The Devil is the Details

Losing sight is often more traumatic than we like to realize. Or so I have learned this past week. It’s tech week for a production that I agreed to lend my energy and time (read volunteer) to as an audio mixer (read lackey). With little experience, I haphazardly acquiesced to the request knowing that the […]

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Losing sight is often more traumatic than we like to realize. Or so I have learned this past week. It’s tech week for a production that I agreed to lend my energy and time (read volunteer) to as an audio mixer (read lackey). With little experience, I haphazardly acquiesced to the request knowing that the potential existed for long hours, late nights and fiery bouts of tantrums and opinions from egos and actors alike. But, in my lack of ability to assert myself even though I may want to, I said “Yes! Absolutely! Thank you very much!” I have also learned I say thank you entirely too much.

Losing sight is often more traumatic than we like to realize. Or so I have learned this past week. It’s tech week for a production that I agreed to lend my energy and time to as an audio mixer. With little experience, I haphazardly acquiesced to the request knowing that the potential existed for long hours, late nights and fiery bouts of tantrums and opinions from egos and actors alike. But, in my lack of ability to assert myself even though I may want to, I said “Yes! Absolutely! Thank you very much!” I have also learned I say thank you entirely too much.

During this tech week for a modern adaption of Godspell, three actors are required to wear helmets and visors in guise as “New World Order” police officers who, successfully attempted to thwart the actions of the rest of the cast playing a Jesus (superb actor and singer) and her motley gang of homeless disciples while they danced around to broadway-esque tunes of the Gospels.

I don’t know why. I don’t understand theater. Just give me a signal and I will give you sound. That’s the extent of what I know.

Anyway, the visors were clouded and foggy, to give more of an effect and hide the actors’ faces for whatever reason. But, whether they realized this would happen or not, this caused the actors to quite literally lose their sight.

So, a rather theatrical version of a supposedly scary and intimidating police officer, running around the set twirling her fake baton, beating the beatniks and knocking the hippies cowering in musical fear, quickly succumbed to the effects of lost sight and tripped, face-first, over a trashcan prop and splat. Her clouded visor broke her fall by crushing inward into her face. It had to hurt.

And so, I learned quickly and maybe obviously, losing sight can often be traumatic. Though her lasting injuries were minimal (read nonexistent), her reaction was passionate, intense, and unnecessarily loud. She’s an actor. I should have expected nothing less.

As an audio mixer, you can’t afford to “lose sight.” You can’t afford to become distracted, to not have even a vague idea as to how you want everything to sound, how you want it to feel. Daydreaming is detrimental, distractions are costly. A missed cue or a deafening hum are all that stand between sweet perfection and total failure — a successful show and waste of two-and-a-half hours.

I try to visualize what it should sound like. Does that make sense? Visualizing sound? Probably not. Maybe so. But it’s what I do.

If you mix audio, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I visualize the perfect sound and I work to get there. One of the ways I get there is to begin by breaking it down into tangible parts. The bass, the snare, the kick, lead and rhythm guitar, lead singer and back-up singers, everything. I break apart the whole into its individual pieces.

Isolating the instruments allows me to achieve the sound I envision. Moving through each individual channel, I tweak and poke, prod and pick until I achieve the sound I want. A little more twang here, a rounder thud there, a brighter crash and a tighter thwack.

Lose sight and that all goes to hell. The body of the sound becomes a garbled mess. The bass becomes muddy, the lead guitar screechy, the symbals tinny and the vocalists piercing-y. This isn’t a hobby where one can just keep their head down and get through. That simply will not do. Do it right and you can produce the most Heavenly sounds on Earth. But, if you have no idea how it should sound, no idea of the direction you want to go, no idea of what the end-game, the goal, the finish line, the finished product should look like — those pieces are entirely, utterly, and completely useless. The details mean nothing, the steps are pointless if you don’t even know where you want to go.

At the risk of sounding too philosophical, life is similar to mixing audio. There are these individual separate pieces that must work in concert with one another just like in music. Physical health, mental wellbeing, jobs, responsibilities, chores, bills, yada yada yada. If one is too loud and the other to hollow, if something is too soft or a cue is missed, then the whole bloody thing collapses.

Make sure you exercise enough, but not too much, each your vegetables, drink water, sit under the sun for 25 minutes a day, compliment at least 5 people, gas light is on, check engine light is flashing, there’s a raccoon in the garbage can, the grass is 8 feet high, you missed a dentist appointment, you burned the meatloaf, spinning class is canceled, you need to write a 30 page paper on ethics, finish this work assignment and reply to that email, eat 2 eggs, wait 1 egg, wait no eggs, wait just egg whites, wait eggs are poisonous. The pieces can become overwhelming.

To me, the devil isn’t in the details, the devil IS the details. Details bog me down, they cloud my judgment and distract my focus. It’s just my personality — I totally understand others may love details and I definitely can shift my focus when I’m required. But, overall, If I lose sight, I slip further out of reality in feeble attempts to escape what is right in front of me. Like a trashcan prop at a local theater.

I’ve been reminded of this recently. The future for a 25-year-old can feel daunting, especially in this world and culture that besieges you with a never-ending array of options. To be honest, I barely even know myself at the close of the first quarter of life and can’t even put to paper what it is exactly I want to be doing. Just to keep my head above water, I hyper-focus on what I can do immediately, what I think will reduce the stress and magically give me direction. I create a client report, I answer an angry email, I stare at a proposal for hours hoping and praying there are no typos, I draft up strategies that have no overall bearing on anything.

What I am essentially doing is hyper-focusing on the details in front of me because I have no clear idea of what I want to be moving towards. So I grasp at what gives even a shred of satisfaction.

And it’s killing me.

