Letters to Holly

Friday, June 1


The delay caused by traffic did nothing to boost my spirits by the time I got home. Kathy and Your Sis had both called me to synchronize their watches, and I still had an half hour's drive ahead of me. When I got home, I cracked open the recipe book and started boiling the rice water. The chicken dish called specifically for grilled chicken, not backed or broiled, and the weather was nice enough for me to use the grill. But the charcoal wouldn't light. I tried using the leftover quick-light briquettes and setting fire to the scraps of paper. Nothing. You Sis suggested pouring cooking oil on the coal, but that only made them smoke. So off I go to the convenience store for lighter fluid. They had none. And thus they are no longer a convenience. The closest grocery store did have some, and I managed to get home before Kathy and Travis arrived. The fire started right up with a little fluid, and I still had time to get the rest of the meal together.

It led to a friendly evening of chit chat. Tonya the Exchange Student is thinner, presumably after suffering through a post-exchange, anti-American diet. The baby is eight months old, making wordlike noises, and turning into Kathy's little sister. The burgundy wine and orange marmalade sauce didn't kill anyone, and I washed the dishes while Your Sis played hostess. She finished the damn AP material. It's done, sent off to the Education High Command for approval. Now she has to tackle exams and essays.

We ended the evening by watching some of the National Spelling Bee and learning just how bad we are at guessing the spelling of French hairshirts and bed bugs.

Picture of the Day
Dem bones.

Thursday, May 31

One Hour of Blah-Blah

I talked to the art class yesterday. When I was a high-school student, drawing derivative superhero characters on grid paper, I would have loved to hear one person say "yes, you can make a living drawing," and it would have been even better to hear this from someone who was actually doing so at the time.

I got there at 2:15 to talk until the school day ended at 3. I thought I was going to talk to a few students (those he had singled out as already making comic strips), but I found myself facing a dozen students. I took along a folder of my high-school and college art (to show the vast improvement that comes with practice and classes) and my current portfolio of newspaper and magazine work. I handed out minicomics from Wide Awake, my publisher, and the Somnia issue I appeared in. I had no notes so I just babbled for the hour.

The highlights:
1) None of my university art teachers were supportive of the school comics page, but we ragtag band of geeks managed to produce a full page of comic art at least once a week. We studied what we enjoyed and followed those works as templates. Some of us did social commentary, some did horror, some did traditional punchline work, I did superhero material. I learned to use bristol board, brushes, inks and a variety of pencils.

2) I didn't have a single art teacher who suggested this, but there's nothing wrong with using tracing paper to copy a work you admire to learn how and why it works. I learned this from artists at conventions. Tracing's not bad; pawning the finished product as yours is.

3) Give yourself time to set the work aside and look at it later with fresh eyes. As Alton Brown says "walk away, just walk away." If you try to slap together a product at the last second, you'll see only the mistakes when you're through with it.

4) You don't have to spend a lot of money on materials. Shop smart.

5) Use the internet to talk to other artists and find tips for production.

6) I got an a newspaper job four days after I graduated. I made car ads for a year. But I could afford to rent a house and buy a new car. If you like working with typefaces, color, and design, you can get a job. I later moved upstairs at the paper and dis illustrations, eventually winning the state AP illustrator award. My stuff didn't look like Norman Rockwell. But I could work in a variety of styles to match the editorial content.

7) Subscribe to a fashion magazine and study/copy/trace fabrics, colors, and bodies if you have access to neither when you draw. It's not a perfect study tool, but it will help you learn composition and design.

8 ) Learn to see what's there, not what you think is there. If art teaches you anything, it's clarity of perception. And that can serve you no matter what career you develop.

They seemed to enjoy it, and they laughed at the minicomic humor. I underscored that these were produced just an hour away from their school. Folks were making comics, making art either as their hobby or their livelihood. It's possible. But drawing is athletic; it's like running. You have to regularly do it even when you'd rather do something else. Develop the stride, learn to pace and push yourself.

And that's how I saved Christmas.

I met up with Your Sister afterward and helped her leave the classroom so she could get back to work on AP material at home. Before we left, we had a visit from the girl with the crush. A short one. We stopped by the local Starbucks booth while I picked up groceries for tonight's big dinner. I'm cooking for Travis, Kathy, and the returning exchange student. Your Sis worked on the project virtually the rest of the evening, stopping only for supper. I think she'll wrap it up later today.

Picture of the Day
Saturn and Rhea, one of its many moons. In Greek mythology, Saturn/Chronus and Rhea were married. They were also siblings, the offspring of the earth and sky. Saturn, Rhea and their other 10 siblings were the Titans that predated the recognizable pantheon of Zeus, Hera, Vulcan, etc. The Titans lost the battle for Olympus and were cast into the underworld.

