Enthusiasm

A friend of mine was saying yesterday that he sometimes wished he could be as enthusiastic as me about things. It took me aback, because for the most part I am very nonplussed about life. Part of it is dysphoria, which I personally think is a byproduct of living with nightly nightmares and flashbacks and a touch phobia among other things. But part of it is that I’ve always been a fairly insular person, and so I don’t associated myself with enthusiasm. Or at least – not enthusiasm related to social events!

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But in this instance, the term came up because I was cooing and fawning all over probably the most glorious sunset I’ve seen all year. We were in the car, and I was alternatively gasping and bringing a whole band of sound effects along with me: ‘oooo’, ‘ahhh,’ ‘eeee’. I was pointing and talking about colour gradations and ‘oh god it’s so glorious’ and essentially I turned into a non-crying equivalent of the Double Rainbow guy.

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Nature does this to me. I’m the girl who – when the moon is full – will often sing ‘moooon, moooooon,’ regardless of who else is around, and then stare avidly and adoringly until I have to go do ‘real life things.’ I will stop and watch wild animals on my walk. I’ll go and examine the buds of Nuytsia floribunda (the Australian Christmas Tree, and largest species of mistletoe) just because it makes me feel good to do so.

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So I do have enthusiasm for nature. Actually, I have enthusiasm for a few things; good music, good art, good TV, good food. People? No, not so much. I have lovely friends, but too many damaging experiences with people have taught me a deep, ingrained wariness that always stops my good will from becoming much more than a hesitant love. I am still always surprised when my friends accept this as something valuable because I know in my heart that I have so much more to give, if I could just let myself.

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I’m that person who cries at every song during the Sound of Music simply because I feel intense emotion that isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just so intense that I cry. Every time. Every time even though I’ve seen it a hundred times. Sunsets and sunrises and storms and general ‘nature things’ are the same way. I’m invested. I get enthusiastic.

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I used to be very afraid of some of the things that I did naturally and spontaneously. I was afraid of doing silly dances to celebrate things like ‘Glen has brought chocolate home for me,’ and I was afraid of singing songs that I’d made up about people’s nicknames, I was afraid about crying at things that most people didn’t associate with crying (until I saw Melanie on So You Think You Can Dance, this season, who cries like I do – all the time at random things), I was afraid of being the one to laugh loudest in the cinema (I always am, I once had a friend tell me that I’m the one who breaks the barrier and makes it okay for everyone else to laugh as loud as they want; but secretly I think I’m the one that everyone else thinks ‘honestly, woman, it’s not that funny.’), I was afraid of closing my eyes over that perfect bite of key lime pie or saying ‘this is sex‘ in my driven, happy way when I see a bombastic piece of artwork.

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I still can be afraid of these things, you know. I am afraid to show my happiness and enthusiasm around others. I knew a couple of people who – when I was growing up – took this as their cue to make my life as miserable as possible. And so I learned that happiness and enthusiasm could be tools used to subjugate and subordinate other people. So my enthusiasm became a private reality, something I cherished on my own. No wonder I grew to love being on my own so much. It was the only time I could feel something good in a way that wasn’t always tainted with shame or self-hatred.

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This year I made a decision to be more natural with these things about other people, to be more vulnerable. It was a hard decision. It first started because I was tired of feeling so ashamed at myself for tearing up during the Winnie the Pooh theme song, or during the lyrebird singing during the David Attenborough Life of Birds documentary. I love sharing media with other people, but I hated my emotional reactions to things because they are intense. I am the person who – upon feeling myself starting to cry during an inspirational moment in a musical – will start counting times tables in her head to stop the upswell of intense feeling. Social embarrassment avoided, but it also bleaches my enjoyment out of a movie or TV show.

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So my friend was seeing an enthusiasm that I’ve only really been happy to explore around other people in the past year / year and a half. It’s hard to be that person around other people. It’s hard to be myself. A lot of life has taught me that being yourself is the fastest way to be damaged. And as an adult, I’m learning that being myself now is maybe a faster way to healing, if I approach it carefully.

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I’m a crier at movies and TV shows and songs even when they’re not sad. Especially when they’re not sad. I’m a person who has silly dances (the ‘we’re going out’ dance and the ‘I’m washing my hair’ dance and the ‘we’ve run out of the toothpaste where’s the new tube’ dance) and who sings at the moon and sings songs for her friends and bops her head to bass-lines that no one else can hear. I’m someone who is sensitive and vulnerable and enthralled by plants and animals and rumbling thunder. I’m someone who laughs the loudest in the cinema and can laugh at the same joke, in the 50th viewing of the same show with the same intensity as when I saw it the first time. I may have alexithymia, I may not know what I’m feeling; but I feel things intensely. It’s not just depression and dysphoria all the time, and I am teaching myself to show this reality to other people.

