Also titled as: Biting off more than I can chew. Then chewing it.
I wanted to write another life update for a while but haven't been able to because I've been so busy. Usually I write out these things every 6 months but there's enough life to have filled up so many more of these than one. Since then a lot of life has happened.
I came home from my study abroad in the UK, which was a great and life changing experience, as every day is. It was precisely what I needed at that stage in my life. I like London. I'd like to go back someday, perhaps even live there. I describe it to people as "my perfect city" when telling them about my trip. Still a lot more cities that I want to see too. My professor mentioned that I should consider doing post-grad work there, which might be pretty cool. I've already decided against doing post-grad for now, because I want to get out, get a job, pay off my debt quickly and experience some real life outside of academia.
I've got an ambitious plan post-graduation. I want to pay off my student debt in 3 years. I think it's possible too. I currently live on around 15,000 a year give or take. Students are supposed to pay off their debt in 10 years, by paying 10% of their projected salary every year. But why do that, when I can just get it over with now? Getting a job with 30,000 a year post graduation is pretty reasonable (provide of course you get a job in this economy, but even so college grads only have a 6.3% unemployment rate (though many more are underemployed)). 3 Years, let's say 10,000 a year, easily pays off the debt. The reason for wanting to get out so quickly is simple. I'm pretty happy the way I am. I have more books, video games, and other media than I know what to do with. I don't buy expensive clothes. I don't mind living in a small house, or "sketchy" neighborhood (A. I grew up in a pretty ghetto podunk town and B. I'm an idiot who considers it local flavor). The sooner I get out of debt, the sooner I am free with no strings attached to wander where I want.
Additionally I'm aware of the trap that mo' money brings. Mo' problems. I have a friend whose parents make a combined amount over 200,000. That puts her in a pretty high percentage (not quite the hated 1% but close). Even so, her parents have money problems, because they spend what they make. As salaries go up, most people's expenses go up. Yet if I'm happy at 15,000 why spend more unless I have to? Sure some conveniences would be nice but while I'm in debt, I don't see the point in increasing that. Buying a house means getting a loan, means incurring more debt, means staying shackled longer. What happens if I lose my job, or the economy goes to further shit? If you have a home loan or a car loan, you're bound to the ground. If I decided to pick up my bags and move to another country, I couldn't because I've got obligations which have to be filled. I'm young, and so for now I'll remain free.
Plus, I'm thinking about saving up my excess money and perhaps investing it. If I get enough passive income this way, then I'll be freer to work on whatever projects I want. I still have a lot of research to do on that, but it's a different shift in thinking for me. The much maligned (and perhaps rightly so) book "Poor Dad Rich Dad" brought this shift to light for me. While a good bit of the book is kind of business-guru nonsense, I still found it useful. I was first referenced to it by the writer of Extreme Early Retirement, a blog by a guy who retired when he was 30. He does so by savvy investing, living only on 7,000 a year, and of course having a blog that attracts thousands of readers for ad money. Ever notice how self-help gurus have success primarily as people telling people how to succeed? Hahaha, despite this dig, the guy actually does have a lot of practical advice, and it helped create this shift in my thinking on finances.
Another book I read that helped a lot was Art and Fear. If you haven't read it, do. Just do, okay? There's no better single piece of advice I could give a fellow artist.
This summer was… interesting to say the least. I got back from the UK and I could only stick around for 6 days before having to fly back out to Boston to buy my first vehicle (a moped), work a job at my Uni's media lab, and take do a workshop that I got a school grant to take. Oh yeah and I was homeless.
I basically landed, the next day bought my moped, and then the next day had to figure out how to drive all the way into Boston from my suburban school to MassArt, battling my bad sense of direction and the terrible terrible Boston roads. In under a week I busted my front tire, probably on one of the many shoddy bumpy roads that twist and turn through Boston's schizophrenic motorways. All doing this while homeless, squatting in the Pottery Club studio on my campus, and making food in the Employee Lounge at my work.
There are many stories from this little escapades that I could tell, but I'll save that for another time, perhaps if you find me at a party and give me a drink, I'll tell you. Otherwise I'm going to spare you guys those except for this single one, dare I say, a miracle?
