Sunday, September 29, 2013

Working With Friends

My friends and I are entering the Golden Doorknob Awards and I'M SO EXCITED.

A few weeks ago, my friends Dana, Taylor, and I went to see Dave Franco, Chris Mintz-Plasse and the rest of the hilarious bros that make up Funny or Die, speak at Park. They talked about how amazing it is to work on projects with your friends and how they came up with the ideas behind some of their popular videos. Later that week, Dana, Taylor, and I decided to make a film for the Golden Doorknob Awards, a short film contest where the only requirement is that someone or something must be "terminated" by a doorknob.

At first we were thinking of taking a dramatic route, but then we thought back to Dave and Chris's popular Funny or Die videos. It was the dark humor and "homo-eroticism" (as they called it) that made them so funny. Inspired by their videos, the idea behind our short film started to unfold. And so we came up with this plot for our video:

Jason is a teenager struggling with narcolepsy, and his form of narcolepsy is triggered by sexual arousal—every time he gets turned, he falls asleep. This short film shows him in middle school, high school, and ultimately college, where he meets his inevitable death. His best friend, Sean, knows about his issue and he does not care that he falls asleep all the time. In fact, Sean is gay for Jason; however, Jason is oblivious to this.
Jason’s narcolepsy gets so bad that he eventually takes medication for it. Before a party one night in college, Jason is determined to not let his medical disability get in the way of him having a good time. One thing leads to another, and Jason’s friend, Ali, leaves the party with him. The two are passionately kissing when Ali pins him against his dorm room door, but at that moment, he falls asleep, hits his head on the doorknob, and dies. (C)STD Productions

I'm a co-producer, co-writer, and co-director for the film, but I was also the person in charge of audio. In my Intro to Audio class I'm learning just how important sound is in a film. Music has the ability to move people: make them laugh or cry. Without sound, a movie wouldn't be as funny, sad, dramatic, or happy.

Therefore, I took my job VERY seriously. Lugging all my equipment from PPECS to the towers and back. Yelling at people on set because I didn't want to take my headphones off. Carefully editing the songs we would use in the film. Always carrying around extra double A batteries and SD cards, just in case my Zoom died or I ran out of space on the memory card I was using. I kept a sound log, so all my recordings were organized. And I listened to everything. Listening to the world through a stereo microphone and circumaural headphones allows you to hear things that you wouldn't notice otherwise. 

Working with my friends made every shoot so much fun. Even the one that started at 9:00 p.m. and ended at 3:00 a.m. the next morning. (Don't worry. We ordered Domino's.) STD Productions (Sam, Taylor, Dana) is just getting started...

The soccer bros. 

This is how I wear lipstick.

That's a wrap on day one!

Falling with friends. 

The T and D of STD Productions. 

Joel loves nachos. 

Ermahgerd it's Eddie!!

And JR!!! #letsgetcreative

Monday, September 16, 2013

Creativity: a Mysterious Paradox

If you have read my other blog posts, you know how creativity can be paradoxical; however, with the help of my buddy (okay, so we're not really buddies, but for the sake of this blogpost, we are) Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi (whom I will now refer to as MC) I learned that creativity is all about balance.

First, MC discusses the four main problems that humans have with achieving creativity:
1. Some of us are exhausted by too many demands, and so having trouble getting hold of and activating our psychic energy in the first place.
2. We get easily distracted and have trouble learning how to protect and channel whatever energy we have.
3. Laziness, or lacking discipline for controlling the flow of energy.
4. Not knowing what to do with the energy one has.

I feel like many people in the United States and in other economically driven countries have a habit of getting stuck in a routine. Trapped, I should say. They wake up, go to a job they do not even like that much, go home to their families, complain about their job, go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again. It's rare that I hear a parent in my hometown rave about how awesome their job is, and how much they love waking up in the morning and going to the office. In fact, I have only heard that from a few teachers in my school district; I'd say I've met about five or six teachers who truly love their job. 
Somebody is bored...

