Famous Designer 

Designer Presentation

Tonight, I went to a presentation given by a famous designer about her work. You might be able to tell from the image who it was, especially if you're familiar with the work she's displaying, but then again, you might not. I am not going to say who it was just because this is my personal blog, and I wouldn't want keyword searches on her name directing people here. I am still not sure if I care if that happens or not. Whatever. For the time being, in my uncertainty, she'll remain a mystery (unless you already know.)

So, at the beginning of school term, the instructor in my layout class mentioned that the famous designer you see in my photo here would be appearing in our state in two places: one place in the state's biggest city, and one at the state university about forty minutes away from where I live. I'm intrigued by successful people, so I knew that I wanted to go, and the state university one sounded like my best option.

Normally, I have another class that meets at the time when I should be getting in my increasingly elderly car to drive the forty minutes to this presentation. And this other class is about forty minutes in the totally other direction. It seemed crazy to drive forty minutes to class only to spend a half hour there before having to leave to go to the presentation that would now be eighty minutes away. Staying home from school seemed like the only sane choice.

In my typical fashion, I wasn't sure where I needed to go, so at the last minute, I called this other school's library. A student worker answered the phone and introduced her self with an unusual name. Although I had already thought about the question I had planned to ask her, I was thrown off. My question came out in chunks, and finally I stopped in mid-sentence. I stammered, "excuse, me. I am sorry. What is your name?" She repeated it, and I replied in what I hope was a friendly tone, "wow, that's an interesting name." It was very stupid thing for me to say because I should have said "nice" or "beautiful name" because interesting is what people say to be polite when they actually hate something. Of course, I didn't hate her name, I was genuinely impressed by it. It was totally out of my character to ask people personal questions like these, but for some reason, I did it. She was very friendly and answered the questions I needed to ask.

Even though I had planned to leave much earlier that I did and visit the art gallery, I only managed to get out of town with just enough time to get to the presentation a few minutes late. My first problem was that I took too much time getting dressed, and my second problem was the unexpected difficulties with parking. The school was packed with cars, and navigating on these gigantic campuses are always trouble merely for the sheer amount of student pedestrians and cyclists milling around and in the streets.

The venue in which the famous designer was presenting was entirely inappropriate for her for the simple fact that the room could not hold everyone who wanted to attend. I had overheard from another person that she was visiting from yet a third college. There must have been many other people, like me, who had come in from other places. I stood in the hallway in the back and strained to hear what the famous designer was saying. It seemed like she was presenting her works and talking about the concepts that they represented.

I had hoped that she would have talked about her background and creative process much more, rather than her somewhat mechanical cataloging of her work. While it was interesting to hear her representation of the subjects of her work and what she intended their thematic meanings to be, it wasn't as insightful as I had hoped.

The thing about works of art, any work of art, is that interpretation is such a personal thing that anyone can come to their own conclusions fairly easily (if they are thoughtful and rigorous thinkers.) The work, to each of us in its own way, speaks for itself.

As a student of design, it would have been more helpful to hear about her approaches to her subjects, how she tackles the visual problems and themes she encounters, or how she solves the problem of typography in her work. I felt that her presentation was essentially like looking at the vacation photos of another family. Yes, I am sure it was a nice trip, but can you give me any advice about how to go on my own adventure?

After the last slide, the lights in the room came on, and a representative of the college, a balding professorial man in an argyle sweater, announced that there were refreshments in the lobby and that the famous designer would be signing copies of her portfolio. The portfolio cost fifteen dollars more than I had with me, and I did not have a checkbook. Nevertheless, I intended to stick around and ask her a question or two if I could. I met up with some of my fellow students in the lobby who, like me, had driven from far away to get there. I was surprised to see one of the students who had graduated from the program a year earlier there. I nodded hello to him, and while standing behind a crush of people milling around both the designer and the snack table, we made polite conversation.

I was confused about whether or not he was going to this state college or had graduated from it years earlier. I tried to ask him about it, and he said yes to something, but I wasn't sure what he was referring to.

Moments before I had gone over to talk to him, he asked the famous designer if she could sign one of her posters with a phrase to the effect of "Go [College Mascot]!" It was silly request, and the designer expressed her reluctance to sign the silly phrase on the poster he chosen, one supposed to raise consciousness about the horror of war. He told her he had chosen it because it had the school's colors. I was little shocked at the frivolity and audaciousness of the request, but then again, that was his personality all over. She had told him that she would "think about it," and suggested that he stick around. I think her artistic sensibility was offended. I imagined someone during the renaissance asking DaVinci to sign the Mona Lisa with the phrase "Hot Chicks Rule!" Wasn't this the same thing?

