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Friday, June 30, 2006


Last year around this time, we spent a weekend with our friends Sarah and Ron at Sarah's wonderful old family house in Chautauqua. It's the kind of weekend that can make you come back and think, "I immediately need to buy a weekend house so that I, too, can gather friends and sit around and read books and enjoy nature." I did this sketch at the time, and did another for Sarah later. It's funny how, even in a year's time, I look at the sketch and think how differently I'd be doing it if I were drawing it now. By the way, that's bee balm growing by the windows. Bee balm draws hummingbirds. Probably we have no hummingbirds at my house because they're all in Chautauqua, hanging out at Sarah's. :-)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lylah Rose

When she was a much smaller girl, Lylah Rose used to beg to give people manicures. Saying "yes" required a dedication to the wonders of childhood, because it meant that you were going to end up with nail polish all over your hands, and that polish would probably be blue. The stuff that actually made it onto your fingernails would likely be in a kind of Jackson Pollack mode. Then what could you do? You couldn't immediately take it off. That would hurt her feelings.

Tonight after work, Lylah Rose offered to do my nails for the first time in a long while. I didn't have much going on, so she painted away while we watched "Grease" on TV. She did a pretty darned nice job. After they dried, I picked up my sketchbook to honor my commitment to myself to draw everyday, and did a quick sketch of her. When I study her features for a drawing, I am forced to remember that she's not the tiny kid who wanted to slather polish all over my hands. She's a growing-up kid, a tween, a pre-teenager. She's a young lady, capable of delivering a more than half-decent manicure.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Interview: Shirley's biggest fan

With this blog, I am officially throwing over my practice of letting my interview subjects go unnamed – unless, of course, they wish to. So please meet Jackie, a great friend, real estate maven, writer and thespian. To the interview, she brought a little silver pin, studded with rhinestones and blue emerald-cut stones. We’ve been friends for some years now, but I had neither seen the pin nor heard of the person whose memory it evokes until I conducted the interview.

Q: What’s the significance of your skating pin?
A: The ice skating pin was given to me in second grade by a lady named Shirley Alvarez, who was a huge influence in my life. She was the mother of two friends and she would take us for ice skating lessons every Friday after school. I got to be pretty good and really got into it for about three years. I found this in an old jewelry box.
Q: What was the occasion for her giving you the pin?
A: I don’t remember. But she was one of those people who was hugely significant for a six-year period of my life. The last time I talked to her she called my mom to chat and she was dying of a brain tumor. I was about 17.
Q: Did you know she was sick?
A: I did, but I was pretty much in denial. She was this great, large, beautiful woman from Lawrence, Massachusetts. I always loved her full name: Ann Shirley Marie Booth Clark Alvarez. She was only married once; I have no idea why she had all those names. She had a collection of those china heads that you hang on the wall. She had Madame Defarge and a bunch of Dickens characters. She also introduced me to Barbra Streisand, whose music my mother did not love, and Shirley did. It bothered me that my mother would criticize Barbra so harshly. One day when I was alone with her we were talking about it. She took out the “My Name is Barbra” album and did this whole analysis of the childhood photo of Barbra on the cover. She said that as she saw it, that was a little girl who knew the world did not perceive her as beautiful but that she had so much to give, she was going to find a way to give it anyway. And here were all were now, with everyone thinking she was stunning. And what was so cool about that was she knew my mother was critical, and she giving me permission to think Barbra was cool.
Q: What was Shirley like?
A: She was bigger than life and she was kind and funny and emotionally generous. Very no-nonsense in a New England way. She was poetic. She had a lyrical soul and an extraordinary sense of humor that didn’t have to make anyone the butt of the joke. She was just funny. She also is the person to whom I can attribute my lifelong arachnophobia. She was paralyzed with fear by even the tiniest of spiders, and I killed them for her.
Q: So you weren’t afraid of them then?
A: Not then. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me if someone I respected that much was afraid of them, there was probably a good reason. She had to have weighed 300 pounds and I watched her one time climb on a counter to get away from a little tiny spider.

