Whine, Whine, Whine

Predictably, I’m having trouble readjusting to “normal life.”

In the two weeks after I returned from the Gulf Coast, I battled ennui and lingering feelings of uselessness. Clichéd as it was, I caught myself wondering what the “point” of it all was. The obligations of normal life — work, parties, art openings, book signings, family — all seemed pointless and superficial. As I’ve gotten back into the swing of things, the feelings have dissipated a bit, but they’re definitely still there.

I don’t mean to sound self-righteous, but when I was in Mississippi, I was part of something real. I miss the adrenaline rush of arriving at the Kitchen each morning, knowing a 12-hour day lay ahead. I always wondered if I’d be able to get through each day, and somehow I always found the strength to do it. The work I was doing was simple and tangible: prepare and distribute meals, listen to the residents, clean the Cambros and the ERV. My ego didn’t matter — I didn’t have to worry about who liked my work, or invited me to what party, or returned which phone call.

Ironically, the work was incredibly satisfying to my ego, because the people of the community so appreciated what I was giving them, and they clearly enjoyed getting to know me. They missed me on my day off, asked about me when I wasn’t at the window, and gave me hugs & kisses (and email addresses!) when I left. The other Red Cross volunteers I worked with were amazing as well. By the end, I had found a group of pals to lean on and support. There was a sense of solidarity and pride in doing a job well.

To top it off, a Biloxi resident by the moniker of nexusnrg came across my LJ and spread the word to other hooked-in local residents. Since my return, I’ve been inundated with powerful messages of gratitude and goodwill from people in the actual area I served. It’s all a bit overwhelming.

What I’ve returned to seems less real. Once again, I’m ensconced in my apartment, sitting at my computer or drawing table. I find myself questioning my role as a “culture producer.” What real good are comic book stories, or editorial illustrations, or nicely designed brochures, when there’s still so much suffering? And when I have positive personal evidence that one person can make a difference? There’s no easy answer.

This is probably some sort of mid-life crisis. Silly me: I didn’t schedule mine like thamesrhodes! Ah well. As the Chinese say (is this apocryphal?), crisis is the same word as opportunity. I’ve always found it useful to question life, routine, what you take for granted.

Sure enough, the intensity of these feelings is already beginning to pass. For better or worse, I’ve got work to do, projects to get back to. And the holidays are coming up. I can barely contain my enthusiasm.

Plus, a friend just told me about a 6-month option with the Peace Corps. I gotta look into that.

About joshcomix
Brooklyn-based cartoonist specializing in nonfiction comics about topics like Hurricane Katrina, the media, travel, and finance.

19 Responses to Whine, Whine, Whine

  1. nexusnrg says:

    My apologies for opening up the flood gate lol. Your journal entries were very inspiring though, and for that I had to share with others. Some of it was even very moving.
    I wish I had the words to help you cope with your old life. Maybe there shouldn’t be any words though? I think what you experienced was a positive thing. Maybe you found out something about yourself you didn’t know. I believe that there are some people on this earth that are better at being care-givers than others. You seem to possess this gift. I feel you as a single person did make a difference. Just by stating how residents had sought you out. I didn’t even know the name of the crew who drove the ERV in my neighborhood. You on the other hand made the effort in getting to know us. In someone’s life you made a difference. Hadn’t you of been on that ERV, those people might not have the memory of you driving down the road and opening yourself up to share in your life. Anyone can drive around handing food out to someone in need. But it takes a special person to actually make eye contact and touch their hearts such as you did. Never second guess yourself on one person making a difference. Your evidence is right in front of your nose if you just focus on it. I can clearly see it from my seat.
    The point of it was to experience something new in your life. Never feel regret for that. Look at Hemingway. He spent most of his life traveling all over the world and wrote about it. So many experiences, so many things he did in the short time he lived. Each thing he encountered took him to another place. He never had regret. I think you’ve discovered a part about you which has been in hiding for a long time. You’re in need of helping others, and there’s a couple of words to describe this, “volunteer firefighter.”
    A lot of people who have their own routine life with friends, family, lovers, leisure activities find themselves desiring something else. Most of those people discover the sense of satisfaction or the ego stroking by helping others. Peace Corps might be one way to do this but that seems like a long time to be away from family and friends. Who am I to decide your destiny? Just saying there are other options closer to you. Like taking an EMT course and volunteering free time on a rescue squad. People do it every day all over this great nation we live in.
    I feel what you returned to is no less real than from whence you came. Don’t feel guilty for all of the things you have, or the things you do. I give you full permission to enjoy life, enjoy your single apartment lifestyle, enjoy writing and art galleries, enjoy partying with friends and family, enjoy your surroundings.
    We’re making it down here alright. Some days are rough, but the effort is being made. Just like someone with TMJ, they have to break the jaw to reset it back in the correct place, to make it better than before. Such is the same with the Gulf Coast.
    Feel free to visit my photo galleries, I’m updating with photos from here every day. I’m sure your friends might be interested in seeing them too. http://pics.livejournal.com/nexusnrg

