I have long loved Edward Lear's poem The Owl and The Pussycat. Apart from the mismatched lovers themselves, the most captivating element of the story in my mind has always been the items that the two packed as they set out for a strange new world: Honey, and a "great big bag of money". Something about that packing list feels so complete, so assuring, leading any reader to believe that their seemingly scandalous affair and subsequent elopement is something that we can all get behind with confidence that it will all work out for the best, cheering them on from the shores as they row away. I was a little skeptical about the guitar, having once survived a long cold 4th grade winter with a boyfriend of my mothers who also had a guitar on which he could play exactly ONE SONG. Over and over and over again. I would tell you which one it was but then it will be stuck playing in both of our minds all day. I hoped for the Pussycat's sake that the Owl's repertoire was more varied and that the guitar wasn't thrown in the boat at the last minute, with the Owls explanation being something like: "This will be the perfect opportunity to finally learn how to play this guitar", because Sister, I have BEEN there. The honey and the money though? that seemed really promising to me. How wonderful would it be to only require what we could fit in the bottom of a pea green boat?
Anyway, I recently found myself developing some Owl and The Pussycat artwork for a client, and I really expected it to be a pretty easy task, since I already knew the characters quite well. The process was a lot more trying. My first sketch was a bit too sweet, But I did like the way Pussycat comes accross as being in charge of directions:
Something about this felt a little... un-relatable to me. I was trying to find a personal experience that might lend a bit of inspiration, and I was reminded of my father in law telling me about his youthful summers on Lake Michigan, which (he agreed with me on this) sound a whole lot like that Kid Rock video. And yes, this link will actually lead you to a Kid Rock video. My father in law and I have this in common: we are both, deep down, fans of canned beer and Kid Rock. So I took a moment and made him this sketch, which imagines the Owl and The Pussycat with an outboard motor and a sixer of tall boys.
I did another dozen sketches, none of which are worth showing anybody. They all looked a little forced, like I was trying to re-tell somebody else's story and I wasn't remembering the punch lines or as if I hadn't met the characters first-hand, and was getting very frustrated. This is when I did something for the first time in a very long time: I drank a cup of espresso in the mid-afternoon. And this is what I drew next.
Yes, the Pussycat is squeeze-guzzling honey straight from the bear. And the Owl is rocking out. I loved it, but it wasn't exactly a sustainable amount of energy for any of us. Our fearless duo would be out of honey and energy very soon at this rate and we would all be crashing and dismal before dusk. I needed to tone it down.
And still, I had lost something along the way that was making it hard to tell this story in the way that I remembered being able to see it as a child.
I decided to keep the honey bear though, and managed to scratch out this slightly sugary version:
Which, in turn, led to the group below. I'm sorry I can't tell you what this is all for yet, but if all goes well you will be seeing them all again...
Spending a week with the Owl and The Pussycat has also led to another seemingly permanent development in my life. I'm now officially an afternoon coffee drinker. The addiction was instant, within a few days of my first mid-day cup I was crawling into the kitchen with a splitting headache a half hour after what my brain had already decided was Coffee Time. Oh, the anchor of dependency.
Maybe that's why I struggle to relate as well to The Owl and The Pussycat now as I did as a child, because with every convenience, every luxury, every habit that becomes a part of my life I know that I am further away from a ife that allows for spontaneous adventure, or at the very least saddled with a much longer packing list.
Maybe if I just stop accumulating things now, I can still manage it. I can see myself pushing off from that dock someday in my own pea green boat and rowing off to lands unknown, accompanied not just by a big bag of money and a squeeze top honey bear, but also a formidable amount of coffee beans, pre-ground. Its calming to imagine my tall, handsome percolator sitting across from me, gleaming with the promise of a productive afternoon. I hope he doesn't try to bring a guitar.