All posts by Mariah

Experimenting With Instagram

Hey friends and allies!

Did you forget to put Instagram posts in your blog posts? Did you completely not realize Instagram posts were part of this course until last-minute reviewing the Personal Learning Journal rubric?

If so, you’re in the same boat I am!

Luckily, I did start a new Instagram account over the course of this… well, this course. I’ve been personally interested for a while in how “influencers” make social media their primary income source, and I did an independent study this semester, where I explored blogging a little more, in addition to this class. So, with my personal Instagram account, I’ve been sort of able to experiment with things that worked/got more views and likes, and things that… basically no one had any interest in looking at.

And, with that knowledge in mind, I made a new account. Maybe, one that will eventually help me with some kind of online presence.

If you’ve seen my latest post, and my Sketchbook Project process/review post, you might recognize Talitha, my live-action role play (LARP) character. (Have no idea what I’m talking about? Check out my blog to learn more about this weird game.)

Talitha now has her own little corner of Instagram to hang out in, @talitha.lamour.

So far, I’ve mostly been playing catch-up with her content. I’ve posted things like…

Costume Pieces

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Illustrations

…both old…

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…and new…

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and Poetry.

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I’m still figuring out some of the things I, and other people on Instagram, like seeing in their feed, but I think I’ve narrowed down some of them. Being a very visual platform, I have realized that, on Instagram, it’s pretty essential your content looks good.

The following post is one of my most successful posts on my personal Instagram, which I’m planning to model more of Talitha’s posts after. I think this post did as well as it did because I took the time to do an actual staged shoot, with my DSLR (rather than my phone), and went in and did some editing in Lightroom (rather than relying on Instagram’s basic filters and editor).

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Something I also noticed about this post was the tags. I think part of the reason this post got as much attention as it did was because the tags reached out to multiple online communities: LARPers and historical costume-makers, and the witchy/neo-pagan and halloween-loving people of Instagram.

Another one of my more successful forays into photography was this post (TW – internal organs/medical imagery):

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(This may have also inadvertently been the most risque picture on my account, which may or may not have had something to do with it’s success…)

Of course, not all Instagram imagery needs to be done with a fancy digital camera–but success may still depend on a solid understanding of relevant design elements, like lighting and composition, color, form, and that kind of thing. This picture, I took with my phone, and it still was one of the better-received posts on my personal account:

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Reaching Out?

While I didn’t notice it as much on my personal account, I have noticed comments on my Talitha account that were basically other people trying to get me to follow them. It does seem to work–when people show an interest in you, it seems natural to want to know more about them, too.

One comment in particular caught my interest, on this post:

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I checked out Eco Creations Co. They sell apparel and jewelry, and some of the profits from their products goes to the Environmental Defense Fund. Could their request for me to message them be a request to use these words on a t-shirt or something? That could be cool. Or is this just them personally advertising to someone who might be tempted by their products or cause?

I haven’t decided yet whether or not to message them (I know it’s been a week; they’ve probably forgotten about this comment), but maybe I should? Nothing ventured, nothing gained? Has anyone else encountered a situation like this? I’d love to hear about it.

TL;DR

If you’ve had any interest in my previous posts in this class, check out my blog about role-play and medieval combat, and my relevant Instagram account! I’m trying to suss out how this “online presence” thing works, and I’d appreciate the extra little boost of support!

Thanks everyone! See you around. 🙂

It’s Time to Save the World

“Is my English OK? Is the microphone on?” asked Greta Thunberg, in one of her most recent addresses. “Because I’m beginning to wonder.”

Laughter from the audience.

It wasn’t a joke. No one seems to be listening.

Nine years ago, when I was Greta’s age, I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t politically, globally, socially, environmentally aware. I wasn’t aware of what our biggest problems were–or that I, as a kid, could do anything about it, even if I did know what was happening in the world.

