Find Your Definition of Success (Things I’d Wish I’d Known)

Published September 21, 2017 by admin

So I was going to do a post about Dayjobs, but things have kind of segued into something that should probably come first. We’ll start basic and go nitty gritty later on.

You’ve decided you want to work in the arts. Yay, you! Welcome! It’s going to be a wild ride, however you decide to do things. That being said, one thing that really wasn’t a conversation when I was first starting out was something incredibly simple, something that you’re going to need to hang onto as you navigate your art and your career, but mostly personal interactions with others.

Those are always interesting. It’s one thing to talk to other artists/creatives – that’s pretty easy, and even though there may be some clashing with people at different points in their career, you at least kind of speak the same language and can find a common ground.

With other people, however,  things can go a little something like this. For me, somehow this usually happens when out and about, dating, or at (non industry/creative) dinner parties, so this type of person is forever branded in my brain as:

Dinner Party Person: So, what do you do?

Me: Oh I’m in costumes and design/I’m a writer/I’m (insert whatever I felt would be better to navigate these conversational waters here. There’s a reason I hate this question, and moments like this are likely why).

Dinner Party Person: Yeah, but what do you really do?

Me: Uh, I’m in costumes and design – right now I’m working at (insert place/gig here), I’ve got a few things lined up-

or

Me: Well, I’ve got this book out that I’m promoting, I’ve been doing some guest posting and podcasts while I submit, I’m working on an idea that-

Dinner Party Person: No, I mean how do you make your money? Your real job?

At this point, if we were talking costumes, I’d usually saucilly offer to pull out my tax returns, but whatev. To be fair, there are some people who regard my career stories as entertainment (I’m not lying when I say I’ve used stories to get out of dinner parties), and that’s usually fine. I can be that person. No one would believe my autobiography at this point. Writing is harder, because people are either way impressed that you’re published, or they know enough to start asking what type of publishing (I escape this somewhat because I’ve mostly worked through publishers), or how much you actually sell.

There’ are always people who are looking for an opening in these conversations to prove to themselves for some reason that everyone who chooses a creative path is a weird bohemian who lives with 37 other people and paints actual cats or something and is destined to face their lives alone living in a box. It’s like they want to watch you give up on yourself in real time and think that one conversation over food is going to turn on a light bulb and make you go “Oh my god, you’re right, you’re so much better than me! If only I’d been an investment banker! If only I’d not let art into my life! Shame on me!” as you curl into a ball and have the breakdown they expect you to have at some point. Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but still.  It is all too easy to feel less than coming out of those conversations.

Take social media. Somehow Facebook’s real power is to put you in touch with everyone who is better than you and perpetually throw their accomplishments in your face at your most vulnerable moments. You may love those people, you may be happy for them, but I guarantee at some point you’re going to be scrolling and wonder why your life is a shambling ruins when everyone else is getting contracts or working on amazing things (and they feel the same way, too. It’s all relative). Both of these situations also don’t take personal circumstances into account, so we just assume that we’re obviously not doing something right or we’re not good enough, and on and on.

The point is, we’ve got this idea in our heads that a person isn’t successful unless their face is on Entertainment Tonight all the time, or unless they’re like Stephen King or JK Rowling. Here’s the thing: There are an awful lot of working artists/writers making a living who fall into neither of those categories.  And by this being the prevailing, subconscious viewpoint, that puts a ton of pressure on feeling like things have to be all or nothing. There are a lot of options between those two extremes, and there’s nothing wrong with falling into that big, giant category. People in that middle ground accomplish stuff, yo, there is nothing to be ashamed of!

Your artistic career is not going to be all or nothing. It’s going to change. A lot. You may have to go do something else for a while, then come back to things. You may achieve instantaneous fame and glory and then have to figure out how to not crash and burn. You may, because of location or means, be somewhat of an unrecognized working artist your whole life. This falls back on why you have to decide why you want to do this, because you have to make up your mind constantly if you can live with that or if you’re always chasing an image.

However, it is still your career. Your projects. Your baby. Your dream, your soul, your thing. So you also need to figure out what success means to you. If you’re an actor, is it only being on Broadway or starring on a hit TV series? What’s that going to mean if you get tours or regional gigs or guest star a lot, but can’t quite get that final bit to happen? Are you cool with just doing side event performance work while you do something else? As a writer, are you only going to be happy if you have a huge film franchise built off your work? Are you cool with just putting out a free blog, or are you somewhere in between?

Things can change, goals can change, your definition of success is completely personal and can absolutely change.

