What follows is an explanation of cosplay as shared by Adam Savage during a TED Talk. I found this little gem on Imgur and simply transcribed it. If you’d like to see it with the images, you can find it here. If you’d like to listen to the entire TED Talk, that’s here.
This beautiful exploration of cosplay gets to the heart of what fiction – what art – is all about.
I never truly understood Cosplay until Adam Savage explained it for me.
It’s not called “costuming” at conventions. It’s called “cosplay.” Ostensibly, cosplay means people who dress up as their favorite characters from film and television and especially anime, but it is so much more than that.
These aren’t just people who find a costume and put it on. They mash them up, they bend them to their will, they change them to be the character they want to be in those productions. They’re super clever and genius. They let their freak flag fly, and it’s beautiful . . .
So I put together a No-Face costume [from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away], and I wore it on the floor at Comic-Con. And I very carefully practiced No-Face’s gestures. When people asked to take my picture, I would nod and shyly stand next to them and they would take the picture and then I would secret out from behind my robe a chocolate gold coin and at the end of the photo process I’d make it appear for them, and people were freaking out.
“Holy crap! Gold from No-Face! Oh my God!”
This is so cool. I’m feeling it. I’m walking the floor and it’s fantastic. About 15 minutes in something happens.
Somebody grabs my hand and then puts a coin back into it and I think maybe they’re giving me a coin as a return gift, but no, this is one of the coins that I’m giving away. I don’t know why. And I keep on going and I take some more pictures and then it happens again.
Understand, I can’t see anything inside this costume. I can see through the mouth. I can see people’s shoes. I can hear what they’re saying and I can see their feet. But the third time someone gives me back a coin, I wanna know what’s going on, so I sort of tilt my head back to get a better view, and what I see is someone walking away from me like this…
And then it hits me.
It’s bad luck to take gold from No-Face. In the film Spirited Away, bad luck befalls those who take gold from No-Face. This isn’t a performer-audience relationship. This is cosplay.
We are, all of us on that floor, injecting ourselves into a narrative that meant something to us, and we’re making it our own. We’re connecting with something important, and the costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other.
I’ve been away too long. And yet, it’s justifiable. Even understandable.
My schedule is packed, juggling a full-time gig, a graduate program, freelance writing, and trying to maintain at least a little bit of balance for downtime. Something had to give, and lately it’s been my writing here.
But the site hasn’t been abandoned. I will post when I can. I can’t and won’t promise the kind of consistency I had for years – not until school is done in January, at least. But I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve just taken off.
Not at all.
I’ve been working my way through Creativity, Inc. Written by the president of Pixar, Ed Catmull, the book chronicles the rise of the animation giant. Pixar is known for top quality films and an unrelenting passion for high-quality art. Catmull is central to Pixar’s story, of course.
He has a lot to say about the concept of ego, but most of it can be boiled down to the statement above.
A big part of Pixar’s culture is rooted in candid feedback, regardless of rank, department or involvement in the specific project. Basically, everyone there is committed to making the best films possible. Constructive criticism is a necessary part of that process.
As he tells Pixar’s story, it’s hard not to think, “Well, yeah. Obviously.” And then someone reads something I wrote and points out a potential weak spot, and I immediately think, “Hmph. Clearly you don’t get it.”
But in those moments, I’m the one who doesn’t get it.
Do you want your art to be great? Do you want to produce the best stuff you can possibly produce? Then you have to be okay with candid feedback. In fact, you need to seek it out.
Don’t just ask for feedback from people who will tell you your work is amazing because, of course it’s amazing. You did it. Don’t seek out consistent nay-sayers, either. Seek out people who aren’t shy about giving you frank reactions.
What do they like? What don’t they like? What feels right? What feels wrong?
And whatever they say, put your ego on the shelf. Listen and then, from a non-defensive place, consider their input.
Candid feedback is the only kind of feedback that helps artists grow. If your ego can’t handle that, it won’t invalidate your talent, but it may keep your talent from developing further.
This week, another redo. I promise to bring you something fresh next week.
But first, I’d like to revisit one of my favorite short stories. It’s simple and quick, with a nice little reveal at the end. I like the punchiness of it.
I made only minor edits to the original. Enjoy.
“You’re mucking it all up,” he said.
“That’s a point of view,” she replied.
“No, that’s a fact.”
She sighed. “I forget how difficult it is for your kind to distinguish perception from reality.”
“Perception is reality,” he said.
“Thank you for making my point.”
He opened his mouth to speak and then thought better of it. After a moment’s reflection, he wagged his index finger and said, “None of that. None of your riddling. I’ll not allow you to turn this into a war of words.”
