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.

Native Land Search: A Free Plugin for WordPress Sites

Those of us who live in the Americas and Oceania are almost certainly living on Native and Indigenous homelands. Those of us who are not ourselves Native or Indigenous probably have little idea whose. Knowing who lost their homes and lives in the creation of the countries we now call home has always been crucial, and only becomes more critical as the ongoing impact of violent colonization and severity of the climate crisis become clearer and clearer.

Native Land Digital maintains extensive maps of Native and Indigenous homelands and communities worldwide. Now WordPress sites can embed a search tool using their data into any post or page with a free plugin.

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Snakes on a Chthonic Plane

We regularly ask you to reply to us — We get every email! We respond to every one! We miss you! — and you send us everything from one-liners to play-by-plays of your in-depth snake dreams THANK YOU READER DARYL and we get excited about every single one. But what you may not know is that Pipe Wrench readers are also here for each other: If you, like me, have been sitting at home wondering what’s going on in Daryl’s psyche, fellow Pipe Wrench reader Kelly has your back.

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Embrace the Sky Rats

Pigeons! “Pigeons” is what we mean.

We know that at least 70% of the people reading this who live in urban areas think of pigeons as sky rats. We also know that self-reflection and change are never impossible, especially when folks like Shanna Tiayon and Rosemary Mosco are leading the way. So OF COURSE Shanna’s story about the Roller Men of South Central was recommended by Longreads and Longform and Roxane Gay, and OF COURSE Rosemary’s pigeon comic took #birdtwitter by storm, and OF COURSE we had to make some pigeon stickers to give public expression to our newfound pigeon respect.

For the birders, the “I contain multitudes” drawing is also available on a notebook — hardcover or spiral, lined or blank — for all your birdwatching notes. And of course, we had to make a Pipe Wrench sticker while we were at it:

a drawing or a feminine hand holding a large pipe wrench, in white on a black background

The world needs more smoochy pigeons. Do something good for the world.

The world also needs more joyous feelings. Reply here with happy pigeon thoughts. Tag #birdtwitter!

The week in Pipe Wrench, other than pigeon.

  • You might have noticed we weren’t in your inbox last week. We’re trying this wacky new thing where we don’t send email if we don’t have something new, useful, interesting, or funny to say.
  • The stories for issues four and five are a steaming ahead and we’re starting to brainstorm contributors while we put the finishing touches on issue three’s lineup. Y’all: there are so many interesting people in the world. So. Many.
  • Catherine and Michelle each used the phrase “text stack” independently of one another, prompting each of them to have a small-scale existential crisis and question what they know about language.

P.S. from the Editor in Chief

If you use Twitter and you’re not following @probirdrights, you are making an error. Or as Julia Roberts circa 1990 might say, “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”

(We will fully encourage grassroots caption contests — tweet your favorite sticker with a caption in the style of @probirdrights and balloons will fall from the SKY.)

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. 

Before You Ask What the New Thing Is About

Maybe what you need next is a surprise.

I am not great at chit-chat at the best of times, but I’m most challenged when someone asks me “What do you do?” By which they mean for paid work, because wealth-generating labor is the only labor that counts and the point of chit-chat is to figure out what someone can do for you and therefore how nice you should be. (Anything else is conversation, not chit-chat, and conversation is great.)

Whew, that was developing a tone. What I mean is: when people ask “What do you do?” and I say, “I edit a magazine,” the next question is always, always the same: “What’s it about?” The question I answer is never the one they asked.

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