On suspense and spoilers

A few weeeks ago I read about the upcoming 36th America’s Cup, with Luna Rossa winning the races up to the final match with Team New Zealand. Back in 2000 I had been watching the competition with great interest, I woke up at 4AM for almost a week to watch the event live (there was basically no other option to see the full event replayed in daytime, and I was not interested in five-minutes-summaries). My first thought was, quite naturally, to do the same, excited to get back to that state of mind. However, I’m not sleeping too well lately, and the time between 4AM and 7AM is usually the most sacred sleep phase. I noticed that when I get up in that interval of time, the body has to cancel some crucial routines and I feel as if I didn’t sleep at all. The event’s website offers the full replay of the races, so there was not so much pressure in getting up that early.

I thought whether I should check the result of the races before watching the replay. I finally decided against suspense and in favour of spoilers. I do that with movies and books – the tension that piles up in my head trying to follow the story, to pick up all relevant information, is acutely uncomfortable. I am sure that other people consider suspense and plot-following the best part of watching a movie, and I assume the authors/directors put in a significant effort in constructing the plot to maximise the quality of the first watching experience; I’m likely built differently, and I struggle a lot to follow stories based on standard social dynamics, especially crime series/novels. I actually prefer to watch a movie several times, to get familiar with the plot, and then put it aside to pay attention to other sides of the work (photography, secondary characters, music, scene changes, views of the writer about things that are not in focus). Same applies to books. But I’m drifting away! To come back to the America’s Cup, knowing who would win made my viewing experience much more enjoyable. Maybe when I’m watching a live event I identify so much with the competitors while being completely powerless to help, that it ruins the moment. Rewatching the event has more of an analytical purpose and I feel allowed to take breaks, rewatch an action to really understand it, spot some tiny detail, enjoy the movement in a purely visual way and then rewatch it to focus on another aspect of the action. Somehow, I get bored only after at least 10 rewatches for single-use content, and for some favorites of mine, never 🙂 I don’t always need new content, on the contrary: I use known content to get into a mood, or a speed of thought, and repetition is necessary instead of boring. What happens to many people only with pop music is touching many more areas of my experience.

Any thoughts about this? Feel free to leave a comment!

On welcoming inputs

Last night I thought about why I don’t feel entertained by novels and movies anymore, and have trouble listening to the news and sometimes even to everyday conversations. I guess there are many factors at play, and different combinations for each situation; still, there is a leitmotiv in my perception that connects them. I apologise for the somewhat vague title, but this is the best fit I could find.

I have realised at a way earlier point in life that I receive information from the outside world in form of a mix of events that can be explained with laws of nature (in the broadest sense) and the opinions about these events. This seeems so obvious that it’s odd to mention it at all. What I recently realised is that I used to give both of these categories the same attention, the same right to be heard; and that I was listening to any input with full focus, genuine intention to understand it well. Not surprisingly I was good at school and I was regarded as a good listener, but I regularly and increasingly got overwhelmed.

The solution that most have suggested to me is “well, focus on some specific topic, filter the inputs the you get, there will always be too many situations that would need your help anyway, think about yourself first”. I understand , but I manage only to half-heartedly agree with that. I recognise my finite resources and I’m working on acknowledging my own needs, but I have no usable logic for picking up a topic. I guess it has to do with my intention to work on a given issue that I met directly, not on what someone managed to convince me to. I would feel horribly guilty to have followed a good marketing feat and have disregarded a more urgent issue just because it was not as brilliantly presented. I think of many examples of great storytelling that made a legitimately good work in raising attention on some obscure yet important topics, but I have the uneasy thought that there is much more in the shadows that can’t sell itself as effectively, and it would be inhumane to expect it to.

Connected to that, I got the increasingly clear perception of that “listen to me, disregard the others, I’ll make you change how you think or confirm your views” in works of fiction. I started to read books in a different way. Until recently, I was reading to discover new topics and the views of the authors, and use them to build my inner world, changing them as little as possible. What happens now when I pick a novel is that my brain defiantly grabs a notepad and takes notes about what views the authors want to bring forward, tries to find out inconsistencies, reasons to stop reading. Same happens, with more success for the brain, when I watch a movie. I seem not to be able to get into suspension of disbelief, and I see the movie as if I were on the set: I can almost hear the director telling what he/she wants to see the actors doing (which brings its own pleasure, as a behind-the-scenes experience). I can only watch videos and read text where the self-irony or self-observation is so blatant that I’m not expected to approve the narrative or have empathy of any sort. The focus moves to the acting ability, the photography, the use of narrative devices for fun. I can watch the Monty Python’s Flying Circus or the IT Crowd over and over, and I am very wary in watching anything new, even when I get suggestions from friends.

