Separate Story Project No. 3 and 4

Week 3 of the Separate Story Project brings to life “Something with potential”

Julie’s Drawing:

imagejpeg_0

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

My grandfather, a most-famous Hungarian magician, had two possessions on his person when he died: a locked leather-bound journal in which he wrote detailed descriptions of his every illusion (both practiced and performed), and a key—a skeleton design which weighed heavily on a faint gold chain around his neck.

He, in his old age, had become hermitic—fearful, and rather paranoid. I remember the last time we saw each other at Café Montemarte, it was an unusually warm night in February and his attention was fractured with nearby distractions. People walked too closely, spoke too loudly, brushed up against his shoulder too purposefully. His eyes darted eagerly, shooting from them blades of suspicion.

Only my mother knew of his address, and on the afternoon that he passed, she closed the brass door quickly behind her; the entry room was dark with the exception of one band of slanted light. Dust floated at an angle from window slat to amber rug. The air was thick and drowsy, even more so as she stepped towards the back of the apartment to where his bed had always been. Through thin windows she heard the sound of life continuing outside of death—the steady hum of cars and conversations sang with the tick of a second hand. She acted with haste to gently remove the key from his chest and journal from his grasp—she couldn’t bear that just anyone could uncover his secrets.

Within hours, news rumbled through the allies of Budapest, over the lakes of Slovenia, across the islands of Norway, down the streets of Stockholm and London and Montenegro and the island of Sardinia; people cried in the streets. His death threw the entire world into mourning, and as they wept, my mother and I—his only living descendants—opened the journal.

She flipped through the pages slowly at first, rubbing them stiffly between her thumb and forefingers to separate front from back. Her pace quickened, until, unexpectedly, she turned the journal so that the back cover was on top, and fanned through the pages, end-to-start. All but one page was blank.

His handwriting was spidery, thin and angular across the center of the sheet:

“It is true that those who do not believe in magic will never find it. My darling Kate, you must watch the whole world around you with glittering eyes–the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. The bottled ship, my finest accomplishment, is yours.”


Nicole’s drawing:

20140713_172908

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

Her head hit the pillow like a train on a track, heavy and fluid.

Her eyes ached and burned even when they were shut, but her mind didn’t seem to notice. It was her escape, this bed, the place where she could just be. She loved the idea of dreaming, the hope that she would wake up with a deep and epiphanic understanding of it all. Everything she wanted to be was kept in her dreams.

The disconnect between her eyes and her body was magnetic. Normally a sweet escape, her bed slowly started to feel like a prison taunting her pulling her in and out of the want for sleep. Eyes closed, and arms raised above head, she pulled her spine as long as she could. A refreshing cat-like stretch to wind down her rapturous mind.

Sleeping was hard. Wiping away the tear that fell for no reason other than necessity, she sighed. Every inch of her body felt heavy. At last, she said a silent prayer, turned off her light, and decided to try again.


Week 4

Drawing theme: “Sunday Brunch”

Julie’s Drawing:

 

IMG_1529

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

“We bought a truck and gutted it one summer. Slept out of it for an entire month, too. At night, your mother would cozy herself in one of my old flannels, she’d be completely swimming in it, but she loved the way it wrapped twice around her–said she felt ‘snug as a fox in a den.’ On the night of our first wedding anniversary, we drove the truck out to Todd County to camp by the lake. I remember going out about a half-mile from camp to gather wood for the fire—I couldn’t have been gone for more than an hour before I trudged back in with logs and stray branches up to my beard.

I had the workman habit, then, of running my forehead with the inside of my wrist, and I’ll never forget the way she came up and kissed me on the cheek after I had rubbed the sweat from my skin. Told me she had a surprise for dinner. Your mother, I tell you, was full of surprises. From behind her back she revealed a bundle of butcher paper tied in the center with thin twine…and you know what she said to me?”

I shook my head no.

“She said, ‘Bacon. Bacon and eggs and pancakes. And every year on our anniversary, we’ll have breakfast for dinner just like tonight.

She was so pleased with herself. She had my heart in her hand. Still does. I remember the way the oil crackled in the pan, and how her eyes dropped and her lower lip came out just like this, all childlike and weary when some of the shells accidentally mixed in with the eggs.”

“I miss her,” I said looking down at the empty space between my napkin and knife.

Walking over with two plates full of bacon and eggs and pancakes in his hand, he recited it again:

The moon turns its clockwork dream.
The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire.

