Reboot

comic3_robot_revised_1

A hand jammed into my chest. A quick, lethal tug.

That was my last memory.

When my next bit of sentience reengaged, I was lying on my back, looking into a round dark face, fluffy black hair framing it like thunder clouds.

“You are alive!” it said.

I jerked back. I tried to get up, to run. My leg was supposed to plant into the weedy grass and propel me, but it missed. Only air. I pitched straight onto my face, amid background noise of its voice, words I didn’t care to hear.

Its human voice.

The last voice I’d heard was human. Raised. I could still feel the tug. The last word.

u  s  e  l  e  s  s  .

GET AWAY FROM ME! I tried to say—but what issued from my voice simulator was a staticky buzz, ugly and unintelligible.

I cut off, surprised. Half my left leg was missing, twisted and snapped clear out of its socket. My chest panel was also gone, baring my sensitive inner circuitry.

I tried my voice again, quieter.

The human stood over me. It was showing me its palms. Bare hands.

Good for you. You have hands.

Bare hands were supposed to pacify me? Bare hands had fingers, muscles, bone, the perfect combination for insertion and extraction. Soft and vulnerable, perhaps, but cruel, all the same.

“It’s ok, it’s ok,” it was saying. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

I can’t trust you— More ugly buzzing. Water damage, probably. I glared at the hole in my chest, hunching my shoulders.

It had registered by now. I was in a junkyard. I could see the me-shaped outline in dead grass under a fallen beam a few yards away. Spindly arms, smooth edges.

The human had propped up the beam with a small scissor jack.

u  s  e  l  e  s  s  .

We are not supposed to have feelings.

But that’s a pesky side effect of advanced AI. Those of us that are placed with humans develop personalities.

She’d probably already seen it, this human. I didn’t know what to do. She’d decided it was a good idea to revive me, and now she’d seen—how many emotions plastered on my simplistic mechanical face? I didn’t care to count, but I tried to think of them—fear, surprise, hostility, disgust…

All problematic.

She’d probably cut more of my wires now, including the ones she had soldered back together. I had no escape.

My outer panels were already starting to rust. She would cut my power, take whatever scraps she wanted, and leave my remains to rust away.

Because robots were never supposed to feel.

“What are you doing out here?” she said, gently kneeling next to me.

I curled up, slowly.

Sadness came, then. Pain, betrayal, confusion, grief. Welling up in my circuits, flooding my broken voice simulator, adding a whining tinge to the grating buzz. They threw me away…

I showed negative emotion and they threw me away, and now that same fearful ugliness was spilling out of me.

I curled up tighter. I hid my face, but I couldn’t hide the shaking.

Why did she revive me? Why?

I hadn’t hurt anyone.

Why did they throw me away?

What was I supposed to do now?

“Well then.” She got to her feet.

When I looked up, she had extended a hand.  “What do you say we get your leg fixed up? Your voice simulator too?” She flashed a smile. The well-meaning type. “You look like a talker…”

I stared at the hand. Callused palms, short fingernails, grease and rust along the fingertips. Probably from me. The hand remained in the air between us.

I chanced to look into her eyes. Tentatively, I unfurled a tiny bit. I lifted a hand.

I placed it in hers. Metal panels against seamless skin.

Her smile softened and the warm, organic fingers closed.

And I wanted to believe in that sensation.

I wanted to believe that maybe overstepped malfunctions like me deserved to live too.

+++

A/N: A written version of a comic I did for class this last semester.

Kindling

One final checkmark. I felt it coming on many days in advance. Perhaps even weeks.

Before I felt the anger and contempt and unrest building to unbearable proportions, I knew one last dialogue was on the way.

Either he would instigate a talk, or I would explode under the pressure. Or, if we were lucky, we’d just fade away. Our time together would expire and we would never draw near again.

A metaphorical matchbox sat heavy in my hands. The crumbling, warped bridge barely standing between us.

One final checkmark.

I ended up sparking the impending moment with an indecorous flare of anger. I was met with outright denial.

A misunderstanding, perhaps, on the subject of my tactless quip. But I couldn’t have misunderstood everything. Not the things I saw and felt–the months of emotional stress that had slowly been driving me to breaking point after breaking point. Things witnessed and affirmed by another uninvolved.

