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.

DISSERTATION: On continuing to be tired

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

Thought it was time that I wrote another autoethnography blog post.

Since the last time I wrote, I’ve been slowly plugging away at a variety of tasks that aren’t directly related to my dissertation research. What I am coming to realize, I think, is just how much external factors affect my ability to work creatively or work on code. Yesterday, for example, I tried to do some creative writing after a meeting and spent a good deal of time staring at the screen instead. Then, when I decided to try to switch to coding, I could feel my body physically saying “nope, nope, nope” — it felt like my brain and body could anticipate what would happen if I were to code right then — the slog of working through something that I would either have to interrupt and possibly lose the thread of for next time, or that I would get caught up in and skip out on other responsibilities for (such as the roast lamb dinner I was planning for last night).

I am getting other work done, such as finishing the syllabus and course pack for the course I am teaching next winter, and writing a co-interview article with Kara Stone, and choosing the abstracts for full articles for the issue of First Person Scholar that I an editing, but that tiredness that I mentioned before is omnipresent. The threat of burnout seems to be constantly just at the periphery of my consciousness. I find myself taking long breaks, but still not feeling refreshed by them. I have had unexpected bodily aches and pains too — a bulging disc in my back giving me more pain, requiring me to apply heat to my back and return to doing strengthening and stabilizing exercises and stretches from my physiotherapist, a constant returning sinusitis causing debilitating headaches just behind my eyes, and the most awful cramps — for which I applied more heat.

The biggest pressures that I am feeling related to my dissertation work are measuring the time that I have left alloted to this project against my abilities and the work left to be done. There are still prototype portable sensors to build and figure out, there’s still a lot of programming to do that is currently outside of the scope of my skill — but only just outside — that I really should be asking for help with (but everyone is busy, eh?), and there are the sculptures themselves to build.

Unfortunately, there are so many factors outside of my dissertation and currently outside of my control that are contributing to this stress, and it’s also very difficult for me to do creative work while I am stressed. Some things are within my control if I make the time for them, and that would make me less stressed, but it also will take up time that I feel I should be spending working on my creative project. I could really use a long break, where I don’t do anything related to work, but if I take that long break, it feels like I’m just eating into my time. There seem to be more days where it is difficult to work than there are good days, especially when it comes to work that I am only accountable to myself for.

Tom has been a big help, particularly for things that have just felt like a total slog (changing all my Harvard citations into MLA for the syllabus, for example, and gathering all the articles for the course pack).

Even making these records of process make me feel guilty when I’m not doing them, but the truth is that I haven’t been getting all that much done. I’ve solved a number of important programming issues, but there’s still a whole lot more, and I’ve written about half of the script for the game, but there’s still, again, a whole lot more.

I’m happy with the work that I have, but I wish that I could be more efficient and faster. Everything is a tradeoff: if I want to make a nutritious meal, that means going home early from work, or working from home. But when I work from home, because of all that’s left to do to set our place up, I am distracted by the mess and everything that needs my attention there.

Ah, and I shouldn’t leave this out for future Jess: last Thursday, we found out that our dear friend Serge Mercier, who I wrote about in my Master’s dissertation, was on his deathbed. Tom spent Thursday evening contacting people to let them know, and then we spent Friday taking Serge’s son to be with him at the hospital before he passed. We were there until about 10:30, then took his son home, and Serge died that night. Then, I woke up another day this week to a text message from my mom letting me know about a funeral that morning for a family friend that attended her church – someone I had known my whole life. So, that happened. Maybe those things also have to do with this state that I am in.

Finally, of course, the issues with Tom’s work continue. You can read a bit about them at rcmpaccountable.wordpress.com if you like. It continues to be draining and stressful. Come the end of January, Tom will have been on sick leave for a year because of this, and he has been actively fighting these issues since September 2017. Before that, things hadn’t yet bubbled up from under the surface. It seems that there are still years to go on this issue.

I guess autoethnography can mean disclosing some pretty uncomfortable things. It makes perfect sense to me that this would all be affecting my creative process, but I can see no alternative but to keep going, and keep doing the best that I can. I’m doing my best to rest, but I am worried that teaching next semester will only further eat into my time. Still, I know that it will be valuable experience, and frankly, I have to think about saving money for when my SSHRC runs out and because of the uncertainty with Tom’s work.

