Every time I open up our copy of Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals, I smile at this perfect dedication page.
I did not, to my memory, know Emberley’s books when I was growing up, but when I discovered them in my 20s, he instantly became one of my heroes.
I not only love his books, I’m inspired by the way he and his wife Barbara collaborated on classic books like Drummer Hoff and The Story of Paul Bunyan, all while raising their kids, Rebecca and Michael, both of whom grew up to become illustrators and now have creative families of their own. (On the family business, Rebecca remembers, “Our parents would say ‘Think up something you can make and sell it.’”) I used a quote of Ed’s in Steal Like An Artist, and a few years later, Rebecca sent me of a snapshot of her dad reading it. I framed it and hung it on my studio wall and I look at it whenever I feel worthless.
Now that I have my own marker-wielding boys, I leave the Emberley books out for them to find. My son Owen, who’s about to turn 5 this month, likes to copy out of the Drawing Book of Trucks and Trains, although he also likes to skip most of the steps and copy the final drawing.
Here’s one from The Big Red Drawing Book:
“Most children are at least as creative as adult artists are until they get to first or second grade,” Ed says. “Your job is to bring them back.”
I try so hard to provide the life I always wanted for my boys, and I want so much for them to enjoy the things I love, to see me working, and to work alongside me. But I’m always mindful of Andrew Solomon, who wrote in Far From The Tree, “Perhaps the immutable error of parenthood is that we give our children what we wanted, whether they want it or not.”
The first is the one in the title story, “Sum,” in which you “relive all your experiences, but this time, with the events re-shuffled into a new order,” and “all the moments which share a quality are grouped together.” So you sleep for 30 years, sit on the toilet for 5 years, have sex for 7 months, experience pain for 27 hours, etc. That story is a reminder that “a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces” is a well-designed and endurable one.
The second is the afterlife in “Metamorphosis,” a limbo-esque lobby the dead wait in until every single person on Earth has ceased to remember them. It starts this way: “There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
I think of these three deaths whenever a loved one dies. Their first and second death has passed, but their third and final death has not, and the absolute earliest it will is at the moment my brain forgets their name. So, until my own first death, I keep them alive. This is easiest for my favorite musicians: Put on their record, and their voice fills the room.
Last August I wrote about my belief in creative seasons, and after I read Matt Thomas’s great post about trying to live with the seasons, I doodled this little chart in my notebook, trying to map some of the markers of “clock time” to organic things that happen in nature, wondering if I could learn something by paying attention to them. Right away, you can see that the week is manmade, and therefore, so is the week-end, and with it, the “Sunday Blues” and other neuroses, which Witold Rybczynski writes about so well in Waiting For The Weekend.
Other bits of clock time map approximately to nature’s doings. I find that the moon phases, for example, are much more interesting than months when tracking my own creative time. (Yes, I’ve become the kind of person who can guess what phase of the moon it is just by how shitty I feel.)
Still, the months are different characters that do different things for me, and it’s now October, my favorite month, and it feels a lot like how Henry David Thoreau described it, in a journal entry, dated November 14, 1853:
October is the month of painted leaves, of ripe leaves, when all the earth, not merely flowers, but fruits and leaves, are ripe. With respect to its colors and its season, it is the sunset month of the year, when the earth is painted like the sunset sky. This rich glow flashes round the world. This light fades into the clear, white, leafless twilight of November, and whatever more glowing sunset or Indian summer we have then is the afterglow of the year. In October the man is ripe even to his stalk and leaves; he is pervaded by his genius, when all the forest is a universal harvest, whether he possesses the enduring color of the pines, which it takes two years to ripen and wither, or the brilliant color of the deciduous trees, which fade the first fall.
I’m reminded of a sign you see in craft stores in Texas: “Happy fall, y’all.”
You’re going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there and you’re going to feel like you need to correct it. One time I was up late on my laptop and my wife yelled at me, “Quit picking fights on Twitter and go make something.”
Kafka: “I have hardly anything in common with myself…”
The perfect writing desk is an open American Heritage (buy a paper dictionary!) on top of my kitchen table.
Some fun: photocopy a drawing by an older kid, and have a younger kid color it.
My son Jules (2 1/2) recently discovered drawing and he loves music like his brother, Owen (he’ll be 5 next month), so I photocopied a drawing of an orchestra Owen made back in May, and Jules went to town on the photocopies with Slick Stix, Do-A-Dots, and some other markers.
They’re my new favorite drawings.