I’m not okay

I’m only now emerging from the shock of the election. I’m not okay. I’m stunned by my fellow Americans’ choice for hate over love, fear over understanding, divisiveness over unity. Of course, that shock is a huge marker of my own privilege, the fact that my life is so uncompromised by bigotry and racism that I believed the majority of the country would vote against such things.

Today I have no such illusions. Shaun King’s twitter feed alone is enough to make me understand how wrong I was. While I don’t believe every person who voted for Trump is an overt racist, I do believe that their votes constitute consent to bigotry. I am also to blame because I didn’t do enough. I donated, I phonebanked, but I didn’t go far enough. I didn’t have many uncomfortable conversations because they made me uncomfortable. I was inside the echo chamber and I believed what I heard.

I’m ashamed of my complacency, my complicity. I’m terrified for my friends and family, for the nation and the planet.

I will do more. I will act. I will have uncomfortable conversations. It will be hard. I will fail. But I will do more. I must.

End of Inktober!

That was a good experience. I wasn’t anywhere near as adventurous as I should have been — I didn’t push myself to ink without pencils, or to sketch from live models in public, or to step outside of my comfort zone in subject matter — but it did get the art flowing after a long, long time away. I also didn’t have much time; many of these drawings were completed in only 15-20 minutes, which is all I had (more appropriately: all I made) time for. My life is full of stops and starts and interruptions right now, so I didn’t want to overcommit; I needed something small and sustainable and fun, and Inktober turned out to be all these things. It wasn’t an artistic learning experience, so much as it was learning to be patient and work within my limits and not destroy myself for not doing more; in that sense, it was a total success.

Inktober Day Thirty-One: Friend

The last day of Inktober deserves a story:

This is my mandolin. It’s a hand-made, solid-wood a-style flattop made by a guy in Missouri now doing business as The Big Muddy Mandolin Company. The mandolin isn’t the friend in this picture, but it’s a powerful symbol of friendship.

About twenty years ago, I stumbled headlong into a group of musician friends. Well, most of us weren’t musicians yet, but we all learned to be musicians together, and inside the little enclosure we made for ourselves it was safe to be a novice, and that safety made us brave enough to keep practicing together until weren’t too embarrassing when we played in public.
We’d gather in a friend’s garage with our instruments and a few beers and we’d play tunes until the neighbors came and told us to shut up. Then we’d move into the living room till the housemate who owned the house put down her fiddle and told us to go home. We’d sit on the sidewalk in front of The Ark for hours, making sure we got the best seats for Old Blind Dogs and Steeleye Span and Lunasa. We’d play at sessions, nursing pints and playing reels until we risked our day jobs in the morning. We busked on occasion, and played bars and libraries and even a country club once.

I played clumsy tinwhistle and serviceable bodhran, and never did learn to read sheet music, but somewhere in there I started tagging along with my friends to The Musical Petting Zoo. During these visits I kept ending up in the Mandolin Family room, surrounded by banjos and octave mandolins and bouzoukis and all sorts of trouble. I stared at the mandolins, drawn to their simple elegant forms and just-right size, but scared away by their complexity. Somebody picked one out for me and showed me how to make a couple two-fingered chords. I tried a couple different mandolins each time I visited, but I kept coming back to this plain little A-style that wasn’t too fancy or presumptuous and seemed just approachable enough that it might maybe get me past being intimidated by an instrument more sophisticated than whistle or drum.

I was messing with that same mandolin one day when Jen called me in to the guitar room to show me this little beauty of a parlor guitar she was going to get, and then it was time to leave. When I got to the car it turned out that Emily had spent the rest of her grad school money buying me that sweet little mando, and Jen had bought me the carrying case to go with it. Other friends jumped in to help: Rollande bought me a strap, a string winder, a tuner, and a little beaded bag in the shape of a clownfish that held a half-dozen picks of different weights. Brian bought me a mando stando so it wouldn’t have to lean against the couch. Other friends gave lessons, advice, tunes.

I poked away at it for a couple of years, overwhelmed by this shower of kindness. I dragged it with me to sessions and house parties, hoping I’d somehow learn through osmosis. The truth was I never got comfortable enough with myself to figure out how to advance past those first two chords and a half-dozen tunes, and I felt like a terrible failure because I had let down the folks who’d gifted her to me. The mando still seemed way too complicated and while I could fake my way through a whistle tune, or hammer out a simple rhythm, I felt entirely out of my depth with chords and hammer-ons and pull-offs and tremolos and all. Every once in a while I’d halfheartedly ask around for teachers, but was ultimately too embarrassed to meet once a week and display how little I knew compared to all the actual musicians I hung out with.

