Life list


This is the first unfinished drawing I've posted, I don't want to blow it by just trying to finish it and get it out of the way. The person who requested it asked for a drawing based on this poem by e.e. cummings: my love is building a building around you,a frail slippery house,a strong fragile house (beginning at the singular beginning

of your smile)a skilful uncouth prison, a precise clumsy prison(building thatandthis into Thus, Around the reckless magic of your mouth)

my love is building a magic, a discrete tower of magic and(as i guess)

when Farmer Death(whom fairies hate)shall

crumble the mouth-flower fleet He’ll not my tower, laborious, casual

where the surrounded smile hangs


I feel like I took the whole thing too literally, with the buildings hugging (based on this) and the pseudo Mona Lisa smile, but that's just where I am, not in a super sophisticated place as an illustrator, just trying to work where I'm at. Maybe it's done just like this.

We'll see where life takes us tomorrow.

And now it's Day Ten

Today's drawings were done to accomplish two specific requests, one from a kind Twilight fan who asked for an Edward and Bella drawing, and that it not be sarcastic because she sincerely loves Twilight and she didn't want me being all, "Ha ha, Edward looks like a muffin with pointy teeth." But my first drawing was so terrible that I couldn't send it to her. I know I'm supposed to practice drawing people for this life list business (which perhaps means I shouldn't have used action figures as models), but I can't in good conscience send out something like this:

I went on to just try to copy the hands-and-apple Twilight book covers, but you know what else is hard to draw? Hands holding apples.

At the moment I'm reading the book What Was She Thinking? (Notes on a Scandal) by Zoë Heller (which is fantastic, especially if can forget you saw the movie), and she has a funny throw-away description of a student's drawing where the hands in it look like "odd, fingerless trowels." I, too, am working at Odd Fingerless Trowel level, so I backed out and drew this instead:

Secondly, for the lovely person who asked for a drawing of a sheep or a dog, I did this:

Can you see?? It's a sheep standing next to another sheep in sheep dog's clothing. It's funny because it's true. Also, I couldn't remember what sheep have on their feet, is it hooves? I just let them be little pegs instead. If you only had two sheep pegs to stand on it would be hard to keep your balance, but with four sheep pegs you're good.

Eight Bait Mate Plait Concentrate

I'm still not done e-mailing people to ask them what they want me to draw and it's been a week! What the hell, me? If you haven't heard from me, you will soon; or, if you didn't put a note on your PayPal donation telling me what to draw, you can e-mail me your instructions (fussy at fussy dot org). Honestly, I spent the entire day organizing this stuff and only got one drawing done. Just to be clear, no one has yet asked me to draw anything with a sneezing fetish or sickness theme, so that drawing capped the least-efficient day of drawing request fulfilling in drawing request-fulfilling history. I guess this one's going to sit in the box waiting for just the right person to come along, and then we'll put it on their tombstone after he or she has hacked his or her lungs up or has been struck down by The Ungodly Head Cold of 2012.

And now I have to go make ravioli. Why are there only 24 hours in a day? I need at least 36 to fit everything in.

Some Thoughts On Day Six

You know what turns out to be everso just a little nerve wracking for someone who has plenty of electricity, a healthy child, and who doesn't know what it's like to have no home at all right now? Drawing pictures for people who have given you five dollars. I'm trying to stay loose and just sort of, you know, channel it -- and I know nobody's expecting a timeless work of art, but it's been a little awkward getting started. However, as part of my life list pledge to draw every day and shame myself track my progress by posting my efforts, I am going to show you some of the stuff I've been dropping in the mail. For my very first drawing I wanted to make an owl wearing overalls. I didn't question the source of this inspiration, I just went for it. But look:

It's a sad owl, and he's got a barn owl face mixed with eared-owl ears, and he's wearing an overalls barrel, and I have no idea what's up with the smiling flower pots.

So then I thought, maybe instead of making up zoological problems for myself I should try to draw something that's right in front of me, so I went outside and I ended up with this:

This wonderful donor specifically asked for a drawing with "no boobs" in it, so my constraint was to draw anything else in the world besides boobs. As you can see, I can work with those kinds of restrictions; they might even free me up. My watchword with writing assignments has always been that constraints sometimes free us to think in new ways, and I think the same thinking applies to crazy little drawings, too.

Thank you again for all the donations, I'm closing it down tonight and sending all the money out tomorrow morning, and I'll post the total amount of our donation then. I've already sent the $200 to Charity Water, so that's done. I really appreciate the way so many people were able to come out and give.

Two drawings down, sixty-two drawings to go.

So Much FunCon

I went to MaxFunCon again this year and I'm not even sure where to begin.

