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Post Thoughts with editor Katie Toomey

COW Blogs : Post Thoughts with editor Katie Toomey

Alone for the Holidays: An Editor's Tale of Loss and Healing

I still remember the last few countdowns, 3..2..1…to 2016. It had so much hope. It always does. After a bumpy 2015, I was looking forward to this year being filled with a lot more happy and a lot less trouble. It’s the same wish I think we all have every year, but I thought for sure this would be it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. By only mid-January this year, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer.

Stage. Four. CANCER.

What!?!? Did someone accidentally sit on the fast forward illness button!? Hadn’t just a week or two ago we all shared a lovely holiday together through the distance (my sister and me in North Carolina with mom in Indiana) whether by video streams or listening to one another open up gifts over the phone, while sharing the same goofy holiday stories mom always told in good spirits? I couldn’t believe it.

The holidays can invoke some of the strongest feelings and memories. And for some of us, myself included, they’re incredibly hard to cope with as they draw nearer. Whether due to illness, loss, tragedies or family rifts, the holidays are one of those top stressors to really escalate strong feelings.

My mom had a fondness for Victorian era ornaments and velvet or sugared or hand made style ones. And most of all, bubble lights!

For all of that said, the holidays can be incredibly fun and happy for some. This is certainly not a new topic, but I feel like it’s vital we keep talking about it as December takes hold. I have known some dear friends suffering during this time, what with the barrage of Thanksgiving to Happy Holidays to New Years Eve, all for their own reasons. So many high emotions and celebrations going on.

Let’s also mention how this year in general has been particularly nasty, in terms of the election and some amazing people being taken by cancer, like David Bowie or Alan Rickman. Cancer is like a Dementor from Harry Potter of sorts, it sucks people away that we care about the most. I have learned this over time seeing it happen to friends and others, and now personally to my family. This year would have been intense enough even without even adding any personal experiences.

My mom awhile back with our grandparents, they all used to travel quite a bit.

Magnify all this by the work loads of post, usually spiking up in hurried projects that “need” out before the holidays, with haphazard deadlines looming on top of those heavy feelings. It might seem like a useful coping tool that delays the way you digest your feelings, in that you can ignore it all until a postponed date.

This is a double edged sword because when the rush is complete and you’re back home and supposed to be making face at parties or decorating trees, all your thoughts turn to the things you ignored. They’ll be there waiting, and you can’t always turn them back off.

We have stressful jobs in post. One day could be absolute chaos, the next a little tumbleweed floats by, gently traversing the chairs and people as it merrily makes it way to nowhere. I’ve noticed how I’m easily able to ignore a lot of the darkness because I’m so busy.

I’m so busy in other people's emergencies that I have zero time to consider my feelings as they come and go. It’s only when it stops that I have a moment to catch my breath, to stop and reflect, to painfully be aware of the feelings that were always there.

Finally, consider that some of us might suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) too – a type of depression related directly to changes in season and mood. Winter as a whole for some can bring about less energy, more sleeping, more prone to eating, and living even more day to day in the dark because of the shorter days.

Winter can also be pretty and calming. Great for us hot blooded people who enjoy not sweating all the time, too! hah.

Considering our recipe for potential disaster, how full it’s gotten…you have a holiday filled with lots of pressure and personal reasons to celebrate, paired with high work loads, spiced with some SAD and it’s no small wonder why so many struggle.

What if you start feeling like you don’t have much left to celebrate? What if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety? Lost someone close? Have a hugely divided family that creates more stress than fun?

There is sort of a potent combination when you combine a stressful, high deadline job with a high stress personal problem (not to mention, a high celebratory period stretching between 3 months all together!) I know, because I experienced it earlier this year. And know that my experience is subjective, everyone will be different. I’m here to find a little sun and fresh air from the depths of it’s locked away box — before it gets too dark this upcoming holiday season.

Momo kitten actually behaving quite nicely for being around a tree the first time. So chill!

Look a bit closer at those around you this season. They may not be openly talking about it or showing some sign you can point to and say “AH-HA!” It’s delicate, sure. It’s a risk to ask and be wrong, but at least you asked. They may not want to talk about it at all or will only scratch the surface. Respecting the boundary is important, but so is checking in on their well being. We need to keep having more discussions about it with less fear and judgements, so our mental struggles can become normal and as easy as talking about physical health problems.

For me, this holiday season is dominated with my struggle to cope with several personal losses this year, including the unexpected passing of my mom. Let me tell you about her.

My mama, she was a knockout! She's entering her early 20's here.

