Tuesday, July 29, 2008
PYD Part II: The Reckoning

I got called in yesterday to sub for a sick instructor at the other branch of Project Youth Doc, the fully-paid one that works out of the Hollywood Theatre itself. This is a whole different game compared to the New Columbia group I taught for three weeks -- these are mostly middle-class kids from progressive homes, they pay the full tuition to participate, and they're treated accordingly. They get much better equipment, more is expected of them, and their accomplishments reflect those expectations. And it was night and day, y'all -- it was night and fucking day.

First, they're expected to produce a full hour of footage for each of their five shooting days. To put that into perspective, at NC it was a triumph if we got a full hour out of a unit over the course of the entire project. And yet getting these kids to do it was so much easier -- they took initiative, they made a plan, they took chances, and they got the work done. The crew I was working with got seven interviews today, plus about twenty minutes of solid b-roll. That would've been unthinkable at NC. They even did it under (for them) somewhat intimidating circumstances, approaching teenagers with whom they'd never normally have much contact apart from being the object of light bullying and the occasional swirly. But they pulled it off brilliantly, and were rewarded with some really good footage. I had enormous fun working with them and would happily spend the rest of their course with them if I could.

But it also breaks my heart. I hate that in the comparison the New Columbia kids come off so poorly -- they're good kids too, they just don't have the background that these kids do. The NC kids aren't accustomed to being asked to make an extra effort, to work harder, to do more than the bare minimum. Nothing has ever been expected of them, and that's exactly how they act. They get shoddy equipment because they can't be trusted with quality kit, they have to be begged and cajoled into making even the most modest effort, and even the hardest-working, most motivated among them would be barely scraping the minimum level necessary to keep up with the kids I was with today.

But I wish I could mix the groups together so maybe the NC kids would see what they're up against -- "look, this is what you're going to be competing with for the rest of your life. If you don't start caring now, you're going to keep falling behind until there's no hope for you anymore. And you're going to end up stuck in New Columbia or somewhere just like it." The kids who could make the most of the program -- the kids who might actually use something like this to start changing the course of their lives, and the kids who could make the most interesting contributions -- are exactly the ones who seem least able to take advantage of what's being offered. And I don't see any way to solve that problem.


Regardless, it was a good day for me. I wish I could do this work full-time, because I really do enjoy it. On the drive home, I looked off to my left and saw a girl waving excitedly at me from the back seat of a silver Volvo -- it was one of the little girls I worked with months back for Girls, Inc. The fact that she recognized me and remembered me to the point that she was happy to see me driving alongside blew my mind. I was even more astonished to find that I was genuinely excited to see her, too. I've been in this town less than a year, and already I've got all this behind me -- it's not what I expected to be doing, not what I was hoping for, but I'm pleased as fuck to have done it.
9:18 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Monday, July 28, 2008

This is turning out to be the weirdest election ever. I mean, does it fuck with your head as much as mine that we're barely three months away from the presidential election and we still don't know who the VP nominee is going to be? Have you noticed that McCain has so far turned out to be an inert puddle of bile that grumbles when you poke at it, but not much else? It's like he's decided the best thing to do is to go back to napping and find out what happened once it's all over.

Just sayin' is all.

It's been an exhausting week, hence the relative silence. I don't have anything in particular to which I might attribute it; I guess some weeks are just more tiring than others. There was an incident over the weekend that I think started things off. My roommates spent a night away in Corvallis -- with their sprogling set to emerge any time now, they seem to be desperate to get away while they still can -- and left me to take care of the dog. It's not a big deal, I feed him and let him outside and spend a little time with him. I had to work that night, though, so he was left alone later than usual. When I got home I filled his bowl, let him eat, and put him out, same as always, and set about making my own dinner while he took the night air.

Going to the fridge, I noticed a few dark droplets on the floor and wondered what they might be -- jam? juice? gravy? -- but I didn't think too much of it. If I might gently say so, my roommates are complete and utter slobs in the kitchen, and stains of unknown origin aren't uncommon. So I just went about my preparations. Once dinner was on the boil I let the dog back in, and noticed that he immediately began licking an awkward spot on his leg. And then I noticed other dark stains on the floor, and on the carpet. And then I realized that the spots were dried blood.

