Saturday, February 29, 2020

two posts from my old diaries in honor of leap day

I was hoping to find a few quick entries in my old kid dairies to celebrate the advent of Leap Day. I've kept a diary since 1978, all handwritten until I don't know when, when I finally started typing them out on computer. At some point in time I decided to type, word for word, all of my early diaries into the computer for safekeeping. With my memory sucking as much as it does, my diaries have been a prized possession, even though most of their pages are about me being a dork, but I'm lazy so basically when I want to share something about those early (and late) dork days, I just pull up the computerized versions. Unfortunately I didn't write on many Leap Days in those early years, but here's what I do have.

Note for the 2004 entry: I was the spotlight operator for a circus and also anxiously awaiting news of the birth of my sister's second child.


It is now Feb 29th, the day of leap year. I got an A on a World Cultures test today. Last night, Mom, Dad, and I gathered around the television set to watch (& tape) the grammy awards. Michael Jackson won 8! I added, today, to my scrap book, a picture of him from the Register. P.S. Shena fell and broke her arm badly. She was operated upon today.


Sunday, February 29, 2004, 8:04 AM—There is always something somewhat significant to me about the day of the leap year. Which, I suppose, is nothing more than a good example of how absence causes intrigue. There’s nothing important about a leap year day—in all, there simply is nothing about a leap year day. It’s a non-thing, really, in the elusive mass of reality. But because we’ve designated it something, and caused that something to come only once every four years, I note with interest every time it comes around again. And I’d love for Zoë to be born today. A leap year day baby is luckier than a left-handed baby, in terms of uniqueness. Luckier than a red-headed baby. As a child, I think she’d really appreciate it.

So, I’m sitting in the third show on the headset with the ring one par cans off, spots on amber, waiting to cue them to return to white, when suddenly the flaming hoop in the big cage is pitching forward, trailing fire, and going down. One of the cats has knocked the thing, and as it goes over, a tiger is leaping through it, and it comes down right on her. Instinctively I hit the ring lights again, to make sure there’s enough light for Juergen and Judit to see what’s going on. My stagehands are making exclamations in my ears. Maybe I am, too. I see Juergen lurch forward for the staff of the flaming hoop… Judit batting at her hair… the tiger jumping down and around toward the entrance to the shifting cages with smoke coming up from her… another tiger or two leaping around in the cage. A scattering of workers in black shirts converge around the outside of the tiger arena. Juergen gets the hoop uprighted and he and Judit spread out to calm the tigers.

In the funny combination of right light white and spotlight amber, Juergen and Judit very patiently calm the tigers and then coax the poor, surprised cat to make the leap through the hoop. And back to her seat, where Juergen awards her twice with a chunk of meat. With order restored, I see that the routine is going to continue, and I go ahead and switch the ring lights back off. And the show continues from there.

Monday, March 01, 2004, 1:38 PM. On the road to Indy.—Got online this morning to check messages. I let out a little gasp when it finally clicked in. Tim called, “What?” from somewhere behind me, and I tried to get the pictures to load in and finally said, “A Leap Year baby!”

a moment in the day: hail

At first the hail in the kitchen window looks like snow. It's so fine and white.

When I was in my twenties and early thirties, one of the games I played was that snow was good luck. I don't know how it started, but even though I liked to think of myself as someone who wasn't superstitious, I liked to pretend that when it snowed, it was an omen that good things were going to happen.

Metaphorically, hail feels sort of the opposite. At work on Friday the biggest topic of conversation in my little corner of the workspace was the coronavirus, and climate change in general, the symptoms of it, like pandemics and the wildfires that will soon be popping up again in our part of the country. Someone said "apocalypse." Someone said "pestilence" and mentioned the ten plagues of Egypt. Pestilence, flies, locusts. Fire and hail.

I go to the big window by the back door to get a better look. The hail cascades in a slant down the roof of Stephen's studio and showers off the side in a white beaded sheet.

These days, it seems there are so many things to worry about that I don't know which to worry about when. Sometimes they stack up and sit on my chest, sometimes my brain compartmentalizes them and closes them away and I sit at the computer for hours tinkering on some book cover design, focused.

All winter, when I hoped for snow and the closest thing I got was a couple showers of mostly hail, I pretended I don't play games anymore.

