JewelryNiche: Learning the Rope (Chain)

This week’s look into the world of my personal projects won’t be nearly as exciting as last week’s, but it’s on my mind at the moment and it does fit in well. We’re going to take a look at my history as a jewelry designer, something I’ve done off and on throughout my life.

When I was a child, I loved to make wearable pieces. Over the course of elementary school, I made friendship pins of all sizes with all kinds of colors and types of bead. I loved playing with bead combinations. In middle school, I shifted over to friendship bracelets. Again, it was all about the color combinations and the patterns I could make with the threads. In high school, I still made friendship bracelets, but I expanded my interests to plastic canvas jewelry and barrettes to go with my wardrobe. (I would honestly wear them. Actually, there are a couple of barrettes I still wear, but I won’t tell if you don’t.)

In college, I was busy with volunteering in museums and dancing with local ballet companies, so my jewelry design went by the wayside. But in grad school, I got involved with live-action roleplaying (LARP), and was fascinated by the chain mail armor. I kept approaching armourers, hoping to learn the skills, but I effectively got blown off. I learned other crafts (including some basic beading techniques), but never found someone willing to teach me how to make chain mail.

Until the day I stumbled across a book on viking knit (which I still can’t do successfully) that just happened to have an entire section dedicated to knitting chains. I got some pliers and some rings and let the book teach me how to create 4-in-1, 6-in-1, the box chain, and the byzantine chain (my favorite knit).

And then my inner twelve-year-old kicked in. I used what I was learning to create jewelry pieces, often starting by making the basic pattern, and then making the next piece with some sort of variation, be it a blending of techniques or adding in beads and other components. I kept picking up more chain styles, eventually learning enough to create my own belly dance belt. (It’s still somewhere in this room, carefully wrapped up in a scarf.) As I learned each new knit, I stumbled through the first few rounds before figuring out an easier way to build that pattern.

I discovered wire jigs and started creating wrapped wire projects, expanding my ability to experiment and play with the materials. I started teaching the occasional class. I created jewelry for arts competitons, and even managed to sell some pieces. Eventually, I got brave enough to open a (long-dead) Etsy shop called JewelryNiche. I sold a few pieces, but other things got in the way and I eventually stopped designing.

I know what you’re thinking: If I stopped designing years ago, why is it on my mind now? Well, I’ve been clearing out my living space, which means going through all of my old crafting materials. Which means coming across all of my old jewelry design materials. I’m not going to lie. Part of me is looking at organizing them by material and offering them through Etsy. Part of me wants to make some kits out of those materials and offer the kits on Etsy. And another part is thinking, I could totally turn these into some jewelry patterns I’ve seen on Pinterest and some old favorites.

Time will tell what I actually decide to do.

All right, so much for Personal Project #2. Because July has an extra week this year, I have to come up with a third personal project to share. And an Etsy shop to plan for and stock. Keep an eye on the sidebar for an announcement.

The Structural Similarities of PLEs and Cities

When you’re dividing your producing time between creating a learning environment structure and creating a storyworld, strange things happen. You start to notice that part of your work is spilling into the other part. And then you notice the other part is spilling into the first part. At some point, weary from trying to figure out how it happened to begin with, you finally surrender and realize it’s a good thing. In my case, taking a break to familiarize myself with urban exploration while playing MySims Kingdom and SimCity Social led to my thinking about the nodal structure of a well-designed city. It got me to thinking about how I was laying out New Glory, and about how I could lay out New Glory to better make it model a real-world city. But as I was also starting to pull together my notes on the Personal Learning Environment, my mind stated making some interesting connections, ones I still keep in mind as I continue to flesh out my thoughts on both the PLE and New Glory.

Within your home, you store artifacts that are important to you, arranged to your liking (or by need), and maintained. Those tools you expect to need for whatever reason are kept stored away for easy access. You then pull out the artifacts you want to show off and use them to decorate your home, giving hand-picked visitors to your home a way to see who you are and what’s important to you. Your front lawn is then maintained to present a certain appearance to the general public. You may even subscribe to local newspapers and topical magazines you find interesting, just to keep in touch.

That sounds a lot like the PLE, doesn’t it? You pull together information artifacts you find interesting or informational. Those that could be useful in the future get filed into a system for later retrieval. Those that are worth sharing go out on your blog or social media. Where the site allows, you redesign the publicly viewable aspects to give off the appearance you want others to see; you share certain information and artifacts with only people you choose.

