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2013-jan28-story

It is January 28. Just a few more days in the month are ticking away. As the first month of the year passes, there are several things I am hoping to complete, manage, share that will help get me firmly started on this year in terms of the notes I made of daily or monthly or yearly creative goals for 2013. It is not looking good, but I think there is still some possibility of putting a few things firmly in place. If January slips away, it is too easy to call the year a loss. So I am determined even if more than my share of busy at work and getting over some kind of flu.

You have a good guess as to what one of my "goals" for the month was, right?

For the moment, I am going to post this list, started last week and sitting here waiting to be pushed out, of things of recent note in my Facebook updates (and in open windows on my computer):

  • Doodles? Tangles? A Zentangle follower? Check out this open call -- and submit your tiles! Note the Feb 15 deadline. Do it! (As my oldest would say... "Come on peoples!") @CreateMixedMedia
  • Someone else recommended Wonder  by R.J. Palacio to me recently (or asked if we had read it). Seeing a Chapel Chronicles mini-review reminded me that I want to take a look at this one!
  • Check out Tammy Garcia's journal prompt cards in her Etsy shop. Need a nudge? Or know someone who does?
  • Awesome library photos... some libraries I would love to see and sit and read or write in. My library is way less than cool aesthetically. This is an eye-opening reminder to the beauty of books and space.
  • A new book and a list of books to check from Claire Vanderpools. (What I said when I saw it: "When I first read her list of recommendations, they felt 'too' classic. But looking closer... I think this is an interesting list (w a few token exceptions). Do you have favorites that appear here or ones you would like to read or have your middle readers read?")
  • Super cool small fabric globes.
  • Geeky whimsy: ice globe lanterns @MAKE.
  • On my list to watch: Mathematical Impressions: Can You Turn a Rubber Band into a Knot?
  • "Warning to Children" by Robert Graves -- It's a poem I did not know, but it's a poem my oldest recently chose for analysis and as a basis for writing his own poems in his humanities class. I like the poem very much. (And if you have a Minecraft player... there's a ring of that in here!)
  • I am an EverNote user... I thought this video on their career page was excellent.

I may need a brigade to ping me at night so that I manage to find my way to a computer, to words, to notes, and then... to the microphone. Not that desperate yet. But the days are ticking away!

 

 

I owe Tammy at Daisy Yellow answers to some questions. I've been dragging my heels forever. Months. On some level, I can't piece it all together. On some level, I can't shut up. On some level, I know no one cares. On some level, I feel so far from the creative 'me' that the words touch, trace, and depict. I want to know and be that person. At the same time, that outline, a chalk drawing on the ground, is me. Thankfully, the past few years (using the podcast as a starting point in time) have given me that truth, resolute, concrete. It is not a truth I've always understood and had, though I've held the strand forever. Today, I hold on to that truth as a balance right now, knowing that the glimmer is there, somewhere. But asked to break out my creative time ... where do I spend my creative energies... so much comes crumbling down. As I look at where "writing," which has always been my first medium, fits in the creative pie and see the sliver of space it occupies... in the creative me... I feel jolted, confused, startled. When was the last time I wrote? In reality, I spend 5+ hours a day writing. But it isn't the same even though it partly explains why it takes something extreme to make me grab a keyboard and write, even when dozens of times each day I know I need to, know I want to, and know I will forget if I don't. Forgetting has always been a concern and motivating factor.

Last week, I went to the beach with one boy. It was the first time in almost two months. In my head, it had been the Summer of Sea Glass. The title, a way of understanding the summer and how it would be different than even the summer before, more solitary, slimmer, and yet held together by something we found in our search for sea glass, helped shape the early summer. We did fill small jars of sea glass to take to landlocked family, sharing the color... an activity and gift that brought out sweet generosity in the kids as they counted out their collections and donated to the communal jars. (I don't know that the gifts were really understood in the way we hoped. But they were given.) At the outset, I thought our freeform summer would be filled with sea glass. In reality, the summer slid away, and though every walk on the beach brimmed with the narrative in my head, not once did I capture the thread in words. The way the beach changes. The nuances of the quest. The way it feels to walk the long stretch, mostly alone, the kids running ahead, excited and eager. The feeling that time slows. Nothing was written or drawn.

