Monday, January 31, 2011

Something Old, Something New and Setting Goals

Over the years this blog has had a lot of faces. At first it was about my life selling tickets for a non-profit arts presenter in Santa Barbara. One cat, one boyfriend, one apartment.

Then I got my first corporate job as a very technical Technical Writer. Instances and objects, oh my! We added a cat. I got LASIK, had a play produced. Was laid off. Moved to Seattle.

Lived on the water. Got another Tech Writer job, worked downtown. Started my photography business and worked a bunch of festivals. Got married, changed my name, changed employers, became a Product Manager, bought a house. Fold in assorted vacations, cooking, exercise, finance... aaaand blend.

You get me.

So now the blog changes tack again. I quit my corporate job in December, which means today is the last day of my first month without a net. Bening, Funicello, or otherwise... How did I do? Where am I going?

I give myself a C. I could have done better. Including what I wrote at the end of December, I completed two short stories and a short play. I submitted the play and a story and already received a rejection for the story.

What next for Writing:
Submit the two stories!!! Write more! Now be specific. Write two more short stories. Or a one-act. Submit them. Go through the Dramatists' Sourcebook and record deadlines in your Google calendar. The goal this month is to get published, get writing credits. Consider writing morning pages everyday. It's a pain in the ass but you'll clear out the mental clutter.

I give myself an A. I really pushed myself this month. I expanded my equipment, I worked an awesome event that generated billable work and I filed my 2010 business taxes. I also sold a few pictures from my site and gave permission for the speaker to post a few on his site. You did good, Christy.

What next for Photography:
Keep the momentum going! Add 50 photos from your Europe trip to your stock photography site. Post photos to your photoblog. Consider applying to another festival.

Healthier Living:
I get a B. Keeping that sticker calendar succeeded in motivating me. Except for last week, I tracked my points most of the month and worked out 3-5 times per week. I'm down a couple of pants sizes and am able to run 25-30 minutes without stopping. Sweet! (I don't get an A because of slacking last week.)

What next for Healthier Living:
Cook at least one WW recipe per week, preferably new. Continue exercising at least 4 times per week. Consider signing up for an event, like the St. Patrick's Day Dash. Track points 75% of the time.

All in all, not such a bad month. February, here I come.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My lashes are magnificent, thank you for noticing

When I'm gym-bound I don't bother with makeup, I clip my hair back, and I wear baggy, shapeless clothes. I do, however, indulge in one form of vanity.

I curl my eyelashes.

Because everyone knows the gym bunnies will be checking out my eyes.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

That Time I Crushed the Cat

The answer to the question in the last post is... 24. I had 24 books next to my bed. The pile included "Remembrance of Things Past," a couple of Kafka novels, a Prague travel guide, a cookbook (Best Make Ahead Recipes by Cook's Illustrated), "The War of Art," "Interactive Storytelling," and an assortment of business and writing books.

Thanks to everyone who guessed. As promised, I grant you my profound respect and mad props.

While stacking the books on the bed to count, I realized the pile was feeling a little squishy. Vash, our male cat, burrows under the covers and you can't tell he's under there. Apparently I was stacking books on him. At about five, I figured it out and stopped, but darned if he just stayed put and didn't even make a noise.

He's so weird.

Says the pot to the kettle.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How many get-to-sleep books are enough?

Good morning! I've had a great week shooting a private corporate event. It was challenging and a lot of fun.

Now I'm getting my business tax stuff together and in trying to find a certain form -- not a big deal if I can't find it, the process would just feel more complete -- I processed some clutter and decided to put away the books by my bed.

So today's question is, how many books do you think I had next to my side of the bed -- on the nightstand and on the floor? There's no prize except for my profound respect for you as a person.

Hint: The answer is not 2.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What do you do for stress?

When you're having a bad day, do you have any tips or tricks that help you feel normal again?

Sometimes music works for me. Going for a walk. The problem is that when I'm really stuck in it, it's difficult to find the perspective to take my own advice. Working out is out for the moment...

Any suggestions? I'm a sponge for your input.

Friday, January 21, 2011

eNemesis for fun and profit

I haven't written much lately, and I have an idea for how to fix that. It's a little unorthodox so just stick with me.

I need a nemesis. A writing nemesis.

I need someone to compete with. I need a Mozart or, heck, my own Salieri. I need a yardstick to measure myself against and push me to achieve more. Because frankly it's easier for me to find the motivation externally than internally.

