The generosity of governments

It’s not possible to make an infallible system.

If you support the death penalty in practice, on some level, you have to decide that a certain number of innocent lives are a price worth paying for the state to kill guilty people. You can support the principle but oppose the practice – as some do – because it is impossible in practice to create a system which only, ever, executes the guilty and spares the innocent. The more you try to ensure the innocent are spared, the more guilty people also avoid punishment. A perfect system of perfect judgements is impossible in the real world.

No system can sort with 100% accuracy between the deserving and undeserving, either for assistance or for punishment. There will always be borderline cases, those attempting to cheat the system, those whose circumstances are not neat or clean. Most systems are set up to assume a certain leeway, with the exception of those systems set up by states to help their people – or those wanting to become their people.

In the UK, the government has decided that no level of assistance should be given to anyone who does not fit increasingly strict criteria of need. It does not matter how many people with genuine needs are hurt in the pursuit of its desire; if one person who might just about be able to cope without benefits receives benefits, that is one too many. No matter that by tightening the system the government is actively hurting many, many times more people than it’s justifiably excluding from assistance – that is, fundamentally, the point. And the war of words in the popular imagination is won by convincing people that there are so many more undeserving than deserving welfare recipients, and that the pain is therefore proportionate.

But of course it is not. In striving to ensure that only people who most desperately need help ever receive it, the government cuts programs that help everyone. It sees the extra help given to disadvantaged people as an unequal and unnecessary expense, and so guts programs designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It is OK to hurt people who need help, the reasoning goes, so long as you don’t accidentally help anyone.

In Australia, the war is over asylum seekers. On one hand, there are supposedly queues of people waiting to get into Australia; asylum seekers with the proper documentation, who board planes and wait patiently for their chance to come here. On the other, there are people so desperate that they board unseaworthy boats run by people smugglers in the belief it would be better to drown than stay where they are. We are meant to believe that by punishing the latter, the former will benefit. We are meant to believe that it is not worth helping a single person who has come by boat. We are meant to believe that state assistance is a zero sum game, that what’s mine is mine and asylum seekers are Others. We are meant to believe that the country is giving something away when it takes in those desperate enough to risk drowning to live here, not gaining something. We are meant to believe that the only choice is between deaths at sea and deaths in detention, as though stopping the boats is more important than stopping the suffering, the desperation, the human misery that lies behind every journey to these shores.

I don’t think I am useless to Australia. Australia doesn’t think so either; I’m one of the good ones. I’m a temporary economic migrant, not a permanent refugee. I have knowledge skills that this country thinks are worth the cost of my admittance. I don’t really need to live in Australia. So the government has made it remarkably easy for me to choose to do so. It makes sure I can have my husband with me. It offers me healthcare arrangements, because my home country would do the same thing. As long as I am working and do not need further help, Australia is very happy to have me.

Of course it is, because I don’t need help. There is no room in this equation for political solutions that admit the possibility that it might be OK to help a few people who are two degrees above the breadline, if it ensures that a greater number of those below the breadline get that help too. There’s no room for generosity or for compassion, no room for the idea that it is better to make it easy for those who need help to get it than to make it hard for those who do not. And so, slowly but surely, governments act more and more like banks offering loans. They offer assistance only to those who can prove they do not need it, and leave those who need it most to drown.

Making Horde, and stalling

Last November, I started telling a few people about a new game I’m making. It’s called Horde, and it’s very much an experiment. It started out as a proof-of-technology for a different project, which I want to work in a very specific way; I wanted to see if I could get Twine to do certain things with loops and time-based variables, and to use a different project to learn. Something that would give me a tangible thing to play and to work on, while also learning new skills.

But as it grew and got more ambitious, Horde started to make sense in its own right. It’s an incremental game, a sort of text-based Cookie Clicker, in which you build a horde of barbarians and send them out on increasingly peculiar errands. It’s a tricky thing to build, mechanically, especially if you’ve got no experience of coding, but macros and new features in Twine make it possible to build this sort of thing on the shoulders of work done by other excellent people who know what they’re doing.

