Saturday, December 26, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Gee, you want to guess why people are so angry?
With so many people losing money and so many people without jobs, how is it that these guys can go out and make hats for every firm, broker, and trader?
I guess we can all celebrate that they made money while we didn't.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
If they really did this on the Wii, I might actually start a Twitter page.
There are some companies thinking about doing this for real. Make a major achievement in a game, and it will be automatically uploaded to your Twitter page. Same thing for MMORPGs. If your guild or friends go on a quest and do well, you could have the game auto-tweet so other people would know what was happening.
Of course it could also be abused and incredibly annoying. This was shown to the company who turned it off. Wise move...sort of. They just needed to tweak it to have it make sense. Don't do a "completed Chapter one" tweet. Instead, do major things. "Got a platinum trophy," or, "scored [x] points." How is that different from reading about your friends' bejeweled status on Facebook?
Twitter could be used wisely... if the companies think it through.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Friday, September 04, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
How Children Play
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Sunday, August 09, 2009
How do doctors learn to deliver bad news?
I know, I know. Doctors don't necessarily have to get tied to their patients. My current doctor could probably care less about me, but he has a very blunt approach in delivering news. I also know that modern doctors are taught how to deliver news, whereas the doctors of my parents would have to learn and figure out their patients. Is teaching our modern doctors how to deliver bad news a good idea? I believe the answer is no, but it is because it allows them to ignore the human element.
One of the most important aspects of life is learning how to read a person. The body language, the facial expressions, the tone of voice, and the speed of words all allow you to know what they are thinking. When a person is angry, for example, he or she will lean forward, even hunch, and will probably have closed fists. The face will be tinged red, and the words will be clipped regardless of speed. Again, it varies from person to person, but being able to read it is important.
The more you get to know a person, the more you understand them and can read them. Talking becomes less important. For example, the second my wife steps out of her car, I know how her day has gone. And yet, doctors are losing this skill.
The best doctor I ever had was Gerald Spielman. He was an old school pediatrician. Used to smoke, ate horribly, and could make me and my sisters feel better quickly. He had warmth, but also could speak in a serious tone. Dr. Spielman never had a course on how to deliver bad news, but learned how to read people and how to talk to people. Once upon a time, my mother was desperately worried that I didn't eat enough vegetables. Dr. Spielman looked at her and said, "It's ok. I hate vegetables too, and I'm old now." She was shocked, but she laughed and realized she was being silly. Why? Because of his tone and his words. Ironically, Dr. Spielman would die of a heart attack because he ate horribly and smoked. Still, he knew how to get a message across to his patients.
Since Dr. Spielman, I have not had a doctor that I trust or who gets how to deliver news. In watching them try, it's almost like they watched a video with various forms of delivery:
The patient has an aggressive form of Cancer. There are varying ways to deliver the news. Let's watch Dr. Demonstration as he attempts to tell Patient Peter he has Colon Cancer.
I. Direct. The doctor will not attempt to console the patient at first. Much like ripping off a band-aid, the doctor will immediately get to what is ailing the patient.
"Peter, there is no easy way to say this. You have Colon Cancer. Here is what you can do now."
Do you see what the doctor did there? He told the patient the problem in a matter-of-fact manner, but made sure to include something to show his empathy. "There's no easy way," is, in fact, a simple way to show that you are upset about the news as well, but must be professional.
II. Empathetic. The doctor will attempt to show a connection to the patient, usually through touch and tone of voice. He or she should begin with an apology.
"I'm sorry, Peter. I wish the news was better." (Doctor will put hand on Peter now.) "You have Colon Cancer. I'll give you a minute to let that sink in, and then we will discuss what you can do now."
Unlike our first situation, the doctor here tried to make a human connection with touch and tone. Peter will be upset, but will also feel that his doctor cares about him.
III. Nurturing. The doctor will deliver the news and offer to console the patient.
"Peter, I'm so sorry to tell you this. You have Colon Cancer, but we can fight this. We can beat this. Is there anything I can do before we discuss what you can do now? Questions? Do you need a minute?"
Here, the doctor acts almost like a family member. As if Peter and the doctor will attack this Cancer together.
Now, I don't believe doctors watch a video like this, but I'm curious how the classes work. Working with an actor is not the same thing as telling a parent of two he or she is going to die. And how do you prepare for all situations?
My neighbors down the street had a horrible experience a few weeks ago. After being pregnant for all nine months, (we'll call her) S started her contractions and was taken to the hospital to give birth. The baby did not survive. She came out and never cried. S and her husband H were devestated. To compound the problem, the doctor delivered the news using the first approach above. Direct, to the point, and with no...warmth.
S and H found this doctor to be unappealing in helping them deal with the situation. They were given directions on how to find a grief counselor, how to tell their almost three year old the news, and how soon to try again, but none of it was comforting. And while they have been seeing the counselor, they also have been talking to me a great deal. I'm the human element. Someone who has been through experiences and can talk to them about it without using large clinical words. The only problem for me is trying to hide the guilt I feel over having two healthy children when they do not. They have not noticed so far.
I, however, have dealt with all three types of doctors in my life. When I was in college, I was told I had Cancer by the on-campus medical staff. The joke about the nurse's office there was that everyone was either pregnant, had Cancer, or both. After my car accident, I went to the nurse's office because I was not feeling well and had a pain in my chest. They took an x-ray, and put me in a room by myself. After thirty minutes, a doctor appeared looking solemn.
