In the past few months I’ve made a conscious effort to reengage my minds creative thought process. I’ve developed some interesting yearend goals and try my best to keep on track. Unlike the gym membership that I hardly use or the book I may buy in an often feeble attempt to force myself to follow through and finish reading it, my new found creative outlet has been writing. And as of late “Flow” just sort of happens as topics and ideas appear in my mind and like a group of eager schoolchildren volunteering for a fun task those ideas jump up waving their hands saying “oh pick me pick me.”
As a fun challenge to my daily routine and a fusing of creative expressiveness I’ve decided to write 100 blog articles accompanied with original photography. For now I’m sticking with basic first person narrative accounts of a culmination of thoughts and concepts that will hopefully lead me down a path of a more enriching and mindful existence.
Earlier this year I felt like I was stuck in a rut as my mind was struggling to find a more immersive path. At the time I was expanding my foray into environmental field recording hoping to find a quiet location to record within an unadulterated natural habitat. With future plans to head out on a jungle expedition I decided to start locally at a nature preserve to test my equipment, clothing and technique.
The experience was enriching yet frustrating as I quickly experienced what is notably a systemic natural issue… noise pollution. Lawn mowers, cars, planes and people making substantial amounts of ruckus that essentially spoiled my field recordings.
As a side note I’ve recorded audio in various formats for over 30 years and noise has always been an issue. So much so I’ve found myself often recording and coveting noise (if I can record the noise cleanly and without additional pollutants.)
As my wife and I hiked through the muddy game preserve seeking a quiet place to record we examined the stunning landscape of forest and meadows and stumbled upon an interactive kiosk in a field. A clever weathered wooden structure with blocks of carved wood suspended on rods. Each block a unique word carved into each long side to allow a passerby to write a Haiku in a meadow. I was so inspired by the design and unique concept I thought to create my own similar designs for my own yard.
Inspired by the meadow Haiku and feeling creative I began researching Haiku and stumbled upon Courtney Symons 100 Days of Haiku article and the challenge was on. Armed with limited knowledge of Haiku and knowing I would never last 100 days I looked for a writing partner. Having someone to bounce ideas and concepts off of as well as encourage you to keep going we collectively completed 100 Haiku each placed onto 100 original photographs.
My perspective of daily activities changed as I challenged myself daily to find an inspiring and fitting photograph in which I would create an original haiku. After 100 days and lucky to have traveled and photographed New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Boston and using older photographs I had taken in Pittsburgh and Costa Rica I had what I believed to be the an engaging collection of original Haiku I’m planning to self publish into a coffee table photography book. The project subsequently the foundation behind the 100 days of blogging/ articles based on Seth Godin’s- Make Something Everyday podcast.
Being a Libra my life is all about balance which I juggle with on a daily basis. of foremost importance is making my wife’s morning breakfast with an Almond Milk Latte, followed by spending quality time walking my dogs. I attempt to be mindful during these daily activities however as of late I’m burning the toast and forgot to replenish the Dave’s Killer 21 grain bread that we love. Caught up in my creative process the ideas and writings next stop following as my most creative times are doing mindless activities such as washing the dishes.
My day job keeps my brain pumping as I answer hundred’s of technical questions and coordinate the design and execution of a vast amount of projects. Evenings I’m often working on sound design and editing for my production and post production company.
Next week I’ll begin an intense Design Thinking course thru IDEO. My mind is in 100% immersion with creating, designing and executing. Ideas popping into my head and channeled to my future endeavors be it articles, Brand Designs or scripts for Film.
How Removing Dairy From My Diet Changed My Sense of Smell
For most of my life cheese has been an important staple in my diet. Breakfasts often consisted of a smear of cream cheese on a bagel or an egg omelet with melted cheese. For lunch I’d love a sub sandwich with cold cuts and thinly sliced deli cheeses. Swiss, American, Provolone and Fresh Mozzarellas we’re regulars.
Evenings my wife and I would share with our slightly overweight dogs blocks of Champagne Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, Swiss and Colby Jack. For dinner we would have blends of mozzarella, parmigiana and ricotta mixed with pasta. Ravioli, Tortellini and Cavatelli with homemade sauce and sprinkled with Pecorino Romano was a weekly tradition.
Friday nights we would feast on nachos grande sprinkled with a four cheese taco blend or a large Brooklyn pizza pie. Desserts we would treat ourselves to ice cream, gelato and cheesecake.
We ate cheese daily and the chances were slim to none we could ever give up our love of fromage.
It is little over a year ago until I watched and my wife heard from our kitchen a rather disturbing video from Erin Janus on the dairy industry.
The content in this video highlights the Dairy industry in a graphic matter and the content is unsettling. Immediately upon watching this film I had vowed to never consciously consume dairy products again. If you love your ice cream or cheese I highly suggest you pass on this video and watch some cheesy feel good videos. You’ve been warned.
