The year of magical drawing
I’ve kept an illustrated journal, fairly consistently, for the last dozen years or more. There have been times I got too involved with office work or other distractions and my entries grew more intermittent, but I’ve always come back to a pen and a book to get perspective on my life. When I published Everyday Matters and the books that followed, I made a decision to share this ongoing record of the events of my life with people who I don’t know personally. It was never a particularly hard choice to make because I think that an essential part of art making is a desire to share one’s view of the world with others. It’s not just creation, it’s communication.
I also discovered that the actual details of my private life that I put on display were less important than the fact that I was recording my life in the way that I was. People were far more interested in this practice as an idea that they too could embrace and adopt themselves than in the revelations of the contents of my medicine cabinet or the places I walk my dogs.
The dialogue that I established between the people who viewed and commented on my work in my books and on the web, also helped to sustain my interest — like a vast, relatively quiet audience insisting that I keep up the habit. When I first began drawing in my solitary book, it was something that only I knew and cared about. All these years later, there are so many people doing the same sort of thing and sharing it with me and others, and the act of keeping an illustrated journal has become far richer and more satisfying all around.
I went back to keeping a journal soon after Patti was killed. In fact, I did it with a new sense of purpose because my life needed perspective and clarity more than ever. I discovered a whole new style of journaling too, far more colorful and intense than before, an approach that matched my whole take on life after facing this turn of events. My life has become quite different and so have my journals.
I also continued to share what I was doing, right here on this blog. But after a while, the well-meaning, compassionate outpouring of my readers started to weigh on me. I felt like I was making myself carry out this process in the most public way, adding all sorts of additional pressures that I couldn’t handle at the time. But I felt I needed to carry on because there were so many people who seemed to care about us and what we were going through, who wanted to know how we were doing, and I didn’t feel I could just vanish and withdraw. But people close to me said, “All that matters right now is taking care of yourself and Jack. Take time to focus on what matters most and everything else can wait.”
So eventually, I started to fade away, blogging less and less and then not at all.
But I kept on drawing and confiding in my books, continuing to feel that what I have been going through is something I ought to capture and (eventually) examine. And I knew, from some of the most heart-wrenching emails and comments I got, that there were people out there who were going through similar trauma and transition and that eventually I might want to share what I was experiencing with them and others.
At times, I’ve felt like it might be possible to tie this whole experience into a neat package, something with a beginning, middle and end. A story with a moral, a bunch of quippy epigrams that would pass on my lessons earned. It’s turned out to be a lot messier, as life is prone to be.
When the anniversary of Patti’s death came and went, a date I had been long anticipating as the official end of my mourning period, at first it seemed like nothing much had changed. I still felt alternately good, bad, shitty, and fine. There was no massive parting of the clouds or turning of a giant page. I was still alive, Patti was still dead. I hadn’t forgotten much; in fact, I think I now remember more about our lives than I had before. Life goes on but in lots of ways I guess I am pretty different.
As Jack and I began our second lap of the calendar, I felt a shift. We were no longer going through the first day of Spring without Patti, the first birthdays, the first Christmas. Instead, we had were firming up our own era, more clearly defining the way we live as two independent people without a wife and a mom. Sadness is no longer overwhelming and debilitating, it’s just a feeling that ‘s there, that can be summoned up and hugged or put back on the shelf for another time.
Now, when I think about Patti, I am rarely sad. And I do think about her, several times every single day. But lots of the guilt and fear and darkness and panic that accompanied those thoughts are rarely present. Instead, I feel like she’s just by my side, accompanying me through a new set of doors, advising, encouraging, being my friend and my love.
So maybe that’s closure. I don’t really know the meaning of the word and I don’t feel like anything is closed. It’s more that I am mounting a staircase out of the darkness, seeing more and more around me, but my eyes are still sufficiently accommodated to the darkness I’ve passed through to be able to look back without fear and see what was what.
… Actually, I started writing this to tell you some news.
Those pages I’ve been filling (and a bunch more that I am making that will lend some introduction and perspective to my journal) are going to be made into a new book. It’s going to be published by a wonderful publisher in San Francisco, Chronicle Books, and they will be bringing it out sometime next year. Fortunately, I have a while to work on it and to figure out how to turn this experience into something coherent and good enough to be a tribute to Patti and her life.
A rather unpleasant book editor in New York told someone I know, “I can understand why he feels the need to write such a book but I can’t see why anyone would want to read it.” She may well turn out to be right.
But right now, I’m focussing more on how to do it well and make it true. If it turns out to be of no real use to anyone but me, I can live with that. I may regret sharing the pain and discovery of this last year with more strangers but I doubt it. I have been lucky enough to have so much encouragement in the work I have done over the years and I like to think it has been helpful to share my perspective with others.
I know it has been helpful to me.