It’s not my birthday. It’s not even my half birthday. But for some reason I saw my age on a sheet of paper yesterday and had a bit of a panic. I’m 37 years old. And on my best days… my best days… my maturity level rides at about a 27. I’m not trying to make some trite point here. Yes, we all know that time flies, and I’m hardly the first person to turn around and wonder where those last ten years went. Maybe it’s a product of being a younger sibling that I walk around assuming everyone around me is older than me. Some days I have to almost audibly remind myself that I’m a 37-year old guy with a whole lotta brains, and need to start wielding that age with some authority. So if you see ol’ Steve waving a big stick around, that’s why.
Several months ago through a fortuitous connection I was able to sit down with the president and creative director of Recycled Paper Greetings, a subsidiary of American Greetings. I was there to pitch IWTDACFY as a line of greeting cards. The meeting went very well, and they teased me with visions of end caps at Target featuring my cards and other merchandise. A few weeks later we set up a second meeting, and I was tasked with refining my collection. The next step was going to be test marketing in a small selection of Target stores around the country.
After a few weeks of sitting on my designs, the brush-off came by way of email. I had let my imagination get carried away, so the short email that squashed this dream was a little tough. That it came on day one of a family vacation made it even worse, as I then had a whole week of downtime to spend thinking about it. Had you asked me a week earlier, I would have told you that I was incredibly confident that my brand would soon be found in every Target store around the country.
I’ve spent my adult existence wooing the curators. Every benchmark of my success is carefully guarded by people whose job it is to open and close doors for the people they deem worthy. I’m always a curator’s nod away from all sorts of mad success, and no matter how much I believe in my product, my stick figure cats, my game show concepts, my documentary ideas – there’s usually a single curator that stands between me and the mass distribution channel I desire.
Thankfully there’s some success to be had with self publishing. But producing my game show pilot on a $6,000 budget and airing on a local station is no match for having Comedy Central put $50,000 into it and airing it on national TV. Using Moo.com to self publish my own line of greeting cards is swell, but it’s a far cry from having someone else do all the work and putting my drawings on shelves in 1,800 Target stores around the country.
So as is my way, I spent a lot of time thinking about this latest rejection, and how I could spin it around into a success story. But as my Shark Tank episode quickly becomes “that funny clip from a few seasons ago” and interest in stick figure cat drawing is at an all time low, the question that kept ringing in the back of my skull was, “is this thing over?”
When I launched this project, I never expected it to run into a legitimate business. And after Groupon and Shark Tank turned it into a “thing,” I always wanted to be the first person to know when it was over. I did not want to be the guy that drew cats for people long after it was cool. But when something is the defining nib of your existence for two years, rational perspective becomes a slippery eel.
I have no answers yet. This will play out in one of three ways. I’ll pick a nice round number and stop drawing cats when I hit it. Or I’ll just let it fizzle and become a shrinking hobby. Or one day I’ll just collapse from exhaustion over my Sharpies, refund a bunch of money, and become the J.D. Salinger / Rick Moranis / Bill Watterson of the custom stick figure cat drawing world.
I say all this, yet I’m just beginning to dabble with custom 3D cat figurines, have an iPhone app launching very soon, and will be self publishing my own line of greeting cards (because they’re good, damn it!). Sometimes the threat of an ending is enough to kick me into creation overdrive.
The unrest that comes with this lull – it’s a familiar feeling. It’s the primordial soup from which all of my most exciting projects are born.
I always have a hard time sitting still while I wait for that lightning bolt of inspiration to strike.