Friday, June 27, 2008
PYD Update

But only a brief update, I'm afraid. Week 1 of PYD was just sort of a blur -- one day seems almost identical to the next, it's all just me and the other guy talking to kids who don't care about stuff they seem to only partly understand. Somehow, though, the other instructor and I have managed to get three production units together and ready to start shooting next week. There's theoretically a fourth unit made up of a group of completely unengaged, uninterested boys, and they're not remotely ready to shoot. After a good deal of discussion about what would be more unfair -- distributing the indifferent kids among the units and hoping that the interest of their peers would be enough to get them through the process, but harming the more-involved kids if the slackers let them down; or concentrating them into one or two units and letting them sink or swim on their own. In the end, we decided to stick 'em all in a single unit together. That way, if they fail, it only effects one unit. It's cynical, yes, but it seems to the least harmful thing to do, and it's probably what they would want anyway.

The good news is that we've got three units ready to go. And if the other unit isn't ready, it'll be by their own choice.

On a related note, the more I see of youth-oriented non-profits, the more discouraged I become. The group that's sending many of these kids is, in fact, paying them to attend; it's their "summer job." The organization gets grants, and they pay these kids to do whatever they can scrape up for them to do. The thing is, the objective (as best I can tell) is to teach them good work habits, but in fact they're teaching them lazy, undisciplined work habits. For example, today the van that brings them arrived about fifteen minutes late. They sit and do nothing, they wander away at will, they leave early, and they're accountable to nobody. It was a particularly bitter pill when I learned that one of their interns -- a typical teenage princess (literally, she was in the Rose Court this year), the sister of one of the group's main administrators, not a bad kid but not an especially competent or useful one, either -- is being paid more to sit around and distract the boys than I get for my crappy job at Fnorders.

It just makes you fucking mad, you know?

But still. That's me halfway done with this, though it's still going to be another week before I get my next day off. Tomorrow it's back to the bookfloor, but tonight my roommates are away, so I made myself a particularly good dinner and now I'm hanging out with the dog. One luxuriously quiet night before I get back to the usual routine.
10:36 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
In Which Amy Turns To Alcohol And Drugs To Escape The Frustration Of Being A Failed Teacher

So far, PYD has been one massive frustration. As soon as I saw our equipment on the first morning, I knew that much of the curriculum I'd written was good only for filling up the paper it was printed on. The cameras are so simple that the kids will be using them in automatic almost exclusively, reducing their work to little more than pointing it at the thing they want to shoot and then pushing the button. They can't even focus manually. There's no white balance, no iris, no shutter speed, nothing. The lights are cheap scoop lights with 60W bulbs. The microphones are 20-dollar shotguns with phasing issues. The tripods are flimsy, and the heads so craptacular that panning and tilting during a shot renders the shot unusably shaky. There's no way to monitor, much less control sound recording levels. Image resolution is poor, lighting contrast is blown all to hell, and the colors are hideous. Red especially. The reds throb and bleed, and I expect they'll give you cancer if you look at them for too long.

This isn't to complain (much) or to knock the equipment (much) -- there are reasons why kit of this level was chosen, and the reasons are sound, if unfortunate. It's a little frustrating to be working with the kids and say, "hey, let me show you a shot I really like", and then be unable to produce it because, say, the camera won't hold focus in the right spot. Then the kids look at you like you're a dumbass, and all you can do is shrug and say, "never mind." The only real problem is that I designed a curriculum that took a week to teach the equipment, with exercises and everything, and I can't actually use any of it. I could teach this equipment in a single session, and then what would we do afterwards?

The good news -- if you can call it that -- is that we've been grossly delayed by circumstance. On day one, we had four kids, one of whom had to leave early to go to his summer job. (Not such a big deal, since he'd completed the program last summer, and already knows how things work.) We were expecting at least ten more, though, recruited through some "youth enhancement" program, who wouldn't arrive until the next day. That meant the bulk of the class wouldn't even begin until day two. So we were left trying to figure out how to keep the existing three occupied for a day without letting them get so far ahead that we couldn't assimilate the two groups afterwards. At the end of the day, however, we were told that due to the death of an administrator, the entire youth program bringing us the rest of our class wouldn't be functioning at all on day two, so we wouldn't see them until day three.

So we bullshitted our way through two days. We (that is, I and the other instructor, David) taught them the camera, spent an absurdly long time with them "practicing" outside, and then let them go home early both days. At least, we told each other, starting today we could really get down to work.