Years ago while in my late teens I spent a summer in Otsego County in Upstate New York. With charming villages nestled along the 70 mile long Unadilla River and large expanses of forest the area was a perfect location to just get away. Driving up the old single lane country highways I’d pass dairy farms and cattle farms often populated with hundreds of baby calves chained to small white huts. After only a few short days I began to learn these calves, often males as they were unable to become “dairy cows” were kept in close quarters to keep their meat tender as they would soon become what we know as veal.
Veal is the meat of calves, in contrast to the beef from older cattle. Veal can be produced from a calf of either sex and any breed; however, most veal comes from young males of dairy breeds which are not used for breeding. Generally, veal is more expensive than beef from older cattle.
Since that time I’ve only once (and only mistakenly) eaten veal. With such harsh living conditions and without any quality of life I refused to make veal a part of my diet.
Upstate NY was a perfect place to pick up the occasional odd job often helping farmers with haying, fence repair or working as a farm hand. Working for slightly more than gas and cigarette money, I’d work a 9 or 10 hour day at various farms. I became friendly with a family of dairy farmers, 3 high school aged boys who’s father had passed away. Afternoons and evenings I’d head on over to help relieve the boys from the 8 days a week job of running a farm.
Armed with my horse farm work experience I helped herd the heifers and female cows across the busy street into the dairy barn. Cleaning stalls, feeding and watering was my specialty as the brothers would proceed with the milking process. Tubing ran inside the barn to the milk room that contained huge stainless steel tanks of freshly pumped raw milk. Every other day the affiliated processor would send trucks to pump out these tanks. An evening treat would be a small cup full of the freshly pumped milk.
For many years I consumed milk based products with pride feeling that the dairy industry was generally wholesome. I’m uncertain at that time if these farms would have been considered organic and free range as I’m doubtful those were everyday terms of those times. I ignorantly assumed dairy cows consistently produced milk in a natural and pure way. It wasn’t until I had watched Erin’s 5 minute video did I learn the truth.
Weening myself off of dairy products wasn’t as difficult as I assumed it would be. For years I was using Almond Milk in my coffee so the challenges would be cheese, butter and cheese.
Oh how I love cheese.
My wife and I quit cheese cold turkey (oh we quit turkey too and all other meats and fish on one fell swoop). Having heard that the non-dairy or Vegan cheeses were quite simply gross, we built a revised diet around rices, beans, grains, fruits and veggies as we boycotted anything remotely similar to meat and dairy products.
Watching scores of YouTube videos and reading hundreds of webpage articles we gradually began to reintroduce and consume Vegan cheeses and pseudo meats. Our first Vegan pizza was simply delicious as we devoured the entire thin crust brick-fired pizza with plant based cheese.
Our son who only occasionally makes the Vegan switch claimed the nondairy cheeses weren’t horrible as he helped us devour vegan pizza. With plant-based diary items gaining a massive growth spurt the availability of ice creams and cheeses has increased.
Walking thru our local high end supermarket we try our best to avoid the cheese aisle. The aged and moldy smell that reminds me of old gym shoes reminds me of the horrors I saw in the above video.
Our collective efforts to remove dairy, meat and fish has been a success as we recently celebrated our one year anniversary being on a plant based diet we look where we stand and feeling complacent about our stance while happy to have made the transition.
A few years ago good friends of my wife and I invited us to accompany them on a trip to Costa Rica. Having never been there before, we certainly were up for the trip and quickly agreed, excited to explore the known to be lovely Central American country. La Costa Rica means “rich coast” with a long and skinny landmass flanked on either side by the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. With over 800 miles of coastline and a northern border with Nicaragua and Panama to the south Costa Rica is Tropical paradise known for its biodiversity.
According to the Happy Planet Index Costa Rica is the happiest and most sustainable country on the planet. With the coastal plains separated by rugged mountainous regions the country is home to over half a million species of which 70% are insects. According to INBio Costa Rica consists of 4.5% of the worlds biodiversity with 12,119 species of plants of which 950 are endemic.
Landing in San Jose we headed to the rental car agent and procured our necessary 4 wheel drive SUV to climb the dirt road to our villa in the mountains above the Southern Pacific coast.
With our GPS plugged in and programmed we started our 2 hour trek down to Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific Coast. With surprisingly well build and smooth roads we headed through the lush mountains to to the Pacific coast and headed south towards Quepos and followed the Pacific coast. We passed through the town of Dominical a surfers hamlet known for year round waves.
We eventually arrived into the Village of Uvita known for the Envision Festival as well as wildlife and nature. Our friends received the keys for our villa named Casa Aracari located 400 feet above the stunning whales tail in the Marino Bellana National Park.
The mountainous dirt road was heavily rutted from the recent rainy season. In four wheel low we slowly climbed the rugged terrain passing the poshKura Resort and for one week our next door neighbor. Opening our private gates we pulled up to the breathtaking property.
With a mixture of tropical plants and hardscaping we followed the gravel driveway to the charming yellow masonry home. Accented with thick beams and slabs of local teak, Saltillo tiles floors lead out to the patio and private infinity pool overlooking the Pacific coastline below.
