Hello, everyone. Today I’m going to be writing something different. I’ve not posted anything particularly personal on this site, and given some recent ponderings of mine, I’ve decided it would be nice to rectify that.

Today I’m going to talk about this year, 2018, and what’s sort of happened to/with/about me. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Identity

Without a doubt, the most important thing that’s happened to me this year has been… well, me! I’ve spent a huge amount of energy on developing myself, across a great number of fronts, and I’m really happy with the person I am now as a result of that.

The most visible aspect of this self-development has been my gender identity and presentation as a trans woman. This year I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know Kara Valentine, really, deeply, trying to understand who I am. In doing this I’ve had to challenge existing assumptions about myself, heavily criticise the good and bad aspects of both my body and mind, and generally establish what it is I actually want to get out of life.

This has not been a straightforward process.

It’s wild to me that it’s December already; it feels like just a moment ago, I was sorting out the process of commencing hormone replacement therapy (HRT), back in January. I’ve been on HRT for about 11 months now, and after a doctor’s consultation today, apparently I am “very healthy”, which is a delight.

They do say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s one from last week.

The day I took it, I felt incredible - this wild, unfamiliar mix of self-assuredness, bravery and sexiness. For the first time since I came out, I felt deeply satisfied with who I am. This is, of course, a significant milestone in my developmental process as both an adult person and a woman; I’ve not felt anywhere near that level of confidence and comfort with myself before.

It was really cool!! It’s been a tough battle for a number of reasons, but this one victory has reassured me that things will be even better going forward.

Sooooooo much stuff has happened this year for me. I had my nails painted for the first time. I bought a ton of cool clothes, I gave a number of presentations in varying contexts, I started a new job where nobody knew me prior to coming out! (More on that later.) It’s been this lightning-paced rollercoaster of change and growth, and I’m so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to breathe, to learn who I am and really just work out where it is I plan on going in life.

Someone actually gave me some valuable advice midway through this year - to just sort of “take things as they come”, in that regard, and prioritise coming to terms with who I am. Giving myself the space to grow has been crucial, and I owe that person a lot for their timely, wise advice. Thanks, person!

To sum up, it’s been an immense expenditure of energy, but throughout 2018 I finally figured out who “Kara Valentine” actually is.

I’m really looking forward to showing her off to all of you <3

Career

Career things have been of an unprecedented level of excitement this year. I finished up work with Gridstone, leaving my role as a Junior iOS Developer, and started work at Cognizant as an Associate Software Engineer, working as a consultant.

This was a huge thing for me. Gridstone was a wonderful place when I started working there, but due to some unfortunate culture changes and management shifts, at the time when I left it was no longer an environment that suited me. Additionally, several team dynamic issues plagued my work there, making it really hard to thrive and grow as a relatively new professional. In the end, it was absolutely for the best that I left when I did.

There’s a seriously impressive number of decent, hard-working and talented people at Gridstone. I met a wealth of ridiculously smart people there, and I’m really grateful that I was able to be around such folks for the time that I spent there. I will always value the good times and memorable experiences I shared with them. Thank you.


Looking forward now, Cognizant has been an eye-opening experience for me in a number of ways. I’m still relatively new to the ways of the corporate world, and there’s been no better place to learn the ins and outs of it than at this company. I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough compassionate, sensitive and understanding people around me in my work here that my time spent has been enjoyable and productive. Despite its outwardly formal appearance, there’s enough people that sort of get what I stand for, and think similarly, that I believe in the creative future of this place, at the very least in the direction of those people.

(As a brief aside, I'm a fairly anti-corporate person. I find the notion of capitalism to be this boring, sickeningly-evil machine that takes people in and spews out lifeless drones. Creativity and individuality are my lifeblood, and there's a very real danger of my career pulling me further and further into the machine.)

I had a rough period lasting from July to September where I was struggling with attendance at work. I’m not really sure what happened, but after enough time spent not taking care of myself, I fell into a rut where my house was untidy, my eating habits had entirely deteriorated, and my general sense of self had been shot. It almost ended in me losing my job, but thankfully I didn’t quite get to that point.

My supervisor had mentioned that it would be worth considering to just take a fixed period of unpaid time off, perhaps a week or a month, whatever I needed, and that the company would be willing to give me that. At one point I woke up on a Monday and was like “yep, this is it, this is the week I reclaim my life”. I mentioned it to work, they were okay with it. I spoke to my mother about it, just keeping her in the loop, and to my absolute surprise she offered to come down and help me with things. It was a whirlwind of a week; the two of us managed to get my shit back together. Since then I’ve been back in peak form, and it’s mostly thanks to her.

