Two Legs Good: On Creativity and Commuting

Two Legs Good

I found this installation whilst on walkabout in Melbourne’s Fitzroy neighbourhood the other week. I don’t know if it was a deliberate art moment, or simply an abandoned chair, but I like the jaunty confidence, the impossible sturdiness of this situation.

I’d been sent to Melbourne for a three-day storytelling course on genre that made my brain hurt, in a good way. I’ll share the highlights in another post because it’s worth a few paragraphs, and because the New Zealand taxpayer helped me to get there, so the least I can do is share the knowledge.

Comic Currency

Speaking of genre hybrids, I was staying in Fitzroy at the home of a Kiwi friend, Paul Horan, a producer of the fantastic comedy/current affairs show, The 7pm Project. Made by the folk behind Rove (and presented by some of the folk in front of Rove, plus host Charlie Pickering) it’s a brilliant series, with a more meaningful take on the news than many straight current affairs shows.

Where else would a current affairs host ask Australia’s richest man whether his money makes him happy? Genius. And this was during a live cross to the launch of Generation One, an intriguing and potentially great new project that invites all Australians to end indigenous disadvantage in their nation. I’m pretty sure that The 7pm Project was the only TV news show to treat the launch with this much respect. And it’s a comedy show. So that tells you something.

I sat in the studio audience for a taping – not something I usually enjoy doing since I’ve spent time on the other side of the glass, but in this case it was exhilarating. The show really does go out live, and the presenters really are that quick and that funny. It’s yet another example, I think, of how slow and steady development can produce a formula that works from day one. It’s not perfect – nothing that has to squeeze the day’s happenings into 22 minutes can be – but it is having a conversation with Aussie viewers about the world around them in ways that the ‘normal’ news won’t.

A Beaut Commute

In Melbourne I also visited with some of my very best girlfriends, all of whom are doing excellent things. In particular, Mary Parker has recently begun a blog called Beaut Commute. Designed with the modern commuter in mind, Mary recommends things to do with your time whilst on the tram.

In a moment of despair last week about the prevalence of allergies and cancer, the things we are doing to make our earth sick, and a nagging feeling that I am engaged in a frivolous career with cynical goals (achieving audience numbers, filling the gaps between ads), Mary’s blog helped me to look at what I do in another way.

The number of devices (phones, media players, laptops) that are designed to fall apart within a few years, necessitating disposal and further consumerism, bugs me. However, the selfishness of single-occupant car commuters also bugs me. Of course, problems are always bigger than this (the bus didn’t go where I needed it to during one particular job last year), but I got to thinking that it’s possible that those of us who make content can design what we do for the former, which might convince the latter that public transport is an attractive option.

The thing about cars is, they’re comfortable. You can play the radio station of your choice. You don’t have to sit with your face at someone else’s crotch height when the carriage is jam-packed. But you can’t enjoy a 20-minute video podcast, or read a book for that matter, when you’ve got your eyes on the road.

So I started musing on whether the fear of missing out could be a powerful psychological tool for getting folks to swap their cars for a smartphone and some natty downloads. Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could swipe-on to a public transport vehicle, and unlock a channel of amazing content only accessible to those on that train/tram/bus? Perhaps what we content-makers need to create more of is content for the perfect commute. Perhaps the revolution is only a download away?

Who am I kidding? Advertisers are way ahead of us, of course, using digital billboards and GPS information to target commuters in really canny ways.

On the flipside there’s WNYC’s recent piece of fun. The New York-based public radio station has been crowd sourcing commuters’ playlists and sharing them around. You can even listen to New Yorker music writer Sasha Frere-Jone’s playlist for his Q Train ride to 42nd Street.

For creatives, especially those with day-jobs, commuting can provide great ‘head-time’. Over the past couple of years, whilst travelling to locations for the art series I was producing, I’d sit next to one of my directors who would always have something to watch offline on his laptop or iPod. It would be useful – a Final Cut Pro tutorial, or a TED talk (here’s a cute one from the director of the film Elizabeth on panic as a tool for creativity).

My director treated his commute as important development time. Why simply read the newspaper’s re-hash of daily crime stories when he could be accumulating more skills? This is a man at the height of his career, and he considers that there’s still a lot to learn. I certainly learned a lot watching him use his time wisely.

In The Neighbourhood

Anyway, all of this has got me thinking about short-form storytelling. And made me wish I’d made a wee film of my Fitzroy neighbourhood ramble. Because then you could have heard the invisible piano concerto that made me stop outside this building…

It was an intimate snapshot of a small square of creative life, and reminded me of the chap from the New York Times who decided to do the New York Marathon… around his own block. So if you can’t get in a walk around your own neighbourhood today, visit Andy Newman’s.


5 Responses to “Two Legs Good: On Creativity and Commuting”

  1. Megan

    Lovely post G, I also enjoyed the leisurely walk around the block with Andy. What first started out as irritation settled into a comfortable acceptance of time lapsing. Why are we so bitter about time lapsing? We think its a short life and that we can make it longer/fuller by fitting more in. My experience tells me that the opposite is actually true. The simple act of taking a train or walking slows life down to a more digestible pace. It seems to me that a life that rushes by is a lost opportunity to experience richness and depth. Is the reality that we are screaming past our life in our private cars? Brrrrrrrrmmmmmm!

    • toomuchpersonality

      I know! I found it a little dull at first… but then it settles into a meditative routine that made me realise I don’t know my block quite as well as I could. I like how Barnaby starts off all waggly-tailed then drops out!

  2. Helen

    Hey! I love the idea of getting people on public transport with free downloads, great thinking 🙂

  3. Beaut Commute

    Love the fact you understand what lies behind the creation of Beaut Commute! My secret aim is to make it so appealing for people that they actually WANT to take the bus so they can read a book rather than sit in traffic. Even if people only took an alternative method of transport once a week it could ease congestion around 20%, not to mention the positive environmental impacts. Lovely post.


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