EXPER3 2018: Puzzle Redux

Hey there, folks! Let’s get down to business on this lovely Wednesday.

Today’s post is going to be about two things; neither of them involves 20/20 or weight loss! I am taking a few days of willing sabbatical for the first time since starting the program, and I hope it’ll be the chance I need to rest up and recover. My system has decided to throw all sorts of nasty things at me since my return from Tucson on Sunday, and I’ve learned enough about myself to read the signs that I’m pushing myself harder than is healthy. It’s still hard to be away from everything I’ve come to know and understand.

As I’ve said before, these trips to Tucson aren’t fun-vacations, even if I do enjoy getting to see my family! They’re opportunities for me to help, to broaden my horizons as a human being – separate from my husband and the people I rely on every day – and to learn to live my new lifestyle when things aren’t always easy or expected. Being able to handle my mom’s needs on my own is a huge blessing as far as enabling us to go out and do things that we want to do, but it’s a new experience to be responsible for someone else’s well-being and safety to this degree – and now I carry the additional knowledge that I can’t afford to forget my own needs! In some ways, this is practice for the mother I hope to be someday, but it’s also throwing myself into the deep end when it comes to navigating other people. Asking for help, having to navigate busy malls and shopping areas with a massive wheelchair in tow, and calling ahead to let folks know when we’re running late are all normal, everyday things that people do all the time… but I’ve never done them before.

It was just a little more than a year ago when I sat in front of my computer screen, over a hundred pounds heavier than I am today, staring at the final signature box on the 20/20 sign-up form. Above it, to paraphrase: “I understand that success in this program will require me to make sacrifices and to face challenges beyond my comfort zone. I agree to work with my team to learn, adjust, and grow throughout the course of this program, because my own worst enemy will always be myself.” Compared to what I am now, I was little more than a lost, scared kid who couldn’t believe in herself or her own worth… but that kid knew that she couldn’t keep doing things the way that she had been. It was time to try something new. Each day, I get a little bit older and wiser, but the kid isn’t gone yet. Being ABLE to do it doesn’t make it easy. Being WILLING to do it doesn’t make the methods obvious. There’s no such thing as learning it all overnight. At the end of the day, only time, experience, and repetition are going to make this all easier, and that’s why I continue to do it.

It took me two hours to accept, but I signed it then. I sign it again in my head, every day that I live. But in the meantime, there will always be as much stress as there is joy. And that’s why I have to take the time to rest when I need it. Even if progress slows down for a few days.

Moving on to our first topic: I got a haircut while I was in Tucson! I’ve been meaning to do it for… well, my last haircut was a year ago, give or take. It’s hard to make time for sitting around in a salon chair when you spend 4-6 hours at the gym every day and your free time is precious. Most ladies can rely on salon time to relax, but I’ve never been that kind of lady. Fashion and hair and makeup interest me more than they used to, but I still couldn’t care less about what’s “hot” or “trendy” unless it happens to be something I would have liked anyway. I have to bring pictures, or I don’t know what to ask for. If there are follow-up questions, I have to ask what my stylist suggests. Often my curly hair makes many styles untenable. I can’t hold a conversation about the Oscars or the latest hot movie star. Talking about the Kardashians physically hurts. Trying to ask me about where I went to college or what I do for a living are often non-starters because I’m unusual compared to most people. I’m a geek and that’s something I’m comfortable with – but it makes me feel as out of place at the salon as I used to feel at the gym. Learning to make better small-talk would help bridge the gap, but I’m not there yet.

My mom has a stylist she’s fond of, and she specializes in the short pixie cuts that I’ve had my eye on. As much as I want one, a) I have a round face and many pixie styles fall at unflattering lengths for me, and b) I have curly hair, which means that keeping anything straight is a losing battle. If I do try a pixie, embracing the curl will be mandatory from what I understand. Adding one last issue to the pile: most stylists will do anything to avoid giving an overweight woman a pixie cut. It often isn’t as flattering as other options, and many women end up regretting their choice. It’s why I haven’t seriously considered it until now. I thought maybe I’d come far enough to give it a try this time! So… I signed myself up. One pixie. (It can always grow out…)

As it turns out, my mom’s stylist was out on vacation – of course! Her replacement listened patiently to my saga of 100-pound weight loss, looked at my current hair and face shape, and looked at the several different, disparate photos I’d brought of things I liked – and suggested I start slow. I’m still uncertain whether this was her polite way of telling me REALLY DON’T or whether she was serious about starting slow, but her actual fear was that going from my old length to something as short as a pixie would weird me out. According to her, there are a LOT of ladies that come in and chop everything after major life events, and the vast majority seem to end up regretting it. (For my part, my mom and I cut our hair short after my long-hair-loving dad died, and neither of us has ever regretted it!) Still, I’m not the sort of person that’s going to demand something my stylist isn’t 100% on board with. If they don’t like it, and they aren’t the sort of legendary expert that knows all the tips and tricks to making it look right on my face, then I’m probably going to hate it and they’re right!

