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Ze Zings I ‘Ave to Do for My Art

8 Jun

Watching/editing videos of myself got me like…

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My Brain is a Liar

27 May

Yesterday was a bad day.

The last few weeks have been full of change, and much of it has been excellent change. I picked up a freelance writing gig. I quit my job, which I’ve hated for a year and a half, and I did it a few months ahead of schedule because I picked up that freelance writing gig. I drank up the courage to debut a new ren faire act. I planned two albums and launched a Kickstarter with my singing partner of six years. And then I went on a short, cheap trip to Charleston, a city I like a lot, with mr. biscuit, who I also like a lot, and between a five hour drive and two hours struggling to get around an unfamiliar city all the anxiety that I had been struggling with bubbled over like poison, and after a day spent picking fights, I started crying on the streets of Charleston because we had accidentally walked two blocks in the wrong direction on a beautiful evening in a charming, walkable city.

My new writing gig has me doing a lot of bullet-point blogs, so let’s break all this down in a style I’m becoming used to.

  • I quit my job. This is an objectively positive thing. As soon as I made the decision, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. Giving my notice brought a similar feeling of relief. I’ve been so happy since.
    • As I said, I’ve hated this job for a year and a half of the two years I’ve been working there, and been trying to find a new job for almost as long. I had finally given up on the job search, because there are only so many Almosts that I could bring myself to tolerate, but had contemplated self-harm to get out of work. More than once.
    • mr. biscuit got a big promotion at work, which came with a substantial raise that was not quite enough to replace my lost income were I to quit, but we had decided that I would leave my job at the end of July anyway and we would make it work.
    • When a friend turned me on to a freelance writing gig at her company, which I could do from home without having to talk to customers or put on shoes, we decided to push that date up.
    • My last day at my full time job is June 1st, and I’m thrilled. Between graduation and summer classes starting, I have been yelled at half a dozen times over the last three weeks and cried at work four times. I’m done. I’m so done. This place has poisoned my mind for long enough. It is time to cast it into the fire.
    • I’m also crushingly nervous. Quitting means a pretty substantial decrease in our income. That really only means that we will have to limit our spending, which a) I am bad at and b) I do not enjoy, but we’re in no danger of starving on the street or not having shoes. We haven’t had time to sit down and hash out what the new budget will look like, though, which is increasing my sense of impending doom. Objectively I know that we will be fine. mr. biscuit is making more than he ever has before, and the less miserable I am the less incentive I have to try and spend my way out of misery.
    • But still.

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  • I launched a Kickstarter. I’ve been singing with a friend for six+ years under the name The Voices of Virtue, and for a majority of that time we’ve been saying “man, we need to record an album.” About a month ago she sent me an email saying essentially “Let’s do this shit.” And we are doing it.
    • This led to me finally getting my shit together and launching a new renaissance festival act: SERFs, Inc., starring Lilly Bragg, Village Protest Singer. I’ve been working on a peasant revolution since my first year as a faire performer, way back in 2004, and I finally get to start using jokes and songs I’ve been hanging onto for so long. It’s amazing. It’s exhilarating. I feel very strongly about protest music, songs of revolution and social justice and the like, and I’m learning to play the guitar, and I just love it all. It feels so important and so useful, and my God these songs are so good.
    • My partner’s character is named Prudence and at the time mine was named Esperanza, and we tend to bawdy songs, so our group name made a lot more sense at the time than it does now that I’ve officially begun performing under the name Lilly, but we still do a lot of bawdy stuff, so it works out. Just not as well.
    • Our Kickstarter is going really well. I don’t know how I imagined it would go so I can’t tell you it’s exceeding my expectations, but I do know that on day six of 18, we are almost 40% funded.
    • The idea that people want to hear music that I’m making is absolutely thrilling.
    • The idea that people want to hear music that I’m making is also absolutely terrifying. I’ve been making music my whole damn life and I’m still terrified. Every single time. The amount of nerves varies, but I have never not been nervous before a performance.
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  • I went to Charleston. mr. scone plays with a volunteer street band (and has a sedately great time doing it, as is his nature), and every year they paly a festival in Charleston. This is the first year he’s been free to go, and rather than hang out at home alone all weekend, I’ve tagged along. It’s heavily subsidized by the band, Charleston is beautiful, and the weather this weekend is pretty perfect (for me, anyway; I like it warm and sunny).
    • It’s a longer drive than I anticipated. I don’t like long car trips to begin with, but in the last year or so I’ve become prone to carsickness, which was never really a problem before. That means I can’t read in the car without danger of yakking on the side of the road anymore, and mr. biscuit isn’t a very chatty person, and though he tries, he was tired and hungry and also driving, so for a lot of the drive I was at the mercy of my brain, which has been behaving Very Badly lately.
    • We got here in decent time, but since this is a budget trip we are staying in College of Charleston dorms. They’re fine. They’re dorms. They’re…whatever, they’re fine. Getting to them was a giant pain in the ass. Check in was at one building, parking at another, the rooms at a third; there are streets closed everywhere; we have only been here once like six years ago; my phone was dead; mr. biscuit refuses to use nav apps on his phone; we left home about 1:30, got to Charleston about 7:30, finally finished unpacking and parking and got back to our lodging at 10:30.
    • I’m comfortable with who I am. I like my aesthetic. Do I wish things were different about my body/face? Sure. Do I need a haircut? Yes. But in general I’m aware I’m pretty great, even when my brain hates me. Charleston is a beautiful city. It’s also a very old, very Southern city. It’s a holiday weekend in the summer, and two major cultural festivals are going on downtown. There are wealthy, beautifully put-together women everywhere. They are wearing breezy coastal tops, soft pretty makeup. Their hair is perfect. They all look lovely, in that very particular way that wealthy white Southern women look in the summer. They are small and dainty almost to a woman. The streets last night were overrun with beautiful rich white Southern young women and drunk rich white Southern frat boys. By the time we got back to the room last night I felt like a giant hulking monster. A walking tree with none of the grace or majesty of trees. A bipedal cow crossed with a sheepdog, whose makeup is always going to be shitty, whose jawline will never be perfectly sculpted, whose jeans will always be out of style.

