Work With Your Hands

Northampton, Massachusetts

In middle school, my shop teacher was a grizzled old guy. Suspenders, beard, calloused hands – a stereotype if there ever was one. He told us to “make sure you keep things steady” while his hands shook. Neat guy.

One day he told us a story about taking a factory job as a younger man. Our teacher, the new employee, had to work 30 days in the plant without taking a day off. If he worked those 30 consecutive days, he got hired on as a full-time employee. If he missed even one day, he would be let go.

Well, he missed a day because he was violently ill. And of course he got let go from his new job. His lesson, if I remember it right, was that the real world was a tough place, and you had to work hard and pay your dues to make it.

I probably knew it earlier than seventh grade, but after hearing my shop teacher’s story, I figured out that maybe I didn’t want a blue collar job. I wanted to make things, yes, always. But not work in manufacturing – as my father had. It’s not that blue collar work was “below me.” I wasn’t “too good” for a factory job. It’s just that shop class never clicked, and hearing my teacher’s story made me worry about the prospects of working at a place like that. My future was going to be spent doing creative things with my mind.

Luckily, today we can “work with our hands” in other ways: digital projects, hobbies, crafting, writing, etc. It doesn’t have to be a full time job. The stakes are much lower.

At my previous job, there were a few college professors that spent their entire days in the abstract, teaching and reading and lecturing. When they got back home, they got their hands busy doing things like woodworking and car repair. I understood that need. It’s why I enjoy fixing things around the house when I can.

As humans, our best tools are our hands, and maybe tinkering tickles some ancient need we have as toolmakers.

It’s one of the reasons why I love making and pouring over physical things like photo books. Holding something physical, making artistic decisions about materials – I create things with my mind, and then get to hold them in my hands.


The Facebook Experiment

The Facebook Experiment

More than two months ago, I became a passive Facebook user. That means checking it only once a week or so, mostly for new messages, and tending to housekeeping. Did I get tagged in any photos? Do I have a blog post or photo to share? Who sent me a friend request? Etc.

Since then, I’ve noticed a funny thing: Facebook is really trying to get me back there every day. So much so that I get random email messages with subject lines like “So-and-so updated his/her status.”

No kidding? Someone I know updated their status? I should check that out!

Or not.

There must be some line of code at FB HQ that says “IF $days without login THEN notify Dave.” So I set up my own mailbox rule to trash those messages as they come in. I don’t see them anymore.

It’s easy to not miss Facebook. All those status updates, all those photos, all that fake outrage and fake news – when you don’t see it, you don’t miss it. And by skipping out on even being on the site, you miss out on not being advertising bait. Just think: no more of those creepy ads showing you something you just looked at on Amazon.

Most of all, it’s quiet outside of Facebook. There’s peace and calm. No drama. I find it addicting – and I’ve taken to cleaning up my Twitter timeline, too, so if I get tired of hearing about something or someone (rhymes with “Dump”), I mute it.

Peace. Quiet. I’m not ready to delete my Facebook profile just yet, but if I can get peace and quiet by avoiding the site, I’ll take it.

Next Great Addiction

Is On My List - Ann Arbor, Michigan

Jason Zook on quitting Facebook at Jason Does Stuff:

But I’ve had one big realization about our relationship, and it’s probably due to my growing older and having more life experience: I don’t enjoy sharing every detail of my life with you anymore. I don’t like the way you make me feel like I have to scream for attention every time I have something to say.

Again, you don’t need a rage quit.

A few months into my experiment, and I feel great. Less Facebook means more of just about everything and anything else.

To Madelyn

A letter to my daughter

Dear Madelyn,

Last week was your first national political election. At just over a year old, you already participated in American democracy, even if it was not directly. And as you joined me in polling booth, I feel like we had high hopes.