As we all moved away and on to the next phases of our individual lives – a process which happened shockingly fast from late 2003 through early 2004 – music slipped away from my life. I played a few sessions in Kalamazoo, but they never stuck like the ones in Ann Arbor did. I occasionally filled in on whistle and drum with a local band, but the truth is I never did like playing on stage. Instead I longed for those weekly living-room sessions , the clubhouse garage with its twinkle lights, Maritime food potlucks in Sol’s kitchen, Park Lake pickin’ parties. Eventually I stopped going to sessions entirely, let comics take up all my spare time. My poor little mando got relegated to the back of the coat closet, and barely saw the light of day for ten years. Once in a great while I’d feel a wave of guilt and nostalgia, pull it out and tune it up, but like most well-intended attempts to start new habits, my practice never lasted long enough to build up calluses.

Dirk and Emily stopped by one night on their way from Missouri back through to Boston. Dirk didn’t have his fiddle, so he pulled out the mando and restrung her, and we had a few simple tunes in the living room, round and round fifteen times through the Hole in the Hedge. I felt a surge of restorative love for the music, but once they left, the mandolin went back into the closet, buried under sports and work and family obligations and everything else.

And then a few weeks ago, I faced down a series of major changes, and realized that I was going to need some distractions to keep me occupied while I figured out the new direction my life was heading. I needed things that I could pick up and put down without a ton of commitment, to keep my hands and mind from settling into old patterns of overthinking and overdoing. Apropos of nothing, I realized I could bring the mando out of hiding and see if I could make it stick this time.

One of the best things I got out of the last few years playing sports was a better understanding of how to pick up new skills without beating myself up in the process – after a lifetime of only doing things that came easy, and feeling frustrated and humiliated when I tried anything remotely challenging, I finally learned how to learn. I’ve taught myself some pretty scary and difficult things lately, and getting over my and feelings of inadequacy around an instrument seemed pretty simple by comparison, so I pulled out the mando, tuned her up, and went looking for a teacher.

In the twelve years since the mando went into the closet, online music instruction finally became viable, and it turns out there are a bunch of really good teachers out there. Having beginner-level videos to repeatedly scrutinize gets me past the insecurity of asking the hundred stupid questions I was too embarrassed to bother a real musician with – how do you hold your left thumb on an A chord? How do you grip the pick? Can you record that strum pattern for me? – and I can play along with a backing track as often as I want without annoying anyone but the cats. I found an entire Music Theory 101 course online from Yale, and hearing the prof walk through the basics has been a huge help: chord progressions no longer seem like a mysterious art.

I didn’t want to post anything sooner than this because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep it up past two weeks; I never could before. But here I am at the end of my second month, and I’ve got about six reliable chords and two I-IV-V progressions, so yay me. I’m not reliable with tunes yet, but the process of practicing actually feels good enough to keep me coming back, poking at it for a half-hour here, an hour there. My mandolin is a pretty amazing reminder of how many times my life has been blessed by good friends, and how I’ve progressed these last few months. It’d be a shame to put her back in the closet again.

Inktober Day Thirty: Wreck

Because this song leaves Paul a wreck every time he hears it.

I’m pleased with Philippa, but I kinda bombed Miranda’s face. Ah, well.

Inktober Day Twenty-Nine: Surprise

A quick sketch of Jaeger, as a surprise for Carla, who’s been on an inking marathon these last couple days.

Inktober Day Twenty-Seven: Creepy

Earlier this week I asked Facebook for suggestions for one of my Inktober drawings, and good old comix buddy Tom Beland chimed in with the photo below saying, and I quote:

Paint me like one of your French lovahhhhhhs

I told him that today’s prompt was “Creepy” and he said

you say that like I should be insulted

So here y’go: Tom Beland in the style of Tom Beland. Which isn’t that creepy at all, really.

But you know what is creepy? THE FACT THAT WE’VE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR FIFTEEN YEARS. When the hell’d we get so old, Tom?

The one and only Tom Beland

Inktober Day Twenty-Eight: Burn

Oh, Eliza. The dignity and poise and ferocity with which Philippa Soo sings this song wrecks me every time.

Inktober Day Twenty-Six: Box

I posted a request on Facebook for a picture of a cat in a box, and within a half-hour I had six. Naomi Kritzer responded first, so it was her cat Cassandra Fluffypants that got drawn, which is totally fitting because her short story Cat Pictures, Please won a freaking Hugo Award this year.


Inktober Day Twenty-five: Tired

Me holding my younger niece, a little over three years ago. I was bouncing her gently as this photo was taken, and my brother said “She doesn’t like to be jiggled too much.” “She just went to sleep again, so I must be doing something right,” I replied.

Also: this one took forever. Babies are really hard to draw.

Inktober Day Twenty-Four: One Dozen

My approximate weekly intake, not even gonna deny it. I have a problem.

