Hard Work, Summer Update 2017

Whew!
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!

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Sloth

Sloth

The seven deadly sins are a Catholic idea birthed by the mystical desert fathers and matured in the middle ages. They sound like good fodder for horror movies, seeds for a life of shame and guilt, and old ideas which have no place in a modern world where science and the market rule supreme. I live in America a country overrun by two major sins, Greed and Pride (doesn’t matter which political side is in power). I struggle mainly under the thumb of a lesser understood sin, Sloth. Ironically, I have been working on this article for 6 months and kept putting it off…

The most famous sins we all know: Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, and Envy. Pride and Sloth are less understood. Pride is more than narcissism. Sloth is more than being lazy. We also don’t understand the adjective. Deadly doesn’t mean one will immediately die if trapped in their gravitational pull. Deadly means they will harm you, others, and the world; however, left unchecked, they will kill you. It has been worth my time to wrestle with the idea of deadly sin.

The idea of deadly sins doesn’t sit well in our modern world. “Sin” is a word that is ironically sinful to talk about in non-religious settings. We in the west are used to thinking of sin in moralistic terms: Right and Wrong, a.k.a. doing something anti-right is a sin. However, the classic understanding of sin as something that twists or distorts is how I will be using it. Thought of in classical terms, sin becomes an archetypal malady of the mind/being. Our personality types make us each vulnerable to one or more of these archetypes of malady.

Full disclosure, I don’t think of sin in moralistic terms anymore. I know there are those who do, and I respect that opinion. I don’t think it is useful to dwell on sins as isolated acts one cannot overcome, nor as a corruption that cannot be remedied. As a Christian, I certainly don’t see sin in those terms. Sure, this is at odds with much of current Evangelical thought, but it is not foreign to Christianity nor heretical. For my atheist readers, I think using the word sin in a classical sense can be helpful. I do believe we are working on being better people. It is for this reason the classic virtues and their mirror sins are helpful constructs to consider as we move forward as a society. We are all struggling with our own garbage.

How did I come to understand that Sloth was my cardinal sin? I am a fat man, so one may think Gluttony is my main struggle; however, my weight has more to do with a society of cheap and easy carbohydrates than it does with classic Gluttony. As a Christian man I am conditioned to think Lust should be my main sin. I can get angry, I can be selfish, and I can be prideful. We all experience being flawed and broken people hurting ourselves and others, yet those momentary and episodic twists aren’t necessarily our cardinal sin. Yet, I never considered Sloth to be the lynch pin, (lynch sin?), for me and the twisted things I do to myself and others.

Last year I encountered the Enneagram via an episode of the Liturgist podcast, the book The Road Back to You, and a close friend who fell in love with the Enneagram. It’s a personality tool categorizing people into 9 basic types and is focused both on our core motivations and the problems we possess. I discovered my core Enneagram type is number 9, the peacemaker. Sounds great, right? In actuality because of the drive to make peace between all things, inaction is the core struggle of the 9 type.

In the autumn, I was rereading Dante’s Divine Comedy and the poet’s images of Sloth kept speaking to my own struggles. According to Dorothy Sayers, a translator of Dante, a Slothful person is “[one] who believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which [they] will die.” An extreme definition, but its hyperbole helped to shake me enough to see the trap I was living in.

My working definition of Sloth: “The inability to act in a meaningful way for the good of self, others, or the living world.” I also call it a “moral and physical paralysis.” It causes me to be afraid of standing for an issue, ideal, or person because of pushback from those on the other side.

In college the Director of Student Activities, Reaganite Republican, and good friend of mine, Patrick Miller, told me that my biggest problem was how I couldn’t decide on anything. I often spared with him politically, but easily let go of the liberal side of an argument and quickly conceded whenever and however another stronger idea was used against what I was proposing. I was neither conservative nor liberal. I was ultimately apolitical, yet believed in certain principles of human dignity I’d get worked up over and do nothing about. As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am like Macbeth’s definition of life, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I didn’t correctly call this Sloth. Even though many friends have called me out on my beige morality (#beigemorality) or labeled me as “wishy-washy,” I didn’t understand the root. It has always been Sloth. And I have used this twisted sin throughout my life to avoid things good and ill.

