This Nobody Is Still Doing Everything With Nothing

“…if it’s natural, something glowing from inside, shiningviciousfreizelogo all around you, its potential has arrived.”

“What Is the Light?”
The Flaming Lips

I nearly threw away this entire blog just based on what I thought some people were thinking.

Gonna let that soak in for a minute.

The thing is, I stopped writing altogether. I looked back over my shoulder. Then I started comparing myself to other writers and artists, became self-conscious, and sunk deeper into despair.

Stupid, I know.

But this—this old journal entry—kick-started it for me, even though it’s four years after the story I want to tell all began. So let’s crank up the mojo and begin there.

An Oct. 2, 1991, journal entry reads:

“Last night I had a dream about Fingerhut [the company I worked at in the late ’80s, early ’90s]. There were mongrel dogs bothering me in a meeting. I went to see [then company president] Ted Deikel and he looked like a sassy young Donald Trump. He was having lunch with two other well-dressed gentlemen. I introduced myself and said that the dogs at Fingerhut ‘would have to go.’ He grinned at me, annoyed that I’d interrupted his luncheon meeting. He pointed out that I was nobody—‘look at the way you’re dressed! Your face! Don’t use that tone of voice with me! Go back to work!’ I was angry. I remember thinking: ‘That’s it! That’s the last straw, I have to leave!’ And when I got back to the meeting everyone laughed at me.
Then, reading Ray Bradbury’s book on writing & feeling completely lost—not writing is a sickness, I know that—if I don’t write, I get sicker & sicker. I’m pressed between an unrelenting present & a future that NEVER happens. I scribble plans. Then I turn around and do other things. I KNOW NOW THAT I AM DISTINCTLY TWO PEOPLE. One I detest, the other I love with all my heart. The one I love is the boy who still wonders at things & loves what he sees. The monster is the practical time-killer adult who fears for everything & knows the worth of NOTHING.

I was 31 years old when I wrote that. I’m now 56.

Between the years 1985 and 1992, I worked in corporate America. (I worked there again later, but that’s a story for another time.)

So the forthcoming posts here will be about 1986–1989, four years when everything changed for me creatively.

Because that’s when I got squeezed.

And that tends to make for some really golden stuff.


It’s Tuesday night, Sept. 8, 1987.

Just to get you up to speed, Ronald and Nancy Reagan are in the White House.

That Monday Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

In August there was a mass shooting in Hungerford, England, with 16 dead.

Later that month, Michael Jackson released his album Bad.

As September began, Russia tried 19-year-old German pilot Mathias Rust, who back in May had flown his Cessna into Red Square.

1986partyAnd I went to have dinner at the home of artist friends Ann and Gary Docken (pictured left at a luau-themed party in April 1986, with their young son).

Ann and I met while working at the aforementioned corporation, where we were then proofreaders. Her husband Gary was a lithostripper (as I had done at SOS Printing), so they invited me over for dinner to see my latest artwork. It’s described in that day’s journal entry:

“…had supper with Ann & Gary Docken at their place in Hopkins. We had baked chicken, broccoli, corn and French bread. Gary was only home for an hour for supper (he had to get back to his night shift job as a lithostripper in Hopkins). We watched the ‘Mission: Proofreading’ video while we had supper and then I showed them the just-completed ‘Vicious Frieze’ cartoon and the ‘30-Day Photo Project.’ They seemed to enjoy them.”

This is the first mention of three creative projects that were hatched in 1986, only to be shared a year later.

“Mission: Proofreading” was an instructional video our department made explaining our mission to the company suits. Rather than go with something dull and dry, I suggested to Paul, my boss at the time, that we bookend the video with some fun stuff—a sort of Mission: Impossible parody (screen-grab below right).missionproof

The “Vicious Frieze” cartoon is harder to describe, so I’ll save that for forthcoming posts. In fact, all the posts will revolve around it, because it informs much of the other creative work I was doing over those four years.

Lastly, the “30-Day Photo Project” was a photo montage begun in January and completed that summer of 1987. It was mentioned as “My 30-Day Free Trial” in this previous blog post.


All creative work needs a canvas, a space. That goes for its creator, too.

But it’s only in the past decade that I’ve realized I’d been doing it all wrong.

Let me explain.

My former mindset involved “making a [insert specific something here].” I pissed away a lot of time thinking about what it would look like, how it would feel in my hands, or how it would read if one were to read it.

For example, if it was going to be a drawing or a painting, it was going to be perfectly rendered and would convey a certain effect. When I didn’t feel satisfied by drawing, I turned to photography.

The thing about photography (at least before digital, when you had to wait for negatives to be developed and prints made) was its “black box” nature—you shook it up and were always somewhat surprised by what you got when you saw the finished photo.apt1987

At least, that was my experience with photography.

So, back in April 1986, after moving into that Hopkins apartment, I dedicated a corner space as “my studio” with drawing table (pictured at left). There I would create new things: photographs, drawings, poems, plays, stories, or novels on the typewriter—it didn’t matter what.

What did matter was the doing.

The problem then was noise—the noise of modern life: working a corporate job, driving a car to said corporate job, paying bills associated with income from aforementioned corporate job, watching too much television, and following the lead of fellow mid-20-year-olds in 1980s America.

It was all bullshit. And I knew it.

On Tuesday, June 17, 1986, the journal reveals:

“No, nothing’s ever the end of the world, but… I just read… ‘It’s the dying a little each day that we carry with us, that affects those around us…’ or something like that. I’m tired of dying when I’m supposed to be alive.”

The frustration had been simmering for some time. Exactly two months earlier, I’d written a letter to high school friend Jeff Taylor:

“Well, I’m settling into my apartment; I like the solitude. Maybe now I’ll get more of my private work done. …God what I’d give for life beyond the clichéd Yuppiedom and polished, boorish manners of my peers! My advice, Jeff: Don’t get a ‘normal’ job if you can help it.”

The mongrel dogs in the corporate boardroom are still barking, even today.

Especially today.

But for me, I’ve learned to tune out their yapping. There will always be noise, obligations, setbacks, failures, and distractions in the life of a creative person.

What I hope to show in forthcoming posts is how I overcame those, essentially by using them as tools to get “more of my private work done.”

And boy did I ever.

~ by completelyinthedark on October 14, 2016.

One Response to “This Nobody Is Still Doing Everything With Nothing”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    I promise you: a new post in August. But here’s where joy meets work in my world, so worth a revisit.


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