What Art Is

What is art?

For me:

*

It’s sawdust in my hair

and ink on my hands

and clay on my clothes.

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It’s pulling my feelings

into something more tangible

like an image on paper.

It’s the fear that comes when

I put those feelings

where others can see them.

*

It’s angry scribbles and

crumpled-up concepts and

weeks of hating

everything I make.

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It’s scrubbing my hands

again and again and again

trying to feel my own skin.

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It’s hard, and it’s wonderful.

It’s the delight from a project

finally coming together,

or a person

who says

I made something that helped them.

*

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From the Outside of the House.

You can’t tell what’s going on from the outside of someone’s home, unless maybe they’re shouting. You can get clues.

The yard, if there is one, with its presence or lack of plants that aren’t supposed to be there, says something about who might be inside. If there are chalk drawings on the driveway or sidewalk nearby, that says something too. So does the state of any vehicles that might be parked in front, and how recently the building’s been painted, and anything you might glimpse through the window. During voting season, they might have signs in support of their preferred candidate posted.

But it doesn’t say as much as getting to know the people inside.

Generally, my current apartment has a huge flowerpot with no visible plant life in it on the windowsill. I’m told the plants are still growing, and there are a couple of tiny leaves if you look from directly above it, which you wouldn’t from the window. There’s also a bouquet of fake flowers, and if it’s night and the blinds are open, you might see my roommates and I watching a show together, or maybe someone cooking or studying.

Given that it’s a college apartment, some things about us are obvious. We’re college students. It’s a women-only building, so none of us have Y chromosomes.

But good luck guessing our areas of study, or where we’re from, or anything actually pertinent to figuring out the sort of people we are. All of that is only visible inside the apartment, where the talking happens and the studying and I occasionally cover the living room floor with paint supplies (I try not to do that when the others are home).

I think people are like that too. You can look at someone’s face and clothes and body language all you want, but the important stuff is happening inside their mind–and unless your name is Charles Xavier, you’re not getting in there. You have to piece it together from their words and actions, which aren’t visible all at once the way the state of their shoes is.

It might seem awfully inconvenient, having to invest time in someone in order to learn about them. Certainly makes trusting people you’ve just met tough. But it’s also good in a lot of ways. It means that any successful friendship was actively worked towards, that the people involved spent the necessary time to make it work, to learn each other, to respect one another as equals.

Being able to do all that at once might make those relationships feel unimportant, and they’re not.

On “Fitting In”

Ah, late summer–a time when teachers dust out classrooms and students pick up pencils, and swimming pools are abandoned by both. A time when middle schoolers worry about math, high schoolers worry about essays, and college students worry about everything.

(Or maybe that’s just me.)

And everyone worries about the social world– if the clothes they wear will have them laughed at or excluded, if they’ll have similar enough interests to their new classmates to befriend them, and if they’re in a new area, whether their accent will make people dislike them or if they’ll miss some unwritten social rule they’re unfamiliar with. Even if they avoid making any enemies, what if they can’t make any friends?

Social interaction is hard, guys.

People talk about little social things not mattering as much when you grow up, and that’s partially true. As an adult you have far more power to just walk away from unkind people, and a more developed self-image that their cruel words will have less impact on.

Still hurts, though.

In middle school, I went to a substitute teacher after some classmates had called me weird. His response? “I’m weird, too.” Which was very unhelpful to twelve-year-old me, but has been useful wisdom in the years since.

Everyone is unique, and so everyone is weird. Some are more weird than others, and some are better at pretending to be “normal,” whatever that means, but everyone is weird. Limited edition. Extraordinary. And yes, sometimes strange and bewildering.

Which means you’ll never find someone exactly like you, but there are loads of people  whose weirdness is compatible with your own. They’ll have similar interests or ways of talking or clothing styles or any number of things.

And even if none of those people seem to be part of your real space life, the internet is full of websites and discussions and blogs run by people with weirdness that probably matches yours at least a little bit.

Sand in my eyes

Send away

Thoughts of tomorrow;

How does a mind

Slow down?

Sleep.

Dream.

Yeah, that

Doesn’t happen soon.

*

My ancestor

Bleaches my hair,

Gives cryptic words.

Her name means wisdom.

When I wake,

I’ll wonder

Why I never told her:

Issalaamu alaykum.

May peace be upon you.

Perhaps it already is.

*

I hide in a box

Of fantasies and

Children’s toys,

All gray.

The fear is scarlet.

Color is strange,

In dreams,

In memories.

*

Wake.

Glare at the ceiling.

*

Sleep.

*

A wandering melody

Of yellow notes

Plays over me.

I run from monsters,

Faster than I’ve ever run,

Waiting for

Sandpaper breaths

That don’t come.

The monsters

Aren’t scary.

An endlessly shallow river

Is now deep and blue.

I catch a fractal glimpse–

*

Of nothing.

An alarm rings.

Colors fade to amber.

I clamber out of bed.

Humans are Weird

Humans are weird.

They speak different languages, have different religions or no religion at all (and find it very important, whichever way they go), paint or tattoo their bodies or leave them as is, have different tastes in food and music and fashion, tell different kinds of stories, have different kinds of minds. They look different from one another, because of skin or hair or scars or bone structure or clothing, and yet all are immediately identifiable as human. Even the ones in T-Rex costumes.

