Oh hell, these days we are living. Broken dreams, yes? And broken promises to self. How do we get through all the shit every day, to mine the one or two joy nuggets? And how does this happen so openly and gleefully for so many people that I know?
But I’m getting way off-track. I ran into my favourite design educator this past week, an oldie but a goodie, at Emily Carr, who asked me in passing about my experience at NSCAD and asked that we meet for lunch to discuss pedagogy. Ha! Yes, that was an actual conversation that I had, amidst the gloom and doom and gentle mediocrity of my day job.
I had to think back, like really think back, to my year at NSCAD, and despite all the hateful in-the-moment life stuff that blurred the lines of my experience, I came away with a much richer education than I give credit. I think of all the writing, the introduction to an array of obscure crazy ass (mostly Japanese) designers, architects and bio-technologists, to the concept of methodology and a kind of principled way of approaching that soft, nudgeable wall between research and practice, to the time – the TIME – available to think and to be articulate and to consider new ideas without a constant to-do list. I think the time factor alone is not inconsiderable. I can never do it all, never. I can’t even even do the 2 out of 3 that you’re supposed to get: you know, pick 2, career, life, love. I always get career, and then, not even, only out of fear, my choices – and the life and love be damned.
Pedagogically, there was an openness to the NSCAD way that I don’t think many of us appreciated in the moment: looking at obvious, slow, mundane life stuff as the rich material of design. When you can look at the mundane through the lens of design without necessarily factoring in a client concern or a design brief, you’re open to the blue sky (ugh – fuck, I can’t even write this without exposing myself to banality) the way we’re all taught to be in undergrad. But you never get there in undergrad because you’re so concerned about getting a job and learning hard skills and rationalizing the shit out of every thing you do that you stop short of that proverbial blue sky. At least I did, and continue to do, being all about the rules and such. Maybe I did let go, though, a little, and I also Had Opinions. Not something that comes easily to me, meek people-pleaser that I am. We Design Squirrels harbour our acorns of Opinion until we can fully fucking launch them, and then all hell breaks loose and we are labelled Moody. Or…Edgy….or… Burnt Out.
Maybe instead we are permanently discontented, as all good creatives should be? But also busy and curious, working away on large-scale impossibly complex and richly detailed Embroidered Landscapes, on our own retro, but contemporary, but nuanced, but – also derivative – typefaces, and also, on our Canning, our commitment to Slow Foods, and…to our Opinions.
Blog neglect, that’s what this is, straight up. I miss you, blog, but also you represent a psychic weight for me, and then there’s this whole mix of regret and blame and guilt, and a lot of sighing and wishing for more time and for more energy and for more space…bubbles of space, of airy, stress-clearing space.
But really what’s brought me back is a look ahead to my meandering career, and to the fear that this induces, and to the particularly terrifying comment made by one dean of design during one design documentary that sort of seared into me, and made me feel irrelevant and a bit lost and a lot scared. The comment is, very simply, that to deny the presence of social media, to deny its existence and its prevalence and to ignore it and sit outside of it…is to be irresponsible. To be an irresponsible designer.
And here’s me, this old-school, alarmist fuddy-duddy, who regularly sees the largely negative social consequences of pervasive social media in the classroom – rampant disrespect, poor or non-existent social skills, higher levels of anxiety and ADD, constant social tuning, or more accurately, constant self-tuning: am I alive? am I being noticed? am I being encircled by constant monitoring and self-publishing and updating? what am I missing right now? how can I blow up Twitter? – and then, well, fuck me, I’m an extroverted introvert who needs a lot of down time, removed from external stimuli, just to make it through my busy work week. So, these two facts together: my personality and this ongoing live social experiment with some (not all) of my students, really screw me for this inevitable future.
This is a recurring DS theme, wrestling with technological supremacy, and it’s not that I’m living in a cave or anything, it’s just, I can’t seem to find a balance that works for me, that’s integrated and seamless. And these kids today – there’s no anxiety, only acceptance and early adoption.
