Consumption of entertainment plans and goals for 2010.

Catch up with Dexter.

“Catch up with Dexter.”

Partial win. I finished season two and three. Season four on DVD is still too expensive to buy, and I can never be bothered to pirate anything. Also I have a general principle which states I will never watch anything made for television for free, I will always pay for it. This way I will only spend time and effort on a series I really care about, rather than filling stupid amounts of time with dross. By paying for television it’s like I’m putting a dollar value, or euro value, on my own time. That I’m the one paying the dollar value means I value it even more.

“Watch more than the first episode of Battlestar Galactica.”

I did watch more than the first episode, although I haven’t made it to the end of the first series. Maybe in 2011. However, relying on semantics, this is a win.

“Play more Natural Selection and, if it is ever released, Natural Selection 2. I might need more memory for my PC though.”

Win. Natural Selection is my only gaming vice, but one I’m very happy with. I’m improving quite a lot, and it’s a great way to turn off my brain. I only ever play when I’m at home though, as it relies on stable Internet connection for multiplayer, and there is no single player.

I didn’t buy new memory for my PC, instead I installed Windows my new MacBook, and it plays PC games no problem. Natural Selection 2 is only just out as a beta, and doesn’t work very well on any computer, let alone my MacBook.

I also played through all of Half Life 1 and 2, and preferred Half Life 1 in almost every way except graphically. And I played through Portal too, which is very good, but way too short and way too easy.

This section total: 2.3 out of 3.


Photography plans and goals in 2010.

“I have no plans for my photography. It’s the only hobby I have which has no performance aspect at all (I even podcast about my reading), so there is no pressure to do anything at all. I’ll just keep carrying my camera, and keep improving my skills and artistry. ”

See that plan? The plan was to have no structure to this hobby. And it really worked. Overall I could do anything with my photography, and if you follow my blog, you’ll see that photography posts probably outnumber any other subject.

I have a lot more to say about my photography than I want to wrap up in a single blog post, but I do think it is the hobby which I improved that most of this year. This is probably because my other skills are generally higher than my photography skills, and I was making up ground, but I’m still very impressed with my progress.

I’ve written on this blog already about sharing photographs on Facebook and how that was a great inspiration to me to keep taking more photographs at juggling conventions. I also took part in the Berlin FotoMarathon in June, improved markedly at taking photos of people, and even shot a magazine cover photo! I’ll have to blog about the FotoMarathon some time soon.

I think this plan (not having set a goal) actually worked out pretty well. It will probably inform any plans and goals I set for 2011.

“But I will try to keep posting photos to my blog.”

Win.

” And I’m going to buy a new zoom lens, because the autofocus on my current (really shitty) zoom lens is broken.”

” And I’ll probably buy another two or three camera bags.”

Win and win. I bought a new lens and two camera bags.

I also bought a new camera. This is partially because I managed to throw my old camera out of a taxi, breaking it quite badly, and while it still worked it was held together by a white sticky tape. But also I got to the point where my camera equipment was limiting my improvements as a photographer. My current camera, the Canon 60D, will probably allow me to improve as a photographer for another two or three years at least.

Total winnings for this section: four out of four. Setting low expectations seems to be the trick here.


Working on a cruise ship Q&A

I get email!

Hello,
I’m Jan, I’m a Swiss circus artist. We don’t really know each others, we just shook hand briefly at the Bruxelles convention.
I’m mailing you because I study in the new circus school Codarts, a higher education in circus based in Rotterdam.
For my theoretical circus lessons, I’m writing an essay about the different working fields of a juggler.
I decide to send interviews to the jugglers I like. It would help me a lot if you would answer my interview.

1) What brought you to play on cruise ships? Was it your plan for a long time, or an accident?

“Along with Pola, my former girlfriend and performing partner, I created a juggling act called The Art of Juggling. I never intended to perform this act on cruise ships, instead I thought it would fit variety stages and gala shows. We made a version that fit in our street show, and we performed that at festivals around Europe in the summer of 2006.

