July 27, 2017

On the Subject of Books

I’m deep in the post-San Diego Comic-Con recovery period, so forgive my lateness. My feet are like blocks of blow-torched concrete, I’m peeling from sunburn, and my bank account is empty. Yes, I had a wonderful convention!  More about that later.

In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, there is a rather famous bookstore.  You maybe familiar with Powell’s City of Books, which took an entire city block of warehouses and melded them into one giant store. It has shelves stacked full to its 15′ ceilings, with every kind of book imaginable: old, new, rare, and out-of-print. If Powell’s doesn’t have it, good luck to you in finding it, because they have pretty much everything.

You have your version of heaven…this is mine.

Portland, in large part thanks to places like Powell’s, has become a nerd Shangri-La. As hipsterish as it is to say, though, I was here long before it was cool.

Remember I said I grew up kind of poor, so I didn’t often get books of my own (this may be a reason why I insist on having a massive personal library now as an adult, to the detriment of any other kind of storage space). Instead I regularly haunted my school and local libraries, devouring stories like a tiny elder god, merciless in my pace. However, every now and again I would get to visit a book store and claim a paper world for my very own.

My mother worked for the Oregon Symphony way back then (sometime in the halcyon days of the mid-80’s), and would often make my siblings and I her slave labor force, stuffing envelopes with fundraiser flyers for the symphony. Our reward for these long papercut-laced days was $5 and an hour to spend it where we liked. One of these days when I was alone in my envelope-stuffing, she mentioned Powell’s was only six short blocks away, drew me a map, and turned me loose. (Pause for a second while I explain that back then it was totally okay to allow a 8 to 9-year-old to wander by herself in the downtown core…yes, it’s unthinkable now. Then, nobody batted an eye. Cool?  Cool.)

The doors were too heavy to open by myself, I remember. Someone helped me, with a great big smile, and my thank you died on my lips as I saw the labyrinth of shelves immediately in front of me, ramps and aisles leading into the distance, all completely full. Today, when you enter Powell’s there is a map, and a brochure you can use to keep from getting lost. Back then, there was nothing but signs pointing in random directions for the rooms in all colors in of the rainbow.

I couldn’t trace on a map how I traveled through the store, aisle by aisle, running my fingers along the spines as I walked, stopping to read titles, and pulling the more interesting ones off the shelves to read the back covers. No idea how long it took me to find the children’s section, but when I did, I may have squealed and done a little jig in the aisle. The section was laid out like a storeroom, with nooks large enough for one to two kids on bean bags surrounded by shelves on three sides. I can still smell the dusty paper and floor cleaner in that tiny nook of little girl books, dimly lit from the overcast sky through a distant window.

It’s amazing how fast delight can go to dismay when you realize how little $5 will get you in such a paradise, even at mid-80’s prices. Discovering that the used books were much cheaper, I started ruthlessly culling the shelves of their $0.99 quarry. I had piles of books, mountains of them still. How to decide which would be mine?

I’d like to say that I grabbed classics and timeless literature to treasure forever, but I’d be lying. Children don’t value great literature, I’m sad to say, that only comes with age and experience. I’m pretty sure I ended up with at least one Babysitter’s Club book, a few horse books, and a couple of princess stories. I can promise that while they weren’t the kind of literature with staying power, they were very much loved by my little-girl self.

Thinking back on it, I probably left an unholy mess of discarded books behind me as I went in search of the registers. Sorry, Powell’s people! If it makes you feel better, at one point in my life a little more than a decade later, I was in charge of a Barnes and Noble children’s section which was destroyed on an hourly basis, so you have some karmic payback there. The swath of destruction created by an unsupervised child has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Thus, I am now deeply apologetic for any such messes I left in my youth.

Once bought (and forever grateful that Oregon has no sales tax, thus ensuring that I got to keep all five books instead of having to put one back), I’m pretty sure I read them over and over until they fell apart.  I don’t remember all the stories, but I remember how they felt. They felt like adventure. They felt like happiness. They felt like I was there and doing what each protagonist was doing, because each protagonist was a little girl like me.

