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I really, really should start posting more about my work with Maya.  It can be your best friend or your most frustrating sidekick that you have to put up with because, while it enjoys booting you in the nose, it makes you pretty awesome sandwiches.  I’ve come across techniques and fantastic ideas/tutorials etc. that have helped me out a hundred times over, without exaggeration.

The problem I came up against most recently was in with a scene file that had many dynamic nCloth nodes and two nucleus nodes.  I’m not sure what caused this, but the scene was very unstable.  I managed to open it all but once or twice, managed to start rendering once, but after that day I couldn’t open it or render it from the command line.  Even when I was trying to render the same file that worked the previous day.  Aggravating isn’t the word.  If there were a word in the English language that encompassed the act of punching a PC through the wall, that would be a good word.  The Japanese must have a word like this, surely.  I’ve seen Dragonball Z.

Anyway, you want the answer.  The render command was referring to warnings from the cycleCheck process.  Quite a few warnings, before bombing out.  I’ve seen this many times, particularly on scenes where I’ve used the absolutely crucial RapidRig script.  Fortunately, I’d saved this particular scene as a Maya ASCII file after reading that the compression can cause probs with complex scenes, which meant that even though I couldn’t open it and fix the issue in Maya, I could open it in Notepad++.  I tried this, and figured I’d follow the suggestion from the render command:

“Use ‘cycleCheck -e off’ to disable this warning”

I found an appropriate place to enter this command, figuring it would go before defining scene content, after the string definition of versions, source OS, etc.  I threw the line in:

cycleCheck -e off;

Then saved the file, and ran the render from the command line again.

IT ONLY WENT AND WORKED.

Now I suspected this cycleCheck may be protecting a PC from infinitely looping on custom scripts or something.  Checking this out, it seems this command is actually checking for plug cycles throughout the scene’s relationships.

http://download.autodesk.com/us/maya/2010help/CommandsPython/cycleCheck.html

This page actually says plainly:

“this command may incorrectly report a cycle on an instanced skeleton where some of the instances use IK”

Which I guess explains why it always comes up with warnings on scenes with RapidRig rigs.  Use this advice at your own peril.  All I care about is, at the time of writing, 50 frames have been rendered, which is 50 more than I had working yesterday evening.


Handy, this.  I tried using the GUI and all I got was ‘database in use, can’t do it’.  Yes, it’s in use.  By me.  Trying to restore.

Anyway, the advice on this page worked wonders.  This was the case for me anyway, but ensure there are no users in the system and change the context to a different database so none of your open SQL windows (if any are indeed open) are trying to reference the DB you’re restoring into.

Then you want the following SQL:

-- This helps prevent 'database is in use' errors
USE master;
GO
 
ALTER DATABASE [your_new_database] SEET SINGLE_USER WITH ROLLBACK IMMEDIATE;
-- The next command is the restore command as normal.  
-- I actually created this bit from the GUI using the 'overwrite' option 
-- and the additional options to specify the data and log files being restored into, 

-- then altering the command to look more like the following:
RESTORE DATABASE [your_new_database]
FROM DISK = N'D:\backup_dir\backup_file.bak'
WITH REPLACE,
MOVE N'DATA' TO N'D:\SQLData_dir\your_new_database.mdf',
MOVE N'DATA_log' TO N'D:\SQLData_dir\your_new_database_log.ldf'
GO
 
-- Now setting the DB back to normal
ALTER DATABASE [your_new_database] SET MULTI_USER;

If you’re not confident, do it in a test area first!


Today, entered into the building to find out no one could log in to the system and we found out that one of the daily SQL jobs had locked everything up, refusing to budge over.

You can quickly work out the ID of the SQL process causing the issue with one command:

sp_who2

Only problem is, this gives you very little idea about what’s actually going on, and killing a transaction midway through its procedure could cause inconsistencies.  In a live system, that’s a bad thing.

I came across a handy stored procedure to identify both the offending SQL ID and also, hopefully, return both the commands being issued and the messages coming back from execution.  Here it is!

SELECT
db.name DBName,
tl.request_session_id,
wt.blocking_session_id,
OBJECT_NAME(p.OBJECT_ID) BlockedObjectName,
tl.resource_type,
h1.TEXT AS RequestingText,
h2.TEXT AS BlockingTest,
tl.request_mode
FROM sys.dm_tran_locks AS tl
INNER JOIN sys.databases db ON db.database_id = tl.resource_database_id
INNER JOIN sys.dm_os_waiting_tasks AS wt ON tl.lock_owner_address =wt.resource_address
INNER JOIN sys.partitions AS p ON p.hobt_id =tl.resource_associated_entity_id
INNER JOIN sys.dm_exec_connections ec1 ON ec1.session_id =tl.request_session_id
INNER JOIN sys.dm_exec_connections ec2 ON ec2.session_id =wt.blocking_session_id
CROSS APPLY sys.dm_exec_sql_text(ec1.most_recent_sql_handle) AS h1
CROSS APPLY sys.dm_exec_sql_text(ec2.most_recent_sql_handle) AS h2
GO

As the author says, this is a dirty way to solve an issue, but if it’s clear this is a safe transaction to snuff out, it may be best to do so and get the darn thing working again.  Kill off processes using another simple command… can you guess what it is?