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Which is probably a good thing, because tonight we’re watching Sound of Music with said friend, and I will cry at every single awesome song just like I did the last time I watched it; simply because it makes me feel that good. It will be so much nicer to do that rather than counting times tables to make me seem as emotionally ‘appropriate’ as everyone else watching!

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Wandsuna – Mr and Mrs Finch

So I’ve been up to stuff lately! I just completed my first semester in the Master of Communication, and now I’m on tenterhooks to see how I did overall. Nerve-wracking! I sail into my second semester over Christmas/New Years/my birthday, which is kind of relief, I’ve never been too enamoured of December in general. It’s hot.

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I turn 30 this year. On the one hand, it seems to be some kind of stereotypical that I should be panicking right now. On the other hand, it’s just an arbitrary age that signifies the fact that I’m getting older. Something that happens every single day, you know? I don’t know how I feel about it. Do I wish that I’d achieved more by now? Of course. But I never knew Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder could be so overwhelming, nor did I realise when I was younger just how sensitive and gentle I am; and that has – by necessity – lead into a life where I take things slowly, and gently.

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Do I have any goals for 2012? Yes. I want to finish the drafts of two books. One on shamanism, and a science fiction novel (booyah). And my personal goals? I’d like to learn a greater tolerance to stress, and experience greater periods of contentment. I suspect the two are connected.

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Let me leave you with the new installment in the Wandsuna series:

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Wandsuna - Mr and Mrs Finch, by Ravenari

So I have this thing called a touch phobia…

Touch phobia is also rather unhelpfully known by the following names: haphephobia, aphephobia, haphophobia, hapnophobia, haptephobia, haptophobia, thixophobia and just ‘fear of being touched.’ I call it a ‘touch phobia,’ and that works for me.

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Well, the name works for me, not the phobia. The phobia is a son of a bitch. And anyone who has it probably knows just how awful it can be.

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I’m lucky, I don’t have a truly severe version. My phobia has never made me throw up. I can sit in the passenger seat in the front of a car when someone else is driving (though it makes me feel trapped, and sometimes I’ve had to get out of cars or ask that they stop). I can shop in shopping centres, and I can even handle hugging some people hello and goodbye.

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The list of things I can’t do, right now, because of the phobia, is long and winding. From not being able to stand next to people on a crowded bus, to not being able to handle people walking behind me when I’m sitting down.

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For many of us, and certainly me, touch burns like fire, is intensely aggravating, or – as I like to describe it – ‘feels like sandpaper vigorously rubbing against the *inside* of my skin.’ You would think, because of that, I hate touch and don’t want it in my life, but you’d be wrong. I like the idea of touch (though I can’t imagine it too explicitly, or I trigger the phobia even when no one’s around). I crave touch. Pre-touch phobia, I used to be a physically affectionate person.

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I’ve tried different ways of dealing with this. I’ve talked to several therapists, I’ve even seen a sex therapist in the hopes that she’d come across a case like mine before (she hadn’t; the downside to finding experienced therapists in a small town). I’ve done research online and come across a whole bunch of bogus, generic, ‘I can fix your X phobia with this video/tape/cassette/aluminium hat, for X amount of dollars!’

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I’ve been drawn to media representations of people with touch phobia for some time now, from Ciel Phantomhive in Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), to little Cindy in the two-part Press Gang episode written by the wonderful Steven Moffat.

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Ciel from Kuroshitsuji

Ciel from Kuroshitsuji

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Of course, it’s not a coincidence that I was also drawn to both of these characters; they have experienced childhood sexual abuse. That said, not everyone with a touch phobia has been sexually abused. But a lot of us have.

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Cindy from Press Gang

Cindy from Press Gang

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I’d list a lot more media examples, but we’re not really well-represented in the media. Which is a shame, because there’s not one way to have a touch phobia, and it manifests so differently that it would be you know – nice for me as someone who studies mass media – to see more representations of touch phobia out there.

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Some people are specifically scared of being touched by the opposite sex, some people are specifically scared of being touched by people, but not animals. Some people are specifically scared of sexual touch, but not any other kind of touch. Some people are specifically scared of intimate touch, but other forms of touch are fine. It affects people of all genders and sexes and walks of life. But not many people have heard of it, or know that such a thing exists. A lot of people don’t talk about it, even if they have it.

