National compromised challenge month.

It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month, which means, if you choose to accept the challenge, you might write a 50,000 word novel over the course of the next 30 days.  Last year I did it, which I’m still proud of (and have even dusted off the old first draft, finally, so that it just may see the light of day before this year is over!)  This year there is no way I could do it.  I’m just too busy.  However, in the spirit of creativity, diligence, production, and self discipline (I’d venture to say those are the four spirits of National Novel Writing Month) I am still going to set a personal goal for myself regarding writing, the writing of my graphic novel to be specific.  There are 30 days in the month, and by midnight of November 30th I would like to have the next two chapters finished in my story.  At first I was going to say I would like to have the entire draft finished (which would only be an additional three or four chapters) but I don’t want to force the story, which has been unfolding thus far at it’s own pace.

This post is pretty dull, eh?  I guess it’s mostly for my sake.  Unless you’re really interested in my personal goals.  In which case let me know and I’ll give you my current list!  (But not really.)

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It’s a boy, on paper.

Sometimes when I’m naming characters in my story I choose a name that I really like, but then I think, “Wait, I want to name one of my children that some day, I can’t use it here.”  But then I think, these characters probably are my children.  This is probably the only offspring I’ll get.  So why not use the good names?

That’s not meant to sound pathetic, if it does.  I mean, I don’t even really want kids.

April, parts 1 and 2. Fiction (but just barely).

Part 1.

It was a green arrow, and green always means go, and “don’t walk” always, always means don’t walk. But he walked. He ran. With his iPod drowning out the rest of the world he ran right in front of her car whilst she accelerated through the crosswalk. It was a green arrow, and green always means go. And her car struck him and sent him tumbling forward onto the asphalt. He was, of course, killed. That is, he ceased to be alive.

This was April.

Part 2.

Well he was dead alright.  So dead.  And she might as well have been – her life was over, anyway.  You can’t just drive your vehicle into another human being like that (even if it was an accident – even if he came out of nowhere – even if it was probably his fault).  So there he was, dead, and she thought, “How lucky for him.  I have to live with this.”

You get that feeling in your gut, and it doesn’t leave you.  This was April – it will always be April.

Out of the can: Lynda Barry.

Concerning creative heroes, I don’t tend to keep a very long list.  Usually they include women drummers and comic artists.  Today I add another name to the latter category: Lynda Barry.  Back around the time of my birthday, Gwen gave me a copy of Barry’s book What It Is which I can’t begin to describe and would rather just recommend you pick it up.  I guess I pretty much assumed that she would quickly become one of my heroes, but today solidified it.  Because today Rachel and I went to see Lynda Barry speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival.  First, let me say that this woman is hilarious.  If you know me, you know I’m not an easy laugh, but Lynda had me in stitches.  And her ideas about images and play!  Well, just read the book.  Really.  

Lynda started out by talking about the relationship between play and mental health, and how no one would deny that play is crucial in the healthy development of a child.  But how soon we convince ourselves that the time for play is over.  And as adults, even as kids, we look at things that others are doing and think, “Oh, well it’s just too late for that.”  An eight year old who is interested in ballet will be told that she needed to start when she was four.  A ten year old interested in playing violing will be told he needed to start at age five.  So we don’t try.  We stop playing (writing, singing, drawing, dancing) because we think it is for kids, but then we lament that we have not been gifted with a creative outlet.  Lynda Barry is convinced that it does not have to be this way.

She talks about Image with a passion, about its cathartic capabilities and its specificity.  She told the story of a song that she enjoyed as a child, whose lyrics she understood as, “That would be ecstacy, you and me and Leslie, grooving.”  She was intrigued by this character of Leslie – it could be a male or female, who was it? – until she realized that the words were actually, “That would be ecstacy, you and me endlessly, grooving.”  Which was the better lyric, Lynda asked?  Well, Leslie, of course.  This mysterious Leslie, afterall, was an image.  Endlessly is just some abstract notion.  

