Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Paul Kavitz's Day Off

A quarter century ago, in the height of John Hughes' movie glory, my high school experience was shaped by the movie Ferris Beuller's Day Off, released on VHS video tape in 1987.

Like Ferris, I was a senior who thought it would be cool to ditch school and have some fun. Unlike Ferris, my day off in rural North Carolina would be devoid of options like the contemporary art gallery, stock room trading floors, and fine dining he enjoyed in Chicago. My light blue pickup truck was no 1961 Ferrari GT California, but it was sufficient to entice two cute girls (juniors) to ditch school with me to watch this movie together.
A small but important 'coming of age' moment in my life.

Of course the real protagonist/hero of that movie was not Matthew Broderick's invincible Ferris for ditching school, but Alan Ruck's vulnerable Cameron Frye for daring to break the rules and mustering the courage to declare, "I'm going to take a stand."

The character arc of Cameron's transformation transpired in a single day, but for real people like me transformation usually takes much longer.  As a goal-oriented person, I have curated my life to resemble the parable of "The Big Rocks in Life".  My recent 'big rocks' had become points of pride: graduating with my master's of public policy in May of this year, followed by finishing my first Ironman distance race at Lake Placid in July.  As I pursued these 'big rocks' I've also attended to the 'gravel' of work projects and kid projects and home projects, and the 'sand' of bills and cleaning and grocery shopping and everyday life.

For all the goals and projects that I get done in my life, I experience a strong sense of satisfaction.  Each serves to help provide focus, direction, and motivation in my life.
Despite these accomplishments, over my lifetime I have accumulated a sizable inventory of incomplete intentions that just spin around in my head time and time again.  I intend to become proficient in Spanish, I intend to start a garden, I intend to build a kick-ass treehouse, I intend to accelerate market-uptake of Fitness Intelligence, I intend to evangelize my governance architecture ideas via the Bluecrue Institute, I intend to establish a charitable foundation.
Sometimes these unfinished ambitions lead to anxiety about not doing enough with my life, and sometimes I feel regret for there never seeming to be enough time.  The information age seems to have accelerated my creation of these intentions, so at times my negative feelings around incomplete goals overwhelm my positive feelings of goal attainment.  In his book 'Getting Things Done' (GTD), best-selling management consultant David Allen coined the word "open loops" for these unfinished internal commitments.  His solution in a nutshell: follow a process to get the 'to-dos' out of your head and into an external system, manage by 'what is the next action', and prioritize.  By using Evernote and metadata recommendations from The Secret Weapon, I have had good success with the GTD process.  But while I now get even more stuff done in a week, I also capture more 'stuff I want to do' in a week too.

Even with this system, though, I still faced a basic problem:
What do I do with my 'open loops' I don't want to let go that never seem more important than the 'tyrrany of the urgent' on any given day?
Allen's recommendation?  Keep these on a 'Someday' list and review/prune this list weekly.  Trouble is, in a busy, kid-filled, goal-oriented life, what if 'someday' never comes?

Someday...I gotta find the name of that song from the Trailer to "She's Having a Baby"

One such 'open loop' had languished near the bottom of my priority system for twenty-five years, ever since I ditched school that time to watch Ferris Beuller's Day Off.

Just as the whir of the VCR motor engaged to spin the movie to life, we saw the theatrical trailer for another upcoming John Hughes film "She's Having a Baby".  This short promotion lasted maybe 30 seconds and depicted a cacophony of scenes from that movie, including Kevin Bacon sitting in a shrinking office, an ovulating wife, feminine temptation, and a finale dream scene with him in a straitjacket on a rocket car hurtling towards a brick wall in the desert.  For me, this sequence conveyed very strongly the incessant cadence of married/family life, always just-on-the-edge-of-control, filled with tasks, responsibilities, and obligations.  How like John Hughes to capture this essence of our culture and life experience.

What's interesting to note, is that while I've not seen that theatrical trailer for over a quarter century, I just recalled trailer storyline in enough detail to write it down.  I can't remember anything in detail from 25 days ago, much less that many years ago.  That artistic expression was so compelling, it imprinted and remained distinct within my memory over all these years.

I believe that the trailer soundtrack was the key ingredient that made this vignette so memorable.  The simplicity of rhythm and tempo were dance-like and kinetic not unlike Phillip Glass' music from Powaqqatsi.  This soundtrack from the "She's Having a Baby" trailer embedded within my soul and never, ever left me.  I would remember it at times in my journey through early adulthood, through my travels, my marriage, my children.  The song was linked to those images from Hughes' movie, but it certainly transcended it.  I could hum it anytime, but I could never find it's name.

That became an open loop.  What is the name of that song from the Trailer to "She's Having a Baby"?

What a tiny open loop.  Certainly one that never rose higher in priority than studying for an exam, cooking dinner, or spending time with a friend.  Definitely something to either just let go, or put on the 'Someday' list.  Over my life, I've been able to let a lot of intentions go, but something about this intention just kept resurfacing in my life.  Every six months or so, in fact.  Not only a tiny open loop, but a tiny nagging open loop.

Long ago, this open loop couldn't easily be closed for a couple of reasons.  It wasn't listed on the soundtrack for "She's Having a Baby", and the Internet hadn't yet exploded with fingertip instantaneous access to the world's knowledge.  Nowadays, such an intention can't even hatch, because when I hear a song I like... Shazam!...I not only know the name, but I can replay it on Spotify before the song even finishes playing.  Maybe I could have found the name of the song earlier, but the cost of finding it far outweighed the urgency...and I had plenty of other things to do with my life.

