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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.

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.

Two new series: one of these things is not like the other

Published April 7, 2012 by wyldflamingo

Tonight we tried two different new shows via Hulu: ‘Awake‘ and ‘Touch‘.

Awake initially had a lot of potential for me. The concept is interesting–a police detective continues his life after a devastating car accident affects his family. Except he’s not 100% sure HOW–in one “life”, or stage of “awake”, his wife is still alive and his son died in the car accident. In another stage, his wife is dead, and his son survived. He alternates between these two realities, trying to continue his job. Each reality affects the other, as clues slip from one to the other. Intriguing concept, right?

It would be, but for me, a successful series depends on the writing, and “Awake” (three episodes in) is failing me. The main character, Michael Britten, is struggling to manage his day to day existence(s). But it’s not a compelling struggle for me.  The writers have already set up the final “mystery” to be solved by this detective: which reality is the real one? Is his wife dead? Is his son dead?  Is he really “awake”? But Detective Britten has no drive to figure out which reality is true, because if and when he does, it will mean he finally loses his ability to interact with one of his loved ones. If he doesn’t care about being awake, why should I?

‘Touch” takes place in New York City, post September 11. The main character, Martin, still struggles day-to-day, with the loss of his wife Sarah, a casualty of the terrorist attacks. Their son, Jake, is non-verbal, and autistic, and like many children with this disability, seems to largely live in his own world. Despite normal avenues of interaction not applying here, Jake is an active character, and in episode one, leads his dad to meet someone his wife worked with before she died. The story spans the U.S., and Iraq, somehow tying together. While far-fetched, Martin’s struggles to interact and communicate with his son, and my curiousity as to how the multiple story elements will tie together make “Tough” a much more engrossing concept and story. I’m looking forward to seeing the further exploration of Jake’s autism, and how the writers will need to consider it as they work to develop the characters.