me myself and I

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Things I’d Wish I’d known Going into the Arts

Published August 12, 2017 by admin

One of the things I want to explore in this blog is all the things that make up being any sort of artist, things that you may not think about when considering it as a career, side career, or even a long-term hobby. Even if you’ve studied a particular discipline, there are all sorts of things that can creep up, especially since the world is ever-changing. This will probably be kind of a catch-all, but I also want to eventually invite other authors/artists/performers/designers/whatever in to give their thoughts as well, because I can guarantee we all have at least one thing that we’d wish we’d known before taking the plunge.

A brief cliffnotes bit of background, so you can maybe feel a little bit better about me ranting about stuff. I’ve been involved in various artsy type stuff my whole life, it feels like. With one parent and a few other relatives as art majors, it really wasn’t that much of a stretch that I would go into theater. Sometimes it feels like my whole life has been filled with stories, art projects, paints and glue, fabric, the works. I fell in love with musical theater in Jr. High, and I studied classical voice from about age 13 to my early twenties, doing some competitions, but ultimately following the pull of the stage where I could be anyone and anything. Although I went in with the purpose of being an actor (and I have taking many, many acting, improv, and directing  classes), I ultimately fell into costuming. Partially I love creating stuff, partially it started out as a way to supplement my income when I wasn’t on the stage and slowly evolved into my main focus, though that took some years.

I’ve done everything from theater admin work to wardrobe/dressing to stitching to design. I’ve worked with puppets, mascots, licensed stuff, magic shows, ice shows, cirque style shows, song and dance shows, opera, historical amphitheater, traditional musical theater, haunted mazes, and event work. I’ve done suit work, done puppeteering, been on the stage, myself, done some very small film stuff that went nowhere, have done improve, given workshops aimed at kids trying to harness their creativity and set goals. All in all, I’ve worked in theater and entertainment of some sort for nearly twenty years. I’ve done a little bit of everything and still feel like I’m trying to get a handle on things some days. Plus there’s all the writing, from short stories to books to guest posts to reviews to being a panelist or modding panels.

I’m not laying all this out to brag or to claim I’m the end-all-be-all. Let’s face it, I’m hardly a household name in any capacity, but most of the world’s artists are like me: working hard to make a living in our fields. I think we get so focused on what it means to “make it” that we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in the actual journey, and some of those things could help others along the way. So, I want to really explore some of the challenges that I’ve faced in my personal journey, some of the things I’ve learned, and hopefully, let other people do the same.

I’ve got a preliminary list of topics, but first I’d love to hear from you. What are some things that you’d like to know about artistic work, be it professional or hobby or whatever? Is there something that’s bothering you or worrying you about your own path? Let’s talk it out, because trust me, you’re not alone in your journey.

 

The Medical Mystery Tour (writing from sense memory)

Published August 11, 2017 by admin

One of the things that I really want to do here on out is to explore not just where I get my ideas, but how I incorporate them into writing. In a lot of ways, I think all my acting classes have really helped me here, especially with getting under the skin of a character.

For those who haven’t heard the term sense memory, the short version is in acting, basically you’re using one of your senses to recall an emotional memory from a specific time to help flesh out the character you’re playing. For instance, I once played Anna in The King and I. During the letter scene where she learns the king is dying, I focused on the memory on the last letter that I’d received from my grandmother before she died from cancer – that I accidentally threw away, thinking it was a different letter. That feeling of loss, as well as focusing on the color and feel of the stationary, the memory of her writing, really helped with the mindset the director wanted from the scene. While they may not call it this, a lot of writers use this trick, as well. Granted, I would add the caveat that you want to make it work for you – you don’t have to go full blown method to make your writing believable, and anything that’s putting you through the wringer isn’t necessarily something that you should pursue just to say you’re adding to your craft. For me, personally, though (especially since it means I’m putting my degree to use), recalling specific bits of memories has helped me when I might be facing writer’s block on a particular situation or character. So off and on I’ll

So off and on I’ll proably touch on some of my own personal experiences and how I’ve used them. For instance, this thing right here. It’s a beaut that will leave you traumatized, but shows just how much mileage you can get from even awful times.

