Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You Just Might Find

This will be my last week at my internship. It's been a ride. But, to be honest, I wouldn't change it for anything. I think the most important part about working for a museum like the one I interned at is the fact that they don't have a budget. In school, we're told what to do if your institution doesn't have money, and yet we learned more how to act if your museum does have cash to spare on things like shelving, good item storage, and so on. My museum doesn't have those luxuries.

The lighting system in the cases for the angels has literally cooked the plastic and fabric over the years, and everything seems really brittle. The lights have begun to get turned off when visitors aren't present, which is something of a blessing. Food and drink are a no-go at the establishment, and the bulk of the collection is behind glass. But the wood in the display is the type that will emit gas, and the vents in the shelving units can let in all sorts of pests, if they could brave the temperature inside the cases.

I think it's so incredibly important that the institution someone volunteers at doesn't have the money to spare. You know what it looks like, then, when museums have to scrape by. And the thing is, the majority of the museums that you come across can't have environmentally monitored storage units, or even know to seal their wooden storage units in the first place. We're a little pampered, at college, which may be part of the point.

The amazing thing about my supervisor is how on my side she is. She truly believes in what I'm doing for them, and appreciates my personality and the fact that I took the time to help them. I sensed a good amount of resentment for my college, which is literally across the road from the museum. In the fifteen years that the museum has been open, they've only had maybe one other intern, according to my supervisor. I think that's terrible. The fear I had was that the museum would be filled with devout and preachy Christian old people, which wasn't the case. (The volunteers are over a certain age, but they're not decrepit or anything as ridiculous. My town is filled with the elderly, and volunteering at a small museum is not the worst thing they could do with their time.) They accepted me. And with the exception of not getting back to someone about acryloid B-72, I didn't ruffle anyone's feathers or offend them with my piercings or dark wardrobe.

They didn't care. They just needed the help.

And that's why I wouldn't trade my internship for anything. Maybe an art museum or anthropology museum internship, but we can't always get what we want. I'm not going to mince words: it was boring. So, so boring sometimes. But it was worth it. I took time to work on one thing, when I didn't have to worry about looming homework assignments (other than this blog), and I didn't have to concern myself with making it to class on time, or anything like that. School stuff. This was my job. And it definitely provided me with job-like discipline. No matter what, I had to get this done for them. Not for me, for the museum. For people who largely use the hunt-and-peck method for typing, and who don't know Excel like I vaguely do.

So that's my internship. Sometimes it sucked, but mostly it was nice. I got to feel like I was doing something worthwhile, and got some actual museum experience away from campus. Go me.

Angel's Museum forever.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

All My Many Faces: On Game (I)

 Below is an introduction to a series of posts about role-playing games that my mentor Professor LaFleur has wanted me to write. I will keep up with this series over time, detailing my thoughts on role-playing games, the material components necessary, and why I think that role-playing games are important. Interspersed in the series will likely be commentary about some of my favorite games out there, as well as mini-ethnographies about the material components of role-playing, such as the infamous dice bag and character sheet.

Have you ever worked on a group project, where everyone had their part? The leader knew exactly where to push and where to help, and everyone else pulled their weight? Everything just fit, correctly into place. Have you ever been in a really well-written play? The characters just slotted into place in the script, nothing was awkward (unless it was supposed to be), and everyone looked stellar in their costumes? The lighting was perfect, too. And, say, that something terrible happened to your character. You cry because of the pathos involved, not because it's expected. And the audience: they cry with you.

That's role-playing. It's ad lib. It's the breadth and depth of emotional experiences, of play acting in a safe space. Exercising empathy for fictitious people who may not deserve it. It can be a little bit like sitting down to your favorite police procedural week after week, only the difference is that you're playing the characters involved, and helping to write the script, collaboratively, with the other players, with the aid of the Story-teller-- the guy in charge. It can also be like playing out a soap opera, a horror movie, or an epic fantasy quest. You get the idea.

But, I would be remiss if I didn't mention why I do it, and why I'm reasonably proud of it. The great thing about gaming is that I get to be what the situation calls for. Not every game has room for the character you want to play, which makes it a beautiful challenge if you're up for it, and a frustrating exercise if you can't think of something appropriate. Some types of game are very free-form, with no defined world-- the players and the ST (or Game Master, whatever) define it on their own terms. Some types of role-playing game have very well-defined system of rules, setting, or both. And games can last more than one session, which is a chunk of time that usually lasts more than an hour.

