Recently I have been digging into the process of water coloring. I have not seriously used paint before with my work. In general, I prefer to do my coloring on the computer. It is cleaner and brighter; BUT, my line art style is messy. I love broken and unfinished lines. Watercolor matches well with my aesthetic. So, this week, I have knuckled down and am learning a new skill. I have a long way to go; here are some of my warm-ups.
“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
– Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Ms. Kia Hurtley, my 10th and 11th grade English teacher, filled her room with famous and inspiring quotes. Quotes written on the chalkboard, hand-painted on paper around the room, and on posters. One I often stared at was titled, “All I Need to Know About Life I Learned from Star Wars.” Yoda’s sage advice about doing or not doing was the first life lesson listed. I thought it was quaint. I loved Star Wars and chuckled at the “wisdom” dispensed by a swamp-dwelling muppet. It has taken me almost 20 years to learn my lesson.
I have believed in many lies in my life. One of the most pervasive and popular lies is “success and fame will bring fullness, joy, and contentment.” Success is measured by volume of what is made and consumed by others, or how much one can earn. Fame is measured by name and face recognition by the wider public. Being successful and famous, I am told, is all I need to rid myself of the daily demons of doubt and self-loathing. Like most good Americans, I have internalized this messianic metric and apply it to every aspect of my life. Am I doing enough at my work to be considered successful? Have I earned enough from my drawings and illustrations to enjoy a measure of fame? Am I doing enough of the right kind of spiritual, physical, and mental practices? Am I trying hard enough?
A second, partnering lie to the first is a double-edged one I have been fed ad nauseum by my culture, “fame and success will come suddenly from minimal effort and serendipity;” and, “fame and success will come from failing again and again and trying harder each time.” These lies are based on half-truths. Sure, overnight successes happen. Yes, histories exist of women and men toiling through a series of failures only to finally meet with success. These are not guarantees and often involved other factors than the sheer grit of the individual. As the punk band Mission of Burma sang in the 80’s, “Fame and fortune is a stupid game, and fame and fortune is the game I play.”
My writing and creative work have needlessly suffered under these lies. I wonder if they have for you too, reader. I keep trying. I keep chasing after that wind of success and fame. I keep hoping if I try harder, try to get connected to the right people, try to have my work exposed to more eyes, try to write what I think people want to hear, then and only then will I taste the sweetness of the fame and fortune dream.
Of course, that dream is a nightmare. The striving after it is a lie. The messiah of meaning to be found in success and fame is false. I am not the first to understand there is no real salvation in material wealth or social standing. Wisdom literature around the world speaks to the emptiness of success as I have been taught to measure it.
“Great trouble comes from not knowing what is enough. Great conflict arises from wanting too much. When we know when enough is enough, there will always be enough.”
– Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching 46
“‘Everything is meaningless,’ says the teacher, ‘completely meaningless.’ …’So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless – like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.’”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2 and 2:9-11
“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth
you have given away.” – Marcus Aurelius
Which brings me to Yoda. I have seen my “work” in terms of trying – of chasing the wind. If a post doesn’t get shared enough, I haven’t tried hard enough. If there aren’t likes beyond my friends and family, I have failed. I am not doing. I am trying. I am striving after something I can never hold. Like Luke Skywalker, I think the answer is in the effort, not the decision to begin.
What if I rethink the goal? What if we all did? Maybe the writing, the cartooning, the creating is an end in itself? Perhaps being truthful to myself in all I do is success. Perhaps reaching one or two people with my work, regardless of their connection to me, that is fame. The work of writing is begun and accomplished in the doing. Material wealth, financial excess, celebrity, these cannot rid me of my demons. As Jim Carrey said, “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
From this day on, I have chosen to do. To write as often as I can. To publish and share these jots and jabbers with the world. Not as an offering of one with all the answers, but as bread crumbs of truth along the path. Mostly written for myself, with the hope to find sisters and brothers along the way. Walk with me, won’t you?
It has been a very busy year thus far. I have completed illustrations for two new books by Nomad Press: Planetary Science and The American Civil War! I can’t wait to see them both in print. I’m also beginning work on illustrations for a few titles I can talk about in the future, but not quite yet.
