artistic frustrations

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SJ Reads: Steal Like an Artist/Show Your Work

Published November 6, 2017 by admin

Since so many people are doing Nanowrimo, I thought it might be interesting to focus SJ Reads this month on books about writing and creating. I know, way to get original, amirite?

Anywho, let’s start with something light and easy.

I’d had the books of Austin Kleon recommended to me before, but because I am a stubborn beast, I put off reading them. Which I shouldn’t have, because they’re really easy to get through. Deceptively so. They’re the type of books that you can read in a sitting, then immediately have to reread so you can get the full effect.

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I really like how empowering this book is, plus his unique approach to his own art and writing is really fun to look at. Kleon discusses how he came upon his technique, plus he walks people through what it really means to be an artist with the obvious experience of someone who’s been there. There are some nuts and bolts things, but there’s also a lot of positivity and encouragement, something that artists of all types just don’t always get enough of. Based on an address to college students, this book is filled with great material that a reader can go back to over and over again. The words are also the graphics, so there’s a lot to take in visually from an actual artistic perspective, as well. This is something that’s really nice for people who are starting to get into their career, or who may need a pick-me-up.  It’s nothing to do with specific technique so much as it is helping you lay out your journey and not feel so alone. Get it here!

show your work

This one is more about marketing (though it’s not really based around that concept). This leads with the idea that generosity and using a network trump networking. Admittedly, this one has been harder to stay with, not because I necessarily disagree with it, but either I haven’t been in the right frame of mind each time I go to read it, or it just doesn’t flow as well as the first book. It does feel like there’s a little more nitty gritty to this one, so it’s a title I plan on going back to. Definitely worth a look, as well. Get it here!

 

 

 

 

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Costume-palooza: Bring on the Weird!

Published October 27, 2017 by admin

Every so often, it seems like I feel the need to just go way over the top and do something…different. I’m not sure if this is from some subconscious need to prove myself or sheer boredom with the typical types of Halloween costumes, but this usually puts me in a really good mood until the moment everything starts falling apart and I have to make it all work. And then I love it again.

I know, it’s complicated. What can I say.

I was doing some work on an event one year and stumbled onto a French artist who does work with combining synthetic skin with fashion pieces (no, I have no idea what I googled to even find that), and it got me thinking of ways to use that concept which has led to a multitude of diverse projects – everything from a revamp of Elizabeth Bathory and a gruesome clown for the event I was designing for, to pouches and purses to spice up those late night trips to the grocery store (Okay, they’re actually for cons. I only accidentally wore one to the store once and it was completely worth it).

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And this thing. The whole killer prom queen archetype admittedly fascinates me for various reasons, and this was my take on it: cuteness on the top, party on the skirt (or however the saying goes). Originally this was made for a Simplicity Pattern design contest where you had to use one of their patterns in a new way. I’m not sure if this just wasn’t what they had in mind or it was the fact that I may have used one of their Disney patterns to base this off of, but obviously I didn’t win because people are no fun.

I’ve never quite gotten the whole look where I want it – I probably need to make a prom queen banner, and admittedly if I’m wearing it out I have no desire to dump a ton of fake blood on me because I have been there for professional reasons and I am not that invested in a look in my personal life. I’ve toyed with the idea of latex and paint up my arms to gore it up a bit, but again, I don’t really cherish the thought of doing that in a hotel bathroom. Anywho, skirt is latex over fabric with various (fake) parts ordered through the interwebz. Also molded the hand for the bag, though I’d likely try it a slightly different way if I had to do it again (also makes me wonder where I put that mold).

So that tided me over for a couple years, and then I had the need to go further, to be bolder, to be…more.

Again, I was playing with stuff professionally and a friend and co-designer and I somehow hit on the idea of delving into the world of stalkabouts, but tried to make things somewhat more user friendly for a gal – not that gals can’t wear a full suit, lord knows I have – but in this particular situation it was better to do everything possible to keep full visibility. We decided to play with a few different variations, and of course I wanted to incorporate this into my definitely not having a life crisis costume moments, so we ended up combining my fascination with Gothic Lolita street fashion and, well…weirdness.

