Saturday, December 30, 2006

This magic moment

As a perfume doth remain
In the folds where it hath lain,
So the thought of you, remaining
Deeply folded in my brain,
Will not leave me: all things leave me:
You remain.
—Arthur Symons, As a Perfume

I need to stop blogging for a while. But before I break, I wanted to wish everyone the best New Year. 2007 will be amazing. As amazing as all of you have been in my life. Thanks.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Five facts you didn't know

Marie Javins had a neat element on her blog. on December 27th. The challenge is to list five things that most people don’t know about yourself. She didn’t tag me, so I’m tagging myself. I think in general a lot of people don’t know a lot about me, so it’s pretty easy to do.

1) I come from a large family of three brothers and two sisters, but was essentially raised as an only child.
My oldest brother is retired now, and my oldest nephew is my age. The youngest brother over me was in high school at the time of my birth. I was a surprise, to say the least. What that means is, by the time I was old enough to recognize I had brothers and sisters, they were all living elsewhere. Consequently, when I look at it hard, I see a lot of behavior in me that one typically sees in only children, which is not all really complementary, according to some research. Not realizing this until I was an adult was kind of hard to swallow. But hopefully knowing helps me counteract.

2) I have been in crush, infatuation and obsession over a hundred times in my life. But I’ve been in love—really, truly in love—only twice. Sparkling, indelible, eternal kind of love. More than most people get, even once. I consider myself lucky. Luckier still to have married one of them.

3) I hate talking on the phone. People note that when I leave messages, my voice comes out jumbled or garbled, slurred or rushed. That’s because I hate the feeling of the receiver cradled against my face, and so tend to talk faster.Bluetooth and a cell phone has changed that dramatically, but I still hate talking into a standard phone receiver. That's funny, as about 25% of my job, with coordinating models andphotoshoots, is over the phone, and about 80% of my job at Marvel was working on the phone.

4) I love teaching. Throughout my career, I’ve always had part time work (Saturday school, after school and visiting artist programs) where I worked with kids, teaching them something about art and drawing. Art Education was my minor in college. A favorite part of my job as an Art Director is showing a colleague some neat tip or trick inPhotoShop or Quark or InDesign that I picked up and can pass on. So, if I had to start a new career, it would be as a teacher.

5)I'm pretty shy.
At parties, I typically move to the back of the room, to study art on the walls or the design of a table, if I don't know a lot of people there. This is despite the level of verbosity you read here. Writing isn't the same as talking. Writing is thinking. If we were to have a conversation, I may run out of small talk in about five minutes. But the thinking wouldn't stop, nor would it necessarily reflect what was being talked about. Now, I get excited about some things and can go on and on. About a project I'm working on. About a theological debate or philosophical conundrum, or political opinion. About love. About life. About the choices we make. But 9 times out of 10, until I know you for a few years or so, I'm not going to initiate that conversation. I wasn't always this way. But this is the way I am, now. Ties back to that only child thing in #1.

There, that's five. If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Power of Poetry

I’ve been listening to music lately.

That might not sound significant in and of itself, but I remember a conversation I had about six months ago, outlining in detail why I didn’t listen to music anymore. The radio sucks, playing either obscurity for the sake of obscurity, or pop that sounds all the same, the bitter saccarin sweet regurgitation of themes it is. I just got fed up trying to find something that spoke to me. I haven’t bought a CD in over two years. I know the bands, I hear the music, but none of it spoke to me. So I stopped listening.

That’s changed. Recently I’ve started listening again. ITunes, for all its failures, has done what no radio station has. By invading my privacy and reviewing my music choices, it’s helped me find some great music that actually speaks to me, based on who and what is in my personal music library. This is the power and trade-off of surrendering digital privacy. It’s been worth it, to me, to awaken again to the power of the poetry of music. Listening to a dozen times is something I haven’t done since high school. I’m listening to music again. Wonders never do cease.

One of the neat things that iTunes has is iMix, where you can offer a selection of music that evokes a mood or theme or idea. Lately I’ve been listening to love songs. Hell, how many other kinds of songs are there? Some of the songs I’ve found are hopelessly poppy, despairingly trendy, while others are unique and speak to me in the context of the others. I’m not so far in communicating my digital will on others as to publish an iMix (and besides, some of my faves are not on iTunes at all, anyway), but I do have my own very short mix of songs I’d like to share here. These are songs around the outskirts of love-obsession, desire, pain, redemption. The usual stuff. It’s short because the list of music I’d listen to over and over is likewise. Some new, some pop, some obscure. Only two things they share is that they all clearly they don’t belong on the same list, and a deeply personal connection with me.This is not my specific order. My specific order tells a story I really don't want to share. The songs are enough.

The Trouble With Love Is Kelly Clarkson
Like a Star Corinne Bailey Rae
Sons Gonna Rise Citizen Cope
Beautiful Christina Aguilera
Love is Never Equal Jill Sobule
I Can Let Go Now Michael McDonald
Tear You Apart She Wants Revenge
I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying Sting
Poor Fractured Atlas Elvis Costello
Once in Every Life Aselin Debison
Human Nature Madonna

Please share yours, if you've a thought to.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It snowed.

I took some pics, but little puffs of white are hard to see against a noonday sky. Just have to take my word for it. Everything old is new, again.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Observations on Christmas (All truth, no lies, guaranteed. tm)

Never wrap late into the night before. It's always painful, knowing you're going to be awakened at the crack of dawn. I remember this every year, just after I've done it again.

The Night Before Christmas never mentions Santa flying. He's clearly a tiny man with miniature reindeer riding in the snow along the ground, who rides up the side of a house and onto the roof. The more I read this each year, the more I wish there was one illustrator who'd get it right. Which clearly shows I have too much time on my hands.

