Art vs. realism in drawing

Recently, a friend commissioned a few portraits from me, and after I had finished them, I went over to her house to drop them off. While there, I told her how for so long, I felt like I wasn’t really an artist, because mostly I just really love to draw faces, and I like to draw them as realistically as possible.ย 

I think she could tell that I still harbor a little bit of self consciousness about that, and she said that she understood where I was coming from—that the art community doesn’t always have a high opinion of realism—but that she thought the only reason for that was because of photography. She felt like, if photography didn’t exist, realism would be considered just as valid a form of art.ย 

I really appreciated her saying that, and just the appreciation she has for what I do. It also got me thinking, why do photographs make realistic art less valuable? The simplest answer, I think, is that someone can produceย the same result (or something similar) with less effort. But this got me thinking, couldn’t you say the same thing about abstract or impressionistic forms of art? There are so many digital shortcuts that you can really make any kind of art, and you can probably do it in less steps using a computer.ย 

Basically, I feel like, the value of art doesn’t need to depend so much on “well technology can make that easier/better/more quickly.” I would be hard pressed to list all of the reasons why art matters, but ultimately, if a given style of art (even realism!) is meaningful to me to create, and meaningful or pleasing or just fun for someone else to see and appreciate, then I think that’s good enough.

Mostly I’m still just giving myself a pep talk and unlearning all the dismissive stuff I’ve heard or thought to myself and internalized. Because I just really, really like drawing faces ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s been a minute…

Mostly, I haven’t posted for so long because my computer won’t update to the latest version of chrome—I actually had to post this on a different computer. Haha. 

But also, a lot has happened in the last few months, so a lot has slipped my mind. 

“Love and Dirt” in Guernica Magazine. Illustration by Anne le Guern.

In terms of writing, I am beyond excited to share that my essay, Love and Dirt, was published in Guernica magazine! This essay might be my favorite I’ve ever written. And I love Guernica—I’ve read so many essays from there that changed my life and inspired me to write.ย To have an essay published there is such an honor.

I also had a poem, Acre Lot with Furnished Lodgings, published in the ever delightful and idiosyncratic Drunk Monkeys, and before that, I was able to contribute (alongside so many other wonderful authors) to Utah’s 125th anniversary anthology with a short (125 word) essay, Let Me Tell You About The Evergreens.

Healthwise, things have been a little hectic—I had some gastritis (and possibly an ulcer) which lead to some nausea and vomiting for a couple weeks, then I had Covid and Strep within a few weeks, plus the bouquet of colds and bugs the kids bring home from daycare. Then a couple weeks ago, I was bedbound for a couple days with bad vertigo that has pretty much all subsided (I took prednisone and did some exercises for BPV, and between them something helped!). 

Which is to say, this body is a little worn out and haggard. However, I have taken up drawing again more recently, and that has been a real source of happiness. I’m grateful that I’ve been up to that (drawing has mostly not been an option for the last few years, due to CFS and hand pain) and that I’ve been able to do it with some consistency. Lately I’ve felt that drawing is one of the most enjoyable and peaceful things I do. Everything else melts away and years of practice and familiarity take over. 

Hopefully I will get around to posting some portraits soon!

That’s all for now—

much love,


Don’t Call the Cops on People for Parenting While Disabled โ€” published on The Mighty

Michael’s had people call the police on him while going out with our son in public twice (yes, seriously), just because he has a visible disability… most likely because they thought that he wasn’t our sons dad or thought that he wasn’t a capable parent.

This article is about that. You can read it here.

Story Date: Honeymoon Blues and Tabernacle Road

We’ve uploaded a couple Story Dates after our first one, but so far this is my very favorite that we have ever made. I do think I’m primarily a writer at heart, but there are some great things about just recording a story and telling it verbally and visually, and I enjoy being a little bit of a jack of all trades (even if not the best, haha).

