Author: Brock

I'm a writer, artist, father and recovering sarcasm addict. Currently seeking publication for my coming-of-age memoir. Repped by Bonnie Solow of Solow Literary.

How to Be a Jerk to a Person of Faith

“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.

Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”

I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.

You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.

Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.

I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.

What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:

Are you a jerk?

Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.

Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?

“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.

A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.

Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.

I think I know a better way.

*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.

**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.

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A Big Change for the Heasley Family

We almost moved to Maryland.

My connection to the company was solid and the job was right up my alley. Well, my old alley. It was an in-house Art Director position; the kind of work I’d left behind about three years ago. I submitted my application. I interviewed for it. I got a second interview and my friend already working at the company was enthusiastic. We started shopping for houses and my kids started imagining living in a place with actual snow on the ground (we told them it wouldn’t be that fun, but Violet refused to believe us). It was time to move across the country, a thing we’d never done before.

After Erin got her Master’s Degree, we were faced with the reality of what a part-time professor at a Community College can make (you honestly wouldn’t believe it) and the fact that the well paying, full-time professor positions are in short supply. We needed to explore options, and not just mine. Erin applied for other opportunities, too. One very close to home was looking really, really good. Until it didn’t and disappeared like a puff of smoke from the cigar of one of those derby-hatted cartoon bankers who is evil and you know that because… cigar.

So, yes, I put myself on the job market. After three years of working in film/video and doing freelance jobs, it was time to introduce a little more stability into our lives. Stability has always been the watchword around our house. As long as we could pay the mortgage and the bills and feed our kids and clothe them, it didn’t really matter to either me or Erin how much money we made. Never, not once, has getting rich been a goal (or even, just like, buying a boat). The goal is to do what we are supposed to do: care well for our family, be where Heavenly Father wants us to be, and do what He wants us to do. That’s how we’ve always conducted our life together, through good times and bad. It has served us well.

So, needless to say, we were stressing. A bit. And while all of this was going on, our friend Chris kept promising we’d have that lunch together that kept getting put off.

Waaaaay back in July, Erin and I were reminiscing about all the traveling we used to do back when travel was a thing we could afford, and we thought about Chris and his business of putting luxury vacation packages together and we hit upon an idea that was both ridiculous and too good to not at least pitch to Chris. Maybe he’d laugh at us, but it couldn’t hurt to at least propose it to him. Finally, in December, when we were trying to figure out what to do about Maryland, the lunch happened.

We told Chris our idea: send us on your vacations. Put us up in your five-star hotels, schedule our safaris and zip-lining adventures through jungles, make reservations for us in the best restaurants–do that and we’ll film it all and give you promotional travel vlogs you can use for marketing. And then Erin said, “And we’ll do it for free!”

And I said, “No, wait–wait a minute. It’s a lot of work for me after we get home to edit and put it all together and–”

And that’s when Chris cut me off and said, “I think it’s a great idea. Yes, I need that!”

And I said, “Y-you do? We really thought you were gonna laugh at us for trying to get a free vacation.”

“No,” Chris said. “And I’d like to take it even further. I’d like you to become my partners in Travel is SWELL, and I’d like Erin to train and become a Travel Designer with me and help me sell custom travel packages to people.”

We were floored. We went into the meeting expecting nothing and came out of the meeting with a spring in our step and promised ownership in a business. (And the chance to go to Machu Picchu. I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I was pretty sure I’d now found the means to go to Machu Picchu.) We went home, shell-shocked, and immediately set to praying. And talking. And praying some more. Pros and cons were discussed, friends and relatives were consulted, options weighed.

This wasn’t quite the stability we were looking for. Travel is nice–travel is AWESOME (one might even say SWELL)–and we’d certainly be experiencing a lot of it as we went out to get firsthand knowledge of the places we’d be sending people to and filming our videos, but awesome travel is not a good enough reason to not take care of your family properly. Erin would be working on commission and I’d garner some payments for the video work, but nothing was guaranteed. It was another leap for a family that, evidence to the contrary during the previous three years, was more than a little risk-averse. And then we ran the numbers. And then we made a decision.

