Cover story

Kisscover

While I try to do my best making every book I’ve published, my next book, A Kiss Before You Go, is the most important one I’ve written — to me. It’s a recollection of the lovely years I spent with Patti and a journal of the months after she died, how Jack and I coped, how it changed and sharpened my view of the world. Because the subject is so dear to my heart, I have worked very hard to make every inch of it as perfect as I can, to fill it with the bright colors Patti loved, to be as scrupulously honest as I can be, to craft it to the highest standards I can muster and to drive my editor a little nuts by insisting on all sorts of things to make it perfect, from the exact dimensions of the book to the bleed trim on the inside of the cover.

The book itself has been in production for months and I am so happy with it; I have okayed the proofs of the pages and have now only to be patient until the first bound copy arrives in my hands. The part that is always the toughest on every book I’ve done — the cover – took months of experimentation and discussion. How to encapsulate this book in a single visual statement that would attract a casual browser and still evoke all of the richness within? And how to make the most of the fact that this is my first book with a dust jacket, making it feel even more real and special.  I made almost thirty different designs; I even dragged in Patti’s old friend Mick Haggerty, one of the great album cover designers of all times, to lob in his ideas.

Simultaneously, I worried over who would be the best person to write the cover blurb, the first review. I finally decided to ask our old pal Moby who loved Patti and who is the sort of sensitive artist whose endorsement would mean so much. He got the book and wrote, “I loved Danny’s wife Patti. And I love this honest, beautiful book.” That’s so simple and nice.

Last weekend, after I dismounted from my horse, I opened a FedEx package and out fell the first proof of the dust jacket. I wrapped it around a book and, for a minute, pretended I had just come across it in my local independent bookstore. One of my favorite features works perfectly —the dustjacket contains a lovely surprise that will only be experienced by people who buy the book. I do hope you like it.

The book will be out this winter — I’ll be talking about it a lot more in the interim. Meanwhile, here is a peek at some of the designs I considered for the cover.

Two Years

It’s much sunnier on March 18th than it was two years ago. And the sadness and loss I felt then have become memories. Now, when I think about Patti, I don’t feel overwhelming emptiness, just sweet thoughts and warmth. Despite the enormity of her death, Jack and I have continued to find our way and to find things to like about life. Surviving is no longer a guilty feeling; it’s what Patti would have wanted for us.

I have learned so much from her since she left. As the clouds parted, I saw how wise she had been about so many things and somehow, with her gone, I am able to better heed her advice and perspective. I have let many things go that I used to cling to, worries, fears, woeful imaginings. Why? I guess because I have to rely on myself, to be strong, to take on all aspects of myself and my life. I no longer have my love to lean on, to make up for my shortcomings, to protect me from the things I fear.

And being a single parent is much more than double being one of two. Without another person to balance my mistakes, I have to be more careful and also bolder when I help steer Jack to the next stage of his life. Would I have been as supportive of his decision to go to RISD if Patti were alive? Would I have been okay with so many of the choices he makes? Would I be as close to him as I am now? Would I have become calmer, more supportive, less judgmental? Probably not, honestly.

My life will change radically again in six months. Jack will be off to Providence and I’ll have my apartment, evenings, weekends and grocery lists to myself. I look forward to it with a mixture of excitement and dread. For the first time, except for a six month period when I first graduated from college, I will be living alone. I have no idea how I’ll take to it. Will I be lonely? Will I be free? Will I try to end my isolation by living with someone else as soon as possible? WIll I thrive? We’ll see.

I think of Patti at least once every day. I have pictures of her throughout our house and office but they have blended into the background. Instead, the way I come to think of her is because I keep encountering the parts of my life that she was  a part of — how I put the laundry away, the sheets she bought, the desk she sat at, the places she walked the dogs.  So many parts of everything. Some of those routines change, new sheets, new shopping lists, new situations with Jack she never dealt with. But she remains at the core of who I am in so many ways. After all, we grew up together and were molded by the same events, huge and minor and she was my best friend for  a quarter of  a century.

I worry sometimes that Patti’s memory will fade bit by bit until no one but her closest friends and relatives remember what she was like. That no one will know any more what a nut she was, how sweet she was, what a good friend and an inspiration. But I don’t think that’ll really ever be true. Her light burned too bright.

I wrote a book about her life and its aftermath and it’s at the publisher now. I worked on it harder and more carefully than anything I have ever done because I want the world to know about her, to fall in love with Patti Lynn like I did. In less than a year, it’ll be out there, making ripples, and creating new fans for her. I hope she would have liked it.

I miss you, Pat. I always will. I know you wouldn’t want any of us to be sad today or any day. I will always remember you and think of how you would have wanted things to be. Thanks you for being my friend and my love.

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.

Paradise Lost

Last Thursday, I got fed up and lost.
Jack and I started taking a class together at a prestigious art-class-taking-place and despite an initial enthusiasm for the undertaking, several things happened during the second class that reminded of all of the reasons I hate taking art classes and have since I was ten. As we walked out, an hour before the class ended, I said to Jack, “look, the three things I think you should get in art school are a) inspiration, ideas, and infectious passion from your fellow students, b) a teacher who gives you useful and specific direction and c) facilities that you could not duplicate at home. Tonight, we got none of the three.” I wished I’d spent the evening at home drawing in my journal instead.

