Sharing Your Vision

Published on June 10, 2017 by   ·   No Comments

JAD Promo 01I have to admit that after 5 years of hard work and determination, of shameless self-promotion, of setbacks and technical struggles, I am so proud and humbled by what we’ve been able to accomplish here at the World of Champagne.  The website is still going strong and producing new content regularly, and we recently launched the very first installment of my new podcast, Janessa After Dark (available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher – see, the self-promotion never really stops!).  It’s been a lot of work and it’s been a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t have gotten here without some really fabulous people.  They’re going to get their own moment a little later on.

First, I want to talk to you: the person who is reading this and thinking that you have an idea or a perspective that you want to share with the world but you don’t know how to get started.  There are always reasons to put it off or say “Maybe later…”  Trust me, I’ve thought of and employed all of them.  Jumping into something new can be exciting but it can also be scary.  Jumping into something very personal where you share your story and your perspectives is doubly intimidating because it forces you to be vulnerable.  If you don’t show the soft, squishy parts of yourself to the world, the world can’t hurt you, right?  Maybe…but doesn’t it hurt more not to share?  Not to be truthful?  Not to express how and what you feel, who you are?  It took me a long time and a lot of missed opportunities to get there, but I realized that the risks of being vulnerable were worth it.

So what is this post all about?  I wouldn’t be where I am today without a lot of help, and so I want to share some of my “secrets” for those who might be thinking about a similar adventure (blog, podcast, YouTube channel…whatever!) but are intimidated by the work and the technical aspects.  Some of these are simple tricks I use to keep this site up to date, some are related to the podcast, and some are just little tidbits.  It’s not going to be very organized (though being organized is one of the tricks!), but hopefully you’ll find something useful in here.  If you don’t have any sort of creative venture planned, you might find some interesting “behind the scenes” info here or you might just choose to sit this one out and come back for the next article.  I promise, I won’t judge.

DeserveBefore we get to the technical stuff, there’s a little bit of self-helpy stuff we have to get through first.  Before you get started on whatever project or dream it is you want to pursue, the first thing you need to do is decide that you deserve it.  That doesn’t mean you’re entitled to it; that’s a totally different thing (and something I’ll talk about later).  But you have to really believe that you deserve to pursue whatever it is you’re thinking about taking on.

For some people, that comes easily; not so much for me.  I’ve talked in previous blogs about my struggles with depression, and about how bad my depression had gotten when my marriage ended in November of 2011.  But I’m not sure I’ve ever really said how close I came to not pursuing this dream, or any other.  On Saturday, November 5, I was in Bismarck for a Dakota Divas show.  I love performing and drag has gotten me through some pretty rough times but even that show couldn’t lift me up out of the depths I was in.  On Sunday, November 6, I drove back home to my house in Grand Forks.  I got home in the evening and I was so bone-deep weary that I sat down on the couch and cried.  I cried hard, sobbing until I ached and my throat was sore.  I didn’t even know what was wrong with me, but I knew that I couldn’t stand to be in that place (physically, emotionally, spiritually) much longer.  I stopped crying long enough to go outside to my garage, open the door, and look at the things being stored inside.  I took an inventory of everything I saw, and in my mind I was furiously calculating: did I have enough time to take enough things out and throw them in the yard so that I could drive in and shut the door, and would I be able to accomplish it before my husband got home from work.  Whether it was one last glimmer of survival instinct or a realistic assessment, I decided that I didn’t have time so I shut the door, went back inside, cried a little more, and went to bed.

On Tuesday, November 8, my husband told me that he didn’t think we should be together anymore.

I was hurt and angry and upset, but a part of me understood; I didn’t want to be around me any longer either.  That’s why I was standing in front of an open garage door in the middle of winter trying to find a way out.  I had given up on myself.  I wasn’t pursuing anything, or dreaming anything.  I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

BlessingsOnce my marriage was over and I was sifting through the rubble, I came to a realization: I could either wallow in self-pity and focus on how everything had fallen down, or I could decide that there were lessons here and I could use those to build things up stronger and better than before.  I knew that I didn’t like where I was, and I knew that I couldn’t survive that way; despite my own frequent efforts to the contrary, I have always been a survivor so I decided to take the path that led me painfully but steadily forward.  That’s not an easy choice to make, and I don’t fault anyone who has faced that choice and backed down; I had walked away from that choice many, many times in the past and that is what brought me to despair, and that is a big part of why the only way forward was without the relationship I was in – because while I was in that relationship, I had convinced myself that I didn’t deserve anything better.