Three weeks later, we signed papers making us officially partners in Travel is SWELL.

This week, Erin completed her training.

And that, really, is why we’re finally telling you about it. Things have changed for us in a dramatic way and we’re excited to tell people, but we didn’t want to do it until we were ready. Erin is looking for clients. We hope you’ll contact her if you or anyone you know is looking to dream about their next vacation. She can help you in a big, big way.

Pretty sweet logo, huh? Designed by yours truly.

Now, if you know us and I were you, I’d have some questions. So, let’s switch formats. Here we go:

What the heck is a Travel Designer?

Great question. I didn’t know either. A Travel Designer is a lot more than a Travel Agent. Erin’s approach is to talk to the client about the experiences they’ve already had that they enjoyed, what kind of experiences they’d like to have, and where they might like to go. Want to go somewhere where the water is crystal clear blue and you’ll be treated like a queen as you laze about on the sand? Then Barbados might be for you. Want to eat like a king and take a deep dive into history? Hello, Rome and all these cool excursions and sites you might not even know exist. Simply put, a Travel Agent will get you to where you want to go, but a Travel Designer will not only get you there but make sure you have the time of your life. There’s even a questionnaire you get to fill out so Erin can best help you. It’s fun!

What about filmmaking? Writing? Comics? Is all that over with now?

Nope! I’m still in post-production on my newest short (in fact, we just shot some new scenes this past weekend), and I’m exploring other film opportunities that I can’t talk about just yet. I’m also actively shopping around a YA novel, Paper Bag Mask, and The SuperFogeys continues at superfogeys.com. That’s the beauty of working with Travel is SWELL: we get to stay here and, though our time is even more at a premium, things largely get to continue as they were.

For Erin, too?

Yep! For Erin, too. She’s staying on as a professor at Clovis Community, even taking on an additional class this semester for a total of three sections. She’ll teach and then, in her off hours, create travel packages for clients.

Sounds like you’re gonna be pretty busy. Wait… you guys still have kids, right?

Yeah. Three of them. They’re cool with not moving to Maryland, so it’s all good. We also create packages for families and groups, so they’re gonna get the opportunity to explore this world of ours as well. After a decade of never going farther than Los Angeles, that’s pretty exciting. Plus, I like to think we do a pretty good job carving out family time. There’s not a whole lot more important than that.

How much does Erin and Travel is SWELL charge for services?

In most cases, nothing! Some packages will require a small service charge, but that’s not common. Travel Designers are paid commissions by the vendors you book with, not by you. I know! I had no idea either until we got into this.

Why should I use a Travel Designer at all? Expedia exists.

Hey, Expedia is great! If all you want to do is get to and from somewhere, I say go for it. But if you want to explore hotels, food, rentals, excursions, and some really cool places to visit that you might not otherwise know about, then working with a Travel Designer is not only a great idea, it’s really the best idea. You know what I hate about vacations? Figuring out how to get from place-to-place. A Travel Designer takes care of all of that for you. Plus, we have access to online portals and vendors mere mortals can only dream of. We can hook you up.

Is Travel is SWELL only for luxury travelers? 

Not exclusively, but we’re definitely all about the package. We’re for people who really want to explore and experience something amazing, not so much for those who just want the cheapest flight to Florida and a rental car. But hey, if you want to know if we can help you with what you have in mind, all you gotta do is ask.

Sounds pretty cool. I’m going on vacation in the next year. How can I check out what you have to offer? 

That’s easy, just go to travelisswell.com, or email Erin directly at eheasley@travelisswell.com and tell her what you’re thinking. She’ll help you explore.

Eh. I’m not really into travel.

That’s more of a statement than a question, but I’ll address it. Over the past few years, a lot of people have asked how they could help us out. A referral would be great! If you’re not much a traveler, tell your friends.

This gonna be a thing now? You gonna sell me this hard on this blog in the future? Because if so then I’m ou–

Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s not what I’m about. Just trying to share and take this one–ONE–opportunity to try to drum up a little business. This is a big, important change for my family and we’re just trying to get a leg up in the world. The blog will go back to normal after this.

Okay, cool.

We’re cool?