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There’s no guaranteed way to recover from a touch phobia. And everyone responds differently to different methods. Some people have a natural remission over time. Others need to put in a ridiculous amount of effort for a tiny amount of progress. Others find that they don’t want to recover from their touch phobia, because they don’t miss intimate touch of any kind, and don’t find they need it. There’s no one psychological technique that will work for everyone, and it’s important not to let other people try and convince you this is true. Because if you do, and then the technique fails you, you’ll end up blaming yourself, instead of the circumstances, environment, technique, or just ‘it not being the right time yet.’

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I’m writing about this again because it is actually the most common search topic on my WordPress journal. And I’m writing about this again, because I still have it. It’s still there. It’s still a son of a bitch. And because I’m not alone in trying to figure it out; but I feel that way, because not many people write about it. And because if you’re one of those people who feels alone in trying to figure it out, I want you to know you’re not. There are a lot of us out there, trying to wrap our heads around it, some of us wondering and hoping it could be different one day. And most of us are putting phenomenal amounts of energy into stopping it from getting worse, and even trying to heal from it.

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We’re out there. Cringing away from people who walk too close to us. Swallowing down nausea when a family member kisses us in neutral greeting on the cheek. Loving our partners endlessly and then struggling to understand why we can’t lie in the same bed with them, or cuddle. Letting the buses pass until there’s one empty enough for us to enter. Shopping online to avoid the crowds, and trying to count to 10 so we can survive waiting in a line at the bank. In whatever ways it manifests, we’re out there. And there’s probably more of us than we think.

Oh artist, oh anxious artist.

So, over the Easter weekend, the Swancon/Natcon 50 Future Imperfect exhibition was on at the Perth Hyatt.

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I had fully intended to go the launch, after backing out of speaking on a panel about the techniques I use as an artist for anxiety reasons. And then on the afternoon of the launch, anxiety reasons kicked in again, and I didn’t end up going. I couldn’t even feel crushed or guilty about it, the anxiety was just that all-encompassing. Also, additional self-hate issues kind of had me viewing ‘going to an exhibition to see my own artwork on display when I know what it looks like’ with a kind of abashed, affronted horror. I just couldn’t get excited about making a big deal out of myself.

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I know I often talk about ‘bad mornings’ with PTSD and so on, but the reality is, PTSD touches every part of my life in different ways. Sometimes it will be the ‘I slept badly, today will be a slow day.’ On days when I’m actually planning on doing something exciting, like attending my first exhibition launch (since I didn’t go the other exhibition launch a year and a half ago that I was in either), it creeps in and I don’t go.

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I did make it for an hour – hour and a half on Saturday morning. We got there early, so we sat down by the Swan River foreshore and I took pictures of ravens (ravens, not crows – Perth, ravens. Corvus coronoides to be precise). I found this relaxing.

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raven pair photo by Ravenari

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raven. photo by Ravenari

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We went in and I saw Linda, and Stephanie Gunn (and her partner and son), both of whom are good friends and a relief to see. I met a few other people, and my method for ‘looking at my art in an exhibition’ was to walk straight by it. I didn’t stand in front of it and look at it once. I looked at everything else. I admit, I was surprised to see how many originals were only featured as limited edition prints, instead of their traditional medium originals. I prefer traditional medium originals, or limited prints of digital work at an exhibition; but limited prints of a traditional work is jarring. I especially enjoyed the work of Sandy / Gas Bomb Girl, which was both original, well-executed, and a pleasure to look at.

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Anxiety dictated I leave soon after, and that hour tired me out so much I mostly just slept for the rest of the day. So many people. In fact, it was during that resting, that I got a call and then a text from Linda saying that Portable Photovoltaic Systems had sold! And then a couple of days later, I discovered that The Sea Shepherd had sold too. Currently Clearcutting at Dawn is all that remains, and is right now hanging on my loungeroom wall. Although here it is, resting on my art table:

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Clearcutting at Dawn framed - Photo and Art by Ravenari

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That was very career-affirming for me as an artist. But more importantly, I am so glad these pieces have found homes. I think one of the worst things about being an artist is executing a piece of art only to have it languish away in a cabinet or under a bed, instead of being displayed like it’s supposed to be. One doesn’t generally do art to then put it under a bed, y’know?