Ceiling fans cooled the space while the topmost wall areas had screened in pillars to exhaust the days heat. Sounds of birds, insects and monkeys could be heard during the warm quiet evenings.
After unpacking we decided to head back down the arduous mountain into the quaint village below. On a local corner we met Emmanuel a produce merchant that loaded the entire rear of our SUV with fresh watermelon, mangoes, papaya, oranges, pineapples and bananas.
The local grocery provided the essential coconut water, rice, coffee, eggs and bread. Surprisingly the markets fish and meats were less than desirable.
Over the next few days we traveled the beautiful countries jungles, oceans and villages. Examining much of Costa Rica’s lovely flora and animal life we never knew what to expect.
As always I researched before we had left for the trip understanding the Tico way of life, Pura Vida. We made fresh mango salsas with yellow rice and lime soaked plantains from our properties trees and fresh tropical drinks from coconuts that had fallen by the pool and papaya cocktails…we were in heaven.
We ventured into Dominical the surfers enclave for local art pieces, food and bath products in Mama Toucan’s organic health food store. We also were in search of fresh fish which we ultimately purchased from a local fish monger I ordered in my broken Spanish “se vende pescado?” Which he replied “si” with a large cleaver in hand. We purchased two large fresh red snappers that created the evenings rice, beans and fish dish.
Traveling the lovely coastal country we came upon large palm oil farmsalong with black smokey palm oil polluting the air from the palm oil extraction process. The palm trees planted near Quepos and Jaco were know to have been responsible for ruining the areas biodiversity by killimg off what once was the once jungles lower canopy. Small shanty homes cropped up around the plantations roads provided housing for the local farm hands.
In our adventures we saw the countries native born Tico way of life. Pleasant and respectful people that cherished the land and the maintenance of the large abundance of plant and animal life.
My friend a bit more of a meat lover than I was hoping we could find him some decent steaks. In our ventures we would see the Brahman cows known to survive well in arid terrain but looks less than desirable than the New York strip steaks we were accustomed to, we passed living almost entirely on fruits, vegetables and some fish.
One afternoon we headed to a local artists home/ studio. Mel and Misha living in a cute home less than a quarter mile from the Marino Bellena beach. We talked art, Costa Rica’s culture, local living, and Misha’s computer business. They offered some homemade ice creams they made from coconut they collected on the beaches and laughed how we’d paid for fruits we could’ve collected freely in the nearby jungles.
We talked about Costa Rica’s beef which Misha informed us wasn’t like our Jersey cows however some Tico farmers were now raising them. He mentioned a meat market in town that imported the ever coveted NY strip steaks where we headed off and purchased.
To be honest the meat wasn’t the same and seemed almost unnecessary after the bulk of the weeks delicious plant and fish based offerings. We loved our travels to Costa Rica certain we would certainly return.
Heading back to the States my wife and I made a conscious decision to attempt to maintain our Costa Rican diet once home. Upon entering the local New Jersey markets we laughed at the inadequate offerings of tropical fruits and vegetables in November compared to the quality. And quantity eaten on our recent journey.
We continued on a with a Pescatarian lifestyle for the next few years and very infrequently eating meats. Since that time we’ve become Vegan, examined biodiverse farming and Costa Rican life. Once again to return as Vegans living on the fruits of paradise.
When I was in grade school I struggled with writing so much that I was sent to a writing specialist and ultimately it was requested I be held back in the second grade. Possibly it was because of my early start into school as a September baby as I had just made the cutoff date. Or maybe I in actuality suffered from a learning disability that would require me to learn differently. Regardless I daily was removed from my otherwise mundane classroom to spend quality time with my tutor.
My recollection of her was an attractive, nurturing and patient teacher. She would greet me with a warm hug and a genuine smile as she’d ask me to read a book like Clifford the Big Red Dog. I would buzz through the words with ease reading to her as if I was the teacher and she was my student, hanging on my every word and only occasionally fixing my pronunciation. Seemed I didn’t struggle with reading comprehension or grammar but actually had difficulties in writing an essay citing what I had just read.
Blankly I’d stare at the page of penmanship paper where often the only thing I’d written was my name and the date along the top followed by “The book Clifford the Big Red Dog is about…”
If the paper was actually an old monochrome computer I’d be starring at a blinking cursor. What do I write next? I didn’t have a fucking clue. Lost in the details of an entire book and forced to write a simple summary of the most elementary book was a stressful struggle. I’d ask if I could sharpen my pencil or go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Stall tactics until the hour long tutoring session would end while I figured there was always tomorrow right?
My tutor was nurturing and patient as she’d allow me the curtesy of wasting her valuable time. And when I ran out of juvenile stunts of misdirection she’d warmly say “okay Michael now can you please write what you just read?”
Hell no I couldn’t. What do I write first and what was most important? Setting, plot, adjectives and capitalization… screw this I’m out.
My tutor would take a paper and place it into a file folder and put it away. She would than look into my eyes and with the sweetest voice say “okay you win again. Tell me the story about Clifford the Big Red Dog” and holy shit I did. Every last fucking detail from Clifford’s size and hair and reactions. No problems there as I would talk and talk and talk.
