Do you find that working for a fabric company inspires you to create your own clothing more than you would if you worked somewhere else? Or does it simply allow you greater opportunity to create what you want?
I would say that working for spoonflower definitely allows me a greater opportunity to sew. One of our benefits is a certain amount of free yardage, and simply having that to play with is a huge bonus. It gives me a chance to try patterns I’m uncertain of, or work with fabrics I have little experience with, without worrying about the cost of such experiments.
There is also the benefit of working in close quarters with many other sewing enthusiasts. If I’m curious about a new technique, there’s almost always someone nearby who’s tried and can give me some pointers.
I can certainly find my proximity to spoonflower inspiring sometimes. There’s such a wide choice of fabric designs, certainly more than in generic fabric stores, and I can find the weird and odd and off-center designs that fit my personality better. Coming across a truly wacky or wonderfully beautiful design during my work can definitely inspire specific articles of clothing in my imagination. Some of them even end up in reality, eventually.
Sometimes though, that can become as limiting as it is inspiring. When I get some free fabric from work, I find it difficult to convince myself to pay full price for fabrics outside of spoonflower. And while spoonflower is fantastic at what it does (digitally designed and printed fabrics) it doesn’t do everything. I have to force myself to work outside of that comfort zone sometimes, and experience fabrics that we don’t offer at spoonflower. We’re never going to be able to print on velvet after all, or many other heavily textured fabrics. And printing fabric in solid shades just doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I depend a little too much on the fabulous fabric design, and its ability to hide my own flaws in sewing. Working with simple fabrics and solid colors forces you to be much more careful and and correct in how you sew a garment.
However, spoonflower’s influence in my sewing has been overwhelmingly good in the long run. Simply being surrounded by fabric on a daily basis has encouraged me to sew much more than I think I ever would have had I not had the opportunity to work there.
Oops, I've been busy... Belated New Years: A Year In Books
Yeah, so I know, its been 8 months since I made an appearance. I’ve been busy. Which is a sad excuse, because no one else on the face of the earth has ever been busy AND kept a blog. Because if you were busy, what could you possibly have to write about in the blog, AMIRITE?!
Anyways, so in 2013 I read a lot of books (though not as many as in previous years, or even as many I’d hoped.) I certainly didn’t write as many full-length reviews as I promised I would.
Apparently there was only one book I felt deserved 1 star: A Princess of Mars (John Carter #1). I didn’t even finish it. Here’s my review: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. Maybe someday, when I’m more in the mood for dated sexist writing. Or maybe someday when I bored and desperate and don’t have a pile of ACTUALLY good books to read.” And I stand by that. I probably should read it, someday, because that series has a place in the history of sci-fi. But…. not while I have actually good books to read.
I read thirteen books that I felt deserved five stars. Most of those were actually re-reads or childhood favorites. There were two that were completely new to me and I really felt deserved the title of favorite book of the year.
The first is Anglemaker, by Nick Harkaway. This is the author’s second novel, and even though I was pretty impressed by the first one (Read my review of The Gone-Away World), this one completely blew me away and shows that the author is still growing and improving his skill. The plot switches back and forth between present day Joe Spork, who wishes he could be a simple clock-maker and ignore the legacy of his mobster crime lord father, and WWII spy Edie Bannister, a kick ass lesbian lady whose brilliant mathematician girlfriend just wants to save the world. Fancy clockwork, perfectly evil and hate-able villains, little old ladies who are more than they appear, noble mobsters who steal from the rich and give to the poor, all of these make an appearance. Its a pretty perfect book in my opinion. Reading it allows you to escape into the perfect adventure where you find love and save the world and people who have been fighting for the powers of Good and Truth.
The second book I’d recommend, The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence is really quite the opposite of that. Its a story of normality, and real life, and the tiny battles we all face in life: acceptance of difficult things, unfairness, our parents being weird, the world just not understanding. And yet, it wasn’t the usual “coming of age” story full of morals and “lessons learned” and other things that usually come off as condescending crap. This book struck me because it was so completely different from anything I had been expecting of it. And I found it touching and emotional in surprising ways as well. Here is what I wrote on goodreads: This was a fantastic read. I really had no idea what to expect, and even then it wasn’t anything like I expected. It is a wonderfully witty funny story about a boy with a rather unique outlook on life. Possibly because he was struck by a meteor at age 10, or possibly because his mother read tarot cards for a living, or possibly just because he was born that way. Or, well, its a witty funny wrapping around a compelling and deeply emotional core. Read it. It is good.
