Player 2

A week ago, I suggested to Eric that we animate one of his daily MONOVLOG monologues. He agreed with enthusiasm, I wrote out a short piece, we settled on a look, and off I went. One week later, here we are: the premiere of Player 2!

Overall, I am pleased with how Player 2 turned out – the chiptune music underneath it is charming and emotional, the pixel artist who transformed Eric into a character did a great job, and the backgrounds give it a nice vibe.

Any faults in the piece are my own; the most glaring is that I did not execute the walk cycles for either character as well as I should have. I’m still learning the ins and outs of Adobe Animate, so I justified not obsessing over the walk cycles by telling myself the other components – the visuals, the story, the backgrounds – would be more impactful to the overall piece. Which is true, given the retro video game theme, but it’s also an excuse. For the next animation, I need to push myself.

For Eric’s MONOVLOG project, collaboration was the key. The idea for this monolog in particular came from a recent visit to a local arcade (why are old video games so fun for a few minutes, and then so disappointing right after? The nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be…), and I set out to see what I could do visually to recreate that feeling.

As an Adobe Creative Cloud user, I get access to 10 Adobe Stock images each month. The other small projects I worked on in June didn’t necessitate much additional art, so with a week left, I still had eight images to burn. I looked for buildings and cities that were illustrated with a flat design motif, and found more than enough to establish a tiny world.

Then it came time to think about the models. I am no artist, so I looked to Fiverr to find someone who might be able to turn Eric into a cartoon of some sort. I stumbled across Ash who makes pixel art, and he put together a front and side view of Eric, as well as Eric’s Player 2, for a great price, plus he included several expressions, and the models broken apart. Without going into the details of animation software, just know it’s much easier to animate the models when they’re broken apart ahead of time.

Finally, the music. I’m very appreciative of Free Music Archives’ Chiptune selection which is a blast to scroll through and sample. For whatever reason, whether nostalgia or something else, I find the chirpy glitchy genre hits me just right, and it fit the video game aesthetic of Player 2 perfectly.

With the characters, backgrounds, and music set, I knew I could create a world that resembled an old arcade game.

Or rather, I knew I could create the world given the art that others had created. Without them, this piece wouldn’t have been possible, but interestingly, only half of ‘them’ know they’re involved in the piece. With that, it’s worthwhile to note the difference between active and passive collaborators.

Eric, Ash and I were all actively collaborating – requesting, editing, revising, giving and taking feedback. From that communication came improvements and enhancements. Still, I view the background illustrators and chiptune musicians as collaborators, too, even if we weren’t in contact, because even though ours was a more passive collaboration, their impact on the final piece is just as substantial.

As I continue to make projects of different sorts, my own abilities and weaknesses come into sharper focus. Some, like animation, are ones I want to improve, as they help guide the project and put the pieces in place. Others, like illustration and music, are fascinating and fun and I’m happy to mess around with, but I’m such a novice that I feel lucky to have access to more accomplished creators. Working with them, both actively and passively, is always the right move.

More and more I realize that collaborators are the compound interest of creativity. Over the length of a project, and the length of one’s career, collaboration and creativity build on top of each other in increasingly impactful ways.

Ideas are cheap, so when we trade and exchange and collaborate and innovate and create together, we’re all the better for it.

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On the Run in Rio

In 2011, I ran the Rio de Janeiro Marathon.

Sort of.

While this picture shows me running in the race, I wasn’t a registered runner. Instead, I was running alongside Rebecca, above in pink, as she knocked another marathon off of her ‘7 marathons on 7 continents’ challenge. We’d met the day before in line for Christ the Redeemer (or rather, she allowed us to cut the line and join her), and when she mentioned that she’d be doing a marathon the next day, I offered to tag along.

My own willingness to run surprised me, as just four months before, I had been sitting in a coffee shop in Pasadena, hiding from the rain, and as far removed as I could get from the running of the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon. I had been hurt training for it (though in retrospect, running 40 miles a week while sleeping three hours each weeknight wasn’t really laying the groundwork for success), and still felt hurt that I couldn’t be a part of it – especially because it was raining. Who doesn’t love running in the rain!? I’m sure I even called my family at one point during that angst-ridden winter and declared myself unfit to ever run a marathon, and I would never, ever try again.

Yet, here I was, in Brazil, offering to run a marathon, or at least, part of one. I had kept running after professing my disinterest in marathons. Maybe that consistency emboldened me. Maybe it was the possibility of Adventure. Whatever it was, she took me up on the offer, and we made a plan to meet around Mile 9, and jog together to the finish. That morning, my friend Chris and I positioned ourselves in wait, and waited.

