When we were kids, my friend Rebecca and I used to write stories together and read stories together and do basically everything together. Beck had those mildly gruesome little “Scary Stories to Read in the Dark” books, which I was always a little jealous of, because I probably wasn’t allowed to have them. We would take the instruction quite literally and look for somewhere dark, or semi-dark, to read them, like a tool shed in the back yard, which, with bright daylight peeking through the door, was just the right amount of scary for me. (If we had only known at the time that a teenage boy had murdered his entire family in her kitchen and living room just 40 years earlier! True story!)
I don’t know what prompted me, but I was thinking about this the other day, about when we used to read these stories to each other. Whenever it was Rebecca’s turn to read I would follow along with her over her shoulder and correct any time she read a word wrong or misinterpreted a particular mark of punctuation. Pretty much I must have been completely annoying! I could pick much more amusing stories from this friendship to write about, could in fact probably fill a book of memoirs-turned-blockbuster movie, but like I said, this ritualistic scary-story-reading is what most recently came to my mind.
And anyway, I just remembered what had sparked that memory. Last night Rachel and Molly and I went to see Holly play a show at IQs, which was great except for the smoke (Madison, my lungs and I love you for being smoke-free… Green Bay, get a clue!) One of Holly’s songs has a line about a toy drum, which made me think of that scary story with the toy drum and the gypsy girl and the woman with the glass eye… I remember reading that story with Rebecca and then a few years later hearing the very same story plagerized by some girl in the class above me, trying to pass it off as her own. Can you imagine? Trying to plagerize a classic like “Scary Stories to Read in the Dark”? Is nothing sacred anymore?
My family and I went to see the movie Marley & Me today. I was surprisingly engaged by it, and so, it seems, were all of the little kids in the theater who were sobbing. I cried a little too – partly because I could feel my mom’s tender heart breaking in the seat next to me. I don’t know if anyone loves animals more than she does.
Friday night I was at Holly’s birthday party and got to hang out with a 3 year old princess. Really, she had two separate princess gowns along with her. She is my friend now. We played magic carpet ride and sinking ship and fort and when we got hungry we ate Holly (“Come here, you Lunch!”) Anyway, it was good for me. I wasn’t sure if I liked kids too much, but my new 3 year old friend proved that I do, or at least that I can.
On Christmas day my family went to stay at my dad’s cabin on the Wolf River. While we were there we watched Alone in the Wilderness, and I was reminded of how attractive it is for a man to know how to build things. I first realized this when I watched The Notebook with Laura and remarked that, “There is nothing sexier than a man who builds a house for the woman he loves!” So anyway, I’ve decided that my dream man will have the skills to build a cabin with his bare hands (and okay, a few tools). He will also play guitar and be kind to animals. There are at least 100 other qualifiers on this list, you can inquire to hear the rest of them.
While we were at the cabin the snow was everywhere and terribly beautiful. My dad has cross country skis and snow shoes hanging on the walls and for the first time in many years I actually felt some desire to go outside in the winterland and participate in some form of sport. Trust me, this is a new development. Being so new, I did not act on it, but I really think I might try some outdoor activities this winter. Considering how winter is just getting started! Don’t tell anyone, but as my family and I were driving through the state this week I said, with my eyes fixated on the gray and white landscape surrounding us, “I like winter.” Who am I? I tried explaining to my mom my theory that winter is the perfect climate for humans to exist (as the miserable beings that we are) and she thought it was kind of depressing. But kind of true?
We visited the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau and checked out the tromp l’oeil exhibit and the illustrated letters exhibit. The latter really inspired me to start writing letters again, and to do so creatively. That was the fun part of a long distance relationship, but of course letter-writing can happen between friends and family as well. I won’t make it an official goal, but maybe in 2009 I’ll do a bit more of this.
