Even You Leave

80
A PRIMER FOR FORGETTING
THE EMPTY STUDIO. 

Said John Cage to the painter Philip Gus-
ton,
"When you start working, everybody is in your studio-
the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all,
you own ideas--all are there. But as you continue painting,
they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely
alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave."

Again, Sarah Manguso:

My goal now is to forget it all so that I’m clean for death. Just the vaguest memory of love, of participation in the great unity.

What does it mean to be a steward of something or someone in decline?

In caregiving or hospice work (and ecological thinking in the era of climate collapse), this is clearly the game, but I catch myself wondering how it translates to making a comic or writing an essay or any other generative act. How is this season of my life a form of cross-training?

Often I think of creation as an additive process—raising a child, building a city, weaving a carrier bag. But what if, rather than moving closer to the realization of a vision, the putting-down-on-paper-ness of it all degrades the original, unthinkable idea? (However I pronounced “Hermione” in my head as an eight-year-old, for example, vanished the moment I listened to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on audiobook.)

I say “degrades” and feel the jolt of negative connotation, but I don’t mean for this to be negative. There are many ways to think about caring for someone with less time left on this earth than I have. Some of them are negative, depressing, dispiriting. Some days I succumb to that helplessness. But there’s a richness to it, too, even if it doesn’t fit the cultural model we’ve inherited for worthwhile heroics. Again, Le Guin: “[…] the Hero does not look well in this bag.” I try to apply the grandiose posturing of meeting an impossible deadline to the work of caregiving and instead I come up against the fact of death again and again and again.

I think there’s still a part of me clinging to the idea that if I could only become [blugh] enough, I could bring my ideas into the world in a visual form that fully encapsulates what’s present in my mind. And yet: 100% of the time, the page I draw does not, cannot, match the one I envisioned when I sat down at the drawing board. And yet and YET: 100% of the time the physical manifestation of that vision eclipses what I’d imagined. Maybe not in the moment, because I’m stubborn and I’ll usually spend a day or two scowling at whatever’s ended up on the page, muttering about how I’m not mad I’m just disappointed, but once I’ve gone away and come back and seen the page contextualized in the greater stream of the narrative, it’s like someone’s shaken the Etch-a-Sketch. Blank slate. The vaguest memory of love.

Artist Brain/Worker Brain

Still wrestling with how to write up this post demystifying the money behind my book deal. It’s unearthing some real discrepancies in how I want to talk about this stuff on the internet. I think the fundamental problem is that I have two brains. Or two selves. Two wolves. Y’know. Whatever you wanna call it.

The Artist part of my brain is drawn to gift economies, to trust-based models of community and mutual support, to play and movement and exchange. The Artist likes living in the space of thinking we already have enough, and that art can serve its highest role in society if it exists beyond the constraints of financial exchange. The Artist has also, so far, done a pretty good job giving things away for free and then managing to receive financial support for them in a roundabout way that feels almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Capitalism.

The Worker part of my brain, on the other hand, (especially the Worker that exists under Capitalism) is concerned with the business of enoughness, but that enoughness is often tied to needing more. The Worker sees how creative freelancers are getting the short end of the stick and is feeling utterly insane watching herself behave as if it’s all we’re allowed to ask for. The Worker wants fair wages and paid time off and benefits. Fewer barriers to entry and better conditions. The Worker wants unionization. The Worker is angry.

When I start talking about the ludicrously low amount of compensation afforded to creators through publishing’s advance system (even in instances where an author lands a “good” advance!), I feel like I’m operating from a place of lack. A world of scarcity. And it’s hard to tease apart how much of that feeling is productive. There’s a real sense of not wanting to sound ungrateful—or worse, petulant. But I also can’t help but be furious when I think about how many people—people without a decade of work behind them, or a relatively stable monthly draw from Patreon, or a forgiven PPP loan from the government, or a family to move in with (even if that move comes twinned with a new identity as a full-time caregiver)—cannot survive on the money publishing wants to pay them.

I don’t want to spend the next two years working on this book and nursing the bitter brew of this industry’s broken compensation system. I will probably—almost certainly—be okay. I built the scaffolding, I laid in supplies, I changed my life to accommodate this next season. It won’t be the golden field I’d let myself dream it might be, but I’ll do fine. The book might even sell enough to turn a profit down the line. But! But.

I want things to be better.

What Goes Around

Okay, listen: I’ve been pretty consumed lately with barking up my own mental redwood tree about patronage and interdependent communities and what it means to try and support artists during late-stage capitalism, but this morning I got an email from my friend Luke Kruger-Howard that felt like turning around and realizing that this isn’t just one goddamn redwood. There’s a whole forest out there.

Luke’s email (and it was an email, addressed tenderly to many friends, which is the kind of thing I love getting) announced a new physical publication (Goes #1), released under the aegis of a new publisher (Goes Books), but it stopped me in my tracks because there was something different going on.

He wasn’t running a crowdfunding campaign. He wasn’t encouraging people to preorder. He wasn’t even asking for money.

Instead, I got to read this sentence:

This comic will be free for all readers, gifted by other anonymous readers along the way.

Hear that? It’s the sound of my heart exploding.

The only encouragement in the email, beyond asking people to talk about it which, like, DUH OF COURSE HOW COULD I NOT TALK ABOUT THIS I WILL NEVER SHUT UP ABOUT THIS, is to sign up to receive a free copy of the comic in the mail. That’s it. 2,000 copies of this new beauty are headed into the world and they will all be gifts. I already have so many questions! Is there a Mysterious Benefactor who financed the initial print run so that, potentially, every copy could simply be given away even if nobody chose to pay it forward? Or is there no initial capital beyond Luke’s own savings and this is just a massive trust fall? Is it more or less of a trust fall than running a Kickstarter?

Whatever the answer, I’ve never rushed to give somebody $20 faster in my life.

In the delightfully-illustrated financial transparency page, Luke writes:

This is an investment in the relationship between artist and reader—between stranger and stranger. Financial profit is not possible here.

The comic will always be free.

The comic will always be free.

A screenshot of the Goes Books website with the title Pay It Forward. 
The body text reads: would you like to gift a copy of goes to another stranger or strangers?  simply use the button below to pay with paypal or credit card. no financial profit is had in the making or distribution of 
these books. money received by goes books will be put toward gifting copies of these books to other readers. any money earned beyond that will be donated to charity. it takes about $4 to make and send a copy of goes to a stranger - more or less than that is perfectly wonderful, friend. <3

Oh yeah also P.S. any money raised beyond what’s needed to pay forward all copies of the comic will be donated to RAICES. HELL YES TO THIS.

I’m going to save all the other yelling I want to do about this for Friday because you can bet your ass I texted Luke the moment I finished reading the email and begged him to sit down for an interview. If there are things you’re interested in hearing us talk about, let me know.