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My life as an undiagnosed depressive.

1 Jul

You may be suffering from depression, anxiety or other mood disorders and not even know it. I’m not trained in psychiatry, or indeed any other profession that deals with mental health. Nor am I even a diagnosed sufferer. All I know is that something is wrong with me, and I want to share with you. You may see some similarities between my experience and yours. You may feel some of the same things. I’ll just say up front that if you do, I urge you to tell your friends. Seek society and don’t hide yourself away. As soon as you feel the doubt and anxiety, go out and do something, and don’t be afraid to admit that something is wrong.

Certainly I did not follow my own advice, or else I wouldn’t be writing this now. Part of the problem is that I don’t think I have a problem. I felt that I could turn the situation around, if only something good happened. But you need to know that something good doesn’t just happen. You have to work towards it. It sounds so cliché, but it really must be true.

Before we get to that, I’ll talk bit about my life before I suspected that I had a problem.

Turning thirty was elating. I felt like my life was finally beginning. I had a wonderful relationship with a beautiful and smart woman who was interesting, I had a nascent career in design and I was working with smart and challenging people. Over the next year and half, however, all these things started to peel away. I could never overcome my anxieties and fears concerning my career. I could never do what I felt needed to be done to be successful. Being a designer in Toronto in this economy is not easy, but I knew, and I still know, that it is a service that is needed. For some reason, however, I was ground down a little bit with every project. Every time I was asked to do something, my confidence faded a bit. A big part of it was that I never could get paid enough for the work that I did. Mostly it was my own fault, of course. I would drag projects on for way too long, until any chance of making a profit vanished. The anxieties that came with each project became harder and harder to overcome. Overheads are one of the big sources of discipline when you are business owner, and it’s a problem that can never go away. Even if you don’t need any tools or space or inventory for a business, you will always have to pay to keep yourself alive. I found it impossible to focus on growing a business when keeping a roof over your head became my main priority. I lost sleep, I became unpleasant and bitter, and I would fret and complain constantly. This in itself was not the problem for my then girlfriend, soon to be fiancée. It was the fact that I seemed completely normal to outsiders that really gutted her. I would laugh, and joke, and tell acquaintances about my problems and worries; things that I wouldn’t share with her. To her I was surly, negative, stubborn, bitter, antagonistic…you get the idea. It’s a fine example of situational irony, because I didn’t tell her precisely so that I wouldn’t upset her. My reasoning was that, since we spent all our time together, it would be too much for me to share my thoughts and feelings with her. I thought that it would wear her down and the extra weight wouldn’t be fair for her. I wanted to bear it all alone and solve my own problems.

In a way, I’ve always had this problem. I’m an only child, so I was born alone. I grew up alone. Until I was 18 I learned most of what I knew alone. I suffered alone, and I always felt I needed to solve my problems on my own. Part of this was my parents’ efforts to make me more independent, I suppose, for their advice on most of my problems, from bullying, to not knowing math, was to figure it out for myself. I understand that they meant well, and also that I was a tough bastard to teach. But there it is, a trend I can see now that I’m older, that started almost from birth. I have always had trouble asking for help. And I always look like I don’t need help. Some people are obvious when they’re in trouble, or in pain. I, on the other hand, always look fine. I may seem a bit thin and underweight, but no one ever suspects that I’m emotionally distraught, or confused or lost. That’s why I didn’t learn arithmetic until I was 11, I suppose. I just didn’t seem to need help. Casey’s got it, they thought, he’s a bright boy. And they were right; I was a bright boy. I could remember almost everything the teacher said in class. I rarely ever had to study, and even when I did I never needed more than a glance at my notes. Math, however, was a different story.

I’m telling you all this at the risk of giving the impression that this story follows the usual climb, plateau, crash and slow climb arc that seems to characterize these kinds of stories. No such luck. The climb is far away yet, as far as I can tell.

