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Monthly Archives: August 2005

So, I've been writing this treatment now for more than a month, and I've only got about 5 pages done.

That's not a whole lot.

Actually, I banged that out in the first couple of days. Since then, I've been hard pressed to find the time. (Another reason for the secret demise of many secret projects.) I've got a good job, a great wife, and the coolest 8 month old kid. I'm not wild about the job, but I like it, and it'll do till Hollywood comes calling. But I'd rather not sever relations with the wife and kid, both whom deserve and demand a bit of attention when I get home from work. And I'm too creatively burned out after that to put any reall effort into writing. I get more of my quality work done in the morning when i first wake up.

So, I'm going to get up early. Really early according to my wife, who needs a minimum of 18 hours of sleep a night.

I'm going to start getting up at 4 AM.

My nine-to-five actually starts at 7. I figure that gives me 2 good hours of writing, an hour to get ready for the day and off to work. Then I'm home at 4:30 or so to spend the rest of the evening with my family. If I can manage to get to bed by 9 PM, that gives me seven hours of sleep, which for me, is generally enough.

I'm starting first thing in the morning. Very first thing. We'll see how this goes…

The Secret Project.

It's mystery shrouds it's brilliance. It's power grows in obscurity. Unknown to any but it's original creator, it lies in silence, waiting for the moment to strike out on an unsuspecting but overly grateful public (i.e., the Great Unwashed).

What is this Secret Project?

Its that thing you're working on late at night or early in the morning. (Or if you're particularly dedicated, during lunch!). It could be a screenplay. Or a short film. Or an idea for a series. Or maybe even something that hasn't even been invented yet. Whatever it is, it's yours – its a secret – and no one will ever see it until you're ready to reveal it's magnificence.

I stole the title of this post from here. I like the whole article (especially the part about always designing the logo first), and it pretty much expresses the way I feel about my own creative endeavors. Except that he says that it's not the end that matters to him. I'm probably too young to undertand this, having only started (not finished, that's kinda the way these things go) a couple of secret projects myself, but I really REALLY want to see this project of mine finished. There's a lot of satisfaction you can take from completing something and saying "I did that."

But, there is one big problem with secret projects, like Jim mentions:

… eventually it will be unleashed onto the public. Once every word, every design, every last nuance has been worked out to your satisfaction. Once you've copyrighted it and protected your master work from being stolen by anyone else (This is the another reason for keeping your project secret – you've got mounds and mounds of paranoia that someone might "steal" your brilliant idea (silly, once you realize that everything has already been done anyways). Only once you're convinced that your baby can defend itself will you allow it to leave.

What happens, is you get so trapped into keepin your project secret, that you do ALL the work without any input or influence from others. And you get exhausted. Burned out. After a while, you wonder how in the world you were able to delude yourself into thinking you'd be able to pull off such an undertaking by yourself. And then you start to criticize your idea, wondering why you ever thought it was worthwhile.

I'm convinced that this problem is a direct result of cutting yourself off from the constructive criticism of those you have around you. Let me elaborate:

I was in architecture school for a while, and one of the most important things in an architecture education (any creative education really) is the criticism you recieve from your instructor and your peers. You don't have to agree with the things others say about your work, but listening to them allows you to view it from another point of view. The most valuable thing you can learn in trying to finish a secret project, is to be able to handle constructive criticism. But that's the problem isn't it? How can you subject your idea to criticism, and still keep it a secret?

I have two parts to what I think is the solution:

1) Let a couple people see what your working on. Develop relationships with other creative people whose opinions you respect. Createan A-Team of insiders and get feedback from them. Tell them to be as honest as they can. And frank. Beating around the bush is a waste of time, so if they've got someting negative to say, tell them to just be out with it.

Learn to seperate criticism of your work from that of yourself. When someone is making a negative remark about something you've done, they're not trying to take a jab at you. They're giving you valuable feedback. You don't have to agree, you don't have to take their advice, but considering it -actually weighing their suggestion on it merits- is the best way to view your project with a fresh perspective.

