If you’ve been here for the last couple years, you might remember that I’m an authorized representative of an intergalactic entity known as The Boat Gnome.
If you haven’t been here for a couple years, here’s a visual introduction:
This spacefaring nautical merchant, operating in association with known Space Gnome representative Shing Yin Khor, accepts trinkets and trades via post in exchange for a special Trusted Trader pin. (You can also trade with the Space Gnome for pins by becoming a Patreon supporter of Shing’s, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
I’m delighted to announce that the Boat Gnome has now updated her ledgers and is open for the 2020-2021 trading season!
Desired items for this season are as follows:
A favorite passage describing the ocean (from an artistic work of your choosing)
A (mailably small) piece of driftwood
A design for a flag
A sea creature in any condition (illustrated, bottled, described with words—ideally not live because the ship has no aquarium in which to keep them)
To participate, print this intake form, fill it out, and pack it up with your trade item of choice AND a self-addressed-and-stamped box or bubble envelope (5×7” or larger) with at least $3.50 in regular postage (for US residents), or the equivalent for a 4oz package (for international residents). This envelope will be used to mail back your Trusted Trader pin. The Boat Gnome regretfully cannot accept thin paper or cardboard envelopes—padded is best!
Mail your trade item and SASE to the following address:
Boat Gnome Mercantile
PO Box 734
Ojai, CA 93024
In exchange, and under no specific timeline, you’ll receive one of these shiny Trusted Trader pins in the post:
That’s it! The Boat Gnome is very much looking forward to pawing over all your mailed offerings and I, as her Representative, can’t wait to file all the necessary paperwork.
Some thoughts after a long absence from this practice:
Between the weight of the world and my new role as a full-time caregiver, I’m barely managing to do my own work, which means I have no time for the work around the work—the work about the work. It feels like this second kind of work is what actually brings people to my door. The art is fine, but the thinking and talking ABOUT the art (and the craft, and the business, and the being-human-ness of it all) is what I’ve come to rely on for my livelihood. It also gives me a sense of greater meaning within the landscape of my chosen profession. It helps me feel connected to something bigger.
There’s more commentary and a list of links to things I referenced in this recording over on Patreon, but if you prefer you can just dive in and listen below:
[Rambles are typically 20-minute freeform audio updates recorded outside every couple of weeks. You can listen to previous Rambles here or subscribe directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.]
It feels redundant to keep pointing wildly at everyone who’s coming to similar conclusions about the instability of this online ecosystem right now—BUT—every time I find another person doing it I start yelling “YES. YES!” and do want to catalogue them in some way because these conversations are unfolding in many different spaces concurrently. It’s not just cartoonists writing about being cartoonists. It’s dancers and authors and comedians and zinesters and activists and journalists and musicians all pausing to look around and say, collectively, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
Robin called the other day and mentioned that I seemed to have stopped blogging, to which I say: it’s a fair cop. I was in Portland being consumed by my newfound ability to be close to other people and then I was moving and for the past ten days I’ve still been moving, but it’s the shitty back-end part of moving that we don’t talk about as much where you have to actually unpack and (in the case of this particular move) jettison decades of childhood ephemera from your tiny bedroom in order to make it a livable space for yourself as an adult.
The last piece of furniture I needed to move in was my bed frame, which I’d decided to stain and refinish because “Imperfect DIY Projects” was in my “More” column for this year. Now that I can sleep in a space with visible floor area and a desk I can actually sit at (though I am, in fact, writing this on the bed), it turns out my brain is far more capable of turning to the digital spaces I’ve been neglecting for the past six weeks. By returning to writing, I’m breathing a habitual sigh of relief—the kind that turns into a stream of words about shit I didn’t know I was even processing in the background of whatever I was busy doing while I was thinking that I’d never write another word ever again.1
So, after all that preamble:
Nicole Brinkley wrote this essay called Did Twitter Break YA? as part of her Misshelved series on Patreon and it’s fucking great. YA isn’t my community, but it’s adjacent to my community. And booksellers (the community Nicole talks about most frequently in her writing) are absolutely within my community. The patterns she describes in this piece—of context collapse and “morally motivated networked harassment” and parasocial relationships and burnout—are patterns I know like the back of my hand.
There are so many nod-inducing moments, but this was the one that really made my blood run cold:
After all, access to authors is the real product—and if an author missteps, they’re just a failed product. There are always more authors to fill that spot on the shelf.
