Uncategorized

Darling Readers, before we get to our usual Friday examination of the fascinating details of our extraordinary life on Earth as we know it  (immediately following), I ask you to take a minute to read this. Because attention must be paid.

The world lost one of its greats this past week:

This is El Nino (in mid-yawn). El Nino was dropped off at a shelter in New Jersey about 15 years ago. He was already an adult male, and he had such a big personality, and demanded so much attention, that the staff there named him after a very troublesome weather system. He was funny, smart, happy, and supremely self-confident. He was greatly loved by all, but he didn’t “show well”, so  he remained unadopted week after week.

My sister Buffy was a volunteer at that shelter. She saved the lives of hundreds of homeless kitties and, long story short, she rescued the hard-to-place Nino, and sent him to me, and I cared for him for two or three (four?) years until our other sister Amy, who was living abroad but long last came “home” and met the inimitable El Nino, and she did her magic and miraculously matched this boy with his perfect, soul-to-soul, new-to-cats forever family because of a fabulous person she met in Ukraine (I know!). She insisted that this family adopt Nino; they met him; it was love at first sight.  They kept his name, El Nino, which I always thought was a hoot, as they are Indian-American.

Nobody ever loved a cat more than this family adored El Nino. They were devoted to him. My sisters and I, all cat ladies to the max, have never seen a family more spiritually and emotionally bonded with a cat than Nino’s people. They even published an annual calendar, 12 months of Nino.

Then Nino got old and his health became fragile, and in the past years, they did whatever it took to ensure his comfort — eventually they had to wake up every few hours in the middle of the night to give him his food and meds.

But last week, in the heart of his dear family and surrounded by their undying love, the mighty spirit that was El Nino was gently gathered to the ancestors. The news, from hundreds of miles away, has hit me and my sisters very hard. I am typing this through tears.  I know the loss of Nino devastates his family.

The message that we got from Nino’s people, which was full of their love and reverence,  ended: Please join us in praying for him, may his soul Rest In Peace.

Amen.

Read more

Get your cats and your tea ready:

We are painting today!

No, not this: This is from 2010 when I was painting a page from my book Gardens of Awe and Folly with the help of Coco.

This:

This is a photo from the archives of the New York Times, which sent a photographer to Claude Monet’s house in Giverny in 1922.

In 2012 the New York Botanical garden photoshopped the “unidentified person” next to Monet out of the pic and colorized it for a show there, in which Monet’s garden at Giverny was re-created in one of the hot houses (I thought it was an odd show) :

FYI: Monet preferred fawn-colored tweeds for his suits.

I always paint from photo references, and usually I only use my own photos. . . but I’ve been known to borrow pix from other sources (Hi Jeanie! Hi Elizabeth!), and this photo of Monet at age 82 on his Japanese bridge is irresistible, don’t you think? P.S.: I used the black and white photo for my paintings. The colorized one is not helpful.

I gave it a go way back in 2012:

Way back in 2012 I was still getting used to painting “large” pictures (as a miniaturist, my preferred format is about one-eight this scale) so no wonder the pic stinks.

Last year, after painting many “murals” for my garden book (5 inches x 7 inches is about the maximum size I can go), I had another try:

This painting is ripe for a rescue.

The smartest thing I did, when I re-painted this pic in 2012, was to leave a bit of blue sky in the top right corner. It’s not there in the reference photograph from 1922. I made an edit. I like it better with a bit of sky.

I have to rescue this pic two ways: I have to make it not stink, and I have to make it fit a square format. Lately I’ve been playing around with breaking my pictures out of a rectangular format, and playing with Monet’s own style. . . and that’s what I decided to do with this picture. I decided to leave the top bit intact (but make it better with added color and shading), and to expand the bottom, watery bit, but do it to look like this:

Sorry: I forgot that I do watercolor tutorials on my blog so I’ve already re-painted the top section and glued in a new bottom bit, and here is where we pick up this rescue:

Let me tell you, it was not easy to figure out how to add width and length to the bottom part of this pic. I thought I was good at piecing things together, but this one was harder than it looked. After fiddling around for about an hour, I got it right. . . this is what it looks like from the back:

The first order of business is to camouflage the hard edges. The good news is that there are reeds on either side of Monet’s Japanese bridge in his water garden at Giverny:

Spoiler alert: I know YOU see it now, but I will not notice that the sides of this rescue are uneven until the very end and I will have a mini-crisis because of it.

If you examine Monet’s paint surface closely, you will see that he uses short, dabbly brushstrokes:

I actually find Monet’s brushstrokes to be a bit wimpy. He is not very daring with his use of paint. COLOR, oui; paint, non.

