Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pay No Attention to the Joy Behind the Curtain . . . .

It's been a long travel day, capped by a great meeting with people with whom I am so excited to be working. Later in the evening something ended and something began and it's not my intention to be cryptic; it's just that sometimes it's got to be OK to let a drawing carry the thousand-word load . . .

How was everyone's Memorial Day weekend? Mine was really, really nice . . . for the most part . . .

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sports Metaphors

I am tired.

Last night, my cousin Chris took me to Shea Stadium for the first time. He’s an old hand there, a big Mets fan who yells at the players when they should be stealing a base and aren’t and he yells at the fair-weather fans who stay seated when they should be on their feet, cheering the home team . Chris’s grandfather has great seats at Shea and has had them for like forty years, so there we were on the First base line, drinking beer and shivering in the Spring’s Fall-like weather and pretty much having a great time.

The game went 16 innings and lasted five and a half hours.

And I don’t have much to say about that, because I’m still tired and drained 24 hours later—but, I loved every long, drawn-out minute of it.

A bunch of people have asked me today how I stood it and all I can say is, get lost--that game didn’t even get interesting until the eighth inning. And once that eighth inning tie happened, there wasn’t anything that was going to make me leave; I was waiting for the homer or the heartbreak and there were no other options. We were tired, we were drained, we were cold and we were in for the duration.

For one thing, I was there with family and I don’t get to spend much time with Chris and he sure wasn’t leaving until that game was done. But, equally important, I wasn’t gonna leave because me and endurance tests are old friends. And I’ll pass every one you throw at me, especially if it’s a ballgame.

Every extra inning ended with another couple of thousand people retreating to the 7 train--giving up, moving on--and Chris derided them and I watched them go, feeling better and better.

Homer or heartbreak, that’s all I’m interested in.

When the bottom of the 16th came along and that Mets home-run went flying out of the field, right down the first base line in front of us, we high-fived and howled like wolves and stopped to smoke a cigarette before climbing the stairs to the 7—we rode back to the city on a train mostly filled with people who worked at Shea and they looked beat.

I want to write more about it, but this endurance test is done now and we won. It’s Memorial Day weekend and I’m going up to Canada to sit on an island and read a book or two and write and draw and rest up for the next one.

It was a helluva 16 innings, but that was just one game and there’s more ball to play.

Next week.

Monday, May 22, 2006


My brother, Ben, and my sister-in-law, Heidi, have a “bear” theory of art. Well, maybe not a theory as much as a way to classify certain metaphors and recurring themes of an artist. They call these things “bears” because of John Irving and the way bears always turn up in his books.

Last week Ben had to drive about an hour out of town to pick up some tile for his new bathroom and I went with him, both to keep him company and because I am a bored man trying to fill the time when I am not working. And, right now, I am between assignments. Also, I like hanging out with Ben because we are both struggling artists trying to find meaning in life. Besides, he was going to Target and I needed cheap underwear and socks and that’s as close to meaning as I’m destined to get this week.

Anyway, we got to talking about our bears. You can get Ben’s album, Edible Darling (check it out at, and try to figure out his bears for yourself. Or you can wait until one of his novels or short stories gets published and then wait for the cliff notes version and figure it out from there. I’m here to tell you that his bears are fierce.

My bears tend to star-gaze and be startled by seismic changes in the known world; changes that are fundamental and sudden. These bears are wistful and sad. They like to see the best in things, and are always prepared for and surprised by the worst. My bears also tend to be missing paws and bellies and faces sometimes, but you can still see them if you look. If there’s one thing that theatre teaches you, it’s that the things that are left out can be the things that you see the best. Absent bears can growl louder than the ones in the room.

But I also have this dancing bear and I’ve had it a long time. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been drawing people dancing with abandon, feet in the air, fingers akimbo and musical notes floating all around.

I don’t know where the dancing bear comes from, because I don’t really dance and I was never all that interested in it. Back in college, when I was studying to be an actor I had to take a ballet class and a jazz class and a tap class and I was a clumsy, self-conscious three-left-footed bozo about it. When we took ballet, my room-mate and I used to say that the only step we could master was the Faux-pas.

Oh, how we laughed about that one. I still whip that joke out a couple of times a year; it’s got legs that one.