That's not a bad idea for a website -- the opposite of eHarmony. I could call it eDiscord or eNemy. I'll match suitable candidates with their very own carefully screened and selected nemesis.

So that's it. I'm accepting applications. Who wants to be my nemesis?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Photo Store Intimidation

This problem may be unique to me, but today's subject is photography store intimidation. Do you feel it? Am I crazy?

I've spent a lot of money in professional photography stores over the years. And I'm pretty smart about this stuff -- I can throw down about f-stops and guide numbers with the best of them -- but everytime I go in one of those stores it's like I have to prove myself before they'll give me the good advice.

Yesterday I went in to buy a couple of portable lights to help me take portraits. At first the clerk eyed me kindly, but skeptically. "These lights start at 1900 and go up to 5, that's thousand, dollars."

I'd already done some research, so I told him what I was willing to spend and what my goals were. I threw out some words to show him I wasn't just somebody who got a point and shoot for Christmas (pocket wizard! softboxes! Interfit Strobies!), and what do you know? He had a suggestion that worked for me.

Yeah, I know it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I expect this treatment now so maybe I'm overly sensitive to it. And I shouldn't give my money to places that make me feel like that. But it seems to me it's a general and pervasive photo store eliteness that tries to make it all seem more mysterious and difficult than it actually is. It's just math and light and art. Why this veil of pretension?

Okay, I can think of one reason. So there is skill involved in producing consistently great pictures. A good camera helps, but it doesn't make the picture. You can take great pictures with a bad camera if you know what you're doing.

At festivals, I put my photos on display for sale. Photos that I planned and composed with intention. And then someone walks by and says, "I took that same picture with my camera phone." Then they whip out their phone show their friend, look disdainfully at my work and walk away. Yeah, well, good for you. Try blowing that up to poster size. (Oh, was that snarky? My bad.)

So part of me gets why pro photographers (and even semi-pro) are defensive and protective of the mystery. And maybe once I learn the secret handshake we won't have to play that dance anymore. Still, argh.

Online I shop strictly through B&H Photo because I can do the research online and trust that what I ordered is what I'll get. Here's an affiliate link if you feel the urge to browse -- any purchases made through this link will give me a commission:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's all on sale!

I was at Ace Hardware to buy a floodlight anyway, so I figured I'd stop in QFC (grocery store under the Kroger's umbrella) next door and pick up bananas. But as I approached the store, I noticed it looked fairly empty. A sign on the automatic doors read, "Closing January 22. Everything 30-40% off."

Ah. Ah, crap.

I went outside and grabbed a big shopping cart and proceeded to spend the next hour going methodically through the store, aisle by half-empty aisle. I started with a couple of small succulent plants that will do well in the living room window, and ended at the marinated artichoke hearts on an endcap by the booze. Lately I've found you can never have enough artichokes. (I recently found an excellent artichoke chicken recipe.)

I found bacon, cheese, canned goods, spices (including bacon salt), bbq sauce, an ice scraper, batteries -- about halfway through the store a feeling came over me. Complete excitement! I could buy all of these things but it wouldn't be smart to load up on stuff I wouldn't use. So I carefully examined each expiration date and tried not to be impulsive.

It reminded me of that old show "Supermarket Sweep" where contestants only had a few minutes to grab the most expensive items in the store.

This was my personal game show.

On my way out, I asked the checker why they were closing and she said it was because of theft. Their location loses too much money, which unfortunately, is not surprising. I've heard other people and businesses in that area have had similar problems.

Overall I saved 35% of my bill and now I'm restraining myself from going back. There's no recapturing that initial thrill. Unless... maybe there's some funky new spice I've always wanted to try? Or another succulent to adopt?

Be strong, Christy. Be strong.

And you know I never did get those bananas.

For Seattleites, this QFC is on Lake City Way over by 125th. Hours are 9am to 9pm through January 22.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quick WW Update

I'm back on track. I'm down 2.8 pounds this week for a total loss of 20 pounds. I am now officially back where I was in November (slightly lower even). And at my lowest weight in 2 1/2 years.

Only 30 more pounds to go. I'm close to where I got stuck last time so here's where it gets hard.

Kitten Comparison

Vash at six weeks

Since I posted a picture of Vash at 8ish years in the last post, a photo of him at 6 weeks is above for comparison. When I took this one he was perched on top of the scratching post squeaking at me. I was in photography school in Santa Barbara, CA, at the time and took it with slide film and scanned it.

As an aside, I do not miss slide film. Digital all the way.

Someone bought me a "Cook's Illustrated" subscription for Christmas and I have no idea who. I love it though. And I wish I could thank you -- although I've been so very terrible at sending thank you acknowledgments this year. No matter how guilty I feel, it doesn't stop me from procrastinating. What's that about?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cat People

Chiana under the table

My camera was out so I snapped a couple of pictures of the cats. Above is Chiana, our gray little girl. And below is Vash, our angry little boy.

Vash on the couch

It's been a good week health-wise. Out of the last 8 days, I went to the gym 6 times and tracked my WW points everyday. I hope to see it reflected on the scale tomorrow. I know I'm building muscle like crazy and that has a tendency to obscure the fat loss, which can be frustrating. I just have to remind myself it'll work itself out eventually. Patience is key.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moonlighting as a Futurist

The future belongs to the person who can make the most creative excuse.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Empowering the Prone

At first I thought I escaped December's worst. Mid-month my weight stayed the same, and then I stopped working out and it began to creep up. All told, I fell into January 2 pounds heavier. Two pounds doesn't sound like much, but it sets me back a month. Bummer.

So. Armed with my high contrast castle calendar and a bagful of stickers, I've been chipping away at my slothful gluttony. I started tracking Weight Watcher points again -- even when I go over. And that whole gym thing -- been back for a week. Corporate Christy prepaid my membership for a year, so no excuse. Thanks, CC. For nothing.

I kid, CC.

I should mention, what with spending all this time alone with the cats, I talk to myself. Sometimes I even talk back.

Then there's daytime TV when I can stand it. Lately I've seen a lot of "I've fallen and I can't get up" ads. And I have a revolutionary idea for you. Wait for it... Okay.

Why don't people who are prone to falling over and not being able to get up keep at least one phone on the floor? Then they can crawl or wriggle over to it and empower themselves to call for help. If a phone doesn't make sense, what about a megaphone? Or, I don't know, a whistle?

Or, like our neighbors, set off some barking dog noises at 6am every morning. That'd get my attention, I guarantee you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Luck Be a Lady

I met friends downtown last night. On the bus ride home, I realized I couldn't find my keys.

It was snowing.

Jeremy is the best. He came out and brought me my car key so I could get home. And then he put cables on my tires.

So I feel pretty stupid about this. Why am I sharing?

For two reasons. One, I got lucky. Two, Jer deserves credit for rescuing me.

I took the bus downtown this afternoon and went back to the last place we ended up. I waited until the lunch crowd was gone and asked the host if anyone had turned in keys. He disappeared to the back for awhile. Then they needed someone to open the safe. Finally, the manager came out dangling a set and said, "Are these your keys?"

Sweet baby Einstein. They had my keys.

I feel two parts stupid and one part incredibly lucky. In short a typical Wednesday around here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Creative Choices Consciously

Jer asked me for photoediting suggestions, and as I was giving him a few tips it occurred to me they applied to writing as well.

  • Decide what you want your shot to convey. What do you want the audience to see? This can be as simple as a feeling or mood, or it can highlight style, aesthetic, fashion, irony, or just capture a good ol' slice of life.
  • Don't be afraid to crop the image to bring focus to your message.
  • Does it look better in black and white? Don't forget to play with the filters, like yellow and orange to deepen contrast.
  • Lightroom has some great options for adjusting tonal curves, applying vignetting, masking, and easily bumping clarity and vibrance. I'm not even talking about rubberstamping out defects, just applying focus to what's already there.
  • Use discretion. It's like accessorizing. Less is usually more.
  • The more experience you have, the better you'll be at making these decisions earlier in the creative process. Instead of answering these questions when you edit, answer them when you set the f-stop, shutter speed, and frame the shot. This yields best results.

How do these tips apply to writing?

First of all -- and I've been guilty of this -- decide what you want to convey! It's okay to stumble into it, but once it's decided make the message consistent. In writing this means choosing and organizing your details, your structure, your event order to maximize effect. In photography this means if you want to highlight color, don't make it black and white. If you want to highlight scale, include a human. If you want to make it visually interesting, shoot or crop with the rule of thirds in mind.

