Memory lane

Facebook keeps telling me I should share memories from my timeline. Some of them are pretty cool, some less so, but it’s got me thinking back on things.

For instance, 2 years ago this month, I handed in my notice at my last consulting job. In the lead-up to that point, I was a mess. I was barely sleeping, eating terribly, I had difficulties walking and thanks to a 60 hr week I barely had time to socialise. I’d crash into bed on Friday, wake up with no energy on Saturday (so spend most of the day indoors), get to Sunday and have to either get some work done for Monday, or have to catch up with all the other things I had to do ready for the week ahead. Quitting though was still a surprisingly hard decision.

“If you apply yourself, you could be a really great senior manager…”

Coming back after the holidays, I’d resolved to stick to 40hrs a week, which failed within days. Late one Friday, my boss told me I wouldn’t make the next grade, but if I applied myself, I’d make a great senior manager in the next round. I already hated what I’d let that job do to me, so the idea of having to double-down on it to make the next grade was just horrifying.

Now what?

Switching over, the next job was a bizarre change of pace. I had evenings again, and no work to do at the weekends. I started pitching around for stuff I could do. I’d already started knitting as a way to manage stress, so I worked on trying to do some more creative things (some of which worked, some didn’t). I did some paper crafting, even managed to make myself a Han Solo costume.

Bryn Solo

Bryn Solo – Kessel Run in 12 parsecs or less

Despite all this “recovery”, I still had a small voice in the back of my mind – a tiny scumbag voice that spent its time making me feel horrible about myself (and still tries/does on occasion). The pitching around doing random things didn’t do much to address health issues, and didn’t really do much to deal with the perennial enquiries. Helpful bits of advice was forthcoming… stuff like “If you lost some weight, then you’d be able to find someone” was great fodder for the scumbag voice.

Fast-forward a bit to January 2015, I was at a low ebb. I’d decided to stop taking some medication I was being prescribed for joint issues, and I’d moved into (what is to be honest) a fairly crappy flat in Hackney. I’d practically ruined Christmas for the whole family by being a miserable bastard the whole way through (I contend now that was largely a side-effect of coming off the medication). The scumbag voice pretty much called the shots. It kept telling me I shouldn’t bother my friends with my problems, that going to them was dumping my stuff on theirs and would make me a bad friend.

My therapist had suggested I look around for improv classes during our sessions. She’d suggested it’d be a useful mindfulness-type technique. I ended up booking one after a drunken evening online (“wtf lol you’re going to look like an idiot” was what the scumbag had to offer), and attended my first in early February. Something where you had to be present and in the moment, and where messing up is seen as an opportunity. It was pretty much the antithesis of the old “consultant” thing of hedging and risk assessment, and it forced you to say to the scumbag voice “I’m too busy doing this thing… bother me later”.

That led to a bit of self-therapy where I started keeping a diary, where I’d track positive events in green, so if the scumbag ever resurfaced, I could re-read it and the positive stuff would jump off the page to tell it to go screw itself.

That bit of self-actualisation took a bit of a back seat to recovering from a broken leg over the summer (I rather foolishly got knocked down by a taxi). Still, I came back and dove into things again (with the support of an awesome group of classmates and a cracking teacher in Maria Peters).

Long-form Improv Class post-show photo

Long-form Improv Class post-show photo

My take-away from it is to try and be open to new opportunities when they present themselves, and committing honestly to them. Whilst it may be scary at times, the alternative is just as bad, and in many cases worse… I’m reminded of what Amy Poehler said (Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: Ask Amy):

“Opening your heart and being courageous and telling people that you care about them or like them or that you think they’re special only makes you a better, bigger, kinder, softer, more loving person and only attracts more love in your life”

Be Me

1

A timelord awaits… (Photo by Hannah Anketell)

So, in summary… go f**k yourself, scumbag voice. I’m me. I enjoy dressing like I’m from the 1940s, I’m confused by romantic (and beyond) relationships and I don’t care for sports. I’m going to screw up, and people will laugh at me. They (like you) are ass-hats, and no longer interest me. The people I’m interested are the ones who’ll be there to step into the scene with me (and for whom I can do the same). They’re the ones I want to play with. Not you.