Wind this back around to today, where I am writing stories for little girls, for the same reason. It’s kind of a neat little loop…if I ever finish one of these projects or make it into an anthology.

In the meantime, here’s every age-appropriate Neil Gaiman book to tide you over:

Coraline – In an odd, twisty house full of odd, twisty people, little Coraline finds a door to world very much like her own…or is it? Full of weird and wonderful characters, it tweaks the emotions as it reminds you where you started as a child, and how to be brave in the face of the unthinkable.

The Graveyard Book – The first line says everything in this book: “In the dark was a hand, and in the hand was a knife.” The prose is spare and delightful, wielded like that knife. Nobody lives in the graveyard, raised by ghosts for his own protection, but he must rejoin the living eventually.

Odd and the Frost Giants – Odd is just that, not quite the Viking that his family had hoped for with a crippled leg, to boot. But he is clever, and when he gets mixed up with the full bevy of Norse gods and their antics, he comes out shining.

Fortunately, the Milk – If you were the recipient of a father with an extra serving of imagination, the way I was, you will doubly appreciate this wild tale of exotic adventure on the way to the corner market for milk. Also contains space dinosaurs, which is of more than passing interest to yours truly.

While some people may say that the first two books are too scary for young children, remember: Children already know that monsters exist. They know this with every fiber of their tiny beings. What scary stories teach them is that monsters can be killed, and that children like them can do it.

Now go forth, and read something amazing!

Week 5 of ? of the weekly writing project


July 16, 2017

The Big San Diego Art Show Post

Well, folks, I did promise that I’d do a more in depth post on the bits and bobs I’m putting in the San Diego Comic-Con Art Show next week, so here we go!

I started by listing pretty much everything I might ever want to make.  This totaled about 35ish different kanzashi. Everything got weighed by feasibility and constructability (remember I’m still an entry-level sculptor, and I have no experience yet at wiring and armature…which now I think of it, could make an awesome goal for next year). Material options were weighed (Kermit the Frog must be made of felt. He must. Black Widow must be made of black leather. She MUST).

The list expanded because people kept suggesting things and then I really wanted to make them.  Then it subtracted as I started cutting things that I didn’t think I had the chops to make (I wanna sculpt a Gelfling, you guys, and a Skeksis, in the WORST WAY. But…I am just not skilled enough. SOMEDAY, my hair will terrify and awe passerby. That will not be next week, alas).

After the list was crunched and crunched and I went through a book of sticky notes (this is the most old school thing I do. All my lists of to dos and budgets and things are all on sticky notes…I know, I’m a dinosaur), I had a light bulb moment. An Iron Man kanzashi would be pretty neat. An Iron Man with glowing blue eyes would be an awesome thing that must exist in the world, via my hands. So I added mild electrical work into the mix. Then I thought of three or four more people that needed glowing eyes, for posterity, so they got added too.

You thought I was kidding about the sticky notes. Weep, O mortals, and despair.

Note: sculpting proper channels for LED placement is not for the amateur. I did it anyway. I like the results, but your mileage may vary. Everything I do is an experiment, and they are not all successful. Plan for this if you intend to try this stuff yourself. Buy extra supplies, and be prepared to modify on the fly. Also, accept that some things you make are just not going to be the best, and be ready to drop them and move on.

ON TO THE THINGS:

The Doctor Who Group

Old Who

New Who

Dalek and Blue Who

I’ve mentioned previously that I made a bunch of Doctor Who kanzashi for the Gallifrey One art show earlier this year. It was a no-brainer to include some of these in this show, so I did so. Many. Doctors. And a Dalek, a Weeping Angel, and a Tardis. Note that I was super tempted to make the Tardis glowy, and had to cut it for lack of production time. I lament this, and it will exist someday.

