“Writer’s Block”, Instrumental Music, and a Keyboard

Land of Symphony Avatar

Technically, I’m off of my second or third social media hiatus, but now that I’m back I’ll be online less than I was before and blogging more frequently. The negativity has really gotten to me, this time around, and in the past few weeks I have had a complete 180 in mood and all things. As an artist, I need silence, that freedom to not say but to listen, and the ability to create without an audience watching or I seeing them. I suppose this comes from my many years of being a performer, but you know? When I used to practice for hours on end, I didn’t need/want an audience, and I don’t need one now. All I need, is the room to practice, and thanks to a wondering, loving, and supportive group of friends and loved ones, I have that. Now, it’s up to me to make them proud.

Many things, with respect to my productivity, go back to the fact that I was a performer for a long period of time, primarily my formative years and in college with a few events that happened beyond that, including a rock opera. I’ve had jobs in the music industry, and I’ve also acquired a keyboard a while back, but I haven’t played regularly for a long, long time. For me, the piano is connected to a great deal of trauma, and I’ve been avoiding it and anything related to any kind of songwriting for a while–until I can’t anymore. I’m working on a song at the moment that’s connected to an… Well, let’s just say it’s a “big” story, and this tune won’t let me go.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been picking away at my office, to see what it is I actually have sitting around in boxes(1), and sorting some things for later.(2) This was done with the intent of possibly moving my office, but now I see I have a very clear space to set up my keyboard, and that will allow me to do something I haven’t done in a long, long time: practice. It is scary, for me, and I don’t think it’s something that can ever be explained to anyone else–nor do I want to. Not anymore. I’m not getting back into music because of my past, but because of my future. I don’t know if I’ll still be able to play blindfolded or with my hands behind my back–time will tell how long I can even play. But, this is the last piece in a series of dominoes for an artist’s recovery program I’m taking, and this is everything to me, because this is where my heart can be found(3).

Music is also the first thing I turned to after my initial two weeks of social media deprivation, to help rebuild the foundation and get things flowing again. This, I feel, is pretty important given that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do think it’s as Kathy Steffen described: writer’s avoidance behavior. The block is an illusion, it’s a piece that we think is there because we’re specifically avoiding something, we’re shielding ourselves by saying there’s a physical object standing in our way preventing us from getting to whatever it is we need to. And yet, there are ways to power through it beyond motivation: deadlines, journaling, switching to another project, positive affirmations, visualizations, mini-art therapy, etc.

More than all of this, however, is the fact that music, either listening or performing, has always increased productivity for me on a number of levels. More, if the music doesn’t have any words associated with the song, as well. To me, music and animation are similar, in that there’s the creative aspect, but also the mathematical and logistical components required to breathe life into each piece. I may have mentioned this one before, but words are music to me, and certain words carry minor tones (e.g. if they have a negative connotation), and others major (e.g. positive). So, listening to classical or dub step or ambient or even drums fills my head, gives me something to focus on, and sometimes allows me to “see” the music that is happening. This last piece, setting up the keyboard and playing, is reconnecting a mechanism that has been missing for far too long, for a good, damn reason.

Like I said. Scary. But nothing good ever comes from giving into fear.

(1) Yes, my office could have been one of the parents’ from Coraline.
(2) Later, but not indefinitely. I hate filing more than splatterpunk, but it does feel like clearing out the cobwebs, to be sure.
(3) My cousin explained that the translation of a surname in our family tree means “music.” Appropriate!

    Mood: My cats are pretending to be Dickens-esque characters, ergo…
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I ADMIT NOTHING.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Considering I walked for six hours on Friday, my butt fell to the chair. Hard.
    In My Ears: Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Variation)
    Game Last Played: Tetris. Because Tetris.
    Book Last Read: I’m reading a book by Ursula Le Guin, but sadly I cannot remember the name of it since I just started.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Harry Potter series
    Latest Artistic Project: Gothic corsages. There shall be pics, later.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


Writing Exercise Inspired by Cupcake Wars

Mushu Avatar

Of all the reality TV shows to get addicted to, I’ve discovered I like Cupcake Wars(1). In fact, I like it SO much, I have turned into a cupcake snob myself. No longer are plain chocolate or vanilla cupcakes acceptable. Oh no… Even when utilizing store-bought frosting(2), I’m forced to sift cinnamon and add a garnish.

