Monday, August 29, 2011

The Brightest Star in the Heavens

The morning was bright, as bright as any morning ever was. The growing Los Angeles sun blasted through the large windows of the resounding airport rotunda as the turning of wheels and whispers filled the air and whisked any hope of a stolen nap far far away. The weekend with friends, carefree and filled with the feelings long since last felt should have been a worthy omen that things would take a different turn and soon. But as the universe so often dictates, surprises are more interesting, more affecting, more human than the mundane monotony of eventlessness.

Though my cellphone was on vibrate, it shook with disturbing fervor not once, twice but three times that morning during my trek through security lines and check-in protocols, and as per usual, I ignored it, subconsciously avoiding any responsibility over bad news, lectures and misplaced anguish. But as the third ring began to fade into futility, I picked up, more hopeful to stop the disturbance than to pay any mind as to the purpose of the call.

“I’m here at the vet’s Don,” Dad apprehensively declared, his voice sullen, surrendered and tired. “Baxter won’t be coming home anymore.” And I stopped listening and went back a few moments… back to the beginning…

* * *

As we passed through the threshold, the sickly rotting smell of cavelike moisture washed over us, reminding us full well of the inhabitants of the place: desperate and jailed canine and feline inmates seeking families to take them home and give them new lives filled with warmth, laughter, compassion, far away from this cold dead place. The floor beneath my feet, blanketed with an unkown residue, kept my walk labored as I struggled to remain unstuck, and from a quick scan of the place, too many animals had filled it clearly beyond maximum capacity at times, and in others reduced to an empty, quiet vacancy. The sad feeling of responsibility of selection creeped over me knowing full well that I would take only one and leave the rest behind and only possibly, but I couldn’t help but volunteer my rescue, as that was the purpose to this surprise visit to the SPCA. Our surroundings didn’t help Mom’s uneasy acceptance that we may come home with a new member to the family, much to her dismay and with the help of friend Joyce Labor, who stood close to her side, seemingly to catch her in her disappointment if I was ‘lucky’ enough to find … someone to take home.

My fingers leafed the bars that lined the far wall as I walked past, some with cold wet noses pressed maniacally against them, others held beyond them pacing animals, jaded by the failed premise of rescue, possibly already aware of their inevitable demise. My hopes were fading, as I neared the end of line of kennels, my fingers already slowing to a stop at the last few sets of bars. The barking was now resounding, back behind me tufts of fur pressed desparately against the bars hoping I would return and reconsider but something called me to the quiet, peaceful other end of the cages. Past the blur of noise, past the pacing desperation and the clawing clamor was a kennel that held within a ball of pale gold fur, two beady eyes poking through, almost completely covered in the shadow of these large, triangular floppy ears. I peered in, and he peered right back at me, quiet, reserved, curious. He didn’t seem disturbed by the din of the place, but rather slinked back into his world, his golden quiet world, in exhaustive and quiet waiting. And as I beckoned for him to come to me, my heart began to break; I wanted to scoop him up just then and there, but he wouldn’t come, quite possibly exhausted by the countless potentials who’ve come and gone to peer into those beady brown eyes that haven’t been open for very long on this earth (11 weeks that day the little paper said, neatly fastened to the bars). And as I pressed my fingers against the bars of his cell one more time in begging hope that he would come to me, I let go, and began to retreat, resolved that I didn’t want to take a dog home that didn’t want me to.

Only a few steps back I took, before he quietly came upon the bars, and quietly stuck his little beagle nose out to finally meet me. I returned to him, and held my face so close to his as his little beagle nose did its thing again and I could see the drying tears in his beautiful brown eyes. And he pawed the bars, finally, hopefully, desperately, longingly with furry paws that were still much too big for his body. The little gold beagle-lab puppy with the white blaze on his forehead began to communicate.

