How I lost my Sanity ~ 6B

Pallet landfill to conference roomClasses were going well. Patients shared their ideas in order to make them more real. I would fabricate parts that were put together by Jim, Juan, and Ethan. Making real objects was great for their self-esteem. Everyone was impressed. The hospital director suggested implementing a pilot project which required redesigning, fabricating, and installing a new office for her. We could recycle materials. Dolores believed this was a perfect opportunity to get brownie points for us. I’d also get approval to design and build a marine and horticultural center in the rehab dept.

 

Greek UrnEverything was falling into place. Ideas began to gel. One valuable lesson I had learned as an industrial designer was that you get more money for fashion. Recalling the shabby green frog vases I’d seen being crafted in ceramic workshops all over the state, I thought, ‘Why not use the same resources and labor to make handsome Greek urns with unusual finishes?’

Sheltered workshops survived by producing plain outdated designs. They could thrive with smart design and well-conceived manufacturing and marketing plans. Ordinary wooden frames could be transformed into exotic frames with fashionable new moldings. Beautiful mirrors and other framed products could revitalize the industry.

I began to see my pre-vocational class as a small corporation having a dozen workers with talents and abilities I could never afford in the real world. I had a captive audience with nothing better to do with their time and energies than work under my direction. I could arrange for them to make money and challenge them to be responsible for their behavior. It certainly seemed clinically sound to me. I fantasized we’d eventually be the design and marketing arm for the entire Underworld State Department of Mental Health.

We could design products for manufacture, arrange preferential buying plans with other state agencies, and create products for the mass market. I was crafting a timely script, a sequel entitled ‘The Dirtiest Dozen’; how the discards from hell became social heroes. I know it’s grandiose, but I envisioned managing a manufacturing and marketing empire from an asylum; like in ‘Crazy People’ with Dudley Moore and Daryl Hannah. Once we succeeded in the world of mental illness, new doors would open to sheltered workshops all over the state. They’d come to be dependent on us for sustenance and nourishment.

There was hardly anyone to share my ideas with. My family was supportive, but believed I’d gone off the deep end back when I decided to work with this population for peanuts. My peers on the job found me metaphysically weird. Sharing anything with them would be a contribution to hospital gossip. My good friends supported me, but they were not a mastermind group. I’d just have to stay focused, moving forward, one step at a time. Every thought and idea could bring me closer to my goal.

Love Bugs

Over the next several weeks, both groups came up with some exciting new concepts. Betsy had an idea for a line of stuffed toys for children that were perfect items for sheltered sewing shops. She called them `Love Bugs’. They were insects like spiders and scorpions. You’d be terrified if they were crawling on you, but instead, they were soft, cute, and cuddly.

modular building blocksDavid and Jim came up with a unique new idea for modular interconnecting building materials. They were kind of like Legos or Lincoln Logs and could be fabricated from recycled materials. We created several prototypes of quarter scale furniture with them. Potential markets were open.

 

 

TrojanJack and Virginia created a gimmicky `Women’s Liberation Survival Kit’ ~ a cloth bag made from a military looking khaki material, sewn and silk screened, and featuring a collection of already filled pockets and compartments. These pockets contained things like packs of condoms, a small canister of pepper spray, a compressed air horn, female paraphernalia, cosmetics, and other assorted goodies.

 

On my own time, I made appointments with buyers from major department stores in order to get feedback and gain additional insight into our products and planning. A few buyers wanted to know when they could purchase some. One buyer expressed doubt about connecting merchandise with mentally disabled criminals. He thought it might detract from their salability. ‘Manufactured by forensic psychiatric sheltered workshops’ was not a great selling point. Our team felt this wasn’t an obstacle. We’d suppress any bad news and glamorize the good news. I was motivated. Patients felt inspired and passionate. Positive behavioral changes were taking place. Everyone began to notice as we made ourselves ready to negotiate with hospital administrations and sheltered workshops across the state. I couldn’t believe how well everything was moving forward.

Stay tuned as everything begins to go south…

HOW I LOST MY SANITY

round self portrait

“The lips of wisdom are closed, except to the ears of understanding.” Hermes

Boundaries of TemptationYou may think you know your dark side or you may know someone who has been devoured by theirs, but until you’ve been seduced by madness, breached your sacred boundaries, and tasted the forbidden fruit; you won’t experience the boundless breadths and desperate depths of darkness in your psyche or know your abyss.

