breathing room

“It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long. If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit. So they cut it down to 3:05.”  -Billy Joel, “The Entertainer”

I have been watching Thirtysomething on DVD.  There are selections that include comments from the actors and directors, and I thought, “Do I really want to hear that?”  Sometimes is nice to simply enjoy something great and not overanalyze it.  But curiosity won me over, and I’m glad it did.  Rather than pull back the curtain and ruin the facade, as in The Wizard of Oz, it only made me appreciate the episodes more.  Like if a great jazz musician says, “See how I used that scale?  Then I used this alternate fingering”, etc. and all the more you say, “Brilliant.”

Currently I am pondering how one writer compared writing in the 80s to writing now.  He said dramas in the 1980s were written in four acts, now they are written in six (gotta sell some commercials).  He said he wished he could write again for Thirtysomething because he was given seven more minutes to tell the story.  Seven more minutes.

Why are we in a rush to tell a story?  Oh, yeah, to sell commercials.  He even knew the seven minutes that were cut in that episode’s re-runs.  One example is a man noticing a woman, and his wife noticing him noticing her.  He said it was cut because there was no dialogue, therefore there must not be a story.  Hello, can THAT be more of a story?!

So I am pondering the importance of breathing room in the context of the creative process.

Another comment from that writer: his outline from the producers, he says, was 1.5 pages long.  Today outlines are 14 pages long (for seven minutes less).  He said episodes kind of write themselves now, because there’s no time to cover anything that’s not in the outline, or, for example, have a character reflect on the plot twist.

The same circumstance resonates to me with teaching.  I work on a phenomenal staff who have proactively decided to set aside minutes at staff meetings to reflect on certain topics.  We have found it powerful.  And we bring it to the classroom.  “The role of reflection has been described repeatedly in studies of teacher effectiveness. (-James Stronge)”  Here’s a catch 22: We are given fewer instructional minutes and more standards to cover than ever (think “an inch deep and a mile wide”).  Reflection time has shown to increase aptitude of those requirements, and yet reflection itself is not a requirement.  Hmm.  Just like life, we resist the urge to race from one task to another, and the need for each one to happen faster and more efficiently.

Recently Jason shared with me that a conductor at his gig asked the string players to start their vibrato before they bowed.  I loved that.  Literally and figuratively.  The instrument is already vibrating.  You are just inviting the sound to come out.  Likewise, and to bring this full circle, two of the Thirtysomething characters were cast to walk into the room in the middle of a conversation.  The actors said they took the liberty of writing what might have been the start of the conversation so they could begin down the hall and walk into the scene ACTUALLY in the middle of a converstion.  What a concept!  They got it right.

As usual, I have no idea if my thoughts will traslate into anything meaningful for Addison Road.  My thinking is pretty open-ended.  Do you have or make time in your life for reflection?  Spritually?  Musically, or whatever your craft may be?  Do you ever take time to sit in a room and listen to silence, or to enjoy the process (rather than outcome) of your task at hand?  I crave more of this in my life.

9 thoughts on “breathing room

  1. michael

    Oh, this hits me right exactly where I am.

    I am doing more, much more, than I’ve ever done before. Life is so full that I fall into bed exhausted every night, and wake up with a list of things to do that’s so long I want to fold up and stay in bed. Friday is my flexible day (no classes to teach), and on Thursday night, Gretchen asked me what my plan was for the next day. I said, “I haven’t thought about it yet.” Not because it was a day to kick back and shuffle through some things, but because there were so, so many things that had to get done, thinking about it a day ahead of time was like a crushing weight.

    A lot of the things on the list are creative tasks (a commission for a new choral piece, composing a chamber orchestra piece, things like that), and for me, writing takes a huge amount of time. Anything creative does. It takes time, and a lot of that time is spent being wasted. It’s spent just breathing in, and clearing space (sometimes physically) to write.

    The deadlines for both pieces are a little over a month away, Easter and Good Friday both fall in between now and then, as well as a million other things. I barely have enough time to enter the notes into Sibelius, let along thing about what the notes should be. The thing I desperately need is time for reflection, and it’s the one thing that there’s no time for.

  2. michael

    Also, Gretchen and I had a long conversation last night about how education has changed since NCLB descended upon the nation like a plague of locusts. Your feelings are shared by a whole lot of people in education!

  3. Gretchen Lee

    I love reading your thoughts Sharolyn. Thank you for sharing them.

    I agree with your sentiment that there is no time for thought in education today. No time for reflection for the teacher, administrator or student. It is truly a loss. Creativity has all but vanished. There is no time for interpretation or original thought. We aren’t teaching our children how to think, analyze or problem solve, just how to memorize and reproduce prior thought. Ugh.

    One area I’ve noticed this in personally has been in Bible Study Fellowship which I started a little over a month ago. There is a daily lesson. Scripture reading, some exegesis and then thought and response. I do okay with the “find in the answer in scripture” questions or the “cross reference this verse” problem. I realize however that I am finding it harder to answer the “challenge” questions which are usually the “think about it” or “apply it” type question. I have finally given myself liberty to leave it for a day or two (or three) and mull it over. I am finding that I can think about it off and on during the day, or as I fall asleep etc. I am allowing space for God to speak to me, and time for reflection to really analyze my life and walk with Him. This has opened up a whole new way of looking at scripture, listening to God’s voice and even knowing what I really believe.

  4. june

    Good stuff Sharolyn! I do (kind of) make time in my life for reflection…but I can’t say that’s it too thought out. It’s more of a lifestyle I’ve adopted, which I think—I hope—is a good thing. Ironically, I don’t have time to write more at this moment, but I wanted to say ‘good on ya’ and this post is well-written and provides much food for thought.

    Gretchen, one of the things about the new charter school we found that we love love love is that at the informational meeting, the people explaining about the school made a big point of saying that their primary educational goal was to teach children to think, analyze and problem solve. GLORY HALLELUJAH! It was one of those moments when, after hearing them be so very articulate about this, we looked at each other and said, “That is SO great!…and SO obvious!…Why is it SO hard to find?!” We’ll see if all plays out as planned, but, we’re very hopeful!

  5. Chad

    Good gravy, yes. Megachurch life has all but crushed my hopes for a life where we just have a little bit of time to marinate in God’s presence, each other’s presence, or the like. Everyone’s got bigger and better things to do.

    I am, indeed, a stranger in a strange land.

  6. sharolyn

    Mike, sometimes I miss the search tool. I’d put this under a more appropriate post, but, well, I can’t search for one. :D

  7. sharolyn

    I had a great talk after school with a teacher that I really admire, and this topic came up. She astonishingly (and yet simultaneously I am not surprised) did her MASTERS THESIS on the topic of reflection. How other cultures do it… how it helps in every field… Wow.

  8. sharolyn

    Read this tonight:

    “… As I think back on those thirty years of work with Dr. C., I realize anew that he never hurried us. We were never made to feel that we had to be somebody that we were not, yet we were always encouraged to choose to be the best of who we were at the moment. indeed, our development was far from overnight – we became who we are over time.”

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