Yesterday morning, we left Chestertown with a minivan full of books and a larger-than-average-sized baby. 15 hours and 764 miles later, we arrived in Chicago. The final few miles of our drive were along Lake Shore Drive, with a stunning view of the Windy City skyline at midnight. I’d really like to show you what it looked like, but we were too lost in the throes of tourist bliss to pull out the camera.
It looked a little something like this, a shot I found on flickr.
It sure is a beautiful city.
Just now, I devoured a beautiful breakfast burrito, again forgetting to take a photo for you all. But seeing it probably would have thrown you into fits of jealous rage, so perhaps it is best that the moment has passed.
As we drove, we kept getting reports from the home front. Apparently, Alden and Kato were having an awful time without us.
Iggy, too, was miserable.
We thought about turning around, but we were almost to Cleveland, where we were going to stop and visit our good friends (and subscribers) Garet and Matt, their daughter Addie, and their very new baby Preston. Though we are usually thoughtless about such things, we had remembered to bring a present for Preston. And Garet and Matt had remembered to get a gift for August.
We got a small rubber giraffe squeaker thing for Preston.
And for August, they got a…
…small rubber giraffe squeaker thing.
We took our baby and giraffe and left as quickly as we could.
Somewhere in the middle of Indiana, August registered his opinion of the fact that we had not yet arrived.
But eventually, we got here, rolled into our beds, and fell into a profound stupor. Now fed, we will drive our car down to the Loop, unload our boxes, and set up our booth.
Starting tomorrow morning, we’ll enter a frantic state of blistering commerce, so I’m not sure when we’ll be able to check in here again. But I’ll post regular updates to Facebook, so check in there for glimpses from the center of the literary universe.
For now, here’s my glimpse across the table. It’s an awfully nice way to start the day.
We would rather stay in bed of course, but driven by consumer lust, are headed to Chicago.
The car is packed (baby in booth box, of course).
And so, farewell for now. We will issue dispatches from the road, as possible.
We have not posted for the past few days because we have been busily preparing for AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. We went to AWP for the first time last year on a lark. It was in DC, so not much of a drive and not much of a risk. We were curious to see how our stuff would rate with the writer set. The results were extremely favorable. In addition to selling more books than we had ever sold at a single show, we lined up a bunch of interesting speaking gigs and teaching engagements. So we were inspired to give it another try again this year, even though this year’s conference is in Chicago.
We have nothing against Chicago, of course, other than its being a 14-hour drive from here. We have to drive to Chicago because of the large amount of stuff we need to fill our 10 x 10 foot booth.
Here is just some of the stuff we will be bringing.
Yes, the baby is coming along. The other two are not invited and will be spending the week with our dear friends Ann and Donald. But that didn’t keep Kato from contributing to the preparations (more on this to come).
One trick we learned from helping Bob and Seiko with the Philadelphia Flower Show for so many years is that of all the boxes one brings to a show, one is the most important, the box that contains all of the most essential items, the box without which all would be lost: the booth box.
In our case, the booth box contains the essentials for setting up: the banner, the clamps, the hardware, the tape, the x-acto knife, the scissors, the rubber bands, the business cards, the subscription signup cards, etc, etc. It is absolutely imperative that the booth box emerge easily from the sea of other boxes so that it can be the first one carried into the conference hall. As such, Robbi invited Kato to decorate it distinctively.
I’m confident that we’ll be able to pick it out of the crowd.
In full-on AWP preparation mode, Robbi spent yesterday at Home Depot, purchasing hardware for our new booth display. Usually we operate with six-foot tables. This year, we’re opting for a different configuration, using a four-foot table instead. The change necessitated a complete overhaul of the banner setup, new fittings, and a bit of handiwork with the hack saw.
As surprising as it might sound, Robbi is remarkably adept at conquering conundrums. I’ve never known her to encounter an engineering dilemma she couldn’t tinker her way out of. The result:
We will, of course, smooth out the unsightly wrinkle in our banner for the actual show.
Here’s our preliminary plan for our four-foot table at the front of the booth: Build Your Own President, surrounded by a cluster of our other newest stuff.
We’re also taking the classics from the Idiots vault: 50 copies each of Ten Thousand Stories and After Everafter.
30 Six Degrees of Francis Bacon posters.
And (out of deference to the writers) some of our slightly more literary stuff.
But all would be for naught without the booth box.
We’re almost packed. Almost ready to go. All we have to do is put the baby in the booth box and the booth box in the car.
We pull out of dodge at 8:00 Tuesday morning. Chicago or bust, we say.
I love the name August, and I wish it had been my idea to place it before “Swanson.” But no, I got the idea from my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother Swanson, who must have been the ones to name my great grandfather August.
