Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Luke's Angels

Anticipation is abundant, and everyone's a little on edge. Especially Gabriel. I would be, too, if I were in his wings. Don't get me wrong, he's memorized his lines, "do not fear" and all that, but, I mean, he's got the most important message that any of us has ever delivered! History-shattering kind of stuff. Pressure's on, don't want to mess up.

I don't know how much time has been spent - no, invested - getting ready, preparing the stage, but we've been busy. This is a masterpiece of a production. So many details. And so many players! (I hear most of them don't even know their parts yet!) I'm honored the Director is letting me play even a small role. I might "just" be in the backup chorus, but for me, it's a big deal. I don't think anyone is unhappy with their assignment. Well. Lou, I guess. Lou always wanted to be the star before he ran away. We try not to remember. It's a sad story.

No sadness today. Today's story is a new beginning. In fact it's the beginning of what, I'm told, will be the ultimate story ever. Words are incapable of capturing this excitement, this feeling of aliveness that permeates everyone and everything here! People woke up this morning thinking it would be just another day in the life, but they are so wrong! Today their lives are changed, forever.

Gotta fly. The Director's calling places.

Everyone's ready. Shake out the nerves. Breathe.

Cue Gabriel.

Go.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

What I'm looking for

This is post #19 (the final post) in Where's Jeremy (2013), and is a follow-on to my concluding comments in post #18

My friend Hannah asked me a few months ago what, specifically, I was looking for in a woman. Below is the email I wrote her:


What I'm looking for can be summed up in two words: Taylor Swift :)
What's that? Reality called? Oh. Okay.

Well... how about all this, then:


My demographics:

Caucasian male, 28, I live in Minneapolis and work at a computer company in St Paul. I drink socially, smoke never, have no fashion sense, usually run late (working on it), and lean left politically. Most importantly, I'm a child of God.


My profile, as it [used to] appears on christianmingle.com:
I'm Jeremy, a Minneapolis native, filmmaker, musician, computer geek, and aspiring pastor. My friends described me as loyal, good-hearted, "weirdly awesome", and genuine (though of course it's impossible to sum up an entire person in only one word).

My Dad has always "worked with computers," and I've followed those footsteps, first as a web developer at my high school, and more recently as a software tester and systems admin at Cray, the Supercomputer Company.

One of my passions is working on productions, usually movie sets. Ironically, though, I rarely make it out to see movies in the theatres, so if you ever ask "have you seen such-and-such?", the answer's probably no. Netflix is helping culture me with some classics; I wouldn't object to having your help, too!

Pinocchio and Abraham Lincoln I am not, but I can't tell a lie to save my life. My psych eval while journeying toward seminary said I'm abnormally honest and forthcoming - I choose to believe this is a good thing.

I love asking deep questions, and talking about life and God and stuff.

I love worship. Music is how I connect with the Spirit: playing my guitar, singing in church, or taking a road trip and letting my mind get lost in the lyrics.

I love Taylor Swift. Don't judge me.

I am terrified of worms. I love falling asleep to a thunderstorm, but when the worms slither all over the sidewalk and I have to walk near them, I shriek like a 5-year-old. It's embarrassing.

Feel free to ask me anything - I don't have many (any?) secrets.


Who are you? Let's talk about what doesn't matter: it doesn't matter if you're divorced, a single parent, always been single, whatever. It doesn't matter if you're rock solid on your faith or struggling through a lot of questions. It doesn't matter if you're shy or outgoing. And it doesn't matter if you do or don't know where God's calling you. We can walk that journey together, if you're willing.

Ideally, you and I share one or more passions in common (in addition to God, that is): music, movie-making, drama, caring for others.

If I'm afraid my answer might be boring, I have a tendency of giving short answers to deep questions. Ideally, you're someone who won't let me get away with that.

Maybe most critically important, when my parents and I have game nights, we always take red, green, and blue, so… here's hoping you like yellow :)



My website, which says a lot more about me:

www.jeremygustafson.net


And a list of fun, random facts about me:

www.jeremygustafson.net/bio/randomthings.php


Specifics of who I'm looking for:

A woman who:
  • has a strong desire for faith (important distinction here: doesn't necessarily mean they're an über-Christian, but rather that they are actively *seeking* God and have that desire to know God better)
  • is intellectual (someone who gets my awful, punny jokes; also, someone who I can explain my geeky job to)
  • is considerate of other people (the specific examples I have in mind: you don’t cut in front of other people in line, and if you notice there are people trying to pass you when you’re walking, you move to the side and let them)
  • listens, asks good questions, and will not let me get away with easy answers (and won't let me try to divert questions back to her when she's asking about me)
  • will call me out when I say something stupid or unsubstantiated
  • will challenge me to be a better me (example: "let's go buy a sandwich for that homeless person")
  • can forgive mistakes, because I'm not perfect (and I'm pretty forgiving, too)
  • does not smoke


And *ideally* also, someone who:
  • overlaps in at least one major area of interest: music, production, movie-making, drama, ministering to friends in need
  • has had some life experience, and has a life of their own (aka, we do not become each other's entire lives)
  • as my friend John puts it, "has their shit together" (doesn't mean she has her entire life figured out, but she knows who she is)
  • doesn't need to be rich to be happy


Lastly, be advised I've really got a thing for blonde hair, but that is not a requirement.

Ready? Go! :)

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 4: Emotional reflections, lessons learned, and "what's next?"

This is post #18 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

Creating the casting database took a tremendous toll on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I worked myself to exhaustion - one Saturday I had to lie down for bed at 4 in the afternoon (and then rest/sleep until the next morning), because I'd pushed myself so hard the previous week. Emotionally, I lived constantly on the verge of a breakdown, overwhelmed at the enormity of my workload and all I hoped to accomplish. Spiritually I wasn't focused at all on prayer, or worship, and made my database my idol.

In AWAKEN I frequently heard the phrase "look at your life, look at your choices." The context is basically: if you make a mistake and you really should have known better (or say something that right away you know was completely wrong or stupid), then inevitably someone would chime in with this phrase as a joking retort. I'd like to pull a deeper meaning here, though; when I look at my life and my choices, I'm left with this realization: pursuit of the "American Dream" is not worth the sacrifice of self, of fun, of friendships, of well-being, etc. Yes, hard work has a place, but it cannot be my end-all, be-all. My lifestyle choice of working all the time is fundamentally incompatible with my most precious dream of being in a relationship and having a family.

While I remain ashamed of the choices I made to prioritize work over friends, family, and God, it seems everyone understood; everyone's had those projects, big or small, that you just need to get done (I'm thinking like writing a thesis, caregiving for a loved one, filling out your work timecard, tasks large or small that are both urgent and important). So when I explained my situation, how I was dead-in-the-water for casting projects until I finished the database, everyone "got it," no one was mad. Because everyone's been there, to some degree. The lesson: allow myself grace and forgiveness.

In all aspects of life, I'm much better now. Immediately after I finished programming on June 30, a huge weight was lifted. I re-connected with friends, re-committed to attending both my morning and evening churches each week, and relaxed without feeling guilty. The pathway to spending time with God is more open with the database project behind me. When I do pursue additional features on the database (and yes I'm already planning "version 2"), I can do so at my own pace, without allowing it to consume my life. And perhaps most importantly, witnessing Matthew's entire life collapse around him in a single day continues to serve me as a humbling reminder to find my value in who Jesus sees me to be, rather than who [I perceive] the world would have me be.

Now I'll admit, parts of the casting business have been fun, and I've learned so incredibly much about running a small business, about accounting, about managing people, about managing expectations, and so on. At the end of the day, though, the reality remains that the company got dumped on me because I was the most logical choice to take it over, and not because I truly wanted it.

My parents have helped me see my time investment hasn't been [entirely] a no-op - as they pointed out, I've shepherded the company and kept it viable for a future, not-me, owner. I've also continued providing a needed service to the community. The alternative would have been closing the doors on this amazing thing Matthew had built over the past decade. Maybe I could have built the company up to be more than it is, if I'd done any advertising, or spent time and energy meeting people and reaching out to producers. But now I get to pass the company into John's hands, and feel relief. As Anne put it to me, "Jeremy, you've done what you needed to do, and now it's time for someone else to take the reigns."

Talking with my friend Mikaila in June, she said to me "sometimes you do something and it just sucks. You don't get to say 'well it was worth it because this happened later.' Sometimes nothing good comes from it, and that's just the way it is, there is no redemption." For a very long time, that's how I felt about the company. I think now that the end is finally in sight, I can reflect and say I learned a lot of important lessons, including that nothing ever works out the way I think it will. Now at long last, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I don't think it's a train.

