Further Adventures in Self-Taught Animation

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been playing with teaching myself some really basic animation stuff lately!

I love how measurable the progress in this medium is—each piece, by bit, frame by frame, it inches closer to becoming itself, and when each one is done, I can put it down, see what I’ve learned, and move onto something new. Pleasantly self-contained little assignments for myself—I’d meant to do Inktober but digitally, but this process is flowing okay on its own right now, so I’m just running with it. 😅🤷🏻‍♀️🤞🏻

I started with an app called FlipaClip, which was solid to learn on, but a little clunky once I had a rudimentary grasp of things, so I traded up to Callipeg. It’s a little choppy, too, with what I consider to be an excess of fiddly, motion-based signaling (iPad nonsense, bah,) but which has more advanced controls and is nicer to work with as I get used to it.

like walking on the surface of the sun

I initially wanted to jump into playing with human figures, because I like to tell our stories, but trying to animate legs walking allowed me to learn that I do not enjoy animating legs walking right now! So, in the interest of being kind to myself and not just chucking this away in frustration, I’m going to do what I did when I was first learning to draw people and struggling with depicting hands and feet! I’m gonna put the fiddly stuff down until I’m more comfortable with the medium, and just focus on the process in general more than the precision of walking rhythms right off the bat.

CMY Crumpalump

The next piece—a little CMY doodle of my one-eyed cat, Crumpet, when she was a kitten—was much more fun. (I really enjoy the thing where cats are basically a liquid.) After that, I decided to try and create an image loop of an idea I reference a lot, something I call my “terrarium brain.”

Ever since I had a series of small strokes a few years ago, my thoughts aren’t as linear or as easy to reach out and get ahold of when I’d like; they feel nebulous and indistinct until and unless I give them time and peace to coalesce. I picture them forming like clouds on my brain’s ceiling, collecting, eventually raining down (when they’re ready) into some form of more coherent expression. When I’m struggling to get the thoughts to gather, or am dealing with a very rapid cycle of feeling/thinking/expressing that overwhelms me, I refer to it as “storms in the terrarium brain.”

Storms in the Brain Terrarium

This was the first lil animation thing I’ve done that actually came out the way I intended; I’m surprised with how happy I am with it!

incomplete cityscape and train animation line work

Clearly, I keep returning to this train and cityscape idea. It’s taken up living rent-free in my head, and there’s definitely a story I want to tell forming there. Wanting to quickly get to telling that story, I started by snagging cityscape outlines from other images and altering them significantly, but I kept getting frustrated and feeling like a hack.

The next piece really frustrated me, just on a technical level. I borrowed most of the building blocking and outlines from another picture, and then built my own little world on top of it. Just a simple little loop of a person sitting on a rooftop, swinging their legs, bobbing their head to music, and scrolling through their phone. I was pretty pleased with it, and got about 3/4 of the way through coloring it, to the point where I just needed to color and animate all the billboards and other screens across the city.

blocking lines for cyber cityscape

In the middle of coloring, I accidentally tapped on a line with the Fill tool, which, if you’ve ever colored anything digitally, you probably already know this happens a lot, and while it does grossly thicken any lines attached to the one you just tapped on in the color you’re using, it’s not a big deal, because that’s what the Undo button is for. I didn’t notice right away, which wouldn’t normally be a big deal, either.

Except my iPad was in my lap, where my darling cat, Crumpet, decided she needed to be. So she stepped all over the screen and it closed the Callipeg app. And when I reopened it, I found that I had lost the ability to Undo more than the last couple of actions…which meant there was no going back to the version without the weird, chunky lines and awkward double-filled color spots.

By that point, I was frustrated, my hand hurt, and I felt like the motion in the animation was too choppy and awkward to be worth going through all the effort of completely redoing the color layer through the whole thing. While I’m annoyed to leave any of these little projects unfinished—I really like being able to have little slices of my progress as I go, so I don’t spend ages working on a project started at a lower skill level than I’m at by the time I’m halfway through it—I also legitimately don’t want to spend the hours of work and pain in my hand required to finish this one when I’m this frustrated with it.