"There's no easy way to tell you this," he sighed.
As a side note, I really hate when doctors say that. We know there's no easy way to tell someone they are sick. It's like trying to tell a kid that his or her mother is dead. There is no easy way to do it. That's why a class was created back in 1987 to help doctors learn how to deliver news. Yes, I get that starting with the phrase allows doctors time to formulate their words, but come on... wait outside and compose the idea before entering then. That phrase is almost a slap to the patient. Back to my point.
"There's no easy way to tell you this," he sighed, "but you have Cancer." With that, he held up the x-ray and pointed to spot on my lung. While my mind rushed to WTF speed trying to figure out how, the doctor put his hand on my shoulder and said, "This is not the end. We can fight this, and you can live a long life. Don't give up."
Now, I would go to the hospital the next day and get another x-ray with an Oncologist. When I first met him, (we'll call him) Dr. R was very much like approach II. "My wife had Cancer," he would tell me, "but she fought it back and won. There's hope." I would later find out that his wife's Cancer was skin cancer, and her "fighting back" was having it cut off. Still...points for trying.
And here is where it was fun to watch Dr. R. They did the x-ray, and it turned out there was nothing there. The first x-ray had a smudge or something on it that was regarded as Cancer. As he was told this, his face and body changed. It was like watching Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. He had shared with me this story only to have it turn out I was not dying. Now Dr. R used the first approach. "You're fine. Live a long life. Goodbye, sir," and he headed out of the room to go find the next person.
While the class may be useful, I fear that as we become more and more technology centered, that it will be necessary. Tone, body language, and speed cannot be read over the internet. The more we lose the human element, the harder it will be for doctors to learn how to talk to them. I know that S thought the delivery of the bad news would be like on a medical show. The doctor would look sad, would deliver the news, leave the room, the music would swell, and the doctor would collapse much like Willem Dafoe in Platoon while sobbing about the death of a child. It was not that way. Nor was there a lesson learned.
While I am not a doctor, my advice to all of them is learn how to talk to people by actually talking to people. Don't bank on a class to teach you how. I'm a teacher. I learned how to interact with students by doing it, not by sitting in a classroom practicing it. The real world application is never the same as the simulation no matter how well-trained the actor is. Even Sir Laurence Olivier cannot match the real pain people feel when a baby dies. Just talk to us.
Of course what do I know? I never sugarcoat. I could be wrong.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Ok, From left to right:
1. Was just asked a confusing question about Kirkegaard.
2. Wanted to be Joan Jett...instead she's just wasted.
3. Thought he was doing "Son of Zoolander", so he hit the crowd with his version of Blue Steel.
Stan Lee reacts to the only way to get rid of him:
Say, "Excelsior!" three times backwards and he disappears.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
When I first read this article, I thought, "Must be a typo," but I started thinking about it and realized that it has a positive and negative.
Start with the positive:
Congratulations to Ryan Seacrest. You are now being paid 15 million dollars a year just to host a 40 episode show in which you are really on about 22 minutes per hour. So let's do the math:
A two hour show means you're on for 44 minutes.
There are 40 episodes where we'll say 20 are only an hour. So...
20 x 22 = 440 minutes
20 x 44 = 880 minutes
Total screen time: 1,320 minutes
That's 22 hours a season.
You get 15 million dollars a year, which means you make:
681,818.18 per hour of work for the next three years.
That's amazing, considering that before American Idol you were pretty much only known for hosting things like Gladiators 2000 (think American Gladiators for kids...oh the Food Pyramid...sigh).
You are the American dream personified. In a short amount of time, you were in the right place at the right time and were smart enough to capitalize to become rich and famous. You are well on your way to becoming the next Dick Clark, so congratulations on that.
And you work incredibly hard. You're on this show, you have a radio show, and you produce a few things here and there (they aren't Shakespeare, but...whatever).
Now, the negative....
First, re-read the math above.
Where is the money coming from? Are we really giving a man who hosts a giant karaoke show the same amount of money that Tom Brady makes? (And that is a whole 'nother rant.)
Let's just hit the varying levels of this issue.
#1: Is he really the reason why people watch the show? If he was replaced, would the ratings really drop?
I have never really watched the show, but my understanding from those who do is that judges are who people care about, not the host. So what are the judges to be paid?
#2: How do you explain to the auto worker that's been laid off or the teacher who has been cut that there isn't enough money to keep them, but that some guy is getting almost $700,000 an hour to small talk with some people on a panel and comfort a person who has basically been told: you can't sing?
Which leads to another problem: We overvalue athletes and actors and such, and we undervalue the real hard working people. Yes, I'm a teacher, and I do put a portion of my check back in to the classroom. Last year alone I paid out $3,000 of my own money to make sure the kids had books and supplies. That's a good chunk of my yearly salary, folks.
Let me be clear: I'm not whining. I'm not saying, "Hey, poor me that some guy is getting 15 million to host a show, and I get paid considerably less to supposedly prepare the future of America."
But how do I keep arguing that education is SO necessary, when some guy makes more money than a lawyer, a doctor, a scientist, or most people with a PhD. The guy I would give that much money to? Neil Degrasse Tyson. "Who is that," might be your answer, and that would be the problem.
