You know when your friend says the exact comforting thing you need to hear? That’s the feeling I got when I first picked up Adam J. Kurtz’s 1 Page at a Time: A Daily Creative Companion (Penguin Random House), a journal-slash-self-help manual filled with prompts like “Write down everything that’s bothering you then just turn the page” and “Tell me about your day!” The book encapsulates Adam’s singular style, which combines internet-y drawings mixed with sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but always encouraging bits of text. (See more on Instagram.) He’s also created a small gift shop’s worth of special little objects — a “Myself” pennant, a “Sad Girl Fan Club” T-shirt — and will soon have even more to share through a collaboration with Urban Outfitters in April. Here, he shares how he was able to pass off the heavy weight of an existential crisis onto a well-timed read. —MML
What one piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?
A lot of things happened all at once a few winters ago: I suddenly realized that I was maybe an “artist,” it finally hit me that my grandmother was going to die, and I fell really hard in love. Did you know that hard work can pay off and love is real and that life ends? These were new ideas to me and I was trying to process everything. I was alone over Christmas in an empty apartment and I accidentally smoked some laced weed or something and I freaked the FUCK out.
I decided to leave New York for a while and when I came back I started reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.
That book took on all the weight of everything that was going on. It reminded me that people are fundamentally different, like snowflakes, but actually. Thought processes, outlook, experience, shaping us into radically different people. Decisions we make radically alter the direction of our life, but it happens all the time and it’s like, not a big deal so don’t worry too much. It is possible that a person can see you differently than you see yourself and like you for exactly who you are. There are people who value your creative output even if you don’t understand why. Death is inevitable but if you’re lucky you’ll have plenty of time to make peace with that. I suddenly realized all at once that I had the tremendous power to live my life any way I wanted to, I felt invincible and useless at the same time. Getting through the book became an emotional journey that mirrored my own.
I started thinking about the emotional weight that we put into things, whether they are inherently special or not. How it’s more about the experience than anything else, and how people need to arrive at their own conclusions rather than be told how to think or act, even when we’re talking about trinkets. I focused on giving people room to imbue my work with their own feeling and value, creating products made special through gifting. I still have a keychain my grandmother bought me when I was 12. I realized that she shaped a lot of my ideas of what has true value.
Winter ended. I had finished reading the book. I sobbed in my living room listening to Whitney Houston’s “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” I was offered my own book deal out of fucking nowhere. I left a soul-sucking job. I ate bananas and quit coffee. I tried yoga? My grandmother died. The Unbearable Lightness Of Being took on all of my emotional weight and became a catalyst for growth and change since.Photo: Ryan P. Fluger