2) Surround yourself with things that inspire you. Bookmark the webpages of artists (writers, photographers, illustrators, web designers, anyone) you admire. Keep a morgue (see the second paragraph of that article) of things that got your attention.

Seek out other creatives, in fields different from your own. One of the most inspiring things happened to me the other weekend. I ran into a buddy of mine from the architecture program a couple months ago, and we told each other we oughta get together sometime. We promptly didn't. After a couple of months went by, I finally looked the guy up in the phone book, and left a message on his machine. After another couple of weeks he got back ot me. We scheduled a saturday afternoon dinner at his place for a couple more weeks down the road. By now it ought to be obvious that the both of us were pretty busy.

When the designated day finally arrived, my friend and his wife served a wonderful dinner of dutch-oven cooked chicken and potatoes, followed by a great pinneapple upside-down cake. During the meal I mentioned that I was writing a screenplay, and that caught my friend's wife's attention. Apparently, she'd recently finished writing a novel. I could only gasp at the magnitude of that kind of undertaking. This woman has two children under 4 year old, and yet in spite of all the mothering involved in seeing to these kids, she's managed to find the time to write an entire novel.

Inspiring.
But wait, there's more:

After dinner, we moved out into the living room to talk and play with the kids. In the corner was one of the most unique chairs I'd ever seen. I asked where it came from, and my buddy answered that he built it. Only he didn't just build it, he designed it. So this guy, a student in the Master's architecture program, with a 40 hour a week job, and a wife and kids to pay attention to, was able to somehow design and build one of the coolest chairs ever to grace a lining room floor. He then showed me a bedside table that he designed and built, and I swear, the thing could probably sell for at least $800 in some upscale furniture store. His wife told me he's got a writing desk out in the shed he's working on.

Inspiring.

Keep in touch with people like that.

And keep your secret project moving.

I got to thinking about overtime yesterday, as I spent a 14 hour day at work. It occured to me that the employeer-employee relationship is a bit skewed towards favoring large companies. See, the standard employment agreement goes something along the these lines:

You work 40 hours a week, and we'll pay you for your trouble. If we happen to need you more than 40 hours in any given week, then we'll pay you even more for your trouble. Unless, of course, we happen to classify you as an 'exempt' emplopyee, in which case, it's important that you work the extra time, but not so important to us that we pay you for it. Oh, and we require that you at least be here for the normal 40 hours per week. We can't afford to pay you the normal 40 hour salary for a 35 hour week. If you can't deal with that, move on, and we'll find someone else who can.

The whole 'exempt' classification thing is where I start to get a bit itchy. Now, I'm only speaking from my experience, and I've only had one job out of college (having only graduated less than a year ago), but at least this is the feeling that I get of corporate America: For an exempt employee, overtime is your duty to the company. The company owes you squat, just be grateful you have a job.

Why is it, that a company can demand that I work more time for the same pay during one week, and yet refuse to pay me that same amount the next week if I happen to need to take a couple hours off? It's because of the nature of the employeer-employee relationship, which is a perfect example of Econ 101. They have a job, along with all it's attendent benefits (salary, medical, etc which is in demand. You have your time (the currency) which you trade to your employeer in exchange for that job. The more people that want that job (high demand), the less they have to give in exchange for the position, and the more others will be willing to pay (in their time) for the commodity. See, basic economics. And companies are very good at basic economics. Large, publicly held companies anyway.

And that's another thing. Officers of publicly held companies have two large groups they answer to. The employees and the stockholders. Only, and here's the kicker, they don't really have to answer to the employees. The pay structure for executives is based entirely on the stock price. So the largest factor in an executive's decision-making process, is "how will this action affect our shareholders." That shouldn't be big problem should it? Except for one minor thing… the interests of the shareholders and the interests of the employees are diametrically opposed.

Generally speaking, making employees happier is going to cost the company money, which eats into the profits. Lower profits = lower stock price = angrier stockholders. And when the executive's pay is based off of stockholder happiness, well you get the picture.

Large companies…. bleh. I've got to find a smaller place to work.

I've got to start working for myself.

