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6527212 November 20, 2013

Finding Natural Audience: Marc Zegans

Talent and giftedness are traps. Worrying about whether we have talent or a gift when we’re young diverts us from doing the work. Seeing ourselves as talented or gifted when we’re more seasoned sets us up to be victims, “Why isn’t the world coming to me if I’m so talented?”

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6527212 December 29, 2010

Blue Man Rising: Scott Heydt

"My previous employer failed to appreciate and understand my creative personality, interests, and drive."

When I went to bed last night my throat was a bit scratchy.  I woke up this morning feeling terrible.  I'm sick. My head hurts. My ears hurt. My throat hurts. My back aches. I'm congested and tired.  Sitting here writing this, I'm also sick of editors not falling in love with my novels; not having enough hours in the day to do all that I'd like to do; and a mother who somehow manages with almost every word (whether intentional or not) to make me feel guilty for who I am.

I've had it!

On the other hand, tonight I'm going with my family to see The Blue Man Group in Philly. I'm also starting a new job in the pharmaceutical industry on Monday.  I have a great husband and two wonderful kids.  I have a roof over my head, and plenty to eat.  Life is good!  I feel better than I did twenty years ago, ten years ago, and even three years ago.  I'm still evolving into the person I was born to be, and it feels awesome.

My guest today is Scott Heydt, a young man I met a few years ago at a book signing event.  My youngest daughter and I read his book, O.Y.L. together, and we both loved it.  He's an excellent writer who I've seen go through some ups and downs recently. But he keeps moving toward his goals, following his passion.  I so admire that and am honored to have him on Aberration Nation.

In his interview below, he writes about an employer who didn't understand his creative personality. I've been there. In my situation, even with great yearly reviews and successes, I felt that I wasn't quite 100% there.  Something was missing.  As fate would have it, I had the opportunity to take a few years off to focus on my creative endeavors.  During that time, I wrote two additional novels and began painting. 

What I learned, and what I believe Scott has learned, is that life goes on and that in the end, we must be true to ourselves to find our best self.  I'm still finding mine. I'm headed back to the pharmaceutical industry within a week, and I'm optimistic that I'll bring my best self to the new job. Over the last three years, I've gained confidence by pulling together the scattered pieces I longed for--the pieces I thought I had to hide, subdue, and disguise to be successful in the corporate world.  They are all here now, front and center, along with all the more traditional aspects of success I honed over years of hard work.

I'm thinking a lot now about what I want to do next with my writing.  I have three novels circulating with editors.  I'm in transition again with regard to agents.  I'm discovering the world of electronic publishing.  The good news is that over the last three years I've gained a tremendous amount of confidence in my creative abilities, and I will without a doubt carry on the dream that took spark so many years ago.

As a little girl, trying to soothe a screaming mommy, imagining all the dark, scary demons she saw around us, I knew that it was all happening for a reason.  I was born blue, and all that angst and stress deepened the shade. But somehow I knew that the reason for it all would ultimately be something positive.  I'm still reaching for that promise.  The screaming is no longer part of my life.  The demons have fled, but I still remember them.  In the end, if the reason is as simple as the ability to now feel true joy on a day such as this--filled with an aching body, a pounding head, and underlying rejection (of my creative work)--I will gladly take it.  That feeling of happiness alone is all I ever wanted.

Scott says, "Writing makes me hyper-sensitive to my life and my surroundings ..." He wonders if I consider that an aberration.  Yes, I do.  But those of us who find positive ways to channel that sensitivity are lucky. Now I know that being blue is a gift.

Tonight as I watch those larger than life blueberry guys beating drums of vivid, splashing color, I will celebrate my past, present, and future.  Aches, pains, rejection, and all ...

What's your writing story (in a nutshell)?

Six years ago, my extracurricular life consisted of marathon running. When several injuries requiring surgery sidelined my running career, I used my recovery time on the couch to write. This first literary surge since college produced my first novel, O.Y.L. Running still plays an important role in my life, but now shares equal time with my passion for writing.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

My current creative focus involves teenage brain
growth and building relationships. This first nonfiction venture evolved during the final year of my Masters degree work at Duquesne University. I’ve read so many books about the teenage brain geared toward parents and teachers, but few address the brain’s owner—the teen. Gray Matters: Build a Relationship With Your Teenage Brain is a guide for teenagers to harness their powerful, changing brain through practical, relationship-building tips.

Have you had any set backs that you can tell us about, and if so, how did you manage to keep moving forward?

In 2009, an independent press awarded my second novel, Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken, an honorable mention in its first annual contest. Soon after, the same press offered a contract for publication. For nearly a year, I edited, created a book-specific website, and pre-promoted. One month before my publication date, I learned of deceptive and illegal practices within the company. Since then I’ve regained the manuscript rights and will now publish through my original publisher, Helm Publishing. Trust since then hasn’t been easy, but I have renewed hope with every word I write.

You write books for kids. Is that what you've always wanted to do, and if so, why? Will that continue to be your focus moving forward?

I’ll admit, I read young adult and middle grade fiction more than I read adult fiction. This not only keeps me current with my young students (I teach as well), but it keeps me knowledgeable about the genre I enjoy. I doubt I’ll ever stray from writing for kids, although I have a stronger gravitation toward young adult fiction and nonfiction the more I hone my craft.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Writing makes me hyper-sensitive to my life and my surroundings (if you consider hyper-sensitivity an aberration). The highs and lows are more substantial when I consider how I might turn my emotions to words or transfer events in my life to story. I wouldn’t trade this sensitivity, though, because it makes me a passionate and caring individual.

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does writing sooth or inspire you? Is it therapeutic in any way?

While I certainly find writing therapeutic, this question is best turned on its head—the difficult and challenging times in my life sooth and inspire my writing.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

My previous employer failed to appreciate and understand my creative personality, interests, and drive. While I loved my co-workers, I knew that to compromise my drive is to compromise my values. With my wife’s support, I chose to leave that position. Since then I have joined ranks with several close friends and colleagues that share my creative personality and drive: the difference is indescribable.

Do you think there is a difference between creativity and talent? What are your thoughts on this?

I believe the two work in tandem, creativity acting as the accelerant for talent. I can write creative sentences day after day, but unless I can work tirelessly to weave those sentences in a unique way, I’ll never develop talent. Sure, some creativity and talent is inborn, but the majority (especially of talent) comes from hard work and dedication.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it? Where do most of your ideas come from? 

I draw my ideas from life. Wherever I go, my writer’s notebook is not far beyond reach. I don’t stalk, but I do people watch. If you’re observant, twenty minutes in a crowded mall or restaurant can transform into 100 manuscript pages.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

My mantra is “Live, Learn, Teach.” Education is my life. I must live fully, learn from my relationships and experiences, then pass along that knowledge in service of others.

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6527212 November 12, 2010

Climbing the Mountain: Justin Bua

"I wanted this my whole life, but when I got it I realized there is so much more."

Yesterday I mentioned to a friend that I just keep doing what I feel driven to do, assuming that someday it will all make sense.  What-could-she-possibly-know Miley Cyrus tells us it's the climb that counts most.  We're all scaling some sort of mountain, at times desperately clinging to sharp stinging rocks.  Living in the moment gets tough when the pain digs in.  

Growing up many of us were told to reach for the stars, focus on the end goal, never give up.  All great advice; however, they often failed to mention that the mountain actually never ends and that those stars just keep getting higher. Perhaps they couldn't bear to slam us with that reality as we gazed up at them with shining eyes full of hope. 

My oldest daughter's boyfriend's best friend was found dead this week.  He was 28 years old.  Sorry to bring up such a sad thought, but folks are dying all around. I'm sure you can name a few.  One of my closest childhood friends died at 18.  I still dream about her several times a year.  I wonder what mountains these two young people aimed to climb.  Had they even identified their peaks yet?  Had they perhaps seen them looming in the distance? Knowing they lost their chance could make us all feel like folding up due to sadness.  We could choose to stop and simply cling to what and who we have.  It makes me want to lay down flat, close my eyes, and focus on the sound of my 11-year-old laughing, the smell of dinner, and the hum of my computer. 

It's perplexing.  I know I can't be happy on flat ground.  I need something to climb towards, yet knowing that the climb, once started, may never end, is exhausting.  My guest today, artist Justin Bua talks about how in his most recent "ah-ha" moment, he realized he was spinning in a moment he's always dream of -- he was at the mountain peak -- or so he thought momentarily.  When the dust settled, he found himself in another "ah-ha" moment.  He saw that the mountain never ends.  