I promise, I’m also going to try to catch up on posting various sewing projects as well. Though probably not in the order in which I actually sewed them.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was definitely one of those books that just by changing one or two things it could have been FANTASTIC. The fresh look at zombies and vampires and fantasy creatures in a modern urban setting was nice. This is no True Blood, or Twilight, or even Charles DeLint, it is definitely its own thing, and I loved that unique view. I loved the concept, a human woman writing a travel guide for unnatural creatures visiting New York, awesome. It had a good sense of humor, definitely some silly moments, some witty lines. I understand that its supposed to be a fluff book, and I wasn’t looking for anything too serious.
But… I got so sick of plot twists that entirely revolved around the romantic history and sex life of the main character. Really? I mean REALLY?! She’s supposed to be a strong intelligent driven woman, so why is it always about the MEN in her life???
Why is it always about the fact that she slept with her last boss who was actually married? Why is her coworker a super sexy incubus who somehow talks her into going to a bdsm sex club and nearly having sex with her in front of a crowd. (Which, of course, she doesn’t protest at the time, but gets pissed about later). And of course, her next door neighbor just HAPPENS to be a super sexy knight in shining armor, employed by Public Works, the secret police force of the unnatural world. And OF COURSE the big evil of the climax of the book just HAPPENS to be her ex-boyfriend’s wife, who is a voodoo queen coming to take over New York City, and also has a personal vendetta agains the main character. I mean, really?!
That just pissed me off no end. The villain of the book is the wife of the man the main character slept with. Think about what that says for a moment. And, by the way, the married guy in question isn’t portrayed as evil, or a true shithead, just a kind of weak, icky womanizer. When the main character runs into him again, not only does she NOT kick him in the balls, or at least punch him in the nose, she saves his life. Twice. I’m not saying he deserved to die, and good for her taking the moral high ground. But she also doesn’t even TELL HIM HE’S A SHIT HEAD FOR LYING TO HER AND CHEATING ON HIS WIFE. Neither woman knew about the other, the guy is the one who’s really a freakin’ jerk AND YET its the two women who end up battling each other with constructs in central park. I’m not saying every woman who’s ever been cheated on by her husband is automatically a good person, but COME ON. That just left a nasty taste in my mouth. Especially since every other plot device was also SOMEHOW related to the main character’s sex life and the fact she slept with her last boss who happened to be married. Ick.
But enough about that. One of the other things I really liked about this book is that the author is local. Not in a super flattering light, but its still mentioned. And that makes me smile, because I love where I live, and I love that interesting people who are succeeding at their dreams are living here too.
While this book definitely had things I didn’t like about it, it had enough things I did like about it that I will continue to read works by this author. I want to support local authors, but also because I think the flaws that so bothered me are somewhat from her being such a new author. This is apparently her first largely published book, I’m excited to see where she goes. Hopefully she’ll find her strengths in her humor, and her fun new look at urban fantasy, and NOT in her sense of “romance” or dependence on male characters as plot points.
I love my birthday, I mean really really love it. And to a certain extent, I don’t understand people who don’t love their birthday. I can understand not liking cake, so eat pie, or hamburgers, or whatever you want to eat. I can understand not liking the attention, so avoid people. Don’t like parties? Well, don’t throw one. Don’t like presents? Make that clear, and tell people why, and they probably won’t give them to you. What I can’t understand is the fear of getting “older.”
Well, okay, I “understand” it, I just refuse to give into it. I think it’s entirely the wrong way of looking at things.
Every year that passes is a success. You survived. You made it to where you are, and it wasn’t easy. And there will never be a point where it becomes easy. You don’t cross a line where it all starts to make sense, it’s life.
Having a birthday isn’t a time to look at all the things you thought you’d have accomplished by now, that’s all backwards. Birthdays should be about going, “Look what I did! Look who I AM. I did this, I made this, I saw this, I am this.” And it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or made, or saw, or been, because the mere act of doing those things is a huge accomplishment. That’s life, and you’ve survived it, you’ve made it this far.
Birthdays are literally a celebration of life. To me, saying that you don’t enjoy your birthday also says that you don’t enjoy being alive. Everyone seems to imply that I only feel that way because “I’m young.” Bullshit. There’s no line you cross where life comes easily, and its not a reason to celebrate the fact you’re still alive. Oh, I only like birthdays because I’m not 30 yet? Bullshit. I’ve been waiting to turn 33 and throw a Hobbit Coming of Age Party since forever.
