Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Comfortable In One's Own Skin

"The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” Charles B. Handy

Instead of a NESCBWI conference wrap up, I would like to chat about something else. The conference was a big part of it.

I have never been comfortable in my own skin. During my childhood, I was never all that good at sports although I tried. Books smarts, meh, I did okay. I was the quiet kid in the back of the room with a pencil scribbling onto paper. Drawing my favorite characters from Famous Film Monsters magazine, comic books, movies, and cartoons. Not one of the popular kids which was fine with me. Just give me something to draw and I was happy. But I never felt like everyone else or that comfortable being the "art kid". I felt like an outsider because there were not that many "art kids" and if there were more than one, we were friends. Don't get me wrong, I had other friends but they never understood the love to draw or how I was searching for my "skin".

It seems I've spent half a century searching for my place in this world. Like a stray dog with a case of the mange, often chasing my own tail. Going round and round and round until I fall over dizzy, exhausted, and frustrated. Chasing this dream and then that dream but never finding my true passion. Everything changed this past weekend.

It took presenting a workshop on sketchbooks with my talented, hard working, and incredibly brilliant copresenter, Renee Kurilla Zulawnik, for me to realize that I have finally found the home for me. I want to be a part of the book world until I can no longer hold a pencil or until my tired old bones decide to move on to another adventure.

What was about this weekend that did this? The people. It was that simple. It is the people that I've known for a while and the new folks that I met. They support you as you struggle to be seen and/or heard, cheer for your success, hurt with you from disappointment, and rally you when you are down. We cheered as one for Kevin Barry, Marlo Garnsworthy, and Renee when they won their well deserved awards for their artwork and portfolios. We felt for those who struggling to get noticed or are too shy. We welcome you. Write and/or draw, you are one of the "art kids"

I questioned myself for about two weeks before our workshop. Did I have anything really to offer? Will I let Renee down? Would I look like a fool? Well, maybe I did but in a very fun, costume wearing way. But something happened during the presentation, I felt at home. It was okay. I am okay. Our fiends where there for support and to listen. The feedback after our workshop was phenomenal. Renee and I were thrilled, elated, and numb. I think we were a tad shocked too. We did it! As the above quote says "... the beginning of strength." A couple of "art kids" were approved by a room full of "art kids".

The book world is a family and the conferences are a homecoming. I am so lucky to be part of it. It took 4 plus years of going to conferences, listening, learning, shaking off some shyness and not standing in the back of the room, trying to hide. I know, it is hard for someone 6'5" to hide but I did try. Yes, this is the world I want to live in. To be with the other kids who never had a real place in the world. To be welcomed, loved, and made to feel at home. Comfortable of being who we are. Liking this skin that covers our pain, happiness, struggles, and creativity but no longer hides it.

This "art kid" has become comfortable in his skin.


24 comments:

Wordy Bird said...

So true, Russ. The night before I left for the conference, I went to get a pizza (no time for anything else) and I sat there with a glass of wine and my journal, and I wrote, "Tomorrow, I'm going home." There's nothing like hanging out with people who "get it." And totally, I get that about finally feeling like yourself. That's exactly what I felt this year. Thanks so much for sharing.

Russ Cox said...

Glad you like the post. It really is a home for those of us who think of themselves as misfits but an important group of misfits. We make the world a colorful place with words and pictures.

Michelle Cusolito said...

This made me well up, Russ.

It's funny... to me, you are one of the "cool kids" at the conference. Always smiling, laughing, welcoming... Thank you.

Patricia Tremayne said...

Don't know you Russ, but think I would like you a lot!
I am Wordy Birdy's 'Old Chook (hen!) Mother... A fellow artist who has felt that outsider feeling all my life, and who suddenly realized just a few short years ago that in fact I am a Loner by Nature, an understanding of myself which had never before crossed my mind. This has been totally liberating for me. I now know it is totally irrelevant for me to try to fit in, cause I never will, and THAT'S OK, Because the only person I care about is my daughter Wordy Birdy, and she totally gets me! Maybe I will get lucky enough to meet you and some of these other great people,too, one day. Patricia Tremayne, Australia.

Russ Cox said...

Oh Michelle, thank you for the nice message. I never thought of myself as one of the cool kids because in our SCBWI and publishing family, all of us are the cool ones.

Michelle Cusolito said...

