The Makings Of Monsters

Lately I’ve been making a series of digital paintings about monsters—for a loose-ish definition of series, and monsters, anyways.


They’re all monochrome, square, digital, and contain weird creatures, at least. Which color the painting is based around varies each time. I’m gradually going around the color wheel.


Whether they really deserve the term “monsters,” however, is a different question. Just because it’s strange, or staaaaaaring at you, or has too many teeth, do those things make a monster?


I’m not so sure. That probably-not-a-deer especially, seems to just be reading. Nothing monstrous about that.


But monster stories aren’t really about the monsters, they’re about the things we’re afraid of. Spiders, the unknown, death, familiar things becoming strange and dangerous.


I should make a painting about something moving that shouldn’t, like scarecrows. That’s one of my big fears.

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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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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.

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.

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.

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.