You got a blacklist? I wanna be on it!

My friend Dan told me a funny story a few weeks ago. Years ago, he was working at a newspaper. Not a capital N newspaper, but an alternate weekly. The kind that told you what shows to go see that week, kept an eye on the local art house film scene, and told you where to get a good massage. For reasons Dan didn’t go into, and I didn’t ask, the newsroom decided to unionize. Here’s the thing you gotta understand about the people who work at alternate weekly newsrooms: they’re young, they tend to be on the liberal side of things, they probably don’t have a lot of money (Except Brad, who has a trust fund. We hate Brad. But we let him pay for things.), they have opinions about Yo La Tengo albums, they don’t have 5 year plans, and they’re probably holding a little weed.

The gang decided to call a union organizer, who told them where to meet him for a chat. That meeting ended up being at a cop bar, which made the gang nervous. And when the union organizer saw how young they were he decided to break the ice with “I guess I’m not gonna sell you guys on the 401k plan.” That was pretty much the end of the union organizing, according to Dan.

Know your audience.

Here’s the thing. We’re gonna have to learn how to talk to these people, and they’re gonna have to learn how to talk to us. I have a feeling our futures are about to get intertwined.

So I decided to make a thing. A guide for talking to each other. Remember those two-in-one books you had when you were a kid? They had two covers and were split down the middle and if you flipped it you’d get the other book? There had to be a name for those, right? That’s what I’m making. How To Talk To a Union Organizer flip How to Talk to Tech People. It’ll probably be a little Scout Book sized thing.

The good news is you don’t have to wait for the booklet. Because I’ve already written (part of) the first part! And it was published on Modus this morning as part of my Dear Designer column. Have a look. Oh, and they let me publish this piece outside the paywall. So props to them.

Here’s the TL;DR: forming a union can be a pain in the ass, but not as big a pain in the ass as you might think. And it’s easier than dealing with the dread of feeling helpless at work. Trust me on that.

The next column will be about how union organizers can learn to talk to tech people.

Why is this important, Mike?

Good question. Because the tech giants are doubling down on being assholes. The shit that might’ve happened accidentally in 2016 (I’m being generous), will be happening on purpose in 2020. And we’ll be the ones who have to build it. A lot of us don’t want to do that, but we’re finding ourselves in situations where it’s one person against a mega-corporation. We need to tighten those odds up a little bit. Which means gathering our strength, finding our common ground, and speaking with one voice.

Why is your Medium shit behind a paywall, you dick?

Another good question. Yeah, I’ve been doing a bi-monthly column for Modus. It’s Medium’s design magazine. Here’s an archive. Advice for designers, with a bit of an activist slant. It’s behind a paywall because they’re paying me to write it, and the magazine is for members. I earn my living writing, which means I need someone to pay me to write. They were generous enough to do it.

Also, I think we’re finding out the actual price of free. Twitter is free. Facebook is free. Both those idiots needs to make money somehow. So they sell your data to people who want to sell you other shit. Medium is $50 a year, and while cheap is a very subjective word, that’s about the price of a magazine subscription.

Also, because I’m feeling socialist, I’m gonna gift a free membership to the first student who replies to this. If you’re feeling generous, why not gift a membership to someone.

Boiler room shit

Erika Hall has a revised version of Just Enough Research coming out soon. You can preorder it. It’s good. Even if you read the first edition there’s a lot of new stuff.

My buddy Dan Sinker (surprise, he’s the dude from the top story!) has an amazing daily newsletter covering all your impeachment news in a few manageable bullet points. Dan is a saint for doing this. You should subscribe.

I just started reading the new Ronan Farrow book, Catch and Kill, and holy shit. Receipts. Lots of heartbreaking stories of abuse and rape. Proceed with caution.

The new Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell, is amazing. (I’m surprised to be writing that myself!) California kills me every time. Buy it on vinyl, you cowards.

Oh, buy my book. There’s a new special cover on Amazon encouraging Amazon workers to unionize. Because I am a dick.


Aight. I’m out. Be good to yourselves. Be good to each other. We need you and we love you. Stick around. Forward this to someone who might enjoy it.

Why can’t monsters get along with other monsters?

Somewhere in either my studio or my apartment there’s a copy of Actual Air, the only book David Berman ever published. It’s also the only poetry book I own. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good poem now and then. I’ve just never felt the urge to buy a poetry book. But I bought his. Because when it came out I was a fan of his band, Silver Jews, and his lyrics were always a punch in the gut. Get this:

I wish they didn't set mirrors behind the bar / cause I can't stand to look at my face / when I don't know where you are.
Then the feeling fades away / but you sort of wish it woulda stayed.