I can see that Monet paints his lily pads blue, and the water green: Weird, huh? I can also see where Monet puts his light dabs of paint towards the center of the scene and his dark dabs of paint towards the edges, so I am trying to copy his color placement as best I can but, really, I don’t know what I’m doing and am just guessing, starting with dark green and switching to medium green:

Dashing in dabs of blue:

Finishing with lightest green:

The only advantage that watercolor has over oil paint is that watercolorists can use the whiteness of the paper to add sparkle to the painted surface. I am not trying to cover every bit of paper when I dab because leaving “blank” areas will only improve the faux-impressionist look I am going for.

When painting the reflections of the reed (or the willows) in the “water”, I use broken lines:

I also make sure that I place the darkest “reflections” correctly before I paint in the rest of the bits:

Here is where it occurred to me that I must show you a very handy painting tip: I keep my pre-painted picture safe from spills and dropped brushes loaded with paint  (it happens all the time) by inserting it into one of those plastic sheet protectors that you can get at Staples:

This is pretty close to how I set up my work space:

You can see that I am using my teeny tiny Winsor Newton paint set along with a few of my cheap-o Grumbacher chalky paints for this picture (tea bag included for size ref). And that’s it! It doesn’t take much equipment to paint your heart out!

Back to the rescue: now that I have come to the foreground of this picture, I have a decision to make about the size of the brushstrokes I’ll be using in this area. As a miniaturist, I’m happy using itty bitty strokes with a 00-size brush for the back and middle-ground of this picture. But it seems to me that the length of the strokes should increase as the picture comes “closer” to the viewer. I am not happy doing long brushstrokes with a bigger brush, so I did some practice bits before I committed paint to paper (I would hate to screw this up at this stage of the rescue):

OK, I think I can live with the longer strokes. So now that I have a plan, I go back to the right edge of the picture (because I am left-handed, my pictures usually start on the right side and work towards the left) and fiddle with the last bits of the pond surface. I have differed from the Monet painting which I am using as my guide in that I made a large area of the pond surface blue, rather than paint it in as green, just because I like the blue. I have to admit that, having painted in this nice pool of blue water, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it in a way that makes sense visually. I am hoping for the best as I lay in the dark reeds’ reflection:

Another thing that I do, just because I like to, is that I “ripple” the surface of the water:

To do this, all you have to do is take a brush loaded with clear, clear water and swipe it back and forth across a painted surface, which picks up the pigment like an eraser (remember to wipe the brush off on a paper towel before you re-load it with clear, clean water for a second swipe).

Now I use my huge (ha ha, that’s a joke: it’s a size 1) brush to make those long strokes I practiced:

I think I painted that area too dark:

So I let it dry and then I use bright white acrylic paint to dab over the dark bits:

Looking at it now, I think I could have left that area alone — the dark bit doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was in the throes of hoping not to ruin the picture when I was so close to the finish, but what can I say? I panicked.

I dash in some blue paint and look at those ENORMOUS brush strokes!:

For this last bit, I go easy on the vertical reflections (I use very watery paint and I don’t do much detail):

The last thing I have to paint are those damn water lilies. You can see that Monet put a lot of white/pink flowers in his picture:

I don’t want to do as many because although Monet can get away with it, I think that all those flowers in my picture would look cheesy. All you do is dab on some solid blobs of bright white acrylic paint over the watercolor:

Highlight the acrylic with hot pink, leaving at least half the lily in white :

DONE:

When ruling out the picture for the crop, I realize that OMG OMG OMG I measured the scene incorrectly:

Whew. Thank DoG I had barely enough of a margin to go back and fix it!

And this is how this illustration will look on the page:

 

The next time you see this picture I hope it’s in a book about Monet’s garden.

This biography of Stevie Nicks (who needs no introduction) is not an authorized biography, so it has no contact with Stevie’s inner life — but it is excellent when it deals with her work life. The author, Stephen Davis, is a veteran rock journalist so he knows his way around a recording studio and the way in which songwriters cobble together their hits, and I was fascinated to read about the process Stevie went through whenever she had to come up with material for a Fleetwood Mac or a solo album.

Stevie hoarded all her song ideas for years and decades, in notebooks and on cassette tapes, all her bits and pieces — a title, a riff, half a verse, a whole song that never quite gelled — and this is where she started whenever she had to come up with new material. She rifled through her old journals and cassettes and looked for bits of gold dust. I loved reading this because that’s what I do! I never throw anything out!

A few weeks ago I showed you how I re-cycled bits of failed paintings (which I had kept in my Reject File for about three years) into a rescue:

I only wish that I had a producer on hand to direct me on how to spiff-up my pix: Stevie, on the other hand, had access to the best and she was very shrewd when she picked her collaborators and her producers. Producers can be crucial: one will hear something in a song fragment or idea that had been languishing for years, and he can turn into something powerful, something that Stevie would never have thought of on her own.

