Words in My Head

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Category: Musings (page 2 of 2)

Effective Workflows in Publishing

No, this is not a normal topic for me but it’s something I’ve recently had to ponder and decided to capture my thoughts about.

I’ve been doing desktop publishing in some form or another for a very long time. I’ve worked with Interleaf, Framemaker, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Word, and InDesign. And I even vaguely remember doing physical layout of copy for a class at CSU more than 25 years ago.

Yes, I’m not doing it professionally these days, even with my degree in Technical Journalism and choosing to make my living doing software development instead, but that doesn’t mean that I have stopped. My work through Moebius Adventures, even going back to the mid 1990s, has seen me lay out books of significant page counts (from a handful of pages to over 100) for quite a few projects since I stopped doing it full time.

But working alone, I probably have developed some odd habits over the last 20 years while I’ve done this work.

For instance, I do quite a bit of writing within my desktop publishing software. I don’t recommend this. In fact, I don’t think anybody does. But it’s easier for me to get some text written in Evernote or in a Google Doc and then keep working on the text itself while I am working on layout. This requires that I mix and match concepts from desktop publishers and writing tools from time to time.

I rely heavily on templates, not only for the look and feel of a book, but to help structure the content. Paragraph styles, just like in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, do that nicely. I can consistently apply the same headings, text styles, bullets, and so on, to keep the document structure manageable. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I can get away with editing/writing directly inside InDesign when I go that route.

So I would sum up my process as:

  1. Write some notes
  2. Move notes into new InDesign document
  3. Do layout and writing at the same time in InDeign from that point until completion

Recently however I hired a designer to help update the look and feel for some of our books. First to create a new template and second to actually lay out a new book.

The designer does not have the same goals in mind as I do for the results of this exchange. I mean, sure — the document has to look good in print or online. That is a shared goal and he definitely has an amazing eye for that. But I realized very late in the game that I was not specific enough in what I was expecting out of a template.

We exchanged many e-mails and sample PDFs of how pages would look and when I got the final template I discovered that paragraph styles were not part of his approach to creating templates. Instead he formats everything independently, changing space before and after, adjusting indents, adding elements, and so on. It’s a perfectly acceptable.

It became very obvious that his preferred process is:

  1. Get complete, final, unchanging document for content
  2. Move content into InDesign and do layout
  3. Produce output. Done.

When I receive the “final” documents from the designer, I will have to go through and update them locally with paragraph styles to create a usable, living document and template I can use from that point forward.

This has been a very expensive lesson to learn.  It’s not the designer’s fault. I made an assumption and it’s going to bite me in the butt.

What was the lesson? Be VERY specific when you are paying someone to create something for you, not only in what you want as your deliverables but how you are going to use the deliverables going forward.

Rough week and saying goodbye to a furry friend

Promise I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I definitely want to express a few thoughts about this past week. It wasn’t a good one. We dealt with sick kids, a pet whose time had come, work struggles, and who knows what else. And I came to realize that there is nothing harder than seeing the end of a good thing before it gets there and knowing you can’t do a damn thing about it.

We first met Caliente while we were still in Arizona. We dog-sat for Monika, one of Ev’s vet techs, a few times, and eventually things conspired to where we ended up adopting Callie as our own. That was probably 2003 or 2004. She was a rescue dog — a pit bull mix that I liked to call “the world’s smallest pit bull.” And though she could be dog aggressive at times, she was the sweetest, softest dog you would ever meet. And she would talk to you like no other dog I’ve ever known, with a sweet “roo-roo-roo” that would melt your heart.

It’s impossible to think that I’ve known Callie longer than AJ has been alive. Impossible.

She was a very good dog. Sweet. Sassy. And the queen of the house, for sure.

Over the last 12 or so months, she’s been on the decline. She took some hard tumbles down stairs last year and that was the beginning of the end. Ev did everything she could with medicines, laser pain treatments, we even did acupuncture. And it helped some, now and then, but it didn’t stop the decline.

The last few weeks have been rough. We knew that when it got cold and snowed we were going to see rough times, and that absolutely happened. I began to dread going downstairs in the mornings because I didn’t want to find her not breathing or stuck outside, unable to get back in the house. And the latter thing happened a few times. We had a few snuggle sessions where I had her in my lap wrapped in a blanket in the recliner while we tried to get her warmed back up.

And when we finally had to put her down yesterday, there were a lot of tears. I’m a sensitive guy and am not too proud to say that I cried. Sobbed even.  She will be missed. And there will be more tears before we’re done.

Here’s the thing. When I grew up, we had a cat. Fat City Kitty. She was an indoor/outdoor cat and I think her ghost still probably haunts my childhood home. I knew her at least a decade I think. And I wasn’t home when she passed.  We had other cats growing up too, but I was not there when their time came.

