Adam Savage

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…

Walk Away

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 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.

Creative Coaching

There’s only so much you can do. I’ll give you a prime example.

I’m in school right now. And working a full-time job. And trying to maintain some freelance work. And, frankly, that’s a lot. So there are times when I miss posts here.

I hate missing them. It’s my goal to post twice a week, hitting both fiction and nonfiction. In the last six years, I’ve met that goal the vast majority of the time. In the last six months, I’ve missed it a lot.

Just last Friday, I was down to post some fiction, but my site wasn’t responsive. (My host provider, who is amazing, was switching servers. My site was down all weekend to facilitate the move, which is ultimately a good thing.) Point is, the option of posting just wasn’t there. I couldn’t. Literally, could not.

And that’s okay.

It’s good to push yourself in your art – to a point. But there are times when you can’t push yourself further. When life pops up and stops you, when you’re too exhausted to even think about being creative, when you simply need a break, take one.

Don’t use that as an excuse to be lazy. Don’t complain about what you wish you were accomplishing in your craft if you’re just sitting around. That’s dumb.

But when you don’t have the time or energy, it’s okay to pause for a breath. Two breaths, even.

I promise, your art will still be there when you’ve recovered.

I posted the above sentence on my personal Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago. It’s not original. I heard the idea expressed on a podcast on the drive to work, and it stuck with me.

It’s still sticking. Why is it, I wonder, that we so often assume bad intentions in others?

I think it’s because it’s easier than assuming good. Easier and, weirdly, safer. We see some kind of protective value in suspicion. If we give others the benefit of the doubt and they really are trying to hurt us, we’re at greater risk.

But if we assume rotten motives, our guard goes up. The defenses stay intact. We’re secure.

Except, of course, we’re not. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and that’s true either way. The only thing assuming bad intentions wins you is more angst and fewer friends.

I’m not saying you should be careless about who you trust. But I don’t think it serves you or your interests to perceive evil in the thoughts and actions of others on a regular basis. That just makes you miserable.

Instead, I think it’s better to assume good in others. Better for your overall sense of peace, and better for your art.

Look, the world is full of cynics. Bitter, angry, seething cynics. They have high cholesterol and low self-esteem. Is that what you want? Is that the place you want your art to flow out of?

You can try to dodge the truth all day, but ultimately your philosophy of life is the birthplace of every artistic effort you make. If you bath yourself in pessimism, your art will show it.

Can I invite you to consider a better course? Assume good intentions in others.

Don’t let anger be your guide. Lose the skepticism and embrace a sense of hope. Your relationships will be benefit, you’ll feel better, and your art will give something to the world, even when you feel pulled to wrestle with difficult topics.

Creative Coaching

It’s not inspiring or beautiful, at least not in a conventional way. It’s not what anyone wants art to be about. It ultimately serves a greater purpose, but in a way that feels as draining as it feels empowering.

What is the obligation of the artist to speak to real issues, especially where suffering, injustice and oppression are concerned?

Speaking candidly, I don’t know that artists are obligated, per se. If you don’t feel pulled toward an issue, I see no reason to force yourself to address it. Conversely, if you do feel pulled toward an issue but recognize that it’ll be tough to tackle, that’s not a great reason to avoid it.

In my own writing, I sometimes gravitate toward what I know is controversial ground. Maybe not to the world at large, but to some of the people in my own life, at the very least. In those cases, I’d rather be hated for telling the truth than loved for lying.

And, yeah. I know. Not everyone perceives failure to tell the whole truth as deception. I’m too honest for my own good.

I’m also reminded of this quote, which I’ve adapted to better suit the times:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke

I can’t deal with every evil in the world. My art can’t address every injustice. I don’t have the time or energy or (frankly) arrogance to even try.

But when an injustice pulls at me, and when it feels like it fits something I’m working on, I run with it. I assume that’s Vye tugging on my sleeve, urging me to use my gift, feeble though it may be, to attempt something good.

That’s what I do.

What about you? Do you think artists should take a stand? If so, to what degree? And when?

Earlier today, a Facebook friend posted a simple request. “Tell me something good,” she said. I’ve been watching responses come in. It’s a fascinating informal sociological study.

Some of the responses have been genuinely inspiring. Some have been silly, which is its own kind of inspiration. And some, more than I would have expected, have been focused entirely on the responder.

It’s good that so-and-so is older than me, for example. Or it’s good that I’m doing something nice for someone.

Those things aren’t bad, but I feel like there’s something better about finding good outside of yourself. In many ways, that’s the goal of art. To find goodness in the world – in other people, in nature, in the ebb and flow of things – and bring it to light.

Can you imagine an artist who only seeks to highlight what she thinks is awesome about herself? An artist whose sole goal is to convince the world that he’s kick-ass?

(Basically, can you imagine more artists like Kanye West? And . . . I just threw up a little in my mouth.)

Isn’t it better to focus on the goodness outside ourselves? To turn our attention to that which is lovely about the world beyond who we are? To allow that goodness to inspire us and lead us to be better people, rather than just patting ourselves on the back?

I think so.

If you’re up for it, tell me something good in the comments below. Something good that isn’t about you.

the 9A friend reminded me of this little bit of wisdom today.

Safe feels good. It feels secure. And it’s a lie.

But you don’t really see that until the risks are HIGH. Then it’s like you’re at the edge of the platform, looking down at a tightrope, and struggling to take the first step.

If you don’t, you know your heart will never soar. And if you do…you might fall. So what do you truly want – to touch the sky or kiss the ground?

the 9I didn’t post fiction last week. It’s rare that I take a week off, but it was a crazy-busy week. I could have pushed myself to go ahead and write something, anything, but that’s not why or how I write fiction.

I write fiction because it’s fulfilling. Because it’s fun. Because I want to.

I think all art should come from that place.

That doesn’t mean you never have to push yourself for the sake of art. Sometimes you do. Sometimes art requires great devotion. In the learning of a new skill. In the commitment of time. In slow, methodical execution. Or even in resolve to explore emotion, meaning and purpose on a deeply personal level.

But even then, even when it feels like it’s draining you dry, it should also fill you up. If it doesn’t, why the hell are you doing it at all?

Ready for a rant? Good.

Here goes. Language evolves. Get over it.

Too vague? Gotcha. Check out this clip from The Big Bang Theory. (The video quality isn’t great, but it’ll do.)

Sheldon makes the point that the word “nauseous” is often used in place of the word “nauseated,” which would technically be grammatically correct. But I disagree with Sheldon in two ways.

First, while “nauseous” may have originally meant “disgusting or loathsome,” dictionary.com confirms Leonard’s use of the word. Suck on that, Sheldon.

Second, the original meaning of the word doesn’t matter.

Language isn’t static. It never has been. Over time, it morphs and changes. What a word meant 50 years ago is irrelevant today. What matters is how words are used now.

There are a smattering of words out there people frequently misuse. So much so that their meaning has been adjusted in the common vernacular. As an artist, you can pick fights about those words, correcting people when they break from traditional definitions, or you can roll with evolution.

If you decide to be a grammar Nazi, that’s exactly how you’ll be seen. Even writers hate overly nitpicky grammar snobs.

Should you follow grammatical rules? Absolutely. A writer who doesn’t will come across as amateurish and lazy.

But remember that language changes over time. If you can’t change with it, you’ll quickly become irrelevant.