Blackbirds and making the table live

"Suppose that I am trying to make a table for the blackbirds in my garden. In winter, when the snow is on the ground, and the blackbirds are short of food, I will put food out for them on the table. So I build the table; and dream about the clusters of blackbirds which will come flocking to the table in the snow.

But it is not so easy to build a table that will really work. The birds follow their own laws; and if I don't understand them, they just won't come. If I put the table too low, the birds won't fly down to it, because they don't like to swoop too close to the ground. If it is too high in the air, or too exposed, the wind won't let them settle on it. If it is near a laundry line, blowing in the wind, they will be frightened by the moving line. Most of the places where I put the table actually don't work.

I slowly learn that blackbirds have a million subtle forces guiding them in their behavior. If I don't understand these forces, there is simply nothing I can do to make the table come to life. So long as the placing of the table is inexact, my image of the blackbirds flocked around the table eating, is just wishful thinking. To make the table live, I must take these forces seriously, and place the table in a position which is perfectly exact."

- Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Being, pg. 35

Learning is a Lifestyle

Photo by Fuzzco

Photo by Fuzzco

Two years ago, we sat in a room at Zynga as part of the co.lab accelerator program. We asked big, wild, irresponsible questions. The type of questions you ask as you start to dream, and subsequently try to put into action.

The Apple Watch had just launched and we were in front of a whiteboard with Cameron White, our mentor and friend, charting out the “perfect use case” for a parenting app idea we had. We wanted to figure out who might actually use the app and how they might go about doing it.

Our insecure questions were far reaching and yet somehow oddly singular. They were focused, rather intently, on asking how could we foster and encourage a lifestyle of learning. Basically, we wondered how we could best utilize technology to equip parents with the tools they would need to spend more time with their children.

How could we help parents rediscover the world alongside their children?  

Our ambition was broad in scope and yet rather specific in application. It was to provide helpful and inspirational tips, reaching parents and positively impacting their lives, with resources and outlets for conversation, amidst their daily routines. Essentially, building a place for parents to feel comfortable, reassured and ultimately empowered with their unique brand of parenting. It’s an old adage that we follow closely: there isn’t just one way to do things.

It’s actually always been our philosophy: meeting families needs, where and when those needs arise.

With an idea, and nothing more than a set of intuitions, we set about creating this app for parents. Not just any app, we thought, but rather the app for parents. After all, when you think about where parents get their information, and this is something our research revealed, it feels really scattered and disjointed. Perhaps, a bit like parenting itself can feel like at times. Overwhelming and unsteady.

When we looked really hard, and believe us, we did, there wasn’t a single place parents regularly turned, outside of their families. Most parents, we discovered, get their information primarily from their mother or father, or even their grandparents, who pass down the tricks of the trade.

Others get ideas online, from blogs or forums, or other outlets, searching for like minded philosophies and a band of kindred spirits. While there are small, helpful pockets, there’s isn’t a single, unified place for parents to frequent. At least, not akin to what Facebook is for staying in touch with friends.

We set out to become that place. An online community for parents. A place where parents were empowered. A place where parents were inspired to spend time with their children.

For the past year, we’ve been working on that idea. Refining it. Tweaking it. Perfecting it. Even testing it in the wild, with more than just our family and friends. We’ve nurtured it, from conception to birth, and now it’s time for our idea to go out into the world. We’re a bit nervous, but equally as excited. Perhaps as any parent would be. And like any parent, we have high hopes.

Here’s how we would like to introduce our new app to the world:

Primary is an app for parents with tools to encourage positivity, engagement, and learning. Parents can receive daily, positive parenting tips to their iPhone and Apple Watch - and, we’ll soon be expanding into other platforms too.

One of the really neat features of the app is that we provide weekly activities for parents and children to do together. Ironically, it is our hope that parents use Primary as a tool to put down technology and spend more time with their children. To rediscover the world alongside them. To, as we like to say, rediscover parenting.

Parents can also chat with fellow parents and share ideas, as well as read original articles and inspirational resources from contributors. We only have a few rules: be nice, be helpful and be open.

We believe if we’re going to create the place for parents to want to participate, it has to be positive, which is not to say it can’t be critical, or hard conversations can’t happen, but rather, that when you look at the world with a positive bent, positive things start to happen. Let’s be positive about the joy and business of parenting.

Meet Primary, the only parenting app you’ll ever need. #primarycommunity

Originally published on the Huffington Post.



Building a Community

Photo by COnnor Burtis.

Photo by COnnor Burtis.

