Typically great episode of “Design of Business, Business of Design.” Tsien is the co-founder of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, whose stellar project list includes The Barnes Foundation and the new Obama Presidential Center.
Enjoyed this interview with an executive recruiter working at the highest levels, particular in tech.
In an episode of the company’s “Rework” podcast, Basecamp staff look back on their five-hour outrage in November. Savvy framing of one of the company’s worst days.
From the wine importer’s crisply written and life-philosophy-framing book Reading Between the Wines, a favorite of mine from last year:
Such wines are not easy to find. We drink them just a few times in our lives. But we never forget them, or the places they lead us to. A few weeks before writing this, I dined with my wife in the Austrian Alps, in a restaurant whose chef worked with wild local herbs. We drank two stunningly brilliant dry Rieslings that buzzed and crackled like neon, and then we drank a '93 Barolo from Bruno Giacosa, a so-so vintage but fully mature. To go from giddy, giggling clarity of those Rieslings into the warm murmuring depths of that Barolo was moving in a way I grope to describe. It was as if the Riesling prepared us somehow, it reassured us that everything was visible, and then that smoky twilight red wine ... like the moment it gets too dark to read, and you get up to turn on the light and see a tiny scythe of moon low on the horizon and you open the window and smell the burning leaves, night is coming on, and there will be dinner and the sweet smells of cooking, and then at last the utter dark, and the heart beating darkly beside you.
I did something I seldom do — got just a bit plastered that evening, for which I blame the altitude, though I knew better. But I wasn't letting a drop of that Barolo go to waste. It stirred the deepest tenderness because it possessed the deepest tenderness. Tenderness is different from affection. Tenderness has a penumbra of sadness, or so I have always felt. Tenderness says there is an irreducible difference separating us, although we might wish to dissolve it. But we can't quite, however close together we draw; it is there as a condition of being. And then we see the sadness that surrounds us, wanting to merge into one another and finding it impossible; and then comes a compassion, it is this way for all of us sad hopeful beings; and then the membrane melts away, even without touching it melts away.
I don't know how it is for other people, but I myself know a wine is great when it makes me sad. Not a bitter, grieving sadness, but the thing the Germans call Weltschmerz, "the pain of the world," a fine kind of melancholy.
I came to reading Theise only last year, but, interestingly, my life overlapped with his wife’s years ago. Odessa Piper founded and ran L'Etoile, a Madison, Wisconsin, farm-to-table all-star years before that became an established phrase. Tamara and I had a special-occasion meal there during our time in Madison (2005-06), living together for the first time just before we got married and really settled into life together. While we were able to venture upstairs for a proper dinner only once, most weekends we would nibble fantastic croissants and sip terrific coffee in the building’s first-floor café, a stop during our morning walk around the Capitol.
Ah, memories of that simple time in our lives... A fine kind of melancholy, indeed.
Thought-provoking framing of “what’s ahead for the future of business, technology and design.” From #2, “Silence is golden”:
We’re seeing a dramatic escalation in the rate at which people disconnect, unsubscribe and opt out to stem the barrage of content and messages that clutter daily life. As consumers, we’ve come to realize that it’s no longer simply a lifestyle choice, but a serious mental health issue. As we put up more barriers between ourselves and digital technologies, organizations must learn how to offer value to users who crave quiet in a noisy world.
At the close of Coates’ recent interview with Chris Hayes, the host asks him if he’s working on a new book. The dodge Coates gives, not wanting to discuss a project-in-process, ends up being a terrific toast to the necessity of sharp, tough early readers and editors:
I do, I do have a writing project and I love you people so much, let me tell you how much I love you. I was due on this writing project two weeks ago, it was like two weeks ago and yet I'm here with you. How much love is in my heart? Here I am. I do, man and I do and what I'll say is, I love it and it's the hardest thing ever. Writing is so ... I want to talk really, I don't know if they're people who want to be writers, who are writers in the building. But I just want to talk really quickly about that process. And about specifically working with [my editor] Chris [Jackson], who is magnificent. I give him shit all the time but he's actually magnificent, best editor and publisher, excuse me, make sure I get his title right.
I have a note that one day, we should have put it in "We Were Eight Years in Power," and the note is, I wrote "Between the World and Me" four times. And every time I would submit a draft to Chris and he'd be like, "Hmm, I don't know. I don't know, I don't know." Basically, I had to go and rewrite before we even got to the level of actual line by line editing. So he sent me a note after what must have been the second or third draft. And it's just like 2,000 words about why this does not work. And it was so depressing. I remember getting it at the time, I think you have to understand about "Between the World and Me" is, it's a book that came out of my head. I had artistic inspiration in the sense of James Baldwin, the fact that I had been working through the death of my friend for 14 years at that point.