KILL <pid>

Thank you SQLAuthority.com:)


Image

“An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” (Dom Cobb, “Inception”… brill movie)

The simplest of ideas are the most infectious, the ones that carry themselves unseen on practically every line of thought, strengthening itself every time.  Every time you run with an idea, you give it exercise and strengthen it.  The very simplest idea is a single word.  For me, I know what this idea is in my head, because I’ve seen it in my dreams: Unworthy.  To let it take hold can let it shape one’s entire life pattern, one’s ambitions, one’s behaviour.  It attacks one’s confidence of what is deserved, what can be earned, what can be achieved.  Am I capable of meeting a challenge?  Can ‘they’ depend on me?  Am I good enough for the most important things?  Am I good enough for the one person I want to be good enough for?

If you think you’re not, one slight poke to your confidence, one threat to how valuable to someone else you think you are, the slightest tremor, one ounce of missing affirmation, can upset your confidence at a most basic level.  Our minds are like an ocean.  That upset causes ripples in your consciousness (on its surface) and subconsciousness (what lies beneath), like an earthquake under the water; it can even kick off a devastating emotional tsunami.  It won’t let go – this submerged ‘thing’, like some hungry octopus, grabs your feet and drags you to the ocean’s surface, to pull you under, and the feeling is like you’re about to drown.  You may desperately grab for something else strong enough to keep you above water, any root, any rock – another idea – so you bait for approval, seek the attention of someone who’s opinion is valued, say something or behave out of pure emotion, just to prop up your collapsing sense of contentment.  Worse case scenario, and to everyone’s surprise, you run from something or someone, robbing them of all you have to offer them, unable to cope with the pressure of feeling good enough, interesting enough, worth enough, lovable enough.

Don’t run – That’s a path full of regret.  Being so fearful of being worthy of your own dreams is usually a good sign you give a damn.  And that you are, in fact, still human.

I guess the turning point in trying to deal with this is how to react when its tentacles pull at your ankles, to replace the basic idea so deeply rooted, or at least try to starve it so it shrinks over time.  How?  Without Dom Cobb invading your dreams, I’m not entirely sure :) But I’m gonna make a stab at this… (a metaphorical pun right there… you’ll see!)

I guess it’s not the struggle that we need to despair about.  It’s the handling of it – or maybe the perception of what we need to survive it.  When that idea about yourself grabs your ankle and drags you to the water, to pull you under, you can scrabble for something else to keep you from drowning – the metaphorical rock or tree root – the idea that you think is strong enough to help you escape.  Could even be someone else’s hand.  But rather than get yourself pulled around, maybe the best action is to actually attack the thing that’s dragging you under water in the first place.  After all, this is YOUR ocean in which this monster lives.  If you grab something solid on ground while something is trying to pull you under water, you risk being torn in two! Stab that thing round your ankle, wrestle with it yourself and tear it off your foot; maybe you can escape in your own strength.

That inner strength is not necessarily matured enough to handle such demands alone, and I’ve considered for years that maturity has nothing to do with age, only experience.  Regardless, there’s no shame in calling for someone else’s help, but rather than grab for someone’s hand, or some other idea, believing your only hope is to be pulled up by something stronger, let them help you strike at the tentacle instead.  Again, being pulled might work temporarily, but you may injure yourself in the process and the ‘THING’ underwater, the idea in your psyche, is still alive, waiting to have another go.  So, instead, don’t panic at your savior to pull you against your deeply rooted doubts, instead ask them to help you attack it at its source and overcome it with you.  

You should still hold the knife, but someone you trust can guide your hand.

This process may not even be explicit (like, say, therapy would be).  I’ve read that for more of us than we’re willing to admit, maybe even for everyone (we’re all human), true love of self can grow out of a special relationship with someone who loves us. It’s how we’re made, it’s only natural.  When you aren’t just told, but FEEL, that you’re truly loved, that’s an idea that can overcome any other.  If you let it!

