It seems that everyone wants something from you these days. There’s always a catch. There’s always a gotcha. Always?
Believe it or not, there are people out there who actually care about the independents. One of them is Smashwords – easy and friendly publishing for independent authors. But what about musicians?
Where can you get your song played so people will actually hear it? Where can you rub shoulders with other people, just like you, from all across the world?
Radio Rock 92.6 The Blitz, that’s where – find it at 926theblitz.rocks, or get it on the Spreaker App. That’s Spreaker with an R.
Hosted by Tom Slick (a fellow author, by the way) and bunch of groovy cats like Frankie Mae, Arabella Fox and Simone De Haas (a fellow Aussie), you get a mix of rock, soul, pop and country to both soothe and groove.
Why am I going about the Blitz? Because independent artists need to bind together, support each other, work together to face up against the struggle of being a squeaky voice quashed underneath the noise of corporate marketing.
The Blitz is one of those places you can go to listen to good music, stuff you haven’t heard before, stuff you’ll be tapping your toe to and thinking, “Damn, why hasn’t anyone else heard this?”
The Blitz is where you can go to showcase your own tunes. Want to be heard worldwide? You bet. There are artists from the UK, from Ireland, Russia, Canada, Australia, Israel, the US, Germany… and it’s where I first heard Circe Link, Nina Storey, Blane Howard, Rick Mercer, Swami Lushbeard, Dreamkiller, Amanda Jones, the Bonazzoli Band, the Sixth Generation, A & L Music, Revulsa – Ah! The list keeps going!
The Blitz is the internet radio station I’ve got pumping through my headphones while I’m slogging away at code. The guys behind it are passionate. They give a damn. That’s why I’m doing my best to support it:
You should, too. Donating via Patreon is the way to go, even if it’s only a dollar a month. Or grab yourself Official Blitzer merchandise. Or, you know what? Just listen in and jump on the forum, shout out The Blitz wherever you can – after all, it’s for the indies.
Or, perhaps you can get in contact and ask Tommo to play your tunes?
Side note: the Blitz is on an official break for the moment, but they’ll be back on air in a few weeks. Never mind, you can still listen to latest shows and hit the archives on the Spreaker app, or cruise the website.
Remember when radio was fun? When it wasn’t about playing the same-o lame-o crud hour after hour and the presenters all for the music? It still is! You just have to know where to look.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of 92.6 The Blitz, not least because they have the chutzpah to play real world-wide indie music in favour of cookie cutter crapola. They also go out on a limb to try new things.
And when in say new, I mean old in this case: Baby I’m Yours is a trip back to the time of Radio Theatre. That’s right! The cast are all proper actors, from the stage and radio, and have given their talents to reviving that imaginative art form. The play has made its way from stage to your speakers and all you’ve got to do is kick back and enjoy the zany gags.
As I always say, though, if you enjoyed it then help out. Let others know, join in the fun, become a Blitzer (official term, mind). Check out the Indiegogo site and throw a few bucks in their direction if you can, otherwise you can catch them on the Spreaker App on your phone. In fact, I installed that just the other day and it works a treat while bottling beer in the outdoor kitchen.
Enough reading, go ahead and listen to the official trailer, spread the word and get behind the guys that get behind the artists.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating myself until my lungs don’t work any more: indie artists are nut-bags. Day after day they’ll smash their fingers against the keyboards, drag their paint brush over the canvas, feverishly making order out of chaos without any promise of a return on their investment.
And what has been invested? Time, yes, that most precious of resources, that goes without saying. And money, too – materials, supplies, websites, promotions, hardcopies. And sanity, now there’s a big one. What else? What else?
Ah, health – The quiet victim. While time and money are quantifiable. One can budget. One can prioritise. Lack of either is evident. One’s health is less tangible. It’s not like one can purchase a big bag of health on eBay, is it? Is it?
I just went and checked. No, there are no super vitality packs on there.
Ah, if only life were like video games where there are power packs that boost your vitality and repair your damaged limbs in an instant. Where you can go running and leaping and bounding endlessly. That ain’t reality.
The hours worked in a day job get the best part of the brain’s awake time. Creative juices are consumed, necessarily, to get stuff done. Come home and there’s still more work waiting for you. What time is left over needs to be divided up.
The division is fairly straightforward: One can either recuperate, or one can get creative. Recuperation, by which I mean sleeping, or watching TV, or playing a game, or reading a book, or listening to music, is very, very necessary to overall health in the same way that exercising requires recovery.
