7 February 2010
Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempe...
Image via Wikipedia

I caught the tail end of an interview with an author of a book about the Berlin Airlift on Bob Edwards Weekend this morning. He mentioned that because of the Airlift, Berliners thought of the American soldiers as “angels in uniform”. It struck me as a stark contrast with what’s going on today. It seemed a reaction to a governmental philosophy that reflects a better way to be, to live, to operate.

I’m not saying it’s not complicated. Along with keeping civilians in Berlin alive, we also bombed the hell out of their city (and of course, the German government was doing unspeakable things and dragging many of its people into it). The Airlift had a big propaganda component, too. But it also was the most ambitious humanitarian relief campaign in history, as far as I know.

Despite my undivided attention to Ken Burns’ The War, I don’t even know very much about it all. Indeed, I’m pretty sadly ignorant of the details of political history between about 1900 and 1980, though I have been learning.

I’m not sure anyone, especially not us everyday people, really knows much about what’s really going on with our present day government and its wars. Or undeclared wars. I don’t say this in a conspiracy-theorist kind of way, or even to be especially accusatory of non-transparency from the reigning administration. It’s just complicated, and much is kept under wraps for strategic reasons, and I don’t read a lot about international policy. I know we do provide humanitarian assistance to the war zones we’ve created of late (as well as to war/disaster areas that aren’t even our fault). But I don’t hear tell of Afghans or Iraqis or Pakistanis calling our military “angels”.

I should probably read the book Bob Edwards was talking about, and not speak out of my impressions of history and politics alone. But, it seems to me, that the Berlin Airlift was a big old going-beyond-the-call, giving to and helping of people because it is the right thing to do kind of event.

Not to belittle the horrors of war and the complicated nature of humanitarian aid campaigns, but I do think this has parallels with the smaller things. The decisions we make in day-to-day living. In fact, look at what Mr. Godin wrote today. It’s a little snarky, and he’s talking about business/marketing. But same thing.

I see it more and more, this realization that Giving (without expectations) is the way to be, the way to live. I’ve always been prone to act this way, but now, seeing it codified so much more often, it seems more and more important as a code of conduct. Not a gimmick, a lifestyle. And good things come of it — the universe is abundant, you know that. Don’t worry about the “getting” part. Don’t worry about reciprocation part. It will all work out. And way better than if you’d worried about it.

I think it’s really interesting that this has been infiltrating the world of business and marketing more and more. Interesting and good. A positive development. A lot of people (or corporations… or are corporations people?) don’t get it. But they’ll be forced to, eventually, or will become obsolete. At least that’s my hope. The fact that so many of my fellow entrepreneurs, designers, marketing gurus, business thinkers, activists, etc., do get it warms the cockles of my heart. Really. Makes me feel part of something positive and progressive and good. A movement. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood or the Bauhaus. Idealists, yes, but I love idealism.

There are even books that try to explain this idea to more conventional (business) thinkers. Tim Sanders’ Love is the Killer App is written rather cloyingly, and can get slightly smarmy, but it makes a lot of good points — and importantly, “normal” people seem to understand it and get inspired by it. Michael Port’s Think Big Manifesto also has some of these qualities (though it’s a painfully repetitive read).

All of you out there who write blog or publish a zine or make art because you want to improve the world and give people cool, interesting thoughts and images — all of you designers, like me, who refuse to put more crap into the world, only pointful stuff — all of you who will sit and talk to someone over coffee for a couple hours and help them figure something out, and enjoy doing it — all of you who act out of compassion not expectation of returns — thanks! Let’s keep doing it. Let’s make this the movement. Let’s make this how we change the world and what we’re known for in history. I’m down with that.

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22 January 2010

Ok, it is a blog, technically. But I’m calling it a zine for several reasons. (And maybe, eventually, I’ll make it look more like a zine, and less like a blog… but today, going live is goal number one…)

The dangers of reading all those books and blogs about blogging

First of all, I know too much about how you’re “supposed” to write a blog and that is not necessarily what I have in mind to do. In a way, it takes the pressure off. Blogs are all about diving deep in your niche — letting your sustained interest take you further and further into your topic — perhaps for years on end, and eventually, creating a massive resource about said topic for your readers. That’s cool — I love blogs like that. I read a lot of them. I admire the authors endlessly for their dedication to their subject and their ability to concentrate so singlemindedly.

