personal musings

All posts in the personal musings category

Empathy and the ‘Strong’ Ones: a #HoldOnToTheLight post

Published October 28, 2016 by admin

 

holdontothelight-fb-banner

This was one of those things that got my attention immediately, something I feel strongly about, so of course I procrastinate. That’s not completely right, though. It’s more like I wanted to get things right, wanted to have something important to say when everyone else was already saying it better.

It’s also true that I have an exceptionally hard time being vulnerable in real life, but more on that later.

In reading all the amazing, emotional posts by friends and colleagues over the past weeks, and also in watching the news and the rampant anger being slung every which way in the media and in daily conversations these days, it finally struck me what I could contribute.

Where has our empathy gone? What happened to treat people the way you want to be treated?

There are tons of articles about how the internet makes it easier to be an anonymous slinger of vitriol, but it seems like even in “real life” these days, the need to be right is usurping the need to care for the person next to you. That terrifies me, that’s not the kind of person I want to be, not the kind of world that I want to believe I live in. Growing up in small towns, the importance of what others were going through was always stressed. They may not have been mentioned by name and it may not have been broadcast, but there was always the small town subtext that someone was having a hard time or their family was going through something – and it was your job to help do something about it if you could, or at least take that into consideration when interacting with them. Maybe it’s the upside of small town gossip, that yeah it can give you the ammunition to judge people, but it’s also information you can use to treat people gentler.

I did a convention earlier in the month where I joked on a lot of panels that I love writing about the crumbled cookies. A lot of my protagonists are broken, unlikable, or have huge lessons to learn. There’s a reason for this. I want people to feel something for them beyond just a knee jerk reaction. I want people to have time to dwell on why these characters feel the way they do and that they may not be who you’d think you’d spend time with, but give me the length of a book and maybe I can change your mind. Maybe you’ll walk away understanding that it’s okay to accept that people go through a range of experiences and issues, and that’s okay. They can grow. They can be fine just the way they are. They can be heroes even if they’re not the traditional tropes, that great things can come from anyone and everyone, that everyone is valuable. Everyone in my books has their own story, whether I elaborate on it or not. I want to know that people aren’t overlooking the crumbled cookies.

In some ways, maybe I want to know people aren’t overlooking me, too.

In a lot of ways, we’ve become a society that values strength and go out of our way to pick on weakness. I get it. Throughout history we have the tendency to go after things that make us uncomfortable or hit too close to home. The strong survive, after all, but I really think this is beginning to be misplaced in a bad way.

I was brought up to stand on my own two feet and I take a lot of pride in being fairly independent, on being one of the strong ones. It’s a joke in the family that I’ve been told ‘get over it’ as much as I’ve been told ‘I love you.’ And I honestly feel no shame in that, it’s helped prepare me for the real world in a major way. Sometimes, though, on the whole, I wonder if this get over it, suck it up buttercup, welcome to the real world mentality is a way for all of us to push people away, to put responsibility out of our reach.Well, what can I do, they just need to suck it up! On the other hand, when things don’t go to plan, when there are real issues like depression, bullying, abuse, and any number of things covered more eloquently by others, it turns into why couldn’t I just suck it up, why can’t I get over it? Mix that going on in the inside and the suck it up culture on the outside, and we have a big problem.

I’m the person in the family that helps others communicate with each other and double checks that all the ducks are in a row. I’m the shoulder for a lot of friends. I’ve joked lots of times that I’m the translator, the peacekeeper, the shoulder, the friendly little/big sister figure who looks out for people, even the surprise thug. In a traditional story, I wouldn’t be the protagonist. I wouldn’t be the heroine or the ingenue or whatever. I’d be the funny, crazy sidekick, the smart-ass friend, the one who enables the hero. And maybe that’s my function as one of the ‘strong ones.’ I generally like who I am, but sometimes I wonder if people get that us strong ones go through things, too.

Everyone, absolutely everyone has a story. Everyone has some sort of pain and personal journey going on underneath the surface.

Not all of us talk about it.

And there’s the problem. When you prefer to not be publicly vulnerable (because we’ve all seen what happens to some people who are, because other people need us more, because being seen as weak is bad, because we should be able to deal with it, because what would people think if we took off the smile for a day and actually answered for real when people ask ‘how are you’?) it can feel like the world is passing you by. Or doesn’t care. Or maybe that’s just the way it is.

Whenever I see that people have lost friends or family to the tragedy of suicide, or something else has happened which triggers the inevitable conversation of “I didn’t even know, why didn’t they say anything?”

Not everyone talks. They may think you need them more, they may not know what to say. They may not know what they’re feeling, themselves.

Everyone has a story. They may just not know how to tell it.

I’ve been through my share of drama, if you want to call it that, but I prefer not to be overly vocal. It’s hard for me to reach out, even though I have a great support network of friends and family. In some ways, it’s not my ‘role,’ though I know that’s a lie I try to sell myself some days. A chunk of my life in my early twenties was difficult and involved a lot of soul searching. For better or worse, I absolutely felt like it had to be something I dealt with on my own because it wasn’t like I was dealing with the kind of thing other people were and all that. It was not easy. My behavior and moods were all over the place. I wasn’t even sure I even knew the words to express what I was feeling.

On two different occasions I had been around friends who out of the blue came to hang out with me, but had to leave to deal with their own lives and pressing problems. We hung out sporadically, but inevitably they had things they wanted/needed to get back to. I get it. They had their own stories to deal with, their own happinesses and fights and I’d never begrudge anyone that. I definitely get it, and my instinct is to say it was my fault for not speaking up. But watching them walk away, even after briefly hanging out, even being able to email or write or phone them made it infinitely harder and so much worse. There’s one incident in particular that is still my go to gut-rip sense memory feeling for scenes I write, if I’m being honest.  Was it my fault for not being able to say anything? Was it my fault for not being strong enough? Maybe I shouldn’t even be bothered by what was going on. Years later both had remarked to me that they wondered if something was going on but didn’t mention it at the time.

