New me.

Ages ago, someone told me that we replace all of the cells in our bodies every seven years. Every single one.  That idea has haunted me since.  It seems to mean that I am literally no longer the same person I was seven years ago. Even though I have memories of things that go way further back, they are not the memories of the me of today.

That’s not a completely alien idea; it’s like copying files from an old computer to a new one or making a new printing of an old story. The information is the same but the vessel is new.  But somehow when it comes to the cells that make me up, this has always felt different. Because I think of me as this me, this couple of hundred pounds of meat and skin, these scars, this reflection in the mirror. I don’t usually think of myself as a concept, a construction, or as data that can be re-recorded on a new cassette.

I woke up with idea in my head again and as I write this, I’m starting to realize why. The first and most obvious reason is that I am in the middle of organizing all the data files for Sketchbook Skool, 16 terabytes of data stored on a big stack of hard drives. Part of my archiving process is to make clones of each drive so we have backups in case anything goes wrong with the originals. I put an empty drive into a slot in the dock, put the original in the other slot, push a button, lights flash, and soon every byte has been duplicated and I have two identical drives. All those hours of footage, all those conversations, and drawing demos are now in two places.

And somehow, as I do this, my  body is doing the same thing.  As I watch the blinking on the front of the dock, my old cells, the old me is slowly being copied and then deleted. Old cells are being cast off, exfoliated, dropping onto my pillow, blowing around my apartment with mites of dust, sluicing down the shower drain, peeing into the bowl, crapping out with my digested burrito.

Me shitting me out.

The other reason this popped into my conscious predawn today is that in less than two months, I will slough off the last cell that ever saw Patti first-hand. The last cells that ever talked to her, held her, kissed her goodbye.  Soon every part of me will be a fresh clone with no personal experience of her.

In December, Jack and I took Patti’s ashes out of the cookie jar that has contained them since March 18, 2010, and put them in their final resting place. We went to one of her favorite places, just after sunset, and we put her ashes in a place we can always come back to, a private place in a public spot, one she went to every day, where we know she would be happy to be, no matter where we are.

Her ashes are not Patti. They are just dead cells that were burned and preserved, not in amber but in a heavy-duty plastic bag, which we kept in that cookie jar, on a shelf where I could see it every day and gaze at when memories of her became intense. They stood for her but now they no longer need to do that. For she is in us.


The process of burying Pattia was not sad.  It was actually slightly comic as Jack and I bumbled our way through it, making a couple of clumsy errors that were pure Patti, pure Hoofy. I don’t think either of us felt sad as we did it. Rather, we felt that she was with us still, that the pain of losing her was a faded memory, and that this was the final thing the three of  us would ever do together and that it should be light and silly just as our best times as a family always were.

Patti’s cells are now forever in that one place. Jack’s are now in Los Angeles, three thousand miles away. And mine are here, being replaced with new cells, new cells that look older, more wrinkled and grey.

Many of the hair cells were not replaced. Some of the brain cells did not replicate with all the memories in place. Other cells have less resiliency and vim than their predecessors. And  yet they are all still me, they all still bear the weathering of the years, the experiences, joys and traumas that made me and still

My memories of Patti have changed with these cells. Some are lost forever. And those that used to take precedence because they were at the front of the line, have stepped back into the mists. I am no longer haunted by thoughts of Patti at the window, of the policemen, of the visit to the coroner’s office. I no longer think of Patti as a woman of fifty, increasingly limited by her disabilities, who didn’t want to grow old in a wheelchair.

Now when I think of her, I rummage through my huge archive of snapshots. I see her in a Polaroid, pregnant with Jack. I see her in a soft focussed, black and white picture dressed up to go to a party, I see her laughing in a bar with friends I haven’t heard from in years, I see her smiling through her freshly cut bob, I see her holding our first dog Frank like a big baby, his long legs sticking up in the air, both of them grinning. I see her looking at me like she did on our first date, saying ‘Mommy’, the gap between her front teeth.

As I think of these memories, I feel old tears well up in my new eye cells. These new cells are never overwhelmed by the tsunami of grief that used to seize me but it’s good to know that those old memories can still effect them, even though I am happy, happy with my new cells, my new kitchen, my new job, my new love, my new wife, my new wife. My new cells make up a new me with all the best bits of the old.

Thank you, Internet.

A dozen years ago, I started this blog with my first silly post. Since then I have always had a place to go to share how I am feeling, what I am learning, and what I am doing. I do have a few relationships that have lasted longer than that — but not many.