So last night I cried on the streets of a beautiful coastal city, and then rather than go to the (outstanding) free concert across the street, or even to dinner, I buried myself in the blankets of a college dorm bed, texted a friend about my self-pity, and fell asleep with my contacts on.

I sent mr. biscuit out to hang out with his friends in the band. He insisted on staying and cuddling me until I started to get sleepy, and he brought me back some dinner and made sure I took my contacts out when he returned, even though I was too deeply asleep to eat or even remember any of that, and even though he had worked a half day while I went to breakfast with one of my besties, had driven all day, and had objectively more reason to be tired and cranky. 20170527_110935

My friend texted me back to soothe my feelings of being out of place. “Honey,” she said. “Which bitch made you cry? It’s a jeans and t-shirt festival if that’s what you want to wear. And you could come home and we’ll go to tea and talk shit about people. The option is there.” It made me laugh, and then I fell asleep.

Today is better. Today is great. I slept super well, and we went next door to get breakfast at a dinosaur-themed coffee shop where I’m currently drinking my third iced mocha of the day (this one is decaf) while he plays a gig somewhere nearby. The weather is beautiful, the city is charming–we walked around a little bit between breakfast and getting him dressed for the gig, and all the shops are nonsense for the wealthy, but the sunshine and the ocean breeze are free, and this iced mocha is in budget. I’m sitting at the window in a dinosaur coffee shop, watching people walk, drive, and bicycle past.

I feel better today.

Sometimes I wonder why I think about myself in ways that I would never think about a friend. If someone I loved was having a particularly rough day during a long and stressful series of rough days, and I heard someone say my friend was being lazy/melodramatic/stupid/ungrateful/a horrible wife/a terrible bitch, I would punch that person in the face. Metaphorically speaking. I would punch them with my impressive range of profanity and carefully crafted bitch face. So why do I let me say those things about myself?

I’m in a weird place right now. On the one hand I’m optimistic as fuck: I’ve quit my job without much of a backup plan and launched an all-or-nothing crowdfunding plan for a fairly ambitious recording project. On the other hand I’m nauseous and tense all the time with the fear of failure, or even worse: the fear of success followed by failure. What if this funds but I fuck up these records? What if everyone realizes I’m a fraud? What if I never finish all the things I have left to do? What if I suck?

At the darkest points I am paralyzed by fear of disappointing everyone in the world. Literally. I named my peasant revolution character after Billy Bragg, and I had a nightmare that someone told him about the act and he called me a fauxgressive shilbot*, and then a bunch of women who were involved in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1318 came and told me I am an insult to their struggle.

I am terrified. All the time.

I’m enjoying today, though. The weather is beautiful, Charleston is pretty, those mochas were delicious. I’m sure all that whole milk will catch up with me in a bit, but for now I’m well. There’s a free girls’ choir performance tomorrow, and there’s also a beach. Things will work out.