As we reached the beach last week, and I started the descent, a steep wind from the upper landing to the beach below,  I suddenly felt empowered. I felt like I could reclaim my life, find myself again. I felt myself making a list and setting goals for what I would accomplish and how I would get back on track. I wanted to fire off messages that I could do it. I could get my life back. It was a brief moment of optimism, quickly swept away by the ocean winds.

Returning home, the second week of school became an unexpected tsunami. That the crest of it comes riding along with other problems, including continued post-crash car issues, didn't help. But the week was partly consumed with helping shepherd one through what felt like an unexpected avalanche of projects that, in and of themselves were good and exciting, but that taken together were a logistical challenge. In between those evenings and the doubled transit time to and from schools, I worked. In every free moment, I worked. I didn't carve out time to rekindle, to draw, or even to sew. There is no semblance of balance. At the end of each day, the late-night coveted hours in which I used to stake my creative claim, I crashed. Completely.  The projects lay scattered, a silent hope for another chance another day.

So why today, why the blog, why here instead of solving my creative angst about the questions I need to answer? Why, when I know no one sees. No one reads. Why in public? Why not just in a journal somewhere, tucked away? Why this feeling of being so invisible? Because I just finished The Imposter's Daughter by Laruie Sandell.

I have been reading the Cobbled Court Quilts series by Marie Bostwick, a series about a quilt shop owner that my mom pointed out to me and that brings to mind some favorites of mine like the Elm Creek and Ladybug Farm series, both of which I love for their communities, female friendships, and creative threads. But one night when I woke, late, after falling asleep getting the kids to bed, I realized I had left my book in the car. Looking around for something to read for the few minutes I might that night, I grabbed The Impostor's Daughter: A True Memoir from the top of a teetering stack of books. It was a gift, part of a series of graphic novels and comic collections I was given as fodder and inspiration over the summer.

I was quickly hooked. Sometimes, most times, graphic novels hook me for the art and the way the format is used to tell a story. A first literary love of mine has always been autobiography (and fictional autobiography). In this case, I love, very much, that the story is told in this format, and the format informs and influence how the story is told. But it is the story, distilled in this way, that grabbed me. I finished it this morning. It is a powerful book in that it is an unflinching memoir, a story of identity, of family, of addiction, and of the search for understanding, connection, and truth. Over and over again as I read, I kept saying to myself... <i>this</i> is what I need to do. <i>This.</i>

Not a new assertion. At all. But something keeps holding me back. Partly it is my own lack of confidence in my line. (Big part.) Partly it is the outgrowth of my own walls. Who wants to read all the garbage that goes along with a life in a tailspin? And yet I read this story. I consumed it. I reached out for the human connection and reality it offers. I latched on to its honesty. In the raw honesty of it, startling at times, revealing, frightening, and hard to watch, the book shines. At the same time, it raises so many questions about what we, as artists and writers, reveal and what boundaries should be drawn. (Note: the reviews of this book range widely. It was interesting looking to see what other people thought... and why some people panned it. Interesting.)

I have read several of the memoirs Sandell mentions in the back of her book, including Blankets (which I loved and which has amazing art), the first of Bechdel's family memoirs, and way back when, in a graduate course, I read Maus. But there are many others on her list, not graphic in nature, that I now want to read.

Those of you who enjoy memoir <i>or</i> who enjoy the graphic novel format should take a look at The Impostor's Daughter. This is not one for your kids. It is graphic in many ways. It might even make you uncomfortable. But it is powerful. Yes, maybe it really is "recovery"-speak. Maybe it really is self-absorbed. Maybe it is many things. But all of those fall under the legitimate folds of memoir.

One of the projects for the second week of school was non-academic in nature but part of what will be a year-long path towards self-identity for sixth-graders. They kicked it off with an illustrated timeline... beginning with the need to identify number of significant events in their lives. (This is difficult when you are 11.) They then narrowed down to a certain number of key events and illustrated each one. The drawings were small format, but the end result is a wonderful visual representation of life up to now.

Have you ever made a timeline for your own life? What would go on it? What events, big and small, would merit space. When taken as a whole, what would the timeline say about you? As I helped with this process and also listened to an interview with a family member about an important decade in history for a humanities and social studies project, I was struck by the poignancy of the timeline -- and how important it can be. I think we probably all need a timeline. And we probably should keep running timelines for our kids to help fill in the gaps and dates and starting points and events. Something to consider.

