Back from hiatus, I think

I’m sorry about the long silence. In the last month, there’s just been a lot going on. It’s not about me specifically, but it’s all personal, family-related stuff, so I don’t feel comfortable making it public. But, suffice it to say, many hospitalizations, scary calls/texts, and a great deal of pre-grief soul-searching has been underway. Not a fabulous month, all things considered.

I’m okay, though, because I have the greatest support network in the world.

What’s been odd is that this month has also been one of my most productive in 2019. I’ve written more, edited more, been more inspired, than I have all year. I think, at some point, I hit maximum crisis level. There’s a limit as to how much anxiety and fear and grief and loss and terror a person can feel at one time while remaining able to hold a job every day and do grocery shopping and not fall into unhealthy habits. And I can honestly say I’ve been pretty damn healthy this whole time. I’ve had to be. I’ve let myself cry when I needed to, and given myself permission to forget about it all and watch cartoons when needed. I’ve worked out many if not most days, listened to music, and come up with new story ideas.

I think I saturated my brain so hard, only work and creativity could exist alongside the rest of it.

Still. It’s reminded me how strong people are. People all over the world feel that and far, far worse every day of their lives, and still sing songs, write stories, pen tiny poems that scream their hearts. People can do amazing things to survive, to keep themselves going, to find a spot of joy and a bit of self in the morass that life sometimes gives us. People survive by finding wings and taking flight, even if they cannot move their bodies or escape from cement walls and bars or find even one moment of safety and peace in the day. People are resilient.

And I’m trying my best to be resilient, too.

I don’t always feel okay. There’s a lot still that rips at me, and I think I’m becoming increasingly afraid of getting texts from certain people. But I know the difference between being okay and knowing I’m going to be okay — and I’m going to be okay. Even if everything goes as south as it can go, if it all falls apart, I’ll grieve. I’ll cry and know a deep and terrible loss. I’ll never be the same. But I will be okay. I will be surrounded by those who love me, and they will hold me up when my own resilience gives out. And if the stories and writing haven’t left me now, then they’re never going to. I am a writer in good times and bad. I have it easier when life is easier, but I have it regardless, too.

So I’m going to try to get myself back into this posting habit. I may not always have much I can say, because sometimes the words can’t get through the muck of the rest of it. But I’m going to try. Because I’m still here. I’m still writing. I still have myself, and my courage, and when everything else is gone, I have those who love me.

I hope — I truly hope — that anyone who ever stumbles across my bit of the internet can say the same. And if you’re one of mine, then you should already know that you do.

I leave you with this. I’ve been watching a lot of auditions on YouTube lately (X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, America’s Got Talent, Idol, etc.) because either they are wonderful and soul-affirming, or they’re complete train wrecks and cringey-funny. And different days, I’ve needed different answers. But today was a soul-affirming clip.

It wasn’t what I expected, and it made me feel things I didn’t expect, either. But, then, life is rarely what I expect. And even when it is tragic, it is also still so beautiful.

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Warning: Downswing Commencing

I’ve been having a tough time lately. Maybe it’s a delayed post-CVG crash. But it feels more like a natural downswing, which means the only way forward is to ride it out. It’s not BAD in the way they get sometimes, at least not yet. But the voice inside that tells me that I’m a waste of space and not worth the time or attention from anyone I respect or cherish is a whole lot louder and stronger than the voice that usually rises up in opposition.

It makes it hard to do anything this way. Even to reach out and ask for help. Because how can I possibly ask another for support or encouragement or kindness when I can’t believe I’m worth it? When such an expenditure on their part would be a waste, since they can’t possibly really mean it and I don’t deserve to take it from them?

And then help arrives, and sometimes it makes the voice even louder. “See. Look at that. They put themselves out for me, gave me energy they should have kept for themselves or someone that matters more. And I don’t feel better. So I was right. I am a waste of everyone’s time, because even their generosity doesn’t fix me.”

It’s all lies, of course. Depression lies.

But lies still hurt, still weaken what is already weak. It’s the “fake news” of mental health, but it can still have devastating consequences.