I think there is a lot behind this change in my perception and I’m trying to understand it better. I would be curious if anyone has similar experiences or has hints for further exploration on the topic.

On baking bread and taking care of plants

I was wondering why I find baking bread and tending to my little green companions so rewarding, and I think it is because they need my support, but they do the work on their own. Bread needs me to assemble the ingredients and respect the temperatures and timings, but the leavening happens without any input from me. Plants grow when I water them and take care of light and nutrients, but I am not the one doing the legwork.

I think I see myself as the helper and enabler, and I marvel at how well the bread and plants develop, according to their own plans. OK, bread’s shape and form are very much under my control, but plants are not, they follow their internal models, make leaves, flowers, seeds, totally on their own. I feel the need of being the facilitator, and see what fascinating creation comes out. Unlike some other people, I don’t feel capable of taking responsibility for the whole plan and implementation, and therefore I feel more afraid of than empowered by so much control. I’m relieved when the bread and the plants know how to take care of themselves and don’t wait for me to grow (mostly the plants, but bread is pretty independent too). It means I am not the bottleneck or the blocker when I happen to be busy with something else.

Let me finish this short post with pictures of bread and of a new succulent I bought yesterday.

Computer-taught humility and honesty

It has been many years since I first formed thoughts about this topic, so I wish to share them.

I remember the relief that I felt when I started programming. Finally I was receiving feedback in ways that I was fully OK with. It took many years to understand why I liked it so much, and why I preferred to interact with a program/software/machine than with most humans.

I must say that I was not a very patient person nor very ready to admit my errors, before I met computers. I think what allowed me to grow was their transparent way of dealing with my inaccurate inputs.

First of all, they were consistent: every time I made a typo or called the wrong command, I got an error back. The machine had zero tolerance for inaccuracies and instead of being annoyed by it I was deeply, sincerely thankful. (Of course there are some programs which are not that picky about input, and these are the ones that confuse me most, because I can’t know in advance if the input will be reviewed properly, or if an error can sneak in). I notice that I am confused by inconsistent feedback and I tend to get angry when that happens – but often it is misread as me getting angry for negative feedback, which can’t be far from the truth! What I fear is to be randomly left on my own judgment, and being corrected only at the Nth repetition of the same action. I can’t understand why it was OK for a while and suddenly it’s being corrected. I would really prefer to know all the criteria in advance, even if I know very well that I can’t work on every aspect from the start, because I have the information that this will be worked on at some point in the future. I understand how I confuse people when I say “Let me know about all my mistakes! Don’t worry about giving too much feedback! Don’t try to be nice by giving only partial feedback!” and I can also understand how demanding it sounds. I guess it has to do with a different kind of honesty that sounds brutal when applied to people.

Another important point is that they were factual. The machine didn’t throw back an error out of spite, tiredness or with any kind of emotion attached. It simply pointed out that there was some problem with what I did/wrote, and that was it. No judgment, no making fun of me, no extra layer to decode, just the fact. And when I solved the problem, the machine had zero grudges or worries about the error happening again. It had the apparent patience to letting me try until I found the right instruction to type in, and it meant I could take all the time and attempts I needed. I took it as “OK, I need to learn a bit more about this topic, so that I get the right words in the right order, no matter how unfamiliar this language looks – because it is the language of the machine and it has no other way to communicate, so it’s on me to learn it”. In most other social situations there was some kind of pressure to not make mistakes and not being able to repair the mistakes, and more expectation about everyone knowing the rules already. My machines relied on precisely written instructions and were free from the several implications that puzzled me, mostly because I didn’t mean them.