The Star Wars Group

Wooooookie *gggharrrll*

I had a lot of fun making these. Chewbacca was a happy accident resulting from getting fuzzy brown fur for something else. Leia had to happen, because the lack of Carrie Fisher in the world still makes me incredibly sad. And since I had a Leia, I needed a Rey. And you can’t do Star Wars without the droids. The droids are totally necessary (also, I’d already done a BB8, so I had that design mapped already). Then the glowy-eyed inspiration hit: JAWA. Must have an orange-eyed Jawa. …Star Wars has too many characters. I could have continued this list forever. Had to draw the line somewhere. I’m hoping The Last Jedi inspires me to do more of these next year!

The Marvel Group

The ones I didn’t make but wanted to was three stickies long…

This is all Captain America’s fault. I made a shield for the 4th of July, and it just downward spiraled from there. Glowy-eyed Iron Man is the cause of many a sleepless hour of wire-tweaking, sculpey-poking, and general suffering. And since I had those two, I decided I needed Black Widow because we need more sassy Russian spy up in this board. And wait! Black Panther is coming out this year! He could also have glowy-eyes! Also, I love Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel…and the world needs more Baby Groot. Essentially, the black hole that is the Marvel character database almost got me. Luckily for us all, I skipped blithely off the event horizon and ran screaming for my life. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more of these in the future, just that time constraints limited me this go round.

The DC Group

WONDER WOMAN *fangirls* Adam Weeeest *sad*

I am ashamed to say that DC is not usually my wheelhouse. However, Wonder Woman came out, and it was THE BEST. Then Adam West died, and so there had to be tribute of some kind for the many hours he entertained me during my childhood. And then it seemed kind of mean to have Wonder Woman and Batman, but no Superman. This category may expand in the future, dependent heavily on how I feel about the Justice League movie. I have…hope? But also caution.

The Video Games Group

PacMan’s petals have ghost eyes, and the ? Box has hand-drawn brick. Woo!

Why am I the only Valor player? *wibble*

I am an Atari and original Nintendo generation kid. This isn’t to say that I don’t still play games (my Steam catalog is…somewhat staggering), but the classics hold a special place in my heart. I tried to hit just a few of my favorites with Mario, Zelda, Pokemon and Metroid, but ran out of time for more. I am open to suggestions for deepening this in the future! (Yes, those are Pokemon Go teams in the back. Yes, I’m still playing. Yes, I am aware that they scheduled a convention thing in Chicago during the same time slot as San Diego. If they release legendaries during that event, I will loose a reign of blood and terror upon my hotel bar. Life is cruel sometimes.)

The Ghibli Group

IT’S SO FLUFFEH

Which should really be the Totoro group, except the version of the Soot Sprites I used was from Spirited Away and look sometimes the fluffy things just call to me, okay? Pet the Totoro if you get a chance. He is SO SOFT. I have so many things I need to make on this list. Someday there will be more awesome. SOMEDAY.

The Miscellaneous Leah-Loves-Them Things

Muppets and TMNT, both at one time made by Henson. Both awesome. Coincidence? I think not.

I couldn’t have a nerdcraft group of things without some Ninja Turtles in it. I just couldn’t. I’m incapable of passing it up, and because the challenge of glowing ninja eyes was a call too strong to ignore. Getting my Muppet on with Kermit the Frog also was a call too strong to resist.

They all shine so very pretty!

All of these pieces are available at the San Diego Comic-Con Art Show from Thursday July 20th to Saturday July 22nd. Please note that the Art Show is NOT in the convention center this year! They moved it over in the Hyatt, Grand Ballroom C & D. The whole art show is always worth a look, and this year it’s even open to the public (no badge needed). My stuff is priced both for bid and quick sale, between $15-$30.  Come check it out!


July 10, 2017

On Making a Difference

The big San Diego Comic-Con crafting update is coming later this week. I’m finishing up the bits and pictures and it will be posted by this weekend!

In less nerdy but still pretty interesting (to me!) news, I made a thing!  It’s called the Personal Health Information Tracker, and I’m trying to get it prototyped and perfected and manufactured, which is much harder than you’d think. Given, I am a third year computer engineering student with no practical real world experience in making things. Gotta start somewhere, I guess!

