Sunday, October 30, 2011


John Adams (1735-1826): "As much as I converse w/sages & heroes, they have very little of my love & admiration. I long for rural & domestic scene, for the warbling of birds & the prattling of my children. " And Abigail.

Dang! It's the 30th of October, not the 31st. Not until tomorrow is Ethel Waters' birthday & that of all of the other Halloween babies. SO, huzzah for the great Overlooked, the perplexing, stubborn, exuberant, highly intelligent and passionate, devoted husband and patriot, second President of the nation that would never have existed w/o him. Who was the first president to live here Who grew up here. Who died here at an exceedingly advanced age, on the day of the great Coincidence. Subject of one of my very favorite books, of all of those I wrote & illustrated, that is, The Revolutionary John Adams.

Ethel & the Halloween Babies

"It has been an ache and a joy both to look over this big shoulder of mine at all my yesterdays," the first day of which was 115 years ago today, when the great Ethel Waters was born, in 1896. Exactly 101 years after the birth of poet John Keats. He, too, had a lot to say, but not nearly as many years of life in which to say them. My introduction to Ms. Waters was seeing her sing at many a Billy Graham crusade on our black & white TV. (Years later I went to one in person, went forward, not out of a 'wake up smell the coffee' moment for my soul - already been through that more than once, but to see the great preacher a little closer. People stare at you, fyi, as you make your way to the podium, doubtless hoping to see tears.) Anyway, check out that link above to her Wikipedia bio and be knocked out by some of Ethel's yesterdays, her hard knock childhood, & what she did, how she sang when she grew up. Can't sum up a person's life in a moment, can you? That's the truth is beauty is truth is beauty..."that is all ye know on earth & all ye need to know."
Miss Ethel & Mr. Keats, just for you to know, share a birthday w/ Dale Evans, who also sang her way up & out, & Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scout No. 1. and today marks 85 years since Harry Houdini got sucker punched, thence failed to escape Death's clutches. Now there's a desk to be cleared, dwgs & painting to be done, and oh my gosh, tense it is when you've finally finished a manuscript and sent it out into the world...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Distant Hoofbeats

"Not by a long shot was it the last adventure in beating the western wilderness: seven and a half years of railroad tracks racing to meet at the Golden Spike were just ahead. But its the ponies and the daring young men who ride in our imagination.
When the wind is in the West, listen for distant hoofbeats.
It's the Pony Express."

Cheryl Harness

I loved working on this book. It's been years ago now. One day I was driving up to St. Joseph, MO, about an hour north of here, to visit the Pony Express Museum [click link above], to research. Next thing you know, I was taking a pile of artwork to the P.O., kissing the pkg. for luck, lest it be lost in transit and I'd feel compelled to throw myself under a buss. Must have been like that [except for the bus] for the army of characters who planned & executed the audacious business of establishing speedy, regular postal delivery between the eastern States & faraway California. BANG: They were off! 3rd of April, 1860. Big fat election year! Young men riding through the wilds, all kinds of weather, day & night. No headlights on their horses.
Then, as of the 26th of October, 1861, it was over. It wasn't like the fastest horse could outrun electronic messaging via telegraph wires. Now it's been 150 years, almost 55 thousand sunsets, as of today, can you believe it?

Monday, October 24, 2011


"If it was with my dying breath,
I would caution anyone
against attempting the feat..."
Annie Edson Taylor

"O shut the door! and when thou hast done so, Come weep with me..."
Wm Shakespeare [maybe] Romeo & Juliet

So. Just a note, a bit of pencil sharpening, so to speak, before I get down to writing this novel I've been working on. I learned about Annie Edson Taylor when I was illustrating Julie Cummins' Women Daredevils
and, if you read it or the Wikipedia entry on this lady, I'm betting you'll be as struck as I was by the pathos of this intelligent, educated widow's story. Years of plucky enterprising to avoid poverty's ever-present undertow led up to her celebrating her 63rd birthday by allowing herself to be packed into a specially made barrel, having the lid screwed on then rolled onto the waters leading to Niagara Falls. 110 years ago today. 24 Oct. 1901. A quaint picturesque time it looks to be in the old photographs. Long skirts. Big hats. Streets full of clip-clop. Social safety nets? Welcome to the poorhouse. Cuppa gruel?
Why'd she do it? Shoot, if it killed her, she wouldn't have to be broke and scared anymore. If she survived (No one ever had.), she'd make a bundle on the lecture circuit. Nothing on TV back then, after all. Oh well. I've got to get to work on my own [exceedingly amusing] get-rich-slow scheme. Suffice it to say Annie got cheated & poverty dragged her down just the same.
May good fortune shine, hard times not get too hard.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Disappointment, not without Consolation