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So what this is supposed to be is a creepy girl with her imaginary friend/demon companion/whatever – admittedly I think I can do more for it to read better, but I was literally finishing it as we were going out the door to road test it (and that, itself, had some more entertaining moments of my life that aren’t suitable for a public blog). Eventually I’d like to put a leash on Martin (that’s the demon’s name, because I was watching a lot of Doc Martin at the time) to kind of pull things together a bit. Unfortunately, poor Martin caught a hand in my car door at one point, and got dropped on his head, so I’m going to have to give him some TLC before wearing him out again – I’d also like to adjust his height because while walking through a convention hall is fine, the actual doors are not so easy. And I probably need to adjust his arm position, too, because he grabbed a lot of people’s butts and I just don’t need that problem in my life. The rigging, too, probably needs some slight re-calculating, but overall it’s actually more comfortable than it looks, just a bit hard to get into and navigate. Much to the distaste of those around me, Martin lived in my car for a while and then hung out in various rooms for my own amusement before retiring to current lair.

My friend the Amazing Larry did the initial dress, but I’ve since added things to it and adjusted the fit a bit. I did the cape, but have since swapped that bonnet out for one I was given. Obviously the bag is all me, and I did most of Martin, though I was working a lot at that point so Larry cut the basic skeleton pieces so I wouldn’t be a hazard to myself.

Like anything else, everything is in progress, and fluid, and I think that’s important to keep in mind, especially when doing big, weird things like this. It’s always how it is at the moment, or where I’m content for it to be for right now, but I fully expect for things to keep morphing and adjusting in the future – just like my life, oddly enough, so I suppose these are less reflective of some weird discontented breakdown and more reflective of me being in process. And that I am positively cool with.

Dear Writers: Please Read (A Book)

Published October 11, 2017 by admin

We’re back to some practical advice for this month, so pull up a chair and let’s dish.

About a year ago, I was guesting at a convention and was hanging out with some other authors. The topic of books came up (duh), and what we were reading, and I heard something which was utterly offensive to my poor ears which you think would be cynical to stuff like this by now.

“Oh, I don’t read, I don’t have time. I just write books.”

Or something. I’m paraphrasing. I think my ears are still crying.

Look at that sentence. Look at it!

If you write or want to write, I want you to stare long and hard at that sentence, and never, ever, do that. 

Look, I get some of you probably think this is bottom of the barrel basic knowledge and a waste of a blog post, but I also didn’t think I’d hear an author who was there giving out advice admit they didn’t read books.

And they weren’t the only one. 

I think I stared and was probably lifted up and carried off before I could open my big mouth.

Here’s the thing: to write well, you have to read. You just do. You don’t learn about different voices in action, or structure, or different takes on genre, or well…anything unless you’re actively seeing what all is out there.

And when I say read, I mean read everything. Everything ever written. Right now.

Okay, okay, that may be a slightly tall order. Definitely read, and please diversify. Don’t read only what you write to try to get a leg up, because you aren’t all those other people, and by time you think of the perfect idea to write to market, the market’s gonna change. You don’t read just to imitate people or try to sell. You read to become a more well-rounded artist and person. You may agree with how some people write and not others, and that’s fair. That’s cool…but you also won’t even know what you agree with and why if you don’t start flipping some pages.

Some of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever had are with fantasy authors who only read like three other fantasy authors. Or people whose sense of the horror genre starts and ends with Stephen King. The problem is that 1) that gives you an extremely limited range and 2) If you are put in the position of sitting on panels or giving workshops, you are then going to be giving people limited and bad information.

Seriously, don’t be that person. Don’t be the “expert” who doesn’t know at least what some of the subgenres of the basics are. Don’t get so stuck in the romantic aspect of young adult stories that you forget other types of plots are a thing, despite having a huge chunk of titles proving you wrong. No one is going to know everything (no, you’re not), but at least get a feel for things that aren’t just your preference. Know some different mediums. Know what you don’t know. Then go read that.

