Thursday, September 18, 2014

Back Story

I read a scientific journal article tonight after dinner.

Surprised? Did you assume I'd be reading entertainment or parenting magazines, or watching TV for fun or research?

The truth is, while I am no scientist, I am the resident proofreader for my husband's work. My elementary and middle school grammar lessons (including diagramming sentences!) stuck with me in a big way, meaning I am kind of fearless when it comes to "copy editing" pretty much any kind of content. Do I follow a certain book of rules? Probably not. But I can say with confidence that documents I proofread generally turn out better.

Now, I am not writing about this to toot my own horn. It just occurred to me that, just as people reading this post might be surprised to hear that I'm reading scientific papers, many of us are surprised by people we know all the time. We go through life putting people in categories--little boxes of sorts--but more often than not, people don't easily fit into boxes. A presumably serious person at work turns out to do standup comedy on the side. A seemingly mild-mannered mom does improv. People can surprise you, no matter how well you think you know them. And things you don't know about a person can really affect the person you do know. Kind of like the back story of a soap opera character, the pieces of our histories and our sets of skills--obvious or not-so-obvious--inform the people we are and the decisions we make each day. They don't make us different people, but they do make us fuller people.

So the next time you think you know exactly who someone is, or exactly what he or she can do, take a moment to remember that there's often more than you can see--a back story that molds the "front-burner" story every day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

But Who's Counting?

I've read that it's important when creating a resume to quantify your accomplishments. It doesn't matter if people think you are a good salesperson. It matters that you sold 1000 widgets per year or netted your company half a million dollars. It doesn't matter if you are a good mentor. It matters that your "mentees" received fifteen raises over two years. It doesn't matter that you work until all hours to get the job done. Unless the job has results you can quantify.

I have always found this part of resume creation challenging. When I worked as an AD, my ability to work with people and to shuffle scenes for efficiency might have saved the production money, but was never recorded as such. When I work as an editor, my ability to process both the needs of the story and the cutting of the video quickly may mean I get more done in eight hours, but ultimately my work contributes to the same half hour or hour long show. How is it, then, that you quantify creativity and efficiency and work ethic in a field not steeped in numbers?

I could argue that a Writer/Director/Editor resume doesn't need to be about numbers. But ultimately, numbers are the common ground on which people compare. No one can measure your work ethic on a piece of paper. Efficiency is subjective, unless it has a figure attached to it. And creativity is really about what you choose to believe.

I have spent years trying to turn a career of hard work and coordinating people and making story choices into a set of numbers that a resume reader (human or computerized) can understand. It's not easy, but if it needs to be "by the numbers," I'll have to work harder at counting my accomplishments, and adding up their value.

But along with the numbers, I'll be hanging on to the creativity and the work ethic. Because people may be counting up, but they're also counting on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing and Learning and Writing

In more than two years of writing this blog, I have learned a few things. Some of them were expected. Others, well---

1. You are rarely the best judge of your own work. The days when I really love what I've written aren't necessarily the days when I get lots of likes or comments. As in most parts of life, you can never be quite sure when you will affect people or effect change. You simply do the work and let the rest follow.

2. Desire is one thing, follow-through is the real thing. I began this blog with the idea of writing every day in the spirit of the everyday nature of soaps. I am, in some ways, so far away from the soaps right now that it wouldn't be unthinkable to stop writing every day. And yet, I persist, because, well, I persist.

3. The same situation rarely looks the same twice. Over two years, I have probably written about certain things more than once. But the fact that we've seen an event before doesn't mean we'll see it the same way again. Or that it will mean the same thing in our lives the second or third time around.

4. Sometimes it feels as though you are working for everyone else, and mostly, you are. But it is possible to carve out something that is really your own. You just have to know that things erode, and you have to be prepared to keep carving.

5. You may have heard, and believed, that time is money. But the time that you spend not making money can be pretty valuable too.

6. I didn't set out to write a blog for years on end. I just set out to write a blog. You don't always have to see the whole road ahead of you. You just have to take the first few steps. And then keep walking.

7. If you believe something can be done, sometimes you'll surprise yourself with your ability to do it.

8. Sometimes it takes staying up late or getting up early to accomplish what you want. Do one or the other, or both, but make sure to do some sleeping in between.

9. While it may seem like fun to count your accomplishments, it's actually more fun just to keep accomplishing.

10. Days and weeks and years pass quickly. Make sure to fill them with things that will make you happy and, at least sometimes, satisfied.

And the learning and the blogging continue...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lessons in Life

Today, I talked to a friend who was bemoaning the end of summer, and the accompanying start of school. She did not relish going back to being the homework enforcer, and to having nights and weekends full of committed time. She found herself wondering why it all had to be so intense.

I certainly get it. While I appreciate the time during which my kids get education and stimulation from someone other than me (because it is likely a broader range of education than I could give them), I do wonder sometimes what we are accomplishing by flying out the door to catch buses and holing up at home in the evenings and on weekends to do yet another assignment.

