22 July 2011

a time without mirrors

about a week ago on Twitter, I believe it was Jamie Keiles (for whom I uploaded a pic on Flickr devoted to her Seventeen Magazine project) who mentioned the blog A Year Without Mirrors. its gist is, the woman behind it got so sick of obsessing over her looks while shopping for a wedding dress that, six months before the wedding, she decided to avoid mirrors for a full year. that takes guts regardless of the massive fuss involved with planning a traditional wedding.

at one point she had a poll in the sidebar, asking how often you look at yourself in the mirror: never, rarely, sometimes, or all the time. with sheepishness, I realized I belonged to the last category. despite my lifelong struggles with body image and identity, I check myself out in the mirror at every turn. see, I never used to think I was "hot." I was prepared to wallow in fat obscurity for the rest of my life. then someone I found attractive found me equally attractive. I figured he was the kind of guy who could get any woman he wanted, and he chose me, however temporarily.

it's been downhill ever since. not only am I still not happy with my body, I'm strangely vain about it anyway. I feel okay with finding myself attractive, but if another shares the sentiment, I wonder what's wrong with them, or that it must be a joke. mirrors have helped fuel this narcissism. I dress up, I put on makeup, I strut out the door thinking "damn I look good"...and if no one else seems to feel the same way, I come home crushed and regretful. I'm sick of constantly checking my face for new laugh lines or making sure my cleavage is just so. I'm sick of trying to emulate models or actresses or even tarted-up cartoons. none of those is real, but I am. the two concepts don't jibe.

so I took down the huge mirror screwed to my front hallway wall. if the super complains I'll put it back up, but with curtains covering it. (I hope he doesn't, I found an old painted-over mirror panel behind the hung mirror!) I need to figure out how to cover up my triple-mirrored medicine cabinet doors; fabric scraps should take care of that. the only real problem I see is, I often use myself for reference whilst drawing comics. I think I can handle a utilitarian glimpse now and then in my portable half-length mirror.

I can't help but feel this will be incredibly freeing. I'll still look the same overall, only now I won't be a slave to that fact. I'm also hoping to get in touch with my body, in a way; to feel its inner strength for myself, instead of relying on my eyes. I want to love myself on a level beyond physicality. most of all, I just want to be.

17 July 2011

a long, full life

my grandmother on my mother's side, Marion, passed away this morning. she'd just turned 90 on Thursday. she was the only grandparent I had left. my sister wrote a wonderful post about her on her blog. I considered letting that speak for the both of us, but I had a different experience, different memories, and a different reaction.

my memories of Grandma are, unfortunately, piecemeal. we lived in Michigan when I was born, while my grandma lived in Wisconsin. since it was about a five-hour drive, I didn't get to see her very often.

then in '87, we moved to the Chicago suburbs. with the drive pared down to two hours, I got to see a lot more of Grandma. I remember fussing over me when I was little, which I wasn't used to. mom and dad didn't act that way towards me. but a grandparent, who only had to stand me for a few hours at most, could hug and kiss and give me all the candy she wanted.

I remember her old house very well. I played with Lincoln Logs and old purses in the back room. sleeping in the spare bedroom was kinda creepy; the bed was way too high for me back then. the basement would get loud when lots of company forced the overflow down there. the men would watch sports and drink beer. I'd go back behind the dry bar, but not very often; I got the sense that it was an "adult" thing that I didn't quite get. there was a strange cabinet in the basement that must have been a broom closet or a coverup for pipes or something, a tall wooden thing with a gold mesh screen on top. my young mind imagined there was a killer robot that would come to life and destroy us all one day. a few years ago my sister found the house for sale on a website. now I'll never know for sure what was in that closet.

Grandma struck me as a no-nonsense type, at least according to the stories her children told me. raising four kids (two of them twins!) must have turned her into quite the ballbuster. by the time she got to me she had mellowed considerably, but I could still tell she wasn't to take any guff from my aunt and uncles (and mom, of course). not that there was really any guff to take. we weren't a family of drama, just one that got together from time to time and shot the shit, reminiscing about the old stories again and again.