So what's next? I mentioned before that I've already been planning database "version 2." Though I'm selling the casting company to John, I'm retaining ownership of the software I developed, and will be expanding it to add more features useful for primary casting (auditions), extras casting, and agencies. The hope is to market it to all the casting directors and agents in Minnesota, keeping it free to use for the actors. It will be a massive project, but I will take it in small chunks, and not allow it to consume my life (friends, hold me to this!). A lot of time, thought, discussion, and prayer went into this decision - it was not made lightly.

In my personal life, I'll continue being deliberate about spending time with friends and family. I'm becoming more involved in my evening church (joined one of the take-down teams, and also just joined the rotation for pre-service greeters). I'd like to start taking guitar lessons (I already play, but I want to get better), and spend more time writing music. I also will continue working on accepting when I have to say "no," because I'd much rather say no earlier than have to back out later.

And then of course, there's the whole looking-for-a-relationship thing. Please review this list of the 9 most annoying things to say to a single person (and pay particular attention to #3 and 7). Good, now that we're on the same page, I invite you to read over some thoughts I wrote for a friend when she asked, "what are you looking for?"

That'll be plenty to keep my life busy.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 3: Samaritan Casting - Selling the company

This is post #17 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

After finishing the database, I made myself a promise: if the casting company ever again brought me to the verge of an emotional or mental breakdown, that would be three strikes and it is out (the first strike came early on in 2012, when I first started Samaritan Casting. The second strike was the database project as a whole). Barring a "strike three," I resolved I would keep the company through calendar year's end, then re-evaluate whether the database was actually accomplishing the stress-relief I'd intended it for. If not, I'd wash my hands and be done with the company.

Barely two months later, strike three came in the form of the feature film extras casting. Movie-making is a moving target, I completely understand that! But these ADs were so disorganized that they made our jobs practically impossible, adding immeasurable amounts of unnecessary and completely avoidable stress. Strike three.

Labor Day. Chit-chatting with John on my mobile telephone. I whined for the umpteenth time how frustrated I was with running the company, and that I'd hit strike three and I was done, when John asked "would you ever consider selling it?" I said, yes, but explained how there was no one who was interested, had the necessary skill set, and that I trusted (as discussed in post #15). Then I jumped out onto a limb and asked, "do you want to buy it?"

To my utter shock and amazement, John replied "yes, actually I would." Alrighty then. The conversation went something like this (not exact quotes):
Me: You mean you actually enjoy doing this [booking people and dealing with the last-minute craziness]?
John: Yep.
Me: You're crazy!
John: Yep.
John's a stay-at-home-Dad, and I know he's been wanting a side-job for a while, something he can do from home with flexible hours, that would generate a little extra income (this is why it worked out so well for me to hire him to book extras). So I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised at his interest in buying me out.

John has also become someone I consider a life mentor. Not only has he served as an "anger management coach" for me when I'm tempted to write mean emails, he has listened to all my many complaints and lamentations about the casting company, and he's been one of my greatest cheerleaders when it came to developing the database. He and Anne both have been a tremendous blessing by taking over the majority of the actual booking work for me.

We tabled further discussion until after the feature wrapped. A few weeks later, he was still interested in buying, and I DEFINITELY still was interested in selling. John's been helping book extras for me for at least 6 months now, so he knows what he's doing, he's got the technical and organizational skills, and most importantly, I trust him 101%.

This got me excited, not only because I finally had a way out, but because I know that John can accomplish much more with the company than I have or could. In no way do I mean to downplay the workload of a stay-at-home parent, I'm simply acknowledging the reality that John's schedule is significantly more flexible than mine ever could be. Even setting aside my personal desire to escape, for the sake of the company itself turning the reigns over to John is the best possible decision. Add to that the fact John is actively choosing to take this on, even after and despite hearing all my complaints, even after and despite knowing all the work it takes, and I believe he's in a much better position for success than I was when this all got dumped on me. I'm excited to see what he does with it!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 3: Samaritan Casting - The Database, continued

This is post #16 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

This is a continuation from post #15

Frequently I was asked, "why the urgency? Why can't you just decide to take some time for yourself, to set some limits?" Very few people understood. The reason I needed to push so hard to get this database programming done is that I was dead in the water with casting projects until I got something up and running. If a project came in (and a half-dozen did), I had to accept email submissions and format those photos and data to present to the client. That's a huge, huge pain. Hours of work. I ended up paying my friend John to deal with collecting all the submissions, so I could continue focusing on the database development.

My friends John and Anne both helped tremendously while I worked on development - I hired them to deal with booking all the projects that came in, and they also helped beta-test each new feature as I completed work. Peter tested new features, wrote much of the text that's on the site, and drafted a preliminary terms-of-service (so I wouldn't have to hire the lawyer for quite as many hours). To my relief, my friends and family were incredibly understanding of my absence.

Part of the reason the project took so long, was I wanted it to be perfect. I approached it with a Steve Jobs mentality, agonizing over every detail: should it say "sign in" or "log in"? "Sign up" or "create an account" or "create a profile" or "create your profile"? what colors should it use? should talent profiles pop up in a separate window for accounts that have multiple profiles, or should they stay in the main window? etc. Underlying this was the principle "never settle," the most influential phrase I remember from the Steve Jobs biography. Anyone can make a mediocre user interface (and, frankly, looking at a majority of websites, I'd say most webmasters do make only a mediocre interface), but I wanted to stand out from that; making a good UI takes time and effort. For example, I spent 12 hours crafting the login page - not even the login functions, not even what happens after you click the log in button, I mean just the appearance of the page and the way the fields transition in, down to figuring out why a particular field was 2 pixels out of alignment, and fixing it. I spent all that time on details no one will ever notice, because I care about the user experience, and I wanted everything, from first impressions to users coming back for the dozenth time, to look good and work smoothly. Virtual world craftsmanship.

I took a three-week hiatus from programming in May in order to recoup, and reconnect with friends. Then it was the final push. On June 30th, I reached "code complete" status. I turned my attention to finishing the terms of service with the lawyer (I've never in my life been so excited to read a TOS), and testing all the features with Anne and John and Peter's help. In mid-July, I invited a couple dozen actors I'd worked with before to help beta test. Anne and John ran some fake extras casting projects, "booked" our beta-testers for the fake roles, and we found a lot of bugs for me to fix :) But that's good: better to find the bugs during beta-testing than when we're running a real job!

At long last, after almost five months of developing and testing, after twice or thrice making myself physically ill from exhaustion, after all the lawyering and tweaking and bug-fixing, we launched the database for public use on July 27. At the end of that first day, 170 talent profiles had been created. Within 3 weeks that number was over 500. And, in large part because of a feature movie we were running extras casting for in August/September, we hit 1000 talent profiles on September 12th (less than 7 weeks after launch). This blew away my expectations. Granted, the Samaritan Casting mailing lists have over 2500 email addresses subscribed, but I hadn't anticipated so many people would jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I felt incredible personal affirmation seeing so many people successfully using the software I'd developed.


I got to test the database's real-world functionality immediately, because the day before launching we were hired to book 6 extras for a corporate video. This meant I was able to have real roles open for submissions on Day 1 of the launch! I chose to book that project myself, rather than hiring John or Anne, "just in case" something went wrong. I did find a couple new bugs, but overall the database did exactly what I designed it to do: make it ridiculously easy to collect talent submissions, send a link to the client so they could view headshots and make selections, and then allow me to send out booking info via both email and text message, with the click of a button! (okay, two buttons: the second being an "are you sure?" confirmation) It also let me put as many people as I wanted on standby (backups in case some of the primary choices decline/cancel), again with the click of just a few buttons.

The database continues to work well to this day. I've received numerous compliments from actors and producers, and it has made the entire booking process much easier.

However. We discovered some limits. Specifically: due to its lack of a flux capacitor, the database can't predict the future. We were hired to book 300 (later increased to 400) extras for a feature film shooting mid-August to mid-September. There is NO way whatsoever we could have booked that many people without the database. Also, to be frank, there's no way we could have done it with the previous software I'd used before March. So the database was instrumental. But. When production frequently put off telling us their needs until less than 48-24 hours before call time, there's a limited amount of stress-relief the database can possibly accomplish; you're still going to spend hours calling people on the phone, because who knows how often they check their email where they'd find out they're booked. I wised up to this pretty early and created generic roles for each day, then asked people to submit for ALL the days they were available, rather than waiting until we had specific role breakdowns. This mitigated some stress as much as a digital solution possibly could, but the work was still stressful. I hired Anne and John to book all the roles, so by far they bared the brunt of the stress. As I believe any good manager should, though, I hopped into the trenches with them to help with phone calls and pushing production. Anyway, we survived. And, point being: the database did what we needed it to, and did it well.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 3: Samaritan Casting - The Database (or, why Jeremy hated his life for four months)

This is post #15 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

In February 2013, the online casting software that I and my predecessor used for accepting talent submissions (automating the tedious task of collecting actors' headshots and contact information) announced it would soon start charging actors to upload headshots or submit for roles, features that had always been free. I have 2500+ people on my broadcast list, there is no way (logistically or morally) that I could ask all of them to spend money on the service just for my convenience. Therefore I had three options:
  1. Close down my company
  2. Accept email submissions (which is a HUGE pain)
  3. Develop my own online casting software
Believe me, option 1 was very tempting. As many friends have heard me bemoan, the casting company has been a major pain-in-my-butt since day 1. Given that, I'm frequently asked two variations on the same question: "why do you keep it?" and "why don't you sell it?"