2015-09-22 11.45.59

I rather like the themes they explore, too. Science! Tim Burton! SDCC! Roller Derby! My next mission is to make filled cupcakes, only they’ll likely be cherry-almond a la these Dexter babies from Have You Nerd. I have the butcher knives, already(3).

There’s another side effect of watching Cupcake Wars, however, and that is falling in love with how the cupcakes are described. “It’s a raspberry-mint cupcake topped with a chocolate-hazelnut buttercream and garnished with a raspberry-shaped marzipan and mint leaves.” It reminds me why I love to read about food in the first place!

I’m not sure if you’re inspired just yet, but I am! Food can bring out a fantastic detail in worldbuilding, as feasts have a lot of allegorical and visual impact. The very first descriptions I remember were from The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeTurkish Delight–and the tea party/cakes from Alice in Wonderland. Why are these foods so memorable? What about their description entices us?

I find that writing about food is a great exercise in highlighting how detail can make something more enticing to the reader. Is it a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting? Or is it a homemade chocolate cupcake made with organic eggs, milk off the farm, and cocoa beans from Brazil, topped with milk chocolate ganache? Which one would you be more likely to eat? To practice writing about food, I find that picking a specific type of food–in this case, cupcakes–and then finding a picture to describe it is a fantastic method to facilitate visualization.

Here’s a picture of a cupcake featured on Cupcake Wars.

Double Shot Mocha Lattee Cupcake

How would you describe this cupcake? What ingredients do you think are in this chocolate confection? After you’re done, compare how you’ve imaged this cupcake with the original recipe.

(1) Beware the auto-play. Sigh.
(2) See also: because I was cleaning while baking, and couldn’t multi-task without sprouting extra arms. Or, alternatively,
(3) Fondant is “teh evil”, and I have yet to unlock its mysteries.

    Mood: Let bachelorette weekend begin!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Let there be coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Not enough.
    In My Ears: Nameless dubstep beats.
    Game Last Played: Ugh. This jewel-addicting monstrosity.
    Book Last Read: The Silmarillion by Tolkien
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Ghost in the Shell
    Latest Artistic Project: Thinking about it.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


Dystopia and Deprivation

You're An Idiot, Starscream

Week number four of my social media hiatus begins, and I’m very happy with how this month has been shaping up. Perhaps the biggest benefit I’ve seen, once again, is that deprivation does help clear out my headspace, and helps me focus. I had a friend mention recently that I seemed more relaxed–and this is true, after a fashion. The less attention-grabbing headlines pop into my brainpan, the stronger my focus is on my own work. Mind you, I don’t feel this is an issue of time, necessarily, but emotion. A lot of what’s happening online these days is very upsetting, because fights are now public and sides/factions/what-have-you form around issues. Politics is a fantastic example of this, for example, as individuals jockey for votes slashing and burning public health programs–like Planned Parenthood(1)–along the way, touting cries of someone else‘s immorality, to make themselves appear as virtuous beacons of light(2) to gain power.

To me, these hot button issues have an impact on our creativity, but they always have to varying degrees. I feel the trick is knowing when to throw your hands up and walk away. I thrive on positivity when working, not negativity, which means I have different pressure points than you might have. Sometimes the issues-of-the-day have been couched in allegorical or symbolic terms to represent meaning without being direct about it, but that requires Deep ThoughtsTM. It is always safer, it seems, to introduce a new idea in an old way–through a story. For example, The Blob (1958) is about the spread of Communism, and was probably terrifying to audiences at the time. Now? Communism doesn’t hold the same meaning in today’s society, so the allegory is lost on us, and we think it’s a movie about a pink blob that consumes everything in its path. Thus, that story has since evolved into something safer, more digestible(3), and more palatable for audiences who hold diverse viewpoints, because we are different. The message is still there for those who want to see it, however, and thank the stars. People are infinitely more complex than a simplified perspective or -ist/-ism, and allegories like these facilitate critical thinking, of which I’m a huge fan.

