Darkness and Light

It’s ten minutes to four as I start this entry, and it feels like 7 pm. It’s been getting gradually darker outside for the last 40 minutes, which has left the living room (where I’ve been camping most of the day) glowing cozily in the light of the tree.

Yes, we put up our Christmas tree. We have a five-year-old, and his year (and ours) has sucked. Its been my mantra for years, but I will stand by it most vehemently this year: let people have their silly, insignificant little joys. Let them have their frivolous fun. Just, for God’s sake, let them eek whatever enjoyment they can out of the fleeting moments of levity this year.

And for those who just can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm for the holidays (or anything) right now, that’s also okay. This has been a clusterfuck of a year; it’s been rough, and traumatic, and depressing, and some people have been hit especially hard. We all cope in different ways. But that’s just it: we all cope in different ways. Putting up my tree and cranking Christmas carols is cathartic for me. Like, is there something to be said about the agressive pushing and commercialization of the holiday and it’s increasing encroachment on the calendar? Oh, absolutely. But maybe not this year, ok?**

This has long been my favorite part of the year, and even though this year is going to be a lot different, I still love the chill in the air, the lights and the music, finding gifts to make people smile, and having time at home with my family.

I’m not sure how that’s going to play out this year; for a long time, my state was at something like a .5% positivity rate, so we opened up our quarantine pod to my parents and brother (and the family they live with). Now with rates soaring again, even though their lifestyle has not changed (they are still exercising all the same precautions as they were at the start of the pandemic), I’ve become paranoid and nervous once more. There was never a plan for a big gathering, but I had considered stopping by to see them over the long weekend, to do a Hunt a Killer box or have a movie night. Now, I’m not sure about seeing them at all for the foreseeable future.

This is the first time, I think, since the start of the pandemic, that I have acutely felt like I’m going to be missing out on something important. My birthday hasn’t been a major event in years (my last “big” hurrah was my 30th, and even that was only about six people, and a fairly cozy upscale brewery experience), and our anniversary has traditionally been a quiet affair (an overnight babysitter, a really nice dinner out, and then home to cozy up and watch Netflix, because we are secretly 80 years old). The winter holidays have always been the consistent biggest celebration of the year since… huh. Since I was born, really.

My folks went all out on Christmas. I mean, gift tallies in the thousands of dollars, seeing every conceivable relative on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, prepping and eating massive amounts of food, bottles of wine and bear everywhere, heaps of homemade pastries, new frilly outfits, special breakfasts. Going to a Catholic school — as I did for sixteen years — meant that even the run-up to the holidays was festive. We had nativity plays, devoted Christmas prayer services, holiday gift exchanges, Christmas talents shows, movie days. The holiday was huge and immersive.

We… have pared it back. Quite a bit. We do the tree, and some crafts; we always visit Kira’s family on Christmas Eve and mine on Christmas Day. We watch holiday movies and play Christmas music, and I make a special breakfast Christmas morning. My parents still go all out, and Bear, as well as both Kira and I , are showered with more gifts than we know what to do with, but our at-home affair is more modest. Even so, it’s going to be quite a deviation to not be able to tour around and see the families this year.

I mean, I get it. I understand it.

It still sucks.

But. I’m hearing news of three viable vaccines; I’m hearing some of the early rounds could start being distributed next month. I’m hearing experts hopeful that this will be “over” by mid-year 2021. I feel like we still have a ways to go — and I don’t plan to abandon the mask in public anytime soon (or ever, honestly; I think it’s a great idea if you’re sick, or in huge crowds, or during cold/flu season), but it’s still nice to see the glimmer of a light at the end of a tunnel. It’s nice to think of this as something finite. I will sacrifice a face-to-face Christmas if it means full freedom to visit my parents, and play with my game Night crew, and have dinner at our favorite vineyard spot, and hold the babies my friends delivered in the midst of COVID, and be the Matron of Honor at my best friend’s wedding.

And hey, maybe we can have a Christmas in July.


**An addendum to the, “don’t be a dick about people celebrating the holidays early:”

While no one should be crapping on your happy-fun-times, where you are simply trying to find some joy in this dumpster fire of a year, neither should you be compounding other people’s troubles or hardships. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Retail workers, who are some of the hardest working and least appreciated people on the planet in ordinary time, do not need to be dealing with a Christmas rush this year, and — sorry — have a right to be upset at masses of unruly crowds, this year more than ever. COVID is still happening, people; string up your lights, put up your tree, buy gifts online, send them to your loved ones, hunker down at home in front of the computer with a big mug of hot cocoa and have a fun Zoom Christmas (or go and see the select members of your quarantine pod). But stay out of stores. Stay away from crowds. Shop local when you can; shop independent makers; shop digitally.

