The need to belong (+ a new project in the works)

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When I was in primary school, a few of my classmates would start up not-so-secret clubs, and inevitably they’d have all the cool kids in it. Knowing that there was a secret club (they did a crap job of covering it up, really), I was bewildered – why wasn’t I invited? Why can’t I join them? There would be a secret rule book, a secret handshake, secret meetings and the whole lot, all under an umbrella of a cool club name.

I was young and while I didn’t know it yet, I wanted so much to belong. To be a part of something, even if I wasn’t sure what it stood for. The fact that it wasn’t so secret made it so much worse. It made me wonder if I wasn’t special enough to be a part of it.
As I grew up and started working, I thought I’d left this silly world of secret clubs behind. Turns out, the secret rule book, a secret handshake, secret meetings, and the whole lot – they all still exist, only this time they didn’t need a name, nor was it secret. It’s still unofficial, to be sure. The only difference is evidence of its existence is plastered all over Facebook and posted for posterity on Instagram. And it still felt like a huge imposing wall I couldn’t scale.

I encountered the same thing working in publishing. And especially when I started freelancing. I watched as colleagues did other stuff together after work – shopping, watching movies, and chatting at cafes. I hoped to be able to slink my way in but at the same time can’t help but feel hurt – it felt like I never left primary school. I was again an outsider without an invite. I can’t help but watch TV shows like Friends and the Big Bang Theory and sometimes ask myself (stupidly, of course) – does everyone come with a permanent set of 5 friends but me?

To be clear, it’s not anyone’s fault – no one really thinks about these sort of things (maybe?) and I’d like to think that people don’t hurt other people’s feelings on purpose. Maybe I try too hard, or I don’t try enough. I understand that some people just click together, and some don’t; whether it’s through shared experiences, proximity, history or opinions. It’s just the way things are. Even if you try hard to be included, sometimes it’s just not in the cards – I’ve come to accept that fact, as much as I accept that friendships come and go. But it still feels rough.

When I started Pikaland, I didn’t know where I was headed. But one thing I did know was that I wanted it to be inclusive. It was to be that space (virtual as it was) that I could make for myself. Subconsciously maybe it was even something that I needed. If I couldn’t get on the inside, heck, I’ll start something. It would be a place where others could feel as though there wasn’t any pressure to belong. Just come. Stay a while. Or not – it’s okay. I’ll be here – if and when you come back. That has been a constant throughout my journey, even if my presence have been a little scattered of late.

Last year was a time to recollect, regroup and refocus myself. I went into hiding (well, just a bit), and soaked up things and experiences for myself. It was my time to be a little selfish – to fill up my well and to re-examine what I wanted for Pikaland, and how I can do better.

Being an outsider has been a constant theme and thread that has carried me through my life until now. I was always on the outside, looking in. Whether as a friend, colleague, illustrator, writer, or even a teacher – I’ve always chosen to do things a little differently. But this year, I realized something. I’m not alone. You guys are with me, from the outside looking in. You’ve always been there with me as I go through ideas that are fun and silly (but hopefully helpful at the very least). Demystifying the subject of illustration has seen me scratching an itch for almost a decade now, and I am finding that things are still continuously changing and growing. It’s a fascinating subject and practice that I feel has so much potential to make us better people. Better artists. A chance to make the world a better place.

And so with 2017, I’m launching a new project with this goal in mind. A place where everyone can feel they belong. A place where you’ll find unconditional support where we get to hang out together, and we’ll fight the same fight together, in a safe space. Will it be a secret club? Not really. It won’t be a secret (not anymore, anyway). It will be driven by a common goal of discovering your superpowers as an artist, and how you can train and harness your creative abilities. I’ll be there a lot, and I hope to see you there too.

While we won’t be sitting in a coffee place across from one another physically – I’m aware nothing comes close to being in the same space in real life – but hey, I’ll take what I can get. It’s an alternative that I’m thrilled to have, thanks to the internet.

Thank you for indulging me and for your continued support of Pikaland. I started the blog with the idea that it was to be a bright, happy place to be. You’ve made it so and so much more.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

[Illustration by Yeji Yun for The Mighty Artist]

Isidro Ferrer’s alternative realities

You know how when you start something in your sketchbook, thinking it’s a really good idea but you never get back to it? It feels like that for me sometimes. I’ve been doing a bit of traveling for events and talks, which while is really fun – I get to meet new (and sort-of-old) friends and I get to learn lots of new things – it can also cause a time-lapse of sorts when it comes to work. Before you know it, it’s one month of not publishing anything on the blog, a stand-still on a new project and a few missed emails here and there, which adds up to the uncomfortable feeling that you’ve dropped the ball – nay – not only have you dropped the ball, you’re looking around the floor wondering where all the balls went.

So this is me, easing my way back into a semblance of a routine.

Discovering the work of Madrid-born Isidro Ferrer made it all easier to jump-start my late start to the week, after 3 weekends in a row of exhausting (but good!) talks and conference, recovering from a long cold, a trip to see family, prepping for a new semester at work and the highlight of it all – finally putting in my dental implants (hooray!) It feels as though the buzz has just started to wear off as life calms down somewhat.

