Putting Your Best Foot Forward

lifeupdateI really am not a fan of trying to place the blame for any of my less-than-stellar attempts on anything but a less-than-refined ability.  I’m still a total amateur newbie when it comes to anything art related, despite some huge progress, and I fully own up to that fact.

That being said, I often feel embarrassed sharing my work online because even on those occasions when I’ve been satisfied or — dare I say — even happy with what I’ve produced, taking a photo of it has always yielded decidedly subpar results.

While not to downplay that fact that I am not an amazing photographer, my phone camera was decidely lacking.  Grainy zoom, poor focusing, and horrible light balance.  Could some of that have been rectified by investing in a quality camera and, like, studying up on photography?  I mean, probably, but I’m no particularly interested in photography as a personal hobby so I don’t want to sink money into a high end piece of equipment, and I’m only a hobbyist artist, so I don’t need to take exquisite photos in order to market or sell my art.  I really just needed something good enough that I could post fairly true-to-life photos of my projects, and honestly, the easiest way to do that was simply to get a better phone.

Now, I didn’t upgrade my phone because I wanted a new camera to photograph my work, but it happened to be a huge bonus.  I tested it out today in less than stellar conditions and the results were so much better than even optimal condition results with my old phone.  I have a small cache of projects I’ve been waiting to share and I’m thrilled that I should be able to start doing that this weekend.

I know that the creation of art in and of itself makes me an artist (even if the work is amateurish), but I’ve got to admit, it sometimes feels hard calling myself that when I share my work so infrequently, and especially when my shared work looks so much less proficient than it is — I have a long way to go, but I’ve come a long way as well, and I want people to be able to see my progress accurately.

Anyway, I am excited to share some actually good quality photos of my work in the coming weeks.

Abandoning Inktober and OctPoWriMo

lifeupdateSo, both OctPoWriMo and Inktober were a bust, but for once, I’m not beating myself up about it.  Why?  Because for once in my life, I felt like the challenges were holding me down more than they were lifting me up.

I started doing art and writing challenges because I felt like I never had enough ideas, or because I couldn’t motivate myself to get started on a personal project, and events like OctPo, NaPoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, and Inktober gave me a structure and a deadline and generally held me accountable in very regimented ways.

But lately, I’ve noticed that while I’m still not the most consistent artist or writer (um, month long hiatus on this blog, hello?  This is not a surprise to anyone), I have nonetheless become a persistent artist and writer.  When I’m not faced with the frenetic pace of a work-a-day challenge, I’ve still, nonetheless, seen more follow-through in my efforts recently than I ever have before.

I am, currently, for example, working on two sketches (near completion) that I intend to watercolor (with two more still being conceptualized), and a piece of upcycled art from pieces of a broken, vintage ashtray stand, and I’m readying myself to power through three incomplete pieces of fanfic for NaNoWriMo this year (yeah, three different pieces, what can I say?  I’m a Rebel at heart).

And the best part?  I’m excited about these projects.  I get psyched up to work on them.  During the week and a half I tried to power through my two challenges, not only did I feel stressed about the pressure of completing a work-a-day, but I felt like it was infringing on time that could be spent doing creative work I was actually invested in.  I was starting to resent the challenges; they weren’t giving me motivation, or inspiration, or structure; they weren’t giving me anything.  In fact it felt like they were actively taking pleasure and enjoyment away from me.  Enthusiasm for art drained from me entirely the minute it became an obligation imposed on my by some external force.

How wild is that?  How eagerly my brain will latch onto a challenge when it’s not actively invested in anything else, and how vehemently it will reject it the moment that challenge conflicts with it’s own desires and ambitions.

Man, my brain is a fickle bitch.  God bless, eh?

Does this mean I’m giving up on challenges.  Oh, hell no.  I love the idea of having timed, themed challenges; but I think I need to become more attuned to what I really want to accomplish creatively and how any given challenge might help with that.  For instance, I already said I plan on doing NaNoWriMo — because I’m gung-ho to finish up several fanfics, and the atmosphere and camaraderie of NaNoWriMo might actually help with that.  I wouldn’t, for instance, try to do NaBloPoMo next month, because every night, when I sat down and spent my scant free time being forced to pen a blog entry, I’d be thinking of the fanfic I was not currently writing.  The fanfic is the project that is currently fueling an internal creative fire, and rather than risk extinguishing it in order to say Hey, I Did a Thing (I already know I can Do the Thing.  I’ve done it the last two years), I’m going to fan that flame for as long as I can conceivable keep it alive.

