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Shiva, Swamp, Guru

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Shiva, Swamp, Guru
by Barefoot Justine

My longing plays its ripples upon your placid lake,
My forever is the flowing of your loving grace,
My walking is deep study of your truth and light,
My joy it only rises if after you I’ve given chase.

My guru is this swamp, green and one in all as I,
He is the path I walk and the rainfall all around,
He is hot sand underfoot, and tall amidst the pines,
On this path, as within, his wisdom is the ground.

Oh winding guru I felt your wholeness in my heart,
In coming home to your shaded land of golden sand,
Where wisdom of the wolves laps the swampy shores,
Where ash of Shiva’s embers warms me as I stand.

Once trees with fiery hollows graced my eyes with awe,
In my guru Agni danced in silks of red and gold,
Among the ashes, deep as snow, I as Aghori roamed,
Under ash embers burned in Mahadev’s stronghold.

Shiva dances maya in the windsong between the leaves,
He nests my pains into a hole amidst the tallest pines,
My guru is this forest and all I know there grows,
Where Soma’s light falls in Shiva’s deepest shrines.

Be with me Guru on Kuruksetra as I string my bow,
Come to me oh Guru, in the restless dark of night,
Reveal to me your self in dreams if not in words,
May I sleep in your embrace of one of love in light.

Off-Putting Mother Fucker

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OK… so I’m sitting in a restaurant last week, I won’t say which one, but there was like one other guy in there. Of course this guy decided to start a conversation with me from across the restaurant, now I don’t know about you, perhaps I’m just uptight, but I don’t dig this. I mean, I don’t need some guy from across the dining room chatting with me over my Princess Bowl. So here’s where it’s weird, this guy was one off-putting mother fucker… I knew that right off… but I’m single, you know, ever hopeful all the same. You know the type, the off-putting type? We all know the type… they come in all types, in all off-putting shapes and off-putting sizes. This one was a grinner.

The grinning man sat there being over-enthusiastic about his vegan this-or-that, and though I couldn’t work it out, I swear he had a tattoo of Christ’s severed hand with a sparkly middle finger… like ET or something. At first I thought, “Don’t be judgmental… give the guy a chance… maybe he’s the one…” then the rest of me just screamed “What the fuck? Are you kidding?” The next thing I know he’s asking me “what that dot is on your head.” “A bindi” I said, trying with all I had not to sigh. Then he not only begins asking me what religion I am, but immediately tries debunking it with his impenetrable logic.

I could get specific about the details of our exchange, but I’m not sure the punch-line of this thing is worth it. Anyhow, he doesn’t like any of the answers to his questions about what Hindu’s believe. By the way, Hinduism is a 10,000 year old religion, it’s hard to explain the complicated intricacies of it across a restaurant through these over-simplified silly questions he was asking. But he kept asking questions, and then time and again he would sit back, pronounce some abstract negation of what I had just said, would grin and say “OK,” and then would go on. He would sit back as if he was really teaching me something. That’s was what intrigued me about this guy… he carried himself like a sage but was just whacked!

This dude was impressed with his brain. He asked if he could sit with me. Well, at this point I was still wondering if I was missing something here. See… that’s the thing about weird situations, I’ve learned that they are often not as weird as they appear on the surface, same with weird people. Plus, I’m a total softie, so I have a hard time saying no.

So… he joined me, then went on asking about why I choose to do good instead of evil, which, by the way, was pretty presumptuous on his part! I mean, in the eyes of many Christians, every day I’m condemning myself to hell for something or other.

He sat with me and quizzed me to the point of absurdity, and I caught on and realized this was all part of this script in his head so he could do this schtick he does, and all through it he would sit back as if he were the Buddha. And of course he would refute or attempt to deflate everything I said. Then came the final straw.

Wait for it…

He said “I have a creation story, wanna hear it? It’s short!”

“Well… so long as it’s short,” I dribbled, half whining, half murmuring, altogether exhausted.

He then told me how the universe was created when two rocks collided and left an impression, and all we are is a memory of a memory of a memory… OK.” He then sat back and grinned.