#3: Aren't we in a recession? Aren't we supposed to be hurting for money and everyone is supposed to be tightening their belts? Are we supposed to look at this story and say, "Wow, economy can't be that bad! Look at the money this guy is getting," while smiling?
I just don't understand how so much money can be given to one person. It's like Jim Carrey making $20 million for a film. One person is worth that much? A guy who can hit a ball is worth $25 million? Really?
Have we lost our priorities? Maybe we should just forget about trying to teach people to read and write. Scratch that. We need them to read the teleprompters. Maybe, however, we should just turn our schools into pageant preparation. Teach the students to read, smile, and talk clearly, and then move them into the world.
And that's the true negative of this. While Mr. Seacrest gets money that he probably deserved, the rest of us can only look and think, "Why not us?"
For the me the question is now, "Why am I doing what I'm doing?" We obviously care about money more than anything, right? I mean I can't pay my mortgage with the good work I do for the students.
"Here, Mr. Banker, are the grades my students earned this year. Amazingly good. Is that enough to let me keep my house? Huh?"
Of course what do I know? I get paid pretty well to apparently foist my opinion on children. I could be wrong.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Monday, July 06, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
(Feel free to click on a picture to see it larger.)
The colors in the darkness that call out to you.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Let me begin by saying 35,063 hours. That's roughly 2,103,780 minutes. Or, to make it more salient: that's the amount of time the class of 2009 had a high school career.
That may seem like a long time, but when all is said and done... when the lights of your lives begin to dim, this will be but a moment. A flicker in the corner of your eye.
I have always found it fascinating that people will call high school the greatest period of their life.
That is an old, tired, and incorrect platitude, and you all know what a platitude is.... That's right, it's a platypus with an attitude. And if you've never seen that...well...you either weren't in or weren't paying attention in my class.
This will not be the best time of your life. The world is changing in fascinating ways. We have a new president who brings about a feeling of hope for so many. We have instant communication with each other across computers and cell phones.
(Pull out cell phone and check it)
Which means I now get texts from the graduates asking me to speak faster and get to the point. Thanks (fill in the blank).
We have economic uncertainty which can be your worst enemy or your best friend depending on how you approach it.
And yet through all of this, you will have memories, experiences, and moments that will make all of this fade into the back of your mind.
Now, I cannot guarantee there's nothing scary hiding underneath your bed, but I can say that you are not alone on this journey through life. You will always have your teachers here should you need us. Our job has been to prepare you for what lies ahead.
And I know you all heard that a lot over the last four years. Think about it: how many times did you ask, "What's the point of this?"
And how many times did you hear, "To prepare you," or "Because you need to know this," from your teachers?
So I give you one more thing to prepare for.
Regardless of what your teachers have taught you, you must be prepared to be surprised.
The best part of life is not knowing what will come next. It's the thrill of an unexpected and positive surprise. It's the power of overcoming a sudden and negative astonishment. And this is the real reason why your teachers have worked so hard with you: Because the future is never written. There may be no accidents, but there is also no way to know how every piece will play out. Even the best card counter gets surprised.
As you step out of HP and move into the jungle of the real world, I leave you with an explanation of one of my favorite riddles.
My students know this question very well, and they have often asked me to give them the answer, to which I always reply, "Wait until graduation." One student told me she was excited not just to be here to graduate but to also get the answer to the question that has been plaguing her for two years. So...
There's a duck in a bottle (no groaning). You may not break the bottle, and you may not harm or touch the duck. How do you get the duck out of the bottle?
Over the course of my life, I have heard two definitive answers that were backed by zen masters.
Answer #1: Because I am the man who put the duck in the bottle, only I can remove the duck. Thus, the answer is to do nothing.
While this answer makes sense, it also means that we have no real control over the situations of life. This also means that we ignore situations as we truly feel we have no ability to affect the outcome. A very cynical way of looking at things...so let's try #2.
Answer #2: Open the bottle, let the duck out, and close the bottle. I truly like this answer because of its simplicity. We often miss the simple ideas of childhood as we grow older. I can remember when I was in high school and a teacher asked my class, "How do you put a hippo in the refrigerator?" My class immediately launched into planning about changing the dynamics of the icebox, cutting up the hippo, and even inventing a shrink ray. And when he told us the answer of, "Open the door, put the hippo in, and close the door," I was not alone in thinking how I would pelt him with eggs later. Still, he was right. We ignore the simple because we are used to the complex. Rainer Maria Rilke, a writer I quite like said:
"If you will cling to Nature, to the simple in Nature, to the little things that hardly anyone sees, and that can so unexpectedly become big and beyond measuring; if you have this love of inconsiderable things and seek quite simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you..."
This quote helps illustrate the point of answer #2: The simpleness of things is often right when it isn't drowned in complexity.
However, I believe that there is a third answer. A better answer.
Answer #3: Whatever you would do. This may seem like a cop out on my part, but you have to develop your own answer. I asked a colleague of mine about this the other day.
"What would you do?" I asked.
"I would smash the bottle and free the duck," she exclaimed.
"But that violates the rules," I replied.
"Sometimes a situation calls for breaking the rules," she said. "That's why it's my answer."
She's not wrong. I often tell you that I cannot give you the answer because it is my answer and not yours. As you leave here, go out, and find your ways, you know as well as I do that while teachers, family, and friends will help you, YOU must develop your own answers to life's questions. Someone will not always be there to tell you the answer. If you come across the duck in the bottle, it's up to you to decide what to do. The duck might be as simple as what class to take, or as difficult as what to do with an aged parent. It's your choice to make... no one can make it for you, and you should never want them to.
