Events of the Week

Cross-posting from Patreon because I want to keep this stuff on my site, too. CW: this post talks about an ER visit, elder care, and grief.

Two days ago I was trying to explain to a partner how intense being a caregier is despite there not being very much “action”. My dad is stable. He doesn’t have a clear timeline. I just know that he is old, and often confused, and needs my help.

Yesterday that looked like agreeing to take him to The Farmer & The Cook, the local venue where the collage pieces we made together have been hanging for the last six weeks. That’s where I took this photo. He misses being out and about every day, greeting his public, watching people going about their business. It’s one of the things I struggle with most: I want him to be safe, and I also want him to be happy

A photograph of Lucy's dad, Peter, wearing a blue tshirt and a sun hat and smiling at the camera. He's sitting on a patio in the shade.

It was set to be a scorcher, so I made extra sure he’d had breakfast and his smoothie before we left the house, tried to get there early in the day, parked him in the shade.

But maybe I jinxed it, talking about there being no action, because ten minutes after I took this photograph he had an episode—slumped over, drooling, unresponsive. His dentures slid out of his mouth one after the other in a slow-motion horror show I’ll never forget. I kept hoping he’d snap out of it but he didn’t. Someone got me ice. I found myself wondering if his insurance would cover an ambulance. I didn’t know what to do. I called my mum to come join me and asked her to bring the walker, because we’d gotten him into the car with the walker on other occasions when he got wombly, but in this instance it was totally laughable because the man was clearly unconscious.

He was gone.

She arrived, took one look at the situation, and called 911. I just kept holding his shoulders, patting him down with ice, trying to bring him round. It is awful to feel so useless in the face of a crisis. I knew he needed to drink water but he couldn’t drink. How was I supposed to get him to drink?

He looked so small when they put him in the ambulance. 

A pen drawing of an elderly man in an ambulance surrounded by machinery and shadowy figures.

Driving the half hour to the hospital on the tail of the paramedics, there was no way to know what we were in for. Would he be paralyzed? Would he be dead? Would he remember? Would he be fine?

There’s a sick sense of relief bound up in an episode like this because we understand acute crisis. I can talk about “hospital” and “collapse” and “emergency” and people will understand—even if they’re just drawing from pop culture, they’ll understand. 

But every day as a caregiver carries that load of uncertainty. It’s not as loud, so we can function, but it builds and builds. It ripples. It reminds me that it’s not just my dad whose life could change or end at any moment—it’s me. It’s everyone. 

Even when nothing is happening, so much is happening. 

I spent 9 hours on the sidewalk outside the hospital, waiting. It was 90º out and miserable. No waiting room privileges because of COVID. Mum had to be the one person allowed in the ED with him because she knows his doctors and medical history better than I do. 

One impossibly kind nurse got me back to see him for three minutes, which wasn’t enough, but also was. I heard his voice. I saw his eyes open and smiling. I got to stroke his hair.

They kept telling us he was going to move to the hospital proper, where he’d be allowed two visitors, but when they finally did move him, four hours after that initial, tantalizing announcement, visiting hours were over. I had to stay outside.

I’m paying a lot of attention to labyrinths this year. I’d already been outside the hospital for two hours when I went to move the car and realized I’d been sitting twenty feet away from this:

A photograph of a labyrinth etched in a concrete patio at night.

I’ve stopped being surprised by this sort of stuff. I just start laughing and saying “Okay, OKAY I get it” to no one in particular.

I walked it when the sun finally went down and the temperature dropped enough to move in. 

In ten minutes I’m going to drive back to Ventura to pick him up and bring him home, apparently no worse for wear. No stroke, no heart attack, just…age. Heat. Dehydration. Blood pressure. Who knows. And this makes me feel relieved and grateful and exhausted and also so angry. Because even if he’s fine, we’re left carrying the weight of how it could’ve gone. These pendulum swings of possibility.

I’m left remembering his teeth in his hat on the floor of the car, riding down the highway with us on our way to the unknown.

