Two for the price of one today from the archive. I did the second episode by special request.
I’m up earlier than early this morning with a sick child, and I didn’t feel like writing my usual existential crisis blog post. So here’s a short story I recently did for my writing group. First time writing in first person, present. Give me some feedback in the comments.
I tap my fingers on the counter, holding the phone six inches away from my ear as the owner drones on without needing any help from me. She may be a terrific baker, but she doesn’t understand anything about my process. My cakes are “to die for.” At least, that’s what the customers say. The crème au beurre is perfection. The filling defies gravity. So delicate, yet holding up an impossible number of layers. My cakes are already in demand at every wedding and exclusive party in the city, though I’ve only been working here three months. There’s a waiting list a year ahead. Not that I plan to fill all those orders. That’s why she’s so desperate. Somehow she senses I’m not going to be here long.
She has tried to entice me to give up my secrets, but she knows that if she presses me, I’ll just quit. I’m not trying to steal her glory. This is a side gig. It has helped me get where I need to be. But I still take pride in my work. I can’t do anything halfway.
She’s still talking. She sounds smug. She won’t find the secrets in the recipe cards she stole. Those are just mundane recipes for ordinary chefs, and I am no ordinary pâtissier. The important secrets are in my head.
Those secrets make the difference to the serious clients. Like the one I worked on this morning. The Cake of Immaculate Technique is still waiting in the back of the cooler, inside an empty bucket, where I left it before going to lunch. This is different than my “to die for” cakes. She couldn’t even fathom the feat I accomplished with this one. It’s hidden, because this is a side job. Cash. A whole lot of cash, to be clear, and the owner most definitely isn’t getting a cut.
I think I’ve missed something in the conversation. I bring the phone back to my ear and ask her to repeat herself. Impossible! She is telling me she knows about the cake in the bucket – no – she has the cake! She came and got it while I was at lunch. Damn it!
They’ll be here any minute. The party is tonight. I don’t have time to make another! Of course I won’t get paid if the job isn’t done, but the money is the last thing I care about right now. My reputation will be completely ruined. I’ll be ruined. Everything is crashing down around me, but she’s still talking. Oh. Her. Right, I keep forgetting about her, as the constant drone of her voice is easy to tune out. She is saying that she has poured a glass of wine and is going to spend all afternoon with my cake. She’s already had a few bites and she’s close to figuring out the secret of my impossible filling. Then she coughs. Just a small sound, but I know she’s out of words for good, so I hang up the phone.
Maybe the ambassador would be tempted by a perfect slice of my perfect cake, and I can still salvage my career.
I have been waking up at 5am lately.
And by “waking up,” I mean, setting my alarm and dragging myself out of bed before I have any actual reason to wake up. No, I don’t have to go to work. I have nowhere I need to be. I sit, I drink coffee, I pull out my journal or my laptop, I meditate, I schedule, I pray, I write, I draw.
Maybe this is a normal thing for you, but it is definitely not for me. I have had the limiting belief all my life that “I am not a morning person.” Which means – I don’t even try. But lately I have been realizing that 5am is the best and only true window of time in my day that I can be mentally productive. Two of three kids wake up on their own around 6, which means I have never even tried to wake up before them. I hate 6am. The only thing worse than 6am is 5am. So, for the last decade, I have worked at night, when I am fully awake. But after a long day of going in so many directions, I may be creative, but I am also completely unfocused.
Michael Hyatt calls a limiting belief “a misunderstanding of the present that shortchanges our future.” When I teach art – I hear these all the time. “I’m not good at art.” “I’m not very creative.” “I can’t draw a stick figure.”
We just accept these things about ourselves, and who knows where they come from? A second grade teacher? A parent or sibling? A complete stranger? Maybe we grew up hearing other people talk about their limiting beliefs, so we assumed this was how the world worked.
You identify the things you aren’t good at and it gives you an excuse not to try.
I could write about the other limiting beliefs I have had – “I’m bad with names.” “I can’t do math in my head.” – and tell you how I have knocked those out, but this is an art blog so I’ll stick to things vaguely relevant. Suffice it to say, I am suddenly challenging everything I thought I knew about myself.
At 5am in the morning.
