Today I have the pleasure of asking someone I actually know 20 Questions. Joel Wisneski used to work where I am currently, but moved on to another position at another company. I really enjoyed working with and chatting with Joel and even continue to have intermittent text message conversations with him.
Joel - I’m going to stop you right there, intermittent? I spent like an hour summarizing 80’s movies in one line or less the other day. We talk several days a week. If that’s not moderately, I don’t know what is.
Good point. We do text more than typical. We do not text each other individually much. Our text conversations are more than often in a group text. You usually kill the conversation with an Archer gif. That being said, all I really know about you is that you like whiskey and are generally misanthropic in your disposition.
Joel - I prefer to think of it as “optimistic nihilism”.
So, without further ado, let’s do this… 20 Questions with Joel Wisneski.
So… you know the deal. My past career was in mapping and I love stories of place. So if my story is that I was born outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Then the fam moved to Montgomery, AL and then to Birmingham, AL. I stayed there through high school and then went to college in Northeast Ohio and finally moved to Columbus, OH for grad school, marriage, and to stay. So, Question 1: What’s your geographic story.
Joel - Since all of my fake backstories were rejected, I guess I’ll lay out the real one. I grew up in Northwest Indiana, not-so-affectionately referred to as “The Region”, which means the part of Indiana that is in the central time zone and gets Chicago news. My parents grew up in the same area as the Jackson 5. I spent a ton of time in Chicago during those early years. It’s actually kind of amazing that, before I could drive, my parents trusted me to take a train for an hour and hang out in the city by myself with no questions. Times change, man.
My parents still live in the same area but I moved to Bloomington, Indiana for college. It’s about an hour south of Indianapolis. I was in college for 6 years (two degrees, I’m not that much of a slacker). About the time I finished my undergrad I decided I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I definitely didn’t want to code (an obvious career path for my degree) so I stayed for grad school and now I design apps and websites.
I spent a summer internship in Indy, I lived with a couple friends who were also interning. We had no cable, no internet, no furniture, just half a duplex on the northside of downtown.
After grad school I went to Milwaukee for my first job, I moved to Columbus, where we met, and now I’m back in Milwaukee for a while. I generally like it up here, despite the cold. Milwaukee is more dense, more gritty and less landlocked than Columbus or Indy.
Knowing me, I’m sure you would be surprised if I didn’t mention New York in all of this. It’s never not an option but I’m getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, so I can make the most of that. I’ll leave the rest for an inevitable follow up later. I’m familiar with the format.
If you love NYC so much Question 2: Why not move to New York City? I hear, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Joel - Would also accept “if you love New York (it’s just New York) so much, why don’t you marry it?”
it is tough to make it there.
Even in a field like ours, which has exploded over the last 10 years, the amount of talent, not necessarily good talent but present talent, there is a huge barrier to entry for anyone looking to break into the city. New York, like me, has absolutely no patience.
I, like a lot of people, have spent a lot of time looking ahead to what’s next. I moved back to Milwaukee with the intention of staying here for a few years and actually being present in my own life, maybe for the first time. I’m going out and I don’t assume this is my last week here. I’m just here.
There’s a good chance that when I move there, I will not ever live anywhere else and I want to make sure I get all the other experiences in first. Milwaukee is a cool city and it’s fun and it’s cheap so I can pay off my huge (seriously, massive) student loan debts early and still go out and do things.
I also wanted to be okay with me. The experiences that we have, the people we meet, the things we do, they shape who we are. Up to this point I’ve been a kind of a follower, someone else finds the cool place to go or instigates some ridiculous situation and the story is “my buddy did this”. The past few months have been different. I’m the one with a crazy story about what I did, or a side gig or bar recommendation. I’m the one bringing strangers into the conversation and socializing and city hopping on a whim.
I live an interesting life.
Heads up, most of those stories are NSFW so let’s keep those to text groups haha!
Taking control is an amazing thing. It is a thing most people don’t do.
Hell, I am not even sure if I am the main protagonist in my story. I have ceded that role to others very easily because I have no idea what I really want to do with myself. Right now I am trying to get my shit together and actually figure out how to want things for myself as well as being able to care for others. Honestly, last year had you asked me what makes me happy, I would have said doing something for my wife or for the kids. “Seeing the kids eat and enjoy a meal I made.” “Giving Tuesday the opportunity to take a solo vacation.” Things like that, but that was because I am completely and wholly incapable to determine anything I want. To “survive” (strong word here to be sure) in the house I grew up in, it was best for me not to ever want anything and if I did want something, not to allow myself to say that out loud or act upon it. So, now I do not know what I want and I do not know how to figure that out. Hell, when I am sans kids now in my divorced life and completely on my own, I crowdsource for ideas to have for dinner BECAUSE I DON’T AND CAN’T KNOW WHAT I WANT (full disclosure, it is usually tacos v chinese I can narrow down food choices. I’m not a monster.).
