Blog

The Society of Split Minds

Two pages from J.B. Priestley's book Delight.

I’ve been reading J.B. Priestley’s book Delight during my morning excursions to the lavatory for the last couple months. Maybe this is a sign I’m turning into my father as I age, but I’ve really embraced the art of reading in the loo. I have yet to achieve his ability to stay in there for a half hour every morning, but I’m learning the ins and outs of the practice. You can’t, for example, just pick any old book! You need something with short enough chapters to remain enjoyable and engaging even if you’re only reading a page or two a day.

When I look back at 2022 in reading I realize a lot of my favorite books from this year happened to be Loo Reads. 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, The Timeless Way of Building, A Primer for Forgetting, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, Delight, 300 Arguments…I’m sure I enjoyed them for their own merits, but I also wonder if the pace of consumption didn’t have something to do with it as well. They kept me company for far longer than books typically do, and with far more consistency.

Anyway, Priestley is marvelous. So many of these entries feel like they could’ve been written yesterday; I’ve been resisting the temptation to write about them all. (It does, however, give me great pleasure to see Robin blogging about bits from the copy I sent him. I love it when a gift finds its mark.)

Matt Thoughts

Got to catch up with the inimitable Matthew Bogart on the phone the other day after an embarrassingly long lull in communication (although his Patreon updates make me feel like we’re good pals just chatting away on the regular, so maybe that’s why I lost track). At one point he said “That’s the entirety of comics for me: turning story into space” and I think that’s a REAL GOOD LINE! I wrote it down immediately because YES! EXACTLY! What a great form of wizardry to practice.

But now I’m thinking about why it is that pictures occupy spatial real estate for me in a way words…don’t?? I’m tired and it’s the end of the day so I’m not going to dig into why right now. Just chucking it into the posterity machine.

Anyway: Matt’s a good dude. The last time I saw him he was letting me borrow his corner rounder during the Pandemic. That’s a real friend.

“One thing isn’t very clear, my love…”

Forgot I’d never finished Queen’s Gambit, so I went to wrap up the last few installments yesterday. This song plays over the end credits of Episode 5 and it just transported me. Dinah Washington’s voice is unreal, and this lilting 50s arrangement is to die for.

This is more to do with the content of the episode than the song, but I’m such a sucker for media that captures the thrill of finding a worthy sparring partner—someone who’ll make you work to keep up for a change. Someone who’ll play. My friend Sarah calls it “air guitaring,” which I absolutely love, but there’s also the general purpose “yes, and…”, like you’re both in on a joke that’s being written in real time.

Octopus Pie Eternal

Four panels from Octopus Pie Eternal. Hannah, a woman with shoulder-length hair, looks furious in the top three panels. Over her head a balloon reads "You wanted to disappear. Gone in a puff of smoke! That was you, Hanna. It was you." By the third panel, her fury has turned to resignation. She says "Then I've made a mistake." In the fourth panel, she and her male partner face each other in the interior of a camper van in the woods. The side of the van is drawn as if it's missing, the better to see them looking at the floor, silent and alone.

I didn’t always keep up with Octopus Pie during the ten years Meredith spent making it regularly, but every time one of these standalone followup stories comes out, I’m blown away. Seeing webcomics creators approach characters they first started crafting in their 20s with the added life experience of becoming 30-somethings is just…it rules. It’s magical to see characters age as we age, becoming concerned with the types of life transitions and regrets and hopes that meet us with each passing decade.

And even beyond the content: THE STORYTELLING! I yelled when I saw these three panels because they’re magnificent. The tones, the panel borders, the scale, the expressions—all of it comes together to create this perfect denouement after a raging argument. And the van? The fuckin’ long shot crafted from a tiny space that shouldn’t by any rights work the way it does but it works so well??? I love seeing things like this. I miss seeing things like this.

