Epiphany

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I didn’t even have to sleep with anyone for this comic. I’m kinda proud of myself actually.

There was experimentation involved though. For most my comics, everything is done digitally. But with this, I printed up the linework, put in on the light-table, covered it with a sheet of watercolor paper, and went to town with graphite, greyscale markers, and ink wash.

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Then I scanned the tones and slipped them under the original line work. I feel it gives is a grungier, more handmade look. What do you think?

Vipassana & A New Year

Recently I completed a 10-day silent mediation course called Vipassana. During these 10 days you are not supposed to talk, gesture, touch, or look into the eyes of another human. In addition, books and writing materials are not allowed. Instead you live a simple monk-like existence and meditate 8 hours a day.

With a routine like this, there is nowhere to hide from yourself. No distractions to soothe the pain in your mind. From deep in the subconscious, thoughts bubble to the surface: thoughts which bring pleasure or discomfort, craving or aversion. Your job is only to watch these sensations ripple through the body and remain objective. Equanimous.

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To call it a mediation “retreat” would be misleading. It’s fucking work, and can be torture. There were times I wanted to yell in frustration at my wandering, neurotic, impulsive mind. Us humans like to think we’re independent agents with free will, when in fact we’re dominated by our conditioning and habitual thought patterns. Vipassana helped me understand this on an experiential level, and has given me the tools to affect change.

I really got to experience how all my suffering and unhappiness resides only in my mind. It’s not caused by any person or any situation. IT-IS-ONLY-IN-MY-MIND. The good news is: that’s also where an eternal spring of happiness flows, and all it takes to bathe in those refreshing waters is awareness, patience, and persistence.

The mind is also where creativity lives. If you can hush all your crazy bullshit, magic is there for the taking.

Needless to stay, I’m excited to see where things go from here. I feel like I’ve reached a turning point in my life… coinciding with the turning of the sun. (happy solstice!)

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Related:
Vipassana TEDx Talk
Learn More/Find a Course

Ten Thousand Hours

I told her I’d only send my manuscript if she was ruthlessly honest. The next three years of my life could hang in the balance, and this was no time for subtlety.

“What you have here are three different books.  Can they be cohered into one graphic novel?  It’s possible, but, ultimately, I think that’s far more trouble than it’s worth.  More importantly, it doesn’t feel like that’s what the books want.  I think they are their own things, and what follows are my thoughts on each of them…”

Thus began the three-page single-spaced critique of my graphic novel.

In the days after receiving this, I went though old journals and added up the time spent working on this book. While doing so, I noticed some interesting things. For instance: This book was conceived the day after the woman I foresaw spending a lifetime with exited my existance. I observed how in the weeks following, I threw myself into the project, working on it five, six hours per day, like a man desperately trying to establish a purpose, a new identity, after having his world turned upside-down.

I also noticed how as time went on, I worked on it less, until last Spring I ceased to work on it at all. The problem with continuing is: I’m no longer compelled like I once was. In fact, the prospect of returning to the book resembles a joyless chore, and while I once firmly believed that an artist must suffer for their art, I choose not to believe this anymore. I choose to live a joyful existence.

The hermit of my book would balk at this. Sorry bub.

The fact of the matter is: I’m a different person now than I was two years ago. My mistake was making this book too ambitious, requiring so much time to complete, its initial emotional catalyst couldn’t carry it though to completion. Had I narrowed the subject matter and made the book a quarter or half as long, I would have something complete right now.

Oh well.

I was ignorant when I began; uncertain of how much time and energy it takes to create a book. Now I know.

700.3 hours. Seven-hundred point three hours is what it costs to get half a book. If you add the life-drawing sessions, the Prince Paupers, the Portland comics, and all the others, I’ve probably spent a thousand hours drawing in the past two years. Catharsis has never been so productive.

So it is with gratitude I place this book upon the shelf, believing with all my heart:
nothing is wasted; everything, a lesson.

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Special thanks goes out to Sarah, who provided an incredibly thoughtful analysis of my manuscript.

Related reading:
http://www.wisdomgroup.com/blog/10000-hours-of-practice/

Redwood Refresher

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Dry lightning has sparked many wildfires in southern Oregon, and thick white smoke lies heavy and stagnant in the valleys, making even close mountains disappear from sight. My throat feels like coarse sandpaper, my lungs like dry paper bags. It was the pursuit of fresh pacific air that caused me to flee to the coast this weekend, and while initially it felt like an inconvenience, it proved itself a blessing.

