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by Shlunka about a year ago in goals
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The Art of Giving Back

Creating a banjo-playing frog for my friend's parents

I make things. Weird, complicated, dumb things. I make them out of soda cans, and I cut them into hundreds or thousands of pieces before tying and gluing them together into mosaics or three -dimensional works. I make forests, mountains, any kind of landscapes that are altered by the weird symmetry of our encroaching on them. I don’t know why I do this, and I don’t care to know why, because I love it.

I draw things. Odd, simple, incoherent things. I draw cartoons for magazines and newspapers, it’s something my dad always wanted to do before he got old and burned out on it. I started when I was seventeen for a local paper, and branched out until now I do work for over a dozen magazines. I made my dad proud, ecstatic even, and I couldn’t be happier knowing that I gave that to him. I don’t know why I draw cartoons, and I don’t want to know why, because I love it.

I write things. Long, turgid, sad things. I write science fiction novels, fantasy novels, and I write southern gothic shorts. In all my stories I try to represent the struggles of the oppressed, the lower, working class. I’ve had some success, not a lot, but enough to keep me going with it. I write with my best friend. I don’t know why I write, or why we write, and I don’t care why, because I love it. I love working with him and hearing how much it means to him.

I know, secretly, buried somewhere in the back of my brain, that I know what all of this is for. I know that I want the fame to get the money that often comes with it. I know that these things are my only ticket to ever helping everyone that means so much to me. To help my parents pay their bills or my friends make rent when times are, as they are now, really hard. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community where I grew up, to the people and places that formed me.

I know that, unfortunately, I have to work three jobs, and they all get me nowhere. Every once in a while, however, I’ll sell a sculpture for one or two months’ pay, or a cartoon for a week’s pay, or a story for a few hours of hard labor that I then get to skip to create more things. I hope, I KNOW that somehow, one of the these three things that I do best will get me somewhere, some place where I can finally help everyone around me, to give back some small consolation for everything that has been afforded me. I can see that every year, every month, every day I get closer to finally realizing that dream.

I know that, certainly, some day it’ll work out for me. Every time I sculpt before the sun even peeks over the Blue Ridge Mountains, I know I’m one project closer to giving back. Every time I put ink to paper, I know that I’m one drawing, one laugh closer to syndication or maybe getting into The New Yorker and then I can give a little bit back. Every time I format a short story or lean over my laptop after a grueling, late shift at the bar surrounded by disease vectors, I’m one step closer to getting a publication deal and giving back. Every time my co-author, or my artist friends, my thespians, my sculptures, my playwrights and other creative types send me words of encouragement, I know I’m one step closer.

I regret that sometimes passion is getting up at 6am after not getting home until nigh midnight. It’s pulling your groggy corpse out of the fifteen-year-old mattress and declaring, in your one-room “efficiency apartment”, that you’re going to do something great so you can give something great. It’s bringing a notepad with you to work because you know you’ll never have time to actually write any of your ideas because you’re pulling three double-shifts in a row, but when you get home you’re gonna type up all of those jumbled thoughts and sort them out into something, ANYTHING.

I regret that passion is sometimes not being able to hang out with anyone for weeks on end because you know deep down inside that the only way you’ll ever be truly there with them is if you do what needs to be done. It’s unrelenting, unforgiving obsession that fuels whatever pitter-patter engine you have in your brain that, as you nail another decking board down in the hot Virginia sun, gives you this great idea for a cartoon about someone stuck in a situation just like yours. It’s taking a three minute shower so you have just enough time to draw that cartoon and send it off to your reach magazine with the hopes that it gets published and someone just like you gets to read it and realizes they aren’t alone.

I regret that passion is hard, and sometimes that makes us robust and gives us tunnel vision. Passion isn’t always kind to you, it doesn’t always play fair or give you a pat on the back when everything seems to be going right, and it certainly doesn’t always hand you a tissue when everything is going horribly, mortally wrong. Passion is sleepless nights and endless days filled with brief, boring, exhausting ordeals that try their best to take little pieces of your love away from you. Passion is waking up at 6 to work before work, and staying up until morning to work after work.

You know the culture, you know the “grind” memes and the “hustle” memes and how everyone seems to think being a workaholic is somehow anything more than a probably unhealthy means to an end. I know my passion, and while I love to draw, and I love to sculpt, and I love to write, those aren’t my true passion. My true passion is the idea of giving back, to use all the things that I know best and that I’ve always been good at to do good things for everyone that helped me along the way. True passion is love, and my strongest love, perhaps everyone’s strongest love, is for those we share our passions with.

You know that I don’t have to tell you how hard this is. I SHOULDN’T tell you how hard this is, because you already know. If you’re a passionate person, you already know how impossible this is, day in and day out, because nobody told you what it was going to be like. What it’s like to work hard at your day job, try to make time for your friends because they mean so much to you and still have something, some little bit of energy leftover in between all those things and that abstract concept of sleep to make something for someone else.

You know that this is just another one of my little gifts to you, or at least an attempt at one. It’s me saying hello to all of you other passionate people out there chasing whatever your goals are, be they grand or minute. It’s me reminding you that your passions aren’t about you, they never were. It’s me believing that, whatever you do, whatever your passion is, it makes the world a better place, and I can’t wait to hear all about them. First, however, you’ve gotta do something.

You’ve gotta get to it.


About the author


Visual artist and writer working out of a small Virginia town in the Shenandoah Valley.

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