Some years back I was recovering from the flu and noticed that even months after, I still felt draggy. Not bad, just overly tired. I still did what I had to do, because that’s just how I live my life. At any rate, I had started back at seasonal main dayjob I had at the time, just gotten a promotion, and was dealing with some big transitions and a lot of work due to a lack of crew. I was preparing to see friends at Famous Monsters at the end of July, I think, and suddenly out of nowhere I started getting intense headaches. No prob, go to the doctor, sinus infection, get antibiotics, go on my way, just as I had times before because my allergies and sinuses like to work together to remind me who’s in charge from time to time.

Except this time, I didn’t go on my merry way. I reacted to the antibiotic, got a different one, okay, great, life goes on…except it didn’t. The pain pulsed out from the side of my nose and face to the back of my neck and down my back and sometimes the top of my head. It was like all my muscles were tightening and kept being tightened by some Inquisition-level torture device. While I was still exhausted and sinusy. I have no idea how I survived that convention other than one of my best friends kept an eye on me to keep me alive, except for the time I left a film screening early and nearly collapsed in a hall, which I never did tell her or others when asked how I was feeling, so people are just going to love me for this. Seriously, learn from my idiocy. At any rate, by time I got back from that adventure, I was subjected to lots of tests and lots of raised eyebrows. As in: Are you sure it’s not in your imagination? Have you thought about a neurologist? It may just be phantom pains, see if it goes away.

It took everything in me not to reply with how I was pretty sure I was in agony and couldn’t I just wait and see if they went away, instead? (Did I mention I’m not the biggest fan of doctors?)

By the time they decided it could be allergies and put me through that test and an attempt at weekly drops so hilarious it bordered on the sitcomy, I was also buzzing under my skin and it felt like an ice pick had been driven into the side of my nose all the time.  Diet changes, life changes, an extremely understanding boss, some fairly understanding side gigs, ten different doctors, loads of different prescriptions and otc meds, an offhanded comment that I should prepare that it could be cancer (right before Christmas and a month before I went to a new ENT), and finally maternal intervention so I didn’t lose my mind, took up my time. I’ve never been so wound up, so at the mercy of my body and everything I was putting into it in my life. I get why people lose hope because of a medical condition, because I was going nowhere fast, and in agony. My gp finally put me on the correct dose to kill the infection, and the ENT finally adjusted my allergy meds to reduce inflammation. And that’s when we found out what was really going on.

I’ll warn you, I won’t get detailed gory but you may want to scroll by the next paragraph if you’re squeamish.

So, I’d had jaw surgery when I was 16 or 17, and I’d even done a presentation on it in college, complete with illustrations of a line of screws that had been put in to hold my bones together until they healed. Apparently, though, that wasn’t quite right because I had some big honking brackets under my face, and by the way, they were coming lose and cutting through my nasal cavities. We won’t discuss how we found that out for certain, other than to say that if you’ve never felt anything rattle under your face, you’re missing out. So, that was fun. Add in a lot of phone calls to find a doctor who could deal with this, and like nearly a year after the initial exhaustion, I was getting de-borg-ed. It was a long, extended foray into pain, exhaustion, paranoia, the health care system, amazingly sensitive and insensitive reactions of others, and feeling utterly helpless. I still tense up every time I have a cold simply because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

However, the experience dropped a huge amount of sense memory in my lap (not to mention a great name for the experience, the better to keep myself from crying at those memories). Not just the obvious physical feelings, either, but the exhaustion and long-term helplessness, of just wanting things to go right for a change, was directly funneled into Paddlelump in Olde School. Poor guy goes through one thing after another after another without relief, while facing the subtle and unsubtle judgment of others. That was definitely something I could relate to.

The physical feeling of different meds interacting added with not sleeping very much at one point contributed a lot to Jermiah in In the Red. While I haven’t lived the rock star lifestyle, I definitely know the feeling of not feeling in your own skin, of being there but not being in your body or in control, of everything running away with you, or opening your mouth and some other thing coming out that just isn’t you. And you’d be amazed the feelings of worthlessness you feel when you’re seeing yet another professional and can’t get across what’s going on because you just don’t know and you’re at the end of the rope, and they ask if you’re sure that’s what you’re actually feeling. So it definitely fit for a guy who sees demonic hallucinations and feels the effect of magical memorabilia at one point.

