Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April. Still snowing.

Last year this time I was screaming in a cold garage at the printing press as snow came down and down and down. This year, the snow is still coming down in APRIL. Whatta shonda. 

March was a blur. Inking, breakdowns, early bedtimes, new beginnings, old patterns. Moving house in roughly a month to spend the (supposedly on its way) summer in Northeast being a part-time live-in nanny to an awesome kid. Attempting to put together a work-space in my live-space and seeing if I don't just nap the whole time I'm supposed to be "working." Going to quit one of my jobs to bring the total down to 2 rather than back-breaking 3. Both book projects going slowly but going. 

This month I'll have a little show up of Houses of the Holy related work at the White Bear Lake Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, MN. Yeah, you heard right, church. 

And because I've been slaving over them, have some in-progress pages.

From Houses of the Holy, parts 2, 3, and 4.

from North Star Letters (working title)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February Update

This has been a long winter. Let's hope for some goddamn springtime.

In updates, personally, I am doing three-elephant's-worth better than before. This time last year was the beginning of a long, slow rocky ride down, and here now I feel at least the ground underneath my feet.

News-wise, I was interviewed by the lovely ladies at LE SIGH a little while back, and they asked some wonderfully in-depth questions it was a joy to answer. Check it out.

Comics-wise, working on two different books has put me through my paces, and on both I've run smack dab into the seemingly mandatory crisis-of-faith right in the middle. Because of a change in my process for print quality's sake, I'm no longer inking straight on to the copy paper which I draw on (You read correctly - I said copy paper). Sort of begrudgingly going to blue-line onto bristol proper and ink with a big-boy brush and everything. Which means better quality, yes, but also strips me of some of the speed in working I'm used to. Speed, which, I suppose, I used to outstrip project fatigue in the past. If I was already done inking by the time the crisis-of-faith could catch up with me, well, then, there was no crisis to be had. That wily jerk.

But these pages feel good to me. Really, really good. Hopefully that translates to something that makes sense to the outside world and people outside of those whose language overlaps with mine, but that's gotta come after. The work's gotta come first.

With that, going to read some Peanuts then get back to it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Hanged Man, the Moon, the Two of Wands

I asked my friend Leigh to read my three card Tarot, and, obliging, she told me to ask a question before I drew my cards.

The past year had been ineffiably charged. Awash in trouble and success in seemingly unpredictable tides, and the water was always around my feet, if not up around my neck and coming up to drown me with the good and the bad. I'd accomplished so many enormous things in only 12 months time, and each seemingly eclipsing the one before. I'd printed a thousand copies of my Xeric-funded book in a spring blizzard in a freezing garage, screaming and singing in equal parts all the way through. I'd traveled for the first time out of the country (while not having a severe panic attack) for TCAF, the largest convention I'd ever been a part of. As part of the insanely-hard-working AUTOPTIC crew, I'd helped establish a arts/comics/printmaking/music convention of our own for the city I loved and called home, and it was amazing.

But the pain had come almost in equal intensity. Stress cultivated anger and I turned it at myself and friends and anyone who might cross my path and appear a threat to my fragile balance. Like being tied to an operating firehose with no one to hold me steady. And then, as guilty as a tulip is brief, I'd loathe myself and do so behind a shut and locked door so I could punish myself, uninterrupted. I worked constantly to keep myself away from myself. I was my own abusive step-father, my own whiskey stashed behind the sugar and flour, my own attacker. Given an idle moment, I became the devil's instrument and I was such an easy fucking target. I knew just where to jab the knife and how to twist just so. My depression, the thing I couldn't even bear to acknowledge with its goddamn name, was back and she was not leaving this time. I walked out of my studio into an unlit hallway on a summer morning, and as I locked the door to leave, I swear I could feel it, as a cold-hearted, cold-handed woman in the dark, staring daggers into my back. I shivered as if I had walked over my own grave as I left, hoping that she was just not real.

Unfortunately, facts were that indeed she was. Even more real, because she wasn't a metaphor woman haunting me, she was a chemical reality, an endogenous and exogenous mental illness. 

As I've said before, I hated medication. For many reasons ultimately irrelevant in the face of how fucking terrible I felt, in the knowledge that I wanted to stop existing and I was reaching my limit of just silently coexisting with that profound sentiment. But still, I wouldn't. So, instead, I tried everything else available. I didn't accrue hundreds of "Conscientious/Diligent Student" comments on my school report cards for nothing. Astrology, numerology, Meyer's-Brigg's, enneagrams, work-books for every stripe of mental illness, nutrition, and poorly-advised mixtures of vague anti-depressants available at the gas station, for fuck's sake. Therapy, specifically, as the main counter-attack. As a naturally very selective person about opening up, this was fucking hard. Pulling teeth, but with some string and a door, not even a set of pliers. And paying the person to do this to me, out-of-pocket, to boot.

