Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Buy Picture Books For Myself....

But then I give them to my niece and nephews because I figure they might like them too. Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie is currently my favorite series and the last time I walked through the picture book section of a book store and noticed a E & P book I hadn't read before, I got ridiculously excited.

I'm sure this book will make its way onto the list of the greatest meta-fictive work of our age.

But I mean, hello! Gerald and Piggie are awesome! Look at his little glasses! And you’ve got to love her confidence.

The illustrations in the books are so simple and stripped-down that they really prove the old adage: less is more. More room for funny that is! (Okay, forgive me for that last sentence and I’ll forgive you for that... thing. You know what I’m talking about.)

Oh, and just as a side note, last summer I read Willem's Leonardo the Terrible Monster to my nephew so many times that I could probably still recite that entire book from memory.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Don’t Apologize. Don’t! Don’t Do it!

Unless, of course, you did something wrong. Then by all means, get your grovel on.

But don’t do that thing where you apologize for the horribleness of your creative work right before you let someone see it.

Back when I used to study theatre, I had this teacher, Ms. Deaver, aka Ms. Diva because she unapologetically carried herself like one. She taught Voice and Speech. This wasn’t an artsy acting class where you get to talk about feelings and there’s more than one answer to every question. Voice and speech was technical and practical. It was her job to make sure we knew how to speak clearly, loudly and effectively (kinda important when you’re on the stage.) As a teacher she was stern and accepted no excuses. But she especially wanted no apologizing!

Don’t say, “I’m not very good” or “You’re going to hate it.” Don’t hunch your shoulders and shy away from eye contact as if to say – without saying a word, “I’m unworthy of your time. You may pretend I’m not here if you'd like.” And dear God, whatever you do… Don’t. Mumble.

All this is very obvious when it comes to the performing arts. Whatever you project, the audience will pick up on it. If you’re uncomfortable, the audience will be uncomfortable right along with you. But if you project confidence, well, in the best case scenario the audience will all together forget that you’re acting.

But this “no apologizing” credo isn’t just for the creative types who have to face their audience because it isn’t only performers who do it. I know breaking the habit is easier said then done. I catch myself at it more often than I'd like. While there are several reasons many of us creative types have this tendency, there are also reasons we should resist the instinct.

To paraphrase Erykah Baduh, we’re artists, and we’re sensitive about our shit. Often times we either believe that we completely and hopelessly suck or that we are just barely hanging on to being mediocre. Even if that is true, that doesn’t mean you won’t improve. It's just a fact of life that, unless you’re a prodigy, there’s a good chance you’re going to do something poorly before you do it well. Rather than knocking yourself down a peg, approach your talent with the understanding that the more you apply yourself to your craft, the better you’ll get at it.

The humble act. It’s good to be humble. No one is too high up on the totem pole that they can’t be taken down a notch or two, or ten or a hundred. It’s good to remember that no matter where you are in the pecking order, but there is such a thing as taking it too far; namely, when it becomes almost an embarrassment to admit that you’re capable. If you excel at something, allow yourself to acknowledge that at least every once and a while.

A way to shield ourselves against criticism. If we tell ourselves we suck first—or better yet, if we tell the person evaluating us so, then it won’t hurt as much when someone else says it. It’s along the same lines as quitting something so that you don’t have to fail at it. Counter-productive. I say we should embrace (constructive) criticism. It’s how we learn to do that thing we’re already awesome at even better.

An attempt to garner sympathy. Trying this can actually work against you. Sure, the first few times you might be able to get an, “Aaw, honey. You don’t suck. That was terrific!” But after a while, it gets old and people will get tired to having to reassure you if you come at them like that every time (or at least I get tired of it). And when you venture beyond your circle of family and friends, I tend to think that professionals are not going to take pity on you because you present yourself as meek and unworthy. If you think you’re incompetent, people will be more than happy to agree with you.

There’s a reason why people who we might think have only a modicum of talent manage to become rich and famous, and that reason is a little something I like to call confidence. Okay, maybe that’s not all there is to it, but you gotta admit it is a major factor. It takes a lot of confidence (or delusional thinking, sometimes interchangeable with confidence) to get on stage and sing to packed house when you can barely hold a note. Not that—ahem, I have any particular performer in mind. (shifty eyes, shifty eyes)

This is one of those things where it’s not even about being the best. It’s about carrying yourself as if you are. If you can’t see your value, then how can you expect anyone else to? Or worse, if you don’t see your value, what’s to stop someone who does see it from taking advantage of you and your abilities?