Joel: No judgement here, dinner is so hard to decide on most of the time. There’s so much good food in the world. I’ve been on a chicken salad kick lately (it’s tough to live somewhere that routinely drops to negative double digits and keep your figure) so it ends up being which spices I want to throw on my chicken tonight. It still ends up being predominantly mexican vs chinese spices. Choices are tough but my mom once told me, “the best thing I can do for you is let you make your own mistakes” and I live by that every day.
It’s never too late for an adventure.
So, I like cheesecake and might make one for myself this week before I get the kids back. Which leads to….
Question 3: Cake or Pie? Which specific kind and why?
Joel: Somehow this is a really hard question. I do have one specific cake that I love, it’s in the frozen food section of most grocery stores. I think it’s the “layer cake” from Pepperidge Farm, something like that, I’d know it if I saw it.
My mom used to buy it, she loved (I think she still does love) those things. So every once in a while she’d come home with one and that thing would be gone soooooooo fast. I rarely get one but it’s always a mix of nostalgia and just plain gluttony because I live alone and it’s a whole freaking cake.
I would support you in your cheesecake endeavor. #treatYoSelf
I know of this cake you speak of, but I don’t think I have ever eaten any of it. I do love that one of the reasons that you love it is a sense of nostalgia. As I have stated in other 20 Questions, my mom did cake decorating as a side gig while I was growing up. It kind of ruined me for cakes.
I imagine you see this cake in the freezer aisle of the grocery store every time you go in there, yet you do not purchase it. Question 4: What is a food that you cannot help yourself around? What food, if you see it, simply must be consumed?
Joel: Actually I see it, think “should I?” and then sigh and walk away. It’s tough sometimes.
Funny enough, I was actually back visiting my parents and brother (nephew’s birthday) this past weekend. I usually try to stay about 3 - 4 days so I can make my rounds. Chicago is known for its mainstream pizza culture but Northwest Indiana has some really great pizzas.
(Dear reader, please read the next few passages in Bill Hader’s Stefon voice)
Yes, yes, yes, yes...
Gelsosomos, while a bit pricey, has a very thin, kind of flakey crust and a sweeter sauce (I think they put some sugar in it) and then it’s topped with a 4 - 5 cheese blend. Love it!
Cappos (formerly Broncos) fulfills all your bowling alley pizza fantasies. They top the pizza with an overwhelming amount of cheese and cut it in long rectangles. Toppings are in the sauce, just below the cheese so it keeps everything intact.
Finally, Schoops is an old timey diner serving mostly american fare. They have what others may know as a “smash burger”. They take a ball of meat (beef, hopefully but it delicious so I don’t really care), put it on a stainless steel griddle and smash the ever-living-crap out of the sides. What you get is a fairly thin burger, the edges are delectably crispy, paper thin pieces of heaven. The kicker is that the burger is probably about twice as wide as your standard cheeseburger. No idea where they get the buns, but they’re huge.
(That’s all for the Stefon-ness. A sincere thank you if you indulged me)
It really is tough to go back and not get at least one or two of those but it requires some expert scheduling, which is not my thing. I just kind of float through life and constantly improvise.
Firstly, I don’t think anyone indulged you in the Stefon thing. Maybe someone did, but I didn’t.
Secondly, Interesting non answer. For me, it was doughnuts, but it is cheddar and sour cream potato chips. I never would have picked you for a pizza guy. There was a pizza place from when I was in college that I miss greatly… but honestly, with this gluten thing, I miss all pizzas. Gluten Free pizzas are not great.
Joel: Technically it was three non-answers but fine. Pizza. Are you happy, now? You want me to answer everything in one word? That would be so very boring.
I am happy now. Was that so hard? Thank you.
Question 5: So, you are super familiar with the Chicago pizza scene, and you are enamored of the New York City…. What are your thoughts of New York style pizza when you are knowledgeable of the Chicago pizza landscape (Yes, I know you were not speaking of Chicago deep dish)?
Joel: I am familiar with Chicago deep dish. It’ll always have a slightly nostalgic place in my heart but honestly I can’t remember the last time I had a deep dish pizza. Now, the thing is, New York style pizza is made for New Yorkers. They have A) no time because they’re already late B) no patience because A and C) no money because rent is $2500+ for a studio apartment. The toppings are proportioned fairly, the grease is (generally) kept to a reasonable level and the size is perfect so you can fold it and walk (briskly) to the subway. All that for a meager $1, even in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. and you’re never more than a couple blocks away from a great pizza place.
I have a lot of respect for that.
You look at Chicago Deep Dish on the other hand it’s nearly impossible to eat it either without utensils or without getting sauce on you. Bob might correct me but I don’t think anywhere sells deep dish pizza by the slice. That’s fine but it means you automatically have to make time to sit down and get that specific pizza. I don’t really pride myself on the whole “having time for stuff” thing so that’s a difficult first step.