You have to believe that you deserve it.  That you deserve to have good things in your life.

Once you believe, you have to want it.  And once you want it, you need to earn it.

Here’s where we have to have a sort of sticky conversation about entitlement.  There is so much of it around, the air practically drips with it.  Everyone blames it on the millenials, and while I throw my fair share of shade at that group I think it’s something that has seeped into the culture as a whole: people don’t think they need to work to achieve something.  I could go on a rant about popular culture and reality television and how everyone thinks they’re the next Kim Kardashian and all they need in order to have fame and fortune showered on them is to sign up for an InstaGram account, but I won’t…at least, not any more than that sentence.  But I will say that there are many different kinds of luck and fortune and happy circumstances out there, but if you rely on those to achieve something, you have little to no chance of success.  Most of us only get what we get because of hard work and sweat and blood and tears.  You deserve good things, but you don’t deserve to just have them handed to you.

Dream WorkYou need to show up as much as you can and give as much as you can.  I’m not going to say show up every single day and give absolutely everything, because I know that isn’t realistic; while you build your dreams, you also have to live in the world!  But give what energy you can, when you can, and I think you’ll be surprised what kinds of things can come from that.  If you step away, make sure it’s for self-care and not out of fear.  If you’re a performer and it’s your first or second time out, don’t throw a tantrum if everyone doesn’t jump to their feet after your performance to applaud, or stuff your padded bosom with sweaty cash.  If you didn’t get the reaction you wanted, work harder.  Put more effort and time into your performances.  Put more of your heart in.  Try it again and see what works; if you still don’t get the reaction you want, then try again.  Work harder.  If you pushed yourself up to your limit, decide if you can live with that limit and if you can’t you’d better figure out a way to push past it.  You have to want it, and then you have to earn it.

I really like Iliza Schlesinger, and I think what she says about respect is spot on: you have to command respect, not demand it, and there is a difference.

Demanding respect is something people do when they don’t want to work for it.  They complain that the world isn’t fair: that judge was friends with one of the other contestants, that magazine only publishes work by people they already know, that music label doesn’t know anything about real talent.  Those are all things we tell ourselves when we want a specific thing and we don’t get it.  I wanted that title, so if you got it then there must have been something shady going on.  That’s what happens when we put too much concrete about exactly what it is we deserve.

Earn ItThere is a difference between feeling that we deserve a loving, supportive relationship that fulfills and sustains us, and feeling that we deserve to have that specific person and they have to love us unconditionally.

There is a difference between feeling that we deserve to be recognized as a talented performer, and deciding that we deserve that particular crown or title, that specific award, that specific recognition.

There are the goals we have and there are the things we want, and only one of those two is usually connected with the greatest good for ourselves and our potential.

Commanding respect is about placing the focus on who we are and how we conduct ourselves in the world.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t enter contests or submit things for review; what it means is that before you do you put in the work to make yourself a worthy contender, you submit with integrity, and you decide that you will be at peace with whatever the outcome.  Pageants and contests only have one winner.  Magazines only publish so many pieces of content.  There are only so many plaques and statues that are given out.  If your sense of worth requires – demands – to be validated by those token objects, then you never really decided that you deserved it.  You decided that you were entitled to it.

Meryl Streep has been nominated for more Oscars than any other actor ever.  Think about how many actors lost a spot in the nominations every time Streep’s name was announced.  They can rage and say it isn’t fair and snark that the Academy must have some secret rule requiring them to nominate her.  Or they can keep putting in the work, honing their craft, and try to earn their spot on the ballot.  And if they don’t, they have to decide if they did their best work and are proud of what they produced even without a nomination.  Meryl Streep keeps popping up because she knows that she deserves to benefit from her hard work, so she works hard and she earns it.  And when she loses (which happens more often than not – remember that with her 20 nominations she has only three wins) she doesn’t stomp out of the ceremony, or badmouth the winner, or moan to the press about how she was robbed.  She is at peace with whatever happens, and on the next project she works just as hard as the last.  She commands respect because she gives herself to her work and doesn’t accept less than her best work.

