Showing posts with label navel gazing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label navel gazing. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

One Year; Year One

It’s been a long time since I’ve written something very personal on this blog. I feel the urge today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve developed a recent addiction to reading personal essays by women. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always had an affinity for dates and anniversaries. Perhaps it’s because autumn makes me introspective. Perhaps it's because September 17th, 2012 was the beginning of the rest of my life.

One year ago today, a significant aspect of my life was flipped upside down. I know it was today because I wrote it down in my writing journal. “September 17th, 2012, ----- --------- broke up with me.” It was a single line in the margins between notes about the book projects I had in progress at the time.

My “partner” of 6½ years, with whom I had been living for almost 2 years, unceremoniously broke off our relationship one Monday morning. It was the first day of a week I had taken off work to dedicate to my writing. We'd had a fight the previous night when he came home too late and lied about who he was with. He woke up in the morning, showered and dressed for work, came out to the living room where I was lounging in my pajamas with a book, leaned against a piece of furniture, and told me it was over. He didn’t even sit down to tell me this.

I put “partner” in quotes because that’s never truly what he was to me. It was only what I called him. I started using that term in our sixth year together, when “boyfriend” was too young an expression and “husband” was something we agreed he would never be. (One of many compromises I made was that marriage and children were off the table.) We had a formal domestic partnership in place so that he could be on my health insurance. I had replaced romance with paperwork, thinking I would take what semblance of permanence and commitment I could get. He never used the term. I’m not sure what word he used to refer to me. I’m not sure he ever referred to me at all. I found out several months ago that his boss at a job he’s been at for years didn’t know I had written a book. He was a photographer who only took my picture a few times, an apt metaphor for our relationship. But despite the many problems, it's hard to overstate the effects being in a near 7-year relationship can have on a person, and even harder to overstate the effects of its sudden end. 

We lived passively together for the next 5 weeks, while we worked with our landlord to find someone to take over the apartment, and I tried to find a new place to live. Our life together was shockingly similar to the way it was before the breakup, a fact that made it easier to swallow the reality and the necessity of the situation.

The immediate effect of the breakup, aside from the traditional cycle of grief (which seemed to spin on an endless loop those first few weeks), was a deep introspection and a consuming need for intense self-care, which I had let lapse for years. I planned a trip to Colorado in an effort to reconnect with my semi-estranged sister, my relationship with whom had been strained in large part because of my ex. I emailed another friend with whom I had been estranged for years; he was ecstatic to hear from me, and we forgave each other for past wrongs. I wrote love letters to my friends. I called everyone I loved and made plans with them. I scheduled every day for a solid month to do something, anything. I dedicated myself to a new [semi]-minimalist lifestyle and gave away, sold, or trashed a significant portion of my possessions. I found a beautiful studio apartment in a neighborhood that scared me; I knew living there would make me grow. Moreover, it was somewhere I couldn’t live with another person, so I knew I would have 18 months of living alone—and that was essential for me.

In the midst of all this, as well as being sad and angry and confused, I reconnected with someone else from my past. He was a would-be suitor from a foray into online dating 7 years earlier. We’d run into each other on Facebook in December 2011, when my book came out, and had been “friends” since then, but one or the other of us had been involved. This was the first time we were both single, and to say I began to notice him is a gross understatement. By the time I was in Colorado, we were texting with each other every day, for almost the entire day. We had our first date on November 3. I threw up that morning because I was so in love with him, and we hadn’t even met yet. That date lasted 2 days. Today, we already have plans for a weekend away for our 1-year anniversary, and are planning a trip to Asia. I could write a book about what meeting this man has done to my heart, soul, and mind. We agree it’s a blessing we never went out those 8 years ago; we needed these years to become the people we are, the people who were meant to be together. I lamented the time “wasted” with my ex and he the time wasted on his own dating foibles, but we reminded each other that we are who we are because of what—and who—has happened to us. It truly feels like my whole life was spent in a run-up to meeting him, again, and having him meet me, and then falling in love with each other.

To spend time thinking about what else the past year has brought is not to minimize my new relationship. It is by far the most important thing to happen. But there has been so much more. Indulge me while I take inventory, in no particular order. 
  • I attempted—and failed—to learn French. Relatedly, I learned that learning is harder when you’re older, and that I am not, in fact, good at everything.
  • I turned 31 and threw myself a rager of a birthday party to make up for the failed 30th birthday that had gone forgotten.
  • I gained—and subsequently lost—18 pounds.
  • My football team won the Super Bowl.
  • I put out the second edition of my novel, finished the booktrailer, and threw the most glorious book reading for the best of my best friends and family.
  • I gave away almost all my art supplies in a conscious decision to focus my free time on my writing.
  • I bought more art supplies so I could draw my first comic. I drew my first comic.
  • I decided one day to stop texting my ex first, just to see if he would ever contact me. He never did and we haven’t spoken in 7 months. I deleted his number from my phone. I’ve seen him once, across the street at a festival. I don’t think he saw me.
  • I learned to love my body, instead of feeling like it is always a work-in-progress. I started to feel truly beautiful for the first time in years.
  • I cut out sugar and grains and have subsequently learned to cook some really interesting foods, like greenola and spaghetti squash.