Today is Thanksgiving, and as I’m up super-early and the house is quiet, I am reflecting on all the things I have to be thankful for. Of course, I will be thankful for all the materially good things in our life as we sit down to a typical American Thanksgiving spread – complete with a deep fried turkey. I will be thankful for friendship, from those at my table to those I have never met in person. I will be thankful for our health and well-being (if there are no complications from the aforementioned deep fryer.) All of the usual thanksiness.
But this year, what I am most thankful for is the abundance of opportunities I have to grow. I have a chance every day to be a slightly better version of myself. I am constantly challenged by my children and Phillip to reevaluate who I am, what I really believe, and how I make decisions.
And I am thankful that the Creator of all creativity has given me the ability to see something new about myself or the world around me every single day. There is something to learn, each day, to make my life and the lives around me better. To teach something. To make better art. To tell better stories. To see past my limitations and find new creative challenges. Life is good.
I’ve already mentioned going back to the drawing board with the graphic novel I have been working on & posting. So, here’s the plan:
In order to get to the right place with this story I am writing it out in brief prose to get a solid feel for how I wanted the story to come across. (I had previously been working from a script, but I am feeling like some of my ideas weren’t as fleshed out as they could be.) I will show the storyboards for each chapter, and maybe some of the final art that worked/didn’t work in the episodes I completed. Then, it’s new storyboards that hopefully reflect good pacing and better communication of the story. I am posting this all here on the website in the hopes that I’ll get some feedback along the way – good/bad/ugly. I’ll try to organize the info so the story can be looked at/read in a more cohesive way than blog posts. This whole process is new – and a chance for me to learn what works to tell a story visually. Please leave comments & feedback!
People often express envy of my hair. But they don’t understand the chaos that comes with a curly mop of hair.
(There’s a point to this. Stick with me.)
Many people have hair that responds to the environment in a small range of fairly predictable ways. Curly hair does not live by such constraints. Curly hair has a wide range of possibilities within any given set of conditions. And it doesn’t have to respond in just one way. It is creative. It can choose to respond in multiple ways simultaneously. Straight, wavy, frizzy, fuzzy, spiral curls – all can coexist in an inexhaustible number of combinations. It is chaos. The more I try to tame the chaos, the worse it usually gets. I am not adding structure to my hair with the addition of styling gel – I’m adding more variables. Yes, the results can be beautiful, but also overwhelming.
People often express envy of my creativity. But they don’t understand the chaos that comes with creativity.
Many people respond to their environments in a small range of fairly predictable ways. Creativity is about removing those constraints. The more creative you are, the more possibilities you can see. You do this by never accepting that options are limited. You may not know the question to ask, but you know there is always the potential to ask a question that will lead you to an answer that is new. An answer that is creative. Ask enough questions and you can arrive at a place where there is an inexhaustible number of possibilities. This is creativity. It is chaos.
I often have no idea what to do with my hair. So it gets pulled back into a pony tail holder. I can’t control it. Also, often, I have no idea what to do with my life. Not because I’m out of ideas, but because I am working with too many ideas. It’s a very different problem, but the results may look the same. I make no progress at all. I do the emotional equivalent of pulling my life into a pony tail holder.
So, if you are striving to be more creative, understand that you are going to have to get comfortable with uncertainty. The more questions you ask, the less sure you may be of the answers. You have to say goodbye to the way other people style their lives. And if you have a creative person in your life who never seems to accomplish anything at all, have a little sympathy. They see the world very differently. Yes, the results can be beautiful, but also overwhelming.
Seth Godin defines art as “a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.”
I’m struggling right now with what it means for me to be an artist. Sure, I can draw and paint – I can even write. And you may wonder why that isn’t enough. But the real art project is not my latest watercolor effort, or the story I’m working through. The real project is ME.
I am not just looking to improve my drawing skills. I want to fully realize my potential. To make “art” that is true to myself in a way that takes a risk, makes a connection, and contributes something to the world. But it is amazing how hard it is to get out of my own way. I am always conscious of my image. Most people don’t see me as insecure, but I am. I worry about how others may perceive me – whether anything I am doing even makes sense. It doesn’t matter if it makes perfect sense. I’m still figuring it out. It matters that I am doing it for the right reasons, with the right goal in mind. That goal is to make things that only I can make. To find “me,” as cliche as that sounds. I’m the art.
