I Release My Barbaric Yawp

It’s Tuesday and I’m supposed to be at the film festival office at 9am because I’m on the screening committee and that’s when we’re meeting. 9am. Except I’m not there on time and somehow I’m running late and Laura has taken the boys to school and I’ve forgotten to ask her to give me a lift. So I try calling her car but we haven’t put any minutes on the car phone…

And it doesn’t work; the call doesn’t go through. So I get in my car and slide out of the driveway, on the snow, and head on into town. My phone immediately starts ringing. I juggle the steering wheel and manouever the Motorola menace out of my pocket. It’s one of my fellow screening committee members. She can’t make it. No worries. She can pick up the box of stuff we’re watching and catch up.

I find myself in a queue of traffic, two lanes have become one with some big traffic machine monster blocking one of the lanes. I pull off the main street and get myself into the parking structure. Which is silly really because I only have two dollars in my wallet and it’s going to cost more than that when it’s time to leave. But anyway. I’m there. And I’m late.

I find a space on the fourth floor. Well, it says four on a big yellow sign. It could be the third floor in real life because Americans count the ground floor as “one”. I park too close to someone’s Hoon Mobile and can’t open the door. I try to pull back and look for another space but another car is already coming around the corner and it feels like they’re all over me, so I just pull in and deal with it. I bump Hoon twit’s wing because they’ve parked over the middle of the line and they’re bastards for doing that so they deserve it.

I get down the stairs and to the corner of the street without falling over on snow or ice and that’s pretty good, although everyone else manages it here so I guess it’s nothing that special. And, of course, as I get there, the lights change and I can’t cross. Shit. Why does the universe do this to me? Me??? I let out an enormous belch, venting my spleen against the invisible forces ranged against me. Burrrrrppppp! Oh, yeah, baby. Take that! Pretty good. I feel highly satisfied with myself. The world is put to rights again. Heh.

I look around and somehow, quiet movement, unheard arrival, there is now someone standing next to me at the crossing. And of course they heard me. And the joy of belching free into the frigid morning is greatly diminished. They may have a Constitutional Amendment protecting my right to vocalise but it makes no difference. I burped. It was good. And then I realised someone else heard and maybe disapproved and a measure of joy is taken out of the insouciant exclamation.

Why does that happen? I mean why do these people just appear like that? Not why does it diminish the joy of the moment but why are they there, in my head space, when I want that solitude to be free in public? Pah. Whatever. That’s a spicy meat-a-ball. It’s funny again now.

And So This Is…

We went to the travelling exhibit by Yoko Ono (performance art’s most apt surname) in Ann Arbor the other day. Lots of Lennon whimsical sketches up for sale at ridiculous prices. I call it the “Napkin Doodle Paradigm”. A not-so-ingenious method for parting people from their money based on an artist’s ability in one field translating to perceived value across the board. The sketches were fun, though, but I gagged at the reproduced copies of Beatles lyrics with only one writer’s, John’s, signature copied and Photoshopped on.

On a completely unrelated note, last night we had pizza. On the box, Pizza Hut are doing a series of graphic burbles (much like these except PH has mass production). The latest one has questions for kids to ask parents and questions for parents to ask kids. One question (hastily looks in fridge) was “If you could have only one possession what would it be?” Sam’s answer was “Color blanky!” Mine, New Zealand. Another question was, “What character from a book would you like to be?” Jack would like to be Harry Potter. Sam? Garfield. Perfect.

This morning they were up and fighting over the remote control. Somehow it developed into a discussion on whether Santa Claus really exists. Jack’s convinced it’s us but Sam doesn’t think we’d have time to go out on Christmas Eve, get presents, wrap them up and put them under the tree. Ahh, the magic of youth. Strange that Harry Potter boy wouldn’t believe in magic, though.

All of which, well the last bit, got me thinking about the fact that some day the magic of Christmas has to go and reality must settle in. And I was thinking about Mike’s house where they draw names out of a hat then all buy one gift for each other, like a secret Santa thing. Then they open them on Christmas Eve. I know other people do that too.