Edge of Seventeen, for example, is a song that was just a little pop ditty until producer Jimmy Iovine put a stinging Waddy Wachtel guitar riff on it.

Speaking of seventeen:

We must salute the awesomeness of the teenage students of Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School. You can visit the school’s website for tips on how you can support the political action of these amazing kids, or you can to to their  GoFundMe page,  or you can open up a can of whoop-ass and vote to defeat every sniveling, corrupt, crazy, and gutless psycho NRA-loving son of a bitch politician in 2018.

Stay sane this weekend, everyone. I know it’s hard: the NRA idiots are out already, claiming that the latest school shooting is another Sandy Hook hoax. But stay strong. We need you to not let these morons drive you crazy so we can get out and Vote Them Out.

XXOO

Read more

What can I say? It’s the middle of Winter and my ass is dragging. If you are reading this it’s because I haven’t posted this week’s scintillating content yet BUT IT’S COMING.

All I need is another cup of tea and some more toast and I’ll be good to go with the typing and the telling and the  enlightening.

And when I get go-going, I will explain this:

No, this is not another work of art by a human being with stellar arts world credentials. This is the work of an arts collective known as “my cats.” The story will make you go-go Awwwwwwww.

In the meantime, get up and do a happy dance! It’s Friday! (We love you always, George Michael.)

 

Read more

 Wednesday night, the night before the Winter cyclone hit the northeastern United States, I set out your first  Champagne-O-Meter of 2018  to record all the nastiness that this blizzard could dump on Yours Truly.

Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

The REAL snow started falling around dawn (7:19 am), so that by 8 o’clock visibility was lousy:

9:30 am:

(Then I was painting and forgot about the storm for a blessed two hours.)

11:30 am:

The snow was pretty much over by 2 o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t rise any higher than this (above) and I was busy shoveling and being miserable so I didn’t take follow up pix (sorry).

Here is the cause of all my misery today:

If you remember (from last week), I had installed Steve, our three-year old outdoor cat, into a spiffy straw nest under the holly tree by our front stoop. WELL. There have been big developments in the Steve Situation this week.  Thanks to the ingeniousness of my husband, the dear sweet Top Cat, Steve now has a specially-made, extra-strength outdoor kitty HEATING PAD in his nest:

Now, this is not my preferred Steve Situation. I would prefer it if Steve would come inside, but I’ve been trying to coax him all year and he has NO interest in becoming a house cat.

My second choice would be for him to install himself in his cubby in our garage, like he did last year; I’ve put all new straw into his cubby so that he could hunker down in a toasty cocoon, if he chose.

Here’s Taffy, who is clearly the smartest cat in the herd, using Steve’s cubby on Tuesday night:

Oh, I wish Steve would crawl into this space and let me have a good’s night’s sleep, knowing that he was warm on these bitter cold nights. But so far this year, he has not gone near the garage.

So, last weekend, making the best of a bad Steve Situation, I got busy making him a new cubby. I used the top of an enclosed kitty litter tray, cardboard, and one of those space-age mylar/aluminum thermal insulation blankets that I bought at REI:

I cut cardboard inserts that fit the kitty litter tray lid, and I wrapped them in the thermal blankets:

I put this awesome contraption on top of the heating pad and, to lure Steve back into this new, improved Steve Situation, I tossed in some of his favorite treats:

It was a bitter cold 10 degrees out there, and when I put my hand inside to refill the treats, the inside of this new, improved Steve Situation felt sooooo warm!! And Steve was happy to step inside this new, improved Steve Situation to eat the treats, and then he was happy to make a quick exit.

Over and over, I threw in Steve’s favorite treats, and over and over Steve refused to spend any quality time curled up inside. We played this game over the course of seven hours but I could not get Steve to not freak out about being enclosed in this new, improved Steve Situation, so finally I had to remove the new cubby. For my own peace of mind, however, I put up  pieces of  plexiglass that I hoped would protect him from the on coming Winter cyclone, and Steve was content with that:

On Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

This was before the wind became really fierce and before the snow started to fall like crazy and Steve’s Situation became complete covered in snow. I gave Steve his breakfast, and I shoveled the front stoop, but Steve abandoned the nest shortly after 9 o’clock. I shoveled a path through a foot of snow from the front stoop to the garage, and I kept it clear all day with repeated shovelings and I’ve been calling him all day, but I haven’t seen Steve.

At 4 o’clock, I removed the entire nest. That is, I cleared out all the old straw (there was a LOT of it)  and I took the wet fleece cover off the heating pad. I laid down a LOT of all new, clean, dry straw (I buy it by the bale each Fall) and I covered up the heating pad with straw, too. So the nest is nice and warm again. But no Steve.

I am heartbroken, but all I can do is wait, and hope that Steve comes back home.

