LeaveAmerica.org

October 9, 2016

LeaveAmerica.orgIn late 2003, as the US presidential elections were in progress, Joel and I lamented the possibility of George W. possibly taking a second term.

It wasn’t a life-threatening thing, of course, but it gnawed at us. We hated giving our taxes to feed the slaughter and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention the increasing lack of liberties at home, because of, you know, terrorists.

I thought we had created the site of LeaveAmerica.org* on November 5th, after Kerry lost and George W. won. The site was meant to highlight the fact that the US was feeling like it was no longer a place to immigrate to, but leave. Looking back on this quick sketch, clearly it was before. I do vividly remember the verdict on the 5th of November and being so upset that all I could do was go for a bike ride. From Bernal Heights, through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, and up around, Lake Merced to do a regular loop.

The political climate in the US bothered me. But also what bothered me, perhaps more, were a number of things.

I traveled a lot whenever I could since art school. This always meant tw­­­o week vacations. It was never enough. Moreover, I often wanted to live in a place, culturally different than what I was used to. At the time I’d lived in LA, Chicago and San Francisco. As a lot of tourists experience, I wanted to stay longer. Not just longer, but I really wanted to feel what it was like living, working and experiencing the day to day of another culture.

Moreover, I was growing tired of San Francisco. By the time I left in 2008, I had lived and worked there 16 years. I began my career in technology as a designer in 1993, working on client/server apps, before the Internet commercialized. I then worked on internet-based applications across multiple industries, also within increasing scale and complexity.

I worked through the height of the dotcom era (sans wreckless partying), remaining at my desk throughout the tech crash, and into the 00s. Never became a millionaire, but unsurprisingly, I was never in it for the money, as most designers aren’t.

In any case, I was tired of the tech industry overshadowing so much of life in SF/Bay Area. San Francisco is a really small city, most people don’t realise it. It’s like a village compared to LA or NY, etc. I couldn’t leave the house without running into colleagues, clients, and various people from my work life. That only increased over time. It bothered me. Work was inescapable, never mind the 24/7 email leash.

Another factor in my desire to leave was quality of life. In most firms, I only had 2 weeks of vacation, a standard in the US. A lot of my employers didn’t even want me to take my time off altogether, rather split it up. Given how much I worked, it just wasn’t realistic, for my well being.

Also since the tech industry (or others just trying to make it) put such an emphasis on work, apart from the work hard – play hard bullshit, I rarely saw even the closest of friends. I could live a few blocks or a 10-minute drive and we wouldn’t see each other for several months. Everyone was too busy, working. I simply wanted to experience another place where the culture priortised quality of life and relationships, over making money.

My partner, Joel, is known to have lived all around the world. (lol). Even his first book is entitled, Jerusalem Calling, a Homeless Conscience in a Post-Everything World. He grew up in Israel, England, Italy, and the US, and went to grad school in Canada. He’s very adept at living abroad, whatever abroad means in this instance. His family is spread out between Israel, France, Argentina, and the US. His father’s side moved to Ottoman Palestine in the mid-19th century, from Italy and Lithuania. Moving internationally, apart from logistics, is in Joel’s DNA.

During this period, 2003-2004, I was leading the design of the first ‘mainstream RSS newsreader’. This was also the first major redesign of My Yahoo!, the personalisation of news for users of Yahoo, which initially launched in early 1995.

The publishing industry in the US, and especially the Bay Area, was in steep decline. Ironically, because of technology and the work I was doing. Joel and I closely tracked the industry and the upswing of citizen journalism, just as “Web 2.0” was gaining traction. It was clear there would be no way Joel could remain gainfully employed, as a traditional journalist, in the Bay Area.

Thus, given the entire context during this time, we spoke of moving out of the country. We had no specific plans but kept it in the back of our minds. And stayed alert and open to possibilities.

In 2007, I joined a design studio in SF. I was interested in the studio itself, the work it did and the people involved. As it turns out, the studio also had plans to expand, internationally.

I joined the firm as a Director of UX and spent several months in the SF studio. We got a client in London and I became the design lead for that project. That was in February 2008. I worked onsite in London with the client for a number of months. It was a great experience and we designed a fantastic product together over the course of the year. After phase 1, I worked in SF during the summer, for phase 2, then switching back to London in the fall for the third and final phase.

I had requested to be transferred fully to the new London studio to continue the project and help get the studio off the ground. My request was accepted, and in August 2008, we packed up our house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, and shipped it to Southampton in a container.

In early, September Joel and I arrived, together, in London. We had a corporate flat rented for us near Queensway, two blocks from Hyde Park. A week or so later, Lehman Bros collapsed and the global financial crisis began.

