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.

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