What Art Is

What is art?

For me:

*

It’s sawdust in my hair

and ink on my hands

and clay on my clothes.

*

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.

*

It’s scrubbing my hands

again and again and again

trying to feel my own skin.

*

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.

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.

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 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.

How to be a Star Wars Villain

So, you’ve finally figured out a career you want to pursue. Congratulations. It’s about time; you’re graduating in the next couple weeks and your family has been nagging you about what you’re going to be for years.

It’s a good career for you. The money’s good, the hours aren’t awful, and you get to wear a snazzy outfit. It’s something that allows you to act how you’ve always secretly wanted to, but been prevented by society.

You are going to be a Star Wars villain.

You probably already have your evil name picked out, and have started on the long¬†application process, but you’ll need advice. This is the place for it. For starters–keeping a running total of the ants you’ve stepped on? Not impressive. Keep that information far away from your resume.

Here are a few tips for how to act once you get the job.

1. Call everyone you don’t like scum.

This is very important. Even if you haven’t yet had the screen time to show by your actions how evil you are, if you call people scum, your audience will get the hint. Rebel scum. Jedi scum. Scavenger scum. Person-who-butters-their-toast-Wrong scum. Everyone can be scum, except for you and your underlings. Not that your underlings will have an easy time of things, of course.

2. Kill people who don’t need killing.

Not because you don’t see them as people. You have to know they’re people, and kill them like moths. Kill all the villagers who happen to be near you. Kill any underlings who make mistakes, however innocent or unavoidable. Kill some planets while you’re at it. And if someone is needed for plot purposes later on? Don’t kill them. Torture them. For absolutely no reason, of course. How is anyone to know how evil you are if you aren’t sowing senseless carnage everywhere?

3. Make yourself seem less than human.

Unless they are a budding young villain like yourself, no one wants to think themselves capable of the things you do. So distance yourself from the audience. Be a cyborg, because that isn’t rude to amputees everywhere. Get some really noticeable scars. If you’re cursed enough to be attractive, wear a scary mask. Be careful not to take it off, though, or viewers might start to think you’re jus misunderstood. And whatever you do, do not make any reference to a tragic backstory. Your childhood was perfect, understand?

Follow these guidelines, and you may just become a worthwhile villain, one you audience will love to hate and cheer for the death of. Oh. Erm…maybe set your affairs in order before you start.