Note About the Website

…it looks like 1and1, my provider, has broken the blog portion of my website here, and they aren’t doing anything useful to fix it. I’m investigating moving to a new provider. Meanwhile, the website itself still works! So please use it! But if you need news about what’s happening, for now everything’s over on my livejournal, or you can ask me directly on twitter.

The Experiment Continues….

endymionpainting

I admit, the fact that these things can be thinned with water is a touch bewildering. When you first add water to them, they are stubborn and clumpy, like oil paint, but if you keep at it they reach a point where they abruptly collapse and start acting like watercolors. O_O

That point is different for each paint (not a surprise–different colors have always had different temperaments: I’m looking at you, Alizarin Crimson), so there’s a definite learning curve there. Not a difficult one, just… it’s there.

My verdict on these is still that I love them–I really love them–but the disposal of my painting rag/water is beginning to concern me. I can’t find an elegant way to get rid of it. I could float it in water like some kind of bizarre aquarium (the suggestion on the paint box), but that’s just asking for trouble. The hazardous waste disposal procedure for individuals in my county requires driving yourself to the solid waste plant and delivering it, which suggests I should be keeping them around until I have enough waste to make it worth the trip. But that would require me to keep a slowly growing mound of materials everyone insists could spontaneously combust if I look at it wrong, and that just seems like trouble. Particularly for someone as poorly grounded in reality as I am.

So, I am puzzled. I have spent… um… a lot of money on this experiment. And I love the results. But the practical parts of it haven’t gone away. (Though the practical part of me wonders why they tell me I can wash the brushes in the sink with soap and water if I have to dispose of the paint water in some kind of nuclear incinerator.)

It’s almost tempting to go back to acrylics and see if I can make them work the way oils do with the judicious overuse of mediums.

I have made one resolution though: no more buying supplies until I sell some art, because oh-de-lally, wow. My bill for this is stupid. Anyone want a slightly tacky dragon painting? >.>

Anthrocon!

So now that it’s official, I can say: I’m going to be at this year’s Anthrocon, thanks to Ursula Vernon, who’s lent me her spare bed. Can you imagine the mayhem! Imagine the mayhem! Seriously, we’re already making jokes about the beer and live active yeast, and you probably have to have been there or something.

But anyway! I’ll be there Thursday night to Sunday morning (and flying out around noon), and I’m on something like Five? Seven? Eight? Hours of panels about every conceivable writing subject, including one on “Dark and Difficult Topics,” which apparently is right up my alley or something. I’ll also be hosting a “Bring Your Own Coffee” kaffeeklatsch, and if I sneak some cookies into that they’re for me, you tell the convention center staff that. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble for not paying for their food service. -_-

I’m hoping to see a lot of you there! And if you’ve never been to an Anthrocon, it’s in Pittsburgh and it’s a fun time… it becomes like a furry holiday in their downtown, with costumed folks dancing in the streets and contests in the local pubs for best fursuited karaoke. That town loves their furries.

I close with Brendan’s excellent haiku on the subject:

Badgers at a con
Biting, drinking, where’s my snake?
Bring me one more bee

An Old Love, a New Experiment

I think I’ve mentioned before that I trained as an oil painter? I must have? I’ve been blogging a long time…

Ahem. Well, if I haven’t, then there, it’s out in the open. When I was young, I took lessons with my grade school art teacher, and early on associated the smell of turpentine and linseed oil with happiness. When I smell oil paint I can call up actual pictures of the studio she’d built herself in her backyard; I can remember trying to paint the horses I was looking at in a ‘How to Draw Horses’ book, the scent of the wood polish, the way the sunlight looked. For someone with a memory as faulty as mine, that’s… a pretty big deal.

But oils, as I’ve mentioned before, are messy, expensive, and often dangerous, particularly around children. They need to be thinned and cleaned with solvents, and that’s assuming the paint itself isn’t toxic. The fumes are overwhelming unless you have a well-ventilated space (and in Florida, ‘paint outside’ isn’t an option; not just for whining ‘it’s hot’ reasons, but for actual pragmatic ‘the humidity prevents paintings from ever drying’ type reasons).

I had pretty much given up on any chance of painting with oils again despite a desperate desire to work with something more opaque than gouache.

When I heard there were water-miscible oils, I dismissed the idea. How could that even work? And the reviews I’d gotten on them were mixed. “They’re not like real oils,” was the most common complaint, which… seemed inevitable. They weren’t real oils. They were some bastard compromise. But sometimes in life, you gotta take the compromise or nothing at all. So when I was in the art store yesterday, I looked at a set of them, waffled, then said, ‘What the heck.’

paintingtestoilmiscible1

I almost didn’t do it. The art store has a big sign up on the door: ‘No Cell Phone Use Allowed.’ I ignored it to check reviews of a particular brand, and one reviewer said that she loved them–that she had quit using oils once she had kids, and this had given her back the paints she loved. That sealed it for me. I took them home, found an old canvas, and went at it.