I was always jealous of how David Berman put words together. And how they landed. And how effortless it all seemed when he sang them. He wasn’t a great singer, but the right words were coming out of his mouth.

David Berman died yesterday. He was 52. I am 52. There’s something strange that happens when someone the same age as you dies. You see the obituary. You notice the birth year and think hey that looks familiar. And you think wow 52 year-olds are dying now. Which shouldn’t be a shock, of course. You just don’t want to be reminded about it.

David Berman’s new band, Purple Mountains, was scheduled to start a tour this weekend in support of their new album, which is excellent. It was going to be his first time playing in public in ten years. They were going to play in San Francisco. Selfishly, I’m sad I’ll never get to see him play.

We don’t yet know the cause of death, and frankly that’s between him and his. But David was public about his depression, which he described as being resistant to treatment. So while we mourn a brother, we should also celebrate that for 52 years he fought demons. And even as he was fighting those demons, he was still able to put words together for us to remember him by. Amazing words. I wish we were getting more, but I’m happy for the ones we got.

When I go downtown / I always wear a corduroy suit
Cause it’s made of a hundred gutters / That the rain can run right through

Hey, I made a zine

So, I did something really stupid. At some point, when I was writing my book, I decided the perfect format for it was a zine. Yeah, but people need to take it seriously, I replied. They’re not going to take a zine seriously. So I put it out as a book. And it’s doing really well. (Thank you for buying it.) But the zine idea never really went away. I pictured what it would look like as a zine. The flimsy newsprint. The ink on your fingers. The images I could create just for the zine. Different type choices. And before I knew it I was laying this thing out and getting printing quotes.

Amazingly, my friend Tracey Long put me in touch with the small employee-owned press in Union City, California where Maximum RockandRoll (RIP) used to be printed. And that’s how 5000 copies of Ruined by Design, in glorious zine form, ended up in the front room of our studio. You should order one. Or 25.

Which means…

Let’s celebrate

We’re having a zine/book launch party. I don’t see you enough. Come on over. Have a beer. Talk to each other. Make new friends. Grab a zine on your way out. (Yes, I’m charging $5 but it’s going to charity.) Next Friday, August 16, 6–10pm, at Mule HQ. We’ll play some Silver Jews. We’ll play some Purple Mountains. We’ll play some happy stuff too. (My friend Tim Buckwalter is DJing.)


Be good to each other. And if you know someone who’d enjoy a newsletter about design and depression (and who wouldn’t!) feel free to share this with them.

How to Attend a Funeral

Happy Memorial Day. I got to thinking about death today, which is the whole point of Memorial Day. Then I remembered an old story I wrote a while back. Some of you may be familiar with it. Some of you may not be. I’ve always liked this story, and I thought today was a good day for sharing it. Rest assured, it’s fiction.


You do not sit in the front row. That is for family. You find an inconspicuous place towards the back. And you hope you aren’t noticed. You hope the family doesn’t see you. You hope the new husband doesn’t mind.

And you sit there quietly.

And you remember the last time you saw her. You met for coffee. And you think of how civil it was. How very adult. And how you congratulated yourself that all of the therapy might actually be working. Might actually have turned you into an adult. And you remember looking at this woman, the one you once promised to share a life with. And you wonder how different things might have been had you gotten that therapy earlier. And as you talk, politely, adult-like, over coffee you can’t help but notice the gray in her hair, and the wrinkles in her face. Which you would have never noticed had you been growing old together. Like you promised each other. And you can’t help but wonder how responsible you were for their early onset.

And then you think of the first time you met. And you remember what babies you were. Fresh out of your own parents’ home. And you think of how you wandered around each other for months. Both waiting for the other to get disentangled from now-forgotten other people. And you think of how long you waited for that first kiss. And you hold on to it. And again, you think of the last time you saw her, and you think of the after-coffee kiss on the cheek. So casual. So see-you-next-time. And you try not to think about how that was your last one. And you hold on to that as well.

And you sit there quietly.

And you think of the ratty futon you dragged into your first apartment. And how neither of you wanted to think too hard about where it came from. Just that it was yours together. And you think of the lazy Sunday afternoons you spent on it reading or watching TV, with your legs intertwined. And you try not to think about how it usually led to sex because it seems somehow inappropriate to think of that now. In this place.

You remember giving her a toy engagement ring because you couldn’t afford a real one. She probably wouldn’t have wanted one anyway. And then you wonder if that’s just the story you’ve been telling yourself forever. But you remember she smiled. And she said yes.

You think of the good years you had. And you hold on to those. You think of the bad years. And you hold on to those too. And you wish you were a better person. She deserved a better person. At least a better version of you. And you realize you never told her that.

And you realize you are crying.