Justin suggests that we be true to ourselves and just keep going.  I often wonder why Salmon swim upstream to mate.  It's so hard.  Why would they do that?  Perhaps for the same reason that I keep climbing and climbing and climbing.  At least they know what their reward is.  What is mine?  What is Justin's?  And will it be enough to justify the hard work, the sacrifice, the longing?

I think it will be.  I have to believe that.  I believe it for the 18 year old girl who lost her life in a car accident in 1984, and for the 28 year old man who was found alone in his apartment last week.  Both were extraordinary individuals.  I climb for them.  I sense that Justin climbs for those he paints, those whom he dubs the underground icons of our time, the under-appreciated souls similar to those Van Gogh painted on days that scorched his soul and hunger ate away at the belly he eventually shot.  Somehow I think all the climbing upstream has to do with love.  With respect to the creative climb, perhaps it's the way people like us express some kind of specialized, never-ending, mountainous emotion that seems to fester in standard avenues of expression.  

I don't know the answer.  I wish I did.  All I know is that today I don't care how jagged, rough, steep, or slick my mountain is.  I'm grateful to have one to call my own, and I will cling to it for as long as my arms can hold on to love, art, words, joy, and pain.  It means I'm alive.  My job is to move as high as I can until the end.  On the way, I'll breath deeply and try to smile.  I'll look to you, and I'll know I've found my true path.  As long as we can see each other, we'll be fine.

What's your story (in a nutshell)?  How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist?  Was the journey on a straight or twisted path?  Are you surprised by your success?

I’ve been surrounded by art my whole life.  My grampa was a letterer, a graphic designer, and a painter.  He did the original letterings for Felix the Cat as well as Prince Valiant and many more comics.  He was amazing!  Also, I remember back in kindergarten I had an amazing art teacher.  She made me do books on my life and that was the beginning of a whole new world!  I had characters who would make rainbows from rainbow machines and all types of insanely creative people in my books.

I studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in Cali.  That experience was amazing and it helped lead me to a successful career not only as an artist, but as a professor of drawing at the University of Southern California.  You know every day I strive to get better. I am a teacher but I am also a student and I try to grow all the time.  Michelangelo was 81 when he said that he was just beginning to learn how to draw… You never arrive and if you really feel that it’s over, it drives you to grow and explore new levels.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Perhaps a show I just had at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  It was amazing.  Everyone came out from Mr. Wiggles to Mix Master Mike to Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.  It was an “ah-ha” moment because it was so out of body that it was as if I was looking down on myself saying both “ah-ha"-- I get it … My work is justifiable because they are hanging in a Museum -- and at the same time I felt like “ah-ha” -- that doesn’t make you great or terrible, it makes you fortunate.  I wanted this my whole life, but when I got it I realized there is so much more.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

Expression.  The artists that I like are mostly emotional painters.  Artists like Van Gogh, Kathe Kollwitz , Daumier , and Goya all paint emotionally.  They also paint the underclass and the common people.  This is what I really relate to and who I love to paint. 

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style.  How important is this for career development?  Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I’ve never grown tired of painting the same types of things.  I’m from the hip hop era, so the characters I paint are kind of the iconographic heroes of my time. Whether it's the DJs or the MCs, they are the underground icons of our generation. The artists throughout history have always painted the heroes, painting popes and kings.  I paint DJs and b-boys, those are the people I really emulate, who I look up to.  I’m currently working on my next book entitled, "Legends of Hip Hop", which pays homage to the great heroes of our time.

I was a little burned out on painting characters playing pianos so I taking a hiatus from that but not to worry, I’ll be painting characters playing piano in the next year or ten years… or twenty. 

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Both ...

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does painting sooth or inspire you?  Is it therapeutic in any way?

I write to soothe myself, but I also balance myself with painting!   It is my yoga.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Yes, my high school teacher who didn’t let me enter an art contest.  I don’t want to mention any names because I don’t believe in throwing anyone under the bus—Mr. Stember!!!

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals?  If so, can you tell us about it.  Where do most of your ideas come from?

I work very traditionally.  I do a thumbnail, develop a full and realized drawing then I do a value key and then a color key and then the painting.  This process is interesting because half way through the painting I usually want to redo the whole thing!  I’m my own worst critic!

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers?  So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

The advice I’d give to any young artist just starting out or trying to get started is, just put your art out there to the world and you will shine.  Whether or not the world embraces you as an artist or not isn't the point.  You should paint because you have to and that's the way it is, and that’s how you’ll stand out as truly gifted.  It is a competitive world, but as long as you keep it real and don’t trick yourself into thinking that you’ve arrived then you’ll be good.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Just be true. Its like KRS-One says: what does it mean to be underground, you have to be real to be underground. I think that people can smell bullsh*t from a mile away. So don't copy, don't bullsh*t, be you, and work hard. Be blue collar about it, put in the hours. The harder you work, the luckier you get, right?

I respect people who try to create awareness for art and the art movement.  Also, just be yourself!  Respect and love because that’s real hip-hop.  Woooooord!

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6527212 October 14, 2010

Writing and Basketball: Christine Baker

" ... without creativity in sport, there would be no sport."

I was a cheerleader.  My daughter is a basketball player.  When she's at her best, jumping for a rebound or flying across the court for a steal, I get an amazing glimpse into what makes her tick.

I see her potential, not just as an athlete, but also as a woman.  She's only 5' 7", but she wears size 13 shoes and can palm the ball.  We don't know how tall she'll grow, or how far she'll go in basketball. After all, she just turned eleven.

What we do know is that basketball is the activity she loves the most.  The game inspires her to do her best.  It pulls her outside in 15 degree weather to practice shooting, snow on her hair and eyebrows.  It makes her proud to be tall for her age.  It gives her confidence and tests her focus.  It provides her with a positive outlet for her highly energetic disposition. It teaches her head strong personality to be part of a team.

It's a good thing.  She may soon give up her love for Justin Bieber, but we hope she won't give up her star-reaching, 11-year-old's dreams to play for our local high school team, in college, and then in the WNBA.

My guest today, Christine Baker, knows how my daughter feels about basketball, and why.  She's interview numerous players at all levels to find out why they play. Christine grew up enveloped in a deep love for basketball.  She also adored writing.  In her book, Why She Plays: The World of Women’s Basketball (University of Nebraska Press 2008), she masterfully brings these two diverse loves together.  

When I read Christine's descriptions of how basketball defined her life, I immediately felt at home. They also described how writing has defined mine.  I've never considered myself highly competitive.  There's only one person I constantly compete with, and that is myself.  We've played an ongoing game of one on one for years.  In reading Why She Plays, I realized that what I share with Christine is heart.  We're champions because we refuse to give up.  We constantly challenge ourselves to improve.  We work hard at what we love because we hate to lose, especially  when we know we have what it takes to win.

In her book, Christine says, "You can't measure heart.  There will never be a test to effectively gauge it.  Mediocre teams have beaten superior ones on heart alone. Human beings since the beginning of time have erupted from difficult circumstances to attain glorious achievements because of the desire in their hearts that only they know was present all along, because talent only gets you so far."

My daughter may not get her athleticism from me, but perhaps I've given her heart.  As each year passes, we see her vision, stamina, focus, and self-motivation increase exponentially. Christine's book taught her the concept of  basketball IQ, and now she wants that, too.

I can't say to either of my daughters, "Never give up on your dreams," if I give up on mine.  How can I doubt that my children will accomplish extraordinary goals when I sit around dreaming of a Pulitzer and millions of readers?  I may never achieve that level of  accomplishment, but as my dad always said, "If you don't shot for the stars, you'll never get off the ground."  I've always figured that someone has to reach that star; why not me?

Christine's book and her answers below remind us what winning and losing is all about, and how the ups and downs remain part of the human experience for a profound reason.  When we experience a phenomenal basketball player flying through the air for a perfect shot or a talented ballet dancer soaring across the stage; when we read an unforgettable novel or hear a song that melts into our soul; when we see great works of art; we see the human heart in its greatest form.  We see the same struggle, the losses, the wins, the hard work, and the never say die attitude that carries humanity forward in the hearts of soldiers who fight for love of country, parents who  sacrifice for their children, and individuals who survive horrific experiences.

Playing AAU 12 basketball as a 10-year-old
I see all that human potential in my daughter's 11-year-old tall, lanky body soaring across the court as if in slow motion. She grabs the ball in her unusually large hands, lands hard on the court with her giant feet.

Turn and face.

Triple threat position.

Does she shoot?  Does she pass?  Does she dribble?  What will she do and where will she go?  Only time will tell.  All I know for sure is that she has my heart.
What's your writing story? How long did it take to establish yourself as a writer? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by your success?

