Turkey Trot 

Wednesday morning, as I was driving into school I nearly ran over a group of four or so turkeys. Yes, I said turkeys. And yes, I know it sounds ridiculously improbable. I mean, what on earth were a group of turkeys doing wandering out in the middle of the road, just one day away from Thanksgiving? Escaping? Getting one final look around at the world before accepting their honored place in the Thanksgiving oven? At the time, I felt a small panic expecting an impending explosion of turkeys into a catastrophe of feathers, but I managed to recover enough to find that all of the turkeys, largely unconcerned about their near death experience, were in tact and casually meandering from the road to the field nearby. After puzzling over such questions, I figured that either the turkeys escaped somehow, or that someone had intentionally let the turkeys out in order to give their surroundings the appropriate decorative touch for the holiday. Wild turkeys aren't native to our area. The turkey episode actually helped in way because I had hardly any sleep the night before, so the brief terror I felt and the attendant adrenaline helped me feel more awake.

As if you couldn't tell from the previous posts, the last couple of weeks of school have been pretty stressful and unhappy, primarily because I had fallen behind on some important projects. I spent almost eighty hours! working on just one in a period of only a week and a half. I know this because, as part of the project, I had to keep track of the time I spent on it. It may not sound like so much, but remember, this was in addition to the other work and obligations I had for other classes.

Concerned about my ability to pass the class with my being behind in my work, I talked with the instructor which helped to clarify which homework had priority. The instructor indicated that while the late work will have an effect on my grade, it isn't as disastrous as I had imagined. Her concern was that I continue to come to class despite being behind in work. At least four students have dropped the class, two of which have dropped the entire program. Attrition is showing more and more, but on the plus side, the less people who complete the program means there is less competition from my design peers.

And, while I still feel unhappy about my prospects for a good grade in the course, I feel much better about passing the class as a whole. "Passing" this class is my academic goal right now. I can work on "passing and exceeding" in my future courses, and I feel confident that, in those future courses, I can better avoid the mistakes I made during this term. Today, I even managed to impress the instructor and the other students with the work we did in class, which was nothing more than construction paper cut-outs of small icons, but it felt good to get praise nonetheless.

The stress will ramp up next week (Dead Week) I am sure. If I had Adobe Creative Suite Three at home, I would be able to do much better with the homework I think. It's easier to work in bursts of varying length at home rather than try to hammer out marathon sessions in the computer lab. It might be better if I lived closer to the lab, it takes me an hour to drive to school one way, without turkeys of course. Tomorrow though, I set aside all of these concerns and will focus riding out the chaos of family Thanksgiving with as much equanimity as is possible to manage in a house full of crazy people.

22 November 2007

Knitting Sea Chanteys 

Well, as if you couldn't tell, I've been a little stressed and depressed lately, mostly having to do with school and my life being in general disarray. While the threads of depression are still woven into my spine to some extent, I think I am over the hump on this latest bout of it. Wednesday will be the next day I will have to prove myself, so tomorrow and Tuesday will be full of work.

Today, I slept in for as long as I could, 11:00 a.m., before I had to raise my dizzy head from the pillow and get in the shower for work. Work was largely uneventful except for the appearance of creepy man skulking about the back of the shop. I only found out about him after he left, but I did make sure to tell everyone to let me know if he showed up again. It wasn't anything he did; he just gave everyone a bad vibe.

I guess I was preoccupied with the boss' computer. I noted her firewall was down, so I called her to ask about it. She explained that her Ebay account was hacked because of a weak password, and when she was corresponding with someone from Ebay to sort out the mess, took her firewall OFFLINE!?! to send them an e-mail. Frankly, I was a flabbergasted! The closest analogy I could think of would be if you were driving along the highway, saw a police barricade up ahead, and instead of slowing to a stop--the reasonable thing to do in said situation--you slammed the gas pedal completely against the floorboard hoping you could jump the gaping chasm ala Dukes of Hazzard! I tried to not sound too incredulous and consequently make her feel unduly defensive, but I don't think I succeeded. I did forget to write my time down, so I hope the boss catches my mistake before the checks go out. I will have to tell her about it soon.

After dinner, I settled in to watch television and surf the internet for cartoons, art inspiration, and illustration tips, something that I do more often these days as I seek to improve my skills. For example, Little Dee is one of the comics that I occasionally surf, and it is a pleasant read, especially seeing it develop as it has. I think Chris Baldwin, the guy who draws it, is really talented, and I missed meeting him at his booth at the Portland Stumptown comic fest this year. Little Dee, for those of you who don't know, is about a silent little girl who lives in the forest with a bear named Ted, a dog named Blake, and vulture named Vachel. One of Vachel's hobbies is knitting, which helps to explain the following bit of inspired creativity, a knitting sea chantey!:

We Rogues of Wool

I have never posted a video before, but this was too good to pass up. One of the reasons that I think it works so well is that the characters are so strong and developed. And, somehow, the combination of characters really manages to evoke a childlike sense of the world and the overall comfort of creation that children seem to feel. It was a nice boost and uplift in what has been a dreary past week or so.

11 November 2007

Bad Surprises 

When it was clear that my graduate school career was pretty much dead, I had to do some hard thinking about what I was going to do next. I was deeply depressed, out of money, way in debt, and had met enough homeless people to know that I was only just a few steps away from sleeping out on the street.

I had spent eight years supporting myself with a bad job and going to Community College. After earning my Associate of Arts degree, I took a leap, got expensive college loans, and transferred to a State University where I spent three years earning my Bachelor of Arts in English. Then, I spent three years trying to meet the demands of grad school. In one way or another, I had been in school for fourteen years in school. Let me repeat, FOURTEEN.

