Syzygy #9: Editing with the ear & lessons on motivation from North Korea
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Syzygy #9: Editing with the ear & lessons on motivation from North Korea

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Editing with the ear - video

A couple of months ago I wrote about writing with the ear, and I was reminded of it yesterday while I was editing a video.

In writing, I gave the example of how I may sometimes use 'and' rather than commas: A and B and C, rather than A, B, and C (thank you Thomas for reminding me).

Even though my old English teacher would tick me off for this act of grammatical sacrilege, exceptions can feel right to the ear at times.

While on paper it might not be grammatically correct, reading it aloud can tell you: "to hell with rules".

And that is because of rhythm.

It is curious how we humans are. Universally, we seem to impose rhythm even on identical, constant sounds.

John Iversen, a neuroscientist and an avid drummer, has pointed this out. We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as "tick-tock, tick-tock"even though it is actually "tick, tick, tick, tick." - Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

Sitting on a train, our brains seem to seek rhythm to add meaning and comfort. Composer Arthur Honegger took this to a whole other level.

This search for rhythm cuts across everything: writing, speaking, video and storytelling.

Once you realise, you'll notice how your ear is always searching for the comfort of rhythm.


Little big ideas: On effort

This was a nice insight.


The motivation myth - lessons from North Korea

The above photos were taken by me on a Medium Format camera at schools in North Korea.

Medium Format cameras are massive. Mine is also analogue, using a large film that has no more than 10 exposures per roll. It's completely impractical.

I also messed up: I forgot to bring enough rolls, and my question to children garnered the same answer over and over again: "kimchi".

But, all that didn't matter too much. While it was a shame to miss out on some portraits, I still had my digital camera and could deliver the work.

But, importantly, I also re-engaged my motivation.

Storytelling in North Korea

I've had the amazing fortune in my career to have been to North Korea five times, travelling the length and breadth of the country. I've seen places few North Koreans have seen, let alone outsiders.

I still remember the rush of excitement when I first caught wind of being sent there.

I was to go and document a flood emergency in the north of the country, and it was one of the very rare occasions the secretive government was allowing someone like me - communications guy - to visit.

Motivation to work hard on this project was no problem.

The North Korean colleagues were understandably suspicious and worried when I first arrived. To say the government is strict about taking photos of life in the country, aside from the few monuments of Kims in Pyongyang, is an understatement. They watched me like a hawk.

My aim was to not only get stories, but to also acclimatise my North Korean colleagues to communications work, hoping it would open doors to more potential story gathering visits in the future.

Shortly after arriving, before flying up to the -30C north in December, I conducted a workshop, addressing why we needed to tell stories in the first place.

It wasn't an easy audience to convince to say the least, everyone works for the government there. But they went along with it, they accepted my free chocolate, and the first baby steps were made in the right direction.

"We have a saying: seeing is believing," was something I often heard from North Koreans. I knew that they would only ever be convinced, if at all, once I showed how I work and what I produced.

It seemed to work.

They saw my questions to families were innocent, and they saw in my photos that I depicted people in a respectful way.

News of this made its way up the chain in the government and they apparently felt comfortable enough to allow me return in non-emergency situations.

That was great, I was excited all over again.

Yet, by my third visit, I noticed something wrong. My motivation was waning.

By then I'd had spent a total of seven weeks in the country, and I felt like I was treading the same path over and over again.

The interviews were the same. My photos were the same. Each hospital looked much the same. I felt like all my stories were just, the same.

I shouldn't have been too surprised of course. This is North Korea after all, you can only do so much.

On each visit I tried to gently push the barriers on what I could do, but it was mostly a series of 'almosts'.

That's why I turned up on mission number three with my Medium Format Camera.

My Medium Format Fujica is about 2.5 times the size and weight of my digital Sony camera. 

I felt that just the act of holding and sing this camera would change the energy, both for me and those around me.

And that it did.

Reconnecting with your passion


That said, my passion for photography has been on the wane in recent years.

It was something I loved and practiced often for half my life, but since it became a big part of my job suddenly holding a camera triggered feelings of duty rather than creativity.

I'm ashamed to admit that. If you asked 18-year-old Simon what my dream job would be, travelling to places like North Korea to take photos and write stories would have been at the top of my list.

It's not that I took it for granted, I'd remind myself often of how fortunate I was. But a drop of motivation and passion in the best of things can always happen.

I have a feeling you probably feel that in life and work at times.

Since COVID I hadn't taken many photos. However, this weekend I decided to dust of my Medium Format camera and take it for a walk.

Thanks to Phichai Kaewvichit, I saw a new way of taking photos that didn't have to involve people all the time. It felt different to work.

Once I got the photos developed, I felt pleased and excited. Despite some film rotting, and a bunch of overexposed shots, motivation started building inside me.

From my photo walk. 

That's the key. You don't need much motivation to begin something. You need to begin that thing and then motivation will follow. It comes after progress.

From my photo walk. 

Finding options

This all sounds pretty easy if you have control over what you're doing each day. But most of us - including me - have day jobs with bosses and colleagues who will have a big bearing on how we can act to increase our motivation.

One thing I've always strived for is to make sure I don't have all my eggs in one basket.

If all of my personality, by motivation, my sense of self is in the job, I'm leaving myself, and my happiness, very vulnerable to the whims of others.

Now, it's quite possible I have some sort of attention deficit disorder because I struggle to sit very long doing one thing. But I think trying out things such as photography, music, writing, making films, and even sketching (terribly!) helps me. They all offer a sense of progress, of action. And I learn a lot playing in these different theatres.

Motivation guru Jeff Haden said we should try and be an 'and' person, which I find to be an interesting concept.

If you can say "I am this AND this AND that”, your skills and indeed your identity broadens.

But through all of this, it's important to remember it's all about the process.

When my motivation started to drop on my missions to North Korea, I added something new to the process.

The original goal was not realised, by that didn't matter a great deal. The process energised me and I have that experience to draw from.

“If you dedicate yourself to working your process, you will make progress and then success is inevitable “ - Jeff Haden, The Motivation Myth

So, this is all a very roundabout way to say that motivation is something you can build up when you achieve small successes in any process.

If your to-do list has one point with 'produce a movie', you're going to struggle. If you break that goal into 100 things and start with 'write a 100 word synopsis', your journey begins with ease, and you have another 99 steps that'll make you feel good along the way.

Take those ideas you have, break them down, and start. Once you start, you'll begin to feel good, and motivation will find you.


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