This is the type of question that haunts me needlessly at night, sucks up too much of my awake time brain power, and occasionally torments me for fun with ceaseless anxiety.
The question isn’t where do I want to be. It’s more how do I get there from here? I know where I want to be….but there is this big ugly gap full of the unknown (and possibly nervous breakdowns... and dragons, or something unexpected and silly like that) between where I am today and where I want to be.
And somewhere at the heart of it all are the Animal Tales. Lately, I've been spending a long time pondering what the Tales mean to me & what I want for them (and to some extent: what they allow for me).
It all sound terribly dramatic-but I want to try and explain it.
I’ve been working on the Animal Tales for five years now: from a glimmer of an idea that made me laugh, to a full-blown line of cards and calendars that make other people laugh right along with me.
This is the largest project I have ever developed and the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent with this type of singular focus.
I love the Animal Tales. They provide me with great companionship, unlimited inspiration, and a ton of opportunities, meetings, and friendships. They’ve been a creative cushion through some hard times and helped me weather crazy learning curve of being in business for myself.
Five years ago they made me laugh to myself, and today they make me laugh out loud.
But they are also overwhelming when I consider the scope of where I could go with them: character profiles?, short stories?, a book?, new products?, or just greeting cards forever and always?. I could work on them forever, and they would let me.
(Come on, don't you want to know how Betsy, the failed romance writer, came to bury dead bodies in her neighbors' rose garden (I mean, is her garden full already?). What happened to Eli after he found all those circus peanuts...when you achieve your life's goal accidentally, what do you do for the rest of your life (is he the elephant equivalent of a teen heartthrob?). Did Donnie the deer ever find a job that he actually likes, or did he break down and become a professional cat herder to escape the 9-5 grind?)
But I want something more too.
Now, this is where it gets tricky, as I am writing this (yes, I still do first drafts by putting pen to paper)I am in the midst of preparing to promote the 2019 Animal Tale calendars. This is my big flagship launch every year, and I am exceptionally proud of them this year. They are amazing in how much they grew stylistically, the stories, the soap opera behind the stories, the character development. I see so much potential for them as a project.
At this point, it almost seems like the Animal Tales exist outside of me and I just manage them. And to some extent that is true; I am very creatively comfortable with them (like sweats and a messy bun level of comfort). At their heart, the Animal Tales represent a very stable, self-contained world full of consistent characters, relationships, and mini-dramas.
And that is what I set out to create: a series of snapshots from a larger story, a world within our own where the characters mimic us the best they can from their viewpoint. Throughout the Animal Tales there is one long story about life, mishaps, family, and friendships that drives all the imagery you see. I never set out to be a greeting card designer.
I wanted to tell a story, and all the cards are snapshots in the Animal Tales family album.
And I did that.
Now I find myself at the crossroads of wanting to do new work and wanting to finish the Animal Tales.
The irritatingly sensible part of me says “ be practical finish the tales and then you can devote yourself to whatever new work you want”….
But here is the thing, the sensible part of me isn’t very wise. The wise part knows the truth: the Animal Tales will never be finished. That’s the nature of a good story, isn’t it? You never want it to end, and it keeps going long after you’ve read/seen the last word.
And that may be the crux of it: I want to know where their story goes, but in order for me to find that out I have to keep making the Tales.
That part is exciting. But the Animal Tales have also allowed me to become too creatively comfortable. I don’t feel vulnerable (except for writing this) about them anymore, and they don’t push me out of my creative comfort zone…which is where growth really happens.
This level of comfortability doesn’t mean they don’t have my heart and focus, but it’s like hanging out in your hometown with your lifelong best friend (awesome) vs. making new friends and traveling to unknown lands (exciting and nerve-wracking).
It is really easy to NOT challenge yourself.
I want to creatively travel, AND I want to hang out with the Animal Tales where I am creatively comfortable (I worked really hard to get here).
How do I do new work without taking time and energy away from the Animal Tales? And what do I want for the future of the Animal Tales?
I want it all, to do it all and therein lies the problem…
To be continued.