Yeah.

You know I think the world of you.

Yeah… I know…

Be sure and check out travelisswell.com ASAP!

There you go again!

Sorry.

New Blog Posts in Other Places!

Hey everybody, just letting you know I’m still out here and blogging–but it’s showing up in other places! Here’s some links to two recent blogs I did about the work I’m doing creating my own films with Tremendum Pictures:

TREMENDUM PICTURES MAKES MOVIES. PLURAL.

I recently read that 80% of all short film makers never make another film. That’s a pretty terrible statistic. There’s probably lots of reasons for people not taking a second dip into the filmmaking pool, but the biggest has to be that making a film is really, really, REALLY difficult. Earlier this year, I finally finished my first short film as a writer/director, The Shift, after an exhausting year and a half of work. There were times I wondered if I still would have made the film if I knew at the beginning how much blood, sweat, late nights, feelings of self doubt, favors, mistakes, computer crashes, and, yes, tears it would eventually require. That 80% statistic resonated with me in a big way… READ MORE.

And…

MAKING MOVIES IS AN ACT OF FAITH: THE 205th

I wiped the wet brow under my sweat-soaked cap and shut my eyes tight against the setting sun. The grips barked calls to one another across the city park parking lot while my D.P. presented me with the very real possibility that we might not get the shot. This was, after all, the most complicated scene in the entire film–a tense “oner” that would see a smoking gun, blood splatter, and a character fall to the ground. We needed, probably, at least an hour of rehearsals to get the timing and the performances right.

We had five minutes. Three after arguing for two over whether or not it was even worth trying… READ MORE.

The Not-So-Secret Shame of My Very Bald Head

The thing is, I like hair. I’m fascinated by hair. I truly believe a good haircut can change a Quasimodo into a Brad Pitt (0% body fat helps as well). I also believe a bad haircut can be ruinous. Never ask me if I think your hair looks good. I promise you I have an opinion, and I can only give it honestly.

So, don’t ask me about your hair.

And don’t ask me about mine. It’s gone now, basically. Retreated back to the God who gave it life in the first place. Or to my pillow. Take your pick. The point is, a lot of it has fallen out in the past few years, exclusively in strange, alien ways. Bald patch in the back? Yep. Receding in the front? Of course. But also, for some reason, I’m also balding where my the back of my hair meets my neck and I’ve also got this river of off-centered baldness right on the top of my head that does not subscribe to any of the Rogaine diagrams. There is positively no way to grow out my hair and make it look good without resorting to hair contortions of the Christian Bale in American Hustle variety.

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Didn’t stop me from trying though. When this all first started happening, I did my best to maintain a normal hairstyle with what I had as best I could. I’ve never had great hair, mind you. Always been a little thin, always very brown. In certain lights–especially dim ones–it did look kind of good, though. Even in the early days of the loss.

So what if, as the months rolled along and my wife started believing me that a big change was happening, that my forehead could be rented out for advertising at reasonable rates? I wasn’t worried. Bigger the forehead, bigger the brain (Aristotle said that). The baldness in the back? I couldn’t even see it without geometry and mirrors, so it wasn’t really something I cared too much about. If my hair was really a problem–if I really had cause to be embarrassed or I was just kidding myself with the wisps atop my noggin–then my wife would tell me. She’d say something like “It’s time,” and then I’d know instantly what she was talking about, subject of sentence not necessary.

And that’s pretty much what happened.

“It’s time,” she said.

The next day, it all came off. (Mostly. I’m not down to the skin, yet, as you’ll soon see. I just think a little bit of fuzz looks better.)

22f968ba49f7df6f28a152ca93ea39a6This was absolutely frightening. What does my head even look like? I had no idea. Would I achieve Patrick Stewart levels of greatness? Of course not. No man can touch the hairless throne upon which that beknighted, gloriously bald man sits. Maybe I was the anti-Patrick Steward. Maybe there was a lumpy, asymmetrical skull under my head skirt that could frighten small children and scare away door-to-door salesman (which would only be half bad, I realize).

If I know one fear all guys have in common it’s that we are deathly afraid to lose our hair. I was no different.

