Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Springtime from a Zoka Window

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for blossoming trees. Maybe it’s because I’m a spring baby or something, but I totally dig the period of spring where the trees blossom and bud and just start to sneak out their small leaves. It’s been winter for months, and this revival is energizing, especially on those first few warm, sunny days that witness an explosion of life and growth. Flowers are blooming, and people just seem to be feeling upbeat about life (or perhaps it’s just me).

I’m torn on what to do with this beautiful day (we should have another 5 hours until sunset). I’m currently at Zoka (as the admittedly poor picture suggests), and while it’s nice to be here and perhaps get some writing done, I in some ways would feel remiss if I didn’t go out gallavanting somewhere with my camera in tow, and make use of the day. There is, perhaps, time to do both.

In a moment of eating crow, I would like to publically apologize to Mr. Samuel R. Delany, whose last name I’ve perpetually misspelled for the past decade as “Delaney.” In my defense, apparently it’s one of the most misspelled author names in SFdom, including by publishers, and I could have sworn the original edition of Dhalgren that I read had it spelled with an ‘e’, hence my confusion. Regardless, I’ve realized my error, and corrected its use in the prior entries of this blog (the only use of “Delaney” that will show up on a search now is this very entry). What sparked all this, of course, is noticing that his book on writing has been nominated for a Hugo. Congrats, Mr. Delany!

As a side note about the Delany-Delaney thing: When I got my copy of Dhalgren signed last year, he added an ‘e’ to the end of my name. Given that I now realize I’ve been doing the same to him for years, I find it highly amusing. (Little things!)

The Blue Heron Struts
The Fox and the Hawk Look On
Life Marches Onward!

A Quick Update

First off: Happy Birthday, Erica.

Second: I just updated Critical Gallery to Gallery 2.2. It went off mostly without a hitch. The new WebDAV module they added mixed with URL Rewrite caused a really weird bug that made anything starting with a w not load. Took me a while to figure out that’s what it was. Until they patch it, I just changed the webdav rewrite prefix to an actual word instead of ‘w’. I’m sampling a new theme for my part of the gallery (Mickey’s welcome to set up hers however she wants, what’s there now seems to work fine and I know better than to meddle), which in a lot of ways I like a lot more, though I do definitely have it set up for wider screens than not at this point. It’ll still fit on a 1280 width with room to spare, though, so I don’t really care.

If you want to leave comments, please feel free, but be aware that you need to create an account first. You also get to view larger resolution versions of the images in the process, so I do definitely recommend it.

New Site Design!

I won’t say that it’s done (because it’s not… there are still several things I need to turn on or otherwise set up), but the majority of work is completed. I did all of the work offline using MAMP on my laptop in coffee shops and hotel rooms, including redoing the header graphic (same original image, same concept, just tweaked differently). If you notice anything wonky, let me know, please: I’ve tested the new design in Safari, Camino, Firefox, and Opera, and it seems to function properly (you will, however, need JavaScript turned on in order to make use of the date archives on the sidebar), but I haven’t checked it in IE6 or 7 (mostly through a reluctance to boot into my Windows partition). In the process, I also upgraded WordPress to 2.1, which was a smooth process as usual.

The new design uses several plugins, though small: Smart Archives, Fancy Archives, Autometa, and Google Analytics. I’ll probably re-add Word Stats and some pagination and excerpt handling plugins in the near future as well.

So, yeah… hope you like the new design. If you want to use it for your site, let me know and I’ll zip it up along with some notes on which things you’ll need to specifically change for your own blog. Feedback would be appreciated!

If I Ever Leave This World Alive

Now everything should be alright. This is take-two for a post today, as I was testing something with my father and forgot to save the post before quitting the application. Definitely a D’oh! moment. I will endeavor to to not repeat the performance (though if I do, it’s not like you’ll see this, hah).

In case you’re wondering, yes, the title is a Flogging Molly song. It was followed by Fugazi, and now it’s Decemberists, and no, I don’t actually write that slowly. I do, however, pause and reflect before continuing quite often. Or get distracted and wander off. It’s pretty rare that I just toss words on a page, generally by the time they’re written, they’ve been through at least a revision or two in my head. Happens with conversations, too, even when I’m talking a mile a minute. I think about the things I want to talk about, else why would I be talking about them?

