Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday Factoid: Everyday Weirdness

What is something you do every day that most people don't? That most people would think is weird?

I can't really think of much that fits this except maybe my tendency to document.

I have a daily journal and I write about the happenings of the day. My journals used to be more like diaries in that I'd actually write opinions and thoughts and reflections, but that rarely happens now--it's pretty mechanical with an occasional funny phrasing or outburst, but it's primarily just journaling. (I have blogs for ranting if I need that now, and bonus, I can subject all my pals to it!)

I've always been into documenting stuff. I'm not sure what's so satisfying about it, but ever since I was a little kid I would make long lists of things and then organize the lists and rewrite them (man, what I wouldn't have given to have a computer then, to be able to easily reorganize lists in alphabetical order and print them out!). I loved then and love now to make lists of things I have, things I want, things I like, information I want to have easily accessible, things I've done, everything. I have lists of my favorite bands, movies, and TV shows. I have a list I could send you of my favorite foods if someone needed that. I have a list of every book I own so I can see if I'm buying a duplicate. And because I've been keeping a daily journal since January 1, 2000, I can tell you what I was doing on any day for the last seventeen years. (Not that it's likely to be all that interesting, but still, I can find out how long ago it was that I last saw you or what we did last year for Christmas or how long it's been since I went to the doctor.)

A stack of my journals

People don't really seem to think having a diary or a blog is weird, but they do seem to think daily journaling is strange--especially since I've been doing it a long time and I don't lapse. That's probably the weird part, there: the fact that I commit to doing something and then I do it, reliably, until I decide to stop. Most people I know who want to start a daily routine of some kind will stick to it for a while and then stop--not because they decide to, but because they get distracted or forget and they fall off the wagon so to speak. Whatever the goal is, I'm pretty good at keeping to it unless I want to give up the goal.

I should probably use this tendency of mine to push myself to write more fiction, but I haven't been brave enough for that. Because I know if I set the goal, I would do it, and if my previous ventures into putting this on the list of creature-of-habit duties, I will not be happy and will make myself miserable trying to crank it out when I'm not in the right mindset. I'm also not a "waits indefinitely for inspiration, needs circumstances to be ideal" kind of writer, and I can DO "butt in chair," but I don't DECIDE to because I have other ways of handling these things that work for me. I just, uh, haven't lately.

My journal probably shows how long ago it was that I last wrote something fictional besides my webcomics, and it's probably embarrassing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Here's something peculiar but not entirely unexpected. Liking something in the company of a group of people who like it can make you like it more.

I tend to be a joiner very reluctantly. Part of that is due to my overburdened roster of projects--I need something else to pay attention to like I need a hole in my head. But on a few occasions in my life, I have harnessed the power of the Internet to communicate with other people who like a thing I like, and in all of those cases, certain things happened.

I bought merchandise. I drew fan art. I made content related to the source material. And I met other people who liked what I liked.

High school Animaniacs fan art

In the mid 1990s, the Internet was in its infancy. I had been introduced to the television show Animaniacs by some of my friends and fell very quickly in love with it. I bought a bunch of tee shirts, wrote a guide to the show (that had started as simply an outline of what was on my VHS tapes, but it grew exponentially), and learned all the songs. When I gained Internet access, of course the main thing I wanted to do was go online and meet other fans.

It was actually a humbling experience at first. I thought I was a big deal and that I knew all kinds of trivia and that I was some kind of show expert. I immediately ran into people who knew episode code numbers and animation studios, who had had conversations with the voice talent and knew their other work and had rented movies just to get a glimpse of some actor's bit part, who had taken vacations to California primarily to get a photo of themselves with the Warner Bros. water tower. Really Big Fans. I was just kind of a pretty ordinary fan, though I was certainly annoying enough to people around me.

But I also made connections with some people and was able to offer a little bit to the community. Did any of the folks in this message board ever listen to the radio show that sometimes included Animaniacs references? Had any of them ever compared the show versions and CD versions of the songs? How many of them caught all the references in the episode where the characters did a Les Misérables parody?

Liking this stuff in front of other people made it more interesting and deepened my appreciation for the source material. But it waned somewhat when the cartoon stopped being made.

I've had a few other less enduring obsessions with anime and whatnot, but the next big one was Eyeshield 21, a manga and anime that captured my attention in 2006. I watched a bunch of the anime with Jeaux and loved it, and we talked about it a lot, but then I got more interested when I found out the manga was far ahead with the story (and that it diverged a lot), and that it was still coming out in Japan. I found other people in a forum where I could see translations of the manga as it came out, and of course every time it came out with a new issue, I could go wail or squeal about it with other people in the same forum who were as excited as I was. 

Merchandise wasn't very available because it wasn't all that popular and also the merch that did exist wasn't available outside Japan for the most part. But I got a little bit of it from a friend who lived in Japan at the time, and of course I drew fanart.

Eyeshield 21 fan art

I guess the one thing I didn't do that a lot of other fans did was get into American football because of the show (either playing or watching, or both). I liked it in a fictionalized anime context, but didn't seem to really care for the game. Eventually I stopped having anything to talk about because the manga concluded, and a mainstream American following never developed because they tried to bring the show over here and the terrible dub and loss of important elements in translation led to a very short run. (I actually cried over how bad it was.)

