7.19.2015

Secondment

I was watching the British show New Tricks (the "London Underground" episode), and heard the character DCI Sasha Miller tell another detective that he's someone's "secondment." I had to look up the meaning, since I've never seen or heard it, especially in any kind of media or fictional story. Even when I type the word in this post, it gets underlined in the draft as if it's a spelling mistake (underlined to be spell-checked). My American Heritage Dictionary book doesn't include it, and it's not on their website, either. I even have a large Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, and it's nowhere to be found.

So I'm concluding it's a British word, and that's what the Oxford dictionary says, too. The way the word was used in the show, I assumed it was alluding to the more "traditional" meaning of the word, which is found at the Merriam-Webster site: "the detachment of a person (such as a military officer) from his or her regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere." But Oxford defines it as "The temporary transfer of an official or worker to another position or employment." I'm guessing that the Oxford definition (which also shows up elsewhere online) is the contemporary meaning of the word, which is probably a result of the evolution from military to civilian use because work takes up so much of our lives. Basically, when Sasha was telling the other detective to work with someone else on an aspect of the case, the meaning could fall in either camp.

The word seems to be major enough in England to cause people to write on websites about it. For instance, one article on a job site gives advice about "Going on secondment". I bet such advice has never existed on American sites; if people were to see such an article, they'd wonder what it actually means. It seems like a foreign word, even though we share the same language. And Brits reading this would probably think I'm making too much of it. But it's new to me, and another word that shows how our English languages can be dialectical in some respects :p

The full episode is below (which is very kind of the show's producers to post online).

6.29.2015

Speak only to the sympathetic

I was talking to someone who hasn't had to work in several years, didn't get a college degree or even take any classes, and basically has been living a good life, thanks to a successful spouse and insulated social circle.

They were asking me about someone who is working in a very tough industry, who has had a hard time getting work. The person has done "day jobs" between being unemployed, and success in the desired profession has been elusive.

The lack of success has been devastating, demoralizing, and depressing. It's caused sadness and anger, and the suffering is real.

The insulated person who was asking about the sufferer had the usual judgement in their voice. And for once I could say, "They're working." Not just at a job, but one in the desired profession. The professional breakthrough seems like a miracle, and is a welcome reprieve from years of striving and strife.

What many people don't seem to understand is that pursuing a dream is hard, heartbreaking, and can even be painful. The mistake that the dreamers make is telling all kinds of people about their pursuit. What they should be doing is only talking about the dream to those they trust, who won't judge them or discourage them.

The problem with people who are living safely, or are happy to maintain the status quo, is that they don't seem to comprehend or care that others don't see life as a straight, predictable line that can be tamed. The people who are taking chances and are paying the price for their vision need to avoid those people who are not on a similar path. Otherwise, they will be faced with judgement, indifference, and a lack of understanding. Which will make the suffering worse, and cause further isolation.

A person doesn't have to be free of the need to work to lack sympathy; it could be someone whose logical steps have led to a "sensible" career, who hasn't even thought about pursuing anything outside of their scheduled job commitments. What matters most is to avoid those who are not supportive and instead find like-minded people. Then life will become more sane.

6.10.2015

How death changed my perspective

I've been thinking about this for years, especially since I seem to have experienced a lot over the past decade (I want to write about it all here, but instead I talk about it offline with sympathetic people).

In 2006, when John Deaver was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in less than a month, my view of friends and people I like changed forever. Before he was sick, I communicated with him usually via email, but I always assumed he'd be around. So I took him for granted. That's not unusual; there are a lot of people in our lives who we expect to live for a while because they're not elderly and aren't ill. But surprisingly, he had advanced colon cancer which spread to his brain, and his life was cut short.

After that, when I would meet someone I like, I would make an effort to stay in touch and would compliment them and let them know about the positive feelings I felt. I didn't do that with John. I remember when he'd just had brain surgery, and he could barely talk. He seemed like a content child. I shared how I felt, but I knew time was running out. Since then, I'd be sure to be honest with people and try to encourage them. I also realized that the relationships we have should be valued. That means I want to connect with others in a real way and not waste time on trivialities or tiresome games.

I think some people think I'm weird. That's probably because they haven't experienced such an awakening. So as I've become more sensitive, honest, and wanting to realistically connect, many people have not. They're on their own tracks, pursuing what they want. I used to be the same way; I had my tasks and goals, and I went about trying to get them done. I'd see people along the way, but I didn't really consider their worth.

What's resulted is a frequent analysis of how people, especially Americans (since I'm American and have been in the US most of my life), relate to others. We are in a country where we can pretty much live how we want. We can pursue our dreams, meet lots of people, and travel on our own individual path. American life is fantastic in that way. There aren't many cultural rules that emerge from a long history; we're a young country and there is so much variety, we can pretty much shape our destinies. We can establish something in one city, make friends, join clubs, then move somewhere else and start again. Those friends we make are situational, and we might maintain contact on social media, but we don't really have to do much because new people can be found wherever we are.

I guess I was a typical American in that way. Since John's death, and the deaths of family and others over the years (and witnessing serious illnesses), I've realized that people really matter. I don't even know how to define a friend at this point because a lot people operate at a busy pace, getting their stuff done. If something were to seriously happen, who would show up? I've noticed people say kind things when something serious happens, but then they're back to their own grids.

I wonder if other people have noticed what I have, or what they think. Many people have written about social isolation, and that could be another post. But does the typical person think about their view of others' roles in life? Maybe death will make them think about it.

5.27.2015

I'm keeping a journal

It seems like I've neglected this blog, but I've still been writing a lot. I decided a few months ago to keep a journal, and it seems to help. I've avoided it for several years because I didn't want to face my thoughts, but it's helped me clear my head. I'm also able to quickly express how I feel through writing instead of walking around with the feelings bottled up inside.

What's not typical, I guess, is that I'm doing it online, though I'm not publicizing or promoting the entries. I've started another blog somewhere else, and haven't told anyone about it. Most of the entries are private, and a few are public, but they're about topics I can't write about here, because I would probably get into trouble for being too honest.

At first, I was going to just create a document on my computer and write that way, but I thought since I really like writing online, I'll do my journal there, even though there's no audience. But there's something "dangerous" about writing online, even when the posts aren't exposed. The service could be hacked and all the contents revealed, or maybe someone would figure out who I am from reading the public posts. Who knows. But it's not as solid as writing in a book or typing a Word document.

Sometimes my private posts become public because I realize things that should be shared with the world, in case someone stumbles upon it and wants some "help" or at least understanding. I've done lots of searches online and have found blogs that nailed what I was thinking, and that kind of sympathetic expression helps me feel that I'm not alone.

I recommend people keep a journal (I'm not going to use "journal" as a verb, as in "I recommend people journal"), especially if things are not going their way. Then they can avoid venting to people who don't want to listen or getting angry about some disappointment in life without turning bitter.

Honestly, if the Internet was how it was 20 years ago, maybe we could get away with being honest online. But at this point, I don't want to be so transparent because I have no idea what my work situation will be, and I don't want to jeopardize any potential opportunities. Now I'm getting frustrated, so I think I'll resume writing elsewhere :)

5.01.2015

About video production

I took my second digital video class this semester, and the instructor said we can get extra credit if we talk to someone at a video production company and write an essay about it. So I contacted an established business in Chicago: Big Shoulders, which is a full-service production house. They do all kinds of production for various clients, and do live broadcasts as well. They have three locations: one in the Hancock building, one on Wacker and Michigan, and a warehouse in Alsip. On the day I visited the Hancock location, they were broadcasting a live satellite tour. A man was sitting in front of an image of the Chicago skyline, and he spoke to TV outlets throughout the country.

Big Shoulders doesn’t own any shows but provides whatever is needed to get projects done. Several people work there, so the company usually doesn’t have to hire freelancers, unlike other production companies that are headed by one or two people who staff each project with lots of freelancers. Usually employees are assigned to one aspect of a project, including motion graphics, camera crews, audio engineering, editing, and graphic design.

I talked to Jeff Tudor, who is an executive producer. He has worked in TV news with CNN, and also freelanced with crews in Chicago. As part of managing projects at the company, he has to set the budget. In order to efficiently budget a project, he has to know the day rate of the employees, overall labor costs, how long it will take to shoot and edit, and allow for extra time in case there are problems at the location (such as sound) or if the talent makes mistakes. A project includes a budget, production schedule, shooting which takes 10 to 12 hours a day, photography, building sets, and post-production. Editing could take up to two weeks, and the company usually uses Avid (by the way, he said if you don’t know Avid, skills from other computer programs translate). If clients have a smaller budget, more inexperienced people are assigned to work on it and cheaper cameras are used.

He said that video is a small community, so it’s important to network and get to know people in the industry. A good way to build relationships is to make friends and to listen, and as you work on crews, you can meet people who will tell you about opportunities. Big production houses have cocktail parties and seasonal events, so people can connect there, too. He said the best way to build a network is to do an internship. Big Shoulders has internships for students and an extern program for people who are already out of school. Doing an internship or externship is a great way to gain skills and demonstrate your proficiency because that’s how they usually hire people. He also said people should get to know the scheduling departments of production companies to find opportunities.

He said a person’s reel should be a one-and-a-half minute compilation of their best, most recent segments. If you work behind the scenes and aren’t involved in imaging or other work that can be represented visually, then use photos that show you working in a studio. If you’re too busy to update your reel, you should compile notes about what you want to put in the reel when you have more time to do it. It’s also important to be on LinkedIn so that potential employers can easily see your experience.

Overall, you should be professional, easy to work with, and open to new opportunities. Jeff said his friend was a boom operator on many shoots, and because he was always on a set, he was able to watch people work. He learned a lot, and is now a director. So just observing the whole process helped him move ahead. What I found interesting was that Jeff said the industry in Chicago isn’t really competitive. People get along and just focus on doing their jobs. He said that Chicago is a friendly, hard-working place, and people are open to sharing information and talking about projects. That is very different from radio, which is a competitive, shrinking business full of insecurity. He also said that while LA is more entertainment-oriented, Chicago is varied, where people do independent and corporate films. He said he likes working in the business because it’s collaborative, fun, creative, and every day is different.

