Allowances

Published July 11, 2013 by wyldflamingo

I spent about ten minutes today working on a new art project. It made me feel better—happier, optimistic, positive– than I have in weeks. So it’s frustrating that in periods of stress or difficulty, I find myself ignoring my creative side. Bluntly: this is stupid.  

Many links have been found between “creative” people and a tendency towards depression. Define creative however you want. One psychiatrist did a ten year study of men and women involved in a variety of professions. Between 59 and 77 percent of the artists, writers, and musicians in his study suffered from some form of mental illness, particularly mood disorders, compared to just 18-29 percent in less artistic individuals.

I know working on something artistic makes me feel better. I’ve relearned this lesson time and time again. Why do I keep denying myself this outlet?

The most basic reason I can come up with is family.  My dad has a story of when I was little, and he asked me what I wanted to be. My response was, “A Palomino”. What I really meant was “palette”, as in painter’s palette. I wanted to be an artist. I spent tons of time drawing and sketching. Wherever I went, I gave away my pictures. I would save ones up that I drew during day care, and pretend to “sell” my work to my parents at the end of the day. I loved pencils, crayons, markers, watercolors, any artistic medium I could apply to paper.

And I very very clearly remember the day my mother told me, “You can’t be an artist. You don’t make any money doing that.”

Money has always been the key criteria in anything for my mother. As far as she was concerned, the stereotype of the starving artist was absolutely, unwaveringly accurate, and no child of hers was going to be so irresponsible. (This despite the fact that my dad made his living as a graphic artist for the federal government.)

And yet, wherever I went, whatever I tried, invariably, my efforts were noticed. I entered a children’s art contest at a local art supply store. I didn’t win, but the employees loved my efforts so much, they awarded me “staff favorite”. My mother did ceramics in her spare time—attracted to the paints and creative opportunity, I started to join her, receiving compliment after compliment.  In high school, one week into the “Art 101” elective my freshman year, my art teacher asked me to participate in independent study, fearing I would be bored with the run-of-the-mill projects he assigned the rest of the 29 students in the class.

It was always assumed I would go to college. My parents had worked their butts off attaining AA degrees, while working full-time and raising me. I didn’t have a free ride, or a college fund, but my parents were willing to take out student loans with me so I could continue my education without working full-time.

The “You can’t be an artist” stipulation still applied.

 

I tried a few majors: I loved reading and writing, so how about English? I quickly realized this path led to teaching, and after just graduating from one of the poorest high schools in Sacramento, my memories of leaking classroom roofs (it rained on me in French class) and car fires in the parking lot were a little too recent. Public relations—the Exxon Valdez crashed in Alaska, and it became suddenly clear there were a lot of potential downsides.

Communications let me work in journalism, dabble in the fun side of PR, and take a creative writing course. I graduated, and moved from my tiny college in Ashland, Oregon up to Portland. It was the mid-1990s, and one of the worst times, up until recent memory, to get a job.

Fast forward twenty years.

I put my other talents to use, and ended up in project management—except the multinational software giant I worked for relegated me to “administrative assistant”. Never mind that those of us with that title kept the company running. There was no opportunity for career advancement, no bonuses, no sabbaticals. One boss expected me to fetch his dry cleaning and his coffee for him—in 2009.

In 2013, after another disappointing boss/job combo, my wonderfully, amazingly supportive husband helped me make the decision to leave behind the benefits and seeming security of the techmonolith to try contracting. The idea: increase my skills, get some different job titles, and gain some distance between my old world of “admin” and my new one of “Program manager”.

The thing about contracting is…well, there’s so many things about contracting. The person you work for lives in another country, and takes over a month to figure out the basics to get you started. You may take a gig on the promise of better pay and more hours in the future…only for those things to never materialize. And of course…contracts end, leaving you compulsively checking email for updates and scanning the web for job opportunities.

I am a champion level anxiety queen. I don’t deal well with change. I second guess my decisions constantly. In the past, situations like I’m currently experiencing have caused insomnia, appetite loss, mood swings—and hey, there it is: depression. The lack of controls gnaws at me—how can I make myself more marketable so these things don’t happen? I obsess over studying whatever I think will make me more employable, and suffocate thoughts of maybe playing with some watercolors, or sketching in the backyard for a few minutes.

Remember, I was talking about my creative side?

