Constructive Compliments and Accepting Flaws

Hi.

My name is Kristen.

This is my first blog post. In this blog. Technically my first blog post ever was April 14, 2004, which is the date I started my livejournal. I was in high school. I was going to share some of it here but it is super boring.

That might be a good enough segue to tie into what I want to talk about in my first blog post: CONSTRUCTIVE COMPLIMENTS. And ACCEPTING FAULTS.

I’m trying to break the habit of referring to my art as “dinky doodles,” or “silly comics.” I shouldn’t be invalidating the product I’m trying to sell, even if I am wildly intimidated by the quality of others’ work. So to combat this, I try to remind myself what I do well. This leads me into part one of my First Ever Blog Post with Monster Cheese Musings: CONSTRUCTIVE COMPLIMENTS.

I wrote and illustrated a 20 page comic last year as part of my comics course with the Independent Publishing Resource Center. I haven’t uploaded it onto the internet nor have I printed more copies to sell for several reasons:

  1. It isn’t very good. (No, I’m not being modest. It’s like… okay at best.)
  2. It’s kind of personal.
  3. It has a dumb title.
  4. It has a scene that features me masturbating and I’d die if my family saw it.
  5. See 1.

I did a reading of the second half of it (with the images projected behind me) at my graduation and immediately sold out of all the zines I’d published by kind and supportive friends in attendance. (I have the best friends. They didn’t even care that I accidentally sliced off too much of it so some of the copies had missing margins and letters….) A while later, my friend Andi told me about a conversation she had with a mutual friend of ours regarding my work and they said something that has always stuck with me:

“You’re really vulnerable with your work.”

I think that’s a perfect example of a constructive compliment. We were all taught during our writing education that constructive criticisms are important. If you don’t like something, why? And while I’m really good at nit-picking the things I don’t like about my own work with ruthless detail, hearing a compliment with the same amount of precision and detail is just as important. That’s what keeps me going. The specifics.

Don’t get me wrong. When strangers, distant friends, and random people on Tinder/OKCupid say “I like your comics,” I’ll still feel gratified by the compliment. But I love hearing why they like my work. And Andi’s compliment in particular stuck with me because it’s something that I’ve always admired about other artists.

I once read an article in which female web comic artists wrote and illustrated their experience when trying to draw themselves nude. It was a task even I, with my self-proclaimed “boldness,” couldn’t complete, even in the privacy of my own apartment. Artists out there are constantly ripping their guts out, splattering them on paper, and thrusting it in the faces of strangers. Dirty laundry lines the walls of comic world. All the shameful images we’ve tried to forget, these brave artists have illustrated repeatedly and publicly. Why? Because it’s humanizing. We’ve all been there. It’s painstakingly relatable.

I often self-censor myself and a lot of it has to do with how lovingly active and supportive my direct and extended family is on social media. This is often a bonus; it makes the 3,000 mile distance that separates us more tolerable. Their words of support from afar help me feel like they’re close and this encourages me to continue. However, there are certainly a handful of comics that I have yet to publish or upload because they feature “strong language” or “sexual situations” or other acts of shame. Monster Cheese Comics rigidly PG-13 and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to burst out of that niche.

If I haven’t chewed your ear off about Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking,” allow me to do it now. This woman, a bold and successful lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, does a terrific job at dismantling the stigmas surrounding an artist asking for payment for her or his work. She demonstrates this by describing her personal struggles at achieving financial stability in the early stages of her career. She is eloquent, non-judgmental, and above all, vulnerable. I can’t express enough admiration for how the exposure of her own insecurities helps me deal with mine. That’s the kind of art I want to do. It just feels so much more real. I think that’s part of the reason I felt inspired to start this blog.

On the subject of insecurities, let’s get into ACCEPTING FAULTS.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been pretty down lately. I lost my job last week, an act that I wouldn’t say was entirely undeserved. Extreme? Yes. Heartbreaking? Yes. Malicious on the part of another coworker? Extra yes.

As an annoying consequence of being forced to examine my livelihood, I’ve spent many mornings wrapped up in my covers, crying those pathetic little cries in which you don’t really sob, tears just kind of ooze out of your eyeballs like ice melting. And I’d stare at the wall or at the ceiling, occasionally wiping my nose or my cheek or my forehead or burying myself deeper into the covers, just focusing on my worth. On my value as a person. I know I shouldn’t. I know I’m not defined by how I pay my bills, but I’ve been raised in a society that speaks contrary to that notion.

And as I’m putting myself on one side of the scale and trying to balance it, I can feel this despairing sense of my diminishing value. It’s hard not to feel like a colossal failure in this position. I turn 29 this year and what do I have to show for it? I have maybe enough money to last a month in this town. For the second time in my life, I’ve lost my job due to an attitude problem – how can I not internalize that? Or feel like maybe there is something fundamentally flawed with my personality that prevents me for functioning in the position I’m given? (Management just isn’t for me.) And what about my love life? Another colossal failure of feeling virtually nothing for anyone. Haven’t had a legitimate crush for two years; haven’t been in love in six years. How can I not internalize that? Is this another area in which I’m fundamentally flawed? And my sport (rugby), a source that once gave me a tremendous sense of physical and social achievement. I’ve had a knee brace following my ACL surgery for two months now. I’m physically incapable of excelling in yet another area of my life.

I imagine these burdens like giant sacks full of gravel, one after another, being hurled onto of my body, weighing me down to the point of collapse. This one’s called, “Anesthesiologist Bill.” This one’s called “Friend’s Wedding Invitation.”  This one’s called, “Scar Tissue Pain.” And as I lie there, buried beneath the weight of my perceived failure, my arm holds one tiny trophy. It’s one of those cheap, store-bought participation trophies on which is inscribed in small, delicate writing: Your art is good. On the back: You’re really vulnerable with your work.

unnamed
I tried to make the sacks look like the ones from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but they kind of look like onions instead…

And that’s the one thing I have to show for all these years I’ve been in Portland since graduating. My art is the one thing that has improved, It hasn’t sustained me. I think I used the profits from the zines I’d sold following my graduation to buy celebratory beers with my friends. But here I am, still churning away.

I’m going to wrap up with one final anecdote regarding flaws. A while back, Beckett (my rugby coach) approached me to help illustrate a series of tarot cards she’s making. She gave me the designs she had and asked me to try and play with her ideas, which were pretty esoteric and abstract by the way. (Illustrate “freedom,” for example.) When we met up again, I showed her my work. The few drawings I’d done were rigidly measured. I’d felt this tremendous need to have the cards be mathematically perfect, down to the quarter centimeter. I’d used a ruler, drew and erased over and over again until I had a near-identical image to the one Beckett had presented me. When I showed her what I’d done, she said something that surprised me. Apparently she had approached me with this commission specifically because my usual work wasn’t perfect. She was dissatisfied with what I’d done with her tarot cards for the opposite reason I’d expected. It was too perfect. Too precise. Too neat.

I found this (and other Beckett lessons) to be pretty symbolic. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around the notion that perhaps people like my work (and, by extension, me) not in spite of my flaws, but because of them. Maybe people like me (and, by extension, my work) because I’m sloppy, loud, emotionally-driven, and weird.

Getting used to that idea is harder than you’d think. So thanks, all, for constructively complimenting me and loving me because of my flaws.

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