I was in Hobby Lobby the other day looking for a new calligraphy pen. As I walked through the aisles, it reminded me of when I was a little boy. I would have been in heaven.
Living in a small town, we didn’t have specialty art supply stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. All we had was a small Wal-Mart in the next town over. As a single-digit-age kid, my world is incredibly small so a trip to the next town felt like a huge adventure. And a trip to Wal-Mart was like Walt Disney World. ‘Cause that meant I could get a toy. And also some new crayons.
I was happy with my one aisle of arts and crafts our Wal-Mart provided. Over the years, I did outgrow the space as I eventually purchased just about every piece of charcoal, fine-tipped drawing pen, pastel, and watercolor set available. But at first, I was mesmerized by all the different tools and techniques I wanted to master.
I loved drawing when I was a kid. And coloring. And painting. And building. And creating in general. It was fun for me and the more I did it, the better I got at it. Not only did I enjoy the creative process but took great satisfaction at the outcome, felt genuine pride over that final polished piece.
Art was all I knew and that’s all my peers began to associate me with. I was “that chubby artist guy.” And while I was better than average, I was no Picasso. But everyone acted like I was. And I found that kind of reputation hard to live up to. I started developing art anxiety that compounded my general anxiety. I wasn’t as good as people thought and I started to feel like a fraud. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as amazing as others expected. And the art that I enjoyed so much began to feel more like a chore.
But I thought college would help me catch up to the expectations people had for me. I would learn the craft, refine my techniques, and learn to fall in love with art again. Unfortunately, attending an art school only reinforced my fears that I was not good enough. My classmates were lightyears ahead of me and wildly talented. But again, art was all I knew. God knows I’m not good at math. I’m not really good at anything, actually. So I stuck with it, got my degree, then promptly moved back home and “retired” from art.
I didn’t want to deal with my insecurities, didn’t want to face the possibility of failure, so I just stopped trying. One of the biggest mistakes I could have made.
Since graduating college nearly ten years ago, I’ve only occasionally done something creative. I’ve drawn a picture here or there. I’ve made a couple of videos. But for the most part, I’ve just not been artistically active. But I still think about it. I still want to learn more about drawing, photography, calligraphy, design, and animation, which was my major in college. Yes, ya boy knows how to do cartoons. I could have worked for Nickelodeon if I wasn’t such a knucklehead.
Back then, I had no expectations. I did art for fun, not for fame or recognition or validation. It was for me and me alone. And the mistake I made was trying to associate my art with my value.
I still feel the pull to be creative. I still get excited about stationary. Still feel the pinpricks of possibilities from pens and pencils. It’s bittersweet and it almost hurts a little bit because I think of the time I wasted and think that I could actually be talented if I would have just kept practicing. Now I’m very behind. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally done.
I almost want to start over completely. Rebuild a foundation first. Start small. And go back to my roots of doing art just for the fun of it. Just for me. It used to be soothing and enjoyable and I want to have that back because I could sure use some soothing these days.
There are so many resources out there. It blows my mind. The Internet is an amazing place and offers so much knowledge. Youtube alone has so many free videos that can teach you to do just about anything you’d ever be interested in. There are also great places like Lynda, Udemy, and Skillshare. And although you do have to pay for those, some of the classes might be worth it.
So that’s what I want to focus on. I’ve had good intentions before and they never panned out. But this time I really do want to get back into it. And I want to take it easy on myself. I’m no professional and I’m not going to try to be one. I just need to do something creative and productive instead of just being lazy all the time. I want to feel proud of the work I do, like I used to be.
My life is a giant load of dog crap. And now I feel like I’ve come to a fork in the load.
This past Friday, June 10th, marked one year since I published my first book. I think it’s a safe bet to say it flopped. It’s not so much it’s gotten bad reviews. It’s just hardly gotten any reviews. I can’t help but to wonder what’s worse: people not liking my book or people not caring about it at all?
I shouldn’t be surprised. I couldn’t even get friends and family to read it for free before I published it. Why should I think strangers would pay for it? I just had this small hope in the back of my mind that maybe life would give me a break and maybe, just maybe, something good could happen to me. As I’ve said before, I never expected to become a millionaire from this book. But I did think I would at least get some recognition and maybe enough support and encouragement that I could continue my writing career, which could eventually lead to a bit of success.
