Well, look at that. I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet after all.
I haven’t posted anything in a while in part because I have been very busy with projects and improv, but also because I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence. While this has made wonderful fodder for a long string of comic scripts that may, one day, actually get drawn, it has done very little for my sanity.
In May, I will have been in Austin for one year. The past year has been overloaded with new experiences, new people, new places. I’ve been trying out new projects with varying levels of success. I’ve been auditioning for both improv and scripted shows to disastrous effect.
Long story short: I have been doing a lot of new things, and with a less than 50% success rate overall, I’m feeling a tad emotionally bruised.
Short story long:
Somewhere during college I was beset with a really awful case of performance anxiety. I’m talking sweaty-palms, dry-mouth, stomach-in-knots, every-muscle-goes-limp-and-my-brain-just-shuts-down stage fright. My voice goes all wibbly, my vision blurs, and I’m pretty sure I turn a bright shade of pink.
I know I haven’t always been this way, because I have distinct memories of getting really amped up and blowing performances out of the water in middle school. In eighth grade, I walked into a region band audition with so much confidence I made other people in the room nervous, and I took first chair without breaking a sweat.
Frankly, I think I was just young and dumb enough to not recognize how freaked out I was, so I could fake my way past it.
In the latter half of high school and into college I gradually lost that confidence, and became practiced at being anxious in front of an audience. Now anything that even remotely looks like a performance – improv shows, auditions, work presentations, conversations with more than two people – triggers an automatic nervous response.
(Seriously, folks. I’m getting Pavlovian jitters just visualizing a stage as I write this.)
This isn’t just a fear-of-strangers thing. A few weeks ago I was told by a very nice doctor who I’d only met minutes before that the weird spot on my nose that I’d been ignoring for two years was actually a mild form of skin cancer.
I faced that conversation with infinitely more grace and dignity than a musical audition the same week.
It should have been a slam dunk. I walk into a room with four people I already know, read some scenes from a show I love so much I’ve effectively memorized it, and sing a song I’ve known since I was ten.
I can say with some confidence that that was the single most embarrassing thing I’ve done in the last year.
A couple of weeks later, I thought I had a chance to redeem myself. One of my favorite improv friends invited me to perform a very silly set with him, three people I’ve been dying to play with, and a former classmate that I terribly missed playing with. I spent the vast majority of our 25 minutes becoming intimately acquainted with a corner in the wings where I could completely hide from the audience and most of the stage.
I even jumped back into a couple of short improv classes that, if anything, have left me feeling even more inadequate as a performer. This is not by any fault of the teachers, of course (though taking the elective where the teacher is intentionally mean to the students was probably not my best idea ever) – this is just me at my most paranoid and self-conscious.
This crisis of confidence is even bleeding over into my crafting. I haven’t been posting lately because the new things I’ve tried have not all come out perfectly on the first try, and I’m feeling that performance pressure as I write up the posts.
Which is ridiculous, I know.
So for my own sanity, I’m trying a different approach to my creative efforts for the near future:
I’m only doing things that I’m good at.
I won’t go into a lot of detail, because one thing I am exceptionally bad at is sticking to plans once I’ve shared them with others. I’ve already tried a few new things since I first decided I wouldn’t be doing new things (yes, I’ll be posting about them – promise!), so clearly I’m full of crap. But my ego needs some TLC, and my craft cabinet is taking over my home, so for the near future, my goals are very simple:
I’m only doing things I’m good at, and I’m finishing projects.
Sometime later, when I’m feeling cocky again, I will charge back into the unknown. But right now, I have loads of things I want to get done that I know I can do.
I spent a good deal of the last three days sweating over the latest improv audition. It’s one of the few Hideout main stage shows that I actually felt strongly enough about to bother to try out for, since the competition for these shows is getting ridiculous.
The audition required a resume, so I’ve been reminiscing about my colorful (if rather rough-and-tumble) days in student theater groups, re-reading old scripts, and boring The Boy to tears with tales of creative casting and production disasters.