Funny what a reminder about a throw-away post two years ago can bring out of you…

B

 

P.S – If you’ve read this far (kudos to you on that), I’m not fishing for “you can always call me”/”I’m there if you need me” or comments along those lines (welcome though they are). I’m trying to get this stuff out of my head, and pleading emails from WordPress to actually use this page were getting to me.

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Poetry Corner

Black Dog:
Dark and Brooding Nights,
Pining for a brighter day,
Forever waiting

Mornings:
Reluctant riser,
Intolerable mornings,
Coffee: essential.

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Yes, and…

The (ir)regular reader will have gathered that I’m on a bit of a “skills” kick at the moment, and would also have noticed (because you’re smart, handsome, and really switched on) that they’re not necessarily related. Yes! I’m working on gathering a bunch of (often) unrelated skills to form the most eclectic set of “other interests”.

Being smart and handsome, you’ll no doubt recall the knitting, yoga, climbing, sewing, silversmithing and costume-making to date (I want to invest a bit more time in the climbing, but that’s for a later date). For the next one, I decided to wander off in a slightly different direction, and for the past few weeks I’ve been taking a new class… Hoopla’s Improv Comedy for Beginners Course.

No, really…

Now, I can tell what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking “But Bryn, you’re terrible at jokes and stuff”. Firstly, shame on you! Being so rude after I’d called you smart and handsome and everything… Secondly, it’s not necessarily that important for it to be funny.

I sometimes struggle in rooms full of people. Some I’m okay with, others I find I’m sticking to the walls and searching for excuses to leave. I don’t know if it’s related to the difficulty I have at times hearing everything that’s going on, or if it’s a confidence issue tied up with poor self-esteem/image and fear of ending up looking like a prat (side note: therapists really are a marvel). Either way, it’s bugging me, and there must be a way to work on some of those issues…

This brings us to back the Improv

To be clear… we’re talking here about having two or more performers on stage building a scene from an opening line live with no prep time or rehearsal. Sometimes you’ll be funny, sometimes you won’t. You start with one line, then your fellow performers “Yes, and” (they accept what you’ve said, and build on it).

You have to put your trust into the person you’re performing the scene with, and you must accept what they say and build on it (and visa versa). If it involves falling to the floor or pretending to be a tree, you do that. You can’t worry about looking like a prat, because you’ve got a world to build with words and your body. You have to join in and maybe be one of a pair of trees arguing about philosophy, or you need to pretend to be a stuffed bear to help set the scene for your fellow performers (I watched one group go on from that to have the bear come to life and maul one of the other performers). If you start worrying about what you look like, you’ll miss an offer and end up leaving your performance mates hanging.

The good part is that it forces you out from your own head. You’re too busy listening to what everyone else is saying, remembering what you’ve said before and trying to think what you’re going to say next. In the classroom, everyone is in the same position. It’s amazing fun. You’re relying on the person you’re with to do some of the heavy lifting, there’s support there and it doesn’t feel so bad if things go wrong. Some of the reading I’ve done suggests that in most cases, what you improvise will fall flat on its face, with even the pros being happy with a quarter of the gags landing. Failure is expected, which makes succeeding even nicer. If something doesn’t work, bring it to a close and move onto the next one.

I’m half-way through the course now, and if I come away being able to apply that type of mindfulness into my life, then it’s all worthwhile. Do I want to get on stage and try some actual improv out? I really think I do… if nothing else, it’ll make a conversation-worthy addition to my collection of odd skills.

Skills:
Imagination: +1
Improvisation: +1
Self-actualization: +1

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Learning the Ropes

Looking to broaden my list of skills & interests a little further (and to break up my re-watching of The X-Files… damn you NetFlix). I decided to take up a friend’s offer to go climbing. I’ve got a fair number of friends who enjoy it – and who’d said I would too. I was skeptical… having visions of painful slips, face-planting into fibreglass, or rope burns. I also didn’t actually think I had the physical strength to be able to climb any walls. I was also a little concerned about the MCTD-related pain in finger joints making my grip a bit weaker.

I went along with my friend Penny to a local wall to give it a go, but a total failure on some side-scaling practice made me a bit anxious about tackling an actual wall. Taking a “fortune favours the bold” approach, I actually managed to make it just over 90% of the way up (A bit of bad route planning on the way up meant I’d run out of grips & ledges that I felt I could reach). Penny gave me a bit more of a push to try sticking to specific colour-coded routes up the wall, which seemed to get a bit easier with more practice (although I cheated a little on one climb when I couldn’t find the appropriate coloured foothold higher up). I actually managed to make it to the top on most of the subsequent attempts (admittedly, they were all beginner route)

It gave me a tremendous buzz… I can’t wait to go again.

