One blog to rule them all
Welcome to my blog!
I would make some sort of clever introduction here, but most of us already know how blogs work; if you like me and like my writing, you might also enjoy my personal ramblings and assorted thoughts. If you don't like me, you're probably not reading this anyway. And if you're undecided in your opinion of me, I invite you to read as much or as little as you like and decide for yourself.
Please read on and, if you find something worth discussing, don't be shy about submitting a comment!
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 10
My mom is my actual mother. I grew up in a traditional nuclear family, where my parents are my birth parents, are still married to one another, and raised two kids in the suburbs. I'm really close with my mom, and get a great deal of my personality traits and perspectives on things from her. My father is her polar opposite in a lot of ways. He's outspoken, she's quiet. He's set in his ways, she's adaptable. He's staunchly conservative, she's... less conservative.
She graduated from college with a degree in journalism, and worked in journalism for a few years before she had me. Once the kids came along, my mom became a stay-at-home mom for several years, until we were in the later stage of middle school and able to take care of ourselves at home after school. At that point, she went back to work and started her second career working at a series of microelectronics companies in an administrative capacity. One of the things that I found most impressive about her was the fact that once, when one of her employers was acquired by a big, national firm, their administrative software was converted to SAP. If you've ever used SAP before, it's a beast. One of those programs that does a million different things, is the backbone on which a thousand systems operate, etc. And she trained herself to know it (or at least the parts that applied to her company) inside and out. By the end of the company merger/acquisition process, she was training the IT guys on how to use it.
I think it's easy to look at someone in my mom's position (gave up her career to stay home and raise kids) and write her off as a cliche. But if there's one thing I've learned from my mother, it's that she - and I'm sure plenty of other strong moms like her - are so incredibly capable of so much more, even if they do choose to stay at home. My mom is smart, accomplished, and has thrived in every phase of life she's found herself in... and definitely where I get a lot of my values, including the professional ones that have guided my own career over the years.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 9
Regardless of the event or the different perspectives on it, I feel like the answer to the last two questions are pretty clear. Unless you have some reason to doubt your own memory, wouldn't you naturally be inclined to believe your own recollection of events rather than someone else's? And there's ample science on the inconsistency of the construct of memory. Our own biases and assumptions and desires and experiences mold and reform the details in our mind, sometimes to the point where people are truly shocked when they discover that the objective facts are very different or even contradictory to what they truly believed in their own minds.
The most recent event in my life that this happened with was my last job. I was hired to help a rapidly-expanding company consolidate their administrative processes across their various business units: animation, features, television, and interactive. The biggest challenge of the position was that I had responsibilities that spanned all four divisions, but most of the people I worked with only had responsibility to one of the divisions, including each of my two bosses. It quickly became apparent that my bosses (one of them in particular) and a few others at the company were getting frustrated that I wasn't focusing more on their needs. Their perspective seemed to be that I wasn't getting the work done... but from my perspective I was working full days, and a lot of overtime, trying to address the needs of four separate businesses.
Ultimately, I ended up leaving that job after only nine months for other reasons, but that disconnect wouldn't have been a tenable dynamic to continue, where an employee feels like they're working really hard to handle a huge load of work, but none of the other stakeholders felt like they were getting the attention they deserved or their work completed in a timely manner. And there's certainly merit to both positions, even if I don't agree with their perspective. Obviously I feel like my perspective had merit (I was the one working all the hours and feeling pulled in all the different directions all the time), but employees at a company need to feel like they're getting what they need out of their coworkers and if they aren't, that's something that needs to be addressed.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 8
Honestly, 400 personal values is a lot to go through, so I'm going to take a bit of a shortcut. A few years ago, I did a Strengths Finder in connection with a job application, which is an assessment that asks you a bunch of questions and returns a list of your top five "strengths" that you should supposedly lean into when it comes to professional endeavors because you're naturally gifted in those areas. So I'm going to start with those five values, or their closest approximations from this list:
Organization [Arranger in Strengths Finder]
Inquisitiveness [Input in Strengths Finder]
Thoughtfulness [Intellection in Strengths Finder]
Dependability [Responsibility in Strengths Finder]
Adaptability. One of my most prized skills is my ability to adapt to different circumstances. Whether it's the ever-changing needs of the business at work, incorporating a set of script notes into one of my screenplays, or figuring out how to handle a flat tire on a road trip hundreds of miles from home, I have a natural inclination to look at a set of needs or circumstances and do what needs to be done to get everything to work out.
Organization [Arranger]. Along those same lines, arranging or organizing things is also a strength of mine. Need to fit as many items in the freezer or as many bags in the trunk as possible? I'm your guy. Need to come up with a way to methodically solve a puzzle? I'm also your guy for that too. Combined with my tendency toward adaptability, it makes me really good at taking a bunch of pieces of things and putting them together. I have a natural affinity for things like assembling tax returns or figuring out which item to buy out of all the options, because I have a natural inclination to adapt to whatever the circumstances require, and then figure out how to optimize for best results.
Inquisitiveness [Input]. Based on the last two, it shouldn't be any surprise that input is on my list too. In Strengths Finder, it means I like to accumulate data and information. The closest thing I could find on this list was Inquisitiveness because I'm totally the guy that will fall down an internet research rabbit hole on Wikipedia, or find my mind wandering and then need to look up a random piece of trivia that I want to know.
Thoughtfulness [Intellection]. I also like to think about things a lot. I process a lot of information in my head, pretty much all the time. Again, that can probably be attributed to the other values on this list... I'm constantly thinking about how to adapt and rearrange and optimize and get more data to make the best decision possible. And then I mull all that over for a while.
Dependability [Responsibility]. I hate letting people down or disappointing them. I'll go to great lengths to inconvenience myself before I let down other people, and it's really stressful and anxiety-inducing for me when I do let them down.
The last five values I'll choose are odds and ends that are important to me for various reasons:
Confidence. I find confidence as alluring as it is elusive. I'm attracted to confidence because I have so little of it myself, at least in the spur of the moment. My confidence comes from knowing the meticulous details of a thing from top to bottom, whether that's in the form of extensive research or years of professional experience. I really admire people who can exude confidence on the fly or in an area they're not actually very knowledgeable about.
Connection. The way we're all connected to one another is something that I feel is incredibly important. Regardless of where we come from and what communities we're in, everyone is sharing the same planet and, in a lot of ways, an interconnectedness to each other. I really value other people who see that same connectivity and can act in a way that's respectful of that connection.
Gratitude. Gratitude is such an important posture to have that informs so much of who we are. I admire people who can experience true gratitude even in the face of adversity, and see that there's always something in life to appreciate.
Honor. I really believe in honoring your obligations, and respecting others. People who have a high sense of honor are people I naturally gravitate toward, because I know that I can trust them to treat a relationship with the same sense of responsibility that I bring to it.
Humor. Life is really boring and sad without a sense of humor. It's important to me that both myself and the people I surround myself with don't take themselves too seriously all the time. We all need to know how to laugh and find humor in the everyday.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 7
I used to believe that I was the exception to the rule.
I used to believe that I would be that one-in-a-million success story.
I used to believe that my talent would just naturally be discovered and I'd rise to the top.
But that was a long time ago and, I suppose, not so different from a lot of young people when they first graduate and set off into the world on their chosen career path. The assumptions that the world would just somehow recognize how talented we are, and that success is something to be stumbled upon. Being born at the crossroads of Generation X and the Millennials, I got a lot of the "participation trophy" stuff growing up. At the pinewood derby car race in Boy Scouts, they had trophies for the winners and literal participation ribbons for everyone else. For Little League, everyone on every team got a trophy regardless of their performance or the team's ranking at the end of the season. For schools plays, everyone got cast in some role, even if most of us were relegated to the background because we didn't audition well enough to land a more prominent role.