So I put it up as an alpha build. And suddenly people were playing it and telling me about it – giving me incredibly useful bug reports that helped me sort out some tricky problems, but also suggesting new avenues for development, giving me ideas, being excited about what was coming next.

That’s an incredible feeling, by the way. It’s a gift, when people play your unfinished work and give you thoughtful responses. Not all the feedback is always useful but the fact that anyone cares enough to offer it is a sign of support for what you’re doing, and that was enough to tell me that Horde is worth carrying on with, worth trying to turn into something finished, or at least vaguely feature-complete. (Whatever that means.)

I started putting up a new build every week, or trying to. I started making sure that I gave it a little time, a couple of hours at the weekend or an evening, and that time started to expand. I put up little incremental tweaks, and then a few bigger updates, and then found myself rewriting it to make the coding less weird and icky now that I understood more about what I was doing. Then, in the middle of an attempt to make a particularly sticky system, in a problem to which there’s no right answer that will make it work perfectly how I want it to, I hit a wall.

I stalled. I’m still stalled, a month later. I hit a page full of red errors, and instead of trying to fix it, I walked away. I’m not massively proud of that reaction. All that work is still there – all those hours I’ve poured into it have made a solid base to build on – but I hit a problem that felt insurmountable and as yet I’ve not managed to pull it apart into small enough chunks to work on.

Learning to code is hard, especially when you have no directed support; learning anything around the edges of a more-than-full-time, stressful and pressured job is even more difficult. Creating things when you spend a substantial part of your work day creating is tricky, too. Tiredness creeps in. Things distract you. Often, and perfectly legitimately, it’s quite nice to stop working, even when that work is self-chosen and self-directed.

But I can find time, or I can make time, if it’s what I really care about. That’s always been true. Horde is something I care about making, even though it’s a very silly game and a draftwork, because enough other people thought it was worth playing and talking about. Hopefully by this time next week it’ll be at least a couple more hours closer to completion. Even if that’s all, that’s a start.

Make new year habits, not resolutions

I don’t make new year resolutions any more, because I always break them. But I do try to make new habits every year, and the start of January is a good time to take stock.

It takes quite a long time to make a new habit. The commonly-cited 21 days claim is most likely a myth, but it’s possible – it just takes a little longer, and the length of time is different for everyone.

Most of the resolutions people make are really about changing habits. Write every day, get fit, eat healthily, stop smoking – when you turn them into resolutions, breaking them becomes a trigger to stop trying. That’s setting yourself up to fail. But turning them into habits makes them an ongoing project that can cope with some setbacks.

Changing the timeframe helps too. Instead of “exercise every weekday starting tomorrow”, I went with: by the summer, I would like to be someone who exercises more days than not, more weeks than not. That’s not a grand resolution, and it’s not a sudden change; it was a slow process, but so far – two years on – a sustainable one.

Grand sweeping changes take time. They’re incremental processes created not from one single decision, but from hundreds and hundreds of small ones. They have to be, when it comes to changing what you do every day or every week, because they also involve changing who you are. Changing your personality overnight is more often the result of trauma than positive self-directed life changes.

What new year’s resolutions are really about isn’t rigid adherence to new behaviour patterns. They’re about becoming a slightly different person by the time the next new year rolls around. They’re climate, not weather, and what matters is your trajectory.

The most important habit I want to keep in 2014 is the relatively new discipline of making games, regularly releasing them, and using the process to learn new skills. And the most important new habit I want to have by this time next year is writing and publishing something, however small, more days than not. I’m starting as I mean to go on.

13 moments, 2013

The Trial

Cards from The Trial I am wearing a blue polo-neck shirt and a charity shop brown cord skirt and I am Fiona, a spotlight shining in my eyes, sitting on an uncomfortable chair in the Science Museum in London, being interrogated. Maybe three or four hundred people have interrogated me so far today, and I have answered the same series of adversarial questions with the same series of answers and the same series of hand gestures, pleading my innocence.

Then one woman with brown hair and a serious face sits down in front of me, her face level with mine or even a little below it, to ask her questions without interrogation. I can see her eyes. She is concerned and gentle. Around her, one by one, the other adults who have come to discover this world sit down too, like five-year-olds at the feet of a schoolteacher, and I lean down and tell them Fiona’s story, but this time with relief.