Lynda’s younger brother demonstrated a creative difference between adults and children.  He would draw a picture, play with it, and then throw it away without thinking twice.  Adults aren’t typically able to do this – if we create something we fret about what should be done with it.  But creativity isn’t meant to be the cause of stress, it’s meant to be cathartic.  She challenged us as adults to make a drawing expressing something we would like to say to someone else but never would, and then throw it away.  She described a man who had lost his right hand and was frustrated by “phantom limb pain.”  Even though his hand was gone he had the never-ending sensation that it was in a tight, uncomfortable fist.  He could not fix this, as his hand was not actually there to unclench.  So someone (I forgot to write down which scientist) came up with the idea to use mirrors and make a device that, by unclenching his left fist, it would appear to the man as though he were finally unclenching his right, phantom fist.  He did, and it worked, the pain left him.  Barry says that art has the same power, to take away such phantom pain.

Lynda Barry, although my favorite, was one of four comic artists who spoke today.  Paul Buhle, Mike Konopacki, and Seth Tobocman were also present, and although I won’t rehash everything that they shared, I did want to highlight a quote by Mike Konopacki, who said in defense of the literal and understandable medium of comics (as compared to “high art” which requires a three-page artist statement to decipher) that “Communication should not be ambiguous.”  Of course!  This is exactly why I favor comics to fine art, why I will probably always consider myself a cartoonist more than a painter.  Why does something have to be cryptic to be considered intellectually valid?  Doesn’t it take a special kind of intellect to communicate what you are trying to say as clearly and dynamically as possible?  Yes!

Okay, one last thing and I’ll tie it off.  After the lecture I got in line to have Lynda sign my copy of What It Is and got to have a mini-conversation with her which I will probably treasure forever.  Ever gracious, she willingly signed my book as I stumbled through my small talk (as I tend to do around anyone new, not just my heroes).  But I was emboldened, and asked if I could tell her something about my own plight as a cartoonist.  You see, during her talk and also in her book, Lynda pointed out the importance of hand-writing in the creative process.  When we write with our hands it is the same as drawing – it is activating entirely different parts of our brains than the motion I am using right now to type these words.  But handwriting, however essential to the creative process, is dying off.  I shared with Lynda that I had spent time drawing comics in college, and that one of my professors would often criticise my lettering.  My hands are shaky and my penmanship has never been my strong suit (the only class I got Bs in all through grade school!) and since I could never make my handwriting as consistant as my professor wanted, I turned to digital fonts, which were certainly consistent, and consistently impersonal.  Lynda assured me that my handwriting is a unique part of me, and that the personal voice my penmanship offers is more important than the convenience of legible computer text (or maybe even text handwritten by someone else?  We didn’t talk about that.)  Anyway, she also gave me a couple really practical tips for handwriting which I am excited to try out, and maybe want to keep to myself for a little while.  If your hero ever gives you a personalized tip I wouldn’t expect you to share right away, but maybe keep it close to your heart.  Really, it’s something special.

When art feels right.

So…I’m working on a graphic novel.  I don’t know why I haven’t written about it here yet.  Well, yes I do.  I haven’t written about it because as long as no one knows about it I can’t be expected to finish it, and that takes a lot of pressure off.  Except that I need a little pressure.  I wouldn’t have completed my NaNoWriMo manuscript last year if I weren’t constantly mouthing off about it here.  And besides that, I’ve already started talking to people about it in the non-digital world.  It’s partly an accountability thing, but it’s also just really exciting for me and I want to talk about it!  Let me put it down in black-and-white: before I die I would like to finish this book.  Or a different one completely, but I’ve already got a decent start on this one.  It feels like things are clicking, you know?  And I’m not talking about the story which needs quite a bit of work, but I’m talking about the entire creative process.  I feel like I’ve fumbled around looking for the right way to use my interests and talents and maybe I’ve finally gotten on the right track.  I really do love this comic book stuff, and I like drawing and I like writing and I want whatever I do to be accessible to anyone who wants it, not just some wealthy art collector.  This feels right.  And I worry that by writing statements like that I might be inflating my expectations and setting myself up for disappointment, but I guess that’s a risk I’ll take.  I feel like there may be a few more risks involved with this whole process anyway.