I am proud to have spent the last four years with you, and I look forward to seeing the great ways that you will take on life head on and bend it to your will. Make your teachers, your families, and yourselves proud with your choices and your definitions. And while some will tell you it isn't, failure is an option, because it is from failure that success will be born. You cannot have one without the other, and it is in those failures that we learn to find our answers. Once again, as Rilke said:
"Live the questions now."
Good luck graduates.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
So I drove over to the Athens Cafe to pick up a Gyro and veggie platter (both recommended). The cafe is in a strip mall next to a Great Clips and near a Walgreens. It's also near Bill's Gun Shop...but that's neither here nor there. After I parked, I was walking up to the door, when I heard a woman scream, "Hey! Stop! THIEF!"
I looked to my right and here came a young, African-American male running at top speed down the side walk. In his hand was something I couldn't quite see, but it was obvious from the woman screaming and pointing at him that he had not paid for the item.
He was going to run right by me. I could have easily just thrown my weight at him, knocked him down, and stopped him.
But I didn't.
So...he ran right by me and bolted to the steps at the end of the mall and went out of sight. The woman stopped running well before then. I grabbed the door to enter into the Athens Cafe right as she got there. We made eye contact. She didn't say anything, but her look said it all: "You had the opportunity to help, you bastard, and you let him go."
As I sat and waited for my food to be prepared, the reasoning began to become clear. I hadn't stopped the guy because of everything I have seen during jury duty and because of my family.
The family aspect is the easiest. When I was single, it didn't matter to me if something happened. Now, I have people that I am responsible for. Now I have people who depend on me to be there, and I can't let them down.
But the other reason was jury duty and the stories of the crimes. So let's say I stop this guy...who's to say he isn't armed? Who's to say that he doesn't see me coming and just flat out beats the crap out of me? There wasn't anyone else out there other than the woman from Walgreens, and she wasn't going to save me if he went at me.
So I let a crime happen that maybe I could have stopped...and I feel guilty. My wife says I shouldn't as I was under no obligation to help anyone, but that's no consolation.
In the end this will only be a small moment of my life. I just hope it doesn't define me.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I really dislike using strong words to describe my life, but this is a time when I am comfortable with it. I hate being on this jury. The reasons are quite simple.
1. It takes me away from work.
This seems like it would be a good thing. Who doesn't want time away from their colleagues and responsibilities? Well, me. Every time I have to go to a day of jury duty, I have to write a lesson plan, lay out the work, and hope it gets done right. The added issue is that my students are so horrible to my subs, that they have all canceled on me. That's right, every one of my subs will not do any repeats for me. They hate my students that much. Of course the students say it has to do with not getting respect, but that's not the point. It's more work for me not to be there.
2. I'm having a hard time with the cases.
Ok, so at times I come off as being hard as stone. I told a kid the other day that he's not graduating because the work he was trying to turn in was over a month late and I wasn't accepting it anymore. That might be harsh, but some of the cases I've seen have been nasty. Understand, grand jury is homicides, and the lawyers must present their evidence. This means pictures, witnesses, and more. And while I can stomach a lot, there are just some cases that are hard to listen to.
Now, I'm no Twidiot ©(and yes, my term), so I won't be discussing the details of these cases. Hell, I seem to be one of the only members of the jury who doesn't read the local newspaper right now, turns off my cell phone while in the grand jury room, and is unwilling to discuss the cases in the elevator afterwards.
That being said it's difficult to watch and take notes at times.
Let me give you an example. Say there is a case where a man killed his child. He beat the child to death with the kid's favorite toy. The lawyers (and we only see the prosecution) will call in the medical examiner, who will put up pictures of the deceased and walk us through the damages and cause of death. This means seeing pictures of the child's body. This also means a dry voice talking about how a man can use X amount of physical pressure to crush a child's skull.
Next a detective or officer on the case will come in and tell us the police involvement of the case. If there is a witness to the crime, we will hear from that person. Inevitably one or more will cry and need a break.
And every witness will always start the same way. "State your name for the record and spell it," followed by, "What is your educational background for your position?"
It gets tedious, and it is draining to see the horror that we do to each other. Slit throats, killed babies, shooting each other, stabbing each other, running each other over with cars, smashing bottles, etc. It reinforces the idea that we are not intrinsically good.
3. People are not logical in groups.
This one is the hardest for me. I am a passionate person, but I have learned over time how to control my emotions and look at the facts. Over and over again, should you ever do jury duty, the lawyers will remind you that the case is always about the law. Not your feelings, not what your saw on a TV show or media outlet...the law. We are given copies of the law, and it is explained to us. This makes it all the more worse when fellow jurors begin an argument with a phrase that should not be in the jury room:
When you start a sentence with that phrase, you are no longer objective. Feelings are not objective. If you wish to argue that, Plato, that's fine, but in my experience on this green and blue marble, feelings are always based on subjective ideals.
We are arguing the law. Is this person acting with premeditation as the law describes it? It is not how YOU think premeditation is, but the law. That's the key.
You only need 12 people to agree on a charge. Unlike a petit jury, it's majority rules. If 12 say go, then 11 say no, and the case goes on to a trial. Most of the time, we agree on the charges. I admit that the teacher in me does not allow for us to get off topic. However, I cannot always keep everyone focused... I'm not the foreperson.
