Tag Archives: Where Lily Isn’t

Pet Love

Last month I posted my video read-along of Where Lily Isn’t, in which I suggested viewers could send pictures of their own beloved pets.

My friend and fellow author/illustrator Wendy Wahman sent me a drawing of her poodle LaRoo, also known as Nanny Paws, who inspired a book by that name.

Wendy was the only one who sent me any pictures. Ah well.

I was hoping to get more responses so I could share them with you in this post. Instead, I am posting my own.

Where Lily Isn’t is dedicated to: Stanley, Boo, Stinker, Freya, Bluey, Ajax, and Lily. Those are the names of pets that Julie and I have loved, and lost (mine are in boldface).

Stanley was an English bulldog my family got when I was six. I wanted to name him Trixie, but my brother thought Stanley, after comedian Stanley Myron Handelman, was more appropriate. I guess my parents agreed. He was a loving, slobbery, snaggle-toothed goof who terrified my friends when they came over and he charged at them to say hello. Cartoons like Spike gave bulldogs a bad name. I’ve never met an English bulldog that didn’t want to just snuffle you up and down and drool all over you. He was my constant playmate until I hit puberty, when there was a bit of a Puff-The-Magic-Dragon situation. I still feel guilty about that. Stanley died when I was about fourteen.

This is me with Stinker, my Half Moon Conure. I bought him from a bird farm with $30 my grandfather sent me for my birthday when I was a tween. I was not his first human. He already knew how to croak “don’t bite!” (maybe that and his given name should have clued me in on why he was so affordable for a parrot) and I taught him to squawk “hello.” He also picked up yelling my name from hearing my mother. I loved him dearly. He died when I was in high school.

Bluey was a blue parakeet I got in Kyoto when I was living there with my parents when I was nine. I was lonely without other English-speaking kids my age to play with, so my parents took me to a pet shop on the top of a department store that had parakeet chicks for sale. He became so tame he would nap on my chest. I brought him back to California in a mouse cage in my carry-on bag (maybe smuggled is a better word). He inspired my dad to build an aviary and we raised parakeets for many years. Bluey flew out of my hands when I was carrying him back inside from a visit to the other birds in the aviary. Stanley had jumped up to see what I was carrying and it startled both me and Bluey. I never saw Bluey again. I cried for weeks.

And Ajax. Ajax was the Best Cat Ever. He showed up as a kitten when we were working on remodeling our first house in Seattle. We had been thinking of adopting a cat, and my friend Gabrielle who we’d hired to help us (and who is an expert on cats IMHO) said “this is the cat you want.” We figured out that he lived a couple of houses down from us, so I gathered him up, along with my courage, and went to ask if we could adopt him. I knocked on the door. When they answered I asked, “is this your cat?” and the guy said “yeah, you want him?” Ajax was the kind of cat who loved people, would come when you called him, and liked to sleep as close to your face as he could get. He lived a good long life. We said goodbye when he was nineteen.

Which brings me to Nik. Nik is our current animal companion. He is a Rat Terrier. We’ve had him since 2013. We are his third family. He is coming up on sixteen. He is deaf now, and going blind, but he still loves his walks, his meals, and his naps. He has many quirks, and that is what we love about him.

Like many terriers, he likes to burrow, and while our youngest daughter was still home, he would sleep under the blankets by her feet every night. I am preparing myself for when he’s gone, but who knows? Terriers are tough. I hope he makes it with us at least until the COVID-19 era is over so Clare can see him again.

The importance of animal companions during these days of home confinement can’t be underestimated. Nik gets us out of the house on a regular basis. Petting him helps me feel less anxious. He is a good listener, even though he’s deaf. Pets have no clue what’s going on in the world, thank goodness.

Here is a little drawing I did of Nik. I think it highlights his best features.

If anyone wants to send me pictures of their pets, they are still welcome to! You can send them to: margaret@chodos-irvine.com, and I will post them below.

Update: Here are a few loves from friends!

Laura Kvasnosky’s dear Izzi
Julie Paschkis’s dear Freya.

Where Lily Isn’t – a read-aloud

So, what have I been doing with all my free time while sheltering-in-place? Sewing masks. Doing puzzles. Reading endless emails about COVID-19…

And, I made a video! With so many kids staying home all day with their families, it seems like the least I can do to help out.

I have to admit, I’m new, and not entirely comfortable with, recording myself. My video is not perfect, as I am not perfect, but it will do. I hope.

After the reading, I encourage kids (adults too, if you are inclined) to send a drawing of a beloved pet. I will post them on this blog. If you know of any children who might enjoy listening and participating, please pass it on!

Thanks!

Stay safe, and stay healthy.

Here Comes Lily!

Where Lily Isn’t is here! And we are having a party!

If you live in Seattle, Julie Paschkis and I invite you to come celebrate with us on Thursday, March 12, at 6:30pm at Secret Garden Bookstore. Please bring a picture or anecdote to share about your pet, past or present.

It was two and a half years ago that I had tittery jitters about starting work on the images, and now the book is finally out in the world. Of all the books I have done, this is one of the ones I am most pleased with. It deals with the difficult subject of loss, but really it is a book about the indelible mark love makes on our hearts.