DISSERTATION: I’ve Been Tired!

autoethnography, critical making, curious games, dissertation

Well, sportsfans, I’m keeping busy and working away on my dissertation project and a whole whack of other things.

Since the last time that I wrote, I’ve participated in a lot of events, which is the priamry reason why I haven’t been able to write too much here. In between the events, I’ve just needed time to recover, work on my code, and do my chores.

Speaking of code, you can now find the repository for my working-title project Traces here.

What I have discovered after a lot of effort and working with Node JS and etc is this:

— Johnny-Five doesn’t not play well with this NFC shield. I could either get my little LED light to blink using a node server command or I could get my RFID shield to read my NFID tags, but not both. People have been asking for support on this from the johnny-five developpers since 2015, but obviously it’s a labour of love and it just hasn’t happened.

— I will have try to use websocket and serialport instead, although I remember there being some issues with serialport and one of our previous projects. Alternatively, I will have to try and make everything happen through the Arduino board (this is not ideal for audio or for using multiple com ports).

Okay, so my last post was written on a Sunday. Then, there was a week of work from there, where I did some writing and a lot of code troubleshooting that I don’t have a lot to show for. On the 8th, I did a Costco run with one of the organizers of GAMERella in preparation for, you guessed it, GAMERella, which happened on the 10th and 11th.

I made a game that weekend with Narf and Catherine called “TAMAGAMEWORKER”, and it’s about unhealthy working conditions in the game industry. You have to try and take care of a tamagotchi gameworker named Tama, while they try to balance their basic needs alongside demands from work and other spheres. You can check it out here – it’s not perfectly balanced and you may have to install “Noto Sans” for the fonts to display properly (I haven’t gotten around to doing web fonts for it yet). I did the programming, most of the art except the tamagotchi animations, the annoying music, and I helped edit the writing. Catherine did most of our writing and Narf helped with programming, did the Tamagotchi animations, and helped Catherine with syntax for the JSON file.

Then, this past weekend (and when I say weekend here, I mean covering the period from the 16th-19th), was the Montreal Mini Maker Faire followed directly by the Maker Cultures conference and symposium. It was four days straight of very intense, long days.

On Friday and Saturday, I was exhibiting. I didn’t realize how tired I was ’til after — it can be really hard to take a break and have someone else watch your booth when you’re the only one who knows what needs to be done and, as the Gamemaster, your skills are a big part of the experience. It was helpful to have to explain Flip the Script! (the game I was showing) to so many people. I was also on CTV Montreal with the project — you can check out the video here (although unfortunately it misgenders me).

On Sunday, it was a day of talks followed by dinner with the presenters, and Monday was a day of workshops and trying to help define this area.

One very serendipitous meeting from this weekend was with Josh and Karen Tanenbaum from UC Irvine. We had met at QGCon in LA two years ago, which Josh was kind enough to help me remember by saying “we haven’t seen each other since…” because I had total face blindness. The Tanenbaums have done some really cool work with — surprise! NFC! That includes a storytelling NFC glove, so I definitely plan to engage with their work as I think about Traces.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I took the day off and went to see Burn The Stage in theaters. I slept in, I ate ramen, I bought art supplies, I watched a movie, I cuddled kitties, I played video games, I wrote with Tom…It was glorious.

And that brings us to today. Today, I worked on some other tasks needing my attention regarding my work as student rep and some other administrative things. I also had the chance to practice Japanese with a dear friend. She is very patient with me — with all that’s been going on, I haven’t had much chance to practice. Oh, and I got a new night-guard and had it adjusted.

I jokingly told my friend today that maybe the reason I was working so much with Time Travel themes (in the tabletop RPG I am running for my friends, for example, and with this project) is because I never seem to have enough of it and I want to make more of it.

As the Pixies say, “I’ve been tired! T-I-R-E-D spells it, spells it, spells it”.

So I’m trying to be cautious, take the time that I need to rest, and keep on keeping on.