Wisdoms for Self

I’m wrestling with the letter I want to write to introduce my 2020 100 Day Project when I release it later this month. I’m feeling the pressure to get it just right. To say it just so. (Sound familiar? I keep finding different elements of this project to obsess over as a way to avoid sharing it. Go figure. Just share it, Lucy.)

I poked my head into Instagram briefly this morning and found Anis sharing a project that has its roots in a much older project and is now reemerging:

Back in 2014/2015 I was in a place of heavy loss, a place of relearning, rewiring, reforming my self, & began writing down & sharing online these monthly wisdoms/lessons for my self to learn, think on, & try to remember. Have wanted to return to this for years now, & being now in some months of heavy reflection seemed a good time for this returning. Here’s things I put down last month for me to hold & turn over & try to remember.

Here’s one:

12.21 Lessons for Self
(to learn anew &/or to be reminded of to continue learning)
Anis you do not need to straighten every wrinkle. Nor do you
need to respond in a moment. If someone is upset & out of that
anger speaking poorly to you, it is not your job to temper
them-
-if you need time to acknowledge your transgression to
them without theirs to you, step away & come back.
Dont forget Anis, no one gets to tell you how you process your
loss & rowboat your grief.
This means too, don't forget, you don't get to direct how others
process theirs, to expect them to rudder across the lake in the
way you might.
Decisions are not just cerebral in nature. Not all abstracted can
be bent for the brain to weigh, Anis you have to also recognize
that the heart & the body are part of the decision making pro-
cess.
Indecision is an enemy of vulnerability.

This subtitle sings to me.

It’s a funny thing how we all begin turning toward the same subjects at the same times (or have already been turning for several years). Reminders. Permission. Speaking to the self as the self, but at a removal from the self. This is the energy of the thing I’m about to release, too. Seeing it reflected in these words from my brilliant friend fills me with compassion and energy and, okay, a little envy, too. I have to elbow myself in the psychic ribs as if to say “Hey. Cut it out. There’s no race here, ya dingbat.”

On another slide, Anis writes:

I sometimes use vulnerability w/self to avoid vulnerability w/others. I wear my heart, but wearing can be a costume.

This is one of the things that drives me away from sharing such a personal thing in public. I want it to be known (I want to be known), but not in a space where I’ve traditionally used perceived vulnerability to mask real connection.

The greatest pleasure I’ve gotten from this project has been pressing the physical prototype (or the Dropbox folder of images) into the hands of trusted friends, and then talking about it with them. That’s energy I want to preserve moving forward. This connection. This depth.

Old Post-It

A post-it note with "skipping days and piling up vs. skipping and always only having to do one thing. Second more forgiving. No consequences. Gets harder the longer you don't do it vs. stays the same effort."

Historically, when I’ve done daily drawing projects like the 100 Day Project and Inktober, I’ve felt strongly about starting on a set day and finishing on a set day. It’s often built into the challenge itself (a given calendar month, or a collectively-accountable longer start and end date), so I guess it makes sense. If I miss a day, I do two entries the following day to catch up. Miss two days? Do three entries on the third day.

I’ve always prided myself on this rigorous adherence to rhythm. I’m someone who gets shit done. Even if I fall behind along the way, I will finish on time. It becomes a pageant designed to placate my completionist, perfectionist ego.

But it also means that the more time I’m away from a practice, the more stressful the task of returning becomes. The work piles up in drifts. I feel more and more anxious. More daunted. More overwhelmed.

As far back as 2016 I was busy chewing on the act of returning as the backbone of a practice, rather than any tangible output that might stem from it. Having a creative practice or a yoga practice or a whatever-kind-of-practice is less about the times when I’ve been in the habit of drawing in my sketchbook or going to yoga every week. It’s about the times when I haven’t been going and then choose to return.

[Obligatory link to Fish, because it’s all about returning. I didn’t read for the first time until 2018, but it’s definitely impacted my thinking here.]

I wrote this post-it note long before I started drawing Seacritters, when I still lived in Portland and was doing a lot of very different things with my life, but I think it’s more applicable than ever.

I decided at the start of this graphic novel project that I could reliably rough out two pages a day. It takes me about an hour per page, and I can manage to spend 2-4 hours at the studio each day. Of course I’ve already missed days in the last few months of starting work on the book. I got sick. I threw a disc out in my back. I took a road trip. I was just too tired to work.

And then on top of that there’s the fact that a comics script doesn’t always translate neatly to the illustrated page! Sometimes pages end up needing to be split in two. Sequences expand and contract like lungs.