You're right, Russ. We're all the "cool kids" at NESCBWI! :)

Russ Cox said...

Howdy Patricia! Thank you for sweet message. Wordy Birdy is a wonderful person and I am so glad that I know her. We never fit in with the norm, just with each other. I will give you a holler when my wife and finally make it to Australia. It is on "must visit" list.

Laura said...

Wonderfully true!

One day I realized these are my people, this is my tribe!
I wish I spent more time with the new cool art kids. I have been going between art and writing and for the last few years writing was new, I was such a writing- rookie that I had to give it my full attention. And the writer people have taught me so so much.

This was my first new portfolio in a long time, new website, and new art.
Meeting you all before handing in the portfolio made me less nervous, more brave!
Thanks!

Mary Pierce said...

I knew I liked you when you posted a photo on Facebook of a leg o' something Halloween entree. I thought you were definitely one of the "cool kids" I'd love to know, if only I could find a way to fit in.

Also, you play the banjo. My stepfather taught himself banjo. (I, myself, do not play.) I've been too shy to step up and say hello because I didn't think I was cool enough. I write, I don't illustrate.

Damn. If only I knew that we were all the cool kids.

Thanks so much for this post. I admire you even more!

Lyn said...

I love people who make the world a more colorful place!

Jennifer Carson said...

Well, said, Russ! Let us feather the nest together. Its too bad we can't do it twice a year to bolster us for those months in between when we start to doubt ourselves again. But we must never let doubt win--perseverance is the key, whether you are 6'5" or 5' 2 and 3/4" =0)

Russ Cox said...

Laura that was a bold, brave move in doing an all new portfolio. I hope you got wonderful feedback on your work.

Russ Cox said...

Mary, please do say "hi" next time we are in the venue. I guess we all have a certain level of shyness in us.

Russ Cox said...

Right Lyn. Whether it is with words, pictures, or music. Especially banjo music!

Russ Cox said...

It was wonderful to see you Jennifer. Can you believe it has been a year? By the way, your boots rocked!

Dan Moynihan said...

Well said, Russ! I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to the conference this year and had to miss your workshop.
Best wishes,
Dan

dreambig said...

Truer words have never been said Russ! I relate to what you said on so many levels. I too grew up the art kid with very few people that could relate to my drawing. A few people in art class at times connected on the creative level. Outside of that I was just drawing in my own world. Life often brought me through many places do share my art. Never have I felt connected to kindred spirits and at home than when i started illustrating children's books. I have only been doing it a few years but connecting to people at the conference felt like being around all of my own. I hope one day to be a cool kid like you and have as much to offer as you do. In the meantime I'll connect with so many great people out there, learn as much as I can and hone my craft. Thanks for creating the space for us to find our home.

Anonymous said...

Hi Russ, Just a note to say that if you ever do make it to Australia , I would be more than happy to meet you and your wife. I currently live in a place very similar to Wakefield Rhode Island, where Marlo lives, but the weather is kinder here. Marlo wants me to move to the States as my health is currently a bit uncertain, but I am hoping for a few more years of independence, and to move to a more 'outback' property, where I can build a bigger studio and follow my own dream! so I am certain that either here, or there, we could be almost bound to meet up at sometime. In the meantime my best wishes for your continued success in everything you take on. Google Warrumbungles, NSW, and you will see my personal idea of Paradise. Patricia Tremayne , Australia.

melinda beavers said...

Oh, Russ… *HUGS*!
Thanks for sharing this. I'm so sorry to have missed NESCBWI this year!

Russ Cox said...

Dan, you were missed.

Russ Cox said...

Patricia, you are on if we make it to Australia in the next few years!

Russ Cox said...

Hi Melinda. Thank you. We miss seeing you. It has been a long time. I hope all is well with you.

papajfunk said...

i didn't attend your session, but i heard it was freakin' awesome. i don't think anyone doesn't fit in at nescbwi, that is to say, i agree that we're all cool kids.

i wore a storm trooper t-shirt and tony the tiger pajama pants - to saturday evening festivities - and got several compliments on both. it doesn't get cooler than that.

(although, i always wonder if the illustrators have their own extra cool clique that us 'writer-onlies' don't know about...)

Russ Cox said...

Heye Papajfunk! We do have a clique but anyone can join us, especially writers. You can find us in the bar. Sometimes with instruments and always with sketching supplies.

I would have love to seen your outfit that evening.

 
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