28 November 2009

Nothing but good attitude

Just thought I'd share my motto for enduring this holiday shopping season: Nothing but good attitude. It ran through my head when I was out yesterday and today, sometimes as a little song which amused me in and of itself. My experience was quite pleasant over all with the added bonus of decent parking spots.

It also helps to know that I will not fight or struggle with someone over any item. If they want it that badly, they can have it. Not that I'm getting up early for anything--I don't do early if I can help it. If a store doesn't have or is sold out of what I want, it's no big loss. I concede that it helps immensely that no one I'm shopping for is all that picky. Except me, now that I think about it, so I will endeavor to do my family a solid and give them lots of options.

Scored a nice hard drive for cheap at 3:30 PM yesterday even though it rang up incorrectly. So glad I’d brought the flyer with me. Sure my gracious patience as they struggled with the security lock didn’t hurt either.

Also, I saw nuns at the mall. And an Indian woman in a sari. Black Friday’s a lot of artificial hype (a lot of sales were really no better than usual) but there’s no better opportunity to see many different types of people out where I live.

If you've got any shopping to do this season, I hope it all goes smoothly for you. (Watch out for the attractive but distracting shiny things at full retail price.)

A year ago on TTaT: Tofurkey haiku

25 November 2009

Thanksgiving haiku: Back to the Future

DVR'ing the
parade for the first time.
No host banter-- yea!

DVR freedom:
I will skip ahead to the
bands and big balloons.

Neighbors' tree is up,
as is their most impressive
light display. Bravo!

Thanksgiving haiku of years past:

Check out the comments on those posts for more T-day haiku from other bloggers, and please feel free to add your own here. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

24 November 2009

The Tornado Building Painting

Tornado Building Painting
Senior year of high school, I had this vivid dream in which a building twisted into a tornado. Then I painted it. When I was awake, not in the dream.

Came across the painting a few days ago, and I still like it despite the fact that I have an aversion to yellow. Clothes, mostly, it's kind of a situational yellow aversion. No yellow cars, clothes, or houses for me, but an image of vibrant sun or a quirky duck or yellow cake with chocolate frosting? Those I can dig.

A year ago on TTaT: Life images online

20 November 2009

Dance Dance Revolution: from ridiculous to sublime

Dance Dance Revolution:

Also, for what it's worth, DDR Max 2 is a great version of the game for PS2.

Dance Dance Revolution: The Metaphor

(The DDR story so far: First Encounter, The Beginning, The Journey, The Philosophy)

A couple weeks ago, Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self wrote an intriguing post which inspired my recent DDR series. (Thank you, Havi!) In "You don't need to take the leap," she writes:
I have to say, all the talk about leaps of faith and jumping off cliffs and waiting for nets to appear is … kind of disturbing.

... the most important thing about these kinds of internal cliffs is remembering that they are not cliffs … and then rebuilding the metaphor. Transforming it into something that isn’t so impossibly scary.

...We have more than enough fear to process in our lives already without turning each transition into the kind of experience that throws our nervous systems into panic and terror.

In the comments (well worth a look), people devised new metaphors for themselves. Amy Crook's particularly caught my eye:
This makes me think of hopscotch. Like, when you’re a kid, and you’ve drawn up this whole chalk outline of where you’re going and what you’re going to do next. Then you stand there, and right then you’re just a kid standing on a sidewalk, but then, you jump. And all of a sudden, you’re playing hopscotch, you’re on the path and you can’t get off because you made that first magic jump, and now there’s nothing for it but to keep going.

Even if my chalk outline isn’t perfect, I think it’s about time to jump in with both feet.

The hopscotch metaphor felt familiar somehow even though I never played it much as a kid. I liked the idea of using a game for the transitional metaphor, but the prescribed boxes of hopscotch seemed too concrete to me. I needed something with more flexibility, a free-form hopscotch.

Then it hit me: Dance Dance Revolution. Songs have prescribed step patterns, but there are many ways to accomplish them. It's even possible to add steps without penalty. Making mistakes is no big deal. Even failing provides useful experience in the game, and is often a natural consequence of leveling up.

You get better by playing. You get better faster by playing above your skill level, i.e., challenging your limits. The songs are short, so trying any of them out isn't a big commitment. When part of a song is really difficult, you can slow it down in training mode so you can develop muscle memory. Or you can try an easier difficulty level, or exercise mode which cuts out freeze steps, or another song with another step pattern.