What can I say about them? I am tempted to say ‘I’m in love,’ but I am going to try to remain wary. My initial impression was that they’re magical. They are creamy, like the oils I remember, but I could dip my brush in water and clean it that way? Insane! And they stay wet… I put down the paint at 4 PM yesterday and this morning they were still workable.

paintingtestoilmiscible

The crazy thing is that after years of trying to treat gouache like oil paints, I now find I treat oils like gouache! The long dry time has me startled. I’d forgotten the tools that allow you to play: media that let you retard or accelerate the dry time, oils and thinners that let you add gloss or tint washes. All those things I learned as a young girl with a youth’s instinctive quickness; now I find I return to them with an adult’s understanding of how complex it all is, and I am daunted, and find myself amused at those fears. They won’t stop me, but I like it when my supplies teach me humility and patience, along with all their other gifts.

So I’d like to say I’m tentatively pleased with the results, but the truth is I’m excited. Not the bouncy crazy agitated sort of excited, but the low, deep in the heart excitement that you feel thinking about sunrise after a vigil. I’m older, old enough to know that there will always be projects that don’t lend themselves to this medium, that they won’t be the all-consuming passion they were for me when I was a new artist. But the thought that I might have them back in my life again is overwhelming. Is it ridiculous that this link back to my childhood could be so nourishing? I don’t know, but I will see how it goes.

My next experiment involves sealing sketches to canvas so I can paint on them without having to re-draw them. I’ll report on that later. For now, though… I think I need a drying rack…!

Side Dominance

I guess the last time I had formal dance lessons I was in elementary school, when (like so many girl children) I was shepherded through a course of them as a substitute for physical deportment lessons. And I never really lost the habit of dancing; I like it, and don’t really care if I’m good at it or not. Watching Glee has made me realize that dancing is fun and exercise, though, so I’ve been doing it more often. And that made me wonder: “Am I any good at it? Really?”

So I steeled myself and put on headphones and danced in front of a mirror, and the verdict is: I won’t shame myself, which is fine; that’s all I want. Far more interesting to me, though, was the huge difference in the dexterity and precision of the movements of the entire left side of my body.

Now, my right hand, I was expecting to be more fluid and agile than my left. I’ve been doing nothing but honing precision skills with my right hand all my life, so it didn’t surprise me that my left hand wasn’t up to that. But for my right shoulder, hip, knee and ankle to also be better than their counterparts? Literally every joint?

I am intrigued. Now I wonder if I can bring my left side up to speed and what, if anything, that will do to how my brain works….

What about you all? Notice any distinct issues with handedness and it affecting one entire side of your body? Has anyone tried teaching themselves ambidexterity, and did it affect how you perceive things?

Writer Woes

The original Some Things Transcend was a ramshackle bit of a novella. It really wanted a rewrite, I thought, and it was my plan to do that last year when I sat down with it. Re-reading it, though, I realized it wouldn’t be fair to Jahir and Vasiht’h to release that story as people’s first introduction to them… STT is a point of strain for both of them, where they get stretched out of old shapes and into new ones, and I didn’t want them to be known as ‘those therapists who helped Lisinthir.’ I wanted them to be ‘Jahir and Vasiht’h who–oh, Lord, they’re the ones who help Lisinthir?? How does that work out! I have to know!’

So I wrote Mindtouch and Mindline last year, and that, I thought, fulfilled my responsibilities to them adequately. Except by then I was too tired to leap straight into the rewrite of Some Things Transcend, so I put it aside to work on Laisrathera.

When I finished Laisrathera and started dabbling in the first scenes of the STT rewrite, I thought, ‘oh, I’m just setting up to work on this later.’ And when it became evident that STT was going to push itself into my queue, I thought, ‘okay, fine. It’s just a novella. The original was 23,000 words, I’ll polish this off in a week and move on.’

…and then it grew.

…and grew…

When I hit 40K, I thought, ‘well, all right. This is long enough to qualify as a novel for the Nebula ballot, surely I’m almost done.’ And then it got to 60K and I thought, ‘I’m near the end! I must be, I know what’s going to happen!’ And I kept going.

Well, it’s 100K now if it’s a word, and I just–just–hit the Big Battle, and after that I still have a very long denouement to wrap the thing up and I’m betting it’s going to need another 25K, if I’m lucky.

Even the Wingless is about 132K, and to fit it in a 6×9 paperback with a spine that’s nearly an inch thick I had to reduce the font size to a point where I have to squint a little to see it. I’m thinking the sequel’s going to be just about as long. If not longer. I was hoping to be done with this project by middle of April, but I’ve written 48K this month and I’m still not done…! And the ridiculous part is, when I write this quickly, I underwrite, leaving out details in order to make sure I get the fundamental bits of dialogue and action in. Doing my editing passes is only making the thing grow.

