06. Night

How we proceed.

“Single motion which departed, leading itself by the hand.”
—Anne Carson, Nox

Night

New and returning friends—welcome to Issue 06.

Gratitude to subscribers and founding members, as always. Issues remain free while I’m still working out a few things. More on vision and structure in Issue 07. Thanks for your patience, and for your support.

I had no idea that I’d be talking about grief in this issue, but here we are.

Apologies if this is a downer, but The Line Between is about the day to day and this is what happened during the past two weeks. I will say that my creative practice has been tremendously healing. I hope that what I share can be a balm for you in turn.

I learned that I can almost always work if I want to, and that working can be a comfort during bad times.

  • It was good for my mental health to get out of routine.

  • I freehand copied short movie sequences and

  • drew forms in perspective.

  • I chose exercises that support my larger practice,

  • provide contrast from the every day,

  • make space for meditation and movement,

  • without numbing or distracting me from mourning.

A friend has just lost a battle, and passed away.

Early last year, we were all celebrating what seemed like full remission, so the news was as shocking as it was devastating. His social media bio still says cancer survivor. That destroys me.

For days afterward I was hectored by dark images—a version of his visage, unfamiliar to me; stricken faces of children; the slowness of departure. Online, I would come across his full-cheeked grinning avatar and, almost reflexively, squeeze shut my eyes.

I think a lot about meaning, how much I run after it, how much I try to understand what it is. A weird amalgam of acceptance, presence, intention, action? Or maybe just another projection that distracts me from now, and truth.

I don’t know.

Ultimately I figure it’s just manifestation of desire, what I want my life to be, what I consider to be richness and color, what I think I should seek and have in order to not end up with regrets.

In moments like these I wonder how such pursuits could matter—and I’m saying this without irony, maybe rather a touch of awe—because, even after the dissolution of a life, things seem to continue pretty much as they have before. A whole person, with years of history, legacy, intricate inner and outer workings, connections to all these things that have made him react, have reacted to him…here one moment, gone the next. Surely the death of a man is a seismic shift in the universe! Yet the plane takes off on time, breakfast must be eaten, there’s an appointment on the calendar, needing to be kept.

I went online the next day and was shocked to find that people were laughing at jokes, marketing products, sharing filtered photos of food. I myself, only three days later, caught myself talking about the weather.

The past two weeks, there’s been a lot of rain.

Elsa flooded NYC. Subway stations were inundated. There was lightning, there was drama. It felt fitting, somehow.

Animation requires you to sit in one place for a long time. Further, it requires repetitive motion, working a thing for so long that you feel it has subdivided into atomic essence and then reconstituted, in an infinite loop. In times of emotional difficulty routine and repetition can feel torturous, suffocating.

Ev Williams recently wrote:

…being in the same place all the time increases the chance that you have the same thoughts over and over. Reminds me of when I used to travel for work I often had a lot of ideas, I think because my brain was in a different space.

The prospect of having the same thoughts over and over was terrifying. I wanted to move, I wanted my brain to be in a different space.

Thankfully it’s not that hard to feel a change in place, even within just 400 square feet of studio.

I look at the things in my life over which I have control:

personal deadlines, cadence of activities. I cross things out, move some forward, others back. I admire new texture in the previously neat phalanx of my days.

The first sequence of my animated short Chamoe is done for now and I was making headway with the second.

I got hit with news of my friend’s passing just after I began cleaning up lines for this sequence. The idea of sitting alone with something familiar, and slow-developing, was suddenly hard to bear.

I set aside plans and turned away from patterns, demanding sufficiently novel things from my brain so that I could focus without spiraling. I found contrast and education in things like freehand copying of short film sequences, and drawing in perspective.

Freehand copying is good for building instinct

(I specifically avoided rotoscoping).

I used scenes from The Cell, a psychological horror movie starring JLo (45% rotten tomatoes and full of clichés—what’s not to love). There are some fantastical, surreal scenes in it, good for studying volume and perspective:

This next one was good for studying timing and the movement of fabric and hair. I went in 4 frame increments and tried to draw what I saw, without tracing. I went loose and fast, not sweating the details.

These exercises have reminded me:

  • how much I tend to underestimate the time it takes for things to move

  • human motion is based on arcs

  • volume management is hard

It’s easy to lose sense of time while drawing in perspective,

and that was a welcome thing these weeks. I used this book, some printer paper, a pencil, and a 12” ruler.

I’ve taken a whack at duplicating rotated, tilted planes in 2 and 3 point perspective once before. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I must have internalized back then, and how much easier and faster-going it was this time around.

Likewise, I had tried to construct spiral staircases a month ago and my brain broke. But now it just made sense. That’s the funny thing about seeing something again, and the passage of time. I look forward to seeing how these practices show up in my animation and paintings.

A Very Good Tip

When my addiction to the phone gets bad I use One Sec to add some friction. The app adds a quick interstitial when I try to open Instagram, Twitter, or Youtube, during which time I decide if I really want to open the app. Nine times out of ten, I realize I don’t.

I like this flow because it doesn’t shut me off, like a child who needs curbing. It simply slows me down enough to recognize mindlessness, and wake up.

Provisions

We all return to stars.

The way my friend and I engaged most was through work, at the office, where we sat next to each other for years and spent hours talking and planning and building.

The work continues, like everything else. That feels as disturbing as it feels reassuring.

I have a jumble of emotions about his passing. I’ve been trying to think of him not so much as having had a beginning and an end, but as a line that has circled back on itself. I think of him as having returned.

Night seems like that, as with anything so utterly a thing that it eventually becomes its opposite: dark and long and impenetrable—passing, at its limit, into day. Night is day. Night is day.

And meanwhile, sometimes there are even stars.

For you, Mike.