Going to the beach

It looks like my day job is winning at the moment. I’ve been ‘asked’ to go back to full-time work. Today is my last part-time day off. Friday was my second last–I had to take them where I could because I really haven’t been working a proper part-time schedule for some time now. The demands of my day job have just been far too great.

But…

I’m not going to let this stop me. As a big ‘F you’ to to my day job, on Friday I went to the beach. The remains of Tropical Cyclone Winston were floating around off the coast and whipping up some impressive waves. I wanted to get a really summery photo of a perfectly breaking wave and also just spend some time sitting and watching the water–doing nothing at all for the first time in a month.

It was amazing. The locals came up and chatted; their dogs kept running up to say hello. There was even an osprey fishing and I was so excited to get some really cool pictures of it…

Currimundi Surf-1006Currimundi Surf-1044Currimundi Surf-1067It was the perfect day. I took over a thousand pictures of the water and eventually got the image that I wanted.

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So it might be a bit harder now that I’m back to full time work but I’m determined to keep with my artistic journey. I even started writing a new story today about someone who blows off work to go to the beach.

Not a resolution

It appears I’m starting up again. Hooray! I stopped a lot of creative stuff at the end of last year mainly because work was so busy they asked me to go back to full-time and that included much longer hours. Anyway, my day job is more or less back to normal for now (although another longer stint of full-time is ahead) and, almost without me realising, I’ve picked up all my creative pursuits again.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions because I’ve found that I inevitably follow through for a month or two like a total machine and then fizzle out and collapse like an overtired two-year-old. I’ve noticed that seems to be a pattern for me: I get all excited about a new project, tell myself I’m going to work on it every day, power on for a while and then eventually stop and feel bad about failing.

However, this year I’m trialing a new approach. I’ve set up a schedule of things I want to do—exercise, writing, photography—where I have a modest weekly goal. At the moment I’ve set myself the target of doing each of those things three times a week. More is great if I do it, but three times is the goal. That way I don’t have unachievable (for me) goals like a daily word count and I’ve massively reduced the pressure to succeed I put on myself. And the goals are completely flexible—I can do them on any day at any time and tick them off as successes. I’m hoping this way will also spread out the energy I put into projects so I don’t blow it all at the start in one huge burst. This is a big switch for me and kind of a strange reversal—by doing less and putting less pressure on myself, I’m hoping to be able to achieve more.

In line with this, I’m experimenting with different story formats. One of my writer friends wrote a blog post about how he discovered he was unable to write the sort of huge fantasy novels he wanted to because his drafts always petered out around 50,000 words. But in doing that he discovered he was really quite good at novella-length stories. It got me thinking because a lot of what Matthew said about himself could have come directly from my brain.

So I’m starting with really short stories, no more than about 5000 words, to see if that helps me stick with writing more. My ultimate goal is to develop a bunch of characters and weave them together through short stories into a much larger meta-plot but still have each short story more or less complete within itself. Not sure how this will turn out but it seems like it’s worth a shot.

I used a fire extinguisher for the first time today

In the purest sense, NaNoWriMo is not going too well for me. I reached 15,000 words pretty quickly and then stopped. I’m not unhappy with that–it’s 15,000 words more than I started with. And as words go, they’re pretty good ones with plenty of potential.

However, to keep up the creativity, I decided to shoot a Christmas still life like I did last year:

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I ran across this tutorial on 500px ISO about using sparklers in glass jars. It looks amazing and seemed doable so I thought I’d give it a go.

I decided to set it up in my garage because it’s entirely concrete and thus fire-proof. Great decision number 1.

I also brought along the fire extinguisher I keep in my kitchen and put a bucket of water nearby as well, just in case. Great decision number 2.

This was the set-up I decided on:

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I reused the glass reindeer from last year because I quite like it. I went to a dollar store for the decanter and wine glasses because the tutorial mentioned that the heat from the sparklers could cause the glass containers to crack and I didn’t want to break anything expensive. Great decision number 3.

It turned out to be really difficult to get the sparkler bits in the bottom of the decanter to ignite. I tried various things–varying the amount of sparkler bits, dropping in lit matches, using a taper. I think the main issue was the shape of the bottle. Anyway, it took a long time but eventually I got it to light.

That’s when it went wrong.

Instead of the delicate spray of sparks bouncing off the interior of the decanter, I got this:

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That’s right. I accidentally created a homemade blowtorch that went off with a very unsettling roar. Like any good photographer, I kept my finger on the shutter while I panicked about what to do. My first thought was to grab the fire extinguisher but all the fire was enclosed by glass, which was less than helpful.

