I am, by any measure of the word, a newbie. I'm only 22 years old for crying out loud. Aren't I too young to be having existential, "What do I want to do when I grow up" crises? I think so. Ideally, I'd be under the impression that I have my whole life in front of me to choose what I want out of it. But, me being me, I can't seem to think that way. I feel lost most of the times. And the times when I don't feel lost, when I have fleeting, beautiful visions of what my life should look like, I can do nothing to achieve it. I'm too bogged down with previous obligations. Pets, school, work, house, the works. I can trim the excess branches that are trying to grow in the wrong direction, but I'm afraid of change. Even though change will do me a world of good.
This fact is underlined by last night. My mother's book club reviewed draft 2.5 (or something) of my book-in-progress, BOUND TO ASHES. I used to consider it a whole book, but now it's "book-in-progress," because of last night.
Dawn, a dear friend of my whole life, said to me, "At first I was shaking in my boots (even though I was wearing Mary Janes) about giving you critique. I felt like I was either going to be the hatchet or the chainsaw."
That, alone, tells you what went down. They suggested more of this, less of that, standard book review stuff. Then Dawn said at one point, "Everything up until chapter 6 is just back story. I think you should cut that off and start on chapter 6."
W-what?! Chop off like a third of the book?! But... so much work... so many good scenes... To the book club, my book is an unfinished novel waiting to be finished. It's not the concrete building I have in my mind. I got so close to that building, got so familiar with the bricks and mortar and could trace the outlines of all the support beams, but I lost sight of the building as a whole. I failed to see the construction flaws and the exposed insulation. Metaphor aside, my whole world was shaken up after that meeting. Like rebuilding after an earthquake. The frame stands, but the bricks and concrete and drywall have fallen away because of builders who didn't know what they were doing. (Ok, the metaphor sticks, but shut up, I like metaphors.)
After the earthquake, I surveyed the building's remains. I can still salvage parts. I can still scrounge up enough mortar to repair certain walls. But whole supports and ceilings have caved in, and those will have to be rebuilt from scratch.
And you know... I plan on it.
Because even though I sometimes think I can't dedicate enough time to my writing, I'm going to re-write my book until it's the best darn thing anyone's ever read.
Or close enough. Shoot for the moon, right?
Welcome, friends, to my brain.
I think when people like Sexton Burke write books like The Writer's Lab, they have certain expectations. "If I write this clever book full of writing prompts, readers will be inspired and they will create some interesting things."
But I highly doubt that anyone, clever or not, is capable of anticipating what readers come up with. Namely, my response to the first prompt.
The prompt in The Writer's Lab I chose to begin with was simple. Your name's letters rearranged into a new name: the name of your new character that you then have to describe and eventually write a scene about.
Being a visual thinker, I had to physically rearrange my letters. I came up with something awesome.
Mad Craoll Rewnma. I pronounce it in my mind as CRAWL RUNE-ma. It uses every letter in my first and last name. And lo, it even came with a title. "Mad." Oh yes, I can work with this.
So I did. Here is what I came up with.
"Mad" Craoll Rewnma began life as a street urchin. That's about it. Not even she knew-- or cared-- where she came from. She started rough and finished rough. Long dead by a century now, Rewnma was well known in her time for having a penchant for thievery and occasionally dabbling in homicide. That was how it started. With her tangled mane of dark hair and freckled golden eyes, she was the picture of madness even before her defining adventure gave her the title "Mad". Like a jungle cat, she slunk around museums and scholarly establishments for the better part of 20 years, aging none. Then one day, she did it. Breaking into the Twixt, the realm between the living and the dead, is said to be impossible. Except for Rewnma. No one's sure how she did it, or for that matter, why. Some speculated that she wanted to find the lost souls of those she killed, just to "check up on them," because that was her style. Some thought she just wanted to prove that she was the sneakiest thief ever to set foot on the Three Lands. She baffled every prophet, bishop, sorcerer, and king.
But as I floated into the Twixt, a bodiless soul myself, I found her. She was cutting away the souls that formed the walls and structures in the chaotic realm. I addressed her. Why was she doing this? Why was she setting the souls free of their containment? I thought you killed people, Mad Rewnma, not set their captured souls free!
In reply, she grinned and said simply, "I don't relish taking away life, or giving it for that matter. I found that killing had lost its fun. I'm on to better things. You see, I'm really just in the business of mucking things up."
The souls floated away from us in silence, though their mouths were ajar in soundless screams. They faded out of the Twixt.
And that, my friends, is how the Undead War of the Three Lands came to be. One woman. One madwoman. Mad Craoll Rewnma.
Alright, Sexton Burke, if you're reading this, I hope you're happy. My brain clamped over that prompt, tore it to shreds, and buried the remains in the backyard. Somehow I've created worlds, realms, thieves, and zombie outbreaks from one simple exercise.
The brain is a marvelous creature, is it not?
Because everyone loves snarly wolves! Snarly, yawning, and creepily grinning wolves.