There can be as little as two people (an ST and a player, or two players co-running a game for one another) or as many as six or seven, for a table-top game. I personally prefer three to five, not including the ST, although being in a two player game with an ST has so far been really quite interesting. The interpersonal dynamics change between players when there are a lot of people, and running games for larger numbers often means that an ST's attention is divided pretty solidly between so many.

The great thing (one of many) about gaming is that at its best, role-playing can be the best television show, movie, or play that you've ever seen. But the best part about it is that you're in it. You're playing a character with as many or as little moral failings as you want, and like the best method actors, you can empathize with where they're coming from, in a safe way. I've played bad people who do good things for the right reasons. I've played good people who do bad things for the wrong reasons, and sometimes for the right ones as well. It's always amazing to see what other people come up with, and how they invent themselves new lenses with which to see the world through. At the end of the day, it can be a bit like playing pretend, but with far more elaborate rules and worlds than you ever had when you were a child. There's nothing wrong with that.

If you have any questions that I can clear up, please feel free to ask below!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to Stay Sane With Data Entry

This isn't exactly a how-to guide, but here are some ways that I've found that keep me thinking while inputting numbers for my internship.

-Have a Netflix account or find a show on Hulu that you like a lot, but don't mind listening to. Likewise, find a good podcast. Preferably something entertaining-- my current go-tos are Supernatural, X-Files, Better Off Ted, Community, and gaming podcasts. I like watching police procedurals as well, but make sure that the episodes have enough twist to be surprising, but not enough that if you miss a clue while inputting numbers that you're not confused when they unveil the true criminal at the forty-five minute mark. Try some history or science podcasts, especially when it comes to subjects you don't know much about. You may not get everything the first time around, especially if you're multi-tasking, but you can always listen to it again. Audiobooks are good too.

-Make a good playlist with exciting music. Hell, try out some new music! You'll be at your computer for a while, so it might as well be something you haven't listened to before.

-Take breaks. Stretching your wrists, getting up once in a while, and finding a comfortable place to work are really important. If you're going to be at your desk for a really long time, do some desk yoga. There are YouTube videos for that which will walk you through it. Relaxing your eyes is also incredibly important. Focus on a far corner or object, and just focus your eyes on and off. Computer monitors can really mess up your eyesight, and there are programs out there that change the overall color of your monitor along with the hour, to match the more natural light of the sun.

-Your room is a trap. So find somewhere else to work. In school, your dorm room functions as your office/bedroom/living room/whatever. If you tend to work at your desk really well, then work at your desk. I have a friend who prefers to work on her bed, and she is dynamite at it. Me, I need somewhere else that isn't my desk, since I've essentially shaped my thinking process to desk equals art/fun internet time. For things other than small homework assignments, I tend to go elsewhere. It also means that you're not staring at the terrible white walls that invariably come with dorm rooms, and you get to pretend that you're hanging out with other people.

-Stay hydrated. If you get a cup of coffee, tea, soda, whatever, make sure you also get a glass of water along with it. When you finish a cup of coffee, switch to a glass of water. For one thing, it will keep you from feeling like electricity is running through your veins. After a couple of cups, coffee can be really dehydrating for your body, and switching to water for a bit will be good for you.  Eating food is good too-- I know I forget to eat if I get really absorbed in my work, so getting something like a muffin or scone that you can eat with your fingers is nice.

I hope that some of these tips help out in some way! These are just some thing that I've learned over the last couple of years, as well as things that I've figured out during the course of my internship.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bunraku: The Compassionate Killer

Apologies for anyone expecting more martial arts movie posts: for anyone who blogs, you know what it's like to struggle to find your voice. For the past four years I've done predominately academic writing, so to actually break away from that is strange and uncomfortable. But, that's part of the reason why I'm blogging in the first place. I also owe about two posts in the martial arts stockpile, which will get cleaned up within the week.