And today, at last, the kids from the other program arrived at the appointed time. This was a hopeful development. David and I had a whole new plan worked out -- I would take our original three and work with them on lighting, while David got the new kids caught up. Then by the end of the day we would break them up into production units and start talking ideas. Progress at last! Except that it quickly became apparent that none of these kids had any idea why they were there, what we were doing, had no particular interest in video making, much less making a documentary, and would mostly rather be outside doing whatever fourteen-year-olds do than sit inside with us. There was some suggestion that they thought they were actually going to some sort of job, and believed that they would be paid for attending. This was weird, because I know how hard FAO worked this year in an effort to reach and recruit kids who might actually be interested in filmmaking, as opposed to last year when they had a significant number who didn't care and weren't interested. And yet here we were again -- a small number of engaged kids, and a bunch who were staring blankly at us, wondering when they could leave.

The leaving part they worked out for themselves. If my reconstruction of events is correct, the kids called their organization (and provider of rides) and told them that they'd be done at 3pm and to send the van at that time. (In fact, PYD runs from 12:30 to 5:30.) They then told us that they'd been told by the program to catch their ride at 3pm. See what they did there? We didn't catch on until after they'd left -- ALL of them. And all we had left was our original three, again. This will hopefully be straightened out for tomorrow, but the problem is that we have no recourse in this situation. We're not teachers, this isn't school, and we can't make them stay if they decide to leave; we can't make them care. And yet our objective is to make room for them if they choose to participate. If we leave too much room, though, the entire enterprise will collapse. Filmmaking isn't a casual pursuit.

My philosophy is that, for the short time that I'm here, I will come in every day and teach any kid who shows up and wants to be involved. We need at least a few dedicated kids to keep showing up, if only to provide some thin thread of focus that might get a film far enough along to be goaded over the finish line. I believe that we have them. But it does sort of make one despair for the entire program -- what's the point, if the kids don't give a shit? Across town, the middle-class kids are paying $800 a pop to take exactly the same course, and they'll all come every day, and they'll all make lovely little films. And I have no doubt that up in New Columbia, there are at least six or seven kids who would genuinely like to participate, but somehow we haven't managed to reach them. And it's too early to tell how things will turn out. Maybe there are surprises coming. But at the moment, it doesn't bode well.

Still, it's better than Fnorders for damn sure.

In other news, last night I drank my first ever entire beer. Which is to say, I've tried beer before, but I've never finished a whole one. I think I managed about two-thirds of a half pint once in London. But last night, at 32, I knocked back a whole pint of some microbrew something-or-other that was recommended for its fruitiness and mildness. And it was fucking disgusting. Why do you people drink that shit?

Anyway, it's all part of my plan to finally be corrupted in Portland. My friends Turner and Rick (both younger than me by at least half a decade) have agreed to see me through the process, and to be my initial procurers of pot and teachers of technique. They've taken an active interest, which I appreciate a great deal; I feel safe entrusting myself to their accomplished hands. And if they find entertainment value in my long-overdue first attempts, I think that's a fair trade.
11:22 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, June 23, 2008
Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits

Oh no... poor George.

Somehow, Carlin never made it quite to the top of my list. I can't really explain it -- it certainly wasn't because I didn't find him smart or funny or challenging. He was one of the best, and I'd certainly never presume to disagree with that. But he never quite scaled the heights of my comedic pantheon. Maybe it was just because he lived to grow old, lived to see his most famous joke made obsolete. Maybe it was because in his later he years he took on a few projects that were beneath him. Maybe it's just because it's tough for a 70-year-old to stay edgy, and I never got to see him in context while he was at his peak.

Regardless, it's awful to think that we've seen the last from him. I got to see him live once, with my mom in Memphis. At least I got that much.

And Billy Ray Cyrus is still on TV. There's no fucking justice.

The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating... and you finish off as an orgasm!
12:50 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Saturday, June 21, 2008
Dull, Dull, Dull

Tonight it was another lousy margarita at another cheap downtown bar. My friends take me to a different bar every time we go out, and the quality of the margaritas seems to be steadily declining as we go. I have yet to find a really good one, though admittedly, the places we're going are known less for the quality of their booze and more for its cheapness. But tonight's was the worst of the bunch, not really a margarita at all; it was more like a screwdriver made with tequila and a few lime wedges chucked in. Drinkable, but not worth getting more than one.

