What Do You Call It?

“I thought by the time I was doing this I’d be with someone.”

I cried when I told her—another one of the myriad griefs threading through this kintsugi year: that not being in a romantic partnership somehow rendered me incapable of facing my father’s decline.

But when I was writing the FAQ about my move, I kept drafting and deleting a passage about how becoming single had actually given me the freedom to leave Portland.

Because it’s not true. 

I mean, it is, but not the part about being single.

It’s Valentine’s Day as I’m writing this and I feel so far from being “single.” 

“Most other people have a switch that gets flipped between friendship and relationship,” he used to say. “But you love people on a spectrum.”

I felt seen by that (he was good at making me feel seen), but there’s no decent shorthand for that kind of life. Or if there is, it’s couched in the culture of labels, and they’ve never done much good for me.

“Housemate,” for example, feels wholly inadequate for my relationship with Zina. We’ve lived together in one form or another for ten years; just the two of us for the last seven. The term we settled on at some point was Boston Wives, but that often involved giving an impromptu 19th century history lesson on female cohabitation to whoever was doing the asking. When we entered a Registered Domestic Partnership two years ago, I breathed a sigh of relief because I could just call her my wife and let everyone else muddle it out for themselves.

But what does that mean, really?

I’ve told people “Well, we’re not in a romantic relationship—” but then I stop. We take baths together and buy each other flowers and read epistolary science fiction love stories aloud in bed and fuck me if that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is. 

We turn to each other, in amongst all these activities, and say “We’re so rich.”

The older I get the more wobbly my definition of being “in a relationship” becomes. It sounds so singular.

I used to think I wasn’t very good at making friends. Being liked, sure, but not being vulnerable in the way truly reciprocal, intimate friendships demand. Never to ask, never to need. Far easier to unilaterally support other people to shore up my own sense of being worth something. Far better to fling all my devotion and intimacy into one heteronormative partnership and pin my hopes of making it through any major life challenges on that

It’s a decent plan until it’s not.

Because I’m still going through this reckoning—relationship or no—and it’s forcing me to recognize that somewhere along the way I started figuring out how to be truly vulnerable. I picked up a community of (for lack of a better word) friends.

There are friends who bring me pie when my Kickstarter funds and soup when I’m down with the flu. 

Friends I have flown across the country to support through unspeakable loss, who I know would do the same for me in a heartbeat.

Friends who are also lovers. Whose parents I have met. Whose kids I get to help look after when I visit.

Friends who will yell on the phone with me about books and websites at all hours of the day and night, pacing the block, gesticulating.

Friends who send nudes but also commiserating texts about caring for loved ones with dementia (a potent combo).

Friends who know how to reassure me of my intrinsic value when I think all I’m good for is being productive. 

And these are the people in my immediate circle. Never mind the far-flung folks online, around the country—around the globe—with whom I have shared hotel rooms and letters and meals and Zoom calls. And then the circle beyond that: the strangers who have read my work and feel some degree of connection through that avenue. People I have never spoken to who might, given the invitation, share something heartfelt or helpful out of the blue.

I don’t know what to call all that, but when I stop to think about it I get dizzy and start to cry.

And beyond it lies the thing I hesitate to name because it feels trite: my relationship with myself. This person who delights me the more I get the measure of her, who has words of wisdom when I feel lost, who makes me laugh and brings me intellectual baubles and dazzles me with her tenacity and vision. I love my friendship with her most of all.

So here I am: not single, but communal. A dragon curled atop her glistening hoard. 

Rich.

A Nice Carpet

No trip to Juneau for Comics Camp in 2020 (and, from the looks of it, none in 2021 either), but we did gather in April and January for two truly lovely online…hangouts? Digital-councils? Un-tele-conferences? Whatever they were I liked them.

During the most recent one I tried leading a Creative Wayfinding Workshop based on my recent talk for Jolabokaflod PDX. At one point I had folks in the room populate a spreadsheet with the faces of people they admire.

A nine by seven grid full of tiny headshots. There are authors like Lynda Barry, Ryan North, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Adrienne Maree Brown. Politicians like Alexandra Occasio Cortez and Rashida Talib. Cartoonists like Blue Delliquanti, Spike Trotman, and Ray Behr. Even a photo of Kermit the Frog.

Sitting alone in my room watching these little cells fill up filled my heart up, too. Hearing people talk about who they’d chosen and why, doubly so. Seeing people include the faces of their peers and fellow campers alongside Nobel laureates and pop stars and politicians?

Well.

It pays to remember that people aren’t just looking up to people they’ve never met—people who are famous or dead or both. Chances are good they’re looking up to their friends, too. The ones who are kind. The ones who fight for what they believe in. The ones who know how to say no and make it feel like a gift.

It pays to remember to tell those people we look up to them, when we can.

Scarcity/Support

Photographer Joshua Kissi articulated something I relate to very deeply about the idea of “success” for creators in the current age in this interview:

“There’s less of a binary now. It’s not a clear ‘you made it,’ or ‘you didn’t.’ For a long time, people romanticized this idea of the starving artist because there were so few that make it to the top. Now people are finding spaces that make sense for them, and it’s not because it’s being forced upon them. They’ve had way more control and autonomy over building a space they feel comfortable creating from. They’re not making things from a scarcity mindset anymore.”

Read this via Aundre Larrow, who I followed after hearing him speak about Instinct, Luck + Preparation for In/Visible Talks. When I thanked him for his insights on Twitter, he immediately messaged me and asked “How can I support you?”

The question caught me off-guard. I can be cagey about this stuff when put on the spot, despite maintaining such an open demeanor online. Usually I’m the one doing the offering, the listening, the supporting. 

I get uncomfortable when people turn it back on me. 

And when it comes from a fellow creator at a similar stage in their career? Then it’s not as simple as just saying “Here’s my Patreon!” and moving on. There are things we need, but perhaps don’t know how to ask for—things other creators might understand better than anyone.

So even though I don’t think I gave a particularly profound answer at the time, I still think about that exchange whenever I interact with someone new. What happens when I open a conversation with an offer of assistance? And when (jumping back to that Interintellect conversation on authenticity) might it feel misaligned with the default level of intimacy that’s present between strangers? This is stuff I love thinking about, and behavior that I love seeing in my timeline.

As Kissi says elsewhere in the interview:

“I am most proud of the ability to impact people over time. […] Even if something is starting with me, it’s not ending with me.”

May we all start things that don’t end with us.

100 Demon Dialogues Hits the Road

Sound the trumpets, y’all. I’m taking my latest collection of comics, 100 Demon Dialogues, on the road for the next two months! This has been a whirlwind season of planning, and I’m so glad to be at the point where I get to share it with all of you.

Here’s the details for Leg 1 of the tour, including the hometown release party TONIGHT:

We’re lining up Leg 2 right now, which will likely take me through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and allllllllll of California a little further into July and August. If you have friends in any of these cities and would be willing to pass event details along to them, I would be forever in your debt. All the tour stops are listed in this handy directory.

Aside from good hangouts and conversations with various creative luminaries, I bought a guest book to fill with these name tags at every tour stop. Also blank sheets for people’s illustrations of their own demons (like the ones we had at the Kickstarter closing party):

I’m really excited to see how this develops over the tour. I think it’s going to be amazing.

Okay, that’s it for me. SEE YOU TONIGHT IN PORTLAND! (And then everywhere else.)

Join me for Comics Camp!

One the best things I did last year, hands down, was attend the Alaska Robotics Mini-Con and Comics Camp up in Juneau, AK. In addition to a super-sweet one-day con in a quirky, beautiful town, it also featured three days of camping with a host of incredible creators—cartoonists, musicians, writers, financial advisors, and A LAWYER (not just any lawyer, either, the Katie Lane, dispenser of exceptional wisdom to the creative stars). We all got to sit around the campfire, play games, share experiences and advice, learn about each other’s hidden talents, and explore the Alaskan wilderness. It was a dream come true.

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Khail Ballard, Dylan Meconis, Katie Lane, BearHat!Lucy Bellwood, and Tony Cliff at Comics Camp 2016.

I’ve been yearning more and more for these kinds of experiences—the ones that tend to happen around the fringes of commercially-driven conventions—and Pat and his team have really hit on something special. I learned so much last year, and gained so many new friends. It was also fantastic to have newer creators rubbing shoulders with some of the industry’s most incredible and prolific superstars—just a really nourishing, humbling week all ’round.

Jeremy Spake leading a workshop on making your own leather journal-holders.
Jeremy Spake leading a workshop on making your own leather journal-holder.

So here’s the deal: you can send in an application here. Trip dates are April 21st-25th, 2017. You don’t have to be a cartoonist to come. There’s FINANCIAL AID (which totally made the difference between me being able to go and not last year). It’s going to be great.

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SEE YOU IN ALASKA!

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