I look at it like this: if I didn’t read nonfiction, I wouldn’t stumble onto some really fascinating things I could use in some of my titles. If I didn’t read folk stories, Olde School never would’ve gotten written. If I hadn’t started reading manga, I wouldn’t be nearly as brave to try new structures and tangent my plots and do different things. Reading graphc novels has taught me the beauty of trying to streamline and be concise. Anthologies have shown me just what you can do with a theme (and a set word count). Ray Bradbury is a master class of short stories, but his essays are equally important. I spent my entire time in college reading a huge range of plays (some required reading, others things that were loaned to me). All of them shaped the type of artist I’m becoming and my sense of story and action in different ways.

Articles, memoirs, poems, speeches, plays – you can gain something from all of these, whether you’re directly applying it into your work or not.

And, yes, you also learn what not to do. Or, you learn what works for you and what isn’t in your comfort zone or isn’t one of your strengths.

And, honestly, if you aren’t taking the time as an author to read, than I’m going to assume you’re writing for very different reasons than I am. If you can’t make time to support the art that you yourself are pursuing, than how do I know you’re developing your craft? How do I know you have any real respect for how hard everyone else is working? No one starts out fully formed and in a vacuum and there is always something to learn. Actors still take acting classes, artists still learn new techniques. Probably one of the most important things you can do if you’re a writer or want to get published is to get thee to your local library (because libraries are awesome) and see what’s up.

Seriously. Read a book. Then another. And another. Rinse, repeat.

So how about you? If you write, how important is reading to you? Do you stay in your comfort zone or read different things? Talk to me about the pros and cons!

 

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.

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.

Becoming a Germ of the Wild, another look back

Published September 6, 2017 by admin

Since we’re at back to school time, I want to tip my hat to some teachers that forever shaped me (and who are probably regretting that now). These are actually past blog posts of mine, so I’ll give you the intro and then link you to the rest of the original post. Today’s look back takes us to senior year of high school:

***

After fumbling through the beginning of teenagerdom in Jr. High, dealing with on and off friends, and all the other fun things that 80’s sitcoms didn’t fully prepare me for, high school was mostly uneventful. My freshman year was a little bit of an acclimation time. There was also a theme of me fast growing into a professional piner for dudes who I viewed as unobtainable and who probably wouldn’t have been good for me/would have been a let down had anything actually happened. Other than that, though, I kept my head down and avoided most drama. School work plus a growing love of theatre and music occupied my free time, and then there was college and the ever-important looming future to think about. Then senior year happened.

It’s not something I’m going to waste a lot of time talking about or fully get into, because at the end of the day it’s something that happened long ago, is minimal in the scheme of things, and bringing up specifics would turn into a they-said/she-said situation, and I don’t need that in my life. What’s important is that my reactions to it changed me forever as a person.

To read the rest, click here

 

 

Influences: Billy Wirth and the Best Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

Published September 3, 2017 by admin

So the other day I talked about the oddly profound effect The Lost Boys has had on my creative life, so we’ll just piggy back on that theme today because it’s the weekend and thinking, ugh.

I’ve mentioned this story before on podcasts and in interviews when talking about influences and advice for authors/creatives in general. I wanted to share it here because not only does it fit the theme and fill up an entry, but it’s a great example of how simple sentiment and advice can have a profound real-world effect. It’s also evidence of my giant dorkiness, so there’s entertainment value for ya, too.

I also feel bad, because I had promised Billy’s fan club gal, the amazing Max, a write up when I first met him and that may have been back in 2009. I would just like every editor that I have worked with to feel better about themselves and recount this time lapse any time they’re tapping their foot at me. It could always be worse. Seriously, at the time I kept getting massive costume workloads dumped on me, a lot of life stuff happened, and then through the years, I discovered a horrible, awful truth.