In January of 2007 we performed at a small juggling convention in Scotland. We met another juggling duo there who told us our show would work well on cruise ships. But with a catch! Not many cruise ships just want a good 7 min act, instead they want a 50 min show. They said “If you can perform a 50 min show, we will recommend you to our agent in the UK.”

I wasn’t so interested in working on cruise ships, but Pola wanted to give it a go. I knew it would take quite a bit of work, but it turned out to be the right goal at the right time.

I had a lot of material after performing for seven years, and Pola and I could draw on our street shows for the way our characters would work in a longer show. That spring we were booked to perform at a theatre festival in Israel, along with a full-length show that the Israeli juggling convention, and that gave me the certainty that we could perform a very good and professional 50 min show.

So I sent some publicity material to the agent, and a few weeks later we performed for the first time at sea, on the Queen Mary 2, which at the time was one of the largest cruise ships in the world!”

2) I read on your website that you have a big passion for the reading of science fiction books and the writing of it!

“See the second part of my next answer.”

3) On cruise ships, is there a possibility to train? If no, not even “small tricks”? Do you get bored to be so much in the ships?

“I try to train every day, for at least an hour or two, but this doesn’t always work out. I normally train in the theatre, but not very often on the stage, because it is usually too dark, or other people are working. On some ships the theatre is too busy for me to train there at all. I sometimes juggle at the bottom of public stairwells, where I can take advantage of the extended ceiling height.

As for getting bored, I have loads of different hobbies to fill my time. I like making videos, writing music, taking and sharing photographs, etc. Reading science fiction is a long-time passion, and for the past three years I have recorded a review of almost every single book I’ve read. I release these reviews as a podcast, and at the moment I have between 3000 and 4000 regular listeners.

Writing novels is an extension of my love of literature, and I can certainly fill many otherwise-empty hours on a ship!

Having a good laptop computer is essential for me and my lifestyle, so early in 2010 I upgraded to a monster MacBook Pro. It heavy, which isn’t great for traveling, but as you can see, my hobbies are computer-hardware intensive.”

4) Is it hard to always behave the “right way” on a ship? (I’m asking this question because , as you know, on corporate events you have some rules on how you are allowed to interact with the clients. How is it on a cruise ship? Is it the same than on events? If yeah, it has to be very hard, when you are on the same ship during 2 weeks with the same client?

“I don’t find it difficult to behave the right way on a cruise ship. It’s just part of being a professional. I’ve never had any problems with the passengers or the crew, although sometimes I’ve made people nervous when I’m the last person back on the ship before it sails from a port of call!”

5) What about the stage performance; is there any format that an artist should respect to create his show?

“When working on a cruise ship I must have one show lasting between 45 and 50 min. On top of that I must have enough material to do another half show, typically 15, 20, or 25 min.

What I do within those shows is completely up to me. As long as I put on a good show, and entertain the audience, I have complete artistic freedom. Most jugglers think that the material I perform juggling conventions, nerdy stuff which only jugglers will understand, would be unsuitable for a cruise ship audience. I take the opposite approach, and respect my audience enough to go along with nerdy routines about site swap and trick names and other topics.

I format my show around two ideas. The first is that I want to tell my story, my life as a juggler. The second is that I want to answer people’s questions about juggling. You know, like how many can you juggle, when did you first start to juggle, can you juggle fire, can you juggle this random object, where is the most interesting place you have juggled, and all those kind of things.

So I combine these two ideas into a single narrative, and by answering different questions at different times I can swap different elements of my shows around from one performance to the next.”

6) Did hosting shows at conventions help you a lot with speaking on stage? Did the motivation to speak on stage came from there? Is your presentation on the cruise ships mainly about the juggling, or the speaking, or 50/50?

“Yes, speaking on stage or in public in any situation is good practice for performing. The only way to get good at anything is to practice hard and often. For the juggling skills this is easy, as you can do it at home by yourself. For performing, it’s a little bit different.