The United States of Pyromania.

Last night my brother put on his annual fireworks show, which promises always to be entertaining, and occasionally life-threatening. Between being dive-bombed by a flaming ladybug and nearly scorched by a poorly-aimed spinner, between the clouds of sulfurous smoke and scattered bits of blasted paper packaging, I was able to grasp at the American Spirit of liberty and justice for all. Or maybe, more accurately, I was taking hold of something more general, more human than national, more existential than patriotic. Here is the truth: Being alive can be a lot of fun! It has nothing to do with being American, really (although we did cap off the night with a somewhat obnoxious rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic). But it isn’t un-American either. We drew a mark across the sky, and watched it come alive. We’re alive!

The night before this I had a fairly narcissistic dream that went thus: A friend that I knew from college had written his memoir, and when I attained a copy I saw that I was a huge part of his story. It wasn’t exactly a flattering portrayal of myself, and I spent half of the dream preparing to point out to others all of the inaccuracies, but nevertheless it was very much about me and I was proud of that. I’m not actually friends with this person anymore–in real life we grew apart a couple years ago–and I doubt that he would actually include me in his story as more than a brief mention. You have a name but no one knows it, and no one’s going to write a book about you. I’ve begun to write a version of my own story (I think everyone needs to do this) imbued with countless artistic liberties and fantastic, but purposeful, twists of reality. Maybe I’ll finish it before I die; that is my realistic and attainable goal. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned in this life. I hope that’s not narcissism. At least not any more than this blog is.

Another three-thought post.

Look! I’m French.

You have no idea how long it took me to translate all of that.

Okay, you’re right, I didn’t do it. According to my stats (can’t a girl love her stats?) someone accessed my blog via Google’s translation option. I really like to think that someone is reading the French translation of my blog. I like to think that Nanette from Bordeaux, qui n’est parle pas anglais, is sitting at her desk with a warmed croissant and probably a cat purring in her lap, browsing the unremarkable contents of my blog with fading interest. She lets out a yawn–which sounds the same in French as it does in English–closes her laptop, and carries on with the rest of her day.

Nanette. Is it weird that I just invented a reader? What if she is real?

Well, onward ever upward. After much excited internal debating as to what I would spend my Economic Stimulus check on (Would I get a new computer? An electric guitar? Computer accessories? A plane ticket?) I have finally arrived at something: I will buy a new exhaust system for my car. It’s really not optional at this point, and unfortunately my stimulus check won’t even cover all of the repairs. And unfortunately, it’s not as fun as all of those other things I was dreaming about, but I guess that’s part of being an adult, isn’t it. Maybe in that way it is actually more exciting than those other things. Show me another catastrophe–I can take it!

I pulled one of last summer’s mix CDs back into the rotation today and heard the song that has long since become my breakup anthem for all breakups past and future. Sit down, Kelly Clarkson, this is Liz Janes. Take a lesson.

“Tremble at the hope of my true love’s promise/you are not my true love. His promise is not dependent upon my belief/but upon his word only. His word is so true/oh why did I ever choose you? You are killing all of my wonder.”

Well, I love that. It’s better than any bitterness–it’s hope, but with an edge. Why did I ever choose you, when I’ve got someone so much better? It isn’t spiteful, but it’s honest. Ex-boyfriends, you never really stood a chance in this competition. Yeah! Listen to it: Wonderkiller, by Liz Janes.

A fourth, disparate thought would be too much for one day, so here I’ll end it. Enjoy your Lost finale tonight!

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