During my Junior year in High School my English teacher, Mrs. McGowan, wanted me to enroll in the Advanced Placement English class my senior year. I told her no. She called my parents to tell her how she felt I needed to be in her AP class. They asked me to consider being in AP English. They said it would help my college years. They said my teacher thought I had a gift with words and literature. I said no, again and again. They caved. I didn’t do it. I was afraid of the effort AP English would’ve demanded of me. I was fearful of competing on a higher level with other students who I thought were superior to my abilities of writing and understanding. I chose the easy road. Ironically, I became an English Major in college, but only after another brilliant and forceful teacher told me she thought I should be studying literature.

I also gave up on chasing the dream of cartooning or animation in High School because of Sloth. I was fearful that the road would be too hard. I wanted to do the easy thing. I chose things that were below my abilities. I settled for things because trying harder was unthinkable. Even years later with a masters degree in sequential art under my belt, I continue to take the easy road. Afraid to actually be authentic with my cartooning or make comics/graphic novels that SAY SOMETHING. #beigecreativity

Those who know me would call me a workaholic. I have deadlines and projects hanging over my head all the time. I burn the midnight oil almost every day. I work my 40 hour day job and then work 20 to 30 more hours a week on freelance work or on other projects or things I think I need to do. How can one who does all this struggle with Sloth? Easy. I am acting. I am trying to justify my indecisions and create a smokescreen to my heart for others. I feel that if I can keep myself busy I may be earn the admiration of people, the deadlines are real but I take on too many. If left to my own devices I’d live a life of unreflective inertia. I rarely challenge myself to do better at anything. I fear something else, something at the core of my being, authenticity.

As I have stated in my other To the Side essays, I am afraid of being authentic. Honesty to the world at large, others, and myself is really challenging. It’s as big a fear for me as heights or spiders are for others. I get short of breath, I lose my ability to speak, and I have small panic attacks. If I were to actually say what I think about things honestly to everyone, rather than to small groups of close friends, I fear losing things and enduring the wrath of those who disagree with me. I don’t publicly talk about my faith, politics, or opinions on life. Authenticity is frightening. Sloth is an enabler to that core fear. It offers a seductive response to the world, “just opt out.”

Classically how one works through a cardinal sin is to cultivate the opposite cardinal virtue. Our ancient brains tend to hold on to stressful thoughts or things we tag as necessary to survival. Sloth is a defense mechanism. It seeks to preserve me from stress by avoiding stress, but doing so in ways that hurt other people (being passive aggressive), hurt myself (overworking to prove I’m valuable), and damage the world (being a passive consumer). Decisive action, a.k.a. Zeal, is the cardinal virtue I need to practice. This takes my frontal lobe and it takes effort. I can passively let my monkey and lizard brain default to Sloth. I have to actively engage the human part of my mind to be decisive. It’s damn hard.

I am working through my slothfulness and learning, slowly, how to become more decisive and authentic. I have many issues and problems to work through, but understanding my core sin has given me language to begin tackling the monster of myself. With the grace of God manifested in others and honesty, I hope Sloth can be redeemed, day by day, moment by moment. Maybe one day I will be in a healthier place, hurting myself, others, and the world a little bit less.

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November Update 2016

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It’s published! Andi Diehn’s wonderful book with my humble illustrations is available now from bookstores new you!

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.”

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The Bird of Death on My Shoulders: To the Side – part two –

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This essay is dark, filled with triggers, and hopefully some light and love.

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

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Illustration Work: Human Movement Ch 2 and 3

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Chapter 2 is all about muscles and how they work.

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I am amazed at how complex our muscles are.

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I had some fun with this chapter.

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Chapter Three is an initial walk through the neurological park.

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I tried to find a simple way to illustrate how messages are sent via neurons to the various parts of our bodies. I’m awaiting approval from my publisher, but I can share what I have done with you.

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I am glad I get to work in with comic strips for these book. They are not always meant to be funny.

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Illustration from an activity on testing reflexes.

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