18 July 2016

Finding Purpose and Value in Superman

You know how sometimes you do something, but it isn't until later that you find a meaningful purpose for whatever it was that you did? I recently had such an experience. I've debated blogging about it at all because it feels self-congratulatory, and I can only ask that you trust me, Dear Reader, that that isn't my purpose. Rather, I hope that this post might be an example -- a sort of little reminder, you might say -- why you should be mindful of the potential value of things you do. I certainly discount pretty much anything I ever do as soon as I do it, and I know there are others like me who struggle with the same issue.

So, anyway, I follow Gail Simone on Twitter, right? Last week, she re-tweeted a link to a Today Show story about Benjamin Austin, a three year old boy who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Benjamin loves superheroes, and his family thought it might be nice for him to receive sketches of superheroes in the mail as a little pick-me-up. According to the Today Show story, his morale is presently strong, but of course as treatment goes on, that often wanes.

I've done some sketching off and on over the years and I've done my fair share of superheroes, so this seemed like something I ought to do. Like you, I see myriad requests from people for all manner of things on a daily basis, but I'm rarely able to offer any of the kind of material support they need. A sketch, though, is well within my skill set. Plus, I'm in a fairly good place these days regarding my mental health and I know I got here with a lot of help from a lot of people. I feel a certain compulsion (obligation would have the wrong connotation to use here) to try to circulate some positiveness in return now that I'm better able to do so.

Anyway, I pulled out one of my sketchbooks, just thumbing through to find a blank page. I hadn't even settled on a character choice; I figured something would come to me once I was staring at the paper. I never got that far, because along the way, I ran across a sketch I did eight years ago that I forgot I ever did.

We go back to 15 April 2008 at this point in our story, Dear Reader, to a time when I was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction. In an effort to while away the time, and give myself something a little enjoyable to do, I decided to try my hand at sketching Superman in the style of Joe Shuster, the artist who co-created and designed the character in 1938. I'd never done a Shuster Superman. I discovered that his art style, which appears fairly simplistic, required a surprising amount of patience and attentiveness. Surely, the frustration of being in a hospital bed factored into my difficulties, but it took me about two hours to complete. I felt it turned out well, and I seldom feel that way about my sketches.

As soon as I came face to face with this piece, I realized it had to be the piece I sent young Benjamin Austin. It just felt right, you know? I wrote a little note (typed, not handwritten, because even my own physician has a hard time reading my writing and you know it's bad when it's too illegible for a doctor) explaining that I'd drawn this when I was "sick" (no need to elaborate) and that it made me feel a little better when I drew it and that I hoped it might make him feel a little better now.

I'm under no illusions that this little sketch will have any real meaning, beyond possibly a few moments of "Hey, that's Superman!" recognition enthusiasm before he moves on to some other sketch. Those few moments, though, give purpose to the sketch; a purpose I never envisioned when I made it.

As I said, I often discount the things that I've done. I seldom recognize that they have any value. And that, I think, is why this admittedly little thing has resonated with me as much as it has. It's a reminder that my perspective on the value of my doings is, shall we say, skewed. It's also a reminder that even if it's a small thing, I am capable of making contributions here and there.

If you'd like to send a sketch of your own, the mailing address provided by the Today Show article is:
Benjamin Austin
c/o The Malta Family
10 Wheatfield Lane
Mountaintop, PA 18707
In any event, what I hope you take away from this post is to be more aware of your own toolkit, whether it be things you've already done that can be made to be helpful to others, or the application of an aptitude that you may take for granted.

Here's a scan I made of the sketch, to which I added the caption and signature before mailing. (It didn't occur to me until after I'd signed it that I dated it 2016 without noting that it was presented to him this year, not illustrated this year, but whatever. It's not like this is museum-bound.)