motion of currency over all else. I won’t let the oligarchs make me feel bad that their house of cards failed. Though it does suck that even thoughtful and generous and progressive people are thinking about it this way. 

A government is simply “the system or group of people governing an organized community.” That’s it. It helps us function together and pool resources for the common good and societal advancement. I don’t know why this is an inherently suspicious activity. I mean, I know, humans flawed, yadda yadda, but in lieu of anything else I think that governments are generally a good idea. There’s irony in the fact that the current administration - of the government - does not like or trust, that's right - the government. I mean if you’re already skeptical about it, once you get in there it really doesn't take much other than benign neglect for it to stop functioning well thusly fulfilling your prophecy - and this administration is certainly not satisfied with simple  benign neglect. There’s a part of me that can’t help but think Wisconsin opened up early just to present workers with the decision to risk their lives for their livelihoods: “What, you don’t want this potentially unsafe $18/hour job? No? OK, that's cool. We do need to point out the fact that now you’re deciding to not work, and so no more benefits for you.” Jesus Christ, talk about tension. 

As part of the “Let’s Open This Bad Boy Up” theme of the note this friend also mentioned “I don’t think a lot of thought was given to the mental well-being of people.” Do we think anyone had enough temerity to bring up the British government’s lack of mental health guidance during the Blitzkreig? (Actually, we’re talking about the English and they invented temerity, so probably.) A less snarky version of the question might be; has anyone given thought to the mental well-being of hourly earners caught in what shall heretofore be known as the Wisconsin Dilemma? And for the past hundreds of years, has anyone given thought to the mental health issues that result from systemic financial and social oppression? Why are we concentrating on these things only now, and only as they pertain to personal mobility and haircuts? 

I’m discouraged and disappointed. And I just got a call about some potential work for next week. And I have no idea what to do. 


April 21, 2020 

Over the last couple of days of June 2019 I came to a decision. I was going to vote for Elizabeth Warren. I agreed with her vision and I’d been impressed by her clarity. The absolute shit-ton of policy papers she’d dropped over the previous 6 months suggested that she already had an actual plan to use her economic and public policy expertise to start thoughtfully dismantling some of the most oppressive aspects of Predatory Capitalism. I liked that. Though truth be told my gut approach is closer to how I perceive my man Bernie’s “Aw Shit Let’s Just Take A Flamethrower To The Whole Goddamn Thing” vibe because one of my many facets/personalities is a 14 year-old boy who loves fire. And at the same time my life experience suggests that if you want to be able to re-use any of the pieces you’re dismantling there are more reasonable (if way less fun) tools to use than a flamethrower.

(Side note, this is always something that drives me fucking bonkers about HGTV shows, that at the start of Act II after we’ve either selected the property or learned about its family history and how that-one-uncle-just-kind-of-let-it-go-after-his-surgery and it’s time to start demo there’s always a shot of some fresh-faced and enthusiastic amateur grabbing a sledgehammer and yelling “Cowabunga!” and just starting to whale away at some wall. I cringe every time. I know about TV magic and I also know that first you’ve got to surgically disconnect any mechanicals in that wall and then use a utility knife to score a seam so you don’t pull off any more material than you want to and then use a prybar to get any trim removed and and and... before you ever get to the sledgehammer part. Oh, also the sledgehammer part only lasts 3 minutes before you just have to start hauling trash out to a dumpster. Why do people love sledgehammers?!!?!?)

So back in 2019 I liked Senator Warren’s plan and her demeanor. I’ve recently heard Democratic strategists suggest an effective campaign angle for the general election might be to frame it like sports: “Hey America, we already have a great team, right? What we need is The Right Coach.” I have no idea how effective such a message would be, but I do know that it made me think of Senator Warren and it made me realize that she didn’t remind me of a coach at all. She reminded me of a referee. 

Here’s where things might get sticky but I’m going to say it with my chest and speak in some broad generalities. I was raised as an only child by a single mother in Area B of the Co-Ops in Park Forest, Illinois in the 70s and 80s. I grew up in a Jewish family, and my best friend’s family where I spent approximately ½ of my time from 1976-1987 is black. All of the families I grew up near seemed really matriarchal to my young eyes, and I was entirely comfortable in that reality. After high school when I moved out of PF and was starting to function as an adult in the world and I realized that women didn’t run everything, I kind of freaked out. There’s a kind of matriarchal authority that I’ll always respond to. This is one of the reasons that whenever anyone calls me by my full first name I kind of stand a little straighter and feel a quick flash of nervousness, because my moms and grandmother both used “Nicolas” to let me know when my judgement was straying too far. I’m not smart enough to know how healthy this is but I am smart enough to know that I’ve made intellectual space for FAR unhealthier impulses, and I’ve never considered fighting it. So there it is. I feel safe when smart, kind people are in charge and I feel more comfortable when that person is a woman.

