DISSERTATION: Time Marches Ever Forward But Now So Is My Project

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

Just dropping a note to say that work on Traces is going well — I’m actually hoping to have something playtestable for the very beginning of March, so I’m busily working away on all fronts — I’m soldering components for the scanners and screens, installing software on raspberry pis, writing code, thinking about sculptures and recording audio, thinking about displaying the script on tiny screens, thinking about the aesthetics of the controllers and how they’ll all fit together… There’s a lot afoot.

It’s exciting to be in a thick of it, even though I’m keeping a hectic pace. I would love to have something finished in time to playtest at Arcade 11 — that’s currently my goal. I would be right on track for six months with this project if I finished by then, which is kind of incredible given the delays and difficulty I was having with it earlier.

Squinky helped me with some programming last week. I also had to figure out how to work with the Uno clones that I bought (the Metro 4 Express from Adafruit), which didn’t work as expected out of the box. I had to write in a new board definition in one of the libraries I’m using and disable a different library that didn’t play well with it (the servo library). Squinky also helped me get audio working.

One on-going concern is that I have a 4-line LED screen, but I have to be careful about the max number of characters it will display because it will simply cut text off. I will have to write something that trims the dialogue to the right character length and then shows the next bit of dialogue at an appropriate pace. That will probably require some massaging. I’m sure it’s possible, but I think I’ll likely need help figuring it out. I’m currently waiting on USB backpacks for the screens that should arrive tomorrow so that I don’t have to fiddle too much with the wiring and can control the screens through one of the serial ports.

I was recently chatting with Enric Llagostera, who helped me to challenge my assumptions around what the controller could look like. I had given a lot of thought to what the objects the player scanned would look like, but other than wanting something functional that won’t overheat the components, hadn’t given thought to how the scanner would look beyond that. I had thought that I wanted a very raw look, that showed the components and looked sort of future-hacker-Shadowrunny. I’ll be trying to rethink that while, again, not overheating anything and not interfering with the functionality of the boards and such.

I also have to do some thinking about the dimensions and designs of the objects — they do have to be a certain distance away because of the range of the scanner (I don’t want the tags to interfere with each other). But I also don’t want the objects to be too huge, necessarily. I am thinking it could be cool for some of them to be installed with either suction cups or double-sided tape, so that I can vary how I position them in the space.

Well, I’m going to keep at it! Here’s hoping I manage to get it all done.

DISSERTATION: Creative Check-In

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, game jams

In tracking my creative work closely, I am learning a lot about myself and how I work. I hope that eventually that data can be generalized to others, although that’s not my goal. At the very least, I can propose hypotheses. Here are some thoughts.

1. Most importantly, the more stressed and unwell that I am, the harder it is to feel able to do creative work, both in terms of scheduling and prioritizing it, and actually accomplishing it when I finally do sit down to work.

In December, I opened and looked at my script a good half a dozen times, but I was stuck. I was too worried about other things (primarily, things related to Tom’s work situation and precarity). While being busy has gotten in the way of my creative work in the past, finding the time to get down to work was always the challenge.

2. Enjoyable, challenging work balanced with breaks and personal time can be fulfilling fuel.

Sure, I am now adjusting to teaching for the first time and managing other commitments that I have made (opportunities to publish, to edit/give feedback to others on their work, to collaborate on design projects), but I enjoy that work for the most part. It affirms (in most cases) my confidence in my own abilities, even though I may have the occasional doubt. Doing work that shows me my own capabilities helps me fight impostor syndrome!

But I also definitely need to build in more breaks and rest into my schedule. Yes, sometimes that means choosing between taking the time to cook a larger (time-consumption-wise), healthier, homecooked meal or eating something fast. It’s a balancing act. I also still need to find ways to fit more exercise into my schedule. But it also means actually taking a break and actually letting myself do nothing, take naps, stay at home, and, y’know, read a book, play a video game, regardless of whether there are chores that are left undone for a while longer. I am trying to get better at balancing all of this. I suspect it’s something that I’ll struggle with for the rest of my life, especially with my tendency to overcommit (which is prized and encouraged because it makes me so *productive*).