Saturday I got to sit at breakfast with Bill Corbett. (If you're a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 you might be dying a little right now because Bill was the voice of Crow T. Robot.) Bill and his wife, Virginia, came to the reading Alice and I did in Minneapolis last year and he laughed, loudly, in all the right places. Bill is the tops. (Bill's Rifftrax partner, Kevin Murphy, is not pictured, but he is also the tops. They are co-tops.)

About six months ago I cobbled together a small life list which included the item "take an improv class." Since Maggie (who'd prompted me to make the list in the first place) was with me this weekend along with Alice (from whom I'd stolen the idea of putting an improv class on my life list), and both of them had signed up for the improv class, all three of us (along with Alice's husband, Scott) went together.

The class was taught with kindness and simplicity by Jordan Morris, and it wasn't due to any defect in his teaching that I fell flat on my face (metaphorically) several times. In fact it taught me a good lesson: don't try to be funny. When I stopped trying, I actually got a couple of laughs but, wow. Developing a character, a relationship, a location, and an obstacle on the spot with two or more people is nuts.

I had originally signed up for the pub quiz after lunch, but I guess I wasn't really in the mood for the nap-inducing effects of mid-day drinking and trivia, so I decided to crash the artisanal pencil sharpening class instead. "Crash" is probably a little strong for what I did; "audit" would be more accurate.

Artisanal pencil sharpening may sound to some like the apex of dandyism, but believe me, David Rees is somewhat dead serious about the art of using a box cutter to carefully shave a shaft of yellow-painted, eraser-tipped cedar to a lethal point. It was satisfying as well as somewhat frustrating and awkward, as learning a new skill can be (cf: improv), and it left me with a lot of questions. At one point David posited that the act of carefully sharpening a pencil and then destroying it through use could be viewed as an exercise in futility, and I wanted to raise my hand and say, But isn't use an act of love? Don't we transfer, though the labor of sharpening and wearing the pencil down as it transports our thoughts to paper, a bit of ourselves into this humble tool? You've sharpened 600 pencils and call yourself an expert, but didn't George Leonard say that only after you've done something a thousand times can you call yourself a master? But because I was just auditing, David charged me a dollar every time I asked a question. I only had three singles so after asking some basic points of instruction I pretty much had to shut up. Also, I didn't want to be a dick.

I did most of my sharpening sitting on a bench next to Maria Bamford, who as you can see sharpened her pencil to a tremendous and frightening point. She gave David $5 so she got to ask more questions.

The morning and afternoon speakers this year were Mary Roach and Susan Orlean, both of whom had blurbed Let's Panic!, so it was a tremendous honor to have two women of their stature treat us like peers. We're not, of course, but they don't know that (shhh).

I also got a little contact high from shaking John Hodgman's hand and having him tell me he loved my license plate.

(Here's my post from last year.)

Day Fourteen

The second day of Camp Mighty I looked into the skill sessions. (I'm not sure what happened to me during the Friday skill sessions, but it seemed more important to black out for a couple of hours in a cozy, cozy hotel bed.) The session devoted to sabering open champagne bottles got cancelled because of the rain, so I went into the tent by the pool and discovered a man named Adam furiously making balloon animals. I was kind of like, Hmm, this doesn't really interest me but no one else is here and I don't want him to feel bad, so I stuck around. I watched him make a brown balloon monkey holding onto a yellow balloon banana:

When enough people had gathered around, he started handing out balloons and explaining some basics. Always twist with your dominant hand; always twist in the same direction because if you start twisting away from yourself and then halfway through switch to twisting toward yourself, your twists will come undone. Don't be afraid of the balloon popping, go ahead and just twist the hell out of it. (It's worth the extra couple of dollars to get the good balloons, though, as the cheap ones don't hold up under serious twisting.)

I made a dog. Then I figured that if I were really going to learn to do this I should practice a little more, so I made what ended up being a sort of hyper-masculine poodle:

But what I really learned from spending fifteen minutes doing this is that so many skills that look odd or unattainable or mysterious can be broken down into a few simple steps, and that after you practice them and gain some confidence with your materials and with your body, you can do almost anything. Or make a motorcycle.

I thanked Adam and then decided not to go over to the How to Throw a Punch session because I already knew how to break a board with my hand.

I walked over to a small yurt where the How to Give a Great Neck Massage session was happening. There I learned several more things.