Nine years ago, I was LARPing (live-action role playing). For those who don’t know, LARP is a game wherein you create a character for yourself, dress up in costume, and run around in the woods at night, fighting faux villains with foam sticks. It’s like playing make-believe in the backyard when you were little, but on a larger scale, with maybe a better production value.

LARP comes in a number of forms, but the game I played was mostly like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a fantasy game. Swords and sorcery. Lightning bolts. Storming the castle. All of that.

While I knew that the events in the game weren’t “real” and that the character I played wasn’t “real,” they always felt important. They felt bigger than the small “reality” I actually lived in. I often felt that my character was better than me. She was stronger, prettier, freer. She had more goodness in her; more to give. I wanted to be like her in real life.

This disconnect–the idea that my character was false and somehow separate from me–affected my growth in a number of ways. I could write a book on it. There’s a lot to unpack. But the point here is that even after I managed to quit the game, I had a hard time developing an idea of who I was without that character.

Recently, with the changing of the seasons, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It would be the start of LARP season now, if I was still playing.

I’m still sorting through it, but one of the things that finally occurred to me was that I could be like the heroic character I used to play. I already was like her. She came from me.

But there were still situational differences, systematic differences between that character’s world and mine, dragging me down.

I posted this on Facebook:

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And, only days later, the sentiment was echoed by somebody else:

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I’ve been flailing for a solution. Something I could do to help the environment, and reconcile the reality of my apparent helplessness with the idea of once having played at being someone courageous and able to create change.

In this video, Jane Goodall advises people to act locally. “Quite honestly,” she says, “if you think globally, you get depressed.” Break it down, then. Start with what you know you can do. Do something. Even if it might seem small. “We’re all interconnected.”

I’ve been worrying myself sick. I woke up today with a sore throat, and a headache, presumably from my newfangled teeth grinding habit. In an anxious, somewhat dissociated haze, I drove to the store for some groceries, just to get out of the house. Everywhere, meat and dairy. Things packaged in plastic. Delicious things that I only felt bad about craving. I bought one of those chocolate bars that claims to help endangered species, and felt doubtful about its impact, but I hoped.

On my way home, it seemed like all I could see was trash. Scattered along the side of the road, accumulating in the ditches, washed up along the curb. Plastic bags blowing in the wind and caught up in bushes.

Enough is enough.

I found a metal stick–one of those garden hooks for hanging bird feeders or little candle pots–and I filed the end to a point on my dad’s bench grinder. I walked across the street to the park outside my house, and I attacked the garbage in the rain garden. I chased it through the foliage, piercing it with my makeshift rapier, collecting its remains.

Maybe this will help.

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Photo by Robert Stuart Lowden

I’m an adventurer. It’s my job.

And for all the shitheads out there who consume without thinking, and leave their trash lying around; for the people who continue to make a mess of the world, I have just one message:

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The Thing About Taxes

I will preface this by saying I am not well-researched in the areas of politics, national financing, or whatever actually goes into this mess, in the United States or elsewhere.

But I think it might be worth mentioning my thoughts on a few things, based on personal experiences, and some things I’ve heard that just… don’t make a lot of sense.

Taxes aren’t inherently bad.

The word “tax” in itself has come to have largely negative connotations–if you’re being “taxed” by something, you’re being weighed down or put upon. We have classic examples of people, like the Sheriff of Nottingham from the Robin Hood stories, who abuse taxes.

In a truly ironic state of affairs, my dad is adamantly against any kind of raise in taxes, but he also works for the state of Minnesota, and part of our taxes are what pay his own wages.

But if taxes are being abused, for things like… oh, say, a giant wall, or a football stadium… then, yeah, I wholeheartedly understand the aversion.

I don’t think anyone is ever entirely sure what taxes are used for, but there’s obviously some mismanagement going on somewhere, and that’s the bad thing. Taxes themselves? They have some truly positive possibilities.

Let’s just, for the sake of imagination, pretend that a perfect world is possible. What should taxes, in a perfect world (and my opinion) be used for?