The answer to the first is partly due to my pride and ego, and wanting to retain bragging rights to say I run a small business. Part is a feeling of obligation to my friend who built the company up over the past decade; who am I to have the right to close it down? And a large part is a feeling of obligation to continue providing this service to the community, both for the actors/extras, and also the producers, directors, and especially student filmmakers, who use the broadcast lists to post their casting notices. My therapist keeps trying to remind me: I don't owe anyone anything, but... I can't help feeling a sense of duty. I want to help people, I mean, after all, I named the thing Samaritan Casting.

The second question - "why don't you sell it?" - is much less emotionally complex (though people never have seemed to get it). There simply was no one who:
  1. had any interest in purchasing the company
  2. had the skill-set necessary to continue running it (in terms of technical ability, business management, detail-orientedness, etc), and
  3. I trust, in order to pass the torch
Any number of people meet one or two of those requirements, but [until recently; future blog post] there was no one who met all three.

I opted against closing down, at least for now, and started developing my own online casting software, specifically catered to extras casting. I'd actually hoped to build this software years ago for my friend, just never got around to it before the out-of-town company came in and offered him their software for free. But that meant I already had lots of ideas written down, and also, now having run the company on my own for a year, I had a good handle on what features I needed in order to make my life easier. Ultimately that was my goal with the software: to remove as much stress as possible from my extras booking process.

While working at Minnehaha, I developed an online back-to-school forms database called RORS. I say "back-to-school forms," but RORS did so much more than that - it also generated complex reports for superusers, dynamic PDFs and CSVs, all sorts of bells and whistles. RORS was my baby for the better part of four years. It was a massive project. Foolishly, I figured I could create this casting database, which would be as complex as RORS, in just a month or two in my spare time. Bahahaha how egregiously wrong I was!

To my benefit, though, I used many lessons-learned from my time developing RORS. For example: planning ahead as much as possible. This helped avoid countless late-in-the-game database changes that would have required extensive code re-writes. Before I wrote a single line of code, I brainstormed all my features and designed database tables to accommodate all their interconnectedness (like headshotIDs linked to talentIDs, which are then linked to userIDs, and resume items, and so on). Time very well-spent, because by the time I finally did start coding, I had already thought through many potential issues and figured out ways to avoid them.

<nerdy things>
In addition to basic project planning skills, I also knew from my RORS development that I wanted to use a different javascript framework. With RORS I had used Prototype and Script.aculo.us, having seen an impressive demo of them at WWDC07. However after years of continuous RORS development, I knew the next time I built something, I wanted to jump ship to a different framework called jQuery. In my opinion, jQuery is easier to use, and from what I can tell it has a larger user base, which translates into substantially more online resources to help solve problems.

On a less-happy note, despite my awesome planning I didn't account for needing to learn a brand new syntax for MySQL queries. PHP's new mysqli commands take three times as many lines of code as their predecessors, but supposedly are more secure. The learning curve was higher than I'd expected, but eventually I figured it out.
</nerdy things>

From March through June I devoted every spare hour I had to coding, to the detriment of my physical health, emotional stress, and ability to spend time with my friends and family. Programming on the database became my entire life outside of work. I reneged on volunteering at church, on phone calls with out-of-state friends that I already didn't get to talk to enough, and drew down on the time I allowed myself to spend hanging out with my local friends. Life sucked.

On that downer, to be continued...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 3: Samaritan Casting - Misconceptions

This is post #14 in Where's Jeremy (2013)
There are moments that change your life, and ten years later if you know in retrospect it was one of those moments, you're blessed, but to know it at the moment...
- Randy Pausch, Last Lecture
In my blog I usually try to focus on the positive, or at least, my lessons learned. Unfortunately living a human life means downers are unavoidable, and this is one such case.

In February 2012 I made a decision I knew would change my life: one of my best friends asked if I'd take over his casting company, as he was no longer able to run it. I said "yes," holding high hopes for the opportunity this presented. I hoped it would be a change for Good, but I knew either way, I'd be changed for good (Wicked reference).

I've yet to stop regretting my answer. Maybe in another ten years I'll have a different perspective (I hope when I'm ten years older I'll have grown in my view of the world!), but in my present-day, this casting company has brought little more to my life than tremendous stress and frustration. In the first weeks running the company, I received at least half a dozen terribly nasty, hostile emails from people who were angry at the previous owner, and decided they'd take that anger out on me. Not acceptable. I was naïve to the community's [apparently] cruel and unforgiving nature. It makes me sad.

Other stressors were the phone calls from actors asking why they weren't booked for a particular project, or who didn't read the directions that were very clearly spelled out in a particular casting notice, or who ask where their paycheck is when it's been less than a week since shooting (productions hardly ever send payments in under 4-6 weeks). Having questions is fine, but asking questions that have already been answered (in a booking email or on an online FAQ, for example) is not a productive use of time for anyone.

Eventually what I've determined is that people must hold a lot of misconceptions about me and about the casting company. Here's my best guess as to what's going on:

Misconception #1: Samaritan Casting is all I do.
Reality: Wrong. I work a full-time day job. Samaritan Casting is something I do in my spare time, out of the goodness of my heart, as a service to the actor and filmmaker community.

Misconception #2: Samaritan Casting is highly profitable.
Reality: Haha, that's funny. In 20 months I've made a couple thousand dollars. We're talking 4-digits here, not even 5-digits.

As an example, let's look at an audition I held for a commercial a few months ago. We were paid $500 to run the audition. Of that:
  • $100 went to rent the location
  • $180 went to pay 3 staff (each $60) to run the check-in table and record audition videos
  • $75 went to paying John to handle all the scheduling, and deal with people needing to re-schedule/cancel/get in and out in a hurry, etc
  • Another $20 went to pay John to schedule callbacks, which were hosted by the client themselves

At the end of the day, that left $105 in my pocket. 5 hours of auditions, plus time training John, plus making selections of who should get auditioned (who fit the demographics/looks the client wanted), plus developing extra code on the website in order to play the videos, plus encoding and uploading the videos, meant I got paid less than $10 an hour.

Misconception #3: We play favorites.
Reality: Not really. Clients almost always make selections themselves; very rarely am I (or John or Anne) given the opportunity to pick people ourselves. When we do, it's typically for large crowd scenes where individual faces won't be seen anyway. If a client asks for recommendations from a list, I will put in a good word for reliable actors I've worked with in the past, or about whom I've heard good things from past productions, but even then, the end decision belongs to the client.

Misconception #4: We're a big company.
Reality: Nope. I'm a sole owner/proprietor. I do hire my friends to work on specific projects (Anne and John to help with bookings, Lee and Jim for wrangling, Mark and Melissa to help with auditions, and Peter to post notices), but everything else I do myself: negotiating with clients, website development, invoicing and banking, answering support emails, etc. Someone once called asking for the payroll department, which completely took me aback.

And finally, Misconception #5: This is my passion.
Reality: No. It's not. I'd much rather be on set, or working as a producer on pre- or post-production, intimately involved in the movie-making. Extras casting is something I know how to do, and can do well, but it's not my dream job.


I can understand why people might believe some of these. For my predecessor Matthew, casting/extras casting was all he did, and it was his passion. He actually left his full-time job at the Red Cross because the casting business was picking up with national and local commercials, feature films, and lots of smaller independent shorts. He was booking all sorts of people for all sorts of productions, it became his "real" full-time job, and he loved it.

Though I have enjoyed some parts of the company, at the end of the day I'm not Matthew, and I'd like my life to go a different direction. Perhaps that is Misconception #6: this is what I want to do with my life.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 2: Cray - "I'm a real boy!"

This is post #13 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

I officially started in the OS Test group on Monday, April 1. Appropriately enough for it being April Fools Day, when I moved into my "real boy cube" that morning I found a note saying ‘congrats on the new job, you now report to Joel, signed, HR.' Joel is the brother of Ben (my college roommate who'd brought me into Cray), and was no stranger to pranking my cube - on a number of occasions he's arranged my Beanie Babies into compromising poses. Yes, I decorate my desk with Beanie Babies. I feel your judgement. Anyway, Joel's note made me giggle.