The call

My dad has come to visit me. He is in London for a few hours for a meeting that has him dressed smartly, suit and tie, but he looks smaller than I remember him. He has cancer. That word circles in the air but we do not speak it. I show him the wall where the next day’s newspaper is beginning to take shape, the room where we have morning conferences, the newsdesk. Someone asks if he is lost and I say no.

We are sitting in the cafeteria and talking about surgery and my phone vibrates on the table between us. I can read enough of the email to know that I need to open it. I open it and I am going to Australia. My dad looks at my face and asks me who died. I tell him I have been asked to go to Australia. It is the first time his smile reaches his eyes.

The partingsFriends

We take a break from the planning, the packing, the preparations. More people than I can count turn up to wish me happy birthday and to wish us both safe travels. Friends from five cities come. I cannot spend time with everyone I need to see. We empty out the 20-kilo bag of boiled sweets left over from last year’s games onto the varnished table in the upstairs room at the pub at the end of our road. We talk endlessly. I know I am going to miss these people, the family I have chosen. I have no idea how much.

The landing

It is ten hours since our plane landed. It is thirty-five since it took off. It is fifty since I last slept. I am standing in an underground room with twenty other people who have had much more sleep than Grant and I. I am at a university with a cup of tea in my hand looking at a grid map of London made from rope and nametags on the floor, working out which bits need water before they burn. Later I will make a paper sculpture before a new friend drives us to a new home and we eat kebabs and fall asleep on the sofa.

LorikeetsRainbow lorikeets

I am standing in Sydney botanic gardens in front of a tree full of rainbow birds that I never in my life thought I would see in the wild, and I am weeping.

Moving in

It is dark. The new ninth-floor flat has windows on two sides and outside the city is tall and filled with wonder. We turn off our lights and stand with music playing, his arms around me, looking at the bright windows in the tall buildings and the lights glittering on the far side of the harbour. I fall asleep still staring out of the window and dream I am on a ship.

LaunchChocolate echidna

On the way to work I listen to Run Boy Run. All day it rings in my ears.  We are in the morning papers roundup, despite not being a paper. Kath is on TV and I know before I see it because the graph spikes. People welcome us. By teatime I have more messages than I can respond to, than I can even read. The numbers tick up and up.

On the way home 15 hours later I listen to no music and hold a chocolate echidna in my hot hands. Grant meets me in the park and I give it to him to eat.

SaturdayThe Guardian

One week after the election. Last week we went out in 30-degree heat to a local school, where instead of dusty booths and queues there was a fair and saxophonists and bouncy castles and four different options of sausages in buns. The campaign is over. I am taking a day off, or I would be, but we have a story. I sit in the corner of our too-springy sofa while Grant plays a console game and I push buttons and pull levers and post messages and watch as a 4,500-word essay published on a Saturday morning becomes our most read story thus far, and I am proud.

Freeplay

I am on a stage talking about Detritus and class and gender, and no one heckles me. All weekend no one tells me I should not be there. My games count as games. My journalist’s background does not exclude me from any conversations, nor does my live game design work, nor do my many other backgrounds. I am a whole person who does and is many different things and none of those things must be excluded for me to participate, here. I eat sushi with people I only know from the internet and play games projected onto the floors and walls. It feels like coming home. And people play Detritus and tell me it moves them, and I am proud.

Octoberbeach

The work days begin to blur together, starting early and finishing late, too many exciting moments and too much to do, all of the time. It becomes routine. At times – between fires that blot out the sun and the screeching of the enormous bats – I almost forget we are on the other side of the world.

Then for a brief week the routine stops. Our closest friend visits, impossibly, and we take him to visit our Sydney: sunshine, the gardens, the beaches, the roof. We wake up each day with a new plan. Walking Darling Harbour, dumplings in Chinatown, kebabs in Manly, the ferry; a day doing nothing but sitting in, playing games, like old times when we used to live together. When he leaves I am broken, as though we have just left home a second time.

CairnsGreen island

There is rainforest. There is birdsong and the beach and my parents visit. My dad is walking well. We swim and eat and watch the great blue butterflies lazily flap along the gully. There are turtles.

