Creating Beautiful Art and Raising Money for a Great Cause Through #Inktober

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I’m a contestant in the Dancing with Our Stars fundraiser for the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.  As part of that, I am working to raise as much money as I can and have put together and incredible fundraising team of people from across the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  In late September, one member of my team, Kimberly Vlies, sent me a Facebook message that read,

I could draw ball point pen portraits of people for #Inktober. Proceeds to the team?

I, of course, had no idea what this meant.  I had no idea what #Inktober was and only sort of knew what she meant by ball point pen portraits.  What I knew was that (a) Kimberly is incredibly talented and (b) Kimberly has lots of great ideas.  So if she thought it would work, I was on board.

I did, however, go look up #Inktober.  And you know what?  It’s pretty great (learn more here: http://inktober.com/). Every October, artists from all over the world take the challenge by doing one ink drawing a day for 31 days.  It has spurred beautiful work, much of which can be seen on Twitter or Facebook, including this incredible series (near and dear to my heart as a psychologist) from Shawn Coss illustrating different forms of mental illness.

Kimberly’s idea was to draw ball point pen portraits by request for $15 each (or more when there were multiple people or it was otherwise more complicated).  She would draw either from photos that people submitted to her or from a live model when people were able to actually sit for the portrait.  She would do one a day, post the pictures to the Facebook page for the fundraiser, and the requester would get to keep the portrait.  Both Kimberly and I suspected that this fundraiser would be successful, but neither of us anticipated just how successful (more on that in a bit).

First, here’s a little bit about Kimberly.  She’s a graphic designer in the Marketing and Communication Office at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has two degrees, Graphic Communications and Spanish, from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, but she has been interested in art since she was in the 4th grade and learned that her artistic skills were several years ahead of her age.  She first learned about #Inktober through a friend, Ivan San Martin, a fellow artist she had met years earlier when she studied in Spain.  He posted his own #Inktober art on Facebook and she was inspired.

I was interested in giving it a try myself, but knew that coming up with a subject for daily practice would be difficult.  Years ago I got the idea to draw portraits as a part of a social media campaign from a guy who would snap photos of people he met at conferences, draw them and post their drawings to social media. People got a huge kick out of being tagged in their drawings and it generated social engagement.

The initial launch of our #Inktober fundraiser was really fun.  There happened to be a Red Cross Blood Drive on campus the day we wanted to kick things off so we launched the campaign with her first drawing from there.

And here she is actually drawing me.

I can tell you as a non-artist who appreciates art, this was really interesting.  She talked me through her process, explained the challenges, and told me how she became interested in art.  For example:

Drawing from life is more challenging because there is an additional step of translating 3-D information to 2-D. If my model moves, I move or I look out one eye or the other, the whole reference point changes and I have to do my best to recalibrate. There is an immediacy to it that forces me to capture the energy of gesture lines, rather than train my tunnel vision on exact details.

And from that, the #Inktober campaign took off.  The 31 slots filled up in no time.  People wanted portraits of their kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, and pets.  They requested them as gifts for their partners and parents.  Each day when we posted a portrait on the Facebook page, it got liked, shared, and received a host of positive comments.  Here are just a few of those wonderful portraits (including the ones she did of my kids; check here for the rest):

We had hoped to raise $500, but because so many people donated a little extra when they paid for their portraits, we ended up raising far more than that.  I asked Kimberly if she expected this sort of response:

I did not expect the response to be this overwhelmingly positive. I was better than 50% sure it would work. I figured we could find 31 people who would buy a drawing. I set the price low just in case it would be hard to find takers, and I wanted it to be accessible/affordable for anyone.

What was most surprising to me, though, wasn’t the success of the fundraiser.  It was her response when I asked her what was most challenging about the fundraiser.  I expected her to say the hardest part was finding the time to draw.  Instead, though, she pointed to the self-doubt doubt she feels when she sits down to draw.

Each time I pick up the pen, I am confronted with self-doubt. It doesn’t matter that I have a B.F.A. or that I’ve been drawing my entire life, I’m so afraid that I can’t do it. I have to convince myself that whatever I do will be ok and just proceed with the drawing. As I work on each drawing, I vacillate wildly between thinking I’m doing ok and thinking I’ve ruined the drawing beyond repair. When each drawing is done, I’m surprised with how well it turned out and it feels like somebody else did it.

