Blog

The Right Laboratory

I love experiments. Being able to try new things, see how well they jive with my ambitions, and then adjusting my lifestyle accordingly. Experiments are a key component to my happiness, present and future.

I started Asymmetrical Press with Josh and Ryan from The Minimalists because the three of us wanted to build a laboratory. We wanted to have an optimized means of creating new work, using new technologies, trying out new business models, and distributing in new ways. We wanted to bring new people to the forefront: people who are talented as hell, but hadn’t gotten the recognition we thought their work warranted via existing structures. We wanted to figure out how we might blend the best ideas from various industries into something new, and determine what might be possible using a lighter-weight, more minimal and focused business strategy.

That was three years ago, and we’ve learned a lot since then. We’ve learned enough, in fact, that we’ve begun taking larger risks and working on bigger ideas in an effort to see what else might be possible. To see which ceilings are actually skies, waiting for us to push past them.

Tomorrow, we kick off a new experiment: an tour called the WordTasting Tour. This has been a long time in the making, and we’ve been working on aspects of it since we started the company three years ago. Only recently have all the pieces fallen into place, though, and only recently did we decide it was time to take such a risk.

This tour differs from typical authors tours in several respects. Instead of presenting one book, one author, we have five. Instead of featuring a reading, maybe a Q&A, we have performances, presentations, some readings and a lot of music; we’re traveling with the amazing Skye Steele, and he’ll be adding his sound to the mix throughout each event.

We wanted to attendees to experience something, to feel something, to sample new genres and taste new ideas. And we wanted to ensure that as many people as possible could attend, which meant making every single event free.

As we’re going through our final preparations and readying ourselves for the first tour stop, which takes place tomorrow, May 1, right here in Missoula, Montana, I feel pretty certain that we’ve accomplished a lot of our goals. I can’t wait to share this thing we’ve made with you.

This first WordTasting Tour is taking place across 32 cities in the Western US and Canada, and if all goes well, we’ll be replicating the model in other places in the future.

If you’d like to attend, please RSVP (it’s free!) here. If you have couches, beds, spare bedrooms or very comfortable floors we might sleep on while on tour, please let us know, and thanks in advance.

See you out there on the road!

Blog

Thirty

Today is my 30th birthday. It’s a day that pop culture tells me I should fear and worry over. A day I haven’t really thought about these last six years, focused as I’ve been on wringing every last drop from my 20s. It’s a day that, though no different from any other day, marks a psychological occasion for many people.

I’m happy to find myself more excited than trepidatious: I can’t wait to see what happens next, and what I might be able to accomplish and experience these next ten years. What amazing people I might meet, world events I might watch unfold, discoveries and inventions I might benefit from.

I wrote a book entitled Act Accordingly a few years ago, and followed it up with a book called Considerations. Both books address a similar topic: how we spend our time. We’re all dealt different cards when we’re born, and we all encounter different variables along the way. We have different ideals, different hopes and dreams, different tastes and preferences, and greater or smaller quantities of time to spend than the person standing next to us.

But we all struggle to spend our time well. To use it to the utmost, getting the most possible bang for our time-related buck. This manifests in similar ways for most people, if you look around. We look to others to see if they have the answers. We follow pre-carved trails and follow signs. We learn all we can about this and that, hoping that the knowledge gleaned will allow us to divine where we need to be, what we should be doing. We do our best to find good people, people who add to our lives, rather than subtracting from them. We change and grow. We stumble and regret. We fail and succeed, sometimes simultaneously; the same outcome both a failure and a success depending on how we look at it and what we learn as a result.

For the past six years, I’ve been able to fully invest in my curiosity. To wonder and think, to question and marvel, to mull and ponder and meander until, sometimes, I arrive at a new realization. I’ve steadily become a better writer, but that growth is nothing compared to how much better I’ve gotten at sitting quietly and thinking difficult thoughts. I often forget that I’m technically a professional author, not a professional confused person, struggling to figure out where all the pieces go, coming up for air on occasion to jot down what I’ve sussed out, and how those things might apply to myself and others.

Six years ago I left the path I’d long been following. I rescaled and then discontinued the business I’d worked hard to build and operate. I stepped back, figured out what I actually wanted to be doing with my life, and refocused on travel and the pursuit of new information and experiences. I got rid of everything that didn’t fit into carry-on luggage and started up a blog, asking strangers from the internet to vote on where I would move every four months or so.