  • I started practicing yoga at a studio.
  • I allowed myself to grow out my hair because I like it that way.
  • I started wearing more makeup because I want to.
  • I tried on bikinis instead of one-pieces. (I did not, however, buy one.) I started wearing shorts on the regular for the first time since childhood.
  • I decided that I would like to be heavily tattooed, and scheduled 9 hours of tattooing over the next 3 months. I hired an artist to design a tattoo to commemorate my first book.
  • I put over 20,000 miles on my car.
  • I took my bassoon out of its case, put it together, and attempted to play it for the first time since June 1999. It belongs to my nephew now.
  • I reconnected with my sister and spent excellent quality time with my niece, who is becoming an adult faster than I can bear.
  • I started spending my money on things that make me—and my loved ones—happy, instead of squirreling it away in paranoia and anxiety. I bought art. I bought pretty dresses. I donated to Kickstarters. I bought plane tickets to Bali.
  • I remembered how much I love to walk. I climbed a mountain. I regularly hike through Baltimore just to be sure I am truly noticing all the people and the things there are to see. I replaced driving with walking whenever possible.
  • I started bicycling. I am terrible at it, but getting better.
  • I took up feminism.
  • I realized I DO want to get married and I DO want children, and that I had deluded myself out of those desires because of a man, and fuck that forever.
  • I neglected this blog, but I started tweeting like crazy.
  • I started listening to more music and less news. I listen to hip-hop without feeling embarrassed about it. In fact, I listen to whatever I want without feeling embarrassed about it. I pretty much stopped feeling embarrassed, because people who make me feel embarrassed don’t count.
  • I took a class in religion. I discovered Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism, and started going to church sometimes. These may very well be the answers to the spiritual questions that have been haunting me for a decade.
  • I realized I might still like to be a minister some day, and I started looking into it in earnest.
  • I decided I don’t need a Master’s degree to feel like a whole person.
  • I cut down on drinking alcohol from nightly to once per week, or none at all.
  • I finally got over my fear of the dentist and got my teeth fixed. I FUCKING FLOSS NOW.
  • I learned that I can’t do everything myself. I learned to let people help me. I learned that the way it makes me feel really awesome to help people is the way it feels for other people when they help me, and it’s only fair that everyone gets to feel that.
  • I tried to smile and say hello to everyone I saw on the street. That ended when I realized how much street harassment I was facing. I realized I don’t owe it to anyone to smile at them, so I stopped. I feel very ambivalent about this, but I have become very outspoken against street harassment.
  • I went to my 10-year college reunion.
  • I networked. Like an adult.
  • I go out to eat or to concerts by myself sometimes—not because I can’t find someone to go with me, but because I realized I am friends with myself.
  • I Instagram my meals and my cats with abandon because fuck the haters.
  • I have more, better sex than ever, and I realized I am no less than one half of that equation.
  • I make a concerted effort to see at least one of my friends every week. Depending on your personality, this may not seem like a lot, but it’s a significant change from the way I used to live my life.
  • I remembered what it’s like to enjoy things with abandon. I remembered what real happiness feels like. I stopped thinking it was cool to be aloof or critical. I stopped giving energy to people or situations that make me feel bad.
  • I’ve made new friends. My boyfriend has made friends with my friends. I’ve made old friends into new friends. I’ve made acquaintances into best friends. I’ve made best friends into family. I got rid of friends-in-name-only. I will never again neglect the people who will never leave me.
  • I fell into a deeper, truer, more perfect love than I could have dreamed possible.

There’s more. So much more. What a year it’s been. 13’s always been my lucky number. I guess it figures that I’d be age 31 in the year ’13, and it would be the best fucking year of my life. It took a major shaking up to wake me out of the fog I was living in. It felt like a knife at the time. Now it feels like a gift. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Must a Novelist Read Mostly Novels?

I love math. I know this is strange coming from a writer, but it’s true. I think that, when so often mired in the vast gray area that is language and narrative, I find solace in the black-and-whiteness/wrong-and-rightness that math offers. I find elegant beauty in a spreadsheet, the way you can put in the numbers you have, arrange them just so, and find answers—real answers, correct, indisputable answers—to big questions. I love statistics and charts, and (while they can be interpreted in many ways to many ends) numbers themselves do not lie.

All of this is to say that I’ve come across some interesting numbers in my life as a writer and reader. As you may know by now, my preferred medium is the novel. I consider myself a novelist. While the vast majority of my life is spent on business writing, writing novels is my calling. It’s what I love the most; it’s what I do for fun. I do it even though I’m not making money on it.

Now, keeping in mind who I am as a writer, let’s consider who I am as a reader. Out of the last 30 books I’ve started and/or finished (and you can verify this for yourself), it breaks out the following way:
  • 1 graphic novel (2, if you count Eric Drooker’s Howl here)
  • 2 books of poetry (1, if you count Howl under graphic novels)
  • 3 short story collections
  • 7 novels
  • 17 non-fiction books

And it is important to point out that, out of those 7 novels, I only finished 4. (I no longer finish novels that I am not enjoying by the midpoint. #YOLO.)

This list, of course, is limited to book-length material, but I also extensively read short works—essays, articles, scholarly papers, Supreme Court rulings—and I would estimate that, in recent record, 95% of this reading is non-fiction. (Though, I did recently read “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” and "The Extinctionists" on Instapaper.) The last new book I bought, which I am practically drooling to crack open, is also non-fiction. When I put on my stereo while I’m cleaning, I’m far more likely to listen to Radiolab than Radiohead (though, when I’m writing, I listen to Radiohead more than anything else…). If I want a quick bite of television, it will be a TED Talk before it’s a sitcom.

What does it mean that well over 50% of what I consume is non-fiction, that only 14% of my reading consists of novels that I actually finish?

This recent revelation is throwing me for a loop. Is it possible for a novelist to love something more than novels? Am I secretly a non-fiction writer? Have I been hacking away at the wrong destiny?

Here is my answer to these questions. I am a learner and a seeker. This is why I read; this is why I write. I am drawn to non-fiction because it gives me raw materials: information, facts, the stories of how real people lived and live. Fiction is the means by which I synthesize this information into the philosophies and ideas I want to explore. In The WarMaster’s Daughter, I tackled gender issues, war, religion, the meaning of “family.” My new book, Bugged, explores psychology, neuroscience, entomology, and medical ethics. Non-fiction inspires me with the patterns and anomalies of the existing world. It teaches me what we’ve collectively figured out, and where we still have incredibly complex questions.

On the other hand, the ideas in novels, by and large, are already synthesized. The author is asking questions in a particular way, making particular points, choosing which themes and ideas rise to the top. This offers intellectual and emotional pleasure; that’s why we read. However, it’s not the stuff that makes me want to push my fingers into the clay. To extend a metaphor, I find a set of paints much more inspiring than a painting. I love to experience a beautiful painting, but the only thing I can learn from viewing a painting is craft. The art comes from living and learning and synthesizing all the ideas that exist in the world. Van Gogh did not paint because he saw another painting; he painted because he experienced the world.

