Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stories to tell in whispers

I've finally come to realize why I've had such a hard time being online lately. It's not just this blog - I haven't been doing much on any social media, and what writing I have been doing has been in a notebook that I keep with me at all times. I'll start to write a response to someone's post, or reply to a tweet, or even begin drafting a blog post, and I'll delete it.

I worry, a lot, about how other people see me. I'm usually better at reminding myself that most people just don't see me, that I don't take up much mental real estate. It means that so long as I'm not actively hurting people, my voice is probably not going to be heard, and that's great! Less pressure all around!

Lately, though, the pressure has been on. It's not enough to "not actively hurt someone" - I feel like if I'm not actively helping, making things better, fixing things, then there's no point in saying anything at all. I'm not sure what flipped that switch, but it's been unpleasant.

Now? Now I'm just trying to pull back to the beginning. The whole reason I want to write is because I like telling stories. I've been trying to make my stories do too much, and it's locked me up. I want to go back to just building a world and some characters, and just watching what happens.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hunting the Plot Bunny

You never knew when you might see one. You may be scrolling through the internet feed of our choosing, or riding a bus while listening to music. You may even just be walking down the hall. Suddenly, you see a flash - just a quick tuft - gone almost as soon as you notice. Or you may hear, just for a second, the tiniest tap of a paw.

You stop, holding very still, while you try to process what you just might have seen. Trying not to make any noise, not even breathing, you wait. You don't want to scare it off, after all. Moving slowly, you look back where you saw that tuft, listen again for that tap of a paw. Careful! If you try too hard, you'll scare it away!

Sometimes, you're wrong. What you thought was a tuft of fur was a bit of discarded fluff, with nothing behind it. That tap wasn't from a paw, but the angry sounds of a keyboard being used as a weapon. You thought it was there, and sadly, the hunt has not gone your way this time.

But sometimes, oh my friend, sometimes, that tuft of fur slowly reveals itself to be the tail of a beautiful bunny. That tap is followed by three more as the bunny moves in your line of sight, showing off its glorious fur and wiggling nose. You were right! It's there, waiting for you!

Now what?

Now is the time to hope your tools are close at hand, and that you're able to capture the bunny before it flees. You don't hunt for meat or to kill, no - that's not the kind of hunter you are. You hunt to study, to learn all you can from these ephemeral beasts, and so you need a net of some sort.

Anything will work - a notepad and pencil, a laptop, a smartphone, even a receipt and a crayon if it comes down to it. You must be quick, and you must be careful. If you dawdle, the bunny may hop away before you've completed your net. If you are too harsh, the bunny may change in your net, morphing into something else, something strange and not a bunny at all.

If you're careful, and if you're quick, you'll capture your bunny and can study it at your leisure. Make sure to give it plenty of attention, now - bunnies are apt to slip away if no one's looking, leaving just a trace of fur in their place.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Healing Through Food

A bit behind, but time to start playing catch-up! A quick content warning here, as the story references survivors of sexual violence.

In Kosovo, tens of thousands of people are finding their way to recovery after the Serbia-Kosovo war in the 1990s. Because of cultural stigmas surrounding abuse, survivors have had difficulty finding work or supporting themselves economically. In the city of Gjakova, an NGO is finding a new way to move forward.

Medica Gjakova is a store that sells organic produce and products made locally by survivors of war violence. These folks are able to sell products that they're making from home, giving them the opportunity to earn an income without having to find work outside of the home. They are supporting themselves and their families, while building a business.

Working with one's hands and making something useful is a kind of therapy in itself. By finding a different way to turn that work into a way of earning a living, people are moving toward in their healing. It's amazing to think of how something as simple as a homemade cheese can lead to recovery and economic freedom.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Behold the Power of His Noodly Appendage!

Today, friends, we're talking about food. Glorious food! Etc. and so forth. Specifically, a beef noodle soup from China:

Man, now I'm hungry. At any rate, this is the kind of regional dish that has the benefit of being both satisfying and cheap, making it ideal for folks with few resources. Recently, it's also become a symbol of a bigger program taking shape in China.

