Monday, November 30, 2009

fake trees and net lights

it's christmas-time! it's christmas-time!

i recognize that geeking out over the holidays may potentially diminish my cool-factor, but i continue to do so annually... without - as yet - incurring any apparent ill effects.

after awakening from our collective post-thanksgiving somnolence, one of my family's favorite pastimes has got to be 'griswolding'. we cruise through the various local cookie-cutter neighborhoods in search of quality holiday lighting. much like any serious endeavor, it's kind of a zen art. any schmoe can pull their buick out of wal-mart with an 8-foot plastic tree and 12 giant-size inflatables and a skein of extension cords and strew them about their lawn (and/or roof).

the ever-present 'fake tree' phenomenon seriously chafes my mental thighs. 'i'm protecting the environment by using this plastic tree every year.' a.) how many fake-tree people SERIOUSLY use the same fake tree year after year? b.) how environmentally-conscious is it really to buy a ginormous monstrosity, crafted in laos and sold in a discount superstore, composed of plastic, wire, and fiber-optic cable, and destined to end up in a landfill? is it really more environmentally-conscious than chopping down a tree which has exhaled delicious oxygen for a decade, and which will seamlessly biodegrade, leaving space on the mountain for a new sapling? anyway, beyond that, i just don't want to be a person who communes with plastic trees (or plastic string, for that matter). that's in your living room though, and honestly, not even MY discerning holiday-eye is so well-trained as to be able to spot a fake tree from the street.

regardless, as far as christmas decorations go, i tend to be impressed not by quantity, but by quality. just like in yo-yoing... character is important.

our character is revealed (or if you prefer, made manifest) in every step we take. it's revealed in the way we sign our credit card receipts and in the choices we make at the store. it's in the art we create, in the yo-yo's we play, and in each string we twist (or in the ones we yank out and then casually discard). i get inordinately cheesed off by people who want to have xmas lights, but don't feel like it's worth 20 minutes of effort. to my mind, the most egregious crime against 'seasonal authenticity' is what i will term 'Effing Net Lighting'. i'm not sure if this phenomenon existied when i was growing up in the 80's; maybe i just didn't notice it... but sweet christ[mas], those bush/tree-lighting arrangements that have been conveniently pre-braided into pristine nets are just aesthetically awful.

like every facet of the convenience that our society has come to worship, net-lights have become ubiquitous. driving through the neighborhoods, we amble past houses where no light seems out of place. the bushes and shrubs are like perfect little luminous checkerboards... and yet... the rub is that there NEVER seems to be just the right amount of net to cover ALL of the shrubs. inevitably, there will be an area to the side or the top that falls suddenly black, bringing the laziness of the homeowners into glorious relief.

i'm not actually that bitter about it. stacy and i actually enjoy these drives, calling out 'NET-LIGHTS' when we see them poorly employed, and 'OOOOOOOH' when we see a house that was clearly well-decorated. she's way nicer about it than i am (although she DID some up with the idea of just buying a few links of net lights and, as a sort of statement, draping them miserably over a section of the lawn for the season - frickin' brilliant!). i don't mean to be draconian about seasonal lighting, but my dad taught me to really rejoice in the effort. it's NICE to spend an hour or two in the lawn, first untangling the gordian knot i inevitably left myself the previous year, and then enduring twigs to the eyes, ears, and throat as i battle the japanese maple in the attempt to encircle it. my house isn't winning any awards for Most Glorious, but at least i work for it. i'm not just casting a net out like a balinese fisherman, watching it drape haphazardly over the shrubbery, plugging it in and calling it a day.

to me, it's just like yo-yo, which is fundamentally an exercise in expressing sincerity. this project sets itself apart from the attitude of convenience, and taking the time to twist string these past few months has made it much more clear to me. i had spirit bomb pretty well dialed on my no jive a few months ago. for a year, going from that trick to shoot the moon was my barometer for whether my yo-yo's were set up right, and whether my skill-set was up to snuff. using this new-old stuff, which is thicker, stiffer, and less forgiving than any cotton i've played in the past (minus, perhaps, the stock tom kuhn strings, which feel like steel cable), i find spirit bomb pretty near impossible. i maybe hit it once every 4 tries now, and ONLY with a newly-twisted string. to be certain that my skill hadn't decayed, i dug out one of my old pre-twisted strings and had it first throw (and yes, i put said string back away immediately).