I was asked today why we keep Montessorium in South Dakota. I didn’t really have an answer prepared to meet the enthusiasm of the question.  

I think the answer - to why we want to stay where we are or why others chose to stay in their communities - is much simpler than we often make it. 

Building a community is something like a concerted effort towards a shared sense of the betterment of the people in the place in which they find themselves.

Maybe that’s already too complicated.

Building a community is an ongoing dialogue between many different things: people, places, the environment in which they find themselves, institutions, and a multitude of other, less established, but just-as-present influences.

Building has everything to do with attitude.

How we approach things is just as important as us approaching things. Maybe it's a question of desire - of the feeling we have towards what we want to approach.

I'm not trying to make it feel as complicated as it sounds.

The phrase “building a community” is already too prescriptive for what it takes to build things together - especially shared spaces. With the right conditions, I think things can be more organic than they might seem.

That's the rub.

I have the feeling that learning how to engage discoveries no less than hardships - with a certain openness and willingness - is more agile than imposed.

At least, it could be.

Maybe "community" is just about the people. About working together. Having the opportunity to grow with people you come to respect - maybe even love.

Recognizing that I'm lucky enough to be a part of the conversation  - in an incredible "people-place-environment-building-space" - is where I always get tripped up.

I love where I live.

Savage Beauty

There's something extraordinary about the Savage Beauty exhibit. 

In the introduction to Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, published in 1972, Michel Foucault once famously remarked that 'perhaps one day this century will be known as Deleuzian'. 

Alexander McQueen - 

"When I'm dead and gone, people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen."

Despite the hubris, and in spite of the flamboyance, he was on to something.

You feel a sense of vital movement in his couture. Like a wind, steadily blowing in your face, confidently reassuring you of the course, even if it's not readily apparent, and you have to traverse unbeknownst obstacles ahead.

The work is not weighted down by despair or destruction. Rather, it's uplifting, even in its darkness - jarringly so, one would conjecture. It's a wellspring of hope and defiance, a resistance to that which subsumes the death spirals of existence.

"There's no way back for me now. I'm going to take you on journey you've never dreamed possible."

"I oscillate between life and death," says McQueen, like a seasoned ferryman. 

There's a feeling of complete and utter unrest in his work. Of not being satisfied. Of striving. Of always trying to keep on moving, back and forth, until the forth takes us somewhere new.

Movement is a major theme in the retrospective of Alexander McQueen. Nothing is static. It's all trying to get somewhere, even if it doesn't know where. Certainly, McQueen took us to places we never knew we could find.

"You've got to know the rule to break them. That's what I'm here for, to demolish the rules but keep to tradition."


For my birthday, my mother came to visit me in San Francisco. She's quite the connoisseur of food - or, more properly said, a card carrying member of the overly ambitious fine dining club, if such a thing actually exists - and wanted to take me out for a memorable experience.

While I'm always, invariably, intrigued by new adventures, I don't consider myself someone who particularly enjoys lengthy, elaborate, culinary escapades. If offered the choice, and keep in mind it was my birthday, I normally don't partake in such feasts. The extravagance usually overwhelms my infrequent desire to challenge my palette. 

My take-away from the experience, however, was ineradicably positive. From the moment we walked onto the property, the care and meticulousness felt in the courtyard, let alone the atmosphere and ambiance of the tables, was indicative of a level of passion and attention to detail far removed from the pitfalls of ostentatiousness.

Everything, and I literally mean everything, was taken into consideration: the menu, the music, the plates, the water glass, the utensils, the temperature, the wait staff, the the paint, the hand soap - every single detail was a perfectly curated and intricately designed experience. It wasn't pretentiousness, it was something else.

I remember cautiously, nervously, rather awkwardly, taking my new iPhone out of my pocket to set it on the seemingly handcrafted, wooden table. I looked around the room, which wasn't stale, but rather, austerely honest in its posture towards its customers: this is the best dining experience you will ever have, it seemed to beckoned.

What I was drawn to, and what continues to captivate me, was the minimalistic nature of the bounteousness of the environment. Not only was it used to optimize the nourishment and intoxication of the cuisine, but it was also used to orchestrate, or more profoundly, set the tone for the creation of an event.  

I realized, as I tried to absorb the experience, and later reflect upon the understated nature of my enjoyment, just how easy it is to participate in the democratic character of a well-designed experience. You're carried away by the subtleties of quality. The iPhone, for instance, didn't feel out of place, in this insanely-well-crafted-experience. 

If only the price was more reflective of the catholicism. 

Thank you, Mom.