In a way, I understand the impulse to make every child feel like they're special and meant for great things. The positive reinforcement can be very inspiring and comforting to one's ego. However, I can also see how damaging it is, especially with kids younger than me who were a little more firmly in the Millennial generation and graduated at the height of the Great Recession, to be convinced that you're entitled to rewards just for being you, and then to land hard in the real world and have to discover on your own that advancement and success are earned, not handed out.
Convincing your kids that they're unique snowflakes destined for greatness just because they are who they are is a really dangerous approach to parenting, because the kids hit the real world hard and many don't have the skills necessary to cope with rejection and a world that isn't inclined to give you anything unless you fight for it. On the other hand, it can be devastating to a kid's self-esteem and sense of self in their formative years if you constantly reinforce that they're ordinary, nothing special, etc. As with most things, I think moderation is the key. It's important to figure out what things about a kid are special and encourage and promote those hobbies, interests, skills, etc. And it's equally important to teach them that they're not going to be great at everything, that they're probably not going to be that one-in-a-million exception to the rule, that they're going to have to work hard and fight hard to be successful and stand out from a crowd.
I spent a lot of years just assuming success would come to me, and I think it probably cost me some opportunities when my grades in school were good, but not great, when my work ethic in the early years was decent but not terribly strong, and even now when I have a natural inclination to just assume everything's going to work out in my favor before I have to remind myself not to rest on my laurels and that I need to push ahead and define my own success.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 6
I own a burned DVD. You know, one of those blank DVD-R discs that someone exported a movie from their computer onto, so that it plays on DVD players. For those of you who are a little on the younger side, this was in the Before Times when you couldn't just stream everything you wanted to watch. We actually had to buy physical discs and put them into a physical disc players connected to our televisions with (and here's where I really start to date myself) component video, s-video, or even composite cables.
But I digress. To paraphrase the immortal words of the Rifleman's Creed of the United States Marine Corps (and the cast of Full Metal Jacket), "This is my DVD. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My DVD is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as--"
Okay, so really, it's just like the first two sentences of the Rifleman's Creed. The rest gets a little too "affectionate" and while I love my homemade DVD, I'm not that attached to it. Anyway, the reason why this particular burned DVD is so important to me is because it's the first copy of a movie I've ever received that has a writing credit that bears my name. It's a rough director's cut of the film, which they sent around for notes early on in the process. The movie has since been available on the Hallmark Channel, PixL, and occasionally ABC Family I'm told, so it's not like the movie isn't available anywhere else, but after spending so many years in the entertainment industry seeing products with other people's names on them, it was really something special to get a disc in the mail with the words, "Here's a copy of your movie."
I've since loaned that disc out to dozens of friends and family, but always insist on getting it back because the physical disc itself holds an enormous amount of sentimental value for me. Even though, at the end of the day, you can actually catch the movie on a streaming service or regular old television from time to time. Yet I still hold onto the disc... even now that I've resigned the DVD player to cold storage in the garage. I couldn't just pop it in anymore even if I wanted to, but I keep the disc around for sentimental reasons.
In a lot of ways, I suppose that's not so different than an author hanging on to hard copies of their books, or a journalist saving a clipping from their first published news column. But since I'm primarily a screenwriter and someone who works in the entertainment industry, I guess this simple little burned DVD that just has "The Right Girl" written on it in Sharpie is my version of a physical piece of art that I've created.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 5
I'm counting this article/news story as "local" because I live in Los Angeles and the Westworld television series is primarily shot and produced here. Also, consider this fair spoiler alert warning... if you're not caught up on Westworld and care about such things, you may want to skip this entry. I'll try to keep it fairly nonspecific.
WESTWORLD Creators On Season 3 Finale; The Dangers Of A.I.; The Futures Of Bernard, Dolores & Man In Black
I've spent the past couple of weeks getting caught up on Season 2 and Season 3 of Westworld, in advance of this past Sunday's season finale. It's the first time in I-don't-know-how-long that I insisted on watching something as soon as it aired. This has easily become one of my favorite shows on television, and this season and its finale certainly didn't disappoint. I love the way the show really delves into the potential and consequences of artificial intelligence, and in the complex nature of the human race.
