Inwardly Linked, and a Downward Spiral

LinkedIn pen

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I hate the monster that Facebook has become. I avoid that network at nearly all costs (as the digital sagebrush blowing across the face of my dusty profile will attest). I use several other social networks, though (you know, the non-monsters), and one of them is LinkedIn. This is because, in my new vocation especially, it’s how you get jobs. LinkedIn profiles are just what you do, and what you use, if you work in the world of technology.

I like LinkedIn, though, because it’s relatively isolated and specialized as a network, which is exactly what a professional network should be. I post professional items of interest there that generally wouldn’t go into my other networks, mostly because they just wouldn’t be of as much interest to people elsewhere. In that way, it remains a bit of a mystery to me, because (here’s a shocker) I really don’t get corporate culture. I don’t understand business-speak. I sometimes roll my eyes at the digital  presences of those who are acting professional, as all of us do, in the workplace…that is to say, different than they would anywhere else. That doesn’t take away from the fact, however, that LinkedIn has its uses, and they are very credible uses, at that.

If our culture has ever been guilty of anything, it’s the lie of the self-made-man. “Work hard, play hard” has somehow morphed into “work until you drop if you know what’s good for you, and then play if you have any time and/or energy left.” America is, if anything, a culture of hard-workers. Perhaps I sound cynical as I say that, but as it becomes easier and thus more expected to work from anywhere, then it becomes more natural to work all the time. And, because that’s often the professional expectation in today’s world, it also filters down to the educational realm. The drive to succeed in school at earlier and earlier ages (read: pre-university) becomes more and more intense, robbing children of their childhoods way too early.

Don’t hear me say that I don’t value education…quite the contrary (as our daughter’s love of books and extensive vocabulary would prove, to say nothing of the bookshelves of old grad school books lining our walls).  I think, though, that pressure to achieve doesn’t belong in our academic settings before the university level.

So, the story that ran a few days ago that LinkedIn will now allow children as young as thirteen years of age to have profiles caused my heart to sink. Because a professional  presence isn’t something that a thirteen-year-old should ever, ever have to concern themselves with. They will reach an age when they have to do that all too quickly, when they spend increasingly long hours at their job just to make ends meet, at which point, no matter how much they might love what they do, something of their innocence is lost.

This is, at the end of the day, a profit-seeking move for LinkedIn, I’m sure. They have to, after all, compete with other networks (although that is something that I don’t understand…they do one thing well, and I’m a firm believer in stopping there). This will prove a profitable venture for LinkedIn, I’m sure, but it will prove a socially costly mistake if it leads us to expect higher professional and academic achievement from our children at earlier and earlier ages.

Let them learn. Let them play. Let them hold onto those days to which many of us wish that we could return.

And let’s not make them rising corporate stars quite yet, okay?

Photo Attribution: Sheila Scarborough under Creative Commons  

Dancing on an Escalator

Last night, I took my daughter to Barnes & Noble to enjoy a cookie and peruse the children’s book section. When leaving the store, she stated that she wanted to go down the escalator. We walked to the escalator, and, holding her hand, I stepped on first. She, at that moment, decided that she wasn’t so interested in the escalator suddenly, and dug in firmly, refusing to step on, but still holding firmly to my hand. 

What followed was a most interesting dance as I tried to not pull her over and not go flat on my own face at the same time. My Chaplain-esque moves were, I’m sure, the highlight of the evening to anyone watching. 

Virtual Theatre

Concert lights, attributed to iurte under Creative Commons

Sometimes I feel as though I’m glued to a computer screen way too much.

Now that I’ve changed careers for my day job, I spend most of my day in front of a computer writing code or designing page layouts. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. But I lament (as does my back after several stationary hours) the loss of the chances to be more physically active that I used to have. I’m still involved in theatre, and this is a huge outlet for me to be physically active…something that I desperately need, now. Between those two things and trying to keep some kind…any kind…of writing rhythm, I stay incredibly busy.

And I continue to be amazed at how much everything is alike in so many ways.

I listened to an interview with a web designer several months ago. She, too, had worked in theatre before beginning a career in the web, so there was immediate common ground for me there. She likened scenic design to web design, and I’m inclined to agree with her. There’s a creative component and technical component to each. The scene designer begins with sketches for what the setting of the fictional world should look like. Then, logistical issues are considered. Models are built. Working construction drawings are made, and then the lumber and drills and saws come into play as the sketches begin to take shape. Everything I know about power tools I learned in a college scene shop. In my experience in the theatre, there is almost always a technical director who oversees the construction of what the designer envisioned. He or she works off the drawings the designer provides and handles the technical details of the building.

