Thursday, June 18, 2015

And sometimes she was very sad...

My apologies if this post seems like a trite over-simplification. But for some reason this passage by Ludwig Bemelmans is all my brain can focus on. Maybe because Monsieur Bemelmans wrote Madeline to cope with the grief of his beloved childhood nursemaid's suicide. Maybe just because it's so simple, and life in my hometown has become quite complicated. I crave childlike simplicity.

Because everything else has already been said. A fucking million times: the gun rights arguments, the white male privilege, racism, religion, mental illness. AND WE'RE NOT GETTING ANYWHERE. Its all talk and no policy change. 

And all I can do is to come back to my children's books. Because that's the world I want for my children, not a world where they can't worship how they want, or dress how they feel, or express their sexuality or true personal identities, or go to school without fear of being shot. If the world can't measure up to ideas expressed at a second grade reading level, that's pretty damn sad.

I tend to take refuge in narrative. And mass shootings are just bad narrative. They just don't make any sense. What could a bevy of church goers possibly have done to someone to merit being blown away? Hating someone because of their skin color? That's absurd! Why not hate someone because they wear blue shoes or like potato chips while you're at it? Why that church? How many AME churches had he passed on the way down from the upstate? How many black people did he pass on the street before he got there? Sure, there's historical racial significance to that particular building, but I kinda wonder how many people were aware of it before Mr. White Supremacist showed up. If anything, this guys plan backfired because now I seriously want to learn more about Black History in my home town. I grew up going to school barely a couple of miles from that church. We learned Charleston history ad nauseum, but it was definitely the white baptist version. 

Maybe that's all I can take from this heinous tragedy. Get outside my own white middle class narrative and learn the history of others. More stories. Look for more "whys". Even if they never answer the terrible question of why these events took place, they may answer some other questions that need desperately to be answered.

A friend of mine posted that "not everything happens for a reason, but everything happens." That God was in that church and seeking the hearts of both the victims and the shooter. I can only hope that that was true. I can only hope that that young hateful man was drawn into that church, not because shooting parishioners is like shooting fish in a barrel and on par in both skill level and cowardice to shooting up a kindergarten, but because there was a tiny, hurting, yearning part of him that was looking for a reason not to go through with it. To find love that would replace the hate. 

I heard he sat through an entire bible study before pulling the trigger. Who does that? Why do that if you're really intent on going through with something? Why wait till the end? What were they studying? What did he hear? Did they pray for him? Did they acknowledge him or invite him to join them? What whisper of evil tipped the scale and sealed their fate?

In then end, perhaps the greatest wish you can give someone is the hope that they leave this world at a moment when they feel closest to God. I pray that sincerely for each of the souls departed that night. Let their terror, suffering and anguish be the briefest shadow before peace and glory. Let the living find their solace in prayer and community and restore that which is holy to the Holy City.   

Friday, March 6, 2015

Entry for SCBWI annual contest

This was prompted by this year's annual SCBWI art contest to reinterpret the cover of this classic children's book. I wanted to do something a little bit dark and mysterious. People always focus on Wilbur in this story, but really, the main protagonist is Charlotte. She drives the plot, she saves the day. She dies! For many of us growing up, this book was probably the first time we were confronted with the idea of death. Not in the abstract either, like when nobody wants to play the mom when you're playing house so you just say "The mom's dead." This is not "oh, the character is just not around anymore." I mean seriously, it ruins you for the whole week when you read this in school! I wanted something organic and elegant, but a little dark and bold, that really captured Charlotte's spirit and does credit to the real drama of this book. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

When I was in college, on the first day of my Drawing I class, my professor offered this wisdom: "Draw as if each line subtracted a minute of your life." Her intent was to teach us mindful drawing and economy, to make our marks boldly, and break the habit of tentative sketchy contours. It was a lesson I took to heart, but I'm sure none of us in that room imagined a scenario where we would pay for our lines with our lives.

On Wednesday, the cartoonists at the french satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, did just that.

Until now, I was largely unaware of the magazine's existence. Yet this terrible tragedy has weighed heavily on my heart as an artist. I remember consciously choosing to pursue art because I knew it was a career where I couldn't hurt anybody. Not really. And I certainly never thought it would be a career that I could get hurt. Any mistake I made on my path to mastery would be paved with learning opportunities. My mistakes could never cost someone their retirement or their home, could never lead to the death of a loved one, could never cause an important package to end up in Bosnia instead of Boston. I thought at the end of the day, a picture is just a picture. The most juvenile and rudimentary form of human expression, and I don't mean that derogatorily. Even if it's an unflattering rendering on a bathroom stall, surely that could only bruise one's pride. Is that worth killing for?


So is it also worth dying for?

Even if their cartoons were political in nature, I believe the best cartoonists are in it for a laugh. They aren't out to spread meanness or hurt. Maybe make the audience think a little bit, but ultimately cushion to injustices they see with a joke. I'm sure not a single member of staff at Charlie Hebdo had reason to believe they wouldn't come home that evening. Few people outside an actual battlefield set out in the morning prepared to lay down their lives for their passions. But maybe that's what passion is: laying down your life every day for a thing you believe in. The thing you love. The thing you enjoy. The thing you give up time, and money, and other opportunities in order to do. Nothing justifies the horrendous violence wrought on them, but I hope they will rest in peace knowing they died with pen in hand, so to speak.