I hear people talk about missing webcomics because Google Reader died, but the truth is there’s still plenty of RSS reader technology out there. There are more webcomics than ever. So why do I still fall prey to that feeling? Is it that I don’t have what it takes to invest in new stories or characters? That the selection has gotten too overwhelming? That I spend all my time making comics so I can’t relax by reading them anymore?

I’m not sure. I just know that reading this reminded me of what it felt like to be a kid in college with a bookmark folder of ten different stories I would gladly immerse myself in every day of the week, week after week, year after year. Stories that made me think I could do this too. Stories made by people who became my colleagues and friends.

Stories that it’s nice to return to every now and again, just to peek through the window and make sure everyone’s doing okay.

Operating Instructions

People keep asking me about AI and I really think how you feel about AI comes down to whether you believe art is about producing things (images, objects, data files, “content”) or about a way of operating in the world as an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional creature.

Austin Kleon

There it is again! Indentured spiritual servitude! Gotta beware that shit.

Prayer

As far as the dude goes, he’s secondary. A closed door is always secondary to the prayer you say in front of it. Go back to your prayer instead. Ask what’s in your prayer. What did you want from this closed door? What did you imagine behind it? All of the beauty and light and fun and passion that you are imagining lives inside your cells already. You are a creative force in this world and you can make art using this lonely, intense feeling you get from your prayer.

Heather Havrilesky (as Ask Molly)

(Cleaning out old notes in Bear, found this one under a tag I never used for anything else.)

“We weren’t even watching ourselves”

An added benefit of Brendan’s Christmas thread of appreciation: an enormous slew of new blogs to follow! Honestly too many. I get overwhelmed easily these days. But I lingered over his tweet about Nadia, because it mentioned experimentations with microgrants (HELLO), which then led me to her very clean and pleasing site.

I bopped around for a while, delighting in the short-form Notes and reading a few blog entries before adding the feed to my RSS reader. The joy in doing this (depending on how often someone updates their blog) is getting to jump back a few months or years in the timeline to see what they were up to before. That’s how I landed on this post about The Creator Economy from 2021. There are so many gems in here; things I think about all the time, but also things I don’t! She probes further beyond where this conversation usually ends, asking the kinds of questions the post suggests we should all be asking.

When I imagine a cultural renaissance that inspires me, I think about working together to address unsolved questions, tugging on threads in conversations that need unraveling, creating enduring artifacts for generations to pore over and iterate upon. The “publish or perish” model that nudges people to rack up more followers is not the pinnacle of creative freedom; it’s indentured spiritual servitude.

Indentured spiritual servitude! Hot damn!! This is precisely the situation so many of us cartoonists find ourselves in. Precisely the reason I feel so much resistance to the simple act of sharing a photograph or a passing thought on social media. However trivial, it still feels like something I have to do. It’s a matter of survival.

Towards the very end of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (which I finished in a glut yesterday morning), one of the protagonists gives a little speech about luck, and the circumstances of birth that led to their company being able to succeed at making video games where and when they did.

“[…] I think, because of the internet, we would have been overwhelmed by how many people were trying to do the exact same things we were. We had so much freedom—creatively, technically. No one was watching us, and we weren’t even watching ourselves.”

And just before that:

“It’s so easy to make a hit when you’re young and you don’t know anything.” “I think that, too,” Sadie said. “The knowledge and experience we have—it isn’t necessarily that helpful, in a way.” “So depressing,” Sam said, laughing. “What’s all of this struggle been for?”

They almost felt like too much, these tidy conversations at the end of the novel, because they’re exactly the conversations I have with my peers about “making it” in comics. But they were also so accurate I found myself nodding along.

I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this. I just want to be watching myself less. I want to go unsurveilled.

Unselfing/Reselfing

I stopped off to download my Twitter data yesterday and caught a notification from this lovely thread that Brendan had put together sometime around Christmas:

Down among the thinkers and tinkerers and connectors, said the notification, he’d written some very sweet things about me. It came as something of a surprise.

It was a mention of “unselfing” by Helen Macdonald that drove me back to blogging in 2020. Since then I’ve heard it surface in other places. Annie Dillard describes it at length in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, saying “[…] I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I often wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves.”