I’m not sure one ever really establishes oneself as a writer. The short answer is: I’ve dreamed of being a writer since I was a little girl. But my career path initially went the direction of public relations and marketing. In 2005, I decided to quit my job as director of publications and advertising at Ramapo College in order to pursue the idea of writing a book about women’s basketball. So I’d say it was at that point that I really made a conscious career choice to focus on writing. Of course now five years later, I’m back to doing marketing and PR, but on my own terms and I have found a way to incorporate my writing projects with my consulting and PR work. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve found a great balance.

You asked if I am surprised by my success. It might sound a bit arrogant to say no. But the truth is, I have always been the type of person to go after something and not stop until I get it. If I do something, I do it 110%. It was no different with my writing. I work at it constantly as a craft and know that if I believe in my abilities, good things will happen.

With regard to your book, Why She Plays, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yes. I interviewed many people for the book but it wasn’t until my final interview with Becky Hammon (WNBA all-star and point guard for the San Antonio Silver Stars) where I really found the title and the framework for the book. Without realizing it, I always asked my interview subjects why they played the game of basketball. I didn’t see the connections until all of the interviews were done. It’s a good thing I had that “ah-ha” moment because I was beginning to panic that I had no idea how to put the book together!

Aberration Nation currently focuses on creativity, but it's also about how life's aberrations (whether physical, emotional, or situational) can become the kernel of our strength. In Why She Plays, you write about how an intense love and connection to basketball shaped your life, and about having to leave playing behind. Can you share your thoughts on what losing basketball games and losing the game of basketball have taught you about life?

What people don’t often realize is that participating in team sports is an intensely personal experience. I am a highly competitive person. I don’t like losing a game of checkers or a game of basketball. Losing basketball games taught me the value of hard work. I realized that I hated losing so much that I would work harder than anyone else to avoid it. That in itself is a powerful life lesson that I’ve used every day of my life – whether it be in my writing, in my professional life, or even in my personal life.

When I graduated from college and focused only on my career, I felt the pain of losing the team aspect of the sport- the team camaraderie, the two hours every day where I could burn 1,500 calories and ignore the rest of the world, disappeared. I missed that terribly. I went from being a leader on a team to not having a team to lead. It was difficult for me to find balance in my life, and it took me quite a few years to realize how much I missed the game and how much I wanted it to be a part of my life again.

Losses in life, no matter how small or large, test the spirit. It hurts to lose. It's not surprising that so many people stop trying after a loss. After a great loss, many of us tend to wallow over our imperfections and situations as if nothing could possibly be worse. We feel sorry for ourselves, guilty that we didn't somehow do more, and as if we can't win next time. We forget that there is always someone out there who has it worse than us. How were you able to avoid letting those emotions sabotage your happiness and success?

Sometimes we lose because someone else is better than us on a given day. There is no shame in trying your best but coming up short. There is, however, shame in not giving 100%. My goal every single morning is to wake up and give 100%, no matter what the tasks ahead of me may be. I know for a fact that I am harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be. Sometimes I have to remind myself to lighten up, to enjoy life and live in the present. It’s easy to dwell on the negative. It’s harder to remain optimistic even through difficult circumstances. I’ve learned that if I focus on the negative, I bring more negativity to me and if I focus on the positive, I manifest more positive outcomes.

In Why She Plays, you mentioned that great basketball players often have creativity on the court. Can you explain what that means? How critical do you think creativity is for athletes?

In the game of basketball, there is a framework to the game- rules, court dimensions, team positions, etc. There are plays that the team works on every day in practice. But to be successful in basketball, one cannot be a robot. A player must learn how to work within the framework to create. Athletes are so unbelievably creative with their bodies in motion, that when done well, does look like art. Look at Michael Jordan dunking a basketball in slow motion and tell me that is not creativity in its highest form. So to answer your question, without creativity in sport, there would be no sport.

For you, is writing more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer and why?

Hmm. That’s a great question. I feel like this is a left-brained or right-brained question. Writing for me is a combination. I treasure the process of creating something new. And, I have always felt that writing offers me a vehicle to express myself in ways that I might not be able to otherwise. For me, it depends on what I am working on. If it’s a poem, I would say expression. If it’s the script I am currently writing based on the life of Emily Dickinson, I would say creation.

As describe in Why She Plays, the act of playing basketball offers various levels and types of therapy for top athletes and for those who love it. It's an outlet. In general, is writing therapeutic for you? How was writing Why She Plays therapeutic?

Writing is very often NOT therapeutic. LOL. Sometimes I wonder if I have rocks in my head for sitting at a computer 10-12 hours per day. Only sometimes when I really hit my stride does writing feel therapeutic for me. That said, writing Why She Plays was cathartic for me on three levels:

1. It brought me back to the game of basketball and forced me to articulate how much the game meant and still means to me.

2. It was the first time I was published, so it was self-affirming.

3. I made a huge career change to write that book, and took a big risk. I had a great deal on the line.

When it was published, it was extraordinarily therapeutic because it meant someone else believed in me and my abilities to write as much as I did.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive whether that translated to basketball or your writing? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Absolutely! I wear many different hats. I find that it’s difficult for people to see me as a whole person. It’s much easier for people I work with to see me as only able to write and pitch a press release, or develop a media plan. It’s often frustrating to me that we tend to pigeon-hole one another. “Oh, she’s good at marketing, but wait, she writes poetry and teaches too?”

Aside from that, some people have not been able to handle the level of intensity I bring to life. I’m learning that I only want to be around people who possess that kind of positive energy, and similar values.

Was there ever a time when you just felt like giving up? On yourself as an athlete? On writing? If so, how were you able to cross that bridge?

Never. I can honestly say that “giving up” on something is just not in my vocabulary. I’m not built to give up on anything, so it’s never been a bridge that I’ve had to worry about crossing. I believe that everything will work out the way it should. If I work hard and do things for the right reasons, I will always find success and opportunity.

When I was a senior in college, I was burned out and tired of playing basketball, but it wasn’t about giving up. It was about wanting to ensure I was good at something else in addition to basketball.

If you could tell the world one thing about overcoming the loss of a dream, what would that be?

It’s okay to change a dream and it’s okay to dream as we get older. Dreams aren’t just for children. I said in the book that dreams give us hope when hope is a tall order. The world is a better place for having dreamers among the doers.

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6527212 September 08, 2010

Christianity and Creativity: Eugene McBride

"Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes."


When I was a tall, gawky eight grader with braces at Northwood Jr. - Sr. High School back in 1980, our Student Council President was a guy named Eugene McBride.  To me, Eugene was a "big man on campus."  He always seemed to have all the confidence I lacked.  He strolled around as if he belonged exactly where he was, which I found interesting, being lost as I was. He always had a smile on his face. Thirty plus years later, I ran into Eugene on Facebook.  He's now the pastor of one of the churches I grew up attending.

Due to my Southern fundamentalist upbringing, one of the themes I tend to gravitate toward in both my writing and art is the close mindedness or "black and white" mentality I have encountered in some of those who dub themselves Christian. The basic religion itself has never confused me but, whether intentional or not, many of people who practice it have managed to twist my understanding until it nearly strangled me in my own guilt and self-hatred. I'm not so sure the belief system has failed me, but I know some of the people have. People whom I trusted and loved. I've never once stopped believing in God, but, like many people, I've lost faith in organized religion. 

Eugene has been reading my writing and loves it because he recognizes it's honesty. His support of my work lead to a friendship that has ultimately brought him to Aberration Nation today. Regardless of your beliefs, I think you'll find our exchange of ideas thought provoking. Both Eugene and I would love to read any comments you may have regarding the interview content.

Because the interview is long and quite meaty, I'll not go on and on.  I'll just say that from my perspective as someone who grew up in a fundamentalist environment, I think one major error that has brought harm to what has traditionally been the foremost American religious institution is a failure to recognize and accept the basic blood and guts humanity of its people. I don't believe we were ever meant to be God-like. When we try, we fail. When someone tries to stuff us in the God box, most of us can't stay.  We kick and scream to be let out. We can't breath in that environment because it lacks the appropriate atmosphere. When we jump out, those who sought to stuff us in chastise us for not staying.  They say we've failed and must be forgiven. It's a painful place to be when all we really need is for someone to see who and what we truly are ... and then say, "I love you."

What's your story? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by where you are today?

I was born and raised in Shreveport Louisiana, one of four boys in a Christian home. At the age of 15, I felt the call of God in my life in a strong and real way. I went on to marry my high school sweetheart and graduate from LSUS with a degree in Marketing. In 1990 I was working for a fortune 500 company and was relocated to Texas. My wife and I helped to establish a little church there that would eventually grow to 1500. In the course of doing this, I realized how far I had strayed from the calling that God had placed on my life. In 1998, I left the business culture and went into full time ministry.