The more creative writing experience I have, the earlier in the process I should be able to make these decisions.

I'm about two-thirds done writing another short story about Prague. With this one I am consciously making decisions and going back and adding in the details that will get the story where it needs to go. As I do this more frequently, I anticipate I'll become more efficient.

On a related note, I get the irony of my "think before you speak" advice, since my motor mouth has elicited that response from others for as long as I can remember. But hey, it sunk in eventually. :)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

DIY Motivation - Sticker Mania

Image from Sir Simon Marsden's "The Haunted Realm" calendar

Because the internet has been lax in heaping validation upon me, I bought myself a half-off calendar and a mess o' stickers. I haven't worked all the details out yet, but for the days I make progress towards a goal, I get a fancy sticker or three.

Calendars are important decisions and set the theme for my year. In the past I've gone with painting reproductions or places I'd like to visit. This year I needed something a bit more playful, something steeped in high contrast and mystery. So I chose "The Haunted Realm."

At Target I bought a sticker kit for boys -- because it came with robot stickers. The sticker kit for girls was all princesses and flowers. Frankly I find robots to be far more motivating. When was the last time a flower wanted to be my overlord?

One thing I've learned from Weight Watchers and World of Warcraft is that I have endless patience with repetitive tasks if some small award or achievement awaits me at the end. Oh? Kill six billion naga for a crummy staff and 1000 xp? Okay! Attend 16 meetings and get a key chain that's too flimsy to hold keys? SIGN ME UP.

So here I am playing the Motivation Home Game. Oh! Maybe I should give myself a sticker for publishing blog posts!

Gives a whole new meaning to the term "sticker-tuitiveness." Ba dum dum.

Friday, January 07, 2011

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child"

I want to tell you about Picasso.

Three months ago, Jer and I stood outside the Musée National Picasso in Paris. We knew it was closed; we stumbled onto the building during our Marais adventure. I remember we were both exhausted after exploring Versailles in the morning and it was drizzling. Someday, I said to myself, I sure would like to see Picasso's work in person.

As luck would have it, when we returned to Seattle the Picasso exhibit was underway at the Seattle Art Museum. Yesterday was first Thursday, which means tickets were half-off, so I made my reservations and picked up my ticket at will-call.

My previous visit to the museum I saw the special Impressionism exhibit. Crowd funneling was worse in this one, as they had us empty into a small room with tiny frames and audio guide instructions.

But that was minor. Art is personal. And I can tell you I loved it. The way that man saw the world, how he communicated his perceptions, was genius. One of the comments on the audio guide was that in those paintings where there's a eye on a cheek, and a sideways nose... he was painting what he saw when he kissed a woman. He was thinking about what is actually seen, not just idealizing a face. Mixed up and all.

And his sculptures. There was one staggered set of six stick figures that especially impressed me -- the audio guide said they were meant to be his version of Velázquez's "Las Meninas."

The Picasso version distilled the little girl, her maids and the artist's self-portrait to shapes and space. I'm not even sure how to describe it. Using sculpture as an extension of painting. Bringing the images off the canvas and giving them substance in space. For me, understanding its background made the work stronger and linked it to the original, like a puzzle. At first I was thinking, what is this? But then when I saw it and heard the description, it was like, ah, right. I see it.

A painting/sculptural equivalent of the bird/duck optical illusion.

This is a man who played. They showed several looping films, home videos and promotional, and I watched all of them. In one, Picasso painted on a sheet of glass in front of the camera. Bold, sure strokes that ended with suggestions of goat, woman, man playing the lute. Then the screen showed other versions of the same work. He had a vision and then would exhaust it with experimentation...

In another scene, a vase was set in front of him, fresh off the potter's wheel. He pinched the top, smoothed bits, squeezed the end, added some nicks and notches and there was a duck. People who see the world in a different way, people who have retained their sense of play, wow, those are the people I'm most interested in.

Image at top, "Portrait of Olga in the Armchair," 1917, from The Current.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

When imagination fails

I still feel like I'm waking up. Both in the sense of this morning and in general.

Jer's alarm wakes me literally now, along with Vash standing sternly on my sternum. He is sooo hungry. I am killlling him. Meow meow meeeooooow.

The TV just told me, "Fool's gold only forms in environments that lack oxygen." That seems reasonable and appropriate.