That still makes it very hard to this day to talk to them sometimes. I have had to do a lot of work to get over the resentment of Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you even ask? If you like me or know me so well, why did you leave me alone? These are people I care for deeply, but it does not make things easy when thinking about that time frame.

One of the greatest gifts a third person ever gave me was admitting they had noticed a change and apologized for not doing something at the time. It was something I never expected to hear and touched me way more than I ever dreamed. Later, when recounting this, I was asked ‘Well, would you have even known what to say or would you have shattered? Maybe it’s better no one said anything at the time.’

I don’t know, honestly. I’ll never have an answer to that question. The thing is, I came out of it, though it took a while. Some people don’t. It makes me wonder how many people I’ve walked away from. I know better than anyone how easy it is to act like things are skippy and turn a conversation around so I can focus on them. Part of it is that’s more my comfort zone in some ways, part of it is a sick way to put my theater degree to use. But I know how easy it is to slip under the radar, so I try to pay attention. It’s become a balancing act to try to be there for people while still taking care of myself. I try to be better about being vocal and up front about what I feel, and I’m lucky that in my growing circle of friends I have people who have my back and who have found ways to get me talking beyond a running commentary of my to do list.

It’s a fine line. I get we can’t be on call every single hour of the day, but still, I just wish that people would remember empathy. We have got to redefine this sense of what strength is, that it’s okay to ask for help or reach out. And it’s okay to ask people how they’re doing, even if you’re not sure what you’re going to do with how they answer.

You never know what the person next to you is going through. You never know what they’ll say if you really ask how they’re doing. We’re alone for so much of our lives, we shouldn’t be isolating each other on purpose. We all need someone at the end of the day, we all need each other.  Absolutely everyone has a story, has a journey they’re walking through and their own dragons that they’re fighting.

Even the strong ones.

 

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go tohttp://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

 

A Book Report on Peter Rabbit

Published October 7, 2016 by admin

I know, I know, it’s been forever.

I feel like I’ve needed time away to realign and figure out what works for me. Some days it feels like my whole life is about learning how to balance. I still have a huge to do list and a lot of things to get to, but the great news is I’m starting to write again.

Who knows if it’s any good, but they’re words and they’re mine, so that’s something.

The past year, whether it’s been blog posts or stories or longer works, I always feel like my timing is off, or if I just wait and get rested or eat something first, or tick off fifty things on the list so I’m really ready to concentrate, then I can write. Maybe. Of course you know how that goes.

Back in the bronze age of my childhood, I was obsessed with the Peanuts comic strip and characters. In the course of my life if I haven’t read every single strip, I’ve probably come close. Seriously, I’m a walking Wiki for Peanuts, it’s a little terrifying. What started out as a way to get close to my parents (they read the strip all the time) turned into a love of Snoopy and his antics and grew into an appreciation for the more intellectual humor as I grew older and understood all the nuances. Plus, it was an easy way for the folks to bribe me into doing my homework (our libraries had a ton of Peanuts collections at the time). This was back in the day when you didn’t need a holiday to have an animated special on network television, and Snoopy and the gang popped up pretty often (plus every Saturday on their own TV show).

Most people who know of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown know it as a stage musical. It’s not particularly hard to put on, so most groups do it (I helped do costumes for it in college, never knowing that everything I was learning about costumes and the Peanuts brand would help me out later on in life, ever proving that my goal list was written by my six-year-old self). It was also an animated special back in the day, which was my very first encounter with it. We taped it from TV so I could watch it all the time and annoy the adults by singing it any time I wasn’t in front of the television for like six months. At least. Random phrases still pop into my head and if you drop a line in front of me I can’t guarantee that I won’t go full on Snoopy on you. It happens.

There’s a song in the show called ‘Book Report,’ and I remember being impressed with it and being really irritated by it as a kid. It’s a cool concept and a great set-up. Admittedly the vocals can be a little grating in the animated version, but it was more that I was one of those people that was intent on being the best student ever and NONE of the characters were taking their assignment seriously! Lucy’s just hitting the word count, Schroeder isn’t even talking about the same book, Linus is going above and beyond, but he was too smart for me to relate to. Plus I viewed him as younger than me, so what did he know? And the song just always makes me feel sorry for Charlie Brown. Poor Charlie, the procrastinator, the worrier, the one who feels that if he can just get rested or start a little later because he works better under pressure or have a snack first, it’ll be okay. It made me so frustrated because if he’d just GET STARTED he’d see that he could do the report and it wouldn’t be so bad! Even his last line would just make me so irritated because he could’ve been done already!

Here, just see for yourself

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this. Just put a striped shirt on me, because that’s where I’ve been the past year or so. I’ve had to grit my teeth and be a little bit more Lucy, maybe curb my Linus researching tendencies a smidge, and stop thinking of every other thing I could be writing while trying to write something else, like Schroeder. Argh, it’s worse than I thought, the whole Peanuts gang resemble my bad habits when I really want to be Snoopy off having adventures and not even having to do menial stuff. Except that I love writing, and writing is my excuse to have adventures.

But I’ve especially had to step away from my inner Charlie Brown and Just. Start. Writing.

Sometimes that’s what it takes, for better or worse. Just start and see what you end up with and worry what becomes of it later. Not the easiest thing for me, but I’m getting there.

Or, if you rather:

A book report on Peter Rabbit…

 

 

 

 

Dr. Feelgood or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Crue

Published March 31, 2016 by admin

So we all know I’m a music fan. I was fortunate enough to get to see Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe earlier in the summer. In a nutshell: an amazing show. It also apparently unleashed my creative side in terrifying new ways.

