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You read every beautiful thing you can find, fall in love with a fresh patch of writing, push your snout through the mud, nose around in new thoughts, lose yourself in this complex scent, then you go back to Roald Dahl for a bit of a breather and get all blown away again and wonder if there’s any point to any beauty if it’s not simple enough so that even children can see the magic.

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About two months ago, G volunteered me for an illustration project. A writer in her Facebook group was looking for someone who could illustrate, and G sent her a link to my blog. I’d never done a collaboration before, what more an illustrated story, but I decided to go for it. I wrote to the writer, told her I’d never done a comic before but that I’d love to try. I saw on the forum that someone had volunteered their friend for her project too. I never knew if they were in touch, but I ended up with the project – a four-page graphic memoir.

"I was afraid that she'd forgotten me forever."

“I was afraid that she’d forgotten me forever.”

So this week I finally finished Grand Mal, a sad and surreal account by Jane Hawley seeing her mother fall into an epileptic fit for the first time. The story is intended for Memoir Journal, a literary journal that promotes the art of memoir: that sacred act of remembering and re-telling.

This project meant a great deal of things to me. It was my first ever attempt at telling a story in an illustrative/graphic novel form, one of my favourite genres. More than that, it was the first time I was telling a true story in comic form. If J-school has done anything for me, it has been that training in journalism for two years opened me up to the art of non-fiction – a genre I’d always thought flat and un-literary before. But many books (Behind the Beautiful Forevers, A Beautiful Mind) and graphic memoirs (Maus, Persepolis, L’Ascension du Haut Mal) and one comic journalist (Joe Sacco) later, I’m recognising that quick and painful thrill in the heart. I’ve fallen in love with non-fiction.

I’m graduating in a few weeks and that heady time of self-questioning is now. Working on Grand Mal has helped pull together the threads of all these past years’ self-searching, and it feels great. Many, many thanks to G and to Jane for all their kind words of encouragement. More updates on when the complete graphic memoir will be out shortly.

"I wonder what she can see"

“I wonder what she can see”

[Update, 2 November 2013] Grand Mal is now out in Memoir Journal’s latest Invisible Memoirs anthology. Jane even got a personal note from the editor saying all sorts of nice things about it, encouraging us to expand it into a novel-length piece. If that intrigues you at all, get your copy of the anthology today!

bees dream

one of those “show, don’t tell” times

i get the damnedest dreams. A often tells me that i have no need for television; i just need a nap.

this was one of those times when i jolted awake still swatting the air, a half-strangled cry about to leave my throat. the experience was so vivid that i had to sketch it.

i couldn’t run and i couldn’t hide. i could only buy guns from vending machines lining the corridors of the train station with dimes and nickels and shoot them down one at a time. my brother trailed behind me, hands over his ears, body uncontrollably jerking and twisting against the pseudo-physical crush of noise and innumerable painful collisions with leggy, insect bodies.

i don’t remember if we made it out of there okay.

just finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen after a hard-won 8 hour reading marathon (the result of mucho self-entitlement after 3 grueling finals in 4 days). i’d started before A’s visit the weekend before and was completely stolen away into the sluggish depression of Patty and suburban america. D had apparently tried reading it before but gave up on account of the book being far too depressing for him to handle. and god how depressing the first half was! i was so completely entangled in Patty’s pet miseries and peculiar blindness to her toxic relationships that i could not enjoy the weekend with A. Walter reminded me of A, with his unrequited goodness and sweet but hopeless disposition with women. the whole weekend, i couldn’t get over the similarity and despaired for A to meet such a Patty (not that we are anything alike but i have an unfailing propensity to over-relate with fictional characters) and be so undeservedly smited for his goodness and relentless pursuit of difficult women. it was a complete relief to see Walter become the unexpected star of the drama and see the damaged people he loved outlove each other in their love for him. good guys do win. so now it is nearly 5am, 3 hours past the time i would have given up on my lecture notes and gone to bed but i cannot go to sleep. not while the Berglunds are still more alive to me than the wet world outside and certainly not while i am still cringing from the ending. it was beautiful in every way except that it finished on a note which smacked of a cheesy reminder of something that could not have been. oh i’m speaking in riddles, but only because i hate divulging oversimplified details and explaining anything – i save that stuff for the journalism assignments, hey. Franzen is probably the closest equivalent i’ve read to the modern Tolstoy. he brings you inside the heads of the gentrifying american middle class, mires you in the trivial but smothering absurdities of surburbia, and yet glues you to the extraordinary ordinary lives of his characters, who are so real i cannot stop… feeling them. i see Walter and Patty nuzzling in bed after 6 years of separation next to me when i flip onto one side, slick Joey and impenetrable Connie finally cemented in an open and happy marriage on the other.

all these imagined happy couplings are making me pine for monday. just 3 more days before christmas break delivers me into the arms of the version of Walter i know!