When I moved to New York and started drawing theatre rehearsals, I had no idea I would spend a good portion of the next six years of my life in ballet and modern-dance studios watching fancy dancers hone their craft. That one came from so deep in left field, you would think the guy selling hot-dogs threw it into play. In fact, when I first met the woman who invited me in to draw ballet, she asked me if I had ever heard of American Ballet Theatre and I was lying through my teeth when I said “oh, sure.” See, I knew ZIP about that world and I had never heard of ABT and I’m ashamed to admit it. But she saw my drawings and made a call and got me into the world that's been home ever since.

By the way, Blaine, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I lied, but I will be in your debt forever for the way you changed a lying fool’s life with your kindness and generosity that day.


Three days after Blaine worked her magic, I found myself on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House watching the greatest dancers in the world getting ready to open Taming of the Shrew, and I was drawing to save my life, my dignity and cover my ass. At the time, I couldn’t even draw a full body, let alone a dancer. I just sort of drew hands and feet floating in the air. And suddenly I had the weight of being an artist worthy of being in the room with these people hanging on my shoulders and, for no reason I can think of, it felt like Responsibility. On the second day, I stopped in the gift-shop at The Met on my way backstage, just so I could look at some books and post-cards to sort of see what I should do. And I looked at Degas. And I looked at Edward Gorey’s ballet drawings and I thought, “Oh Jeez—there’s a history here. And I could be a part of it.”

I went to the stage door, filled with the (in retrospect, arrogant) idea that this art-form was mine now, and took the elevator down to the large studio in the basement and I drew a picture of Vladimir Malakhov turning multiple jetes in a striped body-suit and it didn’t look half bad, and I thought, “wow, I did it” and before I could finish patting myself on the back, this imperious ballet mistress said to me, “right, you’ll draw me next.” And it’s been like that ever since. Every time I do something I like, I realize it’s just a warm up for the next one. And I love that. I freaking love that.

I learned everything I know about dance and drawing the human figure from American Ballet Theatre, The Martha Graham Dance Company, David Parsons, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Donlin Foreman and Paul Taylor. And if you don’t know who they are, don’t feel bad, because neither did I until I was sitting in the room with them. But ABT is home to me. It's the place where I committed to this thing. It's the place where the dancing bear left the confines of my gazed-upon navel and stepped up onto a real stage. And it's the place where my drawing leaped forward because I was among like-minded people who worked every day to be better than they were.

Tonight I get to go to the season-opening, gala-performance of American Ballet Theatre at the Met. I’ll be a guest of Susan Jones, one of the ballet mistresses who became a close friend in the years I drew the company. I’ll be sitting there with all the society swells and hairdos that look like they were sculpted by abstract expressionists and I will feel as out of place as I always do at these things. And even though, Susan’s giving me only one ticket, I’m bringing the bear, because you gotta dance with the one what brung ya.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Maybe I Think Too Much

I don’t think the big mysteries spend a lot of time thinking about us. I mean, it’s just got to be a lot of fun being a mystery. And imagine the freedom. You got no explaining to do when you’re a mystery. A shrug, a sigh, a look in the eye and call it a night.

Anyway, I was gonna put something up here about connections and the secret things that bring people together. But instead, here’s to the mystery.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Happy Mother's Day

At my Mom’s funeral, her therapist came up to my sister and I, offering comfort and solace. She told us, “if your Mom hadn’t been my patient, she would have been my best friend--If you guys need to talk, please don’t hesitate to call on me.” And if that doesn’t tell you all there is to know about my Mom, I got nothing else. That woman could charm the ethics off a trained psychologist.

Mom’s dream was that I would become a famous playwright and she’d play the Ruth Gordon character who would appear in all my plays. Mom loved life so much she wanted to live mine for me too. And if I could live my life with as much abandon as she brought to hers, I’d be having a whole lot more fun. Or at least it would look that way.

It was Mom who taught me that change is constant and people are truly drawn to those who give the impression that they know what they’re doing.

I’ve been asked a couple of times today how I’m feeling, it being Mother’s Day and all.

And to be honest, I feel all right. I had a wonderful day last Thursday with my Step-Mom (who is every bit as much my mother as my mother was—and my Mom loved that). And today, I called my great aunts and my Mom’s sister and my sister-in-law and at least one surrogate mother-figure I picked up along the way. And then I had a very nice dinner with this amazing woman who has taken me under her wing here in New York City.

