I have to keep reminding people — publishing and editing people — that I am a writer who happens to draw. And O.K., this sounds cranky, but whenever editing and publishing people compliment me on the art work for the Damn Garden Book (thank you, thank you, I’m very grateful, really I am) I wish they were complimenting my writing instead. As hard as I work on my painting, I work three times harder on the writing. And believe me, painting ain’t easy when you’re a writer. As you will soon see.
I start with a pencil drawing of a corner in a tiny walled garden of C. W. Post college:
After applying dots of resist, I try to mix paints for a color that looks like old brick (doesn’t that blob of paint below look more like a crusty bit of old coagulated ketchup? I know: Ewwwwww.):
I used to love painting bricks and stones, but it’s been a while since I last did a brick pic:
While the bricks dry, I paint a foreground flower bush of some sort (I’m not good on naming flora, as you Dear Readers well now — but whatever this flower bush thing is, it lets you see the resist better now — it’s the yellow stuff):
Here is when I decide that the bricks are too dark; they stand out too much compared to the flower bush thing. So I take a wet paper towel and I dab up some paint:
Generally, this is not a smart thing to do — I speak from much previous experience — but I thought I could get away with it here because all I want to do is make something that looks like old brick, for which paper towel won’t be a deal-breaker. I do the deed, and then I start to hum my “Finish Painting a Flower Bush and Another Shrub” song :
Please note (above) that I have applied strokes of resist over a lightly-painted yellow-green foreground. Now see (below) how I am going to paint OVER the resist on that yellow-green background:
I remover the resist in the flower bush, and in the yellow-green background, and VOILA:
And now I’m going to hum my “Painting In The Row of Shrubs” song:
I hope you don’t mind if I point out the unpainted tree truck (above). As you can see, there’s a blob of yellow and green paint on it. Up until this moment I have been very faithful to the photograph from which I am painting this pic…which included a tree with a bit of fernery or something that was growing out of the lowest bit of its trunk (still present in the painting below):
I knew the minute that I painted that ferny thing that it was not going to work. It just looked weird there, that unexplainable fern thing that looks like I don’t know how to paint, and it was only a tiny digression from the subject matter anyway, so I exercised my Artistic License and I lifted the ferny thing off the trunk the same way I done it on the brick walkway. As ou can see below, the ferny thing is gone now:
In case you are keeping score, no rescues have happened yet. So far, I’ve only made minor corrections — I didn’t botch this pic up until much further down the road. Stay tuned:
This is when I thought the picture was DONE! But, upon closer inspection, I saw that the tree was lop-sided, so I swooped in for my first Rescue:
Picking UP paint is not a rescue: having to apply white acrylic over a mistake, and then having to paint over it to match the rest of the pic…THAT’S a rescue. See the white acrylic paint on the lower right side of the tree’s foliage? That’s Rescue No. 1.
But, having fixed the wonky foliage, I now considered this painting DONE! YAY!
But alas, I take a careful look at my source photo:
And I smack myself right between my eyes. The problem is obvious. All the that I was painting this pic, I had it in my head that the tree was a pom pom. No matter how many times I referred back to this photo, I only saw the tree as a pom pom. But now I can plainly see that the damn thing is a mushroom. So, yes, with your brain in cahoots, your eyes will deceive you.
And so I begin Rescue No. 2 with a layer of white acrylic paint over the area that I’ll have to fix:
I apply the background of yellow paint, and I darken the color of the sky, and I put in a few patches of blue in the tree for good measure. Yeah, it looks like crap. That background area is simply too large a picture space to cover up with white acrylic paint. The acrylic was gloppy and stood out to much against the small-toothed 90 lb. paper I use:
And so, I begin Rescue No. 3 with a clever cut out:
Oh, by the way, I’m on Day Two of this piece. So far I have about 4 – 5 hours of painting time in this pic.
I’m not humming now, I’m praying Please let me get away with this. I paint in a convincing background, I give thanks to the great DoG in the sky, and I almost start to tell myself By Jove, I think I’ve got it…until I take a good look at what I’ve done to the tree — the left side of the tree needs a curve, dammit. But this does not call for a rescue…
…because all I need to do here is a pick-up, like so:
And now …
… without further ado …
… I introduce to you, my Dear Readers, my first Piece of Toast of 2015:
The Knot Garden of C. W. Post College, available for one lucky Dear Reader:
By the way, there’s a 4th rescue that I didn’t have the heart to bore you with. If you win this Piece of Toast, you’ll be able to inspect all the rescues up close and personal and fine the 4th rescue! In fact, I think this Piece of Toast is a veritable catalogue of all the ways a painting can go wrong, and it can all be YOURS!
Here’s how I am going to give away this Piece of Toast: My OG Dear Readers know that I usually limit my give-aways to Dear Readers who have Commented on the past 2 posts of this blog. But since this is my first give-away of 2015, and I think there are a lot of new, shy Dear Readers out there, I am going to open this up To One and All this One time.
