2015 appears to be the year of focus so far. I’ve shed a lot of the extra “big plans” to zero in on what I hope to do with the second half of my life. These plans included, but were not limited to: VFX/Gaming/Video school for kids, VFX/Gaming intensive training embedded at a Community College, Super-speed tutorial series, a series of funny/gory VFX shots, expanding my coding abilities, fix up some old vintage audio gear, maybe take on some sound editing jobs… the list goes on. Also in there was my plan to write more, read more, and do more stuff with my wife. Sounds ridiculous when it’s all written out like that. And there were more things! Oh, and we’re having our first child in five weeks.

It’s a little embarrassing to list everything out and realize that it’s not a list of priorities or goals, it’s a list of interests. It’s also a list of distractions. Ricky Jay has a great line in The Spanish Prisoner, “It’s one thing when a man’s hobbies get in the way of his work, but when they get in the way of each other, well…” I’ve found that I procrastinate not by laying around, but by cramming my list so full that I can’t get anything done. That way there’s always potential and never failure. It also feels like a list you might get when you ask a 6 year-old what he wants to be when he grows up, “A racecar driver, a fireman, an astronaut, a submarine captain…” You smile and nod and say, “You can be anything you put your mind to.” Little do the kids know I haven’t put my mind to any one thing, either.

Recently my wife suggested I make a list of true priorities, not goals. Naturally, I searched the internet for examples because research is the best and most readily available form of rationalized procrastination. “I can’t write today because I should read more about these authors who made it big.” When I made films, I spent a LOT of time on DVD commentaries and director interviews, but that’s a lifetime ago. Anyway, I compiled a list of 3 priorities and a list of 3 obstacles.

Family: includes wife, parents, sibling, and 1 (and only one) lifelong friend
Creativity: both consuming and generating
Teaching: best said by Buckminster Fuller, “Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.”

Research: reading up on the success paths of others is fun, but sucks time
Impatience: changing channels between ideas and interests is counter-productive
Completionism: must finish one thing or series of things before moving on

The obstacles are all forms of procrastination, but they are my primary challenges. When I’m on something that I want to do, I derail it by jumping over to something else I want to do (Impatience), but I also hyper-focus on some things so much that I can’t do anything else whether collecting all the achievements in a video game (Completionism) or reading every interview by the same author (Research) or looking for every issue of a writer’s comic run (Completionism meets Research) or reading up on ways to acquire and refurbish a specific set of vintage Marantz equipment (Research meets Completionism). I could cram a million examples into that one run-on sentence, but you get the idea. My obstacles are accessible, entertaining, and cheap. A steady stream of quick bursts of immediate satisfaction with no long term benefits. Like sugar. Or gambling. Or

Even this blog post is a diversion from the book project I have been poking with a stick for the past year. But I can rationalize it by saying that I have a set of official priorities to filter everything I do this year. Instead of setting a goal like “finishing writing a book,” I can say, “Am I engaging in creativity?” Reading a book is good. Researching the author for hours and days on end is bad. Playing a narrative video game (Last of Us) is good. Building the best sword and finishing every side mission (Skyrim) is bad. And instead of marathoning episodes of Chopped on the weekend (not quality time), maybe the wife and I should take a drive to some river town and have lunch (quality time). See what I’m saying?

The filter is engaged. This blog post will count as creative writing and structural thinking. Both good things. Reading it ten times before publishing will be a bad thing, so I’ll try to avoid it and keep moving toward the good things.

Big Move

After 20 years in Portland, Oregon, I’m moving back to Minneapolis. I’m leaving my current school after 10 years as a teacher and administrator and starting a job at another design college.

Going to be a tough transition, but the hope is that I’ll have more time to write, read, and blog. Who knows? This could be the chance I’ve been working for… or I could be back in Portland in six months. Time will tell!

Have I Told You This One? Episode 3: Butthead

I once worked for a sound editing company in the Bay area that primarily worked on feature films. It was an amazing experience to see so many creative people making movies. There’s a saying that goes something like, “Acting/Directing/Editing can make a good script great, but nothing can make a bad script good.” I would argue that some mind-blowing sound design can make a bad script watchable. I had seen it done more than a few times while at this job. But this story goes back to my first day there. Literally the first day on the job.

I was a digital audio technician which, in 1999, meant I restarted computers for a living. But occasionally clients would have other tech problems and I would lend a hand. A movie called Office Space was in the final mix and the director and producers were there. Mike Judge, as you know, built his career around Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. Office Space was his first wide release feature film and people were pretty excited about it. Mike’s name was part of every conversation, and like I said I had only been working there a few hours. So when it came time to support the movie that first afternoon, I was pretty comfortable with the idea that Mike Judge was cool and pretty chill as far as directors go during the final mix.

The mixing stages are set up with a little lounge at the back so people can make calls while the mixers keep working. The only way to access the stage is to walk through the lounge. I walked in and there sat Mike with his Windows laptop. He was swearing at it and frustrated that the connection at the facility was so slow (this was pre-wifi, btw). Being new and being unaware of the rule that staff were not, under any circumstances, to speak to directors or producers except to answer a question, I told him I could fix it. Thing is, I had no idea if I could, but I was eager to make an impression. He looked at me. I pointed to his laptop. He held it out and said, “Sure man.”

I was lucky. It was pretty standard virus/spyware lag that plagued PC’s in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. I ran a couple tools and disabled some junk and the machine was good as new. Mike loaded up his email app (remember Outlook Express?) and it snapped onto the screen. He looked up with a huge grin, “Nice.” I said, “No problem” and headed toward the stage door. He said, “What can I do to keep that from happening again?” For an instant, I lost my first day jitters and said what I’d say to a friend, “Stay off the porn sites.”

Mike laughed. And when I tell you it was exactly Butthead’s laugh, I mean EXACTLY. It was freaky. I had been a fan of the B & B animated shorts from the Spike and Mike’s days before MTV. I know people always say that stuff, but I have the VHS collection to prove it. That laugh was so distinctive that I snapped a look at him like he was either making a concerted reference, or making fun of me. But from the look on his face it was neither. I think that’s his actual laugh.

Whenever you meet cool filmmakers, you want their movies to be good. And yes, when you meet asshole directors, you want their movies to suck. Office Space was a riot, and a couple days later, we watched the finished version with the director in the audience. Knowing he was a good guy made the movie that much better.