Abandoned Concepts

When I first moved to Halifax, I hadn’t drawn anything in months. Maybe a little doodle on a scrap piece of receipt paper every now and then, but besides that, my motivation to draw was absolutely shot to hell. I’d written quite a bit; I’ve always had the ability to sit down and write - even if I wasn’t always productive with my time. Drawing, however, required a bit more discipline from my end. Perhaps discipline isn’t the right word because it really felt like it required facing up to my personal failures as more time went on. A failure of wasting the money my parents had saved and spent for my post-secondary education, a failure of my talents, a failure of my big fat mouth and talking about my dreams of making it big as a graphic novelist... I could go on, but the point is: I was tired of drawing, I saw it as my failure, and I’ve always been terrified of failure.

Imagine my annoyance at how when I moved to Halifax, I met someone who was instantly interested in my work and would ask every day when they saw me if I’d been working on my graphic novel, or if I’d drawn something new. To be fair, during one of the first times I saw them, I confided in them that I’d drawn something in my sketchbook for the first time in months. They were so supportive of me and it annoyed me to no end. Now I look back and laugh at myself, because hindsight is 20/20, and this person was just excited that I was apparently going after my dream and confident in my ability to achieve it. They seemed to admire me, and a bit too much for my liking at the time. I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly do not like being admired for qualities I feel I do not possess. It’s like I’m lying without even wanting to. It’s a breach of my desire for authenticity. Plus, this person was extremely persistent in asking me about my goals, like going to the gym, or working on a story. It was intended as support, but I interpreted it as a judgment on my inability to be consistent with my projects. My own insecurities always interfere with accepting compliments. As someone with many mediocre talents, I suppose it keeps me humble. Anyway, after a while, they stopped asking so much. I think they realized it wasn't the best way to get my cheery reception.

I actually ended up drawing quite a bit that summer. At first, it was because I wanted to show that I was better than someone else I’d met. Not the noblest of reasons to draw, but I drew. Then I drew because I wanted to have an actual comic to sell at a comic convention I was going to exhibit at. I burnt the candle at both ends to get myself ready for that convention. It was my first one and I made so many mistakes leading up to it. I didn’t book any time off of work ahead of the day to finish stuff up, I assumed I’d stay healthy, and I set extremely high standards for myself. My ‘cheerleader’ didn’t go to the convention- but other friends and family did, most importantly my good friend who drove me there, and saved my ass multiple times throughout that week and even in that 24 hour period. She brought me food and made me eat, she gave me pep talks, and even drove to come see me after I had a particularly rough closing shift at work - armed with candy she knew I loved.  She helped inspire the comic I made about moving to Halifax. It was all I wanted to create about because it was all I could think about, and there were a few conversations I wanted to immortalize in this strange form of art called “sequential art”.

My friend and I had a conversation late one night about where I was in life, in relation to my goals with art, my goals in life, and my abilities. She pushed the idea of me going to university, going back to post-secondary school. I thought I’d already “done my time” in art college. I already paid my dues, got my piece of paper. I thought going to university would be giving up on making comics (“putting it on the shelf”, so to speak). I saw it as defeat. Failure. So, I was hostile to the idea. I was also hostile to her suggestion of working in the service industry for the rest of my life. We didn’t look down on it, but we also both knew that I could do better for the world. The comic - and the conversation - ended with me throwing my hands up, exasperated, and saying, “I don’t know! ...I don’t know.” And I didn’t know. It wouldn’t be until she, and most people around me, went back to university for the fall for me to look at my life, to look at my mental capabilities and realize that I couldn’t be a freelance graphic novelist. Not as my main career and maybe not ever.

It dawned on me one morning after I’d moved into my new apartment. I didn’t have a regular person to talk to anymore; my friend had moved back to her university campus in Ontario. There was someone I wanted to talk to and listen to, but they were too busy to hang out. I’d said that after a month had gone by and I’d settled into my new place, I would buckle down and work on my comic… but I dreaded that thought. I just... didn’t want to. I told myself at first that it was because I was still burnt out from the convention, from moving, from losing the people I wanted to talk to most, and now that I write it out those all sound like very good reasons, but even still - I knew that I just didn’t want to. That morning, a morning of intense loneliness and grief, I realized that I couldn’t bear to work all by myself, secluded from people, with no real reason to go out and meet others. How would I make new friends like that? How could I reasonably fall in love without settling? I know many professionals are able to get out there and meet people, but I do not have that kind of brain chemistry. I may be confident, and I may be friendly, but I am no independent-network-forging-go-getter-savant. I don’t have the creative energy to draw that much. I’m still not quite sure how I made it through art school (it probably had a bit to do with that fear of failure). Anyway, with that realization, I was heartbroken. I couldn’t do it. I needed to figure out a new path for myself.

It is simultaneously freeing and debilitating to look out at your sea of options as to where your future could go. It was far easier on my brain to agree that my future required more education. I resolved to apply to University and get on track to earn a proper bachelor's degree. No more would my insecurities be framed by my college diploma I'd taped to the wall (ironically, it was the piece of paper on my wall that drew the most attention simply because it wasn't framed at all). I'd have a degree, then get a master's in education, and then I'd get a job teaching… something, in high school. I always enjoyed teaching people new things and I reveled in learning new things at the same time. I remember dreaming up lesson plans in class sometimes, fantasizing about how I could introduce young minds to loving to learn. Teaching wasn't just a fallback career to me, it was actually what I really wanted to do before writing books - I just thought the jobs wouldn't be there for me.

