Saturday, May 03, 2014

EPIC POST: My Last Five Months and Missing My Creative Side

Section Jumps:
   A. Chi-Fi 0
   B. C2E2
   C. CNSC and Chiditarod

Just a funny note: Apparently after the US, Russia and Ukraine vie for 2nd highest sources of traffic on The Lextopia for all time. Ukraine wins in the last month. They have a a long lead ahead of Russia for the month.

What's up with that?

Anyway, the last couple months have kept me busy and worn thin.


First three months of the year, I spent long hours at the office selling Affordable Care Act-compliant policies. A lot of new products to learn. I also had to learn a lot of new procedures, Website portals and what to expect for tax filing time.

The new plans, themselves, didn't cause difficulty. Procedures, portals and tax stuff came easy after seeing it all repeatedly everyday. Odd new question here and there didn't cause much challenge after awhile, either.

The volume of demand caused the most trouble. I had to wait for hours on end to get in touch with representatives at insurance carriers for answers. New and current clients filled up my days trying to secure new coverage. Their feeling intimidated by everything didn't help, either.

Repitition got to me by the end. Sending out form e-mails with information here and there changed didn't tax me much.

Giving the same verbal presentation, whether in person or on the phone, started wearing me thin. My throat and neck (from keep phone steady on my shoulder) had gotten pretty sore. My brain and mind had grown fatigued, too.

I survived the labor-intensive three months of the first open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act, though. Coming home at night, I had plenty of laundry, dishes and ironing to do. TiVo needed its attention, too. Michi showed great patience throughout the ordeal. Now I need to make sure all these new clients pay the first premium. They only have one more week!


Could commuting to and fro work during this Chiberian Polar Vortex have drained me even more. Covering all of my skin in four layers of clothes and accessories, I could tolerate all the way down to -20 after windshield. I might have found it even a little comfortable by the end, temperature-wise at
least. All that bundling got me a little stiff after awhile.

Most of the time I would don the same clothes for the bus commute when the temps got lower. I might have biked when things got a little colder every once in awhile, too. No one born in the last forty years had seen anything like this! Seriously? A day that got lower than -50 windshield? I had no precedence to follow.

Temperatures rising might cause me more difficulty. I still have trouble figuring out how many layers to wear and which accessories to use. People complain about it not reaching 60 on a consistent basis in May yet.

I fear it a little. I still don't feel comfortable wearing fewer than a couple layers at a time.

Trying to predict the rain gets irritating, too. I can ride through snow, as long as the city salts and paves the roads. A couple weeks ago I had a fall during a freak icy storm without salty roads. Oops! At least with snow, though, I don't get too drenched.

I look forward to warm weather again, though. Putting on all those layers takes time and effort. Will it actually get warm, though?

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Still experimenting with dough. I've found a good base "regular" pizza dough: 1 cup pure gluten, 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup bown rice flour. It does poweder the trick well enough.

I'd like to figure out a recipe that friends who have celiac disease or a gluten-restricted diet can eat. In my opinion, people who haven't been diagnosed with celiac, allergies or intolerance to gluten shouldn't hesitate to eat gluten.

I like having my friends that have gluten issues around, though. They should have the chance to enjoy food, too.

Maybe I also look forward to the challenge. I have yet to hear anyone rave about any gluten-free recipe that synthesizes a food everyone expects to have gluten in it (pizza dough, bread, etc.). I more often hear about the recipe not having a taste or tasting like cardboard.

I like receiving praise like anyone else.

Over at Gluten Free Girl, I found a guide of gluten-free flours. It does a good job explaining textures, flavor profiles and how the flour can work in a recipe.

Based on the guide, I'll probably end up with 1 cup teff flour, 1 cup sourghum flour, 1 cup brown rice flour and a yet to be determined amount of amaranth for taste.

My last batch of flour used some tapioca. It may have made the flour a little too sweet, though. I'll try it without tapioca in the next batch.

Up to now, I've tried taking a gradual approach from my base "normal" recipe toward a gluten-free recipe. Changing just one part at a time would help me figure out the properties of each ingredient.

This approach proved wanting, though. The pizza would have that tasteless/cardboardy taste right out of the oven. Some time in the fridge fixed it. Waiting for pizza to "ferment" in the fridge doesn't strike me as the way to go. I want it ready to eat out of the oven.

I think I depended too much on psyllium husks and guar gum. People had told me about using them in gluten-free recipes. I've seen xanthan gum as another popular ingredient. I think depending on these ingredients for their binding properties made the pizza too fragile and liable to fall apart.

