Sunday, June 14, 2009

Full text of "The Absorbent Mind" is available on Google Books.

It's all relative.

A helpful calculator for DC in the summer.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Absorbent Mind in it's early teens

I had a long discussion with a friend of mine on a dark, humid night here in DC. He was worried, like many of us are, that he's not as inspired and creative now as he was 15 years ago when we first met. He's got a good job; a journalist for a major national magazine. He's got a pretty decent social life; he'd been flirted with by no less than three young professionals that evening. He's over-worked; but like most of us, he's happiest when busy.
Neither he nor I have made the films, documentaries or art-projects we'd planned all of those years ago. The details of life took priority. So looking back at the creative people we'd been years ago, it's easy to feel that we let something slip.

My suggestion was three part:
1) find a topic to obsess on - something that you can be crazy enough to bleed for; something where your enthusiasm will infect other people.
2) go back and watch the films and TV that "creeped you out" in your early teens. As adults we've lost the 'magical realism' that we saw the world through as kids. But in our early teens we're at this specific time when pop culture connects with us, where we can blend the emotional sensitivity of childhood with the rational articulation of early adulthood. (This idea is lifted from Maria Montessori's 'Absorbent Mind' -- the idea that certain times in our development, we're receptive to new ideas and styles of learning, and perhaps sadly, there are times when we resist them)

Following this logic, your mid-30s are not a time when your brain is hard-wired for new modes of knowing and learning (I knew some colleagues in grad school who tried to counter this with 'entheogenics') But my early to mid teens teemed with new ideas and ways of looking at things. While visiting another friend in his tiny, cramped, rent-controlled apartment, he'd assumed that because I teach TV/Film, I would know virtually every television program ever made. He was still fascinated by a show he'd seen in his early teens on Nickelodeon. He was at exactly the right age to connect with this show. It took some digging, but I found it. It was a rebroadcast of several non-US tween Sci-Fi from New Zealand, Wales, Britian and Canada, repackages for US cable called 'The Third Eye'. Thaks to the magic of the internet, we were able to watch some episodes. I had not seen the show during my 'absorbent mind' phase, and as such it struck me as contrived, campy, clever, and mundane. For my friend it was a type of functional nostaglia: he spent the rest of the evening writing (as opposed to surfing the Internet)

Back to my discussion and three points.

Find the books, TV, music and otherwise disposeable pop culture that unsetteled you in your early teens and re-watch them at least three times, taking notes and critically disecting your emotional responses. Because if you can caputre those responses and articulate them as an adult, you'll have an 'audivisual emotional literacy' that you can then use to write and produce powerful media.

My number three is a little less well-formed. In a nutshell, make a PowerPoint presentation. Make a slide-show mock-up: start to assemble to pictures, audio and video while writing a short script on the idea you're obsessing on. No doubt you will find parallels between your functional nostalgia show/album and your chosen topic -- but avoid directly combining the two.

Will my friend make is documentary? I have no idea. But at least he's going to spend some time researching and creating something tangible. These little presentations could wind up the equivalent of Facebook postings - short bursts of creativity shared for the love of the topic.