Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson are an illustrator/writer, wife/husband duo who spend all their waking hours making stuff together: books with pictures and words, obstreperous children, and constant messes everywhere. Other details are available here.
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About five years ago, Robbi decided that we were going to start a small press that would publish children’s picture books. After all, we made books. We had kids. Our kids liked books. We liked our kids.
The one small problem was that I’d never written children’s books before and didn’t really know if I could. So before we committed to starting Bobbledy, I set out to see if I’d be up to the challenge.
For 100 consecutive days, I wrote a children’s book manuscript. Or, at least, I tried. Some of my efforts quickly turned dark or bizarre. But a handful turned into books that we’ve gone on to publish: Bobby and the Robots (day 44), Archipelago (day 49), The Imaginary Dragon (day 54), and Henny Wampum Had a Really Big Head (day 61), and The Girl With Frogs In Her Ears (day 72) all grew from seeds planted in that 3+ months of flailing.
And then there was In Egypt, There Are Pyramids (day 64). I remember writing it while sitting at the table in our cabin in Alaska. It was the first sunny day in a week, and the world seemed very beautiful.
The original copy was a string of simple observations about the world:
In Egypt, there are pyramids. In Arizona there are canyons.
In your grandma’s house, there are doorknobs. On the playground is a swing with one chain too many on one side.
And so on.
The book didn’t have much of a point, but we liked how it sounded. In turning it into a Bobbledy title, we created a frame: a little boy would explore the world, taking in the large and small beautiful things that he saw wherever he went.
We kept the title as it had been when it tumbled out of my brain.
Robbi did some gorgeous illustrations:
We finished the book and were ready to send it out to all the kids in the Bobbledy Club. But before we sent it to the printer, we decided to share it with our agent Meredith. She liked it and decided to send it along to Erin Stein, our editor and publisher for Babies Ruin Everything.
Erin also liked the book. So much, in fact, that she asked if we might like to publish it with Macmillan instead.
To cut to the chase, we said yes.
We wondered if there was a catch. And there was. But it wasn’t really a “catch” at all. She already loved the idea and and the tone and the voice and the look of the illustrations, but she wanted to sharpen the focus and clarify the message. Which caused us to think hard and do a lot of work on the text. It also led us to scrap all but one of the illustrations I showed you above and to come up with a whole bunch of new ones.
Most important, it led us to make the book a whole lot better. That’s what editors do, and Erin is very good at her job.
Now that the book has been rewritten and re-illustrated and designed and proofed and is sitting at the printer waiting to be born, we can give you a glimpse of version 2.0.
The protagonist is still the same little boy.
But now he has a dog.
He still travels the world observing the very large beautiful things. But now there are a lot more critters on the savannah.
Halfway through the book there is a pivot. For the first stretch of pages, the boy has been “traveling” the world by reading books and imagining points distant. But then he looks out his window and sees that wonder and beauty is all around him. Pretty much everywhere he looks.
At the bottom of the swimming pool, for example.
This illustration was retained from our original version. I’m pretty sure my heart would have broken if it hadn’t.
The book still springs from a place deep inside of us. But now it has a new name.
We’re thrilled with this book. Its message and central imperative is one that both of us hold dear: to move through one’s day with open eyes, deliberately seeing the world, registering the beauty to be found everywhere.
We’ve recently found out that the publication date is February 7, 2017. Which means that, after waiting more than forty years to publish our first trade picture book, we only have to wait four months for the next one.
If you like the sound of the book, or just want to support us, Everywhere, Wonder is available for preorder now (FYI, preorders help a book a lot; many thanks if you’re able to add a copy to your library).
You can also like the book on its Facebook page.
We’ll be posting more photos and news in months to come, but we wanted to “officially” announce our new arrival. The due date of which, happens to be two days prior to the expected delivery of our other pending release.
The other day, at approximately the same moment, Robbi and I glanced over at the calendar, saw that it was 2016, and did a bit of math.
It turns out we have been in Chestertown for ten years now. Even though it seems like we got here five minutes ago.
After the shock subsided, Robbi and I launched into a reminiscence of that day, about eleven years ago, when we realized we were sad. We had what we were supposed to want: great jobs at a fancy design firm, a row house in trendy Baltimore neighborhood, an elegant blue dog named Iggy.
But we didn’t have time to make stuff together. And all we really wanted to was make stuff together.
And so we decided to make a change.
Plan A was grad school (MFA in fiction) for me. Robbi had gotten a lot out of her MFA. Maybe if I got one, too, we could go somewhere and teach together, and write and make art and that would make us happy. We were full of hope as I sent out my applications.
But the powers that be had other plans. Plan A was a bust.
And so we came up with Plan B: quit our jobs, sell our house, and move into the hayloft above Robbi’s mom’s pottery studio. Our parents did not think this was a good idea. They were probably right. We were chucking our jobs and our health insurance for the prospect of certain financial ruin.
But it didn’t matter. We knew we needed to try something different. And so we took a long, hard look at the hayloft in question. On one hand, it was unoccupied. On the other hand, it was full of 30 years of dusty stuff: lumber, broken pottery, cardboard boxes, various branches, old tires, ancient furniture, and other glorious debris Robbi’s dad (the ultimate pragmatist) couldn’t bring himself to throw away.
And yet we had a plan. And the will. And Robbi’s parents’ permission to proceed.
So we spent our weekends for the next six months clearing out junk, one van-load at a time. Eventually we could see the floors and walls. And so we hung some insulation and some sheetrock.
And made ourselves a brand-new home.
The heart of Plan B was to make books until we ran out of money. To make sure we’d actually do it instead of lying around watching TV, we set up a subscription service. People gave us money and we promised to make and send them 10 books in the year to come. We had no idea what we were doing. We had no idea how to make books or publish books or sell books. But we decided to do it anyway.
We gave our venture a name. It was a terrible name. It was our name.
Armed with our terrible name, we rolled up our sleeves and made some books.