People become so preoccupied with their jobs and families that they do not have time to sit down, think, and be creative. MC says that we take "refuge in passive entertainment [to keep] chaos temporarily at bay, but the attention it absorbs gets wasted. On the other hand, when we learn to enjoy using our latent creative energy so that it generates its own internal force to keep concentration focused, we not only avoid depression but also increase the complexity of our capacities to relate to the world" (Csikszentimihalyi). People get so caught up in their routines to avoid letting their minds wander, when really, they need to let their minds do just that. By allowing yourself to relax, think, and be curious, creative thought may come naturally; and this creativity could potentially help a person with his work, family, and life in general.
So. Frickin. Curious.

These routines contribute to the loss of curiosity as a person ages. When you're five, you have all the time in the world to be curious about everything around you. Once you have a job, a family, and other responsibilities, though, free time decreases exponentially. He says we must learn to be curious again, just like when we were children, and find joy in the little things in life.

·      MC says we can relearn how to be curious by doing the following:

     1. Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to.
     2. If you do anything well, it becomes enjoyable.
     3. To keep enjoying something, you need to increase its complexity. 

This is from a web series called The Most Popular Girls in School.
      His third point made me think about something I've found enjoyable for years: making videos. When I was younger, I would make videos with my neighbor using Bratz dolls. We made voices and recorded them, then plugged the camera into the TV to play the video back. Later, I started using a different video camera and editing software on a computer to make the videos better. Now I storyboard ideas with my friends, write scripts, and make short films. (The video below is a short film I made with my friends.) MC remarks, “It is always possible to find a better way to do anything. That is why creativity—the attempt to expand the boundaries of a domain—makes a lifetime of enjoyment possible."

However, MC contradicts himself: he says to be creative, you should be open to experience and focus on even the most mundane tasks (like brushing teeth) so that you can make any task enjoyable. But then he says you should conserve creative energy by "routinizing" as much of everyday life as possible so that you can focus on what really matters. That being said, I think creativity is all about balance. You need to balance your everyday routine and responsibilities with new experiences and a growing curiosity. 

Sweet Brown is wrong, ladies and gents.
You gotta make time to relax. 
To do this we need to take small breaks from our lives. This means breaking away from everything that is normal and routine to do something relaxing or to experience something new. Relaxing will allow your brain to be more creative, and new experiences will increase your curiosity. This is why I think everyone should be required to go on vacation. It does not have to be to the typical Caribbean resort for some R&R. It could be going to a local music festival for the day, or going rock climbing with a group of friends. I think it should be required so people's brains can relax and then work more creatively and therefore, efficiently.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good News, People: You Can be Normal And Creative!!!

I enjoyed reading Howard Gardner's Creator's: Multiple Intelligences because it reassured me that a normal people can be creative.

Gardner opens up Creator's: Multiple Intelligences with a discussion about testing creativity, which is not an easy task because IQ and creativity aren't necessarily linked. In other words, you cannot use an IQ test to measure creative ability. Gardner says a creativity test would ask you something like, "How many uses can you come up with for a brick?" (126). That question instantly brought me to this video, where a man shows his viewers eight different ways he (creatively, I'd say) uses a brick. 

Next, Gardner discusses the cognitive approach to creativity, saying that it is either a problem-solving phenomenon, or a problem-finding phenomenon. I think it’s a little bit of both. People have been creative when there was a problem to be solved, (for example, when humans first created the spear to hunt and fish) yet technology has advanced so much in the past 20 years alone, even though there were no huge problems that needed to be solved. As a species we have so many luxury items that we do not actually need, yet creative people keep tweaking, reinventing, and modifying these items. While these new items may not be breakthroughs, they are still creative.

Martha Graham
These breakthroughs, however, are typically achieved by the most normal individuals. Gardner gives the examples of Albert Einstein, Igor Stravinsky, Martha Graham, Pablo Picasso, and Ghandi to prove this statement. All of them came from "homes that were reasonably comfortable and relatively intact" and "the major lesson in each house was hard work" (132). Their parents did not push them to become a certain thing. Eventually, they migrated to a bigger city, developing relationships with other creative people like them; however, their creative breakthroughs occurred while they were isolated. 

My life seems to be following the same path as these famous innovators. I grew up in a loving household that stressed a strong work ethic. My parents never pushed me to study a particular subject--instead they let me choose what I wanted to do, which is Television and Radio. I plan on moving to a big city after college (either New York or Los Angeles) to work, and I hope I find creative, interesting, and unique friends there. 
Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

I'm not saying that I'm going to have some creative breakthrough that will change the world, (although that'd be great) but it sure is nice to know that being creative is not about having a broken family, a messed up childhood, and experiencing extreme pain or suffrage. 

