Meet Walt Wiltman
The employment condition, personified
I made a little graphic drawing this week and want to share it with you. It’s not exactly “high art,” but I’m nonetheless enamored of how it expresses the tension I feel at traditional jobs. The basic indignity of, as a grown adult, having to ask someone who doesn’t care about you for permission to make your choices. The sadness of routinely subsuming your deepest callings to a “cause” no one believes in.
A dear friend dubbed this character “Walt Wiltman”—a bastardized, timid shadow of the poet known for his boldness, sensuality, and joie de vivre.
I got such a kick out of that! I couldn’t get it out of my head. So, I loaded him on a meme generator and riffed a couple variations based on Whitman lines.
Deep in the fever of laughing at my own joke (one of my favorite things to do) I expanded to lines from other poets. This is the only borderline passable one.
Walt, dopey lovely little guy that he is, has been bouncing around my sphere for almost a decade. I first sketched him ten years ago, on the train to the office. I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera—a passage I can’t remember or find now, but it was about someone afraid to step out of the bounds of propriety to follow his love.
This triggered one of those moments when you instantly see a clear, finished idea in your head. I sketched our little man in a notebook, along with a slightly different caption: I’ll follow you to the end of the earth, if I can find a good rate on traveler’s insurance.
Every now and then, I’d sneakily sketch him on whiteboards in my office, usually when I was working late and now one was there to see me. I told myself it was mocking the place (we were making insurance ads after all) and enjoyed the chuckles people got from them. But honestly I was mocking my own timidness and fear more than anything.
I didn’t understand this at the time, but these doodles were a call for help to myself. I think that’s why they’ve stuck in my psyche. Even back then, when I was vigorously ra-ra-ing career and hustle, I had antiwork seeds in my spirit, making me uncomfortable.
Now I’m delighted to bring him back, give him his place of honor in the BQE realm, and thank him for dropping those initial hints. Meet Walt Wiltman, everybody. I have a feeling he’ll be making more appearances around here. Whether you enjoy that or not depends on how much you enjoy people laughing at their own jokes.