Planning

Bullet Journal

Yes, folks, that’s right. 2021 is the year I’m finally trying … bullet journaling.

As a self-proclaimed lover of to-do lists, it’s actually surprising I didn’t get into bullet journaling earlier. It’s the perfect intersection of my obsession with organization & planning and my constant search for a creative outlet.

I’m about two weeks into bullet journaling, so I thought I’d share some early thoughts.

What is bullet journaling?

The bullet journal is an organizational system developed by designer Ryder Carroll. The foundation of this system is rapid logging, which relies on symbols — usually, bullet points, open circles, and dashes — to represent tasks, events and notes, making it quick and efficient to organize one’s to-do lists and upcoming appointments.

credit: https://bulletjournal.com/

Another big component of bullet journaling is the concept of migration. The idea here is that you won’t always get through your to-dos. So, migration is the process of going through your unresolved tasks and deciding if the to-do item:

  • Should be rescheduled for the near future: maybe you didn’t get to something on your daily to-do list, so you want to tackle it the next day. In this case, you’d transform your task bullet into a right arrow and then make sure you include it in the following day’s to-do list.
  • Should be rescheduled for some time farther in the future: maybe you decide a certain task isn’t really all that urgent and you want to “put it on the back burner”. In this case, you would transform the task bullet in a left arrow, indicating that it’s a to-do item you still want to accomplish but just a little farther down the road. Then, you can add it to your future log (more on that, later).
  • Is no longer something you want to accomplish: you may decide that some tasks are no longer necessary. In this case, you would simply cross out the item on your list.
credit: https://bulletjournal.com/

The system was created as a way to “declutter your mind”. By getting all your to-dos down on paper, you can more clearly plan, organize and concentrate on your tasks.

Interestingly, the original system of bullet journaling was designed to be pretty minimal. However, it has since evolved (due to users, rather than the original developer) to include a more artistic, heavily designed component.

credit: @amandarachlee on IG

How is a bullet journal organized?

While the structure of a bullet journal can depend on the needs of each individual owner, there are some main components that are recommended, if you’re just getting started:

Index

The first few pages of the bullet journal should be reserved for what is called an index, though it’s more accurately a table of contents. As you fill up your bullet journal with various to-do lists and calendars, you will go back to your index to include the page numbers and titles for those new entries.

The idea is that if you need to go back and reference something, you can easily find it by looking up the item in your index and finding the page number. This also means that you should be numbering your pages, if you’re not working in a journal that already has page numbers printed.

Future Log

After your index, it is recommended to dedicate two facing pages (known as a spread) to your future log. The future log is an opportunity to note down events and tasks that are coming up in future months (i.e. not the current month). You can decide how many months to include in this future log.

I started my bullet journal in January. I divided my future log spread into six boxes: February; March; April; May; June; and July-December. In a normal year, I would have plenty of events to fill in throughout the year (plays, vacations, weddings, etc.), but this year, I really just had birthdays and holidays.

When I get to June, I’ll probably create a new future log spread to break out July – December into their own boxes.

Monthly Log

At the start of every month, you’ll have another spread for your monthly log. As its very basics, it’s recommended to include a calendar and a to-do list for that month. 

In the original system, Carroll recommended dedicating the left hand page to the calendar by simply numbering the days in the month and then writing in any upcoming events or tasks for those days.

And then, the right hand side can be dedicated to the to-do list to write down any tasks you know you need/want to get done that month, even if you haven’t decided what day you are going to tackle them.

However, you can organize this monthly log in whatever way best suits your needs. I looked up different options on Pinterest and found a layout that I liked, which gave more real estate to the calendar and included separate boxes for events, tasks, goals and highlights.

Daily Log

Next are the daily logs, where you write down your tasks, events and any notes. Again, the recommended symbols to use are bullet points for tasks, open circles for events and dashes for notes. You can also nest symbols, if, for example, you have notes related to a task or tasks to get done in preparation for an event.

For example, say one day you have a doctor’s appointment in the morning; you need to go grocery shopping, talk a walk, and call your mom; and you noticed it’s going to rain in the afternoon. You may organize your daily log like this:

You can play around with how you organize your daily logs. The first week, I simply created a pretty minimal list each day, putting the next day’s list under that until I filled up the page and moved to the next page.

However, the following week, I created almost like a weekly log spread, with columns for each day, allowing me to prepopulate my lists for upcoming days in the week.

Collections

Sometimes it’s beneficial to organize tasks by theme/project rather than date. For example, say you were planning a vacation or party. It would be helpful to have all the tasks centralized in one place. And then, of course, you could subsequently copy those tasks over to your monthly or daily logs.

Collections can take up a whole page, just a portion of a page, or perhaps a whole spread.

For example, one of my big projects this year is creating a chore routine and schedule. I listed out all the various chores that need to get done around the apartment; decided on the appropriate frequency for each chore; and then determined the best schedule to get each chore done. 

In my bullet journal, I dedicated a whole two-page spread to this project. I go back to this spread often to remind myself of my chore schedule.

What supplies do you need?

At the very minimum, you need some type of journal and a writing utensil. But, as I’ve mentioned, there is this whole design and art element that a lot of people include in their bullet journaling, which require some additional tools. 

Here’s what I use on a regular basis:

  • Journal
  • Pencil
  • Pen
  • Markers and/or color pencils
  • Ruler

And here is some guidance on selecting your materials:

Journal

If you’re going the minimal route, any type of journal will work. However, if you’re interested in creating boxes and grids, I would recommend getting a dot journal, which is what a lot of bullet journalers use. The dots act as great guide to keep your lines straight and your boxes a consistent size.

However, there are a lot of dot journals to choose from, and I made the mistake of thinking they are all the same. If you are going to be using felt tip pens and/or markers, opt for a journal with thick paper! I neglected to do that with the first journal I bought and both my pens and markers bled through.

I bought a new journal and ended up going with the 160 gsm thick page dotted notebook from Vivid Scribbles.

In this journal, there are already three pages for the index, the pages are numbered and the paper is thick. I haven’t had any bleed-through, but I do have a little bit of ghosting with my marker use (when you can see a hint of the color on the other side of the page).

