Priorities

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Wow, the Vegan New Orleans and Vegan Las Vegas posts are taking a lot longer than expected – I didn’t get them out yesterday like I wanted. But that’s OK, because even more important stuff happened: Thinking Ink Press received the print proofs of THIRTY DAYS LATER, our first fiction anthology, which happens to feature Harry Turtledove. Woot! Here’s Betsy Miller, the author and publisher who did much of the work making the physical copy of this happen:

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I’m normally a hermit, working on my projects, but this past week has been almost totally focused on people: coffee with my thesis advisor talking about the Google, interviews, office moves with my team, coffechats with friends about the mathematical underpinnings of deep learning, dinner with my buddy Nathan Vargas, dinner with my buddy Derek Reubish planning a friends and family trip, and dinner with Derek and our buddy autocross racer Fred Zust catching up after Fred’s wife participated in a big race. No pics of that – I let Derek and Fred handle that chore – so instead I give you pics of the farmer’s wrap I had at Barnes and Noble while waiting for the call that Fred had finally hit town.

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Work is important – I spent the morning working on math and writing prior to meeting Betsy to talk about the page proofs, which itself was another kind of working; and as you see above, I worked while waiting for Fred to arrive.

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But there’s more to life than work. As another buddy, Gene Forrer, just pointed out, THIRTY DAYS LATER wouldn’t exist except for the strong camaraderie of all the authors at Clockwork Alchemy, and as Belinda Messenger-Sikes pointed out, that level of camaraderie among writers is unusual for such a small genre convention.

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But that camaraderie does more than just produce books; it also produces communities, long-lasting friendships, durable associations that pass the test of time. I’m happy to have all the friends I have, and even though I love being a hermit and just working on my work, I enjoy all the time I get to spend with all my friends building and building upon our friendships.

-the Centaur

I cheat …

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… using the following picture of a tree from Jackson Square in New Orleans. Trees can be awesome. What may not be clear is that this branch is spiraling out about thirty or forty feet. Hear, I show it to u:

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Amazing. It just seems to hover, just out of reach.

Trees are awesome.

-the Centaur

For the record …

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… I appear to be about 3 posts behind for the year, depending on how you count it. Blogging every day has been really rewarding in making me open up and try new things with this blog, but man, for a man who complains that he takes on too much, I’m a man who really does have a great skill at taking on too much.

-the Centaur

Not Dead, Just Working

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I haven’t given up on blogging once a day – I just got overwhelmed at work and life and, more importantly, at friendship – hanging out with some of my best buddies and catching up, something I’ve been far too busy to do recently. But this week I put in time with a few good buddies – one from high school, one from the writing group, even one day when I was a bit under the weather working remotely with my laptop in the backyard, which was appreciated by our aging, inappropriately urinating, formerly-indoor cats.

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I was real stressed this week, but, objectively, things are going very well. I saved my threatened project from last year’s craziness and it’s now in use; I started a great new project with my team; even something that we thought was dead long ago got used in a great demo at work. I sent a novel to a publisher; we planned a high school friends trip to Tahoe; things are going well.

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One friend noted I’d been living my life the way I do – overstuffed with work, a full time software job; plus as much as a full time novelist as I can be reading over lunch and dinner, writing over coffee and occasional breakfasts; plus helping manage a small press; plus doing comics – for a while now, and he was worried the stress was getting worse. I see that, but didn’t quite agree.

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I’ve been this stressed before, particularly in the middle of my PhD, when I was two or three years in and thought I had two or three years more to get out … and then found out after three years of work I had several more years to go. I’ve done it to myself, taking on an 80% time job to spend time writing, but then spending a whole year filling my life with karate, improv, and weekly roundtables which filled my whole schedule to the point weeks just disappeared. As the stress builds, you just want to take a break – and if you don’t, as my friend pointed out, things may break anyway.

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Those periods of my life sucked, and in a way this one does too, but in another way, it’s more manageable. My crunch now is not being trapped just by doing too much to myself; it’s like being trapped by my PhD, which got delayed because I had an opportunity to work on a robotics project. Now, while I have a few things to deal with like a wrecked floor at the house, I’m mostly trapped by opportunity: the opportunity to do a great project at work, to write great books, to help bring other books to life.

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I can see an exit strategy – a couple years of work at work, three years of work on my next novels, plus maintenance of the small press and continued practice at comics, and once I get through those things, if they’re even moderately successful, I’ll be in a position of much more creative freedom. So I think it’s important to not lose these opportunities – but on the other hand, it’s pointless to let your opportunities kill you. That’s why today, after I finished booking my next trip, after I finished more readings which hit the intersection of my robotics work and my urban fantasy research, but before I did any more serious work, including this blog entry … I took time out to be creative. To just draw.