I immediately nodded to the careless attendant who was clearly annoyed of our undeclared visit that took him away from his afternoon duties of cleaning up the frightful room out back. He opened the cage and scooped up the little guy, carefully placing him in the pen with the others as we watched and held a discussion that I barely heard as my attention and focus and heart were dedicated to him on the cold wet floor, struggling to play in the crowded little playpen. Mom said many things then, “no” was one, “why” was another, all declaring clear indications that she had no intention to pay more mind to the pup, and as her decision became more and more clear, I did the only thing I could do in my desperation and I picked him up and put him in her arms. His huge ears masked his face and his paws struggled to gain footing in her uneasy hold, but as he felt her warmth, a warmth he hadn’t known in so long, he quickly ceased his struggle and nested against her, welcoming the rest of sound sleep he’s probably never experienced. As he fell into deep slumber in her arms pressed against the steady heartbeat akin to that of his absent mother, I watched her heart sink by her expression. Important moments went by and I felt it in the air that this little guy was going to go home with us. With stolen hearts, $25.00 and restless determination, we rescued the little pup who indeed came home with us that fateful day and filled the next 11 years with undeniably indescribable joy.

* * *

He had always been the strongest of all of us. On his unsuspectedly final night, according to mom's testimony, instead of submitting to the pain of rest his body wouldn't relieve him of, baxter stood vigilantly on guard in his corner of my parent's bedroom as on any other night, almost to honor his self-imposed duty of watching them fall asleep. He spent his last night willing away the dull cold hours of moonlight, as if to bid farewell to his station as he knew his time was short. I’d like to think he grew deeply worried, not about his own fate but that of his family: he was almost done on this earth and in his stead, who will take care of them?
I came back to the phone-call. It was Mom now, recovering from a bout of manic crying, repeating her desperate pleas for reaffirmation of their uneasy decision to not take him home, like the beckoning of mad men recounting regrets of possible mistaken decisions. my only regret is that he couldn't in his final hour fall asleep once again in mom's arms as he did the day we all fell in love with him, so to properly give closure the only way i would have known how to give it. I don't think his or my mom's, or anyone's good heart for that matter, can take that kind of breaking. To feel his life slowly slip away in such a tight unyielding embrace. And with a strong sense of resolve, he allowed mom and dad to throw their arms around him one more time and give him a sweet kiss of all kisses before they lay him down. He took his final labored breaths that cold morning as they finally found the strength to leave him in his long-deserved peace.

Death is the kind of loss that suffers a complete detachment from reality … we harbor an all-consuming curiosity about whats’ beyond and whats left behind. We sit in empty rooms and walk empty halls attempting the unsolvable equation of someone being there one day and absent the next and asking ourselves important questions about the next thing and the fate of things. But nestled in these big questions are the smaller, more important realities. I lost my best friend, the only being in the universe who has listened to me and all of my secrets and fears without judgement or disdain. The only one who has never hurt me, completely trusted me and was always happy to see me happy. I feel alone in the world again…

Dear Baxter, You stole my heart and I'm afraid you'll never give it back you silly beagle poopy puppyface.

Earth-Shattering Revelation #30: Sometimes, theres just no closure.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Other Side

Flew in for the Baltimore Comiccon to promote Conquest Tactics after it officially launched. With the ConTact team, we spent the weekend signing cards, meeting new fans, being a part of something bigger than ourselves……finally, once and maybe the last time, on the other side of that table.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Big Bro’s Big Day

I tip my hat to those of us out there who are out in the world still lost, trying to find what it is we're looking for, and celebrate those of us who have finally found it. My brother and the love of his life were married today…

…and the world was right.

Current Music: Ben Rector - White Dress

Earth-Shattering Revelation #29: "To each, their own" in all things, and always.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Amateur & The Little Black Book

i stepped in line for a portfolio review at Wondercon
that went all the way down one hall and all the way down another
and didn't move for hours...
so i stepped out and trudged back into the main floor,
but before i got there, i stumbled into a breakout panel discussion..and it was Marvel
Joe Quesada, CB Cebulski and some creators in front of a crowd
and they were like, yeah, we're taking submissions at the Marvel booth
and i'm like, yeah right

i go to the Marvel booth
before i leave, disappointed i didn't get a portfolo review and i go up to CB Cebulski
i walk up to him and i shake his hand and was appreciative of the
panel discusssion, and i was like "may i submit my portfolio to the dropbox?"

soooo i say thank you and then before i handed it to him i was still all timid and
shy and was like "is there any way i can this back at the end of the day? its
expensive to make and i have one copy"

and he was like, welllll uhhhhhhh
"meh... let me see real quick, hand it over."

this guy's desk is where my artist heroes' work sat when they were hired for Marvel : /

soooo he takes one look
and he looks at me and he's like "stay right here..."
he walks over and motions the other people in line to fill out a sheet and put their portfolios right into a cardboard box
and he comes back over to me, and he's like "come on back, we're going to do your review right now."