And as it turns out, a big part of what gave that imaginary woman with poor circulation in her hands her power over me was this heavy guilt, this overwhelming shame, this abject fear I had about her. That I was imperfect, a burden, and worthless because I was weak enough to let her in, and - haha, the joke's on you, Skaalrud - I had been probably from the day I started differentiating cells in the womb. Pathetic, and it was my true nature.

But thank god for people who know better, for people who saw and loved and understood me better than I did - because I didn't, and sometimes it's still difficult to keep in perspective - because they told me the truth, told me how to try and fight back, told me they loved me, told me about their own unseen fights, and told me to fucking keep trying. I have never hated silence more than when I learned it was keeping me sick to keep quiet about what was happening to me.

I got medication, again. It made me sick, tired, trembling, unable to eat, unable to sleep some days - unable to see any goddamn light to work towards - and then, as low as I had gone, I began a climb up. That is not over. In truth, I don't know it ever really is. But then I was able to be happy, to be level-headed, and to sleep, as well as experience a reasonable-sized negative reaction to something. Not being laid flat, turned unreachable emotional wreck for no reason at all. I don't get to set it and forget it, either. This is a new part of the work, and I am conscientious and diligent, goddammit.

One of the tennents of the Shitty Religion I worship, as I heard it called once, is that my needs must never supercede or interfere with anyone else's, otherwise I am selfish and selfish people are not loveable. I am only of worth if I can serve other's needs, or, in the absence of others, my needs never infringe upon another person. That taking care of myself, at even the slightest inconvenience to another, was tantamount to crime. If I did, I was sure to punish myself when I laid down at night and it was just me and my brain in the dark. Call me Libra Ascendant, but it tore me up to think I needed to be selfish, but I could understand that I could not help others if I did not know how to and did not help myself. That if a body should try to catch another body, coming through the rye, I had to stop underestimating my own strength and my own worth. I needed to be whole, with arms out and ready.

I asked the Tarot that day, "How do I learn to be selfish, in order to become selfless?"

The take-away of this odd-numbered, tumultuous, glorious year would be just that. Be whole if you want to help others be so, be ready to never stop trying, and know that I will meet you out in the rye if you need me.

And to Leigh, my Kiddo, to Zak, my North Star, and to Alicia, the Woman with the Joy Spark, thank you for it all, and I love you.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"destrier" + somebody drop a hat already, I've been crying for hours

I drew a story called "Destrier" and I thought here I would be posting the finished comic, and elaborating on why I'd come to make it in the spirit of someone recovering from something and on an upswing. Thought I'd post it and it would be outside of me and I'd have escaped it. I did that - I wrote out the story of what happened to me and got ready to post the comic once I'd finished drawing it - and then I realized I was lying to myself, even if it were a white one, and immediately stopped. And I might never post that story, but I do still want to write this.

So instead, there will be no lying to anyone in the process. Myself included. And it's one of the hardest things for me to talk about this - which is exactly why I'm going to.

The summer of 2008 was the first worst time of my life. The Bad Summer. I was 20 and I was diagnosed with depression - a word I hate even typing but was unfortunately the truth of the matter, as evidenced by crying for three months straight. By wishing every time I stepped in the shower I'd accidentally topple over and out would go my trouble like a light, by wandering the streets of the small town where I'd spent the first years of my life wondering and deep-down hoping it would be my last because this was no good, I was no good. Exhausted, hollowed-out, a burdenNo goddamn good. 

I told absolutely no one. Somehow I'd been convinced nothing of this sort ever happened to happy, normal people. I'd never been normal in my life, and only ever happy at some seemingly lower, distorted level than my classmates, my family, my friends - so logic followed this horrible feeling I couldn't shake was simply me. Our small town "didn't have" people who were gay and it "didn't have" people with depression. Mental disease and any public discussion of it was utter Greek to those small town folk. Sure, there was gossiping about someone going "nuts," but even if someone was aware of this Greek language, they sure as fuck didn't speak it and would deny ever having met a Greek to keep face, as far as I could tell. No one said a thing otherwise and so I said not a thing as the grip this disease had on me worsened. I curled into it, too. I was this weird, short, half-gay, bookish kid going to school in the cities to learn cartoons and who also cried at night, a lot. Convinced this was my story and that was simply dyed-in-the-wool me and ashamed of it, I let it eat me up. And I still do to this day, to be honest.

In August of 2008, I was curled up in a tiny closet and crying as terribly as I ever had on the phone. My friend told me to go get help, and then ended the call. And, after surviving another long bout of sobbing, I did. With a tiny, tiny kernel of courage it was hard to hold on to, but I did. Thumbed down to "River Falls Clinic" in my contacts (which took a damn long time to even program into the phone, being so terrified) and made the most awkward appointment of my life.

Without telling another soul (are you sensing a theme, here?) I drove myself to that clinic. Feeling like a balloon full of cold vomit, waiting for something to accidentally pop me and spill the smelly remains everywhere. The waiting room was even empty except for me, even, and I sat against the far wall while I waited to be called in. The nurse walked a big, slow, silent line over to me holding that stupid clipboard with that little questionnaire. I swear, a crummy indie-movie director couldn't have staged it better. At the time, it was too frightening to be anything close to funny.