When I started programming, I felt I entered in a comfortable bubble, with objects I was able to interact in a fruitful and pleasant way. I was able to notice the subtleties of their language and I was rewarded by them working productively and with their remarkable accuracy. When it happened that I mistyped a command and got some output that was exactly what I asked for, but not what I wanted in my head, I felt a bit sorry for the machine as it had worked on the wrong assignment, and angry at me for not noticing the mistake in the command. I never got angry at the machine for not “understanding what I meant”, because I know very well that it is not able to guess that. My patience (and my success) with the machines was a wonder for many. I just can’t think of handling them any differently. There is a complicity with the machines that I rarely get with anyone/anything else. That’s why every laptop I have, and every server I used to maintain, has a name that I remember.

And to finish with a somewhat old picture, here are Galadriel (left) and Matusa (right), my second and first laptops. I am thankful for all I learned from/through them and the worlds they introduced me to.

Tangram

I first thought that my life would be a blank canvas, on which I would trace my own drawing.

Then I thought about it as a blank canvas, on which I traced a drawing under the guidance of other people.

Then as a puzzle, and I started noticing missing pieces, and the immense task of finding the right place for each of the existing ones.

Finally as a tangram, where the pieces have no predefined place, and there are minimal rules on how to compose a figure out of the seven geometrical shapes.

Gimpo airport stn line 5

If there will be any step after the tangram, it will be a variant where I can use less than all seven pieces, where I can develop the figure on more dimensions than the flat plane…

Yearly bread update and goodbye 2019

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since my last post… so here is a long-due update about my baking! I got to bake bread #107 last week!

I have a few favourite recipes, but also like to try new ones or add some extra ingredients. Baking has been one of the hobbies I enjoyed most this year, and by far the most relaxing.

I wish you all a great start in the new year, a bunch of fresh energy for your plans and projects, and memorable moments with your dear ones. Take good care of yourselves!

Drawing update – the cormorant

Hello all again, here is my first post after a while, and I wish to share some insights in my drawing process and a few thoughts and observations here and there.

First sketch

This first version of the drawing served the purpose of getting myself familiar with the shapes and proportions of the bird in the picture. I draw birds only seldom and I have no model in my mind to follow, so I have to take some extra preparation steps before diving into the final drawing. Cormorants are water birds, but they lack the substance to make their feathers waterproof, so they spend quite a lot of time standing like this to dry.

Every start is a blank canvas. How do I know how much of my previous experience will be useful? What awaits me this time?

Rough shading

I copied the outlines of the sketch on a new piece of paper, with a light pencil, and started filling the spaces with a uniform and quite light shading.

That looks familiar, I guess that’s a good sign.

Adding the first darker layer

This part had been my favourite. It required me a change of mode, because I fully focused on the shapes and the contrasts between the various parts of the picture, and forgot about the big picture. The fact that this layer of darker and more detailed shading took a long time made it even more valuable to me.

The magic is in the details. Observing while staying still, almost disappearing, and the observed live their life undisturbed. How I loved that feeling when I was out in the field, silent spectator, invisible to the wildlife (if they acknowledged me, at least I hope I was considered a harmless human)!

Taking shape…

The middle part of the bird required me a marked change in texture. I was initially having a hard time rendering the small ruffled feathers of the neck and the shiny feathers of the shoulders. I was very hopeful for the tail, but it didn’t come out as I wished. The point in the whole drawing is that I always added shades and never erased: some parts would have been way easier to fill up with a dark tone and then edited by erasing the tiny light strips of the feather spines – but I went for the slower and less forgiving path.

Am I trying to prove to myself and you that I’m worth it? Do you need that? I guess not, but it’s a very old habit of mine and it will take some more time to fade.

Almost ready…

I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It looked sort of flat, but it’s how I prefer my drawings to look like. I like when they don’t reflect the picture or the reality as close as they could. I want them to be a filtered representation, and the filter to be visible. So I could have considered it done, at that point.

There is rarely the chance to get anything 100% ready anyway. We would wait the whole time in front of a stalling progress bar.

One more layer of 6B pencil – signed and done

Here is the final step, one more layer of dark pencil to enhance the contrasts. I didn’t smooth out the hatching lines on purpose, and I wished I had used a coarser paper. Time to visit one of those wonderful stationery shops where you get in needing nothing and get out with a bunch of incredible stuff!

