Friday, April 8, 2016

Remembering Paul Splett

Paul Splett

February 2016 marked the passing of Paul M. Splett. He is remembered by those who love him as the person who taught them to go after their dreams. He was a loving husband, father, son, brother, mentor and friend. He was both a heavy metal musician and a lawyer. A philosopher and a football fan. A lover and a sufferer. He refused to be limited by the hardships life threw at him, loving all things, pondering the questions of meaning, religion, and existence. After his second kidney transplant, Paul got out of bed and taught himself how to build a house, which became the beautiful home for him and the love of his life, Ronette Meyer. Paul's time on earth contained multitudes, but he left us too soon.

Paul was born May 23rd, 1961 to Gilbert and Carolyn Splett in Chewelah, Washington. He was the middle child between Kathryn and Tim. As children of a Lutheran pastor, they were often under the community’s microscope. So naturally, Paul got into metal music.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

This site has been in hibernation as I've focused the Bicycle Collectives of Utah. The Bicycle Collective has always been a huge part of my life, and it has been a pleasure to lead the organization as it grows. If you want to learn more about what we do, I was invited to give a TEDx talk that is a pretty solid introduction:

Please keep in touch through the website above, or by checking out our daily posts on Instagram in Salt Lake, Ogden, and Provo.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

What does it mean to live fully, to you?

That is the lifelong question. I want to know your answer, because it will speak volumes about who you are. I think it changes every day, and every year, depending on what we know, and what is lacking in our lives.

In this particular context I was thinking about the struggle of the writer: do you spend your time observing and fashioning descriptions of life, or are you fully in the moment, present, living it? Do I throw myself into love; consequences, time constraints, and emotional vulnerabilities be damned? Or do I keep myself withdrawn and give myself the discipline and structure it takes to be a better artist? Can I do both?

But living fully for me in general means a few things right now:

Being loved, and loving. Improving the world using my skills, thoughts, and energy. Exploring the world in its multifaceted and dangerous splendor. Eating great food. Pushing myself, and getting stronger. Illuminating the darkness for those more fragile. Bearing witness to the end of days. Going down all roads in search of truths. Being uncompromising about truth, when I can see it, and thoughtful about it when I can't.

I am typically of one of two minds. For entertainment purposes, let's paint them in their extremes.

I either wake up in action, uncoiling like a spring, with a gasp, and I move. I want to boldly and uncompromisingly assess challenges and take them on, honing my mind into acuity in response to the twists and turns life throws me. I am strong, and virile, and laughing the triumphant laugh of a joyful and wrathful god, many headed. I want to dance and sing with the glory of living. I do not want to crush my enemies because I have no enemies, I only have challenges that make me stronger. Everything improves in my presence because I love everything and I am alive.

In this mindset, my purpose on this planet is to use my mind, my body, my charisma, and my determination to improve the world. This is the version of myself that wants to run the Bicycle Collective, that wants to write a best-selling young adult novel that shows kids to confront their fears and insecurities with joy and love for their allies. The version of me that smiles when talking to a homeless person because I have the capacity to love them and in that love is salvation for both of us.

Or I wake up slow. I want nothing better than to find refuge from the world, in someone's arms, in food, in distraction. By running away. I acknowledge the frailty of the world and my own frailty within it. At these times I feel things like thunderbolts, and the calamity of the human condition leaves me a cold vessel. My eyes no longer crackle, they become repositories of dread and sadness.

Here, I am meant to be a measure of what is real. I am meant to feel what can be felt, and decipher it into poetry. The hurt can hurt me, but I am protected from it in my role as a recorder. I loathe the damage that the teenager receives just by being surrounded by other broken people. The homeless person terrifies me because I might soon become them. And the sky's darkness is the harbinger of the future.

The compassion of the quiet me and the radiance of the bold me can serve two purposes.

They can be poured into another person, who absorbs them, learns from them, nurtures them, is emboldened by them, or maybe even is broken by them.

Or they can be poured into text like charged ions into batteries. Wrapped up into complicated emotional talismans to tell the human story, and hopefully, save the world.

Ideally they serve a combination of the two. Which is where I figure my shit out.

For you?

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Letter to a friend: Embrace constant change

I love seeing this message. It's so hard to feel what you feel, to feel in the wrong place, in the wrong time, and I don't really have any answers for you. But I do have some thoughts.