And waited.

And, 30 minutes or so after we expected her, I ran upstream to find her. I found her around Mile 5, walk-running through a tweaked leg injury. Together, we made it along the rest of the course (including Mile 22, better known at the Copacabana Beach), and found Chris at the end, chasing a beer he’d just had with an ice cream bar. I stepped off the course after a total of about 25 miles, and Chris and I cheered her to the finish line.

Despite the spontaneous joy of the Rio race, I don’t have a great relationship with marathons. My record of completing the ones I sign up for is spotty. I’ve signed up for nine. The next one, this July in Santa Barbara, would be the eighth of those. The ninth is later this summer in Colorado.

I’ve completed three.

The most recent three that I didn’t complete – Catalina, Tamalpa Headlands, and Surfer’s Point – came at the tail end of busy periods in television. I convinced myself while signing up for each one that this race would be different, my schedule more forgiving, or, at the very least, that my scheduling skills were more refined. The results, and the DNSs (Did Not Starts), say otherwise.

Like LeBron’s finals record, my marathon appearance record is about to be 3-5 (as I’ve downgraded my July race to the half-marathon). Laying it out like that makes it harder to identify as a marathoner, while also making it far too easy to embrace being a runner, with the hope that each new race will bring with it a better outcome.

That optimism, the desire to keep going against solid evidence against my ability to train for and race long distances, often clouds my better judgment, as I can’t dispense with the foolhardy idea that I can do everything while sacrificing nothing.

Still, I remain hopeful. I’m scaling back the marathon ambitions for the next few months, allowing my body to heal over more manageable miles, and striving for consistency.

After all, it was that consistency that put me in a position to say yes to an impromptu marathon before. Maybe that’s the evidence worth looking at.

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The Grincubator: Making Delightful Deals

Here is an idea for our rollicking, roiling, politically aggravating times: an incubator designed to develop delightful businesses.

These businesses, products and projects would have in common a positive mission and a plan to become self-sustaining, because while one-off delights are fine and dandy, it’s the sustaining, evolving delights that will make our world a better place to be.

Let’s call it… the Grincubator.

Now, why place such a high premium on delight?

The raison d’être of any product should be delighting the customer. The faster a product achieves this goal, the sooner it embeds itself into a user’s work flow, creates a sticky consumer experience and makes it hard for the customer to walk away.

The moment when a user is delighted for the first time directly maps to when that person could be considered likely to convert into an engaged customer. Engagement is that point when the user has bought into the value proposition of the product and adopts it as a means to solving his or her problems.

Delight causes users to be transformed into a company’s forward-marketing team. Fueled by euphoria, these users talk about the product to friends and family and on social media and their thoughts are circulated across their networks.

– Kumar Srivastava, “Delight, The Awesome Product Metric That Rules Them All

Maybe you have the next fidget spinner. Maybe you have the next cheap fare flight finder. Maybe your 3D-printed ceramic coffee mug monthly box delivery service is one promotional video away from a Kickstarter.

To apply for a spot in the Grincubator, we’ll ask for a 2-minute video explaining your delightful idea, its current stage, and what 12 weeks of focused attention could do for developing it.

Over a 12-week part-time program, 12 teams would work to develop their MDP – their Minimum Delightful Product – and present at the end of each month to show their potential, their progress, and finally, their MDP.

Over those three months, each team gets $5,000 and an industry mentor. At the same time that they’re developing their own idea, they’re expected to contribute, critique, and help out with their fellow Grinners. While it’s not enough money to live on, it should be enough to hire freelancers and designers, or front a small digital ad buy.

As a bonus, each team gets weekly access to a rotating group of award-winning creatives from across a wide range of industries. Then, at the end of 12 weeks, we host a live event where our creatives, board members, and investors listen to the pitches for new companies and products.

Some, blown away and smiling at the innovation that’s taken place, will undoubtedly invest. We’ll celebrate their achievement, and await the next crop at the Grincubator to see what they’ve got up their sleeves.


Now, this is whole idea is more than a little far-fetched. For one, where would the funding come from? Either we go the route of investors, and take a tiny portion of each company who enters into the Grincubator, or we find a corporate sponsor, one willing to front $75,000 every three months to be associated with delight, merriment, and creativity. Whether it’s a “presented by” sort of arrangement, or we, like the good content creators we are, endeavor to create a stream of interviews, videos, updates and more about each of our cohorts, to keep the sponsor’s name present, remains to be decided.

And secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, is a delightful mission enough to sustain regular entries and interest? Are there enough economically viable ideas that could be delight-heavy?

Who knows?

What I do know is that sincerity, effort, and collaboration can take us all much further than we can go on our own, so why not add a sprinkling of delight to the mix? If we have to be the change we want to see in the world, then let’s make a space for more delightful products, projects, and businesses.

“Ideas on Fridays” is a weekly effort to test, flesh out, and/or purge ideas from my brain. If you want to use one of these ideas – or collaborate on one – please get in touch.

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Sharpies and Shoes: My College Muses

Given that I made three stop-motion animations solely about drawing on shoes, another animated short about a shoe stampede, and a short film about finding your true love called Sole Mates (surprise: it features shoes), it’s fair to say shoes were something of a muse during college.

So today I’m taking a look back at a series of stop-motion animations that feature Sharpies and Shoes that I made each year of college to see if there’s anything to be learned.

Sharpie Shoes 1 (2007): Frustrated by a gooey brownie stain you can see at 00:01, I lay down on my not-so-clean dorm room floor freshman year, and got a doodling. You can see how flimsy the camera stand was because it dips ever so slowly the more I press the shutter. Besides that dynamic error, the shot is static. The shoe isn’t stuffed with anything, so the tongue is flapping around. And yet, without this little adventure, would any of the others have come to be?

Sharpie Shoes 2 (2008): A major improvement in every conceivable sense. Well, except for actually planning out the art ahead of time. Despite not doing that, I remain impressed with how the visuals turned out. Different camera angles, rotating shoes, different pen thicknesses, and music… how much better could it get?!

Sharpie Shoes 3 (2009): Oh, how I’d grown as an artist by my junior year. Just before a spring break trip to Japan, I propped my shoes up on our apartment’s dining room table and set to work. I gave more thought to the composition of each individual shot (is that… depth of field?!), the sound design, and the art itself. Somehow, the shoe actually bears a passing resemblance to Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa.


Finally, my senior year. To make sure I went out with a bang, I put together what looks like a thesis film compared to the others. There are shoe extras, stunts, and, yep, still some sharpie animations. What’d you expect? I had to go 4 for 4.

So, without further ado, here is Stampede (2010): a story of dramatic rescues, angry mobs and stunning heroics.

(At least, that was the intention. Re-watching it now, I get maybe 70% of that ambitious storytelling. You be the judge.)

I feel a certain fondness for this progression; I also feel a reverence for the process. Each video leans so heavily on the one before it. Without the mistakes and the lessons of the first, the second wouldn’t have been as strong. Without the improvements of the second, the third wouldn’t have been as refined. Without all three, I would not have had the confidence to make a short film. Yet, finishing college with an animated short film about shoes wasn’t what I was thinking about the night I spilled dessert goop on my shoe.

So, while we can’t always see what we’re building up to, there are still so many reasons to keep building on what we’ve done.

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Hitting the Books

One of my crippling fears about working as a television producer is not having a tangible skill set. While I may be comfortable with the different aspects of scheduling, budgeting, research, and project management, I worry about not having the level of skills that future jobs may require.

Then, I wonder about why I’m worrying. I know part of the worry comes from the uncertainty of our industry, of freelance jobs that end after two months, two weeks, or (my personal record!) two and a half days. That worry (mixed with curiosity) led me to get my MBA. In many ways, being able to define your skill set makes the idea of finding the next job seem more palatable, and more doable. As a counterpoint, though, what sort of work do I really want to focus on? What are these mystical “future jobs”?

Ultimately, I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that I like to produce things, and write words, engage people, and delight them.

So, to that end, I am cracking open the books this summer, and exploring new avenues to create those kinds of stories. On my desk are three books that’ll help me access the tools to better realize those dreams: Adobe Animate (for animating Monstrous Me artwork), Adobe After Affects (for enhancing those animations), and Adobe InDesign (for laying out this book, and subsequent short-form projects).

Together, these books have 39 lessons. Over the next 10 weeks, I’ll take on 4 lessons a week, allowing for a mix of structured learning and enough free time to practice. By mid-August (when my summer ends), I should have accumulated enough time and skills to confidently declare myself to be… a great beginner.

And if the goal is to become a great beginner, then I’ve got to start beginning.

