Featured From the Archives: Elitism in the Arts

This week, I’m preparing for a presentation I’ll be giving with the brilliant Cait Spivey at the upcoming PNWA Writers’ conference in Seattle (and again at the Willamette Writers Conference two weeks later). I’ll post about it here after we’re done, as it covers a topic I think many of you will find useful, so if you can’t come see us do the talk in person, don’t worry. We’ll find a way to bring the talk to you. 😉

But as my non-fiction creative juices are currently tied up with those efforts, I unfortunately didn’t have time to create something new for the blog. Instead, I’ve opted to dredge something up from the archives that I believe still resonates (maybe even more fiercely) with today’s tumultuous world of publishing. And given that we’re heading into one of the heaviest periods of Twitter pitch parties and literary awards/contests, I thought it might be a good reminder to everyone preparing to brave those waters, as well as those of us bearing the responsibility of authority.

Elitism in the Arts

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/28/14

No-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-without-your-consent-Eleanor-Roosevelt-1024x946

This is a post I’ve dreaded writing, because in order to do so, I have to relive some painful memories. But I feel like this is a message that needs to be said. And so, though it comes from a negative part of my life, I’ll try my best to keep it positive. First, some raw honesty:

Throughout my creative journey, I’ve tried many different branches. And I’ve felt like an outsider every time. The writing community has been welcoming, but recently, I realized that the literary one is a completely different beast, and that I will once again be facing down the enemy of being different. This isn’t a battle that’s new to me, though. In art, I was ostracized for being too commercial. In the Martial Arts, I wasn’t traditional enough. And in writing, I’m not literary, coming from a film background rather than one in English. But, you see, the problem isn’t me. Those are all things I’ve been told, things that have created scars I’ll never fully erase. They’re not the product of a lack of ability, or talent. No, they’re the product of a phenomenon that should never exist — elitism.

People hold the arts up as this ideal place for individuality, where you’ll be free to express yourself without fear of judgement and prejudice. But those people are wrong. Rooted in subjectivity, the arts are actually worse than other industries. Instead of embracing the different, the weird, the innovative, they shun it, viciously tearing down anyone who dares to try something new, or becomes too popular. And who can blame them? People who do things differently risk the status quo. And we can’t have that. (Even though that’s the motto flying on our brilliantly-colored flag of creativity.)

Humans are pack animals, no matter what we’re led to believe. And nowhere do you see that penchant for cliques more prominent than in the arts.

I came face to face with it for the first time in college. (Now, you should know that I went to college at the ripe age of 16, so I was still highly impressionable.) There I was, testing my wings for the first time in what I thought was a safe environment to do so. College is all about experimenting, right? Finding one’s self, and blah blah blah. Well, I had the good fortune to find a college professor whose close-minded bullying nearly had me hanging up my pencils for good.

I don’t know the story behind what was happening in that woman’s life, but that also shouldn’t matter. She was an educator, someone entrusted to help mold the minds of our youth. And she abused that power. I was stuck with her for three classes that semester — color theory, figure drawing, and beginning painting. Things started off great. I’d never been exposed to formal art classes, so I was a sponge, putting my best into every assignment. (I’m also a perfectionist with a compulsive need to get A’s, so you can connect the dots on my level of participation.) She seemed to like me, and I did well in all three classes. Until one day, about halfway through the semester, when she asked me the fated question I would learn never to answer honestly — what kind of artist do you want to be? Stupid me, I told her the truth:

“I want to be an animator,” I said, not realizing that word was akin to the most vulgar thing in the dictionary.

She looked like I’d spat in her drink. She backed away from me, a completely disgusted look on her face, mumbled something snide and walked away. After that, my grades plummeted, she wouldn’t call on me during class, and it was like I didn’t exist. But the kicker was the final project for the painting class. The assignment was to create an abstract painting that had no clear top or bottom. I’d never done abstract before, but I did my best, following the assignment to the letter.

Like all teenagers, I was battling some emotional instability, so I tried to capture that turmoil in paint. Doesn’t get more “tortured artist” than that, right? Well, when it came time for the final critique, this woman took my painting to the front of the class, turned it on its side and said, “Oh my God, where’s Bambi?” (Yes, that’s a direct quote.) I’ve never seen a room full of young people so silent. I swear, they all stopped breathing, staring at me with wide eyes as this teacher continued to ridicule me in front of them all, informing me I had failed because clearly, I had portrayed a forest fire.

I left that class in tears, dropped out of school and gave up on art for the next five years. All because I’d made the mistake of uttering the “A” word.