Step out of your home, and you become part of your neighborhood. You chat with neighbors to get the local gossip. You run into people from your own neighborhood or nearby ones at local stores, where you share more gossip or discuss important news. Then, you head over to the local pub, coffees shop, comic book store, independent craft store – some local haunt where your people gather – to discuss local gossip and news in light of your preferred interests. All of this, just blocks from your home.

Compare this to your Personal Learning Network (PLN), which is built both online and offline, and would therefore definitely include that local haunt. On the digital side of the PLN, you would discuss with the researchers, bloggers, social media users, and content creators immediately around you about issues, trading ideas and concerns. Just like you might travel into the boundaries between your neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods, you might use your PLN to pull together your various interests into a single network you can turn to for recent gossip, news, and information.

Leave your neighborhood for work or to engage in a hobby, and you’re out in the city. You might work just a few miles from home, and then travel across town for Ultimate Frisbee practice. Then, on the weekend you might travel over to another part of town where you volunteer as an electronics coach with a local makerspace. For most of us, this is just living life. Yes, we’re interacting with our coworkers, our teammates, and our students. But it’s just what we do. We move between these various groups we’re part of, sharing our own information and skills as we gather more information and skills from other members of the groups.

I don’t think I’ve talked much about these, but those various places you’re going to in the real world are your communities of practice. You meet with different groups to exchange ideas relevant to that group, everyone building a collective knowledge that benefits everyone. You do the same thing online in your groups, communities, and forums. People interested in a specific topic or skill come together to exchange and debate ideas, to present work for critique and to help others by critiquing their work, to share tips and tricks to improve the community’s work as a whole.

Whether we’re offline or online, our activities and interactions really have become very similar. It’s worth keeping that in mind if you are developing a meeting space or a storyworld.

The Elements in Music

I realize it sounds like I’m about to talk about composing music, but I’m beyond ill-qualified to be part of that conversation. (Honestly, as a kid I could ace any choreography assignment my ballet teachers gave me, and then turn around and fail every composition assignment my music teachers gave me. It was awesome.) What I am going to talk about is using music in my work, which I’m also very bad at, but I’m trying to figure it out.

One thing I’ve been really interested in, ever since I was a little girl, is symbolic associations. Colors, plants, animals, flags, heraldry. I always thought it was interesting how people (and countries) used things to represent them. What was even more interesting to me was how many cultures came to similar associations before coming into contact with a culture with similar associations, although a lot of that has to do with simple observation of the world than any inherently psychological connection.

About a year ago, I thought it would be fun to try to create a playlist that reflected each element. It seemed like such a simple prospect. Think about the qualities often associated with an element, and then find songs in my collection that reflected and evoked those qualities. It was so simple, in fact, that I avoided it up until I started working on fleshing out the monasteries in my story world. Each monastery reflects a different element, so I thought I’d work on each playlist as I worked on the monastery that shared the element. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

I’m working on the first pair at the moment, and I’ve come to realize some important things. The first is that I don’t have much in the way of music that would fire anyone up. The second is that various types of music will reflect an element all on their own. For example, we tend to think of folk music as being very earthy. It should come as no surprise. Folk music reflect a culture of people we would call “down to earth”, reflecting that connection. Flamenco music (my go-to when I just can’t find my own get-up-and-go) is considered spicy. Again, it’s no surprise as we consider the originating culture fiery. I haven’t figured out yet what the obvious air and water connections are, so feel free to add those in the comments.

Ruining Our Childhood

I’m going to start this by talking about my relationship with X-Men. Why? Because I think it’s a good foundation for what I really want to talk about. You see, despite the fact I’ve read no more than fifteen issues of any of the comic book series, I consider myself an X-Men fan. I’ve seen all of the cartoons (even that horrible X-Men: Evolution) except the most recent one (and seriously bummed to be missing Steve Blum playing Wolverine. That has got to rock!), and I’ve seen all of the movies. I’d have hated the thought of missing any of them (and I do hate that I don’t have access to Wolverine and the X-Men). And I’ve read just enough to understand what Stan Lee was hoping to achieve with the series.

