Saturday, December 31, 2005

new year's resolution

My father used to have my sisters and I write New Year's resolutions every year. Our lists were the most impracticable goals, ranging from "win the lottery" to "ride an elephant."

Now that I am older, I understand the "resolve" part of these resolutions a bit better and have tried to lower my expectations. For 2006, my deepest desire is to balance my life better.

This is due to a recent conversation with an illustrator friend of mine.

"I look at my paintings and all I see are months I was chained to my desk," she said, "And I look at all my books and I realize that so much of my life has been spent locked in my studio. While the world was happening outside, I've just been sitting at my desk. In some ways, I feel like I’ve wasted my youth."

Her words really struck me. I don't want regrets in my life, but they seem inevitable. Creating children's books is something I love but the path to a successful career is more competitive and demanding than one would assume. So, the dedication and energy funneled into this passion is time stolen from other areas. Robert constantly feels like he has to compete with the studio, meals are missed and the household is neglected due to my unrelenting focus.

And perhaps the most tragic are the experiences that I'm missing. The times that slip by unnoticed but always bring upon remembrances of guilt. How many times has Robert eaten alone while I feverishly painted? How many times have I not answered the phone calls of friends and family because I was too busy? How many dinners and get-togethers have I postponed indefinitely because my schedule was too full?

But it’s unrealistic to think my devotion to creating books can be “turned off” as well. Not only is it our fiscal foundation, it’s become intertwined with my identity—no easier cut off than an arm or a leg. But I know it can be balanced better so that other areas are not abandoned. So, that is my New Year’s resolution.

As well as “win the lottery,” of course.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

christmas cookies

In an attempt to get some holiday spirit into our household, Robert and I decided to make gingerbread cookies as a gift to my sister for the ham. So, ignoring my work for yet another day, we cut and decorated cookies.

Now, I am an attempting realistic cookie artist. I like to make the crocodiles green, put brown spots on a yellow giraffe. I labor on my cookies, wanting each piece to be an artwork.

This aspiration at cookie perfection amuses Robert. "You're so tight," he teases me,"You should just have some fun."

Robert then precedes to frost a gingerbread man blue. "See," he shows me,"This is how you do it."

And I realize he is right. His cookie, blue and all, certainly expresses more joy than mine. It was similar to when I developed my art style. At first, I was creating art realistically, just to prove to people I could draw. It was only when I let myself have fun that I really began to create images of joy. It is that core of happiness which makes things--art, people and cookies-- beautiful. And it is something I have lost track of.

So, I let go of my inner Martha Stewart and we make the most ridiculous cookies, laughing the whole time. And I begin to feel the holiday spirit. Because nothing says Christmas like a green gingerbread man.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

ham for the holidays

This Christmas had a couple of things missing. No tree. No family. No wild mushrooms. This last was perhaps the most frustrating as the wild mushroom risotto was the only dish agreed upon for the holiday menu and domesticated mushroom risotto just isn't the same.

My older sister, taking pity on these challenges sent Robert and I a ham for Christmas. This was quite welcome and helped ease the disappointment of the domesticated mushroom risotto. Unfortunately, this gift became a bone of contention to my mother, who was also alone.

"Lissy sent me a ham for Christmas," I tell my mother on the phone.
"Lissy sent you a ham?!" she said, "How come she sent you a ham? She didn't send me a ham."
"Uh, did you want a ham?" I asked, "I thought you and Dad don't like ham."
"No, No," she said, "I don't want one."
"Uh, I'll send you a ham," I said, "We can all chip in and get you the ham and cheesecake combo."
"No, don't send me anything," she says, "Don't waste your money."
"We'll send you a ham," I said, "the best one in the catalogue."
"Don't send me anything," she said, "If you do, I'll throw it in the garbage."

Now this kind of crazy-talk does not come often from my mother. I guess your common sense also goes missing when you are missing your family for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Congratulations, it's a book

Even though Amazon has it as not yet released, my editor sent me bound and finished copy of "The Year of the Dog" (thanks, Alvina!). Well, as Anne of Green Gables would say, this marks an epoch of my life.

This book is my first novel. So, it is almost as if I am getting a book published for the 1st time. I can no longer sport my jaded "been around the block" attitude. It's like I'm a new mom, again.