No, strike that. I was worse. Like I said, I love hair. I even love to draw it. When I shot my short film earlier this year, I made sure each of my actors got time in a chair and had a hairstyle crafted specifically for their character. And y’know what? I think it made a difference. They all not only looked really good, but the hair communicated something. It tells you wether a person is fastidious or coiffed or lazy or haggard or practical or stylish or even smart or stupid or fun or generous.

Hair communicates something.

So what does it mean when your hair is all gone? What does that communicate?

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I’m still struggling with that. I can’t say, even three months later, that I’m used to it. I think my head is too small to begin with, so no hair makes it look even smaller. I think my face was balanced and framed a lot better by hair. I haven’t been able to bring myself to shave my face all the way ever since I did it. I feel like (mistakenly or no) my head is better balanced by a little hair in the southern region if my polar ice caps are gonna melt that much. I don’t really recognize myself in the mirror anymore, to be honest.

All of this is vanity. Vanity is a terrible thing. It’s a waste of time. No one cares as much as I do–and I shouldn’t care at all. I’ve gotten several compliments (which I struggle to not chalk up to overly kind people trying to put lipstick on the pig of a situation that is unexpectedly meeting my shiny chrome dome out in public), which should give me more confidence. It does, just a little.

screen-shot-2015-04-29-at-12-10-29-am

I could wear a rug. There’s a great scene at the end of the last season of Cheers where Sam Malone–who cared more about his hair than any fictional character ever–reveals to Carla that he is balding and wears “a piece.” It looks good on him and you can’t tell it’s not real. To this day, actor Ted Danson wears hairpieces and they look great. It probably helps to have people paid to make you look good. I would be willing to pay people to make me look good. I have a shiny quarter under the ash tray in my car. It’s all yours.

I can’t wear a rug. I can’t do the combover. I can’t get hair plugs. I can’t do any of that because it’s a kind of fakery I could never be comfortable with. I try to live an honest life, and though no one expects you to be honest about your hairline, I just can’t do it.

I will get used to it, I know that. In fact, for the majority of my life, this is pretty much how I’m going to look so I had better get used to it. And the comments. People will look at past pictures of me from now on and say, “Oh my gosh! You had hair!”* as though they thought I was born bald and stayed that way. Surprise! This is the first time I’ve been bald in my life. I was born almost four weeks late and came out with a mane all the other newborns envied. If I had a DeLorean, I know just what I’d say to baby Brock:

“It’s all downhill form here, kid. It’s all downhill from here…”

*Already happened.

She Told Me My Family Was Afraid of Me

BrockFace

Last week, Erin sat me down on the swing at our back patio and we had a “come to Jesus” moment. She, like a good spouse, chose not the heat of the moment, but a time separated by hours from my increasingly ill behavior. She gave it to me straight: I’m angry all the time, I’m on a hair trigger, the kids are afraid of me, and I’ve made the house an extremely unpleasant place to live in–to the point that sometimes she takes the long way home from dropping our oldest off at junior high just to avoid the scene that ensues daily when I berate our youngest for not knowing where her shoes are and making us late for her preschool.

It was a huge gut punch. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so small and low. I’m not a crier, but I started to cry then because I had no defense to give. Erin was 100% right. I was making our home a miserable place. Worse, I kind of knew I was doing it. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know, but I think, in the back of my mind, I had somehow convinced myself I was okay to be this way because a) pressures and b) no one was saying anything about it.

Well, of course they weren’t. They were rightfully afraid to talk to me.

The bulk of our conversation that night dealt with why I was behaving this way. I don’t want to go too deep into that, but suffice it to say that I’m not great at being a stay-at-home dad (Erin kindly reminded me it took her years to be any good at being a stay-at-home mom) and the external pressures that come from work and achievement and failure were getting to me. Or rather, I was letting them get to me. I actually thought that since things were so hard for me right now that it was okay for me to be a bit of a jerk. It was justified.

Which, of course, I was not. I was operating from an incredibly unkind, selfish place, especially since Erin has been working on her Master’s Degree for the past year, a work that requires you to stand on your head and recite the Constitution backwards while cats lick milk off the bottom of your feet. Or something. It’s hard, that’s all I know. I was making things even harder.

