Creaturiste's Laboratory

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLY

Someone was posting a message on Facebook today about their kid being bullied in school, and asking for advice. I couldn't stop typing. It's a subject that has affected me for a long time.
As this could potentially help more than just one person, I figured I'd save it here, so I can share as needed later.

FOR ALL YOU BULLIED KIDS
 OF ALL AGES

If you don't want to read all this, here's the gist of it: DEFEND YOURSELF. ASK FOR HELP UNTIL YOU GET IT. DON'T LET THE BULLIES GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING.
Otherwise they'll grow into bigger problems. Their consequences rot the world.The bullshit keeps happening because we let it. If bullies aren't tolerated, if they face enough resistance, maybe these coward control-freaks will stop hurting people and land. Or maybe we can at least prevent them from doing much harm. AND MAYBE WE CAN HELP THEM become actual beneficial people.
The harm must stop somewhere for the healing to take root.

MY STORYI was bullied with words and hands every day for all of high school. Why? I was different. That's all the triggering they need. How different? I had my own ideas and habits. I liked learning and had good grades in most subjects. I did not like sports nor was I good at them (passing grade, no more). I was not a follower, nor a leader, I just did my own thing. I was a virgin. I was a bit shy but also a clown.  I liked Art and books so much, I regularly read or drew while walking the hallways. I did not swear or make racist or sexist jokes. I was sensitive. I did not get into fights. I preferred the company of girls. I didn't do drugs or smoked. In other words, I was WEIRD. Reason enough for them to make my life a living hell, try to darken me.

Some examples: Physical violence: punching me, throwing me around, bringing my pants down in public, throwing heavy books at my head, kicking me in the butt with steel toed boots, slamming my locker door against my arm as I was rummaging through it as quickly as I could (my locker was put in the bully's "territory" by clerical error, which they would not change). Emotional violence: ways to make me embarrassed, calling negative attention to me, girl bullies being falsely flirtatious just to see my reactions when they would stop the charade, getting me in trouble with staff and teachers.
One year, I was mostly bullied by a "gang" of 6 girls, led by an older kid who had bullied me several times on my way to school when I was in elementary school. She had failed several grades, so she must have been thrilled when she recognized me as I joined her class. She became my first Highschool bully.  Her gang would sneak up on me and kick me in the butt with their cowboy boots (hey, it was the nineties!). Whenever I tried but failed to kick back to defend myself, I was accused of being the bully, a barbarian who would hit girls (I always missed, my coordination was not yet achieved). I had a semi-revenge one day of that year. That girl happened to have been named team captain in one volleyball class. In an attempt to bully me in a whole new way, she complained that I should not be allowed to cross my arms while playing (the gym was cold, I felt warmer that way), as I would not be ready for the ball. Winning was VERY important to her, apparently. That meant I HAD to play well for her (yeah right). The teacher ignored her, and feeling rebellious, I kept on crossing my arms, big smile on my face when she looked. The thing is, I didn't miss the ball when it came my way, but my small rebellion was driving her mad, and she kept yelling louder and louder, while I kept my calm and kept playing, with my arms crossed as much as I could.
After a last warning from the teacher, she kept yelling and got suspended from that class for the rest of the semester. That class actually became pleasant after she was gone.

Besides that one occurrence, no one helped. My single mom probably filed a complaint or two, but nothing was made of it. The school system failed all the victims. We were a source of income, not actual growing people. Back when she was in school, my mom was chubby but very social. No bully messed with her because she was very tough (and scary strong) when she needed to be. But strangely, as an adult decades later, she had become fearful. She would tell me this regularly: "Just avoid these kids. You can't be in a fight if you're not there physically." She failed to understand that bullies have you at their mercy for the entire day, and a school can't provide constant vigilance. Bullies are not always the smartest, but some of them are clever enough with some skills to pin something they did onto you, and get you punished in their place. They find it hilarious, and probably feel more powerful when they get away with it. Corners and empty classrooms are everywhere. School can become a horror movie playground.

The school staff did mostly nothing, even though I did ask for help. Heck, some teachers and one security guard were bullies in different ways. One student bully hit me so hard in one ear after I turned away, thinking he was finally exhausted from punching my face, that I have ear damage that still affects me, 27 years later. Soaked in cold spring mud, in convulsions and unable to speak from the pain, I had to stand up and drag myself to the school's office without help from anyone from the huge crowd that had witnessed the whole thing. I spent at least half an hour on a chair next to the office, being stared at but ignored by everyone, until my volleyball teacher noticed me and took the time to listen to my garbled speech until he understood. He called my mother so she could come and drive me home. The bully kid didn't face any disciplinary action for what he did. I hope he still has nightmares about that, and that it drives him to make amends by leading a better life.

None of my so-called friends ever defended me. They would watch with the rest of the crowd while the bigger kids would "deal with me". Maybe they were afraid too. At least, they didn't cheer!
Tip: bullied kids should get together and resist the bullies. Bullies are inflated cowards, it takes less than you think to make them back off. One altercation. One lesson is sometimes all it takes. Although be warned you may take some damage trying to find out what their threshold is. Here's an example of inflated bullies from my first year of College:

On the first day, some students approached me all enthusiastic and "friendly", to let me know about the hazing activities, officially called orientation games. "Just so people get to know each other while having fun!" I knew what they were, I had observed them from a high vantage point (old paranoid habits die hard). People were getting humiliated in several ways, and I was not going to take part in that. Their whole attitude changed and they threatened me with being put on a Black List, which meant I'd be "fair game" for people to make my life a living hell for the entire school year.
My reply: "Bring it on. I'm still not doing that." They looked shocked. They went away. No one bothered me that year. 

I had another WEIRD encounter a week or three later.
Out of nowhere one afternoon while most people had classes, my worse bully from high school is standing next to me in the otherwise empty college hallway, looking... meek? (what the hell is going on?): 

"Hi, can I look at your drawings?".
In complete shock by this unusual behavior, I handed him my three-ring binder. He had always approached me with his gang of thugs, always saluting me with a very violent slap on the back, before proceeding with various attempts of humiliations. Not this time. He was alone, subdued, polite, and he took his time looking at each of my drawings.

When he was done: "Wow, these are very good! It's the first time you've ever let me look at your drawings."  I answered in a harsh, cold tone:
"Wow, it's the first time you approach me without hitting me in the BACK." He actually lowered his head and walked away without a word. The actual walk of shame. I had never seen it for real before. Against my own wishes, I felt bad for him. His simpleminded cronies (think several versions of Crab and Goyle) probably stayed behind while he was the only one to graduate. He must have been lonely, maybe even clumsily trying to apologize. Dammit empathy, you robbed me of a hint of revenge! I never saw him again. I hope he got some karma for what he did, but I hope even more that he became a better person from it. That was just a bit of a flash forward in time to let you know now that it DOES GET BETTER. And maybe there's hope of reform for the bullies.

Let's go back in time. Back to High School.
With all the daily harassment, I quickly went from a talkative, cheerful class clown kid to a quiet loner who would verbally snap at people so they'd leave me alone. I trusted no one. I had recurring suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, there was always a tiny bit of hope and wonder for life that keep me here. 

None of my bullies were ever brought to justice or to therapy back then, so they likely kept on bullying people to this day, becoming store managers, cops, politicians, mobsters, or any position that grants a hint of power over others. If they can't control some aspects of themselves or their life, at least they can control and push down other people, dammit!

I hope it won't be the same for you. I hope you get helped in all the ways you need, RIGHT NOW. Even if it means switching to a different, better school/job/galactic conglomerate with a population and staff who CARE and don't tolerate bullying. Those do exist, but I never had the chance to attend one. I did teach some workshops at some good elementary and High Schools later, as an independent artist.
I wish I would have gone there as a student! The most impressive school had so few students, that all of them were in one class, from first grade of elementary to high school levels. The older kids helped the younger, they played and ate lunch together, it was family. No bullies.
Good teachers, healthier environment there and at home: no place for bad drama.
More nurture, less negligence = decent beings!

