“Cautionary Tale” follow-up

So for the past week my mom and brother have been visiting, and we got to do some camping and visit the coast, and it was great. One night I showed them the “Cautionary Tale” comic to see how they reacted. I wanted to see if anyone else understood the point I was trying to make with the piece. After viewing it, I asked them if there was a moral to the story. My brother, whose weight lifting has made his neck as wide as his head, answered: “Yeah, this is why men should be in charge.” To give a bit of background, my bro is 18 years old and joining the Marines in 23 days (a decidedly proud hyper-masculine organization), so he’s not very sophisticated about gender issues (or any other issues for that matter). But still, for someone to misinterpret the comic so broadly, I knew I had failed. My mom’s interpretation wasn’t much better, and I had to explain what I meant to portray.

First let me say that when talking about gender differences, you’re talking in generalities. Traits like aggressiveness, competitiveness, power, and violence are most often associated with masculinity, but we know women can embody these qualities too. Likewise, femininity is associated with nurturing, compassion, equanimity, etc… but a mature man contains these also. So, generalities.

I’m a feminist. I would love to see more women in leadership roles, and more traits associated with femininity exalted in our culture. So this comic is a commentary on the direction of feminism and where I feel like it’s gone astray.

Seems to me that many women strive to beat men at their own patriarchal game and call that victory for feminism. If you hate what thousands of years of patriarchy and male domination has done to this planet, you don’t bring more of that energy to earth, right? If the CEO of Exxon is a woman, and is better able to exploit and dominate the earth than her male counterparts, is that a feminist success? Is simply having females in powerful positions in the male created structure the goal? What is the goal?

These were some of the issues and questions I was trying to prod with this comic. I love illustration because it can portray a complex idea quickly and powerfully, in a way that no written explanation can. I feel like I failed to do that with “Cautionary Tale”, because it’s very open to misinterpretation. Perhaps I took on too complex a concept for my current skill level. A successful comic wouldn’t need a blog post explaining it.

What do you think about all this? Is the goal of feminism to make women equal to men, or is it more?

Season of Action

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Things are heating up. And not just the mountain breeze scented with blossoms.

During the height of last summer, invigorated, yet worn down by the persistence of motion, I remember longing for the winter, when I could slow down, relax, and have ample time for drawing and contemplation. Well I’ve had enough of that. I swear, seasons are expertly timed miracles, just long enough for a person to appreciate and integrate what they have to offer, and just short enough not to be driven bat shit crazy by their pervasive strength.

Now, perched on the brink of a season of action, I ready myself for the big changes coming. Like a seed lying dormant in the winter ground, the long lonely days of introspection and quiet toil are over, soon to be replaced by rising with the dawn so I can secure 90 minutes of drawing before facing an action-packed schedule. Though the days will be longer, socialization, laughter, work, and bathing in hot sun and cold river will make time move more swiftly.

I can already feel the warm breath of action breathing down my neck. Next Saturday I’ll be helping clear some trails with some Ameri-corps kids. At the end of April, I’ll be heading to Portland to attend my first comics festival. A week later, I’ll be moving back to the community I spent last summer with; and once there, I’ll apply to be a Zipline Guide for the Treehouse Resort across the road. After that, there’s some volunteer events I’ll be participating in, and then before I know it, it will be time to head to Los Angeles for my brother’s graduation and cousin’s wedding. And that only takes us up to May!

I really am looking forward to this shift in energy, though. Last summer I felt like a real adult: steady, capable, responsible, and supported through good relationships. Since hiding out by myself in the woods, I feel depleted. It’s time to grow again.

What It’s All About

When I tell people I’m working on a Graphic Novel, the question inevitably arises: What is it about? At first I would try to summarize the story. “It’s about a stoic, bitter old man, who lives in the forest alone. One winter night, as he’s chopping firewood, he hears a strange sound emanating from the dark woods. He goes to investigate and finds a wolf pup, lost, weak, and collapsed in the snow. Being the thick-skinned mountain man he is, he turns away leaving the pup to die. But as he does, he has a memory of the woman he loved in his younger days, and it softens his heart. So the book is about these two separate story lines — one of the old man and the wolf, the other, his memories of this woman — interweaving back and forth.” At this point I would motion my hands like two snakes dancing. The person listening would usually nod thoughtfully, not giving much indication on whether they thought this was the basis for an interesting narrative or not. I think this description satisfactorily describes my book, but it’s also quite a mouthful, possibly more than they bargained for, and not a quick answer appropriate for such locations like, say, a grocery store line.