“The greatest thing you ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” (Nature Boy)

The other thing to consider is this: be aware of when hurtful ideas, whatever they are, are lodging themselves in your consciousness.  Ideas like… “What if I can’t handle this?”  “What if they deserve better than this?”  “What if they’re doing x, y or z behind my back?” If you notice an unpleasant seed is burying itself in to take root, burn it away – reason it out if you can, but talk it over with someone you trust, maybe someone who’s caused this idea in the first place, or someone you trust the most.  Else that tiny seed might not only destroy you, but destroy your most treasured relationships.

I like this metaphor of comparing one’s mind to a big gorgeous ocean full of amazing and beautiful sights, but prone to predators which turn dangerous if we don’t keep them tamed… One of the most dangerous things in the sea?  The JELLYFISH.  While sense of worth can shape a person’s whole course, sense of ambition, confidence, etc, Jealousy can change a person’s attitude and behaviour so drastically in a moment, it’s almost as powerful as love itself :o  (and isn’t entirely unrelated.)  Jellyfish stings can be painful, but they can also be fatal – Being totally honest, I’m no stranger to jellyfish myself – and all the above paragraphs apply to avoiding them altogether, or at least treating their attacks!

I guess the other thing is – we can easily fling these seeds at each other without even realising it, so try to be aware of it.  Not to the point of having to tread on eggshells around each other though!  We each individually have to handle criticism, or lack of attention, or some badly made joke, it’s up to us to recognise these things for what they are, and not to react to them as some broader attack on us as a whole.  Being open with someone and asking / talking about whatever is bothering us, to find out for sure, before it gets out of hand and planted in our heads, can only benefit us all.

Each of us carry our own ocean in our heads, full of ideas about ourself and our world around us, floating on its surface or preying on us underneath.  Fear, even resentment, can keep someone from jumping into the sea.  But in time as the monsters are extinguished, or reduced to tiny baby versions capable of no more than an irritating nip that a simple hug can cure, going for a swim around inside ourselves, reflecting on the good stuff about ourselves and the good stuff we’ve got (or got coming), can become something very relaxing and refreshing, something to look forward to.


It’s said we make our own luck… if you choose to walk under a ladder, you run the risk of getting a bucket dropped on your head.  If you choose to cross the road without checking all risks, you’re in danger of becoming a pancake-shaped version of you.  If you choose to ignore the warning signs with lightning shapes stapled to a metal fence, you run a high chance of turning crispy.

That said, not everything that happens to us is under our control, and that includes our impulses.  If a thirty foot hamster came running up the street at me with hunger in its eyes, I wouldn’t need to think about panicking and sprinting in the opposite direction, my body kinda makes that call for me.  If your head is held under a dripping tap for about five hours, I don’t think you could choose not to be driven half insane by it.

Things like anger, excitement, joy, frustration, you can’t control when they hit you.  I don’t think though that the emotion you feel in any circumstance, however strong, is the measure of you, I think its how you handle it.  You can in some measure choose your response – embrace it, hit back, ignore it, breath, count to 10, and deal with it, etc.  And a lot of it comes down to experience – maturity isn’t about age, it’s about exposure and experience.

Love is the most complex of emotions, I guess because it’s not really an emotion in itself, it’s a smorgasbord of the intense feelings – loss, excitement, contentment, anxiety, fear, joy, jealousy, true happiness.  It’s the toughest one to recognise because no one can tell you when you’re in love, you kinda have to figure it out for yourself.  All people can tell you is to make sure of your decisions that are based on love (or the absence of).  And it’s easy, tooooooo easy, to mistake an emotion for love.  Needing someone who wants you isn’t love, feeling alone when someone is gone isn’t love, and infatuation is one that is frequently mistaken for love.  I think love at first sight is impossible, because love is based on really knowing a person, strengths and weaknesses, and how you make each other feel in good times and bad.  It’s an attachment that makes you feel at a loss without them, definitely.  But love isn’t just about needing someone, it’s about needing to see them happy too.  Love is proved true when you’re able to rise above the harshest of trials for their sake, and still love who they are – when, no matter what emotion you feel, the strongest one out of them all is the anxiety of losing them.  When no sacrifice is too great.  When their flaws aren’t only permitted, but they are regarded with affection.  When, on a bad day, just a look or a touch can warm your heart.  You feel at your most content when you’re sharing the best of life’s experiences with them.  When you see a beautiful sight, or hear a powerful tune, or see something that makes you laugh your socks off, and wish they were there with you to share it, that’s a good indication of true love.  When the initial excitements, butterflies, extremely sentimental feelings start to fluttery away, that is not true love ‘fading’ – it’s maturing!  The intense mirth and joy of love’s first days/weeks/months mature to become deep friendship, deep affection, deep care.  Willingness to share all things and want to make the other’s day.  Wanting to see them smile should always be a priority.