Brothers know brothers. Big T gave Lil T a Nintendo DS game (Catz), with his own money, while we had no idea exactly what Lil T wanted. It was the only gift Big T purchased this year (pricey). And it was Lil T's favorite gift, this year.

Slow is the way to go. If you can extend the time for kids opening their presents beyond the first four hours after waking, they will lose interest in the opening in exchange for interest in actually playing. This way, when they become bored of playing with a given toy, they have new toys to open. In this manner you can extend the opening throughout the day. It's 2:00 and my kids still haven't opened all their presents, opting instead to play with their favorites-so-far.This can usually be accomplished by a one-person-at-a-time, one present-at-a-time, turns rule.

The elitist media hates Santa. New kids television shows all play off the theme that kids eventually stop believing in Santa Claus. This is especially sucks when you have kids who still do believe. Or adults like me who do, for that matter. I wish they'd get another Christmas idea. (BTW, the elitist media jibe is tongue-in-cheek. In case my sarcasm comes off flat.)

There is no legal, herbal, non-toxic equivalent for the euphoric effect that catnip has on cats. Dammit. Could use that, especially around the holidays.

Lego Systems, Inc. does indeed provide extra parts in their kits, bless their hearts. Yay.

If you buy a special toy on Ebay in the summer to hold onto until Christmas, put the damn thing together in the summer, so you can tell if they left out a key piece. Blast.

Putting together big Lego projects for your little kid does suck, when they lose interest and walk away to leave you to do it yourself. But what sucks more is the year when your big kid asks you to walk away, because he wants to put it together himself. Boo hoo.

Cats prefer batting wads of wrapping paper to any purchased toys. Cats are simple that way.

It doesn't feel like Christmas if you can open the door to let out the issue from a smokey pan, and forget to close it because it's so warm outside. In New England. I mean, if the Pilgrims had to bear this, they would've skipped Thanksgiving Thursday all together, in favor of Luau Tuesday. Sheesh.

True story 1: Top of the Christmas list to Santa this year was a "bag of Christmas magic." I'm not sure what he wanted it for, but I purchased some polished glass and plastic stones and glitter and filled a felt bag with it. The key component was to leave out any instruction manual. When he realized that, after an hour of trying to figure out how to make it work, we came to the conclusion that maybe next year he'll ask for that instruction manual. Does he think there might be one? "Maybe..."

Favorite things about Christmas so far:
Mom: Waking to the sound of kids romping down the stairs, seeing the new (foil wrapped) gifts from Santa. Big T: "He always wraps them in red foil, did you notice?" Gee, I never did...
Lil T: "Being with each other."
Big T: "Truthfully, it would have to be that warm feeling when Lil T opened my present and said he loved it...the warm feeling when you give things to others."
Okay, you could make this stuff up, but I swear, I didn't.

Kids can't tell the expensive gifts from the cheap ones. Measure toys by the fun factor alone. The cheap-o rainbow-colored bag to hold portable art supplies was as big a hit as the (more expensive) Gears block set. Who knew?

Bad: Videos on Christmas. Inhibits play. TV is the screaming baby in the room, demanding all attention and sucking it into its glowing void. Except for Studio 60 on Sunset Strip, of course. (Highly recommended).
Good: Books on Christmas Day. Reading while the kids play allows them to be creative, while you're entertained in a non-intrusive way.
Forgot to stop at the Library on Friday, though.
Best: Play with the kids. Then play some more.

True Story #2: Would you rather be a kid or...a Doctor?" On hearing this, I'm prepared for some in-depth psychological insight into my child's 5-year-old mind, balancing innocence and freedom against responsibility and the desire to help others. Then I realize he's just finished putting together his new Lego characters, and has a doctor and a kid character, and is asking which character I'd rather play.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. 0 days. Seven days until New Years. Dun-Dun-Duhhhhhh.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What the hell am I doing-Christmas Edition

I’ve been booked from 8 AM to about 7 PM all the past couple of weeks, and have ahd no time even to update my website, and barely any time to blog. But the latter more often than the former, for some reason. I think because this has reawakened my love of writing. I may even have gotten a writing job as a result. Anyway, here’s the other stuff I've squeezed into my 16 hour days.

Last Read: The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry. Decent thriller offering highly controversial opinions on religion, and faith in general, in a fact-based though fictional context. Three of five stars, meaning it’s something I liked reading, but not something I’d read again. I’m not a big re-reader-takes something extraordinary to get me to experience a story I’ve already experienced. I’ll offer my all time re-readable list of books at some future point. It’s pretty short. Anyway, I don’t know where I come out on this, except that I believe, and do so because I want to. Because I need to, on some level. My favorite line out of the movie Serenity, which got me hooked on the whole Firefly series that I missed the first time around, was when Shepard was dying, and he grabbed Mal, and shouted in his hoarse, dying voice, “I don’t care what you believe. Just believe it.” Believe in something, because the alternative..I mean, the alternative is just pointless.

Last Seen: Love, Actually. This is not the first time I’ve seen this movie, but I had an intense craving that could only be satisfied by reviewing it again. It is now officially my new favorite Christmas movie (displacing “It’s a Wonderful Life”), with “All I Want for Christmas is You” being my new favorite Christmas song. In the movie it's sung by a beautiful little girl, but the version I love is by Mariah Carey. I downloaded it and listened to it about 15 times on Thursday, and half again as many times on Friday. The movie is an amazingly insightful and poignant exploration on love in many forms-hopeless and hopeful, old and new, desperately unrequited, wrenchingly uncertain, and passionately fulfilled. Love’s an amazing thing that makes you do amazingly brilliant and amazingly stupid things. It’s one of life’s major motivators. Someone once told me that a major facet is that it craves the happiness of the other. Yeah, sure. But the flipside to that is that it also craves its own fulfillment, sometimes, over all else. It can be a selfish creature that way. Once in a while it just needs to be said, out loud, to survive. And if you can't say it, you can't give it meaning it. And thus without meaning, then once in a while, as much as it needs nuturing, love sometimes deserves a good beat-down. Each in its due time, in due course. Anyway, highly recommended holiday movie.

