Lessons Learned from the life of Brian Jacoby

The Creative Life

Last night I attended a memorial service for the owner of our local (Tallahassee) comics shop, Brian Jacoby. As promised at the beginning of the service, it was not what I was used to: instead of the set format of prayer-speaker-song-prayer it was more of a Town Hall of his life, with those who had a story or experience to share encouraged to do so. Some stories were funny, some were touching, and all were heartfelt.

What was surprising on some level was that most of the stories were told by his customers. Now, this isn’t surprising if you were one of Brian’s customers (regular or not), because we all shared the experience of being treated like a new friend when you walked into his shop, and he frequently remembered your name and what sorts of stories you were into when you returned. And you wanted to return as much for the varied selection of comics, games, and sundry geek supplies as for that feeling of belonging. It’s only a surprise, then, if you never had the chance to walk into his store and were used to other shops where you were just a dollar sign on a receipt.

The reason for this, of course, was that he loved what he did. He was passionate about comics and not just the ones from Marvel and DC, but pretty much all comics created by anyone, plus so much more. He was an ardent supporter of new writers and artists, and I consider myself fortunate to be among that number.

I first met Brian when a mutual friend suggested to me (as a fledgling comic reader) to a) read Watchmen (this was back in 2007, two years before the movie would come out) and b) buy it at Secret Headquarters. Both seemed like reasonable suggestions so in I wandered one afternoon, completely clueless as to where I’d find the book. But, of course, Brian was ready and willing to point me in the right direction also asking ‘have you ever read a graphic novel before?’ When I answered no, he had a few suggestions of where to start before tackling Watchmen (and he was right) and I think I left the store that day with 5 books to further my comics education.

A year or so later I was working on an article about getting self-published comics into stores and Brian graciously let me interview him. When my barely-boyfriend (now husband) first came to town I took him on a tour of local book and comics shops, saving Secret Headquarters for last because I knew we’d spend the most time there. A few years of visits later, Brian hosted my book launch party. I was also a part of the first 3 Unicorn Parties held at the store (and how much do I regret missing this year’s, especially now?). We played D&D on Wednesday nights and Todd even served as a DM for those games for a while. We made friends at Secret Headquarters and lots of memories (including the time we were finishing up our engagement photos there and Brian suggested we recreate the proposal with a Lantern Corps ring–made for a great shot).

Brian loved what he did–I know I already said that–and he wasn’t shy about sharing that. One of the speakers last night pointed out that Brian didn’t try to be anything that he wasn’t, and that fits what I observed, too. While no one is perfect and everyone has their moments, Brian always seemed to be comfortable in his own skin, to know who he was and what he was here to do. He was a great businessman because he could sell without being smarmy or fake. He adored his daughter who was frequently at the shop with him. He supported the comics community and created a safe, welcoming space at his store for anyone who wanted to be there.

His passing was sudden and shocking. Several of us thought we were being pranked. But as confirmation rolled in that he passed away on Thanksgiving night, we were rocked to our cores. Life is so fragile, and precious, and fleeting. None of us know how much time we have and being reminded of our mortality can be a downer, for sure, but it’s also a nudge to use what time we have left wisely. Because we just don’t know how much that will be.

So, from knowing Brian these lasts seven years and from the stories shared last night at his memorial, I’m taking away these simple but oh so meaningful lessons:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Love what you do, do what you love.
  3. Foster community.
  4. And do it now.

Change Pinches, But It Can Help, Too

Everyday Adventures

So last week I said I was looking to make some changes in my blog-life and in that quirky way the universe has of tossing things together, life threw me another change.

Lessons are sometimes very easy to spot, no?

Driving home from work one day last week there was one of those big light-up road signs declaring one of the roads I take to and from work will be closing for 7 months. Seven months.

And I am, admittedly, a serious creature of habit.

But at least I had two weeks to figure out my plan of action, right? That certainly counts for something.

The funny thing is, I’d changed my route earlier this year, and it’s not one I want to go back to.

See, I used to go a very logical way to work that took my through a very large intersection. That intersection is monitored by a red-light camera and has a huge lead-in between it and the intersection before it. On a good day I’d catch the light before it or clearly come up to it while it was still red, but more mornings than not I’d be in this cosmic game of chicken with the light going 40 mph (the speed limit) trying to gauge how long the left turn signal had been red or what the crosswalk countdown is currently on, all while wondering if I slow down on yellow (like you’re supposed to!) how much damage the car behind me is likely to do.