I’m someone who needs a vision, needs to be able to see the finish line, needs to have some semblance of resolve as to where I want to go. If I can’t figure it out, I lose motivation, lose energy, and I lose passion in all that I do becoming just a taskmaster — a very cranky, short- bad-tempered, and unsatisfied taskmaster.

I believe, whether or not you are a detail-oriented person, having no vision is dangerous — just quickly bouncing from task to task, detail to detail with no end-game in mind will get you nowhere real fast. By the time you look up and towards the horizon of your life, you won’t recognize your surroundings and will have missed so much of what makes life enjoyable.

And so I resolve to not lose sight in my life — To refuse to allow the steps, the small activities, the small pieces of my life, my job, my car, my diet or the stupid things like my burnt-out headlight, my college loans, and my propensity to procrastinate to ever dare stand in the way, to ever bog me down. They won’t trip me, they won’t stop me. I won’t, I can’t lose sight. Not now, not after having gotten this far in my life. Too much is invested now, too many plans are at play to forget the why, to forget where I’m going.

If you find yourself stuck in the same situation, my challenge for you is to spend 15 minutes each day doing what’s called Brain Dumping and Vision Painting.

Being stuck in your mind is real phenomenon and an absolute detriment to what we can achieve. Unless you can structure your thinking using the Dewey Decimal System, chances are the string of thoughts, endless ideas, and interrupting memories inhibit your organization and clarity. Without seeing the tangible progress, without allowing your dreams to live outside of your mind and solidify, your forward momentum towards achieving your goals and realizing your vision might stall.

Writing it out prevents the stall by removing it from your head, disrupting the neverending thoughts, and creates space to begin moving toward accomplishing your goals.

It’s a two-part process — 1. Brain Dumping and 2. Vision Painting.

Brain Dumping

The Brain Dump phase comes first and is less focused, but no less effective. The idea is to initiate a little Spring Cleaning in your mind. Though thoughts and ideas come ago, rarely do they ever out-right disappear. Typically, the crop up when you least expect it and in the worst times. And, hate to say it, the majority of your random thoughts are complete useless nonsense that in no way benefit you. Let these build up and you can quickly become bogged down, losing sight of the end-game.

So, during this phase, take the first week to write whatever is on your mind. Just release the torrential flood from your mind and get it out for 15 minutes straight — no one has to read it, so it doesn’t even need to make sense. Don’t worry about full sentences, grammar, subjects, anything. Just get it out on paper and you may begin to feel your mind become less cluttered and more clear.

If you reread the Brain Dump after the 15 minute period and it either resembles the ramblings of a lunatic or the windows on A Beautiful Mind, you’re probably on the right track. Here’s an example:

“I am tired, my head hurts, here I am writing. It’s 3:00 am and I can’t sleep. I can never sleep anymore. Sleep is weird? You go to bed, shut your eyes, lose conciousness but maybe imagine incoherent and sometimes scary things and then wake up. What time should I wake up tomrrow? What do I have to do tomorrow. What should I eat for breakfast tomorrow? I love breakfast. Breakfast is the best meal of the day. Leslie Knope loved breadfast on Parks and Rec and what a tremendous show that was it was so funny I could watch it over and over again. Part of me actually wishes I was watching that right now…”

Vision Painting

I like the name, Vision Painting, more than Dream Journaling but essentially they are the same thing. You are beginning to focus the 15 minutes and psychotic writings towards answering the question, “If I could do or be anything, what would I do or be?”

This is such a cliche question that appears everywhere from life coaching to counseling to yearly reviews at work. But, I believe, so few actually take the time to think through this. And if they were to do so, the results and benefits would be unimaginable.

To answer this question, just simply begin by sketching out what the dream you would look like, what they would be doing, where they would be working, places they would travel and people they would meet. That’s why I call it painting because while you are writing, you are drafting a character sketch of yourself, the ideal you. But, instead of just envisioning it over and over in your mind, you’re once again grounding your vision on paper.

This is your chance to be creative. While at first, what you write may be unattainable, may involve unrealistic aspirations — you’ll probably begin to notice over time, as you edit and review and rewrite, that your vision will become more clear and more possible. The idea is to eventually paint a vision that is 100% possible and 100% attainable — A vision that completely excites, energizes, and motivates you. Here is an example:

“I’m standing on the back deck of a cabin tucked in the woods, overlooking a gorgeous scene — a crystal clear lake framed by towering mountains. It’s early in the morning and it’s cold, the sun has just peeked over the summit. I’m not bothered by the cold as I take the deepest breath and smell the warm coffee in my mug, hear the distant ducks, geese, and other birds begin their morning choir. I’ll soon join my still-sleeping family inside the small cabin with the fire going and enjoy a hot breakfast. But first, I’ll breathe deeply in the cold morning light knowing that I’ve just started a well-deserved vacation after a hard but worthwhile week…”

This two-part exercise is only the beginning. Achieving your goals and realizing your vision absolutely requires attention to detail and a focus on the small pieces that will move you in the right direction. But, it can’t begin with that and if you feel bogged down, you need to break the cycle. This is merely the beginning for you to develop your vision for your life.

My plea for you is to not lose sight like the NWO Police Officer actor in the small-town production of Godspell. I look around at my friends, my coworkers, and colleagues, even strangers I meet in town and see that so many these days forget where they are going, or even simply give up — dreams are forsaken and goals are discarded from a deep and painful lack of motivation and passion, from being burnt-out, used, and drained. Our culture adores chaos, and mess, and aimless wandering — it spurns true goals and favors indecision and complacency for quick fixes and cheap entertainment.

Don’t be like that. Find, seek out, and be filled with the motivation and the passion to succeed, to realize your vision, and keep pressing on towards the finish line.

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