The movie Advantageous (2015) is an example of a movie where the message is more overt than subtle, and it is a very cynical look at our future. It is also a great example of a dystopian film, for the story is small enough to give us a sense of what it’s like to live in this world, as opposed to tearing down the dystopia. I feel the reason why this film has gotten mixed reviews, is because people might be uncomfortable with the idea that some of these issues already exist in our own reality, and they weren’t expecting its slower pace a la Melancholia (2011). The pressure for women to be young is amped up to 11, here, but it absolutely exists in our reality. Hollywood, for all its glitz and glamour, often pairs older men/younger women together, and there is a thought that once you turn 30 your career is over. While, of course, much of that is conventional wisdom based on perceptions about that magical land of California, it’s become part of our zeitgeist, that women over a certain age/weight are unwanted (4). And, we’re only desirable for our ability to have children. Once that happens, who cares?(5)

Add overpopulation, social and religious morays, megacorporations, and a high cost of living to the mix. This is what Advantageous explores, and I thought the film was extraordinarily realistic. There is one bit in the movie I wanted to comment on. I’m not giving anything away by mentioning that there’s a line about how people thought it’d be less risky to have homeless young women than homeless young men. Now, there’s a thought that women either cannot be violent or aren’t so(6), thus it is safer for society to put women out on the streets than men. The causality of wars aside, what I noticed in this film was that the director, Jennifer Phang, did not film certain age groups of women in a state of homelessness. I felt that this was a nice touch, because it put the emphasis on the value of a young girl–e.g. as opposed to showing gangs of teenage girls. Which, to me, is probably what would happen. Desperation makes people do funny/crazy things, and that’s part of what this movie is all about.

(1) Forgive me for saying this, but since when does anyone else but me have a right to tell me what I do with my vagina?
(2) Yes, this is my cynical side showing.
(3) *rim crash*
(4) Kyle Buchanan has written a bunch on this topic for Vulture.com. Here’s one such article–with graphs!
(5) Oh, I could say a lot of things about that in particular, which pretty much ends and begins with a flipped middle finger.
(6) Here’s a link for you regarding Women and the Crusades. Since social norms suggested that women remain at home, their time in battle wasn’t covered by the historians on the invading side of the equation. So yes, telling women to stay in the kitchen is positively medieval. And, you can see how well that worked out for the status quo, even back then.

    Mood: Hungry. I am consumed by the thought of making a mole sauce.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Let there be coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Brisk walk, and celebratory booty dance for making headway on my office.
    In My Ears: Nameless dubstep beats.
    Game Last Played: Ugh. This jewel-addicting monstrosity.
    Book Last Read: The Silmarillion by Tolkien
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Hunger Games
    Latest Artistic Project: Thinking about it.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


Telepathy and the Seeds of Truth

Mushu Avatar

I watched a lot of black-and-white and 1960s television shows growing up in the 80s(1), with Twilight Zone and the original Batman and Superman being two of my favorites. Thus, every once in a while something contemporary reminds me of an episode that I saw. A headline from The Atlantic declares Mark Zuckerberg and the End of Language. Ah, what a lovely headline… Well, this article is really about wearing technology that gives us the ability to communicate telepathically.

The episode this article reminded me of was “Seer Gilligan” from Gilligan’s Island (1966). In it, Gilligan eats irradiated seeds and he has the power to read minds. It ends, like all things do on this show, in comedic-gilded chaos. The point, however, was that you don’t really want to know what anybody else is thinking, because nobody can handle that brutal truth. The idea that technology will “remove a social veneer” might be where we’re headed, but I don’t see a benefit to removing the faces we wear when interacting with other people–other than for retailers, but I’ll get to that later. However, I can see how the tech might have some fantastic uses for accessibility. That, truly, would open worlds to facilitate medical advances, and I do hope it goes down that road.

