a cup of kindness yet

So uh, 2019 huh? 

I don’t really know where to begin with this. There’s been so much talk around not only the end of a year, but the end of a decade, and that’s pretty wild to try to grapple with. It’s not that I don’t want to reflect on the entirety of the 2010s, but I was a teenager for a good chunk of them, and comparing my 26-year-old self to the 16-year-old high-school me seems unfair. Or maybe just unreal. That 16-year-old is still here, in a lot of ways; hopefully in the best ones.

And, per usual, it’s hard to write this introspective piece when the state of things as a whole is, to put it bluntly, pretty fucking rough. Celebrating personal moments feels like ignoring the larger issues (even though I know that’s not the case,) and while I write these sorts of things mainly for myself to catalog my own moments, I always worry how it appears to someone else. Is this exercise too self-effacing, arrogant, etc etc? 

The follow up question to this is “does it matter?” and the answer should probably be “no” but, while the years have changed, worrying has stayed the same. There’s gotta be some foundation here.

This year started with so much unease and unrest, a constant struggle to take my anxiety and imposter syndrome and shove it away for moments a time so I could keep trying to do things that 16-year-old never could’ve imagined. PodCon set the tone for a year that was incredibly unpredictable, and a good chunk of the time I felt like I was gripping onto a life raft and just trying to ride the rapids as they came. That specific event was weird and wonderful in ways I wish I could go back in time and tell myself about, but maybe that would reduce their value, make their magic less powerful. But there’s a part of me that wishes I could take that 18- or 19-year-old in college, depressed and lost, and say hey, some day you’re going to spend a weekend with incredible friends bonding over this wild thing, and you’re going to meet the person whose writing is currently getting you through these hard weeks, and you’ll get to tell them about how they make the first podcast that inspired you to make art related to it, and that directly led to all the weird-ass bonkers shit you get to make now. 

And the person who introduces you in this moment won’t refer to you as a fan (even though you are, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that), but as an artist, a peer, a professional.

Maybe I’d sit down and tell myself that you’re going to commit to the bit harder than you ever thought you could this year. And it will still be terrifying, and you’ll still do it, and you’ll be so fucking glad you did. You used to always admire your friends for cosplaying, thought it never was for you, and you’ll be twenty-five years old, standing in a crowded convention center, dressed as a bright yellow wizard, and you will panic that this is weird, that this is too much, that you’re too much, but you’ll see your friends from all around the country and it’ll feel like a celebration. You’ll spend the night with them laughing so hard that you can’t catch your breath. You’ll hold onto these moments like precious gems.

You’ll get to see your favorite band perform live again with your best friend in the world. A week after, you’ll see some of the kindest and funniest folks perform in the city you will always call home, sitting next to the three people who you know will be with you through anything. The day after that, you’ll drive to Chicago to basically change your life.

Here’s the thing. Chicago has held my heart since roughly 2012. I saw my first concert (or the first concert I gave a real shit about) at the United Center. I visited friends there. I walked down the street in downtown Chicago on a freezing March day in 2014, on a trip with a university program, and a part of me felt like I was home, even though I wasn’t wearing a heavy enough coat, even though I was shaking. Something about it felt right. That sounds hokey to say, but it’s true.

I never really did talk about the Apple Store event in May. It was, without a doubt, the most nervous I’ve ever been for an event, anxiety so high I was physically unwell a few hours before (I do not recommend trying to enjoy the Chicago Institute of Art museum while your stomach feels like it wants to rip itself from your body). I didn’t know what to expect out of it at all. I don’t…do what I do in front of people. Visual art, for the most part, is a very solitary practice. More often than not I feel like I go into a little art cave, toil for a while by dim candlelight, come back out eventually with some kind of finished product. Sitting in front of folks, being a Person in physical space creating, I just didn’t know what would happen. And more importantly, I had been trusted to do a job, by people who do stand in front of people and perform regularly, and who are quite fucking good at it, and I so desperately wanted to make sure I didn’t completely screw something up. Somehow. 