You guys, I’m so bad at being a fangirl. For real. I know I geek out about a lot and I’ve regularly moderated fandom panels at different cons (though I still think it’s because I helped diffuse a brawl at one), you’d think this would be cake. I love what I love, I appreciate the people who have made those things to a huge degree, but I can’t really separate the part of me that likes to analyze and wants to know how things work and is used to looking at things/critiquing from different angles. At the end of the day, I’d rather just talk to people as people then try to put a fandom spin on it or jump around because they’ve been in something I love (and there is nothing wrong with that, if that’s your deal, you do you).

I tried. I tried so hard, and I am just so bad at writing the ‘hey I met this person this is what they’re like’ kind of post without having a theme or a guiding moment to base it around. I end up feeling like a creeper. Case in point: I actually had the idea for this post in the spring, knowing the 30 year anniversary of Lost Boys was coming up. I started jotting down what I remembered from that first convention meeting…

And I may have turned it into the intro for a horror story. I tried again. And turned it into an outline for a novel about the symbiotic nature of fandom and the dynamic of fans and celebs involving ancient gods and soul sucking.

I swear I’m not a bad person.

So, I’m going back to the anecdote that I know will work and, so help me, I am going to do this. I won’t be able to be overly descriptive or starry-eyed, but there are plenty of posts telling you what the Lost Boys convention experience is like. Apologies in advance for tangents and background info – my blog, my rules, yo.

Winter of 2009 was a weird, turning-point time for me. I was slowly getting freelance work and doing more side gigs along with seasonal creative day job, but before I really got a sense of confidence in myself. It was directly after the death of my grandfather, and the family had recently gone through a tumultuous time. While on break from seasonal job, the holiday gigs stretched out much longer than usual, with some extra opportunities coming up, plus some business and other curve balls.  It was a lot all at once during a time when I should have been hibernating, and I was exhausted and emotionally burnt out.

I tell you this to really give context to the fact that when someone sent me a link about a Lost Boys reunion at Horror Hound Indianapolis, I thought it was a great idea to go. Because I am a genius like that. At the time I just needed to get away, and what harm would a weekend be? Yeah, then I was suddenly told I had to get my tail back to the day job the day after the convention or else. And everything I had known there was being shifted around with the workload doubling and tripling up. And with everything going on and coming to a head, I kinda sorta didn’t really sleep for five days leading up to the con. In retrospect, this was probably a vague foreshadowing of the medical mystery tour, but in the absence of mind-numbing pain or any real symptoms, my doc figured I was grieving and said to go live it up as long as I didn’t drive myself there.

Thank god for friends who are eternally patient and understanding, and I’m forever grateful to my friend Laurean for going with me. This was also the first time I had set foot in a con, so it was a total learning experience (though I’d been working on haunted events for like five years anyway, so it wasn’t like I didn’t feel fine at a horror convention). At that point, I kept half an eye on the fandom and had been talked into joining Billy Wirth’s fan club mailing list. I mention I’m going, get encouraged to say hi and all that great stuff, maybe take some pictures and do a write up for the web page (and you can see how well that went).

Another curveball: I’m so shy, guys. Even my best friends refuse to believe it, and yeah, give me a sewing machine, give me a script, put me in a panel or production meeting and watch me go, point me to an editor at a bar to talk to about an idea, fine, but just to like show up somewhere and make small talk with people? You have no idea the amount of psyching myself up that I have to do. Now, after more experience, it’s not as bad, but back then, especially on top of everything else, yeah, but I was going to try my best to fake it and fall on that sword a million times before chickening out. We finally arrive, check in, get our wristbands, start looking around. My friend suddenly yanks on my sleeve “Oh hey, there he is and there’s no one at the table. Let’s go!”

Now, despite my twitchy feelings on fandom, if you go back a post, you know how deeply I feel about The Lost Boys. I love that movie and I probably owe it a lot. Billy’s also an actor that I half was aware of through the nineties, but this was before wiki and Google and so it took me a long time to realize that a lot of the performances in stuff that I liked or that intrigued me were actually the same guy. And the cast hadn’t really don’t much in the Midwest, so now, here, was an awesome opportunity. And okay I was nervous and emotionally exhausted, but I had read up on stuff and I’d just try acting like what a fan was supposed to act like and yes I know that was the dumbest idea ever.

