Seeing Again

Something pretty awesome happened this last week, and I have been spurred by that awesome thing to move some Virtual Magpie posts over here, to make my primary writing outlet. I came across a post I made over there—Seeing Again—and I realized that I didn’t want to just duplicate it here. I needed to talk about it.

At a 9-to-5 I will never be the person I am when I do what I love, whatever that is. At this job, at Virtual Magpie, I will never be the person I am when I do what I love, if I’m not doing what I love for the sake of loving it. If Virtual Magpie becomes my trap, my only way to pay the bills, it’s no better than working at the radio station or the magazine. It’s the same grind and I’m no longer the best me.

I was on the right track then. I wouldn’t be in this state of mind, right now, if it weren’t for that first corner I turned more than a year ago. But the more that I was looking for then is something I feel I have a tentative grasp on now: We’re not talking about Virtual Magpie. We’re not talking about the work I do. We’re talking about MY LIFE.

And the best me will still pay the bills, all the while knowing that the bills aren’t the point. The bills stop mattering, because living my life is what matters, not complaining about it. Not finding new ways to be miserable!

So I’m working on it now—my life, I mean. And my projects will still be a huge part of that. But everything’s about to change, just a little, and it’s going to feel ssoooooo good.

No matter what they tell you, it’s not about paying the bills. It’s not about having a job. You will hear it from everyone but it’s not true. You are the best you when you’re doing what you love, because you love it. You are the best you when you’re learning and growing and making and building. You’re the best you when you love life and move forward. That’s the point.

5:15 am

5:15 am is the solution to so many problems.

5:15 am means that I wake up insanely early, in the quiet dark, and have an hour or so to wake up and see straight even before the sun comes up. It means that by the time it’s light, I am itching to get out and run—so I do. And 5:15 am means that because I run so early in the morning, I take my shower early in the morning. Therefore, 5:15 am means that I’m ready to leave the house for the rest of the day; I’m awake, I’m clean, I’m alert and happy, and I’m probably at least mostly dressed. If anything requires me to go outside later on, I don’t need forty minutes to get ready. I’m ready right away.

5:15 am means that by the time 7 rolls around, I’m already present. And I’ll tell you what that means: Being present by 7 means that most of my work is done by noon.

You heard me. Noon.

And so for the whole rest of the day, I feel almost no stress, none. Because I’ve already done most of the work I needed to do that day, and I can either keep working or fuck around as I please. There is no pressure to push myself further than I feel I can go. If I want to read or take a nap, fine. And you know what I usually do?

I usually keep working. Just because I want to.

It sounds idyllic because it is. I knew it in January when I did it for a month and felt fantastic. Yes, it had its drawbacks. Yes, it meant going to bed earlier. Hell, maybe doing it will cycle me back to polyphasic frustration again. But I just have to try. It was so freaking good.

My (sort-of) Recipe for Hot Cacao, Yow!

I’ve made hot chocolate twice now this week, but this time I really got it.

Previously my attempts resulted in crazy mess and/or something that looked like soy milk with lumps of chocolate powder in it. But this time I ended up with thick smooth foamy chocolatey lookin’ chocolate! It tastes very dark but also sweet, just like I would want hot chocolate to taste. Even better, all I used was soy milk, raw cacao powder, and maple syrup. Nuthin fancy here! ;}

Some notes: The soy milk I used is the kind with soybeans and water as ingredients—nothing else. The cacao powder is just raw cacao, that’s it. And the maple syrup is pure organic maple syrup. No corn, no crazy extra ingredients. Just maple syrup. (I got the soy milk and cacao at Wheatsville Co-op, and Kyeli gave me her extra bottles of maple syrup. But you can buy those at Wheatsville, too. :P)

I put one mug’s worth of soy milk into my herb pot (well, it works!) and put the heat on high. I poured maple syrup into the bottom of the mug just until it had coated the bottom, then I stopped. I put what was probably a 1/5 or 1/6 of a cup of cacao (about two heaped tablespoons) into the mug, and I mixed and mixed and mixed it in with a spoon. I mixed until it was as mixed as I could get it. It still looked like powder, but I couldn’t find the syrup.