That’s not the only time I’ve run into that kind of elitist attitude either. Over the years, I’ve been accused of plagiarism (because I happened to write a sci-fi story that featured a weapon mildly resembling a light saber), told I wasn’t good enough to amount to anything, and been patronized because I don’t do things by the majority norm. And I know I’m not alone. These kinds of experiences are par for the course in the arts.

You want to be a singer? Too bad, you suck.

You want to paint? Well, you’re not Van Gogh, so you may as well give up.

You want to be published? Every door will be slammed in your face.

Overcoming adversity is the very definition of being an artist. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So what if someone wants to play the violin with their toes. Or paints murals on street signs. Or writes something a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t make them any less of an artist. The different creative communities claim to be so welcoming and open-minded, but instead, offer only elitism and rejection. If you’re not the alpha of the pack, then you’re the scapegoat. Or worse, lost somewhere in the middle, amongst a sea of sheep.

What’s the point to all this? Simple — don’t let yourself fall prey to elitism. Words have power, whether they be said in jest or seriousness. And that power lasts. To those of us in a position of authority (agents, editors, publishers, teachers, etc.) I implore you to think about what your rejections do to the people who receive them. So it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s fine, but be nice about it. There must be something good you can give them, some piece of encouragement and/or advice. There’s no reason to get up on a high horse and strip them of their dignity. It’s our job to be the mentors, to help people achieve their creative dreams. Falling into the pack mentality is easy to do, but if we all try a little harder to remember our humanity, and not our need to feel important, we can eliminate experiences like those I went through.

And for those of you who have suffered, or are suffering, under the sword of elitism, keep your head up. Just because one person says you can’t, does not mean you can’t. It took me a long time to get over what that painting teacher said, and I would have destroyed the piece if my mom hadn’t saved it. But I’m glad she did, because I no longer see the emotional turmoil it represented. I see a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a reminder of what I’ve overcome, and that it’s okay to fight for your dreams. So remember, as the great Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We all have a choice. We can become victims, or we can become dragons. I chose to be a dragon, to fight back against elitism and approach my creativity with strength and resolution. Which will you be?

 

Abstract Painting

Untitled

by Kisa Whipkey

Copyright: 2000
All Rights Reserved

 

Featured From the Archives: Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

All right, I know I promised that we’d be returning to the info-filled posts of yore, but after a week of battling a heat-induced sinus-migraine, I’m a bit lacking in the spare brain cells department. Plus, I’ve done a lot of serious posts over the past months/years, and when I look back through the archives, I realize just how much I miss the more lighthearted, humorous ones. So hopefully I can bring back some of the snark I used to possess, which seems to have fallen into the same elusive black hole as my artistic skills and the socks stolen by the Dryer Gnomes. In the meantime though, this is the perfect post to help inspire some humor.

Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/15/12

By now I’m sure you’ve gleaned that sarcasm and I are BFFs. And if you haven’t, let me spell it out for you: sarcasm and I are BFFs. There, don’t you feel enlightened?😉

But while I’m a huge fan of the cleverly timed sarcastic quip, not everyone is. Some people fail to see the humor in wittily worded insults and beautifully snide observations. (There must be something wrong with them. Who doesn’t love some clever, snarky banter?) Just like I fail to see the humor in Slap-Stick, Blunder, or Practical Jokes. (Which no one will ever convince me are anything but dumb and ridiculous.) I mean, really, why is it hysterical when some moron hits himself in the groin? Or falls over trying something that’s obviously going to end with a concussion and broken bones? Or farts. Seriously, just farts. Comedic genius? I think not.

I was often told growing up that I didn’t have a sense of humor. But as I got older, I realized that, no, I just didn’t have their sense of humor. But that didn’t mean I was/am completely devoid of appreciation for all things humorous. I’m just particular about it. Which brings us to the point of this week’s rather short installment.

Humor is subjective.

And I don’t believe that any one type of humor is better than another. Really, I don’t, I swear! (She says with fingers crossed behind her back.) The important thing is that something makes you laugh. And for better or for worse, sarcasm (along with irony and satire), is what does it for me.

Why is it the perfect mate for my breed of humor? I’m not really sure. Maybe I was hard-wired that way. Maybe it’s a by-product of growing up on shows like Friends and Seinfeld (which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I still watch daily on re-run). Maybe it’s because it lets me be a snarky ass and get away with it, earning me approval points instead of derision. Or maybe it’s because I just can’t resist pointing out when someone does something painfully obvious and stupid.

