Stumbling

“If everyone’s social media experience looked like your social media experience I think people would want to be on social media a lot more.”

I’m in therapy. I mean, I’m in my house, same as every other day, but I’m looking at the particular video call window that corresponds to “being in therapy” and my therapist is saying these nice things to me and I’m laughing because my feeds are full of just as much chaos and anxiety as anyone else’s, but she presses on.

“Every time you tell me about some new community or project you found or someone you met online, it sounds fascinating and beautiful and hopeful. That’s…well. That’s not my experience of being online. I had to quit.”

I stop laughing and try to hear what she’s saying—turning it over, weighing it against my experience. Is it true? So many days I feel like I’m purposefully recoiling from the internet at large, erecting sandcastle barricades against an inrushing tide. 

But it is true.

I’ve been changing my relationship to being online.

Some of it is keeping in touch with friends who are fascinated by the same sorts of hybrid creations I am. Friends who build things. Friends in different professional communities. Paying attention when they mention some new discovery or avenue of interest.

Some of it is using an RSS reader to change the cadence and depth of my consumption—pulling away from the quick-hit likes of social media in favor of a space where I can run my thoughts to their logical conclusion (and then sit on them long enough to consider whether or not they’re true).

Some of it is joining small communities who meet regularly to write letters or discuss abolition or cheer each other on throughout the work day.

Some of it is just letting myself wander, link to link, through people’s personal websites and passion projects, seeing what comes up.1

Most people (myself included) stopped using the internet this way years ago. Our footpaths converged around the same 5-10 platforms, each with its own particular manner of communication. I have learned, unintentionally, to code switch every time I craft a new post. It’s exhausting, trying to keep track of all those unspoken rules shaped by years of use.

But I don’t have rules like that on my blog. I turned off stats. There are no comments. No likes. It’s been long enough since I wrote regularly here that I’m not bringing any tonal baggage with me.

Hell, the last time I had a regular personal writing practice online I was eighteen.

A theme of the past year has been trying to disengage from my attachment to what I think other people want or need from me, and to rekindle my working relationship with myself. Changing my relationship to being online hasn’t been linear. I still go on social media. It’s not like it’s become obsolete in my world overnight. But my therapist (as usual) is right. 

Something’s on the move.

1. I spent an afternoon last week dredging up memories of StumbleUpon, a service that flung users around to random sites with the click of a button between 2002 and 2018. It was great! The closest thing I’ve experienced recently was Jenny Odell asking folks on Twitter to share their favorite single serving websites. (LEAF.COM!!!) Not a full replacement for the service, but a delight nonetheless.

The Trap

Sometimes being a person on the internet feels like tap dancing.

I love to dance. I’ve trained in it, I take joy and pleasure in it, and I like doing it where other people can see me.

But the more of a following I amass making a living from my selfhood online, the more it feels like I’m still dancing, but someone is erecting…walls. Like theatrical flats around a stage. They don’t start out so bad—just the odd two dimensional shrub or trompe l’oeil archway to work around here and there—but over time they get taller and more crowded and suddenly they’ve got big honking metal spikes all over them and come to think of it they’re rather tenuously balanced and the spikes do look terribly sharp and here I am, in the middle of the it all, stomping on the floor.

So I take smaller steps. I’m not leaping and spinning and pounding and whirling anymore. I’m tiptoeing.

I’m afraid.

You might not know it to look at me. I’m resolutely sharing things I find meaningful or beautiful or proactive. I’m staying engaged. I’m trying to make art and support the people I love and encourage everyone around me because I struggle to see the value in sharing the ugly, hopeless stuff and I want, more than anything, to be of use.

But this behavior is, in and of itself, a kind of restriction. The act of sharing these days feels different. There’s no “FUCK IT, WE’LL DO IT LIVE” energy in my public online spaces, or if there is it emerges in manic fits and starts, tinged with an undercurrent of desperation and anxiety. The dancer I have pared myself back to doesn’t feel like me.

And of course she doesn’t. This year is a nightmare—for all the collective reasons and a host of personal ones as well. My partner and I split up six months ago and no matter how sound a decision it was I’m still torn up about it. I’ve signed a contract for three graphic novels that will take up the next six years of my life and I’m terrified I’m not up to the task. My dad is 81 and has dementia and I’m trying to figure out when The Correct Moment will come to move home and help look after him. It is utterly unreasonable to expect that anything could feel normal or okay right now.

And yes, maybe the tenor of this post has something to do with the fact that I’ve been housesitting alone in a three-story building with four cats and a deaf, flatulent dog who probably weighs more than I do for the past week. My internet blocker also failed to activate this evening so I got to engage in a rare bout of Nighttime Twitter Yelling—something I’ve effectively prevented myself from doing for months. All of this is to say: it’s 1:15 in the morning and my filter is MIA. As someone said to me over email recently “just…being very blunt right now because, and i cannot emphasize this enough, it’s 2020.”