Government officials in Gansu province have announced a plan to teach 15,000 impoverish people how to make the hand-stretched noodles used in the dish from scratch. The idea is that those people will then be able to take those skills to get work in existing noodle shops (of which there are 4,000 in Gansu province alone) or take the next step of opening their own noodle shop.

It's a strong sign of optimism and belief in their people that the government is putting such a program in place, as it indicates a willingness to give people tools to help them live better lives. There are other programs in place or being proposed as well, including driving tourism to more impoverished provinces and opening villages to film and TV studios for filming.

Poverty isn't an easy problem to solve, and to believe otherwise is to oversimplify the factors involved. However, giving people new skills that they can use to help improve their station is never a bad thing. And besides, who can say no to a good bowl of noodle soup?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Under the Sea?

Day three of Camp Pollyanna looks at the bottom of the sea, and showing just how AWESOME it is. The Schmidt Ocean Institute, working with Dr. Mandy Joye and her research team out of the University of Georgia, has been exploring hydrothermal vents and cold seep environments in the Gulf of California. The Institute, using state of the art technology and ships named after characters in The NeverEnding Story, have captured some of the most diverse and vibrant places in the world.

The deep-sea cameras have taken amazing images, showing mineral towers that are teeming with different kinds of life, including, potentially, creatures we've never seen before. And these things are huge! Up to 23 meters (75 feet) tall and 10 meters (32 feet) wide, and venting superheated fluids, these towers allowed scientists to use new kinds of samplers to draw fluids and volatile substances back to their remotely operated vehicle, SuBastian. (Told you - all of the names are like that.)

But what does it look like? Let me show you:

(Look, it's SuBastian hard at work!)

The more we learn about our world, the more awesome we find it to be. No matter how long we study, there's always going to be more to discover in our world. It's just so neat I can't stand it!

Go! Discover! But first...

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Robots: Activate

Day two of Camp Nanowrimo/Project: Pollyanna! Hope everyone had a good night's rest and all that jazz.

Do you remember Power Wheels? Being a child of the 1980's, I remember seeing those commercials and being insanely jealous of the kids riding around in a car. Like an ADULT. I mean, look at this!

How could you not want one?

Apparently, they're still around, and a high school robotics team decided to take one to the next level (but not in a "make it go 60mph and jump over flaming tires" way). Meet Cillian Jackson, a 2-year-old in Minnesota who, due to genetic wonkiness, is unable to walk. He had been primarily carried by his parents or pushed in a stroller, but that left him with minimal control over his movement. There were options for motorized wheelchairs, but they were out of his parents' budget. However, they had another idea.

Inspired by a group called Go Baby Go, Cillian's parents approached the local high school with a Power Wheel and a proposal - can you make this into something Cillian can use to get around?

The answer, of course, was yes. By dint of hard work and serious hacking skills(z), the team hacked the Power Wheel to make it easier to use and hold Cillian in place securely. This involved re-wiring, installing new pieces, and writing code to change the steering mechanics.

The result? A child able to move about freely and explore, and a group of high school students who get first-hand experience in seeing their skills make the world a better place in a real, tangible way. Sounds like a pretty solid project to me!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Happy Camp Nanowrimo! *confetti*

Hello all! Long time, no chat. The world's not in the greatest of states right now, I know, but it's time to bring a bit of light to the darkness again. At least, that's what I'm aiming to do. Bring on the positivity!

Project Pollyanna is go!

Now, I had planned to do a new Illumination post, highlighting a positive news story, but then I realized it's April Fools' Day. Not the greatest day for finding a trustworthy news story. So instead, let me tell you about something awesome.

Nathan Pyle is a web cartoonist who has created a lovely and thought-provoking series called Strange Planet. It's got a lot in common with the "humans are the aliens" idea, where humans are really, frankly, just weird. Nathan takes that idea and runs with it, showing aliens doing all the things humans do.

Enjoy, my friends!