Of Essays and eBooks
I’ve now migrated all the old essays I wrote to this website. They have such a cold, detached feel to them, and heavily quote from sources, like I’m making a pastiche of other people’s words. I know I do this out of a desperate desire to prove my point of view is valid, and also hide behind others’ words so if someone argues with them (as someone invariably does) then I don’t bear the brunt of the impact or feel I have to edit or change what I said to that person’s satisfaction. It would be more vulnerable if I could reveal a bit of my personal experience, but since that tends to lead to some pretty painful judgment, I don’t feel in a good place to do that. Metaphors could also be useful in warming up the temperature of these sort of essays in the future. Lately my imagination has not been so great at associative and metaphor work. A bit too wounded, again from destructive criticism I was unable to repel and block. I still don’t know how people manage to do that without becoming sociopaths or narcissists. I’m an all-or-nothing kinda gal, I guess.
One of my projects this month is rescuing the first book I wrote during National Novel Writing Month in 2004 and published on Lulu.com. I intend to clean it up, get a new cover, and release it as an eBook on Amazon.com. I found tutorials all about eBooks on ‘The Creative Penn.’ I learned that you make a .mobi (Kindle-ready eBook file) with Scrivener. Because I won NaNoWriMo this past year I serendipitously get 50% off Scrivener software.
I had no idea what it does, so like many other winner goodies I didn’t see a use for I ignored it. I work best with minimal, streamlined tools that don’t require hours of study to figure out how to do very simple things I want to do. I don’t go in for bells and whistles when I’m working; it’s distracting and frustrating to have to stop my flow to figure out how to do something. I hate that so many computer programs have gotten over-developed in the feature department. I read an article somewhere recently about that problem and was glad that someone, somewhere, was aware of this problem and in a position to say something about it.
The more sophisticated any piece of work becomes—whether it’s a technical analysis, a dissertation, a novel, a treatise, a computer program—the harder it is for anyone but a very small niche audience to engage with it. The symphony may be masterfully put together, but the pop song flies off the shelves because it’s accessible and easy to listen to. It’s a balance, a tradeoff I face as an artist. One of the many things I wish I could talk about with other artists, rather than about Oxford commas and the importance of grammar and spellchecking and diagrams of plots that look more like a Dow Jones graph.
Found Object Sculpture and the Creative Project
I checked ‘Secrets of Rusty Things: Transforming Found Objects into Art’ by Michael de Meng out of the library based solely on the title. Next month’s creative project is about me making found object sculptures, and I’ve been planning and collecting for some time to get ready.
This book turned out to be far more of a treasure than I expected. It describes, step by step, the artist’s creative process in a very open and enjoyable way, from anecdotes about buying the objects to the nitty-gritty of the process and frustrations of artist’s block. But even better, every chapter relates a myth from a variety of cultures (Orpheus and Eurydice and Amaterasu, among others), and shows the piece he alchemically created inspired by the myth and his materials. Plus the book is absolutely gorgeous.
This is going to be one of those books where when I can’t extend the loan anymore and have to take it back, I will literally cry leaving the library and pine for it until I get my own copy, like with my beloved ‘The Complete Encyclopedia of Signs & Symbols.’
Art is my spirituality. To me it is the most holy thing humans can do. All kinds of art. It’s a way of communicating that is more full and complete than mere language. It requires effort and thought, whereas a lot of talk is just magpie-like repetition and recitation. Myths are my bible, but are also organic, evolving, and freely taken apart and put back together in many forms, like assembling sand mandalas or praying. Every story has at its core stories that have been told before, and will be told again.
I often say that books are my favorite kind of people, and I would much rather communicate to someone through art than talk. Talk is cheap and often empty. Art engages my heart.
On Blogs and Essays
Periodically I think, “I should start a blog!” The trouble is, where to begin? I have so much to say.
‘Validation & Inspiration’ is my old blog whose meager essays I’ll be transferring to this site as part of Jumpstart January. For the past five or so years I’ve been reading up on a lot of subjects clustered around how people relate to one another, and also about psychological pain and trauma. I learned a lot of things that validated awful experiences I’d been through, told me I was not alone, and helped inspire me with useful information and tools and understanding to move forward.
A lot of what we know is wrong, or incomplete, or only applies to a limited degree or to certain people or in a few situations. Things are both more complicated and simple than they first appear. I found a lot of things so revelatory and startling. My right amygdala lights up like a pinball machine when I get that validation of something I experienced but felt alone in.
I still want to pay that forward. It may be that for some future month I just throw myself into writing the articles I’d planned around the subjects I most deeply felt. Things about invalidation, addiction, apologies, relational aggression, bullying, coping, and many more. I’d want to play around a bit more with being more vulnerable—revealing stories from my own life—as well as using metaphors.
The nice thing about having a month-long challenge where I do a certain amount of creative work every day, like one flash fiction or one poem, means I can experiment with a lot of different techniques and not worry about the result. If at the end of the month there are only three works I’m happy with, that’s still three times more than if I’d spend the whole month agonizing over writing The Great American Flash Fiction or a Poem for the Ages. Which probably would have sucked from being over-written and over-edited.