He switched on the light overhead, handed me my breakfast for dinner, and sat lightly to my right. His glass of orange juice looked frightfully out of place, but he picked it up and leaned its rim in my direction.

“To your mother. To strong love and silly tradition.”


 

Nicole’s drawing:

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

She could move through the recipe as effortlessly as humming the tune to her favorite song. She loved Sundays, and Sundays loved her right back. Sunday was the day they had brunch. It started as a tradition back when they were dating, Bloody Mary breakfasts. Even now in the early morning, with three bedrooms and two beautiful children, they still managed to find time to clink their glasses and relax.
She needed a lemon. She opened the door and walked to the backyard, the grass was still wet with dew and the sun was breaking through the branches of the Oak tree in the corner with glorious beams of light. The air had a distinct smell of summer. She returned to the kitchen with the biggest lemon the tree could offer her, and set to work.
Her feet seemed to glide across the floor as she gathered the pepper, the horseradish, and the creole seasoning. She wasn’t quite tall enough to reach the spices in the cabinet so she had to use her tip toes.
“Fourteen years of ballet and it all comes down to this” she said to the dog.
She laughed to herself as she put the spices down on the counter next to the glasses, and continued to dance through the choreography. Her movements were graceful and precise, she never looked at the glasses she relied instead on muscle memory.
As she mixed, she closed her eyes and started humming “Here Comes the Sun” it seemed like an appropriate choice for her favorite day of the week. The soft clink of the cubed ice against the glass set the rhythm as she stirred. Somewhere around the second verse, she opened her eyes and saw him sitting at the table watching her. She smiled with her entire soul and his soul smiled right back. She brought the finished drinks over to the table and sat next to him.
“Happy Sunday” he said.
“Happy Sunday” she said, and they clinked their glasses and sipped their drinks, both enjoying the peace and quiet.

Separate Story Project, Edition II

Back again with the second edition of the separate story project–an exploration that is quickly becoming my favorite creative outlet.

Nicole’s Drawing:

Separate Story Project, Week 2

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

It was 11:45 p.m. and I was at one of those 24 hour diners. You know, the kind with the kitschy checkerboard floor that matches the black and white pieces of “history” on the wall. Pictures of all the almost famous people who might have eaten at the diner before

Photoshop was invented, but almost definitely didn’t after? Yeah, one of those. I was jonesing for a chocolate malt milkshake and couldn’t sleep so bibity bobity boo I found myself sitting at the counter.

It was 11:45, and I was sitting at this very counter when I saw it. I remember it like it was 2 seconds ago. There was this old lady walking to her car. She was wearing a tickle-me-pink velour sweatsuit, white cross trainers, and had a slight hunchback. I remember her because while she looked like she had just crawled out of hibernation, her hair was perfectly coiffed. And when I say perfectly I mean perfectly, it was the most amazing do I had ever seen, not a single curl was out of place! So here I was a quarter to midnight, sitting at this counter, sipping my milkshake, wondering how I could get ahold of some hair like that when, all of a sudden, she was falling!

I kid you not, this sweet little old lady (who probably could have just robbed a bank for all I knew) was having a heart attack in the middle of the parking lot of the 24 hour diner! Bank robber or not, no one deserves to go that way. So, I did what any self respecting person with a mouthful of milkshake would do. I started waving my arms above my head like a wild banshee producing a low guttural noise from the back of my throat, since swallowing and screaming for help wasn’t an option.

It was 11:45 and suddenly, this Superman of a specimen came flying in out of thin air and was running through the doors to save her! One thing lead to another and somehow an ambulance found its way to the scene and brought the poor little lady to the hospital. Don’t worry, she was up and talking  the whole time (I guess she had just tripped off the curb, classic mistake) and it was just a precautionary trip. At this point I was still, good samaritan that I am, sitting at the counter sippin my shake. All was right in the parking lot so Superman came and plopped his cute batoot on the leather capped stool right next to mine. And I mean right next to mine, I could practically smell his angelic sweat as he turned towards me. Everything had happened so fast earlier that this was the first time I really had a chance to notice just how chiseled his jaw was, just how imperfectly perfect his nose was, and just how tired his eyes were. Not tired in a mom-of-five-kids-I-wish-the-icecream-truck-sold-wine kind of way, but tired in an intelligent I-just-need-chocolate kind of way. His silence spoke to me louder than any words I had ever heard.