I had Top Cat pick a number from 1 to 50. I wrote his pick on a slip of paper and I put it in this envelope:
I sealed the envelope:
All you have to do is leave a Comment with your guess of a number between 1 and 50. Next week, you will witness my opening of the envelope and the reveal of the winning number inside.
If, for some rare and strange reason, there are more than 50 Dear Readers who want to own this Vivian Swift Piece of Toast, or if someone else already has guessed your lucky number, please feel free to re-use a number. If that number is the one that Top Cat picked, resulting in a tie between two Dear Readers, the Piece of Toast will go to the Dear Reader who has Commented in the last 2 weeks.
Despite the woes of painting, this pic was fun to do and I know I will be keeping my paint brushes busy in the future with more Triscuits and Pieces of Toast. But Good Luck, everyone, on Toast No. 1!
And have a happy, happy 4th of July!
Yes, I have no bananas, I have no bananas today, neither on my word-writin’ desk:
(Everybody say Oooooooooooooo)…and neither on my picture-making desk:
(Everybody say Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh). As clear as my desks are is as clear as my mind is. Nary a banana in sight. I am still getting used to the feeling of having no bananas, but all I can say is, I’ve never liked bananas and I can’t even stand the smell of bananas and I will gladly spend the rest of my life never eating bananas, so I am indescribably happy that I have not one, none, zip, zilch, no bananas today. Or ever!!
OK, enough with the banana metaphor. But everything I said holds true for real bananas. Simply can’t stand them.
I think I might have shown my Dear Readers the cover of the Chinese language version of my last book, Le Road Trip, when it came out in 2014:
WELL. Yesterday I got a surprise packet in the mail, from my publishers at Bloomsbury, that contained a dozen copies of ANOTHER Chinese language version of Le Road Trip:
I think this cover is very jaunty, in that I love the design but I am puzzled by the images that were selected to go on the cover. I mean, except for the wine glass, and the rather fetching self-portrait of me and Top Cat, do any of these images scream “FRANCE” to you? Yeah, me neither.
I am also curious as to why there is a new Chinese language version, because there was no note or letter enclosed with these copies. But that’s just par for the course.
Here is where I tell you all another insider anecdote about publishing: in finalizing the business stuff of the Damn Garden Book last month — LAST MONTH — I happened to notice a quirk in the paperwork that led me to ask of my publisher, “Where’s the copyright to Le Road Trip?” Ha ha ha hahahahaha. Turns out that Bloomsbury, who published Le Road Trip on 2012, had never secured the copyright!!! OH, my, how I laughed and laughed at this delightful
breech breach of contract! Yes indeed, I am exactly the kind of easy going, week-end, hobbyist for fun, trust-fund writer who would find this terribly, terribly amusing.
Actually, I was pissed. Capital P PISSED. But my agent explained to me that publishers were stretched very thin these days, being as print is a dying business, and it’s perfectly understandable that they would overlook such a minor detail as securing a copyright, which is just one of those pesky little things for which I give them 88% of every dollar earned from sales of Le Road Trip. What merriment, to know that I am part of an industry where such minor things as copyrights are, you know, just one of those things that people are too busy to deal with.
Oh well. The copyright to Le Road Trip is now done and got. And the Damn Garden Book is copyrighted as well, by the same people who send me Chinese language books with no update on what the hell is going on in China vis-a-vis a traveler’s journal of love and France.
Inhale, exhale. Peace unto me, Ommmmm, Om mani padme hum, as they say. As a matter of fact, when I want to get Zen here on the north shore of Long Island Sound I have just the place to go to and it’s not more than 4 miles from my house:
This, my darlings, is the labyrinth on the campus of C.W.Post college, made by students of the ceramics studio and installed sometime this century. I’m fuzzy on the details. Top Cat and I went there last night at the golden hour of 6:30 PM.
As you can see, walking the labyrinth at C.W.Post of a Summer evening is just about the most soothing venture there is, of a Summer evening. Ahhhhhhhh….the grounds are ever so serene:
And if you stroll down towards the horizon, lo and behold you come across a sunken garden…
…the likes of which are rarely seen outside of an Elizabethan courtyard:
Actually, many of the administration buildings of C.W.Post were built at the last turn of the century in painstaking imitation of Elizabethan structures (I hope I took pix of those structures that surround this adorable sunken knot garden):
In case you do not know, you can click on any image on this post and you will get a full-scale version (instead of these annoying tiny snaps)…
…and if you don’t get it at one click, just click again for the enlargement (this is for my Ma, who needs instructions in blog technology).
The finest thing about this sunken know garden is that, when you exit, you cross a brook with a small half-half-half moon bridge…
…which you might not notice has a weird box-like thing on raised feet (see foreground, left, above) which, I am happy to report, is a Winter shelter for the wandering campus CATS. I know!! How much do you love a college that cares for its feral felines in such a loving manner??? A lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot….
Further along the path, we cross the half-half-half moon bridge and espy yet more feline lodgings:
I zoomed to make sure yo wouldn’t miss it:
By the way, on your exit you must take a moment to behold the century-old Elm Tree that still thrives on the campus of C.W.Post:
That is one majestic, nobel, historic, monumental tree. This is the kind of Elm we lost to the Dutch Elm Disease blight of the last century, when America lost 75% of our 77 million Elm Trees from New England to Minnesota.
