Last year, after going through a challenging transition in my professional life, I decided it was time to stop thinking about the things I might like to someday write and instead, put my most frustrating moments and embarrassing confessionals on paper and just go head and write, already. I threw caution to the wind and sought an illustrator interested in working with me. With my very first inquiry, I did, and in doing so, I’ve had an unforgettable experience in the unique beauty of collaboration done well.
As someone who had long been driven to achieve professionally, my re-evaluation of my career trajectory felt like a little death. I was very much grieving what I thought work life should have been. One of the most surprising things I found in my brief foray into The Life of the Cubicle was how many of us seem to just barely be tolerating this kind existence: the clueless and petty management, the uncomfortable office attempts to get together around a bland cake for “celebrations”, the muted flourishing life of talented, creative, and interesting coworkers who get washed out by the awful florescent lights and stiffing office culture for the 8 hours a day that you see them. While I knew the subject of my story was universal, I, like most writers I imagine, am never really sure that what I am writing doesn’t come across as gibberish.At any rate, I embarked on the project because I wanted to make something for me: something I would understand, something I would understand, something I would learn from. Part of my professional disenfranchisement stemmed from feeling as though I had seen too much good work stripped of its value because of Death by Committee.
The very first time I got illustrations for my story back from Ms. Lanz, they were character sketches of God and Luci. I looked at them on my phone in my car and remember my lungs instantaneously vacating. I was breathless and my hands were trembling to see them: these individuals I had been picturing for so long, materialized on a tiny screen. They looked pretty much as I had pictured them, but different enough to be real. Sort of like seeing an old photograph of a deceased relative. This of course, was only the beginning.
Throughout the project, I was able to get validation that not only was my writing not gibberish, but the extent to which the illustrations came back to me as not only mere reflections of what I’ve written, but often magnifications and refractions through the medium of someone else’s understanding, completely exceeded my hopes.
In my treatise on how difficult collaboration can be, I’ve found that it can, in fact, be a unique conversation spoken between the layers of art and story.