But most probably it’s because, in my eyes, sarcasm requires the most intelligence to pull off. And I find intelligence on anyone sexy. To me, it doesn’t seem like it would require much straining of the brain to conjure up jokes revolving around disgusting bodily functions, or to create ridiculous scenarios the audience can see coming a mile away. And don’t even get me started on the number of beyond-stupid things people post on Youtube — a phenomena I have yet to be overly amused by, but that will entertain my husband for hours upon days upon weeks. Half the time, when he shows me a montage of some idiot doing things even idiots should know better than to try, he’s met with a dead-pan stare and raised eyebrow that says, “Why? Why would you waste my time with that?” I just don’t get it. Sorry. But billions of people do, apparently. Hence the long-standing success of America’s Funniest Home Videos, a show whose sole purpose is to crown the royalty of morons with $10,000 for their stupidity. Just saying.

As a writer, I have a fine sense of appreciation for the brilliant usage of words. Which, in the humor department, usually stands hand in hand with sarcasm. I like it because it’s subtle. It doesn’t stand in the room with a neon sign flashing over it’s head, screaming, “laugh now!” It’s simply a statement of the obvious. A twisted and bitter version perhaps, but still. It’s put out there and just is. You either find it funny, or you don’t. The validity of the statement isn’t void if no one finds it funny. It makes the person who said it seem like a pretentious d-bag, but the observation still stands. Case in point, I’m sure those of you that adore videos of people doing stupid things would agree that I now sound like a judgmental jerk.

But fear not, the beauty of humor is that it can often be combined, appealing to several comedic preferences at once.

Below is one of the few videos I’ve found (okay, had force-fed to me because I rarely ever hang out on Youtube) that combines both idiocy and sarcasm, and does it well. Copyright belongs to the brilliant minds of Break Originals, and I make no claims to it. I just thoroughly enjoy it and am not ashamed to say I still laugh every time I watch it. Making it the perfect way to close a post about humor. Enjoy!

Warning: Contains heavy sarcasm, people being injured, and country music. And I’m pretty sure a few exercise balls were harmed in the making of this video.

The 2016 Conference Circuit

Happy Friday everyone! While today is, in fact, April Fool’s Day, this post isn’t a joke. Trust me, my normal MO when I see April 1st looming on the calendar is this:

april_fools_by_xkari_chan-d5q3xbb

But it’s also a Friday this year, and I promised myself I would try and get back into posting more regularly. Which means I’m going to brave the prank-laden waters and send something out into the internet void. It’s not my usual style of article, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Or at least moderately helpful. So, here goes . . .

My 2016 Conference Schedule

(aka Where to Stalk Me)

Now that I’m the acquisitions director for REUTS Publications, I find myself involved in more conferences/workshops/book fairs. I also realize that many of you follow me because of that there job title, and might actually want to know about the various places you could come stalk meet me. So I’m adding a new page where I’ll list any cool events I’ll be attending throughout the upcoming months/years. Sound good? Good.

Here are this year’s current planned appearances (that sounds so weird! Like I’m famous or something. Haha. But I guess that’s what you call it?):

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May 13-14: I’ll be there manning the REUTS Publications table in the WWA’s Bookstore and Writer Services Market, so be sure to come and say hi! REUTS Pub founder and Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello will be on site hearing pitches that day, as well, in case any of you are interested. 😉

PNWA Logo

July 28-31: I’m super excited to be attending the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference this year. I’ve heard great things about it, and I look forward to both accepting pitches from amazing authors like you and having the opportunity to participate on a few panels (including one with my good friend, Cait Spivey)! There will be lots of chances to find me at this one, so if you’re in the Seattle area, check it out.

willamette-writers-conference-logo

August 12-14: This will be my second year attending the Willamette Writers Conference as faculty, and I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity. If you can’t make it to Seattle to see my presentation with Cait, you’ll have a chance to catch it again here. We’ll be giving you tips on what to do after you’ve received an edit letter, how you implement suggested changes into a work you thought you’d already perfected. It’s going to be (we hope) insightful, and include things you might not have heard about the author-editor relationship, so hopefully we’ll see you there! (I’ll also be accepting pitches here again, as well as providing a few Advanced Manuscript Critique opportunities, so be sure to check those out too if you’re planning on attending and want to work with me.)