(We made them on our dining room table.)
We sent them out into the world. We had no idea if they were any good. But we were having a good time.
Making books was the end of our plans. We had zero expectations or even hopes of anything beyond the making.
But things started happening.
Suddenly, we were standing in front of a (admittedly tiny) crowd who expected us to have something to say. (We had nothing to say.) We mumbled and fumbled and yammered, and afterward sold a few books and even signed our names. It was at that moment we discovered that beyond the pleasure of MAKING books is the pleasure of sharing them with people.
We got an opportunity to do more of the same a few months later when Carla Massoni of Chestertown’s own Massoni Gallery included us in a group show of young artists.
Our central piece was a narrative mural that rose up from one of our books and wound its way up one wall, across a ceiling, and back down the opposite wall. But we also showed some framed illustrations from our books and some of Robbi’s clay monoprints. The show put our work in front of a bunch of new people. It made us feel like actual artists. Also, we sold a lot of books. We doubled our subscribership. We met some amazing fellow artists.
One of them, a painter named J.T., asked to us paint a mural on the wall of a gallery in DC. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, brought sleeping bags, and painted and slept throughout the weekend, finishing in the wee hours Sunday morning. It was a panel from our book For the Love of God. It was extremely large.
We reached our goal of making ten books together that first year, but (as we had anticipated) we pretty much burned through our savings. It was time to contemplate a return to the “real” world.
But then, at just the right moment, I got a miracle of a phone call from my old boss Clifford, asking if I might like to come back to work half time, from home, as a writer.
I said yes. (I might have said “hell yes.”) Suddenly fortified with a predictable income, we kept on making books. Because we hadn’t yet run out of ideas.
Inspired by the fun we’d had with our first halting performance at Tom’s bookstore, we started refining our act and taking it on the road. As it turned out, we DID have something to say. We were living a story that people found interesting. And slowly we figured out how to tell it.
Part of telling our story was finding ways to meet other people who cared about the kind of work we were making. Our Idiots’Books titles are best described as “odd, commercially nonviable picture books for adults.” They are not comics, but we found an approximate relevance and kinship at a couple of small press and comic shows.
About nine months into our adventure, we applied for (and were miraculously granted a table at) the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Festival in NYC. The first day, we charged way too much for our books and sold almost none of them. The second day, we made minor adjustments and fared much better. But the real takeaway from the show was that there was this army of other people who were also interested in combining pictures and words in unexpected ways. We were excited and energized.
Another part of telling our story has been sharing it with students who are, themselves, interested in being creators of some sort. In the winter of 2008, we returned to our alma mater for our first joint teaching gig, where we spent January leading six writers and six visual artists through a monthlong exploration of collaborative book making. They made astonishing stuff. Stuff that they probably would not have made if we hadn’t been there. Our mission evolved from just making books to figuring out ways to empower other creators to make books (or really any creative product), too.
Feeling bold (and somewhat lonely), we hosted a festival, Subscribers that Rock, and invited our talented creative friends to come do their thing. Thanks to Drew, Brian, Rich, other Brian, Victor, Aidan, and Jim for making the trek and dazzling Chestertown with two days of literature, music, stand-up comedy, and string theory.
Feeling even bolder, we decided to embrace responsibility and welcomed the first of our three (and soon to be four) children into the barn. Alden was extremely small. Every time I carried her to the changing table, I feared that I would break her. The good news: I did not break her.
Time passed. We changed a lot of diapers. We kept making books. We kept finding new ways to share them. We kept telling our story whenever and wherever people would listen.
People started asking us to do stuff. People who worked in the real world of books. An editor named Liz asked us create a series of DYI, single-sheet recombining narratives for the Tor.com website. We called them One-Page WondersI remember getting her email asking if we’d be interested in taking on the project. I remember running around whooping with Robbi, so thrilled were we with the opportunity.
Not long after, essayist named Kim, who we met at a literary conference, asked us to speak at a symposium celebrating the essay.
We gave a 12-minute talk with lots of illustrated slides. We were sharing the stage with a bunch of real-live writers who had published real-live books and won real-live awards and actually gotten their MFAs. But we made the audience laugh and even inspired a person or two (or so we were told).
After that, we really got the speaking bug. And so we were thrilled when an illustrator named Jaimie stopped by our table at the Small Press Expo and asked us to speak at the illustrious ICON7. ICON is a huge, international illustration conference where the biggest names in the field convene to share ideas and swap nicely drawn business cards. Based on our (utter lack of) contributions to date, we had NO BUSINESS speaking at ICON, but Jaimie was on the board, and there was an effort afoot to include “up and coming” creators alongside the titans and legends. And so we came and told our story. And made a bunch of new friends.
It was around that time that an editor named Dan (who we’d also met at SPX), decided to include us in the New York magazine Approval Matrix (placing us, to our delight, in the Brilliant and Lowbrow quadrant).
(Because who wants to be despicable and highbrow?)
It became our unofficial motto.
Doing our best to live up to our adopted quadrant, we kept making books. And sharing them with people.
The merry men of Bombadil, who we met one night after one of their gigs, visited our studio, checked out our stuff, and asked us to create the art for their next album. We felt like the people rock stars turned to for their album art. Because, suddenly, we were those people.
The same editor named Liz (she of the One Page Wonders fame) wrote us again and asked us to create chapter illustrations for the online release of Cory Doctorow’s book Makers. This was our biggest commission to date. It was a vast and audacious project to begin with, but we saw an envelope and wanted to push it. Liz indulged our idea to design the illustrations as 81 interchangeable “tiles” that recombine in more ways than there are atoms in the universe.
Our friend Joshua Wolf Shenk, who was then the director of the literary house at Washington College, commissioned us to create a mural on the ceiling and four walls of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College. Called Six Degrees of Frances Bacon, it was a huge web of literary greats (and Kevin Bacon), each connected with satirical phrases. It became the anchor for a profile about us in Baltimore Magazine.
