Rant

Man I Festo (I guessto)

I grow, I change, and so do my perceptions. I am 37, a toy designer, a counselor, a bachelor, an artist. I live in Bessemer City, BFE, and I worship Jesus Christ in a church filled with some of the most amazing Republicans you’ve ever met who still don’t believe the planet is getting hotter.

Needless to say, I have been feeling very cut apart from the herd lately, and sometimes I resent that. But I want to take some time to own my particularities and blurt them to all two of the people who read my BLARG! So here we go:

I am middle aged. I am white. I am articulate. I have a short attention span.

I don’t like reading because I can’t stay still that long unless I’m going to sleep.

I like milk chocolate. I think most people who eat dark chocolate say they like it to impress people.

I adore ice cream and I adore my step mother for always stocking the freezer with it whenever she knows I’m visiting. I adore my step mother. It took me a long time to appreciate all she did for our family but now that I do I can’t believe how lucky I am to have her as a parent.

I love stuffed toys. I love to draw. I only like certain music. I cannot stand Radiohead because for more than a decade people insisted I like them ‘cause everybody else did and that means they must be good. I find Radiohead pretentious. I don’t like Wilco. See my reasons for not liking Radiohead but I don’t find Wilco pretentious, only boring. I like music with tight vocal harmony. I enjoyed the novelty of the Spice Girls.

I would rather be a werewolf than a vampire. I would not like to be a zombie.

I don’t like the way sex possesses the general public. I resent the expectation that I should like sex. I hate dating. I enjoy spending time with a best friend, but I loathe the expectations our culture puts on people in a dating relationship. I hate picking up the tab for the woman all the time. I have never been swayed to hasty, impulsive decisions by feminine beauty. I have been swayed to create art because of feminine beauty. I have been moved to tears by feminine beauty. I have been drawn closer to Christ because of feminine beauty. I have become closer to God because of feminine beauty but I have never been manipulated into doing things I didn’t want to do, and I have never been suckered into making a contract with my body because of feminine beauty. I have, though, been manipulated by societal pressures about the view I’m supposed to have about feminine beauty to do numerous, countless things I didn’t want to do. A woman cannot wag her hair, bat her eyes or squash her breasts up against me and think she can have her way with me. I am not that stupid.

I want kids more than I want a wife. I’d rather be an artist than a boyfriend. I’d rather be a father than a husband. I’d rather make art or clean my house than roll around squashing my body up against someone else’s. I’d rather be a Christian than a republican or a democrat. I’d rather work hard than be pleasured.

My art is awesome. I draw well but I could draw better. I sew well but I could sew better. I have amazing ideas but I can be lazy and disorganized. I am ridiculously excited about the future, which is already here in some ways.

I am a Christian. The Holy Spirit activated my soul when I was 14. Jesus is who he says he is. He is real. He is alive. He is eternal. He is God. Christ is my only justification and should be my only motivator, but I am a distracted human and am prone to do things I should not. I am a Christian, and I voted for Obama twice. As an American who values personal freedom, I believe in marriage equality. As a person who remembers having snow days as a kid, I know for a certainty that the world is getting hotter.

I. Hate. Hot. Weather. I hate people who hate winter and fall. I hate people who complain about cold weather after 7 or 8 months of blazing hot. I have less road rage these days.

I want to meet more single people who don’t want to date. I want to have friends who don’t get married and abandon everyone except for other married people (can I get an AMEN?!). I want to show up at a friend’s house with a sixer and chill for an evening over TV and amazing food without being turned away because I’m a third wheel. I love, love, love my friend Meighan for being the ONLY married person alive who has not treated me like I have a communicable disease because I’m pushing 40 and still single, and welcomes me into her home with or without invitation. I love her husband Chris for the same reason (he and I go way back anyway). I love that they’re on the way to my dad’s house. I love that I can stop by at all hours, pick up a trowel and help with the gardening, have my way with the kitchen and crash in any number of spare beds. I miss my other friends who have disappeared into marriage only to ever be discovered again by other married people. I miss my long-time college friends and high school friends who extend an open-door invitation but still need months of advanced planning before I can hang with them ‘cause of all the married couples they’ve already got on their social schedules. I miss my friend Melanie who always invites me to visit her in SC. I miss my friend Amy who wonders why we never get together when we’re only two towns apart. I miss nearby friends who I never see for this or that reason. I miss my friends the Davisons who invite me over frequently. I want to be more bold about inviting people I like and esteem to socialize. I want to do this without freaking out that people will think I’m weird or gay for doing so. I am grateful for my friend Rich who has a kid but still invites me to visit.