I hope to have a few (painted) works completed prior to November first to share with you all.  Hope you’re all finding as much joy in creating (be it within the confines of a challenge or not) as I am at the moment.

Happy Fall (I’m Back)

Happy Fall!.png

I know, I  know; it’s not, like, technically Fall yet.  I’ve been sitting on this post literally since September 3rd, the day my son started school, which felt more than ever like the irrevocable end of summer, but then my schedule went haywire, my brain short-circuited, and I more or less shut down.

Which sounds hella dramatic.  It wasn’t. I’ve just been utterly exhausted and overwhelmed, which meant something had to fall by the wayside, and my creative endeavors — basically everything not absolutely essential for the functioning of my household and family — came to a grinding halt.

At this point, it is, actually, almost Fall — the leaves are changing, the morning air has a chill to it, and the calendar is nearly in agreement with me on this point.  So why not wait?

Because I am ready now, and waiting longer is just going to delay the momentum.  

I have a schedule at work again — more over, I have the schedule I had anticipated going into this year (with one tweak which, truth be told, I’m happy about) — and am told it should be “permanent.”¹ For the first time in weeks, my husband has his normal weekly schedule again, which means he can do the mid-week chores and I can get my house back on track, and my son has settled into — and really loves — school.  I still have a growing backlog of ideas for paintings and creative projects that I have been aching to work on, and am finally feeling emotionally ready to get started on them.

In short, things have taken a turn, and it feels like things are changing.  I thought it was time to celebrate the transition.

For my fellow creative folks, please remember that October means OctPoWriMo or Inktober (though if you’re a glutton for punishment like me, it means both), and November of course brings with it NaNoWriMo, which I am definitely doing, though I’m unsure of what my project will be yet — I guess I should add “Preptober” to next month’s schedule, huh?

I am, as promised, back.  I hope you all have been well, and if not, well, I hope you find your turning point soon, too.


¹Nothing in my line of work is truly permanent.  I’ve been shuffled around from program to program over the last nearly-fifteen years, and while I’m not complaining (I appreciate the experiences), I can certainly speak with authority on the ephemeral nature of my job’s sense of “permanence.”

It’s Okay to Not Be “Doing”

lifeupdateI have a hard time, sometimes, accepting that it’s okay for me not to have a traditionally productive day.  Even when there are things that need to be done.

I’m wrapping up a lot of things that have been stressing me out; or, not even stressing me out, but just, I don’t know, taking up mental and emotional resources?  I met up with the old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, I got a chance to catch up with another friend I hadn’t seen since her engagement in April (and got asked to be maid of honor!), GISH week wrapped up, and I finished my second-to-last week of ESY.  Three more days of work this week, and I have two-and-a-half weeks off.

That’s plenty of time to be productive.  I had a productive two weeks at the start of summer; there is nothing keeping me from doing the same at the tail end.  I even managed to get the worst of the overwhelming housework done this weekend (including cleaning up my art work space and folding about five weeks of laundry), so with a little but of planning and follow-through, my house could be spotless by Friday.

So why do I feel such an intense, aimless restlessness right now?  Why do I feel like I should be on my hands and knees with a scouring pad, or hunched over a pallete mixing paints, or plugging away in front of a screen (oh… I guess I’m kind of doing that, huh)?

It is so hard sometimes to remember that my focus this year is on perseverance and patience, and that — sort of by necessity — means I won’t always be doing.  Sometimes I’ll be planning, or organizing, or prioritizing.

Hell, sometimes I’ll just be resting, because goddamnit, there are some task for which you really, really need to rally all your mental reserves before you embark on them.

I am making lists of the chores and projects I want to complete during my vacation.  I am taking inventory of all my cabinets and making lists of the organizer bins and baskets I need to buy.  I am taking literal notes on the areas in my house that I need to plaster and repaint.  I am pricing out floor tiles and stocking up on cleaning supplies.

