Learn to code and make websites of dreams

First of all I’d like you to take a moment and appreciate the beauty of this earth circling this sun. Look at that orange glow around the sun! Look at that greeny blur around the earth! Guess what. I made it. Thanks to a man called Mike at Code Academy I learnt how to use HTML to make this very simplified solar system. I had a bit of an epiphany which was that if you want to make projects happen, however they successfully they exist in real life they need to have an online presence. They kind of don’t exist fully until they are online and it’s how the project/company/initiative will be viewed by the vast majority of the public. Clearly this is not news to you as you have heard of this thing called the internet. In any case, I also went onto peopleperhour.com and loads of the jobs were for web design and they were worth a few hundred squids. The final revelation was that apparently kids are going to have coding as a core part of their curriculum soon, so unless we all want to be like our grandparents trying to find the Start button on the desktop I suggest we start figuring out what’s what. All of these things culminated in a Eureka! moment in the shower, which looked considerably less dramatic than if I’d had an Archimedes in the bath. I decided to try a social experiment.

The experiment involved me going on Facebook and writing this quite sad sounding status:

Dear friends, family and friends of friends and family. I am looking for someone to teach me basic WEB DESIGN AND HTML, can you help me?

I have no money, but can offer my skills in any of the following:

Proofreading, piano lessons (beginners/intermediate), italian lessons (beginners/intermediate), a spoken word poem to promote whatever your venture is (!), English lit tutoring for any friend/family member doing GCSE/A level Eng lit, and if you’re a non-native English speaker I can teach professional English language lessons (CELTA qualified.)

Please exchange any of my quite useless skills for your valuable one, and enjoy the modern twist on medieval bartering. PM me if you’re interested.

Unfooooortunately nobody seemed to want any of my skillz (crying inside), but they did give me shed-loads of free information about web design which I am passing on to you all. The first thing I’ll say is that I am writing this on WordPress. I almost don’t want to tell people because then everyone will snatch up all these web designey jobs I have my eye on, BUT it’s so easy. On a basic level you literally choose a template, fill in the gaps and have the option to by the domain name as a .com if it’s available. Loads of the freelance work on peopleperhour were fine with using WordPress templates.

The above Galileo-inspiring illustration was the fruit of really quite a while spent on Code Academy (link above.) It has free tutorials on html and css and was fun to do. It would take a while to create anything really useful but it made the idea of code less scary and much more accessible.

This w3 online tutorial (html) and this css one are apparently ‘less fun, but ultimately more useful in the long run, especially to look things up when you want to do something you know you can do, but you’ve forgotten how.’ One of my friends said that she used it loads throughout university and swears by w3 schools: ‘All you need to do is open a notepad, copy/modify the codes you get online and then save as HTML.’

If you’re more serious about this then there’s a programme called Dreamweaver (part of Adobe creative suite) which is apparently amazing but quite expensive. I will leave it to you to figure out how to get a copy, but I’m told that student copies are cheap (absolutely brilliant if you’ve graduated, ugh…) I was given this advice which I thought was very helpful: Dreamweaver’s ‘not too dissimilar from using Word or a basic design programme, but it creates the HTML for you without too much code entered manually. Most designers use it or similar suites exclusively or in combination with coding (depending on what you’re making.) Bear in mind that HTML is only a front end language, website functionality is usually programmed using other languages (if you’re looking to get into the industry.)

I hope this was useful and you now realise that you can learn to make beautiful web creations either as a means to an end to make money OR to bring another brain-child to life and to the attention of the world. I also encourage everyone to try a skill swap. Either you’ll swap something you can do for something useful to you, or people will pity you and tell you stuff for free. Either way you’re winning and, as one of my friends told me, you can ‘save your barter goods for when you need food/clothes.’ God.


10 Questions

The idea behind this part of the blog is that I’ll conduct interviews with people who seem to have a clue what they’re doing with their lives, and actually ask the 10 questions that you want to hear if you’re interested in doing what they’re doing. These guys do not have it all sorted- but it would be useless to look at someone who’s super successful and graduated from uni 10 years ago when the conditions for getting a job were totally different. Our attitude towards work and careers has changed, and the routes into jobs have shifted. So these people are a similar age but seem to have more of a clue than the rest of us and seem to be doing pretty well. Hopefully it will be easier to bridge the gap between where they are and where you are so you can picture yourself getting there.