And then my tutor would take back out the blank essay paper and say “alright now write exactly what you just said.” I’d love to tell you that I did and it was perfect which I’m doubting is the truth however what I do recall is my first academic rush as I pencil to paper wrote and wrote and wrote.
Thinking back I remember those big fat pencil erasers that I would burn through as I corrected my less than stellar penmanship. It was on that day I found my narrative writing technique which is still the only way I know how to write.
I spent the next year with my tutor reading and writing essays. My memories not sharp enough to remember the content or any additional details except how I learned to write.
My remaining years as a “student” were a shit show spending most of my time in the principals office and subsequently in detention or suspension for not following the rules. To this day I feel that rules are for other people as I generally just do everything that I want. It’s doubtful that my writing style has improved much since my year with my tutor however I’ve stuck with my style and won’t change for anything.
Recently I’ve been following the marketing guru Seth Godin’s expert advice to write a blog a day. These can be based on random thoughts or philosophical ideas that you want to just get out there. I’m confident that my writing with improve exponentially as I continue to write and let that storytelling voice be heard.
Seldom have I found a situation where I’ve nothing to say and it’s been a very long time since I’ve stared at a blank page. Creative writing has expanded my thoughts and mind and is a dopamine rush. I become anxious to complete my thoughts and hit the publish button. It’s of paramount importance I continue to follow my own unwritten rules to be honest and forthcoming as I expose my thoughts and experiences in an abridged but unadulterated style.
As a creative designer and artist I struggle to stay on topic as my interests vary widely. This certainly is a compelling argument for my certain failure to ever become a successful author as I’d guess I’ll struggle finding a fan base with quite as diverse and quite frankly wild amount of passions and interests. However I’ll trudge on not losing site of my objective. To find my voice and share my thoughts.
One day I’ll pull back out the letters of correspondence my father typed back and forth to the school board requesting and subsequently denying my specialized education to find out why I do is what works. Possibly there is an answer in there that’ll help me stay in my lane but until then…. I’m just going to keep on hitting publish.
An attorney friend of mine years ago expanded my thoughts on perspective. I’d often ask how his day had been knowing hours earlier he had a rough time in trial court. Ironically he would respond with a smile “I’ve never had a bad day”.
I’d ask myself how could that be? Certainly he had a client that equally had a rough day in court, possibly a motion not accepted or expert testimony that failed to provide the definitive evidence required to win the case. However he never let those issues adjust his feeling and perspective for his day.
With the mindset of an artist I learned to change perspective. Moving my visual camera and reframing the mental picture of the entire situation I began to recognize that fine tuning into one specify issue or troublesome event in your day should generally only be a temporary setback. Reevaluating the situation and obtaining an alternative perspective can often change the emotion of the situation allowing your vision and focus to clarify. My corporate job had extinguished my creative spark and fogged my perspective.
It was at that exacting moment I decided I’d try Living the Dream
My decision allowed me to re-evaluate my life, relationships, goals and objectives and then refocus on my dreams. I decided to signup for filmmaking classes at NYU, travel more, examine my spirituality and quit my high paying corporate New York City job.
Leaving piles of money on the table and moving my 401k into a Fidelity account I moved towards my dreams as I took a local job in a similar industry. Ironically cutting my salary almost in half didn’t make me sad so why would doubling it make me happy? Perspective. Not suggesting that money is the route of all evil however I’ve determined that the requirements and sacrifices required to earn a high paying corporate salary isn’t worth the stress, aggravation and the loss of perspective.
Quitting my NYC job opened up my daily schedule to drive my kids to school, make breakfast with lattes and meditate. Moments became mine as I reclaimed my life and creativity. On a daily basis I work on personal development by practicing mindfulness, filmmaking, design and creative writing. Experimenting with a vegetarian diet and eventually a vegan lifestyle, I’ve increased my health and most importantly my mindset.
I still get stressed and even pissed off however generally the emotions are temporary as the feeling quickly rolls off like water off a ducks back. My compassion and empathy has increased for people that fit within the model of my dream and I’ve moved on from the toxic ones.
Situations in which I cannot control the outcome nor push out of my life I accept and and modify my perspective.
With a clear perspective of living in the moment I’ve taken the time to examine the world around me. Listening and recording birds, observing flowers blooming and climbing rock outcropping I’ve learned to love how beautiful nature truly is.
Heading to the beach I love to admire the oceans smells and hard pondering splash sounds of white noise as powerful curling funnel waves hit rocky jetties. Seagulls gliding in the slow oceans breeze economizing the frequency of their wings flutter.
On any given day I’ve been known to respond to pleasant greetings with “I’m Living the Dream”. A daily ritual that keeps my mind and body in perspective.
Why you should never water down your products to increase sales.