Hey, I just made two new friends. They are great. They are characters in my story. I mean, that is the only place that they exist. Is that weird? I brought my sketchbooks along with me this weekend thinking that I’d have a lot of time to get some pages filled. Well, I did have the time, but I am learning that I can’t write when there are people around, or even the option of being around people. So progress has been limited, but I still hope to have my designated chapter finished by the end of this month.
This has been a terrible summary of the past week… it is not chronological, it is not exhaustive, it is hardly descriptive. But considering that I just sat down as a matter of self-discipline and forced myself to start writing I’d say it’s not so bad after all.
2009 is going to be a big year…
Yesterday I was spoiled. Not simply because of the snow day (our office was closed for the day!) but because of how I spent my day. Determined to be productive, I set up camp in my long neglected studio, put my favorite records on, and got to work on an art project (a watercolor/ink illustration, if you’re keeping score). Normally I don’t have the time or energy to work on projects like this, what with the day job and all (don’t get me wrong, I love my day job). Weekends, too, are often too busy for much creativity, so it was extremely nice to have a free day with nothing pressing to do and nowhere to go.
The reason I say I was spoiled is because I had a taste of what it might feel like to be a real working artist. I mean, there are people who are able to do this for a living – their work day is going into the studio, putting on their favorite records, and just creating. How fun would that be? I’d venture to put them in the same category as professional athletes, rock stars, and actors… they get paid to play! Well, okay, most artists aren’t earning a fraction of what professional athletes, rock stars, and actors earn, but you know what I mean. You get it. There are some artists who aren’t starving, and who aren’t working a “day job” and saving all of their projects for the rare occasion of a snow day. The challenge, I guess, is becoming one of those artists.
Unrelated, I had an anti-genius idea today to create a search engine called “Irrelevant” in which all of the search results are completely unrelated to whatever your search words were. Wouldn’t that be novel? And annoying? And completely useless? Remarkably, the domain name www dot irrelevant dot com seems to be available. If I was a different kind of person I would snatch that up. You can be the snatchers, friends. You can make my idea come to life.
Concerning creative heroes, I don’t tend to keep a very long list. Usually they include women drummers and comic artists. Today I add another name to the latter category: Lynda Barry. Back around the time of my birthday, Gwen gave me a copy of Barry’s book What It Is which I can’t begin to describe and would rather just recommend you pick it up. I guess I pretty much assumed that she would quickly become one of my heroes, but today solidified it. Because today Rachel and I went to see Lynda Barry speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival. First, let me say that this woman is hilarious. If you know me, you know I’m not an easy laugh, but Lynda had me in stitches. And her ideas about images and play! Well, just read the book. Really.
Lynda started out by talking about the relationship between play and mental health, and how no one would deny that play is crucial in the healthy development of a child. But how soon we convince ourselves that the time for play is over. And as adults, even as kids, we look at things that others are doing and think, “Oh, well it’s just too late for that.” An eight year old who is interested in ballet will be told that she needed to start when she was four. A ten year old interested in playing violing will be told he needed to start at age five. So we don’t try. We stop playing (writing, singing, drawing, dancing) because we think it is for kids, but then we lament that we have not been gifted with a creative outlet. Lynda Barry is convinced that it does not have to be this way.
She talks about Image with a passion, about its cathartic capabilities and its specificity. She told the story of a song that she enjoyed as a child, whose lyrics she understood as, “That would be ecstacy, you and me and Leslie, grooving.” She was intrigued by this character of Leslie – it could be a male or female, who was it? – until she realized that the words were actually, “That would be ecstacy, you and me endlessly, grooving.” Which was the better lyric, Lynda asked? Well, Leslie, of course. This mysterious Leslie, afterall, was an image. Endlessly is just some abstract notion.