Speaking of waking up, I've been having the most mundane nightmares. A few themes repeat: late for a flight, can't find a bathroom, lost in an endlessly connected building or place that I am half familiar with. Elevators or stairs are usually involved.

If my brain must go to the trouble to upset me with misplaced urgency, I might as well dream something colorful and shareworthy. But no. Yesterday I found myself waiting for a breakfast burrito that never arrived. This morning I couldn't get a ride to the airport so I missed my flight.

So much for pushing the boundaries of my imagination. Sometimes I dream I didn't get the correct change. It is very upsetting to wake before that injustice is rectified!

Note to self in future: when you bake an Angel Food Cake, it will overflow the Bundt pan. Put a cookie sheet under it or I predict burned sugar in your future, future-self.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Space to breathe

The holiday is over and we're back to dull, gray normality. I'm not opposed to it, but these next few months usually bring me a weariness of spirit that is hard to describe. Maybe this year will be different.

For the last couple of years the majority of my work stress happened now. It involved meeting major government deadlines, whose requirements changed unpredictably and at random.

Anyway. I had to follow the swiftly changing requirements and convey them to the staff. It was incredibly stressful and frustrating... and now I'm free.

Time (and future employment) will bring other stressful and frustrating responsibilities that will raise my blood pressure. And I will rise to it, like a batch of warm dough. For now though, it sure is nice to breathe.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Orphans and Psychopaths

Another lazy Sunday. Jer is lighting a fire in the wood stove as I type. I've wrapped an afghan around my shoulders while I wait for the room to heat up. We ate breakfast about 1pm and now we're looking at how our toys will entertain us.

Breakfast was a hashbrown, egg white, cheese, and sausage (Aidells Cajun Style Andouille Minis, chicken & turkey) casserole.

Yesterday we stumbled into a theme of orphans and psychopaths, and found ourselves watching "Anne of Green Gables" on PBS - I have way too much in common with Anne's wordy, dramatic, and stubborn qualities

"Scarface" - I'd never seen this before. Reminded me, wrongly, of GTA

and "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer" - Best to go in with low expectations. The main actor also plays Ariel in the recent Tempest remake

I'm struggling with organizing elements of story and plot in a compelling way. But I find that when I start watching a film or reading a book I suspend all disbelief and critical thinking. It's a new way of thinking, to look for the framework instead of the skin and it is not second nature to me. The essential question is this: how do I go from consumer to producer?

I've written longer works before and I've relied on intuition to guide me, but I feel like now I should understand why certain choices should be made and how. One time during a Twilight Zone marathon I plotted out the ups and downs of each episode. For example, this many minutes in such-and-such usually happens, and this many minutes further is when you can expect this... I tried to document the Twilight Zone formula. Lately I think I should do that for other stories. Look for patterns and trends.

Likely I am just thinking too much again.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

1st Quarter Milestone Check

For New Year's Eve Jer and I watched two sets of fireworks. The first was in World of Warcraft at 9pm. (Server time is three hours ahead.) Our goblins stood on the top of Orgrimmar and watched the colorful lights explode in the distance; I was disguised as a human ninja due to eating some bad fish.

The second set were on the couch at midnight. We watched fireworks shoot out of the Space Needle from every direction on television. Then we congratulated ourselves for not having to drive in the aftermath.

In West Seattle our apartment overlooked a prime fireworks viewing location. Every New Year's I sat in my window with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders and allowed myself to be appalled by human behavior.

Too many cars. Too little parking. Too many drunk people. Together, the chaos is advisable to avoid but fun to watch. I'd look away from the especially dangerous car stunts, in the hopes I wouldn't have to be a witness at some accidental manslaughter trial.

But it had charm, that place. And two parking spots. These are good things.

So do I have a resolution this year? Eh. A big part of me feels like if you commit to a resolution you're giving the universe an opportunity to knock you down. That isn't very optimistic though.

I'll approach it then as a status check. I've lost nearly 20 pounds on Weight Watchers since August 2010 and I plan to continue the momentum. I've quit my job to write. I've written a short play, a short story, started storyboarding the novel, and I plan to continue producing and learning in 2011. (Then rejoin the working world when I'm ready.) I've had some fun building an arsenal of recipes this year, and I plan to continue being curious about new flavors and subjects.

As I wrote in 2005, "Happy New Years to you and yours. May it bring everything you desire and only some of what you deserve."