It also got me thinking. I live a lot of different types of music. I grew up with a classical vocal background. I did the whole musical theatre thing. I fell head over heels in love with classic rock, glam rock, hard rock, etc. I will never not love David Bowie or Led Zeppelin – in a lot of ways they define my creative tendencies.  I’m still furthering my musical education and hope to until the day I keel over. I have my guilty pleasures, but my core interests are life’s blood to me. They’re pure energy, the things that can get me through a day, readjust my attitude, or make me ponder things that lead to creative ideas of my own. Music is a huge part of my life.

I am also a fairly headstrong, independent person. I don’t like labels and I don’t necessarily qualify this as just a gender thing, though I do think I throw people by being a dichotomy of interests and being a chick, gal, babe,  woman with a questionable sense of humor. So, this is my definition for how I view life and try to conduct myself:  I personally am of the opinion that all people deserve to be safe, to have choices they are allowed to  make, to have options even if they choose not to use them, to be compensated based on their work and talent. Not one aspect of their personage (be it skin color, gender, orientation, disability, genetic conditions, physical alteration, etc) should affect any of that. People are people. ‘Nuff said.

The only reason I bring this up is because in a roundabout way, Mötley Crüe has turned me into a far more empowered and empathetic person than the one I started out as.

I know, right? Hang onto your butts, it’s going to be that kind of post.

It has been brought to my attention off and on that it is a conflict of interests that I like certain bands. This started in my 20s when I really got into Led Zeppelin, but it really gets mentioned when people walk into my work space and see me sewing something while rocking out to a lot of hard rock or metal, but mostly Crüe. I will proclaim it  until the end of time that their music is perfect to sew to, but I’m not sure they’d be thrilled to hear it (Whether or not at least one occasion has involved a giant fan and me playing air guitar on a T-square while on top of a cutting table…I plead the fifth).

On one occasion not involving a fan and air guitar, someone came in, stopped, and proclaimed: “Oh my God…I didn’t know you were THAT kind of girl…”

I had to self-edit through about forty replies to begin with, because I was feeling charitable. The person in question meant that I seemed too nice (ugh, that word), to be a hard rock fan and was a little horrified when I presented them with proof of my music collection. Still…

Okay, seriously? Why, what kind of woman am I? Please tell me, just what kind of person does that make me? A music lover? Someone with good taste? Someone with her own interests? And why should my gender determine what I listen to? Apparently my parts never got that memo.

I never know how to take commentary like that, and I get irritated when it’s hinted that I should give up something I love because of another part of my personality.  I am definitely equal parts romantic and badass, feminine and tenacious wolverine who will not give up when I have a goal. I don’t like boxes, I don’t cop to labels, I just do not want to be defined by some pre-determined role.  My friend Susan refers to me as Cinderella in motorcycle boots, and that’s probably a fair assessment. I tend to embrace all the things and not feel bad about it.

Admittedly,  the strong woman and music lover once conflicted a lot. Now to preface this, let it be said that although I try to conduct myself fairly appropriately in public as an author and artist, those who know me well know that it takes a lot to offend me. In some ways, Olde School is probably a better gauge for the ten thousand facets of SJ. There are heartfelt parts to me, I’m not afraid to go dark, and admittedly, there’s a reason that I write characters like Ippick and Clyde – my sense of humor can easily go that way.

I have a penchant for certain types of rock folklore and I love reading music bios. So it’s weird that there was a time when I will admit that I found past interviews/stories about Crüe really offensive. I’m not saying I still agree with everything they’ve ever done, but at the time it felt like I was obligated to get mad because I was this strong, independent gal and oh my god how could they say this and all of that at any time in their life ever, no matter the context or situation – HOW DARE THEY.

I don’t know why I didn’t get equally offended about other bands, male or female. It was almost as if things were presented to me like I was supposed to hate this group (ah, media). The thing was, I had actually grown up with a lot of their music. Long story short, parents can’t police everything, and growing up in the eighties, I got a hell of a musical education that I didn’t even know I was getting until many eyebrows were raised when I was a preteen who knew the lyrics to Girls, Girls, Girls (This somehow didn’t get me in nearly as much trouble as teaching The Sibling the words to Rebel Rebel when she was five…).

That was the thing: I loved the music, but I felt like I shouldn’t. I’m not sure where I got this idea, but I have a few guesses. Part of it is probably from growing up as a small town minister’s kid. Whatever your feelings on religion (and I have many diverse ones), it’s one thing to grow up with the shadow of morality waiting to step on you every time you turn a corner. It’s extremely hard to grow up when people who you know and trust are reporting back to a parent any potentially questionable thing you’ve done or said throughout the day, and you’re never quite sure who you can trust. I ended up toeing the line until college because I was terrified of what would happen otherwise.

In some ways, I think as I became an adult, part of me resented people who seemed to get away with doing whatever they wanted. It was easier to feel like I was better or right because I was doing what I was supposed to be doing…even though I had started making my own mistakes and testing my limits by the time I started getting huffy. Plus, admittedly, there’s always going to be a part of me that’s semi-jealous of male vocal ranges. Instead of trying to join a band or experimenting with different vocal coaches, it was easier for me to not appreciate my own skill set, blame my classical background, and gripe about how easy other people had it. Besides, they were saying awful things anyway so why shouldn’t I just roll my eyes and smirk when something went wrong?

Yes, I know that’s dumb and incredibly offensive. I wouldn’t wish that kind of thought process leveled at me on my best day, I wouldn’t dare act like that to anyone I passed on the street, yet I had no problem lobbing that at these guys who I just assumed deserved it. I know, I’m digging myself deeper. Bear with me.