Which probably counts as one of the main things you don't want to discover on the floor on the one night you've been entrusted with the care of another person's pet.

The stupid dog had managed to gash his leg open on something, somewhere. It was no longer actively bleeding, but it was ugly and painful-looking and a couple of inches long. I had no idea how long he'd been that way, but my guess was a few hours. He didn't seem particularly upset -- he was unhappy, but calm -- and he wasn't limping or avoiding putting weight on the leg. Hell, he was still trotting around the house and running to the windows for a rousing bark whenever he heard a noise outside, so his behavior wasn't much different from the usual. So I called my roommates and asked what they wanted me to do. There's an excellent 24-hour animal hospital in town, but getting a vet's services after 10pm ain't cheap, and there's no way I'm paying for this. I described his state and injury, and they discussed it, and told me to let him take care of himself for the night, and they'd check it out when they got home in the morning.

Poor, stupid dog. I decided that if he was my dog, I'd at least attempt to bandage him up, so I ran to the supermarket and bought some gauze and pads and tape and brought them home. But when I tried to bandage his leg, he wasn't fucking having it, and I didn't want to press the issue, so I left him oozing blood on the carpet. And then I proceeded to spectacularly fail at sleeping that night because I was too worried about him. The next day his parents took him to the vet and got him stitched up, and he came home with one of those subtle canine-torture devices around his neck. He's oblivious to it, though, so he keeps banging into stuff. Which is pretty goddamn hilarious.

Stupid dog.

Otherwise, it's been a quiet week. I've started taking the first half hour or so of my morning to write -- not for the blog obviously, but just to be writing. I've produced nothing so far that I'd care to show anyone, nor even anything that I think is likely to turn into anything good, but at this point it's more about establishing the behavior than seeing results. Looking at it now, it seems to me that while this blog has had its uses -- the opportunity to vent, to record a few years of my day-to-day life, and take my modest talent out for walkies now and then -- it's also done a certain amount of harm. Writing here is easy -- too easy, easy enough that I can do it off-handedly and lazily. Writing on this blog is like walking down a well-worn path on a familiar street: I know the way so well all I have to do is plod along and I get where I'm going without even thinking about it. I start at the beginning and write and write and write and then I wrap it up and I'm done.

But now I'm realizing that the same structures that serve me adequately on the blog aren't going to get me much further. The habits and thought patterns that I rely on to write here aren't useful for much else, but they've become so ingrained that I'm finding it difficult to break out of them. So if I ever want to write on a bigger scale, and about things that are bigger than me, all this has to change. But this is all I've been writing for nearly five years now. The rut is deep.

So my morning writing is mostly geared towards writing stuff that I'd never, ever post on the blog -- hacking away my accumulated bullshit, trying to get back to a phase where I didn't really know how to write, and so didn't make any assumptions. It's easier to get into the right frame of mind while I'm still fuzzy from sleep and mentally relaxed. And while it's frustrating to spend this extra time working and by definition having nothing to show for it, and while I may have to start working through the suck all over again, unless I want to spend the rest of my life as a formulaic, unknown blogger, I think it's something I just have to do.
1:22 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's finally and fully summer in Portland. It's too hot during the day to drive my car now -- the cross-country trip really hurt her, I think, and now she overheats in any weather much above 80F. At the same time, at Fnorders we're in the midst of the slow season, so everyone's getting their hours cut back. I'm now working three or four days a week, so I have a little more time off for other things, which is nice, though hard on the budget. The point is, I find myself with an unusual abundance of free time, which helps a bit with the editing and other things I need to be working on. Will it be enough? We'll see. But it's more than I've had for a while.