Last Heard: My family’s Christmas compilation CD, which I’m giving as a Christmas gift, with our Christmas card. The less said about it, the better. Needs to be experienced to be appreciated. But it’s pretty cool, IMHO.

BTW, here is my list of all-time favorite Christmas songs (no particular order):

Nuttin' For Christmas Barry Gordon
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus The Jackson 5
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree Brenda Lee
Merry Christmas Baby Otis Redding
Christmas Island Leon Redbone
Frosty The Snowman Jimmy Durante (or Leon Redbone and Dr. John)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Gene Autry (or Burl Ives)
'Zat You, Santa Claus? Louis Armstrong
Please Don't Send Me Fruitcake The Von Trapp Children
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Dean Martin
The Christmas Song Nat King Cole (or Mel Torme)
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Andy Williams
Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
Santa Baby Eartha Kitt (or Madonna)
All I Want for Christmas Is You Mariah Carey
This Christmas Ruben Studdard
White Christmas The Drifters
Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
Everyone's A Kid At Christmas Time Stevie Wonder
Winter Wonderland Ray Charles
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) The Chipmunks
The Twelve Days of Christmas John Denver & The Muppets

Last Experienced: Sitting up with 5-year-old Li’l T as he rested, curled on my lap, sleeping with a stomach virus. That meant that from time it time, he’d wake up and knit his brow, and make me his bucket. I’d pull the actual bucket over and clean him up, feed him some ginger ale, and hold him back to sleep. As the smell of throwup wafted softly from his sleeping form, I realized that this is what it is really all about. This is faith and belief. This is love, actually. This is my family. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything. God bless the scent of vomit. And God bless all of you.

Two more days until Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I need it to snow.

Today we got our cards off, with a little something special. The first batch, anyway. We’re finishing the second batch tomorrow morning. There was a feeling of great accomplishment in getting them off, but somehow also a feeling of things being slightly off kilter—things not being exactly right. I haven’t been able to shake a hint of that feeling for months, now. I need it to snow.

The other night, I watched a movie that takes place over a span of three years (The Upside of Anger. Good flick). One of the ways they show the passage of time is the change of seasons, so there’s a beautiful snow scene in the first half. Made me want it to snow.

Snow was half of my attraction to New England (another quarter being fall, and another quarter summer…). Snow is inherently relaxing to watch. It falls at its own pace, not driving like rain, but wafting, slow and methodical with an intentionality all its own. It never hurries, even in a driven wind. It will rush sideways on a big gust of wind, but never fall down any faster. Like a sponge over a blackboard, clearing all the cluttered, tangled thoughts that constrict your mind when you’re thinking too much. It’s like shuffling that magic Etch-a-Sketch, erasing the multiple right-angled scribbles and jumbles to restore a pristine, blank, grey slate. I’ve been thinking way too much, way too hard. I need it to snow.

When I was a kid, snow meant money. With every snow day I was guaranteed at least three sidewalks to shovel, if I got out early and was willing to keep it up, charging early for all-day-service. Snow days don’t come anymore in the workaday world, but I still get a feeling of exhilaration in waking up to a snow. And I love looking up with the kids with breathless anticipation that school might be cancelled, watching the website boards that are so much better than the radio stations I used to have to track as a kid. Ah, the age of instant gratification. But if you ask them, I bet they need it to snow, too.

I need it to snow, to cover up the chaos internal and external. I need it to snow, to get back that clean, uncluttered feeling, bringing the world back to that state of tabula raza, where all things are possible and nothing is a given; where magic can occur, and does on a regular basis; where we can face, unafraid, the plans that we’ve made, walking in a winter wonderland. Are you listening?

The forecast for around here calls for cool with sunny skies through Christmas, which is going to make it pretty hard to find a snowman we can pretend is Parson Brown. Which is pretty disappointing.

Three days til’ Christmas. What do you need?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The tree becomes...

This actually occurred over the span of this week. Today I'm scrambling to get our Christmas card done, so I can mail it tomorrow, just in time to be too late. Anyway, it's early for next year.

I'm getting it out to everyone whose address I have, which isn't a lot. So please, free of guilt of reciprocation, if you'd like one, please e-mail me at Idea Mechanix.

Three more days until Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Great Shoot Saga (Part Two of Two)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for me to go. Plus, it would’ve looked bad for the others at the shoot to look out the window and see me scooting down the highway. “Hey, where’s Marcus? And where’s that last model? And where's my wallet?” Anyway, I’d have to show up eventually, to pick up my paycheck, and what would I say then? And all the morning flights to Brazil were booked.

Seriously though, I needed to change that expression to “When the going gets tough, the smart get networking.” That’s what I did. In my years of developing these shoots, I’ve developed a small—but growing—network of models who are local, reliable, and know other people also interested in modeling. Word of mouth at how interesting and fun we make these shoots have been our best asset. And I’d need every bit of that asset as, looking at my watch, and the storyboard planned for the shoot, I realized we’d need to get someone there in the next hour and a half, or the morning shoot would be shot. By moving some individual shoot elements forward, and the core of the shoot to the end (typically we do it the other way), I could buy that hour and a half. But I’d need to find someone fast.

A lot of our models are non-professionals, which translates as “have a day job.” Finding a model that could walk out of work in the middle of the morning, who was close enough to West Springfield, Massachusetts (where the photographer’s studio is located) to get there in under and hour. I called several connections. Then I called several more. With every phone that didn’t connect to a person, I left a voicemail hoping someone could get back to me, but knowing that every delay made getting a model onsite that fast that much less plausible. But I refused to say die—there’d be time for that later, from my bosses. One of those I called was my most reliable source I’d worked with in the past— a woman who had come through many times—and who came through yet again. An hour later, she was there with a model, perfect for the need and the look, and utterly professional in composure. As the fire cooled under my fanny, and I silently jogged my elbow sharply down, I figured I must be doing something right with somebody. It all came together.

