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Monday, September 28, 2015

The First Good Boyfriend

My daughter’s first high school boyfriend smiled wide and showered me with prep-school manners. “Hello, Mrs. Wolff,” he’d say, using my husband’s surname and smiling as if he were about to carry my clubs to the first tee. When he wasn’t working his Eddie Haskell act, he was practicing his best user-boyfriend techniques on my kid, which I learned only after the breakup. I felt dumb for having fallen for the Aqua Velva charm. 

So I thought I was prepared when Katy brought the next one home. They were sophomores at the time. Matt (yeah – a pseudonym) stood in my kitchen wearing dark curls and a casual grin. I girded myself for the Hello-Mrs.-Cleaver routine. But when Katy introduced us, Matt offered only a cool “Hi.” I might’ve been a bothersome store clerk. Suffice it to say he didn’t bestir himself to make a whopper of a first impression. For this, I briefly hated him. Maybe I’d wanted Eddie Haskell after all.

Yet there he was, and he returned over the next weeks and months, squashing the memory of his predecessor. A private school kid from a two-doctor home, Matt spoke his mind and cracked smart jokes. He reserved no special language for adults. At dinner one night, with my brother and his girlfriend at our table, Matt plucked a black strand from his meatloaf and cheerfully announced, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a meal here that didn’t involve dog hair.”

Direct hit to my Achilles heel. I always worry just enough about housekeeping to feel self-conscious with guests, and not enough to make things spotless. But if Matt’s comment was impertinent, it was also guileless. He never saw the daggers I shot across the table.

Katy loved him. Matt put a racket in her hand and taught her to play tennis. She flew south with his family for spring vacation. She bonded with his mother, befriended his sister, doted on his sweet baby brother and shadowed his handsome father in surgery on career day.

During an especially difficult school year, Matt illuminated my kid’s dark moods. And in one moment I’ll never forget, he called me, enraged, to tattle on Katy’s pediatrician. During a sports physical, the doc noted with disapproval that Katy had gained weight since her previous visit. He failed to recall, however, that the previous visit had been because she had begun purposely starving herself and had become frighteningly thin. The weight gain was hard-won and good; the child was healthier. As angry as I was at the doctor, I remember this as one Matt’s finest moments. I loved him for his outrage, and for determination to make sure I knew what had happened.

For a long time, Matt and Katy spent most of their waking hours with each other, much of it at our house. That was fine by me. I’d grown up with three older brothers. Matt’s American boy qualities, his kindheartedness and sarcasm, felt familiar and comforting.

Matt also won over Lylah, Katy’s wise little sister, simply by befriending her. She tagged along sometimes with the two of them, but she and Matt had their own conversations. He advised her about photography, and how, when she got older, she was to demand to be respected by guys.

         At a family gathering in Michigan one weekend, Lylah was feeling fully 13 – awkward, unsure of herself and alone in the crowd She started to notice that she was the only one in the room who didn’t have a partner. Matt watched her face darken and walked her out to the porch. Lighten up, he said. You’re cool. Everyone here loves you. Then he purloined some spiked cider and they sipped conspiratorially, the oblivious adults a few yards away. 

KATY AND MATT HAD BEEN DATING for more than a year when one night she staggered in the door, red-eyed and ragged. At a concert, Matt told Katy he’d grown unsure of his feelings for her. They had been arguing a lot recently. He thought they should take a break.

            It probably sounds strange that this news seemed unthinkable to all of us. They were, after all, only 17. Teen love isn’t supposed to last. Still, what a shock. As my kid went fetal in my bed, the smartest thing I could think to say to her was, “He’s a teenage boy, Katy. They’re barely human at that age. They can’t help themselves. It’s not personal. ”

            This stopped her crying cold. She glared at me with wet eyes. “It’s Matt, Mom,” she said in a clear, anguished voice. Then she resumed weeping.

            When it comes to parenting, you never quite get ahead of the lesson plan.  Just as soon as you learn to handle toddler ear infections like a champ, here comes the issue of how to hold the line on TV time. Talking my kid through a morass of middle-school drama left me in no way prepared for stitching up the first real tear in her heart.  Nor had it taught me to guard against the unexpected threat of other people’s children clawing their way into mine.