I had the fact of a black president which was sort of swirling around but I didn't know what that was. Even the idea of a letter came at the very end of the actual process of us working together. And man, I got that note from Chris, 'cause every time you're like, "Okay, I think this is it, I think I got it, I think I got it." And it's go again, go again. And I feel like at that point, I was well-known enough and this is how the industry works. Somebody would have published that draft. It's an inferior draft, it's not the same book. And this is, I've been blessed because this is actually the relationship we have even on this book, man. I turned in a draft about this time last year. Oh, I'm done, we're gonna go to line edits. And Chris took forever to read it as is his way.
But when he did, he wrote, he did a little bit of line edit but he came over to the house and he talked to me about it and it was clear that I had to rewrite the whole thing. This is my third time, I've been writing this book for 10 years, this is my third time rewriting it. But he's not gonna let me embarrass myself. You understand? I think I'm good as a writer, but I actually have much more confidence in the people around me because the people around me, they just gonna tell me, "It's not time. It's not time, don't embarrass yourself." I think a lot of writers, listen, I think talent is really important but I think what I have been blessed with, from the time I was in my mom and my dad's house, you know what I mean? From the period of working for David Carr. From the period when James Bennett ran The Atlantic. I had hard people around me. You know who just pushed. Do it again, go again, go again, go again, go again.
So if you like what you see, and this is why I'm always a little uncomfortable with this, what you are seeing is not some innate thing. What you are seeing is, go again, go again, go again. And that's the spirit I think of certainly good writing and any writing that hopes to be great. The bleeding on the page. And then bleeding again and again. I just tell him this all the time, I'm thankful to have a reader like that who push you in that sort of way.
I didn’t know this photographer by name, but while listening to this fantastic “Design Matters” interview with Debbie Millman, I could picture many of his photographs immediately. Some really great stories in there.
I learned a lot from this longtime IBMer (and one-time journalism grad who became a brand and communications star). Especially enjoyed the section on how the team arrived at the “Smarter Planet” positioning.
Really enjoyed this conversation about this design and innovation consultancy.
I'm honored and grateful to have been selected to be part of the 2018-19 class of Leadership St. Louis. Here's how FOCUS St. Louis describes the program:
Leadership St. Louis is a highly respected program for established and emerging leaders who have demonstrated a deep commitment to improving the St. Louis region. The 9-month curriculum explores such issues as economic development, racial equity, education, poverty and social services, arts and culture, and the criminal justice system. Participants visit key sites in the bi-state region, engage in face-to-face dialogue with regional decision makers and gain a deeper understanding of leadership approaches that produce results.
I'm impressed with those I've heard from who have completed the program, as well the fellow participants I met at last week's orientation. Should be an exciting nine months.
The Longform Podcast's new episode with Elif Batuman is fantastic. I've enjoyed her writing for a few years, and in this interview you can just feel her thinking deeply about literature and writing and gender and observing in cities around the world and much more. As interviewer Max Linsky tweeted when sharing the link: "Genuinely, this is the most fun I have had in a long time. It was so fun, in fact, that at one point I stopped and said 'Wow I’m just very happy to be sitting here with you! This is so fun!' And then Elif was very gracious with me and then she said a bunch more brilliant things." It's true.
I also loved Design Observer's new episode with Aminatou Sow. She was new to me, and I'm clearly late to the game. On being late, though: Really enjoyed Sow's skepticism of the tech press's focus on the young (who wants to peak at 28?), vs. her interest in longevity; she's long thought the ideal age is 63 .
In an essay for GQ, he provides a decades-later response to an esteemed literary figure's advice not to have kids, if he wanted a serious career as a writer. The piece closes:
And those four “lost” novels predicted by the great man's theory all those years ago? If I had followed the great man's advice and never burdened myself with the gift of my children, or if I had never written any novels at all, in the long run the result would have been the same as the result will be for me here, having made the choice I made: I will die; and the world in its violence and serenity will roll on, through the endless indifference of space, and it will take only 100 of its circuits around the sun to turn the six of us, who loved each other, to dust, and consign to oblivion all but a scant few of the thousands upon thousands of novels and short stories written and published during our lifetimes. If none of my books turns out to be among that bright remnant because I allowed my children to steal my time, narrow my compass, and curtail my freedom, I'm all right with that. Once they're written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back. Anyway, if, 100 years hence, those books lie moldering and forgotten, I'll never know. That's the problem, in the end, with putting all your chips on posterity: You never stick around long enough to enjoy it.
From the intelligent and beautifully made monograph Abbott Miller: Design and Content, which I devoured in early January, here is the designer/writer talking about the firm Design Writing Research, which he co-founded with Ellen Lupton:
During this time [perhaps mid-1990s], DWR moved from its basis in small print-based projects to exhibitions and publications. We elaborated our position as a hybrid of think thank, publisher, and design studio. The goal was to fuse our work as designers and writers, creating a studio that could generate content and use the unique skill set of designers to focus on projects about art, design, architecture, and ideas. In this notion of the content-based studio there were a number of inspirational precedents, from Charles and Ray Eames to Quentin Fiore and Bernard Rudofsky.