Boise Bookfest

October 15: The details of this one are still being worked out, but I believe I’ll be accepting pitches, presenting on an as yet undecided topic (likely regarding fight scenes in fiction), and potentially hanging out at a REUTS Publications table to talk all things books with whoever wants to chat. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

All right, that’s all I’ve got this week. I do hope to see some of you at these events. Remember, I don’t bite, and chocolate is not required to talk to me but is always appreciated. Oh, and I have martial arts training, so maybe keep the stalking to the non-literal type? ‘k thanks, bye.

Sometimes the Demon Wins: Mental Illness and Creativity

Some of you out there probably noticed that I didn’t post anything last Friday. (And if you didn’t, then drat! I should have kept my mouth shut!) I could say that it was due to my relentless work schedule. I could say that I was sick, or had an emergency, or even that I ran out of things to say and articles to dredge up out of the archives. But the truth is, it was none of those things. I simply couldn’t muster the oomph. I stared at a blinking cursor all day; I had ideas full of charm and wit and GIF-tastic fun, and I couldn’t bring forth the desire to make words form cohesive statements. So I didn’t.

I don’t generally like to talk about this side of myself online, the ever-present darkness that has lurked in the back of my mind since I was a kid. It’s weakness, a flaw, a broken part of my soul that I don’t want people to see. So instead, I obfuscate, deflecting it with sarcasm and illusion so no one sees what’s really happening behind the curtain. But as I’ve gotten older, I realize that pretending it doesn’t exist, denying the effects and havoc it can wreak, is far more dangerous than talking about it.

That’s not to say that I don’t own this part of my identity. I do. I’ll readily admit that I have clinical depression and a pretty severe anxiety disorder, all wrapped up in a nice little ball of personal hell that I contend with on a regular basis. I talk about it openly if asked, or in person. But only the superficial stuff — the medicines I take, the techniques I’ve learned for coping with it. I present myself as a functioning depressive, a victor, a survivor.

Until I’m not.

See, the thing about depression is that it’s often insidious, eroding at the edges of a victim’s reality without them even really noticing. You can be depressed and not feel sad. You can be stuck deep in the quagmire and not shed a single tear. You can be swallowed by the darkness and not feel suicidal. In fact, you can fall all the way to the bottom of the pit before you even realize something’s wrong, because outwardly, you kept functioning, kept trudging through life, kept covering the symptoms with caffeine and other pick-me-ups, kept chalking the fatigue and lethargy up to the toll of being a workaholic. You kept on.

But believe me when I say that you can appear to be “normal” and be exactly the opposite. This is what happened to me last week. I knew I’d been sliding into the pit for a while. I abruptly lost my meds about a month and a half ago due to an insurance kerfuffle and had to go without while I waited to get it fixed. (Don’t do this if you can help it. It’s dangerous and stupid, and you pay for it in ways that aren’t financial.) So I knew that it was likely I would experience the effects of not tempering my demon with the pills that kept it sated. I was on guard, alert; I knew the signs to watch out for.

And I still missed them.

People often ask me what it feels like to be depressed. It’s different for everyone, and there are a million analogies for it out there. We’ve all seen the ads portraying listless people who forgot how to brush their hair or blue-tinged cartoon worlds with wind-up toys. And yeah, I suppose those are accurate — when you’re deep in the Pit of the Unmedicated. But here’s what it looked like for me:

Low-level insomnia, which turned into white-noise insomnia (the kind where your body sleeps but your brain literally won’t turn off), which was followed by exhaustion (because duh! Not sleeping well = tired), which became full-on fatigue, which made getting through the day feel like running a marathon in waist-deep mud, which turned into not wanting to do anything (because yeah, STILL TIRED), which turned into over-sensitivity to everything (sorry, friends and family, I know you don’t hate me and I didn’t mean to be a witch), which turned into festering on misinterpreted actions, which turned into feeling worthless, which then turned into guilt over not being good enough at, well, everything, which turned into stress (oh hey there, anxiety, nice of you to join the party!), which turned into even worse doomsday visions and insecurities and OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO FAIL AT EVERYTHING, which turned into a complete and total brain shutdown and a horrific case of the Blahs, which finally turned into the realization that I had fallen into the Morass of Despair again and GOD DAMN IT, WHERE ARE MY PILLS?

Whew! Get tired reading that? Imagine living it. And through all of that nightmare, I went to work, I kept my house clean, I dog-sat for my sister, I went out with friends, I finished client work on deadline, and I kept going. But even though I managed to maintain my day-to-day routine, and even managed to be at least somewhat social, everything felt like it took a million times more effort than it should. So yeah, I may have checked the boxes on the to-do list, but I was left with nothing at the end of it.

