Location: Chicago, New Orleans
Current Gig: Director of the Social Science Research Center, Associate Professor of Sociology, Filmmaker
One word that best describes how you work:
I seem to possess a diminished capacity for self-awareness. Not all introverts are introspective (see below). So for this one I had to ask my wife. Here’s what she said: “Completely. When you work on something you work on it with every part of your self — creatively, practically, emotionally, reflexively, personally, socially, etc. You work by investing every part of your ability until you feel is complete.” Flattering words, indeed, and I really like to think she’s right.
Current mobile device: iPhone, iPad
Current computer: iMac, Mac PowerBook, Mac Pro (“Tube”)
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
For iPhone: EverNote, 8mm, Waze, Shazam, Snapseed, PocketScout, FilmicPro, Reminders
For Mac PowerBook: Mail, Evernote, Text Edit, Word, Excel, Chrome
For Mac Pro (Tube): Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Audition, Adobe Lightroom (basically the whole Adobe Creative Suite), Avid ProTools, ShotPut Pro, Google Drive
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have an office at DePaul, like most of us do. In that space I have a desk, some shelves, an iMac and my laptop station. I still have (and use as often as possible) a fax machine. But in the DePaul office space I mostly just write memos and respond to boring emails with boring emails of my own. I can’t catch any sort of creative groove there. Generally I’m unfit for doing anything meaningful in offices decked in standardized putty-colored furnishings with bland walls and fluorescent lighting. It all feels very oppressive and grimly soul sucking to me.
My home office, on the other hand, is a many-splendored hive of creative industry. It’s divided into three parts: one for writing, one for film, photograph, and audio editing, and another that serves as a workshop-studio. The writing area is populated by nothing more than a small roll-top desk and my laptop. In the audio-visual editing space there’s a rather large desk atop of which I sit a 32” cinema display, a dedicated photograph and film negative scanner, a video tape deck, and my Mac “Tube” hard drive attached to which is a daisy chained series of external hard drives on which I store media files. Finally, my workshop/studio area is a creative space and workshop. That’s where I spend time restoring vintage audio equipment and motion picture cameras and tinkering with various visual art projects (e.g. spray painted signs on canvas).
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day?
I have figured out that I do my best writing in the morning hours, while the late afternoon and evening are best-suited for film and photograph editing. In the middle afternoon hours I hit a lull, physically and mentally. So in that interval I do the stuff that I believe matters less but still must be done, such as responding to email messages, which generally consist of request my attendance at unnecessary meetings. I also try to do more physical things in the middle afternoon hours, like catching up on filing, organizing books and articles, managing the physical inventory of camera gear, returning business phone calls, sending faxes, etc. I don’t have many shortcuts, per se. Some years ago I discovered the EverNote app for iPhone and laptop. It’s an amazing GTD program that allows me to capture text notes, reminders, URLs, audio recordings, photographs, and videos, all of which are text-searchable. For instance, if I take a picture of a STOP sign and later search the app for the word “stop,” EverNote will recognize the text in the photograph and retrieve the photo as a search result. This one app has done more to enhance my organizational sensibilities than has any other single development. I always carry a companion Moleskine notebook that synchs nicely with the EverNote app. I take notes or make drawings in the notebook, photograph them with my iPhone camera, and they’re automatically uploaded, archived, indexed, and made searchable/retrievable. On the information front, I recently subscribed to theSkimm, a news clipping service that my wife tells me was designed for people who identify as female/woman. I don’t know about that, but I like the way they skim the news and send me the highlights with some really funny editorializing. I’m not that interested in current events, to be honest. But theSkimm keeps me just enough in touch to be capable of holding up my end of cocktail party conversations.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
TeuxDeux.com. I like TeuxDeux’s elegant simplicity. I also recently began to use Asana.com, which is super robust task and project management online interface that’s especially good for team/collaborative projects. But mostly I use three Moleskine notebooks for task management (see below).
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My Canon 5D Mark iii full frame camera. I use it to make photographs and to capture video. It’s a very sophisticated visual media production device. I also never go anywhere without my Lacie Rugged 2TB external hard drive; it’s where I store all of my media files. In addition, I always have my Marantzfield recorder handy. It captures broadcast quality audio. I use it for capturing sound when I’m shooting on my DSLR and also to record notes and ideas for later reference. Despite all of the technological solutions of which I’m very fond, I’m most attached to the three hardcover Moleskine notebooks that I keep on me at all times. The first one keeps all of my administrative tasks, general plans, ideas for research and writing projects, and so forth. It’s very general purpose. The second one is devoted to the more “creative” project ideas – films, photo series, and audio stories (this is the one that’s synched with my EverNote app). The third is even more specialized. It’s a dedicated storyboard. In this one I map out the nitty-gritty of scenes and sequences that I’m planning to use in the films I make. As a backup, I always have a FIELD NOTES brand notebook in my back pocket. The last item I’ll mention is the one that holds all this other stuff. It’s a new combination backpack and camera bag by Manfrotto (Advanced Active Backpack II).
All of my DSLR gear fits in the bottom “belly,” and the other sections of the bag accommodate my Mac laptop, audio recorder, external hard drive, notebooks, media cards, and accessories. Finally, there’s a single bag that does the work of the two or three bags that I used to lug around!
What do you listen to while you work?
