Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! How I became a "yokai sponsor."

 A dear friend, let's call her "Bridget," sent me a hilarious Halloween card. We are both big fans of the anime series "Natsume's Book of Friends" based on the manga by Yuki Midorikawa. It's a marvelous story about a boy who can see and interact with the spirit or "yokai" world. One of the bittersweet themes of this series is that the yokai world is being diminished by humanity's loss of homage and belief in the spiritual or supernatural.

However, upon finding a gecko charm that looks eerily similar to the lizard yokai that lives on the character Shuuichi Natori, Bridget came up with an ingenious solution: become a yokai sponsor!

In addition to sending me the pictured gecko charm, Bridget included a personal address:

Dear Reader,

Every day thousands of yokai around the world go hungry. Faithless masses no longer believe in the mystical while delinquent youths deface shrines. This behavior has become so rampant that the Soul Umami Philanthropic Phantoms of Entity Relations (S.U.P.P.E.R.) pronounced that this century is looking to be the "worst yet." But you can help right now. As a yokai sponsor you can make the world a more magical place. Please show your support for your friendly yokai neighbors by wearing this snuggle yokai charm which will channel a small portion of your positive energy to a friendly yokai near you whenever you dream.


Ifrit Drekavac,
President of the Yokai Menu of Friends Foundation

*Personally, I think there is enough fun stuff packed in this paragraph to start another story. Happy Halloween, mina (that's Japanese for "everyone")!

Pumpkin lantern on Nokonoshima Island

Thursday, October 16, 2014


 Growing up, what did you learn about humanity from your ink companions?

From Taran Wanderer, I learned humility and persistence
From Nancy Drew, I learned that girls can be clever problem-solvers
From the Black Stallion I learned the glory of wildness
From Anne of Green Gables, I learned to treasure a runaway imagination
From Galadriel, I learned grace of character
From Lucy Pevinse, I gained the courage to believe. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Review of As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

I’ve decided to review one of my very favorite works, As a man thinketh by James Allen.  First off, it’s free! You can download it from Amazon Kindle. It is a gem of philosophical ponderings on the ineluctable nexus between our thoughts and actions. (You may find the language a little dated/dense at times, as it was published at the dawn of the twentieth century.)

In a nutshell, Allen contends that every single thought we have shapes our circumstances in life to one degree or another. All thoughts, from base to pure “crystallize” into some future action, habit or impact on our character and connections with others. Thus, persistently taking command of our better thoughts and winnowing out unkind, detrimental habits of thinking allows us to transform our destiny, or our way of interacting with the world and viewing it in a positive light:

As Allen asserts, “The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varying combinations of colours, which at every succeeding moment it presents to you are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever-moving thoughts.”

With newsfeeds overflowing with gloom n’ doom clickbait about society’s failings, I think Allen’s admonition to cultivate the purest, kindest part of our mind is especially relevant. Because I believe that only by nurturing that part of our self can we learn to more easily see and celebrate it in others.

Allen argues, “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts; your Vision, your Ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration…”

I would recommend this book to everyone, but especially writers! Thoughts are the foundation of our craft—and also our own undoing. Too easily, we fall prey to debilitating fears of failure that scatter our creative will. Yet Allen explores failure not as a shameful weakness, but as an essential opportunity to forge a new, stronger character. He also reminds us of the worth of dreamers, asserting:

 “The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trails . . . are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers. Humanity cannot forget its dreamers; it cannot let their ideals fade and die; it lives in them; it knows them as the realities it shall one day see and know.”

But the following passage is perhaps my favorite excerpt from Allen’s work, because it reminds me of the eager ink beauty just waiting for me to quill it into being: 

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soil a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview with an artist: Heather Monson

This October, I am very excited to interview Heather Monson, who has many talents in art and theater, including costume designing!

Wood Witch

How did you first become interested in making costumes? (or is the term cosplay?)