A lot has happened this week. Most significantly, my roommates finally got married. It was a nice ceremony, very laid back -- the groom wore skate shorts and an orange button-down shirt. The bride was a little more dressed up, but her bouquet flowers were daisies and her dress obviously had to make the reach over a third-trimester belly. Almost immediately before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, I overheard the guy taking the photographs talking to someone else about the tiny video camera he'd brought, and how it might be enough to get fifteen or twenty minutes worth of video. And I did a full-on facepalm. Why didn't I think of that? How had it not occurred to me before that moment? I'd spend a couple of weeks trying to think of something I could do for them for their wedding that wasn't lame, or overly impersonal, or too costly -- but never once had it struck me to take some fucking video of the wedding. So I told Bob I'd be right back, ran home (which was very nearby, thankfully), grabbed my kit and changed into something I could shoot in, and ran back and got set up just in time to grab a shot of the attendees coming over for the ceremony.

So in the end, I got about 40 minutes of footage, which I'll pare down to a 15 minute video or thereabouts. It was exactly the right gift -- something I can do that costs me nothing, and that'll mean something to them in the future. I wish I'd thought of it sooner -- I could've had better sound at the very least -- but it's more than they'd expected, so it's cool.

Yesterday I was sleepy and bored, so I called my friend Rick to see if he wanted to hang out. He was just off work and going home to do laundry, but he said if I felt like following him to the laundromat and watching him fold his undies, he'd welcome the company. And while the laundromat isn't my first choice, I like hanging out with Rick regardless of the setting, so off we went. Afterwards, he had the brilliant idea to go get a pizza and take it back to his place and watch an episode of Deadwood. (He's the one writing the screenplay, which turns out to be a western, so he's watching every western film he can find. If he's going to force himself to sit through all those horrid old 50s serial westerns, the least I can do is turn him onto Deadwood.)

How about I take a minute to tell you about Rick? His internet connection at home is currently defunct, so it's safe to discuss him freely without concern of making myself overly-vulnerable. He turned up at Fnorders sometime around the beginning of March (I think), having transferred from one of the stores in Ann Arbor. We struck up a friendship almost immediately, though predictably it took a few months before it progressed to the hanging-out phase. He's an all-round good guy, lacking in guile or bullshit, responsible without being stuffy, and he has a nicely sick sense of humor. (He's taken to telling our co-workers that PYD actually stands for "Playing with Youths' Dicks", and that I am therefore a pedophile. He makes a lot of repulsive hand gestures when he says it. It's a lot funnier than it comes across here.) The thing that I'm most grateful for, though, is his openness -- he somehow always has time for me, even though he works longer hours, and when he doesn't have time immediately, he makes time later on. And he always seems glad to see me coming, and is always up for whatever I've got in mind. Trip to the beach? Absolutely. Movie night? Definitely. Want to go for pizza and then get high together? Just say so, and it shall be arranged.

We arrived back at his house around 7. He stashed the pizza in the oven saying, "first, we have some business to attend to." He disappeared into his room, and returned a minute later bearing a glass pipe, a lighter, and a baggie of sticky-looking weed.

"You want to? You definitely don't have to, and I don't want to pressure you. But... do you want to?"


"Do you have to work tomorrow?"

"No, I'm off tomorrow."

"Then maybe this is the perfect time."

So he took me out onto his back stoop for a few warm-up drags on a cigarette, gave me a few tips on technique, lit up and took the first hit, and passed it over to me, grinning. I apologized in advance for all the pot I was about to waste.

See, I know how to inhale. I've never smoked apart from the occasional shock-value cigarette at a party, but I've tried it, and getting smoke into my lungs and holding it isn't a problem. It's breathing out afterwards, and then in again, that causes me trouble. I got the first hit in easily enough, and held it for an entirely respectable length of time. And then on the exhale I choked noisily and melodramatically. It was really harsh, much worse than I expected; my first reaction once I'd exhaled was, "never, ever do that again." I struggled with breathing for a couple of minutes -- able to get air in and out, yes, but not without a distressing amount of coughing and gasping. "Drink some water, take a deep breath," he told me. It'll get better. And a few minutes later, still feeling nothing, I thought I could probably go again.

