On Figuring It Out Yourself

The slogan Last week on The 40 Year Old Boy, “Let Me Get on Up,” the titular boy, Mike, had an epiphany of sorts. He’s been podcasting for eight years now, delivering a weekly monologue of absurdity with commendable regularity. This week, though, might be the first time he produced it himself. If it was a joke, it’s embedded throughout the episode, as Mike bemoans having to learn Audacity after putting it off for eight years, and Lili the producer laughs gleefully throughout as he comes to grips with having to figure it all out after leaving the work on her for so long.

The validity of Mike’s gripes aside, the chord he struck with me this week was figuring stuff out. When you’re on your own and you don’t have knowledgeable primary sources in your circle of friends, if you want to get anything done, you have to figure stuff out, whether it’s how to play a new board game or how to produce and publish a podcast. Problem-solving is a muscle to develop. Experience breeds eventual success, and success breeds confidence.

Happily, we live in the era of the internet, where there are innumerable how to guides and tutorials on any subject imaginable. The knowledge is available. You have to be willing to start somewhere, though, and you have to be willing to try and see what happens. I taught myself to play Arkham Horror thanks to the rules reference created by Universal Head — now the Esoteric Order of Gamers — and my disinterested yet patient cousin Margot. When I wanted to make a podcast, I figured it out twice. Once in the typical manner, with the PowerPress plugin to publish Carnagecast, and then a no-money route for Held Action Theatre, both times creating a podcast that, from the outside, looked and sounded like any other you would find in the iTunes store. That second time it was entirely about experimenting and testing the workflow. I’m still pretty proud of pulling together so many disparate parts to make a well-produced, syndicated podcast.

The same attitude went into creating Decked! I wanted to learn about publishing video on the web and building a YouTube channel in addition to putting out content for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. It also gave me the opportunity to experiment with live streaming a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and learn about the software and hardware needs for that style of show.

To circle back to what first got me thinking about building the problem-solving muscle, it’s easy to put up barriers for ourselves. Mike puts up barriers of “I don’t know how to do that,” when he has access to resources to figure it out. I put up barriers of “I don’t have anything worthy to say.” While I enjoy overcoming technological and process-related problems, thinking I don’t have anything worth saying is a barrier with which I still struggle. So I give myself defined spaces in which to work on that, like starting up a blog about tabletop games, for instance. Most recently, it’s becoming fluent in Call of Cthulhu and better able to riff and ride a conversation to make commentary meaningful and entertaining.

And I am, of course, looking for the next opportunity to either exercise skills I have — I still harbor hopes of being able to focus on producing a podcast, rather than being producer-host-everything else — and learn how to do something new. I don’t want to talk about it publicly yet, but I have been learning about and implementing a live streaming installation that’s proven educational and unexpectedly challenging. (The educational part being “don’t needlessly complicate your solutions, Chet.”)

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