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.