Drawtober 2019

Hi All,

It’s been a long time since I’ve cut it so close on a blog post (less than two hours left in the month, haha), but it’s going to be a quick one.

So, October is always Drawtober/Inktober, a time when artists of all kinds can draw something every day, often based on daily prompts. While I don’t usually follow the prompts, my schedule and interest in this as a hobby not stretching far enough to match that level of dedication, but I have drawn something every day, or close to, for the last couple years.

Well, as I alluded to in my last post, this was a pretty hectic year for me, so I didn’t really get to do that, but I did want to share what I do have because, hey, the point is to draw, so even if I didn’t get to do very much, I did still get to draw, and that’s great. So, with about as much fanfare as these are due, let’s check them out.

October 2

This day, I was super tired when I worked on them, so I mostly did pictures of sleepy things, haha. I tried doing a lot of freehand pictures this year without references, so I started with Thor, and then moved on to a sleepy picture of Cog (I also did two this day because I was trying to catch up, in a way. I tried doing that on other days too of course, haha, but obviously those didn’t all add up to thirty-one. Oh well!). For Cog’s, I tried some ambitious posing. It didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, but it was still fun to try.

October 4

This day, I started off with more sleepy folks, this time Rick and Cog (in human form). Cog is on the left. It’s been a little while since I’ve drawn these two, and I didn’t try anything super fancy with them, so I’m not thrilled with the result, but given that I was trying to do this in a small corner and was probably tired that day too, I don’t hate it.

October 8

This is where the freehand work really started to kick in. I really enjoyed drawing Thor without looking, so I wanted to try it again. This time, I did a hummingbird, dragonfly, cat, and mallard. I obviously didn’t get terrible fancy with any of them, but it was still a good test of my anatomical knowledge of them (especially the two birds) and fun to draw/erase/draw again as I remembered the proper shapes.

So, sadly, that’s about as far as I got this year, but like I said, the point really is just to draw, so I don’t feel terrible about it, especially with how chaotic the month was. I’m hoping that next year will be more consistent/better, and now that I’m not on Facebook anymore, I’ll be able to post them here instead.


So, how about you? Did you participate in Drawtober/Inktober this year? Have any favorite artists who did? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to check them out! Want more updates like this, with my art, life, or extremely nerdy recommendations? Follow me here on the blog or on social media (currently on a break with the latter, may return later) using the links below or in the sidebar. Thank you for reading! Happy art-making!

Prayer tree redux

Hey all,

So as you might recall, I made myself a prayer tree several years ago. You’ll find more info about that in my original post on it, but the basic concept is to draw or paint (or tape, a la Alma style) a tree on your wall and then add paper leaves or fruit for your prayers, either leaving them up to see your prayers over time or taking them down when they’re answered. For mine, I labeled my branches with general categories (Family, different friend circles, causes, gifts, etc.), then drew leaves for the specifics within that (specific family members or friends, etc.), using the fruit to represent my prayers for them. I labeled the fruit with the date I put it up and the request (color-coded by type), and then would add the date I took it down later. My goal was to be able to hold in my hands the tangible results of my prayers and see over time different areas in which God had moved.

Now, several years down the line, I think it’s time for a redesign.

IMG_1865
Just some of the fruit of God’s labors.

Part of this is because I’d stopped really using it. I cleaned it off the other day and realized I hadn’t put up any new fruit for over a year. I was able to pull down a lot of fruit for various reasons, and many of them had really miraculous resolutions, so as a way to remember and be thankful for God’s faithfulness, power, and provision the tree definitely works, but there are some problems with its current design that I’d like to tweak.

One, making it smaller and less specific. It’s overwhelming to have something with so many leaves, some of which might have several prayers layered one on top of the other. It’s also hard to figure out what I’m supposed to be praying for if there are a lot of prayers stacked on each other, some of which might be the same color, long-standing, or obscured by other prayers. Making the tree smaller and putting up fewer, more refined pieces of fruit should help. Putting more time into considering what I want to use my tree for (personal meditation and prayer, a prayer “tracker,” something else), should help with that as well.

Two, changing the leaves. Like on most trees, some of mine need to change. I originally did my tree in pencil on my wall, which as some of you might know, is not the easiest thing to clean or change. Many of the branches on my tree have leaves for people I don’t see as often anymore or activities in which I’m no longer involved, and while I might still pray for those people/things, there are other leaves I might want to add instead that I don’t necessarily have as much room for now either.

 

To that end, I’m planning on removing the specific labels on the leaves. Rather than being so specific, I want to have something that is more stylistically appealing and then put the fruit up in general areas for each category. This should help with the overcrowding and let me see what kind of prayers are where and read them more easily.

For the artistic style itself, I haven’t quite decided what it will look like. I’m intrigued by the idea of using something removable so I could change it up every once in a while (maybe different kinds of trees?), but with my life pretty constantly on the lip of transitions, it’s hard to say with any certainty where I’ll land. I like the idea of doing something along the lines of a tree of Gondor, but when the major features of my room are a 1940s style pair of paintings, a TARDIS bookshelf, and a Lichtenstein-style painting, I’m not sure adding another visual style would work. It’s also hard to determine what the size would be, or if it should be 2D at all. Maybe just doing a bonsai tree with some ribbons would be a helpful reminder. Talking to God is the end goal after all, so if I hang up handfuls of leaves or a photo or anything else, as long as it reminds me to talk to Jesus, I guess it’s doing it’s job.