Lynda’s younger brother demonstrated a creative difference between adults and children. He would draw a picture, play with it, and then throw it away without thinking twice. Adults aren’t typically able to do this – if we create something we fret about what should be done with it. But creativity isn’t meant to be the cause of stress, it’s meant to be cathartic. She challenged us as adults to make a drawing expressing something we would like to say to someone else but never would, and then throw it away. She described a man who had lost his right hand and was frustrated by “phantom limb pain.” Even though his hand was gone he had the never-ending sensation that it was in a tight, uncomfortable fist. He could not fix this, as his hand was not actually there to unclench. So someone (I forgot to write down which scientist) came up with the idea to use mirrors and make a device that, by unclenching his left fist, it would appear to the man as though he were finally unclenching his right, phantom fist. He did, and it worked, the pain left him. Barry says that art has the same power, to take away such phantom pain.
Lynda Barry, although my favorite, was one of four comic artists who spoke today. Paul Buhle, Mike Konopacki, and Seth Tobocman were also present, and although I won’t rehash everything that they shared, I did want to highlight a quote by Mike Konopacki, who said in defense of the literal and understandable medium of comics (as compared to “high art” which requires a three-page artist statement to decipher) that “Communication should not be ambiguous.” Of course! This is exactly why I favor comics to fine art, why I will probably always consider myself a cartoonist more than a painter. Why does something have to be cryptic to be considered intellectually valid? Doesn’t it take a special kind of intellect to communicate what you are trying to say as clearly and dynamically as possible? Yes!
Okay, one last thing and I’ll tie it off. After the lecture I got in line to have Lynda sign my copy of What It Is and got to have a mini-conversation with her which I will probably treasure forever. Ever gracious, she willingly signed my book as I stumbled through my small talk (as I tend to do around anyone new, not just my heroes). But I was emboldened, and asked if I could tell her something about my own plight as a cartoonist. You see, during her talk and also in her book, Lynda pointed out the importance of hand-writing in the creative process. When we write with our hands it is the same as drawing – it is activating entirely different parts of our brains than the motion I am using right now to type these words. But handwriting, however essential to the creative process, is dying off. I shared with Lynda that I had spent time drawing comics in college, and that one of my professors would often criticise my lettering. My hands are shaky and my penmanship has never been my strong suit (the only class I got Bs in all through grade school!) and since I could never make my handwriting as consistant as my professor wanted, I turned to digital fonts, which were certainly consistent, and consistently impersonal. Lynda assured me that my handwriting is a unique part of me, and that the personal voice my penmanship offers is more important than the convenience of legible computer text (or maybe even text handwritten by someone else? We didn’t talk about that.) Anyway, she also gave me a couple really practical tips for handwriting which I am excited to try out, and maybe want to keep to myself for a little while. If your hero ever gives you a personalized tip I wouldn’t expect you to share right away, but maybe keep it close to your heart. Really, it’s something special.
Well, clearly I’m going for a new look here, and clearly I’m not quite there (at least that part is clear to me). Expect numerous changes in the next few days as I fumble around with graphic design in the same way that I paint… millions of do-overs (in painting I guess we call them layers). I’m awful at graphic design. All I can do is scribble, really. But if I’m going to be a scribbler, I might as well get my scribbling down to a master-form!
Moving on, people are beginning to get panic in their voices when they talk about the coming winter. They refer to the Farmer’s Almanac with the same mix of fear and disgust that they use discussing Bin Laden or Y2K. Last year we broke the record snow fall with over 100 inches of snow. This year we are supposed to get over 120 inches. I read a nice column in the paper today in support of human hibernation. I think I like that. Let’s be bears.
*I couldn’t think of a better example.
When I say that I’m German and French, I guess what I really mean is that I’m German and French Canadian. So I’ll be planning a visit to Montreal to explore my roots.
When I say that I’m working on a graphic novel, what I really mean is that I’m standing at the base of this mountain and I’m excited but a little bit scared to death of the climb. Okay so I’m holding this grappling hook and don’t quite know how to use it, although I know its uses are endless and my potential, too, is pretty great if I could just figure it out. It’s that nervous feeling you get when you’re about to give the speech of your lifetime, or when you suspect that you’re beginning to fall in love. Things could go either way, success or disappointment. Learning is inevitable. It’s a great place to be, but at the same time there is something so comforting about stable, solid, sea-level ground. Sometimes it’s hard to take those upward steps.