WAKE UP!
The only thing that REALLY helped me stop being a target was a change in my beliefs, which in turn changed my capabilities. Religiously motivated (read: brainwashed), I was a pacifist to a fault (turn the other cheek), so I let people hit me without defending myself, thinking it would hurt me more if I hurt someone else. Sure, I was really good at taking a punch without flinching, but the bruises and cuts did hurt later, when the adrenaline was gone and the feelings returned. That also meant my self esteem took a greater hit over time. If no one takes my defense, not even myself, how worthless must I be?! 

READY!
After a particularly bad beat-up, I got very angry. I made a promise to myself. I would hit them back. The next person to hit me would get the same, and I'd keep hitting them until they stopped. They asked for it. If it took sending someone to the hospital for all of them to stop torturing me, then that's what I would do.

But you know what? I only had to try to fight ONE person after that promise. I told no one. I didn't challenge anyone with words or a change of body language, but it seems that bullies have an instinct about who they can get away with torturing. It instantly changed from being bullied every day for 5 years, to no bullying at all. I wish I had gotten angry sooner.

I'm sure that won't be the ONLY solution for everyone. Each situation is different, but all the stories I've heard from victims of bullying have many elements in common with mine.

FIRST TRY
After my promise to not be passive and helpless anymore, it happened just one more time.
I know, it's annoying, but hey, progress takes time and effort! Somebody was pinching my butt as we were all heading to class as a crowd in the staircase after the bell rang. Fed up, I turned around and punched the guy. But I missed and partially brushed his buddy with my knuckles instead. No harm was done, but he was now justified by the law of the jungle in teaching me a lesson. I knew the drill, so we both stepped off the staircase to be away from the moving mass of people. "Before you proceed, let me remove my glasses", I said. He replied no. So I said"OK, I'll send the repair bill to your parents. His face whitened a bit, but he had his honor to defend, so he just went through the motions. In this case, the usual, he went for my face. They usually did. And I usually didn't feel anything with all the adrenaline, so I kept talking as his fist would attempt to reshape my face. "let me know when you're tired, I DO have a class to get to." When he stopped, my glasses were embedded in the bridge of my nose, and blood was slowly dripping down my face. As he walked away looking exhausted and confused, I said: "Expect to get the glass repair bill in the coming week."

I then proceeded to the secretary's office to file an official complaint against that guy.
I would FINALLY have some tangible proof against one specific bully.
But the receptionist didn't want to cooperate at first. Shocked out of character by necessity and exasperation, I pretended I had some sort of authority over her. She was malleable enough apparently, or maybe it was the blood and the fact I was not sobbing, because at my second request with a bit of authority in my tone, she brought me the school Rolodex, with all the student's identities. The photos were so small and of such crappy quality, that only one kid vaguely resembled my attacker. So I asked for him to be summoned over the public address system. When that kid showed up, I looked down at him, said Hi, and turned to the secretary: "It's not him, the actual guy was much taller than me."  The real culprit avoided me for the rest of the year, I never saw him again, so I was unable to take him to the office, or file a complaint against him, although I really looked. 

Right after the failed attempt at identification, instead of going home to clean up, I decided to milk the situation a bit more. I wanted SOME satisfaction, SOME progress for my effort, dammit!
I went to my English class, still bloody, with  glasses still trying to be one with my nose.
My English teacher was also a bully. I knew why: she had been my mom's classmate, and for some reason she never like her. So irrationally she made a point to make my time in her class as unpleasant as she could without risking her job. She would keep the door locked so we would HAVE TO knock. She would then proceed to lecture us LOUDLY in front of the whole class, with much glee in her eyes and attempts at humiliation. Sadistic sad person. But that day, as she was starting her speech with my full name loudly pronounced, while opening the door, she stopped mid sentence and got really pale. "Oh my God! What happened to you?!!" Most students were then standing up to see the show, and even some of the few cruel classmates looked shocked and concerned for me.
Somehow, acting casual while bloody-faced scores coolness points for these types.
"I just got attacked by a bully, I just wanted to tell you I'm going home to clean up and rest."
"Of course, are you sure you don't need help right now?"
"Nah, I'll be okay. See you next class." She was actually nice and respectful to me for the next two classes. Why should it take THAT much to finally show empathy and decency?

The Principal actually summoned me into his office the next day. I was foolish to think he wanted to help. His "concerned" words, translated here from French to English: "You know, there's only two weeks of school left. It would be best if you just forget about the whole thing." I guess he wanted to avoid the paperwork and tedious meetings with parents and the authorities. He was such a classy guy.
Always well dressed, always a smile. And apparently that was just a facade. He wouldn't do an important part of his job: take care of the student's well being. So another bully got away with personal abuse and property damage. And my parents had to pay for my new glasses. We were actually rather poor, but I had no idea, as my mom always made sure we had enough, even if she had to skip meals so we would have more on our plates, while pretending she had already eaten. So, that bully actually hurt my whole family. But I only learned that years later. Blissful ignorance of childhood, I miss you!


GOOD = DEFENSELESS?
In today's confused society, kids are thought that violence should be avoided at all costs, while at the same time our entertainment and governing bodies are full of it. Only bad kids get in fights, right? schools have Tolerance Zero policies against violence, and for some of them, it means everyone involved gets punished! Well, what if the one being attacked did NOT want to fight? Shouldn't they defend themselves against harm?

If they see you as a weak & easy target, then they'll keep harassing you. So, don't run when you can face them. Build up to it gradually if you must, or go big and be a hero to someone or yourself. But get backup and witnesses whenever possible. One bully can't do much against 5 of his victims who decide they won't take it anymore. Unless he's a deranged killer, which is another topic, but a real danger in schools nonetheless. So just try to judge on a case by case basis.

I do recommend to HIT THEM BACK when necessary, or at least be ready to do so.
Sure, there will be consequences, and the very real possibility of getting in trouble with the school/job/law. You could even get expelled! BETTER THAT THAN REMAINING HELPLESS and staying in a place that doesn't provide a safe environment.

You have a right to defend yourself. It's your health, and possibly your life that's in danger. 
Still, be smart about it. Consider the consequences if someone is accompanying you. Is their safety at risk too? Maybe you should leave instead of confronting. Don't hit first (but try to avoid getting hit). Don't lose control, make every decision instead of reacting from rage. Hit only as hard and as often as necessary for them to stop or for you to escape safely, no more. Don't kill or maim unless it's your life or your companion on the line. Don't get prison time for one moment of losing control while just trying to survive. The law isn't always fair. So help it become fairer: get witnesses, film and audio record the incidents. And keep asking for help until you get it.

After high school was behind me, it took me more than a decade to stop being angry almost all the time at all the injustice in the world. I still get angry sometimes but I keep it in balance. I USE it to make better decisions. I want my impact to be a positive one! All that anger and despair was litterally making me sick. Don't let it be that way for you. Address the problem now, get allies, talk to someone wise, learn to defend yourself verbally and physically. Self defense and martial arts classes should help too. Find a PURPOSE. And dammit, HAVE FUN! Life is so enjoyable when we take the time to discover it, and appreciate it!

A FRESH START
For my second year of college, as I was finally eligible for student loans, I was able to move to a far away small town. I chose it among other colleges with the same program, because of the distance. 
I needed a change from the small-minded town of my birth, where so much judgment and unfairness was making me depressed. I wanted a new place that would not automatically label me as a reject.
A place fee of the bullies' influence.

So I spent three years in the new town, making friends from all over the province.Variety! Geeks and sporty people studying and playing together! I was learning who I was and not feeling worthless, desperate, or fearful anymore. I even participated in the orientation day, where the activities there could not really be called hazing. Harmless ridiculous clothing and acting silly. I didn't drink, but that didn't prevent me from having fun with the rest of them at the bar. Some tried to make fun of me by demanding I sing on stage, since I was not doing any drinking games, but when they found I could actually sing, it got me the attention of people who quickly became my friends.

