New Directions (No Relation to Awful Boy Band I Prefer Hanson OK I’ll Stop)

You know, talking to people really is amazing.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a some side projects, and mostly just helping out in getting websites made. That stuff is normal, sure. But the great thing is the exchange that happens whenever you start any collaboration with a person.

Far be it from me to elevate design into anything more than it is, but I guess I’ve noticed an experience when I sit down with a person for a job.

Once they start talking about their business or their website and what they want to happen, I really like that part where they get excited about it. I do too.

It’s almost like therapy, where the person you’re talking to is just trying to make you understand where they are coming from. At the same time, it’s also like a secret club, in that you get let into the back room where their plans are kept. Or some kind of adult-sized dollhouse where the E-Z Bake Oven is kept.

Whether it’s these two young moms really excited about a knitting event they are putting together, or a guy who just wants to shuck oysters for you at a party (more on that soon), whatever I’m trying to create with them is so obviously important that it’s almost insulting to not try your best.

That’s what I love about my job right now. There is nothing between me and this other person, and it feels like a conversation and an exchange of enthusiasm, information, knowledge and passion. And from the other side of things, I also hope that they see how excited I am to lend a hand or just be part of it.

A large part of what I do depends on how convincing the client is, and how much they can make me believe in what they want to do or sell. If it’s 110% important to at least one person, then that’s already enough. That extra 10% carries over to my side of the table almost all the time.

I don’t think the outcome matters as much or what trends are followed at any point in time. Those things ebb and flow so quickly that it makes my mind spin sometimes. If you think your business or your website is essential to who you are and what you want to accomplish—and you make me feel the same way—there will definitely be an obvious feeling of love and labour that will go into the final outcome.

I believe a lot of us can tell if that exists whenever we encounter a product or a company or a person. It matters.

And just as that feeling shouldn’t really die after launch, the want and the need to improve should also be there. Web is such a fluid medium these days. It’s easy to update a website. It’s difficult to keep that passion alive when it’s not 100% there.

And that’s what I got to thinking about as I was updating my website.

We all have reasons to be designers or whatever we are, and again, some people love making beautiful things. I was always so jealous of that.

But the recent realization for me is that to me, beautiful things are absolutely relative and subjective. I like knowing the story behind things, and carrying on conversations about it. It’s the stories I find beautiful.

So while a project won’t win any awards or accolades, the more interesting part for me is the fact that there is a person or group of people willing to dissect and study its growth for improvement. What do you use as the yardstick?

This is very difficult to show as a collection of screenshots and images.

Maybe this is why I felt so dissatisfied with having to just choose between an image-based portfolio site and a more thought-process-based model of approach. Like I said before, I want to be a content creator, but the way I was thinking about content was completely one-sided.

What is this website about? What do I want more of in my life?

It’s not more crap, obviously.

I want more people to work with. More ongoing relationships, and more partnerships. I want to get to know a lot of people through their work, and be a part of that growth. I want other people to know who these people are, and support their endeavours and businesses, the same way they support mine in working with  me.

This is the important thing for me, and in the end, this version of the site will reflect this gratitude.

It’s far from done. I have a few more things to add, and more content to create, but just as how I speak about the great people I work with, I hope you guys can also tell that this is what gets me really excited.

 

Kind Women

The few friends that I have and know me well make fun of me often for liking terrible shows and sitcoms. I was thinking about it a bit today, as I was catching up on Fran Drescher’s tweets, and I kind of realized one reason why I get so drawn into shows like Reba and The Nanny.

I enjoy themes of family led by kind women.

It’s by no means a definitive thing about me, nor is it particularly grand in my discovery of it, but I just thought it was interesting to realize that little bit about myself.

In the case of Reba, I always joke that I love the show because she’s just a good Christian woman. She loves her kids, no matter how stupid they are. And they really are stupid. The jokes and the writing are simple enough, but I think there is a warmth to the show that I really enjoy. My favourite part about it is Reba’s relationship with Barbra Jean because it’s one of the biggest examples of kindness. It’s not done in a preachy way at all, but Reba’s reluctance to make peace with her ex-husband’s wife carries themes of forgiveness and tolerance. And what I appreciate is that while Barbra Jean technically should have been the evil “other woman,” the show made her out to be so awesome and lovely. Dudes, I love Barbra Jean.