So what does it mean about me as a novelist that I don’t gorge myself on novels? I supposed I’d rather my readers judge that for themselves. I hope my books are appealing to the learners and the seekers out there; I hope they appeal to fiction and non-fiction lovers alike.

What about you, dear reader? When you take an honest look at what you consume above anything else, what is it? Does it surprise you? Is what you really like different from what you think you like? How does what you read affect what you write? 

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Child-Free Question

I typically focus on writing and publishing in this space, but every once in a while something important comes up that demands a forum here. Recently, one of my favorite online magazines, Slate, began running a series of articles about women who choose not to have children. They invited readers to "submit your testimonies on why you are child free and happy."

From Slate:
Recently, Slate columnist Katie Roiphe raised the possibility that the choice not to have children remains a taboo, that no matter what we say to our childless friends at dinner parties—that we envy them, that we wish we, too, could go out every night and wake up at 11 on Sundays—we “secretly feel sorry for or condescend to or fail to understand women who don’t have children.” Not that the child-free owe us any explanation, but we are asking for one. More like a full and proud defense. Our aim here is to clear the taboo once and for all.
I submitted my answer to their request, but it was not published (in my opinion because it wasn't a cutesty, happy, inspiring story like they wanted). So I am printing it here, because I think it is an important part of the conversation. 


You’re right. I don’t owe you any explanation. I appreciate the chance at a forum, but the questions that live in people’s hearts about this “taboo” are not ones I have answers for. For me, this issue is not a taboo. It’s not that I can’t talk about it; it’s that I don’t want to.

It’s so difficult for child-free men and women (but women especially) to provide a “full and proud defense” because, when we vocalize the very reasons that have led us to this decision, the reasons sound more like judgments and condemnations of those who make the opposite choice. Can a mother hear me say, “I am not having children because [insert any reason at all]” and not hear, even just a little, “I am not having children because I’m better than you”? Whether parents feel sorry for us or feel jealous of us, we’re still on the receiving end of some very negative emotions. Bad juju.

Let me make an analogy: I was a religious person for a very long time. Several years ago, I stopped being religious and stopped believing in God. I “came out” in an essay published on an atheism website, but my non-belief is not something I talk about much in public because I don’t want to answer the questions that inevitably follow. I don’t want to “defend my choice.” I also don’t want to convert you. I just want to be. And many people feel that way about religion, so it’s socially accepted as one of those hot potatoes not up for discussion—a taboo. Like politics and many social issues, it’s hardly ever a polite discussion because the questions people typically ask are not borne of curiosity. They are borne of antagonism. People are itching for a fight. People want to know if you’re with them or against them.

This battle has been foisted on the child-free by a society with little intention other than to judge us, or to examine us as cultural curiosities. There are sides now. I never wanted to be on a side. I don’t want to judge your choice. I don’t want to convert you. I just want to be.

But this child-choice issue is different from religion and politics in that you can’t easily check a box and affiliate yourself. If you have a child, you are firmly in the camp of “parent.” If you do not have a child, however, there’s this weird other camp I like to call, “But.”

“But you two would make such wonderful parents.”

“But you’ll change your mind when your biological clock starts ticking.”

“But I want grandkids.”

The expectation is that if you are without children, you are in a “pre-” state of parenthood, rather than a “non-” state of parenthood. I could write you a lovely little essay about “why I am child-free and happy,” but declaring my intentions does little good, because there’s always the “but.” I don’t know how many times I’ve told my own mother I’m not having children; she still thinks I will, eventually.

And so the child-free seem unbearably difficult to pin down, even though we’re vocally and adamantly self-pinned. We don’t want to offer up the “full and proud defense” because it always devolves into a waiting game that everyone is playing without us. At what point do I “win” this argument that I don’t even want to have? How many avowals do I have to make? How old do I have to get?

I will never be able to give anyone a reason why I’m child-free that will make them say “aha” and move, satisfied, to another topic. You seek enlightenment where there is none to be had, because you are not really seeking enlightenment at all; you are seeking a mirror in which to validate your own choices. Either I will validate those choices or I will not, but it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you.

Friday, May 11, 2012

On the Productivity Problem

I took today off work specifically so I could spent today writing. I did not write a single word until just now, when I wrote, “I took today off work.”

I had a very productive day, as far as my heart, my soul, my mind, my body. I read the writing of David Foster Wallace for the first time (a fact I am both proud and ashamed to admit). I read more chapters of Walden(which has been so life-changing for me, I will not diminish it here with commentary; just read it, like now). I took a walk, practiced Tai Chi, gave myself a Qi Gong tapping massage, and ate no meat. I cleaned the apartment and sufficiently snuggled all three cats. I listened to a Radiolab podcast that made me cry my way through a sandwich and realize a level of therapeutic purging I did not know I needed. I did many things today that enriched me as a writer, and yet I did no writing.

I’m having a productivity problem. More specifically, I have a finishing problem. I feel like Sozi; I am Sozi. I have a million ideas, each one a seed, and I want to see that tree so badly that I plant them all in the ground, give them some water, see that first shoot of green, and marvel—but in moments I’ve found another seed.

I have this fancy notebook and this fancy pen, and I only write in the fancy notebook with the fancy pen, and I only write in the notebook fiction or fiction-related ideas. (Other creative types may recognize this affected ritual in which we find comfort.) It’s my ideas journal, sometimes drunken rambling diary, sometimes observation record, sometimes organizer and planner. But it’s all in the name of some present or future fiction. I flipped back through its pages today and realized I started it almost exactly a year ago, give or take 11 days. It’s filled just over halfway with seeds, saplings, and one full-grown tree. Notes for at least four novels are in there, and about the same number of short story sprouts.

I have to admit that I have three active novels in various states of undress, and I feel like I am doing everything in the world not to work on them. I have one novel that is, at this point, 95% done. But I want to work on it less than I want to do almost anything else in the world, including cleaning the litter boxes of aforementioned three cats. I really love everything about it, except I hate that I wrote it instead of something more “important.” I almost can’t work on it because it makes me feel this crippling self-doubt that I may never be the writer I want to be, and if I finish and publish this book I am somehow carving that in stone.

