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For the past few months I have been in a bit of a reverie. A lot of major events culminated in my life in one major intellectual meltdown. These were the end of a long arduous process of living and coping with a sick father and a long arduous process of living and coping with the fact that I was a student.

Well, my father passed away and I graduated.

These happened within a month of one another. It was a major turning point in my life. And one of the major changes was that my brain just turned off. As if there was a switch and it had been flipped. I couldn’t bring myself to follow my twitter feed, to read articles and do research, not even to write a blogpost. I was seemingly all burnt out after 5 years of college and a long process of being an emotional pillar for my family.

So instead of thinking, I pursued forgotten romances. Mainly reading fiction, drawing and painting and sitting on stoops doing nothing but watching people go by.

And then reality hit me and I realized I was nearing the end of my savings. It was time to do something. But I still couldn’t quite turn the brain on. It refused to listen to my plea.

Until recently. It just happened. Boom, we were back online.

It felt amazing. Thinking, feels amazing. But so did the rest of my summer, so did not thinking, so did reading and painting and people watching. Today I started reading a book I bought a few months back called “The Creative Economy: How People Make Money Off Ideas” by John Howkins and it mentioned that creatives go through four different processes. One of these is incubation. Its a process of letting ideas germinate, of relaxing and just giving yourself the opportunity to feel.

I think that that’s where I was these past few months. I was incubating giving myself the chance to understand the intense research and actions of the past few years. I realized just how important incubation is. But I don’t think that incubation is valued and understood, at least not in our current economy. It seems like lost, wasted and unproductive time.

How can we change that perception. Is that actually how we perceive incubation or is it just the way I think it is perceived. And finally, if it’s more than my own biased perceptions, how can we begin to reimagine the systems in place to allow for incubation?

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Now that I am done with school there’s a question that has been running through my mind. This question of professionalism.

According to Richard Sennett we can think of it in the same vein as being a craftsman, and to be a craftsman one needed to put in 10000 hours into your craft. Is that what makes a professional? When you are a craftsman?

Or is it when you beat resistance and make sure that you show up to work everyday? Is it when you do the work? As suggested by Steven Pressfield.

I recently added a signature to all if my emails and asked if that meant I was now a professional? A friend jokingly answered “no, it just makes you slightly more efficient.” Which is true.

My grandfather recently gave me a graduation gift and told me that now that I’m done, I need to go buy a suit, because when he was leaving the army his commander bought him a suit as a gift and said he was now ready for the world. Is a suit what I need, will that make me a professional?

A professional is not an amateur. So what exactly makes one no longer an amateur?

Going through university, even a design university we often write papers. I in particular because of my self-directed curriculum wrote a lot of papers for the various non design courses that I took.

I loved it, writing that is.

But I never saw myself as a writer. It’s absurd to be greedy with passions, isnt it?

I even dared to write a fiction story once, it was no good I’m sure, but I certainly enjoyed it. And even now, I write consistently. My thoughts are always in words, my notes are always written, my sketchbooks betray my calling.

Writing is important to designers as well. Everytime I imagine a persona, I turn to fiction, I write the story, the full story, with all the tiny little bits that make my characters live. But then that gets taken away, it becomes a storyboard, or even, storytelling, to an audience, that has little patience, that wants only the important parts.

So yes, I write, but is that writing?What is real writing?

I’ve been told recently, and before that as well, that I am a good writer, and that I should do more of it. But I’m a designer. Isn’t it greedy to want more? Wouldn’t I be diverting my own energy?

But if I did try, how would I? What does one need to do to become a writer? Is simply writing just enough?

What makes a writer a writer?

Am I allowed an alter-ego, one that writes, perhaps secretly?

I’m currently reading a book about learning nationalism at the El Paso – Juarez Border and I was struck by the holistic approach that the authors Susan J. Rippberger and Kathleen A. Staudt have in describing education on both sides of the US – Mexico Border.

Of particular amusement to me was the stress in part of the book on the differences of personal space in Mexico and in the US and the ways in which this plays out in the physical structure and layout of the classroom.

Upon showing a video recording of a classroom in Juarez (which by its description, seemed very constructivist in its approach) to students in a Graduate Seminar on Education, a student commented on the difference between the Mexican classroom dynamic and the US dynamic by highlighting the similarity between individual desks and cubicles, essentially equating the stress on individual student desks as preparation for a capitalist mindset in which you are just a cog in the machine, a single employee in his cubicle.

