Sunday, September 30, 2012


it's a lot easier once
you take the first step
this week i taught on the first seven chapters of 3 nephi, which, with the appearance of the Savior, is really the center of the whole book of mormon. and the book starts off strong: the people have been waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecy of the signs of the Lord's birth, when the sun will set but it will not get dark; a day, a night, and a day as if there had been no light.

and at one point, it looks as if the sign is not going to come and even though the people look forward in hope, they start to wonder if their faith is in vain. but i noticed that as things looked hopeless, their faith was rewarded just six verses down the page. and i wondered about the things that i wonder about in my life, and that maybe my answers will come after six more verses of my life.

but i noticed something: the nephites had this great experience, seeing the sun set but the light remain, and how it was such a clear and powerful sign that no one could deny it. but after a few years, they started to doubt it, to say that it never happened, and soon were overrun with corruption and wars. then, just a few years after that, Jesus Christ came and visited them and they were blessed with peace and prosperity many years after that.

and i realized that this pattern of "amazing experience, dark times and trials, then greater light and blessings" is a pattern that's appeared at other places in the scriptures:

in moses chapter 1, moses talks with God and sees wonderful things. then he's visited by satan. after he endures that, God comes to him again and gives him great promises.

joseph smith read james 1:5 and said that no scripture had ever entered into the heart of someone like that did for him. he went out to pray and was attacked by a dark force that almost killed him. but right at the moment when he thought he would die, the power left and he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, one of the greatest moments in the earth's history.

it certainly seems like a pattern there, like a three act story: the first act introduces the characters, the second act puts them in a dire situation with seemingly no means of escape, and in the third act they overcome their challenges and are better than when they started. and it's something to think about in my own life: when there's a great blessing, soak up the sunshine and then know that things will get dark. when things are dark, remember the experiences that i have felt and know that the darkness leave and greater light and understanding will come.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

silent mode

as is unfortunately not uncommon for me, i wasted a good chunk of my saturday, neither doing the work that i needed to do nor watching the movies that i wanted to. so the least i could do was accept the consequences of my actions and work hard tonight.

i worked on my sunday school lesson, went to a friend's birthday party and got in a "snaps" war (remember those little white papery things that you throw on the ground and they pop? those.), and then headed to the lab for the few remaining hours of the night.

i've been known to be in the lab for a couple of hours and get very little done but was determined to make this time count and so did something i usually don't do but knew i should:

i put my phone and silent and kept it in my pocket.

no distractions. no nothing. just me and "of monsters and men" and "the zombies" (really, if you haven't listened to their album, you should) on my ipod and a whole lot of productive layout work being done. it sounds simple, i know. but i also like having "company" and my phone is my connection to my friends. but, you know, there's a time for everything.

good habits and bad habits are both developed by making little changes, and i'm determined to make this one stick.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


actual 25-year old jeff
we got a new, full-time video guy at work about a month or so ago. he's cool and helped take the load off of me. since his birthday and another lady's birthday are within a week or so of each other, we went out to eat as an office party this afternoon. good times had by all.

as we were talking and laughing, he made the comment that he was turing 27. ...or was it 28? either way, i was surprised. i was sure he was older than me. he looks older than me. plus, he's got wife and a kid, which are both things that only people older that me have.(..?)
anyway, i was surprised. and i bet that if you stood us next to each other, just about anyone would look at us and say that he's the older of the two of us. around the office and even at dinner tonight, i make jokes about me being "the kid" and there's just the general mood that i'm the youngster of our gang.
even though i'm 33.

i suppose it's because i'm a "student." that just makes it sound like i'm young, and that also leads to me being the extra food from meetings to "take home to [my] roommates." and yeah, i'm single and without child, another thing that is more common amongst young(er) people.

but also, i think i just act like i'm 25. a few weeks ago one of our friends was describing our house to her family. even though another roommate of mine is three years younger than me, she described him as the "mature" one and i think most people would guess that he's older than me. or, rather, i think people would pick that i'm younger. i think i was labeled "the fun one" or "the life of the party." but i still retain my right to invoke "patriarchal authority" amongst the roommates when necessary.