Pens

If I’m drawing boxes or doing block lettering, I may start in pencil to test out the layout I like, using a ruler to keep my lines straight. But I will always trace in a felt-tip pen. And then I write my to-do lists in pen, as well.

I have a whole collection of fine-tip sharpies, but I find that those still bled through, even with the super thick paper. Therefore, I’ve opted for the Paper Mate felt tip pens.

Markers

I use markers a lot to add color and visual interest to my pages and spreads. I already had some simple washable markers by CraZArt. However, as I mentioned above, I do see some ghosting, so I may try out some alternate brands to try to decrease the amount of ghosting. I’ve read that water-based ink vs. alcohol-based work best to prevent bleeding and ghosting.

For now, if I’m doing a spread with a lot of color (such as the chores spread I created), I’ll opt for color pencils instead, as those don’t show through on the other pages.

My early thoughts

So, far I’m really enjoying bullet journaling! I’ve always liked working with to-do lists, particularly hand-written to-do lists. There is something about physically writing down and crossing off my tasks that help me better organize my thoughts.

To some, the whole art and design element of bullet journaling may sound counterintuitive — if bullet journaling is supposed to make you more efficient, why would you spend so much time designing your pages and spreads?

For me, not only are my heavily designed spreads a nice creative outlet, but I also find the process of doing them pretty meditative. However, I will admit that they do take a long time. So, I dedicate a lot of time to designing and creating pages or spreads that I’ll go back to often (such as my chores spread), and I keep my more ephemeral lists (e.g. daily logs) more minimal.

Also, psychologically, if I spend a lot of time on something, I’m more likely to commit to it. By dedicating so much time on that chores spread, I’m more likely to keep up with the routine (and so far I have!).

While I don’t think this system is for everyone, I can see bullet journaling being beneficial to anyone who is a visual learner, likes working with to-do lists and needs a creative outlet.

Reflections

The Year No One Expected

Ok, let’s get this out of the way: 2020 did NOT turn out the way I expected it to at the beginning of the year.

If you ever needed the perfect embodiment of “understatement” or an apt excuse to retort “duh”, that would be it.

But the thing is — I could have said the same exact thing about 2019. You know, that whole getting pregnant and having a baby thing.

Of course, 2020 was much different because it involved a plot twist collectively experienced by most of the world.

So, on this last day of the year that will one day be documented in our history books, I reflect on my journey these past twelve months.

How it began

I went back and read some of my earlier posts from 2020 (actually, I read them after writing the intro above), and funny enough, I actually started the year with a lot of uncertainty

Having given birth a little over a month prior, at the beginning of January, I really didn’t know what the year would bring. I wasn’t sure what it would look like raising a baby and continuing my career exploration.

As the month trudged on, the responsibility of caring for another human being really began to set in. And so, I became more and more determined to return to work to help support my family. 

Even before I was certain what new path I wanted to pursue. 

Even if it meant just returning to my old field.

At the start of March, I started looking at what was out there, but in the back of my mind, I was thinking May/June would be my ideal time to return to work. Artie would be six months by then, and I’d feel more comfortable with him going to daycare.

The plan started coming together … and then just two short weeks later, we were hit with a stay-at-home order, and the “year that no one expected” really began.

How I adjusted

With shelter-in-place, I knew my plans to return to work would be delayed. Though, at the time, I didn’t realize just how delayed they would be (more on that later).

Most companies enacted hiring freezes. And even if that wasn’t the case, with the pandemic, we weren’t comfortable sending Artie to daycare. I mean, it took us months to be comfortable having him go to his grandparents once a week! So, could I really work if we were still taking care of a newborn?

Returning to work might have been on hold, but I didn’t want my time to go to waste. So I was determined to continue upgrading my skills, and took on a number of creative projects in order to do so.

The highs

I ended up accomplishing a lot this year, when I really look at it.

I started a YouTube channel! This had been a goal of mine since I began my sabbatical. And really, being stuck at home gave me the time to finally pursue it. I learned a lot about planning a series and a brand. I increased my editing knowledge and skills tenfold. And I got more experience in front of the camera.

I also still did a fair amount of acting. I got to play a bucket list role — Beatrice — in a filmed production of Much Ado About Nothing. I played Mina in a Zoom production of Dracula. I did voice over work on a short film and an upcoming animated series.

I had an exciting writing achievement. My script for the US West competition of the 48-Hour Film Project won best writing!

And most recently, I created a short video that really pushed me to up my skills in production planning, directing and editing.

Surprisingly, this has turned out to be one of my artistically busiest and most creatively-fulfilling years of my life.

The lows

While I kept having win after win on the creative front, job-hunting turned out to be one giant loss.

I applied to over 50 jobs this year. The majority of those applications were met with radio silence. A good chunk of them elicited the templated “your qualifications do not meet our needs” email. And the few interviews I had went nowhere.

And frustratingly, I’m not sure I’ve learned much from the experience. Sure, it got me back into the habit of preparing a resume and interviewing, but with so little feedback, I have very few learnings from the ordeal.

The big question

When I talk about the journey of my sabbatical, this is my go-to narrative:

“After years of working in marketing and advertising, in the fall of 2018, I decided to take a break from full-time work to give myself the time and energy to explore some new paths and reflect on what type of work truly energized me. 

I initially planned this sabbatical to take up to a year, but when I found out I was pregnant five months in, I decided to extend this to a year and a half, rather than rush back to work and potentially be forced into a shorter maternity leave than I wanted or needed.

Of course, that timeline got pushed back once again with the pandemic. So, now my sabbatical has extended over two years.”

But here’s the big question: can I really call this past year a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a break from work to explore, enhance skills, reflect, etc.

But, when I think about it, to call 2020 a “break from work” is utterly ridiculous, and frankly, an insult to stay-at-home parents and caregivers everywhere. 

I need to remind myself that for the first couple of months of this year, I was taking care of a newborn all by myself for the majority of the day!

And even once shelter-in-place started, sure, I got a little relief from having Ryan at home, but he was still working.

On top of that, those first few months of shelter-in-place, we isolated from everyone — even family — so we had absolutely no outside childcare. Even now, Artie only goes to his grandparents’ once a week. 