I walked into my junior year of high school at a new school with no theater experience more sophisticated than embarrassing elementary school choir musicals. Granted, I played the starring role in the fifth grade production of “Holly and the Ivy League” (don’t ask – you’ll be glad you didn’t), but that wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to bring up as I walked into my first audition for our student-run drama club, in front of the wildly intimidating group of seniors running the show.
I was quite sure what, if anything, they saw in my audition (I’m pretty sure I was the only girl who attempted the accent called for), but they gave me a bit part – two, actually – in the big play that was staged on parents weekend. There I was, wobbling around the stage, playing a drunk actress and a Russian duchess in ridiculous costumes and sporting an accent that went from barely passable to just plain awful as rehearsals progressed. On opening night, my parents managed to score seats in the front row – only a few feet away from the spot where I stumbled out onto the stage in glorified lingerie and did a little drunken song and dance thing at the end of the first act.
That show was a smashing success, as was the next semester’s play. I got to play three bit parts in that one. Then I was selected to be one of the club officers my senior year, which meant I’d have the opportunity to direct. Bit-parter to director in less than a year. Hooray for tiny amateur theater.
I took the job very seriously. Really, too seriously at first. One of my best friends and I decided we wanted to do a musical, but couldn’t make that happen in the first semester, so we grabbed a random script from our library and did a nice, simple play as a sort of directorial dry-run.
It was, to put it mildly, a learning experience.
Finally, finally, I can safely post the sketches I collected at Webcomics Rampage. It only took three tries!
Seriously though, this was a banner year. Let me back up a little bit to explain.
(Warning: Thar be fan-girling ahead!)
In the beginning…
Three years ago, Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy here in Austin decided to put together their own mini-con just for web comics. They invited a bunch of artists to talk at panels, sell merch, sign pretty nearly anything that’s handed to them, and generally be the wacky, wonderful people that they are.
That year, three of the invited guests were creators of comics I was reading regularly – Scott Kurtz of PvP, Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue, and –gasp! faint!– Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content – as well as Randy Milholland of the infamous Something Positive, which Dear Roommie has been reading since before webcomics were cool.
These were the comics with which I papered my dorm room door. These were the guys that helped me procrastinate for hours that should have been spent doing schoolwork (sorry, Mom). These were the guys that put ideas in my head about one day doing my own comic.
I was particularly stoked to see Jeph. Someone turned me on to QC midway through college, and I’ve been reading it religiously ever since. It’s not just that the comic strikes just the right balance between ridiculous and relatable, but he’s really open about his process and inspiration, and has fearlessly let the internet at large watch as his art and character design evolved into really good, dynamic art from the glorified stick figures of his first strips. He has become a rock star in the webcomics community, and yet that first year, he still seemed to be surprised by the ridiculously long line at his signing table at the end of the panel. “What? People read my comic? How’d that happen?”
I had the bright idea of getting the artists to sign the few empty pages left in my trusty sketchbook.
Sadly, I ran out of pages before I ran out of sketches, so I had to ask Randy to… err… piggyback on someone else’s sketch page.
Now, I try to keep this blog in the realm of PG-13. While all involved found the resulting sketch pretty wildly entertaining and predictably juvenile, it is sadly not exactly blog-friendly – hence, the censor bars (…sorry, Mom).
Rampage II: The Rampaging
The next year, Dear Roommie tagged along to see her old buddy Randy (there was something about forums and a party… it’s generally best not to ask how she meets people). When we both pulled out our respective knit/crochet projects, he actually suggested I should make my comic about crafting, and my day was made.
I came prepared with pre-drawn sketch-starters featuring some of my own characters, and the artists all graciously played along. I even branched out and got sketches from two artists I wasn’t following yet; Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots, and David Willis of Shortpacked, et al.
Once again, the sketches were not exactly fit to print. In fairness, I completely brought it upon myself that time, but it was a whole lot of fun (sorry, Mom).