I moved my stuff from my contractor desk to my cube, had my new employee orientation with HR, then Linda (manager) took me out to lunch with Glen, who would serve as my on-boarding mentor. Truth be told at first I was a little disappointed and nervous - Glen has a very strong personality (actually he reminds me a lot of myself from Minnehaha) and I was worried we would clash. But let me say: I was very wrong. Glen's brilliant, and that can be intimidating, but he's also a jokester, and that's something I can latch onto. He's also got really cool stories, about Cray, customer sites, model rockets, and on and on. We get along just fine. Who knows if I've been able to "impress" him at all while I've been here, but I'd go so far as to claim we have some sort of friendship, or at least, a work-friendship.

My first assignment was to write an MPI distributed computing program to calculate prime numbers... in C (a language I haven't touched in over 6 years, since my middle years of college). I stumbled through, but actually turned out a reasonably good program. The point of the exercise was just to get an idea how a customer's application might run on our systems. Glen also taught me about our test suites, though as he pointed out I'm kind of an odd case because I've already worked here for a year, so there wasn't a whole lot in the way of "introductory" information that he needed to cover.

When I started, my coworker John admin'd both of OS Test's internal Crays. With lots of changes happening on the newer system, more and more of John's time was required there; since I'd had 9 or 10 months of admin experience in my previous group, and since I knew I enjoyed that kind of work, I expressed my interest to Linda in helping out, in order to take some of the load off John (in the hopes he could stop working 50 hour weeks every week). This was received well and so in late April I shadowed John on an upgrade day, and then within a week or two the older system kind of became "mine" to admin. Now, I'd chosen the cube literally right next to John's, so he was/is always there to answer questions, it's just that I started to take on most of the responsibility for "my" system's well-being, allowing him to focus on his alone.

In late May, OS Test was allocated another internal Cray, and I happily volunteered to admin it. This new system was very small, so it soon became a running joke in staff meetings that I'd beg Dennis to find more blades for me (or jokingly I'd conspicuously slip someone a dollar bill, to ask Dennis the same). We have fun in our group.

In July, Gina, who had been serving as project coordinator for our group, became my new official manager. It was a numbers thing: Linda simply had too many direct reports, so they needed to split the group.

In late August through September, a "special project" system came around for testing some hardware that was about to ship to a customer, and it had very high visibility, up at least a few levels in the management chain. As Linda phrased it, I "waved my hand" and volunteered myself to admin it, though I didn't realize what I'd be getting myself into. The upside of being on a special project is that you get anything you ask for; remember how I was always begging for extra parts on my small system? On this special project, I got anything I wanted, whether that meant "liberating" some new hardware from manufacturing, or stealing blades out of other important systems. The price paid for this royal treatment, though, is having to deliver, which meant working a lot of evenings and Saturdays, and a lot of pressure to get things done quickly (and correctly). From the get-go, John promised he would mentor me through the process, and he really did; I mean, he made me look good. I learned a ton, and eventually could run mostly independently, but it was his patient teaching that got me there. Dennis and Gina were frequently telling me how impressed they were, because I was always three steps ahead and when the visibility for the project goes all the way up to the VPs, it's nice to be able to say "I'm waiting on so-and-so", rather than "I'm the hold-up". One day about mid-way through the project, my boss's boss came by my cube to personally thank me for the work I'd done. The project leader, Joe, also came by a few times to thank me, and at the end of the testing, brought me a six-bottle-pack of some classy-looking beer as a thank you for all the weekends and extra hours. (I didn't have the heart to tell him I don't drink beer, so I graciously accepted and gave it away to other coworkers who do). I was touched. He didn't have to do that. And again what it boils down to is: John helped make me look good.

Before I was officially hired at Cray, friends/family would ask me if I got offered a job, if I'd take it. My answer had been "yeah, probably, because it's a good place for me to be right now. Is it my dream job? No, but it's a good job, and one from which I can see myself supporting a family, which is my dream."

My answer has changed now, in large part due to the new group I'm in. I get to wake up every day, and genuinely look forward to going in to work. I get to work with people I like and enjoy being around. My team of managers (Gina, Linda, Dennis) have a true camaraderie that makes them wonderful to work for. And in a small way, I am humbled to get to help change the world: researchers are using Crays to find cures for currently incurable diseases, and I get to be a small part of that large process. Finally, I get to have fun and enjoy what I'm doing; life's too short to spend 40 or more hours a week doing something you hate. How many people in general, and then how many people my age, get to say all of these things? I'm very lucky.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Today is Thanksgiving 2013 and I woke up two hours before my alarm, mind ablaze with life's possibilities. After losing the fight to coerce my brain back into a restful state, I sprang out of bed and began my morning exercise regimen. (I imagine my parents reading that last sentence and asking each other "who is this man claiming to be our son?"). Yes. It's true. I sprang. A week ago I read some article somewhere[citation needed] about "20 things successful people / CEOs do before starting their day" (or something like that), and my take-aways were: exercise right away (aka remove your own ability to make excuses after a long work day), and visualize your day: what you'll do, where you'll go, who you'll see. Curious if this actually would make a difference, for the past week I've set my alarm early, not hit snooze, and hopped on my elliptical for a 10-minute workout before proceeding with my normal morning routine. 10 minutes isn't much, but it's enough to get my blood flowing and by the end, I'm awake and alert. While exercising I rock out to worship music (this morning's was Addison Road, Brad & Rebekah, and Owl City), pray, and try to listen for God. Possibly it's a placebo effect, but over the last week I've felt more "ready" to tackle each day, and more alert throughout the day, despite waking up those few minutes early.

When I got up this morning, I felt convicted to write another "first world problems" table like my post from June. Being Thanksgiving this seems appropriate. Like everyone else, I have coworkers and friends spread across the entire optimist-pessimist spectrum (for an hilarious and nerdy interpretation of the "glass half full/empty" problem, check out this post from what-if.xkcd.com). Me, I'm the eternal optimist - I am always looking for the "at least" in a situation: "at least you're still alive", "at least now you know", "at least there's hope." Don't get me wrong, I still love me a good whine-fest, I'm just saying at the end of the day I realize things could be a whole lot worse, and I choose to dwell on the positive.

First World Problem Reality Check
Was up late researching new cars and watching Castle I have electricity, and access to the internet at my fingertips
Could've slept in, but body wouldn't let me I had time to pray and write about Thankfulness before rushing out the door
My stocks (LGF) took a tumble on Monday I have stocks! I get to play the stock market game, something I've always wanted to do since childhood
Struggled to keep straight all the casting projects these past few weeks Business is booming, and in one more month I'll officially transfer company ownership to John!
Almost 28 and still single I have the luxury of waiting for "true love," haven't been forced into an arranged marriage, and can support myself financially without needing a spouse's second income. And though I oftentimes forget it, my value as a human being is not determined by my relationship status.

Also, I'm really excited for my date Saturday with "Church Girl", as my friends refer to her :)
Can't talk to all my friends as often as I'd like I have so many high-quality, real friendships
Sad my Aunt and Uncle and Cousins are out of town for Thanksgiving I love my family and we all get along
Way too busy I have a day-job, own a small business, and have lots of people to see and things to do - I am never bored
Allergies have been TERRIBLE for over a year I have health insurance and am working with an allergist; I have treatment options available to me
One of my best friends is in prison He's still alive, he's doing well, and I can visit him
Relationship with God isn't where I want it to be God loves me anyway and will help me work through it
Life isn't perfect Life is good

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 2: Cray - "Can I stick my nose in your business?"

This is post #12 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

If you'll recall from March, Cray did a re-org, after which I was left trying to cram a 25% job into a 100% work week (yes, you read that correctly). This was stressful. However, if you also read my comment in that post, you'll know that one of the OS Testers approached me and asked if he could stick his nose in my business. I'll pick up the story from there.

Actually, first I'll tell an un-related story from one day later. On Thursday, I wandered over by my coworker Jason's cube, and met a man in black, with a strangely familiar Canadian accent. The Man in Black turned out to be Michael, a coworker I've only known through phone and email, because he works from home on the west coast of Canadia. Finally I had a face to put to the voice! I even got to help Michael and Jason troubleshoot an issue at a customer site later that evening (and... I actually had some useful ideas!), then afterward we went out for drinks and talked for hours. Really good day.

Back to my blog post & comment from March. Bob asked if I was happy being a contractor, and if I'd ever consider applying for a job in another group. Turns out, there were several openings in the OS Test group, where he works. I said I'd at least be interested in learning more. Bob talked with his manager (Linda) either that day or the next, then came back and handed me a post-it note with three job posting IDs. We talked for a long while about his work in OS Test, and I looked at the openings. Of the three, one looked like it would be interesting, and that I might fit the skill requirements. I talked with Linda, explained that Bob and I had been chatting, and expressed my interest in the particular job opening. My hopes were dashed when she said they were literally making an offer on that position to another candidate that afternoon, but - and this is what makes Linda Linda - she said I should send her a resumé right away, and she would call HR and put a hold on the other offer, so they could interview me.