I sparked an interesting conversation at work today. Actually, my sandals did. Apparently I'm brimming with disrespect. That's what my sandals said anyways. Or to be more to the point, that's what I was told my sandals were saying. I didn't hear them say anything.

Actually it wasn't much of a conversation. Mostly I just listened to my collegue's opinions on the subject without offering mine. I had them. I disagreed with a lot of what he said, but I couldn't really formulate them at the time. So, I decided to see if I can get my thoughts on the subject organized. Writing is another way to think out loud.

The gist of the other guy's reasoning was basically this: How you dress is a matter of respect. He then seemed (I say seemed, because I don't want to falsly attribute anything to him) to lament the decay of formality in society in general, stating that we don't dress for church, the ballet, opera, or work with as much panache as we used to. This, to him, was a bad thing.

Two qustions come to my mind regarding this line of thought. First, does the way I dress necessarily reflect my feelings towards my employeer or collegues, or the performers at an opera or ballet? Second, is it necessarily a bad thing that people are (in general) dressing more casually than ten or fifteen (or twenty or fifty) years ago?

I played the trumpet in school, grades 7 through 12. That's a total of six years. I generally sat either first, second or third chair, even where there were those a year my senior playing in the same group. I would say that I have a fairly decent understanding of what it takes to become an excellent musician. When I go to a concert, be it American Idols Live or the local symphony, I feel as though I have a basic appreciation of what it takes for a person to be able to perform to a high standard. And I respect that kind of dedication and talent. Likewise, I understand the amount of work it takes my co-workers to do a good job.

Exactly what is it then that I show my respect for when I wear the corporate uniform? Seems like a bit of empty-headed flag saluting, which to me is rather orwellian.

I respect good work. My personal choice of footwear doesn't change that fact. It is egocentric for a person to beleive that my feelings of respect wear a 3 peice suit just because his do.

But shouldn't I, understanding that it's 'normal' to wear what others expect, get in line and not rock the boat? At the risk of sounding like my three year old nephew, why? Sounds like voluntarily joinging the Borg: "We shall add your social distinctiveness to our own.' Honestly, what benefit does my employeer get from seeing me dress a certain way? Requiring certain employee dress displays more concern for the image of the company than any regard for the individual employee's personal preferences. Why should I sacrifice my preferences to those of the company. As far as I know, I've only sold them 40 hours of my time per week (more on this to come), not my personality.

I suppose it can be documented, that as a whole, we are dressing more casually than generations past, though quantifing 'casual' for the purposes of comparison would turn out to be a fruitless exercise. For the sake of argument it should to suffice to say that back in the day, people dressed more formally. The question again: is this bad?

Though the evidence isn't empirical, it can safely be said that every generation is looked upon by previous generations as having worse [insert value] than 'we did.' Everone can recall some old-timer who fondly reminices about 'the good ol' days while simultaneously lamenting the state of things today. Regarding clothing, it used to be that the accepted mode of dress for men to wear at the opera was a tuxedo. Later it was a suit, and admittedly less formal bit of apparel. Now you'll see all sorts of clothes at the opera house? Who is right, the current generation or the suits? And if the suits were right, where did the tuxedo generation go wrong?

Obviously it is hard to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the 'right' thing to wear, given that the 'right' thing to wear has differed over the course of time. And the institution that requires people to wear what is currently 'right' is the equiviant of the teenager who begs his parents to buy him the latest in fasion. My parents surely didn't buy me that $120 pair of jeans simply because that was what everyone else was wearing. Why do companies (or society in general) ask adults to do the same thing?

I’m a big fan of open source software. I’m by no means a linux guy. I’ve taken CS 101 just to see if I was interested in programming, so I can use a shell, and write some basic code/script, but I prefer Windows and Mac machines (so far). That being said, I love the Firefox browser. Extensions are really cool. And I just downloaded OpenOffice as a replacement for MS Office. In fact, I’m writing my screenplay with Writer from the OpenOffice project. For any of you out there who are sceptics or late adopters, don’t be afraid to take the plunge into something new. It just might suprise you how usefull these, and other open source software products can be.