On perhaps the most coincidentally important day of our lives in books (though we had no idea at the time) a guy named Jesse, who worked for Disney, bought one of our self-published mix-and-match books at a small press show in New York City. Instead of forgetting about it, some many months later, he shared it with an editor named Erin who worked at Little Brown, and who called us up and asked us if we might like to make a book with her.
No matter that it was a book about kid-friendly superheroes who aren’t allowed to do anything more untoward than glare at one another. This was our proverbial “big break.” I wish I had a video of the jumping and yelling we did that day.
Working within the narrow creative parameters of the Disney/Marvel universe, we rolled up our sleeves and made the best book about pacifist super heroes that we possibly could.
This book provided the occasion for a writer named Lela Moore at the New York Times to write a little piece about Robbi and me, Idiots’Books, and our first foray into commercial publishing.
And it gave us a chance to show our editor Erin that we were willing to work our butts off, that we always met our deadlines, and that we were fun to collaborate with.
About which, Pulitzer-prize winning book critic (and all-around stellar human being) Michael Dirda wrote a glowing review in the Washington Post.
In what is perhaps the peak moment of her past decade, Robbi had the opportunity to interview the legendary Robert Crumb, live, on stage, a block from our house. Apparently unaware of Crumb’s reputation as a difficult interview, Robbi did her research, came loaded for bear, and stood toe-to-toe with this legendary creator. While winning his heart in the process.
We kept making books, but without making it our explicit mission, we also started spending more and more time on stage talking about them. Through our appearance at ICON7, we met illustrators Melanie Reim and Anelle Miller, who gave us the ultimate honor of presenting the keynote address at the Society of Illustrators Educator’s Symposium.
One day at the AWP conference, we met a guy who, after leafing through our Idiots’Books offerings, suggested that if we were to offer a subscription-based book club for kids, he’d buy ten club memberships on the spot. We thought about that for a while (our initial thought was, “no way, that’s too much work”) and launched Bobbledy Books. (Our subsequent thought was “this is too much work, but we will find a way.”)
Bobbledy gave us the opportunity to ask our friends Drew Bunting and Brian Slattery, genius musicians and songwriters, to pour their heart and soul and musical wizardry into three incredible children’s albums.
And the chance to collaborate with composer, actor, singer, songwriter, puppeteer, and one-man-band Jordan Allan White on a fourth. (For anyone in the Atlanta area, Jordan’s musical puppet show Loggerhead Island is about to open at the Georgia Aquarium. It’s amazing. Check it out.
It was an extraordinary amount of work, and we’ll probably never do anything like it again, but it was an opportunity to push ourselves in yet another creative direction. (If you are keen to get your hands on one of these, we still have a few left.)
The election of 2012 came around. The cast of characters seemed too odd and problematic to resist the opportunity for satire. And so we created a three-panel mix-and-match book that allowed the reader to recombine the physical characteristics and position platforms of the ten most prominent candidates into 1,000 possible candidates. Our good friend Josh created a slick interactive version that you can still play today (if you are nostalgic for days when folks like Herman Caine and Rick Santorum were the leading edge of nutty.)
And then there was our letterpress adventure, a flurry of exploration of an entirely new medium in partnership with our friend and printer Jodi Bortz. We made cards and invitations and family trees and stationery. Even though Robbi and I are taking an indefinite vacation from the letterpress game, Jodi has created her own enterprise, Blue Canary Letterpress, which still offers many of Robbi’s designs in addition to plenty of Jodi’s own. Her shop is about a block from the barn, and you can swing by to see the Chandler in Price in action most days.
We must give thanks to Elise, who gave us a chance to take the stage at TedX. (If you decide to watch the video of our talk, take heart to know that my microphone issue gets sorted out about a minute in.)
And to Gabby Blair of Design Mom fame, who asked us to come speak at Alt Summit, and who recently paid us the ultimate compliment of featuring our picture book Babies Ruin Everything among her Four Picture Books You’ll Love column.
The blogger, innovator, and conference creator Laura Mayes saw our dog and pony show at Alt and asked us to come speak at Mom 2.0.
It was there that, wandering around the exhibitor halls one afternoon, we found our way onto the TODAY show set and accidentally discovered that we enjoy sitting together chatting on video.
And then there’s design director, Lisa Kelsey, who we also met us at ICON7 (see what a big deal THAT turned out to be, thank you Jaime Zollars!), and offered us the opportunity to be profiled in an issue of Family Circle magazine.
And let us stand up and shout from the rooftops about how much we love and trust and would be nowhere without our magnificent advisor/truth teller/literary agent Meredith, who has (so far) boldly sold five of our book projects to Macmillan.
And this seems like the perfect moment to (re)introduce our (very nice) editor and publisher Erin Stein (she of Super Hero Squad fame), who a few years ago started her own imprint at Macmillan and, in a dramatic flourish of believing in us, promptly acquired five of our book projects.
Erin gave us the thrill of publishing our first hardcover children’s book this past July.
Erin gave us the thrill of making and anticipating the arrival of our second hardcover picture book Everywhere, Wonder this coming February.
And she has given us the truly mind-boggling thrill of working on and publishing our first illustrated novels, a middle grades series called The Real McCoys, the creation of which is currently occupying the lion’s share of our waking moments (and plenty of our non-waking ones, as well), and which will arrive on bookshelves sometime next fall. Here are the main characters, Milton and Moxie.
Beyond the books and gourmet donuts (Erin really knows how to host a production meeting), Erin won our hearts during our first official visit to the Macmillan offices in the Flatiron building (yes, the Flatiron Building that we always stop to gaze up upon and take pictures of ourselves in front of and wonder what’s happening inside of) by taking us on a private tour of the 18th-floor balcony and letting us know we have a second home in New York.
What started out as a desire to not be sad has turned into an decade-long avalanche of creative opportunity. The range of things we’ve had the chance to make and do and experience over the past ten years defies belief, let alone my ability document them all.