While he was waiting for her to agree to his silly request, I chatted him up about his life after the school's program. He said that he was freelancing and earning enough money to pay his bills, something I found impressive. He said that he was steadily building up a group of clients. Laughing, he explained that he begins his first client meeting by quoting them a fee for work that is hugely exorbitant. But, as a special favor for them, he would make it cost only a third of that. It was an ingenious way of disarming client's objections about costs before they could even have them. The fact that he had clients with which to pay his bills only a few months after college actually made sense to me because he has an approachable personality that makes it easy for him to talk to anyone about almost anything. He puts people immediately to ease with his disarming, if frivolous, manner. If anyone ever could get the famous designer to compromise her artistic integrity and sign the poster with his silly phrase, it would be him.

We chatted for a handful of minutes more before I noticed that the line to talk to the famous designer had gotten rather short. I excused myself to stand in line. The woman ahead of me was asking the famous designer what software she used to lay out her type on the computer. "Adobe's InDesign" was the answer of course, and again, I was a little shocked. It would be like asking Herman Melville what type of pen he wrote with, hoping if one bought that same type of pen, they'd be able to write a famous novel too. Aside from the fact that any first year design student already knows that InDesign is pretty much the industry standard for this sort of thing, the question is so absurd as to be entirely beside the point. And yet, the famous designer was patiently and politely answering the question, appearing very professorial in her own right. I could imagine her teaching a freshman design course and having to say essentially the same things over and over again.

Then it was my turn. I always feel awkward in moments like these, partly because I feel that my odd appearance puts some people off. I am a bit of weirdo with an awkward manner, almost the complete opposite of the student who I had just been talking to a few moments before. And yet, I didn't feel my question itself was stupid. I first thanked the famous designer for an excellent talk, and then asked "what is your basic approach to typography?" She answered that, for her, she does a lot of hand rendering, something that was already apparent from even a casual review of her work. She also explained that she prefers type to communicate simply and be readable, too many fancy tricks are unnecessary at best and can ruin your work at worst.

I was a little unsatisfied with the answer even as I nodded obsequiously in an effort to appear graciously understanding. I consciously was trying to play the role of earnest student. Her answer was essentially the "text-book" answer I could literally find in most books about typography. Maybe she assumed I was just another idiot asking a stupid question. I had not yet figured out that I wanted to ask about her process.

I quickly followed up by asking what was the one thing, the one "bottom-line" thing, that she thought design students should know about typogrpahy. I said I wanted to know if she had any gems of wisdom about type and type design. She answered that it was important to work with it for a long time. She compared type to jewelry on your dress, the jewelry has to be the perfect complement. On a similar token, a bad piece of jewelry can ruin the whole outfit. It was at this point, I noted that the remaining stragglers in the room with us had stopped talking among themselves and were listening intently. As she explained her answer more fully, she began to address her comments to them as much as me.

At this point, I felt that asking any more questions would have been impertinent and excessive, so after she finished talking, I again thanked her for her answer and talk as a whole, and moved on. After getting a little lemonade from the snack table, I told the other students goodbye and walked out into the dark with them towards the parking lot. That one guy was still hanging around trying to get her to sign his silly phrase one his poster about war.

I had had a serious sense of deja-vu when I first drove on to campus. It made walking around in the dark after the presentation feel exotic and strange. I had a sense of wistfulness about my lost graduate school career in English literature, but I also remembered that the money I had spent chasing after it was looming ahead of me threatening financial disaster for years to come. I could not afford any more second chances.

Of course, there was the parking ticket pinned to my windshield that I half expected to see on my car when I got back. The talk went longer than the hour I put in the meter, and I did not want to leave to fill it up again and miss something important.

Fifteen bucks.

I could barely afford it, but it seemed somewhat reasonable for all of this. I imagined that if I had to pay for the famous designer's talk at the big city tomorrow, fifteen bucks would be a reasonable admission. After stopping at Burger King for the fattening burgers that I seemed to be eating too much of these days, I drove back home into to the dark, listening to the radio.