“Check please!” I called, turning all the way around to catch the attention of the waiter.

Well, first off, no, it’s not “OK,” and secondly, I had no idea what this guy was talking about or on about, or on at all.

I then did something I never do. I often suffer these loonies, and I don’t know why… am I afraid of hurting their feelings? But I had just seen “My Life Without me,” and it was about this girl who was dying of cancer, and one of the things she wanted to do was tell people what was on her mind, and I think subconsciously I was thinking of the scene in that movie when she did say what was on her mind (which, ironically, was also set in a restaurant), so I looked at the guy and I said: “Not only do I have no idea what you are talking about, but frankly, I’m just not that interested.” Is it mean of me that I felt really good about saying that?

He paused, then said he was going to leave in a moment, and explained that he’d just been trying to figure out why people do good instead of evil.

Buddy, you’re gonna have to work that one out on your own.

Dear Old Dad

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I was listening to “Shelter” by Cheap Trick tonight (see below)…

“If I had my father
He would smile
If I had my dad
He’d be so kind
If I had a dad
He would tell me I was good
Oh, if I, if I
If I had a dad
Had my dad”

…went the final verse. And so the memories came, memories of dear old dad.

Dear old dad.

He returned from the war to see his new child in the arm’s of his wife. He took one look at her, and how this baby, me, had changed her body, and the first thing he asked was if that weight was permanent. From that moment forward, so says my mom, dad hated me.

Dear old dad.

And our relationship was never much better. I don’t remember much about him throughout my early childhood, I know he missed my first steps and first words. Dear old dad was off fighting the war. Dad thought the whole war was created by the government to get kids hooked on drugs, but he thought it was wrong not to answer the call and serve. He fought an immoral war, dear old dad.

I never could understand dear old dad.

When I was young he used to sneer at me in disdain when I, a precocious child, embarrassed him in front of his friends. And he hated the ice cream cones I ordered when we went to Stoddard’s, and I would have to listen to the toxic sap of his derision as I sat awash in guilt and self-loathing throughout my attempt to enjoy my simple ice cream under the downpour of his seething contempt. I used to want sprinkles or that hard chocolate shell on my ice cream cones. He would sit in the front seat and repeat with a whiny sneer: “You always have to have something special,” always putting all his hate in every syllable as he spun and whined the word “special” through the bile he held in his mouth in my name. He was relentless.

Ice cream with dear old dad.

We’ve been estranged now for, dear heavens, a decade or more. Not a single word has passed between me and my old man. He hated hippies, and hated being called “my old man,” which was something hippies did, and he told me never to call him my “old man.” Hippies had spit on my old man when he returned from the war.

My old man.

As a child dear old dad wanted me to take up fishing with him. He was so simply happy at the prospect that I could not say no when he suggested that I spend my birthday money on a fishing pole. Dear old dad wanted to take me fishing. I bought a fishing pole, for us, the problem was, I didn’t want a fishing pole. Yucky worms and stinky slimy fish… no thanks. In his way, he tried, poor old dad.

Poor old dad.

He was magical at Christmas. Something in his heart opened wide, and he let go. Like the Grinch, somehow Christmas warmed him, and he loved us for a month or so, dear old dad. He would smile, give, celebrate, and every Christmas I hoped and hoped that he would recognize who he could be if only he would stop himself from crawling back into that hole, that shell of bitterness that was dear old dad.

Twice a year, each summer, when we went into the hills of Pennsylvania for the family reunions it would be the same with dear old dad. All smiles, my old man, fun-loving, charming, a touch of Christmas in the summer. Then… back home, and the same old…

…Dear old dad.

Right back to smug grinning and grunting guy he always was. At dinner my old man, shirtless, would nod or grunt at what he wanted, and my poor mother would translate, “Pass your father the peas.” He’d grunt again or give a side-eye look my way if I had the butter, then mom would speak up again, “Pass your father the butter.” It seemed “normal” at the time.

So I’d wait for Christmas, for dear old dad.

You might remember that I said dear old dad hated hippies, and he pretty much stopped talking to me when he perceived things about me that were hippy-like. One of the songs I heard over and over was from some country turd, and this line from it has been burrowed under my skin like a tattoo: “Kicking hippies asses and a-raisin’ hell.” Yee-fucking-haw!