Two weeks ago, we argued a murder charge. Three members disagreed with the assessment and hijacked the vote until they could be heard. I think in their minds, they truly had this noble idea of making an impassioned speech, a la Twelve Angry Men and changing our minds. And each of those three used the phrase that has no place in the room.
"I just feel," the first one said, " that this is too much. I mean it COULD have been an accident. Then we're being harsh."
"Look at the law," I responded. "Knowing...or unknowingly. Thus premeditation."
This fell on deaf ears. And in all honesty, I could have cared less how they felt. They were in the minority, but it bothers me that they could not come up with an argument stronger than, "I feel." The group would argue for fifteen more minutes. It was insane.
4. The building is depressing
I swear I see the same people waiting outside the court every week. I know that's impossible, but they always look the same. Everyone looks unhappy, and it is amazing that the offices manage to have so many windows and yet feel and look so dark. Still, you can taste the defeat and sadness that surrounds so many of the people. Armed guards are everywhere, and no one quite seems to have a sense of humor. I watched a little boy play with his mother, and he was able to do this trick with a car that he hadn't ever done before. His face lit up, and his mother was proud. The boy wasn't loud, and wasn't near anyone. Yet, a man at a bench at least thirty feet away yelled, "Hey, not so loud! What you did...no big deal." Thus, the man and the boy's mother began arguing, and the smile was gone from the boy's face. It's just depressing in there. It's not wonder everyone bolts for the outside. It's not for a cigarette; it's for sunshine, warmth, and the return of the feeling of love.
Don't get me wrong, there are some interesting aspects to this.
I've learned a lot about the court system and the need for thoroughness.
I've learned that WAY too many people think that CSI is 100% real. As one M.E. put it: They are so great because the writers know how the case ends already. We don't."
I've learned that courthouse has burned out lights all over that they will not replace. We offered to buy the necessary bulbs and were told no.
I also learned that the sad technology of my classroom is still better understood and taken care of then in the courtrooms there. In one courtroom is a sign that reads, "Ring bell for judge." In front of it is the kind of bell you would find for a bellhop. Forget giant chambers where judges yell at lawyers, this is ring for service justice. As for understanding, most of the time we the jury have to help the lawyers make their powerpoints and videos work.
I've learned that even in a courtroom people will ignore words and concentrate on looks. Maybe this is why the law is ignored....
I serve until mid-June, and I look forward to finishing my civic duty, but I am saddened by the fact that even in real life, people ignore the instructions and think with what THEY think is right instead of the law. It creates problems.
I hope, dear reader, that you are never called to grand jury duty (My wife never has been called for any kind...must change that), but if you are, I hope that your group is interesting and hard working.
Friday, May 01, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
So this begs the question: What would happen if Criterion did video games?
The answer? Check this out. These are awesome!
The best one, to me, is Grim Fandango. A film noir game, the box art captures the feel of it being like Casablanca but set in the land of the dead during the Day of the Dead.
Look through the site and enjoy.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
The first experience I ever had was while I was in high school. However, that one won't count as the school's theatre teacher gave a tremendous amount of help to the point of lending lights, sound equipment, and his time. No, proper student theatre has to have no outside help. So let's jump ahead.
My freshman year of college, the group AST (a helpful acronym that stands for All Student Theatre...oh how clever) put on a production of Macbeth (if you are in a theatre as you read this, say "The Scottish Play...do it for Sir Ian McKellan). Now, I worked on the show as a favor to my then girlfriend who was friends with everyone on the production and would sweet talk me into helping... this leads to...
Lesson one: Never work on a production without knowing all the parameters up front. If you haven't been on the show since day one, and they call you fix problems, it's going to be more taxing than you can imagine. These people take all their huge problems and dump it on the consultant. Then, if it doesn't work, it's your fault. Make sure you have an escape...just in case.
I'm in bed when the phone rings at midnight. Doesn't sound too bad, but I had been asleep since nine as I had a horrible cold. It's the show's lighting designer, and he needs my help. His name is Adam, and he's one of those guys who's always sure he's right. If he was on fire (important later), and he didn't think he was, he would burn to death to prove that you were wrong. Seriously.
"Buddy, I need you."
Ok, let me be clear here: I really dislike when people use terms of endearment that are fake. Chief, buddy, dude, brother, etc. Either use my name or tell me how you really feel. I have a colleague who calls me, "Buddy," and it makes me mad because she used to do it when she forgot my name.
"What do you need, Adam?" I reply coughing into the phone loudly. It's at this point I realize that I will need to wash out the puke bucket...but that's neither here nor there.
"I'm really stuck, Chief. Can you come down here and help me focus?"
"Where's your crew?" I ask, and try to start counting how many times the room has spun on me... 14.
"Left me in the lurch, Bro. Can you get down here and help me. I know it's what (My Ex's name) would want."
This is an unfair move...however, it is lesson two:
Lesson two: If you are desperate for help, blackmail, blackmail, blackmail. Use whatever resource you have. I once got a friend of mine to withhold sex to her boyfriend until he came and helped me. Cruel? Hell yeah. Necessary? Most definitely.