Stay safe.

Artist

In an attempt to get back into reading while still pursuing my Special Interest of the
Moment, I (digitally) took out a couple of library books about art. The one I’m working through right now is called Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist.

I have this perpetual concern that I don’t complete enough work to ever gain any credibility as an artist, or that I don’t have the raw talent to ever confidently call myself one. I came late to the game in terms of doing art; or, at least, in the corners of the internet art world in which I lurk, it certainly feels like I have. Realism is not really something I strive for; I think I would like trying to dip my toes in it at some point, but I really loved more stylized, illustrative works, so those are the sorts of artists I’m following. People who produce webcomics, independent illustrators, character designers.

And, oh my God, so many of them are so young. Decades younger than me, sometimes. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old, with a few years of consistent practice under their belts. Then here I am — pushing 40; having stalled out of drawing entirely at about fifteen, with very little consistent practice even before then; two years into teaching myself to draw, with myriad gaps and fits and starts in between.

And I know it shouldn’t be discouraging. I know. I know the factor that separates us really is time — time devoted to learning techniques, to practicing, to actually doing. I can see the progress I’ve made it two years, even with all the interruptions I’ve had; imagine what I’d be doing if I didn’t have a full-time job, a child, the responsibilities of a household, raging ADHD…?

So every once in a while, it’s nice to get a reminder like this:

There’s this idea that’s hard to shake, that I’ve spoken about extensively before, that you’re not an artist until to reach a certain level of skill. But remembering that artists grow and evolve, and that even mediocre artists are artists — I’m defined by the act of creating, not the quality of the art I create. And the more art create, the better that art will be.

I mentioned to my wife today — this year has been markedly different from the last few. This year, my periods of “art frustration” — feeling “empty,” feeling like I have no ideas, or no inspirations — have been unusually few and far between. They haven’t been non-existant, of course, but the bigger impetus to my output this year has been general stress and ambient chaos — and frankly, I am just going to put it out there that I feel like most of that has been well fucking warranted.

But I’ve had ideas. I’ve had a steady flow of thoughts and projects that I’ve wanted to work on. I’ve pushed writing to the backburner for now because art for my in more muscle memory, and with how crazy the world has been and the toll that has been taking on my mentally, that seems like it’s for the best, but I’m even starting to have ideas for writing projects again (I fully intended to start NaNoWriMo — ha!!! Like I wasn’t going to be driven to the brink of losing my shit by the election), and am keeping a running tabs of ideas to work on when things calm down in the world, both the one outside and the one within.

It’s almost like, once you start creating — once you move from the doing nothing to the doing something — you start to gain momentum.

You start to notice yourself getting better, and you start permitting yourself to dream bigger and take more risks.

And you start wanting to do more, and more, and more.

This is the first year of my life that if someone asked me, I would tell them I made “art.” I haven’t made the leap to not qualifying the word yet; I’m afraid I would still append “amateur” to “artist.”

But last year, I would not have even used the word “artist.”

I’m making strides. Earlier this year, back in March, I took a leap and submited three of my pieces to a local exhibition that was meant to elevate the work of women and non-binary artists. Sadly, this was the week before COVID really took hold and lockdowns began, and I don’t know — with my city still in the red zone, and cases rising again — when or if that will ever actually happen. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I took that shot. It doesn’t make me less proud of me for taking that leap.

I just took another huge (for me) leap. I don’t want to say what it is yet (“I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious”), but I will let you know when decisions have been made and plans are set in place. I am cautiously hopeful, but whatever happens, I am proud of myself for putting myself out there and taking a chance.

This year has been good for some things.

I hope you can think back on a few bright spots. I hope you can carry something out of this year that brings you hope, or comfort, or pride.

I hope to post more frequently. I know, I say that a lot. I’m trying.

Stay safe and sane, my friends.

A Little Each Day

I want to go back and see when it was, exactly, that I bought my tablet, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that I’ve had it for any length of time without breaking it out to take it for a test run is sacrilige, quite frankly. And I know for a fact that I can count the time in months rather than days or even weeks. Totally unforgivable.

I finally started in on an analogue drawing a did a couple of weeks ago. After yet another long bout of producing little-to-nothing, I sat down on a day off and decided to just commit something to paper for the fun of it. And honestly, despite having no pre-conceived notion of what I was going to do (or — let’s be honest — because I had no pre-concieved notions of what I was going to do), I had a blast, and was quite content with what I came up with.

