May 2017

I might as well live on the North Slope. Or Ultima Thule. Or Westeros. It’s cold here on Long Island and Yours Truly is not one bit pleased, not one little bit. Today is the sixth day in a row of rain:

You can’t see it, but those watery icicles on the edge of the table are dripping as if the cruel goddess of Crappy Springs is dumping an infinite ice bucket of Liquid Depression from on high. I’m not into this at all.

And it’s so cold that Steve is back to spending his days in his Winter nest half-way under the bush/all the way under the eaves by the front porch:

Here’s a close up because I know you want more of Steve-o:

I had to put my electric blankie back on the bed. I’ve had to don the dreaded Winter fleece once again. And I’ve been eyeing the vodka almost non-stop since 11 AM.

I would love to complain all day but we have a blog to do. So let us get to the topic of the day: Obituaries and How To Write Them and then we can declare it Happy Hour.

Let us start this without backstory (for now) so you can read this obit clean, like. Let’s pretend that you are opening your October 8, 2014 New York Times newspaper to the obits pages:

 

There’s only one photo in the paid portion of the obits, and it draws your attention immediately. You read:

Yes, that’s the obit I wrote (except for the bit “in acceptance of the inevitable” in the first first sentence and the entire last sentence, which were written by my sister Buffy, who also edited the obit for length). Rolly didn’t have children, so that’s why I was tasked with giving the last word about the family’s favorite relative.

As you can read, I did not use Rolly’s obit as an excuse for every related schmo’s to get their name in print. I object to having to read lists of names of survivors in an obit, particularly the grandchildren (the boring Caitlyns, Kaylas, Taylors, Tylers, Madisons etc), who should earn their place in the New York Times by dying, same as everyone else. I wrote this obit to be all about Rolly, not about is survivors.

Re-reading this for the first time in two and a half years I can spot some clunky writing that I would love to edit (adding one transition and cutting out two adjectives) but for the most part, I’m happy with it.

P.S. This obit cost about $5,000. The Times is not cheap.

Here is what I believe when it comes to writing obits:

1. I believe that obits should give a reader a lively biographical account of the dead person’s personality and values. The best way to make that kind information entertaining is by telling stories, which means putting the relevant bio details in context rather then merely listing dates and accomplishments.

Listing of dates and boring facts should be kept to a minimum — does the world really need to know the exact date of one’s college graduation? Or marriage? Really? (Sorry, Deborah, and all future genealogists; obit writing is an art and you can’t make art out of public records.) Too many dates allows down the pace and retards the fun factor of an obit, makes it too much like homework.

2. Avoid being predictable. In obituaries, everybody who gets out of the house is a “world traveler”. Everyone who ever laughed at their own jokes had “wit”. Every over-eater had “gourmet tastes”. Every Tom/Dick/Henrietta will be “sorely missed”. Anybody who had kids was “devoted to family”. Every kid that dies young had a “smile that lights up a room”.

3. Never list adjectives in lieu of real sentences — to quote an obit on the same page of the NYT as Rolly: “A woman of great warmth, optimism, humor, and beauty, [the dead lady] always saw the best in others and brightened up the lives of family and friends.” Having read that sentence, aren’t you left with the message that this lady didn’t make much of an individualistic impression on those around her? She is described only in relation to others, no mention of what she did to actualize her own self, who she was in her own right — we’ll never know.

3A. If you must list adjectives because the New York Time’s ain’t cheap and you’re on a budget, pick interesting ones. Pick adjectives that describe the dead person’s individuality, not their qualifications for sainthood.

P.S. Ever notice how women are never described as “smart”? Could it be because being smart doesn’t bear on her serviceableness to her family? No, they only care that she was warm, would laugh at your lame ass jokes, and was pretty. Families suck the life out of their women, don’t they?

4. Never, ever, use the word grace. Another quote from another obit: “An artist and teacher of exceptional talent, heart, generosity, and grace.” Let’s never mind the listing of adjectives — let’s figure out “grace”. It’s a word that sounds a lot as if it means something, but what does it mean??? Does it mean she had good manners? Does it mean that she lent people money happily? Could it mean that she kept a vase of flowers in her desk? Does it mean that she only cursed in French? Or could it mean that she could actually disappear into the astral plane and do housework for the less fortunate? We’ll never know because we don’t know what “grace” specifically pertains to, so it’s a word that doesn’t mean anything.