My wife had popped my delusional bubble. I recognized my behavior as the sort of thing that would slowly force my family to retreat from me, which, of course, they kind of were doing already. I needed to dial things back in a big way. So, I told Erin the most cliched thing a person can possibly say in a moment like that: I will change. I could tell she didn’t exactly believe me.

The thing is, I meant it. 100%. (This is a common thing: I tend to apologize and change my mind very quickly. If I can see the logic of something, it’s very rare that I wait for my emotions to catch up.) I was sick of myself. I was sick of being angry and I was sick about what I was doing to my girls and my wife. I had hurt them. Not physically, but I had hurt them. I needed to not just turn the truck around, I needed to throw that sucker in reverse and floor the gas pedal until this big heap of selfish garbage I had built up was just a speck through the windshield.

I made a decision to stop letting my emotions–particularly the rage-filled ones–take over. The benefit just wasn’t there. I was able to do this for one, simple reason: my family’s emotions and perception of me is more important than my need to vent or act out frustration. I needed to sacrifice that release of anger on the altar of their precious feelings to give them a chance to like me again, and to not damage them or my relationship with them. 

Basically, even though nothing really changed about my circumstances, I made a conscious effort to let go of my anger over it all.

That has not been terribly easy, but it has been terribly worth it. I’ve gone six days without a blow-up and the spirit in our house is radically different. I think, as fathers, we underestimate our impact. I know society does. But I’ve gotten a crash course in just how much I matter to my family, and how invested they are in my spiritual and mental wellbeing. Everything is different around here now, which illustrates quite clearly that I was almost entirely responsible for the tension in our home over the past couple months. It’s a sobering realization.

I had never thought of myself as a bad father. I honestly didn’t think I was capable. I thought if there’s one thing I can do well, it’s be a father. People have even told me, in the recent past, that I am a good father. I hoped I was worthy of that. I kind of thought I was. But, I was wrong.

I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom their progression is a nice straight line that reaches continually upward, but for me it’s a rocky thing, filled with peaks and valleys. Just when I think I’ve got one thing licked, some other issue pops up and takes the wind out of my sails. This all crept up on me, and none of it fit my perception of myself. I’m still learning all the time, even as I approach 40, who I am and what I’m capable of, for good and for ill.

My prayer–and this is always my prayer–is that whatever my moment-to-moment progression is, the trend, at least, is upwards. I feel better today than I have in a long, long while. There’s still a ton of stuff I need to work on, but, in simply letting go of the justifications and the outsized emotions that have been holding me back in those most important of roles, father and husband, I feel like I grabbed hold of a valuable piece of the happiness puzzle this week.

Pretty sure my girls and my wife would agree.

A Brief History of Mother’s Day Drawings

My wife badgered me about Mother’s Day something fierce this year.

“You always do it,” she said. “Every two years.”

“Every two years,” I said. “I don’t remember committing to that. I don’t have any ideas this year.”

“It’s my favorite thing. Please?”

That was the first conversation about five weeks ago. We revisited the conversation every few days after that, and each time I insisted that just because I did a cartoon drawing of our family every two years in the past, that didn’t constitute a promise for the future. Erin was not persuaded. In her mind, I will be doing these drawings until the day I die. Maybe even after that.

So, I gave in. I did another drawing, I gave it to her this morning, she gushed, and Facebook nodded their collective approval. And then I sat down to write this blog and I discovered I’d been swindled.

I have literally NEVER made Erin a cartoon family Mother’s Day drawing two years after the previous one. I’ve drawn one four years after the previous one, and I’ve drawn one three years after the previous one, but until today I have never put myself through the hours and hours of work it takes to make these thing a scant two years after the previous one.

Well played, Erin.

* * *

This is more for me than anyone else.

I put a lot more thought into these drawings than it may first appear. I see them as capturing a moment in time, and I try to fill them with details that speak to their respective moments. Thought it might be fun to try to do a little recapturing. Let’s go back 9 years.

