Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Vita interruptus

Possibly the weirdest job I ever had involved spending six hours a day watching AARP members dance, half-naked, half clothed in feathers and sequins, to deafeningly peppy music from the 30's and 40's. Actually, only half the show was musical numbers. The other half was variety acts, like Mr. Moore's Amazing Mongrels, Miss Magda and Her Trained Pigeons--sorry, "Doves" . . . I always forget because we just referred to them as squab--and that one woman who balanced a sword on her face while swaying around 20 feet above the stage.

Yeah, the variety acts make it seem much more normal.

Anyway, the part of that job that I miss was that for two three-hour periods each day, I got almost no job interruptions. Almost none, because the producer could, and did, call up to the booth to comment, ask questions, request changes, and so forth while the show was running. Also because I sat in the booth with two of the most talented electricians ever to grace the theatre, DWH and Vinkman, and we constantly talked during the show; while most of our conversations were about the show itself, the topic did occasionally wander.

Why was I so focused?

Because I had to call over 1,000 cues in 180 minutes to ensure that the music played, the lights came on and off and tracked the performers, the sets moved, the curtains came in and out, the lift rose and fell, and so forth--all in sync with all of the other elements and the performers--in other words, to ensure that the show went on. After all, if all of that wasn't synchronized, it wouldn't be long before the lights went out in the middle of a number as the lift dropped in the middle of the stage and Grandma dancer would plunge into the orchestra pit.

Getting all of those cues spit out in order required a little bit of concentration, given that I was talking to two electricians, two audio technicians, and a deck crew of nine or so. Sure, there were crises that required talking to the producer on one phone, the company manager on my cell phone, answering my pager, and calling cues to the crew through my headset, but there were times when I couldn't do anything except look at the stage and I couldn't talk to anybody except the crew. Especially during sequences like the train number, when it was my responsibility to get the billowing smoke around the train to hit its mark for every show.

Ever tried to get smoke to billow just so? How about just so, the exact same way, twice a day? How about 10 times a week for 10 months of the year? It sounds funny now that my job doesn't depend on the whims of the wind.

For the smoke, I even roped in the house manager, giving him cues to turn on and off the air conditioning and open or close various doors throughout the theatre. Maddening to get critiqued for smoke that happened to drift off its marks? Sure. But what a relief it was to be able to completely focus on one task: doing what I was paid for.

In the theatre, if someone wanted to talk to me or one of the crew, they had to take a number and wait until the show was over. Nobody dropped by the booth as we were bringing up the finale set piece on the lift and firing the air cannons to ask me if they could play second base in this week's company softball game, or to tell me that there's cake in the break room, or to ask me if I saw that email they just sent me.

They certainly do that in the cube farm, however.

I have to admit that I'm occasionally guilty of interrupting someone at work just because it's more convenient for me to drop in than call or send an email, but it still irks me when someone stops by to ask if I saw the latest clip on YouTube that they sent me three seconds ago. Are you kidding?

Maybe it's because people think that because I'm an editor--which, of course, means that all that I do is read--that I have all the time in the world to watch asinine Flash cartoons. Or perhaps they believe that because I'm an online editor--I only edit our website and online products--that my job consists of nothing more than surfing the web, looking at cool stuff and that, therefore, their brother's cousin's first "music video," which he patched together in under 12 minutes, is somehow relevant to my work.

Sure, some of the distractions are interesting, but editing, like calling a musical revue, requires intense concentration. Every time I'm interrupted at work, I have to find my place again, remind myself of the task at hand, and refocus.

After I return from paternity leave, however, I think that I might be better able to handle my work environment, given that my life will have been nothing but interruptions for the previous month:

  • I'm going to walk the dog now. Oops. After I change 3B.
  • I'm going to make breakfast now. Oops. After I find a burp diaper for Mama, who's nursing in the other room.
  • I'm going to bring you that diaper now. Oops. After I turn off the tea kettle.
  • I'm going to lay down for a nap now. Oops. After I reswaddle 3B and soothe him back to sleep.
  • I'm going to make breakfast now. Oops. After I change my shirt that 3B's pee soaked while I was soothing him (after changing 3B, of course).
  • I'm going to make coffee now. Oops. After I turn on the tea kettle.
  • I'm going to call my Mom now. Oops. After I walk the dog.
  • I'm going to read this section in Dr. Spock now. Oops. After I change 3B's outfit that he just burped on.
  • I'm going to go shopping now. Oops. After I find a pacifier.
  • I'm going to put in a load of laundry. Oops. After I add to the load this second shirt that 3B peed on today (after changing 3B, of course).
  • I'm going to wake up now. Oops. After I scrape this tar out of my head.
Then again, unless my coworkers are as adorable as 3B or Barky, their interruptions may not be so tolerable.


  1. Let's see, Duncan is almost 4 and Rebecca is 2, and my time during the day to focus is...naptime and bedtime. The rest of the time is vita interruptus ad infinitum, sometimes ad nauseam.

    I love that picture on your Flickr page of you and 3B sleeping. He has what my family calls "birdie mouth," a sign of extreme cuteness.

  2. Anonymous5:50 PM

    Man, I find it difficult enough to concentrate on work for 3 minutes at a time as it is. This does not bode well.

  3. who said men don't multi-task well?

  4. Anonymous10:15 PM

    I just realized I forgot the rest of my comment. I defend my M.S. thesis in 12 hours and 58 minutes, so please forgive the lapses in memory...

    Good thing I'm doing important things like reading blogs, huh?

    Anyway, I was going to say that I spent many, many hours as stage manager/house manager/lightboard operator/director's bitch during high school, but thankfully never had to endure "spending six hours a day watching AARP members dance, half-naked, half clothed in feathers and sequins, to deafeningly peppy music from the 30's and 40's". Yikes. I mostly had to deal with pretentious student-written one-act plays about the futility of existence. And they don't usually rely on billowing smoke hitting a specific mark.

    Uh oh. Down to 12 hours, 52 minutes.

  5. I just can't get over the fact that you got paid to watch AARP members dance. some of them half naked.

    where can I sign up?

  6. Anonymous2:40 PM

    it only gets bettter and the multi tasking easier:)

    as for the co-workers? Good luck.