I couldn’t help but repeatedly highlight that passage, it struck me as being one of the most hauntingly accurate critiques of American classroom layouts.

At a time when businesses everywhere are realizing the importance of workplace environment and removing cubicles as they attempt to create more collaborative work spaces, I can’t help but wonder how much of this collaboration is permeating to our schools, to our kids.

Any hope at a collaborative structure in the workplace seems like it should start by creating a collaborative work structure in the classroom.

How do we create collaborative work spaces? Is it enough to just have children sitting in small groups? Should we be sharing materials as well? How much of a role does the physical environment play in teaching and developing collaboration and creativity in our classrooms? Especially when those are the skills our businesses are seeking so passionately now.

In a very provocative final lecture by Cameron Tonkinwise in his course Rethinking Sustainable Design, Cameron summarized the course and then led us into a new discussion on sustainability as presented by Allan Stoekl in his book “Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability” .

In many ways this was also Camerons answer to the question he posed earlier of “How do we want to live?” because if Sustainability is a question, and not a simple one then we know that every question has many potential answers. Likewise, one of the biggest problems with sustainability are the various ways in which it plays out to be a survivalist rhetoric. Sustainability is presented as an end point, a type of Cosmopolitan Utopia, where humans are pleasantly different together. But the biggest flaw with this line of thought is that it strips from humans all of their messiness, emotion, desire and eroticism. It is not the answer to Cosmopolitanism as a challenge that Kwame Appiah sought, because in this dialogue it was not a choice. It is a reactionary move on humans in response to the environment. Its a homeostasis that takes from us our ability to innovate and create and make decisions and to live with emotion and reduces us simply to animals that co-inhabit and survive.

In this Cosmopolitan sustainable future, it is a boring “Utopia”. I put Utopia in quotations because it is a false Utopia, a Utopia stripped of movement and motion.

If the question is “How do we want to live?” then the follow up question is do we want to live in stasis, do we want to end up in a perpetuated pattern of living in accordance with the environment, playing out the same story again and again?

Or do we want to imagine something different, we know that currently the imagination that has culminated in the neo-liberal capitalist state has left us “de-futured” in Clive Dilnots words; So how can we proceed?

Can we have our future imagine a future? What is sustainability in motion?

“Take your dreams seriously, Work is not a job”

Manifesto’s are really important, and powerful. I think we need to be writing manifestos daily, I really do.

5 must read manifestos from Brainpickings.org

The 5 above are simply amazing

One that really resonated with the way that I try to live my life is by written by Catharina Bruns, the German-born designer and illustrator thats the one this post started with.

I have also been a big fan of NIKE: Just Do It

Are manifestos important? Do you have any yourself? What manifesto do we need now?

I apologize, this post is longer than most. But its good, I promise 🙂

So, today I sat through a marvelous lecture on Life Cycle Assessments by my Professor Cameron Tonkinwise at Parsons.(Its a long lecture but worth it, Cameron is one of the most entertaining speakers anywhere. I mean, he made LCA an inherently boring thing, extremely interesting) Here he was explaining some of the theory behind LCA’s and how they are not the answer to sustainability that we were all looking for. LCA’s are highly politically charged and biased and there are a lot of constraints behind what they actually say.

This is not at all to say that they shouldn’t be done, because they should, but as with everything, one has to take it with a grain of salt.

The biggest take away was that LCA’s teach you to never think of products as simply a product, but that one has to think of products as ecologies. Both living and existing in time and an ecology that has a relationship to many other products and materials.

But more importantly, Product Ecologies don’t even go as far as we need them to go. What we really need to start thinking about are Practice Ecologies and running LCA’s on lifestyle associated with two different products (practice) rather than simply the two other products.

And it also becomes important to think about the notion that, when one buys a particular product, he needs to fit that product into his life. This often means adopting practices around the objects that we have. One needs to learn to read on a laptop to make use of its reading capabilities, and I for instance have massively adopted new behaviours and practices in order to teach myself online reading.

So then here is the question. Today I had my mother buy me a graduation gift (she has no idea that she bought it for me, yet!!) it was a laptop bag that allows me to attach it to the handlebars of my bike.

For the longest time I have told myself that the main reason why I do not bike to school ( a 1 hour bike ride) is because I have no convenient way of carrying my laptop, safely.