I didn’t expect someone so talented to talk about self-doubt.  I also know, though, as a psychologist and emotion researcher that people find inspiration and motivation in a variety of ways.  For many, some anxiety is part of the creative process.

The money she raised will go to a great cause, one that is near and dear to her heart.  Kimberly is not only a great artist and wonderful friend, she’s a dedicated blood donor.

The American Red Cross has a special place in my heart because I have blood type O-, which means I’m the universal donor.  This means that in life-or-death situations, when there’s no time to evaluate blood type, they can grab a bag of my blood and know it won’t contain conflicting antigens.  Type O- blood makes up 7% of the population and I’m really proud that I can help save lives. The Red Cross is known for their blood drives, but they also do very important humanitarian work, like responding to disasters world-wide, vaccinating children in 3rd world countries, helping individual families in military deployment or devastated by fire. The Red Cross also offers excellent training and certification programs for first aid, CPR, and AED, babysitting and child care, lifeguarding and CNA work.

You can follow Kimberly Vlies on Twitter at @kvlies or visit her website: http://kimberlyvlies.com

Ending Gun Violence: An Activist’s Guide

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After the horrifying shootings in Orlando last weekend, many Americans are again ready to try and do something about gun violence.  Here are four principles we should all embrace in this important fight.

Principle 1: Don’t Engage With Gun Enthusiasts

I’ve tried to have thoughtful debates about gun violence with gun enthusiasts in the past (I’ve even written some talking points), and I’ve watched as my friends have tried to have those same conversations in the days since the Orlando shooting.  Here’s what I’ve realized:

It’s useless.

It’s useless for the same reason that you shouldn’t try and convince adults that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.  If they still believe guns aren’t the problem, they will simply never stop believing it. You just have to shrug, tell them you’re sorry their brain is broken, and move on.  The good news is that you don’t need to convince them.  The polling is very clear; the majority of Americans support sensible gun laws.  Gun enthusiasts are in the minority and we should be able to easily pass the laws we want and finally become the “gun grabbers” they’ve been calling us all these years.  It makes you wonder why we haven’t done that, which brings us to principle number 2….

Principle 2: Know Who the Enemy Is

Why haven’t we passed those laws despite having an 85% to 15% advantage in polling on some gun control issues?  It’s obviously what the public wants so… why hasn’t it happened?  Everyone knows that answer to that question.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations on the planet, making sure that we can’t pass the laws we need (or even do the research we need).  They are immensely powerful, spending approximately 32 million dollars in 2014 on both elections and lobbying for/against specific bills.  The fact is that we will never pass meaningful gun legislation until the NRA loses its power, which brings us to principle number 3….

Principle 3: Do Not Donate Money to, Vote For, or Do Business with NRA Members/Supporters 

The first two parts of this seem obvious, but they aren’t.  The NRA donates a lot of money to many candidates, including a bunch of Democrats (in 2014, 11 Democrats in the House of Representatives took money from the NRA), so avoiding their reach is difficult.  In the end, though, we just can’t support anyone the NRA supports, even when we agree with them about other issues.  Make sure those Democrats know that taking money or an endorsement from the NRA means they won’t get money or a vote from you.

This principle isn’t just about politicians, though.  We shouldn’t do any business of any kind with NRA members.  Thinking of hiring someone to renovate your bathroom?  The first question you should ask the contractor is, “Are you an NRA member?”  If the answer is yes, find someone else and make sure he or she knows why.  Is the owner of your favorite restaurant an NRA member? If so, stop eating there and tell him or her why (if they want to argue with you about your decision, see principle 1).  If you think I’m being too harsh, consider this: Most of the NRA’s money comes from membership dues and individual donations from people like the contractor and restaurant owner I just described.  The first way to break the NRA is to make sure that being a member of the NRA or donating to the NRA comes with a cost.  The second way to break the NRA is to strengthen the good organizations that fight against them, which brings us to principle number 4….

Principle 4: Find an Advocacy Organization, and Join it

There are lots of options here, probably more than I’ve listed.  The links below take you to the “About” pages of their websites so you can learn more about each of them.

And don’t just join them and then delete the email they send you each week. Get involved when you can, donate money when you can, and attend rallies when you can. Let’s work to make these groups as formidable as their opposition.

