Looking for a way forward

It’s possible that much of the frustration I feel about a lack of audience stems from the years when I made a living as a graphic artist and designer. It’s a trade that inoculates practitioners with the notion that creative work is labor and, as labor, requires compensation. Graphic artists cling to this truth no matter how often they get stiffed by clients who believe all art, including their rush-turnaround logo, wants to be free. Let’s be absolutely clear. Art—creative labor—does not want to be free. Art wants its creators to have adequate food, shelter, clothing and healthcare so they can continue making art.

This isn’t really what I set out to write about, but I’ve fallen into a tight financial spot. No matter what I do these days, money isn’t far from mind. If there is a silver lining, it was the email I received recently advising that as my credit card balance has risen to a level difficult to service, my credit score has improved. Like what I need is more debt.

Finances do bear on what I want to write about, which is the apparatus of Stikmantica. Constructing the apparatus has required not only the visible work of years, but also invisible expense. Domain registrations, professional services, fees for publishing books and keeping them in print, the list goes on and on. All of it costs money. The total since the launch of Stikmantica reaches the middle five figures. That’s cash paid out, with no effort to calculate value for thousands and thousands of hours I have invested, not in creating art, but in creating means to promote and distribute the art. Underscore that word, “invested.” The whole shebang has been an investment. Every cent, every minute, has been sunk into Stikmantica with hope that some eventual day it would pay off, if not with black ink at the bottom line, then by finding a public for the body of work. Will such a day ever come? The conclusion that yawns starkly is “no.”

This hard ponder is not a question of whether the world I devise has intrinsic worth. The unyielding block of oak I call a head grips a conviction that elaborating Habdvarsha is what I was born to do. I believe this more today than ever. Finally—FINALLY—I see exactly how all the parts fit together. Finally, I see how to make them. I see what the priority of projects needs to be to account for the fact that I may not live long enough to finish everything. What I cannot see, what I can no longer even pretend to see, is whether it has any chance of finding a public.

The question staring at me would be different if hope of an audience had not faded. Were it only a question of money, I would do what I have done repeatedly in the years since getting kicked out of both my job and the illusion of prosperity. I would re-evaluate, cut what can be sacrificed, tighten my belt, and learn the rudiments of skills I can no longer hire. For better or worse, hope has faded, and taken with it a chunk of my resilience.

But stubborn is as stubborn does. I am not going to abandon this imagined world. I want to see its entirety. I want to make it. I want to rise to the challenge it sets. I want to continue to stretch and grow. Alas, my fiction is a wonder to me, but all evidence argues that it will not sell. The same with my illustration. I really like the direction my drawing has taken, and so do nine other people on the planet. There is no reaction from anyone else. Which comes back around to the matter of this whole Stikmantica apparatus. How much more do I pour into a sinkhole of time, money and energy? The essential work, that which I must do for my own satisfaction, requires nothing but pencils, yellow tablets, art supplies and a laptop. Do I really need a publishing company to reach nine supporters and a few dozen newsletter subscribers? The newsletter alone might be enough for all the heavy lifting.

Just before the pandemic shut down everything, I sold my home and got rid of most of my possessions. At exactly the wrong moment, I leapt at last to realize to a lifelong dream of moving to Uruguay. Shedding Stikmantica, drawing the whole of Habdvarsha into an intimate, private fascination, seems more and more like a decision consistent with relocation. I can move to a distant land, reframe mentally by shifting into another language, and grow quietly old working on curiosities that mean everything to me and little to anyone else. No decision is needed this week or next, and hope, though faded, has not vanished. So I hesitate. The irrevocable step that eliminates uncertainty excludes any chance of a miracle. What you see here is vacillation. When frontiers reopen, I shall have to decide.