But I did not bring you to this garden just to show you how the evening light gilds every leaf it touches yadda yadda yadda. As much as I love the effect of evening gamma rays alighting upon topiary, this is not a garden that I can paint…as is, that is. This is the June Eve shot:
And this is the June Rainy Afternoon shot:
Same place, different atmospheric conditions. I don’t think I have to explain how the cloudy, dim light illuminates shapes and structures so much better than the clear romantic light of vespers. Here are more rainy day shots of the same sunken know garden:
If i were to paint this lovely sunken knot garden for your viewing pleasure, I would take the rainy day pix and, with my artistic license, add just a touch of June Vesper to make it glow just a tad. I mean, my desks look awfully lonely, and I don’t want to get out of practice, and I haven’t had a Work of Art Give Away for my darling readers this whole year…
…this won’t be a Triscuit. This will be more like a piece of Arnold Whole Grain slice of bread toast. If anybody is interested in watching me paint this C.W.Post sunken knot garden, please meet me back here next Friday.
No bananas will be eligible to win next week’s Toast Give Away.
Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.
Last minute edits, changes of heart, epiphanies, and overlooked mistakes…it’s been a week of 16-hour work days for me but it was worth it. That neat stack of paper that you see on my dining room table is 184 pages of the Damn Garden Book layed out, pasted down, glued in, and numbered.
Dare I say it? When I meet my editor at Bloomsbury tomorrow (today — it’s 12:08am) my work is done. DONE.
Except for the proofs and whatever else pops up between now and when Barnes and Noble puts it face-out in the Gardening Section next Spring.
I’m so tired that it feels as if I’m typing this drunk. Thank you one and all for your Comments these past 2 weeks, which cheered me so much you can’t even know.
Well. I can’t let you head off into the week end without giving you something besides words…
…so, Dear Reader Casey asked if I would care to give you all a peak at an art work from the Rejects Binder, from the mountain of paintings I did that did not make it into the Damn Garden Book.
This is an old, old painting I did waaaay back, about 8 years ago.
As you can see, I chopped off the top section because that’s my old way of doing foliage (and the Grumbacher paints look pretty muddy to me now). This is what it looked like after I rescued it after 8 years of painting my brains out:
And then I didn’t have a place for it in the DGB. So as of now, it is orphaned with all the other pictures that don’t have a story.
THIS JUST IN: I got an early morning email from Casey, who asked me to do my tea bag thing for this pic, to show scale. So here it is:
You might also remember this:
This was my idea for the cover of the Damn Garden Book, before Bloomsbury showed me their much better idea.
You might be interested in how I re-purposed this. Yes?
SPOILER ALERT: I needed to put in poinsettias for narrative purposes. You’ll understand when you read the last chapter of the DGB.
Anyhoo, it now looks like this (call it “magical realism”, since it IS a portrait of a South American garden experience):
Feel free to discuss.
I can’t stay awake a minute longer.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Sweet dreams.
P.S. I will be out of my “office” until early afternoon, so I won’t be here to approve Comments. But please, send me your thoughts any way, and by tea time I’ll have your bones mots up! (Auto correct. Bon mots. Serves me right for sticking in some French here.) Your good words. Merci.
Hello there! Please come in. This is very exciting for me, to be the subject of your . . . what did you say it was? Oh, right. A documentary. About Real Real Housewives of Long Island. Righty-ho. Just let me change into something more comfortable, something without sequins. I misunderstood your project. But I can do “real”, if that’s what it takes to get the cameras rolling.
There. I’m all for real, right down to my T J Maxx sneakers. But I’m still going to hold in my stomach. heh heh. Let’s not go crazy with the “real” stuff.
I’m working in my dining room today. . .
. . . same as I’ve been doing yesterday, and the day before that, and the several days before that. I’ll probably be here tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and maybe a few days after the day after tomorrow. I’m making a Damn Garden Book. Calm down. I know this is mind-numbingly exciting, but we have hours and hours of me standing over a light box like this ahead, so pace yourself.
You’re so cute, the way you say “olden day”, but I assure you, a light box is very present-day technology. And so are my tools, as far as I know, but I don’t get out of the house much:
So this is how I spend my day. I turn on my light box which, as you see, has a piece of lined notebook paper taped to it:
My publisher, Bloomsbury, has sent me a stack of blank-ish sheets of paper . . .
. . . which have a very pale blue line to indicate the “trim” of each page of the Damn Garden Book — every bit of art work and text that I place on these sheets has to be composed within those pale blue lines. There are also tiny “register” marks in each corner for later, when the sheets are back in the Bloomsbury production department, so they are not my concern. Whew.
I place each sheet on my light box . . .
. . . and now you can see how that piece of lined notebook paper comes in handy! It’s how I know that everything I lay out will be on a straight line!
