Saturday, March 14, 2015

Piano Lesson Memories

This is part of a series I am working on about my history of music education.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Finding Your Stomach

10 years ago today, my mother passed away.

Even though this page from my illustrated novel is not finished, it feels right to post it now. What is ever really finished anyway?

I have learned that you can have the most devastating loss and your gut can still be there in the morning, or even 10 years later - not just in tact, but even stronger.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Don't Listen to the Data Monster.

Stare at the data monster right in the face in my studio. I'll give you a snack. A series of drawings/comic pieces/illustrated writings will be on display at my studio during our open house happening October 18th and 19th, 12-4pm at the West Carroll Art Studios at 3200 W. Carroll (at Kedzie) in Chicago. It is part of the Chicago Artists Month events going on all over town.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I sometimes suffer from a fear of missing out. Maybe I missed something fun once on a Friday night and ever since then I'll get anxious to be somewhere, anywhere, when the weekend comes around. More recently though, these fears have mostly subsided. I realized that most folks weren't actually doing anything I wanted to do. I had to start my own party.
I took an informal survey of how my friends typically spend a Friday night and illustrated it below. There, I feel better now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Resurrection Dreams (Comic Excerpt)

I have an illustrated story, a drawn writing, a comic, a graphic novel, a whatever you want to call it, that I am currently working on.
I found one panel from that story to work just as well on its own, out of context of this particular storyline I have in progress. The following comic excerpt is from a story about when I was very sick.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chick Pea Pancakes, You Guys!

Chick pea pancakes, you guys, chick pea pancakes! Thank you to my dear friend and neighbor, Skyler, for offering them to me on so many occasions that I finally took it upon myself to make them on my own. They are so good and easy, I have had them as a meal almost every night for the past week. The hardest step is remembering to get the flour when you are in the store. The Chick Pea flour, aka Garbanzo bean flour, can be found in most grocery stores and I hear in abundance at Indian grocers...)
I mix water and the chick peak flour 
together, I pour little silver dollars of the batter into a pan full of olive oil for a few minutes and then flip. I cover them in chopped parsley and salt. There is no such thing as too much parsley. 

There are many incredible things coming to me these days besides amazing high-protein pancakes... one of those things has been the bluegrass singer, Claire Lynch, I heard live yesterday. Music restores.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Looking Stool

In my art room, all of the stools are painted by students from years past. When a stool painting starts to fade or get chipped away, it is taken out of rotation and someone from art club usually paints a new design. These stools become well-known icons in the room. Some students race into the room so they can sit on their favorite stool. They are, in effect, putting their bottom on the very image that they adore but they want to "have and to hold" that stool for the 45 minute class period. There are several students that love the Batman stool in particular. The only problem is that the bat logo has completely worn off. There are no signs of Batman anymore. It must have never had a sealant coat put on it. Nevertheless, the stool is still coveted. They race to get close to the Looking Stool, to an invisible image.  I guess it is why we stare at historic plaques and gravestones. It's just enough to recall an image for us that was once there. And it seems we humans want to get close to our images. 

Here is a short talk by the artist Lynda Barry about the power of the image:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Socks in a Bag

From the age of 6 until about 11, I danced in the Sheila Tully School of Irish Dance.  (Apparently there is a website now.) We had the laced up leather soft shoes, the ornate celtic designs on dresses, and the night before a feis--the name for the dance competitions--we slept with curlers in our hair. Ouch. (Apparently, the girls wear wigs now.) I cannot find any pictures from this time in my life. A true tragedy.
Vintage two-toned Umbro Shorts
I remember all of our "practices" in the basement of my Catholic school. We practiced in our Umbro gym shorts, over-sized t-shirts, athletic white socks, and criss-cross-laced-dance shoes. I remember Sheila Tully--Herself--making that distinctly satisfying 'click-click' of a tape into the cassette player and pressing the play button, the distorted accordion sounds would blare, our promenading and hops in rhythmic unison...Doting mothers would stand in the hall chatting while their daughters worked on jigs, two hand reels, hornpipes, and if you were an older girl, the hard shoe dances, too.

Once, when we were lined up in formation with one toe pointed out, Sheila Tully, herself, walked down the line and stopped in front of my toes, "No socks today?" I shook my head no and my face went flush. My mother was not doting in the background during Irish dance class to see this embarrassment and she was certainly not keeping track of my socks. If I wanted to dance with socks, I would have to be the one putting the socks in my bag.

