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.

57 Comments

  1. robyn

    Hi Danny,

    I can’t BELIEVE someone would say something like that about your experience. I guess they are of a different mindset than I am, because I LOVED your first journal and am so happy to hear that you will have another book out soon. I can’t wait to hear how you have survived since the other book was published. I was so shocked when I finally thought to look you up on the net after reading your journal and found that Patti had died. It probably sounds stupid but I felt it like a personal blow.

    Anyway, I hope this encourages you as you get your journal ready for publication. I will be lining up (over the net!) to get a copy..

    Robyn xx

  2. Carolyn

    Thumbs up the journaling, to the upcoming book, to love, to life. I can understand writing such a book and also wanting to read it.

  3. Kathy Nieder

    She certainly won’t be the first book editor to be wrong! I look forward to reading and learning from your book. Along with many, many other people.

  4. Virginia Hanley

    Dear Danny, Many years ago I confided to someone close to me that I thought the journals I had been keeping could become a “publishable” book; her response was, “Who would want to read it?” I was devastated and wounded, and let that remark stall my creative impulse. Many years later, other friends have encouraged me, and I am re-embarking on the journey to write and collect my “memoirs”. Take heart; I am so glad you are sharing your life. We all need to share our lives. Your pal, Virginia

  5. kathleen aka kitty

    You’re an amazing fellow, Mr. Danny Gregory. You write as well as you draw and in just this post have conveyed, succinctly and achingly well, your trip to hell and back in the past year+. Look forward to your new book. All the best to you and Jack.

  6. Jane Humphrey

    If I were still a bookseller, I could sell a ton of the new book, partly because there’d be so many customers who, at my suggestion, had come to love Everyday Matters. You’ve influenced so many of us and we look to you for continuing to inspire us. I’m glad it’s Chronicle who’s going to publish it. I think highly of them.

  7. Sandra Deutsch

    I am looking forwar to reading your new journal. I too have been going through the same process of losing a dynamic, never to be fogotten person – about one year ahead of you. Your new journal will probably be extremely helpful to people new to the “grieving process.” It is amazing – everyone goes through it, yet there don’t seem to be any gut truth accessible guides. Yes, the year of “firsts” is over – but things still sneak up and hit with a mighty wallop. And then there is the loneliness – in spite of our special loved ones and friends. Best wishes to you & Jack.

  8. NIkira

    My life experiences different from yours, my own losses and happiness but I feel very much related to you, your writing and drawing, and interested in your books. I have one. I think this what we need the most, talk to each other, trust, listen and love. Thank you so much and the best for you and Jack and can’t wait for your new book. Irina.

  9. Cj

    Chronicle is an awesome publisher! They’ve got a fairly eclectic record, and it’s good to see you joining the ranks of their authors.

  10. Sally

    Hi Danny – I also am so ready for your next book to be available. I feel like I know you and Jack and continually share in your sorrow and in your renewed energy as you continue the journey without Patti. Know that yoiu are never alone. We have so much to learn from your willingness to journal this important side of life. Peace.

  11. joe

    You’re a strong dude Danny. Wishing you all the best. Looking forward to reading the new book.

    joe

  12. joyce

    I can see why you’d want to write it, and I certainly want to read it. I think grieving is such a part of the human experience, that there will be many, many of us who can relate to, and learn from your experience.

    It’s interesting that your style has gotten more colorful and vibrant through this year. Mine has done the same, and though most of it I cannot show anyone, that palette seems to be creeping into my more public drawings too. Maybe it is because the feelings are so intense, that our palette must become more intense also.

    Wishing you all the best with the book and life in general,
    Joyce

  13. lilac butterfly

    Press on with the message(s) you have on your heart to share. I don’t believe for a moment that no one will want to read what you share. Anyone who has any family or friends; who has gone through pain, loneliness, bewilderment; who has endured the monotony of ordinaryness; or has ever wondered “what is the point and purpose of my life?” will find at least 1 thing in your writing that resonates.

