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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Interview: Aggressively Unmarried

Q: If you could pick a label for yourself, what would it be?
A: What I'm thinking about ... it sounds bad, but I think of myself as aggressively unmarried.
Q: I don't even know what that means.
A: Single. And I enjoy that state to a degree that's troubling.
Q: What do you enjoy about it?
A: I love the whole room-of-my-own thing. I love not sharing the clicker. I love piling magazines, books on the other side of the bed. Moving them aside occasionally. I love doing what I want in my own space.
Q: So it's about space.
A: Oh, yeah. I love control over my own space. And I guess why I'm thinking of this is because so many of my friends are married with children. There are fewer and fewer of my friends who are exactly like me. Which is fine. It doesn't make me feel like I must immediately go score a dress at David's Bridal. And I'm so content with this. When I was younger I would have imagined myself in a blind panic (about not being married by now). I'm not panicked at all.
Q: But it seems like the lack of anxiety brings its own anxiety.
A: That is: "Am I truly content or am I in denial?" There are so many messages in the culture that say I should not be content. So many people have asked, "Are you unmarried by choice?"
Q: Don't you think people are really just looking to affirm their own status?
A: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: When you think of marriage, how do you feel?
A: It actually exhausts me. The whole idea of planning a reception ... I feel like I want to sleep. Then we get back to the clicker thing. And what time do you go to bed? And "Don't keep the light on." The thing is, I never dreamed of being a bride as a little girl. I dreamed of being a secret agent or a cheerleader. And I think there's possibly a great combination of the two, like Mata Hari with pompoms...
Q: When you see your friends who are married, does it affirm your position?
A: Depends on the friends. Sometimes I'll spending an evening with friends who are married. I'll walk out the door and fall to my knees and kiss the ground that I didn't make the choice they made. And then other times I'll know they made exactly the right choice for them.
Q: Is there anyone in your life who wants to see you married?
A: My stepmother. But not my mother. She appreciates what she calls the "unconventional life," and -- how shall I put this? -- did not enjoy every moment of her life with my father.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Nature lessons

It is a cliche to remark that being outside in the woods reconnects me to the better parts of childhood -- the wandering play, the discovery of creeks and rotted tree trunks, and the sense that the trees went on forever. It is a cliche because it is true.

Today when I was at the park, where said reconnection took place, I was thinking about how I might have forced one of my kids to go with me and didn't. I have a feeling that whenever I make them do such things, they're thinking, "Well, what do we DO when we get there?" Their impatience is sometimes palpable. And in our all-electronic-media-all-the-time world, I have lacked the faith to say, "You walk along the creek and noticed how the stones are stacked up on the bank."

It would be better if they had whatever kids used to have, curiositywise, when it comes to exploring nature. But still I think they might have liked the frog chorus in the pond. They would have liked the swallows darting around, and the baby geese and the shade by the creek. I know I did.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Loose elephants

Thought I'd post this sketch - a year old, now - of Cleveland Zoo elephants I watched last Memorial Day. Not much of a story to go with this one, though the trip was memorable for how many people stopped to see what I was doing. Little kids tend to be curious. Adults tend to be awestruck and complimentary. Maybe I'll go back there tomorrow.


In light of my recent post of Elliot the good - our self-sufficient and affectionate cat - I feel compelled to give equal time to Oscar the Orange. He's washing himself here, but usually he can be seen circling my feet and whining for attention, or sitting on my chest while I'm trying to read in bed, or meowing crazily because we happen to be eating dinner or watching television or doing something other than worshipping Oscar. If I'm making this sound cute, that's a mistake. He truly seems content only when someone is holding, petting or feeding him.
In other words, he's like the rest of us. :-)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Especially home

We used to have an unfinished storage area behind a door on the second floor, over the garage. It was one of those places that got stacked with old luggage and boxes of things that will never be used and rolls of carpet trim. C used to talk about having it finished and made into a real room, but since the ceiling was angled for the roof and it had no place for a window, I didn't much share the vision.

