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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Saturday (9/10/11) 3:39pm - ... wherein Peter muses about projects to take on while on vacation.

In my last post, I talked about how I'd schedule my days while unemployed.  Among other things, each day had a 3-hour 'writing project' slot and two 1½-hour 'non-writing project' slots.

I put up a separate post about *why* I'm devoting so much time to writing and production.  This is more about the 'what' -- I want to talk in more detail about what sort of projects I have in mind for this extended vacation.

General Scheduling Info
I want to have two writing projects going at all times.  I'll probably attack these projects the way I always do:  break the writing task into subtasks, do time estimates on all those subtasks, double the estimates, and then create a little (or not-so-little) checklist where each checkbox represents a half-hour.  Then I'll spend my three hours of writing bouncing between various half-hour tasks (and ticking checkboxes), with probably another half-hour in between spent freely brainstorming the next projects in the hopper.

As for the non-writing projects, I imagine that the first of the slots will go towards projects that need momentum -- something I need to do for an hour or two a day, every day, for weeks or even months.  Then the second slot will be more variable:  little one-day projects, or multi-day projects, or recurring things like home recording that might only require one day per week.  I imagine that the second slot also serves as the day's 'crumple zone' -- when a day goes haywire and an hour or two gets knocked out unexpectedly, that's the part that gets yanked.

(Also note that I imagine there will be days when I don't make it out of the house at all.  This means that I'll have four hours to throw at something -- I'm most likely to use those slots to pick off lengthy errands, but I may also use them on some of these projects.)

As I mentioned in the previous post, I'll track other, smaller tasks in the to-do list manager.  I'll keep one list for the Stupid Meatbag Errands that get taken care of in that 2:00pm-2:30pm "errands/housecleaning" slot.  I'll keep another list for online tasks to pick off in that 2:30pm-3:30pm "blog + correspondence" slot.  The basic idea is that I'm trying to keep all the cruft of everyday life from cutting in on 'project time'.

Let me quickly summarize some points from the other post.

This hiatus gives me a chance to hit writing and hit it hard.  And either I'll succeed and see stuff produced, or I'll fail and I'll learn once and for all that I'm not supposed to be a writer.  I can live with either outcome; it's the not-knowing-because-I-haven't-tried that gets on my nerves.

Radio Serial
First off, writing another radio serial would be a great idea.  I know from experience that I can lure my friends into doing voice acting.  I got a bunch of them to do Bellydancing Ninjas.  A bunch more had conflicts for the recording date, but made me promise to get back in touch when I wrote another one.  Other actor friends have bugged me, apropos of nothing, as to when I'm going to write radio material again.

I know from experience that I can get recording facilities.  I've worked with the Art Institute for three semesters now.  They have "long-form audio" classes, and they're happy to bring in my casts for recording sessions in their three-million-dollar studio, and then have their students edit my projects together.  Alternately, KOOP is happy to have me on and broadcast my little productions to their audience of 35,000 or so.

So I at least have to have a go at writing another rollicking audio adventure.

Sketch Comedy
It would make perfect sense for me to at least resume writing a sketch per week.  This might not even fall into the "writing project" category -- it might just be something I knock out over lunches or something.

Again, there are opportunities to *do* stuff with sketch material.  If I got some decent material together, I could fairly easily form a sketch group to perform a show, say a free show at the Monday Night Mash.  I could put on individual sketches at the monthly No Shame Theater.  I could take a sketch class that ends in a showcase.  Once in a blue moon, a local sketch group will hold auditions sometimes, so I could try to get into that. 

Or, finally, I could film a sketch and put it up on youtube -- which leads us into our next section...

Short Films
This would be the trickiest thing to produce, and probably the toughest form to write well.  But it could be done.

Another option is a webseries.  Honestly, I see that as a 'down the road' thing.  I'd rather get some momentum going with smaller projects -- and wait for a really inspiring idea to come along -- before hitting that one.  I feel like it's such a big commitment that it's where I'm going to 'cash in' a lot of the goodwill I've garnered, so it had better be good, and finish-able.

Other Formats
There are other formats that would be fun to write in, and good practice to write in, but would wind up unproduceable.  Pilot specs are great fun -- at the very least, I'd like to do another set of posts where I start with a couple of actors I like, posit a bunch of TV shows they could appear in, and work towards a completed script.  I could write movie scripts, too, if an idea really grabbed me.  Those scripts are theoretically sell-able, but practically, I'd have to be in L. A., and be talented on the level of the one or two thousand screenwriters who actually make a living at it, so sell scripts for money.