I think the Steven Universe obsession I'm wallowing in these days has become as huge as it is partly because everything is perfectly timed and positioned to encourage me to be a fan in front of an audience. The Internet has plenty of resources and groups to encourage participation and consumption and redistribution of original and fan material; the show is actively still being produced; the fandom is huge and originates in my country; there is plenty of merchandise; and the content is interwoven with a good number of my interests both in its entertainment content and its social messages. Everything just fits for me, and it's kind of catapulted me into my most enduring, most active fan participation yet.

And it's interesting how important the audience is, because I wouldn't have thought that would matter to me, but it does. I watched the first season of the show in a two-day binge watch by myself. I still remember how odd that was given my current relationship with the show: I cocooned myself in my room and just engaged in consumption mode, enjoying the content itself and deliberately not looking up anything about it because I was afraid I might get spoilers. After I finished thoroughly enjoying it and telling a couple people in my friends circle how much I was enjoying it, I joined a couple groups online, looked at a couple blogs, downloaded a few songs, and added the show to my favorites list. My impression of the show was basically like "wow. that was really good."

Then I watched a few YouTube videos depicting fan reactions, which I had never done before. And I found myself kind of using the reaction videos as an excuse to watch the show again immediately after I'd finished watching it on my own the first time. That was completely unfamiliar to me--I have rarely been a re-watcher, and even with my favorite stuff I would usually only re-watch things if I was showing them to someone else. I enjoyed it more the second time, and watching some stranger react to it was kind of like watching it with a friend (if that doesn't sound pathetic). Seeing that reactor's reaction made mine feel more real, I think--seeing other people laugh and cry at the same things I did sort of legitimized having a very emotional relationship with the content, and I sought out more. I also sought out ways to engage more with the source material.

I read interviews by the creators. I looked at some forum discussions. I started following more blogs, and finally started posting a little bit of content of my own--occasionally discussing which characters were my favorite and why, or sharing art I really connected with. I bought my first merchandise: three fan-made tee shirts (no official merchandise existed then!). I didn't read or write any fanfiction--I find that sort of uncomfortable--but other than that I started listening to more people talking about the show and it made me want to think about it more too. And this is the kind of show where you can understand the characters AND the plots on several levels, so sometimes there are theories: what's going to happen? why did that character act like that--is there an explanation for it? what is that character's relationship with that other character? how should we interpret that character's comment? when are we going to know/see/fully understand X?

If I wore one of my shirts in public, sometimes people who were fans came over to fan-squee over it. If I posted a theory or an interpretation about a character, people would reblog or comment to support or request my thoughts on more aspects of the show.

Occasionally I'd see some ugliness go down and stay completely out of it, but I'd have my opinion, formed largely after watching others discuss it on various sides of the issue. (No, white people should not paint their skin to cosplay black characters. Yes, it's okay to criticize fan art over why the artist chose to make fat characters slim, but no, it's not okay to bully them or send them death threats. No, it's not queerbaiting to float a potential relationship between two same-sex characters and then have them gravitate toward a different same-sex character. Yes, I think some of the choices the creators made have unforeseen racist implications, and no, that doesn't mean we have to abandon liking it just because we can admit they may have screwed up; I wish they'd include a clued-up black woman on their staff to cut down on this.) 

Also, the creators are largely people who are younger than I am and who grew up on the Internet; most of them have active Internet presences and can answer questions, post their own stuff, talk on Twitter, participate in forum events and live feeds, and basically make themselves more accessible to their fans. (That's not always so good for them, especially when fans are aggressive or entitled, but for the most part it's a dimension that didn't used to be available to the type of creator who used to disappear behind a writing desk.) The creators sometimes go to conventions and answer questions. This situation, all of it together, does a couple unprecedented things when compared to the previous generation's experience of fandom: One, it provides a regular glimpse at how people who make our entertainment are Real People, and two, it provides direct feedback for them about how people are reacting to their work, enabling them to continue what they're doing right and correct what they're doing wrong.

It took me a long time before I felt comfortable enough to try fanart for some reason. I liked the characters so much that I was afraid sucking at drawing them would upset me. I ended up trying it for the first time along with a bunch of other cartoons I'd rarely or never drawn before on a Halloween poster I drew.

First time ever drawing anything from SU, with assorted other toons

And now I draw these characters pretty much every week so there you go.

Anyway, over time I began to do more and more stuff that let me engage with the show and with its fans, and anytime I made some kind of content, I got positive feedback, which made me think it would be fun to do it even more. When people sneeringly refer to others as just wanting attention, I always wonder what they think is so bad about wanting attention for something you spent time and energy on and something that connects you with like-minded people. That's a really big thing for me: when people send me nice comments about character analyses that shed new light on someone's motivation or compliments on the content I chose to make fanart about, I know they appreciate the same things I do and could likely have a conversation about many other things we both appreciate--from social issues to simple shared interests in entertainment.

(Not to mention that if you try to get attention for something you're doing and nobody really cares, THAT'S considered pathetic too. It's almost as if people who don't really do anything productive have created a dynamic wherein ANY form of trying is pathetic!)