 

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Clay on the Wheel

Clay on the wheel
Photo by Quino Al

To distract myself from the terrifying void of unemployment (or Runemployment, as I’ve taken to calling it, since I can run whenever I damn well please), I’ve busied myself with writing. Most of the pieces I’m working on are in the beginning stages, which means fighting through ugly first drafts until there’s something salvageable and less garbage-y to share with the world… but the fight is a constant.

For each time I’ve been able to get into the flow and silence the backseat nagger who reminds me how terrible what I’m doing is, there’s an equal number of times that the nagger has gotten the upper-hand. The hope with the writing and revising process is to shape, mold, fix, and (ideally) improve the piece into something worthwhile. The reality often devolves into a pity party led by a searing, scathing, self-deprecating monologue.

And yet, we all press forward, because the hope outlasts the starker reality, and the revisions do make the work stronger. It helps knowing, too that if you do a search for books about first drafts, the results show that you’re not alone in the rough starts, missteps, and bad beginnings:

  • 6 Baffling First Drafts of Classic Novels
  • Crappy First Drafts of Great Books
  • 5 Novels Whose First Drafts Were Scrapped Entirely
  • 5 Hilariously Bad First Drafts of Classic Books
  • 8 Famous Novels That Had Very Different First Drafts

What’s even more comforting is knowing that this process is not unique to writing – it’s part of creating. Drafting. Building. Singing. Making business models. Crafting. Sketching. Ideating. Pivoting. Sculpting. Leading. And other verbs. Here are a few articles from different creative genres:

  • See the Sketches JRR Tolkien Used to Build Middle-Earth
  • 15 Shocking First Drafts of Iconic Movie Characters
  • 25 Must-See Design Sketches of Your Favorite Sneakers

One of the day-camps I went to as a 3rd grader had a pottery class where we got to put a wet lump of clay on the wheel. As the wheel began to spin, we began to shape. Sometimes the lump showed promise; sometimes the lump became lumpier. Still, we had a lump of clay with which to play, and as long as we kept at it, there was still a chance for that clay to become a pot, or a plate, or a bowl, or an especially fine lump.

In that way, creating anything is just a matter of putting clay on the wheel – and keeping it there.

What I’ve wanted to do, and have yet to do, is interview creators from across different industries, from footwear designers and startup founders to architects and cooks. I want to know what their first drafts look like. How did they start? How did they refine? When did they know they were done (if there’s even a ‘done’)? What keeps them going?

Whether podcast, video series, recurring articles, or something else, I know that a repository of first draft diaries would be sweet solace to other makers and doers who are struggling with their own beginnings.

In acknowledging the gap between our vision and our skills, it’s like Ira Glass said,

“For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”

Whether that gap is between your first germ of an idea, and the life you know you can breathe into it, or your very first piece ever, and the career you want to have ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, know this: the first draft is a constant. Even the professionals are beginners when they start a new draft, project, or business.

So how do they put the clay on the wheel?

“Ideas on Fridays” is a weekly effort to test, flesh out, and/or purge ideas from my brain. If you want to use one of these ideas – or collaborate on one – please get in touch.

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Finding Forever Homes for Adopted Dinosaurs

Royce Hall Dinosaur

In 2008, I had a room to myself at UCLA, and time on my hands. With that, my room became a production studio where I worked on animations, stop motion shoes, short films, scripts, projects and nonsense ideas, including an animated a 4-episode-long time travel series featuring Albert Einstein and short films about shoes and recycling (separate films, though, maybe there’s something cinematic about recycling shoes…). In short, it was a pretty productive year. Also, I went to class.

One of the sillier ideas I took on during that time was Adopt A Dino. Somehow (and this may have been related to a time-traveling Einstein) I ended up with a tube of plastic dinosaurs. Rather than risk stepping on them in the night, my friend Camille and I wrote index card-length adoption pleas for each of 30 different dinosaurs, took them out one morning around 5am, and placed them all around campus. On one side of the cards was the adoption please, and on the other, our Adopt-a-Dino e-mail address, just in case anyone wanted to send us their heart-warming stories of dinosaurs finding their forever homes.

Again, it’s a silly idea.

Our hope was to delight a person or two as they went about their day, be they a math student, law professor, coach or staff. We scattered these dinos across the graduate schools of business and law, both north and south campus, in front of the library, on Janss steps, and around the dorms.

Ultimately, we heard back from three dinosaurs (and their new families). The notes are below.

Dinosaur #1

The first photo is the one featured above came back without any note. It’s a dinosaur and Royce Hall. The sun is just rising. Some event is being set up. Likely, this Tyrannosaur is roaring along with the hourly bells. Though I don’t know about the home he found, I know he’s in good hands.

