Missing Hoofy


I was blessed with an enormous outpouring of sympathy and support in the first few weeks after Patti’s death. Equally mercifully, that tide pulled back in the ensuing months and now most people have receded from my sphere. It was all too heavy, seeing a look of deep concern on the faces of  every person who I ran into on the street, and I felt like a sponge absorbing everyone’s grief over and again. That sounds sort of shitty and selfish but it’s been tough enough sorting out my own feelings.

The grieving process is a hard one to unravel or predict. Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief aren’t terribly helpful, too orderly and well-defined;  there’s just no rhyme or reason to how I feel most of the time. Denial is an easy refuge, just getting on with life until the dam breaks and I am forced to deal with my emotions. I also worry at times that I am too okay, that I am too level-headed, but then my deeper feelings find a way to worm to the surface and reassert the enormity of what’s happened.Yuk.

An aside: One of Patti’s many nicknames was ‘Hoofy’ for her occasionally clumsy ways. This is a drawing of a necklace I gave her years ago, a collection of silver feet and hoofs. She loved it and wore it a lot. It makes me wonder: will I ever know anyone else whose tastes, weird and particular, are so in tune with mine? Who else could appreciate and encourage my taxidermy collecting, my medical textbooks, my love of sardines on toast? How do you replace a one-of-a-kind treasure?

Waisting Away

One of the inevitabilities of being married and middle-aged is the gradual spread of one’s waistband. A souvenir of all those evenings when Patti would bring me a bowl of ice cream on the couch or we’d eat off each others’ plates like Jack and Mrs. Spratt.

Now our pantry is bare-ish. Jack and I shop on Sunday afternoon, buying just enough to provide cold cuts and fruit for  his lunches, cereal for my breakfast, a few other meager things. I shop most days on the way home from work, buying whatever I will cook that night, always a salad, maybe a steak or chicken breast for him, some veggie or fish thing for me. My favorite word these days, Jack complains, is ‘Spartan‘.

Despite these complaints of deprivation, we are both healthy and rarely hungry. I am amazed at how much less I want to eat. It began in those first horrible weeks in late March, when I simply lost my appetite altogether. But once that passed, I found food wasn’t especially comforting, and instead I preferred the gym I had just joined. For the first time in ages, I love pedaling madly on a bike or throwing barbells around. I also find I have the time. When Patti was alive, I so often felt that time spent on myself was time taken away from her (a perspective she vigorously opposed, but to no avail). Now I have the time and control of my agenda to indulge myself in new ways. Fortunately, so far, most of them are healthy.

My newly instituted regime is also a reflection of a new assessment of my age, of how many years I have left. I’d always assumed that Patti and I would march into the grave holding hands and I had no especial interest in outliving her.  Now, however, because I will continue on this march with no one to lean on, I feel I should be as vigorous as I can be. Both my parents are healthy and robust in their 70s and my grandfather just died at 98. Chances are I will be around to choose apples, tap melons, lift dumbbells and fill sketchbooks for a little bit longer.

In the meantime, I need new trousers and a shorter belt.

The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step

Jack and I have always shared certain things: pens, a love of R. Crumb, a disdain for Dane Cook. Now we have a new and more complex relationship, one that can be annoying and claustrophobic some times, rich and vital at others. We are roommates, creative collaborators, dinner companions, advisors, and dad and son. And there’s no Mom to act as a buffer, filter, and cooler head.

It can be tough living with a teenager who doesn’t realize he is shedding clothes all over the house or drinking the last of the juice. I’m sure it’s just as tough for Jack living with a cantankerous, soppy weirdo. Despite our differences, we are managing okay, crafting a new sort of life in our man cave, surrounded by chip packages and dachshunds.

Most recently, we’ve taken to sharing a pair of blue shoes that we both coveted. It’s been a true compromise as the shoes are a little small for Jack, a little large for me. The experience has proven useful, teaching us what it’s like to walk in each others’ shoes.

Cleaning up our act

My relationship with my journal is like that with a family member or a friend I’ve known since childhood. Sometimes we are distant, formal, perfunctory, obliged. But when I really need my journal, it is there with open pages, ready to hold me as tightly as I hold it. These days, I need it more than ever, and I am more intense, more candid than usual, as I scrawl across its pages.

I would like to share some of these pages with you but they are heavy going and so I will doll them out a spread or two at a time over a number of days. If you like what you see, come back soon and I’ll have posted more.

Here’s where I began. By cleaning up my apartment, on my hands — dismissing the cleaning ladies who had scrubbed my toilets ever since I could afford them — reclaiming what is mine, filth and all. It is part of a process I’ve embraced, of forming a new relationship with the everyday, taking full responsibilty for every aspect of my life.

Being married means sharing the good, the bad, the important, the mundane. Patti and I leaned on each other in a thousand ways: she would shop, I would cook. I would bring home checks, she would pay bills. She kept up with our friends, I worked late. It was a deep symbiosis developed over 23 and 7/8 years — which unravelled in a heartbeat.

So now I am forced to reappraise all of the decisions we made as a team. Many of them can wait: is that the right shelf to store the wine glasses on? Do we need all of these dish towels? Should we live in New York? Others assert themselves and demand resolution. One by one, I pick them off; making lists, adding bleach, filling my weekends with chores.

Every choice is made in consultation with Patti’s ghost, with serious consideration of what she intended, what she thought I wanted, of how to stay true to her spirit, yet accomodate our changed reality. Sometimes it’s terribly sad. Often, it’s a form of companionship that keeps her in my heart, in my pantry, in my thoughts as I doze off.

It’s daunting, it’s doable, it’s underway.

Back from Beantown




Jack and I took a brief break from New York with 75 hours or so in Boston. Neither of us had ever spent time there before —though with the torrential Nor’Easter dumping all over New England, I’m not sure we saw it at its best. We trained up there, stayed in Cambridge and managed to see Harvard (infinitely inferior to my alma mater, of course), its art and natural history museums, then visited the Institue of Contemporary Art and the Science Museum. We saw some movies, had some nice meals, played cards,talked, and drew in our journals. I broke out my watercolors for the first time in ages, and Jack bore down on his dip pen.

It was a refreshing break after a very sad week, giving us some distance and perspective, as well as a chance to start our lives as a smaller family. Drawing was a relief to both of us, a feeling that we were making something out of the nothingness, and seeing a new place with fresh eyes. Our journal pages will be a landmark for us, the first fresh pages we are turning over, with many blank ones ahead to fill.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated: Patti was always the first person to read my journal pages after I finished them. Somewhere in Boston, it occurred to me that I write for her to read and that she  wouldn’t read them, ever again. But then I realized I will always write for her, she will always be my favorite reader.

Sketchbook #3

Sketchbook3Here’s another video tour of one of my early sketchbooks. Old #3 was one of the first I handbound, nice heavy bond pages in a marbleized paper shell, courtesy of my recent classes at the Center for Book Arts. I was forcing myself to work in narrow confines back then — just line and a couple of warm grey brush markers to add tone. It’s interesting to me to see how my technique developed through the course of this partiucalar book and I was clearly itching for more media by book’s end.
(Those of you troubled by the quality of my last video will be glad to know that after much trial and error, I have developed a good video setup that is easier to watch and listen to. I hope it makes a difference.)

Glenny and me

Incidentally, I had a lovely time in Portland this week, chatting with attendees of the Art and Soul creativity conference and then giving a 90 minute talk on how and why I developed my drawing habit. I was amazed and delighted at how many people showed up armed with dogeared copies of my books and I was flattered that so many insisted I pose with them and have my picture taken. They threatened to invite me to next year’s conference in Virginia and I parried by threatening to come.