Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flow and New Horizons

Since my exit from TFA and the world of elementary education, I have had lots of time to reflect and consider the new horizons that lay before us. 

In what my wife and I consider to be miraculous fashion, I was hired by Community Care College as a videographer to make media content for that college, as well as Clary Sage College and Oklahoma Technical College.  In this position I get to back movies, full time. Wahoo! 

My job is called "media assistant" and I am a member of the marketing department. This placement is unique and exciting to me because while I get to use skills I developed as a film student at BYU, I am also in an educational environment that is completely new to me. Initially when I learned that Community Care is a for-profit organization I felt slightly repulsed. However, in the short time I have been here my mind has been opened to the impact and quality of education a group of highly thoughtful and good people can bring about. 

As I have been reading Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience I realized that one reason I love my new job is it enables me to have meaningful work to do, that requires complex skills at an increasing rate. I am not overwhelmed, and neither am I bored - I am experiencing the "Goldilocks Effect" as Dan Pink calls it. My task is "just right". Time flies as I plan, shoot, and edit projects. I get immense pleasure from struggling with the unique challenges each project gives me. The good news is, I have the skill to engage with these challenges. I feel that is why I suffered so much as a teacher: my skill level was obliterated by the sheer challenges and complexity of effective instruction, causing me severe psychic entropy. 

Anyway, here is the first project I made in my new position. 

Beyond being allowed to enjoy lots of time "in flow" at my job, I am also overjoyed by the fact that work ends at 5 p.m. and then I go home and have time to spend with my family and improve myself in new ways. Recently I decided I want to improve art skills. I have drawn seriously since I was a kid, and I only stopped because I believed I wasn't as good as I should be if I was serious with drawing. 

So each evening I spend some time watching instructors on YouTube and am finding an immense source of flow doing that. I have uploaded a few of my drawings below. 

As I have been drawing, I occasionally think to myself, "Why am I doing this? What good can come out of this? It isn't like I am hoping to get a job as an illustrator or animator or anything!" But then I remember the sentiment and lesson expressed from Flow.
"Amateur and Dilettante . . . Nowadays these labels are slightly derogatory. An amateur or a dilettante is someone not quite up to par, a person not to be taken very seriously, one whose performance falls short of professional standards. But originally, "amateur," from the Latin verb amare, "to love," referred to a person who loved what he was doing. Similarly a "dilettante," from the Latin delectare, "to find delight in," was someone who enjoyed a given activity. The earliest meanings for these words therefore drew attention to experiences rather than accomplishments; they described the subjective rewards individuals gained from doing things, instead of focusing on how well they were achieving." 
Though I still consider myself an amateur filmmaker (and artist in general), there is no reason for me to allow that fact to rob any sense of enjoyment from the process of creation. 

Perhaps my favorite section in the book is called "The Waste of Free Time." This section isn't about cramming your life full of activities and events, rather it is about how often Americans "fill" free time with activities that are utterly draining and mind-numbing.
"Hobbies that demand skill, habits that set goals and limits, personal interests, and especially inner discipline help to make leisure what it is supposed to be - a chance for re-creation. . . instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend man  hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. WE do not run risk acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action." 
Kas and I do watch Downton Abbey and Sherlock, but apart from that I am really trying to embrace new hobbies or activities that will challenge me to improve myself - and use the faculties I have been blessed with. Said C K Brightbill (and quoted in Flow),"The future will belong not only to the educated man, but the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely." 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas Break Book Reviews

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book really opened my eyes to the impact of one man on the way I live today. The guy was insane, but the quirks and portrayal Isaacson presents Jobs with makes me want to like him, and now cheer for his products. I have always secretly wondered why I felt a closer affinity with Apple over Windows - even when making defensive statements to my wife as she mocked my MacBook for one reason or another. Now I better understand. Jobs' minimalist and emphatic love of design shaped his world and his passion for perfection. His end-to-end business model combined with his drive for the rebellious image make for a fascinatingly ironic combination that I find very compelling.

If you don't like Apple, or Steve Jobs, or Pixar movies, or digital music, or a host of other things that change the way we currently live - that is fine. But you really should read this book to better understand why things are the way they are!

Present Shock: When Everything Happens NowPresent Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though it was a bit difficult to get through, this book is an important read for anyone interested in the evolution of our current digital culture we now live and interact in. I thoroughly enjoyed Rushkoff's insights on time, human interaction, contact, and context. I could be wrong, but I felt that in reading this I was getting a really good introduction to current themes of media theory and digital culture conversation.

Rushkoff basically says we are living in a state of unrest, confusion, and downright chaos due to the fact that we can no longer make sense of our identities and world through linear models. This postmodernist frame of mind he calls "present shock", a state in which we are continually seeking after the elusive present due to our conception of time, trade, entertainment, connection, and purpose. Though he did offer lots of gloom, and at times felt somewhat like he was on a rant, I felt that the book was a little more even-balanced than some.

Even if you don't buy his argument, or feel a sense of solemnity, there is so much packed into Rushkoff's pages that deserve your time. His writing is almost poetical and I feel like I could have spent much longer than the time I did in order to process and think through the different sections of the text. Some books you can skim or read the spark notes on, but really you should just take the time to read this one.

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