I am keeping a journal of art ideas.  I am reading articles about watercolor technique and the best brushes to achieve a particular effects.  I’m sketching thumbnails of hopefully soon-to-be in-the-works projects.

I signed up for a “virtual writer’s retreat” that starts today.  I installed Libby and started listening to a book, because it’s harder for me to resist the call of my phone than I’d like to admit, and I know this will make it easier to ensure I “read” more, which will hopefully help me write more.  I’ve tossed my notebook back in my bag so I have it on me at all times.  I’m pinning flash fiction and poetry prompts to Pinterest.

None of that feels real; none of that feels like “doing,” but it’s all part of the process, and when your energy runs low, doing literally any of those things is so, so much better than stalling out and wallowing in procrastinatory self-loathing.  It is so, so hard for me to believe this, even the hundredth time through.  Even after the waiting and planning and gathering of the wits have resulted in the work and efforts I remain the most proud of.

I am not doing nothing.  I am laying the foundations.

Hopefully tomorrow comes with renewed energy, and a chance to start building upon it.

37

adventures of the everyday37 is not a “big” birthday.

It’s weird; there is a very specific point in our lives (at least in Western/American society) where we seem to be having milestone birthdays almost constantly: 10 heralds in double-digits; 13 is bat/bar mitzvahs and the start of the teenage years; Sweet 16 and being able to drive/at the age of consent; 18 and being a legal adult; 21 and being legal, full-stop.

Then nothing until 30 — you go over a decade having these big, celebratory birthdays one after the other, and then nine years of nothing before you hit a milestone that we are a society (And women especially) have been conditioned to dread.  It’s all kinds of bullshit, folks.  And then after that, we celebrate the decades.  40, 50, 60.  Ten years waiting to celebrate, what, surviving the preceding ten years?  How sad.  For real.  Just, how fucking sad.

Like, I get that the traditional societal milestones kind of taper off after 21; once you are a legal adult, what’s there to celebrate about getting older?

Like… lots, actually.  I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with my life than I have been in my 30s.  Some of that, granted, comes from the fact that I am, in many ways, quite privileged, and have financial, familial, and career stability, and I know that’s not true for a lot of people, through no personal failings of theirs.

But by the same token, most of the satisfaction I felt during the last decade or so has been because of choices I’ve made and efforts I’ve put in for personal victories and milestones, not because of pre-ordained rights of passage.  I’m happier because I’ve taken some risk, taken up new hobbies, learned new things, and, honestly, stopped putting so much stock in the thing society says I should be doing.

So, I think we should come up with, not new milestones necessarily, but new ways of celebrating our years after 30, each year with a new theme or new ritual.

Like, ok: I’ve noticed that there has been a trend in recent years where people love to write articles and listicles about what women over 30 should “never” wear.  Oh, fuck those articles hardcore.  Our 31st birthdays should be about celebrating and refining our personal styles; we should have swap meet parties, where all our friends bring over clothing and we swap and share, and/or go thrift store hopping, finding unique pieces that flatter and define our own personal styles, build a “Fuck You, I Wear What I Want” wardrobe, and have an epic photo-shoot.  That’s it, that’s 31.  We celebrate saying eff-off to people telling us how to look and how to dress, and embrace our own unique styles.

32 is when I started to really feel like I’d lost a lot of social connection (part of that was having a kid, which can be very isolating in the earliest years), so 32 maybe is a celebration of your closest friendships and a move to make new ones.  Spend the day reminiscing with your favorite people; break out photo albums (which are probably becoming obsolete relics, but I know I still have a few); have everyone contribute to a memory jar, writing down your favorite in-jokes, moments, milestones, and memories; have lunch at your favorite haunt from your younger years (if it’s possible; I know mine was Borders, and that’s a thing of the past now, sadly); and cap the night off by heading out to a meet-up for a mutual interest, where you can all make connections and hopefully forge some new friendships, as well.

I mean, it would take me a while to come up with one for every year, but how nice would that be, to have a reason to really look forward to birthdays again?  To feel like you’re still growing and that each year means something new, means new growth, instead of just another year older?

I’m not sure what 37 is yet.  I’ve got a few hours left to figure it out and define it, but I turn 37 tomorrow, and I’ll be spending time with a childhood friend who I haven’t seen in nine years, and visiting a city I adore, so I think I have a good foundation for a good day.