Wow.

Now, leading up to this, I'd also been having conversations with my coworker John. Since John's worked for Cray longer than I've been alive, he's had one or two managers. But he told me, in no uncertain terms: Linda is the best manager he has ever worked for, not the least reason of which is that she sticks up and fights for her people. Hearing John's glowing review of Linda, and hearing the same from Bob, made my decision pretty straightforward. I applied the same theory I held in college, which is that a great teacher can make even the most boring subject come alive (Professor Steve Hahn, history class), whereas a terrible teacher can kill even the best subject (specific examples redacted in deference to the Thumper Principle). Just to clarify: this is not to say I expected working in the test group to be boring, my hypothesis was simply that, even if it's not the world's best-ever job, I'd have one of the world's best-ever managers, and that can make all the difference.

I sent Linda my resumé ("draft 1" we'll call it), and she suggested some revisions before she sent it to the interview team. If this all strikes you as "above and beyond" behavior for a hiring manager, you might be correct. Linda and I had a few private conversations during my application process, and I found out she and Dennis (another prominent and well-respected team-lead) actually had been trying to hire me into their group for the last 6 months! Linda couldn't approach me herself, because it might be viewed as head-hunting, so instead they kept sending people to drop subtle hints at me. Of course I don't do well with subtle so I missed all the hints! Until Bob came along and [figuratively] smacked me over the head. I love 2x4s. I also found out that Linda had been in talks with my then-current manager, asking if/when he was going to hire me, and fighting for me, saying "we don't want to lose him". This had all gone on, without me knowing, and I was amazed / floored / humbled / speechless / awed / felt so special, when I found out.

When I told this all to John, I think his reaction was "wow," and it was further reinforcement of what he'd told me.

In bullet-points, the whole shebang went down like this:
  • Wednesday, March 6, Bob approached me and asked if I might be interested in becoming a tester
  • Friday, March 8, Linda and I met for an hour (I think I'd already given her my resumé at this point; this conversation was more about what a job in her group would look like)
  • Monday or Tuesday, I break the news to my current manager that I will be interviewing in the OS Test group
  • Wednesday, March 13, I had 4 separate interviews, with Glen, Naomi, Steve, and Dennis - names that would soon (foreshadowing!) become very familiar to me. My "interview" with Dennis was very informal; he opened our conversation with "my mind's already made up, I've been telling Linda to hire you for 6 months!" I love Dennis.
  • Monday, March 18, I had my formal interview with Linda
  • Tuesday, March 19, I had my 6th and final interview, with Ed
  • WednesdayThursdayFriday I freak out anxious to hear what's going to happen!
  • Monday, March 25, first thing in the morning, I meet with HR to discuss my salary "requirements" (I don't know! Whatever you want to pay me?) ; We agree to some numbers, I sign a piece of paper, and... that's it! I'm hired!!!

Discretely, I made the rounds to my former manager and group to tell them the news. While mostly they were happy for me, I think a few of them didn't really "get" why I would switch groups. Oh well. Then there was Wendy, my team lead before the re-org, who was [jokingly] angry at me because she'd wanted me to get hired into her new group :)

Tuesday, even though I hadn't yet officially started, I sat in on the OS Test team meeting and Linda introduced me to everyone. That room full of strangers are no longer strange to me; some I'd even call friends.

Stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thank you cake from Jacob's Well

My morning church, Jacob's Well, has been in the hiring process for a new worship leader since June, when our previous leader moved down south to pursue Seminary. And for the last two months, I've been helping out by doing all the band and audio engineer scheduling. It's a task I am well-qualified to do, given the incredible similarity to extras casting, but it's also something I find very stressful (again, given the incredible similarity to extras casting :) It's stressful because we have a limited pool of musicians to draw from, and I don't want to over-schedule people and burn them out, so there's a lot of memory work involved trying to place people far enough apart from when they last played, but also give a good mix of skills in each band make-up, and then also consider who's unavailable on certain dates, and lastly, deal with the ones who cancel last-minute (for legitimate or illegitimate reasons; judge judge judge).

Our new worship leader (Chris) started last week, so I sent him a long list of "todos" regarding scheduling (I'd already scheduled the bands out for a couple weeks, so he had a little buffer), and then washed my hands. At long last, freedom!

Sunday morning during announcements Erin (one of our keyboard players and vocalists) explained how grateful she was for Chris to be here finally, not only because she was on the search committee, but because she'd been leading the band the last two weeks and that's out of her comfort zone. Then she said something completely unexpected to me: she explained how there was one other person in the audience even more grateful for Chris's arrival than she was: me. She went on to publicly thank me for the scheduling work I'd done, then called me down front to give me a chocolate cake thank-you gift (and it was delicious!). The box was pretty special, too: everyone knows about my undying love for Taylor Swift, so Erin had written on the box, "Mr. Swift, Thank You".


I was so touched.

At the same time I felt badly for all the complaining I'd done along the way about scheduling - to be honest I felt kind of undeserving of a public thank you after all my whining. It was a big wake up call for me that I need to adjust my attitude and start living out the Bible verse: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters..." (yes, I'm taking it out of context; I'm not sure that matters in this case).

It's not the first time I've needed this reminder. My second year in AWAKEN, I complained a lot about hauling sandbags week after week, until someone called me out about how old my whining was getting. That person's bravery to challenge me on my bad behavior caused an incredible shift in my attitude toward AWAKEN as a whole - from then on, I cherished every opportunity to haul sandbags, because I knew I was a part of something bigger than me. I need to reclaim that attitude in my life as a whole.

So, new goal for the year: even in the frustrating tasks, thank God that I am blessed enough to have those kinds of opportunities. Amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 1: A logistical summary - October

This is post #11 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

October.

Early in the month, Darrell (the crazy old bus driver who organizes the bi-monthly soup kitchen service events I help at) hosted me and a young couple from my church for dinner and a campfire and conversation. I love Darrell. I know whenever he's involved, a good, thought-provoking conversation is going to happen. I also enjoyed getting to know Nick and Alison - I knew them in passing before, but not on any deep level. Having the night off from thinking about work and just focusing on the people in the here and now, was wonderful. Reminded me of conversations from having "Pub Church" with friends my senior year of college.

Matthew finally was moved to his long-term prison, so a mutual friend and I road-tripped out to visit him. I feel regret about not visiting more often but the reality is that, outside his prison walls, life continues to happen. This new prison, while still definitely a prison, was radically different in atmosphere than where I'd visited Matthew before; the guards weren't scowling, there was more natural light, and the building just "felt" less depressing. Still, my heart absolutely broke hearing Matthew's stories of other men there who had no friends or family, no one who would visit them, no support system for when they get out. He said there was one man who'd been there nine years, and had had only one visitor in all that time.

As far back as 2006 (maybe even around 1998?) I remember feeling I might be Called to prison ministry, and that feeling continues to be re-affirmed. Prayers appreciated for me to figure out that Call, but even more importantly, for the men and women in jails/prisons who have no support network and so desperately need to feel Love.

Stand by a moment, that song makes me tear up every time. Hard to type when you're crying.

Okay. Next.

Mom and Dad took their annual trip to DisneyWorld, and as usual I was invited but declined. I love my parents, but I've told them the next time I go to DisneyWorld (with them or otherwise) I want to go with someone, like a significant-other someone. (see a future blog post, 'Part 4: Emotional reflections, lessons learned, and "what's next?"' in this "Where's Jeremy" series, for more comments about relationships)

Coincidentally, my Aunt and cousin happened to visit DisneyWorld at the same time as my parents. You also need to know that my Aunt hates White Castle hamburgers - the taste, the smell, everything. (I promise this isn't a non sequitur) This means my Uncle, who has always LOVED White Castle burgers, doesn't get to eat them often. So while our families were in Florida partying with Mickey and Pooh Bear, Uncle Mark and I got together for dinner at White Castle, just the two of us. (when we left Mark said something about visiting the dry-cleaner's to get rid of the White Castle smell before my Aunt got home).

Mid-month, I got to see myself on the big screen! A movie I'd acted in two years ago was finally done and the director hosted a premiere at a local theatre. What's that? You didn't know I could act? Actually I was surprised how much my acting didn't suck! I don't consider myself an actor, I don't go out to auditions or have any lofty dreams of becoming a famous Hollywood star. But I have acted (Jacey Squires in The Music Man, senior year of high school!), so when Jon reached out to me specifically to ask if I'd act in his movie, I was flattered and said yes. It was a Harry Potter parody - shockingly no, I didn't play the Harry character - and it was a lot of fun to shoot. The cast of characters was... quite the cast of characters, and that made every day on set a blast.