I fill my birthdays with tiny rituals. Things that make me feel good about myself, feel good about the world, feel good about being alive. Why would I do anything else? It’s MY birthday! Every year I make a mixed cd of all the songs I want to hear that day, songs that make me happy, or that move me, or feel beautiful. Every year, I try to do something outside, surround myself with trees, or flowers, or anything thats alive. Because I’m alive, and no matter what you believe in, thats a pretty amazing mystery, and if there’s one day a year when I should think about it, this is it. But I like over romanticized silly faux-philosophical meanderings like that. I also do shallow things like eat whatever I want, get a hair cut, follow my every whim, hang out with only people I want to.
Maybe I’m just selfish like that, but its been working for 25 years so far, so I don’t really plan on changing it. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t feel on your birthday, its guilt. You have 364 other days to worry about the things you should or shouldn’t have done, to feel down on yourself, or to be annoyed with people around you, or be unhappy. Don’t do it on your birthday.
Don’t do anything you don’t want to on your birthday, if you can help it. And if you can’t help it, then don’t let it overcome you. Don’t give into the world’s expectations for your birthday. If you don’t like parties, don’t have one. If you don’t like cake, don’t eat it. If you don’t like people, take some time to be alone. If you don’t like being alone, surround yourself with people you love. Don’t think about the things you haven’t done, revel in the things you HAVE done, no matter how small. Celebrate YOUR life in whatever way makes you feel alive.
And there’s my platitude of the year. Sermon done. Happy birthday to everyone. :-D
Reblogging this again because I see it come up so often, and I don’t know that people really talk about it and explain as widely as complain.
“Why is everything on spoonflower so fucking expensive?”
Because a lot of the work has to be hands on, individually supervised and handled, one order at a time. Because they try to choose fabric sources and types as ethically as they can, and they use higher quality organic fabrics often. Because they want to pay their employees well, and keep them happy. Because they sometimes eat the cost of print errors or oddities in favor of customer satisfaction. Because they keep investing in adding more quality to the service, tech, and customer service.
Any kind of print-on-demand service will be expensive, if for nothing else but the man hours involved. If you want to do quality business, you try to pay decent wages and make your staff comfortable. Doing this sort of thing cheaply would make poor quality products, and overburden employees, so in the end, everybody would loose.
In terms of trying to buy a large piece of fabric for clothing, I feel you - I’m plus sized and need yards more than many people. What you could try to do is look for really tightly designed patterns that would hopefully fit in less space. You could also consider multiple fabric sources - buy a cheaper mass-produced fabric of the same type, and see if you can just use a Spoonflower print as an accent.
For smaller items, you may want to keep a keen eye out for sales. Sometimes Spoonflower does cheap fat quarters. (Note: Seasonally near Thanksgiving and Christmas, and sometimes swatch or fat quarter sales at other times.)
And finally, you could try to design patterns that might strike people’s fancy, put it up for sale, and earn credit to put toward your order.
You dream of pants, I dream of voluminous skirts. Let’s both cross our fingers and keep hoping and working toward it! :)
I would also like to add a little more about their staff: All of the orders come signed by whoever put it together to ship to you, and even the tiniest little glitch in print is noted and an offer made to re-print if needed. I’ve even gotten a drawing once related to my designs. Happy staff makes me so happy as a customer and designer.
Anyway… I know, it seems so expensive, but you do get what you pay for with the way Spoonflower seems to be doing things!
As one of their (very happy) employees, I heartily agree with everything this person said.
Every piece of fabric for a spoonflower customer is custom printed. To your specifications. Its not like a joanns where you go into the store, pick up a bolt of fabric you like and have them cut off however much you want. Your fabric doesn’t exist until you order it, be that an 8” swatch or a 10 yard piece. Its also been personally designed by an individual not a company, probably a normal person with an annoying day job, just like you. When you buy someone else’s fabric, Spoonflower pays the designer a 10% commission!
Do you know how many people are personally involved with a single piece of fabric from when its ordered on the website to when it goes out the door? First there’s the engineering team that builds and keeps up the website, constantly adding new features and making it easier for you to order fabric. Then there’s the customer service team, they answer any question you ask. Trust me, ANY QUESTION, haha. Then there’s the print team (thats me) we run the printers. Constantly. 24 hours a day. And printers are temperamental creatures, fabric is NOT easy to print on. It takes about 10 minutes to print one yard of fabric, if you’re lucky. Then someone puts that fabric on a massive heating device that fixes the ink to make it as wash safe as we can. Then there’s the quality assurance team, they check over every inch of every piece of fabric that gets printed. Did a stray string interfere with the printing process? Did the colors turn out right? Is the image on grain with the fabric? If not, it goes back to the printers and the whole process starts over again. If it did print perfectly, then it gets handed to ANOTHER person, who checks over the order, makes sure all the pieces are there, packs them up to look nice, and personally signs the packing sheet. Then it gets handed to yet another person, who sends it through the mailing system. Only then does it go out the door to get to you.
