Sometimes people ask me where I live and I tell them I live “in the now”. Of course that is not totally true because when things get rough, even given years of excellent therapy, I find myself living in the “then”. Generally cold weather and overcast skies will send me scurrying to the “then”; not unlike snowbirds from Canada settling in southern Florida for the winter, yearning for the “good old days”.
But given my life, and all its ups and downs as a writer, I can honestly say most of my time is spent living in the now. And it’s not because I am better than anyone else, or even understand the way the world works better than anyone else. I don’t. I just happen to like who I am. I like that I know how to stand up for whom I am (healthy boundaries). I don’t tell lies to people, not even “little white lies” so that they’ll feel better. I’m not perfect. I’ve chopped down some cherry trees (and didn’t admit it), but I strive to be honest. Sometimes that hurts people’s feelings, but in the long run, most tend to appreciate constructive criticism. And sometimes I’m wrong.
Every now and then a new writer or cartoonist will send me a portfolio of his or her work. And that is not because I am a master of what I do, but that I’ve been doing it for over a decade and am published and licensed in numerous places, and generally that is the goal of most writers and/or cartoonists. If one has willfully entered this “trade” with the idea of retiring to a home in Malibu, might I suggest a career in plumbing or medicine.
I have made it a point to always give an honest assessment of what someone has showed me. If it has potential (in my mind), I let them know as soon as possible. If it is dismal, I let them know that (in a tactful manner) that I don’t believe it has commercial value.
The good news is that creativity, the arts, writing etc. can all be learned. And better more advanced instructors can help one advance rapidly. I was fortunate to have a mom (starting early in my life) who was quite astute in the arts and letters. I later found mentors, some of whom were the best in the humor writing and cartooning business, and even later, upon returning to college, some of the best professors in the business of teaching college courses. So I really have no excuse not to be able to produce and produce often and be creative often. And still, I sometimes miss the mark.
There is a certain generosity about the arts and letters which at first glance goes unnoticed. But given that the purveyor of this creative mass is put into a fully focused form, and manifested into some kind of medium meant to share with others, not knowing if the creator is going to make one penny or not, but gives totally of oneself, sharing one’s inner soul (yes even in humor), it is a pure act of giving. There of course are times when the creation becomes a “commercial success”. To me, it is still a sharing situation. There are plenty of ways to make an easier living (than sharing one’s soul with the world), but the artist, writer, painter, musician etc. is willing to “give what it takes”.
My wife Lee Hiller-London started climbing and hiking the mountains of Arkansas in early November 2009. She owned a small digital camera which was more for personal use than commercial, so she knew the chances may be slim of any kind of commercial success, but she had found a new dimension of herself by hiking, taking photos and documenting what she saw. She became a photo-poet.
In spite of a lot of obstacles, a new form of commerce began taking place on the Internet called “digital design” in which one transfers one’s art, photography, text etc. onto clothing, gifts, cards and other collectibles. I had been working in digital art since 2005. It did not take her long to pick up the craft and she was off to the races.
In time, she was able to buy a high-end professional camera and her brand, “Lee Hiller Designs” began to flourish. Within 3-4 years, she had taken tens of thousands of photos and hiked hundreds of miles in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.
Though I now have inherited her old camera (and enjoy taking nature and wildlife pictures a great deal), it is not my major muse. I still enjoy writing offbeat cartoons which I use for my Londons Times Cartoons. I find great inspiration in the forest, often using animals, trees and other living things as the theme of the cartoon. I jot down ideas while hiking and develop them when I get home from the adventure. When my head is clear of all cobwebs (after a hike), which it generally is, I can create with the best of them. If I’ve been closed up at home for several days (which happens) due to weather or some other reason, I am lucky to be able to spell my name correctly.
Writing, painting, drawing, music, etc. does not have to be for celebrity, money, or fame. In fact, it is more often done for personal achievement than audience feedback. For the first few years I was in cartooning and humor writing, it was only as a hobby, and I was curious how far I could take it before anyone even noticed I was doing it. I never expected to get published much less my own line of products. I don’t think my wife Lee did either (she’s actually a much better artist than me).
Yet, I can remember a ½ lifetime ago, around age 28, moving to New York, haunting the comedy clubs trying out my newly written material, bothering scouts from Letterman and then Johnny Carson etc. Fame was the key. I felt I would not be happy unless I made my appearances and “knocked ‘em dead” on those shows. Yet the more I pushed to get what I wanted, the more the universe pushed back to tell me it was not what I was getting.