Metaphorical enough for ya?
So…I’m working on a graphic novel. I don’t know why I haven’t written about it here yet. Well, yes I do. I haven’t written about it because as long as no one knows about it I can’t be expected to finish it, and that takes a lot of pressure off. Except that I need a little pressure. I wouldn’t have completed my NaNoWriMo manuscript last year if I weren’t constantly mouthing off about it here. And besides that, I’ve already started talking to people about it in the non-digital world. It’s partly an accountability thing, but it’s also just really exciting for me and I want to talk about it! Let me put it down in black-and-white: before I die I would like to finish this book. Or a different one completely, but I’ve already got a decent start on this one. It feels like things are clicking, you know? And I’m not talking about the story which needs quite a bit of work, but I’m talking about the entire creative process. I feel like I’ve fumbled around looking for the right way to use my interests and talents and maybe I’ve finally gotten on the right track. I really do love this comic book stuff, and I like drawing and I like writing and I want whatever I do to be accessible to anyone who wants it, not just some wealthy art collector. This feels right. And I worry that by writing statements like that I might be inflating my expectations and setting myself up for disappointment, but I guess that’s a risk I’ll take. I feel like there may be a few more risks involved with this whole process anyway.
It’s a social art experiment. It’s not pretty, it’s not exactly clever. Is it art? Why not? Do you want to hang it in your home? Would you be embarassed to show it to friends, and tell them you paid $1000 for it (even if you really got it for free)?
Lame was created in 2007 in Madison, Wisconsin, under the weight of looming deadlines. It is a 3rd or 4th generation canvas (X-Ray imaging will show multiple images layered beneath the final work). It is a mess of thickly applied paint and a visual testament of hours of mounting frustration, culminating in the thickly applied letters which read, simply, “lame.” Does it describe the artwork? The artist? The purchaser? The critics? Does it describe something else entirely or is it just a series of marks that happen to resemble letters in the alphabet favored by 21st century Americans?
I want you to have this painting, but more importantly, you want to own this. I want to give it to you for free, with but a few stipulations. 1. The painting must be displayed in a place where you will occasionally see it (that is, not on the back wall of your tool shed). 2. The painting must be treated as if it were a respected piece of art created by a respectable artist. 3. If anyone asks, you must insinuate that you paid a moderate sum of money for the painting (you can invent the price, or evade the question on the premise that you don’t discuss financial investments). 4. If you ever sell the painting, you must give one half of the money to charity. 5. You must pick the painting up or pay to have it shipped. The first person to respond to this wins the contest. If no one responds, the social experiment will continue in another form.
Is it art? If not, can we make it so?
I’m getting to know some of my audience here at Easel Ain’t Easy. There are still surprises, from time to time, someone I know will reference something I blogged about and I will remember that this is out there, in the public realm, and just about anyone could read it. Which is good, don’t get me wrong, and it’s fun to have those surprises. But there are a few people whom I can always count on to read, and read with regularity, and recently one of these loyal readers called me out on the fact that I haven’t been writing lately. Well, I could counter with excuses about how busy things have been with work and art and social events, but no one wants to hear excuses, let alone read about them, so instead I’ll just jump back in, as if nothing has changed.
To this friend who reminded me that I was neglecting my duties as a blogger, I promised that my next post would be about her, so as to soothe the soul so troubled by my absence (thought I would get liberal with my syntax there, you know, stretch the atrophied writing muscle a bit). So here, M____, here it is!