Growing up I lived within a short train ride into New York City. It was almost easier to jump onto a NJ Transit train than sit on the school bus for almost 45 minutes to get to school. Musician friends of mine and I would often bag the day and head into the City, grab some breakfast at the Tick Tock Diner in Hell’s Kitchen and then head thru Times Squares’ debacle of sex shops and tourist trinkets.
We would head to Midtown’s infamous 48th street music shop row, home to Manny’s Music, 48th Street Guitars, Sam Ash, Rudy’s Music Stop among others. With our long hair and pseudo rockstar looks we would discuss what famous guitarist would be wondering the store and our excitement to try out a Les Paul guitar thru the then new Marshall JCM800 tube amplifiers.
Waiting outside for the stores to open we would always be first inside drooling over the walls of hanging guitars, rooms with precariously stacked amps and speaker cabinets, racks of recording gear, spools of tape and mixing boards that looked like mission control.
We would wander the store trying every instrument we could while twisting knobs and tweaking amps almost certainly attempting to play a Steve Vai riff. Salesmen would cruise around the store dressed in jeans, Vans or Cons and manufacture’s T-shirts that generally signified what department they specialized in. Questions were answered and experimentation and noodling was encouraged.
Pro musicians would pop in while in town recording or touring, often disappearing into private rooms as you never knew what to expect. More times than not we would walk out with some new tool be it an effect pedal or just some strings excited about our surroundings and adventures.
Then the bottom fell out as the music stores slowly closed, blamed was New York City’s higher rents which mostly isn’t true. Yes the rents increased on 48th Street just like the rents increased everywhere else in New York City however what actually happened was big box retailers took over.
Sam Ash and Guitar Center went from small mom and pop shops into gigantic Goliath like retailers, gobbling up scores of musical shops and popping up in strip malls around the country, the decline begins.
Armed with higher credit ratings the big box retailers converge on the manufactures. Companies such as Gibson and Fender guitars began to squeeze smaller retailers forcing them to carry large quantities of inventory across the entire brand lineup. Many of the once American made products found themselves being manufactured in Mexican, Japan and ultimately China in efforts to reduce costs and expand the brands. Manufacturers ventured into the uncharted waters of relabeling kitschy items such as guitar picks, strings and cords to maximum market share and sales.
The entire structure of the musical instrument industry was being run by Wall Street in a huge Madoffesque Ponzi scheme. Manufactures became more corporate as they increased market share with often subpar products. Retailers promoted “sales” almost weekly of rebranded trash products to lore unsuspecting musicians and students reeled into purchasing “just as good as products” from unheard of manufacturers.
One holiday season while Christmas shopping with my wife I wondered into a big box music shop armed with my anything in the store 15% off coupon I headed to the “Pro Audio” department. A “pro audio specialist” or whatever false narrative he was claiming asked if I needed any help. I’m an easy sell as I know what I want long before I ever enter a store and to be honest I was only there to save 15%. I requested him to grab me a Shure SM 57 microphone.
The Shure SM57 mic which is based on a 1930’s design is legendary in the audio world. Used by every United States President for over the past 50 years and most Rock and Roll concerts and recordings I was already sold (plus I already owned four of them)
My salesman responded that if I had read the fine print of the sales-flyer, Shure (along with most other major manufactures was excluded). My wife as always responded “ I told you, nothing you want is ever really on sale here why do you bother?” and I generally hang my head in shame, knowing she’s right and recognize that the nostalgic days of musical equipment glory were nearly over.
The salesman suggested to me a “just as good as” rebranded piece of trash which I angrily responded “how many hit records were recorded with this piece of shit jammed into the speaker cone?”
I didn’t bother to await his response as I walked out of that big box retailer, never to enter again.
To be fair we aren’t talking a substantial amount of money nor savings. A Shure SM57 goes for about $100 retail so saving $15 bucks certainly isn’t worth compromising your sound or your reputation. The following day I called my Pro Audio sound specialist to place a full price order. In conversation, I expressed my disgust with the big box vs Shure issue as well as the fact the great music shops of the past hardly exist any longer.
Then I asked him why Shure hardly goes on sale and his response changed my life from charging my own customers to the products I purchase….
Shure microphones sell themselves. With small profit margins and a flurry of cheap knockoffs the only way to maintain brand dominance is to hold the line. Occasionally Shure will allow their products to be placed on sale under their control. Retailers do not control Shure nor other high end manufactures.
I currently buy products from manufacturers such as Sound Devices, Sennheiser, Rycote and Cinela. High end brands that hold the value of the products consumer experience, quality control and market share to the highest regards.
Working mostly in sound for film I now frequent what our industry calls the “usual suspects” a small team of specialty retailers with a knowledgeable caring staff that represent the manufactures brand values to the highest regards. Sales and service are paramount in these business models with direct dialog back to the manufactures. Product corrections are often made with new products often specially designed and manufactured to fill a need in the professional industry.
Pro consumers have close connections with our sales reps and often manufactures reps to keep our cottage industry progressively moving forward. Most of these products are hardly ever discounted on the new market and very often hold higher prices on the used market with pros citing years of product reliability and manufacturers support.
