Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Costuming a Costume Shop

I tell stories. I sell fireworks. I dance as a mascot. I entertain while being painted on. I write. I make and sell jewelry. I paint. I teach archery. I throw axes and knives. I jump at every new opportunity to gain or practice skills I learn.

The opportunity arose to run the Costume Shop for a Halloween Event. I tell horror stories and dark fantasy tales. I love entertaining but sometimes, an opportunity offers you a sideways path. I will have time to work on my podcasts and edit stories for publication through Kindle and Amazon later this year- in time for Halloween.

For now. Setting up a Costume shop to sell costumes every friday and saturday until Halloween. We reached Muskogee and headed to the faire site. The Costume Shop was empty and full of dust. Matt, Omar and I spent two days putting up pegboards and determining the structural backbone of the shop. Where would the registers go? How many workers? Where and how to display costumes, masks, accessories, make up and the many things that make a shop successful?
And what ideas for marketing and enhancing awareness of deals and location? What new products can we add to meet the needs and interests of our patrons? How to find out?
What do we already have to work with?
Mind you, once this shop is set up there is still the Mask Shop, LED light up shop, Halloween Shop, and the Gift Shop to clean, set up, order items and set up displays. One thing at a time. Omar has the lion's share on his shoulders from hiring employees to working with them on displays and ordering. I will be doing a lot of support in set up, cleaning, and helping new workers learn how to be effective at sales without being overbearing. Subtle. Supportive. Listening. Educating. Brainstorming. I am the Straw Boss, or since it is Halloween time I suppose I am the Scarecrow.

One task at a time. The three of us walked down the center of the long, dark warehouse full of cardboard boxed dreams made real. Silly bits and pieces of fantasy that have been waiting on a shelf for someone to cry out "That IS just what I wanted!" Where to start? The rows of wigs? The prosthetic wounds? Several latex masks leered at us, daring us to try to pick a single place to start from.