At the end of every episode, there's been a behind-the-scenes look at the production process, with the show creators talking about their vision and what they were hoping to accomplish. This article has the same type of conversation, where they discuss (as much as possible without spoiling future plans) their ideas about what their intent was with the season and this finale episode, as well as the questions raised by the cliffhanger that could potentially be addressed next season.
It's been a long time since I've watched a show that has completely engrossed me. And I'm talking, like, put the phone down, not doing anything else but focusing on the show level of engrossed. It's also the kind of show that I want to write someday. It's just so smart and thoughtful and well made that it's a pleasure to watch, and a pleasure to read about. Finishing Season 3 of Westworld has definitely been one of the highlights of my week so far, and I can't wait to see where they take the show in Season 4.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 4
If cooking and/or baking were a D/s relationship, I'd definitely be an /s. Based on past experiences ruining any number of dishes that I've attempted, I long since gave up the notion that I was in any way a culinary leader with any kind of a coherent vision. Or, you know, even the basic ability to improvise. I get cold sweats at being told to "season to taste." What does that even mean? Does that mean I should dump half a jar of cayenne pepper into my chili, or the whole thing? Should I use basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary in my pasta sauce... or all four at the same time? Since I just guessed at how long to cook it and at what temperature, what pairs well with a medium-raw salmon filet?
No, give me a domineering recipe to lead me around on all fours, desperate to please. When you tell me exactly what to do, I can make passable food. And by passable food, I mean it's edible, and on rare occasion, somewhat resembles the picture that came with the recipe.
The irony is, I actually do really like cooking and baking. The cleaning up afterward, not so much. But there is something supremely satisfying about following a recipe and, twenty minutes, a half hour, an hour later, having a finished dish that can be eaten and appreciated. And most of my family members and friends love food, so it's really nice to be able to create something that they can enjoy immediately (assuming the recipe doesn't tell me to season to taste, of course), rather than waiting days or weeks or months for a piece of writing, which then has to be consumed individually. It's an entirely different experience and sense of satisfaction to be able to feed someone dinner, or bring a cake to a party.
Speaking of cake, that's the thing I'm most proud of making recently. Years and years ago, I found out my then-boss and mentor had a birthday. I was a broke assistant at the time, so rather than buying him a gift, I made him a cake from scratch following a recipe I had in a cookbook. The next year, I was still a broke assistant, so I looked up a new recipe and did the same. That was fifteen years ago, and even though we both moved on to other jobs at different companies, I still bring him a cake every year on his birthday. His birthday happens to be the day before mine, so it's a little hard to forget. Some years have just been a basic cake mix due to time constraints... and last year was the first time I had to actually buy a cake due to a number of unfortunate events. I was on track to still make the cake despite having make an unexpected trip to the hospital when our infant developed a fever... but just couldn't pull it together after we realized our refrigerator also died that day and the eggs, milk, and other perishables didn't survive. Still, for most years, I'm able to find a new and interesting recipe and make him a cake from scratch every year on his birthday.
Some cakes that have been attempted over the years:
White chocolate cake with white chocolate fudge frosting
Masala chai tea cake with chai frosting
Chocolate brownie cake with mint chip frosting
Cookies 'n Cream cake with Cookies 'n Cream frosting and Oreo crumble
Dark chocolate cake with raspberry jam filling and raspberry frosting
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 3
Way back in the Before Times (prior to getting our two foster kids last July), relaxing and unwinding in the evenings usually consisted of a few hours of relaxing (watching a movie or a couple episodes of a TV show, dinner with my wife when we were both done working for the night, then reading in bed for an hour or two. Now that our home has two kids under six running around, I'm not sure "relax" and "unwind" are really words that can be associated with my evening routine. It's more like, "frantically finish the dinner and bedtime routine for the kids, then get ready for the next day, then collapse into bed and pray the baby sleeps long enough to give us a few hours of sleep before waking up in the middle of the night."