Henry Emmons, follower of William Miller, Biblical scholar, who'd been pretty certain that Jesus was fixing to return, imminently to the scene of the crimes:
"I waited all Tuesday [Oct. 22, 1844, known in some circles, ever since, as The Great Disappointment] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment."
I only know about this because I & my parents, who art in heaven w/ all the other dead people, including poor disappointed Henry Emmons, and their pets, got involved with the Seventh Day Adventists, back when others of my generation were either at or wishing they were at Woodstock. The SDA happens to be made up of folks who get a bang out of end-time scenarios, 'cleansing of sanctuaries,' and arguments w/ well-thumbed Bibles: so, is He coming back pre- or post, before or after the Millennium?
Ah well.
That was what it was. That was then, this is now: the 167th anniversary of the disappointing night, even more disappointing morning after, having given away all and spent a chilly night in one's nightgown, watching for the heavens to part. Am I laughing at such people? Only ruefully. I've not been a stranger to passionate tangents, the urgent desire to believe.
So the 22nd of October sticks in my mind. One reason I remember today's Sarah Bernhardt's birthday. 167 years since La Divine Sarah was born. Allow me to totally recommend Madame Sarah, Cornelia Otis Skinner's bio , the life & times, that being the 1890s, le fin de siecle, of the great, eccentric French actress [redundant? maybe. peut-etre].
Okay. Enough of this work avoidance. This danged novel I'm struggling over will not be written w/o a boatload of attention & application. I'll confine myself to pointing out that the best and funniest Stooge, Curly Howard, a.k.a. Jerry Horwitz, was born this day in 1903. Died 48 years later, going to show you: comedy & tragedy = next door neighbors.
Pretty Boy Floyd got killed this day in 1934 AND AND AND AND this very day marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the glorious, handsome, prolific composer and performer of the most demanding piano music ever, the great Franz Liszt. Do check out this little take on him in this excerpt from the swellegant little movie Impromtu.
Okay. Down to work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Today I'm finishing this draft, by golly. Had the idea years ago. Told a bunch o' kids about it.
"Cool!" Told another bunch of kids about it just this week.
"Cool!" Gosh, I adore gassing away to innocent school children about the books I used to do before everything went down. And I'm finally finishing this draft, fueled on Folgers & candy corn, gonna get it revised by Halloween. And did you know that Mickey Mantle and Bela Lugosi share a birthday? Well they do. 1882 & 1931. Back to the writing. If I don't finish this novel, I'll be quite angry with myself and there's been more than enough of that.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

oh yeah - a couple of other things

I love Christiane Amanpour's earrings, especially the turquoise ones. And I'm sorry I used sort of a cuss word in my previous post and I'm thrilled that that glamorous gasbag Sarah Palin decided not to run for the Presidency and I've been listening to this link again and again, just for the beauty. And the Farmer Boy chapter is called 'Fall of the Year.'

what things are like today

So, for one thing, Autumn is here, in person, as it were. Leaves falling, showers of dry, gold flakes that were tender green nubbins a few months back when I was thinking Thank God - no more goddam snow! As soon as I get done typing this, I swear, I'm going to go downstairs and get my copy of Farmer Boy & reread the Turn of the Year chapter, about autumn at the Wilders' red house in upstate New York. I recommend whoever's reading this to do the same - shoot, read the whole book! It really is wonderful. Timeless even.
My sister's been sick. She's got a doctor's appt. next week and we're worried. What's going on inside of her?
And I've been sick - bit o' food poisoning or something, but I'm better now and I hope I never have to throw up ever, ever, ever again. Don't you hate throwing up?
And John Lennon would be 71 today and I don't like the political incorrectness in me, my personal feeble-mindedness at still being kind of angry at Mark David Chapman, whose action outside of the Dakota was pretty likely symptomatic of mental illness so was it criminal? Was he bad or was he sick? I think both.
And the novel I've been working on has lots of good in it, but still a lot of not so good in it so I must wrestle w/ the angels. Do like I was telling a whole bunch of kids just the other day: Work hard until I make it look easy.
AND there are bunches of comfortably dressed people sitting out & about w/ badly designed signs because they're upset about the fact that our country's not what it was [and never has been, come to think of it]
because the gap between the rich & the poor is going Grand Canyon out from underneath our feet
because the middle class is slipping away
because school teachers are being laid off
because so many people are out of work
because big business & big govt. are pretty much one & the same
because the 'job creators' aren't creating jobs, not in America anyway. no, they're doing business and if they can do what they do for less money overseas, they're irresponsible, they're letting down their investors if they don't. if they can avoid paying taxes and get away with it, they're irresponsible if they don't and the future's a scary place. It always has been. So what's to do? Do what Steve Jobs did: Stay hungry [work to feed the hunger for what is needful, i.e. change. a better life. a better way of doing things, of making people happy, including yourself] Stay foolish [take chances].
So for me anyway, today, that means finish this novel, work on it until it's no longer stoopid. that's what I call the pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here I am, Lauer

I'm just now ever so grateful for having survived the long dark road, just now home from the far eastern side of Missouri, from visiting Mason Ridge Elementary over in the environs of St. Louis. It was pointed out to me, by an alert reader, that I've been slacking, blog-wise. Because it feels so pointless sometimes. And then again, one's feelings are not the best indicator of what there is to be done. And not done.

That being said, gosh, how grateful and happy I am to get to gas away at innocent, delightful school children - THE best part of my job, THE most fun - I adore talking and drawing and making kids laugh, sharing w/ them the virtues, the pure joy of reading, learning, knowing, imagining those who have gone before. How grateful I am that no distraught deer hurled itself in front of my headlights out on I-70. How grateful I am to have been away, doing what I got to do today and to be home again, home again, rich in happy memories.