Staying Current

While updating my online portfolio, I sifted through my old VCT projects and located my Director portfolio from 2001. What fun! I’d forgotten that I knew how to do cool things. Shit was changing color, flying around the screen, zooming in and out — and I’d made some cool-ass icon graphics to illustrate. I made them! I didn’t steal them. Sure, some of the stuff didn’t work, and you could tell where I started running out of time to complete the project, because objects on-screen didn’t do as many cool things anymore, and there were some flubbed links to movies and such… but, damn, I forgot that I knew something cool!

Pathetically enough, whenever I think of cool things I’ve managed to throw together, my thoughts usually turn to Tim Schavitz. Yeah, yeah, I know… I shouldn’t have to compare myself to anyone… but sometimes, you just need a yardstick to measure up with. Back in college, when I felt like academia was dragging me down, and my lack of creativity was dragging me down, Tim was one of the only design influences who pulled me up.

He and I had enough classes together during my last year at BGSU that we compared notes and fed off of each other. …OK, truth is, I fed off of him. He was everyone’s starchild, and rightly so, although he’d deny it if given the chance. Anyway, we’d look at other people’s projects, and critique them privately amongst ourselves, and wonder in amazement at how many of our classmates were sub-par designers (though, in retrospect, given the VCT curriculum and focus, it’s not surprizing).

Among what you would expect from design students — that is, lumping VCT students in with Graphic Design students — I’d have given most VCT students in our general age range at the time a 4 out of 10. Myself, I’d give a 7 out of 10. Tim, 9 out of 10. Most Intro Graphic Design students and Typography students I studied with, I’d give them a 6 or 7 out of 10. Some rated a 5, some rated an 8 or 9. Graphic Design students just seemed more immersed in design than VCT students, who were more immersed in the mechanics and process of “how” than the overall plan and scheme of “what.” Like Sean used to say, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit. You need good ideas, good media, good footage, to produce a good product. Ideally, anyway.

Usually at this point in the “I suck and I should be destroyed” rant, Aaron (or whoever’s handy) will smack me around and say, “You don’t suck! Look at the shit I made! Now that sucks!” Very well. I will accept your compliments with thanks, and continue with my rant.

So, looking back on all this — my Director portfolio, my designs, my wares in general — I have decided that I need to find more foo-foo projects to embark upon, to sharpen my skills. Now, Tim used to do this all the time, making funky Flash stuff that didn’t really mean anything too deep, or do anything too amazing, but it was cool to look at and probably fun to make. With that in mind, I sought out a source of design inspiration… and came up frighteningly short. All the old, bleeding-edge style that used to make our entire group of self-proclaimed VCT Elite spontaneously mess in our drawers — that stuff just doesn’t do it for me anymore. 2advanced, meh. I’m having a hard time finding anything that takes my designer’s breath away these days. And if I can’t find it, if I can’t even identify what it would be, how am I to produce it?

Links I’ve found to mildly get my juices flowing:
+ Designs by Mark (great Photoshop tutorials)
+ THREE.OH: Digital Design Journal
+ We’re Here: Intelligent Design & Development
+ The Shodown Forum: Graphics & Web Dev

P.S. – I know I had another weird dream last night, but I forgot it before I could write it down.

A Letter To Myself

(To Myself eight years in the past: February 1995)

Dear Self,

If this letter reaches you when I hope it will, you will currently be failing all of your classes except Athletic Band, attending camps for the Northern Aurora Drum & Bugle Corps, IRC-ing too much, racking up too much credit card debt, and trying to get into a relationship without getting laid. Life is pretty fucked up for you right now. I know.

If I told you everything you needed to know to straighten out your life in the next few years, then I wouldn’t be here later to tell you about it. We don’t want some weird Back to the Future II paradox going on… so I’ll tell you about the little things, and advise you about the bigger ones. I wouldn’t want the major things to change, anyway… but you’ll find out why later.

First off, I know you’ve been seeing guys from the IRC [internet relay chat]. I think you’ve already found this out the hard way, but always meet guys in public. Never go to their house to watch a movie the first time you meet. And don’t feel obligated to go further than you want. Oh, yeah… and watch your roving hands. They could get you in trouble.