Now, I know it’s not magical, and I like the magic and would like to keep it alive for a while, but in the end I think having a family of Secret Santas is the way forward. Everyone shows they care for each other and as a bonus with the Christmas Eve thing, you don’t get woken up too early on Christmas Day. Maybe that last bit doesn’t matter. I guess what’s important is how you make the transition from, “okay so the presents from Santa thing was a fairy tale” to “Christmas is really about showing how much we care for each other”. There’s a film somewhere isn’t there?

Send Up The New Heads

Last night we had people round for drinks. Okay, it was a party. And it was a fine party to boot. I think I may have said various ridiculous and/or innappropriate things throughout the evening. I can’t be sure but I think I can remember…

K: “This is Basil. Sorry, did I say Basil? It’s Stuart. He looks a bit like a Basil.”

J: “I’m the fifth child in a family of nine.”
K: “Oo! You should talk to Pat. He’s Catholic too!”

K: “Mmmmm… peanut M&Ms!”
followed by
K: “Mmmmm… single malt!”

J: “Well, hello there!”
K: “Greetings! You know, I felt a tingling in my pocket and I thought, ‘Aha! Jim Selleck!'”

D: “Thank you for having me.”
K: “Did I have you?”

K: “Are you drinking a rum and mango?”
L: “What’s a rubber mango?”
K: “I find, Americans, can understand me better, if I talk, like, Michael Caine.”

K: “Hey, nice bracelet. Is that a cock ring?”

The Missing Staircase

Sometimes I dream that the staircase is missing. I’m in a large building and I don’t know my way around. I enjoy the feeling of being lost, but I know I have to get to the next level up. It can be a huge mansion, or a block of flats. Once it was a tower block with a crazy elevator system running around the outside. Another time it was a hotel lobby with ceiling several hundred feet high and only a hydraulic platform to take us up to our rooms, high above. Last night, it was just a stairwell in a run down block.

Sometimes there are other people. Last night there were other people. They were all taking the elevator. The lift. I didn’t want to take the lift. My instinct told me there was something wrong with it. It was broken. So I tried to see if I could find a toe-hold where I could jump across the missing stair and grab on to the edge of the floor above. There wasn’t.

Then a single person elevator stopped, ding, right next to me. I got in. The door closed and somehow it became a carriage on a train. Trains are good in dreams. Not just the ones that take you through tunnels. Trains are full of interesting people, going on interesting journeys. Trains can take you anywhere. They can also dump you out in stations that look familiar, like somewhere in London, but with no-one familiar around and all the landmarks in peculiar places. Once you’ve gone up the stairs into the sunlight.

One time I was living in a building without stairs right at the top. I worked my way around the tiniest scrap of ledge, no more than a picture rail, on the top floor of a building just to get the door to my room. Another time I discovered a secret society thanks to an elevator that circled a new tower block and descended underground to the hidden railway system. And then again, there was the time where it was simply an enormous train station and no trains. I wound up in the pub next door, which was warm and cosy and full of friends.

This morning, my elevator train sped me across a huge bridge, across a river. I thought we were going to shoot up into the air because I could only see out the top and it looked as if tracks went across the roof and the roof looked like a ski jump. But we pulled safely into a station. I knew I’d have to make it back across the river, over the bridge. It looked like a long way although we’d got there really fast. I like these dreams. Where the staircase is missing and the trains are crazy. I like the feeling of being lost, the sense of exploration, of discovering the unknown.

Many mansions and fascinating places wait to be discovered. I’ve seen some of them in my dreams. I’ll see them again in real life. And I’ll open every door and discover all of the hidden staircases. Then I’ll walk on air without realizing I’m flying until I look down to see my feet aren’t touching the ground.

Give The Yak Some Toast

Laura belongs to some kind of CD swap meet thing. Every so often a group of cyber-friends exchange compilation disks of their favorite songs, or something like that. Lately I’ve been playing them to death in the car.