I fed Katy lines about girls and boys, what each is emotionally ready for at what age, hoping to give her the 30,000-foot view. I believed everything I said. It was true. It also was lame. She’d see the wisdom of these words if she had her own kids some day. For now, she wasn’t just some statistically average high schooler having an average bad experience. She was herself, feeling the only broken heart that counted.

I mustered anger at Matt on her behalf, even sending him a sarcastic email. “At a concert? Really?” To which he responded, reasonably, “Would there have been a good time?”

For a long while I kept so busy nursing my daughter’s lovesickness that I didn’t even notice the ache in my own gut.  Then, slowly, it started to make itself known. Out of the blue, I’d suddenly hear Katy in my head, saying, “It’s Matt, Mom.” And then would come the jab of loss.

It was Matt – not some generic boy putting us through predictable paces. He was gone. He’d broken up with all of us. How had I become so attached? How had he ceased to be simply another kid making my house noisy and become a whole person, someone I could grieve for, apart from what my daughter was enduring?

One day, shortly before Matt and Katy stopped dating, a member of his family found a fawn alone by the side of the road and brought it home out of concern that it had been abandoned.  Katy asked me to stop by and see it. It was the size of a healthy house cat, spotted and wobbly on stick legs. Wide-eyed and skittish, its fragility made my head hurt. It needed to be with its mother – who might well have been close at hand before the humans intervened. It was so sweet, but its survival seemed so tenuous.

            For a week or so, Matt’s family kept the deer in a makeshift pen in the yard and cared for it as best they could with Google-gleaned feeding instructions. Then a holiday weekend came, and Matt’s family went on a trip, leaving him at home with the fawn. No sooner had they gone than Matt discovered parasites infesting the baby’s coat.  The sight was a horror. The fawn weakened and cried, and there was no clear route to help. The infestation grew worse over the hours.

Wildlife agencies won’t intervene on behalf of whitetail deer; the law prohibits anyone from doing so. Maybe a kind-hearted vet would help, but it was a holiday. Veterinary offices were closed. The animal’s suffering was unendurable.

Matt strode miserably off into a wooded area with the fawn. With the blow of a shovel, he delivered it from further suffering. Afterward Katy and Matt showed up on our front porch. For several long, dismal moments, I hugged him closed. I yearned for whatever maternal magic might erase the trauma. He looked lost and sad and angry, and very young.

            Soon after came the breakup at the concert. Then a brief reconciliation. Then an especially painful final blow involving a cell phone butt-dial and a conversation that was never meant to be heard.

           Then life went on, as it does. Other boyfriends came and went. One of them was a good-natured gym rat who posts Instagram shots of his meals and his muscles.  Great kid. Katy and I agree he’ll make someone a fine partner some day. And now she’s with a grownup boyfriend. They have jobs and cars. They’re on their way to whatever happens next.

            A while ago, Lylah sat down at the dinner table and started to tell her dad and me a story. She had just run into Matt at a diner. They talked; it was nice. He was still Matt, six years older, still handsome, funny and smart. He suggested they all get coffee sometime soon – Lylah, Katy and Matt. They really should do that, Lylah agreed. And she meant it, even if she knew it wouldn’t happen.

Just for a moment, the missing-Matt was back. There he’d been, her ex-big-brother – close enough to touch, but a cipher just the same. “It’s so strange,” she said, “that your entire relationship with someone can depend on their relationship with someone else.”
            Matt taught us that our family could expand and contract on very short notice.  We made room for this boy to become another kind of man in our house, and he filled a hole we hadn’t even known was there.
Then he vanished. He’d been a heartbreaker and path-changer. He was Katy’s first good boyfriend.  He was Lylah’s one shot at a big brother. And I still can’t shake the feeling that he was the son who got away.