    • 4_eyez says:

      thanks for the encouragement! i have thought about taking a CPR class, which is something Sari (my wife) could do too. she’s not too hot about the volunteer firefighter thing, given the inherent dangers. also, at this point, i may be a bit too old. i can barely play a game of basketball without pulling a calf muscle nowadays!
      but you’re right. i got a lot of personal satisfaction from my Red Cross experience. i’m a very political, opinionated person, and it was a lot more meaningful to DO something which reflected my values than to just talk and complain, which is more often the mode. but in returning to new york, i came back to a world full of talk and complaints. i just have to find the outlets for action that exist here. maybe that means local disaster work with the Red Cross, responding to fires and the like.
      i checked out your photos and they’re really excellent! i especially was interested in the post-katrina pics, which were very powerful. i had never seen those shots of the fisherman or the drawbridge. whew. and that boat on the house is pretty primal. i got all excited about the photo of the ERV. i thought i recognized number 2166, but i didn’t recognize the volunteer in the window. i think your area must have been served by a different Kitchen than mine.

      • nexusnrg says:

        It’s served from Yankee Stadium which is in Biloxi. Thanks, I’ve tried to pick and choose from the massive amount of distruction. There’s still more out there. When I get free time I think I’ll be taking a lot of photos. Anything that can get you proactively involved is good. Firefighting was just a common one. Paramedic is another. I’m sure you’ll find your way. Life is just a journey so make the most of it and enjoy the scenery.

  2. al_monster says:

    At this moment, we are all standing at a crossroads. Take a look around you. See what you see. Seek the wisdom of the ancient paths, find the good way…and walk along it. Then you will find rest for your soul.
    My cousin sent this to me, it’s from Jeremiah.
    You just opened your brain and your heart to something huge – expect it to have an effect on the rest of your life and take some time to honor it!
    Reality comes in all kinds of doses.

    • 4_eyez says:

      very true, very true. i DO feel like i’m at a crossroads. i must make sure to recognize it and not let the rushing flow of “normal” life sweep me past it.
      thankfully, Sari is my rock in all this. instead of being frightened or annoyed by my searching, she encourages my dealing with it, and is ALWAYS there to discuss whatever issues may arise. anyway, she’s my inspiration. without her example, i never would have embarked on my big travel adventure (lot those many years ago), which opened the doors to this kind of stuff.
      good to hear from you, a.ll!

  3. purvision says:

    Before running off again for another tour somewhere, get it down on paper. If you were considering doing comics-work about your katrina-aid, definitely do that. It’s one thing to be a ‘culture producer’, it’s something more to translate your experience into a form others can be affected by. You helped contribute to the lives of lots of people while you were down there, but a lot MORE people might be affected by your experiences and insight if they had, well, a BOOK to read about it. Do a comic. Please.

    • 4_eyez says:

      Thanks for that. I AM thinking about doing something related to my experiences. Right now, I’m looking back and trying to find the throughline/story elements which could make it sing.
      In the end, the only way it would work for me is if the final product did have some qualities like you describe.
      But that’s a REAL challenge.