Between 2001 and 2006 I attended 15 to 20 juggling conventions per year, and I performed in some capacity at every one of them. I offered to be in every show, to host renegade and open stages, to host games sessions, and anything else I could think of. Maybe people got sick of me, but I got very comfortable on stage, and by continually trying out new material I developed a wide range of acts to perform on stage.

How much juggling versus talking I do in my show now depends on various factors. I often do 25 min shows containing very little talking, just 1 min of introduction, and then 5 min of juggling, and then another minute of introduction, and another 5 min of juggling, and so on.

To do this in a 50 min show would kill me, as so much juggling would tire anybody out. Also holding people’s attention purely with juggling for 50 minutes, even if spiced up with physical comedy, is a very hard task. Maybe I could do it, maybe not. Either way, it’s best to vary the tone of a show throughout.

So my 50 minute show is split three ways between talking (although I normally have props in my hands to demonstrate tricks), pure juggling routines, and physical comedy routines where the juggling and talking is less important than the clowning. These physical comedy routines often include audience participation, as me looking silly on stage is one thing, whereas getting audience members to look silly on stage is way more interesting.

Also, before talking about science fiction on my podcast, I presented the Juggling Podcast. In total I have recorded about 5 or 6 days worth of audio, the vast majority being me talking. Sitting down with a microphone, with no preparation except for a few lines of notes, and talking for 45 minutes, with no edits, and being entertaining and informative, is a difficult thing to do! Knowing that I can be generally entertaining, purely off the top of my head, gives me a lot of confidence as I walk on stage.”

7)When you play on a ship, do you usually play once, (like in the welcome or the good bye show) or do you present the same show over and over for different audience in the ship?

“I perform my 50 min show twice in one night, and then perform my 20 or 25 min show as part of a longer show twice on another night. Normally there are a few nights in between, and maybe a few nights either end, so while I only perform on two nights I might be on a ship for a week. Sometimes I perform just once on a night, and a few times I’ve been asked to perform my show three times. Three times in one night is simply too much, and the last show, while entertaining, certainly suffers from a lack of energy.

Some cruise companies are clever, knowing that I get paid by the week. They make sure I am on a ship for the last three days of one cruise, and the first three days of the next cruise. This way I perform my main show twice on two nights, and often my short show twice on another night, in the same time I would normally only perform two nights. It’s like 5 hours for the price of 3.”

8) Your website feels to me much more personal than websites of other professional jugglers. You show videos about the different places you travel, you speak about your other passions, which have nothing to do with your stage acts. Do you think the creation of your website like this helps you to sell your acts, because people see the human behind the professional?

“I don’t use my website for promotion. I have an agent who is very good at getting me work. When I worked with Pola, we would do our own promotion through LukeAndPola.com, mainly for street show festivals and variety work. As a solo performer it is now easier and far less stressful to leave the promotion and booking gigs book to my agent, who was happy to do it for 15% commission.

My website is really intended for people interested in me as a person and the kind of things I get up to. Many people see me on stage during a cruise and look me up online afterwards. They have no intention of ever paying me to work, but they’ll be interested to re-watch my routines, check out videos of me juggling around the world, might be interested in other things I do.

I’ve never use my website for promotional purposes, although without it I wouldn’t be a professional juggler now. 10 years ago my website was one of the most popular juggling websites on the Internet, and I constantly shared photographs, videos, tutorials, comedy writing, comics, reviews, and all different kind of things. Most of it was about juggling, but there was just as much about other things I got up to.

Because of my popular website I became one of the more famous jugglers internationally, despite not being that great at juggling, comparatively. This, as well as being known is an interesting performer, led to me being invited to many conventions around the world. I travelled from the UK to Europe many times, to the United States three times, and to Australia once. Those opportunities would never have presented themselves without my website.