But every time a new cartoon or movie appears, I get to listen to friends who have read most, if not all, of the comics argue and scream about how botched storylines and characters are. I feel for them. Books adapted to movies drive me up the wall more often than not. But I also know Lee is right there as these cartoons and movies are being made, and he’s saying, “This is okay.” It’s really hard to get uptight when the creator himself is saying the adaptation is fine. (This is not to be confused with George Lucas’ failure to understand that he revolutionized special effects thirty-five years ago and feels it’s better to destroy his own trailblazing past than continue to blaze forward.)

Anyway, I tell you about my past and my feelings toward X-Men and its various adaptations because it’s been running through my head a lot lately. And for this, I need to make a confession: I found Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles highly annoying in high school. It was too campy for me, and I wanted to slap April. But I regularly babysat a little boy who fancied himself Raphael, so I’d tie on a purple bandana, grab a broom, and help him kick an imaginary Shredder’s bum. I didn’t miss having to be a turtle when his family moved away. When the series rebooted several years ago, I had no desire to go anywhere near it…right up until I learned Wayne Grayson was playing Michaelangelo, and I just had to hear that! I ended up watching the entire series, and I now miss having it around. Especially because I think it could help clarify something.

By now, I’m pretty sure everybody has either heard or seen jokes about Michael Bay’s intended adaptation for the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I know I have. Fans hate something they love being messed with, and most feel that Bay’s intent to turn the turtles into aliens is just going too far. There are a few problems with the fan reaction, though. The first is that, from what I’ve read, Bay’s intent was never to turn the turtles themselves into aliens. It was to make their origins alien, and as one of the writers has pointed out, we are told at one point that the ooze that mutated the turtles to begin with is of alien origin (and I seem to think I’ve seen that story in the rebooted cartoon). This is not actually a change. Even better, the writer in question is friends with Kevin Eastman, who has seen part of the script and been fine with it. Even better than that, Peter Laird drew an alien turtle for the writers after he heard what was going on.

Eastman and Laird, the creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are onboard with this project. Maybe the rest of us should chill out and trust they aren’t going to let their own work be misrepresented. (Seriously, how many creators could truly end up with Konietzko and DiMartino’s bad luck?)

Reimagined Stories

Have you read the Harry Potter books and seen the movies? I have. Enjoyed them all. But when someone asked me what I thought of the second half of Deathly Hallows, my response was, “You could see David Yates all through it. It’s a shame, because he did such a thorough job with the first half.” I’ve never been terribly complimentary toward what Alphonse Cuaron and Mike Newell did to their respective books, either. There were plot points that were important to me that didn’t make it in or felt too summarized in the movies. But Rowling was involved in the movies, and she didn’t seem to be overly disturbed by those missing elements, so I feel silly for even complaining about them.

I react the same way to X-Men. My friends who are hard-core fans have long complained about all of the problems in the cartoons and the movies, and my response has always been, “Yeah, but Stan Lee was involved with those. He was fine with the changes.”

We so often look forward to movies based on favorite books. We want the world in our head to appear on the screen. We want to see what the moments that really touched us looked like. Then we see the movie and walk out disenchanted because it was nothing like what we imagined. That’s because movies are creative adaptations- often marked as “based on the books by” or “inspired by” so we will keep our hopes in check. But some of us take it really personally when the director’s vision doesn’t match either the book’s own descriptions or our own imaginations.

By and large, though, creative adaptations can be lived with. On the other hand, what I call “second chance reimaginings” take a little bit more patience. This is actually a new territory for me. I’ve seen many movies, television series, and cartoons based on books and comic books, but I’d never seen one that claimed to be based on the books where I had to add in the word “loosely” to calm myself down.

Have you ever seen or read Pretty Little Liars? While I’ve seen the entire series so far (and I’m not ashamed to admit it), I’ve only read the first four books. Unfortunately, I read through them quickly enough that I learned who A was and who Alison’s killer was before the series made it that far.

Except it didn’t. The first A never materialized (because there is apparently another A in the second four books). And the series has left some doubt as to whether or not the killer actually killed Alison. So reading those four books didn’t actually spoil anything in the series for me. In fact, outside of the character’s names and favorite pastimes, I had a hard time seeing the connection between the two. That’s because the Pretty Little Liars series doesn’t creatively adapt the books. It seems to tell a “But this is how it could have happened” version of the same story, and I find that just fascinating. I don’t know what led to it, or if that was Shepard and Alloy’s plans for the series (since Alloy published the series to begin with), but it opens the door to wondering what other books would be well-received in this reimagined format.