One day he talked to a contractor about it, who looked at the storage area and declared it convertible. The contractor ripped the roof off that part of our house and began constructing the extra room that C always envisioned. Something happened on the way to the home-equity loan, however, and the extra room became an office -- for me. (C already has one.) When it was done, we got a sofa bed so that it could be used as a guest room, but we rarely have guests. I have a little bookshelf and an Amish-built desk, and a big bulletin board tacked with unnecessary things that matter, and except for the fact that we still store luggage in the closet off the main room, it feels very much mine. The abstract painting over the sofa was done by our friend Quinn. Maybe sometime I will draw the really cool wooden "Princess and the Pea" sculpture I bought in a gallery in Iowa City.

All of home is home, but this room has turned out to be especially so.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Blog readers who knew my mom will have to concede that this drawing doesn't capture her. And yet I end up kind of liking the sketch anyway, maybe for what it does capture: a sweet time, I think, and the perennial need for families to document their relatioships with formal images.

The source photo dates to somewhere around 1963, far as I can tell based on the age of the baby (that would be me) in her arms. Easter Sunday, no doubt. Check out the bonnet and the wicker purse in my gloved hands. Check out my mother's great suit and her Donna Reed prettiness. (True, Donna Reed did not wear glasses, that I know of; before I sketched on the glasses, Mom looked JUST like Donna Reed in this picture.)

And I noticed, as I was drawing, how very thin she was. Now, she was always slender, but it's astounding to think that I was probaby only two in this picture - the fourth of four children - a time when many women are still clutching helplessly to pregnancy weight. But she's rail-thin. She always had admirable discipline about food. Then again, mabye she didn't have time or energy to eat.

In the original photograph, you can see trees in the far-background thick with white blossoms. As I drew this picture, I was very aware of how the photo was a single moment stolen from a quickly passing season, an image made calm and perfect in what was must have been a chaotic era for her. It takes my breath away to think about how both the mother and the baby are, in different ways, gone.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Sometimes I am not the best attention-paying mother. Sometimes when one of my kids is on the basketball court, I'm not giving her my undivided stare. There was a game, recently, at which I managed to keep the sketchbook tucked away, but I was dying to take it out.

Instead I memorized the gesture and look of this girl - perhaps a sibling of one of the players - who was sitting nearby. She was maybe 13 and all angles. Reminded me of a friend I had growing up. She was sitting with her dad, and the two of them looked content. Oh, and they were both staring with individed attention at the basketball court while I was sketching in my head.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Killer cute

Confession: My kids are way past the picture-book stage, but I still peruse the children's section at the bookstore. This is because occasionally there's something so beautifully illustrated that I want to know about it. Last week I bumped into a book called "I'm Not Cute." It was about an owlet who becomes increasingly annoyed by the "awwww" response he keeps getting from other woodland creatures. He would prefer to think of himself as a fierce hunting machine.

I had to laugh, because at the raptor center we have often joked in an anthropomorphizing way that when we cluck at the cuteness of one of the owls, the owl itself is becoming annoyed. Hard to look at a screech owl, for instance, and not think it's cute. Harder still to look at the adult Northern Saw-Whet Owl and not go to jello. I'm sorry: It's 7 inches tall, with proportionately large eyes, and it's really just damn cute. The sketch above is my version, though I'm not sure I did justice to its killer cuteness.

I had the pleasure of the close-up company of such a creature today. The saw-whet owl (so named for one of its calls, which alledgedly sounds like the sharpening of a saw, though I've never heard anyone sharpen a saw) prefers to live in tree cavities made by woodpeckers. It's a nocturnal hunter who plucks mice and voles, but it's capable of preying on songbirds, too. In other words, it is NOT cute. It is a fierce hunting machine.