Apparently teff makes a great binder. It doesn't have gluten, but it has a similar part to it called prolamin. Both gluten and prolamin act as storage proteins. All grains have some type of storage protein. The proteins have their amino acids in different orders, though. Prolamin could have similar enough properties to make teff a good replacement.

I won't know for awhile how this recipe will turn out. I hate letting stuff go to waste and sit around. I want to use up the flours with gluten in them, so I'm mixing all of it together. This process also satisfies my desire for trying to learn the different properties of ingredients.

Funny thing I've noticed over the last couple weeks: people write and say that a good gluten-free dough requires a mix of flours. My experience has shown me that even a recipe with gluten in it requires a mix of flours to get the recipe right. I can only think that maybe people buy a pre-mixed mixture of flours for their recipes?

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Tabletop role playing remains my constant nerd activity. Playing in a Pathfinder group and a D&D 3.5 group. Both mark my first extended time playing either game. Nothing too much to report there. They both do a good job distracting me from the day-to-day and get me to hang out with people. Only so much goal-directed productive stuff you can do everyday.

I've found myself questioning what I'm getting out of the games, though. They haven't grabbed me as much as in the past. A friend and I agreed that sticking with just a somewhat serious fantasy genre might have gotten monotonous. Maybe I want to switch it up after one or both these campaigns conclude.

Couple weeks ago I helped someone play test a tabletop boardgame. My first time playtesting something. They've put years of thought and work into this thing. I can't really say much about it since it's proprietary. I wouldn't want anyone to steal his idea.

I had a fun time at it. I'd love to play again. Us play testers and Michi spent a lot of time encouraging the creator to finish up the game and release it. I could see a lot of people getting into it.

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After Chicago TARDIS last October (or was it November?), I've wondered if I want to go to cons as much as I have. I can appreciate them. I question what I get out of them, though.

My fandom runs to a more casual bent. I don't have anything to market (yet!). I don't have money to spend. Visual arts don't grab me. Panels haven't gone as in depth into things as I'd like (people tell me I should check out WisCon for more depth). I find myself more tired than invigorated or inspired lately from going to them.

Ah well. I'll probably take more of a break. Try to focus a little more on myself, trying to build up some assets and projects. Maybe if I can chill a little more, I can get into these things a little more.

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Chi-Fi 0

A little more than a month ago, we went to Chi-Fi 0, a one-day con in downtown Chicago. They originally wanted to have it a weekend long event downtown, which would be something new since I moved here seven years ago. A dispute with the original venue caused them to downsize to one day, however.

I prefer a one-day event. This one delivered a good time. Maybe it didn't have the breadth of say, a C2E2 or a Wizard World, but it had some degree of intimacy they don't. It felt a lot less intimidating. I found myself chatting with vendors a lot more rather than feeling like I have to rush all over the place to SEE EVERYTHING.

A one-day event also doesn't tax the body as much. Walking around for a day doesn't require as much recovery time. Smaller crowds minimize the irritability and tension from dealing with claustrophobia. Plus I rather like the ability to take in everything a little more indepth while having time for other things during the weekend.

I spent most of my panel time at ones about diversity, creating safe spaces and issues of harassment at cons. I learned a thing or two, had a couple laughs and enjoyed the personalities of the panelists. Disclosure: Michi was on most of those.

These panels were more on a 101 level. Living with one of the panelists proves difficult to hear about all this stuff, already. Michi and the other panelists do a great job, though.

Maybe one of these days a panel or workshop for "allies" would do some good. If I had more time, I might consider it.

I had a good time in a panel on World Building. I tried writing a more involved blog entry on it. No luck there. It just wouldn't come out the way I wanted, and I gave up. I also have forgotten a bunch of details.

The panel gave me a trick or two for fleshing out characters. I might have made a useful connection for the future once I get one of my projects finished. Some underlying tension and differences in style between the panelists proved compelling but nothing too extravagant. Nonetheless, I found myself in a good mood afterward and inspired for some of my own projects.

Most of my socializing with vendors occurred after this panel. I tried attending a panel on community building through gaming. The panelists couldn't make it, though, so someone else got that room.

We attended the Geek Bar Chicago room party. As Chi-Fi was my first small, intimate general interest con, this was my first con room party.