But let’s take our minds off the Steve Situation and let’s paint something. There is a view of Claude Monet’s famous Japanese bridge in his water garden in Giverny, France that I really, really hate:

I really hate having to paint this bridge. I don’t like doing structures, and I don’t much like having to paint wisteria — it’ such a persnickety flower. And, as you can see, I’ve already given it a few tries, with little success. But, since I’m doing a book about Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, the wisteria-covered Japanese bridge must be painted.

So, in this forth attempt, I changed format a bit to put the bridge off-center and to include some background context for added interest. I like to start with the hardest part of a painting as a way of cutting my losses if it doesn’t turn out well, so that’s why I had the background almost completely finished before I started to do the wisteria:

I wanted to have “fun” with the flowers here, and get some groovy purple-blue bleeds going on:

I also had fun doing that deep background bit that you at the very end of the Japanese bridge. But at this stage, the wisteria didn’t look right to me — the shape of the blossoms wasn’t right:

Time for a famous Vivian Swift rescue.

First, I painted a small bunch of wisteria and cut it out:

Then I check to see if it fits the scene:

Then I glued it in place:

Next, on my third attempt, I came up with a larger piece that had interesting bleeds:

Now for the annoying bits. The vines:

The “superstructure” — the supports of the canopy over the bridge:

The annoying fiddly bits of railing:

I wish I could leave it just like this:

But no, I can’t leave it like this. I will have to paint the walkway of the bridge. Even worse, I’ll have to paint it as it would look on a sunny day, which means I’ll have to paint the shadows of the railings.

I don’t mind shadows. See page 28 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The problem I have with these shadows on Monet’s famous Japanese bridge is the photographs that I am using for reference for this picture.

First, there’s this photo that I took when I was in Giverny in December of 2015:

I’m also using a photo of the bridge that I took in early May of 2013:

As you see, in both instances the sun was not making an appearance. I have no idea what this view look like on a sunny day!

But part of my job as an illustrator is to use my imagination, nest-ce pas?

Tune in next Friday to see how — if — I pull this off.

Until then, I will keep this post open for updates on the Steve Situation and, if he makes me the happiest cat lady on Long Island by making a re-appearance, I will IMMEDIATELY let you all know.

Please, Steve. I’ve left the porch light on. Please come home.

7:37 pm, Friday night: STEVE IS HOME!!!

It’s been about 30 hours since I last saw Steve, and temperatures have been frigid. I have been calling for him day and night, and today I even waded into knee-deep snow to hunt for Steve’s body underneath the shrubs that border our property. I feared the worst.

Tonight, Top Cat and I had just finished dinner and I was going to start washing up but the thought passed through my mind that if Steve is Out There, he probably hasn’t eaten in a day; I should put out a fresh food. So I filled a bowl with kibble, opened the front door…

….AND THERE WAS STEVE, HOLLERING AT ME FOR BEING LATE WITH THE GRUB!!! As if nothing had happened. Mind you, I had called for him earlier, at 5 o’clock (normal diner time), and at 6…BUT HERE IS !!!

He’s still eating his first bowl of food, with a side of fresh water. I OF COURSE will stay close and see if he needs more. His heating pad has been on since dusk, at 5 o’clock, so if he stays the night he can curl up in his nest and all will be forgiven.

OMG OMG OMG. I cannot tell you how relieved I am — I have been morose and scared and depressed since he lest on Thursday morning. Thank you, Universe, for bringing STEVE HOME!!!

Read more

My big sore nose still hurts. Not a lot, but enough to make me whiney and cranky. And then I was pulling out of my gym one morning last week and saw this:

According to a woman who was one car and two minutes ahead of me, the Lexus SUV didn’t stop to let the truck make the curve; the Lexus SUV driver saw the big truck turning towards her, but she just blew on her horn and rammed right into the undercarriage of the 18-wheeler. This is not unusual for Long Island Lexus people. Long Island Lexus people think they own the streets. However, I never thought that one would be stupid enough to play chicken with an 18-wheeler…but I guess I was wrong.

So that was one consolation for my nose woes: at least there was one other person who was having a worse day than I, and oh how sweet that it was a Lexus person!!

And then it rained for two days; and then we had a house guest for two days; and then we were really tired from having a house guest for two days, and then OMG it has been beastly cold here on the north shore of Long Island this past week. So, No, we have not trekked out to our favorite beach on the north shore of Long Island yet this new year to glorify our drinking habits with a fancy Solstice theme, so, No, I don’t have any pictures of the sun set to show you.

But I can offer you a photo of the Breakfast Club at my house:

That’s my neighbor’s cat, Dennis, second from the left (above). The rest are all mine. I’m rich with cats.