The more insidious lies are the ones about me and my worth, or lack thereof.

There is a part of me that may never believe, no matter how long I try, that anything I do is worthwhile, that it is enough, that it has intrinsic value. Because how can I believe in something of my own, when I can already see how much less it is than another’s? An example is with music. I can sing, sure. I can write lyrics. But I’ll never sing well enough to feel truly okay about it. I’ll never look at a song I wrote and feel that it is sufficient. And then I look at the songs sung by people in the choir, or songs written by Beth, and everything I do feels like crayon scribbles and hoarse shouting in comparison.

I know that there will always be someone better than me at literally everything possible. That’s how the world works. But there’s a difference between “I will never be the best” and “Mine is so much less that it has no worth” and that’s where I get stuck.

In a good frame of mind, I can hold onto this quote from Madeline L’Engle:

My husband is my most ruthless critic. … Sometimes he will say, “It’s been said better before.” Of course. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anyone else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.

In a good frame of mind, I can summon even a spark of defiance. “I may scream into the void, but it’s MY scream, dammit, and I WILL BE HEARD.”

In a good frame of mind, putting any of the truth of myself into the world is worthy enough, and quality matters only in the minds of others.

But I’m not in a good frame of mind today.

However.

If there is a nice thing in this pit of awful, it’s in my self-awareness. I know, even if I can neither feel nor believe it now, that this will pass. No part of me can internalize it, but it’s true nonetheless. I don’t have to feel it or believe it to know that it’s true. This will pass, and I’ll again be able to take pride in what is mine, regardless of how good or not good it is. This will pass and I will be able to feel again that the act of living, of creating, of being myself is worthy in and of itself.

No matter how beaten down and worthless I feel, I know that nothing keeps me down forever.

Sometimes the brain chemicals go wonky. Sometimes the scale slips and the spectrum gets a little heavier on the depression side of bipolar. Sometimes the pain comes, the doubt, the self-hate, the defeat, the loathing, the sorrow.

Right now, that’s all I can feel.

But I know that it won’t beat me.

I can’t summon Defiance or Courage right now. I don’t feel the good things that the people who care for me would offer if I asked. Nothing penetrates the haze.

But today there is still one thing greater than that haze, one thing more powerful still. And to that I cling.

Honor.

Defiance has gone dormant in me. Endurance is exhausted and doesn’t care to raise its head today. But there is a reason I started my pillars with Honor, and a reason it provides the framework.

I put this up on another entry just about a year ago. It’s a quote from Jane Eyre:

“I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

In this case, it is the literal truth of where I am at.

I am in a downswing, and the world has lost meaning. I have no value. The outlook is bleak.

But I have given my word to many people, and to myself. I made promises to be there for others, to take care of them, to treat them with compassion, to support them, to laugh with them. I have meetings on my calendar and tasks on my list that rely upon me to accomplish them. These are all vows and agreements I made when I was sane, as it were. When I was not in the dark place that now surrounds me.

So I plant my feet in my Honor. If I cannot believe in the good things, I cannot give up on them either because I gave my word. And if I can hold onto nothing else in this haze, if nothing else is real and true, then my word shall be.

Just because I can’t feel good about things, because I can’t see one iota of worth in myself, that does not give me the right to be forsworn. Just because I would rather give up does not give me the right to break promises. Just because I am nothing does not mean my vows and service to others are similarly nothing.

And as I think on that a while, as I lean on Honor as the pillar which as not forsaken me, then others start to wake up again.

Endurance chuckles like an exhausted boxer in the ring. “Down and out? Not yet.”

Courage opens a sleepy eye. “It doesn’t matter if your heart is screaming. Get up anyway; it’s only pain.”

Defiance hauls in a breath after near suffocation. “If the world is against you, even inside your own head, then the only option is to fight back anyway.”

And they speak together.