 

Now, about Rolly’s obit: I knew Rolly for 40+ years, and I knew what stories he re-told and those were the ones (and characters) he wold want included re: mom’s bacon sandwiches and his uncle the Atlantic City bookie. I also knew that walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at age 86  fulfilled a life-time dream of his, and in fact the photo we used the top of his obit (and it costs extra) was one I took of Rolly ON the Brooklyn Bridge:

Uncle Rolly with my brother Jimmy on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Old friends and business associates of Rolly’s called me up to say how much they really liked the obit I wrote, so I can happily say that the obit portrayed Rolly very much in the way that those who knew him longest and best knew him.  His ad agency, in its official press release of Rolly’s passing, used bits if this obit so, yeah, if you’re plagiarized you’re doing something right.

The one thing I left out was the fact that Rolly was a widower. Rolly truly loved his wife, Naomi, and maybe he would have wanted her mentioned but I didn’t put her in the obit because her two kids (Rolly’s step children who he helped raise and financially support well into adulthood) had, by unanimous family opinion, been real shits during the later years of Rolly’s life and I wanted to spite them, wipe them completely out of the record. And truthfully, Naomi was kind of bitchy. So, yeah, we survivors have the final word so if you don’t want that to happen, WRITE YOUR OWN OBIT!!

You know the most famous obituary story,don’t you? About the rich businessman who was mistakenly obitted (yeah, I made that up, and isn’t it brilliant???) and he, reading this premature obit, realized that he didn’t want to be remembered for having the world’s biggest dynamite factory so he funded philanthropic awards in his name and that’s how Alfred Nobel is now mostly known for his Prize. So maybe writing your own obit will reveal a life’s mission, or not. You never know.

My last belief about writing obits is that you shouldn’t do it on a rainy day (too dispiriting, and suicide notes never count) so I won’t be writing my Last Word today. Or tomorrow, from what I hear on the forecast, even though I am close to being bored to death with this crappy RAIN. (Note to self: Obit should mention She did not like rainy days.)

If you are going to Comment below — and I desperately hope you do — please include the one adjective that you’d most like to have in your obit.

I am sending out my biggest hopes to all you Dear Readers that, wherever you are this weekend, you are neither soggy nor shivering. I wish you the warmth of love and the comfort of soft blankies which I hope are made of warm breezes and starry rays of light. And most of all, I hope you feel especially alive.

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I want to smooch this face!

Thank you, Dear Reader Alexandra from Seattle, for sending me this pic of Truman, the long-haired dachshund/part cat, on his browse through the University of Washington’s University Book Store. Truman does not like to be parted from his beloved couch, which is in the living room of the house he never wants to leave, and he absolutely refuses to put mileage on his own little feets, so he must be strolled in his special Truman-mobile when it’s time for the dreaded “fresh air” outing. On this day, Truman had his human stroller him to UDub (Go Huskies) for some meaningful shopping at the city’s favorite book store, which no doubt included a stop at the book store cafe for some meaningful coffee, which is totally a thing.

The GoAaF is a staff pick!

I have had a most excellent week here in VivianWorld, starting with getting pics of a long haired dachshund giving the GoAaF his best Look of Awe, and continuing with me coming across a New York Times article about the celebrated chef and restaurateur Wylie Desfrene, one of those Day In The Life Of things.

Wylie Desfrene, celebrated chef and restaurateur, was quoted by the reporter from the New York Times as being the kind person who tries to have at least “two meaningful coffee experiences a day”.

Please note: There is no “N” in restaurateur — he’s a restorer of the human spirit via food, not a restaurant-er, which is the history of the word “restaurant”, BTW, which only gets its “N” because it was one of those gerund or participle things before it became a noun. You’re welcome.

We’re here to erudite you, whether you want it or not.

After reading that NYT article, I spent the day feeling bad that I’ve never required daily meaningfulness from my hot beverage because I’m such a pathetically shallow and dim-witted person. I’m too stupid to drink meaningfully because, basically, I’m dead inside, just like every other ordinary, negligible person who lives and dies in utter anonymity. I was feeling very bad about being just me.

And then I thought, Whoa. Telling a New York Times reporter that you seek two meaningful coffee experiences a day is exactly what you should tell a New York Times reporter, whether or not you have any earthly idea of what a meaningful coffee experience is because, truthfully, no one does. But it sounds pretty damn deep. Makes you go, HuhWylie Desfrene is a genius!

So, New York Times, if you’re reading this, I not just your average travel memoirist! I’m a dream cartographer, a cataloger of whimsies. I also like to go on long car rides with enlightening red beans and rice.

