My life, in volumes by Danny Gregory
Our guest blogger today is the incredibly talented Danny Gregory, whose latest book, A Kiss Before You Go, has just been praised by Oprah.com’s 2.0 Book Club as “an honest—and literal—portrait of grief, charting the life and death of his wife Patti in watercolors and words.”
I was born a bibliophile. I loved the stories in their pages but I also loved the objects themselves. I would arrange and rearrange the books on my shelves. By author, then, by title, by subject, by size. I would put them in order by the colors of their spines, a spectrum across the walls of my room. Then I’d lie in bed and stare at them until they were emblazoned on my mind’s eye. I would close my eyes and ask my mum to pick any book and move it to another shelf and I would be able to tell which books she’d selected. At eight, I opened a library, putting little Dewey Decimals on each book and making a card catalog. I lent books to other kids in the neighborhood. When no one returned them, my mum ordered me to stop.
At seven, I started keeping a diary. “On Sunday, I got a fish. On Thursday, the fish died.” I wanted to make a record of my life and to have shelves full of volumes full of my doings. I felt guilty whenever I missed a day.
Here’s a page from my diary at nine. I was very into the books of naturalist Gerald Durrell and I can hear his influence in this sentence describing a trip to Northern Pakistan, “Much to the dismay of our hamster, we set off for Saidu Sharif. It was nice country…”
I was also writing novels at the time. Here’s the opening of a novel, complete with my own bookplate.
The books kept coming. I filled lots of them with stories, diaries, drawings, lists, ideas.
Shelf after shelf. It delighted the eight-year-old inside me.
At work, I always carried a book to write down ideas and concepts. Their pages are filled with crayon drawings and writing in every color of the rainbow.
I have a little book for every coat pocket. If an idea shows up, it has a place to go. And if I need to buy milk, here’s a reminder.
These are some of my journals, part of the series I began forty years ago. Only there’s been one significant change…
For years, I would write down a record of the day and how I felt, longhand, before bed or over breakfast.
But fifteen years ago, I started to draw and…
…my diaries became illustrated journals. I would draw the things I ate and drank, the view out my window, thoughts about my day. I taught myself to paint in watercolors and my pages came alive. Here’s a record of a midnight snack, a scary story about my dog, and the changing view.
When I travel, so does my journal. Here’s an olive tree on a hill overlooking Jerusalem.
Most of the pages record the way I see the world on any given day. Feeling fat and eating cake, the recent preponderance of dystopian fiction.
My drawing style changes a lot as I experiment and respond to the things I see in others’ work. For a while I was obsessed with the way illustrations in cheap children’s books were printed in just two colored inks. This was record of a trip to Boston.
I took classes at The Center for Book Arts and learned to bind my own books. I collected exotic papers and fabrics and stamped on titles in gold foil.
Sometimes I record memories from long ago, like this page about my childhood in Pakistan. Snake charmers would come by our house and perform for me in our garden.
This room is the achievement of a lifelong fantasy. My study, with one desk for writing and one for drawing. My taxidermy collection on the walls. Two dogs on the floor. And scads of book, neatly arranged.
Here’s another fantasy. A cabinet full of books I’ve had published, some in foreign languages. I’m lucky there are a growing number of books with my name on their spines, lined up on shelves on bookshops and libraries and strangers’ homes.
Here’s a stack of recent journals, covering a painful and challenging time of my life, the sudden death of my wife, Patti.
Inside there are watercolors, stories and tears. These pages in my journals were the raw materials for my most recent book, A Kiss Before You Go.
All those books I’ve been filling and rearranging are now becoming “real” books that other bibliophiles can buy and put on their own shelves. Here I am at Barnes & Noble with my book in the memoir section. Pretty cool. I hope you like it!
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