Friday, October 31, 2008

I Didn't Think Anyone Would Notice

Tim Leffel, writer of "The World's Cheapest Destinations" and editor of, gave my 3-D children's atlas a plug on his blog. And Warren (for comic book fans, he needs no explanation) did last week. I am lucky to know so many supportive writers.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Up and Away

I forced my part-time assistant, Michael Kraiger, to read 40 issues of "Superman Adventures" to see what was appropriate to reprint in the Middle East.

He wandered into my office about an hour into the project.

"Is this offensive?"

In issue #11, Superman is lifting up a rescue boat to the burning oil rig so the workers can jump on. He speaks.

"You know what they say...if you can't bring Mohammed to the mountain..."

I stared blankly at Kraiger, having no idea if that was offensive. Clever use of the phrase but offensive? Maybe...maybe not...what's the worst that could happen if it IS offensive? Oh you know, angry people, me getting fired, my company getting in trouble.

"It's just in the lettering? Not in the art?" Where the hell did that phrase come from?


"Send a note for the translator to change the words." Don't risk it. Take it out.

Unsolicited Advice

You know those frequent flyer miles you have that have been piling up?

A piece of unsolicited advice here. Quit hoarding and use 'em.

Why? Because they are becoming increasingly harder to use, less valuable, and it isn't going to get better for the consumer, only worse. US-airlines are in trouble, have been in trouble for some time, and as they run fewer flights and increase restrictions, it's becoming tougher to get free seats.

It's still possible to get the free seats at the moment, but you have to plan way ahead, or choose a destination that no one wants to go to or that has dozens of daily flights.

I still have over 130,000 Continental miles that I am sitting on, waiting for the day I can take another Round-the-World trip, so I am as guilty of hoarding as the next person. But I am also using miles at a rapid pace. Earlier this year, I was able to go to Bogota, Colombia on Continental miles over Spring Break (not a destination with a lot of demand) and in June, I went to Las Vegas (dozens of flights) with American, to access my Grand Canyon rafting trip. I've also booked a winter trip to Lima, Peru on my American miles. From there, I had to buy a LAN South America Airpass to get to La Paz, Bolivia and back via Lake Titicaca and Cuzco, but that was a great deal at $381. It cost more to fly directly from Lima to La Paz. A lot more.

So why do I think you should use your miles if I myself am hoarding? I predict higher minimums for each destination, fewer seats, and additional fees being added on, which will eventually make using miles no deal at all. It's not even a prediction, really, at this point. It's a given. I'm not saying anything that isn't already on paper. If you are planning on traveling on miles next year, go ahead and book now, so that you don't get hit by any of the new fees or rules that traditionally happen at the end of the year.

I'm still hoarding my RTW ticket, true. But I am also keeping an eye on continuing to accumulate in that account. Because my assumption is that by the time I'm ready to use that ticket, it's going to take a lot more miles to do it than it does now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Scraps of Monday

Today, I went into a trimmings store in the Garment District, and discovered an entire section dedicated to elastic bra straps. No kidding.

They have to sell bra straps somewhere, I guess.

Plus, I finished some overdue homework for the book review section of the writing workshop I am in. Is it cheating that I reviewed a graphic novel? One about travel?

And in the magazine workshop, the Times editor/teacher okayed me to write about cultural misunderstandings that occur in the production of comic books. Now I just have to do that without getting into trouble with my employers or with certain regions of the world.

Finally, the same teacher had us review an idea memo for a story that the Times had published about gray squirrels pushing out red squirrels in the UK. I doodled out my own illustration, and was disappointed when I heard that they'd just gone with a simple red squirrel photo.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

From the Archives

Warren has been talking about Daniel J over on his site. He's linked to an embedded video there from Daniel's "white" period (something about angels and devils). I know this time as 1988-89, but who knows, maybe it continued for years afterwards.

Sorry if my mp4s don't play nicely with your PCs, and sorry 'bout the quality. I copied this off a 21-year-old VHS tape onto a tiny digital video tape and then brought it into my computer, and didn't make it bigger on purpose so that when this gets swiped and put up on YouTube, I'll still have the better material.

I don't have a good way yet of digitizing old footage. Anyway, I have the originals backed up onto Betacam. Maybe one day, I'll come across a way to import it from there.

Here's a little song for you to start your day with. If I weren't so lazy, I'd digitize my version of "D0n't Play Cards With Satan," but I have to go write an overdue **&%^% stupid book review for *&^%$% stupid book review class, which is part of a writing workshop I am taking.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Skirt Class: Part Two

I love sewing class.