Even now, years later, people often tell me how my website was the thing that inspired them to become a juggler, or when they began juggling it was one of their main inspirations. And many of these people never saw me at juggling convention, not for many years. Just how many people I inspired over the years, I’ll never know, but the e-mails trickling all the time, and random people I meet on my travels tell me the same story over and over again.

This, to me, is a way more important reason for a website than lists of clients I’ve worked for, or quotes about how great I am, or details of my show, or TV shows and media appearances I might have made. Really, who gives it shit about that? My validation as a juggler and performer is that A. I keep getting work offers, and B. I’ve helped inspire a whole generation of new jugglers.”

9) To work on cruise ships, is there a better country to officially live in, for administrative reasons?

“I live and pay tax in Germany. Berlin is a cheap place to live, so that suits me! If I worked abroad more, for over six months per year, I could probably apply for non-resident status in the UK or Germany, and pay tax in Switzerland or somewhere. I know a few entertainers who do this, but I’m not interested. I would rather live somewhere cheap, have to earn less money, and take more time off work.

Within the European Union being self-employed and living in a different country is very simple. When I moved to Berlin I just registered that I lived there, and within a few days I had registered myself with the tax office, and I registered myself self-employed a few months later when I was getting regular work.”

10) Are you making a lot of publicity to get hired on cruise ships, or once you got some jobs, others jobs come, if you did the last jobs well plus luck? About how much time do you invest in promotion?

“As I said before, I have an agent who I pay commission to find me work. I have very little interest in working directly with any cruise ship company, even if theoretically I could make a little bit more money. I believe strongly in going for the least stressful course. With my agent I might earn less per week, but with my agent I work many many many more weeks.

In a strict sense I invest no time in promotion. In a wider sense, again referencing my previous answers, everything I do is promotion. The more I share online, for free, the greater I become in the eyes of anyone interested in me. It’s like building a brand, if you want to use marketing speak.”

Thank you if you read the interview until here!

“My pleasure!”

If you have any useful information you want to share, I would be very happy to read it!
Thank you very much.
Best regards,
Jan von Ungern


The Art of Life and Work Advice

When chatting with a friend on Skype, about how many new countries we wanted to visit in 2011 (me 20, him 3), he said:

“Incase you don’t already know if him, be sure to check out Chris Guillebeau.

He’s made quiet a life out of seeing every country in the world.”

I checked out the website, and had mixed feelings. Some positive, but there was another side which nagged at me for a while. I read more of the website, including some of the manifestos, and I think I worked out my thoughts.

First, the positive:

If you want a good guide about starting and running a professional blog, he has a load of good information. He also has good advice for someone wanting to travel.

Chris seems to have a good life traveling the world, and enjoys sharing his and other people’s stories.

Second, the “not negative, but not sitting right”:

It started with the language.

The language of the website seems at odds with the content and goals. I know a lot of it is just marketing speak and metaphor, but that kind of things doesn’t really grab me. Some examples:

The title is “The Art of Non-Conformity.”

The subtitle is “Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work and Travel.”

Nice titles! However, I read through the Top 10 Articles, and while they are helpful for a narrow audience, there is very little unconventionality on display. (I’m not saying the narrow audience is a bad thing, as Chirs writes that he is only interested in writing for a small niche.)

The business advice seems to focus on professional blogging and selling ebook products. Now, maybe I’m way too savvy, or something, but this seems like quite a conventional way to earn a living. The advice is good because it is tried and tested. If something is tried and tested, lots of people do it. Yet isn’t that the definition of conventional?

Traveling the world, and visiting every country, is quite a conventional this to do. It isn’t a goal of my own, mainly because visiting many countries is a by-product of my lifestyle and job. But I’ve met all kinds of people who want to do this, and there are uncountable travelers who blog about their adventures online. There is even a club for people who want to travel to every country.

And the Non-Conformity part seems to stick out a bit. Non-Conformity in this sense means not having a 9 to 5 job. I’ve had a 9 to 5 job, so I know why people aspire to not have one. More importantly, I’ve had a 10pm to 7am, stacking shelves in a super market. More importantly still, I’ve had no job!