At the end of the day, a lot of my personality is all about not being boxed in by one set of thought or the other. I want the freedom to be who I am, scars and warts and all, and I want to be appreciated because of it. Yet not only would I not give others who hit a nerve that same courtesy, I was willing to let that part of  my behavior be determined by boxes: people should be like this and because they aren’t they must be awful. I would probably have even admitted that I wasn’t being fair or making complete sense, but it was easier to gripe about being stuck in my own situations when there was someone else unrelated to blame.

I told you, I have my jerk side.

And then one day I turned a corner in the library and ran into Nikki Sixx’s This is Gonna Hurt.  Literally. It nearly fell on my head. Curious, but assuming it wouldn’t be worth checking out, I flipped through it in the aisle, then found myself still sitting in the aisle an hour later. His photography drew me in, mesmerized me, and the rest of the book held me captive in the best possible way. That book is all about embracing the uncomfortable, finding beauty in what you might shy away from, finding beauty in all aspects of others and yourself. It’s a very blunt and brutal sort of encouragement, but it was exactly what I needed to be clubbed in the head by at that point. It also gave a huge insight into who he is as a person, at least through what the pages show the reader.

And then it hit me like a giant punch in the face that ripped my heart out through my nostrils: I had never thought of Mötley Crüe as actual people.

I had stopped being angry about their existence years ago – I don’t have the energy to keep up that kind of game, but I’d never gravitated back to the music or tried to see things from the other side, either. Still, do you get how horrifying that realization is, to suddenly acknowledge that you’ve willingly denied that other people have the right to have their own life experiences, that you actually have the capability to think something horrible like that about anyone? That’s so incredibly not fair, and not a concept I would have thought I embraced even a little bit.  It was not my proudest moment and it made me wonder where else I’d carried that assumption in my life.

I had never considered that there were reasons or things that each member was going through or anything else that would have caused anything they were doing or saying, yet suddenly I was identifying and empathizing with a lot of Sixx’s words. I’d seen them as this thing, this one-dimensional thing that said and did things that made me uncomfortable, things that I didn’t agree with at certain times in my life (never mind my own life opinions have changed considerably in the past ten or fifteen years). I realized that while I tried to be open and understanding, I could be closed off in my life, intent on seeing things my way without exploring all possible angles. It was a brutal realization that I was probably causing a lot of my own misery and irritation. I had just gotten through a rough-ish patch where I’d put myself back together physically and felt like I was being overlooked creatively, and now I was being shown in full black and white that I still had a lot of growing to do. Ouch cannot even begin to describe that epiphany.

To this day I always take This is Gonna Hurt with me when I travel. I’ll probably do a post on that book soon, as well, because it continues to be a huge influence in my life. I have photos of certain pages on my phone, I’ve had photocopies of pages hanging in various offices and workshops. That book has gotten me through a lot, it has challenged me to be better, and I always, always recommend it on panels, to creative friends, and anyone who will listen. Unless I run into Sixx (or any member of Crüe, honestly, because I’ve been humbled by their journey in general) one day and actually can work up the nerve to talk to him/them, it’s as close to an apology for being an idiot as I can give, and as close to a thank you as I can probably give, as well.

It’s also a huge testament that you can be influenced and have your life changed by all kinds of people, and everyone’s life experience can mean something to someone else. In interviews I usually say something like every person that passes by you is a story, you shouldn’t take anyone for granted – it’s a view I’ve always had to some extent, but I think this whole revelation helped me realize that I can go beyond wondering to appreciating and empathizing and helping people around me.

At any rate, it was time to rise to the challenge thrown down. I took a deep breath and went back to what I still missed: the music. I don’t think a lot of people accept how truly good their music is. It draws from so many backgrounds and influences, it can be elaborate, and it’s just massive, crushing any imitations from back in the day. I slowly let myself appreciate their work and fall back in love a little at a time. I also started reading a little more here and there, beyond the random interviews in books that were supposed to make you bristle about “outsider” behavior or paint a particular picture of. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that at the end of the day, I don’t know these dudes people, I don’t know why things were done or said, and while it’s very easy to paint a picture as to why you shouldn’t like someone,  you can disagree with people about certain things without holding it over them forever. Who does that really end up affecting, anyway: the people who are successful who don’t know you exist, or the person you’re staring down in the mirror?

 

Because I was working on an urban-fantasy revamp of a Hans Christian Andersen story mixed with demonic deals and rock hijinks at the time, I finally started reading The Dirt,  if only for some weird-misplaced moral support. I’d avoided it for a long time, assuming I wouldn’t have time to get through it. I read it in like two days. And not one dirty story made me even blink. Maybe I was just annihilated by writing my novel. Maybe I was approaching things with new eyes now that I’m older. Although I did start to wonder about myself when I got three-fourths in and found that I saw where a lot of anecdotes were going before they played out.

I’m not condoning everything that’s ever been done in Crüe’s history, but I don’t have to. I don’t know that they would take the same course now, but those were things that had to happen for them to get to where they are today, just like I’ve had to go my own path to be me. It isn’t a matter of “oh my god you’re evil, you’re wrong, you should do this, you should do that…” or even about me laughing or rolling my eyes at stuff.  I’ve grown up with some issues, screwed up some, and somehow found a healthy bit of grace and magic. I absolutely cannot point the finger at anyone.

The thing is, after reading The Dirt, it wasn’t the smarmy recollections that stuck with me, but the emotional undercurrents between the lines. There are some incredibly moving bits there and those were the things that really affected me and made me feel. Having lost two siblings early on and seeing what that does to parents, I can only imagine what Vince went through. Having had my own weird year of medical mystery, I know I could never hope to have the inner strength Mick Mars has had with his health problems. If growing up having people report my stupid teen antics drove me nuts, I do not want to think of how hard Tommy has had it with the tabloids. And the sheer amount of crap Sixx has waded through to do all that he’s doing…yeah, I’ve got nothing to complain about, and it’s nice to know that it’s acceptable to have that much of a drive to do creative work. It brought home that that band is composed of four people I only know a little bit about, but it’s enough to appreciate that their journey has not been an easy one.