I’m not saying don’t shoot for the stars, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet. This is your personal happiness we’re talking, here, and if you’re continually judging yourself on something that’s likely to be elusive, you’re going to miss out on a lot in the meantime. You want to make sure that you’re appreciating what you are doing, celebrating the successes you have obtained. I’ve had to remind people that while I haven’t had Harry Potter or Twilight-level success, I’ve also put out some books which I’m very proud of, and networking with some amazing people, and determined to keep going so this can be my career. With costumes, I’ve worked alongside some incredible companies and done stuff that I never would have dreamed I could accomplish when I was in my late teens and early twenties and likely still have far to go on that path, as well.

It’s okay to lighten up on yourself and appreciate all your successes, whatever they may be. It’s not going to be all or nothing. If you need someone to tell you, then I am telling you right now: not hitting the highest of highs does not make you a failure. You don’t have to hit that mark to prove anything to anyone, be it yourself, former teachers, family, or those obnoxious dinner party people.

Enjoy the journey in all it’s wild, crazy glory. Enjoy what you learn and what you’re creating, because that’s kind of the point. Enjoy all your successes, no matter what level, because they are yours and they are awesome.

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2nd Look: Of Stories and General Jerkishness

Published September 20, 2017 by admin

Another look back at the teachers who have helped to shape my life and kindle the creative spark. This time, we’re going to junior high English class.

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So to truly kick of this whole new world for you and me   direction where I discuss craft and influences a little bit more, I did hunker down and think a lot about where to begin. I’ve talked in the past about my mom being very pro-books, being a library fanatic to the point of getting locked in one as a kid, and growing up a Reading Rainbow addict.

There are other people, though, who may or may not realize the part they’ve played, who may or may not accept the role they played in not only my love of reading, but the formation of the gloriously weird person that I’ve turned into. Yeah, like I’m totally going to claim all of that as my fault. Please. I’m also not going to name names, because I feel like if people don’t have a public personality, sometimes shining a beacon on them is the last thing that they’d actually want, especially if they’re part of something as vast and sundry as the public education system. I’ll leave it up to them to call me out in the comments section or something, heh.

Back in Jr. High, I went through what one might have called a phase of being something of a royal jerk. We all have those phases, and it seems that the twelve and thirteen-year-old bracket is ripe for this part of personality development. Granted, my version of jerkishness was probably tame in comparison to a lot of other people, but I definitely had those smart-alecky moments. I don’t know if growing up a minister’s kid or if growing up in a community where my parents would know what I’d been up to by dinner finally made me lash out a bit at certain points. I don’t know if I was enabled by certain friends,…honestly there’s no point really blaming anyone or anything. It was a part of my growing up, and for the most part, I’ve grown out of it.

Granted, I can still rock the sarcasm when I need to, but I consider that a life skill.

There was one English teacher, in particular, my snark got leveled at. I have no clue why. I don’t know if it was because he was younger than a lot of my other teachers if he just seemed to rise to the occasion more, or if I was just that cranky by that point in the afternoon. Maybe it was because at that point in life I liked to get the last word, maybe it was because a certain friend and I both had him as a teacher, or maybe it was the sheer fact that he didn’t know my parents so the likelihood of me hearing about what a weirdo I was at dinner every night was less likely with that class.

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Here, There, Everywhere!

Published September 19, 2017 by admin

Got some news in these here parts!

I’ve updated the who I am page with better contact explanations and such – eventually, I want to convert to an actual website and do something either connected or separate for my costume work, but that’s going to take time and planning.

 

Bibliorati has a new column and I was the first interview! I talk with Paula Hardin about how I got into writing, my creative motivations, and all sorts of other things. She’s great at what she does, Tommy Hancock has a wonderful site over all, and I’m happy to be featured there. Check out the full interview here!

YA Graphic Novel Reviews – wow I’m behind in posting these. My bad, go on vacation and everything crumbles to oblivion.

through the woods

I talked about how much I love Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods a few weeks ago. If you like horror that isn’t too graphic and has a slow burn, plus some beautiful art, check out my review here. 

 

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I will never not shout my love of Courtney Crumrin. If you like series, you’ll love this. If you just read the first volume, it still works. This thing makes me want to run off to Goblin Town and hang out with all the fantastic creatures Ted Neifeh creates. Check out my full review here. 

 

americus

This is one of those single-book titles that’s necessary, especially for mid grade readers and above. This looks at the topic of censorship from all sides, and while I do think some portrayals are a little caricature-based, I think that overall it does a great job of promoting literature. I also really like that it’s the younger characters caught up in all of this who are the heroes and who really are the focus of the book. Read the full review here.

I’ve got a lot more on the horizon and some things are still being cemented, so definitely keep your eyes posted for where I’ll be next!

SJ Reads: 20th Century Boys

Published September 18, 2017 by admin

 

 

20thcentury

 

I want to continue the theme this month of stuff I like, because it’s still my bday month, and I said so.