But switching from conforming to one expected life path (9 to 5 job) to another (blogger) isn’t Non-Conformity. It’s just changing your lifestyle to one that suits you better.

For every young person who quits their day job to become an “entrepreneur” and embraces the freedoms and responsibilities that entails, a slightly older person gives up working for him or herself, and goes back to working 9 to 5, in order to spend more time with their family, or for the higher pay and security working for a large, stable company might offer.

One way of life is not better than the other, in my opinion. Personally, I don’t see me going back to a 9 to 5 job any time soon, but who knows what the future may hold? At the moment I earn plenty of money, but it depends on me being away from home a lot. If I have a family, I either need to be paid more to travel less, or find a better paid job nearer to home.

Here’s a biggy:

The top manifesto on the site is a PDF called A Brief Guide to World Domination. Awesome title!

But first, we let Chris define “world domination.” As outlined in the manifesto, the options are:

A. become a successful professional blogger.
B. work for charity.

Both admirable goals, but hardly dominating the world! This is a another metaphorical turn of phrase, as Chris himself admits.

Beyond the Language

Why I wanted to write this blog post:

I don’t want to put down Chris, or the success he is having in the realm of life advice blogging. A lot of people aspire to quit their job and make a living through their blog or other online activities, and he’ll probably help some people do that.

However, I’m always nervous about taking any kind of advice from anyone who makes their living by providing advice to other people.

I’m not talking about all fields, of course. I pay my accountant to give me advice! However, the advice she gives me is very specific to my life and my job and my expenses and my income.

But Chris, and many other lifestyle gurus like him, use themselves as an example for the validity of their own advice.

He makes a living by telling other people how HE makes a living.

In many ways this is good as we know his advice worked for at least one person. But say he has 2000 people seriously reading his site. If 2000 people suddenly followed all of his advice, how many would succeed? Let’s say 1%. 20 people make it. To be generous, let’s increase this by a factor of 10. 200 people become successful professional bloggers.

Now let’s go back to my accountant. If people following her advice had a 90% chance of failing, she wouldn’t be an accountant for very long!

For life advice and entrepreneur bloggers, that isn’t a problem. Most people won’t follow their advice, and they only want a quick fix of aspirational messages. Those that follow their dreams would probably do so anyway. From there, those who succeed will be vocal, and those who don’t will slink away back to their 9 to 5 jobs.

The Existential Blog

People read the blogs of successful professional bloggers, not because they have the best advice, but because they exist, or continue to exist. That they exist probably has very little to do with the advice contained within the blogs, as applied to the blogs themselves.

1.

Chris has the right mindset to travel the world because he did that as a job, working in Africa for various charities. He can cope with the jetlag and the other hardships of his lifestyle choice, not because he read about it on a blog, but because he has lived the life of a world traveler.

2.

Chris is a great marketer. He has a good eye for design, and can certainly come up with eye-catching titles and slogans. He’s obviously skilled in terms of building relationships with other blogs, and connecting directly to his readers via twitter and other social networking services.

But he can successfully market himself and his blog, not because he read advice on a blog like his, but because he he did this as job. He learned all these things when promoting other people’s businesses and products, not his own. He has lived the life of a marketer.

3.

Chris is also a good writer. But he didn’t become a writer that people wanted to read because he read advice on a blog. No, instead he set himself a task to write 1000 words every day. He probably did this for years before relying on it to earn a living. He lived the life of a writer.

Are you getting my point?

Living the life.

I’m going to sound like a hypocrite now, using my own life as an example, but before I became a successful professional juggler (and by professional I mean earning as much money as a juggler as I did in my last 9 to 5 job) I had been juggling for 14 years.

In those 14 years juggling had turned from one hobby among many into a passion. More importantly, I studied performing arts full time for 2 years, got a degree in music production, worked for two years for a television company, then spent three and a half years without any steady source of income, but traveling and performing as much as I possibly could, often for very little money, yet constantly developing my show and performing skills, and juggling between 1 and 5 hours a day.

