Penance Post

London was a whirlwind for me, and even still, I’m struggling to put to words the thoughts, feelings, and insights that I gathered while in the city. We did more in ten (technically eight, when you subtract the travel time) days than some people who live within the city limits have done in their entire lifetimes – as far as sight seeing, at least – and though I was awake and aware for every moment of it, still, the memories feel a little abstract and untouchable. Where words are still failing me, I thought it would be wise to show that while in London I wasn’t just an idle participant – I was, in fact, viewing the design that drenched the city streets and examining as much as I could as we bustled through the Underground and zipped through crowds to get to our destinations.

So here, today, I give you (a small portion of, all of them couldn’t fit) my collection of Found Type, Logos and Posters from London!

Cheers, London

It’s exceptionally bizarre to think that, come tomorrow, I can lay in bed and not go anywhere, or do anything. Come tonight, actually – we’re sitting in Heathrow airport right now, and where this entire trip has been nothing but chatting and giggling and intermittent, excited conversation, now there lingers a sort of moroseness over everyone. Last night, we went out as a group, even those of us who don’t really find the party scene particularly intriguing, to celebrate the last night of a trip that – not to sound corny – changed our lives.

For me, the trip taught me something exceptionally invaluable; I am capable of more than my illness tricks me into believing. When I first signed up for the study abroad trip way back last semester, it was with a sort of terror-tainted trepidation – I wanted, badly, to challenge my personal limitations and try to overcome the hesitance, anxiety and fear that kept me locked in my bedroom for the better part of the last few years. Happily, I can say I did just that; I spent every day socializing, leaving my phone – and my digital support network of friends from across several countries – alone save to take pictures required for the projects we have to do on our return, going out and connecting with the people that we went on this trip with and just going out in general, all of which is very foreign for me. Though the last day left me totally overwhelmed and in desperate need of alone time to recharge, the idea that this trip is over hasn’t fully hit me. Despite how hectic it was these last nine days – running across all of London, trying to cram as many sights and as much history and intrigue as we could into every day – coming to a sudden standstill, and being away from the new friends I made is a bizarre thought. Going home to America is an even worse thought.

I wanted to say something at our last dinner that I couldn’t quite get out; the thought of drawing attention to myself in such a selfish way when everyone was riding on a high of great humor and camaraderie felt in exceptionally poor taste, but to those of my fellow students who happen to see this blog post – thank you. You made the last nine days amazing for me. For the first time in a long time I felt loved and welcomed in a group of people, despite how odd and sort of introverted I can tend to be. You never failed to extend an invitation to every event you attended, and even though I was often silent or failed to turn up, just being asked and invited was massively important to me. You all reminded me of the value of having people, real, physically present people, in my life who can listen and converse and share ideas and craft their own microcosm of humor. This past semester was the worst one I’ve ever experienced; there were more than a handful decisive moments that might have made going on this trip impossible. The thought of this trip, at times, was all that kept me going, in a hope that sometimes felt vain (for no fault of your own, not a single one of you was a person I dreaded to spend time with, but a mental illness does funny things to your senses, most of all your sense of foresight) that this trip would be enjoyable and able to kick start some positive change in my life. So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for blowing away my expectation by being kind, caring, supportive, and overall brilliant for every moment of this trip, from start to end.

Cheers to you, London Study Abroad Group, 2017 – Cheers, Lab 103, and Cheers 515! Until we meet again next semester,

For Good

Initially, the prospect of designing a project in under 48 hours, especially alongside working professionals, slammed every single WARNING!!! button on my internal anxiety keyboard. Ironically, the fact that the topic we were addressing was so near and dear to my heart made the task of participating in the Hackathon even more daunting – I wasn’t sure what sort of social landscape I was stepping in to, and even though our intention was to help to alleviate the problem, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

This past semester my depression and anxiety got bad enough that I needed to go on medication.

Even with the augmented treatment, not a week went by that I wasn’t sitting alone in my bathroom, contemplating ending my life. The triggers for those foul moments were wildly varied – sometimes it was just that I fumbled a cup and almost broke it, sometimes it was the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and paralyzing fear of failure, or the very poignant, pressing realization that the less and less I did my schoolwork, the more and more I fell behind, and the more and more buried beneath the overdue assignment I became. Vicious isn’t even a strong enough word to describe the volatile cycle that I fell in to.