Make no mistake: I’m creative. I’m smart. I’m funny. I am capable of producing some pretty great stuff. Other people know this. I know this. Anxiety doesn’t know this. Depression doesn’t know this.

Anxiety is a liar. Depression is a liar. For all its creative power, my brain is a liar.

I’m not doing any work today. I’m going to nourish the part of my brain that isn’t a liar with sunshine and walks. And another mocha.

*HMMM I wonder where this came from

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Welp

26 Feb

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Musician, love thyself

7 Jan

The first song I learned to play on the guitar is a love song.

A friend of mine wrote it for the wedding of some of her friends, and then recorded it on one of the five albums she has filled with mostly original songs over her life so far. And then, when I was 32 years old and decided that I wanted to learn to play the guitar–for real this time, not like when I was a kid–she sat me down in her living room, handed me her battered old backup guitar, and taught me to play four chords as her kids ran around us. I dutifully wrote them own in the little notebook I had selected for this purpose–A, E, D, and G. I wrote down the order. I wrote down their fingerings–not in tab, but in a jargony shorthand of my own devising, based on nothing but the general sense of how things make sense to me, developed over 32 years of learning who I am and how that differs from who other people are. I wrote down everything she said about how to hold the guitar, how to press my fingers to the frets, how to hold the pick, how to strum. I wrote down the order of the strings, making a crude diagram where one side said “I am here” and the other said “this is my lap,” as if I am distinct from my lap.

I went home with her old guitar and I practiced diligently. At some point I started to hear an arrangement wanting to come out, and sitting on my bed in my peaceful bedroom with the blinds open to let in the light, I started to write it down on a piece of purple paper with a purple owl in the upper left corner. My notes are probably meaningless to anyone else; I don’t know, nobody else is allowed in here while I’m playing.

I’ve been making music since I was barely old enough to read. I started singing in a choir before my eight birthday. I took piano, I played the handbells and the flute all through school. I taught lessons for a hot minute (I was bad at it). I’ve sung professionally and semi-professionally, in college and in the community, on stage and on the street and in homes and in concert halls, with operas and sacred choirs and folk singers and theatre troupes, solos, duets, trios, quartets, sextets, ensembles. I even did karaoke. I hate karaoke, but that’s neither here nor there. Singing is as easy to me as breathing nowadays, but it wasn’t always–I struggled and worked and paid buckets of money to train to get where I am. I fought raging allergies, asthma (undiagnosed until my 20s), stage fright, bad technique learned from a bad director, attention problems (still undiagnosed, but I have my suspicions), crippling anxiety and depression, a world that wants everyone to belt for some godforsaken reason. I still fight those things, but they no longer stop me opening my mouth. I’m good at it.

But I don’t consider myself a musician. A singer, yes, sure, but that’s different somehow. Over the sixish months I’ve been playing guitar, I have explicitly invited mr. biscuit in to hear me play a song maybe twice. I have spent the rest of the time pretending he can’t hear me on the other side of the wall. Over Christmas my parents came to visit, and both they and my husband, the three most supportive people in my very supportive circle of loved ones, begged me to play something for them. I refused. Flat out. No. Don’t ask me to play music for you. I’m not good enough to show anyone. I will not be one of those youtubers making a video in their living room and earning pity likes. I will be amazing or I will sit in my room and cry over this battered old guitar while I try to play loud enough to drown out the voice telling me I am so bad at this, I’ll never be any good, I started too late, I have terrible technique, my hands aren’t strong enough, I don’t practice enough, I have no work ethic, I still have zero idea what to do with my strumming hand–how even do you strum pattern?–just shut up, shut up SHUT UP.

A few months ago, I played the first song I learned for the friend who wrote it and tauht it to me. I arranged it differently than she did–at first to cover the fact that I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the strum pattern, but then after a while I realized I had taken a beautiful song and added beauty to it. When I played it for her my hands shook so hard I almost lost my grip on the guitar. “This is the lowest stakes environment imaginable,” she said to me, as we sat in plastic chairs in her backyard while her kids played on the swing set. I got through it. She smiled. She said she loved my arrangement. She said I was doing well.

mr. biscuit says I am doing well, but he’s biased–of all people he has spent the most time picking up the pieces of my depressive spirals, he probably just wants to make me feel better (a wretchedly unfair assessment, both to him and to me and our trusting, loving partnership). Intellectually I know that I have progressed, but is “better than when began” really something to be proud of? It would be difficult to be worse at guitar than I was when I began. I came to it with some advantages: two decades of musical training; long fingers with all the strength and dexterity of two decades of typing; muscle memory and ear training from playing the flute (half forgotten, but only half); hunger to create music that I hear in my head and my heart. But still. I’m better than I was–so fucking what. Spare me the “compare yourself to the artist you were” sentiments–they only apply to other people. People who are hard working, persistent, diligent, who didn’t waste all their talents and opportunities when they were younger. People I like. People who are worthy of being liked.

