The surprising profundity of an ostensible banality.

“Believe in the beauty of your dreams.”

I think it was my 14th or 15th birthday that my good friend gifted me with a blank journal that had such a sentiment printed across the cover. I decided to use it as a dream journal, and of course, as dreams generally go, not many were particularly “beautiful.”

In my teenage, above-all-this-nonsense cynicism, I concluded that it was just an empty but nice-sounding platitude, like “follow your heart” or “be true to yourself.” “Believe in the beauty of your dreams,” pssh. Yes, it does a lot of good to believe in the beauty of Bill Nye blowing up your elementary school to fix a time paradox, or the beauty of arriving at the airport for a flight only to realize you forgot to put on pants.

The journal went into a drawer around the time I left for college and I eventually forgot about the whole thing. But recently that phrase has popped back up in my mind, suddenly making a lot of sense.

I don’t always believe that my dreams are worth pursuing. Some days I think about the novel I’m writing and cringe. What an embarrassment it will be if anyone ever reads it. Surely it will only serve to prove how little I understand anything about the world, or people, or relationships.

Or I think about the cosplay I’m still working on–how the fabric is slightly the wrong color, and I don’t have the right body type for it. People are gonna see me wearing it and just feel sorry for me.

These feelings grow stronger the longer I neglect whatever project it is. Accordingly, my desire to pick up that project again diminishes further and further. I have, in essence, ceased to believe in the beauty of my dreams.

So I suppose for the sake of not abandoning one’s dreams altogether, it is in fact necessary to believe in their beauty. It’s not like anyone else is gonna do it for me, especially when I give my novel’s working title as Untitled Novel Based on a Talking Cat from America’s Funniest Home Videos and the most I’m willing to share about my friends’ and my upcoming group cosplay is that “we’re gonna papier-mâché an exercise ball.”

The best way I’ve found to do this is to actually do the work. Sit down with it, wrestle with it, puzzle it out. Because as I do this, it subconsciously reinforces the idea that this dream is worth all the time and effort I’m putting into it. It becomes a virtuous circle, and also shuts up that 8th-grade mean-girl inner critic voice for a while.

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Lessons from Golden Orchestra!.

I saw a truly wonderful movie on the plane flying home from visiting family over Thanksgiving called Golden Orchestra!. It’s a Japanese movie (original title オケ老人! Oke Roujin!) that has not been released internationally, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to see it anywhere that’s not a Delta flight in the next few months. But I still find myself thinking about it weeks later.

It’s the story of junior-high math teacher Chizuru (played by Anne Watanabe), formerly a violinist in her student days, whose passion for the instrument is reawakened after viewing a performance by the Umegaoka Philharmonic Orchestra. Later she looks them up on the Internet to find out more about them, but misremembering the name of the group, types in “Umegaoka Symphony Orchestra” into the search box instead. Seeing that they are looking for new members, she eagerly calls them up to request an audition, only to find out upon her arrival that this is not the orchestra she was looking for.

I couldn’t find any English-subbed clips or trailers on YouTube, but it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on in the clip at the beginning of this one:

Chizuru finds herself torn between the earnest-but-disorganized “Ume-sym” and her desire to join the straitlaced, elite “Ume-phil,” and her journey is further complicated by an unexpected opportunity to become conductor of Ume-sym and the arrival of a famous French conductor to perform with Ume-phil. It’s a sweet film with something to say about pursuing your passion, plus some truly funny moments with the geriatric members of Ume-sym.

I worry that with my myriad musical interests I’m naught more than a dilettante; a “filthy casual,” if you will. I’m not interested in becoming a virtuoso whose life revolves around an instrument. I play piano/accordion/harp/djembe/ukulele/ocarina because they bring me joy. But a little more practice and discipline won’t hurt, either.

Into the holidays.

I spent a lot of this past week getting ready for things this week, so I didn’t accomplish much last week in terms of my creative endeavors. Probably won’t this week either, Thanksgiving being a family-time holiday and all.

As the end of the year draws closer I’ve been reflecting on how this whole “blogging once a week to keep myself accountable about my creative aspirations” thing has worked out. And while it’s been good to see a written record of my progress… no one reads it. This is not a complaint, mind you. I’m well aware how I’ve spurned principles of SEO and the “social” aspect of WordPress because I’d rather get good at the things I want to get good at before I start attracting attention to myself.