So somewhere along the line through all of this, a lot of that bitterness or anger at their success or things that they said once upon a time…fell away. I don’t even know why I felt that way in the first place, except that I thought I was supposed to, that I had to blame someone for my own conflicting emotions and struggle to learn to be myself. I could dislike specific instances, but there was no reason for me to dislike them.

And actually, seeing them move on from the drama, seeing how hard they fought with their label and how they figured things out and continue to keep pushing forward really inspired me to take a deep breath and keep going through some difficult times that I was having. I’m not at their level, no, but as a designer, as a writer, as an artist, I fight my own battles daily. I started demanding more respect at production meetings and not backing down when people wanted to dismiss things that came out of my mouth as token crazy whatever, even though I had the experience to back it up. While of course I have to take criticism from editors and others, I will gladly have a conversation about the choices I make. I ask a whole lot of questions now, especially about business. There have been times I’m the token girl on genre panels that people usually associate with males, so you’d better believe I’m going to make sure people know I know what I’m talking about and take pride in and have love for what I do. I’ve always been creatively aggressive, but if anything, Crue gave me permission to be even more.

I’ve learned to stop blaming others and instead shut up, get to work, and take no prisoners. Discovering Bowie’s music when I was sixteen made me feel like I wasn’t alone in having ten million interests and wanting to fuse them all together. If he saved my creative soul, then in a major way Mötley Crüe has taught me how to put aside blame, excuses, and regrets and keep fighting as hard as I can to preserve it.

They also made me realize that I can be an okay person and not take anyone’s crap. There’s nothing wrong with fighting for what you believe in and speaking up for yourself.  Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t get that lesson from a female artist, but they just happened to be the ones that caught my attention and made me think, and they just happen to be dudes male people. They made me finally understand that I could unashamedly be more than one aspect of myself, make mistakes, and keep on going. I don’t have to be just my ideals or just a writer or just a costume person or just a music fan. I can be all of those, because I’m not one to follow something blindly across the board, whether it’s a line, a creative person I admire, or a way of life. I don’t gravitate to artists who do that, and they most definitely do not.

Our opinions may differ on some things, but that’s fine. You’re not supposed to blindly follow every aspect of everyone. That’s not what life is about. And if you do follow or neglect blindly, you might just find yourself falling off a cliff or missing out on things that may just keep you sane and fill you with love and satisfaction. You might miss the opportunity to fully develop into who you are. That was almost the case for me. If people want to freak out about the fact that I like a lot of different things and I’m a walking dichotomy, fine, be my guest. I don’t need to fight you on it or debate it. I know what I like and I don’t want to fight something that doesn’t need fighting.

All I can say is it was a pleasure and an honor to finally get to see them live. It was an amazing show, a fitting way to start the beginning of the end. I was there with everyone else, dancing and shouting along, singing and gaping with my jaw on the ground.  And I truly am thrilled that I’m able to love the tunes again, appreciate their journey, and I wish them nothing but the very best.

Influences: Brooke McCarter

Published March 10, 2016 by admin

Obviously those who inspire are important to me, and I want to touch on a special one today.

I went back and forth forever about this one.  I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to post when it happened. December is not an easy month for me anyway, and this was the thing that made me take a break this year. Also, as of a year and a half ago I’ve lost one of my best friends and mentors, two people who pretty much helped raise me, as well as one of the biggest influences of my life. I’ve been selective in what I talk about publicly because otherwise this would be the most depressing blog ever. And, there’s that little, insidious part of me that is aware that there are people who knew him way better, who were much closer, and what do my words really mean in the scheme of things anyway?

At the end of the day, though, that’s silly, and I’m also well aware that Brooke would tell me just that, so whether these words help remember him or are just for me, here they are.

So I’ve done a lot of posts on Lost Boys through the years. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about why it was a turning point for me, and that’ll happen at a later date. Let’s just say it influenced my costume design work and obviously my writing. Somewhere between those two time frames, though, Brooke McCarter became my friend.

It feels like ages, but I suppose it was only like seven years ago that I met him at a con. Meeting Brooke was like going from being completely intimidated to talking to  a good friend I hadn’t seen in forever in like twenty seconds. He has this gift to just really connect with people and I’ve always been somewhat blown away to watch that in action because it’s always genuine and from this beautiful, sincere place. We got to talking because I was near an area he’d grown up in, and I’ve got the most incongruous, out of the box collection of entertainment work experiences ever. A couple ideas were kicked around, and life went on.

There may have been emails, it’s hazy now, but like a year later I was neck deep at the main job I had out of like five thousand at the time. I’d just taken on new duties without a lot of clarification. I loved the creative work, but because a lot of what I was doing fell under the weird and nontraditional vs the sparkly fun stuff you see on a stage, I definitely felt like I was viewed from a different lens than those around me, plus I was having to reinvent the wheel a few thousand times. Typically at that gig I had two sizable tech weeks in eight months, maybe three weeks that were really hardcore.  That year I think I had about three months of builds and tech weeks, plus extra design work I was taking on.

I go into that only to stress that Brooke is probably one of the most patient human beings on the planet. The first time he called me I totally thought the number was a vendor who had hung up on me after a heated conversation, so I may have answered with WHAT?! And two minutes later we were talking about where we each went to school, G Tom Mac’s music, and by the way he hadn’t forgotten me and had some more stuff to kick around. Through the next few years we went back and forth on projects that never quite got there, but that’s not what I remember about him. Honestly, while yeah, he was in Lost Boys, that’s not what I think of when I think of him.

