Into the holidays.

I spent a lot of this past week getting ready for things this week, so I didn’t accomplish much last week in terms of my creative endeavors. Probably won’t this week either, Thanksgiving being a family-time holiday and all.

As the end of the year draws closer I’ve been reflecting on how this whole “blogging once a week to keep myself accountable about my creative aspirations” thing has worked out. And while it’s been good to see a written record of my progress… no one reads it. This is not a complaint, mind you. I’m well aware how I’ve spurned principles of SEO and the “social” aspect of WordPress because I’d rather get good at the things I want to get good at before I start attracting attention to myself.

All the same, I may reevaluate how I’m doing things come next year.

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A harp lesson.

Yesterday I drove almost two hours for a four-hour beginning harp lesson, which for the price was a relative bargain. The biggest appeals for me were (1) the presence of an actual teacher, and (2) the opportunity to play lots of different kinds of lever harps.

In the classroom there were about ten people in attendance and twelve harps set up, which we traded off every hour. I got to play some really gorgeous instruments, but interestingly enough my favorite ended up being a handcrafted harp by an independent builder, not a major manufacturer. It had a rich, mellow sound, and charming hand-painted details on the soundboard.

Pretty much everything the class covered was stuff I already knew from YouTube tutorials and Bruner’s book. But here was the important thing: I was in a class, and my usual getting bored after two minutes and just start plucking out Zelda songs was a definite no-go. I had to practice lifting my thumbs, holding my elbows out, and placing my fingers on the strings before playing them. Stuff that I don’t do when I get bored and start plucking out Zelda songs. And hearing ten harps playing together is heavenly, even if it’s just a round of “Frère Jacques.”

I talked to the (fantastic) teacher after class about my situation and she gave me some great advice. Wish I could take regular lessons from her, but two hours on Bay Area freeways both ways is a bit too much of a commute for me. Still, she was a great inspiration. It’s hard to be disciplined when you’re going it alone.

More accordionventures with Kass.

After getting home from work on Halloween I picked up my accordion, decided forget it all; I’m just gonna play a B7 where I think it’s supposed to be Bdim and plowed forward with trying to figure out Kass’s theme. Turns out B7 is an acceptable substitute.

Saturday I decided to start record myself practicing certain songs just to document my progress. The recordings from that day are legitimately painful to listen to, but I’m hoping that just means the only way to go is up.

Of princesses, ponies, and tension.

I spent most of Saturday working on my Halloween costume: Princess Pinecone from Kate Beaton’s excellent children’s picture book The Princess and the Pony. With the exception of a couple hours lost to trying to figure out what was making my bobbin stitches so loose and at the same time making the bobbin thread show on the top side of the fabric, it went pretty well. The fact that the dress is basically a long sleeveless tunic made it a lot easier than the cosplay tunic I made a couple weeks ago.

Having dedicated projects like this really helps my mental state. It’s a great opportunity to experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow” (also known as “the zone,” according to Wikipedia), which keeps me off a lot of the self-destructive psychological paths I often find myself heading down.

As for that unidentified fear I wrote about last week, I’m still not sure what that is. Perhaps I had such a good time with this particular Halloween costume because I work with little kids who are just gonna be happy to see someone dressed up as a character from their favorite book about cute flatulent ponies.

On maintaining cosplay motivation.

I was reading an article about self-control the other day, and one commenter noted that self-control is connected with the ability to tolerate ambivalence. The range of creative endeavors I’m interested in has recently widened and I think the ambivalence got to me last week, because while on Sunday and Monday I lost a collected four hours of sleep working on that friggin’ cosplay, by Wednesday I was spending my evenings watching TV, and not doing much else. When I tried to muster the enthusiasm I’d had over the weekend, I could only obsess over my discovery that the fabric is slightly the wrong color. I am under no illusions that my cosplay will be the Most Accurate and Perfectly Detailed Ever, so a teensy thing like that shouldn’t topple the whole project. It’s not like someone’s going to run up to me at Fanime and be like, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s the wrong shade! *gasp* You’re not really [character x]! …But [the papier-mâchéd exercise ball] looks like the real deal.”

But boy was it easy to pinpoint my lack of enthusiasm on that one thing.

I reluctantly texted my friends Saturday morning to ask if they wanted to get together to work on cosplay things, feeling pretty “now or never” about the whole deal, and thankfully having three other people work on the same kind of thing in the same room did help me get motivated again. Plus, as my friend pointed out, the fabric is the highlight shade of the clothing I’m copying… I just need to stand in sunlight the whole time and it’s accurate again. That helped me feel a bit better. Also, we played with EVA foam and a heat gun while watching YouTube tutorials on how to craft fake armor that way, which was fun.

I’m just not sure what I’m afraid of.

Sewing while sheltering-in-place.

And then the whole North Bay caught on fire.

It’s been a rough week for pretty much everyone in the Bay Area, more so for those who were evacuated and even more so for those who lost homes and/or loved ones. By the grace of God the fire never got close enough to where I live to be evacuated, but I live next to hills covered in very flammable dry brush, and I slept with one eye open.

Work was canceled Thursday and Friday because the smoke made the air quality too hazardous, so I spent both days indoors. Trying to keep fear at bay, I hauled out my sewing equipment and made excellent progress on my cosplay. The 8 hours I would have spent working on Thursday were spent trying to draft, cut, and insert a single sleeve. (That’s the thing about sewing… you can work on it for hours and have made no visible progress, but you will have learned a lot. You will also end up with a lot of thread scraps and tiny holes in your garment from ripping out the seams of every unsuccessful attempt.)