For the last month and a half prior to her cancer diagnosis, my mom thought she’d had a simple bladder infection. It was getting concerning for all of us that something like this could go on for so long, as many months back it seemed she was suffering the same thing (did it ever go away? was is it coming back? Why? What meds are they using and why? What if it doesn’t cure it? ALL the questions.)

After her diagnosis, I desperately reached out to friends to speak with those who also had experienced this kind of sudden illness. What could I do? What treatments might happen? Will she make it through this? Preliminarily speaking, she was going to have a port placed in her chest while recovering at a short term rehabilitation center to move into chemotherapy treatments. There was discussion about a hysterectomy. Even discussion about coming back home.

And for a time, it seemed things were on a hopeful course with some answers. There was some relief to the absolute chaos that cancer likes to bring to the table and drop without ceremony upon your plates.

Speaking of plates, this was my mom's cherished "Rose Lady" plate.

Mom hated being in hospitals, and especially hated the short term rehab center with a thorough passion. I’m with her on that. After my long term stay after my emergency lung surgery in 2014 (a story for another post) I was ready to rip out of the ceiling and blast teleport myself home. Maybe it was the heavy medications I was on, but I swore if I concentrated hard enough, I might just wake up at home in my own bed and get to see my cats again.

I still remember mom’s phone call where she described the physical therapy woes, the state of hot or cold foods, or the communication struggles, how she just wanted some damn cashews for a snack, or how her feet were cold. But the way she could add bits of humour to most complaints told me she was still herself.

That she was okay right now. That perhaps she would be…eventually okay.

You see, my mom could be kind of a private person when it came to some of her own problems. I’ll never know if it was embarrassment for feeling weak or perhaps trying to deny it was something serious, or even knowing it was serious and somehow trying to spare us. This private side is something that I suffer from as well. I say “suffer” for a dual purpose as both could be seen as good and bad. Sharing with people what you’re going through, gritty and dark as it may be, can open doors of support and advice, maybe feeling like you’re not alone in this. But there's always a risk opening up to people. A vulnerability, "a chink in the armor" so to speak. One I admittedly don't particularly like to feel.

My mom very much pregnant in labour, heading to hospital from both of us twins.

One time before her cancer diagnosis, mom fell down. Or I thought it was one time. At first, it seemed mostly like weakness from not sleeping enough from dealing with a few health problems and bad sleep. Falling down isn’t a normal thing to have happen by any means. For a brief time we all believed it was a fluke, but it continued a few more times after that.

Frustratingly, I had no idea she’d fallen the first time until another fall, because she had blown it off like it’s not a big deal, possibly embarassed. I had left my home state in 2013 for my career, and though mom and I talked often and found ways to visit and stay in touch or play MMOs together online, it wasn’t the same. I was out of touch with her day to day health.

When the fire dept had to be called because she fell in such a way that her partner couldn’t help get her back up because of her own health issues, I knew something was terribly wrong. I didn’t know HOW wrong. But that sinking feeling hit me straight in the gut. That’s when everything changed.

After mom’s cancer diagnosis, I had been silently laying out a visitation plan in my head on how to keep her spirits up while also dealing with my own heavier work loads. I only had so much time to arrange for driving from NC to Indianapolis, and I had laid out an idea to divide all the time I could take off in a way that I could come up to visit pre-chemo, several times during chemo, and hopefully again when it was completed to stay for a bit to help her back on her feet and make SURE she was okay.

I really wanted to come up right that instant, when I got the call it was cancer. I was wrestling with some of the darkest guilt I’ve ever felt in my life. Should I have even left Indiana a few years back? What would have been different had I not left? Would I have noticed her feeling more ill and urged her strongly to get seen by someone other than the family doctor who might have had more urgency? Could anything I’d done change what would come to happen?

When I still lived in Indiana, I used to visit my mom a few times a month. I’d sit in that same familiar side chair by the little table with her favourite lamp. One of the kitties, usually fluffy little Bandit, would hop up and say hello in my lap. We’d talk about all kinds of things. Visit and play with all the pets. Update her about my life, her about her life, and often I’d ask her for advice on tough situations. I never left without some snacks, a book, a new recipe or cute thing she found that she thought I'd like. She was generous and funny to be around.

She and I were very close though not without our faults throughout time, especially my teenage years. However, in the end as an adult, I did not need to be coerced to go see her. While there, I would handle many other helpful around-the-house things she’d do if she could. I'm not saying I didn't roll my eyes once or twice, but they were predictable like trash cans back up to the house or fixing a high up light bulb.

My mom loved dogs - had them all her life. Here's one of them! She always was fond of Siamese cats, too.

Because of all that, I knew it would be hard leaving Indy. The thing I would miss most was her visits. I took a risk and I came to NC for work. I put myself in the most uncomfortable spot I could think of — would I sink or swim? I needed to save myself from a particularly crumbling situation. And the night I left, she had been particularly ill with something, and I’d thought of reconsidering or delaying.