When my business partner John left for a steady job, I was finished. Initially I felt free and enabled. I could finally explore each project the way I wanted to, meet the client’s needs in my own way, use the materials that I liked. That was very rewarding, and I’m glad I got to experience that. Owning and operating a business, however, is very much more complicated than designing a piece of furniture. It’s much more complicated than just making something. Eventually, my irrational fears ground my activity to a halt. I sat in the dark watching stand up comedy for days. I didn’t eat for three days at a time. All the while my cousin, who is one of my closest friends, lived a five-minute walk away.

More to come.



I may have found my line. There are, after all, rules here.

13 Feb

I love comedy, but I feel like I am to a polite-having-a-good-time-joke, as a wooden club is to a baby seal. I feel that way because I often just totally kill a nice, friendly facebook thread with some over the top, inappropriate comment. The equivalent, if you will, of dunking in a five year old’s face on the Fisher Price basketball net, and making him cry as much from the shock of being betrayed by a trusted adult, as the pain of being hit in the face with a plastic ball.

For example, an acquaintance posted a funny picture of an unfortunately worded sign that was in front of a church. The message was meant to encourage people to attend the service. It read, “A warm   come Awaits you”. My friend had posted the caption, “Hahaha so this is totally why people believe in god/ heaven/ go to mass/ convert?”, to which there were several polite hahas and “likes”. And then I asked, because I wanted to know how it was kept warm, “Is it in a cup, or a chafing dish? Or do they have a line up of guys “on the edge” by the door?”. The image of church goers being sprayed with arcing ropes of cum could not leave my head. I think it’d be a beautiful, Felliniesque scene. There were no subsequent comments. That the friend, and her friends, were church goers probably did not help. I’d let off a stinky fart in the middle of fellowship, and they were now politely trying to ignore it.

Today, however, I found the line that I won’t cross. I won’t make fun of people’s appearances in a mean spirited way. I don’t think it’s funny to laugh at a person for being wrinkly, or fat, or horse faced or dog faced, or even monkey’s ass faced. So, today I learned about a Brazilian doctor that performs plastic surgery for dogs. And I tried to write something funny about the Brazilian dog plastic surgeon and I just couldn’t think of any person I’d mock about going there. Even though it’d be easy to say Anne Widdecombe should go there, or that Susan Boyle should have an appointment with him, or that Sarah Jessica Parker should get a facelift there, I just don’t think it’s fair or funny. I’ve had issues with my appearance too, so I know how it feels to have something you can’t really control be the butt of a joke. It hurts, frankly, and I’m currently writing some material about my insecurities about my body to tackle those bad memories…

2012 in review

30 Dec

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

What masterplan rendering would be complete without middle eastern rebels?

5 Feb

Forget the usual shoppers, runway models and smart businessmen that typically populate architectural renderings. If you really want to show that you understand the culture of the place you are designing for, you should show that you know who the PEOPLE are. I’m guilty of inserting random people clipped from Getty or Flickr, and I think there could be a bit more subversiveness in terms of populating those artist’s concepts. I want to see soldiers and checkpoints, graffiti, and of course, middle eastern rebels

iDrugs make me so happy. Let me explain.

18 Jul

You’ve probably read about the use of binaural tracks to get people high, as well as the resulting low grade disapproval. I haven’t tried the tracks yet, so I won’t pass judgement on them, but the fact that they exist make me happy. As someone who wants to live the sci fi life here and now, iDrugs are a page right out of Snowcrash from Neal Stephenson. Though Snowcrash was a visual stimulant that locked the brain into an infinite loop, both the binaural tracks and Snowcrash are both non chemical, information based stimulants. All the moral and legal issues aside, I’m just straight nerdgasming.

Huffington Post Article

p.s. Cigarettes and booze are worse for you than idrugs in all ways except one. Smoking and drinking are both very social activities, and are very productive from a creative point of view. Do I condone drinking and smoking? Not really, but I do encourage you to pretend, and/or hang around smokers.

In search of the standalone complex: A loose group of individuals that work toward a common goal.

31 May

A true act creates the conditions of its own possibility.