I print the text out right here at home, on my own $100 printer, because I’m the only person who has the VivoScript font, the type I designed myself that changes Times New Roman into my own handwriting. So I cut out the bits of text that I need for each page, and I tape it into place. I take the art work that I made for each page, and I glue it into place. Voila: a page of the Damn Garden Book is done! Well,in real life it does take a bit longer than one two three Presto!, but you get the gist of it.
I keep the original art work in plastic sleeves in binders:
The bottom binder is the art that I will actually be putting into the Damn Garden Book. The top binder is art that I won’t be putting into the Damn Garden Book, either because the illustration no longer fits into the narrative or because the piece is an earlier or ugly version of a final illustration.
There you go again, with the “olden day” stuff. How about we just call my book-making process “artisanal” instead? Yeah, like the way they make beer in Brooklyn.
Anyway: Once I have the text and art properly placed, I take a sheet of heavy vellum — yes, I order it from afar and have it specially trimmed to 10 inch by 10 inch:
. . . and I place it on top of the page I just created.
The vellum protects the fragile watercolor, and it is a space where I or the ensuing production director can make notes. In this case, I am adding instructions for the production director:
I repeat this process over and over and over and over and etc. until I have 174 pages. I’m almost almost there!
So far, I have finished this many pages of the Damn Garden Book:
Yes, that’s six chapters DONE. Well, DONE-ish.
There are always last minute edits, such as changes in page order and cutting out digressions that seemed entertaining at the time but, in the final read-thru, aren’t. However, this far into the process, there are still last-last-last-last minute changes or adjustments that need to be made, which is why I use pink Post-It flags to indicate where I’ll need to go back and fix. Yes, it does seem like making the Damn Garden Book will ever end. No, those are not tears in my eyes. There’s no crying in book-making!
Oh good, now you get why I have to have a glass of Piont Grigio always at hand.
Now, so far you’ve only seen the dining room fun stuff. Please step this way, where I can show you the den fun stuff. I’ve saved the best for last.
Yes, those are the final three chapters of the Damn Garden Book on my desk. Two of them need one last careful proofreading before I commit to printing them out on my own printer and laying them out; and one needs a whole page of new text because at the last-last-last-last minute it became heartbreakingly clear that the old text stank.
No! It’s won’t be boring at all! O.K., yes, you’ll probably shoot a lot of hours of me sitting still, staring at the computer screen, cursing to myself; but once in a while I take a break to watch The West Wing on Netflix and that’s quite dramatic . . .
Oh well, I see you’re packing up. O.K., so my days don’t have a lot of action in them. But I assure you that whatever my life lacks in liveliness is more than made up for in stress.
Then can you at least let everyone know that the Damn Garden Book is available for pre-order?
Thank you! And Bye-Bye! Don’t trip over a cat on your way out!
The back story: We shucked the first fresh Long Island – picked corn on the cob last weekend for our first true BBQ of the season, and Taffy took the time to haul, one by one, the husks of our freshly-picked corns on the cobs to his favorite spot in the backyard just so he could…
…dive into the joyousness of the moment.
Oh my DoG, I love that cat. And he wants me to tell you this:
It’s not all glamour being a Really Real Housewife of Long Island. Vivian’s whine about the burdens of HEROIC book-making in 90 degrees of Long Island swelter will follow. Stay tuned.
I will be back here later today with the whole story.
Why, hello there! How nice of you to drop by! Just let me finish my ordinary everyday housewifely duties, won’t take a sec, and then we can sit and discuss your very, very flattering offer to have me star in your new reality series The Real Housewives of Long Island.
There now. I hope you don’t mind, but the FedEx man hasn’t been by the house yet today, you know how unreliable overnight service from the Himalayas can be, so I’m afraid that the dew on my hand-picked Assam tea leaves from yesterday might not be quite il faut. But not to worry, I brighten up my brew by using water melted from the Lambert Glacier — I do hope you agree with me that water melted from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet adds a certain je ne sais quoi to a cup of tea, don’t you think? That’s why I simply can’t allow West Antarctic Ice Sheet water in my house. Keep it simple, I say.
And yes, all my tea leaves have been blessed by the Dali Lama. But I’ve been hearing murmurs, you know, that the Dali is on the verge of becoming passé. Have you heard of this new guru, simply fabulous, the re-incarnation of Deepak Chopra even before Deepak Chopra has died? So cutting edge. I must check this out — I would hate to be stuck with Dali Lama-blessed tea leaves if it turns out that the re-incarnation of the not-yet-dead Deepak Chopra is the one that Gwenth Paltrow says is “The One” to bless tea leaves.
I’m very spiritual, you see. I myself am the re-incarnation of Cleopatra’s 16th-great-great-grand-daughter’s once removed’s half sister’s friend who went to Vassar. Her spirit name is Pug Face. She’s why I am so smart. We’ve simply reams of wisdom between us.
You’ve noticed my limp. It’s just temporary — I’m wearing a knee brace. Bad fall from my polo pony, you see, nothing serious. The pain pills pack a bigger whallop than any Quarter Horse, let me tell you. It’s like I’ve been tossed under a stampede of quilted-hoofed unicorns. Simply divine. Would you like to try one? No? You don’t know what you’re missing, my dear.
