Thoughts on Work During a Pandemic

My desk.

“It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation… We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing, and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are… we must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places.”

—Kathleen Norris

I have been working from home now for nearly seven months. When the pandemic started, I expected perhaps 3 or 4. At Each+Every, we have found ways to carry on our projects, and have been blessed to continue working. In this era, the nature of work seems to have been thrown into turmoil—many people have lost jobs, paychecks, homes, and more. Working from home has forced me to examine my own working habits, and has put in the forefront of my mind the quotidian nature of what I do—its dailiness and repetition. As a designer, much of my work is inherently visible: color, typography, image, and light combined together to be viewed, read, perceived. But much of my work is also invisible: the planning, sketching, understanding, kerning, or adjusting of line-height to create good legibility. I recently finished reading Detail in Typography by Jost Hochuli. As a Swiss graphic designer known for his book design, Hochuli outlines the mundane aspects of any designer’s job: understanding the art and craft of creating good line heights, using the correct ligatures and numerals in various situations, kerning individual letterforms or adjusting wordspacing to increase legibility, or the proper ways to add spaces before a semi-colon or a question mark. In many ways, the unseen and unnoticed aspects graphic design help to mark a person as thoughtful or careless in their craft (I am often the latter).

In the midst of a pandemic though, these things often feel meaningless in comparison to more visible and well-known “design for good” projects with big impact. There are other facets of graphic design which have been elevated in our cultural consciousness, too: brands seek our attention at every turn, whether on a billboard or on Instagram. Graphic Design studios (ours included) flaunt our successful branding projects, and a culture of critiquing and reflecting on which studios or designers worked on which project has become a sort of popularity contest. We elevate “radical” and “world-changing” work above others. It’s easy to equate impact and beauty.

In the Beauty of Everyday Things, Soetsu Tanagi considers folk art craft objects which fill our everyday lives. Tanagi views folk craft objects as things that are made for daily use; things that are common and ordinary, made durably and sincerely. He especially admires the unknown craftsman which made these objects. I think most importantly, he sees an inherent spiritual dignity in the work itself, and the craftspeople which remain unknown in the sight of those who use an object they’ve made. He admires the sacred nature of the work and worker, and points out the way in which ordinary people making ordinary things is its own sort of beauty.

In my own life, I often want to separate the secular and the spiritual. My secular life is my work. My spiritual life is my own walk with God and my interactions with my church community. And yet the reality is that these are inseparably intertwined—impossible to untangle. Work itself is stewardship of our world, and a way in which God will shape our own heart. We are becoming in the same way in which we are fashioning the things we make. In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren discusses the quotidian nature of the most mundane work: things like sending emails. Or perhaps for designers, something like setting margins and using the right quotation marks.

“Each kind of work is therefore its own kind of craft that must be developed over time, both for our own sanctification and for the good of the community. As we seek to do our work well and hone our craft, we are developed and honed in our work. Our task is not to somehow inject God into our work but to join God in the work he is already doing in and through our vocational lives.”

In these everyday moments we are being shaped—but our work does not define who we are. I hope that in 20 years that my work will grow better and better—but I also hope that I will be shaped into a better person in the process. When I was in college I read a lot of Brother Lawrence’s letters in “The Practice of the Presence of God.” Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite friar, known for his active communion with God in the dailiness of his everyday work. Lawrence wrote, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen…I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

A Quick Pause

With all of the change working through a pandemic has brought, I have been feeling pretty burned out. Katey suggested I ought to go camping for a night or two before the weather got colder. Found a beautiful spot on a tree farm to camp, cook over a fire, make endless pots of percolator coffee (decaf), read, rest, and walk for a couple of days. Thankful for this brief pause.

Exploring Ohio’s Nature Preserves

During covid, I've been trying to spend more time outdoors, and have been learning more about Ohio's native species and unique geology. While I've spent a lot of time in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I've only just begun visiting Ohio's state nature preserves. I've mostly visited the ones nearest me in northeast Ohio so far, but I feel like I've only begun to scratch the surface of all there is to see and learn about. The more I've visited these preserves, the more I've come to see how incredible Ohio's natural history is. When glaciers receded from the last ice age some 12,000 years ago, it left unique bogs and fens such as the Kent Bog and Herrick Fen, both of which are home to tamarack trees, highbush blueberries, or leatherleaf. There are more than 3,500 tamarack trees at the Kent Bog, the largest southernmost stand in the continental United States.

Glaciers also left Lake Erie with miles of coastal marshes and beaches. The Marsh, which is where Lake Erie "mingles" with waters that drain into the marsh, has recently undergone a huge restoration project to bring back native species, which has consequently brought a return of wildlife. I was able to see a smattering of wildlife and wildflowers: great egrets, great blue herons, tree swallows and purple martins, jerusalem artichoke, giant sunflower, purple coneflower, yarrow, queen anne's lace, white sweetclover, goldenrod, swamp rose mallow, and more. The Marsh is about 1,500 acres and is a unique feeding ground for fish and migratory birds. I'm only scratching the surface here, though. Just in 2019, some 204 species of birds have been spotted in the marsh.

Headlands Dunes is another unique environment consisting of highly specialized Atlantic Coast Plain species—which would've been established many thousands of years ago. Species such as sea rocket, beach pea, beach grass, and seaside spurge still persist. I had a hard time identifying some of these, but it's incredible to me that they still exist in Ohio today.

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