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Well, drawing practice because I want to do comic books, but you get the idea.

-the Centaur

Back to Basics

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As a guilt-motivated ex-Catholic with a perfectionist streak, I’m constantly trying to be a better person than I am – religiously, ethically, personally, even at the level of my skills. And one of the best ways I’ve found to improve my skills is not simply to practice, or to push the bounds of your knowledge, but to step back and look again at the basics.

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For some areas of knowledge, this is obvious. We wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with number theory if we hadn’t been willing to go back, again and again, to the definitions of numbers. But it seems less obvious for skills, where our perception often is that first you are a novice, then you become skilled, then an expert, then a master.

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But that road can become a blind alley. Learning from a teacher can channel you into their style; self-taught artistry can create works of great power, but it can also leave you with deficiencies which no amount of further training can improve. Sometimes the only way to get better is to step back, reassess, start over.

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That’s why I like periodically coming back to beginning art instruction books. I find the older references somewhat more informative than the newer ones, perhaps because they’re more methodical, or perhaps because there was a greater concern for representational art – or simply because I’ve read a lot of newer references, making the old ones seem fresh.

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Now, I once heard an artist suggest that you should buy a pile of art instruction books, wrap them in a trash bag, and bury them in your back yard, get a big thick sketchbook and sketch people in coffeehouses until you filled the whole thing, and then, after a year or so, dig them up to start drawing. My wife, however, an accomplished artist, agrees and disagrees with this plan.

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She agrees with the latter two thirds – but not the start. She argues, there are so many things to learn about art that if you tried to start from just sketching, you might end up never making certain discoveries and instead get trapped in rookie mistakes. Your art might have emotional power, but you’d be handicapped if you were aiming for mastery of your tools or representational accuracy.

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I tend to agree. As a scientist, though, I try another approach – not just practice, but “scientific” analysis, at least the initial, data collection part of science: not just doing the practice, but carefully examining how it went, looking for successes and failures, and trying to generalize from them. I can’t double-blind A/B test myself, but I can be mindful about how I practice.

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I pray it’s helping! I have a lot of art I want to do.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Exercises from Andrew Loomis’ DRAWING THE HEAD AND HANDS, folk art from the U.S. Mint in New Orleans, art books in Dauphine Street Books also in New Orleans, and various drawings I’ve done over the years, from long ago (the highly detailed centaur and the copy of the Hemingway cover) to yesterday (the basic circles and analysis of problems with my line).

It was N’awlins, y’all

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As if it wasn’t obvious. Sandi and I spent the week there in New Orleans’ French Quarter – we never left it, never even rented a car, but just walked around, soaking in history and food. It was awesome, I have much to talk about, but, following the rules we’ve established, it wasn’t a business trip, so the details had to wait until my return.

I have returned. Expect a post on Vegan New Orleans soon. (Not a contradiction in terms!)

-the Centaur

I Think I’m Calling It

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Welp, looks like I’m not going to Comic-Con this year. My fault – I had a Professional registration, but received my renewal email when I was working to get a novel to the publisher and read the REGISTRATION DUE email as NOT DUE. Found out like the day after the professional registration closed. And then, even though I was reading the Toucan blog that announces such things, I was so busy working on another project that I missed Attendee Preregistration. And, as of now, even though I’m in line … it’s sold out:

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That happened while I was typing the above paragraph. At this point, three of the five days are sold out. My favorite night, preview night, sold out first:

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Comic-Con is awesome and overwhelming. I’d wondered if I would go back this year, but if I was not to go back, I’d prefer not to go back, like, on purpose, not through oversight, accident and bad luck. I look forward to going again next year. But perhaps I should focus less on going like a fan and more on doing the work that will get me invited there as a guest.

As my wife would say, focusing on making my next creative project spectacular.

-the Centaur

Update: while posting this …

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O.M.G. While TYPING that …

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Yeah, this ain’t Cave Johnson, but we’re done here.

Disruption

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Nothing lasts forever. Appreciate things while they’re there, because one day they’ll be gone. You will too.

-the Centaur

Are you threatening me?

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Overheard from my life:

Me (talking a bit too fast): “So, it’s like filankatyafolio—“

Interlocutor (a bit surprised): “Are you … threatening me?”

Me: “I meant Phil and Kaja Foglio, of Girl Genius.”

I mean, I knew they were influential, but until now I didn’t know their names were killing words.

-the Centaur

Doppelgangers

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On two sides of the country, there’s a restaurant named after a city, serving the cuisine known from the region. They’re both high end, they’re both distinctive, and they’re both excellent … but they’re, as far as I know, completely unrelated to each other.

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They’re not one of a kind … but they are pretty damn good.

More on what and where they are after the trip is over.

-the Centaur