personal musings

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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.

 

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

 

#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.

 

Prose: Thoughts of a Girl with Mousy Hair

Published March 26, 2016 by admin

I don’t journal like a normal person. I’ll do a few entries in a book, but a lot is on random sheets of paper, random thoughts on random things, nothing that really provides a decent, day-by-day narrative of my life, because who needs that. Consequentially, there are sheaths of paper in my files that would probably paint me as a crazy person if someone didn’t know the circumstances or if it was some sort of exercise or automatic writing or something.

Case in point, I have no idea why I wrote this or when, other than it was pre-2011, most likely. I go through my files every now and again, and this one has special meaning for me lately. Not only does it obviously speak to my Bowie fixation, but I’ve got to work on a piece that let’s just say takes inspiration from a certain song. So yeah, these are the things that ramble through my head at two am sometimes.

Lord, I talk way more formally in my ramblings than I do in daily life. Just sayin’, never expect me to be this insightful in real time in real life.

***

           Is there life on Mars? It’s something I’ve randomly discussed with everyone from my best friends to my grandmother. It’s fun to think about, or it was for a long time. Maybe that’s why the song first appealed to me.

The first time I heard ‘Life on Mars?’ was when I was a freshman in college and no more than a baby in the scheme of life. It was on a reissue of David Bowie’s hits, and being the new fan I was it seemed reasonable to run into Wal-Mart at six in the morning before my first class of the day. I still have the CD somewhere, still remember the blue and purple coolness of the Ziggy-era face that graced the icy cream cover. I had no motive other than to learn what I was missing, to add to my growing collection.

I have absolutely no idea what drew me to that song. My guesses were endless. It was by my favorite artist, an artist I wanted to imagine I could grow up to be in a female form. It was a ballad of extraordinary depth and skill, which appealed to my classically- trained elitist nature that was yet to be stomped on by my growing love of rock. Every note from the intro on coalesced with the imagery of the lyrics to provide a certain, elusive something that I couldn’t quite catch no matter how many times I hit the repeat button on my stereo. I went for years falling in and out of love with it, hearing it on soundtracks, comparing the original to cover versions that ranged from decent to atrocious. When I finally saw Bowie perform live I nearly lost my mind when he opened with that song. He somehow put life back into  a song that I almost had shoved away with the equally elitist thought that it was something everyone liked but wasn’t up to par with the Berlin-era songs, every stupid excuse that kept me from simply enjoying the music.

It was only after years of triumphs that were really small little victories that got me no closer to my grandiose dreams than when I started, of speed bumps and tooth and nail fights for what I wanted, of time spent in and out of the abyss and then nursing myself back with what-if’s, if-only’s, and fantasies that numbed instead of nurtured, that I realized why I felt so deeply during the opening chords. I suddenly knew why I’d always felt a pang of soul-sickness in the first verse, knew too well why it was all too easy to picture the scenes in the chorus.

All those years I’d been listening to a song somehow inadvertently written about me and I hadn’t even realized it.

I don’t like to think or harp on the times in my personal life the melody conjures in my head. The association and cold realization at the time was almost too easy to ignore. My hair has been many colors over the years: red, auburn, blonde, green, but somehow it kept returning to an unassuming mousy brown. Sure there were tensions at home, but nothing worse than most middle-America families. Sure, at times the folks didn’t understand and had their own opinions about me, but that was how parents were, wasn’t it? Sure I had bouts of loneliness, trouble explaining my inner workings. I’d been accused of escapism and pop-culture referencing and association, but I’d been out in the world! I was living life. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t “there” yet, that I couldn’t rub my prowess in the face of those I went to high school with. That really didn’t bother me.

I wasn’t ashamed of myself. It wasn’t like I was hiding. It wasn’t my fault the economy made it hard. Not my fault if I kept trying to climb the ladder to no avail. Not any big deal that I had ideas but couldn’t get anyone to listen because they were so different. Not a huge issue if I was shy beyond what I liked to admit and covered it up with bravado and a cultured crassness. And besides, didn’t everyone find it easier to sit in front of a DVD and proclaim “I could do that!” instead of being kicked down repeatedly for not having the right connections, for not knowing how to get C from A plus B no matter what their schooling and experience?

Then why was I so scared? Why so dejected? Why couldn’t I ease up on myself even when making progress? Why, despite compliments and sincere good intentions did I feel so completely tired of it all, a burned-up match stick of creative fire, mousy inside and out?

Oh, God, it was about me. It didn’t matter if it was more archetype than exact, didn’t matter if it was written before I was born.  Didn’t matter at all.  The lyrics were my entire life being belt out in time to a piano that seemed to display everything I felt but couldn’t express.

So then what? How does one convince the lawman he’s got the wrong guy? How do you stop the sailors from wrecking the dance hall or put the cavemen back into their proper times? Is it a matter of something drastic? Should I go to another country, secede from the shouting? Should I do the reverse, admit defeat and cram everything back within the confines of myself? Could I even do that?

No. As suddenly as I recognized myself and was horrified at the recognition, the solution hit and hit was much, much more difficult in the scheme of things — for my personality, anyway.

There would be no spitting in fool’s eyes or even the foolishly well-meaning, no waiting around for those that won’t show, and no sticking around hypnotized by the flashing colors on the silver screen until the end credits. I had to wipe away the tears, the frustration, everything that gained me only perverse sympathy that was well-meant but not useful.  I had to sit up, get up, and walk a step at time out of the cinema to untangle myself from the enchanting what-ifs and start  to discover the magic in the is, the unpredictable, the real.

It’s not easy, especially when the whole world seems to be fixated on the Mouse selling out and Lennon is for sale everywhere there’s a Wal-Mart. A step at a time. A word at a time. I don’t pretend like I won’t find myself back there at times; it’s bound to be writ again and again and again.

But it helps to know that that fear isn’t all I am. I can leave the dark cinema of frozen, bewitching dreams at any time and go see what’s hidden in the street, the sun, the dirt, and other people.

And I’ve also realized that if I look close enough, my hair’s not mousy at all, but a plethora of little colors making up the whole. Life is far more complex than a bold assumption or a lofty statement. Is there life on Mars? Who knows?  All I know is that mine is right here and right now, wherever I’m at.

 

Influences: Brooke McCarter

Published March 10, 2016 by admin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Cherished Blogfest

Published July 24, 2015 by admin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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