This is the scene I mentioned earlier that is a flashback within a flashback (actually... within a flashback because the whole story exists in the memory of myself in 2016).
I'm still working on it, and might end up splitting the text of the last panel into another one, but hoping it comes across clearly.
This scene fits in with the central introduction of me as a child, pouting because of my own sensitivity. My grandpa happens to be telling my dad about how my mom learned to swim, and how at first she was afraid of the cold lake water. I'm hoping this will juxtapose well; I go from being really scared of fishing to alerting my whole family that an alligator is right near the dock. The goal is to show my childhood self through a similar growth in hardiness/courage, and how that was inspired by both my grandfather and my mother.
We'll see how it comes across once it's colored and inked!
It has been such a wonderful week at my parents' house. As you can see from all the photos below, the main attraction was my niece and goddaughter, who is the sweetest baby ever. She's always so happy and only cries when she is uncomfortable and needs to change positions, take a nap, or eat.
I arrived last Friday afternoon after a rainy, misty drive, and Juliette arrived with my brother and sister-in-law the following evening. JJ had some dinner, took some time to bang a wooden spoon on the table (provided by grandma), and then prepared for her nightly routine. This included a bath in the kitchen sink, pajamas and a fresh diaper, and bed. They have this big suit they put her in that makes her look like a marshmallow, but it prevents her from rolling in her sleep so she stays on her back.
The next day we mostly hung out with the baby and I (clearly) took as many photos as possible. I also took quite a few videos, particularly of her testing out a a goofy blubbery noise with her lips that was quite amusing. At one point we went back and forth making the sound and I was laughing so hard I could barely make the sound back.
On Christmas Eve, mom handled the cooking, and Juliette was passed around from lap to lap. My parents call this a "pass-around pack". We did a couple of small photo shoots, including one with the guinea pigs to compare to a similar pose of my brother with my parents' guinea pigs Jemima and Manfred. We took another of Juliette in my dad's old cap from when he was a baby, and another with a HESS truck (my brother was fond of those as a kid).
We opened Juliette's presents on Christmas Eve afternoon, before dinner, and at that point she was a little tuckered out and had just woken up from a nap. Then we had a traditional Ukrainian dinner of fish, pierogies, and mushroom soup while Juliete sat patiently on Andy's lap. From there, it was time for the Christmas Eve service at church; she got a kick out of the carols, and eventually fell right asleep, even as candles were passed around for the final hymns. My dad's congregation got a big kick out of her and it sounded like they had heard a lot about her and seen photos over the last six months.
On Christmas morning, the baby and family needed to head out to Buffalo where my sister-in-law's family lives, so we had a quick breakfast of French Toast Casserole (prepared to perfection by grandma), and then we packed up the car, the baby, and the dogs, and they were on their way. My parents and I stayed behind and exchanged the remaining gifts.
Since Christmas, I've been very sleepy and have been doing a lot of napping. It may not have been the most productive week of my life in terms of art, and I had been pinning a lot of high expectations to this week in terms of progress on my comic, but I think given that it was Christmas and I'm so rarely near my family, I could make na exception and lower my own expectations of myself. Next week it will be back to work again, but at least it will only be a three-day week.
This afternoon the Buffalo crowd swung through once more to pick up some remaining items and break up the trip back down to Long Island. Luckily, we'll be seeing everyone again in February for Juliette's baptism, so it wasn't as hard to say goodbye as it was the week she was born, or the weekend we babysat and weren't sure the next time we would see her. I'm just amazed by how quickly she is growing! Would it be selfish to extend a "free babysitter" offer every other month so I can spend some quality time with her?
Anyway, vacation is quickly coming to a close. Tomorrow we're going out to Friendly's for breakfast, then I'll make the drive to Boston. We are having a New Years Eve Eve party to celebrate our roommate Hardik who is moving to San Francisco in a couple weeks. But it will be nice to have a mellow New Years Eve and New Years Day to settle back into the groove. Happy 2019!
Check out this adorable Christmas gift from my sister-in-law and Juliette! A Christmas tree finger painted by Juliette and embellished my mom. Plus these post-crafting photos. It sounds like she enjoyed the painting, but not mom preventing her from putting her hands in her mouth, or being dirty afterward. I sense an artist in the making!
This weekend, Chris and I went out and got our first full-sized tree. This has been a dream of mine since I first moved in, though there was at least one year where I settled for decorated a floppy houseplant, and several with a four-foot tabletop tree.