I hate calling anything a miracle because it's stupid, and lame, and usually an excuse for not understanding how Physics work. Also most of the time it's not a miracle. Your baby being born is not a miracle. I'm sorry, I know how you feel about your squirming sack of DNA(and I empathize because I actually like kids, but yah know), but it happens all the time, every day, and it doesn't break any natural laws of the universe.
But this was a pretty fortuitous happening in my life. The first night I got back, I couldn't get into my planned place of residence, the Student Center because my card did not work on any of the doors. This was because I had been away for study abroad and after 6 months any card not used, deactivates. That's why I was sleeping in the Pottery Studio for the first couple of days. Anyway when I called security and asked them to reinstate my card, they did, but made one little mistake. They gave me a golden key. For some reason, I discovered only a few days after they did this, purely by chance in fact, that my card key now opened All Doors. Literally, they gave me 24/7 access to ALL the BUILDINGS ON CAMPUS. Barring any room with a real deal physical lock, I had access. Any card key capable door was ripe for the picking, including admin buildings, and considering my Uni has a very lax policy on security cams, I basically had free reign. You'd be surprised by how many clubs have expired food in their club fridges over the summer. (I drank a coke that expired in 2008. It tasted fine btw)
Anyway this lasted about a month and then I was caught. When I explained that I was only doing this because I was poor, did not have enough money for an apartment, and that my mom had been without a job for a while and would be without one what seemed to be probably the near future, they were very nice and gave me a dorm room for the final 2 weeks (which they were renting out for twice the monthly cost of any house surrounding the area. Many of the rooms were empty, proving that my university loves wasting money more than I thought) before the apartment I was moving into for the Fall and Spring semester opened up. (it's nice. It's cheap and so close to my studio that I can walk between building and not lose wifi connection for my internet radio.)
So in the end it worked out fine, barring a little mental scarring from feeling like I was on the run for 4 weeks and all the stress that came with that. Let me tell you, I am much less apt to romanticize hoboes and gypsies now. But seriously, it was an interesting experience, one that gave me greater sympathy for the psychology of real homelessness (because lets face it, what I did was child's play compared to what a lot of other people go through everyday), gave me some interesting stories, and saved me some money.
The moped would later that summer bust a battery and short a spark plug, both of which I replaced all by myself, which I'm proud of. Also the workshop I did was an awesome figure sculpting class, very intense and I enjoyed it very much. I think I actually have a greater natural talent for sculpting than I do for painting.
School started back up, and life returned to a new kind of normal. I live off campus and I know none of my roommates so I'm basically alone all the time. Even though I'm back in the States, I have a similar isolation that I did in London, much of my friendships being carried out in late night chat conversations. But this is also partially self imposed. I realized while in London that A) I like being alone more than I thought B)I had a lot of toxic relationships I needed to get rid of and C)I need to focus on my work. Social relationships in college won't last much past this year. Better to start uprooting things sooner rather than later.
I do still have a certain amount of social interaction but it's more purposeful and I like it that way. Part of that is that I'm trying out online dating. It's kind of nice, I get to get away from the social groups of my Uni and meet new people. I haven't gone on many dates so far but it's been a good learning experience. That's how I'm primarily looking at it, as a way of building up social skill and as a tool of self-reflection on who I want to get into a relationship with in the first place. If nothing else, I've been happy to find there are more people who share my particular set of idiosyncratic values and beliefs than I thought possible. Also the more I get rejected, the easier it is to brave the next possibility of it. Maybe I'll eventually work up the courage to ask a girl out in person for once. Maybe, but probably not for now. Too busy.
Studio work has been good. Before going to study abroad, I built a bunch of stretched canvases from scrap material lying around the fine art department and as a result I have more canvases to work on than I have time for. Seriously, I produced a lot of work this semester and I STILL have canvases to work on next semester. Once I get done with those I'll return to paper probably.
Also, while I do have liberal arts classes again this semester, I didn't have very many and so I could focus on my work. Next semester in fact I only have a PE class and an intro computer science class to distract me from my work in the studio. (and the PE class is actually welcome as I have let my body atrophy since London in such a way that I am actually embarrassed a little).
