Professional Procrastination

As readers of this blog know, I have been bouncing between two projects with impending deadlines. This past weekend I finished an outline for a script I have been hired to write, and I then turned my full attention to revisions of a new play which will get a staged reading in July. I promised my director I would get her the latest draft by early next week so she can get it to actors and start the rehearsal project. It’s coming along nicely, but slowly…if only there were more hours in the day.

IF ONLY THERE WERE MORE HOURS IN THE DAY?!?!?

I have ZERO cause to utter that statement, that cliched but often true fragment of a sentence, “if only there were more hours in the day.” What is my excuse? I work a part-time job to supplement my writing income, so 20 hours a week isn’t enough time to declare that I’m too tired from work. I don’t have any children yet. I’m in a healthy, wonderful relationship so I’m not exerting any energy on finding a partner. I never turn on the TV and channel surf.

So where does the time go?

Procrastination

The answer is easy…this is America, bub. If you’ve got a spare second, we’ve got a way you can waste it. So rather than doing the writing I should be doing (!) I’m going to analyze exactly how I spend my spare time, and what I am going to do about it.

First off, there are some distractions that I will not figure into the equation:

* The aforementioned day job. 20 hours a week. Necessary.

* Sleep. 7 to 8 hours a night does more for my creativity than anything else. Sleep stays.

* Exercise. Sure, I could be fat and out of shape and not be considered an anomaly in the writer community, but I’d rather not.

* Food. I love to eat. Who doesn’t? Food isn’t going anywhere, and like sleep, if I don’t get enough my creativity levels off.

* Theater/movies. I probably see a play, play reading, or movie at least once a week. I have to experience things as they are meant to be experienced (not reading about them, or watching them from my couch). With an audience.

* Dinner with friends. This happens once or twice a week. Social interaction is obviously important, and as a writer, you need to hear people speak, to absorb their cadence. Any writer who is a hermit will write characters that all speak or sound like the voices in the writer’s head. Scary stuff.

* Sex with my wife. This stays. Not negotiable.

Okay, even with all those “distractions” there are still plenty of ways I can waste time. After a lot of very scientific research (or just thinking about it) I came up with my list of biggest distractions, and what I plan to do about it. By the way, this post took days to write because of procrastination.

Facebook: We all know it. Even those six people who are not on Facebook know what it is. My problem isn’t that I am a Facebook Fanatic, as I probably only post a few times a week (including linking this blog). My problem is that it’s too damn easy. First off, I get a lot of news from the book, as people love turning Facebook into their own personal CNN. Secondly, it’s just easy. We all live in a world where we can mask social anxiety or boredom by checking in, be it emails, Facebook, Twitter, or what have you. It’s now second nature to check Facebook for me. Sometimes that lasts a few seconds, but sometimes I get in a wormhole of Facebook nothingness that lasts hours. And it is all not necessary. And it is all unimportant. Sure, there are the occasional important messages. But for now, for me, they are occasional.

Solution: Check in once a day, usually in the morning. Check messages. Send messages. Post pithy and brilliant comments wherever appropriate. Click on all the links to articles that interest me at that time. Close Facebook. Do not open until the next day.

Baseball: If my earlier post didn’t tip my hand, I am a baseball fanatic. Baseball haters say there are too many games, but that’s part of the appeal. From April until October, baseball becomes part of my day to day life, and when my team has an off day (which happens once every two weeks, take that football) I feel a little emptier. However, that also means that from April to October, my productivity decreases. Fortunately my team (the Baltimore Orioles) aren’t quite the TV draw out here in sunny Southern California, so I don’t watch three hours a day, seven days a week. When games are televised here, it is a rare treat and I soak it in. Yesterday, for example, the O’s played the Red Sox on the MLB channel. Fine, watch the game, then sit down and do work after it ends around 7. Well, the game lasted 13 innings. I got some work done during that time, but not a lot.

Even when games are not televised,  I can follow the games online and successfully waste time. Living on the east coast, following games starting at 7pm isn’t a terrible waste, as I’d check scores before and after dinners and shows. But on the west coast, most games start at 4pm. That’s prime work time for me. Even if I keep the browser open in the background of my computer, it’s easy to click and follow. That can break up my productivity.

Solution: Keep the browser closed when working. Resist the urge to turn it on. And if games are televised and I’m working on a deadline, record the game and stay off the internet. After all, a recorded three hour baseball game should only take 90 minutes or so to watch when fast forwarding through commercials and slower moments. Which leads me to my next distraction…

DVR: I rarely watch live TV these days. I NEVER sit in front of the TV and channel surf. Yet I spend a lot of time watching TV, because I DVR anything that is remotely interesting. It’s supposed to be a time saver; watch when you want to watch, fast forward what you don’t want to watch, and live your life more. Right? No. I just record more, and feel like I’m lagging behind if I don’t watch things right away. The world is going to know what happened on last night’s Mad Men before me, and then tell me about it without my consent on Facebook! Also, I feel oddly productive if I increase the capacity of DVR space by watching and deleting a bunch of stuff. See, I’m being productive, right? Right? Umm…

Solution: Stop watching so much TV, idiot. It will still be there, that’s what the technology is for. And if I’m worried about someone spoiling a show on Facebook…stop going on Facebook! Easy.