She told me to go, go do it! And so, I did. All the same, I felt regret.

While in the short term rehab center, my mom wasn’t getting in enough calories and had been progressively feeling worse. She’d fall asleep while talking, although I attributed that more to the medication than the illness. I would do Facetime or try to encourage her to Skype me. Everyday I sent her cheerful little gifs and texts while she was there. I’d send things in the mail to cheer her up, one of which was a cute Pusheen plush keychain which is now attached to my everyday backpack. (I have a little bit of her with me at all times, it helps.)

I look back and realize I did try my best with what I could do in the moment. I still regret I couldn’t do more, but I might always and that’s going to have to just…be.

At one point, some of my very close friends and even people who I didn’t know rallied to send her many many cards, to send good wishes before the chemo was scheduled to start. She was very nervous about having to start it, and I felt it was important to comfort her. I couldn’t believe so many people would take time out to write her a note with a card and mail it out so quickly. Even from all the way overseas!! I can never properly express my thanks about it. I still meant to write each one back, but anytime I try, it’s still a little too painful.

The cards sent by many touched all of us.

Even though she sadly never got to start the chemo when things took a turn, it helped her in that moment. The encouragement. But still, I thought back then, I wasn’t there! I wrestled with this for awhile afterward and wondered some dark thoughts.

She seemed to be balancing out at first. She was enduring things, at least. But it became apparent in late February that she was getting worse. It got so bad that a certain night she had to be rushed back to the hospital emergency room. She had sepsis, a blood clot in her right leg, and was somewhat unresponsive with low oxygen levels. It was scary news!!

And after I got the call, that’s when I dropped everything and rushed into the late night to be by her side.

My mom and dad (he passed from complications in surgery back in 2001 or so).

I hoped I was not too late. Without hesitation, I wrote into work, I dumped as much cat food and water bowls down as I could spare (with my sister’s very kind boyfriend coming in to check on them while gone), I shoved a few clothes in a backpack and took off to head a short hour over to pick up my sister so we could drive to Indiana together immediately.

It was around 11pm. I still remember the cloudless sky and all the stars that were out while driving through the mountains. We had to stop for a short time because all of us had gone through a long day beforehand, and we were incredibly stressed and tired. I remember seeing a shooting star flying over the moon roof window of my car while attempting to get an hour of sleep. Somehow I wanted to believe it was a sign of hope.

In the glass half full situation, she did not pass suddenly while I rushed to get through the mountains and miles to get to her side. In the glass half empty side, it was only the beginning of what was to come.

She was taken from me on Easter afternoon.

Her little lavender plant outside had bloomed nicely that very day.

She got to come home for at-home hospice care for almost 3 weeks, see her kitties and everyone somewhere away from tubes and breathing machines and all the things she hated. She was alert and talking for several days, but sadly after that, she didn't speak much more. This is a small list I left in a draft that I’d been recording down as a way to find a teensy bit of positivity during her illness. Though I’m reluctant, I’d like to share it with you anyway.

Things that made her smile during hospice:

— someone walking by with foils all crazy in their hair (we were doing our hair as some light entertainment)

— my pretty pink galaxy dress from thrifting in LA

— Apple juice in her favourite little glass

— a lavendar bunny plushie

— funny jokes, especially ones involving the kind of punchline you can drag out and then BAM, unleash

— my finished hair, which she said looked like a mermaid (I’d done it up turquoise and rich blues, not at all unlike the sea which she loved)

— asking about elf lore and games

— having a little bit of italian food while watching Avatar (with the food sent to my mom’s by my BFF Kylee, after we finally got to bring mom home from hospital. We'd had many late days with little food spent there. She may never know how important that kind action was especially because it was about the last thing mom ever ate.)

She loved this stained glass hanging in the front window, gift from my sister.

People came by to visit. Flowers came. Calls rang. One of our old family friends sent mom gorgeous blue and white flowers with some kind words, and even stopped by later to see how we were doing. This very same friend later passed away very suddenly only some months later, just a few years older than myself and my sister. It felt surreal.

It’s all been very heavy. I’ve had some major losses this year, and I don’t know how I’m enduring it.

I just…am.

It’s not something I can easily talk about, but I was there for the hospice care portion for mom. I know how it can haunt you afterward. I would do it again for her though, knowing now what I know all the same. I did the same for my sweet cat Snarfie when she too was taken from me from a blood clot quite recently. Snarfie had been there with me through a bad breakup, the move, new job, lots of things... I miss all of them so much.

My beautiful and super sweet and talkative Thundercat, Snarfie.

