Monday, February 19, 2018

The Art of the Selfie: Natural to Supernatural

(WARNING: This post contains many selfies of me. 
If you don't like selfies - or me - you are in the WRONG PLACE.)

Here's what's happening. About a month into my process of growing out my very short hair that I am no longer dyeing various colors, I'm already SO BORED WITH MY HAIR. So I thought I'd fix that by doing some selfies with wigs, and now here I am with a post that may be self-indulgent, but may also be helpful for anyone else who wants to level up in selfotography.

This post is not a tutorial on how to get any exact look, but it will include lots of general tips and ideas, plus information on products, devices, and apps I use. Plenty to experiment with! Also, the stuff about styling yourself is applicable to times when someone else will be taking your picture.

First of all, I take all of my pictures with my iPhone 6s, with the regular camera flipped so that I can see myself on the screen. I use some apps that are available for the iPhone, but I suspect that other types of smartphones have similar apps available. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of photography apps, and plenty of outstanding ones that are free.

So! I'll start with the relatively natural approach to selfies, for getting pictures that look like you at your best. You can obviously use your very own hair for them, but wigs are an option, too. Here's one of me with an auburn wig from Arda Wigs, in the style Vivien Classic. This is a great, shoulder-length wig I'd be comfortable wearing out in the world, and it's only $30! It arrives already styled, but you can use heat tools like a curling iron or straightener to style it differently. The top photo is completely unfiltered, but I'm wearing piles of makeup (more on that in a minute). For the second version, I used a pre-set "look" filter called Portrait, in the Snapseed app. I wanted to show you that even a perfectly good photo can be elevated to a more magical, glowy look without taking you too far from reality.

Tips for natural-looking photos:
  • Get yourself some good, ideally full-spectrum, lighting. For nearly all of the photos in this post, I took the original picture in front of the one window in my house that lets in perfect daylight: nice and diffuse, but bright. You want to have enough light, but avoid harsh, direct sunlight - at least for the way I do it. There's one shot coming up where I used a full-spectrum light that's sold for helping with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The effect is the same as whitish light from outside.
  • If you never wear makeup, because that's not part of your look, the lighting could be plenty for you, but you might like the effect of reducing shine on your face with some powder. If you're aiming for enhancing your prettiness, I recommend mascara and/or eyeliner, at least. Or continue on with the next level of makeup...
  • Whether or not the camera adds 15 pounds, it definitely subtracts makeup. So if you look at the above "natural" pictures and think I'm hardly wearing any, what you need to know is that this look includes a layer of pore-filling primer, a thick layer of full-coverage foundation, another layer of full-coverage concealer under the eyes, translucent powder, heavy, dark eyeshadow, fairly dramatic false eyelashes, and a couple of layers of mascara on both my real and false eyelashes, plus lipstick and some eyebrow pencil. It actually looks kind of gross if you see it in person. So the guideline is that if you usually wear makeup to go out, try tripling the coverage for your selfie. 
Ready to go for more glam?

In the green-hair photos, I'm wearing the Candy-Striper style from Arda Wigs, in the color blend "Dryad." It's long, with a blend of three colors, great quality, and only $35! I LOVE THIS STORE. (I should mention that I do not have any connection to the company - I just like it.) I'm wearing even darker eye makeup in these - literally black eyeshadow all over the lids, black liquid eyeliner on the upper lids, false eyelashes of course. Oh, and on the bottom, I have white waterproof eyeliner on the waterline, which is the name for the bit of skin above the lower eyelashes. Using white or skin-toned eyeliner there makes your eyes look bigger and brighter. I think I also had some shimmery green eyeshadow beneath the lower lashes. Dark eyeliner under the eyes looks too harsh on me.

The bottom two photos in this set look filtered, but they are not! I just took advantage of how the camera responded to the light as I moved around in front of the window. That brings me to another few tips:

  • Take lots and lots of photos, and pick the best ones to use.
  • Move around and try different angles. If you have age-related developments happening around your eyes like I do (thinning and sagging skin, dark circles, puffiness, wrinkles), shadows can be a problem. It's easier to control that problem if you're open to holding your head at different angles, and/or let your hair hang down over one eye so you only have to manage the look of one eye instead of two!
  • Make sure you crop your photos to bring the focus in to your face, and eliminate distractions from the background as much as possible.
On to creative filters!

In these photos, I'm wearing the Amber Classic style in Lavender. Each of the photos has gone through at least one filter, and this post is getting long already, so I think I'll have to take any discussion of filtering to another post. But this gives you a look at just a tiny bit of the range you can get from iPhone photo editing apps. My favorites, used in all of these, are Snapseed, Mextures, Union, and ImageBlender, 

And now for the supernatural!