he takes me back to a room behind the booth
and he opens it up, and page by page, he talks about the ups and downs of the work, what he really liked and what he thought i needed to work on
and he said "did i meet u in san diego last year? you're work's really familiar"
i'm like ,nope, never been

so he stopped and shut the book and he's like...
"i really like you're work don. early next week, i'll be back in NY, and we'll have a chat. here's my card."
hands it over and asks for mine. i'm like TAKE THEM ALL.

and he said once we talk, i'll send your info out to some editors at home and we'll talk about some test scripts for you to pencil out and see how you do."

i think i started vibrating in place.
and so late last night when i got home, i started practicing my pencils again
whatever happens happens
but its a fun story to tell
and if that's all that comes out of this

thats ok

Current Music: Adele-Make You Feel My Love
Earth Shattering Revelation #28: "Keep True to the Dreams of Thy Youth"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When The Dust Settles

I traipsed out into the street still intoxicated by the previous night’s activities, a vast amount of relaxation in ways I hadn't really experienced in a long time, in the midst of a social and professional lull. I stood on the sidewalk, breathing in the cold Friday morning air to clear my head of the blur of lights and laughter and lust that still rung in my head and prepared for the ‘walk of shame’ home. The grey San Francisco sky should have been my omen or perhaps it should have been in the heaviness in my steps. The air was still and yet hung heavily unsettled as I approached my car at the top of the steep hill above Dolores Park.

The shards of glass glistened in the midday sun, as the harsh light of day seared reality into my mind in the moments that drew me closer to the mess before me. I picked up one piece and two pieces and a couple more before I realized they were not illusionary but rather the very real, fractured pieces of what was once my rear driver’s side window. The blurred veil that obscured my vision immediately lifted and revealed to me my violated vehicle: my car had been broken-into. I swept the perimeter of the car, squeamish at seeing yet more shards in the interior of the vehicle upon the freshly vacuumed carpet and rear seats within, and as I realized from a quick inspection that the car itself was fine, my rapid breathing quickened to a halt and my heart immediately sank. The backpack. With my laptop. And my Wacom tablet. And my work, my endless hours of work. And my personal files. My tears, blood, sweat. My thousands of miles, and dreamless hours of sleep. The backpack. Gone.

The next moment I found myself at Mike’s door, with no recollection of even running back down the hill from the car, and upon being received with a quickly fading smile, he realized something was very wrong. The words that came from me were quick, muddled, confused and horrified at describing what I saw and how I felt. And yet I couldn't feel a thing. I've lost many battles (too many I feel) but I've never really been a victim. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m never really safe, that no one ever really is in this world. I subscribe to the naive sentiment of good's victory over evil. Or, maybe I always used to. I feel like I always needed to in order to keep sane or calm or together, but that antiquated illusion exponentially unraveled, oddly enough, every time I feel my luck changing for the better.

He ushered me back to the vehicle armed with a pair of utility gloves and began work on cleaning up the mess the violators had left behind. And as I sorted my emotions and organized the millions of thoughts in my head to the best of my ability, I noticed him there, on his knees in the middle of the street, retrieving the glass effortlessly from the cold pavement beneath. He picked up the pieces and responded to my coldness with a weary smile of unassuming resolve and reassurance that everything will be ok. And suddenly it was. And it took away all the sadness in the world.


My room seemed smaller. And my hometown seemed colder. Though no snow blanketed the brown, dead earth as it had profusely many winters past, I felt the chill of bitter winter slice effortlessly through each layer of clothing I shielded myself with. Quite possibly suffering the greatest holiday depression in all my life, it wasn't terribly difficult for something as inane as the unappealing State College weather or the seemingly claustrophobic world of my old bedroom to worsen my despair. As I lay on my bed, gazing out into the grey sky in the empty quiet house days before Christmas, I heard the creak of floorboards approach, and then the quiet, gentle graze of fur beneath my hand.