For Isidro, what I love about his work is the fact that he shows that he can do anything he imagines. From sculptures to paper cuts, to painting and the use of everyday objects, his ability to create characters and story that exists in a realm entirely of their own is super inspiring. Take for example, his work Funny Farm – a collection of handmade wooden dolls created for lighting company Luzifer. They’re a bizarre group of friends with identities and traits made even more lively with names like Smelly Fant, Mad Mouse, Ronny Rhino and Walking Fish.

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Take a look at his portfolio and you can easily see for yourself the fantastical worlds and alternative realities that he has created for others and himself, evident through his background in graphic design, drama, stage design and illustration. It’s a timely reminder for me that creating art (and illustration) is merely one way of how we choose to interpret the world around us, and basically, we can create anything we want.

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How do you jump-start yourself after a particularly exhausting stretch? 

[Images from Isidro’s website and Funny Farm’s website]

Oh just do it already

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Whenever I opened my laptop, it took 10 minutes for it to be operational. And that’s barely functional. I couldn’t have more than 3 applications open at any time, and if I had to open a big application like Photoshop or Illustrator, it would take up to 10 minutes for it to load completely.

It was bad.

My laptop is 5 years old, and I’ve been living with this situation for about a year. Maybe more.

On the off chance that Mr. T came over to my side of a desk to use it, he would get frustrated. Grimaces even. “I don’t even know how you use this thing – it’s so slow.” I just brushed it off because it’s still usable. At least to me. But I knew it was time to do something when I realized that all those minutes – waiting for applications to open, close and process – they all added up. A big chunk of my day was waiting for things to happen. It was frustrating. It was a waste of precious time.

Getting ready is not enough

I called a service center who could get my laptop into working condition again. Turns out a few things needed to be swapped out to make it faster, if I wanted to run it with a new operating system. New RAMs, new solid state hard drives, and a complete reinstall of the operating system. Which would mean losing all my files, and that freaked me out a bit.

It took me a month to clear my files and move them to Dropbox in anticipation of the servicing.

And when I was done with the files I kept delaying the laptop upgrade. I kept thinking maybe there’s something I had missed. Some stuff that I haven’t saved. Like settings and passwords or something, or all the tabs that’s open on my Chrome.

But one day, I woke up and thought this is enough. I called the service center and scheduled an appointment to fix the problem once and for all. I didn’t schedule it the week after. I made an appointment the next day. It was now or never: I had only a few hours to straighten things out and to make sure that I’ve gotten everything I needed off the hard disk. That was it – no more waiting or waffling about.

When I got to the service center, I was a ball of nerves. I handed my unit over to the cheerful assistant and waited. And waited.

Overthinking paralysis

I remember why it took my so long to come here: every time I made up my mind to come, my brain goes into overdrive, making me worry about things that might not have happened. But in my mind, they could have. It was a cruel, painful circle that incapacitated and frustrated me at the same time. It was so embarrassingly simple too. Just send it over to the service center and get it over with! In hindsight, that should have been enough for me to hightail it over. But it wasn’t. It was a fear of the unknown, and I was hesitating to make the leap. And so I stalled. By not penciling in the appointment, there was no end date and thus it got dragged out for as long as it did.

Mainly I was scared that sending in my laptop for a repair would mean not being able to use it for a few days or weeks. Or that something bad would happen to it that we didn’t talk about before. Or that when I got it back, things would be worse than before. You know the phrase “don’t mess with things that aren’t broken?” Well, I knew that technically, it wasn’t broken, so I didn’t want to throw a wrench into things (but if you were to see how the laptop performed back then you might have actually thrown a wrench at it!)

Don’t put off the pain (maybe there isn’t any)

When the technician handed me the laptop half an hour later, I was shocked and relieved. But I was also surprised. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. The wait was nothing. Everything just went away – the doubts, the anxiety, the crazy scenarios that made me paranoid about sending it away for repair. Poof. All gone. What I got in return was a brand new (well, almost!) machine that was able to finally function properly, the way it was meant to be.

I now feel extremely silly for letting a slow laptop eat into my time. Heck, even that spinning beachball was not much fun to look at. But it got me thinking – don’t we all have something that we put off for another day? I’ve learned, that if it’s not something that you look forward to, it probably might not happen (until it’s too late).

So while you may not have the exact situation like I did. Maybe you’re putting off going to the dentist. Maybe you have a project you’re not ready to show to the world. It might be a small thing, or a big one. But if you’re putting off something that should have been done a long time ago, take a leaf out of my book –don’t let it drag on longer that it should because there’s a ripple effect that you might not know about. Here’s what you can learn from my sorry experience:
Pencil it in.
Schedule an appointment.
Set a date.
Just get it over with.

What about you? What’s the one thing you’re putting off right now that could improve the way you work?

[Artwork: Jack Strange. Spinning Beach Ball of Death. 2007. Motor, paper, wood. Diameter: 1″ (2.5 cm).]
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