So I went the other way. When asked, I would simply say, “Memory…” letting the word float mysteriously, lingering on the air like a light forest fog. At this, they would give me a quizzical look, and I would have the feeling that I just failed at the authors’ duty to promote himself.

Now when asked, I just feel like grabbing their collar, tightening it around their curious heads and shouting: “It’s about my EX alright!??!? I’m wounded and feel like I’ll never find love like that again and this is a form of catharsis and what do you expect a lonely middle aged man who lives deep in the forest to think about except LOST LOVE?!!?” But this response probably wouldn’t be appropriate and might make me look more pathetic than I actually am.

Fact is, this story is largely inspired by my last relationship. Is this a bad thing? Well if it’s giving me the emotional energy to complete a 100+ page book, my first real attempt at completing something substantial, I don’t think it’s bad. My drawing talent and technique has improved greatly over the past 9 months, all due to this book, and I don’t think that’s bad either. I’ve had someone gently ask, “… but how do you expect to get over this relationship when you’re focusing so much time on it?” It’s a valid point. I guess my answer would be something like, “Hey, I’m a sensitive guy, and I’d probably be suffering anyway, so I might as well turn it into something productive.” But I do need to finish this book as quickly as possible. I don’t want to have this corpse hanging around my neck forever. I don’t actually want to turn into the embittered, hard-hearted old man of the woods.

And I don’t feel like I am. I have my moments of darkness, yes. I feel pangs in my heart when I see happy couples touching and enjoying each other. When bushwhacking though ancient forests, traversing wild rivers, walking down sandy beaches, or fixing dinner, I long to have a partner to share it with. But these experiences are still beautiful to me, not diminished in any way, just different. Life is beautiful and precious always, and I’m grateful I feel this. I’m grateful for the place I live, my friends, the bountiful food I eat, my ability to pursue art and words — my calling — freely. I live a rich life and the dull nagging loneliness is part of the richness of experience. In a way it is the fuel that fires my creativity.

Lingering over this book doesn’t make me unhappy, but it does, somehow, inhibit me from being fully present with another woman. Perhaps right now it’s impossible for another woman to compete with my Ex, my first love. Is this because I don’t let them, or because what her and I had was special, exceedingly rare, hard to replace? I’m trying to answer this. It’s probably a little of each.

My Dad is visiting and yesterday we were on the coast, sitting in a little driftwood hut near the beach. I was reading poems aloud: Goethe, Frost, Rainer Maria Rilke. A beautiful young woman came into view through the doorway, walking solitary down the beach. “There goes a poem,” says my dad. With those words I felt a sense of expansiveness, of openness. Yes, what is her story? What are her pains and her joys? Could we laugh together? There are millions of poems in this world, and though most of them may not be to my taste, should I exclude strange and unfamiliar ones out of deference and attachment to my favorite poem? Who knows? Who knows…? I figure it out as I goes.

In summary, it’s hard to summarize a book in a couple sentences. My story is about everything written here and more. Thanks for allowing the time to explain.

My Dad

Spoke with my Dad tonight. There’s not many people who understand me like my Dad. My Dad and I are similar in many ways. We’re both artists, dreamers, modern day philosophers. But we’re in very different places. My Dad, nearing 60, lives in Los Angeles. Feels trapped by it. Trapped by the concerns of eking out a living on the edge of retirement. My Dad fixes and installs pool equipment. It’s not a glamourous job, but it pays well. There’s lots of work for a pool guy living in Los Angeles. Of course, nobody dreams of being a pool guy.

He used to dream of being a rock star. He grew up inspired by Bob Dylan, was among the first to attend U2 shows. He plays guitar like a craftsman and used to have a band. In the first house I lived, he built a soundproof room and had strange men come over, with names like Rocco and Jim. The walls would vibrate me to sleep, and the next day I’d wake Dad at noon. They had records. They had fans. They had a dream.

Somewhere along the line, my Dad moved to Colorado and became a mortgage-broker. Torn in eighteen different directions, music emerged a dusty, washed-out road. Now he deals in pool machinery and has carpal-tunnel from adjusting nuts and bolts. Playing guitar pains him now, and not just in his hands.

My dad is so proud of me. When I tell him I’m exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to be doing… I feel like I’m bragging. But he’s happy for me, though he says he’s jealous of people who align with their destiny, “vibrate with their own frequency”. I tell him that science tells us that time is not linear. He confesses that sometimes I’m the only thing that keeps him going.

