May 30, 2012

There are a lot of social, economic, personal, and cultural ramifications of the über-connected era we’ve found ourselves in. Academics will surely have dissertation- and pop-culture-book fodder for generations to come with all the juicy material we’re providing them.

I’m ignoring the grandiose statements today though and focusing on a small facet of my very personal experience with it all.

A few weeks ago I finished writing a text message to a friend and glanced over it before hitting send.* While I’d done it thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of times before, on this particular day with this particular message, I had a thought…

“Who cares?”

The message just contained an observation of something I’d seen on my way to work. And nothing all that interesting. No leopard escaped in NYC, no crazy fight with a cabbie, no accidental swim through the East River. Whatever it was (and tellingly, I don’t remember the details anymore), it was almost negligibly more interesting than my normal commute.

As I turned the message around in my mind, I tried to figure out what benefit I was hoping to bestow on the recipient by sending it… it wasn’t really worth a smile, a “ha” wouldn’t be quite right, an indignant “what?!” was overkill. The absolute most that could be said of this little nugget was that it might get a “hmm.” Followed by the hmm-er moving on with their day and never thinking of it again.

And so I cleared the message and moved on with my own day.

In the days since this very small thought about a very uninteresting action, I’ve caught myself again and again with phone in hand, SMS or twitter or facebook at the ready, preparing to share something just this side of excruciatingly mundane.

Taking it one step further, I’ve also found myself on the receiving end of such tidbits. Far from annoying, far from enlightening. Before this laughably simple epiphany of sorts, I’d have dashed off a quick “Crazy!” or “Whoa” or “Haha”… and then moved on with my day and never thought of it again. After, I started choosing to read, digest, consider whether I had anything of value to add, and in most cases, go back to what I was doing before. No friendships have blown up (yet) from this lack of volleying messages.

All of which is to say, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about saying nothing. About how it’s okay to keep a story to yourself. To not respond. To allow a conversation (using the term lightly) partner to have the last word, and to simply move on with the day.

Maybe it’s a trivial point. But marginally more interesting is the fact that sharing — and responding — seems to be the default action. I guess it’s part of the human condition — our need and quest for community, taken to an extreme by technology. I can’t help but feel we’d all be a little more engaged with our friends, families, and environments though if the default were instead to experience it all, curate, then send it out into the world, rather than the real-time sharing of every mundane and banal detail right alongside and mixed in with the actual valuable bits.

*I will forever find it ironic that I could barely be coerced into proofreading the papers I handed in throughout the entirety of both high school and college, yet these days won’t send off a text without giving it a once-over.


April 20, 2012

I didn’t have cable television growing up. Channels 2, 4, 7, 9 (CBC, eh Canada?), 20 (WB! Animaniacs!), 50, 56, and 62 got me through the first 18 years of life. An internet connection got me through the next 6 years. And then, as someone who actually works in the television industry and can write such things off on my taxes, at the age of 24 I finally delved into the world of Way Too Fucking Many Channels.

It was overwhelming at first, and I mostly still stuck with the old mainstays. But slowly I discovered little nuggets like the movies on ABC Family. Stargate Atlantis at 3am on Sunday mornings. House Hunters on HGTV. Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs! Between the three or four channels that run How I Met Your Mother in syndication, I managed to catch up on the 5 and a half seasons that had passed by the time I found out how awesome it was.

Over time I’ve developed something of a theory about all this media. While it sprouted in front of the television, it seems to hold for all the myriad means of information transmission we’re inundated by these days (note that I’m assigning neither positive nor negative connotation to that statement — it just is what it is).

At any rate….

Sometimes consuming media makes me want to consume more media. It makes me want to sit on my couch and eat cereal and slouch and take a nap.

Other times consuming media sets me on fire. It makes me want to get up and do shit. It inspires me.

After enough time and thought, I’ve realized it’s not my own state of mind or being that dictates the result, it’s the media itself. Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother and facebook seem to fall into the former category. The Daily Show and So You Think You Can Dance and my carefully-curated twitter feed tend to fall into the latter.

Basically, self-contained shows that put everything on the table and require minimal thought on the part of the consumer in order to process the content make up Type 1. Type 2 consists of people who do cool things. Jon Stewart makes me want to be more politically informed and active. The invariably magnificent dancers on SYTYCD make me want to get to the freakin’ gym. Once those shows end I don’t feel compelled to find something else to watch; instead, I’m much more likely to turn off the TV and do something three-dimensional.