Look how creative you can be! These looks are not even that extreme (check Instagram and Pinterest under "Fantasy Makeup" and "Cosplay," if you have doubts). I used bolder colors, face gem stickers, and artificial flowers, plus a more lengthy, artistic filtering process for the mermaid one. The apps I use let me layer photos and erase bits of the foreground image to let the background through, or change the opacity of the foreground for a more transparent effect, or use other image-blending techniques to make colors brighter, more subdued, higher- or lower-contrast, or just about anything else I can think of.

I hope this post is giving you ideas about how to rock your next selfie! And I hope you have an excellent day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Open Endings in Fiction: Terrible, or THE WORST?

(A sunset view from my house)

Nayad: Overly Dramatic, or INCORRIGIBLE?

There are good examples of open-ended stories. I'm sure I could definitely think of some. They're probably all by Kelly Link, now that I think about it. I do love a Kelly Link story.

However, I'm not a fan of completely open-ended fiction. Let me back up and explain what the hell I'm talking about.

What do I mean when I'm ranting about a story with a completely open ending? I mean a story where it's left to the reader to figure out the meaning of what just happened, and the clues given could be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be written as a series of vague hints and suggestions, or there's conflicting or missing information, or there may be an unreliable narrator. The story goes along, full of fascinating possibilities, and then leaves all the possibilities equally possible. 

The reason I'm writing about this is that I just finished reading The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc, It's a haunted house story. A young couple gets a suspiciously amazing deal on a beautiful Victorian house with some quirky features - lots of hidden compartments and passages - and then the weird stuff starts. I love the weird stuff. The weird stuff is not the problem. It's just that, in this book, the weird stuff is so abundant, and so escalating, that I could never develop an opinion about what's really going on. What I want is for the author to know what's going on, and to write a book full of weird stuff that allows me to guess what's going on. And if the author would be so kind as to set up two or three equally plausible ways to interpret the story, that would be the best thing. A not-completely open-ended story: one that allows for forming opinions that make sense, but then doesn't tell you which interpretation is the right one. 

To be fair, that's probably the hardest kind of book to write, so I will support you in your opinion that I am demanding and difficult. And I still think you should read The Grip of It, because I like the prose, and the possibilities. It starts very well, and you may very well have the kind of imagination that would appreciate being handed no answers but dozens of questions. It will give you lots to think about!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Frugal February

(The Tabitha of Judgment says I need to save my pennies! 
Kitty wants a new scratching post.)

Okay, I'm not broke, but... It's been a spendy few months. There was Christmas, and then new tires for my car, and then a trip that I didn't strictly need to take, and then property taxes, and then the quarterly water/sewer bill here in my town where the water apparently is MADE OF GOLD. I budgeted for these things, but this month still feels like a good time to let the majority of my dollars have a little staycation in the bank.

If there's one thing I know about how to deal with money, it's that having a budget is the most helpful thing. Here's the basic way to make one. If you have a regular monthly income, you figure out how much you actually must spend each month, in your current situation: bills, housing payments, etc. You make note of the expenses that are quarterly, annually, or whatever, so that you can divide them up and set aside an appropriate percentage of those each month, to be prepared for them in advance. Then you figure out what to do with what's left over, if anything is left over. Ideally, some of that goes to savings. If nothing is ever left over, that's the time to start thinking about how to change your current situation, but that's a topic for another post.

For me (and most Americans who are not absolutely broke), the most flexible category of required spending is groceries. You have to eat, but there may be ways to do it more cheaply than usual. Many people buy more drinks and snacks than they have to, or don't comparison-shop as hard as they could. There's nothing wrong with that, if you have money for it and that's what you want to do. However, in times when you're struggling with money, or you want to save up for something, this is a good category to examine for those areas where you can cut things out. 

Not everyone can do this, but I have enough of a grocery budget that if I find something on sale - if it's a thing I always use and it won't get wasted - I'll buy extras of it to stock up. I have a small extra freezer that doesn't jack up my energy bill, so I can keep things like extra bread, butter, shredded cheese, and much, much more. When I cook, I often make two batches of the same thing at once and stick the extra in the freezer, which saves time later. I do this enough that, sometimes, I can do a thing called "shelf cooking" for a month, mostly using the stocked-up food, and spending $25 or less each week to get produce, milk, and anything else that's better to get when it's fresh. In the long run, it's less expensive to do things this way because I'm getting better prices on a lot of the ingredients; when I cook double batches that's only one time that I fire up the oven or stove, instead of two, which I think more than offsets whatever extra I'm spending on running the freezer. 