when my new bishop found out how old i was, he suddenly started using phrases like "working on transitioning you to a family ward," citing that "the age gap gets bigger and more awkward for the younger girls." i decided not to tell him that two of my closest friends in the ward were a couple of girls, age 19 and 20 (who were very much against me leaving the ward.)

the thing is, i still think of myself as being in my twenties (i mean, i'm also much more mature and tempered and wiser than when i was 25 and generally prefer the company of people around their 30s now, but that's not what we're talking about here.) and as i thought about it tonight, i concluded that i'm in grad school like a (non-byu) 25-year old, i have no young wife nor child like most 25-year olds, i'm in better physical shape than i was when i was 25, and i still live life like i'm 25. so, apart from what's on my driver's license and the extra years of life experience and stories, i don't see why i'm not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

0 < i < 1

maybe i'll write about these one day.
i'm tired and am hoping to get some sleep before getting up at a decent time tomorrow morning.
but i wanted to get something up and this is something that i've been thinking about.

Monday, September 24, 2012


there are 26 people in my ballroom dance class: 13 guys and 13 girls. it's very convenient that way. occasionally, someone will be gone and so one person will have to rotate out every now and then so that no one is without a partner for the entire time.

today, there we four girls missing, meaning that four guys had to sit out. when it was my turn to be out, i sat on the side and watched everyone else and saw two things.

the first was that everyone was messing up a little, stepping on feet, bumping into other couples, getting off rhythm, or simply forgetting what comes next. i'd never really noticed that. usually, i'm focused on what i'm doing--trying to remember what comes next in the sequence or else deciding what step to do next and how to lead into it--and really don't pay much attention to the other couples. so it was nice to see that i'm not the clumsiest guy out there. in fact, i think i'm one of the better ones (this is my third dance class and i am a dozen years older than most people in there.)

the second was that everyone was laughing (except for that one kid sitting next to me, who seems to have a perpetual sour look on his face.) everyone was messing up, but they were smiling and joking with each other and just plain having fun as they were working to figure it out.

everyone was in there because they wanted to learn to dance and have fun.
there's something really great about that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

the curious case of jeffrey gustafson

Heavenly Father seems to have the same affinity for non-linear storytelling that i do.

in the days of film print projection, movies were shipped to the theater in reels. each reel would be about twenty minutes in length--my best estimate, anyway--and an average movie would be made up of six to eight reels. before the movie can be shown, the projectionist will spool the reels sequentially one by one onto the giant platter. done correctly, it's simply a matter of being able to count single digits. in most theaters, the projectionist will watch the movie before it opens to the public, to ensure that each reel is in its proper order. in a free-to-the-public theater such as the international cinema where i worked for two years, we couldn't afford such a luxury and occasionally a splice would be done incorrectly and yadda yadda yadda i was luckily able to talk them into rehiring me.

having been "building" films for a year or so, i appreciated the humor of the situation when a friend told me about the time he built pulp fiction when he worked as a projectionist. the movie is told non-linearly, with the storylines happening out of chronological sequence and the movie ending on the same scene it opened. after putting it together, he watched the film and was sure he'd screwed up. to make matters worse, he said, some of the story breaks happened at reel changes, making it very easily seem like they had simply been spliced together incorrectly. only a phone call to his boss who was familiar with the film's structure reassured him that he hadn't gotten it wrong.
strangely, i don't think the film would have nearly the same the impact if it were told in chronological order, although i can't necessarily define why.

i can't help but wonder sometimes if the same thing hasn't happened in my life; if a couple of reels have been spliced together out of order. i kind of started suspecting this last fall, looking at things around me and really feeling like they were lessons that would've been much more helpful a few years earlier.
as of this point, i'm still perplexed. it feels like i'm going in reverse through my life; like being on jeopardy, where i'm getting the answers first and then the questions.

and so i'm just waiting for the moment when tim roth raises his hand to say "garcon! coffee!" and suddenly all of the wrong turns and stumbles and falls make sense and i see in amazement where it's going and what's going to happen. until that point, though, i'll be honest: i'm a little confused at times.
but, yeah, that's part of the excitement of storytelling.

some people were born to sit by a river. some get struck by lightning. some have an ear for music. some are artists. some swim. some know buttons. some know shakespeare. some are mothers...