The possibilities are many and varied. Though having too many choices is often a stumbling block for me, the low stakes of a game of DDR make it easier to try things out. Also, it's fun which makes DDR the perfect transitional metaphor for me.

What would yours be?

Three years ago on TTaT: My brain is numb, a post about the overwhelming selection of DDR dance pads available--ha!

19 November 2009

Dance Dance Revolution: The Philosophy

(The DDR story so far: First Encounter, The Beginning, The Journey)

By the time I got my own home version of Dance Dance Revolution four and a half years after I first started playing, I realized the game was a lot more to me than a form of exercise and entertainment.

When I play DDR, it reminds me:
Be in the moment.

Don't be afraid to fail.

Misstep? Keep going.

Don't take it too seriously.

Enjoy the silliness of it. Laugh, particularly at myself when I get too serious anyway.

If I really want to improve my score for a particular song, practice. Better yet, practice at a difficulty level beyond my ability; I'll improve faster and will likely do better than I expected.

When my brain says a step pattern is too hard for me, find a new yet familiar way to think of it. (I had a very hard time with corners--jumps which require hitting an up or down arrow at the same time as a left or right arrow--until I stopped calling them impossible and redefined them as rotated up-down or left-right jumps which were easy for me.)

Amidst the chaos of seizure-inducing graphics, scrolling arrows, music, and a dude's audio commentary, hitting
perfects is very satisfying.

Playing the game is an energizing break.

Adding flair and playing songs in new ways is fun.

Check out the backgrounds and dance moves of the digital characters from time to time even though tunnel vision makes following the arrows easier.

Don't think too much, stay in the body. (For a long time, hearing the announcer say I'd achieved a 100 step streak would precipitate a misstep within the next five arrows.)

When I'm able to dance a song well while distracted, it's time for a new challenge.
I try to maintain much of my DDR outlook in the rest of my life, but some lessons are easy to forget when the stakes are significant. Fortunately, it only takes a quick game to reset my brain.


A year ago on TTaT: #11-15 (omg, so good)

14 November 2009

Dance Dance Revolution: The Journey

(The DDR story so far: First Encounter, The Beginning)

Songs played in the beginner level of DDR proved difficult for me to pass when I first started playing because the step patterns were so slow that you wouldn't get into the rhythm of the song. Once I discovered that I could pass songs in Light or Trick mode, DDR became a whole lot of fun.

Individual songs were rated for difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10 feet. Most songs had multiple step patterns so they could be played at any difficulty level. Some songs had no easy levels. My friend Bradley was adept at passing 5 and 6 foot songs with As. I encouraged her to try playing the next higher level of difficulty. She was reluctant because she hadn't perfected the level she was at, but when I returned to play a week later, it was amazing to see how much better she'd gotten while achieving lower scores on songs at greater difficulty. AAs and AAAs, grades I didn't even know existed, were now the norm for her on the old 5 and 6 foot songs. She was also able to pass songs like Hysteria which had previously been out of reach.

My progress was slower because I didn't get to play every day. Even though I was now passing songs, I generally scored a range of Bs to Es depending on how difficult the individual song was.

Interpreting the seizure inducing graphics of the game and its bright scrolling arrows entailed learning a new language. Blue arrows indicated syncopated or rapid tap steps. For a Freeze arrow to count, your foot couldn't leave the arrow until the stretched out arrow had passed. Jumps required hitting two arrows at once; Up-Downs and Left-Rights were fine, but "Corners," steps that required you to hit an up or down arrow at the same time as a left or right arrow, were beyond me. They seemed harder and my brain just couldn't get my feet to do them for the longest time. Some sequences were like old aerobics moves, simple step-touches, that my body already knew. Playing was a process of learning and practice.

Later that year, I put most of my stuff in storage and left town, embarking on what would become a seven month long road trip in pursuit of the perfect place to live. A few weeks later, across the continent in Los Angeles, I enthusiastically described DDR to a good friend. She was intrigued, went online and discovered DDRFreak and its super useful machine locator. We set off for a nearby arcade in Koreatown to check out Pump It Up, a variation of DDR.

As we walked up to the arcade, we noticed that none of the signage or games were in English. I understood how to play though, so how hard could it be? Instead of up, down, left, and right, Pump It Up's arrows were on the diagonals. The shifted arrows were enough to throw off my game, but this version also had sensors for hand motions you were supposed to do in tandem with the steps. During the key moment when you choose your difficulty level before playing, I had to guess because all the Asian characters were foreign to me. Definitely should've picked an easier level.