One of the hardest and most rarified moments that I return to in my life occurred shortly after I was a freshman in college. I had just had a big goodbye dinner, spontaneously organized with about 15 of my freshmen friends from University. C_ was there, A_ was there, 3 dancer girls that I'd become crazy close, R_ and M_ and a few other people that made me happy but weren't terribly important. We broke into the Post theater and danced up on the stage after making a great pot-luck, I think I cooked for people a bit.

I was recalling this night, and the culmination of new relationships that it signified, as I boarded a plane to Cairo. I was planning on leaving everything I knew for a year, and up until that moment I felt fine about that. But as I looked at the neutral grey surreality that you always see at through airport windows, I felt my life was finite for the first time. I realized that the three dancer girls, who'd become incredibly important to me over the past year, would probably drift away. Not only was that shocking, but I realized that I'd probably never meet people just like them again, realizing in theory the difference between college friendships forged on exploration and the cooler networkings we create down the road. I stopped short in the terminal, looking out the window, almost crying. "Why am I running from that?" I wondered. "Why am I throwing that away?"

 I don't have a good answer to those two questions. The older we get, the more true the metaphor of a life with many doors becomes: Each opening reveals a thousand new portals and simultaneously closes off a thousand others. Those closed doors will always haunt you. But I do have a counter-story.

Later, on the same trip, I was in Siwa, a desert oasis on the Libyan border, a town made of sand built in 900AD, since which time it had rained precisely twice. The first rainstorm had cracked a foundation here and there, but life went on until the late 1800's when a second rainstorm rendered the impossibly ancient structures uninhabitable. At this point, two months into my trip, I'd seen and done a thousand things that I couldn't begin to articulate to myself. I could only feel that I had finally seen firsthand many of the huge nameless truths of the world that can only be experienced in the open-eyed passage between 1st and 3rd world, seeing the beauty and terror of both. I sat atop of the crumbling sandscape, alone, and bawled my eyes out.

My point, I think, is that I couldn't have learned that without letting go of my friends. Some of them, like A_ and C_, are still huge presences in my life, and I'm thankful for it. Some of them are not. The question you have to ask yourself is: When you look back on your life, and your decisions, are you glad you're not still the person you were in C_ with S_ and M_ and J_? Has the cumulative You, with those experiences and your later ones, grown to be enriching and satisfying in a variety of ways? There will always be loss, and always gain. Sometimes what we want most excludes what we also want.

I think you're right in being worried about your current place in life, and yearning for more. You can up and switch to living in a Cob-house, and I think you'd have an amazing time. But you'd lose things to do that. Maybe it makes sense to leave Seattle and move to Rio Mesa, but I'll remind you that none of the people you miss in this email are in Rio Mesa. You'd start from scratch there too, and maybe it's worth it. Leaving now would be different than leaving in 2 years, because a good life is never still, wherever it is. But it'd be worth it, either way.

The other thing about those people you love (and D_'s devotion to his friends reminds me of this): They won't hang around for you, either. As the things in their lives come up they'll move where they need to be, and you should too, rejoicing in the times that you have back together, and the chance occurrences that bring you to the same places.

I'm reminded of another platitude: "Change the things I cannot abide, abide the things I cannot change."

We're so lucky. So impossibly goddamn lucking it's impossible to overstate. Do you realize how much we can change? You and I live in a society (with —so— many other problems, lest we forget) where we can live in New York or a farm and kiss many people or one and be one gender or another and espouse any outlook and follow it to it's logical conclusion, and we live with the resources and lack of restraints that make any one of those options possible. Other people, in this place, in other places, have far fewer things at their option to change, and thus must abide. But they may be happier, because the choice is forced, and they don't have as large of a graveyard of closed doors behind them. They were never there to begin with.

So go on through, changing the things you can't abide and abiding the things you can't change. It's hard, and the things we exclude will hurt, but it's worth it.

Love you.
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Friday, June 7, 2013

Writing Excerpt: The consequence of caring

From a letter to a friend:

I've always noticed your lack of attachment to things. It seemed, while you were younger, that you would bounce from identity to identity, skill set to skill set, person to person, place to place, exploring, and then moving on. It's a normal part of youth, but it worried me, somewhat. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I've always been too attached, to monogamous, too sensitive.

