Haywire

Over the past few months, my life has been packed past overflowing, leaving me to field every single productivity hack, every organizational system I know, in an a nonstop effort to make it all fit.

And while, in short, it never quite did, at countless points along the way I managed to get tantalizingly close. Each time, the universe, clearly as karmic retribution for the wrongs of my past lives, would toss in an unforeseen wrench that would completely derail me, send me back to building towards nearly-on-top-of-things, one step at a time.

I thought of that today as, after a particularly trying month, Long Tail finally seemed to be crystallizing into a real company, Cyan’s projects finally seemed to be chunking steadily ahead. And then, this very morning, I was pulled unexpectedly into a close friend’s serious personal crisis, which ate up the first half of my day, unhinged the second half, and will likely leave me scrambling the rest of the week.

As Martha Gellman once wrote, “the only aspect of our travels that is interesting to others is disaster.” In which case, if I can somehow find the spare moments to write about, this week should be surpassingly fascinating stuff.

Music to Your Ears

While I’m using this blog as a free bulletin board, I should also mention the upcoming benefit concert I’m playing with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, this June 21st at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

The concert itself is Mozart and more Mozart: the Posthorn Overture, the Clarinet Concerto (with world-renowned soloist Jon Manasse), and the complete Requiem (featuring the New Amsterdam Singers’ double choir).

One hundred percent of ticket sales from the concert support the truly excellent Lincoln Center Institute for Arts in Education, which, for more than 25 years, has brought experiential education in the arts (including dance, music, theater, visual arts and architecture) to students of all ages around the country.

Lest you doubt the Institute’s ability to grow aesthetes, consider a recently relayed story about a six-year old kindergarden student who, shortly after her class had completed a two-week program on visual arts, came running in tears to her teacher to report: “Jimmy says abstract art isn’t really art!”

Tickets for the benefit concert go on sale this weekend at the Lincoln Center box office. For any symphony-loving arts-education-supporters on a tighter budget, shoot me an email for information on discounted tickets.

Help Wanted

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to draft out an entry on caffeine: on how I cut it out of my life completely in 2000, and on how it’s slowly worked its way back in, to the point where I’m nearing the need for an espresso I.V. drip.

As I haven’t managed to get that post anywhere near coherent, however, I’m using the topic instead as a segue into something else vaguely coffee-related: Cyan + Long Tail is looking for one more intern.

I kid about the coffee part, as we’re searching not for a drink-fetcher or phone-answerer, but rather someone who can actually take on substantive projects, related to Long Tail’s first releases, to two films Cyan is shooting this summer (one of which just launched into pre-production), to building up Long Tail’s marketing and distribution infrastructure, and to shepherding through development the next few films on Cyan’s shooting slate.

Though we’re looking for someone with a burning love of good films, industry experience is less important to us than a history of pushing ahead on any kind of innovative, independent projects. If you or someone you know think you might be a good fit, and would be interested in getting some very hands-on experience in the world of film, track me down.

[The idea for this online intern plea blatantly ripped off from the vastly-wiser-than-I Ole Eichhorn.]

Indisposed

It is impossible to grow up in Northern California without becoming, at least at some subconscious level, a tree-hugging long-haired hippie environmentalist.

I remember actively resisting this at several points along the way – refusing to finish even the first week, for example, of a summer day camp on a farm commune that made us thank ‘the spirits of the fruits and grains’ before lunchtime PB&J’s.

But, despite my best efforts, the Earth Day attitude stuck. Just this morning, I caught myself turning off the water mid-toothbrushing, a long-standing habit that makes good sense in draught-ridden California, yet far less here in New York City, where rain has been pinging against my windowpanes all weekend long.

Water conservation aside, the thing that produces the greatest environmental guilt in me is disposability. Anything used once and then discarded, I envision piling atop the giant imaginary landfill dump that I carry around in the back of my brain. I can’t tear a sheet off a roll of paper towels without questioning whether the spill is sufficiently large to warrant it, can’t hear the inevitable register-side ‘paper or plastic?’ without chastising myself for not carrying around a canvas ‘think globally, act locally’ grocery bag.

So it is with great regret that I must admit to an intense and enduring crush on Procter & Gamble’s SwifferÆ line of products. Thanks to the WetJet, my kitchen and bathroom floors are, for the first time, if not clean enough to eat off of, at least no longer cause for alarmed comment from visiting friends.

