Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Roundup


Welcome to the “Saturday” update; a never-timely and never-truncated account of the exploits of a mild-mannered illustrator who secretly fights the forces of common sense and dignity in an attempt to foist his book on to unassuming citizens who were minding their own business.

Sorry about the delay on this one. I had a couple of irons in the fire. Said irons are now cooling, so I can yarn for a spell.

Have you ever watched a rodeo on TV? There’s always a part right before the ride starts where the camera shows the bull rider in the pen with the bull. The rider is adjusting his grip and doing other rodeo man things and thinking god knows what.  Could be anything.

1.) “I’ve made some interesting life choices.”
2.) “I should have been a freelance illustrator.”
3.) Nothing whatsoever. This is probably the smartest thing to do. But also maybe how he came to be sitting on a rage-filled 1000-pound steak in the first place.

I also wonder what the bull is thinking. He is, after all, also in that tiny little pen. He has a performance coming up, too. I wonder if he’s nervous. Every once in a while, he’ll buck against the pen and the whole steel cage shudders like it’s made of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. Like he just wants to remind everyone involved they’re about to have no fun. It’s MAYBE going to last eight seconds, but it will feel like watching three back-to-back family comedies starring Ice Cube.

Regardless of what the bull is thinking, he’s upset, he’s probably got some poo on his flank (which adds to his upsettedness) and his job is to go out and rage until someone gets hurt. Like the CEO before a board meeting at Chipotle. Heyy-oooo.

Well, to me, the run-up to speaking events feels a little like that part in the pen right before the ride. And I am NOT the bull. I’m the guy sitting on top of an unstoppable pile of muscles, suddenly a little self-conscious about the way I’m dressed, pretty sure I have no idea what I’m doing, and aware of just how small I am.

But the gate opens and then there’s no time to think. There were a string of rides recently. Here’s how they went once the gates opened:

-Prichard Book Event (two weeks ago): Generous hosts in my favorite art gallery. A modest-sized, warm crowd. Afterward, I got to meet a whole flock of ginger kids who looked like the Weasleys and were super cool and very, very sweet. And I know this is going to sound cheesy as all get-out, but meeting them made every struggle and every tiny indignity worth it. Ten times over.

Photo credit: Jade Janes Stellmon

-The TEDx talk (two days later): I practiced for weeks. I sat in the pen before the gate opened. There were maybe 300 people in the crowd. I started out pretty strong, but nervousness and some slide malfunctions threw me off a bit. And then my mind went completely blank. There was just NOTHING there. I forgot everything I was supposed to say. And, for the first time in my life, I was so scared that I literally had the thought: “I could run away right now. I could run off the stage and hide somewhere and no one would find me and hiding would make it better because then people wouldn’t be looking at me anymore.”

And then I paused, figured out generally where I was, and finished it up. I think I finished fairly strong, but I couldn’t tell you. People were nice about it, though. If the video gets posted, I’ll share the link.

What I learned: Forgetting my speech in the middle of giving the speech in front of an auditorium full of people was NEARLY the worst thing that could have happened at the worst possible time. Maybe the only thing that would have been more embarrassing is if I had poo on my flank. But it happened and I didn’t explode. I felt like I was going to, but then I didn’t.

I also had the privilege to meet some pretty astounding people. The other speakers and the organizers at the event were brilliant and funny. It was an honor to share the stage with them.

Photo credit: Irish Martos


-Gibson’s Book Event (four days later): Gibson’s was SO kind to have me. And it was a lovely bookstore. If you’re in Concord, go. You will find something you love there, I promise. The crowd was very nice. And, as Greg Proops said, “They honored every one of my jokes with a moment of respectful silence.” I don’t think the presentation was appreciably different from the other times I’ve given it. Maybe they didn’t know what to expect or I was giving off strange vibes. But whatever it was, it felt like I bombed.

And again, I did not explode.

-NEC Student Talk (24 hours later): This was a talk I was asked to give to art and design students at New England College. It was about my experiences as a professional illustrator. I think the college wanted a “boots on the ground” perspective for students to consider. And I did just that. I spent maybe an hour explaining how I got started, what a typical day is like for me, and what I’ve learned by doing this for well over a decade. It was great good fun, the crowd was responsive and asked good questions, and I had a phenomenal time. Plus, the people at NEC could not have been more gracious and accommodating.

Photo Credit: Devon Mozdierz


-NEC Illustration show (one hour later): Directly following the talk, there was a show of selected illustrations of mine (mostly from the past four to five years). This was my first show since college. Again, the good folks at New England College thought of every detail and took care of everything. They did a beautiful job hanging the work. There was a lovely reception where I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with students and faculty. It really could not have been cooler and it was an honor to speak and show my work for them.

Photo Credit: Devon Mozdierz


This round of rides is done. I’m brushing the mud off and scampering away while some very helpful rodeo clowns (the only acceptable kind of clown) are keeping the bull from wrecking me further. The scores have been tallied and they’re not bad. I’m not taking home whatever prize you get if you win the rodeo (A belt? A lifetime supply of Ben Gay? A scholarship to a technical college where you can learn a trade that’s NOT riding a dangerous animal?), but I did ok.

I’m grateful for every opportunity I’m given to tell people about “Saturday”. I want to share it with people and, so far, this is the best way I know how. But it’s scary for me every time. Standing in front of people doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. Maybe it’s the same for bull riders. Maybe they’re not even scared of the bull. Maybe the real fear comes from the crowd. That screaming, frenzied crowd made up of individuals who nevertheless become one massive thing. A monolith whose power and judgment can make you a god or a soggy piece of sidewalk trash at its whim. Maybe that’s the true heart of fear.

Never mind. That’s crap. Bulls are scary as hell.

Whelp, I’m off to look for another rodeo. BTW, if you haven’t left a review on Amazon and you’re game to do so, please do. It will help me out a lot. Here’s the link:


Roll credits. Cue music:

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