I’ve deliberately called this menu ‘I want to …’ which will then be followed by ‘act,’ ‘teach,’ ‘cook’ or whatever. Specifically, ‘I want to’ will be followed by a verb. You’re not clicking on a link that says I want to BE an actor/writer/chef because I think that this is part of the problem. So much of school and university life was geared towards careers and thinking about what you wanted to be, and towards being defined by what you do. Some of the most interesting people I know aren’t  defined by what they do as their job and there’s also no shame in working because it’s work and feeling truly yourself doing something else. Sometimes these things combine and that is wonderful. The issue with thinking what you want to be is that work becomes all about slotting into the system that’s already in place. Think bigger! WHO do you want to be? What do you want to DO?  I hope these little interviews help give you some of the information you need and set you on the right path.

*** Wherever possible, I will try and match someone who is looking for advice for a certain career with someone I can find who is doing really well. If you are looking for advice, I will do my best to find someone to match you with and you can ask the 10 questions you need to know (so long as you don’t mind your questions being made public!) Get in touch if you have 10 questions or think you have advice to give: email restoflifecrisis@gmail.com ***


Photo by Faye Thomas

Shubham Sharaf is a pal of mine from Uni who studied Economics. But he is also an actor, and you can read all his credits on his IMDB page above. Whilst studying I had the privilege of watching him play some of the most beautifully interpreted roles I had ever seen, and always with a simplicity and humour that became his trademark. His latest film ‘Honour’ is coming out on the 14th April 2014, and he’s currently training at L’École Philippe Gaulier in Paris.


When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?

Honestly, I do not know. I can always remember drama class being the only thing I looked forward to, and along with maths, the only thing I could do. Although if I’m really honest, I first really gave acting a shot because I wanted to be good friends with Tim Schneider, the boy I sat next to in class, because I had no friends. So I copied everything he did, and then fell in love with it. We’re good friends now.

Loads of actors seem to have decided they wanted to be actors when they were in the womb. If I’ve only just realised I want to be, do you think that matters?

No, not at all. I think that maybe you’re better off that way because you don’t have all those years of pressurising yourself with different techniques and ideas confusing your noggin.

How do you get the courage to think ‘this is what I want to do, let’s do this’?

There are many things that help you attain this courage, I feel. Money, parental support, validation from your peers, just to name a few. And many of these things really come down to luck. But even so, sometimes you falter. Sometimes you begin to ask yourself, “Hang on. Is this just all really stupid? Am I being really stupid?”. But I think that’s good, and people from all walks of life should keep questioning their careers anyway.

What is the deal with drama school training? Do I need it?

Ah. This is what I’ve been asking myself for the past two years. I am lucky enough to have an agent, and have worked in a few films, but I have no formal training. I’ve been debating whether to go to drama school or not for a while. I tend to very slightly dislike drama schools. The reason being that I’m generally predisposed to go against the grain, but also because I feel that traditional drama schools have recipes and ingredients that teach you how to act well. And I feel that there really is no recipe, and that each artist must find his/her own way to being beautiful. It means your art is really you and far more unique, and I feel that’s what the audiences of the world really want.

But all that said, I feel that if you want to continue acting all your life, you need to learn how to use your body like a musician can use their instrument. And that needs technical training, such as voice, posture, movement and breathing. And these are only well taught at drama schools. So I’d recommend going to drama school, but whilst there always take things with a handful of salt and always stick to your instincts.

Does it look better if I apply when I’m 18 or when I’m 23 or 35?

I don’t think it matters. I know people of all those ages who have got in.

Any idea how I can pay for it?

I’ve heard of many ways people have raised money for it. Some people do a sponsored run, some people do crowdfunding. My favourite method I’ve heard is writing. I know of an actress who just wrote to friends, family and actors she respected explaining her situation and asking for money. She even wrote to Mark Rylance and he replied with a hefty sum!

Will I pretend to be an apple for 3 years, in all its pathos and glory?

