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Art is: Making Images; Faith & Belief; Narnia & Heaven & Europe

“…it was really that they could not make their own images.” 🤯💛

This is so wonderfully clear– I love teaching writing/theatre/storytelling with kids best because each experience gives them a landmark and an anchor point of knowing they CAN make their own images, and what that feels like.
This also reminds me of how confused I was that you’re supposed to stage a house in order to sell it… Because people can’t picture what it could look like! And I always preferred an empty house because other people’s stuff cluttered up my images and visioning of how I could make the room look.
I don’t believe not every person has this ability– why? Just because the thought is too sad? I guess it’s something I can’t imagine!
But really, what child doesn’t play? What kid, with nothing more than a stick or a pinecone to entertain them doesn’t imagine– make images– of something else??
And what pairs so well with this is Tom Guald’s Edison quote:
“My so-called inventions already existed in the environment. I’ve created nothing. Nobody does.”

Like atoms, like matter not being able to be destroyed, only reused, ideas and images and inventions all exist around us. So being an artist, a poet, that is to say, a healthy and reverent human, is SEEING THE INVISIBLE THAT IS ALWAYS AND ALREADY PRESENT.

If you’re an artist or inventor, then you try to make the invisible visible. But everyone can see it, and they only stop seeing it through training or trauma.

What I want to do is make sure no one loses it entirely. I want every kid (and thus, person) to know where at least one secret doorway to Narnia is within themselves and always be able to find it again, even if they don’t go through daily or often at all. It’s like how Europe was for me in my podunk, I-don’t-quite-fit-here childhood: knowing it existed was a balm, a magic token. A bully could only hurt me superficially because I held within myself this whole other marvelous world, even when there were long years between trips.

I’ve always thought that it’d be nice to have Faith– Christian belief that I really believed. It’s interesting that this faith in Europe isn’t so different as believing that there is a Heaven, that someday we’ll all belong and live in beauty and peace.

Isn’t faith holding in one’s mind and heart the image (the living image) of something invisible yet tangible? And in both religion and art aren’t we charged with making “Heaven on Earth?”

You have to see it and keep believing in it.

Maybe Easiest is Best

Occam’s Razor says simplest is best.

Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a principle from philosophy. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the one that requires the smallest number of assumptions is usually correct. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation.

-Wikipedia

Are Simplest and Easiest the same thing? (And do rules for science translate to art?)

As I step into being an illustrator (because it’s fun, and because, as Dessa says, I’m the cheapest person I can hire), I’m trying out styles.

I’ve had the freeing realization that I’m a cartoonist, not a fine artist. But there’s still a wide range within that definition.

After a great (free!) workshop at the library with Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan, I spent time drawing profile and 3/4 views of some of the 12 Little Trolls. Then I wondered how simple, how cartoony they could be.

Whether or not I stick with this look, it’s helpful to feel fluent in the most essential shapes and lines. (After all, I’d like to do 12 books– that’s a lot of trolls).

Good Book: “Carry On”

The Harry Potter/Magicians premise got me to click yesterday during housekeeping at the B+B. The marvelous story got me asking why I have not read any Rainbow Rowell before??

(The answer: Because she’s so popular & prolific, and her name– Rainbow— is so conspicuous, so I-don’t-mind-standing-out. So not the small-minded small town propaganda I still have to shake off on a regular basis. Looks like a pretty great mentor to add to my list).

Being Your Own Ambassador

I was feeling some drama (Sadness? Stress? Overstimulation?) about asking for something professionally. So I scrolled through Seth Godin’s blog for a little reset of perspective.

He writes:

Other people don’t believe what you believe, and they don’t see what you see.

You have to speak to them in their own language and on their own terms if you want to change their minds or convince them of something.

And why the conflict can feel scary:

Our fears burn so bright that if we truly face them, we think we might be blinded. …[But] once we’re truly clear about the fear, it fades. It might even disappear.

And why it can feel unfair:

In all markets, the market leader gets an unfair advantage… because it feels easier and safer...

The strategy, then, is not to wish and dream of becoming a big fish.

The strategy is to pick a small enough pond.

And that there’s a difference between projects and tasks, and that freelancers, or anyone “making a ruckus,” is doing projects:

Your goal is to create an extraordinary outcome, not to perform the tasks. The work done is simply a means to an end.

[It is not] saying, “I’m going to move this paper from here to there.”

Claim the project before you start the work.

(Hello, email, which has long been an inspiring, inconsistent, contextless task).

And finally, emphasis mine, why I want to avoid asking:

From an early age, most of us were taught to avoid [initiative]… Wait to get picked. Wait to get called on. Become popular. Fit in. Maybe stand out, but just a little bit. Failure is far worse than not trying.


