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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