There's a rumble of thunder but the patter on the rooftop is slowing. Nicholas, who's been hiding in the bathroom, comes out and steps over, looking up at me. The sky is heavy and gray-white, but right in the middle, past the top of the studio, there's a patch of blue.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Some Valentine's Day Cards

Usually for Valentine's Day, we make each other cards, but this year with our trip to Atlanta and work on Stephen's studio and me with a full plate of design projects, we agreed to skip a year. Stephen said he was going to post a retrospective of the cards he'd made for me in the past so I thought I'd do the same. Here are my cards to him for the past handful of years.

2010. After Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power in the film Marie Antoinette. Inside the card I quoted, "Everything leads me to thee."

2011. After a painting by Winterhalter.


2012. After an old Victorian Valentine's Day card.
2013. After Joan Crawford.

2014. The outside of the card, cut to shape.

The inside.

2015. Because we were performing in the opera Carmen that year.

2016. After Tom Jones. And because we were performing "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe on stage as Earl and Lady Bungalow.

2017. After... well, you know.


2019. After a couple of sweet potatoes.

a moment in the day: lick

I'm sound asleep when Stephen licks my elbow to get me to come awake.

Maybe I was snoringI've been snoring some lately with this cold of minebut I don't see why he would want to rouse me by licking my elbow. That just seems strange. Maybe it's because of Valentine's Day. Maybe he's making some weird frisky gesture because it's now technically Valentine's Day, and he thinks wouldn't it be cute if he just, you know, licked my elbow a little, and

Wait. It was Nicholas. Nicholas licked my elbow.

Come to think of it, that makes more sense.

I reach down under the covers to where he's curled up by my belly and pet him and then go back to sleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Book cover: A Small Crowd of Strangers

Whenever I start work on a new book cover, I ask myself what the challenge with this one will be. It's one of the things I like most about designing book covers, that there's always some specific challenge, whether that be fitting all the elements in place, or setting the right tone, or trying some graphic process I've never tried before, or trying my darnedest to make an idea work when it probably isn't going to work, or, or, or.

With Joanna Rose's novel A Small Crowd of Strangers, due out later this year from Forest Avenue Press, the challenge was coming up with a concept. How best to create a design around a book that's not only quirky and funny but also about some heavy topics like religion and abortion. Pattianne Anthony, the book's protagonist, and her boyfriend/soon-to-be-husband are on two different sides of the abortion debate, and it gets personal when she becomes pregnant.

My first idea for a design grew out of that tension. A figure representing Pattianne but cut in three pieces, each piece pointing a different direction. My thought was that this would show she was a character divided, someone who didn't know which way to goand if people made the connection between her centrally located belly and the topic of abortion and body autonomy, that would be great, but not necessary.

Publisher Laura Stanfill explained that Pattianne's not so much divided as falling into things all the time. The more we talked about it and the more I read pieces of the book, I realized I was focusing too much on the abortion topic when there was so much more this book was about. I tinkered with a number of different concepts but there was one idea we all kept coming back to as I submitted samples. This one started out from the characterization of Pattianne as a dreamer who, in the end, is just trying to find her people, to find connection.

That's what I think of with the figure I created for Pattianne in this early draft. A dreamer wistfully looking into the future. The second character is Bullfrog, a dog who figures significantly in the story. (And who better to exemplify the longing to find connection than dogs, amirite?) From the description of Bullfrog in the book, I figured he must be a basset hound so I looked at a lot of photos and created him from images of particularly sweet looking dogs. This early draft was before I really started tinkering with his coloring, but as an aside, I kind of liked that the color I used for Joanna's name here is rose.

We were getting feedback from Publisher's Group West that the bright color scheme along with the woman figure might skew "women's lit" so I tried a similar design with darker hues. And experimented with Pattianne removed and just Bullfrog remaining. Like in this street sign design I worked on from an idea Laura suggested to me.

In the end, between all of us and author Joanna Rose, we decided to leave Pattianne off and give Bullfrog the spotlight. But there was one more detail to work out. Bullfrog wasn't exactly Bullfrog. He wasn't a basset hound as I'd originally thought. And in fact, he had once been a real dog, Joanna's dog, and I wanted to honor that as best I could.


He had very different ears. And a very particular spot on his back. I added that spot, although I simplified him a little in keeping with the spareness of the design, so I only focused on that one spot while he has a few others. And if you look close you see some brown around his one eye.

Oh my gosh, this picture!

I asked Laura and Joanna if I could expand on that brown and turn  it into a more obvious spot because it was the only way I could keep the white of that eye from disappearing against the background. They were OK with it. Then I added some shading to the other side of the face, a shadow, to take care of the same issue. It's an interesting give and take, wanting to honor the memory of a real being and at the same time honor the principles of aesthetics. When I was done, I sent it to Laura and she sent it to Joanna and Joanna said, "That’s him!!"