I glanced down and ran my finger across the cold, wet black snout of my middle-aged beagle-lab Baxter, a being of incredible empathy and unyielding loyalty. Though confined [but content] within the safe walls of the house I sat in for most of his life, his beady brown eyes shown in them the wisdom of ages, and all the secrets, sins and sorrows whispered to him on the coldest of days and the darkest of nights, knowing they’d be locked away forever and never repeated. He curled up to my right and pressed his plump little body against mine, first sitting and then resting his heavy head upon the soft carpet at my side. As he slipped away into a shallow, dreamless sleep, he offered an unwavering open ear to all and any I had to say, because I believe he came to me knowing I needed to get some things off my chest. I ran my fingers through his coarse, golden fur and told him the stories of near and far, of lonely nights and meals in solitude, unfulfilled potential, of far away friends and the coldness of waking up with no one to say good morning to. And through this, I lay my demons in the void of his psyche and buried the shadows in the glow of Christmas’ tinsel and twilight. I lay with him with no reservation or doubt, seeking to share in his quiet, undisturbed rest, awash in security and blanketed away from the evil world. And yet the world’s pull loomed stronger with every vanishing reminder that I was in it as I began to slip into unconsciousness. In a stolen moment as he awoke and felt my head rest upon him, his beady eyes fell on me and his quiet glimpse reminded [as always it does], ‘I understand.’


“Pick a card,” she mumbled rehearsedly, as if straining to recall these words from some other place in this world, somewhere she heard it with a passing, inattentive ear. At the tender age of somewhere-in-toddlerhood, her expertise in magic was clearly in question. With her chubby digits across the underside of a fanned deck she laid out before me, her eyes glistened with a sense of glee in hopes to the heavens I would play along in this endeavor.

I picked one [the third card in from the right] which prompted her lips to curl into a crooked little grin. And upon my quick glance at the card, she quickly retrieved it, sneaking a peek at it before slipping it back into the deck, convincing herself that the world had no eyes to witness her little white sin. Leafing through the deck with fervor, she triumphantly revealed my card to me, as I offered her my long-sought approval of her incredible magical powers.

My little cousin reveled in her sense of achievement at having seemingly deceived me, a minute simulation of the harsh cruel world beyond the walls that shielded us from the crisp Canadian winter. And her deception served to remind me of that harsh world and everything she had yet to discover about it. Still though, in her quiet reflection and in that important little game she initiated, I was also quickly reminded of the sweet fragile innocence still left in this world, the guarded joy in learning and playing and applying and trying. And in that quiet little deception, she obscured for me the darkness I made myself so accustomed to, stealing me away to the lost realization of the magic in blind, unfettered and innocent contentment. And I told my little cousin as I placed my heavy hands gently on her slumped shoulders, “Don’t grow up too fast, sweetheart. And thank you.”


Culture shock is what I call it; the faint sounds from distant rooms of laughter and celebration, the glow of lights and the immediacy of familiar conversation, the exchange of long yearned sentiments masked by inside jokes and the aroma of strong liquor adrift in the air. I fiddled with my camera incessantly in the hopes that maybe I can figure out how to use this complicated piece within the thirty seconds I had to document all of these wonderful sights I seem to have missed and taken for granted when they were always around me. And, as if rehearsed or previously arranged, a crowd gathered in the warm glow of the kitchen space I suddenly found myself ushered into, nestled deep in the suburbs of Frederick, Maryland.

“One of our friends has had a rough time,” Paul began, addressing the makeshift crowd upon which fell a sudden hush, an eerie silence unfamiliar to me since I landed in the east coast. And the subsequent events fell into such a deep blur. He approached me with a bound set of envelopes, and it was clear the events he was describing, and it was clear what he was giving me. And my heart was heavy; I suddenly held in my hand the tactile physical manifestation of angels on earth; the evidence that wherever on earth you decide to try and hide, or run to, or find what it is you feel you are searching for or have lost, there will always be someone watching you. And apparently, who wish to take care of you in your despair and demise.

All eyes befell me in my reaction to each piece I opened from the bound pile of cards and letters. I tried to meet each eye in my need to acknowledge every soul in the room, but it was hard to see through the tears that formed very freely, and very swiftly. There was some laughter and some words in the next moments, but mostly a feeling of expected emotional discomfort from everyone; but there was nothing I could do about the tears from reading these words of promise, hope, comfort, acknowledgement and reaffirmation from all of the closest people in my life. So many beautiful words, even from those very very far away [The Houston crew & the Conquest Tactics family]. This endeavor had been quite the production, and immediately restored my faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. And as I carefully began my circuit of hugs around the room, I was immediately concerned about my inability to wholly communicate my gratitude and respect in the scale that I wanted to, and could only hope that the tears were indication of how touched I felt from their efforts to rescue me from myself once again.