Because I imagine creating books is a bit like the birthing process. You have the exciting conception with its ecstasy of inspiration, the long publishing pregnancy (Is something wrong with the book? What do you mean it needs more dialogue?) and then the climatic birth (Congratulations, it's a book!).

And new babies do get attention. I'm a little nervous about the attention my new baby will get. What will people think of it? I love it, Robert loves it, my family loves it. But of course, we are a bit biased.

So, I tremble in fear of the judgment of impartial reviewers. I realize that book reviews are somewhat like sending in your child's college application to Harvard. A few get that starred entrance. Others are politely waitlisted with a tepid response. And then, some are flatly rejected.

However, an Ivy League education is no guarantee of future success...just like a starred review. I have to remember that. I just have to believe that I created my book with the best that I had in me and in the end, that is all I can do.

Still, I hope the reviews don't give my book diaper rash.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ode to obuchowski

A couple of weeks ago I received and e-mail from my editor of "The Year of the Dog" (my first novel). "We're going to push the release date of your book up," she wrote me, "Instead of February as planned, we're going to release Dec. 20th--so there's time for it to get to the stores before Chinese New Year."

"Great," I thought, "It's coming out sooner." Then I realized, it's coming out sooner.

Quickly, I e-mailed my web genius friend Jon Obuchowski.

"Hey, Jon," I write, "Remember how I wanted my new website to launch with the release of my book? Well the release is Dec. 20th..."

I could hear the screams through cyberspace.

But he did it. The new website (go and see is up and running. Today. With the release of my book. Even after the long nights of the robertssnow website, Jon continued to burn the midnight oil on


Saturday, December 17, 2005

a moment of melancholy

This year we're not going to put up the Christmas tree. It's been too crazy, too busy. The house is a disaster, snowflakes and packing material litter every surface and my work which has been long ignored is finally demanding attention. And I am tired. Tired of responsibilites and of worries. Tired of trying to please people, making (and breaking) deadlines, and meeting my own expectations.

And it's this weariness that leads me to a moment of melancholy. In the joyful holiday time that surrounds me, as friends and family rush to exotic locales and plentiful parties, I feel like a lone stone in a pool of swirling water--unmoveable and weighted down in the fluidity of life.

Perhaps it is like postpartum depression, the inevitable result of the snowflake euphoria. Perhaps it is just the grind of Robert's health, his mood swings and chemo irritations affecting my state of being. Or perhaps it is just the holidays, a time of cheer which depresses the cheerless.

Regardless, I hope it is a passing moment. One that some chocolate cake and ice cream will make pass quicker.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Goodbye, Snow!

I meant to write many amusing anecdotes about the end of the Robert's Snow auctions (over $100,000!), party, etc. but have been overwhelmed by the actual mailing of the snowflakes. This year, since the payments are by check and have been coming in intermittedly, there's no real methodical way of shipping and packing the snowflakes. Except for the way I'm doing it. By myself, one by one.

So it's been slow, like shoveling out a snowdrift with a spoon. But even though it is time-consuming, it's nice to handle each one before they are off. Also, I like to think about the fact that I have over $100,000 worth of art on my floor. Makes me feel rich...albeit temporarily.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

i'm the illustrator

For the past 3 years, Ki-Ki and I have sold my books at a booth at the RISD Alumni sale. It's been fun, lucrative and puzzling.

The puzzling part is because everytime a buyer asked to get a book autographed they always asked Ki-Ki to sign it. Well, not every time--but 8 out of 10 (we counted). People assumed she was Grace Lin. Apparently, she looks more like a children's book illustrator than me.

This was issue we pondered deeply. Why? Was it her demeanor? Did she act more friendly? Younger? Older? What do people think children's book illustrators look like? Do they think they are soft, granny-like ladies with grey hair? Sexy, thin a la Teri Hatcher in Desperate Housewives? Whatever they think, Ki-Ki looks more like it than me.

So, this year we decided to challenge their preconceived notions and labeled ourselves.

This was quite successful. In fact, I think we sold more books because so many people were amused by our shirts. We are making Robert an "I'm the husband" shirt for next year. He can't wait...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

tea for two

On my mother's last visit, she gave me three big boxes (each about the size of a wedding cake) of tea.