I was super careful to watch the soy milk on the stove. Soy milk tends to look innocent for a long time and then boil over unexpectedly. It’s sneaky. So I turned the heat off after I was sure it was really good and hot. (I didn’t want it to cool down too quickly while I was mixing it!)

So I poured an inch or two of hot soy milk into my mug. And I mixed and mixed and mixed it. This made the maple+cacao “powder” turn into dark thick chocolate sludge. (YUM.) I mixed it until it was as smooth as I could get it. Then I added another inch or so of hot soy milk. Mix mix mix mix mix. Smooth and getting a little bit foamy! Then I added another inch or so of hot soy milk. Alternating this way, making sure the mixture was as smooth as possible before adding more, I ended up with a great mug of hot chocolate. The whole deal took me less than ten minutes. It took some extra effort but oh my god, was it worth it.

When I was done I added a tiny bit more maple syrup (it just needed to be a little bit sweeter) and mixed it in, and it was the perfect temperature and incredibly smooth and chocolatey. There are definitely still lumps of cacao powder in the bottom and a bit on the spoon, but they are far more reasonable than any of my other attempts, and this mug I’m really enjoying. It’s fantastic. And it doesn’t have any crap in it! No crazy industrial powders, no wonky mixes, no Frankenstein food here. The taste of it is just incredible.

[Edit: I got almost to the bottom of the glass and realized that this is kind of a big mug, and it holds just a little too much cacao for me to drink in one sitting. You might want to use a smaller mug for your first try. This stuff is rich!]

Home Sweet Hyatt

I love staying at the Hyatt. Mostly this is because I associate it with Dragon*Con, but the hotel design is always so lush, and I’m uber-relaxed there. It feels like a good place to work and think. The Hyatt Regency in Dallas is just as good, smooth and comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. The unwashed masses of friendly AnimeFest freaks echo my Dragon*Con tradition and make it somehow more familiar, more like home.

There are definitely a few peculiarities that I’ve noticed this time around. If they happened in any of my Atlanta stays, I failed to notice them (or maybe just don’t remember). In my mad search for an electrical outlet I discovered that they were all cleverly hidden, and almost entirely inaccessible. When we pulled the topsheet back from the bed, all the under-linens came with it. Things in this hotel room are made to be beautiful, but they don’t stand up to inspection (or use). It’s actually sort of fascinating. They do such a brilliant job of creating a lovely environment, but it’s really just a lovely facade, and it doesn’t stay that way long. I’m sure ugly electrical outlets ruin their design, and they’re happier when we don’t use their wattage, but yow it was a pain to charge my computer!

A weird addition is that most of the staff is deadpan, nonchalant (and sometimes dense). I told Marty that I wasn’t sure if the Hyatt staff were just worn out from convention crowds, or if they truly didn’t care that much. We think it’s probably the crowds. I’ve never stayed at a Hyatt without a convention.

Itches and all, I have to admit it’s hard to really mind. We have a bathroom the size of a train station—a shower head like the bastard child of a tropical rainstorm and a 17-star massage. I had to think hard about whether I wanted to spend the entire weekend under the torrent of that glorious water pressure. The view from our window is fantastic; we have front row seats to the downtown trains and the huge, looming Dallas skyline. The picturesque city through that window looks like a giant walk-through miniature. It’s hard to remember that it’s real when it’s so perfect. The soap smells of lavender and citrus… heavenly. When the train blows its horn, it rings across the city in layered echoes. Since I’m not trying to sleep, the sound is beautiful.

So I forgive you, Hyatt Regency. I know cons are rough on you, and bedspread mechanics are hard to decipher. And electrical outlets are evil zits on the otherwise immaculate face of interior design. Just keep doing your thing and we’ll get along okay. (Those parking rates could come down a little, though. Dude.)

Syntopic Destiny and Book Design

Not long ago I ordered three tomes on book design, and two came immediately in the mail. I’ve been waiting (for more than a week at least) in the hopes that I might read all three together in an appropriately syntopic fashion, a la Adler (and Scheele). This morning I had just decided, well, to hell with it—I’ll read the first two syntopically and add the third when it comes. So I headed down to the gym with my big heavy books, and without really thinking about it I stopped at my mailbox.

Guess what had serendipitously arrived for me!