I have a second novel that is fully drafted as a novella, and merely needs to be extended in accordance with the fully detailed outline contained in my fancy notebook. Much of the work is done. But the story itself is extremely depressing and I find I cannot work on it without feeling that the sadness of the material will seep into the edges of my life and I may lose what sense of peace and happiness I’ve worked so hard to attain. I also worry that if I publish such a story I will be bringing sadness into a reader’s life, instead of hope and enlightenment. Again, I feel like it would make me dishonest in my most basic intentions as a writer.

The third novel in progress is the least far along. I have a full outline and a few fragments, but there are more than likely years of work left on it. Yet this is the one I can’t stop thinking about. I dream about it. Everything I read or watch on television or talk about over a beer seems directly relevant to the story I want to tell with this book. In my head it’s already done, and I am sometimes surprised when I notice only about 10 pages are written down. But every time I feel the urge to work on it, I mentally chastise myself for not working to finish the others that are so close, that I am procrastinating from my other work with this work out of some fucked up fear of success/fear of failure syndrome. . . . And so it becomes a cycle, and I work on nothing. 

Just last week I was telling a friend how I thought I was done with the short story form and at heart I am really a novelist and I ought to really just focus on novels. And instead of novelling, I just finished the first short story I’ve written in years. I also wrote a screenplay, for crying out loud. I don’t write screenplays. I’ve taken procrastination to a weird new extreme wherein it is actually making me productive at things I don’t think I want to do.

Perhaps I finally turned to the short story and the short screenplay because they were pieces I could finish. I kind of want to write another short story; I already have the idea. It’s in the fancy notebook. But, like something near the horizon, I sniff the pressure and doubt on the wind. If I write two short stories, I really ought to write eight more so that I can publish a full collection. And if it’s going to be a collection, there ought to be some thematic thread. Sure, these first two go together, but what if I can’t come up with any more that match? Why bother writing the second if I can’t write the third, fourth, fifth . . . ?

So you see the spiral. I believe it’s a product directly related to my acute awareness of the passing of time, and of my own mortality. It took me 15 years to put out my first book. I don’t have very many chunks of time that long left. I don’t actually think it will take me 15 years to finish my next book, but at this rate, who knows? Maybe it is the fear of success/fear of failure. Maybe it’s the sophomore slump to the wildly mediocre success of my freshman try.

I want to say I don’t know the solution. I want to whine some more, bitch and moan, and google “motivation for writers.” I want to blame. But I do know the solution. You can see it, a few paragraphs above. The story that I dream about? The story I wake up thinking about? That’s the story I need to write. I shouldn’t care that I only have 10 pages done. I can only write one word at a time. I just need to do that, every chance I get, until I’m done.

A friend recently asked me for some motivation advice. I wrote back something that may or may not have actually been helpful, but I am positive it reeked from the overconfidence of someone who never ever suffers writer's block--which, as you can see, is patently false. The advice I ultimately ended with was "Write now. Right now." I should take my own advice. And that’s why this post will end so suddenly.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Intellectual Pleasures of Draw Something

My coworker told me, “Download Draw Something and watch your next 3 hours disappear.” I did exactly that, marveling that anything save heroin and cigarettes could be quite as addictive as purported. Like 14 million other users, I was immediately and almost irreparably hooked on the game, which is a colorful, capacitive-screen update of the classic Pictionary.

At first I was rather rudimentary in my drawings—turning out good-enough hieroglyphs for friends and strangers to guess. Then I took a turn with an especially creative friend who rendered me a werewolf with more character than you see on a CBS sitcom. Then on tumblr, I stumbled upon some truly inspired Drawn Somethings. I suddenly realized this game could be so much more. To paraphrase a statement I read online but cannot readily source, “Draw Something is like commissioning tiny paintings from my friends.” Once I got an iPad, I reveled in going completely overboard to render something simple.

My hours on Draw Something have yet to rival Angry Birds levels of obsessiveness, but I admit to spending more than a healthy amount of time playing. All this time has got me thinking about why this game fascinates me so much. Its addictive properties are well documented, but my brain has been tickling: Does the game get in touch with something deeper about our minds and our culture? And why do I like it so darn much. So here is some of what Draw Something represents to me.

The Psychology of Symbolism

I’m a classically trained artist. The number one rule drilled into my head during my decade and a half of arts education was not to symbolize. In other words, draw what you see not what you think you see. Eschewing symbolism was tremendous for my ability to render from reality, allowing me to excel in portraiture.

But symbolism is exactly what makes art so communicative. It’s why we can communicate with images that are not photographs—paintings, cartoons, and Draw Something doodles alike. Our brains combine information from various sources to create a unified interpretation of an image, even if we have never seen that image before. Certain shapes, colors, objects, etc. signify meaning within and among cultures.

Much of this symbolism is learned, through experience, education, and acculturation. This aspect of Draw Something fascinated me because it emphasized how I share intellectual and cultural development with other people (more on this in a bit). But even more fascinating to me is our shared ability to interpret symbols even beyond what we are taught. For example, it takes just three marks to make a face.


It doesn't look anything like a face; however, the signifier is undeniable. But it’s not something we’re taught, like the Pythagorean Theorum; it’s actually a skill we’re born with. Babies can recognize faces (as distinct from non-faces) at just 3 months old. Moreover, studies demonstrate that humans have a unique, inherited, genetic ability to recognize faces where none should reasonably exist.

Intellectually, we know this

  looks absolutely nothing like this

But our evolutionary instincts take over and translate the symbol—in case, you know, that face is someone trying to steal your food or kill your young. It’s also why all three of these examples work equally well to convey meaning:

In a strange way, I feel like Draw Something is letting me connect with other people on a more basic level—while also connecting with them on a more complex level, which brings me to:

Personalities, Predilections Revealed

When symbols are not hardwired in our brains, diversity in interpretation becomes the challenge, with varying degrees of severity. Symbols have vastly changed over time. Think about the cross, which was once a symbol of a terrifying death, or the Nazi swastika, which once symbolized peace and harmony. With sharing-propelled pop culture, signifiers changes even faster. And that’s part of the fun.