The problem is that recuperation lets the brain have a bit of a chill, whereas creativity requires the brain to be on the ball. Here we can the contention: The artist wants to get stuff done but they are exhausted. The deadline is rolling around and the galley has to be proofed, no ifs, no buts – sleep has to be discarded in favour of getting stuff done.
Creativity becomes a chore, the artist becomes resentful and, here’s the really nasty bit, any chance of sleep, recreation or recuperation is tainted with a big, double helping of guilt.
“I really should be getting onto that last chapter instead of watching Nadal win the tennis” or “No, I can’t play with you Joey, I’ve got to proof at least sixteen pages tonight”. Can’t sit still at the pub. Can’t watch a movie. Can’t just chill.
Not only that, lack of rest has a terrible effect on the body. From a personal standpoint, I get noticeable more colds and stomach bugs when I’m overworked. Concentration goes out the window. I get utterly irritable, have no patience and find I make more and more mistakes both at work, on the road, and at home.
Food and Exercise
When you’re in a hurry you make sacrifices in order to complete the prioritised task. If this means ordering in a pizza instead of cutting up some veggies and cooking up a decent bolognese, so be it. After all, that front cover won’t design itself! The justifications are plentiful. It’s not a matter of being lazy, and often it’s a factor of the aforementioned exhaustion, “I’m just too damn tired to cook!”
And there’s lunch, too. Spend five minutes making it, or hit the ‘bugger it’ button and buy it when you get to work? Or perhaps grab a can of baked beans and hope its’s enough to keep you going without snacking on junk? By the way, that main picture is a shot of an ESP – Elvis Snack Pack. Peanut Butter, chips, banana, bacon, beef, cheese, sauces every which way. Healthy? Not in the least.
What about breakfast? Breakfast, you know, that most important meal of the day? Pew! Off it goes: I’d rather get twenty minutes more shut-eye and go hungry.
Exercise is the opposite side of the coin. Food (not all of it good) went in, what’s come out? Since the artist is so exhausted, getting into the gym or going for a run is akin to asking a rock for a glass of water – there ain’t nothing left in the tank.
Here the problem is a little more subtle. The mind is exhausted but the body is not. The mind just wants to be turned off for a minute or sixty, please. Stop bugging me. No, I don’t care if you are jittery, legs, I know I’ve been snacking on Jaffas all afternoon but, really, can you just leave me the hell alone?
The body is out of balance with the mind. The mind is in contention with itself. The soul has given up on the whole mess and is quivering in the corner. And that silly artist stands there, puffy eyed, overweight and unhappy, and keeps doing it, day after day after day.
Is there a solution? Yes, but it’s not pretty and it’s not easy. It comes down to three words: Responsibility, Discipline and Acceptance.
Stop with the groaning and listen. Only you, the artist, can fix the situation. It’s a product of your own desires, no one else, and therefore you are responsible. Are you responsible for your works? Yes. Do you believe that you have created them with the gifts that God gave you? Yes. Do you prioritise getting your stuff done above everything else? Yes.
Then, at the very least, understand that the problem (and it is a very real problem) comes from the decisions that you make.
Once you recognise the issue, that your own desires are causing you grief, you can work on a plan and sticking to it. Discipline is your best weapon.
Allocate three days a week to exercise.
Make a point of being with your family when you come home.
Have a food-token jar: Put, say, four tokens in the jar for the week. Each time you buy food rather than making it, take a token from the jar. Whenever you cook, replace that token. When you have no tokens left, you must make your own meal.
Put a TV in the garage so your brain can tune out while your body gets a chance to move.
These are just ideas. The point is to figure out where you’re going wrong and provide a way to encourage yourself, when you’re at your most vulnerable point of “couldn’t give a toss”, to stick to your plan.
Finally there’s the Acceptance. Accept that you simply cannot spend every hour working on your masterpiece. Nod quietly and think, “Yup, I’ve really got to put an effort into my body. This can wait another day.”
No more downing cups of coffee. No more burning that candle at both ends. No more neglecting yourself. You suffer, your work suffers, your family suffers.
Come on Jez, you nut-bag, put this keyboard down, stop writing this post and have a bloody rest already. Nadal is playing tonight.
It must be great to be a chef, cooking up fresh ingredients, using all the skill and knowledge garnered over the years to produce a plate that, after a few minutes, is devoured by a hungry patron. What an amazing feedback loop! One would only need to look out over the pass and see the mass of satisfied faces to see that if was all worth it.