When I started dating Evelyn, I got to know Lobo (a German Shepherd/Mexican Wolf mix) and Dakota (a Corgi/Beagle mix). They were really the first two dogs I got to think of as family. Lobo was a smart dog with a lot of attitude. Dakota was probably one of the best dogs in the world and an amazing navigator in the car. They both passed after we moved to Arizona. And it was sad. But I didn’t know either of them all that long. A handful of years at best. And there were still tears.

Boo and Tigger, our two cats, outlasted both Dakota and Lobo by a long while. And it was hard to say goodbye, especially to the Boo. She was a very good kitty. More tears.

That said, I’ve known Callie forever in pet years. There’s a hole there now. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve come to love our Weimaraner Storm. She’s a good dog too and it will be equally as hard to say goodbye when her time comes. But it’s hard to know these pets for this long  and not take them into your heart.

Callie. I miss you already. And as someone on Facebook pointed out, you’re probably going to be waiting in the hereafter for us wondering what the hell took us so long to get there when we finally do.

I want to hear you “roo-roo” again. 🙁

Some days you realize how far you’ve come

Life likes to test us sometimes, or so it seems. Yet I’m coming to realize that perhaps it’s not what happens to us that’s important, but what we invite into our lives.

When the unexpected happens, I sometimes rail against it like a living thing. Nothing today went according to plan, from the moment I woke up to the time I’m getting ready for bed. And that’s ok.

It was ok.

That statement simply acknowledging that change happened is a huge step forward for me. Used to be I would freak out at the smallest deviation. Today, to use a football term, I “called an audible” at 6am and it changed the order of the day. Ev made some calls, I reached out and changed my schedule a bit, and the world didn’t end.

Go figure.

Later in the day, I resisted another change. Why? No good reason I could fathom when I sat to think on it a bit. So I called another audible, changed my plan, and adapted.

Towards the end of my day I got into what essentially was an argument about nothing about one of the game projects I’m working on. I didn’t get the response I was looking for and got more and more walled up. I asked for one thing and got sarcasm and grief instead.

So I did the only thing I could do. I backed off, said I’d check in with them tomorrow, and let it go. Even just a month ago I might have stormed off, slammed a door, walked for hours… who knows.

Right now though I’m wondering at why I’ve seen this change today. It’s not because I’m better at “adulting” – that’s for sure. Even before today I was always pretty calm on the outside. I only get rattled when there’s a lot of people around or confrontation of some sort. Is it possible to become even more calm?

My goal these days is to simply be a better me. And that varies day to day. I’m trying many things at once and find that of everything I do, writing is the simplest part of my day. Whether I’m writing for work, for a game, or writing something for someone else, it usually flows better than any other activity I attempt.

Perhaps some of that flow is spilling into other aspects of my life. One can only hope.

Namaste.

The Challenge of Unmet Expectations

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been at war with my own perception of how the universe should work. Usually I get an idea in my head and my idea of how something should work and how it actually works in the real world are rarely in sync. And when I get my hopes up, that’s the worst.

Today was one of those types of events.

Since the mid-1990s, I’ve been part of a publishing effort under the name of Moebius Adventures. We have gone through three separate iterations over the years: the 1990s, the mid 2000s in 2006/2007, and the most recent run starting in 2012/2013. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out our website at MoebiusAdventures.com.

2016 was a great year for us and 2017 has been off to a bit of a rocky start. Today we were supposed to run a game for a group of playtesters at our favorite local game store. Yesterday I spent about 4 hours pulling everything together, getting in the right frame of mind to run a game, and today when we showed up… nobody came.

Let me start by saying that this is not the fault of our FLGS.

Over the last couple of weeks, I shouted into the void on social media — Facebook and Google+ — and mentioned it to a few friends. Obviously nobody was interested or had time. And that’s not their fault either.

The lesson here is that I need to figure out another way to get playtesters to the game table. That’s it in a nutshell.

But here’s the thing. It took the wind out of my sails in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for.

It’s not like it took long to realize that today wasn’t going to happen. I’d even mentioned it to AJ (my youngest daughter), who was there to help. We were going to give it 30 minutes and then head out. I think we gave it 20 and that was it. The writing was on the wall.

On the way out, I began feeling very, very tired. It was like I had just done an hour-long workout and my body needed time to recover. We went home, took care of a few things, went to lunch, and then I took a nap for about 90 minutes.

That’s unusual for me. I may like down for 10-20 minutes now or then, but 90 minutes of crash time is strange.  I believe this was a symptom of the difference between my inner perception and what actually occurred in reality.