So now I have three gorgeous books on design for publishing (plus a book about beautiful website design, for good measure). And I’m feeling pretty good about my spontaneous corner of the universe.

Our picks (Pace helped), in case you’re curious:

The Elements of Typographic Style (Bringhurst)
Book Design and Production (Masterson)
On Book Design (Hendel)

Braid, or How I Attained Nirvana

I read Penny Arcade pretty regularly. This week they mentioned something called Braid, using phrases like “something that really matters,” and “even within its circumscription their minds are shattered and remade,” and “genuinely huge concepts that hum with stradavarian fullness.”

Like, whoa.

So we bought the game.

It cost $25 to buy enough “Microsoft points” (oy. whatever.) to download it from Xbox Live Arcade, but Marty used the rest on something else he liked, so Braid cost us just about $15. And I’ll tell you something. This is one of the most fantastic games I’ve ever played. I can’t stop playing this game, and I’m not the same since I started.

It’s incredibly simple. It’s a mind game, about moving forward and backward through time and solving increasingly more challenging puzzles. It reminds us a lot of the dinky Flash version of Portal (that we loved so desperately and obsessed ourselves with conquering). But Braid has the basic problem-solving structure of Portal, the brilliant (and sometimes borrowed) humor of the original Mario games, the simplicity of a Flash side-scroller, the depth and beauty of a tragic romance, and the musical-visual high art genius of a mad Aphrodesian heaven.

For it is the artwork and the soundtrack that just blow my mind to pieces.

I loved Yoshi’s Island for the game art, but Braid is Yoshi’s Island for grown-ups. Braid has real brain puzzles and illustrations with the sophistication of oil paints—not vectors or crayons. The mystery and aching of its storytelling alters you in some impossible, unidentifiable fashion. This game, it plucks at your heartstrings; you move through pages of a book, pieces of a puzzle, you feel deeply emotional but don’t know why, the music really moves you, the lush landscapes—vast green meadows with sun-streaked clouds and city skylines billowing sunset flame—reach inside you. Change you.

God, why don’t they make more games like this?

I’m dying to know if a version will be released for Mac. I want to throw money at the creators of this wonderful work. Braid’s website is here; a list of songs in the soundtrack is here, and you can see screenshots here. But there’s nothing, absolutely nothing like playing the game and experiencing all these things moving together, in synchronicity. It’s breathtaking.

Guys, buy this freaking game.

Last Weekend’s PhotoReading Seminar

I recently made a post in Pavlina’s Personal Development forums because some people were asking about the PhotoReading seminars that Learning Strategies offers, and it just so happened that I attended one last weekend. Of course, y’all knew that, but I mostly talked about my hypnagogic hordes of bugs. Oops.

This particular seminar happened in Dallas (in Addison, which is just north of the city) and was instructed by Millicent St. Claire. I link to her site because she’s fantastic to work with, but I’ll tell you right now that her site doesn’t manage to put across just how awesome she is. It’s a great site, but she is very real and effective in person. She’s also incredibly warm and vibrant, engaging, and excellent at what she does.

The seminar was split into three sessions: Roughly 6p-9p Friday evening, 9a-7p Saturday, and 9a-6p Sunday. I was thankful for Friday’s brevity after my long drive from Austin (I got on the wrong branch of 35 North, so I was on the road about four and a half hours), but Saturday and Sunday I arrived in class super early to play with biofeedback games and talk to people and relax. The classroom was a great environment for anybody wanting to learn something. It was wholly non-traditional, intensely creative, and very focused on accelerated learning right down to the details. There were poignant quotes on the walls, beautiful posters, 3-D stereograms for photofocus practice, cups of rainbow-colored markers, fresh white paper, and scads of brain toys on the tables. (Man, we had a ball playing with those toys.) It was like the best kindergarten ever.

There were rules, too: No stress. Ever. And all that was asked of us was that we open our minds and Do The Thing—skepticism was welcome and invited, so we all felt very free to ask questions and make suggestions. There were even note boards for those of us who were too shy to ask something outright, and Millicent made a regular point of getting to those boards and getting questions answered for the whole group.