Feedback is the lifeblood of the artist. They can live on beans and franks for weeks to save for their supplies, or work long into the wee hours of the morning after a bloody hard day, if only they know that, at the end of it all, someone, somewhere appreciated what they did.
After all, who does the artist work for? For whom do they paint? For whom do they write? For whom do they compose? You, silly! That’s who!
We don’t get to see you enjoying our work, unless we’re there behind you, looking over your shoulder, grinning creepily… No. No. We don’t do that. And if we did, surely you would not have the inclination to be as up-front and honest as you (and we) would like you to be.
Why honest? Why not just give 5 stars to the struggling artist and move on? Because it doesn’t help the artist to grow. It gives a false impression that the tripe they dished up was decent. It gives no indication of your true feelings so the next thing you’ll get will be more of the same.
On the flip side, if you drop a 1 star bomb and run off giggling, the artist is left wondering whether they have under-performed, if they even have talent, if they should bother pursuing their dreams.
No feedback is better than dishonest feedback. Honest feedback is best for everyone concerned.
I know that there will be people who argue against this, citing that the more feedback a work gets, good or bad, the better it is for marketing. Well, I’m not talking about marketing or sales or exposure, I’m talking about the artist, their work and their future.
Avoid 5 and 1 stars unless you’re willing to explain your reasoning. If you give something 5 stars, then you’d be in the mood to gush on about it, telling the world just why it’s so great. For one star (and I’ve never actually given a one star) you would have to be intellectually insulted by just how bad the artwork is, and would be more than happy to explain just why it was tosh.
Like it, Hate it, Indifferent about it?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to appreciate it. In fact, many times, you will not have an opinion. Art is a personal thing, both for the artist and for the audience, but not the audience as a whole, oh no, each audience member as an individual.
I’m going to take a punt and say that you, reading this, at not a Reviewer. Do you get paid for your review? Do you need to write for the masses? Do you need to use your years of expert knowledge in the industry to spot the difference between a deus ex machina and a plot voucher? Do people criticise your criticisms?
I didn’t think so.
And this is where I think a crucial rule of feedback is founded: Since feedback is an opinion and an opinion is personal, then it is a reflection on you, the audience member, not the artist.
It’s about what you like and don’t like, how you see the world. It’s about your response to the work in question.
Here, let me explain:
“Adam Sandler is not funny” is stated as a fact. Since funniness is subjective, it cannot be a fact. He is funny to some people hence this statement is false and not useful.
“Adam Sandler does not make me laugh” can be a fact. Moreso, it’s not saying that Adam Sandler cannot make anyone laugh, only that he does not make the reviewer laugh. Note that it does not explain why he does not make the reviewer laugh.
“I don’t appreciate Adam Sandler’s puerile antics, bum, fart and gonad jokes” is getting down to the pointy end. See how it’s not a matter of Adam Sandler being funny or not, it’s whether the reviewer finds him funny.
If you are a fan of puerile humour, then you would be very happy to ignore this review and overlook the negativity. Or perhaps you might find “I love fart jokes, but Adam Sandler takes it too far in his latest…” to be useful.
Not everything is negative, of course. Compare the following:
“Adam Sandler rocks!” is impersonal and a waste of feedback.
“Adam Sandler’s slapstick style gets me every time” is personal, but not altogether helpful.
“Adam Sandler reaches deep into his bag of gags and pulls out some fresh side-splitting slapstick shiners. Oh, and watch out for the three minute farting compilation!” is personal, factual and helpful.
In general: Write feedback from a personal point of view.
He slipped a note halfway through the song. Did your head stop bopping?
She used the word ‘belittle’ too many times on a page. Did you stop flipping pages?
Sometimes we can get hung up on correctness. The artist needs to know about these mistakes and hiccoughs because they do distract and detract from the enjoyment of the work. They can pop you out of the little world that the artist has drawn you into.
The reviewer has a responsibility to get over these things and move on. It’s a fine line. Too many mistakes, too much sloppiness and viewer simply can’t get back into that little bubble and continue to enjoy the work. Fair enough, criticise away, but keep it factual:
“I like the intricate, multi-faceted plot, but Ronson might do well to get an editor to help out with proof-reading.”
Feelings help. If you can describe how it made you feel, and why, all the better. We’re human beings. We look to art to give us sensations, emotions, thought provoking situations.
“This painting makes me uncomfortable, fearful even. Even so, I can’t stop looking at the pained expression of Man in White.”
As a guideline: State what you enjoyed, as well as what you did not and why.
A big note about Enjoyment: One does not need to be made happy to enjoy an artwork. I read the book “Slave” and it made me thoroughly angry, blood running cold. Was it a bad book because of this? Not in the slightest!