  1. "Pull the meat off the bone" is the key to Thai massage in general, but deltoid massage in particular
  2. There are a string of pressure points along the scapula that, when pressed even slightly, will make a person say, "OW" followed quickly by "YES, RIGHT THERE" and "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T STOP"
  3. You can press with all your might on someone's head with your finger pads like you're trying to squish their brains out their ears and it won't actually hurt them, it will feel good
  4. Don't massage anyone's neck arteries or you'll obstruct the flow of blood to their brain and they'll pass out

I was gingerly trying to find Cameron's deltoid muscle when the massage therapist came around, put her hands over mine, and showed me how to lift and gently pull them toward me, and the confidence of her touch transferred into my hands and I got it. It was like when a golf pro wraps their arms around you to teach you how to swing, except not as creepy.

So again: learn some techniques+ get comfortable with the motions + practice = enviable skill that your family and friends will enjoy, plus it will help put an anxious, talkative child to sleep after you've been away for three days.

Day Twelve

Today at Camp Mighty we had our team lunches, where the group of people we raised money with for Charity: Water got together to read five things from our life lists to the rest of the group. If you, the listener, knew of a way to help the list reader take a step toward one of the items on their list, you spoke up and said so. Do you need 200 pounds of sand for your playground project? Well, there happens to be someone sitting behind you whose best friend's cousin's father is the head of Home Depot. Maybe they can help you. It was a lunch peppered with possibilities like that, as well as inspiration, goofiness, tears, nervousness, and did I say tears? Because I barely began to speak before Oh, The Choked-Upedness.

So since I've been so very life list-reluctant, I thought I'd tell you my five things that actually turned into six things.

1. I apologized to everyone for coming in late and missing the first couple of people's lists because I was busy checking off a list thing of my own: GET A MASSAGE. I plan to do this at least every quarter, but ideally every month of 2012, and possibly longer if I can budget it properly.

2. During my massage, which was a combination of cranio-sacral/energy work, Deb told me that she opened up my throat chakra. Afterward, I asked if she had any advice for keeping my throat chakra open and she chuckled and said, "Well, yeah. Say what you need to say." As someone who was a very, very angry teenager with a chronic sore throat, and who has been working on this very thing for quite some time, and who also enjoys giving energy workers shit, I then said, "Oh, is that all? I was hoping you could recommend a crystal or something." Deb then did this thing where she looked left and right, like she wanted to make sure no one else heard her, and then she lowered her voice and said, "I hear turquoise helps. Do you have a turquoise necklace?" No, but I'm on my way to the bead shop, Deb, thanks.

3. Because I want to find other ways to open my throat by connecting my brain and my mouth, the third thing on my list (and which I borrowed from Alice) is to take an improv class. This sounds somewhat terrifying to me, but there's a grain of a part of me that thinks I might like it, and I believe it will behoove me to honor that grain. Even though Honor the Grain sounds like a book about Thanksgiving starring an anthropomorphized ear of corn. Oh, wait, I actually wrote Honor That Grain, which is more of an exhortation. Honor That Grain! sounds like a silent Micky Mouse short that never got off the drawing board. Which leads me to . . .

4. When I was six I wanted to be either a truck driver or a cartoonist. I have driven some seriously medium-sized trucks, but what I've never managed to do is put together a story and drawings. I want to work on the drawing part. I can draw trees and furniture but I want to be able to draw faces and bodies, to really capture expressions and postures in just a few bold strokes. So next year we can all look forward to me posting an awkward series of stick figures with their heads on fire, maybe? Is that enough of a plot?

5. Because Jack and I just had our 15th anniversary, it felt right to include the fact that I've been experimenting with The Work, and it's helping me to loosen up some of my emotional knots, and so one of my most important goals for the next year is simply to forgive my husband* for being who he is. I mean that without a shred of arrogance. To me this means it's my job to stop projecting my own problems onto Jack and then blaming him for them. I hope that makes sense. Whenever I untangle one of these dumb little long-standing resentments, I feel ten pounds lighter, and I want to feel 1,000 pounds lighter. It's better for everyone that way. And speaking of better for everyone . . .

* and my parents, and my brothers, and everyone else in the world, including you

6. When my mom was dying, I got to witness the work of hospice nurses, aides, and volunteers over a two-year period, and they are some of the most amazing, beautiful, tuned-in, funny, grounded, and okay-with-life-and-death people I've ever met. So my last goal is to take just one tiny step toward volunteering to support a hospice group. One of the midwives who helped me have Jackson is also a hospice worker, which I think is so great -- she gets 'em coming in and going out -- and I trust her completely, and it seems like one way to become an amazing, beautiful, tuned-in, funny, grounded, and okay-with-life-and-death person myself is to hang around with people who are already like that, and then go forth in the spirit of total awesomeness.

Tomorrow I will tell you about our Skill Sessions. You might be somewhat jealous.