Anyway, I think part of the grief and terror that you were expressing this morning comes out of the change that happens as you get attached. Feeling something is an investment, and investments can mean a weight and an urgency and a shackle. But I contend that in order to truly feel, in order to truly love, in order for life to have meaning, you have to have that investment. It's a worthwhile trade, even if means that when things don't go according to plan, you hurt.

It makes me proud of you, even as getting older tries us both. Read More......

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Square is funded! And campaign photochop recap

I spent most of the last month staring at TweetDeck. As part of the outreach campaign for The Square, I tried my best to stay abreast of news from Cairo and keep the cheerleading and pandering that is a necessary part of any Kickstarter campaign tempered with meaningful updates from the revolutionaries on the ground. I'm so happy this campaign has succeeded, and moving forward I'll continue in my goal to bridge promoting a story with the causes that it depicts. I particularly like this paragraph, from one of our outreach drafts:

"More than money, we feel we've been introduced or reconnected with a global community of people who want to fight for a better world. We're so grateful that you're with us. We want to use this time, while we're connected, to fill the air with inspiring stories, stories that push your movements forward, stories that bring our movements together."

Now I wanted to share with you some of the more fun images that I created in this digital blitzkrieg. I'm no designer, so these assignments were even more fun of a challenge as a result.
My favorite image has to be this Egyptian nationalist remix of Delacroix:

We busted this out really quick for the french Facebook page, it probably got the least exposure of any image, which is probably why I love it. It doesn't make any damn sense.

Khalid Abdalla's quoteplate was another favorite, filled with excerpts from his "Testimony," a long and wise letter about the revolution. You can read the full, passionate, brilliant text here.

There were whimsical images that underline the international and technological spirit of this project. Here Producer Avram Ludwig holds a computer Skyping in our Egyptian Director and Producer to a New York loft with a random Murikami painting in the background.

I used to hate facebook's cover photos option, but have embraced it as a interesting visual tool to change campaign headlines and keep things visually up to date.

Finally, the Stencil. Based on the street art of Keizer in Cairo, I mocked it up in 10 minutes before a flight, for better or for worse, and sent it to our printer. It's become the sticker, t-shirt logo, and viral stencil we circulated to spread solidarity for the egyptian revolution. Who knew!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Operation Anti Sexual Harassment/Assault and the murky way of the masses

This chilling video has been blowing up on youtube the last few days. If you don't speak Arabic, to experience it properly you'll need to turn on the English subtitles, and watch it in full quality.

A calm, aerial camera follows an atrocity in the midst of a chaotic crowd, a nighttime riot in Cairo. We are informed that one woman, in a knot of dozens of men, is being sexually assaulted. It is impossible to ascertain this from the video alone*, but the reactions of the men around her certainly support this conclusion. The chilling thing is that while the many of the dozens of men around her don't support this violence, the violence still takes place. In public. With thousands of people around. Gang-raping a woman has nothing to do with the goals of a people's struggle, yet it happened.

In times where rule of law breaks down, traditional power dynamics are scrapped. This moment has great revolutionary potential. The unfortunate reality is that other power inequalities emerge. If the people protesting, collectively, are not able to protect the people who are made vulnerable by those power inequalities, then they lose valuable support of those disenfranchised, and the atrocity itself stands to undermine their movement.

In Egypt, groups like OpAntiSH, and individuals like Aida El Kashef (featured in The Square!) are fighting against this violence, both because it is unacceptable and because it undermines the people's struggle. Support them, and if you're elsewhere, emulate them.

*It can be assumed that OpAntiSH did their homework and followed up with this woman and closer witnesses after the video was shot. If that is not the case, I apologize for misinformation. Read More......

Monday, February 4, 2013

Methods & Madness x Caroll Taveras from Dada Factory on Vimeo.

Before heading to Sundance last month I wrapped up a neat little video with Tessa Liebman and Caroll Taveras. Tessa's a versatile chef who collaborates with various artists to make events celebrating and expanding upon their work. Dark was the night, pretty were the guests, indulgent was the menu. Fun stuff! Read More......

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Square (El Midan) Sundance 2013

The film I'm assisting at the Sundance Film Festival this year is Jehane Noujaim's The Square. I was in Palestine through the Egyptian Revolution, which distracted me enough that this film is a welcome education of what was happening on the ground in Tahrir. It looks incredible, and I'm grateful to work on the project. Catch the trailer here. Read More......