Royce Hall Dinosaur

Dinosaur #2

The second note came via a director at the UCLA Fusion Science & Technology Center:

Just wanted to let you know that I found a home today!
Some really big dude adopted me and brought me to his office. I love it here. Everything is green, just like me. And I have already made a lot of friends.
There’s an alligator, a fish, a frog and a bear. And so far, they all seem very nice and have made me feel very welcome.

Gotta go now. Time for me to explore more of my new home.

Mark (the dino)

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I couldn’t have dreamed of a better home. Big dudes, green things, and friends? That’s going to be tough to beat.

Dinosaur #3

Our little project was never any bigger an idea than scattering toy dinosaurs on a college campus, with biographies written in Sharpie on flimsy index cards. It’s a little project that we hoped might be a little fun for us, and a little silly to someone else. That anyone would indulge us by writing back was a nice surprise.

And then we got the third note.

Dear Whomever,

Just wanted to let you know what happened to the dino.

I teach writing at UCLA.  I had arranged for 33 4th grade students to come to campus today to interview my students about writing.

Last week, one of the 4th graders, a high-functioning autistic boy, flipped out, screaming he couldn’t, wouldn’t, absolutely no way go to UCLA!  When the 4th graders’ teacher told me Max wasn’t coming, I had to reassign my student who was going to interview him to join another 4th grader.  Yesterday I found out that Max had changed his mind.   He was coming to campus, but didn’t want to interview anyone, just wanted to go on the tour part of the visit.

On the way to campus I realized something horrible.  My students had decided that they would each get a little gift to give to the 4th graders.   Max, having no partner, would get no gift.  I felt terrible.   I had no time to run to the student store to get something.   I was trying to remember if there was anything in my office I could give him.  As I walked past the inverted fountain to my office in the Humanities building, still fretting about what to do, I saw something….

…a little dinosaur.  And Max had his gift.

When all the other kids walked out of their interviews holding their little stuffed bears, baseball caps, journals, t-shirts (and two 4th graders received footballs signed by the UCLA football team!), I handed Max his gift.

Thank you for brightening the day of a young boy who struggles so hard to get through life.

S.

Now, we had no way of knowing this would happen.

But we do know, as self-evident as it is, that it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t done anything.

I wish I could say this inspired me on a journey to start dozens and dozens of public arts projects, as I endeavored to brighten and uplift spirits young and old, in places near and far, for nine years and counting.

But it hasn’t.

Instead, this note reminds me that the little gestures, the ones you unknowingly make at the beginning or end of your day, in traffic or in class, with coworkers and with strangers, have unknowable impacts. And though they may be hit or miss, though you may only hear back about three of those 30 dinosaurs (I just have to believe that those other 27 found good homes…), some good will still come of it.

So, send those dinosaurs out there. You never know who needs one.

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I Love You Eggery Day

I recently had four weeks off between jobs. As some of you may know, I don’t idle very well, so I put serious time into thinking about how to spend my month in a mostly productive way.

I came up with some good ideas and some bad ideas. Here is an abridged list:

+ Maybe I could read a book-a-day, I thought (and explore the Glendale library system while I’m at it!).

+ Maybe I could go on a different hike each weekday morning.

+ Maybe I could mimic The Rock’s day-in, day-out schedule, down to workouts, cod consumption, inspirational messages, shaved head and selfie videos, all the while calling myself ‘Soft Rock.’

+ Or, maybe I could get better at making eggs each day (or, “Eggery Day”), in the process breaking myself out of a delicious-but-stagnant sausage-scramble rut, developing a skill, learning more about cooking and food, and giving my wife something to snack on before her many-highway’d commute (The “I Love You” part of the title).

So, I went with eggs (and not just because it held the most potential for puns).

You Can’t Spell ‘Beginning’ Without Egg… Sort Of

For four weeks spanning July and August, I tried out egg breakfasts, egg bakes, scrambles, omelettes, frittatas, quiches, poaches, and even a drink and a dessert. Using the Egg Cookbook: The Creative Farm-To-Table Guide to Cooking Fresh Eggs as my guide, I set out each weekend to the grocery store to stock up on ingredients for my ever-growing list of egg dishes. Then, each morning I’d wake up at 5:45, get the water boiling for a Chemex coffee for two, and get to work.