That’s my gift, my time, my attention, my patience. The little shared moments shine like fireflies.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the next update!

Happy New Year 2019 and a few updates

Let’s start 2019 with a post packed with good news and wishes for the year that just started!

Last year was definitely challenging, but ended with a great positive note: in December I went back to work, back to the 106-key keyboard:

At the new job I found an atmosphere where I can keep healing at my own pace, while contributing to the company. As my first task, I chose to continue the development of a small software package. As I explored the code to get familiar with it and decide where to start making changes, I slowly saw how much I can see that software as a mirror – so that taking care of the software became a way of healing myself, by carefully picking the parts I could replace while keeping the program functional. I could have decided to rewrite it from scratch, but I didn’t feel brave enough to start something 100% mine, nor to abandon the thread of functionality of the current code. It will not be a straightforward task, but I know what I have to do, and I know it will be an enriching experience.

Being employed again means I suddenly have a lot less practical worries about the future, and therefore I am quite optimistic for the upcoming year. I will need a bit of time to adjust to the new routine, and to keep playing music with my mind fully present (sorry Sven for our last concerts where I was barely paying attention!). I have mixed feelings about my job taking so much of my energy and attention, but at the same time I have already seen how I can make it a meaningful and fulfilling practice.

For other activities I have no specific plans. As usual, I would like to draw, craft, knit, play music and meet horses more than last year, but I prefer to follow inspiration rather than goals. Let’s see 🙂

That’s all for this post! I wish all my readers a great start in the new year, and the strength and peace of mind to keep navigating their lives’ rivers.

The way and the shortcuts

I was thinking about how setting a goal shapes the way one takes to reach it.

Where am I going?

Let me pick an example with music, my most familiar environment. Let’s say my orchestra plans to play a given difficult piece for next concert. That goal will influence all rehearsals, filling them with a detailed plan, that includes the progressive steps to the full execution of that piece: separate rehearsals per section, focus on getting to play to the required speed, focus on expression, and finally playing the piece properly from start to finish.

When difficulties arise during rehearsals and it starts to look like we are not progressing as fast as we thought, it’s time to find shortcuts. We simplify our parts, play a little slower than required, remove details. This is where I start to diverge from how one is expected to work. I rarely think about the goal directly, it is for me more of a part of the landscape that I sometimes remember to look at, but my interest is on my immediate surroundings, on the atmosphere at the current rehearsal, on what I can do right now. I’m relieved that someone else is responsible for keeping the boat sailing straight towards the goal, because I just couldn’t! My work is more of a fractal exploration, without direction, with the focus on how I walk, and no eye on the time – in this mindset, shortcuts simply make no sense. I observe and I accidentally also take part to the rehearsal. This is where I’m not offering any grip to the usual motivation talks which sound like  “Don’t you feel the pressure, the urge to reach the goal?”. No, I don’t. It doesn’t mean I explicitely avoid it, but simply that it will be the side effect of me having the space to wander at will. I first had to prove that my random exploration takes me to the goal anyway, before I was given the trust to be left free alongside the bridled horses, apparently aimless, for the surprise of some.

I felt that this can be a good parallel with how one works with animals, for example during horse riding. I sometimes get the feeling that the rider has a goal in mind and gets to the point where the test approaches and they start looking for shortcuts, but that is where+why the horse loses connection – because the horse doesn’t seem to think in terms of goals, and the proposed shortcuts look like forced steps that take attention further away from the flow of observation, of being in the present. This gearing up tends to make things work both worse and slower, it requires even more shortcuts, and that brings the opposite of the desired effect!  It takes a lot of trust to stop this vicious cycle when the deadline is approaching, but re-focusing on the present seems to me one of the few respectful and efficient ways out.

I hope that makes sense! Let me know if that resonates with you, I’m curious to read about your experiences with deadlines, goals and shortcuts.

My Patreon account is now live!

Hello all, I am proud to announce my first post on Patreon!

I have opened an account where I will post a set of sketches every week about a given subject (from wildlife to plants and nature in general), accompanied by a bit of behind-the-scenes insights, and tips on how to observe and make your drawings look more realistic. I look forward for your support and your comments about my work!

Follow the link from the picture below to access my page:

horses-ears-enhanced