It’s been so cold this week (20 degrees F) that I was fretting about my outdoor cat, Steve. So today I added two wind break/walls to Steve’s little nest under the holly tree by my front stoop, and I piled up lots of additional new straw so that when he steps into his nest, he sinks up to the tippy-top of his ear-tips into a nasty-hamock of cosy, insulated, all-natural fibers:

He seems happy here, and he’s got a cubby in the garage in case he ever wanted to curl up inside an insulated kitty house. But it still doesn’t seem right for a kitty to spend his days and dark, freezing nights outside, but Steve resists all my attempts to lure him indoors so I fret. Yes, I do. I fret.

I also fret about my “job”, which is to paint Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France. This (below) is the scene I want to paint, a part of Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France, called The Ladies’ Circle:

These photos are from my 2013 visit to the garden (not my 2015 visit), in May when the cherry trees were in bloom:

No wonder Monet never painted this part of the garden, and no wonder that I have never seen this part of the garden photographed for any of those grand coffee table books about the garden:

This part of Monet’s garden is impossible to portray as picturesque. It’s partly because of the lay of the land — a lawn bordered by flower beds on the sloping terrain — and partly because that huge Paulownia tree (which has a very ungraceful trunk):

I have tried, and tried, and tried agains and again, and failed each time, to paint this place as a Spring scene, so my new strategy has been to try to paint it in Summer, when the tree’s ungainliness will be partly hidden by foliage. I also changed my point of view.

The most crucial part of this painting is the background, which must indicate abundance and frothy greenery without getting specific. On my FOURTH try, I got this:

Ideally, the background blobs should sound something like a cool pop song from the olden days. Kind of glamorous, like Petula Clarke singing “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling”. Or, from the ’80s: Everything But The Girl doing “Miss You”. Know what I mean?

My favorite way to create a background that doesn’t overwhelm the picture with information, yet still creates a bit of interest, is to let the watercolor bleed into thought-provoking shapes:

I just realized that my preferred background music (see above) is a sad song about rain. I might be kind of depressed.

That damn Paulownia tree is just too quirky for my tastes, but I have to report it as faithfully as I can since this is for a picture book about Monet’s garden. I just can’t re-invent the bits I don’t like:

I’m hoping that the right crop will bring this pic to life:

OK, painting the flowers was fun:

And then I painted in a little, but necessary, tree and ruined the pic. Still, it was one of the least crappy pictures I’ve painted of this impossible view:

Lower right, that’s how the wrong little tree ruined the pic.

So far, all my attempts at panting this maddening Ladies’ Circle look like this:

But I’m a Capricorn. I’m scrappy. I’m determined. I’m conceited, distrusting, and unimaginative (according to any Air, Water, or Fire sign). Capricorns are not cuddly people.

This pissant Ladies’ Circle will not defeat me.

I’m good for ONE MORE TRY.

Done. Maybe. But maybe not.

On second thought, definitely not. Which comes as a surprise to me, since I only loaded up all these pix because I thought I’d got it, finally. So this is an unexpected twist to today’s blog. I hate when that happens.

I had a short discussion the other day, with Top Cat, about New Year’s Resolutions for 2018.  TC doesn’t want to make any, and that’s fine; we usually don’t bother. But we were very stick-in-the-muddish this year and we want to travel more in 2018 so we sat in silence, each of us trying to think of a place we really wanted to go to. Then we had a few more glasses of wine and I got a brilliant idea about what I should do with my life, and I jotted it down, and the next day I checked my scribbles and the message I had for myself for what to do in 2018 was this:

Hang out with owls.

Yeah. I’m going to see if I can make that happen.

Happy New Year to all you Dear Readers, whether it’s a Summer eve or a Winter one — I hope it’s the first day of a spectacular year, feathers and all.

P.S. I think I’m going to take one more stab at the Ladies’ Circle. Any suggestions?

Read more

There used to be a blog post here, that had a picture of Taffy being passive aggressive with Bibs:

And how I successfully froze a small quantity of Vouvray while speculating on the pros and cons of drinking wine fro breakfast:

And how Top Cat and I are heading out into the wilds of Long Island to search for a paintable Fall leaf:

But then it disappeared and I apologize to the Commentors who were kind enough to leave a thought or two, and to all you Dear Readers who are wondering why there is not new news from VivianWorld this week . . .

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was 101 years, 4 months, and 26 days old when she died in 2002, a fact that was relevant to the blog post that the internet ate here.

. . . but I do not have the energy or the memory to re-create the Blog Post That Went Away.

 

Let’s meet back here on Friday and bring your watercolors and your patience. We’re going to watch paint dry!