When I was about 10, Shirley became pregnant for the first time at age 40. Her two kids that were my friends were adopted. It was a mostly bed-rest pregnancy. I kept her a lot of company. I can remember the night she went into labor, my mother and the other mothers were very worried. And someone said they were worried the baby wouldn’t be “normal.” I remember going to bed and making a deal with God that the baby would be perfect and I would live this fabulously upright life. When the baby was born, she was beautiful. Her name was Leigh Ann, and I was proud as a peacock because I was responsible.

Q: How was she different from other friends’ mothers?
A: The irony of Shirley was she was MY friend. Shirley was the draw, (not her children), and I was for her. I think we got each other in a kind of profound way. She was not somebody you messed with – you didn’t piss her off. She was also the person I was with on the day Kennedy was assassinated. It was this gray November day. I remember sitting in front of her TV in shock until my father picked up.

Q: Other than arachnophobia, what qualities did you get from Shirley?
A: I feel like she formed whatever courage I have to run against the tide. She was her own person, and didn’t have a lot of patience with the popular choice. And I also wanted to be funny the way Shirley was funny.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

It Doesn't Rhyme

If you check back a few posts, you'll find one about the poet George, and if you read the post you'll find a passing reference to his radio show "Wordplay," which happens every Wednesday at 12:30 pm on the radio station at John Carroll University. It's a half-hour show devoted to ... poetry. And other thoughtfully crafted strings of words.

George often invites guests to read a poem on his show, and he recently invited me, then went one better and let me read one of my own. (Not that there are so very many of them, let me tell you.) The reading was recorded in George's office a few days before the show.

Last Wednesday, I had the surreal experience of lying on my bed in the early afternoon, next to my clock radio (I'd taken a day off from work for various adventures) and listening to myself read a poem, which I've attached here. I began it a few years ago as a gift to one of my brothers, but I kept playing with it even after I gave it to him. The back story is that M and I have birthdays less than a week apart in February, so I was thinking of what we both really needed and what we didn't.

Another way to introduce the poem is to say it's the kind of thing one writes when one has a lot of heart, and has given some attention to words throughout her life, but poetry is not her native language. Make sense? Here you go.

As For Your Gift

One spring evening came the moment
When every object I had ever craved
Had either passed through my hands and settled --
(in little piles in a corner of the garage,
by the crumbs on the kitchen counter,)
--or had been found lacking, and given away.

Lilacs surely dropped their scent on my day of reckoning, but
I didn't notice. I was at Kmart.
Now you see your burden:
How to please she who has goblets and the wine
with the bird on the label
and sheets that pill beneath her in damp middle-aged sleep?

I own a treadmill and a mute piano.
A painting of pears.
Tropical jewelry adrift in Ohio.
Sweaters in quantity to warm a band of Inuit playing
Bingo in the basement of an igloo.
One good book for every hour until I die.

Did I mention the George Foreman grill?

Buy me nothing. I have nothing for you
Except good will to fight your colds and stray moments of alienation.
I made time to gather you a bouquet of wilting seconds:
A blindfold and a donkey tail, the yeast of
oatmeal bread and an Irishwomanís hands in the dough
Your motherís voice on the phone in the morning before you
even remember who you are.

Festoon me with compliments,
And a single, blessed wolf whistle from under a hardhat.
Put an appreciative word from the boss
on credit -- you can pay it off in installments.
Don't forget to wrap them in nice paper.
Remember, it's the thought that counts.

For you, I have collected an infinite number of small kindnesses,
and placed them in a trick box.
They will fly like purple confetti
When you open it.
Go ahead, laugh. But you must pick them up
One by one, all by yourself. I will not help.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Barn swallow

For most of my life, birds seemed to me creatures without personality. Then I started volunteering at a place that rehabilitates birds of prey (I was attracted by the idea of helping injured owls, I'll admit), and it started to become clear that birds have preferences, persistent behaviors, even what I would think of as little neuroses. In other words: personalities.

Not long ago I was sitting on a boardwalk at my favorite park, sketching, when I heard this tremendous racket of birdsong nearby. The place was full of what I later learned were barn swallows, and they were darting all over. One of them lighted on a post perhaps a dozen feet away. I had my camera with me and decided to take a picture. There it stood, chattering like crazy. I slid a little closer to get a better picture and it kept chattering. I'd already gotten a decent photo, but I decided to keep moving down the bench I was sitting on, getting closer and closer. With each movement, I expected it to fly away. Not only was the bird not bothered by me, it almost seemed to revel in the attention. That's right. It was an extrovert.

