Shut Up, Kristen

I think the biggest barrier I’ve had to overcome since taking the plunge to be a full time artist is myself.

“I’ve had to overcome” is probably poor phrasing. It implies that I’ve overcome this barrier already and have moved on. It suggests that I’ve stopped comparing myself to other artists with the quantifiable scrutiny that comes from being able to count and compare the number of likes, reblogs, and retweets I have. I’m still somewhat obsessively refreshing my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I still stare at the 244 likes that my Facebook page has and remind myself that 48 of those people who clicked the “like” button were people who aren’t already my friends. 48. That’s not nothing. I need to remember that.

I desperately cling to these scraps of validation from strangers. It’s like I mistrust praise from my friends because they’ve lost all objectivity when they became friends with me. I need to remember that strangers compliment my work when they see me drawing in bars. I need to remember that ruggers whom I’ve never met have bought shirts I designed; I’ve seen them wear them at rugby tournaments. I need to bear in mind that I am still capable of profit from countless other products that I haven’t yet printed or produced: bumper stickers, lapel pins, tank tops, tote bags, postcards, and more.

I think the bottom line is I’m not taking care of my maintenance as an artist. I’m getting too caught up in the murky and mysterious depths of my subconscious, drowning in how I think my latest creative endeavor is perceived instead of buoying myself on the concrete: the demand of goods, the fulfillment of commissions, etc. Remember that list of four things I need to do every day? I’ve been neglecting  maintenance and commissions in exchange for free drawing and plotting Untitled Pirate Comic.

Though I am glad I’m at least drawing and drawing a lot. The free drawings I’ve been doing have been pretty great (and I like having an audience for some of them). I’ve missed churning out regular comics about my life and fanciful drawings of monsters and mythology:

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He doth slime his way into battle.

 

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Odin

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With U.P.C., I think once I get over the guilt of even considering doing a comic about pirates in the first place, I’ll be able to make some headway with the comic and start thumbnailing. I’m almost done with the plot. I really like the characters and how the first issue is structured (it is going to be a LOT longer than my last comic), but I keep getting dragged down to the depths of my subconscious where the only light is from an angler-fish-demon of insecurity. (See above)

And then the scrutiny begins. The imposter syndrome sets in and I’m tossing and turning trying to remind myself of all the things I liked about the story I’d created. The characters are diverse and deceptive. There’s just enough historicity for me to feel okay about the omission of other details. The ending is wanting for more. But somehow I’ll always manage to talk myself out of liking it.

I need to remember that this is a fantasy world with fictional people in a made up time based on events that actually occurred. I just need to keep going. It is so hard to move forward when you’re the one holding yourself back.

Last night I envisioned myself running into the warm, safe, and secure arms of all the excuses I’d made in the past for not pursuing this dream. Then a cold, hard roadblock appears. One that reminds me that I CAN’T GO BACK. Those excuses aren’t your friends. These protections won’t help you. It’s how I’m unlearning everything I’ve been taught about pies in skies.

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Just keep doing. Every god damn day. Get back to work. Just do.

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Accountabiliblog

So I know I just updated a couple days ago, but journaling usually helps me get the brain juices flowing, so bear with me.

Wait, why am I asking you to “bear with me”? You’re the one reading this stupid blog. Hey reader! Do whatever the hell you want!

So the only substantial thing I’ve accomplished in the last couple days is set up my Patreon Page, which took longer than I expected and thus far is ringing me in about $25 a month. But hey, it’s a start! (Also, I love my friends. THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUU!)

Aside from that, all I’ve done is set up a daily structure that I think I can keep to. And, in the interest of continuing to be held accountable by you all, I’ll list them for you:

Every day, in any particular order, I need to spend some time working in all four of the following areas:

  1. Maintenance: This is anything ranging from updating this blog to writing thank you notes for patrons. (Have I mentioned my Patreon Page yet?) Thus far, the bulk of my work accomplished has been in this area. Next step: setting up my online store, printing things for sale, etc.
  2. Commissions: I’ve got three that I’m working on at the moment. Keep ’em coming!
  3. Untitled Pirate Comic: Or, as I like to call it, engaging in a staring contest with the wall. Haven’t yet decided if taking breezy seaside walks constitutes working on this project.
  4. Free Draw: Doodlin’! I think it might be fun to include an audience for this. I ordered one of those phone arm holder things from Amazon. When it arrives, I’m going to start making live videos of things I draw and patrons will be given the option of suggesting things for me to draw. What’s a patron, you ask? (Haaaaaaaave I mentioned my Patreon Page?)

