On Being Needed

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I think many of us spend our lives seeking one very important and elusive experience. Sadly, I expect many never quite find it. That experience we all seek, one which I think is sadly missing in our scattered BIG world culture, is that of feeling and knowing that we are needed. Certainly in tribal and village culture the experience of being needed was quite common, but in the capitalist rat race I think Americans have accepted that not only are they not needed, but they are easily and readily replaceable. Layoffs, firings, downsizing, outsourcing, being “over qualified” and made obsolete, and the all around feeling of being a dime-a-dozen is perhaps the biggest psychological and emotional scar our culture drives into us.

I thought I was going to find myself needed in my career. I thought if I just got good enough, or found something that had never been said the same way, that the world would realize they needed my art, my talents. Hell, even DC Comics realized after a while that they didn’t need me, as did WOTC and every other client I ever had, and if my clients found me replaceable, well, I certainly knew the world didn’t really need me either. I thought my spouse needed me, but as it turned out… a divorce later, that just wasn’t so. Time and again I have had to come to grips with just how unessential I really was. Knowing you are imminently replaceable is essentially the same as feeling useless. I mean, think about it, if a company is willing to replace a person with an intern or is willing to outsource one’s job to India, just how important or needed can one feel? To be even more specific, in a world where anyone and everyone can get some attention on the internet for their cartoons, or for their work on Deviant Art… it seems to me that artists are every bit as replaceable as someone who lost their job to outsourcing. Artists are a dime a dozen.

Oh, sure, companies will pat us on the back and tell us we are essential, but they will lay us off as soon as we become unprofitable or inconvenient, or God forbid… the moment we have ideas of our own. It takes a while, sometimes decades, but people can be beaten down to a pulp and made to feel utterly useless in today’s economy. Me, for the entirety of my life I have sought situations where I felt needed or essential, where I felt truly irreplaceable and perhaps even appreciated… dare I say… loved! I travelled the world and tried many things, often feeling essential and needed, only to discover that I was indeed anything but essential. One minute people are singing your praises, the next moment they’re fixated on the shiny new thing, and completely bored with you.

Certainly computers contributed to many of us feeling as though we were not only not needed, but obsolete. Yes, there are many ways to feel unnecessary. I traveled from one experience to another, and I can tell you the precise moment I would become bored or disenchanted with a job or situation, and that moment was when I realized not only that I could be replaced, but that I could be quickly and easily replaced, the moment I realized I was not really needed.

But that has all changed.

I have been suffering a lot of intense anxiety lately, and admittedly, a lot of depression, and the only thing that has pulled me through was knowing that I am finally, for the first time in a very long life, in a situation where I am not only needed, but irreplaceable. I am in a situation where I have proven that I am not only necessary for the basic functioning of SAW (The Sequential Artists Workshop, where I work), but every single one of my skills, be they hard or soft, have been essential to the forward motion of our school. Beyond all that, I have become essential not only in the work-life of my “boss,” but in his home life as well, as I have become something of an on-call nanny, and that is only because I have a one of a kind bond with Tom and Leela’s daughter. They need me, but more importantly, little Molly Rose needs me. So long as she needs me, life has purpose, and I have a responsibility to take care of myself and keep living.

Today, while working to renovate the new school, I realized that Tom has walked away from the renovation and has simply trusted me with every aspect of it to date. Beyond the core expectations of my job, to teach comics and illustration to our students, the skills I have are essential to SAW’s functioning and moving forward. I realized after putting in another day of renovation, that I am the one most qualified to do that work, I am the one they need. This, of course, was the very day after I was at Tom and Leela’s babysitting and putting their lovely daughter Molly Rose to bed.

This feeling of being needed, of being appreciated has far outgrown our professional lives, here at SAW, and I can say without fear of presumption, that we have become family, we have become essential to one another. I hope in my heart that when Tom speaks about SAW, he says, “I couldn’t do it without Justine,” and I’m pretty darn sure he feels that way, or at the very least, that he can’t imagine SAW without me. I can’t imagine SAW without me, and I dread imagining me without SAW.

I realize that at a specialty school like SAW, that no one else is more qualified to teach what I teach, and that if they were, we all have accepted that no one else would do it with as much passion and personality as I do. In other words, not only am I the perfect fit for the needs of the school, but the school is a perfect fit for my needs. I can be my genuine self there, without fear of censure. I can experiment, be daring, and even adventurous in my approach. I can be honest and bold, and never fear being “let go” because I made someone nervous. In order for teaching to be vigorous and engaging, the teacher must be allowed, encouraged, free, and capable of walking a tightrope… and without a net. The only net is that Tom understands that if I’m up on a tightrope doing flips and acrobatics… sometimes I’m going to fall, and fall hard. This would, of course, never be allowed at a university. I wouldn’t last ten minutes in any other academic situation, hell, most universities wouldn’t even allow me to work barefoot, let alone say and do the things I say and do.

I have tried not only to teach my students how to draw, but how to see, and how to survive in the brutal world of comics and art. I have tried to teach my students about life and living, about letting go and finding themselves beyond the strange taboos and limitations of our culture. I have taken my students kayaking, have taught them to be hedonistic, have taught them to balance indulgence and discipline, daring and good sense. I have shown them the reality of my life, and hoped that through that they might find their own reality, a reality beyond the one we are all trained to accept. I have shared my mistakes with my students, they have seen me warts and all. This is dangerous, anarchic, and not only did I need an environment that would allow me to tread such treacherous paths, I have found a school that needs someone who will do that.

I have found a home, acceptance, and a place where I am needed, a place where I am appreciated.

Keep seeking, keep seeking, it may take a terribly long time, but somewhere out there… theres is a place and there are people that need you, and you’ll know that place and those people when you find them. Don’t despair, but do keep moving, and don’t accept anything less than truly being needed, because nothing else is good enough, trust me.

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