I’ll let you know what’s special about 37 on the flipside (and hey, if anyone else is interested in new rituals for each year of your 30s, I’m having fun and would love to continue this train of thought later), but for now I’m just going to celebrate seeing a beautiful city, an old friend, and another year.

Two Weeks to Go Time: GISH 2019

lifeupdateI am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we are two weeks to the day out from GISH 2019.  If you don’t know what GISH is, I’ll embed one of their official videos that can help explain it (I’d also strongly recommend visiting the website).

I’ve done GISH every year since 2012, heading up my own team (Team AllHailtheGlowCloud) since 2014.  We have about nine recurring members this year, two new-to-us members, and about two days left to recruit the remaining four.  I’m going a little crazy trying to scout social media for people who still need a team, which is my fault (sat on it for too long; really should have started recruiting a month ago).

GISH is always an interesting and exciting time, if more than a little emotionally exhausting and frustrating.  Being part of an international team — even one with great members, like mine (luckily) has always been — means I have very little local support for tasks.  My husband tries to be supportive, but has limited time because he works much longer hours than me; I have limited transportation for location specific tasks, since I don’t drive (and my husband has the car at work most of the time anyway); and while I have a number of acquaintances, I have very few friends to augment any group tasks.

So each year is, for better or worse, a great exercise in creativity and resourcefulness, but also a harsh reminder of exactly what my limitations are.

While I’m not always able to produce a lot during GISH, I find myself always impressed with the efforts of my team mates.  And, okay, I guess if I’m being totally honest, some of my own efforts wind up turning out better than I expect — and I have definitely grown and improved from year to year.  I’ve pulled out a few pieces of work I’m incredibly proud of on an art and writing front (sort of wish there were more writing tasks, actually), and with the advent of the GISH app and the allowing of some collaboration between teams (and former GISHers not currently participating), I’m hopeful that I might actually be able to do some of the group items this year.

Either way, this is going to be a fun two weeks of (hopefully successful) recruiting, planning, and team-building.

And hey, if you are someone looking for a GISH team, we still have (as of this posting) four spaces left.  Please reach out!  We’d love to have you.

Here is a small sample of past submissions, mostly of some of the art we’ve created for GISHes in the past; and who knows, I may venture further down memory lane in the coming weeks with more photos and videos:

 

Vacation’s End and Camp NaNo: or, The Perils of Writing Fanfic

lifeupdateThe thing is, I know I should be incredibly grateful that I get the vacations that I do, you know?  That I make a living wage (well, when combined with my husbands, at least) and still get built in vacations scattered throughout the year.

And I am!  I know I am amazingly lucky, to have a job that not only gives me breaks, but also ample sick time (good for those mental health days when you’re hanging by a single, fraying fucking thread).  But it doesn’t stop the end of vacation from being a bummer.

Not because I don’t like my job.  Because, as I’m said many, many times before, I am also insanely lucky to have found a job I genuinely like, with coworkers whose company and collaboration I genuinely enjoy.  But there is so much else I want to do, and when work is added back into the mix, I so rarely find the time or energy to do them.

This lead in week to summer has been mostly spent doing the typical summer festivities, especially if you have kids — sleepovers, parades, fireworks, pool parties.  It’s been fun, but I am looking forward to this last long weekend to be something a little quieter and sedentary.  I’ve even managed to get some painting done, as evidenced in my last post.

My current — entirely self-imposed — struggle causing me to lament how little time I have left in vacation is the July round of Camp NaNoWriMo.  Yeah, I know, I know; I have written fairly extensively about how Camp NaNo generally doesn’t work for me, but I’ve also spent a good chunk of this year succeeding at things I’ve historically failed at, just by laboring through the stagnation and the sense of impending failure, sucking it up, and fucking Doing the Thing.  I’ve made greater strides in my art and in my social life in the last seven months than I have in, hell, several years prior.

Plus, back in April, while I was already doing Blogging A-to-z and National Poetry Month, I decided to take on the April round of Camp with a fan fiction that had been nagging at the back of my mind, and actually wrote 4k on it, with actual interest, drive, and intent to continue.  So, I figured, why not give it a go again this time?