That’s all. I just wanted to write this down so I don’t forget/am held accountable. Although, if I’m being honest, I also want the satisfaction of accomplishing something no matter how small.

Get to Work Ye Scallywag!

It’s my first day on the job. And by that I mean “self-employed” as an artist. I wonder if updating my blog constitutes as dicking off…

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve moved back to New Hampshire to live with my parents while I focus on a couple larger projects that I only foresee finishing without bearing the yoke of maintaining a day job to pay the bills/afford rent. I got here five days ago and I’ve been relaxing as best I could since, reading, playing video games, playing with Henry the dog. Today is the day I buckle down and start working. It’s Monday. I’m in my pajamas. This is the only job I ever want to have.

It’s definitely taken some adjustment being here. I’m not just referring to the pervasive quaintness of Portsmouth, although that is worth mentioning. Replace the evergreens and blackberry bushes with maple, birch, and oak that are just beginning to singe with autumnal splendor. 503 is now 603. Instead of tattoos, septum piercings, and eccentric haircuts, sensible sweaters and salt-and-pepper bobs. No zine shops to speak of. The nearest art supply store (that isn’t Michael’s) is an hour north or south, Portland or Boston respectively. The art in gift shops is almost exclusively pastoral images of the seacoast, tugboats, lobster, watercolor flowers. I wasn’t kidding when I told my friends I imagined myself going to live on a monastery for a while. My art and I stick out like a sore thumb.

It’s also taken some slight adjustment getting used to my parents as roommates. It’s been eleven years since I’ve lived with them and never in this house. I think they’re both waiting for me to pick up some sort of artistic momentum. Now that I mention it, I’m waiting for that too.

I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock creatively with the project I was most excited about: a comic about a band of female pirates. Think Rat Queens meets Black Sails. The roadblock has been developing over the past couple days the more I’ve read about pirates and women sailors of colonial America. Basically, the way I see it, this is the general historical consensus regarding pirates from nearly every historian:

They were assholes.

This isn’t that surprising a discovery. I’ve known for some time that I’ve been romanticizing what was essentially 17th and 18th century naval terrorism.  Here’s what I find most interesting about this pocket of history though:

  1. The line between privateering (in which governments hired pirates to pillage and plunder ships and forts from enemy nations during wartime) was quite blurred.
  2. The level to which colonial cities relied on pirate plunder to boost their economy when an increasingly out of touch mother country enforced more restrictions on their imports.
  3. The wild and unruly quality of naval law in the high seas and in early colonial America. (This also relates to my interest in the towns that sprang up in the wild west: seeing how societies form when they’re further removed from a distant and vague governing body.)

Also, I should probably mention (or it is obvious) that I’m exclusively mentioning the golden age of piracy, which existed within the timeframe mentioned above along the east coast of North America. However, I am really interested in reading more about Madame Ching, the most successful pirate in history (female or male), who essentially brought the Chinese government to their knees, but that’s for a different time in different waters.

Ways I see it, there are exactly three ways to put a positive twist on a fictional account of pirates:

  1. Pirates vs. Other Pirates
  2. Pirates vs. Supernatural Elements (krakens, skeletons, sirens, etc.)
  3. Pirates vs. a cruel and distant government (The Crown)

These are the perimeters I’ve given myself to work with, but there are other elements that I’m unsure of. First, how historical am I going to be actually? I’ve been developing characters for about a year now with the intention of them being diverse and interesting to promote representationalism when the fact of the matter is that Atlantic piracy has almost always been white male dominated. (Go figure. See above re:assholes.) So if this only loosely tied to history, how will these characters speak? How will they act? I’ve always found the old Thor comics distracting when they had him speak with “thou” and “thee.” How modern am I making this? What nods to actual events will I portray?