While purging my darkness in Scorpio nine months ago, I began writing a post for my blog about a shadowy experience of over thirty years ago. That tale has morphed into an illustrated novella, based in fact, but camouflaged and exaggerated by fiction. I hope you wonder what actually happened. I’m only promoting the first of ten weekly episodes. Sign up for more if you like it. Episode two won’t automatically appear in your feed.

This is a tale of hands and of how I tempted fate and lost my sanity. My story is painted in black and white with insanity as black and sanity as white. Oppositions fuel our awareness as our allegories guide us from our whitest whites to our blackest blacks. Love and hate are extremes of the same essence with like and dislike represented by varying degrees of gray illuminating the halls of opposites. When does pleasure stop and pain begin? Where does happiness end and misery begin?

One bleak November evening, as I was leafing through the magazine section of the Tartarus Times, a display ad caught my eye ~ ‘Forensic Psychiatric Center Seeking Industrial Designer’. I’d been an industrial designer. The concept of combining function with beauty while creating something useful and meaningful had inspired me to sign up. I believed an industrial design degree would enable me to manifest my innovative ideas for sustainable energy and transportation. Many of my fellow student designers were searching for that ‘pet rock’ that would transform them into instant millionaires. I too wanted to earn my fortune, but hoped it would happen from working on meaningful projects. I had no interest in fashion for the sake of fashion and hated waste.

Overly optimistic, idealistic, and ahead of my time, I was soon to learn the harsh realities of self-serving economics and unchecked capitalism. Sadly, producers and sellers get more money for fashion, hype, and soundbites than for good functional design. Because of my own pressing financial needs, I adapted to serving my clients’ basic needs and conformed to the unnatural practice of wasting natural resources and polluting our planet in the name of convenience and thrift. I spent too much of my time and energies depleting natural resources and polluting our planet’s body, circulatory, and respiratory systems in the service and glory of ego, money, and fashion.

How much would I have to compromise my ethical principles to make a decent living? How much grayer was behaving in ways that work than being real? Which shades of gray exchanged money for values and traded thinking for feelings? It became too easy to analyze, rationalize, and compartmentalize my creations as useful, profitable, and valuable. I no longer thought about their final destination as landfill decoration.

One day, I had an epiphany. As I perused the isles of Bloomingdales’ to see how my products were being displayed and merchandized, I realized that waste streams were already chockfull of award winning design without mine. If none of my products existed, it would not make a real difference to anyone but me. I accepted responsibility for my insights and changed my focus from industrial to environmental design. I soon became known as the ‘Guru of Garbage’ for my innovative uses of recycled materials.

New York NewsdayMy ‘Designing with Garbage’ and ‘Eco- Design’ workshops and classes at local design colleges became popular. As an expert in materials and manufacturing processes, an industrial designer, and a member of purgatory’s solid waste advisory board, I spoke about recycling and reuse for the tiniest of stipends at design colleges and for free at environmental conferences, local grassroots groups, and community board meetings.

Clients would ask, “Why’s it so expensive?”  And then exclaim, “It’s only garbage!” Everyone loves a good cause until it’s time to pay for it. Very few people were actually practicing what they were preaching. I rationalized that something was better than nothing as I was hired by manufacturers and marketers to facilitate their appearances, a practice known as ‘greenwashing’ (guilt-free polluting). I always had too much to do and never enough time or money to do it right. No matter how hard I tried to be frugal, not having enough money got in my way. I’d gone from planning to buy my private jet to trying to figure out what to do with a bottle cap. I could no longer afford to bankroll my principles or preach to the converted for pennies.

Before and After

Pallet landfill to conference room

Sitting on compacted cansDestiny compelled me to be responsible for my values. Ambition impelled me to create something of significance.  My astrology fit perfectly. My Leo Zenith is closely straddled by my ninth house Saturn (guru) and my tenth house Pluto (garbage). The shoe fit, so I decided to reuse, recycle, and recreate it. That process was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated. Being the ‘Guru of Garbage’ had been an accident. The media was inspired by my creative attempts at recycling trash. They gave me a catchy name to sell more advertising. I enjoyed the name recognition, but needed to get paid.

 

I decided to tackle the mother of all garbage, psychic garbage. Instead of spending my time and energy on material concerns, I’d go directly to the source and wrestle with subjective matters like behavior, values, thinking, feelings, will power, health, work, relationships, marriage, creativity, death, philosophy, purpose, dreams, fears, and spirituality. My favorite obsession and part time avocation became my vocation as I began practicing astrology, palmistry, and tarot.