Which is weird. I never was that excited about that sort of thing before. But Denise and I are already planning on taking the dress class and the apron class. And Roberta has agreed to go to knitting school with us. We're going to knit scarves.

If I can get Michael Kraiger to go to knitting school with us, then I'll know I have arrived.

In Class #2 at Flirt Brooklyn's Gowanus studio today, we pinned our patterns down to our fabric, lining things up neatly on the fold. We cut the patterns, then snipped the spots where the darts would go and marked the far end of them. We wrote "FRONT" and "BACK" on the pieces on tape. We snipped the centers, removed the patterns, and then moved to the machines.

On the machines, we reinforced the curve shapes at the top of the skirts, sewed the darts, sewed the left sides together and zip-zag stitched the edges. We ironed the edges flat and sewed in our zippers.

Which worked just fine. We were both pretty zonked though when we left, but not too tired to eat lunch and look at the Flirt boutique a few blocks away.

One more class left next Saturday. Then maybe it's time to make another skirt on my own, to try to remember all the steps.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Remnant of the Past

When I first moved to JC in 1988, a six-year crusade was just beginning.

The ornate Loew's Theater, a luxurious "movie palace" built in 1929, was scheduled for demolition. A grassroots citizen movement saved the cinema, which was renovated for years, long after I left JC for the East Village. (Meanwhile, the Majestic Theater around the corner from me downtown was lost. Now it's condos.)

By the time I returned to JC in...well, it's complicated because I kept leaving again but let's say 2002, the Loew's Theater was used for movies, concerts, and events. Lots of time it just sits there, out of place amidst the butt-ugly urban transit center known as Journal Square.

I'd never been there before last night, but the Landmark Loew's Theater is incredible. It made me want to be able to brag like my friend Pete can, about seeing Star Wars there as a kid. I wished I'd been part of the movement to help save it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Remember When It All Sucked?

New York has really changed over the last decade, but lately, it seems like old Manhattan is starting to peek through as the city frays around the edges. It feels like there are more homeless begging for change on the subway, more kids busking, and a little more hustling going around us. Maybe this is just an illusion that comes along with a downturn in the economy.

Old New York burst through in front of me on Broadway today. Pedestrians were waiting for the walk signal, pushing inch by inch into the street as they impatiently waited for the signal to change. One middle-aged businessman made a break for it, briskly walking across the street against traffic, and then he sped up as a bike messenger bore down on him.

"RUN, YOU F*CKING FAGGOT!" The bike messenger was definitely not a recent transplant from the 'burbs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Atlas is Here

There's even a photo of the author (that's me) and a penguin on page 2.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Skirt Class: Part One

I'm not normally a craftsy person. Though once when a certain ex (circa 1988 or 89)—who went on to bigger and better things involving famous independent films—flew to Texas for the weekend and left me his car, I drove it to Virginia and then built a farm on the dashboard in order to score forgiveness.

It worked, though a few week's later, his friend Jack threw the farm out the window. Or so he said. Who knows. Knowing that particular ex, he probably threw it out himself to avoid explaining to some woman that his girlfriend put it there.

Denise and I are hell-bent on becoming craftsy. We started out of mid-life boredom, but Denise and I both have discovered that we really like "craftsy." Liz did too at the bag class, but she sat this class out cuz she hates skirts. Though her man did escort Denise and I around Brooklyn, looking at Gowanus art studios after our class ended. And he loaned me $20 to buy clothes at the Carroll Gardens flea market. (Note to self: Pay Stuart back the $20 next time you see him.)

Class #1 (of a three-part series) did not involve fabric at all, to our surprise. We spent more than two hours cutting the patterns to fit our particular sizes. Who knew that sizing was so specific? So how is it that I can wear one-size-fits-all? I don't know, but this skirt is going to fit me perfectly. Until the next time I gain weight, anyway.

We discovered that I am taller than Denise, and also have longer legs, a longer torso, and a bigger butt. No surprises, but by the end of the class, both of us were dizzy from calculations and too-much-information. We were glad to meet Stuart at the coffee shop and then wander around the Gowanus art studio tour.

Next Saturday: Class #2. I bet we cut and sew this time, and then deal with zippers and darts in the last class on November 1.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another Quotable Author

I just finished reading "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight." It's marvelous. An honest writer, narrating her childhood without apology. She explained at the book's end how she'd quit trying to write the Africa book that seemed made-to-order to the world's expectations and wrote the Africa book she needed to write, the powerful one that I loved reading. I apologize in advance to my family for the actions this inspiration may bring out in me. If you're a regular reader, you know that I have a hardcore backstory to cover one of these days, because of course, L'il Marie existed long before travel blogs and Dik-Dik books, and the Adult Marie stories got nothin' on L'il Marie stories.

