That was about the most exciting thing about drawing this week. I’ve been focusing on faces more often. Pleasingly, I liked the second better than the first, and the third better than the second.

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I got so fed up with my own style  that I decided I needed to do something very different and started using pencils only, no charcoal sticks, no broad edges (with the middle drawing, above). All shading done in scribbles and lines laid close together. That helped. I was getting down in the dumps.

It’s a tough issue, this matter of style. For a long time, I felt the same way about my voice as a writer. I just didn’t like it, didn’t feel at home with it, was even embarrassed by it. Over time and many, many weekly deadlines, I grew, or grew into, into a voice that feels authentic and that I usually like. How much of that is development of my writing ability and how much might be better called growth of the soul? Isn’t it essentially about being comfortable with who I am?

If so, am I not comfortable with who I am as an artist? I don’t think that’s it. I think that I have a vision in my mind that I’m not able to realize on paper yet. But how to get from inner vision to charcoal-and-paper reality isn’t just a matter of technical prowess, either. Ira Glass, in advice beautifully illustrated by Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils, says it’s mostly about already having good taste–knowing what “good” looks like–and making a huge volume of work, i.e., gradually honing your craft. In the meantime, you keep making things that disappoint you. I think that’s true, and also that there’s something more about the process that isn’t expressed in what he says, but I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway, here are some more disappointments along the way to what I hope will be work that matches my vision.

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What do you call the anniversary date of a marriage that ended long ago? It’s a marker of some kind, but whether a gravestone or a bunch of balloons, it’s hard to say.

I’ve been divorced from the man I married on August 11, 1991 for almost as long as we were married. I have had not a twinge of regret or doubt since the moment we called it quits. Sadness, certainly, but there was no question in my mind, then or since, that divorce was the best decision. So when this date comes around, my primary feeling about its now being an un-anniversary is profound relief. So many of the twelve anniversaries we shared were racked with worry, often crises, that it’s hard to imagine that if we’d stayed married, this would be an unreservedly happy day.

And, of course, I have a wonderful spouse who wouldn’t be in my life if my first marriage had muddled on, and a daughter, the light of our lives, who wouldn’t exist. So, no regrets.

Just the same, a form of sorrow shadows this date each year, an existential wistfulness: that dreams do die, that something as hope-filled as a wedding can lead into a dead end of disappointment, that time and other inexorable forces can render people we once knew (including ourselves) almost unrecognizable, that love is sometimes not all you need.

This summer’s soundtrack seems to be Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken”: “Seems like every time you stop and turn around, something else has just hit the ground.” I’d like to take a page from my soon-to-be-colleague Lauren Way and ask, “What’s good in your life? What’s bringing you joy? What are your victories, small or large?” As she says, we could sure use some good news right now. The comments form is at your disposal.

Renee Ruchotzke wrote about them well:  services that cruelly promise inspiration but deliver a lecture and inexpert music instead. People come seeking spiritual sustenance and, after hearing an address on beekeeping, “cross this church off [their] list.” Unitarian Universalist congregations have a bad habit of giving people time in the pulpit as an act of kindness–kindness to the speaker, but not to the listeners–and letting their concerns for quality go by the wayside, especially in summer.

This summer, I was a spiritual seeker far from home and eager to go to church while on vacation, and from that experience I gained a nugget to add to Renee’s wisdom. It isn’t enough to offer a service full of inspiration; you have to make it clear, from your publicity, that that’s what it’s going to be.

I was in a city where I know nothing about the congregation, and what I saw on the website was an address by the director of a local community organization, talking about . . . the work of his organization. The title didn’t pose a question or suggest that the sermon was going to try to answer any. Now, it’s possible that his address was deeply spiritual. The blurb describing the service said something about the way we all need the arts, and that could be the heart of a heart-centered sermon, but  it sounded an awful lot like a standard spiel by a passionate advocate of a good cause. We all know them. Once in a while they are terrific, which is to say, they think about the audience and address their needs. More often, they are barely disguised appeals for funds, or just general support for their cause. No matter how excellent the cause, this is not the kind of thing I want to hear at the best of times (just send me your brochure, please; I can read it in two minutes, rather than listen to the 20-minute equivalent), and certainly not in lieu of spiritual reflection and guidance for my life. There is a time and place at church for community organizations to talk about their work: Wednesday evening, in the Emerson Room. Not Sunday at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary.