Now, love can fade if you allow it, withdraw from it, pay no attention to it, whatever.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘meant to be’.  Relationships do take effort, but you have to be careful with this one, because something may take so much effort that it drains you of a taste for life.  You have to consider what effort the other person is contributing, you have to consider what you’re making an effort for – where your heart lies, what your motives are, what their motives are.  For whose benefit you’re keep trying to make something work, and what the end result will be – if what you get at the end of it all is going to make you a contented person or not.  If at the end of it all, when you experience something as simple as the brightness of Venus one night, you still want to point it out to them and exclaim ‘ooooooh check it out!’

It turns out that sometimes the reality of a situation cannot be ignored forever.  Sometimes, regardless of how you feel and what sense is telling you, you have to make an effort because it’s still the best thing you’ll ever know and have, and you know this; that this period of hardship is only temporary, that in-between the lines you still feel the anxiety of needing them and needing to be the one to make them the happiest, that in due course you’ll still have the most amazing thing you’ve ever known.  Love doesn’t always obey the rules of logic, and men and women will perform extraordinary feats (sometimes seemingly utterly insane feats) for true love, because they feel at their core that it will be worth every sacrifice.

For some things, you can ignore what people are warning you of, because you know the truth that they don’t understand.  For other things, their warnings only substantiate your existing doubts – and that’s when you’re in danger and need to consider seriously what you’re doing, to make a move only when absolutely sure.  You can know how you really feel about something without really acknowledging it sensibly, you sense it in how you react to a person, an event, an occasion.  And this is what I’m getting at – your impulses can tell you about yourself, certainly how you really feel, sometimes more than you wish to recognise.  I repeat, the reality of a situation cannot be ignored forever.  Those decisions you make are crucial.  You have to think long-term, consider all outcomes, view this very moment as the pinwheel on which a vast number of parallel universes are being spawned based on the decisions you make, and try to peer into them to discern the alternative futures of all affected by your decisions – including you.

I dunno about you but whenever I select the contents of a bag of pick n’ mix sweeties, I don’t pick the ones I feel doubts about.  If I intend to share this bag of sugary goodness, I’d choose what I think is nommable to us both.  End result?  A bag of noms and no left overs.  And yet I can make bad decisions about far more important decisions in life because there are far more factors involved… but the criteria need not be THAT different!  If you don’t make choices that you’re sure leads to your happiness too, you may only stumble into a thorn bush of regrets, taking others with you.  To anyone who’s made such mistakes, bear in mind that no matter what, the mistakes we make often teach us the most valuable lessons.  Trying to find the best path afterwards can take considerable work and effort and sacrifice – but again, if that sacrifice is ultimately worth everything, for your sake as much as anyone else’s, you have to make it.

OK so that’s a good amount of semi-vague wafflejuice.  Emotions go a long way to making us our individual selves.  One thing to be thankful for, whatever mixed bag of emotional all-sorts we are, is that they help us understand who we are.  Don’t hate yourself for who you are nor the lessons you’ve learned!  Who we each are isn’t set in stone either – learn a strength, love yourself for it and use it.  Learning a weakness, you recognise it humbly, and work on it.  That’s maturing, and it’s a process that lasts a lifetime.


Finished product!  Please click the image to see its detail in full resolution.

Valley of the Dolls full view

Valley of the Dolls by Sarah Ainge

The challenge came from Alter It Monthly:
http://alteritmonthly.blogspot.com/
The theme this month over at the challenge blog “Alter It Monthly” was “valley of the dolls”, we had to alter a doll / a doll’s head / include dolls in our art in some way . I imagined what the valley of the dolls might look like, here is my vision of it on this canvas I’ve altered.  A gnarly  tree made of twisted copper wire (my hands did not thank me.), the idea is the dolls are growing on the tree. I’ve used the Tim Holtz ‘Frozen Charlotte’ dolls, using them along with the Tim Holtz “movers and shapers Butterfly” dies on the Vagabond die cutting machine to create the two blue doll butterflies. I used two butterfly shapes per doll butterfly to add dimension and interest and cut them out of a sheet of paper from the Tim Holtz “Shabby Vintage paperstash” I used perfect pearl mists and perfect pearls on the “frozen charlotte dolls” and the butterflies. I included slightly ominous words on the leaves of the tree to create a creepier atmosphere than a first glance would suggest. I made the leaves using Tim Holtz “adage tickets” and “journalling tickets” and Tim Holtz stickers and distress inks.

I added four paper dolls in the lower left corner, adding some Tim Holtz tissue tapes which I then coloured using distress inks. I used one of Time Holtz’s stamps to create the stylised clouds and another to create the grass effect.

