It’s only Wednesday (well really Thursday at 5am if we’re being honest with ourselves) and it’s been a classic Rough Week. It’s the kind of week that you’re glad to see walk off into the sunset or burning in flames (whatever your prerogative.) Whatever your intent it’s the kind of week that you step out of saying, “wow i cant believe I got through that in one piece” while dusting off your clothes and walking away.
Point is, it’s been rough and I almost had to document all of it when it came to a head on Wednesday because guess what? OF COURSE it was hourly comics day. Now, obviously I didn’t actually document Wednesday’s happenings at least not all of it because 1. I don’t trust the internet like that 2. no one needs to know my dirty laundry 3. Regurgitated sad bad vibes do not good comics make (sometimes.)
Now I’ve noticed that I have this habit of compartmentalizing my emotions and trauma. It’s part of the way I cope as someone that needs to move forward and not remain in one place for fear of never moving again. The way this compartmentalizing happens is best described in this art piece I made last semester.
My emotions in my brain are organized in these jar type things which would be fine (probably) if there were only a few but these jars are all over my brain. They cover every surface. All individually filled with something tragic, horrible or amazing or something in between. There’s so many little and big jars so close to each other in proximity that they’re bound to clatter against each other. This constant jar knocking against jar situation naturally leads to…damages.
Jar filled with pressurized emotion knocking against other jars of pressurized emotion..it’s all so obvious what happens next. This destruction embodies moments in my life that I’ve just burst at the seams with emotion. Some grievances years old and some as recent as a couple days. The point is I have some days when I feel all the different emotions coming out at once filling my mind and corroding me until I feel like I need to scream or cry or both. Wednesday was one of those days.
I’m feeling a lot better now though after speaking with my two best friends and being comforted by their support along with the support system I have with my two roommates. Moving forward though, I’ve gotta do something about all these jars. I think opening up all at once would actually probably kill me (or hurt me in a pretty irreparable way.) So..I guess I don’t know what to do about the jars already there (opening them feels like..a really bad idea) but I know I need stop creating more jars and try to limit the emotional pressure by not suppressing it in the first place. I think overall I need to treat myself better, emotionally. Which won’t be easy since I’ve lived so much of my life putting the people I care about first but it’s so necessary. I need to put myself first because it simply is not sustainable for me to exist as a functioning human being with all these fragile glass jars rattling around in my head in attempt to protect myself from pain.
Here’s to making tomorrow better!
Every night I go to bed and every night my brain comes up with these weird, surreal imaginings. Sometimes they’re not too out of the ordinary like the time I had to lead a class of mine through patches of grass infested with swarms of grasshoppers. Sometimes they’re nightmares that seem to be fueled by horror movies if I’d even watched them. Other times my dreams are just innocuous daily livings and me accomplishing daily tasks that I intend on getting done like having a dream about buying eggs or talking with my mom about something and waking up and having done none of these things.
There’s something scary to me, a person that seeks control and finds comfort in control. Surprisingly, being subjected to an amalgamation of my brain’s worst fears and anxieties is never a good time for me.
Now I guess right about now you’re probably wondering: yeah okay that sounds awful but what was your brain dreaming about before all these horrible nightmares? Welp, to tell you the truth: nothing. My brain was filled with nothing and I’d wake up as if I’d just shutdown my brain for a bit and everything started back up as soon as my eyes opened, fully operational. No weird dreams, no waking nightmares, none of it. I slept for nine hours average every night and stayed asleep until my alarm or the lovely morning sun gently woke me up. You might think that I am being hyperbolic when I say all this but, I don’t think I am. I really miss the days when I could sleep and stay asleep without my anxieties chasing me in my dream world as well.
Maybe the worst part about dreams is the ripping from a separate reality. It’s a sort of jarring feeling, a space in between between our world and the one in my head that gets me so out of wack. My dream world and my real world (or my perception of my real world depending on which philosophical theory of perception you subscribe to) play by different rules and the switching of consciousness between the two is unsettling especially in dreams when I’ve created a whole alternate life for myself only to lose it all to my awakening to reality. Honestly, why do people idealize dreaming so much? Dreaming in pop culture is always the cheap and easy ending that no one likes and fundamentally dreaming is the process of your brain going through all the information it has collected throughout the full day and essentially taking inventory on what you got going on in your ol’ melon. A process that sounds like a glorified reliving of past experiences some of them traumatic and some of them rather embarrassing… why…would I want to do that…
As someone who definitely isn’t a professional in sleep science and have done little to no research on the matter I say, I just want to sleep the whole night without a terrifying dream to get me out of bed.
There’s few musicians that have inspired me in my visual arts endeavors. For a long while I listened and consumed music as a very separate creative outlet than my visual art making until the last year when I started my Mark My Words series of comics that illustrated some songs that had stuck a visual sort of cord with me. They were the kinds of songs and lyrics that painted a clear narrative that I wanted to fill out with an added visual context of my art. It started as a creative exercise the same way that I did illustrations for each article I’d write on here. The exercise allowed me to springboard off of an already laid out narrative no matter how vague or specific. With that solid foundation I was able to focus more on visually conveying the narrative and experimenting with composition and color and panel layout. I could see what worked and what didn’t and adjust accordingly. I can’t say I’m proud of all the art that came of it especially considering it was really only for practicing my cartooning skill. Even though I should have probably focused on my fundamentals so I wouldn’t be so limited in my art making, I definitely don’t regret the time and energy I spent on those comics but lately, since meeting more creative folks in college I’ve been second guessing the work I created during that time.
Maybe I’m growing as an artist and no longer need to create on the backs of other people’s work. Or that I’ve learned enough from that exercise and I’m ready to move on and explore all facets of sequential arts and comics instead of just the visual aspect of it. I’m not sure.
