By way of explanation.

I have been received occasional emails and comments from people wondering why I have stopped posting on this site. Let me begin by saying that Jack and I are doing quite well, despite the silence. We have both had milestone birthdays in the past month; he turned 16 and I turned (gulp) 50. We have been making a lot of art, spending time with each other and friends,moving our lives ahead. There have been setbacks and moments of deep sadness and anxiety, but as each one passed, I felt stronger and clearer.

I have decided however that I am less comfortable sharing enormous amount of detail here. I have received a lot of encouragement, wisdom and support from visitors to the site,  but I feel that these enormous passages in our lives should be expressed somehow differently, with more care and perspective. So, while I continue to write and draw about these days in my journal, I will be much more selective in how I share them, here and elsewhere. Instead, I shall use dannygregory.com as a place to express myself as I always have, about matters creative and artistic, rather than as deeply personal as the posts I put up in the early summer. I promise to share a lot of this material with you in the future — just in a different shape and form.

I don’t regret that public airing of my private feelings, but I no longer have the same need to do so. I’m sure you understand.

Also, after being plagued by malware and paying a consultant to repeatedly exterminate the vermin in my site, I have decided to radically redesign dannygregory,com. I will launch the new site soon and on it I will share a lot of material from my sketchbooks which I  hope you will find useful.

If you have visited this page over the years, you are probably quite used to my occasional bouts of ambivalence about leading a public life and know that inevitably I shall prance back onto center stage, neuroses in full display and reveal more than a sane person probably should about my experience of the world.

Until then, I remain small and timidly yours,

Danny

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Oh, one more thing  —  Seth Apter has just published an interview with me in which I explain, for the first time, the real origins of Everyday Matters. You might find it interesting.

A Challenge for the Whole Family

[Seth Apter of The Altered Page is conducting a Buried Treasure hunt and encouraged bloggers to resurrect one of their favorite long ago posts. I like this one. I may put up a couple more golden oldies to follow. Then back to the normal sturm and drang of the present.]

It’s the 13th anniversary of Patti’s accident. Jack wrote a lovely essay about how that event has effected him since he was just a baby. Here’s a video of him reading it at his school’s literary festival.

The video is above and here’s the text:

A Challenge for the Whole Family by Jack Tea Gregory
It was June 8th of 1995 when the incident happened. It felt like a normal day, nobody expected anything out of the ordinary. My mother was waiting for the 9 train and she was in a hurry. She was rushing to a demanding photo shoot that was very important to her career. While she was standing near the tracks, peering down the tunnel, her stress and the intense heat caused her to faint. She started to fall just as the train pulled up to the platform and the wind caused from the train whizzing past pulled her into the middle of the track, allowing her to avoid any electrocution. However, she wasn’t safe, the way she fell caused her spinal cord to bend and her back twisted, just before a dangling piece of metal hanging from the train hit her. She was immediately taken to the hospital where they placed an iron rod into her back because her spinal cord had been broken. My mother had been paralyzed from the waist down. She could no longer walk and was forced to sit in a wheelchair. Ever since that day, her life and those surrounding her was instantly affected greatly. Luckily, she was able to get through the therapy and with the support of her family, a new child, and a great sense of humor she was able to push past the injury and escape the pit of despair that many fall into. Many people who are hit by trains come out the tracks in different ways; some are bruised and some are killed. Luckily she didn’t experience the latter, but still life has been a challenge. Our family has also recovered from it and is able to say that they have grown used to it.
Living in New York hasn’t been the easiest, there are a lot of places that don’t have ramps or aren’t accessible. Whenever we find a problem we try and make the best of it. For example, when Mom got her first wheelchair, instead of grimacing about not being able to walk, she would place me on her lap and we’d ride down huge ramps and hills together. The rush between fear of falling and the fun of the wind speeding past our faces created a sense that nothing else in the world existed. My old school had stairs everywhere and she often couldn’t come to school performances or celebrations. I would usually try to take pictures of what was going on so that I could bring her a substitute for not having been there. I would bring her my work if we were celebrating a finished work party.
When my mother would pick me up from school, I would look up from the monkey bars and see all the kids starting to crowd around her. They would ask her questions like, “Do you sleep in a wheelchair?” or “How do you go to the bathroom?” Being the kind woman she is, she’d simply answer them as if nothing was wrong. But I couldn’t help but feel separate from the rest of the children. They found it cool and interesting that my mom was in a wheelchair. They didn’t know how it really was though, all the things we couldn’t do anymore because of this problem. We sometimes can’t go on vacation to certain places because the hotel has a flight of stairs or its elevator has broken down. There are a lot of cars that she can’t get into because they are too high for her to transfer into. However, we find ways around this. My father or I lift her up the stairs and we use a small piece of wood that we call “the Transfer Board,” which she uses to slide across onto the car’s seating.
Taxi drivers are our next issue. Since we didn’t own a car, taxis or the bus are our main form of transportation. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the drivers actually know how to load up a wheelchair. We have to help them to understand how the wheels come off and how to fold up the seat. This can take about 15 minutes and it becomes very annoying after the 20th time.
This incident has changed our life completely and entirely. I can’t imagine or picture how different I’d be if my mother wasn’t in a wheelchair. Most people would think that this is a near to impossible lifestyle but it’s not. We get through each challenge and we do it as family, together. We have as much fun as any other family would; we just do it in a different way.