  14. Pam from the UK

    Dear Danny, I was so pleased to read this latest blog. What a twit that publisher is if she can’t understand why any one would want to read your book. I certainly do. I could understand very well why you backed off a bit this last year – it must have been overwhelming. I was pleased to read the few blogs you did post though just to know you were coming through it in stages with Jack. The reason that people like to read your stuff is that they can identify with it. You have a skill with words and drawings being able to describe feelings in a way that many of us find difficult but understand. Thank you so much. Best wishes, Pam

  15. Caity O'Connor

    Dear Danny,
    I’m so pleased that you will be sharing your journals with us again, and especially pleased that the wonderful Chronicle Books is taking care of you – their books are always so lovingly made! I can’t think of a better match.

    Grieving is such an individual process. I still can’t look at the journals I drew and wrote in (very influenced by your first book) as my sister died from a brain tumour. One day I’ll look at them again, but not yet. People have told me that after 6 years I shouldn’t still be grieving. It changes, it gets easier, and as you say – you do start to move on, but you never forget.

  16. Beverley

    Hi Danny, I fully appreciate what you say about passing that first year marker, I am almost at the 9 months mark, well will be next week. Mine is not due to a death but a marriage breakdown, which is a nightmare as you then have to enter into this really unpleasant discussion with people, your lives discussed with people who don’t even know you. That publisher will likely end up eating her words. I would want to read your book of that I am certain, as your past books have been so good, why should this one not be equally as good. I keep telling myself that good things come from bad situations. Patti lives on in Jack, and I am sure that there are times when you talk with Jack or observe him doing something it’s just like watching Patti. I am happy you are writing your blog as it is interesting to read, you are not only talented with your drawings but with your words as well.

  17. Rachel

    Well, that publisher is wrong, at least when it comes to me. I want to read this book. I think the book could be extremely helpful to others and, at the very least, a beautiful and true recording of a very difficult period.

  18. helenlp

    Name and shame that publisher Danny! Can’t wait to read the new book – know without even reading a blurb that it will be full of love, insight and great drawing.

  19. Nita

    The chronicle of another person’s survival and creativity is a story that helps the rest of us move through our own jungles. I look forward to your new book and am glad to know that your new life is a stairway out of the Darkness.

  20. Ryn

    Hi Danny,

    it’s really great to read that you’ve been keeping your journal going and even morphing into a new journaling experience for yourself, even though you’ve been quiet from the online world for a while.

    you and your books have helped me change my life back around tremendously and i cherish all of your books that sit on my shelf. i’m excited to be adding one more book to that collection, when it’s available.

    i’m sorry to hear about the ignorant words that were spoken by that book publisher you mentioned. an unfortunate reality that the world is full of people of all kinds, including insensitive and ignorant ones, but it’s great to hear that you’re not allowing her thoughts to interfere with your goal – looks good on you!

    there’s a whole community here that supports you, your friends, your family, and people like me who you don’t personally know, who you’ve inpsired in such a huge way.

    your strength and persistance (and Jack’s) is wonderful and i think that as unforuntate and dark this experience has been for you both, it’s beautiful that you both have faced and dealt with it head-on rather than loosing yourselves in it.

    you continue to be an inspiration…

  21. lisa

    Danny…what a gift you are giving Jack, yourself and all who have felt a part of your journey. We anxiously await your new book. Lisa

  22. Diana

    Your work is compelling on all levels. Through your books and Everyday Matters community you have brought the possibility of art to ordinary people. I’ve had people stop and watch me draw when I’m out with my sketchbook and the ask me if I’ve heard of the group called Everyday Matters.

    As for the new book, I’ll probably buy three right out of the starting blocks because I’m tired of sharing all your other books with my mom and sister so I’ll get each of us our own copy. Then I’ll probably buy about five more for gifts. I’m sure of it….and I haven’t even read it yet.