Both terms are correct, depending on what you mean. Making costumes is just what it says. Cosplay is wearing costumes and playing the characters to whom the costumes correspond. It's a Japanese-katakana-abbreviation of "costume play."

As for how I became interested in it... I attended a panel introducing the basics of costuming at "Life, the Universe, and Everything: the Marion K. "Doc" Smith Memorial Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy" (commonly called LTUE). This was just a few months after LotR:FotR came out. I decided to make some Middle Earth-ish cloaks. Once they were done, I decided to attempt a dress that crossed costume elements I loved from LotR costuming with costume elements I loved from "The Princess Bride" costuming. And, from there, I was completely hooked.


What kinds of costumes have you made for yourself and others, and where have you worn them?

Oh, goodness. I've built costumes for a variety of local theatre productions, and have worn a few of my own creations onstage. I've made costumes for local small independent films and trailers. I've made a lot of costumes (film-based and original), for myself and others, for conventions. Quite a few of my costume creations have been for live action roleplay games (LARPs). The LARP creations are probably my favorites, as they aren't just costumes. They are what that character wears (and, in the case of LARP weapons, which I also build, what the character uses to defend himself/herself). LARP gear must be very sturdy and functional, in addition to being attractive and out-of-the-ordinary.

 Poseidon Rising and Desert Sun

Making costumes is very time-consuming. Can you describe the personal rewards of finishing a new piece?

It's the same as writing a story, capturing a poem, creating a painting, etc. Being able to look at something and say, "that exists because I made it" is, in many ways, its own reward.

Other rewards... When I'm sewing for other people, I love seeing their reactions when I deliver the finished pieces. One friend in particular has a face that lights up like a little kid's face at Christmas when I show him a new costume. After the initial reaction, he proceeds to notice and admire all the details, try things on, admire the overall effect, and thank me profusely for my hard work. Thanks to his reactions, he's one of my very favorite people to sew for. I love giving people a chance to step into another character, another perspective, another world.

And the rewards don't end there. At conventions, it's fun to be stopped by people wanting a picture. At Halloween, it's fun to be the person everyone in the office is trying to beat (and, in all fairness, usually succeeding--but somehow I'm still the standard they want to beat). When larping, the garb I made myself really helped me to inhabit the characters I played, and to be very comfortable (in all kinds of terrain and weather) doing it.

This might sound a bit odd, but I love how costuming allows me to combine the love of art I got from my mom with the love of math (yes, math--I suck at everything beyond Algebra II, but it still fascinates me) and things that are built well that I got from my dad into an end result that can be worn and used and enjoyed.

 Arwen Mourning Gown

In other words, how do you feel when you can inhabit a character’s persona?

I enjoy getting absorbed into the character, so I suppose you could say I feel what the character would be feeling. Wearing what the character would wear helps make the experience immersive (which the spellchecker thinks is not a word, but it should be, darn it). How absorbed I get depends a lot on circumstance. For example, onstage in a play or as part of a larp event, I can get thoroughly immersed in the character. At conventions, it's a much more superficial creation of the role, as I need to fill a lot of functions besides just portraying whomever-I'm-dressed-to-portray.

 Sepiroth and Aerith

What advice would you give people who are interested in learning how to make their own costumes?

Get started, and be very, very forgiving of your early attempts. Learning to costume is the same as learning any other skill. You'll improve tremendously with time and practice.

Don't be afraid to use your imagination. If the pattern doesn't do what you want it to do, change it, or set it aside and make up your own.

Also, when using commercial patterns, check your measurements against the pattern measurements BEFORE you cut your nice fabric. Hardly any of us are shaped exactly to the pattern's measurements, and the pattern's measurements aren't always accurate. Make any adjustments you need to make when you're working with tissue paper, not when you're working with fabric.

 Jester Costume

What would your dream costume be?

lol That changes several times a year. At the moment, with full time work and new parenthood eating up all my time (though I very much love and appreciate both), my costuming dream is just to get caught up on existing projects.