In the end, I’ve re-established my old baseline of a “stacked inverted bob,” or whatever that’s supposed to mean.* It’s the short cut that I’ve always liked best on me, and I’ve worn it at many points throughout my adult life. It’s simple enough, easy to care for, and can be worn straight or curly depending on how much patience I have for my flat iron. Because of the cost, the time involved, and the fact that I had my mom with me, I opted not to do any coloring for now; my natural color, blended with what remains of the home box-dye job I did months ago, is adequate if uninspired. My plan is to see what my mom’s stylist thinks next time I’m in town before I commit to anything else. If she’s on board with the pixie, I’m confident that I want to give it a try – if not, I might spring for some fun color to change things up a bit. I’ve been wanting to play with pink highlights for awhile, maybe on a darker brown or black base. I’m learning to have opinions… now I just have to learn what to ask for! How many different popular highlighting types are there now? Ten? Eleven? Ugh. Somehow I failed to properly appreciate that character generation in RPGs is actually based on the real world…

Which leads me to my last topic – it’s summer, and John’s birthday has passed, which means it’s EXPER3 2018 time! We’ve been busy enough that we forgot to announce things in public around his birthday, but the two of us talked it over at the time. Last year, we hoped to make a project together, but that… didn’t happen, as most of you have probably noticed. The biggest hurdle was time, as we always suspected. Coming home after long days of work/gym/cooking only to throw ourselves into creation mode instead of taking the time to rest seemed impossible. I know I said that if we couldn’t find the time, we’d put our project(s) on hold, though we didn’t want to. It was more of a silent death over weeks and months rather than a discussion about whether to leave it behind. Such is life when you’re still learning a new lifestyle in addition to working on a career!

The other hurdle we ran across was trying to combine our projects into the glorious uni-project that folks have always told us they thought we should do. Like many of you, John and I have always hoped to collaborate on something, someday. It seems like the obvious pairing; he’s a coder and I’m a writer, so he makes things happen while I tell stories. How could it NOT work?! Well… there’s a number of reasons, as it turns out, even for a couple as close and as loving as we are.

The first reason is that neither of us are content working on “just” our own strengths. I want to learn how to code, so that I can take more responsibility with future projects, and so I can make games that do what I want them to from a systems and mechanics standpoint, not just adapt or borrow the work of other people. (My writing, of course, has always been mine, and doesn’t require coding.) I have been relying on the wonderful teaching that John has provided to learn the things that I’ve learned so far; I’m the kind of student that does best when the stuff I’m working on has relevance to what I’m doing, not just an arbitrary exercise.

This has meant having John walk me through how to do things that I want to do from scratch as they relate to RPG Maker’s engine (JavaScript, but with a ton of pre-built, mandated, and awkwardly-translated stuff left over from its days as a Ruby engine.) Most people don’t start where I’m starting, and to hear John tell it, that means I’m doing things the hard way – which also means that there’s a lot of basic coding behavior, terminology, expectations, and best practices that I’m as yet blind to. It speaks well of me that I AM in fact learning… but it’s a bit like learning to make scrambled eggs without learning about things like chickens, non-stick pans, oil, butter, and heat. I’m learning to read the established code of others, and that’s helping a lot for the purposes of understanding what I’m trying to do, but I just got there recently. In short – I know enough to be frustrated by what I don’t know, and yet I don’t know enough to actually write the code myself yet. I still need to walk the logic through with someone in English before I try typing anything at all. Getting the logic right is the first step. Translating it in a way that the computer can deal with is the second. And of course – John has a day job and is even busier than I am! He can’t spend all his time shepherding an upstart kid trying to take the equivalent of Comp Sci 202 without ever having looked at a coding language before!

