I have a new project!!!

Hello world!

I am excited to announce that I’ve figured out a thing that I would like to create! My last real project was the now-defunct time-capsule app that I launched in 2016, Sealed Messenger, and that was a lot of fun and also a failure. To be fair, just about every other time capsule app so far has also failed to gain much traction, which means that there may not be a market there or at least not as an independent service. The best feedback I ever got about Sealed was, ‘seems like a feature, not a product’.

Since then, I have been working in large enterprise UX/UI design consulting and having a great time traversing healthcare, finance, higher education, utilities, and manufacturing, designing connected dashboards, chatbots, task management systems, and other automated solutions — but these are projects that I don’t choose, that enable other people’s visions and create impact according to stakeholder groups and corporate strategies far external to my own desires.

It has been rewarding to be focused on craft – the ‘how’ and not the ‘what’ or ‘why’ – but I have truly missed having a project all of my own! I did some freelance work alongside my design job over the last few years, but I have reduced that as I have felt increasingly that I didn’t want to work on just anything. To start working on something new, I had to create space for that thing to grow into.

Towards the beginning of Covid I joined an author’s group led by Smiley which was a lot of fun, and the resources, good vibes, and accountability that came with that were an excellent jolt to the system. The writing buddy I got paired with has been the best part of the experience – it has been refreshing to make a new friend during the pandemic and I still look forward to our weekly check-in’s.

So I am excited to announce that I am writing a book which will be called 101 Ways to Use a Hanky. The rest of the working title is, “a practical, historical, and personal guide to get you hooked on using hankies“. I am imagining it to be sort of a family friendly coffee table / bathroom book that you could flip through and learn something fun, put it down, pick it up, and maybe be inspired to try something new.

Basically, I have allergies. I sneeze a lot. Most people who know me will attest. And I have a grandfather, who I call Pop, who always carried handkerchiefs. My dad was more of a bandana guy, but I did see him carry that hundreds of times as well.

After blowing through a prodigious amount of paper tissues, I decided to order a pack of hankies from amazon.

And they were great for blowing my nose and allergy maintenance.

But I also noticed that I started using them in other odd ways, like as a napkin during dinner, or as a cover for my hand to touch something dirty, or to get better grip, to provide some protection for a delicate object, dry things, collect crumbly items, and, well, almost a hundred other things!

Yes, I believe a hanky could be used for hundreds and maybe thousands of different, distinct use cases. And yes, I do define what constitutes a ‘use’: if people actually do it and there’s some distinct value to the method, it’s a use case. I get more technical than that – that’s the simplified definition.

And part of my punchline is — just like carrying a hammer makes everything look like a nail, carrying a hanky starts to shift how you see the world, and you can discover ways to save effort, be physically safer, and more effectively manipulate your surroundings to find easier paths through moments in your life.

Not to mention all of the money you will save from buying less paper products and the environmentally friendly nature of reusing a piece of fabric.

So that’s that! I’m taking the slow but steady approach. I have drafted over 100 uses for hankies and organized them into eight or nine categories or ‘chapters’, but there is still a lot of refinement left to be done. I’m currently working on learning how to illustrate the elusive, ghostlike shape that is a white square piece of cloth, and I’m setting some rough sights on getting a draft done in a year, and then probably another year to see it into print, or whatever its final form takes.

If you have some fun ideas for how to use hankies, please share them with me! I am especially looking to hear about anyone’s experience as a hanky user themselves and what your most common use cases are, as simple or extravagant as they may be. All perspectives are welcome! If you have an experience or idea to share, or if you would like to stay in the loop about this project, please feel free to fill out this form and / or contact me directly via email, Facebook messenger, or here in the comments!

Keep calm and hanky on! 😛

Why Sealed

I’ve feared this day for quite some time. After many months of teasing the world with what could have been empty promises, Sealed is done and ready, or at least done enough to deliver the core experience that I dreamt up almost two years ago. But before I press the ‘publish’ button and write a trendy announcement post on Medium, I want to explain a little bit about why Sealed, why now, and why me.

In the hours after learning that my father had died by suicide in January 2012, I quickly began to register that that event would be part of my story from then on, one of those formative experiences that would probably go on to affect future decisions and reappear thematically even without conscious effort. Immediately I became frustrated by the situation because I felt that that event was singularly sad and bad. Nothing good should come of it. Nothing should be born of it, no silver linings nor unexpectedly useful side effects. I felt viscerally disgusted by the idea of ‘using’ the suicide to tell my story or achieve any goal, let alone putting it on social media and owning it as part of my shrink-wrapped virtual identity as a differentiator from all of the other twenty-something white guys out there. Somehow it felt different from the classic son/daughter-of-a-cancer-survivor who, after a terrible dark period, rallies to bring new hope and light to the cancer survivor community in all of its happy-faced, bike-riding Facebook glory. I think that’s what we all know as stigma, but to me it presented as instinctually sacrosanct.

And yet here I am, claiming my story and brandishing it about, all the while squirming fervently because it still feels wrong. But the truth of the matter is that Sealed arose in large part because of the conditions I’ve just described, and so it is very much a part of the story if I am to tell it.

My dad was a warm and effusive person who had a deep pit of loneliness at his core. When people ask me why he killed himself (as rarely as that does happen), I often say that he died of loneliness. Despite his salesman’s gregariousness that led him to befriend people left and right, he ultimately displayed negative behaviors that pushed people away and left him very much alone. It’s easy to play the blame game here but the truth is that my father was abused early and often, even as a toddler, and the demons he kept were beyond any of our control.

But I grew up seeing his demons and I tried very hard to help swat them away. I could see his loneliness and for many years I took every action that I could think of to help keep it at bay. Teenaged Alex wasn’t quite so thoughtful about it, but that’s my demon to keep. Listening and analyzing and trying to help have become core tenets of who I am today, that damned silver lining.

Sophomore year in college was already a time of extreme turbulence in my life as I was undecided between pursuing a pre-med track and this other thing, ‘entrepreneurship’, as I first really contemplated it after watching Ray Kurzweil’s Transcendent Man, which was full of big, definitely optimistic viewpoints. Between a tough but sure bet of a medical career and a tough and unsure entrepreneurial path, I decided to keep my options open but ideate, and ideate vigorously.

I spent a year and a half having ideas, which was a lot of fun but not very productive, until I took a step back and noticed a theme in my scribblings: time, our struggle with it, and how our struggle has changed in the context of our modern tools. I hate that I have relatively few videos of my dad talking, and none where he directly addresses me. Mid-senior year I had the idea for a personal digital time capsule. A friend suggested making it social — messages that you send but are locked at first, until the time arrives for it to unlock. So I badgered my friends and family about it and even co-led a student forum exploring entrepreneurship studies and thus began the hustle, the struggle as a non-iOS developer to bring an iOS app to market.

That’s a different story, that’s the how, which I’m sure I’ll circle back to and talk about at some point. For now, I wanted to clarify the why: Sealed is an app that allows people to give other people things to look forward to. It’s a relationship tool, a way to be a proactive human and make a small dent in your friend’s loneliness quotient. It can be a gesture or a means of communication; if you receive a message that will unlock in three years, the content of the message doesn’t even factor into the equation for three years. Instead, you’re left with the simple knowledge that, in three years, you’ll see something sent by that person three years ago. Taken as it’s meant, this is an earnest, hippie-dippie, karmic expression of my desire for people to be good to each other, to be there for each other, and to be mindful about each other’s loneliness and how dangerous it can be.

I’ve struggled to communicate these intentions through branding and design, but overall I’ll be proud to present Sealed to the world.

Very soon!

Stay tuned.