Valkyriesride1

Everyone in this smoky room is intensely serious. We are all holding cardboard swords and axes, held aloft, pointed at one another: a battlefield. As the music begins and the Valkyries ride – plastic helmets, blonde wigs, cardboard hobby horses – we battle heroically in slow motion. I dodge a blade, twirl low, bring my axe up to strike as my opponent leaps sideways out of the way. I am tapped on one shoulder, called to die, and I die in the most epic fashion I can muster at the hands of a giggling 12-year-old boy, gurgling on the smoke-covered floor in a small room in St Kilda.

Christmas

There is no turkey. It rains too much to go to the beach. We play Netrunner for hours, eat smoked salmon sandwiches, visit new friends, talk endlessly in the rain. Three days later, in short sleeves and flip flops, we walk from a friend’s house to the bus stop. The pub opposite is festooned with ridiculous Christmas lights. One looks like a car on fire. It takes us five minutes to work out it is Santa, in traditional summer gear, handing out gifts from the back of a truck.

Note to self, aged 15

The JCARN prompt this month is to write a letter to your 15-year-old self. Well.

It gets better.

This will be the mantra of your coming years. This will be what guides you, what gets you up in the morning and gets you to sleep, eventually, late at night. This will be the phrase you cut out of newspaper letters and paste on your walls in seven different places you call home. This will be the only thing you believe without empirical evidence, not because it is pleasant but because you have already seen the alternative, where it was worse, and that is no longer an option.

It gets better.

You will crawl out of the hell of the depression you live in now. You will eventually discover other ways to contain the fire inside you that has you tearing at yourself. You will learn to name your emotions, and you will learn that they cannot, must not, be excised. You will learn to budget, to cook, to clean. You will find yourself laughing from time to time. Between the drama, somehow, you will pass exams.

It gets better.

You will leave the shattered remnants of your teenage years and flee to a new city, where you will fall in love, and out of love, and in love again more permanently. You will discover talents, and interests, and the Cow Tower on the river bend. You will learn to think in systems as well as stories. You will not sleep, until eventually the nightmares recede. You will learn to eat. You will learn to work. You will learn that you are valuable and worthy of respect. You will sometimes believe it.

It gets better.

You will move. You will grow. You will find London and, within it, friends. You will make things – games, poems, stories. You will smile almost every day. You will no longer need to make lists of what is good in the world. You will know it in your bones. You will work well in a job that makes you happy. You will play well in a world that makes you happy. You will create muscles where once was skin and bone. You will still have bad days, but they will be rare and nowhere near as bad as they once were. You will fly half way around the world and a lorikeet will crash into your window.

But first, before it gets better, it gets worse.

You will decide there is no purpose, no future, nothing of worth to you, and you will try to destroy yourself. You will not succeed. You will see out the millennium with a glass of fake champagne in an NHS medium-security ward, a nurse at arm’s length. There will not be fireworks. You will get birthday cards from the other patients. You will punch walls until your fists bleed. You will lie on the carpet and not make your bed and only emerge from your room for coffee. You will not take your hat off for five months. But slowly, you will take your first steps toward believing what I now know to be true.

It gets better.

Turtles

Snorkel and mask

The night before my parents arrive, I almost do not go out for dinner. At midday I send the email I dread sending but that seems to be required regardless, at regular intervals: hello, I am a little mad today and may be unable to participate in our scheduled social interaction.

Those emails don’t really get easier to write. Every time it is a disappointment. It means I tend not to commit to seeing people, because I would rather avoid the shame and stress of pulling out, admitting in front of friends that yes, I am still mad, I am not better yet and I may never be, even though I do what I do and I seem so terribly together and efficient, and so on. It is still galling. There is still shame. I still hate letting people down. So I send the email just in case, because cancelling six hours ahead is better than one, if I don’t improve.

In the end I go out, but not before a minor emotional meltdown in the street after I leave the office. Grant holds my shoulders and reassures me the world is not an awful place. I take a deep breath or three and board a train and then I am committed, and in the end it is an excellent evening and I am not too mad after all.

