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.

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.

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.

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.