True story: I went to two funerals last week and, driving home on I-95 from the one in Washington D.C., Top Cat and I pulled over in Delaware (I was starving and desperate) and got a Popeye’s red beans and rice. Now, you know that I consider myself a connoisseur of red beans and rice, and that it’s my go-to entree when I am in New Orleans, where I’ve shoveled it in tasted it in its high and low iterations (that is, in various restaurants with, and without, starched white cloth napkins) . . . and Popeye’s red beans and rice IS AWESOME.

I am, right now, promising myself to take myself to Popeye’s as soon as I finish blogging.

P.S. Just got back from Popeye’s. I got the large side for $3.99 and it was deliriously good. Oh man, I am stuffed to the gills. Now, back to the blog:

Going to two funerals in one week gives you a lot to thing about. The main take-away for me is, I must write my own obit (I already have my cause of death picked out). If you want to see just how bad an amateur obit can be, read the paid-for obits in the NYT. Those things aren’t cheap, and they stink.

Fun fact: When my dear uncle Rolly died two years ago I wrote his obit that was published in the paid-for section of New York Times which a total stranger re-published on his blog because, he wrote, it sounded like Rolly was a guy he would have liked to have known — and that’s what an obit should do. If you, Dear Readers, clamor to know more about my obituary-writing experience and my snot-nosed Helpful Hints for Writing an Obituary That Doesn’t Stink, I will be happy to go into it in detail in a future blog.

Funerals, Popeye’s, food for thought, dachshunds — so many favorite things, could the week get any better???

Oh, yes, it can, and it did:

Finally, at long last, on May 16, 2017, I got to turn off my electric blankie. Finally, at long last, Spring dragged its hoary butt into what the TV people call “Seasonal Temperatures”. Lickety (above) likes going outside about as much as certain long haired dachshunds but there he was, sprawling on the patio like he’s just drunken half a dozen un-meaningful margaritas. That’s it! Your first 80-degree day of the year is intoxicating! Heat — glorious sun-baked warmth, star-sent lightness of being, dazzling brightness of skin-kissing light — heat makes you a sluggish, simple-minded, drunk! Wait. Is that what explains Florida?

All that, and der Drumpf’s getting his ass handed to him on an FBI platter made this one of the best damn weeks of my life.

Russian Imperial Porcelain

Russian Imperial Porcelain. It’s an FBI platter made of Russian Imperial Porcelain. Get it?

Thank You, venerable laws of karma;

Thank You, ye olde petards of irresistible hoist;

Thank You, sweet delicious Told You So’s.

For the first time since November 9th 2016, I can’t get enough of the news. Every breaking story out of Washington D. C. fills me with hope and joy, and an urge to dance my face off. Happy, happy, happy days are here again.

Before I go, I want to give you something in appreciation of all you Dear Readers. Last week I put up some watercolors of irises, and judging by the comments there are a number of Dear Readers who are going to be doing some iris painting of their own. So, for those of you who could use some itty bitty help in that department, I’m giving you my iris drawings:

You can see that I made changes on this second pic after I’d done the drawing; and I’d originally drawn it facing the other way so I flipped the image (turned over the tracing paper to use it on the back side) before I pencilled it onto the watercolor stock.

Have a great weekend, all you Wonder Ones, and may all your dancing be in hope in joy.

 

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I discovered Irises last week.

I mean, I discovered that I like painting them.

Monet’s irises

The best thing about painting irises is that they are the perfect flowers to go crazy with the bleeds with:

They look good blotchy!

I was not at all sure that I could pull this off, so I didn’t take step-by-step photos.

So that’s the art part of the blog today. Now for a

Change of subject.

How many times has this happened to you: You’re putting down some New York Times newspaper linings in your cat litter boxes and just as you’re about to pat a few pages down into Fluffy’s rest room apparatus, you realize you’re looking at the obituary of a guy you dated in the mid 1980s.

Richard Sandomir, one of the N Y Times’ staff columnists, wrote it; meaning that the editors of the NY Times decided that this guy’s death was of “historical importance”. In 1985 I was aware that this guy (a classical musician) was somewhat famous when he gave me some of his records and began to escort me to his concerts at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center in D.C., but I hadn’t thought of him in ages — not since that afternoon at the Watergate when he let it slip that he was still married. I never saw him or heard of him again after I dumped him then and there, until, that is, I read his obit in the N Y Times.

Remember how easy it was in the olden days to date, by accident, a married guy? In those days before everybody was Google-able? This musician was my first lying married guy, but not my last. O Lordy, I am so happy that I don’t have to date any more.

