But wait! – you gasp. The right time for such posts is somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day at the latest! What is she doing, making this kind of post almost a whole week into the new year?
Well, let me tell you, turkeys, that in the neck of Eastern European woods I hail from, Christmas Day is the 7th of January, so, for me personally, winter holidays aren’t over yet, and regardless of whether I celebrate Christmas these days, I know an opportunity for a cultural excuse when I see one. Plus, I’m sure you had better things to do over the holidays than to read this humble blog, just as much as I had better things to do than write it. (Wait, what did you say? Yes, you in the green sweater. What do you mean, you did NOT have anything better to do? Goodness me. Drop me a message a.s.a.p., because you’re coming over to mine for the next year’s winter holidays. It’s a never-ending party over at the Stanislav house. We have a twelve-inch Christmas tree, not four, but FIVE strings of tinsel, and – le gasp! – board games.)
Now, to ring in 2015, have a monthly breakdown of my 2014. This is funny, because the words ‘monthly breakdown’ can almost be used as the most succinct summary of my 2014. Woot woot, bring on the continuously crumbling mental stability with a side of rapidly increasing introversion!
Seriously, though, it was quite a year, but I like to think of it as a predominantly upward curve. It felt really steep at times (and a sheer wall once or twice), but hey, climbing a steep slope means you’ll get up sooner than if you walked along a gentle one. So, before we scramble the fuck onwards, let us look back at 2014. Warning: looking back and down makes you dizzy, so hold on to your harness.
January – NaNo Flashbacks
The first month of 2014 was basically a continuation of 2013’s NaNoWriMo. That was the first year I took part in NaNo, and, reaching the finish line at around 20k words, I certainly didn’t win, but that word count was higher than any previous month’s that year, and it made me believe that yes, I can write (almost) every day. So I plunged on, through December and then, indeed, January, reaching for targets of 5k words per week, and mostly reaching them.
So that was January. Roughly 20 thousand words of my novel Dust and Metal, still in the first draft at the time. While writing, I was becoming progressively more aware of the social and political developments in my home country, on the other side of Europe, and then getting involved in them. But February was the month where things really got real there.
February – Viva La Revolucion
Brief background for those who don’t know me: I’m Ukrainian. If you don’t know the current geopolitical implications of that, this wiki page is a good place to start. For a TL;DR, keep reading this post.
Throughout January, I was closely following the protests in my hometown of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. As things got more and more heated, I could no longer stand powerlessly watching the events over the Internet and started looking for ways to help my people. Taking part in a Euromaidan rally in London, in support of the Ukrainian protests, helped me vent some of the frustrated helplessness. But my real contribution to the cause, I feel, was made with a volunteer group Voices of Ukraine, started by Ukrainians in different parts of the world to spread information about events in Ukraine. At the time, media coverage of the increasingly large-scale protests was sporadic at best, badly distorted at worst. At Voices, we translated news as we got them from the ground – through independent TV channels, personal accounts by journalists, blogs and twitters of protesters, anyone and everyone close to the events.
Working for that project (entirely unpaid, despite numerous claims of a certain country’s media that all protesters were financed by the US Department of State and suchlike) was basically my life throughout February. When I wasn’t translating updates from Maidan, I was reading every update I could find, to the point where I’d set an alarm to go off every few hours at night, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything critical, anything that needed to be urgently translated and put on the blog.
Towards the end of the month, the protests blew up into a full-scale revolution and the government’s retaliation resulted in over a hundred deaths. The world, according to the media, ‘looked on in shock’. Over at Voices of Ukraine, we watched, we read, we translated, we blogged – often, in almost-real-time mode.
Then the Ukrainian revolution won. I took a few days’ breather from my amateur journalism, and used that time to write the last chapter of my novel. Then Russia invaded Crimea.
March – Brief Musical Catharsis
Spending a month chained to my laptop and more aware of what was happening across Europe than outside my window left me somewhat crippled, both mentally (when I could handle no human interaction without going into a fight-or-flight mode) and physically (when my back refused to let me move without agony). March marked a gradual return to relative health and sanity for me. In fact, a week into that month, I tweeted that I was “rejoining life as a form of ongoing protest against fear and death”.
