I was walking to a drawing group earlier this evening and I thought, in my mind’s running narration of the book of my life (this is normal, right?), “It had been eleven years since she went to her first comic drawing group.” Eleven, my editor commented, I don’t know where you came up with that–and then I counted, and if I place myself in the year that I first dated the ex who got me into comics and before I moved to California, I would have been 24, and so that means that it would have been ten years ago, which is pretty darn close. I was living in Chicago then, and I remember it was very cold, and there was a lot of snow and slush on the streets. So it may very well have been February. And it’s possible, so, yeah, why not, let’s just go with this–TODAY was my ten year anniversary of making comics. As of today, I have been making comics for ten years.
On that day in Chicago, I walked and took the bus to an overly warm coffee shop near Wilson and Broadway, where I met a really nice guy named Dirk and some other lovely nerdy types. Today, I went somewhere off another Broadway in a different city, met some new people who were just as lovely, and by way of introduction I passed around Aaron Becker’s JOURNEY, a fine example of sequential art, wordless, in picture book form. I think the only complaint I have about JOURNEY is–it isn’t long enough? It feels like it ends just as the adventures start to ramp up. I could see it being a long graphic novel that goes on to cover multitudes of time and space and cycles the two kids and their magic bird through archway after archway into distant lands.
(But, I’m a homebody. I like JOURNEY the way it is.)
People ask me if I’ll ever move back to Chicago. I say I won’t, but I think the real answer is I can’t. I go back to visit friends, and I spend every visit in the jaws of nostalgia–there was one day I was struck, walking along the edge of Grant Park, nearly to tears by the arrangement of tiny pebbles in the cracks between each square of the sidewalk, because those were the pebbles I spent hours picking and choosing and layering in the bottom of my terrarium so the soil I put in for my pet crickets would drain properly. Yuh huh. I am a nerd AND a giant sap. But while I can travel to Chicago any time, and I could pack up and move back to Andersonville, I can never move back to that sidewalk pressing points against my bare knees as I carefully chose the best rocks for the cricket jungle. I can’t move back to the way it felt to wear a jean jacket on the first warm day of spring even if that song did give me the strongest sensory memory of warm wind with a little rain.
I wish I could go back to ten years ago some days–I wish I could go back to the warm rush of people in a coffee shop liking me, asking me what kind of microns I’ve tried so far. I wish I could go back to fresh and new in art. Aaron Becker is a first-time picture book author and he got a Caldecott Honor, so I guess you could say he nailed it. I wish I could move back to the time before I failed and made mistakes… big, adult mistakes. Not like filling your terrarium with soil without a layer of stones at the bottom so then your crickets are too damp and don’t survive. Oh no.
Not that it’s all been mistakes! So many wonderful things have happened too. I moved to California. I lived in San Francisco. I fell in love and got a dog. I learned to speak the truth, to look honestly at things even though I didn’t like them. I danced in party dresses until 1am and fell exhausted into cabs, too warm to even think about putting my coat back on even though it was probably February. Most of all, I made lots and lots of art. Some good. A lot of it bad. In every way I drew a door of my own engineering and hurled my little body through it. I didn’t have a deeply saturated red balloon, but all the same, it’s been nice.
When I visit Chicago I get to look through a knothole, the last ten years peeled away. I can flip through the book. But as I close the cover it occurs to me that someone really ought to tell that little girl that if she goes through the door she can never come back out.
I walked home from drawing group and it was raining. I tried at first to duck my head, squinching up my face to, I don’t know, spook the rain away from it? But then I remembered that in Chicago I gave up umbrellas–they so often flipped inside out that I decided they were a waste of money, and the worst that was going to happen was I would get a little bit wet. So, tonight, I put my face up and walked in the rain. I was glad I did because it was a misty kind of rain, and under the streetlights it looked just the slightest little bit like snow.