  • geology
  • gemology
  • book-binding
  • paper-making
  • how to make clothes
  • knitting and crochet
  • the art of chinese knots
  • mosaic techniques
  • sculpting
  • papier mâché

some days i get so excited about such things i wish i could just drop out of school and spend my life as an apprentice chez one master after another. D, E and i wandered around the sunday knick-knacks market along the boulevard richard lenoir today and ended up spending a good part of an hour at a stall which sold handmade leather-bound notebooks. our vendeur had leather from old indian account ledgers, covers embossed with ganesh, sanskrit text, spirals, patterns… he had all manner of sizes, colours and bindings, all of them impeccably made. he showed us an old indian account ledger, with long columns of accounting in hindi still intact, the pages so long that you could fold it onto itself as a manner of “binding”.  a few had stones set into the leather, which had me obsessing over them for ages while D asked away amiably about the man’s craft and origins. it seemed that he spent 5 months in a year in india amassing old books, antiques and collectibles, parts of which he recycled for his bookbinding designs, and that he’d also spent quite an amount of time in south america. i almost wanted to beg the man to teach me his secrets, to emboss and sew leather, to make paper, to bind books together, to set stones in leather – which i’d never seen anywhere before. i’m usually a complete scrooge  when it comes to buying quality journals and have never been convinced to spend a cent on a moleskin, but today i left with two gorgeous deep brown leather notebooks with cotton paper – one with an ammonite set in the middle of the cover, another with ruby zoisite, both beautifully bordered by an impeccable weave. modern life doesn’t seem to have a very settled appreciation for handicraft and worksmanship anymore except in luxury goods like jewellery or in tourism. it makes all my pet interests seem irrelevant and obsolete, unmarketable and out of sync with time.

it’s been 5 days since i got back to paris and i have barely had time for myself. between moving in, settling administrative chores, showing a friend around and trying to fulfill extracurricular obligations, i haven’t had time to relax. today however i was glad to have gone out. for the first time, i perused the bouquinistes along the seine – parisian booksellers standing at old green chests along the river filled with old rare books, magazines, postcards, comics… one particular bouquiniste had a wonderful collection of comics and knew everything there was to know about european illustrators. one by one, he thrust into my arms with a long and passionate string of explanations tomes of jacques tardi, hugo pratt, françois schuiten. everything was “extraordinaire”! he knew the stories and the history of the comics and their artists/writers intimately. he went on at length about each one, going “pfff” or “oh là là” whenever he threw me a name or series i couldn’t recognise. patrick – for that is his name – appeared to have read everything he had on sale. it was the first time i’d ever met someone who could discuss comics in complete earnest and with an extensive amount of literary understanding. his enthusiasm was infectious. i bought everything he suggested, promising to be back for more. i’d started by asking if he had any sampayo and muñoz but left with everything else. i’d known for a while that europe had a far more widely accepted comics culture than the anglophone world, but the vastness of that which i don’t know and of how accessible it suddenly all is has only just hit me today. it puts me into a happy daze.

have been meaning to write, but i left my diary in chicago and have been without home access to the internet for the last 3 weeks. and before all that i was in too much of a flurry moving from one place to another to really have time to sit down for a moment to myself.

today is my last day in paris until late august. i’m sitting in the hallowed halls of sciences po paris proper, leeching off the internet and waiting around homeless for another couple of hours before i head off to london. it has taken 3 years to get to the paris campus and in a month or so i will see if life in paris as a scpo student truly lives up to its hype. so far, it is promising. a year of being away from europe has not exaggerated my memory of france one bit. i’m still in love with the country, in agony with its banks. sciences po, on the other hand, has been exceeding expectations. life appears to be a lot more gratifying when one is at the mothercampus and is a graduate student. the level of professionalism i have been experiencing is a really nice surprise.

A left early this morning, puffy-eyed and with a large tuft of hair waving gently as though caught in a perpetual airlift. we padded about our summer apartment for the last time in our pyjamas and got his things together, collected remaining pieces of trash and wiped the table tops clean. while packing he stepped into the melted ice on the floor that was leaking out from our defrosted fridge and left a small trail of muddy puddles around the kitchen but i just felt too sad to protest. he left gently, going down the spiraling stairs quietly and with a soft farewell. i waited at the window to see him come out onto the street. we waved goodbye three times. we will see each other again in 7 days. this time in oxford.

for the rest of the day i cleaned up the apartment and waited nervously for the landlady to come. i must have looked out onto the street a thousand times, scanning the sidewalks for a stern, bespectacled lady striding purposefully towards 3 rue augereau but i still managed to miss her. she interrupted my reading with the doorbell exactly the way i had imagined all day that she would. some 5 minutes later, i was out on the streets with all my bags and trundled slowly to the metro.

i will be moving about like this for a while. since leaving UCSD, i’ve been to jon’s place, to chicago, to munich and then paris, each time with anywhere between 20 – 70kg of things. more places next will be london, oxford, bristol, amsterdam (yes!), ötze before i come back to paris and restart my life. i am tired and broke but it has all been worth it.