The hanging dolls heads are made from large wooden beads which I first painted all over with Tim Holtz’s pearl dabber paint, then painted on their faces using pitch black and cranberry dabber paints. Hair was added using thread and glue.

I added those three flowers near the lower right corner.

The sky, grass and sun were created using Tim Holtz’s colour washes and perfect pearls mists.

Detail photos and some photos of the materials before I got busy and a couple of WIP images:

Greener


The grass is much greener so fresh and untouched
You glance at the memory when yours was as such
Considering landscapes around you are spent
You run to the Summer of your discontent

The grass becomes greener the longer you stare
A blossom much brighter than all in your care
They yearned for your nourishment; you gave despair
And thus without petals they cannot compare

The grass growing greener while your flowers thirst,
One for each time you have dived in headfirst,
For you they each promised a life more attained
But why save those souls when there’s more to be gained?

The grass is much greener the further you fall
While browning small plants through your memory crawl
When will you notice? When are you sure?
A flower, when cared for, will be the most pure.

 

My cousin asked for poetry on his wall for one day only from his friends and family.  I posted a silly one but have felt this theme swirling around my head a bit… lo and behold his invitation arrives and I have another reason to do something with it.  I started seriously thinking about it in the car on the way home and compiled it directly on Jason’s wall. :)

It is simple, I used deliberate clichés, there’s stuff in there if you want it.

And in case you’re curious, here’s my nonsense rhyme which I posted on his invitation first. :)

The average speed of an unladened swallow?
Answer it wrong, to the chasm you follow!
In the process you earn the face of George Gallo!
“Nothing can save you, except for my game show
You can win passage while driving a Renault!”
Covered in bear fur and filled up with gateau?
What a weird sight, you strange little fellow.

 

Cheers for the inspiration to do this again Jason, it’s been quite a while.


Clunk.org.uk host a brilliant thread entitled ‘Water Cooling Guide for Beginners’, posted up last month.  It goes from start to finish – how to plan a loop, what to look for, down to steps you can take when cleaning it out, replacing hoses etc.

Unworthy


I post this entry at risk of being far too open, but it may help someone
else out there somewhere.

This would have been logged under the category ‘Dreams and Nightmares’, except
the dreams spill over (or are inspired by?) actuality.  Of course, this is
no poignant statement.  But I’m talking about one single idea in my head
that keeps spawning a new tale, as told in a new dream, with regularity. 
I can’t decide if it’s worrying or frustrating.

Funny timing this, because the last movie I saw in cinema, only a few days
back, was ‘Inception’.  A key component of the storyline was that an idea
is all pervasive; driving itself up from the id to the superego as long as you
believe it is your own.

I’m not obnoxious enough to believe you a) have read everything I’ve ever
blogged, nor b) would even remember it if you have.  I like to journal any
interesting dreams or nightmares I have and they often make good reading well
after I’ve forgotten all about them.  On the 9th August 2006 (nearly four
years ago) I posted an entry titled ‘Ill Divos’ where I described a dream I had
where I was taking part in an Il Divo tribute stage performance, but a
performance going horribly wrong.  I discerned that the theme, ‘attempts
to do something going horribly wrong’, permeates a lot of my subconscious
imaginings like a bunch of short stories published as a ‘compilation’ because
the author is only any good at writing about one thing.

  1. The first documented case is
    the inability to fight off the vampire oranges because I had a broken
    keyboard.  Someone else, a fictional character called Gustav, came to
    the rescue with a large red button.
  2. The next dream I recorded
    featured a nasty big sticky insect infestation which I tried to hoover up,
    a solution that wasn’t effective enough.  While the idea to burn them
    was mine, it was my older brother who took matters into his hands with a
    magnifying glass and the power of the Sun (successfully.)
  3. Following that was the awful
    Il Divos tribute as mentioned above.
  4. Even being socially inept
    was the subject of a rather brief and unexciting dream.
  5. Being unable to repel Mr.
    Happy, the super-villain.
  6. The rather telling dream of
    a world gone apocalyptic, invaded by an alien force, mankind almost
    entirely wiped out.  Part way through this depressing tale, the
    clouds opened up, music and light glowing from the gap in the sky, forming
    a shining but translucent staircase.  Any attempt to use it failed,
    and I realised this stairway to heaven was not meant for me, but for my fiancée
    Sarah.  And it was something I accepted.