In fact, it was so much fun that I came home and immediately started following the whole lot of them on Twitter, then started shotgunning entire comics archives. I made it through Girls With Slingshots in three days. Then I started in on Something Positive and Willis’ insanely large body of work and… well, I’m not quite finished yet.
Now back to this year’s Rampage!
I came super-duper prepared. First, I decided it would be fun to let everybody deface the same sketch page together, so I bought a nice big drawing pad, added a few of my own doodles, then let them all at it.
All the fun character sketches are from Randy, Danielle, Jeph, Joel, and David. I had specific requests for Danielle and Randy, and as I expected, everyone else just piled on, playing off of the previous sketches.
That stunning nude holding a cute smiling thing up in the top right? That was the creation of Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship. PBF is one of The Boy’s favorite comics. It is terrifically clever and twisted and punny, and the art runs the gambit from minimalist cartoons to elaborate, whimsical watercolors.
Getting to meet him was really a treat. I’m not sure what I expected, but he’s just this super-chill geeky guy with longish hair and suspenders. I didn’t get over to ask for a sketch until right before the final panel, when everyone else was sitting at their tables, fighting off the post-dinner coma. But he was very enthusiastic, and just nonchalantly started drawing something free-hand with an insane brush pen. He was most of the way through sketching when he paused, looked up, and asked, “Is it ok that I’m drawing a naked woman? I don’t really know why I did that…” I managed to pick my jaw up off the table long enough to tell him that yes, it was absolutely fine – better than fine, even – damned impressive. Then he went back to shading while he and The Boy chatted about… honestly I can’t even remember what. There was some discussion of carrots and donkeys. Then Boy bought the print of the one with the awful, awful visual pun.
The panel was fun, the sketch-collecting was fun, merch-buying was fun, but the very best part was the success of the hats.
I started a Choo-Choo Bear hat for Dear Roommie’s birthday back in March. I finished it… last week. Since she was sadly unable to get out to Austin this weekend, I took the hat with me to get Randy’s blessing:
I am pleased to report that his beard did not eat the hat, and Rommie will be receiving it soon.
Remember the Magical Pink Unicorn Hat?
I made another one.
I gave it to Danielle.
She loved it. I got a hug and everything!
Then there was a question about gifts from fans, and she whipped out the hat again and said, “Have you SEEN this HAT?” and gave me a quick shout-out, and then I pretty much suffered a geek-gasm right on the spot.
I suspect I will be riding this comics-and-hats high for the rest of the week. I feel invigorated! I’m itching to get started on some more crafting projects, and I have ideas for the comic that I can’t wait to make happen.
So. Um. That show that I lit over the summer? It won something.
Specifically, it won a Best of Austin Critic’s Pick.
The outside recognition is really gratifying, because it was such a wild ride from the inside that I have to wonder if it was really that good, or if the overwhelming sense of relief that we pulled it off at all has skewed my perception of the quality of the show.
The premise was kind of high-concept: The (improvised) show is supposed to be a rehearsal for a play (not a real one – the title is pulled from a hat full of audience suggestions), and the theater is in the round so the cast is all mixed in with the audience, and everyone contributes, and it’s supposed to be all about honesty and intimacy and… then eventually people get naked. Maybe. Probably. If/when events in the show call for it.
What could possibly go wrong?
Honestly, there were about a thousand things that could have gone terribly wrong with this show. The nudity alone had to walk a fine taste line. Then the theater was rearranged, the audience participation was amped up, the storytelling method was open-ended and obscure, and – oh, right – everything was still unscripted.
But ultimately it worked. It totally worked. The director’s vision was sincere, and the cast was brilliant enough to make it happen. They all worked really hard to build a foundation of trust that allowed them to take all the random crap that was thrown at them and sculpt a series of really earnest stories. The audience was supportive and engaged, and became so enthralled that every show sold out – the last one a full two weeks beforehand.
For a few weeks this summer, I was privileged to participate in something really uniquely successful, because everyone involved – audience and performers alike – completely bought in.
And someone else thought it was great.
Really, not bad for my first tech gig.
Today, this guy is my hero.
