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12.1.02 Making it through middles

People are wondering where I am again. Blame it on video. Amazing how a two-minute project can suck weeks of time away. I think it's done now -- at least ready enough to have a few showings to figure out how to tweak it. It's one I can post on the web, so stay tuned...

This project got me philosophizing -- not so much about the content (which is a whole other entry) but about the process. Craft -- one of my favorite narcissistic subjects.

I keep thinking that beginnings are hard -- the worst. In fact, once I took great pains to paint a quote that hung for many years in my office:

But the beginning of things... is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such a beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! [Kate Chopin, The Awakening]

Sure, beginnings are hard. The decision. The energy. The vision. The mobilization of resources.

But it's the middle that breaks you down.

Risk-takers start new projects. To start something is bold and brash. People of action initiate Homeland Security departments.

But if you've started something that's a risk -- a little over the edge, out there -- there comes a point where the adrenaline has faded and you're sitting there looking at a big mess. "Why in hell did I ever start this? What was I thinking!?"

Temptation: "It can't be done... Next!"

I don't want to say that there can't be false starts or efforts that deserve to be trashed. But how do you know? Imagine Lewis and Clark reaching the Rocky Mountains and realizing their maps were wrong. I probably would have turned tail and gone home -- if I'd made it that far. They had the fortitude to keep going.

Anyway, I started this video project. Two minutes. Got the idea, wrote the script, recorded it, laid down a music track. The hard part was over, I figured. Now I could play with the visuals. Problem: no visuals to play with. Zip. I had radio, not video. My plan was to play around with animation, so START PLAYING!

Two minutes stretches endlessly into 1860 frames to fill. I played all right, till it was a gigantic mess.

I see projects at work -- ones that people say "can't be done!" and yet they are always arm's length from the challenge. They refuse to crawl inside. They refuse to merge themselves into a project as an actor would a character.

I was never quite smart enough in school to skim along the surface and still get good grades. I had to study. There was endless literature to analyze, whether stories by Joseph Conrad or sonnets by Shakespeare or (in case English wasn't challenge enough) dense novels in Spanish or Portuguese. Gradually I figured out that if I took enough notes, played with the text enough, the meaning would emerge. My college roommate could read a book, then type a paper directly out of her head, an hour before it was due, and get an A. I would have to crawl inside the same book and explore for days before a single lightbulb turned on.

Maybe that was good training for middles. Patience. And the ability to face my terrible incompetence while at the same time trusting that, sooner or later, competence will emerge.

By Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) I had my breakthrough, found my style, hit my stride. I was thankful for the book of After Effects tutorials -- whenever I was stuck I'd stop and work through a tutorial to give my skills a booster shot. On Friday (another day off work), I wound up sitting at my computer all day chugging happily away and suddenly it was done. A 4 o'clock I was playing it on our television, giving J a sneak preview.

An award winner? Probably not. A triumph over middle-despair? Definitely.

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