You don’t look like a fan.

Fan encounter with Neil GaimanLast night I took my daughter-in-law to a Sydney Writer’s Festival event featuring Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and Tara Moss. As we waited in line for the theatre to open the young lady in front of us looked at me, and said

‘You don’t look like an Amanda Palmer fan.’

Well, what the Hell does a fan look like at these events?

Am I too old, too straight, too conservative to be a fan? Fucked if I know, I certainly had more life experience than most of the crowd, and arrived casually well dressed but so what? I grew up in the Seventies, and Punk played an important part in my development through the idea we do not have to conform to every social norm or expectation to be a part of society.

Alright I never quite bought into the anarchist level of Punk, and joining the military at 17 meant I accepted a certain level of conformity in my life. But I didn’t need a uniform to be a Punk, it is an attitude, one I applied liberally within the military to champion ideas outside the mainstream.

In standard psychological testing I have an unusually high score in the fantasy areas. Whilst the other results are consistent with typical outcomes for military leaders, fantasy is usually quite low amongst my colleagues.

I discussed this outcome with the psychologist, and I told him about my love of art, science fiction and my generally geeky/punk outlook on life. He did not see it as a negative, just one of those outliers that occasionally pop up in standardised testing.

Personally I take great pride in my ability to see things differently to my peers, friends and family even if I ultimately choose to support a conservative position. My Punk attitude means I focus on outcomes rather than how I look during development of an idea or working to complete a project.

Western society, maybe society in general, is quick to corral people into groups; conservatives, liberals, punks, bums, heroes and a thousand other labels. I rarely find any of them adequately describe an individual let alone any group of people.

I have an increasingly diverse group of sometimes conflicting and competing ideals, concepts and values. My dress and grooming habits evolve but rarely do they reflect my level of love or dedication to a movement, artist or idea. I’m just a bloke who likes a varied and eclectic range of things, and this makes me happy. It’s just me, and I don’t need a uniform to be me.

A Manifesto for Life

Maddog Manifesto 2.0What is a personal manifesto?

A manifesto is a statement of ideals and goals to guide a person, organisation or culture to a better future. It can be as complex as the Koran or as simple as the United States Declaration of Independence. They are often a rebellious call to action because they show people the disparity from their current reality and a better future.

The best manifestos provoke change, challenge convention and generate a commitment to change in their target audience. The Declaration of Independence is a simple document, yet its words reverberate through every aspect of American society and culture.

A personal manifesto is simply your own call to action to live a better life or create a better future for you and those closest to you.

Why write a personal manifesto?

Self improvement is a lifelong pursuit for almost everyone although we mostly do it unconsciously through repetition and practice, it is a fundamental part of what makes human beings a unique species on this planet. Successful self improvement must be consistent with your values and principles.

My own attempts at self improvement often failed because I followed the latest fad rather than a plan to address my own ideals and aspirations. In recent years I focused my effort on obtaining a Command in the Air Force. All my energy went into finding a position to get me noticed by the selection board. During an extended vacation I realised my desire for Command reflected my perception of success as a military professional rather than a step along the road to the person I really wanted to become in the future. I had a plan but it ignored my personal values, goals and philosophy. I decided I needed a personal call to arms to guide my decisions and keep me focused on the better future of my dreams. A personal manifesto.

Many people view a personal manifesto as pretentious but every January we fill the air with our resolutions to loose weight, stop smoking or be a better parent/spouse/friend. Those resolutions are really just a simple form of manifesto but unrecorded and soon forgotten. By writing a simple call to action, and displaying it prominently in your home, office or sanctuary you will soon find yourself being guided subconsciously by those ideals. My own manifesto led me to retire from the military, and focus on creative endeavors like this blog and I could not be happier.

How to write a personal manifesto.

While a personal manifesto may take the form of a long manuscript, I believe simplicity makes it easier to envisage your future. I chose four themes; time management, learning, travel and simplicity.

Next I wrote down what these themes meant to me, developed goals to achieve them and over time refined these ideas into the eight goals and affirmations you see above under each red thematic statement. They guidelines, rather than rigid rules, to keep me heading in the right direction.

I put aside the original rough draft for a few weeks before rereading and refining my manifesto into the document reproduced above.

A printed copy sits prominently next to my desk, and I often find myself reflecting on those words.

I review the manifesto every year, and continue to refine my goals but the basic themes have never changed for me.

As a result I am living the life I imagined but never seemed able to obtain without the guidance this simple document provided me.


Making a Leather Pen Case

Leather Pen Case8The gift of a new pen (Thanks Liam, Lola & Lamb) inspired me to make a pen case to hold it and the fountain pen I received as a retirement gift. Here’s how I approached this project.

A simple design.

Every project begins with a period of contemplation to sort through ideas and search for inspiration. For this project I knew I wanted a leather case, and a bag of scrap leather recently liberated from Mum’s crafting supplies (Thanks Mum) provided the raw material. All I needed was a pattern to start making it.