In 2008 I was asked to come back to my home church in Shreveport and minister. The church has been through a lot of changes in the 20+ years I have been gone. Even though I said I would never move back to Shreveport, we moved here in September 2009 and I now Pastor New Life Center/Life Tabernacle. I look back at the many decisions and turns my life has taken and I am thankful to be home. I know that God has brought me here for a specific purpose.

It seems to me that being a pastor requires a certain level of creativity. You are required to write an interesting and worthwhile message at least once a week. How do you get ideas for what to share with your congregation each week?

I love communication and the written word. It was only natural that I would be in a calling that required public speaking and an immense amount of reading! I love to read a variety of literature and stay up to date on current events. I do like to keep my messages real and simple, so the majority of my inspiration comes from real life. My family, my own struggles and victories, and from the world around me. The least effective thing I can do would be to teach another generation of believers to live life in a fairy tale world of “proclaimed” prosperity and success. The truth is that life on this earth is not easy, but we are only passing through!

Some people believe that Christianity (and religion in general) requires a certain level of creative thinking. Otherwise nobody would believe it. Others call it faith. What is the difference between imagination and faith?

To some, it is a stretch to imagine that all that we see, all that we know to exist, all that is real, could possibly be the creation of one supreme being. It is in that understanding that we can define both faith and imagination. To imagine something is to “see” it as if it were real. In our imagination we can create worlds of our own, God’s of our own, and ultimately morality of our own. Faith is different in that faith is not the substance of things seen, but is actually a belief in the things NOT seen. The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. So for me as a Christian, faith is my belief in what I have not seen with my own eyes, but know in my heart to be true.

My faith begins in the Word of God. Many struggle to accept that this one book could possibly be the inspired Word of God. But really it comes down to this, everyone has faith. To say you do not believe in the Bible or in God is to put your faith in your own understanding of what eternity will be. Someday, one of us will be proven wrong. If we get to eternity and all that I had faith in was not true, then I really have lost nothing. But if all that unbelievers placed their faith in is not true, they have lost everything.

The Bible is the most widely read, sold, and referenced book on Earth as well as one of the oldest. Aside from being a religious book, it has all the great elements of literature. Some find it hard to believe that the stories actually happened. And of course, there are differences in interpretation. Is it a good idea to get hung up on how exactly true the stories are? Are the underlying messages more important or are we to believe and accept it all verbatim in order to truly understand the power of God?

To characterize the Bible as anything other than the greatest book ever written would be an injustice to its very nature and inspiration. The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books, written by over 40 different authors over a span of 1600 years. There has been so much research done to disprove the Bible and the claims of Jesus, its central character. Interestingly enough, every major religion in the world acknowledges the life and existence of Jesus. But to answer your questions, I do believe that too many seek to discredit or not believe the authority and power of the Bible because of some difficulty in explaining or accepting one aspect of one story in the Bible. For some, this becomes a stumbling block of faith.

Every denomination and division in the Body of Christ can be attributed to some disagreement or interpretation of some aspect of the Word of God. It is sad but true none the less. For me, I read the Bible daily, accepting its authenticity and accuracy by faith, and find that the moral and life guidelines it encourages bring me security, peace and a reason for being.

When I was a little girl, it was so much easier to believe all the Bible stories and also the underlying messages. It seems to me that there are two groups of people who grew up in the church, particularly in more fundamentalist cultures: 1) those who seem to maintain that childlike believe, faith, imagination (whatever it's called) as they become adults, and (2) those who evolve to another level of thinking that makes it more difficult to believe it all. They take drips and drabs of it with them into adulthood. Is the first group filled with better people/Christians? If so, it almost seems unfair since we're all wired differently ... and God wired us.

I have endeavored to try and answer each question here without quoting a whole lot of scripture and verse, but to be honest… we are encouraged to have a “child like” faith. Having said that I too have seen this great abandonment of faith. As “church” kids grow up, and in their own way of thinking, become more educated and learned, there is a tendency to reject what we cannot explain, or do not fully believe. But to put it simply, it really is not that important if you accept or reject the stories. What is imperative is do you accept or reject that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to this world to be the ultimate payment for the sins and failures of mankind.

This blog is also about the aberrations life throws our way. Have you struggled with aberrations of your own, and if so, how have you overcome them? I know God can heal and bring hope to those suffering but doesn't it also take something within ourselves to stand up and say, "I will not be defeated!"

My life has been an incredible journey marked with great opportunities, worldly success, and also utter despair! I suppose all of us can point to a specific incidence or event that formed us and shaped us into the people that we ultimately become. For me, that moment came when I was about 8 years old. I will make a long story short, but to summarize it, I overheard my mother and father in an argument one night. At the time, my father’s mother was living with us. She was an alcoholic and was dying from cancer. The stress of it all had overwhelmed my mother to the point that she was ready to just leave. My parents thought I was asleep, but in the midst of this argument, I hear my mother tell my father she hates his mother. A few moments later I hear her begin to tell my father of something I had done that day, and how she felt I was just like his mother. Then, I heard her say she hated me too.

I slipped out of the house and ran away. Of course they found me the next morning. Mother tried to explain to me that she did not mean what was said but to an 8 year old boy, it had quite an effect. I became an overachiever. I began to do anything and everything to be loved and accepted. The long term affect is that on the outside I appeared to have it all together and succeeded at everything I did, but on the inside I was a deeply insecure and lonely person. It was only a few years ago that I was truly able to get past this insecurity and come to grips with who God created me to be.

 I do agree that we must decide within ourselves to get up, keep going, and not give up, but I also know that sometimes, despite our best self-help efforts, we need the healing that comes from a relationship with the Lord. Only he can totally erase and replace the hurts that are formed within us by others.

In his book, The World's Religions, Huston Smith wrote, "It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge." Sometimes it seems closed minded and arrogant to believe that even with the Bible in our hands, we can profess to know and understand the bigger picture. Why would such a phenomenally creative God narrow His plan to only include certain people who agreed to follow certain rules? This confuses me and perhaps others.

It really is simple and I believe that the simplicity is what makes it so hard for some to accept it. There are many who want to believe that “all roads lead to God”, and that ultimately every person will find their way to a meaningful eternity, even if we not agree on who God is, or how to get to this place of eternal peace. Although you used the terms closed minded and arrogant, believe in Jesus Christ is anything but this. My faith is based on 3 simple things. First is the universality of sin, that is all men have sinned and no one is worthy of eternity in heaven based on our own merits or deeds. Second is that because of our sinful nature, some form of punishment is required. According to the bible, the wages of sin is death, or simply put we are eternally separated from God. Finally, I believe that Jesus came to be that punishment for every sin I have committed, and the sins of all mankind. So to summarize this, God has not narrowed his plan to exclude anyone. It is his will that NONE should perish, but that all should have eternal life.

I interviewed a woman on Aberration Nation who felt that being a Christian is one of her aberrations. Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your religious passion? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

To be honest, I am sure there are many who struggle to understand my passion for God, his son Jesus and my faith. There are even many professed “Christians” who think that it is possible to be too passionate for Christ. The truth is that everyone is passionate about something. It may be for Nascar, or the New Orleans Saints, or golf. I have seen people act completely crazy in each of these venues but then question how I can live my life so committed to what I believe. I can sum it up like this. Belief creates attitude. If I believe that the New Orleans Saints are the best team in the NFL, then I my attitude will show that in my fanaticism to support them and defend them. Then, my attitude creates my behavior. My believe creates the attitude, the attitude is demonstrated in my behavior.

The same is true in my faith. I believe that Jesus Christ came to this world as a payment for the sins of mankind, including mine. Because of this belief, I have an attitude that says “It is no longer I, but His spirit within me”! Because of this attitude, my behavior reflects that. I live for Christ, I love my fellow man, I seek everyday to be a reflection of the Christ who now lives within me.

I'm just finishing a novel about a man who goes to his "afterlife," meets God, and finds out that it wasn't quite what he was expecting.  Do you think there are people who miss life because they are so focused on the afterlife? There are those who say life isn't important because it's what they will have in heaven/the afterlife that matters. Well, what if they're wrong? Or what if God intended them to explore and be all who they are as individuals in order to play a critical roll in his plan? How can they do that if they're only focused on what comes next?

