Since 2016 I’ve written and illustrated these letters to the new year, as a way to summarise my thoughts and feelings regarding the old year (and express my hopes and aspirations for the new). But for obvious reasons, I decided to skip it this year.
I really have no idea how to make a letter about 2020 — everything will come out cliche (unprecedented year! stay healthy! wear masks! this year was garbage! next year will be better!) or feel strangely dishonest. How do you talk about preventable mass death and closer-to-home death and the cracking-of-the-walls of late stage capitalism while grieving the mundane losses and soothing the broken self-esteem? It seems silly to me.
But I don’t think anything fits better
Like a broken record
Or a cliche platitude
Or empty phonetics
Which can never do justice to
The losses everyone felt.
(Here are the stock platitudes again: the new normal, the collective grief, unprecedented times blablabla)
The only approach that felt appropriate to me was moment of silence, which is what I had planned in the script:
I try to write something
But that’s foolish
Anything I want to say about 2021
Is going to fit everyone wrongly
(everyone who isn’t me, because when I write these letters they are often for myself, but I’m aware some of these touch an audience)
So I’m going to give you, and me, and everyone who is reading this
A moment of silence.
And I was right, I guess, after seeing the New Year comics other people have posted. I don’t think there’s anything unique to say to the public that isn’t already said by artists who are bolder than I am. Adding to that cacophony would drive everyone else over the edge.
So silence it is.
That’s not to say I don’t have actual thoughts and feelings about 2020 and 2021, but they are very small-town; better left outside of the hungry, consuming, retweeting, reblogging eyes of social media.
I’m partly hesitant to express any hopes larger than the personal for 2021. I don’t have the courage to be presumptuous atm. Maybe because the memory of everyone giggling over how 2020 will have a a ton of long weekends and that it’s a new decade so it will be #lit, is still too fresh. Plus unlike most people, I feel that what happened in 2020 is not a singular blip in time, but the first year of a 2 to 3 years long phenomenon. I mean yes, please take advantage of the social construct of a New Year to engage in resolution-making and start-anewing, but we’re still not out of the woods yet.
Even my personal hopes are small. My 2021 resolutions are mostly about maintaining good habits (the Digital Island Project, blogging more, working on craft, pivoting away from active freelance hustling into something more passive and interesting and less WFH-esque). I also only have two milestones to achieve.
One of them is an obvious kingly project to anyone who has kept up with my nonsense, the other is something I’ve been building towards for awhile: the retirement of my workaholicism.
Now, okay, you may be thinking ‘how is beginning a research-intensive webcomic of an epic scale going to help with the workaholicism??’ but I tell you, this is way better than the last 5 years of me juggling 2-3 projects a year alongside a background thing like academia or my part-time dayjob. To finally reach the point when I can just do one (big) thing is amazing. I just hope I can keep this schedule up for the entire year*. Maybe even longer. We’ll see.
*before the monkey paw curls I would like to still maintain or earn more than my current income kthx
As I get older I feel my priorities shifting. Maybe it’s the illusion of immortality slowly disappearing or the unlocking of my prefrontal cortex. Or the gradual dis-glueing of my identity to internet. Whatever it is…
2021 will about easing into this new headspace. It’s not going to be easy, I think. For 10 years I’ve constructed my identity and skillset around work — partly because I naturally do enjoy working, partly because it soothes a particular kind of anxiety. Though my workaholicism has helped me it’s starting to get in the way of doing the things I enjoy, and preparing for a future in which the work will be less of a hustle but more interesting. I am realising I have less time to do everything – not because I am aging, but because I am devoting more of that time to living and experiencing. I have to laser focus on what I want to do.
So that’s what I am working on.
Something I wrote in 2018:
This is mighty early to think about 2019, but I really do want to think of it. Because, even more than 2018 (which is mostly a year of healing), 2019 will be a year of growth. I want to pave the foundation for a solid mid-to-late 20s, as an adult and as a artist.
I’ve been thinking a lot about changing the way I do freelance. I generally want to reduce my workload, focusing instead on fewer jobs that have maximum impact (whether financially or socially). Ever since I saw that snippet that talked about ‘making time for less things’, rather than ‘making time to do more things’, it’s confirmed the way I’m starting to feel about the productivity hype aka Silicon Valley capitalist propaganda. It was really easy for me to fall into that trap because I’m a natural workaholic with a complex about money. I like having a big reserve of $$$ to feel secure. And I’d hustle in order to obtain this reserve. Unfortunately it’s putting me at risk of forgetting the big picture. Mainly that I didn’t have time to do other “smaller” work that mattered to me and had wider purposes than just earning money. It’s bad. It ain’t good. So 2019 is the year when I do stuff that isn’t just grinding for points.
And whatever I choose to do in 2019 is going to build the pathway for a possible career shift. It won’t be so far away from comics/art. Just that I’m at that age where I’d appreciate some structure and imposed weekends. And I see an opening right now. And I want it. I need to work to get it. But I need to have that time to develop myself to the point where I can get it. Hence the ‘slowing down freelance’ resolution.
And on that note, I really want to return to drawing non-productively. Just for fun. For learning. For experimentation. Despite the amount of work I’ve done for TCM, and how much it has changed me as a person/storyteller, I still feel like I’m artistically in a rut? Not because of TCM. It’s other things too (the freelance). I used to enjoy drawing for no reason. I’m super feeling that conundrum about losing your hobby because it has become work.
WOW SO THE PROBLEM HAS BEEN HUSTLING AND FREELANCING ALL ALONG.
Freelance is compatible to my type of personality, but I don’t think I want to do this forever!! Not when I have the chance to pursue a better option in the same industry.
Yeah, so it’s that. I just want to change the way I am as an artist, since I’ve been hustling for 5 years already.
It’s all balled up with me being tired at the way the internet has developed lately. I am tired of Silicon Valley selling the idea of hustling and stepping all over people and ignoring oneself in the pursuit of individualistic success. I am bored of social media changing its whims and disintegrating into repeats of fascist nonsense because of said Silicon Valley bros. It feels like everything’s losing control and I’m too old to deal with it anymore. I want to control my time. My space. My own identity as a person and artist.
Anyway we will see. Haha. I’ve stopped freelance last Friday and I’m very much enjoying having time to do the small things. Later when I’ve given enough space (I was riding on the edge of burnout mountain just to finish these commissions), I want to go back to drawing non-productively. Sketches and studies.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
PCAF, July 29 – 30
Papercuts Festival, September 17
Australian Cartoonists Association, October