Sandstrom, a writer and illustrator, is the former Book Editor at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Thick Through the Middle Prologue Pages

A while back, I worked on the first three chapters of a graphic memoir called "Thick Through the Middle." I've decided to post pages here to keep it from going forgotten. Stop back in the coming days for more, if you like. Oh, and as always, THIS WILL BE MUCH EASIER TO READ IF YOU CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Luxury of a Bad Vacation

The Luxury of a Bad Vacation

I know there is such a thing as a bad vacation – the truly terrible kind that leave people fundamentally changed.  But as I sit in the little place we rent year after year at The Nice Part of the Jersey Shore (thanks, Snooki), I know I’ve never had one of those. 

The day we left Cleveland, Lylah took ill with abdominal unhappiness. Nothing dramatic, just discomfort that slows the constitution and makes food unappealing. Two days later, the gathering storm hit my shores with considerable force. I wanted my mommy. 

Like clockwork, 48 hours later, I could practically see Al Roker standing in the family room as Katy succumbed to hurricane-level misery. At the urgent care, halfway through our beach vacation, one of the very nice nurses kept saying to her, “You poor thing, you’re dry as a bone,” as she tapped around for a vein.  A couple bags of saline and a slew of drugs later, we stumbled back home and called it a day. 

The fact that Carlo seems to have been immune to this plague is only the start of what fills me with joy on this, the second last day of our odyssey. Here are a couple of others.

Every day this week, I’ve woken up with the Atlantic Ocean a block away. Most days I’ve been able to go there early and watch the shore birds fish in the tide pools as the sun wipes the horizon clean of mist. Everyone who wants to should be able to do it.

This is a place my parents introduced us to when we were still kids. They’ve both been gone a long time now, but coming here brings them a little closer again. Very little changes in the town. Mom and Dad would be glad of that. They would still like it here. 

The other day on the beach, a little girl and her mother came up behind me while I was sketching. The child was perhaps 5. I asked if she likes to draw. She nodded and looked at my pages. She has many sketchbooks herself, her mom told me. Then they showed me the tiny hermit crab they found in its tiny shell in the sand.

Yesterday on my beach walk, two women strolled toward me with a beautiful black Newfoundland. They let me say hello, and I caught a glimpse of our dear departed Pearl in the dog’s slow tail wag. Pearl is the great dog heartbreak of my life. I look for her in magical ways, and sometimes she shows up.

I could go on, but this is the internet age, and already some of your are all, like, “too long didn’t read.”  But let me just add one thing. The four of us together – talking, laughing, suffering -- is a gift never to be taken for granted.  So break out the Coppertone and the Lysol. I’m squeezing the last juicy hours out of this best bad vacation. Cowabunga, and thank you.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Count these days slowly

I grew up in pre-Amy Mihaljevic Bay Village, so the grownups let us wander hither and yon for hours under the delusion that we were safe. We mostly were. In summer we’d lose ourselves in the woods near the lake. We waded in streams and imagined adventures.

Something happened to time in the woods. I want to resist the cliché about it standing still, but some sort of warp was going on. Being surrounded by all that nature – trees way older than ourselves, smells you couldn’t find indoors — provided a connection to the infinite. We'd be explorers from the 19th century for a while, and credibly so.

Then we’d hop our bikes and go home for dinner, and clocks resumed their ticking.

Today I hiked around the woods and meadows at Holden Arboretum. The farther I got from other people (this took awhile), the more I found of the person I was in the woods back in Bay.
The weeds lick my shins. The sun and breeze take turns brushing my cheeks. A fly settles on my sketchbook. It could be 2015. It could be 1971.


But the wandering grownup knows to treasure these forays into nature on a perfect summer afternoon. Supplies are limited. This is part of what it means to grow up. I don’t take anything lovely for granted anymore.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Flannery O'Connor's wonderfulness

The great Flannery O'Connor grew up in Georgia, where her childhood passions included raising feathered creatures of all kinds. My brother Eric just sent me a collection of her works, and though I'd previously read a number of her short stories, today I read an essay -- "King of the Birds -- first published the year I was born. It's about peacocks. Gorgeous. Funny. (The birds and the writing.)