B

Achievement Unlocked: Learning the Ropes — First-time climber

XP:
Climbing: +1
Lunacy: +1

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Mad Hattery…

Since I’m waiting for a re-supply of materials to finish the handwarmer project (see the last issue “Project Updates – Handwarmers“, true believers!), I jumped ahead to make myself a hat that actually fits:

image

Christmas hattery...

It’s been one to get stuck into over the break – it’s the first project that has the ribbing to the bottom to create the rim (alternating knit & purl stitches). It almost went massively wrong when I’d started decreasing too soon to make the crown, which would have ended up with the hat coming to about halfway down my forehead (thankfully, Mum was on-hand to help with putting it all back on the needles).

So, all that remains is to add a few more rows to get it further down my head, then decrease stitches at the right point so it doesn’t look silly. Head shots with it on when it’s worth seeing.

Skills:
Knitting: +5XP
Achievement Unlocked: Gentle Ribbing – Basic ribbing added to a piece of work.

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Project Updates – Handwarmers

Most of you know how I struggle in the cold with hands turning blue… (“two by two; hands of blue”. With my new-found hobby, I decided to make a few more things that might help keep me warm. The scarf is obviously doing a bang-up job, so I decided to work on a pair of hand warmers…

One hand warmer... seeks partner to warm hands of wearer.

One hand warmer… seeks partner to warm hands of wearer.

It’s largely being improvised, and was mostly an excuse to use double-pointed needles. I had a simmilarly styled ball of wool to make the left hand, but having thought about it a bit more, a matching pair makes more sense (so I’ve got a bit more on order…). The only problem with this one is that I’ve made the thumb-hole a bit too big (I’m calling in on some friends to get some advice on how to address that…)

After that, it’s on to make a hat that actually fits…

B

+1 Knitting
Achievement Unlocked: Double Trouble – First use of Double-Pointed Needles.

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Project Updates… (+1 Knitting)

It occurs to me that you blog readers may have missed the update on twitter on my scarf knitting project. It had advanced to a few feet at the time of the last update, and is now complete at a shade over 9.5 feet.

Very happy with the results of it as a first project. I need to practice finishing off colour transitions a bit more, and I don’t quite have the hang of edging yet. More to learn!

+1 Knitting
Achievement Unlocked: 1st Completed Knitting Project

B

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Cosplay – Learning by doing (and failing)

So, I got invited to a friend’s Star Wars themed birthday recently (I won’t say *which* birthday, I don’t think that would be particularly appreciated). Someone had joked about it being a costume party, with obvious consequences…

In terms of options, there was only ever one choice…

Harrison Ford is Han Solo in Star Wars

Harrison Ford is Han Solo in Star Wars

So, I present Bryn Solo!

Bryn Solo - Kessel Run in 12 parsecs or less

Bryn Solo – Kessel Run in 12 parsecs or less

A few things I learnt from this particular escapade…

1) I really need to practice my had-stitching — Seriously, it’s terrible. The stitches are uneven, crooked and all over the place. It’s a miracle that any of it hangs together (the stripe on the trousers is stitched on by me).

2) Spray Paints are jolly good fun — The blaster originally came in a wonderful shade of white plastic, which rather ruins the effect:

The cheapo replica pistol sold by Amazon...

The cheapo replica pistol sold by Amazon…

But after some painting…

image

Not quite the right shade of grey on the muzzle, but a lot closer than the original prop did…

3) The Holster — Possibly the most accurate part… an actual replica bought online from Jedi Robes.com

Han Holster

4) 80s beige shirts are hard to come by… even in London — Despite checking out all the places you’d expect to find such things in London (Shoreditch, Soho, Covent Garden & Camden Market, I’d not been able to track down a single place I could get a shirt & jacket combo that worked. Amazon listed a “deluxe” costume (this version came with a seprate vest and shirt…) which answered the requirement. The trousers on the other hand came with some ridiculous fake boots… speaking of which…

5) Knee-high boots for men — Another thing that turns out to be quite tricky to find. The only pair I’d been able to track down were a pair of rubber riding boots (essentially wellington boots). The problem was, whilst they were okay to the size of my foot, I couldn’t actually get the damned things on. So, in a fit of pique, I cut a 10″ slit in the inside edge, which fixed one problem, but created another…

The boots, one problem fixed but another created...

