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.

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.

Hangin with nekkid folks

Jack and I took up life drawing a couple of months ago. Virtually every Tuesday we go to a basement in Soho and spend two or three hours drawing a  model or two. When the weather is freezing and we are bored with drawing things in our apartment or in photo books, it’s nice to have something new and challenging to sketch. But there are all sorts of drawbacks too.

The process has forced me to break my habit of drawing only in ink in small books. I now have a huge sketch pad and boxes of graphite sticks and conte crayons and a new appreciation for erasable media.The whole process is very different form my usual process; sort of student-y and contrived and academic, with lots of negative associations about right and wrong ways to do things. Maybe it’s putting me back into a beginner’s mind, but the worse sort of self-conscious feelings of ineptitude rather than a fresh tabula rasa.

Drawing from life forces one to think about drawing quite differently. The human body is so familiar and so strange; one can detect any flaw in the proportions of  a drawing immediately and yet it is hard to know intuitively how to draw the curve of  a calf or the length of a forearm. There is no substitute for simple, intense observation.

The drawings end up having little value to me. They are not observations from life really and the subjects themselves have no meaning to me. I find much more emotion in my drawings of apples or chair legs in my home than in these studies.

Watch this video tour of some of my life drawings and you’ll sense the critical way in which I look at them. I dont know if we’ll keep doing this when the weather gets warmer, it’s really up to Jack who seems to enjoy the experience ( not surprising — he’s a fifteen year-old boy who gets to sit with his dad and stare at naked bodies all evening) but often ends up getting bored after a couple of hours and ends up drawing just details of bodies or staring into space. He is extremely good at drawing under these circumstance ; even though he’s the youngest person in the room by a mile, his drawings are usually among the best.

I’d also like to recommend Walt Taylor’s self-published book Naked People and the people who draw themwhich has been very inspirational and shown me how far I have yet to go. I urge you to check out the book, buy it, and support an extraordinary and unheralded artist.