Bluergh. Hurk. Ek. How often have I slipped into thinking of myself as a failed product on a shelf? Certainly every time I’ve stopped posting as often on Patreon, or expressed enthusiasm about doing a drawing challenge and then failed to follow through. Definitely in those moments when I think that if I just had a bit more energy and time I could start making content that would grow my following “in earnest”. When I take two years to send a new installment of my newsletter. When I disappear.
But it’s not just the disappearance. It’s feeling of one’s absence being invisible within the onrushing tide of Other People’s Output. Remember that Drew Austin essay I linked a couple posts ago? He gets into it there, noting that “Every social media feed is an endless parade of these fragmentary identities, disaggregated into units of content and passing by quickly enough to evade the scrutiny that would detect their incompleteness.” The incompleteness being that we are all also doing and contending with other things. We have to be. We’re not just on Twitter 24/7—even people who seem as if they are.
This is the price of trying to succeed within the ecosystem of capitalism, and maybe it’s also why I want to keep sharing here and here alone: I haven’t contaminated this container yet. It gets to sit apart from everything else, just me and my thoughts.2
Earlier in the Pandemic Mara made a rare Instagram appearance, posting a series of text-based stories from her new home in Winthrop, Washington. I transcribed them immediately because, as with most things she writes and shares and speaks about, it sparked something in me that I needed to sit with for a long time.
I have so enjoyed every story and post by you all, dear friends. How does it work when I just observe you, and when to like/comment on what you make here is to feed an algorithm that watches and profits off of our affection? I don’t do it because it feels…violent?…to us. This platform is very hard for me. Thank you for understanding. It pales in comparison to being near you. The simulacrum of closeness feels nauseating. I know we are killing something important in the process of creating connection. I want you to walk through the door, for us to play. You’re all here always.
This is it—the heart of the thing. We chase engagement as if it’s the Holy Grail, and yet to play the game on any level means we’ve already lost. There are so many people I can think of who I’ve finally been able to see and embrace and laugh with over the past month and attempting to get that through social media does pale in comparison. The simulacrum is nauseating.
This handful of broken online platforms can’t be everything.
Past a certain point I don’t want to spend my time cataloguing people’s writing about this—or generating my own—because (and this is the curse of the over-informed over-thinker) I know it all already. I know it in my bones. I may not have the right terminology for it, but I can feel it. I fear I am admiring the problem, thrilling to ever more accurate descriptors that tell me precisely how and why I’m locked in this unfulfilling spiral, rather than taking steps to change my behavior.3
As Tolentino points out, “The internet reminds us on a daily basis that it is not at all rewarding to become aware of problems that you have no reasonable hope of solving.”
But Nicole is ready for that.
[…] I do not want to wear the armor of cynicism. I do not want to be trapped in the ouroboros of perfection just because the community I interact with demands it.
So here is what I will say to you, dear reader: You do not have to participate in this cycle.
The system is broken, but the system can be abandoned.
In addressing this head-on, she wins my heart.4 She admits that the piece started out as one thing and then turned into another. She describes the trajectory it might have taken had she chosen to focus solely on the issue of where actual teenage readers sit in the modern YA landscape, and then she recognizes that this is really a conversation about so much more. (I will never stop loving this pattern, wherever I encounter it.)
The Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It School, the Grit School, the Capitalism School—they all urge us to keep producing and grinding and persevering, trusting that clarity will come from more work (even if that work, at its core, is purposeless, unfulfilling, or even actively harmful). With no time to reflect or catch our breath, we feel we have no choice but to trust the systems we’re given, to push and push and push until we “break into” the spaces that are communally regarded as desirable, and then fight like hell to keep that power safe because don’t you know this is a landscape of scarcity? There’s only so much to go around.
When I think about the last year, I don’t think about pushing. I think about waiting.
I had to wait. I had to wait a long, long time. In some ways I’m still waiting.
So when Nicole says:
These days it’s okay to not be sure what Twitter is for. We can stop going there until we figure it out.
It feels like permission.
It makes my soul exhale.
“I don’t feel good when I’m here” is enough of a reason to leave. Even if the places I wish I could stay—or the people I wish I could stay with—sometimes bring me connection and joy and validation and money and, yes, even love. If my gut tells me that I am not, at baseline, nourished the way I need to be: I can walk.
That’s the new rule.
Thank you, Nicole.
