This is Just to Say
I made a thing and wrote a thing.
I wrote most of this before I had the final product in my hands, when it was almost done, but not. Fighting to get made and fighting to not get made. Now, it is done and the world has changed in the time from ‘go to print’ to ‘delivery received’. The dialogues and mood have changed and I’m fighting to be hopeful and fighting to not be too hopeful. Maybe it’s too timely, this thing, or maybe it’s too late. I’m embarrassed at the way this could be received, now, because yes, I realize it’s more than a bit fucking late and there are decisions I made that I’m not sure are right, or that I now know aren’t right. What is right anyway?
Note: ‘this country’ refers to the United States of America.
Here is this thing I have been working on for over two years. Every time I sit down to work on it, it threatens to dissolve as a piece of design work and get sucked into the black hole of self-doubt that is always creeping at the edge of everything I make. It is a thing stacked too high, and every line or decision seems to require exponentially more time to think and consider and question, lest it all crash down. There are days when I sit and stare at it, fighting for several hours, only to leave it as it was when I first sat.
And it’s just a deck of cards.
The optimal word. I use it too much. Is anything just anything? I hedge almost everything I actually want to say with this word.
Hi, I just wanted to check if you got my email no rush, just checking. Just wanted to see if you got it, you motherfucker. JK JK JK. I’m just waiting here thinking you’re ignoring me on purpose. Just let me know, whenever you get a chance.
I spend most of my time overthinking things.
The deck of cards. It’s a challenging design project, a good side project, long term, keeps going. And, you know what, they always get super funded on Kickstarter. People fucking love playing cards. I start with that in mind. Like, where my passive income at, amirite?
Let me look at cards. Let me research, let me buy some books about card history and design and let me internet. I do the things. What can I do that makes my design different, better, something worth doing? What makes anything worth doing? That is a hard question. I do not remember to think to find it here, but it is under everything of course. I must justify the existence of a thing, must I not? Maybe I don’t have to, but if I’m putting time into something it has to be for something. I can say it is my personal enjoyment or for fun or for fame or for a hot second on the internet, yes, that is probably it. We live for those hot seconds, now. They are getting shorter and hotter (#climatecrisis) and like the rats in the lab we just gotta keep pushing that fucking lever in the hopes that some goddamn dopamine comes down the tube cause anything else is meaningless. My turn to push the lever, I say.
Begin with a basic question. Be basic—despite what you internet, maybe basic is good. Why do face cards look the way they do? Why does anything look the way it does? It’s something that is hard to stop noticing once you try to know. It feels like when you recognize something in the wild for the first time. When you know what it is, not automatically, but consciously. Identifying something because maybe you have recently learned the name and the signs for the thing. Your mind has made the necessary connections to wire in that identification and somehow you never noticed it before, but today it is there. It will always be there from now on, you cannot turn it off, forever and ever, aw man.
In these here United States, whomphst is represented on a standard deck of cards?
Standard. Now that is an optimal word.
How many countless games have I played with friends in school or my brother, we are there, sitting on the floor and staring at these, how many ways have these designs been woven into our cultural consciousness? I have looked at them all my life and absorbed via visual osmosis but not looked and I am looking now. It’s so small, but it is so ordinary and accepted, but I can’t not notice anymore. The Standard in this country is everywhere, on everything. You know the design, I don’t even need to show you the source, it is already baked into your brain, close your eyes and do like John Lennon. Anything that deviates from this standard face card design is just that, a deviation. It is the opposite, the other, the not of The Standard. The United States Playing Card Company prints and sells nearly all the cards in this country and uses the same design over and over. It’s right fucking there in the name: United States. We, the people, who are the damn people?
Maybe I can work with this, this small idea. Is there a way to Indiana Jones this shit? Nevermind that he didn’t really do it and the temple collapses when he makes the swap with the sand for the idol, nevermind he’s a white dude coming in and stealing from an ancient civilization. I don’t know, wrong reference, but that is something to start with. Maybe Missy Elliot the Indiana Jones. Let me work it. Can it make a difference to see yourself in something even though you aren’t really looking? Maybe. Because, maybe you are always looking. I stopped saying ‘Hey, an Asian!’ out loud at the TV for a while now, but I still think it, every time.