We talk about women. He asks if my ex-lover inspired me to creativity. I say no. That love, for me, is a constricting experience. He says that love is an inspiration to him, so I stop and reconsider. My dad listens as I tell him I think I could be happy alone, forever. He says it takes a very rare and special woman to allow her man the space to be alone.

I wish my Dad wasn’t so hard on himself. I wish he wouldn’t measure his life in terms of artistic success. My Dad’s been a blessing to me, and I hope he can find peace in the absence of achievement. I wish these things for myself too, but only half-heartedly. My Dad and I are similar in many ways.

Unexpected Journey

This poem won first place in a local poetry contest. I’ve got to admit: it’s kinda nice being a big fish in a small pond. You can hear the performance here.

Unexpected Journey

Remember when we were the ancients?
Combing the gnarled landscape nude?

Texas.
November.
Late autumn rains has washed rocks clean,
swollen rivers to overflowing.
Clothed on the sidelines we watched it gush,
pound,
push,
it’s way past river banks
into lands not allowed.

We too yearned for freedom,
so in our youth we stripped.
Leaving the safety of our shells
we washed
ourselves
away.
Unafraid
of angry torrents
and watersnakes.

With hospitality afforded to long awaited guests,
the river swept us,
gently,
under her dark forested canopy,
pre-historic playground,
jungle-gym.

We emerged from dark water Neanderthal,
yet somehow more beautiful, more pure,
feet heavy with mud,
fragments of leaves and twigs
caught between your crevices.
Me: stick-like Praying Mantis
You: fleshy Goddess
for these brief, wonderful moments
having lost your self-consciousness.
Perfection there is all around us
and you, at its center
flawless.

What would I have done
had I known
the exquisite rarity of such things?
Would I have changed my behavior?
Screamed at the top of my lungs
for time to stop
kill me now
end this dream?

and you…
had you known
death was coming for your mother
and we would part ways soon thereafter,
PAIN! Pain! Pain.
Would you have clenched these memories tighter?
… or washed it all away?

Bizarre Love Triangle

I finished the first chapter of my graphic novel and showed it to friends and family while visiting LA. Got a lot of good feedback and encouragement. The first chapter draft took approximately 159 hours to complete. With 4 more chapters to go, working at my current pace, I expect it will be ready for publication one year from now. Here’s a panel from page two. Ohhh! Mysterious!!

Each chapter will represent a season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and back to Winter. The story is told through pictures only, like a silent movie. The only words will be snippets of poetry which will open each chapter. I don’t want to give too much away at this point, but these are the main characters: a man, a woman, a wolf, embroiled in a time transcending love triangle. Yeah.

Learning to Live Again

It’s been over 2 years since I’ve convened with my notebook in a meaningful way. I had forgot what a powerful tool it is; a place for self-examination, personal therapy, random thoughts, random-er doodles, incubating ideas, creative freedom, and non-judgement. It feels good to resume this relationship, notebook and I. Who knows what will come of it?

Man Carrying Sofa

By Tony Hoagland

Whatever happened to Cindy Morrison, that nice young lesbian?
I heard she moved to the city and got serious.
Traded in her work boots for high heels and a power suit.
Got a healthcare plan and an attorney girlfriend.

Myself, I don’t want to change.
It’s October and I’m still dating my checks July.
I don’t want to step through the doorway of the year.
I’m afraid of something falling off behind me.
I’m afraid my own past will start forgetting me.

Now the sunsets are like cranberry sauce
poured over the yellow hills, and yes,
that beauty is so strong it hurts –
it hurts because it isn’t personal.

But we look anyway, we sit upon our stoops
and stare, — fierce,
like we were tossing down a shot of vodka, straight,
and afterwards, we feel purified and sad and rather Russian.

When David was in town last week,
I made a big show to him of how unhappy I was
because I wanted him to go back and tell Susan
that I was suffering without her –

but then he left and I discovered
I really was miserable
– which made me feel better about myself –
because, after all, I don’t want to go through time untouched.

What a great journey this is,
this ordinary life of ants and sandwich wrappers,
of x-rated sunsets and drive-through funerals.

And this particular complex pain inside your chest;
this damaged longing
like a heavy piece of furniture inside you;
you carry it, it burdens you, it drags you down –
then you stop, and rest on top of it.