m wood pen

illustrator of books, cocktails, travel + more

m wood pan am prop

this crazy wordpress world entices me, every now and then, to their stats page.  or, should i say, my stats page.  or, more precisely, my mwoodpenblog stats page.

got lost there for a second: hard to remember who’s who and what’s what around here.  remember, i’m from the 50s!

so, intrigued over, yes, my coffee, i took a peek at the black-lined squished world diagram to see what areas would have mango and lemon filled in color.

the east coast?  hawaii?  the uk?

kookie surprise to see that this morning found someone in egypt perusing my illustrations and blatherings.

i don’t know about you, but this is freaky cool to wrap my head around. i know that we’re all used to this, but then again, do any of us really conceive of how colossally magical this internet really is?

do you people get it?

i’m a big history fan, and clearly am addicted to cinema and pretty much anything that has end credits and a cast.  i’m also pretty keen on geography and maps, so the word i’m typing aren’t done blindly or ignorantly, it’s a mood connection that i’m making at this very moment and will share.

when i think, instantly, of egypt, of that part of the map where it sits, the hot, sun-glaring sandy zone of always feeling thirsty, the first image that pops into my mind is peter o’toole as lawrence of arabia.  yes, i know that this is not a story of egypt, but that’s still the first thing i envision: hot, dry, desolate, sun-baked, camels.

my miracle of internet thought comes to this vision: of the everlasting trudging from one souk to the next, one oasis off in the distance (or is it that mind-boggling notion, a mirage?), the work and toil and strength and determination it takes to reach another human being; or the other side of the sahara; the other side of town; the far east; the north pole.

in physical terms, measured by human steps, counted by manual hours, days, weeks or years that, historically, it took mankind to get from there to here, i say that the fact that someone in egypt this MORNING was perusing my blog pages is a freaking miracle.

but back to egypt.  after i graduated from college with my shiny new degree in english literature, history and art, i set about finding my grown up life, guised in the form of a career in chicago, coupled with a fabulously chic apartment.

based on my idiocy and the lack of interest creatives had in my drivel in the early 80s, i was humbled by the daunting task of finding a grown up job that matched my very colorful imagination.  the funny side job that i took, really to keep from watching soap operas all day in my parents house, or miss out on cash in my pockets to join my fabulous pals on a weekly jaunt to the city bars, was running a printing press.

as in, heidelberg, apron, bars of set type, letterpress stationery, as in: ink in my veins.

i guess that comes as no surprise if you look from here to there, as i’m clearly someone with paper and ink in my veins, but from back then, it wasn’t something to brag about.  when our savvy trio plundered lincoln park bars in search of dapper gents, we kicked in our earliest attempts at self-promotion and marketing.  rather than ‘run a printing press’, my reply to possible beaux was that i was in the printing business.  my pal who worked at the local bookshop, clearly, was ‘in publishing’.  and our third pal who was spending her first year out of wellesley sorting out the over-abundance of vintage furniture in her father’s basement?  she was ‘in antiques’.  the swains were, indeed, impressed.

so, where was i?  oh, egypt.

as the year with ink permanently stained on my fingertips wained, i felt totally ansy.  maybe my dream of the creative career in advertising in chicago with a swanky apartment was the wrong dream.  my barometer had been wrong before, and trust me, has been waaaaay wrong since, so in my second guessing how difficult this plan really was to enact, i came up with an impetuous idea.

that fork in the road sort of thing would be appropriate to quote at this moment.

feeling like the corporate world was wagging its finger at me for thinking i was cooler or more talented than i was, i panicked and applied to graduate school.  i needed a training, a profession.  throw me a lifeboat, i want to get off of this slow boat to china!

at the same time, i’d dabbled in a hieroglyphs class at the university of chicago’s oriental institute.  why?  well because my mom is an archaeologist and these sorts of things came up routinely at the dinner table.  through this passing time deciphering cool milleniums-old drawings to find meaning, a little birdie told me something that caught my ear.  and wanderlust.

wanted: artist to sketch on site at archaeological ongoing dig in egypt; accommodations courtesy of the oriental institute in their posh permanent digs in cairo; cocktails nightly in the shadows of the great sphinx.

there was that fork: practicality, a design degree and eventually my tidy plan would unravel.

an unheard of, unimagined, kookie adventure far, far, far afield splashed, sprayed, awash in history, mystery, sandals and sultans.  (not really sultans, but that was the perfect word to end that sentence.)

tossing and turning: who was i, how brave was i, what should i do, how should i decide, short-term or long-term, dally or grow up?

i chickened out of making the decision directly by reasoning that fate would choose for me.  i’d go to egypt if i was rejected from graduate school.  spend all of my letterpress toil money in the souk of chattering, fragrant cairo. already imagining then what to pack, what to wear, how would it feel, who would i meet, where would that adventure take me, i waited for the mail to determine my future.

later that week, the mail revealed my destiny: a letter of acceptance from the school of the art institute.

oh.

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