Fight or Flee

I tend to go back and forth between wanting to just hide away in the woods somewhere, creating the art and writing and music that I want, nurturing my family and friends, and living as sustainable a life as possible verses working deep in the midst of people and areas that need to be woken up, shaken free of their trapped selves, and being an active member of the community.

Most of the time I balance the two, retreating when I need to, but pushing outside my comfort zones when I feel necessary. But I feel like when I swing one way, I’m neglecting the other. I don’t want to wholly move into one way of living over the other, but I’m struggling lately with the urges to swing in the opposite direction coming more frequently than usual. Not very good for accomplishing projects.

But I’ll work through it. I always do.

Which way do you find yourself swinging as a creative? Are you out there in the forefront, or more comfortable hiding away and protecting yourself?

Marketing of Some Kind is a Necessary Annoyance

As an indie creator of anything, marketing yourself is necessary. You can’t just make your book or your art print or release a single, throw it up on some site, and cross your fingers that you somehow go viral and start raking in piles of money. Even if it is an absolutely stellar project, you cannot expect immediate success, or even that the one project will be successful by itself. Yes, you’ve accomplished a lot all ready, just in completing, polishing, and releasing the creative piece, but you aren’t allowed to rest yet.

The marketing process is one that annoys me, primarily because it is yet another pull on my time. I’d rather be creating than trying to get my past creations out to more people. Also, I am someone that does want my work to speak for itself. I’m uncomfortable talking myself up, a tad suspicious of compliments that come my way (although I feel bad if they aren’t forthcoming when I’ve busted my butt – go figure), and would much rather pass off this work to a third party. But I’m an indie artist and writer and freelancer so I don’t exactly have the budget for hiring a publicist. My guess is that most of you don’t either. And in the wilds of our global online community, it becomes less necessary maybe.

So, here are the current (and immediate-ish) future plans I’m in the process of implementing both online and in my local area. Perhaps you will find some of these useful for yourself.

My freelance work under my actual name:

  • I am continuing with the social media work I’ve been doing. This actually nets me quite a bit of extra business, as friends and associates recommend people to me.
  • I’ve begun a Tumblr blog that is about another passion entirely but I talk about my freelance work in conjunction with that passion. This is a soft marketing experiment that I’m giving about six months to see if it works in getting me some more projects. However, Tumblr seems to be a wasteland of late, and I’m considering starting yet another wordpress blog and posting both places, but I don’t know if I want that kind of time dump. I mean, if the pictures I’m posting are already formatted and I’m just copying and pasting text, it’s maybe only another ten minutes each post, but still, that is time I could spend creating. Things to consider.
  • Thanks to a friend, I’ve got the names of two local companies to contact to do one-off jobs for, and I need to craft the perfect introduction letter. It’s a side of my business I haven’t done since 2009, so I want to make absolutely sure that everything is as perfect as I can make it.
  • I’m considering marketing myself offline, again in a soft marketing kind of way, toying with the idea of joining one of the local business women’s groups. Again, though, this would be a pull on my time that I don’t know if I can commit (for events, volunteering, etc) with my busy schedule and hands-on parenting. But if I do, it would immediately get me involved in my local community, I could potentially be helping people, and there would be much “Oh, you do this?” in conversations. I’m not much of a “belong to a big group” person, but maybe it’d be good for me.

Writing

  • I need to promote my books here more. I’m so bad about that. I won’t be posting every single week, but expect a more frequent reminder.
  • I have a small list of reviewers to contact about The Little Book of Insurrection or the Poetry of my Discontent. It needs to be done, and I haven’t done it.
  • I need to check out local writing and poetry groups, maybe get brave enough to attend an open mic reading. I’ve made a connection with an older woman who belongs to a local political theater group and she thinks I’d be a good fit, but again, I can’t commit to that kind of time. But I hope to at least attend a performance and network with similar-minded and passionate local people.
  • The biggest trend I’ve noticed in talking with my writer friends and witnessing online is that writers need to have a list of books out. There is a snowball effect that happens, and even if it’s a case of quantity over quality, that doesn’t matter so much. Which is sad. But, that being said, I need to carve out more time to write, so I can be releasing at least one book a year. Even at that rate, it’s still going to be a very long time (if ever) that I make any kind of significant income. And I’m okay with that. Writing cannot be my full-time creative endeavor, no matter how much I love it. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing it when I can.