But I got the medication. Still, no words were said between me and my friends, between me and my family about this really, really obvious thing I was going through. Only a few days later I took my new bottle of pills back to school for my sophomore year of college. And I took those pills. Faithfully, at first, always without a word to my roommates, and I put that bottle next to my pens at my desk - the same desk I draw at, still.

And after taking them for a few months - away from small town, away from the people I'd never felt I could really be myself with, away from people who said cartoons with a half-sneer or perplexed shock - I felt better. Then I felt good. I didn't cry at night. Maybe I didn't lay down and bop right into the sleep of the righteous, but, then again, probably I never will. I didn't spend the day waiting for the crying and the empty to come barreling on down, the price is right. I drew a lot. I could be myself, and things were becoming okay.

And then I stopped taking the pills because I was happy and I'd always hated them. Because I always will. Because I wanted to quit being Greek this fucking instant and forget I ever had been and get on with being myself.

The thing about depression - and it's not the noun to describe the mild pang of regret that your status update didn't get likes, or the disappointment that you had a less-than-stellar critique in class - is that it's a disease, a disorder, a thing that happens to you and isn't you and you can't control it. Humanity had been struggling it for longer than you have been and still none of us really understand it and we sure as hell can't control or eradicate it completely. I had it and I still have it. Some years have been easier than others, and for a few, I felt free of it, even as setbacks and stress came my way in stinking heaps. I shook it off and worked through like I didn't know a lick of Greek.

I felt it come back slowly but insistently. It'd been a long year, courting stress at work, home, personally, emotionally. And I didn't just shake it off this time. I couldn't just tell myself I didn't have a legitimate mental disease because I didn't want it. I started crying again like I would at 3AM in the middle of the afternoon. In the morning. Outside the grocery store, at the bank, in the bathroom. Started watching my hands clench obsessively and stewing in my head until I'd stewed away a whole day and crying all night and locking myself away to hide my less-than-normal feelings away from sight. I didn't want anyone to know because I still didn't think it was okay to be this way.

I was terrified to tell a soul. Terrified that even the people closest to me, my dearest friends, could never possibly understand. They'd look at me past the tip of their noses in disgust and turn their heads in rejection of how weak and awful and too-needy I'd proven and then I'd be alone going through this again and I didn't think I could do it twice. In fact, I knew I couldn't. That the idea made me so angry and shockingly cast aside that I wouldn't, if it came down to it.

Now I'm going to try and turn around and cut that shitty religion at which I worship off at its knees, and I'm going to try and tell people. I'm telling you now, as best I can at this point.

This isn't the thing I'm writing to you as some victor or triumphant beacon of inner strength. I don't have the answers in black and white. I don't have it figured out. Sometimes I drop my coffee and I have to go have a breakdown for the rest of the day. There are nights - and late afternoons, too - when I have to cry or drink (not booze mind you but really not any better) myself to sleep or suffer in the dark, chewing myself up inside. I blame humanity, then myself, then my friends, then myself, then the stars, then Norway, then myself, and 'round and 'round the mulberry bush we go. I can't draw and I beat myself up for that, which only feeds my depression and on the cycle goes. People stomp on me and push me around and sometimes I let them and it eats me up, or I lash out and that eats me up, too. I push out goodness when it comes because it hurts too much. It seems to me my therapist diagnoses me with some new "wrongness" every week. Depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, splitting, betrayal trauma. There is broken glass on the floor of my studio the scared, dark part of me still wishes I had the nerve to use - still the idea of putting Night Moves on loop and "slipping over" in the shower haunts me. The terror of those things is crippling.

But now I see that my fear is becoming anger, and that, in turn, will become real hate, soon. Towards myself and towards people who don't deserve it. And I'm only pitying myself if I let myself wallow there - where, were it anyone but myself, I would forcibly yank them out of the depths if it were in my power to do so.

So I have to try to be actually brave and get myself out of that. I'm going to therapy again today. Which terrifies me. Maybe I've got some new diagnosis coming to level me completely, or maybe nothing. Maybe something good will happen and I'll get closer to turning that corner. I'm probably going to have to drive alone to that clinic in River Falls in the near future full of cold vomit and fill out that fucking clipboard again. Which terrifies me. The distinct pleasure of crying in front of a medical professional is probably also going to be mine again. I might learn to not hate having to take meds to feel better, and maybe I never fucking will. Which terrifies me. This is not a resolved story. Which terrifies me.

The fact remains I should try. So I'm telling you and I'm not lying about any of it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Still here.

I've got a lot to say. A convention to recap, a crisis to recount, and a cluttered head to get straight. An all-too-brief summer to wrap-up. Something to explain to myself, which, put out into the world, might do somebody good, sometime, somewhere - so I'm going to. A new comic to finish and post, and a new mission starting tomorrow.

But just Date Palms and inking for tonight.