Saturday, September 15, 2012


you can instantly recognize a wes anderson film: the wide-angle, immaculately centered and balanced compositions, the retro early 70s production design, and the likable melancholy characters in slow motion at the last shot (not to mention a flawed father figure.) there was a hinting of this style in the script of bottle rocket, his first film, but it didn't really start until his next movie, rushmore. and by the time the royal tenenbaums came around a few years later, the wes anderson style was fully developed.

in the 1950s, french film scholars developed the "auteur theory," the notion that some directors' work will exhibit similar styles or theme throughout their entire oeuvre. for example, you can (usually) easily identify a spielberg film, an ingmar bergman film, or a tim burton film. the coen brother's seem to make two different kinds of films, the focused-yet-zany comedies and the precisely crafted dramas, although they branch from the same root. martin scorsese will undoubtedly have some remarkable moving camera moments along with characters who have trouble communicating their feelings in ways other than violence, while quentin tarantino is most famous for his over-the-top violence yet writes some of the best dialog around. and terence malick has become a genre all to himself: ponderous, philosophical narration over seemingly mundane yet transcendant cinematography.

this idea of characteristic style extends beyond directors. cinematography by robert richardson will have bounced light from concentrated hot spots, while janusz kaminski gives a beautiful polished look on everything he does. and, as arguably the most respected working dp today, roger deakins's work always looks like... roger deakins: soft, wrapping light that seems to obey his every command.

obviously, this sort of personal style extends to all creative types: writers and painters and designers, to name just a few (you know what an apple product looks like.) i realized this echoes a quote by ira glass that i posted here a few months ago: that, when you're starting out at something, you're not very good and you don't really have a style yet. and that can be really discouraging, because you know what quality is and you know you don't have it yet. but you just have to keep at it, because it will come.
on this same idea, ben folds added that you just have to do a ton of work and that you will start to discover your "voice." he says some other very interesting things about how it takes no effort to be yourself, but learning that can take a lot of work.

i've realized that relationships have a "style", too, be they friendships or more than friendships. and, like the movie directors whose style emerged over time, so do relationship styles. the way i interact with my sister is rather different from how i am my brother; i love hanging out with my high school best friend, but it's a very different dynamic from a friend i met six years ago. and that's part of what makes it so much fun: the nuances, the subtle allusions, the references and shorthand that only the two of you know, along with the unique reaction that happens with no one else.

the thing is, that takes time to cultivate; it doesn't happen over night. sometimes, like an artist with a strong natural gift, things start off strong. but everything takes time and practice to become great. and these awesome relationships are products of years of work, often including times of inactivity to one degree or another (which is true of artists, as well.) knowing the ins and outs of a person, how to work with them on their bad days and on their best days, and those underlying understandings have to grow naturally.
as elder maxwell once said, "don't pull up the daisies to see how the roots are doing."

Monday, September 10, 2012

my labor of love

when i started my job as an a/v specialist videographer for the division of research, the first job they handed me was to make the "holiday" video. i thought about doing something kind of like the "something's up with jack" sequence from nightmare before Christmas, with scientists and researcher's working on (secular) holiday imagery, but soon tossed that idea out.

as i was trying to find other ideas and inspiration, i thought of something: about a year and a half ago, i was hanging out in the rec center after my swimming class and saw a commercial that stopped me in my tracks. i couldn't hear the audio but the visuals were absolutely incredible.

take a minute to watch this:


beautiful black and white images with insanely brilliant composition and juxtaposition.

i did a little more looking around on that and found that it was part of a new ad campaign by delta. all of the videos in the series are masterworks, but this next one is my favorite.

i could go on about why i love it so much (the shots are so short yet each help snowball the emotion forward, beautiful shots of potentially mundane moments) but it is, quite simply, some of the best film making i have ever seen. at its heart, it is near-pure cinema; the audio certainly enhances it, but the visuals alone almost everything.

