Black and White and Read All Over

Reading Now You See It and Other Essays on Design by Michael Bierut the other week, I was reminded of the first time I was “published,” the thrill of it all; it was high school, and for some reason I don’t properly remember, our high school had two pages in the local newspaper to fill. (It was some scheme to promote journalism, I think? It wasn’t just our school, the other high schools in the area got two pages as well, spread out across a number of weeks.)

I wasn’t writing back then; I was the artist of the group, the one always drawing with big ambitions that involved drawing but were somehow entirely formless beyond that. I was going to go to art school, then there was an undefined Step Two before we hit that “Step Three: Profit” part. So, when I was asked to contribute an illustration for someone else’s story, I said yes with the mixture of ego and arrogant well, of course you were going to ask me that speaks to the teenage experience.

I then proceeded to psych myself out about it for days after.

I don’t remember what the story was that I was illustrating, but I do remember that the illustration was to be a deer riding a sledge down a snowy hill. (Why? I genuinely wish I could remember.) I drew that deer on that hill multiple times in multiple ways to the best of my meager ability — cartoonishly, realistically, from different perspectives — and none of them were right. I just knew it implicitly; this could be my big break (into what, I had no idea, but still), so I had to not fuck it up and everything I was doing was fucking it up. Nothing I could do was good enough.

In the end, I submitted this terrible, lifeless painting — yes, a painting, counterintuitively — that was the closest I could come to acceptable by deadline. I hated it, and felt like I’d let myself, and everyone else, down. When the piece ran, the illustration was a blurry mess and I was suitably embarrassed, but I remember being okay with it, because even though it was shitty, I was in print. It was still a rush, still this feeling of, “I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.” I was, in my head, real at last.

I’m Not The King of Comedy

R.E.M.’s Monster just got reissued in a fancy, expanded anniversary edition — its been 25 years, shockingly, since it was released, which floors me; it came out on the same day I moved to Aberdeen for the start of my second year of art school, and I remember running to the local store to buy a copy before the 4-hour drive there in case I somehow missed it — and, although I checked out the new mix and the demos on Spotify (They’re fine), the thing that I keep thinking about more than anything is the packaging design of the album.

Everyone knows what the cover looks like, that garish orange and the out of focus bear head. The album, famously, is the most-returned CD in history, so it’s a familiar sight to any music fan of the last quarter century. The front cover is okay, it does the job, but it’s easily the most boring visual element of the album. It does the entire package a massive disservice.

Far more than the music — which I really like, to this day — the design on Monster blew my mind. (Perhaps more so, the design of the tour booklet that accompanied the album, which took the basic ideas and ran with them.) There was a bluntness and garishness to the decisions made, whether it was cutting things off in the wrong place or applying color overlays that made no sense, or considering television static as a design element strong enough to carry a booklet page by itself. Beyond that familiar orange cover, everything seemed to purposefully reject received design wisdom and do the “wrong” thing, yet still look attractive and exciting.

For someone in art school, especially someone starting a graphic design course, it was utterly exhilarating. I tried to learn from it by stealing, of course — I did the same thing for my other primary influence at the time, Dave McKean, which is funny to me now that I can recognize how much of McKean’s tricks were also just outright stolen from others — but was beaten back by teachers who told me that I was, simply, doing it wrong.

I was, of course, but not in the way they thought. They didn’t get the aesthetics I was working with, and so argued for the old school as they had to, because it’s what they knew. But what I was actually doing wrong was copying the Monster look instead of applying the attitude. Copying it wasn’t the right thing to do; I should have rejected it and built my own version, using the pop culture influences and mistakes inside my own head. But who is confident enough to do that at such a young age?

Making Plans In Public To Make Myself Say Yes

A random idea that I’m posting here in the hopes that it’ll prompt me to actually do it next year. I was reading the Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything book the other week, and there’s mention in there about how the company — really, its founder, Aaron James Draplin — approaches the corporate website, which could best be described by the phrase, “As if it was his personal zine from the 1980s,” which I respect the hell out of.

One thing he mentions — followed by a few pages of examples — is the graphic of the day, which is literally what it sounds like: each day, there’s a different graphic on the site, created by someone at DDC. I read that, and I thought, I want to try that.