Playing Draw Something with a diverse group of people can make the lowest common denominator of symbol rise to the top. Take the clue “Easter.”  It’s interesting that most of my teammates drew a bunny and eggs. One friend drew the stone rolled away from the tomb. The word “wreck,” as another example, is a free-for-all.

The interpretation a person chooses tells so much about their personality that couldn’t quite be seen any other way. It’s a peek inside the way they interpret words, and moreover, the way they think you interpret words. It’s a melding of the mind, like Stephen King’s “mind-reading trick” in On Writing.

Going the other way, you have to know your audience. For me, a big part of the fun is choosing an interpretation that will hopefully provide a big of amusement for my partner, as well as get a correct guess. And I definitely tend to land on the “obscurer the better” end of the spectrum. I am proud to have friends for whom I could draw something like this and get a correct answer:

For others, it would look a lot more like this:

I recently realized through a number of contextual clues that one of my DS partners was likely British. A brief mental retrospective over our 72-turn streak made me wonder if I would have drawn anything differently if I had realized that earlier. Then again, I probably don’t even know what he might not know. I like to have to second-guess what I may lazily consider universal; it reminds me that the world is a lot bigger than I am.

The Absence of Words

I mentioned above that I have substantial art training, but by trade I am a writer. I read and manipulate words all day long, nearly every day. A forum, no matter how small, where I cannot use any words at all to communicate is like a tiny brain oasis.

Definitely part of the fun for me is eschewing ALL letters and numbers in favor of images and symbols only. It’s the absence of language, which is at once uniting and dividing. Remove language, and you remove a lot of the barriers to communication. In my professional life, I write business proposals and we strive to convey as much information in graphics rather than in words for the very simple reason that graphics are more efficient for communicating certain types of information.

Of course, part of the point of Draw Something is that it’s inefficient. While there are no documented rules, many hardliners pooh-pooh any use of words (or actively call it out). For my part, I never use words, letters, or numbers, but I won’t quit a game with someone just because they do—unless it’s seriously blatant. Because what’s the fun in this?

The second part of the joy I get in the absence of words is that communication is absolutely reduced to the task at hand—at least until the latest update. Previously, your drawing had to speak for itself. And the only praise you got was a correct guess. If you felt really compelled to applaud your partner for a particular mini-masterpiece, you could squiggle out an awkward “Awesome!” with your finger, then trash the drawing and get onto the task. But that was it. It felt elementary—rudimentary and joyful as finger painting. But in the days of the like button, endless streams of comments, and retweeting, I think we’ve all gone a little too far in our hunger for e-validation. Draw Something was a little respite from the constant approval mongering. Which brings me to…

The Joy of Creating in a Vacuum

If I spent a lot of extra time drawing a really special “Lennon” for you, it was because I wanted to do that—for you and for myself. Because it was hopefully a little highlight to both of our days. Sure, I may dash off a quick “bride” before I go to sleep. But in large part, I try to spend some time on my little doodles. There’s no countdown clock, no extra coins for getting done faster. In a world where everything seems reduced to its most streamlined 140 characters, where every task seems multitasked, it’s nice for me to slow down while I’m drawing for you—and for you to slow down while you watch me draw it.

More than that, the drawings used to disappear as soon as they were sent. Sure, you could capture a screenshot (and many have) but that wasn’t really in the spirit of things. For the most part, the “tiny paintings” were a fleeting pleasure, shared between you and your DS partner. I was disappointed that the update not only lets you save your drawings, but has buttons for sharing them on the social network. The small pleasure of creating in a vacuum, just for the sheer joy of doing it, has been reduced like so many other things as a means to get attention.

The changes brought about by the update  didn’t surprise me—especially after the OMGPOP CEO showed his true colors, comparing DS to Information Age behemoths AOL and Facebook. His true motive (not that I blame him) is to sell as many apps as possible to demanding consumers who have had their tastes cultivated for them by the prevailing social media, not to preserve a neat little microcosm of culture—pop and otherwise. 

But I still love the game, and I’ll still play for all the reasons cited above. But I’m keeping it between you and me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why I’m Not Giving You a Copy of My Book For Christmas

Selling is hard. It takes a very special breed of person to sell things for a living, and I am not that breed. I suppose there is a bit in my mutt blood somewhere—I work in Business Development, which is a fancy way of saying I sell my company’s services on behalf of the company. But when selling my own wares, I find the whole enterprise kind of skeevy.

When I sell for my company, 1. I sell in writing, and 2. I sell them, the company. For me, it’s much easier to sell something or someone else. I can brag about them on their behalf—and believe it, too. I can do this, and I’m good at it, because it doesn’t make me feel: (check one or more below)
  • Egotistical
  • Self-serving
  • Self-involved
  • Boorish
  • Tasteless
  • Clueless
  • Impolite
  • Embarrassed/shy
Those are things I feel when I try to tell someone about my book face-to-face. Those are things I feel when someone hands me $15 cold hard cash for a copy of my book. It’s an overwhelming sense of “Oh God I hope they are buying this because they want to read it and not just to make me feel good.” I don’t want people to give me money to make me feel good. I want them to exchange money for the joy of reading—it’s a transaction, not a favor. I want to know that they at least anticipate the joy of that reading (even if it is a glimmer of voyeurism at reading the inner thoughts of someone they know personally or professionally).

And so, the inverse of this is true. Just as I don’t want people to force the book on themselves because of a feeling of compulsory politeness, I neither want to do the forcing. As I’ve stated before on this blog, I am very aware of the reality that not everyone likes to read, not everyone who likes to read likes novels, and not everyone who likes novels will like THIS novel. Just because you like me doesn’t mean you will like my writing, and THAT’S OKAY. I am not so egotistical or desperate that I think every single person in the world needs to read my book. That would be silly. I don’t call myself a “soon to be best-selling author” as some in my circles do.