Anyway, remember the spiky theatrical flats? The trick, in these moments, is to get proactive; go for catharsis. The longer I wait for a perfect solution, the more trapped I’m going to feel. I can’t explain this in any kind of rational or systematic way, and I certainly can’t win playing by the rules. Better to just heave it all out into the open—get on a stage somewhere and yell about the paradox of it to a room full of relative strangers. Kick the flats down from the inside and they’ll fall away like dominoes; harmless.

Dramatic, too.

People will probably even think it’s part of the show. 1

Maybe this is my brand. Not the part where I yell about boats and post goofy bespoke GIFs and write a zillion letters to voters and keep my chin up no matter the cost, but the part where I crack and articulate all the other garbage in an eloquent torrent.

Or maybe, more likely, it’s both.

1. Once, in the summer of 2006, I watched five different cast members desperately try to reason with an audience who refused to leave their seats during an active fire alarm because they were convinced it was part of the play. It took ages to get them out of the theater. In their defense the show was set on a space ship and featured many other blaring alarms, but STILL.

Cartozia! Rose City! New Comics! I’M BACK.

What ho, faithful followers! I’m finally back in the land of civilization after 21 days of hiking, climbing, rowing, and getting dunked repeatedly in very cold water-ing. I don’t have adequate words to explain what an extraordinary time I had, but here’s a picture from Day 5.

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I know. It’s ridiculous.

Despite my near-constant sogginess, I did manage to draw a page(ish) of diary comics every day during the trip as a sort of personal experiment. They’re a little grubby in places since my sketchbook was subjected to many indignities (most of them involving water, sand, or some silty combination of the two), but I hope they capture a small slice of what things were like. I’ll be putting that up for download tomorrow once I get within reach of a scanner.

In the meantime, here’s some exciting stuff that’s worthy of note:

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1. I’ll be tabling at Rose City Comic Con THIS WEEKEND! Come by Table G-03 to marvel at my fabulous sunburn and get your hands on some thrilling new comics. The show takes place at the Oregon Convention Center and runs 10am-7pm on Saturday and 10am-5pm on Sunday. I’ll have several standard titles on the table, including Baggywrinkles 1-4, True Believer, and the last, rare copies of Tales from the Fragment, but I will ALSO be debuting the following new n’ shiny books:

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WATERLOGGED: TALES FROM THE SEVENTH SEA features 200+ pages of  two-color nautical comics in a gorgeous hardcover package. I’ll be seeing the book in person for the first time on Saturday, so if you come by for a copy don’t be surprised if I’m clutching one to my breast and weeping tears of joy. Inside you’ll find stories by many fantastic Canadian creators, as well as my piece with Shannon Campbell: Navy Ink. By all reports this thing is gorgeous. It’ll be going for $25.

Meanwhile, CARTOZIA TALES is now on its second issue and I absolutely cannot wait to show both of them to everyone who stops by. I’ll even have the paper doll postcards I designed on hand, so you can take a couple and create your own Cartozian Battle Contingient. Or Peaceful Hunter-Gatherer Tribe. Whatever floats your boat.

Each Issue is $6 and includes 40-pages of all-ages fantasy and adventure. (You can find the wardrobes I designed for our two paper figures in Issue 2.) If you really like what you see, I’ll have flyers with rewards and a QR code for our very-close-to-finished Kickstarter Campaign, so you can be sure to sign up for a full subscription and guarantee an issue in your mailbox every five weeks!

KickstarterEventHeader2. Speaking of the Cartozia Kickstarter, the campaign is roaring forward and we’re entering the final 5-day push. We have about $14k left to raise, so it’s down to the wire! If you haven’t yet pledged some bucks, now’s the time. Remember: any pledge gets you access to PDFs of Issues 1 and 2, so you can get a sense of what we’re about before you subscribe.

We’ve added some stellar new rewards over the past weeks, including a special package for retailers. If you’re affiliated with a local comic shop, or would like to see Cartozia at a store near you, do check out the $122 Retailer Special tier.

Additionally, one of my absolute favorite creators, Kevin Cannon, has been hard at work on his story for Cartozia Issue 3. The previews he’s posting are making me weep with envy and excitement (THE LETTERING! THE HATCHING! THE PIRATES!), and you can purchase the entire set of original pages through the Kickstarter. The reward even includes a full subscription! Just be careful I don’t save up enough to pledge for it first. I’m sorely tempted.

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If you’d like to learn more about Cartozia and the campaign, check out this interview with publisher Isaac Cates over on Comics Bulletin.

PHEW. OKAY. ENOUGH NEWS.

Thanks to all of you who were patient with orders and emails while I’ve been gone. I promise I’ll be catching up on all that in the next few days. For those of you in Portland area, I hope to see you this weekend at Rose City!