Thursday, April 22, 2010

Torturing Myself

Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through what I put myself through. Theater auditions, for example. I've been involved with one particular community theater group for the last five summers. They do only one show per year, outdoors, and it's a fun group of people. I worked behind the scenes for a few years, then when my work schedule allowed it, I began auditioning for the shows. This weekend will be my third time auditioning. But no matter how many times I go through it, I find the process to be torturous.

Auditions are obviously a necessity for a community theater director. There isn't an elegant, fair, simple way to narrow a few hundred people down to the necessary cast size but to have them get up, sing, dance, and read. For me, it's an unusual form of torture. I consider myself a decent singer, a decent actor, and (at best) a dancer that needs work. But to get up in front of a panel of people and be judged within a matter of a few mere minutes without my knowing specifically what they're looking's intimidating, frustrating, nerve wracking and, I suppose (in some sick, twisted way) a little bit of fun. It certainly gets the adrenaline going!

In the days leading up to the process, I'm usually a mess. I've thought about the roles I want, I've practiced my music, I've read the synopsis of the show to try and get the right characterization in my mind...which just leads me to waiting. Waiting for audition day. Waiting to get called in for the audition. Waiting for my turn in the audition group. Waiting to see if I get called back. Waiting to see if I get cast. And all that waiting leads to me thinking. And overthinking. Prior to the audition, it gives me all sorts of time to go over and over in my head what I need to do. Afterward, there's time to think about what I could have done better. Picking apart that short audition moment by moment. With my weird work schedule it's my one shot a year at doing a show, so I probably put too much pressure on myself.

The nature of auditions is that I turn all control of my fate over to other people. I'm not good at that. I'm a control freak. So doing this is good for me, right? If I want to be in shows, if I want to get that elusive supporting role that I've been pursuing for years (I don't seek the leading man role for the most part), the only thing to do is put myself out there and see what happens.

The times that I've gotten the call saying that I got cast, it's all worth it. I've yet to get the specific role that I want (it's been chorus roles all the way so far), but I'm getting to be in the show, spending my summers building something with a group of people all aiming for the same goal. If I get cast, I'll have forgotten all about the nerves, anguish, and frustrations leading up to the audition by the time performances roll around.

But all the initial waiting? Definitely torture.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'll deal with the title later...

I consider myself to be a jack of many trades, master of none. But among the talents where I approach mastery, I think my strongest may be procrastination. It's become more than a trade, rather something of a lifestyle for me. I've committed to its practice on an almost daily basis. That practice has helped me get to the point where it's second nature--I can perform it effortlessly at an incredibly high level. My brain is trained to accept the excuses as to why I can't get a particular "to-do" list item done at that moment without question or thought. I've been thinking about seeking a great procrastinator to emulate and talk technique with them, but I keep putting it off.

There are many who claim to have a proficiency in procrastination, but I feel that my breakdown of the two classes of procrastination may give me an edge. This is just an outline of the philosophy. A further breakdown will come at a later date. Maybe.

Simple procrastination or Procrastination 101
This is the most basic of procrastination techniques. A person will replace the undesireable activity that should be accomplished with a leisure activity. TV, internet, video games and reading are among my favorites, but there are hundreds of other activities that could be acceptable within this category. Pure and simple, it's avoidance.

Advanced procrastination or Procrastination 201
To an advanced procrastinator, it isn't necessarily as simple as doing a project or putting it off. At times, there's the need to put off a project, but still feel productive. This is where my "slacking scale" (the name is still under development) comes into play. At the top of the scale is the project that needs to be accomplished. At the bottom of the scale are the elements covered in the simple procrastination section. In between are other projects that need to be done, but are of a smaller scale or a smaller annoyance. But when they're finished, they'll make a person feel as though they've been productive. Each person's scale will vary based on life interests and "to-do" list. But in my life right now, the scale would look something like this:

Josh's Slacking Scale
-Organize the office
-Fix or replace the ceiling fan in the entryway
-Clean out the remaining packed boxes in the mudroom
-Organize the kitchen
-Clean the bathrooms
-Weed the garden
-Move a houseplant into a bigger pot
-Research washers, dryers, furnaces, air conditioners
-Work on theatre board projects
-Write a blog entry
-Read a book
-Play video games
-Watch TV
-Surf the internet

So, I need to organize the office. But I really don't have that much energy. So, I go down the list until I find something above the line that matches my energy level and tackle that project, thereby feeling somewhat productive. Then I can go below the line, and back to basic procrastination technique.