He was more tolerant than I probably deserved, because we both had the worst timing trying to contact each other, and I could probably write a story about how ridiculous some of those moments were. He usually just rolled with it and was pretty impossible to ruffle. He was hilarious, as so many people have said, and he always seemed to know how to steer a conversation. It’s a lot little things that keep coming to mind: certain songs, how he ribbed me because I murdered three phones in a year. He was both amazed and taken aback by how detailed I could get in an email and found the fact that I never quite got the allure of amusement park rides completely ironic and weird. We talked about how the area had grown up and when he went through St. Louis (where I partly grew up) we talked about that. Conversations were fast and brief, but never felt arbitrary.

For those that are not super close to me I tend to be pretty filtered. Here in blogland is not how I talk in real life (mostly). Con me or podcast me is somewhat closer, but it is no secret that The Great Wall of Selah is a real and present thing. Especially at the time we first met, I was super conscious of being on my best behavior to the world at large. And somehow Brooke was able to get to my sarcastic, curse-happy, flippant self in record time. And it was like a mission for him to keep doing it.

DV IMAGE

As showcased in the fact that he looks great in every photo I have and I look like I’m either dying laughing or trying not to throttle him.

 

Really, there are some people that are like lightning – they come out of nowhere and you have no idea what’s going on and you’re a little freaked out at first, but then you realize how awesome it is. He was like that.

This was admittedly at a time where I was growing creatively but also miscommunicating with people who didn’t always get it, which made me question everything. And that, plus the work load, wasn’t easy. He may not have always gotten what I was working on (I couldn’t always talk freely about it and some of it was hard to describe) but he was always supportive. Not in the general sense, either. He genuinely paid attention and pointed out things I was kicking butt at.  I can’t even remember what led to it, but there were a couple specific phone calls where I was at what felt like the end of my rope and didn’t even feel like I could string words together. So he came back with ‘So don’t talk, just listen,’ or something. And I will never forget those conversations. It wasn’t like some movie or story turning point, mind you, but they helped me reassess how I saw myself, definitely helped me keep moving forward, and helped me realize that taking time for myself  wasn’t a dirty phrase. He reminded me that I had a lot of strengths. I have always been beyond tenacious – he’s the one person to compare me to a pit bull that I haven’t smacked or yelled at because he was just so excited over the analogy, but I don’t think he ever knew how much his advice helped me keep my head. I became more confident in production meetings and dealing with different people and side commissions and gigs. His words gave me focus in a whirlwind and I was able to re-ignite my self confidence.

At one point a year or more later I’d replied to an email or something and mentioned he wouldn’t be able to get hold of me for a few days because I had to have not quite emergency but ‘you’d better get your butt in here in a hurry’ surgery. Like twenty minutes later my phone started showing texts asking what was going on. Even though there wasn’t a reason to hear from him that often and it was common to not hear back for a while, he gave his ear and attention when he talked to you. He took time to talk out a couple music questions I was having while writing In the Red. Now that it’s back in edits and I’ll be working on it again, it hurts that two of the people who had my back with that book are gone. Hell, in the past year despite trying to do more folklore-oriented work, everything I’ve sold or been in discussion for has been a vampire piece…except for a story about the legends of Santa Cruz. Little things just keep coming up and I’m thinking about him all over again.

We both got busy and the cons I was doing were in different areas and of different types. Life happens. Bizarrely, I was at lunch and realized that I hadn’t heard from him in a while…and then the update came up on facebook. And ever since then I’ve been trying to put together my thoughts. I hate that so much of this is in reference to me, because he was such an amazing person. Kind, generous, with potential and talent for ages. Someone that you never expect to not be there.

He was so articulate as a performer. There are moments in some of his work that I am just completely jealous of and take me back to all my college acting classes. He had such a gift as a musician. I only saw him play twice, but it was hypnotizing. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t those things or being in a popular film that made him amazing. After he died in late December, a lot of people started sharing memories and it turns out he was there for so many people. So many people posted about his kindness, his support, his friendship, it was just incredible and uplifting. to read.

Brooke was a surprise master class on how to handle an audience. When I first met them it was still years before I started trying to get published, and I only got to see him at a couple cons, but still. Every person who came to his table or came up to him mattered. It wasn’t a business transaction. He gauged and interacted with people so well, you’d think that everyone was his best friend. Brooke, Billy Wirth, G Tom Mac, Chance Michael Corbitt (and later Jamison Newlander) were the first con experiences I had. Totally ruined me for just going as an audience member, because they are not the norm. When I’m doing a signing or a con or festival, a part of my mind is always on them and on Brooke. I’m  not extroverted by nature, but that’s okay. It’s about paying attention to the person in front of you and going from there. I had good teachers.

He was always mentioning other people he knew and what they were up to and how cool it was. He was all about his family and the life he’d built for himself beyond the 1980s. I think maybe once we talked about the film, but mostly I just remember how much he loved what he was doing and who he was around, wherever that was. I think he got that people liked Lost Boys, but I don’t know that he truly got how much his interactions with people meant to them and how much of an influence he was. Is.

My heart goes out to his family and closest friends – I know how much he loved them and it’s so, incredibly hard to go through something like that, especially during the holiday season, I know from personal experience. There’s nothing that anyone can say that’ll take away any of that, nor should it. He meant a ton to them, so of course that’s going to be felt. They’re in my thoughts and prayers and I hope they can take even a little comfort in how much he was loved.

It’s my Christmas Eve tradition to binge my favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s one of those things that reinforces probably one of the most important things in life to me. I want everyone to know how much they’re appreciated and that they matter, especially in a day and age where there’s so much changing and going on and so many stipulations of what you have to do and be before you can be considered any one thing or status. No, man. You matter. People matter. And Brooke was just amazing at lifting people up and making them realize that. He touched so many people, not just because of a movie, but because how he interacted with those that were curious about it. It wasn’t because he was in movies or his music or whatever. He mattered because of the person he was.

