The threat of the blank page

Recently I was gifted a Very Large sketchbook. (Pictured above, with water bottle for scale.) Seriously, this thing is Truly Massive, weighing in at about seven pounds. It outweighs a hardback Brandon Sanderson book.

When I saw it, I squealed, hugged it for several minutes….and proceeded not to draw in it for a month.

A blank page, an empty canvas, a newly made word doc, or a brand new sketchbook— these things give me a mix of delight and fear. Delight, because there are so many possibilities, so many different ways for me to fill that emptiness. Fear, for the same reason. There are so many different ways I could use this—but what if I pick the wrong one?

I don’t think I’m the only person with this issue. I can think of at least two people in my life who collect new notebooks, and hardly ever use them, and I only know a tiny fraction of a percent of the billions of people on Earth.

In my case, the fear is a result of perfectionism. I may know, intellectually, that doing everything right all the time is Not Going To Happen, but convincing my anxious brain to actually believe it is a different story. I can’t make mistakes if I stay inside all the time and do nothing, right? Wrong, and also not a very happy way of living life.

In the case of things like art or poetry or journal writing, there is no “right” way to do it anyway. There’s just a bunch of different ways people have done it, and the ideas I have for doing it. Some of those ideas may work better than others, but that doesn’t make the others wrong.

I’ve been working on accepting that fact, rather than letting fear paralyze me when I try to be creative. It’s still a work in progress. But today, I filled the first page of my Massive Sketchbook, which I have named Goliath.

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Dancing Alone

I am like water,

smooth and swift,

ever in motion.

I move like earth,

slow but unstoppable,

never overbalanced.

I fall like air,

rising again,

constant in change.

I burn like fire,

steady, flickering, spinning,

home.

The world dances with me.

Why Stories Matter

People have been telling stories for as long as people have been people. They tell them and retell them times and again, presidents and kings and schoolchildren and factory workers. There’s something fundamental to being a person in the love of stories.

I don’t know what that something is, I’m just an art student. But I do know something about why stories matter to me.

Stories are home. Star Wars is the same wherever you go, and you can see Scorpius from California or Georgia. You can carry the stories you love most with you when life takes you away from familiar places.

Stories are friends. You get to know the characters as well as they know themselves, and so following their story feels like spending time with them. Some might have experiences like yours, but with dragons. Maybe it seems wimpy to need stories and characters as friends instead of flesh-and-blood people, but at some point everyone struggles with feeling a connection to the human beings surrounding them.

Stories are safe. Horrible, awful things can happen in them, but if it gets too much you can close the book or turn off the screen, and they have a set beginning and end. Life isn’t nearly that kind.

Stories are constants. Well, they are and they aren’t. Every version of Cinderella is slightly different, and the differences change what the story means. But there’s still a shoe, or a cyborg foot, left on the stairs, and a prince at a royal ball. Change is inevitable, except for from vending machines, but stories make familiar patterns no matter how much they are told.

Stories are exciting. Though life is too. It has octopuses in it, and colors and trains and quantum physics. There’s magic everywhere, if you know how to look for it. Trouble is, in the day-to-day drudge of normal life, it’s easy to forget that. Stories help bring back a sense of wonder.

The University of Dreams

Welcome to the University,

where we trade in

memories.

Ever been to Tir an nOg?

No?

We had someone last week—

traded the memory of an afternoon there

in exchange for—

well. I can’t say.

confidentiality, you know.

but the memory’s for sale,

if you’re curious about the place.

so are lessons in

everything

from the physics of the waking world

to the craft of yarn-making.

What about you?

Got any memories worth sharing?

A sunrise in the waking world?

A battle? The story of that scar?

A forbidden kiss?

Those are always in demand.

Won’t hurt none—

well, maybe a little—

to sell it to us.

Ye’ll even still remember it!

just not as strong as before.

Not interested. Huh.

so why are you here?

everyone comes here wanting something.

a gift, really?

what kind?

celebration,

apology,

just because?

those all have different needs.

no—you don’t know

what you’re after.

tell me about your student,

I’ll figure it out.

As for payment—

oh. Yes,

yes,

that should do nicely.

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.

The Scorpion in the Sky

This is an old story. A brash hunter. An infuriated deity. And a monster.
What the crime was and which deity was infuriated, depends on who’s telling the story.

The hunter, Orion, stays the same, though. As does the monster–Scorpius.

Supposedly, their final battle was so destructive that the gods feared putting them both in the Underworld, where they might keep fighting. Instead, they were placed in the sky, as constellations, on opposite sides of the heavenly sphere. You will never see Orion and Scorpio in the sky at the same time. That was deliberate, so they cannot fight anymore.
Watching Scorpius’s heart flicker as he rises in the evenings, I wonder about him. Was he created just to kill Orion? Did he start out as one of the many monsters wandering about Greek myths? How did Artemis (or Apollo, or Gaea) get him to cooperate? Did he have some specific grudge against Orion to begin with?

This is an old story. It’s been told and retold thousands of times, the details altered or faded or lost to living memory. If Scorpius was ever anything other than the weapon that killed Orion, we have no way of knowing. He got the short end of the narrative–no characterization, no motivations, just a capacity for violence and a target. Like the Winter Soldier, sans tragic backstory.

Writing protip: figure out what drives your villains. You don’t have to reference it specifically, you don’t have to make it a sympathetic drive, but figuring out why a bad guy acts as they do is the first step towards believable characterization.

Scorpius doesn’t have that, right now. But, myths don’t have a copyright. We can fill in the details ourselves, if we think to.

Say the deity was Artemis, and that Orion’s crime was more than boasting. Say she turned to an old friend for aid-perhaps she had slain a greater monster than Scorpius, saving his life. He would have gladly hunted Orion, to right a wrong and repay a debt.

Or say it was Apollo, envious of Orion’s rising star (pun completely intended) and his friendship with Artemis, who turned up in his lair and took Scorpius’s mate or hatchlings hostage. He would have fought fiercely then, if it was in hopes of saving a loved one.

Or Gaea, Earth Mother, seeking to protect her creatures from the mighty hunter, went to Scorpius for help. As one of her creatures, he gave it.

Or say Scorpius was a monster, and did what monsters do, and it was only because someone whispered a suggestion to him, or claimed Orion had insulted him, that he became so focused on the hunter.

All or none of these backgrounds may be applied to the myths, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

This is an old story. We can’t know what its original tellers intended for it, or for Scorpius, to mean. We can only know what it means for us, now.