Matt is a dork, but he’s harmless. He’ll go away eventually. Jon isn’t worth the heartache. He’s too old for you, and no matter what it may seem like while you’re together, he’s really not your type. Don’t sweat it if nothing ends up happening between you two. Adam is a total dork, too. I don’t care if he is a bit of a local celebrity. He’s called the Virgin Freak for a reason. Don’t go to his dorm room, and don’t make out with him. It’ll just cause an IRC soap-opera, and you’ll end up being weird about each other. Better off just to be IRC buddies and leave it at that.

Bryan is a different kind of dork — he’s got more relationship experience, and he’s more “normal.” If you’re going to make out with somebody, he’s probably the one to make out with. As far as physical stuff goes, he knows what he’s doing. Even if he does make fun of your ratty old shoes. — And don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. Tell him to buy you new shoes, and tell him you wear a size 10. See if he does anything about it.

And don’t be such a prude. Don’t be afraid to let guys touch you in your bathing-suit area. Sure, wait on sex, but don’t be afraid of physical intimacy.

On a different subject: I know it’s early in the semester, but I regret to inform you that you’re going to flunk out. No, no, not permanently, just for a semester. It’s OK… this is going to be the best thing for you so far. You know you’re getting sick of school — admit it. When you come back almost a year from now, you’ll be ready to be here. While you’re home, you might consider getting a job. Don’t wait for Gary to goad you into it.

Oh, did I mention Gary? He’s Mom’s new guy. Get used to him; he’ll be around awhile. You’ll think he’s a total dick, especially when Mom starts bringing him home while you’re living there. He’ll try to start treating you like his own kid, and trying to “raise” you or something. Don’t be all pissed off about it. You won’t want to admit it, but he’s got some valid points. For instance, your job (or lack thereof). You’re not going to find something you really like, not at age 19 with no experience. You just need something to get you some money. Save up for drumcorps next year.

Drumcorps is going to be the most kickass thing in your life for quite a while. You’ll wish you’d gotten involved in it sooner — as it is, you’ll only have three years of marching eligibility. Make ’em good ones. Talk to people. Make friends. Don’t be afraid to be a dork. Get in shape before you get there. Go check out the Rec — it’s right across the street, and it’s actually pretty cool. Go jog or something. Being in shape will help you enjoy the experience more. It’s totally intense, as you already know. And it gets better.

Off-topic: Steve P. is an asshole. He might be fun on the trips up to Saginaw, and he might like some cool music, but he’s generally an asshole. If you ever consider him to be attractive, smack yourself. You’re too desperate. Something better will come along soon, I promise.

What else…? Oh, yeah. Stop using your credit cards now. Use the job you get in the Fall to pay them off a little. You might want credit sometime in the next seven years, and it’ll suck to be without for that long.

Take pictures of everything. You never know when it’ll be gone, and you’ll want to remember, and you’ll be frightened at how much memory has passed you by. Take pictures of friends and loved ones, of places and events and buildings. Take pictures of Tom and of Memaw. Take pictures of your boyfriends (and I use the term loosely). Chronicle your life, so you won’t forget the bad parts. Or the good parts.

Something else: when you come back to school next Spring, your roommate will be a little weird. Be ready for it. She’s cool, but she’s weird. She’s got cool friends, too.

Now, not to get you too excited, but… you’re going to meet somebody. Somebody Special. You might not know it at first, but he’s different. He’s not going to try to get you in the sack on the first date. He’s funny, and honest, and tall. He will love you to the ends of the earth. It’ll be cool. Only thing is… he can’t sing, and he doesn’t like drumcorps. 🙂

I don’t want to give you too much to think about at one time, so I think I’ll leave it at that. Just remember, when things seem totally fucked up, and all you want to do is sit in your room and eat and be miserable, and Life seems intent on fucking with you, and you think you’ll never get out of your funk… remember that things always work themselves out eventually. It sounds like so much crap, but it’s true. It’s just a matter of sticking it out and doing what needs to be done.