Of course, when I told my parents about my resolution they were equally supportive and hesitant. It made sense. If I was my own parent I'd have the same response. I have a track record of falling short on my own goals - but when it came to schoolwork I always ended up delivering something more than decent, so there was unanimous support for going to university. My choice of career? Questionable, sadly. Funnily enough, months went by with this plan brewing in the back of my head. It was like a stew I knew would be good for me, but I wasn't entirely ecstatic about eating it. It was only after my dad read my blog that he talked with me the next day and asked me if I'd ever thought about going into law.

I never thought of myself as a lawyer. I'd put that career option in the same box as being a doctor, dentist, or engineer. That was the kind of job for kids whose parents wouldn't let them do anything else. I didn't think I had the right brain for it. I was to be an artist and go against the institutions that railed against us, and I didn't think I was smart enough, honestly. When I voiced that hesitation my dad said, “Leah, there are lots of dumb lawyers out there. You definitely wouldn't be one of them.” This is true. I can be humble about my intelligence up to a point, and that point is when I look around me and acknowledge that Yes, I am one of the Quite Intelligent people. I'll be the first to admit I don't know something, or when I'm scared that I'm just blowing hot air about a certain topic I don't know enough about, but the fact remains that even without a formal university education I am very well informed and knowledgeable about many topics. I know how to take a complex topic and relate it in understandable terms.

Thinking about law and its many branches I was again hesitant because I wasn't quite sure where I'd want to focus my interest and study. Where did my passions lie? The answer came relatively quickly: Constitutional law - the overarching law of all laws. It was perfect. It was a way to get into lawmaking and legislation without being a politician. It was a way to be able to change my country and make it better for future generations. I wanted to actively make a difference for the betterment of Canada, a country I've been proudly critical and supportive of. Our true north strong and free isn't perfect, but I wouldn't rather call any other country home. Besides the very noble desire to improve my country, being a lawyer would also mean a generally stable future, and God, do I yearn for stability.

In my mind, my thoughts had been marshaled into place. Or at least relatively so compared to my salad days of summer. I feel I have a purpose now, and a path towards something bigger than myself. A path along which I will undoubtedly meet other people yearning for something similar, which is a position to never take for granted. It's a position I thought I'd find in art school, but unfortunately, it just revealed to me that I didn't have the same kind of disciplinary foundation other artists have. Here, in my new place, I sorted out where my foundation lies. It lies in my love for my country, it lies in my passion for moral righteousness (without having a massive stick up my butt), and it lies in my gift for writing (which I am constantly working to improve). Now all I have to do is wait for an email, which is relatively easy enough.

What will be harder is the fact that I’ll be facing the potential abandonment of stories, ideas, and plans. I can already feel them slipping from my fingers, through gaps in my memory. Lately, I’ve been lingering on my past - going back to videos, books, music, and games I enjoyed in high school. Nostalgia is grief. Or, rather, it is a form of mourning. A wise friend of mine pointed out that nostalgia is normal when you’re going through a transitional time in your life. You look to the past to try and sort out the future, it’s why history is so valuable, it’s why so many self-help books recommend keeping a journal and going back to read it once some time has passed. Flipping through my old sketchbooks, my two black moleskine journals - the first of which I got for free, I remember all the old angst and revisit my young wisdom. It’s funny how much you change but also stay the same. I revisit the old characters I’d created, all of them some pairing of a thinly veiled version of myself and an example of the kind of partner I’d want to see myself with. My favourite scenes to write were the ones where they’d get into some kind of argument, but ultimately it would culminate in a greater understanding of each other. It was either that kind of scene, or witty banter with coy looks and smart quips. It’s a snapshot of what I wanted back then, and I’d be a bigger liar than I could bear if I said I didn’t want that now. I guess I’m not entirely abandoning those ideas, because really, they will always be a part of who I am. The only thing I’m really abandoning is completing those specific stories, but not every story is meant to be finished.

Last night, I had to laugh at myself. I was watching the film Ernest & Celestine, a movie about a bear and a mouse who, despite their communities trying to dictate who they should be and what they should do, they strike it out on their own and form an unlikely but beautiful duo, painting and making music at a small house in the countryside. The animation is delightful, the acting is fantastic, and the message is as poignant as ever. There’s a scene in particular that made me laugh, though. It’s at their house when Ernest and Celestine are talking about their passions. Celestine was being forced into dentistry, but she really wanted to be an artist. Ernest was wholly supportive and sympathized with her, as his parents had wanted him to go into law but he just wanted to make music. That is when I laughed and cried at my own expense. Who goes from wanting to be an artist to discovering that their true passion lies in lawyerism? Me, apparently, and I find it hilarious and completely typical of myself. Of course, this is the path my life takes, what other path could it take? Going to art school at a technical college, and then deciding to take a more practical path through a bachelor of arts degree at university - It’s almost as subversive to the societal norm as I could get, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way.