So in June 2019 instead of whining about the DNC and bemoaning the eleventy-hundred-some-odd candidates that were in that first 2 night debate, I opted for a positive choice and quickly joined Team Warren. I now look upon the ensuing 8 months as my personal Salad Days of the 2020 Presidential Election. In early March 2020 she suspended her campaign and my last pre-Quar act out in the world was to cast a vote for Bernie Sanders. And now we’ve got Joe Biden. I’m not thrilled and I also recognize that if elected he will be carrying The Most Progressive Agenda Ever BY FAR into the White House. In order to get there, Coach Joe has a big decision on his hands; and if his answer doesn’t rhyme with “Blacey Blabrams” or “Blalexandria Blocasio-Blortez” I will be very discouraged and will certainly want to have a word with the damn ref. 

UX/UI/OMG (4.17.20)

April 17, 2020

I’ve always been a hands on designer. A designer/maker if you will. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I’ve often created my own projects so my resources have generally been limited. This means that my design process is informed by resource limitations and to maximize the project’s potential it takes an iterative design approach. 

It’s like the old-timey version of the portrait painter who is always stepping back and raising their thumb for perspective. Make a broad stroke. Step back and reconsider. Make another stroke. Step back. And so on until the resource pile is empty and we’re as close to our goal as we can get. (Please see my How Tables Happen entry for a delightful visual representation of this process.)

This is also how I approach web design projects. I understand that the software resource pile is different than a pile of scrap walnut lumber, but we can agree it’s the same principle. 

An iterative approach has always seemed like the only pragmatic way to actually meet goals, and I think that works best when the imagination and the craftsmanship share the same values and come from the same place. In my mind an architect that isn’t comfortable with a circular saw will never be able to maximize their resource pile. Is that judgy? Sure. I can live with that.

There seems to currently be a debate in the design community about the way that people use the prefix UX/UI. Rubens Cantuni wrote a piece that I read on Medium titled Time to get rid of that “UX/UI” in design titles. The thesis of the piece is pretty clear, no? What seems funny to me is that my man is under the impression that this is going to be a Hot Take. He says “The UI is one of the components of the UX, so asking for someone who can do UX design, should imply that this person is also able to take care of the UI part.” Yup. That makes sense, and tracks with an important lesson I picked up as a youth; All spaghetti is pasta, and not all pasta is spaghetti. 

I like words, and using language carefully is a priority for me so I’m fully prepared to embrace this fussy discussion. Rubens says:

"To sum it up (in an overly simplified way)

Again, yes. Plainly put these are the job roles and responsibility breakdowns. The only thing I can imagine being tricky is that it’s entirely possible, and even likely on a smaller team, for one person to simultaneously fill multiple job roles. I’ve done it multiple times. Early on it was disorienting and hard to know when to put on which hat, and as I moved through my career that kind of became my favorite part - figuring out when to switch. And I believe that the fact I was an expert-level Captivate developer informed the way I organized the content from first approach. It’s a virtuous cycle that’s enabled me to build some really simple, cool stuff. 

When it comes to this debate, while it’s important to use language properly I believe it’s even more important to think about it properly. You know - the old “You can call me whatever you want, just don’t call me late for dinner.” 


How Tables Happen.pdf

hooray F*CK IT! (4.6.20)

April 6 2020

This morning I listened to a remix of Hip Hop Hooray, the seminal 1993 single by Naughty By Nature. By itself this isn’t remarkable because as a man from a certain place (i.e., the south suburbs of Chicago) and of a certain age (i.e., washed) most of what I listen to is 90’s hip hop. Wu Tang radio is the default Pandora station in my car. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this train of thought, it’s mainly a flex to show just how fucking cool I am. Collar popped. Ahem.

What was remarkable about this remix is that it’s a collab between our old friends Treach, Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee and... Rita Fucking Wilson. Yes that Rita Fucking Wilson. How’d we get here? Glad you asked. Sometime last week/year/yesterday/whoknowswhen/timeisaflatcircle she posted an IG story showing her recovering from COVID-19 and a capella spitting the familiar lyrics. Well. Really well. It turns out Rita Wilson is legit nice on the mic, and because Spring 2020 = Fuck It these two separate cultural icons ended up doing something fun together to benefit a music industry relief fund. There are funky opportunities here. 