Since moving out on my own, setting up holiday decorations has always made me feel closer to home. My mom always had an extravagant collection of humble-looking wooden Santa figures on the mantlepiece. Every year my brother helped my dad with the Christmas lights, and I sat and untangled the gold beads as my mom hung them in loops around the tree. On an afternoon that was free of precipitation and preferably above 40 degrees, my dad wrestled with white Christmas lights on our rhododendron and burning bushes, and a petit pine tree out front.
Decorating the tree was a family affair, usually done in front of Peanuts Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, both recorded on a VHS tape from an airing on cable in the very early 90s. Closer to the holiday, we would watch The Snowman and drink hot cocoa.
Our tree never had a theme, but rather it was made up of heirloom type ornaments that hinted at our various interests. We had three mini carousel ornaments; one could even be hooked up to a Christmas light socket, causing it to slowly rotate with a quiet "bzzzzz". The carousels all connected to our upbringing in Broome County, NY, the carousel capital of the world.
There were plenty of book-related ornaments, some made of glass, others of wood or metal, representing my parents' careers as librarians. I was always partial to a brown-haired angel in a light pink dress, mostly because it was pink and sparkly. It was one of those delicate frosted glass ornaments that need to be packed in wads of tissue paper, and I usually hung it on a lower branch along with about 15 other ornaments that my parents covertly redistributed over the course of the evening.
There are little Victorian house ornaments whose windows are illuminated by a planted light, reflecting my parents' interest in history and architecture. Here and there are golden ornaments from the annual White House collection, which my cousin Jackie sent periodically while she was working in the FBI. For a while, there was a light-up Starship Enterprise because of my mom's obsession with Star Trek, and later we added a Zeppelin, referencing Randy from A Christmas Story shouting "It's a Zeppelin!" on Christmas morning.
As a kid, we added an assortment of Harry Potter and American Girl Doll ornaments to celebrate the younger generation, and a significant collection of basset hound ornaments to celebrate our family dog. Most of the former have been passed back to me to hang on my own tree, partially so I have things to hang, but also because my parents have more ornaments than they can fit on the two trees that they usually install. There have also been some recent additions of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower to celebrate trips to Europe.
Over the last few years, my mom has started making ornaments out of her pysanky, and she creates a new design for each year. The first one that I received broke after a tragic hammer related incident, and I keep the other two very safe when not displayed.
Chris and I have also started growing our own collection, including a large blown glass orb from his mom, a ceramic BB-8, and a Tom Brady. While I don't have any Santa figures, I do have some glass snowmen and little trees and pine cones that I decorate with twinkle lights. My parents also gave me a small wintery vignette made of wood with built in lights, which they found in Rothenburg, Germany (a walled town tracing back to medieval times).
They say that nostalgia does not mean living in the past, but bringing the past forward. I like to think that by continuing to decorate my tree with old and new ornaments, I'm bringing forward a lifelong tradition into other parts of my life, while also creating slightly varied traditions in my own household.
After finishing decorating the tree, my family would sit together and play a round of "I spy with my little eye...." while calling out specific characteristics of an ornament on the tree. The only light would be from the colored lights of the tree, which reflected in our eyes as we admired our work. I'm looking forward to having a rich enough selection of ornaments to keep the "I spy" game going in the years to come.
I got this mug during my return to Alfred last spring; my memory card had just failed right after I had finished documenting a painting of mine that I stumbled upon in one of the administrative offices. I was really excited to see it, so figures that I didn't end up getting a photo of it. By the time I realized there was a glitch, the offices were closed, so instead I wandered around the book store looking for a replacement and getting nostalgic, wondering why I had never stocked up on school memorabilia before (answer: I was an existing student and was poor). I got a couple of t-shirts and this rather simple cup. I'm not really a coffee drinker, but every now and then I will have half a cup to avoid falling prey to dangerous weekend nap impulses.
Here are a couple of photo updates on the comic I've been chugging away on. I haven't shared much about it in writing because I am still figuring out where I want to take it (though I do have a lot of storyboarding done, and have a growing set of Google documents that include a story framework and various thoughts, ideas, and memories). That said, I have very little time to work on this project with my full-time work schedule, not to mention 2 hours of commuting every day. But I'm still trying to chip away on the weekends for now, even if each set of week days seems to negate my weekend momentum.