So, in addition to all the creative projects where I’ve gained new skills in video production, project planning, writing and much more…

And on top of job-hunting, which involved hours of writing and rewriting dozens of resumes and cover letters, studying for and getting a content marketing certificate, and interviewing …

I have been raising a child. With much less help and resources than I would have without the pandemic. And that has been WORK.

Conclusion

No, the year didn’t turn out how I expected. Far from it. But I still accomplished a lot. And while I have not yet landed my next full-time paying job, I still had a full-time job. And trust me, I worked plenty of overtime.

Actor, Career Exploration, Content Creator, Video Producer

Upgrading My Video Skills

As my job saga search trudges on, I want to make sure I’m still reserving time to continue my exploration of new fields and improve my skills. And hey — if I get to have fun and eat ice cream along the way (more on that later), even better!

My filmmaking journey

I have spoken extensively about my video production journey throughout this sabbatical. It has been the one area of exploration that has been a true roller coaster, with a lot of ups and downs, and a few false starts.

I sprinted out the gate with a crash course in filmmaking and naively dove into the deep-end, trying to produce a pretty complicated and time-intensive video. Being inspired by a number of YouTubers, I strived for a high-production, super polished product, forgetting that even those creators started with much simpler videos.

When I eventually decided to go back to the basics, it felt like my study of filmmaking finally started to have an upward trajectory, gaining new and more advanced skills with every project.

A shelter-in-place video

Well, in case you didn’t already guess, I recently completed another film project that, once again, pushed me to learn new video techniques.

For a while, I’ve been wanting to work on a video project that really embraced the new “way of the world” during shelter in place. That is, a video that didn’t just use social distancing tools such video conferencing and remote filming as unfortunate but necessary substitutions for more traditional filmmaking, but rather embraced and intentionally integrated these tools and techniques into the story.

I looked at some of my favorite stories and plays and imagined how the characters would have adjusted to shelter in place. How would Gwendolen and Cecily’s confrontation in The Importance of Being Earnest play out over Zoom? In an Animal Crossing version of Pride and Prejudice, would it be a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife … and turnips?

With the holidays approaching, I instantly thought of one of my favorite musicals, She Loves Me, whose story culminates on Christmas Eve. The play centers around Amalia and Georg, two co-workers who are constantly bickering, unaware that they are also each other’s secret pen-pals, met through a lonely-hearts ad.

Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi star as Amalia and Georg in Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2016 production of She Loves Me. Photo credit: ©2016 Joan Marcus

In one of my favorite scenes, Amalia is home sick after a heartbreaking night of being stood up by her pen-pal, whom she calls “Dear Friend”. Unbeknownst to her, “Dear Friend” did show up — it was Georg all along! But he was conflicted at the revelation that Amalia has been his pen pal this whole time (which he discovers by seeing that she has the copy of Anna Karenina and a rose — the way that “Dear Friend” was supposed to identify her). Instead of revealing that he is her “Dear Friend”, he instead teases her, and Amalia ends the night thinking she has been abandoned. The next day, Georg feels guilty and brings her some vanilla ice cream, which, according to him, is “the best thing in the world when you’re sick.”

Remember when I mentioned I got to eat ice cream for this project? 🙂

But what would that ice cream delivery have looked like during shelter in place? That is the story I set out to tell!

In this blog, I’m going to give a behind-the-scenes look into the process of creating this video. If you don’t want any spoilers, go ahead and skip to the end of this post, where I’ve embedded the final video.

Starting with storyboarding  

Though I was going to film in an unconventional way, I still followed a lot of the traditional production planning process.

So, as will any other video project, I started with the script and shot list. Well, the script was easy since I was adapting an existing story; though, I did make a few changes to reflect the new setting for the scene. As for my shot list, this is where I had to decide on my vision for the film. How would I translate the story from 1930’s Budapest to 2020 pandemic Bay Area?

I knew I wanted to incorporate shelter in place into the setting. That is, I didn’t want to film each actor remotely and try to pretend like they were in the same room. I wanted a socially distant interaction to be an integral part of the story.

Ok, so what are the main elements in the scene and how do I adapt them to shelter in place?

1) Georg visits Amalia and has a surprisingly friendly interaction with her. 

Easy. Instead of an in-person visit, Georg would drop in on Amalia via some type of video conference. I ended up going with Zoom, since the waiting room feature could easily replicate a surprise knock on the door, and I could get footage of Amalia before and after Georg joins the video call.

2) Georg brings Amalia some vanilla ice cream.

Georg was no longer visiting Amalia in person, so how exactly was he going to give her ice cream? Well, this was an easy solution because I just did what I’ve seen so many people do during shelter in place. He has ice cream delivered to her via DoorDash (or whatever your favorite food delivery app is).

On a related note, this adaptation resulted in the biggest script change. While in the original scene, Georg is there with Amalia in person and so he simply hands her the ice cream, in this shelter-in-place version, Amalia needed to go off screen to answer the door and get her ice cream delivery. This, of course, created a lull in the scene that doesn’t exist in the original script. So, I scripted in an improv section where Georg would practice his confession to Amalia (that he is really “Dear Friend”) but ultimately realizes there’s not a good way to admit it. This not only filled the time but also gave context on the story for viewers of the video who were not familiar with the play.

3) Amalia writes a letter to “Dear Friend”.

The scene ends with a musical number (“Vanilla Ice Cream”) in which Amalia starts writing a letter to her pen pal “Dear Friend” but keeps getting distracted as she remarks how uncharacteristically friendly Georg was. 

So how to adapt that for my new setting? She writes an email, of course! (The Hungarian play, Parfumerie, which serves as the source material for She Loves Me, was also the inspiration for You’ve Got Mail).

In general, I wanted it to look like the viewer was getting a glimpse of Amalia’s computer. So, we’re really seeing the interaction through Amalia’s eyes. Here’s how the scene was going to play out — a pseudo shot list of sorts:

  • Amalia has a Zoom meeting started, using it as a sort of mirror to see how she’s looking.
  • Dejected, she pulls up her browser to Google “how many cats makes you a crazy cat lady” (a little bit of comedy and storytelling, showing that after being stood up, she fears she’ll be single forever).
  • Georg requests to join her Zoom, being put in her “waiting room”.
  • Amalia admits Georg into her meeting and they play out the scene over Zoom.
  • Georg leaves the meeting and Amalia starts drafting her letter, only to get distracted (the song “Vanilla Ice Cream”).