 

 

PS: Tammy has recently been a guest in a series of podcasts from Voodoo Cafe. I keep trying to get my ducks in a row so I can get them synched and take them with me to listen. Here's a link to her mention of the newest one: http://daisyyellow.squarespace.com/vividlife/podcast-with-rice-3.html

 

 

42 on Wall

 

Sunday.

I hope all of you are celebrating Mother's Day -- and being celebrated. And maybe somewhere in your day are a few coveted minutes and a cup of tea (or something deeper and redder) and time to reflect on the day, on the role, on the years of commitment and love and challenge and reward the day brings up. The mix and balance are different for each of us, but hopefully it is a day in which you pause and remind yourself you're doing a good job, you're doing what you can do, and it matters. Hopefully others around you tell you these things today, too, but I know it doesn't always happen. So Happy Mother's Day.

Among the oddities of regular life here in the last few days were moments spent watching Avalon High, High School Musical 1, High School Musical 2, and beginning to watch old Star Trek episodes with the boys. This morning, as I prolonged the time before I gave in to the electronics requests/whining (which begins well before the sun is full), I covered up next to one while he read, and I read a graphic novel I picked up the other day from the teen shelves. It's a ghost story, at its core, and it was pretty darn scary on some level! The high school protagonist is Russian, and so there are themes of culture and family and identity all tumbled about within her rather gritty school days. Another I'm reading is about a young Jewish girl, also at odds with her family's expectations.... there certainly seems to be a (positive) trend in cultural identity graphic novel stories right now for the audience. Similarly, for those looking, you'll find a number of graphic novels with females at the core, which is certainly a good thing! (I tend to scour the section of both teen and children's libraries when we stop in, picking up anything I haven't run across before. Most of them get read by one or two of us, some by all three of us!)

I picked up To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel, again, too. It will always stick with me as important. In other moments, I'm reading Hoffman's The Dovekeepers,which is very heavy. But in the car, I started Science Fair Season, and I am blown away by the writing. Rarely have I been so in awe at the mastery of prose. I am reading it, of course, for work, but it is very, very good.

The Year Quilt: Final Stretch

Yesterday, between soccer games and after the splurge of Dynamo doughnuts (and early game putting us near the bakery early enough for the kids to get what they've been dying to try: maple bacon apple doughnuts), I spent time working on my '42' year project. I've got a little more than a month in which to finish up the piecing and call it "done." I've been lackadaisical about this one. Initially, I feared I would finish it too quickly, so I backed off, and then the year began to slip away. When I started taking stock a few months ago, it was clear I was seriously at the bottom of a mountain still to climb in order to meet both the end of this year (late June) and the 'math' of the project, which is part of the symbolism for me. (Somewhere in the project, the numbers have to make sense for the year.) So I have been working on it here and there, now and again. And slowly the number of panels has grown. I have less than a handful left to meet the number I think I need.

Beyond that, I have no concrete plan. I know what I want to do with this one when it is finished, and that knowledge is guiding its layout. I plan to hang it. Once I realized that and realized there is a wall I can use, at the expense of a quadrant of old family photos, I moved forward with this specific wall placement and size limitation in mind. But beyond a few sketches in my design book as I've contemplated whether I wanted to set the panels directly atop one another or offset them, I haven't given much precise thought to assembly. A week or so ago, I realized, suddenly, that I wanted to integrate small log cabins, and then, struggling still with the math and the limited number of days left, I hit upon another idea for small block integration. But I was figuring I would topstitch some of these blocks, adding them directly to the seemed panels.

That was what I anticipated, until I started working yesterday. It is much more "me" to set the blocks in, to integrate, to give it a finished appearance, to spend the time to bring about the 'pieced' integration, even though part of me thinks the raw-edged, layered approach might have been appropriate and textural. Even though I've let the finished elements begin lining up and spreading out across the design walls (we'll never see the bookcases in this room again, I fear), I've been waiting until all panels are done in order to finally pair them up to balance the greens and blacks. The waiting puts part of the process at a standstill... there's not a lot of "sewing" until I finish the handwork of the panels.