Alright, now that we’re through the hug and cry and learn and grow section, let’s get some practical advice flowing.

The first thing you need to do is have a clear idea of what it is that you want to do and how you want to do it.  Is it a blog?  A podcast?  A one-queen show?  A line of handmade home goods?  What is that creative dream that’s been bubbling around inside you, and what’s the best way for it to come out?

Once you have an idea of that, it’s time for the tricky part: the how.

One suggestion I have is to look at the people surrounding you – what skills do they have that you could learn from them to help you be successful?  Is one of your friends a blogger?  Maybe they could help you find a blogging site or community that fits with what you want to talk about.  Also think about what skills you have to offer in exchange.  It’s great to help a friend out (I said it above and I’ll repeat it a few more times before this post is over – I’d be nowhere without help from my friends!), but if you are always taking and never giving anything back you’re going to probably see the list of people willing to help you dwindle.  Remember – everyone else has their own dreams and they are having to put energy and work into it.  If they are helping you, they may be taking time and energy away from their own pursuits (unless their dream is to help creative people get their projects off the ground!) so if you can help them in a reciprocal way, they will usually show some appreciation.  Remember, it’s good if someone will help you one time, but it’s even better if they’ll help you again the next time, and the next time, and again the next time.  Don’t take advantage of their generosity.

And don’t be upset if someone has to say no.  We’ve all been in that weary, worn down place where we just can’t take on one more project even if we want to.  Thank them for the honest answer, and respect their boundaries.  They will appreciate you not pushing, and they may be more likely to help you out at a future time.  Building up good karma is never a bad idea!

NetworkNetwork!  There are lots of people out there who are on the same journey as you, and you can share ideas and learn things by meeting them and talking about your various pursuits.  There are so many people who live in fear that someone is out there just waiting to steal their “big idea.”  Not that those kinds of things can’t happen, but most of the time no one is as invested in your ideas and your concept as you are!  And by talking about it and bouncing it around with other creative people, you might actually improve it!

And just like with your circle of friends, it’s just as important (if not moreso!) to have something to offer.  Don’t use people, or you will quickly find your avenues for networking closing down before they’ve even begun.  I can’t stress this enough: everyone has their own goals and pursuits, and everyone has a finite amount of time and resources.  If you ask for something, make sure you have something to give in return.  You’d be surprised how much a little cross-promotion can mean!  If you’re willing to promote someone else’s project, they will be more likely to promote yours.  If you are handing out promotional materials, don’t monopolize people’s time and don’t do it with any specific expectation.  That’s very important, no matter what the “product” is that you’re promoting, whether it’s a physical item, a creative outlet, or yourself as a performer.  It’s one thing to say, “Here have this thing!  I hope you like it!  If you do, I would really appreciate it if you would consider visiting the website and give us your honest thoughts!”  It’s a very different thing to say, “Hey, I’ll give you this thing if you promise that you’ll go to the website and leave a glowing review.”  The second one feels…icky.  Like a one night stand at a Pride event, things are better without strings attached!

Never DoneWatch YouTube videos.  Not where you thought this was going, right?  But I’m serious!  If there is something you think you can’t possibly accomplish, I promise you there are probably a dozen or more tutorials to watch!  There are even YouTube videos about how to make YouTube videos!  I can’t believe how much time I wasted convincing myself that I could never do a podcast, that I wasn’t savvy enough, that I’d never be able to figure out the technology.  While convincing myself that I could do it (and that I deserved it) took a couple of years, with the recommendation of a free software program from my friend Natalina and three or four online tutorials about how to use that program, I recorded and edited my first episode in a few days.  I’m not kidding.  Then I watched a couple more videos and I figured out how to open a SoundCloud account and how to apply for iTunes and Stitcher.  I learned how to find my RSS feed…and what the hell an RSS feed was!  I figured out how to convert my Audacity file to MP3.  All of those things I spent years…YEARS…telling myself I couldn’t do, I was doing more quickly and efficiently than I ever imagined possible.  And unlike asking friends or connections in my network, I was able to do on my own time and at my own pace.

