RWET week 2: existential questions, Oblique Strategies
I'm trying to get better at being bad at things. Being bad at "being bad at things" has historically caused me to procrastinate on all sorts of creative beginnings, just because I know the first time I try something new, my inadequacy will be tangible. It's a common affliction I think—like the terror of taking up dance for the first time as an adult, applying to new jobs, the old-spoken "you can't teach an old dog new tricks"—and one that probably stalls a lot of creativity across the board.
Ego is dualistic in its ability to both inspire and kill initiative.
This past week I've been balancing delicately between the two. As my class choices for the semester settled, I began to realize how much I was about to be bad at. To fight the paralysis I spent most of my work time this week in full-absorption mode, reading, going through tutorials, and reinforcing material; thankfully a lot of the studying crosses over multiple classes. I find the technical learning to be more self-driven this semester, which is a new but expected challenge. Python and Jupyter notebooks are both totally new to me, as is being active on Github. I'm excited for the possibilities and can even start to understand how I can work creatively with the syntax, but I still found it daunting to actually get my hands dirty having no idea where to even start. I think even studying became a stalling method for a bit. Theoretically inspired but practically paralyzed.
Still had to get it done, though
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine gave me Oblique Strategies for Christmas. Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, designed to help artists through thinking about their approaches and processes with left-field prompts. The deck sits on my nightstand, and I often draw a card when stuck, or experimenting, or just bored. So it's no surprise that I picked up the deck when considering this assignment, trying to figure out a way to force me into making something. And because Eno & Schmidt are magical, that action alone is what inspired my assignment.
I thought it could be fun to digitize the card picking process, in response to a random set of questions I've had floating around in my head. Some of these thoughts require action, which is the part of me that freezes when overwhelmed with The New. While Oblique Strategies may be good at getting you to think about a process, or unstick an existing flow, the prompts are esoteric and not exactly tactilely instructive. So I thought it would be fun to create a "now what?" portion that would prompt an executable action that embodies the suggested strategy.
I used 'A House of Dust' as my jump-off, which allowed me to be creative with my text while getting the hang of all the new stuff. My first code, as a result, is incredibly simple. I created a list of ten questions, and pulled 50 strategy cards at random to make a list of answers. I then added a "draw again" list, incorporating the fact that I do that all the time. All lists are selected from randomly, printing a question, strategy, and practice line by line. I incorporated a very basic if statement with the "draw again" expression, which would propose a new strategy if draw_again randomly selected "yes". The "now what" section is informed by a list of "actions" and "exercises" that prompt a recordable execution of the strategy. In this way I practiced practicality by creating a practice prompter. I think it can be a good feedback loop..! Here are some results:
The if statement was my biggest roadblock; the goal was to get the program to suggest another strategy at random if the first draw_again value was "yes". My first attempt responded arbitrarily, but uniformly. Weirdly, it would choose whether to draw another card or not no matter if the draw_again value was "yes" or "no" and then it would stick to that choice for all future draws regardless of value. I "broke" it a lot trying to get it to respond correctly, and finally figured it out by defining a variable for the random.choice(draw_again) expression.
The results are pretty absurd given the limited combination possibilities, and it feels like a minuscule result for the hours spent familiarizing myself with this realm. But it is literally a start. And it's exciting to already make something I can actually use, with the little language I learned this week.