Anywhere, that’s where I am in the redesign process. If any of you have had success in creating/using a prayer tree or have any other helpful design tips or inspiration, please let me know below (pictures welcome)!

Thanks for reading!

IMG_1864
My current tree, after the harvest.

Finding the eternal thread

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/5241459773

I’ve been working on a theory. Let me know what you think.

It has to do with some of the stories and characters that I find most compelling and why. I’ll give you an example: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.

It’s the last in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Plant sci-fi trilogy, and features a young college fellow’s slide towards darkness and his wife’s efforts to rescue him. I read it several years ago, and while I don’t remember a lot of the plot specifically, I do remember being invested in their stories to the point of practically physical distress.

I remember thinking about this specifically while I was reading. I don’t remember when it happened, but at one point, I actively questioned why I was so invested while I was reading. It’s not that it wasn’t good writing by any means, I’m very fond of Lewis and especially this trilogy, but I do remember being surprised because of how, well, normal it was. I mean, there are definitely elements of the strange–something sinister as my friend Sarah put it–but the story was also, in some ways, plain, at least in comparison to the world-hopping high stakes novels I’m used to.

Then I realized, I wasn’t just interested because of what was happening on the surface. No, I was interested because what I was reading had a soul on the line. It wasn’t just Mark’s marriage or career. It was Mark himself, and what would happen to him not just in the next few days, months, or years, but for eternity.

This, I think, is the eternal thread, that knife’s edge between death and life, good and evil, and when I see people tread it, see them danging in the balance, I’m captured.

I think of other examples of this in literature, the men of Rohan in The Two Towers, George in Of Mice and Men, heck, even Kylo Ren plays with this. In each, you see the inevitable march towards decisions that will mark a lifetime, those turning points towards good or evil, freedom versus chains. They open me up to a larger reality, a vaster scope, and it isn’t just in writing. Many other kinds of art or day to day life have it too.

Which brings me to the question of what exactly it looks like when woven into a story. How does one wind it into the great tapestries of their creative work, and when? There are many, many stories I adore that don’t outright hinge on a singular point of salvation for example, many that I find just as impactful and meaningful as those listed above, and still others that try and do so without success.

So what is it that really earmarks something as having that thread, even if it’s buried deep beneath layers and layers of other stitches? At first, I’ll admit, I found the question frustrating. Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t mention Jesus at all, and I used to cry telling people about it. Likewise, our good friends George and Lenny don’t find some happy ending (at least that we see), and yet I see the thread there too.

Except, that’s kind of how life works, which is the beauty of the thread.

You see, ultimately, all human lives end in tragedy or comedy. There are, sadly, some of both. This is why happy endings and sad ones can be equally True, and it’s also why, to a certain degree, all stories have this thread. Are characters turning to good or evil, light or darkness? This, though sometimes as foggy and gray as Solomon’s vapors, it always true, and something that with wisdom, we can begin to discern.

That being said, even with this understanding, what does it actually mean? What does it tell us about the stories that most draw us in, and how to tell stories ourselves? Personally, I think I’ve found it useful in reminding myself what I am uplifting in the stories I tell. Am I celebrating and hoping for a turn towards the light (as my Father does), or am I beautifying evil, justifying what is wrong as right, when in fact I should compassionately cling to good with love and understanding in sight for the lost? That is perhaps one practical function of it from a strictly technical perspective. Another perhaps just to remind us of the journey we are all on.

I suspect there is much more to be gained.

So, what do you think, friends? Does my theory hold up? Do you see the eternal in what you read? Hinge points for a soul? If not (or even if, I suppose), what else do you see? What most captures you, in writing or in other forms of art and why? What examples do you have, and if you’ve had any success in capturing it in your own work, how did you do it? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to know.

My unpopular novel

On November 4th, 2015, I finished my fifth novel. I’ve talked about it briefly in a couple of my previous posts, and now that it’s finished, I find myself in that increasingly familiar post-book place. The place where I am both satisfied and restless, pleasantly tired and full of creative energy which no longer has that immediate outlet.

I am also in the place where I can look at my work for the first time as a finished whole, even if it is unpolished, and find answers to the questions I have had since its initial conception, a particularly significant fact given the immense strain I have felt several times throughout the writing of this book in specific regards to its themes and purpose.

You see, at first I thought it was about community, the importance and need for others. Then race, a topic which I have never felt particularly qualified to speak of in the first place, and even more so within the context of this book, which features a slaver and slave as two of the main characters. This was the first pressure point I felt in writing this novel, but surprisingly not the hardest.

The hardest was the realization that, at the end of the day, this book is about sovereignty, positional authority, and with equal importance, grace, and while the last of these themes is wildly popular in our society (a topic I wanted to approach for just such a reason), the first two are not only unpopular topics, but also often wildly rejected. In a society where we are told constantly that our own authority and truths are the most valid, true or authoritative, where if we disagree with something on almost any ground, we can fight or ignore it, the idea that others might simply have authority over us, that they might by the authority of their position be in a place to ordain or command our decisions, is at the very least uncomfortable if not extremely unpleasant for many today, especially within my target market of young and new adult readers.

Compounding this trouble is the fact that the one in my novel who has this control is the slaver, the one who is forced to obey the slave. And while in the context of the novel, one finds the slaver (who is at least somewhat unaware of his complicity, besides his repentance and attempts to fix the inherent problems at their root) to be of a much greater character than the blood thirsty portraits one immediately jumps to given the term, to say nothing of the real parallels I want to strike, given the current racial tensions in our society today, I question how readers might interpret my work.

