Look Ma, I’m An Illustrator

A couple months ago I responded to some internet ad (is this how all my stories start?) and sent over a couple drawings I’d done to The Rumpus and they said sure! You can illustrate for us! How often would you like to? And I said once a month, because I’m finally learning about boundaries and time and how my schedule operates as an adult. Since then I have illustrated two different essays so far and the first one just got published today.

I’m excited especially that I’m getting to do this because I’m painting, not doing any graphic design, but still getting to be on the internet (thank you scanners!). I’ve been scared that with the internet age I would have to get really good at graphic design in order to be a recognized visual artist in the 21st century, and I had just missed the boat on that software stuff somehow. Plus getting to make time to paint is so fun, such a good break for my brain in my world where I’m always tapping behind a computer screen or running around between sportsball and friend activities to get my pent-up energy out or sitting still reading a book to try and slow down again. It’s a nice, slow, controlled thing that is concrete and tangible and hard. It’s craft in a physical way that writing is not. Motor skills, but slower than soccer, and not frustrating like tools.

“Woman of the Earth” by Maggie Pahos is about being a woman, being a lover, being a daughter, and being finite. It’s about cancer, it’s about being part of something, it’s about being with and then not being with something. It’s about being here and then being gone. It’s about remembering and finding ways to still be with each other even when rifts cut our souls in half. These are all important, hard things.

I liked doing the art for these because it made me sit in things that are easy to gloss over in your day to day. I read for a couple of magazines (meaning: I am not an editor, but one of the underlings who reads through what we call the “slush pile” of submitted work and looks for anything that stands out to pass on to the actual editors), and we get a LOT of cancer stories that are not as strong as I wish they were given how much I know people are putting themselves into them. It is hard to do a cancer story well in the same way it’s hard to do a breakup or divorce story well — it’s easy to be melodramatic, self-indulgent, cliche and trite. I like Maggie’s essay because it goes back and forth between different spaces and different times and kind of examines this experience in a gentle, dancing way. In the essay form itself she literally gives herself space to grieve. Note to writers: if you want to write about illness, get out of the hospital room, and get out of the kitchen or the closet or wherever you’re finding things that remind you of ones you loved. Go to the beach. Go somewhere else. Carry this person you love with you so that they can live on somewhere new.

Anyways, check out the essay (and my illustrations) here! 


One thought on “Look Ma, I’m An Illustrator

  1. wow – Melissa – your illustrations enlighten your story interpretation and add so much to the story. I love the detail in your paintings – so many signs captured!


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