Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo talks about THE ABCs OF ADULTHOOD, collaborating, tools for life and so much more

Every once in a while there is a book that's classic, the kind you want to give to your kids, your best friend, even the dentist because maybe he gave you a break on a root canal. I fell in love with The ABCS OF ADULTHOOD, with text by the amazing Deborah Copaken and photographs and design by the equally amazing Randy Polumbo.How a Doodle Became a Book is the story of how this first in a series came to be. Deborah told me that creating it stretched both their creative muscles-- Randy with a pen and Deborah with a paintbrush. "We are so much more than our titles and skill sets," Deborah says, and she's so absolutely right.

Randy Polumbo is one of the most astonishing talents in the art world. Don't believe me? Check out his web page. You don't want to miss Randy's most recent show in Chelsea. And if you are in Tasmania, you have to see this at MONA museum.

I've always been a total fangirl to Deborah Copaken.She's brave, she's funny, she incredibly smart, generous and creative, and part of every day is checking her FB page to see what she's up, too. Her bio she wrote for her website is so funny, I'm letting it speak for itself here: Wrote bestselling Shutterbabe, followed by unpublishable drivel, followed by Between Here and April, Hell is Other Parents, and the New York Times bestselling The Red Book, which was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize); published essays in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Nation, Elle, More, Slate, Paris Match, O, and others; shot photo assignments; produced and shot a documentary in Pakistan for CNN in the wake of 9/11; became a columnist for The Financial Times; performed live on stage with The Moth, Afterbirth, Six Word Memoir, and Eve Ensler’s tribute to Anita Hill; adapted Hell is Other Parents for the stage, starring Kate Burton, Sandy Duncan, Tovah Feldshuh, Julie Halston, and Rita Wolf; wrote several screenplays and a TV pilot that were never produced; watched Shutterbabe (the big and small-screen versions) languish in development hell; had another baby; lost appendix, uterus, father, Upper West Side home, bearings, socks, sanity, and several nouns; found Harlem, yoga, and occasional serenity. But not the socks. Or the whatchamacallit. Nouns.

 The upheaval years; separated from husband and life partner of 23 years; sent the two eldest off to college; received a diagnosis of stage 0 breast cancer; got sucked into the vortex of job turmoil, twice, while single parenting the little one 24/7; seriously contemplated emigrating to Scandinavia; instead, moved across the street from the Inwood Hill Forest, the greatest city refuge no one in Manhattan has ever heard of; granted three miracles: 1) sold Shutterbabe as a TV series and was hired to co-write the pilot for NBC/Universal; 2) landed new full-time job plus three-book deal to co-create, with artist Randy Polumbo, a series of ABC books; and 3) love.

How did you get the tone exactly right? It's hard, sometimes to talk to your grown up kids, but the tone was absolutely honest and real--and it works for both an adult-adult and an adult kid.

I think I have to harken back to my late father here. My dad, from the moment I was cognizant of his existence, always spoke to me as if I were his equal. My opinions counted. But so did his. We were engaged, always, in a rational dialogue, human to human. I've always tried to do the same with my own kids. I failed on many occasions--yelling when I shouldn't have, retreating into my head when they needed me, being overbearing when they just wanted to be alone--but I'd like to think that I did a half-decent job of communication, especially when I could channel my father. The tone of the book is meant to mimic that kind of dialogue. In other words, it's less of a pedantic "You must do this or else!" and more of an opening to a longer conversation.

And speaking of honest, I loved the instruction to be sober for one day, just as an experiment. No judgements at all.

I'd been experimenting with radical sobriety when I wrote that, and I was finding that social interactions were actually made better without the lubricant of alcohol. I could think more clearly, enjoy the conversations, really be present rather than artificially happy and numb. So many of my social interactions in college took place over a keg or a bowl of grain alcohol punch or with a joint in hand. I knew my kids would be exposed to the same, but I wanted to provide a bit of a counterpose or at least food for thought: what would it be like to be at a college party sober? I'm not sure I ever tried that. I wish I had.

What was it like choosing topics for each letter? The wonderful thing about this book is it got me thinking about my own letters (though I bet no one can think of a better L than Love.)

That actually took the most time: trying to map out an entire adulthood's worth of advice in 26 paragraphs. It took me days, in fact. It was like a puzzle. At first B was for Beer, which was going to be my plea for a night of sobriety, but then I needed B to be Bed, so then the I became Intoxication. Stuff like that. L will always be for love, in every alphabet book we do, and we will always use Randy's drawing of the L you see on his desk in some way. It's the most important letter of all, the most important noun and verb on earth. What's cool is that Randy and I have been writing our next book, THE ABCs OF PARENTHOOD, together in tandem, and we managed to bang out the ideas for all of the letters for that book one morning over breakfast. That's the beauty of collaboration, I suppose. Two heads are sometimes not just better than one, they become their own hyper-fast organism, especially where Randy is concerned. He's a mad genius. You should see his art.

1/2 question-What's obsessing you now and why?

A bunch of things, really. I'm obsessed over the way so many of my writer friends are suddenly struggling to survive, whether as journalists or novelists. Musicians, too. We're all consuming more media and music than ever before, and the artists is getting shafted. This bothers me tremendously. I'm obsessing over circles. I keep making paintings and collages of broken things that become whole within the boundaries of a circle. I'm obsessing over romantic love. Being mid-divorce forces a reckoning with what it means to love and be loved. Ironically, I feel that finally, at 50, I understand not only what love means but how rare it is. I'm obsessing over my new bike, a birthday present from my family by a company called Tokyobike. It's so beautiful and light and well-designed: I love riding it! And finally, I'm obsessing over my nine-year-old son, my one remaining child of three. He's totally quirky and wonderful, and I'm just trying to enjoy every second with him that I can.


The images are both startling and hauntingly beautiful. So which came first, the images or the decision to use them for a specific letter?

Thank you for appreciating the images.. As you can imagine since we are both artists, this changed constantly.  We started sending lots of text messages in letter / image form and by the end of this series I expect we will have developed a secret language no one else can understand.  Since we are both treasure hunters of sorts, “finding” the letters probably preceded the decision that they were keepers, we just collected a large flock then culled all but one!

How did you two work together? (Yes, this is another which came first, the chicken or the egg question..)

Without divulging any secrets that would necessitate our killing you, we can say we have almost opposite approaches and we meet in the middle on a tiny bridge made of frayed ropes that can snap at any time, but that is part of the magic, bounty, and fun of it.

How do you know when an image is the right one? Each of your sublime photographs somehow seems imbued with emotion--the right emotion--and well as meaning.

We agreed mostly upon which image was right/best.  This seemed to be largely intuitive, and the times we reshot something complicated and thought out it often failed to thrive.  We both are interested in capturing a complete moment that often has an emotional cast as well as an archeological or detective aspect, revealing an angle, some close up details, or relationships, time, or even psychological or physical space.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Right this minute I am obsessed with plants.   While I will not turn away a perky mushroom or bunch of roots or vegetables, flowers are my favorite, and especially finding images of propagation, blossoming, and pollination that are symmetrical in other systems.  For example how space probes are reminiscent of seeds.  I think part of the key to fixing the world is understanding that we are all the same and everything is connected, and some day we will have the habit of thanking even a plant before we eat it, and saving the water for them from washing our hands or dishes will be required for our survival.

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