Pain-ful Employment: A Day in the Life



Pain-ful Employment: A Day in the Life


Photography and Text by Jane Lief Abell


He says he, “does comics” for a living. In truth, he’s an illustrator, and a storyteller, and a writer, and much more. For 12 hours a day, he stoops over his drawing table, bringing monsters and robots and people to life with pencil, brush, and ink. Other days he sits, staring into the computer screen, writing, editing, learning.

And how is he rewarded for this work? His back and neck ache ceaselessly. Recently, he’s been standing while he draws. It helps for now; just like tennis balls worked last week. When it rains, or when he’s hunched over a computer all day, or maybe when he doesn’t draw, he still grinds his teeth in pain. His muscles are perpetually tense from stress and overuse; but when he went to the doctor last week, he found out his insurance had been suspended.


Overall, he is happy. This morning, at least, he’s happy. It’s a beautiful day, so he grabs a coffee from a nearby café and sits on a park bench, taking in the passers-by and considering his day. On this autumn day, with enough cash to splurge on a cappuccino and time to savor it, he appreciates the flexibility his work enables. His art is his work and his life, a dangerous and thrilling combination invigorated by the trifecta of sun, sugar, and caffeine, he is ready to draw. He’ll finish that project for Joe, and do mock-ups for the next edition of Red-Eye, or maybe spend a few hours with his anatomy books.


He soon realizes that his body has other plans. On the walk home, his pace slows as his back begins to cramp. He pauses in front of a fence and catches his breath, shortened from the pain. These are the moments when despair sets in.


Back at home, after hours of trying—and failing—to work, he leans on the balcony in sadness. On days like today, he feels like his body is rebelling against him. How else could you explain his constant pain and suffering? If it didn’t recur every day, he might even ask why it always seems to hit right when inspiration strikes? He’s being melodramatic, and he knows it; but he’s at his wit’s end. His body can take no more for the night, and he feels defeated.


The next morning, Derick wakes refreshed. Never one to be burdened by yesterday’s sorrows, self-improvement drives his everyday. He wants to prove people wrong and to impress them. His focus and his dedication, and his will to do his very best, are what have gotten him this far, and he’s not about to give up just yet.



Photography and Text, Jane Lief Abell, Copyright 2015


About the Author: Jane Lief Abell is  a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Anthropology, with a concentration on Muslim communities.

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