And now for something completely different
IN THESE PAGES I have written on many subjects, but I never expected my ass to be one of them. The untimely passing last year of Hillman Curtis changed that.
Hillman was a friend, an inspiration, an artist admired by many designers and filmmakers. Over a brief but luminous career, he invented himself first as a songwriter in a touring post-punk band, then as an art director and eventually the design director of Macromedia (and Flash evangelist Numero Uno), next as the founder of a boutique design studio and the author of design books that have sold over 150 thousand copies—a staggering achievement in an industry where cracking 10,000 copies sold makes you a rock star.
He was a generous mentor and pal to the digital design community, perpetually sharing his insights and enthusiasm, and encouraging others to do and be everything they could be. If you needed studio space, he would find you a desk. If you were low on funds, he would help you land a suitable gig. Hillman and I worked on a couple of projects together when I first founded Happy Cog. The jobs went well and the work was good. He was a supportive and honorable design director.
Hillman’s final public creative incarnation was as a filmmaker. He is probably best known for his “Artist Series” about designers including Milton Glaser and Paula Scher, and artists David Byrne and Brian Eno.
Even his personal life was inspiring. He had two children and a wife, and the love in that beautiful family could be seen a mile away.
Colon cancer took Hillman from us on April 18, 2012. He was only 51.
I don’t know if Hillman’s cancer could have been prevented with a simple screening, but I know a colonoscopy is recommended for most men and women when they reach a certain age, and I know I love my daughter very much.
And so, this morning, for her sake and per my doctor’s recommendation, I set aside feelings of embarrassment and fears of discomfort and had the test.
It’s really not bad. There’s no pain, it takes only a few minutes, and you’re unconscious.
This post may cross a taste line for some readers; sorry about that. I’m also sorry this page won’t help you write better HTML or sharpen your collaborative skills. But I love you and would like you to stick around.
Worst Snow Ever
WORST snow ever. If you are eight and want to play. Because it has already melted. Climate change, you suck the Charlie Brown out of this world.
Filed under: glamorous
The Theme Line of Dr Moreau
I DREAMED I was designing an identity system for the mad scientist Dr Moreau, who kept changing his ridiculously long theme line after I’d arranged the type. “No, no, no! I’m not saving life, I’m creating it!”
Red All Over
ALL I REMEMBER from my dream is flushing a red towel down the toilet. It was evidence of some crime. There was a moment of horror, midway through, when it seemed that the towel would get jammed in the pipe, requiring the services of a plumber—whom I would then have to kill, because he knew too much.
To Leiden, To Leiden
THEY’RE SLEEPING in New York. They’re sleeping all over the world. Even here in Leiden, The Netherlands, they’re still mumbling and drooling in their beds. But not me. I’m awake and packing for my return home to NYC after three glorious days here in this ancient university town, where I was privileged to speak at the first Inspire conference. And all you got were these lousy photos.
- Holland 2012 Inspire – my Leiden and conference photos on Flickr
- Ready to Inspire – conference about web design, type and code
- Follow inspireconf on Twitter
- My Leiden – a Foursquare list
- City of Leiden homepage
- Leiden on Wikipedia
Related: Design Problem
Two New Yorks
I MOVED to Manhattan during the crack epidemic of 1988. The heroin epidemic of the early 1970s produced CBGB, Studio 54, punk rock and hip hop. The crack epidemic produced crack addicts. If we complained loudly enough to the police, they would chase the crack dealers away for a few days. Crack-addicted hookers replaced them: children in nylons, propositioning corner deli owners—a blow job for a pack of Newports. We’d complain to the police again; they’d chase away the hookers, and the crack dealers would return.
When Rudolph Giuliani practically wiped out street crime in New York, I enjoyed our new safety, but worried that we would lose our toughness. I needn’t have. September 11th and a half dozen subsequent catastrophes have made clear that we are still plenty tough.
For the past week, my eight-year-old and I have traipsed up and down eight flights of stairs in the pitch dark every day, shivered in the lightless cold of our apartment, and “bathed” by running Baby Wipes over our stinky parts. School was canceled. Our fresh food went bad immediately. For a few days we lived on pasta. Then cookies and popcorn. For an eight-year-old girl, it was paradise. I loved hanging with my kid, and enjoyed roughing it.
This morning at 1:48 AM, our electric power came back. A few hours later, cellular and cable internet service was restored. I walked my daughter down to her mother’s place (she goes back and forth between us), kissed her goodbye for a few days, and busied myself buying bread and water.
My super worked all night restoring cold running water, granting us the unimaginable luxury of a flushing toilet. We will not have heat or hot water for at least another week, though, because of an explosion at a Con Edison plant.
Phrases like “explosion at a Con Edison plant” seem normal in my new New York, but there is another New York, where they never lost power, or water, or heat, or internet access, or fresh food, or refrigeration, or elevator service, or subway service, or, frankly, a damn thing. I confess that I am starting to begrudge this other New York its good fortune.
At first I was all about gratitude, patience, survival, a calm willingness to do whatever was necessary. Sliding way down Maslov’s Pyramid can be good for the soul. I was grateful for my first week of deprivation with my kid: the closeness it brought, the fun we had surviving together. I pitied the other New York, whose citizens did not get to experience the bonding joy of plunging into the dark, wet, nineteenth century. My daughter, her mother, and I actually experienced the hurricane. Folks lucky enough not to suffer any deprivation had maybe kind of missed something.
That was my feeling until I learned that we would have to endure at least another week without heat or hot water. And started noticing that some of my acquaintances in the lucky parts of New York hadn’t even asked how I was doing.