“So what if you’re worthless? Worst case scenario is that you are precisely what you feel. So what if you’re right and nothing you contribute can ever matter? So fucking what? Get up. If the best you can do is not bring harm to someone else by keeping your damn word, then do that. If there is NOTHING ELSE in you that matters, then all that’s left are the chains that bind you to obligation. Loath yourself if you want, but you WILL honor those chains until there is no breath left in your body.”

That is why I know, even if I can’t feel it, that this will pass. That is why I know that I won’t be beaten. Because for as long as I am bound in Honor to those I cherish, for as long as I have even one vow outstanding, no matter how I feel, I will have the strength to pull through long enough for everything else to rebound and the haze to fade.

And that is how I will get through today.

Not on the faith that the sun will come up and I’ll feel better tomorrow.

Not because I am loved.

But because I bent the shape of my very self into a thousand promises, put them above everything else. So even if I wanted to lay down and die, I can’t. Not with those vows unfulfilled. They can cut like razors or burn like lava, but they keep me from slipping away.

When you get right down to it, the only real feeling I have left is the love I have for everyone else.

And for them, I will Honor my responsibilities, my promises, my vows.

And for them, I will find a way to Endure the self-hate in order to uphold that Honor.

And for them, that Endurance will become Courage, because fuck pain and fear anyway.

And for them, I will find the Courage once more to Defy even the chemicals in my brain, to throw my head back, and scream, and be heard, and the void will be filled again.

It’s not a smooth process. It drags every part of me over coals and barbed wire and glass shards and gravel. And from moment to moment, I do put my head down and surrender. But those moments pass and the next comes. And because I know that this is not the end, that this cannot be how every breath of my life will feel, because I know that cycles turn and the wheel gives way to a new beginning, I keep going.

I’m not okay. I dunno when I’ll be okay next.

But I’m here. And I have my pillars to which I cling.

Nothing in the world can fix me. But nothing inside me can eradicate me, either.

So, in the end, the only result is success. Even triumph.

Might take me a while, but I’ve got time.

See you on the other side of the haze.

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Back from CONvergence!

I’m back in the real world, but still catching up to reality, if that makes sense. There’s something I put on Twitter about how hard and strange it is to return to life outside the convention after spending a week deep within it. The feeling of isolation has passed (radio withdrawal is a THING), but there’s still a part of me that hasn’t quite put down the mantle of responsibility. I still feel a bit like I’m holding up a pillar upon which my part of the convention stands — and, to some extent, I am. Because I am not a Co-Head only for the 6ish days of CONvergence. I am a Co-Head always. Because stuff happens, always.

But that’s a different discussion.

Anyway, I’m almost back to being fully able to pretend to be a muggle. I’ve had new ideas for stories since CVG, and I’ve appreciated my condo more than ever — cleaning up 3 rooms is SO MUCH EASIER than 3 levels of a house. I’ve even sung a choir gig, including the song where I have the big solo. So life really is continuing whether or not I’m fully back in it.

This week is going to be a bear, however, as I spend the next 3 days locked for 9 hours in one conference room with my work team doing in-person training. Which means not being at home, not hugging Sarah whenever I feel like it, not sitting around in comfy pants, and not having any chance to not be a perfect worker in front of my boss. SIGH.

So I’m going to take this evening and enjoy myself fully to stock up for the next few days of pure slog.

But before I go — look! I actually remembered to get a picture of myself in my full steampunk gear! Complete with a hat I made out of cardboard (that looks absolutely fabulous up close)!

This was, hands down, the most comfortable cosplay I’ve ever done. And, yes, there are rainbow colors in my hair. A friend wove colored extensions into my braids, which freaking made my day when it turned out so well. I think I may start taking more opportunities to add a little color to my hair whenever I can because it made me so happy!

The whole cosplay made me happy, actually. From the Victorian-era maps on the inside of my tails to the gears broach to the plaque on my hat that says “What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” to the prismatic goggles to the LEDs that lit the whole thing up. It just worked for me.

What do you think?

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CONvergence is imminent!

And therefore my brain is tied up in knots and feeling very much like an Escher painting. So I’m going to take my official break and pick the blog back up afterwards.