You want to see the design process and sketching, don’t you? Here is where I would put it. That’s what the people want. “Aren’t you a thot leader?”, they ask. They want to see rough sketches turn into perfect executions. Well, I have all that shit but I’m not putting it here because the visual is not the process. It’s maybe 2% of the process. Maybe. We give it all the credit but it ain’t the thing by far.
You want thots? Well the design process is an internal dialogue that chases itself around and around, beats itself up every day. It’s one long brawl of hemming and hawing and worrying about offending someone, anyone, but also not caring, but also getting upset because not caring is what takes us here in the first place.
It’s worrying about whether anything is good enough and what is worth it to be put in the world. Who am I to make more shit? But oh, to manufacture more dipshit landfill fuckery is every designer’s dream. The process is to want to kill the project because it doesn’t even matter since the planet is getting fucked and for some reason we pee and shit in perfectly good water when some people in this country don’t have clean water to drink. What the fuck do they care about cards?
And the process is to struggle back with the thought that somewhere, for someone it might be something. If someone who didn’t see themselves there, in The Standard, before can see themselves there now, then it is worth it. This could be something, and according to math, something is 100% more than nothing. Change is slow work. It takes time to wrestle over every idea, every line and color and reference and shape. To spend an active four to six hours (and a passive three to five months) wondering if putting the eagle feather headdress on the vaguely Native American design is racist because it’s cliché or progressive because it’s a woman, and researching what the right terminology should be and that well fuck, it’s more about individual tribes and nations, of course, not lumping someone into a sweeping generalized word you stupid quote-un-quote designer. At the same time, no shapes have been made over these hours and I am so wiped out from arguing with myself about how much shorthand and stereotyping is necessary in the designs in order to get the idea but to not actually be offensive that I just choose to watch TV instead, because it has always been easier to turn away rather than say something.
Every time I work on this deck I chance to spiral into an overthink. I realize it’s all an allegory for what we think we can do in this moment, anyway. Even if you change the faces of things, make them as diverse and different as you can, make millions of different variations, everything is still trapped in this heirarchy and this framework of an ordered game. Things must still be worth more or worth less for the game to be played. There must still be a winner and a loser, always, no matter who plays. Is it even worth it? I try to work it. I reverse it—It’s not worth it, this already exists, anyway. But it doesn’t really exist because The Standard is still what it is. And what is this?
Just a step?
No, no, it is a step. Not just a step. It’s a small step, but I think it is a nudge in the direction things should move, imperfect as it is. A deck of cards cannot do that much, but maybe it can do something, for someone. I can’t tell if that something is that it will offend them. Most likely it will. I know part (most?) of me is writing this to cover my ass as I pray to the gods, Mercy and Woke. I should show, not tell, but I can’t help telling, and even though I want to tell, it’s difficult to tell it all. When I tell an underrepresented person what I’m doing, what I’m working on, I say all of it, all of what I’m trying to do, to replace the existing standard with a new standard via sleight of hand. Hope to not offend, hope to do something right, hope to make something that gives ever so slightly more than it takes.
Still, you know what is fucked up for real, for real? With as much work as I have put in over two years, constant arguing with myself, second guessing and trying and failing to make a thing, I will elect to downplay it. A lot of the time when I tell a standardly represented person what I’m doing I say vaguely, “Oh, yeah, it’s just a deck of cards.”
And, I think maybe that’s the whole of the thing.
I currently have roughly 3,000 decks of cards sitting in my living room. My plan is to give them away for free. If you know me IRL or via a solid digital connection, find a way to slide into those DMs, in whatever way we are connected. I’ll mail you some to distribute as best you can to people and communities that would get a tiny bit of joy from them. Maybe I’ll mail you a lot and you send a bunch to another friend who sends a bunch to another friend and it’s a big ol’ Oprah style reverse pyramid scheme.
I will delete all the comments.