At some point, I need to take serious inventory of my life and get everything in order. If I try to look at myself from an outward perspective, it seems to me my life is in a mess. Thanks to medication, my emotions are not mired in the big blue trenches of depression as much as they used to be. Still, while my internal thoughts are not as oppressive as they were a few months ago, my outward circumstances are still in as big mess as they ever were. I suppose it is time I start trying to sort that all out.

21 October 2009

Not Enough Sleep 

I am walking through the park towards the end of summer. While the park feels remote as it is in the hills and surrounding by trees, brush, and lush grasses, it is not too far away from the town where I went to college to get my undergraduate degree. I am looking at the creek down in a small gully as I pass over an asphalt bridge marked for bicycles, when a car drives slowly by.

A man in the car asks me for directions. I tell him what he needs to know, but then he asks for a big favor. He seems pretty desperate in a polite sort of way, so I tell him that I would be glad to help him out. I get in his car, and he takes a short drive to his house. He is a heavy set man, with cropped dusty blond hair and a bushy beard. He seems to carry around a plodding sadness with him, but I take that as evidence of his persistence and earnestness. He seems like he is a hard worker from who life occasionally demands too much. He says his name is Osbritch.

He explains that he and his wife have just moved out to the west coast from the mid-west. They are obviously mid-westerners as his house is decorated in that mid-west country style and his politeness seems genuinely habitual. He has two babies and he needs help feeding them. He struggles to get each into their high chairs, and it is obvious that he hasn't done this too much as he nearly drops one of squirmy babies out on to the floor. With a reaching strength, he manages to juggle the baby back into a stable hold, and we set about feeding the children.

Once fed, I look around at his house from my seat at the kitchen table. This home is attached to his farm business. The babies happily eat their snacks at the table as I watch him get up and start doing a little inventory at a few of the displays. He's over worked, but doesn't say anything about it.

At this point his wife comes home. Her personality is the opposite of his. While they're both friendly, she seems full of energy, talkative, and bright. He lives his life under the gloomy grey cloud of responsibility; she lives her live in the full, almost carefee, sunlight. Her name is Saija. Again, both of them are mid-westerners, and their Scandinavian ancestry is suddenly and obviously apparent. If he comes from the grainy farm lands of Kansas, she must come from the cold snowy north of Minnesota.

I immediately take a liking to Saija. She introduces herself as Osbritch goes about his business. She explains that she and her husband have moved out here to go to college. I ask which one, and she explains that it is the same one that I went to nearby those few years earlier. "No kidding," I say. I ask her what her major is, and she says "English," the same major I had in college. I explain all of this to her, and we share the common bond of the same interest. I offer my experiences as a source of wisdom about her future path. I tell her who I thought the best instructors were and how I think it best to navigate through the administrative bureaucracy. I offer my general wishes of good luck to her as way of support. I talk all about my experience in the graduate program at grad school, eventually explaining that I am currently studying design. She says she plans to become an English teacher. I really like Saija.

Osbritch comes back into the kitchen and sits down at the end of the breakfast bar. I ask him his name again, and how to pronounce it, as I want to make sure I got it right. I have made two new friends that I don't want to forget. "Osbritch and Saija," he says. I repeat them, but I can't get the handle on the exact Scandinavian pronunciation. He smiles and says it doesn't matter, even after I repeat their names a third time trying to get it right.

And then I wake up.

20 October 2009

From a Tuesday Nap 

It's the g-d d--m zombie apocalypse. Four men, paramilitary types, are being attacked by another group of people. The men have retreated into an enclosed courtyard in the bad section of town. They hide behind concrete barriers, burned out cars, and assorted city junk. The people attacking them appear to be normal looking in every way. They don't act like zombies, at least not yet. They zombies are alert, intelligent, and persistent. The way the men know something is definitely wrong about them is that they can be shot many, many times before going down. The zombies attack the men with their own guns while getting overhead direction from a helicopter gunship.

The human men are under siege, but fight back hard. Gary, the leader of this group of four, shoots at the helicopter with his AK-47. He stands up from behind his cover, yells as he shoots, and the helicopter eventually goes down spinning. Still the zombies are coming. The men shoot one zombie twenty or more times, but he still advances with murderous menace.

Gary calls for a retreat as more zombies-who-don't-look-like-zombies pour into the courtyard. They retreat into an area of stacked container cargo boxes next to a railroad car which is buried partially into a hill. They quickly set up barbwire and booby traps. As the zombies enter the enclosed space, the men shoot them down in a hail of metal.