In the past, I have reacted differently. When I realized that the Moebius Adventures Core Rules book was a failure at the game table after a playtest session, I retreated from publishing for TWO YEARS before I was ready to start again. And when I did start, I wrote reviews of other peoples’ materials through Game Knight Reviews. I did that from 2009 to 2012 when I started working on the first One Spot for the rebooted Moebius Adventures in the fall of 2012.  That was nearly a five year break between “failing” in 2007 and starting again in 2012.

My goal is not to retreat this time, but to learn from what happened and move on in an intelligent manner. 🙂

I think that’s a better way to go, don’t you?

Beating Myself Up

I thought about titling this one “The Art of Self-Flagellation” but I kept thinking of the character Silas from the Da Vinci Code and decided maybe it wasn’t a good comparison. You may disagree when I’m done.

Nobody is better at tearing me down than I am. Years and years of practice attempting to control the world around me through willpower. We all know how that goes. Ultimately I can control exactly one thing… me. And sometimes even that’s a challenge I’m not up to.

Today I am dealing with a few extenuating circumstances that led to an unsettled mental state:

  • Going on a week-long business trip. (Always stresses me out.)
  • Not sleeping well. (May have squeaked out 3 or 4 hours last night if I was lucky.)
  • Haven’t been eating well (less healthy than usual) or drinking enough water.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. (One, sometimes two drinks a night, which is unusual.)
  • Coming down with a cold on the eve of my trip.

All of these have led to less-than-stellar performance when I go to the CrossFit box. (No, I’m not going to talk about CrossFit here – if you want to know about my CrossFit experience I’d direct you to my CrossFitz blog.) And usually I just try to keep a positive attitude, do what I can do, and chug through it.

Today I quit during a workout. Could I have continued? Probably. I would have been slow as molasses and was having issues breathing right, but I probably would have finished after about 18 minutes or so.

Man Shouting Through Megaphone

The quitting is what is eating me alive now.

  • I walked out of the box after cleaning my equipment. I simply didn’t want to have to interact with anybody and explain why I had done so poorly.
  • I let myself down because I know I should have done better.
  • I took a protein recovery shake (a post-workout ritual) with me and decided I didn’t deserve it due to my poor performance.
  • I swore a lot during the workout and afterwards.
  • I decided that I really don’t deserve to eat lunch because of my poor performance either.
  • I’m upset as well with the fact that this is probably the last workout I’ll get in before I go on my trip, which means I’ll leave on a failure.

None of this is healthy. The critic is running rampant. And I need to let it go.

A healthy response would have been:

  • Accept that I wasn’t feeling up to snuff and bailed early on the workout.
  • Accept that I get a DNF (Did Not Finish) today and that it’s still better than DNS (Did Not Start).
  • Accept the minor victory that I accomplished a 2:09 400m run.
  • Challenge myself to do better next time.

I have finished Helen before. I will finish it again. Today was just not my day.

Or, as my Dad puts it: “Get mad, get glad, get on with yourself.”

Yes sir. I’m trying. Failing, but trying.

A little more self-compassion would be good. Just a little.

Art is Art. People are People

Lately it’s become very difficult to breathe in the space where many folks seem to think that everything must be polarized. You are either THIS or THAT. There is no in-between.

The world doesn’t work this way. We must find middle ground.

I’m going to come right out and say that’s a bunch of bullshit.

Yes, I said it. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m just as entitled not to share it. And that doesn’t make you wrong and me right. Let’s agree to disagree, remain civil, and compromise on the important issues. Without middle ground, we’re never going to move on and make the world a better place.

That said, let’s talk about one of the elephants in the room that sometimes causes people difficulty. Interpreting art.

Wait, what? How did we go from polarized opinions to art?

Art, in my opinion, is essentially a product. It exists in a particular moment of time, created by one or more individuals, and captured in a particular medium. A painting. A performance. A story. Whatever it is, the artist creates a single thing for one audience or a million audiences.

So let me clear this up. If I like your art, I’m going to say so. If I don’t like your art, I may not say so unless I feel strongly enough about it to say so.

But I don’t care if you (the artist) are black, white, or brown. I don’t care if you (the artist) are Christian, Islamic, Agnostic, Atheistic, or worship the Great Spaghetti Monster. I don’t care if you (the artist) are gay, straight, or asexual. I don’t care if you (the artist) are a native, an import, or an alien from another world.

Your art stands alone. And I may like one piece, but not another. That’s the great thing about art. We all come to it with our own baggage as an audience. No two people have the same experience with art. You and I may both like a piece for wildly different reasons.

And that’s AWESOME. Check out this quote from Selma Hayek:

I don’t expect you to share my opinion on a particular movie, book, song, image, or whatever. I would encourage you to share your own opinions. Let’s compare notes. Maybe I’ll come to see things your way.

After all, I am entitled to my opinion, but that doesn’t make me right. It may be right for me at this moment in time where I am in my own personal journey. That doesn’t mean that my opinion can’t change with further reflection, experience, and discussion.

