Will Baker

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Meaningfulness, grass, and the best we can

Monday, March 5th, 2018 @ 1:00am

As many designers will tell you, designers like to talk about their work. They’ll tell you it’s interesting, to a point, but anymore feels rather too self-serious and navel-gazing. All the Medium posts, etc. As a designer, it’s easy to think this is in itself interesting, and worth whittling into points with which you can poke other designers, hoping non-designers are around to see you: the designer with some perspective, willing to bleed one of his kin that one hundred non-designers won’t have to suffer her oblivious designer indulgences. 

But the thing is, writers are the same way. Cartoonists are the same way. Musicians are the same way. Academics are the same way. Engineers are kinda the same way. I don’t really know any accountants, but I suspect they’re—in their own accountanty way—the same way. Take a moment to think about the community of people who do what you do, and you’ll see what I mean. We’re all very interested in what we do (whether we’re okay with it), but to nearly the same degree, we’re uncomfortable with that interest. And we feel the prick of that sliver between these attitudes when we realize or suspect that someone else doesn’t feel the same way. 

Most of my friends have told me, in one way or another, at one time or another, that they feel what they do is insignificant, or meaningless, or—if they’re feeling more confident—inaccessible or esoteric. And in turn (or, more likely, out of turn and in excess of my allowance of turns) I’ve expressed to them the same sentiment about my own work. It seems anything can stir up these feelings on the right (wrong?) day, but what guarantees them on any day is beholding a great success by someone else in her respective effort. How this looks varies significantly depending on who you are, what you do, and how successful you are in what you do, but the core of it is the same, whether it’s seeing an auteur’s brilliant movie that will be watched and rewatched by millions of people in some collective emotional tide over the next few years until we’re all irradiated or drowned, and reflecting on how tomorrow you’re just going to sit down at your stupid computer and work on another stupid website for a company no one’s heard of, or if it’s eating a fast food restaurant employee’s perfectly cooked and seasoned batch of french fries that you and you alone will enjoy, and then reflecting on how you’ve lost touch with the satisfaction of a day’s work because you’ve made so much money that your job consists of little more than a few emails a day, which feel increasingly, inexplicably exhausting. 

We grew up hearing adults talk about the grass-is-greener attitude with understanding, but disapproving tones. After all, they’d made impulsive purchases, had drunken affairs, and, perhaps, rubbernecked over the neighbor’s fence, hoping to get a glimpse of what fertilizer she’s using, and the best way for them to dull its materialistic, lustful, and needlessly discontenting tip is by finding a way to logically, if not emotionally, embrace the journeyman wisdom of smugly recognizing and eagerly admonishing. But that seems unfair and puritanical, doesn’t it? (I suppose most common beliefs that aim to lead you toward a happier life do.) When we’re all just meandering about, without any sense of direction—or even with a shaky compass and a resilient faith in magnetism—how else can we be expected to behave? If the grass to the south looks greener than the grass beneath us now, why shouldn’t we head that way? Even if we get there and immediately turn back, at least we’re moving.