Just this week, I similarly discovered the Swiffer Duster: little blue squares of what looks dismayingly like roofing insulation, strapped replaceably onto a long, blue, plastic pitchfork. Still, uninspiring appearance aside, with a thirty-second pass the Duster brought my bookshelves back to nearly new, saving me from the sneeze-inducing cloud that previously billowed with each volume pulled.

I’ve yet to fully accept the convenient, use-and-toss intentions of either of these products – I still occasionally cut deals with my conscience that require repeated use of the same cleaning pad if it’s still possible to see some semblance of the initial color. But, day by trash-full day, I’m getting the hang of this whole expendable consumerism thing. Pretty soon, I’ll be printing long internal documents on non-recycled paper with impunity, asking restaurants for more rather than less little napkins stuffed in the take-out bag.

Sure, I have years of ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’ to make up for, but I figure it still shouldn’t be more than a decade until I can visit barren clear-cut acres they’ll have named in my honor. And I’ll be sure to bring several boxes of WetJet refills along. Because I bet, during those long centuries of redwood old growth, nobody ever bothered to mop.

Pissed

By the demands of business and pleasure, I travel frequently. So frequently that, when Jet Blue introduced a rewards program a few years back, I was within the first ten to rack up a free trip.

Having logged enough miles to know first-hand the odds of safely reaching my destination, I should be a calm, collected flier. Instead, I’m increasingly phobic, knowing too well each expected whirr and beep: altitude markers, well-adjusted ailerons, fully-engaged landing gear. During a flight, at least a quarter of my brain is consumed with monitoring such sounds. Was that clang right? And, if not, have the flight attendants huddled in back for last tearful goodbyes?

The other three quarters of my in-flight brain are rarely focused on sleep or actual, productive work – two things I do poorly in general, but particularly so on planes. Instead, I spend my time thinking about the least embarrassing moment to use the bathroom.

Put me in a pressurized cabin, and my bladder suddenly shrinks to the size of a walnut. Or perhaps, due to years of my mother’s admonitions, it’s just that I spend the entire flight sipping away at the giant bottled water I never fail to bring on board. Either way, every twenty minutes, I’m off for a lavatory trip.

These days, I manage to score an aisle seat about 95% of the time, sparing my row-mates from constant climbing. But, even seated aisle-side, I start to worry what my neighbors make of the nonstop in-and-out. By flight’s end, I’m convinced even the flight attendants have taken note, eyeing my aisle-walking as sure sign of terrorist threat.

I bring this all up because, over the past week, I’ve been similarly breaking my day into twenty-minute between-bathroom-break chunks. Since last Sunday, I’ve been sick as a dog. And whenever I’m under the weather, I start peeing like its my job.

All of which is a rather long and diluted [best pun ever!] explanation for my lack of regular posting. I did, however, (in between trips to the loo,) manage to make my way through all of Anne Lamott’s excellent Bird by Bird, which reminded me of how valuable regular, scheduled writing is for staving off post-collegiate atrophy of my (already admittedly meager) grasp of language.

So, even with bladder capacity short of normal, even with my lungs still intermittently attempting to escape my chest via fits of violent, hacking cough, I’m really (for real this time, I’m serious, etc, ) going to shoot for the fabled daily posting pace. While I can always fall back on a stadium pal and liter bottles of Robitussin, if I loose the ability to (at least semi-coherently) share my dumb ideas with the rest of the world, I’ll basically have to shoot myself in the head.

Distanced

Among the random topics on which Google deems me an expert is the important science of urinal etiquette. Which, for female readers, is essentially the code of conduct that dictates all men’s room behavior: conversations stop, even mid-sentence, at the door; a veil of silence descends; eye contact – even oblique – becomes strictly taboo.

Apparently, this runs counter to female bathrooms, places where even inter-stall conversations are reportedly common. The reason, I’ve hypothesized, is men’s rooms’ total lack of physical privacy. Sure, urinal use might leave you, equipment in hand, shoulder-to-shoulder with a complete stranger. But so long as you both steadfastly refuse to acknowledge each other’s very existences, you can continue on as if there’s nothing unusual about the situation.