Being a psychic garbage man was more financially lucrative, emotionally fulfilling, and fun than transforming physical waste. My perpetual quest for physical and spiritual enlightenment and sustainability was morphing into an intriguing journey of self-discovery that would inadvertently guide me down the dusky path to darkness and lunacy. I wondered what it might take to awaken my insanity and was soon to find out.

Criminal minds fascinated me. I knew from my study of astrology that each of twelve sun signs has its own unique criminal style. Here are some gross generalizations. Gemini / Mercury rules con artists and pickpockets. Taurus / Venus commits sex crimes and breaches of trust from petty theft to grand larceny. Aries / Mars loves warfare and commit crimes of passion. Sagittarius / Jupiter wears white collars. Capricorn / Saturn rules master criminals. Aquarius / Uranus rules arsonists, terrorists, and unexpected bad shit happening. Pisces / Neptune rules drug dealers and users. Scorpio / Pluto rules seduction, rape, and murder and lustily awaits you at your final destination.

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto revolve very slowly around our sun. They represent the collective unconscious. We personalize our outer planets through their relationships with our inner plants. Outer planetary pictures provide a karmic backdrop for past and future generations of actors and actresses striving to learn their roles. Life is a play of plays. Unconscious creates drama. Subconscious directs plot. Consciousness is stage manager. Sun enlightens. Moon reflects. Mercury connects. Venus senses. Mars energizes. Jupiter expands. Saturn limits. ‘God’ is Master Playwright.

As a life-long student of craziness, I coveted this opportunity to serve criminally insane people. I might never get another chance. Back in college, I minored in bizarre psycho- ideologies and isms. Being an active member of a twice weekly study group at a Gestalt psychology institute for two years whetted my appetite for more. Now I had a chance to explore genuine craziness incarnate. I imagined the weird hands, astrology, and odd people I’d meet and held my breath in anxious anticipation as I set up my interview.

forensic psychiatric hospitalAs I drove north along the Styx River Parkway, I felt like Don Quixote applying for his first real job. Approaching my destination, I could see three ominous- looking beige brick buildings rising starkly into the distant sky like dead poplar trees. They stood on the western banks of ‘Cuckoo Island’ in the middle of the Styx River between Tartarus and Purgatory. Two buildings were psychiatric outpatient hospitals. The third was a forensic psychiatric hospital bounded by high electric fences, lethal courses of razor wire, and panoptic video surveillance. A two‑story block structure on the right housed sheltered workshops for mentally and developmentally disabled people and an alcohol detox center. A fleet of city garbage trucks and a truck drivers’ training course was on the other side of the island. Purgatory’s sewage was treated there. The whole damned island was devoted to one form of waste treatment or another.

I entered the premises through guarded locked doors, metal detectors, a bag inspection station, faded beige paint, and buzzing fluorescent lights that zapped my vital essences. Hospital staff appeared to be the dregs of humanity’s helpers. They wobbled and limped, were scarred and splotched, and gazed silently in hopeless desperation with myopic eyes—even when they were smiling. I hoped it wasn’t contagious. It was.

As Director of Rehab, Dolores was beaten down by too many years in state service. Her sad name complemented her careworn face. A telltale twitch made me wonder whether she was actually smiling or frowning. Her unhealthy looking teeth were yellowed from too many cigarettes and too much coffee. A deep raspy voice coughed her words.

Respiratory, pulmonary, and circulatory problems could be seen in her bulbous whitish nails. Her square palms and short square fingers revealed a practical nature, while her dry, reddish, dishpan skin had weathered many storms that seemed to endlessly arrive from every direction. I was concerned she was ineffective. Despite our differences, we liked each other.

I squirmed awkwardly as I learned that the hospital actually needed an industrial arts teacher. Human resources had made a mistake. I wanted to experience this population, but I was overqualified. Dolores encouraged me to take the job anyway. She painted alluring pictures of my designing vocational programs. I’d work directly with patients by lecturing and giving ongoing classes and workshops. I’d have access to patient records and treatment plans. I might be even able to attend treatment team meetings with psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. It felt too good to be true. It was.

Dolores was impressed with my qualifications and enthusiasm. I never mentioned any ulterior motives when I told her I was prepared to commit selflessly to public service at this point in my life. I’d start at the bottom. ‘Grade 12′ was a pay scale similar to being fresh out of high school. I couldn’t afford a full time position and didn’t want one. Dolores assured me I could work half-time. She’d find someone else to fill the other half of the position. She promised full public employee health benefits. I accepted.

