Studio Tour: Oliver Jeffers

If you have a child, chances are you have or will eventually read them a book written by and/or illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. He’s become a real favorite of mine (If you’re a writer, Once Upon an Alphabet is a must-have for your kids.) and I literally squealed with delight when I saw this article in my RSS feed. Spoiler: Oliver Jeffers’ studio is exactly what you’ve been imagining all this time. Also—pay close attention to the stuff in the pictures he has hand-labeled. You’ll recognize the typeface.


Lessons from My Mother

James Wood, writing for The New Yorker:

In the hospital room, grief conspired with natural curiosity: so this is how a body near death functions; this is how most of us will go. . . . Six or seven seconds passed between deep breaths; each was likely to be the last, and the renewal of breath, when it came, seemed almost like a strange, teasing physiological game—no, not yet, not quite. In the days before she died, a sentence from “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” kept coming to my mind. Peter Ivanovich is looking at Ivan Ilyich’s corpse: “The expression on the face said that what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly.” Those words sustained me. A long life, a fulfilling career as a schoolteacher, a merciful end (relatively speaking), three children and a devoted husband: what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly.

This was the first non-Trump and/or politics piece I’ve read since August that I felt compelled to post here. Beautiful writing and an honorable story, I was moved to tears as I read it, sitting next to my daughter as she watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s one of the great cruelties of art—that so often the people who inspire the most moving tributes aren’t around to witness them, and even more so, that their absence is what inspired the creation.


"I would take Elizabeth to see "Hamilton.'"

Joe Posnanski:

The thing about seeing Hamilton RIGHT NOW at its peak moment is that even before it begins, the entire theater is filled with wonder. Every single person would rather be here than anywhere else in the world. As a sportswriter, I often feel that sort of energy at the biggest events, at the Masters or the Super Bowl or the Olympics, but it’s even more pronounced in this theater. People look at each other with the same wide-eyed expression: “Can you believe we’re here?”

And then the show begins, Aaron Burr on the stage, talking about that bastard orphan Hamilton, and within about two minutes you realize the thing makes Hamilton magical is this: It’s going to be even better than you had hoped.

If you're a parent, prepare yourself for this one. If you're a father of a daughter that is a lot like you, even more so.


Is Domestic Life the Enemy of Creative Work?

Kim Brooks, writing for New York Magazine:

As I aged, married, inched closer to the world of domesticity, I’d feel reassured whenever I learned that one of the contemporary writers I admired also had a family she hadn’t abused or abandoned (at least to anyone’s knowledge). Why should it be so hard to walk this line, now that domestic burdens were distributed more evenly between men and women, now that parenthood had been stripped by machine and innovation of much of its drudgery and transformed into something more elevated and imaginative? Surely, I thought, there was no reason in the 21st century that a person like myself couldn’t be a great wife, a great mother, and also the sort of obsessive, depressive, distracted writer whose persona I’d always romanticized.

I was so confident in this conviction, in fact, that it took me almost a decade to admit to myself that I was wrong.

As per the norm (these days), this piece's conclusion isn't nearly as drastic as it's open would have you believe. That being said, the answer to the title's question is obvious—of course it is.

Nothing has impacted my ability to find time to write (or lack of time to write) like having children. As I type this, an episode of Magic School Bus is blaring in the background, competing with a baby wailing in the other room and a three year-old chomping on fruit snacks. It's not quite the environment I imagined back in grad school.

But, the life I was leading in grad school? That wasn't going to produce much in the long run, either.

At the end of the day, domestic life is only the enemy of creative work if you refuse to change how you approach your creative work. And the good news is that there is no better way to learn about adapting to change than to have a couple of kids.


The Lives of the Immigrant Women Who Tend to the Needs of Others

Rachel Aviv, writing for The New Yorker:

Emma knew mothers who were too ashamed to explain to their children why they were compelled to leave, but she was accustomed to discussing everything with her daughters, down to their menstrual cycles. When she returned home, she held a family meeting and told the children, “Mama is going to go to America for a better job.”

Her youngest daughter, Ezreil, who was eleven, shouted, “No, Mama!” Her fifth-oldest daughter, Eunice, proposed that they all walk to school, rather than take a pedicab, to save money for tuition. The older girls were more cavalier. “Are you going to send us plenty of money?” one said. “So we can buy the Levi jeans?” Emma said that Ezreil told them, “I don’t need the Levi jeans.”