Tell Me I’ll Be Okay

Shing wrote a very perfect post-mortem about their epistolary keepsake game, Remember August. It is personal and statistical all at once, just as much about the logistics of running a very unique kind of mail-based narrative as it is about the decline of once-cherished relationships. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, but this sentence in particular hit me in the chest:

I felt a little bit like by making games like this, I was tricking strangers and friends into telling me that I would be okay.

I feel this so keenly when I listen to messages from The Right Number. Much like the handwritten letters players posted during their interaction with Remember August, the human voice carries so many layers of intimacy. The current prompt is about refuges, and people have been calling to describe, in gorgeous detail, their chosen temples and cherished landscapes. I lie in the dark and let their accents and words wash over me, one by one. A house in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A warm beach. A particular couch in a family room.

I never listen to too many at once, so there’s actually a backlog of messages I haven’t gotten to yet, but they feel timeless. There’s no response forthcoming, just the knowledge that I’ll listen to them and keep them safe somehow. And in return, they keep me safe, too.

Three Ephemeral Website Things

A few rhyming pieces from this week:

1. Sarah wrote a lovely, somewhat bittersweet post about finally closing her Photobucket account, which touched on a lot of what I find difficult about maintaining an archive of one’s creative work online as an artist, rather than just a writer:

I’ve never been sentimental about my childhood homes, but I imagine this is how it feels to leave one. I invested a lot more emotion into these drawings and writings than I ever did any actual geography; it was a (virtual) dwelling and a social life and autobiography all rolled into one. My blog archive and my long-defunct website, cosy and reliable home bases for so long, foundational in so many different ways to my identity, will be floating out there in the deep web without their illustrations, like abandoned buildings with hollow windows; it feels like I’ve pressed a button that sent them instantaneously into ruin.

2. Earlier this week, Brendan linked to Wesley’s writing, which led me in turn to their exploration of How Websites Die (which, in turn, referenced Winnie’s writing, whose work I only found recently through strange, roundabout blogging connections—did you know I love this game?). Timely to see that there’s a group of people all wondering about how we can (or if we should) make these spaces more enduring. Are they even built for that?

3. All these things led to thinking about how I do know someone who, out of a sense of love and duty and grief and stewardship, ensures that Chloe Weil’s site remains online, even eight years after her death.

I think the web is full of these silent acts of affection, but they can be hard to see.

Hourly Comic Day 2022

Hourly Comic Day is an annual tradition in the comics community where folks set out to draw a panel (or two, or three) for every hour they’re awake on February 1st.

It took me a couple weeks to get through finishing my pages from this year because it was a) hard to fit in inking and watercoloring and posting around caregiving, but also b) just exhausting to deal with emotionally. Still: I’m so glad I did it. In 2021 I was right on the cusp of uprooting my life in Portland to move down to Ojai and look after my dad. Now I get to have a record of what the rhythm of these days has been like, and I’m sure I’m going to appreciate it more and more as time goes on.

There’s more to say but I’ve been formatting and posting these pages in various ways all day as I spread them across my internet haunts and I am wiped, so I’ll just get on with sharing them. If you’re finding this through an RSS reader, be warned that the gallery won’t work! Ya gotta click through to read it easily. (Also! An accessible edition with panel by panel alt text is available here thanks to a collaboration with various folks from the Friends of the Space Gnome Discord server. Blessed be their name.)

You can read previous Hourly Comic Day installments at the following links: 2021, 201920182017201620152014201320122011.

Internet Kismet

I’m starting to think I have a knack for digital bibliomancy—an uncanny ability, given the vastness and improbability of the internet, to stumble upon just the right input at just the right time.

To set the scene: I finished watercoloring my hourly comics tonight, and have been thinking a great deal about repetition and sameness and grief and depicting the people and places you love. I’ve also been picking apart why, having made this intimate portrait of what it looks like to care for my aging father day in and day out, I feel more comfortable with the idea of sharing the comic online with an audience of thousands than I do showing it to my own mother.

Tonight, the knack looked like going on Twitter to follow someone I’d just met through a private Slack, reading the last few tweets in her timeline, seeing a link she’d posted in early 2021 to a now-archived blog, clicking through and laughing at the blog and then feeling like the curator‘s name was familiar, realizing I’d read a book she’d cowritten some years ago, perusing a list of essays on her website, and finally clicking on the first one because it was about “death, mourning, the artist Pierre Bonnard, and how to make a vital life out of repetitions and sameness, rather than newness and adventure.”