With my creative vision in place and the changes to the script made, it was time to figure out how I was going to make it come to life on the screen.

Planning the production

I was on a quick timeline for this project. Because the musical culminates on Christmas Eve, I wanted to release the video at the beginning of Christmas week. That means I really only had a week and a half to prepare, film and edit the entire thing.

How could I do this as quickly and easily as possible without sacrificing quality?

Well, for filming, I knew the characters were going to interact over Zoom, and it would have been easy enough to just record the Zoom meeting and call it a day. However, I also wanted viewers to see other things happening on Amalia screen, such as when she drafts her latest “Dear Friend” email in a text document. So I needed a way of capturing the action on the larger screen. 

Luckily, from my time making tutorial videos at Facebook, I was well-versed with using QuickTime’s screen recording feature, where you can essentially film your whole screen or a portion of your screen. Ok, filming plan set!

As for the song at the end? Well, of course, I could have sung live while filming the action of the scene. But I was worried about how well I’d actually be able to pick up my audio while performing the song. So, I decided it would be best to pre-record the song, and I’d lip sync during the actual filming.

I was going to play Amalia and quickly set out to cast Georg (one of my best friends and film mentor, Christian Pizzirani). I sent him the script on a Wednesday, reserving one rehearsal for us that Sunday, with filming scheduled the following weekend.

Everything was planned; now, it was time to prepare for the shoot.

The recording studio

One of my first priorities was recording the song. This is the whole finale of the scene, and if it didn’t work out, I wasn’t sure there was a point in doing the video at all. I found a great instrumental version of the song on YouTube to use as the backing track. Then, I set up a little recording studio in my closet.

Fun fact: Clothes make for good sound proofing.

And the great thing about pre-recording the song? I didn’t need to sing it perfectly in one take! I knew I was going to edit the vocals onto the back-tracking anyways, so I could splice together bits from different takes. In fact, I didn’t even sing the whole song in one take. The penultimate note in this song is a high B, which can take a toll on even vocals on even professional singers.  So, after getting warmed up, I actually recorded the end of the song first!

I combined the vocal tracks and the instrumental track in Logic. I did end up splicing together multiple takes. My husband and expert audio engineer Ryan Lee Short did all of the sound mixing and EQ. And the end result is a studio-quality track!

The song was done, and I spent the week practicing lip syncing to it. During actual filming, when we got to that point in the scene, I had the song queued up on my iPad and discreetly pressed “play”.

Now I had to test out the filming set-up.

Preparing to film

After rehearsing the Sunday before filming and solidifying how the action would play out, I spent the week testing out all of the technology I’d be using to shoot the scene.

And it’s a good thing I did. 

Remember that plan about doing the scene over Zoom but actually using QuickTime to “shoot” the scene so that I could film not only the Zoom meeting but the larger desktop? Yeah …. turns out, when you run QuickTime and Zoom at the same time, Zoom gets really choppy.

Uh oh. 

Luckily, I quickly pivoted. Instead of filming everything in one go, I would film the different elements in pieces and then composite them in my video editing software.

So, now the interaction between the character would just be recorded in Zoom. And then I would do a separate screen recording of the action on my entire desktop using QuickTime with just a blank Zoom screen and combine the two together.

While this was going to add more time in editing, I realized it was actually going to make filming quicker.

The scene plays out in one shot, which means every element needed to go perfectly or the take was ruined. Now that I was splitting up the action happening on the desktop and the conversation happening on Zoom, it eased the pressure on that front.

Lights, camera, action!

Filming the scene actually went really smoothly. Saturday was scheduled as a technical rehearsal to practice things like Georg entering and exiting the Zoom meeting and Amalia turning off and on her camera. And in the end, we filmed a couple of takes of the scene. Again, because this is filmed as just a one-shot (recorded over Zoom), it was actually really quick to shoot the scene.

I used Zoom’s record meeting feature to capture the action of the scene.

That night I viewed the footage and there was actually a take I was pretty happy with. But we had already set aside time on Sunday to film, so I took the opportunity to note little changes I wanted, particularly on my end.

That was one big learning — it’s difficult to direct and act in the same project, as it’s hard to catch a lot of the visual things you (and to a certain extent, the other actors) are doing until you go back and view the footage. For example, a lot of my notes for filming the next day were about eyelines — it read better when we looked directly into our webcams, even though normally when you’re in a Zoom meeting you tend to look at your screen (meaning your eyes are focused below the camera).

So Sunday, we filmed a few more takes, and that was a wrap! Well, at least for the other actor.

On my end, I had to choose my favorite take, and get the right edit of it. Then I played the footage while I recorded the desktop action, perfectly choreographed and synced with the action of the scene. 

I actually broke the screen recording up into three elements:

  • Recording the entire desktop with a blank Zoom meeting going and the action of pulling up and later minimizing the browser and pulling up a text document
  • Recording just the action of the Google search
  • Recording just the action of typing the “Dear Friend” email

Filming was complete, and now it was time to put it all together. To the editing room!

Snip, snip, snip

Ok, the editing room is just my living room, but you get the picture.

First, I worked on the scene recorded in Zoom. Again, since I wanted to show the action in “one shot” there wasn’t much visual editing that needed to be done — mostly trimming the beginning and end. 

However, there was a lot of audio editing required, which I didn’t originally anticipated. One drawback to recording over Zoom — it’s hard to control audio levels. I couldn’t even monitor them while filming! This is one big difference between the way this project was filmed and a more traditional video shoot.

So I ended up doing a lot of audio adjustments to the scene in Logic. This ended up being a good thing, as it allowed me to learn a lot more about the program, such as using nodes and adjusting little bits of an audio track. 

In one portion of the scene, my audio levels were really quiet while my scene partner’s level were a bit too loud. Luckily, I was able to even it out in Logic.