In a positive move forward, I’m taking an intro to iPhone app class in the fall, and trying again to get into the basic microelectronics class. The dream I had earlier in the summer to write and to pitch design articles – bwah ha ha ha! A pipe dream, if ever there was one. September 2013: design residency! Mark my words, that’s the plan. I’ve got a semi-diorama, semi-embroidery meets machine glimmer going on, like a way better grad thesis than the one I recently produced, more from inside the practice than projecting loftily from my desk. And a resulting kick ass paper, yes?
For now, I have 12 active dockets at work, a terrible, largely chips-based diet, an impending move – the 5th in 3 months – a breaking body (knees, hips, shoulders, wrists), and a holiday-less next two months…maybe I’ll just sad-sack tweet. You know how much I hate relentless goodwill and happiness:-)
Hells bells! Another week gone by and not a thing to show for it except a kitchen piled high with dishes, a disturbing dependency on Babybels (full fat version), and a pretty knife-edged hatred of sick people riding public transit with abandon. Use your elbow pit! It’s not good for anything else! I will soon be a curmudgeonly germaphobe, dreaming of my simpler days in Halifax.
I’ll keep this short and sweet, more of a placeholder than anything else: back to weekly posts next week, once I wrap my head around a new fulltime job, teaching, commuting, catching up with friends, re-inserting exercise into my life’s plan, and trying to enjoy, in small measure, my lovely summer sublet on the Drive. Back to some design stuff, too – less bitch, more stitch around here. At least for a few weeks. Maybe interspersed with camping and husband-hunting adventures.
I am dealing better with the massive amounts of change with more grace than I would have imagined for myself. That is not one of those sneaky, vile backhanded self-compliments, btw, but an honest kind of awe given my weak constitution and overall lonely, crybaby nature. Somebody at work told me there’s something in the water, and I think that might be true.
Back soon with *actual* content.
Ooh, am loving teaching right now! In class, we’re looking at biological and manmade systems as a means of understanding underlying geometries, patterns and grids that can be extended and abstracted into 3D models. The research portion is this week, the big install the end of next: I’ll ask my class for permission first, but will hopefully post some of the final pieces. If this project is successful, thinking about ways of extending it into something collaborative and ongoing with Vancouver artists and designers. I would love to curate a show at the intersection of design and science: not a new idea at all, but could be fresh with the right curatorial bent. Haven’t completely given up on my plans to write a beginner design article of some kind…but haven’t wrapped my head around the approach just yet. Maybe this could be the direction: to write something to accompany the show. My capacity each day, however, seems truly limited, especially with my heavy tv demands.
On that note: I could not love NY Mag’s Vulture blog any more! I read practically every article posted about tv: there’s a great series about the ongoing polarization around Girls, and just recently, specifically in defense of the portrayal of sex on Girls, which is pretty much my favourite part. Total train wreck sex: you can’t look away from the horror of watching Adam treat Lena Dunham’s character like a fleshy mass with holes for his own pleasure.
When did I get so fucking crusty? Jesus. I mean, I know that this is not a new thing for me, the pessimism, but it’s really ballooned into something huge and unfathomable. I chalk up my poor attitude to post-graduation depression and the Death of Dreams. Like, I mean, I still have dreams, but I’ve pushed them aside momentarily in order to get on with those basic needs things. Full time job, check. Ongoing teaching career, check. Newly acquired and sweetly furnished summer sublet, check. Access to fluffy and delicious gelato, check. Reasonable commute to work, check. 2-block access to yoga, check. View of mountains, check.
At convocation Sunday, the lovely young woman who won the coveted design award (for undergrads only or else I totally would have crushed her) is on her way to a 10-week internship at Penguin in New York. I felt jealous rage, and also thought back to all the times I played it safe in undergrad: I never even applied to go on exchange. Everything feels unreachable for me right now, and all I’m responding to is the immediacy and relative knowns of Adult Responsibility.
