Thursday, February 27, 2014

10,000 hours, 5 minutes and 1 sec - getting perfection right - nearly

The Long Game Part 2: the missing chapter from Delve on Vimeo.

It's cold again. The bolognese that is. Thank goodness for bin liners in bins. That's the third time this week and regularly over the last five years I've forgotten to eat. Fruit, that'll do.  When I touch the key board mouse, my nerve endings scream at me.

One thing though is constant: books, read, watch film, read, critique, read, write, rewrite, write again, get critiqued, write again, and again.

[ Pause - I have just burnt the chicken in the oven --really]

[resume - and then write, critique, make film.

It's been relentless. A sink hole where there is no end in sight, and the hole consumes you, fills up. Live burial !!

Except that in the last three months, more than any time I can see the torch light. Nearly there! Adam Westbrook's film captures that journey of knowledge many of use aspire to formally and informally.

Geniuses are rare in the world, unless they're like Dynamo, the magician, where the inexplicable stares you in the face.  In Westwood's film, Tiger Woods must have possessed that magical qualities, but it was worked upon. The Williams sisters too had it in them, but their father provided the currency of realising hard work pays.

You'll often hear football pundits talk about protecting young football stars from the glare of the media, so that they can develop, and not be seduced by the dross journalists write to sell newspapers and inevitably destroy fragile minds in the process.

Westbrook's Missing Chapter
Westbrook's film details the honorary Doctorate at work. These are the individuals whose craft exemplifies extraordinary feats they have obtained outside the strict formalities of education.
Every year 100s of talented people are bestowed this title.

Yet the film  also implicitly marks the formal doctorate -- that relentless search for deep knowledge, in which sacrifices are made that many of us would not entertain.

Da Vinci's grafting that eventually leads to his fame, Coltrane's years of practising , Westbrook provides an easily accessible guide to what Gladwell calls the 10,000 rule. And whether it's exactly 10,000 hours or not, the obvious statement is, doing things well takes a long time.

Since the point of the essay is to yield debate, that is the video essay does not need to be an Aristotelian structure with completion, I thought I'd add to Westbook's essay using myself as an example.

My PhD has taken me six years, and in common with the theme Westbrook focuses upon, there is an autoethnography about my research. Auto ethnography is the combination of autobiography and ethnograpy. Ethnography is in its simplest terms, is the science of gaining evidence and the experience of people from a community.

Those six years involve consuming vast amounts of knowledge, in which in the early years, but only on reflection do I realise I was like a bull in a China shop. I crashed into everything and wanted to know everything. The word I use for this is digital flaneurism. Flaneurs are those dainty Frenchmen who would dress up and simply go for walks to explore their city.  Digital flaneurism is strolling in and out of libraries and bookmarks.

Westbrook's remit did not allow him to deviate into this next area, but every grafter needs a figure head or heads to push them. Most geniuses, humble enough, will have someone or many in mind who they measure themselves against, or study.  Tiger Woods was chasing Jack Nicklaus, Caravaggio, one of the greatest painters of all time was in battle with Michelangelo.  Me, I fixed on everyone.

My interview with Robert Drew, the founder of American Cinema Verite kept me up for weeks afterwards dissecting what he meant. Then there is your critic. In PhD terms it's your supervisor. If you're to succeed then a huge debt of gratitude must go to the supervisor.

It can often not be an easy relationship; a good supervisor is someone who acts as a pastor and a cattle rancher. When things go wrong, there are no niceties about it. You need your harsh critics around you -- something the human soul fights.

The small light in the Tunnel
As I draw towards the end of the research, I only now realise what I've done. I used myself as the knowledge bank, and I justify this with some of the ambitions things that I did e.g. 1997 taking Ghana's state TV to South Africa to create a series of programmes using videojournalism.

But I did something else, I studied a movement in 1990s who claimed they were innovative. Their legacy is hidden, but if I put on my TV almost every week I see one or two of them still punching above their weight. They're older now, but what was it about that period that shaped them. Proving or disproving this meant tracking many of them down and counteracting this with their critics.

It sucked the life out of me, because I needed to find films about what they did and systematically break that down to show the reader, whether their claim was correct.

I could and should have stopped there, but I then extended the research to look at contemporary talent. What was it that they were doing that was working with audiences? These three themes connect with each other and then threaded 
back to significant parts in history, asking the question, why we do what we do and what does it mean?

Meaning, the art of meaning is culturally defined. That is what I am talking about here will mean something to you in the US or UK, but may not have any currency if you're in China.

The other open sore then was justifying in that rhetorical way critics write why I used specific philosophies and methodologies. Phenomenology, Heurestics, artistic methods etc. Why? Why ? Why!

It's been a long road, but the one thing it has taught me, beyond the obvious: discipline, determination, wealth of knowledge, a greater understanding of myself, is humility.

Humility because I doff my hat to those who are in Westbrook's film and the scores of you who are not who sit down every so often behind a PC to write and share, to acquire knowledge and dispense it. 
At the point that you may even dispute what others say, the respect is that they've sacrificied long years to get where they are.

It is indeed a lost chapter and an unfinished book.