That crappy Big Box Store microphone could have saved me tons of cash over the years on product acquisition costs however it’s doubtful on the reliability and customer support level which currently is ultimately what I’m willing to pay for.
My cellphone rings the Friday prior to a July 4th weekend as I was requested to visit an active project of Madison and 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side of New York City. The project was an aggressive renovation of a historic Brownstone nestled quietly on a prestigious residential block of mansions occupied by Donatella Versace, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Tommy Mottola, and Ivana Trump.
The project was to create a modern gallery space adorned with floating white lacquered walls, polished white quartz agglomerate floors and seamless coved ceilings with adjustable recessed lighting troughs. Three adjoining buildings were being undermined as entire sections of brownstone and bricks were pinned and removed to create large open expanses vertically and lengthwise.
The projects design was stunningly original and bold and certainly right up my alley however I currently was a full time supervisor of a high end architectural interiors company so my time was well occupied. Not wanting to loose out on the experience and challenge I asked my friend the projects supervisor what was the estimated completion date in which his response was Mid October to coincide with the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show.
With an impossible schedule of little more than three months I laughed and boldly stated to my friend and colleague entrusted with the responsibility of completing this project this was definitely impossible. Secretly my own internal thought was due to scheduling conflicts I wouldn’t be able to help build this amazingly chic space.
My laugh and comment was responded to by an Italian statuesque and charismatic handsome man in a high fashion designer suit. His smile and presence commanded my fullest attentiveness as I hung on his every word. He played to my masculine ego noting he had heard that I was the one person that could get this project done.
As an overly confident decision maker I quickly decided I could take on this projects aggressively short schedule and extreme detail under certain conditions. First I couldn’t leave my existing project until it was closer to completion and my entire crew would need to come along with me and only for the rates I requested and therefore the job would need to operate round the clock and seven days a week. In order to supervision I would need to live onsite and I would build our portion of the project as a second job.
The owner/designer agreed to all of my terms and offered his 5th ave apartment as suitable sleeping quarters which I firmly denied. The only way I felt I could build this project, I had to sleep onsite inspired by a close friends father who was the lead surveyor in the building of New Jersey’s Great Adventure theme park. He lived in a job site trailer awakened every few hours to provide points and elevations for the various trades to keep the project moving round the clock.
My closest friend Mark was to be my lead carpenter and stay onsite with me as we undertook what seemed to be the impossible.
My requests were immediately accepted by a smile and the owner calling his staff ordered mattresses and Egyptian cotton bedding for my what would prove to be a less than peaceful job site quarters. Uncertain to what challenging circumstances I had just committed my crew and friends too I began to review the projects piles of detailed architectural drawings.
Upon removing and repositioning some of the buildings structural loads and foundations we were to frame floating drywall partitions backlit with low voltage festoon bulbs. Horizontal reveals ran vertically around the space with integral art hanging systems for the soon to be hanging Lichtenstein and Warhol’s. Leveled mud beds were to be set to hold the expansive slabs of white marblesque quartz.
Hundreds of recessed art lights incrementally placed in the high ceiling were to be controlled by a single switch at the entryway programmed to control the various light scenes dependent on the spaces current use. Small slots were to be run around the space to provide the necessary proper climate for 18th century Rococo antiques to be placed on internally lit Plexiglass totems.
Reviewing the painstakingly detailed drawings with the Owner and head architect the design and vision became focused and clear like a Baroque painting. The juxtaposition of modern clean bright white space adorned with modern paintings and antiquities of province.
As we talked and the project explained to me I was excited and charged. Sitting in a chair listening to the vision and details I began to hear the electronica music playing thru the invisible recessed speaker system as I sipped a martini discussing the seamless stainless steel cyclone stairs. I clearly saw the completed vision.
And then my heart sunk….the music stopped and my brain began to race. The details of custom brass door hardware from New York’s only remaining foundry mounted to the massively thick reclaimed door I began to see the project challenges.
Where was the massive amounts of required ductwork and mechanical equipment. How do you have tens of thousands of watts of lights powered from only one switch. How do you get a one piece thousands of pounds stainless steel corkscrew cyclone stair into the buildings historic facade.
As I asked my new designer boss the technical questions that would certainly make my job almost impossible to achieve he responded with the secret to design and project execution…. “You visualize it done and work backwards from there”. In which I boldly responded “some of these things are almost impossible” and his response is “ Michael never compromise. If you need to…break the rules.” And with that he stood up, gave my sinking shoulders a pat and stated “ I’ve 100% faith you won’t let me down”.
And then I didn’t see him for weeks. Off he was traveling the world designing and creating some of the worlds most renowned spaces. And me… I went to work.
I give you all that you want
Take the skin and peel it back
Now doesn’t that make you feel better
As a leader of men I decided to make this happen. My future path as a designer and creative clearly laid before me and I saw the vision in its completed form. But how to get there….
Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
General George Patton
Calculating lighting loads and BTU’s I worked with Lutron and mechanical engineers arguing that what they deemed not feasible in reality was absolutely possible.