So here I am now, 20 years later, putting socks in a bag. This time I am not going to an Irish feis. I'm heading to Rio to perform in Carnival! My mother is not here to help me pack my socks either. Instead, I am packing for a trip because of everything she taught me. She taught me to do things for myself and to go after what I want. It's her absence, once again, that has shaped her influence on me. A year before my mom passed away, I remember her telling me that she wanted to go to some community dance event at a summer festival. She always wished she danced more. She didn't care if she was the only one over 60. I never had a chance to take her there. But I am taking her spirit with me on this specific journey to Brazil, with enough sunblock for the both of us.
When I told my Aunt Mary about this amazing trip down to Rio de Janeiro to dance with Samba schools, she told me, "You know, your mother always lived through you and all of your adventures. She would have done all the things you are doing if she could."

Last week, I was volunteering at a concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music, the miraculous organization that is helping send a group of us down to Rio. At that concert, I heard this song and it described the feeling of my mom and leaving on this trip. "My mother, she once told me, you you gotta be as bright as you suitcase, it once told me, you gotta be as light as you can."

Monday, February 3, 2014

How To Dance Chicago Samba

With only 20 days away from our feet on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, we are practicing our little hearts out in the studio. Hopefully our regional styles are, um, not too apparent when we are dancing in Carnival! Sambaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Chair in the Sky

There is a great clip (or maybe this one) of the comedian Louis CK in an interview with Conan O'Brien where he is describing how ungrateful we are as humans despite everything amazing going on around us. It is true. When times get tough, I still have to thank my lucky stars for all the beautiful, incredible things going on in life. So with that, I'd like to celebrate good things happening all around me despite the rain cloud hovering over me this season.
1. I have the most amazing students who keep me going everyday and bring me joy and purpose. There is so much love in my classroom.

2. I have my health. I walk and talk and breathe miraculously everyday. I like walking so much that I will do it--to a beat--in go-go boots for miles at a time.

3. When I have forgotten to eat, my adopted Greek grandmother/landlady next door who doesn't speak English will offer me sustenance. She speaks the universal language of "tupperware-full of-stew" with a chunk of Feta, and Greek coffee. We sit on the back stairwell and watch the leaves change color. It's a lesson in accepting change and the passing of time. Her legs are not doing so well these days, you guys...pray for Anthoula's knees.

4. When I have forgotten momentarily that I am an artist that makes things, I discover a new cartoonist and laugh heartily for the first time in weeks over the idea of pouring lemonade over children to keep them quiet. This comic is from the Moomins series by the great Tove Jansson who I had to look up. She is such a rebel! Look at her picture! Remember: smoking is bad, comics are good!
5. I also had an open house in my studio recently and shared my own cartoons with the public. And gosh darn it, people like them.

6. When I have no more words though, I can still sing... with Polly, with waves crashing on the cold Chicago beach, with my new ukulele chords I just learned.

 Fall seven times, get up eight. -Japanese Proverb

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to Bury a Fly Named Chester

During my 8th grade advisory period (sometimes called homeroom at other schools), I was leading my students through an extremely important team-building activity...clearly. While this was happening, one of my students was chasing a fly around the room. After repeated attempts from me to get him to stop, I finally said, "Joe, that fly is the reincarnated spirit of my childhood pet dog named Chester. Do not hurt Chester the Fly. Join us at the table!" What did he proceed to do? He pointed his rubberband at the fly and WHAM! He got Chester! The poor fly's guts exploded on the ceiling.
Students swormed around the scene of the crime, swaddled Chester in tissues, and claimed tupperware as his temporary coffin. Then, students set up signs and made a little alter in the corner where Chester had died. Funeral arrangements began immediately. It just all happened so quickly.
The next day, I asked each student to write on a sticky note what they had learned from Chester the Fly. Even Joe. Some replies: "To not be annoying or else you'll get rubberbanded." "I learned that even a fly can be entertaining during Ms. Fitz's boring activity." "Even flies can have funerals."

Then, I brought my whole advisory group behind the school with the remains of Chester the Fly. We found a good tree and began digging with spoons. Our beloved swaddled Chester was laid to rest with the lessons he taught us entombed with him.