There were 38 people in the class. Two of them were younger than me (both pre-college, one several years younger than that) and most of them were older professionals—30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and one at least one septuagenarian with entertaining anecdotes and a great sense of humor. They were all very warm, open-hearted people with an interest in this thing that felt important to me, this thing I wanted to learn well, and that endeared them to me. By the end of the weekend we’d pooled our contact information so that it would be easy to create a post-seminar support structure in the name of helping each other and talking about our PhotoReading exploits. Millicent was very excited and encouraging on this score, and I think that made us even more hellbent on making it happen. I was constantly impressed at how on the ball she was in regards to creative, mindful learning all the way down to the bits and pieces; she a consistent motivator in all the ways that mattered.

Millicent used a whole slew of super-interesting techniques to help us learn. These were widely varied and ranged from neuro-linguistic programming to Brain Gym exercises to visualization and interpersonal conversations (and writing poetry!). These made a huge difference for me, and I made a point of writing many of them down so that I can look into them more in the future. (I will probably be blogging about some of them!)

Many of the techniques we used were not specific to the PhotoReading course itself. I bought the home study course quite awhile ago, so I was particularly curious about how much would be different in the seminar. The answer? Everything but the basics! We did a lot from the course, and all the important things were included, but we learned them in a huge variety of creative ways. A lot of these I had heard of before, a lot of them were new to me—and a lot of them were bits and pieces from other Learning Strategies materials used specifically for learning to PhotoRead. I loved this, because it let me see first-hand how I felt about methods and workshops that I’d been curious about but not ready to test on my pocketbook. (This resulted in me picking up other Learning Strategies offerings while I was there, since I liked some of the techniques so much and had a feel for their benefits—and there were special weekend discounts available to the seminar participants. That was awesome, since I likely would have bought those things anyway.)

I also loved having the opportunity to hear from seminar participants who’d done the seminar before, once and twice in some cases. Some people had incredible personal stories to tell about how PhotoReading has affected their lives and work, and some of those stories were amazing—just knocked me out of my seat. Some of those people were back to brush up on their technique, but after experiencing the weekend for myself I’m pretty sure I’d go again even if I felt completely solid. It only costs $80 to attend and audit after you’ve completed the first seminar, which of course is an excellent marketing strategy, because it makes me want to register again with other interested parties. I’m seriously, seriously thinking about it; it would be a fantastic thing to do with friends or family.

The seminar weekend in its entirety was unbelievably relaxing and empowering for me. I drove home from Dallas feeling really refreshed, proud, confident. There was so much positivity, so much creative productivity, so many reminders to me (and to all the participants) that we are powerful, unique, amazing. I spent a total of $550 to register (a discount because I had the home study course, and a discount because I purchased the registration in July), but if I had paid the full price of $750 I would still feel that it was the best money I’ve spent in a very, very long time. It was absolutely astonishing.

Ultimately I left feeling a) damn accomplished for a beginning PhotoReader! b) completely relaxed and excited to go back to work, like I’d taken a great vacation! c) thrilled with all the neat people I’d met and could keep in touch with, and d) incredibly, overwhelmingly positive about myself and my ability to deal with the world. That last one feels really good.

There’s no way I’ve covered it all in this post, because the weekend was packed full of fascinating experiences and new information. But if you want to ask me questions, please feel free. I love talking about it. _

Tipsy on Power

Oh, I get it. I know you.

Yes, I recognize you—I know exactly what you are. You’re that feeling I get when I’ve realized that I can do something—anything—worth doing. Something that affects the world, something that makes it better. Something that makes me stronger.

You’re the feeling that tells me I’m real, relevant and significant here; the feeling that I can make a difference, build something incredible, be noted and remarked on.

You’re the sudden, intense feeling that I am powerful.

You show up a lot these days.

Wanna get coffee?

30,000 Unmarked Smooches

We attended a pie party Tuesday night. There wasn’t quite enough silverware, so we toted some along to add to the pool. Wednesday evening, I received this message sent from Crow’s email address. It was obviously co-opted by terrorists:

We have your forks.

If you cooperate, they will be returned unharmed.

We demand 30,000 unmarked, non-sequential smooches.

Inform the police, and it’ll be the garbage disposal…

I want to make a joke about dye packs, but it’s just not coming to me.