And a recommendation to read this (formerly) obscure book:
All of this is, of course, for Birds in Beards 2: Dead Poets Edition, a new coloring book for adults. (No matter how great I make it, I don’t think I could ever make it cooler looking than Poets Ranked by Beard Weight.)
Is there a dead poet whom you would like to see drawn with a bird in his beard? If so, it is time now to leave his name in the comments section.
My cousin Greg took his own life a few days ago. If I made a list of one hundred people I knew, ranking from “most likely to commit suicide” to “least likely,” Greg would have been about 97. He was so comfortable with himself. He had a great (if wicked) sense of humor. He had a loud and bizarre laugh. He was one of a kind.
His friends called him “Dallass,” but I never did. Partly because I first met him when he was five and I was ten, at a family picnic. He ran up to me and screamed, “I’M GREGORY PAUL TICKERHOOF!” and ran away before I could answer him. So, I always called him Greg. He just called me, “Cuz.” Which was fine.
My favorite memory of him was just a few years ago, when I killed two raccoons on our farm. (The raccoons were killing our turkeys.) I skinned the raccoons, because I felt bad for killing them, and I didn’t want their pelts to go to waste. It was terrible, and I did not tan the hides well. At all. I visited Greg in his trailer in Western Pennsylvania, and I just mentioned the raccoon skins in passing, telling him how terrible I was at tanning hides. Greg was like,
“I’d like those ‘coon skins, Cuz! Send them to me!”
“Are you sure? I’m not kidding when I say I’m bad at tanning.”
“Oh, yeah! Send them!”
I drove home, and by the time I got back to Wisconsin, he had already messaged me three times about sending the raccoon skins. So, I mailed them to him. The skins weren’t really tanned; they were just dried with salt. Also, they didn’t have much hair on them, because I had killed them in summer, which is the wrong season to hunt for hides. I sent them to Greg anyway, thinking that once he saw the state they were in, he would just throw them away.
A week later, I got a Facebook notification that Greg had tagged me in a picture.
He had tacked those two coon skins onto his trailer wall, in the living room. He used thumb tacks to put them up on the dark paneling. It was this grainy, awful picture, and he had tagged me as one of the raccoon skins. I was MORTIFIED. There it was, for all the world to see, my trailer park roots. But I couldn’t untag myself, because Greg was so clearly excited, and he wrote something really nice with the picture, like,
“Just got the coon skins! Luv you, cuz!”
Or something equally nice.
I just had to make peace with the fact that my hipster friends would know my true roots.
As far as I know, he kept the raccoon skins on his wall.
I just tried to find the picture on Facebook of the raccoon skins, but finding a picture from five years ago on Facebook was impossible. I did find this video of him.
Ladies and gentlemen, there have been great explorers. There was Merriweather Lewis, exploring the great American West. There was Vasco de Gama, sailing the world. And then there was Dallass Gregory Paul Tickerhoof, finding where the crick ends (also known as, “Christmas in July Trailer Park Special”):
No, I didn’t spell “autism” wrong. I’m talking about artism. If you relate to any of this list, you are most likely on the artistic spectrum.
Ten Signs You Might Be Artistic:
You make art. Or you write, or you do music, or you act, or you see your life is some sort of strange performance art.
You don’t understand people who want to learn the thing you do. (Because it’s not something you want to do, it’s just something you do do. If you are going to do the thing, if you were meant to do the thing, you do do the thing. It’s a compulsion.)
You’re a mess. Literally. Artistic people are often messy.
You wondered (and still kind of wonder) if Donald Trump ran for president as some sort of long form performance art, and he’s just as surprised as you are that he is now president. (Because you always assume that, in any situation, someone is doing some sort of long form performance art.)
Incompetent artists really bother you, especially the ones who do the same thing you do. And most especially when they are successful with the masses! That’s just a knife in the heart.
When people say, “you’re so creative!” it’s really annoying, isn’t it? What do you do with a comment like that? How could anyone be alive without being creative in some way?
You feel badly if you don’tmake art or do that creative thing you do. You start to go crazy without it.
Your art is not something you need people to compliment you over. Itis gratifying unto itself.
When people give you really simple, clear instructions, you don’t believe that anything can be simple and clear, and you read elaborate (and untrue) messages into the clear, normal instructions. And it makes life so hard. So very, very hard.
I read and reread the past four Tufa books very carefully, looking for things that would create beautiful scenes in a coloring book. (I drew The Tufa Coloring Book.) So, I was relieved recently to crack open Alex Bledsoe’s latest book, Gather Her Round, and just, you know. Read it.
Having read the previous four so closely further enriched my reading experience of the fifth. I knew what to expect, and when I found it, it was comfortable and cozy. And then when the unexpected happened, that made it all the more exciting.
Gather Her Round has all of the elements which made me love the other Tufa novels:
– The magical forest as a setting.
– The strong female characters.
– The songs.
– The tribal rituals elevated to a higher level of intelligence.
– The outsider discovering the Tufa for the first time.
– Rednecks as real, relatable people.
– The clash between the two Tufa groups.
– Riding the night winds!
All that, and more, of course. Gather Her Round most notably also has a mythical beast, really more of a horror story type beast, but written without excessive gore. We don’t know if the wild boar is a normal pig escaped from a farm, or something conjured by a haint, or if it’s, as the fortune teller says, “mostly real,” but not entirely. Perhaps the Night Winds conjured it? The mystery of the whole thing kept me reading. And then there was also the guilt of not really killing someone, and not really not killing someone. It made for a good story, well told.
Oh, and it’s a story within a story, one of my favorite things! (cue Julie Andrews) The whole tale is told by a Tufa keeping everyone on the edge of their seats at a storytelling event.
Zanimal and I always listen to The Decemberist’s album The King is Dead in the car, when I’m chauffeuring her around, as parents do these days.
We hypothesize that Avery is a cat.
I think someday, she will hear the Decemberists and be brought magically back to her childhood drives with me.
This is the song that brings me back to my childhood:
Not because we played it in the car when my parents drove me around (I’m too old for that, nobody drove their kids around in the seventies and eighties) but because my dad practiced playing it himself over and over again, on the pedal steel. And then played it at gigs where I tagged along. This version actually sounds wrong to me, because it’s not my dad playing. I can’t find a recording of my dad playing that particular song, but here’s a nice one:
Zanimal just came home and would rather watch a Bad Lip Reading of the Empire Strikes Back, which I have to admit is just amazing:
In researching the history of Mount Horeb for the troll coloring book, I learned about this woman Oleanna Cunneen. She was of Norwegian descent, and she did a lot of art in a very traditional, Norwegian style. She was the first troll creator in Mount Horeb. Her trolls were about a foot high, usually, and were displayed in store fronts around town. (aside: She even sent one to then President Ronald Reagan!) When she painted on wooden boards, she often used a rosemaling border.
I wanted to incorporate that into my coloring book, The Trolls of Mount Horeb, some sort of Oleanna Cunneen-inspired border, so I ended up doing this around the poetry. I then realized (a bit too late) that if I surround the poetry with something to color, then I have back-to-back coloring, which it appears colorists don’t care for much. The whole point of the poems is so that every other page will not have coloring. Also, I like writing poetry. But, anyway, it seems too late to change it. Sorry not sorry? Maybe the borders will only bleed through to around the outer edges of the trolls, and then the trolls will have a border, too. Though, probably not. Probably, this is just a big goof.
Maybe it’s a huge mistake. Maybe, it’s the best thing ever! Probably something in between.
Either way, doesn’t look like Rosemaling until you color it.