Dip-pen in brown ink with watercolor detailing in a Canson watercolor sketchbook.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Jock gear

The backs of my thighs are nicely achey now that I have shed the worst of my sloth and gotten back into the jog groove. This morning was sunny and cool, and I had a newish Timex running watch (though it seems to be battery-challenged) and a new blue hat with tone-on-tone flower pattern and a coquettish M&M girl on the front. It fits just right and has the right kind of ventilation. I have a ridiculous collection of baseball-style caps. It is ridiculous because I should not wear them. Not flattering. And yet, when I'm outside loping (what I do instead of "jog"), I feel nicely icognito and sun-protected in a billed hat. And when I'm at the raptor center, I feel the strong urge for head protection just because you never know.
And I'm very particular about these items - the hat, the watch, the socks, etc. I have the same finickiness toward these items as I do toward art supplies. There really hasn't yet been a perfect sketchbook invented, for instance, so I understand why people resort to make their own.
Anyway, the new jock equipment here is just dandy, and while I was on vacation I also re-equipped myself shoewise. Soon my thighs will no longer ache, and perhaps they will also jiggle less, and all will be right with the world.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Remembering sun

For a while, this spring, weekends were savory sun-filled days. I did these quick sketches on our little deck in the back on such a weekend, sprawled out in the warmth of golden rays. Sorry for the purple speechifying, it's just that it has been raining for what feels like 40 days and 40 nights now on Northeast Ohio, and I'm feeling wistful.

The dark cat here (I have trouble with cat drawings) is Elliot The Good. Elliot is wonderfully self-sufficient and affectionate. His cohort, Oscar the Orange, is completely neurotic and needy. As I attempt to improve my cat drawings, you will undoubtedly see Oscar rendered with mixed media and mixed feelings.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Invisible pie

So we had these bananas the other day - Monday, to be precise. The bananas had more freckles than the graduating class of Dublin High, more spots than the back of an old woman's hand, more bruises than a one-legged unicyclist, more -- well, you get the idea.

Anyway, I had the day off and it occurred to me that C really likes banana cream pie, and it would be a generous wifelike gesture for me to turn the spotted fruit into something edible. The hitch was, I wasn't feeling that great. I was well enough to draw the bananas, but every time I started thinking about standing at the kitchen counter cutting the butter into the flour and adding six tablespoons of cold water to make the crust, my stomach lurched. Then I dozed off.

I really should get up and make a pie, I thought. But I kept not doing it. And in the end, it was probably the right decision, because what inevitably happens is that I make the pie, and C eats a piece, and then the pie sits there in my refrigerator and I become the crack addict wondering when I can have my next fix. In the end, I eat too much pie, then throw it out, knowing that this will stop me from continuing to eat too much pie, and besides, C - although he loves banana cream pie - has forgotten about it days ago.

So on Monday I drew the bananas, and on Tuesday - when they'd gone darker than sixteen teenage girls at a tanning salon - I threw them out.

Micron pen on a Moleskine notebook with a watercolor wash. It all scanned strange, as the Moleskine sometimes inexplicably does.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Interview: 5th Grader

Q: OK, L, what I'm wondering about is this: What do you daydream about most often?
A: Getting out of school. Like what I'm gonna do when I get home. Mostly stuff like that. Waiting for the day to go by, and each day progressing to the end of the school year.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because this year has been more challenging than the other ones. I'm looking forward to having time to relax and not be all worried about homework and teachers.
Q: How do you want to relax?
A: Hang out at the pool and go places with my friends. Chill out, mostly.
Q: What's your favorite part of summer?
A: Going to - going on vacation. Big events, like parties and stuff, with my friends.
Q: Do you have a favorite summer memory?
A: When Katy and Taylor and Nicole and I went to Geauga Lake. That was really fun because I wasn't left out. They are nice to me. I think Katy was having such a good time she didn't really care that I was there.
Q: Is it hard to be the little sister?
A: Yes. Even when the older sister gets mad at you, even when they're wrong, they always find a way to beat you in a fight.
Q: Are there good things about being the little sister?
A: Yes. Like, the advantage is whenever your sister does get mad at you, you know how to talk to your parents so they realize that she did do something wrong.
Q: Are there advantages to having a big sister?
A: Yes. So you know the new styles and what everybody's wearing and you know how not to be immature. And you know what's in or out.
Q: How do you feel about your big sister?
A: I feel like sometimes she thinks, 'Oh, I'm right.' And she's funny and has a good sense of style. She does think she's right all the time, but most of all I admire her.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Interview: 8th Grader

