Robbi, Matthew, and the crew are out of town again for a few days, so here I am feeding cats and soaking up the silence. Without the Idiots here to assign tasks, or the children to show me tricks, all I can do is notice the play of daylight on the discreet, mundane objects that are the stuff of life.
This is where Oscar the cat gets his food. The color of the dish is a bright, deep red that shows up frequently around here on such things as plant pots, doors, and rugs.
I noticed this conversation of lines and colors just above Oscar’s dish. There’s that red again in a ribbon that hangs from a curtain rod. Its end once wrapped around a tiny teddy bear, acting as a cat toy.
After noticing these quiet, but delightful scenes I turned around and saw this on the floor. Remnants of Alden as she left them.
I wasn’t looking for any of these things. They just stuck out to me. It’s easier to notice the dynamic interaction between nicely lighted objects when no one is around. No one except cats.
We’ve been making books nonstop for weeks now and may have reached that point where clutter meets despair.
I’d like to blame it all on Robbi. Her workspace has recently been condemned by the town manager.
But one glance along the corridor that defines my commute to work reveals that I am hardly exempt from responsibility.
Fortunately, our officially appointed Sub-Commander of Peripheral Idiocy and loyal subscriber Don has volunteered to drive down from Pennsylvania this weekend to help us make books and chip away at the madness.
Provided we do not perish in the mean time, I will post some “after” photos at the end of the weekend, if only to demonstrate that we Idiots are capable of order, if only in fleeting passages.
Over the past few days, we have received many nice notes from complete strangers, people who have read our story on Slate and claim to be interested (or even inspired) by what we’re up to. It has been humbling to hear such support from the ether.
But I suppose we should not be surprised that responses to the piece have not been universally positive. I thought it only fair to share this comment from a disgruntled subscriber (who, I assume, will not be re-upping when his subscription expires).
It was one thing when your little fantasy fling was almost a secret, but now thousands and thousands of untalented couples will stop doing real work, sell their fine American dream houses, further depressing the market. No one will be left to do the meaningful, boring jobs that GOD intended us to do. The economy will totally collapse. Barns will be all the rage and the shortage of them will cause real farmers to sell out and we will all starve. I will mark this week as the final shout as we begin to circle the drain. Poverty and famine are our only future. Thanks Idiots and thanks Slate.
A former friend and admirer
We read these words and realize, with chagrin, the possibly catastrophic implications of our chosen lifestyle. Our apologies if we’ve triggered the apocalypse.
Our advice: buy a barn now, while there’s still time.
As Josh’s series on the Idiots continues today on Slate, the focus is on the barn—our home, our studio, and our sanctuary. We thought we’d share some photos to give you a sense of what the place looks like.
Here it is from the street.
We like to think that it was once surrounded by horses, wheat fields and the like, but now it backs up against a parking lot and a flower store.
Here is a diagram that helps you understand how we divide the space. Robbi’s mom has her pottery shop and studio downstairs. We live up top.
Here is the main room, where we eat our meals and watch TV (we are almost never to be found here).
And here is the kitchen, a thing we seldom use to full potential.
The nursery is on the other side of the glass block window.
These small people live therein:
Alden (with her best friend Stinky Hippy)
And Kato (with his best friend Yellow Highlighter [Kato is undiscerning])
And here is our studio (decked out in this shot for an open studio tour we hosted last fall).
Looking toward my desk:
And looking toward Robbi’s:
I climbed up a ladder to take this shot looking from the studio over the half-wall into our bedroom.
And in so doing, got a nice close look at some of the original beams.
As part of his thinking for the Slate series, Josh asked us each to do a sketch of our “ideal creative space.” I sat down with my pencil and Robbi with her pen. Here’s what happened.
Robbi’s space is expansive and I opted for cozy. To be fair, she needs a lot more stuff than I do. All I need is a comfortable nook that’s lined with books and has a view of something beautiful. Hardwood floors would be a plus, but are not necessary. The clump of small magnetic balls is an absolute deal-breaker.
Looking at Robbi’s space, I love her wall of windows and her rocking reading chair. I can see her painting at her easel with the mountains spread before her. I appreciate that she included a place for me to lounge (with many pillows, nonetheless; I love pillows). I afforded her a door. I think we’re fairly balanced on this count.
We both placed trees and mountains just outside the window. Both of us are drawn to those sleepy, tree-surrounded back roads of New England. We think we might return there some day.
But the truth is, were we to migrate north, we’d miss the barn, perhaps more than we could stand. It’s a part of this story, our lucky penny, our hideout and, as Josh says with such poetry, our bat cave.