Right now, I’m on week two of being seriously underemployed. I’m combatting it by allowing myself to spend some time in creative endeavors. A little creative writing. Some mixed media work. Some rubberstamp card making. It’s working. It’s helping.

Creative people may suffer more from depression, but I suffer from depression when I’m not being creative.

This post is two birds with one stone…helping me figure out why I won’t let myself BE creative when I’m under stress. And being creative while I’m under stress.

Gotta go, the first layer on my canvas is almost dry.

Advertisements

Continuing character continuity–when external forces play a part

Published May 28, 2012 by wyldflamingo

My husband insisted, after infinite disappointment in the first episode of season 3, that he wouldn’t be watching Glee until the full season was concluded…he was depending on my occasional updates to even determine whether he was going to do that. (Yes, I have an awesome husband who was involved in music and theater throughout high school).

We’ve had a Glee marathon over the holiday weekend, and watching the episodes one rught after the other has given me just a little more perspective on the series writing. …some writers complain their characters lead them in a different direction, one they never imagined. I’ve never had that experience myself; I can’t imagine the frustrations actors must have when their character careens off the tracks, and goes in a direction they know isn’t right.

Quinn’s character drove me nuts this year–while watching the series in a shortened span of time did remind me that teenagers are flooded with hormones, emotions, and an overall lack of vision, her character went from Goth, to willing to blackmail/falsely accuse the woman who adopted her child from Season one, to trying to have unsafe sex in order to get pregnant again. This was such an incredible deviation from the first two seasons of the series, it was almost painful to watch.

A little research provided some interesting insight: the series creator has an intense dislike of the actress portraying Quinn. I feel this almost HAS to be responsible, at least in some part, for the inconsistency that has followed Quinn’s character this year.

Other indiosyncracies follow: Season two characters who vanished, then reappeared. New season three characters who had occasional strong one-off appearances, only to be consigned to the background, or in some cases (Sugar), vanish completely.

This could be a case of too many characters, too many subplots, too much direction from external forces (producers, directors, agents, writers, and of course actors).  And unfortunately in television, it’s a lot harder to do that mainstay of whittling down competition: the mass killing off of characters. But wait–was that what almost happened with Quinn’s character, and her “texting” car accident?

Hollywood gossip doesn’t say, but it makes me grateful the only character arguements I have are the ones in my own head.

Time marches on…even in the cheesiest genre I can imagine

Published May 17, 2012 by wyldflamingo

If there’s one genre I absolutely can’t stand, it’s romance. Growing up, I remember you had two basic romance choices: the Harlequin “genteel” love story, and the bodice rippers with the lurid covers. Neither appealed to me. I winced at the lurid covers with impossible poses (Jim Hines has a hilarious photo comparison blog post here on this very topic, though not specific to romances). I reeled from the absolute, dumber than a bag of rocks thought processes, reactions, and storylines the supposed “heroines” went through–why yes, of course since this pirate kidnapped me, he must value my thoughts and feelings.

Romance has always had a bad reputation: just searching on romance novel sales statistics, I found other related stories such as “Romance Novels Seduce Women into Unsafe Sex”. Book covers were touted as a way to keep prying eyes from realizing you were reading “smut”. Romance novels were an embarrassement, a guilty pleasure, something no one admitted to reading. Quite the baggage for a genre that made 10.11 billion dollars in 2010.

A few weeks ago, reading some writing blogs on Facebook, I saw the names of a few authors who write urban fantasy. They were attending the Romantic Times conference this year; hmmm, well, it’s always worth trolling to see what helpful tidbits of information I can pick up for my writing. I can ignore the stupid romance stuff.

But  10.11 billion dollars…that’s a lot of books. And while competition is fierce in any genre, Romance was one of the only categories that INCREASED sales during the recession.

So, I started reading the romance RSS threads. And since we have a wonderful library system in King County, it costs me nothing to give a few books a try. I felt no obligation to try and read them all the way through if they made me cringe–the only loss was time.

What am I finding? Based on the Romantic Times RSS, the Harlequins and bodice rippers are still out there. They have their audience, and they always will. But the books I’m reading now? They’re urban fantasy will a little bit of sex–and sometimes less sex than books that get published in other genres, such as Sci-Fi, regular fantasy, or plain fiction. It’s a joy to find this genre so fragmented, for so many different reasons. Creative stories, completely new worlds, strong female characters with careers, drive, and passion that extends beyond the bedroom. In one book I read, the female lead told her “hero/love interest” that she wasn’t willing to commit to him, and give up everything for his way of life. In a novel I’m reading now, there is a female werewolf with OCD and a hoarding disorder.