Maybe. But if you’re there and don’t think this is for you, have no fear in dropping out. I don’t understand all the prestige and worship drama schools seem to have. Many students seem to be ruled by them. I think it’s more the other way round: you decided to go there, you’re paying the money, it’s up to you to decide whether you’re getting your money’s worth.

Ok, I’ve been to drama school/decided it’s not for me. What now? Agents? Do I have to move to London?

If you’ve been to drama school hopefully you’ve got an agent. But if not, I’d say your best bet is to write to agencies and invite them to shows and send them some clips of you ‘acting’. Agents make it easier for you to bring bread on the table. But you do have less control over your artistic output, as you may have to do commercials etc. If that’s really not your thing, I have immense respect for those who make their own work. Although the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You don’t have to move to London, but all auditions are mainly in London, so you’ve got to be willing to travel.

Do you ever do unpaid jobs?

Yes. Most of the time. It’s usually the work I enjoy the most: with friends, working on a project we all have a personal attachment to.

Be brutally honest. What is the truth about acting as a career? What do you love about it and what do you hate about it? Why do you do it?

Someone made a comparison once which I quite liked: Asking why you want to be an actor is often like asking a labrador why he wants to be a dog. From my experience, acting as a career is all about failure. You’re failing and floundering, being an idiot, putting yourself out there and embarrassing yourself an awful lot. But you’ve got to really love being in the shit, because otherwise it’s really depressing, and it’s also when you come up with the best stuff. That’s what I love and hate about it: the constant, unending failure. (I mean that in an upbeat way)

Any other advice/words of wisdom (because you are very wise) to someone considering acting but feeling a bit lost?

Sometimes to me it feels like if I don’t pull off an audition, or a line in a certain way, or whatever, that it’s honestly the end of my world. That I have amounted to no worth as a human being. I always wish that I remember some perspective in those moments. Because in the end it is just acting. It’s just a play. It’s just a bloody film. There are far more important things going on in the world. This isn’t heart surgery. Remembering that makes it easier to take pleasure and find the game in your acting, and only then will the stuff be any good.

Escape the City

Once people come across Escape the City two sides of their personality suddenly start fighting. One half desperately tries to conceal all evidence of having found the website, removing fingerprints from keypads and deleting email history so no-one else discovers such a gem. The other half wants to climb out of the window and scramble onto the rooftop with a megaphone and tell every hopeless commuter that they have the answer. Ok, so maybe it’s not the answer to life, escaping rarely is. BUT there are some wild and wonderful opportunities here and some local, more grounded dream jobs too. It claims to advertise the ‘most exciting, entrepreneurial, social good, adventurous jobs in the world’ and it looks to be true. Some of them are abroad, some of them are at home. Furthermore, signing up to Escape the City is free. Ideal.

Currently advertised on Escape the City:

Travel writer/blogger for Last Minute.com where ‘there’s no salary, uniform or set hours. You don’t have to quit your day job. Instead, there will be up to £50,000 for a year’s worth of spontaneous travel and experiences booked through lastminute.com’ ie. the best sounding job in the world. Don’t apply for that one…

Mars One are looking for a bloody astronaut for ‘the first human mission to Mars in 2023.’ So apply now to fix your mid-life crisis.

I’ve just seen that this one has expired (and I’m crying) but hopefully more like this will appear: Taste Australia were looking for a ‘Taste Master, someone with passion for the study of food, who will be responsible for promoting the extraordinary produce from across Western Australia. You will tour the best restaurants, wineries, breweries, pubs and lobster eateries, while also heading off the beaten path to catch some of the freshest seafood on our undiscovered coastline.’ Holy wow.

Get browsing.

Funding for projects

Often it’s the arts that feel the tightening of the money belt but, luckily, they are something that people will always feel passionate enough about to help bring to life. For info on anything creatively finance-related, from grants and invoices to making money blogging, look at this IdeasTap page: Finance Hub.

Crowd-funding is a brilliant way to keep your project on track, build momentum, and partake in the generosity of strangers. Read this article on IdeasTap, it is full of tips about crowd-funding and lists the various options, which are primarily: KickstarterIndiegogoSponsume and We Fund.