I guess one might say convenience is a key factor in my pizza purchases. How millennial of me…
I will incur the ire of some people by saying this but Chicago Deep Dish is a casserole and is not pizza. There. I said it. It REQUIRES utensils so it is not pizza.
I do love me some New York style pizza. It is significantly better than the central ohio cracker with sauce and cheese on it crap. Donatos can go straight to hell. Alas and alak, as I stated before (and probably will again) I can no longer partake of the finer side of pizza due to my gluten intolerance thing. It gets in the way so much.
So, you brought it up, but you are a Millenial to my Gen X. I have my read on Millenials that I will get into in just a bit, but Question 6: how would you describe a Millennial?
Joel: Well that’s a fair question. I actually grew up with my brother and sister who were both almost 10 years older than me. I hung out with their friends (when I could tag along), I played their video games and I listened to their music. In a lot of ways I don’t really identify as a Millennial even if I am, technically.
For me, part of it is the older generation talking about the golden age and those damn kids with their boombity boombity music. This happens with every generation, it’s just sort of a natural course of life. I know I’ve been on the giving end of some comments about how music, movies, sports, etc. just aren’t what they used to be. Sometimes not ironically.
I think another part is that this generation seems to be more wide eyed and bushy tailed than past generations. There’s a ton of sources of that, the rise of social media and connectivity definitely play a role in the idea that someone’s life can be “perfect” and the disappointment that our life is not that way.
What I wish it meant was the generation that finally got serious about social and ecological issues. I think what’s happening with inclusion of other cultures, the willingness to ask why everyone shouldn’t expect affordable health care or a clean Earth or a safe school is huge. There’s been so much social change in the past few years, we’ve got a long way to go but so many of these issues are becoming mainstream. It’s been really exciting to watch AOC (Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Representative from the Bronx/Queens, NY) because we’re the same age and she’s fighting for so many things I believe in and doing it with so much passion and transparency. That’s the upside of social media and connectivity.
Meanwhile, I draw pictures for a living.
 Coffee tangent: By the way, since I’m a city person and eventually I’ll be old, I’m convinced someday I’ll be yelling at kids to get off my sidewalk. My friend calls it “Chronic Old Man Behavior” or COMB.
 Coffee tangent: South Park covered this really, really well in an episode called “You’re getting old”. It involves one of the characters turning 11 and everything looks, smells and tastes like shit. Literal shit. I watch that one every year on my birthday along with an episode of Futurama, “The Late Phillip J. Fry”, where The Professor invents a time machine that can only move forward in time. It ends with hilarious results.
I love that Boomers and Gen X make fun of the “lazy Millenials”, because Gen X is the OG slackers and the Boomers forget they were Hippies because of all the drugs they took.
Generational behavior all has to do with amount of responsibility and amount of disposable income. Low responsibility with any disposable income equals “lazy” and everyone who call them lazy are just jealous. I feel bad for Gen Y and Gen Z because of the Gen X political inactivity (our generation seems like it was focused on work/life more than societal issues) Y and Z are having to be politically active and engaged waaaay earlier and they are not being allowed to have a childhood. The activism of the current highschoolers is necessary because of the inactivity of the generation in power. Climate change and gun violence are their issues because we couldn’t be bothered.
Side Note: You are adorable with your consumption of Gen X cartoons on your birthday… adorable.
I love how the Boomers and Gen X have framed the environmental debate as something that is an individual choice issue and the fault of the individual. “We are in this predicament because you consumers like plastic straws and grocery bags.” Don’t get me wrong, we should not use plastic straws or bags nearly as much as we do, but our straw/bag consumption pales in comparison to the emissions of our industrial economy. Yes, re-using grocery bags is a way we, as individuals, can be ecologically minded, but legislating environmental reforms for manufacturing and businesses is where large scale change can occur. hmmmm … that was a weird insertion on my part. Not sure where exactly I was going with that. Maybe we should steer away from depressing topics.
Joel: Well I think I found something you can relate to. I’m just glad to know I’m not the only one writing multiple paragraphs in this little interview.
I’m really interested to see where the environmental reform goes but we sure are running out of time...
Knowing how much you love the urban life, Question 7: What non-urban setting do you enjoy the most? I love me some mountains.
Joel: You know, it’s funny (I’m genuinely laughing right now) because that’s a really tough. The reason it’s funny, and I will get to an answer, is that I had a person in my life who was convinced this whole city thing was a phase, which is not how that works. At one point she told me to get it out of my system so I could move out to the suburbs with her.
I’m really enjoying writing this in my loft apartment in a reclaimed warehouse.
Anyway. It’s tough to answer that because I think most people go to nature to relax and recharge and clear their mind. That’s what happens when I’m surrounded by traffic and construction and people all around me rushing to get somewhere, people hustling and the imposing presence of skyscrapers. Somehow that’s all so very calming to me.
That being said, I took a couple weeks off between jobs and went to Hawaii. The first week was with family in a resort and the second week I rented a car, got a hotel and just hung out by myself. It was great. Again, spent a lot of time in downtown Honolulu but during the day I drove up to the North Shore to watch some surfers and I floated around in the ocean for a bit. So, the beach might be a pretty good front runner here.
