To Sum Up the End of 2020

I have at least 4 draft blog posts of various states of written-ness. What I prioritise can change at the flip of a light switch depending on the day. I did intend to blog more, once I returned here in October, but other things came up and were prioritised first. Maybe I’ll eventually get back to those other posts, when I’m ready.

So what caught my attention in the last two and a half months? Mostly data.

Data Analytics and Visualisation

I don’t want to go into too much detail about this right now because I plan to write a blog post specific to my boot camp, what I’ve been doing, and why I chose data analytics in the future, but I can’t leave this out entirely. When I last wrote about my boot camp, I was 2 months and 6 assignments into the course. I’ve now completed 14 assignments, 2 group projects, and am in the middle of working on my 3rd group project, with one group project and one required assignment left to complete afterwards. I’ve continued to receive A+ grades for everything I’ve submitted, which has done wonders for my confidence.

My more recent work has given me the opportunity to revisit my experience with web development and programming. Though I did formally learn PHP in university, I didn’t do the same with JavaScript, and as such hadn’t been very excited about JavaScript. JS gets A LOT more use these days, though, so actually having several weeks of classes and assignments that involved learning JavaScript has given me a greater appreciation of how to use it and what it can do. It’s still not my favourite language, but at least I understand it better now.

Sample chart using D3.js, plotting grass type pokémon.

The above chart is a current screenshot example of an interactive scatter chart I made in JavaScript, using D3.js and data about pokémon. I filtered the data down to only grass-type pokémon for the screenshot to make it more legible, but with full interactivity, it can chart data for 801 pokémon. The colour-coding is based on the pokémon’s type1 data, so the non-green points on the chart are grass type2 (i.e. grass is their second type). I still have a bit of work to do to make the project live online, but I’ve loved building interactive data diagrams for the Internet. It’s definitely more fun than just charting stuff in Python, because I like being able to show off my work for other people to interact with.

One of the best things about picking pokémon data for our current group project is that it’s something that has also been engaging for my kids. My youngest kid in particular has enjoyed the part of our project where you can interact and create pokémon cards, searching by name or pokédex number, or using filters to generate random cards. That was fun for me to help code as well (that part was co-developed with one of my fellow group members).

Learning to plot data onto interactive maps has been cool, too, and I have a personal project I want to work on outside of the boot camp to develop my skills in that area also.

Mapping earthquake data with tectonic plates using Leaflet.js

Improv Over Zoom

December saw me finally getting on zoom to do some online improv. I joined my younger kid’s community meeting to teach his group some improv and have some fun in school, which is something I’ve done with them before, but not virtually. Then on the final day of school before winter break, I debuted my first online improv performance, at my older kid’s high school.

How did that come about? Well, it sort of started from when I joined a zoom hang out with some improvisers who were all at the Alaska State Improv Festival when I was there in 2018. During the hang out, Chicago-based improviser Jonathan Pitts announced he was awarding me with the Judith Pitts grant, and funding me some cash so I could invest in a green screen, since not having one was part of why I’d held back from partaking in performing improv online.

Later on, because I attend basically all the community/parent events for my kids’ schools, I learned that the Principal of my kid’s high school was looking for performers. In November, they’d had a magician perform online for the whole school, which had been such a success that they wanted to have monthly shows for the kids. So I said, “Hey, I know improvisers who’ve been doing improv online. Let me find some folks!”

I ended up gathering together a wonderful group of improvisers who had all been on that aforementioned zoom hang out, including Jonathan Pitts. The other members of the show were Betse Green (who I’d previously performed with in my So You Want a Job show at Femprovisor Fest in 2019) from Portland, Oregon, and Chuy Zarate, based in Austin, Texas. It was a stellar line-up that likely wouldn’t have been possible without the pandemic.

Betse Green, Dominica May, Chuy Zarate, and Jonathan Pitts on Zoom

We each chose a short form game for the show, and followed it up with a Q&A for the students. My kid thought Psyduck stole the show—Psyduck (from Pokémon) made an appearance when we were all in the “anime club” year book photo, and I monologued for my character. Buying myself a plush Psyduck for my birthday and having it next to me for that game was just a happy coincidence when we got that suggestion.

