Artists have long explored a relationship with their mental demons: Picasso famously endured a blue period, Kahlo’s paintings carried the message of her lived pain and insecurities. Blurring the line between artist and therapist, Adam J. Kurtz takes this tendency a step further. Pick Me Up, his new self-help journal that follows the successful 1 Page at a Time, is a personal "pep talk" exercise for the reader based on his own experience of the world and what he finds useful and funny.
“Artist is sort of a bullshit word that encapsulates a ton of different creative roles and categories and ties them up into digestible package for people,” he tells The Creators Project. “If we’re being honest, I’m a graphic designer who has used design tools to spill into other categories. But nobody has time for my multi-hyphenate-designer-author-illustrator-creative director-writer-small press-brand reality. Artist is simpler.”
So Kurtz is a ther-artist of sorts, and Pick Me Up is riddled with advice, quirky illustrations, and questionable dad jokes. By poking fun at society’s unrealistic expectations surrounding eternal happiness, Kurtz instead works to assist his readers in arriving at their own unique pursuit of contentment; knowing very well that this may not consist of waking up at dawn, running seventy kilometres each morning and eating kale for breakfast. Instead, he gives his readers permission to feel human, and not wallow in failure, guilt and worthlessness.
Kurtz candidly discusses his own insecurities and how he tackles mental health on his Tumblr. “The internet is full of people being open about their insecurities,” Kurtz states. “For the most part, everyone is shouting into the void at all times, and if you just listen to any one person at any given time it’s just a stream of ‘THIS IS WHAT I LIKE, THIS IS WHAT I WANT, THIS IS WHAT I AM AFRAID OF, THIS IS WHAT MADE ME FEEL SOMETHING TODAY, THIS IS WHAT I WANT YOU TO THINK I AM LIKE, BUT ALSO THIS IS WHO I ACTUALLY AM’, and you can just poke around in there and get a pretty good sense of things.”
There is something particularly powerful about having a successful person admit to their very real, very human fears. Kurtz confesses that he still deletes approximately half of his tweets due to crippling self-doubt—despite receiving acclaim from the likes of Tavi Gevinson, who describes him as her favourite therapist.
"Being self-deprecating,” Kurtz says, “that’s just a manifestation of my larger self-esteem issues, like imposter syndrome, narcissism, and a constant need for external validation.”
His, and all of our insecurities, are real. They exist, but they don’t have to define the person in question. Pick Me Up preaches that a night propped up in front of the television watching questionable amounts of Stranger Things and eating crackers for the sake of it is okay. “Yoga has been recommended by dozens of people, but you know... I probably will just keep talking about that without doing it,” Kurtz says.
Kurtz, with scathing yet heart-warming charm, pokes fun at hurt. “Humour is a wonderful coping mechanism, and I have a very dark sense of humour,” he says.
It comes as no surprise then that he’s an advocate for memes. “I fucking love memes. Especially wholesome memes,” he says. “Memes are like pop songs to me: seemingly simple, but it takes a little bit of magic to make one really stick. When you see a meme or hear a pop song that just works, it gets into your brain and implants information in there. It’s immediately recognisable as human and can be used for good. Memes have already changed lives. Long live memes!”
Rather than tiptoeing around the deep, dark cavities within which mental illness, anxieties and perturbation fosters, Pick Me Up addresses these issues head on. “It’s full of tough-love advice for different types of situations, plus writing and drawing activities that are puns, unsubtle metaphors, or both. Usually both,” Kurtz states.
“Sometimes setting it written out in front of you, either in my shitty penciled handwriting or in your own, can make a difference. Pick Me Up isn’t expert advice for you to sit down, read and forget about. It’s a literal self-help book that you write now for your future self—so you can look back at scary shit you’ve gone through and advice you once knew but forgot.”