I want more time to do the things I love, but I love all the things I’m doing. I want to sleep more and worry less. I want the body of a Greek God.. I want more ice cream. I want more chocolate. I want men to be men without being thuggish, grunting sports fans. I want to make cartoons and movies. I want to be ridiculously rich so I can pay my family’s debts and the debts of hardworking people who can’t get ahead. I want Black History Month to dissolve into utter, total, complete awareness of African American History without needing a special month set aside to forcibly remember. I want artists to get paid what they deserve. I want politicians to work day jobs. I want lazy people to move to their own private island to dry up and die. I want to snuggle without being coerced into sex. I want to adopt children.

I want to sleep ‘cause it’s late. For me. I rise early so I can have time for art. I am so grateful that tomorrow is Friday and the laundry is done.

0 Comments

A Decade. Yep. I'm feeling decadenous.

Happy Belated New Year, everyone. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Stupid Creatures™. And I have to tell you, I’m pretty amazed. I have learned a lot in the past decade about the world because of the creatures. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the way other’s tick. It’s been really crazy and full of experiences I never thought I’d have. I’ve had huge expectations, some of which have been met, others have not and likely won’t be. But whatever.

Let’s see. When I started making the creatures, I really, really wanted to be famous and popular and approved of and accepted by a particular, edgy, cultural, hipster elite. Instead, I fell in with parents and crafters and quilters. Nothing wrong with that. That crowd is humble, realistic, sincere and more loving than anyone whose attention I might have wanted while I was chasing fame. I mean, my publishers have primarily moms, grandmas and crafters for an audience and they’ve been really welcoming and supportive to me.

My sick pursuit of hipster affirmation gave me unrealistic expectations of the art world. Art is just a business at the end of the day. Willing buyers, willing sellers; a business. Nothing more. I’m glad to have been spared the hipster BS that I so badly desired back then. It isn’t real. It’s just a passing fashion. Most of them don’t have any money to buy one of my pieces anyway.

Let’s see. In my decade with the Stupid Creatures, learned that money doesn’t fall out of the sky. You’ve got to work your whole entire life for it, be born with it, or borrow it and painstakingly pay it back over the course of your entire life. If you want to do anything in the toy world you’ve got to have TONS of money up front, and manufacture scads of content overseas in a sweatshop so Americans can buy it cheaply. Americans will tell you they want your work fair trade, handmade and recycled, but when it comes time to pay for it, they scream and run to wal-mart.

So I’ve been very lucky to have the publishing, the press and the toy contracts that I’ve enjoyed. I’m also very lucky to be a counselor. I’m good at it, I love it. I’m doing something my community needs. Granted, the community needs art more than it realizes, but artists need to eat. Sadly, the vast majority of anyone anywhere do not believe in feeding or paying artists, so many of us wind up in other careers.

My problem, I’ve come to realize, is that at the end of the day, despite my love for monsters and my skills for sculpting and creating, I’m really a character designer. This means my best work isn’t the physical items that I sew and stuff, but their back story, their universe, their history, their relationship to other characters.. To this end, I will be pursuing cartoons and comics in the near future more than more plush sculptures. In fact, I’m helping a friend pitch a cartoon series as we speak. I’m working on the visuals primarily but I’m also helping him flesh out the universe that he created.

In addition to counseling children, I’m designing actual toys and other children’s items for The Land of Nod and I’m learning how the social work and mental health industries function. My whole life is research and I’m grateful for it.

This isn’t a swan song. Stupid Creatures is sticking around. But moving forward things will get a lot more serious. No more expending myself to force the art world and the consumer world to regard soft sculpture as legitimate art. No more starving at craft shows while the dowdy judgmental throngs peek and glare at price tags, or make the excuse that they don’t have any kids to shop for. I’m going to make what I want to make, how I want to make it. And I’ll work my hardest for those who support me the most. I’ll put my energy where the support is, and I’ll stop wasting myself on stuff that drains me unnecessarily.

Watch for me on various cartoon channels. That’s where I want to be next.



0 Comments

My thoughts on poverty right now

New-Year-Monsters
Dear All Of You. It’s been a while. Here’s what’s on my mind.