“Although I had a pen of pheasants and a pen of quail, a flock of turkeys, seventeen geese, a tribe of mallard ducks, three Japanese silk bantams, two Polish Crested ones, and several chickens of a cross between these last and the Rhode Island Red, I felt a lack."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jazz guitar gentleman

People who know jazz know guitar legend Pat Martino. I didn't hear of him till last week, when I was asked to share info about his weekend gig at Nighttown. Something struck me just in reading about him, however: I wanted to hear him play.

We lucked into front-and-center seats at his Saturday show, and I really did have the sense of being in the presence of someone extraordinary. It wasn't just the stylin' outfit (crisp jeans, necktie, hip shoes). It was watching the dazzling combination of intense concentration and muscle memory at work as he played. People who are passionately driven in the arts -- not to fame, but to mastering their medium -- exude special charisma.

Plus, he was with an ace drummer and B3 player, and they were doing very tuneful, sophisticated stuff.

All of this would be interesting enough on its own, but then you learn about Pat's 1980 brain surgery, from which he awoke with his memory shot through with holes. You can read about it here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Bird in Captivity

The bathroom scale I grew up with was covered in gold carpet. Your tootsies stayed warm while your blood ran cold. The numerals were marked off every five pounds with little slash marks in between. If you stepped on the scale three times, you could get three different readings. And there were many times, in my fat-obsessed teenage years, that I stepped on the scale three times in succession. 

Had you asked me at 18 whether I’d still be a daily scale-checker at fiftysomething, I would’ve said, “God, I hope not.” But here I am – stepping on dutifully each morning, virtually every day.  This modern scale isn’t so modern as to report on my body mass index, thank heaven, though such models are available. No, it just reports on my character in half-pound increments. 
 But hey – if you step on it three times in succession, you’re likely to get the same three results. That’s progress, right?

I mentioned this daily scale-check to one of my daughters today, and she was stunned. I’ve been known to pack the scale in my suitcase when we go on vacation, but I suspect she thought I was just trying to keep myself honest during one of my flirtations with Weight Watchers.  If only.

Deep into this this lifelong dance with food and fat, I still pay homage to the numbers as a hedge against morbid obesity – or so goes the theory. I’m afraid to look away for too long; I might lose touch with the reality and float out to sea on a raft of bagels and peanut butter.
But it doesn’t really work anymore. Instead, I check in daily and readjust my idea of “normal” as the numbers climb.
This is something they don’t tell you about aging – that the coping mechanisms of youth can weaken along with muscle tone. The dumb workarounds, the crazy habits you depended on for years to keep you passing for sane (or thin), can go the way of the sagging jawline. I am forced to admit, though not for the first time, that “healthy” is less about keeping dates with the scale and more about keeping reasonable promises to myself.

Carry on.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What's left of Easter

The Easters of my Catholic childhood were, as I remember them, optimistic Sundays of budding crocuses and crowded church pews. We woke to birdsong and splendid baskets my mother had fluffed with plastic grass, then were whisked off to Mass to be reminded that Jesus rose from the dead.

Heady notion for a kid just wanting to get back to her malted milk balls. I was never sure how Jesus’s death and rising canceled out our more demonic behavior, but I figured the grownups had worked it all out.

A few decades of living can shoot holes in that sort of trust. To quote Sting, you could say I’ve lost my faith in religion. It had been slipping precipitously for years, and then along came The Revelations (this is how I think of the journalism around the Catholic child-abuse coverup) to  pound the last nails in the coffin.

My trust in the Church has been replaced by certainty in a couple of less mystical truths.

1. The grownups rarely have it all worked out. 
2. Any institution that instructs you to obey its rules without question has something to hide.

All of this has been brewing in my head for the last few days. Easter approaches, and along with it comes wistfulness about the loss of church. Sure, I still have spirit. But how lovely it would be if my mother’s house of worship had been worthy of her trust– a faith she raised her kids to live by, too.  How reassuring it would be to feel that centuries of wisdom and prayer and love had built an unassailable structure where we could find it all: succor and solace, guidance and deliverance.