In an old episode of The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert asks his guest, author Jonah Lehrer, about creativity and his book Imagine. Colbert asks Lehrer about creative types and non-creative types, but Lehrer interjects, saying, "Creativity is actually a universal talent. It's something we all have, and that means we can all get better at it." 


Colbert: Will suffering make you creative? Do you have to kind of have a shitty childhood?
Lehrer: No, no.
Colbert: You don't? You can be happy and be creative?
Lehrer: You can still write a good novel, even if you had a happy childhood.
Colbert: Oh, that's fantastic.

I'm glad that "a shitty childhood" is not a prerequisite for being a creative individual. Because my childhood was awesome, and I'd like to think that I am a creative and happy person.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Taking Chances

I recently read Covered Bridges by Barbara Kingsolver, and I reflected on the author's motif of taking chances. 

Here's what you need to know about the short story: An older couple is contemplating starting a family, but they want to test out their parenting skills beforehand. To do this, they babysit their friend's child, Melinda, for a weekend. Things are going okay until the narrator's wife Lena, who is deathly allergic to bug stings and bites is stung by a hornet. The narrator must inject an EpiPen into her arm to save her and amid all the chaos and healing in the hospital, Lena realizes that she does not want a child, and that her husband is enough. 

Taking chances is a motif that Kingsolver used throughout the story. The narrator and his wife, Lena, have different beliefs when it comes to taking chances, but their beliefs flip-flop over the course of the story. 

The narrator remembers the first time he called his wife, back when she was just a random poison hotline operator. He had gotten diatomaceous earth in his eye, but after he healed he called her a second time and set up a date with her. He recalls, "And to think I nearly didn't. A person could spend most of a lifetime in retrospective terror, thinking of all the things one nearly didn't do" (Kingsolver 46). The narrator is glad he took this risk, now that he is married to Lena; however, he seems unsure when it comes to having a child. 

Lena has never been more sure about anything in her life and she is constantly taking chances. Every day she takes a chance by going outside and being exposed to insects that could end her life. (She is extremely allergic). Yet, she senses her husband's anxiety about having a baby and together they care for Melinda for the weekend. Eventually her husband agrees that they should have a child, and even says he would quit his career to raise him or her. However, the tables are turned when Lena is stung by a hornet and her throat starts swelling, causing her husband to inject her EpiPen into her arm. In the hospital, she explains to her husband that during her near-death experience she realized something: "Having a child wouldn't make you immortal. It would make you twice as mortal. It's just one more life you could possibly lose besides your own" (Kingsolver 59). 

I found it interesting how their views on taking chances reverse as the story progresses. It also made me think about how my own views have changed when it comes to taking chances. I have forced myself over the years to take more and more chances in an effort to be more outgoing. A few days ago, I took a chance by going to the Acahti Players' Open Improv with my friend, Joel. I had never done improv before, so I was extremely nervous. I didn't know what the heck I was doing, but I hoped that what I came up with on the spot was funny enough, or that my chronically confused expression got the job done. After the fact, I was glad that I went. Even though it was awkward at first, and the Acahti Players' level of experience was super intimidating, I had a lot of fun. I'll probably go back next week and do it again, a little less awkward and nervous. 

Ithaca College's Acahti Players

Taking chances is scary, but crucial when it comes to learning new things. How will you know you about something if you've never tried it? This year I've committed myself to trying new things. And if some of those things don't work out...well, at least I'll have some funny stories to blog.  

Name Nonsense

After reading The Woman Who Lost Her Names, by Nessa Rapaport I have to say, I'm a little pissed off. A person's name should never define him or her, at least not in my book.

In this short story, a girl named Sarah Josephine Levi marries an Israeli man and in doing so, she is forced to change her name. Obviously through marriage her last name will change, but what I found odd was that her husband Yakov required her to change her first name as well because it was the same as his mother's. "Really?" I thought. "I mean, who cares?" In Yakov's culture, however, this is a rule. I thought that Yakov would be excited that his wife's name is the same as his mother's because often in Jewish families (I know this because I am Jewish and because it is established as a tradition in the story) people are named after deceased relatives. In fact, Sarah was named after her grandmother and her Father's brother (his name was Joseph, so her middle name became Josephine).