My opinions on many things change constantly now that I’m a full time counselor, especially about poverty, our country, socioeconomics.. stuff like that. Working with kids and their families in their homes and in day treatment has given me incredible insight into why some kids act they way they do. It has also given me insight into things like poverty and classism, and how much those things can affects a person’s mental health.

I used to generally believe that people need to do more to help poor people (but that right there is an abstract concept with no clear application). And presto, I work in an industry funded by taxpayer dollars (which does not take private insurance as payment, and therefore services only those eligible for tax-funded programs like Medicaid), attempting to help people improve their own lives and raise their kids with a better sense of personal responsibility and work ethic and blah blah blah.. I and my coworkers are a living and breathing example of how America does indeed help the poor. My experience has given me informed opinions about what Stephen Colbert waxed on about. Strangely, or not, this industry is full of employees who are Christians (take that for what it is). Stephen Colbert still had some good points about following Christ’s example and helping the poor. We are commanded to do that, just like Jesus said. Trust me, if you have a job and pay taxes, you’re helping the poor already. Of course, it’s probably more the Christian thing to do to help the poor of your own volition rather than wait for the government to garnish your paycheck (or to take a paycheck for it like my coworkers and me). And it’s important to consider that throwing tax dollars at the phenomenon of “poverty” hasn’t changed the fact that people are still poor. So, what’s not working (a bit of reality therapy here)?

fish-mural
I want to help people not with just financial assistance, but with new ideas about what they themselves can do to change their own course. I’m a fan of the “teach a man to fish” end of things. But many of the people I serve as a counselor don’t want to learn “how to fish,” ‘cause once they do, their providers will say, “Look. You can fish!! You don’t need me to give these to you anymore!!” Trouble is, in this economy, those proverbial “fish” (jobs with living wages) are scarce. And try as they might, it's harder in general for my clients to break into the workforce 'cause of racism, classism, cultural differences or any number of fickle prerequisites.

Still, it is remarkable to me the abuses I’ve seen done by people in my client base to their systems of government aid. I’ve seen so many falsifications on Medicaid applications, nondisclosures of income, reports of “medical” conditions that anyone can fake or even invent that it makes me wonder why we have these assistances in place at all. Shoot, my brother is a tax auditor and he sees rich people and corporations make the same falsifications on their own disclosures at tax time. When I see a family living hand to mouth on government money drop a couple thousand dollars on a giant television that takes up half a wall, I’m like.. Wait a sec.. Aren’t you guys hungry? Weren’t you just asking me to help you get shoe and clothing donations for your kids? WTF is up with that TV?!

People everywhere, no matter how rich or poor, have a proclivity to lie, cheat and steal ‘cause it’s easier than working and telling the truth. The clients I work with know exactly what to tell me so I’ll write a good report and say that the treatment is working but they still need it for a while longer. If I can focus on the kids, not just their parents, maybe I can get some new ideas into their heads and they’ll make different decisions than their parents made and start ending various cycles. Stephen Colbert was likely right. The only way to stop poverty and end this massive contributing factor to what our culture perceives are mental health issues is to follow Christ’s example, not just in the giving, but in the way we receive as well. There is only one Bible, and nowhere in it does it tell people to lie around and take while everyone else works.

kid-art
It’s easy for me to tell a client “work hard and your life will improve,” but in many cases, while generally true, it takes so much more than words, a smile and a clipboard to help a family affect some positive changes. It takes lots of time, lots of learning, building relationships, patience and a thorough understanding of what it means to grow up poor. Poverty isn’t the only contributing factor to mental health issues. And for Pete’s sake, sometimes we’re not necessarily dealing with people who are insane. If my training is correct, and if behaviors stem from legitimate needs, than my 14-year-old client who was arrested for stealing personal hygiene items wasn’t crazy or insane. He was just trying to meet his needs ‘cause his parents don’t wake till 3 in the afternoon or do jack squat to provide for him. I want to see what alternatives to a lifestyle exist before I tell a person or an entire family to *POOF!* CHANGE! My insight into the mental health and juvenile justice systems is deeper these days, giving me a much more informed opinion about my experience as a camp counselor and the numerous reasons why the kids I looked after were there.

More soon, everyone. Thanks and love..

John
0 Comments

Myelin, diapers, campers, brain dysfunction

IMG_2011
Time off. It's always bittersweet. Camp is never far from my mind. The days at camp go by pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean we counselors are spared any of the hard parts of the job.

