The Mathematics of Planning an Evening with Amanda Palmer

I’ve agreed to go to an Amanda Palmer concert this fall. The feeling I get from YouTube clips and online comments is that her shows are not exactly orderly affairs. I’m down for some occasional disorder, but I get very anxious when leaving the familiar too far behind.

I’m a fan of Palmer’s work, and of her impressive dedication to working hard, so I’m comfortable with the evening artistically. It’s bound to be an enjoyable concert. The problems start with the venue, St. Andrew’s Hall. I’ve heard of the place but never been there. Unfamiliar location: +2 anxiety

It’s in Detroit, which doesn’t bother me in itself. I know a lot of people who seem to believe that Detroit is a city that exists in a post-apocalyptic alternate reality, where gangs roam the streets on customized jeeps with buzzsaw attachments. On my visits I’ve only seen urban decay, old men, and old prostitutes. Maybe the gangs are seasonal. Wasteland: +0 anxiety, +1 depression

The trouble I have is that I’m not familiar enough with Detroit to be confident of finding the venue. Or parking, for that matter. Yes, I have GPS with my tri-corder. I don’t like leaving that in my car while going into the grocery store for five minutes; I’m certainly not leaving it there for an hour and a half. If I took it into St. Andrew’s, I’d be focussed on it instead of the music. So, no GPS. Navigational challenges: +1 anxiety

Then, of course, there’s the matter of the crowd. Once the music starts I should be fine, but until then my brain will be screaming at me about all the danger represented by people who don’t even know I exist. Stupid brain: +2 anxiety

Why am I going if I’m looking at 5 points of anxiety and 1 of depression? Well, I can’t let this crap rule my life. A concert may not seem like a big deal, but the more I show my brain that I’ll do as I please the easy it gets. I want to play ukulele on open mic nights. I want to attend comic conventions and introduce my work to new people.

I want to go see Amanda Palmer in concert.

Fortunately I’ll be going there with Phil — co-worker and fellow villain on City of Villains. He’s familiar with St. Andrew’s Hall and area, so that’s -3 anxiety right there. Having a friend to distract me from the crowd is at least another -1 anxiety, so I’ll just be dealing with 1 point each of anxiety and depression. That’s perfectly manageable, and the concert should leave me happy and excited overall.

It should also leave me very tired for work the next day, but that’s okay. I’ll just grin maniacally. Let someone else worry for a change.

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Finding Waldo

Last night I went to back-to-back shows of Cinematic Titanic. For those not hep to my jive: Cinematic Titanic is five alums of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, sitting on the sides of a stage, making fun of a bad movie as the audience watches it.

It’s more fun than you’re probably thinking. You’ll just have to trust me on that.

Last night’s targets were “Rattlers” (experimental bio-weapon sends snakes to spree-killing) and “The Doll Squad” (all-women team of agents try to stop Michael Ansara from… doing something).

Between shows I ran into some former colleagues, and I joined them for a snack while we discussed terrible cinema and great comics. They failed to ditch me, so I sat with them for the second show. Much fun was had by all, especially by Jeff who got a couple glares from a woman sitting in front of him.

I was alone for the first show. While I’m okay with going to see things by myself, the long wait before the proverbial curtain rises is always a test of my resolve in the face of screaming nerves. It’s worse when there’s a crowd in place of a line, as there was last night. Clutching my satchel — to protect me, not it — I began scanning the lobby for any signs of the doors opening.

No luck. Time crawled, as did my skin. To distract myself I invented a game. Actually, I started playing before I realized what I was even doing! (Good brain. Give yourself some dopamine.)

I call it Finding Waldo. Here’s how it’s played.

1. Scan the crowd until you spot someone distinctive in some way. They should be far enough away from you that they could disappear in the crowd. This is Waldo.
2. Look somewhere else for a while. A minute or two, whatever you please.
3. Now find Waldo.
4. Repeat until you no longer have to play Finding Waldo.