      • purvision says:

        you’ve already got it
        “In the end, the only way it would work for me is if the final product did have some qualities like you describe.”
        I think you have those qualities already in hand. You know what elements affected You, right? Maybe fictionalize this into a first-person story where the central character the reader relates to is affected in the same way, at the same ‘time’ the character was.
        The whole idea is the character arc. And you know yours. The sudden need to contribute (maybe imbued by your own 9/11 experience) going, discovering a way it affected you that you hadn’t planned on, returning to mundane banalities. Character wraps up an epilog by turning in a RedCross app. for somewhere else…

      • 4_eyez says:

        Re: you’ve already got it
        Interesting idea, except I don’t do fiction.
        It’s important to me for my work to engage with real people (usually myself) and events. However, your advice is exactly the thing — I need to figure out the “real” arc for this story, and use that to frame it for an audience.
        The question, as you bring up, is the ending, which seems to be open at present.
        I do like your mention of 9/11, though. I may need to explore that further, to investigate how my own feelings of helplessness, being a powerless observer, may have affected me, leading to my need to volunteer for Katrina.
        Ponder, ponder…

  4. wjcohen says:

    Whine, Whine, Whine
    Maybe you just miss your boots? (see your earlier post!)

  5. Anonymous says:

    boo
    hey,
    its connor
    proabably dont remember but hey… i just got home yesterday… kinda in a daze…

    • 4_eyez says:

      Re: boo
      connor!!!! welcome back!
      i heard there was some weirdness at the end, with rob and the whole k-35 crew being sent home?
      uncool.
      how’d it work out with esther? (heh-heh!)

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: boo
        thats a better story than i’ve got… they didnt carry us out or anything (kinda wish they had)… sometime its just time to go, as you noted yourself…
        and dont worry your not the only one questioning their career…
        ive never been on a blog.. i enjoy the voyeuristic exhibitionism of reading someone elses journal and finding a picture of yourself
        ive got you’re email… i’ll probably sling one your way

  6. alibi_shop says:

    For what it’s worth, it doesn’t sound like a midlife crisis to me, just a sudden foregrounding of stuff that’s probably been on your mind for a while. Talking to you now and then over the last 5-6 years, I’ve heard a little bit of those sentiments before.
    Anyway, I wish I could say I didn’t understand that tension between the simple joys of doing art and things that are more clearly “real” work. I hope you don’t hastily react against the former, because you’re really good at it and it’s worth doing. I think I know what you mean about the dubious role of a “cultural producer” but I think that’s also a loaded term that might just indicate frustration with the particular things you’re doing.
    Looking forward to seeing where these thoughts lead you. Best wishes…
    (ps. There’s a 6-month option for the Peace Corps? Is that new? If not – boy, do I wish I’d known about that 6 years ago.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Hey, thanks for your kind comments about my comix.
      I think the 6-month Peace Corps option is new. My buddy told me a friend of his did two 6-month tours in India. I haven’t investigated further as yet…

  7. Anonymous says:

    Returning to the ‘real world’…
    Just got back from Biloxi yesterday. I had been following your journal before I left – very informative! I was with mental health services for 2 weeks. What an amazing, remarkable, incredible 2 weeks – now feeling so lucky to have had the experience. Thanks for writing so accurately about it.

    • 4_eyez says:

      Re: Returning to the ‘real world’…
      wow, thanks!
      who are you, and how did you find my journal? just curious…

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Returning to the ‘real world’…
        How I found your journal….I was googling, looking for any info on housing, etc. in Gulfport/Biloxi and came upon your journal. Not only was it enjoyable, but informative. Upon arriving at the base on 11/19, I smiled when I saw the ‘blue water’ portapotties and the shelter area. I felt like I had already been there and I thank you for that. Who am I….a middle-aged woman from South Jersey with a psychiatric nursing background currently working as a school nurse – with a lot of energy. I did meet a woman who remembers you from the kitchen. I sent her your journal address and she said she’d be e-mailing you.

      • 4_eyez says:

        Re: Returning to the ‘real world’…
        that is so cool to think you came across the journal randomly! i have had such amazing connections because of this journal: some folks who’d already been in Biloxi before me saw it and responded, at least three local residents have written to me because of it, folks i worked with during my deployment have read & posted on it, and now you, someone who volunteered after i’d already left. amazing! anonymous, thanks for letting me saying hi!

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