Part of why I like this one is because we got to incorporate it into our trip to St. George (many years after our honeymoon) and take some fun shots, but also I just think it’s good to normalize things like that honeymoons aren’t going to be 100% perfect and that it’s easy to set up unrealistic expectations.

Feeling a little blue for a day probably doesn’t really count as “Honeymoon Blues,” but I still think it’s worth acknowledging that it can happen at any number of different levels and is probably more common than we think. This is a great Washington Post article about general honeymoon or post-wedding blues.

That said, I hope you enjoy this story of how a blue day ended up a little brighter ๐Ÿ™‚

“Waiting for a Safety and Emissions Inspection at Jiffy Lube” published in Tar River Poetry

I’m so grateful to Luke Whisnant for publishing “Waiting for a Safety and Emissions Inspection at Jiffy Lube” in Tar River Poetry. It’s such a beautiful journal that I’ve loved for years, and it’s so exciting to appear in it.

I’ll admit that sometimes I get discouraged about the submitting process. It can be tough to get multiple rejections in a week or day, and it can be hard to go months or even years without getting an acceptance (though it certainly helps to submit more often). But I’m so grateful to those who keep encouraging me to submit, and some weeks, like when I am published on Brevity’s blog and in Tar River Poetry in the same week, I feel heard and heartened.

I realized last night, too, that both pieces published this week were written after finishing my MFA program. Honestly that means a lot to me–my MFA program was absolutely incredible and I loved it, but it can be so hard to feel like I can do this writing thing without the structure and workshops and feedback and creative atmosphere that were so abundant while I was there. So it’s nice to have a poem and an essay published from this era of writinghood.

Write on.

“Don’t Let Him Rob You Twice” published on Brevity Blog

I’ll warn you up front that this piece is about grooming behavior and sexual abuse, which I don’t talk about very often. But I do sometimes, and I’m so grateful to Brevity for publishing Don’t Let Him Rob You Twice on their blog.



Last week, I did some commissioned portraits ๐Ÿ™‚ it was so fun, and the person I worked with was so nice. She gave me permission to share them and said that she loved them, which made my day!

It’s been a while since I’ve made a habit of portrait art, but I’ve been getting back in the swing and remembering just how much I love it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Introducing Story Dates :)

Last year, a month or two into the pandemic when we weren’t doing much socially, Michael and I recorded a few videos of us telling stories from our childhood or our marriage. They were some of the funnest dates I’ve had, and I’d like to keep making them every few months (they’re a lot of work, haha).

We had thought about making a private YouTube channel to share them with our friends a while back, but we decided to go ahead and make them public to anyone who wanted to watch, and uploaded the first one today. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you enjoy!

“The Nonfiction of Skin” published in Grist

Most happily, my essay The Nonfiction of Skin was published as a craft essay on Grist: A Journal of The Literary Arts this week.

Of the various things I could warn you about for this essay (length, the occasional mention of writing theory, a rather wandering approach), the most important, I think, is that this essay, as it’s title suggests, is about skin. Indeed, this essay lives up to its topic, delving into cultural taboos and medical curiosity alike. (Perhaps I am over selling the essay; consider this note a disclaimer of content rather than a promise of delivery).

I think I toe a line of propriety and possess at least some impulse towards discreteness, but, in any case, consider yourself warned. ๐Ÿ™‚

Michael’s dysphagia: deciding to only eat soft foods

Michael and I decided to share something that has been on our minds and going on in our lives.

Earlier this week, I begged Michael to embrace a soft food diet. We’ve been building to this decision for a long time, really, and I think we both feel that it was more or less long over due.

Michael has dysphagia, and has since long before I met him, if not his whole life. This means that he has difficulty swallowing. In Michael’s case, it is common for his esophagus to spasm around a piece of food, such that it stays lodged in his throat, causing his face and sometimes his entire body to intermittently spasm with the increasing tension. These episodes sometimes last a few minutes, other times for a few hours.

