Saturday, August 20, 2016

Coloring Inside The Lines, or Without Them

From Thoughts & Sketches: Gates & Gardens
I was at a book signing today featuring my Color/Write/Sketch journals when a lady I recognized as a local artist came over and looked at them. Leaning in, she said, "I wouldn't say this in front of your customers, but I always tell parents not to let their kids have coloring books because it inhibits them from drawing whatever they want."

Yes, I've heard the argument. I had a relative who taught art who said the same. I get the point. But this time, I had to answer it, so I told her that with my children and now with my grandchildren, I provide(d) coloring books, but also plenty of blank paper and sketch books. Both. Not one or the other. I told her that coloring books help develop fine motor skills because they have small spaces to fill in and that takes a good amount of control. Control takes practice. But they also have blank pages to do whatever pictures they want, with their own imagination.

The thing is: people are too directed toward one side or the other these days. I don't believe in that. I believe children should be given many options, many opinions, many interests from which to choose, and they should learn to color within the lines (stay in the boundaries when the time calls for that) and to color outside the lines or with no lines (create their own boundaries and then go past them when the time calls for that). They need both.

Children who never learn boundaries have a tough row to hoe dealing with a world full of necessary boundaries. Many boundaries are absolutely necessary. Don't cross a street by yourself until you're old enough. Don't drink or have sex until you're of age (important for health and brain development). Don't point a weapon unless you fully plan to use it. (Obvious reasons.) Don't look like you're dressed for a punk concert when you go to a job interview, unless it's for a punk band roadie. Don't lie to and look down on your parents while they're doing their best to help you up (at least if you're lucky enough to have parents doing their job as they should). Necessary boundaries.

However, I'm also against stifling children too far. Give them blank paper. Markers. Crayons. Colored Pencils. Regular pencils. Gel pens. Paint. Skip the name brand clothes and get the stuff that matters. Let them do free art. By free, I mean their choice. Let them draw whatever they think of and paint an elephant turquoise with red spots if they so choose. Absolutely. I agree with the artist on this one. They need to be creative in order to make their way through the adult jungle. When things don't work out as planned, they need to be able to come up with other options and possibilities, to set new goals and shoot up and beyond them. To do so, they must learn creative thinking in childhood. They must play. Create. Explore.

So give them coloring books with boundaries. Show them how to stay in the lines, even if they're making that elephant red and turquoise. Applaud them when they manage to control their little fingers and to concentrate enough to keep the drawing neat and in bounds. It matters that they learn to do so, just like it matters that they learn to write their letters neatly so others can read them. (And by all means, teach them cursive if their school doesn't! But that's another entry.)

Then give them blank paper, white clay, paints of all colors.... and let them explore, make mistakes, and try again.

Teach them to be open to possibilities within necessary boundaries.

Teach them to see more than one side, to try more than one path.

Well-rounded children grow up to be more successful adults. They're more flexible, more adaptable, more likely to thrive in hard times.

Yes, give them coloring books. Let them color within the lines and over them. And give them blank paper to create their own lines. They do need both. Don't let anyone who tends too far toward one side or the other tell you otherwise.  One side of a straight path is never enough, no matter where it leads.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Autotelic Arts and Professional Envy

There was this post I'd been thinking about writing for some time. It's not an easy one to write. It's always hard to admit to your darker sides, even when you know everyone has them.

The other day, I ran across this video and it pushed me to write what had been stirring in my head for some time. It's not very related. It is to some extent, I suppose, but... Well, watch first and then we'll talk.

I love Van Gogh. I have ever since the first painting of his I saw jumped out at me and said, "Hey, look at this!" At least they say that to me. The video talks about how "late" in life he decided to paint as a career/living/obsession. He was 27. That didn't sound terribly "late" in life to me, but then people do tend to live longer these days, so relatively, maybe it was.

Then I got to thinking: I was 30 when I began to take my off-and-on writing hobby to an obsessive (aka professional-minded) level. I do feel that was starting rather late, in as much as there were so many years I could have been working hard on it instead of playing at it so I'd be farther along by now. I see young women putting time and effort into their writing career at the age I was very busy with little kids. I don't regret that at all, but I sure could have been writing instead of doing cross stitch while they napped or were in school.