I find it funny, and a little sad, to have my previous post, published 4 months ago, be about sloth. It is truly something I need to continue to work on overcoming. More work, sketches and images will be loaded in the coming weeks so you can see what I have been up to!
Hooray for November! October was a very busy month for me finishing the primary art for Human Movement to be published by Nomad Press next year. I was also continuing to recover from my pneumonia, almost gone now, and dealing with the heavy heartedness of the anniversary of a friend’s tragic death.
October is behind me now and I have a lot in the hopper for November.
First off, I am happy to announce that the Shakespeare book by Andi Diehn I illustrated has been published! It is number one in TWO categories on Amazon right now. So happy for Andi and her work with this. She has every right to be proud!
I am also going to be signing contracts this month to create illustrations for two new Nomad books in the Spring, more on these when the signatures dry.
Secondly, this month marks my return to two projects that have been slowly bubbling since this summer. I am working on marketing materials for Cornerstone University’s Humanities department (I will share more on this soon). I am also creating a long-ish comic book for CRREL (The Army Corps of Engineers: Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) about the science of Snow/Ice Pits in arctic regions. Both of these projects are close to my heart for different reasons, the former because the Humanities Department played an important role in making me the person I am today, the latter because I believe understanding the science of studying our climate to be vitally important.
I will post progress on both of these projects as I work on them this month.
Blogging more regularly is a priority for me. I am going to publish two articles this month in my “To the Side” series about my strange relationship with reality and people. One about Sloth. The other about the Enneagram. My series on Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing should wrap up by early December. I have caught up on reading and have been formulating my thoughts around it. Stay tuned.
Finally, I have been, and will continue to, work on my Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam articles. I don’t want to publish these until I have several ready after being read and edited by people I trust.
Why are these so important and worth me spending a lot of time editing? Because they are about something very foundational to who I am and how I interact with the world. Because it’s scary to expose ideas that will get me flak from strangers, friends, and family. I don’t want to post something half-baked or overly passionate.
It has to do with my faith in God and how that faith has evolved, devolved, and regrouped in the face of science, doubt, new friendships, books, experience, and mystery.
When I was at the Center for Cartoon Studies I said something about my Christian faith while talking about my proposed senior thesis. Some students in the audience later told me how my statement immediately turned them off to wanting to talk to or interact with me. They assumed I was a close-minded idiot. Some told me of their fears of me because they had been abused or hurt by Christians.
I get it. Really I do. Many people, myself included have been damaged by people and institutions with the Christian label.
Hence, I am taking my time with these articles. Whatever you are assuming about me now, please, you are probably in for a bit of a shock (unless you know me really, really well).
I also don’t want these articles to be preachy or combative. Any conflict in them will revolve around my own inner struggles with ideas and criticisms. I just want to come clean and confess where I am with what I believe about things. Maybe that will help others who are feeling the same way to not feel alone.
It’s to the wounded, the listless, and those who have left the faith to be more faithful that I write. I am also writing to myself.
So please bear with me as I take the time to write these articles. My personality is naturally averse to making claims and statements. I also try to avoid confrontation at all costs, even with myself. Talking about faith or non-faith by it’s very nature will make claims and cause confrontation. I better be damn sure of what I have written before I hit, “publish.”
I shudder, hearing every log that falls;
No scaffold could be built with hollower sounds.
My spirit is like a tower whose crumbling walls
The tireless battering-ram brings to the ground.
It seems to me, lulled by monotonous shocks,
As if they were hastily nailing a coffin today.
For whom? – Yesterday was summer. Now autumn knocks.
That mysterious sound is like someone’s going away.
from “Song of Autumn” by Charles Baudelaire
trans. by C. F. MacIntyre
I try to find meaning in all events. It is a foolish thing at times, I know. Our brains were molded to find meaning and, in the absence of clarity, imagine patterns in the chaos. A wonderful man died a year ago. I write in 2016, a year filled with events I wish he was still here to experience. I’ve been picking at the emotional scabs formed over the hole his death left in my psyche. What has come oozing out is a painful mixture of love and loss. Continue reading