The boots, one problem fixed but another created…

A zip was dismissed (since it wouldn’t add enough space for me to actually be able to zip them up). I opted instead to put in a large velcro tab type thing (which was initially glued in place, then re-enforced with stiches – again, appalingly stitched).

So… the stripe is badly stitched on, the boots are a travesty and the shirt comes from a cheap costume, but I honestly couldn’t be happier that it all hangs together. It actually *looks* like what I’d originally intended. My take-away from the whole thing is that I just need to take a bit more time to look at a problem, then implement it properly, rather than half-heartedly working on getting it done (because part of me didn’t fully believe it’d work). The solution I came up with worked, and a bit more effort on my part would have ended up with with a much neater-looking end product. I’ve also learnt a lot about how some of these materials work, how to attach one to the other, and where I can pick up supplies to get these jobs done.

Plus, I have a reasonable Han Solo Costume…

Achievement Unlocked: 1st Cosplay Effort
Skills:
+1 Sewing
+1 Prop Replication
+1 Botching & Making Good

Posted in films, fun, geek, ideas, making, personal, Project E, projects, sci-fi, Star Wars | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Maker Faire & Levelling Up

I’ve wanted to attend a maker faire since I first heard about them back in 2006. Awesome pictures and videos would surface over the web of the sort of things that would happen at them… My most recent favourite, featured Adam Savage of the Mythbusters dancing in a Faraday Cage whilst Tesla Coils play out the tune to Doctor Who:

When it came to the events in the UK, I always seemed to miss out on being able to attend. Either I wouldn’t find out it was on in time, or (as was often the case), my work got in the way.

Until *this* year…

I spent the day down at the Brighton Mini Makers Faire and was massively buzzed to see everything there. There were robots, awesome spinning LED displays, paint cannons, laser cutters, looms, knitters… Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my! I ended up at two tables making a few bits and pieces.

The first was a stand run by Sew Fabulous, where they let people make a small pouch/purse using the sewing machines. I’d not done any sewing in years… (back in I think year 9 at Secondary School, in a Design & Technology class, I made a cusion cover that looked like the Welsh flag… which was a lot of fun…).
Sewn Pouch

The second was a class run by a jewler called Scarlett Erskine, who worked through and helped us make a ring. We went through the process of sizing, silver soldering (how can you not enjoy a process that involves using blowtorches?!), quenching and some design work. I ended up making a pretty basic shape (with hindsight, I should really have thought a bit more about the type of ring I was going to make), but the end result is fantastically pleasing.

Silver Ring

So… stats for the day end up with a +1 to Silver Smithing and to Sewing. With the “Jewelry 101” achievement unlocked. Whoop.

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Power Struggles & Furniture Hacking

Like a number of you I’m sure, I have a number of devices that power from USB. Each time a new USB device arrives, it seems I spend a good 20 minutes trying to figure out what’s the optimum arrangement to plug in the power adaptors into the multi-gangs I have so that the devices can all be charged.

The place where this seems to happen is mostly by my bed, and the multi-gang adaptor I had there was a massive jumble of cables I’d often end up tripping over. So, there had to be a solution…

Searching on Amazon, I came across Anker‘s 5-port 40W adaptor, so 5 USB devices could be plugged in to one adaptor, and the adaptor itself was around the size of a deck of cards. PERFECT. One plug, 5 USB devices!
71AN7105-B5A_BA_TD01

Having also been a fan of Ikea Hackers, I’d always wanted to try to customize the furniture to something that was of more use. I thought of an idea to mount the adaptor in such a way as to keep it off the floor out of sight. So, over my lunch break today I thought of building a cradle I could attach to the base of the unit out of “L” brackets, then tack the cables along the back in order to have something to keep them a bit tidier.

cradle
With the cradle complete, the device sits in it quite nicely:

device-in-cradel

Turning it back over and re-installing the radio & lamp, the cables are now tacked in the far back corner within easy reach. They fall out over the back when not in use, and don’t sit messily over the front. Not bad for 15 minutes of work.

20140819_201138

Must find more projects like this to do…

B

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