She smiled benevolently at him. “What sort of war would you prefer, sir?”
He blustered, his hands forming fists and his cheeks turning red. Along the left side of his forehead, just above the eyebrow, the thick thread of a single vein could be seen. It looked ready to burst.
He held a book in his right hand. Reflexively, he lifted it and began to sift through its pages.
“That trinket will do you no good here, sir,” she said casually.
“Trinket? Why, this is–”
“I know full well what it is. I don’t come to your home and insult your intelligence. I’ll thank you to show me the same courtesy.”
“No,” he said. “You merely come to my home and kill people.”
It can be so difficult to explain to a human, she thought. “I don’t kill.”
He hefted the book before his face with two hands as though its weight required a double grip. “I said in the cutting off of my days,” he read, “I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.”
She made a small gesture and the book lifted out of his hands. He stared at it, awed and terrified. She made a second gesture and the book closed on its own and floated to her.
“What makes you think I’m the one who deprives you?” she asked.
His eyes remained transfixed on the book.
“This,” she said looking down at it. Her fingertips ran along the leather spine. “Yes, this is sacred. This is truth. This is so much more and so much less than your kind understands. What it says about me most of all. Sir, answer me, why do you blame me? Why seek me out? Why try to stop me from performing my duty?”
“You are the enemy of man,” he said. “You must be stopped.”
She smiled at him again, not unkindly. “Let me ask you a question. You say you sought me out?”
“To stop me?”
“Under what circumstances would I meet with a man, face-to-face?”
He recoiled in shock. “No . . .”
She moved forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. Looking gently into his eyes, she said, “Yes, my dear, sweet, noble man. Yes. It is already done, else you would not be here.”
And then Death wrapped her arms around him and held him tight in her tender embrace.
I’m sorry for the fiction hiatus. It’s been a long month, full of ups and downs. Most weeks I’ve just been too drained. I’ve started a few stories, but finished none.
And this week, I’m cheating. Sort of. I’m dusting off an old story originally published on my site all the way back in 2012. I’d forgotten about it, but I like it. Quite a lot, actually. It’s got a nice sense of balance.
So, with a few edits, here it is. Enjoy it, and forgive the repeat. It’s not like you’ve read the original, anyway.
leaving the fold
“Ester, you must go to The Binding. You must. Jedidiah will be sorely vexed if you do not.”
Ester looked into Rahab’s eyes. She’d known Rehab all her life. Until three weeks ago, she’d never spent more than a few hours outside her company. That was before she wander away from the group in town. They were buying supplies.
That’s where she met Eddie.
“You were named for a whore,” Ester told Rahab. “Have you ever thought to ask your Pa why he named you that?”
Rahab recoiled from the words. “She’s in the geneology of Matthew,” she whispered. “She saved God’s people.”
“And she was a whore.”
Rahab’s lip quivered, her eyes filling with tears.
“The Binding . . .” Rahab said, still reeling.
“I’m not going.”
“But you’re promised to Jedidiah. You’re to be his wife.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“But the elders have decided it. It is God’s will. It is God’s way. It is –”
“Not my choice. I’m not going.” Ester looked into Rahab’s eyes. Her friend was badly shaken. She sighed.
That first day, meeting Eddie, it had been the same way for her.
“What the fuck you dressed that way for?” he asked.
Her cheeks turned red at the use of the devil’s tongue, but she talked to him anyway. Perhaps her heart was already gone, even before her feet were willing to follow. It certainly hadn’t taken Eddie long to convince her.
She only wanted a few things – a necklace that had been her mother’s, a couple of dresses, just until she could get some normal clothes, and her dowry. It was, after all, more than ten grand. Enough to buy freedom and a new life.
“You can come with me, Rahab. If you want.”
“What? Leave home? Leave the fold?”
“It’s all shit anyway,” Ester said.
“They’re just words. Come with me. Please.”
“I can’t.” Rahab’s tears dried at the idea of betrayal.
“You can and you should. All of this is bullshit.”
“Why do you keep saying things like that?”
“Because they’re true. Rahab, you don’t have to be Bound to Seth. You could make your own choices. Think about it. Isn’t that what you think God really wants? For you to choose? This life – the way we’re forced to live – this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”
“You’ve become an abomination!” Rahab declared.
Ester closed her bag and shook her head, defeated. She moved toward the door, preparing to slip out into the night.
“You’ll burn,” Rahab said, her voice flat with judgment and finality. “You’ll burn in hell if you leave the fold, and I’ll not weep for you.”
Ester closed her eyes. She wanted to hug Rahab, but she did not. Instead she simply said, “I’ll weep for you,” and left.