It’s a simple game. You can’t really win, and honestly you kind of lose just for playing it, but it kept me relatively calm I could go find a seat.

Fathers Day

I have one good memory of my father.

This is not to say we only ever shared one good time. My memory has always been unreliable and skewed toward the negative, so it’s likely that there are several events that I’ve forgotten. So I have just the one good memory, and even that is tinged with awfulness.

For context, you have to understand our relationship. He appeared to believe that I was filled with lies, and I believed him to be unpredictably abusive. The Beta incident is typical of our interaction.

For those of you born after the heady early days of movie rentals, there was a format war for VCR tapes. It was somewhat akin to Blu-ray vs HD DVD. You don’t remember HD DVD? Never mind. The point is that my folks got a great deal on a Betamax player, precisely because Beta had just lost the war for home systems.

Anyway, the Beta incident began with my dad trying to hook up the player. He couldn’t figure out why the cable channels weren’t coming in through the VCR. I picked up the installation manual and looked through it until I found the answer. There was a hatch on the top that opened up to reveal a frightening array of dials. You were supposed to set and tune each channel individually in order for the Beta to read their signals correctly.

I guess that’s why it was called a Beta.

So, like Charlie Brown running at the football, I told my dad what I’d read. He was furious. He swore at me for interfering, and he sent me outside to pick up sticks in the yard so he could mow.

I went outside and cleared the yard, front and back. That only took a few minutes, and it was much too early to go back inside. The TV was right next to the stairs, and he’d certainly notice me heading upstairs to hide. So I did it again, picking up even the most minute twigs I could spot. Half an hour later I figured it might be safe enough to risk going in, so I did.

Dad caught me, but he wasn’t pissed anymore; he was triumphant. He marched me into the living room to show me the TV. The picture came in perfectly.

“I figured it out,” he proclaimed. “You have to tune each channel in that top panel.”

This wasn’t an unfortunate aberration; this was my everyday experience. Nothing any of us did was right, even if it was, and he was the self-proclaimed genius who told us we were stupid. When he ran off with his secretary while I was in my last year of college, I was more than happy to write him off and start repairing my confidence.

Happy Sun

Smile. We’ll all be long dead when the sun explodes.

That was pretty much it for 20 years. Then Wendi found a message on our answering machine two weeks from the Department of Human Services of a county I hardly knew existed. It turned out that my father had applied for a fostering permit, and they needed to talk to his own offspring as part of their screening.

I wanted nothing to do with it. For one thing, I had elected to have no part in his life. I didn’t want to get involved. Additionally, I hate phones. No, that’s not right. I’m afraid of accidentally committing to something while talking on a phone. There’s a story in that, but I’m already on my second digression. I’ll explain that very particular phobia another time. Let it suffice for now that I do not make phone calls if I can help it.

The message nagged at me through the week. I’d sought help a few times in my adolescence, but nobody had wanted to get involved. Wasn’t my silence contributing to the problem?

A form from the Department of Human Services arrived in the mail. I could fill out the paperwork, assuage my conscience, and avoid using a phone! I read the form. The bulk of it obsessed on how well I was doing, and there was just one small space allotted for opposition to the foster application. That wouldn’t work for me.

By now I’d convinced myself that it was my duty to respond, but the safe route led away from the response I needed to make. Steeling myself, I dialed the provided number.

I got an answering machine. After rambling confusedly for a bit I left my cel number. Then I went to Wendi for comforting. Thinking about my father had wound me up, and imagining all of the ways that the phone call could go south had left me shaking. She calmed me down and sent me away again. Then my phone rang.

The county worker was nice enough, but I didn’t feel as though she believed me. She kept saying “That’s too bad” in a way that seemed well-worn and disinterested. I imagine she’s dealt with people who’d suffered neglect and physical abuse, and that mere emotional abuse is pretty low on her list of concerns.

Or, and this is a distinct possibility, I simply read into her responses what my head meat expected to hear. Regardless, she assured me that she would include my statements in her findings. This means that now there’s likely official documentation of my father calling me a “worthless piece of shit.”