2007:

MothersDay2007

Full disclosure: this drawing makes me cringe. Literally, the only thing I think I pulled off well was my own face. Everything else is garbage. My opinion.

Subsequent Mother’s Day drawings would stick to a “sitting on the couch” theme (my wife calls them “couch drawings”), but with this first one I didn’t have anything like that in mind. I just wanted to do a drawing of my family and I wanted it to be simple and I wanted it to say something.

2007 was a rough, rough year for my little family. Cami, our youngest, was just 2-years-old. Very shortly after she was born in 2005, we discovered she had some severe physical and mental disabilities that, honestly, even as I type this eleven years later, still does not feel totally real.

In 2007, Erin, my wife, was not okay. It would be another three years before she could totally accept Cami’s differences and in the meantime she filled her days with doctor visits, physical therapy sessions, trips to specialists in San Francisco, battles with the school district, and just trying to remain positive and healthy in the face of the realization of her greatest fear. We just wanted to know what was wrong with Cami. We wanted a diagnosis because the limbo of not knowing is a true, ugly, tear-filled Hell. We never got that diagnosis, and it took a long time to come to terms with that. This drawing was made when we were still in the thick of the pain.

I drew us happy and smiling. I drew Erin and I protecting and encircling our two girls. Our world was small at the time, and intentionally so. The more we kept to ourselves and away from the reminders of how different and disabled Cami was (i.e. all other typical children and their parents), the happier we were.

Cami did this thing back then where if you asked her how big she was, she’d raise her arms up high. Elora, our oldest, was an adorable, typical four-year-old with one killer dimple. Erin, apparently, had anime eyes. I had a big, floppy wave of hair. A lot of that would change.

2011:

MothersDay2011

This is a bit more like it. The first “couch drawing” came just after we had finally become the family we were supposed to be as Violet’s arrival that year opened up the world in a way we didn’t expect. Suddenly, the family and Erin’s attentions weren’t all about Cami anymore. This was needed. The hyper focus on Cami and her needs left little opportunity for Erin to actually be a mother like she wanted to be. Violet, a bright, sparkly breath of fresh air, gave Erin a chance to step back from Cami and get reconnected to her as a mom and not just as her doctor or therapist or teacher or lawyer or any other of the thousands of roles she was asked to play for Cami’s sake.

I decided to depict both Erin and Cami, 6,  as extremely happy. Cami had just gotten her haircut and donated her hair to charity, so she had this crazy cute short cut. In her hand is a duck toy she played with constantly… whose name I can’t remember now. Cami is a champion fidgeter and always needs something to whip back or forth or she’s just not happy.

Erin is holding Violet, 3 mo., who was basically a lump of smiley humanity at that point. She didn’t give me much to work with. I generally try to depict us in the actual clothes we wore at the time, but for some reason I chose to have Erin wear the shoes she was wearing when I first met her back in 1998. Somehow, I still remembered what they looked like.

Elora, 8, was big into peace signs at the time, and a fashion style we not-so-lovingly referred to as “hobo chic”. The child had nice clothes, but she refused to wear them in nice combinations. Since I was the artist, I chose to put her in her most fashionable outfit she had, but it certainly wasn’t how she always looked. Now, I kind of wish I had given her something a little more accurate and ratty.

As for me, I look way cooler than I actually did at the time. The frayed pants and sweet shoes are very true to the too-long pants and wife-selected shoes I wore at the time, but I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping. I generally hate all my clothes about two seconds after buying them. So, in this drawing I’m wearing a shirt I have never actually owned. But I thought it would be cool if I did, so…

2014:

MothersDay2014

Everything was going so well that year. In the time between this and the previous drawing, I’d been promoted to Art Director at work, Erin had started doing work as an on camera talent at the same company, we bought a new house, Elora was elected as Student Body President, Cami found a place to call just her own at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, and Violet was Violet. And there’s no getting Violet down. Erin and I even got the chance to vacation in Europe, a first visit for both of us. It was an incredible time.

I let Elora, 11, choose her own outfit for the drawing. It’s hard to tell, but her shirt depicts a dog riding a surfboard. It was her favorite. I have no idea why. She was also really into fluffy skirts and tutus at the time.