I couldn’t have misunderstood it all.

Yet he was in the mood for denial, so I tried a familiar route he knew positively. I asked if he was ok.

Yeah, I’m fine. He said. Are…you ok?

When the sun is shining and all the thorns played off, he is an affable, open book. He is kind and eager to please. He loves discussion, and he can make a person feel like humanity is a virtue.

But only when the trouble does not concern him. He does not have the stomach for humanity, then.

Are you ok?

The final checkbox stood waiting, red, phosphorous. A match between my fingertips, the bridge before me. I’d already decided it needed to be burnt, but the question remained as to how it would go down.

We hadn’t been speaking for a while already. I hoped maybe he had thought through some things when, as a last resort, I had had to distance myself, allow my supports to atrophy. Maybe he had grown up a bit, now that I’d openly had enough of his toxic, juvenile behavior.

As I leaned against the doorway, staring at his face, his question, I thought maybe I could hope that when we parted, he wouldn’t turn right around and do this to someone else. Maybe the crumbling of our bridge had taught him some valuable lessons. Maybe finally he would help me put it out of its misery and move forward.

Months of pent up anger gave me courage.

I decided to be honest. For old time’s sake, for aligning myself with my firm belief that mutual communication and honesty are the best way to solve problems.

Out of the last few shreds of respect I held for him as a person, I decided to be honest.

After months of him skittering around me, avoiding eye contact, submissive speech and dirty looks, of fickle and unpredictable fits of self-pity, he looked me dead in the eye. He spoke with more clarity and lucidness than I thought he was capable of with anyone.

And he emphatically denied all of it.

He wanted specifics, but I was too flustered and incredulous to think of anything that would make sense to him. My pride screamed at me to think of something he could not deny, but I knew it was useless. He never heard me when I spoke. Only when it was good. Anything real, he recoiled from as if burned, a child’s hands struck by a ruler.

I stuttered a few lame sentences. He was earnestly confused by them, the pitch of his voice raising as he continued to press for a  better explanation, as if this were the first he had heard of the problem. I stared at him, dumbstruck. I think he truly believed himself. He spoke with such conviction I wondered, mortified, if I had made up everything about everything. If I was the insane one in this.

You know what, forget it, I said through gritted teeth, turning away. Just forget it. Stupid, petulant words, but they were all I had. He would never hear me.

Then his voice broke. Pleading hopelessness and confusion. An almost comical repeat of months past, whenever I attempted to calmly address concerns like a responsible adult and he never interpreted it as such.

Finally, I understood.

Like every other instance when the saccharine mask of sunshine and smiles and honeymoon friendship faded, whenever I tried communication, he pulled his platinum level victim card. He threw it down in front of me that afternoon, begging me to take it, to ease up, to make sense. A slap to the face. Presenting the front of his useless clogged filter he really believed was in working order.

And as the realization hit me, so did the overwhelming disgust. A deep, revolting nausea that would cling for days afterward.

He’d learned absolutely nothing.

I left him alone as he continued to blubber on, trying to shed responsibility. The brick wall of his stricken face, his teary eyes, his tight voice.

He would never change.

There was nothing more to say.

The last box was finally ready to be checked off.

I stepped forward to the bridge, finding it much uglier than just a second before, a whole other layer of illusion stripped away. Beneath the chipping, weathered paint, I could finally see just how painfully the wood was twisted and rotting. How many boards were missing, bolts and sockets rusted and cracked, how the supports had been defective all along. I had done everything I could to save it, but perhaps this bridge should never have stood in the first place. It was a time bomb, a desperate, idealistic joke.

The last clinging drops of remorse and hesitation detached as I docked his beloved victim card into the seam between two wooden supports.

Grimly, I struck the match and lit the card’s sharp, bitter edge.

+++

A/N: Some personal prose, I guess. A new experience for me.

 

 

It’s not just about drawing.

It’s certainly been a while! I keep trying to figure out how to concisely describe what my life has been lately, but it feels almost impossible to adequately put into words. I’ve spent the last two months typing in scraps of writing on my phone while commuting in the early mornings, or while I’m sitting in my workspace with too many confusing thoughts to concentrate through. When I tried to consolidate them into a coherent blog post, they kept falling through. Today, fresh out of a rather rough midterm week, I find myself in a good position to actually offer something more put-together for my poor, neglected blog.