Oh, I see you’re looking at my record collection. Yes, I am quite fond of French pop music from the 1980s. A musical genre so vastly under-rated, don’t you think? Ah, the 1980s . . . I have fond memories of the 1980s when I was
in my thirties and going to my first rehab just a child, really, with my family on the Cote d’Azur, lazing on the beach listening to Radio France on my Walkman. Good times. When I drive to the liquor store to my volunteer job with the nuns helping poor people, I often pop in a 1980s Johnny Halliday CD in my 10-year old Camry in my voiture and crank it up to 11. Yes, I sing along at the top of my voice, as I am familiar with at least half the words in the songs. French words, you see. Like they speak in Europe.
You might want to jot that down in your notebook: International lifestyle role model.
Now, where were we?
Oh yes, you want to know about my table flipping skills.
Indeed, I can flip a table if needs be.
But I must say, personally, for me, table flipping would be a last resort. I prefer to use my wit and superior language skills, rather than furniture, when I need to make a point at a diner party.
Just last month I was at a very exclusive dinner party, at a most exclusive restaurant, and not to name drop but a nephew of a well known Atlantic City bookie was there also, and, sadly, one of the ladies had tippled a little too much of the vino, if you know what I mean, and was holding forth a little too, too much of the veritas, if you know what I mean. Talk talk talk talk talk, good lord that lady could talk.
I believe she is in Real Estate, if I can remember the thirteen thousand times she mentioned it, and watches a lot of TV, if I can keep straight the white-water-rapids-stream-of-conciousness that flowed forth from her that evening.
And there I was, the most interesting person in the room, on verbal lock down. Mind you, it wasn’t for myself that I was bored and pissed, oh dear, no — it was all the other guests for whom I felt the most pity, for they were being deprived of my interestingness. I had a Marrakech cat story that would have blown the doors off any real estate chit-chat.
Well, someone had to find a way to break the conversational log-jam. And I felt that everyone was silently begging me, as the most interesting person in the room, to do it, as you know that I am a 1/16th of the world traveler and the re-incarnation of Pug Face.
So I turned to the chatterbox’s husband and I asked him, “Does she ever shut the fuck up?”
You see? Witty. Word play at its best.
And yes, now that you ask, it actually was the conversating equivalent of flipping a table, in so much as it engendered an abrupt change of atmosphere in the room. And the waiter went looking for Security.
What? Do you have to go so soon? But you just got here! I do hope you have everything you need to know about me, and my qualifications to be a Real Housewife of Long Island.
Thank you for your consideration.
This is from a blog post I did in September of 2012, which I filed under emergency room. This is from when still had long hair and was 30 pounds heavier. Yes! I’ve lost 30 pounds in 2014! But that is another story…
As I write this on Thursday May 28, for my Friday May 29 post, I think that what I did to my right knee on the Labor Day weekend of 2012 is what I think I did at the gym on the treadmill when I was closing in on Mile 3 when my iPod (with my Skull Candy headphones) blared a song that I looooooooove on the 80’s Dance Music Shuffle: Dancing By Myself by Billy Idol. I know you remember dancing on the bar to Dancing With Myself in the 1980s.
Well. I had to crank it to 4.6 miles per hour and I actually danced on the treadmill for the 3.23 minutes it takes to body slam to Dancing With Myself. And I felt exhilarated when I hit my three mile mark at 49 minutes flat.
I did not realize, until I limped to my car in the parking lot of L.A. Fitness, that I might have ruptured my quadricep tendon that wow, getting into the driver’s seat is hard when your knee is all swollen and can’t bend.
So, when you read this on Friday May 29 (or Saturday, DoG Knows When in the luscious Antipodes), I might be having surgery to make my knee do its bendy thing.
HOWEVER, my Dear and Darling readers, I have a Flash Back Thursday post that I hope you will enjoy, especially since I finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed two days ago.
Gratitous photo of my mother’s cute cat Samy b/c I think my Dear Readers need something visual at this point.
Yes, I want to say up front, that Wild is a wonderful book and Cheryl Strayed deserves all the accolades she that have been awarded to her. STILL..
…STILL, I must say that, reading her account of the grueling hike she made with a wounded heart in 1995 along the Pacific Creast Trail,that I have known many, too many girls like Cheryl Strayed. She’s pretty. She’s blonde. And even sweaty and filthy, she still manages to find men who will GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to help her on her journey.
Hey. I backpacked plenty in my 20s. I saw how girls like her got thru sticky situations. In fact, all my life I saw how girls like her took for granted the kindness of strangers.
Well. I wrote this back when I was 55 freaking years old, about me and girls like Cheryl Strayed.
Once upon a time, last week, when it was sunny and warm and …
I was running errands in my village, and since I was going out in public I’d pulled on a brown skirt so I’d look presentable (after all, I know people in this town). OK, the skirt had an elastic waistband, and I had my worst-looking pair of sneakers on, and I thought that my sunglasses were dark enough that I wouldn’t have to put on make-up, but really: I thought I was decent enough for my public appearance.