 

 

A Goodbye Message (that you will climb like a tree)

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Dear Graduates,

Once again, I’ve been asked to write a goodbye message like the Mean Girls and Pitch Perfect ones I wrote last year and the year before.  This year, though, I wasn’t really feeling it.  I kept trying but everything just came out like a very sad handwritten book.

Anyway, instead, I just thought I would tell you all how thankful I am to have been able to teach you these last few years.  People ask me why I enjoy working with college students so much.  They say things like “when they reach that age, ugh. Disgusting. They smell, they’re sticky, they say things that are horrible.”  I get that, but I just really love teaching.

And I think I’m pretty good at it.  There were days when my lectures were so good, it felt like it was coming out of me like lava!  Honestly! I had a student shout out to me, “You’re really doing it, aren’t ya?”  The funny thing about teaching, though, is that even when I think I’m doing well, I sometimes get terrible course evaluations.  Students write things like, “you know, you’re not as popular as you think you are,” “you look like an old mop, “I feel bad for your parents,” or even “you’re an old, single loser who’s never going to have any friends.”  I’m not going to lie, that last one hurt a little.  I mean, why can’t you be happy for me and then go home and talk about me behind my back like a normal person?

Fortunately, though, for every five or six really mean ones, there’s at least one sort of nice one.  Last semester, someone wrote that I am more beautiful than Cinderella and that I smell like pine needles, and have a face like sunshine!  It was a weird thing to write, but nice.

Of course, being a professor isn’t all about teaching.  I do a lot of research, advise students, and even supervise a few student organizations.  I’ll tell you something, students really tell us some deep secrets sometimes.  They think we’re just like priests… except we would tell everybody afterwards.   I had way too many advisees too.  I think I overcommitted with 9.  Six is a comfortable number.  My student organizations were into some weird stuff too that kept me on my toes.  One student suggested an event where we all come dressed as our favorite Pixar character, and another student was like, “or a Fight Club, a female fight club.”  I had to put a stop to that quick. Thanks. But…um, no way! No way in hell!

But enough about me.  This should be about you and the journey ahead.  I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be tough.  You’re going to be like, “help me, I’m poor.” You’re going to try and blame the world for your problems.  You going to hit rock-bottom, but I want you to know that hitting bottom is a good thing. Because there’s nowhere to go but up.  Plus, I don’t associate with people who blame the world for their problems. You are your problem. You are also your solution.  Do you think my life has always been easy?  I had it rough when I was in school.  They called me a freak. Do you think I let that break me? Think I went home to my mommy crying; ‘Oh, I don’t have any friends.’ No, I did not. You know what I did? I pulled myself up. I studied really hard. I read every book in the library and now I work for the government. I have the highest possible security clearance. Don’t repeat that!

Whoa, sorry about that.  I’m obviously working through some stuff.

Don’t worry about me, though.  I’m gonna be fine. So don’t worry, okay? I’m gonna be…I’m gonna be fine. I am fine. And besides, you need to blaze the trail for me and then report back and tell me what’s coming.  So, in short, I would just like to say to you and to everyone here, “Gracias para vivar en la casa, en la escuelas, en… en la azul… “markada”. Tienes con “bibir” en las Fortuashla?” and gracias!

Yup, I would like to invite you to no longer live with us.  It’s time to graduate. This is so awkward. I really want you to leave, but I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a… jerk.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love you all and will miss you.  Honestly, I really will miss each and every one of you.  You are such a stone-cold pack of weirdos, and I am so proud!

Sincerely,

Ryan Martin

PS. If this all came out wrong, I want to apologize. I’m not even confident on which end it came out of.

A Goodbye Message to Our Graduates… that you will eat up like a cheesecake

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Dear Graduates,

I wanted to drop you all a quick note to say congratulations on your upcoming graduation.  A few of you asked that I do something for you like the Mean Girls goodbye I wrote to last year’s graduates.  I was like, “yeah, that’s not a thing, and you’re not the boss of me.” Instead, I just want to say goodbye in my own way and not feel pressured to try and include a bunch of quotes about flying Mexican food or whether or not synchronized lady dancing to a Mariah Carey chart-topper is lame (it’s not by the way).