We started with the pegboards. We set dowel spikes into framework around the displays to spike the heads of our styrofoam enemies, their blank stares waiting apathetic to the different wigs and masks we placed on them. Since we started with the spikes and heads, like the most enthusiastic warlords in history, we started with facial hair and wigs. Vlad the Impaler had a beard. Also, the area for the wigs and masks was at the farthest left hand corner of the shop. Men's wigs were sorted from Women's wigs. They were all sorted by type and each package was dusted and placed like a stocking at Christmas in the hopes that the patrons eyes will sparkle and dance when they find them. Glow in the dark wigs. Curly wigs. Red spiral wigs. Clown wigs. Mullets. Santa and Jesus watched from their packaging as I put a saloon girl wig on the peg next to them. Vampire women's wigs dark with mystery contrasted with the purple go go wigs and bright pink long curly wigs below. Fantasy. Horror. Blonde. Red hair. Brown hair. Streaked. Striped. Tipped. Lovely. Wild. Short. Long. Super long. Accessories for wigs and hair were next. Mustaches from the Walrus to the Handlebar, pirate to 70's dude and beards galore were sorted and arranged.
Latex masks of monsters mixed with old geezers and Angry Birds. Sorting was a constant task. Was there a matching moving jaw for that werewolf mask? Should we hang the clowns and werewolves together? Do the Deep Ones deserve their own peg or should they share with the rotting blue monsters? The detailed, high end Don Post masks were debated. Should they get their own area or should they mix in and bring the whole place to a scarier level?
Boxes emptied. We kept running back for one more box of this or that, only to return with another three or four pallets full of boxes to sort, dust and add to the displays.
Children and Tween costumes and accessories were next. Tween is a term for in-between girls. There are no goods for Tween boys, but we groaned and sorted the teal, pink, skulls all with black into a respectable display for the girls who are dying to be part of Fiend High or Hello Goth Kitty.
Baby peanut costumes went next to Baby Scrawny Lions and little Monkeys. Magicians, soldiers, fairies, mermaids, princesses, doctors, vampires, witches, zombies, cowboys and various other possible choices went up as we worked our way toward the center of the shop.
Where should we put the capes and robes? The Inflatable costumes? Should LED capes and costumes have their own area? Which adult costumes should face the infants and toddlers section?  Where do we want the hard mask display? Do I have room to do a Superhero display as we have the masks?
Do we have skin suits? Oh, here they are, buried under the fat suits, fake butts and boobs. Great, lets display them in the same area. How funny would it be to wear a skin suit with a fake set of boobs and a fake bottom? I may have to try that out one night. Which costumes do I want to use on displays facing the street? What do I want to set up and encourage patrons to take selfies with to tag themselves and their location on Facebook? Marketing is important and something fun to get a selfie with is a great way to motivate public free promotion. Thinking. Ideas flowing and moving projects forward one step at a time. Write them down for later, so I don't forget them.
What about a line of high quality make up? What about better hats? Steampunk? Plus Sizes? And I am burying the Indian Beauties in the Warehouse. Not displaying or selling them as I just don't agree with them existing. There are other costumes to put out that can take those spots. The creepy clown. The Mariachi Mamacita.
We decided the adult versions of whimsical kid's costumes would face the children's section while the racier Ring Mistress, Flappers, Pin Up Girls, Grecian Goddesses, and their Mobsters, seductive vampires and other costumes that made you think about hot dates or cold showers went in the center isle right up the middle. Facing the masks and wigs, across from the prosthetics and make up we decided to put up the horror masks, horror movie themed costumes, steampunk and victorian mixing with Wicked Wonderland and Wicked Neverland. Adding Wicked means the skirts are very short and the depicted women practically steam the packing with their honeyed gaze. Promising orgasms to those who don the dress. The Men's Wicked costumes are monstrous or bestial, exciting their date by the apparent danger in walking arm in arm with one of these villains.
I stared at the bucket of brooms and plastic pitchforks. Accessories. I kept worrying about finding leggings and gloves. Then we found the goldmine in the closest row of the warehouse. Crisscross, fishnet, thigh high, lace, colors to match the fantasy of choice. Fake eyelashes. Wings. Cat ears and mouse ears on models in corsets and panties. For a moment, I wondered if that was included then laughed at the obvious advertising hook. Buy the ears, be the vixen. Buy the ears because of the vixen. One size fits all. Gloves from the theatrical whites to long opera length black, even some with silver spiders dancing up and down the sleeves. Wings for children. Wings for babies. Costumes for dogs. Check.
What are we missing? We started perusing wholesale websites today. I started a list. Unicorn horns. Hats. Novel Knee Socks from zebra striped to heart covered, so you can wear your hearts around your ankles with your panties after a great halloween party. Goggles. Hologram eye monster masks. Zombie baby puppets. Airbrush make up sets and tools. Fake swords, bloody daggers, axes, chains, body parts, rats, spiders, ravens, shoulder parrots. Plus sized tights. Tutus. Adult reversible capes. More styrofoam heads for more masks to be out staring down patrons, searching for the perfect mind to stretch around, the personality that wants to borrow theirs for a while.
The counters got added. The fake wounds and the realization we need more. More fake gashes, hooked noses, high end costume contact lenses and vampire teeth. The glow in the dark ones are placed with the cheap vampire make up kit, next to the vampire wigs. Groupings bloomed as bits and pieces went up.
What do we do with all these 80s bangles and elastic Egyptian armbands? For now they sit reproachful on the floor watching as we add tables to put the clown hats, top hats, witches hats and whatever other hats we order on. The feather boas are carefree. Rainbow feathers dancing in the breeze watching as the displays come together and holes fill up with products.
I will have two people working with me, each at different ends of the store. Jessica, who is energetic and does amazing hair styles in her own business during the day. Jessica will be working with wigs, prosthetics, make up and fielding questions and sales on the left. My other helper is a sweet teenager who will be fielding childrens, tweens, and questions on the right. I will be stirring the pot, wandering the floor. Helping people put their concepts into costuming reality as a part of a three person team.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Always Never Trap

Stress can be good or bad. Eustress is the fancy dress up name for positive stress. Getting a promotion, planning a vacation, versus negative stress which we all know about and occasionally shake our fists and frown at.
Stress adds up. Emotional stress is subtle. It can be corrosive. You are juggling a million things and then someone says something or does something that hits you wrong. You have a day or week where things seem to slip rather than fit.
You find yourself in the all or nothing trap unaware that you've hit the spiky bottom.
Hurting yourself through internal overly critical black and white assessments that inaccurately represent you or how those around you perceive you.
Emotions in the way of neutral accurate perception. Everything is wonderful becomes everything is terrible and why am I alive? I can do anything becomes I am a total failure. Stop. Stop right there.
You are wrong about something. You are not a total failure. You can choose to step back, let go of the pain and self defeating internal dialogue. Reach out and communicate. Get reality checks from healthy supports. Take a walk. Work on a pet project. Do something for someone else. I think of the over 60p.people who participated in the 5K Zombie Run for a local children's charity in Muskogee. Laughing, dressing up as zombies and in fun rainbow ridiculous running tutus and seizing life as they dodged the zombies and helped a charity. Nobody there was always or never, all or nothing. I listened to runners cheer each other on, watched groups encourage and support each other as they aimed to try to 'survive to the finish line.'

