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Week 747

Mark and I took a trip on Tuesday to New England, which of course took me off of my normal schedule such that I did not keep notes for the remainder of the week. I’ll have to rely upon my memory, which will probably result in a brief weeknotes entry as the trip was the highlight of an otherwise blurry five days.

We began our day at 4am, driving to the airport to make our 6am departure to Boston. By 8:30 in the morning, we were both in our rental cars—Mark heading to meet with a prospect and then an existing client and I to Providence to have lunch with Anaezi Modu of ReBrand then participate as a reviewer at RISD’s annual Graphic Design portfolio reviews. I arrived in time to poke around RISD’s campus a bit, taking in all the changes from when I was a student (like the new museum building pictured behind me to the left) and most of all enjoying those things that have stayed the same. A student let me in to the Nature Lab, one of my favorite spots on campus. It is one of those places I wish I’d taken advantage of much more as a student—frankly, I spent very little time there compared to other places like the film studios or the drawing class for which I was a T.A.—yet it stands out in my memories more and more as time passes.

Lunch was a great time—Anaezi is a wonderful conversationalist. I wish we could have had more time. As it was, we finished our discussion while speed-walking up Washington street so I wouldn’t be late for the reviews!

I was very kindly greeted by the organizers of the event and shown my table, behind which already hung a “Newfangled” banner and was situated with Pentagram to my left and Nail, a current agency partner of ours, to my right. Nearby were Google and Sterling Brands—very good company indeed. My review roster quickly filled up and I began to speak with very talented and interesting students. One in particular, Joelle Leung, stood out; her work was excellent in craft and mature in content and she had already had several editorial pieces published in Metropolis Magazine. Very impressive!

I headed back up to Boston to return my rental car and meet up with Mark for dinner before our flight departed for Raleigh at 8pm. After a long journey through security, I found Mark at a restaurant in our terminal and sat down (more like slumped with fatigue) at the bar with him, glad the day was almost over. Oh, they also had some darn good buffalo wings. Mark did not eat any.

Mark and I on our return flight. You can’t tell from the picture, but we were the only passengers
that were not part of a college baseball team.

Rather than recount the rest of the week, I wanted to share with you two passages I read that made strong impressions upon me:

The first I read toward the end of the week and, struck by the way its author, Guy Murchie, took a new perspective on the complexity of his surroundings enabled by conceptually removing himself from them, wondered if I could do something similar to gain a new perspective on Newfangled.

“Of course no one who lives down there would likely expect the terrestrial organism to be breathing with literal lungs. But, reflecting on it, lungs are far from essential to life. Insects and lesser creatures breathe easily without lungs. And obviously any beings of planetary size, to live at all, must live in a very different way from the minuscule parasites that inhabit it, as do I in turn live so differently from my germs. Yet those germs—who are presumed never to have heard of me—remain as vital symbols and symptoms of my living. In fact, they are enduring and tangible clues of my integral whole. And even more significant is the growing evidence that Earth is a metabolizing superorganism who maintains her temperature, humidity and other characteristics within variable limits despite much greater changes in her celestial environment. So I orbit here and dream about the rolling Earth, and wonder what music she is tuned to—what unseen ferment may already stir her geostrophic consciousness, what unimaginable tides of motivation may drive her evolution upon what yet unfathomable scales of time.”

Murchie imagines himself a thousand miles above Earth, orbiting in a space station with a large window. Yet his entire book, The Seven Mysteries of Life, is predicated upon a perspective which toggles between a macro- and microscopic view of the world. Over the past few months, I’ve often thought of Newfangled as an ecosystem, and in much the same way Murchie describes the Earth, wondered what systems we maintain “within variable limits despite much greater changes in [our]…environment.” I like the notion of Earth as a metabolizing superorganism—it makes sense given the complexity anyone can observe in the world. From my perspective as a longtime observer, the complexity of our business merits considering it at least a “metabolizing suborganism.” I’m sure as I continue to read his book, I’ll find many parallels between Murchie’s view of the Earth and mine of Newfangled.

The second passage comes from Alain De Botton, reflecting upon the time he spent observing an industrial biscuit maker in the U.K. in his book,The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work:

“I…thought about societies where exceptional fortunes are built up in industries with very little connection to our sincere and significant needs, industries where it is difficult to escape from the disparity between a seriousness of means and a triviality of ends, and where we are hence prone to fall into crises of meaning at our computer terminals and our warehouses, contemplating with low-level despair the banality of our labour while at the same time honouring the material fecundity that flows from it–knowing that what may look like a childish game is in fact never far from a struggle for our very survival.”

What a perfect counterbalance to the other passage! It could be very easy for me to become overly obsessed with the suborganism of Newfangled, such that my focus on any particular detail of operation, however minor, might actually take on a kind of narcissism— certainly something contrary to the posture of service I truly want to maintain in my role here. While I do believe that anyone can do incredible good, even within a context that could be characterized as dourly as producing “low-level despair” from “the banality of…labour,” keeping what I do, and also what Newfangled does, in proper perspective is essential to maintaining the right calibration between vocational nihilism and delusions of grandeur.

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