Depression is a cyclical illness, especially when it’s clinical – it is a constant battle to remain above the water, not just for me, but for many, many other people. Though at this moment, in London, immersed in culture and surrounded by peers who are caring, considerate, curious and engaged, my symptoms have been subdued, the topic of depression is still one that pings the fragile parts of me and puts me on edge. From the first moment of seeing the timeline laid out along the walls of Big Radical’s office, the noted moments and symptoms were an unwelcome reminder of the affliction that hounds my every step, and I was fearful I would be grouped with people who would understand the topic or approach it in the way I felt it needed to be approached.

Though the product in question wasn’t being designed for me – the ‘Rob’ of the Personas, the Depressed Friend – I knew that as a sufferer (an inflicted person? To this day, admitting that I am perpetually ill still feels bizarre, and for all my learning on the topic I don’t feel fully confident I handle it with the most delicacy) I had insight into what actions might be overbearing or upsetting when used as ‘treatment’ or ‘help’ from someone who failed to understand the state of mind someone who suffers from depression often falls in to.

I am elated to report that was not at all the case. My group understood the issues at hand, an were united in our feelings of how a product designed to target mental health should function. Especially in the regard of ‘gameification’, we were unified in our belief that ‘gamifying’ an app that was meant to appeal to, or be a tool for, a neurotypical friend felt exploitative and cruel, and overall just sort of… uncomfortable.

Given how important cognitive behavioral training is in treating those who suffer from mental health issues, it seemed reasonable, and simple, frankly, that applying the same sort of treatment to those around a mentally ill individual would net positive results. By empowering a friend who has the desire to help with tangible methods and tools, it would bridge the current knowledge gap and hesitation that halts many people from assisting those they know are suffering.

With that in mind, we developed LittleThings, named for the idea that all it takes is a small action to make a mighty impact on those who suffer from mental health issues. Much like anyone can apply first aid before having to call in the professionals, LittleThings functions as a sort of social first aid that seeks to enable the user to engage with and aid their depressed friend by suggesting safe, accessible activities for them to share in.

Activities range from benign and almost effortless – such as watching a movie together at home – to tangibly useful – such as doing a load of laundry, or washing the dishes. The key idea behind the activities – or ‘challenges’, as they’re referred to in theory – is that they are manageable, specific, action-orientated, and time-limited.

While our presentation to the group suffered from minor snafu’s, in the end, we were all exceedingly proud of the work that we did!

Much A-Kew About Nothing

My body, wracked in agony and allergies, was ill-prepared for any further excursions today; after a solid 12 hours of sleep I thought, perhaps, my body might refresh itself and revert to it’s proper, youthful spryness.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

It made the trip to the Kew Gardens very short for me, but after days of rushing here and there and being immersed in a bustling – but rather quiet, compared to Boston, or New York – city, being out in the slower, more subdued countryside was a blessing. The city (or perhaps town?) of Kew was beautiful, bearing an ancient charm that, while prevalent in much of London, is missing entirely in America. Not charm, per say, or quaintness – we have that at home, but it’s of a very different sort. American charm has it’s own vernacular of visual language that lacks that moss-coated stones and ivy-wrapped gates of Kew.

For a bit, I broke off from the rest of the groups to wander through the rose garden, seeking a tiny slice of solitude; not for any dislike of my peers, but because after a week of stressing my boundaries and making an effort to be social in spite of my introverted nature, I needed the time to be alone. It was a refreshing amount of time – thirty minutes, at the most, kneeling among the roses and watching children flomp themselves on to the grass and chase the birds – and had my hips not been those of an eighty-year-old-woman, I might have rejoined the others to go out shopping. Alas, both my hips – and my bank account – hurt too bad to go on, and rather than be a sour grape chugging along at the caboose end of the group, I headed back to the hotel to put my feet up and spend the rest of the night just relaxing.

For a home-body like me, this trip has been exciting, but taxing. I’m by no means at the point of misery and desiring to be home – not even a bit, in fact, I dread going back to the states – but I’ve reached the point where the pain from constant activity has been enough of a stress to make any further sight-seeing unenjoyable. I’m so, so, so happy I fit in so much in the first few days, and that I went with groups of students who didn’t put off seeing the city until the last couple of days. While it might mean that these last few days in London are spent in the hotel room immediately following our activities, I’m not unhappy with that being the reality; in fact, I’m quite ready to relax and enjoy the amenities of the Apex of London hotel. After all, it’s pretty damn posh.

Design Opens Doors

After hauling all 230 lbs of my body fat up to the almost-top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, touring the Design Museum, and going to Wicked, my brain has evaporated into a pile of goopy grey mush between my ears (which, after unclogging, have clogged again!) and so I’m copping out of an intelligent post today in favor of spamming a lot of photos.