Stay tuned to meet the rehab staff in episode two.

Blood Moons and Biblical Prophecy

Blood Moons and Biblical Prophecy

Blood Moon

 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.” Bible’s Book of Joel, Chapter 3:3-4

star of david 2Today is Passover. A total lunar eclipse occurred a moment ago. The transiting moon just squared Pluto. It’s about to oppose Uranus before it goes void of course. We’re still wandering aimlessly and endlessly across a bleak and barren desert, led by our sacred cows and golden calves that must be sacrificed on the altar of true love and faith.

 

Many people are preparing for ‘End Time’. Before I begin my rant, I want you to know that I’ve broken rules of syntax, spelling, spacing, punctuation, rhyming, and alliteration. Most of my artwork has been excavated from the electronic ether. I’ve parodied or radically altered it to avoid copyright infringement. I’ve also included a selfie from my ‘Exhibitionist Meets Voyeur’ collection. Please suspend your preconceived ideas and beliefs. I’ve left nothing to chance but you. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t.

The human race has become a race against bad shit happening. Pious philosophies and pointless politics pollute higher purpose. Partisan paradigms and pestilential practices poison our psyche. Faulty families feast frenzily on filthy banquets of flawed feelings, vague values, and toxic thinking, copiously spiced with needless fear, desperation, and hatred. We analyze, rationalize, and compartmentalize our ideologies and beliefs while we sacrifice our dignity, integrity, and nobility on the altars of nonsense.

George and the dwarves

The sheep are restlessEveryone is frantic about what’s happening in the mid-east. Focusing on insane ideologies like “Armageddon” transforms hazardous theories and toxic beliefs into self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Fear, anger, and hatred are potent catalysts for apocalyptic thinking. Vengeance is not a solution to violence. Just watch the nightly news or Jerry Springer for live action.

A spiritually corrupt society worships idols from amateur hours and applauds scripted survivors. Masses of meek minds are mesmerized by meaningless media. Captivated by courtroom melodramas, viewers become critical and judgmental of the pettiest behaviors. Cunning narcissists, warped exhibitionists, and religious perverts expose their sleaziest selves to a desperate and depraved public. A culture of winners and losers has become a world of haves and have-nots.

Dick as DopeyOur planet and collective psyche are immune deficient. We preach love and sympathy and practice hate and fear. Our appallingly apparent apathy produces pandemic pathological paradigms. We fixate on sex, violence, disease, and death, while shortsightedness, greed, and fear rule our personal and collective unconsciousness.

Donald TrumpWe’re fascinated by fake vampires, werewolves, and zombies while real vampires, werewolves, and zombies thrive virtuelessly among us. We vote for political prostitutes, prostrate ourselves before self-appointed emperors, and worship megalomaniacs on gilded pedestals. We reward religious rapists who pay for their offenses with an eternity in hell. We need a megadose of sanity, but how can anyone be sane in an insane world?

who fartedWake up and whiff the weirdness. How sane is consuming massive amounts of highly toxic chemicals every day in our wars with insects, rodents, weeds, dirt, stains, odors, germs, bacteria, viruses and other invisible enemies? We’re marinating in the chemicals that heat and cool us; power our transportation; provide us with products; color, flavor, and preserve our foods; and enable us to communicate on a grand scale. We breathe, drink, wash, and apply risky substances to our scalps, mouths, armpits, fingers, toes, and crotches. Why must everything be bright white, squeaky clean and lemon fresh? Why do fossil guzzling polluting cars go twice as fast as our highest speed limits?

Mission Accomlished

Mission Accomplished?

Evil acts are symptoms, not causes. As we examine our thoughts objectively, we see action comes from thinking. Why do so few herd so many and harvest so much? Why do so many people secretly believe they’re better than others? Why do we harm cultures we’re supposed to be helping? Why do we trade prejudiced politicians for terrible tyrants?

 

Sitting on compacted cansWhen my daughter Cassie was two, I was ‘Guru of Garbage’. I taught ‘Designing with Garbage’ classes at Parsons School of Design, and co-taught Environmental Design classes at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. I was on NYC’s Solid Waste Advisory Board and spoke at design schools, community boards, and National Design Museum about recycling, reusing, and recreating materials from the waste stream. My work was exhibited in eco-tours and museums around the world.