And that happens for ever piece of fabric. Every piece. That’s just the labor involved. That doesn’t even take into consideration the price of the unprinted fabric, the amount and price of the ink used, the cost of upkeep for the printers themselves, the cost of the fixing machine, the cost of the endless coffee supplied to keep us all running around at top speed at 2 in the morning to keep your fabric printing.
So yes, it’s more expensive than the off-the-bolt, polyester, somehow-constantly-on-sale fabric at Joann’s. I’ve been a poor college student (and poor post-college person) who saves up every inch of every scrap of fabric, because you never know when you could use a bit of trim. I hear your pain. But it’s also very very worth it. Not only am I spoonflower employee, I’m a spoonflower customer. When I create my own designs, it gives me such joy and glee to see them actually physically printed on fabric. To know that I made this. Its a really really awesome feeling.
Before I even opened it, this book had a pretty conflicting set of first impressions. In the negative column: 1. A quote by Charlaine Harris appears on the front cover. Yes, I’ve read most of the Sookie Stackhouse series, but that doesn’t mean I trust her taste in literature. Lets just say that its not a ringing endorsement. And 2. It was described to me as similar to the Harry Dresden series. I very much did not like that series.
However, to balance those facts… Positives: 1. A quote by Peter F. Hamilton appears on the back cover. I am much more likely to trust his opinion on books. 2. It may be just a repeat of the Dresden Files, but this one is set in London. Its true, London is almost always a more interesting setting for a mystery than some random American city. (I think Harry Dresden might have been Chicago, but I would also believe New York. If I can’t even remember, that tells you something about how well the setting was written…) 3. It was suggested to me on my blog. That doesn’t happen often enough, and it still makes me happy and excited when it does. I probably never would have come across this book without intervention on the internet, and in the end I very much enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was suggested to me.
Right, so, those were my thoughts as I cracked open this book. It is the story of Peter Grant, a recent graduate of London’s Metropolitan Police Academy. He wants to be a detective, but his superior thinks he is an ideal candidate for the desk job side of the force. Luckily, he sees a ghost who claims to have been the only witness to a violent murder, and he ends up being apprenticed to an old (who knows how old?) detective (Chief Inspector Nightingale) who is part of a secret agreement to use magic to keep the Queens Peace within the city’s supernatural forces. They proceed to solve a series of murders that seem to have been committed by an enraged ghost.
The book still has some of the same flaws I find unappealing about the Dresden files. First of all, it is written in first person perspective. I really don’t like first person, it’s extremely difficult to do well. The main character always comes off as self-involved and shallow. I always wish I could be reading the thoughts and impressions of some more interesting side character instead. In this case specifically (though not as badly as in the Harry Dresden series), the voice of the writing is so unsubtly male that I find it (unsurprisingly, I suppose) hard to identify with the main character. There are some authors who I’d never be able to guess their gender without looking at their name, and then there are some authors who have an equally female voice. And yes, sometimes that annoys me just as much as the male authors. Whichever way it goes, heavily gendered writing usually makes characters of the opposite gender feel flat and stereotyped. Peter is a nice, competent man, who is just awkward enough to be “adorable” to his coworkers and female friends. Most of whom he has a passive crush on, and would sleep with given the chance. In fact, that applies to just about any female he meets, whether that be his fellow constable Leslie, or a supernatural girl who happens to be a personification of a river “Beverly Brook.” (Pun much?)
One thing I really did like about this novel was the way Aaronovitch created his magic. Which is saying something, because that is usually what turns me off of books in the “urban fantasy” genre. Magic is hard to blend with the modern world: is it just a form of science we don’t understand, or is it the anti-science, powered by ritual and belief? Both of those choices come with solid stereotypes and giant plot-holes. And this is just a personal pet peeve, but I don’t understand why everyone uses Latin as the go-to language for magic. They try to say that magic is old old old, and so they name the oldest language they can think of. Latin? Really? No one says Greek, or Hebrew, or ancient Egyptian? Mandarin? Sumarian? Anything?
