This is kind of a weird entry.

A couple of things have happened, or I guess more I've been thinking about a few things, which have lined up with a few other things I've read lately, and I thought I might lay some of it out here.

A couple days ago, internet friend/comic writer who's stuff I rather dig on Eric M. Esquivel posted this article on Bleeding Cool. It's a really good article, as are his others for the website, and I imagine the future ones will be too, and if you're not reading it, you should be. This particular article, I don't entirely agree with everything Eric says, mostly because I think memoir is really important to literature [I studied memoir in college, after all], and I don't think any writer ever really gets away from their own hobby-horses in their work. But he brings up a lot of great, interesting points, and I've been rolling them over in my head since it was posted on Tuesday.

Today, real world friend [not any more important than an internet friend, just making the distinction so people don't think EME and I are out in Tucson, destroying mailboxes together in an El Camino with a baseball bat on weekends -- AKA, totally not dick-riding here] Glen "Mario's Closet" Brogan posted this on his blog, showing off his invitation to Gallery 1988, a real accomplishment for him, and as he points out in his post THE destination for artists who do work in the 8-bit, throwback, cartoony, pulp culture-type genre of artwork. It's a big success, sort of the proof that what he's doing is lucrative, and worthwhile, a real "your dreams can come true" moment for him. And I can't congratulate him enough for it, really. It's huge.

But again, it's made me think.

As a writer, or as someone who wants to be a writer, or as someone who writes too much about wanting to be a writer and not actually writing [I'm sure you have your own opinion on which of these I am], I think a lot about purpose, and about success. Purpose, in my mind, is why you work, why you create, why it is you do whatever it is you feel you have a calling to do. Success is doing something that cements that purpose as worthwhile to you. Purpose is why you work, success is what comes when that work has achieved something.

I mean, roughly. Keeping it strictly to the "sky is blue, grass is green" sort of stuff. And remember, I'm just talking about myself here. I don't know the blue you see is the same blue I see. You may not think it's as simple as purpose and success.

I think the definition of success is probably what people struggle with most often. What's an achievement? Being able to make money at what you do? Being able to do what you love for a living? Having your work reach the most people? Getting noticed by one particular critic? Reaching a benchmark that others in your field have reached? Working with a particular person in your field? Maybe just finishing a project.

Maybe just getting a chance to work on a project.

It's hazy. It's pretty different for just about everyone, and that's not even factoring in what other people see as your achievements, what society and your peers see as an achievement. And then there are numerous things you just can't see -- maybe you'll set a goal that's unreachable. Maybe you'll be very pragmatic with your goal, and you will reach it, but you won't really feel like you've succeeded. Then there's that fear. That you'll get to the top of your Everest, look around and say "this is it?" I would imagine there are more than a few people who have that happen who stick the gun their mouth at that point, but there are likely far more who turn around, head right back down that mountain, and find another one to climb.

I think about all this sometimes, but only in a theoretical sense. Because honestly, I'm farther away from success than I've ever been in my life. The comic I'm working on with Justin, though I'm psyched for it, is more of a practice exercise for him [re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name]. I don't have a regular artist to work with on hand. I've not been able to get a single film project off the ground [nor can I seemingly keep anyone interested in said projects for more than about... six months at a time]. I blog, but there are a lot more talented bloggers out there, with a lot more readers, and I know this because I link them daily [Hannah Miet, John Wiswell, Hipstercrite], and even have connections to them through social network sites like Facebook, and Twitter. The biggest creative thing I have going right now is a screenwriting contest that I won't even hear about until the end of the year.

And don't get wrong. None of this is a pity party. Some days it is, but right now, I'm just looking at the facts realistically. For a creative person, I have very little going on creatively. For a writer, I'm not writing a lot of stuff that will actively go anywhere -- I'm trying to get these freelance jobs going, and I'm working on getting back to blogging regularly. These are important, of course, but different kinds of important.