LC and I have master plans for a cross-Canada mail project once she’s settled back in TO and me back in Van. I want to write a kind of binding Travelling Pants-type manifesto with LC in order to put into the universe our commitment to making art together and applying for grants and residencies that take us out and about in the world. We both feel like we’re #2 waiting in the wings, some other designer/artist genius always better at the doing than us. For me, it’s a confidence thing, and this damn moodiness that plagues me. LC doesn’t have that – she is optimistic and energetic, and good for me.
Dying to get out of Halifax. Not because I hate it, because I don’t, but because it feels like a stall right now, like a kind of groundhog day situation, where I sit and stew and worry and act hermit-like. But, am determined to enjoy my last 9 days eating my way through the city, as one should always do: cinnamon pretzels, coconut smoothies, korean tacos, salami heros, prosciutto and provolone croissants…and tonnes of (farmed!) steelhead trout, which I love for its delicious oily fishiness. And Garrison Red, the only local beer that I’ve come to appreciate.
Last week’s salami and pepperoni hero below, from Salvatore’s in the Hydrostone.
I’m going through a post-grad anti-design phase. Not the doing, just the keeping up with, the constant checking of blogs and reading of Knowledge. Oh God how I hate this time in our evolution. Superstardom or else.
Um, on that cheery note! I got my thesis books in the mail yesterday. Three go to NSCAD, one I got for myself. I’d never printed with Blurb before – I have to say, other than the exquisite carbon footprint that I have helped to generate, with a trajectory (via FedEx tracking), as diverse and cryptic as Seattle > Memphis > Mirabel > Goffs (NS) > Halifax – great service and good quality for a low-run digital book. Colours are darker, as often happens, so would compensate even more than I did next time, but, overall, I’m really happy. And it’s great to have a real, live book documenting my year, though of course I reject it on principle, being too design lite. But…still. It’s something, it’s done, here’s to a future in which I rise to the occasion and promise that the MDes *delivers*.
Moving this week, ick and double ick. Tried to stay away from the really harsh chemicals until I had a crazy manic cleaning episode last night, failing to scrub free several months worth of soap scum from my bathtub, and ending in a ragey over-purchase of a bleach-based “Scrubbing bubbles” and a poison sign-laden oven cleaner. I feel a great deal of self-hatred and shame today, but also, as I have never seen my bathtub so shiny or so sterilized before, a conflicting situational pride in my homemaking achievements.
I have some dreams for the summer: some guerrilla gardening (try getting a plot in a community garden in Vancouver! Hahahaha! Kind of like the myth of the co-op. Man, Vancouver’s for chumps: like, wtf, this mirage of leftist bullshit. Make it work, for real, City); um, some baby nurturing, some nerdy micro-electronics projects, perhaps like a small robot or sensing wall or something; um, a boyfriend…and just a lot of time drinking good coffee. Halifax, I love you a little more than I did this time last year, but for the love of God, make a f’ing double shot Americano in a SMALL cup.
Below is the link to the full thesis text on Issuu. For all that free time that is endless and boundless. More of a flipper than a readthrough. Maybe don’t make fun of the writing…not the best. I have many thoughts about writing a design thesis, not the least of which is the left brain/right brain conflict of interests. I can’t be creative AND organized, for example. I can’t write well AND make design models.
So there. Designing for Experience on Issuu.
Broken City Lab are in Halifax tonight, at the opening for their month-long show at a local gallery called Eyelevel. They’re a super group from Windsor who basically do what I was looking into for my thesis, only much better and with organization and with some growing fame. This might not be entirely true: they’re actually a lot more like a Canadian Candy Chang (than me), and I almost went to the opening expressly to grill them about how much of their ideas they had borrowed from Candy Chang, but then I realized how petulant and defensive I would sound, and how much those thoughts stem purely from end of thesis butterflies and future fears and overall jealousies. Of people who have their shit together.