But then, the booze isn't not the point. The point is to forge relationships. The empty space in the middle of the table is where friendships form and where idle talk turns into ideas and plans. More than bad margaritas, these nights out are getting me possible future collaborators, or at least a better grade of roommate next time around.

The Wednesday trip to the coast turned into one of those rare, perfect days. It was the right friend in the right place on the right day, the kind of day one might remember fondly for a long, long time. And today I found myself downtown with a couple of empty hours in which to wander aimlessly. And I realized that for the first time, even without having fully explored the streets, I knew my way around without having to think about it. For the first time, Portland felt like my city.

Project Youth Doc starts next week, and then runs through mid-July. So I'll either have a lot to talk about, or no energy to talk about anything. I'm not sure how it's going to work out yet. Between my days working there, I'll be spending every available day at Fnorders in order to minimize my losses on that end so I can maximize the benefit on the other. But hopefully my PYD working days will be shorter and much, much more lucrative. That also means that tomorrow is likely my last day off for several weeks. So I've got a nice little list of stuff I have to get done while I've still got a chance.

So, yeah, all very dull, but for good and positive reasons.
3:07 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I did absolutely fucking nothing today.

Seriously, not a goddamn thing. I slept till sleeping hurt, I ate ramen for breakfast, I took my customary long bath, I called my mom, I read for a while. And that's about it. I didn't edit, I didn't do laundry, I didn't clean my room, I barely even got dressed. It was, I believe, the most willfully inert I've been in months. It was pretty sweet.

I think I earned it, though; it was a rough week. Nothing in particular happened, except for some very long days at work -- it was Rose Festival week, so we had hoards of tourists and sailors in town and in the store. The sailors were fine; the tourists were a pain in the ass. On Sunday I had to work from the time the store opened until the time it closed -- an eleven and a half hour shift, on my feet and performing "customer service" the whole time. If you don't know how much that sucks, it's been too long since you had a menial job. The payoff is that I get three days off this week, which I used as justification for using up one of them with gross laziness. Even if I waste it completely (which I did), I still have two left with which to do something useful.

It bothers me though: increasingly I feel sort of diminished. I'm badly lacking in passion, and I don't know how to address the problem. I wouldn't go so far as to call it depression, of even a minor variant. It's more of a disinterest in the world around me, and that isn't like me. I've always been more of a be-er than a do-er (ask anyone who knows me at all well), but now even when I see curious happenings and interesting phenomena all around me, I find that I don't much care. Why bother talking about it? I can't convince anyone else it's worth noting if I'm not even interested myself -- though the fact that nobody seems very interested is itself part of the reason I don't find it worth writing about. So, not the healthiest cycle.

My life is narrowing in on me, and I don't care for it. I know that this eventually passes, and new ideas come, and my motivation kicks back in. But for now, considering my next step, all I can think is, "where from here?" And next week, fate willing, I'm taking a day trip to the coast with my friends Turner and Rick, and hopefully Meg if she can get the day off. There will be a picnic by the Pacific and jazz cigarettes. I'm looking forward to it enormously.

I got a packet in the mail today, a big puffy yellow envelope. I opened it up and found a handful of hand-drawn and -colored paper thank you notes from the girls I worked with on their video project a few weeks back. I was taken aback at how touched I was by it -- not that little girls ever need much of an excuse to whip out the markers, but still, it was a lovely thing to get in the mail. I believe that the next opportunity -- working with Film Action Oregon on Project Youth Doc -- is at hand. I don't have much in the way of details yet, but I believe I'll be teaching, and that the gig will pay me enough to get a bike and hopefully pad my savings account back out just a bit. It may be an exhausting few weeks, as I'll have to keep slogging away at Fnorders on all the days when I'm not working at PYD, which probably means no days off at all for the duration. But that's not so bad -- I'll be tired, but maybe it'll re-ignite my passion again, if only a little.

And I think I've mostly decided that once my year is up in this house, I'll be looking to move somewhere else. There are no problems -- the house itself is quite nice, and my roomates and I have been getting along fine, if somewhat distantly (and I have no complaints about that). I'm very taken with my own room, in fact, and I really like spending time in it. But I'm just not crazy about the neighborhood. Again, there aren't any problems as such -- it's easy enough to get around and to get to the things I need, and the rents are definitely value for money -- but the atmosphere is awfully meh. And in a city so bursting with lovely and/or funky and/or interesting neighborhoods, "meh" isn't keeping me satisfied. Everywhere I go, all I see are places I'd rather live. I can't yet afford all of them, but I'm pretty sure I could do better than this. Hopefully by the time my commitment to this house is up, I'll have some reliable friends I can room up with, and life will be peaches.