In the story I’m working on, Leap, I have my main character jumping off a cliff with homemade wings, only to have those wings fall apart, causing her to plummet and get snared in the tree limbs. I love that panel. I know just how she would feel if she were actually conscious at this moment.
Ray Bradbury is famously quoted as saying
“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”
I’m a jumper. A wing-builder. But I always end up dangling in the tree limbs wondering what went wrong. I’m in one of those moments right now. I’m hanging there, upside down, blood draining to my head, wondering if I’ll ever really fly. Or if this jump + crash + recovery + repeat process is the sum of my future.
So, here’s my agenda through the end of the year. I am taking Leap back to the literal drawing board, to be sure that a story I feel can be awesome is actually being served by the decisions I am making, and not just being rushed through so I can say it is finished and move on. I will be removing it from Webtoons & Tapas, and posting every part of this process here as soon as I get myself organized.
I may not turn into a professional wing-builder. I may still jump before knowing what I’m doing, but I am at least going to make an attempt to learn from some of my mistakes.
Recently, during a writing group session, I was trying to describe my efforts to untangle my life’s purpose, and what work I should be focused on to best reflect that purpose. How I struggle because there are too many competing ideas in front of me, and I want to choose the right one. A friend stared at me with a puzzled expression and asked “is that really what it is like inside your head?”
Yes. Yes it is.
And it is probably why I am so scattered and ineffective. I am reading The One Thing, by Gary Keller, where he has you refine your priorities down to one thing. You focus on that one thing first and foremost, making everything else easier or unnecessary. So, my one thing right now is to figure myself out. I’ve made some efforts over the years to make this website a cohesive reflection of me as an artist, but I’m not looking for a job, or even to sell you anything, so that seems pretty unnecessary. Who cares what people think when they visit? So, I am going to work out my “one thing” right here, with whatever craziness that might entail.
I am sure I love stories. The only common thread through the things I try to do, the things I care about doing, is story. The Ghost of a Coal Miner painting I recently did for a character challenge is a story. Nearly every piece of art I am really proud of has a story in it. Every song I have cared about writing has been a story. Every comic, every poem, every piece of fiction I enjoy making has some sort of story embedded in it.
I care far less about each individual medium than I do about the creative challenge of using a particular medium to communicate something. So, that’s where I am starting. And I am going to work on putting all the different creative pursuits here – I have removed most of them as they didn’t make sense when put together.
Oh, and I’m bringing the webcomic back. It will still be on Webtoons, but also posted here. With extra commentary probably.
This post isn’t going to go over well with a few of my friends, because they will argue that I’m succeeding. But I’m not. I’m failing. I’m failing constantly.
A week ago, on Monday night, I was up past midnight, working to get Episode 4 of Leap finished. I know I’m supposed to be working with a buffer, but I’m not, and I know I should be at least working ahead, but apparently I’m not.
Then came the moment of realization, the kind you feel in the pit of your stomach. There was just no way. I was going to miss my deadline.
It’s a self-imposed deadline. I set it. There are no consequences for missing this deadline. Except the profound feeling of being a big failure.
Why do I keep doing this? Why do I always feel so pressed? So behind? So in over my head? All the horrible feelings of self-doubt and frustration come crashing down on me. When do I get to the point where I am winning at this sort of thing? When does it get easy?
Then it hit me.
Unless you are stagnant, failure can’t be conquered. It must be embraced.
What I’m doing with Leap is completely new and very challenging for me. This is the first time I’ve fully finished a story. I’m drawing all of it. I’m churning out more than five fully rendered panels a week where I normally did one. I’m imagining and drawing everything in the story. I’m designing characters and magic and intricate plot elements. I’m coloring and finishing the pages. I’m posting and promoting. While keeping up fairly well with the rest of my busy life.
And if I get good at this? If I get to where I don’t miss any deadlines and don’t feel pressured anymore?
So I’m always going to fail. And I’m just going to have to get comfortable with that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, because that is the feeling that gets me where I want to be.