There is a moment in any given guitar practice when my heart breaks and I start to cry, my head sagging over the body of this battered old guitar as I struggle to keep moving my hands against the tide of doubt and self-hatred that is choking me. It doesn’t always happen. It happens enough, though.

I’ve started practicing with the door open*, though, and that’s something.

*not today. Today it’s 30 degrees outside and the central heat is borked, so I’ve got the bedroom door closed to help the space heater along. It’s toasty warm and bright in here; mr. biscuit is happily ensconced in the dark, cold living room. He is at least 30% cave bear.

DragonCon prep: a montage

21 Aug

When the hour’s approaching to give it your best, and you’ve got to reach your prime

hour approaching

That’s when you need to put yourself to the test

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and show us the passage of time

show us the passing of time

We’re gonna need a montage! Ooh, it takes a montage!

MONTAGE!

Show a lot of things happening at once

Remind everyone of what’s going on!
remind everyone of what's going on

With every shot show a little improvement

To show it all would take too long

to show it all would take too long

That’s called a montage!

MONTAGE!

Oooh, we want a montage!

MONTAGE!

In anything, if you want to go from just a beginner

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to a pro

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You need a montage! Even Rocky had a montage!

MONTAGE!

Always fade out in a montage…

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If you fade out it seems like more time has passed in a montage…

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…montage….

Fairies: finished!

4 Jun

As of about 2:30 in the morning on Saturday, the grape fairies are done.

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TruthL had another person not been involved, I would have given up on this shit a long time ago. I was so exhausted and stressed from the final weekend of Scarborough and the trip home (during which I awesomely lost my wallet in Mississippi) that I seriously only wanted to sleep next to mr. biscuit and maybe play some video games, BUT. a friend of mine was counting on me, so I whined quite a lot, but I persevered.

 Finished product:

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Dani as the white grape fairy!

Things I don’t have include a full-body picture of me as the red grape fairy, any good closeups of our makeup, and another petit four (unrelated to this post). 

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Fairy Update

20 May

Please note the lack of fail in this update! That’s because the fairies are going well!

To be quite specific, the Red Grape Fairy is going well. I’m using it as the experimental costume and taking copious notes on what works, so that when I’m finished I can bang out the White Grape Fairy in the day or two left to me at that point. For those keeping track at home, there are 13 days before these costumes need to be finished. Three of those are performance days, at least one day must be packing and cleaning day, one day is Driving Home All Day day, one day is set aside for the Wing Making Party, and one day I’m going to the GA faire in civvies. I also lost a great deal of today to being miserable in a distinctly feminine way, and before I leave Texas I have a lot of friends I’d like to spend at least a little time with. SO THAT BEING SAID, I should stop thinking up flimsy excuses to watch 30 Rock and really buckle down, right? Right.

So let’s talk about the work I’ve been doing.

The only thing I’ve finished is the undertunic:

Much better

Much better

I use the word “finished” loosely, in that it still needs trim (to line the neckline), but that is waiting ’till I get home. Of my two sewing machines, I only brought the Battlestar Galactica (the workhorse) to Texas, and I want to use decorative stitches, which I only have on the other machine, which I’ve tentatively christened the Delicate Fucking Flower.

Since this picture, taken on Thursday, I’ve dropped the neckline about an inch, and removed the measuring tape from around my neck. I have not, however, changed my jeans.

The undertunic is made from the Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator, slightly modified. To wit, I shortened the sleeves and made the side gores smaller, and  obviously modified the neckline, using a complicated process I liked to call I Drew Some Random Measurements On Tissue Paper And Then Prayed It Would Work When I Cut It Out Of Fabric:

Now I’m working on the sheer overskirt. My first attempt was a four-panel skirt of rectangles, which didn’t have the swoosh and drape I wanted and bunched at the waist, so I tore it apart and am remaking it into a six-panel skirt of trapezoids. I’m going to leave the panels unconnected on the sides and finish the edges with ribbon in the contrast color. It will go under a simple belt/waist cincher of cotton canvas covered in the matte and sheer fabric, with a bit of boning at the sides, front, and back to help it keep its shape, and some grommets at the back once I figure out where I put the Bodice/Corset Supply Box.

I’ve just finished stuffing my face with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and perhaps because of this, I’m feeling pretty optimistic. We shall see.

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