Slavoj Zizek

For quite some time now I have been thinking and talking about the standalone complex. That is, an organization of independent agents working toward a common goal, with minimal structure. The provenances of this search are multiple: my experiences with clunky team projects as opposed to the more fluid and seamless duo projects, Ghost in the Shell, ants, birds, etc. What is different between the standalone and just a group of disorganized people, is not the amount of coordination in each, but the effectiveness of each. In the first, decisions are made quickly, iterated, tested and results returned for synthesis and assimilation. In the latter work is repeated, neglected, fragmentation occurs, egos bruised etc.

Why bother?

Our sensorial experience of time and space is shifting due to a feeling of increased mobility and the technological sensation of an always on that takes connection everywhere: it´s always now, it´s always here.1

I’m of two minds about the above statement. Firstly I believe that the core experiences of life will never change, and that no matter how technology changes, life will consist of a few things; food, drink, friends, music, conversation. The quality of the preceding will dictate your experience of life to a large extent. Secondly I have just stepped into the 21st century with my handheld internet portal thingy, and I am already experience a mental shift in how I perceive availability. Blackberry users have known this forever, but as I said, I have only just joined the ranks of the wirelessed.

To get back to the point, the creative working world is flirting with many practices in response to this ; horizontal hierarchy, collaborative leadership, servant leadership etc. I believe the root cause is a cultural shift. The apparent increase in complexity of problems, the rapid pace of technological change, all these are minor, in my opinion, in comparison to the change in people’s attitudes. There are fewer and fewer “company people” nowadays, as evinced by the number of startups. Especially in the creative fields, where the number of people who prefer to be freelance, to be entrepreneurial is markedly increasing, traditional structures of command are no longer valid, because everyone is captain. Which is why I am claiming that more than redefining leadership and rejigging company hierarchy, we need to move away from the notions of leadership and hierarchy completely.

I stole the term standalone complex from an animation called Ghost in the Shell, [which is set in a near future Japan, where cyborgization is complete (individuals exist with only a human brain, and everything else is robotic), and the network is everywhere and everything], because it perfectly describes the disorganized organization that I am seeking. In the series the term actually refers to the spontaneous nature of a networked society, how that complex network is “where unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort.” However I see the term more appropriately applied to the protagonists of the series itself, who are a group of ex military, ex police, extra-legal “security officers”, who fly around Tokyo catching political defectors, industrial criminals, communicating via cybernetic implants. There is an apparent hierarchy and division of labour within the unit, but one that seems to be only lightly enforced. Apart from the Major and the Chief, who give out orders, the agents are free to use their own methods to achieve the goal. It is this characteristic that I most interested in. At many points in the plot, agents act unilaterally and independently, with only brief communication between members. I saw that form of independent teamwork as being extremely valuable for me as a designer, because, as David Gray says, we are birds, and there are no bosses or managers in flocks.

The path to the independent team is simple, I think, as long as you keep a few things in mind.

1. Establish the goal, how you get there is up to you.

2. Communication is key, but decision making is also up to you.

2.1 Communication is two ways, seek information as well as receive.

2.2 Be aware of what is going on, and remember your purpose.

3. Parameters are important, but unless they affect the goal, they are completely free to change.

These are not self evident rules, but guidelines as gleaned from my experiences in projects and also from thinking about swarms and flocks. Ants don’t have meetings to decide where to dump garbage and when to gather food. They react to their environment and do what needs to be done. Birds don’t train to fly in formation, they go with the flow and follow a few leaders. Distributed leadership is also a useful model in the workplace, unless you think about leadership as I do. Leadership is only necessary when people are unable to make their own decisions. I am not advocating the removal of leaders or a new process, but rather the removal of the need for leadership.

Does Toronto need a public prototyping shop?

22 May

For those that don’t know, I’m involved in starting up a design space/prototyping lab in Toronto, to support people who want to make their ideas physical.

The main difference between what we’re planning and a regular fabricator/prototyper is that you will be more involved.

Help us out by taking this survey, and tell us if you need a space to make your projects, and people to help you out.

amorphous/crystalline bike wheel cloud

21 May

Now the real work begins.

18 Apr

After two weeks of steady work on the wood, I’ve finally got it into a somewhat recognizable table form.

The majority of the wood has been jointed and cut to length.

Top Gear caravan/airship

15 Jan