What I especially didn’t expect was how included I felt in the whole process, not just technically, but in the banter. I wasn’t just someone sitting there silently drawing, extra background entertainment while the more important stuff happened, I was a part of the conversation. If I had felt that before, I certainly can’t remember when. 

See, I love improv a whole ton (and by extension, live performance in general, though I don’t think I’d ever be one to do it myself), and it’s not just because I’m incredibly lucky to have seen tons of amazing performers do what they do extremely well, but because you can see the collaboration happening in front of you, see the relationships between performers and characters and watch everything cascade on top of itself. It’s art being built as you watch it, together, not just one person in the spotlight putting on a show. I’ve been missing that so much in my own work. Making comics for myself is fulfilling and lovely, but also incredibly lonely. That moment on that rainy May evening, the ache in my chest the many weeks after I left which I first thought was just the tell-tale sadness of having to leave a mountain top moment, it felt like something broke through, a realization of what I had been longing for for years.

I’ve been so, so goddamn lucky this year to work with folks on projects where I feel like my voice is heard, and valuable, and wanted. I’m so thankful for the support of those in my life to keep pushing me to do things I doubted myself on. It’s that support that has made moving–while still incredibly hard–so much easier. Knowing there’s a room that I can walk into and even if I have that panic like I don’t belong there, it’s quickly dispersed by incredibly kind people holding the door open, asking me to join in. I want to make sure I’m doing all I can to kick those doors down for others too.

I feel like I can’t say thank you enough. There’s words all jumbled together in my chest about everything that’s happened in just the last two months, let alone this year, let alone this decade, and I feel like a broken record skipping over the same groove. I’m so thankful for the kindness of friends, peers, people I greatly admire and respect, who’ve all made this year remarkable in so many ways. I wish “thank you” felt adequate, but it doesn’t.

And there’s so much I haven’t even touched on in this, but it’s getting too long already. I tabled at SPX, which is insane. I got to go on so many incredible trips with my friends, conventions and concerts, cabins in the woods and on the beach, places that now all hold a space in my heart from the love we put into them.

I got to design a fuckin’ coin. A physical object you can hold and stuff. That will literally never not be cool.

Anyway, I live here now. That’s a weird sentence to type. I live here, and I get to live with a dear friend, who has been a beacon of joy for as long as I’ve known her, and the potential of a new year here is so incredibly exciting.

But I want to get better at being comfortable with myself. I want to worry less about being too loud or too enthusiastic or too weird, because the fact of the matter is that I am loud and weird, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon. My laugh bursts open at full volume, I get excited about dumb jokes, I cry a lot, I’m a big sappy mess, and I’m tired of worrying about if that’s a bad thing.

And Christ almighty, has it been hard to keep that worry in check this year, what with the life upheaval. Not to mention the general trend of hopelessness that’s wormed its way into a lot of thoughts lately, due to the aforementioned fucking rough world stuff. And my method to cope before was always “keep moving.” Keep working, keep making, keep doing something, because you’re one person and that feels like you can’t change anything, it feels like the most Sisyphean task in the world, but you have to keep trying.

That’s still true. But it can’t come at the cost of yourself. 

I want to make more time to do nothing. To just be here. To let myself sit in the water and adjust to the temperature. To not feel compelled to work constantly, to burn myself out over and over again. I want to take breaks. I want to enjoy the art of others. I want to sit with friends in a bar, chatting long into the night, enjoying each other’s company, not worrying about what work I should be doing, what tomorrow might bring.

Hours from now, I’ll be in my apartment, with friends, libations pouring generously, This Year blasting through our speakers, ending 2019 in a different state then when I started it. It’s weird. It’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Happy 2020. Here’s to each other, to sharing this short time. 

Here’s to continuing to try. Here’s to mending our spirits.