We are pleased to welcome you. If you could see us now, you would note that we are blushing. It is not our custom to host links from sleek and prestigious online magazines. With any luck, you’ll enjoy your visit. With any luck, the site won’t crash beneath the collective weight of you.
We’re Matthew and Robbi, writer and illustrator. We’re married and spend a lot of time together. Most of the time, we live in the hayloft of a barn in Chestertown, on the eastern shore of Maryland. We run a small press called Idiots’Books that distributes illustrated books (and other book-like items) by subscription (six installments a year).
For a month or so each summer, we live on the Alaskan tundra fishing commercially for sockeye salmon (mostly to have a good excuse to wear rubber pants).
Here’s what we look like:
And here’s what we feel like:
The nod to John and Paul is not accidental. We’re so humbled and demoralized by the thought of following them in Josh’s series that we have decided to debase ourselves at their feet—pointy boobs, knobbly hands, and all. Let us be clear: the similarity ends with the fact that there were two of them and there are two of us. They were splendid. We are Splenda.
These are our kids, Alden and Kato. This picture sums them up: Kato’s sunshine, Alden’s pensive scrutiny.
This is our fancy-ass dog, Iggy. She has a heart of gold but no self esteem.
This is where we work.
And this is where we live.
Here are a few links that should give you a sense of what we do:
If you’re intrigued, you can subscribe to Idiots’Books. For $60 a year, you get the next six books we make, sent to your house in the mail with an amusing letter. In general, we observe that our subscribers are gratified, fascinating people, and we like to think we have something to do with it.
If you are a publisher or award-winning journalist, you can download our press kit then promptly hire us to write a critically acclaimed blockbuster or feature us on the cover of your magazine.
If you’re interested in in joining an ongoing conversation about the strange magic of creative partnership, join the Creative Pairs Facebook page, follow Josh on Twitter (@joshuawolfshenk) or tweet #creativepairs. They can also join Josh’s mailing list, read his previous work, and contact him at www.shenk.net.
Or you can keep on reading below and see what we talk about when we’re not showing off for the readers of Slate. Generally, these pages split time between books and the rest of our lives, with ample foolishness and plenty of stories and photos of me jumping over famous monuments.
If this is true, what conclusions can we draw about Robbi’s chosen South Dakota pastime (comments welcome below)?
With that, we’ll leave you. If you want to hear from us again, join our mailing list in the right sidebar on the main page and we’ll keep you updated on future adventures. Or follow us on the twitter. Yes. We tweet (@idiotsbooks)! But only when we have something to tweet about.
Because of Tarzan’s apparent refusal to gestate for longer than the usual nine months, we cannot travel this holiday season. So for the first time in the ten years that we have known each other, Robbi and I will be at home for Christmas, and for the first time in ten years, we have decided to get a Christmas tree. We contemplated going the fake tree route, weighing the virtues of avoiding herbicide against the ills of diminished aesthetics. In the end, the lure of that fresh piney scent won out, and we headed out to find ourselves a real live tree.
We found several that we liked but could not agree on which was the best. Ultimately, we decided to let Alden choose. I lobbied eloquently for my favorite.
And Robbi did her best to defend the merits of the one preferred.
Alden sided with Robbi, of course. But rather than fall into a dejected funk, I decided to throw my full holiday enthusiasm behind this other, lesser tree with a positive attitude and good cheer. We bundled the bastard steptree up and brought it home.
The tree I would have chosen had a perfectly flat bottom. Robbi’s tree, of course, was uneven and needed to be sawed. Did I complain? I did not. I sawed with a good-natured determination that would have made Bob Cratchit proud.
We hauled the newly-flat-bottomed tree up the stairs. At first, Alden was deeply skeptical of the tree stand.
But once we got the tree in place, she seemed to intuit how the thing worked.
Eventually the tree was in place and ready for Alden’s inspection.
We hung the lights and turned them on.
We went outside to see how the tree looked from the street.
We looked up at our tree and decided that we were looking forward to spending Christmas at home.
While Robbi and I were setting up the tree, Alden and my mom made Christmas cookies.
Which led to a rather satisfactory discovery.
Alden got to know the spatula pretty well that evening.
Fortunately, her enthusiasm for cookie dough is equaled only by her enthusiasm for brushing her teeth.
And, frankly, isn’t good dental hygiene what Christmas is all about?
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Here’s hoping you’re having a wonderful time with family and friends, and that the tree you’re sitting in front of isn’t merely the second best one you could have gotten.