The magic in this series seems to have bee mostly developed during the Baroque Era, and that sort of birth of the golden age of science. In fact one of the main books used by Peter is Sir Isaac Newton’s secret second book on the principles of magic. (I guess that sort of justifies the use of Latin in this case, any sort of scholastic works of that time were based in Latin. But I still grate my teeth.) His teacher Nightingale seems to be more interested in the history and tradition of magic, than in the why and how of it. But that fits his character as a who-knows-how-old gentleman who was definitely alive in the Victorian era and doesn’t own a cellphone. Even given its mysterious and unexplained roots (and the apathy of his teacher), Peter Grant does not take the use of magic for granted. He has no idea how it works in our world driven by science, but at least he is curious. He develops tests (they even vaguely follow the scientific method) to better understand the effect of magic on technology. Which, by the way, is not good. Magic seems to negatively affect most higher technologies we use today, and Peter ruins several cell phones figuring this out.
I like that this magic has several rather important flaws built into it. It’s not a catch-all problem solver; it’s not as easy as say this word and no lock will stop you, say that word and you instantly find the one important clue, memorize enough special words and you can rule the world. It is difficult and time consuming to train your brain to appropriately use magic, and spells have limited uses that build on each other. Nightingale tells Peter it will take about 10 years to graduate beyond apprenticeship. And if someone is exposed to more magic than their brain can handle, the inside of their head turns to mush.
Also not following the usual cliches are the supernatural beings that Peter runs into. There are vampires, but they’re not sexy blood sucking cults. (*cough Dresden Files, and a billion other urban fantasies cough*). We don’t have werewolves yet, but I’ll be interested in seeing how Aaronovitch makes them different. (Though the second book is titled “Moon over Soho” and if that’s a blatant werewolf reference I might get annoyed.)
What we do have are the personifications of localities: Mother and Father Thames, and their children the various tributaries and branchings of the rivers of London. (Evidently the UK version of the novel is titled “The Rivers of London,” which has a much prettier ring to it, but has less to do with the full plot of the book. Though now that I think about it the midnight riot isn’t exactly the plot of the book either, but is closer, I guess… However, the rivers are definitely my favorite side-plot.) I like the characterizations of the rivers, and how they have their own family drama they’re dealing with. And if there are personifications of the rivers and sewers of London, what about the old historical buildings? That would be interesting. Do each of the outlying villages and suburbs have their own protector? Perhaps someday we will meet the goddess of London, herself?
All in all, I can’t call this book an enthralling masterpiece of fiction, but I’ll be interested to see if the series improves on the few flaws it has. I hope the characters start to gain a little bit of depth and non-stereotyped-personality. I hope we continue to see creativity in the layers of supernatural life in London. I hope we get to find out more about Nightingale’s past, and his strange maid Molly, with the sharp teeth, taste for blood, and extreme protection of her master. I hope Peter gets some taste and doesn’t try to sleep with two new women in each book (even if he does do it in an endearing and passive way.)
NOTE: After reading back over this review, I definitely took a little too much pleasure in bashing The Dresden Files. That probably wasn’t necessary because this book can stand on its own perfectly fine without being constantly compared to that series. I guess its just because so many people have recommended the Harry Dresden books to me, that when I finally got around to reading them, they were rather a big disappointment. I have trouble seeing why people who’s taste in books is usually so similar to my own actually enjoy those books. Maybe I had too high expectations, or maybe I should have given them more time (though I did get all the way through book one, and halfway through book two before giving up. I’m not going to read six books just to find out if the seventh might get better.) Anyways, the chance to voice exactly what I didn’t like about the series, and the opportunity to compare it to someone who did something similar, but did it RIGHT, was too good to give up. So if you’re a fan of the Dresden series, I’m sorry for bashing your books, and you’ll still probably really enjoy this series because there are lots of similarities. If you’re not a fan of the Dresden series, feel free to give these books a try and see if its any better for you. If you’ve never read the Dresden series, you can certainly enjoy these books all on their own, uninfluenced by any previous bias one way or the other.
My overall rating compared to similar Supernatural Urban Mysteries (Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, etc): * * * * * Considering that this is a genre I’m not in love with, this book deserves a great rating. This book proves that the genre has potential, if only people would stop screwing it up. Characterization: * * (Still better than Harry Dresden) Creativity: * * * Will I continue to follow the series: Yep, unless the author make some stupid plot move that’s too annoying to read. If the second book is all to do with werewolves, or if there starts to be too much Relationship Drama, I’m out.