Instead, this book has been one of my biggest disappointments. I guess I just don’t understand what it takes to grab and keep someone’s attention. I’ve blogged for about a decade now and have gained little-to-no audience. And despite how people say I’m a good writer, I must not be because no one is reading, no one is sharing, no one is commenting. I am consistently publishing my pain to cyberspace where it’s thrust beneath pop culture clutter before eventually vanishing.
But it is what it is. I can’t make people care. And thus, I barely care now myself.
I wanted to make a difference. I wanted readers to get something good from the book. And I wanted to show my parents that I could support myself with my art. I hoped the book would some how make up for my crappy college experience. I thought, “What if I could turn this jolting journey into something meaningful?” But I’m seeing now there’s no meaning to be had.
I really had faith in the book and my ability as a writer, or at least an amateur writer. I know I’m not amazing but I thought I had some good ideas and a good style that could translate into something entertaining, educating, and ultimately, valuable. And now that faith I had is gone. And more than the disappointment that my book didn’t do well, I am ultimately disappointed that so many people in my life did not care. I’ve had several people tell me they bought my book and when I followed up with them weeks later, they told me they never actually read it. Or they got started and then never finished. Thanks for the support, you guys.
They say it takes a village to raise a writer. And when you look into the creation of a book, through the author’s telling of their experience to their acknowledgements page, you see that they didn’t just sit down, write a book, and then get it published. They had friends and family and connections. People who gave ideas and feedback. People who helped with plot points and continuity. People who provided support. People who provided encouragement. And I didn’t get much of that. Out of the dozens of people I asked to help me, about two actually did (and you know who you are and thank you).
It’s not just a failure of my art. It’s a failure of me as a person, as someone that someone else cares about.
Which brings me back to the fork in the load. Should I press on despite the lack of support? Should I believe in myself anyway or should I take this as a sign that it just won’t ever happen for me? Maybe I’m just meant to stay where I am, miserable and on the lower end of mediocre.
I failed as an artist. I created a short animated film that no one watched. I failed as a writer. I wrote a book that no one read. And now I have failed as a friend. I’m not worth people’s time, apparently. So, what’s left for me?
So, I think I’m done.
Lately I can’t be happy for no one
They think I need some time to myself
I try to smile but I can’t remember
And I know tomorrow there’ll be nothing else…
-Michelle Branch, Hotel Paper
I browse Facebook to catch up on all my old college classmates’ lives. While they’ve all moved on after graduation, getting jobs and making families, I could not keep going. I was frozen, fractured and too frightened to move forward. I was depressed and too insecure to pursue a job in art. While I hadn’t planned on giving it up entirely, I wanted to take a simpler office job to get my life sorted out. I wanted to have a clear path with no distractions so I could re-focus my attention on art. But the office jobs did not happen the way I had planned and I had to go back to my old high school retail job. I’ve been there ever since. I never flourished in my job or my friendships. I never married. I only gained weight and lost a lot of hair.
Some of my peers went in similar directions, taking jobs they didn’t particularly like so they could pay the bills. But others have been successful. Some have worked on Pixar films and popular television shows. Some have become professors. They still work on their craft and upload their work to share their continual growth.
One day, a college classmate of mine posted that they had woken up a bit early that morning and wanted to take that time to drink some coffee and get in a few extra minutes of drawing time. I respected that. If I ever have a few extra minutes in the morning, I’m going back to sleep so I can wait until the absolute last minute before getting my day going.
Some people are so passionate about their craft that they will squeeze it in whenever they can. I really admire that. But I’m also quite envious. I wish I was that passionate. I used to be that passionate about drawing. If I was awake, I was drawing, crafting, coloring, and constructing. It was all I ever did and all I ever wanted to do. And then I used to be that passionate about writing. I wrote in my journal when I got home from school. I wrote several blogs for several years. I wrote down my feelings while taking notes in class and during breaks. If there was a pen or pencil in my hand, I was writing. I always had material, always had an overflowing stream of stress and hope that I needed to put down on paper.
Now it all feels like work.
The problem always starts with me wanting to impress other people. I used to draw for myself. When other people noticed I was good at it, they put high expectations on me to always be great, to be able to draw anything. And I couldn’t live up to that. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone so I just stopped doing it all together. If I didn’t draw anything, then I couldn’t disappoint. That backfired, however, when I had to turn down people’s requests for drawings. I still ended up disappointing them.