I can’t imagine a greater disparity between the fainting damsels of the old Regency Romances, and a 21st century nurse who does in home hospice. Long live Romance–it’s a delight to see how far you’ve come.

When a character you love becomes something else

Published May 1, 2012 by wyldflamingo

There’s been a trend, of late, in characters I love–both in print, and on television. I found myself with some down time this past week, and so gave in to watching a series I’ve been interested in, but had never watched before: “In Plain Sight”.

“In Plain Sight” follows the life of Mary Shannon, an inspector with the United Stated Marshal Service, who specifically works for Witness Security, or the Witness Protection program. Right off the bat, Mary resets expectations. She’s a strong, independent woman in what is largely a man’s world. She erases the vague idea I have that “WitSec” is mainly for people who have had the misfortune to see bad things–WitSec, in fact, protects a great number of criminals, who have made the choice to turn on their compatriots rather than go to prison themselves.

In Season One, it’s Mary’s caustic wit, prickly demeanor, and ascerbic resolve in dealing with her life that I adore. She is not the polished female we see with most women on network television (hideous reality TV shows aside). Her job can be dirty, and frustrating–she puts in long hours at her job, and by the end of the day, she looks tired, disheveled, and exhausted. Her sarcasm is softened by her interactions with her partner, Marshall Mann, whose laconic approach and wikipedia-esque knowledge make him an excellent foil for Mary’s often brusque or callous demeanor.  At the end of the day, Mary must deal with her alcoholic mother, and her screw-up baby sister. Mary’s childhood (bank robber father who vanishes when she is seven), carries into all aspects of her life. Despite–or perhaps because of–the way Mary uses sarcasm and cynicism in her day-to-day existence, I initially found her very endearing. We share a lot of the same characteristics, using these attributes as  a means of dealing with stupid policies, or perhaps stupid people.

By middle of Season Two/beginning of Season Three, changes are afoot, however. Mary’s mother, Jinx, has realized she is an alcoholic, and embarked into rehab. Brandy still stumbles, on occasion, but she’s going to school, and working through her own family issues. Mary, however, seems stuck in time; she’s grudgingly accepted her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, but verbally assaults his decision to take a car salesman job with Brandy’s wealthy boyfriend. When Mary’s mother comes home, she leaves liquor in the house, convinced it’s only a matter of time before Jinx fails. In fact, as Mary’s family and friends have grown,moved on, made changes in their lives–Mary has not. In fact, as they grow more successful, Mary’s comments become more biting, more cruel. Perhaps this is an accurate representation in “real” life–when a caretaker who has been disappointed time and again sees someone close to them succeed, they tear them down. But I don’t need that much realism in my television.

“In Plain Sight” is on its last Season (five)–and we’ve yet to see any of Season four–but I hope Mary starts to realize it’s ok for her friends and family to be successful.  Otherwise, it seems ironic that the solution to Mary’s problems are in plain sight, and she’s the one missing the clues.

A Game of Thrones: Storytelling without Words

Published April 20, 2012 by wyldflamingo

“A Game of Thrones” is now several episodes into Season 2. The storytelling is complex, compelling–I can easily imagine Shakespeare, or Machiavelli observing similar antics in their day, and filing the details away for use in the writing. The acting is superb, the costuming gorgeous, the scenery (Northern Ireland, Malta, Iceland!) amazing.

And yet every time the opening credits roll, I am glued to my seat, staring, mesmerized.

Angus Wall has opening credit design props already (Big Love, Carnivale, Rome). I’ve seen the first two, and found them moving, and absorbing. But more than those others, “A Game of Thrones”‘ opening credits tells a story. And every time the story is different. Each time, the cities involved alter, to fit those who fall into the episode being aired.  Then, there’s the actual mechanics of the crdits themselves. The long shot is as though from a lens of a telescope, and the lens goes into more extreme magnifications to look down (godlike, perhaps) on the happenings of this world. As the lens focuses, a city begins to rise up–the construction is specific to the cities in the novels, which A Game of Thrones is based on. Kings Landing,  for example, has high towers and walls, which crank up as though a piece of clockwork. You can tell the size and potential importance of the locations based on how extensive the constructs are.

