“Everyday Matters” began as a simple grab bag of pages from my illustrated journals.
I’m not sure if I was lazy or clueless but I couldn’t come up with a rhyme or reason for how or why the pages were assembled. I just thought it would be cool to say, “Here are a bunch of pages that I wrote and drew over the years, — check em out.”
My editor frowned and said that wasn’t really how books worked and that I needed to come up with a theme, a story, an arc, a reason for anyone to care and keep turning the pages. After some head scratching, I decided that maybe the theme could just be “A New York diary” . Again my editor frowned. ” Just ‘New York’? What about it? What’s unique about your perspective? ‘
My next idea: maybe it could have something to do with architecture (I had already drawn quite a lot of buildings) and she asked me from what perspective, what did I know about architecture, what was my POV on buildings and I said lamely, ” I dunno, I just draw a lot of them.”
Finally, one tense Thursday evening she said, “Look, why do you draw? Why have you always drawn?” I snapped back that I hadn’t always drawn, that I’d only started a few years before, in my mid thirties. I guess I’d never told her that. “Well, why did you start?” she asked.
I explained that the reason I’d started was private, not something I could share in a book, too personal, too private. She kept prodding me until I explained that my wife had been run over by a subway train and that in the months after I had begun to draw and to chronicle our lives and stuff I liked and places I went and thoughts I had and so on.
There was a longish silence.
In retrospect, I can see how much I’ve changed over the past decade, how much freer and more open I am with the facts of my life. But then, before I had published a word about my life, I was embarrassed, super-private, oblivious to how interested and sympathetic others might be about the changes in our lives that had occurred since Patti’s paraplegia. The fact that I hadn’t mentioned any of this to my editor up to that point is amazing to me now. As is her interest in my work, given that she knew none of the story or how it came about.
“That’s your story,” she said finally. “That’s what your book is about, about how you started to draw and what happened to your family.” I protested that I could never share that sort of stuff with strangers, that it would seem like I was exploiting our story to sell books. She explained that it would be a book that would touch a lot of people if I could write it and that she hoped I could. Otherwise there wasn’t much to discuss.
I went home and talked about the meeting with my wife. She encouraged me to do what I felt was right, that it was my story as much as hers and that if it meant something to others that maybe we should share it. I didn’t know it then but Patti was saying, “Be an artist.”
I sat down and started to write. The story poured out of me, and I saw how it gave meaning to all of the journaling I’d done, that it made it all made sense, my creative rebirth, my need to document my life, my search for meaning, and the way it had brought me to this moment, to sitting down and writing this book.
At the core of my resistance was a conviction that I was not and could not be an artist. I could draw and even publish books, but I could not delve into myself and share it with the world. I had all the capabilities but I did not have that permission. In the years since I Everyday Matters appeared, I have heard from thousands of people and I came to realize that I was not the only one with this limitation. Making art, sharing it with one’s friends and strangers is a transformative experience and I have worked ever since to encourage others to try it. I’ve written several other books exploring the ways people express their feelings and capture their lives in illustrated journaling and I hope to make more tin the future.
For me, art gives meaning to my life. Sharing it with others just makes it mean even more.
Thanks to Seth Apter of The Altered Page for asking me the question that provoked this response.