I recently listened to a really wonderful interview with Debbie Tung (creator of "Quiet Girl in a Noisy World"), hosted by The Introvert, Dear Podcast. She talked about the struggles of choosing to quit her full-time job as a developer and pursue art full-time instead; they asked her if she recommends this choice to other artists out there, and she was hesitant to encourage that choice because it makes life quite hard economically. Not to mention, Debbie lives in the UK, so there are not the same concerns about student loan debt and access to healthcare. Here in Boston, it's almost impossible to afford rent even with full-time work - not to mention a mortgage (condos around here typically start around 400k, and houses are basically inaccessible unless you are up for paying 600k or more). I sometimes daydream about moving out to the country into a little cottage, where I can be alone with my brushes and pens and enjoy an uninterrupted creative process, but it's something I'm far too anxious to pursue in this stage of my life. Right now, I have health and dental care through work, a 401k, and a stable paycheck, which is a lot more than I had working in retail. Plus, comics are very hard to make a living off of unless you have proven success through a book deal. It's not the same as running an Etsy or doing commissions, which I take here and there but don't actively pursue or advertise. For now, I'll continue to cherish my free time and continue my work during the week.
Earlier this week I helped inflate some balloons for a proposal on the MIT campus, the proposee (?) is a former coworker who worked in HR before I started working in Talent Acquisition. The proposal went well and she said yes!
Also been trying to bike into work more, now that it's warm. We have a new bike garage at work which is pretty cool. I store my bike on my deck and have to lug it down the stairs and up the stairs whenever I want to ride though. It really hurts my wrists because of the awkward angles.
Fun fact: my friend Thomas lives in Detroit and sold me this bike a couple years ago. It has a sticker from a bike shop in Geneseo, NY, where my parents met, went to school for their bachelors in history/political science and masters of Library Science, and got married - almost 40 years ago. As a kid, they took us there every year to walk around the campus and get subs at Aunt Cookie's Sub Shop. As a teenager, I started putting a notch with my fingernail in the sub shop's wooden-framed order window to track my visits over time. When I stopped by last month after my sister-in-law's baby shower, I found they had replaced the order window with a new one. But I added a new notch to that one.
Anyway, this bike is kismet.
Growing up, my family usually waited to put the tree up until December. But this year I'll be heading home the week before Christmas and really wanted to get some mileage out of my decorations, so now I'm the person that buys a tree the day after Thanksgiving. So far, we're enjoying the decorating process in between breaks for leftovers.
When I was little, my mom always unpacked and laid out the ornaments on the coffee table and my brother and I would be in charge of decorating with my dad. One would assume that at a young age, the kids would stick to the bottom of the tree, which we did, but in my case, I always became rather fixated on one specific branch. We have a home video that zooms in on my branch of choice, each sprig tenderly adorned with an angel or bird or bobble. When I did not take to may parents' gentle urging of "branching out", so to speak, they discreetly moved in while I wasn't looking to diffuse the population a bit.
My colleague Carrie Earle Allen invited me to submit a piece of writing for her blog about passion and creativity. You can see the full piece with images here, and be sure to check out the rest of the blog as well! Some really talented people have contributed to the posts. I've included my personal essay below.
There’s a little boy and girl who live across the street from me in a handsome pink Victorian house. When I first moved into my shabby apartment building with a condemned front deck five years ago, the girl across the street was just a toddler, and an only-child. About a year and a half after I settled in, a large cradle appeared in their front window and a tiny new person appeared in her parents’ arms.
As I’ve watched the kids across the street grow, I've felt more and more removed from the comfort of my own childhood. When I first moved to Boston, I was excited to make my first real apartment after college into a home. I created a studio, decorated the walls, cared for plants, adopted pets, mopped the floors, and lovingly kept our dishes clean. But I didn’t really feel like an adult.
I was working a minimum wage job that I didn’t care much about, barely scraping by, and every year that went by was another year that I hadn’t done much with my education. I could never afford to go home for the holidays, so I missed them. I found that I had some of the fatigue of being an adult - of having big plans but always being too tired to see them through, and instead focusing on cooking dinner, running errands, and getting as much sleep as I could so that I could do it all over again tomorrow - but I felt removed from the autonomy that I had always imagined all adults possessed. And even then, I didn't have nearly as much of the responsibility that I observed in the parents across the street.