At one point there was also an incredible feeling of release and submission, if that’s the right word for it (I’d been doing a lot of meditating to try to not lose my mind and really got into Wayne Dyer around that time), a sensation of being on my knees and having to trust that things could work out, which also feeds into Jeremiah’s resolution, and in a lot of ways, to Paddlelump’s as well. Both characters have to be broken before they can move on. That feeling of being out of control feeds into a lot of the kind of thing I write, so I’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of the experience. It’s even fueled my short fiction, because I really didn’t have a choice but to keep moving forward and to go through it, and many of my characters have that journey to take, specifically those like Hunter Mann in The Ruins of St. Louis, an anthology story I did years ago.

I don’t feel the need to focus myself and try to bring everything into uber clear focus, because it still causes a pretty big knee jerk, but it definitely has given me a lot to work with.

And one of these days it will definitely provide a direct horror story inspired by the subject matter, but I may need a paper bag to breathe into to do it.

***

In the Red isn’t in print at the moment (actually working on that, tbh), but you can get more information and some fun tidbits about Olde School here

 

 

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

Published October 28, 2016 by admin

 

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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…

 

 

 

 

#TBT Influences: Labyrinth

Published April 7, 2016 by admin

Olde School came out of about a thousand different places. I grew up with folklore and a love of fairy tales that led to a desire to delve in and explore all the nooks and crannies of the stories I adored. There’s a specific type of humor there, though, a specific type of tangent and re-directing of plot that I entirely blame on the 1980s. What can I say, it was a magical, weird time that probably led to more than one parallel universe. Fantasy, especially fantasy movies, back then had a slightly different feel than what we’re used to now, and I think that mentality fit with fairy tales nicely. There was always a slightly dark tint to things, even cartoons. There could be legit danger for characters, and that danger usually involved mind-bending punishments or soul-destroying hazards. You know, kid stuff. There’s one movie, though, that has followed me forever and probably will never let me go.

I actually wasn’t allowed to see Labyrinth when it first came out – I can’t remember if it was an age thing or because the family was dealing with a lot on the collective plate at the time. For whatever reason, I rented it when I was about ten, confident I would love it. I was one of the few of my friends who wasn’t fazed at all by The Dark Crystal, I survived The Storyteller when it aired, nothing Henson could dream up could get to me.

Yeah, about that…

I don’t know if it was because the danger was directed at a teen girl, I don’t know if it was because there was just so much to that movie, but it got to me. The objective part of me got that it was good, but it was probably more than my senses could process at the time,probably because it was also creeping into the 90’s and there was more of a sense of narrative, a sense of concrete good (naive but plucky hero) vs (obvious) evil instead of potentially unlikable protagonist having a million challenges flung at her all the time.

I didn’t go back to it until I was seventeen, and promptly fell in love with the movie. Truth told, hormones probably helped. I was already becoming a Bowie fan, and I’m sorry, I grew up in the eighties. What can I say? That does it for me.

I could write a million posts on why Labyrinth is an amazing movie. In a storytelling sense, it’s probably one of the few true modern fairy tales in that it doesn’t borrow other characters but uses tried and true archetypes and narratives. I could tell you a sequel will never work because that movie was beautifully closed and open-ended – there are countless ways of interpreting it depending on who you are and what you want to take from it. I could wax poetic about practical effects, I could talk to you about all the amazing characters that were developed, I could give you a dissertation on how it mirrors female coming of age and how it fits into eighties pop culture and thoughts of the times. I could school you on how well this thing was thought out, despite all the hiccups along the way. Case in point: there’s a theory that the (general) labyrinth design was based on intricate funereal/spiritual dance steps eons ago…magic dance, anyone?

For me, specifically, though, it’s like it gave me permission for my whole life. That second time I saw it, I was getting ready to graduate and wondering if I could make sense of all the things I wanted to be in my head vs all the very serious real world info I was getting in my daily life. Sure, I’m sure most teen girls want to act and sing, but also make puppets? Develop their own stories for those kind of projects? What kind of dream world was I living in? I became obsessed, and stayed that way for years.