Find something that gets you laughing and takes you out of your internal self trap. Put things back in perspective.
Remember your accomplishments, the goals you are working on and what you are working toward. Give yourself a break.
Be aware of your language internal and external. Absolutes are absolutely the last thing that belong in healthy self talk.
Start watching for signs of the sneaky trap. What triggers do you have that set it up? Lack of sleep, anxiety, vitamin or mineral deficiency, social isolation, finances, communication issues, emotional scars that flare up?
When you catch yourself slipping, how can you change how you say? Take ownership and problem solve. When this happens I feel like ---. Communicate with those around you "I am feeling rough today, and ask for help."
Do not assume no one has time for you. Do not assume no one cares. Do not assume you are worthless or a failure. Do not assume!!!
If you aren't communicating clearly- even if all you can manage is to say "I am in a bad head space" or "I am not communicating well" people are wrapped up in their own life juggling and may not catch the silent signs to reach out to you. Whatever has hit the all or nothing switch- although it feels insurmountable, it will pass and eventually it will be small and ridiculous in the rearview mirror of your life.

For today, take care of you. Attend to how you talk to yourself and what words you use in dialogue with yourself and those you love.
Quit beating yourself up over life lessons and focus on the reasons you can choose to smile and grow. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Living in a Country of Glass Houses

Several beautiful friends have written elegant Facebook posts to raise awareness and empower the greater community facing derision and furtive attacks from folks who feel the Slingshot of Judgment will somehow sanctimoniously get them some sort of reward. I remind myself often that you cannot make someone who chooses to be blind and deaf to reality change. You can offer perspective and hope that it hits a chord.
So today, I write this ballad.
Years ago I volunteered on the county's mental health crisis hotline. I was the lone professional stooping down to offer my free time at first. I took a call from a girl who knew she was a girl except there was a piece that did not belong. She thought she was broken, that something was wrong with her. She had tried cutting it off. My heart broke for her. I gently explained transgender. I was the first person to tell her the only wrong thing was her body goofing up its sexually expressed genes. She became less distraught as we talked, realizing that she wasn't a freak or alone. That she could have support and go through medical treatment to get the piece that didn't belong removed, that she was one of many that deal with transgender reality. When I went to the monthly meeting for volunteers it was eye opening. They had stood by outdated value systems until I went over that call. Regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs- every volunteer understood where that caller was coming from, none of them wanted any human being to feel so outcast or alone. They all listened. Transgender was new to them. After that call, that tiny county changed how it handled calls. I never knew anything about her except her voice. I hope she's smiling and that her world isn't a dark one anymore- it never should have been.
Going back further, back to when I was six. I was rambunctious. I was a small child. I loved swinging wildly on my great grandmother's macrame plant holders. I collided with the corner of a wooden table. I was in the emergency room, they had just done stitches. A teenage neighbor, a strong girl, she was there too. I had just been released from restraints. I was still in fight and panic mode. She calmed me down. She was a role model in a life full of screwed up ones. She looked sad. I saw she had just gotten stitches too. On her wrists. I asked what happened. Her mother cut in and said she broke a glass washing dishes and it sliced both wrists. Odd that the cuts were neat. Odd that the girl had an expression that shouted the words were a lie. I understood. My mom made up shit all the time. CPS was the boogeyman she would terrorize me with.  People acted like there was something wrong with the girl. The same people who begged for lies and platitudes. The ones who chose to see the two mothers as shining stars rather than scrutinizing the abandonment and emotional abuse beneath. Our struggles were different but we sat there islands that for a moment were not alone.
Years later, I heard she went to Canada and married her girlfriend. Last time I saw her she had smile lines. I hope she is still smiling.
Working in mental health I walked through the hearts and minds of those broken and struggling to find a reason, struggling for balance.
The refrain is the words of Little Billy, whose parents sexually, emotionally, and physically abused him. "I just want to help people. I want to be worth something. I want to save them. I want them to look at me and see a hero when they needed one." The hero he never had but imagined and wished for. I understand why Baum wrote Wizard of Oz. Billy was my Dorothy. His fractures could never fully heal due to limited IQ. It did not stop him from trying. He never quite understood how he was a hero to some of us on staff. He could never defeat his demons, born with both hands tied genetically behind his back. If he is still alive, he is still trying.
If only we all had his fortitude.
People shout judgements at each other. Slap labels and toss derogatory jokes like grenades with the surprised "why are you offended" reaction when you call them on it. Why aren't we teaching tolerance, empowerment, and cooperative team building? Empathy is in a drought, hate is the scent on the wind.
Who pays the price?
Unfortunately, the stones get thrown wily nily based on Memes and attention seeking headline teasers. Shots of venom to cloud the judgement; first round is always free. You pay the price in integrity.
Today, take a moment. Let go of stones. If you are going to pick up a stone instead of throwing it, try rock sculpture or perhaps putting it gently back down in respect for the millions who struggled with their personal demons and lost. The suicides. The victims of hate crimes. The victims of senseless violent crimes. Those who fought against diseases and were defeated.
For them, reach out and be open to caring for the amazing people fighting battles in their heads you have no right to judge. They are the stars that shine in my sky that inspire me to connect and keep reaching.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Looking for Lincoln

