I made something.

I get stuck, sometimes. Creation is hard, and it can feel overwhelming it its scope and depth. Fighting back can be hard, too- because creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life’s other pressures don’t abate just because you’ve started a new project.

Lots of folks have fought this- and many have come up with workable strategies. Among those I’ve found (that I like), Oblique Strategies is a favorite. It’s a deck of cards, designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, to help musicians stuck in the studio. As much as I like them, they’re not wholly applicable to what I do. Also, Austin Kleon recently posted about how he’s making his own deck (though his, predictably, is made with a Sharpie…).

New thing over at stealstrategies.net #stealstrategies

A photo posted by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on

So, today, hungry to be able to create something (as much of my creation-materials are in storage in preparation for my upcoming move…), I lugged my typewriter out of the basement and grabbed the stack of blank cards I use to work on my kids’ game we’re building together.

And to work I went.

Today’s project.

A photo posted by Tim Calvin (@nothingfuture) on

43 Cards later, I have a deck of ideas and prompts. Things to push me in a direction and (hopefully) get me unstuck.

Video Essays

Ah, yes. A subject I’ve been going on about (if you’ve been reading my newsletter). I can’t help it, I suppose- video essays are clearly, I think, the next thing in education. They’re too versatile, too compelling, too multi-modal to be ignored. And, if we’re talking about any modern version of literacy, they’re necessary.

As a result of all this, I’ve been watching a ton of these things. There are lots of them out there, on a wide variety of subject and of a (predictably) wide variety of quality. There doesn’t seem to be any formalized consensus on the form itself (thus far), but there do seem to be a number of “conventions” that have been reached.

  1. Length seems to be in the 5-12 minute range. There have been some longer ones (Everything is a Remix, for example), but those tend to be divided into “chapters.”
  2. Most of the popular videos seem to be about following tropes in culture through multiple media- books, music, film, art, etc…
  3. Voice over is a thing. It’s what provides the bulk of the linking (from example to example), but the best ones let the examples speak, too.
  4. Tight tight tight. Not a wasted second, not an extra anything. Take your time with the examples, fine- but don’t pad it out with anything that’s not tightly related & integrated.
  5. Quality- examples you use have to be high quality- high def video, clear & high res pictures, readable text, clean audio. Your audience will be intolerant of anything else.
  6. Citations. As a favorite teacher of mine once said: Give credit where it is due (thanks, Mrs. Schwartz!). It really is that simple: anything you use that you, yourself, haven’t made? Cite it.
  7. Soundtrack isn’t an afterthought.
  8. Animation breathes life into static material. Paintings, text, and pictures all don’t move on their own, so you need to add that movement. Animated highlighting to text. Ken Burns movements on the images. Animated arrows or circles on static material. Direct your viewers’ attention.

Structurally, these really aren’t that different than a more “traditional” essay- introductions, conclusions, evidence, transitions- all those elements of construction remain conventions here.

I’m working on one of these, myself- it’s a super-duper busy time for me (both at work and at home), and so the progress is… slow. Still: I just shot some footage for a tiny segment yesterday, so I’m not making zero progress. I’d not hold my breath, were I you, however.


Here’s what I’m up to:

  • Newsletter #40 goes out this morning. Just a few more and it’ll have been a full year of these. Still not sure why I do it.
  • Getting all the ducks in a row for closing day on the existing house/new house. Renting trucks, getting documents in order, buying cardboard boxes, etc etc etc.
  • Experimental Education video project is ready for the next round of revision. That will (likely) be the last beta before I give it a try in a live setting. After that, I’ll be able to write about this with more details.
  • Car has been (mostly) converted to winter mode. Still waiting on a couple of parts. Suspension is fixed, winter wheels/tires are on. Needs new wipers and the windshield prepped.
  • New phone came. iPhone 6s Plus in grey 64gb. Very like. Currently wrapped in a Magpul field case (grey).
  • I’ve been researching mini metal lathes. That (usually) means a 7″ swing and a bed between 10-16″. It’s a daunting amount of research, but I’ve got some time before this is a real thing.
  • Starting to spec out a new computer for the new house. Looks like an iMac (27?), with a USB3 hard drive array and some other bits and baubles. I’m still working on if I’ll do a second monitor (right away? wait?), and what sort of stands/arms that will require. I’ll likely also use it as a place to consolidate my audio gear, so I’m imagining all that patched in too.