HOPE had found me. One small change could have meant a very different three years for me. You see, I learned that one person had stood up for me on that first week there. I had been invited to a private party by a group of roommates and their new-made friends. The cool, popular kids wanted to hang out with ME? But actually, they were planning to make fun of me, as I seemed so weird and eager to them. "Bring your art supplies, we'll do murals!" I was so excited, I brought most of what I had! And despite being very shy, I started the mural, since nobody was doing it. Then they joined me.

I had only ever been to one party before, and that was in elementary school! A high school party would have been dangerous for me, so I never went to one. Back to that college party: 

THE HELPER
Before the party happened, one girl got angry and told them to give me a chance, to get to know me instead of going through with the humiliating prank they had in mind. It must have worked, because I had a great time, and most of us hung out for three years. My wish had been granted. Because ONE person stood up for me. One HELPER. Be like that whenever you can. You won't always know how much of a positive impact you've had, but you'll feel good about it. 

Another set of helpers happened during those three years. As I was taking an archery class, the government mandated an extra activity every week that was more cardiovascular , in order to get a real physical effort for that semester. Frustrated at that bureaucratic meddling with an adult student, I found out I had only a choice between badminton and Volleyball at the time. I liked both, but Volleyball was a bit more intense, so I went with that. The Archery teacher recommended I join a casual meetup of players on Tuesday nights. I showed up and most of them were much older adult EXPERTS. Sport addicts, all very fit while I was chubby. I knew none of them. I felt very self conscious, looking at them practice their throws and receptions. "Hey, new guy, come here, Partner up with her!" So we exchanged a few throws, most of which I missed and then the game began. These were no jokers, their services were almost always smashes, their aim was amazing, and ALL their long throws were so powerful they were PAINFUL if you caught with a flawed technique. They wouldn't make it easy for the new guy, and I appreciated that. That's how you learn, by playing with better players than you! They were very patient and understanding, with tips to help me improve, and within three meetups, I could actually play with them without looking too out of place, or slowing or losing the game. I was never one of the best players, but I finally understood how that game could be FUN. And why some maniacs would regularly throw themselves at the hardwood or marble floor to catch a silly BALL. I did that too! I got hurt but I did it again! Back in high school, I was never motivated enough to risk a scraped knee. It was more fun to frustrate the bully Captain at "making us lose!!!"

THE BIGGER WORLD
Three years in that small town with friendly folks made me enjoy life again.
I felt ready and confident enough to tackle a new chapter in my life: the big city, a university program in the Arts (Painting and Drawing), in a Language I wasn't yet fluent in: English.  I won't dwell on those two university years, they were mostly pleasant and personally instructive, even though the program was lacking in the techniques I needed. The social interactions made it worth it for that long, but no more.I had to move on. I fell in love with that big city where I still live. Job opportunities! Cultural Diversity! Live Entertainment! More Art Supplies! More FOOD Variety! My weirdness is barely noticed among so many grander weirdos! Heck, it's sometimes CELEBRATED!

So, I went from nearly hopeless (and almost turning bully myself) for FIVE years, to being full of joy less than a YEAR later. Because I faced my fears, took a risk, made a change, was HELPED, tried new things all the time, and discovered who I am. Don't let the bad-kind-of-darkness win! Whatever its name(s), it wants you to give up! So it can control you, so you can add to the misery it wants to spread. Don't be a poison, be a cure. Be a helper. Helping others can help you.


DON'T BECOME YOUR MONSTER
Bullies must be stopped and shown other ways. For our own good and theirs, we must convince them NOT to grow into bigger bullies. Help them reverse the process! It's a contagious disease. They keep raising the bullying bar, BECAUSE WE LET THEM. As long as they feel they can get away with it, they keep doing it, and want to do more of it. "Hey, it works, why should I mess with a good system?" If we don't resist them, we might as well be cheering them on, as it's the same result: when you enable the bullies, more people will get hurt, it's never just you.   

Bullies recruit by example, as many victims become bullies. I almost did. "I'll show them, I'll become as bad as they are, and then NOBODY will mess with me!!!" Thankfully, some things kept me from crossing that line. A sense of fairness. HOPES. DREAMS. POTENTIAL. And some seemingly random acts of kindness from strangers, happening just as I was close to giving up. EVERY TIME.
I don't believe in coincidences. I do believe in some helper spirits. Call them angels if you want. Labels probably don't matter to them, as long as they can keep doing their job.


FIND YOUR BLISS
HELP THEM FIND THEIRS 
Life is not just hardship. It's a place more beautiful and amazing than we can perceive when we are blinded by painful circumstances. Connect and participate with people who live more joy, accomplishment and beauty. You will create more good too! It's contagious! Open your eyes and mind wider and notice all the good things to be grateful for. Even things that haven't happened yet! List it mechanically at first if you must, but soon enough, there's going to be such a long list that your skeptical and negative sides will just have to accept that things are MUCH better than they had felt.
There's POTENTIAL. There's help. People care.

Be the best self you can be. You have lots to offer the world.
For that to happen, you must allow yourself to be strong and safe from abuse.

Now, I have not been physically bullied in school after my promise and that first attempt at defending myself, but I WAS bullied later in life a few times. Always by power-hungry control-freaks in positions of power. Only once was it physical, all the other times it was verbal and actions to attempt to control me and make me feel small. Bosses, colleagues, service providers, "friends". Several of those people were considered by most as charming, good people, or at least "successful natural leaders". Bullshit. They were charismatic bullies. Many people confuse bully behavior with leadership qualities. 

MY BEST FRIEND THE BULLY
For SIX years, I thought I had a best friend, he felt more like a big brother I looked up to.
He seemed to have had more experienced, wiser. He was also a VERY popular guy. The kind everybody gravitates towards, they want to be his friend, to give him opportunities, to work for him, even for FREE. They want to please him. Ladies were mad for him, and he certainly didn't say no. They came back for more. He was the luckiest person I have ever met: He would find ideal tools, money, opportunities and situations in such abundance that it defies statistics. He always got what he needed, exactly when he needed it, without effort. "I have a strong destiny", he would often smugly say about it. On top of all that, he seemed like a genuine good guy, unpretentious despite all his talents and skills. People felt relaxed and cheerful in his presence. His charisma is the most impressive I've ever seen. His influence is so strong, that if he ever starts a cult, or goes into politics, he'd be DANGEROUS. Long story short, he is a womanizing, manipulative, opportunistic user of people, a control-freak, self-serving asshole who belittles people just to feel bigger, all the while coming out looking like the ultimate friendly good guy. It took a lot for me to realize I was not imagining it all, and that he was NOT going to even try to be decent.

He blackmailed me during the biggest job of my career, just to get his way. The whole project, my reputation and the salaries of at least 12 other people were in danger from his pressure, so I just had to cave in. He lost a friend. I gained some wisdom. And a new outlook on charismatic people.
Beware of those. Make sure they are DESERVING of admiration, instead of just projecting the kind of image designed to better fool you into being compliant and useful.


BULLY DETECTOR
People admire and follow what appears to be Strength.
Learn the difference between the real thing and the facade that weak people put on so they'll feel better about themselves.

A good, strong person doesn't need to belittle others, they try to understand, to learn, to help.
They know we're all in this together, and that we all make mistakes. So they make allowances and understand. There's wisdom in all of this. If you notice a person you admire is acting like a jerk, maybe it's time to look for these behaviors. They may be a charismatic bully! Most bullies are ins some or many ways! And a LOT of people fall under their influence. I know from experience that it feels safe to be "under the wing" of someone who appears confident, capable, strong, POWERFUL! Who's going to mess with you when you're this connected?  But more often than not, paying enough attention will reveal their true face.