Often, I feel that science fiction teaches us how human nature doesn’t change just because we have shiny new tools to play with. Human nature is human nature, and this is a recurring theme in my work as well. Technology isn’t good or bad; it’s what we do with it that counts. And yet, I don’t necessarily see the point of wearing something that reads my thoughts and shows my desires on a screen or to another person. Having “tailored advertising” based on what my subconscious wants, or having it instantly be adding to my shopping cart… These things may sound great to a retailer, but for my bank account? Eh, I think I’ll pass. For a total stranger? I’ll definitely pass. Both new and existing technology doesn’t necessarily account for uses by people with a public profile, or any other nuanced needs for that matter. If it did, I’m sure there wouldn’t be new technology, but regardless…I’m not terribly excited about connecting to a total stranger in such an intimate fashion, let alone a friend.

Damn. I think my inner introvert is showing.

(1) A product of an ultra-conservative household. My childhood was like being on the set of The Sound of Music while battling Gremlins with a stack of books/songbooks in one hand and colored pencils in the other.

    Mood: Truth in the smallest things.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Balanced with water! I think…
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Ick. A walk.
    In My Ears: Doctor Whoooooooooooooo?
    Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush. Mega-battle. Seriously. Got to level 68.
    Book Last Read: Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Others
    Latest Artistic Project: Black cat on a white fence with a moon. It’s a cross-stitch thing.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


Hint of Retail Halloween and Poor Captain Whinypants

Mushu Avatar

Am currently in retail heaven, as the stores are full of Halloween delights. I have successfully restocked our treat bags and give-a-ways to friends, and have made a pledge that any new decorations need to be made. I’m already plotting to try my hand at making fancy chocolates this year, along with other concoctions that I probably shouldn’t. This is also a good time of year to get some fascinating tablecloths, of the cloth-and-vinyl variety, and I now have spider webs, sugar skulls, and obnoxious grinning pumpkins in my possession. Oh, but this is my favorite magical time of year. Fireball cinnamon whiskey and hot apple cider, chipotle-and-cinnamon roasted pumpkin seeds, old-fashioned ghost stories… I’m in heaven.(1) Should you not understand my sheer joy for this time of year, look no further than a piece I wrote last year titled Dear Humans.

This year, half of Halloween has been consumed not by Christmas, but by another retail occasion: the debut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As an adult(2), I remember having that excited feeling when the original movies were re-released in the theatres, and again when Star Wars: A New Hope debuted. Of course, my happiness has never been more abundant than when I got to shoot Gungans in the face as a droid in Battlefront 2… Anyway, I digress. There is nothing more exciting than that first moment when the opening credits roll, and I can’t wait to hear how the kids in my life enjoy this new movie premiere. I haven’t made plans yet to see the film, partially because I am crowd-adverse, which means I’ll likely go to the Sundance theatre that I love dearly. I can deal (and have) with the throng if I have to, but it is infinitely easier to be up on stage or hiding in the back than being swallowed up by massive amounts of people.(3)

On that note: I have much to do this week, but I’m planning on popping back in from time-to-time. Today, I leave you with Captain Whinypants in his new Halloween costume. You can see how excited he is. Clearly.

2015-09-12 17.13.46

I’m not sure if I like this one better or not. The loose straps reminded me of a helmet. Or a murderous disguise. See also: my revenge for that 4:00 a.m. wake up call the other day.

2015-09-12 15.30.57

That’s all for today. May you survive the prickly caltrops Monday is no doubt throwing at you, and live to see another day.

(1) Halloween often gets the short shrift in terms of holidays, for Christmas cannot come soon enough for many. I feel a strong aversion, however, to Christmas trees in July. Clearly, we need more monthly holidays like they had in medieval times. Which, admittedly, were subsumed into religious activities from their pagan origins, but the roots remain.

(2) Adult. Bah! Brain does not track age as well as the body does. Some days I’m eight years old wandering through a forest, bewildered by the height of the trees. Other days I’m ninety-five thousand years of age, wondering why the hell back pain wasn’t put into the manual.

(3) A visual from What Dreams May Come (1998).

    Mood: Truth in the smallest things.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Balanced with water! I think…
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A walk. In the park, even!
    In My Ears: A Beethoven trio with a name so long, Tolkien would be proud.
    Game Last Played: Sonic: All Stars Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Research for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Fringe
    Latest Artistic Project: Skull. It’s a cross-stitch thing.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.
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Monica Valentinelli > 2015 > September

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