It’s been pretty intense these days, a long hard lesson in the concepts that being a professional illustrator is not just about being able to draw.

I thought I had a good work ethic. I quickly establish myself in almost every setting as a hard and intelligent worker. Yet this semester has shown me just how small I still am. I have been pushed to hardcore self-motivate even when my work environment sometimes feels stifling, to not make excuses or waste precious time complaining, to develop systems and efficiency but above all putting in the hours because there is no way around it, to deliver however much is asked of me when it is due, and to decide all over again that I want this enough to work harder than I have ever worked for it.

And my efforts have been fruitful. I’m learning a ton and, though I’m overwhelmingly busy and often exhausted, my inspiration is amply bolstered by everything.

I’ve found I like watching the hands and eyes of illustrators. The eyes of storytellers are always thinking, taking in visual information for both physical navigation, but, more significantly, for absorbing reference and inspiration. In a way, illustrators and storytellers are always studying, always crossing back and forth between reality and the realities they create in their own minds. Such line-crossing has been my experience for as long as I’ve been alive, and I am so excited to be able to see it all around me, to get to learn from people who have made it their livelihood, and are extremely good at it.

I’m convinced illustrators are wizards. And with as hard as this semester has been, demanding more time and effort in my art and processes than I feel I can always keep up with, that thought helps keep me going. Skilled illustrators are capable of things not a lot of people can do. Every moment I spend working toward my classes, I am learning. I am pushing into the reason I decided to plunge myself further into student loan debt instead of teaching myself. I see my art improving almost weekly in speed and quality. I’m connecting with fellow students, learning from people a generation or more ahead of me, yet cut from the same aching, dreaming fabric.

It breathes in their work. In the searching, considering gaze of their eyes, of the steady, analytical efficiency of their hands.

And slowly, I’ve been watching my hands take on a sort of slenderness they’ve never had before. They’ve always been kind of wide, shortish, sturdy. Growing up, I used to think they were kind of mannish. There’s a deep-seated callus on the right ring finger from years of nearly constant writing. Most of the calluses on the palms from gymnastics have faded from 5 years of disuse, but I like to think their memory is still there, buried and dormant. The fingernails are short and ragged, nervous habits fueled by stress and restlessness from the tendency to forget I have human needs.

They are often jittery. A nearly constant pressure to work and create and learn, working as hard as they can stand, but still not perhaps fast enough. This is what the last several weeks have been. The standard my professors hold me to can be overwhelming, but it’s also empowering. I am training to attain that standard, after all. All I have to offer is my best, and that is a bar that is constantly raised and reoriented.

Sometimes I glance down when I’m writing, consider my hands in the mirror as I use them to command my toothbrush. And I can see it, that sense of becoming.

I can see it in my face too. Sharper lines, cartoon-villain-like dark circles under my eyes. An unimposing frame of straight, steady contour lines, most often shrouded in some kind of sweatshirt. A body used to sitting still for hours and hours on end. Of doing whatever it can to adjust to what I’m putting it through. 3 hours of sleep is the new 5. Meals are short and simple, usually only to keep me steady. It holds out as long as it needs to, long nights and even longer days capped by tramping up the steep hill back to the apartment, toting all manner of supplies after an endless day of class.

Over the last month, I have been seriously intimidated by what I’ve gotten myself into: Painstakingly time-consuming assignments to understand paint and color, training myself to be patient and pay attention to realistically render a portrait with just two colors of pastel pencil, spending hours hunched over a tablet screen, drawing out comics more sophisticated than I’ve ever challenged myself to perform, trying to prepare 3 fully inked pages for critique in just a short week’s time. Working my hardest and still having to pull a near all-nighter to stay on track.

I’ve gotten away with too much in my time as a student in higher education. This graduate program’s been teaching me a thing or two about pulling myself together, staying calm, and putting in the hours. I’ve had to take a good hard look at everything I’ve been working for, demanding an answer from myself of whether or not I want this enough.

My life is currently a constant series of adjustments, of striving, of becoming. It has pushed me to the edge and back more than I can count, and I know this is just the beginning. I often wonder if I am capable of pulling this off.

That very fact tells me I’m right where I need to be.

Paths crossed

Stacea stopped in the street, suddenly, making Aría jump.