Read more

October 1, last Sunday, was a day that I’d been looking forward to since July, when Top Cat got us the tickets to see my long-time main Number One Rock and Roll crush, Paul Weller, who was opening his North American tour right here on the beautiful North Shore of Long Island:

Ah, what can I say about Paul Weller that you don’t already know? The Daily Telegraph explains: “Apart from David Bowie, it’s hard to think of any British solo artist who’s had as varied, long-lasting, and determinedly forward-looking a career.” Paul Weller is touring in support of his 25th studio album, called A Kind Revolution.

How much do I love Paul Weller? In my 40s, I flew to London for a weekend just to see his two shows at the Royal Albert Hall, back when I was a freelance journalist and pretty much broke all the time; I jumped onstage during the encore and danced, which made blowing my entire monthly budget totally worth it.

For this show on the beautiful Sunday evening in 2017, Top Cat had paid extra $$ for seats in the civilized section on the mezzanine but I chose to stand in the pit for two hours, right in front of the stage, where I could feast my eyes and ears upon my alternate universe third husband, at such an awkward angle that the pain in the neck still ached four days later. Totally Worth It. It was a fabulous concert.

When Paul banged out the first chords of My Ever-changing Moods, I heard a guy next to me exclaim to his girlfriend that he’s never heard Paul do that in concert so I yelled to him, “Me neither! And I’ve seen him 9 times!!” The guy gave me a high five and we both were as giddy as teenagers as Paul laid into a song that means the best time in my life in the 1980s to me:

Daylight turns to moonlight, and I’m at my best

Praising the way it all works, and gazing upon the rest

I used to wonder when I would stop hanging out in grungy concert halls, when I’d refrain from jumping up and down in the mosh pit when the band played my favorite song, or at what age I would desist in screaming for More! More! More! Well, the time for me to stop having fun wasn’t last Sunday.

The most hilarious moment in the Weller experience came early, when Top Cat and I were entering the building on the way to the concert hall. We had to pass through metal detectors, which I thought was a bit ridiculously gangsta for a venue that holds about 2500 people, for a show where the average age of the concert-goers was 55. The really funny part came when Top Cat was held up by Security, and a guy with metal detecting wand was quizzing my dear sweet husband over the Swiss Army knife in his pocket. I tried to get a souvenir photo of my trouble-making  Top Cat with his arms and legs spread eagle, but I wasn’t quite fast enough. All I got was a snap of Top Cat getting the All Clear:

So we gained entry, the concert happened, and we left at 11:30 with our ears ringing the way they do after you abuse them with music played at the same decibels level as a jet engine. It was late when we went to bed, righteously exhausted, so we did not hear the news about the shooting at a Las Vegas concert until the next morning.

I don’t know who Jason Aldean, the headliner at that festival in Las Vegas, is, but I’ve read that he’s a Country singer with a slew of Number One hits, with lots of fans who, like me on Sunday October 1, had been looking forward to this special night for a long while, who were dancing their hearts out and singing along with their favorite songs, and who were pretty stinking happy to be with a whole lot of other people who liked the same kind of good time.

They say that the shooter doesn’t fit the profile of a mass murderer. They say that because the shooter was a rich white guy the same age as my Top Cat. I wish the security at the Mandalay was as suspicious of older white guys as they were on the north shore of Long Island.

A mouthpiece for the the Fox News/Far Right said that, in America, going to a concert means you must assume the risk of ending up as one of 58 dead or 489 wounded because “that’s the price of freedom“.

We can bloviate all we want, but we all know that nothing will change. We all know that this is the America we live in now.

After all these years, there is nothing left to say.

The 58 souls we lost in Las Vegas deserve better, but so did all the other hundreds who have lost their lives going to college, going to elementary school, going to high school, going out dancing, going to work, because that’s the price of freedom.

Virginia Tech

Sandy Hook   

Pulse Nightclub

Fort Hood

San Bernardino

Columbine

————-

This is not the post that I wanted to write this week. When we get together, you and me, Dear Readers, every Friday, I like our time together to be about the grandeur that is every day life, the small, stand alone moments that literature pretends doesn’t take up 99% of being alive: doing laundry, crossing off items on the daily To Do List, running to get the camera because the cats are doing something really cute, going through the mail, watching the clock until it’s 5 o’clock and you can pour a glass of wine without feeling like you’re a degenerate, trying to find something to wear that makes you look 5 pounds thinner, making tea, looking out the window, wishing you were in London, thinking about 5 o’clock, etc.

So please join me for a rare mid-week post on Wednesday, October 11, so we can catch up on the mountainous molehills that I had planned on writing about. There will be cats.

Have a safe weekend, everyone.

xoxo

 

Read more

Seven seconds is how long I have to convince the average reader to not toss my book aside with disgust and a sigh of boredom.  If a writer does not capture a reader’s attention within seven seconds (it’s been studied by a panel of scientific experts) then that reader will . . . Hey! Where are you going?! Come back here!! 

