Ordinary Life #1: The First Day of School and Post-Summer Blues

Among the many things they don’t tell you about becoming a parent is that your life will once again revolve around the school year. Apparently our Summer vacations are the result, not some anachronistic agrarian calendar, but of an effort by late 19th century school reformers to standardize academic schedules between rural and urban areas. In the days before air conditioning, it simply made sense to take a break during the sweltering months of Summer. That same logic applies to life in Washington DC. No one moves here for the weather, and, as its denizens are fond of recounting, the city was built on a swamp. It is beautiful here for six weeks in the Spring and six weeks in the Fall, but at all other times DC weather is something to be avoided, and that goes double for the Summer months. Congress leaves on recess for much of the Summer, so it makes sense for much of the lobbyists, the nonprofit activists, the think tankers, the policy wonks, and the journalists to leave as well.

The Year Behind, the One Ahead (A 2016 Review and 2017 Preview)

At ITVFest with Districtland

Last year around this time I wrote that I planned to take it easy in 2016.

Heh. That was funny.

I was as busy as ever in 2016. But on the flip side, I did not go through any film production which quintupled the number of white hairs in my beard (See Districtland, making of…). On the contrary, this year I went through the best production of my life with the cast and crew of #humbled.

It’s sort of funny if you look at it. In 2015, I made a 22-minute Pilot episode for a TV show, which was shot over four days and cost more than $8k, and the experience nearly led me to quit film. In 2016, informed by many of the lessons I learned on that production, I made a 75-minute feature, also shot in four days, and costing less than $7k. And it was one of the smoothest, most enjoyable experiences I could have imagined.

On Giving Up Facebook (Or, Living the Dream)

At this point I consider Facebook to be a necessary encumbrance to modern life.

First, the bad:

  • Facebook does not “connect” us. It separates us.
  • Facebook is not good for political discourse in any way, shape, or form.
  • Facebook facilitates the Internet Outrage Machine that is so poisonous for everyone who is exposed.
  • Facebook hasn’t saved media companies. It’s made them serfs in Facebook’s empire.
  • Facebook is an addictive time suck.

The good:

  • Facebook incontrovertibly gives businesses an amazing advertising product with a reach and targeting ability the likes of which have never before been seen.

In my version of “living the dream,” I am not on Facebook. In this life, I share pics of my son with the extended family in one of several other perfectly obvious ways, I get my news by visiting actual news sites, and I keep up with my friends by actually visiting with my friends.

So, why don’t I quit?

Reason 1: I’m in marketing. I can’t quit, for obvious marketing-related reasons.

Reason 2: I can’t think of a more effective way to let people know what I’m doing with my film projects. My audience wants to know about what I’m up to, what movies I’m working on and such, but not all of them want to sign up for an email list. They actually do prefer to receive their updates via Facebook. It is without a doubt the most effective way to spread the news.

One day though I will quit. Either Facebook will cease to be the effective marketing tool that it is right now, or I will leave marketing and leave film and leave everything behind that requires me to “spread the word” in order for it to succeed. I would become a farmer, but that requires me to work 14-hour days in one place for much of the year, so that’s out.

But… one day.

85 percent of my daily thinking is not publishable

I was thinking today about the criteria I use for when something is worthy of a blog post.

Writing a blog post is in many ways a highly egotistical exercise. The implicit assertion is that my thoughts on this subject are worthy of reading, and in longer form than a social media post can accommodate. Of course, we live in a time of sharing. We share publicly our thoughts, feelings, and opinions on everything from how cute our cat is when she naps to whether the super-delegate system is treating Bernie Sanders unfairly. We share that we cooked a great dinner, and we share that someone in line at the grocery store cut us off. Hashtag rude.

The year behind, the one ahead (A 2015 review and 2016 preview)

On the set of Moonshot.

On the set of Moonshot.

This year I found out where my limit is, because I passed it. You can tell because I now have, for the first time, white hair in my beard. We’re talking white, white – not gray. Look for me to be closer shaven in the coming year than I was last year in order to disguise said new white hair.

