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“How did you become a designer?”

I was just interviewed by Natalie Pollock for an article about Wolfworks for the monthly Avon Life. She was asking this question that I am often asked. And I gave the glib answer that I always give, “I was good with blocks.”

The thing is, I mean it. We all hope to make a career of something we are both good at and love to do. And on a good day the work we are good at just might even feel like play. “Don’t tell anyone,” I sometimes confide, “we’re still just building tree forts!”

JWBlocks

In this picture, my nephews rapt, I am completing a marble chute, a project I was always fond of. There were also the tree forts of course, but also the basement puppet theater, and the wagon roller coaster (don’t ask), and the gym I built in our attic (balance beam, parallel bars, horizontal bar). Then there was arranging and decorating my rooms, from my first shared bedroom (Beatles albums lined up on my headboard) on up to my first apartment, all the pieces carefully imagined, constructed and placed. It turns out I was always planning and making things. It was only years later that I could look back and see the designer emerging from each of these domestic activities.

At one point in my life I was studying to teach music and found myself as a student teacher back at my high school, Hall High in West Hartford. One of our classes was an elective that the misfit kid’s had chosen because it was sure to be light on homework: Music Appreciation. I’ll never forget the wise advice the teacher gave to this group of kids who had pretty much checked out and were no doubt used to lectures about going nowhere if they didn’t apply themselves. Whatever.

A girl in the class had just delivered a soliloquy on what made a great rock band. It was a nuanced , knowledgeable, and heartfelt discourse on the topic that ended, if I recall, with the admonition, “You’ve got to know your bands!” The room was quiet; everyone was impressed with her unexpected command of the topic.

The teacher shared our appreciation and, sensing a moment, responded, “There is something that each of you are probably good at and are doing because you just love to do, whether others care or not that, if you are lucky, in time you will discover how to make your life’s work.” For once no judgement. Just an endorsement of the potential of their human possibility.

“Yeah man,” the room concurred.

And me… I’m good with blocks.

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