August 31, 2016

In the waiting room

My first boyfriend and I got back together in university. He developed cancer, was successfully treated after surgery and radiation. It was a very rough time for him. The cancer was testicular, and aggressive, and at the outset we didn't know whether it had metastasised.

Throughout, I was not a comfort to him (our relationship was already crappy) but he got some laughs out of a book of humour for cancer patients, I think by Ben Wicks. Haven't been able to find it since.

A friend and the drummer of a garage band I joined for a little while died of brain cancer. Peach cracked a lot of jokes on the way out. Tumour humour, he called it. He would've loved that Ben Wicks book.

We have a book at home written and illustrated by a husband and wife with a daughter with autism. It's called, Don't Touch the Buttons on the Microwave: An Autism Social Story. Who knows how we got it. I buy things out of bargain bins, bring them home. The book is for insiders. It's comforting, since there's a bit of that in the house, undiagnosed.

It helps to have a picture in mind of where you want something you draw or write to go. I did my best drawing and painting when I was blogging seriously because I figured there were a few people paying attention. It felt like I was talking to someone.


Maybe my little book is for people in infertility clinics or people who have had miscarriages. For the people in their lives who want to know what they are going through. It might end up being too grim to be useful to anybody, but that might be the idea.

This is a panel from a point in the story when the couple is in the waiting room of their clinic. There's a lot of waiting on the TTC (Trying To Conceive).

August 22, 2016

A possible collaborator (sounds so Cold War) asked me about working again on a graphic novel project. This galvanised my thoughts around Engineeress, which I'd originally conceived as a short graphic novel about ten years ago. I couldn't find those pages when I looked recently - and it's probably just as well.

Working with the comic format over the last few weeks has been a revelation. The story as I wrote and re-wrote it isn't suitable for a comic. Comics let you communicate a great deal in a few words and images, like poetry. Yet they also have a lot of the same constraints of short stories. How do you get from one scene to the next, or to a new point in time - namely, plot. My little story, as I originally wrote it, was almost a prose poem. I've written in new scenes and plot elements. Because comics is a much more developed medium than what I had had in mind - a shorter short story with a few images - I'm able to explore areas that are pertinent to this story that I thought couldn't be part of it.*

On the risky side, this is a long undertaking, and longer than what I had already had in mind. I would really like to finish a major art project. I haven't done that in many years, I guess since I wrote my book of short stories in 1999.

Everything I need is in front of me. The story, the pictures. But I don't have much knowledge, time or technique. It's hard not to be discouraged. It's also one thing to do the planning and thumbnails with my bits of time sprinkled here and there. But inking and painting happen at a desk.



If you want to follow the development of this story, all related posts are labeled The Engineeress.




June 17, 2016

Some pictures that didn't make it


I've been plugging away on my illustrations for The Engineeress, and have finished or planned out all but one (maybe two) of the images. Altogether I hope to have six, and then I think I will send it to some magazines that might like to publish original writing and art together. It is an abnormal format for adult lit, and would be risky for a book publisher, but a magazine might go for it.

I'm feeling a bit sad, though, because I may need to abandon the idea of painting this project, despite having painted two already.

I have found less than two hours to paint since I moved here. I do the vast majority of the childcare, and after the kids are in bed, I still have much to do in the form of finding summer camps, children's activities, etc.

It is very challenging in an environment where you know few people, little of the terminology or customs. My time is rarely my own (- except times like when I eat too much sweet dessert while interviewing a possible new babysitter, and can't sleep from all the sugar!)

Painting is time-consuming, and can't be fitted in around other things like drawing can. And, frankly, after all these years of drawing-because-it's-portable, I'm also better with a marker than a paintbrush anyhow.

Well, whatever. I'll just do it twice if that is what it takes.


I enjoy this project very much. I have learned that in my process, the actual production comes at the end. I don't enjoy re-writing or re-painting, so I prefer to do a lot of preliminary thinking and sketching, and a bit of researching, before settling down to do one kick at the final product. I'm not one for the process espoused by many of my creative writing teachers of the late nineties who thought the story was best started right away, and re-written until it seemed done. Ugh.

The couple at the top are imagining a future baby, and it is a nice enough idea, I guess, but it is couples-oriented. As the story is about a woman and the lonely journey of infertility, it has the wrong concept. These two sketchbook pages also give another idea I had, but I decided in the end not to show the labour in the story, since again the story is about anticipation and disappointment, not the act of giving birth. The flower is a freebie, drawn at the restaurant on the corner of my street, at which I eat several times a month.

June 4, 2016

Germs


Ada, May 2016

It's often easier to express things to children visually. This sketch describes to my almost seven-year-old where she has lots of yummy germs! 

May 31, 2016

Remembered




I have been working on bits and pieces of a memoir, both written and visual. A memoir is a memory. Having kids I've noticed many times what a particularly good sensual memory I have, while having lost most anything factual, such as the memory of particular teachers and classmates, of the childhood bedroom or toys, trips and such, names, dates, facts.

The apartment on Rue Sainte-Famille in Montreal - lying in front of the stereo my parents paid for to help get me out of a terrible funk. The sound was total and beautiful.

These memories must be so inaccurate, but it feels more like truth.

The smell of elementary school desks. Crying over something with my little head down, the smell of wood and tears.
Everyone leaving quarters on their desks for something, and wondering if I should steal them. Did I?
That time I stole a pencil sharpener in the shape of a globe, and my parents made me bring it back and apologise.