I may go back later and steal the blocking lines from it to make a new one later, but right now, even just looking at it kinda irritates me. Weird, right? Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria feels in response to my own failures is not very Badass Artist Who Loves To Learn New Things of me, but I’m doing my best. 😬🙃

It’s exceptionally rare,

but occasionally, I am surprised and not disappointed by a person. Even…pleasantly surprised?

I don’t know. I came to a friend with some hard stuff about our relationship tonight, brought forward as authentically as I could, knowing it would be a tough, painful conversation, and really expected him to nope out. Didn’t even really emotionally prepare myself for anything else.

He stayed. And we talked. For three hours. With hugs. So. Feeling…tentatively hopeful for our continuing friendship, despite the difficulty. In the words of my favorite poet, CVR, “I invite hope in; I know failure may follow.”

Have this picture I took of Denver from the skybridge over the train tracks on my (mile long! A MILE ALONE ON MY FEETS) walk to meet him for our drinks this evening:

And, bonus, the whole CVR poem I mentioned:

General Update: bad brain week

Long post ahead! CW: health/medical, disability.

Not having a great brain week. Was on an upswing of functionality, but then the CNA who was supposed to come help us out ended up being a nightmare person and doing more harm than good, and just keeping her in check for the week and a half we had her burnt out my small pile of reserve spoons. I am spoonless once more…and now they can’t find us a replacement for her. I haven’t even had the energy to open my birthday cards/presents yet.

Highlights from the terrible CNA include:
-her telling us that she literally believes that “test tube babies” and babies born through IVF and surrogacy “don’t have souls, for real. They’re just like robotic cutouts; God wasn’t there when they were conceived, so they didn’t ever get souls.”
-her telling me that I should just pay someone else to do my taxes while I was struggling to process instructions from and assemble paperwork for the person we pay to do our taxes. She was supposed to be helping me understand the paperwork; we had already discussed that it was for the tax accountant at least seven or eight times.
-“Oh, but you’re so young, and you look great! You’re not so sick, you probably don’t really need my help with [insert basic CNA purpose task that I absolutely cannot manage for myself], it’s so easy,” over and over and over and over and…

Also, really sick of having to explain to people that, just because my body is doing well or appearing to “get better,” it doesn’t mean my brain is in gear to match. Me successfully managing to go out—while other people guide me, transport me, protect me from overwhelming stimuli and from having to do the meltdown-triggering stuff, ie a lot of work from my support system that you don’t really see unless you’re out with us, watching the way Bruce subtly guides me through a crowd or the way Zach helps me go through the menu—does not mean I am somehow in possession of a working brain. I’m usually not, and often doing the physical stuff robs me of the ability to do the mental stuff—I confirmed this the hard way, when I got lost in (the extremely small city of) Newcastle despite being in the same identical spot and doing the same identical process that Ally and I had done three times already earlier that week. Except, when we’d done it before, she’d been there to read all the little map things and directional/store signs (I can’t read maps or pictographs now, and written signs warp strangely, moreso when I’m stressed,) and check the streets as we crossed them (I have this thing now where objects moving quickly towards me strobe and turn invisible and I freeze like a deer and this is also a major part of why I can’t drive anymore,) and navigate around knots of pedestrians (I now have the spatial awareness of a toddler and also fits of vertigo, so I crash into people a LOT when I don’t have someone else’s body to follow,) and remember the name of where we were going (I can’t easily hold things in my head while moving physically anymore; the concentration that movement and balance take mean that I rarely have any processing power left over for thoughts/memory—I can hold a light conversation while walking, but that’s on a good day,) and process the visuals of more than a 3’ radius around our bodies (I can no longer do this while my body is in motion without walking into/off of things, which is another reason I am unable to drive now,) and so I ended up getting overstimulated AF and just sitting on the back edge of a bookstore display and quietly weeping for twenty minutes before pulling myself together and trying to ask people for directions…which went really badly, because I can no longer easily process, follow, or remember directions correctly, and I ended up twice as lost and in the wrong transit station. I only got back without having to call an Uber (terribly expensive and very slow, and it was hot as hell out,) because I finally found a girl in a wheelchair and her companion busking, and I offered them £10 if they’d lead my brain damaged ass the (very short, maybe four blocks) entire distance to the correct bus station when they finished their set. When I got there, I still had to have Ally step out of work (a bake shop attached to the bus station) for a moment to help me figure out the bus timetable and where to wait for it. It was a miserable day, and I was basically useless for the next two after it.