Last Friday I had nothing but consults on the docket until 1:25 pm, with — I knew — a high probability of getting stoof up. So I staked out space in front of my wife’s computer, logged into my virtual meeting rooms, and loaded up PaintShop.

My consultees never showed, but I started teaching myself rudimentary, inefficient digital painting.

As I’m sure is obvious, this is pretty early in the painting process; I’ve laid down flat color as part of the background layer, and am adding more layer with contouring, highlights, shadows, etc. It’s bare-bones basic, and probably an incredibl inefficient and messy way of doing things, but… you know, I’m figuring out how to make the machine do what I want it to do. Maybe not in the easiest way, maybe not the fastest way… but actually in a pretty fun way? Like, it’s cool thinking, “hey, I’d really like to get her hair looking a certain way,” and then puttering around and figuring out my own homebrew way of getting that to happen.

Maybe I’ll actually watch/read a tutorial some day. That day isn’t today. Probably not tomorrow, either. But some day.

I spent another hour and a half working on it today, and I’m hoping to wrap it up by the weekend (I’m bound by my work schedule and by Kira’s computer use; if she’s home, I can’t use her computer, so it’s going to take longer than I’d like it to, but I will get there eventually).

Hope you are keeping creative, safe, and sane.

I’m still here!

This has been an unexpectedly long time away from blogging that I’m hoping to end with this post. Not that this post in and of itself is going to be especially deep, or especially funny, or especially thoughtful. Really, I just want to break the silence and say, yes, I am still here.

Since last we spoke:

I was prescribed Paxil, which my insurance refused to cover; so I was prescribed Prozac, which my insurance was asking a 100% co-pay for (how…is that different from just not covering it?) which I then opted to simply not pick up.*

I tried weed to see if it would be helpful for acute stress/anxiety, but had a really poor reaction to the THC, which sucked a whole damn bunch.

My mom bought me CBD oil, which is working wonders for her and my dad (chronic pain), and I pick that up tomorrow.

Bear started K2, all online. He’s been pretty into so far, honestly, and has been doing pretty well behaving during the Zoom meetings, at least as well as I would expect a five-year-old to.

And… I’m working from home.

Holy fucking crap on a cracker. Let me tell you. The instantaneous relief I felt from that phone call felt a lot like euphoria; weeks and weeks and goddamn weeks of relentless anxiety and uncertainty, gone.

I mean, to be replaced by the daily anxiety of trying to juggling homeschooling a kindergartener synchronously while simultaneously teaching a class via video conferencing myself, but hey. That will eventually become routine.

I have a job. I have an income.

I….have not done any art in weeks. This is going to a long road back to feeling creative.** Actually, it’s going to be a long way back from feeling anything but exhaustion, I think.

But I’m here. We’re here. And we’re doing ok.


* The meds were a new prescription, I’m not just ditching my meds. Don’t just ditch your meds, guys — talk to a doctor first. Also, I’m not anti-med by any means, I just feel like in my situation, I’ve got a handle on the chronic anxiety, to the point where it’s really just background noise and not really something I feel like I need a daily medication for (and with the work-for-home allowance, even the acute anxiety has lessened considerably. I’m actually feeling functional again).

** I will be participating in Drawtober in October and NaNoWriMo in November, so at the very worst you’ll see me working then!

Another Work/Life Update

I have some reassurances that the things I am concerned about at work (don’t you love how vague I am?) are being considered.

Ok, so, namely — I need to work remotely. We live in a “red zone” city, and my son is on mandated remote learning, which means the child care inherent in in-person schooling is gone (and honestly, it would have been disasterous to put him in school even if that were an option, with something like 4000 active cases in our city). Also, if I enter the building, I will not be able to bring him to my mother’s house — they’ve let me know, in no uncertain terms, that they cannot take him, and I one-hundred-and-ten percent agree. Both my parents are nearly 70, my mom is asthmatic, physically disabled, and partially sighted (complete blindness in one eye and partial sight in the other), and they share their home with two people who are also immunosuppressed. I could not and would not take that chance.

So my options are COVID Emergency Leave or remote work, which I parroted back more than once to HR, my building principal, and my department head. My department head (and two of my co-teachers) did say that I was specifically requested by certain teachers to do remote work with some of our specialized population via the remote learning academy, and that the schedule will be out “soon;” I’ve heard nothing from the building principal, but this is her first year as principal and literaly everything is a shitshow, so I’m cutting her slack. The gist of this is, I have hope that I’m being heard and my needs are being met, which is better than I’ve had in several weeks.


I woke up this morning to a full Twitter inbox because someone tagged me in an art photoset — they’d used my modelling photos from FatPhotoRef! It was really cool! I’ve never been used as a model before. My wife and I are going to take some photos tonight based on requests from the Discord, so hopefully I’ll have another set up there in the next few days.