Cabinet of Curiosities
This month I’m also revising the exercises I use to develop a novel. I adapted Stephanie Cottrell Bryant’s ‘30 Days of World-Building’ which were so wildly successful the first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month, resulting in my 2004 novel ‘An End to a Means.’
Since then I’ve struggled with a lot of life challenges. One of the major goals of my healing and learning process have been to try to recapture lost creativity and wonder, and to ensure it stays flexible and strongly tied to who I am so I don’t lose it again when life inevitably goes through more upheavals.
I used to have ideas sleeting through my mind all the time, and kept files of ideas for stories and details. I’ve revived that practice in a folder called ‘Cabinet of Curiosities,’ where I’m collecting all sorts of ideas and odds and ends I want to put into songs and stories. Much like the collection of found objects I have organized and waiting for February’s Found Object Sculpture challenge, I’m doing the same with my writing.
I like the metaphor of assembling puzzles out of many things when I find the one powerful overarching inspiration that will glue them all together. When it comes, I won’t be caught unprepared.
December was a tough month for creative projects. I couldn’t settle on an inspiring one, so I took time to experiment with different creative habits both daily and weekly.
January I’m tackling computer projects:
- Migrating my old blog posts to this website
- Fixing some broken things on this website, like the donation section on the main page—yikes!—may need to link my Patreon account—as someone savvy once said, “Make it easy for people to give you money.”
- Editing footage I shot last year of the heart hoop demonstration video, and publishing it at long last
- Learning how to make an eBook, redoing the cover and republishing my old fantasy novel ‘An End to a Means’ on CreateSpace (again, making it easier for people to buy my work)
- More streamlined business cards
Nothing wildly fun, as you can see. It’s my hope, though, with all this housekeeping I’ll build and refine skills in video editing and other areas and make it easier in the future to create content, both virtual and physical, that I can share and sell.
Doing everything myself is a challenge. I seem to live my life by ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself.’ In this day and age, everyone’s busy with their own things, so it seems if I want something done at all, I’ve got to do it myself.
Found Object February
Christmas brought me lots more found object sculpture goodies, particularly things to fasten other things together. My vision for hanging found object sculptures is coming together! My plan is to spend February absorbing myself wholly in exploring the making of these sculptures.
Stay tuned, and happy new year!
November: National Novel Writing Month
I’ve participated for 10 non-consecutive years (including this one) and won 5. To win all you have to do is write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. EVERYONE who does this wins. One of the best things I learned is that having a month dedicated to a project is a perfect amount of creative time to play with, and that’s reflected in the other projects and challenges I set myself.
This year I have three goals. One is: write 50,000 words on this novel, ‘Earth Next Door.’ I’m at 41,172 words. I know it’s going to be longer, at least in this first draft. Goal one is not going to be a problem unless I get hit by a falling aircraft engine and die in the next week.
My second goal is to actually finish the novel itself, to type ‘THE END’ by the end of the day on November 30th. But I don’t know how far away that end is. I’m a mix of planning-it-out-beforehand and seat-of-the-pants writer (a.k.a. planner/pantser). Part 2 is a near-total mystery to me.
Which brings me to my third goal: reach part 2 by November 16th. (Less than a week away ARGH ARGH ARRRGH…)
Writing Myself into a Corner
Part 1 is told in epistolatory format: in excepts from letters, phone calls, dialogue from videos. One of my main characters has a tendency to run on and go in an emotional direction that brings the story to a screeching halt. She’s depressed, and I know that cul-de-sac of anhedonia all too well.
I’ve already had to backtrack, rip out and redo several thousand of her words as I realize she has once again derailed the story train. I shouldn’t actually do this in NaNoWriMo—it’s frowned on; self-editing is often a route to losing. But I know about myself I can’t move forward without my story flow, and hitting 50,000 isn’t going to be a problem this year.
One of the things I love about National Novel Writing Month is the worldwide community of hundreds of thousands of ingenuitive participants who love encouraging one another and sharing their tips, tricks, and know-how. No other month do I find such open-hearted, non-competitive writers. After all, we can ALL be winners, without someone having to lose.
Cruising NaNoWriMo’s forums for tricks at the end of October, I learned about Habitica. In this free online game, you put in habits, daily tasks, and to-dos. For each one you do and click, you get experience and gold, and sometimes items that allow you to hatch and grow pets. All in pixels reminiscent of the 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System.
Since NES was a huge staple of my childhood, and I still to this day love video game RPGs, this thing appeals to me so much. Not only is it helping to drive me to write every day—joining the Habitica players writing novels this month means I take ‘damage’ if I miss my minimum word count any day—I get rewarded for writing more.
Even better, these rewards don’t deplete my bank account, expand my waistline, or have to be dusted. It’s all virtual, but ridiculously effective. In addition to writing, I’ve gotten so much on my to-do list done, rather than wasting time playing Charm King or Toy Blast or even Final Fantasy VII (for the millionth time). I’m playing a game… and getting better at the trivial in life.