There is a saying in church circles that goes like this: “That person is too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” I believe that eternity is in the heart of every man. Even the unbeliever has eternity somewhere within his heart. If that were not true, there would be no fear of death. God did create us to be individuals, with different abilities, desires and purposes to fulfill in this earth and the life we live on it. I personally seek to use all of the unique gifting God has given me on this earth, but also remembering that my primary purpose here is to be light in a world of darkness, and to share the same hope of Glory that I have received in my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Some people may not like this comment but over the years, I've observed what I call the "Christian personality." For me, this is a person who, overtime, seems to sweep who they are as an individual under a rug and take up a recognizable personality that focuses nearly 100% on Christ. And I do have to say that I observed this more in the Deep South. They put Bible verses on Facebook. They listen to religious music and read religious books. They mention scripture, Christ, etc, in nearly every conversation they have. In the end, I almost feel that they have the same exact smile and twinkle in their eye. They may say that it's the love of God I'm seeing. Honestly, this is who my mother would love for me to be. But I never wanted to be like everyone else. I just couldn't, and I felt that the part of me that couldn't was the part of me that God made, so how would I ever be able to take on the "Christian personality?" What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

It really does disturb me that some abandon the faith that has so sustained me because of the perceived shallowness of the “Christian Personality”. The truth is that many do put on the Christian persona, without truly living the Christian purpose. I will take exception to your statement that the “Christian Personality” you are lamenting is about “sweeping who they are as an individual under a rug and taking up a recognizable personality that focuses nearly 100% on Christ”. A true believe is one who will be a total reflection of Christ. Having said all of that, I find it quite amusing that the more liberal individuals in our society are relentless in pushing their liberal agenda and beliefs on the rest of us while at the same time utterly refusing to allow the very mention of Christ or Christian morals and principles in any public forum.

I grew up with the understanding that Christianity was about loving your neighbor, accepting others, etc. If this is true, why do we see so many fundamentalist Christians judging other groups of people? This is disturbing to me as I don't believe it follows God's message of love. Who are we to judge others or to take up residence as God's army against something we don't feel comfortable with? This mentality was pervasive during our country's long, tragic history of slavery.

One of the biggest lies that exist in the mainstream thinking today is that because the church speaks against such things as abortion, homosexuality, and other liberal issues that we do not “love our neighbor.”. To love something is to seek to preserve it, protect it, and ultimately save it. It is our belief that living a lifestyle contrary to the Word of God will ultimately lead to eternal damnation. Now I could choose to just ignore it and watch many continue in that lifestyle, or I can choose to love them, serve them and hopefully by the example of the life I live for Christ, bring them into a forgiving and loving relationship with Jesus. I agree that slavery was wrong that our country prevailed upon the God given freedom of our fellow man. But that does not change the fact that the bible specifically speaks against sin and there will come a day when every knee will bow before our creator. Some will bow in honor and praise having chosen to live their lives for Christ on this earth. Others will bow in fear and regret for having not accepted the love and the truth of Jesus that I seek to share with all men.

Growing up, I often heard, "I hate your sin, not you." But in many ways, we are our sin. Sometimes there are deep, complex reasons why we make the choices we do. And some of those choices feel like the only choices at the time, and we learn tremendous lessons from them. They ultimately help mold us into who we are. Hatred of my sin implies a judgment against me and my life. Instead of saying "I hate your sin, not you," I would rather someone say, "I love you." Isn't that a much more positive message? What are your thoughts on this?

I do believe the message is love. John 3:16 says that “God so loved”- even when we have sinned, and failed and rejected him. “That he gave”- God gave us a way out… a way to find the peace we seek and desire. Other religions of the world require you to work to obtain your salvation, or to rise to some level of reward and achievement. “His only Son”- Jesus came as a total and final payment for the wrongs this world has committed. “That whosoever believes”- this is not limited to a select few, or a narrow group… anyone who believes in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God will be saved. “will not perish but will gain eternal life.”- there are two choices… believe and gain salvation, choose not to believe and perish.

That is the most powerful love letter ever written.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

If I had to sum my life’s purpose in one statement it would be this:

I have a God to serve, a world to save, a devil to harass, and a message to live. 

Everyday I am reminded that I live to worship and honor God my creator. As I worship him I am a reflection of His Son Jesus to a lost and dying world. Every opportunity I get, I am going to resist the devil and stand in victory over him, and ultimately live my life for a higher cause.

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6527212 June 15, 2010

An Artist's Courage: Sheila Wolk

"An Artist's life takes courage--it’s looking for the light while living in the dark."

Rejection sucks no matter how many times it happens. Failure sucks! Everyone gets a good kick in the teeth at some point, but life seems to go freakishly smooth for some people.

On the flip side, I suppose I'd rather be the one failing than the one who's not trying.  Sitting around the house afraid to try anything, just wishing you could get past the feeling that if you try, you might fail. Those people aren't learning anything; they're stuck until they move.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, right?

Artists, writers, and many other creatives face rejection over and over again. Perhaps their plight can teach us  a thing or two about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.  For them (myself included), rejection starts to feel like a painful ritual. I tell myself I've adapted, but sometimes it's still like a knife in the heart. As that sharp blade twists, I fight the urge to let that dark hole in my soul open up and turn me inside out.  I try to avoid being yanked back to all the earlier rejections in my life, many that had nothing to do with creativity. 

I fight the good fight, reminding myself of all the positives.  I say that I'm learning and growing but sometimes I just feel like crying.  Sometimes I do cry.  Yesterday my novel, CENTERPIECES, was rejected by one of the editors considering it. She said, "Ms. Przekop is clearly a talented writer."  I should be thrilled that a cream-of-the-crop editor for one of the top-of-the-heap companies in the publishing industry made such a statement about my work. I wish her words could take away the sinking feeling but they don't.

Instead, the negative thoughts kick in:

Why doesn't it ever work out?
Maybe I'm not talented at all and people just tell me I am to be nice.
Everyone's lying to me; they probably hate my work.
Maybe they're all laughing behind my back.
Maybe my work sucks!
I'm embarrassing myself.
I'm wasting time.
My writing is worthless.
I'm just not smart enough to accomplish my goals.

My guest today, artist Sheila Wolk, knows that dark place I try to avoid. She's worked hard, pushed on, and believed in herself enough to navigate a few tunnels of her own.  I carry on as well but it's not easy.  Sometimes I wonder if one day I'll be forced to look myself in the mirror and say, "It's over, Penelope. It didn't work out."

So what keeps us going?  For me, it's hope. I can't seem to completely lose hope, no matter how much bad news I get.  That spark rises again and again, reminding me that there are other publishers, editors, and readers. There are other novels to be written.  Perhaps my imagination enables me to keep believing there are other alternatives, new approaches, and untapped avenues to be explored.  And above all, my strange need to write must be satisfied.  

When I consider the people who seem to have it easy, I wonder: Were they lucky?  Did they just happen to make the right connection along the way?  What did they do that I've not done?  Maybe they truly are talented and I'm just second-rate.  It hurts to think that could be true. It's tough to imagine I've wasted so many hours of my life chasing a dream I may not be worthy of.  

But like Sheila, there's nothing else for me. I can't turn away because this is who I am. Shelia says that sometimes you have to fail to succeed.  I don't mind failing a million times if it gets me there; I just wish it wasn't so damn hard.

What's your story? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

I always knew I was going to be an artist. I dreamed about it starting at age seven.  It was a premonition of my entire life and sense of being. As far as where I am today, I am never satisfied because I am always thinking of what’s next.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yes…it happened when I was young trying to plot out my life and financial existence to make it in the Fine Art world.

I majored in Fine Arts in school but knew if I were to be financially independent, the Fine Arts would have to wait a bit so I switched my major to Commercial Art. That was a clear resolve because I could earn a living in an Advertising Agency and then paint in evenings and weekends, my bills could be paid and my goals as a Fine Artist could be met securely in all good time.

I knew that combination of the arts would meld together to make me a more refined artist, so I was assured that any job, as long as I stayed in the Arts, was the wisest decision I could make.

The “ah-ha” moment came later when I entered the “sports art” world, everything I had learned up until then was mentally scattered in different compartments, but with Sports it all came together and I realized it was my entire package of knowledge that took me there. The designing, anatomy, fashion, layouts, hand lettering, technique, power in motion and timing was all wrapped up for me to start my career choice in focusing on the business of creating sports art as Fine Art. I was elated at that one moment, with exhilarated awareness of my “now” and future.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? If could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist?

I would say both with Passion and Imagination added to this ingredient as a complete package. You have to have all four in order to survive as an artist; it is not an easy profession, in fact almost painful at times …it’s a smothering existence with self judgments and decision dissections that are made with struggle, but the “gift” to create, express, imagine and love, is what always kept me going. I never doubted these four ingredients; I was always confidant that they gave me the strength to keep on going.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life’s aberrations, or both?

My father used to say  "sometimes you have to hurt yourself in order to help yourself.” I didn’t understand that when I was young but it all came to light of understanding as an adult, and he was absolutely right! Many many times in my past businesses, I had to fail to succeed. I had to fold companies in order to move on and those decisions were very difficult ones to make. I think the latter applies to me. I have turned negatives into positives.