Oh, dear old dad.

My old man loved music, I have to give him that. From him I learned to be passionate about the music I loved. From him I learned to be selective, and neither of those lessons do I resent. I remember going to the homes of my friends and trying to find their albums. I remember being downright chilled when I realized they had none, or that those two or three albums behind the end-table were the extent of their collections. I couldn’t live like that, then again, neither could dear old dad.

Dear old dad.

One night, after we had misbehaved, mom announced at dinner that dear old dad was going to have to spank us. Dear old dad clapped his hands with glee, and with the same contempt that wound and sneered from his mouth over my ice cream cones, he said how much he was going to enjoy this.

Dear old dad.

That may have been the last time dear old dad spanked me. He put me over his knee, and I placed my head in the palm of my hands, assuming the position of boredom. I had decided not to cry, not to give him the satisfaction of crying. And he, dear old dad, wasn’t going to stop until he won out. My brother, perhaps a lot smarter than me, cried right away and ran off rubbing his rear. I, however, realized that it didn’t hurt, not in the least… so I kept my chin in my hands and waited. Eventually I pretended to cry just so it would stop… I was so bored.

So bored with dear old dad.

Count the words in this piece… more words than dear old dad ever spoke to me in one sitting, and without exaggeration, possibly more words than he ever spoke to me in all the years I knew him.

Dear old dad.

All through my teen and college years, whenever I came up the stairs from my room he would glare side-eyed at me, just so I knew how much he hated everything about me, dear old dad. And God damn if I didn’t stumble over the top step every time. His eyes bored such nervous self-consciousness into me, dear old dad.

Dear old dad.

He was smart, capable, creative, often inspired, but he shoved it all down, preferring to remain “normal,” as he called it. Dear old dad had some notion of what “normal” was in his head, and his strange compulsion to match that ruled his life, and my own as well.

Dear old dad shoved it all down, his creativity, his intelligence, his inspiration and passions, all for sports, all for the the countless hours he spent manning and dominating the TV like a tyrant. He just sat there hour after hour, night after night, hating and denying, and never knowing how much beauty was in him, or how much beauty was in me.

Dear old dad.

Hippies weren’t “normal,” neither were artists, so everything I knew or loved was “weird” somehow, to dear old dad. Hell, I even remember him sneering contemptuously at me when he came home and heard me exploring Mozart, “So we’re listening to long-hair music now,” he said with spite. I guess dear old dad thought classical music wasn’t “normal” either, or maybe he just thought Mozart was a little too “special.”

And oh how my old man hated the Beatles, and hated me for loving them. My old man hated the Beatles in 1964 when he got in the car with his friends and asked why their hair was longer, “We’re going Beatle!” one of his cousins said in reply. My old man hated the Beatles, but never missed “Help” or “Yellow Submarine” when they were aired on TV, and through him I learned to love George Harrison’s album “All Things Must Pass,” ’cause he played it all the time when I was a toddler.

I never understood my old man.

But I love “All Things Must Pass.”

Thanks to dear old dad.

Dear old dad sat in judgment of me, and every friend I ever had. He thought himself upright and morally superior, and he reigned in the glow of his self-appointed superiority. His judgments were the shaft of the final straw.

The night I moved out (long overdue as it was) of my parent’s house, it was dear old dad that drove me away. His mom and dad were visiting from Florida (we all grew up in Ohio), and he was troubled and embarrassed about his parent’s seeing some hippy-this or hippy-that aspect of me. Unlike their son, my dear old dad, grandma and grandpa loved me, so one weekend while they were visiting my aunt, he decided to tell me to either stop doing hippy-this or hippy-that, or I could “find some place else to eat.”

I set my fork down and said, “I’ll find someplace else to eat,” and I walked away from that table and never slept another night in that house with my old man. And all the while I laughed a wicked little laugh inside to know that he was going to have to explain to his parents where I had gone when they returned.

I won that round, dear old dad.

But you were right, it was time for me to go.

