Sometimes I Don’t Mind

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I celebrated New Years 2011 with a kiss. I was in love for the first time in my life. Not infatuated, but actually in love – with someone who changed the way I thought about that over-used, intangible word. Blair was poet and a musician. He had a voice that could fill a crowded subway tunnel without a microphone. He had a gift for writing about the heaviest of topics in a way that was strangely uplifting. I was in awe of his talent, and even more so of the person he was beneath it.

When Blair died unexpectedly in the summer of that same year, it goes without saying that I was devastated. I wrote at the time that I was someplace between comfortably numb and feeling everything. As my therapist put it, I was barely keeping my head above water. Every metaphorical barrier I had ever built around myself was the equivalent of rubble. I felt small and soft, vulnerable and terrified. I was alone in a city of eight million people; an alien among old friends.

A few months later, while in the thick of my depression, my friend TJ posted on Facebook that he needed to find a new home for his dog. He had decided he was too financially unstable to take care of an aging dog, and the original adoption plans had fallen through at the last minute.  I had known Coeus since he was a puppy. I was in a place where I was financially stable, but otherwise not so much.

It was one of the shortest deliberations I’ve ever spent on a major decision. I remember my parents telling me I shouldn’t do it. It was too big of a responsibility to take on after everything I had just been through. I didn’t tell them that I had already made my decision until it was too late to be talked out of it. I was certain of very few things at that point in my life, but I knew this was something I needed to do.

There was a moment I remember being on the phone with my friend Aricka, and someone walked by with their dog. The dog was carrying a giant stick, and it couldn’t have been prouder of the discarded tree limb it had found on the sidewalk. When few things are able to shake depression, the ones that make you smile really stand out. I think that’s what locked it in.

After a few months of planning and finding a new apartment, it was finally time to pick Coeus up. It was a Saturday evening in December. I braved driving through Manhattan for the first time in my life to get from Brooklyn to New Jersey. A mutual friend had driven down from Upstate with the dog in tow, and left him with another friend outside of Jersey City.

Coy was smaller than I remembered him being. It had only been six months since I’d seen him last, but at forty five pounds, he’s a little guy compared to the dogs I grew up with. We met in a stranger’s kitchen, took a brief walk around the suburb, and drove back to Brooklyn

We were both incredibly awkward during our first few days. We were in a strange new place where we only knew each other, and we were trying to adjust to a new normal. The next few weeks were filled with learning experiences. For example, white sheets and dog do not mix. Stuffed toys and tennis balls have an average lifespan of a few minutes. To this day I always cross the street when I see other dogs because, as wonderful as he is with people, Coy can be a total asshole to other dogs.

Before I knew it, I was time to drive upstate for Christmas. My family and I decided it would be too much for our 13-year old lab, Tucker, to handle having a comparatively young pup around the house. So I was leaving Coeus with my friend Sean for the holiday.

It was after Sean’s mother made us dinner, and I was preparing to leave, that I had an epiphany. Seeing how casually Sean interacted with Coeus and his own dog, pulling him in and scratching his belly, I realized that I had forgotten how to do that. Somewhere in the mix of my grief, and the turmoil of things happening more rapidly than I could process, I had lost the simple means of sharing a dog’s affection.  I let that sink in.

When I picked Coy up at the end of the weekend, I made a conscious effort to relearn what it was to have a companion. To reopen those parts of myself that I had subconsciously closed off.

Over the years that followed, Coeus managed to become one of the singular driving forces in my recovery. The lull of a long depression is tedious, but it can be made bearable when you’ve got a companion to cuddle up with on cold mornings. And there is no better cure for a shitty day than coming home to a wagging tail and uncontainable joy. Even with all of the anxiety and bullshit the world periodically sends my way, Coeus has an uncanny ability to make me smile in spite of it.