Chester taught me a lot, too. Life is short. Celebrate it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Two Hands, One Mind

As I was giving instruction at the front of class the other day, an 8th grade boy sitting right in front of me began to crash around the contents of the pencil bin. While continuing to make noise, he put up his other hand, looked regretfully at me, and apologized for the other side of his body. Who can't relate to those opposing actions that jumble inside of us simultaneously? Who hasn't had opposing forces battle within us? Who hasn't wanted to do one thing, but still did the other thing?
 It reminds me of that psychology study where a man whose corpus callosum (the connecting tissue between the two brains) had malfunctioned and he watched as one hand buttoned his shirt while the other hand worked to unbutton his shirt at the same time.
So, what I want to know is, which hand wins?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What if I told you I never went to Rome?

In the deluge of tourists and cameras, I think I saw Rome. My pasty Irish, sunscreen-soaked skin dutifully walked under the blazing Roman summer sun for 10 days. I survived on pizza and delicious cold Roman water from public fountains stored in my stainless steel water bottle. I went from one museum, ruin, or basilica to the next on foot like a thirsty-minor-in-art-history-pilgrim. Oh, Rome, you hot, delicious devil, you! You are artificial and authentic, common and precious, staged and unexpected. In Rome, you will see that the priceless Medieval mosaic glistening on a church facade hovers above the knock-off Gucci Made-In-China purses displayed on a sidewalk blanket. The marble saints will look out over the thieves...yes, even your museum tour guide will growl "THIEF, GYPSY!" at a woman in the security line as everyone clutches their bags to their chests in the crowded, roped-in line. That young girl and that old Italian man will probably brush shoulders again tomorrow in that bustling sweaty economy called the Vatican Museum security line.
You will see ancient monuments, retro 50s street signs, and smartphone vendors co-mingling. You will see refrigerator magnets of the pope and then see 500 year old frescoes of the pope, but probably not the actual pope because he's in Brazil and you planned your trip to Rome before checking the pope's schedule on his website.  You will see hand-carved graffiti in Latin by 1st century Christians on the stone walls of the catacombs and then also see large men dressed in plastic-armored gladiator costumes that want to take a picture with you for 5 euros. People say "Ciao!" on Vespas wearing high heels and talking on their cell phones next to posters for sale of Audrey Hepburn on a Vespa. There are 18 year old boys from Bangladesh who also say, "VaticanNoLineGoodPrice!" and follow you with brochures. There are Catholics, actually, still. A lot of them. There are Americans with their children in strollers. There are security cameras and gelato and cafe espresso, the best you've ever had. There are Italian men who will sit at your cafe table when they realize you are alone and buy you a rose and try to hold your hand in the street and promise you Rome and then storm off in a fury of Italian expletives and Italian hand gestures because you tell him you have a boyfriend. After knowing someone for only 20 minutes, you will now be alone with a rose in your hand in the middle of the cobble-stoned street and take it back to your hotel and drop it out the window and watch it fall onto the cobble-stoned street like you're in a movie...before the garbage truck roars down the quiet street and crushes its artificially dyed petals. This will make you want to cry and laugh at the same time but you'll remember that this happened 100 meters away from the Pantheon (as advertised by your hotel) and you will walk back and stare at the ancient dome for perspective. You will also see a man at midnight at a bus stop who wants to practice his English but only talk about one topic and one topic only and if you talk about that topic he will help you take a taxi and not a bus to the airport. You will not talk about that topic and, instead take the midnight bus for 7 euros to the airport. You will have no euros left at the airport to have one more cappuccino but be thankful that you did not have to talk about that one topic and one topic only with that man. You will forget the names of the churches and museums and palazzos while recounting your trip on the floor of the Munich Airport waiting for your flight connection. You will look at how many imaginary internet points you've earned on Facebook for posting a photo via a free wifi signal.
You will be just like the thousands of other people trying to look at and take pictures...of themselves, of themselves now with their hands on their hips off-center, of themselves smiling, ok, now one without the sunglasses...posing in front of other pictures, or reproductions of pictures, of something important, something rare, of something you will save on a screen inside your camera, pass through airport security x-rays, and maybe, on the other side of the ocean, if you remember the pains it took to stand in that one spot like countless others and press a button, you will remember to press a few other buttons later and point at the screen, and say, "Look, Rome! Isn't it amazing?"

Gift shop clerk surfs at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Mormon missionaries visit the basilica.

Colosseum workers

Father and daughter

Mother and daughter in Capitoline Museum

Medieval church next to facade covering scaffolding with Dior ad.

Touching the stone pillow of St. Francis of Assisi, obviously.