There’s one track by Lauri Anderson, wobbling on about living in a South American village with her anthropologist brother and unapologetically making bad tortillas. “Now all the other women’s tortillas were 360 degrees, perfectly toasted, perfectly round; and after a lot of practice mine were still lop-sided and charrrrred.” To get the effect of this, you have to hear her doing a bad pirate impersonation as she delivers the word, “charrrrrred” like “arrrrggggh!”.

She continues: “When they thought I wasn’t looking, they threw mine to the daaaags.” It’s hard to convey Ms Anderson’s complete immersion in her own pretension here. But, for me, it’s her inability to comprehend her lack of engagement with reality that’s really irresistable. At least if you like mocking Americans doing bad pirate impressions. And I do. Like gurning when the wind is changing, there’ll probably be a price to pay but it’s the neurons make me do it. “They threw mine to the daaaggghs! Aaarrrrh, Jim!”

Another track is a reggae version of the James Bond theme, which has to be heard to be believed. I totally love this. And then there’s Yak, the story of a farmer told by this fabulous stoner guy. The farmer has a yak and the yak gets sick. The yak gets a fever. “You have to feed the yak,” the farmer’s wife tells him. “The yak has a fever, you must feed the yak. Give the yak some toast. Give the yak some toast.” The word “toast” explodes preposterously from the vocalist’s mouth, capitalizing the T and taking him so much by surprise that he has to repeat himself.

“Give the yak some Toast! Give the yak some Toast!” My car journeys just fly by.

Deep End, Shallow End

Laura’s take on things: inside Keith’s head is a pool of neurons, all freely associating and calling out “Pick me! Pick me!” I pick one at random and the words appear, formed, unformed, uniformed, completely naked… it makes no difference. Then I pick another one.

Which reminds me of a lecture I was filming this week. Well, two lectures actually. The first one was by Robert E. Quinn who was talking to high ups in the U of M medical school about leadership.

Leadership is Mr Quinn’s specialized subject and the random neuron in my head prompts me to write that it’s about dealing with the unexpected, about culture change in the face of chaos, about making things happen, creativity, all that good stuff. Management on the other hand is about order, stability, keeping the comfort levels high. It’s not about creating anything. It’s about maintainance and lessening anxiety.

Make sense so far? Good. Bob said a whole lot more too. He’s the author of a book which I’m sure Lucy would love, Building the Bridge As You Walk On It. But “Pick me! Pick me!” Okay, little neuron. Simmer down. You’re up next…

Lecture number two was also about leading and given by Karl E. Weick. He spent the morning talking to the same business and med school leaders about how we revert to learned—or over-learned—behaviours in times of crises. Look at a company in trouble, said Karl (who’s relatives’ names all start with the letter K), and you’ll often see the people in charge behaving the way they did in the jobs they had just before the ones they’re doing today.

Karl showed us a video of life on an aircraft carrier. One runway, hundreds of people, hundreds of take-offs, explosives, all pitching and yawing, slippery with oil and sea water, and crewed by a lot of people straight out of high school and college. Scary. But it works. Why? Team work was part of Karl’s answer. Team work, based on trust in the leader and in the team. Trust based on being open and honest. Clearly defined roles based on overlearning and some very tight choreography. Celebration of the individual within the team. Pride in the team. Humility of true leaders who value the result and the team above their own ego.

We saw a video of smoke jumpers following a catastrophe in which a number of them died. The leader created an escape fire. “Jump in!” he shouted. No one did. They didn’t trust him. They ran while he jumped and most of them died. Why didn’t they jump into the fire? The answers to that were the essence of Karl’s talk. Fascinating. I prefered the video of the aircraft carrier, though. Something about dangerous noisy jets and beautiful photography I find irresistable.

Karl provided various very concrete examples about human behaviour and groups in particular that shed a bright light on leadership. Karl also defined what a good lecturer should be. He was smart. He knew his subject, thoroughly. He’d researched his subject first-hand. And he was extremely entertaining. He was so good, I’ll probably buy the book. One of them, anyway. Once I finish the Dune series. It could happen.