I did spend some time driving west on the H1 which takes you around the side of a mountain (volcano, technically). The problem was it was dusk so by the time I got out to the more remote part of Oahu it was pitch black and I was driving with a mountain (volcano) on one side and a 100 foot drop into the ocean on the other side. Needless to say that was terrifying. Heights terrify me.
You had mentioned the heights thing in a previous conversation where you had hung a picture relatively high up on your loft wall.. I was pretty sure it was going to be beach and not mountains because of that. I find your choice of urban setting interesting because so much of the urban landscape requires going up. When a place runs out of space, they go vertical. That being said, being drawn to an urban setting is a perfectly valid thing.
Joel: I think that’s a lot of what draws me to it. There’s a certain social and ecological responsibility with the efficiency required to sustain a huge city. Plus when you start building on an island or peninsula you have to start getting creative about using space.
Question 8: Other than NYC, are there any other large urban areas you want to visit/live in? Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Mumbai, London?
Joel: I had a chance to go to Paris years ago, I think that was the catalyst for my whole “I need this level of culture, population density and diversity in my life” thing. I’m sure that’s also why I gravitate toward the east coast, when New York and Boston popped up there wasn’t really American urban planning like L.A. or, more recently, Austin. I like Chicago since it’s sort of a hybrid of the old and new worlds of urban planning.
Coffee tangents, man. Right. Anyway.
I love Munich, it’s such a beautiful city. It’s clean, it’s easy to get around and everyone is so polite. Even without speaking German, you can get by and people are very patient if you put forth just a little effort.
I’ve heard great things about Mexico city, admittedly the most I’ve been exposed to it is the most recent James Bond film, Spectre.
Berlin would be really interesting, again I’ve heard great things. Apparently James McAvoy “Fucking loves Berlin!” - I really enjoyed Atomic Blonde, it was a really fun movie to watch -
Hong Kong would be really interesting, it seems like there’s a line for me where it’s just too much density and I think some of the East Asian cities are playing jump rope with that line but I’m really excited to see if that’s true.
I travel by myself a lot (it’s amazing, I think everyone should try it) but that’s mostly in the U.S. International cities are little harder, particularly if, like me, you don’t speak a lot of the languages. Plus spending 12+ hours on a flight kinda sucks.
Right now I don’t really have any plans. I want to get out to Boston to see a buddy of mine. I was thinking about doing an East Coast tour. Boston, train it down to New York, maybe Philly for another friend, D.C. and then Richmond to see my sister. My buddy in MIlwaukee is a D.J. and I, apparently, have become his tour manager so I think we’ll have some shows coming up for that too.
I have never been to Paris. I have been to London and Munich though. I did very much like Munich. You can get very far in Munich with “Ein brat und ein bier, bitte” and “Danke” when your beer and bratwurst arrive. You do not get nearly as far knowing “Es liegt im straßengraben.” The phrasebook Glen and I had did not help with that one. I think some of the more asian megalopolises seem like they would be much more fun to see than to actually go to. The mere concept of Tokyo is daunting. I would like to get back to Edinburgh, so I guess I can do some solo travel in the next few years.
Joel: The beer is so much better in Germany. I know you can’t partake but it ruined my taste for beer because the stuff here just can’t match up. Highly recommend the solo travels, it’s kind of like the ultimate self-gratification. You can go where ever you want, do whatever you want and when you’re done you’re done. I think a lot of people find travel stressful for that reason and if you allow a buffer of time and just sort of go with it, by yourself, that stress is gone.
You should embrace the tour managerness and become a promoter as well. Let us know who is the DJ and how can people follow this person?
Joel: Good call! I’m not great with shameless promotion. Jason Bay @jasonbay for you Instagrammers is my DJ buddy. He’s launching a music label called Our Love Affair, ourloveaffair.us and I’m working on the website (that I hope will be done by the time this comes out).
Question 9: Is house music really your thing? What music do you gravitate towards? You don’t seem like house/dj would be your thang.
Joel: I grew up skateboarding (still do) and punk rock was all the rage with those damn skaters.
Joel: yeah… as I was saying, actually I was watching a really great video about the evolution of punk rock and how the kids that grew up with bands like blink-182, Taking Back Sunday and NOFX (pronounced no-f-x) ended up with a deep appreciation for, what is now, Indie music. That’s definitely true for me, my daily playlist is a hipster’s dream. It’s also 230 songs that are just constantly on shuffle.
In the past couple years, some of the DJ/remixing work has been bleeding into Indie music as well. Phantogram, by far my favorite band, does a combination of sampling with more traditional keyboard, vocal, guitar, drum music. Samples, in House and in their music, are like another instrument and that’s super intriguing. It’s even better for someone like me, I’ve always played music but I’ve never had a tight knit group of people that I really like playing with. If you get creative about sampling and layering pre-recorded work (yours or someone else’s) you can still make original music.
