The word's latin roots connote suffering; “that which must be endured”. Yet the word has come to mean the things we find lifegiving. I would propose this is no accident: the sources of our joy must necessarily consume us.
My primary passions remain code and writing. Yet I cannot fully be myself without the following; like writing, like coding, they consume me, and in doing so, bring me great joy.
Calligraphy and Typography
I am endlessly besotted with lettering. My fascination stems from an injury: after a six-month (and mercifully long-healed) bout of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in 2014, I was forced to learn how to write with my ‘wrong’ (which is to say, right) hand. I began practicing formal cursive exercises in front of the television, and was pleasantly surprised when, after a few months, my scrawl was legible. I kept at it; a few years later I was delighted to have discovered that careful study had given me a second useful hand. Moreover, because I had trained this hand as an adult, I'd done it correctly. It turns out elementary school teachers (who may no longer teach cursive at all, to my horror!) either do not know or do not care that good handwriting is about the choice of muscle-group.
I went on to self-study broad-nib calligraphy, working my way up to copperplate. My preferred nib for right-handed work with an offset nib holder is a Brause 66EF. My preferred nib for left-handed work (in a straight nib holder) is a ZEBRA Model G Titanium.
Typography was a natural extension of both my love of all things computer-related and my newfound interest in lettering. I read Butterick, then Bringhurst. Then, I got technical about Unicode. It's all about the astral planes, and if you know what I'm talking about, you're a huge nerd.
It's odd how often I have to remind tech people that their discipline has its roots in textiles. Ada Lovelace, famously, invented coding by studying the loom. I wonder how many macho tech bros would appreciate that they are merely articulating one of the many possible futures of warp and weft?
While I own several sewing machines, including a serger, my preferred method is hand sewing. I find the rhythmic focus of the work soothing, and somehow gratifying in a way that machine work is not.
My sewing practice has its roots in a seasonal shift I used to work at a local theatrical costume shop. The eighty-something-year-old tailor who worked in the loft had made the most exquisite seventeenth-century French ballgowns and they remain some of the most beautiful creations I've ever had the luxury of inspecting.
I'm an absolute newb at embroidery, having only started in the past few months. But already I adore this practice. I find the activity itself soothing like knitting, but does not result in as many superfluous scarves. I've been repping Mystical Stitches, by Christi Johnson. This book is just right for beginners, while providing plenty of inspiration to go deeper.
Knitting is fabulous. If you knit left-handed style, it's edgy; if you knit left-handed continental, it's edgier; and if you happen to be ambidextrous, you can do the thing I do, which is alternate rows of left- and right-handed continental style. This is incredibly fast, as you don't have to rotate the garment (when not knitting in the round.)
I don't know who or what I'd be without music. While I didn't get a chance to study it properly when I was young, I've spent the past decade learning the rudiments of piano, sightreading, vocals, percussion, guitar, analog synth, and of course the best DAW in the world, Reaper.
I'm a total newbie at illustration, but what I lack in skill, I make up for in, erm, well… nah. I don't make up for it. But I also don't care!
…Ok, maybe I care a little.
I got into illustration as an extension of my calligraphy practice. I got obsessed with making calligraphic flourishes, and, in particular, calligraphic flourishes of birds.
There were plenty of hits on a quick web search for “calligraphy bird flourish”, but somehow they didn't look right to me. They seemed to lack a sensitivity to the anatomy and structure of their subject matter! Most of them did not even faithfully represent any particular species or even genus.
So, I went and got a bunch of books on how to draw birds. From there, I branched out into drawing non-bird entities, such as those found in a typical world.
Years ago, I worked in a kitchen, and I still miss it. I have fortunately kept up my knife skills, and I myself am a swift and competent creator and executor of recipes. Sadly, I do not get many chances these days to cook for others. My deep admiration for chefs and line cooks and all food-service workers abides: the work is not easy, and it is also, when done right, beautiful, challenging, and consuming. There is a sort of kitchen-dance, when cooking with others, that remains one of the highest forms of human cooperation aside from music-making. And if I told you that I had not watched a bazillion seasons of MasterChef, from three different countries, I'd be lying. (MasterChef Australia is the best. Especially the first season!)
Aside from my mother tongue of English, I've got the following under my belt:
🇫🇷French (learned via French immersion until high school). Latent but still effective. Just don't ask me to spell anything or correct anyone's grammar.
🇩🇪German learned while in Germany. I can understand about 70% of basic conversational German, and make myself understood. I often refer to my proficiency level as “Kneipedeutsch” (‘tavern German’)
ASL is my current passion. I'm actively taking classes through the amazing folks at Queer ASL. I'm not good yet, but I will be.
I have succumbed to the middle-aged pursuit of birding. Sorry, not sorry. Birds are amazing. Everyone who is not a bird lover can GTFO.
I first encountered the field of product design through a Continuing Education course I took at the University of British Columbia back in about 2009. It blew me away! Not only was there a set of reliable design principles I could invoke when analyzing or discussing a given product, but also a well-defined methodology for testing designs empirically.
I have kept up with my reading since then. Design is the most fascinating of the engineer's tasks, and touches upon ethics, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. It is profound and it is essential.
I dropped out of a PhD in philosophy some fifteen years ago. I do not regret dropping out, and while I remain in deep admiration of philosophy, especially ethics and political philosophy, the hard truth is that I have not kept up with the journals. Yet my long dalliance with philosophy has wrought a permanent effect on my reasoning and arguing skills: I am formidable when in disagreement.
Film, Theatre, TV
This is largely underexplored terrain for me. Despite briefly helping a friend produce a sitcom some years ago, and a stint as a ‘theatre kid“ back in university, I am somewhat ashamed to say that I let my opportunity for a career in this industry lapse. I nevertheless regard it as one of the most important cultural products of the twenty-first century, the lingua franca of all contemporary humans.