I did my best, but there was too much new information to process at once for me to do well. Also, the other blaring games made it hard to hear the beat. I had not made a convert.

Not long after, at Thanksgiving with friends, I discovered Ben loved DDR as much as I did. I'd met Ben and Chala at a mutual friend's wedding--the happy couple were now our Thanksgiving hosts--a year before. Ben thought DDRFreak was awesome and we soon found a machine. A bowling alley in Venice, California proved much more hospital for DDR than the Koreatown arcade had been.

Ben and I played while the other three watched, too amused by the sight and afraid of looking like fools to try it themselves. We had a good time anyway.

Five months later, I was staying with Ben and Chala in San Francisco. After 6 months on the road and the realization that nowhere is perfect, I was ready to give up and go home to my parents' house for a while. Chala had insisted I visit them first.

Ben and I played DDR on his home setup. We recorded some music. I tagged along with them to sundry events and outings. One day I just broke down, went to a room by myself and couldn't stop crying. I didn't know Chala and Ben that well, so I was mortified. After a while, Ben came to the doorway and solemnly asked if I'd like to play DDR.

I wiped the tears off my cheeks, looked at him, and said, "Sure."

Playing Dance Dance Revolution did make me feel better. Later I realized it was because playing DDR required me to be in the moment. In the moment with songs I like? Even better.


Three years ago on TTaT: The Road is my Favorite Place: Day 10

11 November 2009

Dance Dance Revolution: The Beginning

When I first saw DDR in an arcade, I thought it was a ridiculous idea for a video game. I was 28. A few months later, I became friends with Bradley, a senior in college. One of her roommates owned a home version of DDR for his Playstation, and they played all the time.

I was game to try it, so they set it up one summer afternoon. At the time, he only had one dance pad so we took turns playing songs. They directed me to the slowest songs at the easiest level, and I failed over and over and over while they passed more difficult songs and levels with grades of double or triple As. It was frustrating.

They could have made fun of my dismal performance, but instead Bradley offered helpful suggestions and tips:
"Start with your feet on the arrows, you don't have to step back to the center."

"Don't wait to see the arrows line up at the top, step to the beat."

"Get into the beat of the music before the arrows start."

"As long as you step on the correct arrow on the screen, it doesn't matter if you're also stepping on other arrows."

The game on the other hand had an announcer who would praise you if you were doing well and taunt you if you weren't from: "Did you have breakfast this morning?"

"Are you feeling all right?"

"You're not looking so good."

up to "Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" as you fail.

The maddening thing was that I didn't feel like I was that far off with my steps. Sometimes my timing was fine, but I wasn't quite lined up with the arrows on the pad. Often the sensors in the pad itself shifted, so even if you were perfectly centered on the arrow, it wouldn't register.

I had just failed another song, so I stepped off for Bradley's turn, giving the pad a shake to realign its sensors.

"Go again," she said.

"Really?" I was ready to give up the whole thing, but she insisted. Well, if I'm going to fail I may as well pick a song I like. I scrolled through listening to snippets of songs until I came to Think Ya Better D. I selected it and then made a mistake, or rather the pad did as it registered two taps instead of one subjecting me to Trick mode, two levels above the Beginner mode I'd been playing. The song was rated with 4 feet whereas I had yet to pass a song rated with only 1 or 2.

"Oh no, what do I do? How do I get back?"

Bradley and her roommate both said, "You can't. Play!"

To my surprise, the faster step pattern was actually easier. I flailed about to keep up and thought I was doomed when I got to the section with the quick taps, but I made it through. I passed a song on Trick! With a D or E, but I passed! I was thrilled and from that moment hooked on DDR.


A year ago on TTaT: Remainders, 1 and 2

10 November 2009

Attack on the Peaceable Kingdom

Often, I take back routes to see farm animals from the road. Seeing sheep, pygmy goats, llamas, cows, and ponies always brightens my day.

I've described the wonder of it before:
Llamas, they won't just spit in your eye
Peaceable Kingdom

So I'm distraught and angry that two of the llamas I've so often driven by were murdered by someone with bow and arrows in the middle of the night. Lest bow & arrows give you pause, there's nothing sportsmanlike about shooting llamas that are in a pen guarding sheep. This was no hunting accident as the perpetrator broke off the arrows at the entry points to remove evidence. Besides, they left the dead animals. This is just cruel, awful violence.

I hope they find the cocksucking motherfucker responsible and lock them up for a very long time.