I want to find my audience and I want them to find me. I want this process to be organic. I want people to hear about the book, read the free samples, and get so sucked in that they can’t not buy the rest of the book. I want to build trust in my audience that I’ll deliver on the promise made in the premise I am not selling anything other than a great story and all that comes with that. . I want people to review the book and not my sparkling personality.

Sure, there’s a part of me in the book. Maybe all of me. But whether someone buys the book, owns the book, reads the book, or not—that is not a reflection on me as a person. It is a reflection that they are not my audience, and that is okay.

So if you want my book, you have to buy it or borrow it or ask for it for your birthday. If you want it, you and I will find a way to make that happen. But it won’t be in any Christmas packages from me this holiday season. Not only is it probably the most self-serving and impersonal gift I could imagine (“you’ll like it because I wrote it!”), I want my readers to want to read the book more than I want them to own it.

“Thus ends the ringing endorsement of my own modesty,” she said humbly. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A New Look and a New Outlook

It's been a truly crazy couple of weeks. I know my friends and family miss me. I know I need to wash the kitchen floor and repaint my toenails. I could stand to go back to the gym, oh, every day for three hours for the next month. Unfortunately, the phrase "worked my ass off" has only been a metaphor.

My nose may be a bit scraped up from the grindstone, but I was able to get The War Master's Daughter out almost on schedule. The site has been redesigned with a new look, and I think it's rather pretty and inviting (despite the gothicky pull quotes). Check it out, if you have the chance.

You'll also notice that the book itself is now available for pre-order. I did not anticipate that things on Amazon's end would take as much time as they are taking, so the paperback won't be available till closer to Christmas. But the eBook will be out on December 13, and anyone who pre-orders the paperback will get a free eBook so you can get a head start on reading.

So the site's new, and I'm feeling somehow new too. I've received five pre-orders already, so it really feels like I'm running a business. Of course it's a terrible business in which I'm knee-deep in red, but I don't care about that. I'm not in this to make money. I never was.

I'm also feeling an enormous sense of ... oh, I'm not sure how to put it. I guess I feel indebted, to my readers. I owe you for your support, and I only hope I can deliver the experience you are seeking for your $14.95 + $1 handling fee. I feel absolutely humbled. I blushed when I saw my first order come in. It was a scary, wonderful thing. I can hardly wait to see what the future holds.

I turn 30 on Sunday. I feel like this is right where I should be.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Best Year Ever?

I was originally going to post this on New Year's Eve, but got caught up, unsurprisingly, in the festivities that come with that celebration, and subsequently with a bizarrely busy beginning of the year at work. Due to a large project being taken off my hands, I've finally gotten a chance to breathe and ruminate about 2010.

I have come to the not-so-light conclusion that it was my best year ever. I do feel like I should qualify this: obviously this was not a good year as a whole--for the country, for the world, etc. But it was wonderful for me, personally, as a personal person, as an individual. I achieved some of my greatest lifelong accomplishments in the past year. Here's a quick rundown of what made this year so good, in no particular order:
  • Romantic accomplishment: I moved in with my best friend, love-of-my-life, and partner, Chris, and our three cats, to a really beautiful apartment in Mount Vernon. We're kind of sloppy, but other than that I simply adore living with him. It's pretty darn blissful. Also, we have a working fireplace and TWO bathrooms.
  • Athletic accomplishment: I began and completed a running training program and subsequently ran a 5k race. Never having been athletically inclined (or able), and being exceptionally lazy, this was a huge accomplishment. I didn't come in last, or even close to last.
  • Intellectual accomplishment: I finished writing my novel. I actually finished. The whole thing is written, front to back, and I wrote "the end." I honestly never thought it would happen. Some weird, psychological "fear of failure/success" often keeps me from finishing ANYTHING.
  • Geographical accomplishment: I finally made it to Europe! Ireland counts, right? Next stop: the Continent.
  • Professional accomplishment: I trained, studied, took an exam, and became professionally certified in my field. I am better at my job and got a raise.
  • Financial accomplishment: In addition to increasing both my 401(k) and Roth contributions, I have began putting money regularly into the stock market and am becoming much more educated on how to make my money work. My portfolio has made returns of 55% and I should have a $25,000 down payment for a house in advance of my 5-year goal. I'm not debt-free (still have that dang car payment) but I will be within a year (the possibility of student loans notwithstanding)
  • Educational accomplishment-in-progress: I've chosen a graduate school and program, and have finished 90% of my application. The accomplishment of actually applying will have to go on 2011's list.
  • Artistic accomplishmentette (a little accomplishment): I've continued to draw and paint, and I attended multiple--not single--multiple--art sessions with artistically inclined friends.
  • Philanthropic accomplishment: I began donating to charities in earnest, with planned purpose. I've succeeded in getting at least some of my friends/family to donate to charity instead of giving me presents for birthdays/holidays.
Of course not EVERYTHING was an accomplishment. My partner went through some significantly rough professional times that has added a lot of stress to our otherwise blissful romance. I had a falling out with some family members that has created a rift wider than I like to think about. I still find myself scattered among too many desires and pleasures, and still don't know exactly how to spend my time and energy. I am still struggling with spiritual and religious questions.

But I know that 2010 was a stepping stone for even better things to come. This is my last year as a 20-something, and I feel like I have the whole world to look forward to.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Off for a While

Hello lovelies. I am leaving for vacation tomorrow evening, going to Ireland with my partner and my family. I am a big miffed that I can take neither felting needles, nor sewing needles, nor knitting needles on the plane. I had planned to start and maybe even finish a two-headed fox plush, but I suppose I will relegate my racing brain to reading, crossword puzzles, and additional attempts at illustration that vary in degree of success.

But anyway, this is just a note that my shop will be closed for the duration of the vacation and perhaps for some time after that, while I clarify what it is I am doing with it. I have been marketing somewhat furiously, to positive results, but have found myself low on inventory. Again. I would sort of like to plan some great big re-opening after I have boxfulls of plushes to list. But I also sort of know I may never have boxfulls of plushes. I'm also not sure I'd be able to sell boxfulls. I understand that my niche is very, very small, especially if I continue to make what *I* like (and why wouldn't I continue that?). I sell things that people don't need. I sell things that are weird. My work isn't cheap, either, because of how labor intensive it is. None of these things lends itself to me quitting my day job.