Be there for the ones you love, to whatever end. You can face the ugly unpleasant truth that we’re all just kinda here residing on Earth for awhile and that while you can’t control the outcomes and these things all come to an end, you can and will get through it. You can trust that there are people who will not judge you for all your feelings, ugly and dark as they can get.

This same principle also applies towards yourself. You can try your best to be there for yourself, now more than ever, but when or if that is not enough, when you are feeling down and defeated by all these emotions, reach out to someone that you are comfortable with. Maybe you aren't super close yet, but by sharing, you might become close. Know that there are others out there who feel like you might, even just a little. Grab our hand. You are not alone. Reach further.

There is always this risk by revealing your feelings that someone won’t understand, will judge you, or will share to someone you don’t want knowing. I understand this risk by even talking about my challenges and story here. I tell you that this risk exists no matter what, no matter how “careful” you think you’re being or by hiding it. When you accept that sometimes giving people the benefit of the doubt might lead to them completely changing your mindset, you’ll be open to the chance that things could change or become a little less difficulty.

I braced myself for this time period — “the holidays” — because I knew it might really suck and cause me to feel down about things. I have no parents left. No extended family in contact to speak of thanks to some old rift I was too young to understand. I feel odd.. like we're now quite small with only my twin sister and brother.

For you, maybe you lost a parent or a great friend or other family member, or your best dog friend or kitty. The ways I started to process and manage these feelings is by talking to others, my close friends who thankfully are able to listen without telling me my feelings are wrong. I can tell my twin sister the deepest thoughts I have, and she will always listen. I'm lucky in that aspect. But, some days I don't want to talk about it at all. Family I suppose, is after all what you make of it and how you want to can include close friends.

Me and my humbly small fam or "new fam" -- however you choose to look at it. Including friends some near, most far and not pictured.

Just listen, if someone asks or suddenly speaks up. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anyone close to reach out to about this. Know there is someone who will be willing to listen, and if one you reach out to doesn’t respond, encourage, or support you, it won’t mean no one cares about you. Keep trying!

To the people who don't know what to say when someone confides in them some kind of tragedy such as someone passing or otherwise, please try not to ignore it out of fear for loss of words. In fact, even just stating that acknowledges their struggle. If you do want a quick response, avoid making off hand promises that "everything gets better" or "it'll all be okay" even if you mean well. Humbly, "I'm here for you. Is there anything I can do? I'll listen." or if you haven't experienced it, a simple "I can't imagine what that's like, I'm so sorry to hear it happened" acknowledges it.

I thought I might skip the holiday stuff entirely. I'm worn down. But then, after much thinking, I realized that I'd be avoiding some of the very things my mom loved best. Little by little, I invited a bit of the usual back in for Thanksgiving to test it out. I carried over her traditions like a tray with carrots/olives/little pickles. I also made her special style of stuffing. I even put up the tree this past weekend to the cats surprise! (though some of the lights burnt out from the top, eff it!) I didn't think I would. I'm making do.

I curled up my hair for Thanksgiving (natural texture is quite wavy - which I normally fight against - but embraced them that day)

I still have more tests to go. I might have to retreat a bit, and I know it won't feel the same. I know how much my mom loved the snow, lights, and older holiday songs or just baking stuff. Maybe I can help keep her memory alive in this way. The thing is, I don't know! I'll probably blog again about it, in case you'd like to come back and visit me.

I started waking up early before work to work out, much to my own chagrin. I am NO morning person, and I never shall be, I don’t think. Neither was mom. But if I’m left alone and pop on some music, I find I have the will to manage. I surprised myself by doing so — something I haven’t done in a while! Exercising is important to me, and I got sick and tired of having to play a guessing game all day if I would make it out of work on time or not, rushing off to workout. It’s taken a big load of stress off my plate.

Decided a change in routine was good. I get up and go use the apartment gym in the AM.

When I leave work, even if late, I know I did something good for me today by working out, since it’s important to my well being. I won’t be as anxious. The goal was at least 3 times a week to do lifting weights and some form of interval or HIIT cardio for about 30 mins afterward. So far, so good. It makes me feel a world’s better about myself and unloads some stress and anxiety off my shoulders. You might even say it's a form of therapy with some health benefits.

The next day, I get to relax, maybe take an epsom salt bath or run a few errands since I’ll have more energy. I never thought I would be waking up in the dark of the morning for this. I don’t know how I do it or who I am by continuing to do this week after week now, but it’s shown me something.

I’m evolving. I’m changing. I don’t have to try to get back to normal, because that normal is now different.