It also leaves me hesitant to read the rest of Pretty Little Liars or start The Lying Game.

Having experienced both creative adaptation and “second chance reimagining”, I’m not sure which I think is better. Both leave room for appreciation, derision, and discussion, but the reimagining really leaves you with little room to think, “Ooh! I wonder how they’ll interpret this event”, because you don’t know if it’s really coming or not.

Ideas on How to Get Creating…

The Writing Prompt Notebook
I’ve periodically taken to writing prompts or ideas on sticky notes and sticking them in my design notebook…but it’s rare anything actually happens with them. I tell myself it’s because I’m really trying to stay focused on Gemma Regina, but I’m honestly just not getting around to any of it.

But what if I did? What if all of the writing prompts I’ve collected over the years and all of the ideas I’ve generated over the years were on sticky notes…in a larger notebook than the one I currently carry around (which wouldn’t fit into my bag)? The immediate benefit is having the prompt right there in a writing space (since I’m more of a handwriter than a typist). And I could group ideas together if I wanted to weave them into the same story. I could add in more notes and thoughts as I explored groups of ideas…or a single idea for that matter. I could even move notes around to make room for works in progress…and it would be far easier to move unused notes into new notebooks as old notebooks ran out of pages.

It’s so tempting, and yet there’s a part of me that’s so certain I’d never actually get anywhere with it which is probably also what’s holding up…

The Inspiration Notebook
Part mood board, part dreams, part therapy. I have slowly started this project in a sense. I’ve been gathering images and such that appeal to me. Originally, I was going to post them into this old notebook that used to be my exploring notebook (before I became a hermit). They’re even grouped into pages and partial storylines.

Over the last month or so, as I’ve wrestled with various professional and personal woes, I started thinking about it in a different light. Along with collecting things that appeal to me, it could be an exploration of where I wish I was. Most motivation and therapy programs say that if you have a visualization of what you want, you’ll get there. It’s never actually worked for me, but I’ve thought about having fun with it and turning it into a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure activity. Pull in everything I have, but have some means (I was thinking appealing color swatches) to mark crossroads and paths taken or lost. Effectively, creating this bizarre little Mary Sue and enjoying building her world.

I don’t know…sounds stupid when you say it out loud, really. Could be fun, though. Maybe?

Let Children Be

I worry about the kids I work with. Some of them have a schedule so packed with sports or outside classes that they can’t find a moment to or do their homework or study for tests…or relax. And it shows not only in their academic lives, but in their personal lives as well.  I’m constantly telling my overextended test prep kids to relax, especially in the days leading up to the test, if for no other reason than to keep them from choking on a test they’re otherwise capable of dealing with…and they all look at me like I’ve lost my mind. They’re really too young to be feeling that pressure.

In filling a child’s schedule with all of these activities, we’re really robbing them of the time to be kids. They get no time to just play, and so they don’t learn the skills that come along with play- creative thinking, storytelling, social skills, problem solving. They don’t get to have the experiences and form the memories that will shape and inform their adulthood. I’d even argue that they lose the opportunity to develop empathy because they don’t experience what it means to simply be at a time in their life when they’re learning what life is.

So many creativity and career change blogs advocate reconnecting with childhood to fuel and inspire your work…but if there really wasn’t much of a childhood, what fuel is going to be there to inspire your work?

Dealing With Project Grief

At the beginning of August, I wrapped up five projects I’d been working on since January (except for the ones that were started late spring). It felt good to get that much work off my to-do list, but at the same time it left me trying to figure out what was next. In my usual optimistic manner, I told a friend that weekend that I’d be fine and working hard the following week.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

In the first couple of weeks that followed, I spent more time organizing and reorganizing to-do lists and working on silly little things than doing anything else. I just didn’t have the energy or desire to do anything else. Finally, I managed to start working on that novel rewrite I’ve been wrestling with for the past year or so, but it was a struggle.