I think it works well, and I know that I've only scratched the surface. In time, I only hope that I can sufficiently procrastinate other things in order to make this system what it deserves to be.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holding On

I tend to hold onto more things than necessary. There are times I think I take the term "pack rat" to new heights, even after throwing out at least seven large bags of garbage in my move from the apartment to the townhouse. I have over a hundred read e-mails in my mailbox, just in case I may need the information later (I don't know that I've looked at any of them again). I have programs from plays that I attended years ago (one from 1986). Dice from a high school production of "Guys and Dolls". Wooden nickels that I got when I was a camper. Grandpa's old cigar boxes. Book collections from Grandma. Cheap plastic footballs and basketballs from college games. T-shirts from events as far back as college, some of them tattered beyond recognition. Piles of stuff that have sentimental value, but do little but take up space on shelves. And I still have multiple boxes that I haven't unpacked. I can assure you that once I get around to them, the list of items being kept solely for sentimental value will only grow. Someday, I'll need to go through those things and thin them out. Maybe.

There's one item that's been around for a long time that I don't intend to let go. It's just a board with some note cards stuck on it, but it represents a lot to me. As a writer wanna-be, I consider myself a relatively creative individual. I have a fairly decent collection of short stories that I've written, as well as the first draft of a novel that I wrote with the help of a good friend about a dozen years ago. I'm proud of having finished that novel, but I decided not to pursue it any further, as it just wasn't a story that I felt was worthy of publication.

Not too long after finishing, I had the glimmer of an idea for another story. I felt like it had serious potential, but it was incredibly vague. I tried to work on it but couldn't get anywhere, so I set it aside for a while. A few months later, it was still in my head so I came back and wrote a scene or two. Unfortunately, I still couldn't get it to come together as a full-fledged story. So before I banged my head against the desk any more, I decided to set it aside again. Some time later, I began putting together a storyboard in hopes of sparking a more cohesive storyline. I began writing scene ideas on note cards and taping them onto a board that sat next to my desk. There have come to be around 20 scene ideas there, some of which led to fully-written scenes which are safely tucked away somewhere in my hard drive (I hope). It didn't lead me to finishing the story, but I still believe in the idea. I have a new house with a new desk, but the board is still sitting right there in the office.

There were definitely points where I was ready to chuck the whole thing and eliminate all evidence of the concept from my life. Something has always stopped me from doing that, though. I recently came across an interview with one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. He had just put out "The Graveyard Book" at the time, and was talking about the process of writing it. He said that the idea for the story came to him 23 years before the publication of the book. He said that at the time, he realized that he wasn't ready to write it and it's a better book now for setting it aside and waiting for the right time.

I'm not in exactly the same situation, but it was enough to give me that glimmer of hope that I need to continue to let the board sit next to the desk. I turned it around, note cards facing the wall, so I don't obsess about it every time I walk past. But I know it's there, and I know that it will wait until the right time. I hope.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Growing up

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's a popular question throughout childhood, through high school, and into college when you have to pick that major that determines the initial direction that your professional life will take. If you'd have asked me that question as a child, the answer would have ranged from professional baseball player to paleontologist to astronomer to ophthalmologist. In high school, I took a turn toward the dramatic. The response would have been an actor or a writer, and perhaps a teacher. In college, my intention was to be a television reporter--at least until I took an internship as a reporter. And now as I pass through my 30s, I've been none of those things (at least not professionally). And I still ask myself what I want to be when I grow up.

Fortunately, I still feel like I have time before I reach that status. It's not that I don't want to grow up, I just don't feel like I've fulfilled the requirements. Somewhere in my mind I've always thought that "real" adults are married, have families and own homes. I guess there's a certain comfort to all of that. My recent townhouse purchase takes care of one piece of the puzzle--I think that only a grownup would be willing (or crazy enough?) to take on a 30-year mortgage. But the dating scene has say the least, so I don't necessarily see the other pieces of the puzzle coming together in the immediate future (but I never completely eliminate the possibility).

Don't get me wrong--my life is good. I don't want to see the kid in me go away, and I don't intend to let it, even if I reach my "real" adult status. I'm pretty content with where I am right now. But I don't think I'm a grownup quite yet.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Facebook Ex Factor

My name is Josh, and I'm a Facebook addict. There. I said it. I feel better. I don't know that it's going to change, but it's nice getting it into the open. I think that Facebook is a wonderful invention. For the most part. Unfortunately, I catch myself checking back way too often if I feel that I've said something witty in my status, just to see if I get reactions. Or to see if my response to someone got a response. It's a little sad, I think...

The major benefit is that it's allowed me the opportunity to re-connect with people from my past that I wouldn't have had the chance to "see" again or don't see very often due to distance (not to mention the people closer geographically that I just don't have time to see). Hometown friends from as far back as kindergarten, extended family, college friends, even pen pals who I've never met in person. Re-connecting with some old friends has been a short back-and-forth conversation, a realization that we've changed and really have nothing in common any more, and no further discussion. Some, however, have been much more lasting. There's something nice about reminiscing with someone, but I can only do it for so long. It's nice to find the people with whom you have a history, but can talk about things other than the past.

Looking at the "suggestions" list on Facebook recently, I came across a name that gave me pause. It was a girlfriend from a number of years ago. Definitely my most serious relationship, and probably the first woman that I dated where I could legitimately use the word "love". The relationship did not end well. I was devastated when it was all over, and it took quite a while to get over her. Looking back at it now, her ending it was best in the long run because I don't think the relationship could have survived based on a number of factors. She's moved on, gotten married (six months after we broke up...not that I hold onto that fact at all), has a child, and I'm mostly happy for her.