So don’t just do your thing. Own it.

If you can’t do that, then you know what? Fake it ‘til you make it.

In other news, the thing about practicing the technical aspects of drawing for hours everyday is that it isn’t terribly non-boring. I bribe myself into sitting down and drawing thirty ears in a row by putting on some TV series that I never knew much about or started watching but for whatever reason couldn’t keep up with and have been meaning to get back into for the past of years. So far I’ve watched Dr. Who, some of Farscape, most of Dollhouse, and I just finished season two of Big Love, and it has definitely given me good reason to sit and draw for several hours at a time.

My favorite quote from the show so far:

“If I could open up a vein and drain the half of my blood that is yours, I’d gladly do it.”

- said coolly and quietly by Bill Henrickson to his rodent of a father

Ooo! Burn!

Friday, June 17, 2011

That Other “Thing”

May for me was a month of inconsistent blogging, which kinda of snowballed from April being a month of just barely consistent blogging. I think I have a good reason for that. My brain had been slowly shifting from one gear to another, and this leads me to a question I want to ask you all.

Fellow writers, I know writing is your “thing,” but do any of you have another “thing?” A “thing” that you can be just as passionate about as writing, and maybe even sorta good at if you committed to it as much you did writing?

My other “thing” is art. I like to draw and stuff. Sometimes the things I draw and stuff doesn’t suck. But I’ve never consistently focused on drawing and stuff enough to be consistently good. (At least that’s the reason for it I like to tell myself.) The art thing has always been the thing I’ve pushed to the side. Writing was my main thing. Drawing and stuff was the other thing.

The exact opposite of my relationship to writing, part of why I’ve been inconsistent with the drawing and stuff stems from the fact that I’ve never had much confidence in my artistic skills.

Like any deeply rooted issue worth its salt, I’ve traced this problem back to my childhood. Specifically to Cyclops.

When I was about 12, I attempted to draw Cyclops from X-Men: The Animated Series. Looking at that drawing today, I’m like, “Hey, not bad for kid,” but my junior high self was SO COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY TRAUMATIZED that my Cyclops didn’t look exactly like the Cyclops on my TV screen that from that day forth I NEVER attempted do draw someone else’s character for the rest of my adolescence, and most of my adult life. (And he was my least favorite X-Men. Imagine if I’d tried to draw Gambit! I would have never picked up a pencil ever again!)

There’s the culprit. The rat bastard.

Basically, I’ve had a restricting, I’m-going-to-fail-and-fail-miserably type of fear when it comes to drawing ever since. It has kept me from practicing as much as I should have because instead of taking the (minimal) risk and going for the gusto, I’ve often given up on it on the first indication that I wasn’t going to be any good at it. More often, that mentality has kept me from even starting a project, or even a sketch.

It’s a habit I’m trying to break. As Fran from Strictly Ballroom would say, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” I think the best way to break that mentality is to actively work on the mechanics and basic skills that I’m lacking so that I don't have lack of skills" as an excuse to suck and therefore an excuse to give up.

The other best way is to stop thinking about it and just do it.

So I’m making this my summer of art. Starting last month, I’ve enrolled myself in drawing boot camp, a summer intensive if you will. (Of course, I don’t actually have any money for such a thing so it’s just me at the kitchen table with a sketchbook and a selection of books about drawing). I feel I owe it to my other thing to let it have a turn at being the main thing.

Summer goals:

· Draw everyday (Well, every weekday. The weekend is reserved for writing.)

· Improve at drawing the head, face, and expressions

· Ditto hands and feet

· Finally learn perspective beyond 1-point, now that I seem to have found a book on the topic that doesn’t make my eyes cross.

Hopefully by the end of summer my level of suck will have significantly decreased. And perhaps more importantly, I hope to have made such a habit of drawing from doing it every day that the thought of a blank canvas doesn’t make me want to run in the opposite direction as fast as humanly possible.

The result of my decision to do this, though, is that my blogging may continue to be erratic these next couple of months. For once, I’m putting my other thing on the front burner, but if all goes well, by the end of it I’ll have learned out how to let my two things co-exists equally.

And because my pride won’t allow me to have Cyclops up there as the only representation of my drawing, here’s something a little more recent:

Still much room for improvement, but - le sigh - isn’t there always?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Stuff of Dreams

This has only happened to me once before.

Early this morning, I woke up from a dream and had to write it down before it slipped away. It was the makings of a great story (maybe.)

I don’t often remember my dreams and the one other time I ever started writing a story based off a dream, that dream had been like watching a cartoon. I wasn’t featured anywhere in it except maybe as an invisible spectator.

The dream I just woke up from a few hours ago wasn’t like that. In the dream, I was myself and I was given a writing prompt or exercise. I never really liked participating in prompts and exercises, but dream me went with it and started writing out a brilliant scene. Then somewhere along the way, I became aware of the fact that I was dreaming and needed to write this scene down before I forgot it. So dream me started frantically writing the scene down wherever she could find somewhere to write. (I specifically remember dream me writing dialogue on the flap of a cardboard box.) Never mind that dream me had already just written out the scene earlier in the dream. I had to write it down, had to write it down, had to write it down!

Okay! Message received, subconscious mind.

I woke up, sprung out of the bed, and grabbed my lab top. Already, I had the feeling that I was only remembering a fragment of the scene, but that was enough for me to keep writing beyond that little fragment for several pages. Automatically, my mind started filling in some of the blanks of why this scene was occurring and where things might be headed. I even wrote a dialogue for a new scene featuring a character that didn't make an appearance anywhere in the dream. I’m a long way from really knowing what’s going to happen in this story, but you know what, I think it just might make for some pretty cool reading.

What about you? Do your dreams ever become fodder for your fiction?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Doctor Who’da Thunk It?

If I’d had any idea what Doctor Who was about all this time, I probably would have started watching it a lot sooner than a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes, not having cable really sucks. You know, being all out of the loop and having to be entertained by books instead of by flipping through 500 random channels.

But oh well. I’m catching up now and that’s all that matters. I spent all of Saturday in front of my laptop watching a significant chunk of season series four and those bits that came between four and five. I barely got out of bed all day and never did get around to changing out if my pajamas.

That was a lot of Doctor Who. I might have overdosed on it. I definitely felt like a zombie by the time I looked up and realized that I was watching Doctor Who in the dark.

That’s what I call a low energy day…because that feels better than calling myself a lazy, no good slacker. I’m going to let myself believe that Saturday was actually a productive day because the whole reason I started watching this show was in preparation for reading this book:

...which chronicles, through email correspondence, two years in the creative life of Russell T. Davies as he shapes series four of the show while heading towards the end of his reign as the show’s head writer and executive producer. When I learned of this book, it sounded like a useful read for a writer such as myself. But seeing as how it apparently divulges all the behind-the-scenes story making, I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should actually watch the show first since I have a DEEP AND ABIDING HATRED OF SPOILERS (even for stuff I'd never thought to watch). Oh, and I guess that watching it will help me understand what all Mr. Davies is talking about, too.” So without having a clue as to what it was about, I signed into Netflix and clicked “play” on the first episode, which led to this…

That there is a depiction of instant fandom. And sure, I’m a couple of years late on this, but I now know what I want to dress up as for Halloween.

Anyway, this month has to be the opposite of Saturday. Doing nothing but watching TV all day really did make me feel like a bigger slacker than usual. So I’m making a “to do” list and everything. Who knows? I may even have time between Doctor Who episodes to check a couple of items off of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Something for Awkward Girls Everywhere

If you've ever in your life been the opposite of cool (you know, said the wrong thing because you didn't know what to say, stood silently and grinned like a weirdo because you didn't know what to do, etc) you'll totally get The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, a webseries by Issa Rae. And I guess if you're super cool and always know how to charm your way through the most awkward of situations you can watch it too.

I'm so bummed this series only has five episodes so far - and I have to wait a whole month for the next one! - because this chick (Issa Rae) and this cast is seriously funny, especially the other awkward people she comes across. For more episodes or to watch from the beginning, check out her site.
If you only watch one more episode definitely look at episode 4: "The Icebreaker," which includes - from our protagonist's best friends rap - the following lyric:

Issa: I'm like Saved By the Bell--

CeCe: And I'm California Dreams

Any show that includes random references to the corny 90's teen shows of my youth is fine by me!