I do have a little bit of envy for those pursuing their writing so seriously so young, even though I realize my choices were mine and maybe what I needed to do at that time. Or I just didn't believe it would go anywhere, so I didn't bother until I had to write. For myself. Because I had to. There does come that point. If I'd found it earlier...

Anyway, my writing is autotelic. I write what I need/want to write, despite the way it doesn't fit today's market and that I may never be one of "those" names due to the fact that it doesn't fit. I even tried a couple of years ago to start a new direction under a different name along with my "need to write" stories, and they slid right back in to what I need to write, not what fits or what will profit financially.

I believe art should be autotelic.

I do.

Still, there's that other post I've been thinking about writing. That one where I talk about professional envy. My own, that is.

It's very hard to work so seriously for so long, as Van Gogh did, for little to no compensation while your writing friends and acquaintances are showing off their successes and big sales numbers and best seller statuses. It's hard. It's envy, of course, and we've all learned that envy is a bad thing.

I think it's not. I think envy is a wonderful challenge. Jealousy, now that's different. Jealous people tend to take it out on those of whom they're jealous, or they manage to hold it in and let it eat at themselves. There is nothing helpful about jealousy that I can see.

Envy, though, says yes, it bothers me that I'm working so hard and not getting the glory you're getting. It says, whether true or not, that my work is as good or better and deserves as much recognition. Maybe it does. But in all honesty, maybe it doesn't. Maybe they made the choice to write for the market and they're pulling the effects of that. Okay. So what? That was their choice, and it was a good choice. They deserve the good effects of their choices.

Does that mean it should be your choice, also, instead of whatever choice you made? Or maybe you didn't see and haven't heard how much struggle they already went through and you're making a sad assumption. Maybe your work isn't as good as you think. Maybe it's outstanding and you're just not hitting the right audience. Maybe...

There are too many maybes to list them all. The thing is: so what? Their path is their path. Your path is yours. If you aren't happy with that path, then use that envy productively. Acknowledge it. Realize you aren't a bad person simply because you're envious.

If you're envious, it means you care about your work. Yes? Caring is good.

If you're envious, it means you want to do better in some way. That's always good. Just figure out how and work toward that.

There is space for non-autotelic art. Obviously there is. Sometimes you can get lucky and what's autotelic is also commercial ("in"/easily salable) at the time you're working. That's a wonderful thing. If it's not and enough of your writing goal is income, then do both if you're able.

Van Gogh died a pauper having sold only one painting while still alive, due to his brother's efforts.

Personally, I find that extreme and I believe there has to be a better balance for autotelic artists. I know there is. I've seen very passionate, talented artists doing fairly well. That makes me envious at times, yes, but it also inspires me. When one person does it, it shows it can be done.

Take notes. Consider the how.

(If you have a loved one who will work hard to promote you when you can't afford to pay them, consider yourself lucky, too, and be sure to return their help as much as possible, which, from what I read, Vincent didn't do at all. Maybe that was part of his downfall. Maybe he needed to learn to give a bit more to others instead of always taking and expecting success before he felt able to give back. Sometimes that doesn't happen and being a leech off someone who cares about you never works out well.)

Professional envy can be very constructive. It can also be devastating. Which one it becomes depends on how you handle it.

Autotelic art can be amazingly creative and beautiful and long-lasting. It can also be soul shattering. Which one it becomes depends on how you deal with the natural results.

Never expect anything from your art. Hope. Work hard. Push yourself (but not beyond your limits). Keep going (or don't if it's too much to handle).

Be honest with yourself. Why are you doing it? For the sake of the art or for sales? Whichever it is, don't expect people to bend to your whims and support it just because you think it's worthy.

Yes, maybe it is. To you. To some. And that's great. But never expect.

Just create and trust.

In the meantime, do something that will support you. Cutting your art hours by having a "real" job or by giving to others while they help support you can be frustrating, yes, but it can also build your passion and create inspiration. It also creates respect.