Same with writing. I wrote for myself but others thought I was decent at it. I felt like every blog, every journal entry, every essay had to be a masterpiece, otherwise I was letting other people down. But if I stop advertising my writing, if I keep it all to myself or stop writing all together, then I won’t have to worry about letting anyone down. But I only ended up letting myself down because I enjoy(ed) writing. But now I don’t know what I like anymore.
I have to wonder if any of my successful peers ever had doubts about their talents. Did they ever want to give it up? What kept them on the right track? Was it a blind love for their art or did it take some training to keep on track?
I think some people just have it in their bones. Once you find your true passion, you just can’t go back. Maybe I thought drawing and writing was my true passion and it wasn’t, which is why I can’t be consistent with it. Or maybe they are and I’ve just been bogged down by life’s obstacles. Who hasn’t, right? But normal people know how to push through. I only know how to be pushed down.
Or maybe, just maybe, I still have a passion out there I have yet to discover, some peculiar gift, some niche talent, some obscure joy that I have yet to stumble upon. I can’t imagine what it could be and I can’t imagine what would propel me in that direction, given every day of my life is the same.
There’s also the possibility that passions can fade as well. Nothing is forever. Kisses break. Love ends. Fires fizzle. Your favorite face wash gets discontinued. And sometimes, the heart just gives out. And it’s no one’s fault. It’s not a weakness. It’s the natural course of things. Everything has a shelf life. Everything peaks. And maybe I’ve already reached that point. And maybe my college classmate sketching by the morning light hasn’t gotten there yet. And that’s great.
I hope he doesn’t for a long while.
I’ve been gone for a while. My computer messed up a few months ago and I prolonged getting it fixed out of the fear of the cost. I had just started to do well with saving my money and using any extra I had to pay down my student loans. And naturally when I’ve got a little extra in the bank, something breaks. But I knew I eventually had to get it fixed and I did and it actually wasn’t as expensive as I had anticipated.
Now that everything is up and running again, I want to get back into drawing and animating.
I bought this computer a little while after I graduated from college back in 2009. I wanted to continue learning about art and animation and so I had this machine custom built and bought an Adobe package and a Wacom Cintiq and spent a load of money on software and hardware to continue creating cartoons. Thousands of dollars spent and that desire to continue learning lasted approximately a month (and that’s being generous).
Animation is much harder than you’d think. It’s time consuming and requires a ton of concentration. And that’s just for traditional pencil on paper 2D animation. When you throw in computer animation, you have a whole host of new problems, including technical glitches, RAM and memory and other computer terms I know nothing about.
After an initial excitement period of having shiny new software, I got bogged down in the aspect ratios and compression details and also realized I had no one to help me be a better animator. In college, I had my professors and classmates to tell me when something wasn’t quite right. Even when I thought I’d done my best, someone would come along and point out a bad ease in or wonky arc. But, sitting here by myself, I could be creating crappy cartoons and not even realize it because I think it’s good. How would I grow? How could I get better when I was on my own?
Aside from my lame excuses, I was burned out on art and I didn’t think I was talented and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to pursue art anymore. By the time I’d graduated, my focus had shifted to writing and I wanted to explore that. I was confused. I was disillusioned. I was bummed. I was dead.
My book Scab is a memoir of college and crisis. You can get the book for FREE today through Wednesday.
Here’s a few excerpts of reviews from my book’s Amazon page:
“Jackson’s style is crisp and clear. He has an uncanny talent for meshing pathos with humor in a way that is both deeply moving as well as just plain fun.”
“I love Brannon’s attitude about it all. As difficult as it was at times, his sense of humor, humility and outlook on life are uplifting.”
“By the end of this book, you will see the resilience of the human soul and psyche. No matter what depression may visit, a person springs back into life, even if unwilling at points, and goes on about his business. Brannon has done a tremendous job of conveying this concept, all with a candid, darkly humorous recollection.”
“Scab took me on an emotional roller coaster of emotions that I didn’t want to end.”
“I think anyone whose ever moved away from the safety of home to pursue a dream will find something to relate to here. I honestly couldn’t put it down.”
Click here to read the synopsis, check out the full reviews, and grab your copy of the book so you can go deep inside my head. You will laugh. You will cry. And by the end of the book, you will feel triumphant.
It took a long time to get my book published.
I ran into several obstacles along the way. I went through two broken computers, a word processing program that crashed, a keyboard that stopped working, an editor who flaked on me, friends who flaked on me, and worse, my own crippling insecurity that held me back from finishing my book for well over six years.