Why would someone with no experience in making health and fitness gear go for broke off the cuff? Well, it’s not entirely out of the blue, I promise. You’ll recall that I spent the better part of five years helping to take care of my very sick dad before he passed. That situation was full of stress and pitfalls, one of the biggest of which was my dad needed constant monitoring. There were so many organs failing and his medications were so delicately balanced that he’d pass out or crash a couple of times a week. Growing up in an environment that stated he had to be a strong, independent man, my dad hated, no, loathed being babysat or chauffeured around. Anything that would have allowed him the smallest measure of freedom from the constant, constant oversight from family, friends and medical professionals would have eased that stress.

The reason he needed constant oversight is illustrated by my friend Erica’s story. Erica is a seven-time cancer survivor (wait, is it eight now? Nine? I’ve honestly lost count, as disturbing as that is). She is so used to going about her life after procedures that would leave the rest of us whimpering in a hospital bed that she went shopping after getting a large chunk of her brain completely obliterated by radiation. While alone in her van in a parking lot, she suffered a grand mal seizure; she wasn’t found for hours.

She was lucky. She survived this in spite of that long spate between going down and being found. In so, so many instances, a medical emergency while alone is fatal. So how to balance the need to live your life unfettered with the need to protect and monitor you in case the worst should happen?

Like I said, I made a thingy. I looked online to see if my thingy existed, something that would monitor vitals, alert your choice of people if something went wonky with your vitals, and give them your problem and location so they could get you help ASAP.

But doesn’t that exist already? Surely, that exists already. Nope. There’s a thing that’ll help if you pass out in your house, but it’s tethered, no leaving without your base unit…and it doesn’t tell anyone why you passed out (which helps the medical professionals a lot). So my goal was to make it go anywhere, do anything, and get you the help you need. NBD. Just magic.

Seriously, though, there’s a competition in Germany where, if you’re one of the top nine finalists, you get to go to Hamburg and build things with German Engineers. Commence the engineer squeezing. I want this so, so bad. Not just because I’ve never been to Europe and how fun would that be? But also because Germans are the badasses of the engineering world, and they would science the sh*t out of my prototype, making it not just workable but AWESOME.

There’s some stiff competition for this thing, but I remain hopeful. I’ll find out next week if I’m a finalist…so right now I am ALL THE STRESS. Harnessing this, I shall make more things for Comic-Con. ON TO MORE CRAFTY THINGS.


July 3, 2017

On Rainbow Penguins, Nails and Birds

Work on kanzashi continues apace, with a record 35 different styles to be completed by convention time, at least. I’ve been knuckle deep in Sculpey, making everything from superhero emblems to faces to 8-bit scenery to candies.

Oh, and rainbow penguins. I swear that’s not as much of a non sequitur as it sounds. You see, last year my friend Jenn (of Dsgngrl crochet fame) made a penguin out of this great rainbow yarn.  It was adorable, and when she posted the preview of it on Instagram to let people know it would be for sale at the Womanthology Artist’s Alley table, the response was…enthused, to say the least.

For all four days of the convention, people tracked down the table, looking for that penguin.  They had to make a sign saying they were sold out (Jenn even frantically made more in the hotel room at night).  There was community-wide disappointment.  My artist friend Chandra (of Greystone Studios fame) started doing rainbow penguin sketches to alleviate some of the pain.

You know how they say that you don’t choose what you become famous for?  Well, people are already asking for the rainbow penguins again. It’s become something of a symbol for our group (Studio?  Conclave? Guild?). Jenn is crocheting penguins, Chandra is drawing penguins, so I figured I had better ought to make us some brightly colored rainbow penguins.

I think I succeeded? They are definitely rainbow.  And penguins. Alas, they lack the dapper top hat.

So if you happen to see a bright rainbow penguin in someone’s hair during Comic-Con, you’ve found us.  In all our rainbow penguin glory.  Thereby to gain crocheted, drawn, or folded fabric cuteness for the greater good of all.

(I promise I will do a full post for the nerdy kanzashi soon. They’re mostly still in process, but they are coming out FABULOUS.)

