Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Generalist

I am a generalist.
I'm not sure if that's even a real word, but it pretty well defines me.

A generalist = not a specialist.

You see, everything interests me. Well, there are a few categories I don't much care about, pop culture apparently being one of them. In trivia, I'm reasonably skilled in history, literature, math & science, Bible, word definitions - stuff like that. I reek on topics like movies, TV, pop music, really anything like that later than 1980 or so.

The point is, my wide-ranging interests have always kept me from specializing in much of anything.
I have been told I'm one of those rare cats (a nice way to say 'odd') who is neither left- nor right-brain dominant. I am both artistic and analytic. Don't think I suffer from attention deficit, but I can be easily distracted if something is interesting. And most everything is interesting to me.

My college education illustrates this point pretty well. After spending 5+ years in school, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in broadcast journalism and a Bachelor of Science in mathematics, with minors in English literature, art and German. What was I going to do with all this varied education?
I really had no idea.

I actually kind of backed into my eventual career - certainly had no inclination to enter TV production in high school. Went to a teachers' college 60 miles from home, even though I didn't want to be a teacher. (Ironic, isn't it?)* The school had a lot of family connections - it was operated by the church denomination our family was connected to, my mother had graduated from there (just a couple of years before I arrived, actually) and my sister Janet was already there as an upperclassman when I got there. Since I really had no idea who I was, where I was going or what I wanted to do with my life, the path of least resistance (easily taken by a guy who hated confrontation)** was to make my parents happy and attend that college.

Once there, I started taking general education classes, joined a traveling singing group and found a campus job with the Audio/Visual Center. I was hired as an audio engineer, charged with horsing recording equipment around campus to record orchestras and choirs and such. I had zero experience at this, and was kind of thrown into the position with a cursory explanation and no real training. ("There's the equipment, here's what we expect of you.") I was not very good at first, but I learned quickly and studied audio on my own to try and do a better job.

Our "state of the art" equipment was a couple of 4-track open reel machines. I learned to edit, physically cutting and splicing the audio tape. Eventually we got the latest and greatest thing - an Advent cassette recorder with Dolby B noise reduction! Hard to believe now, but in 1976 this was very expensive top of the line technology.

Anyway, I found I was having a lot more fun doing A/V production than with anything I was studying in class. I decided to try and find a way to make a living doing this sort of thing. After some detours
(getting married and having to support myself & my wife, for one - another story for another time)
I transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

I had taken so many math classes that it only took a few more to complete a major. Already had enough art classes for a minor, too. And I took up a second major area of study, broadcast journalism with an emphasis in production. I learned cinematography by shooting and editing 16-millimeter black & white film, studied newswriting, economics and history, and pulled board shifts on the campus radio station, sneaking contemporary Christian music into the playlist.

And I got another campus job, as a photographer/editor with the University Information Office.
I learned much more about production in this job than in class. We had top of the line equipment - 3/4" field equipment and a cuts-only editing system. This stuff is only good for boat anchors now, but then it was far better than anything the J-school had for their students. I was going around campus interviewing professors and putting together electronic news releases, including the University promos*** which aired during the rare televised football game. (With only one or two games a week televised across the whole nation, your favorite team might get on once or twice a season if they were really good.)

My boss, Bob Van Neste, was an old-school journalist highly respected by everyone in the business. He taught me so much about shooting and editing, patiently instructing me in the finer points of telling a story visually. Once again, the job was a much more valuable education than most of my schoolwork. I started helping my fellow students, passing along the knowledge I was receiving. And I was having a blast working!

When I graduated in December 1980, I needed a real job. My wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child and working as a cook in an upscale Mexican restaurant. I took a temporary position with channel 3 in Omaha as a photographer/editor. They were in the midst of a strike and were desperate for experienced shooters. I had a baby on the way and was desperate for money. Worked steadily for a couple of months till the strike was over. There was no chance of being hired permanently - no matter how good I was, they had no place for me. So I got a hearty thank you and a letter of recommendation and was back on the streets again.

I went down to the J-School and checked the jobs bulletin board. There was a position available in production at the local CBS affiliate, the most dominant TV station in Nebraska. I went to apply right away. I was the very last applicant of 60 or so hopefuls. Because I had considerable experience, plus a glowing recommendation from Mr. Van Neste, I got the job and started right away.

God has blessed me with supernatural favor, and I'm thankful. But if I hadn't pursued jobs on campus, desiring to work, I wouldn't have had the necessary experience. Like Joseph in the Bible,
I made the best of whatever situation I found myself in, worked hard and was therefore in position to receive God's favor. I didn't know it at the time, but God was directing my steps.

In the past 30+ years, I've had the opportunity to do just about everything in television production. This includes camera, lighting, editing, directing, writing, graphics, set building and design. Computers have completely revolutionized the business. Much of what I do today is at a keyboard. So my training in art, math, English, and broadcasting have all proven useful at one time or another. I started computer programming back in the '70s on a refrigerator sized mainframe that was less powerful than most people's phones today. Who knew I'd eventually use all this stuff? I sure didn't, but
God knew what would happen when the technology didn't even exist yet.

Still haven't really used the German much...

I guess my point is, even in my area of specialty I'm a generalist. And I'm glad to know that about myself. Understanding my motivations helps me to be more effective. God created me this way, and He'll use me if I'm willing and obedient. (Obligatory Scripture Reference**** - Isaiah 1:19)

*The irony is, one of my primary motivational gifts turns out to be that of a teacher. I'm passionate about learning and helping others learn, especially about God and His ways.

**As mentioned in an earlier post, I tend to avoid confrontation. I suppose I should write a blog post about that, but that would mean confronting the issue, and - well, you know...

Even I find it hard to believe that a student was creating those University promos. Nowadays, those things are high-dollar ad agency productions. Back then, it was me and others like me.

****Seems like every time I post I include Scripture references, like it's a rule or something.
And I was at the end of this rambling narrative and hadn't done so. This is an actual, useful reference - I just felt like poking fun at my own quirkiness.

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