 

 

As Cassie and I walked down the street, she’d pick up trash, “Here daddy”. Graciously, I’d thank her and deposit it in the nearest trashcan. When others noticed, they’d stoop to pick something up and turn to smile at us as they dropped it in the can. We felt proud.

George W BushJoanna and I were concerned that Cassie worried too much about the planet for a kid. Many of her friends were also tormenting themselves about their future. In fifth grade, Cassie took matters into her hands and wrote a letter to the editor of an East Village newspaper. Her ‘Earth School’ fifth grade class wrote to George W Bush.  At the end of their concerns they wrote, “Please don’t send us a signed picture of your head”. I altered the image to reveal the true nature of the beast.

Dear Editor,

I’m a 5th grader at the earth school in the east village of Manhattan. A lot has been happening in the world and this is a paragraph to explain my point of view. I wrote it at home this afternoon and it is unedited and done completely by myself. I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing it in your newspaper.    Sincerely, Cassie Seltman

We are deeply worrying about Saddam’s toxic and chemical weapons but what we are not realizing is that we are using just if not more as dangerous toxicants in our everyday life.  Eventually at the rate we are going and the life style we are living we will kill ourselves off.  The only difference with Saddam’s weapons is it will happen faster.  Really all it takes to turn the world evil is one bad mind.  We can easily find excuses to do certain uncalled for horrible things.  What we need to do is think positive and constructive for our own benefit.  We have to also be cautious about who we elect for president because that one bad mind could be his and make all the difference.  We are being so concerned with Saddam Hussein but you should think about it like Saddam Hussein is one ant in a whole anthill.  The only reason ants survive is because they work as a team to carry food and build that huge hill.  Even without war we are still heading towards a bad future.  If we continue to pollute our earth we are going to have nothing left.  If we get good ideas and stop polluting right now we will still have a chance to save our earth and the people on it.

The EmperorThe emperor weaves a wardrobe of secrecy and deceit. Our good health and the health of our planet depend on our ability to share healthy thoughts and loving feelings. We must shift our broken philosophical and spiritual paradigms so that we can live and thrive in a healthier world. We can no longer substitute money for values, religion for spirituality, or collective delusion for reality. When you’re ready to meet the Messiah, you must look in the mirror.

 

Authors note: Today’s moon is in Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter. At 12:58 pm, Jupiter will become direct in Leo. Since Jupiter rules publishing, I’ll click ‘Publish’ at that moment. Jupiter also rules publicity and promotion. I’ll promote my artwork using social media.

If you enjoyed this rant, you’ll love my next writing project. ‘How I Lost My Sanity’ is a story about hands and a tale of how I tempted fate and lost my way. Sign up for all seven episodes. They won’t automatically appear in your news feed if you don’t.

How I Became the Guru of Garbage – part 2

Necessity truly is the mother of invention.  I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to make money while trying to make a difference in the world. I needed to generate more income. While working in my tiny study in the back of our apartment one afternoon, I began thinking about how many people have small living spaces and how much stuff they have. It’s not easy to stay organized and uncluttered. Even though I’d given up designing products for the sake of fashion, I figured I could still design something useful, environmentally correct, and hopefully make money at the same time.

Many people work out of their homes and don’t have a private work space. It’s a good idea to conceal your work when you’re not working, even if it’s already separate from the rest of your living space. I estimated that a 6’ X 6’ X 2’ deep box can hold a small home office and also open out to become a room divider. I sketched a few possibilities and then tested various materials and manufacturing processes. When I felt confident that my idea would work, I presented it to Lisa Smith, a successful furniture designer. Lisa liked the idea and offered to let me use her model making shop, photo studio, and furniture industry contacts in exchange for a partnership on the project.

Lisa and I fabricated scale models out of natural long lasting materials like jute, hemp, and homosote. We approached major office furniture manufacturers like Knoll and Steelcase, who nibbled on our bait, but didn’t bite. We were told that it would take a minimum $50,000 investment to fabricate full scale prototypes and test market them. Nobody was willing to advance the money. We had hoped to walk away with a deposit and a royalty contract. Unfortunately, our back burners were already overflowing with unrequited projects like our ‘Office in a Box’.