Grandma moved down to St. Augustine in Florida in the early '90s, so I didn't get to spend that much time with her. I remember visiting a few times, dates unknown. I re-met my younger cousin Laura down there when she was 12; I must have been 15 or 16. even though I was an aloof teenager, she seemed pretty cool for her age. :) Grandma lived in a mobile home and seemed very satisfied with it. she wasn't the type of woman that we had to worry about, even when my grandpa had to be put in a home. she just carried on.

less than a year ago - I don't remember the timing, just that it was a ways from her 90th - I got word that Grandma was in the hospital. I held my breath that she would be all right, and she was, though compromised. due to a stroke, she couldn't take things on by herself anymore. after her 90th birthday party, she got very bad very fast, and passed away this morning.

I'm getting all this information secondhand because I...just don't talk to anyone outside the immediate family. if not for Facebook, I wouldn't have known Grandma was in the ER at all. such is the nature of a low-key family. we may not have knock-down, drag-out fights, but we're also barely connected to each other in some ways. Kim and I always talked about going down there to see her one last time, just to spend some time with her. my memories of her were always pleasant and I think I could have learned a lot from her. now...

I regret feeling uncomfortable talking to her. I held her in the untouchable reverence of the very young. that's what's upsetting me so right now: that I was the one that could have broken through. I knew there was more to find than just a doting memory; there was a woman with a long, full life of which I only saw glimpses.

I'm sorry I never got to know you better, Grandma. I hope you didn't suffer, and that you were surrounded by people who knew how to love you better than I. rest in peace.

11 January 2011

the dating game

time to bring douchebaggery back.

so I've been on OkCupid, the dating site, for a long time. I actually joined while I was still dating one of my exes, if that gives you any indication of how great that went. (interestingly enough, while never at any point would I describe myself as a heavy drinker, I apparently marked myself as such in my profile. not a great coupling, that.)

for the past eight months or so, I've tried to use it as a legitimate service, with dismal results. some highlights:

  • the guy in the Army who, right this second, is stationed in Afghanistan. he also cannot live without his gun.

  • the guy into "postmodern theory," who most likely would only get along with others who are into postmodern theory, because the rest of us don't know or care what the fuck it is.

  • those who can barely string two sentences together, usually intimating sex. double if they claim they write as a hobby.

  • guys that rattle off the three words that describe them. it's very stilted and usually not reflected in the rest of their profile anyway.

  • is there an unwritten rule that everyone and their godmother has to travel to at least three continents?

  • how many variations on "bearsfan" or "chiguy" can there possibly be? how does that distinguish you in the least? this means your defining characteristic is either that you like sports or that you exist.

those are just the ones I can remember. keep in mind these are the guys the service has picked for me. also, how is it that I can't choose to not be paired with guys who have kids, especially when I've specified I don't want kids? seems like kind of a big deal.

so far I haven't gotten a single date out of the thing, but in lieu of a steady stream of men waiting outside my door, I'll stay with it...

29 November 2010


i don't know how this is going to sound. i had a bit of a breakdown tonight. i've doubled my workload on the comic voluntarily the past few weeks and have experienced some growing pains, to say the least. my therapist questioned drawing double what i'd been doing when what i'd been doing was killing me, but i didn't really listen. cartoonists are supposed to be crazy anyway, but i wonder if they're supposed to be this crazy.

i was trying to draw a blueprint and kept having to do it over and over, when i started saying to myself, why did i even start doing this? why did i bother? i could have gotten another job, a job i liked, instead of trying to do something i can't do twice a week. something i'll never do as well as the people whose work i love. not even as well as people whose work i hate. and in the midst of all that self-doubt, i heard an old, familiar voice: my father yelling at me. real old, like when i was really little. i don't even know what about, but the tone was clear: you're lazy. you're worthless. you can't do anything right. you're a pain in my ass.