Now, this is the most overtly Christian book I think I’ve ever written. The themes, correctly interpreted, will hopefully call to attention the importance of God as sovereign, especially in the context of its position in His plan of redemption and grace. Outside of the context of Christianity, outside of this framework for understanding the novel, you wind up with something that is much more easy to misinterpret. Further, though the characters involved do fulfill a somewhat representative role of our relationship with God, none of them actually are God. Atlan, though he shares certain characteristics of God–sovereignty as a King, positional authority, a desire for grace–he certainly doesn’t carry any of them to the same degree. Nor does he have other aspects of God–his perfection, omniscience, omnipotence. Atlan is flawed–seriously flawed–and of course, even if I tried to write him to be perfect, I couldn’t do it. He is at best a flawed picture, a picture as in a dull mirror, as it were.

Which gets us to our summary: I have written a novel for young adults (originally middle grade and I’m still on the fence) which through portraits of a benevolent slaver and his feisty slave seeks to show in part, the importance of positional authority and sovereignty in God’ s plan for redemption.

Essentially, I have written what might be one of my most unsaleable novels.

Except, when I think of what I could do instead, could change, nothing comes to mind. Atlan does want to rescue Mira, is willing to do whatever it takes to free her. Mira will equally resist his friendship until…well…you’ll have to read the book for that. Point is, there’s nothing I can change about the story’s heart. It is what it is, and though smaller things might change, there are others that I’m not sure can, whether it’s popular or not.

Besides that, as an artist–and furthermore and more importantly as a Christian–I believe I am called to ask questions of others, to explore topics and ideas that point to truth whether or not they are seen as worthy in the public’s eye, whether or not people wish to discuss them, or agree with what I think. I am called to ask questions, to start dialogue, to tell stories. There is a great call to tell diverse stories in today’s publishing world. And while I’m not sure how this story will fare in the long run, I feel at the very least that this answers that call. I guess in the end, only God will be able to tell if I’ve answered the others.

Anyway, these are the things I’ve been musing over in this initial post-novel phase.

So, how about you? Have you ever written or created something you felt would be unpopular? Have you ever struggled with the great tension between worldly popularity and the call of God? What do you even think of this novel? Would you read it? Would you ban it? How could you interpret it? How do you think people would?

Making new art!

Hi everybody!

Sorry my first March post is coming so late. It’s been a busy month! First of all, on the first Saturday (the seventh) I taught my first writing workshop! It was an introductory course on choosing what format to write in, plot, characters and setting and it was a big hit! It’s hopefully the first of several workshops, so I was pretty stoked that it went as well as it did. Additionally, as long as we’re on the good news train, I’ve been working very hard towards getting my back into order, with a fair amount of success.

Thirdly (and separate paragraph-ly worthy), besides my job, musical assistance, dance, reading, video games and other usual suspects for weekly activities, this past week I was also given the extreme pleasure and honor of getting to see the St. John’s Illuminated Bible at the Chazen museum in Madison. If you haven’t heard of it, look it up, and if you ever get the chance to see it, I highly, highly suggest it. All of the pictures you see on the internet absolutely do not do it justice. It’s amazing. I was also given the honor of hearing/seeing a presentation/demonstration on calligraphy by a traditional Sefer Jewish calligrapher (I believe that’s the correct term. Please forgive me if it’s not!), which is to my understanding a scribe trained in writing Torahs in the same way they’ve been written since basically forever. He was also a rabbi. In any case, it was super interesting (Did you know they sing the words and letters as they write them? Fascinating!) and such a beautiful example of intentionality. Something that struck me in particular was how everything came back to holiness. Specifically something he referred to as “Steps of holiness.” There is a technical Hebrew term for this, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it and don’t know Hebrew well enough to remember/spell it. Regardless, the idea is basically that once you have raised something to a certain level of holiness, it is disrespectful to lower it again, which means if you cut a square out of a hide (like everything else involved, it has to be kosher) to write on, the entire hide is holy, which means you can’t throw it away. You either have to use the rest for another holy purpose, bury it or keep it forever. Even the tiniest scraps of hide (the calligrapher said that he actually boils the really tiny pieces down to use as holy glue. Legitimately cool, am I right??) or flecks of dried ink have to be treated this way. An interesting thought when considering that I, as a carrier of Christ, have been set aside as holy myself (Where do my scraps go? Do I maintain that level of holiness, etc.?), but I digress, as these things, though wonderful, are not the point of this post.

The main point is to tell you that I’ve been making new art, and to share what it looks like.

So, as a bit of backstory, when I was in high school, still an angry, angsty teenager who didn’t know how much God loved me or just how hypocritical I was behaving in relation to my Christian beliefs, I was given an art project to paint a dream. Naturally, being angsty, I asked if I could paint a nightmare instead and, either by grace, interest or general indifference, was given the go ahead. This project is the point I most specifically remember as sparking my (real) turn towards Christ. Essentially, I painted the nightmare of abandonment and rejection (I was especially over dramatic back then) that I had previously lived through and feared living through again, and in the process realized that what scared me more than that was not just the fact that it made me sad, but that deep inside what it really made me was angry. Exhibit A:

Old Self Portrait
Yeah, I was a dramatic child.