and if they can make delta airlines look this glorious, maybe i could do something similar with the "dedicated researcher" at texas a&m? i wrote down a couple of narration options to go with this and pitched it to my bosses.

they loved the idea but felt it was too big of a project for a holiday video. so we decided to develop some practice work i had been doing into the holiday video and i was told to work on the "delta video" in my spare time (they also told me i was a much better writer than they were expecting and suddenly got more responsibility....) and i tried to do that in the lulls between finishing one video and starting on another. but i haven't really had "free time" at work since april.

with a new, full-time video guy to now share the workload, they looked at me and said it was probably time to start thinking about this year's holiday video (last year's was a big hit in the world of expected-but-never-really-enjoyed holiday videos of academia.) not having any immediate ideas, one of my bosses suggested going with the "delta video" option. finally, i had the chance to work on my baby full-time (at a part-time job, that is.)

i've transcribed the scripts for these and studied them word by word, breaking down their structure. i've counted the number of shots in each video, thinking about how long each image needs to tell its story. i've researched who made them (lance acord and mark romanek, naturally; some of the most famous music video and commercial directors around. if i could come back in a new life, i'd either want to be a beastie boys or one of them. anyway....) i've watched them dozens of times, just captivated by the beauty of it all.

in the past few weeks, i've gone through the division's photo library, collecting images that i like for any reason. from those, i've started making a list of shots i want to get. some are inspired from the pictures i looked though, others have been in mind from the very beginning. and i've currently got a list of about 30. which, if i can get two or three different angles from each, should give me a good pool to edit from.
but so much of what i shoot will depend on the script, which i currently don't have. i know the feel that i want, but getting that in writing is like sculpting through marble; you have to chisel it out and find it.

and that's where i'm at. and i'm very grateful that one of my bosses is an mfa and understands that, while it looks like i'm just staring at my imac in artistic angst (as well as other kinds of angst, depending on the day moment), that is part of the creative process.

i gotta admit; i'm really kind of excited about this one.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

extended family

i'm not really close to any of my extended family. most of my mom's family is scattered about the western states, while my dad managed to be the only one of his family to escape small town iowa (thank you!) we'd take a trip down to visit them once a year or so, but they're iowans and i spent most of the time just trying to sneak out to play pool in my aunt and uncle's basement. so, when people tell me they're excited to see their grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle/cousins/pop-pop, i feel like data the android from star trek: i know i'm supposed to feel an emotion, but am clueless as to what that feels like.

so, i figured that that was how life went: you grow up, go off to college in a new town or state (depending on how adventurous you are), then get a job somewhere, most likely in a different new town or state. when people ask you about your family, you get to name off several different states.

and that's kind of how my life went. i grew up in minnesota then went to byu in utah after my mission. my sister did the same thing: grow up in minnesota then go to byu. my brother played it slightly differently, growing up in minnesota then going to college locally, but we got him out to utah after he graduated, and he ended up getting a masters at byu anyway.

my brother and i were roommates for a while and still saw each other regularly after he got his own place in town. my sister and i did pretty much everything together until she met that one boy and once her family started growing i was an active part of my nephew's life. even when they moved to salt lake (the first time in our lives--excepting our missions--that she and i hadn't lived in the same town, she noted) i would often stop by there on my way to or from whatever shoot i was on.
and while my parents missed us in minnesota, they could come out to visit utah and we'd all be there, at least.

then i moved to texas. a year later, my sister and her family moved to seattle. and a few months ago, my brother and his wife moved to california. they almost moved to north carolina, which would've spread my family out to all four corners of the united states. still, we're pretty dang far apart. last year i got to go home for thanksgiving with my parents, and my brother and lyndsie came home for Christmas, but i haven't seen my sister or nephews or brother-in-law in a while.

when i came to texas two years ago, my closest family member was over a thousand miles away. and it was something that i'd never really thought about, i guess because i'd always had family nearby. i remember we were unpacking my uhaul into apt. #585 here, my dad commented that i was lucky that i didn't have a family with me. and yeah, i guess it was good to not have to worry about kids adjusting to a new place or a wife not having to rebuild her life here.

but i also thought about how nice it would be to have family with me. there's comfort in family. they're home.

i miss the days of going back to minnesota in the winter and my brother greeting me with a big strong hug. of going hiking with my brother-in-law. of playing with caleb and being cool uncle jeff. and of going to ihop with my sister.

i left utah to build a better life for my future family. i'm not really sure where they are yet, but i'm realizing that there's more to family than just your own wife and kids. obviously, had i just stayed around utah, i'd probably still be the only gustafson there anyway.

just some thoughts.

