Drawing Board Dispatch

Trying to get better about sharing these things across my different internet haunts, so! I just posted my second monthly update on Seacritters! over on Patreon. If character design notes and thoughts about capacity and sustainable pacing for making graphic novels and also goofy bespoke dancing gifs appeal to you, get thee hence. These updates are Patron-only from here on out to preserve goodwill with my publisher, but the first one is still free if you want to get a sense for what they’re like. The Data/Art/Ritual format is really working for me, since those do feel like the three pillars of my creative practice. I’m excited to leave myself this paper trail and see where it goes.

Also, y’know, possums.

A double-page sketchbook spread full of drawings of possums in blue line pencil.

(Also I’m noticing that it feels weird to post this kind of promotional, audience-addressing stuff on my own blog. I’m assuming an audience in writing this (“if you want to get a sense…” etc.) and realizing that I don’t often think that way when I write here. I’m writing to myself, about my own thoughts, and acknowledging in the back of my mind that some people might read those thoughts, but not actively addressing them when I write. Don’t have a solution to it, really, just thinkin’.)

The Legend of Curly’s Newsletter

Legend has it that I’ve been maintaining a newsletter for several years, although given that I last sent one in May of this year, I’d started to believe that the rumors weren’t true.

When I don’t write in a particular channel for a long time, my anxiety about saying something worthwhile gets amplified. This is extra true with the newsletter, which feels like a sacred space because I’m barging directly into people’s inboxes rather than waving to them across the crowded halls of social media (or muttering to myself in the whispering gallery of my own website).

There’s also the fact that when I sent my last newsletter in May, after changing service providers, my previously deliverable messages got sent to most people’s Spam folders. The newsletter went from having a whopping 90% open rate to something like…27%. Why did this happen?! I have a couple hunches, but I’m not certain. The truth is I don’t fully understand email. Then again, I don’t fully understand the algorithms on Twitter and Instagram either. I simply don’t want to spend my time learning those systems. I have other things to do. I just fling things out into the ether (very irregularly these days) and hope for the best.

But I still worry about making sure people have a smooth experience when they sign up to hear from me in their inboxes, because I want it to be an easy, enjoyable thing.

It is certifiably silly to worry many of these worries. These are people who’ve opted in! Maybe I worry that if I write to them, but the messages go to Spam, they will somehow figure out what’s happening and then be mad? At me?? For not delivering the things they want more effectively???

Wow I’m really on one here.

But this story has a happy ending because I did the only thing that ever seems to get me over the hump in these circumstances and enlisted help from my friends. Danielle (blessèd saint that she is) sat down with me on FaceTime because she also had a long-neglected newsletter to write, and we both tapped away at our keyboards until we’d managed to draft what we meant to say to our respective subscribers. It worked great. I love friendship.

A newsletter can be anything. The ones I like the most are very simple, either in content or delivery. Pome is just a brief poem—no frills, no discernible cadence, just seasons that stop and start as if by magic. Robin Sloan’s Society of the Double Dagger is wide-ranging in the extreme, but the newsletters themselves just contain a brief blurb and a link to a static webpage, which is where all the riches reside. He’s got channels, too. The man is onto something.

When I send mine so infrequently, they become repositories of news and status updates on my various creative projects which is…not bad, per se, but weighty in a way that isn’t always what I want. Still: it gives me a chance to sit back and look over the last six months and say to myself:

“Yes, this’ll do.”

The Best at What We Do

When we meet network news producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) at the start of James L. Brooks’s Broadcast News, she’s sharing her hotel bed with a chunky phone and a Filofax. Her body is alive with all the energy of a teenager calling her girlfriends after school, but instead she’s rallying her reporting team room by room, chivvying them to meet her in the lobby in a half hour, joking around and providing details about the availability of breakfast (or lack thereof). Seeing her reminds me of days when I’ve been up at dawn to tackle a project I can’t wait to get into alongside people I feel lucky to work with. She radiates anticipation and competence and I fall for her immediately.

The credits are still rolling as she finishes her last call.

Smiling, she unplugs the line from the back of the phone, nestles it under the handset, and places the whole unit carefully on the bedside table. A dance ensues: she drops her hands to her lap, eyes cast down, checks her watch, shifts her gaze, sits with all the poise of a penitent. The moment stretches—no score, just the distant traffic outside. It’s long enough to make you wonder. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen.

And then, out of nowhere, she’s sobbing.

It’s a bark of grief. A hiccuping thing that almost seems to take her by surprise.

It would be funny if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

Actually, it is still funny. And you can see the moment where even Jane finds it so. For a few seconds after pausing to catch her breath she’s almost laughing, shoulders shaking, but then her mouth twists again and she’s back in the realm of tragic disbelief. It’s absurd.

No, no, not absurd. I look up the definition and it turns out to be “wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.” This doesn’t feel that way at all. It is deeply logical; the clear and necessary underpinning of anyone who runs on that kind of energy, who can muster that degree of charm.

In 2018 I spent 268 days away from home, traveling to promote my book, 100 Demon Dialogues. It’s a vulnerable collection about Imposter Syndrome and trying to treat yourself with compassion. I knew I wanted (needed?) to go meet the people reading it in person. To try and connect, on some tangible level, with the countless voices online who claimed to see themselves in my work.

I went out looking for something. Always a dangerous move.

I thought a great deal about authenticity and performance while I was on that tour; questioned the validity of my words as I spoke to people night after night, city after city. The cadence of “Thank you, that really means so much to me” drummed into my brain. I did mean it every time, but I also said it so often that it became more music than language. My body memorized a momentary curve of the shoulders that accompanied a hand to the chest, shorthand for “Your words touched me”. Sign language for “authentic emotional experience”. A fixed action pattern of connection.

I call myself a Fake Extrovert. I am energized by contact, driven to engage and delight in others, but it comes at a price. In almost every city I visited on tour, the ritual was the same: I’d arrive home at whatever place I was crashing that night, shut the door to my room and exhale. The moment would stretch. Five seconds. Ten. Fifteen. And then I’d crack open and sob.

It generally didn’t last a long time. Just enough to let out some of the irresolvable tension. The fact that I both got what I wanted and absolutely did not get what I wanted.

There were so many things that I loved about Broadcast News, but Jane’s outbursts of tears are what I keep coming back to—the thing that’s still under my skin the following morning, wondering if it would be insanity to just rewatch the whole film again.