Example 1:

When I was an Art Director, I thought it would take a lifetime to get to that title and position, it took approx. seven years. After that it all became redundant, the challenge wasn’t there and I became quite unsatisfied with my life.

A friend called me one day and said, "With your expertise in anatomy, your youth, your knowledge and technique of painting, why don’t you try sports art?” At that moment I saw my future take a turn. I painted three sports paintings and called my family and asked for a one year loan. I told them in that one year I would either have a one woman show and be noticed in the Fine Art world , and if not, I would stop and find another Art Directors job…they said OK.

I did up about 25 paintings in a very short amount of time and one day on an errand I saw a sports art gallery in one of the best mid town areas here in Manhattan. I knew that was meant for me!

I went home, gathered all the photo’s of my paintings, put them in an envelope and went to that Gallery the next day.

When I was there the secretary told me I had to make an appointment but I heard the owner in his office talking on the phone. I said, “Can’t he see me now? He’s here!” She said no, so I told her I would wait there until he saw me and I sat down.

She went into his office and he came out and was growling at me that it was not appropriate to see him without an appointment, so I said, “OK, lets make one.”  He opened his calendar book and said, “When do you want to come in?” and I said, "Now!" So I pulled out my photos and threw them all over his book and made him pick them up off the floor, knowing he would have to see them.  We signed a contract right then and there, and in less then a year I had a one woman show! I was written up in the New York Times as a great artist and new discovery, and my career as Sports Fine Artist was written in stone.

I knew he would have had two choices: either kick me out or take me in.  I knew I had to make this into a dramatic negative act to get a positive response, or all would have been lost at that very precious moment.


After 22 years of being a Sports Artist I felt the need to leave that realm of art.

I took the inheritance that my mother left me and invested it into creating a new portfolio in the Fine Arts, my hyper-realism art. I had enough to live on for one year and at years end I had a new Gallery and a one Woman Show. The show was a total success ... again making it into all the newspapers.

Back at the opening night…a Museum was asking me if I had a financial supporter, they said my work was needed in the Fine Arts but to build a big enough portfolio I would need the financial aid to keep me going. At that one moment I knew I was doomed. I had nothing left to support me and the sales at the show weren’t enough to keep me going.

Even though my art (in the viewers eyes) was born from genius, I knew I failed in what I wanted to do and to where I needed to go. I was devastated at that moment and felt my art had let me down.

I cried for weeks. I couldn’t function. Then I found the need to paint my sorrow. So I painted a mermaid drowning in a pool of her lonely tears. That comforted me, I took it to my photographer to have it shot and he told me about a relative that loved art like that,  “…on the order of Pre-Raphealite."

And that’s what led me into Fantasy art…and here I am today.  Through all that hard work and ups and a huge amount of downs, I just kept on working with faith and belief in myself and my creativity.  An Artist's life takes courage--it’s looking for the light while living in the dark.

During challenging or difficult times in your life, how has art comforted or inspired you?

Art has been my savior. I came from a very difficult childhood (very dark) and art gave me the escape to survive. I totally saturated myself in the arts, from crayons to the now pastels. I have worked in every medium so I knew which to pick to make my mark in the Art World. I was so obsessed with my passion that I would let nothing get in my way.

In some situations it was the Arts that created the difficulty, like in my marriage or in later relationships too…yes, with men always saying that if I loved them I would have to give up the arts to prove it.  What nonsense!

My answer is this: If I gave up the Arts, it would be giving up my identity.  It’s better for me to be alone and love myself than to be with a partner and be miserable, hence my divorce.  And I'm sad to say that  I've found a soul mate to share a life with, but I have me so I’m in great company doing what I love and never regretting my past decisions.  My paintings are my children--and this is the legacy I leave behind.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it? 

Oh good gosh YES! My parents never believed being an artist was a good thing. They discouraged me all the time. Being from Europe, they couldn’t see art as a profession but rather saw it as doodle in life. I fought with them everyday until I was old enough to move out and keep going where I needed to go.

They insisted that I take typing in high school so I could fall back as a secretary to survive if the arts didn’t work.  My answer to them was, "That’s exactly why I'm not taking that class in typing.  If I can’t type then there is no option for “fall back.”  I would have to succeed in the arts and that’s all there is to it."

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

The most important thing to me was to know anatomy. Then you know you can paint anything and everything in realism. How can a realist artist understand and paint anything with structure, without knowing their own structure first? I don’t mean everyone has to paint realism. To paint minimalism you must know the complexities in order to simplify. Abstract artists can’t abstract anything without knowing what they are abstracting from and why. That’s why certain artists end up in Museums.  They paint from knowledge and open a new door to understanding for other great artists to learn from and discover, then take it further.

I don’t paint the same things; I try to discover new knowledge from each piece. It may not seem that way to the observer’s eye, but growth comes in small steps and those are the things I look for. But subject? I can paint anything from knowing anatomy, but I have to choose carefully for my growth. Creativity is an instinctive search engine. So I laid out my areas to discover so that I end up with a complete story at life’s end.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Huge difference in my opinion. You can have talent but it’s the creativity that glorifies it. That’s the one thing that makes you stand out amongst the others, the twist to the subject, the imaginative difference, and the confidence behind the craft.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I have a few mantras:

"Motion creates motion.”
”Without Fantasy there is no dream.”

I have another mantra that I keep to myself because I consider it sacred, therefore it must be mentally repeated but never spoken.

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6527212 April 23, 2010

Defying Gravity: Lou Patrou

"I no longer want to work for other people's businesses, visions, and projects."

My new theme song is "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, recently covered by the cast of Glee. Today I listened to my Glee CD on the way to a lunch meeting that may result in some great pharma consulting work. I'd heard the CD before, but this time the last song hit me in a new way.

Potential consulting work is a good thing. When I stepped back from a full-time career in the industry, I thought having more time for my writing would be great. And it has been! But I was at my best when consulting and writing at a 50/50 split, which is what I'd been doing until September of 2009.

Now I'm getting a little stir crazy.

This brings me to the topic of multi-talent, and also the difference between focusing those talents on what others ask or direct you to do versus self-direction. My guest today, artist Lou Patrou, has been creating art for a lifetime. However, for years, his creative focus was utilized by others. Now he directs himself and is focused on promoting his own art. I get the impression that he somehow broke free or took a leap, and is determined to stay on a path of his own creation.

I'm also determined yet I'm realizing that perhaps I have multiple diverse skill sets--and that's okay. I wrote for years while working full time. During the 50/50 gig, I wrote a new novel over a nine-month period (probably my best work yet), kept Aberration Nation going, and managed to paint quite a bit. Every day held something different. I still had time to devote to my creative goals. I tapped into all my skill sets and directed myself.

Lou points out that there are no rules around multi-talent. Several of those whom I've interviewed feel there should always be a primary focus, while others believe there can be only one focus if you want to be the best. Although I fully understand all the opinions, I like Lou's approach. I'd like to believe there are no molds, rules, or boundaries for how much an individual can juggle and achieve.

I'm first and foremost a writer. I still don't fully know what it means to be a writer yet I know that's what I am. Becoming an artist has expanded my creative horizon. It's taught me a great deal about myself and subsequently improved my writing. I'll not stop painting, but I can't stop writing.

The other day, I asked myself,

"If you were in a jail cell with nothing but a pencil, what would you do with that pencil? Would your first inclination be to draw or to write?"

I knew the answer before I got through the question. I would write and write and write on the walls around me until my pencil turned to dust, and then I'd look for anything else that could create a mark. In the end, I'd want and need to leave my mark, and I know it would be in the form of words.

Does that mean that I'm not truly an artist?
I don't think so.

Does that mean that I should completely turn my back on all my years of pharma experience?
I don't think so.

As Lou has discovered, I think the key is finding a way to make it all work.

Yesterday I wrote 1,000 words of my latest novel, DUST. As I sat at my kitchen table, allowing myself to melt into the words, I remembered how much I love that feeling. How much I need to create characters and scenarios that express my own humanity. How I enjoy the complexity that writing calls for and allows.

I remembered why I write, and reminded myself that it doesn't matter if my work makes it to the top of the charts. Although I'd love for that to happen, it was never the driving force behind my calling. My need has always been to express something meaningful. To caste my eyes upon the world around me and into myself, and figure out what it means to me, and then express it in a way that enables someone else to share it. What drives me is that shining moment when we both become just a little less alone.