I don’t really listen to house all that much, some Daft Punk and Prodigy which are kind of House-Lite. I started playing guitar when I was 10 (have I mentioned my parents desperately tried to find creative outlets for me as a child?) and I grew up right on the cusp of when computers in every home were normal so as part of my musical journey I ended up with recording software. I have a deep appreciation for anyone who can mix that stuff because it is TOUGH!
My buddy, Jayson, and I ended up meeting because he bartending at the time. He mentioned the label and the website and we started talking about it from there. He’s a cool dude, I have a knack for web design, we might end up with some spare cash and, really, how many people do you know that helped launch a music label?
A lot of the things in my life happen like that. It’s a combination of right place right time and I think this will be an interesting story. I’ve been told I have the New York hustle with my numerous random side gigs.
Sadly, I don’t know that having side gigs make you a New York Hustler as much as it re-enforces the fact that we are now in a gig economy. Hell, I have a side gig as a cartographer still. You have already been fairly introspective, so I am interested to see where this one goes.
Joel: If only. I’ve been fortunate enough to find some things that I like and then found out that I can monetize them without selling my soul.
I feel like introspection is my thing, plus there’s an implicit agreement when you answer questions like this. I could give you one word answers or something very straightforward but that’s no fun to read. Plus it’s kinda cathartic.
Question 10: Fill in the blanks: Others find that I am mostly ________. I find that I am mostly ___________.
Joel: I think others find that I’m mostly normal. I find that I’m mostly erratic.
I’m really good at hiding the craziness that’s just below the surface.
Interesting. I love it when a person’s perception of themselves is very different than how others perceive them or they think others perceive them.
Question 11: Why do you think your perception of yourself is so different with how you feel others perceive you?
Joel: I think it’s an interesting look into a person’s views about the world. Mine’s interesting, I feel like the more people get to know me, the more crazy people think I am.
Over the past few years I’ve found myself putting forth very little effort to be liked. I’ll be for the most part polite but I tend to not really go out of my way to impress people unless I’ve had some extra coffee.
So that’s part of it. I also hang out with a motley crew of people (not the band, fortunately). There’s a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds and life experiences and I end up hopping between the groups they end up in. That being said, I hang out with a lot of artists and creatives (which, duh) so I think that’s part of my view. Design is a far more mainstream creative profession than most and that’s an interesting dichotomy that’s been part of my life for a long time.
I think we all have versions of our “selves” that present differently than our intention or even our own personal view. I think you are being a little hard on yourself concerning the getting to know you means realizing how crazy you are. Most people I know consider everyone crazy at some level and the getting to know the person just helps categorize the crazy.
Here comes the most naval gazey of simplistic questions I ever ask. Question 12: Are you happy?
Joel: The simplest questions are the toughest to answer. I hesitate to say a flat “yes” but I’m definitely much happier than I was a year or two ago. You were there for some of that. There’s something to be said about “growing up” or whatever you want to call it. I know who I am now much more than I did a few years ago and that makes for a lot less uncertainty.
I feel like I have my shit together. I have a job, an apartment and a plan to pay off my student loans. My car…. works… most of the time. I can make time for things that I enjoy like drawing and playing guitar. I’ve cut out a lot of stuff that I don’t care about, I barely watch TV anymore (I’m actually watching/listening to music videos while I type this), I don’t have Netflix, Hulu or cable. I’m much more intentional about the things and the people in my life than I was in my early to mid 20’s.
The reason I hesitate to just say yes is that I don’t want to be (or am mentally not capable of being) complacent. It’s like the personal achievement version of not being able to sit still. I want to be the best version me that I can be and I push myself almost everyday to do something better or learn or make some kind of progress toward some kind of personal growth. All the hobbies and crippling coffee addiction start to make sense now, huh?
Your radical shift in hobbies and addiction to coffee make no sense and probably never will. I’ve just come to accept that.
I think you might be overlooking that happy is not a destination, it is an attribute for your travels. One does not arrive at happy after having not been, one merely is more happy for a bit than they were before. You can be happy and not feel complacent. I love that you seem mostly happy, your time in Columbus seemed to be fraught with existential crisis. You needed to get out of this town and do something else. The fact that this move has allowed you to increase your amount of happy you are taking with you is really a great thing.
Joel: It really was. I always used to say that town wasn’t big enough for the one of me but there were like 30 things going on all at once and none them were what the average person would call “good”. I do appreciate the support.
Question 13: Any superstitions or rituals in your life?
Joel: Tons. And I will list them out in increasing order of perceived absurdity (by the way, this has been edited down significantly).
I drink a coffee every single morning, with rare exceptions. I drink one almost every night too. Our group at work sits down around 3 to have one and kind of debrief for the day, if that doesn’t happen I go to a coffee shop and work or read for a little while after work.
That’s an addiction.
I stretch every morning and every weekday morning I do a set of push ups and crunches. I don’t do a crazy workout so I just use the weekends as rest periods.
