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The Season of Self-torture

2012 November 24

Welcome to Week One of My Holiday in Hell.

My desk looks like this right now

Won’t you join me?

This is a joke, mostly. These days I’ve made my peace with and generally quite enjoy the Christmas-dominated Holidays as observed by modern American culture. This year is no exception, things are going well, no catastrophes and no real anticipation of any.

It’s just… maybe it’s simply too easy, somehow, if I don’t create some kind of holiday related pressure and anxiety? Like I feel as though I’ve somehow not participated? I don’t know. In any event, it does seem at times like I’m determined to make things more difficult than they have to be. Just a little.

It’s the cards, mostly. I did get a little relatively crazy with Thanksgiving, this year, baking for two days beforehand in addition to preparing roast turkey etc. on the day itself. Still, on the whole I think it’s mostly the cards. Everything else is fairly laid-back, provided that my ancient string of lights works on the first go (as it has this year) and I don’t spend hours checking bulbs because apparently it feels traditional, or something, instead of simply spending $6 on a whole new string of lights. Besides that, I’ve no round of parties to attend, no awkward relative encounters hanging over me, and the world wide web helps immensely with shopping.

Instead, it’s the cards that I think about months in advance. The cards that lead to most of what holiday-related anxiety I experience. The cards that I spend hours cutting and folding and gluing every year for, that I spent at least an hour this year just examining books on origami at the library for, that I spent half this afternoon wandering around a craft store examining different papers for, that I then spent another hour or so trying different folds for before eventually proceeding almost in desperation to simply trying out random patterns and folds for because even with a whole book I simply couldn’t find anything entirely satisfactory and I had no back-up plan because I had no plan to begin with because every year I seem to remain in the dark about what exactly I’m going to do despite worrying about it earlier and earlier…

And I can’t help wondering at times if I’m just sick and should be taken away.

Still, I have my reasons for doing it this way. Now it’s kind of a tradition (if a sick one), of course, but it probably began as much as anything else with a sense that as a freelance designer, I needed to send something to my clients at this time of year but needed to come up with something more original than an off-the-shelf card. It just seems like it would send the wrong message, however nice they were.

So, making my own cards. But why this bizarre ritual of craft stores and x-acto knives and rubber cement, etc.? (Aside from insanity?) To some extent I think I kind of drifted into this by accident, really; given that I’ve never sent out enough cards to make commercial printing especially economical there was going to be some craft involved, even if most of the design was done with a computer. I suppose that even several years ago I might have used one of various online services to produce a small batch of “custom” cards at a reasonable price… but whether that would have made sense or not, I didn’t. I have used my Mac somewhat, with one exception I think, but after the potato printing experiment there was probably no turning back. I had set this standard for myself that—even if I have not been quite that totally off the wall—I have felt driven to approach ever since.

I tell myself that it’s a nice and necessary break from what is nowadays a near 100% electronic workflow, e.g. choosing existing digital images to place in virtual layouts and then hand off in electronic-file format even if the end result is output with real paper and ink at some point. And that’s kind of it.

But today at the craft store, a slightly different perspective occurred to me. As I was walking around the aisles among all this stuff, I found myself thinking how cool it was and how man, I remember art supplies, it’s too bad I don’t still draw or anything… Though the truth is, I don’t, or at least not often. I think about it now and then and may well do some more, but I didn’t get to it this year. And the years, they go by so quickly nowadays.

And mostly, I’m okay with this. I was never exceptionally motivated as a traditional artist, particularly after I started learning graphic design. I still create; I spend much of my time on creative work of one sort or another and have also continued to push and expand my range to new forms.

But I think that I keep the cards part of that, and keep approaching them the way I do, because they both give me a satisfying if token bit of good-old art-supply-project work every year and because they are in some ways the biggest leap into the creative unknown that I take. I never know what will happen. One year it’s potato printing, another year it’s a collage with pressed leaves, another year I incorporate photography and another year it’s mostly a display of folding gimmickry. Other than “some element of craft,” there are no rules. The main guidelines, meanwhile, probably just come down to challenging myself, mostly. In a way I guess that it really is about making myself suffer, making myself sweat to be more innovative and explore more options and incorporate enough hand craft work until I feel like the result is both good and has been earned.

And in the end, it’s so incredibly satisfying. Sitting there earlier, amid all of that mess, I was (and still am) very pleased with myself for having come up with something that I think is good and that I worked hard to invent in the face of a real prospect of failure. In a small sense I braved the unknown, and one more time returned home with treasure. Not everything needs to be that, of course, not everything needs to be particularly hard and when I’m working for a client, for example, the priority is finding the right solution for them rather than the most original or challenging one.

Still, I think that the day I’m no longer ready to take on a problem with no safe and dependable answer established, beforehand… is probably the day I should hang it up.

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