If this last one didn’t make it clear, then a dream I had very recently
basically spelled it out.  In fact it literally spelled it
out.  I don’t remember vast amounts of detail but, again, much of the
population was subjugated but this time by artificially intelligent
machines.  Someone I know was in danger, possibly Sarah, and I found
myself addressing a large faceless machine.  I say faceless, but it did
have a huge (I’m talking bus-sized) red LED screen.  So I’m there
demanding that it put me in her place instead.  It gave my demands about
half a second of consideration before the screen lit up with one word:

UNWORTHY

Cheers, subconscious.  This dream was the latest, and frankly the most
obvious, following an all-too-present theme of inadequacy in my
dreamings.  But it was when I came here to log it that I felt compelled to
really think this through, maybe even try and get to the bottom of it;
because of some of my earlier posts from some years back.  It wasn’t a
dream blog entry that made me think more deeply about this but a bit of poetry
I wrote called: ‘Unkind’.

‘Unkind’ was written during my time in sixth form, like most of my poetry
work.  The whole thing can be found here in an entry posted
07/07/2006.  I wrote it because, in my own words:

"Maybe you’ll get it if you’ve ever felt the same way, but I hope you
never have.  You try to put yourself behind what the others need and yet
their worlds are still poisoned by your presence.  Then the question. 
Perhaps it’s a bit ‘oh pity me,’ but realise that the reason genuine
selflessness is cooling off is because this world makes it easier to
survive without it.  The irony is very deliberate as expression and as
reminder."

I don’t remember what happened, but I do know there have been many times I’ve
done what I thought was right to help someone, and only end up making matters
worse.  "And while I extend my hand, my mind, / My caring
increased their tearing – / A caring which cuts and gauges blind."
 
Turns out, I really take it to heart.  Actually, ‘Unkind’ isn’t just some
emo look at the failed results of trying to save the day, but also an attempt
to highlight why such a result should not stop a person persevering (you have
to read between the lines a bit).  I remember I’d always intended to write
a follow up, something which would metaphorically pronounce the morality of
that choice and further encourage people to do the right thing.  Still, I
have begun to wonder if that running theme in most of my dreams stems not only
from some inferiority complex but also from pungent leftovers of guilt.

But then I think back further and I wonder how deep into my psyche this feeling
of incapability is rooted.  When just a kid I had a few episodes of fever,
and fever-induced nightmares.  One in particular I will never forget is
where I came face to face with a huge slug-like creature riding a float in some
kind of street parade.  There were crowds on both sides of the road, and
this Mr. Slug was some object of veneration.  This unpleasant looking
creature held a glowing blue sphere and I knew that inside it were trapped a
bunch of people I cared about.  I demanded that the thing take me instead
and let them go.  The creature began to laugh at me, and this seemed to
incite the whole crowd to start laughing.  I felt strongly that I’d just
done something wrong.

Similarities much?

I don’t know how long this has been forming.  If I put the pieces
together, I find great concern about saving the people I love, the subjugation
(or hypnosis) of mankind, but coupled with feelings of guilt, feelings of
inadequacy.  When in reality I’ve put myself last, tried my best, and made
their day worse, I take the impact hard; therein lies absolute
reinforcement.  My motivation is no consolation.  Even day to day in
moments of isolation a memory will surface, without warning, of some action or
inaction I regret.

Our minds are the cleverest of contraptions.  Sarah often tells me of the
need for positive reinforcement, whether it is parents to kids or us to
ourselves.  Our personalities grow out of a basic template into something
utterly unique and wonderful.  Our minds adapt to whatever is demanded of
us; focussing, wandering, or musing, or calculating.  Passages and songs
can be memorised, and knowledge, skills and vocabulary can be reinforced, all
by meditation, by repetition.  The process fires our synapses, making pathways
between them ever stronger with each thought.  Thus, our most considered
subjects and thoughts are those that spring to mind foremost, becoming second
nature eventually, almost instinctive, through meditation and repetition. 
Our talents can be reinforced and nurtured in this way… But unfortunately so
can our insecurities and fears. 

For almost all my life, both consciously and subconsciously, but never
deliberately, I have ingrained ever deeper that single idea: UNWORTHY.

I discern from my dreams that the pathways in my mind ultimately lead to that
one thought, whatever the subject, whatever the question.  But even now
I’m not especially sure of why.  I am generally a fairly contented person,
though I can get easily frustrated and impatient at times.  So I began to
wonder how widespread a problem this is.  I am certain such deep feelings
of inadequacy exist in thousands more with certain personality types but the
difference between us is in how we both recognise and deal with it.  There
is one person in this universe, Satan, who would relish that I forever regard
myself as incapable and unworthy of more.

And thanks to that thought, giving into it is no longer acceptable.  The
nagging dog barking at me affects how ready I feel to take on new challenges
and responsibilities, questioning if I could ever be good enough.  The
risk is that I allow how I use my life to turn stale, like some hunk of bread
that’s been left too long, unseen to in the cupboard, nestled in the
subconscious, rotting.  I’ve been attempting to unlock that cupboard, to
face that mouldy lump, to go through the unpleasant process of taking it in
hand and throwing it out, to wash my hands of it and replace it with something
fresh and invigorating.