I don't know if you have already read them, but the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch entertained me earlier this year. It has its flaws, but the series gets better with each book (currently standing at 3). I am not sure how well some of the Anglicisms will translate though! London herself, in all her palimpsestuous glory, is a major character here - so unlike the Dresden Files, where place is given a back seat. Worth a read - and some parts are reminiscent of Neverwhere. Alex.
This looks interesting! Its true, sometime the setting of a book can be a character in and of itself. I’ll be excited to see how this author handles the urban-fantasy-mystery genre. I confess, I was a bit disappointed by the Dresden Files, after all the hype I’d heard. Maybe this series can fill in that empty hole…..
I forget how the internet works sometimes. I woke up this morning to discover that my previous post now has nearly 500 notes on it, people have reblogged it, and liked it, and added their own commentary to it. One person has even attached a Community meme to it! In my mind, that makes the post officially a tumblr success.
It feels me with such joy and glee that people liked what I wrote, and felt something special. And because they liked it, and shared it, their friend saw it, and liked it, and suddenly I’m connected to nearly 500 people around the world.
For most of the people who reblogged it, I followed the links back to their blog, and spent a few seconds in my head going “Wow, this girl/guy in England/Australia/California, she/he likes what I said!” And I felt special.
So thank you to anyone who said that I what I wrote made you feel something. And thank you for sending me messages along those lines. And thank you for making ME feel something, pride and happiness and other sappy feelings, and just a general connectedness to the world. Its amazing.
I read your latest entry about Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, and The Power of Words. I was inspired, and wondered... could use the bit about how stories make life easier in my classroom? I teach 8th grade language arts in an inner-city school in Austin, Texas, and an important thing I'm always trying to impart to them is that words empower them. We're getting ready to study The Diary of Anne Frank. I feel your words will help them see how, even though her story is sad, it can comfort them.
Yes, please feel free to use my words! And that goes for anyone: If you’re sharing the awesomeness of stories, I cannot in good faith hold you back!
You are so brave and wonderful for becoming a teacher, especially 8th grade. I remember that being a particularly difficult year. But I had one teacher I loved, and who made it all worth it. I’m sure you’re that teacher for someone.
So over the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to see both Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman live on stage, doing what they do best. It was an intense two weeks, and encouraged lots of thought, so get ready for a long one……
Amanda Palmer is currently on tour to promote her new album, produced independently, and completely funded by kickstarter. I was super excited to see her live, because even though her music isn’t what I’d usually call “my style,” she has such an amazing personality and presence that comes through her songs. Its even more obvious on stage. The concert was powerful, and theatrical, and just plain wonderful, and I had a lot of fun! But…
But it reminded me of why I don’t usually go to concerts. Lots of screaming people, and crowds jammed together, and really really loud music. Amanda Palmer was very interactive with the audience. Part of the power of the performance was that everyone in the crowd was interacting with each other, and all sharing the same amazing experience. It was wonderful to feel like a small part of an impressive larger whole. It was also EXHAUSTING. The show ran from 9pm until past 2am. And personally, I’m just not comfortable with being close to that many people for that long. I enjoyed the concert immensely, but by the encore I was ready to get out of there.
Seeing The Unchained Tour earlier this week was much more my kind of evening.
I hadn’t heard of Unchained until I saw something on the Bull Spec newsletter about “an evening of live storytelling and music.” That was enough, I was sold. I’d never heard of the group before, but I checked out their website and was instantly in love with their mission: To travel the south in a crazy looking rickety old bus, and tell stories to people. They had a contact form on their website for people who wanted to sponsor the tour or had some way of helping them out. I sent them an email that was something along the lines of “I think you guys are awesome. I live in NC, and if there’s anything I can do to assist you in my area, please let me know. I work for a fabric company, and I have no idea why you guys would need any fabric, but if you do you should let me know!”
I really didn’t expect to hear anything from them, why would a storytelling group need fabric? They were probably drowning in people more qualified to help out! What could little old me really do that no one else could? I was just content to let them know that they had made a fan. Then I got a reply from a lovely woman named Samita, who turned out to be the producer of the show. And guess what, she had an idea for something they could use fabric for! I ended up printing a large banner with a map of the southern states on it, then Samita was going to get colorful yarn and line the routes of their tours. And yes, it looks just as awesome as you think it does.
I saw the show in both Winston-Salem, and Chapel Hill NC. And I wish I could have seen them in every city they hit, it was amazing. The venues were small, quiet, intimate spaces. The audience at the AFP concert was like one giant organism, we were all breathing, and jumping and singing together. At the Unchained tour, I felt more like I was the only person in the audience. The stories were told to us as individuals.