Our original emphasis on language and theory merged with work for clients who came to us not so much for the manifesto-like pronouncements of our mission, but for the thoughtful interplay of design and content in our projects. DWR was a self-consciously literary and conceptual hothouse version of a design studio, undertaking projects that experimented with literary theory and psychoanalysis, leaning heavily on what we saw as the vastly underdeveloped relationship between writing and graphic design. We borrowed from Jacques Derrida an expanded notion of "writing" (écriture), which included all elements of graphic communication, from symbols to spacing. Hence our predilection for mazes of glyphs, our attentiveness to the minutiae of punctuation and our maniacal focus on typography and textural systems.
Continuing a 17-year tradition, I'm happy to share my Annual Favorites list for the year 2017:
Let's start with the best thing that happened to my family this year, which is the arrival of Sylvia Huremović Schenkenberg in late April. We're still smiling at her the way Leo was above, just a few days in.
My Struggle: Book 5, Karl Ove Knausgård
Blind Spot, Teju Cole
Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Swing Time, Zadie Smith
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, John Hodgman
Now You See It and Other Essays on Design, Michael Bierut
Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game, Karl Ove Knausgård and Fredrik Ekelund
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
Obama: The Call of History, Peter Baker
Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure, Bianca Bosker
A Separation, Katie Kitamura
Paul Rand: A Designer's Art
More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers, Jonathan Lethem
Powers of Ten, Philip Morrison
Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind, Peter D. Kramer
Under the Skin
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Clouds of Sils Maria
Better Call Saul, Season 3
The Americans, Seasons 4-5
OJ: Made in America
Master of None, Season 2
I'm going to skip making a long list of favorite albums and podcasts, and instead note a discovery in each, respectively: Phoebe Bridgers (watch her Tiny Desk Concert here), and S-Town. They each feel a bit haunted, and they share, in parts, a gothic sensibility. (Also: I can't not mention Black Thought's instantly classic 11-minute freestyle video, which c'mon.)
Our SONOS Play: 1 is used every evening for listening to music as we get ready for dinner or just goof around with the kids. Things 3 finally launched, and it's attractive and enjoyable to use. It's only been a month or so, but I've been enjoying trying out Ulysses as a writing environment (despite having no interest in using Markdown.) I've been impressed with Airtable as a flexible, humane alternative to Excel, when you need a database of some kind but have zero needs for financial calculations. (I'd seen the fancy Sandwich video when it launched, but didn't realize it could fit my needs until the co-founder's segment on Track Changes.)
As noted on this website earlier this month, I was sad to see an end to the remarkable life of William H. Gass, who I was lucky enough to get to know over the past decade-plus. Bill lived a long and productive life, dying at 93, and working through his final year. I was honored to write briefly about him for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and speak about his life and work on St. Louis Public Radio. I continue posting notes from readers and admirers at ReadingGass.org.
Highlights from a very fun year at Forest Park Forever include engaging the public in the final year of Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park's Future, speaking at the international City Parks Alliance conference in the Twin Cities, launching a 2.0 version of ForestParkMap.org, and publishing Forest Park: Snapshots of a St. Louis Gem.
To close, a November 2017 photo of Sylvia and Leo reveling in the new hotel bed during a quick family trip to Kansas City...
For The New Yorker Radio Hour, Joshua Rothman walks Central Park with one of my favorite living writers. I especially loved this bit, which comes after Knausgaard is asked about the differences between the way children and adults go through their days:
I have four children, and maybe when I spend a summer day with them, it is like nothing. Time is just passing. There's nothing remarkable happening. It's like the world is not attached to me, and I'm not attached to the world anymore. And then I remember the summers when I was a child myself — how important everything was, how attached I was to everything that happened, and how slowly those days evolved, somehow. I find it very easy to underestimate my own children. That I don't see them — that they're just little creatures, not realizing that they have an enormous, huge and independent inner life. Somehow, the task is apparently to be aware of that.
Excited to be presenting on 9/14 about Forest Park, Forest Park Forever, and finding new ways to engage as a visitor.
Where have I been to miss this marvelous podcast for its first 101 episodes? Hrishikesh Hirway interviews musicians and asks them to break down a single song, which we hear in bits ... and bits ... and then in its entirety. It's a fantastic idea executed with great polish, sensitivity and humility (Hirway is almost never heard from). I've so far enjoyed Jeff Tweedy/Wilco, Ghostface Killah and Bjork, with many more in the queue.
What a rich life to have lived, at the helm of the New York Review of Books, to have these warm, admiring, vivid remembrances follow your passing: