A group of us at my work decided we would sign up for an online course offered from Stanford University called Creativity: Music to My Ears.
This past week we were given our first assignments: create a playlist and an album cover for my life.
I spent a lot of time over the last few days putting homework together, and I thought I’d share them.
The songs on this playlist may come as no surprise if you know my taste in music. They’re all acoustic songs (or acoustic versions of songs), and they express a chronological progression of life events.
I feel like the playlist is assembled with the right amount of melancholy to fit my personality, especially because I made it on a gloomy, rainy afternoon.
My visual inspiration came from Dashboard Confessional’s So Impossible and Summer’s Kiss EPs. I always felt like those album covers captured a simple moment of life, and that’s what I wanted to capture as a representation for my life. And what better way to show life and by showing love, which is why I went with the couple kissing.
The title, Just Not the Poetry, comes from my feelings about myself as a writer. I’m a published poet, but I’m always desperately trying to write fiction and essays to be known for them. I haven’t submitted any pieces to be published because I don’t think they’re ready yet, but I’ve been trying not to be noticed for my poetry because I’m a little afraid of what it means to be a young poet. There is a stereotype that comes with it, and I want to avoid that. Generally, I’m willing to discuss my life and my writing, just not the poetry.
That’s all for now. I’ll try to keep updating my assignments if they are post-worthy.
When I have spoken with other men about how I will be a father soon, I get two kinds of responses:
1. You’re excited now, but just wait… You have no idea.
2. This is such an exciting time for you! You are going to love your daughter so much.
Fathers say both of those phrases with smiles, but they’re very different smiles. One of them is warm and endearing, and it feels so encouraging to hear a dad tell me how great fatherhood is. The other smile is sly, and I feel embarrassed to for their children when they complain about them.
I fully understand that being a father will mean I will have nights that aren’t restful, days that are strained, and challenges I can’t even imagine right now.
But I don’t think those are reasons for me to lose my excitement.
What really bugs me is that people with a negative attitude are impressing their experience on me. That’s not fair to me, but it’s also not fair to my children.
I know that raising my children will not seem simple at times. But there are millions of dads around the world who handle it, and I can too.
So I’m looking forward to fatherhood and the struggles it may or may not bring. Either way, I will do my best to only encourage other fathers, because—as I’ve learned from my pre-dad experience—fathers need that encouragement.
Better yet, there’s a new version of LoveBot. Presenting LoveBot 0.5:
In the conversations I’ve had following the first LoveBot story, I’ve come up with an idea for a follow-up. Here it is:
|LoveBot powers up, unplugs, and leaves his apartment building. When he makes it to the street, he looks around. The coast is clear. He opens his body compartment, pulls out his teddy bear, and gives it a hug.
Suddenly, he is bumped from behind by another robot walking down the street. LoveBot drops the teddy bear and the other robot notices. LoveBot is embarrassed and picks up the teddy bear while the other robot is confused. LoveBot quickly puts the teddy bear back into his body compartment and continues on his route to work—down to the subway train, watching the robot eyes as they glow in the dark tunnels, and then onto the robot-only street.
As LoveBot approaches the factory where he works, he sees a grassy hill in the distance. LoveBot blinks and his eyes zoom in on the hill. It looks like fun. But LoveBot looks at the door of the factory and knows that he should go to work. Robots all around him are entering the factory. LoveBot looks to the hill and then at the door of the factory and then back to the hill.
LoveBot is at a full sprint when he reaches the end of the sidewalk and begins running on the grass that leads up to the hill. His heavy body leaves footprints in the grass. When he reaches the top of the hill, he can look beyond and see trees and flowers.
Lovebot opens his body compartment and pulls out the teddy bear. He holds out the teddy bear to see the trees and flowers, and then pulls the teddy bear close and squeezes it. He then grabs the teddy bear by the hands and starts to spin in a circle. He spins faster and faster until the pair is a swirling blur. Then something shoots out from the blur and LoveBot stops spinning. LoveBot is still holding the arms of the teddy bear, but the rest of it is gone.
LoveBot looks around from the top of the hill. He looks in all directions and finally finds the teddy bear at the bottom of the hill, lying under a tree. LoveBot runs over to it, pulls out a needle and some thread from his compartment, and begins to repair the bear.
When LoveBot is almost done with the repair, he sees a small boy running up the hill he had just been on. When the boy reaches the top, he trips on one of LoveBot’s footprints and skids his knee on the ground. His parents run up to him and his mother comforts him. His father looks at the place where the boy tripped and then looks over at LoveBot. The two lock eyes. The man is angry; LoveBot is scared.
The man pulls out his cell phone and makes a call. LoveBot stops sewing and swiftly puts the teddy bear into his compartment. He runs back to the sidewalk and hurriedly into the factory. He looks at a clock that shows the time in binary and looks panicked. He pushes into the time clock, rushes to his station, and the other robots in his assembly line are looking at him impatiently. He looks sorry and starts pressing buttons quickly.