Until then, here’s about how my brain feels chasing after this crazy thing we call my convention…

(It really is wonderful and fun, too. Just…”you starve and near exhaust me” has a solid ring of truth to it…)

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Art! (And Friends)

So, I think I’ve written previously about my total and complete lack of art skill. It’s not just that I can’t draw, or paint, or otherwise produce visual art. I’m also not great at envisioning it. I can imagine a scenario in a story, or characters, or abstract symbols. But creating something visually interesting and artistically coherent is just not my strength. At all.

But I love art. I love to have color around me, and images of things that make me feel. I have collected figures and pieces from every place I’ve ever traveled or lived, and I love being able to look at them or pick them up and remember what the air tasted like, or how the birds sounded, or what I learned while there. And I love art that is unconventional, art that means something to me but others would find stupid. It’s like an in-joke with myself.

The house used to be filled with art, a picture or a hanging or a carved statue every 3 feet. We kept all of it, because it all had meaning, but moving to a smaller place meant rethinking how we deal with it. Also, while you absolutely can just line the wall with paintings, it’s much more effective visually when you cluster them together in a collection.

So, on Saturday, after 6ish hours of meetings for CONvergence, a couple of friends came over to help us do just that.

Here is the result:

Can I just say? MY FRIENDS ARE AMAZING. For so many reasons. But in this case…I mean, just look at it! It’s beautiful!

I keep walking into the room and just STARING.

I love everything about it. I love the shape, I love the balance, the colors, the way not all the frames have to be black to look like they belong. I love having all the disparate pieces that add up to who I am (and who Sarah is — it’s hers too!) put together like this. And this is just one collage of the three we did!

Moving left to right, we start off with a picture of Princess Mononoke. Beautiful art we bought at CONvergence two years ago from the artist, along with the picture of Nausicaa at the other end. Next in is the newly framed picture of our art print from Beth Kinderman’s album, which arrived just in time to take its rightful place amidst the beauty. Below that is my signed picture (that I bought, did not get in person, SIGH) by the voice cast from the 2012 TMNT. I like everybody, but, let’s be honest, IT IS ALL ABOUT ROB PAULSEN VOICING DONATELLO.

Ahem.

Starting above Beth’s art are a matched pair bought at the same 2017 CONvergence from a different artist; they happen to be characters in a series she puts out, but they also pretty much stand in for Sarah and I (I’m the tiger and she is the hawk). Next to them is the framed Morpho butterfly which was a gift from a friend after I saw them in person when we were in Ecuador in 2009 and proceeded to have a series of life-changing realizations about myself.

Then we have the two big ones, the centerpiece of everything. These we also bought in Ecuador from the artist. They represent the sun god and the moon goddess and they are. Just. Perfect.

(Even if the matting in the frames is giving way — we intend to get that fixed eventually.)

Those two used to hang over our fireplace in the house, so I’ve pretty much been staring at them nonstop for a decade, and I have yet to get tired of them, of the colors, of the symbols. They’re made with banana leaves and recycled paper, if I remember correctly, and the texture is really neat up close, too. Even after all this time, they still speak to me.

Anyway.

Below the moon goddess is a set of three which goes back to 2008 in one of the apartments. All three were found online somewhere (probably a long-dead Deviantart site) and meant to represent the three of us then living together — Sarah, me, and another friend. It was our promise that we would be a home and a refuge for one another, no matter what life threw our way. The friend lived with us for a long time, even in the house for a while, and now lives just across the river from our condo. But for 11 years, we have still be home base for him and for others.

The condo really couldn’t be home if it wasn’t home for more than just Sarah and I.

Left of those is my signed picture of Leonard Nimoy as Spock. It was in one of the last batches he ever signed before he passed away, and I was lucky enough to buy it from his website just in time. That was when he was also offering to be a surrogate father or grandfather for people as well, and I got in on that, too. He also sent a free gift when he sent the picture, which I have perma-loaned to my biggest Trekkie friend so she has something of him in her house as well. I miss him in the world and his wisdom and wonderful humor, but I’m so glad to have this piece of a person who helped define me as a nerd when I was sneakily watching TV long after my parents had gone to bed.

