Saturday, February 20, 2010

How to start a blog

I have something to say! what?

Lots of people have been asking lately about starting a blog. How do I do it? Does it cost money? How often should I write in it? Does anyone care what I have to say?

How do I blog?!

You sure have lots of questions. The good news is, you may already be on the right track.

If you have a Facebook or a Myspace page, you are already a blogger (yay! That was easy!). Think about this: once a week, or maybe even every day, you have something so important to say that you want all your friends to know, so you post a status. If you want to maintain a separate blog, then instead of posting a status update, make a blog post. Then think about all the comments people would make on your status and address those questions or comments in your post. For example, your Facebook status might be "Selina Ariel Shehan: is exhausted but so happy to be here!" Your blog post, on the other hand, would say: "What a crazy week! I'm gearing up for the SCC craft fair next weekend and cutting mat board for my paintings. Last night I stayed up until 2 a.m. gluing bails onto my new pendant designs while my cat conspired to knock my entire process onto the basement floor and do a victory dance in the mess...." ...and so on.

In summary: take what you were going to say anyhow and elaborate. Elaborate as hard as you can. Dig deep and be descriptive.

That's the "how," now here's the "what:" What will you write about?

Unless you hold a PhD in something, you probably aren't qualified to dispense information on a single topic with any level of authority (but go ahead and do it anyhow, this is the internet, after all).

If you aren't so bold, stick with what you know. What is something that you know more about than anyone else. Take a minute to think about it. I already know the answer, so I'll just wait...

The answer is "you!" You know more about yourself than anyone else in the world. Now, obviously you are a very complex individual, so you may want to narrow this focus to a few things about yourself; perhaps your hobbies, your family life, your musings on the universe; whatever. But you know you, and nobody knows you better.

To get started writing about yourself, take the example in the first part of this post (use your status updates) and see what you can come up with. Don't worry about what's happening right now, just scroll back through your old updates and take a minute to think about each one. How were you feeling when you posted it? What would you share about it if you were telling someone you'd never met? Think about "future you," when you go back and read these updates 20 years from now, will you understand what you were talking about? This is your chance to keep a record of a place in time.

Use these mental exercises to get your wheels turning whenever you are stuck for blogging topics. If you don't have a Facebook or Myspace page, try flipping through photo albums or journals and do the same thing. Take what's already there and expand it, create a full picture for your reader.

Congratulations, you are a writer. Now you need a place to write.

Your inquiring minds want to know:
Does it cost money to have a blog?

No! Blogs are free. What they cost is your time and mental energy. They are free because the blog hosting companies make money from selling advertising space to businesses.

Two free sites I would recommend for blogging are:

both are easy to use and they allow for customization if you are so inclined. You can pick a "theme" (a ready-made color scheme and design) from a list of templates, or you can design your own layout. Blogs are hosted online, this means the information lives on a server somewhere. You won't save the blog to your desktop, you won't need to be on your own computer to use it, and it will be available for you to work on anywhere that has internet access.

When you set up a blogging account, you'll be able to name your blog, create posts, upload pictures, and all sorts of fun stuff. If you are stuck picking a name for your blog, my go-to favorite is "The life and adventures of _________" (insert your name in the blank). It leaves a lot of room for movement, as long as you are still you, you can write about anything you want :-D

How often should I write in my blog?
When you are first starting out, I would recommend writing something, ANYTHING, every single day.

Why? To create a habit.

You need to train yourself to log thoughts away in the back of your mind to write about later. When you get used to the idea that every evening at 7:50, you will sit down and write about whatever strikes you, then your mind will start to prepare for it and it won't seem so daunting. I use this method for going to the gym. I go almost everyday regardless of how I feel. Often on my way there, I think, "I'll probably just sit on a recumbent bike and read a magazine today, but at least I'm going." Inevitably, when I get there and enter the familiar atmosphere, I'm inspired to work-out for real and not just fake it. That's what you want to achieve with writing. Fake it 'til you make it! Show up for your writing session everyday whether you think you'll be able to write or not.

So now you are writing, but...does anyone care what you have to say? I say "YES," of course they do. The all-around, smashingly good thing about the internet is that you are bound to find somebody, somewhere who shares your views on something. You may have family or friends who already care what you are all about. But if you don't, don't worry about it, write for you.

Writing can relieve stress, preserve memories, inspire others, become actions, and change lives.

It's good for you, so go to it!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lucky U.

I take a lot of good-natured ribbing from all of you for being "the luckiest person on earth" and as of right now, I have to agree, things are lookin' good. But lest you start to hate me just a little, I'd like to shed some light on where I came from, what I've learned, and how it all came together to build the life I have today.