[Originally posted June 7, 2008]

Jack's Audition

Stage parents wait for their auditioning offspring.

Jack is applying to the Summer Arts Institute, a fantastic program which allows him to study drawing and painting for eight or so hours a day through July. It has loads of dedicated teachers and visits with professional artists and, probably most importantly, the company of other teenagers who are committed to art.
He participated in the program two years ago and did some extraordinary work.
Admission is fairly competitive; applicants need to show a portfolio, complete a drawing assignment, and survive an interview and portfolio critique.
Jack’s portfolio is really diverse these days, oil and acrylic paintings, pastel, conté, various types of prints and the medium at which he truly excels: pen and ink drawing.
Early Saturday morning, Jack and I rode out to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a beautiful new public school in Astoria. While he went off for his audition, my pal Tommy Kane drove up and we pulled our pens and drew next to the elevated subway overpass. I think this may be my first drawing in this borough.
An hour later, Jack appeared with a broad grin: “Interview went well. The teacher didn’t like my paintings but loved my drawings and sketchbooks. I think I’m in.” I’m sure his confidence isn’t misplaced, but then I’m his biggest fan. We hope to hear the verdict soon.
Next landmark event: next’s months audition for the Summer Outreach program at the famous Cooper Union School of Art.

Under the subway overpass, Tommy draws the 99c store.

This is Jack’s current portfolio.[click on any thumbnail to see the gallery].  Next time, I’ll share some of the work in his sketchbooks.

Glasses

When I was little, it seemed everyone had glasses.
My mother. My grandparents. My relatives. My friends.
I thought they made people look cool or more grownup. So if I wanted to become one or the other or both, I had to get my own glasses.
When I was fourteen, I told my mother I was getting headaches and thought I needed glasses. She took me to the doctor. As he looked into my eyes with a gizmo, I crossed them slightly.
Amblyopia,” the doctor told my  mum. “Strabismus. Heterotropia. Something like that. His eyes are slightly crossed. He needs glasses.”
I spent a long time picking out frames. When my glasses finally arrived, I put them on excitedly.
A week later, my mum asked me where they were. “Why aren’t you wearing your glasses? They were expensive.”
I didn’t want to tell her they gave me a headache and so, conveniently, I’d lost them.
A decade later, I married a girl with glasses. I got in-laws with glasses. Then I had a son. He got glasses too.
In my mid-forties, I started getting headaches again. I could only read in bed with the lamp on. I had a tough time with restaurant menus. My friends called it “short arm syndrome.” Someone lent me a pair of drugstore glasses. I was amazed at how much better I could see. It had been so gradual but it was beyond denying. Presbyopia.  A gradual thickening and loss of flexibility of the lens inside my eyes that makes it tough to focus on things that are near.
I like my glasses for what they do for me. I am less thrilled about what they say about me. Welcome to middle age.
So far, I don’t wear my glasses when I draw. I can see what I’m drawing without them, and not being able to see the page clearly is fine. I know what I’m making. And there’s the added pleasure of putting on my glasses when I’m done, to examine the lines on the page as they really look.
My eyes have brought me a lot of pleasure. I count on them to make a living, to make art, to watch my wife brush her teeth. And I’ll need them for a while to come. I hope.  But nonetheless, they are changing. A reminder that every day, so am I.  And so is everything I see.

Drawing with Tim

Tim is three now and it’s high time he learned a trick or two. I read in an old German dog-training handbook (“Wie die Ausbildung von drei Kilo Wiener, um Ihnen eine heiß Tasse Kaffee” by Dackel J. PferdApfel) that, with the judicious application of a stout cudgel and hard taffy, one can get even the most timid long-haired miniature Dachshund to speak.

We spent a frustrating weekend working through the manual with Tim and were finally rewarded with his first few words. After a month of follow-up work, he is now entirely fluent in English, has shed most of his Dusseldorf accent (replaced for some reason with a Bensonhurst growl), and bores us with long monologues about lunch meat, cats, and the perils of thunderstorms.

Now we’re working on a much bigger challenge — getting him to draw. On Tuesday night, we began his first drawing lesson and he did a passable portrait of me, before moving on to sketch some flank steak, a barbecued chicken and a meatloaf. Fortunately, a local documentary film crew was on hand to capture his first faltering steps and they’ve been posted online.

I urge you to try to encourage your own family members to draw. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it’s easier than chasing your tail.

This video is also available in HD and on Youtube.