Ugh, fate willing, I will have more fun things to talk about than continued work drama soon.

Stay safe and sane, everyone.

No Marketing Genius/Just to Check In

Now, my spam filter has caught them all, don’t get me wrong — and I have to approve all comments posted to my blog anyway, but — how effective do you think the ads for “sexy singles in your area” and “hot new porn sites” are when posted as comments by bots on not-even-marginally-related blog content? Have there ever been, just, horny-as-shit blog readers skimming my posts who have thought, “hmm, you what this deeply personal essay on the creative journey has left me craving…?”

I mean, to each his own, and I’m not a marketing genius (and have no desire to be), but if this is still a thing that’s happening, either 1.) the people programming these bots are terrible at their jobs, or 2.) it’s… actually working? Right?

But on who???


Life is settling. Not for the long term, and it’s hard to say if it’s even for the better or the worse, but at least I have some temporary reprieve from the “what the fuck am I supposed to be doing” thought loop, and a personal plan of action for next steps. It doesn’t feel good, exactly, but it feels better than the endless spiral.

I’m trying to keep in perspective those things over which I have control and remind myself that I can make good things happen for me and for my circle of influence if I can stay focused and motivated.

I’m trying.

Stay safe and sane.

End of Summer

We are in a lull between a string of storms making their way across New England. The first batch barely left an impression; about an hour ago, I noticed a notification from my weather app that I had missed timestamped at 11:55 am that notified me rain was starting in five minutes. If that happened, I didn’t notice it. Actually, no; I left the house at 1:30 with Bear in stocking feet, and the ground was dry, so it definitely didn’t touch us. The second one was pretty firece in terms of rain, with a couple of good peals of thunder, but over within an hour. The sky looks like another might come through soon, but right now it’s still. I’m hoping the humidity will break when the last one rolls through.

It’s been a quiet summer in terms of storms; I remember childhood summers where we spent days upon days watching the weather channel, monitoring rain moving through the area, being shepharded downstairs by my mother on the days when they worst of them rolled through. When we were slightly older, I remember distinctly sitting out on our three-season porch with my dad as the storms came in; my mother hated it, which, I think, is part of why we did it (I mean, honestly I think that’s part of why my dad did it, too; my mom was insufferable when bad weather was coming through, talking incessantly about nothing else, harrassing people into bunkering with her, etc.) I still love the smell of ozone, and that strange moment of perfect stillness right before the first major wind whistles through the trees. There hasn’t been much of that this year. Not for us, at least, and here we are at basically the end of summer.

Melissa texted me this morning that a work friend brought her a pumpkin coffee this morning, and that, for me, is one of the surest signs of imminenet Fall. There is a part of my brain that’s still stuck perpetually in March, when time existed and I had a rhythm and a life outside of this house (and a tight, tight circle of other people; though how grateful am I for those other people). Seeing September on my calendar already seems like a joke, thought I hesitate to call it a cruel one. It means time is passing, and — for me at least — faster than I could have anticipated. I thought this situation was going to drag, but it actually hasn’t. We’re moving. Time is passing. Things are changing. However long it will be before we see an “end” (and an “end” is going to be a gradual thing anyway, not a one-and-done set point in time, but regardless), we are moving towards that “end.” We have not stopped. We have not stood still.

I hope you are all still moving forward. I hope you are all still pursuing whatever ambitions lit your flame in January. This is not the year I had envisioned, ot by a long shot, not by any stretch, but I have made more progress towards some of my goals than I thought I would even back when we thought that was going to be an “ordinary” year.

I hope you are finding joy in moments, and in the increments of progress you are making on your ambitions and projects.

Stay safe and sane, everyone.

Where I’m At

I’m an idiot and left my sketchbook at my mom’s house when I visited today. I had it with me because I was in the middle of a drawing I have been planning to do since literally May, and only got around to starting it yesterday. Positive side, I finished it. Negative side, I… left it at my mom’s house? And while all the line art is finished, I was hoping to not only work on it more tonight (details, shading), but also hoping to start blocking out the next piece in the series (I’m doing “modern” illustrations of the Major Arcana — I know, I know, everyone and their mom has done a Tarot thing. I just really love all varieties of Tarot art, and it feels like a good, structured way to practice doing some anatomy drawing with references, and still put my own twist on something I enjoy.)