I am up to my waist in sea water and Grant is standing in front of me, holding my shoulders, reminding me that the world is not an awful place. We can see the beach from the villa we have taken for a week just north of Cairns, just past Deadman’s Gully nature reserve, past the signs that warn of crocodiles and the pole full of vinegar in case of marine stingers. There is a white-bounded net that bobs up and down on the water and, in theory, keeps out the monsters that might twine tentacles around your legs and hurt you. The water is thick with sand and I cannot see my feet below the surface. Grant is in front of me and I take one step at a time, deeper into the water. Eddies swirl around my knees.

The panic hits me in waves. Thick clotting brain-scrambling panic, the sort that makes you strike out for shore and say cruel things to make the fear end, followed by lulls of maybe-time. Waves of no — no — no — I cannot, then it eases into a chorus of well — perhaps. I can imagine myself leaving the house. I can picture myself dressed, opening a door. If I can imagine that much perhaps — perhaps I can be a normal human being for a night. I can imagine myself swimming in this warm, cloudy water under such astonishing sky. I can.

The lull occurs. I say: “Follow me. Now. Before I change my mind.” And I turn towards the far edge of the net and I swim. Powered by panic and perseverance I kick harder and faster than he can keep up with, and I make it out to the net, a monstrous thing that catches at my legs but that I am expecting and so do not scream about. I turn and I make for shore as the panic begins to rise again, catching a wave and putting my legs under myself and striding out of the sea.

The water off Green Island is clear blue and warm in the morning. It takes me a few tries to successfully breathe through the snorkel, as I keep holding my breath and expecting to drown. Then I manage, eventually, to duck down and hold myself steady, kicking slowly and gliding through water clear as air, parting a shoal of fish the size of my palm that kick alongside me out to the deeper water. Grant calls me over and shows me a hermit crab, scuttling along the bottom; there are big broad fish in ones and twos. I am thinking: this is pretty awesome, all these fish right here.

Then we go deeper, out to one of the dark patches that litter the sea floor. First it is seaweed and a few scattered fish, then suddenly it is like flying over a forest. There are more fish than I can see in one go. I have to compartmentalise, looking first at things on one side and then on the other, else I will miss something. Yellow and black, orange and blue. An electric blue starfish the size of my arm. Beneath it all, the coral: branches and balls, limestone structures built for monsters to live in. When we swim to shore Grant chases a manta ray between the waves.

In the afternoon, though, the water is deeper. Colder. Currents rush across our bodies, eddy around my knees. A raft of seaweed floats on top of the waves, which are bigger now, clouding the water and making it harder to see. I get frightened. I stop trusting my body to carry me and I stop trusting the sea. Soon I am struggling with my snorkel, because hyperventilating through a tube underwater is even more problematic than doing it on dry land. I make it out to the coral but I am scared of the seaweed clinging to me and dragging at my skin. I try but I do not succeed in seeing much else of wonder; I am too afraid. Grant holds my shoulders and I cling to him in the water, scared of moving, scared of not moving, willing myself suddenly to become able to teleport or levitate or simply not feel this ridiculous rushing chaotic gut-wrenching panic any more. Eventually I am just saying the word “phobia” over and over into my snorkel as though by naming it I will be able to make it stop. We decide to swim back for shore.

And then there it is. I duck my head under the waves and there it is: a turtle the size of Grant’s torso, perhaps a metre below me, sculling one fin at a time out to sea. I make the sort of strangled yelping noise that generally denotes drowning but manage to signal to Grant that, no, I’m OK, but look: turtle. TURTLE. Through a snorkel, I explain. And we turn tail together and, holding each other in sight, we follow the turtle. We swim back out into deep water, through the mass of surface seaweed I could not break before. I am terrified, but the turtle is more important. We follow and follow until looming out of the dark water beneath there is another turtle, treading water, patiently waiting, and the two of them together slowly, gracefully paddle their way out to sea.

Make shit art

There were too many good moments of Freeplay for me to list them all. The whole weekend was a little like a bomb going off in my brain, in an excellent way, and it’s left me with a lot to think about.