Now I go to finish editing and then there’s work to do on a feature. Yes, that’s right. A feature. Pilot Fish written by Norm Roth and Jim Selleck. Directed by Keith Jefferies. Will people jump when I shout frog? I think so. I think I built up those leadership skills with cable TV. Keeping a diverse group of people together in a tightly choreographed team to create something. Many things. “Pick me! Pick me!”

Another thought. A social pyschology experiment where the subject is placed in a room with unknown individuals. They all swear identical lines are different lengths. The subject knows it’s not true. Yet he goes last and he agrees with them. Black is white, white is black in the face of group pressure. But the effect disappears with one other dissenter. A second person to back up an observation based in reality. Trust in the light of honesty.

“Pick me!” And then there’s the escape fire. Fire is the result of fuel plus oxygen plus heat. Remove any one from the triangle, the nice man from Herts Fire and Rescue once told us, and the fire goes out. The smoke jump leader removed the fuel. The fire couldn’t burn. Science is always relevant and the simplest science is the easiest to remember. Triangle of fire, hydrocarbons plus oxygen burn to create water plus carbon dioxide. Hot air rises, reactions occur faster when you increase the surface area to volume ratio, light follows an inverse square law.

“Me! Me!” Cognitive dissonance. The start of this thought train. Learning happens when our perception of reality and our internal knowledge don’t match. Dissonance. Leadership is about being creative in the face of this dissonance. Some of the solutions won’t work but that’s not what’s important. The important thing is to keep creating. Learn more. Try new things. Try some more. Keep trying. Avoiding falling back too hard on old, over-learned behaviours, past habits. That’s what it takes to make progress.

Publish and be damned. But publish! The neuron has spoken.


Today I discovered that “Blackhats” are the people who write “Malware” and there’s a whole section of folks dedicated to “Hacking Google”. One of these guys gave a talk which was, honestly, the best thing in a conference about computer security that I happened to be filming for the University of Michigan. He was funny. He was entertaining. He *got the point* that giving a lecture is NOT about reading several pages as if it’s a book recital. Phew.

My intern, Jeff—did I mention I currently have an intern?—actually got to do camera and some vision switching. So he was pleased. I was up at 5.40am, so I was just tired. Another project I’ve been working on as editor—Beth Winsten’s “Undertakings” film about author/undertaker Thomas Lynch—was finished today at Grace & Wild. I couldn’t go because (see above).

Michigan Theater wants a new promo film to help them raise money. I’m the resident filmmaker so I get to do it. Yay! I’ve launched a mini-screenplay contest for John Ardussi, Jim Selleck, Norm Roth and Bob Fox. So far, Norm and Jim are the only ones who’ve written back. I see Russ at the theater tomorrow, so I guess it’s between them and Russ which film gets made. I want Michael Kuentz to help me film but he may have a job, so I’m waiting to hear from him while he waits to hear about this other thing.

Yesterday I spent the day setting up a friend’s new secondhand Mac for them. Incidentally, and digressing as I do, today’s seminar folks reminded us that Macs aren’t immune from viruses. It’s just more people have Microsoft so that’s made Windows more attractive to hackers. Now that Apple has a ten percent market share, it could change. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Which is, of course, the American Mantra™. “Be Afraid. Feel the Fear. Buy Stuff!”

Well, anyways, it occurs to me, having spent yesterday setting up the Mac, that not everyone is as computer literate as me. And I, my friends, am far from computer literate. But how to explain to someone in the morning the difference between RAM and a hard-drive. Then in the afternoon, explain to them how to manage the media in a Final Cut Pro project. I guess I learned it sometime but, like “right click”, it’s just not something I think about any more.

Sunday we went out and watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly at the Michigan. I thought it was excellent. Laura’s opinion differed somewhat. Ah, but she indulges me. I love it when I’m indulged. I go now to watch The Thin Man and drink gin, or maybe vodka. Haven’t decided which. Have I mentioned I was up at 5.40am? I need indulging.