The questions pile up as they did in my brain at like 2am last night: Is this worth doing? Is this a good idea? Why am I romanticizing this? Do I have the chops (as a writer and an artist) to pull this off? Should I start another project first and then come back to this? Should I scrap this entirely?

Well, as far as the last question goes, no. I’m scrapping nothing. But I do have a lot of work to do. My major goal for the next couple of weeks is to storyboard this monster, but in the meantime, here are some areas I think could use some improvement that will increase the depth and richness of my Untitled Pirate Comic:

  1. An understanding of colonial piracy along the New England coast (ports hit, ships ransacked, etc.)
  2. Rendering landscapes (particularly colonial houses, streets, etc.)
  3. General naval knowledge from that time: boats, ships, clippers, sloops, their parts, how they were manned, etc.

So that’s where I am now. I’m going to keep reading. I’m going to keep drawing. I’m going to keep writing (which still looks like I’m staring at the wall for hours, but I swear I’m structuring a plot in my head). In the meantime, I’m going to try to stop second guessing myself. But it’s tricky when you’re your own boss. Boss Kristen can tend to be a hyper-critical hard-ass, but at least she lets me wear my pajamas and minotaur hat to work.

[Suggested soundtrack:]

Expressions!

I’m three days into being 29 and my voice still hasn’t fully returned. Sometimes I wonder if one of these days I’ll just wake up with no voice for the rest of my life. Maybe that’s why I’m so desperate to communicate in other forms. I’m paradoxically apprehensive about speaking with strangers and yet I also feel this strong desire to speak to the public, behind my wall of paper, pen, and words on a screen.

Speaking of inaudible communication, I want to rave for a little bit about facial expressions from two artists that I just can’t get enough of.

The first should be obvious: Bill friggen Watterson:

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To say that I’m influenced by the genius of Calvin and Hobbes is a bit of an understatement. While I go through phases of interests that pass through my life like cloud formations, there has never been a moment of my life since my discovery of the strip that I haven’t been completely and utterly infatuated with it. I don’t think I’ll ever look back at my childhood, when I would pore over (and consequently destroy) my paperback copies of Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat or Scientific Progress Goes Boink and think, “Oh yeah. I used to be really into that.”

Wrong. Erroneous. You used to be really into ska music, Kristen. You will never not be really into Calvin and Hobbes.

And I think part of what makes the strip so timeless and intrinsically humorous (apart from Watterson’s imaginative, eloquent, and thoughtful writing) is how simply and hilarious his facial expressions are. I remember being amazed when he would break from his usual style of big-headed, small-footed cartoon characters and put Calvin and Susie in a soap-opera style illustration of them playing house, as if to demonstrate what else he could draw. The man clearly was up to his eyeballs in artistic talent. And I think that by drawing in an art form that was easy to consistently reproduce (drawing the same cartoon characters within a daily strip), facial expressions allowed Watterson to flex a particular artistic muscle: the art of simply portraying meaning in a face. Simply being the operative word.

I’ve been having the same conversation with professors, mentors, and friends about the connection between talent and skill for like ten years. We were taught throughout our schooling that writing (and, I assume also, art) can be taught and perfected like a skill. Talent, however, is intrinsic and cannot be taught. Now I’m not sure how much of Watterson’s work is talent and what is a taught skill. But I feel pretty confident (looking at my own work) to say that in order to render something as complex as the human face with as much cartoonish simplicity as Watterson did, a lot of study has to go into it. Study means this is a skill; achieved and perfected by anyone with enough drive and work and time.

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surly attitude

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Moving on (with the obvious disclaimer that I COULD CONTINUE to gush about and praise Bill Watterson….), let’s talk about the animator Will Vinton:

When I was last home, my family and I watched the Return to Oz which I think (as an adult) is a stylistically brilliant film. If I’d seen it as a kid, I probably would’ve hated it. After all, I was scared of the abominable snowman in the stop-motion Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer film. (I know. What a weenie…) However, I was most intrigued by the claymation of the Nome King. I knew I recognized the style from somewhere and sure enough, it was Will Vinton, the guy behind this creepy clip that I love:

Now this is a bit of a tangent (I should be talking about other comic artists right?), but I have to say how much I love when expressive animation that can add a dash of darkness to a film. Claymation and animation have long been dominated as a medium for children, so when animators take risks in this field, they gamble at terrifying their audience. (Wait, weren’t comics “just for kids” too?) Ironically, despite being frightened as a child of the benign snowman in a holiday special, I can’t get enough of the darker, creepier animations for children. Think Coraline or the Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia.  Or better yet, look at the climax of Return to Oz, when the Nome King accidentally swallows an egg. Look at his minion’s faces. I just love how they claw into their own mouths to escape their poisoned monarch.

