26 June 2013

Leavings: Interlude House

If I were a character in a great fantasy story, I would be the keeper of an interlude house.

In the first third of the story, sometime between the last struggle and the next, the hero and his or her band of adventurers would see my light through the dark woods and, not knowing if the light belonged to friend or foe, would nevertheless find their tired feet taking them toward it. I would see them from a long way off and be the one to head out with a lamp to show them the path, and my husband would be the one to prepare bowls of hot red stew and hunks of crusty bread for when I bring them in, because he is the better cook.

The heroes will eat and rest. We will take care of their cuts, repair their clothes, sing stirring songs, and make them laugh. We will tell them good tales, and they will tell us tales to tell the next ragtag band to come our way. Outside, the cold wind in the fearsome forest will become a soothing whisper, and through my windows, the heroes will see the great beauty of the land they have been walking through: high stone mountains, trees older than your name, the very river that nearly took their lives sparkling in the moonlight — the roaring of the waters a gentle, distant murmur.

Before we show them where they sleep, we will take the heroes through the house and show them the small mysteries in each odd room. At the bottom of the house, there will be a room where one of the walls is the outside, and water from the stream will have filled a small pool in which one can see some vague prophecy about him or herself. None of my guests will understand, but some will feel better, some will feel disappointed, and some will shrug and decide that it is not for them to worry about prophecies.

Then, everyone will go to sleep too well-fed and tired to think anymore.

Whether they stay for a day or for a week, the heroes cannot stay long. On the morning that they are to set out again, we will pack them lunches and give them gifts: clothes, boots, armor, trifling tokens that come in handy at just the right moment and whose loss later will cause a small heartbreak, and some magical foodstuff that lasts longer than it should but, when it runs out, reminds you of how long it's been since you rested at my hearth and looked into the pool — it makes more sense now than it did that night — and how far you've really gone from home.

The heroes don't know that, of course. They will leave with full bellies and some regret. We will tell them they are always welcome at our door, and they will promise quickly, earnestly, that when this is all over, they will return. Knowing that they never will, we will wave them off with good wishes all the same.

Then, we will go inside and tidy up, feed the children, read our books, fool around, and take naps. I will wake up early and, when the afternoon light is orange, walk outside under the trees and up onto a rock to look at the valley below. I will wonder how far the heroes have gotten by now and whether they are all right. I will say my prayers and reports to whomever or whatever charged me with keeping the house. And then I will go home while reminding myself to sweep the leaves away from the sides of the pool and to get some more oil for the lamp.

This is what I think to myself when I read people's posts about their problems and refrain from commenting with unsolicited advice.

23 June 2013

thing-a-week 23, 24, 25

For week 23, I made this simple kirigami model on a sheet of parchment paper about half the size of a sheet of bond paper. I wanted to set it against black paper, but unfortunately, my stuff is still in storage. A problem with my new apartment means I can't actually move into it anymore and will have to find a new place again.

Anyway, I wanted to do something more about interiors than exteriors, and while I don't know if it's clear from this picture, I wanted to do something that wasn't all right angles.

Week 24 was my first week at my new job, so I managed only to start folding units for another icosadodecahedron:

This time, half were some old editor cards, and half were some old writer cards.

I assembled it the next day, but since you already know what it would look like, I didn't take a picture of the complete model.

For week 25, I drew this background for my Processing project. This is a photo instead of a scan as, like my black paper, my scanner is in storage. :|

I'm a little over halfway done with this thing-a-week series, and I think this is the first time I've put up a more detailed drawing than a rough kirigami diagram. This is far from original, though, as it's largely based on a photograph by Cory Richards of the Tsarang temples in Nepal.

A little after my last post about my troubles coming up with an original story concept for my Processing project, I actually hit on something, so I guess we'll see how it turns out.

19 June 2013

Letter No. 23

Started yesterday; finished today.

It turns out that the mid shift can be good for a morning person, or at least for people who like to spend their mornings doing nothing.

Maybe my body clock still needs to adjust to my new working hours, but despite the late nights I've had lately, I still wake up at around six AM and have trouble going back to sleep afterward.

My body has been like this since childhood. It's as if it knows that there is so much to do and so little time; whether I've had a full night's sleep or just an hour's, I have no choice but to begin another day conscious.

Now that I'm on the mid shift, this means that I have a couple extra hours every day to do whatever I want (except maybe go back to sleep, haha) instead of rushing to get ready for work. This morning, I finally got to hand-wash some laundry. I sang out loud. I did my last peer evaluations for my Python class (I can't do this during the waiting hours at work because it involves playing five different games of Asteroids). I had eggs with thyme and tortillas instead of just cereal. I played a couple songs on my ocarina and then a couple rounds of Triple Town. And after I finally did get ready for work, I still had time to experiment with a different commuting route and pick up some groceries so I wouldn't have another dinner of rice crackers.

I'm actually struggling more with meals than with sleep. Along with its own alarm clock, my body has a pretty rigid eating schedule and will punish me with hyperacidity if I don't follow. My classmates used to joke that they could tell time by my stomach.

In my new department, things are pretty quiet until the daily story conference at three PM. After that, you can expect to be hard at work until nine if you're lucky (one page, good stories) and 12 if you're not (two pages, not-as-good stories, and give or take an hour if you're Night Editor). There's no time to break for dinner because any breaks longer than the time it takes to refill your tumbler or empty your bladder mean that your pages are that much later.