As the protagonist continuously says in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five: “ And so it goes…”

 

* We still own the domain ‘leaveamerica.org’ but have yet to fill it in.

 

 

{ 2 comments }

Fuck You Santa!

October 5, 2016

RasterBy the time we arrived back to our flat, in Berlin in December 2013, I had lived and worked in 5 cities across 3 countries. Since 2008. This was not by choice but necessity.

During the fall of 2013, I resigned from my role as acting head of UxD at a firm I consulted at in Torino. I had been consulting there 2.5 years, full time onsite. I had the pleasure of working with an amazing and talented group and they felt like family. Though, I was already exhausted and chronically stressed when I arrived in Torino in 2011. I pushed through those Torino years nearly destroying myself in the process.

My projects in Europe were increasingly large, complex, high pressure and high profile.  The last project I worked on was the digital strategy for FIFA, for the 2014 World Cup.  We got as far as initial approval on the concepts and I could see all too well what would be coming. I knew I could not withstand leading another project of that scale. Thus, I resigned with the plan to work again at the studio in Stuttgart instead of offsite with clients.  We rented a 2nd flat in Stuttgart with that in mind.

Once we arrived in Stuttgart, I worked maybe 2 weeks before simply collapsing. It was near Christmas, so we drove back to Berlin. We bought our flat here in 2010 and, if for no other reason, it is considered home.

The first couple months, I couldn’t leave the house except for therapy. Joel took care of food and basic necessities. I filled the void with all the fiction I never got around to reading from my library.  And Netflix around the clock.

I watched every possible serial TV program available on Netflix at the time.  From the brilliant to the mediocre, it didn’t matter. Before Joel started commuting  to Brussels for work, he’d watch some with me, then when he needed to sleep, I’d go into the bedroom and watch more. My sleep was not regulated yet, so I’d be up late and sleep at odd hours.

I was so completely and endlessly empty and blank. I found there was one old, unexpected TV show that was somehow comforting, oddly.  This was Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote.  At first, it was because it reminded me of my late stepfather. Though he was a comedy writer, he loved murder mysteries and would zone out to this show whenever it was on.

Then, it was the formulaic predictability of the narrative. The scenes and styles of early-mid eighties in a small fictional town in Maine. The grandmotherly feel of Angela Lansbury. The only thing that provided some solace. So I continued watching for several weeks, into the small hours.

From that Christmas 2013 to February 2015, I’d go through phases of voraciously reading (both fiction and non), or watching and re-watching serial TV.

I was able to do one thing a day, apart from very short walks with my dogs. These things were just to get groceries, go to the drugstore, etc. Though, miraculously, I was able to push myself to the gym a few times a week. That definitely counted as the one thing that day.

Of all the shows, my favorites were The Wire and The Sopranos. I hadn’t seen them in their entirety, not least in sequence.

I was deep in the Soprano’s run. I got hooked on some breakfast cereal and lived on that during this period.  The Fuck You Santa! scene resonated the most.  I could laugh at both the humour and irony.

During this time, November 2014, my beloved dog, Raster, died suddenly.

We had just returned home from a simple vet visit regarding a broken claw. We were in front of our apartment building, Raster lost balance and fell over onto his side. I brought him inside, tested his balance by staging him between my calves. He was going to fall again without any reflex to stop. And, we go!

Not unlike the story with Dolph in San Francisco, I found myself speeding through a city to an animal hospital with my dying dog, next to me on the front seat.

When we arrived, I carried him into the ER. The receptionist demanded I enter the form while I was holding Raster, who was clearly barely hanging on.

Luckily a doctor saw this, ran over, put a pad down on the floor of the waiting room and laid him down to exam him right there. Seconds later she rushed him into the main doctors visiting room. I followed.

Straight away she said that he wasn’t going to make it. “Look at the way his eyes are rolling up, moving from side to side. He’s having severe neurological problems. We can’t do anything.”

It was like being punched in the stomach, relentlessly. If there was any improvement of my own health before that, it was completely extinguished after this event.

So it wasn’t surprising when this drawing came up, like a reflex.

Fuck You SantaAs it turns out, things would get a lot worse for me.  And as it turns out, I’d later spend a lot of time in that very animal hospital.

{ 8 comments }

Live Through This

October 1, 2016

livethroughthisThere’s so much, I don’t even know where to begin. In my work, I’ve really loved the non-linear aspects. Designing narratives and scenarios which, combined, create a greater understanding of the experience. I think I’ll go about the same here. Non-linear. Not based on chronology. Rather all posts, together, convey the whole.

For starters, I think there are multiple types of depression. I wouldn’t be surprised if what we understand today as the ‘sliding scale’ are actually different types of illnesses altogether.