This is related to networking, and probably should have come before now: learn about your art/craft.  If are a performer, watch other performers.  Watch videos about preparing for your performance, about creating things for your performance.  If you want to be a blogger, read blogs.  See what people are doing, how they organize them, how they organize their content on their site, how they lay out the content visually.  If you want to do a podcast, listen to podcasts.  If you have a chance to meet podcasters, do so and ask them questions.  I was very excited when I saw that Days of the Dead Atlanta in February has a “blue track” of workshops all about independent, creative production: how to do “haunt acting” at haunted house attractions, a panel of indie filmmakers, and how to be a podcaster.  That panel, “So you want to do a podcast,” is part of what finally lit my fire and convinced me that it was possible.  If you want to do something, there is probably someone (and likely MANY someones!) who is already out there doing it – find them, and ask them how they did it.  Ask them to share tips and tricks,  Ask them for advice.  Creative people love to share, so you’ll be surprised by what kind of responses you might get.

DetoursBe organized.  This is the one I struggle with the most, and it’s the reason I am not faster and better at what I’m doing!  Don’t be afraid to plan, to make notes or an outline.  If you’re a blogger, don’t think your first draft has to be your last draft.  Make a plan and follow through.  On the flip side of that, never be a slave to the plan; if you’re working on something and you feel your juices flowing and suddenly everything veers to the left…then fucking GO LEFT!  Creativity is a process, and we are constantly learning and growing while we’re in the midst of it.  Just because you thought you knew the destination when you started doesn’t mean you have to end up there; I find that the best pieces I produce change and evolve as I’m making them.  But starting out with a plan makes those moments of inspiration that much easier to capture without getting lost.  And if you follow a new possibility and it doesn’t pan out…well, you’ve always got that original map to go back to!

Learn the shortcuts, and figure out what’s interesting to know vs. what you need to know.  For example, Audacity is the program I use for recording the commentary on my podcasts.  There are certain things about that program I need to know: how to cut, how to reduce noise, how to splice two tracks together, how to save the file as an MP3.  There are also a ton of cool features and effects that can give me some bells and whistles.  I’m slowly learning about them, and I anticipate I’ll be working more and more of them into future episodes, but if I had waited until I knew every feature and effect before I got started, I’d still be staring at the menu screen.

In terms of shortcuts, see if there are things you can do more easily without compromising the quality.  One example I use all the time, now that I use my cellphone camera for most of the product and swatch images in the Makeup Forum is to upload the photos to Facebook.  When you make a post, you can set the privacy to “Only Me,” upload all of the pics into an album, and then go to your computer and access them on your wall.  When I’m done, I just delete that album and no one even knows what happened.  I never had to figure out how to connect my phone to my computer or email them to myself.  This one has saved me so much time!  Sometimes I even leave the albums public, and use them as a little teaser to promote the post I’m working on!

The next two go together:

Don’t be afraid to ask for things, but don’t be upset if the answer is no.

Don’t ever expect anything for free, and if you do get things for free make sure you show your appreciation.

