Schoolin’ Life: Eleanor Davis

For today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis.


Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

My name is Eleanor Davis, I’m 33 years old. I am a cartoonist & illustrator. I like talking, eating, and riding my bike. I spend a lot of time at my desk.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

Oh God. I was a mess for a lot of my 20s. I had a lot of expectations and not a lot of them did me much good. I was torn between making art and making money and “making a difference,” I thought I somehow had to become perfect in every way. But in the meantime, I didn’t even know how to, like, feed and bathe myself. So of course I was miserable. Classic!

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think society contributed to my idea that I had to be perfect, and probably to the certainty that I was not. Not sure why or how exactly. A lot of women seem to struggle with that idea, though.

What was your first job like?

My first job in my 20s was working at an ice cream shop. My co-workers and boss were all really, really nice. The customers were usually nice too, although they were mostly tourists. I ate way too much ice cream. In the winter, it would get extremely slow and one of my co-workers made me watch the whole first season of Sex and the City in the back on her laptop.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment in my 20s was kind of a pit. But it was on the second floor and you could climb out my bedroom window onto the porch roof and eat dinner and smoke cigarettes. When you jumped up and down in the kitchen, the whole building would shake.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Oh man, these questions are tough. I mean, yes! My husband and I moved from Savannah to Athens where we live now. We got married. I worked really hard at getting good at art, and I basically did, to everyone’s surprise. I decided to quit making art and work at a co-op, and that was good too, because then I figured out that I liked making art after all. I made some friends. I fell in and out and in and out of love, and in again.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I started to have closer friendships. Friendships were hard for me when I was younger, especially friendships with women, for some reason. I don’t think I really understood what being friends with someone meant; I thought it just meant “people who like one another.” Now I think it has something more to do with communication, trust, and showing people who you really are. I used to have a very hard time letting myself trust other people enough to be open with them. I also wasn’t good at letting other people know they could be open with me. Now I’m braver and my friendships are stronger.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I’ve been with my husband, Drew, since I was 19, so I learned a lot about what it’s like to be with one person for a long time. We both have. We’ve learned that it’s really, really hard. We were co-dependent for a while and then we learned to be our own people a little more. We were distant for a while and then we learned to connect a little more. We communicated badly for a long time and pushed stuff down and then we learned to talk it out. Drew is very, very different from me: he’s quiet, and stable, and patient. I’m emotional, impulsive, and loud. We learn a lot from one another for that reason.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I’ve always been super close with my family, to the point that I couldn’t imagine wanting to be alive after my parents were gone. After I started getting better at making friends, I also started to be able to imagine a future where my parents were dead but I hadn’t offed myself. So I guess that’s a positive change.

We are still navigating the weird shift between parents-with-kids and parents-with-adult-kids. I hope I’m easier to be around than I used to be, but I suspect I am not. They are slightly harder to be around. They’re both retired now, & it’s like they’re developing their own arcane language just to use with one another.

How do you feel society viewed you?

A weird, spoiled, abrasive, wimpy, nerdy, asexual woman-child? Which is fine! I am cool with that.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I got a lot stronger. I started going to therapy and learned that self-hate wasn’t a good motivator. I learned to be kinder to myself, which strangely helped me get stronger, and helped me support other people more. That was good.

How did you change intellectually?

I got dumber! This is a really irritating thing for me. I’ve gotten a lot lazier, intellectually. I used to read more and stay more engaged with current events, partially out of guilt. When I stopped being motivated by guilt, I stopped doing a lot of things that really were good to do, like listening to the news. I’d like to change that. I don’t like willful ignorance, and I worry that my brain is getting soft.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

Simultaneously more masculine and more feminine. Weak and okay with it. More comfortable with considering myself “an artist” (although still – that word, yick).

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My feminism got a lot stronger. I’m more okay with the upcoming apocalypse (not sure if this is positive or negative). More into meditation, hippy shit, etc.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Please do not make me think about this!

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Disappointed that I couldn’t work faster, make more art, make more money. Disappointed I couldn’t be a better person, someone who somehow gave back. Disappointed daily in myself. Those things were bad, and they hurt, but I feel pretty good now, and it’s hard to imagine life having gone any other way.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

In my 20s? Personally or artistically? Probably my parents, and my husband, and my best friend, Kate. Like always, like now.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Ummmm. Good question. I was really, really excited about listening to the news in 2008 when the market crashed and it became ultra clear that the Republicans really were full of shit. That laissez-faire economics wasn’t just unethical, it was actively horrible policy. Why is anyone still listening to those idiots?

Camping in the Oregon woods with a bunch of wonderful kids’ book authors and illustrators I’d met over the internet was also really something.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Oh, Christ. I don’t know.

I wish I hadn’t signed the two-book contract for my first kids’ graphic novel. I wish I’d started going to therapy sooner.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

America elected Obama (good, great) and decided that meant we’d gotten rid of all racism (obviously horribly untrue).

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