The fact that the movie was made, though, was proof that anything was possible. It’s a metaphor for sticking to your guns to get through life. Think of it – if one path doesn’t work, you try another. And another. I’ve definitely felt Sarah’s frustration as she goes down the first passage and nothing seems to be happening and there are just walls and walls and…yep. But you stop, catch your breath, and look for another way. You see who will help you along the way, even if you have to bribe them a bit. You make friends. You make foes (are they foes or just doing what they do?). You have those people who you really can’t decide what they are. There are those who will want to control you, or maybe they see you as an equal, or a challenge, or a love interest, or not, or…maybe it depends on your own perception, as well. Things are not always what they seem, after all. You learn from everything.

I may not be doing what I thought I would be at seventeen, but I’ve at least delved in. I’m writing my own stories, I’ve been blessed to work on several awesome properties, I’ve done puppetry, I’ve built amazing characters and clothes. I’ve had music in my life, had performance in my life, and although I still fight the odds and the walls and oubliettes, I’m still going. I’ve made some extraordinary friends with stories of their own from that movie, and I know that should I need them, they’re there if I call.  Time isn’t up yet.

Also, can we talk about the line ‘You have no power over me’? Even though I have more freedom than a lot of those who came before me, being a woman comes with its own special set of frustrations. Growing up with that as a mantra, though? Being able to mutter that to myself when I’m irritated or frustrated at the way things are going? That no matter what, I can take back part of myself? That’s like having a giant sword made just for me.

Years upon years later I was reading articles in a Realm of Fantasy issue dedicated to the topic of labyrinths in general. It mentioned that no matter the story, one thing holds true of any hero who enters a labyrinth: they’re never the same person walking out as they are in. They can’t help but be changed.

A couple of months ago I saw the movie on the screen for the first time. I was blown away by how different some of the coloring looks vs the television, by how much detail is in every scene of that movie. Coming off of Bowie’s death, it was emotional. A packed house, I found myself watching everyone else as much as I was watching the screen. It was suddenly okay to embrace the love we all had for this thing. People were singing along, snickering at certain shots, and it was awesome that all ages were there. The kid next to me looked like their mind was being blown, and there were little kids asking questions about what was going on onscreen.

It was a special kind of magic that I don’t think any of us were prepared for, like we all had scurried out of our individual nooks and crannies in our own life mazes to gather at a castle for a few hours and find out what was going in other parts of the world. Sherry Amott Tippey, one of the conceptualists/builders/performers was there on hand to answer questions afterwards, but what blew me away is that she wanted to hear our stories. How did we get into the movie? What did it mean to us? And listening to everyone…it was incredible how many of us had similar yet different journeys.Talking to her afterward really hit home that it’s not a straight line, it really is circular, or twisty like a labyrinth if you prefer. If I hadn’t had that influence in my life I wouldn’t be doing any of what I am now. I don’t know how many people my work reaches, but I’d like to think it’s slowly making its way out there, and at least making people smile or inspiring them to do their own thing.

One of the biggest thrills for me when Olde School first came out was a review – not because of the number of stars it was, but because it mentioned that my characters were on par with things like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I’m not one for the comparison game and it wasn’t an intentional thing, but not gonna lie, that made me smile for days. It has influenced my storytelling, to some extent, but it’s also given me so many things to keep in mind, whether I’m trying to complete a task or find my way to a castle, facing down a goblin king or other people. As the world falls down, I know that there’s something bigger than me there for me, and that influence will never go away.

 

Permission Granted

Published April 6, 2016 by admin

I want to get back to talking about writing and creation specifics off and on. I get that I may not have as much credentials as Stephen King or JK Rowling, but at the same time, sometimes I think it helps to hear what people are dealing with and their take on different parts of the process. Like anything else, I hope you know that your journey is just that: Yours. It is specific to you and things will change as the world and businesses in them change. There’s no way to draw a direct map from A to B, no elusive magic that will suddenly zap you in the butt if you want it bad enough or happen onto the right place at the right time. It’s work and a little luck and paying attention.

Beyond that, though, I think there is an ingredient that we don’t talk enough about.

Ten million years ago, I was writing original fiction in secret while still keeping an eye on fanfic lists. This will probably forever be a guilty pleasure of mine off and on, but at the time it was a way to have friends with similar interests when being a girl with geek interests wasn’t a great thing. It still isn’t looked at as a great thing to be, but that’s another post, entirely.