In an attempt to remember, I just looked up at the shelf of stuff we’ve made. 70 books and counting. Four children’s albums. A handful posters and broadsides. A line of t-shirts and onesies. Various cards and postcards and invites and business cards and logos and websites and original art.
A bunch of nice write ups in various newspapers and magazines.
Dozens of talks and workshops and class visits and critique sessions on colleges, schools, conferences, and libraries across the country.
It’s impossible to hold in our heads at one time. And so we wrote it down here. To remind ourselves that it happened. To remind ourselves that it’s only the beginning.
A million thanks to the people mentioned throughout this post, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. Without the rest of you, we probably wouldn’t have made it past the first few projects. Our creative lives have been possible because of the army of other people who supported our adventures these past ten years by:
- subscribing to Idiot’sBooks or Bobbledy Books
- buying our books at shows and online
- hiring us to do do custom books and illustrations
- reading our blog
- watching our children
- making us dinner
- helping us stuff envelopes
- sending us care packages
- giving us hand-me-downs
- putting up with our nonsense
- helping us fish in Alaska
- simply showing up and living this story with us
Thank you, thank you, to all of these people.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.
The plan was to do our first Facebook Live streaming nonsense session at 8:00pm on Thursday, September 18. Only, we had no idea how the technology worked or how it would look or where we should sit and whether or not it would be a total disaster. So at 1:53pm that afternoon, we logged into Facebook and started a live stream. Just to see what it looked like. We planned to stay live for about 12 seconds.
But when we went live, people were there. Saying hello, making comments, making tiny hearts fly across our screen. It was enchanting. And irresistible. And so we stayed live for 5 minutes, 22 seconds, enjoying every bit of it.
Here’s what happened:
And then, at 8:00pm, we logged in again, this time with (somewhat) more of a plan.
Again we had great heaps of fun.
And so we’ve decided to keep going. Whenever possible, we’ll be streaming live at 8:00pm EST Thursday evenings on from my Facebook page (even if you’re not officially my “friend,” it’s open to the public).
For any of you who is more of a You Tube person than a Facebook user, we’ve just started a Robbi and Matthew channel that will host our live and all other R&M videos. You can subscribe and get the weekly videos as they are uploaded.
It’s been a while now, so the details are hazy and I feel more emboldened than I otherwise would to add a bunch of extra adjectives.
As we do every summer, we packed coolers full of vegetables, drove to the airport, and took our questionable talents to Alaska.
Were we excited? We were excited. At least four of us were excited. Augie was merely confused.
Our compound is on a distant stretch of tundra far beyond the reach of roads or convenience stores. It is very hard to get there. And it takes a very long time. Getting there involves an overnight in Seattle. And so we bring a tiny tent and set up camp. August (still confused?) refused to sleep in the tent. Robbi refused to sleep at all.
One of the yearly rituals on our way to Alaska is stopping to pose with the largest grizzly bear ever to be shot and stuffed and posed in a threatening posture. It is a macabre ritual, and yet we cannot get enough of it.
This year we initiated a new ritual of posing with a brown bear and yak. I can hardly wait for the opportunity to look back on this moment with nostalgia a year from now.
I tend also to take photos of the lovely whitecapped mountains as we fly by. Here they are. We did not stop to climb them.
The part of Alaska where we live is not majestic in the white-capped scheme of things. It is majestic in the “sweeping open beauty of Siberia” scheme of things.
Our third flight brought us to King Salmon, jumping off place for various fishing ventures.
Alden, finally somewhat useful, hauled the coolers outside.
Augie, no longer confused, guarded them carefully while we waited to be picked up by our bush pilot.
We crawled into a tiny plane and took to the sky.
We flew low above the tunrda. At one point, we saw a caribou standing in the middle of a shallow lake. Apparently, on buggy days, they stand there all day long to avoid being bitten and pestered. I plan to remember this strategy for the next time I am stranded in the middle of the tundra.
Alden (useful, but not a trained bush pilot), terrified us all by steering for a while.
When we finally landed on the narrow gravel airstrip near our compound, there was general excitement. Cousin Raiden had been waiting for weeks for our arrival (apparently choreographing a dance routine while waiting).
Alden learned how to drive the 4-wheeler at the end of last season and seemed not to have missed a beat. She jumped right on and drove Auntie Maiko from the airport to our compound.
Our compound sits on a bluff above an inlet that leads from Bristol Bay to the rivers where the salmon go to spawn. The kids are big enough to roam and venture now.
They are old enough now to scramble on the heaps of scrap metal placed at the high water mark in a hopeful attempt to keep the tides from eating away at the bluff.
They are not old enough to ride the four wheelers by themselves. Especially Augie. But apparently he was confused when this picture was taken.
One of my favorite things about being in Alaska is running along the beach. Each year, the fate of this house becomes a little less encouraging.
Here is our house, nestled in a grassy clearing that is surrounded by Alders.
From the house, we have a commanding view of the tumultuous sky.
The children are not old enough to fish. And so they do speculative portraiture.
And build penguins out of Duplos.
And run outside every morning in search of grizzly bear tracks.
For years and years, the Alaska drill has been the same. Show up. Fish. Eat. Sleep. Fish. Eat. Fish. Sleep. Eat. Fish. Eat. Sleep. And so on.
This year, we had a bit of excitement. This year, we made a big decision. The big decision had to do with the hole in the side of this outhouse. Sort of.
I’ll get to the big decision later. For now, let’s focus on the hole. No one wants to use an outhouse with a hole in the side.
Something had to be done about it. And so…
And so we gathered pebbles from the beach.
Why? You will find out soon enough. For now just on the pebbles. We gathered them.
And I dug this hole? What does this hole have to do with the hole in the side of the outhouse? Almost nothing. But isn’t it magnificent?
Back to the outhouse. In order to get rid of the hole, we had to make it bigger. Counterintuitive? Maybe. But there you go.
To fix the newer, bigger hole, I had to use a saw, which does not come naturally to a writer like me.
