I do my best to slant the truth in ways that suit my tendencies toward complacence. I suppose most of us do. The unmitigated truth is that Portland is a small, remote, and dreary city; work is, well—work; and the pain of living apart from my closest friends and family is getting harder to bear.
I moved here last June with a notion that I was charting a course toward a sense of purpose. The excitement of exploring a new setting proved ephemeral. I’ve searched oceans and mountains, rivers and roads, and I still feel just as adrift as I did when I left the east coast. To borrow a line from the Avett Brothers, I just want to decide what to be and go be it. I feel like I’d have an easy time with the second part, but the first has me in a state of suspended animation.
I’m befuddled. In a given week I consider applying to law schools, business schools, MFA writing programs, enrolling in art classes, and even taking off on a trip around the world. It’s clear that I feel the need to start learning again in one way or another, but I’m paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice.
A few years ago, my brother and I were back at our old homestead in Pennsylvania, and we were undertaking our usual task of going through our childhood belongings and telling our mom what we wanted to through away. “All of it” never seemed to be an acceptable response. We were in my old bedroom going through a flat-file of artwork from grade school, and in my brother’s case, college. After flipping through stacks of charcoal figure studies and sketches, Lee unearthed a pile of construction anthropomorphic paper dolls I made as a kid. He burrowed further still, beneath a green paper frog with a bow-tie and a deer with a top-hat, and grabbed a third grade project covered in cartoon figures. From what I could tell, the project an illustration based on a prompt typed across the top of the page. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer, scrawled in crayon, was succinctly, “Cartoonist”.
This answer both made perfect sense and confounded me. Sure, I could remember spending hours on the floor drawing crude, misshapen animals and creatures. I embraced the opportunity to be an artist, a satirist and a goofball all at the same time. Still, up until the moment I rediscovered that third-grade artifact, I had considered myself one of those unfortunate people who would never be sure what he wanted to do until it was too late. I never had “doctor” or “astronaut” or “professional football player” stamped clearly into my subconscious. I figured I would just have to stumble upon the answer through a process of elimination.
As a young man in his early twenties staring down the reality of an abysmal job market, the notion of being a cartoonist for a living just seemed absurd. It’d be decades of work for lousy pay, with very little chance of ever paying off. I had already written off journalism for the same reasons. I told myself to be practical. Finding some sort of office job made worlds more sense than taking a blind leap into a dying industry.
Four years later, and I’m about as practical a person as I can stand. I have a practical job and apartment. I eat a packed lunch almost every day and I don’t own a car so that I can improve my carbon footprint. I figure my life is overdue for some scribbles and silly jokes. Absurdity is good, and there’s freedom in embracing your inner goofball. I owe it to that little curly-haired dreamer who thought “cartoonist” would be a fun career. Over the past few months I’ve picked up some new ideas. This weekend, I picked up some art supplies. I’m going to see if I can’t start a new project. I hope you’ll all enjoy it.
Please stay tuned.