But yesterday, on a whim, I decided to go ahead and start assembling some of them... and as I did so, I started hacking off excess background, making background strips and inserting log cabins... I didn't even stop and determine a finite size for each panel. Instead, I'm working free-form with each piece, trusting that the variance that will emerge is part of what will bring this together and give it life. It will not be simply a grid of uniformity. Slowly it's taking shape... a shape I didn't plan.... but it is also very much taking on my voice and aesthetic. The way the log cabins are being integrated will space out the panels, but the approach also brings in and mixes up background elements, a characteristic style of the way I've designed several of our Here2There quilts. I'm loving what I see taking form on my wall.

Through the year, I thought I was doing just these appliqued panels, and yet suddenly it's become more, more nuanced, more layered, more complicated. It is definitely become what a year piece should become, and at this point, I respect the fact that sometimes the true "evolution" of a year quilt happens in the final months, days, hours. No matter how much you create week by week or how disciplined you are, there is magic in bringing it all together, fitting together pieces, seeking out the bits and pieces that need to be spliced in to give it final voice.

A month to go.

By the way... One of the many collections of Cul de Sac, by Richard Thomspon (and mentioned recently when we discovered it) is on sale right now at Amazon. Great price -- and eligible for free shipping for prime users. You can find Richard's blog here: richardspooralmanac.blogspot.com/. (Yesterday and today, he showed some 'mother'-themed panels and strips. Some of you will find yourselves reflected!)

Whittling Pencil 2012

 

Monday.

I wanted to post yesterday. In the midst of a marathon-three days of busyness, I realized that I was in the middle of an internal  avalanche of words and philosophy and emotion. Though I feel I've shut down my words in all mediums, all of a sudden stories were colliding and collapsing and spilling in my head and over the edges of my control. That, in and of itself, wouldn't have landed me on the blog. But an unexpected half hour with a comic strip turned things around--and that brought me to the blog. This is a strip you have to see... whether you have young illustrators yourself or whether you scrawl your own daily notes in comic style, or whether you are simply a fan of the genre.

Here is how it went...

Up early , I did a few morning things in the dim light and then worked on hand-sewing another leaf for what is beginning to feel like the endless '42' quilt. When the youngest woke a bit later, we moved back to blankets and pillows, each with a book in hand. And somehow, as I snuggled back into my space next to him, too much washed over me. He read his book, and I struggled to hold my tears in place. Shaking myself, I picked up a book of comics I've been carrying around for days and days. It is Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics. I found it quite accidentally at the library. Cul de Sac is by Richard Thompson, an illustrator I had never heard of before, but a glance at the opening pages told me it was a comic series I had to look at, both because of the style... and because of the content.

I'm a huge fan of Calvin and Hobbes, which I didn't really discover until I read it with the kids in the last few years. I love the strip both for the line of it and for the wonderful and very funny articulation of Calvin's thought and speech patterns. When we were big into Calvin and Hobbes, we read every collection we could find at the library, and we read some of them several times. Yesterday, sitting and reading the Cul de Sac book, I found a similar combination of humor and attention to the thought processes of children. The strip deals with a 4-year-old girl named Alice and her time at the Blisshaven Academy Preschool. You see her both at school and at home with her family. Some of the strips are just drop-dead funny. Some of the strips, you read as a parent, and you see the role of parenting stripped down to some bare essential... beneath the humor of it all, Thompson has an uncanny way of distilling the family setting and the way parents circle around the periphery.

I read for about a half hour while the youngest was engrossed in his own graphic novel. And then, we started reading Cul de Sac together. He, too, found the panels funny, and when his brother got up, he insisted we backtrack and read a bunch of them aloud again for his brother's benefit. We all laughed out loud together throughout the reading. I know there are a number of other collections, and I am looking forward to finding and going through them all!

From an illustrator's perspective, one thing I love about looking at a strip like Cul de Sac or Calvin and Hobbes is that it reiterates that you often really do draw the same character in almost the same position for several cells in a row. I think sometimes beginning comic artists resist this or thing there's something else that has to go on. You can learn a lot by reading, enjoying, and absorbing wonderful strips like Cul de Sac.

Thompson has a very distinct line in his illustrations, but I find it really amazing how much he can depict in a small space and still have room for plenty of text. There's a lot to study here! When I get a chance, I'll be poking around to find out more. Part of me wonders how I had never even heard of this strip. I think it might should be required reading for parents of preschoolers! But then the practical side of me admits that I don't even get the daily paper. I wonder what other amazing comics I'm missing?

(Something in me continues to percolate in this genre...)