What I didn’t go into with him was the sense of being lost that started to well up inside me. I suddenly realized that my general enthusiasm for art school — a Nirvana filled with printing presses and - studios and challenging assignments and benevolent mentors — might just turn out to be an expensive illusion that will fritter away the best years of my boy’s life.

What if he finds himself surrounded with nihilistic slackers and trust fund babies with no talent and loads of cynicism being carelessly fed pompous claptrap by failed conceptual bores with tenure and resentment for anyone with a naive enthusiasm for creativity in a shopworn environment filled with squeezed out tubes of drying oil paint and broken easels? Instead of bringing home arm loads of brilliant lithographs and watercolors and bronzes, Jack will slouch into our apartment with tattoos, pendulous pierced ear lobes, a ton of attitude and excuses, and a generally wasted education that produced little but a gaping divot in my bank account.
Hearing our fellow students provide lengthy and incomprehensible explanations of their poorly constructed constructions and randomly daubed canvases, explanations that were crude shadows of the sort of pompous nonsense that cultural critics have mocked since the Salon de Refuse, I was brought up short, thinking, “Shit, I’ve got to make sure he gets into a decent liberal arts college so at least he’ll have a chance to go to law school.”

Anyhow, a weekend of calmer reflection and a 6 a.m. train ride to Providence, Rhode Island calmed me down. Jack and I spent a glorious spring day touring RISD, and my fears receded. The school was filed with amazing painting studios, enormous print shops and woodshops, darkrooms and kilns and endless hallways filled with beautiful art. The students all seemed serious and passionate and ran around carrying canvases and arm loads of wood. The library was humming with studying brains. The students seemed like professionals in the making and I only saw one girl with blue hair.

I don’t know if Jack will end up going to RISD or Cooper Union or MIT or Harvard Law. But I sense in him the same sort of enthusiasm for art that I had, abandoned, and then regained. An enthusiasm that I didn’t get in school, but in spite of it. Jack has been long-marinated in art and I think he’ll always have creative juice in his marrow. Whatever he does with his education and his life, I know it will be interesting and worthwhile.

Today we are on our way to visit MICA, another creative hotspot. On Monday we’ll check out Bard for a different perspective.
My faith in higher education is stored but I still don’t know if I’ll be going to next Thursday night’s class.

Where to?


Soon after Jack passed his first birthday, we started collecting his art. I have a shelf full of his drawings and paintings neatly stored in plastic sleeves, binder after binder of his collected works. So many of his passions – soccer, Warhammer, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Tintin,  drums — have ebbed and waned, but, through thick and thin, he has continued to paint and draw and make art for year after year. Certainly, Patti and I encouraged his interest, but Jack is the one who sustained it. He has a will of his own and no matter how many crayons and markers we bought him, he wouldn’t have continued if he didn’t have an innate desire to make things.

Jack has had a solid art education so far. He’s done some sort of formal art program every summer, in competitive programs filled with talented kids. He was accepted into the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and has spent the last three years augmenting his regular classes with two hours of  drawing and painting every single day. This consistency shows in his work – he can draw anything fearlessly and accurately, he has a great eye for composition and color, and increasingly he is taking bold and imaginative steps forward, challenging himself to do new things in new media. Recently he has decided he is interested in pursuing design. He loves typography, he likes problem solving, and the more he learns about all of the things designers do in the course of their work, the more intrigued he becomes.

So far, so good.

Now Jack is a junior in high school and we are putting together the list of colleges he’ll apply to this fall. The big question is, should he put all his efforts into polishing his portfolio and vying for a great art school like RISD or SVA ? Or should he go to a solid, creative liberal arts college where he can take some art classes, maybe even in major in design but also get a well-rounded education.

Now if Jack was good at nothing but art, the decision would be simpler. But the fact is, he’s a good student in all his classes, hard working, smart, critical but involved. He’s also a natural leader, a popular person who has always had his mother’s social skills.

For me, as someone who has long encouraged people to bravely embrace their artistic side, who wishes he could go to art school himself, this is no time to encourage him to toe the straight and narrow, to face the bleak future most art school grads purportedly have, saddled with enormous student loans that they must pay off by working in Starbucks for the rest of their lives. Art schools, we hear, are full of rich kids and directionless losers. We both know that’s an exaggeration. We both know that you should follow your passion and the rest will straighten itself out. We also both know that most of the passions of 16 year-olds are rarely long-lived, that Jack does not want to wake up in a  dorm room some day and wonder whether he’s actually learning anything useful.

There’s no simple answer to this common dilemma. We are going into it with our eyes open, accumulating impressions and advice, balancing pros and cons, and waiting to see which way fortune blows us.

It would be a lot easier to tackle this all-important crossroad if Patti was here to lend us her wisdom and hold our hands. But I think  she’d tell us to do what we’re doing. We haven’t screwed anything up too badly so far. Let’s hope we do okay on this round too.

 

—– Post script.

We just met with Jack’s guidance counsellor who assure me that Jack is in great shape for next year and that we really needn’t make any decisions at this point. I am starting to think this process will only be as difficult as we let ourselves make it.