I wanted to give up several times. What if my writing wasn’t good enough? What if my story wasn’t good enough? What if no one cared? Despite my fears, I kept going because I felt the book had potential. I knew going in that it wouldn’t be a book for everyone and I never intended to write it for the biggest audience possible. In fact, toward the end, I realized I needed to write the book for me. It’s been a scab that I’ve picked at for the longest time and I knew it would never heal if I didn’t find a way to finish it. It’s been a therapeutic experience and I’ve actually learned quite a lot about myself and other people through writing this book. And if someone else can laugh or cry or relate in any way, then that’s great as well.
And the relating thing is why I didn’t want to change my book around to appeal to the widest demographic. I wanted the story to be as personal and authentic as I could make it and if I were to tinker with facts, to make it more dramatic or action-oriented, then it wouldn’t be my story anymore and that connection through a similar experience would no longer exist.
So, with that in mind, I kept going. Sure, the book could flop. But it could also do amazing things and if I just kept it to myself, I would never know.
Is it a perfect book? No, not at all. But it’s the best I could do and I think despite some of the flaws, it’s a damn good story. And in retrospect, I’m almost glad it’s taken these six plus years to write the book because I do feel I’ve become a better writer in that time. I look back on some of my earlier drafts and they are not good at all. I thought they were at the time but if I were to have published the book then, I wouldn’t be as proud of it as I am this version. And I might not be proud of this version in the next few years but I just have to take a step back and realize that this was the best I could in this moment. We all continue to grow as we work on our craft. Perfection doesn’t exist. Only full utilization of one’s ability at the time of production. It’s a hard lesson for a perfectionist like me to learn but I’m getting there. The book wouldn’t be published otherwise.
And that’s how my book, Scab, came to be. Now it’s a scar on the world, a mark that will never go away. It’s in the actual hands of other people now. My words are penetrating and I hope, in some small way, they are transforming.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of my book, please do so. It’s a memoir of college and crisis packed with commentary on relationships, romance, faith, friendships, God, food, starvation, anxiety, loneliness, mania, people, art, culture, death, and a whole lot of dick jokes. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry. And by the end of the book, it’ll make you feel triumphant.
It’s only 99 cents, less than the price of a Redbox. And you don’t even have to put on any pants to obtain it. You can read more about it and buy it here.
Thank you to those who have already purchased your copy. I am so thankful for your support.
It’s almost here!
Did anyone watch Town of the Living Dead on the SyFy Channel? If not, it was a docu-series about a film crew in Jasper, AL who were struggling to make a full-length zombie movie.
I was excited to watch this show because 1)zombies and 2)I actually chased a girl to Jasper and that’s where I had my first kiss. So I have a special attachment to that city.
The show chronicled this group of amateurs as they struggled to put together scenes with no money, no special makeup effects, and no idea what they were doing. It was funny and endearing. It almost felt like I knew these people because I recognized their accents and southern colloquialisms.
Usually I cringe at southern representation on television because the shows always make the people seem like uneducated hicks. Maybe I’m in the minority on this one but I never felt the cast of the show were put in a bad light or made to look like white trash. Sure, they were country but that was a part of the charm.
But instead of showing these people farting in each other’s mouths or filling up the bed of a truck with water and using it as a redneck hot tub like you’d find on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Town of the Living Dead actually showed people with aspirations beyond drinking beer and mud riding. They were creative and passionate about their project.
One cast member, John, was the writer and director of the zombie movie. I related to him the most. He was a creative guy who dreamed of making a film but was stuck in a small town with very little artistic opportunities. While he worked on the film in his spare time, he earned money by working at RadioShack. Here I am, also a writer and also stuck in my own retail hell. I feel ya, brother.
When I was a child, I came home from school and went straight to my room and did my homework. It just made sense to get it out of the way so I could watch Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers uninterrupted.
As I got older, the Internet took precedence over algebraic equations. There was just so many other interesting things to do and the fact that I hated math didn’t help my procrastination. When I was in a chat room or downloading music on Napster, I always told myself those word problems were waiting. It was like getting your teeth cleaned or taxes done, an activity you know is necessary but one you put off for as long as possible. It always stayed in the back of my mind and I always felt guilty for not getting it done right away but that didn’t stop me from waiting until the last minute.
When I graduated from college, I felt free from the burden of homework. I could get a job, put in my 8 hours and then go home and be lazy without the worry of another deadline weighing me down.
But that was before I decided to write a book.