When I spent five days with Walter at his home and in his studio, what struck me was not the quality or depth of his leather knowledge, but the presence with which he carried himself as we talked and worked. He was rarely distracted. His eye contact, the insight of his questions, which could only come from listening, wasn’t some Zen gimmick. He just didn’t have any distractions. That lack of distraction doesn’t just give him the clarity to design, but it also gives him the focus to be present with the people around him.
At first, it made me a bit uncomfortable.
After I arrived at LAX, Walter and I took the bus back to his house. A few minutes into our trip, he returned to our seat from speaking with the bus driver and asked, “Do you speak Spanish?” Minutes later, I was trying to translate the driver’s directions to a place in a city that I know nothing about to a man who only speaks Spanish. He had recently arrived from Chicago with his son. After a few trips between the bus driver and this guy, another man sitting across from us, a black man in his 40s, speaks up in Spanish and starts helping me give directions.
Integration and Introversion
Soon enough, me, Walter, the man from Chicago, our new translator, and a number of folks sitting around us were all laughing at our attempts to communicate.The weird thing about this is that Walter, like me, is extremely introverted.
By default we are in our heads, thinking deeply. Alone. We need to analyze each tiny facet of a particular thought, emotion, or image. When our introversion is unchecked, other people are more annoying than helpful because we are so focused on what we are thinking or feeling. As a result, each introvert develops their own way to interact without people without losing their mind.
Witnessing how Walter, the introvert, interacts with people was weirdly inspiring.
A Way of Living
These types of interactions were not an isolated incident during my time with Walter. After living with him and his wife Alicia for a few days, I can see how it’s possible for an introvert like him or me to be so present with people.
This wasn’t just revealed in his interactions, but in how he arranges his life. His living room – sparse and welcoming – is centered around the coffee table where he and Alicia sit on the floor to eat their meals. Clothing: simple, single-colored button downs and plain chinos. His work day is slow and metered, balanced between leather, writing, and taking a rest to cook and eat lunch.
Less But Better
Walter introduced me to the work of a German designer named Dieter Rams, who said that good design is unobtrusive. (Rams also dresses like Walter – no coincidence there whatsoever.) Not only is this lack of distraction evident in the design of Walter’s products, but it is evident in the design of his life. He focuses on a few things and does them well, which gives him the mental, emotional, and social capacity to be present to his own life.
What I learned from Walter is to de-clutter my life. Wallets don’t need a million pockets for your eight credit cards and the business card of everyone you’ve ever met. Walter’s apartment doesn’t need two couches and a 40-inch TV. I don’t need a game on my phone where all you do is tap the screen as quickly as possible. Instead of helping a wallet be a wallet, a million pockets get quickly filled and the wallet no longer serves well as a wallet. When lounging around watching TV becomes the default in a home, there is less meaningful connection between the people who live there. Tapping a screen for hours on end doesn’t help me get to grad school or reduce stress (and it hurts my arms eventually).
I’m often frustrated by my time spent with other people because I find it hard to focus and really connect with them. More often than not, this is because I’m spending my time on things that are more obtrusive than useful to me. Silly phone games. 3-minute interviews on YouTube. Wondering what that one question that one person asked me really meant.
My time in Pomona reminded me of something that’s easy to forget – focus on the good, the true, the beautiful, the things that help me to be me.
Here’s to the slow spirit.
Guest Post by Steven Rozzi