Friday, November 19, 2010

A strange milestone of sorts...

Last night, I completed the illustration for page 453 of this project. It’s really kind of a strange milestone for a few reasons, which may be relevant to me alone.

First, with the completion of page 453, I now have less than 100 pages remaining. Realizing that was, for me, kind of staggering. Honestly, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would complete this project and create an illustration for all 552 pages. Even from the very beginning, when that number seemed to stretch out in front of me like an endless horizon, I knew I would do it. However, that confidence was always tied to something I realized only in the most abstract sense. Almost like how, when you first propose to your future spouse, you know full well that some day you will be married to that person but it’s so far away, so big, that it just doesn’t make much sense at the time. Or, put another way, when you start college you know that someday you’ll graduate. But beyond that simple fact, you really don’t know much more. Is this making any sense?

Now, though, that end is almost, just barely, almost imperceptibly in sight. After months and months and months of working ever so slowly, page by page, through this mammoth novel, the end is nearing. Perhaps less than 100 pages still seems like a lot to those of you reading this, but to me, with 453 pages (as well as almost 20 alternate versions) behind me, it really doesn’t seem like all that much at all.

The second, and perhaps more obtuse, reason this is a milestone is that from this point onward, I will never again draw a page that ends in the number 53. Or, for that matter, 54 or 55 or 56 and so on. It’s a little thing, I know, and maybe a weird thing, I guess, but again it really reinforces to me just how far I’ve come and how much I have created. It’s a little bittersweet in a way too. This project has been such an enormous part of my life for the last 15 and a half months that it is now difficult to imagine my days without it, for good or ill.

Daryl L.L. Houston emailed me and described what he thought would be, for me, a “weird blend of emptiness and freedom” once I finished this project. That was extremely perceptive of him, and a very accurate appraisal. It will be weird. It will be freeing. It will also feel empty. I am simultaneously looking forward to finishing this project very very much (I miss my wife so much it hurts, and I feel like I have missed the last year of our lives together even though I see her briefly every single day) and filled with sadness at what I know will be a very final ending.

For now though, I am going to enjoy this milestone as best I can, and press on for the next 99 pages. I expect to finish the project for good some time in February if all goes well. This last portion of the book will be very challenging, I think, but I have yet to feel burned out and the ideas keep coming in abundance. For that I am thankful.


  1. Rah rah! Finish line in sight.

    You'll just have to jump on another project.

    Thank goodness for supportive spouses. They deserve layer cakes (and so much gratitude!).

  2. Another project?!? What's this crazy talk? The first thing I'm going to do is absolutely nothing. I'm sure I'll start something new more quickly than I am imagining right now, but I am (hopefully) seeing some long naps and pleasant evenings with my wife for much of the late winter and spring. My target date for completing this project is Valentine's Day, for obvious reasons which I'm sure include layer cakes, ice creams, candies, romantic dinners and so on. And since I don't have to have all of the art turned over to Tin House for the book until April 1, I've got some breathing room no matter what.

  3. ...I will never again draw a page that ends in the number 53. Or, for that matter, 54 or 55 or 56 and so on...

    i love how you think...

    i think the thing about grief - as in the ending of this long demanding project and all consequences to your life - is that we do not know what it will be like, much as we may imagine(emptiness? relief? rest rest rest be with wife be with wife be with wife? etc.)
    reality in that process is always surprising and riding it as it comes is, i think, the secret...

    my words of wisdom/grain of salt on the subject

  4. Really fascinating insight. We do miss our agonies when they are achievements.

  5. Lizzy, those are wise words indeed and as good a guide as any I have come across so far. I think that the way this project has defined my life so sharply and unforgivingly for the past year has created in me a kind of focus, maybe even an obsession, on time and living that shines a very bright light on the great unknown that will follow the conclusion. Ultimately, I try not to think about the end too frequently since it is still several months away, but it crosses my mind more and more.

  6. Again, the wonder of blogs and the comments is that you visitors are often able to share perspectives with me that I might never have encountered on my own. This project really has been, at times, a deep and painful agony. And yet, I know I will miss it when it is done. And I think you nicely defined that, Titus, with your comment. The agony becomes an achievement, and leaves an aching absence when it is gone.


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