I think another thing that makes me appreciate Will Vinton even more is the knowledge of just how long it took to animate his expressions. I often whine about how long it takes to draw a comic (especially when compared to how long it takes to read it). Claymation puts that into some perspective. Vinton’s first short film (which was made here in Portland!) was seven minutes long and took fourteen months to make!

Also, this is what Will Vinton looked like. The jury’s still out on whether or not he brought the hipster mustache to Portland in 1973, or the mustache brought him.

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I have another animator that inspires me, but his style has less to do with facial expressions than Vinton, so I’ll probably gush about Cyriak in a later post, for the sake of a continuous theme. In the meantime, if you guys can think of any animators or artists that are similar or comparably talented to the two I mentioned in this post, send them my way! I love a good face.

Also, you know what Bill Watterson and Will Vinton have in common (besides their first names and tremendous skill when depicting facial expressions)? They were pretty big in the 80’s.

You know what else was a big thing to come out of the 80’s?

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ME.

Affection: Not Even Once

I think we’re addicted to affection. Like heroine addicts.

Sometimes, in the depths of my loneliness, I find it difficult to distinguish between an objective, unbiased thought and a rationalization that I’ve conjured to help me cope with my lifestyle. To be fair, I doubt many people face the mirror with their emotions as much as I do. Maybe that’s why they’re out there getting shit done.

Am I better or worse for acknowledging that my thoughts are often filtered through a mercurial layer of emotion? Am I recognizing something that not many people do? I wonder how many proclamations and opinions are, at their core, desperate self-affirmations fueled by an unknown yet prominent emotion, shouted in the hopes that that emotion will be affirmed (and justified, recognized) in the eyes of others.

This is getting too deep. I only have so much brain in my head considering the rest of the nooks and crannies are filled with mucus. Summer colds are just the best.

Let me get back to my original thought before I psychoanalyze it out of existence.

Affection is addicting. And we’re all addicts.

I’m saying this as someone in recovery. And by that, I mean without any reliable source of affection. And like someone in recovery, I have cravings. As of late, this has been bubbling up in my subconscious in the form of dreams of my exes. It’s sort of like my brain is saying, “Hey remember this? Bet you forgot how good this felt. Here’s a reminder.” What a jerk.

And they were all little things too, these dreams. Inconsequential moments. Nothing as huge as the dream where Daniel Stern was trying to kill me or I had to rescue hostages from a swarm of human-sized bugs. (My dreams are weird.)

Just small moments. Like, how nice it is to have someone hold your hand and gently kiss your knuckles.

Or have someone rub your back if you can’t sleep at night.

The feeling of knees and ankles adjusting under the covers.

Their hand on yours, stroking you with their thumb.

Sleep soaked murmurs.

Etc.

Then yesterday, while I was miserably waiting in line at the pharmacy to buy NyQuil and ramen, I realized I was literally sandwiched in line by two couples, each indulging in their own affection addictions. Wrapping an arm around her waist and kissing her forehead. Leaning a head on his shoulder. Blah blah blah.

Whatever.

I see people deal drugs outside of my apartment all the time. No big deal

I guess this is my weekly meeting. This blog post is me standing up to a room of strangers and saying, “Hi. My name is Kristen and I’m affection addict.”

“Hi Kristen.”