Needless to say, Laurean, who thought she knew me completely, was somewhat startled when I looked over at her declaration, had a sudden flood of panic, and decided “You know what, yeah, I’m just gonna go back to the room, laterz.”

Though she wasn’t as startled as I was when she glowered at me, physically lifted me off my feet, and dragged me over to the Lost Boys tables, where Billy was on his own and setting up. I really don’t know which of the three of us was more surprised. Tact and grace, that’s what I’m all about.

So yeah, this is the bit you came for, I know. Intros are made, and I’ve said before how awesome all the Lost Boys dudes are, but seriously, I can’t stress this enough. It was probably the best first con experience I could have had, in all honesty. Billy, himself, is super sweet, though I think the thing that always strikes me when I’ve been around him is how present he is. It’s something you don’t see very often, and I’m always struck by how much he listens to people and takes things in. It’s an enviable trait. Truly, watching him and the others interact with people prepared me for when I finally got on the other side of the table in a way I could never have predicted, and for that alone I’m grateful.

Standard fan interaction and transactions commence, there’s not a crowd so we start talking about stuff. I’m exhausted and my brain isn’t functioning great for small talk, but he’s very kind and doesn’t flip a table on me or anything. I mention vaguely that I’ve done entertainment work (in that delightfully dismissive way I’ve had to make myself stop doing).  He asks the sort of thing I do.

Ugh.

I’m still kind of amazed I stayed put, at the time. I’ve never been great about walking around with my resume stapled to my head. These days, I’m better about it, but at the time I was keenly aware of all the things I hadn’t done. It tended to slip my mind that I’d worked with a lot of great theatres and opera and amusement parks, licensed properties and other stuff. And so much was just so weird, and how do you even throw that into a conversation? I mean I’ve wrecked dinner parties and gotten out of bad dates with work conversation, that’s the level of weird I’ve been at. And damn it, every time I tried to be dismissive he kept asking follow up questions, and I really wasn’t used to that. He was patient and I think I sort of vaguely fumbled through an explanation and mentioned how I was frustrated with where I was at and really wanted to do more design type work, I was still trying to find my exact niche, insert standard artistic angst here.

Since then, having been on the other side of the table, I get that there are certain conversations that you’re going to have at these things, and I get that he was likely being nice and trying to be supportive while determining if I was a vague threat to his personage. Still, what he said next has stayed with me to this day:

“Well, you know, you just have to keep at it, just keep working.”

In a story, this would be the turning point in which the protagonist realized this wisdom and begins reapplying herself, cue montage of projects toward the next plot development. In reality, it was all I could do to not lean across the table and smack him (That is a joke.  Also, he’s like three feet taller than me and could’ve easily blocked that).

Beyond the whole frazzled bit, you’ve got to understand that at that point I’d been working professionally for about a decade. That’s not a lot in the scheme of things, but it felt like I was going nowhere and wasn’t figuring things out. Plus, I don’t really see it, but I’ve been told by more than a few people that my will power is apparently off the human scale. Brooke was fond of referring to that part of me as a pit bull because when I apply myself to something, that’s it. My will is iron until I know for a fact that things won’t come together. So, my immediate thought to being told to just keep working was something like What the hell do you think I’ve been doing why are you giving me this motivational la de da you don’t know my life, what the what?!?! Quitting is not an option!!!

I didn’t say that out loud because that would have been dumb, and it was obvious he meant well and didn’t say it to brush me off. I have no idea how much of a poker face I actually kept, but I’m sure the entertainment value of that whole conversation was amazing. And if I didn’t let on, then awesome, all the acting classes worked out!

We also had some great conversations about the clothes in the movie, I met Brooke, Chance, and G the next day, and all in all it was a great weekend. I went back to my life, hit the ground running, and although I didn’t want to admit it, at times Billy’s words were in the back of my mind. Where they ticked me off again. So, I went back to what I was doing.