As an example of how skewed these priorities can get, I finally managed to make myself a doctor’s appointment and attended it to deal with some issues that I had started investigating in Fort McMurray. I had to cancel my Fort McMurray appointments when we moved here, and I only got a Quebec health care card in early November. So, yeah, it feels good to have those balls rolling.

3. Recognizing and naming burnout, and taking as much of a break as you can from the things burning you out seems crucial.

I feel like I keep having these mini-burnouts — I have the evidence of them and their mounting severity every time I write one of these posts. I’m not an expert on this by any means, but after not even attempting to work on my dissertation project for the past few weeks, I have felt able to do creative work and I find myself excited to work on my dissertation project once more.

4. It is easier for me to work with someone else. I find it easier to get past blocks and prioritize working when I’m working with at least one other person. This is born out by how many solo projects I’ve released versus how many team projects, I think. At least right now, having a lot of creative control is important to me, so I like working in small groups on all aspects of the game. Maybe that will change with experience.

I’m also trying to get better at asking for help (even with individual projects) and letting other people take over tasks in groups that I’m working with. One of my problems is feeling like if I ask for something, I’m being a pest or taking up other people’s time, but I think I am fairly generous with my own time, so I am trying to ask for help in ways that I feel are fair and respect people’s boundaries.


Speaking of that creative work, I participated in Global Game Jam 2019 with Squinky this year. We decided to scope really small and made a queer dressup game called “Mx. Dressup: Squinky and Jeka’s Outfit Creator for Dapper Queer Millennials”, which you can play here: https://squinky.github.io/mxdressup/

Squinky and I designed the game together, then Squinky focused on the programming and I focused on the art assets. Taking a whole weekend just to draw cute clothes was so relaxing. I gave myself permission not to think about anything else. We scoped small, so whatever assets I was able to get done, that was what went into the game. It was really, really nice.

And now, as an extra surprise, my brother is in town, and Tom is teaching him to drive (with the occasional backseat help from me — I can’t be the accompanying driver because I’m probationary, but I am allowed in the car, so I can give a different perspective and whatnot).

That also means that my brother and I are doing our best to get Icosahedral (which is a working title) into fully playtestable shape, as final as we can get it. We’ve been working on the project off and on since April 2017, which is pretty amazing. We’ve already done some playtesting with an earlier version and it went really well. But now, it’s time to think about the numbers and whether other people can run it, and the usual business of playtesting. It feels great to be back at it! I think we’ll have a playtestable version ready real soon, and I’ll be sending out calls for playtesters.

Time, scheduling and how busy I am is always a concern, but I am doing my best not to worry about the dissertation project. I feel like my thoughts about it have slowly matured inside of me, and I am excited to get back to it. That’s far different from feeling like I was banging my head against the wall in December and early January trying to get something done. I will be trying to prioritize working on it more now that I’ve had the chance to get used to my new schedule a bit. Of course, Tom’s situation could throw all of my plans out the window at any moment (yikes).

Now then, here’s hoping I can manage to make more progress on my second dissertation project!

DISSERTATION: Extensions, Burnout, and welcoming 2019

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

Time for the first substantial update of 2019!

The first thing that I have been meaning to bring up is that I will likely have to extend this second design project past six months, strictly speaking. Having lost most of September to travel and QGCon, I was still hoping to be able to finish in five months to stay on-schedule with my ideal timeline for the making and writing of this here dissertation. But the truth is that while I was able to get a decent amount of work done in October and November, I involuntarily took almost all of December off, and I still haven’t quite managed to get back to work on my creative projects.