There is no there there, as far as I can see, though if you find it for yourself I am genuinely heartened. I find the there in here, instead – a small place in my heart that grows with prayer and meditation and shrinks in their absence. No longer dazzled by the altar and the pillars, I remain reverent about Jesus and the purpose of his life.

Love, he told us. Put others first.
Then he did it himself just to show us it could be done.

He would not approve of my road rage, but he might give me a few points for all the times he sees me making effort not to be a complete self-centered jerk.

He would appreciate my kindness toward animals, though he would almost certainly wish that I could extend that a little further onto my fellow humans.

He probably frowns when I natter on Facebook about the weathergirl’s bad fashion. He probably thinks I have enough flaws of my own, and that on the very day I get my own self together in one spiritual basket, then I can start judging how other people live. And dress.

If all of this seems a little flimsy, a little too loosey-goosey, let me assure you that I’m more certain and passionate in this humbler faith than I ever was about all those golden arches. There aren’t many rules, but they’re firm:

My religion tells me to love and be kind. Love everyone, including myself. And be kind to all, not just the dog. This is the spiritual work of a lifetime. This seems to me to be made plain in the life of Jesus, and in the Easter story.  It’s the part of the church I couldn’t leave.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Meg Ryan Probably Hates Hobbies, Too

This drawing is a retread, but speaks to several of my non-hobbies.

DURING AN INTERVIEW for “Inside the Actors Studio,” host James Lipton asked actress Meg Ryan to name a word she detested. Ryan thought for a few seconds, then unfurled “en-joy” with mocking deliberation. Lipton seemed surprised. As I remember it, Ryan explained that “enjoy” was almost always used in instances when the speaker sounded devoid of actual joy.

We really enjoyed our dinner. 
As words go, enjoy is solid beige. It now lives in the dingy old sack where I keep words I regard as fundamentally unworthy of the human experience. The sack is small, and notably separate from the suitcase where I store passionately loathed language trends, i.e. "amazing.But I want to pull another one out of the bag and turn it over for just a moment, so here we go:

Hobby. Do you have one? I don’t.

People must admit to having hobbies all the time. It keeps showing up on questionnaires. 

Whenever asked, the only reasonable answer that occurs to me is, “Yes, I collect coins,” which is problematic, since I don’t collect coins. Yet it’s one of the few activities I can think of that sound dull enough to warrant hobby status.

Yet if I did collect coins, it would no longer be a hobby, because, holy hourglass, Batman, this life is whizzing by, so I'm not going to waste it on anything I regard with the limp, semi-intentionality of a hobby. No, if I decided to delve into numismatics, it would mean I had begun to regard coins with an awe previously reserved for moments of spiritual bliss and/or closeups of Adam Levine's tattoos.

Let me be completely obnoxious: Everything I do outside my job is way more critical to my humanity than the word “hobby” can convey. That includes napping.

I love to read and draw, for pay and otherwise. I’m a half-moon short of a lunatic for animals, and have been known to spend mornings cleaning shit off birdcages just to snag face time with a rescued vulture.  I do none of this with the thumb-twiddling listlessness conveyed by that Poindexter of the h-word.

An allergy to hobby might well be a sign of taking oneself too seriously. But derision is definitely built into its DNA. You can read about it here on the online etymology site, but perhaps it will suffice to say that “hobby” grew out of “hobbyhorse,” which, as we know, is a horse that doesn’t go anywhere.

My horses travel.  They take me to true joy. They also occasionally stop to drink at the stream of sorrow, frustration and self-doubt, before heading on down the road to redemption. And of course, they provide critical moments of deliverance from the jar of peanut butter in the kitchen cupboard.  This is all fulfilling and important, I think.

So, please, have your hobbies if you like. I don’t want to deny anyone pleasure, even if it’s just the pleasure of being able to claim that they have a hobby.

But I wish James Lipton would call me. I like to have a word with him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kid Lit: Re-reading Sendak

AT THE BOOKSTORE CHECKOUT COUNTER, the thirtysomething clerk flips over a copy of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” (HarperCollins) and breaks into a grin.

“I loved this book!” he said. He repeats this several times, then admits, “I don’t know why.” 