My ideal relaxation would probably look a lot like my prior routine. Because I have such a long commute, I'm usually able to decompress from the day while I'm driving home, which - although I get home fairly late - means that my time at home (when not caring for children) is mostly about fully relaxing and doing stuff for fun rather than processing what happened at work. And since I really love movies, television, and reading, that's usually what I choose to do with my spare time. That and catching up with friends online, of course.
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 2
I had a really hard time narrowing this down, because there are so many characters in so many books that I love. I briefly though about wanting to meet Court Gentry (from Mark Greaney's Gray Man series) or Evan Smoak (from Gregg Hurwitz's Nowhere Man series), but then I realized that I'm not really in need of a former black-ops soldier to save me from a dangerous predicament. I thought about Harry Potter, but that seemed like an obvious choice. Locke Lamora from Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards sequence was a possibility, but then I'm not sure what I'd really have to discuss with a con artist from a second-world fantasy setting, and I'd probably end the meeting with the realization that he'd stolen my wallet or conned me out of something more valuable.
Space Team by Barry J. Hutchison is one of my current favorite series, and I would chose to meet his character Splurt which is basically a sentient, shapeshifting blob of green goo with eyes floating in it. He has a special relationship with the series protagonist Cal Carver, and seems to be psychically linked which is how he's able to assume the forms that are helpful to Cal during their various space adventures (including a giant version of one of the Golden Girls).
I'm not sure there's anything to talk with Splurt about because he doesn't communicate via any discernible language (other than his goo-ball surface rippling in response to other people talking at him), but I would definitely want to meet him because, for one, he's fonking (oh yeah, there's space swearing in this series too!) adorable. Second, he's got a great sense of humor, apparently. But third and most importantly, since it's been established that his psychic connection (along with a little help pulling matter from alternate timelines) is what allows him to shapeshift into anything in Cal's subconscious, I guess I'd be more than a little curious to see what the contents of my subconscious would manifest through this character in the course of our meeting.
I suppose it probably sounds a little self-analytical and egocentric to want to meet someone based on how they would react to you... but I defy anyone who's read and loved the series to not want to meet this little guy in person!
"30-Day Blogging Challenge" | May 1
This is going to sound a little strange, but getting furloughed from my job has been the most positive thing in my life lately.
I should probably explain.
About three weeks ago, my company announced that it was furloughing roughly half of its employees in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. I should stipulate that I am of course upset about the company deciding that I'm not necessary, and naturally worried that unemployment benefits and our savings account might run out before the furlough ends since everything with this pandemic is so up in the air right now.
That said, the one piece of certainty we did get was that my wife and son's school moved to remote instruction for the rest of the school year, which means she's spending literally every day from 8AM to 4PM locked away in our bedroom working on her own classes while I was spending those same hours with our son making sure he's paying attention to his lessons via videoconference, getting his independent work done, staying focused and entertained and fed throughout the day, etc. And, up until this furlough, I was also trying to work full-time from home, which meant I was either frantically alternating between the two tasks, or trying to cram in a full day of work from 4PM to roughly 11PM or midnight, desperately trying to catch up on all the stuff I missed earlier in the day.
So, in a way, the furlough has proved to include a bit of a silver lining. I can now focus on my son and his schooling without having that work pressure in the background and during the evenings. He has three more weeks of school left after this week and current projections are hinting at a return to work sometime in June, so the timing of this whole thing is actually pretty good. There will be a ton of stuff to deal with after the world starts up again, but for the immediate future of the next handful of weeks, this furlough has provided our family with a workable dynamic that allows us to get everything done. My wife can get her teaching done during the day, my son gets his schooling done during the day, and we all have the evenings together as a family once the school day is finished.
Even though some aspects of this situation aren't ideal (I decided not to be a kindergarten teacher for a reason... reasons I am now all too aware of! ) and even though we're all ready to get out of the house, go back to work, resume life out in the world, etc., there have been some really nice silver linings in the interim. Dinners together in the evening as a family have been great, as has not having to spend 3-4 hours in the car commuting every day.
The world is still an uncertain and worrisome place right now, and we certainly have our own set of stressors and concerns that occupy the back of our minds, but we're trying to look for the positives and appreciate the things we do have.