Finally I had six or seven good shots, and I was done. It sang for a bit longer, then flew off, only to return moments later. As you can see, barn swallows have magnificent color.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Interview: Poet

I first met Cleveland poet George Bilgere after he had won the Akron Poetry Prize in 2001. The judge for the prize was Billy Collins, who as U.S. Poet Laureate performed as a great ambassador for the art. Collins, whose own work is spiked with humor, appreciated that quality in Bilgere’s submission – a collection that would become a book called “The Good Kiss.”

George and I caught up recently over his weekly radio show, “Wordplay,” which airs on the radio station at John Carroll University (, 88.7 on your FM dial but only if you live in Clevelandl). More on that on another day. At his book-lined office at the university, he graciously submitted to an illustrated interview, and though I usually cloak my subjects in anonymity, he also graciously agreed to be fully identified. This has nothing to do, I assure you, with the fact that he has a new collection out in July called “Haywire.” He does not expect you to buy a copy, otherwise I would mention that the publisher is Utah State Press. Nor will I mention that Billy Collins wrote this blurb for the book jacket: “George Bilgere is a smooth-talking poet whose ease of language can lead us unawares into a complex terrain of the heart and spirit. Haywire is full of bittersweet poems that are balanced between humor and seriousness, between the sadness of loss and the joy of being alive to experience it. Whenever a parade of Bilgere poems goes by, I’ll be there waving my little flag."

I began our interview by fumbling around with a question about when he first noticed poetry, and George replied, “Well, if youÂ’re wondering whether there was a kind of ‘aha’ moment, there was.”

Which was exactly what I was asking.

“I was a biology major as an undergrad , I intended to go to medical school, and chemistry was kicking my ass. I needed a break. I thought I’d like to take a creative writing class. The only class open was a poetry class. I’d always been a reader of novels, but I hadn’t read a lot of poetry. This teacher was hip and clued-in. I’d never really looked at contemporary poems before, but he put this poem down and it was by none other than Ohio’s greatest poet, James Wright, and the poem was ‘Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry.’ ”

Wright's poem begins:
“In the Shreve High football stadium,
“I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
“And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
“And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
“Dreaming of heroes.”

“It’s three short stanzas, and it wasn’t written in any kind of poetic language,” George said. “I didn’t know you could do that. I thought you had to write about mountains and birds, and that everything had to have this nobility about it.”

There was the “aha.”

“I think my scientific interests were really piqued. I saw that you could create tiny little universes of economy. So I tried to write poems that were like that. They were horrible and stupid, but I was excited. And I forgot all about biology and pre-med.”

After college, George spent time in Japan, working on a radio show that taught English as a second language. “In the evening I’d come back to my flat and write every night. Suddenly the poems started to sound a little bit more like me and a little bit less like everybody I was reading,” he said.

He was on his way to doing better work , though he says, “It was years before I understood that you could disrespect your elders in a poem.”
In large part, though, he credits the relatively recent discovery of the work of poet Tony Hoagland for showing him that a poem could reflect the absurdities of life as he experienced it. George read Hoagland’s collection “Donkey Gospel” – tart, funny -- six years ago. George describes Hoagland as “a very smart, smart poet. His poems are funny, but they’re full of thorns.”

“In the austere, Victorian house of poetry, to start snickering – it seemed delightfully wrong.”

Hoagland’s approach informed George as he set about writing a collection during a painful summer during which he was going through a divorce.

“I started writing, and I thought, I cannot write one of those books about how miserable I am and why you should care. So I wrote about my real experience, which was part miserable and part funny.”

The resulting book, “The Good Kiss,” contains a signature piece called “What I Want.” It is a poignant, funny and, yes, thorny dirge for his dead marriage in which writes:

“And it would be great to see my mother
Alive again, at the stove, frying a pan of noodles
Into that peculiar carbonized disk that has never been replicated.
I would like for my ex-wife to get leprosy,
Her beauty falling away in little chunks
To the disgust of everyone in the chic cafe
Where she exercises her gift
For doing absolutely nothing.”