All in all, Cul de Sac gave me a mental break, and we moved into our day. Shortly after, we found ourselves on the front steps whittling down a pencil for a science project. We broke several in the process. It was much more difficult than we anticipated--and we've each got sore thumbs to prove it!

Tying it all together... do you think I haven't suggested that he do a comic strip panel or two about his experience with this science project. Absolutely! Do you think he's buying that idea? Not really. The reality is that I am the one that should do it. I should be documenting that, along with a zillion other day to day moments, in my own strip. It's always had a name in my head anyway, and there are scads of panels scrawled into various sketchbooks tucked here and there, and the cup of spilled lemonade yesterday afternoon fits right in. Someday, right?

Lazy Boy 1

I will save my surprise and the story of how this came to be for a story someday (that thing I sometimes do called a podcast). But once he spilled the beans to me that he had sort of liked my idea to do a panel a day (or even part of a panel) and had done one of his own at school, we created a bit of a challenge for ourselves. We haven't totally gotten into the groove with the way we envisioned the challenge, but starting to 'show' the raw work is a large part of it.

I did scan my first one last week... and I haven't been able to bring myself to post it. It's so FULL of problems. It's so messy. It begs to have nice neat inked lines and better handwriting. I think it's just very hard to get to a point where I can show it... though there may be what... two or three of you who see?

So his series surprises me... I'm surprised that he's doing it. (It's a first.) I'm surprised by the subject. I'm surprised to find myself realizing how differently we approach graphic noveling... and I love that. I love that his is outside of himself whereas my goal is to find a way to capture something of these days in this format. I love that there is humor in what he is doing. And, I love that he's wanting me to share his work.

It would be very me to elaborate and belabor and disclaim and explain and this and that. But I won't. He's a major math student, and so when he finishes at school each day, he evidently is using his extra time drawing his "daily" panels. Some days he doesn't finish the entire thing... maybe a few panels of a piece that he then continues the next day. And I don't get to see them every day. But I've learned to step back and see what happens. I've also learned not to get overly optimistic. This process is very new. It might not last. It might quickly fade.

But this was the first.

And so, to be fair, this was also the first:

GN - 1 (Oct 2011)

(Note: both are pencil sketches scanned in and then darkened digitally because pencil scans pretty miserably. Tammy suggested I try photoing them instead. I might give that a try. Both of us are used to cleaning up and refining our lines in ink, so seeing the pencil scans is strange!)

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And that something is... giving in to imperfection and drawing in the moment rather than 'someday.' What does that mean? It means that I decided last week to do a "what if" experiment and see what would happen if I do a graphic novel panel a day -- recording something of the day -- and then upload it to the blog in its raw form. That means what if I take my rough sketches and thumbnails and really messy 'working it out' lines and upload them without any cleaning up, without going in and re-drawing, without necessarily inking over the pencil. What if?

I'm working on this approach. But it's a huge leap to put up a raw sketch! (You notice there's no photo here!) I did scan the first one... the acid test. But pencil scans so badly. And there are many problems with it. And this and that and so on. See? It's not easy. But, I think there's a lesson to be learned in taking this leap... plus, it would be good practice, a good kick-start, and a good discipline.

As an aside, and I don't want to jinx anything, but I "talked" out loud about what I'm trying/considering/planning/challenging myself to do... and maybe I sparked something. We'll see.

I've not made the best use of my time tonight. I have been trying to solve a knitting dilemma for the holidays. But I am hoping to go in now, before I read and sleep, and find one moment of the day (or a recent day) to put down in a few panels. There are many from which to choose. It's my way of freezing the moment -- good ones or bad ones.

My mother sent me a phone pix from the hospital tonight. It's in my head. And with that tumbles a lot of thinking about autobiography and art and journaling and privacy and on and on it goes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stumbled over WanderMonster today. The story behind these back-and-forth, lunchbox, post-it-note comics is very cool:

"Every day of school, from kindergarten through third grade, I have sent my son off with a sticky note fixed to the inside lid of his lunchbox. Each of these little pieces of colored paper bears a half-completed drawing and a half-written story. I anxiously await picking him up after school to see how he finishes these miniature comics."

The story behind the Dad's understanding that the 'together' art means something different to each of them at this point... worth reading.

Kritty pointed out this writeup of a young comic artist.

And I saw reference this week to comics being used in schools to address problems of bullying.

All good things.