NobodyThere was a cosmetics company I discovered through a YouTube video that I loved; they made gorgeous glitters and I was in sparkle heaven!  They have so many shades and textures and sizes, it boggles the mind!  I knew I wanted to order from them, and I knew I wanted to do some giveaways for their products.  I wrote to them, explaining that I was a drag queen and a blogger, and I was starting a new section on my site all about makeup and was interested in featuring some of their products in a review and giveaway.  I inquired about the possibility of a discount for a large order; I made it clear that I wanted to order more than a dozen of their glitters, and I made it clear that I was going to place the order whether or not they had a discount available.  I was ready to follow through on that, because I really was interested in their brand.  The owner herself let me know that there was a 30% discount for “professionals” and that she loved drag queens!  She even offered to comp my order.  I told her that I would be more than happy to accept any freebies she wanted to include (you know a bitch doesn’t turn down NOTHING that’s free!) but that I liked supporting independent makeup brands and that I wanted to pay for my order; since she gave me the discount, I even added a few more things to my order to push the total closer to what I had originally budgeted.  And when I got those items, I promoted the hell out of them!  I did a glowing review of the products (which was super easy, because the glitters really are amazing!) and I have done a few different giveaways.  When the glitters moved into Sephora, the owner sent me quite a few of the kits to use in more giveaways, and she sent me the holographic glitters that debuted on Beautylish with an order that I placed.  She even agreed to a Skype interview and spent more than two hours talking to me and answering my questions (I’m still devastated that the audio from that interview was “eaten” by my old computer and was never featured in the Makeup Forum).  She was absolutely wonderful, and I never would have had any of the opportunities I had with that brand if I hadn’t asked the question, and if I hadn’t decided that I was committed to my plan to support them regardless of what their answer to my question was.

When I began researching brands for the Black Owned Makeup Brand challenge, on every order that I placed if there was a comment box I told them that I was preparing to do the BOMB challenge and that I appreciated the YouTubers who put this challenge out there because I was discovering new brands that I might not have found otherwise (living my sheltered life out here on the prairie!).  One brand, Vault Cosmetics, included a free lip product with my order and the owner sent me a thank you for giving the brand a chance.  The owners of two other brands, IVIVIIV Cosmetics and Gold Label Cosmetics both sent me personal emails thanking me for including the note and for trying out their products.  I reached out and asked each of the owners a few questions about their brands, and they both answered and were very open and accepting.  We live in a consumer world where people just make demands: I want my item and I want it now!  People rarely reach out and just ask questions without wanting something, without some specific gain or goal in mind.

Sometimes you’ll ask the question and the answer will be know, or you won’t get an answer at all.  And you have to be ok with that.  There is nothing wrong with asking the question, but don’t just try to get something for free.  Make sure you let them know why you’re asking and what they have to gain.  People get requests for freebies all the time, and there have been tons of stories on YouTube about “beauty gurus” pitching fits or cutting off brands that don’t give them free stuff.  Give them a sense of the perceived value for them in your request and make it clear that you support them no matter what the answer is; I think you’ll be surprised by the results.

Nobody CaresDon’t take advantage of your connections.  This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I’ve started to attend some horror conventions and have built some relationships with other creative people and performers.  Many of the people I’ve met at these cons are more than just “contacts,” they are also friends.  And as a friend, it’s important to me that I honor their creative work as much as I do my own.  If I stop by a table to get a signed picture, I know that in addition to adding it to my personal collection I’m also going to post it on my website so you’d better believe I’m going to pay for that photo.  As a fellow performer and creator, I understand that this work is hard and it can be hard to pursue those dreams and make a living so if I can contribute to that, even in a small way like buying a picture for 20 or 30 bucks, I’m going to do that.  If they throw in another picture for free or take a little discount off the top, I’ll accept it graciously, and I will show that appreciation when I can by promoting that person or their work.  Someone who gives you something free or gives you a discount is essentially taking money out of their wallet by doing so – don’t take that gesture for granted.

This post ended up being a lot different than I imagined it would be when I first started.  As we talked about before, that’s ok.  Creative work is a journey, and it’s wonderful adventure if you just stop stressing out about the destination.  But getting back to my original plan – I want to end this post by providing a little thanks and appreciation to the people who have really helped me out in one way or another with the website and the podcast and all of these other crazy dreams I’ve been pursuing.

First and foremost I have to thank Natalina, the one who read some of my blogs on MySpace and said, “Hey, why don’t I build you a website sometime?”  She put in a lot of work and time to building the site you’re reading right now, and she’s been hosting the site on her servers from the very beginning.  That’s something that normally isn’t free, and it’s allowed me to grow and expand this space with much less overhead and maintenance than if I were using a traditional hosting service.  There would be no World of Champagne without Natalina.