And here's something interesting. I bought a ukulele on a whim because I thought it might be fun to learn this cartoon's adorable songs. (I'm balancing it out with other non-cartoon songs too, but I'll admit the very first song I tried was a cartoon cover.) I have spent FAR more time on my art (and, well, spent more money on markers) and I've found my skills seem to be progressing in a way they weren't before--I thought I plateaued a long time ago with my decent-but-won't-win-any-awards art scribbles, but after I got hundreds of followers/subscribers on a cartoon blog where I primarily share original theories and art and won an art contest on Amino, I realized the care and time I take to render my fan content in a format pleasing to me is resulting in some forward motion for me.

A doodle from last summer

A doodle from this summer

But I don't want to act like the only reason you should engage in fan creations is to beef up other artistic skills. I didn't learn ukulele songs or practice drawing with Copic markers so I could eventually use those skills for something more original and more "legitimate." It IS its own reward, and even if you never do anything with it, it's still fine to make things and share them as a celebration of what you like. When someone likes something I did, I've found a like-minded person. And even though this show is still being produced, it cannot possibly keep making more content at the rate we want to consume it, so when we create our own and share it, it kinda keeps the fandom busy.

I try to recreate the food the characters eat on the show, just for kicks. I own some of the artifacts from the show. I have a bunch of the toys and accessories. I've learned the songs and bought the soundtrack. I'm collecting pieces to do a cosplay of a character in August. And I've also learned some writing tricks by watching what the show is doing right, and I have a clearer idea of where I want to aim emotionally when I write a story about people's relationships with each other. I've used examples from the show to illustrate points, both in a writing context and a social context. I love deconstructing different aspects of it, just for the love of the material, but I also love that other people I talk to about the show have similar values, or may have even learned some of those values from the way they were presented in the show.

I've seen people discuss understanding of same-sex relationships, consent, gender stereotypes, parenting, angst, trauma, otherness, compassion, culture, and love because of this show. I saw a nonbinary gender person describe finally having a character from a popular show to reference when explaining to the kids they babysit they're not a boy or a girl. I saw people celebrate having a fairy tale ending for a relationship made up of a she and a she. I saw someone discuss acquiring a new perspective on the struggle between partners in a relationship, how fundamentally different personalities do not wreck the relationship's future potential if you complement each other. I saw someone relating to the thoughts a character had when she was part of an abusive relationship. I saw a whole group discussing how happy they are that there are multiple large-bodied female characters who aren't a punchline and are depicted as beautiful. I saw some boys admitting that they've become more comfortable with crying since noticing the male main character of the show cries more than anyone else. I saw someone relate to wanting your parents/guardians to get along better while recognizing how much dirt is buried in the past. I've seen a lot of appreciation for the mixed-race couples in the show. All the time I see people picking up on characters' names or cultural signifiers and realizing this is a character from their country or background for once! And I've seen some appreciation for a show that can get dark without every character having an incredibly edgy origin story.

Not only can I have an opportunity to discuss these things with others (and maybe learn some things I didn't know!), but I am also creating relationships with people who are on the same side as me here--the ones who WANT more unusual relationships and underrepresented backgrounds in their entertainment. The ones who know how important it is and are relieved and excited to have it. The people who are ready for our society to move forward toward more acceptance, more tolerance, more understanding. I think that's part of the reason I want an audience of sorts. I want those conversations. All good entertainment is about more than just plot theories and specific character background details. And when people talk about what they love, you can see so much of their authentic self--often including what about them makes them the type of person who likes this thing in the first place.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Personal Digest Saturday: May 20 – May 26

Life news this week: 
  • Saturday was Drink and Draw but I ended up not going because Meghan came over and I hung out with her. Her dad just passed away so of course hanging out with her was way more important. I still did some doodling while she was visiting, though, and we got sushi. She stayed the night and we just talked about everything.
  • Sunday Meggie left and I did some karaoke and ukulele stuff, but didn't feel very good so I tried to take it easy. I also made a new Letters to an Asexual video. I ended up just watching a bunch of cartoon reactions so I could have some down time.
  • Monday wasn't real great. I got up late so I had to have a paid ride to work, and then I got handed a big project that I'm not entirely sure how to accomplish so it's going to be a lot of floundering around in the dark. I also still wasn't feeling good physically so the walk home after work was brutal. Mommy came over and fed me sushi, though, and it was really nice. It made me really happy. I also watched more cartoon stuff and drew pictures.
  • Tuesday the project at work chugged along. But I was really tired. Mom picked me up from work because she knew I still wasn't feeling good. She got me more yummy food. Mom was sleepy too and kept falling asleep at my house. I did some more drawing. I'm getting a lot done on my fan art but sadly not much else.
  • Wednesday I posted my "sleeping Gems" series of art on Amino and the post got featured on the front page. Nice. I also had a good day at work: a couple of the things I thought I was going to have to do did not happen, and I made it to the bus even though I should have missed it with how late I was. I met up with Jeaux and we ate at Pei Wei and I gave him his birthday gift. After he left I drew more pictures!
  • Thursday I was just tired all day. I had planned to go to the store after work but I just didn't have the energy. I drew my webcomic while watching cartoon stuff and that was really it.
  • Friday was again a tiring day. I finished a book on the bus, wrote a review, and completed a big part of my work project that I thought was going to be a bigger struggle! After work I shopped at the drugstore and went home, and also there was a big leak for some future Steven Universe episodes that are going to air on Monday, so Jeaux and I were jabbering about them all day. I came home and finished my webcomic and posted my new asexuality video and completed the subtitles before falling asleep by accident with my contacts in because I'm a loser.