Both women have their fingers tangled up in something true.

I feel it when I’m driving the highway, lost in dark thoughts of mortality, only to abandon every thread for a glimpse of a hawk on a telephone pole. The moments before sleep when a barn owl’s screech pulls me out of my own body. The day I left the house in a foul mood to pace the gravel drive, stomping up and down until the lifeless body of a hummingbird stopped me short and lifted the needle of my displeasure.

I know the value of unselfing more than I ever have before, living here, doing this work, marinading in the near-depth of near-death.

But this thing that Brendan gave me feels somehow the same—an inverted twin sensation: being reminded out of the blue of Who You Are (or Were) Perceived to Be. It comes to me in a season where I’ve stopped saying hello to myself quite so often, possibly to the point of forgetting who that self even was before now. I say hello to death, I say hello to loss and calibration and labor and tending, but I don’t always say hello to me.

And the minute I type that I’m thinking of Sarah Ruhl, and these lines from the first essay in her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write:

A page from a book whose text reads: "Perhaps that is equally 7. My son just typed 7 on my computer. There was a time, when I first found out I was pregnant with twins, that I saw only a state of conflict. When I looked at theater and parenthood, I saw only war, competing loyalties, and I thought my writing life was over. There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me (truly you have not lived until you have changed one baby's diaper while another baby quietly vomits on your shin), and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses. I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life."

I’ve written about that line here before, and the mantra repeats in my head as I walk through the meadows near my house.

All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.

All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.

All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

I miss her. I miss that Lucy. And so Brendan’s tweet feels like a kindness. Perhaps the kindness that social media kept drawing me back in with for all those years: a whole realm of people who could look at every passing thought and doodle and hard-won victory and low moment and interview and blog post and reflect back someone cohesive and true.

True only to what I’d shared, maybe, but still.

Something I couldn’t see with my own eyes.

Something the hawk sees when it’s looking back at me.

2022 in Reading

Back at it and even less able to provide commentary than I was this time last year, but hot damn I love books.

(Previously: 2021 in Reading)

