I think it's pretty consistent in my mind that the single greatest cause of my life's problems is not knowing where I belong. And now, having spent my earnings for the last few months on a 3D printer and some Arduinos, it kind of crystalizes a thought in my head: if I had had these resources twenty years ago, today I might be a human being instead of a walking disappointment.
Immediately after having gotten the printer, my first act was to solve a small bevvy of nuisance problems by simply creating the thing that belongs there. A one-piece adapter to affix a light, covered by a mason jar, to a PVC pipe stand. A screwdriver handle. A replacement for a plastic handle that attaches to a bolt--the original used some bastardized friction fit that stopped working within a week if not a day, while this fits around the head of the bolt and won't slip until the plastic itself fails. A new case for a receipt printer, that I use to get daily weather briefings (this has taken me a while and is not yet finished, although the design is finalized, unless I discover it doesn't work).
The arduinos are for two far more ambitious projects: a musical fountain and a handheld raspberry pi gaming system. The PiGrrl project has blazed the pi gaming trail, but I would much rather model a system after the Playstation Portable than anything in the gameboy line; the wider format just makes more sense to me, and I want the processing power of a full Pi 3. That means a brand new case, button layouts and support, battery and all; the arduino here will act as the heart of the controller so I don't need to try to wire buttons into the pi and have it do pin polling while doing other work.
The fountain, in contrast, is something I am not even positive will work--no, I know it can and will work, but I'm not sure the idea I have is immediately correct. I want several small pumps or valves to drop water into tubes of variable height, with the water drop into water at the bottom of the tube being the "note" and the height of the tube being the tuning. This will make it a closed-pipe resonator, but there is room to doubt the quality of the sound because the bottom surface will distort with each note, and the surface tension of water is not enough to make it act like a reverse drum. It's possible I might simply drop the fountain water onto the closed top of a pipe and let the bottom be open beneath the fountain, but that lacks a certain romance that I was hoping I would get from the setup.
I also have an idea that I might, but probably won't, look into, where stepper motors wind fiber on a wheel, and this tension motor is used to more closely emulate muscle control over joints, but I think that might be more work than I really want to do considering nobody will ever notice or care about my work.
The point, after taking a dalliance to describe what I am doing with my life, is that people always judge you, as an adult and as a child, for what promise you showed when you were young. Yes, if you *prove* later that you were useful, you can get past this. But there was a critical section in my life where everyone expected me to have answers that, as a child, I didn't--and for all that I say "Child", to a large extent that time in my life was college. My parents could and did graciously pay for my education, for which I am grateful, but they paid for that in absence of me having any purpose, meaning, place, or (to sum up) soul of my own. I was expected to have some idea of what I was supposed to do with my life, and I spent the next six years getting a four-year degree, all serving to prove that I did not, in fact, have any idea of what I was supposed to do with my life.
But we all knew who I was.
When I was about five years old, we moved away from my first home and to the place where I would spend the rest of my childhood, and not a day more. Before that, I have only scattered memories, but the memories I have most clearly are sitting in front of a DOS PC--this being 1989-1990--and playing Sim City and making nonsense graphic "designs" in the DOS paint utility "Dr. Halo". Barely able to walk or talk, I could run programs, and those nonsense designs were very formulaic: make a bunch of intersecting lines and fill the interior with color, usually with no two neighbors the same. I remember that, and my thought process, clearly enough.
For the rest of my childhood I was always in front of the computer, when I could be. When I couldn't be, I would be playing with Legos, or outside daydreaming while I swung a stick around and let that be my imaginary sword. I was always *doing something* with my mind, always, always, always. At school I would daydream on the walk between classes because not having my brain engaged for even that short period of time was an affront to my nature. Bus rides to school were just an excuse for me to tell myself another story, or another part of an ongoing story.
I was constantly designing, dreaming, writing, doing. I had a lego spaceship made of exactly three pieces, and it went all through the universe. I could also make larger ships out of ten or fifty pieces, but this Lego thing of making "kits" that exactly replicated some design or another is, and has always been, silly to me. If you make the design too large, it can no longer be a toy--it can no longer be a prop on the stage, and my toys were always on stage. That three-piece spaceship, the "Headfighter", was a meandering captain always on the lookout for his destiny, always helping people if he found they needed help, always interfering with bad guys if they were in his way. That ship could fly, it could walk, it could punch, it could *dance*, and it was three pieces of solid plastic. Tiny toy models of fighter jets could also walk, slash, and dance; so could large plastic pieces that had originally been other things. There was a stage, and whatever I had was the piece I needed to tell a new story.
When I was... oh, I don't know, probably around 10 or 12, I had my first game design idea. It was a reversal of the *Caesar* franchise called "Barbarian's Revenge", and in it, you resisted the ongoing outward expansion of an empire, from the perspective of the people who did not consent to being ruled. It was not well thought out, and I never wrote anything down about it, but I was enthralled, briefly, by the idea of being able to make an immersive experience, a *game*, that other people might play. After no great length of time, I moved on to other thoughts and dreams.
In the beginning of my college experience, I decided that I wanted to create a system that unified the concept of "magic" as seen in many different high fantasy TV shows, movies, anime, games, books, webcomics, and more. It began with a basis of energy control, living spirits, elements, schools of magic, and moved on to entire philosophies of magic, civilizations, a timeline spanning centuries, and numerous stories, none of whom have or may ever see a conclusion. This started entirely as part of my headplay but has since grown to be more, but if I told you that to me, the Demonsword Project was an enormous living thing in my head, you'd be hard pressed to believe me, or care.
I said at the beginning that if I had the tools in my youth that I have now, I might now be human. Because, you see, nobody has ever known me as a creative person. Nobody has ever known me to be a useful or practical person. Nobody, I suppose, except my parents, and they never wanted a child like me--maybe they never wanted a child at all, which would explain more than a little bit. I had no tools with which to make my head-play into a story for other people to watch. I had no tools to make designs into something people could see or touch--short of literally handing them my lego toys, and even then, that doesn't *describe* or *explain* the meaning of those things. The life I lived as a child, and all my life to this point, is essentially a lie. To my friends and the people around me, I am nothing. There is not anyone who understands me to be a person with the myriad passions of engineering, design, narrative, screenplay, action, magic, soul, philosophy, ethics, social engineering, and more.
Nobody knows these things because I could never make anything real. To some degree, this is because the tools didn't exist back then. Twenty years ago, I was 12, and it was 1997. It was the time of the Playstation and the Nintendo 64; back then, Final Fantasy VII was beautiful by comparison to other games. Back then, Windows was still mostly a shell launched by DOS. Back then, Microsoft did not take that whole "Internet" thing seriously. Back then, *Duke Nukem Forever* was just beginning production; and "Duke Nukem" was actually a franchise and not a punchline. I may have gotten off the point; there *wasn't* back then what there is now, with the maker culture, the cheap parts, well-established programming languages and libraries, and a wealth of information and help with both electronics and programming topics.
But more than that, I was a nobody. More than just what was missing from the world, nobody saw anything in me that they wanted to nurture. If I had been able--by whatever means--to prove that there was something there, maybe I would have been taken somewhere with my life. Maybe I would have lived the life in reality that mirrors who and what I am. But the life that I lived had nothing to do with who I was and everything to do with where I was and what people expected of me.
I can't claim that I know what I would be if I were given what I need. I can't claim that I would be a millionaire or even a successful... whatever I would be. So instead I will say this: maybe if I had what I needed, maybe today I would be human.
What a dream that would be.