(The ex in question eventually heard a copy of the poem as read by Billy Collins, and sent George an email in which she grudgingly admitted its humor.)

So why should anyone care? What does poetry accomplish?
In one sense, nothing. In another, George said, “It exists in a pretty small world of people who care about language’s transformative power. At its best, it recovers the freshness and beauty of the world. I’m interested in poetry that takes the commonplace, the real world, and shows just how strange it can be. I also want it to be funny. That helps a lot.”

I wondered what it was like to, say, introduce oneself as a poet.
"I would never use that term," George said. "And I don't want you to use it again either. You know, imagine that you've just met this guy and you're bringing him home to meet your parents, and you introduce him as a poet. And he's 50. You know what the connotations are: He's unemployed and he has a drinking problem. So I just say I'm a writer. It's more neutral."

The sketch above, by the way, is about a 50 percent likeness of George, but I kind of like it anyway because it captures his thoughtfulness and the feel of his office. Though his office is not pink. Poetic license, you know.
Micron pen and watercolor on Aquarelle cold press paper.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In the middle of the night

In the middle of the night recently, when I couldn't sleep, I was consumed by the question of what kind of image to use on a card for my friend Ellen. If it were Jackie, for instance, I might have done something that played upon her tremendous aversion (not to say phobia) of clowns. (Be warned, Jackie.) For Connie, who admires the Dalai Lama, I once riffed on a Llama named, well, Dolly. But what, now, for Ellen, who has no known phobias or pronounced devotions? I found myself wishing she had, oh, I don't know ... a salt and pepper shaker collection or something to hang my overly literal hat on.

Then it occurred to me that Ellen has a kind of elegance of bearing. I'm not even sure she's aware of it.

It was around 3 in the morning. I rose from bed, found a pair of scissors in the kitchen, and went out and cut a pink blossom from a bush in my neighbor's yard.
The bush grows in our very own garden. I dropped the rose and its little budlet friends into an remarkable glass half-filled with water. If it could have spoken, it would have said, "Ellen." Or "paint me." Which I did.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Interview: What Came After the Dream

My friend T bought a motorcycle a couple of years ago, and it's something I find fascinating. If i were a man, I'd probably own a motorcycle. His is a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. I asked him whether there weren't some numbers and stuff associated with the bike, and he said there were but he couldn't remember them. He seems untroubled by the minutae, and says, "I don't tear it apart and put it back together again. I don't get it all chromed up like some people do. It's just a stock, deep-throated, classic-looking Harley."
The leather head gear is classic, too.
Here's a pretty accurate transcription of our interview.

Q. Your decision to buy the motorcycle seemed to happen out of the blue, but of course it wasn’t, right?
A. No. I can remember seeing guys come in on their Indians at the gas station next to where we lived in New Jersey, and it always seemed so manly and free. And I wanted one ever since then.
Q: The first was in college?
A: I lived eight miles away from campus and I didn’t have a car and I couldn’t afford anything better. It was a Honda Dream. That was my transportation for two quarters and a summer. And in the summer, I had a job painting. A guy I worked with didn’t have a car either, so I’d go and pick him up and drive him into work perched on the back of the thing. Later on I got another Honda. I had that for a couple of years and I traded that in and put a down payment on the only new car I ever owned. But I really always wanted a Harley.
So I waited and threw change in a jar (for three or four years). Nickels, dimes and quarters. I filled one of those five-gallon water jugs. Then I sold a complete set of 1959 baseball cards. That and the change added up to about half the price of the Harley. At age 57 I got my first Harley.
Q: Does having it match the anticipation of it?
A: No. I love riding. But even though I don’t wear a helmet, which is stupid, I don’t like to ride on the freeway. The reason you ride a motorcycle is to be out in the wind and nature and to enjoy the things around you. Breathing diesel between two semis isn’t my idea of a good experience.
I thought I’d ride it more than I do. But unless you go out and ride to nowhere, you have a choice of riding on the freeway or where there’s a stop sign every five yards. But I’m still glad I did it. I think people should live their dreams to the extent they’re able, and not let people tell them what they should and shouldn’t do.
Q: Were there people in your life who had strong opinions about this?
A: Oh yeah. My wife thought it was dumb. The kids thought it was pretty cool, but they’re not happy I don’t wear a helmet.
Q: When you ride a motorcycle, how does it feel?
A: It feels exhilarating. It’s a loud motorcycle, but the noise sort of stays in the background – it doesn’t overwhelm the rider’s senses. One of the things I like about running is that it gives you sensory overload, but you go slow. When you’re on a bicycle, you cover a lot more ground, which is why I’d rather ride my bike than run. When you’re on a motorcycle, you cover a whole lot more ground but you get to experience things the same way.
Q: Then there’s the speed, too, right?
A: That’s not why I do it, although I’ve gone fast.
Q: What was the dream you followed that was as good as the anticipation of it?
A: It sounds like a cliche, but with few exceptions, the anticipation is always more fascinating and exhilarating than the culmination of the event. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying and keep following your dreams.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dreaming by trumpet