A lot of people had a good time. Exhausted and feeling a teeny bit introverted, I didn't engage as much in the party as I would have in a better mood. They served some good drinks that I believe acted as samples for what they'll have once they open this Spring. They had food, too, but nothing ovo vegetarian.

The party got a little too loud, though. Hotel broke it up after other guests complained. Ah well, it was late and fun while it lasted.

We topped off the night by catching Raks Geek. Michi performed with her LED poi and flags. She did a great job. So did everyone else in the troupe. This happened long ago, I was tired, memory not so great, so no indepth review there.

Overall, a good time. I wouldn't mind Chi-Fi 0 sticking with the one-day format. I understand the motivation for a whole weekend: more people will come, more ability to get big talent to sign autographs and do panels, it's expensive in downtown Chicago, etc. etc. Yet, a one-day event allows me to manage my time sooooo much better.

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This makes the fourth Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) I've attended in its five-year history. It keeps expanding, getting bigger spaces in McCormick Place each progressive year. I only made it for Friday and Saturday.

Not because of anything bad, C2E2 may have sealed the deal on me pulling back on attending cons so much. I listed a whole bunch of reasons above.

One other thought: I feel like C2E2 might emphasize the comics a little too much and not enough on gaming. I know it highlights COMICS in the name, but I'm just not so into comics. And as things stand presently, the city of Chicago doesn't have any gaming conventions. Games could use some con love in this city.

For panels, I only went to ones organized by Michi: Opening the Clubhouse Doors -- Creating More Inclusive Geek Communities and Glass Ceilings, Missing Stairs and Gatekeepers: Geeks Still Deal with Sexism.

Both good panels on a somewhat 101 level but still providing a few insights I hadn't heard before or thought up myself. Actually, enough insights that I don't feel like I'm doing enough to be an ally or to be educated on these topics.

If you get a chance, go check out Michi's panels and essays. People come for the topic, but they keep coming back for more because Michi does a good job putting these things together, recruiting talent, writing and analyzing these topics. A bunch of change has and will come about because of all the energies she puts into these issues.

Saturday morning I spent a couple hours event marketing for The Chicago Nerd Social Club (CNSC) table in artist alley. I had a ball!

For once, I got to use my event marketing experience to promote a group that I have an emotional connection to and would love to see grow. Plus I find that I socialize better when I have script or some kind of framework to use.

The amount of people who live in Chicago that haven't heard of us surprised me. We have over 2,000 people in the Facebook group. They've sponsored Michi's panels in the past, and many people planned on going to her panels that day.

It's a big city, though. As much as the group pervades our lives, I guess it doesn't pervade the whole of Chicago Nerd Culture yet.

I would feel remiss to not mention the upcoming Maneki Neko Con. I'll admit, I probably won't go. One of the organizers of it manned the CNSC table with me, though. It sounds like a fun time for people into anime being run by passionate people.

Most of the time, I had great, positive interactions with people attracted to the table. One negative conversation sticks in my mind, though. Some guy just walked up to the table. He said, "Isn't the CNSC name opposite of what nerds are like?" or something like that.

I responded simply with "Oh, we've found that nerds are quite social."

He quieted and walked away. I'm just amazed that someone walked up and said this at C2E2, a con catering to nerds! Of course, I guess it could have been someone from one of the exhibitor tables that just wants to make money off nerds, not connect with them.

Otherwise, I spent most of those two days following Michi around. I made up a schedule of panels for Friday. General mental fatigue overtook me before I could put a schedule together for Saturday. I bet I really wouldn't have bothered going to any other panels, though. I just didn't have it in me.

C2E2 gave me the chance to see a few people I haven't seen in awhile and meet some new people. The event didn't give me a bad experience. My general status of mental fatigue and exhaustion just makes big things like this not really my pie these days.

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CNSC and Chiditarod

Even longer than a month ago, I volunteered for the CNSC station for Chiditarod: A grocery cart race with the goal of raising money and food to help feed Chicago's hungry. CNSC volunteers turned one half of Emporium Arcade & Bar into Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope.

I manned the check in station, making sure racing teams complied with requirements to enter, start the clock and tell them to have fun in the Cantina. They had to hang out for 30 minutes to stay out of the cold and have a good time. We had some Star Wars trivia, but they didn't have to participate if they didn't want to.

Good time meeting and working with some new people. I enjoyed being something of an authority. Just being amongst all that excitement and general giddiness was a fun experience in itself. Seeing the novel costumes and themes that teams took on made for an amusing time. Plus, all the shenanigans, the shenanigans!