    You are a great guy. Thanks for what you give to the world.

  23. Kim

    When something similar happened to me, a book like that would have been a great help and comfort, especially coming from a guy whose previous books have been an inspiration. No one I knew had been through what I was going through, and there are books on grief out there, but they just didn’t speak my language. You seem to have a talent for tapping into things that touch many. Don’t doubt yourself Danny, because you rock!

  24. ChrisF

    This post and others like it are exactly WHY people will want to read your book!

  25. jane lafazio

    thank you Danny for sharing with us how you and Jack are coping ….And thank you for writing the book. I knew it was there, inside you and I’m so glad you’ll be able to share it.
    xoxo

  26. Ellen Simpson

    I’m go glad to hear you are going to publish another book. It’s about the art – the subjects, your motivations, the sad sad experiences you had, and the resulting art it produced. Your books inspired me to pick up pencil and paint brush after many years. My skills are mediocre at best, but you convinced me that didn’t matter. I doodle and scratch onward.

    Every day matters is a mantra, and I will always be thankful to have learned it. I’m thrilled you’re going to share your everyday matters again. Apparently, the snarky publisher from NYC didn’t get that at all.

  27. Loretta Marvel

    Seriously, I can’t imagine any of your readers not wanting to read this book and I am sure it will attract a very wide audience. I am coming to hate book editors, esp New York ones. Not a good frame of mind for someone who wants to publish a book, but a reality none the less. I am looking forward to the publication and wish you all the best as you go through the process.

  28. Jill K. Berry

    Art heals, that is what it does, and what true artist does not want to read about that?
    I often wonder what I would do to heal trauma without art, and I am not at all sure how the “others” do it, but this is our way. Your like-minded community will relish it.
    The very best to you and Jack.

  29. Melinda Bilecki

    I absolutely canNOT wait to see the book! Thank you for your willingness to share your drawings and your process with us!!!

  30. Leona

    Your thoughts and your documenting of them in your journals is an amazing gift that you have shared. You have touched my heart and I am sure the hearts of all that have been able to be a part of your life, struggles and successes through your journals.

    Art connects people in a way that other forms of communication can not. Thank you for this, and I am very much looking forward to getting your next book as soon as it is published.

  31. Colorfuldayz

    Regardless of what the publisher said, I am looking forward to your newest publication. Very glad that you are once again sharing your days.

  32. Maria from the Left Coast

    Hey Danny, Draw on! Write on! We’ll be in line for it in 2012. Just make sure it happens before the end of the world! Ha! M.

  33. visualflaneur

    I wish you all the best for this endeavor. I found Everyday Matters a huge source of inspiration and admire the strength and courage you find to share your life in this way.

  34. elena

    I have several of your books, which I read over and over. Your words touch many lives, and I have no doubt your new one will be embraced in the same manner.

  35. Warren Ludwig

    I had lunch with a friend last week, just two days after the first year mark of losing my wife. We are both professional artists, and he asked me what my “creative” experience was like during this last year without her. I told him that “art was a life-jacket for me, to keep me from drowning in my grief”. I have no idea how I would have made it this far, without it.

    Thank you for sharing your life. I think I must write that, every single time I’ve left a comment on your blog. But your journey has already helped more people than you will ever know. Bless you, Danny. (And, I, too, will be buying your new book!!)

  36. Karen Blados

    When you’re going through a particularly dark time, it does help to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That others have similar struggles. That you’re not alone.

    Your books have helped so many people, myself included. I for one am anxious to get my hands on the next one.

  37. Suzanne Cross

    That editor has no clue how powerful your books are, I have all of them on my shelf and will add the new one when it come out. I lost my husband 3 years ago this week and I could not continue with my art after he passed. I have always reached for you book when I try and get myself restarted. I know you refereed to Joan Didion’s book but have you read Madeleine L’Engle’s memoir Two-Part Invention, it is quite inspiring. I love your books, I love your blog, keep working.