And you remember the phone call. From her new husband. Telling you that she is sick. And he is crying on the phone. And you admit to yourself that he is a better person than you were. And you hope she was finally able to find happiness. You think she has. You thank him for calling. And you make vague plans for visiting. But you never do.

And you sit there crying.

And you remember the day you and she were sitting on the kitchen floor. Red from crying. The kitchen floor covered in rice from a dinner that would never get made. And she took off her wedding ring and threw it at you. And how you sat there. With the ring on the floor at your feet. And how the sun set around you. And how in the dark you started singing the only song that was always guaranteed to cheer her up. And how at first she kicked you to make you stop. Still angry. And how you just kept going. And she kicked you again. Maybe not as hard. And again. And again. And suddenly you were intertwined. And she was punching you. And then she wasn’t. And you held each other for what seemed forever. Except it wasn’t.

And how even though you had bought each other a few more months, you both realized, deep down inside, that it was over.

And you get up. Crying. And for the second time in your life you walk out on her.


Notes from the boiler room:

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Ruined by Design, please consider it. It’s been out for almost two months now. Got an email from Don Norman saying that he’d read it. Don Norman read my book?!? Holy shit. He was generous enough to give me a quote: “The more I read, the more I agreed.” But the greatest thing that’s happened so far is people coming up to me at events, holding the book, and saying “I thought I was the only one who felt this way!” Nope. We’re a force. And we’re just getting started.

I’ve started doing a bi-weekly column for Modus, Medium’s new design publication. First story went up last week. Working on the second one now. It’s an advice column, so send me questions!

Saw IDLES a few days ago. Holy shit, what an amazing show. So much energy. So much violent positivity. If you haven’t heard their latest Joy As an Act of Resistance, please have a listen.

Just finished reading Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story by Jacob Tobia. Wonderful memoir about gender nonconformity. Binary gender is tired. Kids are coming up with all sorts of new definitions about who they are, and I am here for it.

We are all trying as best as we can. We are all in love with being whoever we need to be. It’s amazing. Be good to each other. Haters can fuck right off.

To quote IDLES: “If someone talked to you, the way you do to you, I’d put their teeth through. Love yourself.”

Take your meds.

If you’re in Vancouver I’ll see you next week.

“Muhammad Ali told me I was pretty.”

I’ve been to Louisville, Kentucky twice in my life. The first was for two friends’ wedding about ten years ago. I wasn’t during a great time in my life. Things were going on, but being that those things aren’t pertinent to our story I won’t go into them. I’m just mentioning it to set the mood. Mood is important. And the mood at a wedding tends to, hopefully, be a joyous one. As this one was. Sadly, I was on the other side of the mood spectrum. I was depressed. And when I’m depressed the absolute worst place for me to be is surrounded by happy people. The little voice inside my head uses their happiness to make me feel even more unworthy. It’s not a good recipe.

And the worst possible thing I can do in this situation is drink. So I snuck out of the wedding and found a dive bar to sit and stew. I’m not smart.

The bartender, a middle-aged black woman, brought me whiskey and was nice enough to start talking me up. I probably looked like I needed someone to talk to, and bartenders remain the therapists of lost souls and the uninsured. She asked me where I was from. I told her either San Francisco or Philadelphia, depending on my mood. Neither is a lie. I refuse to lie to a bartender. I asked her if she was from Louisville. She said yes. She told me stories of Louisville. Serving drinks to fat cats, regular folks, and jockeys — who apparently drink more than their size would lead you to believe.

“Oh, and I had Muhammad Ali at the bar once!”

“You did not!”

She fishes her wallet out from her purse, pulls out a photo and hands it to me. It’s a photo of a young Muhammad Ali, looking old enough that he’d already beat Liston at least once. He had his arm arm around a young woman.

“That you?”

“Muhammad Ali told me I was pretty.”

I smiled. She poured me another drink. I gave her back the photo.

“He wasn’t wrong.”

I went back to the wedding.

The next day we flew back home. When we landed, the plane took longer than usual to empty out. I got irritated. As I finally got out to the gate I noticed a group of people congregating off to the side. And there he was. Muhammad Ali. Along with his wife Lonnie. And a group of people getting photos with him. He was frail enough that he needed a walker. That’s why we took longer deplaning. Because Muhammad Ali was slowly making his way off the same flight using a walker. And my irritation, and my depression, and my hopelessness at spending time around happy people, all turned to tears. And I stood there crying like a mess.

The second time I went to Louisville was last week. I didn’t go back to the bar. I walked to Cave Hill Cemetery. Between my first and second visit to Louisville, the world lost Ali. I wanted to see where he rested.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room in heaven.

That’s what it says on his gravestone. Service to others.

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