Recently, I’ve begun to suspect something similar is at work in much of New York life. Consider that most of us, for example, live in hundreds-of-unit apartment buildings, yet never meet more than one or two neighbors. Separated by acres of grassy space, the next-door Smith’s sex life is a fascinating topic of dinner discussion; faced nightly with aural evidence of such, it becomes a bit too close for comfort.

Packed liked sardines into the can of our little island, we silently ride elevators and subways, elbow our way down crowded streets and supermarket aisles, and load full our iPods with hours of musical detachment. Were we to see the surrounding hordes as real people, rather than as obstacles on the noisy slalom course of city life, the constant empathizing required would fast run dry our emotional reserves. But create just enough psychological distance 90% of the time, and we’re spared the ability to communicate and share with the people in our lives who matter most during the other 10%.

So, as summer tourist season rolls around, if you’re planning to pass through New York City, if you love it as much as we do, and if you want to help keep the city moving seamlessly ahead: shut the hell up and leave the people you see on the street the fuck alone. It’s the neighborly thing to do.

Vestmented

[As running two companies seems to have been eating into my writing time, blog entry ideas have been piling up, unposted, for the past week. I'm hoping to start chipping my way through the list over the next few days. To wit:]

Mark Twain once famously observed, “clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Which is the primary reason I get dressed in the morning. And, more to the point, why I try to do it well.

As countless studies have shown, the way we dress deeply impacts what others think of us, how likely they are to listen to us or to do what we ask. Sure, we all occasionally chastise ourselves for so blithely judging books by their proverbial covers. But, whether or not we should, we most certainly and subconsciously do. Which makes pulling clothes from the closet a strategic exercise. How does a given shirt make me feel? How does it make me appear in the eyes of others?

It’s important enough that, spending my days the past week bouncing between meetings with filmmakers and meetings with investors and corporate execs, I’ve even stooped to mid-afternoon changes, pulling from two disparate subsets of my wardrobe.

Most business books, on the subject of clothing, advise that you dress to match the people with whom you’re meeting. Which, like most advice doled out in business books, is hopelessly misguided. Far better, instead, to dress to match their expectations of how someone in your position is ‘supposed’ to look.

The jeans, blazer and vintage button downs, then, come out not for the filmmakers, but for the staid execs, a group for whom sunglasses worn indoors bespeaks a certain desirable level of cool, rather than suggesting total douche-bagdom, as it would to fellow filmmakers. Similarly, then, the suits come out for meetings with screenwriters or prospective key cast. Without a tie, certainly, and perhaps erring towards DKNY shirts rather than Polo Ralph Lauren’s, but still formal enough to say, “yes, I’m intimately familiar with the finer points of GAAP and SEC filing laws.”

This ‘dress like they want you to’ rule is not a recent discovery. Instead, it’s something I stumbled across my freshman year in college. Having just launched SharkByte, I quickly found that the odds of success in a new-client sales pitch were directly proportional to the number of electronic gizmos I clipped to my belt for that pitch.

Or, as I so tastefully summarized the idea to the Wall Street Journal: “show them a laptop and they’ll wet their pants.”

Booking It

As much as I love bookstores, love strolling through them, reading jacket covers and rifling through pages, I must admit they also make me a bit sad. I’ve taken to writing down promising titles on the trusty binder-clip full of 3×5 cards I carry in my right front pocket, and it doesn’t take me more than ten minutes to cover an entire card, front and back.

The list of books I’d like to read seems endless. My time rarely does. So, looking at those book piles, I always feel a bit wistful, knowing I’ll never have a chance to even skim perfunctorily through most of them.

In my own home, despite cramming quick pages and paragraphs into any otherwise unoccupied stretch of time, I’m faced with a pile of to-be-reads that seems to constantly grow, outpacing my ability to chip through. I institute periods of book-buying moratorium – no more purchases until I’ve made my way through the entire pile! – but my resolve rarely lasts.

Which is how, with at least ten volumes awaiting attention on my top shelf, and four others in various stages of ongoing digest, I found in my mail today an Amazon box full of five new acquisitions. There should be a 12-step plan for this.

In the Details

Good: When the subway pulls to a stop with the doors directly in front of where you’re already standing.

Bad: When your ride home lasts two stops longer than your conversation with an acquaintance you just bumped into on the car.

Coined

Newman’s Law of Playlist Positioning: The most embarrassing songs on your iPod invariably alphabetize to the very first-judged top of your song library. (C.f., Abba, Aerosmith)