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.

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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.

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.

On Meeting Your Heroes

Here’s the thing about heroes: they’re people. They have people’s desires and exhaustions and flaws. They can be good people, often, but people all the same. No one on this planet is Superman, even if I still think of my dad that way sometimes (I blame his love of Smallville).

I try to keep that in mind whenever I have the chance to meet someone I admire, whether for their voice or creativity or uncommonly kind heart. Heroes are people. People are flawed. Both of these things can be true, no those we consider our personal heroes can still be worthy of respect.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet David Archuleta before one of his concerts. He’s one of those people I respect, for his integrity and for the messages he works to share through his music. During the concert, he introduced one of the songs with some commentary on social media.

He pointed out that on the internet, people usually only share the things about their lives that they are happy with-the good selfies, the weekends spent with friends, not the time spent on makeup or the quiet nights in.

I think this filtering of information is also in effect when it comes to our heroes. Parents don’t usually tell their children about their doubts and struggles as they raise them. Creative people share their successes far more readily than they do their weeks of struggling to come up with an idea. Emergency responders don’t tell the people they’re rescuing about the times they didn’t get there soon enough.

This can be good. I, for one, am not even slightly interested in seeing everyone’s dirty laundry.

But it can lead to the impression that heroes aren’t ordinary People Like Us, and that’s just inaccurate. Heroes are ordinary. They have favorite foods and bad habits and toothbrushes, same as me and probably you, dear reader.

Which leads to the conclusion that any of us can be heroes for someone.

The Order of Things

Patterns show up everywhere

Like electrons orbiting protons and neutrons

that form moons

orbiting planets

orbiting stars.

Like plants

producing

mathematically perfect spirals.

Like the rhythm of songs

the variations of sound waves

the walk of birds

(Utahraptors walked like chickens

my yard is full

of feathered dinosaurs).

Like my family

calling me by my brother’s name

even when he’s in a different state

and I’m in a skirt.

Like the structure of stories

told again and again

in different skins.

Like the rhythm of rainfall.

 

There’s a comfort to that.

Everything has a design,

a pattern,

though it may not be obvious

to human eyes.

Gratitude

Things I am grateful for:

1. Freedom of speech. It would be difficult to make awesome things without it. The rest of the Bill of Rights goes here too.

2. Dumbo octopuses

3. Mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. Some fairy tales are more than six thousand years old, and still told today!

4. Brains. It would be hard to live without them.

5. Water. I grew up in a desert. Rivers still blow my mind.

6. That while I may occasionally find lizards on my bed, I will never find a satanic leaf-tailed gecko there unexpectedly. Meeting one while knowing I was going to meet one might be fun, though.

7. Duct tape. I once won brownies in a duct-tape craft contest. Later I made my prom dress from duct tape. Duct tape is good.

8. Vision. My eyes mostly see fuzzy shapes and colors without glasses or contacts, so I am very grateful to live in a time when those are available.

9. Shoes. Especially high tops. And low tops. And combat boots.

10. This photo Juno took of Jupiter’s south pole.

11. Star Wars.

12. Cool apps like Amaziograph, which I used to draw today’s picture.

Things I am not grateful for:

1. Violence.

2. Wasps.

3. People who think yelling at you will make you agree with them.

4. Yelling in general.

5. The fact that Captain America got turned into a Nazi in the comics. Seriously?!

6. Those little prickly seed pods that stick to EVERYTHING.

7. My attention span going AWOL when I’m trying to learn something cool.

8. Lots of other things. I’m trying to shorten this list and lengthen the previous one, though.