And so I feel myself working at a deficit again. The anxiety ratchets up and I worry that my original estimate of when the book will be done will become less and less feasible over time. I push myself to rough out three, four, five pages a day when I do get back to work. To catch up. To buy myself time.

What if I stepped away from something and the pressure to return didn’t ratchet up with each passing day? What if I allowed myself the right to return knowing that the expectation will be exactly same as it’s always been? Returning is always hard. Why am I making it harder? When I return, I don’t have to draw sixteen pages in a single day. I just have to draw two pages.

I always only have to draw two pages.

(So much of this process is just trying to build a system that tells my brain I’m okay.)

S’Notes

I’ve heard a lot of variations on “I didn’t know what to say” when I’ve reconnected with people lately, or sometimes “I didn’t know whether you wanted to be contacted at all.” Going to ground online does often correspond with a desire to be left alone, and I suppose my social capacity has been greatly diminished of late, but I’ve really treasured the handful of emails or letters or texts that have arrived from folks just dropping in to share a little about what they’ve been up to, and to wish me well.

Anyway, I sent one of those kinds of emails to S. a couple weeks ago and we finally got to talk. It was such a nourishing and thought-provoking conversation that I wanted to jot down some of the things that stood out to me, just to refer back to down the line.


We talked about our shared resistance to the fixed nature of identity online, and how it might be driving an interest in disengaging from the broader landscape of social media. Neither of us are excited by spaces where it’s hard to be evolving or questioning right now.

At one point S. said “I’ve been circling the same star” in response to a bunch of thoughts I’d shared and I just love that expression!! WOW. It also makes me laugh because I’ve become quite wedded to the garden of metaphors I use to conceptualize my creative practice or talk about my life, and they’re all super terrestrial! Space Stuff isn’t in there at all! What a novel delight!

Just thinking a lot about how I organize my thinking in general these days. What are the guiding metaphors? What’s changed in my life and my creative work as I’ve started using seasons and maps and territory and wayfinding and murmurations as mental models? What might change if I tried on a different model?


Conceptual labor means asking “regardless of what I think I’m doing, what am I actually doing?” and then continuously refining your model of your labor — which includes the way you see the world — until it describes what you are actually doing. It only stops when it arrives at an internally-consistent model that has the power to describe new actions taken while subscribing to it. […] Conceptual labor is the process by which we fundamentally change our model of the world. The more fluent we are in how we practice conceptual labor in the areas that we have the power to control, whether it is poetry or politics, the more we will be able to critique the paradigms that control us.

(Of course Ním talks about the value of models in the Theory of Conceptual Labor.)

The other day B. said he felt illegible to most people—except his grandmother, who could probably read the most chapters of him out of anyone. I jolted, because Aud had just (three months ago, but mentally “just”) written me an email containing a similar metaphor: the far edge of a chapter in one’s life approaching over the horizon. In both instances: resonance.

What are the chapters of the book that is me? Which are the most legible? Which are the least? Are there whole sections written in cuneiform? Is there a folded letter tucked inside the dust jacket that falls out when you think there’s nothing more to read? Are there people I’ve stayed close to because I fear they are the only ones who will ever be able to read certain sections?


I blathered about my increasingly complex feelings around making art under capitalism for a while, talking a lot about what I didn’t want to do, until S. said “You’re not hurting capitalism—you’re hurting yourself.”


Then I blathered some more about my increasingly complex feelings around “getting it right” when I finally release my 100 Day Project from 2020, until S. said (with great gentleness) “What’s your relationship to repetition?” and I laughed, because I’d just blogged and tweeted about the fear of not having access to repetition as a right. Having to nail it on the first try. Never getting a second chance. So silly. 100 Demon Dialogues had been around in multiple different guises before it became a book. So had Baggywrinkles. Everything I’ve done, really.

Perhaps this is the dark side of making work that I keep secret—it raises the stakes when I finally decide to share.


(Another Ním Thing was this concept we came up with called The Permuta Triangle to describe the territory in one’s practice that gets circled around and re-hashed over and over throughout the course of a life. See also: the idea of growth as an upward spiral rather than a line. We’re going in circles, yes, but we’re moving UP. We traverse the same territory with greater and greater depth and perspective over time.)


Anyway, read your own damn tweets, Bellwood.


But the idea I wrote down in the biggest letters of all was

WEBSITE LIKE A NEWSPAPER

We’d been talking about the struggle to know where to file the muchness of what gets captured in our own blogs, plus the tendency to adopt different tones and personas across various platforms, when S. dropped this glorious, glittering thing. It makes so much sense to me.