Dance Dance Revolution: First Encounter

March 17, 2002

Caught a late matinee and then went for a walk to see what, if anything, was new at the mall. Most of it's one story, but at the end where the movie theatre is, it becomes two. That upper section is typically empty storefronts with the second floor of Parisian down at the end.

As I walked up the escalator, I heard deep booming bass. Like most entertainment these days, it doesn't seem to count unless it's LOUD. A glass-walled arcade full of kids was at the top.

I glanced in as I walked by and got the biggest grin, realizing I'd have to circle back to watch more.

I'd call it the dumbest idea for a video game ever except that people were actually playing. “Dance remix.” It's big and practically right in the doorway of the joint.

Two-player game. A small platform you have to stand on with up, down, left and right arrows arranged like points of a compass. You start with your feet planted on the left and right arrows and then... you dance. As far as I can tell it's basically “Simon says” as you watch arrows come up on the screen in front. The video display also has goofy looking dancers on it. There's a step for every bass beat and since it plays techno, it's fairly fast. At the end of a level?, it scores your accuracy.

What was most amazing to me was that two young teenage boys were playing with a slew of people watching from behind. Of course, they both got perfect scores. Apparently there is a target audience for “Dance remix” after all.


A year ago on TTaT: See one, Do one, ...

09 November 2009

Side effects of writing about one's voice

Yesterday, while feeling frustrated, I wrote The literal sotto voce: behind the scenes of an introvert's voice. Timing is everything, as they say. Had I written it right after dinner, I wouldn't have played up not talking so much because in those moments it wouldn't really have been valid.

During the night I had a long, vivid, what-the-fuck dream. As I mulled it over today, I realized it might very well have stemmed from my writing.

It was Christmas eve and I was due to be hanged by my brother. Next to a fully decorated and lit Christmas tree surrounded by gifts in the living room. The gallows were set up beside it. The first attempt didn't take because the knots were all wrong: not a proper noose nor a proper weight bearing knot. I leaned forward, the rope against my neck, but it didn't tighten and after a few moments it slid off the gallows.

The failure provided me a slight reprieve during which I suggested they might not want to hang me next to the tree for the sake of my 6 year old niece. Or for the ew factor of having someone executed in your living room. The suggestion was ignored, however, something about providing a nice image for me when I died.

I had no sense that I'd done anything criminal, unsavory, or otherwise deserving a death penalty. Couldn't even say if I'd been tried in a legitimate legal sense. Didn't even have any ill will because of my fate. It was what it was.

Eventually they--a couple of indeterminate guys, one who was my brother though he didn't look like him--got the knots sorted out on the gallows. But then my brother set me loose on the condition I be forever banished from home.

Last thing I remember was walking down a road alone, the trees still aflame with autumn color.

I don't know about the rest, but I think the hanging has to do with my throat actually being slightly raw. (Feels better today, huzzah!) The storyline was weird though. Not in the least alarming, just odd. Anyone else have an interpretation?

Two years ago on TTaT: In case you didn't know, I support the WGA

08 November 2009

The literal sotto voce: behind the scenes of an introvert's voice

It wasn't an argument, but the back and forth of their speech was rapid, sometimes overlapping, their volumes slightly raised, as each tried to make another point. I had been listening patiently for a while and had something to interject. I said a few words but was steamrolled over before I finished my first sentence. I tried again, raising my voice to their level, using my delivery to insist I be heard as part of the conversation.

I felt my adrenaline rise as I rattled off my thought, and they heard it. I'm not sure it was worth it though. As I spoke with heightened urgency, I felt my energy surge forth with my words: the same energy I'd been using to avoid developing a sore throat or cold which I felt lurking on the periphery of my physical awareness. If this strength/life force/stamina--whatever you might choose to call it--was part of a reserve tank, it was gushing out of me unhindered while I spoke.

The sensation reminded me of an episode of The L Word I'd recently seen that portrayed so well to me the effort that oral communication takes by showing deaf actress Marlee Matlin at a dinner party with Bette's hearing friends without an interpreter. The appeal of sign language to me may well be in communicating without one's voice. In sign, being heard is not about being loud.

But I do like my voice, so how then do I command attention without spiking my adrenaline, raising my blood pressure, and getting loud: without expending energy my body needs elsewhere? I'm working on it but I don't think there's one definitive approach. With some people (cough-my bro-cough), it may not work at all.