A few days ago I posted a sketch of my older daughter sleeping on the couch. My younger daughter thought I should draw her sleeping, too. She didn't remember that almost exactly a year ago I did a sketchbook page on which I'd drawn her sleeping with her back toward me. It's a funny little page in that I also drew a then-newly purchased "pocket trumpet," fresh from a pawn shop. (Aside: I live in fear that I am going to start collecting musical instruments I can't play just because I want to draw them, which would be an expensive and foolish habit.)

Anyway, here it is. And any picture done of L sleeping today would be about the same, since she has this habit of turning her back to the world when she falls away.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


The funnily named It's It Deli stands along Clifton Boulevard on the far west side of Cleveland. It's in a retail strip along with a gift shop called Clifton Web, and great little resale shop named Flower Child and something called the Tick Tock Tavern, which someone who has lived in Cleveland as long as I have should have experienced by now. These establishments are in an old brick buildng made in a time when builders added decorative whatnots in stone. The It's It Deli sells a mean veggie burger and outstanding carrot cake, and they've always had a reasonable selection of soda sold in cans (not those dumb plastic bottles). You can buy Texas sheet cake and big muffins, and they sell all kinds of comfort food dishes like lasagna, I think, though I usually stick with the veggie burger. Today when I determined I wanted to spend my lunch hour sketching, I bought a honking piece of apple coffee cake and a Diet Coke (seriously) and sat on a bench outside. Part of the coffee cake fell en route to my mouth and tumbled down my shirt. I had crumbs in my cleavage for the rest of the day. But it was a nice afternoon to sketch, and if the drawing itself didn't turn out as I'd hoped, it still brings me happiness to think of this place.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


My daughter K sleeps on the couch.
Not every night. Sometimes she goes to bed on her own, and sometimes I tell her to go to bed. But we have reached a time in our respective lives where I often hit the sack before she does, and she seems to like to fall asleep on the couch, preferably with the television droning in the background. C wakes up in the night, shuts off the TV, shuts off the light and lets her sleep.

I find this vaguely upsetting. Inscribed in the maternal DNA is a message that says CHILDREN SHOULD SLEEP IN A PROPER BED. Every time I wake up in the morning to find her bundled in blankets on the couch, I feel that I have failed in some small but not insignificant way as a parent. She can't be getting good sleep, even though the couch is not uncomfortable. Anyway, I fret. And I recommit myself to making sure she goes to bed properly the next time. And sometimes I do.

This morning she was still on the couch when I got up. Still on the couch while C and I read the morning papers. Still on the couch after the second cup of coffee. Still on the couch when I took out my sketchbook. She didn't stir in the time it took me to do this sketch.

I didn't remember until I was done with the drawing that all during her babyhood - perhaps the entire first year of her life -- she was a night owl who tortured her father and me with her moonlit wakefulness. She'd cry in her crib till we couldn't stand it anymore, and then one of us would get up and walk her downstairs, and turn on the television, and pace with her and rock her and bounce her. Finally we'd flop on the couch with her until, very gradually, she went to sleep on us, on the couch, with the TV droning in the background.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Best tree

Up the road and around a corner stands a house with the most wonderful tree in its yard. It isn't the largest tree you've ever seen, or the oldest. What makes it great is its rather pineapple shape and the fact that it appears to be dark green underneath and tipped with yellow. It's one of those few objects a sketcher comes across that truly demands to be drawn. It supplies its own composition.