In addition to this, I also directed 2 music videos this semester, and I'll be directing a short film in spring. Despite the fact that I came to the realization in London that I don't actually want to work in film, I want to work in video games, I'm doing these projects because I promised myself I would 2 years ago and so I have to do it. Also I'm hoping that my experience as a director will translate well in my interest into working as a Creative Director etc for whatever job I happen to get in the future.
Oh yeah, over the summer I got to have lunch with a cousin I don't know very well who was in Boston to attend a graphic design convention. He actually works as a Creative Director and also had a spare pass to the convention so we met up for lunch and went to the convention where I picked his brain on the his career and life. That was really interesting, it was really amazing seeing things from a new perspective, seeing the hugeness of the possibilities in the industry and how feasible a job like being a Creative Director really is.
I also made a portfolio website and designed some business cards. When I was in London I became involved with MolyJam and through that I starting going to the London Indies meet ups, where independent and hobbyist game developers, artists, and hackers get together once a month in a London pub to drink and discuss their projects. When I came back to Boston I wanted to start going to the Boston Indies, and have a card and website ready even though I wasn't really planning on staying in Boston post-graduation and I also currently wasn't in the position to accept new jobs or projects. Boston Indies has a very different vibe but it's also been good, and I look at it as practice for real networking when I graduate. Sort of in the same way that I am looking at OKC as a test run to build up familiarity and skills. I've gone to several of their events and stuff and I've been familiarizing myself with the nature of the scene.
One thing that has been really informative for this process has been watching the documentary for the Double Fine Adventure game unfold. If you don't know, the studio Double Fine, led by Tim Schaffer, adventure game veteran and creator of such games as Psychonauts and Grim Fandango, put out a record breaking Kickstarter that raised over 3 million dollars to make an old school graphic point-and-click adventure game. In addition to making a game, each month they put out a short documentary about the development process. It has been an awesome piece of inspiration for me. It helped me really concretize the fact that what I really want to do in the games industry is work as a Creative Director, to do something like Tim, to be the idea guy, designer, writer, and overall head. Of course a veteran of the industry could probably say I'm getting too big for my britches, and I'm fully aware that no one starts as a Creative Director and that you have to work your way up to that position, but it's an end goal for me to work towards and that's good. I remember, when I first thought about going into film, watching the behind the scenes footage for Lord of the Rings that I always felt conflicted about what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a conceptual artist! I wanted to make cool ideas and paint epic pictures, but at the same time I kind of wanted to be like Peter Jackson, who had the vision and the meta-idea that tied it all together. I'm a very DIY person by nature, and the idea of asking other people to make pictures for me seemed lame. I wanted to be able to produce my own work. Perhaps it has been my introduction to contemporary Conceptual Art, my own coming to grips that I will probably never be quite the virtuoso in all things I care about, or realizing that my strengths really lie in my ability to synthesize and aggregate information. Of course I'm not giving up executing art, just like Jackson still grabs the camera occasionally, but I've come to a more concrete understanding of what I want to do, and even some real life examples to model my goal off of.
My experience as Director this past semester has been useful for understanding this. Maybe it's delusions of grandeur but I feel like the role fits well. I think I have a pretty good ability to spot the character and size up people accurately. I'm a synergistic thinker in general. I feel that I'm also pretty good at seeing how about of different disparate parts can come together to make a whole. I've avoided ever being in a position of authority until now because I don't want to be an egomaniac making power grabs, and yet most of the times when I'm in a group work, I always end up feeling "Aaaagh! Will you guys just listen to me and do what I say! This current path is dumb!" This thought process probably just shows that I'm a well contained egomaniac. Even so, as I have come into a position of being in charge, it just feels right and I feel very comfortable making choices for the direction of the project.
Directing itself has been a really weird learning experience. Up till now, my entire time in school I've been kept to a standard of my own behavior. If I messed up on a test, then I got a bad grade. Even in group assignments everyone was a peer and got their own individual grade. No one was in charge. Everyone ultimately answered to the Teacher. Now as Director, I'm in charge. I'm not just responsible for my own actions. If one of my grips screws something up, I've got to take care of it. If my camera assistant is late all the time, I actually have to discipline him (but since my project is volunteer based that really just consists of talking them down and telling they can't work with us anymore). If someone messes up then I have to answer for their mistakes. I have this new power and new burden. It's just kind of weird. I'm the sort of person who avoids being in charge because I don't like the idea of imposing my will on another person, forcing them to do something. And yet I'm finding that…people often want good guidance on what to do. At least new people who want to learn from you and stuff. Like I said, I tend to be a very DIY person and so I usually just teach myself stuff but I'm also finding that a lot of people want someone to help teach them stuff too, which I'm pretty good at. Anyway with great power comes great responsibility and I'm trying to learn how to properly use it.
