The Resilient Redwood

An illustration from my book “The Handmade Teardrop Trailer” depicts a young Redwood forest in the coastal mountains of Carmel, Calif. by Matt Berger

Life lessons from the 2,000-year-old Sequoia sempervirens

The giant Redwood trees that grow along the forested California coast are known to survive as long as 2,000 years and grow to heights among the tallest trees in the world. “Majestic,” “towering,” and “mighty” are just a few common adjectives used to describe these trees by anyone who’s camped beneath them, and walked among them (or through them).

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I’m a Polymath, Too!

I want to take a minute to recognize Salman Ansari, who published a fine essay on his newsletter/blog this month titled “The Polymath Playbook,” which goes on to describe the benefits of being a multi-disciplinarian in a world of specialists.

I met Salman when he signed up for a pop-up woodworking class/dinner party I hosted last year in San Francisco. (remember when we could do fun things like that?!)

I have a day job in the Silicon Valley tech industry, but in my spare time I make a business out of my hobbies. In my popular SK8Makers woodworking class, based on my book “The Handmade Skateboard,” I guide students through the process of designing and building a custom skateboard from scratch over the course of 6 hrs/2 days.

Here’s a photo from day-two: Salman helping his classmate Kate drill the truck-holes in her unfinished skateboard deck, while another student Stacey keeps an eye on the angle of her cut.

Making handmade skateboards: A very Polymath thing to do.

It turns out one of the reasons Salman and I got along so well is because like him, I’m a polymath, too!

My entire life I had never heard the term, yet I had been living it in my professional career and personal pursuits. As the son of a scientist and fiber artist, you might say I’m a Polymath by birth.

My resume also illustrates this: print journalist -> magazine editor -> web producer -> digital product manager -> product marketing manager -> enterprise product designer -> relationship manager -> who knows what’s next.

So does my hobby resume: crafter -> welder -> woodworker -> skateboard maker -> recreational vehicle builder -> author -> illustrator -> videographer -> web designer

TBH, I do not find “Polymath” to be a very attractive word for such a Liberal Artsy concept. But I’m fine to retire the terms “Renaissance Man” or “Jack of All Trades” for one that doesn’t ignore all the multitalented non-male Polymaths in the room.

Now excuse me while I take a break between Zoom meeting calls in my handmade home office, and retire to my garage workshop for some hobby time.

The Maker’s Virtuous Cycle

sketchnotes by Matt Berger

I’ve been in the hobby business for a long time and one thing I love about the #maker community is the virtuous cycle most people follow: Curious student —> enthusiastic practitioner—> devoted expert —> teacher.

And they are never afraid to start over to learn a new skill.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in the corporate world is that many people never make it to the teacher stage and hoard their expert knowledge. And they are too afraid to become students again.

April 29, 1992

I was a freshman in high school on March 3, 1991 when Rodney King was beat down by a gang of Los Angeles Police officers and unknowingly caught on video tape. A bystander in an apartment complex across the street captured the police beating with a 15-pound VHS video camera, and then mailed the tape to KTLA-TV where it was broadcast as a Channel 5 exclusive revealing to White America, a reality only known by Black Americans.

These were the days way before citizens cell phone cameras and social media, which allowed for the capture and broadcast this week of another brutal police killings of Minnesota resident George Floyd.

Even as technology changes, police brutality, and the systematic oppression and violence against minorities — most predominantly black men — has not changed.

It is a plague on our country worse than the coronavirus, and it has not gone away.

As a white suburban teenager I’ve watched this virus spread before, and 30 years later the plague has still not gone away. New, young people continue to be infected by it — suffering a disease of white supremacy. New victims die from it every day.

A year after the Rodney King beating, police caught on camera kicking and pummeling were acquitted. It set off protests and riots in Los Angeles and cities across the country, including Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., just a few miles away from my house where I was watching it on TV.

Sublime begins its timeless rally song “April 29, 1992” about the LA Riots with these lyrics:

April 26th, 1992
There was a riot on the streets
Tell me where were you?
You were sittin’ home watchin’ your TV
While I was participating in some anarchy

It’s May 31, 2020 and we can write the same song again. And many of us are still sittin’ home watchin’ our TVs — and Twitter feeds.

What are we going to do so that no other generation has to write this song again?