I’m so glad that I’m not still trying out personalities like I was when I was dating this musician, when I was still young and wishy-washy enough to think that I could be the kind of person who marries a classical musician even though I have absolutely no interest in, or love for, classical music. (After this classical music guy, there was a jazz guy that I actually got engaged to, and I really REALLY can’t stand jazz.)

I’m so glad to be old and set in my ways (fun-loving, optimistic, non-judgemental, with a love for humankind that makes me basically another Mother Theresa). And I love 1980s pop music. I like tunes that make me feel like walking on sunshine.

This is a short blog post today because I added extra reading to last week’s post — it’s in the Comments section, and elaborates on my handwriting analysis judgements. I claimed that somebody had the handwriting of a pervert, and I meant it, but in the nicest way, of course.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Be true to yourselves and the music that makes you dance.

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I will explain this photo in a bit. (Yes, I am completely sober, for the moment.) First, we have some PAINTING to do!

To re-cap: This is the view of Claude Monet’s famous lily pond in his Water Garden in Giverny, France that our Dear Reader Jeanie photographed one fine September day:

Those red plants blooming in the foreground look to me to be some kind of celosia, which gives this away as a Fall scene. Yes, I am extremely proud of myself for knowing that celosia blooms in the early Autumn. Even more than that, I’m amazed that I even know what celosia are — but that’s what writing a garden book will do: it will turn a person who basically couldn’t give a crap about horticulture into someone who notices, and NAMES,  celosia in the foreground. So,  La-Di-Da for me!***

***see Comments below for my come-uppance.

Thank you, Jeanie, for letting me paint your view (we’re calling this The Jeanie Challenge), which after two weeks of blogging looks like this so far:

For Jeanie and all others who are painting along with moi, I want you all to rest assured that even if you follow me stroke by stroke, you will never be “copying” me. It’s like when we all learned how to write cursive (which I hear is something that nobody bothers to teach any more).

We were all shown the same standard forms, we all practiced copying the forms, but in the end our handwriting is uniquely ours:

BTW, from what I know about handwriting analysis, this is the writing of a pervert.

It’s the exact same thing with watercolor. Even if you use every single technique I use for this pic, your painting will be you, all you, as surely as your own handwriting is. SPEAKING of handwriting, handwriting is kind of how I solved the problem of what to do with the big blank right hand side of this picture:

I want to do something different for that big bank spot there, treat it in a way that will make it stand out against the background stuff that I’ve already painted. I thought about this problem a lot, and in the end I decided to draw it:

In that I use the same tool as I would if I’d handwritten this, that’s where the HANDWRITING connection comes in. Nice segue, eh?

As I sussed it, there are three distinct textures in that foreground bit. From top to bottom: long spikey stuff, big leafy stuff, and small grassy stuff, which I drew as you can see below:

So all I’m going to do here is paint those textures.

First, the grassy stuff, just a wash of light green with some dark green strokes:

Then the long spikes stuff — I really love doing this kind of brush stroke, but if you’re new to it, it pays to practice it before you put in down on your painting. It is actually harder than it looks to get that nice, elongated lozenge shape:

For the leafy texture in the middle, I’m going to smoosh my paint brush into my dark-green green . . .

. . . and then smoosh it into my light-green green:

And then I’m going to dab in some leafs (it’s a press and twist motion):

That’s what I call PAiNTiNG, people.

Stepping back to survey the work, I think the leafs look a little too same-y as the spikey stuff here:

So I’m going to use clear water on my brush to smudge the paint a bit:

That’s better:

Now it’s time to do those celosia plants in the foreground. They are a bizarre shade of red, so I’m going to mix a hot pink (Permanent Rose) with a deep, blood-red red (Red Purple, which cost $16.95 for this teeny little tube! But that’s what you have to pay to get a really good, rich, red.):

I experimented with the mix to see if I could match the color of Jeanie’s View, and I also had to practice painting these shapes, which are a bit weird:

I also wanted to see how the hot ink/purple red mix looked when it was painted over the green and blues that are already on the paper:

Thankfully, the pigment held its own. The hard part, as always, is to avoid making a pattern, to keep them looking as random as nature:

Note that I painted the celosia in light and dark shades of my hot pink/red purple mix.

Now that all the hard stuff is done, we can step back and congratulate ourselves for getting this far without ruining the pic. Yay for us!