I’m not saying there’s no room for the brain candy. I quite enjoy House and 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, all of which arguably fit that label, and all of which are much appreciated when I’m at the end of a long day and my brain is decidedly fried. But I’m trying to be more aware of whether what’s in front of me is a Type 1 or a Type 2, since I’ve found it to be somewhat pathetically easy to lose hours and days to Wikipedia pages and How I Met Your Mother marathons.

There sometimes seems to be a dichotomy between consuming and producing — if you’re doing one, you’re not doing the other, and vice versa. Easy. But instead of such simple classifications, a tiered system may be more appropriate, in which type 2 media allows for productive consumption. Fodder for future endeavors.


Wind at Your Back

February 3, 2012

Last night I had a moment of recognition.

I was standing at a bus stop waiting for the slowpoke M15. A chilly and windy night, after just a few minutes I retreated from the open air to the shelter provided: in this case, two glass walls and a ceiling. Luckily the wind was coming from a direction that allowed those walls to block most of it. The relief was significant and I stopped shivering.

But then it occurred to me that it was still pretty frickin’ cold. A diligent breeze continued to creep in around my jacket. It was only the differential between my first, unprotected place and the relative calm of the shelter that enabled me to consciously recognize the reprieve.

It made me wonder just how often in life there must be factors working in my favor that I simply don’t notice.

I’ve had the thought before: bicycling along the Hudson, it’s painfully obvious when you’re riding into the wind. It happens about half the time. But in the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of outings I’ve had along that route, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually realized the wind was at my back. Regardless of the direction I’m traveling, I generally know I’m riding into a headwind, or simply don’t think about wind at all.

Statistics and a some empirically-derived intuition about weather patterns indicate it’s pretty unlikely that the wind is actually almost never supporting my momentum. Instead, it’s my own brain that simply thinks I’m on a roll, and doesn’t want to share credit.

So again I find myself curious about how many characters, circumstances, and personal talents or proclivities are at my back from day to day, quietly helping me onward and upward.

My guess is a lot.

Our weaknesses (and those of our friends, colleagues, family, location, personal situations…) seem to generally be heartbreakingly apparent. Everyone on Earth can name many factors that have worked against them in their lives.

But maybe there are just as many — or more — variables working for us, pushing us toward success.


February 1, 2012

Recently I’ve found myself to be in an interestingly boring place.

Since deciding to return to life as an audio engineer last fall, I’ve felt reassuringly certain, focused, and stable.

Stability, however, is not the same as stasis, which is a differentiation I’ve worried about in the past (perhaps romanticizing my restless tendencies). My concern has been that once a person stops being actively haunted by their demons (creative, professional, personal, romantic, financial — they come in many forms), perhaps it means they’ve simply surrendered to complacency… a notion I find somewhat terrifying.

But my recent experience indicates it’s quite possible to work, grow, and learn, yet not be kept awake at night by whispers in the brain.

I’ve been working a lot. Freelancing and mixing films. I’m using my work as opportunity to be paid for experimenting and developing my skills, and challenging myself with each project to go a bit faster, do a bit more, be a little better. I walked to the train the other night at 1:30 in the morning after an intense day and evening in front of a rig, and couldn’t keep a smile off my face. I was absolutely exhausted, and certain moments had been maddening, but I was 12 hours closer to “making it.” I’d used my day well, and would much rather be tired than go to bed in the same state I woke up.

I’m also learning — reading online resources and books, watching tutorials, viewing films and recording my observations. I make sure to regularly assess where my most important weaknesses are, and then devote time to developing myself in those areas.

And… not much else. I’m not worrying so much about writing, or exercising, or socializing, or anything. Sound is my focus, and how I define the success of a day. Everything else is a second-tier concern… which is not to say they don’t get done, but that I let them happen when they happen.

Cal Newport recently quoted Steve Martin:

“But I told myself,” he continued, “just stick with this, just keep playing, and one day you’ll have been playing for 40 years, and at this point, you’ll know how to play.”

I wish I could say this in a way that didn’t make me sound as though I have such a big head as to compare myself to Mr. Martin, but… this is where I am. I’m 3.5 years into a journey that will take decades. And I’m working in a way that will be sustainable for that long haul.

I’m not in flux right now. I’m not experiencing existential angst, and I’m not making life-altering decisions. It’s not exciting, or particularly interesting to anyone but me. It’s really a little boring, especially relative to the situations of many of my friends and peers right now.