OFFICE in a BOX

Office in a Box

Office in a Box 2

I mentioned earlier that I have very strong Scorpio symbolism in my horoscope. Saturn and Pluto straddle my Midheaven, conjunct in the sign of Leo. Pluto rules Garbage. Saturn is the Guru. NY Newsday, Metropolis Magazine, and Fox TV – ‘Good Day NY’ serially dubbed me “The Guru of Garbage”. Garbage was a weird distinction, but I figured if the shoe fits, “Recycle, Reuse, or Recreate” it. I became internationally known for my innovative uses of recycled materials. I was the focus of numerous magazine and newspaper articles and television appearances. I participated in panel discussions, spoke at universities, gave workshops, and presented my creations in museums, galleries, and traveling exhibitions around the world. I was featured as a successful ecological designer in German and Japanese newspapers, magazines, and television.

During my seven year tenure as Guru of Garbage, everyone wanted to contribute to my cause by giving me his or her unwanted trash. Manufacturers began sending samples of their manufacturing waste. I received everything from truckloads of trimmings of cork and various plastics and composite materials, to barrels of greasy sludge. They thought I could perform alchemy and make treasure from their trash. I appreciated the sentiment and valued the challenge, but the process of turning trash into treasure is lot more work than reward, except for the high esoteric value. Trash to treasure is a metaphor for transforming liabilities into assets. Saturn (Lead) can be turned into (Gold) the Sun.

I forgot to mention that my Guru of Garbage days coincided with the birth of my daughter, Cassie, and her early childhood. I hoped to make a better world for her. Even at two years old, Cassie was well aware of my preoccupation with trash. As we walked along the streets of NYC together, she’d constantly be bending over to pick up some gross and disgusting thing that some person had thrown on the sidewalk. “Here daddy!” she’d exclaim. I’d thank her, then walk to the nearest trash can and throw it away. The best part was when others noticed. They were either inspired or shamed into picking something up off the sidewalk. They’d always look and smile at us as we acknowledged their good deed with a nod of approval. Sometimes, I wondered whether I was blessed or cursed by my obsession to make a difference.

The following several pages contain pictures of trash that I transformed into treasure.

Pallet landfill to conference room

Reincarnated lamp and mirror

Thrown

Odds and Ends

One day I was driving down a country road in upstate NY and noticed a couple of weathered farmers sitting in front of a broken down barn. I was searching for old wooden planks that they’d be willing to sell. They took me up to an old hay loft and showed me a stack of dusty rough cut lumber that had probably been laying there for at least thirty years. I had no idea what kind of wood it was, but it was heavy. I felt sure it was some kind of hardwood. I bought the whole stack for $10. They helped load it into my station wagon. When I got back to my workshop, I ran the rough lumber through the wood planer. It turned out to be beautifully aged solid cherry with a lot of rough edges and ends and lots of knots. Most woodworkers cut these defects away in the process of furniture making. I decided to design defective furniture from the get go. I found the imperfections very beautiful and used them as design elements. My client was in the recycling business and loved my creation!

Cherry Desk

It’s rewarding to transform something useless into something useful. It’s also great to be loved and appreciated by family, friends, colleagues, students, and clients. Without real financial support, however, it can be extremely challenging. I found myself delving more deeply each day into the mother of all garbage – Psychic Garbage.

My first paid speaking engagement was for the IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America). They said I could speak about anything, so I decided to talk about design and metaphysics. As an industrial design student, I had studied how hands relate to products. Now I would share with my peers how the same hands relate to character and behavior.

How I Became the Guru of Garbage – part 1

Remember how confused I was about what to do next as I terminated my product manufacturing phase? Suddenly and unexpectedly, I had an epiphany while strolling through Bloomingdale’s. I was scrutinizing how my products were being merchandised and sold and a question popped into my mind. If everything I designed never existed, would it make a bit of difference to anyone besides me? It all ended up as garbage.

“You get more money for fashion” had always been my mantra. Now, no matter how I rationalized the usefulness of my creations, their existence festered in my mind. While I prospered, millions of gallons of fossil fuels were depleted; air was polluted, water was  wasted, and landfills that were already inundated with award winning design, became further adorned with no longer fashionable products of my creation. I was beginning my metamorphosis from egomaniac to ecomaniac.

Recycling CredenzaOther designers who I knew were still trying to invent the ultimate gimmick that would make them rich and famous. Not me. I’d design environmentally useful and long lasting products. I began designing inexpensive eye-catching insulating window treatments to help save energy. I created stylish recycling furniture out of recycled materials to help home recyclers Recycling organic wastefashionably and efficiently sort their trash. It seemed like everyone’s enthusiasm was infectious, however, who would speculate on the hefty initial investment of tooling, materials, packaging, and inventory? One manufacturer who I presented the concept to declared my idea as a ‘passing fad’ and dubbed it “yuppie garbage cans”.