Q: So, K, you've been on the planet for 14 years. What do you think of this world of ours?
A: What do I think? I think it's a nice world, but there's too much bad stuff. And I wonder, why can't it just be a nice world? What harm would that do?
Q: When did you start understanding the balance of good and bad on the planet?
A: Recently. In the past two years. Just realizing how much bad stuff people go through. When you were younger, and you heard about the holocaust or slavery, you thought, yeah, that's bad. But then you realize, that actually happened to people like me. They didn't do anything to cause it.
Q: So, knowing that, does it give you any ideas about what you want to do with your life?
A: Not particularly. Because even knowing that kind of stuff happens, there's nothing you can do about it.
Q: That sounds pretty hopeless.
A: I'm sort of sounding like the world is only filled with bad stuff. Maybe someone will figure it out some day.
Q: So obviously you see lots of good in the world, too. What makes you feel optimistic, when you do?
A: Just meeting people who are so nice and kind. Hearing about people who are making a difference.
Q: Are you going to be one of those people?
A: I hope that I could be one of those people.
Q: Who's the most impressive person you've met recently, or when you think of adults you want to be like, who are they?
A: Mrs. Sedney. She's never really thinking about herself. Even if she's annoyed, she really seems like she's trying her best to do what she's supposed to be doing, like teach people and help kids.
Q: How do you think of other people see you?
A: I hope they see me as a nice person. I think sometimes they see me negatively, but I hope that's not too often.
Q: When they do, what do you think it is?
A: I think if I get frustrated too easily. Or maybe not even if it's too easily. Maybe if I get mad about something.
Q: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you wish for?
A: That my future would be good. A good future and career. Have a good high school and college experience. And be able to look back on things and be happy about them.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Interview: Watch collector

Q: What do you remember about your first memorable watch?
A: I bought it in Seattle in '89. It was a Rado. I still have it. It's a quartz. I've thought about selling it. I like the "made-ness" of mechanical watches. It's a pretty watch. You remember it.
Q: Why do you like watches?
A: I have a feeling I'm obsessed by time because I feel like it's running out. I've gotten much more indulgent about (watches) since my father died. I'm not particularly proud of that. I have a feeling there are more socially responsible ways to spend money.
Q: Like what?
A: Probably political campaigns that give me hope. Eradicating poverty. One of the best ways I could do this is stop indulging myself on things like watches and clothes. I saw socks at Norstrom's today that were the best socks I've ever seen. They were $15.
Q: Did you buy them?
A: No. I'm waiting for someone to buy them for me.
Q: Do you think about time passing a lot?
A: No, but I think about it more than I used to, mainly because there are things I want to do. I'm looking forward to retirement because I'd like to have the time.
Q: What would you do with the extra time?
A: I'd travel a lot. I'd learn more languages, and I'd write more. Not necessarily in that order. After my book comes out I'm looking forward to looking for other (writing) outlets.
Q: How old do you feel?
A: I feel like I'm in my 50s. I feel like I'm in the prime of my life with some edges sanded off. I miss my youth. I look back on it and I'm stunned. I and my friends lived a pretty high life, and that's OK. My past certainly created my sense of morality. I'm ethical without being judgmental. I'm not moralistic.
Q: Is that (moralistic) different from being moral?
A: Absolutely.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Permanent anchor

When my brother M sent me photos from his recent trip to New Orleans, a picture of an appealingly rugged tugboat caught my eye. Tugs have interesting line and shape. In this case, the boat was part of what I can only imagine is a landscape of displaced, misplaced objects. This boat was evidently thrust aground by Katrina, which brought together the symmetry of the tug's manmade lines and the organic swoop of the vegetation around it.