    New reviews of my book:

        Reading progress:
          New singing performances:

          This week I performed "Haven't You Noticed (I'm a Star)" from Steven Universe. It's a cute pop song that's supposed to be a popular radio hit in the show.


          New drawings: 

          Steven is a distinguished boy who deserves distinguished khakis.
          My last "sleeping Gems" drawing, picturing Steven sleeping in front of the portrait of his mom.
          A poster promo for an older episode, "An Indirect Kiss."

          Webcomic Negative One Issue 0628: "Before You Eat."

          New videos:

          My latest asexuality video is Letters to an Asexual #46, which is about when people say "but you're too pretty to be asexual!"


          My latest unlisted ukulele video is "Born to Try" by Delta Goodrem.

          New photos:

          I wore my Garnet-inspired dress at work.

          I made a pyramid out of my extra highlighters.

          Social Media counts:
          YouTube subscribers: 5,302 for swankivy (lost 5), 642 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 863 for swankivy (1 new), 1,336 for JulieSondra (2 new). Facebook: 292 friends (no change) and 208 followers (no change) for swankivy, 650 likes for JulieSondra (lost 2), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 125 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,497 (2 new). Instagram followers: 114 (lost 1).

          Wednesday, May 24, 2017

          Wednesday Factoid: First Car

          Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What was your first car?


          Being that I've never had a driver's license and never owned a car, this is not really applicable to me. But I guess I can try to introduce you to the equivalent:

          My beloved bike!

          My mom got me this bike to get around town in college. I have had other bikes as a kid here and there, but this was the first one I really used as transportation the way most people use their cars. We bought it secondhand from someone selling it in my college town, Gainesville, and since we didn't have an easy way to put it in the car when we bought it, my mom actually rode it the short distance to my college apartment while my dad took me back in the car. (She didn't want me riding on the street as unpracticed as I was, but I'm sure she was equally unpracticed. Moms, right?)

          Some time later my mom decided she didn't like that the tires were so thin and began pressuring me to get a bike with thicker tires for more stability. When I didn't do it, she just gave me one of the bikes that had belonged to my grandparents. I began using that one, and when my roommate's bike broke I let her use my first one instead. And because she was using a lock that didn't really work, that one got stolen. She later got another bike and ended up running into a man who was using my original bike (she could tell by the special seat she'd put on it). And she just let him keep it after he gave back the seat cover. So that was the last of that.

          I still use the second bike. I rode it earlier today!


          Monday, May 22, 2017

          The dangers of preconceived notions

          You can't really help that sometimes you go into a situation with a preconceived idea.

          For instance, I expect older people to be less familiar with technology, or I expect that very young children can't read, or I expect that the guy trying to get my phone number at the bus stop is not asking because he thinks we have common interests. All of these assumptions can bite you in the butt if you act on them, and sometimes you can learn to avoid communicating potentially offensive assumptions you have about people, but it's pretty common for those preconceived ideas to be revealed, if subtly, through interaction in ways you may not be aware of.

          This is one of the reasons why, when I discuss the importance of supporting asexual friends and family members, I stress education. Because one of the default assumptions MANY people have about asexuality is that it is a phase that will pass, and even if someone who believes that is kind enough to avoid saying so to their ace loved one, that belief will often come through unintentionally in their interactions. We can hear in your voice and your choices of words that you expect us to grow out of it or that you don't believe us. It isn't particularly hard to tell when you're being humored.

          Here's another example: an interaction between me and a friend. I had discussed a health problem I sometimes experience, and he immediately started asking me weird leading questions about it. It went something like this:

          Him: Did you start noticing that happening at any particular time?

          Me: No.

          Him: I mean, like, did you make any . . . lifestyle changes around any particular time in your life that might be related to this?

          Me: No.

          Him: Did you ever think maybe it might've started happening . . . around the time that you became a vegetarian?

          Oh, I saw where that was going long before he said it.

          I've known for a long time that he thinks vegetarianism is unhealthy and that humans generally "need" animal protein to be healthy. He has said to me before that he thinks vegans "look sick" and that he believes our bodies depend on animal nutrients, and also he has said before that he believes vegetarians and vegans tend to be stuck up and obnoxious about their supposed moral superiority. (I don't know if that includes me.)

          So, I've been a vegetarian since I turned twenty. That's seventeen years. My doctor's only comment on the situation has been to say that I should take a calcium supplement because in addition to being vegetarian I am lactose intolerant so I don't get much dairy calcium. He has said nothing about vegetarianism causing the other health problem (which, incidentally, is a very common skin infection that I very likely am more subject to because I ride a bicycle in the heat and then stay in clothes I exercised in). But if you have a preconceived notion that vegetarianism is by default unhealthy, you may be more likely to erroneously blame unrelated problems on it (and ask sort of obnoxious leading questions to annoy your friends).

          It gets worse when, say, healthcare professionals allow their very human biases to affect their judgment. It's been studied and found many times over that doctors and other healthcare workers sometimes have alarming beliefs about how one's race affects their pain tolerance and whether a woman's description of her symptoms is accurate. Men in our society, by and large, assume women are overreacting or exaggerating, assigning us "emotional" perspectives that predispose us to illogical evaluations of our own experiences. This translates, in practical terms, to their inherent distrust of women, and their conscious or unconscious tendency to downgrade the seriousness of anything they say, including descriptions of their health problems. I saw one man quoted in an article opining that "women" are just far more emotional than is "logically" warranted, and so when his wife is on 8, he assumes the situation is a 5 or a 6. This perspective has also led many healthcare workers to ignore women's medical symptoms and suggest they are simply excitable, worrying for nothing, overreacting, and yeah, probably just suffering from anxiety.