Each performer told a true story in first person narrative form. The whole point was to get a glimpse of their life, and how they came to be who they are. It was highly personal. The performers were Dawn Fraser, Peter Aguero, Edgar Oliver, and oh yeah, Neil Gaiman. George Dawes Green was also there and spoke to the audience as the creator of the tour.
I think one of my favorite things about this event was that it wasn’t all about Neil Gaiman. I am a huge Gaiman fan, the man is definitely one of my heroes, and hearing him speak was one of the highlights of my life so far. But it wasn’t his tour. He was just another storyteller, telling just another story from his life. Or, well, he was supposed to be. I don’t think he wanted to be the spotlight, but the fact is he’s Neil Gaiman, and its hard to get around that. I think a large portion of the audience was there because they heard Neil Gaiman was going to be in town, and they didn’t really know anything else about the event. I hope they came to love the concept as much as I did, and appreciate each of the performers, unknown and famous alike. The stories weren’t about famous people, they were just about people.
There was a story about a territorial war between ice cream truck drivers, a story about a girl who collects lesbians, a story about a boy who lost a bag, and one about a man who lost a bag, a story about running, and about running away, a story about getting angry, and a story about telling jokes.
Peter Aguero hosted the evening, and introduced each performer, as well as telling his own stories. He also actually thanked me on stage, for bringing the fabric. Being thanked by people you admire, even if they’re thanking you for something small and easy and silly, is such an incredibly wonderful feeling. It was amazing to feel like a part of the magic.
Peter was a pro at telling a story that had you holding your sides laughing one minute, and on the edge of your seat in tension the next. He could instantly turn the atmosphere of the room from gleefully silly to a frightened sort of thoughtful in the space of a sentence.
Dawn Fraser’s stories were charming, it was so easy to identify with her. Even though she is gorgeous and brilliant and accomplished, she was comfortable about sharing her insecurities with us, and brought into the light some of the doubts that lurk inside everyone.
Edgar Oliver’s stories were quirky and wonderful, and perfectly matched to his unique voice. One night, Peter described listening to his voice as “lying down on a bed of clouds and swans” and the next night as “drowning in a tsunami of caramel.” Neither of those actually sound very comfortable once you think about it (swans are mean creatures!) but the imagery seems appropriate somehow.
They even drew names from a hat, and had guests from the audience come up and tell one minute stories. Proving that everyone has a story, and anyone can tell a story.
For me, Neil Gaiman’s story actually sort of summed up the event as a whole. He told a wonderful tale from his childhood about the moment when he decided he wanted to become a writer, it was the moment he realized words had power. The Unchained Tour is all about stories having power. They have the power to inspire us, to connect us, and to give us insight into experiences we would never have otherwise.
One of the best things about stories is that they make sense. Even the scariest story becomes comforting when it ends. Life itself is hard: we’re too close to see the big picture, and it keeps going long past the denouement. But when you tell a story about life, every sentence has meaning, and there is a reason for everything that happens. Meanings and reasons are comforting, the tell us that what we do matters and makes a difference. That is difficult to see when you’re in the midst of the story, but when you can take a step back and tell the story to others, it becomes easier to believe in the purpose of life.
I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s about as comforting a thought as I can have. Words have power; stories make life matter.
Which, if you take it a step further, means storytellers have power. But only if you give it to them, only if you listen to the stories….
I have to say, it was sort of surreal to be in the same room with Neil Gaiman. Even with all my high and mighty words about him being “just another person,” there was still (constantly, endlessly) a voice in my head going “Wow. He’s Neil Gaiman. Wow….”
Its interesting how our brains slip so easily into awe and hero worship when fame enters the picture. I was hanging out in the lobby after the show in Winston-Salem just talking to people, and people-watching, and eavesdropping, because, well, that’s part of the fun. And I overheard a conversation between Neil and one of the girls who was helping run the tour. Apparently she’d joined them in Boone two nights before, but had just now gotten her copy of Neverwhere, and she wanted Neil to autograph it for her. Neil, quite logically, asked “Hey, we’ve been hanging out on a bus for days, and you’re just now coming up and asking for an autograph? Why now?” Her response was something along the lines of “Well, I don’t know, I mean, you’re doing signings for everyone right now. It just made more sense…..?” And clearly she didn’t really know why it was different now, and it certainly doesn’t feel different to Neil. In his own head, he’s Neil Gaiman all the time. He’s been that way for years. He’s Neil Gaiman when he eats breakfast, and he’s Neil Gaiman when he trips over a rock, and he’s still just Neil Gaiman when he stands in front of a crowd of people and tells them a story. (I assume so anyways, obviously even if Neil Gaiman is always in Neil Gaiman’s head, I’ve never been in Neil Gaiman’s head, so I can only guess at what goes on in there.) Anyways, the point is… He’s been Neil Gaiman for the last few days, nothing has changed for him. But for her, the Neil Gaiman on the bus and the Neil Gaiman sitting behind a table with a line of people out the door all waiting for a chance to just shake his hand are different Neils.