Wednesday, May 30

Running on Empty

I downloaded the weekly Savage Love podcast, Dan Savage's audio version of his syndicated sex-advice column. The podcast usually averages 20 minutes, but this week's installment clocked in at just over 29 minutes. I wanted to try running with a spoken word recording instead of music, and this seemed to be the best opportunity. I went back to the college, ran my laps, and finished a 5k run before the podcast ended. That's faster than my official race time from Halloween. I'm at least five pounds lighter since then, and I'm no longer killing myself on the hills. I can work a stride now.

Your Sis nears the deadline for the AP lesson plans, and she is chugging to the finish line on fumes. She went to bed early last night after working past midnight on Monday. She's going to finish this; she really has no choice. But she's going to collapse when it's over. This has dragged her down for weeks, and it's consumed the majority of her free time. She is fried. And she still has research papers to grade.

I just learned that I won third place for Cover Design from the College Fraternity Editors Association. This was for the brass collage I did last spring. We didn't go to their annual convention this year, so I missed my chance at basking in the polite applause. Having just checked the winning magazine's website, I can see the judges prefer a traditional style. Actually, I should say the winners made better covers, and my cover was a better illustration. But there's no category for illustrations in this organization. One could then say -- and I shall -- my illustration was so good that it came in third for a category it shouldn't have entered.

Picture of the Day
Mozart don't sweat the girls.

Tuesday, May 29

Memorial Weekend

Friday night, we grabbed some KFC and went into the forest and hills, a small trend that started before I moved here. This time we went into South Carolina and sat atop a bald patch of hillside overlooking most of the Upstate. Dozens of miles away was a fireworks display. It was below us. I had a small case of vertigo when I realized there was nothing between me and the moon. And then I realized this was too cool to panic over and squashed the anxiety. It was a fantastic date.

Saturday night was the prom. As before, it was at an uber-swank inn located at Biltmore. This will be the last year the prom is held there as the estate figures it can make more money from corporate events. Has nothing to do with the behavior of our kids. The estate police are constant presences.

I happened to have a tuxedo jacket from my earlier exploits, and Your Sis wore a simple black dress. We got there for our 9 to 11 shift right at nine. We followed a stretch limo to the inn which we later learned carried 12 kids. The inn right across the parking lot was hosting a corporate party, and its system was blasting "Come On Ride the Train" as we arrived. I was glad to go to the other party.

We strolled the perimeter, checking out the vibe and the eats. We stopped along the way to chat with the other faculty there and compare outfits. I like her co-workers. Nice people.

The kids were well behaved too. The fashions of the night were fairly sedate and approaching classy. Chokers seemed to be back in style. The courtyard acted as the dance floor so you could watch the partying from all the dinner tables. Around the corner was the photo station; you could get a photo keychain of yourself within an hour of taking your picture. We didn't have that for my prom. And mine was in the school gym.

Lots of kids talked to the missus, and they talked dresses and makeup. This is really the only time she's girly with the students, and she had fun. Befitting a high school prom, we had high school drama. A female student has a crush on her, and she is not subtle about it. She's stayed after class many times to start conversations, and she's tried to hug her every time. Her friends have asked Your Sis if she's aware of the kid's obsession. It seems harmless, but it is focused. While she does have a boyfriend (even just nominally), she orbited us the entire time. I mean, she wasn't out of eyesight for more than ten minutes. And she was dragging her fella around by the wrist to keep tabs on her. It was funny. Eventually, she worked up the nerve to say something, and Your Sis tried to blow her off, and the kid stumbled over herself to say something cool and funny.

Her: God, I hate this music, don't you? [It was ACDC.]
Wife: We were just about to go dance to it.
Her: Well, I mean, like, I like THIS song. It's cool.

And off she slunk.

We were supposed to watch for dirty, filthy dancing, but the kids just weren't that competent at it. The boys, I mean. Aimed a little high, it looked. The girls knew exactly what they were doing. And we decided that if the clothes stayed on, there's no problem. Also, when the DJ played "Baby Got Back," the majority of the girls sang along to it. The boys didn't know the song. The DJ got a gold star from me for playing Def Leppard a good 20 years after they hit their peak.

We got our picture taken, snacked a bit, chatted a bit more and went home. The local '80s station was playing what can only be described as prom music for our generation (Journey, Prince, etc.) and we opened the moon roof for the drive home.

This was a much better prom experience for either of us than the ones we attended at their age.

We confirmed this weekend that we are sprouting potatoes. That's not a euphemism for babies. We are really sprouting potatoes in the garden. The soil is holding the sprinkler moisture well, and the plant leaves look healthy and hearty. Sunday was her birthday, and she unfortunately handled a lot of schoolwork. I got her a calligraphy set as she requested and we watched Friday Night Lights (also her request; good film, quick pace, and shot like a documentary) after eating grilled steaks.

I was off Monday, but I worked on the house all day. I scrubbed the deck, the siding, and the garage door. The deck doesn't look like it will last another year, but we plan to ask the school shop guild to rebuild it. They love real, on-site projects like this.

Picture of the Day
The publisher altered the cover to the minicomic, and I don't object. He didn't touch the interior, so I really can't complain. I mean, he's paying for the printing.