If I’d been a few minutes away, I might have risked it. But to get there, I was going to have to negotiate the bus system of an unfamiliar system and travel 50 minutes each way, and I just wasn’t willing to put that kind of effort into attending a lecture. So if it wasn’t a lecture, I’m sorry. I hope whoever writes the newsletter the next time will remember that what they are about to write is all their visitors know about that Sunday’s service. Ask yourselves: is this really a worship service? If it isn’t, please reschedule it for a different time. If it is, make sure it sounds like it from the publicity. Because if it isn’t enticing, many of us are just going to stay home.

 

Between traveling and being sick, I missed three drawing sessions. I was still pretty worn-out from illness yesterday but just had to go draw. It pretty much wiped me out for the day, physically, but my spirit got a burst of energy. The music was marvelous: Gillian Welch, something violin-y mixing classical and Arabic sounds that I couldn’t identify but that was lovely, Amy Winehouse, Talking Heads Remain in Light (an album I used to listen to a lot in my high school / college years, now languishing with the rest of the vinyl). I love when the models pick Talking Heads, not only because I like them but because the strong up-tempo beats keep my hand moving fast. And Gillian Welch isn’t exactly beat-driven or up-tempo, but couldn’t you draw all day to “Look at Miss Ohio”? I could. Here are the day’s drawings in the order they were done.

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The above works well in terms of the overall gesture, and just enough of the face to give a sense of her mood. Also, I had fun drawing the cloth.

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The above is most interesting for its feet. Who knew? I thought I was focusing on the light and shadow.  The left foot is a perfect example of something I thought was disastrous as I drew it (“does it really look like that?”), but that worked pretty well. Yes, it really looks like that. Don’t think. Just draw.

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On the above, I used a harder charcoal and went lighter, following instinct. Messy and mis-proportioned, but the light works fairly well, so I’m glad I did.

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I wanted the above pose to be really long, instead of ten minutes. So much interesting light and shadow, her upper body contrasting with the deep shadows cast by her legs.

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I just had to jump in bravely and try her face on the above; she was standing quite close to me, really looming, and her attitude, hands on hips, looking up over my head, was irresistible. I tried to bring the same roughness and focus on dark shadows to her features as to her torso. It’s so hard not to get fiddly with eyes and noses.

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Sweated over the right hand in the above. Couldn’t get it to work right. Still, it came out better than I thought it was doing as I worked. The pinky, though! Very happy with the pinky. Fingernails tend to do me in. I go into too much detail and kill them because really, the edges of fingernails and the delineation between the pink and the white of the nail are quite subtle. This time I managed to stay subtle.

It’s comical to take such happiness from a well-rendered pinky fingernail, but such is drawing.

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This was a 30-minute pose–I messed up the proportions so badly in the first 15 minutes that I tossed it and started over with this. The proportions aren’t quite right here either (in reality, her right breast is not noticeably larger than her left) and the left arm is a disaster–I just wasn’t looking, or something–but the sweat and tears over the left hand paid off pretty well. Foreshortening creates more of those “does it really look like that?” moments. It’s so hard to turn off analysis and just draw what I see. But I tried, especially on the shading, and it’s the best part of the drawing.

On this grim anniversary, I’m moved to share one of the greatest war poems I know, which was inspired by Genesis 22 and the war that began one hundred years ago today, by most reckonings. The poet, Wilfred Owen, died in that war. He was 25.

“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

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Virginia Woolf famously noted how unusual it was to find accounts in literature of women being friends–not rivals, sisters, mother and daughter, etc., and not in their relationship to men,  but friends with one another. Paging through a new novel by Mary Carmichael,

‘Chloe liked Olivia,’ I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. 

So much of women’s lives had been obscured, and so much lost to literature, as we would have lost Julius Caesar and Hamlet and Prince Hal if writers had not seen  the friendships between men as a worthy subject. (She goes into much more detail, and if you haven’t read “A Room of One’s Own,” do! It’s indispensable.)

Something just as troubling, or more, seems to be true in our time and place, not in literature but in real life, and it’s signaled by the trending term “bromance.” “Bromance” refers to a non-sexual, close relationship between unrelated men, as in “the thriving bromance between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen,” who’ve clearly enjoyed spending lots of off-stage time together during their tour as co-stars in a couple of plays. “Brother,” “bro,” “romance”: get it?

In our culture, we don’t need a special name to describe the relationship between two women who love each other, love to spend time together, and are not romantically involved together nor seeking to be. We already have a term: friendship. What disturbs me about the embrace of the “bromance” term is the shunning of the obvious, available word.

Is there something so extraordinary about a close, loving, non-romantic relationship between men that we need a cute, arch term for it? Do men in our culture not feel comfortable calling each other friends? Is it difficult in real life, as it once was in literature for Chloe to like Olivia, for Patrick to like Ian?