Being out and about in my village means that I have to cross a very busy main street, which always makes me fearful.
Because I’ve learned that you should always assume that Long Island streets are full of Long Island traffic with Long Island drivers who are: (1) busy texting, reading, doing their nails, or in such a goddam hurry that they WILL mow you down (2) OR drunk.
So I practice defensive walking.
I waited at the light, and on the other side on the busy main street I noticed two teenage girls also waiting to cross. They were heartbreakingly lovely: long glossy hair, tall and tanned, wearing short shorts and teeny tops and giggling about something to each other.
The light changed and I began my “Don’t Kill Me I’m Only Trying To Cross The Street” scurry.
I have bad knees, arthritis from all that pogoing to punk bands and various bar fights back in my hey day, and when I scurry across a busy main street I do not lope gracefully. I scurry like the crippled, barnacled, terrified-of-dying pedestrian that I am.
The teenage girls on the other side of the street had not immediately noticed that the light had changed and I was half way across the street before the teenage girls deigned to set foot in the crosswalk, and I met them a few paces into their leisurely stroll across the road.
I had not planned to say anything at all to these girls, but before I knew it this came out of my mouth:
“You better hurry!” I barked at them; “Or you won’t get across the street before the light changes!”
Of course they looked at me with utter incomprehension (and a little bit of fear — who was this crazy lady barking at them in the road???) while not breaking their stride one bit, and continued their slow amble across the road. I, from the safety of the sidewalk on the other side, had to turn back to watch how serenely those girls g-l-i-d-e-d to across the road, safely, even after the light had turned red. And then I started to laugh.
How could I have forgotten?? How could I have forgotten that two heartbreakingly lovely teenage girls in short shorts and teeny tops with gleaming hair and tanned skin KNOW, in every cell of their beings, they KNOW that they never have to hurry to cross a busy street. Because traffic will always, ALWAYS stop — for them.
How could I have forgotten the power that beautiful girls wield?
These beautiful girls will grow up to be the beautiful girl in your college English class who can’t write a sentence — she connects all her phrases with dashes — like this — for pages at a time — which your besotted professor will hail as “epigrammatic” while you will be scolded for beintg “too muzzy”.
They will grow up to be the beautiful co-workers who are allowed to skip a day of work when they call in “tired” (oh yes, this is true), and they will grow up to be the beautiful wife who gets to tear out the gorgeous French Rustic kitchen in the mansion her husband bought for her so she could put in a new French Rustic kitchen because (as one such wife complained to me) “The old one was eleven years old!”
I had to laugh. The only people who have to worry about getting across a busy street in one piece in life is people like me, people who only have good personalities to offer to the world.
And whatthe jell was I was thinking, wearing that brown skirt. It’s like I was just begging to get hit by a bus.
Have a great weekend, all my beautiful outside and in Dear Readers.
I was so proud of myself for getting this blog post done on Thursday, so you Dear Readers would have it on your screens first thing Friday morning. Then it was after lunch time and I had not gotten any Comments yet, which is weird, until I remembered that I’d forgotten to schedule it for publication. Which I just did, at approx. 12:44 Eastern time today, Friday May 22. So so so so sorry.
So now that we all know that this lovely purple-blossomed tree is an Eastern Redbud (thank you, Deborah, janet b., and a quiet life — see: last week’s Comments), many of you, probably none of you, might be wondering why I mistook it for a Paulownia. I’m so glad you asked! Because it gives me the opportunity to show you my photos of
what I think are probably Paulownias!
This is the Boulevard St. Germain in May and yes, that’s
probably a Paulownia in blossom on the right.
Wait. Is it? Doesn’t this look like another (but much prettier) Eastern Redbud?
I am what I dreaded becoming, as a writer of a Damn Garden Book: the kind of person who frets over the identification of trees which that person would never have bothered to notice before she wrote a Damn Garden Book.
I took this picture in May of 2013, when I was in Paris on a garden fact-finding mission. Mind you, I have been in Paris in many previous Mays but on this visit I was looking at the city with gardening eyes. And Lo and Behold, the Ville Lumiere is lousy with purple blossoming things in May.
Aside from Wisteria, and what is probably not a Paulownia on the Bld. St-Germian, I think all the other trees photographed are Paulownias. Sadly, I happen to know a thing or two about Chestnut trees, some of which I am about to tell you now.
In the photo above, the tree in the foreground on the left is a blossoming Horse Chestnut. In the photo of the Boulevard Saint Germain (way above), the tree on the left is a blossoming Red Horse Chestnut, a hybrid of the Horse Chestnut and the Red Buckeye. There are about 100,000 Horse Chestnut trees growing in Paris. *Sigh* You can read all about the Aesculus hippocastanum in my Damn Garden Book. Sounds fun, eh?
To make up for all that tree talk I am giving you this, from an ordinary public park in Paris:
Change of Topic
This May I went to a book event for Bethany Frankel, star of The Real Housewives of New York and author of four self-help books, the latest being I Suck At Relationships So You Don’t Have To.
