Any time you move to a new place and meet new people you find yourself being asked what you do for a living. Consider buying a new house while owning multiple properties in another state and having what seems to be a handful of jobs, and the question becomes a bit more formal. Lately, I’ve been asked what I “do” a fair amount. One of my housemates knew I did something with bicycles, but seemed even more confused after my attempt an an explanation. And just last night, Google asked me to update my profile because it suspected–with all the algorithmic horsepower of the All Seeing Eye–I was doing some new things I hadn’t told it about.
So what do I do?
What I try to do, really, is make things. At heart I’m just a failed writer and artist and musician who tries–sometimes successfully, sometimes not–to apply creativity to business. I’d like to think I’ve made lemonade out of any lemons life’s given me over the years. It’s not true, but I’d like to think it anyway. I do, however, believe I’ve somehow managed to do what I love, even if I’ve had to change the rules a bit to make it happen. I made a company, and I’m trying to make a new company, and a bicycle frame, and content, and publicity, and all kinds of things. Sometimes it can be a bit much, and often it can be more difficult to see what you’re building than how beautifully simple and direct a connection a graphic artist enjoys, but still, as long as I’m creating something, or at least helping to create something, I’m pretty happy.
In fact, I’ve realized lately that I tend to treat a lot of the work I do as if it’s the next Sistine Chapel, even if it’s just copy I’m writing for a bicycle part. I was like this back when I was building bicycles for people. Once a guy apologized for micro-managing me, but asked if there was any way I could specifically position the logos on his King headset when I pressed in the cups. Without blinking, I explained my complex theories about “straight on versus staggered versus a combination” as related to the shape and content of different head tube badges. I hadn’t just thought all that through in advance, I’d prepared an explanation already for him of what I thought would look best, and I was hoping he’d agree to let me do it that way. Taken aback at being out-obsessed about his own bike, he told me to do whatever I thought looked best. He’d trust me.
I’m pretty sure I get this from my father.
Here, for example, is a car on the left with a busted out window that was not patched by my father. The Subaru Outback on the right has a busted out window that was patched by my father.
I did the taping, but his work on the panel of dry erase board (which, incidentally makes an excellent window replacement, except for visibility–though at least you can write, “I’m sorry!” on it) was both fast and meticulous. If I am ever racing an event where pitstops involve replacing the windows of the car, I would sincerely hope my father was available for that pit crew.
I mention all of this because my long-suffering and wonderful wife sent me a link a week or so ago that I just now had a chance to watch. It’s the writer Neil Gaiman, making a commencement address to the students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia this year, and it’s well worth any time you can give it, but I’ve excerpted a part I particularly liked.
“I don’t know that it’s an issue for anybody but me, but it’s true that nothing I did, where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it. Except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money anyway. The things I did because I was excited and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”
That’s pretty amazing.
Though I haven’t been able to necessarily do the exact same things Gaiman describes, I do feel very fortunate to be able to say that nothing I’m doing right now is only for the money. While I hope my kids get to build enormous animatronic crocodiles or create movies for Pixar or write books, I’ve still been able to work on things that I want to see “exist in reality,” and those things have never let me down, either.