Here she comes:

There is a deep, dark, endless feeling to representing one’s insides. What appears in your writing changes the objects and people around you; they take on the qualities of how you portrayed them. A friend drawn ugly becomes ugly. A life drawn sweet becomes more sweet. To draw your life is to attempt to transform it with your magic. Your life invariably comes to resemble the depiction layered on top of it, because you now look at it through the lens of how you depicted it. This is why some artists run away from their lives; because who among us can live forever in our own dream?

I threw that bold in there, because that was the point I sat up straight and thought “OH SHIT.”

Of Bonnard’s working method the curator Dita Amory wrote, “Only when he felt a deep familiarity with his subject—be it a human model or a modest household jug—did he feel ready to paint it…. Asked if he might consider adding a specific object to his carefully circumscribed still-life repertoire, he demurred, saying, ‘I haven’t lived with that long enough to paint it.’

I have repeated that phrase in my mind so often since encountering it, twisting it this way and that: I haven’t lived with it long enough to paint it. I haven’t lived with it long enough to write about it. I haven’t lived with it long enough to love it. What does it mean to distrust the novelty of experience? To say instead that what one needs in order to create are not new things—not new grand adventures, not new wives or husbands or cities—but the same thing over and over again until a Platonic form of the thing builds up in the mind and becomes the model for what is written about, or painted?

There were many moments in the course of penciling and inking my hourlies that I found myself drawing things without reference and feeling surprised—as if I haven’t interacted with them daily my entire life. As if I haven’t seen the exact pattern of my father’s behaviors day in and day out for an entire year.

I keep thinking about fixed action patterns in animals.

I keep thinking about what is being cemented in me during this season.

We all know that there is a quality of duration that must be harnessed, which seems to be not only a way of working against the fickle intrusion of inspiration but the only way of living after a certain age: understanding the humdrum repetitions of life to be a kind of balance; refusing to chase the tsunami of inspiration that comes with each new falling in love, each new city; having only the same walls around us, and the same plates, and only one wife, who will always dislike our friends, and spend day after day in the bath.

(I even have a wife who loves the bath! It’s not relevant to the main thrust of this, but I do love my wife and my wife loves the bath.)

There it is: the delight of finding something that speaks so precisely to the moment I’m in—down to the second. And then the wondering about whether reading it on any other day would’ve left me cold.

(The first time I read Ali Smith I bounced off her work entirely. And now I’m reading everything of hers I can get my hands on.)

Walking in the forest with my dog a few weeks after my father died, I noticed the green of the fir trees; the colors were so muted and beautiful. And up above was a flat gray sky, easy to look at, the sun dimmed at midday by a thick layer of clouds. All I could see were the colors in nature and their perfect harmony. I could have stood there staring for much longer if my dog hadn’t been impatient, and if my shoes hadn’t been wet. Everything was dripping, the previous day’s snow already melting. And because I felt in that moment as if I had never really looked at colors before, I stood wondering beneath the shadowless sky whether, when my father died, the spirit that had enlivened him passed into me, for I had held him as he died; as perhaps when his father, a painter, died, his spirit went into my father, so that now I had the spirit of my father and the spirit of my grandfather both inside me. And I wondered whether this influence—the spirit of my painter grandfather inside me—was why I was suddenly noticing colors.

What a gift.

A Collection of Small Things

I’d never even heard of Infinity Zines before, but this one Kori made is just stunning:

Then there’s a tiny essay Anne sent me in the mail that’s modeled on a cootie catcher. It’s about care and capitalism and giving and receiving, but it’s more complicated to photograph than I have the energy for tonight, so this is just to say that I am having a lot of feelings about unusually-formatted zines lately. I think they’re very good.


A photo of Lucy's desk with four half-inked comics pages on it.

I’m inking my entries from Hourly Comic Day, which knocked me on my ass this year. It’s not that it was a lot of work (I mean, it was), but more that it forced me to really look at what’s happening in my life during this season. To examine the monotony and poignancy and fear and humor of caregiving. To feel as if part of me is still trying to maintain a life like the life I had when I did Hourly Comic Day last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on x 10).