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I also finished – drumroll – Wandsuna – Remember?. You can see a post of all manner of details here at my Dreamwidth account. But I’ve provided a picture too:

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Wandsuna - Remember? by Ravenari

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The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a part of my life. It won’t always be in this severity. In fact it isn’t as severe as it used to be. But it is crippling. Things that I expect myself to be able to do, because others not only find them fairly easy, but look forward to them, I find ‘do my head in.’ Launches, socialising with like-minded people in a group setting, seeing my artwork in an exhibition, even sometimes selling that artwork. As it’s invisible, it is something people in the majority don’t understand unless I take the time to explain it, and as explaining something like PTSD is difficult I frequently have to have the energy to do it (it being draining is often compounded by some reactions like; ‘but the abuse happened X years ago, shouldn’t you just be over it by now?’ and ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ and ‘it’s too hard for me to be in this conversation,’ and ‘I don’t believe you,’ and many, many more). I think it can also be hard for people to understand how being raped and abused as a child and the subsequent PTSD I have from that, might impact something like an art exhibition. They are, after all, two wildly differing animals on the outside, right? Well, no, not especially.

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In between all the artwork I post, my life is a lot of self-work, therapy, and ‘forcing myself to get up in the morning and face the day after 4 or 5 nightmares.’ Serious, ongoing, ‘every night’ sleep disturbance is something I’ve lived with for over 23 years, and I’m only 29. I have woken up tired almost every single day of my life. But I get up, I walk around, I live my life, I do the art, and of course I rest significantly because PTSD takes it’s toll, along with all the other different things that spin around the PTSD, like the touch phobia, alexithymia, and dissociative issues.

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I’m proud of myself that I got down to the exhibition and the Hyatt, even if it was only for an hour. And I’m glad I volunteered to put some artwork in the exhibition and went through with it, even though I talked myself into pulling out about 5 times. I’m stoked that I sold anything at all, let alone two pieces, and that has ignited a warm fiery glow inside of me. Sometimes when you take a chance and challenge yourself, you’re rewarded. I’m glad I went through with it, even if I need to have a quiet month afterwards to rest. 🙂

Stu-Stu-Studio!

Instead of you know, colouring my growing amount of inked work due to be coloured, I’ve instead just been adding more and more inked work to the ‘to do list.’ Currently there are six illustrations that need to be coloured. Cassowary, Delicate Mouse, Giant Armadillo, Walrus, Black-Winged Lory and Wandsuna – Remember? Not only that, but on my ‘to do list’ I also have sketches to do of some Dholes (whee!), a huge forest landscape, a Wolverine, a Paradise Parrot and a second Totoro.

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Phew!

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So my art-desk is starting to take on an immensely cluttered look. Observe…

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Stu-Stu-Studio by Ravenari

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Well, that’s cluttered for me. I’m not going to turn around and take a photo of my computer desk for you; I refuse! THAT is very cluttered. I have everything from mineral eyeshadow samples on there, my computer, my scanner, 4 bazillion pens (it feels that way, I’m exaggerating, I’m sure it’s only something like 4 milliion), hairclips, medications, anti-static spray, an awesome speaker system, my modem, a glasses case with glasses I don’t wear anymore in them, FOUR PACKETS OF TIC-TACS (including a giant packet of orange tic tacs, which I didn’t even know they did!), 40 lip-glosses (don’t judge me), a full pot of bobby pins even though I’ve been using the same two for two weeks, my camera, about 50 post-it notes (not exaggerating, for real) which has everything on there from dog names in Finnish, to old shopping lists, old ‘to do lists’ and future ‘as totems’ I want to draw (like the awesomely named Piapiac).

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But my art desk is usually quite clean!

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If all that clutter is starting to get to you, here’s a picture of an unidentifed species of local moth (unidentified by ME, I mean, any local entomologist who specialises in the ridiculous number of local moth species we have could probably identify it. Local entomologists; HELP!)

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moth at Ellenbrook by Ravenari

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As for how I’ve been going lately (not that you asked for all of this verbal diarrhea), I’ve been down more than I’ve been up. It’s been a tough four months, in all honesty, and my PTSD symptoms have been getting ‘bigger and brighter and better!’ I’m like a walking advertisement for classic post-traumatic stress disorder right now, and that’s not a good thing, considering I got diagnosed in 1998 and I’d like to be better by now. This second, if possible.

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However, there have been understandable triggers of this ‘explosion’ of post-post-post-post trauma stress, and I am working through them. It’s one of those ironies of life that working through the actual triggers themselves is of itself stressful, and in the short-term can create a compounding of symptoms and not an immediate release. Of course, this is why I don’t work a regularly scheduled full-time job and why sometimes I get up at 6.30am (what masochistic Circadian rhythm decided that was a good time to awaken?) and go straight back to bed again twenty minutes later due to phrase; ‘that 20 minutes was exhausting!’