In Logic, I also applied a lot of the same EQ settings to the spoken scene that were used on the song, so that there wouldn’t be a huge disconnect between the two.

And finally, I synced the song with the scene.

The Zoom portion of the video was done; now time to composite it with the screen recordings. 

For my previous videos, I was able to use iMovie — a more beginner’s editing tool. But because I was going to be combining one video on top of another video, I knew I would need more advanced capabilities, so I got to learn a whole new software — Final Cut.

Final Cut makes it easy to combine two videos together. You started with your base video — in my case, that would be the screen recording of the desktop. And then you layer the other videos on top and resize them to fit within the space on the base video. So, for example, I had recorded just the text document as I typed the “Dear Friend” letter, and I resized that video to fit in the blank text document on the recording of my entire desktop.

The action of the words being typed is actually a separate video overlaid onto the video of the entire desktop.

And I could have done the same for the Zoom scene except … I knew I wanted the browser and the text document to overlap the Zoom window.

The browser window overlaps the Zoom window, so I couldn’t just resize the video of the Zoom meeting. As you see here, it needed to be an L-shape for this section of the film.

So, simply resizing the Zoom video wouldn’t work. Instead I used green screen technology. When I did the screen recording of my desktop, the blank Zoom meeting had a green background. Then when I combined the Zoom recording, I used Final Cut’s keying feature to splice in that recording — the video showed up wherever the green showed.

When I recorded the desktop, the Zoom window was a green screen. Then, I used Final Cut’s keying tool to composite in the Zoom recording.

I also used Final Cut to insert a few sound effects — the doorbell and typing sounds.

The last bit was creating an intro and the credits — also something new for me. Luckily, with the switch to Final Cut, there were a lot of built-in templates for me to use.

The final video was complete! Now to share it with the world.

Exporting and sharing

I knew I would be primarily sharing via Facebook and so the final video size couldn’t be too large. Luckily, Final Cut has an export option optimized for Facebook:

The “YouTube & Facebook” option exports the video as a lower-resolution SD version, but with a small enough file size that it’s easy to upload to social media.

I also exported a higher resolution master file and used that to upload to YouTube.

And here’s the final video:

I learned a lot of new technical skills and got more practice as a director. Now, on to the next video project!

Reflections

What Else

Job hunting right now is …. draining, to put it lightly and soul-crushing, to put it accurately.

The scores of resumes submitted that never get a response at all.

The handful of applications which, maybe after 6-8 weeks, get a canned email response “your qualifications do not match those needed for this position.” For roles that you are perfectly qualified for. Overqualified for.

It seems the only way to even talk to someone is to know an employee at the company who can refer you. 

But even that doesn’t seem to go very far.

It’s all just so emotionally exhausting.

Having to psych yourself up enough for a job in order to have the motivation to apply for it, only to hear radio silence.

Imagining yourself in a role so that you can answer that go-to interview question, “why are you interested in the opportunity?” And then going through that disappointment of not getting the job.

It’s hard not to feel like something is wrong with you. 

Of course, there are tons of people dealing with this. In my own network alone, I’ve seen many other people posting about the exact same experiences and obstacles. 

But that comfort of knowing you’re not alone is short-lived. Because you’re NOT ALONE. The fact that there are so many people job-hunting is a big part of the problem. There are a flood of candidates. And not enough jobs. These people are your competition.

I recently went through another one of these peaks and valleys on this seemingly never-ending roller coaster. 

This time, I actually landed an interview. And naturally, in preparation for the interview, I put a lot of thought into how I would tackle the role. I started imagining myself in the role. And I felt like the conversation went well. 

And then it came. “We are going to move forward with other candidates.” Not just a “no”, but a templated “no”. Ouch. It stings a little more when they don’t even take the time to write a personalized response.

What followed was a feeling of utter hopelessness.

It all just seems like a waste of time and energy when you apply to so much and get no response. Or get a templated response. 

But what else are you supposed to do?

Something about missing 100% of shots you don’t take.

I raced back to the LinkedIn job board, my mind racing. Ok, what to apply to next? Why I even enjoy doing any of these jobs? What am I most likely to get a response to?

But the words went blurry. I couldn’t focus.

I went into the bathroom and cried.

Then, I went for a five-mile walk to get some fresh air and clear my mind.

And I came home and applied to two more jobs that day. And the next day. And probably many days to come.

Not that I necessarily have any more hope but because … what else are you supposed to do?

Uncategorized

Adapting

Let me start by stating the obvious: 2020 has not panned out the way I expected it to.

Yes, I know. Understatement.

At the beginning of the year, I was groggily adjusting to life with a newborn, starting to plan my return to full-time work, and wasting no time returning to theater. 

I was in rehearsals for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, playing a bucket-list role, Maggie. And later that summer I was going to be taking on the role of Isabella in Measure for Measure. This was promising to be a big year in theater for me, with huge creative growth.

And then, we all know what happened.

Mid-march, a week before Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was slated to open, California’s shelter-in-place order came in. As the weeks went by, and the order continued to extend, it became clear that the production wasn’t going to open anytime soon.

Even more weeks passed, and I got the official notice — the summer Shakespeare season was being pushed to (hopefully) 2021.

And just like that, my year of reaching new artistic heights vanished.

Or so I thought.

Theater in the Time of Coronavirus

At the beginning of Shelter in Place, I joined throngs of theater people desperately trying to find any substitute for the stage and rehearsal room.

I filled my evenings with Zoom play and other script readings. I even got to read Isabella — admittedly not quite as satisfying speaking to a computer screen, reminding my scene partner to unmute himself.

I wouldn’t say these readings did much to help improve my acting skills. Rather, I saw them as a way to stay connected and prevent “getting rusty.”

Then came a voiceover gig for a mobile game, and more recently, voiceover work for an animated video series. I also took part in a radio play of sorts, performed via Zoom.

These projects allowed me to really focus on my voice and fine-tuning that instrument.

And then came Much Ado About Nothing. I was doing Shakespeare this year, afterall! And in another bucket-list role, no less — Beatrice.

We ended up doing the production pretty much as a film, which really allowed me to work on my film acting skills. I also performed in a Zoom production of Dracula; while live, the closeness of the camera and microphone also had me tap more into film acting techniques, rather than stage acting ones.