I've only been here a week, though, so I'm hoping that I'll get faster; I'll know things better and have to double-check things less often, and my layouts will get less embarrassing and need less polishing by the artists.

But even if the long nights are here to stay, it's nice to know that I'll have the mornings to recover my spirit, if not my sleep.

Learning to play a four-hole pendant ocarina last year made me see how much I took music lessons for granted. I'd forgotten how much fun it could be to play an instrument, so I asked Cris to get me a 12-hole ocarina when he went back to China last month. It's a good-sized alto C ceramic "sweet potato", though the orange color makes it look more like a carrot. :)

I sometimes wonder how things would have been different if I hadn't stopped piano lessons, so I feel like I'm catching up a little by learning songs and looking for sheet music that doesn't have anything higher than high F or low A.

I hope the neighbors aren't tired of "Danny Boy" yet.

As the Python course entered its last week, instead of diving into Python on my own, I signed up for another course that involves a little design, a little music, and a little programming. It sounds perfect for me, but I'm forced to confront something I kept at the back of my mind when Python class was still in session.

I don't know what to build. Or rather, I don't know if I can come up with anything original to build.

This wasn't such a problem in Python class because each project had specific objectives: build Pong, build a Blackjack game, build Asteroids, etc. But as the course went on, I was a little alarmed that I wasn't coming up with any ideas for original games to attempt building when I was done with the class. Not even for simple toys like this elegant pendulum program by Emily Wachtel (press the play button, then mess around with the other stuff in the window that pops up). Maybe that's why I signed up for the digital media course so quickly; maybe a new class would distract me from the fact that my personal drawing board was empty.

The trouble is, this new class requires that we submit a creative project in two weeks, and I can't think of anything. We have the option to extend some of the demo programs in the class, but I find even that I challenge — not a technical challenge, but a personal one. I think I've had enough of building on templates from the Python class; I need to prove to myself that I can build something from scratch. But, what?

If I'm honest with myself, this is something I've been struggling with for a few years now. I haven't had a good fiction idea in ages. The unfinished stuff — either I've abandoned it because I've lost my connection to the story, or I'm stuck in a part of the plot and can't find my way forward.

What this has to do with programming is that I want my projects to have stories. They don't have to be as elaborate as choose-your-own-adventure games; they can be as simple as a Ferry Halim game like Pocketful of Stars or The Crossing (though I know I can't expect my graphics to be as lovely).

I could be overthinking this, of course. I probably just need to step back and scribble.

05 June 2013

Letter No. 22

Next week, I'll be leaving Special Features for a spot in the Editorial department, so tonight, I'm treating the writers to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants nearby. It's not so much a goodbye as, "I'll just be down the hall."

I've kept this under my hat for a while, partly because I was waiting for the official announcement at work, and partly because I still haven't really worked out how I feel about the transfer. It was my decision. Everyone says it's a good career decision. People are giving me their congratulations. Still, it's going to be something new, and a new thing for someone who has been doing the same kind of work for four years is scary. No wonder people with 10- or 20-year careers at one job go nuts.

Also, thinking about leaving Special Features feels like a door closing, maybe even another childhood ending. Mikko asked me about it over lunch one Sunday, and I somehow came up with, "I like who I've become since college, and I did a lot of that becoming in Special Features."

Sometime between last year and the year I joined BusinessWorld, I stopped seeing my life as a sad city story. I started to believe I could be good at being alive. Going to work every day stopped being a drag. I was learning and making new things. I had made my peace with the city. I was coming to terms with who I was to my family, and who they were to me. And, I had found a love better than anything I'd imagined for myself.

Somewhere along the way, the meaning of growing up changed. It isn't no longer getting to be the child you were. It's keeping that child happy while teaching her to not be childish when life gets scary and unfair. It's seeing yourself at 5, 10, 16 years old and being able to say, I am still that person, but I am more that person today than ever. It's being able to recognize yourself more clearly with every year.

My high school science teacher told us in freshman year that people are like pots. Life molds and fires them, and they're set by the time you reach 20-something.

I've come to think of people as a certain kind of place. In certain places, trees will grow, be cut down, or die; buildings will come up and fall down; people will move in, move out, be born, live, and die; and grass will grow, be paved over, and grow again, but the places are unmistakably still those places. It's sort of the same starfish recovery I had in mind when I started this blog, but less about moving on through suffering, with a little more lingering on the suffering than necessary, and more about just being yourself.

The day I realized this "certain place" thing about Kalsangi was the day I stopped worrying that it would somehow stop being my home. The day I realized that my family was the same way was the day I stopped worrying about change. It wasn't long before the day I realized that about myself. The more my life changes, the more clearly I see my own shape. And the day I can no longer see Kalsangi, my family, myself, or Cris under whatever surfaces we've assumed will surely be the saddest day ever.

However hard it got, working in Special Features was part of a process. It was especially hard in the beginning, but it helped me to grow up, which is to say that it helped me see that growing up did not mean what I thought it meant. I saw that I could find an anchor point in myself as long as I could see where I fit in the world, if I wanted to. And at a particularly low point in my life, when everything else suddenly went to shit, working here kept me from dissolving into someone I wouldn't be able to recognize.

To those of you who've worked with me, thanks for being part of that — and for putting up with me when I got absent-minded or weird.

I guess it's all this that's going to see me through whatever's waiting for me down the hall.