Dear old dad, the moral superior, the one who handed down edicts and judgments, he who hated everyone for their weaknesses, was discovered to have been getting blow jobs from his secretary (or something from someone). At first, however much it hurt my mom, I was secretly happy, it was good to know that this brittle husk of a man still had blood in his veins, he was suddenly human in my eyes, but I despised him now more than ever for his hypocrisy.

My old man was a hypocrite.

My old man left my mother, walked out on her after decades of marriage. Went off with his secretary. Of course it wasn’t his fault, he told my mother the divorce was my fault. After all, if she had sided with him over our quarrels (I thought she had), they would have had a better marriage.

Dear old dad blamed me for his infidelity and divorce.

I gave up on dear old dad. I let him go, never wanted to see or speak to him again. I know, I know, a lot of people feel a need to come to peace with their old man, a need to find closure, me… not in the least. Not in the least.

I never want to see dear old dad again.

One evening when dear old dad came “home” to visit my brother, he asked if he thought I’d ever speak with him again. My brother, God bless him, told him it was too late, told him he had the chance to communicate with me for all those years, and he blew it, after all, I had already changed my name.

Dear old dad.

Sometimes I think about dear old dad, and I realize something very terrible… I hate him more than he ever hated me.

And the only thing I hate more than him are the bits of dear old dad that I see in myself. How I hate those bits of my old man.

My old man.

My old man.

My old man.

 

Best Barefoot Rock Concert Story Ever!

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(This is another of those barefoot-heavy entries… if you think that’s “weird” or it simply bores you… move along… nothing to see here!)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen's feet with concert ticket and souvenir...

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen’s feet with concert ticket and souvenir…

Though I kinda work at not living in these moments, I think we all keep track of the things we missed out on. I no longer keep track of them to stock the shelves of my inner-bitterness library, I keep track of them so I can damn well do the things I missed out on. Last night I made good on one of those things I had missed out on… and I made good on it in a BIG way! I didn’t get to enjoy those heyday rock concerts, my adolescence was wasted on bad timing (among other far more frustrating things), so I kinda missed a lotta stuff. What I’ve really missed is that today, pop culture sucks, but then again I’ve been looking back and bemoaning the garbage on the radio and everywhere else since I was 14. Boiling it down… what I really missed were good old fashioned dazed and confused rock concerts. Nope, I ne’er got to get high and sneak barefoot into a rock concert. Last night when I went to see Cheap Trick in Ocala Florida… I got to make up for all that… and I couldn’t have done any better than seeing Cheap Trick barefoot, dazed (“with a little help from my friends”), and surrounded by palm trees in beautiful sunny Florida!

First off, before I get into the narcissistic “Me me me” wallow that is the cornerstone of this blog, I just wanna say… Cheap Trick kicks ass! They always did… and still gloriously do. It does my heart good to see aging rockers who only age skin deep, these guys still play hot and tight! More importantly, they seem to be having a ton of fun. Lots of rockers do turn into dinosaurs, they get ragged around the edges as they age, but unfortunately they sand away all the ragged edges in their music, phoning in lackluster lifeless highly polished and sweetened low-to-no energy music… NOT Cheap Trick! Like McCartney, these guys still have it… and they have it big time. Funny thing is, I wasn’t really a huge Cheap Trick fan (not so far as I knew), and for no particular reason… other than that I was simply obsessed with the Beatles (who came along well before my time), so no other band was really able to get through the magnificence of the Beatles to make much of an impact, but in the background of my life Cheap Trick were just kinda there. Not only were they there, but like Badfinger (who I eventually fell dippy in love with), Cheap Trick’s songs had made an impact, one deep enough that I have found myself lately returning to “Cheap Trick At Budokan” over and over again, and before I knew it, those tracks that weren’t hits, and that hadn’t interested me much, were slowly becoming my favorite songs (“Need Your Love” for example… WOW!)