The only way to get initiative is to take it. It’s never given.

Conflict & Dog Walking

Walking our new dog has brought lots of good moments:

Being up and outside in the morning (you can’t sleep in with a playful pup hopping all over the bed).

So many snuggles (she’s a spooner).

And a fresh inner conversation about conflict.

Because Blue is only 1 year old. She’s super smart and responsive, but she was an off-leash country dog in her previous life. And because I’m great at “training” (wooing) cats, which is a completely different process than teaching a dog not to jump, to walk beside you, to come when she’s called.

I’m grateful she’s such a quick learner (shake on day one?? Amazing), but there’s still a conflict of wills and interest: I want to walk, she is a hunting dog and wants to sprint.

I let her off-leash in the woods today and thouh she came closer when I called her back, I didn’t have any treats with me, and she didn’t come close enough for me to leash her until she was done sniffing.

It made me feel a little stressed and sad, a little anxious and dramatically pessimistic. Which is super interesting, because this is a DOG. A PUPPY. This is not personal.

And because I’ve been thinking about the conflict I’ve experienced regarding career stuff: it feels like conflict to have to ask for what I think is fair (my name on a poster, my book stocked in a gift shop, or just giving a price quote). In a lot of situations, no one has even said no; no one has limited me except myself. But having to ask and risking the No feels like conflict, sadness: sisyphean.

But lately I’ve been wondering if maybe asking is a huge part of my job as an independent artist. Though I want to go to conferences to “be with my people,” maybe in most cases I will instead be showing up as the Ambassador of Rose’s Realm of Delight: maybe no majority will automatically get me. Maybe, just like with Blue, my job is to teach, train, introduce, translate, reward.

Maybe every jarring tug of the leash is not a failure but part of creating connection.

Now, after an hour of walking and another of fetch in the backyard, Blue is prostrate on the grass while I sit and write. Tugging doesn’t last forever. Neither do I have to ask and ask and ask constantly in professional settings. It just feels like that in the moment.

Stand Still & Listen

Jay and I applied for the same conference (coming up this weekend). He was invited, I wasn’t, and today I’m feeling sad about it, as if it is the Only Conference In the World, aka, the Only Chance to Make Cool Friends or Have a Career in the Arts.

I want to be picked! I want to be with My People! I don’t want to have to hold political office (Roberts’ Rules! Group Decision-Making!) in order for people to value what I do! How unfair!

But here’s the Lie: That’s the only way to get picked: be some way I’m not.
And here’s the Truth: They wanted what Jay offered. 
And also: They didn’t want what I offered, but that doesn’t mean that no one does.

I’ve never been to this conference. I don’t even know if it’s made up of My People maybe, maybe not. Is it only my ego, then, that’s bruised?

It’s such a weird, weird balance: making art, dancing with inspiration, sharing it, and hoping someone comes to the show. 
(Hoping everyone comes to the show! That those who didn’t come regret it bitterly and beg for an encore performance!).
As if the only way to truly be loved is to be Loved Too Much. To be Clamored After.
That doesn’t sound like a very artsy, introvert-friendly lifestyle.

So, what do I really want?
I want the flow and exchange of delight with my audience, with My People
I want to know that when I have something to share, there are people who will get it, love it, connect with it– an impossible guarantee.
I want to trust that I can follow the Muse and be paid well, not live precariously on promises and wishes.
And I want to be just right for this job– more Capricious Zephyr and less Executive Suit that I am.

I feel sad I didn’t get picked, because the Lie says: I’ll never get picked. 
But that’s not how cause and effect work, and it’s not at all how Magic works.
I feel tired because the Lie says: I have to do it all myself, I can’t rely on anyone else to see the value I offer. (I didn’t get picked for a conference? I must– obviously!– start my own conference!) 
How exhausting.
And I feel embarrassed because the Lie says: Professionals don’t get so upset about not being picked, so I must not be a Professional.
Maybe “Professionals” don’t, but Humans do. Kids do, and I like them more than pretty much anyone else– because they’re honest and open and they know Magic.

Ennis’s school’s philosophy is “Go slow to go fast.” They have no homework at first. They build up to it. They truly master the foundations of learning, they connect with their own creative curiosity without shame. They aren’t in a rush to prove something.

(The Lie says: I’ve had plenty of time to go slow and it’s taking too long and if I don’t hurry up there won’t be any opportunities left.)

When I read The Highly Sensitive Person for the first time, I had a vision of myself on my elementary school playground. I was running, running, running to try to keep up with the pack of kids, and I was exhausted. I could barely do it. (And I certainly wasn’t having fun). Everyone else seemed fine; the pace was no problem. Every time I caught up to them, they ran off, rested and ready to go. (I had a real-life experience just like that on a canoe trip once, and it’s amazing I ever picked up a paddle again).