I regularly dirtied two large and small non-stick skillets, two cast iron skillets, and every single one of our cutting boards. Cooking for two leaves a disproportionate pile of dishes – especially when I would get fussy about taking photos and plate the eggs on multiple dishes for the right aesthetic (full disclosure: there is a 29th dish – an apple omelet – that was simply too unsightly to be included). To that end, I aimed to get the meal plated by 6:45, so I had about 30-45 minutes to prep and cook everything.

On days with baked egg dishes, I was at the mercy of the oven, unable to do anything to speed the eggs along. On days with frittatas, each new ingredient needed time to soften and brown before the next could be added. I discovered that real-world patience does not always apply to the kitchen. On days where the recipe called for poached eggs, the dish could be ready in minutes (for that reason alone, Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs is a new favorite).

Eggery Day was engrossing. Each day, I felt challenged. I grew. I made mistakes (some delicious, some ugly, some unmentionable). I spilled. I did so many dishes. Then, I did it all again the next day.

So, without further ado, the dishes.

The Eggs

Potato and Pepper Hash
Potato and Pepper Hash
Ginger Pots de Creme
Ginger Pots de Creme
Root Vegetable Hash - Shredded Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Bacon and Sausage
Root Vegetable Hash – Shredded Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Bacon and Sausage
Meringue Cookies dipped in Dark Chocolate
Meringue Cookies dipped in Dark Chocolate
Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata
Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata
Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs
Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs
Eggs Baked in Tomatoes
Eggs Baked in Tomatoes
Farmhouse Baked Eggs
Farmhouse Baked Eggs
Steak and Eggs
Steak and Eggs
Tomato Poached Eggs
Tomato Poached Eggs
Ham and Potato Frittata
Ham and Potato Frittata
Corn & Bacon Scramble
Corn & Bacon Scramble
Portuguese Baked Eggs
Portuguese Baked Eggs
Spicy Olive & Cheese Squares - with diced bell peppers and jalapeños
Spicy Olive & Cheese Squares – with diced bell peppers and jalapeños
Breakfast Tacos
Breakfast Tacos
Arugula & Fennel Omelet
Arugula & Fennel Omelet
Caprese Poached Eggs
Caprese Poached Eggs
Gouda Bacon Quiche
Gouda Bacon Quiche
Brussels & Sweet Potato Hash
Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potato Hash
Salsa Verde Eggs
Salsa Verde Eggs
Prairie Oyster Cocktail
Prairie Oyster Cocktail
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Bacon Egg Cups
Bacon Egg Cups
Bacon Egg Dip
Bacon Egg Dip
Eggs Florentine
Eggs Florentine
Spinach Cakes
Spinach Cakes
Eggs Baked in Bell Peppers
Eggs Baked in Bell Peppers
Sweety Meaty Hash
Sweety Meaty Hash – Sweet Potatoes, Onions, Sausage and Bacon with a Sunny-Side Up Egg

Eggscelent Takeaway

Buy Extra Ingredients – As I got past the first 10 or so recipes, which were mostly chosen for their uniqueness, I began to notice similarities in ingredients. Potatoes, bell peppers, onions, bacon. These “insights” are hardly revelatory to anyone who’s ever eaten breakfast before. But what was handy were the few days that for whatever reason (timing, mostly) I couldn’t do the preselected recipe, I could whip together an impromptu dish because I hadn’t purchased the bare minimum my other recipes called for. Again – these aren’t insights for people who actually cook, but I come from a background of baking where one is trained to think of the recipe as a scientific formula, not creative plaything, and while I had known cooking could be more improvisational, it’s another thing to experience it.

Cook Time, Prep Time, Total Time – reading recipes is not just about the steps to take, it’s about the time those steps takes. Because I was facing a deadline each morning (wife’s gotta go!), I calculated backwards using the recipe’s prep time and cook time. I didn’t always double-check the stated times with the times included in the actual recipe (it was 5:45! I was sleepy!), so there were a few instances of being doomed by typo to a just-cooked dish that had to be sent along for the drive in a steaming hot Tupperware. Additionally, some recipes listed “Prep Time and Total Time” while others listed “Prep Time and Cook Time.” These are helpful distinctions to understand.

Comfort Zone Cooking – We all fall into familiar patterns in our kitchens. We shop for the same ingredients. We make the same meals. We repeat the process. It reduces our mental strain if we don’t need to treat every trip to the grocery store as a brand new adventure, and for those treating food as fuel, that’s an understandable attitude. I wanted to break out of the few recipes that I had down, and this monthlong binge did just that. With just a week, or 10 days, I would’ve made some attractive looking dishes, and tried some new techniques, but I doubt that would’ve been enough to break the comfortable food orbit in which I was stuck.