All day photo shoots are an exhausting affair. Models are there from 9 to 4, but the setup and wrap keep some of the team there from 8:30 through 5. For most of that, we’re on our feet, moving models through props and costume changes, checking hair and makeup, entertaining any children to get the right expression and keep their energy up. The cost is high on our own energy levels. By the end of the day, we’re all pretty wiped. But at the end of that day, I couldn’t help but feel a little jazzed at how the impossible had been achieved through teamwork, network and hard work. Which was why I needed to blog it. And also why I couldn’t do it all in one sitting.

Tomorrow, I hope to have some glimpses of our tree-in-progress. Right now I’ve got to run out to CVS for more lights. Merry Chriskawanchuka. And to all a good night.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Great Shoot Saga, (Part one of two)

Typically, I’m responsible for ten photo shoots a year. All this is in addition to a full workload as an Art Director. Or rather, part of it.

Months before the shoot, I interview and recruit models, who, depending on the product needs, will be from six to sixty six, according to the product need. In terms of ethnicity, they are a mix of Hispanic, Caucasian, Asian and African American, again (repeat in unison, now) according to the product need. I confirm the models about a month in advance, and send out a full package with the details of the shoot, I call to confirm at two weeks to review the package, and clarify details. And I call again the week of the shoot to confirm that it hasn’t slipped the models minds, or that none has been hit by a car or anything.

Days before the shoot, I schedule the photographer, arrange the food and supplies for the talent, and coordinate the creation of the storyboard that will be used for the shoot. On the day of the shoot, I oversee the entire process. Of all the members of the design team (of which there are seven) rotate on and off the photo shoot team (which numbers five), as their schedules allow. So, of all the multiple variations of photo shoot teams, I’m the only constant. Lucky me.

Often, a shoot will be reliant on a very specific balance, and one model being a no-show means a lot of wasted time and expense for all the other models, the photographer, and the photo shoot team. And it’s part of my job to ensure that doesn’t happen. More than once I’ve scrambled in the days before a shoot to find a replacement for a last minute cancellation. Not fun, but a necessary part of the job. Lucky me, again.

At the photo shoot, sometimes I will directly art direct, and other times I’ll coordinate others to direct the shoot, stepping in to assist and ensure we get the shots we need for the product purpose of the shoot. But not today. Today I was on the phone, in panic mode.

All models for the morning session are scheduled to be there at 9 AM, though we often need only one at that time, typically running through the shots needed one-model-at-a-time. This buys us a little time and allows some warm up of the models before we get into the group shots, which is the core of the shoot. Today, at 8:55, all the models were there except one. She was the one I had spoken to last Friday to confirm one last time, that she was all set. Some premonition caused me to call her again this Wednesday. Her cell number is one of those which allow you to select a changeable ringtone to play for callers. Between this week and last, she had changed the ringtone to a holiday song I didn’t recognize at first, but now could quote word-for-word. I left a message, requesting a callback to confirm a new detail/wrinkle. I called again on Wednesday, and again three times on Thursday. As we ended the day last night, I started to get worried that I had not heard from her. But my mind raced back to the confidence that she’d given me last week, certain that she was all set, certain that she’d call if anything was amiss.

The little voice inside my head was screaming, Suckeeeeer.

This morning at 9:05, I called again, and listened again to the delightful jingle. In three minutes, I called and left a pager number. In five minutes, again. From there I called again every five minutes until 9:30. Every time, I listened to the Christmas music with growing anxiety, cum disgust, becoming frustration, Not since the Grinch’s grudge against the famous Whoville hymn had a Christmas song been the source of more consternation. I started to think “I must find a way to stop Christmas from coming…”, and fitting the photographer’s dog with an antler.

Then, I finally got a response—the phone was picked up by the model’s daughter. As if she hadn’t heard the phone ringing every five minutes for the past hour, she sounded surprised, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. She informed me with distress that her mother was sick with the flu, and had been for the last three days. No, really. Nice news to find out at the eleventh hour. Except it wasn’t the eleventh hour, it was after midnight. And the shoot had begun. (Does that sound callous, unfeeling? Good. Because they make Dayquil so that, if for no other reason, you can manage the strength to get on the phone and call in sick. If you've got the energy to change your ringtone, you've got the energy to send a heads-up.) I had a studio of five models, five designers, a photographer and a photographer's assistant, a clock that seemed to be ticking directly into my temples, and flashing bulbs illuminating a deadline that couldn’t come without the final model in place. I had a house of cards due for completion for Monday morning. And I was one queen short of a full deck.

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

To be young and cool, caption contest.

Here are (some of) the images I promised. I got nothing to add. Will blog again another day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What the hell am I doing

This posting will be a hodgepodge of what I’ve been working on the past week. Thirteen more days until Christmas.

Last read: Hundred Dollar Baby, by Robert B. Parker. The latest Spencer novel. Robert B. Parker is my favorite guilty pleasure, and I’ve an absolute need to read his latest as soon as it comes out. They’re remarkably fast reads—I finish it in a day—and often cover thematically similar subjects. But they’re themes that resonate with me. Autonomy of action, desire to act based on instinct and reason, with little questioning after the fact. Self-examination and self-trust leading to self-knowledge. And a handful of kick-ass action, confidently and impeccably handled, and a sense of humor, without which all the rest is just bulls#&+.

