The Birth of a Novel

I have gotten in the habit of writing on Georg’s birthday and also on his death day. However, this year, February 18 came and went and I did not manage to write. This is not because I was not thinking of him on this birthday, but I was busy preparing for a photo shoot of his large scale drawings. Let’s just say I was preoccupied with things other than blogging. I was with my sister that day—she came up from Chicago to help with the photo shoot—and we ate cannoli in his honor, but I did not write for him.

Honestly, blogging has really gotten away from me the last few years. This is due in part to the fact that I have been grappling with a novel, The Lone Snake: The Story of Sofonisba Anguissola. At long last, the book is done and will be released by Water’s Edge Press in May, 2022. It has been a long road.

I first learned of Sofonisba in 1995 when I wrote a short article about her for New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams. She was born in Cremona in 1532, and although her father was not an artist, he supported her artistic talent with education. She studied with Michelangelo and served at the Spanish court of Philip II, teaching the young Queen Isabel to draw and paint. She married twice but never had any children and lived to be ninety-three. The family name, “anguis sola” is Latin for “the lone snake,” and that metaphor for her life would not leave me.

Ever since I read about her unique and inspiring life, I wanted to tell her story. I had many years of false starts as I looked for the best way to craft the tale and many years of no writing at all. Not until 2017 did I buckle down and begin to write in earnest. Even then, it took me a while. Writing a novel is not easy.

Well, here is it, a quarter of a century after my initial thought to write this book. Now it is real. I am proud of what I have done, proud that I stuck with it. Any nervousness I feel regarding what others will think about the book is kept at bay by the thought that Georg would be so proud. I did it for you, Dad. Happy belated birthday.

Radishes, Right Roads, and Butterflies

What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out come sighs, laughter, and dreams. -Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist (18 Feb 1883-1957)

It is my father’s birthday today, so of course, I was happy to see the quote from the writer, Nikos Kazantzakis pop up on my Facebook feed. This writer was very near and dear to Georg’s heart. He saw in Kazantzakis a spiritual brother. They are both Greek, born on the same day. Dad especially liked The Last Temptation of Christ (which he advised me to read when I was still a teenager, if I remember correctly) and also St. Francis. I have two copies of that book on my book self. One he gave me, one I inherited after he passed. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever read it, despite the duplicate copies. It is yet another book in the overwhelmingly long list of “books I plan to read.”

I opened it up this morning in honor of Georg. It is a treat to read books that belonged to him because he was such an avid underliner. He usually used a red pen and would sometimes encase an entire line in a rectangle or put stars or squiggles next to a noteworthy sentence. For really important lines, he would use not only a red pen to underline, but also a pink highlighter to make a whole paragraph glow.

In Georg’s copy of St. Francis, in the early chapters, he was using just a black, fine point Sharpie. The first thing that jumps out at me is “There are many roads. Which is my road?” Then, much deeper into the story, he got his other underlining tools in gear. Here, there is a long passage about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. This section got a lot of red lines and pink highlighting and stars and rectangles. “Suffer some more, struggle some more, transform yourself into a butterfly.” In the margin, Georg wrote in capital letters TRANSFORMATION.

I really appreciate seeing what things jumped out at my dad and must have informed the things he was struggling with in his art and in his life. The things he pointed to for himself also have meaning for me. I continue to find my way and look for ways to make this world a better place. I believe that somehow, my dad, gone now for nearly 8 years, is inextricably intwined in everything I do.

Recently, there is some movement afoot in the realm of Georg’s art. Potential buyers are stepping up. It is exciting and a bit nerve-wracking at the same time. On one hand, I know Georg’s art speaks for itself. On the other hand, I hope to be a good agent, a good advocate for his name. In the end, everything will happen just the way it needs to. The message I am getting from Georg and Nikos today is that there will always be an abundance of radishes and I will know my right road when I see it. And in the end, we all become butterflies.

Happy Birthday, Georg!

I miss you, still.

Seven Years

How can it be seven years since Georg left? But here it is. I remember that week of his death like it was yesterday. He died very late in the evening of September 26, 2013 at Memorial Hospital in Shebogyan. He had been disintegrating physically for about a week or so prior. He could no longer swallow water without choking, his bones were crumbling and coming unhinged inside his body. Pain was everywhere.

I remember that my friend Brenda suggested to me that instead of saying to him, “Hang on, Dad, we’ll get through this,” I might consider telling him, “It’s okay, Dad, you can let go.” So I did. Later that night, he died. I hate the thought that mom and I had left him in his hospital bed, looking a little bit more cheerful since the doctor had come in at 8:30 and asked us all if Georg wanted to sign a “do not resuscitate order,” just in case. He smiled and nodded yes. So, he signed. Now he had double permission. Mine and the medical profession’s. He was free to go. Mom and I were happy to see him smile, so we went and got root beer floats in his honor. A few hours later, the nurse called me. Root beer floats have never been the same.

I’ve been thinking about Georg a lot lately, especially while I’m driving. It’s as though he often joins me in the car. I wonder why that is. He is suddenly there with me and I just start crying because I miss him. I want him to really be there with me. And he always says, I am really here. In fact, he is saying it right now as I type.

I was down at the lake at sunrise the other morning, and I wrote a poem in his honor. On the occasion of the seventh anniversary of his death, I will share it here.

Memory of My Father at the Lake

We were nearing the end of you
You knew it, I knew it
but it was not something
we talked about.

We came down to this very shore
with sandwiches and a couple beers.
Looking out at the lake,
you said, Let’s make one more road trip.

Knowing this would never happen,
I said, Yes! Let’s do it!

Now it is sunrise and you,
seven years gone.
The lake calls me to remember,
gently undulates on and on.

An immense liquid mirror of the sky,
delivering a bridge to the sun,
reflecting you and me
and all of creation
in the wave of its hand.

No words can even begin to sum up all that Georg was to me, all the doors that he opened through his art. I introduced Dad to my therapist, Dan, that summer when Death was lurking. Dad was languishing at Morningside Rehab Center and we met in the drab little common room with the couches and the big color TV. Months and months later, after Georg was long gone, Dan told me that it had seemed to him that summer that Georg’s spirit was already gone. That was in May of 2013. Dan also said that Georg had a strong connection to other realms and you could see them peeking through his art. His paintings were glimpses into other dimensions of light, sound, and vibration. Yup. I believe it.

When he left this plane of existence, Georg knew full well where he was going.