I think -- I say "I think" because I'm really not sure yet -- but I think this is in part do to a lack of purpose I've felt lately. I've wanted to write for a long time, but there was definitely a time, before high school I'd say, that I didn't really think I could do it. And I didn't really know what I wanted to write. And then, things happened, and I was exposed to a lot of new, and interesting stuff, stuff like the movie "Clerks" and the movie "Slacker" which, no offense meant to either, but made me feel like these things were things I could do. That I was capable of. And I was drawn to comics, because there's this part of me that's just been reading them so long, enjoying them for so long, that I sort of think like that -- and even when I'm writing prose, even when I'm writing a movie, I see things in my head, sort of lined up as panels. It's a part of me, it's how I think.

It sounds insane, but it just is. Even my favorite novel, the Great Gatsby, when I think of scenes from that book, I think of them as though they were illustrated by John Romita Jr.

So that's what got me going. But I feel like I lost the purpose along the way. I remember, from the moment I sat down, and said "writing is what I wanted to do" I started crafting all these characters in my head. This non-mythic mythology, with all these people based off of people I knew, or people I'd like to know, or myself, and all of them interacting with each other. In some ways, they were just vessels, to get my weird stories and my fucked-up opinions out, and in mouths other than my own. It shaped into a world that went by a lot of names, Sulk, Ever Higher, the Living Dead, White Trash Nation, Sweet Home, etc, etc, etc. And in my head, it was all very realized, and there was this strong compulsion to tell this story, and I knew the characters not just by name, but by age, and if you asked me about one of them and what they'd do on a particular holiday, I could tell you like they were someone who I went to school with, and saw every day.

I put those away at some point. I don't know if it was because so much of the early work with them was done with Sam as the illustrator, and when her and I stopped working together, it felt wrong to pursue them further, or if it was because I picked up new stories like Un-filmable, and Trendsetter, and all the little shorts I wrote. Maybe it was because so much of that early stuff I ended up refining and recycling into other ideas, which also haven't seen the light of day, really. Maybe just so much has happened in my life in the past few years that made up stories just don't have the room in my head that they once did.

I'm not sure. What I do know is, whenever I had one of those stories to tell, I felt the pull of purpose. Like "this is what I'm supposed to be doing, this is what I want to be doing." And then everything that happened, happened, and you know, suddenly I didn't have the house anymore, and my family was a mess, and I wasn't going to be the producer on any movie, and this other thing was delayed, and my dad was dead, and everything was just -- over. Fuck purpose, just not shutting down was the order of the day. Success... success was something that happened other people, people who knew, at least partly, what success meant, who had a reason to work towards those achievements. It was all very far away, if possible at all.

And yet.

I kept writing. I don't know why. It was like writing was autopilot for me. Oh, your life's shit? You've got time, write about these Mercedes Marxists in New York City. What, it'll never get made? Who cares, you're not sleeping anyway, here's a thing about Angels falling from the sky. You don't feel remotely interested in submitting anything to be published? Fuck you, write about fictional communal tent towns anyway.

Maybe it wasn't that hostile. But you get the general idea.

But I think that's sort of where I am, that's how I feel. There's nothing I have this overwhelming urge to get done. No one story I feel I absolutely have to tell. Maybe for a while, while trying to get "Nova" to 25 pages, I got that back for a bit, for just a little while I felt like "You have to do this, because you've worked hard on this story, and you know it's worth your time, and it deserves to be made." And I took the steps I could do that, but regrettably, that put it out of my hands for the time being. So I'm back without any strong story to tell. No purpose.

It really hit me a few weekends back, when I learned a much more successful writer than I was about a year younger than me, and I finally said to myself, "You know, Randall, if you're going to talk about writing comic books, you should really suck it up, find a way to find yourself an artist, and get to it." So I dug up a lot of resources with a lot of helpful hints on how to use the internet to do that, and I will admit some of them were really not appealing [Millarworld, anyone?], but I was going to do it. I was going to make some inroads, and find someone not just to work with me, but someone who I worked well with. And as I was trying to get some stuff together, some pitches and scripts, and the like, I realized, I really didn't know what I'd want to work on if I did have an artist. Could I go back to the old stuff, was that stuff I still wanted to work on, was it even something I still considered good [not taking into account that a lot of that is not as clear in my mind as it once was, most of my notes are in numerous places thanks to my forcible move]? Could I come up with new stuff I had strong feelings on, stories I could really get behind? Because the last thing I wanted to do was start some new working relationship with an artist and only have a lukewarm project to pursue.