I’m not the same me I was before this year happened, funny as it sounds. Maybe anyone could say that with everything that can happen in a year. It’s somehow deeper this time, personally, in terms of despair or grief or sadness. This time is different. I’m surrounded by the shadows. Despite it, I can do these things I stopped feeling confident I'd be capable to do. You can be a champion for keeping yourself more mentally happy. I can give myself a pass for making the best decision I possibly could at any given point, from when I left Indy to try to make a better life for myself, to when mom’s illness took hold.

I’m going to give it my best shot.

Ask yourself, what’s something I could do that might improve my mood? Maybe it’s making crafts, reading some new books or seeing some series you wanted to catch up on. Taking a bath. Playing some sports with friends. Gaming is very fun and helpful, exploring new worlds and fantastical explorations. Going window shopping. Do something for you. Even if it feels impossible to fit in timewise, you might surprise yourself. This felt absolutely impossible, but now I am eating humble pie about myself. Perhaps we all could do with lightening up and giving ourselves more credit. What have you got to lose?

My mom LOVED to game (as do I and my sis). She really loved Everquest. Here's her little fae inside of EQ2 she adored.

And if that doesn’t work, I have people and resources and places I can go to help me sort through all this. If I’m not happy, at least feeling stable and finding more ways to have moments of joy or humour vs. full force emotions like heaviness and sadness is my key. Even numb is good. All it takes is one little change to get it going. Just like working out or any physical issues going on, we have to have patience with ourselves mentally. Accept the pretty and unpleasant factors into it. Know that this isn’t going to be easy.

Whether someone wanders in with a flashlight and shines it straight on your shadows, or you manage to push out through until some sun gets in, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to fight it alone, if you don't want to. The pain you might feel always, especially during the holidays, is real and valid because you loved and cared deeply about something or someone else. Or you might mourn that they're gone and nothing can be changed. You might miss their presence a lot right now, and no person can replace that. And... that's okay.

Being painfully honest, this kind of loss is inexplicably difficult to describe and can make you feel extremely low and passionately upset even if you thought you were doing okay moments before. Misinterpretations can occur, the heaviness of a feeling in one moment can break the next hour and lift or vice versa. "This is temporary!" is what I think about in a moment of anxiety, and it sometimes work for me.

Grief is not something that only visits the tepid rapid-free waters of your memory, it is quite hot and cold with wave after wave. Realize this, it’s okay however it comes. You don’t need to be able to succinctly describe it or prepare an introduction warning to what you’re about to say. Stumbling and bumping through every emotion. You will find you'll care a whole lot less about what strangers or coworkers or whoever thinks of you when your lens focuses on only those who matter most. And one part of that lens should be on the very person you might want to avoid... yourself.

They divorced when I was around 8 or so, but from what I see in pics, they used to be happy together for a time.

Something that also prompted me to even write about this is because we can’t control bad situations and how it can make us feel in the moment. Because I know you're out there dealing with this in your own situations, too. Because not everyone around understands what is happening. Certainly, I don’t say all this to depress you all over. This is a prime reason why some people don’t wish to talk about these things. It’s sad. It’s unpleasant. Nothing can be done.

No one person can go back in a past magical period to correct it. It’s a special awful kind of misery that you don’t want to spread to others, but you can’t hold it in, either. It’s necessary to connect with someone else who has suffered this kind of loss, so that you won’t have to dig extra deep to explain any of it – they’ll just “know.” Or maybe to have a passerby reading and be able to relate, to find the strength to keep going past their own tragedies. Maybe it’s to help yourself, too.

So if you’re dealing with loss this holiday season, you might suddenly get upset when you hear an old holiday song a loved one liked, watch their favourite movie, or smell a particular kind of cookie they enjoyed. Just let the wave hit you, and you can brace for it every time after that. The waves get further apart and spread out into areas you can predict and feel more prepared to experience.

A memorial blanket with lots of pics of her.

I guess that’s how I’m enduring it: I’m not alone. I’ve spent the year surrounded with loss, but also surrounded by my twin sister and friends.

Others are here with you, feeling those similar feelings and battling with them too. When something more unexpected hits you, it’s not as rough going as when you are alone. It’s poignant and somehow less mentally crowding. Someone cares about you more than you might realize, even when you’re upset and feeling in despair. Don’t be afraid to reach.

I’m also enduring it with the many memories of my loved ones. One of our favorite holiday memories with mom was how painstakingly slow she liked to open gifts. Everything was like a grand event. Every part of the present was examined and remarked upon. Though it took a while, I realize in retrospect that she wanted to keep us all together in the same place and soak up the experience. The way she saved paper and pretty bows all in a big container to re-use was charming. Her saving each ribbon and bow inspired us to actually go on to decorate bags and presents in detail because we could see how some people really treasured those little touches.

Mandy and I when we were young opening up gifts.