Here is the elder August in 1925, the year (according to my grandma Mary, family genealogist) that he and his brother Martin went to Sweden to visit their two brothers Sven and Thelander, who had not come to live in the United States.
And here are the two Augusts, together for the first time.
I can only hope my son will have the bygone August’s kindly eyes, dignified stature, and truly magnificent mustache.
I’m at the dining room table, bouncing the baby with my right foot while I do my morning writing. Robbi and the other kids are still asleep. Just now I looked down and spent a few minutes communing with August. I was rewarded with a smile, the first one I can truly believe is more than just a passing facial twitch.
I believe this smile is real because it’s been happening over and over again this morning. I’m afraid my writing has suffered in favor of the far more appealing option of watching him practice.
And what has made my boy decide to smile today? I’m assuming he’s delighted with his present company.
Some day I won’t be making a fuss when August smiles. It will be routine as sunrise. But for today it is rare and wonderful, a cause for minor celebration. There’s something so special about firsts.
Not long ago, subscriber, BFF, and maven of the cutting edge, Stella, asked Robbi for an image from one of our books, Nasty Chimpunk. Specifically, she was interested in the epic confrontation between our hero Nasty and his nemesis Give Me Your Money Bunny. We wondered why Stella needed/wanted the image, but decided to ask no questions. After all, she has never before led us astray.
The other day, we received a photo that answered all questions. Stella, she of consummate consumer-savvy and impeccable taste in illustration, saw fit to create a customized iPhone case.
In other news, Stella is getting married next weekend to the hottest geek we know.
Ladies (and Don), now you have two reasons to cast your searing jealousy her way.
After August’s two-month checkup on Thursday morning, we drove north, our sights set on Massachusetts. Things were relatively uneventful as states flew by. Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey. It was in New York that we ran into trouble. Suddenly, Kato started crying. The reason: projectile vomiting. We pulled over, cleaned him up, kept going. Things were fine until Alden exclaimed that she had thrown up, too. She wasn’t crying. In fact, she seemed rather pleased with herself. We stopped, cleaned her up, kept going. And then Kato started crying again. Projectile vomiting round three. We stopped, cleaned him up. At this point, we were in Connecticut.
Connecticut was, as Connecticut always is, bumper-to-bumper traffic. We endured Connecticut the way one endures an infestation of fire ants.
Eventually, we reached Massachusetts, which seemed even more spectacular than usual on account of its representing escape from Connecticut.
We went to Massachusetts to visit Mom, who is the head librarian at Andover (or Phillips Academy, depending on who you ask). On Friday, we gave presentations to a printmaking class and a creative writing class.
We presented to the printmakers in a big auditorium.
With a very big screen.
We presented to the writers in a cozy classroom.
The kids were great and very appreciative. As much as we enjoy sitting in our barn making books, we really enjoy talking to the people who read them or other people who want to make them.
That night, we had dinner with a bunch of students in the aptly named Mural Room.
We lured them in with cheesecake.
It is lucky that I showed up to intervene, or there may have been no cheesecake left for the students.
After dinner, we stopped and watched the women’s varsity basketball game for a while.
The halftime entertainment was the slam team.
Kato tried to join.
The visit with mom was not all teaching and basketball. There was also time for making cupcakes.
And strolling the campus.
And playing in the library.
I must take a moment to applaud the Andover Library for its excellent selection.
And, of course, no visit to Mom’s house is complete without taking every single Dixie cup out of the dispenser.
On Saturday afternoon, we hugged goodbye, and drove west toward Williamstown.
It was a spectacular, blue sky day. We pulled off the road in Shelburne Falls to take a picture of this wonderful old building, yet another candidate for the factory/school/compound/colony we hope to start one day.
The skies were blue as we started to climb the mountain just shy of North Adams.
And then, suddenly, it started to snow.
By the time we reached the top of the pass, it was a full-on blizzard.
We pulled off and gazed across what should have been a sweeping panorama of the Purple Valley.
And then we headed down.
And around the hairpin turn.
Due to the wonders of Facebook, we secured a last-minute invitation to visit some subscribers and their newly-hatched chicks.
Thank you, Erin and Jonah, Thalia and Lyra!
We spent the night with our dear friends Gina Coleman and Michael Mongue. Gina is the lead singer and bandmaster of Misty Blues, the band I am the sometimes member of. Michael is a painter and devout Zappa fan.
Gina and I headed out to the studio first thing Sunday morning. It was another beautiful day.
Some of you will recognize this view up the hill from Route 43, driving out of Williamstown toward Five Corners.
Once we got to the studio, I set up my rig. I play into an old Gibson 5-watt tube amp and record to the mixing board with a Shure 57 microphone.
When I say “studio,” I should qualify that it was a bit of a home-brewed studio, set up in a library. Hence, the album name, Between the Stacks.
The record is a collection of 11 songs, all originals by Gina or other members of the band.