I love Van Gogh's work. I do. But much of me thinks he would have been better off, physically and financially, if he'd taken up a side job that pulled him away from "it's all and only about my art and the heck with anyone and anything else" attitude. Because it's not. His beloved brother would likely have lived a longer and healthier life, as well, since he wouldn't have had the constant drain of a grown man constantly asking for more money for food and paint on top of supporting his own family.

Yes, at times I have trouble congratulating other writers on their successes. I admit it. That's part of being honest with myself. I still, though, am happy for them, because I know what kind of work and commitment it takes. I know I lack marketing skills and interest. I know I could be doing much more to promote my work. I'm quite sure I could spend more time working at the craft part of my books. There are always things that could be improved. My failures are my own, not theirs, and I remember that. It doesn't make it easier. It does make it acceptable.

Sometimes that's good enough, at least for the time being.

And if it becomes unacceptable, well, I need to improve what I'm doing in some way. Or, as the line I most remember from my grandpa, a very wise man, says,

"If you want to be as lucky as him, go out there and do what he's doing and you'll be lucky, too."

If you don't want to do "what he's doing" then your results will be different. When it comes to art, they will very likely be different anyway, because art is subjective and what's beautiful to one is ugly or blasé to others, but that's okay, too. You can't make people think the way you do or appreciate what you appreciate. You have to work with what is, even while striving for improvement, both your own, and your society's.

Be envious. And then put it to good use.

Be autotelic or don't. And realize the results will vary.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Remembering Desert Storm

Image from Rolling Thunder's Facebook Page
It seems this one has long been forgotten. We hear consistently about our troops coming home from the current seemingly never ending Middle East war that's supposedly no longer a war. Politics aside, they are still there fighting, and they're coming home needing a lot of assistance, physical and mental, that is falling through and failing them. We all, or many of us, agonize about that, as we should.

Yesterday, though, marked the 25th Anniversary of the start of Desert Storm, the 400 hour war after a several month buildup to be prepared, that achieved its objective quickly, freed Kuwait from Iraq's violent takeover, and then sent our troops back home.

Perhaps it's largely forgotten because it was so fast. Few troops had to lose their lives to free others. We went, drove the intruders back, and left, leaving only a small protective contingent. Yes, there are many political fallout issues that we could bring up, but that's not the point of my post.

The point is we shouldn't forget our well played quick victories. We should remember them. We also should remember that during Desert Shield and Desert Storm is when the country rallied full force for our military, starting what luckily has become an on-going "Support Our Troops" quest. In early 1991, nearly every house in rural America, and even in some city areas, flags were flown in support, often with yellow ribbons attached. People were wearing red, white, and blue. Support magnets showed up on cars everywhere you looked. The country was maybe as undivided as it has ever been, at least in troop support.

Of course there were still the protesters. There were still the ignorant civilians who spit on troops as they arrived home or went about their daily business, knowing full well our troops are not allowed to do one thing about it. We will always have ignorance. It's a part of every society.

Back then, though, if anyone heard of such an act, it fueled anger and more support.


I suppose one effect of a long drawn-out war with no clear goal has to numb the general population to some extent. It does not at all numb the troops and families directly involved, however. We mustn't forget them, no matter how long it runs. We lose ourselves as a nation when we forget those who sacrifice for us.

It's hard for me to believe Desert Storm was 25 years ago. My grandchildren are now about the age my daughter was when her father left to serve. She was nearly two when he left and just over 2 when he came home, the second birthday he'd had to miss because duty called. Watching the news casts with that huge pit in my stomach wondering just what part of the thing he was in (since my protective soldier didn't want me to worry more than necessary and wouldn't tell me until he was home), on the 24th of February, 1991 when the Storm hit, and wondering if my baby girl would ever really know her father because he was away helping other mothers and babies, is a feeling you can't understand until you're there.

Police spouses understand, of course. On a regular basis. Especially those in rougher areas. And we should never forget that, either.