“What was that?” Aría said.

Stacea raised a hand to her head. “I don’t know…it felt like…” She shook her head, brow furrowed. She looked around, mouth slightly open, tasting the air, thinking.

“I sense a mage…” she said, slowly. She turned around. “The reptile one…”

“Ingram’s apprentice one?” Aría said, following her step in her chosen direction. “His master too?”

“No, just the one…” Stacea’s eyes narrowed. She shook her head again and rubbed a hand under her nose. “None of our business, anyway. I don’t care what the little skink does.”

Stacea continued walking down the street, and Aría tripped after her.

“Does he smell bad?” Aría glanced back.

Stacea hesitated. “Not really, why?”

Aría gave a one-sided shrug. “You seem really…hostile. He seemed pretty harmless to me at the anniversary dinner…”

Stacea kept her eyes on the street. “Have you not heard about Arkenyon mages?”

Aría hesitated. “No…? Aren’t mages like…herbalists, fortunetellers and the like?”

Stacea shook her head. “Not Arkenyons. They take it forty more levels. From what Mariet has told me, they can rip reality apart. Skilled mages can do just about anything they want. They’re sensitives, is the thing. Diliken sensitives are more herbalists, reading the lines of the lifestream, communing with nature and helping keep things in balance. I don’t know what they do in Kaladría, but in Arken, it’s like they’re made of those notorious thunderstorms of theirs. It roots them out, drives them insane…” She shivered. “I can feel it when people like them are nearby. It makes my skin crawl…”

Rapid footfalls on the street swelled behind them, shouts of “‘scuse us! Coming through! Look out!”

Aría glanced back again, just as they tore past her and Stacea.

“I think we’re going to head it off!” one of the boys panted, triumphant. Aría caught the hint of smoke from his singed shirt.

They swerved into an alleyway.

“What was that about…?” Aría looked at Stacea and paused at the look of sheer dread on her friend’s face. “—Are you all right?”

They heard a distant crash of wood and Stacea took off in the direction the boys had gone. Aría tripped after her. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” Stacea called back. “Nothing humane, I can tell you that!” She turned the corner just in time to watch the boys turn one further up. “I think they’re after that mage kid. He’s nearby, moving—” Her eyes narrowed. “And he’s scared out of his mind…”

Aría kept up with her, winding through the alleys. Finally, they turned a corner and found a group of people gathered in the mouth of a narrow alley.

“Please listen…” Aría heard a young voice, cracking and frightened. “I’m not dangerous! I haven’t done anything—”

Stacea marched forward, and Aría heard the dragon in her voice. “Leave him alone!

The group paused, glancing back as Stacea pushed herself through, Aría on her heels. Stacea straightened as soon as she broke through, as if in surprise. Bristling, she twisted to face the group as Aría wrestled herself out the other side of the gathered.

She found herself looking at a huge pile of snake, more than anything else. Pressed up against the wall of the dead end, she saw the boy, his ashen face orange, not the burgundy she remembered from when she’d seen him with his master in the royal commorancy. His brown eyes were wide and tearful. He was shaking.

She took a step forward, palms held out in a peacemaking gesture.

“It’s all right,” she said gently. “You’re all right now. Stacea can hold them off. We’re not going to hurt you.”

His unconvinced gaze switched between her and the deterred crowd. Stacea was chewing them out. Aría ventured nearer, and the snake boy let her approach.

“—Don’t let her get near it!” one of the people cried. “It’s like an electric eel! Not to mention it’ll snatch her faster than you can blink! Crush her in an instant.”

Stacea barred their way with an arm, drawing herself up further. “Does that kid really look like he’s going to hurt anybody?”

“Never seen anything like that,” someone said.

“Shapeshifters are dangerous,” another added, resolute.

“So we gang up on them?” Stacea spat. “Oh sure, that will make them safer to be around. Haven’t you spoken with him?”

“…yes…but—”

“And what was he saying!” Stacea demanded.

“What’s your name?” Aría said softly, kneeling down next to Irix’s apprentice.

“Kennick…” the boy said. He brushed a hand across his eyes. “Kennick Turmen…”

Aría offered a tender smile. “I’m Aría. I don’t know if you remember me…but I’m the maid who gave you soda water that night in the Diliken commorancy…You’re Irix Ingram’s apprentice, right?”