  38. Siân

    I’m SO pleased to hear that you’re publishing another book. I presume it will be available in the UK. Thanks for all the creative inspiration :-)

  39. JOAN CLARKE

    The comment by the editor puzzles me. I, for one, would be a reader simply because I learn something from all of your previous books. I like your simply writing about the process of your experiences, good and bad. I can see that anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one, no matter if the loss of wife, mother, child, or a beloved pet…loss is something all of us will be dealt at some point in life. Reading about the grieving process of another going through such a difficult thing may help lift another out of a deep hole, give them a perspective or coping skill…so I would be the first to tell that book editor, raising my hand, “I will read Danny’s book.” So there.

  40. Barbara Daley

    Looking forward to your new book! I have others of yours, including Creative License, and an Illustrated Life. You have been an inspiration to me, and I am a long time journal keeper.
    As to “who would read it?”, I think of one of the most personally meaningful books I’ve ever read, “Stitches” by David Small. You could say that about his book, or anyone’s own story.An irrelevent question.
    Keep on keeping on, Danny , in whatever way works for you.

  41. jen gray

    yes. to all of this.

  42. Sandy

    Your journal entries have always been honest and full of thought and character. Patti had inspired much of it and obviously continues to do so. Eventually everyone passes through darkness and pain and struggles to cope. Your venue is priceless in thought, word and line – I will anxiously await this new book and undoubtedly find insight that helps me through my own darkness. I think Patti would be proud.

  43. Nikita

    Why do you care about a publisher that not only had no intuition at all, but no business sense?
    Maybe she didn’t lost anybody so close, so she can’t relate with what you’ve been through, …but at least she could have done her homework : Google your name and see how many people all over the world are reading your books and blogs and ask you for more. You “did” the marketing & advertising job for her already!

    I didn’t lost anybody so close too, but i enjoy your writings & drawings very much! And I found out that are a lot of people like me out there. Doesn’t matter if you write about your love letters to Patti, walking your dogs, medicine cabinet or picking up your nose… the way you do it is so fun and smart and appropriate(i know, i repeat myself:0)

    If Patti was by your side, probably you wouldn’t be so self-conscious, but she is watering the plants and smiling over your shoulder as you write, can’t you see…?
    It will be a great book and I /we all know it!

    There is no need to say that I’ll buy it for sure. Let us know when it will be available …i know on Amazon you can buy books before there are even printed/published or something, right?

    Looking forward to “find” more to read from you!!!

  44. Pam

    I find myself tearing up at the thought of a new book from you — not from sadness, but from joy that you’re willing to still share. I read “Everyday Matters” to discover Patti’s story after seeing a blurb somewhere, and in the process discovered your wonderful words and drawings. That discovery will continue with the new book. Never doubt that you will have readers — to me, and it sounds like to many, you are an old friend although we’ve never met.

  45. Seth Apter

    Looking forward to this book Danny. Very much!

  46. Charlie

    Just thought this would be a good time to say that you’re one of my biggest drawing inspirations, and good luck with everything you do. I would certainly buy the book. :)

  47. benthe

    hey,
    I already own three of your books now and think there is still room for more. I admire the way you look at the world and translate it to others. The message you bring can be useful to a lot of people, so keep going on the way you do now!

  48. Andy Hein

    While I was reading, I felt this was going in a whole different direction, that you were going to stop the blog etc. Gladly, that’s not the case, quite the opposite. Whew! I look forward to reading your next passages as much as the last. Keep doing what it takes for you to move along with your lives, with a pen or in silence (for a while). All of us will continue to offer our supportive energy for both you and Jack for a long time to come. The book will be well received!

  49. Elaine

    There are plenty of people who write about just those experiences and many people who read them. Ignore the naysayers. Go with your heart. Write and draw what pleases you or helps you heal. Congrats in the new book that’s coming in the future. I’m happy that you are doing better these days. It takes a lot of time. I know. God Bless!