 

[An earlier version of the story was posted on my Tumblr in December 2013]

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Dream Crasher: The First Milestone

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If you’re don’t regularly back up your hard drive, let me tell you a story about an inconvenience that could have been a nightmare. My laptop hard drive was approaching 5 years old. I knew it had been getting funky and making strange sounds every now and again. It decided to completely shit the bed exactly one month before our June 2nd deadline for releasing Dream Crasher. Fortunately, I religiously backup everything with Time Machine, and that goes double for the comic book. Every page is additionally backed up in two different places. One can never back the important things up in too many places.

What you see in the picture above is my sisters old macbook that she set up for me with Adobe CS3 (for doing the final page edits) and my PC from work (for uploading/downloading the files for lettering). It took me twice as long to do everything as it would have on my own computer, but it didn’t stop me from doing what I needed to. What would have been a fun long weekend trip home turned into a lot of time spent at my makeshift desk on the dining room table.

Reed and I made the decision to hire a letterer rather than attempt it ourselves. This was excellent advice that came to me via the Comixology Submit panel at NYCC. We posted an add on Digital Webbing, filtered through several responses before we found Frank Cvetkovic. Here’s one thing Reed and I learned about ourselves through the process of selecting fonts: neither of us ever really notices lettering unless it’s abstract or poorly done. Much of the best comic book lettering doesn’t call attention to itself. It finds it’s own place in the narrative. It directs the readers eye around the page and works in cohesion with the artwork. Frank did a beautiful job and I could not be happier with our decision.

Through the process of finding a letterer we also found Greg Sorkin to do our logo. He was incredibly patient with our initial indecisiveness, but I’m ultimately very happy with the end result. My sister also came through for us in the eleventh hour, doing the cover graphics, internal credit and thank you pages, and the post cards we’ve been handing out for the last four months.

The last weekend of May brought us some gorgeous weather. It was the first true weekend of summer. I spent the entire time indoors working on the website. Minus some initial trouble with the download links, it all went off without a hitch on game day. It took us five years from the first sketches to the release of Chapter 1. There were many times along the way where it felt like it might never happen. Reed and I have trudged forward in the face of some major setbacks. We still have a long ways to go, but I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to take this journey with.

We will be launching our Kickstarter in late October. That’s less than one month away. We will be using it to print Chapter 1 as well as fund the lettering through Chapter 3. It will also be the first place you can order Chapter 2: The Land Vomits Ghosts. I’ve been exceptionally lazy in the last two months, making up for going all out on this. It’s time to come out of hibernation, though. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of Reed. I’m proud of how the first chapter of Dream Crasher turned out. I’m excited and mildly terrified for what comes next, but I know I am fully capable of making it happen.

“What started as a whisper slowly turned into a scream…”

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July 23, 2011.

My sister and I went to catch a matinee of The Deathly Hollows – Part II. As we left the theater, I noticed that you hadn’t called or texted me back. I had grown accustomed to your daily text “Good Morning, Punk,” or some variation. This was when I first realized that something was out of place. I went home and continued packing, loading boxes into every open square inch of my car. I kept calling, but there was still no answer. Concerned about becoming that psychotic significant other that we all have stories about, I tried to keep my cool.

Five o’clock rolled around, and the time stamp on your last text told me it had been 24 hours since I last heard anything. You had said you weren’t feeling well, that you were going to bed early. I could no longer ignore the knot forming in my stomach. I called George, to see if anyone knew anything about where you were. The long distance relationship had always worked well for us, but Detroit had never felt so far away. George hadn’t heard anything, said he would see what he could find out and call me back.

I took Tucker for a final walk down the street, too distracted to appreciate the moment. I contemplated staying until I knew you were OK. I decided that they would be. Said goodbye to my family, not telling anyone about my growing panic. I played your music and poetry on shuffle the entire ride down, hoping to channel some good energy. I suppose I also just needed to hear your voice.

When Matt called and told me that you weren’t in your apartment, I knew that something was definitely wrong. My anxiety was validated. My appetite disappeared; it wouldn’t return for almost a week. As I neared the Manhattan skyline, the ipod radio adaptor began to lose it’s signal. Your voice became drowned out by static. This is the first time I remember crying.

