Thursday, January 8, 2015

Creativity Can Never Be Silenced

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last twenty-four hours or so, you've probably heard about the terrorist attacks on the French satire publication, Charlie Hebdo. In case you haven't, let me boil it down.

Charlie Hebdo is a French magazine, which has (figuratively) come under fire in the last few years by Islamic extremists for publishing cartoons deemed (by them) to be offensive. Numerous threats had been made against the magazine for their portrayals of the prophet Muhammed, whom, according to Islamic custom, must never be depicted in any form.

On Wednesday, January 7th, Islamic terrorists stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, armed with heavy machine guns, and brutally murdered a dozen people.

My brother Aaron, who is a great cartoonist in his own right, wrote a particularly moving blog post about it. Seriously, check it out.

I have been drawing cartoons since I was big enough to pick up a pencil. And, earlier in my life, I drew my fair share of offensive cartoons. Racial stereotypes. Foul language. Alcohol and tobacco usage. Admittedly, I did so out of ignorance rather than intent, but the cartoons remained the same.

When I heard about what happened to the artists, writers, editors, and other individuals of Charlie Hebdo, it made me angry. So angry, in fact, that I wanted to intentionally create something that would offend the pants off of the militants responsible for the violence. They thought that Charlie Hebdo was offensive? I thought. Wait till they get a load of me.

But then, as I was coming up with harmful ideas, I found myself feeling more and more wary. I have a wife, and two little girls to think about. What if someone who knew me saw the cartoon? What would they think? Would it cause someone to think badly of Hillary, or the girls? I don't think I know any Muslim extremists, but, then again, the people at Charlie Hebdo probably though they were safe in their offices too.

Put bluntly, I was a little afraid.

And then I realized what really separated me from the employees of Charlie Hebdo.

They drew and wrote what they wanted, regardless of who it angered. They pushed the buttons of the brutes and bullies of the world, during a time when those buttons desperately needed pushed. These groups are killing innocent civilians, kidnapping schools full of young girls, and laying roadside bombs for troops who simply want to get back to their families. Our governments respond with appropriate military force. Peace groups respond with condemnation. Actual followers of Islam do their best to remind us that normal Muslims have as little in common with the extremists as the rest of us.

And cartoonists pen satire, raining animated shame on the oh-so-deserving.

No one should ever be afraid of doing what they love, no matter who it angers. But, all too often these days, the response to creativity similar to that displayed in Charlie Hebdo has become "Don't do it that way, because we said so."

Twelve people lost their lives at Charlie Hebdo because they spoke their minds, and I'm too nervous to draw an offensive cartoon for a blog that might be seen by a hundred people. If I'm lucky.

The world is fortunate to have had the creative and brave people who worked, and still work, at the French publication. Hopefully these terrorist acts, which were meant to silence creativity, will inspire more artists to tread where others are afraid to go.

And, judging from the outcry from cartoonists of the world, that exactly what they're doing.

I'm just one guy with a sketchpad and some markers. I don't even know how to use photoshop. But I wanted to show my support, too.

Yes, I am so technologically inept that I took a picture of the cartoon with my phone. 

Yes, that's my brother and I. I stole a little of his signature style when drawing him. Seriously, check out his blog from the links above. You won't be disappointed. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Why I Hate Winter: A Thoughtful Tirade

Winter is here, yet again, in case the Christmas lights and Santas on street corners hadn't alerted you. Of course, I've been seeing signs of Christmas since early October, so that's not as telling as it used to be.

The time right after the holidays always puts me in a certain mood. While I'm normally a very introspective person, looking at a brand new year always makes me examine the Graham that I was in years past. I dredge up old memories, old hurts, old joys, and wallow in a introspective pile for a time. It was during such a wallow when I figured out the real reason I hate winter.

Let's get one thing clear: I HATE being cold. I would rather be sunburned and drenched in sweat than even mildly chilly. This is usually the part of the discussion where a winter-lover brings up the old defense, 'You can always put more layers on if you're cold, but there are only so many layers you can take off'. This is, of course, a total load. For me, there is a point of being cold when the chill creeps into my bones. Putting layers on doesn't help; the cold is inside me. Piling more things on top will not get rid of it.

Though I do hate the cold, it's merely the secondary reason I hate winter.

Kentucky has very unique weather patterns. We haven't had a white Christmas is nearly ten years, but last year my school was cancelled a whopping fifteen days for snow. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but living in it for my whole life has made me resent the entire season.

Because, you see, winter is a lair.

Last summer I was married to an amazing woman, gaining two stepdaughters along with her. A time of uncertainty and fear, unlike any I had ever known, suddenly ended. Now, it feels like my life has actually started; everything up to this seems like practice, a scrimmage.

Life has now begun.

Today is the first day of a new year. To me, this feels like Year One. I picture what the girls will look like in ten years. I try to figure out who they'll be. I imagine what Hillary and I will have to replace on the house in a few years. I wonder where we'll go on vacation. I'm planning new running routes from the house we live in. We've planted roots, deep and strong.

Winter has given me a beautiful day outside, with sunshine and a blue, cloudless sky. It's set my mind alight with possibilities for this year, next year, ten years, twenty years from now. The beginning of January is always like this in Kentucky.

But winter, like a spoiled child, never knows what it wants. Tomorrow, the temperature might struggle to crest the 30's (for you Celsius folks, that right around zero). Then the sky will turn gray for more than a month. Maybe it will precipitate. Maybe it won't. Maybe it'll be snow. Maybe, sleet. Maybe, freezing rain. Or maybe it'll taunt me with an afternoon in the 60's, only to pull it from beneath me like Lucy with Charlie Brown's football.

I hate winter for the same reason I hate reality TV and politicians. Winter is disingenuous. It smiles at your face and laughs behind your back. It hands you a cup of coffee, but spits in the cup. Put simply, it is a liar and a cheat.

I suppose the real reason I hate winter is because it reminds me so much of that cold, uncertain time in my life. There were no visions of the future, because I didn't know I had a future. There were no long-term plans, because I couldn't see further than the end of my nose. Winter, perhaps, strikes a little too close to home.

That time of uncertainly in my life is over, even if bleak mid-winter is just getting started. There will be cold days. There will be snowy days. There'll be days when muddy sleet makes the garage a mess and ruins the floorboards in my car.

But the winter will end, and spring will come. I'm already picturing what it'll be like.