The thing is…I inadvertently, instinctively followed his advice. In the following years, I made the decision to embrace the experiences offered to me to see what would happen. While this hasn’t bagged me Hollywood gigs, it did flesh out my resume a lot and provided a lot of material that no one would believe if I wrote my autobiography. I was a goth mascot for a roller derby team for a while, I did more freelance design work, puppeteered with a fairly known company on their holiday show for a couple years.

Costume-wise, I really started putting myself out there and ended up working on all sorts of stage shows: kid shows, character shows, ice shows, magic shows, Cirque-style stuff, musical review, indoor, outdoor, did tailoring and rigging for people, a logistics manual on some stuff for a place in Canada…I made all sorts of haunted attraction characters and started getting invited to production meetings I hadn’t been part of in the past. And I got comfortable with my weird and in meeting challenges like making a Dracula costume for a 20 foot T Rex statue, a pirate costume for an animatronic dinosaur, a grim reaper jumping out of a giant birthday cake, and things like a goth rocker fairy tale werewolf. On stilts. With the only budget going to the stilts and safety gear. I warned you: so weird. 

Billy’s words didn’t really come back to me until a couple of years later, when I was fully in the grasp of the medical mystery tour, on my seasonal break, and waiting to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I was in pain, I was getting a few hours of sleep every four days or so, and my full attention was on trying to keep healthy, juggling doctor appointments and calls, and distracting myself from falling apart. After exhausting youtube videos and meditation, I decided that I really, really wanted to take up writing again. I’d never given it a fair shot, and after being mistold at the time that I might have cancer, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to not try something that could make me really happy. The mountain was overwhelming, but his words came back to me all of a sudden, out of nowhere.

Just keep working.

This time, I consciously kept them in the front of my mind, even clung to them, because everything was a fight at that point. So I would make myself get up (or sit up if it was a bed day), pull up a document, and get to it until I sent out a submission, then start a new one. If it got rejected, edit and repeat. I kept it up through the surgery that made me feel human again, through starting the day job back up, and slowly, things began to happen.

Whether it was a platitude or not (and I truly don’t think it was), the brilliance of advice like that is it’s so simple and applicable in different ways. You don’t get anywhere unless you work at it. There’s no networking, no improving skills, no figuring things out if you aren’t doing it. Sure, it’s not guaranteed where you’ll end up, but if you don’t keep at it, you won’t get there, anyway. You also won’t learn to enjoy the journey if you don’t keep taking it. You won’t learn about yourself and how to deal with all the irritations and other emotions that all these experiences bring if you don’t go through them. Frustration is part of the game, and I’ve had a lot of it, but I’ve kept that advice with me for years. I’ve given it on panels about writing and creating and gotten the same irritable look I tried to cover up when it was given to me. Circle of life, yo.

Although I wasn’t thankful for the words at the time, they’re a good reminder these days, and I’m so glad I got to meet Billy and have that conversation with him. Hell, even his good intentions were so far beyond what I was used to at that point, it was a definite wake-up call to start searching out people who would actually be interested and invested in what I was doing and not waste personal energy with those who were there to play games or drag others down.

If you take a look at this blog, there’s a giant series of holes. I’ve taken steps back over the past year and a half until recently, and part of that was that I just really had to look at where my writing was, where other things were, and how I want to proceed. I’m not sure that it’s another crossroads, but I’ve had to get honest with myself whether the path I’m on is working, and how to realign things to where I want them to be. It’s pretty obvious that I couldn’t stop creating stuff if I tried (and I did. It sucked), but restarting has been intimidating as hell. It’s hard not to put the cart before the horse and worry about all the ins and outs and how to play every situation or let other aspects and things I can’t control get to me. It’s all part of it, like it or not. At the end of the day, though, I’m deciding to get back to it and see what else there is to do. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but the only way I can ever find out just what all I can do is by keeping with it.

Or, as I’ve been told, just keep working.

 

DV IMAGE

and seriously, every one of the lost boys crew look like walking headshots and it took me 97 hours to get to this point.