I am home for Christmas.
Being back among the old streets of my youth after years away gives me the happy opportunity to experience them as relatively new, with just the mildest trace of familiarity to sweeten the deal. I wind through downtown and up 8th Street, past apartment complexes I don't recognize, yet at the same time feel certain I've set foot in before. Maybe I lived in them once.
I walk, slower than I'm used to, to the town cemetery where one of my high school friends lies buried. It's a place I've seen mostly in dreams in years past, but I still intuitively sense just where to find him when I enter. I sit with a book and let the bulk of the tombstone block the sun from my eyes.
I don't worry about anything when I'm here, because being home is like stepping out of time.
It's a reprieve from the world, and it's one I've needed.
I need it because I want to prepare.
I entered 2009 full of good intentions and plans, and absolutely no warmup at all. And if I've learned anything this year, it's that new years' resolutions don't succeed by the strength of the initial burst, but through slow perseverance and unsung toil. Think of it as a race and you're already done for. (Forgive me if I wax a bit poetic here, the holidays just do that to me).
If every moment paves the way for the next, and all we've been through shapes, to some degree, what comes next, then the themes for 2010 have already been well developed by now. The mistakes of 2009, if recognized, dictate the work still to be done. And while it's important to recognize the problems and mistakes we've made, it's just as important to take this particular moment to discard the things that might carry over into the new year and cause us to make these same mistakes again and again. Therefore, 2010 will begin with a declaration of amnesty for all offenses, real and imagined. We don't have to be what we have been.
The past can do a hell of a job of repeating itself if we're not careful. And old habits die hard. If we keep telling ourselves that things are a certain way, they'll invariably be that way. If we open to the possibility of change, maybe we stand a chance of getting better.
So as I sit here by the warmth of an electric fireplace, I'm thankful to have the time to think a little on where I want next year to go, and where I want to go with it. About the importance of forgiving myself for the things I've done wrong, and letting go of the wrongs that might have been done me. And I'm feeling grateful to be able to spend time with the people I care about, even if they might occasionally drive me crazy. I'm grateful to have the friends I have, and for the patience they show in putting up with me.
If you're reading this, that means you.
In the spirit of the season, here's a little video that I hope will bring a smile to your face, as you prepare for what's to come.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I am home for Christmas.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Unless you're one of the few who track me on other forms of easy internet stalking, you probably didn't know that my planned final radio show of 2009 (did you know I have a radio show? As I write this I realize I never really said anything about it) - had to be canceled due to issues with the station's streaming computer. I was annoyed at the time; I'd picked a nice batch of songs to play for folks that were very specifically for wrapping up the year/decade, closing things out on a good note, etc etc. To prepare it all and be unable to share it left me frustrated, to say the least. It wouldn't be any good in the new year...
Anyway, I had given up on the thought of doing a make-up show another day; time was too tight and I had work and then was leaving for California on Wednesday. It just wouldn't work. And even if I did, the chance of anyone tuning in at a random time slot just so I could get some satisfaction was slim. At best.
Though the magic of computers, I've found a solution that I might not have even sought had the show gone as planned. I took the songs I had set to play, and mixed them together live (in that I arranged them on the fly and manually handled the crossfades) into one long, continuous track. And through the power of the internet, that file is here for you all to hear and enjoy at your leisure, without having to tune in at that rather difficult time slot I currently occupy.
Unlike past mixes, my hope is that by making this one long track (as well as not providing the playlist), you'll be able to listen to it with the deliciousness of the unknown that makes music so better. In an age of cataloging and tagging everything we hear (guilty), it's nice just to listen to music without knowing what we're hearing sometimes.
You know, kind of like listening to the radio.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
It'd be pretty hypocritical to come back for what feels like the hundredth time and give you guys some line about how I have a good bead on things now, and know just what I'm doing this time. If you've been a reader of this blog for any amount of time you know how often I like to do that, and how the bursts of resolve are usually the only thing you hear from me between the long stretches of fearful quivering. I just can't do it anymore.