I have had a couple of rehearsals now for Secret Lives of Villains with Diana Brown as well, and we’re really looking forward to bringing those characters to the virtual stage, transitioning the format of the show yet again. Additionally, I was interviewed about improv for The Improv Summit, which will be live on YouTube next Tuesday (Jan 5th, 2021)!

The Holidays

This year has been tough financially, so I had to be cautious with how I spent the limited funds I had over the holidays. I wanted to make sure I prioritised gifts for my kids, but even then I didn’t get to buy as much for them that I may have otherwise. We were lucky enough that a friend who I used to improvise with got us a Christmas tree, so that was the first thing that put me into a festive spirit. Then I dug out the Christmas decorations and discovered things I hadn’t used in years. A few decorations from my childhood. I haven’t enjoyed putting a Christmas tree up since maybe my early 20s, so it was cool discovering the joy of doing that again, and using the tacky ornaments I loved. I also found myself listening to a lot of Christmas carols and hymns I enjoyed from my childhood.

I didn’t do anything special for Thanksgiving this year. In general, it’s not one of my special holidays (it also falls very close to my birthday). My kids lamented that they didn’t get to have a turkey for Thanksgiving, though, so I decided to go all out and make them a traditional Christmas dinner, roast turkey included, even though it’s one of my least favourite things to do, and I’d only once before roasted a turkey on my own in my oven. It ended up turning out really well, even if I did spend all afternoon in the kitchen.

I’m not sure I would’ve had much of a different Christmas even if there wasn’t a pandemic going on. I mean, it’s been a few years since I’ve travelled to spend Christmas with any extended family, and it was generally my ex-husband’s family we visited when we did. So being under another stay-at-home order in the San Francisco Bay Area didn’t really have any impact on my plans. Although it would be nice to have a Christmas with my extended family at some point, especially since I have family spread across the US. But I’m content enough with communicating with them over social media, or calling one of my mum’s sisters by phone every now and then, just for now.

Last year, I opted in to working as a tour guide on Christmas Day, for the time-and-a-half pay (I needed the money to pay my lawyer for my divorce), so this year was infinitely better than last year, since I got to spend it with my kids. We also played all the new Fluxx card games they got (Marvel, Pirates, and Nature Fluxx), so I didn’t spend all my time in the kitchen!

Comics

I didn’t read as many comics this year as what I have in the past. The financial strain was part of it—I had to get pickier with the number of comics I felt comfortable buying. I still kept up with most of my limited pull list, however. Supporting my local comic shop, Cape and Cowl Comics, was the one small business I made an effort to keep up with because I didn’t want to lose them in the midst of all this pandemic upheaval. They adapted well and quickly during the pandemic, and stuck with curbside pickup throughout, once they were able to “open” again. Ordering and paying online was a breeze, and all I had to do was drive up to the store every few weeks or so to collect my stash. I pretty much always went on Sundays for the free and easy parking, which meant I started to get to know a different clerk rather than the owner or other clerks who knew me better.

I’ve maybe only read about half of the comics I bought this year. I might do a separate post on that later, though, to drill down into the specifics.

Movies and TV

Beginning in October, I started socially watching stuff with an ex-boyfriend on the other side of the country. What began as a horror movie a week for Halloween (90s movies I had on DVD—I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, and Final Destination) morphed into watching his favourite movie (The Matrix) because I got a free copy from my local library, and then weekly episodes of Supernatural and The Mandalorian. Then we binged (half together and half not) Brave New World on Peacock during the week it was available to watch for free. I’ve enjoyed having someone to regularly watch things with, because I surprisingly haven’t watched much else on my own (most other things I’ve been watching have been animated movies and TV with my kids).

Cheers to an Even Better 2021!

I feel like I have nowhere else to look than up from here. I’m looking forward to finishing my boot camp in early February, and continuing to use their career services while I get help with looking for work. Our Governor announced this week that he has a path to re-open schools in-person in February, which I have considerable doubts about. But I do look forward to a time where more people have been able to get the COVID vaccine, and we can start worrying about the virus less. I don’t know that our lives will ever be back to “normal,” again, but I can’t say I’m doing too badly in light of everything the world has gone through this year.

I hope all of you reading this have a safe and better 2021 also, and you all have things to look forward to. Ever upward!


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