There was a stretch of time not too long ago, but then again it seems like forever, when every other weekend was filled with some little yard project. We built a deck, a shed, a garden, a fence, a swing set, a bunch of flower beds, edging, and I’m sure a dozen little other things that have all added up to create a pretty cool little backyard.
But lately it’s all just maintenance.
I got home from work this afternoon and my neighbours were extending their deck by an extra two meters. Being neighbourly I loaned them a tool they were missing… which led to helping haul some of the lumber to the backyard… which led to pulling a few screws from the original section of the deck… which led to spending three hours in their backyard drilling screws into the planking of the deck.
Eventually the storm rolled in and we packed up faster than you probably would have thought possible. But as I sat down to write this post it occurred to me that I’ve kinda forgotten –and not necessarily in a good way– that satisfaction that comes from some good ol’ manual labour in the backyard on a summer evening.
It’s not I who is always the most rational one, at least between us two. “You need to clean up your toys from the living room floor.” I insist. “Your LEGOs are all over the place. You’re going to lose some pieces.”
“But I’m still playing with them.”
“You’re not playing with them right now, so clean them up.” I say sternly.
A disgruntled huff, but she gets down onto the floor and starts raking up the variety of multi-coloured pieces with her hands, scooping them into one big pile and unceremoniously into their plastic bin.
“You aren’t going to organize them better than that?” I ask.
“Why?” Comes the seemingly-simple reply, a single word shrouded with so much of a mentally disconnected and cavernous gap between us two that the echo it made was palpable.
“You’re mixing up the sets.” I say, and start muttering ravenously enough that the exact words come out something almost like: “We just bought that one and… those pieces are part of the… you can’t put the pink and grey bits together…”
She has stopped scooping and is miming a dejected-and-defeated pose, crouched on the floor. “Why not?” She asks.
I catch myself. “I don’t know.” I really don’t.
nurturing imagination, rule 007
break the directions: mix up all the pieces
Far be it from me to stumble into a cleverly-disguised rant about a certain plastic construction brick company and their not-as-creative-as-they-used-to-be play sets. That’s not the point. After all, just because the “instructions” are provided doesn’t necessarily mean that those rules are carved in stone, either. Some toys have rules. Other toys have rules that can be bent, broken or mixed up together to make new rules… which I’ve often found leads to a too-often-neglected garden of imagination.
As a grown up I find myself becoming a collector of categories. I find myself inclined to meet some irrational need to re-assemble my old sets from dusty bins and rumpled papers for the purpose of display, or to set new ones into their pristine and intended configurations upon a shelf. More often, however, I find I need to catch myself and remind that collector in me that he not the same as a six year old girl who needs to mix-and-match all the plastic bits. Sometimes that spaceship she’s building just needs to be pink.
This is a post from my “Just Three” Challenge, a 28-day photography project to capture a series of three-photo-story sequences — to tell a brief narrative using just three pictures taken that day. Each day from February 22nd through March 21st I’ll be posting a three-panel photo collection that makes use of one of the six styles of story-telling transition.
Claire’s grandparents spoiled her today with a new LEGO set. I would have objected, but then how would I have got some photos of even more…
Day 23: Bricks
Camera: Canon Elph 330HS Subject: Building LEGOs Transition: Action-to-Action
Post-Processing: Creative cropping and some hard-edged desaturation.
Story: Building LEGOs the living room. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
Technique: Candid LEGO-based photography.
Evaluation: This was a quicky due to severe lack of time (and some lacking motivation, today, too.) I’m not expecting greatness.
I’m just sitting here watching Claire try to teach her friend how to play Disney Infinity. The friend seems to have played video games before now, but never this particular title. So instead of logically explaining what each button does, I’ve been gritting my teeth (and trying not to intervene) as Claire is explaining the detailed functionality of the gameplay by saying things like “you just go over here and jump” or “just run around and do stuff.” Her friend is walking in circles and falling off virtual cliffs to her instant demise. Is it that it takes a particular kind of empathy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and teach them the fundamentals of gameplay, or is trial by fire the best way to learn?
About a year ago I introduced Claire to Minecraft. I mean, she had spent plenty of time sitting on my lap and watching ME play, but it was that moment when I showed to her the basic controls of Minecraft on our iPad that it all really started.
…the most accessible and limitless three-dimensional digital construction kit that’s ever existed in the history of human existence.
I’d be the first to admit. If I had been handed a toy half as awesome as Minecraft when I was five… hey, my life would have been complete. Strap me in, close the door, and just make sure to circulate the air every couple of days.