BULLIES NEED:
 •constant praise, adulation and the spotlight on them. "I'm the BEST, and people know it!"
 •to keep listing their successes and dropping names of powerful/rich/famous "friends",
 •to belittle others, feeling better by comparison, "You're a whale! Stop eating like a pig!"
 •to control others, (often can't control themselves) "You're NOT getting your own bank account!"
 •to put the blame on others (scapegoats, enemies) "These people are stealing our jobs!"
 •to have power over others, it's a thrill! "You'll do it because I SAID so. And SMILE."
 •to appear knowledgeable & wise, though they are the ignorant. "I know better! You're WRONG!"
 •to attack by scandal or insult when their position is threatened. "You're a filthy atheist!"
 •sympathy, they'll convincingly play the victim, "They're jealous of my success!" 
 •to have subordinates, to feel bigger by comparison. "I don't pay you to think. Get me a coffee!"
 •to feed their greed. More money = more choices = more power
 •privilege: exclusive experiences, luxury items. "Nothing but the best & rarest for me!"
 •leverage: ways to control their allies and enemies. "I know what you are behind closed doors."
 •sponsors: rarely all-powerful, they answer to someone or some group that gives them their power.
 •causes. Rarely genuine, it's for show, to rally the people: "I'm a true believer, I'll do God's work!" 
 •a lack of empathy, to be able to keep doing worse things. Other people don't matter.
 •a lack of responsibility. "Future consequences don't matter, as long as I get what I want NOW."

If this list (probably incomplete) seems to describe some corrupt politicians, it's no coincidence.
Bullies seek money, influence and power. Politics offer all of that and more. Many say power corrupts. I'm not sure that is entirely correct. I think power focuses and concentrates what's already there. If not-so-deep-down you're an evil control-freak, the more power you have, the more lives you can control and ruin, and the more overtly you can do it, without fearing the consequences. Bullies leave a legacy of ruin and outrage. When Justice if controlled by the powerful, it favors the powerful & their friends.

On the other hand, if you're a generous problem solver, with more power, you'll get to help more people, fix more problems, leave a legacy you can genuinely be proud of. Because instead of ruin, you'll leave things BETTER, for more people to benefit.

I digressed a bit, but back to topic: 

In short, I think bullies are insecure all the time, so they seek POWER over others and situations. It's reassuring to KNOW you can do what you want and when you want, get away with anything,  that nothing can harm you, and that people perceive you as STRONG. But that power they have is superficial. Sure it's real and it can cause a lot of damage, loss of jobs and life, awful changes in society. But it's only as real as WE allow it to be. The most powerful bully can be dethroned or dispatched by the cook in their castle. Or by a handful of high-ranking officers. Or by the Army they used to control. Or the people they oppressed until their survival depended on rebellion. What's an ex despot to do against a people? How can the now-pariah be clothed, fed, lodged and healed if EVERYBODY refuses to lend them assistance?

REAL WORLD CONSEQUENCES
Time to make sure bullies get CONSEQUENCES for their actions. No preferential treatment.
You broke it, you bought it. Does that mean they should get punished? Sometimes. Often? But I like to believe that in many cases, they might be smart enough to at least TRY to learn a better way. Probably more likely if they are caught earlier in life! If they discover their potential for a good and productive life that benefits others and themselves, maybe they'll mend their ways? There is hope. But's let's not be TOO naive. They DID decide to treat people like garbage, after all. Keep an eye on them. Make sure the reform is not a scam. Limit their access to power. It's a potent drug to them.

More concrete, everyday example:
A bully boss will not likely hire someone who could possibly be a threat to their own position. 
So the manager they hire will be a bit less qualified than they are. When they leave for greener pastures, the manager can be the new boss, and that can mean the quality of service will already be lessened. Over just a few "generations" of this type of hiring, the overall quality of service of a company, and eventually an entire field,  has gone down the drain. That probably explains the mediocre service we usually get from retail businesses. Getting a good service, from staff who is knowledgeable, gives clear advice, is honest and truly there to help, is the exception, not the standard.
I've come to expect bad service, but I'm grateful when I get the good kind. 
Too many bullies seek out and get manager positions. They protect their own interest & they have lower moral standards, so the employees and customers pay the price of their abuse, cheating & power grabbing. Well qualified employees routinely get fired, because abusive companies want to avoid having to put them on the company's health and insurance plans, as would be required by law after a set period of time. They'll hire students, because they have less experience and can be malleable. They'll find excuses to fire someone who shows too much initiative or can affirm themselves. They'll give as little as they can, to reap as much profit as they can. Just like in their beloved school days, taking the smaller kid's lunch money, just because they can. "What a thrill!
I got away with it AGAIN! People are such IDIOTS and I'm SO smart!" Do you see why we MUST stop them every step of the way?  Do you see we must TRY to show them a better way? It's as much for them as for us. It must be lonely and miserable to be above everyone else, to be envied, conspired against, manipulated, misunderstood. No wonder they are usually paranoid! MUST grab more power to make sure I don't lose my power!!!

Remembering my earlier teenage promise, I actually had to quit THREE jobs following some abusive behavior from bosses or managers. One such quitting moment is still one of my proudest achievements, when I calmly and politely told my boss how wrong it was for her to treat her employees and customers that way. A month or two later, when I went there to meet with a friend who still worked there, that same abusive boss treated me like royalty. Some bullies only respect a person who stands up to or bullies them back. "Everyone else is just a weak person who DESERVES to be brought down", they seem to believe.

Unless they deserve it from their words and actions, people should not be treated like garbage.
Maybe even not then, as the people inflicting the garbage may also get poisoned by the action.
WHEN and where do we stop harming each other? We should learn to feel and not be afraid of it.
We should use our feelings to understand and offer choices to each other.
Maybe that bully's dreams were trampled by another bully, or a limiting situation?
Maybe they are lashing out? I've never been able to detect a single hint that any bully has any true friend. They have lackeys, henchpeople, slaves, victims & enemies. Must be awfully lonely.
That might explain  the behavior, but it doesn't excuse it.

Here's an Idea!
Help bullies find their Mission. 
I believe that a person who pursues their own true positive passion wouldn't have time or energy to spend on trying to control, belittle, rob and destroy others. Wouldn't they prefer to study, create and enjoy their own projects? Wouldn't they want to share that joy with the world? Instead of punishment as a sole solution for bad behavior, we should try to help the bullies find whatever it is they are missing. Show them the healthy kind of pride at something they have accomplished, something beneficial and appreciated instead of destructive! Surely, even the most selfish person, if they are intelligent and observant enough, should be able to understand the benefits and avoidance of troubles brought by good behavior and a sense of community? PEOPLE LIKE YOU: YOU GET FREE STUFF and people don't want you dead! Crazy, right? Get in on that action!

Addressing the bullies who might be reading this: Hey asshole! Fake it till you make it! See what a year of good deeds and respect brings you! See if that changes your outlook! I TRIPLE DARE YOU!

If bullies refuse our help however, we must find ways to prevent them from harming others.
"First do no harm" is not just for doctors. 

MY HOPE
Despite all the hardships and heartaches from bullies of different types in my past, 
nowadays, I'm the happiest I've ever been. I like who I am. I know what I am: a storyteller, student, teacher, artist, buffoon, MAKER. I avoid destruction; I strive to mend and heal. I weigh consequences before I choose to act. I favor thoughtful actions over mindless reaction.
I'm unique, weird! That means original, and now I know that can be a GOOD thing.
Actually, we're all weird, from many other's points of view. So might as well be the kind of weird we want to be, and hopefully we'll find the kind of weird we can be friends with!

