Time for a new studio self-reflection, part of my ongoing effort to be more open with my creative development and encourage others to do the same. In this entry: summer growth goes wild.
If you’re curious, peruse previous self-reflections.
The home garden in 2021 has been, perhaps against expectations, significantly more successful this year than in 2020. At the time last year when garden prep should have started, my partner and I were not remotely thriving at home. What attention we did offer the plants came late and sporadically. It took many months of simply surviving before we could thoughtfully plan or sustain focus again, and much of this year has seen significant improvement over the last as a result.
But at some point this summer, the garden accumulated so much of its own momentum that it took off and …sort of left us behind.
There was a streak when barely a week would pass before we discovered yet another one of the thriving tomato plants had over-prospered, loading itself with so much fruit that it had collapsed. The braces we put in place had snapped, leaving the plant to fold in on itself, like a discarded marionette with its rosy cheeks in the dirt. The greens, which last summer had been precious and scarce, weren’t just bountiful this year – they became downright overgrown, so multitudinous and single-minded in their aspirations that together they looked more like a tall field of wildflowers than the base of our salads-to-be.
Which is all to say, the garden turned into a bit of a jungle – lovely to see and make use of, but otherwise untenably wild. Loads of ripe fruit, but plenty of over-ripe things, too – some of them split and moldy from a sudden glut of rainfall, or oversized and bitter, or covered in bugs that we struggled to see through the dense foliage.
I feel a sort of spiritual resonance with the garden. Last year I also largely languished. But by this spring and early summer, I had all of the elements in place to double down on my creative work and see it reach new heights in the process.
Then somehow, within a single season, my studio activity became overgrown. It took me weeks if not months to realize I was laser-focused on the same two chapters of comics thumbnails which, at the quarter’s start, I meant to wrap up within a week. I had doubled back several times over on character designs that previously were “complete” but later revealed need for meaningful adjustments. All the while, I was largely neglecting other projects I had identified as essential at the quarter’s outset – such as environment designs – leaving them to shrivel in the shade of the towering plants nearby.
And like the tomato stalks, eventually I too collapsed from an excess of sustained, single-minded focus: all up with no outward or, heaven forbid, just pausing for a moment to reassess where I was headed.
Rest, I assumed at the start of summer, would come through at last being in-person with loved ones whom I hadn’t seen in many, many months. The visits were needed, fun, and rejuvenating (and fully vaccinated, of course). But restful? Not so much. They came more like floods of rain in the middle of a drought – relief from the normal daily strain but overwhelming in their own strange way.
Thanks to all this, I close the season with a long sigh. There’s contentment mingled in, for sure: I did get to see those loved ones again; and I did find meaningful studio success despite whiffing on some goals. My long-form comics project is in better shape now than ever, and I’ve found a practice of being more visible online that I don’t hate. My figurative garden may have become overgrown this summer, but it still left me with a bevy of bright fruit and plenty of flowers.
But for now I mostly feel exhausted disbelief, with a gentle hollowness reminiscent of past burnouts. My stalk has become crumpled (thought still living), my leaves bitter (though still palatable). I’ve done far worse in the past, and I’m thankful that I can take better care of myself now. Still, it’s no fun going so far beyond my limits that I stop enjoying the work that makes me happy, even if the recovery this time will likely be brief.
I can’t help but wonder: What’s the lesson here? Perhaps at the start of the quarter, Tyson the Planner could’ve been more specific when he thought about varied and versatile rest from his sprouting studio work. Midway through the summer, Tyson the Doer could’ve acknowledged the hints that his projects were growing wildly and in undesired directions.
Or, maybe there’s no clear lesson to be found. Maybe the summer is wild and anxious, where growth is simply the name of the game. (Not to mention the profound mess the world is currently in.) Next season is a new opportunity to do better.
Either way, for the current Tyson, Tyson the Tired, who’s on the edge of a break, the priorities are different. For him, it’s time to focus on closure and rest. It’s time to attend to all of the bent stems and split fruit he’s discovered lying in the sun for days. It’s time to harvest what’s left and enjoy the remaining bounty, despite the weeds.