i've spent most of my life buying into that message. i didn't know any better. it showed in my lack of direction in life; my failure to enroll at not one, but two colleges; most of all, my poor choice of boyfriends. i always expected men to turn on me somehow, even as i tried to pick men the furthest from my father as possible, at least on paper.

i've tried to deal with it through humor. whenever my sister or my mother and i talk about my father, there's bitterness, but it's always tempered by eyerolling. as if reducing him to a joke takes away his power. yes, it works. but when it's a Bandaid to cover up a seeping wound, sometimes the pain still bleeds through. i really think i believed it would never get me again. the worst thing is...i don't know how an adult who suffered emotional/verbal abuse as a kid is supposed to feel. am i supposed to be this screwed up? just from that? from something that was always around as long as i could remember? i really have no concept of how deep the hurt can go or even the extent of what i suffered. even typing "suffered" seems over the top, like i'm trying to trump up things in my own journal.

if i had a car, this would be where i would take a long, long drive, but i don't. i still have a comic to finish, too. will i throw on another sheen of balm just to get things done? i don't have the strength right now to refute the voices in my head. and who knows how i'm going to get to sleep tonight.

23 November 2010


I started my own webcomic in November of 2009. I did a four-panel strip twice a week. after work, I'd go pencil in my studio, or ink at my computer desk. it didn't leave much room for a social life, and I did tend to slack and play games sometimes instead of draw, but I got things done.

I quit my day job in February. the hours and environment had always been repugnant, but it paid well. so I took the money that I'd saved and said "sayonara." I still think about them sometimes, fondly here, not so fondly there. they'll be doing that job (or something like it) until they retire or die, and more power to them. it just wasn't my scene.

my biggest fear when I quit my old job was that I would turn into a Howard Hughes-type recluse and basically lose all my marbles. I went through a very rough patch after high school; my friends went onto college, while my plans fell through. I holed myself up in my room all day, not seeing anyone but my mother for weeks at a time. I withdrew into IRC and video games, making shotgun friends with people across the country while knowing no one in my town, questioning my sanity at every turn. I became a shell of a human being, culturally dead, useful to no one.

deep in my heart, I was terrified the same thing would happen again, once I doffed my work shackles and concentrated solely on the comic. indeed, it has been...difficult. I try to get out of the house by going to Starbucks or just for picturesque walks. despite doing the comic for over a year now, I still don't have a decent work (or sleep) schedule worked out. risk/reward has fallen heavily towards the former so far.

over the past few weeks, I made a decision to make my comic more of a full-page thing, rather than just four panels. (I start out with an eight-panel layout and mess with it until I get something I like.) I'd wanted to do it for a very long time, but wasn't sure I could pull it off. after a year's passage yielded only two chapters, I wanted to try the change.

so far I've done three of these super-sized comics, still on my biweekly schedule. although the format gives more room to tell the story I want to tell, once again, I haven't figured out scheduling yet. I wrote an outline for the entire chapter on Saturday, something I haven't done before, which felt really good. but. this meant less time for drawing, so I spent all of Sunday - and a large chunk of Monday - penciling and inking this comic.

the next one is due on Thanksgiving. I've got several new characters to sketch out. I still need to learn perspective. soon I have to design floorplans and decorate a five-story lighthouse from scratch. I also have to do laundry, shop for groceries and bake a pie. I've been going to bed at 4 and 5 am. the thought of going out with friends is a joke. the only thing keeping me from going completely bonkers at this point is music and MST3K.

and yet, in the middle of being exhausted, lonely and always feeling on the edge of tears, I don't want to give it up. it still feels like if I can only get my act together, I can really make this work. from the outside, it almost looks like a form of self-torture, but I would rather do this than go back to the corporate world. I've met some great people as a result of this endeavor, with more yet to come. most of all, I've found I really want to tell my story, if not just to please others, then to prove to myself that I could.