Her stories were of an epic proportion, also. She was a masterful storyteller of the highest order. Her D&D dragon themed stories around the round wooden lion feet table while eating MRE's like we were camping out is a top favourite memory. She gave me my creativity, but then kept it sparked up. My regret is I never captured the stories on audio to be heard in her special kind of way. They'll always have a place in my memory, but it's not the same.

More and more, I feel a bit like Frodo from Lord of the Rings with some wounds that linger deeply, ones that may never fully heal. For me, there is no ship to bear me “home” to somewhere of sparking waters, pretty and green with a swift sunrise. No beautiful, ethereal elf songs or wise words of an elder to ease my sorrow.

In-between renders and edits, epic battles ensue on my keyboard.

Facing that truth, I know that I want to give you a fighting chance for tomorrow. The holidays will pass, even if you are kicking and screaming through them or crying to sleep, overloaded with deadlines looming or just skipping them entirely. Whether it’s epicly good or terribly bad, it’s a tomorrow. A new possibility and chance at a day. As much as we'd like, we just don't know what will happen next. I'm a curious soul, too.

It all starts with a conversation, so let’s have one. I’m here.

Visiting my secret garden place found nearby the apartment for peaceful moments. I go here during the warmer months.

PS: My mom wrote this little story centered around the North Pole that I ran across in one of her notebooks. I'm fairly sure this is a story she wrote herself, rather than recorded down, as with a quick Google search I don't see anything of this fashion popping up. My mom had a passion for English and writing. She used to love to write poems and little stories. Might be a good little read to your kids. Enjoy!

Once upon a time, there was a batch of kittens born at the North Pole very close to Christmas time. Now, Santa had decided on homes for all of them except one.

This little kitten was all white - long soft fur, dear little whiskers, and eyes as green as emeralds. She had a rosey pink tongue and a little nose the color of bubblegum. She was very graceful and loved to polish her marshmellow toes.

Santa liked her so much that he and Mrs. Santa were thinking of keeping her. They even picked out a name - Snowflake.

All of Santa's elves had been working very very hard to get the toys ready for Xmas Eve. There was one small elf named Midnight because he liked to stay up late. Poor Midnight was always tired and grumpy in the morning when it was time to get up. He usually put his red shirt on backwards with the label in front. Many times his green overalls were buttoned crisscrossed. His red and white shoelaces were always the first to be untied. As if that wasn't enough, he had lost the jingle bell right off the top of his pointed cap!

Now, Midnight loved Snowflake more than he had ever loved anything found in Santa's workshop. When his elf-toes would twinkle 'round late at night, Snowflake was always ready to play. Once, Midnight even fell asleep with Snowflake!

The other elves were busy guys and they knew Santa would have a nice present for them on Christmas Day. But, Midnight only wanted that furry little Snowflake.

He had saved a scrap of red ribbon to make her a jingly toy with the jingle bell he finally found that was supposed to be on his cap. He saved Snowflake scraps of chicken from his own dish.

Now, after Santa would leave on his sleigh - all the other elves would have an Xmas feast under green garlands festooned with fruits and nuts and candy canes. They would laugh and sing carols and eat lots of cookies. One by one, they tiptoed to bed. Midnight couldn't see Snowflake anywhere, and he was so sad. Tears sparkled like diamonds in his eyes and rolled right down his nose.

The other elves clucked and tried to cheer him up with visions of the present Santa would have - usually each elf got to pick a favorite toy - sparkling new sleds with gold bells, licorice black trains with sharp whistles, many colored striped spinning tops and so forth.

Midnight was the last one to bed, but that night he dragged his feet and fell asleep, clutching the red ribbon toy. He never saw a weary Santa finally come home.

Now, Santa never even stopped for his cup of hot chocolate. Right from his almost empty sack, he went to his bedroom and there he found Snowflake!

Quietly, quietly, he and Mrs. Santa tiptoed to Midnight's bedroom and tucked little Snowflake right in Midnight's bed. There was never a happier elf in the whole world than Midnight who woke to find his beloved Snowflake. "Merry Christmas to all!," shouted the happy elf.

Posted by: Katie Toomey on Nov 30, 2016 at 8:52:05 amComments (5)

Being an Advertising Editor: The Ins and Outs of Agency Work

In a post production filled world teeming with editors working on TV, film, sports, live shows and even the news, there are many in-house editors working on a huge range of less visible work. From commercial spots to web pre-rolls or even internal pitch reels, there is a rapidly expanding role of “staff editor” in markets all across America.