Horror books do the same. We don’t read them to be comforted, we read them to be confronted. Think about murder / mysteries. We don’t read them because we enjoy killing, we read them because it speaks to our intellectual mind. One does not listen to the blues for giggles, nor pop for meditation. We’re human, we are bursting with emotions and we’re more than happy for a piece of creativity to release them.
In short: If an artwork evokes a response in you, then it has to be doing something right.
We’re human, after all
Artists are a crazy, mixed up bunch, at the same time arrogant and humble, coming from all walks of life. Some are seasoned. Some have thick skin. Some profess that they couldn’t give two hoots what the world thinks. Phooey!
You know what? Each and every one dreams of being able to look out over the restaurant pass and see a hoard of hungry people happily eating their work. Each one would love to be able to fling their tea-towel over their shoulder and sit down with you while you munch away and ask what you think, good or bad.
If you’ve read a book, listened to a song, seen a video or perused a painting, then you’ve had an other worldly experience where the artist has reached out across space and time, broken geographic and temporal boundaries to share with you their mind.
The least you can do is pass on your compliments to the chef.
It is perfectly natural for a human to pre-judge a situation. Good intentions aside, we do, indeed, judge a book by its cover. We do read the blurb and think, “What? No earth-destroying ninja robots? No deal!” We look at what’s trending and ignore what’s not.
It is an essential skill: With too much choice, too much information overloading us, how can we possibly sift through the flotsam? Search Engines and forums will bubble up the ‘most popular’. Marketers and publicists will thrust their clients to the top of the list. Money talks.
We need to quickly filter out the bad if we are to pick the good. Like choosing fruit, would you prefer a lovely, shining apple from the supermarket or a dull, hail-damaged one straight from the tree?
Enter the Indie
I’ll be blunt. Indies don’t have a lot of resources: Time, money, friends, advertising, celebrity, influence, you name it, it’s in short supply.
Want to know something interesting? Indies do have other qualities, special qualities, and they have it in bucketloads: Passion. Patience. Pride. Desire. Drive. Determination.
And, despite prejudices to the contrary, Talent.
That’s not to say that every independent work is a masterpiece. Nor does it imply that there isn’t a yard full of tosh to wade through. What it does mean is that just because it hasn’t gone through the sanitation process, been stripped of anything too extreme or risque or provoking, been puffed up with whatever’s trending, been watered down to suit the most popular palate, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a crack.
That’s right. Pick up that windfall apple and look at it closely. Wrapped inside that dull, hail damaged, ill-shaped fruit is some of the tastiest flesh you’ll ever eat. It wants to be eaten. If there are bruises or knocks, cut around it and eat the rest!
Therein lies the issue: The artist lives to create, not to sell. Their focus is not on the perception of the work, rather on the work itself.
This is where we see the drive and determination coming into play. If Indies were all about turning a buck or becoming raging successes, we’d drop this gig and be out the door before the keyboard hit the ground. Yet here we are, plodding on, pushing through.
No press releases, no appearances on talk-shows, no endorsements by big name celebrities, no team of marketing experts. Yet the independent artists march on, confident that somewhere in the big, wide world are people who will discover and appreciate their efforts.
Indies persist despite the lack of recognition.
The problem with Perception is that it is largely out of the hands of the artist. It doesn’t matter how great the product is if the audience never gets a chance to sample it. The audience won’t wish to sample it if it does not look appealing.
Sure, there are reviews, publications, marketing and advertising, tools to grab someone’s attention, break through the barrier and say, “Hey, you might like this.” Of course, the bigger the budget, the better the campaign, and the small, pathetic plea of the indie is drowned out by the cacophony of the big boys.
It’s all part of the struggle.
Through resistance a muscle grows. So, too, through adversity the artist will thrive, savouring the small wins, learning from the defeats. Unpleasant as it is, it makes us stronger and, in many ways, both tangible and intangible, makes the artwork that much better.
It has to, simply because the artist cannot compete with the slick artworks and celebrity endorsements, and so must work on either quality or quantity. Give that time is such a scarce commodity, you can bet your bottom dollar that a your fellow artist is feverishly fine tuning their skills to give you the best work they can.
How can you help? Feedback. Feedback lets the artist know you’ve seen, or felt, or listened to their work. This, by itself, is one of the greatest motivators. Whether your criticism is good, or bad, or constructive, or jovial, or even if you have no criticism – and let’s face it, sometimes there’s just nothing to say – letting them know that their work made its way in front of you is enough to keep the creative passion burning.