A long-time friend was a sounding board to a lot of off the wall ideas I was flinging at her, a lot of which involved a lot of intricate mythos and legends that I’d either need to warp or reinvent or whatever. These days, that’s my life, but back then? It felt like I was staring up at a million foot cliff with no rope. She was able to help me fill in a lot of the blanks with obscure Celtic legends, but suggested I hit up a friend of hers who was doing some amazeballs work at the time. Not only was he behind some of fandom’s up and coming events, but he was working at a graphic novel company, as well. I knew better than to outright hit anyone up for an opportunity, and this was long before I even had enough of a concept to pitch anything or would dare to do that anyway. These days, that’s a lunch conversation. I emailed him explaining how I got his address,  our mutual friend, and the big fat impossible wall I was facing.

I don’t have the email anymore, but the sentiment still very much rings true. His reply was incredibly nice and he said it sounded like an intriguing idea, an intriguing world, and he agreed I still had some work to go.

I don’t know what I had been asking for or what I was expecting, but the womp-womp sound effect would perfectly describe my mood upon reading that.

He went on, though. He said something like I obviously knew where I wanted things to go and had a huge drive to do it, and it actually seemed to him that the problem was that I hadn’t given myself permission to do that…just do it. He went onto say something that I’ll never forget: that if I couldn’t give myself that permission, he would give it to me, right here, right now. I had his permission to go work on this project or whatever else I wanted to write.

Huh.

That still can be a hang-up of mine. I put the cart twenty miles before where the horse is stabled, I’m worried about things that don’t need to be addressed immediately. Now I recognize it, because it definitely gets in the way of what I want to be doing at any given time. Then, his reply was a distinct revelation, and it’s one I go back to in my mind when I get ideas but immediate jump the gun and start getting anxious about everything except actually just getting started.

A lot of people I talk to talk of someday: someday they’ll write the book or make that outfit or take that class. Or, a lot of people use the c-word. ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m no good at this, I don’t know how…’

I hate that mindset. I  hate it about myself and I hate that the world in general cultivates it. That is one of my biggest pet peeves and if I ever meet you at a convention and you say something akin to that and I vault a table to yell at you, I’m sorry. I do it out of love, I swear. Here’s the thing:

1. You are alive, right?

2. Then there is time because you aren’t dead.

3. Learn. or try. or do. If it makes you happy, do it.

4. Didn’t work and you still want to? Repeat.

That’s all it is, folks. Seriously, whether you’re wanting to do something for a hobby or a profession, there you go. I think we scare ourselves into thinking we can’t write a book unless it’s a best seller. We can’t make an outfit unless it’s on a runway. We can’t act unless Joss Whedon is going to be directing us or Oscars are involved.

If you want to do something, please take away the end result and just do it. Give yourself that permission. It may lead to nothing it may lead to material results it may lead to soul results. But if you feel like you have that hot fire under foot feeling and are staring up at the wall and freaking out, then ask yourself what you need, why are you freaking out? Do you not know something and are scared to go look for those elements? Are you just feeling intimidated? Are you afraid of what people say? Are you scared of putting in that work and having nothing come of it?

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to find information and missing pieces of puzzles. It is very easy to feel intimidated, but think of what you’re starving your soul out of by not at least trying. People say a lot of things and they usually don’t remember them a month down the road. I’ve had a lot of projects happen that came into nothing. You’ll live, trust me. Beyond that, though, I still care about them, and as long as I care, they can always be reborn, transformed, or reused. There’s life after death for ideas, I swear.

And if you’re just flat-out in denial of your gifts or scared, I am telling you it’s going to be okay. Okay comes in many forms. It will be fine. Please, please, give yourself permission to do that thing that you really, really want to try.

And if you can’t do that? Then I’ll do it for you. I give you permission to go create. Go write. Go make something. Go paint. Do it for you, do it because you have to, do it to see what other people say, do it for whatever reason, but do it. Slam out those words and ideas, sing that song, put your spark into the mass bonfire and watch it catch and sparkle.

It will be okay.

Permission granted.

 

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.