The "O" Word: An Obsession With Organization

I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with the "O" word. Not the one you are thinking of, although that is not a bad thing to think about sometimes, just not when you are trying to work. I am talking about Organization. That "O" word. I know I'm not the Only One Out there. (Lots of "O's" in that sentence... I must be channeling James Thurber's "The Wonderful O.")

No matter how hard I try to ignore it and tell myself that I really should be facing the blank page, a little devil with a dust mop and a bottle of 409 starts poking me in the face and says, "don't work on that manuscript or dummy, isn't it time to organize your flat files... or clean off the desk? How can you work with all that stuff just sitting there in random piles with stray cat hairs creating a fleece-like texture?"

Truthfully, the piles aren't random. They are specific. But who ever calls them "specific piles?"

Over time I have trained myself to import these piles into drawers. This drawer- the "top drawer" of my beloved old oak flat file (I think it's oak. It used to belong to my mom.) is full of decades of my journals. On days when I am not feeling like organizing and not feeling particularly inspired I open this drawer, open old journals, and the "magic falls out." (A girl in a Beaverton, OR elementary once told me that every time she opened a book "a little magic fell out.") But this drawer is now full and it barely closes. (Maybe the magic is leaking. Is that good or bad?)

The truth is that the whole flat file is full.

There are piles of my original illustrations and dummies from my books. I know that I need to frame some of them and maybe even sell some of them. I just have not been up to the task of:

a) spending piles of money on framing
b) figuring out how to make perfect digital copies
c) deciding which pieces to part with
d) choosing what to donate to the Kerlan Collection
e) putting time and effort into this when I should be working on new books...

So the drawers are a good home for now.

And the drawers are organized. When I create a book, I create a large folder that contains all sketches, correspondence, reference materials, texts... The over-sized originals (the pastels) which don't fit in the flat file are piled up to the ceiling in boxes.

This is all related to the eighteen plus years of me creating books. But there is also my past as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator...
More piles. Specific piles of illustrations and designs in various media from so many years of creating "something" from "nothing." (A weird expression. As if your imagination was nothing? It's not. It's something, but that's a post for another day.)

I need to have a yard sale. An art yard sale. But that brings me back to the list I made above.

However I am currently looking down the barrel of a gun. It's a good gun, though. I am facing the  upcoming conundrum of moving my studio and home office from the small bedroom and backyard shed of my city house to the almost 1000 square feet spacious, well-lit studio and office we built on the property of our island cottage. I even designed the new space to have an "art storage loft."

This means tons of the "O" word. I have to Organize the things that are moving. I have to Organize the actual move and Obtain a rental truck for a One-way rental. Then I will have to Oganize the new studio and decide what satellite studio and office to create in the city so that I can still work in both places.

This should bring on feelings of joy and excitement, but for the moment, it's more like fear and dread. I just moved my father a little over two weeks ago. I also moved him one year ago. I organized all of his things.

It's been a time of "Multiple Organizations" and I'm not calling out for "more, more, more!"

Yet I know it will feel so good. "O" so good...when it's done and I'm settled.

Then I can get organized to start illustrating the first of three board books that I have under contract. And there are picture books to dummy up so that they can be sold. And a middle grade novel to get a second draft going... and hopefully a novel to polish if it finds a home... and journals to fill... and well, you know... Other Opportunities to pursue...

This is the life of this writer and illustrator. I'm not really complaining.
I feel privileged to be able to be so Obsessed and Organized, because if I wasn't, I'd be living a life way more Ordinary. And as James Thurber might have said, "that would feel a little Opeless."

With Love,


Father From the Truth

This is my father. Or should I say, this was my father? This was taken before I was born. I wanted to do a post about Father's Day, but first: a disclaimer: this is my version of Father's Day. If yours is/was idyllic, Hallmark-worthy or like a Norman Rockwell painting you may want to leave my blog. Now.

Are you still there? Good. Some of us may not have had perfect fathers. Some of us may have had fathers from... let's say "father from the truth," okay? (and some of us may have not even known our fathers- or wish we hadn't. I didn't create this holiday. I'm just writing about it.)

This is me and my father. I was 14 or 15 in this photo. This was about five years after my father left my mother and my brother and me... and ran off with my brother's first grade teacher.

There is a long story there. A story full of pain and suffering. A lot of pain on my mom's part, but she can't tell the story. She died of multiple myeloma- a blood cancer- a few days after I turned 24.

There is pain for me, too. Was. And still is.