Above is my big TMNT print, also bought at CONvergence in 2017 but not by me. That was a gift from a friend who saw it and thought I would love it. I pretty much broke down and cried when he gave it to me. I didn’t even SEE IT when I was looking for art, and it just…I…IT TURTLES OKAY!!!

Above the turtles are a pair of wolves Sarah bought for herself, also from the artist at CONvergence, but back in 2013. She says they don’t have specific meaning to her other than the fact that she also strongly identifies with wolves, but I look at them and I see her reflected too.

(Which is not to say that the rest of the art is “mine.” It’s VERY MUCH MUTUALLY SHARED. But some things, like the butterfly or Leonard Nimoy, speak more to me. These wolves speak more to her. Mostly, though, it’s both of us.)

And lastly is Nausicaa, so we have Miyazaki on either side.

It makes me SO HAPPY to have this. To see these things brought together intentionally and beautifully, a space made for all of it. And doubly, triply so because I could never have fashioned this layout on my own. I needed my friends for that.

But I never could have fashioned myself alone, either, so it all works out.

There’s more art to hang, but this will be the centerpiece of it all, and very rightly so. After all, this is who lives here, feelings and experience and knowledge of self all wrapped in one.

And also nerdity and fandom.

Because, well. What else would you expect, really?

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Sorry

Last week got missed due to ALL THE CVG stuff. This week I was all set to write an actual post, but now I’m not feeling very good. So I’m going to just…not.

(Yay for a resurgence of my old friend costochondritis, probably…)

This is the time when I may need to take some weeks off due to CONvergence, so don’t be surprised if there is radio silence for the next month or two. Hopefully this time I’ll actually remember to get a picture of myself in my awesome cosplay getup!

(Spoiler — it’s a year for steampunk!)

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Nothing to Prove

I spent the long weekend catching up on sleep, playing an impromptu game of volleyball with about a third of my Operations leadership, and continuing to turn the condo into home. I also started swimming again, and I’m up to 500+m of swimming in a session, which is a good start.

Which also means I’m very tired and my brain is all over the place.

Therefore, I just leave you with this. I love this song, and what it stands for, and everybody who contributed to it.

And also — the Doubleclicks are coming to CONvergence 2019! So if you want to see them live, be in Minneapolis in July!

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The Hero’s Journey

“so walk your path in your own shoes
send off what you stand to lose
cause you can let it be
or let your destiny
become the one you choose”

These lyrics are by my dear friend and acquired sister Beth. They come from the first track of her newest album, The Hero’s Journey.

And now I’m going to tell you why this album is FUCKING EPIC and you need it in your life.

The concept of the hero’s journey as written by Joseph Campbell was the original inspiration when Beth began on this journey of her own more than a decade ago. It’s a structure more than a trope, a monomyth that underpins so many, many,many stories in our culture. You can tell the story of Jesus, Ahab, Jane Eyre, Frodo, the last unicorn, Spock, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter, and a gazillion others under this model. Roughly, it’s been illustrated this way (thanks Wikipedia):

It’s a natural subject for an album, especially for someone so deeply embedded in music and filk culture as my friend Beth. But Beth’s perspective is always unique and I find it no less so this time than I have on any other song project.

(Look here for Beth’s rewrite of Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” No, seriously. And look at the lyrics. When you finish laughing your ass off, you’ll thank me.)

I’ve known Beth for more than a decade as well. We started as friends of friends — I was pulled into her group by a then-roommate who was regularly at her place for roleplaying on Sundays. Before long, I became a fixture at their table, and those Sundays were my escape from everything. Then I became a player in Beth’s game, and there was pretty much no going back from there. The people at Beth’s table became my friends, and ultimately many of them became family.

Sarah and I had tried doing music in the cities a tiny bit before we met Beth, including one hilariously disastrous Christian music competition (spoiler alert: being married kinda played against us). But we really didn’t know anybody, didn’t know where to perform, didn’t have any contacts or anything. One night, though, Sarah came up with me and we jammed with our guitars with Beth for a while, and she thought we might have something worth sharing. Not long after, we played our first gig at a bar.

