You might be wondering about the fish.
It’s not what it looks like. Or maybe it is—I don’t know what it looks like out of context. Either way, I can explain.
A couple of months ago, I got a bit angsty-artist and decided I needed to do something productive and sensible to make my job feel more valid to myself. So I set out to create business cards. I sifted through my website for striking images I could base my designs around.
I scrolled and scrolled
and I found frustration,
Nothing was awesome, trendy, magical, weird or even relatable enough. Everything was bland. It was all failure.
I kept burrowing, kept sketching ideas. It started to consume me. I began in the afternoon, but somehow it was the evening.
I messaged a friend, one of those close friends you trust with your broken pieces and most despicable flaws, a friend you know would love you even if you kicked a baby sloth deliberately and with malicious forethought.*
And—because apparently I am capable of ruining even that—I sucked the conversation into my death-spiral.
Although ‘conversation’ is perhaps the wrong word. I sent over 20 messages without getting a reply, until eventually I reached the deepest part of whatever emotional swamp I was wading through and typed, in classy caps,
Fear tickled me. This time my broken pieces were too sharp and my flaws too repellent. Just as, deep down, I had always known they were. It was only a matter of time before she noticed. Soon, everyone else would realise too.
(This friend had just moved to the other side of the world, and I found out later that as this was occurring, she was lost on public-transport on her way to her first day of work. I have a mental image of some epic urban quest with trials and gatekeepers and monsters, and all the while a phone incessantly tinging with my self-absorbed pleas for reassurance.)
I took a deep breath.
And I thought back. And I realised that on the day this wave of self-loathing first came, something that might have been wonderful for my career had fallen through. Something that I thought hadn’t bothered me too much—these things happen to everyone after all, and I was too sensible to take it personally.
It was as though I had been lying in the dark, watching a looming shadow and convincing myself it was a blood-soaked monster lurking at the end of the bed that was waiting for a perfect peak of fear before it slurped my guts out. Naming it was like turning on the light. The moment I recognised what had first caused me to doubt myself, I could see the monstrous shadow was really that travesty of a jumper I had once convinced myself was an op shop find, draped weirdly on a chair.
I know, I know.
You want to assure me that bad jumpers are amazing. That my failure wasn’t really a failure at all. That these is no shame, only glory, in a vibrant, mad, misshapen, glittery beast of bad jumper.
I get that. That is, in fact, what I was aiming for.
This jumper isn’t a vibrant, mad, misshapen, glittery beast of a bad jumper. Such a jumper would belong to the queen of op shops. And I dared to believe, for one dazzling moment, that I was that queen. But then I got home and took my prize out the bag and looked at it, and I realised that I was not. Not that day, anyway.
The jumper I ended up with was a sort of old-lady-librarian chic** with a floral and leaves design in a muddy shade of vomit.
Also, it was a cardigan.
(I knew it was cardigan when I bought it, of course, but it didn’t really sink in until afterward.)
It may not have been a sadistic, blood-soaked monster, but it was still ghastly. (And it would have been so wonderful if that thing had worked out. And it didn’t).
But it was also just a cardigan.
So I took another deep breath—everyone acquires a ghastly cardigan sooner or later—and made a cup to tea—I was too sensible to take it personally.
And then I drew a comic about how I had been feeling (one that you’ve already seen). I drew myself weirdly badly being slapped in the face by a fish. I wrote this.
And I made my business cards.
I wore the metaphorical cardigan. I don’t know any other way to deal with life.
* Advice: don’t kick baby sloths. Especially not deliberately and with malicious forethought. First degree baby-sloth-kickers do not fare well in prison.
** An admittedly ridiculous way to describe it. There is a stereotype of old ladies and librarians that overlooks the reality that they can be stylish or sweet or funky but always gloriously themselves.
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