Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflections: July, 2014.

[This post sat around for nearly two months before being published. At some point, I realize I just needed to post it, rather than try to make it “complete.” So here it is.]

Over a month since I blogged last! How terrible. I feel like I've neglected an important side of me, a side that I cherish, this opportunity to catalogue my thoughts and feelings and keep track of the madness of my life. I have this thing that happens where sometimes it feels like life is slipping by and I have no control. Life slipping through my awareness like sand through fingers. And there's no hope to capture it, no chance to remember it, and what will happen when the sand runs out, when all those beautiful moments stop coming? Of course it's critical to remember: life keeps giving you more sand, and the objective is to appreciate the current trickle of sand, not the sand that has come or has yet to come. The impermanence of the now makes each moment precious, special, noteworthy. Still, I'm no Zen master, and blogging is one small way to satisfy my urge for control and permanence. It's a small reassurance, a small way to take stock. And I haven't done that in a long time.

This always happens when life gets particularly intense. And I've been having that in spades lately. I'll take a stab at recapping thematically.

Closing my tour in Europe

After four long, beautiful months in the fair European continent, I am at last back in the States. By the end, I was ready to return home to our monotonous dollar bills, our inefficient transit system, and our subpar cheese selection. (But also: being able to call people, check my text messages, or use data outside of a WiFi hotspot.)

While ready to return, I was also feeling increasingly at home in Europe. The event to bookend my tour, European Blues Invasion, was chock-full of amazing, beautiful people whom I love and care for. While not quite family, it gets really damn close. And every time I return, the bonds strengthen and bring us closer together.

It was a perfect sendoff. Classes went extremely well, the ones I taught garnering attention and appreciation from students. I felt in my element the entire time. EBI somehow brings that out: I am a radiant, shining being, full of love for teaching and energy for dancing. I received a note from a student: "You're like a magical unicorn that barfs rainbows." One class earned high praise on a blog, written by a lovely individual who is also a photographer and captured me in a particularly bright moment.



The last night hangs in my memory as one of the highest moments in my recent dance experience. It began with debuting the hour long of mixed music put together by Anders Ingram and myself. He did 100% of the mixing magic, while I offered musical inspiration and feedback on his work. One day I hope to be able to work that mixymix magic like him. Some day. Anyway, it was a lot of work (even for me!) and I was proud of what we put together. I announced the set, pressed play, and set to dancing my ass off. For that hour -- as well as the next several -- I was a being of pure dance, no inhibitation, I was full of creativity and flow and boundless capacity for expression. I felt beautiful and inspired, in a way that I haven't felt in a long long time. Some particularly playful moments -- rocking out with Annette, or dancing a threesome with Nadja and Tristan, or randomly inserting myself into a partnership for part of a song -- all of this fluid movement and awareness. I think some of it was captured on video, I'd be curious to know how it actually all looked. It sure felt amazing.

Dancing did not finish at 5am with the last DJ set. Oh no. Instead, we all walked over to a nearby park -- which was closed, by the way, so we hopped the fence -- and amassed a crew of ~40 people to jam in the dawn. Passerbys, commuters riding to work on the busses, they would all look at us in amazement, as they would wonder if their sleepy haze was playing tricks on them. We were partying hard. It was decidedly beautiful and full of richness.

Gaining admission to Hack Reactor

Hack Reactor, the prestigious coding bootcamp in San Francisco, caught my eye in late May when I was sent a list of bootcamps by a friend telling me about her plans to join Dev Bootcamp. Of the many options available, Hack Reactor stood apart as the most appealing. Unsure what my next steps were as a programmer in terms of how to develop an employable skillset, I put together my application on a lark; with a staggeringly low acceptance rate of 3% (lower than Stanford!), I hardly expected anything to come of the attempt. But only two weeks after making the decision to apply (during which I taught myself JavaScript and refreshed my memory on functional programming), an email sat in my inbox inviting me to join Hack Reactor in December. My glee could hardly be contained -- a bit of a problem, because I read that email at 1am after several rounds of beer with friends in London. After an hour of prancing around playing music and squealing like a fool, I finally settled down to a point where I could sleep.

Making it into Hack Reactor is a big step for me. To me they seem to be the most intense and thorough bootcamp out there. 99% of graduates get a job within six months, and the average starting salary is $104,000. (These statistics are considerably better than what is boasted by other bootcamps.) Graduates of HR head directly into mid- or senior-level software engineering positions, and their skills allow them to tackle a range of problems (as opposed to many bootcamps that only equipment you with front-end development skills). In short, it's pretty much a guaranteed path into the job market, and only takes three (incredibly intense) months to do it. 

My initial foray into programming, begot from an emotional slump following the end of a relationship and the need to occupy my mind, has opened up suddenly into a new path in life that holds great promise professionally. Programming allows you to tackle interesting problems, can be applied to many industries (I am already thinking about how to combine it with sustainability and construction), offers the most flexibility for working remotely, and usually takes seriously good care of its employees both financially and in perks.