I felt, for maybe the second time ever at a games event, unequivocally welcomed and valued. I felt acknowledged for my work and appreciated for my insight, even though I’m not a programmer and I work in liminal places. I didn’t once have to justify live games or LARP or Twine games or text as being worthy of inclusion. The fact that I’m not a full-time game designer, that I’m employed outside the industry, didn’t single me out as an outsider or render my input less valid. I wasn’t a token woman or a token live game person or a token anything.

In the broader world, games like the Gobstopper Job and The Trial and the Twine projects I’ve got running in the background are strange hybrid things that have to fight first to be accepted before they can be loved. But at Freeplay on stage for the first time I used the word “art” to describe Detritus, and it wasn’t inaccurate.

The second day’s keynote was given by Steve Swink, who talked (among other things) about the need to keep creating, to keep getting ideas down. The 10,000 hours theory. He shared an anecdote about a talk in which a designer waded through page after page of comments about how awful his games were until finally reaching a slide that said: yeah, that one was OK.

I am scared of making bad things, things that aren’t legitimate, that aren’t the best thing they could be. I have been in enough conversations where people deride the sorts of things I make as “too niche” or “not interesting” or “shallow marketing ideas” or “not really games” or redefine them as “concept pieces” (as opposed to “solid games”, like that’s a meaningful distinction) and I have internalised some of that, even while being aware that it’s total crap. I have a depth of feeling here that I wasn’t aware of, until now. Becoming aware of it has meant becoming aware that it’s been blocking me from doing some things I’ve wanted to do for a while. Little games. Silly things. Learning new tools. Making shit art, as Steve Swink would have it.

Since we got home I’ve written some other words about Freeplay for the Guardian. That piece focuses on How To Destroy Everything, a talk which is going to reverberate for a while and take time to percolate through the culture, the way all explosions do. Grant’s written about the impact it had on him, which was markedly different to what I experienced, but no less explosive.

And I’ve made a start on some other things. ibis, fly! had stalled badly; now it’s moving again, albeit slowly, because the structure needs some work. I’m going to be writing more regularly about Twine games here – if you have favourites, please send them my way. And the Boobjam project I didn’t think I knew enough to make – I think it might work in Unity. If I can work out how to make Unity work, if I can learn enough about those tools to encode what I know about game design and systems and play in a new medium. Which means making shit art, and not caring if it starts out shit, and not caring if other people don’t think it’s art.

Getting things done

What gets done is what gets done, an entirely excellent piece about stopping working and logging off in order to work better and more effectively by @stef, turned up on Twitter today in a very timely fashion for me.

Suddenly, doing the occasional late night turns into a regular thing. You have meetings where you’re estimating how long something will take to do, and because last meeting you managed a certain amount of work, you commit to that next time. But the problem is that last time you had to pull a few late nights and now you’re writing that into your plan for the next piece of work. It’s a slippery slope.

Essentially, by doing lots of out-of-hours work you’re over-estimating the amount of work that can get done, and building potential team burnout into your plan.

At the moment, work is busy – very busy – because the Guardian in Australia is effectively a small startup, even though it exists within a much bigger corporation. It’s a small newsroom with a lot to cover, and after two months we’re still settling into our stride and learning what works and what doesn’t. When you don’t yet know what’s important – or you do, but you also have to do other mundane things to keep things running – it’s hard to prioritise time. And when – like me – you have a job which is fractal in nature, it’s very easy to end up working constantly, all of the time.

Fractal jobs are those where every task contains within it a multitude of smaller tasks. They’re jobs that multiply the more attention you put into them, where doing one big thing is fine but there are also three smaller things you could do to make it better, and each of those also could be improved if you did five other tiny things. My job incorporates SEO, social media monitoring and interaction, data analysis, community engagement: all areas that expand to fill all available space, if you let them. There’s always something else to do.

There’s a real skill involved in knowing when to stop tweaking, how much time to spend on the big things and how much to get invested in the smaller elements. And, being only two months in, I’m still learning where those lines are, and which things aren’t yet worth the investment of time for the returns they give. It’s also crucial to carve out time for experimentation and exploration, both of which become tricky when you’re paddling to stay afloat. It’s tempting to set that time aside at weekends, in space that’s not meant for work time. But that time’s not for work, and I’m increasingly certain that the more space I get to recover, the better I am at actually getting the useful things done.