Art

  • I need to find an alternative to Etsy for selling prints (and signed copies of books). Etsy has become so over-saturated since they’ve begun allowing factory-made items on their site with a looser definition of what defines an “indie” or “cottage” industry, and it’s just not what it was when it first began. So there’s that.
  • I have made an initial effort to get involved in the local arts community and need to grow that.
  • I need to check out local galleries and such to see if there are any openings to show my work and begin getting my name out there.

The thing I’ve found most important about marketing myself is staying flexible and constantly tweaking as I go. Also, I am almost always positive in my attitude, in a sincere way. I could maybe garner more attention by throwing temper tantrums or jumping on the latest hot debate and being a jerk, but I’d rather be pleasant and calm and save the rage and heat for situations where it’s actually necessary.

What are some of your favorite ways to market yourself? What do you find works best for you?

Abstract Art

This morning, while my son was painting at his easel, I began an abstract acrylic painting on canvas. I haven’t painted with acrylics for years, and the closest I’ve come to abstract work in the past decade is in the creation of collages as color/texture palettes for other design work. It felt great! When I was a wee thing, I used to love doing abstract paintings. My little sister would be painting horses and people, and I did a little bit of figures (complete with pig noses on everyone!) as well, but I always preferred to do spatter paintings or big swirling masses. This was the compliment to the very detailed drawings I did.

Anyway, I’ve been having a lot of “feels” lately, and the painting helped a lot. I’m energized, feeling better able to tap into my creative self for my writing, music, and the other work I’m actually getting paid for, and I loved getting to create alongside my son.

I’ll post a picture of the finished piece.

Skating the Edge of Darkness

So, I haven’t been posting much the past couple of weeks. I have old sketches and poems I could be posting, that I had earmarked to post, and I haven’t because I’m fighting that old voice of doubt again.

When I finally was able to play the piano last week, I felt so at peace, but immediately after, all this self-negativity started rearing up. Probably everything I had bottled inside in recent months began making its way out. In the past, I would sometimes get hung up on the nasty things my mind would come up with, berating myself for being less than perfect at anything I do, and then obsessing over my physical or mental flaws because when I feel bad about myself inside, I feel so ugly outside (which I suppose is better than the opposite, maybe?). This past November, when I was going through massive growing pains and dealing with some mental anguish, I had to fight against myself to stop from deleting all of my Facebook photos from my personal site because I just hated the sight of myself. I’ve mentioned before that I feel intensely, right? :-p

Anyway, this time, when I started going on about all of my supposed flaws to my husband, who rolled his eyes slightly but listened nonetheless (he’s used to having to go through this every few months, and he’s learned that other than listening, he can’t really do much for me because I have to get through the feelings myself, hence the “here we go again” eye roll), I had to start laughing in the midst of my complaining because I sounded so ridiculous. I think the moment was after I went through how I couldn’t do anything professionally enough and was moving on to a catalog of my physical flaws and how I’m not really attractive, and even if people DO find me attractive, it’s only because I’m fooling them with the force of my personality – but duh, personality is part of attraction anyway – that was the moment I burst out laughing at myself. And laughing broke the cycle that usually grips me. I’ve still been fighting the negativity for the past week and 1/2, but I’m letting the thoughts pass freely rather than clinging to them and allowing them to freeze me up. Which is a huge improvement. But still, I’m left feeling a little bit fragile at the moment, so posting old work is difficult for me at the moment.

The other thing that has helped me immensely this week is that I am so insanely busy right now. I took on that extra project, which has pushed back some of the work I’m doing for that shop, so I probably won’t be caught up until the middle of next week, and then I have to start immediately prepping for the Small Press Book Fair in Buffalo, and my son’s birthday party still needs planning, and I’m still waiting on my final tax sheets from my retirement fund to get our taxes sent out to our accountant, and there’s still a list of personal projects a mile high, and our house needs cleaning, and… I’m exhausted, but I’m thriving on the chaos. Keeping busy makes me get out of my own head and lets me not trip myself up.  And I was SO happy to have taken on the extra project, to work with someone who has spent time out in Los Angeles too so we could talk about our old favorite haunts, to be getting my hands in doing the work that I used to do, some of it dirty and annoying, but it felt good nonetheless. I’ve made a new friend and some extra money of it too, always a good thing.