The first and major step to that was going to a Fearless Vampire Killers show in Manchester. I’ve listened to that band’s music all through January and February, while typing away at reports of protests, arrests and casualties. Their concept records, Militia of the Lost and Exposition, had a large-scale story told through songs. Fittingly enough, it was a story about a revolution. To quote myself as I spoke to Laurence Beveridge, FVK’s frontman and main creator of the story in question, after the show: I was listening to songs about palaces in flames while watching my home city burn. (Spoiler alert: later, I would find out that my garbled, tear-soaked speech stuck in Laurence’s memory for a while.)
April – A Monochromatic Month
The highlight of April was the completion of Monochrome, a 12-page ghost story comic book by myself and Emmi Bat. This was our first joint completed project (bar a two-page comic the previous year), and very much a DIY-effort, up to and including home printing and hand stapling. (That is, stapling by hand. No one’s hands were actually stapled in the process. They can’t prove anything, at least.)
I wouldn’t say that our artistic journey was without issues…
Artist finishes comic. Writer sits down to edit text. Result. (Writer is good writer. Writer knows how to word.) pic.twitter.com/5UnuSghS34
— Maria Stanislav (@El_Oquent) April 8, 2014
…but we arrived at the final product successfully in the end, and much excitement was had. And since I love you all, dear readers, I’d like to share this comic with you. Here’s a downloadable PDF, for absolutely free, to read at your leisure. Consider it a Christmas gift from yours truly.
In May, I took a short trip to Edinburgh, a city I have a strong emotional connection with since the year 2010, for reasons of art and inspiration. A return to that city, combined with the reading of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman resulted in a post I made on this very blog, titled The Ocean at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange. In that post, I wrote about the importance of Edinburgh in my life, my choices in art, and the increase of my love for writing, which, for a while, had been my fallback art form next to my dream of music.
Four and a half hours after that post was made, Twitter informed me that Neil Gaiman has: a) become aware of that post owing to the magic of the internets; b) read said post; c) thought it was a worthwhile read. At least that’s how I interpreted the following tweet, made in response to my blog announcement:
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) May 31, 2014
(What’s that second @ tag? Did Mr. Gaiman tweet at both me AND Gerard Way, who was mentioned in the post on par with Mr. Gaiman as one of my biggest inspirations? Yes. YES HE DID. Six+ months later, and I still can’t even.)
June – Rendezvous and Airplanes
The month in which I turned twenty-fine was packed full of travels, friendly meetings and novel editing. My lovely husband and I went to visit his family in Finland. It was a fun little trip, featuring giant sculptures, wicker animals, prohibitive signs and fridge magnets I still wish I’d bought (pictured). In addition, a week spent in a virtually internet-less house was an experience that did me a world of good (after the initial 24 hours of acute withdrawal).
It was also the month in which I edited most of the second draft of Dust and Metal, preparing it for the final proofread and polish required before I started sending the manuscript out to people…
It was ALSO the month when I met Noodle aka Mimi, an artist friend from Hungary, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting IRL until then. We hung out in Manchester, and she brought me a few copies of Weight of the World, my short story that she illustrated beautifully. Art plans and hugs were exchanged in abundance.
July – Liverpool Library Love
After a fun-packed June, July was the time to buckle down and finish a shedload of projects, a plan that would be so much easier in a workplace where one didn’t have to choose between silence and oxygen. I was this close to selling a kidney to rent an air-conditioned shoebox downtown (by the hour if I had to) when I struck gold in my search for a freelancer’s paradise. Said paradise was found, and its name was Liverpool Central Library.
That was where most of my July (and a fair share of August) was spent, working on my freelance paid job and proofreading my novel, the only disruption to my schedule coming in the form of giant puppets that marched through Liverpool on July 23-27th, as part of the Memories of August 1914, a WWI centenary memorial event.
As far as disruptions go, I think we’re all in agreement that 30-foot marionettes are something one might not mind looking up from one’s work for.
August – This Is Another F*cking Idea
On August 22nd, 2014, Gerard Way was opening the second biggest stage of the Reading and Leeds festival. The tent in front of the stage was packed, crowd overflowing onto the grass outside. Gerard marched onto the stage with the stride of someone who’d prepared themselves to face the gallows straight-backed and brave-faced. Two songs into his set, he smiled, breathed (for the first time since he walked onto the stage, it seemed), and said, ‘There’s so many of you here…’, sounding like he couldn’t believe his eyes. My bet is, he actually couldn’t.