Requesting special considerations from New York City Landmarks and the building department while kindly requesting from the blocks influential neighbors to bear with to endless noise and deliveries. Feeding the parking meters nonstop for our materials and dumpsters taking up precious parking spaces, we sidestepped the rules.
Pushing the boundaries of the materials and the crew we continued to trudge on. When moral was down and tempers flailed I would again remind people of what we were building and why and to keep the eye on the prize. The projects vision.
“Nothing is Impossible”
Kevin Roberts CEO Saatchi and Saatchi
Months went by and the building continued as materials were ordered and installed. Mistakes were made and remedied as we integrated Architectural details with behind the scenes infrastructure. Audio visuals structure cabling ran alongside climate controls and low voltage light feeds. The never ending octopus properly labeled and diagrammed for the necessary programming and commissioning of the equipment. Daily I would answer questions on details with clarity and confidence as I often solely understood the full picture.
With perseverance of the owners team of architects, designers and contractors and we saw we were gradually came to completion. The owners visits became slightly more frequent as the project was finalizing and he was able to display his forte…. The final execution of the vision.
Walls were dry walled and level 5 skim coated under raking light. Gloss white lacquer paint applied in continuous coats to maintain a wet edge. Lighting scenes were programmed into the Graphik Eye lighting system as the floors were sealed and polished.
Moving and delivery trucks lined the streets and Starfire glass was installed around antique colonnade tables. Modern art was hung from the specialty art hanging system to minimize wall damages. And Yves Klein coffee table appeared and carefully placed as experts installed the Yves Klein blue pigment. Caterers loading the space with glasses and wine for the grand gala.
Dressed in my best Purple-label Ralph Lauren I watched as some of the worlds top designers, collectors and celebrities entered the packed gallery. Often I checked for the expression of the owner, the master planner and designer who visualized this event and built the space specifically for it. Never once was he asked to compromise his design or vision and never once did he change his mind.
To this day I owe him for my understanding of vision and compromise. My abilities to see what isn’t there however…. someday it will. Walking away from the experience I’ve learned how to fight and how to win by keeping my eye on the prize….The Vision.
One day I was conversing with the artist representation of a former member of the horror punk band the Misfits. We discussed the current state of the music industry and the reliance on live performances, merch and the frequent release of new content to remain relevant and relatively lucrative in today’s less than optimal entertainment industry. With the current onslaught of competitive and low to no pay streaming services cropping up, the resale value of original music has diminished returns to the artist.
With venues struggling with operational costs and the toughening of drinking laws getting fans out to fill seats has proven to be challenging.
Immediately my thoughts jumped to a social media campaign as an attempt to get the word out and increase awareness and market share. Quickly I was corrected that in actuality management and the artist honestly had a well designed and almost foolproof plan of catering to the existing loyal fanbase and giving them exactly what they wanted.
Management determined that this artist had 10,000 diehard loyal fans and these fans were consumers. It was conceivable each fan had an anticipated annual cash outlay of a similar amount and using that estimated amount as the multiplier a living wage could be obtained for the artist and team. Semi frequent shows were booked at area venues this fanbase was known to frequent. 1,000 person venues were turned down in favor of venues with a 100–400 person capacity.
With smaller venues the chances of a sold out show increase as brand value is accelerated. Venues desire sold out shows to increase merchandise sales and concessions and fans generally rush to purchase tickets fearing a sellout.
With strategic planning of tour date linearly planned with album releases and new touring merch the artist can almost guarantee an estimate yield from each fan or show. Ironically when I asked about the quantity of albums pressed again a well planned answer was received. The quantities released were again based on the fan based and knowledge of quantities generally purchased. Quantities of albums, merch and special releases were kept to a minimum to again almost purposefully plan to sell out.
Products should never be discounted as this would also diminish the brand and product value. Printing an additional 5,000 albums would never create an additional 5,000 fans and most certainly not an additional 5,000 sales. Understanding the brands targeted market and specifically catering to the fanbase generated an almost consistent case flow and ROI.
… I’ll be honest, watching the music industry collapse has been demoralizing and disheartening at times. Trent Reznor
Understanding your true fan base and catering to them with your brand of products they’ll desire and appreciate is like having a private party on private ship.
Years ago I was working as a Project Manager for a high end interior design firm in New York’s prestigious Upper East Side. My work had me traveling the east coast primarily Park Ave. penthouses, Greenwich Connecticut’s sprawling mansions and out to Hamptons summertime beach retreats. Our firm was commissioned to design and build interiors and landscapes for A-list celebrities and industry tycoons.
We designed and built spaces with wood and stones of Provenance often removed from European castles and chateaus. Artisans would craft picturesque environments that often landed on the front cover of prestigious publications such as Architectural Digest and Better Homes and Gardens.
Money was never an object nor deemed quite as important as the design aesthetics and execution of the grandest vision. The team of designers, decorators and architects tirelessly sketching, procuring and ultimately having installed the finest materials you could buy. The experience of creativity mixed with extreme wealth permanently changed my perspective on design and execution as we were always pushing the envelope of practicality.
