Tag Archives: creative life

Stan Lee

Excelsior

Yesterday, we learned that Stan Lee—creator of many of the Marvel characters we all know and love—passed away at 95. Few have profoundly shaped pop culture like him, and fewer still have instilled their values into the zeitgeist. He was incomparable, and the comics world is a lesser place without him.

My own connection with Stan Lee is tenuous. I read every comic I could get my hands on as a kid, but it was never as many as I wanted. What I did read (’80s G.I. Joe, Star Trek) wasn’t usually centered around superheroes, so I don’t have the same relationship to his creations as some of my friends. But as an adult—beyond respecting the man as a creator, storyteller, and visionary—there is also something in Stan Lee’s personal history that I’ve come to admire.

Today our culture is obsessed with the idea of young success. It’s readily apparent in the tech culture where listicles of ‘Youngest Billionaires’ and profiles of the ‘Top 30-under-30’ are standard. But that worship of young success goes well beyond the technology sector. We see it in private lives, we see it in political ones, its apparent in education, religion, and entertainment. This drive for success is heaped upon the shoulders of the next generation, they’re pushed to succeed earlier and faster than their peers. That intense pressure can be both overwhelming and debilitating.


“You know, my motto is ‘Excelsior.’ That’s an old word that means ‘upward and onward to greater glory.’ It’s on the seal of the state of New York. Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.”

—Stan Lee


Stan Lee’s own career is an antithesis of our culture’s obsession with young success. Here’s a man who started working at Timely Comics in 1939 when he was 17. But even with mild accomplishments during The Golden Age of Comics, his career languished. It wasn’t until several decades later, after having served in WW2 and after decades of toiling away in the comic’s industry that he launched the Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby. That series transformed comics, they made superheroes people, and the Fantastic Four took off. From there his career only blossomed. Spiderman. Hulk. Thor. Black Panther. Iron Man. The X-Men. Daredevil. The Avengers. Dr. Strange. The list of his creations is nearly endless.

That is what I love about Stan Lee. He was not an overnight success. His debuts weren’t a best-seller hit. But he kept doing what he loved. He fought through those his negative emotions and experiences, and he eventually made a profound impact. But it wasn’t until his forties that he became the success we know today: a man who’s creations reshaped the entertainment world as we know it. It’s important to remember that.

I admire that grit and that tenacity. I admire the willingness to stick with one’s passions—even in the darkest of days. It’s a lesson we should take to heart. Maybe with our own creative careers, we can all strive to be a little more like Stan Lee.

Rest easy, Stan. Thank you for everything. Excelsior, indeed.

Learning to Say "No"

Learning to Say ‘No’

Distraction is one of my biggest struggles; something I grapple with on a daily basis. A few days ago, I posted how we as creatives need to choose to make time for our craft. I referred to time as the “currency for creation.” But there’s another metaphor that works just as well: time is the medium from which we craft our creative work. Without time we cannot produce—everything else: charcoal, oil paint, clay, wood, words, everything, is secondary to time. Yet, in an ever-connected world finding those moments can often feel difficult and overwhelming. When we do find the time it’s often fleeting, and we’re bogged down by distraction.

Those called to creation understand this on a very personal level. Obligations already eat away at the narrow slivers of time from which we hone our craft. And the siren call of distraction is always there to lure us away. Occupying oneself into idleness is easy. At the end of the day, the week, the month, the year one looks back and find themselves unfulfilled and wonders: what happened?


In the struggle of creation, eventually, the creator must learn to say ‘no.’


In the struggle of creation, eventually, the creator must learn to say ‘no.’ At first, it’s terrifying. In our culture of ‘yes’ a word like ‘no’ sounds final. (It’s not, but that doesn’t matter.) Your friends won’t get it. The family won’t understand. Entertainment and Social Media hate hearing ‘no,’ they feed off distraction. Our phones are abuzz with alerts demanding attention. The 24-hour news cycle wants you to believe everything is a crisis. Click ‘yes’ to receive alerts for this random website. It’s endless. Empathy for the creator—when it exists at all—is ephemeral. Dreams and drives get brushed aside as frivolous whims. Oh, that. That’s just a hobby. Nothing will come of that. Do that instead. Watch this. Come here. Go there. Play this. Guilt and shame are wielded with selfish abandon. But it’s for you! They say when really it’s for them.


It was so dumb I had to do it.

Facing those pressures is difficult. We’ve all crumbled and given in, and those slivers of time are lost forever. You don’t get them back. Hence, the lesson of ‘no.’ Learning to say ‘no’ allows us to set boundaries. It establishes what is important and it set priorities. It’s the first step in building a routine, making the work habitual, and living in the moment.

To be effective ‘no’ is something every creator has to master. Shut out the distractions. No, Twitter isn’t important. No, you don’t need to watch that latest reboot on Netflix. No, you don’t need to make that phone call. No, brunch isn’t necessary this weekend. Face the pressure head on, stand your ground, and make the choices for what matters to you. It’s important for our mental health. It’s important for the work. It’s important for creation. ‘No’ lets us carve out moments in time, and after all, time is the true medium.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. Alexander

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Choosing Time

Choosing Time

Most “rules” for writing are hyper-personal. What works for one writer will not work for another writer. We each discover our own path in the journey of creation and each path is as different as the person who walks it. But there is one bit of advice that remains true regardless of our course: to become a writer, you have to write.