  • Protecting/conserving the environment
  • Researching and developing important new innovations in energy, transportation, and health (cure for cancer, anyone?)
  • Providing/maintaining a basic standard of health and well-being for everyone
  • Paying first responders, health professionals, and peace-keepers
  • Educating people well
  • Preserving culture by investing in arts, museums, libraries, archives, and community centers
  • Community improvements, like road construction, parks & rec, etc.
  • Providing some kind of safety net and/or rehabilitation programs for those who are  out of work and/or homeless. (This would include retirement, and being out of work due to an injury, veteran benefits, and other things of that nature, in addition to being in a bad situation for other reasons.)

Some people are really put out by the thought of providing for others. Which… I get, to some extent. At the moment, it’s hard to fathom providing for myself, let alone anyone else in the country–but that’s because a lot of things in “the system” are broken. They’re not being used the way they should.

If I had the peace of mind that came with guaranteed good health, the basic ability to learn the things I need to know without being in debt for the foreseeable future, and the reassurance that life as we know it wasn’t on its way to being toasted out of the Earth like a bad virus, I would happily give away a third or more of my income for the rest of my life.

In a perfect world, what would your taxes be used for?

What would you be willing to provide, to make your own life and the lives of others easier?

The Sketchbook Project

The Brooklyn Art Library, “a free museum where you can touch the art,” regularly offers a really cool opportunity, called the Sketchbook Project.

On a whim, I decided to participate in vol. 14. The process goes like this: purchase a sketchbook (a modest 5″x7″, my favorite size), and choose whether you would like your sketchbook to be included in the digital library (of course, yes, please). Receive your adorable, simple, blank sketchbook in the mail. Do something. Send it back by the deadline.

You can send your sketchbook back later than the deadline (vol. 14 needed to be postmarked by March 30th), but collections of the latest volume usually go on tour somewhere before arriving at their forever home in Brooklyn. Late arrivals will still be accepted at the Library, but will miss out on the tour portion of the project. Selections from the vol. 14 collection are going to cities around the U.S., including Brooklyn (of course), Boston, Providence, St. Petersburg, Washington D.C., Richmond, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

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Off to the post office! Made it on time.

Part of my motivation for participating in this project was marketing. I’m trying to pursue several blogs and other ideas, and I thought this would be a really interesting way to (potentially) draw some attention to those prospects.

But it ended up being something very different.

It became more a form of therapy than anything. When I opened it, I was faced with blank pages, and the fear of messing up, of people seeing the opposite of what I wanted. I was afraid that my ideas weren’t interesting enough, or that my art wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid that I was going to end up wasting my time and embarrassing myself.

I didn’t know how to start, but I had to do something with this book while I had it. So I did what I’ve been doing pretty much nonstop for the last four years: I started writing. Now, I hadn’t actually written consistently by hand for a long time. It had been even longer since I had written words in pencil–something smudgy and impermanent and so forgiving. I wrote before I went to sleep, random thoughts floating around in my tired brain.

The first page was unfortunate. It was clogged with anxiety and insecurities. But, as I went along, the pages became more optimistic, more reflective, more abstract. I added color, changed up the style and direction of the text. I sketched.

And then something amazing happened.

 

I completed the first full, inked composition I had done, probably since 2012 (seven years ago!) when I was at the Perpich Arts High School. I wasn’t entirely sure that I still had the know-how–but then it worked. I created another, and another.

I posted pictures of my work to a group on Facebook and got the very unambiguous reply: “do more of this.”

I want to.

Through the process of letting go and allowing myself the time and space to just do art, I rediscovered some of the self-confidence I had lost, and improved my immediate outlook on life. It was a little sad to part with the sketchbook, but I’m excited to see it again in the digital library, and for people to look at it and touch it and think about it in-person, across the country.

Toward the end of the time I had left to work on it, I traced my hand on an open page. I hope that many more people will place their hands in that outline. Maybe the page will yellow with their fingerprints.

I may have to go to New York someday to find out.