Robbi had to use a hammer. Robbi, being a champion, handles a hammer as deftly as she does a quill pen.
We sawed. We hammered. We conquered that hole.
Was our work done. It was not. And why? Because the hole was not the only problem with the outhouse. The problem was a lack of a hole. Beneath the outhouse. The outhouse was on flat ground. Which will not do.
And so, we dug around in the high grasses until we found an empty oil drum.
And then I used a hammer and chisel to make a hole. Everyone knows writers are excellent with hammer and chisel.
To dig a hole beneath an outhouse, the outhouse must be placed on its side.
And then the hole can be dug.
And then the barrel can be placed. (The barrel is a hole-preservation strategy, there to keep the walls from caving in.
And then the gravel can be liberally scattered around the hole (to keep the tundra from encroaching on the outhouse).
But why were we fixing the hole in the side of the outhouse and digging a hole underneath it? Because Robbi and I have decided to move our operation a few miles up the beach next year and take up residence in a piece of property that Robbi has owned for some time but that we have been renting out for the past ten years or so. There is a cabin on the property, which will be our future home. Here it is. When we actually live on it, we will remove the plywood from the windows.
As for that previously mentioned, entirely magnificent, but until now unexplained hole?
It’s now home to a tall post atop which a wind generator will eventually be mounted. A writer on the tundra needs a way to charge his laptop, after all.
Like the current Behr family compound, our new cabin sits atop the bluff. The nice thing about this new location is that it looks directly down at our fishing sites, which will make the 3:00am fishing openings a lot more pleasant. It will make the 3:00pm openings a lot more pleasant, too.
We spent much of this season getting ready for next.
In particular, gathering lumber (we plan to build a bigger cabin at some point).
But we still had plenty of time for the other things that one does in Alaska. Playing on the beach.
Learning to drive.
Acting like lunatics.
Making rhubarb pies.
Attending 4th of July potlucks with good, old friends and one crazy chicken.
Filleting lots of fish.
Ferrying the lots of fish to the filleting table to be filleted.
Vacuum packing the fillets for the journey home.
Putting the packed fillets in the flash freezer for maximum freshness upon eventual thawing.
Enjoying the great big open wide sky.
Authoring books on scraps of plywood.
Shelving them in the tundra library.
Checking them out of the tundra library and admiring them intently.
Riding on the beach at sunset, which happens to be just after midnight.
Riding the four-wheeler to the top of the tallest hill and looking out over the water.
Taking the photo for the holiday card we likely will not send.
Noticing the wild surprising beauty of the sky.
The boys and I left about a week before the rest of the crew did. We were sort of in the way. And so we packed up and headed off. But not before snapping a photo of the three Behrs, who have fished together for a collective 116 summers.
This time, Augie was my wingman in the back.
This time, Kato played copilot.
As we took off from the airstrip and flew over our fishing sites, to dip our wing at Robbi and the others.
Three minutes later, Kato was asleep. Flying home from Alaska is exhausting.
We’re home again now, but I can’t shake the memory of those sunsets.
Or the vision of those endless snowy mountains.
I am dreaming already of another summer on the tundra and a new adventure unfolding as we set up shop in our brand new (very old) home. I have always been a great big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And now I get a chance to live my prairie homestead dream. Spend a summer fishing and living in a tiny plywood shack with no hot water, a hot plate, three children, and an infant?
Laura would be proud, I think.
A few months ago, Robbi and I were at the Mom2 summit in Laguna Beach to give a talk on creative entrepreneurship. Wandering around the exhibitor halls one afternoon, we stumbled upon an impromptu Today Show set and recorded a short segment about books, babies, and living in a barn.
Here it is:
Long story short: We had fun. And not a few of you told us that 1) you enjoyed it, 2) you hoped we’d find some way to try it again.
Perhaps you were only humoring us, but after much pondering, we have decided to take you at your word.
And so, this coming Thursday evening (August 18) at 8:00pm, we will be “appearing” in your very own computer or mobile device via Facebook Live streaming video.
In other words, we will be sitting on stools in our studio, recording ourselves with our iPad, delivering nonsense, making fun of one another, and answering your questions.
Will this make for a pleasant experience? We have no idea. Are we offering insight? Certainly not. Might this be the one and only time we do this? Quite possibly.
But if we have fun and if enough of you people seem to like it, we may do it again. And again.
If you are able to join us, great. Log onto Facebook at 8:00pm on Thursday, pull up my page, and be prepared to cringe and heckle. If you’re not able to join us, but have a burning question (however impertinent), please leave it in the comments below, and we will do our best to answer it on Thursday. As far as we can tell, Facebook Live videos are available for watching after the fact.
That’s all. Please join us if you dare.
This just in: the family is about to expand.
Robbi and I have been in the know since before we went to Alaska, but we’ve been keeping a lid on it pending the 12-week ultrasound.
Once Robbi got the green light, the first order of business was informing the trio of current children that their list of chores would soon expand to the care, feeding, and amusement of a fourth.
We were confident that Alden would be on board. She has been actively lobbying for months or years now for a little sister. Kato, too, seemed more or less sanguine at the possibility of moving up the family depth chart. August was the wild card, occasionally expressing enthusiasm at the prospect of being a big brother, but just as often responding by crossing his arms, dropping his chin, and sticking out his lower lip when Alden would launch into baby campaign mode.
But the deed had been done, and the news had to be shared. We gathered the kids on the couch, pulled out the photo of the ultrasound, and presented it to them. At first there a stretch of searching bewilderment, but then Kato gave Robbi a knowing look and said, “You’re pregnant?” Robbi nodded. Alden shrieked, and I pulled out my phone and snapped this photo.
The evidence is in: August is on board.
We spent a few weeks telling friends and family and posted on Facebook a few days ago. In addition to the incredible flood of love and support, there were a few folks suggesting that we have taken strategic book marketing to an unprecedented level. I would counter that this might be the least strategic thing we’ve ever done. I argue that if, if anything, this decision will only hurt sales by nullifying the fundamental premise.
