Friday, November 16, 2012

Elegy (Notes)

     Some folks were inquiring as to seeing the results (more details on the event and the process here) of the recent 24 Hour comic that I did – though I’m not quite yet ready to post the project in it’s entirety, here’s a preview of some sampler images. In most cases it was only one panel per page). Apologies for a somewhat cryptic slow-reveal, but it’s excusable when an unedited tell-all is self-eviscerated under pressure – with the benefit of hindsight these is much that requires if not judicious editing, at least some more backstory to complete a narrative that is so personal it fogged the window, or as it turned out, a mirror.

“My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. 
I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?” - Charles Schulz


     A spontaneous and intensely concentrated effort, the comic was largely culled from a grab-bag of assorted miscellany: diaries, old photographs, excerpted gardening and cooking journals, letters and postcards. It took quite a bit of preparatory time poring through all of the material, and as most of it I hadn’t seen before, it was admittedly a heavy experience. Objectively reading about oneself secondhand through the perspective of another person - especially a parent - can be simultaneously illuminating, alarming and depressing. Confronting emotional baggage can be therapeutically purging, but just maybe not in the context of a crowded comic shop.
     Still, a lot of the details that come uncovered in such a process of documenting family history, warts and all as it were, is a challenge, even more so when a clock is ticking and a deadline approaches. I suppose it’s similar to psychiatry sessions, which regardless of the monumental, earth-shattering scope of one’s insights, are still constrained to specific, regulated blocks of time for each appointment. The daily routine of life is cluttered enough with extraneous busywork and white-noise so as to effectively prevent most of us from ever dedicating time to a protracted navel-gazing like a 24-hour comic. Which would ostensibly be one of the benefits to participating in such events.
“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” - Jean-Paul Sartre

     This exposé (semi-autobiographical by default) stemmed in a large part from recent adventures in moving here and there across America and Alaska over the past couple years. As a direct consequence I have had to undertake a serious purging of accumulated ephemera: books, music, artwork etc. - ie belongings that, aside from nostalgic speed-bumps, serve no real, practical purpose anymore. Going on the underlying assumption that if I haven’t missed it in years of being in a box somewhere in storage, then it simply needs to go, which translated into some serious soul-searching. An amalgamation of personal liberation and some residual guilt meant making some hard calls, but at some point it's a relief to jettison ballast which no longer serves to keep you on course, but is instead only weighing you down. Juxtaposed against the setting of a 24-Hour Comic, this voyeuristic shedding was an opportunity to pull over to the side of the metaphorical road and focus on the portion of the map that showed where I had come from, as opposed to where I’m headed next.

     The other aspect motivating such an introverted exercise in solipsism was the peripheral awareness that this is the proverbial end-of-the-line when it comes to this particular branch of the family tree, that being, for all practical purposes, effectively pruned. In other words, what does one do with all this STUFF, especially when you are A) an only child and B) have no offspring to pass it down to? This prompted an existential crisis – not the melodramatic little poseur ones I’ve cultivated throughout my anguished artistic life – but a genuine realization that there isn’t any easy answer to the Big Questions, like where’s it all going, what’s it all for, and mainly... what the hell am I going to do with all this crap? This opens the mental trapdoor of how much of one’s identity is defined, or maybe hampered, by hanging on to all of these historical artifacts, to say nothing of deciding the fate of such inconsequential bookmarks like a picture of your mom’s herb garden, or a painstakingly annotated tome of French recipes... or any number of things that mean nothing to anyone else but you - and that only because they meant something to someone else.
“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious 
when people laugh.” - George Bernard Shaw

     It doesn’t matter how many layer deep your insulation runs from confronting the reality that all this  stuff, including oneself, is destined to disappear, despite all our efforts at immortalization, or at least in the case of the vast, extended Smith clan, an extensive breeding program. Strip away the buffer zone of delusion which so much of this accumulated detritus helps hide from view and you realize that this is your mess, you own it, and are morally obligated to at least help clean it up. And so what if that involves the possibility that YOU will be the one who will take it all on that last ride to the Dumpster of Life, and it’s up to you, not to put too fine a point on it, to throw it away? More importantly, what if it's your job is in part generating even more of all this material, as in the case of transposing and consolidating such melancholic memorial material into yet another piece of artwork?  It can be a vicious circle to scrutinize why you are making more stuff when you spend any amount of time honestly reappraising the leftovers cluttering up corners in the attic or the basement in the house - or in the heart. On the flip-side, it's nice to have a handy fire-pit at the new place.
     I put it down to one of those creative tensions: an irresistible force (the instinct to make) versus an immovable object (the need to clear the deck), the yin/yang yo-yo. The silver lining in this series of constant relocations was to negate the obsessive hoarding of such stuff under the guise of being a "collector." And the self-knowledge that perhaps the only gesture in defiance of mortality, "The Point Of It All," is to, in the end, maybe just crack another joke.

     So... back to the drawing board.

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