Chiditarod pushes for a great cause, makes for a fun time and raises quite a bit of food and money. I encourage anyone and everyone to participate in it, whether as a racer or a volunteer. You'll have lots of fun!

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I've felt at a loss for the last couple weeks. Not much creativity has occurred. With so much focus on work and chores around the house, I've felt stretched thin and a little depressed. I've wondered if I've lost touch with myself and who I am. All this has led me to believe I need to take more care of myself. . .somehow.

Last night I went the annual meeting of our local credit union, Northside Community Federal Credit Union. As I told a fellow member, I joined the credit union a few years ago for the good yield on my savings and, as I found out later, my savings would get invested in the community rather than farmed out to suburbs and more affluent areas. Michi and I live in a good part of the city, but the credit union's neighborhood can always use some investment.

I went to my first annual meeting a couple years ago. That one seemed a little looser and less about sticking to a schedule. The board and other presenters brought up some interesting history about the neighborhood, the credit union and also the state of the economy back in the '70s when the credit union started. I enjoyed that presentation and learned some stuff.

I enjoyed winning some Cubs tickets, too.

Last night's meeting proved lackluster compared to the first meeting. One of the board members seemed to want to get into some of that history stuff, but we had to stick to a schedule. It was mostly business last night with an interesting video recording of one of the original founders. She made a point about the economy in the '70s and how important the credit union was back then to unconventional savers and borrowers.

The weather last night felt comfortable enough that I walked the mile and a half home. It gave me some time to think. Like my response to the annual meeting, I thought about more interesting times that I've had in the past compared to my fairly repetitive present days.

Back in high school, I published a very low budget 'zine called The New Beat. It stressed creativity, literature and an attempt at culture. I wouldn't really consider it of high quality, nothing that I would publish today when I'm trying to be professional.

It had a bunch of creativity, though. My friend who I convinced to act as editor for a bunch of issues wrote an interesting essay on Mozart and Salieri. Sure, you could look it up on the Internet today. Then, though, no easy to access Internet, and I had never heard of Salieri before then. I tried my hand at writing short reviews of books, movies and music.

We also reaped the benefits of being part of the press. I received at least a couple demos from bands. I did an online interview with an electronic musician who performed in Boston.

Erik, my friend and editor for a couple issues, and Igot to go backstage to interview Sam Black Church, our favorite Boston hardcore band and fun, down to Earth guys. Those made for some experiences.

In college, I contributed to a 'zine called FEED. I started writing a column called "The Partee Man." It followed a style similar to this blog entry and like many of the entries I've done about events.

I went to parties and reviewed them. I let my writing get a little bit more personal then, so they came out more like this entry than most of my other ones.

The editor of that 'zine and I would spend late nights laying out the thing and finalizing it. We didn't get the interesting benefits of the press like I did with The New Beat. I guess I could have done stuff like that if I wanted and tried.

At the time, I wanted to focus more on my creative writing. I probably could have gotten some interesting experience and learned things if I pushed that angle.

Later when that editor graduated, he handed the reigns to someone else. I continued doing the layout (got some college credit for it, too).

The 'zine still needed a "Partee Man," so I gave the title to someone else. I didn't have as much fun working on it that way, but I didn't want to see it just disappear. I gave it another semester or two then let it die. More serious academic and writing duties called to me.

Around the time of FEED, I also had a two-year stint as manager of the band Aesthetik (hey, I'm credited for the lyrics I wrote on one song, whoo!). The band played a bunch of gigs around Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

I followed them to a bunch of gigs that I booked. We had a lot of adventures. My last adventure with them included one late one spring/summer night in Boston after gig, public transport having closed, no shelter arranged and ending negotiating the rate on a hotel suite down for a roof over our head to sleep.

Near the end of that time, I had taken a couple other bands on to represent.

Gave up all that for my college studies and creative writing.

Sixteen years later, I've moved halfway across the country. When I find the time and energy, I'm still working on those studies and creative writing. It has become something of a compulsion. I feel lost without thinking or working on it.

Now that I've found some time for it, I've run into some researchers and writers block. The writers block extends to other things like this blog or what have you. The mental exhaustion, the work, the chores, trying to save up money, etc. etc. it has all just piled up.

Maybe a lot of this thinking comes up because I grow a year older in just a little over a week. I have no idea why I don't have as much time as I used to. . .. I'm surrounded by some degree of creativity, but I'm not really engaged in it. I'm blocked.

I'm missing my creative side.

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