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When I find some energy, you can find me diligently inking at artwork, or going on long, ambling walks throughout the suburbs. I haven’t seen any drop bears or bunyips yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

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In book recommendations, I’d like to take the time to recommend: Echidna: Extraordinary Egg-Laying Mammal by Michael Augee, Brett Gooden and Anne Mussen, which takes the prime place of being one of the few non-fiction books (excepting something by Bill Bryson) which made me laugh out loud a few times. As well as being well-informed, delightfully written, well-illustrated and easy to navigate, it has such gems like:

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“An echidna wedged under a car seat can only be removed by disassembly of the surrounding automobile!” (p. 123)

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This just proves the awesomeness of echidnas, if you ask me.

Too many rabbits…

Well, obviously:

Wandsuna - Remember? Artwork by Ravenari

I’ve been doing so much art and writing lately, that I’ve actually lost track of blogging here. That’s just… incredible. Along with the art and the writing, I’ve been going through something of a PTSD exacerbation since mid-December, and have been feeling less buoyant as a result (somewhat of an understatement). There was a trigger in real life that caused this (a catalyst you might say), so at least I have the ‘comfort’ of knowing it doesn’t come from no where. But at the same time, three and a half months is a long time to deal with an increase in all of my symptoms, from nightmares to bruxing to stomach upsets to flashbacks to losing time to just general miserableness.

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So, I decided to get some of it out of my system, and returned to the cathartic and personally symbolic Wandsuna series. The Wandsuna series started around 1998, I believe, and back then it was exclusively limited to pastels. But the series has been evolving as I’ve been, and now we’re into inked, bulgy-eyed rabbits:

Wandsuna - Remember - Detail by Ravenari

This illustration, entitled Wandsuna – Remember? is unfinished, and still needs to be coloured, but there is a liminal moment after inking and pre-colouring where I feel I have a finished piece before the piece is a finished piece. It drifts between being complete and not complete. I treat the inking process as a ‘completion,’ and intentionally put more detail into the piece than can be visibly seen post-colouring. We all have secrets. Even the Wandsuna pieces do. What can’t you see behind the colour, even up close? Well…

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What you can see however, is too many rabbits.

wandsuna - remember - detail 02 by Ravenari

That very first story…

Did you know I used to draw a webcomic? And it was mostly awful. But the concept remains and is actually the new novel that I’m plotting out now. Anyway, you can see one of my really different long ago frankly crap illustrations of the main character.

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(Disclaimer, I drew this on the 887 bus route on the way to ECU one day, which, as anyone knows, does not lend itself to smooth lines).

Jess by Ravenari

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Well, anyway, it’s come up because the webcomic originally started as my ‘first ever novel’ when I was 12 years old. Then about 150 pages was irrevocably lost during a move to Alexander Heights and I only had the first three chapters left in hard copy. Gutted, I left it alone and moved onto other things (namely: highschool). One day though, I looked back and realised I still liked the basics of the story. And, shockingly, I looked back only to realise I’d been writing a main character who had PTSD and alexithymia before I knew I had PTSD or alexithymia. It was – and still is – like my 12 year old self had a snapshot of the kind of person I’d be at the age of 18, and wrote a character about that in a science fiction world on another planet.

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That was…incredibly disturbing, and it still is. Reading back on it now, I find myself thinking; ‘how did I know?’ Of course, some things aren’t the same. I’m not, for example, a gun-toting mercenary strategist who inherits a major spy syndicate.

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Anyway, then I wrote it out as a NaNoWriMo novel. And then I drew it as a 24 page webcomic. And then I shelved it again, and finally I’ve come back to it and I think this time I’m ready to write it ‘for real.’ It might only ever be ‘for myself,’ but I’m certainly ready to write it for real.

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In the meantime, I made a salmon macaroni pasta salad (with wholegrain mustard and celery and other things) this weekend, which was a hit (i.e. there’s none left). Tomorrow night I’m making a spaghetti with roasted garlic, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and cabanossi. I was going to make that the other night but changed my mind. This paragraph is in tribute to Putu, who probably doesn’t have much access to cabanossi pasta right now (but I could go some umeboshi onigiri if you want to swap!)

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, but I don’t actually celebrate it. Is that bad? I prefer spontaneous romance over ‘scheduled commercial romance.’ And while I know I could still turn it into a lovely, sweet day… I’d just prefer not to do so on that day. Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do you do anything special for yourself when you’re single?