So as I sit here introducing you to Lou with a tear on my cheek, I hope you'll consider his idea that there are no rules about who we are and what we can achieve. I started this blog with the premise that normal is a farce. Let's not forget that we're all filled with aberrations. Let's allow our humanity to bring us together not pull us apart--whether we're writers, artists, corporate folks, teachers, religious, agnostic, gay, straight, black, Asian, white, physically challenged or fit, lonely, happy, introverted, extroverted, or whether we prefer Palin and tea bags or Obama in the house.

Perhaps I'm way too idealistic. Perhaps Lou won't succeed in marketing his art. Perhaps I'll never find a new publisher. Perhaps we'll all burn in hell or turn to dust with nothing to show for it. Believe what you will. I choose to believe in miracles, happy endings, fulfillment, and peace. These things happen everyday in every corner of our world, and as my Dad used to always say, "If it can happen for someone else, it can happen for you."

Studying Lou's art, I suspect he may also subscribe to the relative nature of gravity.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

I've always known that I would work in creative fields and never an office, for better or for worse. As far as my art is concerned, I've been drawing steadily since junior high school in the 60's. Over the years I've worked extensively in film and television production, custom photo labs, both color processing and black and white printing, neon design and installation for events, concerts and commercials, animation, advertising, prop and set design, product design, photography and product licensing.

Today I no longer want to work for other people's businesses, visions and projects. I'm concentrating only on my art, designs and product ideas. If a project doesn't have my name on it, I'm no longer inspired. I just have no interest in working on it.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Not any one moment--more a continuum. Over time I get different ideas about concepts and during the exploration of them, new directions become apparent and details become clear.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist?

The urge is probably an urge to satisfy oneself with the work and whoever might appreciate it, the process is about different challenges along the way to creating the work, which also gives satisfaction.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

I don't believe that there are rules about this. I've seen some with many talents and others with few. Some people can be multi-talented, and some people can think they're multi-talented.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Do you mean a curse? I don't know about that. We all have to deal with our own set of life and personal problems that come along--even those people considered talented or gifted.

As far as using your talent, I have seen super talented people waste themselves away on drugs and others just lose interest in what they were good at.

We've also seen people that used to be very talented writers and musicians become less talented or less productive over time, so who knows? Maybe it's all because of contributing factors like lifestyle, greed, or loss of ambition.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I figured out a long time ago that not everyone gets everything or everybody, which also goes to personal tastes. In my case, there are many people that I don't show my art to because they just don't get it or care to get it--so I just leave it at that.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

I worked in the film business in Hollywood for years and had some of the best times of my life, along with an amount of success in the industry with my art and designs. I've amassed a body of work that goes back to the 70's yet have only been focused on marketing myself for the last five years. So even though I've been producing art for decades, you could say that when it comes to selling and showing my work, I'm only just getting started.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Let's look at it this way, many people can enjoy being creative yet if one of them is far more talented, it is evident to all.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Because of changing circumstances and aging, these things change over time. At one point you think certain things are so important or admirable, and years later they seem foolish or unimportant.

Today my business motto is, "Push ahead, stay vigilant and stay focused."

My creative motto has been, "Keep a clear enough mind to be able to make uninfluenced discovery and then follow your instincts."

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6527212 April 14, 2010

A Healthy Dose of Paranoia: Mollie Kellogg

"Creative is the secret room in the brain to which everyone has access. Talent is what you choose to do after you enter."

I've been thinking a lot about the difference between creative and talented. Here's what the dictionary says:


1. Having the quality or power of creating.
2. Resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.; imaginative

1. A marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment.
2. Natural endowment or ability of a superior quality.

What I've heard from most of those I've asked is that everyone is creative, or can be creative. It simply takes either the act of producing something or somehow being original. At a basic level, most people express creativity as they are cooking, cleaning, gardening, decorating their home, choosing what to wear, or fixing their hair for the day.

I can do that.

You can do that.

Lots of folks take it a big step further by creating music, art, literature, architecture, computer programs, films, etc. If we put our minds to it, we could all create those things. They might suck, but in reality, we could actually create something we would feel comfortable labeling as a song, a book, a painting, a film, etc. We might even sell it to someone. Wow!

Being talented is another story altogether. My guest today, artist Mollie Kellogg, says that talent is what you choose to do with your creativity once you decide to exercise it. I'll go a step further and suggest that it's also what you are able to do. As hard as they may try, some people aren't capable of creating anything surprisingly different from what their neighbors are creating. Is it markedly above or superior to the work of others? No.

Does it suck?

Maybe not.

Maybe it's okay.

Yesterday I strolled around Chelsea, New York City's famed art district. While I enjoyed popping in and out of the galleries, I was a bit disappointed in the art displayed there. I wondered if it was just me. If I lacked some special filter, the one that tells a highly creative person that what they're viewing is magnificent. In other words, did I lack an appreciation for the art?

(Go ahead, tell me that I have no right to criticize the art since mine isn't there. I can handle it.)

During my visit, I was reminded that art appreciation is subjective. I was also reminded of the process for how artists' work lands in the top Chelsea galleries. I heard a lot about how the "art establishment" works.

After a while it began to sound a bit like corporate America. The art reminded me of those special people who rise to the top while the rest of the folks scratch their heads to the tune of "He's good at networking and politics ... doesn't matter how smart he actually is, how well he manages people and projects, or how much he actually knows about what the hell we do around here."

So here I sit this morning with a lot on my mind about where I want my art to land and why. I'm thinking again about the differences between producing and creating, and creative and talented. I'm wondering all over again who decides the value of art and why. If, in the end, art and music and writing are all just businesses ushered forward by "the establishment," then what is the purpose and where is the place for true talent?

Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I've always believed that Mr. Edison's sweat emerged from trying all those ways to make the light bulb work rather than pounding the political pavement. He also said things like, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Well, I'm getting the feeling that, at least in American culture, we've twisted these messages into, "Genius takes 1 percent talent and 90 percent politics," and "Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in a business suit and looks like schmoozing."

Can you hear my screams of frustration?

I've always said that I hate to complain if I don't know how to fix it. Perhaps instead of getting smaller, the world has grown large and layered, a network that strangles rather than connects. Perhaps there is value in retreating back to a smaller circle where talent can shine through the B.S., beyond established procedures and steps created by folks with less talent or IQ points, and above the incessant chatter of the average, the political, and the bottom-line thinkers?

Who can possibly change our world now that we're surrounded on all sides by the establishment?

What are they establishing and where is that road leading us?

Mollie's mantra is "better paranoid than sorry." Maybe we should all take a shot of her paranoia and think this over. Otherwise, we may all end up sorry, with nothing to show for ourselves but cold, hard, lonely cash.

What's your story (in a nutshell)?

I am a full-time Creative, 24/7. Born that way. Art, dance, acting. At a cross-roads I chose commercial art over theatre with the thought that I might have a better chance at making a living. My career started in art direction and illustration. As time passed, I intensified my focus on fine art. Always figurative. Fine art and theatre collided in the early 90’s as co-founder of Planet Earth Theatre and Gallery in Phoenix, AZ (and eventually Seattle, WA). I primarily showed large, oversized nudes. After moving to San Diego, CA, I found myself without a space to show/store my work, so I focused on smaller personal works that I wouldn’t mind having around the house a while.

After a decade of theatre work, raising two children, facing health issues, and changing spiritual influences, my art evolved and transformed. Today my images contain a bit of magick, sometimes hidden, as in a portrait such as Onion Hill, or on full display, as in the Incognito Witch Project.

Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

I am always surprised at where I am – that is why I won’t go anywhere without my GPS. But seriously, there is a hazard and correlation between getting lost in the creative mind when driving and getting “physically” lost!

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Divorce. Once nature has had its way with you and you have had your kids, (what I call the salmon swimming upstream syndrome), and you find yourself alone, as in divorced, without anyone besides yourself carrying the power to veto your dreams – then every single day has the potential to become an ah-ha moment.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? If could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist?

In my mind, creation without expression results in decorative art. My high school art teacher once chastised a cute little watercolor I showed her as “decorative.” Those word still sting. (Hand grasps at chest.)

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)?

I think highly creative people are naturally drawn to multiple disciplines and can participate passionately in each. However, unless they have a team of people working with or for them, I think it would be very hard to market multiple art forms, from a time perspective, unless the art forms are integrated, somehow.

Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

I think a creative person with multiple talents or even a knack for multiple mediums within a single art form, who finds everything easy for them, might find it hard to focus. And back to marketing, it is hard to tell people who you are if you haven’t discovered that for yourself.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

In Junior High I was targeted for being very white and very red-headed. Basically I stood out. It probably didn’t help that I wore two different colored socks at times and other much-too-embarrassing incidents to report here. Why did I not fit in? Because my parents just let me be who I was? Could they have taught me to assimilate? However, at the very same time I was hiding out in the classroom at lunch to avoid getting my butt kicked, I danced a solo to Love Will Keep Us Together in the school talent show and I somehow became captain of the Pom-Pom Line choreographing the team dances, despite the team not really liking me. The lesson? If you can’t Fit In, Stand Out. Discipline, talent, persistence and passion will eventually get you respect.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? Does anyone really understand a Creative and their drive?