At the end of his shift, LoveBot punches out and his boss—a large, angry robot—is standing next to the time puncher. The boss lets out a beep boop and then steam begins to shoot out of his ears. LoveBot looks defeated.
LoveBot looks very sad on his commute home. When he makes it to his apartment building, he stops and looks around. The coast is clear. He pulls out the teddy bear, but it is missing an arm. He checks his compartment, but it isn’t there. The arm must’ve fallen off when he rushed to put the teddy bear in the compartment.
LoveBot goes into the alley between his building and the next to look through a dumpster. After some searching, his head pops out of the dumpster and he holds up a can of Standard Robot Oil. He then climbs out of the dumpster, but instead of getting out smoothly, he falls. When he stands up, he pulls out the teddy bear and keeps his back turned. It’s clear he’s working on something.
Finally, when LoveBot turns around, the teddy bear now has a Standard Robot Oil can for an arm. He pulls the teddy bear close for a hug, and the oil can makes a small clang against LoveBot’s body. It surprised LoveBot and he holds the teddy bear out. He taps the arm, and it makes a clanging noise. LoveBot is happy and pulls the teddy bear in for another hug.
So, that’s LoveBot’s second story.
I think I’ve got some ideas for LoveBot’s next story. And possibly the three after that.
The following is a short story introduction to LoveBot. [Read how he was created here.]
|You can change his battery. You can change his motherboard. But you can’t change his heart.
LoveBot powers up in a dark hallway. The red heart on his chest slowly lights up from the bottom to the top. When the heart is full, his eyes turn on like the powering on of an old television. Once he is on, his eyes grow dim like he is tired. He lowers one of his arms and removes a plug from an outlet near the ground and it recedes into the back of LoveBot’s left foot.
LoveBot looks around and sees rows of other robots up and down the hallway, all plugged into the wall. He moves forward slowly and walks down the long hall to a doorway. He opens the door and sunlight overtakes him. LoveBot steps outside.
LoveBot walks down a street of large, dark, windowless buildings. They all have signs flashing saying “₡30 a Month” and “Outlets starting at ₡25.” He hears something coming from near one of the signs and walks over to it. Behind the sign is a birds nest and some baby birds are tweeting. He watches them sweetly and his heart starts to glow. Suddenly a mother bird swoops in and it throws LoveBot off balance. He falls onto the ground. The bird flies to the nest with worms in its mouth and gives a glare at LoveBot. He gets up and continues on.
LoveBot comes upon a stairwell leading into the ground and walks down. He joins a large group of other robots waiting for a train. When the train pulls up, it’s just a grated floor with bars for frames. LoveBot walks onto the grated floor and grabs one of the bars. The train moves forward. LoveBot can see the lights from the eyes of other robots illuminating the dark subway tunnel.
When LoveBot reaches his destination, he walks up a tunnel and onto a urban/suburban area. He walks down a sidewalk designated for robots. He can look to the other side of the street and see humans using a different sidewalk. LoveBot walks past a fenced playground where children are playing. He stops to watch them. The heart in his chest starts to glow bright. Another robot on the sidewalk bumps into him and it breaks his concentration. He looks to see who did it, but the sidewalk is too busy. Right as he’s about to turn back, he is hit in the head with a rock. He turns and sees the kids on the playground standing in a group with folded arms, staring at him. He turns and continues walking.
LoveBot arrives at a large black building with a smokestack pushing out steam. He goes in and walks over to a time clock. He opens the door to his body, pulls out a car, and punches it in the time clock. He puts the card back and walks over to an assembly line. A furry, empty pouch appears in front of him on the assembly line. He presses a button and stuffing comes out from above the pouch and fills up what is now clearly a body of a teddy bear (minus the head). He presses another button and the next body appears. He hits the first button and it gets filled. He hits the next button and is goes down the line. Zooming out, you can see the entire factory of robots hitting buttons along a twisty assembly line. At the end, teddy bears end up being piled into a cardboard box. The box is then moved to a spot where it is closed and taped. The box is then put on a truck that drives to a toy store. The box comes off the truck, a person unpacks the box, and they put the teddy bears on a shelf. A mom and daughter walk up to the shelf and the girl pulls the teddy bear off the shelf and gives it a big hug.
LoveBot clocks out of work and begins walking home as the sun is setting. He’s hit in the body with a rock when he’s passing the playground. A small group of kids is picking up more rocks and throwing them, so he has to run a bit to avoid them. When he can finally begin walking again, he looks at a human family walking down the opposite sidewalk. The little girl in the family is holding a teddy bear in one of her arms. They looks so happy to be with each other. LoveBot gets on the subway train and takes it home. When he is walking down the road of apartment buildings, he looks behind the sign to see how the baby birds are doing. The nest is no longer there.