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Oh Hell Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Priestdaddy
  1. 💬 Five Worlds: The Sand Warrior – Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma,  Matt Rockefeller,  Boya Sun
  2. 📖 Pirate Freedom – Gene Wolfe
  3. 💬 Thirsty Mermaids – Kat Leyh ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  4. 🔄 📖 Going Postal – Terry Pratchett ❤︎❤︎
  5. 📖 A Dark and Starless Forest – Sarah Hollowell
  6. 📖 Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  7. 🔄 📓 The Do-it-yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad — Adam Gnade 
  8. 💬 The Daughters of Ys – M.T. Anderson, Jo Rioux
  9. 📓 How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne – Sarah Bakewell
  10. 🔄 📓 Burnout – Emily & Amelia Nagoski
  11. 🔄 📖 Small Gods – Terry Pratchett ❤︎❤︎
  12. 📓 At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life – Fenton Johnson ❤︎❤︎
  13. 📖 A Psalm for the Wild-Built – Becky Chambers ❤︎❤︎
  14. 📖 Luster – Raven Leilani ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  15. 📓 A Primer for Forgetting – Lewis Hyde ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  16. 📓 The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  17. 📓 Tiny House Living – Ryan Mitchell
  18. 💬 Amulet Book 1 – Kazu Kibuishi
  19. 💬 Amulet Book 2 – Kazu Kibuishi
  20. 💬 Amulet Book 3 – Kazu Kibuishi
  21. 💬 Amulet Book 4 – Kazu Kibuishi
  22. 💬 Amulet Book 5 – Kazu Kibuishi
  23. 💬 Amulet Book 6 – Kazu Kibuishi
  24. 💬 Amulet Book 7 – Kazu Kibuishi
  25. 💬 Amulet Book 8 – Kazu Kibuishi
  26. 📖 Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
  27. 📖 River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey ❤︎
  28. 📓 The Four Agreements – don Miguel Ruiz
  29. 📖 The Echo Wife – Sarah Gailey ❤︎❤︎
  30. 📓 When Strangers Meet – Kio Stark
  31. 📖 Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward ❤︎
  32. 🔄📓 The Sabbath – Abraham Joshua Heschel ❤︎
  33. 📓 On Imagination – Mary Ruefle
  34. 📓 The Timeless Way of Building – Christopher Alexander ❤︎
  35. 🔄 💬 Mighty Jack – Ben Hatke
  36. 💬 Dancing at the Pity Party – Tyler Feder
  37. 💬 Zita the Spacegirl – Ben Hatke
  38. 📖 A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles ❤︎
  39. 📖 The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji
  40. 💬 Salt Magic – Rebecca Mock & Hope Larson
  41. 📖 Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch
  42. 🔄 💬 Mighty Jack & Zita the Spacegirl – Ben Hatke
  43. 💬 Making Comics – Lynda Barry ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  44. 📖 A Master of Djinn – P. Djèlí Clark
  45. 💬 Coyote Doggirl – Lisa Hanawalt
  46. 🔄 💬 Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – Ben Hatke ❤︎
  47. 💬 Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – Roz Chast ❤︎❤︎
  48. 📖 Fair Play – Tove Jansson ❤︎
  49. 📖 Plus One – Christopher Noxon
  50. 💬 Berlin – Jason Lutes ❤︎❤︎
  51. 💬 Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe – Yumi Sakugawa ❤︎
  52. 📖 Matrix – Lauren Groff ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  53. 💬 Belonging – Nora Krug ❤︎❤︎
  54. 💬 My Depression – Elizabeth Swados
  55. 💬 This Woman’s Work – Julie Delporte ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  56. 📖 Shadowshaper – Daniel José Older
  57. 💬 Genderqueer – Maia Kobabe
  58. 📖 Full Dark House – Christopher Fowler
  59. 📓 Polysecure – Jessica Fern
  60. 📖 Spear – Nicola Griffith
  61. 💬 Dying for Attention: a Graphic Memoir of Nursing Home Care – Susan MacLeod
  62. 📓 300 Arguments – Sarah Manguso ❤︎
  63. 📓 More Than Two – Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert
  64. 📖 Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls – Alissa Nutting
  65. 📓 Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – Roger Deakin ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  66. 📓 Unmastered, A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell – Katherine Angel ❤︎❤︎
  67. 📖 Maxwell’s Demon – Stephen Hall
  68. 📖 Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
  69. 📖 A Prayer for the Crown Shy – Becky Chambers
  70. 🔄📓 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard ❤︎❤︎❤︎ (last read in 2017)
  71. 📓 Everybody: A Book About Freedom – Olivia Laing ❤︎❤︎
  72. 📖 Detransition, Baby – Torrey Peters ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  73. 📓 The Joy of Small Things – Hannah Jane Parkinson
  74. 📖 Fisher of Bones – Sarah Gailey
  75. 📖 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John le Carré
  76. 🔄📓 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – Sarah Ruhl
  77. 📓 Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again – Katherine Angel ❤︎
  78. 📖 Toad – Katherine Dunn ❤︎
  79. 📖 No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood ❤︎❤︎
  80. 📖 The Impossible Us – Sarah Lotz ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  81. 💬 Sheets – Brenna Thummler
  82. 📓 Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood ❤︎❤︎❤︎❤︎
  83. 📖 Upright Women Wanted – Sarah Gailey ❤︎
  84. 📖 When We Were Magic – Sarah Gailey
  85. 📓 Emergent Strategy – adrienne maree brown ❤︎❤︎
  86. 📖 The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey
  87. 📖 Fantasian – Larissa Pham ❤︎
  88. 📓 A Handbook of Disappointed Fate – Anne Boyer ❤︎
  89. 📓 Love – Leo Buscaglia
  90. 📓 Delight – J.B. Priestley ❤︎❤︎