 

I became painfully conscious of humanity’s environmental problems while I agonized over my own personal wastefulness and ever-accumulating trash. A few months earlier I’d imagined buying my own private jet, now I was torturing myself over what to do with a bottle cap. My rapidly decreasing income forced a change in lifestyle. I moved from a luxurious mid-town loft-sublet to a very claustrophobic rent stabilized tenement apartment in Little Italy. I rarely stayed there because I spent nights at my girlfriend Joanna’s tiny tenement apartment in the East Village. I had lived alone in a vast sky lit penthouse loft. Now, I was sharing a large windowed closet with Joanna, cockroaches, mice, and noisy neighbors.

Unfortunately, ‘at-a-boys’ and ‘pats on the back’ don’t pay the rent. I began teaching part time continuing education classes at the New School for Social Research in NYC – furniture making, woodcarving, creative woodworking, model making, and plastics workshops. I also taught an ‘Invention’ course at Parsons School of Design and an ‘Industrial Design’ class at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

My primary income came from designing and fabricating exclusive furniture for designers and architects who served wealthy people. Over time, it became harder for me to cope with the pollution. Splinters, sawdust, and schlepping were already more than enough character building experience for me. I refused to work with toxic materials, which eliminated most composite materials, plastic laminates, adhesives, finishes, and clients. Then the straw that broke the camel’s back revealed its nasty face. My close friend and business partner in our custom furniture making shop surprised everyone by suddenly and unexpectedly becoming addicted to ‘Crack’. David took one toke and was hooked. Our work was being featured in major architecture and design magazines. At the same time, financial pressures and production deadlines were stressing us out. I had to hide the petty cash. I’d come to work in the morning and find cigarette butts standing on their filters all over the shop machinery. I cringed when the phone rang late at night. Come to think of it, I cringed when the phone rang during the day too. Our clients, who were mainly architects and designers, began telling me that they were disappointed in me and our suppliers were asking for money that I didn’t have. After calling the cocaine hotline a couple of times, David’s family and I intervened. We shipped him off to rehab in Puerto Rico. While he was away, I hastily liquidated our beloved workshop for a fraction of its value.

It dawned on me that by teaching industrial design, I was inadvertently polluting the world by helping others to manifest their ideas for personal profit and glory. I began         teaching ‘Designing with Garbage’ at Parsons School of Design. I’d say to my students, “Wake up and smell the garbage”. Most design ends up as trash. Industrial, commercial, and post-consumer waste is the Urban Ore of the future. At first, people laughed at us picking materials out of the trash, but the more my students and I worked with these materials, the more we realized how easy it is to keep consuming and how a recycling closed loop needs to develop its own infrastructure.  A community’s plastic milk and detergent bottles whose original use has been fulfilled can have a durable long lasting reincarnation as a deck, fence, park bench, or marine piling. Below, two of my favorite students from my ‘Designing with Garbage’ class at Parsons School of Design are working on their projects. If you click on Bobby Hansson’s photo, you can see a live presentation of his project on YouTube.  I promise you’ll be entertained.

Bobby Hansson - Designing with GarbagePaul Miller - Designing with Garbage

Concentrating on environmental issues was both enlightening and frustrating. I swung between incredible optimism and idealism and extreme cynicism and sarcasm. I know ‘every little bit helps’, but big issues like public education and environmental policy are what need to change. Dealing with these problems requires a fundamental shift in our society. Designers can play a vital role. When designers select materials to be used in a product they predetermine whether sustainable resources are used, how much energy will be consumed during production, what pollutants will be generated, and finally, how it will be disposed of, recycled, or reused.

Sitting on compacted cansUnless responsible products are designed and promoted and substantial markets developed, recycling will fail. Billions of tons of accumulated plastics, mixed glass,  construction debris, wooden shipping pallets, rubber tires, batteries, organic waste, and  many other materials will be land-filled or incinerated and eventually end up in our  lungs, blood, and genes. We’re being genetically modified by our lifestyle choices. These materials can be reincarnated into useful and long lasting products.

 

 

New York NewsdayI identified with Don Quixote in my Designing with Garbage days. At least windmills don’t pollute. They should collect solar as well as wind energy to make them more efficient. Solar energy coatings can also be applied to roof tops and surfaces that are exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, there are more ways to collect than store energy.