Take the kid-gang aspects of It or Stand by Me and plunk them in Japan. Add some flashbacks and time jumps and a cult. Throw in germ warfare, an attempt at killer robots, some maybe-ressurections, and possible aliens (though not really).

My friends (heh), if you haven’t read 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa, oh my gawd you are missing out.

This is probably tied for my favorite manga, definitely my favorite non-shojo manga. While so many in the form tangent and use subplots that feel like they’re buying time, this story makes everything work for it.

Disclaimer: I still have the last 2 end-cap volumes (titled 21st Century Boys), but because I don’t care about spoilers, I know the full ending, and I’m satisfied with it. I don’t know that any ending could match the immense build-up, but in this case I’m pretty at peace.

Kenji and his friends are pre-teens in 1969 Japan, and they spend a summer hiding out in their secret fort, avoiding bullies, dreaming about going to the World Expo, and making up stories about how they’d save the world from ultimate evil.

Jump to when the characters are in their 30s-40s, and they all have grown up, have typical jobs, and are somewhat dissatisfied with their lives. Kenji is running his father’s store with his mom and taking care of his niece, Kanna, after his sister dumps her off one night.

Then one of the old gang commits suicide. But does he?

And suddenly there is this person called Friend making waves and using the symbol that Kenji’s crew adopted as kids…and using their stories to slowly take over the world.

The first major arc deals with trying to figure out who is Friend, leading to a showdown on New Year’s Eve, 1999.

Time jump again, and this time Kanna is the lead, trying to continue on her uncle’s work while dealing with the appearance of strange abilities.

It’s impossible to convey in a post like this how cool this series is. For one, this is one of the rare ensemble pieces that I’ve read that really treats nearly all of the cast as equals. They all get screentime in some form. There are some bold, bold choices (Kenji, himself, disappears for a majority of the title, so a lot of what you’re learning about him is through flashbacks and people’s opinions and memories). The characters are just so good. Kanna embodies the teen girl in the apocalypse without making you want to hate her. The character of Otcho is so unbelievably badass I really want a spinoff with him. Even the typical “weaker” members like Yoshitsune get to do some awesome things. Characters that you think are just written off in the beginning show up again, you gain new insight through new additions…this is just SO well thought out I can’t stand it. Plus, the constant time-jumping back and forth between eras and past and present mean that a lot is constantly revealed and explained, so you’re never quite banking on one big reveal moment. It’s a pretty savvy move, and works well, especially in the medium.

While the way the world is conquered is unlikely to happen (and a lot is made of that, because hi, this is a group of people using the plans of 10-year-olds), it’s really fascinating to watch the motivation behind people in the Friends, and the reactions of typical citizens. I feel like the books get this so very, incredibly right in a lot of ways. And even if it’s not possible, it seems believable in this world.

For me, this does what titles like Deathnote don’t do: it keeps my attention and makes me really care about the people involved, as well as being a cool idea. You get your themes and rants and posturing, but it’s not so incredibly heavy-handed.

The only real down point to this series is that at times the pacing feels slow. I nearly put it down early on, but I’m here to tell you KEEP GOING. What really makes this sing is that all the little things that you think are slowing things down fit into important plot points later on. So it’s not necessarily a pacing problem as it is that there’s just so much IN this series.

This is also a title that really conveys the feeling of Japan at different points in time for me. I love the use of western music influencing Kenji throughout the whole thing. There’s one specific sequence where the boys are daydreaming about how they’ll be greeted at the UN for saving the world, and all you can see is their legs…if you’re familiar with the T-Rex song the series takes its title from, you can just hear it thrumming in rhythm to the panels. And then when this sequence is played out for real, the carpet is yanked out from under you in the best way. I still don’t know if it was a really sly, purposeful move or if it’s serendipity, but the first few lines of the song tell you a lot. And that’s all I’ll say.

The greatest thing for me is, though, that this is really a title about saving the world on your own terms. This isn’t more zombie fighting or a military-based fight series. These people (outside of Otcho) aren’t really action heroes, and if they are that doesn’t necessarily mean they get anywhere with those skills past a certain point. Kenji, himself, is banking on the power of his guitar and eventually finding an audience to save the world. And somehow, it all comes together.

I never would have believed this could work in a million years. I was totally proven wrong. Read this one. Trust me. It’s amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project Pics: My Little Trenty

Published September 16, 2017 by admin

Alright, something fun for the weekend!

So, I am blessed and cursed to have friends that forget nothing and love to never let me forget anything, either.

Yeah, I now have photographic evidence of the time I made a Closer-era Trent Reznor My Little Pony for a friend’s birthday ten million years ago.