          Going into conversations with people carrying preconceived ideas about their situations can sometimes be helpful, of course. This is why it's an adaptive strategy that humans evolved to have, I imagine . . . it is often useful to our survival if we can make predictions based on snap judgments. We may assess a situation as dangerous in an instant based on a snap judgment, and we may be RIGHT, and if we're wrong about its being a threat, we still survive. It's better, evolutionarily, to regard something that isn't a threat as a threat than it is to assume something that IS a threat will not harm you. We're a suspicious species, with speed of decision being very important to continued existence. But sadly this does not help us make more reasoned decisions rooted in empathy, education, or evaluation of evidence.

          As an experiment, a person can make a list of five judgments they tend to make quickly. Maybe you can't think of any at the moment, or they're all really obvious things, so take a day or two to catch yourself making quick decisions based on very little information. Why do you pick a certain grocery line? How do you immediately feel about the car in front of you based on their bumper stickers? When you hear an author's name and you know their demographics, what do you expect to see in their book? If you hear someone watches a certain TV show or listens to a certain radio station, what do you believe you know about them? What about if they shop at a certain store, wear certain clothing labels, or go to a certain school? What do you believe you know about someone if they say they're from the Baby Boomer generation, or they're a Millennial? What makes you think better or worse in an instant about a parent based on their treatment of their children in front of you? What judgments do you make if you know someone posts on Reddit, or posts on Tumblr? If someone subscribes to a certain diet, how does that affect your opinion of them?

          The big question is whether these evaluations lead you to trust someone. From the beginning, knowingly or not, people you meet are taking action that either solidifies or contradicts your initial assumptions. How many times might a racist's beliefs about people of color have to be proven wrong before the racist modifies their beliefs? How many times might a homophobe need to meet a gay person who isn't stereotypical before they decide the stereotypes are misleading and reevaluate why they believe them? How many times might a sexist man have to be outperformed by a woman before he stops believing women aren't as good at the job? How many times can you make a reasoning mistake you didn't realize you were susceptible to before you realize you're considering information that doesn't apply? And how often is your trust or mistrust dangerous--to you and to them?

          You have to acknowledge that most of these assumptions serve a purpose for you. They make you feel superior to someone, or make you think you're good at something, or make you believe you're being safe or logical because you allow these generalizations to affect your decisions. But think about the times someone else's assumptions about you have inconvenienced you, annoyed you, or even endangered you. Did someone give you terrible service in a restaurant because they have a racist belief that people of your ethnic background don't tip? Did someone assume a person with your gender identity is out to victimize them? Did someone decide to give an opportunity to someone else because they erroneously assumed you weren't physically or mentally capable of completing it? 

          And sometimes it's just ignorance, like someone has decided gluten-free food trends are annoying and unnecessary so they ignore someone's request for a gluten-free meal and end up harming them because they have celiac disease. Or someone has decided a black person going into a store open carrying in an open-carry state is somehow more likely to be out to commit a crime than a white person would be if they were doing the same thing, and they call the police and violate that person's rights. Or someone in medicine decides an overweight person's health issues are all a consequence of being fat and refuses to investigate a very serious health problem, instead prescribing weight loss until the person narrowly survives a medical emergency and finally gets a diagnosis.

          It's important to become aware of your preconceived notions so you can evaluate whether they're useful to you, and more importantly, whether they're harmful to someone else. The tendency to jump to conclusions and act on prejudice may have been a useful tool of survival in the past, but that is less true now. The best way to educate yourself on these issues is to listen to the voices of those writing about their own personal experiences--like I am with asexuality activism and feminism--and understand how common certain prejudices are and how they affect marginalized populations. You can learn to be part of the solution if you'll do this, but it starts with recognizing that the preconceptions are happening in the first place.

          Saturday, May 20, 2017

          Personal Digest Saturday: May 13 – May 19

          Life news this week: 
          • Saturday was intensely productive for some reason. If you consider it "productive" to clean and vacuum my whole house. I'd been meaning to do it for a long time because the hairballs on my carpet were irritating me. (I am the person shedding to make the hairballs, not cats.) I also got my place redecorated (late) for the next season, did laundry, made and ate tofu with sunflower butter, and made some biscotti to give to my mom.
          • Sunday I had my mom over and made her whole grain with chia seed pancakes, did two music covers, and talked to my sister briefly. Sadly, this is also the day when my BFF Meghan's stepdad died. Really really awful. I talked to her briefly in the evening. I also drew a picture of Garnet in golf pants.
          • Monday nothing really happened. I helped my boss with a letter at work, got a ride home, did grocery shopping on my bike, went home, and fell asleep until morning.
          • Tuesday I did a lot of work at the office and got another ride home from my co-worker. I drew some fanart of Steven and Peridot sleeping, and did birthday shopping for Jeaux.
          • Wednesday one of my posts got a feature on the Amino app so I talked to some new people who liked my stuff. I read manga on the bus and ate Five Guys food with Jeaux. We listened to Welcome to Night Vale and watched Aivi and Surasshu, the composers for Steven Universe, revealing the track listing on the upcoming soundtrack which will release June 2.
          • Thursday we had a really long meeting at work. The good: we ordered sandwiches. The bad: the air conditioning was broken, so that three-hour meeting was REALLY HOT. Also the office folks had an interview in the morning, so we're crossing our fingers that we won some work. When I got home I played the ukulele and talked to Victor while drawing my comic, and I posted a fanart drawing of Lapis Lazuli sleeping in a hammock with Steven.
          • Friday at work was mostly uneventful, though I got a bunch of stuff done. I got a ride home AGAIN and managed to get my comic posted while watching Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, talk on the New York Times Facebook Live feed.