So anyway, why am I posting this here? Because I know a lot of other creative people fight self-doubt. The inner critic is the worst one there is, at times, because that critic knows all of our weakest spots. Laughing at how ridiculous the critic was helped me last week. Maybe it can help you?

Being in Hot Demand and Dealing with that Pressure

I now have paid creative and freelance work lined up through at least the end of August. So much so that my husband has stopped looking for a regular full-time job and is just riding out this temp job so he can be around to be primary caretaker for our son this summer (picking up extra money working weekends for my father), and will start looking for full-time work in July for wherever we decide we’re relocating to this fall, if we decide to make that happen. Kind of crazy, considering how tight things were for a while this winter.

So half of the work I have lined up is indeed in my previous field, which I’ve mentioned before I wanted to attempt to see if I want to get into again or not. This is the opportunity to try to decide if what I loved about it weighs more than what frustrated me about it, and if I can balance working in this field while still being the parent I want to be. I lucked out with the pay being higher than I anticipated (not the highest I’ve ever been paid but pretty close), and between those 3-4 projects and the work I’m doing for the local shop, we should be set.  In the meantime, I’m finishing up my last contracted job while easing into working for that local shop (and they can’t wait for my availability to open up more) and decided yesterday to work with the place giving me the job in my former field this summer in a lesser capacity on two other projects this spring to get a lay of the land and make some more contacts.

I think I mentioned before that somehow things line up for me when I can determine what it is I actually want. Synchronicity, maybe, or a touch of luck. The path to get to where I want isn’t easy, in any way, and it is never the path that I imagine it will be, but I get there nonetheless. And I realize that I am a cautious decision-maker, agonizing over the options that lay before me, but I think it’s because I recognize the power I have to shape my own life and my tendency to barrel ahead once a decision is made. So before I go at a dizzying pace, I make sure my choices are right for me.

But because of all of this work lined up and because I’m working long hours and letting certain things slide, the pressure has been building inside me. I have growing mommy-guilt at having to rely on more TV than I want over the next couple of months until my husband leaves the temp job. I have a daunting amount of work and projects looming over me, including prepping for the 2014 Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. We just had to deal with the stress of buying a new car, including discovering our title for our old car still lies in CA even though we moved in 2009 (thankfully, the dealership we’re going through accepted a check for the trade-in amount and is just holding it for us until CA comes through). I don’t know when I’m next going to have an actual day off. I need a freaking vacation, and I had hoped to get to Vermont (with a fast day trip to Massachusetts to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean) for a few days in April but that is such a slim possibility at this point.  Last week, after working more than 40 hours at the one contract job, I came home to stay up late to finish my first project for the shop, and all while I was doing the work, my brain was screaming “I can’t!” at me. And I had to laugh at myself, because obviously I was doing the work, so I could, but the mental protest was noted.

Everything I do to handle my stress starts to slide when I get busy. First, I stop journaling nightly and it falls to once every two weeks, if I’m lucky. Then meditating at night gets shifted to only a few minutes of deep breathing while I’m sitting or laying in bed. My morning routine goes out the window, and I begin to skip doing Morning Pages and working out (I’ve slipped to about four days a week on each when it’s been almost daily since December). As I’m the fittest I’ve been right now since high school (and healthier as I’m eating less processed and sugary foods than I did as a teen), and as I need to count on my body to not give out on me, I need to make sure I don’t drop down further than this. But the biggest thing I let go is playing my piano and flute. I’m managing to play my flute once a week, which is all that is keeping me from devolving to a weepy mess, but tonight will be the first time I’ve played piano in over a month.