The Redwood coast is my church. A place where worship flows out, yet I am filled. A place where time and eternity meet, and offer a new perspective. A place crudely depicted on my very own website banner, yet rarely visited in person. Thankfully I was smoked out of my comfort zone and reminded of this unique pagan temple, so close to home.

Rumi has been my morning companion for some time now, and he joyfully followed me into the forest, laughing in his mischievous way; he thanking I, and I thanking him. Rumi is a treasure trove of wisdom and arcane knowledge, and by spending time with him, I feel like my understanding is deepening. If the Bible is the Way of the Servant, the Bhagavad Gita is the way of the Warrior, the Tao Te Ching is the way of the Monk, then Rumi is the way of the Storyteller. It is also the Way of Devotion and Adoration. Rumi, steeped the Sufi tradition, speaks to me more than any other spiritual text I’ve encountered, and goes to show that spirituality need not be so damned heavy and serious. Like a whirling dervish, Rumi’s words fly off the page, playful, humorous, racy enough to make a prostitute blush. Not all translations are created equal, however. I highly recommend “The Essential Rumi” by Coleman Barks.

Ever since leaving my Corporate Life and pursuing the Artist’s Path, I’ve felt a tremendous amount of pressure to perform: to create something big, worthwhile, world-changing. And while that desire is indeed a God-given vehicle by which to move forward, too much of it causes paralyzing anxiety. Visiting the coast helped me gain perspective on Art in relation to Life.

Fact is, I’m not just an artist. I’m a son, a brother, a lover, a friend. I’m a community member, a volunteer, a worker, and an activist. There are many roles I play in life, and while “Artist” is important to me, it does not adequately define who I am. The clean pacific breeze whispered in my ear: being an artist is not a destination but a way of living, a lifetime journey. I could live to be five-hundred and still not “arrive” as an artist. Likewise, I can die without having created something world-changing and still have lived a great life.

Confession

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I haven’t worked on my book for a month and a half. The last time I sat down to, I gave up because there was no energy there. Even though people seem to like my story and are eager to find out what happens next, I am simply not compelled or inspired to work on it.

So the question becomes: do I force myself to continue? When I look at how much work I’ve put into this project, it makes me feel like I cannot quit; yet when I look at how much work is left to be done, quitting feels possible. Not only possible, but a relief. An unloading of some great burden.

Which makes me ask: Am I simply being a quitter? A coward? Afraid of hard work, and lacking the determination to follow through?

I used to work. Like a real job, with real hours, and real pay, in a real office. I quit because I sensed it was killing me, in some subtle yet fundamental way. Now I’m a cartoonist and like to think of my “work” as play. When you look at the “works” of Bill Watterson, Dr. Suess, or Shel Silverstein, you can see they are playing. They are having fun. It’s THAT which makes their “work” great. Now of course it still takes effort and patience and skill. But when you’re playing, everything aligns and feel effortless.

The truth is, I don’t know what I’m capable of, and this book doesn’t feel like it’s helping me discover that anymore. I like to think of the mind as a receiver, like a radio. If I’m tuned into one station all the time (the book), how can I discover anything new? There’s something out there which wants to be discovered, but I won’t find it if I’m circling familiar territory.

The graphic novel has helped me get to a place where I’m able to pick up more “radio signals”, and I’m not saying that I’m definitely ending it. But I am putting it aside for now, and casting my fishin’ line into the depths to see what else turns up. It’s a little scary, but the unknown always is.

Confluence of Influence

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“do you really think you’re a prince? like wtf, omg.”

Aiight.

The other day I got together with a kind old lady in my community to discuss our common heritage: descendants of the Gregor Clan of the Scottish highlands. The “Mc” or Mac” prefix to the Gregor name, simply means “sons of Gregor”. Our clan was once rich with land, cattle, and castles, but though various conflicts with rival clans and the British monarchy, the MacGregor name was banished and the Clan members became outlaws. Having lost their land and possessions, the MacGregor’s became known as “The Children of the Mist”. From Wikipedia: “Reduced to the status of outlaws, they rustled cattle and poached deer to survive. They became so proficient at these endeavours that other clans would pay them not to steal their cattle as they exhausted other means of stopping them.” The slogan on the Gregor crest reads “S Rioghal Mo Dreahm!” which reads “Royal Is My Race!” in Gaelic.