The session went well. I had to divide attention between my harps and my babysitting duties.
Gina sang, as she always does, like the lovechild of a nightingale and a hurricane.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was the chance to play with Charles Neville (of The Neville Brothers). When he’s not recording with the various other Nevilles, Charles lives in Berkshire County. He just happens to be a friend of Gina’s.
The album is being mixed as we speak and will be ready in a few weeks. I’ll post a sample track here when it’s done and will post a link in case you want to pick up a copy.
When we were done recording, it was time to drive home. There was no vomiting. No drama, though somewhere along route 95, I must have picked up a bug, because I find myself blowing my nose today a lot more than usual.
Next up: a trip to Chicago a week from today for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. More on that to come.
We have hinted as much in the past, but last Thursday’s two-month checkup confirmed that August is not following in his older siblings’ footsteps, though they may soon be struggling to fill his shoes.
Through informal daily appraisals of heft and bulk, we had the sense that the boy was living in a different region of the growth chart, but the weigh-in confirmed that we need not be worried about him wasting away.
At 12 pounds, 2 ounces and 23.5 inches long, August is in the 75th percentile in both weight and length. And though logic suggests that a full quarter of babies are either heavier or longer than he is (or both), given our track record of producing babies at the opposite end of the scale, to us, he seems impossibly large.
After the measuring, he was prodded and poked and elicited the proper responses.
All was quite well…
…until all was not.
The two-month checkup is particularly brutal as far as vaccinations go. One oral and then two needles in each leg. August let us know exactly how he felt about it.
But a few hours later, he was happy again, dreaming of the not-too-distant future when he will sit on Kato and Alden while eating the best parts of their lunches.
In other news, we have just returned from our lightning tour of Massachusetts. Tune back in tomorrow for the full report.
First, an important note. I am writing this post on Wednesday afternoon, so anyone who has submitted his responses between now and Friday morning, when the post will go live will not see his cleverness included in my comments. Apologies. We are leaving town tomorrow (Thursday, that’s yesterday to you) morning for a long drive to Massachusetts, and there will be no time between now and then for posting.
That tedious preamble now behind us, let’s proceed to the answers.
I gave you this:
An astonishing number of you guessed correctly. Astonishing, at least, to me, who was certain that my butchery of this drawing would yield the opposite result. So thanks to those of you who guessed Eddie Murphy.
A few notable wrong answers proved that sometimes being wrong is better than being right: “Morgan Freeman back from an inexplicable trip to Hawaii where he acquired a flower and a horrendous mustache,” and “I wish it were a tumor bc that is the scariest face you’ve drawn yet.”
Here was my inspiration.
Next up was this fellow:
I was less surprised that so many of you correctly identified Fred Astaire, who I rendered slightly more successfully. My favorite misfire is “someone with the first name Steve.”
Here is the source photo.
Next, you puzzled over this fine face.
Again, you fine people made me feel so good by guessing Brad Pitt. Moist of you, anyway. Some of you made me laugh by guessing, “#17 on the America’s Most Wanted list,” “Brad Pitt (post-haircut but pre-nap),” and, “one of my former students who is currently in jail.”
Here is Mr. Pitt. I’m hoping his stunning manbeauty does not burn a hole in your screen.
Last came the curveball I did not intend to throw.
I began this drawing with full confidence that this would be a no-fail subject on account of his legendary distinguishing feature. Surely not even I could fail to capture his likeness with such a helpful shorthand to draw upon.
Alas, no. None of you guessed right. But many of you guessed well.
Glenn Close as Cruella DeVille
Jessica Lange (circa 2012, not circa King Kong)
My 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Long
The latest victim on Law and Order SVU
Zombie Whitney Houston
Adele (because you can see the vocal surgery scars on her neck)
All reasonable guesses, but no, friends, no. I was trying to draw Mick Jagger.
I suppose even huge lips can be overshadowed by sunken zombie eyes, deranged hair, and a seemingly lacerated neck. Sorry Mick. It was your misfortune to be fourth in line, at which point, my attention was starting to flag and my wrist was starting to cramp.
All in all, it was a rather successful edition of Matthew Draws. Who can say if I’m actually improving. (It certainly helped that Robbi did not require me to draw any women this time around.)
Thanks to all of you who cast your votes.
More to come, bye and bye.
The car is packed. It’s Massachusetts or bust.
Tomorrow we teach at Andover (north of Boston), warping young minds in an art class and a creative writing class.
Saturday we hang out with my mom then drive west to Williamstown.
Sunday, I’ll record harmonica tracks on a new album with my old blues band.
And Sunday night, we’ll head home. It will look a little something like this.
So long for now. We’ll try to check in from the road, but if you don’t hear from us, it’s because we’re lost in the gentle old Berkshires.