By Alan Rowland
The book was my portfolio.
In truth - it was not porcelain, but a dull, anodized aluminum metal. It had always sat in the same spot of a small New York apartment; ever within reach of the farthest part of the home, where one might cook or sleep or brush one's teeth.
It contained vinyl pages where drawings could be placed for protection and viewing. The drawings of two years had filled the book to its last page. They had been drawn in a mad, continuous flourish of hands over a period of months; it was a wild year at the kitchen table, as though I somehow knew that time was running out, and might soon be spent. In a lifetime of drawing, the metal book contained all that had ever mattered to me in a drawing.
The portraits were slashes of wickedly broad strokes; the draftsmanship, the carefully rendered subjects thrilled me with their speed. I had finally found a creative 'voice', a voice who spoke with humor, faith and beauty. I had never heard this voice before, and it spoke quickly, loudly; a 'New York City Voice', and my hands would often grow weary with the speed and chase to make my art.
Another, crueler voice whispered oddly at first... to my left foot.
The conversation quickly raced up my body to the left leg, arm and hand - my drawing hand. What was happening to me? The drawings ended in seizures and trembling - I was working on the second portrait in a series, 'Famous Drag Queens of NYC'. The portrait stopped two-thirds complete - a Lady with her make up not quite so artfully applied.
My doctors said: 'you will never draw again', and the voice of art stopped.
The metal portfolio stood in its slippered case, always within reach, within mind. The metal grew fragile to my imagined touch, like a porcelain vase - I could not bear to touch it, fearing that the book and its treasures might shatter to pastel shards on the floor.
The book seemed to grow larger and more fragile; the drawings became fainter to recall, and still I could not open the book. There it stood, holding its spot and growing ever larger, collecting dust like a novel read and long forgotten.
The 'novel' was my autobiography.
My hands became weaker with illness and trembling. Weeks turned into months, and months - years, and I wearied of the fear, and would, finally, face and open the book. I admit I raced through the book, like a slow art director on a quick deadline, to the very last page.
The ghosts of old work had flown by as leaves in a night's wind. I thought long - the book in my lap. The next morning at 6 a.m., a Wednesday in September I believe, I found two clean, vinyl sleeves. I placed the 'Lady' without her makeup in a two-page spread, to accommodate her luscious wigs and extensions... right after her sad sister, ' Mr Ruby', and then, I closed the book for the last time.
Artist and writer Alan Rowland worked for many years in New York City as an illustrator and art director until a seriously debilitating illness robbed him of the use of both hands. Five years ago he moved to the countryside in southern New Jersey, where he began to write poetry about health, illness, art and loss. Rowland's illustrations here, are "Mr. Ruby," top, and the half-finished "Lady."