On the flipside, however, be prepared for it. If someone attempts to use your significant other, then you bargain using his or hers. And always collect favors in writing or recording. Seriously. I used to do it all the time, and I still have a stack of I.O.U's that I am using to get people to help me now.
I sighed into the phone. "Fine, Adam. I help you, and you owe me. No questions."
This is how you tell how desperate a person is. If they REALLY need you, then the no question bit is washed over. If they don't, then they will argue it.
"Just get down here. I need help. We'll talk details later."
I get down there to a version of Lighting Hell. A combination of late delivery, rain, and lack of man power has the show a full day behind. Adam is really desperate...and I can use that.
Ok, if you are doing a production and cannot get lights from a university, college, or local school, you will have to rent. Now, this is where you need to be nice to the school's (or space's) Tech Director. Get a name and number of who he/she would use. Make sure to mention how much money you have...less $500. Seriously. I watched a kid make this mistake my senior year of college. She pissed off the TD by talking to him like he was a kid (not a good idea with Rick), and then gave him the exact budget. He gave her the number of a guy that I knew jacked prices. She ended up paying $300 out of pocket. I would have said something, but she insulted me too, so I decided to let it go. Too bad for her.
Adam had gone to a guy that everyone knew was reliable 50% of the time. Sometimes he showed up with the lights, dimmer, and cables....Sometimes he didn't show or showed with only some of the equipment. On this night, he showed, but the guy wouldn't bring the equipment up from the bottom of the steps, and this was why Adam was panicking. The students had all ditched the set when it started raining, so Adam was left with himself, me, and one actor who was too drunk to know any better.
Lesson three: When desperate, you can take any warm body and use them, but be careful who you are taking as they may be:
Better than you
The actor, we'll call him Terry, was incredibly drunk. This was a given for most AST productions as the sets were outdoors in April, so staying warm was very hard. Many people drank or had sex to be warm. The sex was why I never wanted to clean the set...ever. Too many...well...you get the idea.
Anyway, Terry was wasted, and here was Adam asking him to carry a box of lights up the steps of the building so we could begin hanging in the rain. The very idea was insane, but I'd done worse.
Halfway up the steps, Terry started getting woozy and losing his balance.
Have you ever seen the scene in The Untouchables where the baby in the carriage rolls down the stairs? No? Ok, here. Yes, it's a rip-off of the scene from Battleship Potemkin..but..uh...ssshhhh.
So Terry is starting to fall, and he lets go of the box with the very expensive Source Four Revolutions in them. As the box starts to slip from his fingers, everything slows down. Adam begins to dive to save the box, while I just stare. Had it been my show, I might have cared more, but because I was doing a favor...meh.
Adam gets his fingers on the box, and it still gets away. So several thousand dollars worth of equipment goes spinning down the steps as Terry pukes on himself and Adam screams.
Lesson four: A great deal of student theatre is luck. So many things will go wrong that it will make your head spin. Actors will be idiotic, techies will be frustrating, and anything that can truly go wrong without incredibly meticulous planning will go wrong. However, occasionally something will spin your way.
For Adam, this was his lucky moment. Even though the box had plunged down all those steps, nothing was damaged. So, even though I was still dizzy, I helped Adam haul the box up while Terry continued to puke on himself while saying, "Aww...dude...(Hoorrk)...dude...no...," over and over.
As you'll recall from rule one, always have an out. When Adam began talking about working until the sun came up (and again, it was pouring rain), I pulled my out. "You get a little longer, but I have an exam tomorrow, and I need to both sleep and study. School first." A flimsy excuse, but enough of one. This was also because I knew he was going to try and get me to go up on the scaffolding.
Now, here's a helpful tip. Not a rule per say, but something to remember: fatigue + rain + heavy equipment + electricity = VERY, VERY bad idea. I knew Adam was going to ask me to go up and hang the lights on the three story tall scaffolding...and there was no way I was going up in the horizontal rain with several pounds of lights attached. That's just asking God, or Fate, or Time, or Space to throw you around. Years later I would be in Adam's position and almost kill myself leaping around the scaffolding, but on this night I wasn't stupid...or designing.
So after setting up some pipes, running some cable, and hanging a few lights, I was done. "I need sleep, Adam. I'm going home."
"Thanks, Chief," he said and my spine shivered. "I'll call you later to come back." This was not said as a question of if, but that I WOULD come back.
"We'll see. Bye."
A few days passed, and Adam got everything ready. The night the show opened, however, Adam would cause another problem.
During "The Scottish Play", there is a scene where three murderers appear and kill Banquo. The director decided that the lighting would mimic moonlight and that the actors would carry torches. Great...except the murderers were supposed to snuff the torches in order to symbolize Banquo's death (which everyone was seeing anyway...but I digress).
So Murderer #3 grabs the torch and tries to snuff it out with his cape...which hadn't been sprayed with fire retardant...and it catches on fire.
Being the techie that I am, and being that I am in the audience, I stand up immediately and go to put the guy out. Adam, who is also the stage manager and tech director for the show stops me (again, it's student theatre, so everyone has multiple positions. Being the lighting designer also means he knows the cues already).
"Don't touch him!" he shouts at me. "He can put it out himself."
The spreading flames say otherwise.
"Get out of the way," I say to Adam, and head backstage where I know the fire extinguisher is. (The guy they rented the lights from includes it with all of his rentals...isn't that a bad sign?) Adam keeps saying, "He doesn't need you to put him out."