Eggscetera

There are all sorts of ideas about how many days it takes to make and break habits that apply equally well to breaking out of ruts. At a certain point in learning, whether it’s a language or a skill or a new position at work, you hit a plateau where each day isn’t necessarily as fun as the day before, and the process of handling that plateau can grind us down.

In facing our discomfort head on, though, and not backing down, we can break through toward delicious new frontiers.

The repetition and variety of this project, as well as its predetermined end date, all worked together to motivate me through this morning endeavor.

Whether I can maintain this type of commitment to cooking during a season of television remains to be seen. If all that comes of this cooking project is a few more seasonal frittatas and hashes on the weekends, then this will all have been worth it. It was creatively fulfilling, mentally stimulating, and, more often than not, quite tasty.

To all those who egged me on, thank you. You’re welcome to come over-easy to our “café” anytime.

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What I Wish I’d Learned in College

One question I dread being asked is why I studied what I studied in college. For so long, the answer has been one of hems and haws as I stumble over my insecurities, and while it’s tempting to re-write my own narrative to justify the choice and sound more confident, embracing the reality of those choices has been much more valuable.

I graduated as a Spanish major, with what would have been a minor in Film & Television if I’d gotten my paperwork in on time (I maintain that working at a TV station for two years, interning for Nickelodeon and NBC and a film production company, and winning a National Geographic film contest more than compensate for that clerical snafu).

Throughout my first few years of school I changed my focus a number of times, from English to Global Studies to Cognitive Science, all while maintaining a hope of getting into the Film & Television school, which accepted applications before our junior year. After my application, I went through the interview process where I crashed and burned quite spectacularly. At that point, I changed my Spanish minor to my major, as that seemed the most reasonable way to keep on pace to graduate, while taking all the film, TV, and animation classes I could manage.

It’s odd to admit now, given how driven I was toward the Film school just a few years ago, that with the exception of animation and some TV, I don’t really care for movies. I’ve had stretches where I see upwards of 50 a year, and years where I’ve seen less than 10. Often, I fall asleep while watching them. I don’t keep up with TV shows. On the other side of entertainment spectrum, I love cartoons. I love animation (I watched Kung Fu Panda 2 a few nights ago). As I look back, I can recognize a lot of actions back up that passion – I spent my free time making stop-motion movies, animating intros to college TV station shows, and taking classical animation classes where we each hand-painted hundreds of cels to make a 15-second film.

Looking back like that makes me wish I’d spent more of it drawing and animating and writing. Then, looking back like that, I feel regret toward where I allotted my time in school, as if spending time now dwelling on the choices I made then would alter the life I’m living now.

At least, I used to feel that regret.

What I choose to focus on now is an appreciation for diverse interests rather than moping around like I’m living a life of Missed Connections. If anything still eats at me (I used to search for Masters programs in Cognitive Science – it’s like I have phantom limbs for the majors I didn’t pursue), I do something about it, because, anything I could have studied than I can still learn now.

 

So while there are still many things I could have learned in college, I’m not sitting here wishing and waiting for that learning to happen. I’m grateful for what I explored, and for the pools I didn’t dip my toes into back then, I’m diving in now by adding books to my To Read pile. I’m seeking out the languages I wanted to study then (because, shockingly, those languages are still around). I’ll enroll in Coursera or Udemy or Lynda when I have hiatuses from work, and I’ll take classes through General Assembly.

Ultimately, it’s important for me not to see my college experience as the finite time when I could learn whatever I wanted. What I wish I’d learned in college is that while college is finite, education never stops, and that we should all keep learning and chase down our curiosities, wherever they may lead.

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Looking Back at a Bumpy Road

body_reading

I am winding down Connect A Book. While the site will live on in its current form for anyone who still wants to connect books, I will no longer be devoting time or money to its development. My programming firm is wrapping up, my virtual assistant is going on other interviews, and I am moving forward.

Over the last few months, Connect A Book (and the blog featuring authors, Authors Connect), didn’t grow. While I was fielding more inquiries from authors – thanks to the outreach of a great assistant – the traffic didn’t turn into an engaged audience like I expected. My theory was that readers would see authors making connections and feel inclined to make their own. After 20 posts from authors, and no corresponding reader connections, I had a good sample size to show me that my theory – at least, how I was executing it – was wrong.

From the beginning, I understood convincing people to connect books was going to be a challenge, but one with exciting payoffs that included new ways of thinking about reading and interacting with books. What I didn’t understand was how to reach a critical mass of users and connections to make the site valuable enough to reach those payoffs.