I used to feel useless, worthless. What could I possible contribute, when all I did was drawing pictures and making dollies? Well, I do what I love for a living, and it's helping people in several ways. I propagate and provoke inspiration, spontaneity, curiosity, problem-solving and fun! I encourage people to identify and follow their Mission! I act and dress as serious or as silly as I feel. I have EYES on my hats! My winter hat is a Huge brown furball with giant yellow eyes, wiggly long ears, and a TAIL! It provokes a lot of smiles whenever I'm out and about. And yes, I sometimes get judged unfairly by the narrow-minded and meddlers, but that's their choice, not mine, so I just carry on, and wish for them an epiphany. From the life I've lived so far, I have very little to feel guilty about, and I'm working on mending what can be. I'm a work in progress. I think we all are, but not all of us will admit that.

So, it's reassuring that I can be now be silly, joyful and peaceful.
But it doesn't mean I'm an easy target.
I don't let people bully me.
I defend others when the need arises. I can't stand and passively watch as people are being mistreated. Because I know how it feels. 

KARMASure, bullies MAY get what's coming to them "someday".
What about in the meantime? What about all the victims suffering NOW?
Wishes and Karma need your help. Change can't happen here without human minds, hearts and hands. Bullies won't mend their ways if they have it easy succeeding at what they have been doing all along. And it's harder to change the world alone. So, find a community if that's your style.
If not, or until then, be a sleeper agent for good, an ever vigilant helper. EVERY BIT HELPS. It all adds up!  Maybe life has been training all of us for it.

Adult life is just like high school sometimes. The bullies get away with it when we don't RESIST THEM.

I WISH YOU BALANCE.

LET'S BE
Peaceful but not Defenseless,
Joyful but not Oblivious,
Vulnerable but not Weak,
Generous but not self-depleting,
Loving but not Obsessive,
Sexy but not Flammable,
Trusting but not Naive,
Teachers but not Indoctrinators,
Humble but not Worthless, 
Spiritual but not so darn Sure you Know the Only Truth! 
Wiser by admitting there's Always More to Learn,
from Everyone and Everything.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

BELIEFS VS RELIGIONS

I'm posting this here for practicality.
It's something I feel the need to share once in a while, so now it will be here.
Hopefully, my reflections may help others find their own freedom.

IN SHORT
I believe in a lot of stuff. I also believe religious organisations should be relieved of their power and privilege, mostly by people deciding not to follow their insanity anymore. And laws have to be changed to reflect that. Governments should be non-religious. People should still be free to practice their religion in peace, but without imposing it on others. Religions should not hold people, especially kids, hostage with their doctrine. There should be easier ways for them to get out.  And I'm hoping for people to outgrow religion entirely, eventually. I also believe we should not persecute or force religions out. That increases the damage on the world and spirit.
We must fight this ignorance-based-slavery with knowledge, understanding & empathy.

We need to see past the tricks, so we can see life as it is and how it could be, if we just worked together to build ourselves up, instead of tearing each other down. Some believe we NEED religion to do that, or at LEAST to keep a lot of people in check, preventing from roaming free and destroying everything. That is the kind of fear that keeps Religion in power.
So, I think we can all have different beliefs, but willfully and blindly serving despots in order to feel somehow safer from the threats they actually imagined is a great obstacle to our spiritual evolution.

PROPAGANDA
Don't fall for religious propaganda! It's often clumsy, but still clever enough for many people to fall for it. The Bible is one example I'm more familiar with, because that's what I grew up with.
Despite its contradictions, insanely cruel values, mentality of division, major flaws of logic, and the FACT that it was written and frequently re-edited over centuries by human popes and others to suit their needs and agenda at the time, that bound book of confusion is what an insane number of people are claiming to base their life on, are claiming to be the unaltered WORD of God. WHAT?
I'm pretty an all-powerful being wouldn't need to dictate to humans if he wanted a book of his WORD made. I'm also pretty sure that an all-powerful God would be able to handle it when people insult him/her/they. They wouldn't need mortals to take up a cause, or take up arms to defend that god's honor. I think it's so presumptuous to claim to know what a god wants!
Do the Gods even care? Are we even on their radars anymore? Have we ever been?
Or are we just the equivalent of intestinal bacteria in a much larger organism that was the ACTUAL intended beloved creation? Who knows? Why should it matter?
I think what matters is improving the world we live in, by improving ourselves, for everyone's benefit. Except for games, why would we need to compete and destroy each other, when we can share and be healthier, happier? What we do as a group is often greater than what a single person can accomplish. Does that mean we have to be a group under the control of power-mad control-freaks?  

I used to fall for religious propaganda, so I recognize the flavor when I witness it. In elementary school, they used songs to teach religious values and stories. I still have some of them clearly in memory, even though I wish I could delete them. They are invasive ear worms of stories I don't believe in! Powerful brainwashing! I was emotionally manipulated to participate in the ceremony of Confirmation: "It would please your Grandmother, do it for her!" I  fell into a vicious circle of guilt because I didn't believe enough, didn't pray enough, didn't do enough. I was a child, I should have been show the light and beauty of life, not the darkness of guilt and feeling unworthy!
In my most intense moments of "Faith" I once briefly believed I just might be the next incarnation of Christ, if I proved worthy. If I became a priest. Nobody told me this, but I deducted this from what I was exposed to and how I felt. How screwed up an aspiration is that, for a kid of twelve?

Some more recent religious/spiritual movements/organizations are coming up with strategies to convert the contemporary masses. Video, whole movies (see link below), camps and retreats.
One strategy I see more and more is mixing different religions to claim more legitimacy and inclusiveness. It still doesn't make it the only Truth. Here's a tip to help us resist being manipulated by stuff like this: ANY message claiming to be the TRUTH about existence above all other claims, is arrogant and limiting. Life is so complex in all its forms down here on earth, we only understand a small fraction of it. Why would a human-made story explain all existence during and after life so simply and in just one version? Will we ever understand the nature of the universe? Perhaps in a few thousands of years, or dimensions, but I'm OK with not gaining that in this lifetime, if I can grow and CHOOSE ways for myself to live better and help others live better. BY SHARING. 

WHAT ABOUT RESPECT FOR OTHER BELIEFS?

Stories can be powerful teaching guides, but they should be able to sustain scrutiny and questioning if they are to become our main or only chosen guides. For example, in the Judeo-Christian story, God is all powerful and can create spirits, PLANETS, species(!), yet is unable or unwilling to save humanity on one planet from the influence of hell without destroying the whole damn place with disasters like floods. WHAT? That makes no sense! It's like burning your whole property in Napalm because you found a few ants in the kitchen, when a bit of corn meal, borax, or diatomaceous earth would have taken care of the problem. I used to be a fervent religious person when I was younger. I was borderline a fanatic, and today I shudder at the thought of what I could have become, had I not been somehow inspired enough in the direction of questioning things, and reading more into them. You can grow spiritually, and hold WILD beliefs, hopefully based on personal experience and observation, and hopefully open to reevaluation, without being TOLD how to do it, and how NOT to do other things, OR ELSE. Promises of rewards and threats if not obeyed, those are the main religious weapons. Belittle the people and train them to keep doing that to themselves and others, so they'll be easier to control.

IS MY RELIGION TRYING TO CONTROL ME?Once you see the manipulation and start deciding for yourself, taking responsibility for your actions and their impacts on the world, it's difficult for them to keep controlling you. Want to know if your religious organisation is trying to control you? Just ask them questions, doubt the established "facts", test their arguments, see if they encourage dialogue, or just resort to calling you an unbeliever, or threaten you with punishment. Blindly following religious groups has caused much destruction on this world. See if they practice what they preach, or if they have one set of rules for others and one for themselves. See if they are arrogant and pretend to be better than others. See if they call their group the Chosen one, and all others are doomed, "and good riddance!". See how much they want to control your thoughts, beliefs, words, actions and ASSETS. See how much they belittle you, and how they get you to belittle yourself: enjoying food is a sin, believing any other system is a sin, sex is dirty, your kind of orientation is an abomination, you should be ashamed for even having those feelings! BOW DOWN and ask God for forgiveness, ask him to CHANGE you into something less foul, you unworthy piece of shit! But remember, God loves you! Just obey blindly. And keep the fear alive. OR ELSE. 