As LoveBot is coming up on his building, a glimmer of light hits his eyes. He turns and looks down a narrow alley between two buildings. Something is shining a light at him from down the alley. He turns sideways and walks slowly so he can fit in the alley. He isn’t as careful as he had hoped, and he scratches a few of the LEDs that make up the heart on his chest. Finally, he comes upon a small teddy bear with one eye—the eye that was catching some light and attracted him into the alley. He reaches into his body and pulls out a needle, some thread, and a machine nut. He sews the machine nut where the other eye of the teddy bear should be. He holds it up to inspect his work. The heart on his chest glows a little brighter. He pulls the teddy bear close to his body and the heart of his chest is so bright that it floods the alley with red light.
LoveBot leaves the alley, but he doesn’t seem to be carrying the teddy bear. He walks into his building and down the hallway that leads to his outlet. He lowers his arm to plug himself into the wall. The light of his eyes dims and turns off, but the red glow from his heart is still bright and it pulses with light. Looking through the door to the robots body, you can see the teddy bear is inside.
So, that’s LoveBot’s first story.
His physical design is still in version 0.3. I’m working on bringing him up to 0.5 by the time I’m able to find an illustrator willing to take on LoveBot’s story.
This is the story of how I went from doing normal things in a normal part of my day to creating a character, a story, and a new writing project.
Last Friday, I was alphabetizing a list for work, and I decided to write it out by hand instead of typing it. While I was putting pen to paper, a quote from an episode of The Office came to mind from a scene where Michael pretends to be a robot. Watch the clip below.
Then I imagined a robot in a field of other robots with a giant, red heart on his chest. And, before I knew it, I drew him—LoveBot 0.1. Read more →
For those that don’t remember reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in high school literature class, the novel is about a veteran of World War I (Jake) traveling to Spain with his friends to watch the bullfighting that takes place every year. His travel companions include the woman he loves (Brett), a friend he is in silent competition with (Cohn), and a few others. At the end of the novel, the entire group splits up after a fight between Jake and Cohn over Brett.
But the final title of the book was not the first title that Hemingway considered.
At first, it was Fiesta—a name that gives away the location behind the book with (what I’m assuming is) some sarcastic flair. You can’t have a good party without a fistfight, right?
Then it became The Lost Generation—a nod to a term Gertrude Stein coined when speaking of the post-World War I generation. But Hemingway didn’t stick with that title for publication.
The final title, The Sun Also Rises, is credited with coming from the passage in Ecclesiastes that is one of the novel’s epigraphs:
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever . . . The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose . . .
While I won’t disagree that the title’s origin can be found in Ecclesiastes, I think Hemingway was also giving away a bit of underlying information to the reader.
In the novel, the group travels to Spain separately, but readers follow Jake’s path from Paris to Spain. The journey is primarily made by train, where Jake bumps into some Catholic students who are visiting Europe to make a pilgrimage to Rome—a small detail that doesn’t have any clear implications to the plot.
But what Hemingway doesn’t make clear is that Jake is following the path of another old Catholic pilgrimage—the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (aka the Way of St. James). The trip that Jake makes follows the path from Paris to Pamplona, which covers more than half of the pilgrimage.
But it gets better.
For most writers (including myself), one of the hardest things to decide is what to name the characters. Even more so for the main character, because that person is usually the on-page representation of the author. So Hemingway carefully names his character Jacob, which is the Latin version of the English name James (and the Spanish name Tiago). Hemingway named his main character after the journey he is making.
When most people make the pilgrimage that Jake is on, they don’t travel by train; they travel by foot. This can be difficult, especially back when there were no maps. So, to let people know they were on the right path, land markers with seashells were placed along the route. It can be explained that since the pilgrimage ends in Santiago de Compostela, the seashell represents the Spanish coast that resides just miles from the destination. But that’s not all. The seashells are a reminder about the sun.
The pilgrimage is a journey from the east to the west. All of the hope and joy and expectation that comes with a rising sun is constantly at the backs of pilgrims. Instead, day after day, they watch the setting sun as they continue westward. And while the sun sets to close another day, the pilgrim’s journey is still not complete. And if a rising sun is a sign of happiness and rejuvenation, then the setting sun is a sign of sadness and exhaustion.
But the seashell—with the line at the bottom marking the horizon and the lines upward and outward in a circle representing the sun shining—is a reminder that the sun also rises.
Days come and go in life.
Some days we are up early, excited for what is new and exciting.
Some days (or weeks or months or years) we are on a seemingly fruitless journey. All we can see is the sun setting, mocking us for our difficulties or our apparent stagnation.
And it’s in those times that we need a seashell along our path to remind us…The sun also rises.