  50. Genie G

    Hi Danny,

    So glad you’re back. Got your books a coupla years ago, dropped in on your site & blog; and felt a personal loss over Patti’s death, as odd as that might seem to a total stranger….but you are partly responsible for leading me to sketch journaling and the growth, healing, and wonder that comes of it. Turning 63 yrs old and experiencing unemployment (again!) and all the fears that go along with that powerful combination of circumstances leads one to view a life differently; the need for self-expression cannot be denied any longer or we wither away. It’s lights like yours that have helped show the way for many of us. Yes, I am so glad you are back!

  51. Aparna

    Hi Danny

    I just wanted to say that you have been such an inspiration! and I just got your book, An Illustrated Life and I wanted to thank you for it.. It’s just the kind of push I needed! :)
    Would definitely be passing it on and recommending it to all my friends.

  52. mary

    Danny,

    Some years ago, I stumbled upon your blog and from that very first moment you had me – I read all the archives; told all my friends; got our public library here on Vancouver Island to buy your books. I loved the honesty in all the bits you shared. I got back to drawing and worked at making stabs at imperfection vs. no art at all. I realized through listening to you and making my own way in a journal that the thing about life isn’t getting stuck in the good or the bad, but full emersion in all of it before coming out the other side. I felt real loss when you stopped contributing to Everyday Matters, but of course realized we (ha!) needed to take a break.

    Last year, I tuned in to find you again and was crushed at the loss of Patti – and yet once again, I was so awakened by your courage and openheartedness. I wished at the time that I could give you something. Still do, so maybe here it is:

    You are a Lighthouse in our new world. Instead of allowing all of this technology to diffuse you, you have used it to give Your Self – your actual red corpuscled self. As my time here appears shorter with each passing year, I’m not interested in much of anything that doesn’t feel authentic, so I really mean this: I have no doubt that your upcoming book will captivate. It will be true and inspired – and will inspire me to be true. I will love sharing it with those in the world who can only know you through the old fashioned printed page. I think this will be your best yet. How do I know? Because I’ve yet to see an untrue inauthentic side of you.

    Deep in your heart, you know I speak the truth.

  53. Mariana

    I too lost someone close to me (my brother) due to tragic circumstances … 18 years ago. Five years ago, when I was a youthful 45 years old, “Creative License” gave me the courage to rediscover my art and carve out a whole new life for myself. I would most definitely buy your book.

    All the best, Mariana

  54. Tina

    Oh, that Editor woman must be a bitter one. Not only is it a big event to look forward to read and SEE as well as experience- with a seeing person as yourself behind it- And on top of that- it´s a love-story beyond her and my own imagination- I´m sure. To have been as loved and appriciated and well taken care of- as your Patti- and also to get a book in her tribute- brings hope and meaning back to what we all dream about!

    I can´t wait for it to lighten up my life here in Scandinavia. And I´m sure it´ll be translated into chinese as well.

    Your boll is already rolling and it´ll hit her one day that she missed out on something beautiful. Hopefully she´ll wake up too.

    Thanks for keeping us posted. Your work is still making me draw in various art journals. And the moments my 13 year old son is joining me are the very best.

    Thank You from the bottom of my heart!!

    Tina in Stockholm.

  55. Karen Lundgren

    I just came across the news of your wife’s death and wept for you. My mother died in an accident when I was a junior in college and my heart immediately melded with the emotions expressed in the above article. Although I don’t personally know you, I feel an instant connection and have walked the same path.

    I am a high school art teacher. Every year when I introduce my art students to their sketchbook assignments, I read the beginning of Every Day Matters to them. We talk about expressing themselves and working through the many issues they experience by art and journaling. It has been an inspiration to me and to them. Many of my students face serious problems like poverty, abuse, and addictions. Your willingness to share the intimate details, feelings, and thoughts during a crisis speaks to them.

    Thank you for your selflessness. You are in my prayers.

    Thanks,
    Karen

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