Back when Sarah was a child, her mother stressed the importance of names to her. She said, "Remember who you are and you'll have yourself. No matter what else you lose" (Rapaport 230). Nevertheless, Sarah's name changes from Sarah, to Josephine, to Josie, to Jozzi, to Joseph, to Yosef, and finally to Yosefah. (Yeah, pretty confusing and unnecessary.) Another name issue arises when Sarah and Yakov must name their first daughter. Sarah wants to name her Ayelet Hashachar, but Yakov wants to name her after Sarah's mother--which he says is the Jewish way. At the end of the story, no name is chosen, and this is what aggravated me the most: there is no resolution. The conflict is never resolved. Sarah loses her name and then the reader never learns what her daughter's name is.

I completely disagree with Sarah's mother. It is your actions that define you, not your name. Your name is not even your own choice! I was named Samantha because my parents liked that name. My parents picked Alexis for my middle name because they thought it would be cool if my initials spelled out SAM. My only choice was whether I wanted people to call me Samantha, Sammy, or Sam.

I guess I could have (in a way) picked my own name. I met a girl in high school whose name was Juliet, but she insisted that everyone call her Hunter. It was kind of weird at first, but eventually she was just Hunter, not Juliet. When substitutes would read off the attendance sheet and call for Juliet I would think "who's Juliet? There's no Juliet in our class."

Anyway in my post-reading aggravation, I went on FaceBook and noticed a trend having to do with names. Many high school seniors (at least in my school and others in the Northeast) changed their names on FaceBook to funny puns or song lyrics. I asked my friend Gillian why and she said:

"I think everyone has the idea that by changing their name before applying to colleges, admissions won't be able to find their page on FaceBook (which isn't true). Also, it's kinda fun trying to come up with different puns that work with your name." 

My friend Gillian (on the left) and her friends Sydney and Kirstin all changed their FaceBook names.

I thought this was very interesting. If seniors at my high school felt the same way about their names as Sarah does in the story, they would never have changed them--especially into silly puns. Today it seems as though names are the least important factor when identifying oneself. A person's beliefs and his or her actions are more important when establishing who a he is in a community. A name is just something to address someone by. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Creativity: Not as Hard to Achieve as I Thought

Creativity is complex and confusing. Determining whether an idea is considered creative or not is even more so; however, during my reading I learned that a person does not have to be a complete genius to achieve creative success.

In The Myths of Artistic Creativity, author Robert Weisberg argues that "creative leaps" rarely happen. Creativity is produced by ordinary individuals solving simple problems. Albert Einstein seems to agree in his letter to Jacques Hadamard: "According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is searching for." What I think Einstein is trying to say is that the creative thought process is supposed to be like solving a problem. A person must be creative to reach a solution.

Weisberg also states that creativity is stimulated by concrete external events. This automatically made me think of songwriting. Essentially every songwriter writes from personal experience. The best example I can give is Taylor Swift. Here's her problem: she needs to write music so she can continue making money as an artist. She must be creative in solving her problem and to do so she uses experiences from her own life to write lyrics. Swift is known for dating a guy, breaking up with him, and then writing a multi-platinum, grammy-winning, song about it. Then she'll go on a talk show and admit to using her relationships as writing material. Call her whatever you want, but I think that girl is a genius. Since 2006, she's been using her personal experiences to write relatable, catchy songs and she's never been more popular (or rich, which solves her original problem of making money). Becoming a musician was just a creative way for Swift to solve a simple problem (getting a job).
Taylor Swift

I just thought this was funny because Google autocompletes the search,
pairing Taylor Swift with many of the guys she's dated or was rumored to have dated. 