Anyway, I will go to their show, I just couldn’t handle the opening. Which is dumb of me – imagine, I could have made some sweet contacts, maybe drummed up a residency? Really dumb. But who knows, perhaps I will have the confidence to contact them later in the summer about a Windsor/Van collaboration. I’m into pitching, I’m all about the pitching, I’m just fearful of the talking and the convincing and the nitty gritty detail bits. And the rejection. I want to pitch to Design Observer but I fear that I might be laughed right out of their email pile, having never published before. Start smaller, right? Or maybe not…I’ve had the opportunity lately to watch two of my male colleagues maneuver through their lives, and I have to say, there’s very little hesitation or internal turmoil or self-doubt: steamrolling is the method, and confidence the methodology.
I had all these ideas of moving to Berlin/Austin/San Francisco immediately upon graduation, as one does the summer before actual decisions need to be made, but I am now returning to Vancouver in 2 months time, to piece together a new-ish but old-ish life in the city that I love. Well, love/hate maybe. I’m scared about going home and falling back into a routine that exactly mimics the faulty one from before. My thesis advisor asked me the other day what I planned to do with my masters research, as in, what next, and of course I hadn’t considered a what’s next, just a done and done. So, whatever sort of career path I fall into, I have to keep one foot in the research door. There can be so much more depth and richness to any design project – but I still haven’t found a way to marry the rigor that I can bring to an academic setting into the real design arena, with a real client. Time and money, time and money.
This is when I move to advertising, yes? Then the money part is taken care of, the time part stolen from me, but the work, maybe closer to pure ideas…maybe?
My one Vancouver photo: cherry blossom snow! From Easter, below: preparing for an Easter egg hunt, and a blustery day spent at various coves south of a beautiful part of Halifax called Jollimore (on the Dingle).
Ooh, I am off to Vancouver next week for a UBC graduate symposium called The Unseen. I’m giving a paper, the writing and worrying over of which have nearly killed me, but am thrilled to get some academic creds to go along with my very subtle, but highly enviable, street cred. Last week’s brief but crippling major bummer mood has this week been replaced with October levels of work ethic! Ha! Also, it was 27 degrees in Halifax today, a cruel, cruel hint of summer to come: I enjoyed the outdoors for approximately 23 minutes, before crawling back to my lair, populated by coffee products, three kinds of chocolate snacks, super foods including but not limited to almonds and avocado, fluffy pillows and brand new markers. Markers! Ha! Man, I’m really getting back into hand drawing and collage-y things. Thank God – I thought those days were over. Am also working my way through a long overdue Sketch-up tutorial and slowly, so slowly as to be almost unobservable, creating a 10-second rotoscoping animation. The animation is the last piece of design that I’ll complete for my thesis work as a means of showing a gestalt visual of more wordy and nerdy thesis stuff.
Here is an excerpt from my paper. It is meant to lure you to my talk, if you happen to be a ‘Couv resident and a big ol’ lover of the liminal city. I am psyched to be paired in my session with a UBC grad student talking about Gordon Matta-Clark, whose work I reference about a trillion times in my thesis.
In 1901, theosophists Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater painted a series of “thought-forms”, visual and symbolic interpretations of emotional vibrations (Satz, 2011-12, 35). The paintings represent emotional states as specific as “hateful jealousy”, “sympathy and love for all”, and “vague intellectual pleasure” (2011-12). One compelling aspect to this line of research is the early exploration of synaesthesia and the aesthetic connections among cognition, emotional states and stimuli, attempts to “… externalize the inner world of the mind”(35). Kandinsky, in his 1910 treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, advocated for the sensory experience of painting to capture or express the “spiritual impact of music’ (Forde, 2005, 12). He believed that music and rhythm captured a purity that could only be mimicked by other artforms. In his seminal book on sound theory, The Tuning of the World, Murray Schafer (1977) noted that, as early as the ‘60s, the distinction between signal and noise became murkier, as elements of feedback, looping, scratch and other “noise” techniques were recorded and worked into contemporary music. Cognitive, aesthetic and sensory mixing has a long history in visual culture: the city’s void and hidden spaces feed back so easily into this extant mixing, in that the spaces that are the least regarded come at us from a vantage point of a mixed pedigree of historical narrative, broken dreams, economic downfall (or windfall), nostalgic associations, wishes, resentments, and unlocked potential.
