Monday, June 25, 2007

Never Give Up

Stick with your dreams. That's what they say. Keep plugging away, because you can't win if you quit the game.

Can't argue with that. But you might have to grub for twenty or thirty years before you see a way forward. Or you might never see one. That kind of determination takes a certain kind of stubbornness. Some might call it stupidity.

Hard to say if it goes anywhere from here. But it went here, and "things," as they say, are happening.

I have called attention to myself. It's not a quiet matter between me and an editor and a bunch of magazine or newspaper readers I'll never meet. I can feel detached from celebrity judges looking at my work. It's too unreal, even when they pick me. When I have to bother people I know and people I barely know to try to generate enough votes to win, that's when it gets real. I'm making a fuss, pick me, pick me. I hope they'll think it was worth it.

In all the years since I got over myself, after the unfounded arrogance of young adulthood, I have been happy to toil anonymously, helpfully, competently. But I kept drawing pictures. It wasn't like a hard-fought battle or a master plan. It was just a habit. In the end, making a habit of your dreams and desires may be the best you can do. Just don't quit. The strongest force against the creative soul is not opposition, it is indifference. By making a habit of your creation, you make yourself indifferent to indifference.

You have to be ready to amount to nothing for the sake of doing what you want to do. It's a risk. Every course of action brings its hazards and drawbacks. You only hope you get to choose what you risk and why you risk it. And then hope you have the strength to follow all the way through. It may not be a dramatic, heroic struggle. It might just be a long journey on a low budget. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth taking.

This moment could be the high point, a flash of light near the sunny surface before sinking back into the green depths. Or it could be the start of things more exciting and lucrative. Either way, the cat box needs to be scooped.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Grand Design

Lately I have worked from the assumption that most of us have no compelling reason to exist. At best we are spares, almost talented potential replacements for the few truly illustrious people. Perhaps we hold spare organs for them. But as I sat and listened to local poets at the library tonight I realized some higher intelligence has a greater plan for all of us.

All our building and destroying, our mountaintop removal mining, blast craters, highway interchanges, Great Walls, suburban subdivisions and pyramids are the result of a young alien creature's entry in his school science fair.

We need all of us, consuming, demanding and destroying, to inspire the Earth-scarring disfigurements we have perpetrated on our planet's crust. They are vital to our creator's clever plan, because in the language of his species they spell out, "Eat my shorts."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Environmental Laundry

We put up a clothes line. It's one of those simple things you can do to save the planet.

We've had rain almost every day since.

If one of us stayed at home, we could exploit the dry parts of the day. Unfortunately, we both have to leave the house for at least part of almost every day.

Natural methods rely on unpredictable forces. If we lived in a desert, we could dry clothes all the time, but we would have no water with which to wash them.

The trick to exploiting natural energy has always been control and storage. That's why fire was such a cool thing. Once we figured out how to burn things, we simply had to try burning as many different things as possible to see what we could get out of them.

Wood is solar energy that has been stored for a few years. Coal is solar energy that has been stored for a few million years. So is oil. Since the source material for petroleum is thought to contain some animal components as well, it could be said to contain the force of life itself.

Releasing this energy has drawbacks that are now well documented. In addition to the pollution that comes from burning any of these fuels, we can also romp through the reserves in far less time than it took to create them. Unlike a natural cycle, this one has no renewal phase.

If we tried to make petroleum out of the greasy remains of the living organisms that die every day, we would have to pour massive amounts of external energy into the process to speed it up. Energy is, in this instance, compressed time.

Running the environmentally contemptible electric dryer, I compress the work of half a day's sunshine into an hour. If the dryer worked better, it would take even less time. Like everything else in this house, it is just a tired, aging slacker.

A damp rug, recovering from an attack of cat pee, hangs over the clothes line, while the electric dryer hums and rumbles in the basement. This aging slacker has to put forth some of his own energy to get to work. It's still somewhat renewable.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dental Delight, Phase One

I'm out of the chair. I have so much Novocaine in my face that my left ear is numb. I only noticed this when I put my sunglasses on to ride from the dentist's office to the bike shop.

In about 15 more minutes I'll be able to get that blissful first cup of coffee.

After successfully evading major dental work for about 30 years, I prepared to face it with meditative calm. Yeah, right. I feel like a human sacrifice on that chair. Its curves don't seem to match mine. Rather than cradle me in comforting contours, it seems to thrust my soft midsection up for the priest's plunging knife.

My dentist is a very nice guy and a careful craftsman. But for all my resolve to trust him implicitly and relax completely, within 30 seconds I was twisted in the chair, head pulling back in defiance of my will. We stopped, chatted a bit. I subsided. But I noticed as the procedure went on that my legs were sprawled off the lower part of the chair as if my body had been dumped there. My feet occasionally gripped the sides of it.

Then there was my swallowing problem. The spray of water the assistant used to direct the chunks of my demolished molar toward the vacuum cleaner she held to catch them collected in exactly the wrong spot on my tongue. Involuntarily, I swallowed. The dentist jerked the drill back. We all laughed nervously. Then something I said made us all laugh harder. I don't remember what it was. Then we laughed at laughing.

As nice as it must have been for the patients in the waiting room to hear riotous laughter rather than groans of agony, you don't want people operating power tools inside your mouth to have a case of the giggles. Fortunately, these people are professionals. They got it back under control.

