page 4

In some ways, this page feels like a long time ago. I’ve moved on to another chapter – different characters, different textures, different self.

In other ways, it feels like exactly where I am right now – suspended between the past and the future, between the known and the unknown. Not much to do but breathe, float, dream, and panic. And keep drawing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

page 3

Let’s see if I can post directly from the iPad where I’m making these images! Usually I transfer the images to my laptop because I like to do my writing on a device with a real keyboard. But I’m in the studio today, and it’s raining. The laptop is at home. I’d have to get wet before I could use it.

(I love that it’s raining. We’ve been having a drought here, and it was a very hard summer for my garden.)

Sometimes I feel a pressure to get the whole story out. But it’s impossible. Stop. Rest. Kiss the ground. This book is not a sprint, or even a marathon. It’s a pilgrimage.

Drawing is seeing. Seeing what moves through the body, the mind, the soul. After I finished this page, I cried for the better part of an hour.

Writing is seeing too. I might cry again when I finish this post. Left Otter and Right Otter (yes, it’s true, I’m terrible at naming things): off they go, into separation.

page 1

There’s so much about the world that feels bad and uncomfortable right now. It feels a little wrong to be holed up in my studio making art. Sometimes it feels terribly wrong to be having fun. But it makes me feel less like clobbering my fellow humans when I have to go food shopping, so I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s worth doing.

I decided to do the graphic novel on an iPad, and there’s a big learning curve. It’s going very slowly. But I love being able to erase things cleanly without tearing the paper. I love having a permanent marker that never runs out of ink or makes a mess of my fingers. I love not doing the lettering by hand.

(Full disclosure: nobody paid me to say any of that. Nobody pays me for anything. I am quite possibly the least essential worker ever, at least by any of the usual metrics.)

Page 1 of all the newspapers today is about a certain public figure testing positive for coronavirus. Page 1 of this book is about something else entirely. Here is the news from my studio:

The weird fish is a reference to a little comic I made several years ago. It makes me ridiculously happy.

shh

I seem to be writing a graphic novel.  It’s a weird little love story.  I kind of don’t want to be writing it, and yet I can’t seem to stop.  It feels like chewing my way out of a cocoon.  My jaw hurts and my teeth are getting worn down.  Why not just stay inside?  It was pretty comfortable in here for a long time.  But I can’t stop.  Something wants out.

Here is part of a sketchy little cartoon that I made a few weeks ago, while I was storyboarding:

Nick Cave said:

…the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad…

Good grief, I’m sad.  And I notice that I don’t want to be sad, and large parts of me aren’t sad.  Maybe it’s more like I have a Big Sad in me.  And I try to paint over it with “at least” and “look at everything I learned,” but it’s still there.

Please don’t let me fuck this up by making it a Hate Story disguised as a love story.  I want it to be something trustworthy.

My brain often finds Bayo Akomolafe‘s written words inscrutable, but interesting things happen in my body when I listen to him.  “Yes,” says the body. “There’s no clarity in here.  There may never be clarity.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.”  The brain struggles to remember what he said.  “Shh,” says the body.

What does any of that have to do with the story I’m trying to tell?

Shh.  There’s no clarity.  It doesn’t matter.

mouse manifesto

More from the pandemic diary canvas:This time the words came to me while I walked the labyrinth this morning:

“in the eye of the storm, in the mouth of the predator, with or without you, i dance”

I wish I had a very pale pink Sharpie to give her feet some color.  But I don’t, and I am committed for the moment to using only what I’ve got in the studio, so she has little ghosty feet.

Fun fact: I found a mouse like this in my desk once.  I scooped her out and put her in a bucket while I went out and bought a cage for her.  She was my office-mate for three years.  I called her The Poopsmith because of what she’d done in my desk.

a prayer

This is from a canvas I’ve been working on – a sort of pandemic diary:

The words came to me while I was drawing:

i pray for enough light and courage to take one small step

 

swarm

I’m not sure when I started her.  How can I say when these things begin?  Is it when I start taking steps towards making a tangible object?  The earliest photo I have is from late 2018, but by then she was pretty far along.  Is it when the idea first appears in my head, having arrived from who-knows-where?  I was writing about her in late 2017.