On that note: it’s Friday. Time for some time off.

Being strong

Yesterday I went swimming for the first time in months, and managed half a kilometre before work. Tomorrow I’m planning to go and attempt to work out in a hot room, for an hour and a half, at my first bikram yoga class. I’m looking forward to it. This is new to me.

I have not been strong for long. I came late to the idea of exercise as something you might do because you enjoy it, rather than because someone was forcing you to. I was a child more brain than body, more eyes than hands. Eczema played a part in my reticence to touch the world: when water can hurt you and your skin is always cracked and broken, roughing your hands in the dirt is something simply not done. I did not do handstands or climb trees. I read books instead.

Then in my teens, I weakened my own body in order to gather the mental fortitude I needed to fight the depression. First, for a time, my legs simply stopped working, as though the depression was starting at the bottom and working its way slowly upwards. By the time it took hold of my brain I was routinely tearing at myself in awful ways. I failed to eat enough to let myself grow after the age of 13. I walked dizzy with shock and blood loss, combined with lack of food. For years my body was a battleground: a warzone, an adversary and collateral damage, all at once. Perhaps if you take strength as a measure of what a body is capable of withstanding, rather than what it is capable of achieving, I have always been strong.

But this actual, physical ability is relatively new. 18 months ago, a little more, I decided at Christmas that I wanted to be a ninja. That I was fed up of hiding and of being incapable of moving, that I wanted not to be a different shape or size or weight but to be able to do different things with my body. To be less limited. Since I was young I have escaped into game worlds, taking particular pleasure in those that afforded me freedom of movement: Morrowind’s grand vistas and levitation spoke to me, but better were Assassin’s Creed and Prototype. To run up buildings and fly free. To be unlimited by flesh. I didn’t want to be full of virus or to knife people in the back, but to glide like a squirrel between tall towers or swan dive unharmed into haystacks.

I took up parkour for a while and was terrible at it, had to stop learning because of logistical problems, but carried on strength training at home. When I started I couldn’t do one push-up. Now I can knock them out without much effort. It has not been an overnight change, but it still feels sudden sometimes. I still cannot run up buildings. Today yoga, and perhaps next week I will try parkour again and see how bruised it leaves me.

I’ve spent a lot of life escaping from my body, seeing it as a limiting factor, hating its needs and changes, fighting it for control. Finally I’m coming to see it as me. I inhabit its corners now in a way I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. I will always be bookish, more eyes than hands, but now I am no longer afraid to touch.

Instagram (finally) introduces web embed code

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This is what I’ve been doing today. Grant’s cousin Caroline (who, as you can see, is significantly more bendy and stable than I am) has been staying with us this week, and we’ve been exploring Sydney a little. Today we did the walk from Coogee beach to Bondi, finishing up with an impromptu yoga session on the sand as the sun went down. Yesterday we went to Taronga Zoo, and saw this particularly ridiculous bird:

The one above is embedded with Embed.ly, which generates embed code – it uses img tags rather than an iframe, and therefore has the benefit of letting you muck about a bit with the source, correct typos, and so on. It also has the bonus of being visible in WordPress previews. Right now while typing I have no idea what the top photo’s going to look like, whether it’s sized sensibly for my blog template, etc. I don’t know if it includes comments or like counts or captions. [edit: counts yes; captions no.] It also means the bird photo will be the one pulled in elsewhere on this site attached to this post, unless I upload the others separately; my related post plugin won’t look for images inside frames.

It’s a sensible, if belated, move from Instagram to make their content more easily spreadable, in the way that Vine and Twitter are; it’s hard to see it as anything but a way to encourage people to make more use of its video features, by making those videos are more broadly available. Of course, because some laws of the internet are immutable, there are already people writing SEO-friendly posts of advice for brands about how to leverage it. It makes Instagram a more viable option for live coverage of events, because it’s more easy to pull it all together afterwards into a single page. But right now, for me, it just makes it a little easier to show family back home who don’t know what Instagram is the beauty of Australia in midwinter.