I've been made aware recently just how capable I am of deceiving myself about who I am. You all know (or you can take my word for it) that I'm generally too hard on myself, and that my life is ruled by standards unrealistic in their expectation and borderline psychotic in their approach to how things should be done (see previous sentence for clues), but it's another thing when someone else is affected. Long story short, I've got a few things to face.
A main aspect of my programming has always been to gauge my own value by how much I could produce creatively. Behind this is the perverse certainty that I must not only Do, but Do In A Certain Way and Up To A Certain Standard (again, see bulk of prior entries). I got problems. But who doesn't?
Here's what I do know: My capacity for self-deception is as strong as it is because I've made practically no effort to change. I've coasted, and I've smiled, and I am none the wiser. Nothing's gonna change for me unless I swallow a healthy dose of Shut The Fuck Up And Get On With It, Already. You don't have to remind me.
For the time being, this means a few things.
First: The Mighty Bu is over.
While I used to enjoy making it, by and large the history of my comic has been a struggle with trying to make things that I thought other people wanted to see (this is because I'm crazy, not because you fine folk made me this way). I went into hiatus, and came back still in the thrall of a backwards approach. And while part of me still loves making comics, I'm much too close to it to be able to simply start doing with a healthy perspective. Even if I return to comics again in the future, there's just too much memory and negativity tied to that title for me to continue. It's my hope that starting whatever I do next with a fresh slate will make it easier to establish new patterns.
Where do we go from here?
The short answer is I really don't know. I'm on a brief self-imposed vacation from making anything at all, just to see how it feels, and to examine what it is that I actually want to do vs. the nefarious urges that drive me to make things lest I be revealed as a useless piece of shit. Forgive the dramatics - did I mention I was crazy?
In place of any regular comic output, one thing I know already is that I'd like to start writing more, if only to clear up some of the space in my brain. I'd like to start using this blog as a place to submit more general writing exercises, rather than a place to poke my head up every few months and make the same old excuses.
I feel myself slipping into the same old territory here, so I'm gonna cut myself off now.
See you soon.
Friday, October 09, 2009
As you may or may not know, I've finally decided to stop putting off the relaunch of my old webcomic, The Mighty Bu, any longer. The 6 or so months it's been on hiatus were becoming more and more a period for me to build up expectancies of just how great and thought out I wanted it to be when it finally came back; pressure built, expectations soared. Naturally none of it went anywhere productive.
Perhaps the key addition to my already sizeable surplus of theoretical 'wisdom' about creating (most of which has kept me back) was a pair of interviews I listened to recently (you can listen to them here and here). The gist of these interviews is the same stuff I already knew: that you have to start, and not worry about where you're going. That you have to accept the idea of sucking at it, etc etc ad nauseum.
But there was one thing that struck a new chord.
In the middle of the interview with KC Green, he referenced the old saying that everyone has 1,000 shitty drawings in them (or songs, or poems, etc., depending on your medium), and the best thing to do is to get them out as quickly as possible. I'd heard this sentiment echoed elsewhere but had pretty much forgotten about it in my quest for Impossible Precognitive Perfection. Thinking it over, it seemed obvious: much like the shock therapy of NaNoWriMo or 24 Hour Comics, it was an exercise perfect for my current overly precious predicament.
Having done NaNoWriMo a few times, I'm aware that even the most well-intentioned exercises can be perverted into masochistic, fruitless acts if you go about them the wrong way. I'd done it with the novel writing, and I could just as easily see myself doing it with the comics.
The theory is this: it's perfectly easy to gain nothing from an exercise like this if you do it with the wrong perspective. I know very well that I could barrel through the thousand comics, consumed with knowing my trajectory, highly susceptible to tracing the steps of Gunshow or The Perry Bible Fellowship instead of trusting my intuition and doing comics that I want to see. I could rush through it, more concerned with getting to the end than with actually learning what it's meant to teach me. I've done it before (most recently with my old Mighty Bu strips - the more I drew the more I realized I was pushing myself towards some imagined destination without enjoying any part of the process). I tricked my brain into disconnecting so I could crank out empty, yet serviceable, product, thinking that this was the point.
To actually operate in the spirit of these exercises is to understand that there is no finish line; no point you can reach when you're Done.