Kind of.

One of the things I’ve done this year has been keep up this site in a more organized, intentional way. It was a discipline and an experiment at once; I came into 2019 a different person than I’d been and in a different life, and there was something about actually writing for myself here that felt like an important part of that — of rediscovering what I’d write here, given that chance, but also, of doing something for myself. I knew my limits, so I didn’t try to do daily posts, but I also knew how lazy I was and how easily I’d give up without structure, so I decided I would try to post three times a week. That seemed reasonable.

(I keep forgetting that this wasn’t a New Year thing for me; I started midway through January, for some reason.)

Anyway, so I’m thinking I’ll try to do a graphic of the workday thing, running Monday through Friday each week through all of next year, with the following rules to make things easier for me:

  • The graphics can be old or new.
  • The graphics might be photos, sketches, graphics or whatever else I decide. A visual element of some kind.
  • The graphics don’t have to be by me, although ideally they’d predominantly be.

I figure that I’ve had enough fun doing the THR graphics weekly — and that it’s been refreshing enough creatively — that this could be something good for me. If I choose to actually do it. I even have a name for the series, if it happens: 2020 Vision. Because, you see, it’d run through 2020.

Now. Let’s wait to see if I actually end up doing it.

Here We Are In Our

How did we get here?

I was struck with some surprise the other day that it’s midway through November already, meaning we’re almost at the end of the year, somehow. It all feels like a surprise, as if I’ve traveled through time and been deposited here without knowing it. Didn’t fall just start? Wasn’t it the end of summer just a couple of weeks ago?

Perhaps it’s age, or simply the odd near-singularity effect of 2019 in general that seems to feel as if time has collapsed in upon itself. Certainly, it feels like everything since… early September, maybe, has fallen together, the days filled with things and emotions and stuff that cascaded into each other. At one point, I was so busy (and, for a brief period, so sick) that I went six weeks between therapy appointments; when I returned, I spent the first session back just listing what had happened like a checklist, just to catch her up. She looked at me with an expression of, there’s more? the entire time.

And so, September — pet trauma, work stress, visitors to the house — became October — work trips, sickness, house cleaning and working to impress the landlords so we get to stay and not move — became November and everything blurs together.  My old mindset of considering new months as starting points disappeared because there was neither time nor perspective to think of things that way, anymore. Everything kept happening. Everything still keeps happening.

And now we’re here. Fall has, belatedly, taken hold and things are slowing down. I am catching my breath and finding the pockets of calm and peace necessary to me, and still, wondering how we got here without noticing. In the dark mornings and evenings outside the windows, I hope to find answers and quiet to fill the gaps.

I’m A Burning Wheel

The odd thing is the impulse to write it out.

One of my few rules here is that I don’t share anything that feels too personal. “If it’s your decision to be open about yourself, be careful or else,” as Elliott Smith sang; it’s a nervousness born as much as anything of the lingering shame I felt for almost two decades in my marriage for just being me and not who I was expected to be. I’m recovering, still, but it’s not gone entirely. Maybe it never will.

So, with that in mind, I know better than to write about what happened on Monday here. It would be a bad idea: it would upset the other person involved — just the opposite— and I wouldn’t get any sort of closure from it. It wouldn’t achieve anything good, aside from allowing me to rant, rave and scream primally.

At the same time, perhaps those are things I need to do. Certainly, the more I think about what happened, the more I want to scream. The realization that what I was facing was simply a concentrated taste of what used to be my everyday, but my psychic shield was gone now; the pain (and, again, shame) of that realization, but also the anger that accompanied it, the disbelief, were and still are overwhelming. How is this still happening? How did I survive through it all before? Why didn’t I notice sooner?

But there’s also something better, the secondary realization that I don’t have that psychic shield now because I don’t need it anymore. The acceptance that I really am in a better place now, as much as that sounds like a euphemism for death.

My feelings are all over the place right now, and will be for some time. What happened isn’t resolved, and isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. But perhaps what I need to work through them is a primal scream made pixels, or this talking in code. Extended subtweet as therapy.