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If You See Something, Say Something.

Let me paint a picture for you: a young Kyle Asperger stoops, shovel in hand, a bead of sweat diligently preparing for its nose dive as he struggles to scrape up a rabbit carcass that had been pancaked on steaming hot asphalt for the better part of 4 weeks. The ecosystem of maggots, bacteria, and assorted fungi who call the cake’s underbelly home is impressive, to say the least.

This vignette captures the essence of my existence one beautiful summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year of High School. Cleaning a train station, picking up trash, and fighting the good fight against an unending onslaught of not-so-fresh roadkill assaulting our town.

“Wow Kyle, how ever did you land such a deeply meaningful, shockingly lucrative summer gig?”

All modesty for my high school job skills aside, that appointment was a direct side effect of my Mom’s political career at the time. She sat in the middle of the long wooden table at each of the town hall meetings, the plaque in front of her wilted mic read, “Elizabeth Asperger, Mayor of the Village of LaGrange.”

With gratitude front of mind, I dutifully completed my daily list of tasks. Top priority forever and always: clean the Stone Avenue Train Station.

The station where, through childhood to today, I find myself patiently waiting for the Metra to take me to the ol’ Windy City. A safe haven where drug addicts shoot up, homeless people pee, and men torn apart by their failed marriages seek solace in self-pleasure.

Like a vivacious host prepping his home before guests arrive, I had the pleasure of cleaning that train station every day that fateful summer. The soundtrack, amongst assorted alerts that the trains were running 12-15 minutes late, was this:

“If you see something, say something.”
That automated message, in all it’s cold, calculated well-intention, has ingrained itself within the core of who I am as an artist, business owner, and conscious observer. Though the message’s intent is positive, it’s not usually received that way; abstracted from the context of Chicago’s rail system, a dosage of constructive, honest feedback – something seen, something said – is best taken with a sense of gratitude even the heartiest of artists struggle to summon.

transportation security’s bastard cousin
Picture this: Mark, lower level employee, interrupts a well-crafted PowerPoint to voice his concern about the proposed 2019 marketing budget to the executive presenting. He saw something and was driven to say something. After all, it could save the department up to 10k in Q1.

Regardless, the executive presenting immediately stops the employee. No one wishes to be questioned while they’re in the midst of winning over a new client’s affections.

Wrong time, wrong place. Normally these concerns would be weighed equally, but because the remarks were thrust into the conversational fray at an inopportune time, they fell on deaf ears and hard hearts.

Had Mark kept such concerns to himself in that moment and scheduled a time to chat with the executive after the fact…things would have gone over much more smoothly. The environment in which critiques or suggestions are delivered is just as important as the quality of their character.

Another example: Stacy’s photography portfolio review, a heroic test of skill and resolve she’s been preparing for, refining, and seeking consultation on for at least a year. A lot is riding on this moment, whether she’s admitted into the art school of her choice and the consequent promising career, if her work makes it into the top selections for the award ceremony and its resultant career growth — whatever her current station, slaying this dragon is a daunting task.

The moment of truth comes and goes in the blink of an eye. The reviews were, unlike those of friends and family, quite discouraging:

Narrow your focus

Compile a more cohesive batch of imagery

I would have lit the face differently based on your implied narrative

The crop should be as it is in-camera

I just really don’t like this image, take it out

Feeling torn down, and defeated, the wine bottle calls Stacy like so many treacherous sirens did Odysseus before her.

One boozy night’s sleep later, she wakes up and considers the feedback. Suddenly, though her wounds still soundly sting, she finds a bit of clarity in the aforementioned notes. Maybe not that last one, but there’s merit nonetheless. After all, the reviewers did have rather impressive CV’s.

The critiques, painful as they may be, are worth considering if not implementing immediately.

the turn of fate
Ever seen a bulldozer level a house then drive by a few months later and there’s a beautiful, prairie-style home standing proudly where the wreckage was?

Creation through destruction. Someone saw something and they certainly said something.

That said, there is a much safer approach. Simply keep your trap shut. Swallow that potentially painful, yet much needed, note to Josh about how he could benefit from having a looser hand when painting the night sky.

No feelings are hurt. No progress is made. As I heard someone say back in my Little League days, “He’s safe!”

Science has shown us we stand to have a much happier and healthier adult life if we snuggled up in Mum’s bosom as a youngin’. I mention this to show that without any level of safety or comfort in life, we’d be in much more dire straits.

There are, however, crucial moments that saying “f!$k safety” is the best thing you can do for yourself. Metaphorically speaking, that is…please wear a helmet while dancing with dragons. All the cool kids do it.

a hero returns
This brings me to my company, Studio 301. The adage, “if you see something, say something,” is a key element of the foundation of how I work. A philosophy that is present through my client communications as well as the literal studio environment that I’m intentionally fostering for creatives around Columbus.

My goal in 2019 is to bring people into my studio space, artists and creators of all kinds, and push them. Make them uncomfortable. This is the Midwest after all, the one place I hear “you have a really great portfolio” more often than not.

Great. Thanks. You’re of absolutely no help. Instead, swallow your well-intentioned compliments and think hard about what you actually want to say. You won’t hurt my feelings as long as you thoughtfully back up your critique with an ego-piercing line of reasoning.

The right push could turn your paintings from good to great, it could shift the way you see your compositions through your viewfinder, and could challenge the way you tell stories of battles won and lost through your paper machét sculptures.

There’s one last piece of the puzzle though: implementation.

You have the ingredients, the scribbled notes, the feedback, but if you just let them sit idly… sorry Stacy, you’re still sitting pretty on your little cloud of rainbows and lollipops in Elysium. We’ll see you back at the gates when you realize how toxic your perceived paradise is.

Speaking on behalf of myself, my creative partners, influences, mentors, and dare I say, the TSA alike:

Please, if you see something, say something.