Not wanting to draw my dad because to draw someone you have to really look at them and sometimes it’s too painful to look at him.

And then also understanding that sometimes the best thing I can do is look at my pain.


An ink drawing of a lumpy, leafless tree with two tiny people at the base of it.

I hosted another Chill Drawing Hangout on Zoom earlier today and it was lovely. I’m grateful to know so many people who are willing to gather and be generous with each other and enjoy making art together. I’m going to do my best to make it a monthly practice, which means next one’s March 4th from 12-2pm Pacific. (That’s one day before we’re due to open a show of the collages I’ve been making with my dad, so I’m anticipating that I will be a mess, but that probably also means a couple hours friendly drawing will be much-needed.)


I want to write properly about how long it’s taken me to realize that one of the MANY reasons I’m in love with Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting is that it’s basically a blog in book form. So many small chapterlets subdivided into loose categories, all titled with brief words or phrases, all circling similar themes. It’s how I think about what I’m doing here (or with my Rambles)—building a database over the course of many months of Stuff I Am Thinking About so that someday I can surprise myself by finding out the seeds of the next thing have been germinating for longer than I’ve known.


Nisabho’s been recording meditations and sharing them online, which I only realized recently while trying to Google the name of the monastic community he’s working to establish up in Seattle. We went to college together (he features very prominently in True Believer, the first comic I funded on Kickstarter) and he’s remained one of my lighthouse humans. Anyway, Wednesday this week was rough and so I found myself listening to this half-hour talk on grief and mourning to try and cope. It was so lovely—like we were still walking together in the early dark of Portland in October 2020. He recited the same Mary Oliver poem for me on the sidewalk there. I got to share my 100 Day Project with him and his parents.


This post is basically Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, although she was caring for small children when she wrote it, but I feel an increasing affinity with anyone who’s doing 24/7 care work these days.


Okay that’s enough small things, back to doing dishes.

Wisdoms for Self

I’m wrestling with the letter I want to write to introduce my 2020 100 Day Project when I release it later this month. I’m feeling the pressure to get it just right. To say it just so. (Sound familiar? I keep finding different elements of this project to obsess over as a way to avoid sharing it. Go figure. Just share it, Lucy.)

I poked my head into Instagram briefly this morning and found Anis sharing a project that has its roots in a much older project and is now reemerging:

Back in 2014/2015 I was in a place of heavy loss, a place of relearning, rewiring, reforming my self, & began writing down & sharing online these monthly wisdoms/lessons for my self to learn, think on, & try to remember. Have wanted to return to this for years now, & being now in some months of heavy reflection seemed a good time for this returning. Here’s things I put down last month for me to hold & turn over & try to remember.

Here’s one:

12.21 Lessons for Self
(to learn anew &/or to be reminded of to continue learning)
Anis you do not need to straighten every wrinkle. Nor do you
need to respond in a moment. If someone is upset & out of that
anger speaking poorly to you, it is not your job to temper
them-
-if you need time to acknowledge your transgression to
them without theirs to you, step away & come back.
Dont forget Anis, no one gets to tell you how you process your
loss & rowboat your grief.
This means too, don't forget, you don't get to direct how others
process theirs, to expect them to rudder across the lake in the
way you might.
Decisions are not just cerebral in nature. Not all abstracted can
be bent for the brain to weigh, Anis you have to also recognize
that the heart & the body are part of the decision making pro-
cess.
Indecision is an enemy of vulnerability.

This subtitle sings to me.

It’s a funny thing how we all begin turning toward the same subjects at the same times (or have already been turning for several years). Reminders. Permission. Speaking to the self as the self, but at a removal from the self. This is the energy of the thing I’m about to release, too. Seeing it reflected in these words from my brilliant friend fills me with compassion and energy and, okay, a little envy, too. I have to elbow myself in the psychic ribs as if to say “Hey. Cut it out. There’s no race here, ya dingbat.”

On another slide, Anis writes:

I sometimes use vulnerability w/self to avoid vulnerability w/others. I wear my heart, but wearing can be a costume.