Less than an hour later, he will step off the stage and tweet two words, without context, capitalization or punctuation. ‘holy crap’. That tweet will be followed by a more eloquent ‘That was a moment. Thank you, Reading. <3’, but it’s the unpunctuated, uncapitalized knee-jerk tweet, one step above from homerow keysmash, that I will treasure in my heart forever.
You probably don’t need telling that I was a part of that packed and overflowing tent. Nowhere as close to the stage as I was expecting to be – but, for the first time in my life not even slightly disappointed that I wasn’t at the front of a rock show. Because at that show I would rather be ten or twenty rows in, in a crowd of thousands, than have a front row view in a crowd of a hundred or less. I spent over 200 GBP to be present when Gerard Way made his solo debut. I came there to see him after three years of absence, to listen to his new music, but mainly – to make sure that as many people as possible were cheering when he took to the stage. On that day, it turned out that a few thousand people did the same – showed up just in case they were the only ones.
There are certain days in my life that I like to describe as golden. They don’t happen very often, and are all the more precious for that. Those are days I wish I could bottle in a small vial, like the one with the light of Earendil that Lady Galadriel gave to Frodo – to be the light in dark places when all other lights go out. In lieu of magical elven ladies in my life, I have to assemble this vial for myself, and August 22, 2014, is one of the brightest drops of light in it. What’s even better, 2014 will have another golden day.
September – Zero to Sixty
Looking back on September, I can say I definitely spent that month running on the emotional overcharge of August, seeing as I:
– launched my current blog series, Cried But Did The Thing Anyway (and kept up with the weekly posting schedule);
– finished and launched my writerly website, Maria-Stanislav.com;
– submitted my finished novel to an agency and a small press publisher;
– started the next novel and wrote some 15k words of it;
– finished a huge paid project that’s been two months in the making;
– helped Emmi Bat finalize and release The Many Lives of Dt. R. Walters, a series of six prints with story on the back;
– went to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of Moonlit Meda, my tea-sodden rainbow-colored adopted baby sis.
Somewhere along the way, I also did some charity work, survived a nasty cold, and discovered Firefly.
October – Steering into the Skid
I can be drastically productive when in the right emotional state, so there’s a high chance I could’ve continued racing at September’s pace, so long as the road was good. Unfortunately, when you’re driving with the pedal to the metal, the smallest rock caught under wheel can be a disaster. Mine came three days into October, in the shape of a form rejection letter from one of the two places I submitted my novel mere weeks ago. That day was the beginning of my crash, and if I’m to continue my driving analogy, then the rest of the month was spent clawing at the steering wheel in an attempt to keep the car on the road.
My job would’ve been a lot easier if I’d acknowledged the impending crash in time. But I never do that. I persevered a lot, continuing with blogging, writing, paid work, volunteer work, and whatever else work was coming my way, until I persevered myself into a state where anxiety attacks were almost a daily occurrence. By the end of the month I finally acknowledged that a break was required, and that starting a new novel so soon after completing the previous one was definitely a mistake. Thus began the wind-down towards the end of the year. But before my real downtime could start, there were several important events that November would bring.
However, even before November, October contained an uber-important point of the year, crash or no crash. It was October 2014 that saw the completion of A Song For My Brother, my and Emmi’s second finished project and first FULL-LENGTH work, a comic book of 40 pages. Being the writer and editor-slash-producer of Song, I was mainly involved in the project at its inception and at the final production stage. But it was Emmi who lived and breathed and bled that comic book for four months straight, and finished it by the deadline which I honestly didn’t think she was going to make. I’ll stop before I dissolve into emotional minutia of this project, but if you want an explanation of the great significance of this book, click on the link at the start of this paragraph.
November – Where It All Made Sense
To start off November, Emmi and I went to down to London to the Halloween rock ball held by none other than Fearless Vampire Killers. (Yup, the very band I talked about earlier.) We were even lucky enough to make it to the meet and greet before the show. Well, imagine my shock when I went up to Laurence, with no agenda beyond saying ‘hi, it’s great to see you’, and was greeted with the words, ‘hi, how are things in your home country?’. He remembered me, of the many hundreds of people he’d met that year, and of the many dozens who, like me, unloaded several tons of emotional baggage on him in the scope of ten seconds. We talked for a minute (after I was done stuttering), and hugged, and then FVK played the show where they launched their new record, which took them a tremendous amount of work and trouble to create, and I couldn’t possibly be happier or prouder of one of my favorite bands… and all was good in the world that evening.