“Aw what the heck,” I said, slightly moving my shake towards his patient hand “You need this a lot more than I do.” Then he smiled at me, and that was all it took, and I was paralyzed. Hook, line, and sinker, he had me. And he has held me for the last 41 years, that was the night I met my best friend, my one and only, the man I like to call the cupcake to my sangria. My James…..I’m sorry, what was the question again?


 

Julie’s Drawing:

IMG_3161

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

It was the summer of 1985 that I scattered her ashes over Crater Lake. We were twenty-eight years old.

To see anything through her eyes was to see it in brighter colors than usual—I remember the first afternoon of our honeymoon, there at the water’s edge, how she tugged the hem of my t-shirt at the sudden, almost painful loveliness of two children chasing each other in wide figure eights, faint dust clouds trailing behind their tiny feet. Just an ordinary scene you might see anywhere, one that I’m sure I wouldn’t even remember had she not died so soon after.

 I think about it again and again, the way her fair skin freckled and the light shone from her almond eyes as she watched them, laughing. Everything came alive in her company—and I, without it, come here every morning at eleven, in bleak homage to her favorite painting, a hanging landmark of my love.

The Separate Story Project

 

About a month ago, while my friend Julie and I were wine tasting in Edna Valley, we expressed a shared desire to draw and write more.

And instead of letting that urge linger above our busy lives, we decided to pull that dream down to earth with a collaboration–one that I’m (temporarily, depending on Julie’s stamp of approval) titling The Separate Story project. It’s simple, really:

  1. One of us picks a topic to draw
  2. We both have one week (drawings due Monday) to put that subject to paper
  3. We take a picture of what we sketched and send it through the internets
  4. Julie writes a story about Nicole’s drawing; Nicole writes a story about Julie’s drawing (up to 200 words)

It’s wild to see how differently we interpret a subject. Take a look, the topic Julie selected for this week was:

an umbrella in an unusual place


 

Julie’s Drawing:

Umbrella in an usual place

 

Nicole’s story about Julie’s drawing:

Two o’clock on the lower acre.

I meet Anton for our afternoon lesson.

He waves at me from the putting green, his rolled canary sleeve falling up towards his elbow.

The air feels filmy and clammy as a cod, and I pause one stair shy of the bench to extend my hand so that it’s facing upward, creating a tight valley between forearm and bicep.

Anton’s eyes follow an invisible path from my palm to the close grey cover above.

His hair looks more wiry than usual–like it had already received the hint that dampness is upon us.

I know he won’t cancel; we wait all week for this hour together.

I rest my umbrella next to his club and bend over, reaching into the basket of balls. My fingers move over them loosely at first, the sound of rattling plastic continues until I pinch a single sphere between thumb and index.

I face him with it on display:

“What do you say that if it rains before 2:15, we take shelter in the wet bar. I’ll make you a martini and you can tell me how you got this job in the first place.”

 


 

Nicole’s drawing:

20140706_152457

Julie’s story about Nicole’s drawing:

Cash sits alone. The train is picking up speed, winding through trees and sheets of rain.
He is motionless as if on display, practicing. You had to be special to be in the circus, but special was never the word people used to describe him.  The train rumbled over hills and through mountains, bragging to the surrounding nature about its power and strength. Cash wondered what it would be like to feel power like that. Is that how people felt when they watched him, powerful? Whatever it was he could see it in their eyes when they passed.
They felt superior and secure knowing that he was marked as less. Looking at him probably made them feel smart and majestic, things he could never be. Circus freaks could never be a full person. What if it was contagious? People needed verification that they were safe from such a monstrosity. Validation that they still had the power and control to protect themselves from behind the glass. Because to them he was the unknown danger.
So, Cash sat silent and alone waiting for the end of the night when he would walk to his bed where the darkness would settle and his dreams could take him. The rain was falling harder now and the train wasn’t slowing. Trees passed by in muted shades of green and gray.

Liberté

Tango at Luna Red

My intent wasn’t to to sit fireside at a Spanish tapas restaurant

on a day that commemorates Mexico’s triumph over France.

It wasn’t to sink sweetly into Argentine nostalgia,

while pulling salt from the rim with a light touch of tongue.

But when a couple on the patio excused itself from the only set table

to tango under suspended lights,

I dissolved into inky darkness

and watched, invisible, as they traced the outlines of their kingdom.

Reina, his only subject.

Rey, her every move.

