Saving Captain Leena (Pt 1: Introduction)

A couple of months ago, I talked about how inspiring I found the content of doll customizer Dollightful’s channel, and how despite it focusing on doll customization, something I myself have never done, it made me want to work hard at all of my personal creative pursuits.

Since then… well, I still haven’t customized any dolls, but I have a confession to make to you all.

See, I recently finished my final shift of my summer job as a respite worker for two adults on the Autism spectrum. One of those two adults would volunteer at a local Goodwill every week, purging clothes that had been on the shelves for too long, signified by a certain color of tag, which changed every week. I would accompany him to these shifts, and so I spent a lot of time wandering through the same Goodwill, week after week.

Because I spent so much time wandering through the same store, I came to be pretty familiar with many of the items on its shelves. While yes, Goodwill does get rid of old merchandise that has sat long enough, it was still fun to note the interesting items on the shelves and how fast it would take for them to disappear. An ostentatious sequined miniskirt here, a new, in-the-box Magic the Gathering themed board game there, a clutch purse with a magnetic clasp that had been torn from the fabric and hung loose and mostly unable to keep the purse closed over there.

These items became somewhat like familiar friends to me, and it was fun to check up on them every week. “Yup, the full Twilight series in hardback is still there” or “Hey, somebody finally picked up that teapot with sculptures of dancing old ladies balanced on it!”

And then there was the toy section. Oh, the toy section. I’m not gonna blame the employees of the Goodwill for this because I strongly suspect the chaos of the toy section was probably due in part to the many small children I would see getting a run of the store while their parents shopped. Or it could also be due to the fact that many of the toys that get donated to Goodwill aren’t exactly in pristine condition themselves, often having been played with roughly. There were tons of Barbie dolls with chopped hair, stuffed rabbits with suspicious brown stains on them, and cars with missing wheels.

But I still liked to poke through the toy section in particular. Maybe it was the piled chaos on the shelves that made it seem like if I just dug through the junky stuff on top I might find some real treasures underneath, and sometimes I would find myself organizing the shelves to the best of my ability, trying to bring forward those toys that looked in good condition to me, so that a kid might see them and bring them home without having to dig through the not-so-nice stuff.

During one of these excursions into the toy aisle, I spotted a flash of hot pink amongst the tans and blondes of a pile of naked Barbie dolls, and extracted a Monster High Howleen doll. Howleen is a werewolf girl with bright pink hair, tiny fangs, and puppy-dog ears, and I was delighted to find her. After all, Monster High dolls are a bit rarer to come by at Goodwill, since Barbies are way more common. Plus, being a casual fan of the doll customizing Youtube space, I knew how popular Monster High dolls were as customizing material.

Howleen was in really good condition, save for one thing. She was missing both of her arms.

Now this isn’t really uncommon for Monster High dolls. As far as mass-produced dolls go, Monster High dolls have a lot more articulation in their joints, and have both an elbow and wrist joint in their arms. They also have detailed hands that have different designs based on the doll, but the relative size of their hands to their skinny arms make it impossible for them to wear tight sleeves unless there is some way to remove the hands. And so… Monster High dolls have removable hands and elbow joints to make dressing them easier.

That’s all well and good, except these joints go missing all the time, especially in dolls donated to secondhand places like Goodwill.

And I thought “Oh, that’s a shame. Both arms are missing. Well, maybe someone will pick her up anyway and give her a good home.”

So I left Howleen on the shelf with all of her Barbie doll brethren, and went on my merry way.

The next week I came back and Howleen was still there. The next week, yup, there she is. And then we got to this week, my final shift at Goodwill.

I returned to the toy aisle and found that Howleen had been moved from her spot among the dolls to a separate area of the shelves. Finding her there, I briefly wondered who had moved her. Was it a kid playing with her, or an employee? What happened to Howleen during all those days I was away from the Goodwill? A little saddened at the prospect of never seeing Howleen off to a good home, I sat her up on the shelf and hoped once more someone would come along and take pity on her.

And then I stopped. Wait a minute. Aren’t I an adult with income that I, on occasion, spend on things? Couldn’t I buy this Howleen and ensure she would go to a good home?

But then, that was preposterous. What was I going to do with a naked Monster High doll without any arms? I wasn’t planning on fixing her up or anything. I didn’t have the materials, the artistic talent….

But then, if I didn’t, who would? Would armless Howleen just be thrown in a salvage box? Would she ever find someone who considered her a friend, like I had come to? And am I seriously considering this hunk of plastic a friend? (Yes.)

So yeah, I bought Howleen. She cost $2 and I hid her in my purse for the rest of my time at the Goodwill, slightly embarrassed at what people would think about an adult woman buying a naked, armless Monster High doll.

But as I stood there in the Goodwill, ideas began rushing to me. What if I made Howleen a cool metal-armed pirate, hardened by the battles that took her limbs but not allowing it to break her adventurous spirit? The prospect of fixing the doll up, giving her a new outfit and story, became a really interesting creative challenge for me to consider.

So yeah guys. This is real. This is happening. I, a non-doll customizer, am going to customize this Howleen doll that stole my heart. And I thought… where better to document this challenge than here on this blog?

