Monday, February 16, 2015

An Artist Among Us

For the first installment of the newly reinvigorated and refocused VetWrite blog, I had the privilege to chat with a wonderfully creative veterinarian, Dr. Dean Scott. Dean is the creator of, and more to the point, a cartoonist. Some of you might be familiar with his art, as it makes its way across the web.
Originally from Orlando, Dean likes to say he survived vet school at UC-Davis and graduated in 1993. A general feeling of lack of support left him and his fellow students floundering in a sea of disinterested clinicians. "I found vet school harder than it needed to be, which is the best way to say it," Dean says. "It seemed like: hey, we got you to school and now good luck."

Fortunately, some vet schools now seem to have recognized the need for support for the very students they cultivate. This and the shift in student body population from primarily male to primarily female are some of the interesting ways that make today's vet schools in the US not the vet schools of yesteryear, which would make for a fascinating retrospective commentary in and of itself, but we digress.

The good thing about Dean's vet school experience--other than it allowing him to reach his childhood dream of being a vet--was that it honed his creative skills. He had fodder for doodles which became cartoons and two books. He had material and a method of therapy. Turns out, vet school is comedic gold.

Dean actually started drawing in 1988, prior to entry into vet school, when he was working at a small animal clinic. "It was a very small practice and I decided to put together some cartoons about things that happened in the practice and they really liked it."

Once in vet school, a small handful of drawings grew into collections. "Vet school was rife with material," Dean says. "During lectures I would doodle and make jokes in the margin of the syllabus. I just sort of wrote stuff down and it went from there." During Dean's junior year, he created a list called 1000 Vet School Stresses. Picking the best off this list, Dean had his first book, From the Back Row.

The late Dr. Sophia Yin was in Dean's class. "She had Cattle Dog Publishing and she was kind enough to throw me a bone, so to speak, and she published my first book." Another reminder that the vet world is a small, delicate world, friends. Let's keep each other close and take care of each other.

This brings us to an interesting tangent into the publishing world, a theme I'd like to explore deeper as these blogs continue. Dean cuts right to the chase when he describes his struggles of finding a publisher for his comedic vet material. "It's really hard. People understand text books but people do not seem to understand humor books in the veterinary profession." The responses he received from numerous publishers for this first book were lukewarm, at best. There simply was no interest.

"A lot of publishers, even if they do veterinary books, they don't do humor. Think about how few people that you can point to that do humor in the veterinary profession. What I see in our profession is that we need to lighten up."

So it's not just a question of how to get our work published. It's a statement of need. "I think at least in part, we deal with a lot of suffering," says Dean. "We shoulder a great deal of burden and we put that burden on ourselves a lot. I think we need to give ourselves a little bit of a break. I think there's a need out there for acknowledging how difficult things are without being morose about it."

Given that, Dean has been incredibly prolific. Hundreds of his cartoons are cataloged on his website; he's recently written a sequel to From the Back Row, Vet Med Spread; published a series called The Incomplete Dog Book on Smashwords; blogs; has a YouTube channel; creates his own vet-related graphics and designs for shirts and signs on Cafepress; and he still cartoons, publishing new ones on his website regularly.

Dean speaks on how to find time for your creative outlets. "Regardless of what profession you do, I think everyone has something in them that needs some kind of expression. I would never have thought cartooning of myself. I have no training. It just grew as an outlet. I think everyone has that. You do it for yourself first and you should never look at what you do as, oh, that's not good enough. It's not a matter of whether it's good enough. It's a matter of: it's what you do, it's how you express yourself.

"You have to make time [to be creative]. As vets, we are geared to do anything and everything animal all the time and if you have something else that gives you energy, you should go do that also. You do have to put a little internal pressure on yourself, but hopefully it's not the same kind of pressure that your clients put on you. But when you sit down and do it, it's relaxing, you find your brain playing with stuff. You have to give your brain play time."

Given the amount of cartoons Dean has produced over more than two decades, it's understandably difficult for him to have a favorite. "I like a lot of them, they're like children to me," he says. Fans, however, tend to have a standout favorite. "Everyone likes what I call the Boo Boo cartoon," says Dean. "It shows a veterinarian on the phone. You can't see his face because he has his hand on his forehead and he's saying: 'No Mrs. Smith, I don't think it would be helpful to put Boo Boo on the phone. Oh, hey Boo Boo.' Everyone loves that cartoon."

Stay tuned. Monday, March 2 is the next post.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Refreshed, renewed, ready for action

Dearest readers,

I apologize. I have done one of the things I abhor in a blog. I have abandoned you. For the past six  months, this blog has been a wasteland. Maybe you were wondering if I was mad at you, or was being held for ransom somewhere, or even dead. Nope. Just being lazy. Lacking motivation. Entering that self-indulgent naval gazing that makes one ask banal questions like: what's the point?

But. I'm getting my shit together. I feel renewed.

The thing that has helped the most to get me motivated and back here typing like a mad woman (and finding loosely relevant yet fun images and/or links to accompany the madness) is alcohol.

No, I'm kidding. That was crass. I apologize again.

Seriously, the thing that really has helped get me out of a creative slump is answering the question: what do I want this blog to be? I mean, let's be honest. So far, it's been random. Like, all over the place, narcissistic ramblings with barely a shred of continuity. In other words, the ugliest patchwork quilt you've ever seen. I needed a subject and not just "Anna's favorite thoughts." Let's try to be a little more meaningful than that, shall we?

One of my favorite blogs is Maria Popova's Brain Pickings. This is a beautiful, inspiring, good-for-your-creative-soul blog that combines the wisdom of authors and artists of the past with the ingenuity and mindfulness of new writers and artists. She puts out a weekly newsletter every Sunday, which makes for some great Sunday morning reading and ruminating, if you're interested.
Me, totally ruminating on a Sunday morning.
Maria had a link last summer to a website with a blog called "4 Questions Everyone Should Themselves." The list was as follows (via Lindsey Saletta):

1. How much of your day do you spend consuming what other people have created? How often do you create?
2. How can you build a platform this year for you to stand on next year?
3. What are you doing that actually matters?
4. How can you inject more awe and wonder into your life?

I don't know about you, but this got me thinking some really heavy stuff. I thought these questions were so powerful, so soul-searching, that I wrote them down and now they live on a sticky note that sits in front of my face at my desk. I see it right now. There you are, deep sticky note. Hi.

In relation to this blog, the first question resonated. I needed to create more. But, in relation to the third question, its content should probably matter. Or at least I should try to make it matter.


Here's the deal. The new, bright and shiny VetWrite blog is open for business. And here are the details:

There will be blogs, as best as I can muster, every first and third Monday of the month. Set your calendars, clear any appointments. Wear clean underwear. Pack your overnight kit. Be generally ready for anything.

My focus will be on veterinarians (practicing, not practicing, old, new, ugly, fat, freakishly thin, tattooed, boring, wearing glasses, smelling like lavender, pimply, oval-faced, etc.) breaking into the creative world, meaning as a writer, blogger, artist, speaker, entertainer, etc. As an industry, us veterinarians are so damn scientific. And I LOVE that. But, we have a creative side, too. And, as a profession, it's important to explore and celebrate that. So, put your party hats on cuz we're gonna celebrate.

I'd like to emulate in my own way how Maria writes her blogs; taking bits and pieces of creators and putting them in her blog in bite-sized pieces for the rest of us to chew. Over the next few months, I hope you'll join me as I talk to veterinary cartoonists, authors, bloggers, and entertainers. Doesn't this sound like fun?

Come on, let's set sail.