At this point I don't care. I grab the extinguisher, run back out, and spray Murderer #3 down. He was grateful as the flames were actually starting to burn him.
Now this was not that bad. Sure, an actor was burned, but nothing crashed.
On a later production of City of Angels, the tech director didn't double check to make sure the flats were lashed. So, the play is rolling along, and they hit the big number: You're Nothing Without Me. Stine and Stone begin the song...and the flat behind Stine literally snaps and crushes him. Sadly it was the only time the audience enjoyed the show.
This leads to...
Lesson five: anything that can go wrong...will...and it will have fallout.
Yes, your show was a success...good for you. However, there was an immense amount of drama (no pun intended) leading up to your awesome opening.
Over the course of the years that I did student theatre, I had:
Directors at war with each other
Drunk or high crew members
Drunk, high, or horny actors
Angry weather gods
Annoyingly interested security and peace officers
Homeless folks trying to use the set as a home or urinal
And of all of those, the worst was always weather. If you can avoid doing it outside, you'll be much happier. During a very frustrating production of Much Ado About Nothing, I had to setup scaffolding and hang lights all in the quad. Ok, the first problem was that I had one helper, and while Donger (yes, like ding-dong...with er at the end) was a great help, he was also hyper-competitive. "Hey dude," he would always start with. "I bet I can carry two lights up to the top of the scaffolding faster than you AND get them hooked up first. Ready? Go!" Then he would run as fast as he could, grab the lights and sprint up the side of scaffolding. Was it helpful? At times, but not when he slammed some of the lights into the metal bars and caused damage.
So it was pretty much me. It was a rainy April when this show was being setup. It was also cold and windy. This meant that the three stories tall scaffolding would sway while I was on it.
Anyone who knows me as a professional in theatre knows that I am basically a monkey. I will hang off pipes, swing around with ladders, and basically throw my body across pipes and walls if it means getting the job done. This includes flying around and cheating death and injury while on unsecured (very much unbeknownst to me) scaffolding. Now, in case you are unaware, metal and water don't necessarily mix well. If you add heights then it's a recipe for disaster.
There I was on top of the scaffolding singing the Marriage of Figaro at the top of my lungs, when I slipped for the first time. The light was secure, and I had my trusty (no longer mine) crescent wrench tied to my wrist so it wouldn't hurt anyone or force me to go after it, but I slipped and had to grab on to the metal plank to not go anywhere.
In hindsight, this should have been my first inkling that this was a warning from God or Fate or Time or Space or the Theatre Gods or whatever runs this strange land we all inhabit. I would continue to work and would make an almost fatal mistake. With all the lights finally attached, I began to wire and focus. One light was extended out (it was a special for Beatrice), so I, being the macho idiot I once was, leaped over the scaffolding to swing into position to focus the light. It wasn't done to impress a lady, it wasn't done to cheat death, nor was it done to prove a point. I did it because I started leaping over the side during my Sophomore year. Never had a problem, until that moment.
Again, rain makes metal wet. Metal is then hard for skin to purchase on. Add heights and you begin to see the problem. My hand grabbed for the metal bar and slipped right off...while I was three stories up. I began to fall.
My first thought was, "Fuck. Who's going to feed my cats?" Why? Couldn't tell you.
So I reached out again with my hands and feet and managed to pull myself in with my leg. It didn't break, but it caught me, I hit my back on the scaffolding, and my shin caught me in place by letting a pin that was holding the scaffolding together enter in. It was excruciating and embarrassing, but it wasn't the worst part. I would survive, patch up the leg (though I still have the scar to this day), and finish the job. I'd even keep singing.
And as soon as I finished, lesson five kicked in.
I had asked the crew to secure the scaffolding to the ground using ropes and stakes. We couldn't do anything to the brick of the quad as that might...you know...be permanent damage. So they were supposed to stake down one side and tie the other to a tree. One was done (the tree). That afternoon, several guys were playing football, and they somehow got too close to our scaffolding tie down and a bunch of them hit the rope. This forced the scaffolding to tip back. Add in a gust of wind and now a bunch of extra weight in the form of the lights and the structure begins to tip over. I was there when this occurred. It is the only time in my life where I loudly asked God or the universe or Murray, the little old man who lives in the Sun, to "HELP ME!!!"
Yes, I ran up to the scaffolding and started trying to pull it back. There was a rope still attached from when we raised it, and I grabbed it and leaned back...to no avail. The whole structure went over. For a few moments, I just looked at the desolation of the fallen metal. Nothing of the structure had broken, but two lights had...which was costly. This would be the last time the director of the show and I would actually speak as he was supposed to tie down the other line...but had forgotten because the actress playing Beatrice was wooing him.
In the end, I'm not against student theatre. Far from it. It's a wonderful experience.
1. Never work on a production without knowing all the parameters up front.
2. If you are desperate for help, blackmail, blackmail, blackmail.
3. When desperate, you can take any warm body and use them, but be careful who you are taking.
4. A great deal of student theatre is luck.
5. Anything that can go wrong...will...and it will have fallout.
Of course, there's one more rule to remember. It's not a hard and fast rule, but as a techie, I highly recommend it.
6. Never date any of the actors or directors involved with the production. Oh my, this is a sure fire way to end your relationship.
Of course what do I know? I did four years of it and didn't die. I could be wrong.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Your result for The Director Who Films Your Life Test...
Your film will be 64% romantic, 39% comedy, 22% complex plot, and a $ 27 million budget.
I have...no response to this. It's...uh...yeah.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Monday, March 02, 2009
To clarify, I have grand jury duty.
A few weeks ago I received my summons for jury duty. This is the third time in my life I will have appeared at a court house for jury duty. Unfortunately, this will be the first time I will actually have to sit.
The first time was after I left the east coast and headed to St. Louis. I was called back even though I was in college. I explained to the judge that I was in school in St. Louis and no longer lived on the east coast. Done. I was excused.
The second time was while I was in college. I was called to jury duty in St. Louis. This was a little more difficult to get out of. It was a petit jury so we could be dismissed, which was the idea. I was working a show and didn't want to lose the time to my civic duty. So I called my mother and asked what to do.
"It's simple," she explained. "Be extreme in your answers. Don't lie, but make it clear that whatever they ask is something you're passionate about. You don't like drunk drivers, be vehement."
My girlfriend at the time tried to add her two cents as well. "Show them how smart you are. No one wants a smart juror. They want a juror that can easily be swayed."
I went to the courthouse and sat. Thankfully, I brought my homework with me, but my fellow jurors were annoyed with me as I took up a good chunk of floor to do my light plot drafting. Soon I was called in and asked my opinion on defrauding people.
"Have you ever taken a person's money?" I was asked.
"No, sir," I replied. "That would be horribly wrong. Any person who does that was obviously never loved by their mother." That was my version of extreme. What I liked was that the defense attorney's head cocked over like a puppy's. He almost couldn't believe that the man sitting before him would say those words.
I was almost immediately dismissed.
Now this third time is different. The state of Minnesota is quite unique. They convene a grand jury every Thursday and ask its members to sit for four months. The jury consists of 23 people, one foreperson, two associate forepeople, and eight alternates. They need at least sixteen people to vote, so the twenty three is just in case someone cannot make it due to dire circumstances. And unlike other states, you cannot get dismissed from doing your duty...not without a doctor's note that covers the whole period. Taking a business trip? Go ahead, see you in a week. I was unaware of this when I got called. Again, a petit jury is where they have a jury of twelve people who decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. That was NOT what I was being called to. No, the Hennepin County Grand Jury is to decide if there is enough evidence to send a case to trial. There is no excusing. It's also all homicides. "Prepare for blood," we were told.
When the summons came, I immediately thought of my mother: extremes. Get out of it.
I filled out the questionnaire that came with it. I had never had to fill out a survey for jury duty before. It asked questions about my educational background, my job, and my spouse. It was strange.
As the date drew closer, I even tried to be positive. It's a day off, I told myself, you can take grading and get ahead. Might meet some interesting people too. Not even close.
I arrived early and took my seat outside the courtroom. The clerk came and took our names like an attendance sheet (Yes, I looked at it like a teacher). Once we were all checked in, we were given binders with instructions and took a seat in the courtroom.
After a quick introduction, the clerk said there would be one piece of business. "We need to get a foreperson, so I will read three names at random and take those people to meet with the judge." She read the names. I was second. Off to the upper floors to meet the judge.
Here's the catch, however. The names weren't random. When I checked in, I was able to read the list the clerk had. It was not in alphabetical order. At the top were three names (mine was second) that had stars next to them. These three names were the ones she read. As I went upstairs with the two other people, we began introducing ourselves to each other and discussing our backgrounds. Turned out all three of us had Masters degrees or higher, did jobs that required working with groups of people, and had put all of that on the questionnaire. There was nothing random about this. The judge interviewed all three of us and asked if we could handle a group, had any reservations, etc. In the end, I became an associate foreperson. This was due to my asking a question during the interview. This meant I had to be the foreperson if something happened to the woman chosen for the task. No way out now.
After being sworn in, we went to the grand jury room where we met the prosecutor and had the whole thing explained out. No longer would we be addressed by our names. No we would be numbers. We were also told to not read the newspaper or watch the news (Sorry, Keith) as this could sway our opinions.
What struck me, however, was not that we had these rules. I understand that. No, what got me was a few things that the clerk said to us.
1. 'The building," she explained, "does not have Wi-Fi. We still use dial-up."
Someone asked, "Do you mean you just plug in?"
"No," she replied, "I mean dial-up. It's slow. That's why justice takes so long around here."
2. Juror pay is ten dollars for the day. Not per hour, per day. Ten dollars won't even cover the cost of parking down in Minneapolis all day, but that's neither here nor there. Still, it makes sense, then, why so many people want to get out of jury duty. In this economy, who can afford to lose 1/5 if their paycheck? You want to do your civic duty, but that's a great deal of money to give up.
3. The building, it was explained to us, shuts down on Wednesdays as a cost saving measure. This means that the office won't be open for questions, problems, or explanations. Ok, so there's no justice on Wednesdays. So that's going to make it easier for everyone and makes sense? Really? Ok then.
This will be an interesting experience. I will talk about what I can (outside of the cases), but Thursday will be the first day and the first problem: Parent/Teacher conferences are this Thursday, and I am expected to be at jury duty. So..sorry parents. I can't talk to you about your failing child, because I'm going to be looking at whether a guy shot his baby in the face by accident or maliciously (not a real case...not contempt of court here).
Of course what do I know? I'm just the schmuck who may send you off to a trial. I could be wrong.