It's worth keeping up with improv, but at the same time it behooves me to limit my involvement so that it fits in this day-to-day schedule I've set myself.  I'm allowing myself one out-and-about/social "thing" per day; that should give me room for a show or two.  If I skim off just some (not all) of the amazing opportunities the scene has to offer, my involvement will be rewarding and fun.

Mind you, improv doesn't get to take over -- I'm too much of a dilettante, so if I push it beyond moderation it's no fun any more.  But it will stay part of my life, hopefully with one awesome show at a time.

Note that improv rehearsals on their own won't occupy any of the 'project' slots.  Instead, those take up the 7-11pm "rehearsal/socializing" slot.  But honestly, if I do an improv show, I should put in time on it outside of rehearsals.  This is another reason to stick to a single show (or two) at a time:  up to this point, I've done lots of shows at once, and I haven't given any of them the time they deserve.  For instance, I get disappointed when I think about what I could have done with Dancy Street, if only I'd practiced musical improv on my own a bit every day.  So the plan will be do back up whatever (awesome) show I'm doing with some extracurricular effort.

And even if I'm not putting in extra time for a show, I think it would behoove me to work on some performance skills on my own.  Maybe I could get decent at space work.  Maybe I could just practice improvising songs.  Maybe I could work on impressions.[1]  And again -- this will be kind of a refrain in this post -- maybe I would get nowhere on any of this, but it would feel right to put in the effort.  If I failed, I would at least know something about myself I didn't know before.

I'm also starting to see opportunities for teaching and coaching.  I suppose I have picked up some stuff I could teach people, though I'm sure I'd feel like a sham.  But if I said 'yes' to a few of these opportunities, I'm sure it would teach me some things about improv, and about myself.  And I suppose I could make enough money to pay for one week of gas, or something.

Bucket Projects
There are some things I've just always wanted to do but never made time for.  If I don't attempt them now, I probably never will.

Film Editing
I want to get at least tolerably good at piecing videos together.

This is partly out of a nerdy interest in the process, and partly because post-production is the skill that's missing right now form the Austin-improv scene.  Maybe it's just the least 'sexy' part of the process.  Maybe people find it too lonely and too time-consuming.  Maybe it requires expensive software that people aren't willing to spring for.

But I get the feeling that if I were a good film editor, my services would be so useful that I could be something of an 800-pound gorilla.  I could basically determine which videos get produced and which don't.  And if I wanted to produce my own work, then suddenly the biggest obstacle would already be out of the way.

This means investing money.  Specifically, it means buying a Mac, and some version of Final Cut.  (Express, perhaps?)  Yes, I know it's possible to cut video on a PC, but my experience with home recording on a PC was hellish enough to give me a fiery hatred of all PC-based multimedia production.  So I need to sort out how much a passable editing rig would cost.

Ideally, I'd start with some simple tutorial stuff, and eventually move on to trying to edit together the old Sketchville material.

(Theoretically, this would also give me a marketable skill, but I doubt that lots of people in Austin get paid to edit video, or that they get paid a living wage for it, or even that I'd necessarily enjoy it as a day job.)

I know, I know, this is silly as hell.  But for at least a decade, I've wanted to learn to play the trumpet.  It's a bright and lovely ornament to my favorite pop tunes, it's a gorgeously-expressive jazz instrument, and it delights me whenever it gets the spotlight in classical pieces.

(Goddammit, why didn't I do marching band in high school?  Stupid wasted life.)

Again, this would require money:  an instrument costs money, and lessons cost money.  And again, it may turn out that I just can't get the hang of it.  And I *know* that, even if I do get passable at it, it will be the most useless skill in the world.  (And folks, I know from useless skills.)  But it may well make me happy, and it behooves me to at least give it a shot.

Non-Bucket Projects
So those are the two big projects on the 'bucket list'. 

But there are also a lot of 'non-bucket projects'.  Yes, these are low priority, but I think these projects are still important, because I rather desperately need to explore.  I've been pursuing the exact same hobbies, in an increasingly desultory fashion, for *over a decade*, and I need to see what else is out there.

Hell, maybe I'd really *like* cooking if only I gave it a bit of effort.  That's very unlikely, sure, but I *need* to take a bunch of these unlikely shots-in-the-dark.  If, in the end, I just verify that there are many, many hobbies I hate, well then that's something new I know about myself.

So here are all those possibilities, in a big list.

I've had to say "no" to a fair number of acting opportunities, just because I've had no time for them.  Most of these are ancillary to the AIC, as friends shoot webseries and occasional local ads.  There are theatrical opportunities, such as the regular "Teen Angst Tuesday" gig at the Highball.  And occasionally they need performers for sketch-comedy material.  There are other opportunities from the local showbiz world, like being an extra in TV shows that shoot here.