A week later, I spent roughly twelve hours queuing to see Gerard Way in Manchester, where he was playing the first show of his first UK solo tour (he hasn’t been back since August). Kept safely in my bag was a copy of A Song For My Brother. If you read the post about that comic, you saw the P.S., in which I promised to give a copy of the comic to a certain bright-eyed man. If you wondered about his identity – well, now you know. The copy of Song in my bag was signed for Gerard, with a printout of that very blog included.
The concert was beautiful and full of love, and worth every second of the long wait. Then Gerard came to the front barrier to meet the fans, and when it was my turn to talk to him, I said, ‘My sister and I made this comic book, which we will be exhibiting at a con in two weeks’ time, and we wanted to give you a copy.’ And he said to me, and I quote, ‘That’s incredible.’ And he also smiled rather wonderfully. And I hugged him, and he thanked me, and I thanked him back, and the conversation turned into a few seconds of mutual thanks, and I wandered away from the barrier shell-shocked and possibly floating a few inches above the floor. And all was so very good in the world that evening.
I wasn’t lying when I said we were going to sell that comic at a con. Just under two weeks later, Emmi and I had our first table at Thought Bubble in Leeds, displaying the art we made together throughout 2014. You can see it all there: Song, Many Lives prints, badges, and a mini-comic related to a larger WIP that’s being kept under covers for now.
It was our first time exhibiting at a comic convention, and it was amazing. From any practical point of view, it’s the silliest thing ever for a pair of no-names to debut at a big con, where no one knows them and where their table is bound to be somewhere in a corner. But practicality was something we couldn’t possibly care less for at the time. Making it to Thought Bubble (which in 2014 was, for the first time ever, curated, which meant that an application for a table could be easily turned down) was the dream, the point, the ‘go big or go home’ of 2014… and we made it.
Emmi also got to do her version of my meeting Gerard in Manchester, when she talked to Becky Cloonan, one of her biggest inspirations in art, and the reason for her decision to plunge headfirst with the con in 2014 (a decision that I backed with everything I had).
On the evening of November 16, Emmi and I walked through Leeds. The asphalt was wet with rain that looked golden in the glow of streetlights. All in the world was… good. As good as it gets. And that was the second golden day of 2014.
December – Zzzzzzzzzz…
The last month of 2014 was the month to keep the promise I made to myself as I approached the bottom of my crash in October. I took a break. I rested. I slept. I played computer games. I blogged, but only if I felt like it.
It was glorious.
Where We Go From Here
If you made it all the way through this post, you have my thanks. It turned out to be much longer than I imagined. In fact, it took me almost a week to write. When I first took a look back at 2014, scattered around my twitter and diary, I became so overwhelmed I almost chickened out of writing this recap. I’m glad I didn’t. Because after looking back at the year properly, remembering all the good parts and acknowledging the less good ones, I can say that it was a good year.
Not an easy year, no. Not always a happy year. A year that took its toll on my mental health and finances. A year that strained my relationships. A year that challenged my faith – in the divine, the human, and in myself.
But is it a year that I would’ve scrapped from my personal history, given chance? No. A thousand times no. And therefore, it is a good year.
I finished the first novel that I have some real confidence in. I created art together with the one person I hope to always be creating with (and now the man who inspired me to become an artist owns a piece of that art). I exhibited my work at a comic convention. I got to impress a handful of the people I look up to, however briefly.
And I added two droplets of golden light to my personal crystal vial of… hope, I guess. Because if I could describe my feeling for 2015 in one word, it would be ‘hopeful’. And if I could be so presumptuous as to give you advice, that would be it. Hope. Hope always.
It’s not easy, I know. That is why you must preserve the moments that shine the brightest, keep them fresh in your mind and close to your heart, ready to shine again for you when you need them most. Remember how you feel in those fleeting seconds when all is good in the world – and keep remembering. Forget places, forget faces, forget words, but never forget the feeling. And when you feel like your hope is fading, turn towards the light in your memory.
Happy holidays. Let 2015 be your most hopeful year yet.