The web designer also begins with drawings, but of a digital variety. Wireframes and prototypes are built in software like Photoshop and result in a visual model of what the website will look like. A developer then takes those prototypes and begins writing the code that will build them for your browser.

I began my theatre experiences on the technical side. I spent a lot of time doing the technical work of implementing others’ designs. I did my share of designing, as well, but me and a sketchbook were awkward companions, at best. I do the same thing for the web. I do some design work, but generally only page layouts, not real graphics work. I spend a lot of my time coding what others have designed.

Another similarity is that the web has its own sort of rehearsal process. As I write this, I’m getting ready to move a big project to a testing server for a dry run of how it will work. This is only for a select few people…the world won’t see the site until we’re settled that everything works the way that we want. It’s the Internet’s version of a dress rehearsal. A tiny audience will preview what the real event will look like before the curtain goes up on opening night.

There are a lot of other similarities, as well, too many for one post, I think. Isn’t it so fascinating, though, how different disciplines are so much alike the more one gets to know them?

Photo Attribution: iurte under Creative Commons

Re-Living Adventures

Running with the theme of letting the imagination run with ideas, I remember something that an old friend once told me. I was frustrated then with having little time to write (ironically, I think back to that period now and wish I had that much time….funny how everything is relative that way), and found what little creative spark I could find squashed by my day job. That was before I had been able to find the interdisciplinary melding points in what I did, and I was looking for some way to let everything fall into place.

His advice to me was to let everything be “grist for the writing mill.”

It was difficult to take his advice then, but in the years since, I’ve began to appreciate his wisdom. One of my resolutions for the new year (or was it the year before…?) was to make time to work on some side projects, projects for which I had good ideas but have never set aside to time to truly develop. Those sorts of projects, I think, are the best sometimes for getting the writing spark lit. As Karen and I have had some quite interesting experiences with living arrangements over the past year, I remembered a shelved project that has been sitting on my desktop for a bit. It’s a collection of humorous experiences that we’ve had at different apartments since we’ve been married. It’s one of those projects for which I’ll very likely never seek publication, but that’s worth compiling if only for a family memoir of sorts to be a source of good memories later.

Or, perhaps the adventures that I recount there will end up on these virtual pages. Who knows?

I think that I’ll carve out some time in the next week sometime to outline some of our experiences and begin writing them down. It will get me back in the frame of mind in which words are flowing out onto the page, at least, and that can lead to all sorts of wonderful things.

Sonic Screwdrivers and Green Monsters

Sonic Screwdriver, a piece of Dr. Who Memorabilia
Karen gave me a sonic screwdriver for my birthday.
That was a couple of months ago, and I’ve been carrying it around zapping things that won’t work ever since. When I have an obsessive compulsive issue and begin worrying that the door isn’t locked securely, I’ll use the sonic screwdriver, because everyone knows that when the Doctor fuses a lock with that gadget, it stays locked.During the move, Karen shook her head at one point and referred to it as my security blanket.

Don’t judge.
This isn’t a reality distortion field, it’s just letting my imagination run a bit. It’s healthy, I think, letting yourself engage in the “what if” sorts of fantasizing that leads to good storytelling.
Over the weekend, I drove by a dark green Hummer that was parked on the curb. In true Bostonian fashion, the license plate indicated that it was a “Green Monstah.” I glanced at it in my rearview as I drove by, and pretended that I could hear it rumbling, the monster beneath pawing the ground to be let out and wreak its havoc at its master’s bidding. Or, perhaps it was a Decepticon-like evil transforming robot that would morph into its true shape to leave collateral damage in its wake as it carried out the mission known only to itself.
As I said, I don’t permit myself to become absorbed in these fantasies at the expense of reality. I will let myself dwell on them when I have some downtime, or when I’m laying in bed trying to fall asleep. This is the stuff from which good writing is born.
What I don’t do is let myself run with it enough. Part of that is a timing thing, but part of it is that I tend to get so bogged down in the tedium of finishing a project that I’m stalled on (like my novel), that I get stubborn and won’t let myself take a break to write other things. The truth is that letting those creative impulses flow uninhibited for even a little while flexes the creative muscles. Just writing this stuff down, without structure or a plan, just to see where it could go, is an excellent exercise, and could turn into an excellent story in its own right at some point in the future.
Being observant of what’s around us is part of what makes a writer a writer (or, for that matter, makes an actor an actor). Letting yourself do something with what you observe, though…that’s where the discipline comes into play, and its that discipline that I’m hoping to cultivate in the coming months.