Folks in my circles approach this issue in different ways. Lots of the people I enjoy following have at least some subdivision to their work, although the majority of it is still textual content. Robin has Notes and Essays. Mandy has Reading Notes and Essays. Justin has Quotes and Snippets and Words(!) and a bunch of other stuff. Mark has Books and Posts. I love all that.

What I find myself struggling with is the desire to bring the goofy visuals of Instagram, the fleeting thoughts of Twitter, the in-depth artwork process posts of Patreon, and the educational recordings of SoundCloud together under one roof. Oh yeah, and the essays from Medium. And the porthole videos from Tumblr. And the talks from YouTube. Maybe also playlists from Spotify and movie reviews from Letterboxd and…jeez there’s so much to all of this.

I’m different people everywhere.

But when S. talked about organizing a blog like a newspaper, my brain lit up. This is that Parts Integration shit I adore. Just think! I could treat these different online selves I’ve inhabited over the years as different columnists, each with their own op-ed. A newspaper has a page for classifieds where I can shove all my ads for stuff! Book reviews! Editorial illustrations! There’s a whole COMICS SECTION, fer chrissake.

I don’t know. Maybe this is all obvious. Maybe the electricity of it will dissipate tomorrow, but it does feel like one of those new metaphorical models that could be really helpful. If I can flag somehow that Classified Ad Lucy is taking the mic at the start of a post, maybe these parts can coexist more peacefully. It’s not so much about me building a whole new website from the ground up with headlines and bylines and everything else. It’s more about the way I think about inhabiting this space in my own brain.

A Donut

On April 16th, 2018, a friend of mine began a 100 Day Project—a collection of self portraits in ink, framed as a meditation on gender.

The tiny illustrations began to pile up: two weeks, 100 days, a year.

They kept drawing.

At 862, they stopped sharing to Instagram, but said they would probably keep going in private. (We love to see it.)

And then, a couple days ago, a text:

A screenshot of a text message which reads "I'm on day 1006 of my little drawings. Quite something."

I asked how they were feeling about the milestone.

A screenshot of an iMessage chat dialogue. The speaker on the left says: Honestly right now my relationship to these drawings is similar to flossing. It’s something I do every day and then I feel virtuous  And I actually like that I’ve managed to make it that much of a habit  They’re not phenomenally interesting but the continuity and the habit is cool. The other speaker replies: Mm I really like that point where it ceases to be about the art itself and shifts to being the behavior around the art. The first speaker says: Yeah that’s an interesting place. And probably where most art actually comes from.

And now I’m laughing thinking about Benoit Blanc and donuts, because this is how I feel at moments like this—screenshotting a perfectly normal text conversation because something about it makes me think “HANG ON”.

Not the art, but the behavior around the art.

A donut! One central piece, and if it reveals itself the fog would lift, the arc would resolve, the slinky become unkinked…

It feels right, at least in relation to my own practice, which is often very much predicated on rules and rituals. (30 Days of Portraits. 100 Demon Dialogues. 1000 words a day.)

These are all projects where the structure of the undertaking supersedes the content. Fixating on the satisfaction of completing another link in the chain allows my less-than-perfect artistic skill to slip past the Watcher at the Gate undetected. Success is defined as adherence to the practice, not excellence in the craft.

The joke, of course, is that they’re one and the same.

Atom

NB: I originally shared this post on Patreon on July 14th, 2017, just after launching the Kickstarter for 100 Demon Dialogues. I wanted to link to it in an essay I’m working on right now, but I’m also trying to consolidate my writing on my own website, so I’m reposting the whole thing here. This kind of low-key time traveling will probably keep happening.


This is a story about the first time I successfully orchestrated a theatrical cue of my own design.

I was a sophomore in high school, dipping my toes into other areas of the dramatic obsession that had consumed me from an early age. Us technical theatre students were asked to light and score brief monologues performed by members of an acting class. It was my first brush with the luminous cellophane gels that would become my livelihood for the next three years and grant me the financial freedom to travel on my own before college.

My friend Kendall was performing the opening speech from The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. In it, a girl describes learning about the enduring nature of the atom for the first time in her life. I’d built up a multi-hued blue Fresnel background wash and a slow, warm Source 4 from house left, carefully trained on her face and nothing more. Kendall ran through the words, savoring the phrases—a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun—until she closed with three lines: 

Atom.

Atom.

What a beautiful word.