It’s not that I didn’t get anything done in December: I finished my syllabus and made a course pack for the course that I am teaching this winter, I made some last edits to my paper for Game Studies, which came out on December 31st, I’ve been working on materials to help organize future QGCons and have a record of the roles and responsibilities involved, working on conference submissions, updating my CV, and writing an interview piece between myself and another queer designer where we ask each other questions that I think is really pretty awesome. That’s on top of the usual holiday commitments and slowdowns. Not to mention that I have been cooking a lot more home-cooked meals, which is part of that invisible second shift that we don’t really talk about: my laundry is done, my bills are paid (thankfully), and I am working on all sorts of neat things…except for my creative work.

There are a number of factors here: my physical health, my mental health, and Tom’s work situation… which is a coded way of talking about the on-going harassment by process that he is facing, almost a year and a half after they first tried to bully him into resigning. On both December 20th and December 24th (the day before a commonly-celebrated holiday across the world), the RCMP dropped more work with strict deadlines onto our heads. These deadlines failed to take into account that everything is closed during the holidays, and practically everyone is on vacation, so there has been information that we’ve needed that we just can’t get as easily as under normal circumstances. And even if I didn’t want to prioritize this, the truth is that it is hard to think of much else.

On the health fronts: I have been sick off and on for the past two months with respiratory illnesses, colds, at one point I think a mild flu? I was socializing with a very sneezy five-year-old at one point who clung to me like a limpet, so, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. I think that I may have a deviated septum or other issue that is leading to frequent sinusitis and headaches. It’s on my list of things to check out.

Speaking of which, the reason why it’s still on a list might have something to do with the situation described in this article.

Honestly, I have never identified so much with an article about millennials or probably anything else. I feel this in my soul. And if this article is to be believed, I’m not the only one. I constantly feel at the edge of burnout, and I note exactly the kinds of behaviours written here — optimization means that it can be really hard to make time for things that have a low payout, or seem like they do, especially if they’re otherwise stressful for me. It can take me months to make a needed appointment, and I honestly just don’t have that much time for bad news or to be slowed down by issues that’ll require addressing them and then healing from them. I have a bone spur in my thumb that I had an appointment to deal with before we left Fort McMurray — but in Fort McMurray it was easier to say no to things because I would just not physically be in the same city that things were happening in. That left more time for things like doctors’ appointments.

On a similar note: I have whitecoat syndrome when it comes to taking my blood pressure taken, but in order to verify that, I was, again, in Fort McMurray, supposed to get a 24-hour monitor to verify. Since it makes me anxious, and since I had to leave Fort McMurray, that’s another thing I haven’t done yet. But, then again, I only just became eligible and received a Medicare card for Quebec, so that’s the excuse there.

Not to mention that, because of dysphoria and trans issues, I would really, really like to get top surgery. But the research exhausts me, and so does the idea of being out of commission for potentially months. Plus, since I haven’t been going to the gym regularly (too busy with everything in my own career plus the RCMP issues), I feel like I’m not in a good place for a surgery. They say that the healthier you are going into surgery, the easier the road to recovery will be. So I do want to get into better shape before I think about surgery.

All of this is of course a recipe for disaster — I have to admit that I have been ignoring these health concerns because they don’t feel like emergencies. But then, they will turn into emergencies. I know that. I know that as much as anyone quoted in that millennial article knows that they need to register to vote or whatever other thing they’re putting off on their to-do list.

…anyhow, what this means is that it is really difficult to be creative right now. And even things that aren’t strictly creative about the project feel pretty difficult. But I’m doing my best to work on it. At this point, it feels like this isn’t just about the ebbs and flows of creativity – this is about what late capitalism does to art, what it is doing to people. How come even the most “successful” of us can’t have a damn rest? It seems like we’re all just a step away from burnout.

So. I am hereby granting myself an extension until at the very least April for this project. I still feel strongly about the project — it feels big, meaningful, and like it is pushing me artistically. That excites me. I want to give this project the time that it needs and deserves.