Some religions seem to have a much gentler approach, but I think it can still have a negative and confusing impact, stunting people's growth in this world of tangible and intangible. Why should we deny either, if that's the stuff we are made of, and what we evolve in?  "Oh, it's OK if you don't believe, you'll understand someday. You're just lost and confused right now. We're here to help. Just do as we say and all will be well. Give up your belongings and your attachment, and only then will you be ready to start evolving, according to what we say."
 
THE POWER OF PERSUASION
Many so-called scientists still decide to ignore facts or signs of flawed logic JUST because their religion makes them feel better, safer. It's so scary to admit that we do not understand as much as we initially thought we did! To me, it's scarier to see how far they'll go to convince themselves and others of false assumptions, and wild stories. I have a friend who's a member of the Church of Scientology. We cannot have an open conversation about how her religion is a cult, how it ruins people's live's; how the founder himself has declared he founded it for the money and power; how countless people have left that cult and lost so much, trying to warn people. She refuses to see the bad. She loves her community and feels safe in it. I wish her the kind of wisdom that will help her get herself out of there.

WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO CONTROL THE MASSES LIKE THIS?
POWER. That's what it seems to come down to, after distillation. Those in control in any religious corporation probably don't truly believe in the stuff they preach, they just want your labor and your belongings/money. They want power, plain and simple. And they have armies of true believers to make that happen, and it keeps happening. The majority of their flocks are probably truly good folks who do what they are told and through that, do great good deeds, but that still doesn't take away all the mad manipulation, and disguised spiritual and physical slavery. I wonder how much work it takes for an elite to reprogram a brainwashed believer once they deem them worthy to be part of the inner circle that knows the strategies? We need to stop them controlling us. I'm pointing fingers at ALL religious organisations. For too long, they have TOLD people what to do, using varying dosage of encouragements and all flavors of fear, and when that doesn't work, people disappear, or lynching or crusades or genocides occur. I am not part of that crap. I am part of the change for an ever better life for all. I'm not recruiting for a specific group. I'm hoping you will consider NOT being part of a group that has the symptoms described above. Think and feel for yourself. Act and consume responsibly, for the benefit and alleviation of suffering for all.

That doesn't mean I don't have beliefs. I actually hold CRAZY WEIRD ones. But they are positive, flexible, subject to change from my exposure to life and people. I don't try to force them onto anybody. It's a life more comfortable, more serene, when I don't have to feel guilty and small for whom and what I am; when I can change my mind about who might have created what, and a God won't smite me for daring such a thing; when I don't have an obligation to preach or convince anyone, though I strongly encourage people to question and think for themselves; when the sharing of beliefs with others can teach us much; when I can live with the consequences of my actions, and correct my mistakes, learn from them, and keep growing; when my belief system elps me thing of myself as part of others, instead of "us against them".


BUT...I'LL BE LOST WITHOUT MY FAITH!
Now, it's a MUCH more confusing world at first, when there are no set rules and explanation anymore from a book or doctrine. No more clear set of unchanging, black-and-white rules! The CHAOS of degrees and nuances is your realm now! Life is rich and full of uncertainty! How can a control-freak creature survive???  When I first left Catholicism, I was actively looking for a replacement religion. Typical addiction behavior, trying to find a substitute for the comfort we once knew. Once the withdrawals are over, one can start being energized by that unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding that may ultimately doom or save humanity. I'm not going to even try actively to understand the meaning of life at large. I'd rather try to understand my little world, my circles, my self. Some of it will come as I grow. Being Ok with that is one of the things that has set me freer.


FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

Mythic Journey
I recommend this video. It helped me think and reflect on the importance of storytelling as a learning tool, and keeping an open mind. I had originally purchased it only because it featured stop motion puppets made by Brian and Wendy Froud,  but the whole film was fascinating! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1204935/

PROPAGANDA EXAMPLES
The Laws of the Sun (an anime movie)
I'm sharing this as an example of propaganda as used by religious movements to manipulate people. 
I wondered who paid for this to be made, because it feels exactly like other propaganda films (and other media) from different religious groups, including the larger religions.
A short online searched revealed the origin, another cult: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryuho_Okawa
Feel the hype, the manipulation, see the flaws in logic (and the bad storytelling!) See the signs, so you may avoid the influence! 

Jesus Camp
Another scary one, where young kids are turned into fanatics. For some, it's not as scary because it's from kids, but I wonder how many of these kids got worse later in life.

If you need more convincing of how religious organisations try to control people, just study any of them. See what tools they use, and ask yourself and others WHY they do anything you find suspicious.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

QUICK RECIPES FOR BUSY ARTISTS

Artists can be very busy, often working longer hours per day than is reasonable.
This can also mean malnutrition!
How about some quick or time saving recipes, the kind that pack a flavorful punch, and is healthy to boot?

Here are a few of my favorites, tweaked to my tastes and tested for a while before sharing,
I'll keep adding a link to new recipes to this list as I keep adding them in the blog.

Sweet Vegan BBQ Bean Chili


Tahini Dip / Veggie Paté

Rasp Berrymonade!

Quick Healthy Snacks

Deepy Minty Lemony Green Tea

 

 

Deepy Minty Lemony Green Tea




I originally published this in July 2011.
4 years later, I make it a bit different, and tonight, I found the NEXT LEVEL of this drink, so I figured I'd update the method!

So refreshing, so smooth and flavorful, you'll likely never be able to enjoy the commercially available iced tea imitations. They usually are way too sweet, the taste is too diluted, and there are many unwanted and unhealthy ingredients.

This drink will impress your guests!


What do you need?
A 2 liter pitcher.
2 tablespoons of loose leaf organic green tea (Sencha type is what I usually get)
2 tablespoons of loose leaf organic Mint  leaves (dry).
Frozen Lemon
Grater
Two trays of ice cubes
Natural sweetener of choice

Take a very clean frozen lemon  (rind and all), and grate about two tablespoons (use an organic lemon, scrub-clean very well before freezing!).
Pour 4 cups of almost boiling water over the tea and mint leaves, let infuse for about 15 minutes.

Strain out the leaves,pouring the liquid into a regular sized pitcher.


Add half a cup (or less) of natural sweetener (cane sugar, or maple syrup, or  brown sugar, or honey) while it's still hot, and blend well.  Add the grated lemon.
Add enough ice cubes to fill the rest of the two liter pitcher, and stir until it's all cold.
This means you can drink it immediately!!!

This can be made with only the green tea, same quantities, just replace the mint with more tea.
Grated Lemon is optional, but WOW, it adds depth to the experience, and it adds more vitamins to the body!.

Thrifty: infuse the leaves a second time, for a weaker tea. Still delicious! Use less ice this time, to not dilute the taste as much.   I don,t have two pitchers, but I have a  glass jug to keep the second batch.



WARNINGS:
•Adding Mint seems to turn this Iced tea into a powerful diuretic, especially for new drinkers of green tea. Prepare to "go" often if you drink more than two glasses.
This seems to have more effect on the new drinkers. I'm used to it, I don't see that unless I take three glasses in a row.

•This stuff is addictive, and not only for taste.
If you're not used to drinking green tea regularly, and fall in love with the taste of this Iced Tea, make sure you don't drink a whole pitcher per day for a few days, then stop drinking it suddenly.
I learned by experience that the withdrawal symptoms are real. Nothing too serious, but annoying nonetheless: a medium headache.







Monday, March 10, 2014

HERE BE LEVELS!


One of the greatest realization/lesson in this lifetime for me can be summed up in only three words: THERE ARE LEVELS. This means so much, in so many fields and situations.
For me, it means I have my place, no matter how insecure I may feel about my work at any point in time.  For the beginner, it means they can begin NOW.