31 May 2010


this past weekend, I went camping out in Iowa, very near the state line. I'd been gearing up for it all week; my excitement was doubled by a new recipe I was trying out on my fellow camp-goers, homemade Pop Tarts* with breakfast treats in them (eggs, bacon, and cheese). when I find myself looking forward to something with great relish, it tends to overwhelm my consciousness at night, making it hard to get to sleep. I had the same problem during my Rush period. (their calmer songs were too upsetting for my taste.)

couple that with the fact that I sleep lousy on camping trips in general, and you got a very cranky Shannon come Saturday morning. my sister informed me that Benadryl or Xanax would put one out not unlike a light when sleepytime is nigh. she just happened to have a Xanax with her, of which I took half on Saturday night. I was curious as to what it would do with my anxiety, too, as well as what it would have done if I'd wanted to stay awake, but that's another situation for another day.

I took the half, as layperson-prescribed. the first thing I noticed was that yes, it did indeed make me sleepy. the second thing was that as soon as I closed my eyes, I saw pre-dreams I'd never seen before. usually my hypnogogia is chaotic, stream-of-consciousness and, due to looking at small screens almost all day long, only takes up a portion of my inner field of view. when my head dropped on the pillow, great fractal-like visions filled the entirety of my eyelids. my subconscious spit out calm, organized images, tessellated to the edges of my brain. and brother, once it was over, I slept. I slept like Bob Seger.

now that I'm back home, I keep seeing the monitor in front of me as a tiny slice of a huge swatch...that my Paint the Line wallpaper is indicative of a voluminous landscape. add that to the rolling contours of eastern Iowa and the disconnect of webpages becomes fascinating again...

* if you make those homemade tarts, do not use that dough recipe. that thing was conceived, literally, in Hell's Kitchen. find something with less butter.

17 May 2010

the tradeoff

long, long ago - I know not through what channels - I started reading an offensive, bong water-soaked webcomic using Microsoft Comic Chat as its medium. it was called Jerkcity, and its name was apt. stock MS characters joked about how queer they were, how many cocks they could gobble in a minute, how much Windows/Netscape/IE/et al sucked. (the funniest joke ever strip is still one of my favorites.) it was counter to everything decent in society, and I ate it up. it's still a guilty pleasure, though the quality has diminished somewhat, IMO.

part of the draw of Jerkcity is: who would write this mindless garbage? was it one guy? a bunch of guys? sometimes there'd be a fuzzy .gif image of an unshaven man lurking in a panel here or there, usually ingesting copious amounts of ganja. was this the guy, or a red herring roommate or friend?

poking amongst the Jerkcity links, I found a blog purportedly from one of the characters, Rands. and what do you know - even if he was the main proponent behind Jerkcity, he wasn't a total nimrod. something about his obsession with and personal mastery of Vegas spoke to me. his description of Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder (or N.A.D.D.) eerily shadowed my own habits. I still knew almost nothing about the guy besides his inclination towards strippers, but I liked what I was reading.

fast forward a few years to the Twitter age. I joined up last summer our of curiosity and potential self-promotion. not long after, I discovered Rands had a Twitter account. cue futher mystique breakdown. most of his tweets deal with design and office management (the latter a little hard to swallow due to my last job), a pithy missive here, a well-timed link there. it's a link to his own blog that prompted this blog post.

after perusing his latest post, a wish for the perfect store unhampered by anonymity and marketing jackals, I noticed he had a link to his Amazon wish list on his sidebar. curious, I took a look. I now know more about him, his tastes, and even his state of mind than I ever dreamed possible. the Internet has bridged the gap between creator and audience, stranger and stranger, possible friend and potential stalker. no privacy was invaded; he put up the list on his website for public browsing. undoubtedly, he has preferences and hatreds he has not shared with the public at large. still, I can't help but feel a little weird at this peek inside someone I'll never know in person.