But here’s the thing. If I like your art, it doesn’t mean that I automatically like you (the artist). And vice versa if I don’t like your art, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like you. Like most things in life, it’s not that cut and dried. Context matters.

So… as I say in the title for this post. Art is art. People are people.

And opinions are opinions. Everyone has one.

In the end, all we can hope for is respect. Respect the art. Respect the artist. And respect the audience. The only part of that equation that doesn’t have an opinion of its own is the art. It simply is.

But remember that I can respectfully disagree and that is not a bad thing. It’s a conversation starter. We may agree to disagree at the end of that discussion, but I hope that we respect one another regardless of whether either of us changed our opinion.

We all can get along with respect. I’m convinced of that. I have hope that you do too.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the art. 🙂

Positivity and a Negative Mind

There’s a weird dichotomy when I look at the world from my point of view. I’m not the most positive guy in the world, really, but I find myself trying to help others look at the bright side of things more often than not. And it seems that perhaps that approach has rewired my brain a bit over the last few years.

But what do I mean by that? Let’s start with a baseline.

A Few Things About Me

If you talk to my family, they’ll tell you a few things about me.

Change is Hard

First, I don’t like change. As a result, they often had to give me advance warning (at least 15-30 minutes) before it was time to go anywhere, especially when I was doing something like reading and lost in my own head. If you try and change plans at the last minute, I get very cranky.

Second, I don’t like confrontation and will go to ludicrous extremes to avoid it. I think this goes back to my issues with change.

That said, if you do something to harm my family or friends, I can be a bull in a china shop. I may avoid confrontation, but I will maul you like a bear if you do anything to mess with my family. And family goes much deeper than blood.

Third, I don’t like interacting with people I don’t know. Or people in general. I love interacting with individuals or even small groups, but crowds are exhausting. And even dealing with people on the phone is exhausting.

If I can text you, e-mail you, or send you a chat message via Facebook or some other site, I’m there. It gives me a chance to consider my words.

The Changes

Over the last 17 years, I’ve had one very large factor for change in my life. My wife. She’s a force of nature and very impulsive. My resistance to change has been worn down out of necessity. She’s been good for me in that respect.

Having children has also forced me to deal with most of those issues I deal with all the time. Sometimes I just have to get out of my comfort zone and deal with things I don’t want to. And that’s been good for me as well.

And then there’s CrossFit, which has given me a ton more confidence in my own abilities.

I still don’t like change, confrontation, or people, but I think overall I’ve improved by leaps and bounds over where I was before I was married and had kids.

It used to be that the world conspired against me and I’d get angry about it. I had a picture in my head of how things were going to go, and they rarely went that way, which would make me less and less willing to make plans in the future.

Now, if I have a little time to get my mind right, I can leave enough room for change to not throw me off as badly. I still have to prep for it, but if I know that we don’t have a set plan and we just figure things out as we go.

But where does the positivity come in?

Helping Others

I listen and I watch. Pretty much I’m a passive observer in much of my own life. And when people talk to me, sometimes I have advice. Sometimes I don’t and the mere act of listening is enough. But usually I can make a suggestion or relate something I’ve experienced, read, or heard, and I have hope that sometimes that makes things better. I try to help when I can, even if it’s just offering encouragement.

That said, with CrossFit I have begun working on myself. I feel like until I started CrossFit, I was locked into the physical awkwardness of a 12-year old boy. Over the last 4 years, I’ve at least progressed to maybe age 13 or 14. 🙂 But I have plenty left to work on. It’s like relearning how to do the most basic things all over again, and it’s deeply humbling.

And I hope that my work ethic serves as an example to others. If I can do some of this stuff as an awkward, out of shape, 40 something, geek, then anybody can. I’m still amazed when I do simple things like kick up on the wall and do a handstand push-up. Who have I become? Or, better yet, who am I becoming?

Heck if I know, but I’m enjoying the ride — and that in and of itself is amazing to me.

Helping Myself

Beyond that, I find myself approaching the world with a cautious optimism and trying to accept things as they come. I can only control one thing – me. That has to be enough.

These days if I need something done, I try to take the time to do it while I’m thinking about it. That avoids any awkwardness with asking someone else to do it only to have them forget. Doing it gets it out of the way.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still procrastinate or put things off indefinitely. But that’s not on anybody else but me.

And because I’ve helped others, some of those folks are now helping me by offering encouragement and advice. Sometimes I even accept it. 🙂

Conclusions?

Quite honestly, 2016 was a pretty good year for me and I hope that 2017 continues the trend.

It’s taken a long time to get to the point where I can try treating myself as well as I treat others. Accepting my faults is a big part of that because it means I can address them better.

Now we just work on everything a day at a time.

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