Fortunately…? a moment later the decanter exploded, showering glass everywhere and setting fire to the backing fabric:

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This was the very last shot in the burst.

Of course, that meant the fire extinguisher would be effective so I got things under control pretty quickly.

All in all, this shoot did not go to plan. However, I persevered through the ensuing clouds of smoke to get the shot of the wine glasses and with a bit of work in post, I ended up with this:

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It’s a bit different to the image I’d originally planned but it’s got a certain drama that I quite like. Overall I’m pretty happy with it. Maybe don’t try this at home, though, kids.

Ice, black plastic and deep water

I have a mental illness. It’s depression and it sucks.

I was originally not going to mention this sort of thing in this blog. I wanted Heading into the Forest to be upbeat and more of a documentation of the steps I’ve taken, rather than an exploration of my personal feelings. Plus, for me, depression has a guilt association–there’s no external reason for me to feel like this because I have a good job, a nice place to live, physical health, friends and family. What more could you need to feel good?

But now, quite obviously, my depression has had an impact on the story of Heading into the Forest. For the last few months, I’ve done almost nothing creative, posted very infrequently and what posts I’ve managed have been kind of cop-out, wishy-washy ones. So now that I’m finally coming out of this latest episode, I thought I’d put it out there as a way to restart my writing and creativity.

See, for me, depression comes in waves, usually lasting a couple of months. In between these waves I’m fine. During, I’m definitely not. This last one was particularly bad, partly because it’d been long enough since the last for me to start to think that I wasn’t going to get any more (whoops), partly because it was quite a long one (almost four months), and partly because it was somehow worse than a lot of others I’ve had.

I’m quite lucky compared to many people with depression because I get time off from it, in between the waves. Which is nice, but doesn’t really help me during the episodes when the hateful self-talk and sheer exhaustion overwhelms.

On a more positive note, something a little interesting has come from this last depression wave. I finally connected my synaesthesia to my creative pursuits. (I seriously can’t believe this is only happening now.)

Synaesthesia is a union of the senses where two or more senses are involuntarily joined. One of the most common forms is grapheme-colour synaesthesia where letters and numbers have specific colours.

So for me, the start of the alphabet looks like this: A B C D E F G

Numbers look like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The week looks like this: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

People with synaesthesia will get this, even if I have the ‘wrong’ colours. Those without will probably struggle to understand. It’s kind of hard to explain because for me it’s just a thing that is.

A colleague at my day job loaned me a copy of Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. Daniel has synaesthesia to an incredible degree and savant syndrome, which allows him to learn languages incredibly quickly and recite pi to 22,514 digits. I’m not claiming to be able to do anything like that, but it occurred to me that incorporating my synaesthetic perceptions into my writing and photography could produce some interesting and slightly unique effects.

I made the connection because, for me, depression literally feels like drowning in a pool of cold water filled with icicles and black plastic. The water offers no purchase or chance to rest; the black plastic wraps around my limbs and covers my mouth and face, making swimming and breathing impossible; the icicles stab and freeze. Sometimes I’m so exhausted from fighting the water and smothering plastic that I can’t even get out of bed. While that’s the real feeling for me, it also makes a really good metaphor for other people.

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When I’m between the waves, I feel like I’m made of clear glass, floating in the air with a clean breeze blowing right through me. That description definitely captures the feeling, but also the fragility of it.

Sunlight is a mix of slow honey and bright lemon. Moonlight is tingly sherbet powder on smooth ice. Playgrounds crackle like Pop Rocks. Roads groan and hum…

I’ve just discovered an amazing catalogue of experiential descriptions that will enhance my writing no end and (with a bit more difficulty and creativity) could result in some really interesting photographic juxtapositions. Again, I can’t believe I only just realised this! Perhaps it’s because this is normal for me.

So here’s to once more getting out of the dark, cold water and back onto the path into the forest in the honey and lemon sunshine.

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One Year Later

Well, it’s been a whole year since I started this journey and I haven’t faltered or looked back yet. Hooray! I’ve kept up my blog posts (averaging 2.5 a month, which I’m really happy with). I’ve posted relatively regularly to my 500px gallery and my instagram (nathan_chester). I’ve written a lot, but still not finished anything, which bugs me. I’ve done some courses in photography and Photoshop that have really improved my skills.

All in all, it’s been a successful year though without any dramatic advancement. I’ve left the stifling and total security of my house and crossed the backyard, but I haven’t yet ventured very far under the eaves of the wild, creative forest. I am inching closer and that’s the goal for the next year–to be more adventurous, more dedicated and invest more of myself into this journey.