The truth is, this is a tough group to say goodbye to.  It makes me sad.  I don’t know if that is a good feeling or an incorrect feeling (Feelings are hard.  Sometimes I have the feeling I can do crystal meth, but then I think, ‘Mmm, better not.’).  I just know that lately, when it comes to saying goodbye, I wanna do something else (we could re-live my parents’ divorce?)  It will be ok, though.  I am a survivor, but I have to pull back because I am limited.

We did a lot of great things this year: Psychology March Madness, the Smile Squad, February Psych Challenge, when we wrestled crocodiles and dingoes simultaneously (just to name a few).  One of the best things we did this year, though, was the NAMIwalk.  You may think we just show up and walk for something like that but, nope, the presidents of PHD and Psi Chi made it very clear, “We will practice, and I trust you will add your own cardio.”  I was like, “Yeah, no. Don’t put me down for cardio” but that didn’t stop them.  It was a great walk and we all had a great time, until I realized I parked in a lot where they do not validate.  Plus, if I’m being honest, I realized a couple minutes in that I should have taken that cardio tip more seriously.  Maybe some horizontal running?

I got to have most of you in class too, which was a joy.  I’m impressed by how smart, talented, funny, and curious you all are.  Granted, it wasn’t always pretty.  Like that time I had to tell a student, “That’s not a real word, but keep trying. You will get there” or the time I had to write on a student’s exam, “not a good enough reason to use the word penetrate.”  I’m sorry if I was too rough on you, but I am my father’s son and he always says ‘if at first you don’t succeed’…’pack your bags’.

Plus, it’s not like you were always nice to me.  At least one of you wrote “Is it me, or did we just take a left turn into snooze-ville?” on my course evaluations.  That hurt.  Someone tried to take it out of the evals but I said, “Leave it. It fuels my hate fire.”  So you know, I’m not a total nerd. I also happen to be super-into close-up magic.  Plus, I’m good at modern dance, olden dance, and mermaid dancing (it’s a lot of floor work).  That said, if I could sing a lick, I would. But I can’t. And I hate myself everyday because of it.

But enough about me.  This week is about you.  So in closing, let me say this.  I’ll miss you.  I’m serious…  Dixie Chicks serious.  It’s been an incredible experience working with you all and I’m thankful you chose to study psychology at UWGB.  I don’t like saying goodbye, but like I’ve told you… endings are the best part.

Hands in,

Ryan Martin
Chair of Psychology-UW-Green Bay
Lead Singer- The Minstrel Cycles

PS. I’m sorry for the name of my singing group.  That’s an unfortunate name.

A goodbye letter (that’s full of secrets) to our graduating psych majors

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Dear graduating seniors,

I wanted to drop you all a quick note to congratulate you on your exceptional accomplishments.  You have all done very well and I’m proud of you.  Forgive me if I get a little too sentimental here.  I just have a lot of feelings.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on our time together… reflecting on some of the highlights.  Classes we’ve had together, bowling with the student orgs, how on Wednesdays we wear pink, and other grool moments. I think my favorite was the research methods poster session, though.  I always thought it was so fetch and was impressed by your hard work, your dedication, and your thoughtfulness.  You may think there’s a limit to how impressed I was… but the limit does not exist.  I realize some of you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did and some even wanted to leave early.  I remember thinking, “I will keep you here till 4:00 if I have to.”

I wish I had been able to get to know you all a little better.  I have about 60 advisees (I can’t help it that I’m popular) and that makes it difficult to get to know students as well as I would like.  Plus, sometimes students just aren’t interested in getting to know me.  I can tell these things.  I’m kind of psychic.  I have a 5th sense.  It’s like I have ESPN or something. What’s just as bad, though, is that sometimes my advisees can be a little long-winded.  I remember one meeting I had with a student where she went on and on, telling story after story like how she’s totally rich because her dad invented Toaster Streudels and how one time she met John Stamos on a plane (and he told her she was pretty). Anyway, I found out after about 30 minutes that she doesn’t even go here!

I realize I’m rambling a bit so let me just conclude with this.  As you embark on your next adventure, some of you may feel overwhelmed about what’s ahead.  You may think, yeah, I can’t do this. You’re gonna be havin’ a lot of urges.  You may wish to get back to the way things were.  You may even wish that you could bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles and we’d all eat and be happy.  Just don’t do it. Promise?

Sincerely,
Ryan Martin
Math Enthusiast/Bad Ass M.C.
847-555-2148

PS. I should probably stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen.