Working on the music, for me, it’s kind of important to not fake it in some ways, to not try to force this emotional state out of it, to sort of pay attention to what’s going on in your life, if you’re feeling inspired or motivated just letting it happen. […] Especially after you’ve released a bunch of records for a long time, you don’t want to manufacture longing.RIP Brian McBride
Jacob wrote six very good sentences today about jealousy and being an artist. I needed them this morning because there’s nothing like moving back in with your parents and mostly disappearing from the face of social media and undergoing a massive gear shift in the trajectory of your career to bring up feelings of unworthiness and comparison; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.
The fifth sentence (“The purpose of an artistic star system is to undermine solidarity”) brought me up short because I interpreted “star system” as “constellation.” The constellation is one of my favorite metaphors for how creative people—all people, really—exist in the world. On these grounds his statement didn’t seem right at all. On second reading I realized he meant “star system” as “a system in which certain people are held up as shining exemplars while the rest fade into obscurity,” to which: absolutely yes. The dangers of worshipping celebrity.
I’m flying solo this week while my mum attends my godfather’s funeral in England, but I’m not really solo. We’re trying overnight caregiver coverage for the first time; something I advocated for because loss of sleep is infinitely more disruptive to me than structuring my days around changing my dad’s Depends and making him meals and bathing him and metering out the distribution of pills.
There are so many gifts to trying overnight care, but one of the biggest has been getting me back on my early to bed, early to rise rhythm. I’ve been waking up of my own accord at 5:30 or 6, feeling more rested than I have in months. It grants me a gift my dad taught me to love: an hour and a half of luxurious time to myself first thing in the morning.
Many of my happiest memories of being with him are around this time of day. In high school, we’d listen to Erik Satie on my boombox in the kitchen while he made me eggs. In middle school, we’d drive to the tennis courts at Libbey Park and hit balls back and forth under the amber sodium lamps until the sun came up. (Neither of us knew how to play tennis, but it didn’t matter.) Earlier still, I’d wake up to the sound of him tapping away at the keyboard with two fingers in the corner of the bedroom, writing.
Those hours felt like secret time. Sacred time.
I still treat it as such. This morning it was dark enough when I got up that didn’t realize the valley was shrouded in mist. Now I can see that the lawn outside my window is spangled with a galaxy of dew-soaked spiderwebs.
All this is to say that in the blissful hour I’d been granted this morning, I dove back into Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s memoir. She writes a great deal about context, and the way subcultures and communities act as greenhouses for culture, so when I read Jacob’s post, the string layer came back online. Solnit writes:
In a way, this has been my life’s work, the pursuit of patterns and the work of reconnecting what has been fractured, often fractured by categories that break a subject, a history, a meaning into subcompartments from which the whole cannot be seen. […] The art of picking out constellations in the night sky has cropped up again and again as a metaphor for this work.
Elsewhere she quotes the poet Diane di Prima: “You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology.”
I believe this with all my heart.
There is no content creation without context creation.
Everyone is making so much stuff so well all the time and I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else but also I am so tired. I tire myself when I sit down to list my accomplishments with Erika and Danielle during our monthly check-in meetings. There’s surprise and pride, yeah, but also this reflexive sense of embarrassment at how much I’m doing. Knowing that I’d rather be present than productive, but still falling prey to the urge to do make distill grasp learn post share.
I know that social media is a big part of this. I know my own perfectionism is part of it too. And capitalism, that’s in the mix.
There are a lot of ways to do what I do, none of them necessarily right or wrong, but all different, all with their own pros and cons. I’m looking for a space on the web that isn’t shackled to a particular platform, but at the end of the day every avenue for getting paid for my work is owned by somebody.
(This site, at least, is mine.)
What am I asking for when I ask my audience to support me financially? Freedom and permission.
It feels selfish to take that without giving anything in return. (Just two months ago I was yelling lovingly at a comics friend for saying something similar, as if her work isn’t achingly personal and helpful and vulnerable and funny. As if she’s not giving back via her art. I guess I’m guilty of thinking that way, too. Worrying I’m a mooch.)
I’m tired of packaging myself and I know I need to share what’s going on under the hood in order to welcome people into the tribe that makes my life and my work possible. I know I am braver creatively when I have that community around me.
I know the way we’ve built an industry around producing graphic novels burns people out fast fast fast.
I don’t want to get burned.
One of the great pleasures of touring this year has been gathering groups of smart, accomplished people in a room and then asking them about their worst experiences with Imposter Syndrome. I heard raw truths from creators in Chicago and San Francisco, who then brought their wisdom to bear on what we can do to make ourselves feel less alone in the face of these challenges.
These conversations were complex and enlightening, and I’m so glad to make them available for you all to listen to on the web (thanks to the support of my rad team on Patreon). Check out the audio players below to find two new episodes featuring wisdom from Craighton Berman, Michi Trota, Suzanne Walker, Bobbie Johnson, Molly McLeod, and Rose Eveleth.
I’ve got a bunch of new conversations going up soon, so be sure to keep an eye out if you’re in need of more things to listen to. Enjoy!
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:
- 100 Demon Dialogues Book Release Party with Derek Powazek – June 4th, 7pm-10pm, Ford Food + Drink, Portland, OR
- Brick and Mortar Books with Glenn Fleishman – June 8th, 7pm, Redmond, WA
- Outsider Comics & Geek Boutique – June 9th, 2pm-4pm, Seattle, WA
- Magers & Quinn Booksellers – June 12th, 7pm-8pm, Minneapolis, MN (I’ll also be hanging around Light Grey Art Lab, where I have some work on display from my trip to Iceland last year, around 11am.)
- SECRET CHICAGO VARIETY SHOW (RSVP for venue details) with Trin Garritano, Craighton Berman, and Others TBA – June 14th, 6:30-9:30pm, Chicago, IL
- Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF) – June 16th & 17th, Ann Arbor, MI
- Escape Pod Comics (Joshua Hixson’s signing earlier that same day, too!) – June 20th, 5-8pm, Huntington, NY
- Eight Cousins Books – June 23rd, 7pm, Falmouth, MA (Boston: I’m coming back to you for MICE in October, I PROMISE. No worries if you can’t make it to the Cape for this event. I know traffic is nuts.)
- McNally Jackson Books – June 24th, 4-7pm, New York, NY
- East City Bookshop – June 29th, 6:30-8:30pm, Washington, D.C.
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.)
Here’s what happens when you tell people you’re going on book tour:
Their eyes widen like they’re picturing private jets and limousines, booksellers laying stock to be signed at your feet, adoring fans queued up out the door. They congratulate you—assuming you have “made it.” You try not to let the lunatic edge invade your laughter as you thank them, unable to explain that they are wrong.
The truth is, you’re about to spend two months sleeping on couches and washing your underwear in the sink. You’re three months past the date any “real” author would’ve had their tour stops booked by a publisher, but you’re emailing venues anyway because you got yourself into this glorious mess, and you love it, and it’s time to go big or go home.
You fill pads of paper with train times and bus lines—an endless game of Cheap Travel Tetris.
You schedule posts on every social media platform known to man, but still manage to avoid updating your own website.
You learn that the barcode doesn’t scan properly on your entire print run of books. You make a lot of phone calls and hope you can fix everything before the ship date.
You whoop with delight whenever a venue confirms, then falter when you see all the other, more impressive authors on the week’s lineup.
You realize those authors may feel just as fraudulent as you do.
You set up endless Facebook events, cripplingly aware of how often you ignore invites from everyone else.
You find out exactly how many of your friends live in Minneapolis.
You worry nobody will come.
You worry everybody will come.
You throw yourself on the kindness of the Internet—your people, your tribe, your network. They offer rides, couches, venues, connections. You recognize, again and again, that you are nothing without them.
It will feel like a miracle any time you meet a flesh and blood human being who knows your work. These moments of connection will pile up behind your sternum. They will turn your abstract Twitter followers into live heartbeats.
Two months from now you know you’ll come home changed.
I read something this week that really ticked me off.
I’ve been building my page on Goodreads as I gear up to put 100 Demon Dialogues into the world, which partly means leaving lots of reviews for creators whose work I admire. If you follow me on Patreon you’ll know Deb Norton because I interviewed her for my unofficial podcast, but just in case you don’t she’s got an amazing book called Part Wild: a Writer’s Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance. She was also my writing mentor in high school, and I owe her an enormous debt for her impact on my creative development.
Anyway, I realize reading reviews on Goodreads is basically like reading the comments anywhere else on the internet (DANGER, DANGER), but after writing my review for Part Wild, I idly scrolled down the page to see what else people had said about the book. And then I stumbled on the following sentence:
…if you are really finding it that hard to write and need to use all these prompts and tips, then it probably means that writing is not for you – find something else to do.
You know Ghost Rider? He’s that comic book character who’s basically a flaming skeleton on a motorbike. That’s what I turned into directly after reading this sentence: just a skull on fire in road leathers doing 90 down a highway screaming “FUCK OFFFFFFFFFF.”
Whenever I react this violently to something it’s usually because I fear there’s a grain of truth in it.
This attitude digs at the root of something that’s deeply entrenched in our cultural beliefs about what creativity “is” (the answer, of course, is many things—it’s a paradox—but we’ll get into that later). We’re taught to think that, for creative people, making things is easy. You know you’re “Creative” when you’re able to sit down and art flows from your fingertips like water from a mountain spring. The Muse appears, the Art happens, and there you are like some sort of divine lightning rod just channeling your Gift into the world.
I’m as much a fan of being in a flow state as the next guy, but I also think this is a dangerous load of hooey.
Like, what does this mean, really? That experiencing any type of resistance or challenge means you should just give up and go do something else? This is not a growth mindset. It is small and constrained and petty and miserable and OOOH IT MAKES ME SO MAD.
Okay, okay. I’m under control. I can do this.
Do I worry that I’m not cut out to be an artist (or a writer, or a small business owner, or a public speaker, or a…) whenever the work feels like pulling teeth? Of course I do. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this great talk Frank Chimero gave about doing things “the long, hard, stupid way,” and it always makes me feel a lot better.
Frank was struggling writing his first book, and then judging himself for struggling because clearly it meant he was doing something “wrong.” (This is something I’m very guilty of.) But then he shifted his perspective and recognized that this less efficient methodology actually defined his creative process. Accepting the quirks of his personal practice allowed him to relax into it. (Pair this with Chuck Wendig’s excellent advice to “embrace the joy of the forbidden.“)
I am constantly reminding myself that experiencing resistance, strife, doubt, and complexity mean I am on the right track. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career it’s that these feelings are normal and they do not go away. In fact, if you’re experiencing a total absence of those feelings it probably means you’re not taking any risks at all, which means you’re not growing, which means it’s time to get back in the ring.
Okay, next paradox:
I have complex feelings about Tim Ferriss, a massively successful technology-culture-productivity-type entrepreneur, but I was interested to read about his take on overcoming these mental traps:
What would this look like if it were easy? is such a lovely and deceptively leveraged question. It’s easy to convince yourself that things need to be hard, that if you’re not redlining, you’re not trying hard enough. This leads us to look for paths of most resistance, creating unnecessary hardship in the process.
But what happens if we frame things in terms of elegance instead of strain? In doing so, we sometimes find incredible results with ease instead of stress. Sometimes, we “solve” the problem by simply rewording it.
So now we fight, right? The Long, Hard, Stupid Way vs. The Elegant, Easy, Simple Way.
But I don’t actually think these attitudes are opposites. There’s the inherent challenge of making creative work, but then there’s the self-judgement of that challenge—and that’s what Ferriss’s question can help us get around.
Rather than getting mad at ourselves for being a skull on fire, maybe we just accept that being on fire is sometimes a normal part of the creative process. That way whenever we burst into flames and/or have a case of the brain weasels we don’t have to worry that there’s something wrong with us. We can accept the weasels as part of the process and get on with doing normal things, like riding other wheeled contraptions, coming up with new ideas, and continuing to move forward with the work.
I think I’m gonna leave it at that.
Last month I had the good fortune to return to The Animation Workshop in Denmark to teach a week-long course in their Graphic Storytelling department. You might remember the talk I gave two years ago, The View from Aloft, where I distilled my foundational philosophy about social media, online communities, and gratitude economies. This presentation follows up on that framework by talking specifically about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Thanks to the school’s exceptional video rental equipment there’s now a very nice recording up on YouTube:
I get a lot of questions from folks looking to learn more about this weird practice. It can be the most soul-crushing, time-consuming, heart-tormenting process, but also an incredible jolt of energy, affirmation, and community involvement. Between the generous souls who support me monthly on Patreon and the people who launch individual projects of mine via Kickstarter there’s no doubt that my career would look very different without crowdfunding.
Everything that’s made my campaigns work feels like it’s come from watching my friends get smarter and better every time they launch a project, so it’s great to have this recording to pay it forward to more people. I hope some of you find it useful if you ever launch your own projects (and I hope you do).
Good luck out there!