Speaking of which, this is the other thing I've really been trying to focus on this year: Finishing. Really committing and following through. See I'm an aspirational Da Vinci, a hopeful polymath, and I want to do pretty much… everything? If you've followed my previous process of in years past, you'll see I've skipped around a bit, each venture linked in a larger thematic web and yet still a bit scattered. Figuring out what I wanted to do post grad, and seeing the chance to focus on video games as an avenue has been helpful. Video games first of all allows for me to focus will still not completely cutting off all other interests. It is truly the most multi-media and diverse medium out there so that's nice. Now I got that, I gotta focus. I've got to follow the bit all the way to the end. I can't let up on the last 10% because it olds. It's not that I've quit things in the past because I got bored, but there's the continued sustained pursuit of the work. Not just completing a polished painting, but completing a series of paintings that interrelate. Not just write one essay that is good, rather sustaining that through a series of essays. That is the difference between a blog post and a book after all. I am thankful because I got a professor this year who really dogs on me about this, and I need that. Committing to a longer project like the film stuff has helped, because it's not enough to have a clever idea, you've also got to deal with all the common place and boring stuff and really execute it to the end.
That's another thing I'm working on is toning down the amount of self-analysis and abstract thinking that bounces around in my head. Or rather, I'm not reducing that kind of thinking, I'm turning up the heat on my concrete execution. Ideas are fun but they have to be done. Don't sit around and talk about a cool idea, make it. Make it, fail, make it again. Instead of thinking about a painting, saying "that's a dumb idea. What should I do?" I'll just make the dumb idea, get it out of my system and then move on to a good idea that I could only discover by making the bad idea. There are no shortcuts, and a perfect draft can't be written in your head.
I'm feeling that I'm up to a tight wall. I'm making this short film, and it's huge and complex with a lot of people who are helping out with it and giving funding to it and if it doesn't work then I'll look like a huge idiot. Good, that's how I work best. I've got to push myself in so deep that I'll suffocate or swim because otherwise my natural tendency will be to just fritter around on too many projects.
Immediately following filming of the short film will be an art installation that I'm applying for a grant right now. The idea is to bring together my fine art and video game interest. It's kind of like a video game in real life? Or maybe you could just say it's an interactive art gallery? Or another way of saying it is that it's a piece of alternative theater? This is also a huge multiperson project that I've got to execute on. It's weird, and not the kind of thing that's been done very much, so selling the idea is going to be tough, and I've had some dust ups and doubts with the Dean in charge of approving it. I think I can do it… I hope? There have been a lot of times I've felt that maybe I'm biting off more than I can chew, and even a little panic attack begins rising in my chest. I think I've got this though. I think we can do this.
And then…. Post production on the film, and then I graduate and go on to… whatever. My plan right now is to apply to as many creative industry jobs as possible and take whatever I can get. Also I applied for a Fullbright teaching job in Indonesia (which I doubt I'll get) and I'm right now applying for an art fellowship in the Philippines (which I severely hope I get). The eventual plan is to work my way up to Creative Director or whatever, and get to a point where I can start managing my own projects. The good thing about a lot of these entry level jobs, is they have high turnover so I'll be able to bounce around America for a couple of more years. Then maybe grab a post grad program if I need or spend some time back in London. I'll continue working on my fine art/illustration stuff, on my writing (I really think I need to wait for more life experience before I write a novel) etc, but career will be focused on the directing aspect more. We'll see how that all goes. In the end the real goal is to just continue working and supporting myself somehow in the creative field and not end up dead or dying.
Listening to: Trip-hop, Post-rock, Holy Fuck
Reading: Homo Ludens, The Orthodox Way
Watching: Paper Moon, The Avengers, Heist films
Playing: Botanicula, Humble Android Bundle
Eating: Way too much food
Drinking: Egg Nog, Absinthe, Sweet Tea