I went for a run last night and there was this amazing fog settling in the hollows.
I went for a run last night and there was this amazing fog settling in the hollows.
I’ve been working on a new series of small drawings of things my daughter and I have found around our neighborhood this spring. With everybody stuck at home, Evelyn and I gradually stumbled into a daily ritual. We’d take the dog out for a walk each afternoon, and we’d talk about the things we saw changing around us: the flowers blooming and falling, the leaves growing, the colors changing, the bugs and birds and animals re-emerging as the weather turned warmer. Evelyn would come home with her pockets stuffed with whirligigs and buttercups and cicada shells, which she’d arrange in little taxonomic collections around the house.
Here’s a few things I’ve been reading this week that I’ve found really helpful and inspiring:
I’ll update this list as I find more.
This is a new ink drawing of an interstate overpass, from a trail on the Patuxent. That day the sunlight caught the tree branches just so, and I managed to take a picture.
These days there is a chronic lack of time and energy in our isolated household. Daycare is closed for the foreseeable future. Our days are composed entirely of work and childcare, a schedule so tight that air and sunlight rarely penetrate.
My wife Jackie and I both work full-time, demanding jobs. We are very lucky: both of us are able to work from home, and both of us work in industries that, so far, have been able to cope. But the load is still hard to sustain.
I am prone to anxiety and burnout and have learned over the years — slowly, sporadically, reluctantly — a few ways to cope. Meditation is helpful, but in the current midst of our crowded, noisy house the time and quiet it requires are hard to come by. Outdoor exercise — running and bicycling, in my case — is the next best thing: leaving the house brings some quiet, but the time to do so is short.
One recent night, we were planning the dinner menu for the week ahead. I volunteered for taco night, but we were out of shredded cheese and refried beans. There were a few other basic things we needed, so I decided to make a run to the grocery store. On a whim, I also decided to ride my bike.
The other day I was sitting on our deck with my 4-year-old daughter, Evelyn. She saw a bee fly by.
“What bee is that?” She asked.
“I’m not sure,” I replied, “a carpenter bee, I think?”
“I mean, did that bee have a name?” she asked. “I guess bugs don’t have names,” she continued after a moment, “they’re just ‘bee.’”
“Well, maybe each bee buzzes in a slightly different way. Maybe bees can distinguish different kinds of buzzing, and that’s how they recognize one another.”
Evie considered this. “Is that true?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I’m just speculating. Do you know what speculating means?”
“It means… you’re just making stuff up?”
I was deeply saddened to hear that Gary Kessler, my high school cross country coach, died this week. Coach Kessler was someone I looked up to at a time when, like most 17-year-olds, I was struggling to figure who I was and where I was supposed to be going. I miss him already.
What I remember him for — as a cross country and track coach — was only one part of his very full life. He taught science at my high school, and he also coached the football and wrestling teams for awhile. He was a Marine, a veteran, a pilot, and a career reservist. Every now and then he’d be out for a weekend, at Quantico for training. A reserved, humble man, he spoke very little about himself or his (many) accomplishments, and in hindsight I feel a pang of regret for not asking him more questions.
But for the tiny slice of his life in which I knew him, he left a deep impression on me. I will forever remember him standing there on top of the windy hill on our cross country course, in his dark shorts and New Balance running shoes, stopwatch in hand, laughing at some joke that my teammate Jim just told, while the rest of us gasp for air from the last interval we’d run. I associate his voice with the wind and sun there, and the vague, rush-of-blood, oxygen-debt euphoria I usually felt during practice.
Although he coached several sports (and many track events) during his long career, I’m grateful he gave us distance runners a shot: skinny, gawky nerds in our muddy sneakers. He was utterly steady, a calm counterbalance to our maladjusted, adolescent uncertainty. He was always on time, always prepared. He was soft-spoken and seemed to have infinite reserves of patience. When he did speak, his words were considered. He had a knack for gently telling us what we needed to hear (or, in many cases, saying nothing and giving us the space we needed to work it out for ourselves). I hated to disappoint him. I would push myself far beyond what I thought I could do, just to see him click the stopwatch, smile, and congratulate me on a personal record. He knew everybody’s PRs.
Coach Kessler took over as our head coach at the beginning of my senior year in 1999. We’d go on to win the district championship, and to place at regionals — our best year as a team in a long time.
I was never a world-beating runner, even in my tiny school district, but running was, nonetheless, the first time I felt like I could make something of myself. Running is one of the few athletic things that came somewhat naturally to me. I loved falling into a rhythm after a few miles, so that my arms and legs seemed to move by themselves, my heartbeat and breathing the metronome driving them. There’d be nothing but the sound of the wind and birds and my feet lightly crunching on the path, and all my worries would slowly drain away. These days I still run, as often as I can, not only for exercise but also because it’s the best way to manage my anxiety.
Coach Kessler helped me understand this mental side of running in a way I’d never managed before. He taught me discipline, it seemed, without me realizing it. He would ask questions about my goals, listen very carefully, and then he would simply be there every day, helping me with the next step. I bet you can shave a few seconds on this interval. It’ll be hot tomorrow, drink a few extra glasses of water tonight. Your rival ran his last mile split 10 seconds faster, so let’s try some speed drills next week to help your kick. Without ever actually saying it, he helped my teenage brain finally understand the connection between “today” and “next year” — to understand that bigger accomplishments are built from single days.
This was a lesson that proved valuable in my adult life. Running, and the discipline Coach Kessler helped me build, is a gift that I’m deeply grateful for. It has, without exaggeration, saved me more than once. Coach Kessler himself has become a role model to me. When I direct other designers or teach my own students, I try to mimic his patience, his calm voice, his sincere belief in every single person he worked with.
Thank you for everything, Coach. I’ll miss you terribly, but I’ll try to live up to your example and pass on what you’ve taught me. Wherever you find yourself next, I hope the running trails are great.
This biography of game designer Roberta Williams is fascinating. I remember the King’s Quest games from when I was a kid and I remember being awed by the graphics, especially the beautiful background scenery. I had no idea all those games came from the same designer.
I really like the dense, chiaroscuro shadows in these etchings by early 20th-century illustrator Martin Lewis. He was a friend of Edward Hopper, and you can see similar glimmers of loneliness and impending drama in his wide-angle compositions.
I meant to post this a long time ago, but got distracted: a nice piece in the Times about fountain pens and the community around them.
I work mostly with brushes and, uh, computers, but fountain pens are my favorite tool for making fine lines. When I’m inking a new drawing, I usually pick up a pen to finish it off. With the right nib, a fountain pen can be more expressive than a felt tip or ballpoint. Lines can be thinned or widened depending on pressure, or the angle of the pen. There’s a learning curve but in a practiced hand they offer a bit more control and subtlety.
But aside from all that, there’s something about fountain pens themselves that feels compelling. It’s just a thing that makes marks on paper, a pretty innocuous job that a chewed-up No. 2 pencil accomplishes just as well. A lovely pen somehow makes that simple act feel a little more special. I dunno: my wife and I have certain attachments to anachronisms like pens and vinyl records and canning jars and film cameras that make no sense but make life feel a little more interesting nonetheless.
It’s nice to see we’re not alone in that.