            Interviews, articles, mentions:

                Reading progress:
                  New singing performances:

                  This week I performed "My Freeze Ray" from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog


                  New drawings: 

                  Most of Garnet's solo missions are probably just
                  her sneaking out to play golf in Steven's dad's pants.
                  Steven's fanart of himself as a girl
                  is basically just him with long hair.
                  Hooray for Nora Universe.

                  A very regimented sleep with Peridot.
                  Lapis and Steven in the hammock.

                  Webcomic Negative One Issue 0627: "Quieting."

                  New videos:

                  My latest unlisted ukulele video is "I Could Never Be Ready" from Steven Universe. Very sweet song about the overwhelmingness of becoming a parent.

                  New photos:

                  Lemon biscotti made for Mom

                  Pancakes with strawberries for Mother's Day

                  My sunflower tofu--was very tasty!

                  Front, February 2014
                  Front, May 2017
                  Back, February 2014
                  Back, May 2017

                  Social Media counts:
                  YouTube subscribers: 5,307 for swankivy (no change), 641 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 862 for swankivy (3 new), 1,334 for JulieSondra (4 new). Facebook: 292 friends (no change) and 208 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 652 likes for JulieSondra (no change), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 125 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,495 (3 new). Instagram followers: 115 (1 new).

                  Wednesday, May 17, 2017

                  Wednesday Factoid: Amusement Parks

                  Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Do you like amusement parks/theme parks? Do you have a favorite?

                  I'm not a real big fan of them, no. But I don't hate them. I can still have plenty of fun at a theme park, and I'll be enthusiastic about exploring what there is to do there, but theme parks are definitely not the thing I would choose to do with a vacation or with the money it costs to go there. I have been quite a number of times with friends and had fun, but that was mostly because I was with them, not necessarily because of the park.

                  Disney World with family, 1989

                  Six Flags with Laura and Jessica, 1997
                  My friend Mikey flipping off a dino at Universal Studios, 2009

                  EPCOT with Sarah, 2010
                  Star Tours with Eric, 2011
                  Hollywood Studios with Meg, Katie, Steve, and Jessica, 2011

                  Disney parks with Meg's family, 2013

                  EPCOT with Meg's family and Victor, 2014
                  Living in Florida, I'm basically right on top of Disney, and my friends really like to go to the parks, so I am sometimes invited along.

                  My favorite thing about theme parks is usually games and shopping, and probably food too. I don't usually like "fair foods" like funnel cake but sometimes they still have pretty good (expensive) food, especially at Disney. Rides are okay. I'm not huge on rides, especially since they are usually the major attraction at these places and therefore have HUGE lines. But I did have a lot of fun on Disney World's EPCOT ride Soarin' (which simulates flying over a variety of landscapes) and the free-fall ride at Hollywood Studios.

                  And even though in general I don't like fireworks because of the pollution and the loud noises, the Disney fireworks are very nice, and I find them pretty inspiring because of the way they remind me of humans' capacity for innovation. 

                  For vacations and stuff, though, I would much rather go on a picnic, to the beach, to a vacation home, or on a road trip to see friends. Theme parks being crowded and full of lines to do things I'm not super enthusiastic about does not put them high on my list of favorite vacation pastimes.

                  Tuesday, May 16, 2017

                  How to Beta: Five Tips

                  Okay, so as an author who's participated as a Pitch Wars mentor three different times and as a writer who's given huge amounts of feedback over the years, I'm here to tell you that . . .

                  I don't really know any hard and fast rules of how to beta-read a manuscript.


                  Thought I was gonna say something sagely and wise there, didn't you.

                  But anyway, I HAVE learned a thing or two about how to beta my way, and I figured I can share them with you.

                  Thought Number One: Be sure to establish an understanding of your duties as a beta reader with the author.

                  Does the author need your notes and impressions by a certain date? What kind of feedback do they need? Are they interested in grammar and punctuation nitpicks, or do they just want comments on the story? Are they trying to get something in shape for consideration by a publishing professional, or is this story for fun? Are they going to be receptive to very large or very critical edits? Sometimes you can upset people or sour your relationship with them if the comments you offer are of an unexpected nature in some way. So go ahead and ask your author what kinds of comments they can use.

                  And between you and me (she says, to the Internet), if you're betaing for a newer author and you feel this is more an instructional situation than an exchange of opinion between career equals, you might consider being a little less critical even if it kinda needs it. There is a LOT you can't teach a writer when they're new, and you might as well not kick their heart out from under them. They will learn in time the longer they keep at it, and if you murder their manuscript the first time they ask someone to look at it, they may really be shocked and disheartened.