I should be doing that as well, the doggos don’t like me doing things on the floor (and I’m lazy).
I have a reminder on my phone every Thursday to draw. Usually these take the form of 18x24 inch portraits or cityscapes and I bought a (now heavily used) drawing board when I moved to Milwaukee for just this purpose.
I had a drawing practice for a few years. Everyday I would do a full color 3 x 5 index card drawing. I need to go back and start that up, but I need to finish the book up first.
I always sleep with a fan on. This is less a superstition and more a necessity from years of playing guitars with very loud amplifiers in very small spaces. My ears ring like crazy so I almost always have music playing. I had a moment when I watched “Baby Driver”.
Fan sleeping is a must for me. The air in my bedroom needs to be moving. I don’t need the noise as much as I need the movement.
I always clean my apartment before traveling for a couple days and tidy up before I go to work. It’s nice coming home to a clean place.
I used to do this until I had kids… now I just run in superstitious fear.
I carry a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. I actually just bought a really nice, refillable, leather sketchbook that fits in my back pocket. I feel like no matter where you are, if you’re drawing something you look like you belong more than any other person. There’s probably a few exceptions there but it’s definitely a conversation starter.
More drawing is good.
My family has an unofficial Christmas card contest every year. Not for the most heartfelt but rather, the funniest. These often end up on the side of offensive but the humor is strong in my family.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
My dad and I always work on cars or the house or something when I go back to visit. It used to be out of necessity (hunk of junk doesn’t even begin to describe my car, it’s almost as reliable as the Millenium Falcon) but I think it turned into doing it because we both enjoy it.
Father son bonding is always good.
We also play board games during the holiday. Which is funny, growing up my mom would always see me sketching or working on something and I think she assumed I was bored so she’d say “wanna play Yahtzee?” I would universally decline because I was a little asshole. So I’m really glad that we get to do that now and I’m not living my life in constant regret, thinking, I wish I just once said “Yes, mom. Let’s play Yahtzee”.
You need to expand your boardgames. Might I suggest adding card games to the options. My favorite family card game is Exploding Kittens.
Every year after Thanksgiving, since high school, my mom and I make turkey tacos with the leftovers. For context, her side of the family is Mexican (literally, my grandfather is from Guadalajara, Mexico. He came over the border in 1914). We both had a moment when we watched “Coco”.
I like tacos, but I am not keen on Turkey. So turkey tacos, might be okay, but most likely not.
My grandma on my mom’s side passed away when I was in High School, that was a really tough one for all of us. I wear a small angel that I got (all of the grandkids, actually got them) from her funeral on one of my favorite jackets and I have a cross on my keys for that reason. I’m not a practicing Catholic and I shy away from religious symbology but I made an exception for that one.
I have a small cross that is in my computer bag, but I don’t believe in those people’s nailed god of their death cult. Don’t @ me.
I will only use Strathmore 9x12 inch sketchbooks for work and general sketching purposes. My first design manager got one for me and, after a month and a half, when I filled all 100 pages (front and back) she gave me a second one. I think I’m on number 14 now.
Pics or it didn’t happen?
I wear a bracelet on both wrists. My right wrist is Tiger Eye spheres with a single white Halite sphere. The Halite is always on the bottom. I bought that one in Hawaii, it was made by locals with stones from the Philippines. My left wrist has a variety of stones representing each of the planets in the universe. Jupiter and Saturn are always on top. This one has a lot more meaning, as you know, but I’m not quite ready to share plans for that artwork just yet. I try to leave these out, in cold water, under full moons as that is good for the “energy” of the stone.
Do you even increase your vibrations, bro?
When eating lunch or dinner in front of a TV I always find “the right” thing to watch before taking a bite. I stopped eating and watching something on a TV because my food would get slightly cold because of this.
“Right” is so arbitrary. I imagine your food would definitely get cold occasionally.
I’ve carried a guitar pick with me everywhere, for the last 18 years or so and swap it out based on my general feelings about my general life and luck. They’re red Dunlop .50mm Tortex picks.
I think that the guitar pick is so negligibly small that most people should see it. It makes me wondering if you are asking people “Did you see me with this guitar pick?”
We’ve also covered my Futurama/South Park birthday TV episodes so I won’t reiterate that. But I will say I get some weird looks between this and the guitar pick thing.
These are only issues if you are broadcasting this information.
These are really good answers and super thorough. I am not sure if I have ever had anyone give me so many rituals. I dig it.
Joel: again, trying to be a good interviewee.
Question 14: Do you do anything to increase your mindfulness like meditation, intentional drawing, or prayer?
Joel: There’s a lot of moments I know I’m being intentional, moments that I don’t know that I’m being intentional and moments that I know I’m intentionally not being intentional. Confused? That was intentionally intentional.
