As These Pass From Routine

My life moves in tides formed from temporary routines that feel, as they settle momentarily, far more permanent than they remain. For a time, the chaos of change will recede in one area or another and I’ll find mild comfort in a regimen. Usually I only have anything approaching a true appreciation for them in retrospect. Here are a few of my favorites, and two from the present, which I actually can identify as they happen.

The Lunch Workout

Working at the City, at that time, was ridiculously easy. The workload was light, the atmosphere was loose and, to sully a term, municipal. I ultimately left that job for the sole reason that it was devoid of challenge and, after three years of what sometimes felt like vacation, I was surprised to find I felt trapped by the lack of pressure.

I guess we made up for the atrophy of our trade skills by joining the gym. When you feel like you have a lot of time, I guess you start to go down that list of things you always said you’d do if you had more of it. I was as surprised as anyone. There were three of us—you know, work buddies. We didn’t interact in a whole lot of social scenarios but we’d spend some amount of time most days chatting idly. It started with the two of them, I’m sure, some kind of mutual whinging about the lack of self-esteem or a sense of slipping health common in early middle aged Americans. Somehow they decided to do something about it, and they joined the local gym. I think they’d only gone a few weeks when they invited me, and I made excuses for a few days before finally trying it out.

Our routine was to break for lunch, hit the gym and then stop and grab something semi-healthy to eat back at our desks. It was supposed to match our granted hour long break we were approved to use, but in practice we regularly found ourselves absent for ninety minutes, sometimes even longer, especially as our circuits became more complex. We did very well at the gym, and we stuck with it using each other as motivators, which meant we lost weight, got stronger, became more athletic. It was hard to keep the workouts short. They became the highlights of the day, and when the office is so dull and dreary it’s easy to justify a few more reps or another five minutes. In between sets we’d shoot the breeze as we spotted each other. Later we began frequenting a different facility that had racquetball courts and the lunch breaks stretched even longer, as it wasn’t even just the joy of doing something positive but now it was a game, spending time with friends.

When I decided to move on, to seek higher salaries and better working environments, I added a commute to my day. I didn’t have in-town gym access during lunch. We tried to keep meeting up. For a while we switched to tennis at night, and that was fun, too. My schedule switched again as I got yet another job. Working nights was hard enough, there wasn’t much energy for workouts anyway. Schedules were hard to sync up. Sometimes this happens with people. Eventually I had to quit the gym. I wasn’t going often enough to justify the expense. Finally we moved away, back toward where my jobs had been for a couple of years at that point and it was looking like hitting the gym with my friends wasn’t going to be a reality any more. I still miss the ease of how those workouts fit into my schedule. I chat occasionally with my friends still, but all of our interactions happen online. I don’t know if either of them still work out. I like to think that at some point I’ll find a way to get focused, regular exercise back into my life, but it’s a challenge. I miss the old routine.

Lightbox Drawing

One of my shorter, happier routines settled in as I was in the process of graduating from trade school. One of the instructors at the school and a couple of students had formed a multimedia production house called The site is long since defunct, the domain registered now to an anonymous squatter, but this was in 1999, and Silicon Valley was in the height of the dotcom boom. I was interning there, basically just squinting my eyes and hoping a lucrative degree would land in my lap. I was less than six months away from getting married and after over a year of practical unemployment as I pursued my education, I really needed a paycheck.

Spotbox didn’t pay me, they could barely keep the lights on as I recall. They were basically a contract design firm who, in their spare time, were being spectacularly creative with what was at the time a very uncharted new medium. I was asked to create tweens: Basically an animator would draw several keyframes of an animation, maybe one of every six to ten frames necessary to create a moving cartoon. The grunt work of animation is the tweens (well, it was before computers took over everything; get off my lawn) where you just draw the transitional images that go between the keyframes. That was me.

What it involves is taking the keyframe drawing, putting it on a box with a diffused glass surface and a light inside. It’s called, naturally, a lightbox. You then place a new sheet of paper on top of the old so some light shines through and you can see the original drawing beneath and then you copy the drawing. Almost. What you actually do is make almost the same drawing only with a slight adjustment toward the next keyframe. Eventually you’re closer to copying the next keyframe and when you’re done, the rapid succession of each image creates the animation.

We did these animations by hand, on paper, and then scanned them into the computer and used a program called Adobe Streamline (now discontinued since the functionality was duplicated as part of Adobe Illustrator CS2) to convert the line art into vector format for coloring in Illustrator. It was a process that probably could have been done more efficiently, but like I said, we were experimental and we were broke. My lightbox was actually homemade out of an old drawer and was really too tall for me to sit at comfortably. I’d come home with deep grooves worn into my arms from resting them heavily on the edges of the box.

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