But I do still have one good memory of him. I have to admit that.

Image of the tingler being extracted from behind a screen

Vincent Price removes a full-sized tingler from his “test subject”.

(image altered from screen capture of “The Tingler”)

I had just settled down to watch “The Tingler” on HBO. My dad wandered in and asked what I was watching. I told him, adding that it starred Vincent Price. To my surprise he sat down to watch it with me. A few minutes in, he asked if I wanted nachos. Did I?

We raced out into the kitchen, poured chips on a plate, sprinkled shredded jack liberally on them, popped them in the microwave for a bit, and raced back the living room with our goodies. Bing, pow, zap! A plate full of cheesy sadness!

We didn’t care though; we happily munched away as the glorious Mr. Price proved his theories on the physical nature of fear — by killing people, of course. The chips vanished quickly, and we raced to the kitchen for a second batch. Bing, pow, sadness!

It was after we’d eaten half of the second batch that one of us looked at the snack we’d prepared. The nachos were far more terrifying that any of the on-screen silliness that had been holding our attention. There were patches of green in the melted cheese. It had been moldy, and both of us were so fixated on a stupid movie that neither one of us had noticed until halfway through the second serving.

Feeling our stomaches churn, we pushed the plate aside and tried to enjoy the finale of the movie. We had to admit though, they’d been pretty tasty.

For that brief span, we were in sync. We acted as one with no friction, and we (mostly) had fun. That’s the father I wish I’d had more of. That’s the man I’d endorse for fostering a child — with the provision that he not be allowed to make nachos.

Comic Recon

Lately I’ve been mulling over plans to publish comics electronically. Truthfully there’s more urgency than that implies, as I’ve already received pages from the artist and passed them on for coloring. What I’m thinking about is which of several other projects to start next and, more importantly, how to market an e-only work on the convention circuit.

The Motor City Comic Con in Novi was held the other weekend. I decided to go to see if there was anybody dealing with digital content yet. Also I wanted to pick up a sketch I’d commissioned from Andy Bennett, who Wendi and I had met the last time we’d made comics. Wanting that sketch (and not wanting to stiff Andy) helped me to fight off the many reasons my brain concocted for not driving an hour to subject myself to a large mass of humanity.

It’s a really good thing I had that sketch as a carrot, because it took about a half an hour to finally score a parking spot. There were secret lots accessible along the edges, lots where cars floated tightly together on waves of loose gravel. Even those self-organized spaces had no room for my little Ion. Finally I took to circling a few lanes, a climate-controlled vulture waiting for a tasty spot to open up. I’m going to leave this part of my adventure there and hope that you didn’t catch how miserably that metaphor turned out.

The process of getting into the convention baffled me, but it consisted mainly of inching slowly back and forth in the winding line. We were all handed forms to fill out in order to gain admittance. Twenty minutes later I reached the table where dull golf pencils were available for use. I could have saved precious seconds by asking the people near me if I could borrow their pens but, and I cannot stress this enough, that would have required speaking to them. I don’t know what they would have said other than variants of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but my brain said not to take the chance. I needed to save my social risks for the convention floor.

This, by the way, is why I’ve always been a lousy salesman. I don’t want to bother or annoy people. But a convention is a marketplace, and you’ve got to put yourself out there. A lot of people are just passing you to get somewhere else, so you can’t expect them to come to you. You’ve got to draw them in. I’m not sure how well I can do that given my general levels of anxiety, but being confident in my product and lures would make it at least imaginable.

Eventually I reached a desk, and I tried to hand them my registration form. The clerk gave me an exasperated look and told me that this was the line for buying tickets. I’d need to take the ticket and the form to go trade for a wristband. It was starting to feel like a game quest. Acquire the form and the ticket, then turn them in to your contact to receive the Wristband of Ingress. Not an exciting quest, but you have to start with the boilerplate missions to get used to the controls.

