Volunteering gives me an opportunity to gain insight into my character and grow as a man. Each opportunity is temporal and growth is halting but I provide myself small chances to change my character when working as part of a team.
Recently I applied to volunteer and join the Production team. My tribe-mate applied for the Packing-Day team.
Previously our tiny tribe, which is dispersed across states, discussed the possibility of us all coming together for packing day so we could meet face-to-face. I had fielded the idea of coming up to visit the Packing Day Team and bringing up some snack or something.
A manager called and told me that they were short men for the Packing Day team. I was asked to volunteer both for packing day as well as production.
Immediately the little monkeys in my mind started to chatter. The monkey-chatter came fast and furious in two waves.
The first wave was “I don’t wanna.” I’m too busy; I’ll have to give up my weekend. It will be boring. That first wave then was superseded by the second wave – “How much am I ready to give?”
How much am I ready to give to other volunteers?
How much am I ready to give to call participants?
How much am I ready to give to pay my way?
How much am I ready to give to support enrollment?
How much am I ready to give to support my production buddy?
How much am I ready to give to lead my tribe?
How much am I ready to give to solve problems?
How much am I ready to give to be prepared?
How much am I ready to give to have my life handled?
How much of me do I want to give?
I listened and observed these monkeys in my head. It was my ego kicking in, measuring my willingness to participate. What was a safe, acceptable measurement of participation? What walls could I put up, where could I hide? What lies might pass muster?
I recognized that I was not fully enrolled. I did not own the result. My commitment was conditional.
My tribe-mate and other men were planning to drive 12 hours up from Kentucky and Georgia. They were making a huge sacrifice and commitment. In comparison, I was worried about how much it would cost to take the train to Hartford.
Being conditional about commitments does not work. Commitment means “No matter what”. I tamped down my chattering monkeys and decided to own the result.
Even including me, the team was short men and Packing Day was only a week away. I started calling men, looking for help. I called men who I had not talked to for quite some time, for years, some of them.
Every man said no. I heard my own negative arguments reflected back at me. Like a story in a book, each man responded predictably, according to character.
I have experienced having insight into my character in this way many times over the years. Each time is a new opportunity to change and grow my context.
Whenever an offsite or Motomo event, or a Weekend comes up, I am scared. It is scary for me to leave my safe comfortable home and put my trust, security and well being, at least partially in the care of others, in pursuit of a goal where I don’t know how the full commitment is going to play out. The chattering monkeys in my head go into frenzy every time.
My chattering monkeys need to be ignored. What I’ve learned over the years is that when I go to whatever the event is and come out the other side, I tell myself “Wow what a great time I had.” My fears are overblown and unfounded.
Once I got fully committed the event was easy. I rode up with the women. I was amazed how many men and women volunteered for Packing Day. We had a blast. Afterwards we went out for dinner and enjoyed each other’s company.
As it turned out, Packing Day WAS that Weekend. Not enough people registered for the Coed Weekend; it has been postponed and maybe cancelled.
Previous volunteer experiences have taught me to embrace ownership, responsibility and to produce the result.
When I was in college I was a volunteer for a student art and literary magazine. We went out and begged students to submit work for publication. We hired a photographer to assist students to submit their work, organized a jury to select work for publication and we put together and printed the magazine. Finally we had to go out and sell the magazine, sitting at tables in the student cafeteria and persuade bookstores to carry our magazine.
The Magazine Editor, Martha P. Hogan, used to make an ironic joke, quoting the children’s story, The Little Red Hen, “Now who will help me EAT the bread?” She quipped. It did not seem fair that we had to work so hard to give so much, and then we had to go out and push sales too. But that is what we needed to do.
(We got to work so hard and give so much, and we even had an opportunity to push sales.)
Later, I became the Editor. In addition to publishing art, poetry and short stories, we also interviewed a famous artist or writer and published the interview in our magazine.
Some years before, a different set of volunteers had served who seemed to me to be mysteriously cool. One man in particular had once been involved with the magazine and was also the leader of a rock band and a radio announcer on the college radio station. Manny Rettinger had also started a record company and an art magazine, amongst other things. I wondered how he did so much. He seemed to be everywhere.
I enlisted a volunteer to interview the prolific musician. I wanted to know how he did it, what made him tick?
The writer came back from the interview with his story. I read it and found this answer:
“When people say they want to have a scene, I fear that what they really mean is they would like to have a scene exist so they can have fun in it but they don’t want to build it.
It’s mainly my whole point that I want to have a scene, too, just like everyone else. But I’m going to go out there and do it. And that’s what I need to see: people coming out and actually, physically doing it. It should grow as people grow and not become so closed so that when new blood arrives there is no room.
And you have to work your ass off to keep it from falling down, because it’s not going to stand up by itself.”
What I get from volunteering is an awareness that I can do more, and a willingness to give. I get to join with a fun team, who are willing to make personal sacrifices and work towards a higher purpose. I learn about other people, about myself, and how I relate to other people.