Last Heard: We are all Going to Hell, The Bastard Fairies. I found this band completely by accident, and have fallen instantly in love. Their entire album, Momentomori, is available for free download at Something about this group and the haunting themes of their lead singer, Yellow Thunder Woman, resonate with me. I probably don’t want to examine why too closely. Note that this stuff is pretty raw and not for the squeamish. Still, highly recommended My favorites are the aforementioned "Hell", and "Moribund," "Ode to a Prostitute" and "Apple Pie." “This shit will change your life…”

Last Seen: Happy Feet. Having kids means three out of four movies I see at the theater are kids movies, and I’m lucky if my annual total is 4. Thank god for DVDs. Anyway, I got out to see this one, and left liking it. A week later, still feel good about it. I felt this as actually two movies, the first part which I liked and the second part which tried to quickly pick up a socially relevant theme and tie it up in a neat little bow. That was disappointing, and what most people latch onto. The amazing part of this movie for me was the translation of Savion Glover’s tap styles into a digital character. He is amazing, and the ability of the CG to capture that is pretty remarkable. Those segments alone are worth the price of admission. Maybe not New York admission, but certainly Massachusetts matinee admission.

Last drawn: Finished the illustrations for the first three pages of the children’s book I’m working on, and managed to scan the first two to post to the website, using this link
or the link in the sidebar. The next step for me is to paint, which is the fun and challenging part.

Last written: Just finished a Christmas pageant script for the kids at my church. Available free on my website using this link
or the link in the sidebar. Feel free to distribute, if you like.

Still thirteen days.

Friday, December 8, 2006

What you won't do, you'd do for love.

In memorium to James Kim, who died in a fruitless way, for a brave and selfless reason.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Marvel Punishers

This is the only shot I have (circa 1987) of the Official Marvel Paintball team, the Marvel Punishers.

Organized by Carl Potts, this team photo features more people than I remember the last names of. Please help! (l-r):

Front row: Bob Sharen, ?; Dan ...?...; Carl Potts; Hector Collazo; Michael Yee; David Wohl;
Back row: Glen Herdling; Marc Siry; Marcus McLaurin: Fabian Nicieza; John...?...; Mark Chiarello, Steve Buccellato; Janet Jackson; ?.

This is as large as blogger will allow me to display it, unless I chop it up. Let me know if you want me to.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Trouble and Sparks

During my years as an Editor at Marvel, UK (London) conventions were the best. If Marvel hadn't sent me, I likely would have paid my own way, while I worked there. after the first one. That and San Diego are the ones I miss the most, with San Diego running a close second. I loved the UK Con because there was typically four hours of convention, from 9 to 1, followed by an adjournment to the local pub until the wee hours. And with that much beer, they were wee hours...

Lukewarm English bitter was the second best. But after the 3rd or 4th one, the temperature grew on ya, like the taste of haggis.

Anyway, at one such convention, then X-Men Editors Bob Harras, Steve Buccellato and Marie Javins apparently got bored, which, as with all good creative people, started their juices flowing. And this was without any bitter. Thus was born "Trouble and Sparks, the mutant feminist super heroes!"

The point is that Bob immediately bought into the concept and committed to a 4-issue limited series. This never came to fruition, of course, or we'd be seeing the new Trouble and Sparks movie, coming soon to a theater near you, this summer. Or maybe that should be theatre, as it was made in England.
Ah, the things that might have been.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Stalking the Wild Scotch Pine

(With apologies to Marie Javins for playing off her title, Stalking the Wild Dik Dik, available at Amazon.)

Yesterday afternoon, we stalked out into the hills to the local Christmas tree farm to hunt down this years victim. The local farm, Pieropans, has a policy of live cutting, showing visitors how and where to cut the tree of their choice, so that it stays alive. As a result, within two years, the tree is as good as new, and ready for another cutting. It's a great place, where we can feel good and environmentally responsible about getting a live tree. (After Christmas, the decomposing tree goes to the woods at the edge of our property, providing shelter and wind barrier for wildlife, and all that other earthy-crunchy good stuff.)

The tree farm is on a large hill that seems to go almost vertical. We like a big tree, so we usually end up stalking pretty far up the hill, where the trees have not yet been taken. The boys love "adventuring" far ahead through the brush, stalking the perfect tree. Of course, the higher we go, the longer the trek back to the car with the fallen tree, and the bigger the tree, the bigger the strain on Daddy :-/.

We each take turns picking the tree. Two years ago, it was Big T's turn, last year my turn, and this year, Mommy's turn. Next year, Lil'T's turn. Everyone has their own clear ideas of the perfect tree. The farm features Blue spruce, Fir and some Scotch Pine. Scotch pine, with it's long soft needles, is my perennial favorite (though somehow when it was my turn to pick last year, we didn't end up with one). Lil'T is developing a taste, similar to his Mom's, for short needle Fir. Tristan is sticking with Dad in preference for a Scotch Pine.

This year we were successful about a third of the way up the hill. There we found a perfect specimen at a perfect height (counting in the space that we need to leave for the tree to re-grow). It's taller than me, but not taller than me with Big T on my shoulders (for the all important star placement. Not so tall that it scratches the ceiling. Not so large that I need to check major medical coverage before hauling it back down. It has a bad side, as all natural trees will. Good to go.

We marked the tree with purple ribbon that the kids had created earlier this afternoon, with their names and requests to leave the tree for us. Big T opted for gentle persuasion, asking kind observers " Please don't take our tree." Li'l T went for the direct approach, "No taking our tree! No No No No No No No No No No." We'll be lucky if the ribbons are still there in a week.

We'll run back next weekend to do the cutting, if we can talk Mom into it. She wants to wait 2 weeks, until just before Christmas. I don't think the three of us could stand that. Before we moved on, we posed for pictures with our tree-to-be. I took some shots of Jan, and she took the camera to get some shots of me with the boys for posting here. Just as we were posing, I leaned back to get closer to Li'l T, and the branch behind me gave way, tumbling the three of us into the underbrush. Of course, that's when she snapped the shot.

