A few days ago my friend Ned gave me for Christmas a DVD called On Guard! Educational Films of the Cold War Era. The DVD contains four documentaries from the 1950s about nuclear attack and how to possibly survive them. (Key word here being possibly, as in “If you’re the lucky one in seven hundred thousand, you could possibly survive a detonated A-bomb.”) The films are fun, collectively forming an antiquated Midcentury time piece that’s at once hilarious (because documentary filmmaking has come a long way since this), creepy (one remembers the ever-present threat felt in those days from the specter of nuclear war) and oddly heartening (every era had its fears, so today’s terrorist scare is put in an historical context that feels more par-for-the-course than a sign of impending apocolypse). And as an added bonus for us webfoots, one of the films is set here in Portland.
What’s really the coolest thing about the On Guard! DVD, though, is that Ned collected these films himself, designed all the packaging, and personally oversaw the pressing of several copies—all just to give away to friends.
Previously, Ned has also come out with three CDs, each one a compilation of music from a particular era and genre of yesteryear. First came tiki and Hawaiian music mix, next a Bossa Nova retrospective, and finally earlier this year a tribute to cowboy and western film songs. As with the recent DVD, Ned did the graphics and wrote liner notes for each one, and in the case of the CDs the liner notes contained an extensive essay about the history behind the music.
Ned’s DIY productions of kitchy-but-genuinely-good music and film stems in part from his graduate degree in museum curating – or something like that. But I assume his education further speaks to a more enduring love for putting these little packages together.
All this makes me think of the various art projects and other hobbies that many of my friends have going. My friend Rob is a painter in addition to being a filmmaker and a television news graphic designer. My friend Ady works for Chamber Music Northwest by day and finds time out of work to make documentaries, build furniture, silk screen, play clarinette (she’s classically trained) and partner with her music-teacher boyfriend to instruct a middle school marimba playing ensemble. My friends Rosie and Paul both have interest in and talent for writing fiction when they’re not designing software or teaching high school, respectively. My uncle Allan is an excellent guitarist. And here at 1743 Mulberry, I willingly volunteer that Valarie is quite probably a more talented pure writer than I am.
I’m happy for all my friends who have all this interesting work going on, and yet I feel bad for them because in nearly every case, there often just aren’t enough hours in the day to devote to it. How lucky I am that one of the primary things I’m passionate about doing – writing – is something I also happen to do for a living. It’s not to say all those people hate their day jobs, but I’m not sure how many would do it for free, or if it is something they're just as passionate about as their personal projects. Sure, I love to take still photos and make short films, but if I were doing either of those things for a living, I’d miss writing, which I’m overall blessedly fulfilled by.
But all is not lost. All but one of the people discussed here including myself are in our early thirties. (Sorry Allan--you're the one exception.) Hopefully one day Ned’s new release will come not from the computer in his bedroom, but from his independent music and video label.