When I was in Japan, a new quirk was added to my personality. There was once a time where I could stay in my house for entire days without going out. But, in Japan, and living in an incredibly small apartment, there was no way I could stay inside for a whole day. Whether it was a grand adventure seeing what was on the other side of town, or just running down to the convenience store for a carton of milk, I just had to be outside for some part of the day. That’s now become a permanent part of me.
I was all caught up on my homework today, and there was nothing good on TV, so it was time to head outside. Usually, to satisfy my itch to be outside, I saunter around town. But I thought that today I’d try to get some work done. I went round back to the stack of wood that needed to be split and grabbed the axe.
When I was younger, splitting wood was one of those chores I tried to avoid not because I was lazy, but because I was scared. I always had visions of missing the log, the axe flying out of control, and I’d end up driving the axe into my shin. Thus, whenever I got the nerve to attempt splitting wood, I’d raise the axe above my head, and bring it down with a small fraction of my strength. Normally, I’d be lucky to drive the axe a quarter of the way through the wood. But that was then. This is now. I placed a log on the chopping block, raised the axe above my head, and brought it down with all my might. Two pieces of firewood went flying in opposite directions as the axe sank into the chopping block with a satisfying thud. Physical activity always helps me think.
I had a problem weighing on my mind. While finishing up my homework, I reviewed my latest production assignment sheet. To get us back into the groove, my instructor gave us the task of whipping up three splitters. For those who don’t know the lingo, a splitter is a 10-second radio commercial. They tend to be for the radio station itself and you hear them between songs. Now, I’ll admit, I had a lot of fun with this assignment. I found that 10-seconds can be an eternity to fill; an ideal blank canvas that you can do an infinite amount of things with. I had so much fun, that when I declared the assignment finished, I had made five splitters instead of the assigned three. As per my instructor’s suggestion, I randomly grabbed people who were hanging around outside the studio and got some outside opinions. The consensus was that my splitters kicked ass. Feeling very satisfied, I labelled the task as done.
The wood was getting more difficult to split. Dad had brought home a load of birch wood, and he had warned that the tight grain of the birch made for difficult splitting. That coupled with the fact that it had rained non-stop for the past few days. The wood was soaking wet and was much tougher to drive an axe through. And now, this latest log I was getting ready to split was an old piece of birch, filled with tough knots. I lined it up, raised the axe above my head, and made it one swift blow. The axe harmlessly bounced off the log. The little bit of energy that the log absorbed cause the log to teeter and drop onto the ground. Hmm. I was going to need a new strategy.
My task was not done. I was quite certain I had made five of the greatest splitters in the history of NAIT. But as I reviewed the assignment sheet, I panicked. I had missed one of the requirements of the assignment. As I’m sure you’ve noticed on the radio, splitters tend to end with the station’s call letters and/or their slogan. And now, as I looked at the assignment sheet, my instructor had spelled it out in big, bold letters: “Your splitters must end with ‘NR92: The Station for the Students.’” My splitters ended with a much simpler ‘NR92.’ The one I was most proud of didn’t even end with that at all. It ended with a sound clip I ripped off from an episode of Futurama. I had completely missed one of the key components of the assignment. I knew I was going to have to go back and change them on Monday. But I didn’t want to. My splitters are fine as is. They are works of art. My audience loves them. I had no idea what to do.
After I thought about it for a bit, my course became clear. I went to the woodshed and got the maul. A maul is a specially designed axe. It has extra wedges on the side of the axe-head, so more energy is directed into separating the two halves of the log than into cutting it. Dad’s maul is an older model where the extra wedges are spring-loaded for that extra bit of thrust. The maul’s head is also a lot heavier than a normal axe-head, meaning a larger gravitational force, which would result in more kinetic energy. Not too long ago, I was able to do the physics involved in such a problem. I picked up the knotty old hunk of birch and placed it back on the chopping block. I raised the maul high above my head.
The words of another instructor echoed in my head. “Mark, you are very fortunate in that you are a personality. Nowadays, radio stations don’t want announcers, they want personalities. The only hitch is you’ve got to find a station that wants your personality.” This same instructor half-jokingly asked the other day if I was capable of writing a straight read commercial; the single-announcer-reading-over-a-music-bed spot. And now, I had produced five wondrous splitters that completely missed the point. I’m entering an industry where imagination is shunned upon. I’m going into a business where new ideas aren’t as important as giving the clients what they want. I’ve been cursed with creativity.
The maul came down. It settled into the log. The blade sank about a quarter of an inch in. Foam rose up around the blade as water was forced out of the log. A crack now ran up and down the height of the log. I didn’t drive the blade in with enough strength for the spring-loaded wedges to do their trick. I worked the maul back and forth a little. The maul swung free. The log fell to the ground. Within a moment, I had reset the scenario. The maul was once again raised above my head. No more childish fears were in my head. This time, I held back nothing as I brought the maul down.
I hold back nothing when I write. I hold back nothing when I produce. I hold back nothing when I’m on-air. But I must learn to hold back if I ever want to succeed. When the human mind is unrestrained, it produces things that people find scary. Another sound clip from Futurama: “People don’t like clever and unexpected things. Clever makes them feel dumb, and unexpected makes them feel scared.” So far, in terms of broadcasting, I’ve been doing clever and unexpected things. I am destined to fail as a broadcaster. “[School] is a good place to fail,” my production instructor once said. That is true. Having done the post-secondary thing before, I know that no employer in the future is going to care about my grades. All they’ll care about is that I’m certified. So what if I’m going to lose some marks for forgetting our half-assed catchphrase? Those splitters are good. Half the class already thinks so. Unrestrained is a good thing.
The maul made contact with the wood. A loud crack pierced the air. The metallic clank of the spring-loaded wedges rang through the neighbourhood. One piece of firewood flew out into the yard. The other crashed into the side of the woodshed. The maul, totally depleted of energy, came to rest on the chopping block. My hands hurt a little from Newton’s third law. I took the maul and put it back in the woodshed. I picked up the two pieces of wood and took a look at the inside. Gnarled twists of wood soaked all the way through were now exposed to the sunlight. This is what I was working so hard to overcome. I tossed the slices of wood onto the woodpile. I had enough outside time for the day.
I took one last look at the assignment sheet before closing my binder and putting it away. I wasn’t going to let fear of losing a few marks make me change what I knew to be good work. No fears. No restraints. An attitude like that got through a chunk of birch. An attitude like that took me to Japan and back. And an attitude like that is going to help me to survive working at NR92: The Station for the Students.