On optimism and boxes


I interviewed two amazing artists for Repurposed a while back – Valerie Arntzen and Christina Norberg, in case you’re interested. The profiles themselves will go live when the first issue of the magazine launches.

Anyway, they’re both artists who work with reclaimed and repurposed materials, and talking to them put a point on something I’ve been thinking about/feeling in relation to both repurposed art and art in general.

There’s something wonderfully optimistic about reclaiming, repurposing, upcycling, and whatever other words might be applied to it. The Maker movement, the DIY trend, homesteading, the efforts that people make that counteract decades of advertising us that new is better and planning obsolescence.

I hate the word “millenial” but apparently it’s the word that has been landed on to define my generation. Anyway, I read about how apathetic my generation is (apathy seems to be a common complaint of the older generation about the younger generation, by the way), and it strikes me that, at least for me, it’s not so much being apathetic as being overwhelmed.

We are the future leaders of the world, apparently. And what a world we get to lead. We have global warming, which world powers only periodically seem to give a shit about. We have rampant world hunger. The bees are dying, so there’s the question of pollination and future food supplies. Genetically engineered crops that live only for a year and seed other crops so that they won’t grow again, thereby forcing farmers to purchase seeds every year where previously they had renewed themselves. Numerous other species are on the verge of extinction. Daily, we inhale oxygen that is more and more contaminated with carbon monoxide and other harmful gases than at any other time in history. We’re all over regulation regarding cigarettes, but hybrid/electrical/other cars are still barely a blip on the market despite the rapid exhaustion of natural gas stores in the world. We pollute our groundwater to the point that in various parts of of the world there is no drinkable water that isn’t bottled. And even in countries where the tap water is drinkable, we still buy bottled water rather than drink it.

There’s more, but I’m making myself tired and sad and existentially anxious.

Which is sort of the point of all this.

One of the things that came out of my conversation with the aforementioned artists was this sense of optimism and community. The wonderful thing about reclamation, repurposing, is that it takes things that people don’t think of as valuable and brings out their beauty, tells their story, integrates them and melds them into a new story. Making the story yours.

There’s something attractive about shiny and new. There’s something attractive about a blank slate to work with. But I think there’s also something attractive about the weight and veneer and patina of older things. And we’re rapidly running out of blank slate. Metaphorically, I mean. And physically, sort of. And, as deeply, deeply fucked as the world often seems, so fucked up that it’s hard to know where you would start if you wanted to fix things, it is wonderful whenever you encounter things that show you that not even trash is all trash.

Oh, and a quick thought about boxes, which is the other part of this post. I thought I would find a neat segue in the course of writing this post, but the first part took a turn that I didn’t expect, so I’m just going to switch right over.

Another thing I loved about these discussions with these women was the idea of thinking outside the box, of looking at things and contemplating different uses for them, different purposes, not being constrained by what is or isn’t expected, either of the object or the artist. I think too often artists (be their painters, writers, reclaimers) try to fit themselves into boxes of what they think is appealing, what they think people want, what they think will sell. Especially fledgeling artists. And you can’t succeed, you can’t grow as an artist and a person, if you’re trying to fit in a box.




The artist, drunk, talking about how awesome he is, at a bar


I talked the other day about the Lonely Garret Writer, and I mentioned that there was another type of writer that I called the Gregarious Barfly Writer.

First, for the sake of continuity, some definitions (from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online rather than Wikipedia this time, because Wikipedia was less helpful on this one).


a :  tending to associate with others of one’s kind :  social
b :  marked by or indicating a liking for companionship :  sociable
c :  of or relating to a social group
Basically, these are the kind of writers that are chatty and like people. They’re the ones who are good at networking, who are good at self-promotion and have no trouble tweeting. They can talk about their books, love talking about their books. And about running with bulls and fistfights and stuff. They’re the kind of people who think they look good in hats and read a lot of Hemingway.
And there’s anything wrong with any of that.


:  a person who spends much time in bars

An explanation of the barfly thing—it’s an extension, a connection to the gregariousness of this kind of writer. It’s something that I’ve noticed from going to writer’s conferences. You don’t have an actual conversation with a writer at a panel or at a signing. You have a conversation with them at the bar afterwards.

You could argue, and rightly so, that drinking is hardly exclusive to the gregarious writers. I know that. LGWs can also be found congregating at the bar after an event (and possibly before an event, just to get some Dutch courage) just as much as GBWs can, but there’s a different tone to it.