All the same, I may reevaluate how I’m doing things come next year.

On maintaining cosplay motivation.

I was reading an article about self-control the other day, and one commenter noted that self-control is connected with the ability to tolerate ambivalence. The range of creative endeavors I’m interested in has recently widened and I think the ambivalence got to me last week, because while on Sunday and Monday I lost a collected four hours of sleep working on that friggin’ cosplay, by Wednesday I was spending my evenings watching TV, and not doing much else. When I tried to muster the enthusiasm I’d had over the weekend, I could only obsess over my discovery that the fabric is slightly the wrong color. I am under no illusions that my cosplay will be the Most Accurate and Perfectly Detailed Ever, so a teensy thing like that shouldn’t topple the whole project. It’s not like someone’s going to run up to me at Fanime and be like, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s the wrong shade! *gasp* You’re not really [character x]! …But [the papier-mâchéd exercise ball] looks like the real deal.”

But boy was it easy to pinpoint my lack of enthusiasm on that one thing.

I reluctantly texted my friends Saturday morning to ask if they wanted to get together to work on cosplay things, feeling pretty “now or never” about the whole deal, and thankfully having three other people work on the same kind of thing in the same room did help me get motivated again. Plus, as my friend pointed out, the fabric is the highlight shade of the clothing I’m copying… I just need to stand in sunlight the whole time and it’s accurate again. That helped me feel a bit better. Also, we played with EVA foam and a heat gun while watching YouTube tutorials on how to craft fake armor that way, which was fun.

I’m just not sure what I’m afraid of.

Age is just a number, after all.

One thing I struggle with in all these endeavors is if I’m biting off more than I can chew. For the past couple of years I’ve been motivated by a seeming fear of my life ending at 30 or something—like if I don’t get cracking on everything I want to do with my life ever RIGHT NOW time will run out and the rest of my life will be spent in complete drudgery. It makes no sense, I know—but neither do a lot of fears.

Incidentally, when I venture out to meet other folks interested in what I’m interested in (djembe class, the SCBWI event, the Celtic music session, the Cotati Accordion Festival), more often then not the people there are my parents’ age or older, many of them retirees who want to make the most of their free time.  And that helps keep me grounded.

Life seems to speed up as you get older, I’ve observed, but there’s a big difference between me now and me half my life ago. I’m sure when I’m double my current age it’ll be the same thing. I’ll grow and change, hopefully for the better, and while my brain’s plasticity may be more limited, I’ll hopefully be a lot wiser than I am now.

The demons of self-doubt.

This summer I tried to not have to learn lessons twice. I have several sticky notes of “Hard-Earned Wisdom” on my monitor, with such tips as “Don’t bypass LeechBlock. Just don’t. DON’T,” and “Hey, remember that funny thing from (x time) ago? DON’T LOOK IT UP. Just enjoy the memory.”

These things have helped me waste less time doing stupid stuff on the Internet when I should be writing or practicing, as has the candle I mentioned a few weeks ago. But all those things are external. What about that voice in my head that tells me I’m a two-bit no-talent hack and that anything I create just proves it?

The worst is when it pretends to be the voice of artists and writers I admire: “Whatever you attempt is nothing compared to my stuff,” it sneers, which is odd because a lot of these artists and writers publicly encourage those aspiring in their art. “Oh, they mean everyone except you should follow your dreams,” the voice tells me. “If they ever saw your stuff they’d just feel sorry for you.”

What if I just don’t have it in me to be truly good at anything?

I know—that kind of thinking just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if I let it. But it’s so persistent. How can I banish that voice for good and put my head down and just get to work, darn whether I ever get “good” at it? How can I stop imagining the masters of their craft looking at me and laughing at my pathetic attempts at prose or music?

Sorry for the dark night of the soul. These kinds of thoughts have come and gone for months at a time since I was in high school, and I’m no closer to figuring out how to deal with them other than struggling through until I feel like it’s safe to come out and create again. Guess it’s just Insecurity High Tide right now.

Busy, apparently.

Oof, school kicked my butt this past week. A six-page paper plus a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation plus mandatory discussion all due the same day. And that’s just in one of my two classes.

