Monthly Archives: September 2014

Education As Virus: A Few Thoughts

“Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.” — Terry Pratchet, Hogfather

So, I’ve rediscovered my love of painting miniatures.

(So that’s where you’ve been! I hear you cry. No, actually, this was only a couple weeks ago, I’ve been AWOL for a lot longer than that. Or maybe I don’t hear you cry, maybe that’s the sound of the crickets outside my window. Who knows.)

At any rate. I also managed to infect a couple of friends with a love of miniature painting, or infect one and reinfect another, maybe, and in the process managed to get myself appointed mini painting tutor. Because she kept fussing at problems and I kept going “Well, this is how I solved that…” and she kept calling me a genius and I kept telling her, no, I’ve just digested the brains of many geniuses in my wanderings, and at the end I decided I might as well just compile all my various learnings about mini painting into one giant document and paste it on the internet.

And then listing off all the equipment I use, from a quick glance around this corner of my craft room, took about two hours and encompassed several thousand words. Never mind the whole initial painting post, which doesn’t even get into various techniques and things. I didn’t realize I’d accumulated a novella’s worth of mini painting information given that I haven’t done it in a couple of years. I’m not even that good at it, I don’t think.

It’s not even that I blather on (although I do, just take a look around here) or even that I soak up information like a sponge (I do, oddly this doesn’t come in as handy as you’d think), it’s that I refuse to stop learning. Which is harder than you might think. In every discipline or craft or hobby or field of study there are always going to be people who say, you’re doing it wrong, which automatically raises hackles and causes one to instinctively shout back no, you. Which is all well and good except a) that’s no basis for communication and b) you might actually be doing it wrong. I’ve been doing feathering wrong for a few years, as it turns out! A different tutorial explained it to me in a way I understood much better. Turns out what I was doing all this time was layering, which is fine for some things but also doesn’t create the effect I was going for elsewhere. C’est la vie. Now I will practice proper feathering, and probably fuck it up several times before I do it well. Again.

To put it another way, there’s a lot of people out there who say you don’t need a degree in Creative Writing or English to be a professional writer. There’s a lot of people who say you do! I take strong issue with with those who say you need a degree in either and preferably both to be a writer; to me, writers write, if you are a noun you must verb the noun, or something that makes more grammatical sense than what I just said. You get the idea, because it makes instinctive sense, because you know what I’m talking about, because I’ve written a lot of stuff like this down. Writers write. But is there only One True Way to write? Or to Become A Writer, which is again in my opinion largely a self-defined process anyway, apart from the writing. Not hardly. There are as many ways as there are writers, probably ten times that many.

But, like mini painting, like everything else in life, there are techniques, and tricks, and other things to make your life easier. And these things you must learn, else you will be doomed to reinvent the wheel or the layering forevermore, and really, why bother? That’s time you could be spending writing your next novel or play or screenplay. Even if you just take some time out to look at a forum and the discussions it offer, or if you run into a problem and go through some of your favorite authors asking their advice and seeing if they answer, learning from someone else’s fuckups is starting a few steps ahead of where you were, which is a few steps you don’t have to take yourself.

I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about mini painting, or writing, or sewing, or any of the other crafts I’ve practiced. I’m also not saying that this is the be all and end all approach; as with all bits of advice, your mileage will vary. You may need to make all the mistakes to embed them properly in your thinkmeats, I am not you and therefore do not know your particular brain processes. But I will say that in my experience, and in what seems to be the experience of a number of other people I know, it’s just easier to learn from other people’s mistakes or bad habits. Or to find that approach and discard it as not for you, and then that’s one thing you don’t have to try. Either way.

It is a very large world out there full of people who wish to dispense advice, including myself. Go forth, my children, and partake of the wisdom of the world’s people. Become infected. Pass it on.

Dear LeVar Burton

Dear LeVar Burton,

I had the good fortune of meeting you once, one of several hundred if not thousand people you met at Dragon*Con one year. I shook your hand and purchased a couple of autographs, and told you how much I had enjoyed Reading Rainbow. I think – I hope – that the recent successful fundraiser has shown us all how many of us loved that show and continue to believe in its message.

You were kind enough to offer your Twitter fellowship for one year, and I didn’t want you to come to that without some idea of what you were getting into. So here, for your persual (and obviously the sight of anyone who cares to look at this entry) is a little bit about me.

I was raised in Washington DC by a hard-working sometimes single mother and a sometime stepfather who, though their marriage didn’t work out, was very good to me. He encouraged me to try musical instruments, come see his band play (in clubs which, I must confess, I was probably too young for had I not been with the band), to talk out complex ideas, to be silly on occasion, to try new things. My mother encouraged me to accept my feelings as neither good nor bad but simply my feelings, something which, as I get older and find out how rare this is, I am always grateful for. She encouraged me to learn, to stretch my mind, to have compassion and be curious without judgement. Both of my parents encouraged me to read. So did my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. When my grandmother wanted to bribe me to do something, she bought me a Star Trek book. (Not a word of a lie! I had shelves and shelves of Star Trek fiction, the original series Compendium, episode novelizations, books and books.) No book, or at least no book that I remember, was forbidden. Which is how I ended up reading Stephen King at age… eight? Ten? And if something confused me, I was encouraged to go to an adult in the family and ask. I don’t remember asking too many questions, although my aunt still has questions about why I scratched out all the swear words in my Star Trek V novelization. I don’t know, either.

These days I’m working in the family business, albeit not in DC anymore, and still reading voraciously and omnivorously, often at work between tasks. Since it’s a family business, no one minds if I read while it’s slow, or for five minutes as I catch my breath between running around the store! Thank goodness. I read fiction and non-fiction, fiction according to my tastes and non-fiction… according to my tastes, I guess. I maintain a blog in which I and my friend analyze certain television shows, and some of my reading comes from exploring the source material further. Other times I simply take a notion to explore more about virology, the Apocrypha, Native American history, the history of New York City, plants, what have you. Often I see an article about something in the news and decide to read a book on animal empathy, or Henrietta Lacks and the contributions of her cancer cells to modern medicine. As far as fiction goes, I most often devour various mysteries, urban fantasy and traditional fantasy, science fiction somewhat less but speculative fiction of all types, and the occasional literary novel. I didn’t manage to avoid the dreaded con crud last Dragon*Con, so when I came back and was good for little more than sitting on a couch or a bed I started or continued in, I think, five fantasy series and a literary book. I also participate now and again in Wednesday Reads, which is a custom on my less formal journaling site in which people post the things they’ve read over the week. This week I think my Wednesday Reads post will be extensive…

Non-reading habits include a lot of crafting. I paint miniatures and knit, primarily, and sometimes I spin yarn to knit, but since my family business is a craft store I often pick up something or another that’s out of my usual sphere, either to learn or to play around with. Making friendship bracelets, leather-crafting, weaving, polymer clay sculpting, paper mache, beadwork. Whatever comes to mind that week.

I’m sure there’s a great deal in here that I haven’t touched on. It’s hard to know what to say for an introduction, in this context. I’ve never done it before, and I’m not sure there is any kind of set formula. At any rate, I hope you won’t be bored or hurt by anything you find here or on my Twitter feed, and I hope you find something interesting, something to like, and something new to learn.

Still flying twice as high!