If you want to explore your own process, and share something of yourself with the world, vol. 15 is now available. 🙂

Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero

Warning: This post contains (mild) spoilers.

Yesterday, Rick and I went to see Captain Marvel in theaters.

Strangely, I’d heard almost nothing about it after it was released on March 8th. The only thing that had passed through my social media was some headline about an old white guy upset about the MCU’s mightiest hero being a woman.

Over dinner last week, my dad, who coincidentally is also an old white guy, and who has not yet seen the movie, expressed his own confusion about Captain Marvel being a woman. Having grown up with the kind of Captain Marvel who starts out as a little boy, shouts “Shazam!” and channels the powers of several ancient male heroes by morphing into a well-muscled, fully-grown man, he wondered how all of that was going to work.

First of all, there’s no reason a girl couldn’t channel the powers of male heroes, given the opportunity–their maleness and their powers are not mutually inclusive. Secondly, I’m not sure what the deal is with kids having to grow into adults in order to use their powers (this also confused me when I first read the W.i.t.c.h. series).

But, most importantly, DC’s Captain Marvel/”Shazam” is not the same character as Marvel’s Captain Marvel. And, as I’ve learned from my good friend Wikipedia (because I am in fact not a comic book nerd), Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel’s civilian identity) has been a fixture of Marvel Comics since 1977, when she first appeared as Ms. Marvel, in a new series of that name, after having gained her powers from events that transpired in the Captain Marvel comics. She finally took up the mantle of Captain Marvel herself in 2012 (although it appears there were a couple other women who also held Captain Marvel’s title and/or powers, at some point or another). So, yes, the first Captain Marvel was a guy, but Carol Danvers certainly has a legitimate claim to the role.

And Marvel nailed it with this movie.

It is the most normal movie I have ever seen.

“Vers” (played by Brie Larson) as she’s known when the story begins, is apparently an alien soldier from another planet, fighting a war against another race of aliens called Skrulls. When the Skrulls capture her and take her to 1990’s Earth (this is a prequel), she works with a young Nick Fury to find and defeat the Skrulls before they can infiltrate Shield and steal an essential piece of technology.

It sounds pretty straightforward, for a superhero mission, but along the way, Vers, who can’t remember anything about her past and has trouble controlling her powers (read: obeying; getting things right), manages to discover who she is and what she is really capable of.

I cried watching her self-actualization play out. This wasn’t a story about a woman being powerful despite being a woman or because she was a woman. This was a story about a human being–who just miraculously happened to look and act like me–realizing their full potential.

Brie Larson is beautiful, make no mistake, but they don’t make her up like a supermodel (cough cough, Wonder Woman), and she’s dressed from head to toe in a practical uniform which sufficiently protects her from both the elements and the vacuum of space. She’s fit, like I imagine anyone with military training would be, but she looks like a normal person, not somebody’s ridiculous ideal.

And our hero’s defining relationship? Carol Danvers’s friendship with Maria Rambeau, a black single mother and badass pilot, replaced what could have easily been a meaningless long-lost love interest, if this were a different movie.

Captain Marvel, despite the horrendous line of advertisement I found on this AMC theater page, is not a “(her)o.” What a strange and belittling advertisement for such an amazing and worthy character.

She is a hero.

Captain Marvel is smart, brave, and human, in addition to having powers on par with those of DC’s Superman. I’m excited to see her take down Thanos in Avengers: End Game next month.

In the meantime, go see Captain Marvel. (Go experience it in IMAX, too.)

Take your friends and your children with you.

Everyone should see this movie.

Graduation is Terrifying

As of today, Sunday, the 10th of March, there are 48 days until commencement on April 27th. I have a counter going down on my phone. (Why commencement isn’t after the official end of the semester, I have no idea. Someone please let me know the logic behind this.)

It’s exciting, knowing that I’m almost done with this four-year journey. I feel smarter, more mature. I feel qualified for things, which is great.

But I’m also terrified.