There are different conversations to be had with each, different things to learn and different social minefields to avoid. It would be awesome if they didn’t spend all their time arguing.

Okay, a lot of their time. Sometimes they’re asleep.

Lately there’s been a trend in certain corners of the Internet, to tell brief stories in which humans bewilder hypothetical aliens with their resilience or customs or tendency to bare their teeth as a friendly greeting. There’s been talk of “how to care for a human” pamphlets getting distributed to ship captains and medical officers, but I’m not sure those pamphlets would be as helpful as the hypothetical aliens might like them to be. Sure, they might cover basic facial expressions and how human bodies work, but predicting how any one human might react in a hypothetical situation? Even humans are still working on figuring out how human brains work. Might as well try to write a pamphlet for every human the aliens meet. Good luck.

There are so many ways to be a human being, after all. Roughly seven billion.

Even twins identical in appearance and raised in the same household turn out differently from each other. Dealing with humans from differing countries, or with contradictory political beliefs, or any other  major differences is exhausting for those of us who actually are human. Aliens don’t stand a chance at getting us to be predictable.

Constant Improvement

A lot of Internet advice in creative fields runs along the lines of “Practice. And then practice more.” While not inaccurate, this advice doesn’t specify much as to how one should practice–how often? What specific aspects of the work should be practiced most? What sort of improvement can be expected or hoped for?

Truth to tell, that’s because it’s different for everyone. But reading the advice to “practice” with no further elaboration can be discouraging, so I’m going to share my practice method for drawing.

Every morning, as soon as I wake up, I fill a page in my sketchbook. At the top of the page is written the area I need to work in for the day-whether it’s hands or faces or a specific character or flowers, anything I feel needs improving. I fill the page up with practice. They aren’t large pages, so truth to tell that isn’t a massive amount of practice per day, but it is consistent. That’s enough that I’ve seen vast improvement between my work at the beginning of the summer as opposed to the end.

Once the page is filled, I start with the breakfast and putting on socially acceptable clothes and the other things that have to be done for a day to be productive.

I also have a file on my tablet for a digital sketchbook, where I work on character designs and drawing things I see during my day and ideas. I draw in that one during church, pretty often. I’m not super great at sitting still and just listening.

Occasionally this means jotting down notes in between doodles, or allowing the friend next to me to write down the name of the Pokémon he thought I was drawing, but that’s all right.

Unfortunately, all this practice is easiest to accomplish during a summer of relatively few responsibilities. Hopefully I can maintain some of those habits when classes start again.

YA Books You Need to R

Online lists about which books need to be read by everyone at least once are plentiful, but they never have the books I think are most needing of attention. For instance, Ender’s Game is on several of them, and for good reason; but Ender’s Shadow, which I confess to loving even more, rarely is.

That said, some of the books on this list are probably on others. Some are not. They aren’t a particularly literary selection. One is a Star Wars novel. One is dystopian. Perhaps a better title for this post would be “YA Books I  Love” but I’m not going to call it that, because that title would require a list too long for this blog post, and because they really are good books I think most fiction lovers can enjoy.

The Beyonders Trilogy by Brandon Mull

  A teenager falls into a magical world. This sounds like the premise for an enjoyable, but familiar story about heroes and adventurers and dragons, but that’s not how Beyonders works. The heroes of Lyrian have all been systematically bribed, corrupted, tortured or killed out of hero-ing. There are no dragons, which is a serious mark against the series in my book, but the creatures that are there are each fascinating in their own way–giants and zombies and wizards and things that we don’t have any stories or names for on Earth.

It’s an exciting story about integrity and the true meaning of courage. And sword fights, because obviously there have to be sword fights if there’s no dragons.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

This is the first of the Discworld books focused on Tiffany Aching. I don’t know if everyone considers it YA, but that’s where it’s shelved at my library and it’s about a girl as opposed to the adult protagonists of most of the other books.

The book is excellent for its dry humor and magic, but it also has this quote:

“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

It’s a very Slytherin way of choosing to protect those in need of protecting. I love it.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I’m fortunate to have never been forced to read this book for class, since the way I had to read and analyze literature in English class tended to make me hate them, though maybe I’d have hated The Crucible anyways.

The Giver is early dystopian fiction, and some of the best work in the genre. In a society where everyone is more or less the same, a boy named Jonas is surprised to stand out when he is chosen to be the new Reciever of Memory.

Some of my favorite themes in the book are the value of having differences between people, and whether and why emotions are important. The movie is really good too.

Ahsoka  by EK Johnston

This is a more recent book, part of the new Star Wars canon. Ahsoka Tano, former apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, survived the Jedi purges and is on the run in the Outer Rim. With an assumed name and her skill with droids, she is able to stay out of the Empire’s way as a mechanic.

Then the Empire comes to the small farming town she’s been staying in, and she is faced with the choice of running again, or helping the people she’s beginning to befriend and being targeted as a Jedi. Can she fight again after losing everything?

Also, it’s very fun to read Star Wars from a non-human’s perspecive.