Not only is Lar de Souza a brilliantly talented artist and cartoonist, not only is he one of the brightest, kindest personalities in my Twitter feed, not only does he have one of the most epic beards on the planet and wicked cool vintage glasses, but this guy has traveled from Canada to Kennedy this week for a NASA tweetup and a chance to see the final flight of the shuttle.
Had you asked me in middle school what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you I’d like to be a cartoonist, but I’d definitely be working at NASA. You know how overachieving kids have the unreasonable dream and the more realistic yet lofty goal.
Funny how things work out.
Challenger blew up four days before I was born. I grew up in a southern Houston suburb, surrounded by NASA employees during the brave post-Challenger years when the American space program stared death in the face and then dared to keep moving on. A childhood of reading Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein put crazy ideas in my head, and then regular school and scout trips to the Johnson Space Center told me that no, those weren’t that crazy at all. I wanted the moon and the stars, and I had plans to get there. I was going to college to become an engineer, and I’d be helping to build the next shuttle (which, at the time, was already being planned – sort of) as part of NASA’s ginormous brain trust.
Then in 2003, two things happened to bring all of that to a screeching halt: Columbia and Calculus 2. On the morning of my seventeenth birthday, breakfast was interrupted by shocking news footage of the future of American manned space flight silently burning over north Texas. NASA all but shut down until further notice.
Columbia was the last straw. After a series of embarrassing mishaps brought about by an agency trying to run too fast on too little funding, people had died – again. The true end of the shuttle program was finally visible. The plans for the International Space Station were scaled back. The designs for the shuttle’s successor were scrapped. Higher-ups were canned. A lot of my neighbors lost their jobs.
I no longer saw a viable future for myself in the space program.
The same year, I barely passed Calculus 2, and chickened out on my plans to be an engineer. That kind of math was *hard* and really, why did I need that much pain and suffering? What was the point of engineering school now, without my bright shiny future at NASA?
Today the final shuttle mission has launched with absolutely no concrete plans for what is to follow. NASA has general ideas about how America will be launching humans into space in the back half of the decade, but today’s launch is the last until further notice.
In short, I’m feeling pretty jaded.
I share all this not to be a “Debbie Downer” on this auspicious occasion, but to make you understand how emotionally invested I am in this final flight, and to show just how much it means to me that Lar de Souza has been showering the internet with kid-in-a-candy-shop tweets from Cape Canaveral for the last two days.
Here I’ve been getting all weepy and philosophical about this final flight, and he’s been geeking out, unperturbed by threatening weather, thrilled to the point of incoherency just to be there, to see a launch.
He’s taking me back to hopeful, starry-eyed, fifteen-year-old me, and making this experience more sweet than bitter. And for that, I love him more than I can possibly say.
I generally intentionally avoid current events or anything remotely political on this blog, because that’s not its purpose, but news of the passing of the last American World War I vet this week just kind of inspired me. I’d like to share some of those thoughts.
First off, just take a moment to read through Frank Buckles’ story. This 16-year-old kid sees the world go to war, and wants so badly to be in the fight that he keeps going to military recruiters until he can convince someone that he’s old enough to enlist. After surviving WWI, he finds himself in a Japanese POW camp for three years during WWII, and then lives to be one hundred and ten years old. Not only did he outlive the second-to-last American WWI vet by three years, but right up until the end he fought for a national war memorial in Washington. This man is not only the very embodiment of patriotism, but he is history. Just imagine what he witnessed in those 110 years. His passing marks the profound end of an era.
This then reminded me of my mother talking about her own memories of similar stories about the last Civil War veterans. It’s a very strange thought, to think that someone could fight in a war that now seems so far away, but live to see automobiles and airplanes.
Then I remembered my father’s story about watching Apollo 8. He and my mom, a year before they were married, were visiting his grandmother for Christmas. There was a television broadcast as man first orbited the moon, but it was relatively late at night. My parents, being the bright young science graduate students they were, would of course stay up to watch. My grandmother opted to sleep instead. My great-grandmother announced that she remembered when the Wright brothers made their first flight, and of course she would be staying up to watch Apollo 8.