A gentle beat after that last syllable, Jon Brion’s “Row” came in, one note at a time, while the warm front light dwindled until she was just a silhouette in blue. The lilting piano carried the moment for 15 seconds and then faded into silence. 

We’d rehearsed and tried all the individual elements and fine-tuned the timing, but the first time I got to call the shots and watch as light and sound cascaded into something that heightened the emotional impact of her performance, I burst into silent, happy tears in the booth.

Orchestrating the conclusion of The 100 Day Project and launching my Kickstarter this week pushed those same buttons in ways I never could have anticipated.

When I figured out how I wanted to end the series—and I knew a few weeks in advance—I started to panic. I’d never run a daily webcomic before. The notion of an audience investing in a storyline and hanging on every page was entirely new and utterly intoxicating. I’d largely given myself permission to shoot from the hip for so much of the project. Before, there were no wrong answers. Now, it suddenly felt like I had the potential for failure. 

The last few weeks were grueling—all frantic scripting and logistical production and minutia and a million moving parts (on top of the creative work itself). It’s something that flummoxes me when people ask for advice about how to run a good Kickstarter. All I can think is “Just do everything. Work the hardest you can at absolutely everything. And then somehow, magically, it works.” And I don’t think that’s what people want to hear. “Turn thrice widdershins and sacrifice a goat” is way simpler.

Wednesday rolled around and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I’d stayed up way too late finishing the final entry. Folks had sent me photos of themselves on Twitter to draw into the panel (though they didn’t know it at the time). I’d shot reference out my own front door and fretted over the sketches and then, in a rush, poured it out. The finished project resonated with what I’d pictured in my head. It felt, mercifully, right.

At 9:55 am, I posted the final entry, closed my eyes, and counted to sixty before pushing the launch button on the Kickstarter page, and then I counted to sixty again before triggering the blog posts and the newsletters and the updates and the notifications—all these moving parts I’d carefully structured to help guide a new project into the world.  

And when people flooded in to say “YES” to the ending, and the journey, and the campaign, I discovered that all those neurons were still there, lighting up at the pleasure of seeing a well-timed cue resolve all those moving parts into something more. 

New Collection: A Life in Objects

A little promotional chat this week: I’ve got a new box set collection available in my store!

lubellwoo_2016-sep-17

If you recall I tried my hand at participating in The 100 Day Project this year, drawing a thing a day every day for 100 consecutive days from April to July. I documented a bunch of meaningful objects in my life, complete with context—a miniature museum of personal history.

Here are all the finished entries in one big sheet:

previewall

Once the illustrations were done, I wanted to bring them into one location at the same size they were drawn, so I contacted some printing friends of mine at Eberhardt Press and Twin Ravens Press to create sets of pocket-sized replica notebooks and a handsome, gold-foil slipcase to hold them in. Here’s my original mockup of the booklets, with a die-cut cover:

 

img_5439

Once I’d figured out the basic format, I went hunting for the right kinds of endpapers. Kristin at Twin Ravens had sold me on the idea of doing gold foil on the boxes, so I wanted something to match:

img_5488

BINGO.

A lot of frenetic proofing and printing and cutting and folding later, we ended up with boxes that could be cut out and assembled without any glue! And a lot of handsome booklets to go inside them.

Then my life became a long chain of assembly line time (500 box sets is a lot of box sets). I folded boxes at home, at the studio, at coffee shops, behind my table at SPX, and on planes:

img_5729

boxlife

A couple weeks of that yielded shippable box sets that winged their way to folks around the globe, which is my absolute favorite part of the process.

Here’s a little video walkthrough of the final result:

I’m so excited to have these new beauties out in the world. If you’d like one for yourself, they’re available exclusively through my store right now. Enjoy!

A Life in Objects: PDF & Print Edition

Cover

As you may’ve noticed, I’ve spent the last three(ish) months working on The 100 Day Project, a creative game of sorts where participants try to create something every day for 100 days. I chose to illustrate meaningful objects from my life with little vignettes of text.

The final collection, A Life in Objects, is now up for sale! I’m printing a facsimile edition in three, 40-page pocket notebooks—the same size as the originals (3.5×5″)—with a fancy belly band.

100DayConceptNoCase

The books will be printed locally in Portland at Eberhardt Press, and I’m hoping to debut them at SPX in September.

If you absolutely can’t wait to read the whole thing, why not buy the PDF edition on Gumroad? I promise it’s got all the same treats inside.

PreviewAll

I’m incredibly proud of how this collection came out. More news to come once the printed books are on their way!