And that’s just a small but salient portion! Urban mixing, yo! The designer as trickster! If I can figure out how, I may post up the tiny test version of the animation – but until then, below, what it looks like so far if all the frames are squished together.
Miss you big time, Vancouver. Philips Blue Buck and spicy tuna cones: watch out, I’m gunning for you.
I took metta meditation classes many moons ago – in January 2008, on the heels of a trip to Southeast Asia. I came back from that trip, maybe more enlightened, maybe braver, maybe more open to new things? But book-ended by a near miss crippling food poisoning incident, and the sudden feeling that I was being screwed over at every turn for being white, for being – in a universe other than my own Vancouver fuck-upedness – privileged. I also had this post-trip energy that made me go out and sign up for classes: Indian Head Massage, metta meditation…you know, those Eastern influences. In metta meditation, a branch of vipassana, you learn to send out goodwill and love to the people in your life – the ones you like, the ones you hate, the ones you don’t even know, and then, finally, to yourself. I loved my teacher – I could just sit and listen to her forever, and she lived and breathed the kind of measured, but grounded, peacefulness, that you try to achieve through a longterm meditation practice. And so I did that for awhile, 20 minutes a day, then a little longer, then a weekend sitting and walking session, and then…rage, followed by complete disavowal of all vipassana practice and a return to my pre-trip crusty, bitter self.
The other thing that meditation should bring you is an acceptance, and a concerted effort to relinquish all attachment: attachment to things, attachment to people, attachment to outcomes. I have met, in my recent life, dedicated practitioners who have this gift of acceptance, and who do live in the present, with chaos all around, and nay a negative thought. They’re not dreamers, or people that you necessarily want to punch in the face, you know, from Saltspring, or thereabouts: no – they are, in a word, happy.
I’m a fence sitter about most things, and especially about my love/hate attraction to Westernized eastern spirituality. I’ll be the first, and the loudest, chanting “longtime sun” at a really great kundalini class, but I’ll also be the first and the loudest, to despair and complain and be jealous of others’ successes. I’m at this difficult time right now at school, nearing the end, but terrified of the future, unable to sit and let the fates decide. I don’t want to return to my previous life, which was all work and no play, all uncertainty and no longterm planning, all wishing and hoping without the payoff. Pema Chodron wrote a super series of lectures about living with uncertainty, and it’s a book I return to often: she writes for and about the modern, Westernized Buddhist, whose ego is at once so massive and so fragile, and whose spectrum of success is so wildly skewed.
So, in my fence-sitting tradition, I cling to my yoga and to my patched-together meditation practice when I really need it, which is now. If I can do just one awesome thing in my own life, it will be to accept uncertainty and to just be cool.
The second and third awesome things will be: to have some fucking follow-through AND to be a micro electronics nerd. Stay tuned.
LC and I are staging a (hopefully) awesome fake pop-up shop Monday night at NSCAD, as part of our studio requirements. We inadvertently caught some press this week, with a very lovely shout-out in The Coast (Halifax’s Georgia Straight), in a section called Art Attack! The article is below (and should be posted online on Monday, on the Art Attack blog). Will follow up post-show with pics and comments and sighs of relief! Nerves are kicking in, the old insomnia’s back, but perhaps short-lived this time? Here’s to future LC/CH collaborations.
ps on the Coast website!