Can it be a digression if it’s how you open your post? Would anyone know that it’s not simply a tangential lead-in unless you tell them that you were planning to talk about something else? What I was planning to talk about (and what I’d been talking about in the now eradicated previous attempt at this entry) was resolutions and goals for 2007.

I know how I like to be. I like to be self aware without being self conscious, comfortable with my role and present in the moment. I like to be creatively productive, constantly learning new things and continuing to grow. I like to feel I’m contributing something valuable to the people around me. I like to feel needed by those I care about without codependence in either direction. I like to feel that even if I’m not flush, I at least have a handle on my finances. I like to feel independent and capable.

Lately, I haven’t really felt like any of those things. That is where I want to be, however. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could do to work towards that. This is a living document to some extent, but here are my goals for 2007 thus far:

  1. Fill a DVD a month with photography. This translates to roughly 4gb of photographs, every month.
  2. Write every day. Doesn’t matter what. The point is to make time for it.
  3. Finish at least one creative project by the end of 2007. Finished means done and polished and presented to the public.
  4. Take at least one class. Doesn’t matter if it’s a dance class, tai chi, or sanskrit. And I don’t mean “one session”. I mean take one class regularly.
  5. Go at least one place I’ve never been before.

Those are the goals, the things I have that are concrete and definable to call goals. There are a lot of things that aren’t nearly as clear or precise, more of a destination than a resolution. I want to get a handle on my depression. I want to get a handle on my finances. I want to improve my self image and get a handle on my insecurities. I want to meet more friends and peers. I want to travel more. I want to learn another language (maybe a living one I can use to chat with other people this time). Lots of wants, lots of desires, and I sincerely hope they come true as well… but they’re simply too abstract to call a goal.  What are yours?

Gallery Updated

Just a quick heads up to those who don’t check often: Critical Gallery has been updated. I’m not done uploading images, but there is a PILE there that weren’t there before for those interested. Mickey’s gallery is still up and functional (and will remain so as long as she wants it), but the wedding gallery is no longer live. My battery is dead, so that’s all for now!

Virtual Home

This may perhaps be a post better suited for my other blog, but for some reason, I felt it better suited to talk in this one about the notion of virtual spaces as a home, which is a topic recently touched upon over at Terra Nova in Bonnie Ruberg’s recent post: Grounded in Virtual Spaces. Her post broaches the topic that in many ways, blogs serve as a surrogate home on the internet.

But what exactly is “home”? Several Native American tribes believe that home is where you are born (in a geographical sense — I somehow doubt they were referring to the hospital room specifically), and that there is a spiritual connection tied to that area from then onward. This doesn’t mean you have to live there your whole life, but it will still have an effect on you in often subtle ways. Personally, I’m a big fan of this idea, and feel it works well to define a virtual home as well. Blogs (whether it’s a myspace page, friendster, facebook, blogger, or a stand alone site like this one) are often our first real forays into being a creator or participant in the virtual arena. It provides an anchor point where they are free to express themselves however they want (to let their guards down, figuratively speaking). People may move on or away from these blogs or pages, but their time spent with their own space to create and express themselves will continue to have an effect on them throughout their other endeavors.

Forums, however, serve a complementary but separate role, more similar to third spaces (Bowling alleys, pubs, places people gather that are neither home nor work), where it is a peer gathering of people collaborating to form a dialogue. It does not qualify as a home, per se, in that no matter how freeform the structure of the forum is, it is still ultimately governed by someone else. We may even end up spending more time in that third space than we do in our homes (even more true on the internet, where “home” serves as a place to toss links and thoughts before heading back out into browsing, with only the occasional extended period spent cleaning up or redesigning the site), but that does not alter the distinction between the two spaces.

I’m not really going anywhere with this in revelatory terms, but I did want to share. I may expand it later.

The Moment

I’ve been trying to write this post all morning, to no avail. I tend to get two or three paragraphs in, and then scrap the lot in the hopes of making something at least slightly more approachable. While there is certainly merit in grandiose, elaborate posts under the right circumstances, it would really defeat the point of this post, which is largely to try and describe something about me that I really want people to understand (and, hopefully, appreciate). Some people live for their kids, or their work, or the sports game, or partying, or books, or any of these things. It’s their passion, what they geek out about, it’s an essential part of who they are.