These days, most of the military novels I've read or heard about deal with soldiers coming back from war with PTSD,. I understand it's an issue. I understand they are not getting the right help. Mainly, they get drugs thrown at them that often only make it worse and nothing more.

Those guys coming back from the front lines of Desert Storm didn't "have PTSD" as in, it wasn't a thing yet. They dealt with it. Their families dealt with it. It was a different time with more and less support.

But I got off track...

Not all soldiers are going in for help with mental issues that come with every war. Some of them, most of them, dust themselves off, pick themselves up (with any luck they'll have family support as they do so), and continue their paths in or out of the service. We don't hear much about them. We never hear much about those quietly dealing with their own issues and managing to live good, productive lives despite whatever personal horrors they have faced or are facing. That's sad. We should. They are the majority. We should remember that, as well.

If you want to meet one, fictionally but very realistically, you're welcome to check out my Desert Storm based book, Moondrops & Thistles. I won't link it here because that's not what this post is about. Look it up if you like. My DS vet husband read it and attests to the realism. What I didn't know from experience, I asked him or other DS vets about, in particular, the aviation parts of the story.

If you're too young to know what Desert Storm is, do some research. If you've forgotten, especially the patriotic fervor of the time, try to remember. Our history matters. It's part of us. Look beyond what history class teaches you. There's so much more out there that explains what we don't already
know. Knowing matters.

John Jakes' Kent Family Chronicles is a nice place to start.

What other American History fiction would you recommend? What do you remember about Desert Storm? (Keep in mind this blog is run by a military(RET) spouse and attack comments will be promptly deleted.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

No Pneumonia Here

"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia." Kurt Vonnegut

Life is constant reinvention, at least for some of us intent on growing and exploring as much as possible. The same is true with writers not content to stay in a pigeon hole some publisher creates. Those who are content to do so generally do well with it, and that's great. There's a big audience for those well-promoted genres. The rest of us ... well, we have to figure out how to find an audience for our not-so-well-promoted little niches.

That's a long-winded way to say I've been playing with a new tagline for my LK books. I recently updated the artwork (headers and icon) for EMK, plus the tagline. Now it's on to revamping LK a bit. No, I've never been one to sit still well. I'm always looking for different and better. My daughter says "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was written for me. As Loki said in in Thor: The Dark World, "I don't do satisfied." (from memory - could be a bit misquoted, but the gist is the same) I liked Loki better from that line forward. I get it.

I like my current tagline: Literary Romance with an Artsy Twist, but I don't think it's coming across well. "Literary" tends to turn people off, unless they love 700 page rambling insightful slow books (yes, I am one of those, at times). "Romance" turns people away unless they like the bodice-ripper kind of stories, or 100 page fast meet-and-fall in love books. I like romance. I'm a romantic. But I'm not really THAT kind of romantic. I'm somewhere between the two, which is what my tagline was supposed to say. I don't think it's working. So, my new tagline:

Conservative Fiction for the Intellectual Romantic

What do you think?

I put it out on my personal Facebook page to a limited group of people to ask their thoughts the other day. Most who replied loved it, said it made them stop and think, which is part of the idea. I did get some dissent, a good point that it would likely turn off more liberal readers. That's probably true, and I did consider as much, but as I explained, any reader "liberal enough" to let the tagline turn them away is likely not going to enjoy my work, anyway. Not everyone will. It is on the conservative side, although I have characters on all sides of all lines providing point and counterpoint, wider POVs than just my own. I don't like to read preachy fiction, so I don't write preachy fiction. I do write societal and cultural fiction. My main characters do tend to be on the conservative side. And why shouldn't they be? Liberal fiction is everywhere; liberality dominates current fiction. I know. I read plenty of it. One of my favorite authors has bent so far that direction, I stopped reading him. Point: not everyone wants that. A lot of us don't. Whereas we may enjoy reading different points of view that don't agree with our own, and I do think that's important, we don't necessarily want everything we read to tell us we're haughty, greedy, evil, stupid, etc. (yes, I have read plenty of fiction that says exactly that) because we're more conservative than the current tide.

