Brick by Proverbial Brick

Every industry has its bricklaying analogy. Except construction.

An aerial shot of a pile of bricks

You might have heard a different version of this analogy, the one about the furniture maker. Writing is like making a table, the analogy goes. Writing is just another way to build something, brick by brick. The work may be a craft. The work may be a tradition, handed down for generations by a practitioner’s ancestors. But it’s still work. The analogy isn’t just about making something practical or useful, though it tends to imply that. The point of invoking brick imagery is usually to remind us that making something new is just another job.

I’ve been thinking about bricks because I was in a post-traumatic funk all weekend. I have a long history with the term brick-and-mortar, which refers to a business with a physical storefront. I’m very aware that Pipe Wrench is just another ephemeral website with some checkout flows. Maintaining digital infrastructure — hooking everything up so it all talks to each other, cooperates, and even remotely works — still hits me like a ton of bricks every morning.

Pipe Wrench is a business without a building, but we are making something that we hope is structurally sound. Sometimes I feel like we’re building our business without artist renderings, or technical blueprints, or a fully accredited foreman. Sometimes I realize that I’m supposed to be the foreman, and then I get sweaty. Not sweaty like “I move actual bricks around at work, check out my guns” sweaty. Sweaty like I’m out of shape, and maybe ill.

I feel like I’m just sitting next to a tray of mortar, listlessly drawing my initials in the paste over and over again with a trowel. My handwriting is distracting — so many curlicues! — but I’m supposed to be building a fucking wall.

Luckily for me, keeping the mortar from drying out is a legitimate part of the job. When you’re building something at the same time that you’re sketching the schematic diagram it’s supposed to look like, there are moments when you just have to churn concrete. Another part of my job, at least the job I keep trying to invent, is to get over the listless doodling so the Pipe Wrench team can always get back to work. Someone has to keep the team from walking off the job site by giving everyone what they need, including reasons to keep going when almost nothing makes sense.

It surprises me how often what everyone needs is motivation, but we all need more than proverbial bricks to do any of what we set out to do. Honestly, we seem to need the proverbs. We need the inspirational quotes, and the cautionary anecdotes, and the reliable metaphors. We need strength, and practice, and mistakes to learn from, and — as ever — we need each other. Because sooner or later, without support or role models or inspiration, we inevitably all start thinking the same thing: “If I have to do this all by myself, I quit.”

Hopefully together, we can turn Pipe Wrench into something that’s beautiful and useful.