That is a choice in itself. It doesn’t matter what we desire to do, if you’re driven to create then you have to participate in that act of creation. What you’re doing at that moment isn’t choosing to write but choosing the time to write. Time is the currency for creation. That applies to every creator working in any medium and is not restricted to writers.


Time is the currency for creation.


During the nineteenth-century labor movement, Robert Owen began the push for the eight-hour workday. It was he who coined the slogan “Eight hours labor, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” Since then, it’s been co-opted by labor movements and labor organizations across the world. Most artists I know have to work full-time jobs (sometimes many)—art is often secondary to that work. That leaves sixteen hours (if we’re lucky[1]) to divide between rest and creation. From the onset, many of us are already limited in the amount of time we can spend walking our path.

A group of Australian ‘red raggers’ (railway drivers and firemen) pose in front of an 888 banner symbolizing the divisions of the day, 1912. More info on Wikipedia

Time is finite. Once spent it cannot be reclaimed. If a creator is driven to create, then we need to learn to spend our time wisely. If we work full-time jobs, we’re already limited. We need to set priorities that permit us the time to create. That requires sacrifice. Choosing time means making sacrifices and cutting out other things that serve only as a distraction.

For me, that meant I quit playing video games. I stopped watching movies. Television went by the wayside. This year, I’ve significantly cut back on live sports as well—I no longer choose to sacrifice four hours to a football or baseball game, not when my time is limited.[2]

As with the individual’s path of creation, the path of sacrifice will be different for each creator. The choices you make will be personal. But you’re going to have to make them. In the end, it’s up to you. It’s your choice.[3]


1 This is a topic for another time, but I know many artists who have to work several jobs. For some it’s so they can afford health insurance, for others, it’s so they can afford food or rent. This only further limits their time, and further restricts their choices.

2 This isn’t to say you can’t enjoy these things. You can! I haven’t become a Luddite. But I treat each of these as rewards instead of as a lifestyle. That makes my time with each more special.

3 “Choose wisely.” —Grail Knight


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. Alexander

Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Welcome back to Lovat

Friday Link Pack 10/09/2015

We’re coming to the end of Red Litten World launch week which means it’s time for the Friday Link Pack. Some of these links I mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Do you have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! (Include a website so I can link to you as well.) Let’s get to it…

RED LITTEN WORLD:

Red Litten World Is Out Now!
You should go buy it! It’s available as an eBook from pretty much anywhere ($5.99) or trade paperback ($15) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or my store. It’s high time you head back to Lovat. Hooray!

WRITING:

Writing Vs. Having A Life
My friend and fellow writer, William Munn looks into the idea of a work/life balance when it comes to our writing. What does it take? What should one  be willing to sacrifice. Also, as an added bonus, you should check out his serial story, Rue From Ruin.

10 Terms Coined By Ernest Hemingway
From ciao, to cojones, to the moment of truth. Here are ten modern-ish terms coined by Hemmingway himself.

Absolute Zero — The Temperature At Which Writers Give Up
Fantastic post from Kameron Hurley on perseverance, writing, and the creative life. It’s just what you, me, and any creative out there in “the struggle” needs right now. Go read it.

#WriteTip—New Struggles In Self-Publishing
Dave Farland offers up some great thoughts on the challenging (and ever changing) landscape of self-publishing and what it takes for success.

Give All Your Secrets Away
The ever badass Setsu Uzume wrote a great little post on writing what we want to write and telling the stories we want to tell and denying nothing.

RANDOM:

Scarfolk Council
Scarfolk is a fictional northern English town created by writer and designer Richard Littler. The whole thing is an amazing satirical project poking fun at themes of totalitarianism, suburban life, occultism, religion, school, childhood, racism, and sexism. Delightfully subversive and highly recommended.

A Poetic Vision Of Paris’s Crumbling Suburban High-rises
Sometimes, Paris pretends to be Lovat. Stunning pics in the Washington Post article, showing some truly amazing architecture.

Sad Topographies
The world can be a bummer of a place. From Uncertain, TX, Point No Point, WA, to Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill in South Australia (the name means “where the devil urinates” in the regional Pitjantjatjara language) this Instagram account works to collect the saddest place on earth.

WEIRD WIKIPEDIA:

Boy Scout Lane
“Boy Scout Lane, sometimes written Boyscout Lane, is an isolated road located in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. A number of ghost stories and urban legends have become associated with the road, including the fictional deaths of a troop of Boy Scouts. The area has been the subject of several paranormal investigations, and has been a ‘haunt’ for youths hoping to experience a paranormal event. The land surrounding Boy Scout Lane is now privately owned and is off limits to the general public.”

H.P. LOVECRAFT STORY OF THE WEEK:

The Mound
In honor of Red Litten World launching, I feel we should revisit the tale that inspired the title! In Binger, Oklahoma there is a strange mound which is, in fact, a gateway into another world.

GIF OF THE WEEK:

Quoth the raven, "c'thump c'thump, c'thump"
[Thank you Steve for sharing this. Corvids are the best.]