Currently, I’m one of those editors working at an advertising agency. Before landing the job, I didn’t even realize this was an option for me. Yes! These kind of jobs in our industry exist and are good for experience. Like most people in editorial, I aspire to be editing television and film one day. Because of this, there is a tendency for those in our industry to look down upon editing roles outside of New York or Los Angeles, or even post jobs that aren’t on narrative work.

oh hey, this is me (hair subject to changing often hah)

The truth is that it’s not typical for a great majority of aspiring editors to magically start out cutting those kinds of projects. Feature film jobs with a budget are shrinking – and it’s a very long road to get to cut those – so if your vision is only set to movies, you might be in for some disappointment. But fear not, thanks to the democratization of tools and the internet, there’s a lot more creative work out there than you might have been aware! Commercial work has always been big, but now digital television, web series and social videos are becoming broader, more credible and more requested than ever.

The great thing about cutting this work? I’m exposed to a lot of different techniques and tools, and I’ve had to learn how to interpret technology and people at the same time. Plus, as a staff editor, I have a place to go every single day. If I’m not currently in high demand, I’m utilizing my resources to hone other skills.

let's do this, bub!

It’s a little difficult to discuss what I do. It’s not a feature film. It’s not some epic TV series. Sometimes, it doesn’t get released or I just can’t talk about the specifics. Working in a place where we’re often pitching many ideas that need polished visuals, I do plenty of work that is passed on that consequentially never sees the light of day, stowed away on a hard drive or dusty corner of a password protected hosting site. One of the hardest parts of this in-house role is working every bit as hard on internal projects to help them get to the next stage of production, knowing they’re more than likely to die on the vine through sheer volume.

However, with every project (internal or not), I grow in skills and succeed through new creative and budget challenges. I learn from mistakes made in the past and find better ways to approach problems going forward. It doesn’t matter if the project is viewed widely. I have still gleaned new experiences from my efforts.

Working specifically inside an agency is a special kind of “crazed” environment that we tackle on an every day basis. We’re navigating many deadlines throughout the week, managing a lot of input and directions, and adding our own touches– all the while keeping on the client’s deadline. I do a lot in a small frame of time, which may be different than the flow of long form editing. My work is a very bursty type of chaos, just like the nature of advertising is very feast-or-famine. Decisions are made quickly, and I can suddenly be thrust into a new project that needs to be finished yesterday.

Made this GIF for NC Education Lottery social sharing. Dripping with shiny!

So, what do I do on a daily basis?

It can certainly vary from agency to agency, but I do everything from developing concept pieces up to editing final spots. Essentially, I’m often working on clay that hasn’t taken shape and only has a few pieces formed. Sometimes the pieces are more formed, laid out in very detailed instructions or decisions. I never know what I’ll get, and it’s up to me and the creatives and account executives get the rest together. Creatives include designers, writers, or directors. They’ll write scripts, find or design some of the graphic assets, and assist in direction of the spot. Account executives manage the brand needs because they know the brand inside and out!

On the tech side of things, I’m most often inside Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. I also use Photoshop and Illustrator, InDesign, Audition, and a few other tools or plugins. I edit on a Mac, but easily could use a PC – I really don’t care what I’m using. The tools are just that. It’s you that brings the skills, and that’s the only thing that matters. NLE wars are less important for in-house staff, and for editors outside the usual major markets – a very nice change of pace.

Offline media is triggering.

I frequently trouble shoot my own issues with the computer or programs. In fact, I LIKE doing it. It saves me time and hassle when it happens again, and I’ve learned a lot about what happens under the hood. I don’t often have time to wait for IT or someone else to fix it. Recently, the IT dept. serious but tongue-in-cheek asked me if I'd like to join them because of my track record of solving issues. If I do get assistance, I want to know why it worked and how to do it myself. I utilize that motivation towards each project – rely on yourself first! I’ve solved everything from AJA playback delays to faulty cords and everything in-between, plus figuring out future issues because of it.

In any given month, my hands are on several different projects. One day I might be pulling tons of inspiration videos or stock assets to cut an internal concept piece for creative to show clients. I may not always be working with the “prettiest” of shots in this stage, so I have to see beyond what is in front and envision what it could be. Imagination is essential.

Kitten. Fireworks. Made this fun GIF all in AE for NC Education Lottery.

Other times, I dive into After Effects to work on plenty of motion graphics and animations of many kinds. How I’ll approach each project is closely tied to the needs of the client. For brands looking to get more social, I end up making animations for GIFS to share around -- hey, I’m not complaining.. I love gifs!

Often times, I’m cutting together storyboards with a bit of animation to help get an idea across because having a visual pieced together makes decisions about keeping it or trashing it much easier. In this role, I confidently feel my After Effects skills have stayed honed and increased quite a bit. I use it so often and continually try to challenge myself to figure out something new or shortcuts to save time, which is something any in-house editor should strive to do.