I wouldn't be much of a writer if I wasn't tempted to pontificate on the obvious metaphor of the boat without water, and how life occasionally puts us in such predicaments, leaving us to wonder why we are a boat at all if there's going to be no water around us, et cetera et cetera.

But honestly, what I'm really thinking when I look at this sketch is that I forgot to do the shadow under the hull, on the right.

Micron pen and watercolor in Caslon watercolor notebook.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


From a window in our kitchen, I can spy on the neighbors' backyard. No one sunbathes naked or anything, so this doesn't seem like a giant intrusion. The only bad thing that ever came from being able to spy on our neighbors - who we like a lot - happened years ago, when our kids were younger. Their daughter had a birthday party and didn't invite my daughter, though the two played together some. There was all this childish frolicking going on in the backyard, and it was hard not to feel miserable watching my 6-year-old watching from the window, feeling miserable.
But ultimately it proved to be a good lesson -- for me. My daughter doesn't even remember it. And there have been many happier birthdays since then.

Mostly I look at their big tree growing off the woodsy slope/hill that runs behind all of the homes on this side of the street. Sometimes I sit at the kitchen table and wonder how long the tree can grow like that, and how old it can get, before a big storm comes along and sends it toppling over. Usually, though, it's snowy when I wonder this. Right now their yard and the rest of the neighborhood have that Ireland thing going on. What do they say? A hundred shades of green? A thousand shades of green?
And the big tree is growing an ivy beard.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

No. 1 Birthday Blog

Today is my brother E's birthday.
E was No. 1 child in our family, and he has some of the usual qualities of a firstborn -- setting his own path, being generally well-behaved, taking leadership roles when required.
I used to think that E and I thought a lot alike, and had a lot in common, but after all these years it is now undeniable that a) we are different and b) he is cooler than me.
He has run 100 miles at one time.
He has climbed mountains.
He once got something published in a book of bad (on purpose) writing.
He and his wife have seen black bears in the woods.
He is the sort of person who believes it would be cool to see a grizzly in the wild. (From a safe distance. At least I think he wishes to see it from a safe distance, but technically that's my stipulation. I've never actually heard him say, "...from a safe distance.")

When I was a kid, I used to expect that once people got to know my brothers, they would think more highly of me.

Secretly, I still do.
Happy birthday, E.
*Credits: I did not sketch this grizzly from a safe distance OR a dangerous distance. I used photographic references, but especially one from the National Wildlife Federation web page on grizzlies. The NWF has cool stuff to buy, and if you donate money there you'll feel like you've done some small good thing for the environment.


I haven't cooked the purple artichoke yet.
As you might have guessed, I bought it to draw. I'm not even sure what to do with an artichoke after steaming it. Dip the leaves in butter or something? I ate my most recent artichoke when I was a single-digit age, I'm pretty sure.

I might do another study of Artie, though, in pencil or pen. Watercolor still represents a challenge. But I figured I'd post it anyway. I painted this during the Kentucky Derby, but I did take a break long enough to see the race.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Giant horrible dog cookie

Raise your hand if you would stop visiting if I posted drawings of my dog all the time.
I thought so. Thanks, just checking.

Ramona, whom we more often refer to by the diminutive "Momo," is one of my favorite subjects because for some reason it's easy to catch a pretty good likeness of her. A sedentary eight-year-old, she gets a little antsy when I'm studying her for a sketch, but I can still use my mean-mother voice to make her hang around long enough to capture something.

Momo likes to chew on petrified pig ears and other such terrible treats they sell for dogs. (The babysitter once brought her a smoked lamb leg, but I even I, as difficult as I am to gross out, couldn't have that thing hanging around my house.)

Anyway, long ago I had bought what I must have thought were a bag of pig ears, but yesterday when the kids dragged this thing out of the pet-food cupboard, we were all astonished. It was probably 10 or 12 inches long. I decided it was some kind of cow part, though who knows what.