If you’re making a documentary and need some money, then try Brit Doc. It’s founding sponsor was Channel 4. They have the Bertha Britdoc Documentary Journalism fund available for documentaries of a ‘journalistic’ nature, the Bertha Brit Doc Connect fund for films with ‘social issues at their core’ and the Puma fund for docs which will make ‘the greatest positive impact on society or the environment.’

Breathe easy: meditation with Headspace

The New York Times said that Andy Puddicombe, the guy behind Headspace, is ‘doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done to food.’ I was a bit skeptical at first, so I am doing a trial and I will let you know what I think. It’s basically full of little guided meditation sessions that are all online, and they even have an app so you can meditate on the go. The idea behind it is that they are ‘on a mission to get as many people in the world as possible to take 10 minutes out of their day, to practice a simple and easy-to-learn meditation technique.’ I am a very restless, excitable, easily anxious person and have always been intrigued by meditation. Christ knows meditation and yoga classes can be expensive, but the idea is that this is that it’s like ‘gym membership for your mind.’ Nice.

They are £3.74 a month, but they also have 10 10minute taster sessions which are FREE. I just did the first one and I feel like I just had a bath and drank camomile tea. The best thing is, you can do these on the bus, on your lunch-break or at your desk.

Go for a run and help an old lady

I really hate exercise, but over Christmas I very nearly turned into a potato after sitting at a desk moping for a few months, and because of a gluttonous family tradition where there’s a competition to see how many roast potatoes people can eat. Eventually, in classic new year style, I decided to join a gym. I know, gyms can be expensive. I’m lucky because my local one has a pay as you go scheme which is cheap, so it’s worth seeing if there are any like that near you. I was surprised to find that the cliché was true, and that I feel much more positive and in control of what’s going on in my life.

Or, the great blustering outdoors is always open! I know right now you’d probably be better equipped with a canoe than with just your little legs, but it might be worth a try. Alternatively, I’ve just found this great scheme called Good Gym. It explains all about it here, but basically you run to an elderly person’s house in your area, ‘deliver something nice, have a brief chat and are on (your) way again. It helps you get fit by providing a good reason to go for a run and it helps the person being visited by providing them with some friendly human contact and a newspaper or piece of fruit.’

Because they focus on helping lonely people over the age of 65: ‘GoodGym has a rigorous safety policy that will ensure that everyone using GoodGym is safe.  Runners are interviewed by the GoodGym team and require a Criminal Record Bureau enhanced check.’ So that’s good.

AltGen: social enterprise as a cooperative

AltGen ‘supports 18-25 year old’s to set up worker co-operatives as a collaborative and empowering solution to youth unemployment.’ Their facebook page is a goldmine for blogs, interviews and posts challenging the way we are all accustomed to working. Maybe it’s not so much about seeing where you fit in in the system we have, but about changing the system so it works for all of us. In case you’re not sure, a co-operative is ‘a specific form of social enterprise where workers own the business, profit is distributed fairly and all members make decisions democratically.’ The best ideas happen and come to fruition when you work with other people and all play to your strengths.

They also have a section on their website called Whats Out There which is a wonderful list of 10 examples where worker, food and housing cooperatives are working successfully in the UK and abroad. And, best of all, they have a link to a Seeds of Change pdf, which shows you how to set up your very own cooperative, to make your project happen.

It’s Nice That

Be inspired by all the beautiful things that humans have made by having a leaf through It’s Nice That. It’s full of posts on all things to do with art, design and photography. Sometimes it has podcasts, interviews and suggestions for events to get you out of your house. They also have a ‘best of the web’ section at the bottom which can lead your positive procrastination elsewhere. Yes, some of these people did courses in graphic design and art, but not ALL of them. The underlying point is that they are human and you are human and humans are capable of making things, so give something a go!

So much of the creative process is about getting over your own brain’s determination to thwart your plans before you get going. The only thing stopping you from starting to experiment is you! If you wished you could draw, but have always thought that you were crap at art, try this. I did and it made me realise that I was capable of drawing more than a stick man or lady:
Get a photograph to draw. Get a piece of paper and a pencil/pen. Turn the photo upside down and just draw what you see. Because the photo is upside-down, apparently your brain stops trying to make sense of what it sees. It just let’s you draw without filling in the gaps, telling you where you’ve gone wrong. When you’ve finished, turn your picture the right way up. You’ll be surprised.