Another cutaway shot is of the sun following its path above the planet, further inviting the watcher to feel godlike in their third party observation of the stories happening below. The final shot, pulling back from the cities, focuses on the standards of the various royal houses involved–House Lannister, House Baratheon, House Stark, House Targaryen. The animal icons involved are all in various action poses–much like their houses, trying to find their way through the mess of the succession, and the intrigue that makes up the storyline.

Watching this map of the world come to life through its credits, I almost feel like I can the framework George R.R. Martin must have imagined, when he initially began the books this show is based on. I know Martin had planned to make this series so epic, so incredible, that television would never pick it up (after he experienced incredibly painful “kill” decisions on other shows he wrote for, specifically “Beauty and the Beast”, which had incredible storylines that television management couldn’t grasp). I hope he feels HBO is doing his vision justice.

‘Crucible of Gold’ proof you’re not stuck with one genre

Published April 12, 2012 by wyldflamingo

Naomi Novik’s sixth alternate history novel in the ‘Temeraire’ series (Crucible of Gold) was released March 6th. Since my last post was about crossovers in television, it seems a perfect time to talk about Naomi Novik’s transition from writing for video games (hardcore RPG fans will recognize her from the game ‘Neverwinter Nights’). With her fantasy cred established writing for RPGs (role-playing games), it probably wasn’t TOO big a jump into the world of fantasy book publishing.

Novik’s claim to fame is the alternate history she’s devised for her novels’ worlds. Set during the Napoleonic War, dragons play a major role in battle, tactics, and the overall military. Novik extrapolates from history and adds amazing details, like an Air Force made up of Dragons. I love her attention to detail as she mixes her fictional world with the historical one–weapons, military order, battles, social hierarchy…it’s like reading a Jane Austen novel with a fantasy element (NOT the HIDEOUSNESS that is “Pride, Prejudice and Zomies” or “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”). Novik extends her series outside of Britain and france as well, journeying to Shanghai, and Australia. Seeing the world not just from the eys of a “modern” military man, but from an intelligent, articulate dragon offers insight and revelations from entirely different perspectives.

I’m looking forward to catching up with the dragon Temeraire, and the military man of honor he has chosen to serve.

When worlds collide

Published April 12, 2012 by wyldflamingo

We’re going back and re-watching Season 6 of Bones (some Netflix ‘adultery’ occurred, and I finished the entire season without my husband). One of my prior posts commented about Hart Hanson, who is a writer and producer for both “Finder” and “Bones”. No sonner had I posted about this observation than the next episode we watched of ‘Finder’, featured a cross over character visit from Dr. Lance Sweets, who plays a psychiatrist on staff for the FBI.

I’m not sure about when characters cross over to other shows, especially in a series still in its infancy. It sort of feels like cheating–playing on the “street cred” of an existing show, with established characters, and fanbase. Is ‘Finder’ already in danger of being cut (at episode 3)? I know Hollywood and television execs are continusouly winnowing down the amount of time a show has to succeed…so with that knowledge, it’s not a surprise that ‘Finder’ is trying to capitalize off an existing audience.

The Sweets episode came and went on ‘Finder’, and the character remained true to itself (although the premise of his coming to ‘The Ends of the Earth” in the Florida Keys is a little far-fetched). I can’t say the same for when Dr. Jack Hodgins hires the main character (Walter) on ‘Finder’, to investigate the death of a space shuttle pilot.

Anyone who watches ‘Bones’ will know that Hodgins is an intelligent, deeply thoughtful scientist, with a penchant for conspiracy theory. In the context of ‘Bones’, amid all the solid scientific work Hodgins performs, with equally experienced co-workers,  the conspiracy theory rants are an amusing quirk.

Hodgins comes to ‘Finder’ because he’s been following the death of a space shuttle pilot, who reported a UFO. Hodgins theorizes the government is burying evidence of alien visitations, and wants Walter to expose the cover-up, in addition to helping the second shuttle pilot regain his credibility. Unfortunately, removed from his regular environment, and plunged into the world of ‘Finder’, Hodgins is no longer an intelligent, focused scientist. He comes across as a conspiracy nut, determined to read alien invasion into every clue, every hint, or direction the investigation takes. ‘Finder’ loses credibility with me: the decision to not stay true to Hodgins character profile feels sloppy and amateurish.

There have been many other series where crossovers happen (Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley, Buffy/Angel) without this strange mutation happening.

Why would a producer let this happen to a strong secondary character from one series? It seems like it dilutes both ‘Finder’ and ‘Bones’.