On a whim I thought, “I wonder if these guys are touring anywhere near me,” so I popped on their site… and talk about timing! Hell yes, they were coming in like a week and half right here to Silver Springs! I was ecstatic, and didn’t even know why… as like I said, they weren’t my favorite band, but I did realize something. I realized that every time I heard “I Want You To Want Me” or “Surrender” I felt myself melting, falling back into the warm embrace of that good old seventies magic (yeah, I know Cheap Trick were a big deal in the eighties, but in my heart they will forever be a seventies band–even though I was, again, too young to have enjoyed the seventies properly). They, like few other bands, put me right in that very particular headspace. The brilliant part was that as they played last night I realized that Cheap Trick were a NOW band as well… nothing tired or lifeless about their performances or music at all.

The big frustration was I couldn’t find a single person to go to the show with, so I had to go alone. This sucks… but then… I’m used to doing every damn thing alone anyhow, so I guess it just didn’t much matter. In the end I was glad I was alone, as I was able to sink into a highly personal experience. The other anxiety was… am I gonna be able to get past the cops and gate barefoot? I won’t wear shoes (haven’t in years), and I don’t even have any to pack, so I had to depend on the illusion of soleless sandals and a long skirt. I got right in, and once out of eyeshot of the cops, security personnel and staff, I stripped off my skirt and went happily along in my bleached cut-offs. I wasn’t fooling around here, I had dressed the part, little shorts, a scarf for a belt, and a flowery top that shows my belly button and buttons low… and of course the usual array of ankle bells, toe rings and accessories.

Cheap-Trick-Rick-Nielsen-Robin-vintage-70s-retro-classic-rock-music-musician-photo-mono-stereo-lp-vinyl-pop-art-1Seating was no problem, there were plenty of spaces for me and my lone lawn chair right up close to the stage. The view I had was tremendous, a tad stage left. I missed the opening act (who were pretty grand in their own right, but I wasn’t there for them–and I needed to go find a discreet place to… let’s say… get into that seventies frame of mind), and when I finally sat down and Cheap Trick’s audio introduction came on I found myself getting goosebumps! It was a potent celebration of their music and accomplishments.

When they took the stage the most unexpected thing happened… I found my heart was fluttering, racing, and I was tearing up, and it wasn’t just ’cause Robin Zander has always been so superhumanly hot. I mean, this was it… there I was… barefoot at a rock concert, just like I always should have been–as it turned out, I hadn’t missed it at all, that experience was still there for me, thanks to Cheap Trick. The music came on loud and hard and swept me off my feet. They opened with the same song they opened with at Budokan:

“Hello there ladies and gentlemen
Hello there ladies and gents
Are you ready to rock?
Are you ready or not?”

I was ready! Below is their set-list.

Hello There (THE opener!)
Elo Kiddies
Big Eyes (Budokan… hell yes!)
That 70s Song
California Man
Tonight It’s You
Ain’t That a Shame
Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles… damn straight!)
Borderline
She’s Tight
Ballad of TV Violence
The House is Rockin’
Need Your Love
Stop This Game
I Know What I Want
The Flame
I Want You to Want Me (Be still my heart!)
Dream Police (Better than I remembered)
Never Had A Lot to Lose
Surrender (Hmmm yes…)
Goodnight (Naturally)

I let go, I let go of anything but that part that wanted to open up and have the experience I had missed… I was THERE! Before I knew it I was standing up front dancing and letting the music take over my body. I was simply ecstatic! And so were a couple of the men nearby, who I am privately proud to say, were stealing glances my way. It’s nice to still be able to catch men’s eyes. The grass and ground under my bare feet were moist and delicious feeling, and I could smell the aroma of rich trampled soil and lush green grass. As they played I realized that even the songs I didn’t know were turning me on, and the songs I never cared much for… well, now I very much cared for them. Cheap Trick convinced me utterly and wholly, and like Badfinger before them, I will no longer take them for granted, and like Badfinger before them, I will most definitely be seeking out their albums, slowly collecting the whole bunch of them… and yes, I will go see them every chance I get. Between you and me… I have a thing for the bass player (Tom Petersson), who has aged quite nicely.

Song after song I found myself in the moment, and nothing mattered but me, the band, and my bare feet on the ground.

