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.
Two of the illustrations from this story are available in my store! You can get Fish Slap and Urban Quest as art prints or on mugs and other cool stuff. Have a browse!
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