1. I’m also kind of glossing over the fact that my obsessive nesting has masked a deeper discomfort with having to face the true emotional cost of this transition. That’s a conversation for another time. But, as my therapist reminded me: this grief is chronic, not acute. Avoidance is a tactic we use to survive ongoing adversity. It’s not inherently evil. ↩
2. Also, just a general side note in relation to all this: how often have I shared something like Nicole’s essay on Twitter or Instagram with the caveat “I’m fully aware of the irony of sharing this here, but…”? I want to stop doing that. If I’m reading something about how fucked it feels to still be on a certain platform and it resonates with me, I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THAT PLATFORM. (I am yelling at myself here because this is a footnote and that’s what they’re for, I think.) ↩
3. Whoops this is the moment I realized that this essay is also about my historical approach to relationships. Surprise! ↩
4. She also reminds me of this stunning essay from adrienne maree brown about disrupting patterns of harm that specifically target Black women within movement work. I’m due a re-read because I haven’t stopped thinking about it for months. ↩
When I shared some process images from my voting rights comic for Oregon Humanities over the weekend, Katie left a comment saying “I really want to get into comics as activism, because it’s kind of the only skill I have to offer, but I’m not sure where to start”. I’m sure this is a common concern, especially among folks who are part of Patreon because Patrons tend to be oriented toward both creative practices and social good, which is why you’re some of my favorite people.
The post I wrote in reply to Katie’s questions covers pitching, payment, research, and interviews, plus links to folks doing great work at the intersection of art and activism. Hopefully it’ll be useful to any of you thinking about this stuff.
Also relevant: fellow contributor Sarah Mirk’s comic on how Multnomah County passed universal preschool last November is now live on the Oregon Humanities website! She’s such a wonderful visual reporter. Go give it a read.
Austin shared some lovely sketchnotes from a talk on writing as a form of prayer yesterday, and this bit really leapt out at me:
Out of all the interesting subjects they discussed, I think I was most taken by Father Martin’s explanation of how his vow of poverty affects his writing. Martin is “editor at large” at America Magazine, and as he explained it, he basically has the freedom to write about whatever he wants. The same goes for his books: All of his royalties go to the magazine, so he’s mostly unconcerned about sales. […] Writing, for him, is never a struggle.
Absence of pressure as a prerequisite for pleasure. I love this.
I’ve still got Luke’s phrase “financial profit is not possible here” reverberating around my skull from the launch of GOES yesterday, which has me wondering:
What happens to a creative practice when you proactively divorce it from capitalism? (And what form does that divorce need to take in order to be an effective means of culture-shift for the individual and their wider community?)
I think of this as the inverse of those well-meaning friends and relatives whose first words after seeing something you’ve made is “You could sell these on Etsy!” You might as well say “You could siphon all the joy out of this practice and replace it with crippling performance anxiety!”
Who are the people in my life whose response to any nascent creative work is: “Have you considered trying to make this as un-commercially-viable as possible?”
And more importantly: what allows someone to follow that instinct?
Shing and I have talked a little lately about feeling the hustle go out of us in our 30s, and how following the course of that ebb is a privilege earned by hustling a lot in our earlier career days (alongside other factors, of course). Overfunding a Kickstarter or landing an unexpectedly lucrative illustration gig—or even, on a more sustainable scale, running a Patreon—is a means of buying your own creative freedom for a spell, but all of these still involve an initial influx of cash. You have to pay to play.
Haven’t been super exact about remembering to cross-post when I release new Rambles, but I wanted to be sure I shared my latest one because people have said some deeply thoughtful and lovely things in the comments over on Patreon, and I think this is a discussion worth having right now.
Broad Themes: similarities between grief and creativity in both their acute and ambiguous forms, what to do when there is nothing to be done, Vaccine Feelings, broadening the window of tolerance for discomfort, models for social and economic validation, the metrics that matter in understanding Patronage, object permanence and online audiences.
Guest Starring: a lot of birds.
(If you prefer reading to listening, you can download a transcript here.)
I know the title of this post sounds like absolute corporate hokum, but I tried tweeting these thoughts ages ago and then realized it was really more of a discussion for long-form writing and so I started a Patreon post and then forgot about it and now it’s many, many months later and I’m blogging again so here I am putting it in a blog post.
Last summer Wendell and I ended up talking about “service-agnostic environments” for online community-building, and the question of generating adjacent, overlapping communities centered around particular groups of creators.
The whole practice of being an Online Creator (i.e. A Charming, Hyper-Available, Vulnerable Internet Personality, or CHAV-IP, as I have just decided to call it) feels centered around siphoning people into these isolated social buckets where you can make demands on their time and attention and finances. But this doesn’t make for a sustainable and interconnected ecosystem. An audience member can only be a part of so many tiny silos before it becomes overwhelming.
