Sunday, July 30, 2006

That's Me In The Corner

"Why don't you do a cartoon or graphic novel?" is one of the top three questions I hear after someone sees my work. Number two with a bullet is, "If I wrote a children's book, would you illustrate it?" And weighing in at number one is, "How long did it take you to do that?"

Taking these questions in reverse order, I respond:

"It's not about time."

"Why don't you talk to me after you actually write it?"

and, "There are a lot of things I don't do."

Then I smile.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just About Glad . . .

It was late at night on the F, after the show and the drinks and the long wait for the train.

The woman sitting next to me, a slender blonde with a look-at-those-teeth smile and the kind of twinkling eyes that makes a person stare away and blush, was knitting a scarf. I pulled out my drawing pad and pens and got to work. Somewhere along the way a busker got on and started playing trumpet tunes to make the toe tap. I said to the knitter that we should dance and, although she agreed, we never did.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I'm just waiting on a friend . . .

I was sitting, waiting for Bryan, looking out at Astor Place. The man in the red sweater was leaning on the mailbox, looking like he owned the place, or at least like he had optioned it. Next to me a couple was interviewing a potential nanny for their twins, a Jamaican woman who was doing her best to answer the questions. "They were premature, so they have special needs. I spent a lot of time bed-ridden in the last months of the pregnancy and I'm anxious to get back to my life--can I depend on you to wake them if they sleep too long and miss a feeding?" asked the mother. "We just need to feel that we can trust you," said the father. "Every child is different," said the job applicant, "you just got to pay attention to the child . . . "

The guy sweeping the floor looked over my shoulder and said, "looks just like him. I notice people, but I can't draw'em. That guy's always standing there, taking his foot out of his shoe and looking around. I notice them, but I can't draw them. I see them all, but I don't know how to draw . . . "

I wish I'd noticed he was only wearing one shoe . . .

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What mountain?

If Rob's and my trip had a theme or motif, I think it would have to be related to the climbing of mountains as a way of grappling with the unknowable.

Personally, I have always looked to the solitude of a walk in the mountains to mark the transitions of life. For me, this started in high school. It was opening day of a play I was in and I was nervous and finding a way to ground myself and focus. It was the last show I was going to be doing with my very best friends who were a year ahead of me and would soon be leaving for college. At that point in my life (and for long years after), experience had pretty much taught me that when people leave, they're gone, that transition meant a figurative death, that by moving into the next you lost all contact with the former, and that change was inevitable, came suddenly and cost you everything you had learned to love.

So, yes, I was a little low that day.

I went to high school in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and it was an easy, thirty minute drive from my front door to Skyline Drive. So that day, without much planning or forethought, I impulsively found myself up in the Allegheny mountains, looking out over the trees and foothills and farms, nursing a combination of sadness and exhilaration. I didn't have much time and I didn't need much time because it was one of those poetic moments that the teen-age me used to create self-consciously, praying for someone to notice. I always tended to craft those moments with an element of self-serving sabotage; alone on a mountain, it was unlikely that anyone would turn up to give me a hug.

When I got into my car to return home and get ready for the show, I flipped on the radio to see if I could get the good station from Charlottesville for a few moments before the mountain blocked the signal between my lame valley and the "cool" valley on the other side.

And what I heard was Supertramp's "Take The Long Way Home," specifically the section which went:

"And when you're up on the stage it's so unbelievable,
unforgettable how they adore you"

and I listened through the point in the song where they sang:

"Does it feel that your life's become a catastrophe?
Oh, It has to be for you to grow, boy . . . "

And I turned the radio off and my manufactured mountain moment was complete with a random dose of top-forty insight. And twenty plus years later, I may wish the music had been something other than Supertramp, but it was the early-eighties and that's what the universe was providing for a soundtrack. Besides, I loved Supertramp and sometimes you've got to wade through the shallow end to swim in the deep part.

Too many years later, when I was trying to figure out how to reclaim my life from poor choices and inertia, I returned to that mountain every year on my birthday, to walk a very small portion of the Appalachian Trail and think. And it became customary for me to seize the opportunities as they came along--with or without an actual mountain--to step off the path and process when I needed some time to think about the changes going on all around me.

So when Rob told me that it's a tradition in Japan to climb Mount Fuji in July and August, I didn't need to think too hard about it. And when he said that he wanted to do the two-mile climb at night, so that we'd be sitting there at the top when the sun came up, I hesitated for a moment and figured, if that's the mountain he wants to climb, then I'm going along.