While theater acting has to be big to a certain extent (especially outdoor theater), film acting allows you to practice subtly. 

And for the past few months, I’ve role-played as part of a Dungeons and Dragons game live-streamed on Twitch. This has allowed me to really work on character development (I wrote a 5-page backstory) and improv.

And, of course, I haven’t only focused on acting. As I detailed in my previous blog post, I also wrote for a 48 Hour Film Project competition, and won the Best Writing award! And, of course,  I launched my YouTube channel, gaining valuable skills in video production and editing.

All in all, I’ve probably worked on more creative projects (and more diversity in projects) this year than I have in any year past!

I can definitively say that I’ve achieved that creative growth after all.

The key was accepting projects for what they were. Not trying to make them be substitutes for live theater shows, expecting the same experiences or to gain the same skills. But rather, appreciating the opportunity to develop different skills.

These new experiences — many of which, I might not have explored if the pandemic didn’t happen — and the new skills I gained from them, have ultimately given me a more well-rounded acting tool-set leaving me more poised than ever to excel on stage, when live theater returns.

Uncategorized

Writing Lessons

What do you do when you’re tasked with creating a politics-themed short film, in 48 hours — oh and because of COVID restrictions, there can only be one actor on set?

Write about debating office supplies, of course!

This was the scene, last month, when I participated in another 48-hour film project competition. Once again, I joined as head writer for my team, challenged with writing the script in one evening.

And I will say — this was some of the fastest writing I’ve done!

It’s always daunting going into this competition. What if I can think of any good ideas? What if I run into major writer’s block? What if my dialogue all sounds cliche and derivative? In other words, the imposter syndrome is in full force.

But without fail, the ideas come. The words flow. And the dialogue brings a smile to my face. 

After writing for three of these competitions, there are definitely some tricks that make the writing process easier. And these can apply to any writing project — or in some cases, any non-writing project.

Prepare what you can ahead of time

In case you’ve missed my past blogs about the competition, the 48-hour film project charges teams with creating a 4-7 minute film in … you guessed it — 48 hours. The night that the competition kicks off, each team randomly receives two film genres, and their final submission must be one of those two genres. There is also a required character, prop and line of dialogue that has to be included in the film.

While teams don’t receive their requirements until the competition commences, there’s a lot of pre-planning that can happen. From a writing standpoint, you can understand the limitations and resources.

For our team, we knew that given the restrictions around COVID, we would only be able to film at the director’s home and would only have one actor to work with in person. However, we did have access to other actors who could do voiceover, so early on, we thought a story with a person and an inanimate object might work well.

And while we wouldn’t receive our genres until the first night of the competition, we did know all the possible genres we could receive. So I was able to do some early thinking on possible concepts for each genre.

Split up the project into stages

Friday night of the competition we received our genres — Politics and Mystery.

With only one evening, the instinct can be to start writing as soon as possible. But I knew from past competitions, that breaking the process down into stages would ultimately make the entire process run a lot more smoothly.

Here was the flow of our process:

  • Brainstorm ideas for each genre
  • Review all ideas and choose the winner
  • Sketch out the basic story line
  • Identify traits of each character
  • Split up the story among each writer for individual drafts
  • Combine dialogue
  • Edit
  • Edit again
  • Edit some more
  • And did I mention edit?

It seems like a lot of steps. But by breaking down the project into smaller stages, we were able to focus on each task and prevented ourselves from getting too overwhelmed.

Know when to work as a group vs. individually

For this year’s competition, I worked with two other writers. And while there’s benefit to having more points of view and ideas, if you tried to make every single decision by committee, nothing would get done.

So, we started out by separating and doing an individual brainstorm of story ideas for each genre. I know that may seem a little counterintuitive — shouldn’t the brainstorm phase be where people work as a team? Well, by starting with an individual brainstorm, we were able to generate 3 times the amount of ideas in the same span of time. Plus, with a group brainstorm, sometimes less experienced or less confident people may hold back their ideas.

From there, we toggled between individual work and group work. 

We came together as a team to review ideas, choose our winning story idea and do an initial discussion about the basic story and characters. 

Office supplies having a debate about which one was the BEST office supply.

Then we separated to do an individual brainstorm on character traits.

Ballpoint pens are the standard and traditional. Staplers are about unity and bringing things together.

From there, we regrouped to finalize the characters and stories and split up the story into acts. With individual writing assignments, we then broke to draft our respective sections. After that, we came together again to combine our scripts.

By switching between working together and working separately, not only were we able to take advantage of which phase benefitted from group vs. individual work, we were also able to avoid (or at least delay) mental fatigue.

And in addition to gauging when to work as a team and when to write individually, as head writer, I had to know when to ultimately take the reins and complete the project on my own. Once we combined our scripts, it made sense for one person to edit, refine and get it over the finish line to make sure the final product had a consistent voice.

Nothing is precious

I had a co-worker give this advice to me once: “Nothing is precious.”

What she meant was that sometimes we need to give up on or majorly change an idea or piece of work, if it doesn’t end up working for the project.

And this happened multiple times during this writing project. Great lines of dialogue we had to cut out due to time. Funny characters we gave the axe to because they didn’t fit within the story.

By keeping an eye on the ultimate goal — in our case, an engaging story that fit within 4-7 minutes — we knew when something had to be cut.


In the end, we came up with a funny, yet poignant script, that we were all quite happy with…

… and so were the judges — we won Best Writing! And Best Film! And a slew of other awards!

Check it out:

Uncategorized

More Learnings from Interviewing

As an actor, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is that “when you walk into the audition room, you aren’t just auditioning for a role, you’re auditioning for the director.”

This is really speaking to the fact that sometimes there are factors outside of your control that will prevent you from landing the part. The director is going for a certain look. The director already has another actor in mind. The director wants the character to tap dance (in a non-musical), and you’re a beginner, at best (yes, this has actually happened to me).

But just because you don’t get the role, doesn’t mean you didn’t make an impression on the director, who may keep you in mind for a future project. And it doesn’t mean you didn’t gain valuable learnings from the audition — areas you’re particularly strong in and opportunities to improve your skills for the next audition.