My Park

First drawing done after the park reopened

First drawing done after the park reopened

One of the many wonderful things about where I live is that’s just a block from Washington Square Park — 10 acres of trees and benches and squirrels. It’s where we walk ourt dogs there several times a day. It’s where Jack learned to skateboard. It’s where we read and draw and chill. We’ve written books about it, made films about it. It’s our front yard.

Jack gave this tour of the park in the Spring of 2001. He’d been learning its history in school and gave it a uniquely Jack re-interpretation.

Almost two years ago, we learned that the park was going to be renovated and, in short order, a huge  ugly cyclone fence encircled most of it. Ever since we walked around the perimeter, like kid’s outside of Willy Wonka’s factory. I took to drawing what I could see of the park from my kitchen window, asecond rate substitute. Last summer was the hardest leg of the exile: no fountain, no concerts, no lolling on the lawn.

Last week, I got an excited text message from Patti: the fence was coming down! We’ve flowed into the park and discovered it was (almost) worth the wait.New flagstones,  rich lawns, lovely plantings, new benches and lamps. The fountain has been moved to line up with the Arch and Fifth Avenue and the park seems a lot less ramshackle and scrappy but still like home.

Here’s a collection of drawings done before after and during our years in exile. (Click on a thumbnail to open the gallery)

Drawing on memories

memory-media1

Patti had a birthday last month, the 22nd we’ve celebrated together. When you’ve been together as long as we have, you have to think  a little hard at birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas time to keep things fresh, to make sure that you can still express how much you love each other without falling back on the tried and trite.

Anyway, this year, I decided that one of the ways I would commemorate our history together was to take our ancient home movies and transfer them onto DVDs so we could watch them over and over. We have scads of old video tapes but the cameras that recorded and played them are long defunct. In fact, we have never looked at any of them since we initially shot them – films of our first trips together, of our wedding, of Jack’s early days and so on, all moldering in shoe boxes. Now we have a dozen gleaming DVDs, a box set of our lives up to about 1997 or so.  We have all watched them together over and again, particularly the ones when Jack first learned to use the potty and his first big argument with us on a trip  to Nova Scotia.

One of the more profound DVDs is the one I made when Patti had her accident and I was alone each night at home with the baby. For two months, I made videos of our daily life to take up to the hospital to show Patti that we were okay, that life was going on, that she had something to come back to. These are the hardest tapes to watch because I feel so sorry for the me that was, giving Jack a bath, rocking him to sleep, listening to music (Teddy Bear’s Picnic, The Ugly Bug’s Ball, Let’s Go Fly a KIte…) that was once so sweet and important to us but forevermore will signify the hollowness of those days.

Funnily, the more I got into drawing, the less video tape I shot. As the films peter out, my journals expand, so our whole life is recorded but just in very different media — and with very different effect. I read recently that when you look at old photos, they stir up old memories, facilitating recall. But when you look at old home movies, those images tend to actually replace your memories of the periods being recorded. When you think back on those times, your brain tends to pull up scenes from the films rather than organic (but not necessarily as reliable) memories. My mum had an 8 mm. movie camera when I was a baby and the images from those old reels are the only scenes I can remember from when I was two or three or four. Maybe nobody has much memory from that time, and mine are quite vivid, but I know they are all just scenes from one movie or another.

When I watch these old movies, I sort of vaguely remember the times when they were taken. When I look at these old videos, my experience is often of surprise. I think about how young well look, or weird my hair was, or how I seem to speak out of the side of my mouth. The experience is from outside — I am watching myself but not as myself. In fact I would venture that most of my experience is not radically different from what a total stranger or an acquaintance might think of the same footage.

The drawings in my journals, however, summon up a completely personal and intimate feeling. It’s more like a time machine than watching TV. I am in the moment, I am me now and also the me I was then.The act of drawing, painting and writing rather than just pushing a button on a  machine, forms completely different sorts of memories, When I look back at a page, even one that’ s more than a decade old, I remember so much about what I was doing that day, my mood, the weather, even the smells in the air. The experience itself is deeply embedded in my head and just glancing at the drawing takes me back there.

I am so glad to have both sorts of records of my past (not to mention dozens of photo albums and zillions of digital snapshots). I can travel back to any period of my life now and see my life as a continuum. There are so many lessons to be learned by looking back and seeing where one has come from, who one has known, how one made choices, how one felt.

Creating these records, particularly the ones that consists of just some feeble drawings and a few scratchy notes, is probably one of the most important things I’ve done. That sounds odd perhaps, that recording and observing one’s life could be of the most important things one can do with it, but that is the true purpose of art — at least to me. The value of taking a step back, of putting a frame around a moment so that it can stand for a thousand other moments unrecorded, to learn from one’s mistakes and to cherish one’s blessings, to hold up one’s experience so that others can share it and learn from it,  these things seem like the very purpose of art — and of life as well.