I took three hits in all. The third one was the worst -- I think I'd kept the flame on it too long, and the smoke was really hot. And I still wasn't really feeling anything. "Maybe you won't get high the first time, that's not uncommon." He took his last hit and set it aside, and we turned on Deadwood and started on the pizza.

Ten minutes later, I felt something squeezing my head, and realized that in spite of paying close attention, and even having seen it before, I had no fucking idea what was going on in the show. I looked at Rick, and he looked at me and grinned and said, "you feeling it now?" And I was. And I know I don't need to tell you what it was like.

For obvious reasons, everything that follows doesn't make for much of a story. I remember snippets, none of which I recall as actual events, but more as a kind of intellectual awareness. Rick is the perfect kind of person to get high with, since he's one of the most genuinely, spontaneously funny people I've met, able to ramble entertainingly for a long time. I was struggling a little with context -- I was having trouble following his chatter, and thinking it was the effect of the drug, and then remembering that he was completely baked too, so maybe he wasn't making any sense in the first place. After one episode of Deadwood (I don't even remember which one it was) he turned on some Radiohead and we got down to serious giggling. There were moments when we were outside while he smoked cigarettes, and at one point we walked to a gas station so he could get some more. My sense of time was completely fucked, so I can't really connect these events. I'd have brief interludes of something that I perceived as clear-headedness, some perspective on my situation, and I'd realize how stoned I actually was. I'd try to focus on it, and then thirty seconds later I'd re-focus, and think now I was really, really clear, and that the thing that happened a minute ago wasn't real clarity, it was only me too baked to know the difference. Repeated ad infinitum.

There were brief glimpses of something that could've turned into paranoia if I were so inclined -- at the gas station, the only thing I could think about was whether the old man behind the counter could tell. Periodically back at Rick's house, I would be seized with the idea that I had to escape, get out of the house and back to my room. But then I'd remember that I shouldn't try to drive home yet, and I'd tell myself that I was perfectly safe and everything was cool, and I'd sink back into it and be giggling and happy again. Rick's roommate came home at one point and joined in. With the bowl re-ignited, Rick and I went for a second round, and I didn't choke at all that time in spite of the burn. And I was proud of myself.

Everything quieted down at that point, and we all drifted off into private reveries. They were playing something on the stereo -- I have no idea what it was, and couldn't begin to describe it to you -- and I remember thinking, "this music is really weird," and then, "I think I kinda like it." In fact, I liked everything they played; in fact, I think I would've liked anything in that state. I can't say that everything was improved -- my interest in pizza never climbed much above its normal state, and I didn't get a whole lot out of visual stimuli. The breeze felt unusually good, and I found that I was really into interesting smells -- Rick brought out a three-piece suit he'd recently inherited from some late-middle-aged male relative. And he said, "dude, you have to smell this suit. It's amazing." And truly, it was an amazing smell -- cologne and tobacco and whiskey all mixed together. (The only other thing I remember about the suit -- which probably filled half an hour of our time -- was Rick putting on the vest and me laughing my ass off because with his shorts and corduroy shirt he looked exactly like Sam Gamgee from LOTR; and then I asked him what the fuck kind of suit jacket this was, and why did it have so many buttons? And he said, dude, that's not a jacket, that's a shirt. And I laughed till I got cramps in my cheeks.)

But music was definitely the big winner of the night. Not to say that I'm now a reformed fan of jam bands, but the appeal of stuff like that made infinitely more sense to my pot-addled brain. If you can't keep a grip on the structure, why not just let it ramble? If you can't tell how much time has passed, why not keep playing the same thing for half an hour at a time? If pot reduces music to a succession of responses to whatever cool sound you're hearing at that precise moment, then why even worry about context? I wanted to go up to every stoner I'd ever known and say, "I'm not saying that I intellectually approve of your band's 45-minute rendition of 'Lowrider;' I'm just saying, if you played it right this minute, I probably wouldn't hate it. And I want to tell you that I get it now, I get it, I get it."

Anyway. You know how it goes from there.