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Objective lines of color

These New York Times Interactive Census Maps are an excellent example of interactive visualization of data.

They show both the stark realities of segregation, and the interesting realtime progression of gentrification. Looking at this map superimposed with a property value map would be grimy instructive, as well.

Salt Lake City, where I'm from, is largely white, no surprises there, but interesting to see how the freeway I-15, which cuts through the city, demarcates the hispanic communities to the northwest of downtown. Otherwise it is fairly unsegregated, for its lack of diversity.
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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Moment of Zen: Pendulum Waves

Watch this. Apropos to nothing.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Making a runaway doc hit, and other things to do after college

Jacob Seigel-Boettner’s first film project out of college, With My Own Two Wheels (WMOTW), took him to four continents in pursuit of a simple story: how the bicycle is used around the world to solve problems. With no formal distribution plan, the 45-minute film has become incredibly successful, screening continuously since its creation in 2010, bringing international attention to the five bike initiatives that it features. Jacob chatted with us about the challenges of international film work, documentary filmmaking in education, and his current projects.

DD: Where did you film and how did those spots come about?

Seigel-Boettner: We filmed one story in Zambia, one in Ghana, one in India, one in Guatemala and one in Southern California. I worked with Project Rwanda and I'd gone to the Interbike trade show a couple of times to represent them. That's where I found out about World Bicycle Relief (WBR), the project that we filmed in Zambia that's now all over sub-Saharan Africa, probably the biggest bike development project out there. I knew that there were probably other projects like them around the world, to find them I literally spent a month during my senior year Googling "bike project —pick a country—." I sent an introductory letter to project directors, the ones that responded narrowed down the spreadsheet a little bit more, and then sat down and looked at themes. We knew we wanted a story related to education, one related to healthcare, hopefully several relating to women's empowerment.

DD: Could you talk about any standout experiences with the different organizations? 

Seigel-Boettner: The two extremes of how we found our characters —and this is not a knock against any of the organizations we filmed with, it was a demonstration of different size NGOs. With WBR, we told them what we wanted and they literally sent us page long biographies of four different characters. They set us up with a driver and a translator and all the logistics were totally in line, and we were able to shoot all of Fred's story in like three and a half days… which was awesome for us and for them because it minimized the cost and confusion and everything just clicked really well. On the other end of the spectrum was the project we worked with in India, Ashta No Kai, another awesome project, but they are much smaller, they haven't worked with film crews before… So we were told we were going to have two to three girls to interview and we could pick which one we wanted to have be in the film. We went into their women's center and 40 girls from the local high school piled in behind us, and sat in rows in their little pink saris and uniforms, and it ended up being a mass interview with 40 giggling high-school age girls who didn't speak our language (laughs). It was one of the weirdest casting calls I've ever done as a director. Bharati, the girl who ended up making the film, she was sitting off to the side in the front row, she was making eye-contact with us the whole time, wasn't giggling or talking to her friends, and when we asked what do you want to be when you grow up, she was like 'I want to be district supervisor' and we were like 'ok I think we're good.' She's probably the most composed and articulate 14 year old I've ever met anywhere, period. 

DD: I was struck by how intimate you were able to get with your subjects, both in shot choices and into their stories. How did you get them at ease, how did you communicate cross-culturally? 

Seigel-Boettner: A lot of it, again, came down to the project. We were very clear that we wanted to have good translators whenever we could, a lot of times the translator would be someone who worked with the project before. Like our translators for Zambia, one was one of WBR’s drivers, he drives the trucks to ship all the bikes around to different distribution points and serves as a driver when they have people come to visit the project, big Zambian guy named Giff, who's hilarious. He and our other translator Preston, a local filmmaker, they both kind of acted as production assistants and were able to communicate the vision of what we wanted to Fred, and that was a really amazing opportunity because we didn't have to script out or explain what type of shots we wanted to get and he understood the story that we wanted to tell because they were able to communicate the film/storytelling medium we were trying to accomplish. We were able to skip that really awkward 'getting to know you' phase because our translators already knew the people who we were talking to pretty intimately, and that definitely allowed us to shortcut things. 