For months now, my friend Lindsay has been egging me on to volunteer on a take-down team at our evening church, where she's the volunteer coordinator. Let me digress for a moment to describe what a take-down team does, because when I told John about this a few days ago his mental image was of a squad of navy SEALS engaging in covert black ops missions to "take down" someone at a church. But, surprising as this may be, that's not what we do. For churches like Jacob's Well (my morning church) or Upper Room (my evening church) that meet in spaces owned by someone else, every week we need to re-arrange chairs, set up banners and sound equipment, etc., before church, and then reset everything back the way it was after the service. Upper Room has it easy, I think, because they get to leave the band and sound equipment in place. At JW the only thing we can leave are the speakers mounted on the wall; the sound board, snake, mics, sub, etc, all have to get wrapped and stowed away each week.

Back to Lindsay's friendly pestering, I finally agreed to help on a take-down team. It's taken me this long primarily because I was so overworked and busy before, that I couldn't add "one more thing" to my plate. Now that the database project is done, I have more time on my hands. But even more importantly, I also made two conscious decisions in the last few months: 1) that I will not let myself work on Sundays (which alleviates the urgency I used to feel after church to rush home to get work done), and 2) that I want to be more involved in my church communities. Therefore, in the interest of getting to know more people - and once more let's be honest: in a selfish hope of getting to know a particular person... - I asked Lindsay to put me on a team. Joe joined, too, since he and I always hang out after the service anyway. Take-down teams work two weeks on, two weeks off, and the timing there worked perfectly around my trip to LA.

October 21st, at long last, I donated blood again! (Donation #19: Successful) It's taken three years to get re-instated as a blood donor, and it felt so good finally to be back. As frustrating as my three-year hiatus was, I always try to learn something from my set-backs; the spiritual lesson I learned here is that I placed a lot of my self-worth and value in the fact that I was a donor, in the same way I still place too much value in my career, income, business, and overall busy-ness, rather than in who God sees me to be. Coming down off that shaky platform has been one of my goals over the last year and I continue to wrestle with it. My over-spiritualization of my donor experience rests on the belief God is giving me a second chance to be a little more grounded, and not let my donor status define who I am.

At the end of October I flew out to beautiful downtown Burbank (Los Angeles area) to visit friends and vacation. Highlights included:
  • Visiting my favorite church, Mosaic.
  • Hanging out with my friends Anne, Bernadett, Melanie, Matt, Mitch, Brooke, Laura, and also some new friends this trip: Rosemary, Victoria, and Liz.
  • Seeing Keeley, an actress from my second movie, in a play at her college.
  • Meeting lots of Anne and Bernadett's sword fighting classmates at a combination Halloween / birthday party they hosted for Bernadett (her BD is on Halloween); one of their instructors taught me how to crack a whip, and someone else from the class brought some fancy light-up lightsabers - duels (with vocal soundtracks) were had.
  • Listening to musician Megan Arial at Universal Studios City Walk. I'd seen her play there last year when I visited also, so I made it a point to hear her again this year.
  • Seeing Laura Hall's band perform at the Republic of Pie, a lovely coffee shop near Burbank (you may know Laura as the pianist on "Whose Line is it Anyway?"). We got to meet Laura and her husband Rick, and they are both delightful, lovely people.
  • Visiting the Getty Center, Griffith park, and the Santa Monica promenade.
  • Buying paintings for my work cube and at home (same store I'd visited in January 2012).
  • Driving a really nice rental car.
  • Having long, meaningful conversations, late into the night.


I could keep going, but then I'd never be able to move on to Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this blog series. So let's pretend we're now caught up to present day. Keep in mind everything here was in addition to many dinners and phone dates with friends and family, a lot of audiobook listening (The Shack, the Mercy Thompson series, the Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy, Rob Bell's new book, and the novel versions of Star Wars episodes I & II, which have made me hate JarJar Binks even more than I did from the movies), and listening to dozens of awesome sermons from a New York preacher named Timothy Keller. It has been a busy, busy year!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 1: A logistical summary - September

This is post #10 in Where's Jeremy (2013)

September.

My friend John (the same one who worked on extras casting for the movie) celebrated his 42nd birthday with a dinner party at Southdale, and proved to me once again how small our world is: one of his close friends at dinner was the twin brother of the Apple rep I used to work with when I was at Minnehaha. Also, I simply enjoyed being able to hang out with a bunch of 40-somethings, and still feel like I fit in. (I think that speaks more to my maturity than their lack of :)

Two years after being introduced to the soundtrack of Wicked, my "one short day" arrived and I finally got to see it performed live, right here in Minneapolis. I learned again that no one mourns the wicked, no good deed goes unpunished, and most importantly, that I can defy gravity. My favorite moments were: finally seeing all the in-between scenes that happen between songs, and also what I call Galinda's "forehead flick", where she gestures with her hand as if to flick something off Elphaba's forehead, metaphorically flicking negative thoughts away; I loved it, because this is something I literally, physically do, too! (call me crazy, it's fine). Finally, the most meaningful moment for me: near the end, Elphaba is saying goodbye to Glinda, and tells her "Don't try to clear my name. You have the chance to be everything that I couldn't." It's something I relate to very personally.

Friends Hannah and Richard (from the Merlin's Gang) tied the knot at a beautiful outdoor ceremony. Favorite moment might have been Hannah walking down the aisle to the non-traditional-wedding song "Han Solo and the Princess" - fitting, given Richard's love for Star Wars. The ice cream bar was a close second in favorites. Fun evening, got to hang out with good people, and I took away a few new ideas for my own wedding some day. (for the record: when it comes to planning my wedding day, there will be none of this "whatever you want, Honey" cliché business - I have a LONG list of opinions and will be actively involved in planning!)

My friend Joe and I have been attending an evening church called Upper Room for almost a year now. Joe and I were roommates in college, then sort of lost touch when he did his masters program abroad, but now I'd say we're pretty close friends again. I typically haven't had many male "best" friends, so I really like that we get to hang out each week and touch base on our lives, give and take advice, and so on. That's an aside. At Upper Room, the last Sunday of each month there's a group of 20/30-somethings that meet at a bar for what they call "UR Connect", a chance for folks to hang out and get to know other people from church. I'd never gone before, but in the desire to push myself out of my comfort zone (and let's be honest, maybe meet someone from church that I'd like to ask out?), Joe and I and our friend Sarah all went to this month's UR Connect gathering. In an effort of "expectation management," I set my expectations to: "meet one new person, male or female, from Upper Room." And we did just that. It turned out the woman we met had friends in common with Sarah, so, small world again.

Lastly, in September I finally splurged and bought myself a Franklin Mint 3D Star Trek chess set that I've wanted since I was little. It was expensive, and smaller than I'd thought, but after years and years of pining, I'm happy to finally own one. Now I just need someone to play against...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 1: A logistical summary - August

This is post #9 in Where’s Jeremy (2013)

August.

Coworkers Wendy and Bryan’s musical-going group invited me for Circus Juventas, a local youth circus that trains students in the art of ... circusing. This year’s show was a rendition of the Wizard of Oz, and I was wowed; their costumes were exceptionally elaborate, and the overall production value of the performance was awe-inspiring. I’ve not had much circus-going experience in the past, but I was impressed. Also my neck was sore for days afterward, from craning to see the acrobats.

My filmmaking friends and I finally scheduled a one-day shoot to pick up one last scene for Paperclip, the short movie we shot in fall of 2011. It involved running around the woods with a camera, “chasing” our cheerleader actress and then dumping her in a river (don’t worry, we hired a water safety guy). Fun day, also stressful because there were many angles to shoot and not very much time to do it in. I didn’t hydrate well enough so made myself terribly ill on the way home. That part was not fun. I made my friends I was carpooling with leave me at a rest-stop, because I just could not be in a moving car any more. I called my parents, knowing it would take them an hour to get there, which would give me time to re-hydrate, breathe, call the paramedics to make sure I wasn’t suffering heat stroke, and so on. They dropped what they were doing to come get me (and fortunately I was feeling better by the time they got there). I have the most awesome parents in the world.

The following Monday my business associate Jordan and I met with the producers of a new feature film that was about to start shooting in town, to see about doing extras casting for them. Just like a Taylor Swift song, I “should’ve said no,” because doing extras casting on this thing turned into an absolute nightmare. Despite many desperate pleas to the production to give us any advance notice on what scenes were shooting, the ADs continually gave us, at best, 48 hours notice on how many extras they would need for each day. Usually it was even less. This is freaking Minnesota. People here have jobs. They can’t just take off work last-minute just because you couldn’t plan ahead a few extra days, not at the small amount of money you’re paying. It truly was unbelievable, how disorganized communication was. And then, the ADs had the audacity to be upset with us, when we didn’t hit our numbers. For the pitifully small amount of profit we made, it was not worth it. My friends Anne and John took the brunt of this frustration, they were on the front lines booking all the extras (although I did get in the trenches a couple days to help make phone calls). All told we booked 400 spots - many were repeat people (one guy worked ten days!), but many were one-offs, which meant after they wrapped, there was a crap-ton [official unit of measurement] of data-entry to add all the extras into my online bill pay, as vendors in QuickBooks, as bills in QuickBooks, and then finally, to send all the payments. On the plus side... it’s over.