: someone whose work is to write books, poems, stories, etc.

: someone who has written something

This other kind of artist, what it sometimes seems that social media wants all artists to be, is good at doing their work in public. They’re good at talking about themselves and their work. They can discuss their work in progress without angst, existential or otherwise. They have a philanthropic bent that goes along with their gregariousness. They like to write in coffee shops. They liked to be asked about what they’re writing in coffee shops. Usually.
They can post a chapter of their work online, get a tepid response, and take it in stride. They can rework, or put aside, what they’re working on based upon audience response. Their skin is thicker, or else they’re not as … enmeshed. Committed. I don’t know. I don’t understand them as well, not being one of them.
Not really.
I reiterate that I think that no writer, no artist, is completely LGW or GBW, and that there is often a great deal of crossover. I can and often do talk to anyone about anything. But when it comes to my writing, I’m a bit more hesitant, a bit more uncomfortable. I feel a bit more like I’m revealing fragile secrets, that I’m going to break my story by talking about it.
Maybe GBWs just understand instinctively that they can’t do that.

Done with that


I had my final exam today. Potentially my final final exam. Ever.

So … that’s exciting.

But it feels sort of anticlimactic. I walked out of that final reasonably confident that I had done well but also … at loose ends.

I sometimes do theatre. Only very occasionally now, but in high school I was involved in most of the school’s theatre productions in some capacity for about three years. And after every performance came to a close, we would be told that we might feel a little lost, a little empty. We were told not to make any important decisions in the time immediately following the close of a show. Don’t decide to go with that pageboy haircut, you’ll regret it, that kind of thing.

I never felt that way following a show. I always had other stuff to do, post-show, so there was never any void-y feeling.

And I have stuff to do now. A lot of stuff, actually. I have no lack of things to do.

But I do feel a little void-y. The thing that was taking up most of my time, almost every day for the last eight months, is over. And I think maybe I was expecting more from the (near) conclusion of my academic career. A greater sense of finality and satisfaction. I want to be able to say, “Done with that,” and carry on unencumbered to other things.

Maybe I’ll feel that way when I get my grades back? Maybe it’s that I’m not actually done with my masters, I’m just done with the in-class part. I still have my internship to complete over the next few months, and then my project report (ie. mini thesis) to do in the fall. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel as free as I hoped I would. Because I’m done but not quite done.

Maybe I’m feeling like the whole thing is a little bittersweet, because now my cohort is going to scatter to the wind and they’ll be another group of people that I have to plan to see, rather than just seeing them because we’re in the same place at the same time every single day.

Maybe I’m just not good at celebrating the little moments. I should buy a party hat and a noise maker and carry them around with me, and make a concerted effort to celebrate the little moments.

God, that smacks of effort. And it would probably be off-putting to strangers. Or it would lead strangers to talk to me.

You know what? Whatever. Finals are done. Classes are done. I’ve got work. I’ve got personal projects and hopefully I’ll have the time to work on them now. I’ll see who I see. One of my friends has decided that this is going to be the summer of Groupons, so I’m probably going to do some weird stuff this summer. Added to that, I’m going to try and see how many places I can get into for the child rate.

I’m going to go buy/make a party hat and a noise maker.

The party hat will have to be easily collapsible, so that I can carry it around with me and put it on when I feel the need.

I’m almost mostly joking about this.

Though I do think celebrating the little moments is important, and something that I personally don’t do enough of.



P.S. I also rewatched How I Met Your Mother following the [SPOILERS] disappointing finale, and while I see more of the precursors, I am still disappointed and might just pretend, in my in-my-head version of the story, that the finale didn’t happen. I can definitively say that I’m done with that.

The benefits of regularity


This is not going to be a post about incontinence.

At least, I don’t think it will be.

It probably won’t be.

I’ve talked before about forming habits. I’m not good at forming good ones, but I’m trying to change that.

It’s been difficult lately to form new habits because of the demands that school makes of me, but at the same time I know that to be a giant fucking cop-out. Life makes demands of you. It will demand, and take, as much of your time as you let it, so you’ve got to be as much of a dick as life is if you want to have any time at all.

Or if you want to form new habits.

The habits that I want to form aren’t really that new, they’re just habits that I gradually fell out of. I used to write every day. Recently I’ve gone through a bit of a phase where I barely write at all. I make a lot of notes about things to write, but when I sit down to actually work on things, I inevitably get distracted by the internet, or my dog, or (horror) an upcoming paper.