Thanks, Mum <3


Over the last few months I’ve been finding my skills and motivation to be at an all-time high. I’ve been hitting unprecedented levels of code productivity, working on some personal projects in the meantime while I’m on the bench (without a client). I’ll talk about them a little later :)

In general it’s just been really good. I’m taking myself pretty seriously as a competent software engineer, and I think the corporate world is starting to really believe it. The future is looking good!

Social media

Before I get into games, I wanted to talk about social media. I’ve had a mixed relationship with it this year - at the start I was eager and excited to share my transition process, taking lots of selfies and being very, very visible.

Then, at one point during my time at Cognizant, something really awful happened - someone took something I’d said on Twitter and deliberately showed it to HR, without any context or reason. I had a meeting with them shortly after, and was basically told “you’re not in trouble, but you should be careful what you write online.” It was frightening. I’d never had anyone do anything like that before. It was targeted, malicious behaviour, by one of my peers, and it left me reeling.

After that, I was really careful with things. Eventually I deactivated my Facebook and left Twitter for Mastodon. Not long after, I realised that the benefits of existing on social media were vastly outweighed by the costs of “powering” my online existence, and totally withdrew from everything.

410 Gone

410 Gone

I made the decision to instead focus on smaller-scale, one-to-one relationships with people via conversations on Discord and the like. Individual connections, forged from an active, specific interest in talking to one another, rather than the large-scale mass-marketed attention-driven systems of social media. It’s been really nice. It’s been refreshing, invigorating, and I feel like the people in my life now are those I can actually talk to.

Lately though, I’ve realised that while Facebook is a heinous, hellish dumpster of a site, there’s a lot of people on there that care about me. It would be nice to still participate in their existences, and to show them I’m still alive and well. I’m not sure where this line of thinking will lead, but I expect it might result in some low-energy, very low committal use of Facebook for updates and the like.

Games and other media

This is a fun category to write about, because I get to talk about all the cool stuff I’ve been doing! I won’t spend too long on these.

A general note - I’ve been on a huge nostalgia trip lately, revisiting old games, movies and books that I used to love. At some point in this year, I felt a strong urge to go back and revisit my origins, and this has been a part of that.

Netrunner

I started playing Netrunner in March. It was incredible - the game rules, the local people are really good, and in the time I’ve spent playing, I’ve come a long way skills-wise. I placed third in one of the tournaments we played in (it was a minor tournament, nothing huge), which was very exciting for me. The game’s got a bright future, despite losing official support from its creator, Fantasy Flight Games.

However, it seems that I’ve burnt out on it. I went really hard at it for months and months, but now I’ve just been struggling to bring myself to be in the right headspace to play. It’s a bit of a shame, but these things happen.

Urban Dead

I’ve been fairly into UrbanDead since around September or October. Having played it in the past, I knew the game pretty well, but I felt it’d be fun to delve into it again. I made three new characters (you can read about them here) and I’ve been playing out all sorts of fun activites with them since then!

There’s a surprising number of active communities for the game, so I’ve been participating in a few of them. There’s a lot of very passionate people in them, which is a real pleasure to see :)

The game’s real old and the interface is kind of awful, so I started work on a fancy desktop client, but again, I’ll talk about this later.

Kingdom of Loathing

After what has been several years-long breaks, I’ve started playing Kingdom of Loathing again. It’s a real good turn-based combat RPG, but the things that make it exciting are its handling of repeated playthroughs. You do a “run” of the game and get to make a single skill “permanent”, meaning you keep it for all subsequent runs. The idea is that you keep doing runs and “perming” skills, making your future runs faster and more exciting, and it definitely works out in practice.

I adore the game and have spent a silly amount of time on it over the years, but this time around I actually made some cool new friends! Since my last break pretty much everyone in my old clan vanished, so I joined a new clan called Not Dead Yet. I’m just consistently impressed by how welcoming, considerate and knowledgeable they are, and I’m delighted to be in their midst.

(Another aside - Ayyno, the admin of the NDY Discord, is a *massive* nerrrrrd :3)

World of Warcraft

Despite all of my previous reservations, and my best efforts to avoid it, I have finally succumbed to the massive timesink that is WoW.

It’s a good game.

I’ve got two characters that I care about at the moment - a max-level Demon Hunter called Katariena who is reasonably geared (an ilvl of around 360), who I’ve been raiding on, and a rising-star human Monk called Ellaina, who I am eagerly levelling in the hopes of making her my main. Both classes rule and I’ve been enjoying them a lot.

I’ve played around with a ton of add-ons, and even done some Lua scripting of all things! I’m very impressed with how easily you can modify the interface to suit your needs.

One set of action bars for Ellaina, my Monk.

One set of action bars for Ellaina, my Monk.