This is one of the things that drives me away from sharing such a personal thing in public. I want it to be known (I want to be known), but not in a space where I’ve traditionally used perceived vulnerability to mask real connection.

The greatest pleasure I’ve gotten from this project has been pressing the physical prototype (or the Dropbox folder of images) into the hands of trusted friends, and then talking about it with them. That’s energy I want to preserve moving forward. This connection. This depth.

Ramble #29

Back on the Ramble train today. Well, technically a few days ago, but you get the idea. You can read the transcript or browse all the notes and associated ephemera over on Patreon (no need to pledge a dime), or just listen directly below.

October 22nd, 2021

[Rambles are typically 20-minute freeform audio updates recorded outside every couple of weeks. You can listen to previous Rambles here or subscribe directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.]

A Current Impasse

Historically, I’ve been someone who uses what I’m doing as an indication of how I’m doing.

I’m far from the only person doing this, I know. Capitalism and America’s Puritan work ethic really get off on doing as a substitute for being. But the thing is…it used to work relatively well. My creative work gave me The Good Brain Drugs, and so when I was working effectively and a lot, I’d feel good. A lot of my angst over the past year has stemmed from the anxiety of waiting to start on this graphic novel, which makes sense in this model. Now that I’ve finally started rolling on the project, hitting the studio every morning for three straight weeks, the creative blockade is lifting.

So why do I still feel awful?

The truth of the matter is that my creative/productive self is doing exceptionally well, but my emotional self is not. I have no idea how to deal with this information.

How can I reconcile how excited I am by this project—how tangled up in the joy of designing new characters and solving page layouts like crossword puzzles every morning—with how utterly depleted and depressed and grief-riddled I am in the rest of my life? I’m not used to there being a mismatch. Usually I feel stymied creatively and emotionally until the former comes loose and I hit a rhythm of making that scratches the itch, at which point the latter resolves of its own accord.

Not so now. Hm.

New territory.

Brace, Ebb, Theft

On a call with some of the folks from the Wayward community the other night, someone shared a conversation they’d had with their therapist about emerging into 2021. PTSD, the therapist pointed out, doesn’t generally rear its head while soldiers are on the battlefield. It comes later, when things are supposedly “safe” or “better” and everyone around us is celebrating or relaxing and we’re only just beginning to experience the full impact of what we’ve been through.

It hit me like a pile of bricks.

I feel so far away from my creative self right now. The only thing I keep finding comfort in is learning that a lot of other friends are in the same boat—that maybe a majority of us are actually grieving the loss of whatever creative spaciousness or clarity we’d managed to eke out in the solitude of Quarantine. Or maybe we’re all just braced for the next wave of closures and infections and losses, or finally feeling the full weight of the closures and infections and losses that have already come and gone.

My first family COVID deaths happened in quick succession within the last two weeks—far past the peak of the Pandemic. What does that mean? How am I supposed to feel? They lived in another country, separated by oceans and continents and the 17 years since I saw them last in person. But they were family—a community I struggle to feel connected to at the best of times, even though I yearn for it desperately. I’m vaccinated. My parents are vaccinated. Nothing quite like thinking you’re “safe” and then realizing grief can still snake its way into your circles, no matter the care you take.

I’m thinking, too, about the way I keep brushing off this mental and creative slump in conversation, waving my hands and explaining to friends that “it’s just a phase” and “things will feel better as soon as I get stuck into my next project.”

“This always happens,” I say. “I always pull through.”

But something I didn’t account for is living in house alongside my dad, one of my primary sources of creative inspiration and cheerleading growing up, who genuinely has lost contact his creative self. Dementia is not the seasonal cycle that I usually comfort myself with when I think of the ebb and flow of creative embodiment. It’s a far darker and more linear decline. It makes the threat of permanent loss in these low tide seasons feel more real.

It’s not to say that I’m over here worrying about imminently losing all my marbles. More that…I don’t know. Maybe that I haven’t been making enough space for the enormity of everything. When I make light of this season—either because I’m afraid of it, or embarrassed that it’s happening to me, or something else—I rob myself of the chance to feel my way through into whatever comes next.