For John’s part, he is a writer as well, with his own voice and his own stories to tell. He did minor in creative writing in college, after all! Both of us love reading and telling stories, and though we have many similarities in the kinds of things we like to read/play, each of us has different strengths, weaknesses, and preferences in the stories we make. If I am doing all of the writing because “I’m good at it and it’s my job,” then there’s no room for him to grow as a writer, just as there’s no room for me to grow as a coder if he handles all the systems and gameplay. On top of that, something I might see as a great story will have plot holes or awkward leaps of logic for him. Something he sees as a great story may have weak characters or “unnecessary” complexity for me. This shouldn’t be a surprise to you, but a guy with a coding background liking his projects nailed down, explicitly logical, and tied to hard rules and plans isn’t rare. A girl with a writing background who pays more attention to themes, symbolism, and characters than precise logic is also a bit stereotypical.

But here we are, on opposite sides of the pantser/plotter fence.

For the non-writers: someone very wise – I can’t find the original source as of this writing, please correct me if you know! – suggested that there are two types of writers in the world. “Plotters” are the writers that outline their book ideas down to the very last iota, making sure that every little detail matters and they know exactly where the story is going and why at all times. They hate ambiguity, because every unexpected event might result in their carefully-crafted house of cards falling down around their ears. The opposite of this is a “pantser” – otherwise known as writing by the seat of one’s pants. These writers will sit down, think of a character and a setting or two, and start writing the current picture in their head. Whatever they imagine happens next goes down on the page. If they don’t like the direction it takes, or it doesn’t make sense at first, they can change direction immediately to suit what they want, or they can go back during the editing process and make things fit the new idea later. It’s a much more fluid way to create stories, but it also makes it easier to run aground. If/when the ideas stop coming at some point, you don’t have the same guidelines for yourself that a plotter does; you either flounder until you come up with a new direction, or – more often, to your chagrin – you give up on your project to start another one instead. Which only works until you’ve run aground again.

The Holy Grail, as far as most writers are concerned, is finding a style that walks the line between the two. You want some flexibility for when your plans go awry, but you also want some plans so that you’re not off in the weeds every time your creative well runs dry. I like to think of it as lane bumpers on a bowling lane; if you get too far off course, the ball gets pushed back to a useful location. Otherwise the ball goes where you put it. TLGG was the only project I’ve ever successfully done this with, and I’m hoping I get better at it with time.

On top of these issues, we are still working through many of the subtle fears and bad habits that we acquired from my transformation into a hermit thanks to severe social anxiety, and John’s transformation into a full-time caretaker desperate to protect me once he realized he couldn’t fix me. We have emerged from that nasty place stronger than we have ever been as a couple, and as best friends, and as co-conspirators in this crazy 20/20 Lifestyles plan of ours, but we are still finding the places where we don’t communicate as we should. Like most humans and most couples, we sometimes avoid talking about things that might hurt because we don’t want to hurt others. We let little things go until they become big things. We misunderstand things that the other says, and end up with hurt feelings and mistaken burdens because we don’t ask for clarification or understanding in the moment. After all, it’s so easy to assume you know what is meant, after fifteen years of being together. You don’t. People don’t always express things the way they could or should, and talking is how you resolve those things. When people are too scared to talk, then hidden wounds become scars instead of healing.

So far, every time we’ve tried to embark on a project together, all our creative differences have combined with our personal flaws to make collaboration difficult. Coming at things from such different perspectives can make it hard to find common ground, even with someone you love with your whole heart and soul. Both of us being passionate creators doesn’t help! I love writing enough to want to make it my day job, even in the absence of pay. There have been a lot of warnings and disapproving comments in my lifetime. Even the people that support me most have shown some inclination to wondering if I’ll ever make anything of myself. Choosing this path hasn’t been “easy,” and if not for that deep love for telling stories, I wouldn’t still be doing it. John, too, wants the creative life. He’s grown up wanting to make his own games and tell his own stories, and he often doesn’t pursue promotion or advancement at work because he values the freedom that gives him to make things. Google isn’t where his heart lies (and fortunately, they know people like him work just as hard!) – it’s a job that he enjoys, using his skills, that pays our bills and treats him well. His heart gets fulfilled on his own time. He doesn’t want to work for a big, impersonal game company with millions of employees. He wants to be personally involved in things he creates, and I’d feel the same in his shoes. But his passion means that when he creates, he should tell the stories he most wants to, because it’s much harder for him to find time than it is for me.

