As I’m sure many people are aware, I haven’t really been very active in the past few months (years). Even more so than I normally am. At this point I think several people are owed a bit of a detailed explanation from me as to why that was, what was going on, and what’s being done about it.
If you had ever gotten a commission from me before you might recall that I was normally pretty fast at getting them done, at one point I did 12 commissions in a weekend. Now it seems like it takes me ages to do them. I would spend hours struggling just to come up with basic ideas that once came to me quickly; and for the life of me, I could not really begin to explain to you why that was. At least not until fairly recently.
To give you a summary up front, I had been suffering from depression. For those of you who know anything about my personal life outside of what I do for art, then this probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given what I was having to deal with on a daily basis.
The History Lesson
(Skip to the conclusion if you don’t want a long read)
Obviously I don’t make much money on my art. Actually I loose quite a bit of money going to cons and paying for art supplies, software upgrades, etc. Needless to say, my primary profession is in a different industry, specifically software development.
About four and half years ago I took a job as the sole developer of a software project for a small company; practically a start up by all rights. At that time I was quite excited about things, and was looking forward to how things were going to go and the vision that the owners wanted to take things. Though the pay was about half what a software developer should normally make, I was promised some additional funds depending on how well the product sold. I was also finally able to get into doing the type of software development work I had really wanted to do, and I was finally at the “ground floor” for something that I had hoped would take off.
Being the only developer on a project is quite taxing; I would constantly spend 60 to 80 hours a week just trying to get the code under wraps. This was on top of basically being the only individual capable of supporting the product. After about a year we acquired a second developer, whom I shall dub, Mr. Foo, for reasons that will become apparent later.
Mr. Foo’s original task was to assist and help develop our online reporting system. When he was brought on board he asked me if he could develop it using Java. Now, I’m not a fan of Java, in fact you could argue that its one of the few languages I dislike. I have my various reasons for this, which I don’t wish to get into, but none of them made very good business arguments to actually deny him the right to develop the project in his language of choice. So I allowed him to do this. This might have been a mistake when I look back on things all these years now, but that’s how things went.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the software or the company, but I will say that for various reasons, the largest of which was the need of low level hardware access coupled with a user interface, I elected to write our core product in C/C++, I think many people would have agreed with my assessment when I made that choice and the reasons why. Mr. Foo did not agree with this assessment however, and while he never really outright stated such, he did strongly push from the very beginning of removing C/C++ from the picture in favor of some other language (Java).
Also during that time my roommate had lost his job and I was responsible for trying to make the rent for the two of us until he found work. Sadly he was never really able to do so, and eventually moved out because he did not wish to continue to make me shoulder the financial burden of supporting him while he continued to look. Something I have to give him credit for, because I never really felt it was his fault or that he was a burden to begin with. In all honesty I hate living alone. After he left, there was no one I could talk to other than my cat (who doesn’t really give a very mentally stimulating conversation) or who’s willing to just go do something with when we’re bored on a Friday night. (E.g. movie, bowling whatever)
Anyhow, moving along, I continued to develop the software, and by all rights it had its bright moments and its dark ones; I also had to continue to support the product through out this. Though with Mr. Foo’s help I was presumably more free to do other things. (E.g. art.) But that really didn’t happen. I continued to put in 40-60 hours a week on the project and would spend many sleepless nights trying to get the project to work for our customers. The very few customers we had, which were not nearly enough to justify giving me the amount of pay I was looking for.
Then about a year and half ago I was just finally burnt out, and I’m fairly sure my boss knew it. It was also fairly evident that I did not know how to manage a software project. Something I will admit that I stated I didn’t know how to do before I took the job. Mr. Foo however said he could do it, and I’m fairly certain he had been telling this to our boss for quite some time, and after about 3 years of work, my boss decided to make Mr. Foo the lead and put me as second fiddle.
Unfortunately, things only continued to go down hill from there. Not only was Mr. Foo a bad manager, he was terrible! He begin to move large sections of the project around without telling me about what he was doing or why. He would switch perfectly working code out with broken code. And he would demand unusual and crazy solutions to problems that had strange and equally unusual reasons. I would recall asking people who were familiar with the problem domain and watch them quite plainly state, why in the would would you ever do that? It doesn’t make sense.
Chief among Mr. Foo’s faults however was not his poor coding skills; it was his poor communication skills. I was often kept in the dark about what was going on, what problems our customer’s were having and why decisions were being made. I recall asking Mr. Foo at one point which feature was for which customer, more as a mater to try and sort things out in my own head and also as a mater of curiosity. This was meet with an angry, “why does it matter!?” Further more the faults of the software continued to be laid at my feet, despite Mr. Foo being the lead and my being told that these things would be his problem from now on. I was also informed on a very regular bases of how poorly I coded and that I didn’t understand anything about how things were done. Worse was when I would be yelled at for adding comments into the code, or for asking questions or disagreeing with points made. In several cases I would get yelled at even for indenting a line of code or making some completely harmless change. I recall one conversation where he stated and I quote, “I need you to sit there nod, and say ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to everything I say.”
