I spent a good deal more time in New York City than I intended to last weekend. Sunday was the memorial service for my King Features editor Jay Kennedy, whom I blogged about last month. As I'd been touring colleges in New England with my daughter the previous week, I planned to just fly into and out of NYC on Sunday for the afternoon service.
(sound of God laughing)
When American Airlines notified me that my evening flight was cancelled and that I was rescheduled on a doubtful Monday afternoon flight, I slumped like a wet dog down the monsoon streets of Chelsea. The David Letterman line came back to me, "From New York, the city that makes its own gravy..." I got a cab and asked the guy to take me to a reasonable hotel. (Hey, if you can't trust a New York cab driver who can you trust?) If I was capable of being further soaked, the hotel managed to do it.
There are few feelings more desolate than finding yourself in a gray hotel in a big impersonal city with nothing but the wet clothes on your back.
Afraid that my cell phone would die and leave me unreachable the next day, I made some exorbitant calls from my room to the people who could lend me comfort in my forlorn state. It was my wife Suzanne who said what I needed to hear.
"Just read the New York Times cover to cover and get a bunch of editorial cartoon ideas. When you come home tomorrow you can draw them and you'll be right on track again." She knows I fret constantly about my deadlines. And, dear woman, she just doesn't understand that my muse is far more temperamental than that. There wasn't a snowball's chance of being inspired under these conditions.
To humor her, and because I discovered yet again that I am incapable of watching TV, I read the Sunday Times. It may be the first time in my life I've ever finished the thing, even the sections I always set aside "to read later" and end up pitching by Wednesday. It astonishes me how much the Times can put into the same amount of newsprint that other newspapers fill with so little. I went to sleep feeling like I'd had a huge meal. (OK, well I had, at the Stage Deli across the street, but the feeling wasn't entirely due to the Reuben.)
Monday morning I was sitting in LaGuardia five hours before my flight feeling like a total midwestern rube, having believed the dire morning show warnings about airport congestion and more cancelled flights. With time to kill I opened my sketchbook, rolled my eyes and acted as if ideas might come.
Three hours later I had five good editorial cartoon ideas. This does not happen to me, ever. As I got on the plane I apologized to my wife in my head and headed straight to the office to draw.
(sound of God laughing again)
On the drive from the airport to my office I learned about the Virginia Tech massacre and realized I was back at Square One again. There is no ignoring certain stories, no matter what little nuggets you've got stored in your sketchbook. The day ended in a drawing sweat.
In the end, though, I have to acknowledge how little I understand my creative process even after being attentive to it for these thirty years. It can thrill me or frustrate me with utter whimsy. When I die, pickle my brain and see if someone centuries from now can figure out how it worked.