Most of all I get to see and recognize the limitations that I put on myself. Learning to recognize and overcome those self-imposed limitations provides a spiritual transformation that gives me what I need to show up for other people in my community and grow.
Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do in our society. The icons of the self-made man, the singular hero, the army of one are common themes in cinema. Keeping people isolated is profitable to certain corporate interests who cater to fill the gap left by persons being alone.
One very important training that men receive in teams is to learn to not do things alone, to work as a team. The very first task given to the men on the new training team is impossible to do alone, although men try. Many men struggle with the taboo of asking for help.
Because asking for help is so alien to men’s experience, so difficult for men to do, Men’s Teams teach men how to ask for help.
The cost of doing things alone is very high in our society. Historically societies have always worked together to get things done – hospitals, fire safety, libraries, postal service are all ancient examples of teamwork written large.
Not being able or not knowing how to ask for help can be painful and spiritually poisonous.
Once while walking home I found a grocery bag full of kittens in a trash can. The kittens had been recently born. Their eyes were still closed.
Outraged, I took the bag of kittens home. I bought a can of condensed milk and attempted to feed the kittens, but the milk fell out of their mouths and made a mess.
I started to call for help. I called the ASPCA. At first they didn’t answer at all and when they did they said they don’t help with abandoned kittens. The local veterinary clinics also said they would not help me with the kittens. The local pet stores also did not want abandoned kittens.
Finally I called an organic pet store and they gave me the number of a woman who they said might help me. I called the woman and told her my story of how i found the kittens. She was silent on the phone and I thought she was angry and maybe crazy.
I told her about trying to feed the kittens with condensed milk. Finally she spoke. “Stop feeding them condensed milk. Their stomachs can’t digest that.” she said. She asked me for my address and I gave it to the crazy cat lady.
The cat lady came over in a car and gave me a tiny baby bottle for kittens and half a can of powdered kitten milk. She showed me how to mix the powdered milk with water and feed the kittens. They drank the kitten milk!
The cat lady came back a week later with more kitten milk. We kept in touch and I fed the kittens and weaned them over six weeks. They crawled out of the kitten box and pooped all over my bedroom and I litter-box trained them. Then the cat woman came and took my kittens to the rich part of Queens and gave them away to new homes.
I’ve often thought about whoever it was who put the kittens into the trash. How desperate they must have been. How soul sickeningly out of options they must have felt. So ashamed and guilty. So alone and unable to ask for help.
A tragic event happened this summer in Seattle during the Black Lives Matter protests that I keep thinking about; what I came to see, and what I learned about myself and my relationship with racism.
The Black Femme March against racism and police violence, a festive, peaceful protest for BLM was followed by a drive-by hit and run that killed one person and badly injured another.
The person who was killed was a 24-year-old named Summer Taylor. The injured person was Diaz Love, a 32-year-old from Portland, Oregon.
I saw Summer Taylor’s photo on Twitter after the event and at first I only knew them as “The girl with the pink hair”.
I have since learned that Summer Taylor used non-binary they/them pronouns. 24-year-old Summer Taylor with the pink hair worked at the Urban Animal veterinarian clinic by day and was an activist by night, participating regularly in the Black Lives Protests, which had continued daily for months, and still continue to this day.
Reading about the protest and Summer Taylor’s death the following morning on Twitter, I came upon a video of people participating in the protest before the car incident.
In the video the protesters are dancing together.
The Black Lives Matter movement, the media and the conversation about it has made me aware of race-based injustice and triggered recognition of my complicity with systematic racism. I have come to recognize my relative comfort of privilege in American society and also the pang of fear I have about losing that privilege. Privilege feels like some sort of edge that I need to lean on to get by. We live in scary times. Letting go is an act of trust.
This video grabbed my attention and made me stop and think. There they are. The protesters are dancing together, having fun. Demonstrating a society without racism and a new vision of what life can become.
Watching the dance, I see that equality for everyone is not a win-lose proposition. It is a new possibility that everyone can be privileged, and we will be better for it.
When everyone is privileged we will all be smarter, safer, more engaged, wealthier. There will be a bigger pie. There will be more, not less. Everyone will share equally in human rights and be entitled to dignity and respect – an equally privileged place in society.
Recently two different people spoke to me about building websites using Squarespace. It’s been awhile since anyone has mentioned the subscription CMS platform and it was surprising to be asked about the product on two occasions.
Squarespace gained market share and popularity by advertising on NPR and public radio stations like WNYC*.
Working to design within the Squarespace platform is like trying to paint a bedroom through the door keyhole. The CSS can only be accessed through Squarespace’s proprietary user interface. The proprietary user interface is kept locked away because Squarespace charges subscription-based fees and the way to charge the fee is to insert a roadblock to thwart web development.
Many Internet-based services such as Squarespace are designed to insert themselves into the service in order to extract money from the transaction or work. A common example of that business model is LinkedIn, where users upload their personal contacts. LinkedIn’s business model is to make it difficult for users to access their own data unless a fee is paid. Trolls build bridges and extract payment to cross. Working with Squarespace is a little like that.