After equipping my newly acquired magic item, I went to find Nichelle Nichols. I’m a big fan of the original Enterprise crew, and even as a kid watching reruns in the 1970s I knew that Lt. Uhura’s presence on the bridge was revolutionary. I wanted to go meet her and tell her how that helped shape my views on racial and gender equality, even if the writers mostly confined her to the line “Hailing frequencies are open, Captain.” Sadly, I had to put my embarrassing confession on hold; she was off at an arranged photo-op. I’d have to check back later.

There were a few other celebs on my optional mission list, but I made a beeline through their section of the convention for the artists. The server was already pretty full, and most areas of the map were experiencing some intense lagging. (Translation for non-MMORPG players: it was really crowded and hard to keep up with all the activity.) I wanted my sketch in hand before I became completely enwiggenated and had to flee.

I pulled up short when I saw Tom Savini. If you like George Romero and/or zombies you know him as an effects creator and some-time actor. He’s a nice guy and really approachable, which is important for an anxiety-riddled me. Tim and I had seen him at Drive-In Super Monster-Rama last year, so I asked Savini if he’d be attending this year as well. After confirming that we were talking about the same film festival, he said he would. We agreed it was a pretty good set of movies.

Sharing a tiny geek-out with a man whose work I admire added bonuses to my panic control. I rolled up my signed “Grindhouse” poster and stuck it in my satchel. Any creases or wrinkles would only add to the feel of the poster. Then I plunged into the thicker crowds that milled throughout the creators section of the con.

Fortunately, Andy was pretty easy to find. As usual his table was next to that of his friend and fellow-artist, Dave Aikins. Dave was nowhere to be seen, but I figured I’d catch up with him later. I picked up my sketch (Boris Karloff as Ardeth Bey) and a copy of the anthology book “lifelike” from Andy, and we caught up. The venue had changed since my last attendance, and it seemed to have resulted in better foot traffic for the independent artists. In other words, the show was going well for him.

illo of Ardeth Bey

The face that launched my tiny Ion.

Remember my reason for attending the convention? Not the sketch, the other one. I wanted to gather ideas for marketing e-comics. Well, from Andy I learned that convention sketches are a big part of sales. That’s not immediately applicable, but it got me thinking that the lure of sketches could bring folks into range. Hanging around waiting for the sketch, all that reading material right before them… At worst, it would help defray the cost of the table. Plus nothing attracts customers like other customers.

Having added the sketch to my inventory, I was now free to leave at any time. This emboldened me, so I pursued a secondary objective. One of my friends from an RPG convention we used to attend had a booth at the show. Ian Ng writes “Omega Paradox”, published by Moonstone, and he was here with artist Mark Sparacio. They had four issues with them (well, three — it’s complicated) and assorted posters of Mark’s artwork. After introductions and brief reminiscing, Ian and I talked about the business while Mark critiqued an art portfolio.

Ian stressed the importance of the posters for bringing customers in for the pitch. I filed this away with sketches as another useful lure, but I was after ideas for what came next — showing off non-physical content to best effect. The importance of having a book came up. It tangibly demonstrates a body of work and is easier to shelf than a magazine. I reflected on Andy’s suggestion of print-on-demand, an option I’d hoped to avoid. It might be a nice (albeit low-profit) additional offering to my mainly online business model, and it would provide something to show and sell at conventions.

By this time, Nichelle Nichols was supposed to be back from the photo-op, so I wandered back to the celebrity booths. Happily, she was in fact there. I’m not noted for being quiet, but she had trouble hearing me over the general noise of the convention. I settled for getting an autograph, and spared us both the embarrassment of shouting my admiration over the din.

Lieutenant Uruha

I have nothing witty to say. Nichelle Nichols is awesome.