One of their bits of schtick is to toss guitar picks into the audience, and by that I mean by gobs and handfuls! Finally, when they tossed the picks over to our side of the stage, they were flying all over and hitting the dark ground, booted and shod people tromping and rushing in after them. I got my ten toes the hell out of the way, there was no way I was entering into that melee. As I settled back into my place, my left foot sinking back into the grass, down in the dark I felt the tiniest little sensation of something as it tipped over against my toe (something I NEVER would have felt with shoes on) and I thought “THAT is a guitar pick!”) so I bent down into the darkness and picked it up… sure enough… there it was! See below…

(Barefoot) Justine scores a pick at Cheap Trick concert

(Barefoot) Justine scores a pick at Cheap Trick concert

And if you look at the top of this post, you can see my bare feet, the ticket and pick both pictured (against the toe it had leaned against) in a pic I had taken right after I had gotten home from the show.

Yep, folks, had I not been barefoot, I never would have felt or found that pick… and I didn’t even have to fight my way through the crowd to get it. My friend Joe Blue Sky says it was a sign. Yeah, I guess it is, and I think it’s a sign that I’m living life right–at least by my own rules.

And while I’m at it… you know who rules?

Fucking Cheap Trick!

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Cheap Trick… you were the fuel that fired this dream-come-true… thanks, and good night!

On Being Back At The Drawing Table

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Before I’d left for Korea (this was years ago, folks) I swore off drawing. The business had slowly broken my heart, gutted me over the course of years, none of which had stopped me from being prolific as only a true diagnosed obsessive can be right up to the moment I burned out. It was madness. The last few times I tried to draw shortly before swearing it off, I would sit down and battle blocks the size of watermelons, not our watermelons, the ones you find if you climb the beanstalk and visit the giant’s garden, that’s how BIG my blocks were. Yet it got worse than that, by the bitter end, whenever I sat down to draw I would experience such pain in my neck that more than once I sat at my drawing table and cried. It wasn’t what most people think, I hadn’t “quit,” no, drawing quit me shortly after the industry shoved me out. I was actually told by an art director at Wizards Of the Coast that it had come down from on high, by committee mind you, that my work–and notice I’m quoting here–wasn’t… wait for it… “badass enough.” Dear God, really, how could I work in a climate where that was the prevailing mentality anyhow? Damn those prevailing dumbassterly winds! Yes, folks, my work was disliked and my art directors were encouraged not to work with me because my work wasn’t badass enough. Similarly while working for Image (Jim Lee’s Wildstorm) I was told the guys in the office were laughing at my inks because my inks looked like old DC inking. Uh, sure, that’s an insult… being compared to the fucking masters of the industry! Yes, folks, I was officially surrounded by idiots.

For two years I couldn’t draw, didn’t want to draw, and had no interest whatsoever in thinking about or even missing drawing. I started drinking and learning to play guitar and sing songs by Sarah and Maybelle Carter instead. Hard times.

Then, quite suddenly, I felt compelled to draw, it was a force. Out of nowhere, after two years I wanted nothing more than to sketch in a sketchbook, something I had NEVER been able to relax enough to do before. I had cancer, but didn’t know it. It seems the disease was trying to tell me something, and that thing was… “You are an artist.” I had surgery and radiation treatments, but It seems that when they removed the tumor they removed my newfound desire to draw as well. To this day I do not understand any of this terribly well.

Many years later I got the horrible news that my mentor and friend Jeffrey Catherine Jones had died–and just as I had been trying to reconnect with her. It hit me far harder than I could have expected. It compelled me to draw my ass off. That was the turning point for me, the death of Jeffrey Jones, I knew at that point that I would draw, in some fashion, for the rest of my life, even if I ran hot and cold on it. Not only had her death convinced me to draw, it inspired me to tell the story of our long distance friendship, but mostly it told of my strong emotional reactions to that friendship. It was an inward journey spilling out onto the page. I accomplished over fifty pages, told the whole story and had started working on even more autobiographical comics to flesh out what would have been a new graphic novel, then I felt my heart break again.