One of us MUST work, of course, and he is the one with the diploma and the successful education. Freeing him from that burden would require years of expensive study and student loan debt for me to finish my English degree, or to switch to something more employable – but we’re hoping to start a family soon. Writing in the sleepless spaces between bottle feedings and late-night interruptions is something I’m willing to do. As our kid(s) grow older, there’ll be more time, and I want to write things that they can be proud of and read/play, too! We don’t need more money. I don’t feel worthless without a “real” job or a degree. My real job will be raising my kid(s), being a kind, brave, smart, and clever human, and, I hope, someday making money from the things I write/create because people love them. My education will be from the world around me and the people I’ve come to know and trust, much as it has always been. In the meantime, it doesn’t make sense for John to leave a job he does enjoy, even if it is often a source of stress and a time-sink that can’t be avoided. The minute he’s truly unhappy and struggling, I will be parked at the closest McDonald’s seeking employment, if that’s what it takes. I refuse to live my dream at the cost of his. That’s why EXPER3 even started, after all.

All this… is a lengthy way of letting you all know that this year’s EXPER3 will be a second attempt at the theme we didn’t get to last year. In case you’ve forgotten, last year’s theme was PUZZLE! Unfortunately, it’s going to be best for us to focus on separate projects this time. I’m right there with all of you in being a little disappointed, and I know John is too, because despite all of the many reasons I just listed for why we’ve struggled to work together – both of us know that we’d be unstoppable together. It’s a goal we want to work toward, and I have every faith that we can get there! But right now, John needs the chance to create something that is 100% his own – much like TLGG was and is for me. That confidence and experience is going to get him ever closer to being the creator he wants to be, and the kind of person that’s going to collaborate better in the future. As for me, I’m still struggling with the feeling that much of TLGG happened by sheer luck and DeterminD-ation (see what I did there?) and not a plan I set in motion with intent. Even though I still have to put the finishing touches on it, it is a finished project. My first. That means I have to repeat what I view as my greatest success as a writer.

That’s a lot of personal pressure to contend with. I already have ideas for direct sequels or side-stories based on TLGG, but neither would fit the theme for this year. Telling myself that TLGG is only as good as it is because I put years into it AFTER EXPER3 isn’t something I’ve learned to accept yet, especially when I’m staring at the unfinished, raw issues and plot holes of a new project. Writing is hard, folks! It takes time! It takes editing! It’s not fast, unless you’re Stephen King. Making games is even worse, since the story is only one of many elements that need attention. What I want to do is find a community where I can assist others making their own games, and (maybe) find some folks that are interested in helping me with mine. I need other like-minded, creative souls to talk to, and to help me shore up my weaknesses. I’m grateful to have the two in my life that I do already (thanks, John and Noam,) but I can’t keep putting only two names on the credits/tester list! 😉 RPG Maker itself has a huge community, so that’s a clear starting point. I’m getting brave enough to stick my toes in the water now too, instead of just running away. I want to belong there, and to be with the people who are doing the things that I am. The only person stopping me from doing that is me.

This year, I’m still not expecting to finish a project. One month is not a realistic time frame for someone still learning as much as I am. It wasn’t realistic even when I used only the resources from the default game engine for TLGG! (Perhaps it would be realistic, if our ability to limit the scope of our projects were better…) But the goal of EXPER3 has never been to finish something. It’s to create something playable, so that you can see your work in action and know that you’ve accomplished something. If that’s a full game, great! If that’s a place to keep building from, that’s great too. The point is that you build. You create. You take the time to do things you only dream about every other day, and the world is a little bit better for your having done them.

Hell, I didn’t even lose ALL the weight I needed to lose on 20/20. That’s why I’m still working hard to lose the last 20 pounds. That doesn’t make the program a failure.

Sorry. I guess I did talk about the program after all.

I’ll let you all know when the official start of EXPER3 2018 arrives! It has started around mid-July in previous years, but everything is subject to John’s schedule at work, unavoidable commitments that would block us from making progress, or unexpected acts of God. We’re both still allowed to plan ahead though, so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of us on our computers over the next few weeks. I’m excited to see what dreams we can bring to life with experience, exploration, and expertise.

Perhaps our expectations won’t get the better of us this year.



*I do know. I’m just being facetious.

  1. Mom

    Wow! That’s a lot of words. I wish you both great success in all your projects. Thanks for making me one of them. I am so grateful for everything you have done. I love you both!

  2. Carolyn

    Sorry I’m so late in seeing and reading this… I love your new haircut! And what a sweet picture of you and your mom!

    I think it’s fantastic that you are challenging yourself to learn coding! I have absolutely zero knowledge about coding, but as I understand it, you are learning a new language. Best of luck with that!

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