Kennick stared at her, his breathing beginning to calm. Confused, he nodded. “I remember you…” He glanced down at himself and shifted, pulling his torso up to more of a sitting position. “Sorry…I’m sorry–this is so messed up. You probably–”

“You’re a shapeshifter?” Aría said, stopping his embarrassed fumbling.

Kennick nodded. “But I’m not dangerous—I swear I’m not—”

Aría held up a hand. “It’s all right. I know.”

“Go about your own business,” Stacea was growling at Kennick’s assailants. “We’ll take it from here. We know exactly how to deal with shapeshifters. We’ll figure out where he means to go and get him out of here. Don’t cause any more trouble than you already have.”

Aría smiled in spite of herself. Stacea was bluffing. As if all shapeshifters were the same…

“I tried to keep this from happening…” Kennick said, tripping over himself. “I tried so hard–” Aría wasn’t used to Arkenyon accents, but she followed as best as she could. “But—see—I can’t have legs for more than a few hours because I broke my instinctive cast…and I thought everything was going to work out, but I got lost and…” His throat tightened. He bowed his head, wiping at fresh tears and trying to get a hold of himself.

Aría gave him a moment. “Where’s your master?”

Kennick glanced to where the people were beginning to filter away. Some disappointed, some angry, others just embarrassed. Stacea stood planted in front of them like a mean house cat, her fluffy hair a swatch of black in the tan bricks of the alleyway.

“My master…” Kennick trailed off. He lifted a hand to his head, breathing a shaky exhale. “I…” He looked into her eyes, desperate. “I need to speak to the king. Can you help me? It’s extremely important…”

Aría hesitated. “That’s a steep request…”

Stacea came up behind her.

“Thank you so much,” Kennick looked up at her. “They were threatening to cut me open…”

“Disgusting,” Stacea said. She docked her hands on her hips. “You should know better than to show this side of yourself in the city…”

“I know—and I do—it’s just…I couldn’t help it—” Kennick stammered, miserably drawing his tail closer around himself, away from her feet.

Aría glanced back at her friend. “He said he damaged his legs so can’t have them for long. Is that correct, Kennick?”

“More or less.”

“He also says he needs to talk to the king,” Aría said.

Stacea stood over them, brow furrowed. “We can’t get you in there.”

“But you work there—” Kennick blurted.

“Yes, but there are guards at the gate, who are not going to let us waltz through with an orange Arkenyon boy,” Stacea said. “A snake, no less. And even if we did, someone’s going to find out we smuggled a shapeshifter into the royal commorancy, and we will be in the worst trouble of our lives.”

Kennick’s face flushed. He sank into himself a little in despair. “I know…” he said. “I knew it was a long shot…”

“Why are you here?”

Kennick glanced aside. “You won’t believe me…”

“Try me,” Stacea said.

+++

A/N: Hello! It’s been a while! I was going to post a life update, but I thought nah. Maybe I’ll post that later. Have a Diliken fiction blurb instead! *thumbs up*

Observers

“Oh—they came!” Elna cried. Kennick looked up from his nest by the hearth as the girl hurried over to the door and stood up on her toes to look through the window.

Tiny dots of light undulated past the glass.

“Fireflies?” Kennick said.

“Come here—“ Elna waved him over.

Kennick picked himself up and crept to the door to look.

“Däkhama,” Elna said. A group of the glowing orbs sat around the edge of the bowl Elna had stationed on the end of the porch. The milk inside rippled gently, like small tongues disturbed the surface.

“Momma says they’re the heartbeat of the world. The observers. They come and watch all creatures, and they give off certain vibes that help things stay in balance, especially between humans and mythical creatures. Da says they can predict earthquakes and stuff too.”

Kennick squinted, trying to see the creatures through their light, but he couldn’t. “How?”

“Don’t know,” Elna said. “But they come to visit if you put out milk and sugar just when it’s starting to get dark.” She smiled at him. “We’ve been doing this a long time, so they all know this is a good place to come for snacks.”

Kennick watched some flit away from the bowl while others crammed into their spot along the rim. Some were sniffing around the grass off the porch like glowing bumblebees.

“If you’re mean to them, the forest becomes a very sinister place,” Elna’s mother said, from by the fire.