                  As an extra note here: Please, please don't volunteer to beta for someone and then just disappear without explanation. We understand that betaing is generally a free/volunteer service we perform for each other, but if you thought you would have time and you didn't, or you're just not able to complete what you said you would, let the author know!

                  Thought Number Two: Give the author some sense of what they're doing right.

                  The most important function of a beta reader is to iron out kinks and give impressions, of course, but giving compliments can help a LOT with perspective even as it also functions to keep morale up during a potential pounding. Sometimes if you help a writer see what you're enjoying, they'll get some understanding on how to reinvent the parts of their story that need more massaging (or massive overhauls). And you don't have to do it in a patronizing way, like "this is good, this is the correct way to do scenes like this"; just do stuff like laugh at the funny parts, tell them when you're excited or anticipating the next plot point, yell at the characters when you get caught up in their lives, quote and praise pretty turns of phrase, and definitely identify where the author moved you.

                  Do everyone a favor, though, and don't heap praise on them if you don't really mean it just to cancel out whatever bad stuff you might want to say. Here's the thing. It sucks to have to be the one to tell someone that their book isn't ready or that it has a serious problem, but think about the people who have been terrible failures on talent shows who embarrassed themselves in front of a nation. Why didn't some kind soul in their family tell them they can't sing? Why didn't their boyfriend tell them their dance needs more practice? How cruel! It's kinda awful to find some tactful way to tell someone their work needs work--especially if the person believes their masterpiece is an exquisite work of art that needs no improvement--but if that person trusts you as a beta reader, you've got to tell the truth. I would hope that everyone I've betaed for accepts that I've been truthful, and that they can trust me if I say they're ready, too.

                  Sometimes authors will take ANY criticism poorly, I'm afraid, and there's no real way to avoid that. There are nice ways to say almost anything, but you will occasionally run into an author who only wants honesty if it's positive. Be ready for that, and if the author defends their choices aggressively instead of taking fair criticism, either gracefully back out of the project or be willing to only give praise for the rest of your involvement, trusting that they will learn the hard way from industry professionals if they won't listen to you.

                  Thought Number Three: When something's wrong, give perspective on why you don't like it.

                  If you don't like something in the book because of a personal pet peeve, say so. And say it's a personal pet peeve. If you don't like something in a book because it's offensive, or it gives incorrect information, or it's potentially too tropey, or you don't understand the characters' motivations, or you hate a character you're not supposed to hate, or you wanted to see fulfillment of a plot point and you didn't get to, or you're bored, or a character action comes out of left field and makes you feel like you misunderstood them or missed a detail . . . TELL THE AUTHOR. TELL THEM.

                  If you just say you didn't like a part, they won't know how or why to fix it, and they'll be disinclined to do so. But if you say WHY, they can learn something, and they have a better opportunity to determine whether your opinion is likely to be shared by others and therefore likely to need attention. But GIVE YOUR THINKING. Your reasoning can help another author SO MUCH. There's a huge difference between something being bad and you not liking the thing, and the author gets to decide how to interpret what you said. And if you, as the beta reader, KNOW it's just something you don't like, you can avoid saying anything at all unless you think it's really important for some reason. What might be better is figuring out what the author is trying to ACCOMPLISH, and measure whether they ACCOMPLISHED THAT, not about whether they satisfied you.

                  Keep in mind that if you're a more accomplished author than the person you're betaing for, your words will have more weight, so tread gently. And if you're betaing for someone more accomplished than you, you might feel like you don't have the right to criticize them--which is hogwash. So when you phrase your thoughts as your perspective and avoid making it prescriptive, you can assuage the awkwardness that comes with either side of this issue.

                  Thought Number Four: Don't tell them what to do.

                  This rides a little on the heels of Number Three: if you give the author perspective on why something of theirs isn't working, they already have the tools on how to fix it. Their instincts, as the creator of the material, are going to be more authentic than yours. And especially if you are the author's mentor or a senior author, they may feel like your word is law. You mustn't abuse this power. Telling them how to fix their book in very specific ways robs them of the experience of developing their own solutions.

                  Here's an example. Let's say you have a character who's distant and hard to relate to. Easy way to make the character more relatable? GIVE THEM A COMPANION. A companion can be really helpful in having someone for the character to bounce thoughts off of so the reader can understand them better, and has the added bonus of maybe making the character seem more accessible through the act of showing they at least have one friend. BUT! What if the author conceived this character as having no friends for a reason? What's your REAL problem with the character? It's that you find them distant and difficult to read. What if you say that instead, and the author decides to deal with this by giving the character a journaling hobby so you can hear her thoughts, or by giving her a pet to soften her up? If you plant the idea in the author's mind that the character's best option for being understood is to give her a BFF, the author might not solve the issue in their own way, and you'll have just put your footprint on someone else's work, possibly to its detriment.

                  So make sure you tell authors HOW YOU FEEL, not WHAT THEY SHOULD DO ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL. "I got bored during the action sequence," not "put more lasers and near-death situations in the escape." "I didn't really understand how his craft works," not "how about if you make him teach a class on the craft so readers can learn it too." "I got confused meeting all these characters at once," not "delete some of these characters, there are too many."

                  And finally, Thought Number Five: Ask questions!  