Although, lately music like Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino, and Ehiorobo’s rapping possess a visual flow unlike any of the indie-rock/pop music I’d engage with previously. For example:
I’m ’bout to tell the ‘fridgerator sup
Right beneath the Haagen-Daaz at brunch
Probably gotta pacify my tongue like
That tastes pretty good
It’s this seemingly endless string of concepts and ideas that don’t stay in a single place or idea making the organization of these lyrics into panels a trickier task. It’s a challenge I won’t back down from nonetheless but still, a challenge. It’s the kind of nonlinear narratives that have me questioning the nature of a conventional comic and the way we convey our information from left to right as a linear sequence of events. These raps, though, aren’t linear and are borderline not even narrative at times. It feels like the flow of events in these kinds of raps are more similar to an evolution. I can most describe this as the music video for The Music Scene by Blockhead.
The music video is an animation, the medium that has been best equipped to depict non-linear narratives or even non-narratives like in The Music Scene music video. But as a sequential arts nerd whose spends most of their free time studying this medium to figure out what works and what doesn’t I’m interested in experimenting with the medium like so many others have and studying what they’ve done to better my art making. One of the artists that I think exemplifies this is Tillie Walden. Her work is just phenomenal in how she tells stories in such a surreal way that, although it follows a somewhat linear narrative at times, she still experiments with comics and what the medium can be in a way that I really respect and admire.
It’s been more than a year since Skylar passed away. I’ve finally reached a point where I can talk about him and his influence on my life without dissolving in a puddle of tears and incoherent mumbling. I can finally refer to him as “dead” and openly speak on his death as a suicide without my heart crumbling at the thought of the pain he must have experienced in the moments leading up to his death. I’ve been able to take myself to the dark places in my head that went dark after he died and try to reconcile with the parts of me he took when he died. I’m not as angry at him for his suicide, as I am angry at the horrible circumstances that this child was born into. I can refer to him in the past tense knowing my memories of him will be with me forever. The guilt still remains, of course, but it’s no longer the guilt that keeps me in bed every morning thinking I don’t deserve a wonderful life because I know Skylar loved me and wanted me to be okay just like he is now.
I wanna say I’m past the worst part of the grief but I don’t think that’s entirely true. I don’t know but I doubt there’s ever knowing if you’re passed it. Like a flu, you suffer with it and it lingers and you eventually regain your ability to breathe through your nose again but you don’t really notice. So I think it’s too soon for me to tell. I could just be compartmentalizing my grief again as a coping mechanism. Who knows! I sure don’t.
But I’m finally writing about it, or at least allowing myself to feel the pain of his loss and letting that pain influence my art.
It helps that these past couple of months I’ve been talking about Skylar, to anyone that would listen: my new friends at college, my old friends from high school, my professors, everyone. The more people I told the more I felt I was giving life to Skylar again, like I could relive these memories I had of him and instead of be sad about them. I told stories about his vibrancy and his human-ness and his radical brilliance and his fucked up parts too. Over time I realized as I relayed each of these stories and memories we shared: Skylar shaped so much of who I am now. Even before he died, he, so often was my beacon of support that I looked to when I was confused or just needed to be validated as a fucking human being or when I felt alone in my struggle as a queer non-binary Vietnamese kid. He was always there.
And then suddenly he wasn’t.
For so long his death frustrated me, how can someone who I knew for a few months affect me this way? And even now? How can that happen? Then I take a step back and see how much I depended on him to guide me through my journey to reclaim my Vietnamese identity and culture and be proud of my brown skin and my queer body that doesn’t need to change for anyone except myself. He was such an important person in my life and I think I was to him too.
The story I’m writing honestly didn’t start as a testament or in memoriam of our bond. I simply wanted to create a story depicting elderly and healthy queer trans bodies of color striving and being happy. I guess there’s a subconscious part of me that still wants to write these darker stories of grief because my story kinda took a slight detour from the happy fluffy gay adventure I had in mind. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, objectively it’s interesting to think about how my brain is so opposed to fluffy idealized happiness, but it is hard to write these dark narratives. Since this story is such a personal experience that I’m still very close to a lot of the time writing this story requires me to delve into the darker parts of my mind, the parts so dark I’m scared to tread for fear I’ll lose my way back. That’s why I have such an affinity for this story. It’s challenging me to face a lot of my grief even though it hurts. I’m finally giving myself the space I’ve always needed to ask myself: How do you feel about this? Why do you feel like that? Are these feelings productive? How would they affect a person in the long term?
I guess it’s the kind of questions I have yet to find the answer to.
I wrote you a poem and I hope you never read it.
You Don’t Have to be Strong Anymore
You were taught that to be weak is to love, is to feel, is to be emotional
I was taught that to be strong I had to silence my anxieties, choke down my tears, and only scream into pillows when no one could hear.
I don’t want to be strong anymore.
I want to be my whole self
I want to be vulnerable and sad, and angry, and cry in public.
I do that a lot,
I find myself crying in front of people a lot
And I want you to know it’s okay.
I want to feel that it’s okay.
I feel it in the way you text my name when you’re upset
I read it, not like a calling but like a question.
They shouldn’t be allowed to do this vian
It’s not right what they’re doing vian
It breaks my heart, knowing you,
The person I always regarded as having all the answers
Looking at me for the reasons.
I want to make life fair for you.
I want to make the world happy and safe.
It breaks my heart that I can’t, not for anyone.
Not for you, not for Skylar, not for anyone.
I don’t want to be strong anymore.
I can’t ignore the sound of my heart breaking
So much and so often.
I can’t be strong anymore.
And that’s okay.