A friend and I are going to the theater tonight thanks to the incredible generosity of a colleague, a man I barely know, who emailed me two tickets to tonight’s performance of The Book of Mormon. Filthy or not, I am going to enjoy the hell out of this luxurious theatrical experience … before slouching back to have-not New York.
Filed under: glamorous
Après le déluge
TODAY MY DAUGHTER and I brushed our teeth with real, running water. It was heaven.
Hurricane Sandy killed people and destroyed homes in New York and New Jersey. As a sideline, it left everyone in Manhattan below 39th Street without electric power. That means no elevator service in high-rise apartment buildings. No modem, no Wi-Fi, no charge for mobile devices—and almost no cellular access from AT&T or Verizon. There are no lights, there is no heat, and—if you live above the sixth floor in an apartment building (as we do)—there is no running water.
Which means no showers, no baths, no coffee, and no flushing toilets.
Con Edison says it will be days before power is restored. I think they’re being optimistic. Cleaning up after a disaster of this magnitude is a job for heroes. Repairing the power grid for five water-damaged boroughs of New York is a task for wizards.
So here is the little miracle:
There is a block on Madison Avenue below 39th Street that has power. My studio is located on that block. Electric power and internet access are working at the studio. My daughter, her mother and I have trudged here and temporarily set up camp. We brushed our teeth. We made espresso. We responded to days-old messages (messages our overtaxed cellular services could not deliver). My daughter camped out on her mother’s jacket and watched PBS Kids on an iPad.
The bliss of normality, if only for a few hours. Gratitude for the things we take for granted. Fresh clean water for a child’s toothbrush. The internet. The ability to contact friends.
Filed under: glamorous
That Brooklyn Thing
THE YEAR Brooklyn Beta opened, a misunderstanding and a coincidentally timed paying gig prevented me from attending. The following year, two paying gigs, scheduled back to back, kept me away. This year was going to be different. This year I cleared my decks. This year there were no gigs, no client meetings, no major medical procedures scheduled for the three days that the internet descends on Brooklyn. This year I was definitely attending.
Then this family thing came up and I can’t go. Nobody’s sick, nobody’s injured, nobody’s mentally or emotionally or spiritually treading water, but my presence and attention are required in Manhattan for huge swathes of the day. Which means, although friends I adore and see too rarely are a mere five subway stops away, I cannot be with them now.
I hope Brooklyn Beta continues for a thousand years, and I hope I can attend for at least one of them. I hope this isn’t a thing—like it was a thing for years that when Apple updated its Macintosh operating system, I was certain to be one of the 0.001% of users who suffered from some strange edge-case problem as a direct consequence. I hope there isn’t a betting pool on the odds of my attending Brooklyn Beta, although I have visions of one bespectacled design nerd slipping another a fiver on their receiving news of my non-attendance. Most of all, I hope everyone attending has a great time. See you next year, maybe.
A Parental Dilemma
MY DAUGHTER has been talking about her eighth birthday party since she was seven and a half. It will be a small party, on a Saturday at noon, with just her closest friends. Last night I found out her BFF won’t be there, because the girl attends a class Saturdays at noon, and her mom is unwilling to have her miss class—even just this once.
My daughter will be hurt. I’m powerless over another parent’s decision, and I must be cordial about it to preserve the smooth functioning of the BFF relationship (and also because it’s not my place to judge). My problems now are to find the right time to let my daughter know her friend can’t attend, and to manufacture positive life lessons in how we handle the disappointment.
Photo: Olivier GR
Filed under: glamorous
AS I OFTEN do on this day, I here post a link to my story of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, one of nine million stories from that day:
My story is not heroic. I saved no one on that day. It is not tragic. I lost no one.
The story I published then is incomplete in many ways. When September 11th happened, I was newly in love with a married woman who was leaving her husband. To be with her, I was leaving my girlfriend of six years. See? Not heroic at all.
The relationship with my girlfriend had been unhappy for years, but I still felt guilty leaving her. As partial penance, I let her stay in my apartment (“our” apartment) while I bunked in a tiny dump above a dive bar. The floor was crooked and the air always smelled like pierogies.
On September 11th, my new girlfriend, the soon-to-be-unmarried lady, was standing on Fifth Avenue when she saw smoke from the impact of the second plane. She was a mile north of the World Trade Center but could still see the smoke. Everyone could see it. Everyone but me, freelancing via modem in the pierogi-smelling fuckpad. The door opened, and there was my new girlfriend, looking stunned. “You don’t know,” she said.
I called my old girlfriend to warn her not to go downtown. She asked why I was crying.
I was crying for her, because I’d left her alone in a suddenly frightening world. Crying for the people in the World Trade Center. We didn’t have any details yet, but it was clear that many people had died. Crying, had I known it, for the thousands more who would die in the wars that were born on that day.
There was no TV and no internet. It was days before I could publish the incomplete story I linked to at the beginning of this memoir. Even when there was internet access again, I could not tell the parts of the story I am telling now. I could not tell them for years.
There it is. Like something out of Hollywood. Horrifying historic events as backdrop to a romantic drama. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Everything changes, but, for the living, life goes on. My then-new-girlfriend, my fellow 9/11 PTS victim, is now the mother of my child, and my ex-wife. This morning I walked my daughter to school, then headed to the gym, where I warmed up on a treadmill. Above the treadmill were TVs, with the sound off. On the TV I watched, the names of the 9/11 dead were being read aloud in alphabetical order. They were still on B when I finished my workout. The other TV was showing ESPN, and the gym member on the treadmill next to me was watching that instead of the ceremony.