Somehow I unloaded my car. Drenched in sweat in a stuffy upstairs bedroom, I was finally left alone with nothing but my thoughts. I reached out to Sierra. She called me back immediately. I needed to talk to someone. I needed to believe that things were going to be OK. That you would finally call and I would yell at you for scaring the shit out of me. That we would laugh about my overreaction to you losing your cell phone. That there had to be some kind of logical explanation.

This was my first night in Brooklyn. I don’t think I slept. I just tossed and perspired and stayed glued to my phone. At some point late the next morning, Matt called me again. In a choked voice that I could never forget, he told me “Blair’s dead.” My worst fear was realized in a single moment. I felt the ground fall out from beneath me. My whole body shrank and was swallowed by grief.

Within hours I was surrounded by the love of some amazing friends. Sierra called everyone we knew to make sure I wasn’t by myself. Naomi and Lindsay stayed with me for the next two days. My facebook wall and phone blew up with condolences and sympathy. I could name more names but I would take up several paragraphs and ultimately forget someone important. My memory in the wake of it all is bit of a blurry anyhow. My point is that all of those emails and phone calls and hugs helped to remind me that – in spite of how helpless and shocked and terrified and alone I felt – I was loved. At a time when there can be no true comfort, that’s all that there is.

Original posted on Tumblr, 7/23/13.

Dream Crasher: A Five Year Journey

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The roots of Dream Crasher can be traced all the way back to my sophomore year of college, when I first drafted an idea for a short film. It’s first working title was Post Human. It never made it beyond pre-production. I picked it up again in my senior year, when I wrote up a prose treatment for a Creative Writing class. I liked how it came out, but I was too distracted by my involvement with slam poetry at the time, and it slipped to the back burner.

The project wouldn’t truly come to life until Sean Gallagher convinced me to join him for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2009. Under the cringe-worthy but thankfully short-lived working title of Anno Diablo, I began the first draft of what is now Dream Crasher. I merged my original short story with a broader concept I had been kicking around, and dove in with no idea where I was really going. I made it to 14,542 words – well short of the 50,000 word goal. Yet for the first time in years I was excited about a creative undertaking. Over the next few months I began to flesh out the world and it’s characters. Through this process, I realized that my story needed to be expressed visually.

A few months later, I was hanging out and catching up with my friend Reed Olsen. Over the course of our conversation Reed mentioned that he had been wanting to make a comic book. It just so happened that I did, too. I pitched the story to Reed, and he came back with a few character sketches. Before long I was writing scripts, and Reed was experimenting with styles. I completed the first chapter. Reed settled on black and white water color.

Thanks to tagging on Tumblr, we can view some of the progress of Dream Crasher as it evolved over the last five years from NaNoWriMo to it’s current form. It has lived under many names. I was calling it Vanishing Point when Reed and I started working on it. It changed to Year Zero and then Stealing Fire before we eventually landed on Dream Crasher just one month ago.

We had our share of setbacks along the way. I stopped writing for almost a year after Blair died. When I started back up, my original plans for the third chapter had tripled in length and needed to be split in two. Reed also made the difficult decision to redo the first chapter – as it paled when compared to the completed second and third. Even though it slowed our progress down, Dream Crasher is ultimately going to be better because of it.

This month marks five years since I took the first real steps towards getting this story out of my head and onto the page. Today we have 130 pages fully painted and ready to be scanned, enhanced, and lettered. Within the next few months, the first chapter will see it’s Internet debut. “The Creature’s Keeper” still shares many similarities to that plot I dreamed up for my doomed short film, but the world and it’s characters have grown far beyond anything I was capable of at that time.

While I won’t be partaking in NaNoWriMo this year, I have it to thank for kickstarting the process and allowing me to take the first deep dive into this world I had created. It has grown and changed shape along with me these last five years. Reed and I have a long ways yet to go, but today I’m more excited than intimidated by what lies ahead.