As you can guess, I had no energy for this, not only had I been burnt out on putting so many hours into this project, but I was also sinking into debt with the IRS and others just trying to keep a roof over my head and keep food on my table. I had moved to a smaller apartment, I had cut out every frivolous thing short of the convention trips, and the occasional movie. I was not doing well, and to sum matters up I would come home every night and just about break down and cry. I was so stressed out that about once a month I would find myself at the minor emergency clinic puking my guts up.
The 4×4 That Broke the Camel’s Back
So speed the clock along to about 8 months ago, placing us right about the time of Anthrocon. Shortly after the convention, I go into our weekly meeting to find out “surprise” Mr. Foo has rewritten the project in Java; or rather a demo version of it. Which still has bugs and needs to be worked out. He was asking for input on the interface and how it could be improved. I remain quiet. You can imagine I’m not happy with this. I had time and time again said I wasn’t going to rework things in Java in the past, and I had told him time and time after he was put in charge that I wasn’t going to write anything in Java. My boss of course later asked me why I was so completely “tuned out” of that meeting. To which he received an earful about what was going on. Mr. Foo had not told me this was happening, and this was the first I had seen of the project. Further more I pointed out that Java was not a magic bullet that would solve our problems; that it would only replace some of them them with other problems. I was promised that it would be “discussed in the next meeting.”
When the next meeting rolled around, the discussion more or less boiled down to (Not exact quotes):
Me: Why are we rewriting our product from the ground up loosing all of this work we’ve put into it over the years? How is Java going to be so advantageous for us to use in a situation that its ill suited to solve?
(The software does a lot of low level communication with hardware, which is not exactly something Java has a strong point of doing, just so you can see where I’m coming from on this.)
Mr. Foo: WE’VE BEEN DEALING WITH THIS SOFTWARE FOR OVER 3 YEARS NOW! I WATCH YOU STRUGGLE WITH C++ ALL THE TIME. YOU MIX YOUR DATA WITH YOUR CODE. WE’RE REWRITING IT AND I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY ARGUMENTS ABOUT IT.
The boss offered no rebuttal, did not budge, did not even entertain my points about why we should continue with what we had. There was no discussion, it was a statement of, sit down, shut up and like it.
Now if you know anything about the software industry you should also know that rewriting a commercial product from the ground up can completely kill you. I’m not the only one to say this either, but some well respected individuals in the industry have commented on this very point as well. Further, I will point out that assuming I did have a problem with mixing data with code as Mr. Foo was claiming, I ofter the argument that the language has little to do with that, and switching to a different one isn’t going to solve the issue.
After this point, I walked out the door; I was done. I quit. All those years of hard work and toil were completely down the drain. I was now out of the job and over $20,000 in debt. No, that number isn’t a typo, I went from $0 debt to $20,000 in four years trying to make this work, trying to be patient, hoping beyond hope that the next bug fix would make things good enough were the flood gates would open and everyone would feel confident enough to get more customers on our platform. But you know what, when I left we had all of five (six?) customers and one small nibble of a new customer, a tenuous one at best; nothing was telling me there was any active desire to find more, and things we’re definitely not looking terribly rosy to me, especially in the face of a rewrite of the software.
Okay, most of the history lesson is over, I promise, and I will now start focusing more about the art.
As you might expect, through out this whole process I really was not up for doing art. The creative juices were just not flowing, the desire to do much of ANYTHING just wasn’t there. Worse, because my lack of actually doing any drawing, of any sort, my style really stagnated. If I look at something I did a year ago or two years ago, it looks almost exactly the same to me as what I’m doing now. This just further caused me grief as I felt I was no longer growing and improving as an artist, and I knew I could be so much better than I was.
Those of you who saw me at Anthrocon probably can attest that I was in a pretty depressed state. A state that I said I felt I could just shrug off. That was probably a mistake though.
After I quit my job I had expected that with all this free time I could finally work on those commissions I owed everyone! I can get work done this will be great! But, it never happened, I was so damn depressed that I would barely get out of bed in the mornings. I was going to sleep at 11pm and waking up at 2pm, I would spend just enough time to talk on the phone for potential new full time jobs, do interviews, pimp my resume online, eat, shower, and that was about it.
I wasn’t watching TV, Anime, or movies, I wasn’t reading books, I wasn’t playing WoW, or any other video games, and I sure as heck wasn’t drawing like I had promised myself I would. I would sit in my apartment and feel lousy most of the time, usually staring at my blank computer screen until I decided to head to bed. On occasion I could push myself into doing something, anything, and it would make me feel slightly better for a short time, but I would invariably just get bored again and want to go back to sleep.
