Positive Thinking

Let's start off with a comic.  While it's clearly based on me (the circumstances referenced are perhaps a little unique), I have exaggerated things for comedic purposes, so don't read into anything too much. :-)

A common thing these days among people in their late twenties and early thirties seems to be "impostor syndrome" where we lose perspective on our achievements.  I often find myself falling down these thought-holes where it feels like *nothing* is working and I'm just spinning my wheels with no forward progress.  Anxiety takes over and I cease to be able to relax and have fun doing the things I love.  

Midweek this past week I hit one of those points and, knowing how ridiculous I was being, just kinda let myself run with it.  Drawing this actually really helped put it in perspective and gave me a few laughs at the same time.  The punchline doesn't quite land like I wanted it to (I'd reword it if I had another go at it), but I think it gets the rough idea across. 

Sometimes we can really be our own worst enemies.  Just gotta remind ourselves to try and have fun with it... and draw silly faces.



P.S. I apologize for the Jimmy Neutron hair.  I'm going to play around with other stuff.

Can't build nothing without no thought... or measurements

Designing and executing something creative for someone is a curious process.  Stressful and curious.  

Being still relatively new to woodworking, most of the stuff I've built has been motivated by needs I have or my own whims to create.  Often there is both a pragmatic bent into which I convolve some decorative and technical elements of woodworking.  There's little fear of getting things too wrong since as long as it functions in the end and looks better than Target or Ikea furniture (sorry, canonical examples...) I'll call it a success.  Similarly, there's little pressure if you have something built and someone takes a look at it, likes it and offers to buy it.  But when someone is going to invest money in you, your ideas, without ever seeing something first, well that's a bit of a different story.

Considering furniture, thus far I've built a couple of tables, a "desk" (the computer desk on which I'm currently writing this), a headboard, and am halfway through a chair.  The only thing I've been paid to build was the headboard, which was also the only thing that I didn't design from the ground up since Ally knew very clearly what she wanted.  The headboard was also far enough outside of my normal "style" of woodworking that I wouldn't even add it to a portfolio.  Everything else I'm incredibly pleased with, would be happy to show to anyone, and the general feedback I've gotten has been very positive.  So it's all good right?

I've been wringing my hands lately over the design of a bookshelf I offered to build for a friend.  Ok, not just a friend, the woman who I've been seeing and am quite taken with (but don't tell her I said that...).  I think part of the hand-wringing can be attributed to *really* not wanting to screw things up, but the bulk of it is just having to face the reality of disappointing someone or failure.  

Quite a bit of time has passed since I've engaged in a truly "creative" endeavor where my creativity and skill were being laid on the line for someone else to evaluate.  What's more is that I've never really done that with money involved, which, while I wish it didn't, adds a pressure that is just a reality that exists.  In fact, I don't think I've ever quite done anything like this, and of course, the person for whom I'm building it doesn't add ANY pressure to the situation... right? hah!

I am not a designer. I hope one day that woodworking and design flow very naturally into one another for me, but up to this point, I'm still very fresh faced and just trying to find my way.  When I survey across the landscape of woodworking that I see right now, it's staggering how many beautiful pieces and talented folks there are.  Since I am neither an accomplished woodworker or designer, I find myself asking "what can I bring to the table that no one else out there can?"  Sure I can cook up decorative designs, simple and streamlines pieces, heavy and rustic tables, but just building a piece of furniture isn't really what drives me to want to be involved in this world.  

Wharton Esherick was a sculptor, artist, designer, furniture-maker who worked primarily in wood that I think really got it "right."  While there aren't particularly many pieces of his furniture I would want in my home, he made many of his pieces with not only the space into which it was going in mind, but also the person for whom it was meant and purpose for which it was intended.  The pieces were unique, artistic, creative, well-executed and well-built.  While my particular tastes in furniture aesthetic may be different, those are goals that I would like to achieve in the things I build.

In trying to come up with a design for this bookshelf, I have vacillated between simple, complex, asymmetrical, precise, live-edge, straight boards, joined, mitered, and any other adjectives you can possibly come up with to describe a bookshelf.  Mostly, I just want to build a solid, beautiful piece of furniture that would feel right in most spaces.  Truthfully, at the same time I really want to try and capture the person for whom it is intended, as well imbue it with a little bit of my own "personality" in furniture design.  