And now for the fun bit:

You might know this, or not, but all the structures in Monet’s garden — the plant supports that give his flower garden its height, the shutters on his house, all the outdoor furniture, and all the bridges in his Water Garden — are painted the same rich, saturated green. It’s a very distinctive color, variously called “Apple Green” and “Monet Green”.

To make this green stand out against all the other greens in Monet’s garden, I use an acrylic paint:

Since it is plastic, opaque, and thick, the acrylic paint has a totally different property than the watercolor, so it stands out even when I use it in a teeny tiny background detail :

I am editing out all the other people in Jeanie’s original photograph and I’m only painting two people on the bridge:

They are basically stick figures — but be sure to shade them and to give them some sort of gesture; I have one of my figures turing to the other one, to whisper sweet words: You were so right. Being here does take my mind off the fact that we have a low-class, smug, shit-for-brains president back home.

The last thing I have to do (as a painter of this scene) is tone down the “roses” in that weird arcade, which I do by painting over them in dark green:

Are we DONE?

Nope.

I happen to like the way the colors and shapes of this composition pulls the eye all around this little pic. But, even so, that light background behind the bridge bothers me. Jeanie’s photograph is so wonderful because of the way she framed those figures on the bridge — although they are way back in the background, they are pushed forward (in the photo) because of the dramatic way they are seen against very, very dark foliage. I feel compelled to be honest to the view, and so I think I need to paint that in:

DONE.

Well done. You’ve earned it: time to unscrew the lid off of your finest Pinto Grigio:

This is how we do it on the Long Island Rail Road.

It was cold and gray last Sunday as I waited for the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma (change at Jamaica for the Oyster Bay local). Penn Station was crowded and I’d spent all day out and about in Manhattan, wishing I’d worn a Winter coat instead of the short leather jacket I’d put on that morning in trust that the forecast of 62 degrees was not just someone’s fantasy that our long, long, long delayed Spring had finally arrived. I was chilled to the bone and I’d been crying earlier in the afternoon:

Spoiler: This movie is a good old fashioned treat jerker.

The grungier food stalls at Penn Station sell teeny bottles of wine for $5 each, but they can not let you take those bottles away with you. Probably because Madison Square Garden is right above the LIRR train tracks and nobody wants arm a bunch of pissed off  (or celebrating, it doesn’t matter) Knicks and Rangers fans with both alcohol and a sturdy glass projectile. So what they do is, they kindly pour your one, two, or three bottles of wine into a huge Coke go-cup, ask if you also want ice, snap a lid on it, and punch it with a straw.

It’s the Long Island commuter’s security blanket.

So I had a very happy journey home that cold and gray Sunday. Because it was the weekend, the train was full and the riders were much more voluble than the usual Mon-Fri crowd, which was very entertaining for me. Also, I was kind of drunk.

Overheard on the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma:

As passengers are walking down the aisle, finding seats:

I’m sick of the city.

You’re a meat person, right?

Leave the car where it’s parked, we’re never going to use it again.

And when we go to Dubai I’m gonna take you to Amsterdam for the weekend.

From seated passengers:

One 20-something girl to her friend, who is unwrapping an extra large chocolate bar: That’s, like, a thousand calories. Her friend: I can deal with it. 

Behind me, another 20-something girl starts to squeal to her friend (and I swear, this is exactly how the conversation went): What IS that? It’s on your bag! Give me five dollars so I can chew it! Other girl responds: How do you Google that?

Guy on his cell phone: Are we going to spend shabbat in LA? I hope not.

Older man to his wife: They can wear it for all I care, but I don’t have to look at it. Wife: They do things to their bodies to look that thin.

Random stuff that drifted through the general noise:

When we were kids I loved going out and doing stuff but now I’m a 22-year old guy and I like stay in and drink.

Fish and chips. With risotto.

Maine. I never think of Maine. Maine is the most boring state in the union. (I have to agree with that one.)

I liked the part where they went back in time. Did they have dinner? 

I was thinking, as I listened and took notes, that the LIRR is a goldmine of awesome non-sequiturs! I should write a book about the overheard conversations on the LIRR! I bet the LIRR would PAY me to be, like, their scribe! Like, their resident anthropologist! People would love this stuff! I should put it all in a book! Best seller! I should pitch this to the president of the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority]! The MTA would jump at the chance! 

Like I said, I was a bit pie-eyed. A mere two sheets to the wind. Slightly hammered. Definitely lit.

 This project is now filed away with all my many, many, many other Bad Ideas.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers. I hope that all your wine is fine, all your ideas are good, and that all your bad ideas are only momentary.

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