What I listen to at work depends on the kind of work I’m doing. Every day is different, it seems. My general purpose work music is traditional folk music, blues, and Americana from Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. Alan Lomax’s field recordings represent the bulk of what I listen to, day in and day out. Right now I’m obsessed with Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, Vera Hall, and Bukka White. On the weekends I listen to old-time Baptist sermons and 1940s gospel music and 1970s comedy albums. Lately I’ve had a voracious appetite for “post-rock,” a kind of postmodern retro/vintage genre that samples heavily from crooner tunes, 1950s lounge music, and experimental pop music of the 1960s. My favorite bands in this genre: Dirty Beaches, Crystal Stilts, Ariel Pink, Stereolab, Broadcast, Blouse, Beach House, and a bunch of bands out of Baltimore. When I’m preparing for a talk or lecture, I listen to rap, hip-hop, and club music from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa, 1980s gangster rap tapes from South Central Los Angeles, or pretty much anything from LCD Soundsystem. Immediately before every lecture, I listen to “I Saw the Light” by Hank Williams (a peculiar song choice, perhaps, for an atheist). I make a lot of specific playlists that serve to motivate me on specific projects. The most recent is a collection of love songs from the 70s and 80s. I made it during the planning and writing of a film that I shot mostly on VHS. So it was there for my inspiration. Even though I’ve finished shooting the film, I find myself listening to it just because those songs are really great and I’m (perhaps surprisingly) very fond of sentimental claptrap.
What do you do to stay inspired? Who are some of your favorite artists?
I’m inspired by all sorts of people, places, things, and occurrences. As far as artists go, I’d have to divide them into categories. The filmmakers who really rev me up include David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Gaspar Noe, Harmony Korine, Cheryl Dunye, Jean Luc Godard, Jean Rouch, John Cassavetes, Calvin Lee Reeder, Raymond Depardon, Kelly Reichardt, Chantal Akerman, Sofia Coppola, Shirley Clarke, Matthew Barney, and Arthur Lipsett. The writers whose work inspires me include Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, Jim Thompson, Jennifer Egan, Harry Crews, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace. Several comedic performer-storytellers also inspire me, ehief among them are Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce, Mitch Hedberg, Carol Burnett, Bill Hicks, Redd Foxx, Mel Brooks, Lily Tomlin, Mike Birbaglia, Sarah Silverman, and Natalie Jose. Performance and multimedia artists who get me going: Beverly Fresh, Jordan Long, Laurie Anderson, Chris Burden, Olaf Breuning, John Cage, and Christian Jankowski. My all-time favorite musical artists are Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, Tom Waits, Roy Orbison, Captain Beefheart, PJ Harvey, Daniel Johnston, Hasil Adkins, Ray Charles, Cat Power, Nina Simone, Blind Texas Marlin, Bukka White, Hank Williams, Vera Hall, Nick Drake, Brian Wilson, and Velvet Underground.
What sort of work are you up to now? At the moment I have several projects in the works.
Films: I am just finishing up the editing of an experimental feature film called Bathtub Songs: and Other Extracurricular Activities that Zack Ostrowski (AMD) and I shot with a large cast and crew last summer in Montgomery, Indiana. It’s the first-ever interdimensional performative documentary narrative film, and it’s scheduled to premiere in Los Angeles on January 17, 2015. I’m also finishing post-production of a short (18m) filmic poem titled “Ode to Montgomery.” Soon I’ll be starting up post-production of a short (30m) discontinuous documentary narrative film titled “The Great Spectacular.” At the moment, I’m about halfway through the editing of Abandominium, a feature documentary on everyday life in a heroin shooting gallery on Chicago’s west side. Earlier today (Nov. 24, 2014) I finished an experimental film commissioned by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which will premiere in January in Paris. Several film projects are in the development stage, including a top-secret narrative film called No Face Charlies and an ongoing documentary about the movement to establish the first supervised injection facilities in the United States.
Research: My colleague Wes Shrum (LSU) and I are working on a book for Sage about doing video ethnography. We’re also writing a journal article on the development of video ethnography as a methodological field. I’m also managing the first-ever national survey of the erotic labor market (sex workers, clients, etc.). I’m also working on a variety of field studies related to heroin and crack cocaine injection practices in urban and rural America. Finally, I’m preparing to work with Zack Ostrowski on a book about the performative sociology of swindles, con games, and hustles of various types.
What are you currently reading?
I tend to be reading several books at a time. I have a hard time committing to and sticking with a single read. Currently I have a few in the active stable: Lost in the Funhouse, Bill Zehme’s biography of Andy Kaufman, one of my all-time heroes. I’m also re-reading David Foster’s Wallace Infinite Jest (best book ever written, in my opinion). And I’m almost finished with Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. Interspersed through my regular readings are the short stories of Harry Crews and the contemporary narrative films and stories of Carson Mell. Finally, when I need to get back to the ground realities of living weird in a warped world, I re-read Charles Bukowski’s and Hunter S. Thompson’s collected letters.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see __________________ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Never concern yourself with what you want to be; instead, focus on how you want to live and understand the “why” behind what you enjoy doing. If you love the “why” of your life and figure out a “how” that works for you, the “what” of your existence will develop on its own, organically. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing with everything you’ve got. Don’t take any bullshit, especially from yourself. Make a habit of getting yourself lost – there’s no better way to find good things. Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out: If you gotta get out, get out quickly. Last, from Ghost Dog: “One should make every decision within the space of seven breaths.”
The How I Work series featured on the re/search blog is shamelessly stolen from Life Hacker’s How I Work series. The SSRC’s version asks DePaul’s heroes, experts, and individuals of note to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Jessi Bishop-Royse at jbishopr AT depaul.edu.