If I were feeling closer to 100% healthy, I wouldn't have noticed the energy drop so readily, but I am more in tune with the physical correlations to my introversion now. Perhaps my reclusive nature has reduced my speaking stamina or amplified my reaction to vocal conversations. Not long ago, I had a week to myself during which I rarely spoke to anyone. It was lovely. This is not to say I refrained from communication because there was email, twitter, and the like, just not much speech.

This past week, I have refrained from talking a fair amount to conserve my strength for other tasks. Though I really am tired of it, I need to remember that the drainage will ease up, the weather if not consistent will at least even out its temperatures somewhat so my sinuses will behave, and I will feel like singing again. And talking, if I have something to say.

For now, I'll just hum sporadic arpeggios.

A year ago on TTaT: And for some things random...

06 November 2009

Clothes that fit: ideal or overrated?

Years ago I was hooked on the BBC-America show What Not To Wear. Since then, I've seen a smattering of such shows, the TLC version of WNTW, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and later the Straight Girl, and How to Look Good Naked. Seems fair to say that their main tenet of dressing well is having clothes that fit well.

I don't buy clothes often, but I have tried to keep this in mind when I do or when choosing sizes for birthday list items. For me, this means avoiding the large, baggy fits of old.

The catch with the smaller, better fitting pieces is that I have to pay more attention when I do laundry so they don't shrink.

The long sleeve tee I'm wearing now is the proper size, but the collar is so much smaller than I'm used to that I feel like I'm being strangled--no dryer for that one. (It's something of a reminder of why I liked bigger sizes in the first place.) I tried two t-shirts over it and both exacerbated the neck constriction. Finally pulled an enormous old XL tee I haven't worn in years from the sentimental pile at the top of my closet. Film crew shirts are typically ordered with a one-size-fits-all mentality, at least on the low budget indies that I used to crew. Doesn't pull on my neck though.

So, in sum, clothes that fit well will probably look better but may not last as long as those which are over-large. Thoughts? Opinions? Clothes buying strategies?

A year ago on TTaT: Ooh

04 November 2009

Ass Cheeks and Autumn





"What?" Mom was giving me a look.

"A restaurant's a building."

"So? I can guess whatever I want to." I didn't really have the energy to argue, so I just said, "Chicken."





"Very slightly warmer."

"Hmm. Space."




"Stars are cold?" Mom said.

Dad and I both said, "No, they're the same as 'planet.'" Then I said, "Rings of Saturn."


Mom guessed, "Moon."

"Very slightly warmer."

I said, "Ass cheeks," and Mom and Dad both doubled over laughing, gasping for air. I loved that I'd made them both laugh so hard. After a few moments, I said, "Well?"

Dad recovered and said, "Same, slightly warm."

After several more widely varied rounds of guessing, Mom got another slightly warm hit for autumn.

"So what do stars, planets, ass cheeks and autumn have in common?" I asked, trying to stimulate my brain.

"Yes," Dad said encouragingly.

Mom and I went through the fall holidays, all cold, and then went through many rounds of warm focusing on sunset and sunrise.

Eventually, Mom said, "Rainbow."


I guessed, "Prism."


And then, "Red."

"Ding, ding, ding!"

Another fortune cookie Chinese word solved. I was two for two tonight, yeehaw!

"Well," I said, "I don't think I want to know how ass cheeks are supposed to make me think 'red.'" The real challenge, after all, of our fortune cookie guessing game is the different ways our minds work. Some words are difficult but some are made difficult because of the associations the person rating hot/cold does or does not have. "Unless maybe you were thinking of the baboons. Is that right? Are they the ones with...?"

Over this, Dad said, "Red ass. You know, 'red assing' around."

Mom and I looked at each other and started laughing. "What?"

"You know, when guys are giving each other a hard time."

"Um, no, I've never heard that."

"I haven't either," I added.

"Look it up, I'm sure it'll be in the dictionary."

"OK," I looked at Mom and nodded to the hefty American OED next to the dining room table. "I bet you... a dollar that it won't be in there." Mom flopped the book open and started paging through. "Are you in?"

My dad gave me a calculating glance and said, "Yeah. I'll even pony up my dollar." He took one out of his wallet and set it on the table between us.

"I don't have one on me, but we'll see..."

Mom read off all the red-something entries and all the ass-something entries. Then I made sure she looked up any subheadings under red itself. No red ass.

I snagged the dollar and put it in my pocket. "Thanks." I looked at Mom and said, "See? Guessing things like 'ass cheeks' pays off."

4 years ago on TTaT: 3 on 3