Creating When the World Is on Fire: A Christmas Eulogy for a Bad Year

christmas eulogy featured image - a skull in a santa hat on fire on a laptop

Making art for yourself when the world is on fire sucks. So, if you keep making art when things suck, be proud of yourself. But if the world’s darkness blocks you, I get it. This Christmas, let me share my greatest creative failure this year: the project I just finished. 

The Zine   

The first week of December 2023, I finished a print photo zine I started working on the first week of January 2023. Outside of writing guides and reviews for, I work as a traveling standup comedian and photographer. My goal was a photo zine documenting pictures spanning 51,000 miles from 2019-2022. The deadline was my birthday in June.  

Work started well. In February, the Adderall shortage hit me. Around March, I finished what I thought was the first rough draft and realized it was too long. So, I started over. 

I was distracted while creating. It’s hard to make art when student loan payments restart, war rages, and rights get rolled back. When people die.

In May, my best friend Jacob passed away after a battle with Pancreatic cancer. The cliche “everything reminds me of him” is even more true when editing photos of the person you’re mourning. Especially when that person handed you $20 when you said you wanted to make a zine because they wanted to buy the first one.

Christmas Eulogy - proof sheet from zine with photos of Jacob
John-Michael Bond – Proof page of the zine featuring Jacob

A Summer of Nothing

For the rest of 2023, creating personal things felt like sewing with glass shards. For months, I’d just stare at the screen when I sat down to write or edit photos. When I could edit, I’d make a page or two before quitting. When I finally finished the second draft in July, it was a mess. Not “This needs edits,” but “You should quit.”

Instead of quitting, I planned a six-week tour around America from October through the first week of November. I’d do my day job remotely, then edit, take photos, and do comedy shows at night. After all, ghosts stay in one place. Changing my office daily would help me escape the blocks that kept my zine unfinished. 

After six weeks, I had edited only six new pages. To my credit, I stayed focused on my day job, which included several photoshoots and a video interview with Nick Lutsko. I could focus on the work I owed other people. But finishing a project for myself? Impossible. The sad always won.

christmas eulogy
John-Michael Bond Photo from the zine

After the tour, I slowly started to plug away at the zine. By the beginning of November, I had 22 finished pages with roughly 70 other half-edited pages. With the clock running out on the year, I made a Christmas playlist. Procrastination is so addictive it should come in little plastic baggies. If you’d like the mix, here it is. Twelve hours of carefully selected Christmas music, a distraction to feel fine.

Longfellow Had It Worse

It worked until Burl Ives started singing, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” the greatest song ever written in defiance of the horror of the world. 

As Ives’ voice echoed through my speakers, I started to weep, remembering my father telling me the story behind the song. It had begun as a poem, written on Christmas Day 1863, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. You probably know the first bit:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

Longfellow understood struggle and pain.

Born in 1807 in Portland, Maine, Longfellow came from an all-American family: his descendants came over on the Mayflower. His grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War.

christmas eulogy
John-Michael Bond Photo from the zine

But no amount of money, privilege, or American pride could save Longfellow from tragedy. 

His younger sister died while he was abroad in Europe. After only two years with his first wife, Mary Storer Potter, she died after a miscarriage in 1835. She was 22.

It would take Longfellow three years to write “Footsteps of Angels” about the loss of his first wife. Despite being a world-renowned author and poet, his first book of original writing wasn’t published till 1839.

In 1843, Longfellow married his second wife, Frances Elizabeth Appleton. They had six children over 18 blissful years. Then disaster struck. In 1861, Longfellow awoke to Frances’ screams to find his house on fire. Longfellow was brutally burned in his attempts to save her, and he missed her funeral. He grew a beard to hide the scars. By most accounts, he never fully recovered. But he kept writing. 

He wrote papers supporting abolitionism, though when his son Charley decided in 1863 to join the Union Army to fight in the Civil War, the poet was dead-set against it. His eldest joined anyway, telling Longfellow in a letter after Charley departed.

christmas eulogy
John-Michael Bond Photo from the zine

It Gets Worse For Longfellow

Now twice widowed and missing his eldest to war, Longfellow could do nothing but wait. In December of that year, Charley was shot. While the boy survived, a bullet hit his spine. Longfellow left his home and traveled to Washington, D.C., where he remained the rest of the month. Doctors warned him even if Charley got better, his recovery would be a long struggle. 

On Christmas Day, watching his son recuperate in bed, Longfellow wrote the lesser-known part of his poem, which they cut from most churches.

Then, from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!

And in despair, I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

As much as it’s a song about the horror of life and the redemption of faith, it’s just as much about the healing power of making shit. In Longfellow’s dark moment, he picked up a pen. There were crossed-out lines, a thought process that every creator has experienced since time began. But he kept creating.

A Christmas Lesson From Someone Else’s Tragedy

I realized the fear of letting a friend’s memory down was anxiety born from the darkness of mourning. My pain was a jail that Longfellow understood, and the poet helped me escape.

Sometimes people get hurt, and often they die. Security in life disappears as quickly as it comes. That doesn’t change the soul’s need to create. The part of us that stops creating in the darkness is darkness winning. Its only goal is to spread nothingness. Existential deaths to go with the real ones.  

Crying, I sat down to look at my zine. Spread across 80 pages of half ideas was 3/4ths of a finished product. More importantly, there was good work I had been too cloudy to see before. It provided a roadmap for the rest of the pages. 

During the last week of November, I finished my final draft on an 8×11 perfectly bound zine with 48 pages and around 100 photos. During a final frantic weekend, where the dark briefly convinced me to throw the whole thing out, I finalized the edit and sent it off to the printers.

A Zine Is Born

This zine was supposed to be done in June 2023. I held my first copy in my hands on December 19. It’s a small run that will pay for itself one day, but the goal wasn’t to make money, just to finish something. My depression didn’t want me to see what it would be like to honor my friend by making stuff they’d like to see.

christmas eulogy
John-Michael Bond Final copy of the zine

You never know how much time you’ve got with the people you want to show your art to. Part of what stole my attention was the unsinkable reality that the person who wanted to see a zine of my photos the most couldn’t. Which is bullshit. He’d want me to print a crappy paper zine every month and give them out at wrestling shows. Thats next.

There’s a final stanza to Longfellow’s poem, following the darkness: 

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

If you got lost this year, that’s ok. The world has more obstacles and fires than it has bridges. But know you’re not alone. Even if you are physically alone right now, know there is an army of talented, bummed-out angels feeling precisely the same way. We call it Reddit. 

Kidding. Sort of. But the point stands. Perhaps it’s money, death, or just the reality of the world; we all have weights. Things are grim, and progress means fighting when we’re already tired. 

But no matter how awful things get, there’s no darkness so great that it won’t be made better by making something. To hell with profits, to hell with doing work; you started creating because you felt drawn to make something. Then you got sad. So remember which came first.

My great failure is that it took so long to finish something important, but that failure is nothing compared to the feeling of fighting through it.

The world sucks. You’re still meant to make things.

Content for Creators.

News, tips, and tricks delivered to your inbox twice a week.

Newsletter Signup

Top Stories