I mentioned most of this to Sarah the last time we were at Pizza Express (minus
the analogy, we were eating pizza after all) and she suggested that it could be
that I set such high standards for myself; that I expect so much of
myself.  Perhaps I don’t give myself time to grow into a new challenge and
enjoy every step, instead looking only to achieve everything I feel I should
be achieving.

I can tell myself that the important thing, in all my experience, is that I
tried my best for others.  However, that is little comfort to the man who
burned down the orphanage just because he was trying to keep one child
warm.  Instead, I should remember that whatever destruction I’ve left in
my wake is accidental, that people have moved on, that I’ve paid the price and
that I cannot let it to continue to distract me from the future.  If we
cannot make peace with ourselves, we must continuously remind ourselves that
others have forgiven us, even if we seem incapable of doing so.  We must allow ourselves to make mistakes.  Guilt is
a good sign that we care, but it has its place.  We can renew who we are
every day.  I am not Superman; as much as I want to save the world alone,
I can’t.  Trying will only fatigue, demoralise, and result in the saving
of nothing.  But I can help to save some people, one at a
time. 

I believe people are more able to accept an apology than we are able to accept
ourselves.  The pathways joining up my synapses which lead almost every
thought to the root word UNWORTHY may never be entirely removed (and perhaps
writing it in CAPS every time doesn’t actually help…), but as I said, our
minds are the most clever of contraptions, can adapt and can change.  It
must no longer be a statement, but a question, a challenge to stand up
against and prove wrong.  I must focus on strengthening other lines of
thought; that God sees a potential that I cannot, worth saving enough
for Him to sacrifice His own son, that I have already had a positive impact
on many people, that I can do many marvellous things and that I can take
advantage of all opportunities to do more.

And I’m not the only one.


What a misleading title.  I have nothing to confess because I’ve not done anything wrong.  How commercial of me. ;)

The last thing I went into detail about was the search for my other half’s outfit for our wedding ceremony.  Don’t get excited – it’s a wedding dress, not a costume.  Despite the vast numbers of people who think it would be ‘awesome’ if I dressed up in my (unashamedly brilliant) Vader costume and she took on Amidala, I dare imagine it would be more jovial entertainment (for everyone else) than a respectful occasion full of meaning and joy (for us).  So, sorry, maybe at my next party!

Besides, I still need to sort out the vocal amplifier’s battery pack…

No, enough of that distraction.  In opposition to the norm, while Sarah has spent a long time collecting and organising sources articles and photos full of information and advice, I’ve been doing most of the planning.  Since her family secured her dress (collating info on each one we saw and liked in a spreadsheet) I must have created about another dozen spreadsheets of information as I discuss requirements, source suppliers, collate data, chase invite responses and haggle prices.  Keeping spreadsheets of everything (seriously, every single unit of research, every question and answer, everything) is crucial. 

Google Docs is man’s best friend (if that man happens to be planning a huge event like this.)  As all documents created in Google Docs are available wherever you have web access it doesn’t matter if I’m at work, home, at Sarah’s or anywhere with Wi-Fi (like the venue’s lobby).  I have access to my documents without having to email them all over the place or print them out.  I’ve found the provision of a free online ‘office’ document platform essential to keep on top of things comfortably.

Let me list for you a sample of what I’ve got in my Google Docs collection under the ‘Wedding’ folder:

  • Guest List.  Clearly.  This isn’t easy to come up with but it’s pretty much based on two things – room capacity and budget.  Sensible people know you cannot invite everyone to every part of the day.  If someone is offended by a lack of invite, or even an evening invite (oh noes), your conscious is clear; their priorities are wrong and they don’t deserve to have one.  When this is over and I have a spare hour I will actually alter this file to create a Guest List template for the universal Google community.  While such things already exist, this one also works out on a separate sheet
    1. the total numbers of adults, under 5′s and under 12′s, for both parts of the day, for each side (bride and groom, friends and family)
    2. calculates how much each thing will cost,
    3. where the differences are,
    4. what my targets are,
    5. how many chair covers I’ll need,
    6. the expected ambient room temperature, and so on.
And I’ve added a quick filter switch which selects between the estimated total people/costs and the actual people/costs based on responses. 