I love this shit. I love stories of royalty and romance. Princesses and Princes. Bows and arrows. I want to learn about the Druids and Avalon. I want to feel the green hills of Scotland beneath my feet.

Been thinking about other things too. Watched perhaps the most intense movie I’ve ever seen, Enter the Void, which left me profoundly affected for days afterward. It convincingly felt like living someone else’s life… or more accurate, after-life. The movie is influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I started becoming more interested in after the film.

According to the Book of the Dead, when you die, you go through various stages, from hovering above your own body, to wandering the universe alone, driven by desire and discontent until you find a suitable life to be reborn into. The prevalent theme is attachment. Anything you were attached to when you die becomes pain which haunts you in the afterlife. Each of us, being gods, gets exactly what we want. If you were attached to a lover in life, you will be reborn with the longing to find them. If your hook was power, sex, fame, food, or even the thrill of life itself, you will not find “release”, only more of the same.

Attachment.

Also been reading A Severe Mercy, a memoir so loving crafted it effortlessly lays bare the love by which it speaks. The author tells of meeting his future wife and the idyllic romance which ensues. The lovers love being in love so much (and are so dismayed by the prospect of love ever diminishing) they elegantly craft a life by which nearly everything they do is to support and grow their love for each other. “For love must grow or die…” Well, I haven’t got to this part yet, but one day it does die. Specifically, She dies. It will be interesting to see the author cope with the loss of the very thing he built his entire life around. It will be interesting to see how he dissolves attachment.

Been thinking about this kinda stuff too.

I went to screen a documentary called “Who Bombed Judi Bari?”. During the so-called “Redwood Summer” of 1990, environmental activists flocked to the forests of northern California to try and stop outrageously destructive logging of old-growth. A woman named Judi Bari took the primary leadership role, promoting non-violent civil disobedience and organizing the loggers against their corporate owners. Her and the movement were so terrifically successful, a bomb was planted in her car which nearly killed her. Of course the police and FBI tried to pin the explosives on her, saying it was an accidental explosion of a bomb the activists had manufactured. Long story short, Judi and the passenger she was with won a lawsuit against law enforcement for $4.4 million for trying to frame them. The actual bomber still has not been caught, though the FBI held “Bomb School” on clearcut land owned by timber companies weeks before the bombing, and video surfaced of them blowing up cars.

I left the film inspired. Here’s a woman whose bravery and conviction brought the national spotlight to the forests of Northern California and revealed the outrageous logging practices happening there. Through the fearless efforts of her and others, millions of acres of Forests were saved, and their spirit influences what Americans consider “acceptable logging” to this day. How’s that for a life well lived?

It makes me question if my work is helpful to anyone. It makes me wonder if publicly pining over lost love has any purpose besides satisfying some kind of twisted masochistic desire. Why is it that THIS is the subject of my art? After thinking much about it, I think I have an answer.

IT’S EASY. Writing sweeping epics that explore the endless variety of human experience is hard. Revealing and questioning the destructive nature of humanity, and doing it in an entertaining way so that people don’t feel like they’re being preached at… that’s HARD. Writing about your own emotional shit? Easy!!

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Sam Spina knows what’s up.

It’s also easy to get down on yourself for taking the easy way out… but you know what? Drawing is fucking hard. So choosing a subject matter that comes easily in order to learn how to effectively use this medium… that’s okay. I’m okay with that. I look forward to exploring broader (and deeper) subjects, but you can’t be everything at once. Things come in increments. That said, I’m also realizing that having TWO projects about my experience with lost love is not healthy for me. As much as I love Winston and the Prince, I need to scale back.

I only recently discovered The Postal Service album, Give Up. I know, I’m like 10 years behind the curve on this one… but really, the album couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only is it an incredible album that makes me want to dance around in my underwear, but it’s also largely a breakup album. Personally, the record has elevated my mood and brought me solace… and I bet it has for a lot of others as well. So although it was borne from a selfish place, its net effect is to have brought comfort and joy into the world. It gives me hope that the book I’m working on could serve a purpose larger than myself.

Been thinking these things and a thousand others. I seriously can’t wait until Spring.