In retrospect, all that is part of growing up. At age 44, when I decided to settle on cartooning, and later product engineering and designing, it was for me. I truly thought the pursuit of any kind of acknowledgement from my peers or the public was over. The great irony is that that is when it started.
I began Londons Times in 1997. By September 2001, my team and I had created about 3000+ mostly color cartoons. I’d also written hundreds of e-zine articles and songs. And then came a major heart attack. My cardiologist suggested I let go of anything that was stressful. By then, cartooning and writing had become stressful, mainly because I’d gotten so involved in it, I never learned to smell the roses. If I was succeeding, that is, as a business, I would have never known it. I was just too busy doing it.
So I stopped and returned to college; something I’d not done in several decades. I figured going to college online would be a breeze. After all, nobody looking over my shoulder, go at my own pace, etc. Not so. It was more difficult than any state college I’d attending (and I’d attended my share of them). All work was state-of-the-art as the courses had been modeled from MIT. I was out of my league and I knew it. All assessments were proctored by the local school system. Though it had to be the most difficult learning experience ever, it was also the most pragmatic. Nearly everything learned there came into play at one time or another when I finally decided to start back at cartooning again.
By 2005, I had completed about 8 credits out of 20 to graduate. Then a serious illness struck and I needed surgery. It took me several months to recover and I was able to finish 3 more credits before an even more serious illness hit and put me on the sidelines. The school was patient and would have let me continue (even at my slow pace) but being online, at the time, they were heavily monitored by the NEA, and I was on grants, loans and scholarships.
They asked me to send them my medical records which I did, and they went to bat for me but it was not enough. So I was unable to finish which broke my heart for a good while. Then in the middle of my work the thought hit me, two of the most successful people on my school advisory board, Bill Gates and Michael Dell never finished college. Not that I’m in their league but the fact is they didn’t. There was no reason I should quit trying in my work just because academia didn’t work out. So I carried on.
Please don’t get me wrong. I enjoy making money as much as the next fellow. But as I was getting to know myself along the way, I learned a valuable lesson. Money, for the sake of just money, that is, working at any job or career just because it pays well, even if I abhor it, is a loser’s game. The funny part is, one learns that lesson after the first paycheck.
“Well that wasn’t enough money. I’ll work harder and make some more”. Then comes the next paycheck. “Oh, I see I’m going to have to double down on the work, and really pull in the dough.” And that cycle never ends. Ever. One can be making millions if not billions, and still that dark cloud is hanging overhead. It’s a race for money and nothing else. One’s moral compass can easily get knocked out of kilter.
One gets so busy making money and keeping up with the Jones’, he/she forgets the importance of helping those closest to him/her like brothers, sisters, mothers, close friends etc. So they distance themselves and go on highly visible missions to Haiti or Central America to prove their charitable worth. And the world is watching them because they know.
It is truly no way to live; and I didn’t want to go to my grave that way, and I was surely headed in that direction. I was blessed to get out of that vicious cycle. “Show-off charity” is disturbing at best, especially for the giver, as he/she knows he doesn’t have the guts or courage to give to those who need it most in his/her own family, community, etc.
I’m not saying that going to other countries and supplying blankets, food and other relief is not a wonderful thing, it is. But if it is a substitute for helping those you love, or once loved, it is a travesty that borders on being criminal.
So, here I am “training myself” not to worry about what “will happen then”. What will be will be. Que sara sara. Whatever.
So it’s Friday. Tonight Lee and I will be shutting down the pc’s for several hours and enjoying Shabbat which we observe each Friday at sundown. We’ll do our Torah study in the morning and at sundown tomorrow, catch up on work and other silly stuff that are obligations which exist so we can keep the lights on and gas in the cars.
Then, like all mature adult couples, Lee has rented two episodes of “Portlandia” for us to watch tomorrow night and she’ll make some fun organic gmo-free dish with sesame seeds and such in place of that evil Orville Reddenbacher gmo-heavy oversized Chernobyl popcorn. And all those years we thought he was our kindly grandfather figure. He’s simply the kindest face in a huge corporation that blows up its corn to 3 times its normal size using GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) compliments of Monsanto. And corporations are not people, my friend…and neither is popcorn.
Rick London is a freelance writer, designer, songwriter and nature-lover. He launched London’s Times Offbeat Cartoons And Funny Gifts which have been Google & Bing #1 ranked for 7 years. His stores such as Rick London Gifts offers funny tees, mousepads, mugs & other funny collectibles at reasonable prices. He is married to popular nature wildlife photographer Lee Hiller-London and they live and hike in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas to commune with Nature.