I put you to bed last Tuesday night feeling both sad and grateful. Sad, because maybe you wouldn’t grow up having a woman president to look up to, but grateful that you’re growing up in an America that makes it decently safe and secure to live as a woman. You have more privileges than some, but less than others. You probably have more to worry about from non-political threats.

Historically, the good news is American does grow more tolerant as the years pass by. Blacks and Latinos, while still harried and threatened, are in a better situation than when your grandparents were born. Muslims may have more to worry about. The nation still mostly fights for women’s rights. Gay and lesbian and whatever couples can legally marry. Even the furries are gaining respect (maybe).

But I still worry about the environment we’ll leave you, both in terms of nature and politics. I worry about what art and music education will be like when you’re going to school. I worry about how your peers will be treated by people who are white and scared and stupid. I worry about the America you’ll grow up in. It’s survived a lot over these 200+ years, but you never know.

It’s obvious to say it, but your world will look very different than mine does. I hope it’s for the better, and I’m going to try like hell to make it better. I hope that there will be a woman elected president, and that you’ll get to vote for her. I hope I get to vote for her, too.

Maybe we can go vote together again.

Your dad,

Fear the Future

Election Day

Things I’m nervous about today:

  • The election
  • Should Hillary win, the kind of Congress she’ll get (and work with)
  • Voter intimidation, and disenfranchisement
  • My well pump behaving as normal
  • Climate change
  • The inability to print my baby’s first year photo book because Aperture won’t let you print books anymore

Things I can actually do something about:

  • Voting, including taking the kids with me
  • Watching the election results roll in on TV tonight
  • Flush my well water so it’s safe to drink
  • Vote for candidates who respect education, science, and the findings of scientists
  • Finding another solution to printing a beautiful photo book that I’ve already laid out and captioned

An action-packed day here in America as we elect our local, state, and national leaders for the next two to four years. I vote in a rural township hall, and usually only have a dozen or so people in front of me when I go to vote. This year, I’m taking the kids with me out of child care necessity, but I’m looking forward to exposing the kids to this important national ritual.

If you follow me on Twitter, you can probably guess at my political affiliation. After being nervous about the outcome for weeks now, over the weekend I finally resigned myself to trusting the national body politic to make the wise choice.

Frankly, I’ll just be glad when it’s over. And for all of us, I hope we pay less attention to this stuff until much later in the cycle, for sanity’s sake. It’s not healthy for America to be in campaign mode for 18-plus months. Six months would be plenty.

Strange November

Strange November

November so far here in Michigan has been rare and lovely: mid 60s, sunny, and the leaves have held on for what seems to be a longer time.

But then there’s all the weirdness in my life right now: the whole family has been sick, we’re trying to sell our house, the election. To top it off, yesterday our water well pump gave up the ghost – while I was in the shower, with shampoo still in my hair, no less.

That’s life, right? The good and the bad. The strange and the secure. Everything is in transition.

Luckily, the nicer weather means more chances to make photographs. I took the boy to an area nature preserve yesterday for some hiking, just to get out in the woods. My wife picked up a bushel of random apples yesterday, so I may do a little still life project around that.

Strange November. It may get even stranger tomorrow night. Make sure you get out and vote.

House Shopping

House Shopping

My wife and I are house shopping. It’s been a big project, getting our house ready for sale while simultaneously looking at other homes.

One thing I love about our current house is the light. Lots of windows, east/west facing, plenty of natural light – it’s spoiled me over the years.

Now, as we house hunt, light is a big decider for me. Does the space feel open? Are there a decent number of windows? Which way does the sunlight come in? How will that change over the day, or the seasons?

The place above caught my eye right away. When we walked in, the light coming into the dining room made me take notice. That’s light I could get used to.

The Academic Life

The Academic Life

A recent episode of Roderick on the Line had me thinking about our aptitudes, and whether our vocation takes advantage of our particular talents.

For me, it’s all books and learning and research and art. If I have a life made up of some combination of those things, along with working with talented students to make things, then I’m satisfied. It’s not like I’m saving the world, but I am, in an indirect way, helping to make it a better place.