Men, what’s your experience?

I got back to the drawing studio yesterday after the June hiatus. I like the foot here:

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and the foot and right hand here, as well as the shadow falling on the shoulder:

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I had no idea the patch of light on the buttocks was working here until I saw it today:

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Nothing much here, though I enjoyed working on that hand (it ended up out of scale, as things do when I focus too much on one part):

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So I really tried to work all over the paper here, not staying in any one spot too long (my teacher in Mexico, Silvia Velasquez, always reminded us of that and I’m aware of her voice 80% of the time I’m drawing, because that’s how much of the time I’m ignoring that advice, often to my regret):

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I did it more on this one:

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On this one I just went really dark, too dark on the back but it’s okay–I wanted to stay loose and I mostly did:

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Every time abortion is debated I have this wish, this longing, which, forgive me, I’m going to articulate as a list. As with many polarizing debates, people tend to hunker down in their camps pointing at the most extreme versions of their opponents’ views (possibly fictional): “She had a ninth-month abortion so she could fit into her prom dress!” / “He thinks people shouldn’t even use contraception!” We know the stereotypes: Pro-choice people are just callous and selfish and eschew personal responsibility. Anti-abortion people just hate women and fear sex.

I believe (and fervently hope) that there is a vast realm of people who do not all agree about the ethics of reproduction but do share the following values, or strive for them, even though we get very nervous about how others might exploit them to ends we don’t share:

(1) We think sex is a valuable and precious part of adult life and should be enabled and celebrated. We want people to rejoice in their sexuality, not be ashamed.

(2) We value the lives of people living in the “fourth trimester” and beyond.

(3) We believe that somewhere between conception and birth, the human zygote / embryo / fetus takes on qualities that obligate us to it in ways that we are not obligated to our appendix or spleen. This does not necessarily mean that it has the same moral claims as an infant, just that it is not the moral equivalent of an object.

(4) We believe that women’s autonomy is as important as men’s.

(5) We believe that the person whose body nourishes and is inextricably bound up with a growing fetus has a unique relationship to that fetus and the issues surrounding it that is not equivalent to the biological father’s, other parent’s/parents’, or anyone else’s–which is not to suggest that others have no relationship or obligations to that being.

(6) We harbor deep questions and uncertainty about where the dividing line is between not-living and living, about what and who has moral claims on whom, and about how much some frequently-debated questions even matter to the question of abortion.

(7) We believe in two principles that are often in tension with each other: people have a moral obligation to accept the consequences of their actions, and people need the space to start afresh after mistakes. We want to live honestly with this tension and seek neither irresponsibility nor punitive rigidity.

(8) We believe that in an ideal world, people would choose if and when they want to reproduce, be enabled to reproduce when they wish it, be able to enjoy their sexuality without unwanted pregnancy, and be supported in raising wanted children. We commit to work together toward such a world.

(9) While recognizing that pregnancy is too often a sorrow and a burden, indeed sometimes a tragedy, we also see the profundity and beauty in it and feel a deep sadness about the loss of a pregnancy, however it comes about.

(10) We recognize that legality and morality are not exactly the same, nor can they be, nor should they be. There may be illegal actions that are morally right. There may be immoral actions that are perfectly legal. This will always be so in anything other than a totalitarian society.

(11) We would like to move beyond rhetoric and dismissively pat solutions and slogans.

(12) We believe these issues are important and difficult.

(13) We wish to talk with others who struggle with these issues, not in order to concede to intolerable positions nor make peace with every opponent, but because they matter to us, and it is the duty both of a government and a civilization to grapple honestly with such questions.

I would love to attend a forum where people engage with these issues, respectfully, setting aside fear and righteousness as much as possible in order to come to a deeper understanding for ourselves, which may help our public policies be wiser as well. At our best, we Unitarian Universalists have a commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, embrace moral complexity, trust that reason and relationship can get us to a better society, and believe that it is our calling to help make that better society. And we are currently working, as a denomination, on the issue of reproductive justice. So what better time to host such forums?

Please comment respectfully.

I can’t stand roller coasters, but I guess I have a similar craving for experiencing fear and suffering from a safe position, because I have been reading books that make me writhe with anxiety. Right now I’m reading The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. The only people in danger are creations of Collins’s imagination, but I’m gripping my seat and occasionally yelping “Oh no!” and “Don’t do that!”

Is this bad for my blood pressure, do you think, or is vicarious terror good for us?

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