Thursday evening I'm attending an orientation for the Independent Publishing Resource Center -- ostensibly a non-profit geared towards self-publishers of the 'zine persuasion, but obviously also of interest to anyone curious about hand-made publishing of all kinds. It won't be much of a volunteer opportunity as they do mostly classes (that I won't be able to afford for a while), but I'm so book-oriented now that the concept is irresistable. Paper-making, letter-press printing, book binding, design and production -- it's like a fetish dungeon for bibliophiles. And if my return to cycling makes me oversensitive to my resemblances (real and imagined) to my father, then maybe book arts will balance it out by highlighting much more comfortable and soothing resemblances to my Aunt Vicky. And maybe having so many amazing toys available will push me towards writing something, if only to have an excuse to make a book out of it.

I've done a little tweaking to the blog template -- took out a lot of the old stupid, pointless crap and replaced it with new stupid, pointless crap. The quote of the week is gone, the Bert and Ernie terror alert button is gone, the link box is gone, and the Progressive Blog Alliance blogroll is gone, gone, gone. I've replaced "currently reading" with a widget that fulfills essentially the same function, and I've added Twitter, just because I'm playing around with it. I'll be reconstructing my blogroll soon. Mostly I'm looking for any low-maintenance lazyweb doodad to help me keep some semblance of fresh content going until I can redo the entire site. Which I'm still trying to do, by the way. I haven't forgotten. Anyway, criticism is welcome.

PS: Oh, hey, apparently I did do something -- I wrote a book! In fact, I wrote a bunch of books. When I first saw one of these at work, I got excited, and then I got mad. Because now, if I ever do write a book, people will think I wrote this shit, too.
2:02 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, June 04, 2008
A Good Night Calls For An Extra Post

Tuesdays are generally my equivalent of a Saturday. It's my first of two days off, and I always set out with good intentions, aiming to get a lot done -- laundry, grocery shopping, whatever else is needing doing. Instead, I always end up doing the same thing: sleeping as long as possible, puttering around the intertubes until I feel like getting up, taking a long bath with a library book, then absentmindedly heading out by car or on foot to think and breathe and watch humanity and listen to music. I never get anything "done," but I usually feel better by the end of the day. Sometimes by the evening I'm up to some effort, and I can edit or attend to some other task or project.

This evening I decided to stretch past my habits a bit and do something entirely new. I went to the volunteer orientation at the Community Cycling Center, and it was the best thing I've done all week, probably all month. I was a little shy at the outset, and pulling up before the orientation I struggled with the temptation to flee -- "I don't have to go in, I could just go home instead." But it would be a month before I could try again, and I knew that failing to go through with it would only set me up for another failure next time -- and in any case, most of the best things that have happened since I got here began with me feeling shy and uncomfortable.

It started out with the standard blah-blah-blah and a tour of the facility, but immediately afterwards we were all invited to start help stripping down donated bikes for parts and scrap. Some guy and I managed to tear apart five bikes in an hour, and it was immensely fun and fucking satisfying as hell. My hands got all greasy and nasty, hacking through rusty chains and yanking off wheels and handlebars. There's a steep learning curve from ripping a bike apart to putting one together, but it was a good beginning, and it's one of the few organizations I've come across that genuinely has more work that needs doing than it has volunteers to do it. So there'll always be stuff to do there.

I went in part because I just want to get back in touch with bikes and bike people. I rode a lot as a kid, and at one point was quite accomplished at it for my age. But I began to dislike it when it became a competitive thing -- when I rode, I rode for the pleasure of riding, and never because I wanted to compete. I quit riding entirely at around fourteen, and haven't been on a bike since. So while I theoretically know a lot of what I need to know to ride in Portland, I'm desperately out of practice and essentially need to start over. Going to the orientation tonight was the first step along the way. The more time I spend around bike people, the more I'll start thinking and acting like one, until I become one myself. As long as I can avoid the pressure of riding in competition against anyone (myself included), I think I'll remember how to ride for pleasure again, and that promises to bring all kinds of benefits.