I made the decision, then, to write my life exactly as it had been: passionate wonderful, troubled, oppresive, chaotic, beautiful. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is the story that was born of that decision. It is not a political story or the story of Empire. It is the story of how one African came to terms with her family's troubled history; it is a love story for the continent."

-Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tipping the Author

I stopped by my PO Box yesterday to get the bill for my health insurance. (I submit it to my company for reimbursement.) I was surprised to see an envelope from the Dik-Dik publisher. Ah, another royalty statement.

Last time, I bought the ex a few beers and myself a dress. Probably be half as much this time, I thought.

I was delighted to find it was enough for several dresses, and I am no longer responsible for buying anyone beer (I still have some left in the 'fridge if anyone wants to come by and take it), so I am going to use this to pay for a GAP Adventures trip when I am in Bolivia over winter break. It's $101 short after my 5% discount from having gone on the first GAP trip to Antarctica (before their ship sunk), so I'll have to cover that and the taxes on the frequent flyer ticket, but so far, Bolivia is looking affordable.

And while my royaltes are a far cry from Paul Theroux's or Bill Bryson's, I'm excited to have a check worth depositing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Some Clean Teeth, Some Edit Comic Books

Last night, I squeezed myself into the SRO spot at the back of a Barnes & Noble event where bestselling Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany was speaking in support of his new novel. Those of you who know Cairo will know his book "The Yacoubian Building."

The author is also a dentist. Still. Even with a bestseller, he cleans teeth. When asked why, he responded with a familiar refrain.

"In Egypt, it is not possible to survive only as a writer. Every writer must also have a second career."

The host responded with exactly what I was thinking. It's not just Egypt.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October Surprise

Last night was the final night of my first series of coloring classes. It's a class for Seniors in the Illustration department.

I'd raced through comic book coloring over the seven weeks, starting on Day One with a history lesson, the relationship of ink on the press to the channels in the file, and pushing them through correct scanning and file setup. I made the students physically hand-code printouts of 30-year-old Fantastic Four pages, and then made them replicate the work on-screen. They learned to finish a file correctly and got the almighty lesson of "JUST CUZ IT LOOKS GOOD ON YOUR MONITOR DOESN'T MEAN IT WILL LOOK GOOD ON PAPER." They learned about value and how the little numbers relate to the actual colors. They learned to suppress blacks when transferring files from RGB to CMYK.

Then we raced through gradations, brushes, filters, and coloring for the web. They made their own brushes and turned in three finished pieces at the end.

13 of the 14 students finished. Most of them did excellent work. A couple were *really* good.

And last night, towards the end of class, one student made a barely audible comment about being clueless in Photoshop.


"I didn't know anything about Photoshop before I came in here."

"What about the rest of you?"

A few of them had played with it on their own. One had taken classes before he transferred to SVA.

I was gob-smacked. They were Seniors in an art school. I'd assumed a certain awareness of basic Photoshop skills, and consequently had driven them hard, with high expectations. Meanwhile, most of them had barely ever touched the program.

But they hadn't complained and they'd done each assignment. And done them well.

I wish I could post their work here. Some of the kids barely knew how to use a computer at all, and here they'd all kept up as I raced through their lessons.

I couldn't be more proud.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fringe Benefit

I can get you on the list. +1. Or +your whole family. Just let me know the next time you're heading to Kuwait, okay?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Creative Nonfiction for the Creatively Confused

I am enrolled in a year-long writing workshop at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

I turned in a few pieces so far, and am supposed to have sent in a short proposal in yesterday. It's a proposal for a critical essay, supported by a book, or several books, or some research.

And I didn't turn it in. Because as it turns out, I have nothing to say.

I am as astonished by this turn of events as you are. Cuz normally, I got lots to say.

But I find myself at a loss as to how to support what I spout off with the me-spouting-off just being a tiny part of the article, and the research and literary references being the bulk of the article.

For example, I'd like to write an essay on the loss of "home." How rambling around the world on and off for eight years, living in six or seven other places since 2001 (and let's not even get started on that year) resulted in a seemingly permanent loss of roots. I am a citizen of everywhere, but at home nowhere. I float along through communities without being a part of them.

But that's just me talking, not references to a book.

I'd also like to cover the new style of African story, how we've left behind the Ernest Hemingway safari books and the "what a quaint Peace Corps experience" books and moved into "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" and "The House at Sugar Beach."

And I think, whoa, that's big. Can I read an array of books and say something intelligent about it in 1,300 words, in just a few weeks? That's probably way too ambitious. Don't forget I teach, have a day job, and have another writing class on Monday nights.

I'm kind of baffled by this assignment. Not in theory, I mean. I understand the concept. It's a critical essay like you'd read on the last page of the New York Times Review of Books. But it's not something I can just knock out, and I don't really know what I'd like to write about.

I'm stumped.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Brain Hurts

I just got an inquiry from an administrator at the school I teach coloring classes at.

"The computer classroom you've been using has a conflict on Wednesday nights next year. Can we move the class to Monday or Tuesday during the day?"

"I have a job. Do you mean next year like January-June 2009?"

"No, September 2009 to June 2010."

WHAT? I have to decide now if I'm going to do this through 2010?

Yeesh. I can't do that. Can I? No.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Starring Me

I'm listed on the BookCulture site now... yep, I'm the star of an in-store event in November. The topic? The newly published 3-D children's atlas that I wrote.

Gotta admit that I'm out of my depth on this one. I know how to talk about my travels and comic books and, uh, me. But I don't know how to deal with kids at all and I haven't done any atlas appearances yet. This will be my first.

I might be able to tell stories of interesting places. But how can I talk to kids? Maybe I better take some free comic books along.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Space Frog

Seems that the Daniel Johnston frog is being beamed to potential aliens in outer space.

No foolin'.

That's a little weird.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Coloring School

I've been teaching "digital coloring" on Wednesday nights. Not that there is any other kind anymore. We used to color with paints and markers. Nowadays, comic book coloring is all done in Photoshop.

My only previous teaching experience was in being a classroom guest for friends who teach at SVA, FIT, and AUC (Cairo). I taught a weekly workshop in Kuwait for a while, until my colleagues became too busy to show up and watch me zealously declare "too many colors here looks like vomit on the page." I remember a few people looking shocked. You'd think that would have taught me not to swear in front of the staff in Kuwait or Cairo, but I'm a slow learner.

I managed to not swear in front of the students this time. I am teaching four times over the course of the year, 2x per semester. My first session ends on Wednesday.

Thankfully, it's all worked out. I did not take to teaching naturally, but I have warmed up to it. My first group of students were great—polite, hard-working, and talented. They paid attention when I told them about flatting and trapping. They diligently learned to delete black tones in the color channels and to first choose colors, then use gradations, and finally brushes. Last week, we learned to make custom paintbrushes and then we made a mountain scene using the lasso, gradations, brushes, and filters. It's a lesson I picked up from a coloring DVD by one of the colorists who revolutionized the use of Photoshop for comic book coloring.

Teaching has been surprisingly fun. And as a bonus, I get paid to do it. The only problem is that once I finish this session, it starts all over. And again. And again. That bit makes me dizzy.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Pendulum

I left writing class tonight with a chip on my shoulder.

The topic was book reviewing. Specifically, for the Times. I listened to a discussion about the Almighty Book, its implied importance oh-so-much more relevant than other media. The power of THE BOOK. All hail the author, all hail the awe with which one beholds the published writer, whose name on the book cover instantly conveys their legitimacy. God bless the mighty editor, the incredible weekly newspaper insert of the vaunted Times, all hail the commonly known names of writers that everyone else knows by osmosis.

"My ass," I thought. I felt a wall of fury and revulsion building within me. It's not books that piss me off. Look, I write books. It's this notion of cultural elitism. I don't come from money and I don't have the benefit of any special access or pass into the arrogant world of anticipated success. I am jealous of those who do have access, those who look down and don't notice the key to the kingdom on their keychain, because after all, it's always been there.

"Why are you taking a writing class?" My ex had asked me back in the spring, before he opted to become a prefix.

I gave him a lame answer but what I wanted to say was that I'd seen how he'd taught at Princeton, in Lebanon, New Orleans, and in Cairo, how he'd worked with his students to open up worlds to them, to facilitate their success. He'd given hall passes to the those who had come in with blank scraps of paper. I wanted to take writing classes with working journalists because of the opportunities he'd given his students. I craved opportunity. But I should have known he was different.

And so am I. I meet people, or go to parties, or even would sit with the aforementioned prefixes friends (many of which have that easy access to elitism that I so deeply resent), and I would think:

I am not of this world.

I have seldom not been alienated. Hell, I was alienated at Antioch. That takes a special skill. I come from a seriously different background to most of my peers, and I grew up early, grew up hard and independent but with a center so gooey and scared that the shell had to harden even more. I am more at home abroad than in my own apartment. I'll take Curves over pilates any day. I have monkey feet. I'd rather take a workshop in bag-sewing than in writing book reviews. I am more JC than Brooklyn, always just a bit offset from the mainstream.

And so I sat, working my stomach into knots. I shouldn't have wasted my money on this writing class. And yet, it's good for me. It's good to be forced to write beyond your repertoire. But I hate it. But it's good for me. Is it? Why did I think the prefixes responsibility as an instructor would be repeated elsewhere? Was I doing all right with the students I was teaching at the arts school ten blocks away? What would I teach them tomorrow night? I worried about Kuwaiti comic books, about a trade show in Dubai, a theme park near the Iraqi border. I felt anxiety and panic inside as others blithely talked about a book they'd read.

How the hell can I be so alienated at my age? What am I supposed to do to get past this? Why did I not read anyone else's reviews?

And back home, I considered the two essays I had to write for Friday, and the lesson plan for comic book coloring school.

And froze up.

I washed dishes. Messed around with Facebook. And finally, sat down to cut fusible interfacing to sew a new bag.

Writing. I can do it.

Tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.

But cooling down and behaving normally in society?

That one might take a while.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Eminently Quotable Persepolis

I am sooo far behind the curve on this one that it's ridiculous. Here I am a comic book professional and I didn't get around to reading the Persepolis graphic novel until now. I've even been to Persepolis! Ridiculous. And I missed the movie altogether.

I loved the art and graphic storytelling, sure, but some of the words were priceless. The first is a quote from the author's grandmother, the second from the author.

"In life you'll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it's because they're stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance... always keep your dignity and be true to yourself."

"Today, in retrospect, I no longer condemn him. Markus had a history, a family, friends. I had no one but him. I wanted him to be at once my boyfriend, my father, my mother, my twin. I had projected everything onto him. It was surely not easy for a boy of nineteen."
-the author herself

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Broadway Afternoon

How is it already October? I feel that this year is passing by far, far too quickly.

In other ways, not quickly enough.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bag Lady

During lunch on Thursday, I went to one of the many fabric stores in Manhattan's garment district. Which are conveniently located a few blocks from my office, which is in the Korean karaoke district just off of Herald Square.

I bought enough fabric to sew four more bags! I'll pin and cut at home, but I don't really think I'm ready to buy a sewing machine, so I'll go back to the Flirt-Brooklyn open studio night to sew them. Which is probably a good thing, since I would benefit from having the teacher nearby. I carefully memorized the pinning and cutting techniques last time, but I can't quite remember the right order of steps after that.

If I can master bag-making, I'll move on and take their skirt-making class. Plus Denise wants me to go to knitting school with her at the new cafe up the street. I don't really have any burning desire to learn to knit, but what the hell. It'll be fun to go to knitting school with Denise, plus I owe her (and Liz) one for going to bag-school with me.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Another Chunk of My 15 Minutes

Isaac, who is shooting a documentary about my day job, interviewed me in May or June. Today he showed me some of the rough footage.

I looked silly, but not too bad overall. I always appear kind of exaggerated on video, as if my cheekbones were 5x broader than they are, and as if my eyes don't just roll, but roll back into my head like a cartoon character.

Still, I came off pretty well in the footage, though I'm not sure people will want to hear my ideas about superheroes being retro and based in the needs of a different era. Oops. Maybe that wasn't the smartest thing to say...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pirates of the African Horn

The Somali pirates are confusing me. I know you can't go around stealing cargo off freighter ships. I know that pirates probably do very bad things sometimes.

But damned if it doesn't sound like something cool and right out of another century. There's even a pirate village, where an entire infrastructure has sprung up around piracy. I have to admit that it sounds so romantic, so Robin Hood. Like many people, I have an affinity for the underdog (which works less well in dating, but that's another story).

So I'm watching the pirates who have the Ukranian ship right now, and I'm reading about their grand statements, and as romantic as it sounds to "only die once," I'm guessing that they have seen too many movies, and maybe don't quite understand that being surrounded by US warships and having the EU organizing an ass-kicking means that yes, you only die once, and that time is likely coming to them quite soon.

Should have quit while they were ahead. Should have walked away from the Ukranian ship once it sparked so much interest. Instead, their entire pirate-ville and way-of-life is going to get stomped.

Silly pirates.

I posted a gallery of photos of freighter ships from my 2001 trip around the world. I traveled on four ships that year, though no pirates happened to board.