The point is to free yourself from worry about quality and direction. You create an expanse of space in which quality doesn't matter - these are Shitty Comics. With that in place, you can focus instead on making whatever you want to, piece by piece. Comic by comic. The theory suggests that by deemphasizing destination, you free yourself up to be present with each step, knowing that it doesn't matter if it's any good, 'cause there are always going to be more.
For my perfectionist brain, this is naturally threatening and quite counterintuitive.
Enter the 1,000 Shitty Comics Exercise.
In keeping with my belief that process is an invaluable thing to be able to observe, I'm going to be using this experiment to rebuild my original comic, no matter how ugly or immature the places it takes me may be. It's what I have to do to get where I need to be - understanding that I have no idea where that is - but also, it's there for you to see, if you want to.
So far I've got 5 done, 995 to go. Come on over.
Friday, September 11, 2009
It has never been a problem of knowing what to do, or how to go about doing it.
Regardless of field, the common wisdom concerning getting any sort of work (especially creative work) done is easily found, echoed in a million books on writing/drawing/what-have-you. I won't go into them in depth here, but it always comes down to a simple idea:
Shut up and get to work.
Maybe it's the direct simplicity that scares people; no room for misinterpretation there. No, the only recourse for someone desperate (is it fear? I think it is fear) to put off getting started on (insert any project here) is to hop from book to book, soaking up ever more wisdom and instruction on how they might best proceed.
As one who's read more than his fill of these books, I assure you: eventually you know all too well what you must do.
The question then becomes: what particular devices do we each employ to prevent ourselves from doing this relatively simple thing?
Just as the best way to work is unique to each person, so are the specific designs by which they keep themselves from it. I can only name a few of mine by way of example; you have to identify your own. But perhaps this will help.
Obstacle One: The Implied Expectations of the Vessel
Be it a Moleskine notebook (like the one I'm writing this in right now), or a sleek and fancible Sketchbook, it is the experience of procuring a book specifically to work in, and promptly feeling petrified to sully its pristine pages with anything but the most quality work (itself a dubious, amorphous notion). Fine journals are a fine thing, but when they work psychologically to make us overly precious about what we fill them with, their purpose is corrupted. More on this later.
My second obstacle is the notion that I must know precisely what I want to say and where I want to end up (and must identify all of the in-between steps) before I begin.
This flies in the face of all that ubiquitous, obvious wisdom: nearly all works, of every stripe (pick any specific book/comic/tv show especially dear to you as example) were almost certainly conceived as they went along, rather than extensively mapped out and executed in a linear fashion. All were begun and all change in the making. The growth and progress we so easily recognize (and assume to be both intentional and inevitable) most likely happened entirely by accident. That is to say, naturally.
Yet still the delusion holds sway. If you don't believe me, trust that I have several unfinished drafts of blogs which remain untouched simply because I have yet to figure out exactly what I want to say with each.
The third obstacle sounds a bit silly when said aloud.
Whatever we make must not, at any point in its existence, suck.
And so on.
Your obstacles may have some things in common with mine; no doubt you could make your own list of things that stand in your way. Never a bad idea.
But what then? If you're like me, the one thing you know just as well as what you should be doing is why you aren't doing it. Your knowledge on this subject will be thorough, specific, and vast.
The question of what to do with all this information is what interests me the most. Here's what I've come up with:
It's no good to abandon your notebooks or any other tools just because of the mindset they may induce in you; at least, not altogether. Sometimes having something shabby or handmade (point: not store-bought) helps. But this is often impractical. Mass-produced notebooks are made to be written in. Moleskines' paper feels wonderful against the hand. There must be a compromise.
To put it another way: you have to figure out how to make the things you have work for you. If that means trading in the fancy sketchbook for its DIY cousin, so be it. But only if that's what you really need.
Before I started writing this, I surveyed all the previous entries in the journal. Each page was crammed with tiny, near-illegible lines; none of it invited review. Even as I wrote them, I knew I'd likely never go back and read what I'd written. It seemed beside the point.
But if these things are to become useful, they have to be easy and inviting, at least at first.
I turned to a blank page, and began writing sentences in letters 3 or 4 times larger than usual. Barely a paragraph's worth fit on a page.