In many ways, that painting came to reflect a lot of how I saw myself at the time. A wounded shadow wandering through the desert of life alone, hiding behind breaking masks. Like I said, angst to the max.

Since then, a lot has changed.

In doing some self-reflection over the past few months, I decided to do a new self portrait. At the time I had an image of someone made of many pieces (some of which I am still unaware or just becoming aware of), being slowly brought together by an outside inner force. It had much to do with the fact that this whole dance thing has still so taken me by surprise, but also because of the healing I’ve received over this last, well, almost a decade now. In any case, the result was this, Exhibit B.

New Self Portrait
Much better.

The colors are a little off from having to adjust the brightness (imagine a mint green for the background and a metallic gold almost like a gold leaf for the hands/inner face), but I’m sure you can adjust. So yeah, God’s doing a lot, just as he always is, and for that I am and will be eternally grateful. Thanks Jesus!

And to you, my gentle readers, thanks for reading!

My ArtCorgi author portrait

Hey all,

First off, sorry I haven’ t posted in ages. July was hecka busy.

Secondly, let’s talk about a new site I found called ArtCorgi (homepage here).

ArtCorgi is a network of artists who all do commissioned artwork. They have a wide variety of styles to choose from, with several different filters you can use to find the right style for you. The site administrators (handlers? agents?) handle all the middle man-ing so the artists can focus on what they do best: make the art itself. These guys popped up on my newsfeed a while back, and being a fan of both art and corgis, I decided to check them out. On a whim, I decided to like them, and on a further whim commented on a post they had regarding grandiose portraits. They asked what kind of fancy portrait one would get if they could, and, having come up with my own concept for this idea some five years ago, I decided to throw it out there. I won’t bother much with the details, as you’ll see both the draft and final below, but apparently my idea was so rad that Founder and COO Simone Collins decided to give me a discount just to make sure it got made. She sent me a few different artists as suggestions, and I decided to go with Clay Graham (see his work here), the artist that I felt best fit the work I wanted to get. We worked out pricing and usage, Simone being exceedingly friendly, prompt and professional throughout, and then I sat back to watch my portrait come to life.

The work itself was prompt as well, and I got my draft within a matter of days (you only get one round of revisions, which may sound harsh from a client stand point, but is actually incredibly gracious and respectful to artists and their time, something which almost never happens on freelancing websites). Based on my description, it looked like this:

Portrait draft
My Artcorgi author portrait draft by Clay Graham

Pretty friggin sweet, no? I sent back my revisions, which initially involved a rather extensive change of story to make it a bit more obvious whose side each of the different animals were on (the tiger and wolf are on my side, shark and bear, not so much), Simone spoke to Clay on my behalf, and he, having already started inking it, asked if it was alright to keep the original composition with a few changes to address the issues I had mentioned. Given how much I love the shark and wolf, I decided to stick with it (also because for him, that really would have sucked), giving a bit more direction on how to solve the problem, and shortly after, I got the final, both as a regular image and in an elongated Facebook cover photo size.

Final portrait
Final Artcorgi author portrait by Clay Graham

So yeah, pretty dang sweet, and while I’m not a huge fan of purple and after the fact realized that I was missing my quiver and bow and broadsword strapped across the back (I missed it in my revisions and didn’t say any colors I didn’t want, so I didn’t bother to mention either later), I am happy with the result. I mean, how could you not be? Look at me punching that shark. I’m saving kittens from a burning building and that wolf. That. Wolf. I think I like it more and more every time I see it, and it’s the exceedingly epic portrait that I wanted to get going into this.

Also, they’re going to feature my story and an interview with me on their blog, so, you know, that’s awesome.

On a more review-ish side of Artcorgi itself, I wanted to point out a few things that really struck me as great.

First of all, these guys really are very prompt and professional. I never had to wait more than a day for any response to any email and they really did seem to take an interest in my story. Simone was always cheery and friendly in her emails and seemed genuinely excited about working with me. She has shown interest in my work as an author and my life in general and has just been so incredibly sweet.

Secondly, so far as I can tell from just being a client, these guys actually do take care of their artists. I’ve tried a bit of freelancing myself through an online venue, and the thing I most got out of the experience is that most freelancing sites do way more to protect the clients than they do to protect the workers. ArtCorgi does both, and that’s something I really respect. In fact, as someone who wouldn’t normally have sprung for their offer on the portrait, it literally was the game changer between getting this done or not. I really wanted to support something that honors artists and their time while still making sure the client gets what they need, and while I don’t know for sure what it’s like to work as an artist there, visual art not being my strong point, from what I’ve seen on their website (specifically here), they do take steps to make sure that their artists maintain a lot of control, specifically in regards to work pace and work load, two things that as an artist can totally be a killer.

Anyway, I just wanted to write this post as a sort of thank you and shout out to a new website I really like. You should definitely check them out if you need some art made, and support a website that supports great art, great ideas and the relationships in between.

A tree grows in my room

Hello Darlings!