So, what do you do if you are a five year old who has one of the most accessible and limitless three-dimensional digital construction kits that’s ever existed in the history of human existence? Well, you take it for granted (as a start) and then you become mildly obsessed, beg to play on every occasion, and build mind-boggling creations that make your father wonder if he should start saving for either architectural school or some big-city fine arts program… or just assume that she’s gonna get a scholarship with… well, keep dreaming, right?
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What do you do if you are the parent of a five year old who has one of the most accessible and limitless three-dimensional… blah, blah, blah… you know where I’m going with this, right? Well, you could thwart your daughter’s creative obsession, put closely framed boundaries on it, and then complain about the whole thing with other parents. Or, you could get down on the floor and play right along with them.
Claire and I are Minecraft buddies. And heck, six years ago, when Karin was starting to swell with the anticipation that comes along with that thing called pregnancy, if you’d asked me what I thought of having a kid who’s biggest issue at five would be a mild obsession with one of my favourite video games… well, I probably wouldn’t have considered that a problem. I still don’t. But it frames up a story quite nicely, though, doesn’t it?
Through some bit of odd shopping happen-stance — we won’t go into that here — I wound up pre-ordering, or maybe back-ordering, or in some way ordering a set of Legos that was out of stock or out of production or out of luck in some way.
People have been paying hundreds of bucks for these particular kits on auction sites, but it turns out with a little time and patience, they arrive in your mailbox for the suggested retail price just the same. And they are just as fun to build then, too.
Of course, the quasi-official Minecraft Lego kit was labelled as a ten-and-up product, but Claire (familiar with both Legos and Minecraft) quickly figured out that with only a little intermittent help from her old man, ten-and-up simply meant she needed to concentrate a little harder.
The four hundred and eight piece sculpture was fully assembled and starring in some serious floor-based playtime within twenty-four hours after arriving at our house.
Just Playing Minecraft, Videos
Back at the computer I’ve opted to mop up a little bit of the wandering and aimless play we’ve both been veering into, and I started experimenting on a little video project.
A Minecraft video project…
Now, I’ve no illusion lurking in my mind that the videos Claire and I have been making are anything unique or clever or novel or insightful… not any of that. But it goes something like this: Claire and I are playing Minecraft together anyhow, she sits on my lap and her commentary is priceless (for me, if no one else) and I’ve often thought on how it would be great to record it for my own personal posterity, and hey… would you look at that… I have screen capture software and a couple microphones just waiting there on my computer, looking for any excuse to get out and be used.
We’ve made two YouTube videos so far.
They are just us playing the game, recording our adventures as we build and explore, but the audio you hear is our conversation all the while. And again, while this is nothing unique or particularly innovative, it is ours… and it’s a way for us to play together, create together, and share (in moderation) our obsession together. Isn’t that what good dads do?
About six months ago, when I had a lot more free time on my hands, someone — let’s call her a potential client — proposed that I could build a website for a very specific audience. The added challenge was twofold: (a) it had to be a kind-of ‘version two’ of an earlier site I’d worked on — in that it had to do more, better, and more interactively, and (b) it needed to make some money.
I took on the challenge. I sketched out a rough business plan — a few pages of notes mostly — and put together a bit of a wishlist and wireframe of what such a website would, might, could look like. And the problem was that given the wide scope of website CMS systems out there, nothing really — even when accounting for a wealth of plugins, addons, extensions, or hacks — fit the solution to the business problem I was facing. So now what?
Like any good little geek, instead of sticking my head in the sand and hoping for a fix to come to me, I set out to build some custom code. In a few short months, scattered time devoted, I built the framework of a pretty neat little system — then promptly got a job doing something completely different and forgot about it. I forgot about it for nearly half a year.
For no particular reason, I was poking around the code again last night. Poking around code a few months after you’ve written it is interesting: you see things in a different light, but you’re still not so distant from the writing of it that you don’t understand the code your wrote. It’s enlightening and satisfying. You see things that work and you think “sweet” and you see thing that are still broken and think “I can fix that.”
I’m not exactly sure the offer of building that initial, proposal, genesis business concept still would stand — the idea sort of fizzled out, and the further I get from that concept the less I really want to work on it — but the little bit of code I wrote to start the project is still a solid little foundation for a quirky kind of CMS system that might have legs of it’s own, particularly if I were to find it a new rasion d’etre and were I to explore it a little bit more, code a bit more, and polish the effort a bit more. It might not make any money, but it might be something worth building, just for the sake of building it.
And so that is what I’m doing. I’ve decided to crack open the code of this little system and see if I can build what I’m now dubbing a “social cms”, soon to be piloted as a blog and resource pool around a completely different topic than originally intended: information architecture and management. And if it works? Well, hey… you read it here first.