I'm also considering converting my shop to 100% charity--as in all proceeds (after my supplies are covered) go to a good cause. I don't make things for money; I make them because I have to. I think I might feel less gross about all the marketing and shilling I do for myself if it wasn't actually for myself.

Ah, so many thoughts going through my head. We'll see where this head is after I return from the Emerald Isle.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

On Fashion

(I wish I had more pictures to sprinkle into this blog, but for most of it, you'll have to just use your imagination.)

Let's go back to the beginning first. This is not a fashion picture (obviously - look at that hat!), but it will help take you back to a long time ago . . .

When I was a kid, my mother would not spend a lot of money on clothes for my brother and me. We would shop at places like C-Mart (a discounted department store overstock warehouse), K-Mart, and Goodwill. I also received a lot of handmedowns from a family friend. I was absolutely mortified to have to buy my blue jeans at Goodwill and wear sweaters that had been owned by someone else, so I kept these secrets close to my (thrifted) vest.

We were not a "poor" family by any means. My mother was (and still is) a very thrifty person, and chose to spend our family's money on other, more valuable and lasting things, such as taking a family vacation to a new place every summer. As an adult, I cannot fault her for this at all. As a kid, though, I have to admit that I was pretty bitter. I was the only girl on the basketball team without white umbro shorts (I wore cut-off white sweatpants--handmedown), and my "pump" sneakers were off-brand, from Payless. I didn't get to have a "poet blouse" like the popular girls at North Harford Middle School until I got one for my 12th birthday, and they were already out of style. I wore it to please my mom, but I was secretly embarrassed to be so late.

As a kid from elementary school up through the beginning of high school, my "style" was essentially to cobble together what I had into something that didn't suck. Thank god for the thick skin that artsy, weird kids are forced to grow. One of my favorite things to wear when I was 7 or 8 were extraordinarily loud bermuda shorts with solid color t-shirts. I remember being teased because I dressed like a boy. In fact, one my most vivid early memories is that I was in the bathroom at Hickory Elementary (I was probably 7 years old) and I heard a girl outside the stall gasp and say, "There's a boy in here!" She'd seen my shoes (knock-off Chuck Taylors, black rubber with navy canvas) and thought I was a boy. Another girl corrected her snidely, "Oh no, that's just Elly Zupko." That ended my early tomboy phase really quickly.

By the time I got to high school, I started to try to own my weirdness. I was no longer concerned with looking like the other girls; I realized that the pieces I was finding at Goodwill or got as handmedowns were unique, and could afford me a unique look. Being fairly shy, I realized I could stand out and be noticed (whether in a good or bad way) through my appearance. I was also starting to have a little bit of money, so I could buy strategic new pieces to liven up the other stuff. I think my greatest fashion moment to date was when my mother offered to go halfsies with me on my first pair of Dr. Marten's boots, a pair of 1460s in brown leather. They were $140 (I got ripped off; I know), so the contribution on my mother's part was huge, and I will never forget it. I think the first time I wore those shoes was the first time I ever really felt cool.

My fashion through high school (I still cringe to deign to call it "fashion") largely fell into two camps: one was wearing vintage t-shirts with jeans or cordoroy pants and my Docs. I still hold fast to the notion that I started the vintage t-shirt craze. I got a couple cool foreign t-shirts from my grandfather's trips to Hong Kong, got weird old stuff in my handmedown bags (huge trash bags full of clothes, brought home by my dad after church), and revisited old clothes from childhood that had been packed away. My brother made constant fun of me when I ransacked a box full of striped polo shirts that he'd worn in elementary school. I thought they were awesome, and they made my boobs look great, lol. I grabbed a couple of old oxfords from my grandfather's wardrobe (which were huge, but I thought looked cool with jeans). I also started wearing my middle school gym uniform shirt to class, and I thought that made me the coolest person ever. Take that This picture is from college, but I am wearing one of those Hong Kong tees here (please, please, please ignore the hair):

The second camp was "old lady clothes." This particular term came from Jim, my boyfriend at the end of high school through college. This "fashion" came from me actively trying to be more feminine during my later high school years. I'd finally figured out what to do with my wild terrible hair, and started plucking my eyebrows. My braces were off, and I was kind of exiting my awkward phase. The jeans and boots got replaced with skirts and loafers, and I started wearing a lot of cardigan sweaters. I still wore the vintage shirts. This feminine look proved to be short-lived. I was still a tomboy at heart.

Another of my great fashion moments, when I really felt like I was "sticking it to the man" was Prom. I had (miraculously) been voted onto Prom Court with 9 other girls (I still can't really figure out how that happened, except that maybe the nerds united behind me). I wanted to do something pretty daring to stand out, so I found an amazing dress that had a denim bodice and a huge ball gown skirt. Who wears denim to Prom? Me, baby! I almost didn't buy it, because it was $200, but my big sister offered to go halfsies with me because she thought I HAD to have it. The kicker was that I also bought blue hair color and sprayed the back of my updo blue. Take that, popular girls. I didn't win Prom Queen (duh) but I sure felt like one that night. This is the best pic I have handy of the dress (holy crap was I skinny):

College proved to be a big change for me, fashion-wise. This was in large part due to Jim. Jim was fairly fashionable, and also spent what I considered to be a substantial amount of his money on clothes. He was brought up differently, and spent money on material things like nice clothes and a nice car, etc. This wasn't wrong, just different. He encouraged me to buy new things and to expand my wardrobe into things I actually wanted--not just clothes I happened across. It was because of him that I bought my FIRST pair of NEW blue jeans (which were $50!!!!!) but fit like a dream. Jim was also into the rave scene and got me into it, so my look started to head in that direction: industrial, boxy cuts on the bottom (like UFO pants), with fitted tops, and crazy bright accessories.
In college, I used to wear so many plastic and rubber bracelets that they went halfway up my forearms. I wore these every day. I also put glow-in-the-dark glitter on my black patent leather Docs and laced them with Spongebob Squarepants laces. I started to get piercings and started stretching my ears. I did crazy things to my hair. It was college. I was . . . branching out . . . Morbidly unflattering pictorial examples I happen to have handy:

(yes, that's Joel Madden; notice the candy necklace and horrible dye job on me).
I also started hanging out quite a bit at Club Orpheus in downtown Baltimore, because they played good dance music, so my style skewed a bit goth-industrial, too. Here's an embarrassing outfit for you (I was home from college, about to hit the mall with my brother, who had started to wear my grandfather's oxford shirts that I'd left behind, hahaha) That's a Goucher lanyard sticking out of my pocket. Gopher pride!