And the same can be said for job interviews.

I recently had an interview for a content manager role. And while it didn’t turn into an offer, I still got some valuable lessons that will help me in my future interviews.

“What are you hoping to grow into or gain from this role?”

This was an interesting question to get, and to be honest, in the moment, I didn’t have a great answer.

I’ve spent a lot of time refining my narrative about my career history, this sabbatical and why I’m looking to pursue content-related roles. But I haven’t put much thought into what my path looks like once I do land a content marketing/management role. 

Part of that is just unfamiliarity with the typical path in that specific field. In which case, I just got a new homework assignment — learn more about these types of roles, people who do this type of work, and what a typical career in content marketing and management looks like. 

Learning: Be prepared to talk about where you’ve been, but also where you want to go.

“Tell me about a time when you made content decisions based on results analysis.”

Ok, ok. This question was obviously very specific to this particular role, but almost any interviewee can expect to be asked to give an example of a project related to the role.

And I was wholly unprepared. Rookie mistake.

Now, I was prepared with examples and anecdotes about managing content production projects. And to be fair, the job description did focus on that type of work. However, I should have paid attention to the job responsibilities and requirements that were further down the list, and have work examples ready for those.

Learning: Be prepared to speak to every single bullet point in the job description.

“Do you have direct experience working on SEO projects?”

Ah yes, this was the question I was afraid I was going to get.

Again, this specific question was related to the role I was interviewing for, but it reminded me of a common thing that can happen when applying to and interviewing for a job: there may be a duty included in the job description, and it’s sometimes difficult to determine how big a part it plays in the role.

For this role, it was search engine optimization. The job description mentioned doing keyword research to help identity potential content topics. And under experience, they asked for some familiar with search engine optimization best practices. However, they also mentioned that the content manager would work cross-functionally with SEO, which led me to believe there was a team that really specialized in the nitty-gritty of SEO — particularly technical SEO — and that as the content manager I would just need to be familiar enough to best implement their recommendations.

And I did take some online courses ahead of the interview to brush up on the most up-to-date best practices and techniques.

But during the interview, it became clear that the hiring manager was looking for someone with more direct, hands-on SEO experience.

And perhaps, there’s not much else I could have done. It’s not like I could suddenly just take on and complete an SEO project.

But knowing that this could possibly be a question, I could have had a better-prepared answer, proving that while I didn’t have examples of SEO projects I’ve worked on directly, my combination of knowledge and related experience would allow me to get up to speed on the type of work quickly.

Learning: Even if you think a particular duty or skill is just a small part of a role, prepare for it anyway!


While I didn’t move forward with that particular role, I did get the feedback that the hiring manager really enjoyed speaking with me and that they’d be in touch if any future opportunities became available.

Again — you’re not just auditioning (or interviewing!) for the role, you’re auditioning for the director.

Reflections

Coping

I’ve been having a tough time. 

Sadly, it’s easy to brush off a statement like that right now because (a) I’ve had many tough times throughout this pandemic and (b) we’re all having a tough time.

But it doesn’t make it any less true nor any less potent. So, once more, with feeling: I’ve been having a tough time.

So instead of give you an update on my career exploration and search, I’m instead going to share coping techniques from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Pay attention to your feelings. Name what you’ve lost due to the pandemic. It might help to write this down in a journal. Allow yourself to feel sadness or cry.
  • Think about your strengths and coping skills. How can they help you move forward? Consider other tough transitions you’ve been through, such as a previous job change or divorce. What did you do that helped you recover?
  • Stay connected. Don’t let social distancing prevent you from getting the support you need. Use phone calls, text messages, video chats and social media to stay in touch with family and friends who are positive and supportive. Reach out to those in similar situations. Pets also can provide emotional support.
  • Create an adapted routine. This can help preserve a sense of order and purpose, despite how much things may have changed. In addition to work or online learning, include activities that might help you cope, such as exercise, worship or hobbies. Keep a regular sleep schedule and try to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Limit your news diet. Spending too much time reading or listening to news about the COVID-19 pandemic can cause you to focus heavily on what you’ve lost, as well as increase anxiety.
  • Remember the journey. If you’ve lost your job, you don’t have to let the way it ended define the whole experience. Consider some of your good memories and the big picture.
  • Take comfort in creativity. Cooking, gardening, making art or being creative in other ways might help you feel better.
Reflections

Receiving Feedback

Last week, I spoke about mistakes — failures, really — and learning how to embrace them as learning experiences and tests of our ability to overcome obstacles. I also reflected on how a big component of this positive perspective on mistakes was resilience — a trait that I, admittedly, was sorely lacking throughout my career.

It’s amazing that it wasn’t until my sabbatical that I finally developed this skill in resiliency. In fact, I’ve realized that there are quite a number of “areas of improvement” that plagued me throughout my career and finally clicked during this sabbatical.

For example, a while back, I wrote about the MVP — minimum viable product — and how my perfectionism was a huge roadblock in allowing me to embrace this idea of pushing out a first version and then iterating on that. It wasn’t until this sabbatical and my work launching the podcast and my YouTube channel that I understood the benefits of just getting a product out there and then slowly improving on it.

I thought it would be interesting to continue this look on those career “weaknesses” that I was slow to improve on while I was working full-time, but finally overcame during the sabbatical.

So, in this post, I want to talk about receiving feedback.

Feedback is a gift 

Anybody who has worked at Facebook will be well familiar with the phrase “feedback is a gift”. Giving and receiving feedback is so ingrained in the company culture. But for someone coming from companies that didn’t really focus on feedback, it can be a difficult thing to adjust to.

For me, personally, it was hard not to feel like feedback was just someone cutting me down, by focusing on the things I’m doing wrong. On the one hand, I was a perfectionist, so any mention of things I could improve on or do differently was an attack on that persona. And on the other hand, I was already suffering from major imposter syndrome (as many do when they move from small companies to a large corporation), so negative feedback seemed like ammunition I needed to protect myself from, lest they find me out for the fraud that I was!

And, of course, logically, I knew this wasn’t the case. The point of feedback — much like mistakes — is to give you opportunities to grow by showing you what you can work on. But it was hard for me to get over the negative emotional response that I had to the feedback process.