Dear Patient Readers, I have been working on an itty bitty book about the wonderful flower garden in France that was lovingly designed and tended to by the painter Claude Monet and I’ve given it a rather catchy and sexy title that is sure to grab eyeballs:

Still with me?

My original idea for this illustrated tour of Monet’s garden in Giverny was to keep the book almost wordless, limiting text to one page, and garnishing the rest of the book with three or four quotes from the great Monet himself.

My agent told me that she loved being immersed in the way that I re-created Monet’s world in 65 watercolors, but she wished I would include a few more bons mots from Monsieur Monet. No problem, I said; until I started to dig deeper into the Wit and Wisdom of Claude Monet.

I am an unimaginative, intellectually plodding, highly persnickety Capricorn. That means that I am compulsive about locating all of the stuff that Monet is reported to have said about his flowers and his gardening in the original French, just to make sure that he really said the stuff he is supposed to have said, and that the stuff he really said has been translated by other people the way he really said it.

If only I were a Pisces, I would not be tracking down obscure art journals from 1927 (the fabled July issue of La Revue de l’art ancient et moderne) or wishing evil things unto the authors of the lousy footnotes in most of the best known English language biographies of The Prince of the Impressionists.

You watched me do these irises for the book back in May, when this used to be a blog all about watching paint dry.

I am very nearly finished with my digging — I am still awaiting the arrival of the last book from France that I hope I will have to buy for this project — but I can state with 100% certainty that Monet never said: Yes, I like to run naked through my flower beds at dusk but I keep my boots on because some of those posies have thorns.

To keep my spirits in the spirit of Monet’s garden I have this package of wonderfulness, every day delivering a sweet reminder of the most famous garden in the world:

This desk calendar is a perpetual calendar, delivering one delicious flower from Monet’s garden each day forever. Ariane Cauderlier, the photographer, owns the fabulous L’Hermitage B&B in Giverny:


Ariane knows the Monet gardens — the flower garden and the water garden that includes the famous Japanese bridge and water lilies — as only a daily visitor and next-door neighbor can, and she is authorized by the Foundation Claude Monet to give tours of the gardens, which she does in several languages. You can keep up with all the latest happenings in Monet’s World through Ariane’s beautifully photographed blog here. 

Next week I will tell you how to get this calendar for yourself and everyone you know, sent to you straight from Monet’s garden (it’s not sold anywhere but Giverny), but today Ariane has given me some hot hot hot news from Monet’s garden that you will only read about here! On my blog!

Exclusive: Monet’s garden has a new official cat!

The live-in head gardener and his wife are cat lovers, and lucky visitors to the Clos Normand (the flower garden that surrounds Monet’s house) might have, in days past, caught a glimpse of a tuxedo tabby cat sitting in the open upstairs window, or strolling the garden paths once the gates have closed and the tourists are gone. But as we all know, kitties get old and retire to that great lily pond in the sky. But as we feel sad for the old Cat of Giverny, Long Live the New Cat of Giverny!

And here he is:

He is called Nougat.

Nougat, in its non-cat form.

He is cute! And you’ll only see him here! Ariane says that this is the best photo she’s been able to get because, as you can imagine, he’s a young cat and still familiarizing himself with his estate so he’s much too busy to pose for pictures.

My cats, on the other hand, are never busy, never ever never. And I have to tell you, I’m getting concerned about Lickety. . .

. . . whose sleeping habits have recently revealed a strange change to his personality:


Lickety usually likes to find the fluffiest blankie or pillow in the house and hunker down for ten hours a day. But lately, I’ve found him dozing in spots where I have never before seen him supine, in places where I would not expect to find a comfort-loving cat. Even when I put his favorite towel down in one of his new locations, he refuses to use it:

Then again, what can I expect, when his mother does things like this:

Seen from my upstairs bathroom window.

That’s Lickety’s mama, Candy, sleeping on the roof of the shed next to our garage. It’s her preferred napping perch. So it runs in the family.

OK, for my final seven seconds I want to leave you with a recommendation for a good way for you to not waste your precious hours of life when you could be drinking wine by reading something that stinks. I came across an interesting-sounding book via a mention in the New York Times, by an English food writer I have never heard of: Patience Gray. She became a cult figure, according to the Times, in 1986 with the publication of her book called Honey From a Weed. The Times called this book “An artful combination of memories, recipes, and traveler’s tales”.  It’s also illustrated. This is right up my alley!

Hoping to steal something good from Patience Gray for my next book [which refuses to write itself, no matter how long I wait and wait], I checked the book out on Amazon.com.

Here is the book’s first sentence:

In the last twenty years I have shared the fortunes of a stone carver and during that time, working in silver and gold, have become a craftsman myself.

