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Until I sorted all the art supplies last week, I had forgotten that I made a whole lot of painted papers ten years ago. Different textures and colors, using watercolors on tracing paper: a trove of treasure for someone on a collage kick.

untitled abstract, 6″ x 6″

It’s so hard to wrap our minds around the deaths of 200,000 people, or any large number. They fade into unreality. We might reflect on how much grief is caused by the death of even one person close to us. Then we try to multiply that by 200,000 . . . and again, the sheer number makes them slide away out of our imagining.

This is where comparisons, however odd, can help. Some will leave us just as unable to grasp the reality of this disaster, but if just one works for you, good.

When the news reported this week that 200,000 US Americans have died of COVID,* a friend of mine from Vermont said, “It would be like losing one-third of the people of my state.” Suddenly we’re in a horror movie: a mysterious force has struck down one in three Vermonters. Dead bodies are found in barns, cafes, on small-town sidewalks . . . the two-thirds who are spared weep and stare at the devastation.

I live in San Francisco, so I can make that “One quarter of the people in my city.”

Three and a half Vietnam Wars would have killed as many US Americans as COVID-19.

Very roughly, we adults breathe 20,000 times a day. So if with every breath, day and night, for ten days, a person died before your eyes, that would be the death toll.

Picture a big outdoor arena, such as AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. If every single person who went to a sold-out game there were killed as they left the stadium, that wouldn’t be as many as our countrypeople who have died of COVID-19. Everyone at the next game would be killed too. And then, the game after that, only half the people would be killed. That’s 200,000 people.

If you’re making your 10,000 steps, then it takes about three weeks to take 200,000 steps. With every step, a death, for three weeks.

Is it real yet?

*In reality, going by excess deaths calculations rather than reported deaths attributed to COVID, we reached this grim milestone in mid-August.

Since reading excerpts from Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough, I have been calling the current occupant of the White House Uncle Vernon. Every time I do, someone wants to know why. So, first, this background from Mary Trump:

“One year, Donald and his first wife, Ivana Trump, gave the young Mary a single gold lamé shoe, its heel filled with hard candy.

“Where had this thing come from?” Mary writes. “Had it been a door prize or a party favour from a luncheon?

“Donald came through the pantry from the kitchen. As he passed me, he asked, ‘What’s that?’

“It’s a present from you.”

Mary Trump also says that in 1977, when she was 12, her Christmas present from Donald and Ivana was a $12 pack of underwear. Her brother got a leather-bound journal, two years out of date. Later, Mary received a Cellophaned gift basket, “an obvious regift” containing olives and a salami but not one evidently removed item, which a cousin said was “probably caviar.”

The Guardian, 7/7/20

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are Harry Potter’s unwilling and abusive adoptive parents. They never mark Harry’s birthday, and at Christmas they give him “presents” such as a tissue, a toothpick, a 50-pence piece or an old pair of Uncle Vernon’s socks.

Of all the different embodiments of evil in the Harry Potter series, Vernon is the most clownish–always unwittingly so. He is conformist, conventional, habitually cruel, and boring (literally: he’s in the drill business). He has no imagination and disapproves of anyone who does, and he knows no way to deal with opposition except brute force. All of that plus cheapskate Christmas gifts, and we have a tailor-made nickname for the buffoon in the White House.

I’ve done lots of drawing over the past ten years but have taken only one drawing class in that time. Now, in quarantine, all three of us are taking a class via video conference with Katie Gilmartin, whose printmaking classes we’ve taken before.

It’s really fun to do together and Katie is a great teacher. Also, this is the best drawing I’ve ever done of my left hand, despite its being a fairly frequent subject, being that it’s always–can I resist the pun? nope–on hand.

Until a week ago–heck, two days ago–I thought people who called for a dissolution of police departments were crazy fantasists. Sure, we should funnel more money into social work, education and other measures that we know actually prevent crime and improve the lives of our people. But defund the police? We do have laws, I thought, and we do need to enforce them.

I’ve changed my mind. Yes, as long as we’re an archist, as distinct from an anarchist, country, we need to empower people to act when laws are broken, but we need to start from scratch. The police of our country have always been pulled two ways: protect the ill-gotten gains of robber barons against the poor who press to receive their due, or protect the people’s rights? Be the legitimized face of white supremacist terrorism, or protect everybody? Act as judge/jury/executioner, or respectfully turn over suspected violators of the law to the courts?

This week they have chosen the evil path over and over, and it’s just one bad week in 250 bad years. Time for a new way.

So, drawing with SketchbookX. Luna was surprisingly cooperative.

Portobello. And now I know sonething I’ll draw with the scratchboard and knife my daughter gave me this morning.

It’s been fifty days of making art every day. I missed two. It’s making me very happy, especially when art is one of the first things I do in the morning. That seems to be when I have the most energy for creativity, and whatever I do then stays wiyh me the whole day.

In the meantime, Joy has completed the drawings for our new art room, and will take them to the city permit office tomorrow, so that the builder can get going. It won’t be large, but we’ll be able to have a table for us all to work at, the way we did in Oaxaca three years ago, and enough shelves for all the art supplies.

We’re setting aside a little time, reserving a little space, for something that’s important to all three of us.


On the way to work this morning, three things in particular made me grateful for this life. (1) In the shopping center where I stopped on an errand, there is a restaurant called Hella Halal. (My daughter would say Hecka Halal, but I like the rich consonance of the original.) (2) Just now, as I turned into the church’s street, a fire engine was coming my way with its siren and lights whirling, so I pulled over next to a preschool, and thus enjoyed the lovely sight of the children running toward the fence, hands over their ears, faces alight, to watch it go by.

And (3) all along the route there have been trees in their autumn glory.

I’ve been playing with charcoal, having tossed a drawing pad and a box of various charcoals into my bag for a short trip out of town. Yesterday I drew a still life (Joy: “A bowl of fruit? Isn’t that kind of a cliché?” Me: “But look at all the different textures in one place. That’s why so many artists like to paint them!”) (Or possibly: Because they’re frequently available, and, as Joy reasoned, they don’t move). Today I was so moved and inspired by Rex LeBeau’s drawing, Shadow, in the UU World, that I just wanted to try out different effects with the charcoal, so that’s what I did.

Doing some art every day is definitely a good thing in my life. And a good example of the games some of us have to play just to get ourselves doing what we want to do. For me, it helps to have made a page of 100 numbered, dated squares in my journal. Every day I make art, I fill in the day’s square. The compulsive in me really doesn’t want to leave any of them blank, so on the days when I’ve been tired and tempted to go to sleep and skip art time, compulsiveness works in my favor.

Even deciding on 100 days in a row is a game. Whatever works.


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