On one hand, I look at the experience of developing and launching Connect A Book as constant learning. Were I filling out a resume, I’d feel confident including basic understandings of product management, UX, UI, and managing a team of developers, as well as comfort with marketing plans, customer outreach and understanding analytics (Facebook Likes don’t mean much!). I’m certainly more conversational now with all of these skill sets, if mastery of any one of them eludes me.

On the other hand (the more critical one), my inexperience with all of the aforementioned skills was crippling. Learning it all at once is like conducting an experiment with a dozen different variables, and changing them all simultaneously. While you might luck into some result, it’s not good science. While I expect I may have figured this out given enough time, it was not something I could get a grip on while working 50-60 hour weeks in television production. The spare time I had was dedicated to maintenance, and that wasn’t going to take the site where it needed to be.

So, maybe it was more than I could manage. When I think of project/schedule fit, this was certainly a mismatch. Along with wedding planning, reading and some semblance of a social life, Connect A Book was never going to get the 30-40 hours a week it needed. Additionally, I don’t have much reach (I gotta work on my brand, man!), and without the time to properly develop an audience, it became difficult to keep up any momentum.

Or maybe it was more than I wanted to manage. With Connect A Book – more than any other time in my life – I felt handicapped. I outsourced the coding, and then couldn’t make minor tweaks of my own. I outsourced the outreach, and then felt trapped by the deluge of responses. I became a manager of a team. I became an editor of a book blog. It was all work I assigned myself, and maybe that fostered resentment.

Truthfully, I had doubts from the beginning. For every excitable pitch of the idea (I recall running with my father on a trail in Austin, TX, saying “How great would it be if you could see how books influenced an author? Not just the books that are on their night stand, or that they liked, but really, the ones that were key to their work, and why?”), there were concerned pauses, questions about who would use the site, and why.

But when do we listen to our nagging doubts? Aren’t there are always reasons not to do anything? I’m learning how to listen. How to analyze those doubts. How to design tests and experiments to eliminate those doubts (or to heed those doubts!). Because, for much of this process, I know I was leaning toward making this project happen. I would find ways to read data and interpret responses to justify moving forward. What I need to do moving forward is disprove myself.

I say that because I will move forward. Connect A Book was exhausting and expensive and educational and elating. I abandoned my personal (and financial…) comfort zone by miles. What’s been so difficult is freeing myself from what I’ve put into the project already (just knowing about the sunk cost fallacy does not make escaping its grip any easier). At first, rather than face its early ending, I thought of adding other projects into the mix, piling them on, as if diverting my already dwindling attention could excuse the site’s languid performance. Then, after a hike and a good conversation with Glory, it just became clear. It was time to end it, and move onto something new.

After all, ending something isn’t the worst. Diana Kimball writes about freeing herself from forever projects:

Treat beginnings like endings: celebrate them, document them, let someone else pick up where you leave off. If the project’s worth repeating, there’s nothing to say you can’t still be the standard-bearer. But at least it’s a choice. By ending well, you give yourself the freedom to begin again.

It was that idea that freed me from Connect the Thoughts taking over my every waking moment. There was a project I loved doing while unemployed, but I didn’t realize the sheer amount of time that actually went into producing a single issue (2-3 books, 7-10 articles don’t just read themselves!). So, I ended it. But I didn’t make the ending so explicit. I heard from people for the weeks and months after its conclusion wondering where issues were. I even thought about picking it back up again, to no avail.

Which is why Christina Xu’s point about why projects deserve good deaths is so well taken:

Letting go of a project or an organization returns all of the resources it’s tying up — funding, attention, time, the emotional labor contributed by you and others — to the ecosystem. Whether by you or others, those resources will be recombined into new, surprising forms. Calcify not like a kidney stone but like coral: announce that your work is done so that others can build on your accomplishments.

That excites me. While I cherish the memories of the many projects I’ve worked on, their presence can also be a burden, on free time and on decisions about the future. Holding onto projects inhibits future ideas. When given a window of opportunity, questions abound. Should I restart that project? Can I keep that up while launching this new one? Then self-doubt creeps in. Does quitting make me I look like a quitter? Isn’t it fine to be a quitter?

Quitting is fine and appropriate and natural. Projects are born, and projects die. By letting a project go, I free myself of the obligation to it while keeping all of the best parts – the experiences, the learning, the connections. So here’s the announcement: I’m finishing up Connect A Book, preparing new projects, and readying myself for the next road – no matter how bumpy.

 

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