My folks had "problems." I had "problems." Our "problems" had a profound effect on all three of our lives, and I'm gonna leave it at that. In the interest of not cutting fresh lines on top of old hurt, I choose to dredge this aspect of the past and channel it into my visual art, but consciously leave it out of my writing.

That being said:

We moved a lot.
A lot.
A lot.
Ask me where I'm from and I'll tell you: "I'm not."

In total, I have moved 13 times (not counting back-and-forth for college or brief stays in Navy Lodging), the lucky 13th move being the house I currently own. Among the places I've called home off-and-on are southern California, North and South Carolina, and various parts of Washington State. We moved cross country a few times, bouncing from the east to west coasts as required by the Navy.

Being from SoCali makes me a fun contraction of hardened bad-ass and hippie tree-hugger, with a potty mouth and an idiot grin, a fake suntan and a healthy respect for neighborhood boundaries. Seeing the poverty in Tijuana offset by 40 foot tall grandiose statues in the center of impossible traffic circles led me to question social classes, and who's job it is to say that one individual is better than the others. It forced me to break a mental window to outside of the white middle class. My school in California was predominantly Hispanic, and classes were taught mostly in Spanish; in the classroom, I learned nothing.

Being from the Carolinas makes me stop and appreciate glorious sunsets, makes me heat tolerant, makes me love sweet tea, warm oceans, blue mountains, chasing lightning bugs, creek stomping, tacky-lighting*, and my wonderful family.

But it also makes me understand that there is still hate, discrimination and close-mindedness in our modern world.

Being from Tacoma and Parkland makes me drug savvy and world-weary. It means when I see a cop car, regardless of my aversion to illegal activity, I reflexively turn away and text everyone that there are po-pos in the area. It also makes me hope for better things, and understand the value of supporting your home town. We volunteered at the Pt. Defiance Zoo, patronized the museums and local businesses, rode the buses, and attended the schools. That's a first hand view of where my tax dollars go, and a reminder of why they should go there.

Being from the the 509 makes me better at athletics because I'm more inclined to be outdoors and less afraid that I might get shot. But...just like the deep south, it also makes me understand that there is still hate, discrimination and close-mindedness in our modern world. I live in what many people classify as a "bad" or "poor" neighborhood, but the only difference between my neighborhood and anywhere on the North Side is that my neighborhood is not entirely white. In fact, my area is as nice or nicer than most of town (excluding the tippy-top of South Hill). Yet it maintains it's scary-dangerous reputation. Some of you might remember that Tom was badly beaten in broad daylight while working at the Goodwill drop-off station on the South Hill. I maintain that there are no classifiable dangerous areas in our city, just dangerous people who roam freely.

For most of my time in California, we lived in "Select Suites," a dusky pink apartment complex just off the main road. My friend Tia and I ran the place. We worked for the front office, delivering pizza coupons and helping file papers. Our apartments had a mysterious dirt alley between them with only one entrance; a tiny wooden door. It became the secret meeting place for all the kids in our complex. I used to hang around with a girl who's mother was "trapped" in Mexico. Her father was illegal, but she was born in the states. I know because she told me one day in the secret hideout. Kids rarely realize the magnitude of the secrets they are asked to keep. She would climb up to the roof of her building and stare at the lights of the border for hours, silently willing her mother to walk across and come to her.

From the roof of the farthest building from mine, you could scoot on your butt to the edge of the safety railing, hanging your legs out over the two story drop, and take in a view of the Coronado bridge. We briefly lived in the Navy Lodge on Coronado Island and got to walk directly out of our apartment and onto the beach. To contrast my friends' life from mine: I would stare at that bridge for hours, silently willing my Dad to take us back there to live. I see now that I had no idea what it was really like to want.

My southern California days are a heavy influence on my art. I remember being completely taken in by the graffiti around Chula Vista and the calaca dioramas at the market. The vibrancy, passion, and reverence for the dead and the afterlife struck a chord with me. I love the strong contrast of brilliant oranges and yellows with the heavy black, woodcut lines that at the same time enhance and obscure the colors. I was lucky to have a mother who took me to all the museums and gardens in Balboa park, so I could suck up the fine art culture along with the street art culture.

When I left Parkland for the Inland Northwest, I lived in the dorms for a year at EWU. After a very stressful and confusing start, I found myself friendless and in mountainous debt. Here is where I began my long descent into deep depression.