I'm not trying to make love to the whole world when I write. I'm trying to tell a good, deep, well-rounded story with thoughts I ponder often and questions I constantly have. Some of it tends to be a bit more liberal and not all conservatives will agree with me. Overall, though, it is moderate conservative fiction, and I'd rather those on either extremist side not bother than to rant and rave about expecting one thing and getting something else (kind of like the new Deadpool ad that tells parents PLEASE DON'T take your minor children to see the movie and then rant about how horrible it was for them to see when it's rated R for a reason!).

Why shouldn't we have "conservative fiction" that is not "Christian fiction"? There's room for all of us.

As for the "intellectual romantic" part of the line, yes, my books are heavy on romance, but it's not genre romance. It's relationship development wrapped around a societal story. It's the why of two people coming together, how they deal with conflicts that threaten them being together, why they decide to overcome them or not, how others interfere, including family and friends. It's supposed to make a reader stop and think.

In short, I'd rather put out the call to those who want to philosophize a bit as they read, who are interested in varying viewpoints and will consider them, and who love a good story with in-depth characters who understand the value of morality and have differing ideas about how to best love one's neighbors than to attract a wider group of readers who very well won't be interested. One of my characters is fighting the effects of pneumonia, but I'd rather not.

[If you prefer shorter and a bit less philosophical/intellectual love stories, I have that in my Ella M. Kaye line. ;-) ]

Of course this means I'll need new artwork to match the new tagline...

Monday, January 18, 2016

It's About The Way They Make You Feel

And yet another...

I rarely comment on celeb happenings, even celeb deaths. Everyone hears about it already. I don't tend to see the need to plaster it all over everywhere when it's not personal to me. I do often share news of fallen, injured, or lost service members, because that doesn't tend to be widely known, and that is personal. Sad state of journalism, but there we are. With celebs, in general, I can feel for their loved ones and for those who loved them and move along without the need to talk about it.

Still, sometimes people you didn't actually know have much more effect on you than those you do know, have had contact with, maybe even grew up with. We all have social media friends we've never actually met who are far closer friends than some of our in-person friends. They don't matter less because we haven't technically met.

As an Eagles fan, I do mourn Glenn Frey's passing, as I did David Bowie, to less extent since I listened/listen to Eagles on purpose and Bowie only when I run across it on the radio. Music is art. Songwriters who touch your heart absolutely matter in your life. Who knows what kind of things they got you through, how much they lifted you when you were low, how much joy they brought simply by sharing their heart and soul through words and music. The same is true of all artists. They matter, whether or not we know them personally.

Art, when shared, is meant to make us feel. Artists are like those internet friends; we know them through their words, their shared images, their shared expression.

Back when I was working day care, one of the signs I most remember said, "Years from now, children won't remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel."

That's exactly right. It's about the way someone makes us feel.

I don't always personally understand someone's grief for a singer, etc. because that particular artist didn't touch me. However, I never put others down for doing so. Apparently, that artist mattered to them. Who am I to tell them they're wrong or silly or over-reacting?

Yes, I've had plenty of more personal grief and health scares to deal with, like everyone has, so I expect. One doesn't deflect the other, not unless you let your grief harden you. I don't imagine the loved ones you grieve would ever want to do such a thing to you as to make you hard due to their passing.

Feelings matter, even sad, miserable, lonely, awful feelings. They matter. That's why we write about them, paint them, sculpt them, act them. Decrying someone else's sadness is like telling someone with depression to just get over it, it's not a big deal, because you don't personally understand it. It's hard and unfeeling.

Be careful with that. People will remember if you make them feel that way.

So yes, I mourn Glenn Frey. I hold fond memories of the way I feel when I hear their music, when I sing with their lyrics. It matters.

Rest in peace, and with our unending thanks.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Vision and Verse: Interview with Author LK Hunsaker

Thank you to author Carol Ann Kaufman for the wonderful interview!

Vision and Verse: Interview with Author L.K. Hunsaker

(My name is written as LK without the punctuation, but some book sites have it listed as L.K., so if you might need to check it both ways when trying to find my books.)