So what are we thinking?
Robbi has always imagined a family with four kids. I had always thought two seemed just right. So we went for the compromise, and Augie happened. And I simply can’t imagine the world without Augie. Over the past five years, we’ve settled into a workable sanity. Diapers are a thing of the past. Everyone sleeps well through the night. Everyone is in school all day long. All three kids have gained a state of comfortable self-sufficiency, freeing us up for a more free-range parenting style.
All of that is about to go out the window.
So, seriously, what were we thinking?
That we like the people we’ve made so far and want to see what the next one will be like. That having a little podling around will be good for all three of the current crop. That we’re not yet entirely out of time and energy and might as well put it to the best possible use.
That even though babies surely ruin everything, they’re worth their weight in love and astonishment.
And we’re off. To points distant but certainly known. This will be Robbi’s 39th summer on the Tundra, my 15th, Alden’s 9th, Kato’s 7th, and Augie’s 5th. We know this drill well. We leave. We drive to DC. We fly to Seattle. We fly to Anchorage. We spend 14 hours at the airport. We fly to King Salmon. We charter a bush plane. We fly across the tundra to a stretch of beach. We hop in the back of a pickup truck and drive to our compound at Coffee Point. Getting there is not easy. But it’s absolutely worth it.
There will be no photos for the next two weeks. We fish in a place that is blissfully free of WiFi. And so I will rest and decompress and feast on fresh fish and enjoy the cool nights. But as long as two weeks sounds at this moment, I’ll be back before I (or you) know it.
Here’s a pic from four years ago, when Augie was just a little thing and Robbi happened to catch a King.
People, I am in a hurry. We leave for Alaska in ten days. I have 20 days worth of things to do. Forgive the brevity, but I know all you want is the eye candy, anyway.
- Al Gore
- Dan Rather?
- Howard Cosell (on a good day)
- Ronald Reagan!
- Jerry Orbach
- Marc Albert
- Howard Cosell
- George W Bush
- Howard Cosell
- Ross Perot. Purely by the ears.
- John Boehner
- This is Howard Cosell.
- I rather think this is Dan Rather
- Ronald Regan? He has a 1970’s newscaster vibe too.
- One of the Bushes . . . with a sagging chin
- Please let this newscaster know that is face is melting (can’t think of his name!)
A good many of you guessed Reagan. This is not Reagan. It is not even “Ronald Reagan if he had been an unsuccessful boxer,” though that answer delights me.
No, as three of you people correctly guessed, this is Ted Cruz.
In retrospect, this drawing is unfair.
And yet, Matthew Draws is not about fairness. It is about truth. This is a true drawing by me. Of who?
- I really hate to say this, but Michelle Obama? Sorry Michelle!
- Blossom all grown up?
- Loretta Lynch
- Oh wow a penny for her thoughts.
- I have no idea but I am very afraid.
- Serena Williams
- Dennis Rodman Hillary Rodham Clinton
- You know that toy that’s a plastic man’s face and you put your fingers in the back and move them around to make him make terrible faces? This is his wife.
- No idea
- Audra McDonald?
- Condoleeza Rice
- An unflattering Donna Brazile
- I totally know who this is.
- Sandra Burhhart or whatever her name is. She’s so annoying
- Stumped. No idea.
- eeek. she looks mean. My 7th grade Home Ec teacher?
- Cruella De Ville
- Toni Morrison
- Snarl-mouth Scribble-hair. No freakin’ clue, dude.
- I think it’s a woman – Condi Rice??
- Ivana Drumpf
- No, it’s not bad. It’s terrible. Or I am.
- Sandra Bernhard
- Dunno, but she’s fierce!
- Oh gosh . . . I’m going to name her Leona.
Here’s the thing people, the worse I draw, the better your answers are. So where’s my incentive to improve?
And here is a drawing I’m really rather proud of. But will that matter?
- Lazy Eye Lena Dunham
- Monica “lip sperm” Lewinsky
- Amy poehler
- She’s so cute but I’ve no idea whatsoever.
- Monica Lewinsky
- Drew Barrymore (& Harvey the Invisible Rabbit to her left)
- Frances Bean Cobain
- Monica Lewinsky
- Kylie Jenner
- Jenna Bush
- Lena Dunham?
- Amanda Bynes
- What the fuck happened here?
- Jojo the Bachelorette?
- Drew Barrymore. At a hypnotist show.
- Caitlyn Jenner/this doll when it grows up: https://www.flickr.com/photos/starling67/4837784855
- Tina Fey
- Maria Bamford
- Um…Anna Farris with uncharacteristically voluminous hair?
- Definitely a woman. Amanda Seyfried.
- Ann Hathaway
- Hello. It’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d get to drawing me. -Adele
- maybe Cecily Strong?
- Maisie Williams? Maybe Adele?
- Honestly, I have no idea, but she needs an optometrist.
Darn it, people. Again, you delight me. Again, we failed to understand one another. This person is none other than Mindy Kaling.
Which brings us to #4. We have an opportunity to tie things up with a little understanding or to have this go down as one of the least successful Matthew Draws of all time (depending, I suppose, on your definition of “success.”
- Oh! It’s that guy that plays guitar or something! What’s up with his forehead? Is he okay???
- Kris Kristopherson
- Jesse Tyler Ferguson
- Someone suffering, someone pretending to be Van Gogh, a cross between Ryan Gosling and Tom Waits with a beard.
- Ethan Hawke
- Charles Bukowski (in need of a drink)
- A hirsute waiter who just got a shitty tip?
- Bearded, angry Brad Pitt? Bearded snarky Conan?
- Clint Eastwood
- Conan O’Brien
- Sean Maguire
- Werewolf Jack
- Van Gogh
- David Bowie. With a beard and a dapper tie. OR Richard Branson.
