Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Neistat in Sydney; Green in the Mountains

Casey Neistat in Sydney.
I've just watched YouTube superstar Casey Neistat deliver an eight-minute talk in Australia, for which he received at least a free airplane flight around the world and a good time getting around Sydney on his Boosted Board, which is an electric-powered skateboard that goes pretty damn fast these days. All that reward for eight minutes of work reminds me of the Thomas Edison story, probably apocryphal, about drilling a thousand-dollar hole in the side of a customer's generator. The invoice looked like this:

  1. $1 to drill;
  2. $999 for knowing where to drill.

It's short-sighted to say Casey got all this and presents too for eight minutes onstage: he got it for being Casey who evolved on a path that has taken years. He got it for knowing where to drill.

I presume he was paid for his talk, but Casey is too discreet to talk about his business affairs in his videos.  The trip also involved a stop in Dubai to visit someone for reasons unclear to me other than that the Emirates native demonstrated what kind of toys appeal to an adolescent mind after a twenty-something-year marinade in petroleum—then Casey's seat on the plane out of Dubai somehow gets upgraded to a $21,000 first-class seat on Emirates (the airline).

Then Australia, and Casey's back down to Earth. By all accounts, including Casey's, the Australians are famously friendly—unlike New Yorkers who are infamously surly and highly suspicious of anyone who cracks a smile or says "g'day mate!"—so it was ironic that the Australian equivalent of Homeland Security confiscated Casey's Boosted Board as he was about to board a plane to leave the island continent. It's paradoxical that they didn't take his drone, with which he produced some spectacular footage around Sydney Harbor, including a breathtaking flight over the Harbor Bridge. Much more than the Board, the drone looks like spycraft. For Casey that Boosted Board is a tool of his trade far more than a toy: it is his primary means of transportation on the streets of Manhattan. It is the camera dolly for film production. Half of his video narration happens outdoors on the street at 30 mph as he dodges through traffic and pedestrian crowds. Most of all, like his paint-splattered Ray-Bans, the Boosted Board is part of Casey's public image. Confiscating the Board is like seizing Bob Dylan's harmonica. It's like confiscating Paul McCartney's Hofner bass or Woody Guthrie's guitar, which was labeled, "This machine kills fascists." Maybe the Aussies were afraid Casey's board kills fascists too, but taking that board makes the Australian security workers look bad.

* * *
Vlogbrothers John and Hank Green.
Then there are the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green, who, my early impressions suggest, are mutually supportive over-achievers in education, online community building, and YouTube video production. Just listening to the stream of consciousness issuing from John's brain via his mouth requires swimming up a waterfall of ideas. I presume that Hank displays matching brilliance, though these guys are new to me, so I haven't gotten to Hank yet—I will. Here I'm exuberantly announcing discovery, not mastery of the topic.

The Vlogbrothers channel grew out of an idea that "that the brothers would cease all text-based communication for one year and, instead, converse by video blogs every weekday" (Wikipedia). They called the project, Brotherhood 2.0. The Greens posted their video communication on both their Web site and on YouTube, and even after the year-long ended, they have continued each posting to the Vlogbrothers' channel.

Yet the vlogging is only one aspect out of a tremendous amount of production growth. In all, they now have eleven channels that are primarily concerned with education. I'm mostly interested in the Crash Course channel because here are neatly packaged resources of knowledge that are ripe and awaiting the picking. The about section lists the subjects and their teachers:
Hank Green teaches you Anatomy & Physiology; Phil Plait teaches you Astronomy; Craig Benzine teaches you U.S. Government and Politics; Adriene Hill and Jacob Clifford teach you Economics. Check out the playlists for past courses in World History, Biology, Literature, Ecology, Chemistry, Psychology, and US History. 
I don't see John Green's courses listed here, but i know he teaches at least philosophy because I watched the class, "How Words Can Harm: Crash Course Philosophy #28," which is a frank and philosophically interesting analysis of hate speech. I also find listings of courses Physics (Dr. Shini Somara), Games, Philosophy, Psychology (Hank Green), World History 2 (John Green).

If I were to set out to outline all this wonderful stuff, the first level would contain the channels: Crash Courses, Crash Course Kids, Vlogbrothers, SciShow, SciShow Space, The Art Assignment, Sexplanations, Healthcare Triage, How to Adult, Animal Wonders Montana, and Thought Café.

Under the Crash Courses would come all the courses I've listed. Then under each course would come the individual classes in the videos. This is like quality education for free, and if you doubt the quality consider that there is a working relationship between Crash Courses and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

On top of all this, much to my astonishment, I discovered today that John Green happens to be the author of The Fault in Our Stars. He expresses in his latest vlog on the Vlogbrothers channel many of the classic doubts of a writer after publishing the first novel: can I do it again? And my intuition detects an insecurity common to almost any human who succeeds at something, which Woody Allen brings up at the beginning of Annie Hall—both Allen's jokes are funny but I mean the second commonly attributed to Groucho Marx:
I know what the people at my MFA school would have told me if I'd written a best-seller that had been turned into a movie but was now suffering from doubts about my ability to repeat the performance. They'd say, "Focus!" As brilliant and amazing that this huge display of YouTube logorrhea may be, as much as a contribution to public education as it may be, I can hear my thesis adviser, eyes twinkling mischievously, asking in that breathy voice that often defied my hearing, "Do you want to teach? Or do you want to write?"

There's a major novelist, still active, who, before he published, was working in an office in London with, among other people, the father of a friend of mine. At least once a week the office-mates would go to a nearby pub to relax together, and they were always sure to ask this writer-to-be if he wanted to come along.

"Oh, no," he would say, "I have to go home and work on my novel."

When I told this story to my thesis adviser, he said, "Ah, he must have been working on..." and he accurately named this writer's first book. "It wasn't all that good, and he was lucky to publish." He focused on writing after that, and now he produces brilliant stuff and is one of my favorite writers.

Many are those who delude themselves into thinking they can hold down a full-time career in some profession and write a novel on the weekends. Or they can wait until they retire, then write. Good luck. Most writers write their first novels in their twenties. Joseph Conrad, a late starter because he first had his career at sea, began writing at thirty-eight.

I am the last person John Green would ask, but surely the author of The Fault in Our Stars has the resources to buy some mountain land, build a cabin solid enough for a hard winter, then spend a year writing, reading, and watching a few movies.

If he could dedicate himself to communicating with his brother by video and not in writing for a year for Brotherhood 2.0, surely he could dedicate himself to communicating with his novel in writing and not doing video for a year for Novel 2.0.