Or maybe he’s not the one who’s different. Maybe we’re the different one.
When I, suddenly and surprisingly, came face to face with one of my biggest heroes, I didn’t squeal with glee, or jump on him and tell him I’m his biggest fan ever! I just very calmly shook his hand and introduced myself. No one was more surprised by that than me. I had joined some of the tour folks for dinner and was talking to one of the behind-the-scenes guys when in walks Neil Gaiman. I think I probably looked pretty silly, and maybe stared at him blankly, and hopefully I said my name when he asked, I wasn’t really paying attention. My brain was too busy babbling “That’s Neil Gaiman. Huh, actually I don’t really see the flamingo thing. Actually, he kind of reminds me of my father, is that weird? Neil Gaiman just shook my hand. What do I say? Oh wait, I think he asked me a question. I think I answered. Crap, I hope I didn’t say anything silly…” And I certainly didn’t really felt like myself.
I think the disconnect comes from feeling like we know this person. We know them through their works, and through what they’ve said to the world. Only they don’t know us, and that feels weird. I consider Neil Gaiman to be a large part of who I am, he was there for my transition from teenagerdom to semi-adulthood. Only he doesn’t know he was there, so when I stand in front of him at the signing table I have to figure out who I am without him, because I can’t just stand there with a part of the man himself inside of me. And my brain sort of flip flops around, and I start wondering if he’s wondering who I am and what have I done to the bits of himself he let out into the world. And I want to shout “Its okay! I treated your characters nicely. I’ve loved them, and mourned them. And I’ve sheltered your words, and given them life beyond the page. Its okay! I’m taking care of that piece of you you gave to the world.” Only then, it would definitely prove I’m one of those crazy fans you get restraining orders on. And so I don’t say that, I stand quietly and nod and smile, and mention that if he wouldn’t mind autographing this, I’d be ever so grateful.
And he does, because he’s always been good and nice and polite to his fans. Even the crazy ones. Part of me wants to scan the various signatures in (I got one from each performer) and post them here on the internet, and crow my victory and my pride that I was there, and I talked to each of these people. But although they’re just ink on a page, they seem have power over me. A part of me wants to cherish them, and hold them as if they were mine, and some of their meaning would be gone if I shared them with the world.
Amusingly, thats not at all true of the hug Neil Gaiman gave me later that night. I was talking to George Dawes Green as I got his autograph, and he was asking about what I did with my life, and if I was happy. And I said I was, because I am. And then this arm descends around my shoulders. My friends are all very close comfortable people, and spontaneous hugs are nothing unusual to me, so I put my arm around the person while I finish my sentence. And then I turn, and low and behold, its Neil Gaiman. Hugging me. Oh. Crap. The brain freeze is back. I so badly want to say something cool, but I can’t think of anything more fascinating than “Oh, hello!” And then George asks me another question, so I turn away, and a moment later Neil is gone, even though I wanted to thank him for my hug. But the night is late, and everyone is packing things away and leaving, so I leave to go home too.
And the next day, I hug a friend, and I say “You’ve just been hugged by someone who was hugged by Neil Gaiman.” And it makes her happy. So I hug all of my friends, and I pass that Neil Gaiman hug around North Carolina. Neil, if you’re reading this, I really hope thats okay with you. I hope that you’re alright with letting your hugs out into the world like you let your words go free, to be spread around, and held by many, and changed over time.
The power of words, the power of fame, and last but not least the power of hugs.
I LOVE that you read, reviewed and enjoyed "A Fine and Private Place". It's always been one of my favorite books and you had some very insightful things to say about it. Thank you!
Thank you so much. Its a story that’s come to mean a lot to me, and I love that other people enjoy it too. I’m glad that what I’ve written touched you, as I’m trying to practice writing about what inspires me. It makes me feel like I’m succeeding, so thank you!