You can also help by changing your perception and the perception of those around you. Independent artists will always have the stigma of being ‘unprofessional’ or ‘lesser-quality’ or, heaven forbid, ‘less-enjoyable’ than mainstream. The extent of this stigma, though, is up to you, the audience.
Be brave. Be adventurous. Move off the beaten track and try something different. Then you can tell others about that squishy, juicy, strange-yet-oddly-satisfying fruit you just found lying under a tree.
With the backdrops pretty much ready to go, with the exception of the fireplace, which needs some serious shadows, I’ve been looking at the animation side of things.
Nothing gets stuff done like getting stuff started, eh?
Opening up Synfig, I set the dimensions to 1280 x 720, which gives a 16 : 9 ratio, ready to go.
Now, the scenes are to be slow and progressive so, unlike Adaptation which was more a collection of conceptual shots, I’ll be looking for a lengthy time span of about ten seconds. At a frame rate of 30 fps, that’s, uh, wait, let me get my calculator out… carry the 1… 300 frames.
Hit the OK button and get ready to rumble.
I start by adding a flat colour for the background. Black is good, considering the number of shadows. Why do I need a background if I’ve got a backdrop? If any part of the backdrop image happens to be transparent, or if I use a layer over the top which modifies the alpha of the backdrop, I don’t want to make sure it doesn’t use white or something to compensate.
Anyway, with that in place, I add the backdrop of the door frame (taken from the actual cover. Yes, it’s grainy. Yes, it’s dark. That’s ok. The scene is at night, and it’s going to be a bit further away than our Professor, anyway. The door, however, is sharp. This is where the Professor will be spending some time opening up the lock.
So I insert the door and, presto, I’ve got a front porch!
Now I want to be able to move things about. I want the Professor to walk from the right, over to the door while chatting to the protagonist, unlock the door and open it. And for extra focus and ‘night time’ness, I want there to be some evidence of a lantern.
I’ve broken up the Professor into two main parts: his arm, which will move about to give an impression that he’s not just a cardboard cutout, and his torso. Both the arm and torso will belong to a group so that, as the Professor ‘walks’, the arms and torso bob at the same rate.
I’ve added the ‘lantern’ to the Professor group, so that it, too, moves along with the body. It’s really just a shroud, a radial gradient of zero-alpha to full, with a heavy offset, such that everything outside of the lantern’s influence is dark.
You’ll note, on the time line there, the bunch of green dots. This is the motion of the Professor, stepping and bobbing along. The green is Synfig’s TCB waypoint inference. It gives a looser waypoint than clamped or ease. If I set them all to linear or clamped, the Professor would be marching like a soldier. As it is, his gait is more natural.
All that’s left to do now it animate the door opening, add in a warm ‘lantern’ glow to the radial gradient and shade the door more as it opens to give an impression of darkness and depth.
There are three key sounds in this scene:
The Professor nattering to the Protagonist about it being dry on the porch.
The key turning and the door opening.
The ambient rain, a crucial element of the story.
Getting the key and lock sound was fairly simple. I went out the back to the gate and practiced with the slide bolt. A few trial runs and I recorded it on my phone, picked the best sounding one and cleaned it up in Audacity. More on the cleaning-up bit later.
The voice was more difficult. Where, oh, where does one find a Victorian Professor in the middle of outer Melbourne suburbia? I tried a few online services, but I couldn’t get the voice actor I was after. The ‘British’ was either too uppety, too young, too old or, in most cases, too damned expensive. I’m working on a shoe-string, here.
Fiverr looked promising. There are a lot of voice over artists who are willing to lend their talents. Checking through the various videos and samples, though, it seems it’s mostly geared toward reading scripts for advertisements. Not what I’m after.
In the end, I put on my best ‘old-but-not-too-old’ British accent, practiced again and again and again. And again. Then recorded myself. Yeah. That’s what I did. I hope it sounds right. You know when you hear your voice on tape and you think, “Heck, is that me?”
Lastly, the rain. I haven’t got that sound clip yet. I’m expecting it to rain here in Fawkner tomorrow, and I’ve got a nice corrugated iron cantilever out the side that should sound awesome.
Anyway, back to Synfig: I tried adding these sounds as ‘sound layers’. That is, one adds a layer of type ‘sound’, points the sound file to the .wav or .mp3 and then set the offset.
This seemed the perfect way to add sound to the clip apart from two things.