The event was held at the Bryant Library of Roslyn, Long Island and, as you can see, the room was packed. The reason I went was because I wanted to make myself feel really, really bad by comparing her book event to the fact that the Bryant Library is my local library and they turn me down whenever I propose holding a book event there. And I must say, as far as the fueling of my self-loathing went, Mission Accomplished!
I also wanted to see what helpful hints I could learn about holding a book event that passes Bryant Library muster and all I can say is, it helps to be Bethany Frankel. She is charming, smart, funny,
motor-mouthed articulate, and personable. She was just wonderful. You might not know that she made decent money in her work life for the first time only when she sold her start-up brand — the Skinny Girl line of booze for women — for $100,000,000, when she was 41. One hundred million dollars…when she was 41 (in lady-entrepreneur years, that’s practically dead).
But as she spoke to the room (standing up, even though a comfy chair was standing by for the convenience of her stiletto heeled footsies) there was nothing in her public demeanor or in her response during the Q&A (that went everywhere from her business success to her parenting philosophy to what’s up with Sonja) that broadcasted that she is stinking, filthy rich. Down-to-Earth, is what I’m saying, as a Bryant Library reject whose very best ideas pan out to minimum wage. She was very impressive, is what I’m saying, as a wise person who knows how many Chestnut trees are growing in Paris.
It was while I was burning with resentment…I mean, listening to the delightful Bethany, that I got the happiest thought of my life, what Einstein called der glücklichste Gedanke meines Lebens (when he figured out general relativity in 1907 SEE! I KNOW STUFF!).
If I ever hope to have a shot at filling up the meeting room at the Bryant Library, I have to become a Real Housewife. And that’s when I wrote out a list of my qualifications, fully intending to brighten your Get Away Day with an uproarious post that the critics would call Hilarious! Transgressive! The usual spectacle of existential dread!
But then I got sidetracked with the whole Purple in Paris thing and I know you want to get a head start on the unofficial Start of Summer holiday, so I will not hold you back from your (and, ahem, mine) margueritas any longer. The Housewives of Long Island side-splitter can wait another week.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone.
James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division, killed in action in Normandy, France, on June 16, 1944.
Horrors. This week I broke my favorite tea cup:
Well, truth to tell, I actually “broke” it several months, maybe a year, ago. I chipped it during dish washing:
And just last week it finally decided to start leaking. Woe, woe, woe is I. For now, I’m using my second favorite tea cup:
Speaking of cats…
This is Lickety, giving his brother Taffy a quick spit-and-polish:
But it’s un-cat like to stay awake for long:
Good thing Taffy doesn’t mind sharing his second favorite blankie:
Taffy also doesn’t seem to mind sharing his sofa with his arch enemy, Bibs, the outside cat who, after three years of training has finally learned how to come inside when we hold the back door open for him:
And now for a few pictures of cute tootsies:
That last cat (above) is not mine. She’s not even American. This is a photo of a shop cat that my sister recently sent me from Argentina. What you can’t see is that she is wearing a pink ribbon whilst she poses in a stall in an antiques/thrift market. A pink neck ribbon! How Cuuuuuuuute. My sister sends cat pix from all over the world. And here is where I make another brilliant segue.
I try to stay on top of my emails. Every day I try to delete them as I answer/act on them as they come in, so imagine my surprise when I noticed last week that I had 4,909 emails sitting in my In Box. As I went thru them carefully, I found way too many that had been long buried in the pile-up. One email that I found was dated Oct. 29, 2014, from my sister, the world-roving cat photographer, mentioning that she was going to Kyrgyzstan for a week (she’s an intellectual property/copyright/customs lawyer/consultant specializing in second world countries in addition to being a world-roving cat photographer).
Yes, Kyrgyzstan. And I ever knew anything about it! Which is to say that if you have emailed me in the past 1 1/2 years and I have not responded, please accept my mille pardons. It’s nothing personal! It’s Yahoo Mail screwing with my In Box email scrolls, marking unread emails as “Read”! Really! I answer every single email I get, which is a dandy system as long as I get emails that don’t skip from my In Box right into the “Read” (past tense) file. I am still catching up — and I will respond to all your kind notes.
In other news, this week the cherry blossoms are giving it up to gravity:
While what may or may not be a Paulownia is still in bloom:
The picture of the may-or-may-not tree is from a recent outing to the village of Princeton, New Jersey, where Top Cat and I stopped for lunch two Sundays ago. It seems that there’s a rather beautiful and old university there, and the streets were packed with parents and alumni in town for a tradition that the kids call the Spring Lawn Party.
The various Eating Clubs associated with the university were each hosting a party, on their lawn. You had to be a Princeton student or grad to buy the wristband that lets you roam from lawn party to lawn party.
I never thought that I’d ever say this about 1%ers, but they were all very cute.
Well, despite this post, I must say that my “book-done lifestyle” so far has been ever so busy and interesting. I’m shopping for a new tea cup, I’m catching up on my emails, I’m driving to Princeton for lunch, and I’m meeting up with a Real Housewife of New York.
Oh, did I forget to tell you that?