Golden HerosAnd without Angela, there probably wouldn’t be a Janessa to wrangle all of these projects at the World of Champagne.  She’s that friend who will come to the ER at 3:30 in the morning to make sure you’re not dying…and then agree to get rid of the porn before your mom gets there if you do.  She’s an unbelievably artistic person who enjoys sharing her creativity with others.  She will teach you how to do something, and if you do and it turns into something she will be the first person to celebrate your success with you.  She’s always willing to take on a new project and try to figure something out even if she’s never tried it before, and she’ll always pitch in a hand to help whether it’s moving a small hoard from one house to another or lugging costume changes at a photo shoot.  She’s the real deal; if you find a friend like her, don’t let her get away!

Mama Champagne has long given up being surprised by my shenanigans and she’s even managed to suppress most of her judgment when I talk about all of the expensive makeup I’ve been buying.  She’s always checking up on my creative exploits, commenting and providing encouragement.  It hasn’t always been an easy road, but she was always there when I needed her to be, whether I deserved it or not.  Love you, Mom!

Amy D has been a great friend and a wonderful addition to my “theatre family.”  I’ve had the honor of working with her on a couple of productions and seen firsthand her commitment to creating amazing art.  I’ve also seen how much love she has to give, and how free she is in giving it to anyone who needs it.

loyaltyI’m so honored and privileged to have worked with so many great drag performers, especially my drag daughters Sally Bowles and Kelly Coxsyn.  Seeing other accomplished performers inspires me and it makes me want to continually grow and improve; seeing new “baby queens” gives me hope for the future of this art.  Be careful with it – it’s a vital and important type of performance.  Kelly should get special recognition for all of the music mixing and poster designing she’s done for me – she can take the rattled ideas in my head and turn them into fabulous songs and amazing visuals!

Kathy from the Fire Hall has been an amazing supporter of mine for a long time, and she’s always finding ways to work in a loud, brassy drag queen to the projects she working on.  She’s also given me access to a space to try new types of performance and hosting to help me push my limits and grow.

Mark, my self-appointed PR guy, has been such an enthusiastic supporter and is always promoting shows and events.  It’s been such a treasure getting to know you, and please know that I appreciate all of the things you do that help make this business we call show a little easier.

The visual look of the World of Champagne is due in large part to the talent and hard work of photographer Miranda Roen.  She took a chance and offered a random drag queen a free photo session, and we’ve been making fabulous pictures ever since!

My friend Melanie usually lives far away from me (which I’m not entirely happy about) but when we do get together it’s like no time has passed at all.  We just fall back into it.  She’s always looking out for me and worrying about me, and she’s the one who got me introduced to the wonders of Wayne, America.

A big thank you to the community of performers and fans that I’ve met through the Days of the Dead Horror Conventions – thanks for not making me feel like a freak when I showed up in a dress.  Or rather, thanks for reminding me that we’re all freaks in our own way and that my freak is just as good as anybody else’s.  Especially thank you to all of the people who’ve presented panels and talks on how to be a kick ass creative independent in this mass produced world.  You rock!

Golden GirlsI am so thankful to all of the people who watch my Facebook Live videos and have encouraged them – you are one of the most important reasons that I’ve been looking to expand beyond this website and into other realms of content creation!  Thanks especially to Lauren and Sigrid for their enthusiastic support, and their occasional gifts of fabulous makeup to try out and use!  Your support is appreciated and in a world where there is the family you’re born with and the family you choose, I’m glad that you guys can be both!

And of course, to all of the groups and organizations through which I’ve been able to perform and develop my craft, past and present, living and dead: thanks for giving this bitch a job!

If I’ve forgotten anyone, I may add to this post as needed with my sincerest apologies for the oversight.

At the end of the day, the world is hard and we’re all just trying to make it through.  If you can help someone – do it.  If you need help, ask for it.  Let’s try to make this world a little bit more open, and a little bit more fun.

And finally, do what you do because you love it.  I still pay for almost every product I review in the Makeup Forum, and I love it.  I love it just as much now when the website is getting a few thousand hits a month as I did when my readership was mostly comprised of Mama Champagne and Angie.  It’s hard work, and you have to keep at it, but if you love it and put in the effort, whatever it becomes will always feel like success.

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