                  And I don't mean leading questions, like "Don't you think this would be better if Protagonist ended up with the OTHER love interest?" Ask them general questions, specific questions, questions about the world, questions about the characters--especially if you feel like maybe the author doesn't know the answers or hasn't thought about why they should have answers. Ask questions! How does that character feel about her sister? What would they wear to a dance? What would they have done if the trial had been decided the other way or if they'd never recovered the treasure or if they'd lost the contest?

                  You might consider looking up some questionnaires with prompts for the author to ask YOU as well--exchange a lengthy e-mail, set up a phone or Skype call, whatever works for you--and have a real conversation about the book where questions and answers are exchanged. You may actually want the answers to the questions you ask (and write them down as you read!), or you may just want the author to come up with answers as an exercise. And for the author, they may want to ask you stuff like "where did you put the book down, if you did? did you skip ahead anywhere?" and "was there a character you wished had more time onstage?" and "did you have any favorite lines or favorite scenes?" and "did you like how it ended or would you have wanted it to end differently?" You can ask the author why they chose to do certain things--things you like and things you don't. Ask!

                  As a beta reader, you're entrusted with one of the most important jobs in the industry--being a fresh perspective outside the author's head that can help bring a better version of an author's story out to the reading public. Good luck! . . . You'll need it!

                  [Goofy writing comics from webcomic So You Write.]

                  Saturday, May 13, 2017

                  Personal Digest Saturday: May 6 – May 12

                  Life news this week: 
                  • Saturday was the highly anticipated FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! I met Victor at a Starbucks and we ran into Eric on our way to the first comic shop, Heroes Haven, so he drove us there. We got free comix and also saw Jeaux there! Then we went to Demolition Comics, then Nerd Out Comics, then Green Shift, all on the bus. And THEN we bused out to Brandon Mall! We got all kinds of great stuff and also he bought me dinner at a restaurant, and I got some nice drawings done too. He convinced me to take an Uber home after we got back into Tampa, because it was dark and he was worried about me getting home safe. It was a good day except I was very tired and fell asleep quickly when I got home.
                  • Sunday I did my music experiments and more drawings, and watched some cartoon reactions. Mom came over later and hung out a little while I drew.
                  • Monday I worked on a letter of response at work and at lunch I drew pictures of Steven Universe episodes. The episodes had already been released the week before on their cartoon app, so I'd seen them, but Monday was the beginning of a broadcast event so I doodled episode-related images of each and posted them to Facebook and Instagram each day around the airing (and also to get my friends to talk to me about the cartoons, haha).
                  • Tuesday I had to make a transcript for an interview to help my coworkers so that kept me busy most of the day. Then I came home and Mom came over and took me to Outback for dinner. It was my sister's birthday so I talked to her very briefly on the Facebook video chat! Nice to see her and her son.
                  • Wednesday I wrote a letter to Jessie and hung out with Jeaux after work. We ate at Vallarta's and I read him some feminist news. After he left I drew part of a picture for the next day's episode but while looking for a character reference I accidentally ran into another early-release episode on the cartoon app from the next season! So of course I badgered Jeaux to watch it and he did and I ended up awake until after 3 AM because cartoons.
                  • Thursday I was SUPER tired because of cartoon fiascos. I ran into a guy I'd met previously at the bus stop and we chatted more about writing and he says he's moving away. After work (and chatting with my first Pitch Wars mentee about cartoons), I went to Fresh Market for special food and invited my mom to a Mother's Day thing for Sunday. And I talked to Victor while drawing my webcomic.
                  • Friday at work was mostly uneventful. After work I had to finish my comic and I posted it and just watched cartoon reactions afterwards. 
                    New reviews of my book:

                    Interviews, articles, mentions:

                    Reading progress:
                    • Finished this week: The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman. Four-star review.
                    • Currently reading: Eyeshield 21: Volume 27 by Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata.
                      New singing performances:

                      This week I performed "Babooshka" by Kate Bush


                      New drawings: 

                      Chill wife sleepy pic: It's Sapphire with Steven. I drew some of this on a bus.
                      "Poster" for "Lion 4: Alternate Ending."
                      "Poster" for "Doug Out."
                      "Poster" for "The Good Lars."
                      "Poster" for "Are You My Dad?" and "I Am My Mom."

                      Webcomic Negative One Issue 0626: "What You Want to Say."

                      New videos:

                      My latest unlisted ukulele video is "1234" by Feist.

                      New photos:

                      Selfie with the Joker at Demolition Comics.
                      Victor with the Joker at Demolition.
                      Victor snapped this.
                      Some bus ridin' fools going to Free Comic Book Day events.
                      Victor took my pic on the bus on our way somewhere.
                      Lookit all those free comics!
                      My co-worker brought heart-shaped donuts.
                      Random coffee selfie.
                      My belly gem thingie came in for the Stevonnie cosplay I'm doing in August!
                      (If you've never seen the character, this is Stevonnie.)

                      Social Media counts:
                      YouTube subscribers: 5,307 for swankivy (lost 2), 640 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 859 for swankivy (lost 2), 1,330 for JulieSondra (no change). Facebook: 292 friends (no change) and 207 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 652 likes for JulieSondra (no change), 54 likes for Negative One (lost 1), 125 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,492 (12 new). Instagram followers: 114 (2 new).