Some people complain that Christmas seems to start too soon after Thanksgiving, or that it's moving up even earlier. Some believe that the holiday should be relegated to 24, or even 12 days, and be promptly over at New Years. WHile I'm no fan of Christmas lights in May, I happen to think that playing Christmas music in November is fun. We pulled out the Chipmunks well before the turkey. Christmas can't be spread out too much for my taste. The world needs every reminder and excuse for Joy that it can get.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Will and Trust

Will (with a capital W) is a funny thing. It's not something you can measure, or even something you can store. But it's the only thing worth keeping, outside of Love, close at hand. Love is number one. Without it, we're all just evolved dust mites clinging to a rock calling out to Horton to hear us. Love has to be the given. Beyond Love, there is Will. Will is what pushes you to go to work on the days when you're tired, to solve the insurmountable problem, to resolve the unreasonable conflict when it's frankly much easier to throw up your hands. Will moves mountains, changes minds, and changes cultures. Will is the fuel that moves the world.

That said, I acknowledge that there have been more instances than I can measure that Will hasn't been enough. One of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn is that you can't make something happen, through the sheer wanting of it. No matter how much you want it. Even if it seems the most important thing in the world to want.

In those circumstances, Trust (with a capital T) needs to come into play. Trust comes in many forms. Some call it faith, some call it perseverance, some call it blind (and pointless) optimism. But it's hard to Trust. Hard to stand by, to "let go, and let God." I'm not conditioned that way. It's probably growing up with comic books as an influence. Captain America is a hero because he believes there's always a way, and works hard to find it. Like the catch phrase in Galaxy Quest, "Never give up, never surrender!" My favorite thrillers (check out Chasing the Dime, by Micheal Connelly, which I just finished and LOVED! or Paranoia by Joseph Finder) usually feature a hero trapped by circumstances, who finds a way against impossible odds to do what he needs to. What he has to.

As someone once said to me (actually about me, so I'm paraphrasing, here) "It's not going to get better just because you want it to! You can't wave your fairy wand and make it all better!" That's true. But by the same token, in any situation you have a choice-to assume the best with hope, or to accept the worst, with despair. I try to have the will to do what I can to make it better. And I try to have the Trust to believe it will come out okay, whether it gets better or not. My last pop culture reference in this blog is a line from a Micheal McDonald song, "You always have the chance to give up, so why do it now?" I forget the song, but the line stays with me. Why give up now? There'll be plenty of time to look back and acknowledge the false hope. But it's much easier to look back at false hope, then to look forward at certain cynicism. I still have the Will to believe there's a way that all things can come out the way that feels right. And the Will to work for that.

And, on the rare occassion that that fails, I have the Trust to accept, eventually, that where we end up is where we are supposed to be.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Cleaning house

Events have conspired over the past few weeks to force me to clean out the cobwebs in my head and in my home office. Maybe it's the procrastination bug (I need to get back to the book), but I think it's actually really useful. I get inspired to get I'm going, by looking where I've been.

Anyway, this post is the first of several where I'll share some of the old pics that give a little history of where I've been. Starting on Monday, I'll post some great shots of my time as an Editor at Marvel Comics, which was one of the most fun jobs I've ever had. Probably, for the time, one of the most fun jobs there is. Some of these pix will feature images of some old friends who might be a little embarrassed by them. In light of that, before I show an embarrassing shot of anyone else, I'll subject myself first.

Me at age 8. Mom made me wear the clip-on.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Life at 18

Been avoiding blogging, in favor of living stuff that might be interesting to write about. But nothing's come up that I can write about, except in personal letters. So I've written a bunch of those. Doing so has made me introspective (big whop) and so started me digging through some old journals. In doing so, I dug up the following. Keep in mind I was a flighty 18-year-old (with all due respect to flighty 18 year olds) when I wrote the following life observations on the back page of my journal. First is a famous quote that I still believe today. The rest are mine:

I am not what I think I am.
I am not what you think I am.
I am what I think you think I am—C. Wright Mills

Dreams don't die. They are only ever murdered.

Tears were made for fools and children and other favored ones of God.

In time, all things grow and blossom, like love.
In time, all things also wilt, whither and die.
The trick is to know what time it is.

If a man knew with a certainty his purpose in life, would it make it easier or more difficult to be?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Other Peoples Kids, Part 1

I love watching other people with their kids. It's embarrassing to be around your kids at time, and talking to them in public like you do at home. I know this for a fact, as I've overheard myself talking to my boys in a voice I wouldn't want others to hear, saying things I wouldn't want recorded. Everybody does it. That's what makes it sad...or funny, as I plan to record here.

Background: we have a company lunch room where people can occasionally bring their family for lunch. It's great food, a nice environment, and inexpensive. So, on any given summer day, or during the holiday breaks from school, you'll hear lots of kids. Today being the day-before-Thanksgiving, there was a half day in most schools.

Overheard almost verbatim, in the lunch room today:

"Isaiah, don't...Isaiah, don't...Isaiah, put that back!"


"Because you're having the sandwich."

"But I want this!

"If you want that, you have to have some salad."

"But I want this."

I'm not bringing you here again."


"I said I'm not going to let you come to mommy's work again for lunch."

"Okay, okay, I'll have the salad."

"Okay, you can have that...Isaiah, where are you going? Isiah don't...Isaiah, don't...put that back!"


"Why are you getting a spoon?

"I need it!

"Isaiah, you don't have anything that you need a spoon for. See, you have the chicken and you have the salad, and you have a fork!"

"I need the spoon!"

"Isaiah, don't..."

Scene two minutes later: a family grouping at one table, with a little boy at an adjoining table happily eating his salad with a spoon.

Find something to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The empty thing becomes.