It seems pretty clear that this quarantine version of Fuck It comes from being given more time and headspace and losing freedom to physically move around in the world. The stakes are simultaneously so high (the US death toll just hit 10,000 as I’m writing this) and so vapid (see Hip Hop Hooray, above) that people are more readily coming to think “Why the hell not?” This can be such a good thing for silly feel-good moments (hearing a classy older white lady kick “You tried to act like something really big was missin’ even though my name’s graffiti written on your kitten” is a PRIVILEGE) as well as moments of more heft. 

A friend of mine who is a theatre director and teacher was telling me about the first online acting class he taught last week, and it’s a super shiny story. After all of the initial tech bullshitting around and getting the dozen participants settled, it was time to start the acting. A pair started working through a simple little two-hander, and were clearly discouraged to be acting through screens. After the first performance everyone just sat in silence to digest the moment and my friend said “OK shit, so we just learned that that isn’t going to work” to a Zoom chorus of agreement. To his credit he stayed patient and in it and engaged the group on Why. If I understand correctly it came down to acting being about truth and that acting through the Internet felt dishonest. And then because Fuck It he changed the game. He gave himself permission to consider the features and history of the video delivery method from first principles, recalled the emotionally charged conversations we all used to hear one side of on trains, and challenged the group to accept and incorporate their quarantine truths into the scene. And then shit got real. In the middle of a line someone spontaneously had a fit and got up and walked their dog and came back a half hour later and resumed the scene right where they’d left off. Some people made drinks in their kitchens and smoked cigarettes on their porches. Someone climbed into her bed and hid under her covers. You know, SHIT PEOPLE CAN'T ACTUALLY DO IN AN ACTING CLASSROOM. Fuck It just evolved theatre.

To my mind the key behavior in that story is acceptance, and yes I absolutely mean that in the Kubler-Ross way. In a crisis, acceptance sets imagination free and it seems this is as good a time as ever to consider the value of creativity. It’s at the heart of both art and science. At this moment where would we be without music, movies, games, electricity, computers, astronomy? (The answer is lonely and hungry and cold.) It’s actually thrilling to contemplate all of the innovations that will be born from this moment in history; I really wouldn't mind a vaccine and I also have some ideas for a fire Sir Patrick Stewart collab with Run-DMC. I mean, fuck it, right?


April 4, 2020

I love a good battle. Not in the medieval kind of way, in the hip-hop kind of way. I’ve often joked that all conflicts should be resolved using dance-offs. Honestly, I think this started watching a Betamax videotape of West Side Story at my best friend’s house sometime around 1980. I remember thinking “That is a CRAZY way to fight!” and then me and Todd would jump all around the paneled basement of his parents co-op singing “From your first cigarette to your last dying day!” - but super macho style. Just a couple years later I also remember me and Todd kung-fu breakdancing across the Western Heights movie theatre parking lot after watching Barry Gordy’s The Last Dragon - his dad Herbert (who is an amazing and whip-smart and charming man who was generally Not Here For The Dumb Shit) was waiting for us in the old brown Ford Fairmont, and as we bopped into the back seat talking about Feeling The Rhythm of the Night I remember him glancing at us in the rear-view mirror... and cracking a grin. I think he felt it. The Rhythm of The Night, I mean.

I believe human beings require conflict. Not quite at the same level as air and water, but really not too too many steps removed. We thrive in it. We manufacture it all the time. It helps us test our thoughts and beliefs. And most of the time it gets away from us. 

I’ve had my share of fights, of all sorts. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not not proud of it. I really don’t mind conflict; as a matter of fact many of my closest lifelong relationships started over a moment of static. For instance, with my boy Todd that I mentioned earlier, it all started with a neighborhood water balloon fight gone wrong. We were around 5, there were a dozen of us running around 1976-style, and I totally sandbagged Todd and immediately turned and ran back into my house where he threw a water balloon through our screen door. This necessitated a peace summit involving the parents, who promptly made us each a handful of more balloons, sent us back into the battle and then I’m pretty sure smoked a joint and became best friends. I have at least a half-dozen more stories like that. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not not proud of it. 

Most people don’t seem to share my relationship with conflict, and I get it. It seems like pursuit of happiness really means pursuit of comfort, and I get it, I like to be comfortable. It’s that pesky human requirement for conflict that I’m simultaneously trying to accomodate. I think this is one of my big connections to hip-hop. Not only are the origins of the music inherently revolutionary, battles have been part of hip-hop culture since 70’s block parties in the Bronx. Show skills, how you flow skills, rock a party. Channeling aggression into braggadocio, channeling that braggadocio through craftsmanship and imagination, and boom someone is inventing the Moonwalk. How cool is that?!!?!?! 