So yeah, I spent most of the last three years not doing anything small and joy-bringing I wanted (needed) to, largely in part because it made people not believe me when I told them my brain didn’t work—“well, it seems like you’re well enough to do what YOU want to do,” whenever I managed something joy-bringing is a thing that cut me deep. No, I have a support system of people willing and sometimes able to make some of the things I want to do feel in reach for me again. I cannot magically translate Zach reading the menu or Bruce navigating the crowd or me actually managing to put on makeup despite the hand tremors into me or those other people being able to do larger scale practical things like finding me new medical help, doing my paperwork/taxes, cleaning the apartment, managing organizational tasks, etc. That’s not a thing and even if it were, it wouldn’t be reliable or sustainable or even really okay.
So I spent a lot of time as a dour hermit out of guilt at the idea of being happy while there were things that needed to be done. I needed to spend my energy on HEALING and RECOVERING until I was well enough to get the important stuff done. I needed to focus on that and only that, so I could resume my place as a functional member of society.

Yeah, turns out that’s probably not happening, in terms of my likely health and disability outlook. This is not a thing I will recuperate from so much as need to learn to manage and live with. It’s also DEFINITELY not happening if I’m so depressed and isolated that I give up and unalive myself, which has been an intermittently hovering intrusive impulse since I was a kid. It remains even when I’m happy, but looms huge when I’m depressed. Not pursuing the things that bring me joy and fill me up because I couldn’t do the things that are now hard or impossible and thought there was some correlation between those abilities? Has destroyed some of the relationships I cared most about, kept me creatively stagnant, and made me so depressed that I’m arguably less functional than I was even right after my strokes. Certainly less able to plan and organize and process information.

If you need me this week, you better be prepared to badger the hell out of me, because I am straight up muddling through thick fog—but please do it gently, as I’m so overwhelmed that I keep just dissolving into tears. My brain terrarium is all storms right now. 🧠⛈🫠

Unrelated, I took this pic of a glorious double rainbow off my balcony this week. Denver largely feels like living on terraformed Mars to me, but it has such gorgeous storms.

Thoughts on Identity

On days when I’m completely adrift, I think of all the things that remind me of myself. Amber, because it is golden and warm, hard and malleable at the same time. Teapots, round-bellied and givers of comfort. Owls, fluffy and soft, sharp and watchful. Short grain brown rice. Rainstorms. Badgers. Old books. Gluten free scones.

If I cannot come back to myself, I remember the people who raised me. My mother is homegrown tomatoes, eaten in the garden in the heat of summer. Is a cup of Irish Breakfast tea on a Sunday morning, sipped at while watching birds at the feeder on the porch. Is hours of homeschooling, frustration, understanding, support. Is days in the sun by the lake, planning things, knowing that we are both the sort of people who will make sure they come to pass.

My father is learning to paint, the smell of acrylics faint but distinct. Is the sound of a cleaver hitting a wooden cutting board through meat and spices while he narrates like my very own cooking show. Is a bowl of popcorn covered in odd things, eaten in front of tv shows about superheroes. Is a little blue collection of Yeats poems.

My grandmother is the smell of garlic, is the feel of its papery skin sticking to my fingers when I slice through it to make a pasta dish in the middle of the night when I have been too sick to move for days. She is being curled up on a couch and believing that it is more comfortable than the bed, even though it isn’t. Is us watching awards shows and dance shows for the outfits, not what’s going on. She is the hours of planning my hundred different weddings, late into the night.

If remembering the pieces of myself is not enough, I at least know I am some amalgam of warm summer tomatoes, superhero tv shows, and the papery skin of garlic. I’m somewhere in that. And that’s not nothing.