It’s also not always “fun.” But I don’t think a person has to be actively happy all the time in order to be pleased with an experience. Ultimately, I am getting better at my craft, and that’s what’s important.

So life is just… good. Sustainable. Purposeful. Stable.

It’s really all I can ask for.


Speaking of paths to success, this video knocked me back on my heels last night. I cannot recommend it enough.

What You Think You Want

January 20, 2012

Chris Guillebeau, legend of the internets, posted an Academic Confession to his site yesterday that has been clattering around my brain since I first laid eyes on it.

His confession is this: once upon a yester-year, Chris paid Yale seventy-five bucks to consider accepting (much) more of his money. They declined, preferring instead to put a big dent in someone else’s bank account.

The anecdote prompted a knowing smile on my part: I, too, once paid Yale to think about taking my money, and I, too,  was the recipient of a cordial thanks-but-no-thanks letter.

What continues to strike me as odd about my own said experience with Yale is that I didn’t even want to go there — I wanted to go to NYU, which was exactly where I’d wanted to go since the first day I began considering higher education. Yale slipped into the picture purely for the prestige. Which is, well, a little silly.

It took me a long time to get away from validating my life according to something that didn’t relate to my true hopes and goals.

Aye-men. It seems to take many people a long time to get over this, partially because most of us come of age in an educational system that refuses to acknowledge the existence of an alternative (let alone explore what alternatives might look like), and partially because, as Chris points out, the alternative is so difficult to define. Honestly, I was into my twenties before I even started to recognize that hopes and goals existed outside the structure of the traditional academia/career path.

At the time, I really did want to devote years of my life doing things that no one would notice, in hopes of obtaining letters behind my name that no one would care about. As ridiculous as I knew it was, I still wanted it!


Yep, I’m glad I didn’t get what I thought I wanted back then.

Now this is a phenomenon I’ve put considerable thought into in recent months. You see, almost exactly one year ago, I quit my job. Despite enjoying my work, I wasn’t finding it particularly… fulfilling. I wanted to do more for the world. What? I didn’t know. But something good and something big.

Then, for the next ten or so months, I floundered. Big time. I applied to job after job and got no response after no response. My one big interview ultimately led to an apologetic phone call, with the guy on the other end of the line saying, “You were an extremely strong candidate, but we found someone who we think will be just a little better fit for the position.”

I envisioned myself happily settling in to any of the organizations I was asking to devote my career to. I saw myself effecting change. Doing Good. I wanted — I really, thoroughly wanted — to work for a nonprofit committed to education reform.

And… no dice. My bank account and spirits dwindled.

As time went on, I started to question what it means to do Good, what was reasonable to expect out of a job, what a fulfilling life would (or could) look like, and whether I could add value to the world even if my chosen causes weren’t the basis of my professional career.

As more time went on, I felt myself increasingly pulled toward the life and work I’d given up. I found myself valuing doing work I love, and accepting that it was possible to be a positive presence in the world without spending my 9-5s dealing with the bureaucracy of the endeavor.

And in late autumn, I went back to Square One. I returned to audio, with my proverbial tail between my legs. Certain that I was making the right decision, but somewhat chagrined at it all.

The problem here is the correlation of the timeline of this decision with my failure to get into another industry. Did I only choose to go back to sound because I couldn’t get into nonprofit work? Wouldn’t I have been perfectly ecstatic to have been accepted at one of the many organizations I’d begged to take me?

At the time, I wanted to get out of the entertainment industry. I was sure of it. In retrospect, it appears as though I only thought I wanted out. The implications of this are profound: how are we ever to know whether we actually want something, or if we just think we want it?

These continue to be questions I ponder, and I can’t claim to fully be at peace with them.

But… I am happy. Really happy. I’m happy doing my work, I’m much more motivated now than I was a year-and-some-change ago, I’m focusing better and working faster, and see myself in the field long-term. I feel solid and ready to put in the thousands of hours necessary to get really freaking good at what I do.

I look back at the job interview last summer and the many, many applications and essays and organizations, and think… Thank. God. Last year was a little awful to experience, but looking back, I am extraordinarily relieved nothing else worked out.

I thought I knew what I wanted, but I was wrong.

And, like Chris, I am extremely glad I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.

It’s tricky territory, plagued with what-if’s and devil’s advocates and other annoying inconveniences of logic. But Chris’s way with words has brought me a bit closer to accepting and being thankful for what the territory is and what it isn’t, and not worrying so much about what could or would have been.