So thank you, Internet, for being there to listen and provide me an endless creative workplace.

Before I met you, I knew of two other people who, like me, thought it worthwhile to record their lives in words and pictures between the pages of a book. One, d.price, I met in 1998 or so, through a Xeroxed ‘zine in the magazine rack in Tower Records. I wrote him a letter, dropped it in the mail, and we became pals. The other, Hannah Hinchman, I found in a second-hand book store. She was far too intimidating for me to approach and I didn’t correspond with her for at least another decade. Then the web finally happened and I set up the Yahoo group, Everyday Matters, and soon I found many new friends who also kept illustrated journals, people around the world to inspire and educate me.

So, thank you, Internet, for giving me a creative community to support my passion for drawing.

(this is currently my favorite video and I run it all my waking hours)

It’s cold out today and the streets are jammed with frenzied shoppers. But I don’t have to leave my cozy spot by my virtual fireplace (thank you, YouTube). With a couple of clicks, I can buy anything I need and have it delivered to my door.

But here’s the thing — the easier it is to buy anything, the less I actually want. I want to streamline my life and reduce it to a couple of pairs of well-worn jeans, some t-shirts, a sketchbook, and my laptop. I don’t need or want to own much more — knowing it’s within reach means I’m fine just leaving it all at So thank you, Internet, for make me want less — by giving me more.

Two years ago, I stopped going to a big brick building on the shores of the Hudson River each day and started working on the Internet instead. I met my partner-to-be Koosje Koene and we started Sketchbook Skool. Now tens of thousand of people come to learn and create in a schoolhouse built of ones and zeroes that stretches from Moscow to Capetown, from New York to Walla Walla. My coworkers live thousands of miles apart and commute each day via keyboard and mousepad. Thank you, Internet, for the best workplace I’ve ever had.

Internet, you bring me lunch, pens, ideas, and cat videos. You’ve let me express myself, find people who are interested in what I make, tell my son I miss him, and learn why my dog drags his butt on the rug.

The world is far from perfect but I am hopeful about its future because if all 7,389,160,216 people on this planet (thank you, Google) can experience 1/10 of what I have online, we can look past our differences and start to work on solutions. Together. Thanks to you, Internet.

Can’t get into it.

As I brush my teeth, while I eat my cereal, on the train, as I walk down the street, before I turn the light out — one of my chief pleasures has always been burying my nose in a book a few times a day.

I just spent a few days on the beach with my pal Tommy Kane, parked side-by-side in deck chairs, drawing and reading and napping. I read a handful of books, dipping back and forth, as I often seem to do these days.

The hard part was really losing myself in a book. It wasn’t a matter of being distracted by people in thongs wandering by or the caws of seagulls. It was my brain —which increasingly finds it harder to stay connected with long passages, especially ones that aren’t moving the plot ahead but are lyrical or descriptive and celebrate the joy of language.

I don’t have ADHD. I have an iPhone.

These days I seem to read all day long. Emails, texts, blog posts, news, it’s just an endless stream of words. Every type of communication is written. I never speak on the phone anymore, I just type on the keyboard and read responses.

And all these words demand that I read them differently than I did Chaucer or Proust or Tom Wolfe. I skim, I scan, I browse for the gist. I exercise my eyeballs and flitter my fingertips. There is so much to wade through, I have to retrain my brain to suck down words like an endless skein of overcooked pasta.

This is called a pull quote.

It’s here to attract your attention and make you want to read my post. Hope it works!

And as a writer, I have to adapt to this pell-mell, distracted world. Instead of long, meandering blog posts, I should be writing listicles and giving people ten actionable tips they can tweet and share.  My paragraphs should never be more than three active sentences. My titles should be pithy yet info-packed. I should avoid arcane references and worry about search engine optimization. And what is all this doing to my brain? Will I ever again be able to sink into a long novel like a warm bath and bask until my fingers pucker? Oy.

I recently heard a neurologist say that keeping up with all these Facebook posts and tweets is rewiring our brains so we struggle to delve deep when we read, and that we are in danger of losing the rich beauty and dense wisdom of great literature. And we stand in danger of becoming superficial thinkers, trite and incapable of going beyond the obvious, ping-ponging between stimuli, unsatisfiable.

Whatevs. I’m going in for a dip.


Baby steps

When I started working with Keith, I was not in great shape.  I had pains in my lower back, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic headaches. But I just grinned and bore these maladies. As far as I was concerned, these were just part of being me, aches and pains that I’d developed since I’d first started pounding on a computer all day, decades before — my imperfections, unfixable.