Even though it seems like using references is something I should have started out doing and then began moving away from (or not; I know a lot of artists much more advanced than I still use them), this is my first time drawing using references in earnest; I stumbled upon SenshiStock (her handle is included in the embedded Tweet below), and immediately knew I had to start using her service. I always felt weird, the few times I did use a picture to help me with anatomy, because I was never sure what the source was, and always felt this niggling sensation of, “should I be referencing this picture?” (even though my reference never bore any resemblance to the original images; I would use multiple images references for a single drawing and nothing was ever recognizable), or the reference photo itself would be problematic (not well-lit, distracting background, poor image resolution, etc.) Finding this resource happened at absolutely the right time.

I’ve also started contributing my own reference/modelling photos to a niche gallery specifically for fat and fat-positve artists (which is password protected to keep out underaged kids as well as fetish artists), and have so far submitted (and had accepted) four photos, which I’m very happy with. I joined them on Discord as well, and despite being a social phobic little worm, I am looking forward to actually conversing and networking with other artists. This, this is the 2020 shit I signed up for.

Things have been up and down; I keep getting news about work that I’m having an intensely difficult time decipering, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s because it’s really that opaque, or if I’m genuinely just dealing with such a high level of brain fog that I am completely incapable of parsing even the most basic information. It’s really anyone’s guess. But I have managed to be more productive, and I have been more happy with the output this week — both in quality and quantity — than I have been in a very, very long time.

Hope everyone is having a day that is productive, relaxing, or — the dream — a balanced mix of both.

Stay safe and sane, people.


Unrelated, but at what point does the desire to not cause any family drama (however minimal) take a backseat to the desire to not have to read stupid, racist shit on your Facebook timeline? Asking for a friend.

Drawing Dump

A relatively small dump, but here are the three completed drawings I mentioned yesterday. They are also posted up over at my DeviantArt for anyone interested in following me there, I will likely do followbacks (if that sweetens the pot, ha).

I am settled it at my mom’s, getting ready for a second cup of coffee and an early lunch. I touched up these drawings, updated a few defunct links on my websites, cleaned up my DeviantArt a bit; we have Dateline on in the background, the A/C going, and all in all, I’m feeling pretty relaxed (or at least as relaxed as I’ve been able to get lately). Have some goals for the day, but the primary one is to chill for a bit.

Maybe some art will follow.

Take care, all.

Return to Form (in Some Form)

I want to post photos from GISH, though I likely won’t. I was actually quite proud of the items I accomplished this year — most of them were craft, writing, or art-related — but my team this year was quieter on the forums than usual when it came to actually sharing items, so I have far fewer images of our adventure this year than I usually do. I’ll try to tack some of my items, and some of my favorite items from my teammates, onto the end of this post.

I did, sadly, kind of wind up ghosting the last few days; I wasn’t sure anyone would even notice in the hustle and bustle of things, but my absences was apparently noticeable enough for one of my teammates to reach out and check in on me (which was really sweet, don’t get me wrong; it was a really kind gesture). I have not been mentally great the last few weeks, and the last two days have been the worst.

I’m trying to focus on the things I have control over — my art and my other projects. And as much as I’ve been on edge and riding high on anxiety lately, in the last three days, I’ve completed one painting and neared completion on four drawings. That’s more than I’ve done since April. It’s a return to the daily creative endeavors that I had been riding high on in the early days of quarantine, back when this all seemed like a good excuse to finally iindulge my creative side. I’m back to feeling like at least I’m not stagnating or standing still.

My district finally made a call on re-opening and announced a hybrid model; I’m terrified, but again, doing what I can, what’s in my control (in this case, calling my GP for a long-overdue physical and following up with a petition for a medical exemption (I’m hypertensive, and my wife’s HRT can surpress liver function). I’m pulling my son into full-online learning this year. I’m checking in with my mom everyday to make sure my family is still staying on an equivalent risk-level so I can continue to see them. I’m trying to get back into the habit of drinking water again. I’m trying. I’m trying. I’m trying.

Today was an awful mental health day that I spent yelling at my son for the most inconsequential things (I kept telling him he wasn’t the reason I was mad, I was just mad and sometimes that comes out as yelling — I know that doesn’t excuse it, but I was in a bad place and figured I should, at the very least, assure him it was me, not him, having a problem). Tomorrow I will be heading to my mom’s (after thoroughly interrogating her today about her activity since Saturday) with my laptop and sketchpad, just to get away from my house and my responsibilities for a while, while Kira tends to Bear.

With my doctor’s appointment scheduled, the mystery of what’s happening in September figured out (even if I don’t like it), and a return to creativity (and hopefully a return to a slightly cleaner home when I return tomorrow evening), and I’m cautiously hopefuly that I’ll start seeing a return to form again soon.

Stay safe and sane, guys.