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.
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)?
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.
More soon, everyone. Thanks and love..
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.
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)
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
Chief John! Call in and get us a lifeguard.
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?
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!
Chief John! Call in and get me some fishing hooks.
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.
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!
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.