When we got there at five in the afternoon, tired, a little hung-over with too little cash in our pocket, we had to come to grips with a couple of basic truths. For one thing, we didn't have enough money for the expenses that the hike would accrue. You see, we'd have to pay for the taxi which would take us to the bus which would take us to the point where we could begin the hike. And, then we had to factor in the return trip which--although it covered the same distance, and traveled the same road as the trip there--was twenty dollars more expensive. Also, we needed to be able to stop and buy water at the various way-stations along the upward path. Also, it's a two-mile hike up a serious volcano in the dark and we would need flashlights and warm-clothing for an ascent into the thin air and cold weather of the summit. When we added it all up, we figured we could squeak by with our available cash, barring no disasters, and make it back to the hotel with about five dollars to spare and a bone-deep chill.

(As a side-note, I should point out that, yes, we asked, but the only ATMs in the area were located in the lobbies of the banks which were closed for the weekend. To be clear: Yes, there are Automated Teller Machines, but they are not available when the bank is closed. You may call this a fundamental misunderstanding of the benefits of ATMs or you can chalk it up to a country with serious control issues.)


The final complicating factor was that, although we had arrived at the base of Mount Fuji, the actual mountain was nowhere to be seen. All around us was mist and clouds and the exquisite beauty of lakes and foothills.

"Maybe that's it," I would say to Rob, pointing to an obscuring cloud climbing over a patch of trees above. "I think it's there," Rob would say, pointing to another patch of mist. "I bet it's there," I would counter pointing across the lake and imagining the scene before me as rendered by Hokusai.

I dunno where it was, to be honest. And no one ever pointed it out and cleared the whole matter up. Like the fifteenth stone at Ryoanji, it just couldn't be seen, no matter where we stood.

And somehow, as we sat there together and gave up on the idea of climbing this mountain we couldn't see and sank into the satisfaction of the road which had brought us to this point, a sense of peaceful completion settled in.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Every night in Kyoto, Rob and I would sit down by the river and people-watch and talk. Our last night there was a Friday and on Friday night a lot of . . . uhm . . . Kyotans(?) . . . gather and shoot off fireworks and make out and watch the guys who dance with flaming ropes of fire. Our favorite bar was right near this spot, so we would go in and talk to Emi, our tequila waitress, before making our way outside and staring at the water . . . Kyoto is the Austin of Japan--a laid-back college town surrounded by hill country and filled with temples, shrines and monuments. Uhm, wait. I guess Austin isn't so full of the temples, shrines and monuments, unless you count Threadgills and the Stevie Ray Vaughn Sculpture, but I can see how Stevie-Ray may be to Austin what Buddha is to Kyoto; really, it's obvious. Also, the best part of this particular point in Kyoto was that there was a Starbucks right there when you needed it. You can hate Starbucks all you want in this country, but it guarantees a good cup of coffee (or, in Rob's case a frapaccino) when you need one in Japan . . .

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Certain Lack of Defining Lines . . .

I drew this from a photograph by Roy Round, in honor of Julie Kent's twenty years with American Ballet Theatre. A print was presented to her last Friday night, after her performance in Romeo and Juliet, as I was making my way to Kalamazoo for Allison and John's wedding.

It's my last ballet drawing of the season . . .

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Secret of Rocks

No matter how much you know, there's always gonna be a healthy dose of the unknown sitting right there in front of you, making you stupid, keeping you humble.

In Japan, Rob and I wandered from one zen garden, temple, museum and shrine to another, taking it all in as it came . . . but, I think we both agree that the Ryoanji Temple housed the most profound experience of the trip.

Its main feature is a large rectangular zen garden with fifteen stones, alone and in groups, spread from one end to the other. The design is about five hundred years old and it's essentially an elegant, abstract metaphor. The number "15" is a sacred number, symbolizing knowledge; thus fifteen stones. But, no matter where you stand in the viewing area of the garden, you can only see fourteen stones from any one point at any one time; there's always a stone that you can't see in the sculpture and that unknown stone completes the picture.

So, sit and think about that we did . . .

Monday, July 10, 2006

Jet Lag

Ten days ago, Rob and I arrived in Tokyo somewhere around four in the afternoon, after an uncomfortable 14 hour flight. We struggled to stay up late enough to get an actual night's sleep, but it was rough and we ended up unconscious at 8:30 or so and found ourselves wide awake around 4:30-5, the next several mornings. The first thing we did was walk over to the Imperial Palace, where we waited because we were there like three hours before it opened. So, I drew this and Rob studied the guide book and we sat there having no idea how much fun we were about to have.

It's ten days later and I'm jet-lagged in reverse now. This morning was yesterday and--at least on paper--we got back to New York before we left Tokyo. And I've napped a bit, but I'm trying to make it to ten, so I can begin the process of resetting my internal clock . . .

I've got more drawings from the trip to share, but it will have to wait until my brain is working again . . .

But, it's good to be back . . .