Needs, or, pruning in order to grow.

The world is trying to shake me at my roots, and I’ve been resisting.

I read an article years ago called The Sex & Cash Theory which says, in short, that if you want to be happy with your life you have to balance the things that pay the bills against the sexy, creative stuff. If you let your life swing one way or the other too far, chaos will ensue.

I’ve never had the problem of letting my life swing too far into the creative endeavors.

I get up, take care of the dogs, go to work, try to solve problems and occasionally create things that are useful. I sometimes feel like I’m genuinely making things better. Whether I succeed or not, it’s exhausting work of juggling competing priorities, competing egos, varying interpretations, and menacing deadlines.

When I’m done working, I come home, take care of the dogs if Nighthawk hasn’t beaten me to it (some days run, well, loooong….), source and prepare some sort of foodlike objects, and try to find something that will take my mind off of the work I left and the work I’m going back to the next day.

If I’m lucky, I get six hours of sleep. If I’m really lucky, it’s not filled with nightmares about work. Then it starts over.

(As an aside, have you ever tried to type around a dog? Chance says hello.)

Even as little as two years ago, I had the energy and drive to create after work. I drew a comic. I worked on the five novels I’ve got written in various pieces around my hard drive. I knit. I cooked crazy-ass things. (I’m pretty sure the peanutbutter fish story has never actually made it into this iteration of the blog. Someone remind me someday…)

But slowly those things have been sliding out of my life. The novel writing was displaced by the comic authoring (except for every other November). The comic was displaced by martial arts. That, in turn, has been forcibly displaced by injuries, health issues for Nighthawk, the holidays, more back issues, more health issues for Nighthawk, a conference, family vacation, and just when I thought I’d be going back, a strained shoulder. And a work deadline schedule that pushes and pushes and pushes. Oh, and more health issues for Nighthawk.

Slowly I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, mentally, physically, or emotionally.

Nighthawk’s health has recently provided me with an extremely large burst of nervous energy. On May 12th he’s having oral surgery, but not like the nice friendly “let’s pull a tooth” surgery. More like the “let’s put the lung patient on a respirator, do all the work, take you off the respirator, and give you soft foods for at least a week while trying to keep your calorie count above 3000/day and your blood sugar normal” oral surgery. Not. My. Favorite. Kind.

What do you do with a nervous breakdown on the edge of your peripheral vision? Well, if you don’t have a creative outlet for it, you take it to work and try to get it to be useful. This is somewhat akin to putting a bellman’s uniform on the most violent rabid dog you can find, and chaining him up outside your cube, where he’s in charge of greeting everyone. Not necessarily successful, and generally requires a mop.

The universe has decided to combat this insanity by making April into “Kirabug reassesses her values” month.

The first shake-up came from the conference at the beginning of April. An Event Apart re-fired my desire to create, but not my ability to find an outlet. The inspiration-with-no-outlet problem made everything else worse.

The next shake-up came as a Studio Ghibli movie watched on my iPhone while I was feeling burnt out and sick and tired. Whisper of the Heart reminded me that creation is hard work, and you don’t get better from hiding from it.

When I started writing the thyroid cancer part of the comic, which Christ knows I’d never intended to write back in 2004 when I started the comic, it got hard. No, let me reword that. It got haaaaaaard. I lost the enjoyment of the craft because I was frustrated at my lack of skill. And I lost focus when a new sexy toy (martial arts) caught my attention.

But creating stories is what I was born to do. I create stories in the shower, on the way to work, in the comic. Some of my best web design was expressed in a comic strip, not a wireframe. New ideas are literally scrawled in every file and on every note of every piece of paper I get my hands on. I haven’t stopped creating stories, just because I lost time and motivation. I just started drowning them out in news feeds and bad TV and RSS feeds and comic strips and timewasters.

(By the way, Whisper of the Heart is my new favorite movie. It requires two things: one, that you remember how it felt to be sixteen. Two, that you forget how it feels to be your current age. If you get those two reversed you’ll think it’s horribly corny.)

So I threw out a bunch of distractions. I cut from 78 webcomics to comics folder to 36 core stories I’ve been following for years and still love. I threw out all but 15 RSS feeds (down from 50-ish.) Repeat ad nauseum through Twitter and Fark and Facebook ad nauseum.

Progress. Still, I felt lost, like I’m not sure what I’m creating for.

But tonight Nighthawk and I watched Train (or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design. Now, Nighthawk turned me on to Brenda’s twitter feed months ago. He happens to know that I’ve wanted to write RPG video games ever since I discovered Final Fantasy in high school. And game design is a bit of a passion for him as well.

Brenda reminded me tonight that I create to grow. Not everything I create is going to be pretty. Not everything I create is going to be valued. Certainly not everything I create is going to be useful. But everything I create helps me step forward.

I have neglected the pruning. The grass has overrun the garden, and the important branches have been left to wither.

I need to walk away from martial arts. It’s a great experience I will return to, but I can’t fit martial arts, work, and my home life all in the same jar. I certainly can’t do all those things and add any other form of creativity into the jar.

I need to leave work at work.

I need to do hard things again, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I need to reconnect with my characters and find out what they have to say, before I forget how to speak their language.

I need to give this nervous energy someone to chase that doesn’t wear a tie. Figments of my imagination are suitable candidates.

I need to listen to the earth, stop resisting who I am and what I do. At least for a little while.

4 thoughts on “Needs, or, pruning in order to grow.

  1. Message: When things in your life seem almost too much to
    handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough,
    remember the mayonnaise jar…and the beer.

    A professor stood before his philosophy class and
    had some items in front of him. When the class
    began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and
    empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it
    with golf balls. He then asked the students if
    the jar was full.
    They agreed that it was.

    So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles

    and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar
    lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas
    between the golf balls. He then asked the
    students again if the jar was full.
    They agreed it was.

    The professor next picked up a box of sand and
    poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand
    filled up everything else. He asked once more if

    the jar was full.

    The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
    The professor then produced two cans of beer from

    under the table and poured the entire contents
    into the jar, effectively filling the empty space

    between the sand.

    The students laughed.

    “Now,” said the professor, as the laughter

    subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar
    represents your life. The golf balls are the
    important things–your family, your children,
    your health, your friends, and your favorite

    passions–things that if everything else was lost
    and only they remained, your life would still be
    full. “The pebbles are the other things that
    matter like your job, your house, your car. The
    sand is everything else–the small stuff.
    If you put the sand into the jar first,” he
    continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or
    the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you
    spend all your time and energy on the small

    stuff, you will never have room for the things
    that are important to you. Pay attention to the
    things that are critical to your happiness. Play
    with your children. Take time to get medical
    checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play
    another 18. There will always be time to clean
    the house, and fix the disposal. “Take care of
    the golf balls first, the things that really
    matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just
    One of the students raised her hand and inquired
    what the beer represented.
    The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It
    just goes to show you that no matter how full
    your life may seem, there’s always room for a
    couple of beers.

    Have a GREAT day and remember, tell someone you
    love them today, cause tomorrow may be too late.

  2. ‘Whispers of the Heart’ is an awesome movie! It’s been my favorite since I saw it over a decade ago. It’s especially helpful on those depressed, I-can’t-do-anything-right sort of days. I’m always thrilled when someone else discovers it. Enough so to come out of lurking to comment after reading your stuff for years. I think my first comic of yours was measuring snow via corgi.

    I check in regularly, both for the comics and for the nifty links and comments you make. Thanks for all your hard work!

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