Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Control Freak

No, I am not one. Ask anyone. I am the most easy-going and collaborative of people. I love other people's input--I just find that sometimes, a big meeting to hear everybody's input can agitate me. I could certainly sleep till 11am sometimes. I just find that a five a.m. alarm lets me get more done. And I confess, when I was working as an AD, I would sometimes ready a camera that I thought looked good so that the director would cut to it.

Okay, maybe I am a control freak.

In all seriousness, I think most of us are probably control freaks in one way or another. Though we may not all feel a constant need to control other people, most of us feel a lot better when we believe that things are a little bit in our control. When we go to the gym, we may be happy because we lose weight or gain energy, but ultimately, we feel good because we have taken control of our health and stamina. When we do more than we have to at work, we may think we are doing it to impress our bosses, but often, we do it more so that we can have control over how things turn out. Having control feels good. Handling things completely OUT of our control usually doesn't. We want to be able to do something, whether that something is effective all of the time or not. We want to be in control of our surroundings. I would venture to say that even the most easy-going and collaborative among us are really looking for control.

So, maybe in some ways, we are all control freaks--all of us just looking for ways to make sense of things that don't always make sense. Each of us trying to be on the "make it happen" side, rather than the "what will happen?" side. Some really good camera shots got on the air because I "took control" and readied them. Some of my best decisions have been made without the help of a committee meeting. And I really do accomplish a lot at 5am.

Sometimes, it just pays to be a control freak.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Crossed Signals

Some days, all the pieces connect. The buses are made, the "t's" are crossed, and the coffee does its job. You and a friend are on the same wavelength, and you know exactly what you need to do (and do it) by day's end.

Most days, however, you function on less than complete information (despite extensive technological gizmos for communicating information). Most days, you are grateful for the precious few moments that connect, the brief moments when you are on the same wavelength as ANYONE. Most days, you are the recipient of so many crossed signals that it's remarkable there's more left than rubble on the tracks at the end of the day.

Luckily, we are lighter on our wheels than your average train. Luckily, despite signs to the contrary, we are slightly more in control of our tracks than the average train. Luckily, even when we get our signals unbelievably crossed, the results are more often annoying than dire, more often momentary than permanent.

Some days, it feels as though just about all of our signals are crossed. And maybe they are. But we are trained to handle it, and move on. Because we have places to go. And we won't get anywhere without getting back on track.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Showing Up

This morning, I attended a committee meeting, not because I had committed to (on the contrary, I had spent a week consciously NOT committing to attending or not attending). Two hours later, having spoken a little and listened a lot, I prepared to return home. As I was leaving, several people thanked me for my insights and input during the meeting, and said they were glad I had been there. In two hours, I had not volunteered to do anything. In fact, when we went around the room stating what our actions would be before the next event, I said "pass." Yet, when it was done, people were still glad, at least so they said, that I had been there.

Often, we are required to have such clear definitions of our usefulness. Did we accomplish a task? Did we earn a certain amount of money, or solve a very particular, previously unsolvable problem? What I found out this morning, two hours after I showed up at a meeting I could just as easily have skipped, was that sometimes, just showing up and being ourselves goes as far as doing the most work or solving the most problems. Sometimes, speaking our mind or our heart, without the preparation of knowing that we'll have to, is the greatest contribution we can make. My time could have been spent sleeping, or negotiating kid conflicts, or preparing my apartment for the coming week. Instead, I showed up, and a few times, I spoke up. My presence and my words mattered. And that felt good.

Sometimes, the best present we can give ourselves is just showing up.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Releasing The Past

Today, in the course of cleaning (it's the weekend--what else would I be doing?), I came across preschool artwork and handouts from fifteen-years-ago seminars, welcome packets from companies I've left already, and little souvenirs whose origins I barely remember. Before I knew it, I had filled a giant garbage bag. It was just the tip of the iceberg, but it felt good.

I am a keeper. Whether it's a gift from a friend or relative, or the evidence of a purchase, or the construction paper "snapshot" of a child from some moment in time, I default to keeping it. After all, you never know when you'll need it, to refresh your memory, or to prove your case with a service provider, or to re-teach yourself something you learned many years ago.

The problem is, when you keep all of these things, you can't even find them quickly enough to accomplish any of these worthy goals. Are you really going to spend an afternoon going through preschool artwork to remember your kids at that age? Is the information from that course really relevant--or accurate--in the workplace anymore? Keeping may be a lovely thing, but when it means that the climbing over and the wading through precludes actually using what you are keeping, somehow, the "lovely" kind of goes away.