Seeing her name again, though, my stomach clenched and I had a feeling of....well...I'm still not sure. Anger? Lingering loving feelings? Flashes of the emotions I had when things ended? Annoyance that she dared come to my territory (hey--I was here first!!)? The feeling passed very quickly, but I do wonder a bit about my initial reaction. I chalk it up to the fact that I'm unfortunately very human, and those types of feelings for someone don't die completely, even at the passing of the years. And fortunately, I have the option to choose not to be her Facebook friend. But there's still the part of me that's curious about her life. I hope deep down it's to re-connect with someone that I obviously cared about and to find out how she's doing--not to check into her life and see if I can find and pick at the flaws since she hurt me. I know which option I want to believe, but I'm honestly not sure. I don't like holding grudges, but I know I allow myself to do it far too often. For the time being, I think avoiding the "add as friend" button is my best option.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What's in a Name?

Willy Shakespeare (I've performed his work--I figure I can call him Willy) made it sound so simple. A rose by any other name would smell as what's the big deal?

For a perfectionist putting himself out on the internet, the process of naming the blog turned far, far, far more complicated than expected. Going in, all I wanted was a name that: had a sense of humor about itself, was not overly pretentious, sounded like something I'd say, wasn't terribly long, was completely original, described my vision for the blog (read: didn't paint me into a corner in terms of content), had a little double meaning, fed the starving children of the world, ended the political sniping in Congress, and could be the title of the inevitable book deal that would come out of the blog. Is that really so much to ask?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes. Even excluding the last three elements of that list. I'd had a title in mind for this blog for quite some time, but when I did an online search, it turned out that it was taken. Not only by a blog, but by a book (not related to one another), so it didn't fit my need for an original title.

I proceeded to hit the thesaurus, trying to piece together synonyms to come up with a title that would express the same meaning with different words. But I was reminded of something that I learned in high school: if I depend on the thesaurus to speak for me, it winds up sounding nothing like me. So it was back to square one.

At that point, I got a solid piece of advice: step away from the title. Don't think about it, don't worry about it for a few days. Instead, I started working on the initial blog entry (what a concept--working on the actual content of the blog?) and let my brain wander for a few days.

I came back to the title search a couple days later, refreshed and ready to get the blog up and running. I came up with a quick four or five names...all of which were already in use in one form or another. I tossed some names around with another friend, but didn't come up with anything that stuck a chord.

And just when I was ready to walk away again, this title just popped into my head. In my mind, it works nicely to describe me. I'm admittedly guilty of focusing on one thing (sometimes to the detriment of all other things in my life), then moving the focus to something completely different...and on and on. Singular in focus, seemingly random in interests at times. And another friend found the double meaning for me: it can describe my dating life and the women I go after. I think I'm mildly insulted. I'm not saying they're wrong, but I'm still deciding if I'm mildly insulted.

Does this title hit every element on my list? Nah. But it feels right. And while not perfect, I can move my singular focus on to the next thing. Thank goodness.

Friday, April 2, 2010

And Away We Go!

This blog has been a long time coming. Seriously.

I’ve always loved writing, but a year or two ago I started getting sidetracked by other things going on in life. So I decided that I was going to start a blog in order to get back to writing. But I got sidetracked. Sometimes it was for healthy aspects of life, sometimes not so much (Nothing illegal, mind you. But sometimes I think that gaming and TV can be just as addictive as any drug). I made excuses, I got lazy, I got involved doing other things, and the blog didn’t happen. I got sidetracked.

I turned 35 last summer. It’s one of those birthdays that has significance solely for the fact that it’s a year that’s a multiple of five. But regardless of the significance, it got me thinking. When I was in college and pictured myself at age 35…well…let’s just say that I live a very different life than what I pictured. Not necessarily bad…just different. But as a result of noticing that disconnect, I started cataloging the things that I want to do to improve my life and accomplish within my life. It’s a significant list. Initially, I didn’t handle it well. It was absolutely overwhelming. And instead of inspiring me to action, it froze me. And when life handed me a few more obstacles early this year, it left me utterly lost.

Within the past couple months, I’ve come to the conclusion that I needed to divide that significant list into two columns: things completely within my control, and things not completely within my control. I found that I could attack column A. And once I realized that it’s impossible to get everything done immediately, I stopped thinking and started doing. Nothing huge, but the small steps are nice. I’m becoming more organized. I’m exercising. I’m involved in groups that I care about. I’m working on some projects I’ve been procrastinating for months or years. And look—I have a blog (naming it was a story in itself, but I’ll save that for another post)!

I can’t say for certain what you’ll see coming up on this page. I can’t say for certain how often you’ll see it. But for me, it’s a small step toward crossing more things off the list. And hopefully, there will be less of me getting sidetracked.