This morning we headed into the heart of Springfield Illinois, with the intent of visiting the Lincoln Library. We parked and discovered many historical Lincoln related sites that begged for exploration. Looking for Lincoln plaques dotted the historic districts, giving tidbits of Lincoln and Springfield history. We walked the block and went up the steps of the Lincoln house. The wooden plank walkway outside the Lincoln house had caution tape as bright as goldenrods waving gently in the breeze. First glance had me thinking of crime scene tape. A tour seemed impersonal, we wanted to find Lincoln not a gaggle of restless tourists fidgeting with selfies. He was not home.

We wandered through the Lincoln Public Library then walked over to the actual Lincoln Presidential Library. Without anything we specifically wanted to research we instead admired the neat shelves of research materials. There was a detailed exhibit of the Lincoln funeral train procession. Still no Abe.

We decided on the Lincoln Museum next, with gregarious staff and 3D holographic displays it had impressive and eye catching sights. We chuckled watching a modern style news broadcast on the 1860 election that even had fake "paid for by" campaign commercials and other news including Pasteur spouting off quackery about invisible things he called germs. The most impressive aspect of the museum for me was the political cartoons attacking Lincoln throughout his political career. There was foreshadowing in the many starkly monochrome depictions of him as a circus performer and theatrical caricature. I pondered the slanted frames and shadowed images thinking about his eventual demise.
There were many aspects of his life that were on display, but many that were left with just a hint of information.

Lincoln and the Blackfoot. The conspiracy theories. The other other Confederate sympathizers that were arrested and charged with treason in relation to Lincoln's death. Lincoln and the Todd family conflicts over banking. Lincoln versus the banks. Everything was about his life from rail splitting to possible sweethearts; with strong emphasis on abolition as his burning goal in life which contrasted with his own words in later exhibits. It was excellent but lacking in some of the depth we had hoped for, while full of patriotic emotionally evocative music and lighting. It was impressive but we did not feel like we found Lincoln there.

We headed to Union Station which has a display with items from the set of the movie Lincoln. Interesting but Union Station itself seemed more intriguing. We left restless, no Lincoln yet. Now the informational Looking for Lincoln signs seemed to jeer and taunt in the stifling afternoon. Lincoln once walked the same streets with local kids tying string across the street to knock his hat off his head, a favorite prank, but it was hard to picture unless he played along and pretended not to see the string to hear the children wildly laugh as he picked up the hat.

We regrouped having lunch at a local microbrewery owned by the Conn family, close friends of the Lincolns. It was refreshing, the perogies being our favorite part of the meal.

We headed to the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. We walked in and I noticed a sign to silence phones. As I silenced my phone something the volunteer said brought a laugh bubbling out that carried down and through the square hallway. There. In that moment as my eyes took in the words requesting respectful quiet while my laugh still echoed I could see Lincoln smiling. A sharp mind who appreciated sharp wit, who fought melancholy through quips and jokes. A man criticized for approaching serious situations with humor intact. I laughed at the entry of the tomb and it carried and echoed through the loop. It might have been the first laugh in his presence since the moment before his assassination. I did not laugh again but I was glad that I had.

That sound was where Lincoln dwelled.