Story time. It’s a long one, but a good one, I promise.

So my daughter Maegan found my old art portfolio at my mom’s house, and spent a few hours joyfully going through it, piece by piece. She made a dozen of so piles, curating the comic book pages from the caricatures (inexplicably, there were many cartoons of my substitute teacher Mr. Huffine and classmate Jayme Gandee) still lifes from self portraits (I was shocked how frequently I drew myself over the years, starting with three-year-old crayon drawings and continuing through college) and finally, a pile of graded college illustrations.

Maegan became very upset over this stack of illustrations from my senior level Editorial Illustration class. Every project had a grade of a C, and a tissue paper overlay where Professor Kalback critiqued everything from my poor craft to my style, or lack thereof, lackluster draftsmanship, rendering techniques and questionable color choices. She passionately defended me, and I found myself defending my professor, because now, given hindsight of two decades, he was right.

I was a shitty artist.

This isn’t one of those things where an artist looks back and hates all of his previous work. This was a purely, analytical judgement, informed by years of working in the industry. I remembered most of these pieces, and in my memory they were much, much better. But these were bad. No one would pay me for this. Yes, that semester convinced me to switch from Illustration to Graphic Design, but I was always salty about it. I was an artist, god damn it. But there it was, plainly in front of me.

If I was interviewing 22 year old me for an illustration job today, and this was my portfolio, I wouldn’t hire me.

This sent me into an existential state of crisis.

But even the graphic design pieces in my portfolio were bad. I wouldn’t even hire me to create a fucking trifold brochure. What the hell am I doing here? Why did I pursue this career when it was patently obvious that I really wasn’t cut out for this? Hell, I am stressing about being replaced by artificial intelligence, and now looking back, deservedly so. My portfolio was dreck.

And I made the mistake of saying this out loud to Maegan.

And of course, she began to tear up. I was not only destroying myself in front of her, I was destroying her hopes and dreams to perhaps become an artist herself.

My girlfriend Mila happened to call just then, and I admitted to catastrophizing, and that I may have disenchanted my beloved little Maegan. Which honestly, I told her, I don’t know if that was such a bad thing. It is really hard to make a living being an artist. It takes a singular dedication to honing a set of skills that are in dire jeopardy of being replaced and obsolete.
It is already insanely difficult to find work in this job market, and those entry level jobs pay the same meager wages they did 23 years ago when I graduated. The pay for artists has stagnated, as more and more artists enter the workplace.

And that is ignoring the threat of AI. Anyone debating the quality of AI generated art compared to human made art isn’t paying attention. Ignoring the fact that the vast majority of clients paying for art, have very low parameters for judging quality anyway, the quality of art coming out of Midjourney and Stable Delusion has gotten astronomically better in just the past 6 months. Imagine where it will be in 6 years.

Being an artist in 2023 just isn’t a sustainable career path. Let alone 2030 when she would be graduating college.

I was on a roll, catastophizing further. We’ll be in a totalitarian dictatorship after the 2024 elections, and after that, we will be suffering the results of climate change, and the complete contraction and disappearance of the middle class, leaving a tiny fraction of people who are rich and a massive majority of the rest of us saps who are all poor, which will necessitate massive civil unrest and civil wars and chaos, and more Canadian forest fires smogging up our air, so I guess it won’t matter that drawing pictures is no longer a thing people can do to support themselves.

And Mila did the most remarkable thing.

You see, every time I have tried to express my anxiety in the past was met with hostility. Most people have a knee jerk reaction to my apocalyptic prognostications and argue with me as to why I am wrong. Which makes me dig in deeper, and argue back as to why the future is obviously hopeless. And in this cynical and fearful world of uncertainty that we live in, that rationale always wins.

Plus, I have convinced myself that anyone trying to prove that I am wrong about our impending catastrophic future is only doing so because they are afraid that I am right.

But Mila patiently listened. And she agreed with me. She also sees the hopelessness and the bleakness of the future. And she talked me off the ledge because instead of arguing with me, she made me feel loved. And made me realize that I wouldn’t be suffering in the dystopia alone. And if I am surrounded by people that care about me, is it really a dystopia?

After we finished talking, I found Maegan drawing in her bedroom. She had changed her shirt, and was wearing a T-shirt featuring an 8-bit penguin that I drew for LinuxFest 2008.

Maegan knew what she was doing.

Seeing that, made the ocular waterworks blur my vision. I was tearing up so badly that I could barely help her with the shading on her drawing. She asked about my conversation with Mila, having caught pieces of it. I told her how Mila made me feel loved, and that she successfully talked me down from my state of self loathing and catastrophe.

Maegan then said, “That sounds like a big, giant flag.”

Startled, I asked her, “What do you mean?”

She smiled, “A giant green one.”

I am so incredibly lucky to be loved by these women.