Inktober Day Twenty-Two: Little

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”

Inktober Day Twenty-Three: Slow

As much as I adore sloths, I don’t believe I’ve ever drawn one. So I drew two. (Three-toed sloths are my favorite sloths, though ttwo-toed sloths are nearly as cute. And one cannot forget to mention the sadly-extinct giant sloths, which are terrifying.)

Inktober Day Twenty-One: Big

A view of Paul and R, below Alum Bluff, during our first trip to Starved Rock.

Inktober Day Twenty: Squeeze

And here’s a hurried and disproportionate ink sketch of my main squeeze.

Inktober Day Nineteen: Flight

I had my Inktober schedule thrown off by: giant mushroom, family, dance practice, family, wedding, and sickness, in that order. But I was still getting the drawings done anyway; I just didn’t have time to post them. But you probably won’t notice that anyway since I’m going to backdate the posts. So I guess I’m just confessing to posting six Inktobers all on the same night. Most, including this one, are way more rushed than I’d like. Lately my art and other projects are just crammed in the corners of my life. I hope to grant them more space over the winter, but for now, they’re just kinda wedged in there.

Anyway: Flight.

Been a long time since I drew this guy. He’s impervious to electricity for some reason, so in this image he’s just yanked apart a few big hunks of a power station.


Tonight Paul and I rode the stretch of the KRVT that runs between our house and the Kal-Haven trailhead. Along the way I found this absolutely massive puffball. It was literally bigger than my head. And of course, since it was the one time in the last ten years I went out without my pannier, I had to carry it home zipped inside my hoodie like a great round beer gut.

Paul isn’t interested, so I have a heaping plateful of mushroom slabs fried in butter. Anybody want them for breakfast tomorrow morning? Just fry them again with a couple eggs and you’ll have a killer breakfast.

Inktober Day Eighteen: Escape

Hiking has become an increasingly important escape route for me. Here’s one of the more gorgeous places I’ve been lucky enough to hike: the Pacific Northwest. This is Second Beach, in La Push, Washington. I would love to escape there again someday.

Inktober Day Seventeen: Battle

Every day I fight with negativity, with my fitness, with my weight. Today was rougher than usual. I had to drag myself to work, drag myself outside, drag myself to the gym. I felt much, much better afterwards, but today was all about going through the motions just to get to the afterwards.

It’s a worthwhile fight. So here’s some positive reinforcement: A power rack selfie after hitting three personal records.

Inktober Day Sixteen: Wet

A quick and dirty sketch of myself rolling my kayak for the first time — loose and low quality because the reference material is fuzzy.

And therein lies a quick story:


A couple of months back, I sold my dear old red kayak, Waterbender, and bought a fancy new sea kayak, the better to have longer and more long-distance adventures. Part of being safe in your boat is being able to recover yourself if a wave knocks you over, and so I made a commitment to learn to roll my boat. Paddling buddy R was generous enough to give me a couple of one-on-one lessons in return for dinner.

Things didn’t go well at first: learning to roll was terrifying for me. The combination of being upside down, with water rushing in towards my brain through my nose and ears, and having my legs trapped triggered a serious panic sensation, and I’d flail and gasp and thrash and wet exit every time, even with patient R holding my shoulders.

On R’s recommendation I borrowed her nose plugs, Paul’s swim goggles, and bought some swimmer’s ear plugs. I found a handicapped ramp at a local lake and used the railing to practice rolling myself back and forth manually. I could only manage an hour or so at a time, and then the repeated visits to the panicky place would just be too much.

But the noseplugs made a huge difference, as did the swim goggles. Once I could see what I was doing underwater, and once all my air wasn’t rushing out of my nose in an effort to keep the water out, I could slow down and actually think instead of just reacting. R suggested that I just try hanging upside down for a bit longer each time, and so I did, slowly building up my tolerance.

I watched videos in the meantime, studying body placement. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a thinker-learner, not a doer-learner. Eventually I found a couple videos that showed some dry-land practice drills — which sounds goofy as heck, I know — that turned out to give me the lightbulb moment I needed to put it all together.

Winter was fast approaching, and I maybe had forty-five minutes of daylight each night at the lake. The water was getting progressively colder, which made me less eager to go dunk myself repeatedly. Finally, on the last good warm evening of the year, I was out with my buddy B, who caught my very first successful roll on camera. I rolled three times that night: the first one I popped right up like I’d been doing it my whole life, and on the last two I was able to reset after a failure, which is also a good skill to develop. None of them were pretty rolls, but this winter I’ll be able to polish my technique in swimming pool lessons.

Take that, anxiety!

Inktober Day Fifteen: Relax

A request from Paul: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the original, banned album cover.

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