High education has been my calling since I was in college. I knew then what I wanted to do, and here I am doing it.

As I took a walk around the University of Michigan’s campus yesterday afternoon—sky heavy with rain clouds, early autumn leaves falling, EarthFest fair going on in the Diag, students heading to class—it hit me, as it always does, that I’m working my dream job. I value education, I value the search for truth, and so to lend my expertise to that effort makes me feel like I’m in the right place.

Books Are Friends

Books Are Friends

Seth Godin, announcing his $159 giant-ass book of blog posts and writings:

A book is a special object, a time-tested conveyor of not just information, but emotion and connection. Some of my best friends are books.

…All the words are already online for free (it’s a collection of my online writing over the last four years). What you can’t get online, though, is the feeling of owning it and the joy of gifting it.

That’s why all the digital publishing platforms and blog posts in the world can’t replace a book: the joy of owning, giving, and experiencing.

My practice is, try to buy a photo book every month. For $20-50, I get an education and a way of seeing the world. It’s a darned good deal.

Godin’s book is $159 for writing you can read for free, right now. But it also has photos by Thomas Hawk, and is this massive monolith of thought and wit that you can take down and re-read – no batteries required. Godin’s book will sell out, surely, which says there’s a market and that the books is valued.

Craig Mod just kicked butt on a Kickstarter book project about a walk through Japan. Maybe, after all the hype about eBooks, people are realizing that physical books are just fine.

Books are humanity’s friends. Books are here to stay. They’ve been around for longer than most empires, and many will stick around for even longer.

While I love viewing photography online, and checking out blogs from my favorite artists, buying a book is a true vote of confidence for someone’s work.


Enough Is Enough

Enough is Enough

At first, I only checked Facebook once per week (based on a good recommendation).

Then, I quit my photo blog at Tumblr and opened up this one.

Soon, it seems, I’ll want to quit Instagram. That leaves Twitter and Flickr (which is barely “social”), and who knows what’ll happen with those two. Or any other social media platform that has us, as users and creatives, doing all the real work for them.

No, it’s all too much.

This is not a rage quit. It’s the product of a lot of small, quiet frustrations that leave me thinking I can spend my time doing other things.

It’s not a new revelation, and Lord knows I’m not the first to discover social media is a waste of time. But as I get older, and I have friends and family, and projects to do around the house, and little patience for the increasing amount of (mostly irrelevant) ads blinking in my face, the less appealing all these “What are you up to?” platforms become.

I still enjoy my quiet little corner of Twitter, with my Mac nerds and fellow photographers. And I still dig the work people post on Flickr. I’ve set up my social media accounts to show me mostly stuff and people I’m interested in. It’s just that more and more on those other platforms, advertising and “features” are intruding. To what benefit?

As Jörg Colberg writes, “If you’re happy with being a passenger and with having to change vehicles usually the moment you’ve become a bit comfortable, then stick with Silicon Valley’s boom-and-bust cycle. If that’s not what you want, going back to blogging is likely to give you a lot more agency.”

So here I am, with a relaunched blog, away from Tumblr.

Another problem is that marketers and brands have gotten a hold of these sites and used them for marketing. I think a lot of the marketing world is waking up to the realization that social media isn’t the be-all, end-all marketing channel for the modern consumer. If anything, people switch social media platforms to escape the ads and intrusiveness. I should know: I’m one of those people using social media to “engage” with customers and visitors – but I don’t do it with a clear conscience, because I hate seeing all that “engagement” crap, too.

It’s tough feeling like you can’t get your stuff out there to be seen without social media, and yet being uncomfortable with the idea of using social media at all. I’m a pretty private person, and I feel weird every time I try to promote something on Facebook, Twitter, etc. As a photographer, it’s a Catch 22.

I don’t have any answers right now. The trick is finding the mix that works, and that’s a work in progress.