(The only people who showed up were our friends and Beth’s band. But that was our biggest audience outside of a dorm room so we were more than pleased.)

For a few years, Sarah and I did some light gigging around the Twin Cities. We didn’t really seek it out for ourselves — but if Beth was performing with her band somewhere, a lot of times we could sign up to open for them. It was fun. Her bandmates are fantastic, and as often as not, they’d end up on stage with us jumping in to back us up.

Then, in 2010, Beth was performing at CONvergence but her usual backup singer couldn’t be there and she asked me to step in. Singing with the full band was amazing, but I got a lot more that night than a neat experience rocking out with Beth and the Player Characters. That was the night I spent at my first CONvergence, and when I crawled home at 3am, I woke Sarah up to tell her that I had just discovered our community and we needed to go to it the following year.

So, really, everything that’s come since then for me and CONvergence can be traced back to Beth.

In 2012, Beth and Dave (her producer, engineer, and originator of all the weird guitar noises) helped Sarah and I put together a 4-track album of our own. We only ever sold about 5 copies, but the experience was great for us regardless. And it meant we were a lot more prepared when we started performing at CONvergence ourselves.

But all the while, as Sarah and I figured out our style, and what sort of performance schedule worked for us, and what songs we could share versus which ones we kept for ourselves, Beth was working her way through this album.

Beth’s songs always seem to speak to a part of myself that I don’t always remember to listen for. She does things with music that would never occur to me. (Dave calls it the “key of Beth” and Sarah and I have to agree. It’s that thing where a level of mastery means you can break all the rules; Beth just does it naturally. It’s amazing.) She can hear combinations, melody lines, arrangements that my brain just can’t grasp. But she also writes lyrics that are so strong, so beautifully crafted. What she does putting language together to create meaning always leaves me in awe.

Like the hero in her album, Beth’s made her choice to walk this journey, but she does not come to it empty-handed. She’s not the plucky hero who has nothing going for her but a quip and dumb luck. She embarked on this journey well-supplied with talent and experience and allies and clarity in her eyes.

As an author, the hero’s journey is an important motif — knowing it, knowing when to invoke it, knowing when NOT to invoke it, these all help me create narrative. But I use it as a tool. I don’t think I could have done what Beth did here. She didn’t just tell a story. She turned the journey into an emotional one.

Not without help — the Player Characters really outdid themselves on this album. I will never get tired of listening to what they can create when they unleash their massive talents.

But anyway.

I’ll admit it. I am more often than I am happy with thoroughly intimidated by Beth and what she can do as a musician. Her style, her skill, her raw talent, her lyrics, her drive — there’s really no part of me that feels I could ever do what she does even remotely as well. But then Beth invites me to sing on her album, and all my feelings go WOOOOOOSH.

Sarah and I both sang on this one. We’ve sung on others, too, but this one was so much more. It was a project that was close to Beth’s heart and soul, and it was a project we watched eagerly when Dave gave us access to the files, because we could feel what it was becoming. The chance to be a part of this journey, well. There was no way we wouldn’t happily sign on to be a couple of side characters for a few steps of the quest.

You’ll hear us singing backup in a few places, but the ones that had the greatest impact are the Crossing the First / Crossing the Return Threshold songs. They’re some of the finest and most well-crafted pagan invocations of the elements and directions I’ve heard put down, and we got to be part of them. Sarah sings for Fire, and I sing for Earth. And when I think about standing in the studio next to Sarah and Beth, putting these verses together, I am humbled by the trust Beth put in me to sing this all-important set of tracks with her.

There is nothing easy or simple about letting someone else into what you hold dear and giving them the chance to ruin it. And I wouldn’t ruin it, if I could help it. But there was always the possibility that what I would contribute would not be right, would not be enough, would not fit. (Between Sarah and I, I am the one who is super lousy at harmonizing, and I have to really, really work at it to get something respectable together.) But Beth didn’t worry about that. She trusted me, and she invited me into her heart to get this project done.