DD: I think that's easier said than done, you bridged the gap from large international institution to local fixer to film-able subject. You're stressing the fixer/local tie-in as the strongest link? 

Seigel-Boettner: Yeah, all the projects we were working with place a very strong emphasis on being run by locals. WBR was the biggest organization that we worked with, right now there's something like 70+ staff all over Africa, I think two or three of them are expats. The rest are all locals. The same thing with the other projects. We never worked with an American or European other than our initial contact and helping us figure out our logistics. Those were the kinds of projects that we wanted to highlight, too. Those are the ones that are the most successful, the ones that aren't run by foreigners. There're plenty of smart people in those countries that need to be given the opportunity. I think that the best way that we can help with our skill sets is by helping them with storytelling. That's something that a lot of non-profits unfortunately lack: a good way to tell their stories. When it comes to reaching out and telling people what you do, there's not a better way to do it then to have a short video piece that has a person talking about how it impacted them.

DD: I wanted to talk with you about the deployment of the film: Could you talk about the length and your intended distribution of it? 

Seigel-Boettner: There’re a lot of really good stories being told out there through documentary film that are about 45 minutes too long. I've seen a lot of 90-minute social justice documentaries that I thought were spot-on, there's one about skateboarding in Afghanistan called Skateistan that's amazing. But a lot of times you can condense your story and make it consumable by a wider audience, and if you're trying to tell a story that needs to get out there and be told, I think you need to consider what's going to get the most people to see it. We knew that we really wanted kids to be able to see our film, for teachers to be able to use it in the classroom. When I was growing up, the way that movies were used was as a rainy-day thing or a substitute teacher thing, they'd put in the movie and leave the classroom, then the bell rings halfway through the movie and everybody leaves. As a filmmaker that's really frustrating, because we put all this time and effort into it, and especially with documentaries it's something that can be an incredible educational tool. When it's all said and done and we're no longer traveling with the film I want it to be something where a teacher can send me an email, get a copy of the film, get a copy of the classroom companion, put it in their school library, and hopefully continue to use it over the years as part of their curriculum. 

DD: It looks like you're thinking about how to get around the issue of a film getting a lot of effort put into it and it sort of has its initial run and then disappears. In that vein, are you satisfied with how the film rolled out? 

Seigel-Boettner: Yeah! I mean (laughs) we thought we were going to do about ten screenings, it was going to be kind of cute, and then we'd all go to grad school and that would be it. Instead I spent pretty much all of last year except for two months on the road with the film. I stopped counting at like 75 screenings. It was insane. I think we're still going to be doing screenings two or three years down the road. Maybe that's just because it's a story that was at the right time and people wanted to hear it, I don't know. So we're blown away. It's really awesome but at the same time it's kind of frustrating, because I go to all these film festivals and I see all these other amazing films that for whatever reason the spark never takes off. 

DD: I hear that. I think deployment especially for docs is a huge conundrum. A segue from that question: you can answer this in a film industry context or academic context or international humanitarian perspective: What are you up to, right now? 

Seigel-Boettner: Our big project right now is our second film, which we're getting really close to finishing our rough-cut on. It's called Singletrack High, it follows six student athletes through the 2012 season in the Nor-Cal High School Mountain Bike League, looking at kids who are life-long cyclists, kids who have never ridden a mountain bike before, and looking at the benefits of keeping kids on bikes through an institutionalized program at an age when most kids get car keys and stop riding bikes. WMOTW was great in that it encouraged people to look at other uses of the bike around the world, but at a certain point a lot of the countries that we filmed in have a potential to go the way of China, where they look at us as what "developed" means, and that means switching to a car culture/car economy, and the bike gets left behind. We wanted our next movie to be something that encouraged people to practice what WMOTW was preaching. The first race of the Nor-Cal season this year had I think 550 kids racing and over 2000 people at the venue, and their pit zone was the size of a football field, it's almost becoming an institutionalized high school sport in Northern California. So that's our next project, hoping to be released in January, we're working with Specialized and the National Interscholastic Bicycling Association, we're going to do a similar but slightly more established screening tour in the spring. 

Jacob has a knack for telling stories about projects that are simple, effective, and that encourage diverse action. Expect his work in his home territory to be equally motivating. With My Own Two Wheels is available to stream for free at Keep up with Jacob and his brother Isaac’s newest project at


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