With The Nanny, there is something about Fran Drescher that gives me a similar impression. There’s weird mother-ness to Fran that I really like. Even with the show revolving around an inappropriate Fraulein Maria, it was never really a question of whether or not Fran could take care of the children. It was almost a given that she was that way. It was just Mr. Sheffield’s weird commitment issues. And while I kind of think the last season really went to hell in a handbasket, there were parts of it that make me imagine what Fran Drescher was like while the show was still going.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of how I feel about my own unconventional mother, who was our family’s breadwinner and also covered up her kindness with some kind of non-standard veil. She would never say dumb, lovey, wishy-washy shit, but she was always clear in her actions that she loved us. When it came to her children, there were very few limits. And I like to think that it was a great lesson to pass on to us.

Apart from how to make ghetto midnight snacks like boiled Spam and Vienna sausages in our pajamas, that is.

The other thing is that I get the impression that these women are genuinely kind. They don’t seem pretentious, nor do they try to be more than they are. I really like that. The aspiration for me then becomes about achieving the same genuine quality, rather than more materialistic endeavours. (Although I do still get that feeling when I see shows like The Good Wife or Damages. Now that’s another breed of women I also aspire to be. In a balanced way, of course. Fuckin’ love Christine Baranski.)

Gonzo

Alex Gibney’s Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

I was supposed to be at a party by the time I was halfway through watching this film. But I couldn’t peel my banana-eyes away from this beauty of a documentary.

What a great account of one of the weirdest literary figures in American history.

Gonzo

Gonzo follows the life and career of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as he goes from an unknown journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine to becoming one of the most exciting political voices in the 1970s, and later, the legacy he leaves behind after he commits suicide in 2005.

To me it was partly a study of what happens when one encounters fame, and the shortfalls that beset a person once that name becomes recognizable from a distance. The film touches on one of the things that fascinate me the most, and that is accountability for being interesting in a public arena.

He wrote his best work when nobody knew who the hell he was, and he was free to write honestly without hesitation because of that. Partnered with his assignment to be a political correspondent for Rolling Stone Magazine during the presidential elections in the early 70s, this guy was a lunatic firecracker with a pen. He got into trouble for his opinions, as most people do, but he somehow became an even more extraordinary figure because of it.

Accountability becomes the scary part, as once others start challenging and questioning your work, it becomes not only a mission to prove its worth, but your character’s as well. There is always a tension that happens when someone so interesting/controversial/peculiar goes through the gauntlet. Most look like idiots (thanks, Jon Stewart & Gang), but some come out like fucking splendid gladiators.

He was a true “free lance,” in the sense that he was an angry man willing to gore every sacred cow in his path. So he was fearless — he went after people, and he did so with a wicked sense of humor that everybody appreciated. At the same time I think he had his finger so much on the pulse of the American character — both what makes it great and what makes it horrible. He understood the tremendous idealism in America, and he always wore his heart on his sleeve. At the same time, he always understood the deep fear and loathing, as Hunter would have put it, at the heart of this society. —Alex Gibney on The Reeler

It becomes a test of a person’s wit, grace, style and intelligence, really, and I think that’s why it’s so interesting to me. Throughout his career built on harsh words, cut-off shorts, vices and guns, Thompson somehow kept the same spirit as he aged. If not from his work (which suffered after he failed to cover the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with Ali  and Foreman), then from the people who remember him so fondly and so well. He seemed so well-loved and well-regarded, that it really became a matter of being an impressive person rather than just an impressive writer.

While some people don’t last as long, or really, live as long, Thompson blew through the 70s through the 90s like a champ. Gibney intersperses the movie with soundbytes and recordings of Thompson’s work, which was a fucking blast of confused statements intertwined with very astute questions. He was a real poet, this guy, and such a pleasure to learn about.

I’ve yet to have the experience of reading his work as a whole, much like how I only know bits and bytes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (that movie is so much harder to fucking find than you think). However, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson has always been in my list of to-read-before-go-blind-okay-maybe-if-a-James-Earl-Jones-audiobook-came-out.

—I’ll insert a defensive note here, to mention that I’m quite a slow reader and my reading list is hefty. While some have the wonderful ability to immerse themselves in books for hours, I’ve unfortunately inherited my generation’s attention span of the most minuscule proportions. I’m working on it!

PS. The soundtrack is also amazeballs.

Films: Frank Capra’s “Pocketful of Miracles”

It’s not really a Christmas tradition in the realms of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle at 34th Street, but it’s one of those nice movies to watch once whenever it happens to be on. Featuring heavy-lidded Bette Davis as Apple Annie, Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles is probably one of my favourite Cinderella stories.

It’s so endearing!

The thing I like so much about this is that it’s not about some chick trying to find a man, but about an old lady who just wants to be the best mum for her daughter. Granted, it all starts with boldfaced lies about how Annie is an elderly dowager with a judge for a husband, but trust Bette Davis to make you understand why she does it.