I hear a lot of peers talk about churning out a novel every month, but they write tidy 45-60K paperbacks that I only wish I could manage. But apparently everything my characters need to say requires a dissertation-length book. -_-

So, my revised estimate for the completion of STT is mid-May. Let’s see if I can keep to it, because I’d really like to release more than one novel this year. :,

Blue Lashes (and Observations about Selfies)

My mother needed some retail therapy after the dramatic hospitalization of my father last week, so today we headed to the mall and I sat on a stool and kibitzed while she got a makeover. Afterwards, the cosmetologist (who much admired my existing make-up job), said, “If you like exciting, you’ll love our new mascara.”

bluelashes

The new thing, she told us, was to go very neutral on the eyes, and then use super-electric blue eyeliner/mascara. “It makes your eyes look much brighter,” she reported. My mother, peering at me, agreed: “The whites of your eyes look whiter.”

Trying to get a good picture of my lashes for Twitter to opine on led me to another round of selfies. I spent most of my life abhorring pictures of myself, and a lot of that involved my having internalized society’s unreasonable expectations of a woman’s appearance. Finding out how much of the photography we see of women (and men!) is artificial was a huge revelation for me… and I also wanted to stop being upset with myself for my imperfections. Armed with those weapons, I’ve been taking photos as a way to understand that artificiality.

Here is today’s selfie:

selfie-practice

And my observations:

1. For every one good photo I get, I take nine or ten. My photographer friends who do this professionally report taking hundreds of photos to get the one shot they like. I remind myself thus that it doesn’t matter how many photos I look awful in, because eventually I’m going to find the one I look good in, as long as I keep in mind the principles of Photographing People.

2. One of those principles is that camera angle is hugely important, even in dumb quick photos like this. There will be an angle your face looks nice in… and a dozen where your jaw looks clumpy, your neck fat, your forehead too large, etc, etc. The people who are photogenic really do have a special talent, because most of humankind looks kind of awkward in stills.

3. Lighting even in candids like this is also important. Not just the color of the light, but the angle. The slant it’s hitting you at can accentuate the circles under your eyes, or erase your jaw line, or make your face look puffy (!). And the color of the light can make you look cadaverous, grungy or sickly, depending on whether it’s a warm (reddish) light, a golden light, or a blueish light. If I hate the photos I’m taking, I will often walk to a different location, or turn my back and try it that way.

4. There’s a reason people put make-up on for cameras, because cameras will find your every fault and accentuate them. One of the challenges in candids is that you’re often sweaty, tired, you’ve eaten your lip gloss, etc. But you can sometimes make up for those faults by paying attention to lighting and angle.

5. Finally, your facial expression is a big deal…! This was the hard part for me, because I feel awkward in front of cameras (see above: hating photos of myself), so I tend to end up wearing what my mom calls muecas (in my Spanish, that’s ‘masks’ or ‘funny faces’). My smiles look like grimaces, which… isn’t helpful. Also, as the Renaissance painters will tell you, your face in repose is often lovely, but when you start moving it through a range of expressions, it can start looking really bizarre and ugly, especially if you halt the camera at the right moment. The challenge, then, is a genuine expression that doesn’t contort your face too much. (This is also a challenge when you’re holding the camera yourself.) One of the things I’m practicing is to think of something or someone I like, or try to feel a moment of compassion, sweetness, or whimsy right before the shutter goes off.

This is strangely meditative, and good practice. They say if you force yourself to smile you will make yourself happy, eventually. And I find these moments where I make myself concentrate on something good in my life (for the purpose of taking a photo!) have become one of the more enjoyable parts.

So there you go. Blue lashes, and more about the artificiality of self-portraiture photography. And before anyone asks, and I know someone will: that glorious pendant was made by Kythryne of Wyrding Studios after she read the Jokka novels. It is my Roika pendant, and it is one of my favorite pieces of jewelry.

“Mommy, It’s Educational!”

“Mommy, can I buy this app? It’s educational!”

The first time Child came to me with this justification, I was surprised–that she had noticed that I liked those things over less productive games/TV. Of course I want her to learn. Of course I want her to multitask: if she’s going to be playing video games, why not have them teach her to read at the same time? If she’s going to be watching TV, why not learn about sea creatures and physics? The world has become enormous and the knowledge in it literally overwhelming: there’s so much to know, so she’d better start immediately, right?