That’s a longish story that I’ll have to tell you next week. But here’s a sneak preview: Yes! I’m applying to be a Real Housewife of Long Island!
Because I have such an interesting life and all.
All the live-long day.
There was nothing wrong with this picture. But then the gardeners at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London redesigned this bed of pom pom trees last year, and my illustration became too out-dated to use in the Damn Garden Book. The reason I didn’t just bury this pic in my Failure File is because I love the stones. I must have had a good day when I painted this back in 2012, because I love the way I got the stones to look greenish-gray — and I also liked the way the dirt came out. This is very flukey, when the Muse shows up and you get boring bits of stone and dirt to look “right”. So I wanted to save it.
So, yes, this is another Rescue Story. And yeah, it seems to me, too, that I’ve never gotten one illustration for the Damn Garden Book to look right the first time. That’s why I swear that this will be my last illustrated travel memoir-ish. It’s just too depressing to keep failing, day after day after day…I have better things to do. I think. Maybe. Any hoo.
After cutting out the now-historically inaccurate bit, I went to work:
Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:
Instead of fussy pom pom trees, I’m going to put in some decrepitude (see: last week’s post), to make it look the way it did on my first visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, in 1999. Mind you, this manuscript must be completed by today, Friday May 8; and I am painting this on April 23. It’s this kind of perfectionism, which causes one to make ridiculously time-intensive last minute editorial decisions, that makes any kind of creative person with a deadline to become the kind of person that everyone warns is very touchy.
Whilst I am being all Impressionist here, I would like you to pay attention to the stump of pom pom tree, that brown stick on the left hand side of the round shrub that stands out like a turd in bowl of pea soup (see below):
My first idea was to paint over it with very, very dark green blades of dark green weeds, but that looked too obvious. So I painted over that mistake with white acrylic paint:
And then decided to do the same for all the other too-dark green blades of weeds I’d already painted it:
Well, I regretted the fix-up.
So I did the only thing that a very tense, touchy, under-deadline pressured author/illustrator could do:
The picture was too monotonous — too much blades of weedy things sticking straight up. It lacked texture. Also, that ball of boxwood had begun to annoy me. It lacked decrepitude.
And so, with an appropriate amount of cursing, I started over….AGAIN.
Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:
This time, I made very faint pencil marks to plot out TEXTURE:
I made this picture dark so as to show you the faint pencil lines. It’s ugly, but effective. I think that’s pretty much my Philosophy of Illustration in a nutshell.
So far, I’ve been painting for about three hours. I know this because I had not intended to spend all day on this thing, so I’m watching the clock, hope hope hoping that this damn picture WoRKS OUT.
Working wet-in-wet, I drop in some background…
…before I put in the foreground:
When I was 40 years old, I made a conscious decision to change my handwriting.
Ever since I’d learned to write, I had been making a capital “I” that looked like a little round circle. Everybody has some quirk in their handwriting, but this — and the way I made a small “r”(it looked like a pointed stick; Oprah does it too) — had become very irritating to me. So I simply made a New Year’s Resolution and forced myself to change my dopey little curlicue “I” into a tall, slender, stand-alone “I” SANS SERIF, and I began printing a small “r” whenever I needed a Latin rhotic. I also didn’t care for the way I made a small “g”, too, until I learned that my figure-8 small “g” meant that I was very intellectually creative, so I kept it.
I mention this because I am also trying to change my watercolor painting handwriting. I’m trying to be looser, more Impressionistic. So at this stage of the illustration, I was feeling very confident that I was headed for Impressionistic success with this painting:
But, in the end, I saw, clearly, that I blew it:
Not for the first time, did my gut wrench over a Damn Garden Book illustration.
So, You Will NOT BELIEVE What I Did Next!
Yes, I ripped it apart — literally — and STARTED OVER.
Now, this did not happen immediately. I had other obligations — life stuff, and a re-write of the whole London chapter — that I had to pay attention too; and, truth to tell, I was hoping that that last pic would grow on me. But, no, I have too much intellectual honesty and artistic integrity for that.
And, so, five days later, we been again, again:
DONE. I know it’s a mix of persnickety manuscript-illumination and loosey-Roherschadt blots, but it works for me. (That obvious scissor-edge in the dark green front end can be eliminated digitally when the book goes into production, which is OK by me, although I prefer to do it manually, e.g.; I defy you to pick out the scissor edge on the whole right side.)
And I didn’t let the pom pom trees go to waste, either. I put them into their up-dated bed, like so:
I’m DONE. I hand in the complete manuscript today, so from now on in the only fixes I’ll be making on the Damn Garden Book will be inserting (or deleting) commas, accent marks, and redundancies; and not getting annoyed that the proof reader keeps marking my capitalizations of the Four Seasons even tho I sent a note telling her (it’s usually a her) to leave them STET.
And then I am DONE.
DONE DONE DONE DONE.
I’m going to take up a new hobby, and no, it will not be gardening. But, as an offshoot of writing this book, I am thinking about learning the beautiful language of Brazil. Portuguese.
Have a great weekend, everybody. And have a caipirinha on me.