The other part, of course, was just to make an effort to meet some new people, people I might not meet otherwise. The whole "volunteer" thing is kind of cheesy, but the simple fact is that it's a relatively painless way to come into contact with people who are passionate about something, who are motivated enough to do something about it, and moreover who are expansive enough to do something for the benefit of other people with no direct reward for themselves. And in that kind of setting, I'm on an equal footing with people I might not normally approach under other circumstances -- my time is worth the same as everyone else's. I'm poor, I'm living through a somewhat mixed bag as far as my own luck and accomplishment are concerned, but I can still do this. And if it's not exactly a huge victory, it's one modest little step in a promising direction.

Anyway, on my way home, nibbling a cupcake (did I mention that one of Portland's cupcake-only bakeries had dropped off a sizeable donation of many dozens of cupcakes at the CCC? It was like a sign from the gods), I caught a little of Obama's victory speech on the radio. I admit that I choked up a little. I have a few things I could say about his opponent's supporters -- and maybe I will -- but for tonight, before the real election begins, I'm happy just to sit back and enjoy the victory of the first post-Boomer nominee. And more than his being black, I think that's what's really different this time.
1:32 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

A Good Night Calls For A Video Post

1:26 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, June 02, 2008
Agenda, Part 2

So, about six months ago I posted a list of things I was hoping to accomplish by now. Let's see how I did, shall we?
- to move into a place for real, with furniture and my own books and kitchen stuff and everything.

- to finish the film I've been working on forever now

Still working on the damn thing. Steady progress is being made, and I'm not about to let it beat me. But let's just say it's something I've been wrestling with.
- to start on a new one

There are currently a number of issues and sore spots associated with this one, so it's probably best not to go into it. Suffice to say there are no serious plans afoot for the time being.
- to go to the coast, and maybe take my telescope along and look at stars after the sun goes down over the Pacific

There are serious plans to accomplish this one within the next couple of weeks, telescope and all. A few of us are driving to the coast for the day to hang out and look for sea creatures. It'll be good for me.
- to go out drinking and wandering around downtown with some interesting people

Check, check, and check. I've nailed this one down several times over, and a few of those excursions didn't even involve strip clubs.
- to get a better fucking job, one that pays me something closer to what I'm worth and leaves me some energy/motivation/essence vitale for other things

I don't even want to talk about it.

(Although I will say that the Fnorders job has gotten a lot easier since I wrote this, which helps. So it's not a complete failure. But that's a pretty sorry excuse for consolation.)
- to sell my car
- to get a bike, and to start using it

So far laziness has prevailed, and my car remains parked outside my house. However, with summer upon us and gas at $4/gal., these are now top priorities. It's time anyway.
- to register to vote, and get an Oregon driver's license

Half credit for this one -- I'm registered to vote, but I'm still carrying my Mississippi license. This is technically illegal. But spending a day at the DMV is a powerful de-motivator.
- to move a few people past the acquaintance stage and into casual friendship

Friendships have been tricky territory since I got here -- some I'd have liked to establish failed to take root due to circumstance, and some that were seemingly strong have started to founder. There's been some delight in new people, and grief over others. So it's been a mixed bag. And while I've theoretically managed this one, I can't bring myself to regard it as complete -- it's something I'd carry over regardless, since there are always more interesting people around. I have an actual plan now to get myself in contact with more new people and expand my social circle some more.
- to bake bread again

Nope, not yet. I should, though.
- to go see a movie. Just one. I don't even care what it is.

- to go to a show, ideally by one of these awesome local bands I keep hearing about

- to get a pair of more water-repellent shoes.

And check.
And I want all that by, say, June. Think I can do it?

Apparently not. But there's no point in getting frustrated by it, so I'll just acknowledge and move on to the next thing. And obviously this doesn't take into account all the small things that happened that I didn't plan to do, but were still cool. I've got four months until my one-year anniversary in Portland. So, my new agenda:

- get this goddamn film DONE
- replace my car with a bike
- find, say, half a dozen or so new associates, ideally people who have nothing to do with Fnorders or filmmaking
- start working on my skillz, whether as part of a formal project or not; and the specific skillz to be worked on TBD, depending on my fancy at the moment.
- bake bread again

We'll see how it goes, I guess. Who knows what might happen?
3:40 PM ::
Amy :: permalink