- Lyle Lovett experimenting with facial hair
- Brad Pitt
- Fernando Castillo Saavedra in “Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish”
- Ed Burns. No doubt.
- Gordon Lightfoot when his music career ended, and he had to cut his hair and work in an office.
- Jeff Foxworthy
- Conan the Barbarian. I mean O’Brien.
- Jon Stewart
- Scott Green…I think.
- I feel like I should know this one. I’m sorry.
I am sorry, too, my friends. And so is Benicio Del Toro, who wishes in vain that I had never heard of him and thus, never felt compelled to conjure his likeness.
My star rating this time around? 3.25. Which is, on one hand, awful. But which is, on another hand, a stunning success, given that out of all the answers issued on ALL FOUR OF MY DRAWINGS, only three of you were correct and a full of these resulted in zero correct guesses. Which leads me to believe your mediocre (as opposed to abysmal) ratings of my prowess suggest some glimmers of enjoyment of my drawings, if not recognition of my subjects.
And now for the BONUS QUESTION (cue mirror ball and “Take My Breath Away”).
If you were lost in the woods and had to skin a squirrel to eat with one of these people, who would it be and why?
- Nobody looks like they could actually skin a squirrel, but I’ll go with number three because she looks like she actually might enjoy eating one.
- The last guy because he’s insane and would have the know-how to take down and skin something much bigger than a squirrel.
- Ethan Hawke looks pretty much like a scraggley wood squirrel, so I expect any such creature might mistake him for a long-lost cousin, so the capture would be quick and easy. And since he doesn’t look like he eats much, I wouldn’t go hungry.
- Howard Cosell, since he’d provide the best color commentary throughout the process: “And now the squirrel’s cautiously approaching the trap. Step by stuttering step he inches ever closer, oblivious to the hideous fate awaiting him. But what’s this? He stands erect, alert, seemingly cognizant of an alarming presence, a dangerous predator, or simply a droning, nasal, self-important voice. Oh, yeah, guess that WAS me who scared him away. Sorry…
- Obviously, the squirrel would have surrendered himself so The Gipper could eat. And obviously, I’d dine with him and ask him if he could get me into Canada or Switzerland if I needed to go expat on the fly.
- Either of the two on the far right. They look like they could kill a rabbit with their bare teeth.
- “Ted Cruz — have you seen him cook bacon on a machine gun? This guy would do all the work, and make it a point of pride to be sure we were fed and then rescued. Also, he’s the most likely to go get help, leaving me blissfully alone in nature to enjoy my roast squirrel.
- If I were sure about who #4 was, I might pick him. He’s certainly more attractive, and with the beard I’d likely appreciate his politics more. But I can’t be sure of his squirrel-skinning skills. “
- Clint. He seems like he knows his way around a squirrel.
- Would Lena Dunham eat squirrel?
- Werewolf Jack. Because he’s a good hunter
- Since I only have Reagan, Jojo the Bachelorette and Van Gogh to work with here, it’s really a toss-up.
- The third person because it looks like she could be easily distracted so I could get more squirrel meat for myself.
- Cruella De Ville—because this isn’t her first animal-skinning rodeo. We catch the squirrel with some acorns under a box partially held open with a stick that has a string tied to it. Squirrel goes in, we yank the string, Cruella Goes to work. Duh.
- #3 because her lazy eye would distract me from the fact I was eating a squirrel
- The guy from Destinos so I could practice my Spanish.
- Ed Burns seems like a resourceful chap. Assuming that # 4 is, indeed, Ed Burns.
- Definitely Gordon Lightfoot. He’s Canadian, and I feel as though they naturally would have squirrel capturing skills. It’s simply part of their north country upbringing.
- The squirrel would have been making a nest in Conan’s beard. He’d probably make the whole squirrel eating experience tolerably funny
- Sandra Bernhard certainly seems the most capable of rage hunting, that’s for sure. But Dan Rather would be fascinating. Jon Stewart would be the best company BY FAR, but I’m pretty sure we’d have to survive on berries. In terms of how I’d capture the squirrel, I would employ my usual one-two punch of interpretive dance and hypnosis. It might get weird.
- The last guy who I think is Scott Green is looking pretty were-wolfy (is he reliving his Buffy days?), so I would share the squirrel in hopes he wouldn’t eat me when he transforms.
- Number 2 looks like she’d be a fair hand at squirrel-nabbing. She’d just stand there and stare it down, and while it was frozen, hypnotized, in her gaze, I’d grab it from behind. Then I would, of course, let her do all the squirrel-skinning; not really my thing, you understand. I can make a decent squirrel stew though.
People, you delight me. These answers made my day. Thank you for riding this rickety coaster with me. I say we press on.
There will be a brief hiatus on the Matthew Draws front, as I am soon to depart for the rapidly melting permafrost. In the mean time, know that you are loved.
So here we go again. I can’t tell if the problem this week is whether Matthew chose to draw people completely unfamiliar to me, or whether he’s done a really terrible job drawing people I really ought to recognize.
Either way, he fully deserves the blame.
Have a gander:
Yes, yes, I know I’m late in posting this post. You have told me. I have heard you. Apologies and so on. I am full of excuses but will keep them to myself. Let’s just begin. Right now.
I drew this person.
And most of you people were convinced, with all your hearts, that I drew Louis C.K. A few of you offered pleasing praise (or is it better described as shock?).
- Louis CK in the house!
- LOUIS! LOUIS! LOUIS!
- Louis C.K.! It’s Louis C.K.!
- Louis CK… I’m certain of it. Well done!
- Louis C.K. with the slightest hint of Walter White.
- Louis C.K. – how is that even a last name? Can I change my last name to 7.8. ?
- Louis CK or that guy that’s always at the Royal Farms.
- Either Louis CK or Louis XIV without his wig
There were a few dissenting opinions:
- George Carlin
- Paul Giamatti
- Bryan Cranston
- James Gandolfini
- Richard Karn
- James Lipton
But the most of you had it in a landslide.