“Do they let you near them?” Kennick said, raising a little higher to see better.

Elna grinned and reached for the doorknob. Kennick backed up as she carefully unlatched and opened the door. She peeked her face out, listening, waiting.

Kennick glanced back. The family was watching the ordeal.

Elna’s father got up and went to the kitchen. He opened a drawer and scooped some loose, granulated sugar into a small bowl. He handed it to Kennick.

Elna pulled her head back into the house. “All right,” she said. “They seem to be in a social mood.”

“How can you tell?” Kennick said, quietly.

“You can just feel it.” She stepped out onto the porch, gesturing for Kennick to follow.

He carefully slithered out onto the wooden boards. The air outside felt industrious, but the feel of it filled more and more with curiosity, directed at him. He gently closed the door behind him.

A few däkhama drifted up to Elna’s face.

“Hello,” she said, smiling.

The dots of light began to gravitate toward Kennick.

“Stay still,” Elna said. “Let them sniff you.”KEln_Dakhama_2

Kennick complied. He tried to hold his breath as they hung around his face, landing on his arms, his hair, his long, serpentine lower body. They were warm creatures.

One alighted on his nose, and he felt very tiny grippers, like caterpillar feet. He tried to see it through the light. It was vaguely star-shaped, full-bodied, but he couldn’t see much more than the blurred outline.

“Do they sting?” he whispered. The däkhama on his nose took to the air again, skimming back to the milk bowl.

“No,” Elna took some of the sugar from him and a handful of the creatures left their investigation of Kennick to eat it from her hands. “Don’t worry.”

Gradually, the rest of the däkhama began to lose interest in the human shapeshifter, and filtered away to continue their meal, or to take sugar from Elna or the bowl in Kennick’s hands.

“So—if you’re nice to them, they tell their friends, and the supernatural doesn’t really target you?”

“More or less.”

Kennick raised his gaze to the hundreds of soft lights floating around the yard. He sat back. “Wow.”

+++

A/N: Where Kennick is from, to be a mage commands a measure of volatility–which can be difficult to control. In the vast, notoriously dangerous forests of Dilikí, such sensitivity carries a very different meaning.

The State of Affairs

I’ve been burnt out and homesick, but I’ve decided it’s not so bad here.

The door of our dwelling is huddled under the stairs up to a walkway. Sometimes I walk among the small spit of grass and trees on my way to take the trash out, instead of parading past a row of garage doors, hoping Murphy’s Law won’t initiate another awkward pedestrian-driver waving game. I grew to take the latter way, though, as the path got littered with plums from the trees.

The back of a horse ranch sits on the top of the hill behind our apartment complex, and sometimes riders take their horses to the corner store, clopping back up the hill outside our apartment balcony with cases of beer. A little white house down the road is home to three dogs: two heavy duty feather dusters and a velvety pitbull. When they’re let outside, they bark for fun, but sometimes one of the little dogs gets really stressed out around the big one.

If I stand out on the patio, I can see the big illuminated sign of the shopping center where I used to work, sluggishly flashing red and blue over the trees like a lonely, distant beacon. It’s a little creepy.

We live across the bay from the San Francisco International Airport, so airplanes frequently roar overhead. Sometimes when it’s particularly loud, I half wonder if a plane is crashing, or if the apocalypse has arrived.

We have a hummingbird and a seed bird feeder attached to our balcony, and I’ve begun making a list of the birds who come to visit. Some of them are birds from home.

Our furniture and beds are inflatable. We planned to get real lounge furniture like regular adults, but before that could happen, we all realized that we’re moving on as soon as the lease is up. Can’t be tied down by real mattresses just yet. My current inflatable mattress doesn’t give me back pain and it’s decked out in comforters and flannel scottie dog sheets, so it’s a pretty decent setup.

We have a little side-room that I think is supposed to be a sort of dining room. This became the office early on. As is my way, I set up camp here pretty much exclusively over the fall semester and now it’s kind of unofficially become my workspace. I finally accepted that, and opted to move things around and add my own touches to the space—like Christmas lights and a cup for writing utensils with plastic molecule models in it.

We’re now just starting to decorate our walls after four months of being here. That’s the kind of four months it’s been. Too tired for initiative for extras. Surviving only.