"I got this from Taiwan," she told me, "It will cure Robert's cancer. He has to drink it two times a day. When you run out, I'll get more."

I am slightly skeptical, especially since right after Robert's diagnosis my older sister sent me similiar "cure all" diet. That one consisted of Robert eating only cottage cheese and flaxseed oil. The doctors had quickly dismissed it.

But I look at the ingredients. With the exception of something called "champuignon," it seems pretty harmless. It can't hurt and, heck, Robert needs more fluids.

So, like the dutiful wife I am, I brew him this special tea. Robert wrinkles his nose.
"What is that?" he asks.
"It's tea for you," I say.
He takes a sip and shrugs, "It tastes like dirty sock water."

Obviously, it is a bit of struggle to make him drink it twice a day. In the morning I make and bring a cup to him. After a small sip to appease me, it usually just sits on the table.

In the meantime, I try to dream up ways to make it more tolerable. Maybe if I make it into a soup? Put wontons in it?

But I have a sneaking suspicion it is all for naught. Dirty sock water soup doesn't sound any more appetizing than dirty sock water tea.

Friday, December 02, 2005

blah, blah, blog

The other day, I was the guest for the Foundation for Children's Books Conversations With...Author and Illustrator Series. So, it was an open forum conversation with me!

So, I talked a lot. It was quite nice actually. I'm never confident about which rung I am on the ladder of my career but this talk let me look down and see how high I've climbed. Others have climbed (much) higher and faster ( and some people get the elevator), but my view isn't too bad.

We spoke mainly about my books and Robert's Snow, but during the converation we also discussed my blog.

Which brings up the question, why do I blog? Why am I laying bare so many details of my life and soul to a faceless audience?

Perhaps it's therapy. But I also think it's because as an author I am compelled to write down the moments that are important to me. And to share them.

I guess, somehow, it's not enough for me to write and paint things and stick them under my bed. I feel a need to connect to someone no matter how few. I think that is the way it is when you are in the creative field. It's not enough just to write a book, you want it to be published--you want people to read it. The truth is creation is incomplete unless it's shared.

It's like the old philosphical question, if a tree falls in the middle of the forest and no one knows about it, did it really fall? Who knows? The truth is if no one sees it or hears it, no one cares. And in a way, it might as well not exist. I am like a mushroom in that forest. Sometimes I get trampled on, sometimes I grow but I want to feel like I exist. I want to feel like it matters. That I matter.

Seems like a desire worth blogging for.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Snow Headaches

Usually I try to write interesting things on this blog, but today will be an explanation blog. For some reason, Robert's Snow has had many many technical difficulties this year and I know bidders want to know why. Well, here's why.

Today, I received an e-mail that my eBay accounts have been suspended. In fact, the account that I've posted the snowflakes on has been revoked all together. This is after my paypal account has been flagged as well. Here are the reasons:

1. I have two accounts--one that has the auctions and another that I have been bidding with. I've been bidding, obviously because I want to win some snowflakes. However, eBay caught wind that both accounts belong to the same person and has assumed I am trying to swindle bidders by inflating prices.

2. I have violated eBay's listing policy by allowing people to contact me directly if they want to purchase the snowflake outright.

3. The paypal account has been flagged for "undisclosed reasons" and suspended unless I show proof of shipment 7 days after the auction has been held. This doesn't work because all the snowflakes are on display until Dec. 11th.

4. If we are selling for a charity, we have to use their missionfish program which takes a percentage.

Boo-hiss! I think it's #4 that has really annoyed them. We used missionfish last year and ended up paying their crummy fees. And since paypal is an eBay company, I'm sure that is why our account was flagged too. Well, I'm not sure...but I have my suspicions.

And I am shoveling through this. I've asked people to pay by check or money order (when you do, please include your shipping address and which snowflake you won with your check). We are going to relist the remaining snowflakes using missionfish on Sunday.

My biggest worry is that bidders will think that there is something underhanded going on, that I am secretly pocketing the money and an eBay sting has happened. NO, NO, NO! I'm not taking a cent. It's all for Dana-Farber. You can go ask them!

So, here is my plea to all bidders: Don't give us on us, even though there's been a lot of bumps this year. Keep bidding. Snow is beautiful but it can be inconvenient and cause a lot of problems. But would you want a world without it?