However within the wealthiest of decadent environments I had a secret. I had my own business I was running in the evenings. Setup in a rundown tenement in the then less than prestigious Lower East Side of Manhattan my business partner and I lived and ran an Art Gallery/ custom wood shop in a storefront on Broome Street. Our space on a block of sweatshops, knockoff handbags and fish mongers. Our building full of inhabitants of questionable citizenship mixed with artists and creatives. A perfect enclave of bohemians and people that would never call the cops on us.
Our gallery and shop space was adjacent to the 5 story tenements common corridor where all of the buildings inhabitants had to pass. The gallery originally an illegal squat became official when Billie my partner and friend signed the lease obligating him to pay a rent he could never afford. We became the buildings concierge service as we were generally the first stop the buildings artists would report the evenings festivities.
We would run around New York’s streets hittings gallery openings, poetry readings and live music venues. Sculpture artists friends would invite us to iron pours in back alleyways melting reclaimed cast iron in centries old designed furnaces into original and unique works of art. Street trash became art as we would drop off cab doors and lockers to a local painter know to repurpose them into works of art. Once illegal squats had been converted into artist collectives in which you could view Tesla Coils firing bolts of electrical charge while listening to noise performances.
It was commonplace when having conversations with waiters, bouncers and cab drivers to find out they were actually writers, actors, musicians and photographers. most everyone we came into contact with had another gig moonlighting or daylights a false facade hoping to achieve greatness.
Mornings I’d dress in Versace and English bench-made shoes as I stepped over putrid fish guts and vomit of the gritty LES streets heading to my “sucker-job” as my partner Billie called it. My mind was contstantly racing as I absorbed visual and creative stimulations from the glitz and glamour of Madison or 5th Ave. planning my evenings projects.
Our shop in the less than perfect cellar space made material handling and finishing next to impossible as we would spray lacquers in the common air shaft often dodging spit and cigarette butts careless falling from above. We would build furniture, picture frames and cabinetry for soon to be gentrified LES that rapidly was being redeveloped into Wine Bars, Cupcake Shops and High End residential. Buildings once collaborative art spaces overtaken often in hostile takeovers.
I’ve built exhibits for musuems and trade shows, ran live sound humping W bins and Crown Powerbase amps up and down slippery stairs of spilt beer. Recorded musicians in studios, written my first book, tended to horses, bailed hay, built custom furniture and cabinetry, painted on canvas, built racecars and monster trucks, written films…. and the list goes on.
Currently I’m a daytime Director of Construction working in adaptive reuse of old industrialized buildings. My night gig is sound recording and post production sound for film, experiental design for kiosks and interactive display and product design and branding for a startup.
You may think of me as a woodworker or sound engineer but I just say I’m an artist. Working for almost 30 years in the gig economy as a creative, everyday I awaken with a charge as my mind and body race to the next quest of what to create and how.
Somewhere I have a resume that can be used to get a “sucker job” at a prestigious Interior Design firm, however my body of creative works is my actual resume which you shouldn’t write about but actually consume. Daily my phone rings and my email bings with requests from other creatives hoping to collaborate and create with me. And daily I take on new and enriching gigs to keep my creative spark alive.
As of late I’m asking myself why…. why the gigs and why create? Because I’m an artist and have always worked in the gig economy.
Recently I traveled to visit family in Ft. Myers Florida under the threat of Hurricane Dorian. Far from ever having experienced a Hurricane or even a tropical storm I was excited to make the journey from my Home in New Jersey.
As a family we decided that the impending category 5 storm was far from a risk we continued to explore and enjoy our extended weekend as we had planned. Top of the list was a trip to the 21 acre botanical garden Edison/Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers.
Knowing my mothers love for botanical gardens and passion for exploring we headed over to scope it out. Originally built by Thomas Edison as a winter home to get away for a month or so from the New Jersey winters and function as an experimental laboratory to find a suitable rubber plant replacement. Edison built the main house, guest house, study, caretakers house, swimming pools and gardens on the Caloosahatchee River side of McGregor Estates Blvd. A winding palm tree lined road tastefully adorned with stunning waterfront estates.
Edison had named his tropical property “Seminole Lodge” which he had planted over 1,000 plant varieties from around the world. During World War I Edison grew concerned with America’s reliance on foreign rubber trees and decided to experiment with over 17,000 exotic species of plants to find a suitable replacement. Edison settles on Leavenworth’s Goldenrod which is native to the southeastern United States.
Edison found a growing need in finding a suitable rubber replacement. His tenacious character as an experimenter and inventor led him to develop over a thousand specialized inventions of products necessary for the advancement of modern life and technologies.
Edison’s quest to find solutions to develop new and innovative products came along with substantial failures. Of the 17,000 plant species tested to obtain a suitable rubber replacement how many of those experiments were failures? None.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Alva Edison
Find that void in your world and continue to find solutions to the problems. Many efforts you will experiment with won’t work. The key is to realize what doesn’t work, move on to the next until you find a solution.