Why was I still depressed? Well instead of having to worry about getting yelled at for stupid things at the office, now I was worried about making my bills and rent, more so than before. Previously, I was barely able to scrape by, but after the loss of my job, I had to turn to my parents for money and help. Something I greatly appreciate them for, but it ultimately made me fell like a failure. Not because of anything they said or did, but because I’ve always felt that I should be able to stand on my own two feet regardless of what life throws at me without having to run back to my mommy and daddy for assistance. I’m in my 30′s for God’s sake, I should be able to pay for my own food, cloths, rent, bills, and a few nice things here and there.
I did get a job in October with a new firm, one that has more money under its belt and is actively selling its product to new and already established customers. When I got the offer I broke down into tears at home. Finally, I could live again, I could move on from all the grief from those past four years, and my life would turn around and I could move onto better things. I’m quite happy with the new job, even now, and I hope this turns into something very long term. The pay is right, the company is making money, its actively getting new customers, everyone is confident in things.
But….. I still wasn’t motivated to do much of anything. Sure I would get up and go to work, but then I’d come home and stare at the computer monitor, be bored, maybe watch something, maybe not, but more often than not I’d just sit there, bored to my wits end not having a desire to do anything. I was driving myself crazy at this point.
Then New Year’s eve hit, I checked FA which had a note waiting for me. One of my commissioners had decided he had enough with waiting and wanted his money back. Really I can’t say I blame him, I would have probably done the same thing if I were in his shoes. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it had for me to do anything, update something, anything, but I hadn’t, and I had expected this would have occurred at some point; things were just building up to it and I knew it.
Obviously, things had gotten out of hand. I was procrastinating on everything. The apartment was a mess, I wouldn’t even go to the store to buy food, I would just order something or just go hungry, I was bored, even though I had plenty of things I could have done; and now it was more than amply evident that it was bothering other people as well. It was time to get my life back and it was time that I needed to change something in my life to make this all work.
After long telling a few people I knew that I thought they had depression it had dawned on me that I should probably check to make sure I didn’t have it myself; that I was showing some of the same signs I was pointing out in others, but until recently hadn’t paid much heed to. That being said I hunted down an old bill I had for a psychiatrist that I had seen when I broke up with my last girlfriend several years ago, and gave her a ring. A visit confirmed what I had initially suspected, I was suffering from clinical depression. Needless to say I’m getting help for this, but….
I used to use drawing as a stress relief and at some point it started to turn into a second job; which only added to my already pretty high stress levels. It became something I “had to do” instead of something I “wanted to do.” When that happened the fun and enjoyable aspect of drawing faded away. I’d feel guilty when I worked on any art I wanted to do instead of the commissions I “should” be doing.
Because this isn’t my primary source of income, and never has been, it isn’t something that should become a stress factor.
That being said, effective after this year’s Furry Fiesta, I will no longer be accepting any more commissions from people. I still intend to do drawing, but it will be at my leisure, and not for profit. If you previously paid for a commission from me, rest assured that I will finish the job and it will be delivered to you, but this will be the last of them.
Thank you for your understanding,
Q: What about my existing commission with you that you haven’t done yet?
A: I will complete your commission, and you will receive it.
Q: You have a Furry Fiesta table this year, so what gives? Will you not accept any commissions?
A: I will be selling some shirts that I had made, and I will be taking a very low number of commissions. Specifically ones I feel I can get done quickly. Colors are not likely, and take homes will be an extremely hard sell.
Q: Are you quitting the fandom/drawing?
A: No, I just won’t be accepting commissions any more.
Q: Will you take requests, do art for other people?
A: If I think the request is interesting I might do it. If I know you well enough I might do a piece for you, but it will be because I want to do it, not because I get paid for it; which means that if you offer me money I’ll probably refuse the request.
Q: Will you ever accept commissions again, and if so, when?
A: The possibility exists that I might, but at this time I cannot say if or when that will be for certain.
Q: What does this mean for the comic?
A: At the moment I can’t fully say. I’ve wanted to do the comic for a very long time, but for the past several months/years, the energy just wasn’t there. I’ll revisit this question after Furry Fiesta and see where it leads.
Q: Will you continue to visit <insert convention here>?
A: I will of course be attending Furry Fiesta 2013, and I have a table, but aside from the shirts that I will be selling, I will be primary there to distribute commissions people have asked for me in the past.
I have tentative plans to attend Anthrocon for 2013, but only as an attendee, not as an artist. The Illuminated Rivets table will continue to have shirts that I’ve made, and I may continue to do some shirts or other designs for them from time to time, but I will not be accepting commissions at this year’s event.
I may continue to attend future Anthrocons, to visit some people I know, but at this time I am not likely to be getting a table for those either.
I will no longer be attending A-Kon. The convention no longer holds any events that interest me, and I don’t know of enough people there who attend that I can’t already see easily enough in person when I wish to anyhow.