Le Nordic Spa, Chelsea, Quebec 2015-16

Running through the wet ferns to the outhouse behind our camp. It was an A-frame cabin on a northern Ontario lake, in the bush, reachable by boat or ski-do. I was very small, and the ferns were as high as my waist.
Diving far to avoid the leaches, swimming in the black water, and afterwards, salting each other for any unlucky leaches. Our bouncy dock. Carrying buckets of rocks or water up the hill to the camp, where my dad was pouring a concrete foundation for a new deck. The sound of the chainsaw in the bush. Swinging over the bushes and lake in our tree swing.
Lying in bed by the kitchen table.  The kerosene lantern, the sound of my father's solitaire game. Snick, go the cards on the beaten-up wooden table. The others already asleep.

Proudly displaying a little case of eyeshadow on my Grade 7 desk. My folks probably didn't know. Makeup was verboten. A guilty pharmacy purchase, sweated over, the wrong colours chosen. So proud of it, coveting it even as I already owned it.


April 28, 2016

Singing in Portomao

Portomao, March 2016

We visited Portugal in late March. We splashed in the sea and noticed yuccas. I sang many songs to the children when putting them to bed at night, where they slept easily, deeply and long, before getting up to eat sunnyside up eggs and fruit for slightly-high prices in the hotel dining room. Ada got the hang of eating with a knife and fork via a combination of sweet motherly persuasion and total war.

I made a list of all the songs I sing them (see at bottom), and it was portentous that I did so, because now they want to listen to audiobooks while they drift off instead of me. My glory has faded! Although, I still get requests from James for Baby Beluga, because singing it at least a thousand times already (I'm low-balling) isn't enough. I'm not actually sick of the song, despite my tone, which is alarming.


Jeff and I hiked in the foothills twice. Both times we heard a low humming akin to that of electrical wires, obviously easier to identify the second time around. We came up a rise and the noise was substantial. Bees. We worried about continuing on. Passing in front of us from right to left, from valley to summit, were thousands of bees. What the hell, we opted to keep going, slowly creeping through the bee-way. No stings. Around the side of an abandoned stone house, we saw a couple of dozen hives. 

Sitting a little ways away, we watched an ant slowly pull an inch-wide fuschia flower petal across the rocky path. Expecting a trudging odyssey, I was surprised it only took him a few minutes to go three feet. It's strange how much you can care about something so quickly, and for no reason. Jeff wanted to help, so he dropped a second petal for the ant. It was the wrong thing to do. Paralyzed by the choice, the ant scurried back and forth between his now-wilting treasure and the alien example of flowery perfection now lying close by. 


I at a lot of delicious fish in Portugal and bought a pair of deranged plastic sunglasses since I'd forgotten my own. If none of these items and experiences make much sense as a whole, it's deliberate. I don't know what the ant chose.

April 20, 2016

Commuting, now in Berlin

March 2016
Most days I eat lunch at a fabulous food court near my work, the "Mall of Berlin." Berliners, maybe Germans in general, sprinkle English liberally in brand names, slogans and all forms of advertising. Apparently most Germans, when asked, don't really correctly understand the ads, but this doesn't seem to be getting through to ad agencies yet.


In the food court, Mall of Berlin (January 2016)

So, advertising. My daily routine brings lots of these sorts of thoughts to mind each day. For my daily commute, I walk by a travel agency and a bank each day en route to the subway. Save your money, spend your money. One of my trains travels on an above-ground track, which makes me think of Chicago, though I've never been there. I go through the gay village on this train, and pass by a factory building that has folded up tarps next to each of its two or three dozen skylights. I always wonder what these tarps are for. Sunlight protection in summer? One large apartment has gigantic pictures on it - storeys high - of comic book faces.

Ada, sleeping at my side (April 2016)
If I drop off the kids, afterwards I walk through a sort of film and photography area before crossing a river (which has swans!). Then I pass the defense ministry and German resistance memorial museum. I don't like thinking about WWII every day.

I go wistfully then by the Kulturforum and painting gallery, which I have never visited. Then I go the edge of Tiergarten, a central park that just makes me yearn for real forests. I think, I constantly do, about Canada.

As a daily commute, I find it a bit heavy, really. I suppose as the years go by I will have time to mull over each topic. This city is very stimulating!

To dull down some of the upheaval, and to provide my kids a rhythm to our weeks, Saturdays I take my daughter to a cafe to do homework, draw or play games, and eat lunch. She is a whizz at playing Memory. I can beat her if I really concentrate.

She orders the same dish every time: eggs, bacon, fruit, bread, jam. I've started getting the pasta, after the time we saw the owner, Gina's, mom making it by hand in the back room where we like to sit. We stay for many hours. I drew the picture with the stars over several Saturdays.

Around 3 or so we go back home. I take James out for supper (it's olives, olive tapenade, olive oil with bread, and white-sauce pasta (they've never heard of Alfredo. Is that a North American thing?), bubbly juice, and a candy for this guy).

One waiter adores us, the other doesn't. He forgets to bring our olives, which everyone else gets as a matter of course. It's happened more than once, so now I just ask for them. I couldn't give a shit what anyone thinks anymore. After everything we have gone through as a family, all the pride that has been burned away - there's just dogged humility and survival left. My money's good; now please, bring my son, who is learning two languages like a boss, some bloody olives.