Those are my big three contributors to my lagging productivity. The solutions are going into effect next week…I have a lot of crap to cram in before then. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Play Ball

“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” Annie Savoy, Bull Durham

It’s baseball season. Great writers and hacks have all extolled the virtues of the start of the baseball season, rebirth, spring, blah blah blah. Let’s cut to the chase: am I Crash Davis?

WARNING: This post contains movie spoilers.

I have been a big fan of the movie Bull Durham since it was released (gulp) 25 years ago. It’s one of the few DVDs I own, and I try to watch it at least once a year, preferably before baseball season begins. I could go on about what appeals to me…baseball, romance, humor, sex, philosophy, and great writing. Even most secondary characters have fully realized arcs. It’s a sports movie, and a chick flick, and a comedy, and a drama. Regardless of what you think of sports or Kevin Costner, If you haven’t seen it, you are a fool. Simply put: it’s fun, goddamn it.

When I was still a teenager I emulated Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis. He had it all…street smarts, book smarts (one character says about Crash “I saw him read a book without pictures once”), a sense of humor, and passion for the game. I recognized myself in him, or at least the self I wanted to be. When that movie came out I was already a washed up ball player, only a few years past my last year in little league, where I hit .455 as a catcher in the minors (I didn’t make the majors that season, or any season I spent in little league).

But emulating Crash Davis comes at a price because Crash, at the end of the day, did exactly that. He failed to achieve his goal of becoming a regular major leaguer, having only spent 21 days “in the show” as they call it. He had the brains for it, but a combination of bad luck and a weaker skill set (at least, too weak to make it to the show) was the difference that did him in. The difference of only one hit a week:

He’s a good man. A flawed and complex man (like all our protagonists should be), but a good man. In the end, he gets the girl (a remarkably wonderful Susan Sarandon as Annie) and he gets the possibility of making it to the show, but not as a player. A happy ending…but he doesn’t achieve his dream. Be careful who you emulate.

At the start of my acting career I equated various levels of professional theater to the varying levels of major and minor league baseball. Single A ball, the lowest level of the minors (baseball fans, shut up about rookie ball and the various A leagues and accept the analogy) was community theater, sketch and improv comedy with friends, non-union off-off-Broadway, and nowadays, web series where there is no pay. Double A (AA) ball was paying gigs, but still low on the totem pole: Equity Showcase theater in New York, theme parks, non-union tours and regional theater, no budget movies, and paid improv shows and touring companies.  AAA ball was Equity regional theater and tours, and indie or cult movies that never reach the mainstream. That left the major leagues, the upper echelon of professional acting: Broadway, off-Broadway, studio movies, TV shows, union commercials. When I wasn’t writing, I spent nearly a decade in professional theater. I spent most of my time in AA ball, with rare and brief stays in AAA ball. I never made it to the majors.

It’s not a tragedy. I have few regrets, and had some great experiences. I performed in front of crowds north of 10,000 at a theme park. I once performed back to back nights in different shows on different coasts, in New York City and Portland, Oregon (neither gig paid, and I paid my own travel).  I have been on stage in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. And for a few glorious pockets of time, I was making my living solely from acting.

I wasn’t a bad actor. Reviewers and critics were kind to me. I played supporting characters and lead roles. I had (and still have) pretty good comic timing. Also, unlike Crash Davis and other athletes, acting careers can continue long past one’s physical prime. There are roles for people of all ages, and I could have kept it up, but my process as an actor was become corrupt by self-doubt. Not just the usual career doubt (“am I meant for this?”) but moment to moment doubting of the choices I was making as an actor. I was becoming more and more self conscious of my decisions on stage, and in the moment. I could quickly and easily analyze other actors, directing choices, and script choices, but I could not confidently turn that mirror towards myself. And that’s where the Annie Savoy quote at the top of this post comes in. Those who succeed are able to proceed almost blindly with a sharpened focus that I no longer had.

Plus, and on a more positive note, I wanted to be writing all the time. So I made a choice to walk away, or retire, from my acting career. For the next few years I would perform in sketch and improv shows, but purely for fun without thinking about a career, all the while writing my various plays, screenplays, and TV scripts.

At the end of Bull Durham Crash sits on Annie’s porch, telling her that he’s retiring and may apply for a managerial position for a minor league team in Visalia the next season. He wonders aloud if he can make it to the show as a manager, and Annie emphatically agrees with him. And we know, as the credits roll while they joyfully dance around the kitchen, that he will get there.

And as a writer, I will make it to the show. In fact, I already have. I am not crippled with the self doubt I had as an actor, and am much more confident in my writing, taking rejection and success equally in stride. As a writer, I figure I am solidly playing well at the AAA level. I have even spent a few moments in the majors already. I like it in the majors. The grass is greener, the lights are brighter, and I am not intimidated. I plan on sticking around.