We hope you can join us on March 12!

Story Chemistry

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?”     – Gabrielle Roth

I think she’s got it right – better mental health through dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, and comforted by silence. To which I would add two more questions: When did you stop gardening? and When did you stop hanging out with your dog?

But that story thing. That’s what’s on the plate here today. Stories. From daily incidents – what elementary school writers call “small moments” – packed with meaning and humor and pathos, to the big arcs of a lifetime that spool out of the ephemera of past generations. Through stories, we connect. It is one of my favorite things about being human.

Turns out there is a chemical reason why we find stories so satisfying, according to neuro-economist Paul Zak. Zak measured his subjects’ brains’ oxytocin before and after watching character-driven videos. The oxytocin levels took a definite jump.

His verdict: human beings are “wired for story.”

You know that pleasurable feeling you get from a good story? That’s oxytocin synthesizing in your brain. In further studies, Zak found that the more oxytocin a person released, the more likely a person would be willing to help others, for example, by donating money to charities associated with the video’s narrative. This mechanism will play out repeatedly Sunday in Superbowl commercials whose stories will tug your heartstrings and then your wallet, all in 30 seconds flat.

Zak wrote, “Many of us know from Joseph Campbell’s work that enduring stories tend to share a dramatic arc in which a character struggles and eventually finds heretofore unknown abilities and uses these to triumph over adversity; my work shows that the brain is highly attracted to this story style.”

Zak noted people respond most strongly to narratives with beginnings, middles and ends that used dramatic tension to sustain attention. That’s the basic structure of many Superbowl commercials – but also of typical picture books. Here are some examples from our BATT  group:

Margaret and Julie P’s recent Where Lily Isn’t, the tender story of a little girl struggling with the death of her dog.Screen Shot 2020-01-30 at 6.31.38 PM

Bonny’s The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael, where a small boy finds a surprising way to deal with a scary bus driver.

LWCover

My sister Kate’s and my Little Wolf’s First Howling about a wolf pup finding his voice.

Screen Shot 2020-01-30 at 6.32.16 PMThe same story structure is also found in a spare form in this poem from Julie L.’s Imaginary Menagerie, illustrated by Julie P.:

Firebird

Who will bring me golden apples?

Calls the firebird

From her silver tree.

Who will sing me a golden song?

All day she waits

In the tsar’s garden.

Who will set me free? Who?

If given a feather

Bright as heaven,

Would you?

I still wonder why stories have this oxytocin-releasing affect on our brains. Perhaps over the eons, as humans evolved, stories were necessary to survival. I like that hypothesis. Meanwhile, let’s just enjoy the pleasure of good stories, as they spark our ability to connect, to empathize and to make meaning.

Where Lily Isn’t

For 17 years my husband Joe and I had a little dog named Lily.
When she died her absence pressed against me. I missed her in general, and I missed her specifically and strongly in all the places where she had been.
Our house was full of all the places where Lily wasn’t.
 

Laura Godwin, my editor at Holt, suggested that I write a book about that. So I did, from the point of view of a child.  This is how it began:

Where Lily Isn’t

Lily ran and jumped and

barked and whimpered and growled

and wiggled and wagged and 

licked and snuggled.

But not now.

Now, next to my bed in the morning 

there is a little rug

where Lily isn’t.

I showed the manuscript to Laura Godwin. She was interested in publishing it, but wondered how I would illustrate it.

I had painted Lily before.
She was a model in Here Comes Grandma –

and in The Great Smelly, Slobbery, Small-Tooth Dog.

She even graced a label for pickled green beans.

But I found myself unable to illustrate this book.

Luckily I knew who could. At that time Margaret Chodos-Irvine was living in London. We had been sending each other wordless letters (you can read about those letters in her blogpost here and in mine here). Margaret sent me this wordless letter when Lily died.

She knew Lily – and me. I asked Margaret if she would be interested in illustrating Where Lily Isn’t. We submitted it to Laura Godwin as a team and we were accepted!

In her art Margaret conveys the loss and the love that I wrote about.
Her illustrations are spare but warm. She manages to show what is there, and what isn’t there.

There is a lot of white space which conveys a sense of loss.

The stencil and brushed shapes are expressive.

Margaret hid little references in the book – such as mugs made by my mother on the kitchen shelf, and reference to a drawing by my nephew Benji.


This is the first time that I have written a book without illustrating it. Now my friendship with Margaret is also part of this story of Where Lily Isn’t.  It is a stronger book for being told with both of our voices.

I am not particularly religious. Religion doesn’t help me to understand death. But I truly believe that animals and people live on in our memories and through our stories. Love lasts longer than any physical presence.

This is how the book ends:

The house is quiet with all of the sounds that Lily isn’t making.

The house is full of all the places where Lily isn’t.

But here inside me –

that’s where Lily is,

and where she always will be.

I hope that children and their families will see themselves and find comfort in this story.

p.s. Here is link to a blogpost that Margaret wrote about illustrating this book. And here is a link to buy the book at Secret Garden Books in Seattle, or from Amazon. Thank you.