I bought an elliptical from Sears. Which turned into a debacle. The salesman who helped me was wonderful, he spent way more time with me than I deserved, was incredibly patient, friendly - customer service at it’s best. If you’re ever in the market for some exercise equipment, try to find a guy named Dick Fogg at the Mall of America Sears store, he gets six out of five stars from me. However the Sears delivery service, gets a negative 3 stars. They did everything possible to make sure I was an unsatisfied customer. It started out with the first delivery team assembling the elliptical incorrectly - shoddy workmanship that frankly should have cost them their jobs - the thing was unstable, made clunking noises and had screws missing. Then followed a comedy of errors of me calling Sears to request/demand a repair, Sears agreeing to a time, then changing it, then not showing up, setting up a new appointment, showing up and only half-repairing the thing, making another appointment, showing up an hour early and wondering why I wasn’t home from work yet, and so on. This continued through I think 5 or 6 appointments/attempts at appointments, before finally they ended up replacing the entire thing and assembling a new one. And they still did it wrong: one of the foot pedals is on backwards. This I have decided just to live with, because it’s better than going through the whole rigamarole and hassle of scheduling another appointment with their non-understandable call-service (I’ve been to India, and normally I have no problem talking to a call center, but the people Sears employs do not speak English well enough to be doing their jobs). First world problems, I guess.

Matthew was moved from jail to a prison facility, so after being background-checked and approved to visit, I took a road-trip to see him. The prison - or, excuse me, “correctional facility” - looked like a castle. I mean seriously, I was surprised I didn’t have to cross a moat and draw-bridge. The officer who signed me in was very friendly, which caught me off-guard; in my very limited experience with jails and prison, everyone else who works there seems to be cantankerous and curmudgeonly. This officer, though, smiled, and patiently explained everything I’d need to know. This visit was different than at the jail - here we could do a “contact” visit, which means Matthew and I could exchange a quick hug, then sit across from each other in a row of chairs, in a larger room filled with other inmates and visitors having their conversations. We got to talk for an hour, the guard handed him “5 minute warning” slip of paper, and we said our goodbyes.

Over Labor Day weekend, Jessie, one of my best friends, came to visit from Des Moines. Her being here was my excuse to go do lots of fun entertainment that I would never do on my own: Como Zoo, the State Fair (where I ate many healthy-things-on-a-stick’s), the Renaissance Festival, the Science Museum, and had a lot of good conversations, too.



Addendum: A few hours after publishing this post, a representative from Sears wrote a comment. In the interest of preventing spam to their email address, I've kept the comment unpublished, but will include a redacted version here:
Jeremy,

My name is Jack and I am with the Sears Social Media Escalations team. I came across your blog post concerning the delivery issues that you had with your elliptical and wanted to offer our assistance. Please accept our apology with the delivery and repair issues that you have experienced with the elliptical. We would like to have a case manager contact you to discuss this with you in greater detail and determine the best course of action at this time. If you would like to speak to us about this, please email the following information – your contact phone number, name, and phone number used at the time of purchase to ___. Again we’re sorry for any trouble this may have caused and we look forward to speaking to you soon.
Thank you,

Jack C.
Social Media Moderator
Sears Social Media Support

Saturday morning I sent them an email as requested, and less than an hour later a representative from Sears' corporate office called me and listened as I recounted my experience. She apologized, offered me a 20% refund, and promised to bring up my issues at her weekly corporate meeting. I thanked her for the refund, but stressed how it's even more important for them to fix their internal communication issues, so future customers don't have to deal with the shenanigans I did. Though there may be a limit to what she can do (and I completely understand), at least she'll raise the issues. Hopefully something will come of it. Nevertheless, kudos to Sears for A) reaching out to me, and B) taking the time to listen.

On a side-note: long ago my parents taught me always to keep notes of who I spoke to, when, and what was said, whenever it looks like the situation might turn into an ordeal. It is amazingly powerful to be able to say, months later, "I talked to Billy Sue at 10:57 a.m. and s/he told me ___." Makes you sound like a force to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 1: A logistical summary - July

This is post #6 in Where’s Jeremy (2013)

July.

I went to jail (just for a visit, don't worry).

eHarmony dumped me before I could even sign up.

My friend Alee's parents hosted a 4th of July party, which was in itself a lot of fun. But the remarkable moment of the day came when, in the late afternoon, a bunch of us were sitting out on the lawn and someone asked what time it was. Why is that a big deal? Because I didn't know. We'd been playing water volleyball, so I didn't have my phone on me, I wasn't connected to the outside world, and that was okay. Even more, I'd just finished the database project four days earlier, so I didn't have work waiting for me, and so I didn't need to know what time it was, because I had no where else to be and nothing else to do. It. was. beautiful.

July 5th, one of my friends from church, a seminarian who inspires me, got married, so I got to hang out with my pastor and some other church friends at the wedding and reception.

The next morning I trekked down to Des Moines for friend Jessie's birthday celebration that evening. Had some good phone conversations with friends around the country while I drove. And I have marked in my calendar that this is the day I started thinking about getting a tattoo. (don't worry Mom, I haven't acted on this yet!) For years I've thought, sure, I could see myself getting a tattoo, but only if the right idea comes along - I'm not going to get one just for the sake of getting one. The idea I have now is the word "Hope" on my left wrist, so that I could see it often and be reminded. It's an idea. Haven't made any permanent decisions yet.

After months of hearing positive stories from friends about how their therapists have challenged them, I finally rang a woman named Beverly, who was recommended to me by a trusted friend and mentor. Our first session was July 9, and of course me being me, I went in with a long list of issues we could work on (things like my fear of disappointing people, fear of failure, need for affirmation / validation, need to control / perfectionism, workaholism, etc). We've been meeting every week or two since, and Beverly's given me a lot of solid, practical advice. I take notes every meeting so I can re-read them throughout the week. So, one specific example, with regards to me being a perfectionist: "You've made this 'I have to do perfectly' thought process into an idol. It's not helping you become a better person or a more Godly person. Being a perfectionist is unattainable and you will fail. You cannot be perfect. And you're not going to be a sloth just because you're not perfect." Practical reminders that I try to review every day.

That weekend my friend Matt invited a few of us over to play with Legos. Yes. That's right. A bunch of 27-31 year-olds, building Lego buildings. It was so much fun!! Check out more photos from my Facebook profile. (the last photo here is the product of four Lego nights so far)


The next morning my friend Cathleen and I visited Life21, the church in Northfield where I had played guitar and led the worship team for a few months after college (5 years ago! I'm old). It's a tiny congregation, but they have such passion for God, and no inhibition about expressing it. Their worship is from the heart. I was humbled and flattered that so many of them still remembered me; I was greeted with hugs, and it felt like I was coming home after a long trip. The pastor even mentioned me in his sermon - I hadn't thought I'd made that much of an impact, but I guess I did. I love my current churches, but I do also miss Life21. Those are good people.

Next weekend, I had an incredibly awkward mostly-blind date with someone from the dating site I've been on, christianmingle. I got there early and brought a book to pass the time, figuring that, since she had a toddler, she might run late. An hour later, she texts me that they're finally at the park. What I didn't anticipate is that when I told her "I'm by the playground," there would be four other playgrounds in the same park! We found each other eventually, and by about 30 seconds in it was clear we not only had very little in common, but worse, very little even to talk about. I learned several important lessons here. For example: have plans to be somewhere at a certain time, so there's a definitive "out" point. And, perhaps, chat a little more on the phone or via text first, before meeting face to face. I mean, she was friendly and all, just, nothing really in common. Live and learn.

That same day, July 20, I reached... drumroll... the Zero Inbox. Zero messages in my email inbox. If you don't understand, this is a big deal. And I've more or less maintained it since. Not 100% of the time, but I don't think I've let any message lapse more than 4 days.

Friday, July 26th was the annual System Administrator Appreciation Day, and so a dozen+ of us sysadmins from work went out for lunch together at a really deluxe pasta buffet, compliments of our managers. I'll be writing more about Cray later, but suffice it to say, I really like my job, and the people I get to work with.

That evening, after being invited each year for the past several years, I finally made it to my friend John's "Lost Weekend" party. His wife takes the kids out of town and John gets the whole weekend to hang out with his friends, during which they eat lots of "healthy" food, play Rock Band and board games and so on. Being an only child I've always gotten along better with people older than I am, so hanging out with the 40-year-old guys was really fun!