And so, as you can imagine, I got really defensive. Coworkers, managers, cross-functional partners would give me feedback, and I would jump in with my rebuttal with why they were wrong.

And here’s the thing — sometimes, you really will disagree with feedback and ultimately decide it’s not something you want to follow. However, you still need to know how to graciously receive it. 

My manager at Facebook tried to give me advice on how to better receive feedback, even if you don’t agree with it. The key is that right after getting the feedback, you need to show that you understand what was said to you and accept that the person has that option. A helpful way to begin that response is “I hear you saying that …”

After that, it’s good to thank people for their feedback. And then, of course, you can ask questions, if you need more information to fully understand the feedback. However, you should not use questions in an attempt to change the person’s mind about their feedback.

But, I was just never able to really embrace this feedback process. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was already burnt out and so I didn’t see the benefit of improving in my work. Maybe I wasn’t getting the reassurance I needed that feedback wasn’t a threat. Perhaps, it was a combination of both. Whatever the reason, ultimately, this inability to receive feedback well had a huge negative effect on my working experience.

Counseling to the rescue

Well, no spoilers here — I did finally get over the feedback hurdle during my sabbatical. However, it wasn’t through my career exploration, it was actually something from my personal life — marriage counseling.

As I wrote about in a past blog post on core emotional needs, last year Ryan and I did a few months of couple’s counseling. In one session, we were talking about how to create an environment where we both felt safe to have serious conversations with each other. Our therapist taught us a validation exercise that would help build this foundation of safety through the following 3-step response process:

  1. I see what’s going on: you reiterate what your partner is telling you to verify you’re hearing the statement correctly.
  2. You make sense: you validate your partner’s feelings by showing that you understand why they would have that emotional response, even if you don’t feel the same way.
  3. I’m here if you need it: you reassure your partner that you are there to support.

For example: “What I’m hearing is that you were upset when I left the laundry spread out on the bed before going out to lunch and that you took that as I message that I expected you to clean it up. I can see how that would make you feel disrespected and unappreciated. I’m here if you want to find ways together to work through those hurt feelings.”

In the above example, it doesn’t matter if the partner was mis-reading the intent of the action. The hurt feelings were still very much real. So, that initial response needs to simply show that you understand what your partner is saying and why they might feel that way.

It’s been an exercise that has really improved the way Ryan and I communicate. And by now, I’ve had a lot of practice with it, even using it when I have arguments with my family or friends.

*Light bulb moment!*

This is exactly what my manager was trying to teach me about receiving feedback at work.

By starting with this validation response, you:

  • Give yourself more time to process feedback. When your initial response simply needs to just show understanding, there is no need to automatically retort with what you’ll change (or why you think you don’t need to change). 
  • Create a safe space for feedback. When the feedback giver is shown validation, even if you don’t ultimately follow their suggestion, they will have a positive experience and feel welcome to give feedback in the future. They will also probably be more open to receiving feedback themselves!

Now that I’ve built up this skill in my personal life, I’m excited to use it in professional environments, when I finally return to work.

Reflections

It’s OK to Fall

When I was really little, my mom was teaching me how to write my letters: she would write the letter on the paper, and I would try to copy her.

Now, my mom has really nice, neat handwriting. And I remember quickly getting frustrated that my letters didn’t look exactly like hers. I got so upset, I threw down my pencil and refused to practice any more. If it couldn’t be perfect right away, I didn’t want to do it!

This trait was pretty core to my personality and approach to life growing up, and it persisted long into adulthood.

And even though he is less than a year old, I’m seeing some of the same tendencies in my son.

Artie’s at that age when he’s learning to walk. He can now easily pull himself to standing and can walk around, just as long as he’s holding on to something with both hands — the coffee table, the couch, even the wall.

But I’m trying to build up his confidence in finding his balance without holding onto something. I’m starting by getting him to practice walking while only holding on to something with one hand. 

At first, he downright refused to try and burst into tears at any suggestion that we should attempt a one-handed walk. Finally, this morning, I got him to take several steps while just holding on to me with one hand.

I applauded and congratulated him with every step. But, of course, he eventually lost his balance and fell on his butt. And then came the tears and the refusal to try again.

So, I picked him up, wiped the tears from his face, and told him: “It’s ok to fall. You’re going to fall. That’s part of learning. You just need to get up and try again.”

And in that moment, I realized: a lot of us adults need to take that advice, too.

We’re all so afraid of falling — of failing, really — as if it’s going to be some black mark on our record and bring us shame that we’ll never be able to live down.

We don’t appreciate falls for what they are:

Learning Experiences

For many of us, when we fall, unfortunately, the message we tend to get from that experience is: “Well, I guess this is proof that I’m not good enough to do this.”

But that’s not what we should be taking away from those falls! 

There’s so much more information we could be gleaning from a fall:

  • What caused the fall?
  • What could I do differently to prevent a fall next time?
  • What should I work on so I don’t fall again?

One of the best ways to know how to do something right is to experience doing something wrong.

Proof We’re Trying Something Hard

We can’t attempt difficult things — feats that really challenge us — and expect to do it perfectly the first time.

We need to work up to it! Train ourselves. Do the hard work to improve.

In this way, falls should be seen as badges of honor. They are proof that what we are pursuing is truly ambitious. They are the necessary stepping stones that take us to great heights. 

When we avoid falls, we resign ourselves to mediocre achievements.

A Test of Resiliency

You know that saying: “It’s not how many times you fall that matter, but how many times you get back up that counts.” It’s been quoted and re-phrased by so many people.

Really, it speaks to resiliency.

Ah, resiliency. It’s a term I heard a lot throughout my career. It was the subject of a lot of the feedback I received during my reviews.

And rightly so. Admittedly, I was the person that got overly upset when projects didn’t go perfectly to plan. It affected my attitude. It affected my relationships with my coworkers. And, ultimately, it affected my work.

But, it wasn’t until this sabbatical that I was able to truly understand and appreciate what it takes to be resilient.

It takes practice and a shift of perspective.

It takes falling enough times to know you can always get back up again. And appreciating everything you learn and gain from each fall.