Sunday, September 30, 2012

I've Got Wheels!

I bought a bike on Friday! This has been a very long time coming. I got it from a guy who calls himself The Bike Doctor. The good doctor (really named Carlos) met me at my street and sold me a Fuji S-12 ten speed with straight handlebars, freshly tuned with some new components for $175 (literally half what most comparable used bikes are selling for in New York City). It's light, it's fast, it's my size, and most importantly, it just works. A visit to Mikhael at Pedal Universe netted me a new helmet, Kryptonite U-lock with cable and bracket, LED lights, and a little bell for $95.

Biking in this town is an adventure. I've already leaned that my free NYC bike map, published by the city, can't be trusted. It shows dedicated bike lanes on the Triboro bridge, for example. You ever seen a dedicated bike lane that had signs saying you can't ride your bike on one section and then three flights of stairs on the following section that supposedly you could ride on? Google Maps' bike directions are also wildly optimistic about travel times. A supposed 25-minute ride took me well over an hour, and I'm a pretty fast rider. That said, it's good to get the exercise, and I'm looking forward to getting a better feel for how the city is put together off the subway grid.

Other adventures these last few days:

I did a staged reading of Othello, with 18 hours notice. I didn't know if I was going to be a non-speaking extra or Michael Cassio until I showed up. Ended up reading for a couple Senators and Gentlemen. Fun times. My girlfriend and another cast mate's parents made up our whole audience, and I ended up having to say my goodbyes with my girlfriend after intermission so we could make the rest of our plans. It didn't occur to me until afterwards that that was the closest I've come to being in a Shakespeare production since I was Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, in third grade.

I've got a second round interview for a job with the Media Coalition tomorrow. Great organization, and small enough that I could really get my hands dirty with real, effective policy work on behalf of of the first amendment! And since I'd basically be the organization's communications wing, it's exactly the kind of work I think I'm suited for in the sector. I know I'm competing against people with graduate degrees, but I have an excellent reference from someone on the inside. Either way, I'm just pleased to have gotten as far as I have.

Speaking of graduate degrees, today I more or less finalized the list of public policy schools I'm applying to:

  1. Columbia/SIPA
  2. Universty of Washington/Evans
  3. Harvard/Kennedy
  4. Johns Hopkins/SAIS
  5. George Washington University/Elliot
  6. Princeton/Woodrow Wilson
  7. American University/SIS
  8. Georgetown/SFS
I'm shooting very, very high, and probably competing against people with way more impressive professional credentials. But I've got a very strong academic background and nobody my age can touch me when it comes to international travel experience. Besides, I can't get in if I don't apply right? And anyway, who knows, if I end up with the Media Coalition job (or any other policy job) I just might decide working will be the better move instead of a Master's.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'll be on TV this Saturday

Remember my story about filming a TV episode? Well I just got word that my episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories will appear Saturday, September 22, on the Biography Channel 9pm Pacific and Eastern time. Look for the story of Kevin Sorbo.

I'm what's called a "featured extra." It's a nonspeaking role, scary in a very goofy way, that's part of one of the flashbacks. I have not seen the episode and have NO IDEA how it will look. There's even a chance I won't be in it at all. If they don't show how the woman who is the ghost died, I won't be. But I think that's unlikely.


image property of The Biography Channel, All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 10, 2012

You Are What You Read

I finished my first tutoring session of the year a few days ago and decided to take a stroll across central park to the east side subway. A couple blocks from the train, I found a branch of the New York Public Library. I hadn't been in this one before, so I decided to take a peek. I didn't need any books, I just thought I'd see what kind of things were lying around for future reference.

I really should know some things about myself by now. Like the fact that walking into a library is dangerous. You know the people who can't walk into a bookstore without spending money? Imagine sending them into a bookstore where everything is free.

This picture is of the pile I brought back with me, stuffed in with the two standardized test textbooks I was hauling already. I'm going to need some specialized shoulder exercises if I insist on "just seeing what's lying around" a library on a regular basis.

I grew up on a steady diet of fiction. Mostly what is known as the "Hero's Journey" to story pros. I wrote it up on Backstage as the following: "main character is at home, gets called out onto a quest, refuses, gets dragged out anyway, overcomes trials, conquers evil, saves world, comes home a better character." Sound familiar?

Well I'm still reading a couple good novels along those lines, but as you can see from my pile here, I've strayed into a big set of nonfiction books, mostly on Behavioral Economics, Social Business, and Story Construction. In other words, I've gotten really interested in what actually makes people tick, how you can do something that both makes money and makes a difference, and how stories operate. All of these are very much related.

That along with the TED talks I've recently been watching has gotten me thinking about what kind of things determine our thoughts and actions day-to-day. Because it's election season and an election year, one of the things that this really seems to impact is how people are going to vote. I used to think that Republicans and Democrats identified as such because the values they believe in. Now I'm starting to think that they identify as such because of the facts they believe in. They are much more likely to disagree on facts rather than what's important to them. But that's a huge topic that would be better addressed somewhere else. More important to me is how people generally learn facts and how those facts go on to shape their life.

Here's one of the basic, but interesting things I've learned: people remember stories far more readily than facts in isolation. Seems simple and intuitive enough. But it has special implications for someone like me who pays rent by teaching.

Storytelling at its core is a lot like joke-telling. you have your set up (banana peel on the floor, some jerk you don't like walking merrily towards it, his mind more occupied with how pleased he is about doing something you don't like) and then either your expected payoff (jerk steps on banana peel and bites it) or unexpected surprise and payoff (jerk hops peel, only to cross the path of a gorilla looking for more bananas who smacks the jerk in the face). We remember things with this construction. Especially if they're funny or have an emotional impact. The dry theory is interesting. The example teaches you something.

So if you want to shape the things you spend your life thinking about, talking about, and doing something about, try shaping the stories you take in. I feel like this is one of those things that's obvious to anyone thinking about it, but that few people actually follow that train of thought. You know the phrase "You are what you eat?" Maybe the more accurate one is "You are what you read."

So, what kind of stories are you going to seek out?