I sometimes use childhood photos as inspiration for paintings and drawings. They both remind me of my childhood and allow me to better relate to my parents. I use photographs of strangers on the street or at the park and use them as subjects, and imagine what their lives are like. Sometimes I change the backgrounds to expand the plot of the scene. I’m most drawn to photos where the subjects’ faces are turned away from the viewer because I can relate to people more without the specificity of facial features and expressions. There is more available for interpretation in posture and gesture. I can read into their story like a picture book without words.
Last year, I was staying home sick when I heard the sounds of an aluminum ladder making contact with the dilapidated deck outside my room. Over the course of the next two months, the landlord paid a construction team to sand off all the old paint, build level floors, install handrails, and put on a fresh coat of white paint. For safety reasons, they had screwed my door shut from the outside when they started construction. But as soon as they wrapped up, I was so eager to stand in a place I had never stood before in my own house that I climbed out of my roommate’s window with a screw driver and unfastened the door myself. I noted that when the door closed, it made a satisfying “click” when the latch caught on the strike plate. I brought out a collection of secondhand chairs that I had collected from the side of the road, and invested in hanging flower baskets and a watering can. My house of four years had suddenly grown a new limb, and I now had a place to look out over the street and feel like a part of the neighborhood rather than its eye sore.
There are little shifts like these that slowly budge the breadth of my understanding of being an adult. Shifting to a full-time job. Adjusting my expectations of how often I can create artwork. Commuting two hours each day. Securing health insurance. Starting a retirement plan. Watching my parents retire. Breaking off a longterm relationship that began when I was still a teen. Watching my brother marry his wife. Watching my ex marry his wife. Seeing my grandfather for the last time and recording his voice. Paying the bills. Building credit. Having a deck where I can come home from a long day and daydream about having a place of my own, while I watch the parents across the street shepherd the kids home from school.
As I get older and accumulate more adult experiences, I find myself relating more to the parents than the children in my drawings and paintings, even though I’ve only ever played the role of the latter. I’ve noticed that in most of my compositions, the parents are often off to the side, or in the background, guiding the children, sheltering them, reading the paper, making sure everything is well. They are not the center of attention, and not engaging in anything exciting. I think about how my parents did this for my brother and I when we were children, after a decade of shabby apartments and piecing together their rent. They bought a house near a park. They bought us new shoes every year that we wore on walks to the park. They bundled us up in hats and snow pants and pulled us on sleds. They brought home books from the library so they could read to us every night. There is a lot of selflessness there, to raise a child into an adult, but the children must figure out where to go from there. Meanwhile, the children I draw are playing, exploring, and being comforted. They exemplify vulnerability, hope, and energy. Drawing the parent/child dynamic allows me to meditate on the different roles that we play throughout childhood and into adulthood and parenthood.
I was recently sitting on the deck after just having finished a book. It was a Sunday afternoon and I could hear the local high school band playing “Pomp and Circumstance". It took me a second to recognize it. Its echo was diluted by the sounds from the main road and the train tracks. The kids going by on scooters. The neighbors across the street were ushering the kids to the van. The younger brother came out of the house singing, “N-G-O! N-G-O! N-G-O!” I was in the process of spelling this out in my head when he followed up with, “And Bingo was his name-o!”
Two different groups of kids sharing songs that convey the beginning and end of childhood. It took me a little while to recognize both.
Nous étions dans l’ombre de la chaleur d’août, légèrement séparés. Tu fixais à la ligne d’arbres, et il y avait quelque chose éclatant qui tremblait derrière eux, peut-être la source de la chaleur elle-même. Derrière nous, une voie ferrée s’étendait en ligne droite à traverse le paysage plat, miles et des miles d’herbe brune et raide en toutes directions. Il n’y avait rien autour de nous.
Tu attendais quelque chose au-delà des troncs d’arbres, et je te regardais pendant que tu regardais la lumière derrière eux. Alors que tu faisais les cent pas, d’ici à là, de temps en temps tu regardais par dessus ton épaule à la voie ferrée. Tu portais un chapeau à larges bords avec un cordon, qui protégeais le dos de ton cou du soleil. Le soleil qui tapait du ciel, blanc et sans couleur dans la chaleur.
Tu avançais vers moi. Tu te penchait la tête dans la mienne et nos doigts frôlé l’un l’autre. Nous avons lacées les doigts, en respirant si profondément que nous avons fermé les yeux. Tu as caressé ma paume ouverte avec trois doigts. Je me sentais les durillons sur le bout de tes doigts pendant qu’ils glissaient sur les os de mon poignet.