He still matters, because a lot of people, myself included, are going to carry those experiences with them for the rest of our lives and be better going forward because he came into our lives.

Click on the linked text to learn about the Alpha-1 condition and donate to research

Click on the linked text to donate to  the gofundme for Brooke’s daughter

If you’re in or can get to the Cherry Hill area this weekend, the guys will be doing their Lost Boy thing at Monster Mania, along with a tribute to Brooke. Trust me when I say go, because you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

Said You Took a Big Trip: David Bowie

Published January 12, 2016 by admin

I talk a lot off and on about influences, and there will be more of that to come this week – some sad, some not. But what do you do when you wake up and find out that THE influence, the major creative force that inspired you to do what you do, is gone?

David Bowie isn’t just a celebrity. People would still be mourning, but it’s more than that. He’s touched so many people who felt excluded, whether because of gender, sexuality, artistic identity, race, whatever…he made all us outsiders feel like there was a place to go. He had so much influence, not just in the music world, but in fashion, business, art, finance, literature…people wouldn’t be devastated just because he’s famous. It’s because somehow, he appealed to so many vastly different people and gave us a haven to interpret as we will. Something to strive for. Something to look up to.

I was aware of him as a little kid when he first introduced the animated short The Snowman (certain people are convinced I have a thing for blonds because of that), and was vaguely aware of him through my mom’s copy of Let’s Dance and then Labyrinth (which scared the crap out of me when I saw it because it just made me feel so much). It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school, though, that I needed him. I was in a situation where I was suddenly being told ‘yeah, okay, you try but you’re not good enough. You’re interested in strange stuff. You’re way too articulate. You’re just…” and on and on. I survived, but my confidence and spirit took a major blow. A dear friend of mine (we still talk to this day) introduced me to his music and I’ve never looked back. Let’s Dance and Earthling, then I spent money made gigging from classical music and local events to buy Ziggy and Station to Station. I bought part of the Berlin trilogy in Berlin while touring with a chamber choir in college, and had the unique experience of walking past the studio where a lot of it was recorded, seeing the places that inspired it during the day, then going back to the hostel and listening to the albums at night.

Suddenly in my life there was a person who was intelligent, interested in every aspect of theater, constantly changed to suit his whims and vision…and it worked. And kept working. I’m one of those people who honestly loves everything he’s put out. I have my preferences and I go back and forth at times, but what’s amazing is if you line everything up, it’s like an audio autobiography, truth under masks, emotion in music. You couldn’t have the things you like without everything in between. He evolved from his influences to his own genre and beyond.

It’s more than that, though. David Bowie taught me that I can have my influences but interpret them how I want. He taught me to be fearless – let’s be honest…he received major backlash for a lot of his choices and went about things anyway. I cannot even imagine…like thinking back on some of the balls it took to reinvent himself when things were going well with Ziggy, just because he felt like it? To move to Berlin and do music that no one wanted at the time? To come back from the eighties with Tin Machine then exquisite stuff like Buddha of Suburbia and on to Earthling and Next Day and Blackstar? (yes, I know I’m skipping) To progress in a way that made sense to him even though people were constantly judging, constantly holding everything up against stuff he did decades before? He taught me what it meant to be an artist. I’m still trying to find that courage.

He taught me to speak up for myself. That I can be multifaceted as a creative animal and it’s perfectly okay, that I don’t have to listen to those who try to pat me on the head or brush off my ideas. He made me realize that it’s possible to never stop learning, to be an artist but to have an eye for business, that it was okay to be stubborn and take myself in hand. That you don’t have to wave your beliefs on a banner to be heard, but you can be honest when asked. You can also change your mind after the fact and it’s no one’s business but yours.

He taught me to think outside the box, take a chance and try. To learn about every aspect of art and keep discovering other artists.  When people get flabbergasted at how assertive or broad-thinking I can be…guess who I learned that from. He taught me it was okay to make mistakes and to have no regrets. To keep evolving in my beliefs and how I felt about life and the world around me. He also taught me to be kind, to value those I collaborate with, no matter for how long. To try to go a little beyond with people, but also not be walked on. He taught me to laugh at myself, because let’s face it, the past can be pretty damn hilarious. He made me believe that everyone can find love in different places at different times…and just when you think that’s it, there can be something amazing and beautiful and permanent.

He’s now taught me what it truly means to be an artist, to have the courage to go through until the end, exploring, eyes open, using what you can until you can’t anymore.

He was a role model, a beacon for so many of us who up to the point of his discovery felt adrift. He was creating right up until the end…that kind of fearlessness is what people say they want, but very few can actualize. As a woman, I can’t tell you how important it is to have an example like that. I can only imagine how it’s like for others. It’s probably weird to some to say that this is the person that taught me how to become myself, but he wasn’t just a person. This is David Bowie we’re talking about.

He wasn’t just a crush, or a role model, an artist, an actor, or a celebrity, or the best show I’ve ever seen…when I say he was everything, I mean it. I’m devastated over someone I’ve never met and truly don’t know as a person. I’m very aware of that.

His family owns that part of him, and I offer them my most heartfelt condolences and support. It must be so hard to go through the loss of a loved one so publicly, especially when everyone has an opinion about them and also wants to be heard. I wish them nothing but love and healing and the privacy they request and deserve.

I’m also very aware that I’m not Bowie. No one is. No one will be. That legacy is all his own, but he’s also given this world an insane, beautiful, implausibly possible example.  Right now, it’s time to grieve, but then…then all of us left-behind oddities have a choice. Do we keep pushing forward past fear and complacency to do our thing and honor our mentor? Do we crawl back in our shells and let the world slip back as it was? All of us, no matter what level we’re at or what we’re doing, can push a little more, be a little more ourselves, create a little harder.