At this point, you're definitely thinking "he's overthinking it," but truthfully, I'm going to push back and say no.  Ok, well, a little, but not entirely.  One can go online these days to Etsy or Pinterest and find a thousand pieces of furniture that will serve your needs and are well built, but there's no inherent character or personality in 95% of them.  I could churn out furniture (ok, not "churn" out since I have two other jobs, but could make a lot more than I do) if I just bough slabs of wood, finished them and then screwed some metal legs into the bottom of them and called them rustic, reclaimed, hand-built, live-edge wooden furniture.  But what's the point of grinding through like that when I'm doing it for my enrichment as much as anything else?  For me, that would rob this whole process of value and I'd rather quit than do it.

If I'm building something for someone I can't help but ask what I can give them that no one else can, and also, what can wood give them that no other material can?  What are the properties of the woods that get used and how does that affect construction and meaning?  Are the joints unique and what personality do they have? Are all of the angles in the construction square; if not, why?  Not all of this needs to get relayed to the person receiving the piece (and most likely won't lest I truly sound like a crazy person), but I believe that it affects the final product.  In the stuff I build, I would like the details to have intent, whether pragmatic, construction-related, or decorative and while I don't want to kill folks with artificial levels of "meaning," I do want there to be a depth they couldn't get from anyone else.  Even if it doesnt necessarily get seen, I believe it gets felt in the finished product.

Daniel Miller is a metal smith and a close family friend whose work is astonishing.  On top of the pure aesthetic complexity and beauty he achieves, there is also tremendous skill and mastery of his craft.  Everything he does has incredible levels of meaning and depth and to hear him discuss his work is to truly appreciate a piece that has had thought put into every detail present.  His work is my ideal, albeit in a different medium.  I won't talk too much about it, but I hope that you'll go check it out to get a sense of what I'm talking about.  I will add that even the grain of the metal he uses is intentional.  (Did you even know that metal can have grain? :-))  Search the names of some of his pieces too to get a little more information about the story each one tells.

Finally, since just about this whole post has been about woodworking, here's a little sculpture I finished up the other night.  I give it a 3.5/5.  I'm happy with it, but it's not quite as well executed as I had hoped. I've photographed it from the side I like the most, so it's a somewhat biased representation of the actual piece, but yeah. Hope you like it. :-)

And with that very long, very rambly, potentially overthought post I'm off to bed.  Goodnight y'all.


Back to the known

Oof.  I feel it's only appropriate to start with this comic I drew about getting home from the holidays:

Holiday comics: The fallout

You'll have to excuse my fourth grade vocabulary and sentence structure tonight.  I really just want to post something, but don't have a ton of energy to write any beautiful, breathtaking prose this evening.  That and it's mostly just a dump of drawings and pictures from the holidays.

The holidays this year were wonderful, but exhausting.  It was amazing to see everyone, and I seriously feel like I saw EVERYONE this year, but I think being out of my routine for so long, not eating well, and not having my typical time-occupying activities such as woodworking, cats or work just flat wore me out.  I ended doing a ton of drawing, a fair bit of which has ended up on the sketchbook page.

I drew a couple more comics about the holidays with some KILLER jokes:

Holiday comics: dad joke?

Holiday comics: The moral here is that most people on airplanes are garbage people.

I mostly just saw people I wouldn't otherwise get to see!  Kyle and Lea were wonderful enough to fly my ass up to Vermont for New Years.  I miss those guys so much and wish that we didn't all live a billion miles away from each other.  One day I think we'll all end up on a commune up in Vermont or Montana or something and all will be well, but until then it's a bummer that I only get to see them a couple of times a year.  

Kyle and I actually flew out of a Chuck-E-Cheese adjacent to Dulles airport.  

Lea's beautiful mountain resort home.  I made that wreath!  No wire or anything, just fir branches. :-)

One of my favorite parts of Vermont New Year is that we can't do it without a fire.

Awwww.  I love them.

I've taken a brief hiatus from working on the chair in favor of a sculpture I've had in my head for the last few months.  I'm going to hold off on posting any pictures since I *think* I should be able to finish it up tomorrow or Monday.  

I think that's all for tonight everyone!  I'll leave you with this insane double rainbow I saw on my walk home the other day.  Who says walking home in a downpour is a bad idea?!  Totally worth it. 

I'm speechless.  It was jarring it was so bright.