To clarify, I have/ had the severe version and as it would turn out what’s called ‘treatment-resistant’ depression. That means after a number of medication treatments, there is still no relief. It is possible, if not likely, I have Bipolar type II but the jury is still out on that. Meanwhile, I am being treated as such.  Confirmed by doctor, the diagnosis is Bipolar II.  It was originally ‘severe depression’.

The difficult thing about medication is that it’s simply not an exact science at this time. What works for someone, doesn’t work for someone else. And so the trial and error continues, often with horrible, intolerable side effects, as I encountered.

So for the record, when I speak of my depression and of depression in general here, I mean in its most severe form because that’s what I know. The kind where you cannot function on a daily basis.

Moreover, when I speak of my ‘doctor’, this person is both my psychiatrist and therapist.

In these years, I’ve read that depression can feel like a black veil that overcomes one, distancing them from everything around. So, it wasn’t surprising when my doctor looked at my drawings and mentioned this.

But I chose to use black ink and some related shades because I knew it would be easier to get back to drawing. Color adds complexity and, of course, nearly endless options. Way too much to think about straight away.

I hadn’t drawn, freestyle, in maybe 10-12 years before this. Almost immediately, on my leave, I began drawing again. It was like a reflex and I went through several phases of  intense drawing. Just before I went into hospital, I could do nothing else.

The drawings started out in pure line form. As in school, often lots of abstraction. Sometimes figurative, sometimes organic, sometimes a mixture. All the drawings were automatic, derived from automatism, as it’s always been my preferred method of painting and drawing. Just start and see what to pull out or push back and carry on.

Back to the black. I never really considered the black veil thing. For me it felt like being behind a plexiglass wall, several inches thick. The kind you see in movies when the prisoner meets a visitor. I could see the outside world but could not partake. Everyone and everything was out of reach. Never mind reaching out. I couldn’t even speak to my closest family members in Los Angeles. Only barely and minimally so.

I stopped working on the 18th of December, 2013. For the next 18 months, I would speak only with my partner, Joel, via messaging and my therapist once a week. I simply couldn’t speak with others. Add the complexity of not speaking any German, not knowing anyone in Berlin even after “living here” for 3 years and being over exhausted, there was no way. More on this later.

The drawing above was very early on, probably around March or April 2014.

{ 0 comments }

Concerning My Health

September 28, 2016

BionicFarmer started out as a dog blog in 2007. What began as a chronicle of the adoption of my then-senior dog, Dolph, and then a general blog, is being revisited and changing focus.

The revival will focus on my severe depression and bipolar disorder, the past few years in its grip, on sick leave from work, the entire time, and isolated in a foreign country. What led up to this, and how I experience things today.

As a longtime professional and stable adult to my early 40s, I never could have predicted what would come to pass, not least how long it could take to recover. I still have symptoms, but they are nothing like the past 2+ years.

In recent months, I have spent a great deal of time wondering how the fuck I, born and raised in Los Angeles, ended up spending seven weeks in a psych department in a world-renowned university hospital in Berlin, established in 1710, a full 66 years before the American Revolution. The answer, in short, is because I’m human.

I want you to experience my journey, with me, in photos and drawings I’ve compiled along the way, along with newly written texts to frame this. Please feel free to comment or send me email privately. I welcome and look forward to the dialogue.

I have no idea how often I will post. My hope is that I will post often, even little bits. If nothing more than to get it out of my system and inform others of what it’s like to experience this horrible disorder.

The stigma of depression/bipolar disorder, and of all mental health illnesses, is absolutely unacceptable. I hope, along with others, to help change this.

I’ve collected a number of resources, information, on depression, scientific views, potential new treatments, videos, communities, and others’ experiences.  Have a look if you’re interested in learning more.

{ 8 comments }

on hiatus

January 9, 2012

I should have updated this sooner only to say, this blog is on hiatus.

While I’ve been busy with the usual design consulting work, I’ve also been working on Souciant and contributing a bit, editorially, as well.

Have a look:

little big brother

November 6, 2010

Miles, circa ~1971

{ 3 comments }

master reductionist

September 10, 2010

The beauty of Carl Sagan explaining the 4th dimension. It doesn’t get any more pure than this.

gratuitous rasterizing

September 9, 2010

Raster, Strasbourg, France

{ 2 comments }

meta

August 23, 2010

Some hotels have Buddhist scriptures along side the Bible, if  you’re lucky (and so inclined).  Most in the Western hemisphere simply offer the New Testament, especially in the US.

Suffice it to say, I was a bit surprised and intrigued  when, I found the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at my bedside table instead. Smart marketing, of course.  Also,  just plain smart.

Mandala Hotel, Berlin
Summer 2010

more is more

August 3, 2010


Less is more (except when it’s not).
Friedrichshain, Berlin