February 29, 2008 · belly aching

omg. It is snowing AGAIN. Snowing SOME MORE. Spring is never gonna come, is it? I’m trying to remember what the local groundhogs said a month ago, whether they saw they’re stinking shadows or not. Even if I could remember whether they saw their shadows or not, I can’t remember which way I’m suppose to root… do I root for shadow spotting or not? Which is the quickest path to spring like temps and bits of green?

The past three days have been the coldest of the year. This winter is becoming entirely insufferable. More snow then we’ve had in the past two years combined. And on top of that, bouts of freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing and o, how ’bout a little freezing rain? Wouldja like that? Yes?! The terrain in the park is hazardous indeed. It’s becoming so dreadfully tiresome. I’m scrambling for the silver lining in all of this and I guess it is that the most treacherous areas of the park are the areas most travelled where the ground has frozen in fearsome ruts disguised by layers of powdery snow, so Finny and I break new territory almost every day, leading us in directions we haven’t walked in literally years.

man, winter!!! it’s insufferably dull. and it’s making me over in its’ image.

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February 28, 2008 · hard sun


I am in a completely wide open, thoroughly random mood today. Somehow this image kinda captures it. The moon walker photo (beneath my random graphics) is a photo of a photo that I snapped at the Natural History Museum during our last visit to NYC. (um, well you know, obviously I didn’t snap the original. I mean, I am many things, but an astronaut is not one of them. And my walks are far-ranging, but I have yet to stroll to the moon.)

And apropos of nothing: I have listened to Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder about 25 times today at furniture trembling volumes and, impossibly, it gets better every time I hear it. It makes me feel like I could open my mouth and swallow the Earth, which is a pretty spectacular way to feel just now. There are very few songs that make me feel like this. In fact, there is only one other song that immediately springs to mind and that is the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah as preformed by John Cale. Hallelujah also has the capacity to completely consume me in ways I can’t describe, but today my obsession is Hard Sun. I can’t decide if it is best followed by Holland by Sufjan Stevens or Panic by The Smiths.

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February 22, 2008 · pen to paper


It never fails. as soon as my thoughts start drifting and circling around art again, as soon as I start feeling that tickle of excitement and inspiration in the pit of my stomach, as soon as I turn with real earnestness to my drawing table, the space above my head opens and an unanticipated deluge of design work swamps me good.

It’s a difficult balance. Design work is pretty much my bread and butter and I enjoy it. I do. I’m never going to set the world on fire with my design prowess, I’m never going to revolutionize the industry, I’m never gonna be David Carson or Saul Bass, but I have a knack for producing reliably open, user friendly design that makes my clients happy. I am fortunate enough to have some fun, talented and connected clients that I really enjoy working with and through them, I have done projects for Target, Loreal, Olay and the like.

But I don’t get the same rush from design that I get from illustration. Design isn’t a personal process. It’s all about finding the right visual solution, interpreting someone else’s vision in a way they may not be able to do for themselves. Sometimes, I really love the end product but ultimately, it’s not about whether it’s to my own taste or not… it’s whether it communicates the clients’ desire and hits their target audience, delivers their message. I work hard at it and I am delighted when my clients are pleased and the piece I designed really delivers. It is challenging and rewarding and it certainly keeps me occupied, but not the way art and illustration do.

Design is just not as deeply personal for me as illustration, it doesn’t fill me the same way. Or torture me the same way either. Illustration demands something completely different from me. I can’t quite figure out how to explain it, other than to say that design is all about how other people think while illustration is about how I think. And feel. Illustration is much more about feeling than thinking. I tap into a whole different part of my brain when I am drawing or painting than I do when I’m designing. It’s like the difference between solving a math equation and writing a poem (although that analogy is a little weak too because again, I find the process of writing and the process of illustration/art entirely different again).

The fundamental challenge of problem solving is the same, but the route you take to get there is entirely divergent. Design is an express train straight to the target destination with clearly defined markers and clearly legible signage pointing the path whilst (whilst!) Illustration is a careless meander through the countryside, with unscheduled stops to peer into the knots of trees to spy on roosting squirrels and to look under footbridges for evidence of trolls and the Billygoats Gruff. Illustration takes naps, gets pollen and chocolate all over her clothing, takes back alleys (blind alleys too), trips and stumbles a lot and very rarely arrives on time. Design finds that sort of thing pretty much horrifying.

blah, blah, blah, blah… it’s doubtful that this makes much sense to anyone but me, but there it is. My as-per-usual long-winded way of telling you that this year I am really trying to make some real headway with my illustration career. I’ve been making noises about that for quite some time now, I know. And I have made some real forays into the back room. I have made some real progress there. Not the truly measurable kind of progress, to be sure, but things are beginning to tumble into place for me in terms of what I want to do with illustration, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. And what I’ve discovered is in order to make serious progress with my illustration, I need to stop taking it so damn seriously.

If we’re laying it all out on the table, I have to tell you that I really got my panties in a bunch about it this past fall. I flopped and floundered, threw a right wobbly and kicked over paint pots and stuff. I swore up a storm and pouted in the corner and flung myself sobbing across the bed. I spent a lot of time thinking big, v. serious, v. angsty Capital A Artistic thoughts, frowning and stroking my chin and generally carrying on as if it was The Only Thing That Mattered. Sometimes I thought for a moment that I had it by the tail, other times I was sure I had lost it forever.

And then January came a long and knocked me completely sideways and for a good 5-6 weeks there, I had not one real thought about illustration or anything to do with it. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this week to find myself doodling about and feeling quite comfortable and merry and absolutely, spectacularly friendly towards the subject. January was a horrible month for me and I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it in any way, but one thing is for sure… it certainly righted my perspective and somehow paved the way for me to open up to the simple joy of creating again simply for the fun of it, the ease of it. And that, folks, is the essential ingredient that I lost last year with all my writhing about. In the twist and shout of trying to do Very Important Work Of Impeccable Taste, Talent and Originality (or VIWITTO), I totally smothered the one thing that keeps illustration alive for me. Joy, Simple joy.

I think I’ve got it back, at least for the moment. Joy is fluttering prettily around this room, morphing into shapes various and sundry, trailing dog hair and cookie crumbs and little silvery sparklets. And for once, I’m pretty sure it will still be here when I get finished with my unexpected pile of math problems.

* The above is a little self-portrait I did the other day for Rama Hughes’ Portrait Party. The Portrait Party is an incredibly inspired idea and if you enjoy drawing or painting on an level, I really encourage you to check it out and pass it on.

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February 19, 2008 · icy fingers


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February 11, 2008 · auspicious directions


I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m not particularly looking forward to going out there this morning. It is bright and shining, but oh my word, so so frosty! With 70 km/hr wind gusts and a windchill of -29 degrees or something ridiculous. Ouch.

I’d much rather stay indoors and obsess about feng shui which is what I’ve been doing for much of the weekends. I borrowed a couple of books from the library about Chinese Feng Shui last week and I’ve mapped out the whole house. I am eternally grateful that Johnny WestGroup and I have the exact same Kua number even though we were born in different years. This means we have the same auspicious directions and makes this whole feng shui thing much easier. I think my head would have exploded by now if our auspicious directions had been different because this feng shui thing? Holy confusing Batman! But the thing that thrills me most is that even though Finny J.’s Kua number is different from ours, her directions are exactly the same! How fortuitous is that?! How often does THAT happen, that all the members of the household have the same auspicious directions?

So that’s the good news. The bad news? Those four auspicious directions are the four most neglected corners of our house. Oy! Balance must be restored forthwith!

I’m in the process of decluttering and I’ve got to say, it’s kinda painful. I’m not really a material girl, so how is it I’ve accumulated so much junk that I’m ridiculously attached to for no apparent reason? sigh. I suspect this is gonna be a long process… but already the house is starting to feel lighter, brighter, better.

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February 8, 2008 · snow shadows


tons of snow. lots and lots of snow. two winters’ worth so far, according to the radio. and more on the way. we wade through it slowly, me scouting for the tracks of skiers, Finny scouting for squirrels. yesterday the sun was high and bright, setting things a dazzle. From the deep cover of a row of tall, tall pines, I snapped at the shadow prints cast across the snow while Finny gnawed the snowballs off her fringes and feathers.

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February 6, 2008 · lull

this morning’s walk has been bookended by storm systems, the one that laid a layer of granular snow and ice pellets over the deep slush of yesterday’s odd thaw in the wee hours of the morning, and the one now whipping along the roof eaves, whistling with Arctic intensity around the corners of my house.

We walked in the grey lull in between. It was the kind of day, the kind of grey that you feel deep in your bones, the kind you feel in each footfall. The snow slurped at our feet, tugging petulantly. My left knee strummed as if it had recently been wrenched (it hasn’t), like the echo of an old football injury while a more insistent pull burned deep in the back of my right thigh, a strain I haven’t quite worked out in yoga yet. my head felt heavy, unimaginative, plodding forward, practical. Finny was, as ever, eager to go, glad to be there and reluctant to get back in the car, but I suspect the weird weather is playing about her joints today as well. Or maybe I’m just projecting my own muscular protests on to her, I’m not sure.

We didn’t see any animals today (save for two large black crows roosting against the brooding sky, restless and flapping), just their footprints. The deep cloven prints of deer, like upside down hearts on stalks, pressed here and there, a set of cunning raccoon prints, fingers splayed, the hop track of a rabbit.

On the way home, I had a peculiar Harry Potter like sensation as my face thawed, radiating in circles from hot little prickle points all around my nose. I had the impression that I had been bitten by a massive viper and the venom was seeping outward from point of contact. By the time we pulled into the driveway, that impression was gone and all I was thinking about was lunch.

apropos of nothing: i’ve really been intrigued by the idea of taking a ceramics or pottery course lately. I think I will do that in the spring.

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February 5, 2008 · cowabunga dude

why is it that as soon as I make some lovely shrub-hugging granola-gulping peace-on-Earth type promise to myself, I have this immediate urge to double back and stamp it all over with something completely and utterly inane like my observations about how Conan O’Brien is really more cartoon than animal, vegetable or mineral? (Don’t worry. It’s a rhetorical question.)

Did you see him on Jon Stewart last night? And on the Colbert Report? doing the duelling late night host thang and making Jon Stewart look laughably, loveably Lilliputian? Didja? I was just mesmerized by his odd angles, like all his joints were wound inexpertly with pipe cleaners. By three year olds. I really admire the way his clothes are totally tailored to reinforce that effect too. Skinny here, skinny there, too short in the arms, a flash of sock. And then that ‘do, that dippsy doodle doo, that red wave cresting off his positively pasty pate. I saw a picture once (in Entertainment Weekly, I think, though I could be wrong) of Conan with a little plastic surfer dude going all cowabunga atop that red wave and that image will be forever wedged in my brain. Every time I see Conan O’Brien, I see the little surfer dude. Not literally, of course. But in my mind’s eye. And I’m a little bit saddened by the fact that it’s not really socially acceptable to go ’round with plastic action figures affixed to your follicles. Well, not once you’ve passed your seventh birthday anyway.

Anyway, i find it oddly reassuring the way Conan totally embraces the goof within and without. But with a name like Conan and hair like that, what else are you going to do? (that too was a rhetorical question, although if you have other suggestions, by all means, post ‘em in my comments!)

okay. I’m off to google more current surfer lingo as have just become aware that I am completely out of touch with that current vernacular. I mean, really… cowabunga? that’s the best I could come up with?! (um… sadly, yes. Yes it is.)

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 · new moon resolution

eons ago, way back when, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we had teevee alright, but only the black and white kind… way back when I started blogging on good ol’ eternally pink and mauve Diaryland, the vast majority of my posts were all about my walks. Because I was seriously underemployed back then, having just relocated from Calgary and essentially starting my freelance biz over from scratch again (though I did hang on to a few of my Alberta clients for awhile) walking was the only half way interesting thing I did. Ever. It was all I had to talk about, the best part of my day.

And you know what? It still is. It still is the best part of my day. That hour, hour and a half, two hours sometimes that I am out wandering in nature, counting my footsteps, watching my dog’s plumey black tail waving ahead, that quiet space in time is the time I feel most myself, most grounded, most connected, most peaceful and most truly alive. But somewhere along the line, I stopped writing about it every day. I stopped sharing it with you.

I think partly this is because my wolf walks have changed slightly in tenor. Or maybe I have changed slightly in tenor, I’m not sure. My wolf walks now are less about the world outside and more about the world within. They have become a sort of meditation and the constant narration going on in my head is less comical, less likely to go for the funny and more likely to lean to the philosophical. And I wasn’t really sure that you would be interested in reading about that.

But the thing is, I am. I am rather interested in what goes on inside my head. The other day, I was reading back thru my archives (something I almost never do) and I realized that somewhere along there, I lost the thread, lost my footprints through the brush. I’m not sure when my walks started to shift and evolve as they have, and I miss that. I regret that. I would like to change that.

And so I’m going to. I’m going to try to document something, anything, about my walk every day starting tomorrow, even if it’s just a sentence or two, a list of things I saw. I won’t always succeed, I’ll tell you right now. I will undoubtedly get side tracked some days, have to rush off here there or somewhere else. But I’m going to give it whirl, regardless. I want to be able to look back at my footprints, to see measure the journey… where ever it is leading. And maybe sometimes you will walk along with me. I’d like that, I think.

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February 4, 2008 · All’s well that ends well

okay. Can we just say that January was kinda awful and just move on here? Otherwise I ain’t never gonna post again. ‘Cuz telling the January tale would mean I have to go back and relieve it all again, and frankly? I just don’t want to do it. I’m not really all that good at looking back at the bleak times. I like to shake the bad times off of me as soon as I possibly can and walk swiftly, briskly in the other direction. No over-the-shoulder glances, no lingering looks, no retracing of the map.

The way I look at it, all’s well that ends well and it did end well.

okay, okay… those of you who don’t know what happened are all a-puzzle now. I can see it on your face. ‘cuz like the Romper Room lady, I have a magic looking glass and I can see you all furrowed there, lips pursed, baffled. And further, I can read your mind and I’m pretty sure your imaginings are worse than what actually transpired during the month of January, so here, quick, in brief: Winging our way home from visiting our parents in Winnipeg for Christmas, Johnny Handsome started feeling sick. By New Year’s Eve he was feeling well and truly awful with some strange upper digestive problem, a cough and nausea. At that point, I didn’t care all that much… I mean, I was sympathetic, yeah, but my head was exploding with resurgent flu and except for dragging myself outta bed to walk, water and feed the woofums, we spent the first week of the New Year in bed. And not in a fun way. Adding to the misery was the fact that Johnny Handsome had decided to take a week of vacation that week and we were suppose to do all manner of fun and entertaining stuff. Trust me when I say nothing fun and entertaining happened that week. Or the next or the next.

John continued to get sicker, going back to the doctor almost every other day. He wasn’t sleeping, therefore I wasn’t sleeping. And then the work requests started avalanching in and I found myself completely buried. At that point, Finny J. was the shining light. She seemed wonderfully healthy, full of joy and playful high spirits. And then i took her to the vet for her regular chiropractic session and the vet found a strange, suspicious lump on her right rear thigh that she recommended come off immediately. At first, I was in a bit of denial. And by at first, I mean for the first four hours or so. I was all can’t we just keep an eye on it and look! Look how adorable and happy and healthy she is! There can’t possibly be anything really wrong. By the following morning of course, all of that confidence had dissolved into extreme anxiety. I booked another appointment to have it looked at again and talk to the vet about it more seriously a couple of days later. And a couple of days after that, I was holding Finny down on a table whispering loving things in her ear while the doctor shaved her leg and prepared to remove the lump (luckily I was sent out of the room for the actual procedure). By that point, my anxiety about the health of my family was a snarling thing with claws, shredding me from the inside out and if you looked at me sideways I would have shattered into seven and one million little writhing shards.

When the lump turned out to be a harmless fatty cyst (or a lipoma) I was so weak with gratitude, my legs buckled beneath me and I almost sank to the floor right there in the reception area. She has 12 stitches in her thigh now, but she is healing well and has decided to forgive me for all the trauma, so it’s all good. In the meantime, Johnny has endured many a test, has lost a significant amount of weight and missed many many days of work. The tests all came back showing nothing major wrong, which is good. The ongoing theory now is that his upper digestive problems are a slightly atypical, undoubtedly virulent case of acid reflux and it may take a month or two for his system to heal from the eruption and return to normal. His medication has been doubled. It seems to be working. He is feeling a little better, has gained back a couple of pounds, is sleeping again and so far February has been fifty seven million times better than January.

Spelled out like this, it doesn’t seem so really very bad. But it was. It was awful and utterly harrowing for me. Looking back, I’m kind of proud of being able to hold it together so well. And for keeping up with my ungodly workload through it all.

And there is nothing like a health scare with a loved one or two to shake your world, straighten your priorities and make you heart-singingly grateful for all the moments in which there is absolutely nothing wrong, for all that you have and all that you hold dear.

That’s how I feel now… so grateful. Slightly chastised, a little worn, kinda tired, but unquestionably grateful. And absolutely determined to hold myself in the moment… this moment… each and every moment… without letting my imagination and anxiety seize me up like a dimwitted damsel snatched by some shadowy monster in a cheesy old horror movie and run off cackling maniacally into the woods.

I’m closing the chapter on January gratefully, and turning to a new page. Hi there, 2008. I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced yet….

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