Friday, September 07, 2012

my little moment of awesome for the week

so we've got a new, full-time video guy at work. he's cool and i don't feel too threatened by him. that's probably a good thing for the whole office.

a few days ago he called me into his office to get my opinion on a video he'd about finished up. it's from an audio interview that i recorded with an a&m professor who's helped with the "discovery" mars rover and the opening of the video had a photograph of mars eclipsing the sun and it looked pretty cool. and it better, since it was a getty images stock photograph that cost $500. he commented how he wished he knew how to recreate something like that in the computer instead of having to buy it.

i thought for a second. given some time in maya, the animation software that we use in the viz lab, i might be able to do something. then i remembered that i'd just downloaded blender, the free animation software, and maybe i could figure out something. then i realized i could do it in after effects, my new best friend and software crush.

using some techniques from a tutorial i'd watched a few months ago even though i didn't see how i'd ever use those skills at my job, i did the following:

  • create a star field- generate some fractal noise, crank the brightness, contrast, and a few other settings. suddenly, you've got stars. (hmmm... there might be a little too many there...)
  • make a planet- find an unwrapped map of the moon, mars, or any other celestial body (there are actually a few sites i've found that have very high resolution images out there. not sure who else uses them besides me, but thank you), turn it into a sphere and adjust the light on it to look like i'm a stanley kubrick fanboy.
  • add a sun- create a white solid. mask out a circle. add a little orange/yellow to the white color make it look like an overexposed gigantic nuclear furnace.
  • finishing touches- add a glow effect to the mask/sun. mess with the start/end colors to get them looking right. fuzz the edges of the mask about four pixels to soften it just a bit. add a lens flare and adjust its color curves until you like how it looks.
  • realize that the article is about mars and not the moon, and tinting your moon image red is just could to invite the ire of some science nerd who will point out that the martian surface and the lunar surface are distinctly different. click+alt and drag the mars map file to swap it.
  • render out a still image to brag about it on your blog.
  • total time: about 15-20 minutes; roughly the same amount of time it took me to write this post. 
  • 0.3 hours x my hourly wage = significantly dang less than $500

it's really not much, but i'm proud of it. : )

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


today in my ballroom dance class i danced with a girl who said she'd mostly done waltzes before. her boyfriend always seemed to know whenever masquerade balls were being held and they'd go to them together. she noted that she's accumulated quite a collection of masks.

i want to go to a masquerade ball.
no, i want to go to lots of masquerade balls.
but that'll probably require getting out of college station, texas, first.
there might be some hope in austin or houston.
at any rate, it's on my list.

Monday, September 03, 2012

rockin' the suburbs

i was back in the lab tonight for the first time in a while. i don't think i logged in at all during the summer. and so it took me about an hour to learn my way around all of the changes and upgrades that had been made.
but it was also encouraging to find out how many things had become second nature to me and that i hadn't forgotten.
i'm back to coming home after everyone else has gone to bed.
that's how things go sometimes.

Sunday, September 02, 2012


i was out for a walk earlier this evening. a guy was unloading a cooler from his pickup truck on the other side of the street but said "howdy" to me as i passed. i said "howdy" back.

i thought that was really cool of him. and yet, not uncommon at all around here.

a little while later, i was sitting under a streetlight, talking on my phone, and a girl stopped by in her car and asked if i was ok.

i was but yeah, good people here.

* * *

i'm at that spot once again where i have several different blog posts simmering inside of me, but whenever i sit down to write one, it's not ready quite yet.