For example: there are a lot of people who probably follow both my work and Shing’s work, but each of us also have readers uniquely drawn to our particular brand of BS (boat stuff and Bunyan statues, probably). We have both built followings on public social platforms and in more private, paid spaces like Patreon and Discord.
What would it look like to have a combined location where our overlapping readers could talk to each other?
My general obsession recently (and I know I’m not alone in this) has been more about getting audience members to connect with one another rather than singularly with me. I want people who enjoy my work to see themselves as part of an ecosystem—to cross-pollinate and experiment and build and play.
I brushed up against this when Shing invited me to begin playing in the Mercantile Gnome Universe (MGU?) they’ve built over the past handful of years. I became a representative of the Boat Gnome and started offering to trade pins with people through the mail. The game revealed a lot of crossover between our audiences, but it also encouraged more of my people to learn about Shing and vice versa. If I had been supporting a creator who did something similar, I think I would’ve found the experience exciting. It feels more like a treasure hunt and less like product placement. An invitation written in code, delivered with a wink and a tip of the hat.
It makes me think of Robin’s Republic of Newsletters—a section of his newsletter that used to keep up with other interesting and adjacent written projects as if they were physical outposts in a shared landscape. It’s webrings and blogrolls, cross-links and quotations. Everyone loves to feel the thrill of discovery, but it’s sweeter when the core of that experience is someone you trust taking your hand and saying “Wow, look.”
What is the landscape of affinity for my work? Who are the creators I find myself sharing fans with? Which subjects do we mutually gravitate towards? Where are we different? How is a creative community like a map?
I’ve made my first YouTube video! It’s a four-minute rundown on how to bring emotion, action, rhythm, and clarity to bear in writing for comics.
Folks who follow me on Patreon know this came about because I’m working on a graphic novel called Seacritters with my friend Kate right now and it’s her first time moving from prose to comics. I DO NOT ENVY HER. Most of what I learned while putting this together had to do with remembering just how many factors there are to consider in telling stories visually. Hopefully this makes it a bit less overwhelming.
(If you want to learn more, I originally delivered this information to Kate in a much more expansive, 54-slide visual presentation. I’ll be uploading that for Patreon subscribers at all levels later today. An excellent time to join.)
I miss going into Helioscope and getting to enjoy these kinds of conversations around the lunch table, but a nice side effect of the Pandemic is that we’re making more of them available online. (I say “we” but what I really mean is Leila, who’s been a champion about recording, editing, and uploading all kinds of content to the studio YouTube channel. Go take a look around if you like this sort of thing!)
The best instance of this was when a few of them bullied me into making a $50 tier for the page—which I thought nobodywould spring for—so they could give me more money. Years later, I am still flabbergasted that anyone has joined at that level—let alone the very loyal and kind group who have stuck around. They are life-changing types.
So you’d think at this point I’d know not to underestimate them.
But this morning I published a 1,300-word essay about trying to start work on the scripting process for Seacritters, my forthcoming graphic novel project with writer Kate Milford, and thought that nobody in their right mind would read it.
I liked the writing a great deal, and it definitely captured what I was going for, but it was, y’know, 1,300 words. If I’d received it in my inbox as a Patron, I would’ve taken one look and thought “mmmmmmaybe I’ll read that one later.”
Because my attention span these days is, to put it mildly, not great.
So I gave myself a bit of a talking-to about engaging my Inner Editor a little more in the future…but then people started to comment! They began to discuss! And over the course of the morning I realized that a bunch of humans I respect immensely had actually taken the time to read those 1,300 words, and had found them helpful, and were excited for more.
Ramble #24 (January 7th, 2021): The 7th anniversary of my arrival on Patreon! Reflections on my first solo Christmas, good quotes about solitude, writing down nice things, thinking about early internet communities, trying out anonymous audio-based support groups, picking a word for the year, stuff about birds. There’s also a bonus recording attached to the original post on Patreon from Tim Dee’s The Running Sky, which is just gorgeous.
Ramble #25 (January 21st, 2021): much shorter. Took a walk. Petted a cat. Tried to figure out how I’ve changed my relationship to being online and whether I could distill that process into replicable steps. (Also, thanks to a truly mystical service Robin turned me onto called Descript, this is the first Ramble with a proper transcript.)
(If you’re universally hot for RSS feeds—and if you’re here, let’s be real, you probably are—you can always subscribe to these directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.)