But seriously. For years and years I let time go by with a feeling of not having done enough with my life. Plans unrealized, goals not met, projects not started, or abandoned. In 2014 I began to seriously change that dynamic, and in 2015 I can say for the first time in my life that I maybe did too much.

To be fair, I am still, by my own standard, behind in life. I turned 34 this year; oh, the things I could have accomplished by now had I not been… so many things. But let us leave that extremely long list of past mistakes and regrets for another post, and continue on.

What tribes do I identify with?

One of the best pieces I’ve ever read about what’s responsible for the Internet-outrage cycle comes from this past January, from Scott Alexander in New Statesman. It’s worth reading in absolute full and contains far too many excellent passages for me to excerpt any particular one.

Without getting in to the argument (again, read it for yourself), the story got me thinking about tribalism generally, specifically the tribes I identify with personally. These are the groups I give the benefit of the doubt, or instinctually feel as if I should defend. The groups whose bad behavior I am more likely to excuse.

Am I doomed to always make my living from writing?

There were those three Summers I was a camp counselor and the one I was a sailing instructor. For a few months each I also worked at a grocery store, a movie theatre, and as the guy who wrote down people’s sandwich orders at the grill in my College cafeteria.

Other than those, however, I have always made my living by writing. The first way was writing business profiles for an industry & market research company at $10/hour. After that I wrote news stories for the daily newspaper for some years. Since leaving the newspaper it’s been more writing: ads, tag lines, marketing plans, case studies, white papers, press releases, media advisories, news alerts (three different phrases for basically the same thing), editorials, blogs posts, more blog posts, tweets… the list goes on.

The cultural and political battles I care about enough to have the time and inclination to fight (and the ones I don’t)

Perhaps it’s just the internet outrage cycle and the coddling of the American mind, but everywhere I turn it seems there is a new culture war or political battle to fight. These fights demand that I like or repost articles or in some cases that I attend protests or events, or donate, or in some way take action.

I can’t do it all of course, and some battles I actively avoid. This isn’t to say I don’t care. I do care about a great many things, many of which I don’t take action on. My inclination to act, or not, isn’t necessarily a reflection on how much I do or don’t care about an issue.

The choice of which battles to fight is more like the Obama foreign policy, which is not purely ideological (that’s part of what I like about it). The administration might care about something a great deal, or that something may align well with their ideology, but whether they act, and to what degree they act, is more influenced by a variety of nuanced factors, including the capacity of that action to make a difference, the given politics of the situation, loyalty to specific allies, whether America has a direct interest, potential negative ramifications on other priorities, and so on.

Foundational Texts: The Fox and the Hedgehog

In no particular order, I’ve always wanted to list and explain the books which have formed the foundations of my thinking, including those books which provided useful framing for me as a teenager, college student, or young adult, but which I have since decided are wrong (or which I no longer agree with). Those texts still count as foundational.

And then, of course, there are those which are still with me, still informing the ways in which I think about things. One of those books is Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox. The title comes from a saying from an ancient Greek poet, Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one, big thing.”

If And When To Homeschool

Homeschooling has a bad rep, mostly because it’s the religiously-motivated homeschoolers who get most of the press. But I was homeschooled for one year (eighth grade) for entirely practical reasons. Namely, there weren’t such good schools anywhere around when we moved to upstate New York.

It was an invaluable and memorable part of my childhood in which I:

  • finished an entire state-approved curriculum for the year in four months
  • was tutored in chemistry and Latin by Bard College students
  • learned history and literature from my mom, and a little computer programming from my step-dad.
  • self-taught everything else.
  • attended college-level art seminars, also at Bard
  • played on multiple county basketball & soccer teams, some which I was the star of
  • freely roamed our 100+ acre former farm building forts, swings, and shelters, including one in which I rode out a serious snow blizzard
  • weekly, as a family, broke down a beaver damn which was causing flooding to our basement
  • alternated with my sister our responsibility to cook lunches for each other
  • at the end of the year, was admitted and accepted entry into a prestigious New England prep school for freshman year, where I immediately tested into sophomore-level math, science, history classes.