Other big revelations of the night:

1) I simultaneously "got" every stoner joke I've ever heard in my entire life, ever. They're still not that funny, but at least I really, truly understand them now.

2) My earlier experiments with THC-infused goo given to me by another friend were not as fruitless as I had feared. The buzz from that first attempt was really weak, to the point that I wasn't sure if I was high or just looking for it too hard. But it was essentially the same in nature to what I felt last night, just at a fraction of the intensity. But I was pleased just the same to know it had worked after all.

3) There's an excellent reason why there are so many pothead musicians, and so few pothead writers.

So, that was my first time getting high. I still feel slightly muzzy-headed today, not as sharp as usual, but otherwise fine. I'm a lot less lung-y than I expected to be. I think I actually missed a lot of it, because I was trying so hard to catalog my experiences, thus keeping myself slightly intellectually detached, that I never completely let myself sink into it. I was always just a bit self-aware and self-conscious. Having gotten my first time behind me, hopefully next time I'll be able to let go a bit more and play with it, try out some different things. And I'm quite certain there will be a next time. It's not a state I'd want to spend a great deal of time in, I don't think -- it's deeply pleasant, but the uselessness of it is uninspiring. I can see how you could easily waste much of your life with it. But now and then, for fun, and especially with friends... yes yes, absolutely.

Later this week I think I'll probably put in an application with a video store in town -- not so much for the "extra" money (though filling in the gap in my hours would be a good thing), as much as for cheap video rentals. I'm already getting cheap books and cheap groceries (by way of my roommate), and if I can get cheap movies, I'll be all set. Except maybe for a reliable dealer.
3:07 PM ::
Amy :: permalink

Friday, July 11, 2008
The End, For Me, Of PYD

Today was my last day. I took our star pupil and one of the interns around to grab a little more b-roll, so my day basically consisted of earning four times my current pay rate to hang around in the park. The other two girls went off with the other intern in tow to do a few more interviews. David, the other instructor, was dealing with our wayward students elsewhere, and I'm still waiting to hear how that turned out.

So that's it for me for this. The kids will be editing for another week, and then I'll get to see their films (however many of them reach completion) at the big screening at the Hollywood at some point in the middle-distant future. It was an agreeable change from my current daily toil, but now it's back to the book floor almost-full-time for me.

But there's always something else to do. An increasingly good friend has gotten it into his head to write a screenplay, and I have agreed to collaborate. At this point, I'm not assuming that it will ever be anything serious, but even so, a little unstructured creative playtime with an enthusiastic companion would be good for me. Hanging out with him -- which we've been doing a lot of lately -- seems to have me thinking outside the borders of my usual creative territory, thinking about writing and working in forms and genres that I don't normally spend much time on. His influence seems to be expansive rather than focused, which is a good change. Focus is important, but too much emphasis on it can lead to suffocation. Maybe the best approach to a sputtering creative fire is to lay on some new and different fuel.

And now that the money from PYD is hitting my bank account, it's getting to be time to go get my bike. I'm a little timid about it -- I'm going to be awfully slow and uncertain at first. It'll be quite a while before I'm up to handling serious traffic. But everybody has to begin somewhere, I guess, and this is where I find myself, so this is where I'll start.

This Sunday, my roomates are getting married in Overlook Park. There'll be strangers in the house, visiting friends/relatives (I'm not sure which) from Germany and South Africa. That'll be really cool, but probably also deeply annoying. My roomates have promised to keep them out of my space, but I'm realistic enough to know that this joint is going to be fucking crowded. My guess is that they'll finally leave us in peace a couple of weeks before the baby turns up (which is expected to happen next month sometime.)

Looks like I'm going to be spending a lot of time hiding in my room.
12:23 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Friday, July 04, 2008
In Which Amy Becomes A Victim...


Though it's no big deal, actually. My car got broken into during the night -- some crackhead broke a window and went rifling through the glove compartment. He found nothing of value, 'cause there ain't nothing valuable in there. As far as I can tell, nothing whatsoever was taken. A few other cars around the corner got hit as well, and someone's undies were strewn down the sidewalk. The biggest loss, from my perspective, is time. Tomorrow's my first day off in two and a half weeks, and now I have to spend it dealing with a fucking broken car window.