I imagine that if I lived fifty years ago, I’d be the sort of person who would read the newspaper every morning before work. But in today’s world, I get most of my news from online articles—some that can be found in newspapers and some that cannot.
My issue has been recalling where I read a specific article or details about a topic. I can google the article, but I only remember certain details, not where the article was published or what the title was.
So, starting January 1, I decided I would catalog every online article I read.
First, I made a Readability account. Readability allows people to save online articles to be read later. It has a Firefox extension, a Chrome extension, and an iOS app, which allows me to add an article no matter where I read it.
Next, I went to IFTTT and created this recipe:
And with that, all of the articles I read and tag as a favorite in Readability will be added to a spreadsheet. I now have a catalog for all of the articles I read.
Now I’m finding any reason to read more articles so I can add them to the list. It’s not a bad problem to have.
In my line of work, Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year with some of the largest and most important projects coming due all at once. This was my fourth Christmas, and it’s safe to say that it doesn’t get easier over time.
But looking back to the first Christmas working for the church, I’ve learned a lot. It was at that first Christmas that I understood the importance of excellence within the organization.
I was sitting in my cubicle working on the position of an image on the Christmas website we were making, and the head of my department, Ted, stopped by to ask me a question about something. But he paused mid-question as he stepped closer to my computer screen.
“Can you add five pixels of padding on the top and eight on the left?” Ted asked.
I thought the image was in a good position, and some additional padding would help, so I quickly flipped over to the HTML, wrote in the code, saved the changes, and refreshed the web page.
“Can you add two more pixels of padding on the top?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, and I made that change and refreshed the web page.
“Can you add one more pixel to the left?” he asked.
I was a little surprised. One pixel? Really? There are over three quarters of a million pixels on my computer monitor, and he wanted me to move this pixel over by one?
In total, Ted spent about five minutes directing me in getting that one image in the right spot on that page, and I had to repeat those changes on the dozen or so other pages with an image in that same spot.
When I was done, I went into his office and asked him to refresh the site so he could see my work. He said it looked great, but then started asking if I could change the position of some text in another place.
Being that this was my first job out of school and I wasn’t married, I spent way more time than I ever should have working on little things for that Christmas website. I looked at every object on the web page as an individual piece and as part of the whole. I went in early and stayed late making sure everything was in the right spot, even if it meant moving it one pixel.
That experience changed me. Since then, I’ve used painstaking effort to try to make all of my work “one pixel perfect.”
To be totally honest, there are times when a lot of work piles up and I need to move through it quickly, and those are the times when it’s obvious that my work has missed the mark because I don’t have the time to be “one pixel perfect.”
Having missed the mark several times, I’ve learned two very important things about being “one pixel perfect:”
- “One pixel perfect” work takes dedicated time and focus. It should be any surprise that getting things right takes time, but my organization moves very quickly and I’m never working on one project at a time. This makes “one pixel perfect” work extremely difficult as emails, other projects, and coworkers pull me (and my time) in different directions.
- After turning in “one pixel perfect” work, any other level of work suddenly becomes unacceptable. This is true both for myself and my superiors. I have found that I can obsess over something and put in extra time to get everything just right, but that can take a toll on my marriage. But if I don’t put in that extra time and I get distracted by other work, my boss can recognize it right away.
I’m not to the point where I’ve figured out how to avoid the problems those two points raise. Maybe that’s something I’ll never figure out.
What I do know is that I enjoy making “one pixel perfect” work. It’s very satisfying and comes with a feeling of pride that I’ve finished a job the best way possible.
This is going to be brief, but allow me to set the scene…
The world is in chaos and those with power are making absolute decisions. Dissent and revolution are in the air.
You’re approaching the Post Office and notice the brick building has been whitewashed. Some vandals have spray painted the silhouette of a crowd with one person raising their fist in the air. Above the crowd, in all caps, it reads, “JOIN THE MARCH.”
And now, my cover.
November is almost here, and I’ve already told almost everyone I know about my participation in NaNoWriMo. I’ve also shared how important it is for me that I meet the 50,000 word goal, because I will be taking care of a six-month-old next year and may not have the time to participate.
Just like last year, I plan on blogging as I write my novel. I’ve found that to be a huge help with developing my characters and scenes.
So if you’re sick of reading about NaNoWriMo, I’ll see you in December.
On a slightly different—but slightly similar—topic, I’ve been running a writing prompt blog on the side for the last year or so. It started as an attempt to see what all I could automate with IFTTT, so I set up a WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr accounts to update with content from an RSS of a writing prompt subreddit. It worked fairly well, and I was putting no effort in.
The next phase has been cutting off the RSS feed and writing the content on my own. With that increased control over what the content is and when it goes out, I’ve seen followership increase a little. I’m going to run special NaNoWriMo prompts over the month of November, and hopefully that will help.
Here are the links to the different outlets for the writing prompts: