As many of you know, a few months back, my wife and I brought home our very first human baby. In advance of the birth, I had made a point of leaving Mary cute little sketches of what our baby might look like — most all of which she deemed “terrifying.” I thought I’d share them with readers …
And now, here’s the real deal! This is Penelope Fern Auxier. Not quite as many fangs as I’d imagined …
Exactly one year ago, I began this blog with a picture of a hand drawn Christmas tree. It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope to be a bit more regular with posting in the new year. In the meantime, I wish all of you a happy holiday!
No fancy post today because I’m visiting schools in anticipation of a signing event at Mrs. Nelson’s Bookstore in LaVerne TONIGHT at 5:00pm!!!! Come check it out. If you can’t make that, I’m having my first LA signing tomorrow at Chevalier’s in Hollywood from 1-3pm — please, oh please come!
In the meantime, I thought I’d post a picture I drew a while back. I was showing my younger cousins Jude and Asher (5 and 7, respectively) how the drawing tablet on my computer worked. I asked the oldest one what I should draw. He said, “Darth Vader!” I asked the younger one where Darth Vader should be. He said, “In the bathroom!” And there you have it …
I’ll admit, not my finest work!
What’s the difference between irony and sarcasm? Most thesauri list them as synonyms, but anyone who’s been on the receiving end of either type of humor can tell you the difference at once: ironic statements make you laugh, and sarcastic statements make you cry.
Many a protective parent has assured his or her teased child that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor. And the word sarcasm literally translates to mean “to tear the flesh.” But what exactly is it it about a sarcastic statement that makes it a low form of humor? And what makes it “tear the flesh?” I’ve been mulling over this question for a while now, and I think I’ve landed on an answer:
Sarcasm happens when the observed irony does not extend to the speaker.
That is to say that an ironic person includes himself among the mocked, whereas a sarcastic person stands outside the situation in judgement. See how it might play out in the below scene involving a bunch of nerds camping outside of a movie theater:
In this instance, the guy making fun of the people is including himself in the joke — after all, he’s in the line, too! But consider what happens when the speaker is not in line with the others:
Sarcasm is the one kind of joke that can be made by someone who does not actually find something funny — it is humor for the humorless. In life, I have a problem with sarcasm because I don’t believe that any person has the right to laugh at others unless he can first laugh at himself.
And what about sarcasm in storytelling?
To be clear, I’m all for sarcastic characters (I enjoy Holden Caulfield as much as the next guy!). But sarcastic authors are a different thing altogether. Sarcastic authors attempt to point out absurdities in the world, but they try to do it from a safe distance — never letting themselves become a part of the joke. The only way to do this is by creating straw men for the express purpose of knocking them down. Ironically(!), this ends up undercutting the author’s initial goal, because now instead of critiquing the world, he is critiquing some flimsy characters who bear little resemblance to the world.
The end result is a thing neither funny nor true.
Here’s another thing that makes Mary awesome: she lets me draw tattoos on her! Pretty much every night while she’s reading in bed, I pull out a pen and give her a sweet tat on her arm, shoulder, or foot.1 I work with a variety of themes in my art — most of them are slightly more violent re-imaginings of Lisa Frank pictures.2 Take this most recent example, which I have titled “Zebra with Machine Gun”:
Please note how the Artist has chosen to make the bullets from the machine gun go all the way around the arm and then explode in back of the Zebra’s head! Genius! Now if only she’d let me frame the original…3
- I have tried, more than once, to tattoo her face, but for some reason, she refuses. ↩
- To see more of my Fine Art, I direct readers to check out “Easter Bunny vs. Holo-Shark” and “Editorus Rex” ↩
- Roald Dahl actually wrote a terrifying, brilliant short story entitled “Skin” in which an old man has a tattoo on his back done by a famous artist. The story does not end well for the old man. ↩
The above picture is one I drew in church last week. My whole life, I’ve drawn in church. My father was a pastor when I was growing up, and my mum understood that drawing can help right-brained people concentrate.1 And so every Sunday, when my father started his sermon, she would pull a box of art supplies from her purse so the two of us could draw.
Drawing can have a powerful meditative effect. My mother’s work – which she affectionately refers to as her “knittings” — elevates this idea to a new level. Each painting represents hundreds of hours of meticulous, repetitive mark-making to build textures. All of these large-scale paintings began as tiny “knittings” worked out in small notebooks, sometimes in church.
I recently discovered another artist who draws in church. Abrams illustrator John Hendrix has an entire section of his website devoted to drawings he’s done while sitting through sermons. I’ll let him explain:
“Drawing in my sketchbook is the very best part of my work. I love it because it is linear improvisation. Much like jazz, it is unpredictable, exciting and unfiltered. Often with very good and very bad results. I attend church every Sunday, and I draw during the sermon. All of these pages were done in a pew (though I don’t bring my watercolors with me- that waits till I get home). Simultaneous drawing and listening transforms familiar language into something new- a feedback loop of symbols, theology and wonder.”
John’s work puts me to shame. Behold:
I think this sort of meditative drawing extends beyond the pews.2 When I got to college, I started drawing in journals while I listened to lectures. A lot of the pictures were mnemonic devices related to the lecture, others were the germs of what would later become stories. (I still remember the afternoon in graduate school when I found myself sketching a certain blind thief!)
College also happens to be when I started to become a better student — my grades went up, and I started to take a more active role in what I was learning. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I can’t help but wonder whether there are kids out there struggling with school who might be helped by being given a box of art supplies?
I recently stumbled across commenter Lisa’s new word blog This Wretched Hive.1 Lisa writes smart, succinct posts about words old and new. One of my favorite pieces discusses portmanteaus. Portmanteaus are words that combine two different words to make something new: televangelist, spork, interrobang, etc.
I love portmanteaus because when done well, they brush up against word play. In fact, without that element, portmanteaus pretty much fail. Consider the example Lisa discovered in her grocery store:
“Portmanteau” is actually a French word for an upright trunk that has dresser-like compartments in one half and a hanging closet in the other.2 I first discovered the word as a child when I read Lewis Carroll’s introduction to “The Hunting of the Snark.” He observes:
Humpty Dumpty’s theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious”. Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first … if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious”.
Carroll is referring to something Humpty Dumpty says in Alice in Wonderland3 in order to explain how a reader might be able to decode the made-up words in his famous nonsense poem, “The Jabberwocky.”
A few years later, while scouring footnotes in Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice (which I read nightly for over a decade), I discovered that Alice in Wonderland was actually the first time portmanteau was used in this linguistic sense. Way to be awesome, Lewis Carroll!
- The title of Lisa’s blog makes me think all blogs should be named after things Obi Wan said. ↩
- I find a beautiful irony in the fact that the word portmanteau is a portmanteau — being a combination of “porter” (to carry) and “manteau” (cloak). ↩
- “You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.” ↩
The above picture is a mulberry tree I drew for my cousin Sarah’s wedding invitations. The wedding itself was a wonderful, magical event — unlike any I had ever attended. All those who plan on inviting me a wedding in the future, please take careful notes:
- They fed us barbecue cooked over an old chuck wagon
- They filled the grounds with tiny fire pits and dusty wingback chairs
- The Ring-bearer came down on a zip-line, wearing a Jedi robe
Even better were the gifts for guests. Women were all given pashmina shawls to keep warm into the night. Men were each given a handmade tobacco pouch and new pipe. Being a master of the Pretentious Arts, I was asked to draw instructions on how to pack and light a pipe:
Congratulations, Sarah and Jake. You kids deserve every happiness.
A few months back, my editor and I were caught in a heated “discussion” regarding a certain passage of Peter Nimble.1 Essentially, she wanted me to remove a paragraph on the grounds that it slowed down the action. Understand that I am usually very eager to rip apart my own work in response to a note … but this particular passage was different.2 When I sat down to write a book, I essentially sat down to write this one passage — and now I was being told to cut it out entirely!
There were a LOT of phone calls, during which I would list countless reasons why these few sentences were necessary to the book. Every time she would say she understood my feelings, but that she couldn’t in good conscience agree. Finally, after what seemed like weeks of back-and-forth, I tried cutting it out — just to see how it read.
You know how this story goes: she was right, I was wrong, “kill your darlings,” blah, blah, blah.3
When I looked over the final proofs of that chapter a few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. My editor is a busy lady, and I’m sure it would have been much easier for her to just let me have my way. But she stuck to her guns, and the book is better for it.
Shortly after that issue was resolved, I sent over a picture as a sort of peace offering:
Way to be awesome, Editorus Rex.
- My editor has a pretty low online profile, so I’ll respect that by not publishing her name … of course if you reallywant to know who she is, it’s printed in back of Peter Nimble! ↩
- In fact, both my wife and agent have at times argued that I can be too eager in this regard. Perhaps that’s a subject for another day. ↩
- Author and blogger Wendy Palmer has a neat little series on writing rules that are often misapplied — including the infamous “Kill your darlings.” It’s worth reading, if for no other reason than to learn that Faulkner didn’t originate that phrase. ↩
For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has had a profound hatred of pigeons.1 She claims this has something to do with having grown up on a farm. However, I suspect her feelings are part of a larger cultural bias. While I don’t have anything against pigeons per se, I try to make a practice of taking Mary’s side whenever I can. It is for that reason that I turned a blind eye after a trip we took to New York last year. The trip was publishing related, and while I was talking with editors and such, Mary was free to wander the city. One afternoon, we met up and she was so excited to tell me what she had done at Central Park, something she had dreamed of doing for years: She kicked a pigeon.
You know how pigeons are always playing chicken (as it were) with pedestrians? Remaining in place until just the last second before flying away? This mocking behavior had led to something of an obsession in my wife — she had long grumbled that one day she’d show those pigeons who was boss. At last that day had come. She kept revisiting the scene that night, explaining how she snuck up on it, closed her eyes, and gave it a good wallop — “Pow! Right in the tail-feathers!”2 I even drew a picture of her triumph in my journal:
End of story. Or so I thought. During my recent illustration bonanza, however, I found myself free to listen to a lot of podcasts.3 Among those podcasts was the show Radiolab. For those that don’t know, Radiolab is a show that blends pop-sociology and science — if This American Life interviewed scientists and had sound effects, it would be this show. One of the episodes I listened to was called “Lost & Found“. It was all about navigation, and it featured a profile on carrier pigeons. Over the course of the show, I learned the following facts about these so-called “soccer-balls with wings” (another of Mary’s nicknames):
- Carrier pigeons are monogamous. In fact, if you make a carrier pigeon think his mate is being hit upon by a rival, he will fly home even faster.
- While many birds have a sort of internal compass, carrier pigeons have an internal GPS. This means you can knock one unconscious, ship it halfway around the world, and when it wakes up it will instantly know its coordinates.
- There was a carrier pigeon in WWII named “G.I. Joe” who single-wingedly saved an entire Italian village.
Pigeons, you have my heartfelt apologies.
- Actually, there is one pigeon that Mary approves of. It is her yellow Flying Pigeon Bicycle, imported from China. It is magnificent … and it weighs 500 lbs. ↩
- After reading this post, Mary has asked me to clarify that she “barely grazed” the bird, and that the creature sustained no injuries. Having been kicked by Mary before, I sincerely doubt it. ↩
- This was also my chance to work through many episodes of Katie Davis’ publishing podcast Brain Burps About Books … truly wonderful stuff. ↩