But I miss Mom a lot. And, despite the fact that the world’s a lot bigger for me since she left, I’d give anything to sit around with her and show her what I’ve been doing and listen to her laugh at me.

Mom had an ability to change her life over night. One day she’d be one person and the next day she’d have a new career and a new husband or boyfriend or home. Sometimes it seemed that the only thing that caused her pain was the inability of the rest of us to keep up.

Of course, seven years ago I was a teacher looking for a job as an adjunct professor. And now look at me, a fancy New York artist wondering where my next paycheck is. I expect I bewildered a few people with that maneuver.

Seven years ago, I stood before my grandmother and my stepmother and my Dad and the rest of my family and we ached, ached, ached, because Mom died young and we lost so many family-members in such rapid succession. My Great-Aunt Joy and my step-father and three of my grand-parents all went, one right after the other in about a three year period. And we were numb, shell-shocked and positively giggly with sadness.

Because the one thing my family knows how to do is laugh through the pain and find joy in the blues. We’re all Kermit the Frog, sitting on a log, strumming on a banjo and singing about rainbows in a voice that’s half an inch from despair. It ain’t easy being green, but cheap vaudeville skits can only make things better. And cartoons help too.

Four husbands, two children, a life in rock and roll, theatre, real estate, retail marketing, political consultation, insurance analysis and mental-health advocacy. Not to mention, a gifted jewelry-maker, and crochette-artist and, seriously, she rolled the best joints.

That was my Mom.

She was also a royal pain in the ass; being her kid was painful and confusing. But, as I told her three days before she died, “Even though I could take a two by four to you for what you put me through, I’m really glad you were my mother.” And she laughed and we hugged and I went back to Austin and when the phone call came as I was driving south on Lamar, I turned around and headed back to Phoenix.

I was playing a video game in the front room when my sister told me to come to Mom's bedside. By the time I got there, all that was left was a smile on her face.

Mom’s funeral was on Mother’s Day, 1999.

The last couple of years, Mother’s Day has taken me by surprise, because I forget this anniversary until the feelings hit. And every year I find comfort in the fact that there was nothing left unsaid between her and me and I try to live a life she would be proud of.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Before We Get Started . . .

I went to see the Munch exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art last week--my third visit to a show I have mixed feelings about. While I was waiting for a friend, I sat down on a bench outside the entrance to the exhibit rooms and pulled out my drawing pad. Crazy Edvard (as they used to call him at the beach) was looking out at all of us from the echo of his photo and he don't care anymore, because he's dead now and he had his career; he did his paintings and he made his prints and he enjoyed the fruits of his number-one hit single and now, all the moments he lived are gone. But there's a bunch of art that stuck around.

And we pause here to reflect before entering.

This area is for the ones who need context. The ones who want to know what they're in for; what the art's about. What the journey will be and what it all means.

I have a love/hate relationship with this part of an exhibit, as I do with the individual placards explaining and contextualizing each work in the show. On the one hand, yeah, I want to know the title and I want to know when it was created and I want to know the significant details. Because an informed viewer is a . . . well . . . Informed Viewer.

But, I also really don't trust it.

Because the art's the art and the moment in which it was born is gone, gone, gone, missy. Each painting, sculpture and drawing is a bookmark floating free of the pages and you can try to tell me where it was placed in the novel, but sometimes I'd just rather look at the pretty bookmark and put it in the pages of my own story.

But still . . .

Isn't it interesting to know that Munch first felt the impulse that he turned into The Scream standing on a boardwalk, looking out at a crepuscular sky, stained red by the dust of Krakatoa? If you look at the painting that Munch identified as the first manifestation of an icon, you'd be hard-pressed to see the similarity to The Scream. But when you read about it and look closer at that painting . . . well, that's really pretty amazing.

So, yeah. I've got mixed feelings about explanations and explications when it comes to art. Sometimes I want to know and sometimes I want to look and feel and not be bothered with studying for the quiz.

But I was sitting, waiting on a friend and I was looking at Munch not looking at me and I drew in my book, because I really, really like to draw and I have to believe it leads somewhere, even if I have no idea where . . .