Anytime any group spontaneously breaks into dance it fills my heart with joy at our human potential. I think I’m just a sucker for choreography. To me the subtext is always some kind of ”me and my crew invented this and can do it better than you and your crew can do whatever wackness you put together.” It’s like, bear with me here, the 1998 Bulls on defense, “releasing the Dobermen” in every 3rd quarter; improvisation within structure, perfect synchronicity, one single tear falling down my cheek at the pure beauty of it all. Look what we can do when we channel our aggression and pull in the same direction.

I’ve been doing pretty well in The Quarantine, keeping pretty level. I put energy into being calm and pleasant, and it feels good. The stillness is really lovely in moments. And the anxiety is always there. Always. And as Open America is gaining traction, I’m losing patience with our collective loss of patience. I was FURIOUS last Friday, full on soapbox, shouting into the void (which actually meant virtually hollering at my friends) and evangelizing a thoughtful reconsideration of the Civil War. I’m still angry and disappointed. I’m still itching for a battle. And in the interest of a more constructive, more mature application of that anger, I will make this offer on behalf of America: I know for a fact I can out-Moonwalk anyone in this damn administration.

What's NEXT (4.1.20)

April 1, 2020

It turns out I’m not great with time. When left to my own devices I’m a chronic putterer and 8 hours into it I get bored and have 2.5 drinks and go to bed way too early, partly I think as a way of just checking that day off the to-do list. Come to think of it, I’m double killing time. Hmm. Which is extra ironic seeing that I do really believe it’s the only thing that I actually possess. And I’m mad reckless with it. “Hey there Existentialism, meet ADD...” 

I navigate these energies in all kinds of different ways - putting myself in leadership positions in order to have enough eyes on me to create some accountability, putting myself at the bottom of various food chains so I can move freely and unobserved, drugs - and I lead a relatively productive life. (Uh huh. I just took a 9 minute break to sign up for a MasterClass with Malcolm Gladwell. On writing.) One of my mottos is “Just keep it movin.” I prefer errors of commission to errors of omission. I generally avoid making perfect an enemy of good, and I’m delighted by a good old-fashioned paradox. I believe that 99% of the time we use the word “but” we really mean “and.” I try to remember to Look Up every time I exit a building and enter the world. I try to make space to actively define and redefine productivity for my own damn self. When I finish a task I ask “What’s next?”

In this way I consider myself to be Progressive. In the literal sense of progressing to what’s next. For me it’s behavioral as well as ethical. And while it’s historically been a strategic or tactical consideration, In These Difficult Times it is purely a challenge of imagination. There’s just no data for a moment like this, and it’s almost a little sad to see so many smart and talented people scrambling to identify some historical precedent that can help them feel better about Not Knowing Shit At The Moment. Some people still have jobs and details seem to be comforting so I guess let’s not begrudge ourselves the small pleasures, but it seems to me that this is something better approached from the top-down. OK so the main question in the air is “When will things return to normal?” Joe Pinsker dropped a really thorough piece on The Atlantic about it (FWIW the timeline hinges on a concept called population-level immunity, which simultaneously sounds super cool and dystopian as hell) and at the same time my spidey sense suggests that returning to normal is still looking backwards. There are opportunities here. The Progressive version of the question is “When will things get to where they’re going next?” which then begs the most interesting question of all. Where do we want things to go?

I believe that things are broken in these United States. We call ourselves a democracy, we were designed as a representative republic, and we function as a capitalist oligarchy. Our biggest mistake was building a superpower economy on slavery. Our second biggest mistake was reneging on the 40 acres and a mule promise. It’s damn near irrecoverable. Wait, were they mistakes? Or is all of this As Designed? Has all of the lofty language in our founding documents - language that no one had ever before had the temerity to include in a nation’s charter - been full of shit from jump? I mean, why would you allow me to even pursue happiness if you’re oppressing me out of the chance to get some? Why are billionaires legal? Is capitalism inherently predatory? Why are we so afraid of the government? Oh sweet Jesus, look at us now...

All I know is that I am currently waiting on my first de facto Universal Basic Income check, and that was unthinkable 4 weeks ago. There are opportunities here. Hate The Quar. Love The Quar. Imagine life in 12 months. Be terrified. Be thrilled. It’s all correct.