As I shared these thoughts with Dear Roommie, I couldn’t help but wonder…
What will we witness as old ladies?
Think of the difference between the Civil War and the 1950s. Think of how we took a glorified kite in 1903 to the moon in 1968.
The sheer magnitude of the progress that Frank Buckles experienced from 1901 to 2011 is enough to make me jealous. It also creates a very strong desire to see the same levels of innovation and development in my own lifetime, and a drive to make it happen.
Generally, I create just because I can’t sit still; I feel a need for forward motion on a very small, local level. But occasionally it hits me at a wider scale, and I want to share that forward motion with the rest of the planet. I want a medical advance to rival Penicillin. I want a Gen-Y Apollo moment. I want a flying car. I want progress that makes me say, “OOOH!”
What will we witness as old ladies, Karen?
I don’t know, but whatever it’s going to be, we’d better get cracking.
We interrupt this crafting blitz for a musical interlude.
I mentioned the oboe that had to make it through airport security. The reason it had to come with me at all was the potential trouble I would likely be in had I not. You see, I am named for each of my parents’ younger sisters. One is The Crafter, and the other is The Musician. Aunt Musician came to visit while I was up the mountain.
Aunt Musician was the child prodigy, picking out the tunes my mother and her older sister were learning in piano lessons before she was tall enough to actually see the keys on the piano. She is, needless to say, an accomplished pianist, and really likes making music with the various and sundry musicians in our family. I’m sure she would have understood if I didn’t want to cart the thing all the way up there, but I’ve been looking for a good
excuse opportunity to play, and we always have a good time together.
I was very silly and neglected to bring along any of my sheet music with accompaniments, so we made due with Mom’s collection of old church hymnals and a quick lesson in playing Beatles tunes by ear. The latter was moderately successful, as she was kind enough to transpose into playable keys and largely picked out the songs with easier melodies. (As a side note, “Because” is not nearly as easy to pick out on instruments as voice.)
We did not make it very far into the usual Christmas carols before she started trolling the hymnal index for interesting composers. I have to admit, I had somehow missed that a few of the hymns that had become staples in my church growing up were composed by Gustav “y’know… The Planets guy” Holst.
Then she got all excited finding the Ralph Vaughan Williams hymns. For the most part, they weren’t the most familiar songs. While I was impressed by their musicality, and had little trouble sight reading the music on the oboe, I couldn’t help but notice that some were rather difficult to sing. Then a nagging sense of familiarity finally floated to the surface, and I realized where I’d heard these before. The minister at my old home church is also a classically trained musician. I’d always assumed that he wasn’t intentionally picking out the hardest hymns for us to sing each week, but I figured they must be old standards from the churches he grew up in.
As I sat there listening to my family – many of them seasoned church choir members – stumbling over these melodies, I realized that our dear pastor must have used the very same method of choosing hymns that Aunt Musician was demonstrating. The old band nerd probably flipped back to the index and picked out his favorite composers, too.
Besides my moment of revelation, the evening was well spent. The eclectic music selection and familial revelry made for great entertainment, and I really can’t emphasize enough what a special treat it is to play with my aunt, since we live so far apart, but collaborate so easily.
I was even pleased to see that my poor unpracticed embouchure was able to hold up for more than thirty seconds, and my fingers could still find all the right keys. Now I just need to find more time to practice, and remember to take the bloody sheet music with me next time.
I will preface this by saying that I should have known better.
I generally avoid any film with “thriller” anywhere in the descriptors, as I have no need for gross-outs, cheap shocks, people making obviously bad decisions (don’t go into that dark room, you moron!), or shaky hand held cameras. I understand that many people thoroughly enjoy the genre. I’m just saying that I don’t.
But I got suckered into this one. It has a knockout cast, I heard good interviews with some of the filmmakers, and the reviewers have been going absolutely gaga over Natalie Portman’s performance. Moreover, Dear Roommie asked if I wanted join her and a friend for Mexican food and a movie, so how could I refuse?