I’ve posted the photo below as an expression of how far I’ve come and as a promise to my future. I almost didn’t get this shot because I was standing safely on the beach, clicking away. When that egret landed in the water, I didn’t think twice about slogging through 100 metres of thick, slippery, above-the-ankles tidal mud to get close enough for the photo. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t even have taken a chance and headed to the coast for the possibility of a sunset like that. The future is bright (but with good contrast and properly exposed highlights).

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Sneaky universe

Turns out the universe is sneakier than I thought. I’ve been feeling very un-creative lately. I’ve been worrying that I haven’t been writing enough, that I haven’t been photographing enough, that I haven’t been blogging enough. I’ve felt like I was wasting my days off from my day job because I haven’t followed through with my plan to devote them solely to creative endeavours. Instead they’ve been filled with dentist appointments and grocery shopping and other mundanities.

And then the universe started sending me messages–little moments of synchronicity that have become impossible to ignore. More and more of my friends seem to be reaching turning points in their lives. Everybody seems to be discovering that where they are now is not where they want to be and, in order to get where they want to be, they need to make scary decisions. The theme coming out of hours of deep and meaningfuls is that in order to get what you want, you have to take a risk and jump in wholeheartedly. You have to believe that you have the ability and determination to pull off your dreams. I started this process last year. However, it’s becoming clear that I haven’t quite managed to follow through. Going part-time at work was a big step for me, but I haven’t done enough with the time. I think the universe is onto me.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the number of inspirationals about following your dreams in my Facebook feed seems to have doubled in the last couple of weeks.

And then there are those stupid gambling ads on TV that keep yelling at me to back myself. Even Masterchef the other night (I swear I wasn’t watching it and just flicked over in the ads) was going on about how I am the only one that can make my dreams come true and that if I don’t actually do anything, I’ll forever be just a dreamer.

So I was going to write a blog post about how I was failing at writing and failing at photography and failing at being the change I need in my life. But as I was doing it, I started to come up with a list of all the things I’d been doing instead of being creative. And I realised I’d made a mistake.

A couple of weeks ago I did two of half-day courses in Photoshop and started going back over old photos to see if I could improve them. Turns out I could…

I also started a document of random, incomplete story ideas the other day. So I’ve actually been doing a couple of hundred words of writing every day even though it’s not on one specific project.

And on top of that, I made up some Valkyrie wings for a fitness model friend for her next comp. image1   So it turns out that I’m a bit more on track than I thought. Instead of the horrible I-Haven’t-Done-Enough motivation I had at the start of this post, I’ve got more of an I-Can-Do-This motivation. It’s amazing how much more motivating that is. Thank you universe. I need to go write something.

Creativity vs. Equipment

I’ve been reading a lot of photography blogs and, while they’re full of valuable advice and fascinating ideas, they’ve also been making me a little depressed. The blogs are full of “key source lights with fresnel lenses” and “LED spotlights with gels” and “full frame cameras with 25mm f/.95 lenses”. And these people have produced some amazing creative works. And this is the very reason I read these blogs. But the fact that I don’t have any of this enviable photographic equipment sometimes kind of hits my confidence. I started to wonder if I needed all that stuff to take a good photo.

So I decided to try to do a portrait without all the fancy equipment just to show myself it can be done. I went with a Game of Thrones theme because I’m a geek and it’s fun.

Equipment:

  • a bedspread hung from a curtain rail (for the backdrop)
  • a reading lamp attached to an exercise bike’s handlebars (key light)
  • a few A4 sheets of white paper stapled together and blu tacked to a kitchen chair (reflector)
  • tripod
  • camera with 18-55mm kit lens
  • remote trigger.

I didn’t have anyone to model for me (which would have made things easier and maybe the final photo look a bit better) so it’s a selfie. The costume is just an inside-out, back-to-front coat, some black fabric, feathers, a belt and sweatpants*. I happened to have the sword prop already—probably the only ‘professional’ part of the costume.

So you can see that the set up is anything but professional, using only the most basic and cobbled together equipment, but I was really happy with the final photo:

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I guess I need to keep reminding myself that creativity doesn’t rely on having the best equipment or most experience.

* I planned on only a medium or head shot but in the middle of the shoot I realised that I had to go for a longer shot and totally forgot in the creative frenzy that I hadn’t planned a full-length costume.