And immediately I felt the difference. By loosening up my grip and taking a little more space to stretch out, I found a way to make the Moleskine work for me.
It's that kind of redefined relationship that I want to find with all my tools. I encourage you to try to find the same relationship with yours.
If you need it.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I'm a little late with this, but I'm going to be at the Portland Zine Symposium all day today and tomorrow selling my comics and generally mingling. It's happening in Smith Memorial Ballroom on the PSU campus and entry is free. If you're around, come and say hi!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Oh, internet. How you entangle.
I used to be pretty indifferent about the online communities I used. Being somewhat late to the party (I never used Friendster or Livejournal - okay, that second part's not true, but I digress), I figured each newly ubiquitous community was okay as long as it served its purpose and didn't make my life too complicated. When Facebook sprung up, however long ago, it seemed a godsend; the ugly, non-functional mess that is Myspace had long since worn out its welcome, and back then, Facebook was simple, clean, and spartan. Plus it seemed a good way for people to keep track of me, if they felt so inclined. Anyway.
Cut to the present, and the natural evolution of popular online communities has once again played itself out: Facebook has turned into something bloated and ungainly. Where once it was elegant, it is now an eyesore. Again, digressing, but I'm going somewhere with this.
This is not the place for me to list all the things I don't like about Facebook; the faux-connectivity it creates, the bizarre share-all mentality it fosters. That is another blog, for another time (though probably unnecessary). No, the issue here is that of knowing what you want out of your internet, and then working to get it. I'm a firm believer that the internet doesn't have to be a black hole of distraction and lost time; but navigating it responsibly is a difficult thing, so I try to help myself as best as I can.
I've long been a proponent of Twitter as an alternative to the Facebook micro-blogging tool, as Twitter wisely focuses on what is being said while all but eliminating who is saying it (although, inevitably, 99% of people seem to use Twitter exactly as they do Facebook - 3rd person updates about their lunch, etc.) My views on this are strongly influenced by Rands' article about proper tweeting, and how to make the most out of it. The long and short of it is: Sure, you can now let your friends and family know exactly what you're doing any minute of the day. But why should anyone care? And why is it worth sharing in the first place? But the digression continues.
I'd go it one further and put forth that for those already sold on Twitter, a beautiful application like Tweetie is the way to go - simple, elegant design, completely eliminating the need to even open the web browser. It delivers content, and nothing more. Beautiful.
And this is where Facebook loses me.
The purported strength of online communities, as best I can tell, is that they allow you to stay connected to people you might otherwise be unable to. This is a noble cause. However, whatever its intentions, what I see happening more and more on Facebook runs something like this: People update snippets about their daily lives, others comment on them (or 'like' them. What?), and the whole thing becomes this surreal, almost high school-esque drone. Almost nothing is actually said, and it is said all day, every day.
I understand that a lot of people like Facebook for this very reason, but as I said earlier, this is about figuring out what works for each individual, and for me it's somewhat frustrating. I don't usually think to share details of my daily life; how much more valuable is it to offer some insight that might reach someone out there in the ether, and in turn make their life a little bit better? Much as it feels like it sometimes, the internet is hardly a void. And don't even get me started on the influx of pointless quizzes that have spread throughout Facebook like a cicada plague lately; again, well and good if people like them, but from where I'm sitting it all adds up to distraction, and that isn't why we're here.
The final nail in the coffin came in the form of Tumblr. It serves the simple purpose of being a platform for short, multimedia updates (as opposed to this blog, which does just fine for these lengthier missives), and it allows complete customization (as well as a simple, tasteful UI) that makes sharing content easy and attractive. I am sold.
The downside to Tumblr, they all say, is the absence of a Comments feature. It is one-sided, narcissistic. Yelling into the void. Perhaps, I answer.
But the counter to that is twofold: First, there is this here blog, with its comment-friendly nature and a link to actual contact information. Second, in the land of Facebook, where the comments fly free and easy, how much communication is actually going on anyway?
I aim to document, and share what I find. I figure that's the best any of us can do by our friends on the internet. And RSS is your friend, folks.
You know where to find me.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Hello again! And so soon!