Other than another Creative with similar values? Spouses, friends, and other loved ones, even those who are creative, are jealous of sharing you with your other love and the time it takes away from them.

If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Actually, I think I prefer that they do not understand me. Makes what I have to offer more “special” and “mysterious.” Just as long as they do not fear me. Just my kids should fear me.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

Life is a Dream and I am not going to be satisfied until the final curtain.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented?

Creative is the secret room in the brain to which everyone has access. Talent is what you choose to do after you enter. I live in my Creative Room. It is locked from the outside.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life?

Better paranoid than sorry.

Why is this important to you?

I have kids.

Be sure to check out Mollie's 3-part documentary focusing on her Incognito Witch project. Here's the first part:

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6527212 March 01, 2010

Alone: Jean Marc Calvet

"It's a lovely snake biting its own tail."

American novelist and painter Henry Miller said, "An artist is always alone--if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness."

Growing up in way-down-there Louisiana, my momma always reminded me that God knew every hair on my head before I was born. My daddy said I was smart enough to accomplish anything I dreamed about as long as I worked hard and didn't give up.

These two messages prevailed through many lonely days and dark nights. I couldn't stop wondering why God put me here. Why did I get that golden ticket? And if He knew all about me before I got here, why did He let such disturbing things happen? Why did He allow me to feel overburdened, neglected and alone for most of my childhood? On top of it all, as I grew older, I wondered what I was supposed to do with all that. Where would I file it and how would I use it?

Being alone, whether as a child or an adult, often causes folks to search within themselves for understanding. Of course, there is miserable alone, and there is wonderful alone. I've gone through periods when all I wanted was to be alone. At other times, I've desperately craved company to the point of breaking into bedroom windows late at night.

My guest today, Jean Marc Calvet, says that being alone is critical for individuals who wish or need to create. He's a thinker, too, but once he knew why he was put here, he never looked back.

After reading his interview, I'm trying to figure out what the heck's wrong with me. I wish I could stop l
ooking back, rethinking, retooling, re-imagining, etc. I've also noticed that many of those whom I've interviewed say they never waste time wondering if they're truly talented. I get an "F" for that one, too.

I'm not one to waste time. In fact, I get a hell of a lot done. Maybe I think too much while I'm doing. In college I was the student who "over-thought" multiple ch
oice questions. No one loved essay questions more than I did. Just leave me alone in my own head, and I can spit out anything and make it sound fairly interesting.

Maybe having too many external choices/offerings is one of the reasons artists need alone time. Too much constant stimulation from outside sources mucks it up. It either causes confusion or shuts down emotions by providing too many easy ways out, a thousand masks to wear in order to avoid the thing you really are, the thing you truly feel. Tangled in confusion or standing behind masks chips away at creative authenticity.

Intense loneliness at key times in my life and the intense need to be alone have allowed me to evolve into the person I am today. And who knows, she may actually be talented or she may suck. I still believe that whomever put me here did so for a reason. Perhaps it's simple as with George in It's a Wonderful Life, or perhaps it's more spectacular. Regardless, like Jean Marc, I'm determined to see it unfold.

No turning back. No giving up.

I've only fully given up once in my life; it was only after recovering from those loneliest moments and building a life for myself that I knew how much I had to lose. So bring on the alone, lonely times. As Jean Marc expresses, they are a powerful fuel source for what ails us and what drives us ... "a lovely snake biting its own tail."

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be an artist or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I spent a large part of my life wondering why I was born, why I was here! When I turned 36 everything started. I was painting on the walls, the ground, the ceiling with all sorts of things such as paint, tomato sauce, chocolate, mud, etc. I didn't think I was making art. For me it was a way to keep my sanity and it still is today. The main difference between yesterday and today is that today I know why I was born--and that changed many things!

J' ai passe une grande partie de ma vie sans savoir pourquoi j' etais nee , pourquoi j' etais la !!.......C' est a l'age de 36 ans que tout a commence .........peignant sur les murs , sol, plafond avec toute sorte de choses....peintures, sauce tomate , chocolat, boue ect ect Je ne pensais vraiment pas faire de l' art , pour moi c' etait juste un moyen pour ne pas devenir completement fou et d' ailleurs encore aujourd' hui cela le reste . La grande difference entre hier et aujoud' hui c' est que aujourd' hui je sais pourquoi je suis nee........et ca change beaucoup de choses!

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

No, I don't have enough time. I need more perspective, more experience, and especially to open new doors.

Non je n' ai pas assez de temps ...... j' ai besoin de plus de recul , de plus d' experience et surtout d' ouvrir de nouvelles portes .

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I believe we are all born with two sides, two faces-- then it's up to us to change them. I cultivate my dark side, it enables me to feel the positive aspect and appreciate life. I like to go to the dark corners of my soul, opening forgotten doors in the collective conscience. I simply learn to turn a negative into a positive, the destructive into the constructive and to get a fuel, an energy out of it that will allow me to paint and create.

Je crois que naissons tous avec les 2 faces , les 2 visages .......apres libre a nous d' en changer. Je cultive mon cote negatif , il me permet de ressentir le cote positif......et d' aprecier la vie .J' aime allez dans les recoins sombres de mon ame......ouvrir des portes oubliees dans la consience collective.......j' apprend tout simplement a transformer le negatif en positif...le destructif en constructif..et d' en tirer un carburant , une energie qui me permet de peindre , creer ....vivre.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

My aberrations have led me to creativity which finally allowed me to live with them (my aberrations). It's a lovely snake biting its own tail.

Mes aberrations m' ont conduits a la creativite qui ma enfin permis de pouvoir vivre avec elles (mes aberrations ).............c' est un jolie serpent qui se mord la queue..........

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Creativity can turn into a bulimic monster devouring everything that surrounds you--family, friends, etc. Of course people struggle to understand that but over time, they are reassured as we are, too.

La creativitee peu se transformer en monstre boulimique , devorant tout ce que vous avez autour de vous famille , amis ...ect ect Forcement les gens on du mal a comprendre.............qu'ils se rassure nous aussi .

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

I don't have time to think at any of that. It's a loss of energy, and I let others answer that question. For me, it's just intellectual masturbation.

Je n' ai pas le temps de penser a tout ca ..perte d' energie ..je laisse le soin aux autres de repondre .Pour moi ce n' est ni plus ni moins que de la masturbation intelectuelle..........

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How did (or do) you cope with disappointments? What motivated you to keep going, to not give up?

Simply because I have no choice. Creativity is like a faucet that allows me to get rid of the overflow of emotions exactly like the water. Without that faucet I implode. Of course we are often frustrated and disappointed. Those feelings do not bother me. On the contrary, I catch them and use them again as fuel.

Tout simplement parceque je n' ai pas le choix .............la creativitee est comme un robinet qui me permet d`evacuer le trop plei d' emotions exactement comme de l' eau .....sans se robinet j' implose....... Forcement on est souvent frustee , deceptione......ces sentiments la ne me gene pas.au contraire je les attrape et m' en sert de nouveau comme carburant...............

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of though processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

It's an organized chaos. I'm not looking for the objective ... too far. I go step by step, opening doors that I had always ignored inside of me, or by using doors that others opened for me. The white canvas in front of me is a lot less scary than the fear of a black hole--anti-creativity.

C' est un Kaos organise , je ne cherche pas l' objectif...trop loin , j' y vais pas a pas............ouvrant des portes que j' avait toujours ignore a l' interieur de moi ou me servant de porte que d' autres on ouverte pour nous .La toile blanche face a moi est bien moins terrifiante que la peur du trou noir .......de l' anti -creativitee .

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

alone, alone, alone

Seul, seul , seul

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

I think that the subconscious itself sorts things out and puts aside anything that could slow the real creation process--silly ideas, fake intelligence crisis. If the idea is a good one, it will come back at the right time.

Je crois que l' inconscient fait lui meme le menage et met de cote tout se qui pourrait ralentir la vrai creation ......les idees farfelues , les fausses crises d' intelligences ..........si l' idee est bonne .....elle reviendra au bon moment.

To view an insightful preliminary interview from writer/director Dominic Allan's upcoming documentary on Jean Marc, go here.


Special thanks to artist Sebastien Aurillon for his French to English interpretation of Jean Marc's comments. Watch for Sebastien's upcoming interview here on Aberration Nation.

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