Some days everything looks like a cartoon idea. I read the paper or listen to NPR and I jot down ideas thinking,"No, this is too easy. These ideas must not be any good. They're coming too fast." I look at the roughs skeptically throughout the day as I work on the best and, if I haven't managed to stare the fun out of them, can draw as many as three if no one gets in my way. My record is four, which I've done twice in my life. Sometimes a straggler will even look decent the next day. I call those "cold pizza." Great for breakfast.
But today (and yesterday) I have been staring at a brick wall about fifteen feet thick. I poured a bucket of sweat into yesterday's Escalation cartoon, a drawing that would ordinarily slide right off my fingers. Went home and fixed dinner for my kids while my wife attended a meeting, then returned to work and dripped blood from my forehead until midnight trying for that second idea. Nothing.
What is that?
Before hitting the bed last night I got my head straight. I said to myself, "OK, son, you've been here many times before. Wake up tomorrow with fresh energy, go to Starbucks with a loose attitude and sneak up on the news, pretending you need nothing from it, you're just idly curious. Ideas will pop up all over the place. All you need is one."
But nothing happened at Starbucks and nothing happened in the hours after that, and I have been sitting here all afternoon with the most deadening old cliches running through my cranium. (If you actually like the cartoon I ended up drawing - see below - you get extra stars in my book as loyal everlovin' fans. Bless you.)
Co-workers can see that look on my face and the unseasoned ones try to be helpful by suggesting topics. I bury my hands in my pockets to avoid swatting them like flies. The seasoned co-workers avoid eye contact and scurry busily away. It isn't TOPICS I need, it's IDEAS. I have pages of topics. I have bored holes with my eyes through all of these topics many times. I am saying to myself, "OK, new governor. Strickland's cleaning house. Raising the ethical standards. New day. Fresh start. Come on, Jim. New governor. Fresh start. Strickland...." It goes nowhere.
The only thing anyone could say to me that would truly help is, "Jim, everybody has a bad day. Go home. Take a nap. Ask your wife to massage your head. Or do a belly dance for you. Have a nice single-malt scotch, take a walk in the brisk night air and come back tomorrow, poor baby."
No one has ever said these words to me. In the newspaper business, you go out in the parking lot and have a smoke, tuck in your chin and go pound the paper again. Newspaper people endure.
On his way out the door tonight my buddy Bruce, ever aware of the struggle, stuck his head in my door and said, "All you have to do is draw two more tomorrow."