 

Gallery of Trash

My all-time favorite industrial design student, Wendy Brawer, became my co-teacher for a ‘Design for the Environment’ class at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Wendy and I were on NYC’s Solid Waste and Citywide Recycling Advisory Boards and often spoke to local community boards about managing they’re ever accumulating trash.  We also promoted the use of recycled plastics in NYC’s waterfront. Governmental bureaucracy, lack of adequate funding, and rigid building codes rendered most projects impracticable. We participated in as many events as possible, even though they were financially unrewarding. It’s easy to find pro-bono work and difficult to find true patrons and real financial support for social causes. Our clients would inquire, “Why’s it so expensive? It’s only Garbage!”

Wendy is the only student I’ve ever had that actually practiced what I preached. Even though she had no degree in Industrial Design, she became head of the environmental committee for the IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America). She also became Designer in Residence at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Wendy created an amazing ecological “Green Map” system WWW.GREENMAP.ORG.

I’m very proud of her.

Wendy Brawer - Greenmap logo

Wendy is a Cancer (feeling type) sun sign. She’s actually an intuitive type. She has ambitious index fingers on rectangular palms with short fingers. Her personality is much more like an Aries. She’s passionate, inspired most of the time, spontaneous, and extremely proactive. Her separated head and life line symbolize an innate dislike for bureaucracy and a natural rebelliousness. With fingers held closely together, Wendy is a great team player and a fabulous partner. Just ask her remarkable husband Ray. Check out the budding mapmakers below. Wendy has inspired many thousands of green minded people of all ages all over the planet.

Budding Greenmappers

 

Wendy's recycling container

Budding mapmakers

 

 

 

 

 

Wendy’s “Stamp Out Junk Mail Kit” helped raise consumer awareness of paper waste.

Wendy's stamp out junk mail flier

One of Wendy and my pet projects was “Energy Savings Stamps”. We approached Con Edison and Long Island Lighting on the east coast and Pacific Gas & Electric on the west coast with our concept to include a page of stamps in their monthly or quarterly billing statements. Consumers could paste stamps into their calendars to remind them to perform simple very important energy savings tasks. The utilities claimed they liked our concept, but for one reason or another they ultimately rejected it. We thought about going to the US Postal Service, but didn’t. Talk about bureaucracies.

Energy Saving Stamps

While Wendy and I taught Design for the Environment at Cooper Union, we initiated a class project to raise consumer awareness about transportation issues. There were so many possibilities. Imagine the peace, quiet, fresh air, and friendliness that could occur in a culture of alternative transportation. Envision designated highways free of heavy dangerous oil consuming and polluting vehicles. Visualize frequent stops for healthy foods and local services, maintenance, recreation, maps, and directories. Picture practical comfortable human and electric powered bikes, scooters, and work vehicles. What about vehicles with light weight frames and inflatable bodies?

The potential for inflatable technology has barely been tapped. Physical damage and personal injuries could be greatly reduced by building powerful durable airbags into car bumpers so that they can inflate outward on designated impact. Why wait for the vehicle to reach the passengers before the air bag inflates? Cars could actually bounce instead of trounce. Why not design inflatable outerwear for motorcycling and extreme sporting events? Why can’t gigantic baffled plasticized fiberglass airbags be built into the structure of buildings and bridges? Specific vibrations inflate airbags and temporarily hold structures together while many people escape certain death or injury. Why not retrofit existing structures?  With so many definite possibilities, we wished we had the resources to speculate.

Inflatable Window InsulationAirbags can also be used as inflatable insulation for maintaining a hot or cold environment. We can keep a six-pack or a walk in freezer cold or maintain warmth in a large industrial building. Drafty windows, doors, and attics can be permanently or temporarily retrofitted with clear air filled vinyl mattresses that easily inflate, deflate, and interlock and come in stock and adjustable sizes.

 

Our class decided to try to raise consumer awareness about automotive waste. A huge auto show was coming up soon. We talked the powers that be into letting us have a small space (for free) in the basement of the Jacob Javits Convention Center in NYC, along with several other alternative transportation advocates and inventors of electric and human powered vehicles. For anyone who has never been to one, auto shows are a lot of glitzy over-priced vehicles that go much faster than any speed limits. Scantily clad models with an overabundance of pheromones are objectified to help glamorize and sell cars. Our class produced T-shirts and bumper stickers. We barely sold anything and were regarded as heretics and renegades, but thousands of people got to see our messages. None of us had any regrets.

Bumper Stickers 1

 

Bumper Stickers 2