Seriously, how the fuck are you supposed to do anything creative in this world right now? Like, where do you find the nerve and the will? Every day is a sustained bomb-blast against the foundations of this country. Every single day. These smug, arrogant, brazen people daily looting the treasury, dismantling basic protections, stripping the planet. Taking us back sixty, seventy years, the Stone Age. Leaning hard towards authoritarianism, leaning big. Shit, running headlong towards it, these people. Refuting science, targeting minority groups, targeting their own agencies. Alienating the entire planet. Making basic facts malleable as taffy. Doing it gleefully, with a brash disregard. And doing it right in front of us, relying on our divisiveness, our self-interest, our fear, our fatigue. Every day, a screaming maelstrom of shit, that gnawing, constant fear.
How do we make stuff with all of that going on?
How do we possibly sit down and quell the great screaming noise of the world and work on our projects, our creative endeavors? How do we allow ourselves the room to do so, when the world’s burning right outside the door? How do we quiet the engines in our heads enough to get work done, and how do we give ourselves enough of a break? Because there’s that guilt inherent in it, right? Doing something so self-concerned.
We can’t help everyone, it’s true. But we can’t help anyone if we don’t make sure our own house is straight first. And for me, so much of my own willingness and ability to engage in the world comes from writing, creating. It fuels me.
A year in to this current hellscape that is America and I’ve finally been able to start creating regularly, fiercely, with a little grace and a lot of gratitude. I’ve had a lot of luck, and an understanding that it’s a great gift to be able to do this as so many people are having so much taken away.
But how do I manage to convince myself that it’s okay to work on this stuff while the world is being so wronged? It’s a tightrope. But the world needs art, and I need to make art to be of any use to anyone, and I have a particular skill set that can be used to help others. So while I’ve worked on my stuff this year, I’ve also donated a lot of work – visually and otherwise – to groups and organizations that are larger than me, that are helping combat what’s going on right now. That’s how I convince myself. That’s how I give myself the breathing room. I do it because I need to, but I can also use it – my graphic design skills, my writing – to help others.
So that’s what I’m doing.
It’s a cement square, really. Fifteen foot-high ceiling, painted cinderblock walls, cement floor. The window looks out at the parking lots and warehouses of industrial southeast Portland. A couple outlets, a hook on the door. A space heater and an old CD player. Two desks sit at right angles with each other. The computer, an old-ass Mac desktop, sits on one of desks, and the other one’s for drawing; it’s already ink-spattered and scoured in graphite, even though I just bought it when I moved in. You can hear people walking down the hall, banging away in their own little cement rooms, immersed in their own hustle.
I’m writing this from my new office.
This little cement cube, and I’m vacillating between joy and fear. I’m hanging in midair. I’m trying to quiet the noise of the world, daily, enough that I can land this thing. Every day, I’m hoping I can pull this off.
After working with various non-profits in the education system for a long time, I quit my job. I’d worked with K-5 kids for over twelve years, and the decision to quit was two-fold – I’ve grown desperately burnt out on the work and have had a recent string of luck in my creative life that’s allowed me to take this gamble and focus on writing and illustration. Working with kids has been tremendously rewarding over the past decade – if only for the really, really terrible jokes I’ve heard – but you do no one any good if you’re burnt. The work can be tiresome and challenging, and with few resources and little financial compensation. It’s a labor of love, and if your heart’s not in it, you’re not doing anyone any favors.
But I’d had some luck recently. I wrote a novel that was published by a small press and has done reasonably well, and for the first time in my life started getting regular royalties. There’s another book that’ll be published next month. I was handed a few well-paying speaking gigs, and some other creative opportunities presented themselves that, as of this writing, I still have to keep a little hush-hush. Point being, after years and years of hustling for next to nothing and working on a ton of projects and being resolute in my belief of the work, I’m able to make a go of this stuff. For the time being, at least. I’m fortunate as hell and I know it. I cherish this opportunity. I respect it.
Sometimes when I’m in this office late at night and I open the hallway and it’s quiet, all the other offices are deathly still. And I think, I’m going to outlast you all.
I mean, it’s true I know nothing about the interior lives of the people behind those doors – they could all be making much more grand sacrifices than I am in order to do whatever it is they do behind those doors. But the point remains the same – I’m here to work. I’m here to quiet the furnace of the world and allow myself that necessary respite of living inside myself for a bit.
But seriously, you ever felt like taking a chance, and then you take it and it looks like the whole world is splayed out below you. Like some Wile E. Coyote shit; you’re just waiting to drop.
But instead of dropping, I’m writing. I’m sitting my ass in the chair and getting to work. I’m bringing something forth from nothing.
And when I’m done with that, I’m gonna go use what meager skills I have to go help someone out. It’s a balancing act.