Anyway, that's what I'm doing this February! I have other frugality-boosting methods I may post about this month, too. What are some of your money-saving methods?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tracking 2018: What I Did In January and How I Recorded It

(Here's my monthly "hair-growth progress" photo. Um, not much progress yet.)

Happy February! I hope you're having a good 2018 so far. I am! Since I ended last year feeling like I couldn't remember much, I set up a system to keep track of my activities this year, and here's how that worked out in January.

I needed to come up with a system that I would actually use. While I like the idea of putting everything in a digital format, I know that I'm more motivated by being able to write things on paper. I like to make lists and cross things off, and fill boxes, and make check-marks. So just know that I recycle and buy recycled paper products and try to be as efficient with my uses of paper as possible. 

The system I came up with is a binder with three pages for each week: one page for noting how much time I spend on the activities I want to do, as well as ones I'm trying not to do as much; one page for nutrition (like how many servings I eat per day of fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc); and a page with spaces to write the notable events of each day of the week. This might sound incredibly tedious to people who are motivated differently than I am, and that's okay! But when I want to put in a certain amount of exercise each week, for example, I enjoy writing that I did it, and I find that I'm more likely to fit it in if I look at the page for that week and see that I haven't done it yet. 

I'm probably not going to post much detail about exactly how many minutes I did this or that, but I may sometimes write about how a certain category is working out, especially if I find it particularly helpful or particularly vexing and in need of an overhaul! 

Generally, I have an idea of how much time I want to spend on various things each day or week, such as blogging, reading fiction, reading non-fiction, making art (which can be either visual art or any artistic form of writing I'm working on), meditating, exercising, crafting, and doing "life maintenance chores" like cleaning the house and doing the dishes. I'm starting the year with just tracking what I do, and I hope to improve on my stats as I figure out better ways to arrange my time.

Anyway... In January I:

  • Went on a six-day trip to Michigan to attend ConFusion SF.
  • Finished reading four novels: Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson (which I had started to read in December), and the first three Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French, which are In the WoodsThe Likeness, and Faithful Place. I don't usually read mysteries, but my current favorite author, Jeff VanderMeer, posted that he had really enjoyed reading Tana French's novels. So I thought I'd better give those a try, and they turned out to be extremely good and hard to put down. One thing I especially like about them is that the main character is different from one to the next. You get to know them as a side character in one book, and then they become the main character in the next (and the impression you've gotten of them from the outside can change a lot once you get to see things from their perspective: this series is a master class in character development). Speaking of VanderMeer, btw, I am super-psyched to see the movie Annihilation this month, which is based on his Annihilation: A Novel.
  • Got the new tires my car needed BEFORE going on a road trip in the middle of winter, because that's the way to be an adult in spite of much preferring the idea of spending that money on, say, ANYTHING ELSE.
  • Also read most of Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, which is an outstanding book about making and changing habits, and I think it will deserve its own post after I finish it. It was a lucky find on the day that I was walking around while waiting for my new tires to be installed. Anyone who knows me understands that I can spend hours in Barnes & Noble. When I worked there (over 20 years ago! Jeez!) they said that they wanted to encourage people to read the books in the store. I have learned exactly how effective it is for their sales, when they let people get attached to a book and then feel the urgent need to buy it.
  • Went on a few fun outings with my boys, mostly involving restaurant food, because that's what teen and tween boys are talking about.
  • Spent many lovely hours with the man in my life, who is shy and doesn't want to be written about, but deserves the occasional mention for being awesome nonetheless. :)
  • Achieved my goal of losing one pound this month. I'm trying to be more about changing my eating habits for long-term health, and less about dieting to get to a certain weight as soon as possible, but I think it's reasonable to adjust my eating habits to aim for losing a pound a month for a while.
  • I exercised every week. Not quite as many times as I think I should (I want it to be three, and I mostly managed two), but that's better than not at all, ever. I'm trying to make my exercise about benefits other than weight loss. There are so many benefits, and it's more encouraging for me to focus on those. Maybe this philosophy will become another post!
  • I meditated one single time in the whole month of January, right on the last day, because I didn't want to have to say I never did it at all. I don't know why I resist it. I like it when I'm doing it, and it's usually only ten to twenty minutes. So I'll be working on finding a good time and/or trigger to get myself to do it more frequently.
  • Finally, I'm very pleased with the illustration I drew for the story I co-wrote with Maurice Broaddus, "What the Mountain Wants." I really want to post it to show you! But I'm saving it for a more impactful reveal sometime in the future. I may post a smaller detail portion of it before the full thing, though!
It was a good month! I do have ups and downs in my moods, and I don't want to give the false impression that nothing bad ever happens in my life. January was a happy time, though. :)