And what about when it begins as one thing and turns into something completely different?  What then?  Who’s to say she wasn’t always a swarm of smaller sculptures waiting to happen?  She had a name, but I have forgotten it.

It was mid-February when I started taking her apart.  I’d moved everything into the new studio a few weeks before that, and had finally done enough unpacking to begin to feel at home.  I was grieving, like I do when something ends.  Like I do, for longer than most people would say is reasonable.  Like I do, even when it’s been over for years and life is actually not so bad.  I sometimes think that when-life-is-not-so-bad is the best time for grieving.

Anyway: I was enormously sad, and I started taking her apart.  Here she is, without her lower half, without her back.

I made a couple of smaller sculptures with the wire I salvaged, plus other things I found around the studio – a handful of blue beads, an assortment of washers and springs, a worn wire brush that someone left behind after cleaning a furnace.

And I started to feel a little less bereft.  And I made a couple more.

And then we were in the middle of a pandemic.  Remember the year you thought you were going to have?  Kiss it goodbye.

I kept making little sculptures until I had used up all the salvaged wire.  As I worked, it seemed more and more appropriate to be giving up the thing I had thought I would be doing.  They had names, these smaller sculptures.  They had names, but I have forgotten them.  By the time I finished, I wasn’t sad about the same things I’d been sad about when I started.

People sometimes ask me how long it takes to make a sculpture.  The answer is: however many years I’ve been alive when I finish it.  This swarm of little sculptures took me 52 years.

it’s like this

I’m here.

I’m here, and it’s like this:

Last month I punched one of those talking gas pumps because it wouldn’t shut up. The screen turned orange and displayed an error message. I don’t know how difficult it was to fix. I wasn’t sorry then, and I am still not sorry. Citgo and Gas Station TV can kiss my lumpy white ass.

This morning I went for a walk, and there was a baby robin in the road. So I stopped and googled “what to do if you find a baby bird.” And I read that most birds people find are fledglings and they probably don’t need our help. So I didn’t go back to the house to get gloves and a box and call someone who knows what to do. But this bird was sitting in the road and I didn’t want it to get run over. I took another step towards it and asked it, “Can you move?” And it squawked, and it hopped and flopped into the weeds by the side of the road. Good enough.

I walked away and left it. I’m sure it was terrified. And I thought: maybe some people are like that. Maybe they cross our paths to scare us away from something worse.

Halfway up the hill, a neighbor’s dog came out of the woods to walk with me. She followed me home, and she is still sitting on my back step enjoying the day. On my way into the house, I called her by one of our cat’s nicknames: KittyCake.

We’ve had this cat for four months. It’s been about five months since our old cat (Tiki) died, and this is the first time since then that I haven’t accidentally called someone else’s pet Tiki-Teeks. It felt like a milestone.

KittyCake is not happy about the dog.I don’t know the neighbor’s phone number, and I threw away most of our phone books last summer when our house was overrun with mold. Oh well. The dog is not hurting anyone, and at some point she’ll get hungry and go home.

I’m trying to get together enough people to hold a grief ritual soon. This morning it occurred to me that a grief ritual is like a sculpture with a lot of moving parts. I don’t have much formal training in making sculptures, or in facilitating grief rituals, but that never seems to stop me.

I have not been able to settle down and work in my studio for a good long while. Part of it is that I have come to hate a lot of things about the studio. Another part is that I seem to be undergoing some kind of internal remodeling.

Last year I finally gave up on the studio and started building a new one across the street from my house. It’s almost finished.

Maybe I’ll say more about that someday. For now, it seems like I need to break the silence by chattering.

Hi. I’m here.