 

Abby and Wendy

I keep being so impressed with, and inspired by the things my friends are doing. I say “my friends” loosely to encompass the relationships I’ve known over time–in this case, one that started in preschool, flourished in elementary school, and sort of tapered off into a place of cordial hellos and mutual respect when we went to college. I’m talking about Abby VanMuijen, y’all. A fellow velvet overall and printed turtleneck wearer turned badass illustrator/activist/teacher at Cal Berkeley. You can find her Global POV work here. It’s powerful stuff.

Last night, she and I made our way into SF to catch up and ended up splitting a soft pretzel and beer flight while talking Art. Abby went from majoring in English to Urban Planning, and somewhere along the way, realized her brain was built to synthesize information with pictures. Symbols. Shades. Words. A connector, through and through, and a master of simple messaging, Abby has gone on to teach classes in visual note taking–originally offered to alleviate the frustrations students feel when they take notes during lectures, yet don’t retain knowledge.

Her rules for visual note taking:

1. paper can’t be lined

2. your hand can’t stop moving

 

I thought… well, hell… I’ll give it a go. Once we threw back the last of our hoppy nectars, we strolled down 5th to the San Francisco Chronicle, where author/artist idol Wendy MacNaughton gave a free talk (and copy of her new book, Meanwhile in San Francisco) to a very very very attentive audience. Leave it to the graphic journalist to present a most captivating story of her work.

 

image

image

An installation of Wendy’s pen + water color works dress the Chronicle building walls.

 

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

 

 

And here starts the visual note taking. I owe it to Abby for showing me this rabbit hole of efficiency–you may not believe how much I remember:

 

Page 1:

Wendy started out as a Copywriter for an advertising agency called Goodby. She worked in the city, and described it as her dream job (getting paid to write, endless happy hours, perks and playtime and organized creativity!)

But she was not fulfilled, and wondered how she could get out.

Then she talked about how there was a mix up with her book shipment, and we’d all be receiving a free copy (!!)

Someone in the audience asked if she could speak louder, it was hard to hear in the back.

Wendy was recovering from a cold, and coughed intermittently

She described herself as 5th generation San Franciscan–the first of which who could illustrate.

image

 

Pages 2 and 3:

In an effort to find her way out of Goodby, she went to art school, and made some really conceptual art. For one piece, she had a staring contest with herself for upwards of two hours. For another, she portrayed herself hitting on herself.

It was all in hopes of finding a way to stop “selling ice cream and being funny about beer.” Stop advertising. So she went to Rwanda, where she was introduced as the “communications expert of America!” to work on a campaign that would help voter turnout. Half of the population wasn’t literate, so Wendy relied on visuals to portray her message. Her first take on a campaign wasn’t quite relevant to her audience. A tree? What does a tree have to do with people? And freedom?

She went on to solicit answers from the people around her. She asked questions on what to do, and what to make.

And came up with an idea that combined the thumb’s-up symbol, and a finger print (which is how people in Rwanda cast their vote)

Simple, relevant idea garnered 90% voter turn out.

 

image

 

Pages 4 and 5:

Wendy realized the importance of asking questions, and she wanted to learn how to ask them more effectively.

So she went to grad school and got her masters in social work. This is where she learned a code of ethics.

She moved out to the East Bay and barted into the city twice a day. She loved how zen Bart was. Calm. A place that wasn’t work, wasn’t home — a transitional space where people just… were.

She realized they were perfect models, and started drawing them. Sometimes, without even looking down at her paper. When she got home, she’d upload her drawings to her blog.

 

image

 

Pages 6 and 7:

Then, during her second stint in advertising, Wendy looked up at a map in the boardroom. While she was there, dealing with trivial shit and cheeky ideas, people all over the world were living.

She made a list of what she’d do if she wasn’t in advertising.

And then she went to the public library at the Civic Center to start a new project about a group of people she finds interesting, The Old.

 

image

Pages 8 and 9:

But when she went into the library, she came to find that there were more homeless people than old people. She noticed there was a full-time Social Worker–employed to assist and facilitate homeless outreach within the library.

Though she expected (and wanted a story on old people) Wendy was open to it unravelling this way.

And for 5 minutes, she watched who came in the Library doors, and wrote down every single person. Their looks; their approximate age.

Those 5 minutes turned into a revelation: many of these people walking in were homeless.

Project idea! Go down to 5th and 6th street and draw what and who she sees.