I think it ultimately comes down to priorities, and for a while there writing wasn’t as much of a priority as it’s been in the past. Which has, at times, made me feel unbelievably anxious. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. Am I still a writer if I’m not writing? My feeling is no, but it matters enough to me to write that I feel vast quantities of existential angst about the thought of not doing it.

Here’s the thing about vast quantities of existential angst, though.

Existential angst is essentially useless.

Realizing that doesn’t meant that I’m not still going to have it from time to time, but I think it’s an important realization to have.

So how do you get started after you’ve been in a rut of not starting.

You just start.

I’ll repeat that, because it’s simple enough to seem like a trick.

Just start.

Do whatever you have to do so that you don’t take yourself and what your doing so seriously as to cripple yourself. Sort your head out. And just fucking start.

Because I firmly believe that half the effort in doing anything is beginning it. A friend of mine had a very simple writing goal that he set himself every day, and it was to just write one sentence. He inevitably wrote more than one sentence, usually a lot more, but the one sentence goal was non-threatening enough that he never felt like he couldn’t achieve it. His life was never so overwhelmingly busy that he couldn’t write a single sentence.

I’m prone to super-sized goals and letting myself get carried away. I think that’s part of the problem. I don’t just want to write a book. I want to write a series of books that interlink narratively with another series of short stories, all under the pseudonym of a character in a graphic novel which is itself the past of a video game.

I really need to calm the fuck down and just write my 1000 words, or my sentence, or my whatever. I need to just start, and start regularly.

Forward momentum is the secret to walking in heels. It’s the standing still that kills you, and I think that could be said to be true of lots of things in life. That’s not to say you shouldn’t stop to look around once in a while, I wouldn’t dare argue against the credo of the Bueller, but you’ll notice that he didn’t do a whole lot of stopping in that movie.

Just start today. Just start tomorrow. Just start the next day.

Just fucking start.



Joining Camp Nanowrimo late


What day is it today? It’s April 5th? Okay, I’m not that late.

I’ve decided to attempt Camp Nanowrimo again. I tried to do it last year at some point (I can’t remember which time period it was, they have two different intake periods, I think), and it sort of fell by the wayside for reasons I’m not going to get into right now (mostly because they’re personal and I don’t really want to, but also because I’m not entirely confident of their validity).

I think that I’ll focus on Runaway Lane, just to add weight to the general “stop thinking so much you think too much freak” nature of that story. Also, having no real plans might make it easier for me to engage more with the community. I will have no plans, so I can have no secrets. There is nothing to be precious about with this story. I have no trajectory, so I can easily ask and accept input.

Maybe. Hopefully. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m on there as brittanyelina. If you’re there and you feel like it, find me. Or not. Whatever. I’m not your mom friending you on Facebook. No obligation.



All of the thoughts


Okay, I talked before about Runaway Lane and using prompts for it, and I got really excited today because I had an idea.

There’s a game I used to play when I was younger called Once Upon a Time. I still have it. It’s basically a card game where everyone is given 10 cards (the number of cards changes depending on how many people are playing) and the cards have different story elements on them. Some have characters, some have locations, some have events, you get the picture. The idea is to create a story using the cards in your hand, but the story can be redirected by the other players, who want to use up their cards and so will try to take over the story. There are a couple of ways that they can do this—if you pause too long, if you lay down cards without those cards being relevant to the story (ex. if you have a ladder, a cat, and a horseshoe in your hand, you can’t just say that your character has a ladder, a cat and a horseshoe to get rid of the cards), if you forget something that has already happened in the story. Any of those things happen, and they can swoop in and redirect the story.

So I was thinking that instead of using prompts, which can be prescriptive, every time I sit down to write, I’ll draw ten cards from my Once Upon a Time deck and try to use at least … I don’t know, half of them?

Or I could just sit down and think about it a little and try to make a rough outline from what I’ve already got.

I don’t know.

What do you think?



WattPad update: I have no idea what I’m doing


I finally posted a segment of that impromptu prompt story, Runaway Lane, on WattPad. I was able to use the first of the Nick Bantock prompts, although I ended up having to break it up a bit/restructure it a little.

It’s weird, I’m not a hardcore planner or anything like that, but I usually have some sort of plan. I know where the story is going to end, I have some points on the plot graph to work towards or discard as I go along.