I want to tell you guys about a really great idea my friend Alma told me about. It’s called a “prayer tree.” For Alma, it’s a tree she made out of painters’s tape on her wall with branches representing things/people/needs/etc. she wants to pray for and leaves representing her (and occasionally others’s) prayers. She told me it’s like a map to her heart because it shows her what’s on her heart and what she prays for most, as well as what she doesn’t. I’ve been trying to find something to help me in my own prayer life on many levels, and I really liked the idea because:

  1. I can get super distracted in prayer, so having something visual to remind me what I’m doing might help.
  2. Having a visual way to keep track (I REALLY hate using the phrase “keep track” or “tracking” but I’m going to use it throughout this for lack of a better phrase) of requests will hopefully help me be more disciplined about actually praying for people when I say that I will. (Not that I don’t pray for them at all, but sometimes things just slip.)
  3. It’s not a checklist. God’s not a vending machine, so while I do want to be mindful of things to pray for, I don’t like the idea of having a bunch of tick boxes to approach a relationship with God.
  4. Having a visual way of tracking prayer requests over time is a rewarding way to see God moving across many lives and areas of my life, as well as a reminder to me of where God has been faithful in the past.
  5. I am increasingly finding value in using the actual physical act of creating something as a way to connect with God, whether that’s drawing while worshiping, journaling with pen and paper or drawing and taping things on/to the wall.
  6. I like the idea of using something natural and organic and changing with prayer. I personally have to be very careful of setting up systems and rules for myself in many areas, including connecting with God, so having something so fluid is comforting.
  7. The thought of infusing a part of your house with prayer is kind of neat. Not like I would worship the tree or anything, but the idea of creating a holy space where prayers have been drawn, written or focused. I think it’s neat.

So, anyway, once I heard the idea, I wanted to make my own. I toyed with how to do this because I wasn’t sure that the prayer tree that Alma has would be as good of a fit for me as it is for her. She doesn’t take down leaves unless she moves out, and I wanted to be able to take down answered, or perhaps expired, leaves. I also wasn’t sure a tree was exactly the best fit because I didn’t want it to look like I had everyone’s needs placed over the head of my bed (the only reasonable place to put it), I have traditionally been terrible at drawing trees, and thought maybe there might be a more Abby-specific version I could make, like a bookshelf or something.

Anyway, I thought about it and talked to my mom about it, and she suggested some modifications that ended up being exactly what I wanted. I now have penciled-in branches to represent areas of my life (my “wishlist”, gifts/talents, fruit of the spirit, family, friends and causes/issues/organizations), roots with important verses written next to them at the bottom, a trunk for my relationship with God, penciled-in leaves to represent specific people/responsibilities/items in the branch areas (ex: my fruit of the spirit branch has leaves for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, etc.), and different colored discs of paper to represent the prayers as fruit. The different colors show me what kind of prayer it is (dreams/goals, finances, health, safety, relationships, provision, self-improvement, clarity/guidance, etc.), which is super neat because I can see what kind of prayers I pray for my friends, for myself and areas in which God is moving (#trending?). I put dates on one side of each fruit and the request on the other, tape them near their leaves prayer side facing in for privacy, and when they get answered, I can take them down, put a new date on them and put them somewhere for future viewing. I finished it today, so here’s what it looks like (I took this with an average intelligence phone, so sorry the quality is not the best):

prayer tree

What I like most about my mom’s fruit idea is that it lets me jazz up or focus my prayer life. I can pray for just one branch of the tree, pray for one specific color of the tree, or pick and choose related things without being worried about forgetting everything else. Sometimes I can get into LIST ALL OF THE REQUESTS mode when I pray because I don’t want to forget anything I told people I’d pray for, so it’s nice to be like, hey, you don’t have to pray for everything at once. Cool it. It’s a conversation, don’t be a time hog, you can pray for that later or tomorrow or next week. You won’t forget, it’s right there.

I’m still trying to figure out how not to make this just a different kind of checklist and remember that it’s about conversation and relationship, not requests, but we’ll see how it goes.

So, what do you think? Neat idea? Another system? If you made one, would you do it like this? If not, what would you do? Let me know! (Oh, and I also figured out a way to do the bookshelf now that I’m done. Whoops. Oh well. Maybe another time.)

Genre grammar

I am increasingly coming to find that storytelling is the main lens through which I understand the world. Knowing storytelling has helped me better understand my relationship with God, appreciate the lives, gifts and stories of others and advance my singing and acting ability, limited as that might be. Essentially, if you can explain something to me as it relates to storytelling or writing, it’s probably going to click. In keeping with this theme, I have recently realized that everything has grammar.

See, I’ve always had a sort of rogue-ish disregard for grammar. My attitude has pretty consistently been that I only need to know the rules well enough to know when to bend or break them, and while I’ve always instinctively written well enough to support this rakish, cowgirl attitude, I’m starting to see through other things in my life just how important those rules are (still can’t list them out on paper though).

For example, I’m reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The dialog is firmly seated in the way those in the depression-era South would actually speak as opposed to how proper grammar would dictate, and while that makes the writing “wrong” grammatically speaking, it is correct from a story perspective, much as his “in between” chapters as I think of them, vignettes chronicling the lives of other non-Joad characters, may be correct despite bending or breaking grammatical rules, the car salesman chapter, which struck me as just a little too long if we’re being honest, coming chiefly to mind.

What strikes me about this book in regards to what I’m talking about is that Steinbeck obviously understands proper grammar. As a reader I understand when he says “fust” instead of “first” it’s not a typo an editor missed, it’s a choice to depart from proper English rooted in an understanding of proper English. You can tell because of how clean the rest of the writing is. It’s the difference between someone unknowingly saying “to” instead of “too” in a Facebook post and someone saying “to” instead of “too” when writing about someone posting. There’s a certain amount of jazz to writing, and while you might be able to “get by” on instinct (and who wants to do that?), knowing those rules is what allows a writer to tighten up a decent story and turn it into a masterpiece. It’s the common thrum of understanding through which language players pick and strum.