During my sophomore year of college, I worked as a live-in nanny and housekeeper because I couldn't afford a place of my own. It wasn't a bad gig, I got my own room and the family was fun. Because of the remote location of their home, and the discovery of a headless torso in the field next to the house, I quickly became paranoid and began having the night terrors I suffered as a child. My paranoia was so intense that I often went days without sleeping, locking myself in the bathroom at night and crouching under the towel rack, trying not to make noise.

Once I scrapped together enough to move out on my own, I took a studio apartment on Cedar on Spokane's west side. The building was a converted house (as are many Spoko-partments). My unit was a 10x10 foot room with a tiny bathroom, and a closet with a mini fridge and hotplate inside. I lived there with an angry cockatoo named Sid Vicious and spent most of my time staying very still so he wouldn't know I was there and start screeching at me. My neighbor who shared a wall with my unit complained about the screeching bird constantly, but I never once complained that he brought home screeching women at 4am and slammed them against our shared wall until it was time for me to go to school at 7.

I worked long hours and studied long hours, sometimes going as much as a week without talking to anyone. All of my tension and anxiety hit a wall and came crashing back over me when I went back to Tacoma for New Years; culminating in me waking in a hospital bed covered in my own vomit. Not the way I wanted to go. As I lay shaking and squinting up into the florescent lights, I vowed that I would never allow myself to become that person again.

I asked my boyfriend, Tom, to move across the state and come live with me. We got a bigger apartment on Lincoln, behind the Rosauer's. He got a job at the Goodwill and I began working at Great Floors while finishing my degree at EWU. We had a free couch that smelled like dead dogs and a creepy black mold growing in our closet that ate half my clothes before we discovered it.

We rose up through the ranks together. Starting out getting our food from Second Harvest food bank, surviving on potatoes and generic boxes of mac n' cheese made with water instead of milk and butter. We were denied for government aid because I was a full time student. I was told that if I wanted food stamps, I'd have to quit school. So instead, I walked down the food bank every week and filled my backpack in the basement food storage room. The food you could take home was limited by weight, so you got more if you took light things like chips instead of heavy things like rice or vegetables. So yeah, I got fat and stayed poor. Looking back now I can see the correlation between my heaviest days and my bouts with depression and anxiety. The thing about being depressed is that you don't think you are. You think it's just reality and things are just getting suckier, and maybe you're just bad at life; bad at finding the good.

I know the streets of this town inside out because I couldn't afford to be inside. On those smoldering summer nights, while most people were in the air conditioned movie theaters or bars, I was riding my bike all over the south hill, stealing peaches from the tree at the Buddhist Temple, making them my dinner while watching the city lights off Cliff Drive.

We worked and saved and built our lives around each other, planning to get married and do better than our parents. We grew as people, but ultimately, we grew apart. Our relationship tripped and fell in early 2005, then bounced and skidded across the asphalt for a few months, bleeding all the way.

I had known Greg since we moved into the building and began to spend my free time with him just to get out of my own apartment. We started out as friends but became more. At the time, he was working graveyard shifts delivering lost luggage from the airport to people's homes. The only time we had to spend together was when one of us put off sleeping. I frequently rode with him in the work van, doing my assigned reading while he picked up and dropped off suitcases, so we could talk and be together while he drove from place to place.

This brought me closer to him and closer to the Inland Northwest. I love the way lake Couer d'Alene looks at 3 o'clock in the morning, flat as black glass with a stratosphere of orange speckles from the lake house lights. I love the free cookies at the Doubletree Hotel. I love winding roads along picturesque hidden lakes and convenience store workers who know your name. What I don't miss is hitting my head on my desk while falling asleep in class.

I don't see how anyone could live here and not fall in love with the place, the perfect solitude of the palouse lying just out of reach of the vibrant yet accessible city. A community that has no trouble getting volunteers for local events. A place where the whole town turns out to watch the fireworks in the park. The more I saw, the more I became certain I would stay.

After graduation, I got my job at Rings & Things and was able to pay back what I owed and start saving for real. I bought my house in 2007 and moved for the 13th time into a place that is truly my own. I joined a gym and got in shape, put all my financial ducks in a row and taught them to salute, took advantage of my health insurance, and proceeded to throw massive parties.

And that's when you met me...probably...if you think I'm the luckiest person in the world.

If you've been with me from the start, then you helped make me the luckiest person in the world, and I thank you for that. For my new friends, you help me stay lucky, and I thank you for that too.


*Tacky-lighting (verb): cramming your car full of people, hot chocolate and cookies, and driving all over town looking for the best light displays containing broken plastic reindeer, burnt out light strands, multiple Santas, blaring holiday tunes, and/or animatronic characters that are twitching like they have touretts.

My newest painting ~ en Todos del Siete Mares