And here comes my emotionally fueled, desperate self-affirmation (or unbiased truth, depending on how you look at it):

Isn’t affection why people stay with the wrong partners for so long? It’s the junky in us. A nice feeling, both physical and emotional, that we so vividly remember from the past, we cling to it, desperate for its repetition. We’re capable of overlooking a lot, even (and most often) the boredom and monotony of a partnered life just to get that feeling again. The singular, physical feeling of affection. The affirmation that another human wants to make you feel special and comfortable in the simplest, laziest of ways. And I get it. Going cold turkey is hard. It’s not easy to get off that drug. And even “clean”, there are relapses. Cravings. Dreams.

I don’t think humans are exclusively self-indulgent in this regard. Lots of creatures crave affection. Cats, in the right light. Dogs almost always. Sometimes they cuddle each other and our hearts explode.

Maybe that’s why we call these creature comforts.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is. I think half of me is desperate to convince the other half that I’m better off not hooked on anyone; off the drug of dependency. I’m better off without someone to pluck loose eyelashes from my cheek.  I’m better off without a shoulder to lean on or a neck to nuzzle. I’m not hooked on flirty, lingering texts before I fall asleep. I answer to no one. Not a soul.

It’s taking a lot of convincing though.

Screen Printing, Day Jobs, and Commissions

My oh my…. What a week!

Let me start by telling you how successful I’ve been screen printing images onto clothing:

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…. I haven’t been….

Turns out screen printing is A LOT harder than the dude in the youtube video made it look. Go figure.

I’ve spent the past two weekends at two different friend’s houses trying to perfect this process. What I really need is someone who has successfully screen printed images onto apparel to teach me what exactly I’m doing wrong. Perhaps that was my thinking when accepting a job at a screen printing warehouse. I thought if I start working at a place where shirts are mass printed, I might be able to get some insight as to what I was doing wrong.

…..I didn’t….

I worked at Oregon Screen Images for a whopping two days before I threw in the towel. Here’s why:

I hated the hours. 6:30AM-3:30PM, Monday-Friday. These were Cheerful Tortoise hours and I hated them so much. Mornings are mine. I wake up at 6AM every day because that is my time. I do my physical therapy exercises. I draw. I write. I make breakfast. If the day job I’m working “just to pay the bills” eliminates this ever-essential chunk of my day, I don’t know that I can justify doing it. I never applied to Oregon Screen Images to be a professional factory worker. It wasn’t my dream job. My dream job is to write and draw all day, every day, forever. If a job I’m holding prevents me from achieving this goal on a daily level, it just isn’t worth my time.

Not to mention, I hatestanding all day. It’s one thing if I was moving around, lifting, walking, and given the freedom to take breaks as I wanted. It’s quite another to be working in a factory, standing on cardboard all day (no fatigue mats?), doing the same repetitive work with all the blood in my legs cramping and burning. I left work both days feeling like absolute garbage. Yes, some of this could’ve been remedied with better footwear, but this issue coupled with my previous complaint regarding hours made it easy to quit.

Plus, I’d found a new job! I had my first day today and I’m already loving it.

Beckett (my rugby coach) posted something on my team’s Facebook page about her friends needing help pool cleaning. I interviewed with some lovely folks last week and started today. It’s hard work, relying heavily on my upper-body strength (which… leaves much to be desired…). But I work with some wonderful individuals all day in the sun. Everyone is very aware of my leg injury. They check in periodically to see how I’m doing, if I’m able to do the jobs I’ve been given. I get the feeling that if I needed to take a break (for whatever reason), I wouldn’t need to ask. There’s no office politics like there was at Pruf Cultivar. No one’s gunning for anyone else’s job. No one is better than anyone else. We show up to a pool, clean it, and move on. And it is so refreshing to do good work on a team.

And I’m going to get so tan. So… so tan….

When I finished work around 4:30 today, I went to a bar and drew commissions for a couple hours. And now I’m home, it’s almost 9, and I’m about ready to crawl into bed.

This, this was the kind of job I needed. I covered all my bases today. I was outside, I exercised, and I did the art. Twice!

Now whether or not I can keep afloat with this job is yet to be decided….

On that note:

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I’m doing commissions like crazy to try and make it through May. If I ever get the swing of screen printing, that will help supplement my income, but in the meantime, send me your commissionzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! I love them.

On an unrelated note, I totally bragged about not being able to burn today and I totally got sunburned.

Goodnight, internet.

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.

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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.