Assuming by now a few of you have heard my Spring Mix, I thought I'd go it one further and make available to you some of the albums I've been listening to lately. They are by no means representative of all the spring music out there - these are just my picks for this spring, this year, right now. What I do know is that they will reward you if you give them a chance. So with that said, please, Enjoy.
And get outside.
The Dodos - Beware of the Maniacs
Arthur & Yu - In Camera
Menomena - Friend and Foe
St. Vincent - Marry Me
(Edit: Links are now down. Sorry.)
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I'm pleased to say that the Spring Mix is finally complete, and instead of bothering with cds and packing and all that nonsense, I'm making it available for download right here on the blog. The catch: since it's digital, it requires a little leg work on your part. I've zipped all the songs (plus cover art) into a single file, which you must take into your iTunes, or whatever player you use, and arrange correctly. After that, just find yourself a sunny spring day (or a good pair of headphones), and Enjoy.
Spring Mix 2009:
1. Okkervil River - The President's Dead
2. Arthur & Yu - Lion's Mouth
3. The Dodos - The Ball
4. Marnie Stern - Transformer
5. Jens Lekman - Julie (Remix)
6. Lykke Li - Dance, Dance, Dance
7. Yo La Tengo - Beanbag Chair
8. They Might Be Giants - Another First Kiss
9. Menomena - Rotten Hell
10. tUnE yArDs - FIYA
11. The Mountain Goats & Kaki King - Black Pear Tree
12. St. Vincent - What Me Worry?
13. Rufus Wainwright - I Don't Know What It Is
Monday, February 02, 2009
So as you may or may not have known, yesterday was Hourly Comic Day, a sort of mini-marathon of comic-making. The goal is to draw a comic for every hour that you are awake. It was definitely a challenge (especially since I had to knock out a regular Mighty Bu comic as well), but it was also a lot of fun (although I became somewhat grumpy near the end, as you will see).
UPDATE: Blogger's image hosting is too small for my liking, so I've hosted the files at my webcomic's site instead. Click here to see 'em.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
First of all: ACKPHTHPTLTLBLOOBLOOOFFFFF.
It is nice having an office, but the downside of it is that I spend most of my time in a basement room with hardly any natural light. I feel more and more like a vampire (albeit one that wears a purple robe and foot duvets) when I trudge downstairs each morning with coffee in hand. The place was once a makeshift recording studio - cardboard coffeeholders still line the ceiling - but even the small amount of light afforded by the two tiny windows is not enough to keep it from feeling gloomy. And that gloom has apparently translated into an inability to turn out a proper blog for the first two weeks of the new year.
So here I am on the porch.
As far as portents go, 2009 has not shown any sign of being better or worse than '08 just yet. Which is to be expected, I suppose. Foolish shortcut-seeker that I am, I awoke on the morning of January 1st thinking I'd be able to shake off all of my mental baggage and simply plow ahead into my work; who needs hours and hours of practice when you have the magic on New Years Momentum working for you?
I am this way about a lot of things. Why?
It is perhaps helpful that 2009 has offered up so little thus far, therefore making it easier to quickly realize the naivete of my initial approach and so set it down. I remember thinking, on New Years Eve, how all the world seemed poised to Make A Go Of It in '09, and that all the collective positive energy would no doubt carry me along. How can a person entertain such a notion? Answer: because it is a nice alternative to having to shut up and do the work.
And yet, and yet. You know the drill.
I'm as good at anyone at finding creative reasons to put off doing my writing and drawing practice. But if 2009 has shown me anything thus far, it's that it isn't about to start making it any easier for me to beat the system.
That's the state of things, folks. Stop trying to make your workspace perfectly clean, forget trying to get all the stars to align in order to make your words more pure and concise. It won't work.
So to build upon my initial plan for this year, let me add this: There ain't no easy answer. Best stop trying to find one at all. Gets in the way of doing the ground work. It's on the ground that the guts are made. It's on the ground that the well is filled.
I've got a lot of work to do.
Better get to it before I just start talking.
A few helpful links:
Cory Doctorow - Writing in the Age of Distraction
gapingvoid on being creative
The Second Virtue of Writing
Craig Thompson on getting started