And let us not forget the audio work. I create lots of “scratch” voice-over recordings to form how the tone and delivery should be. Mixing voice-over and music on lots of various videos is another big part of my job. If audio levels aren’t correct, it can be hugely distracting and seriously damage the pitch of a concept!

For big brand shoots, sometimes I even serve as an assistant editor, organizing, grouping and creating deliverables for other editors -- when I’m not editing them myself. Not relegated to internal-use-only, I’m also cutting commercial spots that later play on TV. Different brands and clients mean many different possibilities for delivery: the web, TV, ad pre-rolls, or a revised spot to play in cinema before a movie. There are a lot of possibilities!

Between ALL that, I’m also managing ‘work orders’ put in for compressions, re-edits, social media needs, and much more that have their own deadlines, as well. Even in one given day, I’ve got several things that could be due spread out in the day, and I may not have known about any of them when I came into work that day. I have to manage time with an adamantium grip.

Always stayin organized with any notes.

How does the pitch process work?

First, there are bids and a whole host of mysterious but effective paperwork happens. We make it in a group of “possibles” being considered along with other agencies. Budgets are formed. Ideas are taking shape with the creative, and desired needs or ‘must haves’ in the spot come in from the account executives. This funnels over to producers, who figure out the timelines and schedules, budgets, editors, voice-over sessions, and more. Then the brand spot makes its way to me to edit it all together.

In these type of internal videos, anything goes – we’re selling a concept that will be created in its final form later. It still has to be something that can actually be accomplished should it go through. This involves quite a process and a challenge, and many a revision to get to a balanced place.

Editors and creatives work very closely together and  creatives and account execs work closely together. Creatives see my work first after getting a rough cut together. Revisions happen, and they may happen some more. After that, a head creative views it. Then account execs come into the picture to offer opinions. Sometimes they both come together in my edit room when it comes time to reviewing things right before the client. Then a client reviews the work and offers their opinion on things. Then it all loops back around again and again until the deadline.

This process is important and not unlike the same kinds of revision processes you’d find in film or television editorial. During revisions, creatives might hang out on the couch behind me in my room while I cut to do live edits because some people work better that way. If there are any issues, I’ll offer my thoughts on what’s working and what’s not. I have to constantly know  the point of the brand for the edit, so I do my own research or ask them about it to quickly understand – that way I have an informed opinion when asked. And sometimes account clashes with creatives! Or the client wants something the creative isn’t keen on. There’s a large balancing act to perform when this happens, ensuring the video is its very best using the collective information and revisions that come back my way. It’s no easy feat, but it’s a necessity to be the calm center.

Gotta caffeinate, this is one of my many coffee mugs that changes colours when hot! ^_^/

And maybe the most important skill learned at a job like this? People and politics.

Often times, someone will ask for things I don’t have. They may have wonky or contradictory specs. They’ll want incredibly complicated, colorful layers brought down into a super tiny sized GIF (and still look good?) or a lengthy HD video crunched so small it’s pixels. Or my collaborators may not have any idea about anything direction-wise, except here’s this footage and what can we do with it? In doing that, I have exercised creative skills crafting the story and the focal point for the brand, all without even a script. I’ve learned how to say no. I’ve gained confidence in my gut. I’ve learned a hell of a lot in the process – how to set, manage and exceed expectations. Sometimes all in the same day.

I’m touching many tools and many projects all at once, challenged to learn new things every day that fit into the constraints of different expectations or budgets. It may not be the traditionally sexy work that every young editor aspires to, but it has served me well. And working in this role has inspired me to talk about my work much more. There’s so much more to post production beyond what you can find on Netflix. What about that YouTube pre-roll ad that reminded you that show was even ON Netflix?

Keepin a sense of humour round these parts, haha.

This sort of editing job is arguably more accessible than more visible roles in large cities, and provides essential industry experience, from tech to soft skills, for anyone in post production. Traditional film and television is mostly available in New York or Los Angeles -- if you don’t live there, the struggle is real.

Whether you aspire to move on to narrative television or documentary features or you’re going to continue to climb the ranks that corporate video has to offer, your work is valid and important. Being invisible can make it feel like the work you’re doing isn’t on par with Hollywood when in reality, it’s all the same skills and then some! The growth of “other” kinds of media creation like digital TV and web series is bringing a whole bunch of new jobs to our industry, and that’s important for the future of post production. So make yourself known – talk about your work online and in person and be proud of what you’re accomplishing, no matter what it is!

I do get out of the editcave sometimes - enjoying the beach with Kylee (@kyl33t) this time last year!

Post-related blogs from video editor @ninjakittay on twitter!
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