My new year's resolution was to get better at drawing. Grand schemes of attending live model drawings and doing gestures every day slowly faded to, "I'll look on Deviant Art for photos of cool wolves." Hey, man. It's a starting point. I'm working up to it. Your hands and artistic brain are muscles. You have to get back into shape before you can run a marathon. And by 'run a marathon' I mean 'do really kick-ass fantasy paintings like you dream about'. Same difference.
I'm coming out of printmaking class. I cross the street to the bus stop. My heart beats a little faster like it always does when anticipating the the great accordion-waisted metal creatures. I sit on the bench and pull out my headphones to lose myself in music. A little mini vacation from the busy city. Everything is always happening in the city. I can't keep track.
My bus pulls up. 73X to downtown Seattle. If I get on this bus, it will take me to international district, which will take me to Kings Street, which will take me home. Precious home.
I had lost my U-Pass card earlier in the week. Even though I got it replaced today, the bus pass feature won't be active until Wednesday. Today is Monday. I fumble in my pockets for bills and change. I wave the person in front of me to go ahead, she can cut me.
The bus shuts its doors and starts driving off.
My heart shrivels and I clench the money in my fist and wave with my other. "Wait, wait!" The bus stops. "Can I still get on...?" I say it in such a small voice I doubt even the people at the stop hear me. The driver opens the doors almost deliberately slowly. He stares at me. No words. Grey eyes. Vacant expression. "Sorry." I feed my money in and look down. His reluctant hand hovers over the pink transfer slip. "I don't need a transfer, that's fine."
There are no seats except for the ones designated for disabled or elderly. 5/6 people do not fit either of those descriptions. One seat is open. I pass it and stand in the isle. The bus jerks and sways and I grip the bars and grimace every time I stumble.
While the one-sided conversation plays on slow-motion repeat in my head, I maintain other imaginary conversations with strangers.
"Why didn't you take that seat up front?" She is in her mid 30's and looks nice enough.
I don't answer. Maybe I make noncomittal sounds and shrug it off. Don't cry.
"There arent any seniors or cripples."
I stare straight ahead at nothing.
"Why didn't you sit there if you hate standing so much? You can walk on the bus while it's moving, you know. It would be much easier. Then I can hold on to the bar, your hand will be out of my way."
"BE QUIET!" I scream.
But I'm screaming it in my head, not to the woman next to me.
The bus continues. We go into a tunnel, stop, and a seat frees up. I take it. But I can't stop talking to people in my head.
"This stop is Convention Center," the imaginary bus driver says, "anyone ELSE need off?" I feel his imaginary eyes bore through me in the rear view mirror. He is talking to me; singling me out among the other passengers for my slowness. In the pretend-scenario, I sniff angrily and cross my arms, like I'm tough and aloof. But what would have happened is I'd squeak a, "No thank you." I would avoid the stares of the other passengers and fend of the tingly-hot-water feeling of crying. I'm getting pretty good at that.
I avoid eye contact the rest of the day. I try to think about school and what I need to study. But the only thing my mind goes back to is that bus driver's cold stare, and the woman who thinks I'm stupid for being scared of taking an empty seat.
The strangers in my head are not nice people.
I've had it in my head that my book, my story, Bound to Ashes, is not what it really is. But now I have come to realize it is much more than just some words on pages.
A story in my head first, a story on an online data storage cloud second, a polished Microsoft Word Document third. Translated into hand-written notes, print-shop hard drafts, PDFs, website code, .docx, .txt, .mobi. All those formats and I was missing the format that it truly belonged in-- and no, I'm not talking hardback, softback, or or eBook. Think... more of a metaphorical format. A format that transcends physical forms and data points and travels to the mind instead.
A book is a living thing. But think of it like a sea sponge or, for comedy, a sea cucumber. That sea cucumber lays on the bottom of the ocean (book shelf), filter-feeding on other creatures's byproducts (readers, critics). But it was put there by someone. God? Evolution? (Creationism makes more sense for this metaphor, bear with me.)
God made the sea cucumber for a purpose. Not to just sit there and feed on particles floating by or even to be eaten by another animal. He/She made it for a higher purpose. A diver, a first-time diver, on their first excursion to the sea. The first animal they see is a sea cucumber. They mistake it for a piece of coral first, but as it wriggles, they see it for something else. They pick it up and find that its squishy, not spiky at all. And they get to know that cucumber a bit. They go home and look at its Wikipedia page and read books on sea cucumbers (and get funny looks from librarians when they check out a pile of books on nature's most boring animal.) They go diving again, and again, and again, and find that same cucumber, and smile. That's my cucumber. And as they dive more and more, they see more sea creatures. They learn new things. And they perceive their reality differently. They have a new sense of wonder about the world. All thanks to that one sea cucumber.
I may or may not have lost that little gem of an extended metaphor, but the fact remains: my story is more than words on paper. It's more than ink on a page. And in the future, it will be more than a book on a shelf.