One of the zombies drops an odd looking device. It looks like a metal green drinking glass with a needle like point in the center. It has a rugged plastic bottom that can twist into a locked position. The men soon discover that this is a type of grenade. When it explodes, it releases an intense blue light that is somehow more harmful to the zombies than to themselves. They recover a few of these grenades from the zombie bodies, and using them, they stop the seemingly endless zombie advance. Relaxing as much as they dare to, they fall asleep from their entrenched position.

They are awakened by a group of five men and women. They point the guns at this group. Mike, an imposing black man of considerable height and muscle, and the leader of this new group, convinces Gary that he and his friends are humans and not zombies. Mike explains that, actually, the zombies are not people either, but they are an invading force of aliens. If the aliens do not get their nutrients by drinking some kind of milk, they start to act like brainless zombies. It is something about the earth environment that causes them to act this way. Hence, the confusion. Gary and his group of four men have been isolated for a long time since the fighting began. He hasn't gotten much news and this new information makes as much sense as anything.

Mike and Gary become an alien fighting team. They learn how to navigate through a world of zombie-like aliens, even as the aliens adapt to their new environment. Several months pass as Gary, Mike, and their band fight the invaders. The aliens have developed into a significant invasion force, entrenching themselves in the cities and building up considerable support resources.

The aliens can only appear like normal human beings for three or four days, after which they become the brainless aggressive types seeking to kill any human they come across. For some reason, the noise emitted by vacuum cleaners will placate the alien zombie aggression, like music soothing the savage beast. They brainlessly push their vacuum cleaners around until more clear-headed aliens come along and feed them their milk nutrient to restore them to clarity.

Mike and Gary discover this odd fact. After killing one of the vacuum cleaning aliens, they grab its vacuum and push their way into the city. The come across a zombie/alien super market. One of the clear-headed aliens, a sergeant-major type, impatiently directs Mike and Gary, who are faking the brainless shuffle of a zombie, into the store after giving them passes. Mike and Gary come to the center of the store where there are large shelves filled with foodstuffs, including the new milk nutrient mixture that is more effective at staving off the zombie effect on the aliens. They grab a couple of three-gallon sized jugs of it, planning on studying what it is about the nutrient mixture that the aliens need. They are in some significant danger by being this brazen with their raid. They know that as they begin to shuffle out of the store and back out onto the darkened streets.

And then I wake up.

13 October 2009


Another dream. I'm playing basketball for a team with national recognition in a large sports arena. It's my big chance and, against all odds, I'm blowing it. The other team has almost completely fouled out and have given up hope of winning. They are all on the verge of going home and some of them have already gotten dressed in their street clothes. For some reason, most of my team mates are not able to be on the court, but they are cheering for me.

I get the ball and shoot for a basket. It bounces off the backboard and out of bounds. Disappointment begins to creep over me and my team like a cold fog. The other team begins to perk up at this point. One guy, one of the ones who is already dressed in street clothes in an outrageous club style that looks ridiculous on the court, comes out on to the court to play opposite me. He has on a long white coat edged in white fur and wears a white, old fashioned, hat. He is not really offering any defense. He is merely there to distract and maybe rebound the ball. I shoot again. This time the ball goes wide and misses the hoop and the backboard completely. The crowd laughs. The street clothes guy deftly recovers the ball and bounces it, delighted to see that I have messed up again so completely. I have one more shot, and to my team's utter shock and dismay, I mess that up too. We are defeated. Or rather, I am defeated. Entirely. The other team, delighted as only sports teams can be in such moments, rushes out on to the court, jumping up and down with glee and abandon, hugging each other.

All of this means that I am going to become homeless. I, of course, get fired from the basketball team. I have blown my big chance and will no longer be earning a paycheck. I can pinpoint the cause of my homelessness to the exact moment I missed that critical shot. It is humiliating in an expected way. I think to myself, "Of course I screwed up. For me, there isn't any real chance of success. Ever. Failure will always be my destiny." Metaphorically, I wear failure like a worn bathrobe, an easy fit that feels familiar.

In reality, I am wearing a black jacket with the hood down behind my shoulders. I shuffle through my old neighborhood. It is a poor neighborhood, but I used to own a house here. I am consciously trying to learn how to be homeless. There is a culture to it. If I don't learn what is expected of me as a homeless person, if I am not aware of my surroundings, I will get attacked I am sure. Thugs looking for an easy target will take advantage of me as a source of thrills and use me as a punching bag. I see other people with their hands in their coat pockets, so I consciously put my hands in mine. A few people still recognize me from the days when I was on the team. That protects me a little, but also brings up my shame again in a mild form.