It’s not limited to nuts and bolts sentence structure and commas either. While yes, I can exclude a comma, or as is far more likely, add a bunch, this idea of rules extends to the length of paragraphs, formatting, genre specifications and, as I’ve just realized, non-writing things. I came fully to this conclusion on Thursday while talking with a friend of mine about a new story I’ll be attempting which takes place in the depression-era South (hence the Steinbeck. Research, research!). I was concerned because I’ve never planted myself firmly in real Earth life. I don’t know that I can think of a single creative thing I’ve ever written (besides maybe a few autobiographical papers for school) that’s been limited to the rules of the world we live in, primarily because it’s easier for me to make things up–besides being more fun–and secondarily, now that I’ve given it some thought, because regular Earth stories have never been the best way to tell what I’ve wanted to tell. Even my stageplay, set in a world very similar to 1940s New York is not actually in 1940s New York. It just has that vibe to give the audience some markers to cling to, like commas pointing the way to where a character is pausing to think. There are points of common understanding within society, genres and language in general. Respectfully, I can take advantage of these, using what I know an audience or reader knows or expects to support, surprise, question or inform. A good example of this in action is the ending of the exceedingly popular Disney movie Frozen, which I won’t spoil here, but was surprising because of its build and eventual turn of expectations. The Decoy Bride, a chick flick starring David Tennant (hence my venture into the chick flick genre, ground rarely tread by me) was also pleasing for its divergence from chick flick norms.

So, how does this transfer into non-writing activities?

Well, using another prevalent example in my life, think about dancing (my musings on working storytelling into dance going hand in hand with the depression-era South story to bring about these revelations). What grammar is there in that? Technique. Besides the more obvious differences between the feel and approach of Swing, Smooth and Latin, there’s also a lot of play in each dance. Foxtrot can be classy, smooth and romantic or sassy, jaunty, bouncy and mischievous. Sometimes both. It depends on where I’m dancing, who I’m dancing with, what the music is like, what cultural assumptions or influences I’m drawing on or from, and of course, the story. Rumba, likewise, could be a sultry championship run with two young folk or an intimate slow dance between that couple who’s been married forty years and barely knows the steps. Each is an equally valid story, the difference in why and how they’re being told, with the rules of the steps as the exact same base for each. If you want to be able to dance both a jaunty foxtrot and a romantic one, if you want to do competitive or social, you have to know the base. The same goes for creating a new play for your basketball team, stylizing anatomy, color or materials in art, making a new recipe or really, anything else. Know the grammar first, then play.

Thanks for reading!

Truth in storytelling and cross-stitching

A one-two punch post:

Truth in Storytelling

So, to me, storytelling is in everything. Our lives are stories. Dancing, cooking, painting, legoes, books, houses, work: all storytelling. The very universe we live in is part of the greatest story that has ever been told, really, I suppose, the only story, the  story.

My goal in life then is to make sure that my part of it, my chapter I suppose, or more realisitically, paragraph, sentence or even single little word, is a good one. As I write and grow and live, I’ve had to think about what exactly that means. Why do we write or tell stories at all and why, more specifically, do we write the ones we do? After a great deal of consideration, I’ve come up with these thoughts.

  1. All writing teaches.
  2. All writing should reveal truth.

Technically speaking, I think all writing does reveal truth, in a way, though not necessarily in the way I mean when I say that. So to avoid any misunderstanding, let’s unpack these a little. Oh, and for this post, I am going to use writing and storytelling somewhat interchangeably as I believe this applies to storytelling in general, but am trying to apply it specifically to my own writing.

All Writing Teaches

If you’re reading the label on a can of beans, you’re learning something. If you’re reading a letter or memoir or book, you’re learning. It doesn’t have to be an instructional book necessarily. Maybe all you’re learning is the story itself. Regardless, I think every time you read something (or hear or see it in the case of plays, movies, audiobooks, podcasts, etc.), you are learning something. I suppose this is true of every time you use your senses in any way, but seeing as I view cooking or metal working or anything else you do as a form of storytelling as well, that rather makes sense. Regardless, sticking to the point, storytelling teaches.

All Writing Should Reveal Truth

If you’re reading the label on a can of beans, and it says carrots, but you know for a fact that there are beans inside, you’re learning that the label is wrong. Either it’s the wrong label or the person who wrote it wanted to deceive you or they themselves earnestly thought there were carrots inside and were simply mistaken. Regardless of that or any other some such happenstance, you’ve learned something. In the same way, I think storytelling is meant to reveal truth. It may be hidden behind an unreliable narrator or because I’m trying to sneak a reveal up on you or because honestly, I as a human am an unreliable narrator myself, but at its core, I think that storytelling is meant to show things that are true.

This has honestly been a bit of a struggle for me because for a long time I always wanted my writing to have some deep, profound message or question you found or asked at the end, a big truth, as it were or at least something that made you want to look for one. I wanted something big, was afraid of telling untruths, and didn’t respect little truths as much as I should.

I struggled with it in reading too. It has taken me a long, long time to get into short stories, both as a reader and as writer, and part of that was because there were so many stories that didn’t seem to have a meaning. There was no big question, there was no big moral, and often times, they were just about something that happened to somebody on a slightly beyond normal day. Reading stories outside of my genres of choice (sci-fi, young adult, fantasy) in particular were difficult for me. Why should I care what little thing happened to Joe Schmoe on October 22nd, 1982? Why should these things matter?