Three years ago, I founded a publishing company with a couple of like-minded fellows who over the years have become incredible friends and collaborators. Through that company we’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible creatives and do some amazing things.

Today, I woke up and smiled. I shook my head at how strange and amazing life can be. I feel incredibly fortunate to become a little more me every single day.

Not a bad way to spend my time.

Blog

Appropriation

There’s a meme going around in which an attractive person is shown wearing fashionable clothing in public. Typically they’re wearing something a little over the top, or at the very least rugged in a high-end way. The caption of the post or the text displayed over the image reads “Live your life.”

If you trace such messages back to their source, it’s remarkable how they promulgate. This one started out as a reference to a hip-hop song by T.I. and Rihanna, which, if you watch the video, evokes a sense of not giving a damn about what other people think, regardless of how you spend your time, how you earn your money, etc. This devil may care attitude then carried over to a few different clothing brands, including American Eagle, and was played primarily when young, good-looking people were shown dressed to the nines while doing things that would likely ruin the clothing they were wearing. After a few years, this concept arrived in the blogging scene, and fashion bloggers started displaying a well-dressed guy or gal, typically strutting or otherwise owning their look, decked out in the finest something-or-another, the phrase appropriated for the image they evoked.

We use such images to help define ourselves to the world. It’s no mistake that outdoorsy looks are in just as fashion companies release a new fashion line, appropriating the lumberjack-ish look that’s hit a resurgence in artsy areas. This, then, provides a shorthand for people to use in how they dress. By wearing these clothes, I am showing my fondness for not just this shirt, but the lifestyle associated with it. I make things. I’m a little old fashioned, maybe I have a turn-table. I’m hearkening back to simpler times, though still making use of modern technology. This shirt tells you how I’m living my life.

Just as we appropriate the shorthand imagery that clothing labels provide us with, however, we, too, are appropriated by them. We’re walking billboards for their brands, and as we’re out ‘living our lives,’ showing what tribe we’re a part of by dressing the part, others look at us, our actions, our social groups, our Instagrams and tweets, and think, “Okay, this person is someone I’d like to emulate. How do I look more like them? How do I fit in with that crowd?” And the cycle continues.

Appropriation is natural; it’s an extension of how we, as babies, look at adults to see how to act, and as teens look to older kids to see how to act, and as adults look to the youth to see how to act. It’s an endless cycle that has new players — all these brands — but it needn’t be a negative cycle. If we’re aware of this tendency, and can self-reflect about why we’re appropriating and what these inherited brand ideologies represent, we can benefit from those pre-packaged collections of meaning, while also more clearly expressing who we are to the people around us.

We can, in short, more clearly speak by using words and phrases others have carefully strung together for us.

It has to be an intentional thing, though, otherwise we find ourselves appropriated and, resultantly, representing ideas and people we probably don’t want to be associated with. Remember in the late-90’s and early-2000’s when the GAP brands were exposed as using child labor in Southeast Asia? These were brands that represented a very specific, preppy-inspired lifestyle to those who wore their clothing. Wear a GAP-brand-shirt, and you were sporty and clean-cut. Collegiate.

Post-scandal, however, wearing their clothing made a person look socially tone-deaf. Unaware of what was happening in the world. Someone who wore tidy polo shirts and skirts at the expense of tormented children in a developing country. I think most people wearing their clothing at the time wouldn’t have expressed their views as such, and likely would have been horrified to find out that this was the perception others had of them. Regardless, the company took a major hit, their branding efforts were reduced to ashes for a time, and they struggled to rebuild and regain their audience’s trust.

As we appropriate, we are appropriated. Branding goes both ways, and every purchasing decision you make, if the product is something you wear or use in public, says something to others about you, whether overtly or covertly, and whether we’re aware of it or not.

This knowledge can be used to our advantage, when we align with companies we believe in, and brands that represent our points of view. But it can also cause us to be all talk, no walk. It can apply to us labels we don’t actually align with, or haven’t earned, lessening the incentive to ever earn them. To actually live our lives.

Know who it is you’re forming these relationships with and support the companies that align with your values. This is how we shape the corporate environment that depends on us as carriers for their messages and slogans. This is how we become willing and capable participants in the appropriation cycle, rather than simply hosts, ignorant of the billboards we wear, and the messages they spread.

This essay was originally published in my free newsletter.