An unexpected end to writer’s block

I’ll be honest: I haven’t done any writing lately. I’ve been out photographerising a bit. I even entered my city’s Lord Mayor’s Photographic Awards (my shot is here). I find out on Monday if I did any good with the official judges and then the People’s Choice judging opens next month. But as far as writing goes, there’s been nothing.

I’ve barely been able to muster any enthusiasm for writing and on those odd occasions when I managed some interest, sitting down at the keyboard instantly extinguished it. I reached the point the other day where I was seriously considering whether or not I should be a writer at all.

Everyone has down times and creative dry spells and, according to other writers I know, they can sometimes last a really long time. But for some reason this one made me question whether I had the drive and determination to actually be a writer at all.

Also, a writer friend of mine (who should have known better) introduced me to Guild Wars 2 and that’s been taking up an awful lot of time. I’m not a huge or regular computer gamer but when I find a game I like I tend to get obsessed for a really long time. And this one’s a pretty good game. It’s got awesome graphics and storylines and mythology and puzzles and challenges. You get to customise your character’s appearance, skills, weapons and clothes/armour. And you get to team up with people from all over the world to fight giant monster jungle wurms, shadow demons and dragons. I know, right?!

I’ve got a bunch of different characters because I wanted to try as many of the options as I could, which involves hours and hours of game play time. So, yeah, I’ve spent a lot of ‘writing time’ playing this game. And then the other day I realised that, even though these characters are just avatars for me to interact with the game world, I was making in-game choices based on the personality of whatever character I happened to be playing at the time. My computer game avatars had developed their own personalities and back stories well outside of the parameters of the game. They had come to life in my head and had teamed up as a semi-classic fantasy adventuring party.

And that made me realise that my creative, story-telling well had not dried up. It just needed a break from the gloomy post-apocalyptic world of my storm chasing story. Instead it seems to be vacationing in the violent and deadly digital world of Tyria. Go figure.

Has anyone else experienced their game avatars taking on personalities and lives of their own? Or is this something I should see a professional about?

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Clouds but no storm

I think I’ve worked out why my storm chasing novel has stalled. It’s bugged me for ages because I’ve got all the characters and an outline of all the things I want to happen to them but when I sit down to write it I become disengaged really quickly and struggle to put anything down on paper.

And now I know what it is: in all my planning I’ve somehow managed to leave out all the character arcs. I’ve got all the outside events plotted out in a way that should rise to a very exciting climax but I don’t have any notes on how these events will affect my characters internally…you know…that really important part of a story that actually engages the reader.

Whoops.

Minor oversight there. Especially since from the start I’ve wanted to make this a character-driven story.

This is probably something that’s generally been missing from all my writing up to now. I tend to get so caught up in creating new and amazing worlds and exciting and terrifying events that I forget that all the emotion is still just inside my head. Not that it’s completely absent or anything. I just need to put a whole lot more work into bringing out my characters’ internal journeys to make my stories resonate better on a human level.

This means that I’m going to have to go back and write histories and life stories for all my storm chasing characters and fill in all the stuff that readers of the story won’t ever see but that I need in order to bring the internal worlds of my characters to life. Only then will my actual story be able to take off. Or, in meteorological terms, the atmosphere has enough moisture and wind shear for a severe storm, but the convectional lift is missing and the clouds just aren’t getting enough punch.

It’s surprising how much writing this story feels like trying to lift a couple of tons of air. The end result will be amazing, though.

Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.
Plenty of nice clouds but not enough for a storm.

Getting my geek on

Another day, another costume…

A friend of some friends is running a LARP (Live Action Role-Playing game) and they needed another player. I’m pretty excited. The only other LARP I’ve played was where I met some of said friends and it was a lot of fun. In this one I’m playing no less than the King of the Wood Elves. It’s going to be great.

GEEK LEVEL: EPIC!!

And not only am I playing a fairly epic character, some of the other players are experienced cosplayers. So I need a moderately epic costume. I had some ideas that I’d never put into practice and when I gave them a go, it turned out even better than I thought it would.

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It’s all actually made out of cheap buckets from the local hardware store. Just slit a bucket down the side, cut off the rim and base, blast it with a heat gun to flatten it and remove the shine and you end up with a sheet of plastic that can be cut up, shaped, stuck together and painted.

The black bucket strips actually looked pretty close to leather once I’d finished ‘treating’ them. I had to spray paint it, though. The King of the Wood Elves probably wouldn’t dress like an assassin. It did look awesome all in black, though. A couple of cheap belts and a bunch of little split rivets and the whole thing came together really easily. I’m adding a green bed sheet cloak and faux-fur mantle to hopefully make it pop a bit more.

And that’s where my creative energies have been directed lately.