It vexes me that I've never really trained as an actor.  I still can barely sort out how to find my light onstage.  I have a dim-at-best understanding of how to pick subtext out of a script, and how to translate the words and descriptions into playable actions.  Hell, I usually have to be reminded that my character came from somewhere before the scene, and is going somewhere afterwards.  I don't know if I could ever get better (or at least more professional) at acting, but the prospect is enticing.

That said, acting *devours* time, and I might do well to trade one acting opportunity for the chance to do, like, five other things on this list.  My gut instinct is to nab a few of these opportunities (especially for film, which is much less time-eating than theater in my experience) if they come up.  Yay, acting adventures.

Music (Non-Trumpet)
I've already mentioned trumpet above.  And I know I want to resume my usual twenty minutes of guitar-playing per day.

If I wanted to, I could go further.  For instance, I could also have yet another run at learning piano.  Really, I just want to get proficient enough to play pop songs, and I finally have my keyboard set up so that I don't need to turn on the computer in order to play it.

I could have another go at writing a song every week, which is something I did back in 2003.  Or, if not that, I could at least resume "peteroke", where I recorded a cover song on my acoustic every week back in 2007.  Note that these projects (especially the songwriting ones) were where I learned to loathe PCs for multimedia work -- so if I wanted to do any serious home recording, I would again want to buy a Mac.

No, I was never good at drawing, but it was always pleasant and relaxing.  It might be nice to resume drawing 1kbwc cards.  And I'm kind of intrigued by doing audio monologs with simple, line-drawing illustrations -- that might be easy to do with (say) an editing rig and a drawing tablet.

Come to think of it, I still have that drawing table that I never use any more. 

Text Games
This is the most gloriously pointless thing on the list.

You remember those old Zork games?[2]  Inform is an absolutely gorgeous system for writing them.  You can just type out a description of your game in natural language, compile it, upload the game to a server, and suddenly anybody in the world can play it in a browser.  How perfect is that?

I've often thought about dipping my toe back into this, maybe producing little single-room puzzles every week.  Seriously, it would be as useless as a comparative-literature degree, but it would be fun.  Again, the analogy of having the Lamborghini Aventador just sitting there, waiting to be driven, holds true.

(... though in this case, the Inform language is the Lamborghini.)

I'm including this more for completeness than enthusiasm.  I do have the option of trying, yet again, to get better at blues dancing.  Sure, most of my efforts that way have just hit a wall repeatedly, but I could do it.  Alternately, I could explore some other forms of dancing -- say, I could give tango another shot.

But all this would take considerable time and money, and I'm just not excited about dancing these days.

Physical Stuff
Two of the schedule's non-project slots are devoted to exercise.  The idea is that I'll get on the stationary bike for half an hour (hopefully with a book in front of me) when I roll out of bed, and then do pushups for a while after that.  (And then go take a shower, eat breakfast, and generally get started with the day.)

I may find other physical things to do.  For instance, I could have yet another go at learning to swim.  (I'm getting kind of stubborn about this one.)  I could regularly attend the weekly AIC pickpu soccer game.

Or, I could explore yoga and meditation.  I'm already factoring in about ten minutes of meditation per day -- and I've scheduled it right after I've been out and about for a few hours, so hopefully it'll get me to calm down and 'un-jitter' after all that social exposure.  But I could explore things further.  Joel is running a weekly AIC yoga session, for example.

This is another thing I'm including more for completeness than enthusiasm.  It's safe to say I don't really 'get' travel -- probably some combination of doing it wrong and not really being wired up right, mentally, to get a lot out of it.  Most of the time, I go somewhere, and I get the feeling I would have been cool with just reading about the location, or watching a video about it -- actually *being* there doesn't really 'reach me' somehow.

Yet still, I've diligently poured money and vacation time into travel, because presumably it's supposed to be edifying.  And I suppose it does mix up the crushing, interchangeable sameness of living in Austin year-in and year-out.

But if I'm not working, there's an opportunity there:  I could buy a monthlong Amtrak pass and spend a month travelling all around the country.  I could cash in all of my couch-surfing favors from friends (or use couchsurfing.com, if I felt brave), and basically visit everybody I know.  If I could time this with a move, and put my stuff in storage, it might not even be that expensive.  Sure, I'd have travel expenses, but I'd save a month of rent and utilities.