Those words might inspire someone to write a story themselves. Someone might see those ink strokes on a page and want to produce some fan-art. Someone could read my main character's struggle to want to stay alive in an apocalyptic wasteland and become inspired by his strength. You just never know. Those infinite possibilities that lie within something as simple as words make it special. Luminous, alive, beating, thrumming with meaning and potential and worth.
That is what I've made. No matter what happens in the future, published or not, I am proud of what I've done.
Just two works I've done recently.
Top: A monotype print depicting what my first day of a new university felt like. Interpret as you will! (And no, it did not involve massive, writhing piles of angry wolf-parts. That part is metaphorical. Or is it...?!)
Bottom: A ball python... puppy. I took a bunch of reference photos of ball pythons lately and figured I'd use them for something. They have the cutest little faces. Or horrifying, depending on your view of snakes. I think they have puppy faces, but I also think that jumping spiders do, too. So there's that.
Anyway, the drawing-bug has bitten me again, so maybe some new drawings will head this way. Maybe they'll be something not dog-related.
Funny joke, Maranda, haha...
Out of context, I would have opened this message on Etsy and thought, "There's an angry cheetah in your mailbox? What do you want me to do?!"
Like, "Hey I don't know you very well but I just thought you'd like to know I'm having very unique problems with invasive wildlife...!"
The reality is still cool (she bought one of my little ACEO cards featuring a cheetah) but probably not nearly as cool as an actual grumpy cheetah in a mailbox.
I like to think my rants and depressed notes are at least creatively written. If you don't think so, feel free to backtrack now and wait for your regularly scheduled goofy animal drawings.
I've always found that the best way to describe myself is that I am a gem. You know, a ruby or something. But not because of expected reasons: I'm not exceedingly beautiful or rare or a 'sooper speshul snoflake'. But because of facets. You know, all the different shining sides of the cut gemstone, shining bright depending on how you tilt it. That's me. A multifaceted human being, cut by experiences and observations. The facets make up the surface of the stone. But what's inside isn't usually as pretty as the outside.
'Artist' has been my identity far longer than any other facet. But looking at my most recent sketchbook, the reflection of my soul, you wouldn't think so. The first page starts out inspired. Dynamic, interesting, striking. The quality dwindles as you turn the pages. A sketch here, an abandoned concept there. Like every other endeavor, it starts noble and polished and eventually devolves into a collection of depressed sketches, drawing from obligation and not inspiration. And this is going to be my career.
The only thing I can be proud of, sometimes. This facet is growing, overcoming my artist-facet. It's a pretty big milestone to have written a book and be almost done with another. My stories are sound, my characters are alive, my settings are dynamic. They paint pictures of an apocalyptic wasteland that I'm not ashamed to admit I dream about. The query letter, pitching my work to agents, is still in the workshop, but polished and nearly ready to fly. I'm putting everything on this project. Everything. Sometimes, I even think my whole career rests on this project. Because I can't count on flimsy drawings to get me there.
I'm known among friends to be knowledgeable when it comes to animals. People who aren't even my friends contact me about animal husbandry issues. What setup do I need for an aquatic turtle, how long does a hamster live, what food should I feed my ferret, how do you train a dog to do blank, et cetera. I used to think I was pretty good at animal stuff, too. I knew what I knew from research and conclusions based on evolutionary adaptations: ferrets eat meat, dogs respond well to confident alpha figures. But there's always something wrong. Oh, but ferrets on an all-raw diet are getting kidney stones, you must be wrong. Oh, your new dog is still peeing in the house, you must be wrong. You're not good at it like we thought. And no one's here to tell the expert how to do things. No one's here to help. Even your dog trainers, when you tell them about your problems with that dog you adopted, they stretch their mouths into grimaces and look away and make noncommittal noises and say, "Yeah, I dunno, that is weird, huh, weird." So begins a future of cleaning up dog crap every day and hurriedly shoving the furiously-barking dog away from house guests.
Oh, you've been accepted into the University of Washington. We're so proud of you. It's so good to have a Husky in the family. Great job. Now you can be successful.
If you can get over the crippling fears of getting lost. The fears of never making any friends. The fears that your degree will never amount to anything and you'll always be that girl who's alone in the middle of a Seattle suburb, balled up and crying by a crab apple tree, waiting for her fiance to rescue her from her own stupidity. Northbound, Southbound, Failurebound.
And yeah, I sound as bad as those kids on Instagram who bitch about their $1,000 bottle of champagne not being the right brand. Some people would kill for a college education. Some people would kill for awesome art skills like yours.
But everyone's problems stand like skyscrapers, no matter what the problem is.
And my problem is too many facets. Sometimes I just want to polish this gemstone into a seamless, smooth sphere. Focus on one thing, do one thing, get paid to do one thing. Simplify.
But as you know, gemstones are often very hard and difficult to cut, let alone polish.
Maybe if I let the gemstone tumble down a rocky mountain, it will turn smooth. Over time, over a lifetime, it'll know where to go.