Friday, April 25, 2008

Time to say goodbye.

It's been a while since my last entry. Time is more precious than I realized. I discovered this when I made the choice to honor a parent by caring for her in her final days. When I made this decision, I was ignorant of what it meant and how it would change me. I had no idea of the immensity of my promise.

Caring for the elderly has long been compared to new motherhood, though similar, I think it goes a bit deeper. There's a strangling sadness in caring for an elderly person. Watching their embarrassment as each day brings with it one more freedom that is lost. Freedoms like bathing in privacy, chosing what you'll have for dinner, combing your hair or writing your name.

Then there's the inability to accomplish your dreams, or hope for new ones. How devastating it must be to face the fact that you will never again do things for yourself, like paint your room or shop for a new dress. Imagine the feeling of knowing that it's pointless to make plans.

Promising to care for a dying person is more than just holding their hand, although that's important too. It's about standing up for them when their doctor wants to drug them senseless, taking away all clarity as life begins to slip away.

It's about saving them from the boredom of endless gameshows and trashy talkshows, by reading to them until you're voice is gone, or they fall asleep (whichever comes first!)

It's anticipating every need before they ask, and acting like it's no big deal even though it's huge, time consuming, and you're exhausted.

It's knowing their favorite foods and making sure you have them in the house at all times...feeding them slowly, and lovingly because the next meal could be their last.

Creating distractions from their pain is a big responsibility. It's as ongoing as the pain itself. It causes you to lose track of time and forget who you are and the fact that you have a body too that must be cared for as well. You become sleep deprived and overly emotional. You lash out at other family members, who can't commit themselves for fear of desolving into tears in front of the person trapped in the decaying body. You wonder why it is that YOU have the strength that they lack.

Time passes rapidly, and your life keeps moving, it moves on without you...except in the room. There, you wait together. You don't say much about it, but day after day you both know where it's headed. You know it will end. The question is when? Time together becomes the most important thing can give.

Time is a blessing, but it's also a theif. Just when we think we have plenty of it, it slips from our hands. In old age, we become as dependant upon others as a newborn baby, but our bodies betray the soul held within.

As I said, this experience has changed me. It's been a long, hard road, but it was enlightening and bittersweet. I will never view time, independence, clarity, or simple kindness the same ever again. In closing this chapter of my life, I feel a new sense of wonder and possibility. I plan to dream big and follow my heart, so that when MY time comes, I can leave smiling, knowing that I lived!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Today's subject: Author/Illustrator-Tomie dePaola

If you're in this business with me, struggling to find the winning formula for your next Children's Picture Book, then I'm sure you've heard of Tomie dePaola. The truth is, if you are an SCBWI member and you don't know him, then you haven't done your homework! Tomie has his own seat on the Board of Advisors.

In my humble opinion, his Caldecott winner, "Strega Nona" is a road map for us all. In case you didn't know, it also received an ALA Notable Children's Book award, along with Kirkus Choice, The Horn Book Honor List, The Nakamori Prize and the Brooklyn Museum & Public Library Arts Books for Children Citation (N.Y.).

I was still in high school when it reached publication. I was an illustrator then too. I just didn't know it yet.

As an illustrator, I have been known to spend forever trying to get great detail into my work. It's like, no matter how much I do, it's never enough. I don't know why. Then I look at Tomie's work, and marvel at it's simplicity in comparison. I beat myself up, thinking, Why? Why can't I do that? Lighten up and just draw! Was Tomie ever this conflicted? Somehow I doubt it.

As a writer, I often wonder if he had a clue that "Strega Nona" would be the one to change everything for him. I'm curious as to how many times it got the boot before Simon & Schuster decided to give it a go. Was his studio wallpapered with rejection letters too? Did each "I'm sorry but..." make him more determined to keep throwing himself in front of the bus until it finally came to a stop?

If you break down the manuscript, you immediately understand why it works. Tomie is a master at setting the stage for conflict. He does everything right, from introducing Strega Nona in the first paragraph, (along with the quaint little town of Calabria)to throwing in a bit of Italian for flavor. The scenes are clear and the repetition is flawlessly executed. In the climax, the word "pasta" is used eight times, as it seems to take on a life of its own!

The only thing that sticks out(to me)that would keep it from being published today is the "relatability factor". You know what I mean. Editors today keep telling us that our main character must be one that the reader can personally identify with. I don't think today's five year old can relate to a little old Italian grandma witch, yet "Strega Nona" continues to be a favorite among five year olds. Hummmm....I wonder what Tomie thinks about that? If he were submitting the manuscript today, might it be titled, "Big Anthony"? Somehow that just isn't the same.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Today's subject:Unprofessionalism

Okay, I'm frustrated. I sent a proposal to this employer who wanted color spot illustrations to place on greeting cards, party invitations, stickers and what not.

In the proposal I clearly stated my fee and provided all the information they requested. Then I waited.

Two days later, they contacted me and said that my fees were well within their range and would I please send samples. I was excited. I produced and sent samples over immediately. Then I waited.

Two days later they responded with...."so, what are your fees?"

If I didn't need the work so badly, I'd say, "Forget about it!"

It's so ridiculous that in this day and age, potential employers that act professionally are as rare to come by as freelance work at a fair price!

That's another thing. Who's put the word out that freelance illustrators will produce an entire 32 page picture book for, say $500 bucks? I seem to see this posted a lot on the freelance work sites. Does anyone really respond to these people? If they do, shame on them.

That's breaks down to say, 16 illustrations @ $31.25 per illustration...IN COLOR!!!! Ridiculous. I'm beginning to think that potential employers believe that because we're artists, we can't do simple math. Anyone who will take an assignment at that rate brings us all down and proves their theory!