Fast forward to a decade later, in 1997 as online search services first started to spring up.  Downloadable  Now every time this open loop tickled my brain, the promise of browsing the limitless web re-energized my rare and brief attempts to close this loop.  Alas, my search attempts were fruitless.  The pattern of this open loop for the ensuing 15 years became:
  1. Remember my intention
  2. Search
  3. Fail
  4. Get on with my life (but the loop remains open)
I falied in part due to the rigidity of my approach.  I only ever searched for information on the trailer to She's Having a Baby.  When Youtube sprang up, I never varied from this original search pattern.  The reason this pattern never worked is that the producers created TWO types of theatrical trailers, and the only one that I could EVER find online was the longer variant with narration and a horrible background track (seen here).  The shorter version with that memorable soundtrack was nowhere to be found.  Every time I parked the intention, I told myself I'd check again one day...perhaps someone would post the better varient at last.

No one ever did.

But one day in August, 2012, something changed...
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Paul Kavitz's Day Off (Part 2)

My Day Off, August 2012

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In mid-August of this year, after making the difficult decision to opt out of a spontaneous week-long vacation on a Disney Cruise to Alaska, I applied myself instead to pressing operational necessities.  My home needed to shift from Summer chaos to Autumn structure, ready to receive our new au pair and send the kids to school.

While this was a task that always fell to me this time of year, what was unusual this time is that I had the house all to myself.  Wow.

Making the seasonal shift went swifly without having to simultaneously manage the daily family life-support system.  I was able to exercise, progress all my work projects, AND even deliver online scorecards to all the athletes at the Wildwoods triathlon.  Talk about Getting Things Done.

By the time Friday rolled around, all of my big-ticket commitments had been ticked off the list, so I jump in the car early and head for my regular morning swim at the YMCA.  Water and workout feel great, and I begin my drive to the office in an enthusiastic and motivated mood.  Listening to NPR Morning Edition, WAMU airs a little segment on the DC theatre season, and what do you the background, they're playing THAT SONG from the She's Having a Baby trailer.

I absorb the music again and it rekindles my ambition to find the name.  Serendipity had offered her reminder of my intention on a day when I can actually do something about it.  I glance at the clock on the dashboard and at 9:30am I tell myself "TODAY IS THE DAY THAT I'M GOING TO FIND OUT THE NAME OF THAT SONG!"

By 9:30pm I'm heading upstairs to read Dr. Mark Hyman's "The UltraMind Solution" and as my foot touches that first step I stop in shock.  The entire day has elapsed and I have spent absolutely NO time looking for that song.  My quarter-century intention that had languished on my 'Someday' list was about to be shelved once again, even though 'Someday' had actually come.

So instead of going upstairs, I turn around and sit down at my computer to revisit my question.  At first, I try the same old approach of searching for the teaser/trailer video segment on Youtube.  Nothing.  Again.  Exasperated, I just type this question into the google search field: "What is the name of that song from the She's Having a Baby trailer?"

What do you was that simple.  The 6th result referenced a nearly identical question in 2004 by 'Saluco' on Adtunes.  Apparently the identity of this song had also haunted others, including Saluco.  My hairs stood on end.

The simple reply by 'Sophist' was "Music for a Found Harmonium" by Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

I just stared at that line for a long while, unsure at first... finding myself apparently and suddenly at the end of my quest.  Slowly, deliberately, I opened Spotify and typed this title into the search bar and in less than 2 seconds, I was but one click away from confirming whether this was the answer I had sought.

It was.

Once the eerie opening chord was finally joined by that unmistakable orchestral fugue, I knew that I knew this song.  At last.

And this knowledge was accompanied by the remarkable taste of a new varietal of emotions:  Sublime satisfaction, relief, self-esteem, joy.  The confidence that even vintage loops can be closed.

Something unlocked in me to close another open-loop legacy...

Within a week, I found the Academy Award winning animation, "The Man Who Planted Trees" whose title I had been looking for nearly as long.  This is the fictional story of Elz√©ard Bouffier who transformed a barren landscape into a wellspring of abundance with his patient dedication to a task.  He was one of God's [endurance] athletes, and showed "that man could be as effective as God in tasks other than destruction."

These discoveries of music and classical storytelling were swiftly incorporated into my life, serving as an agent for growth and shaping my children's world experience.  Penguin Cafe Orchestra's most popular piece, "Perpetuum Mobile" became Ella and Ethan's favorite for the entire month of September.

These two very small, seemingly inconsequential discoveries began to unlock other possibilities with other intentions...

Other 'Someday' loops, relative youngsters of only 7-years old, were closed before Autumn ended.  I finally went to a performance at Wolf Trap (how easy was that) to see 'The King and I' with my mom.  Really only 10 minutes of organizational effort, but the real trick was allowing myself to go.

Then, in early October I went sailing on Annapolis Harbor.  I have loved sailing all my adult life, with excursions across two continents.  However since returning from Australia seven years ago, I had lost touch with this passion.  As the craft departed the mooring and sliced between water and wind, I once again experienced that unique, deep and spiritual pleasure.  I committed to integrating sailing into my lifestyle and bring this to my kids.

By closing these lingering 'Someday' loops, more room opens inside of me.  Possibilities emerge.  Imagination blooms.  Life and growth awaken.

So my advice to myself, and to you my dear reader, is this:  The tyranny of the urgent is always upon us.  There will always be a reason to defer that seemingly small intention on the 'Someday' list, and if you keep doing that, Someday will never come.

But if you can give yourself the day off, try taking an open-loop intention off the 'Someday' list and do the next action to make it real.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.