And then the explanation came. Several productivity and creativity blogs and Twitter folk that I follow all started talking about “Project Grief”, that time after you’ve completed a project where you have to recover. Some compared it to being in a relationship: You’ve heavily invested yourself in this project, and when it’s over you need time to recharge. It makes sense. A project that means something to you becomes a part of you, so naturally you’re going to need down time to adjust to its loss.

Unfortunately, a couple even likened recovery time from a project to recovery time from a relationship: one week for every month involved. If that’s true, I may be in trouble…in several ways. For example, I had some projects that had been going for several months, and I completed them five weeks ago. These last two weeks of recovery time aren’t likely to be any friendlier than the previous five. Also, I was working on five projects, so part of me wonders if I have to recover from each of the five or if I’m recovering from them all together. If it’s the first, though, it’ll be at least a year before I’m ready to tackle the next batch of projects, and that’s a year I’m just not willing to sit through.

And of course, I can’t ignore the nagging feeling that the reason I’m even debating the difference is because I was “dating” five projects at the same time. Maybe I just need to force myself to get over it and keep working. A month should have been long enough to decompress, right?

Prototyping

Prototyping has been showing up a lot in my reading lately. First, it formed the basis of a game design book I read. Then, right as I started wondering what prototyping looks like for writers, one of the blogs I follow linked to an article on prototyping. (I really should have saved it.) My first reaction to running into prototyping repeatedly was t0 tweetI need to develop a modeling/prototype habit.

Then I opened my design notebook, which is full of notes on all sorts of random things, including character and setting notes for various projects, and I realized that I do prototype, at least as a writer. I lay out these people and places and then experiment with their development until I find something that works or that inspires me to build a story. When I was trying to build my first branched story, I had a map for all of the scenes and puzzles I wanted to create. Every level and its connections to other parts of the story were carefully laid out and tested and adjusted as I went. I still have that map somewhere. If I ever want to pick up that project again, I have that early work to review and build from.

When I thought more about it, I realized that I’ve always prototyped in some form or another. When I was a child, I used to play with wooden blocks and Lego. I’d rebuild the same concept on a near-daily basis, making adjustments each day to the new version in an attempt to reach my ultimate vision. Sometimes, I’d succeed in finding the actual construction I was looking for. On rare occasions, I’d find a much better way to build my design. There were even days when I had to accept my vision was impossible and give up. (That happened a lot more frequently with the wooden blocks, mainly because there just weren’t enough to accommodate some of my grander plans.)

Even when I was pinning plastic necklaces to nightgowns to adorn them for a game as a child, I was constantly experimenting with attachment methods and ways to arrange one piece onto another. When I found a style I liked, it tended to show up in a number of my creations until I discovered yet another way to do it better.

I’ve been prototyping all along. But instead of creating physical models of my prototype (which doesn’t suit my current work), I’m doing it through sketches.

Prototyping is really experimenting. You build something the way you think it should go in your mind, and then try it out. As the problems you didn’t think of show up, you re-build and re-build until the problems become so tiny that you just don’t care anymore. Without thinking about it, a lot of us did it in our play as children, and those of us who haven’t lost our love of tinkering still do it without a whole lot of thought as adults. We often get so focused on looking for the “right” solution that we forget to have fun with it, explore, and find the right solution.

Riff Off Yourself

Being comfortable with different forms and genres can be useful sometimes. It can allow you to work through writer’s block in productive ways.

For example, when I hit a creative wall on two separate projects, I created side stories. I effectively wrote fan fiction for my own work. In one case, it helped greatly. It gave me the chance to explore a character I hadn’t fully thought out, and that was enough to help me see where to direct the story so I could continue. In the other case, I created a fun little standalone story that didn’t actually help. But once it was done, I was able to talk myself into going back to the main story.

There have been times when I’ve stared at something I’m working on and become hung up on the question, “Now what?” But I’ve got an idea on how to tackle that in the future, and it comes from creating fan fiction. The last thing I did when I was working on fan fiction was what I called Afterwords. I wrote the scene I thought should come next after nearly every single episode of a cartoon I was fond of at the time. I’m realizing I could apply that same approach to my own work. Read over what I’ve recently written and then ask myself what I think should happen next and write that scene. Who knows? Something might shake lose.

It may be a while before I get to experiment with it, though, because I seem to be trapped in editing or planning at the moment, but I’m looking forward to see what happens.