But that’s the beauty of storytelling, as well as the teller’s burden. You see, when that author writes that story about Joe Schmoe, there’s an opportunity, and I believe responsibility, for that author to speak truth. When I write about Rick or Cog or anyone else in my books, I’m their window. They live in me and if I do not represent them and their world accurately to the best of my ability, in their actions, in describing their world, in everything else, the best my readers will get is a skewed understanding, a portrait of wax that’s been left out in the sun. My characters (well, everyone really, fiction or no) have something to share, a story to tell, and in the case of those under my literary care, I am the only voice by which their message can reach the world. People are always so terrified of being forgotten on this planet. They don’t want to be put down as a traitor when they were a martyr, don’t want to be lost to memory by the time their grandkids are 10. For us, as people, that’s often why we do what we do, why we strive for success and fame and fortune and network and speak and connect. It’s often why we tell the stories we do, because we don’t want our chapter, paragraph, sentence, word to be forgotten or missed. We want it to be a good one. This gets tricky of course based on your understanding of “good” but that’s rather a different post and, honestly, a core part of what stories you’ll tell anyway.

Anyway, for the author, painter, or storyteller of any kind working in fiction, this idea is what makes our responsibility so grave (and exciting). Because when a character lives in you, you are the only window. The only way for their word to be told. There are no other viewers, stats, research or anything  else to inform your reader (fan-fic aside, but that of course can only come afterwards of course). It’s just you telling the world what you know, sharing those people the best you can. That’s what makes editing, practicing and so on important, because you are trying to tell the truth. Even if Rick and Cog live nowhere else besides inside me, that doesn’t mean that I am not responsible to them–and my reader–(if anything I am therefore more responsible) to represent them as accurately and truthfully as I can. Even if that means representing them through the skewed understanding of Rick’s point of view for the sake of revealing the truth of how Rick thinks. That’s what validates the unreliable narrator.

This idea of truth in storytelling extends not to just telling the truth about characters, but to speaking truths in general. This train of thought first developed in me during my AP Comp class in high school–one of if not the best class I have ever taken, while reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which I highly, highly, highly recommend (fair warning, there is some graphic, gruesome stuff in it, given its subject matter, the Vietnam war). In his story (chapter?) titled “How to Tell a True War Story” there is one line in particular that has always stuck with me. “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”1 Honestly that story, besides that line, has been one of the most impactful things I’ve ever read, and though I don’t believe I’m in a place to speak much on the subject of war myself, I do think the idea holds true in what I do know and write about. It’s the same reason we tell parables, fables and fairy tales or the same reason we use symbolism. It’s why classics become classics. Because even if our firemen don’t burn books and there isn’t a magical land inside our closet, we can recognize truth in the pages. This is why I write. To tell those truths through my life and through the lives and discoveries of those inside me.

It is a tricky thing, because you have to remember that a truth that is significant or even trivial to Joe Schmoe on October 22nd, 1982 is just as important to him and the world as the revelation of love to Rochester or the tragedy of the Invisible Man, and in the quest to tell a larger truth you can’t neglect smaller ones. Life is not made always in great, singing leaps after all, but often in tiny, trembling steps, and both are to be equally lauded if the heart behind them is right. By the same token small truths must often be used to lead us to great ones, like a child taking those first shaky steps or a baby first learning to eat. I hope someday my own work may whet those same appetites, even to lead others to feasts.

Now, I could talk about this for hours, but seeing as this post is getting lengthy and I still want to talk about a lighter subject, I’ll end here with a simple encouragement to ask questions or leave comments if you want to talk more. I am more than happy to do so. Thanks for reading this far. Can’t wait to see you (be read by you?) on the other side of the next subtitle!

1 O’Brien, Tim. “How to Tell a True War Story.” The Things They Carried. London: Flamingo, 1991. 83. Print.

Cross-Stitching

I’ve started a giant project to cross-stitch Rick and Cog together with some lyrics from “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes, a song I often refer to somewhat jokingly as the Cog Song and regardless of any connection is fantastic. I’ve already learned a lot from this project about pattern making and cross-stitching in general, but I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that cross-stitching takes a long, long time. I started by hand-drawing the pattern as a sketch, and then uploaded it to pic 2 pat, a site where you can upload photos, tell them the size you want and the thread you want to use and then pick from generated patterns they supply, all for free, which is really nice. I made things a little hard on myself because when I scanned my image in, I ended up uploading it in black and white, which of course came back as gray-scale patterns which were really hard to tell apart when choosing. I ended up printing it off and then having to go back in and trace square by square which squares I actually wanted in black, ignoring the ones in lighter shades of gray and white. From there I decided to transcribe the whole pattern over to graph paper generated by PrintFreeGraphPaper.com because the indicator for a white stitch on the pic 2 pat pattern I’d chosen was a black square (because white was the most common color used and a black square the most prominent indicator, not because they’d intended to invert the image). Once all that was done some many hours later, I had to get the materials I needed, which were all fairly cheap and could be found at any craft store (the needle threader is pretty much indispensable in my opinion), find the exact center of my pattern and start from there in the middle of my fabric (to keep it centered), which was somewhat difficult because I’d ended up transcribing it over in such a way that the white around the edges was not even. Since then I’ve been working for probably an hour a day at least on it and have gotten as far as you can see below, which is the majority of Cog’s horns.