Here's one of several things I find challenging about my job:

My kids are at camp 'cause they've broken the law in some way, shape or form. But they act incredibly entitled, demanding the utmost in accommodation, food and freedom. They do not realize yet that their actions have consequences. Nor do they realize how little they deserve luxurious accommodations after some of the things they've done to people, property or themselves.

This problem rears its head in countless situations. The campers want more, they want better, they want it now. More food, better boots, fewer chores, more games, fewer classes, fewer rules, and whatever they ask for exactly when they ask for it.

I try not to tell them no all the time. In fact, here's what I'm gonna do. I'll start saying yes to many of their requests, following up immediately with the steps to getting what they want.

For example:

Camper:
Chief John, call in and get me some new boots.

("call in" means they want me to use my walkie talkie and submit their demand to the warehouse staff)


Chief John:
Sure. As soon as we fill out a PPI (personal property inventory), you can write a business letter to your family worker expressing your need. Once that's done, we'll submit both those documents. After they've been received and processed, I'll be more than glad to call the warehouse for you.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, call the fxck in! You holding' me from my NEEDS! My boots is messed up!

(usually this means they're showing wear and don't really need to be replaced yet)

Another situation:

Camper:
Chief John! Call in and get us a lifeguard.

Chief John:
Sure. I'll check with the MC and see when Chiefs X or Y can step away from their groups and come life guard for us. I'll also check and see when the pond might be available for us to use. When were you thinking of going to the pond?

Camper:
Today. Now.

Chief John:
But it's class time. You've got a Shakespeare paper due.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, you won't let us do shxt at this fxckin' camp!

Another situation:
Camper:
Chief John! Call in and get me some fishing hooks.

Chief John:
I'd be glad to do that once you determine how much buyer's day money you have in your account, and whether you can afford fishing hooks. Once you've done that, you can submit a buyer's day form to request fishing hooks, and when buyer's day comes around, they'll be here for you. At that time, I will be more than glad to call the warehouse and ask if your hooks are in.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, I need 'em today!

Standard chief response:
In the future, you'll anticipate your needs and make the necessary plans.

Here's me as a brain doctor with my assistant Ian
Anyway. During training, I read a load of information on the developmental psychology of teenagers. I realize that these kids are reasonably incapable of seeing or perceiving or understanding anything besides their immediate desires. Something to do with "myelin," a substance in our brains that sheaths nerve fibers, causing quicker conduction of impulses. A recent NPR article explains it better, as does this article from neuranthropology.net. Essentially, teenagers don't have enough myelin yet, so their brains process things more slowly, especially the logic of cause and effect / action and consequence. I also understand that several of my kids have IQ scores that are close to special needs levels.

So basically, much of what I deal with is kids who don't follow directions, break things, hurt people, and demand carefree situations of constant pleasure and ease (and to be spoken to in a respectful tone). Without knowing too much about Alzheimer's Disease, I often tease my campers and compare them to Alzheimer's patients, ambling around, bumping into trees, failing to respond to the sound of their own names or prompts delivered in their primary spoken language. Sometimes I wish I could just diaper the lot of them. But then I'd have to be elbow deep in camp shxt nine hundred times a day (my kids have very frequent needs for the toilet).

Many campers want to just do their time, "chill," (which means to do as little as possible, cause no trouble, and do nothing to stop any trouble that might be occurring around them) and get out so they can resume their lives of petty gang banging or whatever else they were doing, before getting caught again and sent away to institutions less kind than camp.

I'll keep trying. I'm really grateful to have met most of my kids. They've all got a lot of potential, even though they don't realize it. They've got promising futures even if all they care about is "now." Maybe there are myelin pills or injections the campers can take. It might just be easier to slip estrogen into their food. Hmm. I'll fill out a buyer's day form and call the warehouse!

Until that day, I've got an appointment with my sister Julie to visit the newly renovated North Carolina Museum of Art. I'm very excited to spend some time with family, and one in particular who loves art and design. More news soon. Thanks for reading!
0 Comments

Leaving Asheville makes me feel strange

My roommate Chad cautioned me to do what I have to do, but don’t get bitter about it. He usually says things like that to me. And it flipping annoys me to no end. I’m a verbal person. I handle my problems with a heavy element of talk. It’s how I process. I find it difficult to take seriously people who dismiss someone’s frustration as idle bitterness. Granted, I’m no Jesus, but even he aired his frustrations. Heck, I think he spoke very snarky to the disciples half the time, so maybe Jesus is a bad example. I’ll make Asheville happy and say “I’m no Buddha.” Things get to me, and then I want to talk about them. But lately I think I’ve been handling my situation very very well.