Last fall I had a problem that needed to be solved creatively. As captain of my school's volleyball team, I was responsible for creating a kick-ass pep rally dance for my team to perform in front of the whole school. It had to be entertaining, funny, and unforgettable. I began working on it almost immediately, collecting song suggestions from my teammates, watching dance videos on YouTube, and coming up with smooth transitions between the songs. It took a lot of hard work to make the perfect mix and even more work to practice the dance. We would meet after games or practices to rehearse dozens of times. And three days before the pep rally, I added another song to the mix (which made my team hate me a little bit), because I knew the song was about to BLOW UP. (The song was Gangnam Style by PSY). In the end, the dance went well: everyone on the bleachers stood up and cheered like crazy. It felt amazing to entertain such a large group of people. However, I could not have created the performance without an evolution of ideas. (To watch my epic dance routine, click here).

Some stills from our pep rally dance.

 Fyodor Dostoyersky, a Russian novelist, said, "a creative work comes suddenly, as a complete whole, finished and ready" (The Myths of Artistic Creativity). However during my reading, I found this to be completely false, and even Dostoyersky himself proved it to be false. It is nearly impossible to come up with a spectacular, finished idea. Artists draw sketches, poets write drafts, and I made probably ten different versions of my pep rally song before I had decided it was good. I kind of created my performance the same way Pablo Picasso created Guerinca; he drew the mural differently forty times before settling on one of the drawings.
One of Picasso's preliminary drawings of Geurnica.

Another preliminary drawing of Geurnica.

Picasso's final version. 
A 1984 exhibit at the New York Public Library "presented early handwritten drafts of a number of famous poems that had been revised" (The Myths of Artistic Creativity). Herbert Mitgang wrote an article in the New York Times commenting on these drafts: "These poems, encased like rare jewels under glass, make a subliminal statement: that even for the greats, revision was recognized as a necessary element of the creative process."

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak with the Apple I

Similarly, in the Chronology of Key Innovations, 1400-2000, author Steven Johnson writes about the birth of Apple: "Legendarily working out of a garage, entrepreneurs and college drop-outs Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs designed one of the first personal computers, or microcomputer--Apple I--in 1976, creating the first single-circuit board computer, though many important models, including the Altair, preceded it." The models preceding the Apple I were so important because Wozniak and Jobs would not have been unable to create the Apple I without them.

In conclusion, creativity is a weird thing that our brains do when a problem arises. People come up with creative ideas that typically evolve into different ones, until one of those ideas solves the original problem. When people are solving problems they may draw upon experiences from their own lives, and since every living person has some experiences to use during this process, every person can be creative.

Be creative! Maybe just don't make this face while doing so...

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Show and Tell Fail

Today we had Show and Tell in class, which I haven't done in about eleven years. I felt like everyone brought in such interesting things, sharing very intimate details about his life, while I just had my camera. I thought I did a terrible job explaining why my camera means so much to me, so I thought I'd do it in pictures. I love taking pictures of food, landscapes, flowers, my dog, and my friends.

A bunny near my house.
Flowers in Germany.

My friend Sarah taking a picture.

My dog, Cooper.
Yay more flowers!!

Sex on the Beach.

A dandelion, up close and personal.

I just really like flowers.

I also like bread. But who doesn't???

My friends Frank, Alec, and Bill, very excited to be drinking beer at the 

HofbrÀuhaus in Germany. They're each holding one liter of beer.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis, or old fashioned bleeding heart.

My friends Sarah and Jess, who were modeling for me for a marketing (well, advertising) project.

Sedona, Arizona


A seeing-eye dog my school was training.

A Key Largo sunset.

That's right, more pretty flowers.


Jess modeling for the same marketing project. It was an advertisement campaign for PacSun.

A panoramic of the view from the Eagle's Nest.

As people were doing their Show and Tells, I thought of something that I should have brought in that means a lot more to me than my camera. It's a picture of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which is a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai. It was painted as a enormous mural on the back wall in the room my freshman English class was taught; so whenever I see the painting, I think of my teacher, Mrs. Cooper, who was hands down the best teacher I ever had.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

Mrs. Cooper taught me how to read and write. Not that I was illiterate before, but she opened my eyes to the world of literature. Anything we did in class suddenly became the most interesting thing I had ever heard, seen, smelled, touched, or tasted (one time she baked us cherry pie). She fueled my love for mythology, photography, and movies. I even took her mythology class the following year, where I fell in love with fairy tales. She taught me how to look at something from multiple perspectives and really made me passionate about the arts. I wouldn't be the person I am today without her.