It seems to be a trait of basset hounds that they hide food, if given half a chance. Momo immediately hid the giant horrible dog cookie. In the evening when we came home, the first thing she wanted to do was get it from her hiding place. Then she re-hid it. A while later, she was barking in one of the bedrooms. She wanted me to get it out from behind the bed. I did. She put it somewhere else. Each time, she puts it in a place from which she has trouble retrieving it, or at least pretends to have trouble. Then she barks, and you have to come and get it for her. She's been known to hide pig ears in dirty laundry, under pillows and under couch cushions.

After we'd been home a while, she settled in for the big chew. By this morning, she'd done some damage, but at least half of the thing was still there, lying in the middle of the living room. In this state, it seems, it is no longer hide-worthy.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Old barn

When I started driving 60 miles every Sunday to volunteer at the raptor center, I thought that what I would most enjoy is the opportunity to be close to owls. There are a handful of owls whose injuries have turned them into permanent residents of this rehab center -- several great horned owls, a couple of lovely screech owls, the cutest saw-whet owl you've ever seen, a soulful-seeming barn owl and a -- my favorite -- a couple of barred owls. Owls remain, in my estimation, very cool, though they have company in the coolness department in terms of falcons and hawks, too. And my friend Lisa would be hurt if I didn't mention the extraordinary excellence of the one bald eagle whose West Nile virus brought her to the center.

Among the many things I've come to love about the Sunday ritual is the long, peaceful drive, about half of which takes me past wonderful barns and farmhouses in various states of impeccability and ramshacklery. The profile of these buildings against the sky, and the way the wood fades and the paint peels after years of weather very literally makes me want to stop and draw or paint them on the spot. Which I never do, since for the most part this would involve either being very vulnerable to traffic or trespassing. But occasionally I've pulled over and snapped a few pictures.

The barn here, which I drew from a couple of reference photos, lies very close to the raptor center. The morning sun lights up all the great dappling of the paint, and throws dramatic shadows, and for a moment everything in the world seems perfect in a distinctly American way.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

First with the eyes

Have you ever noticed that the presentation or accoutrements of some foods are better than the actual experience of eating them? Antipasti plates fall into that category for me. So do martinis in beautiful glasses. I like the occasional cup of tea, but not as much as the idea of tea brewing in the right pot, with the right cup waiting to receive. I love being in authentic Italian restaurants when they bring someone a big, steamy bowl of pasta covered in open muscles and clams, though I've never actually been the diner who gets such a dish deposited in front of her.

And can we talk about sushi?

Here is the "caterpillar roll" that C had for lunch at a very nice little Asian fusion place we visited on vacation. I had actually hoped he would order it when I saw one crawl by on its way to another table. Because this is sushi, it's probably important to stipulate that caterpillar rolls are named ONLY for their presentation, and don't contain raw caterpillar. Its primary ingredients are rice rolled around raw eel, topped by slices of very ripe avocado and sesame seeds. I cannot say whether raw eel is an improvement over raw caterpillar, having eaten neither. But I was delighted by the caterpillar roll, and immediately wanted to draw it. I mean: LOOK AT IT.

So C ordered the caterpillar roll and a few other things, including a hunk of raw tuna, which he ate while he waited for me to be finished drawing his caterpillar roll, which I did while waiting for my bowl of spicy chicken and noodles to cool.

Right up front I made it clear that I had no interest in trying the caterpillar eel, but I did compromise and take a bite of the tuna. And it was ... fine. As it always is. C is as enthusiastic a sushi enthusiast as can be found in the fine dining establishments and ballparks of Cleveland, Ohio. He always invites me, with a certain amount of pressure, to try his sushi offerings, and I usually relent for a single bite. Every time I do, I think something along the lines of, "This isn't terrible," especially if he gives me a little nibble of ginger or wasabi on the side, which he didn't this most recent time. I'm all about the ginger and wasabi.

I'm all about the wonderful square sushi platters, too, and the shallow ceramic dipping bowls. It's so beautiful, so artful. I love to look at it.

I just don't particularly want to eat it.