I do draw intentionally. I was never very good at portraits so after I finished my first high effort drawing in a while, I switched over to portraits. I know I want to visit a few foreign countries so I’ve intentionally been working on my foreign languages. I know where I want to be in 5 years (big picture, big city (see what I did there?)) so I’m doing things to set myself up to do that.
Sometimes I just go in with absolutely no idea what I’m going to do because it’s more fun that way, or because planning is useless in that scenario. One phrase I’ve been using (an alarming amount actually) is “I have a plan, no idea what it is but I do have one.” It can be a little frustrating to the people around me, when things just sort of ~work out~ but I’m reminded of a moment in Fight Club, a character “let’s that which does not matter truly slide.”
The other moments are just me on autopilot. I know what I’m doing, it’s just a matter of turning my brain off and doing it. No need to waste creative energy, right?
That’s also where the first two moments come in. Intentional reflection on things that went well or didn’t is super important. This happens pretty naturally for me, I write a lot (clearly, says the reader) and that helps. I floated around in the ocean in Hawaii and worked through a whole mess of things, as they say. Sometimes I just hang out in Central Park or near Lake Michigan or one of the rivers in Chicago and let my mind wander and tell me what I need to think about.
I have recently started trying to meditate under the guidance of the amazingly funny comedian, Laura House, of whom I have also asked 20 Questions. I think that I might need to get better caught up on sleep though because often when I slow things down and try to be mindful of my thoughts, I find myself snoring.
Our mutual friend group is primarily made up of Gen X-ers to which you are the lone Millennial. Question 15: What do you want Gen X-ers to know about Millennials?
I think more than anything we need to have conversations. Real, honest, everyone is on the same footing kind of conversations rather than the talking down that happens on both sides. The kind of talks that happen at the end of a design project.
What’s gone well? What hasn’t gone well? What other things have you noticed and intrigued you?
My dad and I, more a boomer than gen-x, have started talking a lot about my grandfather who died in the 70’s. In a sort of Coco-esque way I think we realized those stories cease to exist if you don’t pass them on. It’s been a lot of war stories, he was a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber. So it’s like this little personalized museum of artifacts and anecdotes that you can start to piece together and you can start to make connections. For example, my grandfather spent a lot of time in England and saw a huge part of northern Europe, he was getting shot at but it’s still an experience that he had that a lot of people would love to have (minus the flak cannons and enemy interceptors).
… he said unintentionally deflecting the question.
I think it was an intentional derail. I will allow it, but you are on thin ice, buddy. I agree that more actual conversations between generations need to be had. I would say in today’s climate some conversations about how people got together to fight facism 70 years ago might be a good conversation to have… but enough about politics.
So this 20 Questions conversation looks like it will come in a tad above average in how long it takes to complete one of these. The average takes around 4 weeks and the longest one took over a year. This one will be coming in at a few months. Question 16: What has changed for you during the time from the start of this interview and now?
Joel: I think the most obvious is that our friend passed away. As we talked about, I never really wanted to come back to Columbus but that was something that definitely brought me back. Nothing makes you take a step back quite like that experience. It was good to see you, thanks for letting me crash in your haunted spare bedroom.
Side note, the night you told me about said haunting: Definitely woke up in the middle of the night said “dude, fuck off. I’m trying to sleep” and rolled over.
On a lighter note I got a new phone and I’m in the process of trading my MacBook Pro in for an iPad Pro/pencil combo. That’s pretty exciting. I firmly believe most consumers will be shifting from laptops to iPads in the next year or so and that’s backed up by Apple’s focus in their last few keynotes. I always wondered how they’d unify MacOS and iOS and they took a bit of a different route than I thought. For me though, it’s more about sketching, digital art and, again, those little side projects.
It’s also summer in Milwaukee, it’s a beautiful season. Actually, it’s not dissimilar from the climate of San Francisco. The problem is, it only lasts for a few months. The nice thing, though, is that everyone kind of wakes up from their hibernation so the city is a lot more lively and it has an energy that you don’t get during those -20 degree winter days.
AND! I just finished a huge project at work. That was very much an “ends not with a bang but with a whimper” sort of thing. The unfortunate part of software design is that you have to wait months for the thing you built to be a thing. I also have to review work that’s being built so it’s still a ton of effort to make sure everything goes “smoothly” but I’m not updating 200+ pages of documentation every week.
I too just had a project I was associated with launch and it launched great. This project was the second one in our company to use a design I championed. It is great to see both uses of that design “in the wild.” The “happy hour” to celebrate the launch of the second one was yesterday afternoon. I went to that happy hour and realized that every time I great strong relationships with the people at my work, the management of the group I work in moves me to a different project. So, I am on my way to a different project now, because I was getting a good rapport with the people I am currently working with. It is frustrating to say the least.
It was wonderful to see you again. I was very happy to have you in my home and to entertain the ghost in the guest bedroom. The reason for the visit was not great (a wonderful man we both had the pleasure to call friend was claimed by brain cancer), but it was a fun visit. What your visit told me is that I need to make some trips on my own to visit my friends. There may be a trip to Milwaukee in my future (the petty cash drawer needs to be a bit fuller for that to happen).