Firstly, it didn’t always play. Every so often, when re-running the clip, I’d have to select the layer to give it a poke, and the sound would then play. OK, no biggy. So long as it exports…
It didn’t export. No matter what format I exported it as, the sound didn’t come through in the final file. I vaguely remember having this issue with The Bullet. My solution there was to add the sound when assembling the final video. I guess I’ll have to do the same thing here.
The whiteboard got a thorough workout. Having suffered an attack of ‘Oh, crap, I need to get EVERYTHING done‘, I cooled my jets and took some of my own advice. I laid out everything that I wanted to get done, shortlisted the urgent and important points and then prioritised my list. Whiteboards are good for that.
What did you figure out, Jez?
When I put it all out there and assessed each screaming item individually, I realised some important points:
It’s better to knock off items that have a definite ‘end’ to them.
I’ve been wasting too much time playing Fallout 4.
Point one is shared by every creative mind out there, I’m sure. Better too much than too little, for certain, even though sometimes it would be nice to relax and not have to think, “Oh, I shouldn’t be playing Fallout 4 right now. I could be doing…”
Point two is one of those obvious-yet-profound understandings: I cannot change number one, but I can change my attitude toward it. That is, if I acknowledge, rather than lament, that I cannot get everything done, then rather than being distracted, I can crack on with getting through the list.
Actually, it raises an interesting question: If I know that I cannot achieve everything, then is there really a point to doing anything? My gut says “yes, of course!”, but I’m a little too preoccupied to go through it in an analytical sense.
Anyway, after realising point number two, number three is a consequence. I cannot divide my time equally among all tasks, otherwise no tasks will be completed, but that doesn’t mean I need to work exclusively on a single task. That leads to burning out and creative cramps (come on, we’ve all had those, right?) which means sub-optimal throughput.
So while I wouldn’t want to write three stories concurrently (tried it, wasn’t a pretty outcome), I can, say, write and animate concurrently.
Did you say ‘animate’?
Yes, I did. And that brings me to point number four. While marketing, promoting and general administration is a never ending chore, an animation has a start, a middle and an end. When it’s done, it’s done.
There’s a sense of satisfaction – and disappointment to an extent – when it is completed, a real milestone moment. You actually feel like you’ve done something, like you’ve gone somewhere. Sometimes, when I’m mired in admin duties, it’s easy to feel like I’m filling a bath with a sieve. While it’s essential stuff, I don’t feel like I managed to score a ‘win’.
And right now, I need a win.
So that’s where I’ve decided to focus my efforts for the next bit: while plodding through Adaptation Part 6, I’m going to be giving some love to Paranormology in the form of an animation for Grosvenor Lane Ghost.
I had a squizz at Thomas Amo’s Teaser for his book “Midnight Never Ends” on You Tube and I’m digging the still motions, the voice-over, the music.
Oh, and point number five? Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing Fallout, it’s downtime and usually it’s only half an hour to an hour at the end of the night, but still. Downtime is good to recharge but not for getting anything done.
It eats into productive time, which, in turn, increases stress that I’m not getting stuff done, and that leads me all the way back to point number one.
Food for thought.
Now that’s all sorted, I’ll be making a plan for the animation, making pictures, music, putting it together and I’ll let you know all about it.
When it comes to defining success, context is king.
Status? Money? Power? Sure. If that’s the goal.
Sometimes it’s an all-or-nothing affair. Other times it comes in degrees.
Cider. As in, fermented apples. You see, last year I received a couple of boxes of mixed apples, fresh from their trees, ready to be stewed or eaten or turned into cider.
Now, I’m big on brewing my own beer – I might post a bit about that next run – and I’ve made an Irish cider from apple concentrate and malt, and I also have a copy of ‘The Practical Distiller‘ by Samuel McHarry, in which he describes how to get the best yield from those squooshy, overripe apples.
Armed with a knife, some muslin cloth, some big pots and a bit of spare time (ha!), I sorted, washed, sliced up and cooked those apples to a stew, then passed them and smooshed them and made a right mess of the kitchen.
Cutting up an apple ain’t so bad. Cutting up a couple of boxes worth makes your fingers curl up into little balls of angry cartilage. The juice gets into the nicks you make on your hand, stinging and biting.
I carried on, batch after batch, cutting and cooking and stewing and pressing and swearing all weekend, and, at the end of it, managed to scrape out about half a barrel of what might pass as juice.
Anyone who has tried to strain cooked apple pulp through muslin will know the error I made. The holes in the cloth are good at filtering fine stuff, but get blocked up after a second if you try and pass anything fibrous. Pressing it with a spoon only gets you so far, and squeezing the cloth ends up getting more apple bits into the brew than you intend.