Though we haven’t failed to cover our fridge in Lord of the Rings-themed word nonsense.

There’s a massive wildlife reserve just a 10 minute drive south, but I’ve yet to actually go there…among other places. There are a lot of welcoming, green places if you know where to look for them. The east bay city I’m currently living in is all right if you know where to go or have your own haunts, but, being new to the area, my aversion to driving in California, and an empty social energy bucket, I haven’t gone out and found them yet.

However, attempts to explore are beginning to bud. So far they’ve been reaping positive results.

My car likes to kill itself in the night. A few weeks ago, I put oil in it, jumped it, and charged the battery up again like an ADULT. One of these days, I’m going to stop worrying I’m going to destroy my car whenever it needs any sort of maintenance.

Afforded six weeks in which to recover from my intense stages of burnout, I more or less hibernated. Things are better now. But I’ve effectively destroyed my sleep schedule, and I’m trying to get it to at least resemble something regular before school begins next week. That hasn’t been as successful as I would have hoped…

The goal of this semester and beyond is to come back to balance. Getting a handle on my cancerous, stubborn cynicism, encroaching social anxieties, and lack of willpower to want to be patient or brave. I’m pretty optimistic that things are going to change for the better, actually. Things are already shaping up in many inexplicable ways.

I’ve felt tired and empty and cold for too long. I want to feel like things are worth it again. I want to work with ambition, pursue the things I love without groaning so much—if at all. Plans are taking shape: Among other things, I’ve decided to start exercising again, to venture outside the apartment more, to again take up recreational reading and daily reflection and prayer, to operate within “responsible self-care,”—minimizing procrastination, taking care of myself and my current home and roommates as a means of staying healthy instead of trying to define rest with avoiding all responsibility.

I want to feel whole again; peaceful, growing, alive. And for the first time in a long while, I feel…malleable–like perhaps the spiraling is over and I’m finally at a place where I can pick up and start making stronger strides forward. 

They say it’s more about the journey than the destination. And for me, this season’s destination is more a general cloud than a distant landing pad. Looking for that inscrutable target causes all kinds of stress for me, so I’ll focus on the journey. The daily steps, the digestible pieces.

I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I understand that such a point of satisfaction does not exist.

But perhaps where I am right now–in this little apartment south of San Francisco, on the verge of bigger and better things–isn’t such a bad place to start, all the same.

We are not monsters

When it began to mature, I was terrified.

There was no hiding what I was.

People would stare. They would think they knew what I was supposed to be or do or want. Some would understand, others would look at me like some kind of animal.

Centuries of objectification, symbolization, fanatic sacralization.

Beautiful yet ugly, sacred yet shameful. Mysterious but inferior, immaculate yet disgusting. Desired, yet abhorred.

Just because ideas are ancient doesn’t make them right.

What does that make someone feel, to be born in such a body?

Someone who wants only to be human?

Who looks upon their own physical container and wonders why. A child feeling that pain for the first time and thinking what a curse it is to be born this way. Why do creatures like us carry such burden? What an honor, I’m told.

What an honor. We can be procreators, but never human.

And rising against the voices, the dominant, the brutish, the ancient, we hear our own. Insisting what we are. Perhaps we’re crazy. Perhaps we’re wild. Rabid, diseased beasts. Overstepping the lines we did not set, renouncing our masters. Whispering or snarling what we know to be true, however we can get people to listen.

We are not monsters.

We are human.

We are human.

+++

A/N: Thoughts while milling around the apartment this afternoon.

I’m Going to Need a New Planner

2015 was a year of change and challenge.

By the middle of December, I was always tired, and holding desperately to a dwindling sense of motivation to keep up with anything. In the midst of it, I didn’t understand why I was having such a hard time, but looking back, it makes a lot of sense.

(Me being too hard on myself? Surprise, surprise…)

Exactly a year ago, I was yet to begin my last semester at George Fox University. I still didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into by electing to take Advanced Anatomy, and I’d already been feeling the beginning stages of burnout. I was in the middle of writing my second book, and I didn’t yet know how it would end. I hadn’t even applied to grad school yet, but I had decided I was going to go for it, and had initiated contact with a graduate admissions counselor.