Besides the music — and, believe me, the music is enough ALL ON ITS OWN — there is also some absolutely, positively stunning art. The artist made art for all 17 of the songs. They’re very difficult to describe. But they…I mean, they just LOOK like how the songs sound.

Talk about fanart. That is just the ULTIMATE in fanart.

So. Now that I’ve gushed at length about Beth, and her art.

Why did I want to put this in today’s blog?

Well, first. Because the album is out, and I have one, and I love it, and you will love it!

Second, because wayyyy back when I began blogging in the first place, I had always intended to spotlight people who were making things, people who deserved an extra boost of attention. Not that I have a wildly robust readership here, honestly. But if I have a thing, I share it, regardless of how big or awesome it is. I have this small blog, and this small audience, and if that’s all I can offer to a person who has been friend and sister and supporter and source of wisdom and kindness and help, well, then that’s what I’m going to do!

But third?

Last week I wrote about my own writing and inspiration, about the relationship between me and those who contribute to my creative process.

Beth is one of the most supportive people in my life when it comes to my own art. She has always helped Sarah and I with music, has believed in us, has offered us opportunities to perform or grow or learn. But she also can understand my investment in fanfic, can ask me about writing and genuinely care how I feel about it. We approach writing differently, but she has never been far from my list of trusted people I could talk to about stories.

What people do on AO3 with comments, on Twitter/Tumblr with fanart, Beth has done for me in person for the better part of a decade.

I don’t talk about my friends, my family, my Clan very often. Many or most of them are private, and I try to respect that. I don’t give many real names, nor links to ways to reach them. (Sarah is different; she’s always up on YouTube with me.) But promoting Beth, spreading her music and her message and her talent as far as I can is not an invasion or an unwelcome peek into her life on the interwebz. I have her enthusiastic consent to make known to however-many people read this thing how awesome she is and how you should buy her CDs.

While writing this blog (and also working), I’ve had the album on repeat. And I finish writing it feeling like that first time I’ve stepped into a new situation, a new place, a new adventure, and I’m breathing in that new wind and looking up at the new sky, and I am ready to start walking.

She actually captured that feeling for me, that feeling of taking a journey, of stepping into one’s best and truest self, and thereby finding the way home.

“so I’ll depart for more adventures
but know they’re only for a while
though my journey goes on, I am anchored
I’ll come back knowing I am free

I am awake
I am awake
I am awake
I have always been awake.”

My journey as an author is my own. My journey as a musician is bound always to Sarah. But Beth has been there for all of it for a decade. And now that I get to experience her own version of that journey, feeling what she has felt and hearing her heart in her words, all I can do is grin and feel my own heart soaring in return.

I put a lot of music in this blog. Rarely does the music mean as much as this does.

Beth let me step on her journey for a bit, and I am the better for it.

Go listen to it, go buy it. You’ll be better, too.

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Fic and Fandom and Fanart

I’ve written before about the symbiotic relationship between me as a writer of fanfic and the fanfic fans who read what I write, about how they can inspire me and fill me with joy. I’ve also written, though, about how I really only write fanfic for myself, because I have no other choice. Like any author, I have stories that stamp up to me and grab me by the nose and scream “WRITE ME NOW DAMMITALL” and won’t leave me alone until I satisfy them. That’s the creative life, I think.

But sometimes — sometimes — I do write for others.

The glorious thing about a really small fandom is that we all get to kind of know one another. When you’re one of a very small number of contributors to a fandom, you kind of get all the fans, because they are looking for any content they can get. It gives you the chance to get to know them, to form relationships, to collaborate if you so desire.

It’s not something I ever went looking for, but YE GODS am I glad I found it.

The Mighty Max fandom is tiny. I mean, for serious, it’s tiny. The number of people who remember the show is small to start with — the number who like it still and like it well enough to go seeking fan-created additions is miniscule. If there are more than 500 of us online who actively consume Mighty Max fan-stuff, I’d be shocked. I only ever get around 100-200 hits on any given MM story, and fic isn’t everybody’s thing so I don’t expect to grab the whole community. In a world where every person and their great aunt has read/written/drawn for/imagined/begged for Harry Potter fic, to say nothing of the rest of the art, crafts, etc., that is a drop in the ocean.