But I realized that surely not everyone could be running full-tilt across the field. Surely I wasn’t the literal only one who wanted to explore the secret little nooks and crannies of the playground. 

And when I stopped running… there were the others like me– My People. The other kids who didn’t think a breakneck pace was fun. The others who wanted to whisper secret messages through the PVC tubing, crawl under the decking, or set up camp in the tire tunnel. 

There were fewer of us than the mass of bodies that ran as a pack… but how many playmates did I need? How many do any of us need? Wasn’t it better to have one or two or three companions who saw (and loved) the world as I did? 

(More recently, I’ve heard Seth Godin describe this as finding your Minimum Viable Audience).

It still feels scary to stop running. To stand still. Even though I like the view far better this way: all the details visible, the colors distinct instead of being a blur; I like the quiet crunch of gravel under my shoes, the echoes of distant voices, the stillness like a lake within my body. 

So, do I still hope I get picked? Always!
But do I want to play every game, sprint every race? No. I don’t. 
Sometimes we say “No, thank you” ourselves, and sometimes someone else says it for us.

On Monday I taught the first of three “Build Your Own World” classes to a bunch of 9- to 12-year-olds. I can say without hesitation that they are definitely My People. I basked in their presence, I left inspired and energized. There was no posturing, no second-guessing, no fear, no shortness of breath. Just mutual delight as whole universes were created between us.

Maybe “Who picks me?” is really the same question as “Who do I pick?” And the thunderous chase can’t catch the answer to either. 

Maybe I must stand still, legs trembling and breath held, and– ear to the pipe– listen to the words whispered within.

Images are Symbols

How to draw my cat, Per.

I just realized that for me, drawings are symbols / touchstones / hieroglyphs– they don’t tell all of the story, that’s what the words do.

Not only that, but they don’t have to show all of the story / information, either!

Here’s some insightful mirroring from my dear friend, Kelsi:

Don’t do realistic! Your gift is making the fantastical seem more real/relevant/truthful than Reality.

And a great example from Tom Gauld’s Instagram:

(He cartoons for the New Yorker, so clearly he’s not the only person who believes illustration doesn’t need to be photo-realistic to have value).

What I have always loved about oral storytelling is that I get to give suggestions of the characters, setting, lighting. The listener fills in the rest– which produces an experience better than any movie because it is collaborative, because the listener is making their own Magic.

This is my job. This expression is a touchstone and a doorway to someone else.

Why on earth would a picture book be any different? Leave space for the reader’s Magic. (And don’t sweat the details).

How to Give Creative Feedback

A friend just joined a writing group an mentioned that feedback can feel so personal. Here’s what I told her:

Writing groups can be so tricky, I think, because English classes teach us that the way to give feedback is through pointing out the problems, but that can be stifling in the early creative stages of a project.

If I’m at the very end or am stuck then I totally want someone to just tell me how to cut it up, but if it’s in a younger stage that feels so harsh and generally not useful.

I have always liked the 4 step feedback method I learned from storytelling coach Doug Lipman. It’s up to the writer/receiver how far to go in the steps. Even if you only do the first one it’s really helpful to hear from multiple people what they like about the story.
*First: reader says specific things they like (might be plot element, language, imagery, tone, etc)
*Second: writer asks questions of the reader (ie, Was it clear that 1 year had passed? What did the main character look like to you?)
*Third: reader asks questions (ie, What feeling for you want the reader to have at the end? How old is the main character?) This step can be tricky because readers want to give suggestions but phrase them as questions.
*Fourth: reader gives suggestions; I think phrasing them as “what ifs” is best (What if you start with a flashback? I think you can cut the part about the dog).

Learning (or Unlearning) to Draw

I’m so excited to have finally, finally (but surely not for the last time) convinced myself that simpler is better.

That I do not need to be able to draw realistic hands/feet/whatever. And that tracing paper is a totally valid illustration medium!

This fall is going to have a lot of picture book/middle grade experimentation…

Auntie, Davinder, & the Bagheera

Davinder learns why you should always listen to your Auntie — especially when a panther is on the loose!

“Auntie, Davinder, & the Bagheera” is my reimagining of the traditional Indian folktale, “The Tiger, the Brahman, & the Jackal,” inspired by my year in Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalaya. You can see it performed as part of my Brave Girls & Wise Women program or Folktales from Around the World program.

This episode’s story poem is “The Cozy, Dozy Kitten.” The recommended reading is “Just So Stories,” by Rudyard Kipling.