Last week I sat down with a couple of friends to watch Bunraku (2010) by director Guy Moshe. It was, frankly, incredible. I love the movie, despite the fact that it doesn't make a lot of sense, plot-wise, and in spite of the monumental pacing and dialogue issues. It's just a gorgeous film. Every frame is a piece of art that looks like it could have been ripped from a post-Sin City comic. The whole thing is colorful, but the lighting is dramatic, and the bad guys wear splashes of red and dapper outfits. The time period is, essentially, The Future, where guns and other weapons like guns have been locked away forever. Swords and traditional weapons have completely replaced them, giving the actors a lot of chances to display their martial prowess.

Plus, Ron Perlman plays Nicola, the Woodcutter, the "most powerful man East of the Atlantic."

It's a sexy movie.

The best part, however, is the way in which violence is portrayed. Like all action films, the plot is really just a string that connects amazing fight sequences. Half the time, it doesn't matter why the bad guys are fighting the good guys, it just matters that they're fighting. Gackt plays Yoshi, the token samurai in the film, who is on a quest to retrieve a medallion for his father, an aging warlord. I don't know why it matters that he's a samurai, but maybe in The Future Japan decided to go back to feudalism what hard. The other good guy is played by Josh Hartnett, who is never named. In the credits, he is listed as playing The Drifter. Essentially it's a movie where the actors play out their archetypes, Ron Perlman waxes poetic about how hard it is to be powerful, and people kill each other with swords, axes, or pikes. Josh Hartnett is the bare-knuckle boxer, which I guess makes him the token American.

Why does this matter?

Because of the concept of the compassionate warrior. At the beginning of the film, Yoshi strives to follow the tenets of bushido, namely jin, or compassion. This is, of course, incredibly difficult, when his main aim in life at the moment is to mow down as many people as he has to in order to fulfill the wishes of his father. Violence is always a mean to an end. What does it mean to be compassionate and still be a killer?

The film doesn't really explore it, but I believe that the line is meant to be more than just a throw-away. Yoshi kills, but he kills without letting his opponents suffer. (I hesitate to call them victims-- the reasoning for this is because all of his opponents are trained martial artists in their own ways, and to pick up a weapon is to physically say "I know what I'm doing" and opening yourself up for attack. Like the samurai or Western duelists: carrying a weapon means you are ready to use it.) To Americans, the concept of being compassionate while killing are two completely opposite ideas. But, in bushido, that is not necessarily the case. 

In my next post, I'm going to examine compassion in the movie Hero, and talk about what it means to be an assassin. And, you know, about the film itself and how fake history is sort of like real history, but a bit better. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Data Entry Pains

The great thing about having an internship is that, generally, it allows you to do work that you may not get the opportunity to experience later down the line. My internship with the museum is exactly that. I used to joke that I'd probably be hauling boxes or getting things down from shelves for the museum, but.


I'm re-numbering the largest private collection of angels.

And let me tell you, it's not my thing.

Everything has already been separated. I think. I've been typing in numbers into Excel for the museum for the past couple of weeks, and as glad as I am to be able to help, it's not quite as glamorous as the readers at home may think it is. I've gotten to know the number-pad on my laptop very intimately these past few weeks. The biggest hurdle is finding a way to actually engage myself enough with the information to type up the numbers. Podcasts and my Netflix account are the best things to remedy boredom, as they're entertaining to listen to while I plug in numbers. I've been going through the document to allow for a common parlance to be used (such as what materials the object was made from in the form of keywords), which has helped matters some. Excel is really easy to use, but isn't always the best of programs if you need to edit a document and not have the field you were editing get accidentally wiped. I can see why it's used by accountants, but I wish there was a cheaper option for small museums like my internship.

Mostly, I work from home, or from my favorite cafe. Being at home means I tend to relax far more, so getting work done entails cracking down on my bad habits. I like the cafe because it makes me feel like I'm engaging with a wider community, while also allowing me delicious opportunities for coffee or food that I don't have to make myself. Likewise, it makes me feel like a real college student-- you know, the ones that talk about Margaret Mead or evolutionary biology over coffee, or the ones that prominently display the fact that they're reading Moby Dick outside a college curriculum. Those types of college students. (The ones everyone likely hates in secret.) Recently, however, there's been a heatwave, and I've been moderately ill, so my input isn't as great as it should be. But it's getting along.