M____ and I hung out one day, back when I was living in San Diego, back when she was visiting our mutual friend Sarah, back before she and I were technically friends yet. Sarah had to work one day and so M____ and I made plans to get touristy a bit while we waited for her shift to end. I happen to have a brief document of this moment in history, thanks to my now-offline blog entitled “Pacific For Now.” You will notice that I changed M____’s name at the time of writing, which was a precaution I was taking at the time due to an unrelated incident (details unimportant here.) Anyway, I later told M____ that I had blogged about her and changed her name, and she naturally wanted to know the name I changed her to. I couldn’t remember, at the time, and so here for the first time, M____ and all the rest of the world, is the post that started it all:
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Today [Marissa] and I went to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, and later to the Jenny Holzer lecture at the MCASD in La Jolla. Jenny provided some great insight into her work, and on top of that she was very humble, which is not something I tend to expect of any world-renowned artist. It was a very artful day, and the end result is that I’m jumping out of my skin to be an artist. I would love to. One of the docents at the Museum of Art talked with Marissa and I for a while and I mentioned to him that one day they might have one of my paintings at their museum, and he just kind of laughed and said that they might have a whole exhibit of my work.
I actually spent a fair part of the day painting yesterday, but there is still much work to be done. It’s been really aimless so far, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s definitely at an awkward stage. I’m taking pictures in progress, so I’ll post those here when I’m all done. And then someone can make me an offer, and be the proud owner of the first thing I’ve painted in California! What a deal! Everybody wins!
And here is what I love about blogging. A) I had completely forgotten that M____ and I went to see Jenny Holzer after the art museum. That’s something I shouldn’t forget! And now, thanks to an old blog, I won’t have to. It also triggers other memories that I hadn’t blogged about, such as when we went to dinner at the little strip mall cafe in La Jolla and flirted with the waiter and then left him Sarah’s phone number. Remembering things is fun! And B) that painting of which I so cockily predicted its sale (though I’m sure I was more ironically poking fun at myself) actually did sell last year. And someone is now the (hopefully) proud owner of not the first thing I painted in California, but so far the only thing I painted in California. If you don’t blog already, you might want to consider it. Who doesn’t get endless amusement from checking the past against the present?
Anyway, today was Ascension Sunday, and the message in church was pretty great, and later today I had a conversation with a dear friend that was similarly great, I mean, really encouraging. If I had written M____’s post yesterday I would write about these other things today, but as it is I think I’ll save them for Monday material. Knowing this, you can plan your day accordingly.
(Edit: After publishing, it occurred to me that maybe M____ wouldn’t care to have her name included here, so I went back and took it out. M____, if you’d prefer to have your 10 minutes of blog-fame, let me know!)
Remember my Valentine’s Day gift to you? The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal? I always find things out a few years too late. Did you know that’s Miranda July narrating? I just found that out tonight by the following string of events:
The String of Events:
General boredom leads me to click on the address bar and scroll down to see my past sites visited.
Links include the ordinary (Gmail, Myspace, Youtube, Google, Dictionary, Craigslist) and at least one which is extraordinary: www.learningtoloveyoumore.com, a web project by Miranda July and Harrel Fletcher. This website is precious, but also ingenious, and some day I think I may set about completing some of the challenges it offers.
While visiting Learning to Love you More I click on a link for the Learning To Love You More book because I love the design of the cover. I think for a moment how I typically admire any aesthetic that July has had her fingers on, particularly text aesthetic, particularly the content of that text: the sentences she comes up with.
I think about a time last year when I was in California and, waiting for a friend, found myself killing time in a Barnes & Noble. I picked up a pink copy of July’s then-newly released book No One Belongs Here More Than You. I sat myself down in an overstuffed armchair and began to read the first story or two. Some cruel-hearted employee popped a Barbara Streisand live album in and the entire store was filled for the next hour with such unpleasant sound waves. I could barely enjoy the book, and in fact, gave up eventually, left the store. This is the memory that I think of, briefly.
I wonder if Miranda July has begun any feature length film projects since Me and You and Everyone We Know. I check IMDB. I notice a film listed in her credits: Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal–Narrator. Overcome, “It all makes sense now!” I feel I have to tell you, so I sign on to my blog.
But maybe you folks aren’t even fans of Miranda July. Well anyway, years late as always, here is my new favorite website.