It was probably one of these motherfuckers.

And during my lunch break today, I was listening to my friend talking about an article he was reading in one of the local freebie weeklies about this dude who was walking down the street, minding his own business*, when he got jumped by the cops and tasered. And as he was reading, I looked over his shoulder at the article and said, "hey... I know that guy." And it was true, I did. He's the projectionist over at the Hollywood Theatre, and a nice guy. The other guy quoted in the article I know a bit better, as he's the former theater manager, and he and I have had several fantastic discussions about movies.

And it's just weird to think that I've been here long enough to recognize people I know in the paper and to have had my property damaged by a crackhead. And I catch myself feeling a bit proud.

* probably shitfaced, admittedly
10:45 AM ::
Amy :: permalink

Wednesday, July 02, 2008
PYD #2

PYD has turned into a deeply divided group. On one side, we've got three central girls and a few accomplices, separated into two production units, who are doing good work and seeing the full benefits of the program. On the other side, we've got seven or eight boys who are dicking around and accomplishing nothing whatsoever. The real dividing line between the two is that one group is in the program because they want to be, and the other group is here because they were told to attend. They're also being paid to be in the program.

Looking at their work, it's real fucking easy to tell which group is which.

I've mostly been working with the girls -- mostly because no group of dismissive teenage boys is ever going to listen to me, but also because I suppose I'm meant to be some kind of positive role model to the girls or something like that. That makes them the second group of girls I've been a purported role model for this year -- the very idea makes me squirm.

Anyway, they're all moving on to their first round of editing today, which doesn't involve me, so I'm back to Fnorders. I'll be back with them tomorrow, and then two days next week. In happy news, I also got my first week's pay for the program -- I didn't know how much I was actually getting, so I'd scaled back my hopes to guard against disappointment. Without naming a number, though, I choked when I saw the check -- I still don't know what the total for the three weeks will be, but I can say that it'll definitely be enough for me to get a good bike, make up for the hours I missed at Fnorders, and replenish my savings. So for once, at least, an opportunity turned out solidly in my favor.

I'm also finding that I'm a lot more content when I'm at Fnorders just for having been away for half the week. Obviously the substantially higher pay constitutes a lot of that contentment, but it's not as if this work has been particularly fun or enjoyable. Mostly it's been a big pain in the ass. But just being out of that environment for a lot of the week makes it much more pleasant to return to it. I don't know if the effect would carry over if I were simply doing a second Fnorders-type job the rest of the time, but I think when this is over, it might be time to consider scaling back my Fnorders hours some and working elsewhere as well. Maybe I could find something more interesting to do twenty hours a week. Even without a pay increase, it could be a big improvement in my daily life.

First, though, there's another thing I need to take care of. The MTC film is still spinning its wheels, to the point that I'm now waking up in the middle of the night suffering from bouts of self-loathing over not having finished it yet. I keep wanting to show it to people, but it would be pointless right now -- I have lots of bits put together (the interview with Amy, who left the program early, is still one of the best interviews I've ever done -- considering how her story ends, I couldn't have asked for better material) but I still haven't gotten them all stitched together into a single film. The problem, mostly, is that I can usually only work on it for a couple of hours at a time, and those hours aren't coming when I'm at my best and most focused -- they come late at night, after a ten-hour workday. Thus, I have a piecemeal, unfocused film that looks like it was edited by someone who was really, really tired. So, sometime very soon, I think I'm going to take most of a week off from work and spend five or six days focusing exclusively on the MTC film and see if I can finally whip it into shape. It'll be a loss of a couple of hundred in income, but I believe that the PYD paychecks can help me cover the gap.

But if I can wrap up the MTC film, and get PYD behind me, and get my bike and subsequently get rid of my car, that'll be a lot of loose ends tied up. It's exactly three months until the anniversary of my arrival in Portland; it would be beautiful to have all this done by then.
1:24 PM ::
Amy :: permalink