After I graduated college, fashion was just about a non-issue for me. I worked at a job in a basement where the only person I ever saw was my boss, so I certainly didn't dress for the office. And I also had the just-out-of-college-and-I'm-poor blues, so clothes were not at the top of my to-buy list. After that, I had the "my boyfriend spends all my money and I've been buying too much stupid shit on eBay like Sheena Queen of the Jungle comic books and I'm poor" blues, so I still did not buy a lot of clothes. When I did shop, I bought double-duty pieces I could wear to the office (I got a "real job") and as casualwear. For a woman, I owned very few pairs of shoes and almost no accessories.

Also, due to things going on in my life, my self-esteem plummeted. I felt it easier to wear things that drew little attention. Lots of black made it easier for me to blend in. I didn't want to be noticed and didn't really care what I looked like. I felt like I was back in elementary school again, getting by with what I had and trying to pretend that fashion didn't matter--it's what's on the INSIDE that counts. Working in an office full of women made it really hard. They never overtly judged my appearance, but it was always the lowest rank on my performance review, and I got teased more than once about wearing all black, all the time (for a while, I only bought black clothes because I knew they would match all the other black clothes I already owned). Here's one of my traditional office outfits--black and gray (though I did rock the pirate skull headband, just for some funkiness):

Despite how happy I look in the picture above, which is out of context (the outfit is just an example), that period of my life was a low-point, both fashion-wise, but on a much deeper level as well. I guess I hadn't realized until now how what was going on inside was really manifesting itself on the outside.

Anyway, now, very very recently, I've finally gotten back into the fashion groove. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was . . . No, wait, I can. My boyfriend Chris (happily pictured above) told me that he liked me best in feminine clothing (skirts and blouses and cute shoes, etc.).

**Okay, I'd like to stop at this moment and address the obvious. Yes, it seems that what I wear has been largely influenced by the men in my life. I am aware that some feminists will jump out of their chairs in rage at this. But you're missing the point. 1) I am never going to wear something I don't like or am uncomfortable in to please a man. 2) I like to look sexy and attractive for my mate, just as I expect him to want to look sexy and attractive for me. 3) I am open to trying all sorts of new things, especially things that I might not have thought of on my own, so if someone (whether it be a boyfriend or someone else) says to me, "Hey you look good in [whatever]" I'll probably try it. If I look good, I might try more stuff like it. This is how style evolves. 4) I still wear stuff that I like and only I like; I just may not wear it out on a date with my boyfriend, just like I wouldn't wear certain things to the office or certain things to a rock concert. 5) I'm not wearing this stuff to please my man. I'm wearing some of it in some cases because he pointed out it looked good, and I happened to agree.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.**

In light of his comments, I realized that so much of my wardrobe was leftover from a time when I didn't care too much about what I looked like, and that a lot of the pieces were ill-fitting, outdated, drab, or just boring. I was wearing what I had, not what looked good. I also realized that when I wear clothing that fits well, is brightly colored, and is well-taken care of, I feel much more confident. Therefore, I walk taller, look better, smile more, act more comfortably--and people notice that. I feel better, I look better; it's a win-win situation. I've realized that fashion is not shallow, and wanting to look good and dress well is not a sign that I have no substance underneath (as I might have argued when I was 15 and awkward).

The other thing that happened is that I discovered Wardrobe Remix, a group on Flickr. Purely based on appearance, this is one of the most creative, daring, fashionable, and cool groups of women (and some men, too!) I've ever "met." Through their outfits, store listings, and other tips, I've been truly inspired in the way I dress. I'm accessorizing more, little by little, and buying more daring pieces that two years ago I never would have worn. I'm also back to shopping at Goodwill almost exclusively, because now I feel like I truly appreciate it. Not only can I save a ton of money (which is important, now that I'm really an adult), but, as I knew in high school, I can find unique things that set me apart from everyone else. In addition, it's sustainable (good for the earth!), I'm not contributing to the Wal-Martization of the world, and the money I spend goes to a good cause. What could be better??

Flash forward to today: I'm wearing an "old lady outfit." This is something I would have felt completely uncomfortable in two years ago. It's brightly colored and ultra-feminine. (For reference, I know exactly what I was wearing almost exactly two years ago, when I met Chris, the love of my life: a pair of baggy blue jeans, a black tank top, and a black zip sweatshirt--boring, boring, boring. Thank goodness he could see past my fashion-less exterior and fall in love with me anyway. I was dressed like I wanted to blend into the background. I was dressed like I felt inside. As I said before, it was a low-point. Meeting Chris that night changed all that.)
The way I look AND feel today is decidedly non-depressing. As my depressing, all-black outfits of years ago were an outward manifestation of how I felt inside, I think the bright colors and coordination of this outfit are a manifestation of how I feel inside now. I'm happy. I'm spunky. I'm bright. It's an awesome way to feel. :)
(And btw, this entire outfit, from head to toe, cost $28.50.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

*Snap, Snap* Addendum

I lost my nerve.

Photographs and artwork have been removed from the Etsy shop due to lack of response needed for immediate gratification.

I am considering opening a second shop to keep my plushes separate from other works. I might feel better about that. A photograph of my naked knees for sale next to a teddy bear I made just wasn't working for me. And it might work better for the people visiting my shop.

Maybe I'm just a pussy.

I'm conflicted.

I get very little response to things I consider more serious projects, more "art." Then something like this sells the first day I list it.

It's kind of demoralizing. I mean, I'm proud to be selling things I made--but . . . But, but, but.