My passion is the moments. Let me explain: while I geek out about a great many things, like anime, science fiction, games, and various dribs and drabs of technology, the oft-unspoken core principle behind all of it, is the usually brief periods of harmony and deeper connection between myself, the object, and the larger world. I don’t really follow cars all that much, but I can sit and connect with a driving afficionado when talking about that perfect road, where the car handles exactly as you intend, and you get that moment of exhiliration as the world scrolls by outside the vehicle. It’s the moment that I’m geeking out about. I believe that it’s not the experience that causes us to feel a connection, but the act of experiencing it, the process of being in and sharing a particular moment of time, and being aware of that allows us to find ways of connecting to anyone we wish to.

My favorite movies and games and books and music are filled with moments, whether captured intentionally or unintentionally, moments that epitomize a raw emotional response that you are then encouraged to share. Which I think is kind of the point: the sharing of the moment is more important than the moment itself. It is being able to glance over and know that someone you care about is sharing that moment and at least in some incomplete sense, understands. Maybe it’s imagined and they see that beautiful moment and instead notice the buzzing traffic and are annoyed by a mosquito bite, and feel not one whit of harmony. But the perception of understanding is there, and in a lot of ways, that’s just as important.

I’ve come to really value the friends I’ve made through Erica; her friends have welcomed me into their circle in a real and genuine way, and it really means a lot to me. More, perhaps, than I think they probably realize. To have that feeling of connection and kindred spirits is incredibly important, and so hard to pin down and distill into something that can be understood or explicitly encouraged. Suffice it to say that in a period of my life where I have felt overwhelmingly disconnected from my past, it has been heartening to find a connection in my present and potentially my future.

Upgraded WordPress

I’m not yet sure how much I like the new admin interface, but sometimes that’s the price we pay for progress. I’m also not entirely sure what features were added to justify a major point release ( to 2.0). In either case, let me know if anything goes wonky.

Offhanded Rambling

I haven’t really just rambled about things in a while, which is sort of a shame, as I do find it remarkably cathartic and useful in recharging my creative batteries, so to speak. Lately, all it seems like I’m doing is just giving quick updates about what’s happening in my life, without much in the way of me in the process. Sometimes, I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten how. I’ve been reading a lot lately (and even then, not as much as I should; I really ought to just sit down and cram a few more books into me over the next week or two), including quite a few blogs mostly talking aobut game design, development, the gaming industry, and game related politics. (A quick segue: as most of you are aware, I am adamantly opposed to government legislature that restricts any civil right, no matter the reason. Needless to say, I am furious over FEPA. Regardless of the current trend, I stand by my belief that we were not meant to be governed by a nanny state, and will be once again writing my congressmen saying as much. Seque addressed; back to the topic.)

Games have been a major part of my life for quite few years at this point, and in a lot of ways it’s been great to have an excuse to immerse myself in the subject. That said, it is a large and daunting topic, and more than once in the past two months, I’ve felt somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of material to not only read and internalize, but also then reflect upon and write about it in time for my monthly due dates. While I’m sure that personal factors have a major role in how scattered I’ve been with it all, that is ultimately an excuse that does nothing for very real deadlines and very real concerns over worth and hireability in the post-graduate world. The last thing I want to do is bullshit my way through this semester and come out of it feeling lackluster over my abilities and value to potential employers. I am well aware that I am overly critical of my own knowledge and abilities, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I should be doing better.

I’ve been hashing out a few game ideas, and hopefully I will be in a position by the end of the semester to take some of these ideas and bring Critical Games into the development realm (this is, and always has been, my long term goal). This would involve certain things going very right in terms of securing capital (among other things), which while I’m confident CAN be pulled off, still involves a good deal of luck and being in the right place at the right time. The first step is to do well this semester. The second step is to make a good impression at the Game Developer’s Conference this spring (still haven’t received word over getting trust funding to attend that… more prodding may be needed). Third step is to secure funding (I have some assets now, and potentially more coming in the following months, but let’s face it, starting a development company isn’t cheap, even assuming you are able to hire developers for equity). I have some ideas on what to do about the hiring/funding part, not the least of which involves giving developers “points” in each game in a similar fashion to how movies are handled, rather than equity in the company itself; unless it’s a best seller with a great contract with the publisher, development houses tend not to really make much of a profit (and often fold), so equity in one can be a hard sell.