Saturday, July 27th, after almost a month of beta-testing and bug-fixing, I officially launched the Samaritan Casting online database. By the end of that day we had over 140 registered users, and on September 12th, over 1000. Yes. One thousand. In less than 7 weeks. That's pretty darn cool, I think. More about the database later.

Also on July 27th, I did something I don't think I've done in literally years: I worked on songwriting. More specifically I sorted through dozens (hundreds?) of voice notes about songs I wanted to write, random text snippets, "todo" folders nested within other "todo" folders, etc. It was one of those "when I have time" projects, and... I finally had spare time!!! Can I get an amen?!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Visiting jail, and coping

This is post #7 in Where’s Jeremy (2013)

July 1st I had [as far as I can remember] my first experience going to jail. Fortunately it was through the front doors, as a visitor, no handcuffs or Miranda rights involved. Of course, it took several attempts to even find the correct front doors, because the first front doors we tried were locked. Eventually we found the correct, side-front door to gain entrance.

I looked around the waiting room stupidly, then finally picked up an unmarked phone and spoke to the unfriendly lady behind the bullet-proof glass. She gestured at a pile of pink sheets of paper that I apparently should have known to fill out. After depositing my pink paper and driver's license in the metal tray for the lady to examine, I emptied my pockets into a locker and waited. And went to the bathroom. And then waited some more. And talked a bit with my friend who'd come with me.

20 minutes later a disembodied voice called my name, and I stepped through the metal detector. It begrudged me my shoes, so I had to take them off, step through again, then grab my shoes and open the door before the buzz-in lock re-locked. This brought me into an airlock, with multiple doors and no clear direction to travel. Fortunately a kind soul traveling the opposite direction, pointed me on my way. Outside the airlock, a nice man behind his own bullet proof glass had me sign in, and gave me a sticker name tag to wear. He directed me down a long hallway, at the end of which a button-less elevator opened and closed its doors for me automagically.

The elevator brought me up (I think up?) to another floor where I found half a dozen stalls. I call them stalls because each was 6 or more feet "deep", and only 2-ish feet wide. The walls in between were tiled to waist-height then plexiglass above that, so you could see between all of them. On each stall's wall was a telephone that resembled old-school pay phones, like from the 90s, before modern society, something straight out of an history eBook. At the end of each stall was a hefty pane of glass, maybe an inch or two thick. There were no people anywhere to be seen, and it took me a minute to realize the name tag sticker I was wearing had stall number "5f" written on it. I took a seat on the uncomfortable stainless steel stool in my assigned stall, and waited.

A minute later Matthew entered from a door on the opposite side of the glass, picked up the phone on his side, pressed some buttons, then gestured for me to do the same. I pressed 1 to confirm I understood our conversation would be recorded, and then the first words I heard were "can you hear me now?" Typical Matthew. For someone who had just been sentenced to nine years (six with good behavior), I was amazed how bright his spirits were. He wasn't angry, he wasn't bitter. Instead he said, in so many words, he did the crime and now was rightfully doing the time.

We talked for an hour. Well, mostly I just listened - it was clear Matthew needed to talk, and frankly his stories were more important than any I had brought.

Thrice I neared tears as I looked around and took in my surroundings, the realization dawning that this - the phones, the impenetrable pane of glass - this would be our friendship's new reality for the next six years, and I don't know how to deal with that. I held back my tears and focused instead on the moment, determined to remain present. Mourning would come on its own later.

A recorded voice interrupted, saying we had one minute left. We said our hasty goodbyes, and Matthew put his hand up on the glass; I returned the gesture, and we hung up. The no-button elevator brought me back downstairs, I retrieved my wallet and phone from the locker, and left, sad, but also with some peace.

I met with my pastor a couple days later, and he was pretty blunt in telling me 'your relationship [with Matthew] is going to be different from now on; he is not going to be able to fulfill the same role he has in the past in you life.' A younger Jeremy's gut reaction would have been resistance and to exclaim "you're wrong!", but I could tell right in that moment that I've grown in emotional maturity, because I heard what Greg said, and understood he was saying it out of love and care for me (and not because he's trying to say anything mean about Matthew). A younger me could not have received that, but my "older, wiser" self is at a place where I've seen enough friendships come and go naturally that Greg's words didn't scare me. I know that wherever Matthew and my friendship goes, it will progress there naturally, and I do not need to force it. I think the way Greg put it: the friendship that we had is over, now let's begin a new, different kind of friendship. I don't know what that's going to look like, and it's not a bad thing, it just "is."

On Friday of that week, after a wedding reception of all things, on a whim I went to visit Matthew again. This time was more of a conversation, back and forth. I got to tell him I finished the database, and I was again encouraged to hear how positive his spirits remained: to paraphrase how he described it to me, "no one would ever choose to be in this situation, but as long as I'm here, I'm going to look at it as an adventure, and make the most of it." I know he will. We talked for half an hour until visiting hours ended.

When a person dies, oftentimes the survivors have regrets: "I should have spent more time with them." Matthew's not dead (and I have had to keep reminding myself of that, even before the sentencing happened), at the same time I feel like this situation is so similar, where someone might have regrets. I don't have any regrets, though. I was very deliberate about getting together with Matthew in the months leading up to sentencing, and so I don't have to look back and have all those "shoulda woulda couldas". Our friendship will be different, but my friend isn't gone forever.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 1: A logistical summary - June

This is post #5 in Where’s Jeremy (2013)

June.

After living in my home for 6 and a half years, my parents and I finally signed the contract-for-deed, which means I'm "officially" buying the house from them now. The backstory if you're unfamiliar: I live in my grandparents' house; I moved in in 2006, after Grandma passed away and Grandpa moved to assisted living. My parents used their inheritance from my other Grandma's death (that same year) to buy the house from Grandpa, and now they are selling it to me. I am incredibly lucky, and I do not take it for granted.

One of the "joys of home ownership," as my parents call it, is home repairs! My dishwasher was making an awful grinding noise - my roommate Alec called it a "monster" - so I finally scheduled an appointment. All the labor and parts were free as part of CenterPoint's home Service Plus, but it took them 3 trips to A) diagnose the problem / order parts, B) come back, and determine not enough new parts were ordered, and then finally C) put the thing back together. It runs very quietly now. Ahh.

Friends Joe and Alee and Hannah and Richard (and more) and I spent several evenings outdoors, enjoying the Minneapolis Park&Rec Board's "Movies in the Park" - we saw Mighty Ducks, Hunger Games, Miracle, Wall-e, and Top Gun (though due to a noisy food truck right by where we were sitting, we truly only "saw" Top Gun, we did not hear it).

On June 28th, one of my best friends plead guilty to the crime he was accused of, and was sentenced to 9 years in prison (with good behavior he will serve 6). This is a story worthy of its own lengthy blog post, which I might some day write. The short version: because I was very intentional about spending time with Matthew, I leave the experience without the all-too-common regrets people have after suffering a loss: "I wish I would have spent more time, I wish I would have done this or that, I wish, I wish ..." because I did. I was there for him for the past year and a half, and, alongside other friends and family, I was there to support him in the court room. In my world, that is what friendship is supposed to look like. Matthew made a mistake that crossed both legal and moral lines, there are no two ways around that. But I refuse to be a fair-weather friend.

On June 30th, the last day of the month, I finished programming on the online casting database. My perpetual nightmare of working extremely long hours (all day at Cray, and then all evening on the database), literally making myself fall ill from working and not getting enough sleep, came to a rather anti-climactic close. Though there were still many tasks ahead (beta-testing, bug fixes, terms of service, announcements, and more), the largest part, the hardest part, was done. Words are incapable of expressing the tremendous relief I felt.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 1: A logistical summary - May

This is post #4 in Where’s Jeremy (2013)

May.

For three weeks I took an hiatus from programming on the casting database.

Around this time my friends Joe, Alee, Hannah, Richard, and a few others, started frequenting Merlin's Rest, a pub very near my house. I'm not sure what this says about us, but by the time of this writing, the wait staff doesn't even card us anymore, because they all know us. Our frequent waitress Jess also takes great joy in picking out fun new drinks for me (she knows my standing order is "something pink, fruity, and alcoholic; the pink is optional"). Kinda cool to be a "regular."

Later in May I served food to the poor and homeless with my friend Darrell and his group of people he calls "Salt Shakers". This was my first experience serving in a food line and, while I don't want to belittle my problems as unimportant, the experience certainly gave me some perspective.

As a fun little programming side project, I was hired by Street Factory Media, a local advertising firm, to create a computer animation for some food trucks they were helping launch. I used the little-known Quartz Composer to create an animation, pulling data from a web API to display titles of upcoming music/sporting events for each of the three cities where the food trucks would be. It was fun... but also stressful - the end-client (not SFM - they were great) was not very cooperative when I asked for information, and I ended up having to figure out a lot of extra details that should not have been my responsibility. Like so often happens: live and learn.