My brother and I have talked in the past about having a regular, low-level melancholy. Not depression really but it always had a feeling of self-doubt and unworthiness. I remember being asked periodically by people who were close to me what was wrong. What could they do to help. I don’t know was always the answer, because I didn’t have a name for the feeling. I didn’t wrangle with it or even recognize it until it had taken hold. And I knew it would pass…Things don’t really go away if I ignore them, but decisions will get made for me so I don’t have to deal with them, and the cycle continues.
My best friend Sandy and I have been taking a look at our work goals, life goals and balance for a few months now. The things we keep coming back to are boundaries (filling the schedule up because of wanting to help…or because of feeling lonely), what we actually want to be doing at work (do we prioritize money, or job satisfaction…it’s okay to want to be paid for what we do) and personal or professional growth (comfortability, not complacency. Feeding ourselves and thriving). So here I am at forty-two. I’ve done a lot of work this year that I was only vaguely aware of needing to do. I’ve identified for most of my adult life as doer. I get things done, I stay busy, I make commitments and I keep them…except when I don’t. I have a name for that feeling now. Shame. And being overwhelmed…by filling in all the cracks and crevices in my life so I can be important to my people. It’s a cycle that I didn’t really even see clearly until August when I recognized that I had all these plates in the air and needed to put them down.
Without realizing it, I keep trying to pick them back up again. Here’s to seeing it. Here’s to progress.
I don’t know if this is true of everybody, but there some stories or scenes in stories that just stick with me. They take on an almost talismanic meaning in my life…a way of explaining a feeling in shorthand the way I’m feeling. A reminder that other people, on some level, get it.
There’s an episode of the Simpsons, where Mr Burns goes to the doctor and is told that he’s the “sickest man in the world.” He goes on to say that the only reason burns is alive is because all the diseases seem to be canceling each other out. Like the three stooges trying to get through a door, they all get stuck. Mr Burns characteristically self absorbed replies “So what you’re saying is…I’m invincible.” Shocked, the doctor exclaims something to the effect of “No Mr Burns! What I’m trying to tell you is that the smallest change could send them all rushing through at the same time…”
This feels like a good metaphor for feeling overwhelmed. I talked about this last week too. Instead of falling into the Guilt/Shame trap of my worth being defined by my output, and feeling like falling behind makes me a bad person, here’s the plan. Deal with the guilt of falling behind and move past it. Here’s the plan as it stands…
Next week is spring break, and I have every evening free. Also, because of the coroners…coronet…caramba…corona virus, I’m home. Everyone’s home. I have three projects that are started but on the desk incomplete and I will finish them up. I’m seeing benefits to not having to go to my night jobs in addition to having those drawings finished. Namely, seeing the shape of my day without spreading myself thin with tasks that have less return fiscally and emotionally than the energy I put into them. Let’s call that moving forward on multiple fronts.
For accountability, the things I’m looking forward to finishing next week are:
1. The Electric Team pages 1-4 which are nearly there
2, Interior Illustration for “The Lusty Minotaur“
3.Grass and Stone promo illustrations
Every year, Sally and I get together and have a meeting we call the breakdown, where we talk about our big project of the year. Decide on what goals it will meet, and discuss benchmarks. The point of the break down is to make things manageable. To set up a system of accountability and project maintenance. And to be able to not only look at the current project, but also previous ones to see where it’s possible to do it better. These are the things I wish I’d learned in school.
This year, my projects are in service to the goal of looking for an agent (or seeing if an agent is the right thing for me) and beginning to focus more on illustration and storytelling work and less on design work. Sally and I set a monthly meeting to get together and talk about how we’re doing and help navigate our ships around the rocks. This past month I joined the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), applied for and was accepted to three shows, and signed up for a SCBWI workshop and portfolio review in Kansas city. There’s nothing like needing to have work, to make one do the work. heh
Tuesday mornings, Kelly and I go to coffee and work side by side for an hour or two. Its a comfortable work morning as we both research and write. My notes on agents are still small, but they’re growing and getting more detailed. In the process of writing them, I move through tangents of how I’d like to make my portfolio more uniformly consistent, saying “this is the work that I really want to be doing”, and that shifts to outlines for how I want to teach this semesters drawing class. All the creative aspects of my job support and feed each other, and I’m so happy to see that. The header image for this post was pulled from a pin board that I started, for talking about character and drawing style for an upcoming character design class. My initial thought was that we could explore drawings along a spectrum of very cartoony, to illustrative, to realistic. Doing the research, it turns out that there’s a lot of blurring and overlap between those three things, and the artists that have influenced me the most over the years feel like cover a great range but hang together so nicely. How do I want my work to fit into this community?
I’m excited about this idea as both a way to approach this new class, and as the basis for a project, and rebuilding my portfolio. The 100 Day Project starts on April 7, and I decided that what I make this year is going to be in part an exploration of this, but a purposeful one…not just busy work. On Tuesday, I’ll spend my Tuesday morning work time writing a post about that, and outlining my plan.
It feels good to have a plan. It feels good to move forward. This all feels manageable.
Until next time, I hope you’re finding joy and love and balance. I hope you’re taking care of yourself and wrangling with the things that need wrangling, and forgiving yourselves for the rest. Take care and be good.