My heart leapt for joy.

There was still fine tuning, with color and shading, and the darkness of the ears, and the question of shadow on the right front paw. Here's a little montage of Bullfrog through his evolution.

In the end, with Bullfrog in the spotlight and using the sunburst in the lettering that had arisen back when I was playing with the very dark, almost underwater-looking idea I showed off above, we finally had our cover.

Check out that blurb by Paulann Petersen!

A Small Crowd of Strangers is due out the fall of this year from Forest Avenue Press. More information is here. Here's a snippet from the book:

She’d always had a dog. She’d had Starla since she was in grade school, and before that there was a beagle named Short Stop who slept with his nose at the crack under her bedroom door, wanting to get in. Her mother said, No dogs in the bedrooms. And then when they got Starla, she heard them one night after dinner, her mother saying, No dogs in the bedrooms, and her father saying, Oh, what can it hurt? That night, she learned something about her father. She was only little. And it was her bedroom, not Jen’s.

She was just starting to realize that she really should call Michael, and maybe she should at least go buy some dog food and spend some time with Bullfrog before saying Yeah, I’ll take him to be my dog, but then there they were. And she wanted him, as soon as she saw him, all down low and wagging, and not shedding all that much, really. He was mostly white, just a few brown spots, and soft brown ears. She got down by him.

“Well,” Frankie said. “Really? You’ll take him?” He got down, too. “To keep?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “That’s what she said. To keep.”

Then Frankie got all teary, and Pattianne did too, and he handed her a brand-new red leather leash with the price tag still on it. It matched his collar.

“I have a twenty-five pound bag of dog chow in the car,” he said. Teary.


“And a big box of Milk Bones.”


“And his rabies papers and all are in here.”

He handed her an envelope, and then he hugged her, and they were a circle with Bullfrog in between them, Elizabeth laughing, although she didn’t sound very happy, but she was laughing. Michael would laugh too. Bullfrog was a funny guy.

Monday, February 3, 2020

two moments on airplanes

We're thirty thousand feet up. I'm kind of terrified of flying but I love all the parts that most people who fear flying fear: takeoff, touchdown, turbulence. Generally during the flight, I'm OK if I keep my mind on other things than the possibility of a fiery death: the movie playing on the little screen built into the back of the seat in front of me. The tiny bottle containing seven thimbles full of white wine. My nine dollar box of apple slices and cheese.

Down the right-hand aisle comes one of the flight attendants, who stops at the empty seat at the end of the row before mine. She leans in and asks the man at the other end, "Where's the man who was sitting here?"

"I don't know. He's been gone a really long time."

She picks up a small backpack from the seat. "He left his bag."

Well, there we go. It's a bomb.

I'll never see Atlanta and eat pimento cheese.

The flight attendant takes the bomb up and down the aisle, asking people if it's theirs. No, I'm sorry. No, I'm sorry. Well, of course it's not theirs. The man who left it has parachuted out of the back of the plane and we're all going down.

"Excuse me, is this yours?" There are two flight attendants now, checking with passengers. I wonder how much a bomb weighs. I wonder if time bombs actually tick.

The flight attendants come back up the aisle and finally stop just about where they began. "Excuse me, sir," to the man sitting in the seat in front of the empty one. He's an older man with white hair. I don't hear what he says, but he takes the bomb from the woman and apologizes. In a second I see his hand reach back into the seat pocket behind him, slowly pulling out the book he also left behind.


We're on the return trip from Atlanta. There are three in our row, Stephen, me, and the guy in the window seat who keeps getting up to use the bathroom. All three of us have our screens going and ear buds plugged into seat backs, watching movies. It's been a good trip, a whirlwind that included Stephen's two art events, visits to Martin Luther King's grave and the High Museum and the Madam C. J. Walker Museum and the Cyclorama and more and more and more. Fried green tomatoes. Pimento cheese.

Now, we're heading home.

I've been watching Fiddler On the Roof, and Tevye and Lazar Wolf are singing and dancing. It's a perfect distraction from the possibility of a fiery death to immerse yourself in musical joy.

As my eyes blink from one screen to another in front of me, I notice it's all music. A coincidence of timing that lets the song in my ears run through all three visuals. The guy to my right: a guitarist wailing away in a recording studio. Stephen to my left: Luciano Pavarotti belting an aria. It's a funny little montage. No matter what they're singing or playing, the music is mine. L'chaim, l'chaim, to life.