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.

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Never Abandon Writers During Exposure Therapy

One minute you have a plan, the next minute a redhead is wishing you a “long and rewarding career of publishing a successful, snake-free magazine.” 

You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. The plan was to borrow the newsletter mic this week to announce that as of this Thursday, I’ll be at Pipe Wrench full-time. No side gigs. No hustle. No distractions. If I’m going to overdo it somewhere, I’ve decided to overdo it here. Surprise! Happy Q3, y’all.

So I was gonna do a whole thing about my hopes and dreams, emphasis on the dreams, but then Michelle and I got this email from one of Michelle’s former coworkers, Daryl (the aforementioned redhead). And if my week was a baking competition, his dream would take the cake.

Going full-time at Pipe Wrench means I have a much clearer head now. I can make necessary eleventh-hour calls like this, e.g., request permission to share Daryl’s now semi-private dream with as many lovely strangers as possible. I know a model email-from-a-reader when I see one. (…ripple effect, ripple effect…)

Hi, Michelle and company. I’m still working my way through (let’s say that I’m savoring) this month’s articles. I wanted to share a relevant thing and an irrelevant thing.

First, the relevant. There’s a neat little novel out in the last couple of years titled Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey that dramatizes the story of a real-life war hero homing (not rolling, alas) pigeon and one of his homo sapiens comrades. You may’ve had your fill of pigeons by now, but if not, or if you’re inclined to share further pigeon miscellany with the fanciers in your lives, this book may be worth a look.

Second, I had a harrowing dream last night in which Michelle invited me to write a feature for the magazine, all about snakes. One might call me a minor dog fancier. It would be a long stretch indeed to call me a cat fancier. My curiosity about pigeons is piqued these days. But snakes? I detest them. They fill me with terror. Even the tiniest green snake or the helpful rat snake sends me in search of a table to perch atop. The notice sudden of a snake I cannot abide.

In this dream, I came home to find that Michelle had personally visited to ask me to take on the feature assignment. And she had brought living (though oddly immobile) snakes, which were all laid out on my floor for display. There were about 15 varieties of them, in many shapes, sizes, and colors. There was a very long, fat, sort of corrugated fellow. There was a tiny coiled snake with markings like those of a python; it was sort of stuck to the wall above my chair, and Michelle let me know that it was very venomous indeed. Few of the snakes looked like the snakes alive in the world today beyond sharing the basic cylindrical form. The worst of all was a short, slender blue snake reported to be heinously venomous. That one we would need to keep a particular eye on, Michelle let me know.

Well, I was not especially enthusiastic about the assignment, but — no Bartleby — my sense of duty prevailed and I agreed to research and write the piece in spite of my terror. I kept a close watch on the snakes in the ensuing period (hours? days? weeks? It was fuzzy dream time and my house wasn’t my actual house and I had no business writing such a feature), and initially all was fine. I tiptoed around the place with my heart hammering, but I avoided incident. For a time.

Some sort of gathering of small children was to take place in my home soon (a birthday party perhaps?) and I had to make preparations, which naturally included rendering the house safe. This was when I noticed that the tiny blue venomous snake had gone missing. Upon a further search, I discovered that the snake was not missing at all. Indeed, it had gone into hiding and multiplied. Tiny blue snakes poured out of a crack in the floor and scattered throughout the house. The party was imminent. The snakes must be contained! I began ineffectual containment and extermination efforts (e.g. pouring baking soda on the snakes and into the crack they wriggled out of, and other Lucy-at-the-candy-factory-type initiatives), and at this point, I must’ve begun to surface from REM sleep, as the dream began, thankfully, to fade.

So vivid was the dream that in spite of a general tendency toward near-robotically rational thought, I’ve been stepping carefully when walking around the house today.

Please consider this a self-disqualification in advance should you ever be inclined to commission a companion piece (much less a feature) about snakes. 😉

I’ve reassured Daryl, and I’ll now reassure all of you: Michelle and I would never abandon you with venomous snakes. “Never abandon writers during exposure therapy,” is how it’ll appear in our style guide.

That being said, you’re all on notice. My calendar is cleared. I’m here to stay, and the bar is now set at me needing as many emails like this as I can get. Do it for your own protection! What if we had published an upcoming issue about snakes and I hadn’t known I should really warn Daryl beforehand? What if we were going to publish an issue about minor dog fancying and Daryl was OOO that day and all of his emails auto-deleted?!

If your excuse is that drafting emails can be intimidating, you’re in luck: we’ve made a form so you can flag the one thing you never want to be asked to write about.

Please, please tell me all about your dreams. You’ll be hearing about mine. 

Hey, Stranger

(PS: We Love You)

Don’t get the newsletter via email? Here’s the one from Tuesday, April 27, 2021. If you’d like the email, sign up here!

My laptop makes a little knock-knock sound every time someone new subscribes to Pipe Wrench. “Who’s there?” I ask the coupla knockers. Sometimes it’s an old friend, sometimes it’s a new friend. More and more often, it’s a total stranger. Friends-to-be, you should know that whenever we happen to see a name we don’t recognize in one of our tech queues, our hearts flutter in unison. Pipe Wrench has several mottos, but one of the big ones is “We love strangers.”

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The Rhinestone-Encrusted Badminton Racket of Disruption

Don’t get the newsletter via email? Here’s the one from Tuesday, March 30, 2021. If you’d like the email, sign up here!

Media companies that are actually tech companies are playing their weird competitive badminton again.

I don’t have to link to which ones! Share this whenever you want: a tech company, while wearing its handy-dandy media disguise, recently announced some kind of labor shakeup because growthiterationchangeordie. A ruling minority is batting one or two marginally differentiated ideas back and forth, taking less-than-athletic swipes at the same multimillion-dollar shuttlecock.

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Why Have a Director of Sustainability?

Miss the newsletter in email? You can find them here, too! Here’s the newsletter from Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

When Michelle first approached me with the idea for Pipe Wrench, we’d both initially assumed I’d sign on to do audience development. That’s what I’ve done in the past. That’s what a new publication needs most, right? An audience. Plans to make an impact. A community to serve.

A new publication needs new readers, along with new editors, new contributors, and new artists. But what it needs most is a path to sustainability.

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