Now, that might not seem so bad to a lot of you. I mean, I’m fortunate in that my personal breed of depression is not debilitating, that the river of anxiety which runs through it often motivates me to leave the safety of my bed and gives me enough energy to at least somewhat function — though it can often take me half the day to even feel awake, let alone present. But here’s the kicker — I’m a creative person. I write, and edit, and draw, and generally view the world through the lens of creativity. But when you feel like a shell of a human, it’s not exactly easy to call up that sparkly inner creativity fairy. Creativity, after all, relies on motivation, inspiration, dreams, and intellect, and when a Mental Illness Monster has your muse trapped in its jaws, there’s not much you can do. You’re empty. No matter how much you might want to, it’s just not there.

So the point to all this, as I’m sure you’re starting to wonder, is that sometimes the demon wins. Sometimes you just can’t muster it. And that’s okay. Depression and anxiety are common among a lot of creative people, so I wanted to take this moment to acknowledge that, to tell myself and all the others who secretly battle against this and feel guilty when they have to take a mental health day, when they just can’t call forth the will to create, that it’s 100% okay. Take that day off. Claw your way out of the pit however you need to. Do it without regret and without guilt. And remember, it’s not weakness to surrender temporarily, to seek help, to do what you need to for yourself. You can let the demon win sometimes; so long as it doesn’t win the war.

Editors . . . are people?

After last week’s post detailing some of the disappointments editors and agents face, I received several intriguing comments. And of course, it got me thinking (as these things often do) about the underlying concept swirling through all of them.

There are tons of blog posts and articles and exposés and even books about life from both sides of the publishing fence, but much like I pointed out last week, there’s still this sense of divide, this lack of empathy, this disconnect in perception — regarding publishing professionals especially. Now maybe that’s simply because there are more authors than editors in the world, or maybe it’s just that they’re more vocal about the less glamorous sides of publishing than the rest of us. But more likely, it’s the shroud publishing has kept so tightly wrapped around itself that has perpetuated this myth, this idea that editors and agents are mythical, deadly beings who deign to walk among the masses only so they can destroy fragile author egos and feast on their pain.

Don’t believe me? Stop for a moment and try this: clear your mind and, without any sort of precursor, think the word “editor.”

What image pops to mind? Did you see a person, or did you simply see the title, the word itself, floating in your imagination like some incorporeal stamp. Or, worse, did you see some sort of deranged monster hanging out in the back of the editing cave looking like this:

giphy

Regardless of what you saw, I can almost guarantee that you didn’t truly picture a person. No one does. More often than not, the word “editor” is synonymous with a concept, a perception, and everyone’s idea is slightly different, sort of like this:

book-editor-ebcb397f3d23b39df4f06bf10e3044

Notice that final photo — that’s what it really looks like, kids. Because, contrary to what we’ve all been told, editors (and agents) are human. We’re not cyborgs or demons. We’re people stuffed full of emotions, and dreams, and expectations, and flaws. We’re not infallible; we make mistakes. We’re not pre-programmed with all the infinite wisdom of generations of literary masters, we don’t have built-in grammar bibles or the latest in spell-check software hardwired into our brains, and we’re not static. We learn, we grow, we hope, we dream.

And yes, the process of editing does often look like this for us too:

Editing Meme

And yet, the myth endures. Interesting, isn’t it? How easily we throw aside the idea of human compassion when it’s only words on a screen staring at you. How easily we cast aside the thought of the person behind the comments and see only our wounded egos. How easily we direct our rage and hurt at the person/people who are actually our allies.

I’m not saying that the editing process isn’t painful — it often is. I’m not even trying to make this a PSA-type plea for empathy. I’m merely musing on this strange sort of limbo publishing professionals are relegated to — a land where the reality of deadlines, and mountains of paperwork, and the necessities of life are brushed under the rug of perception until they don’t exist. Until everyone assumes that editors live in this sort of perpetual state of editing, that we only creep out of the ether to work, subsisting on nothing but the words before us.

So, I guess the point I’m trying to make is this — yes, editors and agents are people.

And really, we’re just trying to save you from the pain of this:

images

Maybe it’s time to we let the misconceptions fade and remember that we’re all human — whether we’re an author, an agent, an editor, or any of the other countless jobs that go into producing the books we love so much. Maybe it’s time to let the shroud of mystery fall and send the ghosts and ghouls, demons and monsters back into the shadows where they belong. Maybe it’s time to put the humanity back into our interactions and stop letting labels, titles, words stand between us.