By the end of May 2015, I had:

  • graduated from George Fox University with a biology degree
  • applied and been accepted to launch straight into an MFA Illustration-Graphic Novel program at Academy of Art University in September
  • arranged and embarked on another four-week trip to Costa Rica to visit my host family–my first time traveling internationally without academic affiliation.
  • finished my second novel (which I actually did in Costa Rica)
  • started initial stages of my next large writing project
  • made headway in plans to move to the San Francisco Bay Area with my prospective roommates

Graduating college heralded huge changes I didn’t understand until I was far removed from the graduation ceremony itself. The undergraduate science major life I’d grown accustomed to was no more. The friends I had made were spreading out across the country, or staying in the area while I planned to leave to attend a completely different type of school.

Having finished a 10-month writing project, I found myself struggling to keep my creative drive satiated. I had to be writing something. Editing was its own animal. I was practically scrambling for something new to work with. Fortunately, I had something in mind, which develops further by the day. I’ve unofficially started it. School and the other two novels needing attention have to come first. I exhaust myself when I try to work on four large projects at once, much to my annoyance.

I had a great time in Costa Rica, thanks to the very gracious hospitality of my friends and adopted family there. I hope I can go back and visit again someday.

The next couple of months saw preparation for the fall, trying unsuccessfully to secure an apartment from afar, hoping my meager savings would be enough before my financial aid kicked in, undergoing a plan B trip to find work and an apartment before the actual move. A lot of lists and changes of plans took place during this period.

My sister and I drove down August 15, and stayed at a friend’s house for 3 weeks (THANK YOU SUE!) until our apartment was ready. September 15, we were faced with moving into an apartment amid school and work, which proved to be much more exhausting than I had anticipated. Apparently apartments need a lot of things like food and soap, and lack of furniture makes it hard to do homework?

I started work about the time of the move, and I loved the people I worked with, but the amount of energy it took from my already burnt out countenance took a huge toll on my mental health and interfered with my classes. Thank God for financial aid. After two months, I had saved up enough where I could quit and have a reasonable stipend until things shift next September.

Moving away from home was hard for all the reasons I didn’t think to expect. I was suddenly separated from my support group, and I wasn’t yet up to the challenge of putting forth the effort making a lot of new friends at my new school would require. So I found myself rather isolated. The last couple of years have been relatively low seasons, so everything took too much energy and attention. Self-motivation was difficult.

New school meant new expectations, as well as a new area of study I still wasn’t accustomed to. Being a biology major in undergrad, homework was studying and reading and research presentations, not charcoal renderings and figure studies. I felt like I had absolutely nothing under control, and I resented the fact that I needed so badly to be in control. I know having a type A personality is nothing to be ashamed of, but man, I was sure hating it there for a while. (Sounds like freshman year all over again, doesn’t it?)

Stress is needed for growth. I just wish I was able to handle so much stress with more composure.

Despite everything, I actually did well my first semester. I love the school. I learned a lot, improving my grasp of anatomy, learning how to render with charcoal and pastel (something I had very little basis in), learning new media, etc. I again came to grips with the finiteness of time and energy, learning to do what I can to pay attention to my limitations and adjust my movements to allow for them.

I’m really looking forward to next semester, and I hope that it will go more smoothly than this last one. I was so incredibly burnt out.

I still kind of am, but I’m ready to step out a little more, make friends, explore more than I’ve had the ability to.

As things are right now, my first book is nearly finished and I’ve yet to begin looking for agents/publishers (more likely the former). I’m dead set on traditional printing, which is perhaps the hardest way to go.

It’s been rough, coming into a terrifying stage with my art and writing. I’m studying to be a professional artist, and, with my first novel being on the cusp of professional pursuit as well, I’m definitely out of the dreaming stage. The years of working more recreationally than anything else and hoping everything will come together someday. Well, someday is now, and truly stepping out with both my most cherished forms of self-expression, into the zones where risk and failure abound is daunting. I’ve started to feel all the doubts, about life, my passions, my ability to function as a person. Nothing too sticky, mind you. I want this too badly for them to really prevent me from pushing through them.

This year’s been crazy, to say the least. 2015 was like grabbing hold of a cord that proceeded to drag me through all kinds of mire and foliage too quickly to really have time to realize what was happening. Or I was left too drained by it all to want to think about it anymore.

I look forward to working hard and growing more in 2016. An awful lot happens in a year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.