Lately, I’ve noticed that my work-life balance is eroding. This isn’t to say that I work too much; I work here full time and on Friday afternoons when I close my laptop, Monday’s issue is already scheduled. The only times I work late into the night is when writer's block or a burst of inspiration keeps me at my desk. But once I sign off for the day, the places I go and the people I see are often SOW-related.
Now when I travel, my itinerary is peppered with hangouts with members of the SOW community. I love this – what isn’t to like about getting beers with people who are working on hard engineering problems (and who bring Lego to the brewery)? The people I meet through this job are invariably doing fascinating things; of course I want to tour their workshops, eat the food they make, and learn about their businesses.
While the line between where this job ends and where my social life begins becomes fuzzier month by month, connecting with people who like making and building things has long been my way of making friends. Hanging out in the SOW Members’ Slack is an extension of that tendency, and is much more convenient and less prone to drama than hanging out at a makerspace. The community collects people who surprise, delight, and challenge me (and sometimes take the time to grab a coffee).
This newsletter employs two people full time (Spencer and myself), plus about a dozen part-time writers. In broad strokes, our income comes half from sponsorships and half from readers. So, the community that fills my weekends with fun diversions is also the means by which I buy my groceries and heat my home, and if I ask you to join (which, I think you should) I am asking you to pitch in for my everyday expenses (something I would not ask in any other context). But it’s worth asking because this project – researching and writing about the built world, interviewing authors, working with brilliant writers – is so fun, and both Spencer and I can only do this work because readers throw their money in our proverbial hat. We get to do this work because readers pitch in, and cross that nebulous line to become community members.
But to focus solely on money is to miss the bigger point: the real value of being part of a community is relational. How that works is somewhat ineffable. I don’t have statistics showing how many people have found jobs or made friends on our Slack, and the examples I could share with you aren’t ones that lend themselves to quantification (“on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you value this friend?”). In lieu of any quantification, here is a smattering of posts from the #general-questions channel that I thought were interesting:
In a world of SEO-garbled search results and advertorials, having a group of people you can trust for advice is so valuable. Some problems don’t have a clear answer but talking them through with a professional community, outside of your immediate colleagues, opens up a space to commiserate without complaining. Beyond practical and technical advice, I love following along with projects I see play out over months and years on Slack. Take this question below:
Since 2021, David has been fabricating pentagonal icositetrahedrons and I immediately clocked this fixture as another iteration of the shape. (The consensus is that the brackets, plus some rivets, are the right approach.) It’s been so interesting to watch him try out different materials and fabrication techniques to make increasingly complex (and massive) versions of the form. He says, “There continue to be new and interesting (to me) ways to make this shape.”
From watching these shapes emerge, bit by bit and bracket by bracket through posts on Slack, it’s clear David loves building them. While the endless polyhedra are ostensibly marketing material for his industrial automation firm, they’re also joyful objects of experimentation (and kind of a flex). I love to be invited on other people’s creative journeys through video clips and photos of experiments. My ceramic Penrose tiles feel pretty dinky compared to some of the projects people share, but the culture of posting progress updates has inspired me to start a thread tracking every iteration. I can’t guarantee that this community will make you make cooler things, but it will certainly make you want to make cooler things.
This love and excitement for building is central to why this community brings me joy and continues to spill into my personal life. My favorite SOW hang this summer was a dinner party hosted by Sam (of chocolate-sourcing fame), where all of the foods were products of obsessive creators that folks on Slack get excited about. There was Cascatelli, of course, the pasta shape invented by Dan Pashman and documented on his podcast. It was topped with Fat Gold olive oil, a company co-owned by author Robin Sloan who writes at length about the process. Dessert was a series of single-origin chocolates. All of these products have been the subject of long discussions on Slack, with beautiful photos and reviews. But reading about food on the internet is not the same as the embodied experience of eating it, and while it is nice to make friends on the internet, it is nicer to also sometimes see them in person. So sure, I could keep more of my personal time unoccupied – but I am always excited to break bread with people who build things.
Thanks as always to Scope of Work’s Members and Supporters for making this newsletter possible – not only could I not do this job without you, but my life would be much less interesting. Thanks also to Kate for introducing me to the newsletter years ago, my debt to you will never be repaid. And thanks to everyone who has taken the time to grab a beer, a coffee, or a bite to eat when I’ve passed through your town; thanks to TW for the pâté-croûte, thanks to Russ for the cool cup, thanks to Cole for the Cascatelli and beautiful money pits, thanks to Eric for the Fat Gold and IKEA snacks, thanks to Stu for bringing Lego to a bar, thanks to lee and Dave for being my friends in all places, thanks to everyone who let me share their questions in this issue, thanks to the reading group and lunch call regulars and thanks to everyone on the Slack – from the super users to the lurkers – you’re fun and inspiring and such an important part of my day. Thanks of course to Spencer for putting in the work to make this newsletter and community possible, because we all benefit.