When K and I were out driving the other day, we reached the stop sign right near the house and I remembered that my camera was in the car. Feeling vaguely voyeuristic, I paused long enough to take a snapshot from the window of my car. It was enough to catch the great tree and its house with all the windows, where, perhaps, some poor soul was looking out and wondering why the strange lady in the van was taking a picture.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Art festival

There is just about nothing that makes me sunnier than a day at a summer art festival and a little discretionary cash to take there. One has cropped up this weekend at the local shopping center - er, "lifestyle" center - and we had a nice sunny day to peruse the goods. Being the kind of person who is unable to see a silver lining without at least acknowledging the presence of a cloud or two, I have to say that I always feel a little sorry for the artists who sit beneath their tents for hours while folks mostly walk in and out without buying. At a jewelry tent today, a woman proclaimed to her friend, "She shouldn't have so many things displayed here." The artist sat about three feet away, but this was uttered as if she weren't on the premises.

Mostly, though, arts festivals cheer me because they're such celebrations of the creative spirit. Oh, and because I usually find cool jewelry.

One of the hottest booths at the fair today was Cowboy Kettle Corn. The corn-popper was a guy in shorts, a red apron and a welder's mask, who moved quickly pouring noisy beads of unpopped corn into a steaming kettle. He used his wooden paddle to stir it while it cooked in oil and salt and maple syrup. He rang a bell as the corn reached full poppage. Then he pulled a lever to turn over the cooking kettle, letting the popcorn fall into a big, pretty copper one. His partner (and wife?) would scoop up fresh, hot popped corn, dump it into plastic bags and sell it as fast as she could.

We bought a big bag of the stuff in exchange for permission to snap a few photos. When I asked at first whether she'd let me take a picture if I bought some corn, she laughed and said, "No!" But I bought the corn anyway, and soon she was telling me that if I was going to take a picture I absolutely had to wait for the best part - when the fresh corn was dumped into the copper pot. She told me exactly where to stand to get the best shot.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Early this morning I looked at the schedule before me and realized I could pass the entire day without getting in any drawing. I find that days when I draw are better than days that I don't draw. So I scanned the horizon for something I could do quickly, while I was still sipping my coffee. I was thinking about the pretty broad-leafed plant out in the garden. Then I saw the coats hanging on the back of the door that leads to the garage, and I knew I'd found my subject. There was a little line, a little color, and the whole idea of the coats themselves -- how recently, it seems, they were part of each and every morning. Now they seem like relics -- things we couldn't possible have any use for ever again.

C walked by as I was doing the line work on this drawing. He made a funny, not-completely-admiring noise.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said.
"Oh, I just wonder sometimes how you pick your subjects."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Get what you pay for

We are devotees of Target, as perhaps are you. C insists on buying paper products there, thinking it's a better deal than the grocery store offers, and when he goes, he often buys large jars of mixed nuts or of cashews, too. He buys two at a time, and takes one into work to share with his friends there.

The other day, he came home from Target with this big jar of cashews. A name brand. (OK, I'll say it: Planter's.) He bragged about how this name brand was actually cheaper than the Target brand he usually gets. After a while, he opened the jar and started nibbling the nuts and concluded that the Target brand cashews are superior. Bigger. Succulent. More flavorful.


Whenever possible, I try to say a little something about what I draw. I'll admit that a jar of inferior cashews runs short on plot, but if I didn't tell you that, I'd start wallowing in disgust over the crummy shadowing job and how I didn't get the values right around the bottom edge of the jar. Then you'd REALLY be bored. So, take heed. Next time you're at Target, buy the house brand cashews and leave the Planter's for chumps. Oh, and make sure your shadows are dark enough where the jar meets the table.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Small-game hunter

This guy was hanging around the edge of the roof this morning on a part of our house that can be seen from the kitchen. I wandered over with my camera to see if I could get a few poses out of him while he gnawed on a nut. I was fairly close by, but I didn't expect he'd be too shy, and I was right. Squirrels are pretty used to us humans by now. I pointed my camera at him and thought with amusement about the day, many years ago now, when I came into the house and caught my father hovered over the kitchen window with a long-barreled squirt gun aimed outside. He was attempting to intimidate the squirrel that had been consuming vast quantities of seed at the bird feeder Dad faithfully filled once a day. It was a hilarious sight (Dad wasn't so amused), but far as I know the squirrel was not put off by the brief shower that came his way. And, as far as I know, it was the only time Dad did any hunting.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Interview: Volunteer