It was, without question, the most messed up movie I have ever seen. I say this having watched Requiem For a Dream – twice. At least Requiem has drug abuse to excuse the mind-breaking terror. Black Swan is simply the product of the mind who thought a Swan Lake allegory featuring a paranoid schizophrenic ballerina would make for a really engaging film.
Now don’t get me wrong – the execution was excellent. Portman had me grinding my teeth in sympathetic anxiety within the first thirty seconds, the visual styling with all the nifty mirror tricks was stunning, and I absolutely believed every corner of the set, the horrifically awkward relationships between… well, everyone, and the cringe-inducing acts of self-mutilation. But it is highly abnormal that I find relief in the scene showing a character vomiting – because it’s only vomit this time.
I’m really not sure what I was expecting to see, but I got Center Stage meets American Psycho.
Fortunately, we returned home with enough time yet this evening for some palate cleansing. We’ll be spending the remainder of the evening singing along to the Muppets until the creepy goes away.
Let me start this by confessing that I love OK Go.
Then allow me to tempt you with the promise of an astounding video at the end of this post.
I once heard an interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber in which he talked about how the secret to the long-time success of Phantom of the Opera was how people would attend multiple performances, not to see the same thing happen perfectly every time, but to see the screw-ups. The nights that someone completely missed a line, or one of the many effects misfired were the most memorable. Mistakes make variety, and variety is, to borrow an old and overused cliche, the spice of life.
Yesterday the Boy treated me to a most excellent benefit concert in Dell Diamond (home of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A feeder team for the Texas Rangers, which you may have heard of recently). The lineup included the Gin Blossoms, Five for Fighting, Collective Soul, and Tonic, which is enough to excite any good alt-rock fan who came of age in the 90s. The first two were excellent, got the crowd properly wound up, and generally put on a high-quality show. Tonic closed the show with a melt-your-face-off rock show like I could not have imagined. But before that was the Collective Soul set.
When it was time for Collective Soul, the crowd shuffled forward toward the stage in the outfield, the techies shuffled equipment, and we waited.
After about half an hour, only two musicians appeared. Lead singer Ed Roland and lead guitarist Joel Kosche tumbled onto the stage, slightly disheveled and sporting guitars borrowed from one of the opening bands. As best I could figure, there had been a scheduling snafu and they just barely made it, fresh off a plane.
For about two seconds there seemed to be some confusion in the crowd. “We love you Joel! We love you too, Ed! …where’s the rest of the band?”
Then they started playing, and we all remembered that even at half-force, these guys are amazing musicians.
The real coup came as Ed proved that he is also a hell of an entertainer.
Early in the set, he turned to the audience and asked, very earnestly, “Now this is serious guys. Does anyone here play the guitar?”
Random dude wearing a Ghostbusters shirt in the front row was the first to raise his hand, and was promptly dragged on stage and handed Ed’s guitar. He introduced himself – Brandon. Joel made sure he knew how to play December while Ed literally let his hair down. They played the most epic acoustic rendition of the song the world has ever witnessed. Brandon was having a complete runaway with himself. Ed was having a complete runaway with himself. Joel was… well Joel doesn’t get all that excited usually, but he played the hell out of every note and rolled with every wacky turn Ed threw at him from that point to the end of the set.
The audience went nuts. We cheered wildly for Brandon when he finished playing. We threw out requests when Ed couldn’t remember how to play one of the planned songs. We sang along to every song – even the impromptu (acoustic) Metallica cover.
Ed messed with Joel. Ed messed with the audience. Ed messed up his hair. A lot.
But when the set was finished – this set that should have been a total disaster with just two dudes and two guitars – we all knew we had witnessed something great, and we loved it. We were entertained.
This is the duty and the art of the performer. Engage the audience, no matter what. It’s not about playing every note perfectly. It’s about playing every note to the audience with complete abandon. It’s acceptable to miss a line if you do it gracefully. It’s more than alright to play only half a concert if the audience has a really fucking good time.