Question 17: Did you think these 20 Questions would take this long?
Joel: I didn’t really and that’s okay. It’s probably good, really. When you’re growing up there’s all these growth spurts and milestones that happen quickly but you don’t really hear about that as you get older.
I feel like that’s happened a lot, for me, lately. I don’t know if it’s a formative time or because I’ve been busy or generally just reflective. We started on a crazy quick pace but, you know, life. It’s been enjoyable though, I feel like I can sit down and read through it when we’re done and I’ve forgotten enough that it’ll be a new experience for me too.
That actually is one of the great things about doing it in this format. Even though it feels like it has taken a long time, it really hasn’t taken much actual time to write. There has just been time between questions.
It is fun to read back through this when I format everything for the post and see the journey that the questions encompass.
Time to turn the tables… I am always nervous about asking this one. Question 18: Do you have any questions for me?
Joel: I have so many questions. At least 20, really but I’ll boil them down to 2 really contextual ones.
Question 18A: what made you start doing this? And
Question 18B: after so many of these, is there some core thing that you’ve learned about yourself that you’d like to share with the audience?
You act like you haven’t read these before, and you are sweet for saying I have an audience.
Here goes. 18A: I started doing this as a generic daddy blog back in the mid 00’s. I got writer’s block pretty bad and crowd sourced some random questions for me to answer. So as not to tax my questioneers, I would insert interviews I conducted via email with people who were willing to answer my 20 questions. But why did I start? I was feeling dead inside and needed a creative outlet. It really is just about that simple. So I started writing, that made me want to start drawing again, which led to more writing and more drawing, and now I have written a book and am trying to assemble a team of artists to take that book to the next level. So… in short, I was bored with what I was doing professionally, and felt a little dead inside, so I started doing something.
18B: Hmmm… about myself. Usually I focus my lens on the commonalities of the interviewees, not larger learnings about myself. I am getting tired of asking the same questions. But for continuity between interviews, it is good to have a strong spine of similar questions. The lead ins to the questions are almost the same. I try to think up different ways of getting into the q’s, but they are all starting to feel the same. So there is some stagnancy to it that I don’t necessarily like.
Joel: maybe you could consider a new set of questions. A new season, if you will, kind of like Hot Ones. Same core idea but new sauces, or in your case questions. Change is constant, after all.
That is a good idea… I will have to think on some good questions then.
Now we are onto one of the common questions that feels a bit rote to ask in this manner. Question 19: What are you taking form these 20 Questions that you did not bring in with you?
Joel: I think I’m taking with me a catharsis that you only really get while writing. My grad school professor, Marty, always pushed me to write and I think this is why. He could sense the honest catharsis oozing out of the meandering pontification that you, maybe you can’t get from drawing or playing music. It’s not bad, just different.
Writing is a surprisingly releasing process. It really is an amazing way to let go of tensions and pent up energy. That is a bonus for doing this blog on the regular.
Here we are at the final question. Question 20: what’s next? Be as concrete or vague, near-term or long-term, philosophical or grounded as you want to be.
Joel: Actually quite a bit. I think, for the first time in 10 years, I’ll be moving apartments in the same city rather picking up and going to a new state. I’ve got a drawing I’m working through for a friend of mine and trying to get the hang of digital drawing on this iPad. Work is work, we’ve just about finished this massive project and now I have to get it out the door with as little compromise as possible. Somewhat on that note, I’ve got all of my vacation because of my project so I need to travel. I could probably just take a month off but I might (at least try to) split it up. I’m thinking about coming back to Columbus, which I didn’t think would ever happen willingly.
That takes us through about November so we’ll see where it goes from there. I can’t stay in one place too long, I get bored.
You come back to Columbus, and I know at least one doggo that wants to see you again. There will always be a haunted guest bedroom waiting for you at my house.
This was an absolute delight. Joel is an amazing guy doing amazing things. Follow him on the instagrams, and see the stuff he’s doing.
If you see Joel in the wild, do not approach
Avoid eye contact and back away slowly
I think I might start lining up some more UX people for interviews
School for the kids will be starting shortly
I have no idea where the summer went
Hope all is well with everyone
My friend Keith is so stupid
He needs that reassurance of his stupidity for some reason
Might be getting some new linework on my back tonight (editor’s note: New linework acquired)
Get to see the design this evening (editor’s note: design is great)
I am hoping that I like it and do not have too many comments
It is hard to make friends as an adult
It really is like going out on dates
I have heard from more than one person that I need to be bolder
I heard from one person that I need to be a boulder
I don’t talk to that person much
Bold is hard to do
I need some more interviews to be in process
I have none going on right now
Got to Q 12 on one and that guy fell off the face of the earth
Had a couple of people say they would and then they never responded to Q 1
Let me know if you want to be interviewed
Damn, I need to get groceries and do some laundry
Have a great week everyone