 
Basic method, but perfect for low budget allowed. LEVELS!
What it means to me about the arts: there are many levels of technical skills and artistic sensibilities, but there is space for all of them, even on the market, from the very bad to the god-like. Some people at a low level of skills can still find an appealing style and occupy a niche, sometimes for their entire career, sometimes even without much discernible improvement. They still get paid, and they still inspire the folks who have not been exposed yet to the top quality stuff, they might even be the spark that inspire a future genius in their field. Find your public, grow with it (or not), and you'll have your place, says this lesson.

Don't get overwhelmed, get excited!
 It also says: get inspired and fueled rather than discouraged by the work of more advanced artists.
At the sight of the works of a "genius", I used to say: "I'll never reach that level, so why should I even bother, sigh...".
Nowadays, I've reached a point where I can think and say aloud: "Wow! Such potential! Imagine if I even reached a fraction of that level! Exciting! Let's study this work and find out what it means to me, and how they achieve this effect!!! Let's write them a letter to thank them and ask for specific advice!"


HUMILITY
This is also about humility. Real humility does not mean weakness. It is a strength, to gracefully accept a compliment, and appreciate where we are in the present, compared to others in our fields, based on our own observations.  No matter how much someone(or many) might admire your work and extol your virtues in front of others, there will always be better skilled artists than you, and of course, artists you would not dare call them by that term, according to your own sense of appreciation. Horrible quality works get published, sold, even become popular items for the masses. Some of those successes cannot be explained! Yet you have your place, the other artists have theirs, even though all the places keep changing, adapting with the person at their center.


Pride and ILLUSIONS
Being proud of your work is good, even necessary for self promotion. There is too much false modesty in this world. Still, boastfulness is usually bad, for it hurts other people's feelings. "I'm good at what I do, I'm an expert in these aspects, I've done it professionally for 15 years." is completely acceptable, while "I'm the best, I'm a living legend the likes of this person and that person, look at my contributions to this AND that famous piece of work!" just sounds bad. You are name dropping, trying, desperately, to elevate yourself, to prove that you are worth something, when the work itself should be enough to prove it. Even if you are indeed a living legend, it should be up to other people to call you that, and if you truly deserve the title, accept the compliments with heartfelt gratitude and humility. People who care really appreciate down-to-earth folks, since we tend to assume someone of great skill to be snobs. Let's change the face of success, let's encourage honesty and self-awareness!




AGE-ISM
Virgil, my 1st finished puppet. 
Some people will not take the opinions or the advice of a younger person. Age is too often seen as the automatic bestowal of wisdom. I've met elderly people with the wisdom of intoxicated teenagers.
Give me an experienced teacher of any age, and I'll try my best to learn. I once worked for a company who had this attitude: "We've been doing this for 30 years!" was their justification to keep on doing it the same way and refuse input about improving the quality and safety of their giant puppets.  GIANT puppets. This means heavy, bulky, and potentially dangerous.
 I've met two people so far who admit that they got permanent physical damage (nerves and muscles) from working with that company.   I risked my life TWICE with that company before I decided not to work with them anymore. I love my work, but I have to protect myself so I can keep doing it. Their designs were too heavy, the center of gravity was not respected, everything screamed anti-ergonomics!  One good thing came out of that, besides the paycheck: I learned a lot about what NOT to do.  And when years later, I built giant puppets with a team of people with a large range of skills, I made sure that we were not potentially risking someone's safety.


There is no age to be passionate and obsessive about a topic, to the point of becoming an expert. So, there is no shame in learning from a younger person than you. Indeed, there should be enthusiasm about such a young mind with such potential.  


The dangers of SNOBISM
As one's sense of observation and appreciation for excellent quality work keeps growing, a steep price is often paid: we become a lot more difficult to please.  This seems to go for most things in life, from preparing better food at home than in restaurants, to comparing every show we see with the masterful exceptions that blew our minds and artistic sensibilities.  The sense of dissatisfaction can be such that we may feel betrayed, that our time has been wasted, that we just experienced garbage.
Amateurs, every last one of them!!!
Learning to appreciate something for what it is, deciding to see the potential instead of the current limitations, to get excited about specific successful aspects of the work even when the whole was a dire disappointment.  The snob-in-becoming should try to keep their opinions private until that condition is cured or is at least under control. I'm working on that aspect these days.  THERE ARE LEVELS and ways to express our opinions and advice, so that finding the proper approach can help, instead of hinder and hurt other people's feelings.   Of course, it is best to offer the help and opinion, and wait for permission before we start offering a lecture on how things can be improved.
If they don't want the input, we must respect that.


Expertise
Most artists have areas of expertise where we know more than the person we are interacting with.  This doesn't automatically mean we are an expert at anything else. Quite often, a genius in one field is a dunce in another.  So again must we apply a healthy does of humility, to learn from those who have better mastery of some knowledge or technique we need.  Some of these experts for the method we need may be amateurs in other aspects of the same field. Let's exchange, let's be each other's teachers, let's all grow together, instead of competing.


Opinions/Feedback/Criticism
People often ask me what I think about their work, or something they admire in another artist's work.
Before I express my own views, I must ask them a few questions and state a warning:
•"Do you want my honest, profesionnal and personal opinions, or do you just want praise and reassuring?"
•Are you ready to hear constructive criticism?"
•I'll be as brutally honest as I need to be to take my point across, but my intention is always to help, not to hurt your feelings. 
•I only offer specific advice when I am comfortable (with experience and skill) with the topic. I may give general directions to other approaches that MIGHT work, but I'll mention that it is not tested.

Even after I preface with the above statements, I occasionally get the reactions I tried to warn against.
Some people become overly defensive and sensitive when their work is the subject of scrutiny.

For the sake of an eventual harmony on this floating ball in space, let's all learn to balance our emotions and intellects!

 
Opinions/Taste VS Objectivity 
When told about aspects that need improvements, a lot of people will revert to the old: "That's just your opinion" ditty.   Excuse me?  Opinions and tastes are personal of course, but quality work can be evaluated by the objective mind, backed by experience and a sense of appreciation of the skill and subject matter. It is especially easy to demonstrate in the case of figurative work.   Anatomy can be respected or distorted for artistic or fantasy reasons, but anyone who claims that they are doing accurate work based on anatomy while their work demonstrates nothing of the underlying principles of it is simply lying, and not only to themselves.
"What is Art?", is a question that became a debate that may never be resolved.
We can more easily evaluate what is in front of us, observable. And when someone shows me art they consider superior, I better be able to see/feel the work and intentions that went into it, or else I'll just lose interest, and focus on art that really makes me feel or shows me some technical skills.
Again, there are levels, and that is the salvation for a lot of us artists or art lovers, but it does not mean we are ready or willing to appreciate all those levels on an individual basis. We have a right to choose what we love or expose ourselves to, and that doesn't makes us insensitive or culture-less. 
Still, it is good to try to expand our comfort zones. We may learn something, we may FEEL something new!


WORK = PAY
Two months of work = $$$
I don't care what your level (of skill/notoriety/) is at the moment you do the work, you should be paid FAIRLY(at least), in money, goods or services.  A lot of beginners make the mistake of working for free, fearing they are not good enough yet to be paid, or thinking they'll get "good exposure". Exposure doesn't pay the bills (or you art supplies).  No matter what many artists and members of the general population may think, Art is valuable, and is genuine work. we don't usually ask other service providers to work for free, but artists get such requests constantly.  Let's educate ourselves, and then the masses, leading through example.  Charging less than what the work is worth doesn't only hurt your wallet, your self worth (as a working artist) but also the business at large: the general population customers has come to expect cheap labor from artists, except from those few who "made it".
What distinguishes a super skilled unknown artist with an average-skilled trendy artist who has become a favorite of the Art world?  Many things, but one of the most obvious aspect would be the number of zeros at the end of the check for each piece sold.  This person is not expected to work for free. Why?  They are an artist too!  Maybe their situation has made it clear enough that their work has monetary value.  We need to do something to that effect as well. we need to educate the masses about the value of the work we do. "Without art, a society has no identity." I tried to find the source of this quote, but at the moment, nothing springs forward in searches.
Another tack at it, with my own words: without artists to design every space and every object we use and appreciate in our daily lives, there would be no joy, and even the practical would be less so.