After I graduated high school, back in 2012, my world slowly imploded. I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college, or what I wanted to do for a living. I didn’t have a very good grasp of what the world was really like. I was a kid.

So I followed my crush to his college, a very teenage girl thing to do. It was expensive. It was lonely. It was cold. For the first time, I faced the very real possibility that I might be a failure. I was embarrassed. I was depressed. My parents finally convinced me to come home after that first semester. I’m not sure why they let me go in the first place. I was a kid.

It went downhill from there. I had been told from a young age how independent I was. How I was so talented, and would surely be going places. I don’t know what I was thinking. As soon as I got a full-time job, I moved out of my parents’ house. They would have let me stay, but I felt that I shouldn’t.

Life with roommates was tough. I lived mostly with strangers, and boyfriends who broke up with me before our leases ended. Sharing a bed for months with someone you thought was going to love you is hard. Doing it more than once is heartbreaking.

Our apartments were cramped, split three or four ways so we could reasonably afford the rent and utilities. I was the kid in our first apartment, too scared to take initiative or touch anything that wasn’t explicitly mine. To compensate for the lack of control, I became the mom of my second apartment. I managed the money, drove the college kid to school and her friend’s house when she couldn’t take the bus. I dealt with dirty dishes, and took out the trash, and sorted the recycling. Sometimes I cooked, but often I didn’t have the energy to do more than scramble an egg or pour a bowl of cereal for dinner.

A rash started developing on my neck and wrists. My feet hurt. I was constantly tired. I lost 30 pounds and thought because my body seemed different, I must have gained weight, and started eating even less. I wore larger clothes without noticing how baggy they must have been. I didn’t have much money at the end of the month to put into savings. I was stuck.

Was this going to be my life forever?

I hit the last straw, finally, one day, and decided to go back to school. Community college, close to my parents’ house. As long as I was pursuing a degree, I could live with them, without having to pay rent, or buy groceries. The ultimate form of stability: food and shelter. A clearly paved path forward.

Stress had destroyed my health. As soon as I moved back home and settled in, became a person again, and not a mechanism going through the motions, it was like a dam broke inside my body. It stopped trying to hold itself together. The rash that had been threatening my skin in small patches exploded across my entire body–literally, the whole thing. Showers were painful. Clothes were painful. I itched constantly. It was exhausting. I often woke up in the middle of the night with panic attacks: hands shaking, and a feeling in my chest like the balloon of the world was poised on the sharp end of a tiny pin. I started sleeping with the lights on; it sort of helped.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. I could be here for days, trying to describe the few short years that managed to demolish me from the inside out, and the long and infuriating road to recovery. I might look like an ordinary person now, but that’s thanks to years of allergy immunotherapy, a relatively new bi-weekly immunosuppressant injection that keeps my skin from flaring up, hyperthyroid medication, anti-depressants,  and therapy.

So, after all of that, the idea that I’m about to be done with school again, that I have to try any of that life again is absolutely mortifying. I can’t think straight. My brain is trying to come up with hundreds of ideas at once to keep me safe and on my feet and doing something worthwhile, if plan X, Y, and Z don’t happen to work out. There are so many contingency plans trying to build off of one another that I haven’t been able to pick any one of them to start off with. Focusing is difficult. Writing a coherent paper or blog post has become difficult–which, when you’re a writing major, with a typically very natural affinity for writing, only snowballs the issue.

I don’t want to be stuck working for someone else, especially a large corporation with headquarters far removed from its people. I want to be an entrepreneur, I want to start my own businesses and do my own freelance work–and I know I have the skills to do it now–but the uncertainty is crippling. The idea of being stuck somewhere I won’t have control over my life and my mental health is mortifying. The idea that my plans will tank, or won’t take off in the first place, is frightening. The fight or flight response is getting worse by the day.

I’m nearly 25, but I’m just a kid. A kid with invisible illnesses, and only so many spoons. Worlds and worlds of good ideas, but only so much time.

And I am scared.