I have a hard time understanding this sentence. Not only is it grammatically awkward, it lacks musicality — it’s missing a few syllables in its flow. And — yawn — stone carving and crafting. I think I’m bored already but as this writer and this book come very highly recommended, I soldier on until, five sentences later, I hit this:

The Sculptor’s appetite for marble precipitated us out of modern life into the company of marble artisans and wine-growers in Carrara and into an isolated community of “Bronze Age” farmers on Naxos.

“…precipitated us out of modern life”??

I have already spent a good 20 seconds sussing out this Honey From a Weed (BTW, about the title: Ew) and I regret every nano-second.

Nope.

Life is short. And wine is long.

So is my hair:

 

This is me, last week (it’s still pretending it’s Summer out here on Long Island) holding the biggest bunch of celery I have ever seen. I need a haircut.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers, and may you find eternity in every moment of your day.

Read more

So, the other day I’m reading my agent’s blog, in which she is venting about the weird query letters she’s been getting lately.

images-1

A query letter is the short cover letter you send to a literary agent to give that important gate-keeper of the literary world an idea of what you and your book are about. The purpose of a query letter is to entice that agent into reading the sample chapter you have enclosed, thereby captivating that agent with your skill and charm as a writer, which will lead to either a request for the full manuscript or, as happened in my case, skipping straight to the contract which authorizes your new agent to sell your book proposal to a publisher thereby making you an AUTHOR.

So, you can see that writing a good query letter is a very big deal. It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. But some people are either too naive, too egotistic, or too crazy to do it right.

It also helps if you send a query letter regarding your sic-fi thriller to an agent who does not, say, deal exclusively with cook books. DO YOUR RESEARCH, in other words. And never start your query letter with a statement about how your book is the next Eat, Pray, Love. Agents are really tired of that pitch.

So, any way, that’s what my agent, Betsy Lerner, was complaining about.

One of the Commenters to her post responded:

What about those who cannot write a query letter? . . .  what about all the little people/ big writers who can’t? How do we take care of them? How do we take care of our writers?

And that’s when I lost it. I wrote back:

“How do we take care of our writers?” 

WTF?

Who cares about WRITERS??? We — who ever “we” are — need to take care of our doctors, nurses, environmentalists, veterinarians, watchdogs and whistle-blowers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, physicists, soldiers, scientists, engineers, civil rights lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, sanitation workers — even the lowest-level topologist is worth more to society than a WRITER.

The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?

Yeah, I was so annoyed that I forgot to capitalize the “I” in that last sentence.

A third party who took offense to my Comment wrote back:

Your “relatively pointless luxury item in the culture” has made my life so much more interesting and worthwhile, beginning with those Raggedy Ann and Andy books I taught myself to read at age five. And all of those workers you list would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

Oh, where to begin listing all the things that are wrong with this? I did my best to keep it short:

Jesus. How much more patronizing can you get?

How much you want to bet that the majority of those sad workers with their sad lives don’t even bother to read? They are far too busy with their own stories, the ones they are living and telling each other when they get together for drinks after work. I’m sure they are as happy, or as minimally miserable as the rest of us, without knowing a single writer or giving a crap about The Girl on the Train.

I am not one of those writers who thinks that I possess a gift, or an acute humanity, or the delicate nerve endings of a seer and poet, or a certain specialness for which the world owes me readers and recognition. Or maybe I do, but my Capricorny sense of reality prevents me from ever whining about how the world, and persnickety literary agents, are too mean and snotty to appreciate my self-evident genius.

And, after investing a few hours reading half of Gone Girl before I figured out that I did not want to squander any more time of my one and only life with make-believe people who I really detested, I knew I could live a happy life without ever cracking The Girl on the Train. Fiction sucks.

But you don’t have to be me to see how incredibly pompous it is to claim that all the physicists and firefighters in the world would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

I for one would not want to read anything written by a writer who had that kind of attitude towards her readers. Would you?  Please discuss.

In other news, we here on Long Island got our first snowfall last night (Sunday, Dec. 11) and I have not caught you up on the Fall leaves in my backyard. Here’s a pic of the difference between Taffy (on the left) and our newest backyard boy, Dennis (on the right):

p1090606

Top Cat has put away all the patio furniture except for one chair, for obvious reasons:

p1090581

Dennis also has full use of the old rabbit hutch that we converted into a kitty condo (down sleeping bags on the walls and floor, straw for extra insulation):
p1090489

p1090490

And our prodigal Candy, who came back after disappearing on a six-week walk-about on Nov. 18, still has not ventured beyond the kitchen but she has let me give her a nice soft baby blanket to make her nap times more cozy:

p1090612

P.S. I have not washed the kitchen floor since Candy’s come home because she’s still a bit anxious and flighty and any kind of bustle makes her freak out, and also because I really don’t want to wash to kitchen floor any way.

Read more