I do not like to bike with a backpack because I sweat as it is, with a bag not letting air escape, I would be drenched. Clearly this won’t do.

I have been pondering this problem for a while, not actively attempting to resolve it. When all of a sudden today, bam!! here is a bag that is meant to solve that problem, just for me. And its not as awful as a panier (those things are just not cool looking).

I went on an all day search and finally with the assistance of a friend I found it. It was $208. Aside from my cheap bike $350 and technology, I have never paid that much for any “thing.” But I really wanted to change my lifestyle, I wanted to leave myself with no more excuses.

Now I am facing a dilemma, I will need to radically change my lifestyle, as it is no longer a product that is holding me back. I am moving now into a realm of practice. I have a certain way of working now, a certain amount of things I carry: laptop, sketchbook, markers, cellphone, books, food. Ideally this bag fits into my existing lifestyle, if not I am worried that I will have to now change my lifestyle to fit this bag. And even worse, hopefully it fits my bike in the first place, otherwise this will all be meaningless.

I will probably end up buying a new bike to fit my bag (I really don’t like my bike, I’ve been meaning to save up and replace it for a while, now I may have no choice)

So this brings me to the question. What is easier when attempting to enter into a new practice. Is it easier to change yourself or is it easier to change the objects in your lifestyle? All I want to do is bike, did I choose the best option, were there other unexplored directions?

Recently, I have had a bit of an obsession with process, it seems to me so much more important, more powerful, erotic even than the result of the process, the product.

Another way to say it is that the act of creating resonates so much more with me than the creation.

As a public performer, I may be biased because it is always about the act of creation, not the final product, creating is ephemeral, it is empathic.

In thinking even of failure, it seems the only way to truly value failure, is to understand the value of the process. Failure is critically valuable if the process was something we could learn from. And failure in and of itself is not so bad if the process was enlightening.

Theres something about process that allows it to be shared, shared in a way that really allows for creation.

Elaine Scarry talks about the third site of beauty being creation, in that, when we encounter beautiful things, we ourselves want to make beautiful things.

In this respect, I think process is even more empowering, because when we encounter a beautiful process, we are not only incited to create, we are also given the tools how.

In her talk at Parsons on Designing Big Society, Lucy Kimbell talked about how she and her husband built their home while living in it. It seemed to me that she was living the design process, inhabiting an unfinished space, making decisions on the fly, constructing from the inside, and working on a team with the neighbors and construction workers and handymen to make this happen.

I was most intrigued with the thought, that the neighbors, city officials and construction workers were exposed to a living, breathing design process, a way of living and of thinking, and I wonder, how much they empathized with it. How much of it bled over into their lives, their manner of thinking, their ways of making and doing.

Process just seems much more beautiful than its outcomes. Because it can be shared, because it can be adopted, reused and even recycled.

Earlier today I read a blog post by Frank Chimero called Designer’s Poison. In it he talked about what he felt some of the most crucial challenges for design, as we move forward. One particularly resonated with me. It was about a shift from teaching and valuing design as a noun and moving towards design as a verb.
And it seems the biggest debates in design and business right now center around this very notion.

We need to learn to love and embody process, not necessarily its outcomes.

How do we do it? Should we do it?

I’ve been pondering this question a lot recently. It seems to me that most people run away from theory, they think its for the educated, that its excessively smart, beyond them, browbeating. There seems to be a hate and distrust for critical theory, philosophy, thought.

It seems to me that philosophy and theory are empowering, they are not ways in which we are told that we are too dumb, but rather i feel its one of our only defenses against the world.

We are fragile, and small, so small in fact that most of the time, it feels like the world may just overwhelm us, that things just seem to be so far out of our control that its easy to throw our hands up and hide our heads in the ground. Critical thought is a way to give our actions meaning, it allows us to think that we fit into some kind of framework, that somehow it all makes sense.

We look for meaning because meaning lets us feel powerful, its like saying “HA WORLD, I put you into my little thought box!” Its bringing order to nothing, its enclosing meaninglessness, and meaninglessness is frightening.

But it seems that most people don’t realize this, they think its just a bunch of educated people writing senseless things to make them feel stupid and dumb.

Or they just don’t need it.

Am I the only one that feels powerless and insecure? So insecure that I thirst for thought, to put the world in a box?