Make All the Things: 3D Printing with Thingiverse

Over the weekend, my boyfriend, Rick, described to me a population of people who call themselves “makers” — they don’t just do any one craft, he said; they do all kinds of things to make whatever they want.

To which I replied, “True story.”

To give you some background, I have been making things since I was… born? Age eight was when I first learned how to sew and embroider, but I was drawing long before then, and each additional craft I learned thereafter came pretty naturally to me. I’m not a master at anything, but if you give my hands something to do, man, they’ll do it.

Rick, in contrast, is a tech guy. He’s clever, a good storyteller, and he knows his way around just about anything that runs on electricity, but when it comes to hands-on making, he doesn’t quite have the coordination to do what he envisions. When I watch him try to draw or sculpt–or chop vegetables–I can tell he has a lot of the theoretical knowledge it takes to make things, but he hasn’t spent the majority of his life practicing.

There is no one recipe for what a maker is or does, and the level of skill they have to execute their projects varies, but they all have one thing in common: they make things. And, now that we are living in The Future, there are quite a few makers who have branched into the realm of 3D printing.

Rick loves 3D printing. His 3D printers (he has two of them now) are little robots who do his artistic bidding. Any problems with the quality of the crafts they put out can be improved by a hardware modification here, a software modification there. It’s been fun to witness his excitement and creativity.

A community of other 3D-printing-savvy makers help to keep Rick and his little robots busy, day and night, through a website called Thingiverse. Thingiverse contains not only free 3D printing files for a vast assortment of objects, but also an active community of makers ready to give each other pointers on how to use the files, and improve the ease and quality of printing.

As an example, Rick downloaded the file for a dice tower (the two of us are also nerds who play D&D 😉 ), but he noticed that there was an issue with the design: one section of the tower printed with a solid top, which isn’t particularly useful if you expect dice to drop all the way through. Other makers had noticed the same issue, and the person who originally posted the file responded to their concerns by creating and distributing an updated version of the design, which fixed the problem.

Thingiverse offers an array of files for toys, gifts, tools, containers, miscellaneous parts, printer modifications, and just about anything else you can think of, but it is an especially exciting resource for those of us who play tabletop games like D&D. The makers of Thingiverse allowed us to take a two-dimensional map with dry-erase lines and turn it into a little three-dimensional world (which will become even more detailed once we 3D print ourselves a few extra tools to make sanding and painting easier).

A lot of the scenery you see here was made with free files available on Thingiverse:
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Happy printing!

“Leve Som Dem”

Hej. Mit navn er Mariah, og jeg kan godt lide den farv grøn. Jeg snakker dansk ikke godt, men jeg lærer det. Jeg har lært det i et år. Jeg underviser mig selv med Duolingo. Jeg er ikke en “polyglot” (de taler meget sprogene flydende) men jeg ønsker at være en dag.

Hi. My name is Mariah, and I like the color green. I don’t speak Danish well, but I am learning it. I have learned it for a year [on and off–I’m worse at practicing than I like to think]. I am teaching myself with Duolingo. I am not a “polyglot” (they speak many languages fluently) but I wish to be one day.

Watch this excellent TED talk by Lýdia Machová on the secret to becoming a polyglot.

One of the things that I do to make language learning fun is to listen to music and learn the lyrics. I recently found the Danish version of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid on YouTube, and was excited to discover that, by the fifth listen or so, I could understand some of the lines and sing along.

It’s not an exact translation from the English version–even the title of the song, “Leve Som Dem,” means “live like them,” not “part of your world”–but it’s even more interesting, because the Danish version still rhymes. While the lyrics were altered from an exact translation, they still have roughly the same meaning, and they also maintain that sort of musical poetry that we would expect in a Disney/children’s song. That’s super cool on a number of different levels.

I really want to find a copy of the whole movie. The utter appropriateness of a Danish Little Mermaid is indescribably appealing.

(I’m a total nerd, so I couldn’t write an introductory post without going all-in. So hey. Hi. This is me. Nice to meet ya.)