at that point, i remembered that using this string isn't about being better 'technically', so much as it is about improving 'emotionally', or maybe even 'spiritually'. it's about recognizing that while certain tricks may be out of range for me, others are delightfully obvious. for example, this string stalls better than anything i've played (EXAMPLE), and it's enabled me to come up with new and ridiculous stuff (like THIS - lol) that i've never really considered. it's truly Responsive, as in it links me fully with the yo-yo, and enables each of us to Respond to the other. and the stuff positively SINGS on wood. i've found myself playing my no jives so much lately that the smell of scorched maple feels as familiar as my mother's voice. and when i want to do something 'tricky', even things that were automatic on lighter string, like mach 5 or triangulation... i have to work for it. i have to earn it. and when i can fight through the initial angry reflex that treats that fact as an inconvenience, i recognize it for what it is: a pleasure. it's PLAY, dammit.

sometimes you have to put blinders on to see the big picture. sometimes you have to limit yourself to appreciate your own limitless nature. the limit may be a thick cotton string, or it maybe the inconvenience of slowly arranging your holiday lights. for the effort you put into either (or anything), you appreciate the fruits of your labor that much more. i don't want to be a douche about fake trees and net lights. i'm really no one to judge; i just know what i like and try to express what i feel. as my wife explained to our daughter during our most recent drive-by, "people don't really decorate their houses for others. they decorate for themselves. whether they work extra hard on it or not, they light their houses up, and it's beautiful and meaningful, and they like it."

people don't really yo-yo for other people. they yo-yo for themselves. whether they work extra hard on it or not, they play how they want to play, and it's beautiful and meaningful, and they like it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

2A Strings: Half of a Whole

I make strings intended for dual-yo-yo play differently than strings for single-yo-yo play. I don't know how I got the idea to do this, but it just seemed right.
Here is the process:
First, I measure the string (nothing new). This one is twice my wingspan (it turned out a little short: remembering this for next time).

I add More tension. I am stepping on one of the ends, and twisting the other between my forearms.

I'm not sure if Ed and Steve do this step, but it immediately gives the string the tension I like. No UFO needed to tighten it, and it feels better than having a string with too little tension.

I then knot the two ends together. Adding more tension does put kinks in the string, so I have to twist those out now (the most time-consuming part of my personal string-making process).

I center the knot so that I have two equal-length strings on each side. John Huber taught me this at Worlds when t
here was an A-squared workshop. This is the same technique he uses to put two yo-yos on one string.

I let the tension in the string twist itself, a few inches at a time.

I finally tie knots and cut the strings now. This separates the one string I made into two entities.

I play them, until one breaks. I don't
have a reason for doing my dual-strings like this, but it just makes sense.

This face is to explain how I need to use a razor instead of biting the string. My front teeth don't come together (seriously), so I need an implement to do it for me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dude, you change that string and I'll smack ya.

At my regular yo-yo club meeting this past Sunday, I had an interesting moment...

One of our regulars asked to use my Boss, which I'd twisted a string for about an hour prior. I said "sure" and then he picked up the yo-yo and said "I'll change the string..." and I actually jumped up and yelled "NO!"

He was being courteous, because he knows that I've always been weird about using the same string as someone else. Particularly since kids are grubby little beasts and they always hand back my yo-yos with the most indescribable gunk on the string. And as a smoker, my strings get nasty to begin you can only imagine what kids must do for me to actually balk at using the same strings as them. Eep.

The thing that was interesting was that I've never in my life made any effort to protect a string. They've always been the pinnacle of disposable. And here I've started this project to completely counteract almost 15 years of habit.

I guess I don't have any better way to explain how weird that moment was for me, but there it was.

I've twisted two strings so far. Haven't been playing a whole lot, due to being just generally busy with life and other such messy endeavours. One is on my Boss for 1A, the other is on a raw blasted Skyline I've been using for counterweight.

Damn these strings feel good, though. Nice and stiff. I swear they last longer...but maybe I'm just paying more attention.