So here’s to Howleen, the future Captain Leena, scurvy pirate of the high seas. And here’s to forming an empathetic bond with an armless doll sitting on a Goodwill shelf.

More installments to come, as they happen. Stay tuned.




Learning the Ropes of Character Tropes

So sometimes I like to watch YouTube videos that make me angry. This usually happens at ungodly hours of the morning/night in a sleepy haze, and I usually regret them the next morning. The variety of these videos changes as time goes on, but recently the genre of video I find myself drifting toward is the “criticize Original Characters/Other People’s Art”-variety.

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The End

We’re 26 weeks into the year. Doing my math correctly, this is the perfect mid-point of the year, weeks-wise. I’m halfway through my promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I would write one blog post per week.

So let’s take stock. Where are we? How has Absoludicrous grown since I made my pledge on January 1st of this year? What have I done? What have I accomplished?

Well, I can say that this blog has gotten a lot more views than I expected. I started this not really thinking anyone would read it besides people I know in real life. While that still remains the majority of the views, I do get a constant trickle of views from people all around the world. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know me in real life – thank you so much. You exceed my expectations just by giving this blog a glance.

Not to say my known viewers aren’t appreciated – of course you are – you’re just more or less expected. I know a lot of really kind people who, against the odds, support me in so many ways and your support is something I count on.

Don’t be alarmed by the title of this blog post. This isn’t the end, far from it if I can help it. But it is something I wanted to talk about. I want to talk about the end. Specifically, the end of creative projects.

This blog is a creative project. I am not doing it for a grade or monetary gain. I do it because it gives me a weekly creative outlet. And you know what? On my end, it’s been a smashing success. It’s kept me writing more consistently than anything I’ve ever done, and ya’ll seem to enjoy it so there’s no losses anywhere.

It’s this blog, however, that caused me to make a real connection to a video I watched recently made by one of my favorite Youtubers ever, Dan O. of Folding Ideas.

It’s kind of a long video (but really good), so I’ll summarize. In it, Dan is asked on his stream how best to find motivation for finishing creative projects. Dan speaks frankly on a number of topics regarding motivation and creativity but ultimately comes to one overarching conclusion – finish your work.

I know it sounds useless answering the question of “How do I finish my work?” with “Finish your work,” but honestly, it’s astoundingly good advise. Creative work is unique in the fact that it is never really done. There is always a way to improve. There’s always a few more tweaks to be done, a few more edits, and some chopping and skewing to make it just perfect.

And that’s noble, in a way. The idea that something is never quite done, and so the artist must work tirelessly forever and ever to perfect it, hoping for that one day that it’s flawless and beautiful and everyone who sees it or hears it is brought to their knees.

The reality, though, is that if you were to work on something until it is perfect, until it is done, you will never finish. As I said, there’s always something, some improvement. And so Dan advises self-imposed deadlines. He speaks about giving himself a week to finish a project and then letting it go at the end of that week, regardless of where it is in its production.

And watching this video, I found myself really resonating with this message. I’m a perfectionist. I hate when anything I do is less than great. I want all my writings to be showstoppers, to be hits, and in the past that’s bit me in the butt. When I was younger I was a serial project-starter, but I almost never finished anything. I would start something, bright and motivated, but by the end of the arduous process of trying to make it perfect, I would lose interest, or, alternatively, I would just keep it on a backburner, for a rainy day. Locked in creative purgatory, forever and ever.

There were only a handful of projects I actually finished and all of them were finished because of deadlines. NaNoWriMo was the big one. The self-imposed deadline of 50,000 words by the end of the month was the first thing that ever spurred me to finish anything. And beyond that… is this blog.

This blog is a series of self-imposed deadlines. If I fail to post something every single Sunday, nothing really happens. I don’t lose out on a prize or reward, I’m not physically punished. The world continues to turn. Yet, these deadlines still exist… emotionally. Mentally. Every week I post something new, or else I let myself and anyone who wanted to read that post down.

And even more helpful, the deadlines give me a reason to stop working. To declare something finished. I can’t tell you the number of weeks that I despised the post that finally came out on Sunday. 99% of the time, the post that’s in my head is a million times better than the post that eventually gets written, and yet my deadline forces me to stop tweaking in search of that perfect ideal and post it anyway.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because instead of me working and working and working to perfect one post that may or may not ever come out, I now have over 26 posts – some of which I’m really proud of – that are here for everyone to see. 26 posts in the hand are better than a million in the… bush, I guess?

And how do I find the motivation? I don’t, I guess. As sad as that sounds, the motivation is the deadline looming at the end of the week. As much as I wish I could be fueled only by pure-hearted love of writing and chutzpah, it’s the deadline that gets things done for me. It’s the deadline that has caused this blog to exist and keep running week after week. It’s how I keep the motor running.

These 26 weeks have been a blast. I’m not even close to being done yet, so stick around for 26 more and beyond.

Let Them Have Rainbows

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.

But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.

The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.

Lemme give you an example.


Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.

It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.

But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.

I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process. 

I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.

Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.

For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.

And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.

The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.

Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.

It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.

So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made.  I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.

So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.