Some stuff I like

I, however, seem to be more of a serial obsessor (and maker upper of verbs). I know myself — I go very deep on a thing for a time, then it fades. It could be the year I collected antique buttons, spending evening after evening sorting them according to different taxonomies, learning how to test their material composition, going to antique button events in seemingly made-up rural enclaves with terrifying elderly button ladies, excitedly waiting for my new issue of the National Button Society journal. It could be my bout of making anything and everything into a pinhole camera (mint tins, cookie tins, toothpaste boxes, old cameras, Polaroid Land cameras, film canisters, hotel rooms, large public monuments…) and reading about camera-construction and taking all manner of workshops. The obsessive crocheting year, the genealogy, papermaking, making buttons out of clay, German new wave cinema, bookbinding, screenprinting, Australian movies, the jewelry upcycling, the various historical screenplays, user experience, design research, design management, typography, dog photography, deconstructing clothes to make sewing patterns (yes, I have a pair of homemade leggings, based on a store-bought model) (oh, and here’s a great book, if you’re into that sort of thing) self-actualization, Getting Things Done, lens making, cyanotype and van dyke brown photo printing, Polaroids, HTML. I can’t begin to remember all the deep dives I’ve taken — but most seem to last between a few months and a few years. Most linger as something I remain interested in and come back to and still do. But the very serial nature of my obsessions makes me completely terrified of committing to a single topic or niche for a traditional blog.

Another reason I don’t want to call this a blog, is that I’m afraid I may defy the generally-accepted wisdom to write simply and clearly without too strong an accent and to stay on message. I definitely agree with that for my clients and for more traditional “marketing” endeavors, all round. (Mr. Godin has a concise bit about your writing accent, and I would argue even more strongly that in marketing copy, the accent, or more correctly, the “voice” needs to born out of a strategic decision about what’s right for the audience.) But, for me, part of being “authentic” (oh, overused but still crucial and valid word) is reserving the right to sometimes be a bit florid. A bit purple or convoluted in my prose. Sometimes I use a lot of big words. Sometimes I talk like someone in sixth grade in a Boston suburb in the mid-80s. Sometimes I think I’m a Victorian novel. Or at least English. So, take me or leave me. I can’t be (or don’t feel like being) held responsible for keeping it syntactically simple. Ideas are another matter.

What’s my point, even?

Also, my primary goal here isn’t really marketing. Yes, I certainly want to attract and get in touch with awesome people who need my design and strategy services. Working with awesome people is pretty damn gratifying – especially when you get to do creative work for them that helps them to fulfill their business or personal objectives and makes them happy. And especially when it’s a give and take and you both learn and teach. That’s my MO in having Clove Orange, the design concern. But my primary goal (if I even have a goal) in having Tiny Flying Goats, the zine, is expression and two-way communication.

The end of analog

There’s a big piece of paper taped to the coat closet door that says “BLOG” on the top. With the Sharpie and gluestick stationed nearby, I’ve been scrawling ideas and pasting pictures on there for the past six months. My boyfriend keeps asking me, “you know blogs are supposed to be online, right?”

Despite having taken a terrific writing workshop with Grammar Girl a year or two ago at Kripalu (a hippie yoga place — great for taking workshops, but has become unduly expensive of late) where we all sat on the floor in our socks and practiced writing for different kinds of social media in our paper notebooks, I do actually know that blogs are generally online. I was just, as I was saying, afraid of commitment to a niche.

Now, what was I talking about?

The annals of Annie history

Ah, yes. The final reason that this is a zine, not a blog, is because back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was one of those DIY zine people. (Actually, ironically, I’ve always hated the word “zine” but, it is what it is. It means what it means.) It was called “Tear Down the Sky” (the name is an obscure Boomtown Rats reference, rather than the nihilistic sentiment it appears to be). I devoted myself to this project all through high school and college, and it reflects my developing, somewhat crazy brain, my growing interest in design (though even the final issue is an embarrassing typographic nightmare), and the evolution of the technology available to everyday people for publishing (it moves from a cut and paste, typewritten photocopy through an odd, halftone and offset phase and then to Mac Classic and Xerox Docutech). But, overarchingly, it represents an unbridled, uncensored passion. (I’m working on doing a reprint of an issue or two of Tear Down the Sky, despite the embarrassing factor on the design… will let you know what happens with that.)

This was, somehow, before my understanding of the world and self-consciousness was fully developed. It was before I knew too much. It was before I felt compelled to write a thousand word apologia as the first copy in a new project. I wrote about what moved me, or what came to mind. Though some issues had themes, I didn’t really worry about it too much. I drew lots of weird pictures. I roped in friends when I could, but mostly just did it all myself. It kept me very occupied, and it made me very happy when people appreciated it. It made me very happy when people wrote me letters because of it (on paper, imagine that!) In fact, I met one of my dearest and most influential friends through such a fan letter. It was cool. It was authentic. So this is my new zine. Hope you like it. Write comments or email me if you do. If you don’t, don’t read it. I’m the first to admit it’s not for everyone. Maybe not for anyone (but me).

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