The honest answer was no. Even "Real Quality Comics" which was supposed to be a setup for a new story, I never cranked out a script to an issue 2. I think I could. I have outlines for four different issue #2s. But I don't have any one story I really want to tell.

I'm not sure how one goes about finding that. I think, like I said, I got close to it with "Nova," and if I just keep working, keep writing, I could find something that I got really passionate about making again. For right now, I'm settling for a different kind of purpose -- I think just trying to improve my writing, trying to improve the uses of it as a skill, that's something. Getting better, by doing more stuff, blogging more, working with editors who are going to be harder on me, even doing the copy work, which isn't creative, but helps with technical proficiency.

And that's good. It's not a driving force. It's not a purpose. I don't see it leading to a satisfying sort of success, except maybe in small, more practical ways. But I don't know that anyone says "I want to be a writer. I want to write" and looks to find success in that in a merely practical manner. Maybe I'm being short-sighted. It's possible. But not knowing what you want, or why you want it, can really set you behind.

* It's really important I stress that none of these musings come from any sort of spite, or professional jealousy, nor am I so narcissistic as to only be able to view the success that my friends find through some twisted lens that reminds me of what I haven't done. I'm proud of my friends and their art, and I'm really happy that this blog and Twitter have let me get to know some of these cool people whose work I've come to admire. Management encourages everyone to go see what they're doing instead of spending so much time listening to this author try and figure out what it is he wants to do.

4 comments :: Purpose

  1. I think we've talked about this before, but you and I have a similar fascination with how a person can define success for themselves.

    In a weird way, I think success is having your own definition of success and sticking to it, no matter what other people think. You know what you want to do and as long as you stick to that and work hard at it I think you will feel creatively fulfilled, and know that you are at least trying. Most people have some dream they want to pursue but tomorrow always seems like a better time to do it, all the way up until they realize it's too late. I think trying to pursue what you want to do is much more fulfilling than just never trying, even if it seems like the less smart or less safe route to take. Most of the time I think other people want to make you feel like taking a chance is the wrong thing to do just because they're mad that they've never tried anything, which is sorta what my post was about.

    So the short answer is keep writing, no matter where it leads. But I didn't need to tell you that. I think you've got things more figured out than most people. Maybe just for the fact that you're thinking, and trying to figure things out. Which is why I always like reading what you write here.

  2. Thanks Glen. You keep reading them, I'll keep writing them.

    I mean, I'd probably keep writing them anyway. But I'm glad you're reading them, because it makes me feel considerably less like a guy in a park with a cardboard sign.

    And congratulations again on the gallery thing. Really great news.

  3. I struggle with this sort of thing all the time.

    My mother once told me that the secret to happiness is keep your goals high and your expectations low.

    I find that to be true actually. I'm always careful not to work with people who are in awe of the project they are working on. It usually means they're wasting energy thinking that great things will happen rather then doing the things that might make their project take off. (not to mention setting themselves up for disappointment)

    In my experience, if the process of creation and work isn't the destination any success you feel will be trivial and fleeting. I like to feel that I'm "In the Zone" as much as possible. The goal is to forget about the goal and just let the energy flow until you're done and the next project begins.

    Getting paid to do your art can help you stay in that zone but it also adds a plethora of complications that can throw you out of it and make what you used to love a serious drag.

    I mean, you could become a professional writer but you might also find it to be more soul sucking than working retail if you're in the wrong situation.

    I think you're real success is your ability to live life on your own terms rather than adhere to some arbitrary standard that, in today's first world feudal system, can really be subject to the whim of who has the most money. And not everybody who has money deserves it or knows how to use it.

    heady philosophical response over.

    -Andrew K out-

  4. Well said, AK.

    I'm a big fan of living your life on your own terms. I find doing that often takes more work than most things, and it's why I've always figured it was right.