Okay, a little bit of intelligent discussion; in the California exhibit in The Design Museum, there were two pieces of design work that really, really got me jazzed up. The first was ‘Duet’, and interactive animation, animated by Glenn Keane (an animation legend) and created in partnership with… Google Glass, I believe? The placards are lost somewhere in the depths of the 600+ pictures I took today, and given that it’s 2 AM and, as mentioned before, my brain is a mostly non-functioning slushpuppy of half-firing neurons, I’m going to favor skipping ahead to my point rather than lingering.

Displayed on a tablet that made use of the same 3D functionality and interfacing as most VR games and apps, the animation for ‘Duet’ was revealed by moving the tablet around a full 360 degrees around the room, including up and down. Whether or not you were looking at the animation, it progressed of it’s own will, with characters running on and off screen and dipping in and out of the ‘deeper’ parts of the picture plane. As a pseudo-animation, pseudo-design student, the collision of these two mediums is exciting enough, but seeing the potential for animation and its integration and reinvention in the future is always fascinating and inspiring.

The second piece, which I will talk about in more detail… Later ™, was an open source genome coder that was set up to function in exactly the same way as traditional HTML/CSS coders, that allow biologists to experiment and write DNA from home, increasing the accessibility and shareability of what was once a very exclusive and expensive process.

And now – photos. They do say a picture is worth a thousand words, right?


London Is Open

Today, the sky was overcast with more than just clouds and scattered showers. Half-way through the day, while perched atop a double-decker bus whizzing through the richest districts of London, Hayley read off the news that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on London Bridge and the subsequent shooting nearby. While it wasn’t entirely surprising to anyone on board the bus, it still put a sour twinge in my mouth, at least. Before the trip began, the gloom cast by the attack on The Venue in Manchester made me anxious about my upcoming trip – a feeling that was hastily followed by guilt. What right did I have worrying about how this might impact my upcoming studies, when there were young children and teens who would never return home?

Given the wildly divisive – and honestly terrifying – state of the US at the moment, what the actual streets of London might look like frightened me. At home, I see so many Trump and Pence stickers still, am reminded, so often, of who is a threat to my existence and the existence and safety of my friends and loved ones, that I was afraid to see similar sentiments here. But in our first moments in the Underground, while we were struggling to buy our Oyster Cards for the rest of the week, I saw a tube worker writing on a whiteboard. It was a fairly simple notice, about the diverted routes and closed stations, but the end of the  message was more striking than the actual content.

#LondonisOpen – it was the first time I saw the message, but not the last.

I’m not naive enough to believe the message is one that the entire country is standing behind, especially with the upcoming election, and the recent Brexit snafu. From keeping an eye on the international political landscape I realize there are plenty of politicians who spit as much vitriol as The Grand Orange, but seeing the city itself so hastily, and readily, painted in proclamations of unity and strength in the face of horrors – without casting blame, without shouting down someone and making a devil or a mockery of someone – was refreshing.

One day, I’ll be able to hear again…

I’m not exactly a stranger to flights of the domestic variety; as a highly antisocial person, most of my most compelling, deep, and trusted friendships are with people who live halfway or more across the country, and with family that has moved to warmer, wetter pastures in the soggy south of Georgia, I make infrequent trips to see both.

Flying outside the country, however, is another matter. This trip to London is my first time ever leaving the United States, and while thus far traveling internationally has been a vastly different experience from traveling domestically – for one, a vast array of entertainment was provided for free as part of the flight, as well as a blanket and pillow, a three course dinner, and coffee (so much coffee, of which I regrettably drank none with the foolish idea that I would actually sleep on a flying metal death trap several thousand feet in the air) – the most stunning, mind-boggling, and truly upsetting difference has been the fact I can’t hear out of my left ear.

Despite the usual routine of obsessive gum-chewing in flight, and consuming a meal, the pressure change has clogged my left ear to the point of near absolute deafness – which is a bummer, when you’re trying to pay attention to and take direction from professors and many accented strangers. Thus far, all attempts to remove the clog and normal pressure inside my skull have resulted in failure – no amount of no blowing, mouth-gaping, yawning or hiccuping has proven effective in clearing out my ears.

Given that jet lag, or perhaps the fact that I’ve been awake for near 20 hours at this point, is ravaging both my mind and my body, I’m going to end todays post with a haphazard – I mean, carefully selected – regurgitation of the photos I took while traveling from Heathrow Airport to our hotel, the Apex of London.