If someone approaches you to work for them, they must have felt something desirable in your work.
THAT has value too. So does your time, your experience, your total focus, the sleepless nights, the emotional roller coaster that often comes with creating something we are passionate about.
Look at what the usual fees for the work (of similar levels) are at the time, and start getting comfortable with charging those amounts. My old fear was that I would lose work opportunities if I "charged too much".  Sure, some customers get surprised at "how expensive" my fees are, but then I try to educate them about the differences between a ready-made toy that has been mass produced, and the unique piece I am custom-building for their needs.  I cannot compete with the cheap prices and assembly lines, but I can offer some things that are hard to beat: originality, rarity, customizations, all adapted to the needs of their project, and their personal tastes.  A lot of them change their minds and hire me, some even going to the extent of finding additional funding for their projects.  Those who are unwilling or unable to hire me at the time, can either go for the mass produced items, or reach someone else at another level, and there is no hard feeling.  Some do business with me in later years.

 
But, I don't have any talent!
I constantly meet people who ave been brainwashed into thinking less of their own potential.
"I wish I could draw or paint! I couldn't even draw a stick figure to save my life!"
For me, talent is something you are born with, an affinity, a special ease with a technique that most people have to struggle to learn to reach any level of acceptable quality.
I can say right now that I wasn't born with any obvious talent that I can use directly in my work. I had to work very hard, despite the obstacles of having no formal training in sculpture, painting, or drawing. And I still keep working hard, pushed b my constant dissatisfaction.

Skills are honed, nurtured, pushed and sharpened over effort and time. You have one functioning eye, and can write your name clearly enough so that people can read it?  You have what it takes to draw realistically. What, you don't have arms? Use your mouth to hold a paintbrush!
You get the picture, skills take effort! And determination, and patience, and faith, and definitely passion.

Before the age of photography, even scientists had to learn how to draw realistically to represent their findings, so the subject was thought in most schools.  Nowadays, in our world of super specialization, we think of artists as a separate group of people, with almost magical skills (though we often don't respect them, paradoxically.  A scientist who can also draw today seems a strange concept, an admirable rare specimen of a renaissance person. 



Anybody can perform the various techniques of Art, following time and effort. Not everybody has what it takes (but they CAN learn it) to become a full-time Artist though. 




IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Many artists have it, that feeling that we are not good enough; that we don't DESERVE to work in our field; that there are FAR better artists who don't even have the chance to do what we do;
that our work is not good enough to be sold/published/publicized.
When my mind whispers these doubts again, I just reply:
 Thank you for your opinion, but...
•THERE ARE LEVELS and there is space for all of them in this world.
•I keep getting better and always do my best, so my customers always get my best possible work.
•People appreciate my work or they wouldn't keep hiring me (many repeat customers, some abroad).
Self doubt: NOT good enough (will redesign in clay)
•I contribute to bringing people smiles, stories, reflection, escapism, and life lessons, through the stories that are performed with my performance objects.
•I share my techniques to keep the ball rolling, and that makes me feel amazing as a bonus.

You are good enough! Start NOW, keep at it, and you'll soon reach levels of comfort where you'll feel that you have accomplished something. Then that feeling of dissatisfaction will come back or increase, and you'll be pushed to accomplish even more, or you'll give up if you don't keep working.
 Life is ever expanding, ever changing, so let's embrace that aspect into our work.

Impostors are those who pretend to be what they are not.  I LIVE my work. 

THERE ARE LEVELS, and appreciating what level I am at in the moment, keeps me satisfied and fueled for the project I must finish NOW.  Of course, as a project is over and my mourning of its departure is done, new challenges happen, and I make dang sure I keep stretching my comfort zones, get better in my work, and reach THE NEXT LEVEL.

But we have to start NOW, with what we have NOW, learn along the way, and keep at it!
This work in progress illustration started from a bunch of random doodles. It keeps evolving and changing as I put more time and effort into it.  Then end result will likely look very different in composition and complexity, but the main feeling and story are already present, I think.






Friday, September 20, 2013

Easy Iced Coffee

At home, I just beat the taste of any iced coffee I've ever had in a coffee shop or restaurant.
My approach is super simple, and does not require any fancy piece of equipment.


14 ice cubes
2 tablespoons of instant coffee (I used Mount Hagen Organic Café)
Half a cup of maple syrup (or sugar), or however much you need to reach the bitterness/sweetness relationship you prefer
Pinch of salt
Enough water to reach the level of the ice cubes
A tablespoon of almond butter (this turns the water into almond milk, but it's better tasting, healthier and more economical then store bought).

Blend at high speed (finish on pulse) until you have the texture you want.
I don't have any fancy blender (though I dream of a Vitamix), I've had an Osterizer 12 speed blender
for years.

Tastes even better when served in a mug. Serves two for reasonable portions, or serves one greedy coffee fiend.

After a minute or two, the top of the beverage will be a frothy, luscious coffee slush with ice chunks, and the bottom is the most wonderful refreshing sweet coffee drink I've ever had.



Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Studio Space Savers

Last October I had a very inspiring visit at the Roro Art studio in Toronto.
My friend Robin's sense of organizing space is the best I've ever seen.  The amount of supplies, tools, final products and resource material that she can fit in a single space is incredible.

Knowing I could improve in my own "studio with a bed in the middle", I started making some tweaks in terms of moving furniture around, decluttering and getting rid of things I no longer needed.
No, REALLY, I had to be stern with myself, and a lot of "my PRECIOUS" and "I'll need that someday" had to go.

Thankfully, the  parting is virtually guilt-free, as a lot of my neighbors are recyclers.
Whatever I put out on the curb that might, even remotely, have some kind of utility left in it, gets appropriated within two or three hours, usually. Weirdest quick disappearances so far: a pair of DESTROYED studio sneakers, and a very uncomfortable mattress.
But I digress. Again. Back on track:

This week, in between steps in two different contracts, I spent a lot of time and effort on that studio makeover.  I LOVE it!

My biggest investment and improvement came as a purchase of a used industrial shelving system (200$).
That beautiful behemoth thing allows me to store most of my supplies in one room, but it does take HALF the room.  Seeing how wonderfully deep and wide that middle shelf was, I decided to use it as a work table. finally, a space big enough to pattern and cut my fabrics, without having to put a board over my bed.  That meant that more than a third of the shelving's storing power would be immediately eliminated!  That wouldn't do!  I figured I could find some shelves I could install on the back wall, between the bottom shelf and the top one. Easier said then done!


But the idea of using milk crates has been floating in my head since my Roroart visit, and today I implemented it.  WOW!  The table space that 7 maskmaking bases used to wastefully occupy, now provides residence to those same bases, and so many more items, including items that were stored elsewhere.  I have better storage, and MORE SPACE!

I love the milk crates so much I'm getting more this week. I want to build an l-shaped  mobile tool station, to hold my tool bucket, a tape dispenser, with a wooden table top to hold my crock pot (for warming my oil-based clay).  The crates are held together with big tie wraps (zip ties), which means they can easily be re purposed in the future. For sturdier assembly, I'd use nuts and bolts with washers.

For those who have not had the pleasure of interacting with milk crates, they are quite common in North America.  They are sturdy plastic square crates that are used for delivery of milk and other items to grocery and convenience stores. Countless artists, handypeople, and cyclists have adopted them for their own uses.  You can get them for free sometimes, but in my area, I have to buy them from the store, as they have a consignation price on them. They have to pay the supplier for each missing crate, so I buy them at that price, which is 4$.  4$ for a magical item that has the convenience of a thousand uses!

Here's my first milk crate shelving, which is only four crates and an old wooden shelf:



I'll update this article with more tips and pictures of what I've done in my studio soon.