By now, my protection was beginning to fade. I decided to see if Dave Aikins had made it back to his table. He had, but there was a small crowd around him. Dave is almost custom-made for young parents, a growing part of comic con culture. As parents they like his work with Nickelodeon properties such as SpongeBob Squareparts, but as young adults they like his gruesome zombie art. He’s kind of like Frosted Mini-Wheats. Or a serial killer.

I didn’t want to intrude on business just to say howdy, so I circled the creator tables looking at artwork and displays until Dave’s customers thinned out. While taking everything in, I caught sight of a cool poster. It took the tired kitten-on-a-branch “Hang in there” concept and turned it into a gorgeous drawing. A mixture of sketch-like reality and precise abstraction, the piece caught my eye and reeled me in to the artist’s table.

Her name is Sara Richard, and her portfolio showed a wide range of skillfully evoked moods. She said it was her first time at the show and that it was going well for her. I compared notes about my previous life behind the guest tables, and I was glad to hear how much better it was for a newcomer now. Finally I settled on a print of two foxes that had a nice sense of attachment and longing about it. As she put it into a protective sheet for me, Sara revealed that it had been drawn for her boyfriend and the foxes represented the two of them. Art really does speak beyond the reach of words.

I wondered if I had anything that powerful to show. A lot of artists were relying on customers to be brought in by posters that prominently featured gravity-defying breasts, but Sara Richard was drawing attention for a skillful rendering of a familiar meme. It reminded me that a visual hook needn’t have anything much to do with my actual product. Cultural recognition can serve as a bridge to your own work.

The throng around Dave Aikins had cleared by then, so I hastened back to his table. He confirmed the general sense of it being a good convention and joined Andy in urging me to start exhibiting again. As Andy put it, “The world needs more comics.” As Dave starting loudly insulting comics (“Yeah, you heard me! Comics suck!”), I knew I’d have to find a way back behind an exhibitor table.

I don’t know yet when that will happen, or how I’ll display what wares, but I know this much: I’ll feel a lot better with a table between me and that crowd.

Less Human Than Human

I’ve never felt human. I don’t act right, and I’m pretty sure I don’t think right. Most of the time I feel like an observer, poorly camouflaged in an attempt to get closer to my subjects. Over time the disguise has improved as I’ve learned that humans find babies to be adorable and believe Tom Hanks can act. Yet there always seems to be more that separates me from the species.

My mom assures me that whatever his many faults my father is human, but she’s in denial. Anyway, parentage is beside the point. This is something else, like I’m wearing an ill-fitting Edgar suit.

Last week a group of us were talking at work. Our meeting had ended, and we were engaged in the requisite banter that precedes everyone going back to work. The topic of my imposing presence came up, as it sometimes does, and I was referred to as a bear. That happens, and although I’ve never quite understood it I have come to expect it.

Then a manager said I was more like a feral panda: cute, sort of cuddly, and vicious.

I’m not quite convinced, but I did ask for a tire to play with.

What’s in a Name?

Yesterday, a coworker told me that she’d met a couple who were also named Frost. She beamed at me as though she’d handed me a birthday cake. I’m socially awkward under the best of circumstances, so when I’m in a situation I don’t understand I tend to fight or flee.

This puzzled me enough that I couldn’t react. I’m used to getting questions about my name — am I related to Robert Frost? Jack Frost? (No, …yes, dammit) — but this approach was unknown to me. It wasn’t a question, but clearly some manner of response was expected.

“Ah,” I said. This acknowledged the statement without inviting its own response. This always seems like a good approach, and it never works. What I’d like to convey is “please stop talking to me”, but I’ve found that I can’t say that. Not because it’s rude, but because it actually extends the conversation as I’m then expected to explain in detail why I don’t won’t to talk to the person. So, “ah”.

“I wondered if you were related,” she returned, and told me their names.

Ah, indeed. I was afraid that’s where we were going.

“I have no idea, and I don’t want to know if they are,” I told her. This was a bit rude, but I really needed to convey my disinterest in the subject.

“They’re really nice,” she informed me.

“Then we’re not related,” I quipped.

With that I went back to work.