In somewhat unfortunate news, my geek crafty schedule was somewhat hampered by a manifestation of my bizarre injury curse. My day job involves the local transit company and the engineering of new light rail lines, so I ride the bus and train a lot (for free, which is nice since I can’t afford parking). Because seats are at a premium, I walk many, many blocks to get to the stations early enough on the line for there to be places to plant my butt.  These walks are usually about 12-15 blocks, roughly 3/4 of a mile.  Having invested in proper hiking sandals makes this walk very tolerable, and I get my daily step count in with a minimum of bloody injury. In the usual course of things.

There is a construction site along said route, and for the most part they are neat and tidy about their wanton demolition of historic brick buildings. This day, however, neither they nor I could avoid the curse. The curse says that if too much time passes between bizarre accidents, the simulation will recognize itself and we all die, so the Matrix must glitch with regularity.

All this fancy lead up is to explain that I stepped on a nail. But not in the normal way, because that would make sense. ANYONE can step on a nail THROUGH their shoe. That kind of injury is for amateurs. Not for me, and unsatisfactory for the fulfillment of the curse criteria. In some magic convergence of physics, I managed to kick a random nail (probably a byproduct of the aforementioned construction site) with my sandal, pick up my foot to catch it in a perfect arc in the heel cup of my sandal, and wedge it between my foot and the sandal at the perfect angle to impale me. So in spite of all the evolutionary advantages gained by the invention of footwear, I still stepped on a nail with my bare foot…in shoes.

Not only did I step on it, I also didn’t recognize it for what it was. My brain went, “Ow, there is a rock in my sandal!” and I raised my foot, shook it vigorously to dislodge the foreign object, and stepped down again, further impaling my foot on said tiny weapon.

You know that moment when your brain goes, “Oh dear. This is not the normal amount of pain I expected in this situation” and you start to break out in a cold sweat? Yeah, that, but with questing fingers to find a bloody goddamned nail in your heel, sunk in about half its length. Then your brain abruptly jolts into fight or flight, and you stupidly yank out the nail because you don’t want to step on it again, forgetting that you are in the middle of a sidewalk with no access to medical care and nothing to stem the blood that comes spurting out now that you’ve removed the blockage.

Bless the people at the Chipotle on the corner next to the train station. Bless them for not asking questions as I hopped in, gore-dripping hands clenched around one foot.  They handed me a fist full of napkins and the bathroom code in about 10 seconds flat. Five minutes later, about 20 napkins wedged under my foot and relatively cleansed of bloody smears, I returned to the counter to buy dinner, because hell if I was going to stop anywhere else along the way home to get food.

They gave me a discount, because sympathy is worth 15% off carnitas bowls with a side of hobbling.

Luckily this is not my first impalement this decade, so I am current on my Tetanus shot. I got home, chucked the sandal in a bucket of Oxiclean, did a Epsom salt soak for the wound and bandaged the hell out of it. A week later and I’m relatively limp free. Glitch thrown, Matrix rebooted, simulation continues. UNTIL NEXT TIME.

We attempt to return to our regular crafting channel, wherein fabric is shaped and sewn and things are sculpted, but it is not to be.

Because birds.

My house got re-roofed about two years ago, and the guys doing it installed all new vents to our HVAC system. These vents are apparently not bird-proof, because the little feathered monsters regularly make their way into the ducting of the house, scratching and fluttering and generally making a menace of themselves while driving my dogs loudly insane. Fortunately until now, their single path through the system has been from the roof by my bedroom straight down to the furnace, and out into the garage, where I can turn them loose by opening the door. I’ve seen birds as large as doves do this, which seems impossible but somehow keeps happening (the vent slots are like an inch wide.  Just…how?!).

This has been an every other week occurrence, until last night.

The dogs were restless, I heard the usual scratching in the wall, and I waited, periodically checking the garage for feathered intruders. Sophie, my terrier, got more and more agitated, running laps around the downstairs and barking at nothing. I walked into the living room to shush her, and the floor vent started rattling.