Glenn Ford is no dead weight either, as the unwilling fairy godfather, Dave the Dude. He and Hope Lange as (Queenie Martin) start out as kind of douches, but later on you see that they’re actually really good people. There’s no crazy twist or M Night Shamalan shit. Shit just gets carried away, as most shit does, and soon there are reporters tied up in secret rooms and a party of fake socialite guests.

But who else do they go through all this trouble for, but the cute little Ann Margret? I’d do anything for that face!

And don’t even get me started on how cute Hope Lange is:

It has a nice consistent humour that is not disgusting, but a little bit more wholesome, as far as funny, crotchety men are concerned. You’ve got stars like the Judge, Hudgins, Joy Boy (who later becomes our good friend with the wonky eye, COLUMBO) and “Joon-ya”.

The whole movie is just about protecting the ones you love, and how surprising it is sometimes when you have a little faith in people. I feel like I have to sum something up here, but to put it simply, I like movies like this. The writing is good, the characters are warm and delightful, and it isn’t a formulaic romantic comedy.

Oh, and I found this as a side note:

According to the Bette Davis biography, ‘Fasten Your Seatbelts’, the actress was furious when she read a Glenn Ford interview in which the actor claimed to have gotten her the part because of the boost she had given him years before in A Stolen Life. Davis is quoted as saying, “Who is that son of a bitch that he should say he helped me have a comeback! That shitheel wouldn’t have helped me out of a sewer!” —via IMDB

Good Work: Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad”

It’s tough to find a good show to watch religiously these days. Sure, there are a few that are pretty good, but very few that actually utilizes “must see” as part of its description.

Especially with the mudslide of crap that is reality television, some things just feel like little pieces of heaven come prime time. And by that I mean a one-hour long show about a high school chemistry teacher who turns into a crystal meth cook.

I always had a good feeling about Bryan Cranston. He was the only good thing about Malcolm in the Middle (now somehow resurrected—quite feebly—by a new show called The Middle; here’s a short summary: it’s shite). And I’ve seen some of his interviews. This man is intelligent and very talented.

You know that scene in She’s All That, where Freddie Prinze Jr. sees Rachel Leigh Cook not looking like garbage? Of course you do.

Watching Cranston in Breaking Bad is kind of like that moment. Except he doesn’t float down in a red dress—he fucking smashes the stairway banister in half as a Winnebago breaks through the side of the house.

This show is what everything good about writing and storytelling is. From the dialogue, to the subtle hints within the scenes, to the complex understanding of basic human actions. Vince Gilligan gets a lot of this right. So much so that it sort of restores my faith in good television a little bit. The pacing and unveiling of events have the right amount of tension to keep you really interested, but it’s not so tense that you develop butt-cramps from clenching your cheeks so tightly.

Okay, maybe a little bit.

The characters in particular are developed in a way that we get to know them a little at a time, at the pace of a day in the hot New Mexico sun. Gilligan doesn’t rush into anything, but lets the story unfold the way it should be told. The way this show is built and delivered feels like a carefully folded paper crane(-ston?). He’s careful to touch the edges of the papers at their exact points, and creasing each fold with the patience like no other.

I watch reruns and I still find something new in the episodes. The people are “bad” but likeable in the way your racist drunk uncle is, and not the way Julia Roberts is in Pretty Woman. Nobody here really has a heart of gold, nor do they pretend to. That’s what’s so awesome about this. And while themes about narcotics or drugs can become trite in some endeavours, Gilligan swaddles this in enough realism that we don’t end up with any feelings resembling after school specials. The story isn’t about drugs. It just happens to be involved.

There are also no hints of the soap opera type of story arcs here, the ones that made Friends so popular. Nobody hooks up and gathers at coffee shops to talk about the differences about men and women, or you don’t secretly hope that anyone gets back together. The underlying truths that we glimpse here are more universal than that. At the same time, the darker mixes of comedy/tragedy are much more robust than what’s been produced in the last few years. You know, these people actually have problems.

I really believe that Breaking Bad is going to go down in history as a prime example of thrilling storytelling, much like how Tootsie has cemented its way into every discussion about comedy and good writing. It’s good to still have standards like this to look up to, whether we’re delusional pajama-wearing writers or actual professional ones who get paid for it.

Television is still such a powerful tool, in my opinion, and really does a good job of describing any particular slice of society at any point in time (well, after television was invented, of course). I’m still hoping that more shows like this get produced, so researchers and doctorates in history fifty years from now don’t funnel our time & generation into assumptions of millenials being shallow idiots who were into people famous for nothing.