I was out of town visiting family for most of the last week, which is always good for stepping away and reevaluating how you’re doing life. At times I found myself worrying about “wasted potential”—wondering if I could be doing something amazing if I just hadn’t watched so much TV as a kid, or had eaten a better diet growing up, or just tried harder. Such thinking isn’t terribly productive, though, and eventually I decided to stop worrying and think about what I want to do with the days ahead. Being out and about tore me away from the Internet for long stretches of time, which I realize has made me a generally happier person. I read too much news anyway, and news is overwhelmingly negative and largely about things outside my control. Spending less time with TV and video games was good for me, too. I can’t see myself ever saying “I’m sure glad I spent my entire summer consuming content in front of a screen.”

Now that I have a bit more breathing room before my next big assignment is due (well, kind of; there’s a 10-page paper due next Wednesday) I’m going to make sure I take time this week to pick up and delve into the stuff I want to be doing. (And call that accordion repair guy, for reals!)

A side note: On the trip to visit my relatives I took a couple of paperbacks for airplane reading: Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens and Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13,* and while I enjoyed both (or at least the first half, in the case of the 432-page Good Omens, which I haven’t yet finished), I’m still partial to middle-grade fantasy. I have to constantly quell the fear that this affinity is a sign of stunted development (more wasted potential!), but that doesn’t stop me from visiting that section of the public library every time I’m there. Also, I’ll read anything by Eva Ibbotson. She might be my favorite author ever. Island of the Aunts made me cry.

Here’s some relevant Neil Gaiman from a 2013 Guardian column that accurately reflects everything I believe about libraries and children’s literature:

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

*It’s about a pure-hearted boy raised by horrible stepparents whose destiny lies in the magical place accessible only through a secret portal in King’s Cross station. If that sounds familiar, note that The Secret of Platform 13 was published in 1994 and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. When asked about the striking similarities, Eva Ibbotson reportedly said that she’d like to shake J. K. Rowling’s hand, and added, “I think we all borrow from each other as writers.”

Summer “vacation.”

For me the first day or two of summer vacation has always brought a mild sense of panic. There’s a bunch of stuff I should be doing and even more that I could be doing. I only have nine weeks left, aaagggghh!

And then I get frustrated and fatigued at the giant cloud of vague options. And then I get reflective. Is productivity per se really my goal? And that just makes me panic more. And that’s why my summers that lack external structure tend to be supremely unproductive.

I should also mention that I am in graduate school (online) and I double down on classes in the summer in hopes of graduating in a reasonable amount of time. I’ve also got quite a few family commitments this week, so I’ll be focusing on those and schoolwork first.

Although: extended version of Kass’s theme! It sounds so gooood! I need to call the accordion repair guy ASAP.

Excuses, excuses.

The other day I was talking to my friend and expressed some mild frustration with myself. I don’t tend to dive right into things; I circle them from several hundred feet above and pretend I’ll make it down there eventually. The problem is that I tend to actually just keep myself in the same holding pattern for ages.

I’ve been meaning to join a ukulele group; I’ve been meaning to send my accordion in for repair; I’ve been meaning to sign up for a SCBWI critique group in my area. I’ve made baby steps in these directions, but have found convenient reasons to hold back (namely that the music store didn’t call me back; the accordion repair specialist’s workshop was inaccessible at them time due to remodeling; and I missed the most recent regional critique café meeting so I’m waiting around for the next one… which will be in several months). I do like to wallow in complacency, don’t I?

Summer is right around the corner, and I work in public education. That means I have ten weeks of unpaid vacation. I need to make some phone calls and figure out what I’m doing with it.

Onward.

My West African percussion class continues, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We have a performance of sorts for a local event coming up in a couple of weeks so there are rehearsals in addition to regular class (which has turned into rehearsal time, as well). The things we’re rehearsing are a good bit more difficult than what we’d been doing in previous sessions, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I also got in some good time for Draft 3 revisions on that novel I wrote. I’ve bought tickets to see friends in the Midwest this summer, including the friend that gave me all those helpful notes on Draft 2, so my new goal is to finish Draft 3 by the time I depart.

On the ukulele front, I’ve gotten pretty good at the first (and last) part of “Giant Woman” from Steven Universe, but I should probably expand my chord repertoire a bit more than F, Cmaj7, G7, and E7. Or at least learn that middle part.