Monday, November 9, 2009

So what's changed?

After playing with the new string for a week or so, I wanted to look at what was different already. The most noticeable thing is my fingers are not as damaged, especially considering how much I have been playing yo-yo (which is more than usual).

The fissions in the skin that are usually on my index finger have all but healed up. This is just what has happened over lots of throwing freehand, and how I hold the string while the yo-yo hits the bottom. The marks from 2A (and 1A) on my middle fingers are only noticeable after lots of 2A. My hands were nothing comparable to those of Augie Fash, but the damage on them has gotten less severe, nonetheless.

I have found that having an extra layer of string in the slipknot helps not only lengthen the string life, but also reduces the pressure exerted on the finger itself. This is possibly working against me: I have had the same strings (four different ones at the same time: a long 1A, a short 5A, and shorter yet 2A strings) for this entire time. The texture is divine, and the thickness is what I have been wanting for years. It is a joy to play with these strings, and totally worth the hassle to twist them up.

As far as making progress with tricks, I have tried "harder" simple tricks (goal met). No really new stuff, but I did smoothen out some old stuff I was working on already. I will show this in a new video soon enough ;)

I have seemingly made reverse progress for 2A (goal failed). Maybe I need to change the strings: the tension has leveled out so there are no more kinks, but it just doesn't feel right. I did a Tangler and got both yo-yos up to my hands (I still consider that a 3A trick, so no real progress).

I have not tried much 3A (goal failed), but I did freshen up on Velvet Rolls and Blueline mount stuff. Even did a Double trapeze. I heard about a two-handed hook, and realized how hard it actually was when I gave it a go. I don't have an idea of what I want to do, but I do enjoy just exploring all the simple maneuvers that 3A has to offer. I did do a wind-up that I have not seen before... maybe that's worth something.

Non-yo-yo related things have not changed much. I'm eating more fruit and vegetables. But that's just because meat is expensive. I have been riding my bike around town and to work so that I avoid using irreplaceable fossil fuels, but that's what I did all summer. I'm talking to people more... but it may be just because I want a break from school for twenty minutes.

Imma gonna go study. I will share my bit about 2A strings soon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


my cats have been puking a shit-tonne today. just realized that and thought you should know.


i was doing a regen trick i call "sub-dural hematoma" (on account of its tendency to hit me in the skull). the regen snagged a bit and then when it released and hit bottom, KABLOOIE. that was actually the sound of my soul rather than the string. i was beginning to think these suckers were as invulnerable as they are organic. ah well.

here's the ball so far. 9 dead strings. i'm still loving them, although i will admit, getting my wood yo-yo's dialed for 2-handed with them has been a giant pain. i've talked to steve. talked to dale oliver. changing the way i set my no jive gaps has helped, but man... getting them just right takes WAY more work than pre-twisted. gives me that much more respect for guys like barney akers and bob rule, who would have had to pull up to a demo, twist a pair of strings, and make it look effortless. connecting myself to them in any way feels totally obscene, but going through this process is an education.

i'd also like to note that i scored some new pants yesterday. i bought a pair of levi's shrink-to-fit. not as cool as "good jeans" but they were cheap and seemed of better quality than the levi's i'd bought in the past. i hate fashion (though i seem to really like a lot of guys that are all about it), but i love the idea of buying a pair of jeans and watching them grow with you. it kind of reminds me of this project, maybe because there's some reciprocal interaction between the person and the object; both kind of reflect each other. playing a string until it just can't take the strain... you've put a lot of yourself into it. all the dirt in this string ball is the dirt of my life. these 9 strings (i know cause i keep a tally - yes that's my kid's dinosaur sock) are permeated with crud and schmutz i've accumulated while watching caitie at her ballet... while trick-or treating... while watching the sunrise this morning...

it's garbage... but it's also sacred to me.

anyway, steve is the guy to ask about pants. dude knows, and i'm sure he won't mind if you hit him up. i did my hot soak, and now i'm just going to wear these suckers until they snap like this string.

anyway, much love from bulk-string world. i'm hungry. who wants to bet me i can't eat 64 gorton's fish sticks?