Just Do It 

Sneaky little projects keep Jeffrey Yamaguchi from feeling like a wage-slave.

You work for the Man. Jeffrey Yamaguchi knows you work for the Man, and because you do he wants you to stay up all night, perfect your margarita-making skills, collect and properly bid farewell to broken umbrellas on the street, and save and document the circumstances behind every glass you break at home. Okay, not all at once, and not all the time. He has lots of other ideas, and he's sure you do too.

The above activities are four of the suggestions -- numbers 36, 16, 28, and 9 respectively -- that Yamaguchi offers, with instructions, in 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity (Perigee, $13.95). The book began as "a challenge for myself," he explains in its introduction, "to come up with and write down 52 projects that I have either done or aspired to complete." These include creative-writing exercises, photographic assignments, gift ideas, mail art, and video- and tape-recording schemes. Write your memoirs in one minute, for instance. Or record your next phone call to a friend. It makes you feel different.

The Stockton native's first projects included zines he created as an undergrad econ major at UC San Diego. Then while working a dead-end San Francisco office job in 1997, he started the zine Working for the Man -- Stories from Behind the Cubicle Wall, which went online as WorkingfortheMan.com. In 2002 he self-published a book, Working for the Man, and started 52Projects.com. This site was a forerunner in the Internet's small but inspired creativity movement.

Now living in New York, Yamaguchi remembers "a period when I thought I could just publish zines and make enough to live on. ... I even got delusional one time and threw myself a retirement party. It may have been a false premise, but it was a damn good party. All over my apartment I posted pictures of the boss from the job I had just quit, with little quotes of the things she had said to me. She was a particularly terrible boss, so the quotes were quite hilarious."

As to the possibility of ever actually liking an office job, he maintains that it is important to find and exploit "the little joys in any job that you have," whether those joys might derive from a funny co-worker, an excellent photocopier (for making zines), or lots of pockets of downtime for working on your own creative projects without getting caught, an activity for which Yamaguchi has an innate talent and which he heartily endorses. "Thinking on it now," he muses, "it might be the one thing I am good at. And look, I was a better employee for it. Side projects may take time away from the job-work at hand, but they also energize me, make me a more positive person, inspire me, so all that would translate into the work I was doing for the company that was actually paying me a salary. I did better work for the company because of my side projects" -- which, if his book gives any clues, included writing obscure messages on home-baked cakes and placing them anonymously in the office's break-room.

52 Projects brims with positive, motivational, get-up-off-your-butt (or get-a-pen-into-your-hand) energy -- not that this optimism was easy to come by. "I am a glass-half-empty person who tries very hard to be a glass-half-full person, who knows down deep it is better to take on the whole life thing with a glass-half-full perspective," Yamaguchi explains. And even though he has graduated from wage slave to published author, he admits that the "frustration and insecurity" he felt when he started WorkingfortheMan.com is still with him "to varying degrees to this very day. I know that I will be working for the Man till the day I die. ... Working for the Man is not just about working under a bad boss. It's just that no matter what your situation, no matter if you're a freelancer or the CEO, you are still working for the Man. People who have their dream job are not exempt."

For the moment, it seems Yamaguchi might be keeping the Man at bay. "I'm 35," he reflects, "and for the first time in my life I may have just started a job" -- in the online-marketing sector of book publishing -- "that is actually connecting with my true interests: a love of books. I feel like it's taken me a while to get to this place. I have to say, and this is not about selling my book like some infomercial, but the focus on creating and doing the 52 projects helped me get to the place I am today. ... Working on creative projects can help you focus your efforts to see and get to the places you truly want to be. There is sort of some proof in the pudding here."

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