4.24.2015

Rare newsletter

I've been getting newsletters from various people and companies for a while, and I've even written newsletters. But recently I got a really good newsletter from Dobie Maxwell, who's a comedian. You'd think his newsletters would be light, funny, and even superficial, but his latest newsletter has a lot of honesty that is rare.

Usually newsletters, even end-of-year holiday letters, are filled with positive information that is also self-congratulatory to make the reader feel impressed. But Dobie's newsletter from this month has sincere feelings that are pretty much never seen in newsletters or in those boastful holiday cards that make the family seem extraordinary. Such honesty is also rare nowadays in blogs (which I've mentioned before), but he's consistently written such posts at his blog, too (though he discontinued it last year to write a book).

Anyway, he said I can post an excerpt from his newsletter, so here it is:
My whole life is taking on a new direction of late, and I’m not 100% sure where it’s going but I know I’m really liking it. Gone forever are the days when I devoted the all of my being to chasing the dream of being an entertainer. No more being on the road 45 to 50 weeks a year – year after year after year. I’ve had my fill of that.

The thrill of being on stage is still fun, but only to a degree. When I’m off stage I am finding there is a lot more to life than just trying to get to the next gig. There is a huge price that comes with chasing the showbiz dream, and I just don’t think it’s worth it – at least not for me. I feel myself yearning to experience new challenges.

One of if not the most delightful things that has happened in my life has been the continuing reconnection with my siblings. It has been exactly what I have wanted since I was a small child, and having it happen has been nothing short of a miracle. I never thought it was possible, but after a lifetime of waiting it really is happening.

Not caring in the least what happens show business wise has ironically given me a new found power I have never felt before. There is all kinds of sucking up to be done to people of questionable integrity, and that’s pretty much what show biz is. I never enjoyed that part of it, and it has showed. I have managed to alienate myself with more than one “powers that be”, and that has caused undue pain and stress.

Now, I could not care less about any of that. The people that don’t like me aren’t going to change their opinion any time soon, so why try to change their minds? I’m not going to let them control my ultimate destiny, even though they think they do.

They might be able to book or not book me for some comedy shows, but that’s as far as it goes. They can’t stop the growth of my soul, and that’s what has happened in this past year with my family reconnection. There is a part of me that was asleep for decades, and now it’s wide awake and enjoying life. Comedy can’t touch that.

The newsletter is longer than what I've posted here, and if you want to sign up for them, email him at dobiemaxwell@aol.com

4.10.2015

A good writing gig

I was going to name this post "The Best Writing Gig" but I decided against it because I don't know if "best" is possible in anything. But for the past year, I've been a news writer at one of the most successful news radio stations in the US, and probably the top radio station in Chicago.

I've been writing for several years for different companies, and because I'm not an introvert, it's been sort of tough in some situations because there wasn't much, or any, in-person human contact. I assumed that's how writing is, which is why I've never done it full time. However, when I got the news writing gig, I discovered it had these positive elements:

1 - I'm really part of a team. I work with an editor, who sets the stories and content; an on-air news anchor, who reads what I write; and an assistant producer, who's in charge of audio that appears in some of the stories (some stories are only text while others include audio). Each of us plays a role, and we each have to do our job to make the group strong. So instead of writing alone at a computer and sending out the copy to someone who I might never meet offline, I am in a room with other people, which helps to satisfy my more extroverted characteristics.

2 - What I write is immediate. Even though the deadlines are tight, what I write is read on the air within an hour of when it's finished. I can also hear the person read what I write, so I know that what I write really matters. The urgency forces me to be quick and correct while also making sense for the listeners. The challenge gives me a rush and also satisfies another aspect of my personality, which is intensity. Other types of writing may have a deadline, but I usually just send it out and don't know when the person will respond or what they think. I also have to motivate myself to finish the work because there's no one physically there waiting for it to use it as urgently. It's satisfying to know the value of what I produce.

3 - I'm working with professionals. Radio is full of people who knew someone to get their job and others who are hired for reasons other than skill. But everyone I currently work with is good at what they do, and they take it seriously. They didn't get their jobs because they knew someone but because they had to prove themselves in some way, through tests (writers have to take a timed writing test to be considered), airchecks, and experience. It's probably one of the few radio stations that is so professional, and the standards are high. It's like playing with a sports team that's won a bunch of championships.

Basically, I've done a lot of solitary writing and translation work that is really suited to an introvert. I love language, but I don't always want to sit at a computer all alone working on pieces that are sent out into the ether. When I started this blog, I was working a lot more with language in such a situation. After taking some detours, I'm back in the language world, but I'm even more convinced that I don't want to just float in an orbit around the connected world alone at my desk. So I'm glad I have this good writing gig to offset other work that is more indicative of isolating, technology-driven modern society (which is a subject for another post).