I would like to take time to heartfeltly apologize for bringing this into existence.

No, I am never doing this again (unless heavily, heavily bribed). Mostly because (at least at the time, maybe circa 2004-2006) that small of scale got to me. Now, maybe if I did something more to my liking, I might be alright. I’d have to test it out again, but I remember this specific project being pretty tedious. I’m sure part of it is I’m used to a much larger scale (usually human and above), but I think part of it is that the more modern MLPs are just that hard to work with (at least for a novice like me). It took me at least two goes, because in order to change out the hair you have to slit the head off, and I remember slipping enough the first time that the head wouldn’t fit back onto the body, and it was just a mess.

Yep.

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So, basically, I boiled the original hair out of the head, and made sort of a larger-scale needle threader to pull the hair through the existing holes. It’s about as much fun as you think. The tail was somewhat easier because it’s basically one bunch and it’s enough to actually grab onto. I can’t remember, but I may have scalped a doll from a craft store or a generic dollar store Barbie for the hair. Yeah, I know, I feel horrible just typing that.

Eyebrows, eye color changes, the NIN cutie mark/tramp stamp, and I think the boots were all done with model paint (maybe the silver boot detail with silver sharpie – that stuff is pretty magical). I just couldn’t get the hang of the molding I’ve seen on a lot of other custom ponies, and I was working on a schedule, so I played to my strengths and what I had on hand. Plus, back in my day, MLPs wore actual fabric clothes, so I’m a purist.

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If you have never tried patterning out a vinyl coat & pants and fishnet shirt for a freakin’ miniature toy horse, you’re missing out on a life experience. Granted, my original MLPs are some of the few things that have made it in tact through the years, so I likely patterned off some of the clothes I had for them as a kid (God bless the 80s). I think the shirt was the easiest part – I either crocheted or knit that on a really loose gauge then seamed it up on the body of the pony. the bandages on the forelegs are just muslin, I can’t remember if I bothered to hem the raw edges, but it appears that I did. The vinyl for the coat and pants is something I had on hand, so I did my best off of stills from the Closer music video. Because that is apparently what I was doing with my free time back then.

I never really figured out a great way to do the goggles on that scale, so point deducted for that, I guess. But yes, this exists, probably to be immortalized for all time now. It is honestly pretty cute and seeing it after all these years does amuse me, but man oh man did it take some finger gymnastics to get this thing done.

2nd Look: Dropping the Mask and Exposing the Spirit

Published September 15, 2017 by admin

What can I say – I’m back from vacation this week and the wireless has been cutting out on me. At any rate, I wanted to do a second look at this post, because I think it warrants it. It’s probably the only serious post I’ll ever do under the Lost Manuscripts tag (usually reserved for horribly illustrated stuff I did as a kid, hilarious school projects, and pages of my angst journals). I’m also getting back into Jung, and everything seems to point to that sort of undercurrent lately: Clarissa Pinkola Estes keeps showing up in my social media, The Unwritten series with the whole Leviathan symbolism, and I was given a copy of the reader’s edition of The Red Book last Christmas (still working through that beast). My fascination with this kind of thing is fairly personal and probably goes back to my teen years. It may even go back to this very project.

So, without further adieu, click here to read all about that time I did a gigantic 2 volume school project on my personal interpretation of the masks people wear in society. And my parents wondered why it was hard for me to date as a teen…

 

2nd look: It’s okay to stand up for yourself

Published September 13, 2017 by admin

Going to highlight another amazing teacher in my life this week, this time from junior high and in a class that I didn’t exactly excel at any given point:

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So obviously, I was a right gem in Jr. High. Honestly, I think a lot of my attitude and ineptness was residual issues that came with moving to a new area when I was like nine or ten. Unlike where I grew up originally, I didn’t have kids right across the street and I wasn’t as constantly enabled as I had been before. Sure, I had people at the church I went to and some friends at school, but tween years are that wonderful age where you can be friends and not friends depending on the day and time. Plus, my school friends weren’t actually in my class, or even my end of the building. Add to that a much younger sibling who I spent the bulk of my time around, vastly different interests than a lot of people my age, and no cable, and yeah, I’m sure I came across like a socially inept mutant a lot of the time. It’s honestly always been easier for me to connect with people younger or older than myself, and I know that didn’t help, either.  I had no concept of self at eleven. I knew how I wanted to be, and how I saw others, but I had absolutely no idea how to bridge the gap or lessen the tension. As I’ve said before, I wandered through the Forest of Awkward and bumped into every stinkin’ tree trying to find the way out.

Sometimes, though, the universe, fate, a higher power, whatever you want to call it, is looking out for you. And sometimes other people are, too.

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