On August 21, 2000, Emma borrowed two service vans from her office and, with her daughters, her husband, and her brother-in-law, drove two hours to the city of Cagayan de Oro, which has a small airport. She took one suitcase containing four pairs of pants, a sweater, two pairs of shoes, two nightgowns, and a hairbrush. Virgie had told her not to take any dresses; there would be no occasion to wear them. In the terminal, all her daughters were crying. They would be cared for by their father and two “helpers,” whom Emma had hired for the equivalent of twenty dollars a week. Emma went to the bathroom to weep alone in a stall. She said, “My conscience was telling me, ‘Don’t leave your kids. Don’t leave your kids. They are young and need you.’ ”

In a political climate that has seen a very vocal minority take hold of the debate around immigration and who exactly the people are who come to the United States and for what purpose, this piece should be required reading.


Anne Truitt on the Parallels Between Being an Artist and Being a Parent

Anne Truitt:

I noticed that when my children reached the age of about twelve, the balance of power shifted from me to them. I have sometimes felt myself in the quandary of a chicken who has hatched duck eggs: my children took to the water, I remained on the riverbank. But I cherish my own independence too much to begrudge them theirs. I do better on the bank cheering them on. If I keep a respectful distance, they welcome me into their lives almost as wholeheartedly as I welcomed them into mine when they were born. “Almost” because even the most affectionate adult children maintain with their parents a healthy reservation that marks the boundary of their autonomy.

If you had "Brain Pickings" on your What Site's Article Will Make Joe Cry in the Coffee Shop When He Reads It bingo card, you're a big winner.


Still Rendering

Erin Lee Carr, writing on Medium:

Six months ago, I had a big meeting. The kind of meeting that wrenches you awake at 6am in a cold sweat, with the feeling that you hadn’t ever really fallen asleep. I arrived an hour early, naturally, so I went to a nearby cafe. I was prepared, I had my hard drives, and they had great stuff on them, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had forgotten something. As I sat there and stress ate a piece of chocolate fudge cake, I realized I felt off because I hadn’t talked to my dad, a tradition I observed before every big meeting. I wasn’t able have the prep phone-call the night before to go over the words that could win me anything. I just had my own thoughts rattling around in my head. I felt like I had lost my ace in the deck and if you knew my dad, I promise you’d agree.

For some reason, it makes me really happy to know that David Carr was such a good Dad.


Black & Blue

Patrick O’Sullivan, writing for The Player’s Tribune:

By the time I was 10, it got worse. He would put cigarettes out on me. Choke me. Throw full soda cans at my head. Every time I stepped on the ice, I knew that my play would determine just how bad I got it when we got home. I’d score a hat trick, and afterward we’d get in the car and he would tell me that I played “like a faggot” (that was his favorite term, which says a lot).

I thought it was normal. As a kid, you just don’t know any better. He would wake me up at 5 a.m. and force me to work out for two hours before school. I remember I had this heavy leather jump rope, and if he thought I wasn’t working hard enough, he would force me to take my shirt off and he’d whip me with it. If the jump rope wasn’t around, he would use an electrical cord.

He always stopped short of knocking me unconscious, because that would defeat his purpose. See, if I was passed out, I couldn’t train. 

This was a difficult one to get through. But, Sports Parents everywhere owe it to the Patrick O’Sullivans of the world to read it and learn the lessons.


Motherhood, Screened Off

Susan Dominus, writing for The New York Times:

Parents today are often chastised for being distracted by their devices, for devoting more attention to their phones than to their children. I concede that Twitter provides, at times, a more witty conversation than the one I might have with a 6-year-old; that there is, in fact, always some excuse to turn to the device and tune out a small child’s rant about the problem with peanut butter; that the feeling of productivity the phone engenders is as addictive as it is false.

But it seems safe to say that our own parents probably gave more attention to their myriad daily tasks than they did to their children, too, and even did so in their children’s presence.

I’m a sucker for pieces that highlight the modern parent’s guilt over their technology addictions (bonus points if they are hypocritical parents, like me, who, at times, enforce technology rules on their children) while simultaneously pointing out that our concerns and guilt are mostly unfounded when compared to the supposedly “great” childhoods of yesteryear.