Here’s where things got entirely murky.
I drew this person.
So many of you seemed so confident in your guesses.
There was a cluster of support for Katie Couric including “Katie Couric … Channeling Martha Stewart,” and “Katie Couric in a shampoo ad”. A number of you agreed that it must be Jennifer Aniston.
And then there were a bunch of one-offs.
- (Unbreakable) Ellie Kemper!
- Meredith Vieira
- Nancy McKeon from The Facts of Life
- Chew baca Mom
- Hoda Kotb. Or not.
- Bette Midler
- Young Joan Rivers
- Matthew’s mom
- Renee Zellweger
- Joy Behar
- Amy Schumer
- Mayim Bialik
- It looks like a love child of Jennifer Anniston and Julia Louis Dreyfus?
- Loretta Switt
- The twinkle in the eye tells me its Jennifer Aniston.
- Wow, she looks nice though!
- Chelsea Handler
- Rita Wilson
- Kelly Ripa
One of you thought I’d drawn a man. Really?
- George Zimmerman
But none of you, NONE of you figured out that I was trying to draw (obviously!) Neve Campbell.
Again, there was little consensus. The sheer array of answers was delightful.
- With that jawline, it has to be Anjelia Huston!
- Iggy Pop
- Russel Brand on a serious day
- Bill Nighy
- It’s not Patti Smith, but I wish it was.
- Yikes! Uh, um, ???
- Iggy pop after a big meal
- Mrs. Bruce (my vaguely racist grade-school music teacher)
- Lily Tomlin
- Hillary Clinton
- If it weren’t for the strong chin, I’d say Meryl Streep. Maybe if she morphed with Voldemort’s snake, Nagini.
- Kate Moncrief
- Jay Leno’s mother?
- Marilyn Manson
- France’s McDormand
- Tough one. I can’t decide between Iggy Pop and Annie Leibowitz sans glasses.
- I’m not sure, but she seems a little scary
- Some aging rock star
- Alice Cooper
- the witch that I thought lived in my basement when I was little
- patti smith!! if it isnt it should be.
- I don’t know but I love the shape of the left eyelid
A few of the guesses strayed in the direction of being correct:
- Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent
- Give me a hint … Man or woman? I give up.
But…three of you got it right, including the one of you who felt sheepish in placing your guess:
I kind of feel bad saying this, but Caitlyn Jenner?
Indeed. No need to feel bad. I’m just that good at drawing.
To bring us down the home stretch, I drew this person:
Again, your guesses followed no clear theme.
There was a flurry of enthusiasm for the idea that I had drawn Drake.
- Idris Elba in overalls, apparently.
- Joe Manganiello
- Alan Iverson I guess
- obviously I should know this one but I don’t
- Dwayne Wade
- Michael K. Williams
- The guy who was originally on Scandal but got kicked off
- Dwyane Wade … Based solely on the tank top
- No idea.
- Jared Leto
- Ming the merciless
- Zayn Malik
- Paul Gaugin
- Contemplative guy with cornrows
Again, some of them made me laugh audibly.
- The Black Phantom of the Opera
- Corn Row Shakespeare
- I’ve never seen this person. Ever.
Including this, my favorite ever guess in Matthew Draws:
- spear carrier in an opera
I do not even know what that means. But I love it so much. And now I want to go to an opera.
However, in the wake of all this glorious guessing, just two…JUST TWO! COME ON PEOPLE…of you correctly identified…
- Oh man, is that Omar from the Wire?
- Omar Little!
As for my star rating, out of a possible 5, you people gave me a collective 3.375. Do I aspire for greater heights? I do? Am I satisfied for today? You betcha.
And now, for the bonus question/smokebomb, carelessly lobbed by Robbi moments before she ran out of the room:
Please write a rhyming couplet honoring one or all of these fine people.
You fine people certainly didn’t disappoint.
- Louis’ humor is the bomb
Ellie’s smile shows her aplomb
Anjelica, tall and divine
Elba’s looking mighty fine.
- Dead-eyed stares, dead-eyed stares,
Matthew can’t draw, but no one cares.
- Matthew’s drawing merely mars
The flawless faces of the stars.
- Ode to Louis CK XIV
My forehead, so high,
Escapes to the skyyyyyyyy
- Bill Nighy, certainly not of science guy fame;
Brought the magic to Harry that changed the game.
- Louis CK, you made my day
When you called out the Drumpf on his insecurité.
He’s a bully, a meanie, and a narcissist, too,
Who can’t tell the truth from a big pile of poo!
- Matthew’s drawings aren’t rad
They’re really, really bad
- Matthew Draws is awesome
Because all of the women he draws look like the actress who plays Blossom
- Forehead as bright as the light of day
Of all four I only knew Louis C.K.
- “Matthew has some chin drawing issues.
I laugh, I cry… Please pass the tissues.
- Oh, to be a subject of “Matthew Draws”
One must be willing to see their own flaws
- I could win at Powerball
Before correctly guessing these all.
- I named Drake in this quiz
But I’m not sure who he is.
- I’ve got nothing left.
I’m exhausted and I feel bereft.
- Louis CK, whose bald head I’d like to rub
To comfort him for that time that kid pooped in his tub.
- Matthew’s drawings are sublime
Not unlike this here rhyme
- I feel pretty sure that the first is CK;
The second’s eyeliner won’t give her away;
The third gave me heebies, so onward I moved;
Ending with Omar’s depiction? So rude.
And, just in case you were wondering if Matthew Draws is a global phenomenon,
- Recht viel Glück und Judihudi wünsched s’Lineli und s’Trudi.
Apparently, the above is Swiss German. I would so appreciate if some kindly reader would translate. I hate to miss a single disparaging poem about my drawing acumen.
And that’s that. Sorry for the delay in posting. But here’s the good news. Because I am five days late in posting these answers, you only have to wait two days for the next batch of drawings. See you here on Wednesday, you enlightened army of extremely intelligent people who also love wincing.