My piano is not in my house, and so due to first having a sinus infection and then having our car die a slow death, I have been unable to make the 20 minute drive to get to it. And now, I am wound so tight it feels like I have a metal snake curling around my internal self. I’m giving off sparks from the tension I feel. For my family, it means that I have very limited patience and can snarl at a moments notice, with only a slight provocation. At work, the patience is still low, but I hide it by becoming super sarcastic and snarky. I start swearing like a sailor, and, funnily enough, yesterday found me doing so with a touch of Irish brogue, saying “fecking”, usually followed by one of the professions that I’m working with – “Fecking _______ (profession plural)”.  Maybe I’m just getting a jump start on St. Patrick’s Day? Anyway, tonight, after working a couple of hours with the new company, I will be going to play my piano. I will feel myself unwind, soothe my inner beast, and probably leave with a slightly scratchy voice because it’s been so long since I’ve played and sang at full voice.

Part of me hates admitting that I need this level of unwinding. It feels like a weakness to me. But it’s so necessary for my sanity and the well-being of all who are forced to put up with me, so now that we have our new car, I need to get back into making the trip out at least every two weeks, and hopefully weekly. I need to get my flute playing back to twice a week. And I can’t wait to move in the fall and be able to have my piano with me again so I can play multiple times a week. I miss it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death and Fighting Our Personal Demons

I don’t normally post when a celebrity dies. It always has struck me as rather crass, as though certain human beings have more value just because they are in the public eye. But I couldn’t go without posting this time. Beyond the sadness for his wife and children, left to pick up the messy pieces he left behind; beyond the sense of something missed, knowing there will never be another character brought to life by him; I just feel sorry. Here is a man who has fought his personal demons and lost.

I know a lot of very talented, very creative people, and regardless of the level of skill or raw talent or stage of success they are at, they (and I) seem to tow a very fine line of managing personal demons. The price you pay for being an artist, and thus moving both deeper in and floating above regular life? Maybe. But I fear for some of the people I know, because I can see the intensity building. And I can’t help but think – what if I didn’t have music and dance growing up? What if I never loved reading and wasn’t able to hide in other worlds when my own mind got too intense? What if I didn’t have my affinity for animals and my love of water to soothe me? What if I had never developed my group of friends who are closer than family and we didn’t have each other to turn to when we experience the long, dark tea time of the soul (yes, a Douglas Adams reference)? What if I wasn’t so overwhelmingly stubborn and determined?

In the end, we all make our own choices, but the choices aren’t always easy ones to make.  And sometimes the weapons we choose to battle our demons end up destroying us instead of making us stronger.

Making a Point – a poem

Making a Point

The points of my pencils
Are now sharp.
I sketch new light
Into an old place.
Shadows blended between objects
Refractions of my soul.

The points of my pencils
Are fading fast.
I sketch a new world
Onto a blank page.
Creations spring to life
Of their own free will.

The points of my pencils
Are flat and dull.
I place a new line
On top of old.
Heavy-handed and light-hearted
A peace is obtained.

The points of my pencils
Are now sharp…

Copyright 2010 Kat Micari

Frustrations in Freelancing – “Sealing the Deal” or Wasting Time?

I get frustrated sometimes realizing the amount of time that goes into negotiations for each custom and freelance job I get.  The back and forth emails, the time I have to spend imagining how I’m going to make what I need to make, the online research to get an estimate on the cost of necessary materials if it’s something I’m physically making, sometimes sketching out the details  – all of this has to happen before I even can give the person an estimate and, if they agree to it, draw up a contract.  All told, it’s usually thirty minutes to an hour and a half of my time, and sometimes even when they say “yes, let’s do it” and I spend another chunk of time plugging in details to a contract, the initial 50% payment never comes.

This is, of course, the cost of doing freelance business.  But that time in negotiation (which still results in my probably undercharging for what I am doing) is time that could be spent working on my personal writing or art projects that become potential perpetual moneymakers.  So I resent it.  But there has to be a balance of money coming in NOW while building hopefully bigger profits for the future, so it has to be done. And I always learn a lot by doing projects for other people because it requires me to explore ideas and notions that I otherwise wouldn’t do.

Ideas?  I could build in a modest $10 or $20 contract or consulting fee to every project I do, even if I don’t mark it as such in the process, but that doesn’t make up for the deals that don’t carry through.  And it doesn’t seem fair to charge a paying customer something that a person that chooses not to follow through gets for free.

I guess what I really hate, beyond the time wasting and not making money, is imagining out a project in my head and then not getting the chance to see it through to fruition.  :-/