J’ai traîné un doigt le long de ton avant-bras et c’était comme l’éclairage lente d’un match. Tu as pris ma main dans la tienne et tu as apporté mes jointures à la point de ton nez. Je me sentais une paix au-delà de tout que je m’en avais senti avant. Je me sentais plus proche à toi que je ne m’avais jamais senti avec une personne dans ma vie. Je savais que nous ne pouvions pas rester dans ce place. Mais je posais ma tête sur ton épaule, et nos mains ont tombées doucement entre nous, relié délicatement.
La ligne d’arbres était encore devant nous, la voie ferrée derrière nous, et je savais que tu ne pouvais pas exister avec moi totalement, en ce moment-là, jusque la lumière au-delà les troncs avait été révélé à toi. Ou jusqu’à un train est venu et nous emportés loin d’ici. Mais j’étais contente d’être ici, avec toi, tout de même. Et tu penchait ta tête vers la mienne, en passant tes lèvres sur mes cheveux pendant que ma tête est tombée dans la creux de ton cou. Je pressais l’oreille à ton clavicule.
Je courrais mon nez le long de ton mâchoire, quand j’ai reconnu qu’il y avait des miles et des miles entre nous qui nous empêchait de véritablement se tenir les mains. Nous n’étions pas à coté de l’autre sur un coté de la voie ferrée, mais sur des cotés opposés de la voie ferrée, en attendant un train de nous connecter. Et les arbres ne poussaient pas devant nous, mais entre nous. Nous étions sur des cotés opposés d’un forêt immense, en essayant désespérément de capturer la lumière papillotant de la coté opposée.
je voudrais mettre mes chaussures où il mets ses chaussures
quand il les enlèves à la fin de la journée
je voudrais m’allonger sur le sol et lever les yeux vers le plafond
je voudrais tenir ses peintures
et peindre avec ses pinceaux
je voudrais lancer mes doigts le long de ses bras
et lui donner la chair de poule
je voudrais plier ses vêtements
après avoir fini le linge
et les mettre dans son tiroir
je voudrais laisser toutes les lumières allumées
et m’endormir à côté de lui
Drinking cranberry juice. True. Eating many cookies smelling of almond extract. True. Leaving the lights on in my room because I never wander far. True. Reading the book you gave me and talked about for months. Lie.
Watching two movies on TV and never leaving for commercials. True. Except to soak my shoe laces in bleach. True. Crying at sappy jewelry ads while everyone else is in the kitchen. True. Where the woman gets frightened by a thunderstorm in the snow, the man presents her with the "Ever-Embrace" diamond necklace while they sit by the fire, and she falls into his arms, "Never let me go." Ever. True. It is normal to have thunderstorms in the wintertime. Lie.
I went to bed imagining the dark night before we left that was turned on and off by sleep. True. That was last year. True. And last year I anxiously awaited a phone call from a number I was too scared to ask for. True.
I go for long walks and sample the music you gave me. True. I immediately write letters to you in cursive and you say you can't read them. True. But you managed to figure out most of them. True. That is this year. Lie. That was last year. True.
I clean out my closet and install heavy brass hooks. True. I hang scarves and coats, and feed on memories of the many dark nights since that one night last December. True. That is this year. True. And this year I forget my phone in the other room so I forget how comatose it looks on the marble. True.
It's not that I'm scared to be alone. Lie. I find other things to think about. Lie. I have dreams that you trick me into kissing you by kissing me first. True. You You point a finger at me and accuse me of still loving you. True. We were sitting by a swimming pool. True. I have dreams where sequins hover in the sky, and they are small and faded sea-green with glitter. True. They fall on your cheek and make your heart ache. True. Fell on yours and made you feel different. True. Fell on mine and swam to my chin. True. You dragged me in the snow, as I held on, you tried to let go. True. Brought me to the ocean and I looked at the pieces on my glove. True. Saw they were snowflakes but shaped like stars. True. Found a tumor on my ribs and begged you to love me. True. Sing the words, "Be near me. I ask thee to stay. Close by me. Forever. And love me I pray." True. I think of you and not Jesus. True. I am thankful to have this month to myself. Lie. It's better that we have this time apart. Lie. This month will be a cleaner adjustment. True. I want a clean adjustment. Lie. I don't want to get used to it. True. I think I am anyway. True.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.