And then one of my kids comes to me and asks why she is given more to do than there is really time for, and I realize that what they are learning, along with math and science and history, is how the world works. There is almost always more to do than you have time for. You are almost always forced to partner on a project with someone who wouldn't be your first choice. You are quite often compelled to wait for your co-workers to pull their parts together so you can complete yours. And most days, you are called upon to be the enforcer or the enforced--or both. So, while I am not advocating turning kids into grownups too soon, I am grateful that my kids are learning life skills along with their textbook facts.

It will be vacation again before we know it, and we will have at least a short time to be free of schedules and enforcement. It's not that I won't appreciate that-- really, I will. But until then, I'll be helping my kids make those buses and finish those assignments--and being happy that they're learning a little more about life in the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ode To A Weekend At Home

I woke up in my own bed. I took my kids on a city bus to run an errand, and we walked twenty city blocks to follow the errand with a trip to the Cupcake ATM. We walked to another bus and printed out a long receipt before getting on. And then some of us ran around the corner to acquire ingredients for tonight's dinner.

The above is an absolutely mundane list of things accomplished in a day. What makes it not so mundane is that we haven't done anything close to that in months, as this is the first weekend in a long time that we have actually spent in the city--the first weekend when all of us woke up at home and felt our own carpet beneath our feet and no urgency to be anywhere else.

We are runners--not in the athletic sense, but in the life sense. There is almost always somewhere to go and a schedule to keep. With five members of a household, I guess that's not so surprising. So, when we came to this weekend with nowhere in particular we had to be, I'll admit, it was a bit of a shock. All day, I think I was waiting for something to change, for someone to call us to action. Sometimes, however, a weekend at home is really just that. It's not that you do nothing. It's just that you don't have to do much on a timetable. And you don't have to leave your own surroundings to do it.

I am sure that this phenomenon of a home weekend won't last. While we may not be traveling, soon commitments will fill up our Saturdays and take command of our Sundays. So, we'd better enjoy it now--the feel of home carpet under our feet, the luxury of running out for an ingredient. And the trip to the ATM, whether for money or for a baked good. There's nothing quite like a weekend at home.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Want List

Many, many people make "to do lists," detailing the mundane and not so mundane tasks they seek to accomplish in a day, or a week, or a month. These lists are full of the cleaning and the phone calling and the milk-buying that need to be done. If all the items on the "to do list" are checked off by the end of the day, or the week, or the month, a person has presumably succeeded.

Today, I spoke with someone who has a "want list." On it are items large and small, free and not, that she wants. Unlike a "to do list" (which could be called a "need list"), a "want list" is full of things that may not be necessary, but that make us smile. While a "need list" may keep us responsible and on track, a "want list" reminds us that enjoying life matters too. Checking off items on the "to do list" may make us feel virtuous, but hitting the ones on the "want list" can actually make us feel happy.

Now, I have never been too great with "to do" lists. For the most part, I can keep my tasks in my head, and even when I do make a list, I tend to stray from it. I am tempted, however, to make a "want list." While it's not binding, it seems that it would be empowering. After all, if what we are working toward is not just making mundane phone calls and ensuring an adequately stocked refrigerator, but instead, being able to have the experiences or items that we want, aren't we more likely to work toward checking items off? We may reference a "to do list" to keep us organized, but we can reference a "want list" to keep us motivated, and to remind us what really matters to us. Even better, a "want list" reminds us that what we want matters, sometimes even more than all the things we have to do.

And in the midst of all the cleaning and the phone calling and the milk-buying, a reminder of what we really want--and that what we want matters--can be a very good thing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In The News

When I worked in drama and comedy and reality, I was largely unaware of what was going on in the world. Okay, that's not exactly true--I was aware when things affected me. But if news didn't affect me directly, there was a reasonable chance that I didn't know it was happening. I entered a television studio building early in the morning, only to emerge hours later. There were things I saw out of the corner of my eye on control room monitors, but I have a feeling I missed a lot.

These days, working in news keeps me a lot more informed. While I certainly don't know close to everything about anything, I am much more aware of what is going on in a lot of places. I make my way home at least a little informed about what has gone on, rather than oblivious to the happenings outside the studio. Some days, it feels good to be aware of the world outside my "bubble." Other days, it is exhausting.

Today, working in news was, of course, mostly about the 9/11 anniversary. As I strung together video and photos of all the parts of that day and people's reactions to it, I was reminded of a day when even the bubble of a soap opera studio didn't keep me from knowing what was going on. As I edited a montage of people's memories of that day, I thought back to my own, which was good, because it is important to remember. And yet, today was one of those days when I headed home exhausted from all the videos and images and assorted ways of telling the story. Working in news keeps you informed, but it also tends to give you more information than you are able to process. Particularly on a day like today.

There may come a day when I go back to entertainment, when I no longer have on my radar what is happening in Africa or Europe or the Middle East unless it affects me directly. For now, though, I am happy to know. Happy to be working, and learning, and being aware. Even on the exhausting days. And even on the days when we would all know anyway.