Cami, 9, experienced a serious growth spurt since the last drawing, and now her fidget toy of choice was a little Brobee (from Yo Gabba Gabba) doll. Her shirt shows off her newfound love of horses after her first year as a regular rider at Heart of the Horse.

I don’t know why I never thought to put our pets into the drawing before now, but I went for it this year. Oz, our dog on the couch, will never stop licking. He’s gross. On the floor, Batman the dog chases King George the cat–a daily occurrence.

Erin is wearing my favorite t-shirt of hers and a necklace with the first letter of each of our kids’ names on it. The necklace is tiny, but if you zoom in you can actually see it. Even though she was working part-time for the first time since Elora was born, she’d really come into her own as a mom and the pains and trials of yesteryear had developed into a strength. She’s an amazing woman.

Once again, save for the pants and shoes, I’m not actually wearing what I wore at the time. Also, I lost a lot of hair between the last drawing and this one, so I pushed my hairline back a bit and shortened it. I’ve also got a bit more going on in the chin–as in, I’m doubling it up a bit. Just a bit though.

Violet was a crazy person two years ago. Still is. She’s a spunky little thing and climbing around on the couch like a little gremlin absolutely fit her.

2016:

MothersDay2016

Here it is, the drawing I gave to Erin just this morning.

Hoo-boy. Shortly after the last drawing the world blew up. My wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other and we’ve been rebuilding ever since. Going back over these drawings, I’m impressed by the ebb and flow of life. Ups and downs are just part and parcel, but in revisiting them I’m impressed by how much that plays out over the long term. It gives me hope, honestly, that we’ll be back on top in no time… and then we’ll probably fall again, somehow. This is just the way things work. There’s comfort in that.

This couch is crowded, and that’s even after having taken off the dog from last time. I’ve drawn us more closely together, like we’re circling the wagons a little bit. We endure our challenges and trials together.

Elora, 13, is quite the poised young woman now and I needed to find some way to represent that, so I gave her a regal pose. She’s only an inch shorter than Erin now, and I think you can pretty much tell that just from this drawing. Once again, she picked out her own outfit.

Cami, 11, I chose to keep largely the same, save for a little weight gain. Cami looks like she’s five or six years old. She’s a bit perpetually frozen in time. Her shirt reads “Team Happy” and that’s the effect Cami has on people, and certainly on us. Last Fall, she donated her hair again, so she’s back to the short hair.

Our pets are no longer allowed on the couch, so they’re all stuck on the floor. Oz is particularly saddened by this.

Erin has returned to school this year to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s our professional, so now she gets a dark, professional look (this drawing is darker overall, which I think fits with how beaten up we all feel at this point). At her feet is her book bag. Also, after having drawn it on the wrong side for the past two drawings, I finally got the part in her hair going the right way.

I’m dressed like an 8th Grade boy, which is accurate to how I dress right now as I fulfill my role as a stay-at-home dad and work on various projects. The hat I wear has the Tremendum Pictures logo on it, where I work (mostly at home) as a writer (among other things). My shirt is actually a real shirt, one of very few I enjoy wearing. I don’t really care that it says Batman, I just like the fit. My shoes, you’ll notice, are the same from last time. My wardrobe is deteriorating. My hate for clothes shopping coupled with our financial challenges leaves me with little motivation to improve or update my wardrobe. Also, you can barely tell in the drawing, but my temples are now gray.

Violet has been just OBSESSED with Star Wars this past year, and particularly with Rey. She actually does own and wear this costume, and she has a light saber, too. Her enthusiasm is adorable. Even if she grows out of it later, the is the Star Wars year. (The fever extends to Cami as well. They’re the only movies she asks for and her new fidget toy is a little Stormtrooper.)

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Just to bring it back, I’m so grateful for my amazing wife and for this little family we’ve managed to create together. Giant, giant Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! You do a great work.

I get asked all the time what I charge for “couch drawings.” They’re labor intensive and not cheap (ex. I’d have charged about $500 for this latest one), but if you’re interested in exploring the possiblity, feel free to drop me a line at bwhheasley (at) gmail (dot) com.