Q: What made you interested in volunteering for hospice?
A: When my mother was terminally ill in Florida and I went down to spend what I thought would be five days with her, she had just started with hospice. I ended up staying three and a half months. Hospice really helped not just my mother, but really helped me. It was so meaningful to me in changing my attitutde toward death and dying. That was a very special time. And because of that I thought I'd volunteer my time. People at the end of life, if they know they're dying, seem to understand what life is all about. And sharing it with me, I think I'm benefiting more than they do.
Q: How many patients have you had?
A: I'd say maybe eight or 10. Probably more than that. Some only last a day.
Q: It's sounding like you've seen more good than bad.
A: Oh, absolutely. Probably the most spiritual time of my life was the time I spent with my mother. And that's what hospice makes possible. ... (The dying) all reach for somebody at tthe end. And they all regress to their youth. There seems to be more of a presence of those who have passed.
A: What makes you sure that the presences those people feel isn't just a result of brain chemicals at the end of life?
Q: That goes back to my mother. It was the intensity of these things, the expression on her face. She'd say, 'Oh, I saw Charlie." That was her brother, who had died maybe 40 years earlier. Charlie had reminded of this incident that had happened to them when they were eight and 10, and they were laughing about it.
Q: Were you spiritual before the experience with your mother?
A: Spiritual, but not religous. And my neither was my mother. (But during her dying) she'd talk about "the circle." And she'd talk about love and connectedness. Somebody had given me a necklace made of carved ivory beads and blocks. I showed it to her and it became very important to her. She held onto it almost as if it was a rosary. What I choose to believe is that she had a definite connectednesss to something I didn't completely understand that was giving her peace of mind.And an assurance, maybe, of what life was all about what maybe what was to come. And I've never, ever seen such a look of awe on anybody's face as I did in that moment when my mother passed, as if she was seeing something wonderful.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Interview: Music man

We packed this weekend with family-related events that brought in a couple of out-of-towners who generously agreed to be subjects for illustrated interviews. I've been assuming with these that it's pretty obvious how they're done, but in case it isn't and you care: I spend about 15 minutes doing a pen-on-paper sketch, then I conduct the interview writing questions and answers - or as much of the answers as I can get - directly on the page around the sketch. I fill in with watercolor wash as a final step.
Here, then, is music man. Tomorrow I'll post another.
By the way, I take license in assigning monikers that are aimed at hinting at the theme of the conversation and also at protecting the identity of the subject from the larger internet world.

Q: What do you remember about your first guitar?
A: It was $35 and that included eight lessons. With Don Cherry, my trombone teacher. It was a no-name acoustic.
Q: Did it come easily?
A: At the time I was reading music so there was a good deal of transfer from the trombone. When the eight lessons were up I startd learning on my own. Much later, in the 70s, I took about another eight lessons. You plateau, so to get another step up ... I took a lesson from a guy in Tiffin Ohio who taught me some things about finger style.
Q: If you're teaching yourself, what does that mean?
A: We have a lot better tools for learning today. I use computer tools, software applications.
Q: Do you think of yourself as a (guitar) collector?
A: Only by default. Guitars are just such beautiful instruments. There's an attraction to try to find instruments that are applicable to different styles of music. They promote different styles of play. I don't play the same repertoire from one instrument to the other.
Q: How many do you have now?
A: Approximately 20.
Q: What's the best in terms of the physical beauty?
A: I like a certain amount of inlay. Generally speaking the smaller guitars with the more pronounced waists (are more attractive). And then they exotic woods they're created from ...
Q: What about the sound?
A: That gets back to the types of music and the emotion they evoke. Delicate little pieces like "Jalapeno" I like to play on a parlour guitar because it can be played very lightly. If you're competing for volume, in a band situation, then you want a bigger guitar.
Q: Where is guitar playing on the list of important things for you?
A: First after the people in my life, I guess. I would prefer not to obsess about it. Generally I'll get up and play a half-hour before work in the morning, then an hour and a half in the evening. And more if I'm working on something.
Q: Do you think of it as a creative expression or something else?
A: Probably something else. Because I'm not composing, I consider mine as a craft rather than an art. I don't think of myself as creating anything. And that's not a choice: Some people are able to compose and create. I just don't have any talent for that.
Q: So the pleasure is from playing something well?
A: Yeah, as well as an appreciation for the instruments themselves, the way they look and sound. And, for the past few years, marking improvement in myself. I just get such great satisfaction out of it. There've been times in my life when I'd kind of like to learn a piece, but knowing how much work it would take sort of took the joy out of it. That's no longer the case at all. I enjoy bringing it to some kind of - not perfection, but maybe performance grade.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The old neighborhood