Things are going to look up for you. It’ll be a rough year ahead (except the kickass drumcorps part in the summer), but it’ll work out. You’ll see.

— Your Future Self

Past Imperfect

You know that introspective New Year’s entry I promised? Well, here it is, a little late. Now, where to start…?

Back in High School, I was a perfectionist and a procrastinator all rolled into one. My fear of making mistakes really didn’t help things. Being high-strung and stiffly formal too much of the time definitely added to the geek factor. Even after failing Government my Senior year, and having to take “real” summer school for the first time in my life, this still didn’t teach me one of the many lessons that I needed to learn:

Sometimes you have to deal with the less pleasant things before you get to the good things.

I still didn’t learn the lesson during my seven (count ’em, seven) years of undergrad. I regularly failed to attend classes — and hence, regularly failed classes. Of course, I went to the “cool” classes, and of course I did well in them. Web design, multimedia, photography, human sexuality, recording technology, sociology, all stellar grades. Math, accounting, drafting, management, all the “boring” classes… not so much. I took College Algebra three or four times, and Trig twice, just because I hated the classes and didn’t go. If BGSU had the same policy then that they do now, I would have been paying back all the financial aid money I’d gotten for the classes I failed. I’d either have learned that valuable lesson, or I’d have given up on school for lack of funds.

Only now can I begin to learn and appreciate the value of this tidbit of knowledge. Now, when I’m working in an industry completely unrelated to the one I’d intended to pursue. Now, when I’m watching more recent grads going through the same post-graduation denial I went through. Now, when credit checks on me reveal the fact that I worked for a temp agency for eight or nine months, and have only held my current job for three.

I would like to go out and find my dream job. I haven’t given up on this. I refuse to be a bank flunky until I retire or am laid off. But… now is the time for stability. Now is the time to deal with a less-than-desirable job, so I can build credit and experience and general work-force skills. I have to deal with this less pleasant thing before I can go off and seek out the good.

When the right opportunity arises, I will be ready.

Bands Of America vs. Drum Corps International

One activity I look back on with nostalgia and remembered excitement. One activity I look back on with passion, longing, and tears.

I think it’s the difference between a high-school crush and a lifetime soulmate. They’re both desirable. They’re both positive experiences. And, until you experience the latter, the former seems to be the most amazing experience possible.

In High School band, we had a tradition. As we stood at attention, ready to dismiss, our band director would call out the various facets of our posture that we should remember. He would call, “feet!” We would answer, together! “Back!” Straight! “Shoulders!” Up! Back! Down! And the final call was, “Eyes!” Louder than any reply, we would shout, With Pride! It meant the beginning of an era, of a legend: our band hadn’t been worth anything two years before, and now we were winning competitions and making State Finals. We had pride in what we had become, and what future generations of Buckeye Bands would accomplish by building on our meager 30-member foundation.

I recall that being the most powerful experience in “oneness” with an ensemble… up until that point. In the Northern Aurora Drum and Bugle Corps, we had another tradition, one that transcended “Eyes With Pride” for me. At every corps dismissal, be it at camps, circled up after a show, or following rehearsal, the drum major or corps manager would call us up: “Corps — Ten-Hut!” We would snap to attention, horns snapping to shoulder-level, flags snapping straight, drumsticks snapping into position. The drum major would then call into the silence: “Corps! Dismissed!” and we would answer, “One!”

During every winter camp at NA, when potential new members would be attending, the corps manager would explain that this word referred not to a placement or a ranking, but a feeling of unity with our corpsmates. I refused to join in the response until the camp when I was officially signed as a member of Northern Aurora. At the dismissal of that camp, I answered the call as one member of a team, of a family. It was just as powerful then as it was through the two years I marched in NA, all the way through until our last dismissal at Division III Finals in Orlando, Florida in 1996.

My point? I don’t know. I cherish my time spent both in marching band and in drumcorps. But what still brings me passion, what stirs the fire, what makes me long to relive each and every moment, is drumcorps.