But just because we are small does not mean that we are not mighty, or that the fans who join us are not awesome. Because they are.

Yesterday a piece of art was debuted on Twitter to me by a friend in the fandom. We are not IRL friends — this is a person who read my MM stories, liked them, and sought me out. It is also a person who has such an amazing capacity to see what I’m doing with my writing and build on it. Now, this person tends to build out in one direction and I tend to go in another, but that’s what makes it so very excellent all around. Because now I have my work, my writing, my headcanon, and I’ve triggered an alternate universe that’s fleshed out and detailed and awesome in its own way alongside it.

But the thing…the thing is…

FANART.

Let me say it again.

FANART.

I love fanart. I love anything that people can draw for me, but most especially from my stories. My ability to draw is FUCKING ZERO, folks. I can’t manage a decent stick figure. I have absolutely, utterly no visual arts ability. I just totally suck at it. It’s weird, because my imagination is so visual. When I’m writing, I can picture my characters and their movements, their expressions, where they stand, how they hold themselves — it’s all in my head. But I just cannot reproduce it one tiny bit.

And, so, because my imagination is so visual and my ability to draw is so thoroughly nil, it makes me so, so, so profoundly happy when somebody draws something that I imagined.

This particular picture is of a recent OC I introduced into my long-running Mighty Max series, and it just about made me cry. It’s so perfect in every respect. It captures almost identically how I had envisioned the character — not just his look, but his attitude. His posture, the slightly defensive way he holds his shoulders, the pride in how he pushes his chest forward, the vaguely sour expression (since is a good guy who has made some pretty awful decisions and now his choices are no longer quite his own).

AND THEN THE SHADOW THING.

I just love every part of it.

But this is just one piece of art. This particular friend has drawn me dozens, I think — bits of character interaction that I wrote or didn’t write, bits invented in that alternate universe we chat about over email, wacky “what ifs” that made me laugh on awful days. But it so perfectly illustrates the point about the relationship between writer and reader.

This OC, and this particular MM universe, came out of my head. Birthed like Athena from the head of Zeus, it sprang from me nearly fully formed, and strode out into the world demanding to be seen and respected. But once that universe existed, it draw to it the kind of people who really understood what it was about, and they offered me much squee and enthusiasm. And from that came new ideas, and new energy.

I didn’t necessarily start writing the stories *for* my fans, but the energy to prioritize those stories over other projects certainly came from them.

But now that I am 19 stories deep into this series, I can say that the dynamic has changed a little. Because the 20th story that is being written right now would not exist without this particular friend, and without the pictures, energy, thoughts, speculations, and commentary. It’s not just that I wouldn’t have launched into Fate Is A Gift #20 without the support, but I don’t think FIAG20 would be what it is becoming without the input.

I am a better writer because I get feedback, and because I can share my own fangirl happy with another. I am a better writer when someone else says “Hey, what about X?” and I think to myself, “I TOTALLY didn’t think about that, and I’m not going to go that way, but that sure leads me to Y and Z!” I am a better writer when I get those random emails and Twitter pokes with a picture or an insight, because it keeps me thinking and that keeps me focused.

Today got away from me — I had 3 meetings and had to take a 2 mile walk in the middle of the day in order to set up to purchase the condo on Wednesday. But I am ready to finish the next chapter of FIAG20, and I have the pieces of the rest of it in my head. And I am absolutely positive that I wouldn’t be to this point if not for that constant and enthusiastic interest and speculation and excitement.

So, I don’t normally write for others, but FIAG20…I might be writing it for a particular fan.

And you know what?

After pages and pages of ideas and insights and alternate versions and FANART…this fan TOTALLY DESERVES IT.

And if for literally nothing else, for this UTTERLY STUNNING depiction of Bran:

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