But I recently realized just how much of kids’ entertainment has become kids’ edutainment. Almost all of her TV shows are about something–they teach spelling, science, classic music concepts; language shows cover Spanish, French and Chinese; a wildly popular show talks about all the animals of the world, going into details I don’t even know and I consider myself fairly well-read on animals. And this education even creeps into the parents: “Delicioso,” my niece mentions to me while cutting my hair. “That means “delicious.” I learned it from Backpack. Go Dora.”

When I think back to my childhood, I remember learning some things from TV: Sesame Street probably taught me my letters. But overwhelmingly, most of my childhood entertainment was fantastical. It was unicorns and fairies and the dark things in the woods. I lived in Narnia, commiserated with Taran Pig-keeper and coveted telepathic cats from outer space. I was soaked in fairy tales and myth and left to marinate until my soul was tender with strange flavors and beliefs. And I think: isn’t that the birthright of childhood? Fantasy?

…and then I had my own and realized just how aggressively literal children are. What looks like fantasy isn’t: it’s their attempt to make sense of a staggeringly complex world with almost no data. Positing that the Easter Bunny uses the door because she’s not fat enough to use the chimney isn’t some feat of whimsical imagination: it’s a determined assault on illogic using the data she has. If Santa uses the chimney and is fat–maybe he uses the chimney because he is fat. And bunnies aren’t fat. So maybe they use doors, like normal people. What else?

Maybe children need fantasy because of that literalism. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe the world is sufficiently strange that they need never become enamored of unicorns, or dream of Impressing dragons, or battle wizards and orcs on scrawled bits of construction paper. I don’t know… but I do feel uneasy. To have grown up as grounded in the real world as my daughter is… would that have felt like chains to me, because I am who I am? Or would I have soaked it up as avidly as she is, and become tender with different flavors… and fewer beliefs?

The Cat in the Hat in my day was a whimsical creature who played with children and left their houses tidy after nearly destroying them. These days, the Cat in the Hat visits the inside of beehives and teaches children about honey production–in rhyme.

I don’t know how I feel about that.

Daughter Stories: World for the Taking

Daughter has never been afraid of performing in front of people. Even in preschool, she was fearless in this regard: while the other children wept or fled when asked by their teachers to sing for a room of supportive parents, Daughter plunked herself in front, waved merrily not just to us but to everyone, and belted out the words even if she wasn’t sure of them. She recently graduated to performing in front of small auditoriums for the entire first grade’s families, and was magnificent: memorized her lines and acted them with emphasis, rather than mumbling or rushing through them. The music teacher pulled me aside and urged me to drop-ship her to acting lessons.

This is on my mind while driving her to school today. “So you like singing in front of people?”

“Yeah!” she says.

“It doesn’t scare you at all?” I ask, curious.

“No! Nothing scares me, Mommy.”

I have (ruefully) observed this to be true, for weal and woe. I say, “You know what? I like being in front of people too.”

“Really?” she asks, interested.

“Uh-huh. When I was little I used to sing and act in front of people, and I had the greatest time. I never got scared either. In fact, I still like to be up in front of people.” I smile. “I guess it’s in our blood.”

She is enthused at this revelation of a shared talent. “You know why I don’t get scared?”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because it’s just like a game of Simon Says!”

I pause a moment to hide that my brain is exploding. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Daughter says, thinking it through (at the speed that lightning forks, as usual), “Because Simon Says, when you play, you’re standing in front of everyone, and you say Simon says… stand on one foot!” She pauses, then says, more firmly, “You tell them what to do.”

“And so you’re not scared,” I say. “Because you’re in control.”

Control is a new concept for her, so she is gleeful at the chance to use it. “Yes! I’m in control!”

I am struck by the image of her leaping to the microphone, eyes shining and head high, with all that zest in her voice, utterly unconcerned because she feels that she is controlling her audience with her performance. In that moment, I sense the future and her fearless dive into it. This world is mine! Watch me!

“You’re very good at it,” I say. “I was super-proud of you, you know.”

“I know,” she says, and we’re both content. And if Mommy’s soul is ringing like the inside of a bell, well… she keeps that to herself.

Paper Books Are Unforgiving

On a whim I decided it was time to re-read Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald Mage trilogy because sometimes you just need some Herald in your life.

As you can see, my paperbacks of this series are old. They are in fact the first ones I bought, way back in the ’80s when they were fresh and new; I have never sold them, because… well, Heralds. And I did pretty well with Book 1 and Book 2, despite my occasional grumbles that I couldn’t read the books in the dark, or prop them up to read while eating, that I needed more than one hand to turn the pages, etc. Then I got to Book 3, which is longer than either of the first two, but apparently needed to fit in about the same size spine/package.

…and I was squinting at the letters.

Squinting. At the letters.

My first thought was a grumbly Where’s the font size toggle on this thing? But I assure you, that was way better than my second, Oh my gosh, I can’t read tiny fonts anymore thought.

-_-

At least my Kindle lets me pretend I still have good eyes.