“We love your work,” he began, quickly amending, “but unfortunately, we can’t keep you.”

The walk back to a makeshift workstation unintended for me in a new office that would not see me work in it from here on forward in the company’s future was a test of true self control. I felt it in my throat, this need to cough out the words I felt I had to say, my stomach churned at the thought of ‘what happens next’ and my footsteps felt heavy and glued to the carpeted earth below. I sat back down for a few moments, carefully inspecting my new, yet smaller and less epic laptop computer that sat in replacement of that which had been taken in the burglary, and ran my finger across the obsidian sheen of the replacement Wacom tablet on which my new dreams would be henceforth woven and thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this’ knowing the people around me didn't want me there, feeling their glares of sympathy and unacknowledged by their needs to remain unaffected by what we all knew: I was being let go. I whispered to my boss and quickly informed him through choked words and bloodshot eyes that I was going to do the remainder of the work from home that day and forced an awkward, exhausted smile. And I made my quick exit.

My first step out into loud screaming world of downtown San Francisco was deafening. Suddenly my focus was everywhere and nowhere at once and in the moment forgot which direction I was to take my next step. Strangers knew something was wrong with me, and sat uncomfortably on the Muni in my presence as I stared blankly through them, up at the ceiling, outside into the seemingly inappropriately sunny world from the train-car I found myself in. I didn't know what to feel or how to feel, and so decided to feel nothing in the moment, an at once brilliantly wonderful and cursedly horrid reaction to bad things, an unintended result in the aftermath of the burglary the month before.

My eyes befell a man on the other side of the train car, shamelessly unaware of passengers to his side but for good reason as he was completely consumed by the activity he was engaged in. His fingers gripped the pencil tightly armed with the conviction of a man with a mission and fervor for what he was trying to communicate. The lead glided across the paper with purpose, transferring his unabashed imagination to the pad upon his lap, his eyes fixed militantly to the image that he was creating. Unfettered by a trained artistic eye clearly evident in his seemingly juvenile quality of line, unburdened by critique he undoubtedly encounters and unhurried by the premise of business from the bustle of the financial district sights we sped quickly past just beyond the glass window, the man transposed pure passion and unbridled angst into the artwork that formed on his paper. I forgot myself and the heaviness of my new backpack, full of the things that used to sit comfortably on my desk. In that moment, I wanted to know what it was like to be like him. I wanted to be him again.


Here I stood, the reluctant king of a blue world that would not have me, perched in the cold sterile suite of a lonesome hotel above the rooftops of the financial district, downtown San Francisco. Soothing tones of Brett Dennen’s ‘Desert Sunrise’ resonate in the dark morning air from the cell phone that sat nestled in the ruffled sheets of the bed behind me. A soft haze keeps the vividness of reality and consequence at arm’s length and the sickly-sweet traces of the cabernets of several yesterdays faintly line my lips. Blankets lay in disarray on the corner of the bed as sex and sweat still hung in the air, each a meager attempt at a fleeting happiness to mask the cold of the world beyond the glass I pressed myself to: people chasing faceless dreams, swimming in laughless crowds. And the air inside sits cold, soothing, quiet and resolute.

And I wonder: am I better person than I was when I made these hard choices? Am I more comfortable with myself or where I am now than ever before? Am I more valuable to the world so far away from the comfort of everything I've ever known? I am a product of my own decisions, but I grow tired of living through life struggling and settling for the ‘just ok’s and ‘pretty good’s. I seek to live in peace, waiting for the moment when I won’t feel so violated by the world I am so desperate to feel a part of hoping for the allegorical rain to come and wash it all away, of a healing thunderstorm that may never come.

And I think to myself ultimately at the end of the day, when the dust settles, I will always have my heroes. Those who emerge at the end of all things to remind you why you’re here and why you’re trying so damn hard to be the person you aspire to and to be in a place in this world where you feel you need to be. And that they will always be there to catch you when you fall, a reality I hope never to be in danger of being comfortable with, for maybe I can be my own true hero for once in my life and in my wildest dreams, perhaps someone else’s-

-on this epic adventure... for once not always be in such need

of rescue…

Current Music: The Beautiful Girls, La Mar (The Ocean)
Earth-Shattering Revelation #28: You'll always have your heroes.