Leather Pen Case1

I prefer simple designs, the case must protect the pens but remain small enough to fit in my pocket. I grabbed a piece of nubuck leather, and as I thought about the design started folding it into rough shapes. I quickly honed in on a simple three fold pattern, a rectangle folded up to form a pouch for the pens with a flap to close over them.

Leather Pen Case2

Sewing the leather.

The soft nubuck leather allowed me to use my wife’s sewing machine to sew the three straight lines to form the pouches. Transitioning from two thicknesses to three where the strap is attached proved to be a little finicky. We had to lift the sewing machine foot to get the strap under but then the machine happily worked away to complete the stitching.

I tapered the flap to fit under the strap, and the build was complete in a little over an hour.

Leather Pen Case4
Be prepared to fail.

Failure is always be an option when making something, particularly when developing new skills. My maker idol, Adam Savage, is steadfast in his belief that we learn more from our failures than our successes. He encourages makers to build prototypes out of cheaper materials like paper and cardboard before tackling the final product. Even a simple project like this one can benefit from prototyping.

I planned to build a paper model first but I decided to just dive straight into the final product. As a result, I only discovered an error in my pattern after I finished the sewing. I wanted the smallest possible case for two pens but my conservative pattern was too wide, and just looked wrong in my hand.

Luckily I could correct this mistake without a complete rebuild by resewing the outer edges to give the case a slimmer profile.

I am really pleased with the final product and it feels good in my hand.

Leather Pen Case7
Making vs Buying

I looked for pen cases in the shops, and they typically cost $50-$100 for a simple leather model. While speciality stores displayed beautifully crafted items I found taking the time to make my own case a joyful experience. It gave me a sense of achievement that buying stuff can never emulate, and I started me thinking about other leather work projects.

It feels good to be a maker of things.

2015: Making Things

Camp Lehigh Flag: Captain America
Camp Lehigh Flag: Captain America

2014: A year of change

In 2014 I retired from the military, moved into an inner city apartment and generally disrupted almost every aspect of my life. At times the stress on me and my wife rose above our comfort level but we love our new life and the freedom it provides us to pursue old and new interests.

Making Things in 2015

I want to be a maker of things, and this year I plan to explore a variety of activities and make things to share with friends, family and the world. Last year I built a replica of Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber prop from Star Wars, and the Camp Lehigh flag (pictured above) from Captain America. I found turning the raw materials into these beautiful artifacts a deeply satisfying experience. I mean we have these dexterous hands for a reason right, and it’s not to play video games or channel surf the television.

Luke's Lightsaber: Replica Prop
Luke’s Lightsaber: Replica Prop

So I am going to make physical objects at least once or twice a month in 2015. I have several paper and metal model kits bought in Japan, and a growing list of prop replicas to fill out a year of making. I also have several home improvement projects to complete, starting with a sliding cabinet next to our refrigerator for some of Colleen’s craft materials.

Side Table made with found objects.
Side Table made with found objects.

Apartment living imposes limitations on the projects I can undertake without upsetting our neighbors. For example I need to keep the dust confined to our apartment, and noise to a minimum but this fits with my skill level and preference for hand tools.

Writing a book

I set out to write a memoir in 2014 but fell well short of my goal. Writing the 70 to 100 thousand words required to fill even a modest book is daunting for a novice writer. So this year I will focus on writing 2000 words each week, and see if I have a story worth publishing in 2016.

I tend to get bored with a single project so it’s important I create other publications in 2015. This blog provides me an outlet for writing on any topic I choose, and a place to experiment with style and content for my other projects. I also plan to write a few zines.

In 2015, I will release four limited edition zines with the first one available by March. Each zine will be handmade, individually numbered and signed by myself. The goal is to make a thing, not a perfect thing but an interesting thing and release it to the world. While I hope to make a little money, the main goal is to learn and grow from the experience.

Digital Things

I will release a digital copy of each zine for everyone to download, read and enjoy after the print edition is sold. I will leave it to you to determine their value. Your feedback is more important than your cash but feel free to send cash if you value the content.

Last week I listened to a reboot of Wil Wheaton’s Radio Free Burrito podcast. He wanted to make a thing (his words) and release it. He knew it contained content and production flaws but he thought it was more important to put it out there and then improve his thing with the audience.

It made me think about doing my own audio series, and I have an idea for a companion to my memoir. So I’ll do as Wil did, grab some tools make a podcast and put it out there for everyone. This is a new endevour for me, and digital things are no less challenging to make than physical things but the goal is to learn by making something.

Makers are never bored with life.

I wish I had a dollar for everyone who asked if I was bored in retirement. Most people think retirement is like putting a horse out to pasture. Your useful life must be over, and many retired people share this opinion. I have never been busier, and the list of projects grows every day.

I spend a couple of months a year in uniform to supplement our income but most of my time is spent making things. I didn’t really retire, I just transitioned to a new creative life, a maker’s life and the opportunities are endlessly interesting.

So, what are you going to make in 2015?