Things have started picking up.

The pages of the children's book I'm working on are starting to come together, giving me that feeling of excitement that tells me I like what I'm doing. I love that feeling of challenge. It's like wandering around in the dark, fear and uncertainty seeping into my pores. You can't tell where you are, and there's the sinking suspicion that the next step might send you plummeting into the abyss. Suddenly, you hit a familiar landmark with the tips of your blind mans fingers. Just that fast, you get a mental picture of where you are. And you know the next step you need to take, and the step after that, until you can turn a corner and see light again. That's what it feels like whenever I start a new and daunting project. Only (as I read back over that) not anywhere near that bad, as I acknowledge that starting challenging projects is one of my favorite things to do. I live for that $3!#.

I've had this feeling before in my writing, and in sculpting, and in painting. Challenge. Can I do this? Will this be what I imagine it to be, or some pale lacking imitation? I've had my share of trips into the abyss. But what makes it worth it is the high of looking at something while you're in the middle of doing, and realizing you're enjoying yourself, and the thing is becoming what part of you imagined it might be. That's the core of the creative process. The blank, empty thing becoming something.

To be honest, most of my projects are made up of procrastination. Usually it's hours of staring at a blank something (or, more often, minutes with the blank something, before making a peanut butter sandwich or turning on LOST). There's yard work, and two kids that aren't getting any younger and need more than an "uncle Dad". There's my 9 to 5, which really is my 8 to 7, if I'm lucky. And there's freelance that pays the bills, and a website that ain't gonna update itself, thank you very much. There's charity art that I donate, and other commitments. And after that, there's the pile of stuff that I want to do, want so desperately to do, when I have five minutes to rub together...and LOST is in reruns.

To make up for not doing, I've developed my creative process into an early stage of just wanting. A lot of the early work then is about imagining doing it, being mad about not doing it, planning how long it will take to do it and what chunks of time I can dedicate to doing it. All before I actually do anything. Like painful foreplay. But when I finally knuckle down to the computer, or the drawing board, or the table, it feels damn good. The problem is getting the knuckle down to do it.

That's one of the reasons like working in a design studio for a living. I get the thrill of making something, and being creative on demand, and a schedule that I have to do it in. The best days are those where I want to work on something so much that the hours fly by, and I can't wait to get in the next day after a late evening. When I worked at Marvel, that kid of creativity was a daily event, on any one of eight-to-ten monthly and bi-monthly titles. I remember being on vacation and champing at the bit to get back to it. That kid of creative freedom is rare, but one of the main reasons I love Art Direction and Designing. But, knowing that it's bad form to blog about your job where your employers might read it, this isn't something I'm going to go into detail about here.

What I will say is that I'm getting in the groove after hours, and the children's book pages are starting to feel real to me. The process I'm going through is to work out a quick sketch and then refine that in PhotoShop. I go back and forth through drawing and erasing, scanning and coloring, printing and painting, rescanning and reprinting and repainting...sounds like chaos, but it's actually pretty exciting. And it's becoming something. And that feels pretty good!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ten things I must to do before I die

This is a list I carry with me on my Treo and update regularly. Some of the things that used to be on there were "have kids," "build my own website," and "contact all my old girlfriends." Some things I've accomplished, others I've just crossed off. There's a certain resigned sadness to things crossed off because I know they won't be accomplished, and they're just taking up space on my list, and a great sense of satisfaction from checking off the ones I've done. But the rule is, you've gotta have ten-no more, no less, written down. And I oughta know the rules, because I made them up.

I'll update as they change. There are (in no particular order, 'cause I'm a no-particular-order kinda guy):

Write and illustrate a children's book
Paint a mural on a (inside) wall of my house
Build a treehouse
Make a time capsule
Write a novel
Write a screenplay
Win the lottery (of course, first I've got to play the lottery...)
Bunjie jump from a bridge
Spend a Christmas at Disney World
Go on a European vacation with the family

I guess the theory is that once I get all 10 done and don't have anything to replace them with, "it will be time for me to go, grasshopper." Either that, or be relegated to haunting my kids with my unfulfilled dreams.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In the empty room

In art school, I'd have long midnight discussions with friends on the nature of art. Aimless, wandering things without a point, which were never intended to come to any conclusion. So, of course, I have.

Basically it came down to an argument of Expression versus Communication. If you're there merely to express yourself, then at the end of the day it doesn't matter if anyone else is actually there in the room with you. The room can be empty. You can be the tree in the forest, falling in silence with no one to hear, left to wonder if you really made a sound. Or you can be the sculptor who rinds the tree and makes a totem pole to go in the middle of the village. You can be the lone voice in the middle of the stadium, shouting to maybe one or two people in the stands, but shouting none the less. Or you can be the person singing softly in an empty soundproofed room, ensuring no ne ever hears.

Now, I'm obviously in the camp that values Communication over Expression. But in school I was surrounded by artists who argued the Expression point, saying they made art because they had to, and not for any commercial reason. As if creativity was somehow sanctified by solitude.

I can't name two famous artists whom I emulate or respect who didn't do the work for communication. This is a simple fact because artists who create for communication get their work seen as a path to that communication. Exposure leads to fame, while hidden, self-directed expression gets directed toward, again, the empty room. I say two in the first sentence because I can name one—Emily Dickinson, who wrote her poems specifically for the empty room. I'm sure you can name more. I'm sure there are geniuses out there dying every day whose art is lost with their death, their silenced voices remembered only by the crickets.

But I never wanted to be one of them. They're characterized primarily by the fact that they are not in the arts. They're businessmen or plumbers or teachers or doctors or any other number of honorable professions, hiding their talent at poetry or painting or music under another vocation. My dream, and the reason anyone goes into art, is to make a vocation of an avocation. To do for a living what you would do for fun, and, in fact, what you can;t imaging life would be like without doing, is a gift only a privileged few receive. Which is primarily what ticked me off in those midnight conversations with artists who looked down on trying to find commercial applications for their abilities, preferring instead the purity of purpose enjoyed by the professional waiter or day laborer. (Does that sound snotty? I suspect it does, but having worked as a waiter and a day laborer, it's not really intended to.)