But during grad school, personal troubles, most of which I couldn't help, overwhelmed me, and I found myself facing a personal crisis that, in many ways, is ongoing. In a period of months, I lost my apartment, my girlfriend, my career, and my remaining self-esteem. With the help of counseling and medication, I picked up what pieces I could and re-enrolled in Community College, this time in a design program. However, as a result of the grad school disaster, I am left with my share of emotional scars, one of which is anxiety about being out and around people. It may not make any logical sense, but there are days when I can get ready to go to school, put on my jacket, get my keys, and then find myself sitting on my bed unable to move. This happened to me on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday, I had to work.

So, in class this Monday morning, I find out that the major design project that I believed was due next week is actually due this Wednesday. I am way behind on it. If I had found the emotional fortitude to go school on those three days the previous week, I would still be slightly behind, but I would be in much better shape.

Also, in a discussion of due dates for the remaining weeks of winter term, the instructor asked how many people had their own copies of the software we use in the course, software that costs hundreds of dollars by the way. Everyone--except me--raised their hand. This means that the other students can work on their stuff at home without being required to drive into campus, an hour away from home for me, and can work without having to worry about when the computer lab opens or closes. (The hours for the lab are pretty restricted for a College in my opinion.)

Suddenly realizing this morning that I was imminently facing a poor grade, or a zero, for this major project was depressing. So depressing in fact, that after class I drove the hour it takes to get home, turned off all of the lights in my room, closed the blinds and went to bed and slept for four hours in the middle of the day. When I awoke, I drove back to school and skipped my evening class so I could spend until 9:00 p.m. in computer lab working on the project. At 9:00 p.m., the lab closed.

Desperate, I called my sister and asked her if she could give me the number for the library at her University, which she did. When I called, I found out that it was possible for me to use their computers as a "community member," but only for a limited time, two hours a shot at most. My best option, I realized, was to go home and try to do as much on this project as I could offline. On a hunch that only comes to those who are truly panicked, I discovered that I can download a 30-day trial of the software I need, something I am in the process of doing now. I've spent three hours downloading it so far, and it will probably take a few more hours. The trial software is not going to help me tonight, but it is possible that it will help tomorrow night if I am still not done by then.

It is not at all certain that I will be able to finish this major project in time. Tonight, I was in the lab until it closed, and early Tuesday morning, I will be back again to work all day. And, I am still depressed, but not as much as before.

05 November 2007

Cross Species English 

A bird bit me this morning. Specifically, a cockatiel. And while I thought it would be a nice surprise for the bird to join me in a warm shower, the bird decided it would be a nice surprise to bite the ever-loving fire out of my index finger.

It was one of those cross species misunderstandings that often occur because none of the animals I know can speak English. Heck, none of them even understand English all that well. The dog does much better than the rest, but he has no motivation to improve his meager comprehension unless there is a treat involved somehow. The dog's first and best language is the language of food.

But, if I could intelligently converse with the bird, I would have said something like: "Hey bird, let's go for a shower. I know how you really like playing with the mist and water. And to be totally honest, you seem a little bored of the fabulous vistas of the living room. A visual change of pace might really refresh you." The bird might then be able respond with something like, "Wow that sounds awesome! Let's go!" Or even say, "Gee, I'm not feeling up to that today; I'm stuffed from eating that delicious millet you gave me earlier!" Instead, ignorant of the bird's mood, and faced with the bird's obvious ignorance of my good intentions, I blithely stuck my hand in the cage only to have an ornery bird open up a can of proverbial whoop-@!& on my finger mere seconds later.

Cross-species English could have also helped with the above picture of Busby the cat. I would have been able to ask him to keep his pose for a minute longer so I could properly get his face in focus. As it is, the fence at his feet is in better focus than his face. You may not be able to see the difference in focus all that well with the above small picture, but you can really tell when the picture is at its full size. One of the basic skills of photography seems to be bringing to mind all of the variables and making the corresponding adjustments as quickly as possible before you lose "the shot." I have several more pictures of this cat on that same fence, but they are all terrible. The funny thing to consider though is that in the scant few seconds just before those shots were taken were really great "potential" pictures that are now irretrievably lost to the Fates.

On a personal front, I am still dealing with a lot of anxiety. I make several fantastic plans about what I am going to do in day. I even get dressed up and ready to go, but when it comes to actually getting in the car and driving off in order to put those plans into action, I run into an internal brick wall and sit in my room to stare at the wall instead. I tell myself: "O.K. I'll give myself just another moment, and then I'm off to run my errands or accomplish some meaningful work," but each moment slides by without much of anything happening. I don't want my school to suffer because I am having trouble getting out of the house, and I don't think it will this term, but it's going to be tough. Unless you've been there anxiety-wise, it is hard to understand. Sunday, I am going into work and so, in a sense, I will be forced to get out of the house. But the deadlines for some pretty important school projects are looming, and I am getting more anxious and nervous about finishing them on time. This next week will be crucial.

It seems like in this last year or two, I'm constantly discovering some new facet of feeling, some new emotional scar, that affects me more than I ever would have thought it could. I think I am healing them all and am becoming a better, healthy person for the future, but then again, I wonder if I am making progress or just wishing that I am. If you gain spiritual virtues through suffering, I suppose I am making some spiritual progress despite my seemingly outward failures. Sometimes though, it can be hard to tell.

03 November 2007