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It’s only about four and a half inches tall right now, so yeah, still pretty small, but I was pretty ambitious in choosing a pattern that’s going to be about 20″ x 14″ when finished, so I only have myself to blame.

The really cool thing I wanted to point out about this though is how fascinating it is to do a slightly more 3D pattern of characters from my book. I draw OCs (original characters) a lot when I draw, but that’s just two dimensional and as cool as it is to see them come alive on the page, there’s still that barrier between us. This is a very different experience because for one thing the time it’s taking makes it all the more satisfying when I see the results and because when I’m done, I’ll have something that I can feel. If I run fingers over a drawing, the best I’ll do is feel paper and hopefully not smudge the pencil everywhere. With this, I can feel little bumps and textures, and even though I’m sure Cog’s horns don’t feel like embroidery floss, nor his fur or Rick’s shirt or skin or hair, it’s still cool to be able to trace the contours where the horns connect and know that I’ve been slowly molding and sculpting that. It has a certain craftsmanship about it that I adore and, though time consuming, it is super relaxing. Definitely a nice thing to do while watching a movie or resting to music.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Bye everyone! Thanks for reading!

It’s okay to say no and be sad, pt. 1

So lately I’ve been learning a lot about feelings. This may sound odd coming from someone who is definitely old enough to know about feelings, but then, you’re never too old to learn, so here we go.

Firstly, I’d just like to say that God has been showing me a lot about joy and about what it means to love people lately. In the past 7 years, I would say that I have made an almost complete turn around from where I used to be, because honestly, back then, I really didn’t like people that much. I owned the identity of misanthrope proudly and though I really didn’t like myself either, I did consider myself exceedingly witty in my cynicism. Honestly, I look at myself back then and see a bully. I didn’t see my own value, and so chose to strike it down in others. Then, while working on an art project for school themed around nightmares (shout out to Mr. Wong for being an ace of a teacher!), I realized just how much I didn’t like being angry all the time. I didn’t like hardening myself and telling myself that I was just going to be the cynic. For so long I’d learned to tell myself that people expected me to be the cynic, and so, cruelly, I played the part. But that’s not who I wanted to be, and that’s not who God calls anyone to be, so I started to change. I started to really pursue God and stopped spending so much time chasing after the opinions of other people.

There’s a lot more to the story, but basically, at this point, I feel like I’ve finally really found my value in Christ and know that it cannot be shaken, no matter what else happens in my life. And, now that I can see it in myself, I can see it so much more easily in others. That’s amazing. Sometimes I feel like I just love everybody in the world. It’s become so real to me that God has made us all, that God LOVES us all, and it’s filled me with this incredible joy and an ease in loving others. I mean, God’s joy has slowly been growing in me over these many years as I’ve learned more about who He is and who I am and His plans for me and everything, but I’ve just felt like it’s been exploding lately because I’ve finally realized that everyone around me is SO COOL. They do things that only they do. They’re the only person in the world that does things exactly like they do. And God loves them and sees the way they do things and smiles because He made them to do things just that way and He delights in them doing it. Do you realize how crazy amazing that is? It’s SUPER crazy amazing. I love it and I love Him and I love them.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s when I got busy, and my car ended up in the shop, and I found out I’m losing my job.

See, I’m pretty heavily introverted, so when I get busy and am around people constantly with little to no time to recharge by myself, I get incredibly exhausted. I still love the people around me, and I still love the things I’m doing, but there’s this little part of me that starts thinking, “I love you/this, but if I went home and slept and didn’t see anybody for X amount of days, that would definitely be fine too.” The longer I go without recharging, the larger X gets. So when this fall got insanely busy–busier than usual, which in itself is usually pretty packed–I started feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was spending a lot of money doing things with people too, so I was starting to feel financially strained. I started taking ballroom dance lessons at Arthur Murray (and I cannot recommend them enough. I adore them all) this summer and that’s become extremely important to me and I was starting to feel like I wasn’t going to be able to continue because of how I was hemorrhaging money. Then, I got an opportunity to take a tap class with some friends. It was an 8 week course for 72 dollars, and the first night we went, I had had a terribly overwhelming day and was feeling like I was drowning a little with how much was still packed into the rest of the week. I was struggling with whether or not I should take the class at all because it was friends I’d spent most of my summer with and I haven’t been able to see them much lately due to our schedules picking up and I would be the only one out of our little quartet not to go, but I was also so busy and overspending and not taking care of my introverted side like I should. I felt so guilty, like I would completely disappoint them or like they’d be mad at me or something.

Then I realized, if a friend of mine was only going to do something with me out of guilt, would I want them to do it at all?

Not really. As my best friend and I always joke “If I have to tell you I want flowers, I don’t want flowers.” It’s sorta the same principle. If my primary reasoning for going was guilt, that wouldn’t be what any of us wanted. They wanted me to take it because they love me and want to spend time with me. And if that was going to come at the expense of my emotional, mental, financial or whatever kind of health, they wouldn’t want that.

I ended up wanting to take the class because it was fun, but then my car broke down, essentially sucking up most of my tap class, ballroom dance shoe and ballroom dance lesson budget in one fell swoop. So I still had to say no, but the important thing I learned was that it was okay for me to do that. Boundaries are super important, and if you’re hurting yourself to try to make your friends happy, that’s never the best plan.

Anyway, this post is getting super long, so I’m gonna leave off here and pick up how this all sorta ties into what I’m learning about being sad, hopefully tomorrow.