I’m nearing the end of packing my things and leaving a town I’ve called home for 6 years. I felt like I was done moving when I arrived here in 2004. I figured my next move would be to wherever my (as yet hypothetical) wife found work, or wherever my illustrious plush career took me (L.A., perhaps to launch my cartoon series.. whatever’sville). Alas, I’m leaving Asheville because I’m taking an unexpected, unusual (for me) job with a wilderness camp. I’ll be shutting down my studio and closing a chapter on working as an artist for who knows how long. I could be spewing flame with every word. But I’m not. I’m rolling with the circumstances, accepting them, and learning what’s good about them and how I can find unknown purpose behind these changes.

But today I’m really irritated with Asheville and its citizens. Maybe the stress of the move is just rearing its ugly head. Or maybe I’m totally right about our American state of comfort that has turned many of us into excuse-making, flapping, flopping, mushmouthed, lazy idiots.

Whether it’s a popular Ashevillian, progressive, modern sentiment or not, I think producing more trash is not helpful to our world. In my efforts to reduce trash, I have used primarily post consumer fabrics to make my Stupid Creatures. I have also provided pickup services to people who have burdensome fabrics they can’t bear to throw away. I’d pick it up and take it all away, and then decide if it was something I could use or if I had to take it to Goodwill myself. I’ve made many Goodwill trips over my years in this town because I thought it was the right thing to do.

So here’s where I think I should probably stop expecting people to have the same morals and ethics, or even the same applications of those morals and ethics, as me. When I put out a cry, via Facebook, Craigslist and the Asheville Artists list serve that I was getting rid of bag after bag of really good crafting/plushing/quilting fabric, I figured crafters and artists from all over the region would be glad to get their hands on free supplies and come lift my burden. I was wrong. I received several phone calls with iffy arrangements to come to my studio (or to my home) and pick up my stuff. Most of those callers rang later to push back the appointments again and again. That annoyed me. One who actually did come to investigate my supplies dug through my stuff, tore holes in bags I’d tied shut, made a great mess in my studio (kept saying sorry, which was just a meaningless, shaped exhalation), hemmed and hawed, then declined to take any fabric. Who cares if you don’t like the fabric. Something needs to be done with it! Life isn’t just about what you like or want! It’s about doing what needs to be done! If you saw two puppies covered in mud, would you wash only the one you thought was cute?

It makes me not want to be a Good Samaritan for recycling. Perhaps I should reevaluate where I get the impression that Ashevillians actually give a drat about environmental concerns (check that.. a drat about CARRYING OUT environmental concerns) in their day to day lives. I see posters, flyers, speeches from the Mayor and organizations like Quality Forward casting a recycle-y glow over this region of WNC. That, and prevailing sentiments throughout our culture, is where I got the notion that to live in this community, in this city, it would do one well to help out with the various green-movement efforts in place in all their myriad forms.

So, end annoyance number one: Individual Ashevillians probably don’t care about recycling and reducing garbage unless they can complain to someone in public for filing his plastic container in the paper bin by accident, where many people can see and go “aww, she’s such a trooper for mother earth.”

As for annoyance number two: Don’t say you’re going to come claim what I’m giving then not show up. Don’t look at a freely given supply of great stuff and refuse it. Don’t say things like “I’ll swing by sometime after 11,” and call it “making an appointment.” Don’t lean on having a cell phone as an excuse not to make an appointment. Don’t assume that just because you call to cancel or reschedule that it can be done. Appointments and arrangements are made for a reason. If we arrange to meet at 9 in the morning, I’ll assume we’re going to do that and schedule the remaining hours of my day accordingly. If you call at 9:10, when I’m very nearly ready to consider the appointment missed, don’t ask “can I just swing by at 3?” and assume you’ll get your way. Don’t tell me when you plan to swing by and assume that fits my schedule. And lastly, don’t effing ask me which dumpster I’m going to stick my stuff in after so many times trying to connect and arrange.

That’s all. I gotta keep packing. But I really want to call it a day and watch Star Trek.

Bye!!
0 Comments