The fact is, I realize in retrospect, that any one of those artists could have proven his or her point by leaving art school, saving 20K a year, and making their art on their own. But of course, unless we were forced to (and after that first year, some of us were...), none of us did. We valued the feedback from fellow artists, which helped develop our work and voice.

But I recognise the ability to spend thousands of dollars without a concrete goal or thought of return is the providence of the rich. Where I grew up, college was no guarantee, and my parents made it clear every year that it was a struggle. I saw kids from similar situations not return, each of my four years in college. So, I never thought of creating art for the empty room. I wanted as many people in there as the walls would allow. Not for fame, but for a good return on my investment.

That said, there is art I create merely for expression. There's stuff I develop—mostly writing and painting—that I specifically don't intend anyone to see. But at the same time I have a keen awareness that the art I spend most of my time producing is intended to be shared, looked at, touched, held, passed around, read, read again, and, if I'm lucky, remembered.

Splitting hairs

When each of my boys was very young, I observed the ritual of saving their locks of hair. Early on, it was about capturing the several inches of their baby hair. To me, these locks represent a time capsule of dead cells that were born before they were even aware of their own names, and carried through to this first symbolic shearing. Capturing those hairs was like capturing the time again, to be encased and recorded for all time. To be treasured.

But, see, the thing is that my favorite place to get the kids hair cut is the mall. This is because the mall is a great playground for all of us, where they can run around at full speed, and I can get some shopping done at the same time. So hair cutters at the mall rely, as most hair cutters do, on volume business. And I had no desire to capture the hair of strangers along with my own boys. So, I would hover around them and catch the hair as it fell, snatching it from the air before it wafted, ad baby hair is wont to do, slowly and softly to the linoleum tile. And being a macho-manly-kinda guy, I did this without the hair cutters seeing me do it, lest my softer side of Sears be revealed. Don't ask me why I think this way, just accept it as a given.

Anyway, this past weekend, we made a special family trip to get all our hair cut. I guess Big T, being older, had noticed this ritual of mine before Lil T. He didn't realize it had been some years since I last hovered to snatch the hair of either boy, having scarfed away enough to stuff a small pillow. After the haircut was over, Big T came over to me with his hand tightly closed. "I'm sneaky." he smiled. He opened his hand to reveal a handful of his own hair clippings, maybe a half an inch long, presenting it to me like a secret treasure.

And acknowledging that that's what they are.

Weaning off of Halloween

Halloween in my adopted hometown is like it was, maybe fifty years ago, across America. Or maybe like it never was.

I remember growing up in Springfield, the almost, mid-sized city that it was, and hearing the stories of the razorblades in apples. But then I also remember walking around block-after-block of the city of homes, with just a few friends (read: two at most) to a game of how far can we get away from home for maximum candy at minimum effort. And I remember the first year some older, more enterprising kids realized it was more effort-effective to find some kids playing that game (out of their element) and take their candy instead of putting in all that effort themselves. Cheap halloween costumes—the kind with the thin vaccum-formed masks that don't last the night, made as excellent a disguise for a mugger as a trick-or-treater. I remember that was the last year I went out, trick-or-treating. I satisfied myself after that with scaring the other trick-or treaters who came to our door, the only one in my household staying up to answer the doorbell into the wee hours on a school night. It was pretty solitary.

But here in the hills of Western Mass, it's pretty different. This town is so small, all the kids of trick-or-treating age all go to the same school, and all know each other. Any bullies here, and the entire student body would know them, parents and teachers included. Anybody snatching candy would be mobbed enmasse. Everyone congregates in the center of town (the most heavily poulated area), kids can roam freely from house to house, and, to quote Cheers, everybody knows your name. I've never experienced anything like it. Parents can stop off for a beer at the Inn as their kids make the rounds, and meet them in half an hour back in the parking lot. After the haunted hay ride, at the playground. Which is free. And with a bag of candy that is taint-free. It was pretty old-fashioned, and remarkable as such.

Beyond that, there was a bevy of parents who shadowed their kids to every stop, and were happy to add our number into their mix. Just to the end of the driveway, mind you. Can't cramp their style. And one father remarked that this was enough exercise, walking up the hills around the center of town, without having also to trek up the long driveways to the front doors. Together we marvel at the fact that we can feel so warm and so safe in such a scary season, in such a scary world. It's pretty amazing.

Nine-year old "big T" locked onto his friends immediately, and we expected Five-year old "little T" to want to do the same with his own friends. But his big concern was keeping up with his big brother, wanting to go only to the houses he did, struggling to keep up. Wanting to be as cool. God, don't we all strive for that unachievable coolness of the person you most look up to, real or imagined. Until you realize that person is just that—a person. And the haunted house is just some people in masks throwing around cows livers, and the glowing skull is battery-powered, and Mom and Dad, who said you could go off on your own, are still within earshot and watching you. But until you realize all of that, you're in the presence of greatness, and independently invincible, and just as cool as you want to be.

This is what Halloween used to be like, in my imagination. And damned if it wasn't just like that, last night.

Blogging hell

This is my first post in blogger beta, and was to several days ago. But due to a mistype, and a finger that's too quick on the OK button, I inadvertently LOCKED my original blog account. After waiting for a reply or some help as to how to unlock it, I figured out I might be in limbo forever. Or at least beyond my limited span of attention.

So I've decided to start over. Todays blog and the next few days will be about reposting my past blogs. Then starting on Friday, I'll have new noise. Please bear with. Thanks.