That’s Bowie’s real legacy. He gave us the possible. He left behind his work, his public persona, and all that possibility. What we do with it, that’s strictly up to us.

I don’t like good-byes, and really, a good part of him isn’t going anywhere. Misfit teens are still going to discover him, we’re still going to remember that he was here. He is here.

Right now, though, I’m heartbroken.

angeljacket

 

 

 

Cherished Blogfest

Published July 24, 2015 by admin

Today I’m taking part in the Cherished Blogfest – a really excellent way for bloggers to get to know each other and  to share memories and thoughts. We’re supposed to post about a meaningful object, and this couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

20150719_230802

Last year, almost to the day, I lost a very close friend of mine. He was a friend, mentor, and someone who took belief in people just as they are to new levels. We worked together for years as puppeteers, in stage shows, and at events. I learned a lot from him, and he was always talking me up, especially when I found it hard to believe in myself or was self conscious about where I was at in life or about my own abilities.

When I got the contract for The Kingdom City Chronicles, he called me down to his office and gave me this necklace (as well as a corresponding ring, but it’s too big for my hand). He was so proud of his choices, expecting immediately that I’d know what they were from. After he had to tell me that this necklace was from The Vampire Diaries, I had the embarrassing situation of admitting that I’d never seen an episode of the show or read the books.

In typical Mark fashion, he just smiled and said something to the effect of “That’s fine. I’m giving it to you to wear as a trophy, because eventually your work is going to beat that series.”

No matter how I tried to protest that that was incredibly unlikely or explain how the business end of writing worked, he had complete confidence in me. Even in hospice, he was telling people about my books and the shows we’d done together. You know that song about the power of just one person believing in you? That was Mark all over, and he didn’t just do that with me. He did that with everyone he encountered.

It’s not the most expensive necklace in the world, and the color is starting to change along the back of it, but I love it. I wear it to a lot of conventions and events, especially if it’s something I’m nervous about doing. It not only carries his memory with me, but it reminds me that there are people out there that have utter faith in what I’m doing, so it’s worth it for me to keep moving forward, to keep doing all that I can, and to keep believing in myself, as well.

So, that’s my cherished object and the memory that goes with it! To check out other fantastic people, follow the list at the tour page!

Getting Into a Project (literally)

Published July 18, 2015 by admin

As I’ve been getting back in the swing of things, I’ve noticed something. As much as I don’t mind using a laptop, there’s something about a notebook of the paper variety. I don’t know if it feels like there’s less pressure with a composition book, that I’m not being judged if I’m scribbling in public versus yanking out a computer (which always feels very HEY LOOK AT ME I’M WRITIN’ or HEY LOOK AT ME I SHOULD BE WRITIN’ AND i’M ON FACEBOOK). There’s something about the physical act of scrawling out ideas, though, of being able to doodle in the margins, of being able to alternate a story with my to do or grocery lists.

Admittedly, I write some epic and artistic to do lists. I’ll have to start taking pictures of them, because there are days I venture into abstract art territory.

I’ve learned through the years that I really like to get physical with a project. When I used to have a costume shop with a cutting table, it wasn’t unusual to see me sitting up on it, cutting out things, pinning things, or generally fussing with things around me. I liked sitting atop that little wooden island, in a creative world to myself. Likewise, I’m just as likely to roll around on the floor if I’m cutting out giant pieces of things, or want to see what something looks like pieced out. I’m not one of those who sit primly at a machine. You’ll likely see me throwing fabric everywhere, and I’ve walked away from a project covered with thread, fuzz, and fake fur more likely than not.

When I do renderings, I tend to channel my inner five year old and want ALL the pencils and watercolors out around me. There are days when I’ve come away from projects involving latex, contact cement, and paint looking like I’ve sustained mortal injury – there has been at least one incident at a former workplace where security detained me because they were sure I was somehow bleeding out in front of them as I attempted to leave work that evening. I may have been politely questioned one evening when I went to get my hair cut after working on stuff for various haunted houses and really didn’t think about going out in public after a ‘blood day’ (where we added blood and distress/wear marks/other signs of grossness to costumes all at one go to get it over with/make it easier on ourselves).

I’ve gotten tangled in yarn as much as I’ve made things with it, gotten bits of fiber fill everywhere, and on and on.

When I made the Paddlelump troll suit, I may have gotten in a fight with a neighbor’s dog who tried to run off with the head, I’ve knocked over just as many cans of glue and other materials as I’ve used. There are days I come away from a job or a project feeling utterly worn out, sweatier than a day at the gym, covered with paint, glue, and fabric.

I always feel completely beautiful on those days, too. I don’t know if it’s the satisfaction of a job well done, of seeing an idea become reality, or the joy of physical exertion, but I love it. There are days I just need to color, to put things together, to actively use my hands and brain in a way that a laptop doesn’t let me. There’s something zen about getting so involved with making something that you realize your hands are taking over, and you’re just letting the idea do what it wants. It’s one of the closest things to magic I’ve ever discovered, and I love that I can take part in those moments.

Blank pages on a notebook taunt me less than a blinking cursor, in some ways. Plus, I love all the lovely and silly covers I can accumulate. I may have a horribly diverse collection of half-notebooks – there are days I don’t even go down a school/office aisle, because I know I won’t be able to resist that temptation. Lately, though, they’ve been the thing to get me moving again, to get me creating, jotting notes, doodling, writing. Plus, the more pages I fill, the more notebooks I can buy.

How about you? Do you prefer creative pastimes that keep things clean and proper, or do you like getting into the thick of things? What’s your favorite way to get really involved in a project, no matter the type?