Kelly McGonigal talks in ‘The Willpower Instinct’ about willpower being a capacity and not a trait. You can increase and strengthen your willpower like a muscle. But starting a new diet on the same day you quit smoking tends to spell disaster. So it doesn’t make sense that I should be shifting my diet toward healthier choices while trying like crazy to write a novel this month, right?
“When you’re writing, you’ll eat just about anything that lingers near your keyboard for more than thirty seconds, which makes this an excellent time to get caught up on all those boring vitamin- and mineral-laden foods you spent the rest of the year avoiding.” —‘No Plot? No Problem!’ by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty
The rest of the year, changing my diet wakes up my screaming inner toddler when I won’t give her the treats she wants or eat whenever she’s upset. I’m so focused on writing right now I don’t have psychological bandwidth to care what I’m eating. That, coupled with the rewards I’m getting on Habitica and the fact that the nearest grocery is half an hour away, made it stupidly easy to make some shifts over a couple of weeks to a much healthier diet.
Since taking a hoop-walk can really help me clear my head and inspire new writing, I’m getting healthier as a consequence of this month’s challenge.
Life hackin’, Kassi-style.
Happy NaNoWriMo, writers and non-writers alike!
Sparkly New Project Diary!
Setting myself month-long challenges has proved an enormous success. Having a deadline and a little something creative to do each day really works for me. I’ve done several novel-in-a-months, and last year for National Poetry Month I wrote 30 poems in 30 days.
In September I did a month of practicing the ukulele every day. I learned many new songs and techniques. I also discovered delightful tools, like Chordify and Riffstation which use algorithms to find chords for any song on YouTube, a guitar-to-ukulele tab converter, and thousands of tabs for video game soundtrack music at gametabs.net. My desire to share these shiny, awesome tools I find along the way—as well as my progress—has led to this project diary.
October 2015: World-Building for Fantasy & Sci-Fi Writers
This month, I’m world-building for National Novel Writing Month in November—where I will attempt to write a novel of no less than 50,000 words in 30 days. When I first did ‘NaNoWriMo’ in 2004, Stephanie Cottrell Bryant posted 30 days of world-building exercises in the Fantasy & Science Fiction Forums throughout the month of October. She’s archived them here, along with eBook versions of them.
At one point I went overboard with world-building, collecting exercises and making my own, and found I had spent so much time making those worlds that I wasn’t actually writing the stories—or enjoying them anymore. I’ve stripped back to the original basics for this year’s speculative fiction novel ‘Earth Next Door.’ I’m also rereading NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s ‘No Plot? No Problem!’ about the joy and process of writing a novel in 30 days.
I have so many different disciplines and forms of creative expression I want to explore, and many large projects which seem daunting and where I lack motivation. Here are some ideas I have waiting in the wings:
- Website Week—getting a Patreon account and fleshing out the Activism and Learning sections
- Fanfiction Month—experimenting with the styles of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett. I have found that in the past, fanfiction has enabled me to break out of my typical voice, and when I come back to original writing I find my style flavored by those experiences.
- Found-Object Sculpture Month—experimenting with the form, using the objects and ideas I’ve been collecting.
- Songwriting Month—really simple song-a-day, building on my success of Poetry Month to explore the form without feeling pressure to make each one perfect. When I go for quantity over quality, that’s when I tend to unearth real gems, and get over things that don’t really work much faster.
Photography & Sculpture
After years of dreaming about it I finally went for my first abandoned building photo shoot, and the heightened-reality experience haunted and inspired me. When I went around back I was breathtakingly rewarded to find a hidden message (shown left). This is a subject I’ve explored in imagination and in poetry, watching videos brave urban explorers posted of abandoned Spreepark in Germany and abandoned NYC subway stations. I look forward to more discoveries in the future.
In Oakland I went with other artists working for social change to a shared artist space where discarded items could be repurposed into art and discovered a new love: found art sculpture. The piece I made there (shown right) is called ‘The Limitations of Language.’
I’m toying with the idea of Patreon to replace the PayPal ‘support my art’ option. More research is warranted.
Thanks to a scholarship, home stay, and donated frequent flier miles this starving artist got to join a bunch of other like-minded artists and change agents for a two-week intensive program the last two weeks of July 2015.
August: ROOTS Week 2015 in Asheville, NC
I also received an Artability scholarship to a program for arts activism with other community organizers and artists. The theme for this program was ‘Transformation,’ which really hit home for me.
August: 31 Stories in 31 Days
In April 2015, for National Poetry Month, many people (myself included) wrote 30 poems in 30 days. I so enjoyed the process of cranking them out. It reminds me of the story I heard of a pottery class where one half were told to each make one perfect pot and the other half were told to make as many pots as possible in the same time—and the best pots came, of course, from the mass-producers. Fiction is my first love. I’m play around with different story formats and lengths and ideas in August the way I did with poetry in April, and seeing what happens.