I got hilariously lucky in finding a good guild in WoW, too - by chance I happened upon a member of Equinox Rising, who are a real chill group of lovely people that were exactly what I was looking for in a guild. Since joining them I’ve made a lot of friends and done a bunch of midrange endgame content (Normal raids, low Mythic+ dungeons) with solid success. I’ve been able to slot in as both a tank and a DPS player, and I’ve very much enjoyed my time playing with them.

Not only have I been playing WoW with them, a bunch of them live really close to me, in the suburbs north of Melbourne! I went and met up with them at one point, and became fast friends with the group, particularly a nice lady called Victoria. She was the guild member that recruited me, and since meeting we’ve become best friends. I’m actually still kind of stunned that things worked out as well as they did - a random meeting in Stormwind led to gaining a wonderful assortment of IRL friends. I’m grateful to her for her company, and her compassion <3

Tabletop

I played in a few D&D campaigns at points throughout the year, mostly out of an interest in having social connections. Throughout this process, I’ve realised that D&D is very much not my thing. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of good there, if you’re the kind of person that is into it, but despite my best attempts at working things out otherwise, I am not one of those people.

Since then I’ve left most of them, whether by choice or by polite but firm encouragement by everyone else in the group. I suppose it’s been evident that my heart hasn’t been in them, but there’s little I can do, sadly.

I still play in an IRL campaign with some very nice people, and an online Exalted campaign with similarly wonderful folks! Both of those campaigns are fairly low-key and within the realms of my energy/commitment allowances.

Webcomics

This year I was fortunate enough to come across a number of really cool webcomics!

  • Band vs Band - Maybe the most gay comic I’ve ever seen. I love it with all my heart.
  • The Weave - a rad modern-day magic adventure; dangerous and enchanting
  • Paranatural - spooky, surreal monster hunting in a school setting

All of them are great and well worth your time.

Steam/Misc

I played a lot of cool videogames this year. I completed some games, I think? It’s been a while since I’ve paid any attention at all to my Steam library. I streamed a bunch of stuff, too! Here’s a list.

  • CrossCode - flawless
  • Heat Signature - got updated!!
  • The Talos Principle - was fine
  • Resident Evil 6 - played with a friend, was solid
  • Hollow Knight - rules, did a deathless run, will go back and 100% sometime
  • Ghost 1.0 - real good action sci-fi game
  • FATE - old-ass Diablo ARPG, very mediocre, I 100%ed it out of obligation
  • NieR: Automata - I did some speedrunning of this (this year???); I adore it
  • Into the Breach - real good, obviously
  • Darkest Dungeon - grindy af, but enjoyable
  • DELTARUNE - omfg, I want this to be made, completed and released, RIGHT NOW
  • Gunmetal Arcadia - at long last, I finally completed it
  • Princess Remedy - kicked my ass, but I beat it 101% on the hardest difficulty
  • Card City Nights 2 - a chill, wonderful, heartfelt card game adventure
  • Orwell - an exceptional story of privacy and future concerns coupled with really solid character building

Games are good!!! You should play them!

In a similar vein, I do a sort of games curation thing called The Wizard List, it’s over here if you wanna see more stuff I like :)

Projects

Over the last little while I’ve worked on two particular projects.

Dinosaurus

Dinosaurus is a sweet little Discord bot that does a bunch of neat Netrunner stuff. It lives in the Melbourne Netrunner Discord, which I help to run.

In terms of technical details, Dino is a Scala application that runs on an Amazon server somewhere in the cloud, and it can do Meetup API interactions, NetrunnerDB card lookups and a bunch of other neat things. I worked on it for about a month!

Dino is my baby and I am very proud of it.

ghostmind

ghostmind is an UrbanDead desktop client, written in Scala, with a bunch of really clever features on the way. It has an in-client searchable map, a bunch of nice-looking interface elements, and eventually (once I spend like ten thousand years working on it some more) it’s going to be a fully-fledged replacement for the web interface.

I’ve got a Discord server that I’m using as a sort of development log. You can join it here, if it interests you!

Conclusion

2018 has been A Lot. In pretty much every way possible. This year has been an unrelenting whirlwind of chaotic energy; it’s kept me on my toes, it’s forced me to step up my game, and it’s been an unforgettable time.

I owe a lot of my continued survival to the truly special people around me. Thank you to everyone that’s supported me, made me laugh and otherwise kept me afloat this year. I couldn’t have done it without you.

In hindsight I’ve actually done a ton of really cool, really important stuff this year. This post has been a lengthy celebration of that, and while it’s a tad self-indulgent, I think it’s also very important to celebrate one’s successes, as to avoid drowning in the weight of one’s failures.

To all the wonderful folks that have helped keep Kara Valentine in the game:

THANK YOU. I love you.

See you next year?