To get by in those years without a real job I wrote music for TV, made juggling beanbags for other jugglers, worked as a tour guide in Berlin, along with a few other odd jobs here and there.

Everything I’ve listed above contributed to my current success in my chosen field. Other professional jugglers may have made the same kind of journey with less steps, and others may have taken more or different steps.

If you are reading a blog for advice about unconventional work, or a PDF about becoming a entrepreneur, it’s likely you aren’t ready for either of those things.

This is not a bad thing! Just be aware that you have many years of hard work ahead. As an example, let’s take Chris himself.

Chris as a counter-example to Chris’s message.

Chris has a PDF called 279 Days to Overnight Success. It’s a really good guide to blogging, I’ll give him that. My issue is with the title (again).

He started counting days from the time he started publishing web content.

Then, he tells us that before he started publishing, he spent several weeks writing a 29 page PDF manifesto as a focal point to his blog, to draw initial traffic (a really good idea, by the way).

He also tells us that before he started publishing, he had written dozens of blog posts and articles, so he could keep up his thrice weekly publishing schedule, even if he fell behind.

He tells us that he was thinking about and planning the blog for two years before he started it.

He tells us that he spent four years living and working in West Africa, and many other years traveling the world.

He tells us that he hasn’t had a 9 to 5 job since leaving college. He is now in his 30’s.

Instead of 279 Days to Overnight Success, the truth is that Chris has already put in 10 years of work to becoming an Overnight Success. He might not call it work, but he is now reaping the rewards as income. The people who write about him in the New York Times, and at Slate.com and LifeHacker, don’t respect him for what he has done in 279 days (from the start of his blog until writing that PDF), they respect him for the 10 years before that.

The 10 years of hard work before you become successful is always the most crucial, and even then it’ll take you another 10 years to really master your profession.

So to succeed in any area, the single most important thing to do is to stop reading about it, and get on with it!

Finally.

It’s such a minor point, but in his quest to visit every country on Earth, he lists he has made it to 151 of 192 countries. Personally I define “country” less strictly. 192 must be the UN or IOC list, which is a good start, but for someone who travels to interesting places, I like the list to be a bit more inclusive. One great example is visiting Easter Island. It is part of Chile, officially, but it is culturally, geographically, ethnically and politically distinct. Visiting one is so much unlike visiting the other that many other country lists consider these to be different destinations.

The focus is different though. I often spend only a few hours in a “country”. If you want to meet people and write about your experiences, you might need longer than that, so reducing the target number might simply be practicality.


Musical plans and goals in 2010.

” Write an album’s-worth of new songs and record them by the end of the year. ”

This was a huge goal, but it worked out really well. I interpreted it as meaning one song per month, and while I always fell behind, by the end of December I wrote over 12 songs.

The concept of recording the songs took on different meanings, as I never intended it to be a single album, with every song properly recorded and packaged as a whole. Instead I recorded some songs with a video camera and shared them on YouTube, other songs I did full pop production, some songs I made music videos for, and some I have on my laptop and have not yet shared on my blog or on YouTube or any other way.

Wonderful.

Memory/Confusion.

Out of Reach and Out of Sight.

This (New Song For May).

Work It Out Yourself.

All Your Time.

Future Luke.

Still Hurting Me.

Light Side (Dark Side).

Written but not yet released:
I Like You.
Take Me To Zanzibar.
Speed of Dark.

A win, by the way.

” Write the music for Room.”

This tied in with my big theatre project for the year, and that was largely fail, this part would be too. But I did actually work quite a bit on the music this project, and for the video I released, I made sure the music was a large part of it. Win.

” Buy a five string bass guitar and learn to rock.”

Fail. Maybe one day. Now I want to buy a piano, after playing them a lot more on cruise ships while writing songs per month.

Wins for this section: two out of three. I’m happy with that.