I walk through people's backyards, ignoring the bits of trash blown into the grass, lifting the latches on dilapidated gates on rusty fences. Back on the sidewalk, I approach my old house. There is a new family living there. I can see a few kids' toys in the front yard. That's how I know it's a family. It looks like they fixed the porch where the railing was broken. They have made a few improvements, sturdy improvements meant to last for a long time.

I feel a mild jealously that this isn't my house anymore. I want to look inside, and when I get closer to the back stairs leading into the basement, I lean to peek in. All of my things have been packed into broken down steamer trunks of various sizes. One trunk is smashed into bits as to be useless. It is obvious they are clearing me out. Of course, if they saw me standing there, they would not know who I was until I told them. But, I wouldn't tell them. That would scare them. They would probably wonder if I wanted to take the house back, if I was going to cause trouble. I wouldn't cause trouble. I do want the house, but there is nothing I could really do about it. I have no job, no money, and no hope of getting either. Certainly never enough to reclaim what I have lost.

I shuffle off again, away from their basement, and I begin to think about where I might sleep. I think about crawl spaces underneath outside porches. Places where I would be hidden from view. Small spaces that would take some effort to crawl into. Places where I might be hidden and forgotten about. Hidden even maybe from myself. Asleep so no thoughts about failure could bother me again.

And then I wake up.


It has been awhile since I posted last. For the most part, I have been busier than I was, but it has been hard to find the motivation to write as well. I am not sure why exactly, especially since I have been generally feeling better. School has started again. I am already into the second week of classes. It's nice to be back in a solid routine, but I've been tired when I finally get home in the evening, and maybe that's why I haven't felt like posting these past few weeks.

I probably would not have posted today except for the dream I had last night. I wanted to get it down before I forgot it. It is brief and perhaps not interesting, but it was pretty vivid. I am on a new medication and bizarre and vivid dreams might be one side-effect. In any event, here it is:

I am sitting in a tiny field with a few cats that I know. These cats start acting strangely, as if they all heard the same thing and were drawn to it. Slowly they begin walking towards the invisible call that they heard. As they walk, more cats--cats I don't know--gradually join the procession. It is a tribe of cats. They are low to the ground, still walking, but also almost stalking this hidden call. Finally, they come to the edge of a grove of trees. In unison, all of the cats begin to wave a single paw in the air as if they were trying to catch something. I sit still and watch.

Soon, I feel a presence behind me. There is a ghost cat, an ancient apparition that appears to the group. This cat looks almost demon-like. It has a smaller head, a jaguar like body exaggerated by lean skinny muscles, the eyes are burning bright yellow and blue. The cat's face is twisted into a permanent growl, a permanent scowl that almost looks like a hungry smile. Tiny beads are twisted into its fur around its neck. There is a tribal ear ring dangling from one of its huge ears. I know that this is an ancient cat, the cat of tribes and shadows, a spirit cat that has been a spirit for thousands of years. I cannot hear what it might be saying to the assembled cats around it, but these other cats are transfixed, silently communing with the spirit cat, listening to its inaudible sermon.

I strain to hear it. It is saying we must attack someone who, through carelessness (but not malevolence), harmed the society of cats in some way. We must teach this person a lesson. I know the person the spirit cat wants to attack. He is a friend of mine. I know he is motivated primarily by his love of money, but he is not an evil man. I am somewhat alarmed.

The cats begin to march in the direction of their target. And the spirit cat has transformed itself into a human covered in tattoos, wearing much of the same tribal jewelry, carrying a spear. His face is powerful. He glowers. His thighs, his sides, his ears have been blackened by war. He lopes toward the target with the assemblage of cats.

I try to talk him out of it. Speaking about the careless man, I ask "what if I could change his ways?" I ask, "what if I could get him to stop his harming cats out of his ignorance, make him aware of his wrong-doings?" The cat-man ignores me. I know that if I am to stop this attack, I must try this anyway.

Then I wake up.

I am not sure what the significance (if there is any) of this dream might be. I know that the vision of the spirit-cat was pretty intense. If I ever been as accomplished with my art as I want to be, I would do my best to capture what I saw somehow. Words are good, but they just can't quite catch it.

08 October 2009