It all started this past winter solstice when Jeff’s youngest daughter told us that she was going to be a dentist.
Actually, what she said was that she guessed she’d have to be a dentist, because everybody knows you can’t make a living as an artist.
Our heads kind of exploded at that point, so what happened next was a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember sitting her down at the kitchen table and asking her why this sudden about-face — she’d been talking about wanting to be an artist for the last several years which, for a nine-year-old, is almost a lifetime. I remember treading carefully, lest I inadvertently suggest that being a dentist wasn’t perfectly okay, too, if that’s what she really wanted. The world needs good dentists, after all. But what the world doesn’t need is a grumpy, jaded dentist who’s secretly always wanted to be an artist instead. That doesn’t end well for anyone.
Then the truth came out: her stepdad had been discouraging her, telling her that you just couldn’t make any money as an artist. Jeff and I had to carefully bottle our seething rage at why in hell a grown man would go around crushing a nine-year-old’s dreams instead of, say, EMPOWERING HER to pursue them. (This is, sadly, pretty much par for the course in their mother’s household apparently.) Rage is not a useful tool when trying to salvage a young girl’s self-esteem, however. So instead, we laughed at how out of touch her stepdad was with reality, and we regaled her with stories of the many people we know who do make a living as artists and writers and musicians and creative types of all shapes and sizes. (My best friend from middle school, Megan Morrison, even used her mad skillz in graphics design to create the Snuggie Sutra, which landed her on the Amazon best seller list and scored her an interview on the Today Show. But we didn’t mention this particular example since, you know, kinky sex jokes might not be the best tactic for talking with a nine-year-old about her future career. It’s hard enough explaining to a child why someone would invent a Snuggie in the first place…)
But did our talk help? Jeff and I wanted to do more than just tell the kids about these awesome artists — we wanted to show them that it was possible to live a fulfilling, creative life! We wanted them to have positive, inspiring role models who could get them excited about the possibilities that lay before them, instead of burdening them with cynicism and discouragement masquerading as Financial Pragmatism.
That’s when the muses whispered in my ear. Okay, actually, it was my mother, who had (in the nicest and gentlest way possible) been getting on my case about not sending out Christmas cards to the family. “It’s a nice way to keep in touch with everyone,” she said — and I’d point out that I can talk to my relatives on Facebook anytime I like. “It’s fun to get updates and pictures every year,” she said — and she had me there. Now that my cousins are starting to have wee babes of their own, the annual slew of Christmas cards featuring pictures of everyone dressed in matching red-and-green sweaters are pretty damn adorable. But as a Druid, I don’t really celebrate Christmas — “So send solstice cards instead,” my mother said.
And the lightbulb over my head went ping!
You see, because of our complicated child custody situation, it can be a challenge to get the whole Lilly gang together at the same time for a cute, sweater-matching photo op — sometimes our winter holiday trip is our only chance, and by then it’s a bit too late to be sending out cards. But what if….
I talked to Jeff about my idea, and he was as excited about it as I was. And we knew the perfect guy for the job! Joel Watson, the uber-geek and artistic genius behind one of our favorite web comics, HijiNKS ENSUE. Joel began HE as an experiment to pursue his dream of working fulltime as an artist. On his website, he explains why he decided to undertake such a bold task:
I decided to change the way I was living, take a risk and [cliche]“follow my lifelong dream”[/cliche] of being a full time artist so that when my daughter was old enough to ask me what I did for a living, I wouldn’t be ashamed of the answer. I didn’t want her to grow up with a father who was too afraid to take a chance at real happiness. Sappy, right?
Sappy, maybe, but the kind of sap that this world needs! The kind of sap that rises up in the forests and the trees every spring and reawakens the world to possibility and hope! (Am I overdoing it a bit? Hail, Brighid! Hail, Spring!)
Joel is a geek like us — except, you know, the famous kind who can casually talk about hanging out with Wil Wheaton like it’s no big deal. We had no idea if he would help us out, but we had to ask. So we did. Jeff wrote to Joel, explaining our situation and asking if he’d be interested in doing a specially commissioned “Family Portrait” for us to use on a holiday card. We figured it’d be a win-win-win: we’d be supporting an independent artist whose work we loved, we’d end up with a totally unique and geeky picture of our family to send to relatives (and maybe they’d check out Joel’s comic, too!), and we’d be showing the kids that being creative and nerdy and strange isn’t something to feel embarrassed about — it’s a blessing to share! And the more you share it, the more you help to make the world a better place for everybody. Even dentists.
So that’s what we’re hoping to do from now on. Instead of taking a photograph, every year we’re going to find an awesome independent artist and commission a unique family portrait to send to friends and relatives as a Solstice Card. This year, our family portrait is inspired by the kids’ abiding love of Tolkien and all things LOTR — the kids are hobbits, Jeff’s a wizard and I’m an elf! (I particularly like this portrait because I can pretend that I’m not quickly becoming the shortest one of the group!) Of course, we’re running a bit late this year, but luckily Pagans have a holiday every six weeks! So instead of Solstice greetings, we’re sending out Imbolc cards instead! (Did you notice the Brigid’s Cross hanging from Jeff’s staff?)
So that’s our story. I want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to Joel for doing such amazing work, and for being generally awesome and inspiring for kids from 9 to 92! If you don’t already follow his web comic, go do it now!