As for going to a trainer, well, that was all very well, paying someone to hold my hand while I walked around the gym, counting off reps, giving me encouragement, helping me build my biceps or lose a few pounds. Eventually, there were some meager results so I could take it or leave it.

Keith taught me otherwise. He showed the point of exercise is not six-pack abs or marathon times. It’s about making the most of the equipment we have for living out the rest of our days and that making certain little changes could make huge differences to my body and to my life.

We worked on tiny muscles hidden deep along my spine and  between my shoulder blades. We focussed on the exact angle of my tailbone when I crouched, correcting and re-correcting. We looked at the angle of my pelvis in the mirror. We rolled the fascia alongside my left thigh with rubber logs and built up strength in my right quadriceps.

After a few months, standing and moving in a balanced way became second nature. The unnatural way I had held my shoulders, my neck, my stance, were replaced with alignment.  Now if I hunched my shoulders or sat in a cramped and twisted way, my body told me something was wrong and I adjusted.

My headaches vanished. My hands no longer tingled. My feet, which had always splayed out like Charlie Chaplin lined up toe to heel. My carriage grew more and more erect. Jenny noticed that I was getting taller, soon by a couple of inches. I felt better all the time. And happier too.

For the first time, my relationship with my body changed because I saw what truly is. Not just a couple hundred pounds of annoying meat but an amazing machine that just needs to be tuned and maintained.

I discovered that my body is a miraculous system of complex interconnected processes that can be adjusted, honed, perfected. The way I was didn’t have to be the way I’d be. The unhealthy adaptations I’d made to certain chairs, desks, sidewalks, stresses, ways of standing, sitting, sleeping, were not carved in stone. And my assumptions about my physical being, that it was some sort of curse to be endured, an uphill battle that would always let me down, was nonsense. Being out of whack, behaving in ways that hurt me, limiting my ability, assuming that there was no solution — all these behaviors and thought patterns were replaced by balance and a better way of being.

For the first time, my relationship with my body changed because I saw what truly is. Not just a couple hundred pounds of annoying meat but an amazing machine that just needs to be tuned and maintained. Not for vanity but because of how it helps me live better and get the most out of each day. A few small adjustments in my body led to a change in my entire being. In my life.

Similarly, when I began to draw, I had no idea what seismic shifts this small change would cause in my life. Many of friends tell me that picking up a pen and opening up a sketchbook ultimately led them to change careers, travel the world, publish books, make new friends, new priorities, new plans for their remaining days.

Why? Why does this simple habit make such a difference? When you start to draw, you set things in motion. You start to see what is. Perhaps you’ll see beauty where you overlooked it. Perhaps you will fill books with stories about your life, an ordinary life, and suddenly see it is actually quite rich and wonderful. And perhaps the power of seeing so clearly will make you want to go and see more. And that desire will cause you, like Mole in The Wind in the Willows or Bilbo Baggins, to lock the door of your cozy little life and wander out into the wide world.

Maybe seeing clearly will show you that you have been hiding your true self from yourself, have been leading a life that wasn’t really what you wanted, that you could do more, that you could be more. That your childhood dreams are still valid, that your parents, your banker, your boss, your children can’t call all your shots. And that time is running out.

When you make art, you slowly brush the cobwebs from your inner life and sunlight starts to stream in. Who knows what it might reveal?

Maybe you will see that drawing is a thing that you actually can do even though the monkey has too long told you that you can’t, because you suck, because you have no talent or time. And, when you discover this power, you may come to wonder what else you have overlooked or deceived yourself about, what else you can do and be. Maybe you could paint or play the piano or visit Rome or hang-glide or open a store or be a clown or run for Prime Minister.  Or hire a trainer and get rid of your headaches.

This can be scary, feeling the first winds of freedom and change sweeping through the open door of your golden cage. But if you don’t face this fear from some angle, how can you ever see your life for what is and can be?

When you make art, you slowly brush the cobwebs from your inner life and sunlight starts to stream in. Who knows what it might reveal? Who knows what journey you are about to embark upon once you uncap that pen and take that first little step? Don’t you want to see?



Since they were wee pups, my dogs Tim and Joe have spent their days on our apartment on the 8th floor of a Greenwich Village building. They had free rein — running around the living room, rassling on the cowhide rug, napping on the couch, yapping at the elevator — and if they want fresh air, they could go out on one of our balconies and look down on the street to monitor for cats and large black dogs.

