Thursday, November 23, 2006

Helpful Household Hint

With multiple cats in residence, I suddenly realized that if I spray them all with Pledge every day, they become part of the solution, not part of the problem. Once a week I can vacuum them off. Voila! A photo shoot in Better Homes can't be far behind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Help Wanted

If I manage to become a rich and famous cartoonist, or at least a commercially viable one, the first assistant I hire will be someone to do the erasing. Make no mistake, erasing takes skill and patience. I don't discount the need for a responsible person. I just get sick of dealing with the eraser crumbs. During extensive erasing, even a kneaded gray eraser will shed some little rolls of eraser cheese. And some stuff just needs to be gone after with the white Magic Rub. That thing sheds like the cats.

We thought she was just stressin' about life

A friend of Laurie's from a couple of shows she'd done had been having a bit of a rough summer. We'd heard about it through a woman who knew her much better, the artistic director of the New Hampshire Theatre Project. It sounded like some of the emotional stress that hits people in their late 20s. It's sad, and hard to go through, but it happens to most people. Particularly at the end of a decade or the end of a phase of life, like graduation from one level or another of school, the path ahead grows indistinct, and monsters dwell in the shadows.

Lisa was on schedule for such a thing, at 29. Her friends did what they could to help her through the ups and downs and waited for her to pull out of it. It was just 20s angst.

Wrong. It was a brain tumor. She died Sunday morning after a week in a coma.

If that wording seems abrupt it is no more so than the events themselves.

She'd been in rehearsals for the latest NHTP production, the U.S. premiere of David Farr's update of The Odyssey. The play opened last Friday, even as she lay in the hospital and her friends went on with the show in what can seem like a show business cliche. It was, in fact, a tribute to what she had lived and was soon to die enmeshed in. She had been a performer and teacher.

Sunday's matinee was a hard experience for the performers and for the audience members who knew the other story. But a powerful magic takes hold when a serious actor gets into a role. It offers an escape for everyone, but underneath it the emotions of real life add emphasis to a line or an expression. The ghost of an actor gone forever from the stage appears momentarily on the face of the understudy who fills the role ably in her own right. What might have been and now will never be flickers like a film double-exposed.

Players who would have been full of happy chatter after the first weekend of a successful production said they felt numb. The elation after the performance met the grief held at bay and left them with nothing at all. This is only temporary. All that they feel and we feel needs to flow through its course, steep and turbulent, dark and twisting, to reach the next calm pond. Light and darkness will strike its surface and penetrate its depths. Each survivor finds a way to go on.

Cliches abound for situations like this. "You just never know." "It could happen to anyone." "Live every day like it was your last." "Tell your loved ones you love them." You know the whole lengthy catalog. Each one started from a simple truth, reduced to a sound bite and repeated until no one really hears it.

She died while pursuing what she loved. No one can ask for more. No one should settle for less.

Monday, November 20, 2006


The perfect creative partnership is like two people farting in a room. You're not sure who contributed what, but you know your contribution improved the product. It's competitive the same way, too. Each contributor wants to match the output of the other, for self defense if nothing else.

Jealousy is inevitable when one partner can't come up with anything to add. It stinks having nothing when someone else is obviously having all kinds of fun dominating the room.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pets Help Lower Blood Pressure

It was my first commissioned piece of art for money in a long time. It was my first color piece in a long, long time.

The customer wanted a hummingbird and a rose. Hummingbirds don't frequent roses, but if she wanted it I would try to draw it. I had a pretty standard rose I used to doodle quite a bit, and I had been drawing little cartoon hummingbirds since eighth grade. It should be simple enough to bend those familiar forms into an acceptable design. Right?

Nature knows a hummingbird doesn't care much about a rose. They just didn't look right together. And roses are very hard to draw from the angle at which I needed to draw it to balance the composition. My flat doodle avoided what is actually an awkward angle for a rose. I had trouble even finding a photograph at the angle I needed.

The resulting rose looked okay. The bird with it looked a little stiff. They were on the same sheet of paper, but they didn't look like they went together.

When I showed the customer how it was shaping up, she said she was willing to let the rose go in favor of a more likely target for a hummingbird.

If something isn't right, start over. First I researched flowers. Morning glories grow around here and have showy blossoms hummingbirds love. But they're technically an invasive species. After searching websites and books, I settled on the dazzling Lobelia Cardinalis. It's native and a known hummingbird favorite. It's so red it's hard to look at. The blossoms are distinctive and easy to draw from several angles. We should be finished in no time.

Illustrator Wallace Tripp writes on his website that an artist has ten thousand bad drawings to get through before producing the good stuff. I'm not sure if I've passed that threshold yet. Are those just any drawings, or drawings you're trying to do well?

The hummingbird and lobelia proceeded slowly, hampered not only by my halting use of forgotten materials and the age of the pigments and brushes themselves, but by the constant attendance of curious and helpful cats. The cats absolutely must be in my workspace, preferably right in my face.

Bonnie, Basil and Daisy took turns upsetting the water dishes or walking across the table, even across the work itself. Because I would not fling them down the stairs or over the rail into the abyss above the living room, I could not completely discourage them.

Bonnie finally succeeded in flipping the contents of a water bowl into the keyboard of the open laptop three feet away from the drawing table. Most of the water fell short, but not all. I spread toilet paper across the wet keys, dangling little strips into the spaces between the rows to suck out what had gone in. The computer survived.

The drawing has been delivered. Of course I can do better. I haven't turned in a piece yet that I did not immediately or shortly believe I could have executed better. Ten thousand drawings and a change of style and ten thousand more may not cure that.

I'm going to try making watercolor brushes out of cat hair and cobwebs, seeing as I have so much of both to work with.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Sun's Dark Mood

November and December sun slants in from the side, stabbing at the eyes. You want sunshine? Here's your sunshine. Jab!

What passes for noon passes very quickly. The morning's faint hopes turn to the afternoon's squinting haste to use what there is of this dazzling but brief assault.

The gray days, when light just seems to come and go without a source, are almost a relief. Sure it's suicide weather, but a clear view of the sky doesn't really help that much. It's better to settle into the grim work of endurance, waiting for the comfort food of the holidays and the first upward springs of the returning light in January. Secure for silent running and deep submergence. Close the hatches, forget the surface. Dive, dive, and view the world through instruments, while the mind expands on imaginary vistas of islands yet to be seen.

The flat rays of this low sun do pierce the house much deeper than the overhead lighting of the longer days. Prisms in the windows, leftover from when I had high hopes and vague plans, splash rainbows all over the walls. It reminds me to return to the creative life that has been interrupted and delayed more than I could have imagined.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Standard Time

November. Five p.m. and it's darker than a colonoscopy in a power failure out there. This time of year I wonder how it is for people in Alaska, or any other place where the daylight can be all or nothing.

Thanks to Time Warner Cable, I can't even play on the internet at home. Since they took over from bankrupt Adelphia, we have had multiple outages every day. After the last one, the TV came back, but the internet connection didn't. They might get a sevice technician out there next Tuesday. I'm paying how much for this?

So, unless we get lucky and someone drops by sooner, no email, no blogging, except on the fly. If I get a spare moment at work (like now) I can check on things.

I'm unimpressed with the new service, guys. And if my rates go up I'll go back to smoke signals and carrier pigeons.