I am not wholesale releasing my past. Neither time nor emotion would allow that. But even if I do fill a few more bags, I am realizing that releasing the tangible pieces of a past doesn't mean the past won't endure. It just means we have to hold on to it in different ways--in the work that we do NOW, in the records we keep and use NOW, and in the memories we enjoy and retell NOW, even without the construction paper evidence to back them up.

Releasing the past doesn't have to mean letting it go. It just means moving it around a little, so that we can still have room to enjoy the present.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Right Turn

I stopped ever so briefly, to explore a store just after it opened. I decided to take a particular train, and come out at a particular exit. I chose to run a particular errand, for which I had to turn a particular corner. And as I walked to my destination, before me appeared an old friend with whom I spent the next ten minutes catching up.

It was wonderful to see my friend. After all, in the chaos of everyday life, weeks and months go by without your being able to schedule lunches or coffees or even phone calls. We get wrapped up in our own "craziness," and the last thing we're thinking about is checking in to find out about someone else's "craziness."

I walked away from our conversation somewhat amazed by how many little decisions on my part landed me on just the same block at just the same time as she was there. Any one different choice on my part, or on hers, for that matter, and we wouldn't have seen each other. Months might have passed until we communicated at all.

Sometimes, in our lives, we are worried that we have made the wrong turns--the big ones or the little ones. Today, I was reminded that even the questionable turns can turn out well, whether they produce a task completed or a friend seen or, well, nothing at all. You never quite know until you make the turn, until you allow yourself to veer off an otherwise straight path, and see what's around the corner. Sometimes, around that corner, you realize you've made exactly the right turn.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tell Me The Positive

Tonight, in a meeting about the children's book I am co-writing, we began by each sharing a good experience we have had during the last few rounds of edits. I'll admit, I was glad when the sharing went the other way around the table, so I had ample time to frame my answer. These last few rounds of edits have been tough, as the editing group has tried to mold a coherent narrative out of the wildly divergent pieces we have all created. I have had frustrations, and sad moments, and "grrr" moments--a bunch of them. But when faced with this task of sharing a good experience, I couldn't help but shift my focus from what had bothered me to what I had gained from the process.

It was a brilliant way to start a meeting, actually--to disarm what might have turned into a venting session and turn it into a gathering that emphasizes similarities rather than differences.

So many things that happen to us can cause frustration--roadblocks at work, challenges in a job search, conflicts with family members. After the fact, we can often look back and see the good that came out of that frustration, but what if we were able to focus on that good sooner? Might we then be able to turn these frustrations into more productive choices? Might we be able to appreciate our challenges, rather than just struggle with them? Might the resulting product be stronger for it?

I came out of tonight's meeting feeling more like a team member than when I'd walked in, and with a brighter outlook than I'd expected to have. Challenges are hard. But when we can stop and focus on the positive, even just for a moment, we can often turn our challenges into some of our most brilliant successes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Standing By

In control room lingo, somewhere in between "floor is ready" and "5, 4, 3, 2, 1," there is the phrase "standing by," which means ready and waiting for the producer or the director or whatever comes next. Standing by can last a moment, just before a countdown, or much longer, if all the necessary parties are not quite ready. And if it drags on too long, "standing by" becomes "standing down," a kind of "at ease" place, so that people can relax if it's going to be a while.

When "standing by" is just a kind of "get ready," it's exhilarating. It's that moment just before you make the creative leap, the second just before you give it your all. When it lasts longer, it's just the opposite. It robs you of those creative juices. It uses your anticipatory energy and leaves you with nothing to show for all your readiness. In that case, standing by becomes just what it sounds like--remaining still while things just happen around you.

It occurs to me that when I was working as an AD, I tended to avoid the "stand by" step at all costs. If I could go right from "floor is ready" to "in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1," I was much happier, and I would venture to say, the day went quicker. Which makes it not so surprising that these days, "stand by" is a phrase that pulls the life right out of me. Neither life nor TV production is really about standing by. Rather, they are both about jumping in--being actively involved, and moving the day and the project forward. When we "stand by," we often miss out, both on the experience, and on the excitement that comes with it.

So, whenever I can, I'll be skipping the "standing by." Life's too short, and there's too much to do. Floor is ready? In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.