eliyanna kaiser, a writer of fictions, described to me the illustration she envisioned spanning the head of her new website. it was to be a portrait of the author at work, surrounded by, perhaps receiving counsel from, the archetypes of the genres in which she works: a fantastic fairy, a scientifically fictitious robot, a horrible vampire.
i sent back some preliminary sketches, one of which [ at bottom ] was largely to her liking. “but i don’t understand,” she qualified her satisfaction, “why vampires and robots are always presumed to be male by default.” she graciously requested a female vampire.
“sexy or silly?” i inquired, preparing a quick scribble of each while awaiting her reply.
“fierce,” she wrote.
i should have known.
○ I met eliyanna in october of 2004, in a concrete office park along a highway in warminster, pennsylvania. she’d been flown in to our headquarters in the campaign’s final days to coordinate the volunteers who’d soon rain down upon the philadelphia suburbs like a latter-day plague.
we found her to be equal parts effective boss, stern headmistress, and concerned mom, traits that displayed themselves in unison as we settled in to work one morning (after catching a few hours’ sleep in the “dorm” we’d constructed in a spare room, out of nothing but swarthmore mattresses, indie rock posters, and christmas lights).
“have you eaten?” she greeted us before the front door had swung closed behind her. “i don’t want you guys passing out on me.”
“don’t worry,” we assured her, “we just ran to the supermarket and grabbed muffins.”
“muffins?” she allowed her incredulity to build for dramatic effect. “muffins? do you know why they invented the word muffin?”
“so that people don’t have to admit they’re eating CAKE for BREAKFAST.”
i sometimes think of eliyanna as my consolation prize from that autumn’s presidential election.
○ so i was surprised a few months ago when she contacted me looking for a drawing to help her transition out of public service and into the writer’s life. a native canadian, she’s spent her years stateside fighting for public health initiatives and the rights of gay families, women, sex workers and just about everybody else, in the new york state government and beyond. i never even knew she wrote.
but as i began sifting through the first few bits of her developing oeuvre, it occurred to me that the work of a progressive activist and that of fantasy writer are maybe not so different. they require, i think, a similar suspension of disbelief; the ability to imagine a world other than our own, and the will to make that world real. it’s a daunting task requiring grueling work, limitless commitment, and the ability to believe lost sleep and missed meals come back to earth as votes or paragraphs.
when we are honest with ourselves, we know that, at best, we build ghosts and echos of the worlds we imagine. but we hope the effort itself, regardless of its success or failure, leaves the world we’ve got a bit more livable.