I fell head first and hard into a fandom¹ in early June, and it seemed the obvious choice to write in, and about mid-way through a month, I got a bug in my bonnet for a pretty NSFW, PWP fic² that, over the following two weeks, actually morphed into what I realized could actually be shaped into a really thoughtful and potentially poignant character study.³  I was itching to write this thing, especially since, as much as I absolutely adore the fandom and the fic that is being produced, the vast, vast majority is variation on a single theme, so my idea would actually be relatively unique, which wasn’t a must for me, but definitely felt like a plus.

So I geared up, and got myself psyched for it, and read a ton of fic for “inspiration” (and because I just love the characters), and then July hit and — I wrote fuck all nothing for the first three days.

It’s the fourth, and I’ve still only cracked 200 words (which, hey, is something.  It’s less intimidating than a blank page, and I feel like I have some semblence of direction now).  Last Camp, writing in a fandom that had pretty similarly hit me fast and hard and was relatively new when Camp rolled around had gone so smoothly.  Not that I didn’t have a few stops and false starts, but even while writing between other challenges and working full-time, I cranked out over four thousand words without a hell of a lot of thought or effort.  So what’s different?

Weirdly, I think the fact that I’ve been immersing myself in fanfic this time around has actually been detrimental.  Yeah, even though they tell you to read if you want to write.  Yeah, even though they say “write what you know.”

Fanfic, I think, is tricky anyway.  If you’re writing an original story, it’s not like you’re completely free of limitations.  Your characters have to be believable, and act in ways that are believeable.  Their actions and motivations have to have internal consistency, and your readers have to understand, at least to some degree, why your character — based on what we know of them through the text — is behaving in the way they are.

But writing original fic, the only version of your character is the one you’re writing.  So long as you’ve taken the time to flesh them out and you maintain a sense of consistency within the narrative of your work, then the character reads like a fully developed character.

Writing fanfic, you can write a very internally consistent narrative.  But you can absolutely write it wrong.  Because the character already exists — and because your audience is, of course, people who already know and love this character — and because the character already exists in the minds of your readers who understand them and relate to them in a very idiosyncratic way, it is incredibly easy to write a character in a fanfic that just reads wrong.  No matter how beautiful the prose.  No matter how intricate the plot.

And that is incredibly intimidating to me.  I have clicked on fics that have come highly recommended for the quality of the writing, and had a very visceral reaction to the way a favorite character is written because, goddamn it, no, this is not how they would act.  This is not what they would say, this is not what they would do.

If I’m reading a story featuring your original character Bob, and Bob does X, I may or may not like his choice or agree with his motives, but okay — that’s just what Bob does.  I guess that’s the kind of guy Bob is, whether I like him or not.

But if I’m reading your fanfic, and, say, Gregory House, or Dean Winchester, or The Doctor does X, I am going to have some very strong opinions on whether-the-fuck-or-not any of them would actually do The Thing.  And it will make or break a story for me.

So yeah, it’s intimidating.  To the point of stagnation, at the moment.  My April Camp fandom, prior to literally a week or two before Camp started, had no fanfic on the ‘Net.  Can you believe, in this day and age?  None.  Right now, it’s got two.  If I thought writing in an incredibly small fandom (with no fic to hide behind) was intimidating, my new fandom has grown by almost 4,000 fanfics in the last month (and that’s just on AO3).

And some of them are good.  So many of them are good, and some are real good.  How do I compete?

(I don’t; I know it’s not a competition.  But it’s still harder than I thought it would be).


¹ Good Omens fandom.  I read the book a long time ago — fifteen years, at least — and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until the series that it really became a fandom for me.  But it’s spread like wildfire, and I am loving it.

² So here it is, my secret’s out: I write (and read) smutty fanfic.  I’m an adult, I’m allowed.  But because I’m paranoid and try to keep my real life persona and my fandom life separate (except where they naturally intersect with like-minded adults, like at conventions), I might discuss fandom and fic here in the abstract, but don’t ever expect any links.

³ Legit, how did this happen?  It really did start as a vague idea for a short, smutty kink fic, and suddenly I’m researching the hierarchies of angels and specific Biblical accounts of events because this all evolved so far out of my control.  What even is writing, anyway?