True to their word, the dental team finished in an hour and a half.

Now I just need my face to come back to life.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Live by Arrogance, Die by Arrogance

Thinking about the way people like to take a harsh line with each other, I was wandering the labyrinth between coddling the weak and hammering the strong.

Most of us have some degree of sympathy for our fellow creatures. Some only feel it for fellow humans, some even limit it to humans of a certain race, creed or nationality. Others extend it to animals, plants and possibly sentient minerals we haven't learned to talk to yet. But even among the tender-hearted there's a limit. Whether it's a hopeless relative or in-law who never seems to get a job, or that wino on the corner whose entreaties for spare change just get too old, we dig in our heels and say, "look, you're dragging down the whole species. Snap out of it or get the hell away from me."

Among real harshness aficionados, the line comes up a lot sooner. These are the people who revel in a challenge and look forward to dying in battle, literally or figuratively. You are either hammer or anvil with these people.

They have a point, these hard-asses. But I do wonder how many of them really live the hard line every day. When it's time to die by arrogance, do they suddenly discover their soft center or do they man up and fall upon their swords? Some do, some don't, I guess.

It's easy to strike a tough pose until something lays you low. Then you have to decide: do you develop an understanding for the weak or welcome your own destruction because you have proven by failure that you don't deserve to exist?

If you're going to accept that no one is perfect, no one is strong enough to stand completely alone or always lead the charge, you'd better come to that realization early enough to make the best of it. If, on the other hand, you plan to bind yourself to the rigid framework of unbending principle, don't be a bloody hypocrite at the last minute and turn into a sniveling weakling.

I have no patience with career weaklings. The perennially damaged are so much work. But so are the perennially aggressive. I don't have a lot of time for either one.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dental Surgery Coming Up

Before police officers are allowed to pepper-spray anyone, they have to be pepper-sprayed themselves.

Before dentists are allowed to blast the top off someone's molar to put a cap on there, shouldn't they have to have one chiseled down to the gum line in their own mouth?

I'm not complaining, really, but it always strikes me as cruelly ironic when a person has to pay a healthy wad of cash for something disturbing and painful. I know it takes great skill, and I would be worse off without it. It's just the dead opposite of what I would choose to spend disposable income on.

Oh well. I'm investing in gold futures. I get some gold installed and I can chew in the future.

Paris Hilton Doesn't Like Jail

Paris Hilton freaked out in jail and actually managed to get sent home for a short time before the justice system came to its senses and slapped her back in to finish her sentence like any other person.

Her closet at home is several times larger than her cell in jail.

Here's a deal: She can go home, but she has to bring a bunch of fellow inmates with her. She gets out of that nasty prison and the prison system gets a break from some of the overcrowding for which our criminal storage units have become known.

No one seems to have thought of that one.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Gee, President Bush feels sick to his stomach.

Big whoop. A lot of us have been feeling that way since late in 2000.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Security Suggestions

The Disney Morning News had a segment giving suggestions to enhance security for people, particularly women, in mall parking lots. These included not blocking your hearing with music devices or cell phones. But no one suggested having the cell phone in hand for an instant call out or simply that you could tell whoever you were talking to that you were being attacked.

They also recommended that women carry their purses under their arm so it wouldn't dangle invitingly. "This could prolong a confrontation," they added, so the potential victim would have to decide how long to try to defend their property. One idea was to remove important items like car keys.

This led me to the idea of the Purse Grenade. In a potentially dicey situation, have the purse set up with an explosive device inside. The size of the charge would be tailored to the situation. It could be as mild as smoke and a bang to startle the attacker or more powerful, actually to cause damage.

Yes it's illegal, and yes, I customarily do not advocate violence. But I also can't stand people who initiate violence and inflict it on people they believe cannot fight back. So this suggestion is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as well as bomb-in-purse. But doesn't it have its appeal?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Between Illegible and Insipid

I hate my drawing style. Between the scribbled sketch and the formal rendering, the drawings almost always seem to go flat. I draw like I'm folding my shirts.

Someone suggested I work directly in ink with no preliminary pencil sketch at all. That didn't work, because a lot of the time I need some sort of composition diagram when I'm working at a large enough size to draw details that will take reduction. Even if I do a lot of studies beforehand, I also need a good idea how I plan to render unfamiliar objects I may need to include to make the gag work.

The answer will not come from someone else's advice. It will come with drawing after drawing. You'd think by this point in life I would have gotten completely comfortable, but I'm sure I fall short of the ten thousand bad drawings Wallace Tripp suggests every illustrator needs to get through.

I'm sure some illustrators think of the image first. I think of the idea, usually verbally. Other cartooning teachers have said that writing is the basis for gags and that drawing can follow, so I don't feel out of line there. But some artists use a gag as an excuse for a drawing, whereas I have always considered a drawing as a vehicle for a gag. So filling the frame is a bit like packing a rucksack. You only want what you need, but not less than you need, and you want to have access to the most important bits instantly. Because you have to carry it yourself, you don't want a lot of extra clutter.

There are, of course, detail freaks who love to throw in extra clutter. Sometimes the result is impressive and enjoyable. Other times it makes the cartoon as intimidating and fatiguing as a credit card agreement to wade through. I've never seen the need to become good at it.

Back to the old drawing board. My latest assignment won't draw itself any more than my shirts will miraculously assume a flat, neat shape without me.