I wanted and needed a father to be there for me.

But he wasn't. And isn't.

This photo was taken at my grandparent's house.

There was never a "room" for me at my father's house. There was a folding cot. Or there was a dinner at a diner. There was not a sense of being part of a family.

But I grew up, and I grew independent. I took care of myself. I took care of things when my mother died. I knew that my mother was mentally ill- she had bipolar disorder, but it wasn't until I went through my own spiral through depression when I was 35 that I realized that my father was mentally ill. He, like my mother, had bipolar disorder. He was climbing into the heights of mania when I put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

My father was an artist, but he could never make a living as one. He was lucky back in the early 1960's when his therapist introduced him to another client- a man named Dick Smith- who took my father under his wing and taught him how to be a special effects make-up artist. Dick and my dad ran the NBC make-up department. I grew up hanging out there as a child. Then they went "freelance." Dick brought dad with him to do "The Exorcist" movie- dad did the priest and helped Dick with Linda Blair.

Dad was very successful. He was nominated for two Oscars. But by then, my mother, my brother and I were living on a near poverty level... we couldn't pay our taxes or heating bills... and he... well... he had another life.

For years, I avoided him as much as possible. He barely sent me a card or called... when he went into the absolute heights of untreated mania in 2005 he left his second wife and moved into a loft in Brooklyn. This photo above documents that period.

I could see the crash coming. I tried to warn him but why would he listen to me? He once told me that he was "not a pillar of strength" when I wanted him to be there for me. So he made a lot of mistakes. He wound up in upstate New York upside-down in a house that he was ripped off by an unscrupulous neighbor.

This is where he was when I realized that I had to help him. Save him. Stop him from sitting there and dying. He even said he was "waiting for the Grim Reaper."

He couldn't take care of the house. He couldn't take care of himself. He had slid into the pits of depression and he didn't see any way out.

I tried to help from far away. From Seattle. I told him about a senior center a few miles away where he could get hot meals on weekdays. My brother, who lived 70 miles away- my brother who he had belittled and verbally abused not only when we were kids, but into adulthood, drove over almost weekly and tried to fix what he could, but the situation was dire.

I realized that even though this man was not a father to me in the way that I wanted him to be- he was my kith and kin. He was also a human being and he deserved to live (and die) with dignity.

So my husband- who told me "you took care of my boys for twenty years, I can help with your dad"- signed up for the mission.

We took my father out of that house, and off that sofa where he had been sitting for over six years- buried in mail, surrounded by peeling paint, filth, and a nasty pellet stove that he used to keep warm. He was malnourished and he hadn't showered for years- nor had he done laundry. I tried to use the washer and it wouldn't work...

We had no choice but to stay there for a week while we packed what we could salvage, sleeping on an air mattress my brother lent us. I got sick the third day from all the mold and who knows what else.

Then one year ago on Father's Day we put my father in our rental car and drove to Newark airport and we flew him home. To our home in Seattle.

It was a long flight.

It's been a long year.

One year later I have to report that my father is no longer malnourished. He is healthy. As healthy as an 80 year old can be.

We just moved him into a lovely retirement community less than a mile from our house. He seems happier than I've seen him in years.

He has never really thanked us in the way that you would expect a grateful member of your immediate family to do- especially considering the scope of what we did- and we did it all by ourselves. No moving companies. No cleaning services. No help whatsoever. The sacrifices we both made to our personal lives and to our professional lives are immeasurable.

I have to believe that my father is proud of me, but he will never say it. Nor will he do anything so simple as offer to buy us a dinner or a drink... but here it is, Father's Day and I can celebrate because I know that even if he is not a good father, I have done what I can to be a good daughter.

I can rest well knowing that he will be comfortable for the rest of his life- and all of us, no matter how we treat others, deserve that on some level. That is the truth.

So my Father's Day is not full of barbecues and bad ties... and maybe I should be grateful.
But it is full of hope- hope that now I can put my life back in order and go back to being the creative person I have been. I can thank my father for some of those genes. I do carry the talents of both of my artist parents with me. I learned how to play with words from my father. I didn't realize that it was a sign of mania at the time...

Sometimes we learn from our parents and sometimes we learn what we don't want to do/be from our parents.

No matter what, I will always think of my father on Father's Day- because he did give me a gift- this life- and I'll always appreciate that.

And someday, maybe someday soon I'm going to write that book about all this because there is another thing my father had given me, albeit inadvertently; he has given me material. Conflict. Characters. Story. Thank you, Dad.

With Love,