 

image

 

Pages 10 and 11:

Standing there, drawing her subjects, people were curious. They wanted to know what she was doing, why she was doing it — if she’d sketch them.

She wanted to draw 6th street from the comfort of 5th. Entirely different universes, though, she knew she had to make her way over to depict the people and spirit of that street accurately.

She’s a professional eves dropper and often writes down snippets of what she hears when people are walking by her.

 

image

 

Pages 12 and 13:

Invited to go play Ma Jong with the Chinese community in China town, Wendy spoke about the need to be a respectful visitor. She sketched groups playing, but never took it too far or inquired too much. Importance of sensitivity and respecting the gift she was given.

Be OPEN. stop. look. listen. Realize there are more communities than the ones you frequent, and take the spotlight that’s on you and put it on someone else. Learn about them.

She does all her work on 9 x 12″ paper, and writes notes on the spines.

image

 

Pages 14 and 15:

Meanwhile in San Francisco took her 3 years to complete.

She is so grateful to her editors–and in hindsight is happy the burrito diagram made it in!

Her street writing is much more akin to that of a doctor. What we see in her book is her “deliberate writing”

Next, she’ll draw out the recipes for a cook book

 

image

Pages 16 and 17:

Someone in the audience asked about her use of social media. Here’s a list and a ven diagram describing her answer.

Wendy reminds us that everyone wants to talk and has a story to tell. It’s a matter of listening. And asking the right questions:

Not “how are you?” but

“What’s going on?”

image

If it isn’t already clear, this form of note taking jogs the memory into a steady sprint. I am grateful to Abby for the introduction/ good juju, and Wendy for the lightning bolt of inspiration. Maybe this copywriter’s an artist after all… to be continued, I guess.

 

I feel

As if patterns tell me something.

As if dreams were clear swirls in an oyster sky.

As if I beat doubt with the flats of a saber.

As if my wild, tangled hair held truth.

As if fear fell as steady as rain dripping down from the eaves of a house.

As if joying in the freeing distance between peak and base.

As if the air lacked haze, and the view stretched on and on across rows of green and gold mountains, each paler than the last until the final ranks were indistinguishable from sky.

As if I could feel the whirl of wheels.

…the speed of my ascension,

…a vague disinterest in people who care nothing at all for this thrill and wonder.

fish

9

9

This one’s a good month. A bountiful month, a  proving month. A glittering crimson and jeweled month, filled with chance and truth month.

On September first, I stopped then started. It was a needed reset, and eight days in, I still feel more or less revived.

It started in Eureka when Drew and I escaped to the North Coast for labor day weekend. My first time in a puddle jumper plane started a domino effect of firsts –in a matter of days, I met droves of his family and friends, experienced cabin life in Willow Creek, hooted and hollered at small town folk in Big Foot suits, saw a night sky tightly polka dotted with stars, and witnessed a scorpion try to sneak its way into a suitcase.

We hiked and explored and played and wandered and sat by the firepit with his parents. We squeezed hands every time we saw deer minding their afternoons like they mind their babies. We drank Troublemaker and ate sliders with childish class, uninterested in time or texts or responsibility.

And I got to bring my dad to a new place. His birthday anniversary was yesterday, and like every day this month, I toasted to his life. In warm company, I remembered him as I always do. Happy birthday dad, this month’s for you.

Here’s a playlist I’ve made to soundtrack this new and ninth month. Enjoy the songs and these below sights.

20130905-212133.jpg

20130905-212153.jpg

20130905-212218.jpg

20130905-212235.jpg

20130905-212322.jpg

20130905-212354.jpg

20130905-212433.jpg

20130905-212523.jpg

20130905-212538.jpg

20130905-212602.jpg

20130905-212617.jpg

20130905-212631.jpg

20130905-212658.jpg

20130905-212713.jpg

20130905-212745.jpg

20130905-212803.jpg

20130905-212822.jpg

20130905-212850.jpg

20130905-212904.jpg

20130905-212918.jpg

20130905-212933.jpg

20130905-212953.jpg

drew

20130905-213007.jpg

20130905-213018.jpg

20130905-213030.jpg

20130905-213101.jpg

20130905-213114.jpg

20130905-213131.jpg

20130905-213147.jpg

20130905-213200.jpg

20130905-213219.jpg

20130905-213239.jpg

20130905-213250.jpg

20130905-213310.jpg

20130905-213319.jpg

20130905-213335.jpg