Three times a day, they would don their collars and leashes for a walk up to the Park and down Thompson Street. Tim would pee on the corner of West 3rd Street, Joe would poo outside the Catholic Center, then they would come back through the double doors of our lobby and hop in the elevator. They were so comfortable with this routine that if I had a chore to run, I could let them ride up on the elevator on their own, confident that they would get out on 8 and wait for me in the apartment.

Their lives were pretty typical of New York dogs, many of whose lives are quite unusual. I have a friend who cooks her dog breakfast every morning and then pays a person to sit in her apartment all day with her dog so she never has to be alone. Maybe that’s typical too. When she complains about how badly the dog behaves, I would tell her (jokingly),”You need to just chain that dawg up in the yard and leave her to guard your property.”

When we arrived in L.A., Tim and Joe were a little bewildered. No elevators to ride, no fire engines to bark at, no half-eaten chicken bones to snatch off the sidewalk.

At first, we left them briefly alone in the house and they had a field day, knocking things over, peeing, howling at the neighbors.  Then we bought a gate so they could be sequestered in the kitchen — more peeing, more whining. I was getting worried — while I do spend a lot of time working in the house, I need to be able to go to Costco without hiring a dog sitter every time.

Each morning, I open the kitchen door and they trip down the steps into the backyard.  Within seconds of waking up, they can be peeing — dog heaven. But for Tim this luxury was utterly confusing. He looked up at me as if to say,”If you don’t want to pee in the house, but only outside on a leash when we go for a walk, what am I supposed to do here in the yard ?” Meanwhile, his brother was under a lemon tree, extruding a foot-long turd.

As I walked them, around the block several times a day, I noticed all the dogs barking at us from behind our neighbors’ fences. A lightbulb went on in my head. Aha! People leave their dogs in the backyard all day while they are at work. Yarddogs!

And so began Tim and Joe’s, transitions to yarddogginess. After several days in the back, they are content to spend the day lolling in the grass, sniffing through the geraniums, or relaxing in the shade of the orange trees. When I come home, they amble up to me casually, not clambering up my shins or clawing madly at the screen door. They meet me like a fellow animal. Being yard dogs, spending the day watching the hummingbirds at the feeder or rolling on the lawn, has made them more dog-like. The cold, hard streets of New York seem far away.

We built  a fomecore dog house. Joe likes it. Tim's not so sure.
We built a fomecore dog house. Joe likes it. Tim’s not so sure.

Slowly, I am undergoing my own yarddog transformation. I spent my first two weeks here in a frenzy of activity, building furnitures, stocking the pantry, reading guidebooks, writing and painting to fill the walls. I felt like I was still doing a job, in this new jury-rigged office I’d built in the back yard. I was still putting on my collar and leash and mimicking my old life in New York. But no one was holding the other end, no one was there to guide me and tell me what do.  I’d started to work for myself, but I had an absentee boss. I lost my sense of what the day’s work amounted to, because I was doing a lot of busy work to fill the day and it wasn’t moving me forward. And, for the first time in my adult life, I was alone all day. Instead of being surrounded by colleagues, meetings and deadlines, I was an old weirdo sitting alone in the garage drawing pictures for the hell of it. It should have felt liberating but I was still far from liberation.

So I made a couple of changes.

I started to structure my day and to set up some goals. I put landmarks on my calendar: going to the gym, drawing, working on my book, preparing my presentations, going to museums, and so on.  I would work on one project for a couple of hours, take a break and switch to some thing else.  It was still orderly, and somewhat corporate in its structure, but it provided me with a lot of relief, just like walking Tim around the bock before setting him free in the yard.  Eventually, I’m sure my regimen will loosen up as I discover new rhythms and a sense of accomplishment, but for now, I am getting lot more done and I feel more relaxed in this new life.

Another realization I had was that though I am not physically surrounded by co-workers, I do know a lot of people who are doing similar things. They are the ones who inspired me and showed me what a different sort of work life could be like. Illustrators, designers, drawing teachers, entrepreneurs, who work on their own and have designed successful creative careers and who I can reach with a an email or by opening Skype. They are my new colleagues. So many of my friends have generously offered me their time, chatting with me and giving me perspective. Sharing their wisdom has shown me how to do this. I am still weird, still in the garage, but I am not alone.

Changing one’s life is exciting and fresh but it is also scary and a lot of work.  I am learning so much every day.