Rain in the forecast for Thursday and Friday. I’ve never looked forward to wet weather so much.

Adventures with sewing patterns.

Much of Saturday was spent with my friends diving into the cosplays we were excitedly brainstorming on the way home from the anime convention Labor Day weekend. (And we did papier-mâché an exercise ball. It turned out better than we expected, but we’re gonna need a couple more rolls of kraft tape and like a bucket of Mod Podge.)

I’ve made my own cosplays before, but they weren’t terribly ambitious—mostly cut-up T-shirts. Adequate for my purposes, though maybe not the prettiest. But this time, I’m making a tunic, and I need something a little better than a butchered Hanes Beefy-T. I need a pattern. And not just any pattern—I need one I make myself.

Thankfully one of my friends is experienced with making her own patterns and helped me out step by step. I started by tracing a tank top, then enlarging it by 2 inches on every side, and then taking careful measurements of me front and back to make sure it would fit around me. I was so excited that after finishing the patterns for the front and back pieces, I quickly pinned both them to the fabric, cut them out, sewed them together about 3/4 inch from the edge, tried putting the semi-finished tunic on and… couldn’t put my arms down. I had to have two people squeeze me into it, and then one person cut me out of it with a seam ripper. So this week’s takeaway lesson is you can never have too much seam allowance.

Still need to put sleeves on it, and hem it, and decorate it, and fix up the collar, but I’m still excited. And committed. (Which means everything else kinda fell by the wayside this week. But I’m trying to enjoy my hobbies, not feel like I have to be slavishly devoted to them.)

 

Accordion and other dilemmas.

I am quite enjoying the Celtic music sessions, which I attend as often as I can. I’m getting much better at the bass buttons (and physically remembering the distance from B to C—5 rows!). I need to work on the right hand, though. Mine is a lady’s piano accordion, so the keys are smaller, but my hands aren’t exactly dainty. My fingers get tangled up in each other.

And with this new accordion activity my willingness to part with it for repairs has somewhat diminished. Sure the bellows are leaky, the straps are uncomfortable, and the keyboard is uneven, but… I’m having so much fun. And I’m afraid of what the ultimate cost will be. (Perhaps I should look into getting a new one… but my current one has sentimental value.)

I need to dedicate time to practicing outside the session, though—but finding the time and motivation to has been challenging. Now that I’m back into Japanese, my attention is even more divided. Add to that the fact that a couple weeks ago a friend who reviewed the third draft of UNBoaTCfAFHV emailed me some chapters from her own book looking for feedback. Outside of all this I still have my full-time job (and I may be seeking extra employment soon) and grad school (online), and… ugh. I’m getting tired just thinking about it all.

 

Age is just a number, after all.

One thing I struggle with in all these endeavors is if I’m biting off more than I can chew. For the past couple of years I’ve been motivated by a seeming fear of my life ending at 30 or something—like if I don’t get cracking on everything I want to do with my life ever RIGHT NOW time will run out and the rest of my life will be spent in complete drudgery. It makes no sense, I know—but neither do a lot of fears.

Incidentally, when I venture out to meet other folks interested in what I’m interested in (djembe class, the SCBWI event, the Celtic music session, the Cotati Accordion Festival), more often then not the people there are my parents’ age or older, many of them retirees who want to make the most of their free time.  And that helps keep me grounded.

Life seems to speed up as you get older, I’ve observed, but there’s a big difference between me now and me half my life ago. I’m sure when I’m double my current age it’ll be the same thing. I’ll grow and change, hopefully for the better, and while my brain’s plasticity may be more limited, I’ll hopefully be a lot wiser than I am now.

Japanese.

I didn’t plan for this to be part of this blog at first. In fact, part of my original intent for this blog was to get away from it, in a sense.

I purposefully haven’t specified the country in which I spent 29 months between 2012 and 2015 for a couple reasons. First (and most) of all, I’m no longer there, and I have no imminent plans to return. But it’s also kinda cliché: I taught English in Japan. (Technically, I was a missionary.)

It was an amazing experience and I miss it very much. But after I returned Stateside I knew I needed to keep moving forward. The eponymous “terrifying creative endeavors” are part of that; they’re things I didn’t have the time or means to when I was working 6-day weeks and 10-hour days in a community setting. During those years my accordion sat in a closet in my parents’ house and the second draft of UNBoaTCfAFHV went unopened for months at a time. What I was doing instead was the most worthwhile two-and-a-half years of my life, but I always knew it would end; it was a two-and-a-half-year-long program.

I started studying Japanese in high school, and in college entertained serious thoughts of going to grad school to become a translator. I knew I wanted to go live in-country for a few years, at any rate.

While I was there I continued studying on my own and passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N2, the second-highest level. But as my time to return to America grew closer and I looked around for my next career move, I discovered that the demand for Japanese-to-English translators lies primarily in areas I am useless in: finance, engineering, business. Me? I wanted to translate children’s literature—and there is precious little demand for that right now. So in order to earn a living, I had to choose something else. Hence, what I am in grad school for right now.

My Japanese study was shelved after I got back to America, but last week I had the chance to go out to the city for a Japanese-English language exchange event, which was great fun and reminded me of everything I loved about studying it in the first place. A few days later I pulled one of my dusty Japanese children’s books off the shelf and, just for a lark, translated the first couple of pages. Still as interesting as it was five years ago.

So perhaps it’s time to add “Japanese translation” to my list of creative endeavors, though it is admittedly a bit less terrifying, since it’s not quite as personal as fiction writing or music composition. Challenging, though, for sure—in the best possible way.