There was no way, absolutely no way I wanted to step back into that grinder, into the juvenile lowbrow biz that is comics. The very thought of sending out such a meaningful project and such a statement of liberation to have it meaninglessly judged, picked at and rejected killed the project dead. I could not go through the submission and rejection process again. There was no way publisher after publisher was going to send me lame post-its with flippant apologies explaining why they rejected the project. No, no one was going to have that power over me again. Once was enough. The project died. It now sits in a pile of art in storage at SAW, unfinished, unpublished, dusty and done.

But, I kept drawing here and there, a few more comic pages on this, a few doodles, some hard work, some fun work, and here and there a job or two would pop up. I was drawing again, but not like before. I was no longer drawing as I once had: like my life depended on it, I was drawing because I was good at it and it was now easier and more fun than before. But nothing, and I mean nothing, gets me to the drawing table like money. Sell-out, huh? Well, what if my dream, my life dream since childhood was NOT to make pretentious gallery art, but to make a living as a comic artist? MAKE A LIVING! That was my dream, to get paid to draw. So, if that was my dream, and if I pursued that dream doggedly, how is it a sell-out to live for and accomplish that dream? Besides, I always say that the only difference between an illustrator and a “fine artist” is that illustrators are smart enough to find a buyer before they make the work. And I also like to remind people that all of Rembrandt’s portraits were not “fine art,” they were commissioned illustrations, ditto the Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet none of this stops this pretentious asses in the art world from co-opting the work of these great illustrators while shaming other illustrators.

But now, here I am at last, not merely teaching drawing, but drawing my butt off. Thanks to Tom Hart from SAW, I am now deep in two rather sizable projects with very real deadlines! I mean, DAMN, that’s what “getting back” looks like. I’m back, working for clients, getting paid, suffering under deadlines, just like I always wanted, and I have to draw a lot in order to get all this done.

Project 1: is work for a DARPA commissioned project, a graphic novel adapting Greek Myth to be used to help soldiers with PTSD. It’s a great project, good pay, and what could possibly be more fun than illustrating Greek mythology? I’ve been watching “Jason and the Argonauts” over and over… what torture!

Project 2: is an “animated” info graphic for UF. We are explaining a complicated and dry series of facts about an essential and important program at UF, and we sold them on the idea of making it entertaining. The angle Tom and I pitched and are working on is that we will be telling a cartoon version of the dry information through the visuals. We are doing a Tom & Jerry like version of the information underneath the narration. Our characters will all be robots. Hell yes! I’m drawing Greek myth and cartoon robots! Frankly, Ive never had better work, so far as fun subject matter goes. Not only am I back and drawing my butt off, but I’m working on two of the most fun projects I’ve ever been commissioned to do.

A person is not different from their nature, and is obliged to act in conformity with it: paraphrased from the Bhagavad Gita

So, what does it feel like to be back at it? Simply put, it feels great. I feel a lot more complete as a person. A hole in my life has, quite unexpectedly, been filled. Funny, but though I enjoy drawing just to draw, just for fun, it’s nowhere near as deeply satisfying as when I’m getting paid for it. It feels good to have something to do with my once ample free time. It feels good because I am doing my duty, which is one of the dictates in the Bhgavad Ghita, that one should do their duty and not the duty of another. It feels good to do my duty, and it is my duty to be an illustrator.

“Following one’s nature is the only way to work out one’s karma.” Lord Krishna

Oh, there are struggles along the way, all week I’ve been upset with my Odysseus pages because they aren’t as good as Wally Wood’s art, or Milt Caniff’s art, or Alex Toth’s art, or Al Williamson’s art, or Hal Foster’s art. My standards have always been punishingly high. And contrariwise, I have been upset that the pages aren’t loose enough and that I have fallen back into the safety net of how I used to draw rather than forging bold new territories for myself… all of this, of course, I expect myself to master on a deadline! And then with the robots I’m a little upset because the backgrounds don’t all look like Maurice Noble designed them. Hmm… maybe I should cut myself a little slack here. And my students think I’m hard on them… wimps!

All said and done, what really matters is that I am an illustrator and I am illustrating.

I’m good at it, it’s fun, and… in the words of one of the great sages: “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, ’cause here I go again…”