Shifting back toward an academic bent for a moment, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to organize my final product. I know what the product will be (a collection of essays about games), but now comes the challenge of writing those essays in a cogent, cohesive manner and in a fashion that really addresses my core topic (games as literature and art). My writing feels rushed (because it is) and scattered (also because it is), as I’ve been addressing whatever topics strike me as wanting or needing to be talked about. While that’s fine for a blog, I need to be a bit more collected for my study. Ideally, I’ll wake up tomorrow, feel rested and whole, and start pounding through books and essays like a man possessed.

Instead, I’ve been an insomniac, not being able to sleep before 3, 4, 5am. Not for lack of trying, I just haven’t been able to pull it off. I’ve also been painfully aware of a feeling broken, incomplete for the past week or two. This isn’t surprising; when the marriage abruptly fell apart back in April, I was put on a fairly high dosage of a powerful anti-depressant (20mg Lexapro, for the curious), which I only recently got off, so it’s entirely possible that the “broken”, “scattered” feeling is attributable to withdrawal symptoms. This certainly adds an extra challenge to the semester, but I’ll simply have to learn to cope; I have no wish to be on anti-depressants any longer than I have to. Besides, if I can get organized and pull out a great semester through all that, I can get through anything, right?

One step at a time: I’m in the second to smallest bedroom in the house (the smallest that’s being used as a bedroom), and have arguably the most “stuff” to try and find a place for. This has proven to be an interesting adventure to deal with, though hopefully I’ve finally come to a final solution this weekend with the delivery of a wardrobe (the room has no closet), so I can stop living out of a suitcase, and a bookshelf, so I can finally empty out and get rid of the pile of boxes of books that are scattered around the room. This is more important for me than you might think: for me, a clean room is a clean mind; organizing my room is a meditation that helps me organize my thoughts for writing. (As those who’ve lived with me in the past can attest, you’ll never see my office cleaner than when a school packet is due.) I haven’t been able to organize my room because I simply haven’t had anywhere to put anything.

I suppose it’s dichotomous that I talk about these personal issues in the same post that I talk about ideas for handling game development, but I’ll let you in a little secret; that’s simply how I am. I feel embarassed talking about myself and my personal problems, I hate doing it, but still feel the need to get it out, and feel better after I’ve done it. Talking about impersonal things is my shield from my personal self, and it’s where I go to hide after exposing myself and to build up the courage to expose myself again. I’ve been cognizant that this is what I’m doing for a long long time, but I haven’t ever really sat down and explained this before. My apologies if this frustrates anyone; I doubt it will change any time soon. I suppose i could just separate the personal and the impersonal into separate posts, but that’s kind of opposite to my whole writing philosophy, on several levels: it breaks the flow of writing; I rarely (if ever) write drafts, so what you see is raw and usually written in a single sitting. (You wouldn’t believe how fucking nuts it drove me writing my online communities essay, since it was too long to do in one, or even two sittings… this is also my biggest hinderance in actually writing a novel, or anything longer than a short story. I don’t care about the personal/impersonal thing, but THIS is something I want to change, ASAP).

I know a lot of people who read this blog have commented in the past that I tend to write long, dense posts, and that makes it work to read. In consideration for those people, I should probably end it here. Those that read it in syndication on LiveJournal also probably don’t appreciate the giant swarms of text filling their friends page, either. But who knows, maybe they do.

It’s remarkable how quickly I’ve been rebuilding frustration with Avatar. I’ve been back for a few months at most, and I’m already feeling disillusioned and disappointed over the interaction between staff and players, communication on all levels, and the direction of development. Core principles of game design (as delineated from social design, which also has issues going on) are not being considered or implemented. (An immediate example, without giving out specifics, is a failure to balance playability of all user-accessible content; while varying levels of challenge is expected and desired, awareness of the outer limits of playability should always be kept in mind and addressed.) Maybe it’s tied to the withdrawal again, maybe not, but I am getting very close to my threshold about this, and increasingly interested in finding a way to incorporate designing a new MUD into my study (this isn’t much of a stretch; while implementing it would require more time than I have, establishing a roadmap/design document using a type of game I am already extremely familiar with isn’t much of a stretch to include at all).

I hate ending things, especially on a sour note like griping about a game I’ve been involved with for nearly a decade, but there it is. I’m just not sure where else I could take it from here, and don’t really have anything else I want to say right now… leave it to a stress-point to kill a perfectly good ramble.