Ok, well I'll actually leave you with this beauty shot of Mr. Kitty.  I think he had a hard holiday too...

Holiday cats: the fallout.



This is not the post I planned to make

I've been meaning to post something for a while now. I have a folder of "ideas in waiting" to be written upon, but I'll be damned if I'm ever going to get around to them.  Maybe at some point.  Lately I've been pretty snagged on coming up with an idea for my qualifier.  I did produce this mediocre comic about it though:

Our qualifier at UCLA is, instead of a comprehensive exam like most Ph.D. programs, is a mock grant proposal.  The tricky thing with it is that it can't be a project that we're going to actually carry out, but something that we're interested enough in to (1) come up with a pretty novel question and experiment and (2) write 12 pages about how we would carry out said experiment.  I think I like this format more than the comprehensive exam, but I am STRUGGLING to come up with a decent idea to work on.  I DO think I have some decent idea for what I actually want to do my dissertation on, which is probably more important in the big scheme of things.

In happier news, my technical note/paper on my recontstruction software was accepted to Medical Physics the other day!  I'll definitely post a link once it's published, which will hopefully be early in the new year.

Frankly, I'm really ready for vacation, really distracted for a number of reasons, and without a work project that I'm particularly interested in.  The state of the news is bumming me out too.  They canceled school for the entirety of the LA Unified School District (640,000 kids) because of a vague "terrorist" threat against "multiple unspecified locations" that had to do with "packages and backpacks."  Really? I dunno, I guess put in the superintendent's shoes it's tough to know what call any of us would make, but it just seems more and more like the people in charge of the world around us (see all of the republican presidential candidates, and just about all of congress) are, more and more, playing into all of the pitfalls I just pray that they wouldn't.  

Despite the tone here, things are going really well.  I'm making good progress on a chair I'm building, which unfortunately I haven't been posting any pictures of, but I haven't totally screwed it up yet!  As the design has actually taken shape, I'm not particularly happy with it, but there's plenty of wood present to shape it into something really nice. I'm really excited for that part. :-)  I made the leg dowls two nights ago and just need to join them to the seat, then I get to shape the everything and finish!  This way, each chair in the final set (I'm pretty sure there are going to be four when all is said and done) is going to be unique, which is actually pretty important for the set.  I'll write more on this in a different post (ANOTHER post that will most likely take quite a while to get written).  

It's starting to look vaguely like a chair!  So very many joints.  So many.

I was going to write about the camera simulations I've programmed but that's going to have to wait a little longer (besides, I think maybe one or two people who stumble through here would care/understand).  Perhaps that'll be what I do on the flight back to NC on Saturday since a on a flight is where I wrote the code initially! 

So for tonight, I think I'm going to leave it here with some beautiful pictures of the kitties, since I know that's what everyone truly comes here for.  

I... I don't even know.

Mr. Kitty is a boss

Ms. Kitty wearing her bandana.  It's basically the best thing ever.

Goodnight everyone!



Well I was pretty much ready to pop out of bed at 5:00 this morning.  Not that that's too terribly different from when I normally wake up, but the level to which I was ready to go was a little atypical.  I managed to hold it together until about 5:45 and was then too restless to keep feigning sleep. It would appear that I'm in decent company as a morning person since Guillermo Del Toro has been tweeting since five and I don't think he lives too far away from here.  My only gripe about slowly becoming more and more of a morning person is that I'm 26: my peers, in large part, prefer the variation where you stay up and out late and then sleep in until late, and I don't need anything else preventing me from falling in with my peer group.  I can stay up plenty late if the occasion calls for it.  In fact, late nights are kind of like early mornings to me and I'll sometimes push past two or three in the morning when working on a project or just enjoying the quiet.  I prefer the hours and places of the day where things are less intense and there are just generally fewer people.  Now the challenge is just finding a few people who share that sentiment.  

This post is hopefully not going to be too long.  I'm taking a personal day from UCLA to run a bunch of errands that I haven't been able to make time for, as well as catch up on Toshiba work, which has fallen woefully behind schedule.  I just kinda need to post something to shake myself out of some thought-loops I've managed to get into in the last 72 hours.  

Today's Questionable Content (transcript) is actually what I woke up thinking about (I read it last night since they usually go up sometime between 10 and midnight the night before): 

By Jeph Jacques, questionablecontent.net. &nbsp;A little hard to get caught up on the story/relationships, but very much enjoyable when you do!