It was just way too much stress to start every. single. day. with and I had to make a change. And that change–while adding a third school zone to drive through–greatly decreased my pre-work stress and didn’t add any time to my commute.

The route home was simple enough to fix: a single lane change just before the detour and I’m able to scoot around the construction obstruction by way of a stair-step of streets. On the way too work I have a few more options, so I’ve been trying them out one by one, trying to decide which is less likely to cause a fit of road rage.

Changing up our schedules wakes us up.

Have you ever ended up at your usual destination and not remembered the trip at all? We become so entrenched in our routines that our brains go numb. By changing things up, even if you don’t necessarily have to, wakes our brains up and makes new connections in our head. Feeling in a rut? Change up something in your day and see if it helps.

It’s not just the acceptance of change that helps us, it’s looking for the perks, as well. For instance, on my new way home I pass several stores that I forgot were there–Chinese grocery, office supply, and even our smaller–yet more accessible and including the only Barnes & Noble we have left–mall. This opens up all sorts of easy errand-running possibilities!

So while I don’t necessarily relish making this change in routine, I’m learning from it. And I think that’s probably the greater lesson.

Have you encountered any change you could learn from, recently?

4 Lessons From an Unexpected Source

Everyday Adventures

Ever wonder what happened to an entire week?

I have that feeling right now, but I know where it went.

Last Monday night I had that familiar feeling in my right ear (a more-common-than-I’d-like occurrence for the past 2 years), so in the drops went. By Wednesday morning not only could I only “sleep” (read as: flit in and out of wakefulness) sitting up, the swelling was so bad it was not only visible along the side of my face, but interfered with my jaw. Major antibiotics and pain pills and several days spent holding down the couch and I’m now almost back to normal (ear is still a little muffled, but the pain and swelling are gone).

There went my week and most of my weekend.

The funny thing is, I had already decided last week was going to be an improptu blog-cation after an incident Sunday night that still had me a bit rattled come Monday morning. But in my version of events I was going to spend the weeknights tidying up my office, working on personal projects that always seem to get pushed to the bottom of the list, and Saturday catching up with an old friend.

None of that happened.

In hindsight (wonderful thing) I learned a few things from that chain of events that forced me to slow way down. And those realizations have something to do with creativity.

1. We need to trust in the good.

My meltdown Sunday night happened because not only could I not get out of my own head long enough to fall asleep, I was convinced–on some level–that things were going so well, lately, that catastrophe was due to strike any moment. Usually I operate on the pendulum theory: that, while extremes to the good or bad can happen from time to time, we spend most of our time hanging around the middle, or neutral zone. If we trust that to good comes to us in its own time, no strings attached (except for maybe all that hard work we put in, in the middle), we don’t have to be so scared about what’s around the corner, keeping us from moving forward. From creating more good stuff.

2. Having a safety net is a good thing.

While I was trying to keep my freak-out to myself, Todd woke up and stayed present with me, talked to me, and heard me out until I managed to eventually settle and fall asleep. Whether it’s someone who’ll listen to your rants, your incredible ideas, bring you ice cream or coffee, depending on the need, or run to the store when you run out of something but can’t break your momentum, having an extra pair of eyes, ears, hands, or shoulders is invaluable. Even if it’s phoning a friend, know where (and who) your net is.

3. Sometimes we need to step back from a situation and regroup.

Enter my blog-cation. I thought that if I could just scale down my to-do list for a week, I could refocus and regroup, coming back stronger the following week. Truth is, when we get so deep into what we’re doing–be it blogging or creating art or planning our next big event–we can lose sight of the little things and not see when we’re heading for a creative crash. Of course, sometimes you need more than a step, which brings us to…

4. Our bodies will force us to stop if we don’t stop soon enough.

How often have you worked or worried yourself into the sickbed? I don’t for a moment doubt that the ear infection was at least in part the result of my worries from the night before compounding the break-neck pace I’ve been moving at. While I don’t regret any of my actions over the last month, or what’s coming up over the next 2 weeks (or the holidays after that), I needed the reminder. And I’m grateful it happened on the one week where it only messed up personal plans (not professional ones).