The start of an internship with Carbon Lighthouse

Two days after returning from Europe, I rolled into my first day of work at Carbon Lighthouse. My projects here will be the subject of further, more detailed updates, so this update will simply capture the broad strokes.

This world is my playground. They essentially said to me, "Here's how we do our work. We think these things suck about what we do, and think they could be done better. We want you to make it better. Let us know if we can do anything to help you solve the problem." I have free range to generate solutions, leverage the knowledge of team members, and can trust that I have the backing of my superiors to make big changes to processes for the sake of efficiency. How often is an intern allowed to tackle such broad questions as "How can we do business better?" for a company? This is a long way from doing the grunt work of design or project support, and a far cry from fetching coffees for others or printer runs. 

Life at Carbon Lighthouse has been a mixture of acclamation, employee training, need finding, prototyping, and -- most recently -- software development. 10 days after starting at the job, I was permitted to work remotely from Portland / NYC for an entire week, rather than shuffle around more flights in order to return to the office following PBEx and before Nocturne. Again, I have never heard of this level of freedom being granted to an intern, and I sure am loving it. 

I'm also respecting it. I've taken my work very seriously, track my hours diligently, and ensure that when I'm working, I'm working at max capacity and focus. I don't play the game of work for 10 minutes and then dither about on my email inbox for another 20 minutes. After about 40-60 hours of work in product development, I delivered a solution that should address a bottleneck in their project setup that ends up wasting several hours (and a lot of mental energy) for each project.

Kicking ass at competitions

My competition performance has picked up dramatically. Apparently 2014 is the year for Andrew Smith to rock the competitions. I'm happy for this turn of events, considering the many years I went without winning any competitions, and its insidious impact on my confidence as a performer and dancer (as has been discussed previously). 

- Mile High Blues, Strictly competition with Nicole Trissell -- 2nd place. Video here.

This was a big deal for us. Going up against people like Damon & Joy, and Tim and Julie, we were just happy to be in the finals. This is also considering that Nicole and I hadn't danced in several months and had never competed together up to that point. But we threw down hard, and earned cred from judges, fellow competitors, and friends. To hear that from people whom I respect as dancers and instructors meant a great deal.

- Portland Blues Experience, Strictly Blues Competition, with Nicole Trissell - 1st place. Video here and here.

- Portland Blues Experience, Strictly Jazz Competition, with Nicole Trissell - 1st place. Video here and here and here.

This quick one-two punch happened fast, so fast that it left me dumbfounded. I haven't pulled off a double win since Rose City Blues in 2012, which feels like such a long way away now. Nicole and I received loads of praise for our dancing at this event, and it was all kinds of wonderful to give me such an ego boost. It can certainly be healthy to treat your ego like that! I become a glowing, shining, giddy fool when people stroke my ego. My inner Andy comes out to play, I feel beautiful and confident and strong and worthy. 

Also, it means that Nicole and I are 3/3 in terms of placing for competitions, and 2/3 for winning. Not too shabby. Law of probability dictates that this ratio will dip down from here, but I'm still proud to have such a record to kick off the start of our competition experience.

- Nocturne Blues, Solo Riffin' Contest, Finalist. Video here.

This was a blast. Much like last year, I was quickly nominated as the team captain, and led my team to put together some great work. It was a load of fun, intense, and we put on a damn good show with the other team. A shining example of what riffin really means -- throwing down in a respectful and appreciative way for the betterment of everyone involved.

- Nocturne Blues, Switch Competition, 2nd Place. Video here.

My first time competing as a switch landed me 2nd place! I got paired with Grace, whom had also never competed as a lead. We had great chemistry, a lot of fun, and apparently it showed. My favorite moment was when we got into a position that turned into walking the dog when the music unexpectedly transitioned into that riff.

- Sweet Molasses Blues, Choreography Competition, Finalist. Video here.

I was a choreographer for this project, not a performer, so I only count this loosely… But our group made it to finals! That's amazing, considering that we all had four days to put it together, and that it was my first experience choreographing. Apparently we received a lot of positive feedback about the storytelling elements and that we presented in a form that has not been done before in the community.

So, by the numbers:

Competitions in the last month: 6

Finaled in: 6

Placed in: 4

Won in: 2

Spending time with dear people and places around the world

During my recent travels to Portland, New York City, Pennsylvania, and Winnipeg, I have had the pleasure of catching up with some fantastic people whom I really appreciate having in my life. 

Portland continues to feel like home to me. Returning for PBEx was an important and healing experience for me. A particularly favorite moment was chilling on porch covered in couch cushions Sunday afternoon with a bundle of fantastic people, chatting away and laughing to the point of tears. 




A return to Bear Lake (my family home in the Pocono Mountains) serves yet again as a benchmark for where I am in life. One year ago, I was reeling from a breakup, a failed attempt at being a full-time local dance instructor, at last mourning the loss of a much longer-term relationship, feeling adrift in the world and unsure of what to do next after leaving the comfortable fold of the traditional path. My, how life changes fast.