The first person needed to publish sales content for a third party startup. Using an off-the-shelf Squarespace template might be good enough for this purpose. Editing the front-end design or maintaining the website are not concerns. The website will probably not need to exist in six months.
The second person who asked about Squarespace already has a mammoth website built using WordPress. The WordPress website is the primary marketing hub for the client’s entire business.
The WordPress website, built over a fifteen year period, has rambling content, a lack of cohesive brand development and an unplanned site architecture. None of these faults require a technical solution.
The website utilizes multiple custom plugins and consists of many different types of content. It is hard to imagine porting the existing content successfully to Squarespace.
WordPress is utilized for some 25% of websites worldwide. WordPress has a wide and deep technical ecosystem; most of it is public sourced (free to use). WordPress website maintainers are able to access the website from within the user interface and from without, as long as access to the site host location is available.
If there is a strong need to redevelop the website, there are many much better options to use than Squarespace. What the second client really needs is to invest in knowledgable web developers to maintain and develop the website. Lacking that, switching to Squarespace will not solve problems. It will increase them.
* Here’s a little marketing secret: If you have a mediocre Internet technology that you want to foist onto consumers be sure to advertise on public radio. Public radio stations are advertising hungry and will promote anything, without question or testing for quality; and listeners will suck it up, also without any further investigation.
My history is that I am self-taught. I come from a graphic design background creating print media using Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator. I am an expert using Photoshop and Illustrator, having worked in advertising and also working as a CD designer for Sony Music.
I got tired of buying new iterations of Photoshop. Each new version meant that I could no longer open other people’s newer files and there was never anything new that was worth the steep price. I started with Photoshop II and after thirty years the program still has the same onerous user interface.
What I liked about web design is that I don’t have to buy anything to work. I learned to type using TextEdit and for many years that’s how I worked. In a pinch I still jump onto TextEdit to stomp out a quick test or prototype.
The first bit of web development technology that I embraced was SASS, using Compass. In order to use it I also had to learn to use MAMP. Now I was working in an “environment”. Somewhere along the way I started to use a more sophisticated text editor, Sublime Text. I am still using Sublime Text.
Bit by little bit I am learning to use the terminal. I have a cheat sheet that I sometimes refer to. Along with the Terminal comes GIT and Github, Homebrew, Node, NPM. Setting these things up has never been easy. It often requires months and months of study complemented by lot of trial and error.
I was an early adherent of CSS and when HTML5 and CSS3 came into being I was on top of it, learning from the best web mavens on Twitter. I learned to build websites with cross-browser fixes, many of which are still actively in use today.
Recently I helped a client with her WordPress. It had a sophisticated drop-and-build functionality that was hard to learn. Part of what made it hard to learn was that she hadn’t touched it for two years and the complicated functionality was out of date and broken. Over the last two years PHP has evolved quite a bit and her server settings were out of date and frankly a hacking hazard. Dozens of plugins were out of date too. Any small change might freeze the program, providing a white screen of death.
But when it comes to learning how to build, use and maintain the working environment for the “modern web”, I have lagged behind. I missed out on learning how to use Grunt, for instance. There is a long list of technologies that have come and gone.
I am working to catch up. Some time ago I decided to break my website into template components. This is supposed to be a time-saver, so that when I want to change a thing in the webpage footer I don’t have to copy-paste it into thirty pages. I can change it on the footer template and all of the pages will update all at once.
So for the last year or so I have worked to learn how to use Gulp. Gulp is something called a task runner. It processes SASS instead of Compass and squeezes code to be small and unreadable and other stuff. In addition to processing SASS into CSS Gulp runs Handlebars to convert templates into HTML.
Did I mention that I like to write code, using TextEdit? Learning how to install Gulp through the terminal and program it to do what I need it to do has been difficult and time-consuming. There are not many tutorials and I could not understand the language of those I found. I did not know the paradigm. I am getting it slowly.
All of these things come in versions and when one of these becomes updated with another version, the others have to come along too, or the web design working-environment will break.
So recently I was designing happily in SASS and Handlebars when I saw a message in my terminal that my Yarn program was in need of an update. It is easy to hit “update” and without thinking about it much I did so.
I had intended to write a how-to about these technologies but instead I am writing about the distancing of design engendered by adopting a complex build environment, how hard it is to learn, keep up, and how brittle it is.
Recently I watched a video tutorial where the tutor was using a text named Visual Studio Code. He was able to load a SASS capability into VSC, link it to his browser and code just like that. No Node, no Gulp. Huh.
Visual Studio Code is owned and built by Microsoft and is free to use. Recently Microsoft bought Github for a small fortune so it looks as though VSC can interact with GIT and Github. I am searching to see if it can also process Handlebars. I bet it does, and I will be using it soon.
Concept, design and creative development.
Build a core identity and message tailored to your target audience.
Craig Webb Art provides all aspects of New Business Communications Development including project management, creative development, copywriting and graphic design.