That said, the logistics would be ridiculous, and I'd probably be annoyed and uncomfortable most of the time.  Most importantly, I'd feel like I was wasting my time -- that these artistic pursuits are what I'm *supposed* to be doing, and travel is just a time-consuming indulgence, like playing video games.  In fact, it would completely separate me from most of the artistic pursuits that keep me sane.

My goals here would be fairly meager; I don't enjoy food enough to go whole hog with this one.  But it would be nice to learn just the basics of how to cook.  I'm not completely useless in the kitchen, but I'm close to useless -- and yes, that fits my conventional gender role, but not in a way that I like.  Knowing the basics of cooking feels like part of being a grown-up.  If you want to be a self-sufficient adult, you should know the basics of food preparation.

That said, this would cost time and money, and as far as I can tell, most adult cooking classes are for foodies who want to learn something specific and advanced.  I live in a world that assumes I should have learned the basics in childhood.

I've put off writing this section as long as possible, because directing scares the hell out of me.  I've been in enough good productions to know how amazing a good director is, and I've been in enough bad productions to know how awful a bad director is.  I'm boggled at how much talent and training it requires to do this well, so the prospect of taking charge of a show just scares the crap out of me.

And of course, as an improvisor, I take that as evidence that I should do it.  At the very least, it would teach me a crap-ton about all the other aspects of production:  acting, writing, post-production, and so on.

The problem here is, I don't feel any real need to direct.  I suspect it could be fun and fulfilling.  I know it would be new and different.  But I suspect that, like writing, people should direct only if not-directing would slowly suffocate them to death.  The opportunities are few, the effort is staggering, and if you don't feel a passion for it, the whole production just falls to pieces.

Researching Other Things To Do
And finally, we get meta.

Most of my friends do things they are passionate and joyful about.  They 'follow their bliss', however many difficulties this presents them.  But they at least know what their bliss *is*.  Honestly, I have yet to even find anything I enjoy on that level.  Writing is pleasant, but not consuming.  Improv and dance are nice-enough ways to pass the time.  Programming is an easy-enough way to pay the bills.

At this point, I have a real fear that there's something out there I would absolutely love, and I'll go to my grave without ever even learning what it is.  On top of that, it's frustrating to hear all this life-advice predicated on "well, of course you already know what you love to do". 

It may be that I'm just passionless or anhedonic.  But I at least want to *know* that.  So basically I need to keep rooting around and trying new things.  This is a bummer, since new things are usually boring and unpleasant.  But it's still necessary.

Finding a New Job
Obviously, one of my projects will be 'figuring out what job to do next'.  This will probably get its own post later on, but I can sketch out my timetable here.

For the first month, I won't worry about employment at all -- I'll just putter away at all my homebody stuff.  Then I will look into doing little temporary or freelance gigs -- to my mind, the best way I can gather information about careers is to actually try doing a number of different things.  Assuming that goes off okay, I can go from there into research mode, going back over the research I did in early 2010, and sorting out what I liked and didn't-like about the temporary gigs I've gotten.

Then at some point -- I'm guessing about six months in -- once I know what I want, I'll go into the job hunt in earnest.  I'm aware that the gap in my employment will look dodgy.[3]  I'm aware that, in this horrible and collapsing economy, it will take me a long time to find another job.  That will become one of the projects I stay busy with for a year or so (or more), until I successfully line something up.

[1] I've always greatly envied people who could do that, and I suspect it would pay dividends in a better awareness of how I look and sound.

[2] Think along the lines of:

You are in front of a plain white house with a mailbox out front.


You can't eat that.


[3] ... though if asked, I will likely have interesting answers to "So, what did you do in early 2012?"

Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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[User Picture]
Date:Saturday (9/10/11) 7:05pm
There's probably a lot more here that I should respond to, but I'm going to focus on just one. Cooking. That is, I don't know a ton about cooking, but I do enjoy having a basic understanding about what's going on from a mechanistic standpoint. If you're similar, then I would totally recommend Alton Brown's "I'm just here for the food." The recipes are hit or miss (my tastes don't really line up with his) but the explanations are fun, and the diagrams are awesome. The other book I find myself going back to (and yes I know it's cliched) is The Joy of Cooking, simply because it covers almost everything, it's got a great index, and the recipes are usually good. Good luck!!
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Date:Monday (9/12/11) 9:52am
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Date:Monday (9/12/11) 8:20am
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Date:Monday (9/12/11) 8:27am
No, not a downer at all -- heck, at this point, I'm ~80% sure that you're right.  More precisely, I probably just have a muted emotional palette compared to my friends -- I find some things pleasant; I find few things OMGAWESOME!!1

(In any case, thanks for weighing in -- when I post stuff like this, I'm always looking for sanity checks. :) )
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