By Jeph Jacques, questionablecontent.net.  A little hard to get caught up on the story/relationships, but very much enjoyable when you do!

Sitting alone in the hotel bar after my talk in Chicago was pretty lonely.  After Friendsgiving this year I also felt pretty out of sorts.  I can't put my finger on it, but sometimes I really love the feeling of being outside of the world where everyone is so busy and has a place to be, somewhere to go, people to see, social obligations, etc.  That night at the hotel bar, I did not love that feeling.  It felt like being the kid who didn't get invited to the parties but also didn't have a charismatic band of misfits to go adventuring with.  It was after that that I went out on my walk to Navy Pier because I just couldn't take the thought of settling in for the evening, alone, at 7:30.  In those moments I tend to start having a lot of thoughts like Dora's (black shirt in the comic).  

Friendships and relationships are really some of the most rewarding things that we have the luxury of experiencing in our lives.  They can be cantankerous, stressful, confusing, but an hour of the feeling you get when you're really "in it" with someone else or a group of people is really an unparalleled experience. That "in it" phrase is meant in the Garden State sense, when Natalie Portman says to Zach Braff: "My mom always says that when she can see I’m working something out in my head, she’s like ‘you’re in it right now.’ And I’m looking at you, and you’re telling me this story... you’re definitely in it right now." (but I suppose we shouldn't exclude other potential meanings).  

Fulfilling friendships and relationships, the ones that are so damn hard to find, all have a shared flow state element.  I've talked about flow states here before, in regards to personal projects, and also mentioned that there are no other feelings I'd rather feel more, but the only thing superior to experiencing it on your own is experiencing it with another person or people.  

It's the time in between those states of flow that's a bitch.  I've found that when there are people around me who inspire that feeling, it throws into relief the time where I previously might've been content spending my time in solitude, and that conjures up all sorts of crazy self-doubt and Dora-like thoughts, mainly about why and how all of it is going to disappear in the near future.  As of late, I'm beginning to appreciate that this is... perhaps... not entirely normal.  I think everyone has those moments, but, without going into too much detail, I have a tendency to get to some next level shit.  I quickly eschew all sorts of rational perspective in favor of all of the reasons why it's better for me to sever all ties, move up on a mountain, get a dog, start a farm/woodworking thing, and retire from society.  All those things are just a metaphor for saying "stop trying with other people" and "move to a place where I don't have to be surrounded by people all of the time."  That perhaps sounds a little grim and dramatic, but for some reason, I often feel less lonely when I really am alone.  My brain is really stupid sometimes.  

I don't have any solutions for it other than that I actually feel a little more sane after writing this.  I'm always inclined to lay out just where my head is, that kind of honesty is one of the few things that makes me feel better, but I don't want people to think I'm *too* crazy, which is why I tend to hold back.  The extent to which I've thought about things can be also overwhelming and I'd hate to alienate someone because of that.  I'd love posts like this to be viewed as all of the things that I want to say all the time, but don't because I actually AM a pretty reasonable and together person. haha.  

Holding back is a tricky game though, because you can quickly start being dishonest about who you really are and find yourself pretending to be someone your not; in the long run that's worse than being rejected for being yourself. I think I've been playing that game a little too much over the last year and a half.  I don't want that to happen any more.

Phew.  I know the number of words doesn't really reflect it, but it's taken me a little over two hours to get to this point.  I guess I should start the rest of my day and try and get out of my head for a little bit.  I wrote a pretty fun little physics simulation on the plane yesterday that I'm going to do a post about later today or tomorrow.  It's a little technical (but reasonably simple), but I've been pretty good about posting more personal stuff/art/woodworking so it's time to do one for me!

If you've made it this far, wow! If you've made it this far and would still talk to me, even better. :-)

I leave you with this quote from Mike Burbiglia that I love about insecurity, meeting people, and connecting:

Deep down, our whole lives, no matter how low our self-esteem gets, we think, I have secret special skill that no one knows about and if they knew they’d be amazed. And then eventually we meet someone who says,‘You have a secret special skill.’
And you’re like, ‘I know! So do you!’
And they’re like, ‘I know!’
And then you’re like, ‘We should eat pizza ice cream together.’
— Mike Burbiglia, Sleepwalk with Me

Here's to all of our collective secret special skills.