Most people don’t have to put up with a Hitchcockian incursion from their freaking floor vents, feathers and claws stabbing through, trying to get at your eyeballs. Houses were invented to prevent any Nature from gouging at your mucous membranes, dammit. Nature is not allowed in my living room. There is a clause in the mortgage paperwork. I’m almost certain of this.

Not only was the bird trying to get in through the floor vent, it couldn’t make up its mind which vent it wanted to invade through, so I (and my increasingly panicked dogs) had to guard them all. What do you in this situation? Leave it to die in there? No, then its corpse will contaminate the system, and I acquire a new set of guilty nightmares. Call animal control? No dice, they leave bird handling to the Audubon Society. Sure, the bird people can come out. Middle of next week, after the bird is long dead.  Great.

WAIT. There was a place in the kitchen, where the installation of the flooring made the vent area too small for a cover. It was wide open for class Aves invasion. Shit. SHIT.

It was time for desperate measures. I picked my vent (in the dining room, because there are hardwood floors in there), grabbed a mesh laundry basket, yanked up the vent cover, and threw the basket over the top. Just in time. Like a Xenomorph in wait, the bird exploded out of the vent right as my hands clamped the basket down. I had the demon by the horns, now. Throwing open the back door, I hurled the whole affair out the airlock and slammed it shut, watching as the beast flew to the nearest tree, and then hung there, watching me as I was watching it. In that moment, I knew. That little pestilence is coming back. She’s biding her time, watching, waiting. Next time, she thinks. Next time, straight for the eyeballs.

So that was my week. How was yours?

(week 2 of ? in my writing challenge)


June 26, 2017

On Crafting Better Nerdery

You guys may not know this, but in addition to being a writer with a terrible updating schedule, a full time student in computer engineering, and a part time office minion for other engineers, I also make kanzashi for sale at shows. You know, with all that free time I’m not using for everything else (I never saw an extra thing my schedule didn’t like, because horrible deadlines belong in every facet of my life).

What’s that? What’s a kanzashi?  Kanzashi are traditional Japanese hair ornaments made from folded fabric. They are usually floral in theme, attached to one’s head via sticks or clips, in the more modern context. They can be elaborate enough to cover your whole head, or as simple as a single flower. I call them hair origami. I started with the more traditional types like simple rounded and pointed petals, teaching myself via Youtube tutorials.

Once I got the hang of these, they started to seem a little boring. So, all my attention drifting in the nerdy direction, I decided to punch them up a bit.  Last year I could not attend Comic-Con in San Diego because I was taking a summer maths class (BLEH. Adulting, it is the worst), so in lieu of my attendance I offered to send my friends some nerd-themed kanzashi.

These were well received, and when I bragged on Facebook about them, someone asked me why I wasn’t selling them.  Excellent question. Like many things in my life, it boiled down to “Okay, do I actually have time to do this?” and the answer is usually a painful “Not right now.”  HOWEVER, with planning…things could happen.

I started my geek-themed descent with a Doctor Who convention down in LA.  Making kanzashi that represented each Doctor, with a few choice villains, was a great deal of fun.

They sold tolerably well, and my friends said, “Hey, you should join us in bringing fashion nerdery to San Diego this year.”  Sure, why not. So I started the design fun in March, and started my latest round of classes…and hit the brick wall that is all the studying needed to not utterly fail said classes.  Dammit.

Choosing to differ crafting so I could devote more time to schoolwork was probably the smart decision, but right now it doesn’t feel like it.  Classes ended on June 17th.  I have drawn up lists, bought fabric, and made a schedule.  As of today, I have five made, and at least 35 different designs left to make.  I have 26 days. I am officially in crunch-panic-sweet-mercy-I-might-actually-lose-a-finger crafting mode.

Oh, and I decided that some kanzashi needed LED lights and battery packs added. While it is added work, the idea of Iron Man’s eyes glowing in the center of his red and gold mask is a powerful motivator.  Does that make me insane, or just add more nerd points?  I think I’ll decide that the weekend before the convention, when I’ll likely have no more fingertips or nerves left to fray.

(from week 1 of ? of weekly writing challenge)