I’ve got nothing here. I have no idea what’s happening in the story beyond what I’ve written on WattPad and here. And that’s not much. I don’t know where this story is ending. I don’t know any characters other than the ones that exist right now, here on this site and on WattPad.

It’s weird. I guess I’m used to going in with more information. Or, if not information, at least a kind-of-sort-of-maybe theme or idea to build towards.

I kind of like it. I don’t know, I feel like I spend more time languishing over thoughts than I would if I had more of a plan, and I don’t know that the results are quite what I usually expect of myself, but it is sort of freeing to not have any kind of plan. Maybe I’ll use prompts for every chapter. Though they’ll have to be prompts that aren’t super prescriptive…and I should probably have a schedule for working on the WattPad stuff, in addition to my other writing.

I am scared that the whole thing is going to fall apart somewhere in the middle, or that I’m going to have to craft some terribly contrived, Deus ex machina bullshit to have any kind of ending to it.

But that’s future Brittany’s problem.



The artist in a lonely garret


I referred to myself as a Lonely Garret Writer in my last post, and I feel like I should explain myself a little, and what that means, since I fully intend to use that term in the future. I’m fairly confident that I’ve used that term in the past.

First, some definitions, copy-pasted from Wikipedia because they seemed right to me:


Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or communality with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental or emotional factors.

Which sounds admittedly less than super, but I’m kind of thinking more about this part:

The existentialist school of thought views loneliness as the essence of being human. Each human being comes into the world alone, travels through life as a separate person, and ultimately dies alone. Coping with this, accepting it, and learning how to direct our own lives with some degree of grace and satisfaction is the human condition.

Which may also not sound that great, if you’re not a LGW. Or, sometimes, even if you are.


A garret is generally synonymous in modern usage with a habitable attic or small (and possibly dismal or cramped) living space at the top of a house.

Which seems flat, but the origins and connotations of the word have greater depth:

Like garrison it comes from an Old French word garir of ultimately Germanic origin meaning to provide or defend.

A garret may be small and cheap, but it’s safe. It’s defensible. And it can exist as a living model of the writer’s mind, depending on the degree of clutter and isolation. (I realized as I was writing this that the room where I do the bulk of my writing is strikingly similar to a garret. It’s over the garage and the ceiling angles inwards. There is one window. I have tacked a lot of shit to the walls.)


A writer is a person who uses written words in various styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce various forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, news articles, screenplays, or essays. Skilled writers are able to use language to express ideas and their work contributes significantly to the cultural content of a society.The word is also used elsewhere in the arts – such as songwriter – but as a standalone term, “writer” normally refers to the creation of written language.

Okay, now I’m just being a dick. You know what a writer is, I just felt like I needed to put it in for the sake of symmetry.

Anyway, the LGW is the writer who finds fulfillment and inspiration in communion with their own psyche. Or, not necessarily through communion with their own psyche, but people who take in the stimulus that the world throws at them and then process it in solitude in their own space. Talking about their work makes them feel (and act) awkward. They’re more likely to balk at calling themselves a “writer,” and prone to doing it with a one-shoulder shrug. They’re the poised (or not so poised) introverts who like but don’t need people. People are distracting. They ask you to go places that aren’t in front of your computer, working on your story. And if you let them, they’ll make you feel like a weirdo for not going. Bit of (possibly bad) advice: don’t let them. Be boring and get shit done. In your lonely garret.

This isn’t a remotely new idea. Virginia Woolf talks about the idea of this in A Room of One’s Own (she also talks about the need for money, which … I’m working on it, don’t rush me, Woolf, I’m not scared of you!)(yes, I am, don’t haunt me). I just felt that I should define it because I feel like writers fall somewhere between two extremes, one of them being the LGW. The kind of person who, in another age, wrote until their fingers bled in tiny, drafty attics, succumbed to tuberculosis and died. We’re more advanced now. The spaces are still small, but the doctor’s are better, and since our mom’s can easily call/text/email us to make sure we’re still alive, we’re more likely to go to them.

The other type of writer is the Gregarious Barfly Writer, which I will talk about at some point.

I should preface this—I don’t think either one is better than the other, and I don’t think any writer is entirely one or the other, just as I don’t believe that there are any complete introverts or extroverts. We’re all an amalgamation of different tendencies. But most of us tend more towards one or the other.

And I’m a Lonely Garret Writer.