Pith and pulp went everywhere. The kitchen is still a royal mess. Cupboards are stained. The floor is sticky. It’s an outside kitchen, not the inside one, but it’s still shameful to look upon.
Unsure whether I had enough to even make the effort worthwhile, I threw in several liters of apple juice. Yeah, it’s cheating. I didn’t care by that stage. I just wanted it all to be over. After that, I pitched some yeast I had on reserve, added the air-lock, swore a bit more and went inside to rest. Never again!
If the yeast didn’t take, I ran the risk of getting an infection in the brew, so I monitored it over the next few hours. It wasn’t bubbling much, being winter, so I gave it a helping hand with the warming pad. This got the bubbles going and it seemed that maybe, maybe I might have something worthwhile.
The next week, I poked my nose into the kitchen to perform the obligatory testing with the hydrometer. The fermenter had clogged up with all the precipitated pith, a thick gunk that had settled at the bottom. Great. I had to rack the liquid into the second fermenter (cleaned and sterilized), but the liquid was too viscous and the racking cane only got a little bit out.
Instead, I opened up the tap at the bottom, passing it through more muslin, losing more liquid in the meantime, making more of a mess. Eventually, the liquid was decanted, although somewhat aerated (oh, no) and the fermentation continued. I don’t think I ended up getting the reading from the hydrometer. Never again!
ANYWAY, after the next week the bubbles were all done, the liquid had settled some and I was at the point of ‘blow it, just bottle it’. So I did. Sugar, funnel, sterilized bottles, fresh caps, the whole works. More mess, more swearing as the little filling tube got clogged with pith, more throwing my hands up crying that it was a waste of time. It’ll probably turn to vinegar anyway.
Is there a point?
Didn’t I just say that context is king? Keep up! The whole point is that, I could have gone down to the store and bought apple cider, knowing that, when I got it home, it would taste as good as it should, there would be no mess to clean up, and I would have fingers that resembled chameleon tails.
Instead, I put my energy into creating something that didn’t exist before, something that ‘anyone can make’, but only one person did. Something that was potentially enjoyable, but could just as easily have turned out to be an utter failure – there was an element of risk involved.
Is that what success is? Reward from Risk? Perhaps that’s part of it. One doesn’t celebrate when one receives a paycheck every fortnight, the money that keeps food on the table, yet a small win on a bet gets legendary status.
And that brings me to the point of all of this. When you’re busting your hump trying to get your story written, and you’re banging your head up against a brick wall for ideas, and your fingers are gnarled from typing, and you can’t find anyone to help proof or edit or criticise, and you’re this close to packing the whole thing in, remember that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying.
Sure, the results won’t come straight away, and you’ll have to refine and rework all those bits you laboured over, and you’ll have to cop criticism on the chin when it finally arrives, and you’ll have to go back an apologise to those poor people who read your first draft, but, in the end, after the dust has settled, you can hold your head up proudly and say, “It ain’t perfect, it hurt like blazes, I never want to do it again but I did it.”
And that, to me, is success.
A win is a win, even if it’s not an earth-shattering, mind-blowing, trump-’em-all win. No matter how small it is, take the win. In the same way one has to learn how to fail, one has to learn how to succeed, too.
Take the win when it comes. Celebrate it. Crack open the lid and drink the success, even if it’s only a mouthful.
Oh, the cider? Yeah, I opened a bottle just now, which is what prompted me to write this. Turns out it’s not vinegar, after all. It’s very dry, and quite apple-y and surprisingly pleasant. It won’t win any brewing awards, for sure, but I learnt a lot and I’m keen to give it a go next year.
Only I think I might invest in an actual masher, like the one pictured above. Or build a mashing machine. Or buy stocks in sledge hammers. Anything has to be better than doing it by hand. Never again.
Imagine you are standing on a wooden stage. There is a big, thick curtain in front. On one side is a massive, nattering, rumbling crowd. On the other side is you, listening to the noise coming from the other side, stomach churning, twisting into knots.
There are lines of scuffed tape on the floor for where to stand, a couple of faceless people are twiddling this and that to the side, the heat from the overhead light is searing. You’re sweating. You’re biting your lip. The music starts.
The curtains lift.
And there you are. Ashamedly exposed, nowhere to hide, in front of an unforgiving crowd. For a moment you are blinded by the spotlight. You know not to squint but you do anyway. There are faces out there, not that you can pick any out. Even though you cannot see them, you can imagine that they are glaring at you, waiting for you to get your act on, ready to pounce if you mess it up.