My friend Joan and I were sketching today, and talking about all kinds of things, including how so-called "lifestyle centers" have been cropping up in the suburbs. Perhaps you have one in your neighborhood: chi-chi shopping areas created to look like old-fashioned American towns, but filled with upscale retailers and chain restaurants. The one near me has subterranean sidewalk heaters to keep the walking safe in winter.

We agreed that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with them (you'll find that several times I've referenced Legacy Village, my local lifestyle center, on this very blog). Yet they are undoubtedly created experiences, just as they are inarguably unorganic. That doesn't stop me from going, and lord knows my favorite bookstore is located at Legacy Village, so I'm there a lot.

Yet as we were sketching on what's called the Near West Side of downtown Cleveland, poking around a true urban neighborhood with all that entails, good and bad (but lots of good in this particular neighborhood), I couldn't help thinking how nice it would be if there were just a few authentic pieces of town history woven into those suburban places. In the ladies room at the West Side Market -- a produce and meat market opened in 1912, which I've drawn above -- were these wonderful old white tiles that immediately set the building in an era. So evocative. It is impossible to believe that Legacy Village will, in 90 years, still be around, wearing the patina of age. I predict it will have been long bulldozed to make room for the next big thing.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Interview: Seeking spotlight

Tonight I interviewed a friend of one of my kids. She was very patient and thoughtful. The result - my part in this project - is disappointing, first because I failed to capture her essence and second because my scanner got funky. The way the shading is thrown into chiarascuro has nothing to do with the way the picture actually looks, but there's something about this scanner and the yellow color of the Moleskine that goes haywire. So all in all, I'm unhappy with the look here, and if you know any tricks about image correction and Moleskines, let me know. Meanwhile, I hope you'll read on and meet our friend, N.

Q: What are your thoughts about friendships and how they change or evolve over time?
A: Friendships are hard to form. You have to bond with people, and people change over time. So I have a lot of friendships, and sometimes we fight. We fight a lot.
Q: Has that always been true?
A: Now relationships are easier and we're tighter. I've known them longer and we do stuff together.
Q: When you fight, what kicks it off?
A: Sometimes people back-stab and lie. Sometimes it's about boys, too.
Q: Like jealousy?
A: Yeah, and hanging out with them more - like picking your boyfriend over your friends.
Q: Do you talk about how to handle it?
A: Yes, and we tell each other to talk about the problem, and just tell us (what's going on).
Q: What advice would you give your little sister about friendships?
A: There's a lot of advice. Try not to be jealous, because you should be proud of yourself and who you are. You don't need to compare yourself to other people. Don't get into boys too early. And try not to be mean to people. Just be nice to everyone.
Q: What's the best thing that's happened to you in the last year?
A: I really liked going to the Coldplay concert. And I really liked going to New York. We do that every year. (I like) the city and the noise all around you. I'm definitely living there. I want to be the Today Show anchorwoman, like Katie Couric.
Q: Does that mean you would study journalism?
A: Yes, I want to go to Syracuse University.
Q: I always think of you as nice but sort of shy. Is that true?
A: Yeah.
Q: Will that be hard in that job?
A: I think I'm going to overcome shyness. I've already overcome it a lot. I used to not talk at all. Now I'm talkative. And I love being in the spotlight. Everyone's watching you, and the light is on you. In my family, I'm always the center of attention. I always used to do the news for my family. I'd videotape myself doing the news.
Q: Do you read the newspaper?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: So we'll be seeing you on TV?
A: Yes, hopefully.