First published in 1963, Sendak’s poetic and brilliantly illustrated book achieved something that not all Caldecott winners can boast. It has become a classic.  You can probably find more learned students of children’s literature with thoughts on why, but here are mine. 

Sendak writes and draws the tale of Max, whose crossness gets him sent, supperless, to his room, where his imagination spirits him away.  He sails to a land full of “things” with yellow eyes and claws and sharp teeth.  These things are both winsome and scary. We and Max suffer that dreamlike uncertainty about whether he will succumb to their mortal threat. 

But in the end, Max tames them – or at least gets them on his side, and they are all wild together, dancing beneath the moon.

The book contains a mere ten sentences. It ends on a proper children’s book note, with Max safely back in his bedroom. But this is still an edgy story. Subversive. 

For a while, Max and wildness are free of parental interference.  It’s a little weird to read this to your own children, who you are likely to wish would simply behave and have no wildness to exercise. But if you are a child, there’s something perhaps reassuring to have your untidy feelings be given such respect.

Twice in recent months, “Where the Wild Things” has come up in conversation as an example of extraordinary artistic achievement. This is why I went hunting down a new copy recently. The last time I’d read it, when my own kids were young, I had either not noticed or forgotten that images literally get larger as Max moves into the fantasy world. As the book opens, Max is playing in his house. That modest first drawing is framed by lots of white space.

By the middle of the book, three two-page spreads are occupied entirely by images of Max and the Wild Things giving way to the wild rumpus. Then the size recedes again. There is no picture at all on the book’s last page. This is one of those moments in literature where the technique seems, in hindsight, to have been inevitable.

It wasn’t. Sendak, who wrote and illustrated the book at age 32, had to think of it first.  Indeed, he invested such attention in every word. Each page is so well-considered. So if you’ve never read “Where the Wild Things Are,” or if it’s been a decade or two, consider discovering it as an adult.

We may be old, but we’re all still a little bit Max, too.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Where the Wild Things Are


ONE MORNING I CURLED UP in my corner of the sofa to nurse the day’s first caffeine, as custom dictated. Animal breakfasts had been served and inhaled. The other humans slept. Roscoe, chubby sausage-mutt light of my life, climbed into my lap, as custom dictated, and reeled back to ask for a scratch.

Within 30 seconds of my fingertips grazing his soft belly, and reaching up under his front legs to rub the pits, Roscoe suddenly snarled and struck my hand in a single movement. One terrible tooth planted itself in my palm. I pulled back and dumped him off my lap. He shook his coat and hung his head in shame. He seemed not to understand what had just happened. Neither did I.

I went to work an hour later with my hand bandaged and my spirit shot. I felt ashamed; a better dog owner wouldn’t have this problem. For most of the day it was all I could do to keep from weeping. My hand was hurt, but my feelings were really wounded, which was odd. He was, after all, a dog.
The incident came as a shock but not a complete surprise. As a rescue mutt, Roscoe arrived with a lot of emotional baggage. “Fear aggression,” they call it. He behaves badly when he’s tense. I understand this. I’ve been known to snarl at people while waiting to board a plane, or if an elevator seems to be thinking about getting stuck.

Lots of stuff scares Roscoe, but our biggest problem until recently was that visitors couldn’t – can’t – just come into our house and reach down to pet the nice doggie. He’ll snap.  One needs to studiously ignore him, and after a few minutes he stops barking.

But you still can’t pet him.

Yet he is also the most affectionate dog I’ve ever lived with. He’s a face-licker, a tail-wagger, a dog with a preference for being in close physical contact with his humans. At the word “snuggle” he rubs his head against my chest. He crawls under the covers at night and plasters himself against my hip. Inevitably, this makes me think of the poor old Victorians who had only pans filled with hot coals to warm their mattresses.

Over the last few months, though, Roscoe started occasionally pulling a Jekyll-and-Hyde routine with family members when they petted him. As his main fan, I quietly believed they must have been doing something wrong and triggering his fear response. Maybe they were petting him in a sensitive spot, I thought. But there was no common denominator there. The morning he bit me I understood that if the definition of “something wrong” could include the belly rub he’d just asked for, we had a real problem.
So we’re working with a new trainer, a woman who is teaching us how to bring gentle structure to our dealings with Roscoe and our other dog, Daisy. Routines will help, she says. Roscoe is high-strung but will likely be calmer within a framework of play and behavior exercises. Though she makes no promises.
My childhood dog was a dachshund who declared holy war on the mailman five days a week. I spent hours during my youth wishing Rudy could talk. Nothing could be better than communicating directly with him, I thought. 
Adulthood has changed my thinking. I like the mystery animals present. Our friendships with them are strong in part because of the communication gap. We work and study them for clues. I suppose they do the same with us.

This new training seems to be helping, if only by giving me a distraction from my constant worrying about what is wrong with Roscoe. The specialist told us to watch for even subtle signs of tension, and so I notice if he becomes very still, or if he flattens his ears.

He has a crate, and we are trying to do fun things so that he’ll learn that the crate is a place he can go when he needs to feel calm and safe. Still, I admit that just this once it might be helpful, for the good of the order, if the little man had some words.  

 I would be a good listener. I would tell him everything’s going to be all right.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Practice With Purpose

A CIA friend was musing on Facebook that she wanted to get back to practicing her sketching with a purpose. Excellent idea, I thought. 

That's how daily drawing helps, if it does. Each effort becomes a focal point for skill improvement: character development/design, composition, color, expression, complications, rendering technique, observation and so on. Without the "purpose" part, it's easy to practice unsuccessful techniques and make them habit.

The above drawing was an answer to a blog challenge on Valentine's Day, and I wanted to work on what I think of as the design of cuteness. I also tend to stop my sketchbook scribbles with the character itself, so I forced myself to add at least the hint of an environment.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

One Way to Fight Back

It was a bad day for journalists and artist. Terrorists killed 12 at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo.
It was kind of on my mind all day, and made me want to celebrate a writer. So I picked Marjane Satrapi, whose graphic memoir "Persepolis" is one of my favorites. It's about her 1970s childhood in Iran, which became more and more conservative as her liberal parents watched.

Most of us can't do much about radical fools. But we can celebrate our freedom to read by ... reading.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Saturday, January 03, 2015


Do you remember the story from the 80s about chemical company heir John DuPont committing a crime (no spoilers here) against an Olympic wrestling gold medalist? I didn't either, so I was surprised by the climax of "Foxcatcher," the new film with Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. 

Should you care to read more about the real Dave Schultz (Ruffalo plays the only likable character int he film), I give you the Wikipedia page.

In other news, if you read about Daisy in yesterday's entry, be assured she is doing well. Roscoe is cleaning her face as we speak, which is very sweet.

More tomorrow ...

Friday, January 02, 2015

Daisy v. Car

Only a few years after Daisy's encounter with a car on Belvoir, she seems to be regaining her spunk. She slipped out this evening by means that remain unclear, though it could've been while Yours Truly was clambering in the house after work.  I literally didn't see her at all, so I'm not sure if she was already out at that point or not.

She has some skid marks on her, but I think she's going to be fine. But this is how it is with pets. They give us smiles and gray hairs in equal measure.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy Birthday, You Old Recluse

Today is the anniversary of J.D. Salinger's birth in 1919.  I don't have his birthday committed to memory, and he is, admittedly, far from my favorite writer. (I've read TCITR twice, mostly without love.) But my excellent Barnes & Noble literary desk calendar alerted me to J.D.'s birthday, so I researched him a bit and decided that his nice, sensitive face would be fun to draw.

Salinger's rejection of attention became as well known as "The Catcher in the Rye," which is pretty darned well known.  People came to disdain him for his disdain of everyone else. Folks never appreciate a hermit.

I have a feeling he wasn't a bad guy. He was, after all, at one point considering becoming a special education teacher. That's a telling detail.

But sensitivity can make people behave strangely, and to be misunderstood. This is a good lesson to remember. 

Anyway, should you like to read more about Salinger (his father was a kosher cheesemonger), you can start here.