You are exposed on stage in front of this crowd because you chose to be there. You, as an artist, believed that you had something worthwhile to share with everyone. That belief held you up all the way through and now, now you’re here, ready to show everyone.
Only you left your belief back in the change room.
When belief is gone, doubt takes its place. Self-Doubt, the mighty demon, is always ready to tear down any misconceptions you had about your creations: It’s too simple, it’s too complex, they won’t get it, it is incomplete, there are mistakes.
The crowd will not forgive you. You will be ridiculed. Your name will be mud. You might as well walk away now before you go and make it worse.
How many creations are never shared with the world because of this anxiety?
It’s not trivial. Heck, writing a book was one thing. Publishing it was something else. The sweats took hold. My stomach danced a tango. For the next week after hitting the ‘publish’ button I was a wreck. I lost what little sleep was available to me. I couldn’t concentrate at work. Why?
By publishing, I had, in effect, stood out on stage while the curtains opened, baring myself to the world. This is me, I made that, and I sincerely hope you like it.
Biting the Bullet
Part of the artist’s struggle is maintaining the belief in themselves, fighting off the self-doubt, continuing on despite the looming possibilities of ridicule and shame.
The weird thing is that all the creative work is done. It’s the smallest step of getting it out there that is the the hardest to surmount. It’s pressing that button to post it to Soundcloud, or Smashwords, or to send it to a publisher. There is so much significance built into pressing a bloody mouse button.
In many ways its like asking a girl out, or going for a raise, or proposing marriage. If you, reading this, are an artist um-ing and ah-ing, or making excuses not to publish, then understand that you’re not alone. Also know that the feeling of failure is nothing compared to the feeling of unrealised dreams.
Maintain the belief that made you do it all in the first place. If it helps, get everything all ready to go, and get someone else to click the button for you.
Go on! Suspend your doubt for a second and, when you do, quickly click that ‘publish’ button. Stand up to Self-Doubt. Stand proudly on the stage. Show everyone what you did. Otherwise you’ll be left behind a closed curtain, wondering what applause sounds like.
Artists are a crazy bunch. We spend our time complaining that we are tired, that we need a break, yet when a break comes up, we spend it… working.
I don’t know if it’s a compulsion, or an attitude, or some kind of psychosis or what, but it’s common among every musician, writer, painter, actor or developer I know. Any quiet time is time to get creative.
The brain kicks in, the hands get twitchy, the legs get itchy, and the burning desire to create becomes all-consuming. The Muse comes to torture one’s ears, sowing nonsensical, disjointed suggestions that spawn ideas that grow into concepts that fill every cavity of thought until there’s nothing but an overwhelming need to convert the concepts into reality.
The mouth mutters quietly. The pencil hits paper. Index fingers are pointed to nowhere in particular. Every ripple, ridge and scuff of paint on the ceiling is scrutinised. The toilet becomes as sacred as a library.
Then the thoughts manifest in the physical world, “Hey, you know what’d be really cool?”
Think of all the ideas that could be realised in a thousand lifetimes, then agonise as they are culled to leave only the most sensible, the most immediate, the most practical. Oh, for another lifetime…
Nothing burns like an itch that cannot be scratched. So many of us have to work at jobs, cook and clean for our families, attend social commitments and generally get interrupted by every man and his dog looking over our shoulder.
Like right now.
It’s a nightmare, sitting in a long-running meeting, thinking about all the possible projects that could be completed, all the ideas that could be explored, all the cool concepts that could be made into reality, if only I wasn’t stuck in this damn meeting!
Then, to top it all off, when finally there is a breathing space, one is just too damn tired to do anything – The Physical blots out the Metaphysical. The Muse has gone to bed. It’s a crying shame, but good luck trying to rev your creative engine at 11:30 at night after a long slog at work, cooking dinner, washing up and putting the kids to bed, taking care of that emergency support call, putting the kids back to bed again…
Ain’t gonna happen.
Yet it does happen. The desire is so strong that the artist actively, albeit grudgingly, pushes through the pain, past the fog of sleep-deprivation, out into the world of creativity, if only for a few minutes at a time, if only to make that next stroke of the brush, that next sentence, that next riff.
If you’ve ever tried to scratch your toe by rubbing it on the inside of your shoe, you’ll get an idea of what I’m on about: some satisfaction is better than none.
Go easy on your artist, yeah? Sure, they are crazy, but remember that they are doing it tough.