Don’t scoff!  Because if you do the sensible thing, as guided by a thousand articles in print and online, you too will keep a tight eye on the budgets you decided on at the outset, and any alteration goes immediately into my next spreadsheet…
  • Anticipated Costs.  What needs paying for, how much it costs, any applicable multiplier (you’ll want more than one chair cover, for example), the total, who’s paying for it, how much of it has already been paid, and the asthetic ‘DONE’ column.  There’s an extra column at the end for salient info like order numbers.  This sheet is being printed, coming with me to the wedding, and being given to my best man. ;)  I didn’t start this very early on so not everything is on here, but definately all the big stuff that is left to finance is here.  At the bottom, I list each of the contributors to the overall budget, and have the spreadsheet calculate what their total contribution is and how much of it is left to pay.  And beneath that I have listed the total I have in funds and the source/location of each.  The result is a list of all the stuff that’s been paid for, with order numbers so no one can tell me I haven’t, and all the stuff that’s left to pay for, so I can see clearly what expenses each of us, especially I, still need to cover.  The totals from my handful of other spreadsheets end up here and I update it at any change.  This gives me absolute assurance and peace of mind – I know for certain I have enough dosh for the remaining expenses!
  • Suppliers.  I have a workbook for each kind of supplier – Flowers, chair covers, and PA equipment hire, as examples.  This comes in very useful.  I listed all the potential suppliers (website addresses, phone numbers, our initial impression of their work/syle), and for each I stated if I’d contacted them and a brief summary on their availability e.g. "Not available!" or "We’re apparently not posh enough!"  I also listed on another worksheet each thing Sarah and I are keen to have so I could draft my email to them all properly.  All email responses I shoved into their own folder in my inbox.  For each available supplier (who thought they could sit within our budget) I created a new sheet listing each item we wanted, how many of each, and what they were charging for it.  On each such ‘supplier’ sheet, each item is optional, and selected items come to a total at the bottom.  I also added new rows for items they suggested as welcome alternative ideas, to help stay within budget.  However, it’s not just about how little they charge.  It’s also their general attitude and enthusiasm, because I realised it would be better to have someone bubbly, happily working with the hotel staff, then someone who made us feel like an inconvenience in their schedule (yes, we did get both, and see if you can figure out who we went with.)
Once we decided on who we liked the most, I attempted to haggle as much as I thought was reasonable.  Never be scared to do this – they expect it – but don’t take the mick.  The larger the amount of work, the more you can try.  I doubt anyone will get away with haggling down a price for two buttonholes.
  • Venue Interogation.  Now obselete, this one listed every venue in the area we were interested in, where they were and contact details.  I listed this info as a row of headings.  Down the sheet are a tonne of questions I contacted gathered from several articles that Sarah has collected over the last couple of years.  As I fired off each question in each conversation, I noted their answer under their name.  I noted the general ‘vibe’ about the place.  I also included rows to record the condition of the place if we visited them on an unannounced reccy.  For example, we read numerous times that it’s a very good sign if a venue’s toilets are well maintained..!
  • Arrangements Checklist.  This will come in extremely handy as we draw closer to the date, and is another one being printed and coming with me to the wedding.  When I could count on more than one hand what we expected from suppliers, members of our wedding party, and ourselves, I concocted this one.  It lists everything everyone needs to do in the lead up to, and on, the big day itself.  Simply, the columns are ‘What?’, ‘Who?’, and ‘When by?’.  Of course this info is useless just sitting there – you must make absolutely sure that you SHARE this info with those who have roles to play!
  • Cocktailing.  Well, potential ingredients for a new cocktail, where those ingredients can be sourced, and how much for!
  • Wedding List Items To Add.  The store who holds our list have this neat way of adding stuff through their website, but it doesn’t always work.  Anything that doesn’t I add here to be sure.  I blasted the list to their customer services people who helped me understand what the problem was and got as many of these items in our list as they could.  As I said, I note everything! :)

All emails from anyone in relation to the wedding are being shunted into a Wedding folder in my inbox which itself contains different folders along the lines of Cakings, Coverings, Declinings, Flowerings, Giftings, Hotellings, Soundings and Lightings and so on.  If I receive or send any email about our wedding, it goes in one of these folders!

You know what?  I’m actually getting on quite happily with this.  I actually am enjoying contacting people, shortlisting the options with Sarah, getting on with the all important haggling process, keeping on top of how the budget is being spent and ensuring at no time are we overspending beyond our means.  When it comes to making a decision about spending extra on something, or working out what cannot be done, it takes no time at all to figure out what’s possible based on the fluxuating data I’m keeping track of.

In the last few days I was even toying with working out if I can create a sheet on the Guest List file to automatically figure out a starting Table Plan without splitting parties, trying its best to keep groups together (e.g. Sarah’s family, Matt’s friends, Congregation members, etc.).  I stopped thinking about it after 15 minutes because the logical starting point would be totally useless – people themselves are rarely logical entities. ;)

Sarah very recently mentioned that, while some people refer to this as ‘the stress of planning a wedding’, I seem to thrive on it. 

You make up your mind. :)

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