For most of his life, Michael’s philosophy has been to not let CP limit his activities. This approach has served him well, helping him relish his time as a karate white-through-black belt student in his childhood, as a math and economics major, as a law student, as an attorney, as a racquetball player, as a biker, and in so many other ways.

It has also been Michael’s approach to food. Instead of telling himself to make his food softer, he tells himself that he should chew more carefully. That he should take smaller bites. That if only he could discipline his mind, his dysphagia wouldn’t be an issue. Sometimes, I’ve had that mindset too. I can’t say how many times I have prompted Michael to chew more slowly, or reacted less than sympathetically when he got food stuck because he was distracted by facebook or something.

We’ve been married for over six years now, and parents for almost five. A while back, I started asking Michael to avoid especially tough foods while eating in front of the kids. I didn’t want Jeffrey and Sam to bear the recurrent stress that Michael might get food stuck. I didn’t want them to see him coughing up and throwing up, which can often happen, or to see the spasms in his body and face that happens when food gets stuck.

Watching Michael have food stuck in his esophagus feels like watching a seizure. It feels very real and alarming. It is a crisis every time.

I’ve asked Michael to go on soft food diets before, when he gets stuck over and over again, multiple times a day for days in a row. We went on a liquid diet when he was taking the bar exam and the stress was making it almost impossible for him to eat any meal without getting stuck. We’ve done similar, though usually less strict diets every once in a while since becoming parents.

But no matter how non-stressed Michael is, food still gets stuck. He still spends his meals coughing up and gagging even when it doesn’t get stuck. I think it’s been happening more often lately, but it’s also possible that it just affects me more deeply. It does affect me more. I feel more stressed about it than I used to. I feel inadequate. I feel like my efforts to make little adjustments to our meals and to encourage Michael to chew in the six years we’ve been married haven’t made any purchase. I don’t want my kids to see Michael get stuck regularly, even mildly, and I don’t want to feel a recurring sense of jeopardy for the father of my children.

On Monday, when I brought this up with Michael, what I really said was “Michael, love. I’m done getting food stuck. I want to make a dysphagia diet part of our life. Permanently.” I was not conveying any sort of ultimatum, and I’m confident he knew that. Rather, I was conveying a sense of desperation, and a statement of critical need.

He said, “Okay. We’re done getting food stuck.”

I said, “I know it’s your experience. I know it’s your body. But it’s my experience too. Every time you get food stuck, I have an experience too, and so does anyone else around, especially the kids.”

He said, “I agree.”

I kept sharing how I felt, and Michael listened.

This week, I’ve made omelets for dinner and soft taco filling in pita bread (by far the toughest food on our new list). I’ve tried blitzing vegetables and rice into a soft, fine pilaf texture in the blender (with little success), and tried steaming-then-frying okra (with better success). In preparation for a day when we might go out more, I have looked into restaurants serving soft meals, including looking through menus of restaurants at the Salt Lake City airport.

But the other night, as I was getting a grocery order ready for pick up today, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and grief on Michael’s behalf.

Michael is a foodie. He loves to eat good food. We’ve already discussed having occasional compromises in safe spaces, like getting poa de queijo to eat at home, slowly, with soft food on hand as a back-up. But it still hurt, to take Michael’s favorite pre-made sandwiches off the order, to imagine asking Michael to eat his pizza cut up in fine strips with a fork instead of eat it whole from the slice.

When it comes to food, no change is an easy change. Even if it makes life better. Even if it makes someone more healthy, or more safe.

Honestly, I don’t have a good point about all this. Except that something as little as food is actually huge, and that life is complicated, and that, even though Michael has asked me not to call this a sacrifice on his part, I feel that it is a sacrifice, and I feel grateful to Michael for accepting my plea.

I want to make this the best transition it can be, and hopefully make it an upgrade. I want to make a mean mac n cheese and incredible smoothies (and, if you know of any great soft-food recipes, please send them my way!). But the loss is still there. No matter how good this upgrade is, it’ll still be a hard one.