From Sandra in East London
In my life I have been blessed to be able to visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida several times. It might sound slightly silly for a grown man to admit to this, but I absolutely love Disney World; in many ways I believe that it truly is “the happiest place on earth.” By far my favorite ride in all of the 4 parks that make up Disney World is called Soarin’. The unusual premise of the ride is that you are somehow strapped into a sort of open air flying machine somewhat similar to a mechanized hang glider of sorts. But this isn’t your average roller coaster. In fact, the ride isn’t a roller coaster at all. In reality it’s more like being suspended in front of a giant IMAX screen while various flying sequences and scenic images speed by.
What makes the ride so interesting, though, is how sensory appealing the whole experience is. You not only experience the sensation of flying because of the various tilt angles of the machinery; you can actually feel the wind on your face. You can smell the scents of oranges as they rise up from below you in the Florida orchards. The sounds that greet your ears are true and real and feel like they are coming at you from just the right angle and at just the right time. Everything is perfect. You really feel like your flying.
Ok. Moving on. This is where things might get a little weird. You see, whenever I ride Soarin’, I don’t just like it, I love it. Whenever I ride this ride, I don’t just experience happiness; I experience joy. And in my opinion, happiness and joy are two totally different things. We often think of joy as just a kind of happiness that is a little bit more intense than your average good mood, but I think the definition of joy runs deeper than this. Joy is the emotion that makes you cry for spontaneously at moments when your heart is overflowing with rapture. It’s a feeling that just feels like too much, like you’ve touched something very special, but you’re not actually sure what it is. Like you are nostalgic for something that you can’t quite put your finger on. Like an otherworldly memory of complete happiness is just outside your grasp. Like you have experienced something so beautiful that it has caused you physical pain. Your heart literally aches because of the exquisiteness of what you have encountered. The feeling is often bittersweet, tinged with the slightest bit of heartache, but the happiness of joy is so far beyond any other type of happiness, that even the pain that comes with it puts mere “happiness” to shame.
What does any of this have to do with the illustrations by Sandra that are on display today? Well, simply put, they give me joy. For reasons I can’t explain they carry me back to the warmest childhood memories and call to me with their layers of texture and their elements of magical realism and grounded fantasy. They stir my soul and cause my heart to pang with the deepest feelings of longing and solidify a belief that true beauty is not dead.
Thanks, Sandra. Joy is a rare commodity in this world, but you have given me this gift, and for that I am grateful.
From Tam and Louise in the UK.
I love it when the Wolves by Strangers project brings people together, and in the case of the two pictures that are on display today, I take great pleasure in the fact that a young engaged couple in the UK chose to take a break from the chaos of wedding planning to produce these wonderful illustrations. An email that I received from Tam informed me of the couple’s upcoming nuptials, and I am sure that I speak for everyone reading this when I wish them a life full of happiness and wedded bliss.
Keeping in mind that these wolves were drawn by an engaged couple, I love looking at these pictures and noticing what they inherently suggest about the differences between the sexes.
First examine Louise’s picture: Notice the beautifully dainty features of the bride wolf, how she is adorned with jewelry meant to enhance the natural attractiveness of her features. Her lashes and whiskers are long and inviting, and she is no doubt flashing them about in an effort to entice her groom to desire her even more. She is a prize to be won, a masterpiece of beauty to be kept pure and sacred, a wonderful gift that is worth dying for.
Now notice Tam’s picture: See how he chooses to focus on an American television show whose storyline dealt with a military helicopter that was often engaged in missions of espionage. The wolf’s teeth are sharp and menacing; the eyes are wild in exciting. There is movement, action and adventure in this picture. It is exciting and dangerous and speaks of his inherent desire to be the conqueror and the hero.
These pictures are fundamentally different. But what does this mean? Does this lack of congruency mean that this couple is meant for disaster? Certainly not. If anything, I believe these pictures display a couple that is destined for a lifetime of happiness. I don’t want to adhere to outdated sexual stereotypes, but I do believe that there is a part of every woman that wants to be desired and a part of every man that longs to be the hero and the protector. These features don’t define us as men and women, but they also cannot be denied as a fundamental part of our respective natures, and perhaps an understanding of our fundamental differences will bring us closer together…
Congratulations again, Tam and Louise.
From TEAM WOLF in London, England.
I first want to apologize for the length of this post. I know it is incredibly long, and for that I am sorry.
The above picture is a very early one that I received via email from a group of acquaintances in London who have now become known as TEAM WOLF. These four individuals make up a sort of modern Fantastic Four. They are a diverse group with an unusual variety of individual backgrounds. In the past couple of months I have learned quite a bit about this fanatical foursome through an ongoing correspondence that has been extremely insightful and enlightening. What I have detailed below are amazingly accurate biographies of these unique characters that are responsible for the artwork above. In truth, I have found these characters so fascinating that I believe their identities must be shared with the world. I am presenting these biographies without their permission or endorsement, but I assure you that they are absolutely true.
Maddie: a.k.a. “Evil Maddie”
Maddie was the mistaken love child of a troubled Mexican-American Vietnam War veteran and a native London confectionary shop owner. Her father, Jorge Osvaldo Ramirez, received the news that he had been drafted at the age of 18 while he stood complacently making fry-bread in his family’s trailer in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Upon hearing the news, a mild look of bewildered curiosity flashed across his countenance, and he simply walked out of the trailer, tromped down the rickety wooden steps and strolled out of his family members’ lives forever. After being awarded 3 Purple Hearts (2 for leg injuries and 1 for a bit of shrapnel lodged firmly in his left cheekbone), he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Military but chose not to return home. Instead he traveled Asia and Europe as a migrant worker specializing in small engine repair, falsifying documents, and training roosters for illegal cockfights. It is rumored that Ramirez once penned a memoir entitled The Hellish Hero under the pseudonym Pablo D. LaRocha which detailed his little-known and extremely secretive missions in Laos during the war. Popular consensus is that the U.S. government had the man assassinated in fear that he would divulge too much information about his country’s most furtive wartime missions.
Anyway, when he stumbled into a young lady’s confectionary shop called “The Decadent Deli” in the summertime roughly 5 years after his discharge, he locked eyes with a woman whom he knew he could not live without. She was tall, blonde and slender, and her eyes spoke of a silent pain that was both beautiful and mysterious; there was an instant connection. The two spent a romantic summer holed up in the woman’s apartment, eating dark chocolate truffles and making love until Ramirez once again denied himself of the happiness of a family that he did not believe could be real and abruptly disappeared. He left only a note that read: “My dearest one, Your lips are as sweet as the chocolate that drips from your fingertips. I will never forget you.”
Shortly after this, Maddie was born, but she was no ordinary child. She possessed a sense of hearing that was beyond that of any normal human. It is believed that this was a result of the genetic makeup of her father who was able to fire large artillery weapons during the war without the slightest repercussion combined with the keen ear of her mother who had always had perfect pitch and had been an accomplished cello and harpsichord player in her youth. Maddie felt ostracized by her gifted hearing ability as a child but soon used it to her advantage during a short stint as an undercover officer for the London Police. It was her efforts, in fact, which foiled the little known attempt on the Prime Minister’s life in 1999. However, after surviving 4 bullets to the abdomen during a drug deal gone awry in 2007, Maddie put her skills to more a practical but equally fulfilling use and now specializes in developing assisted hearing technology for the hearing-impaired of the world today.
Mike: aka “Mike of the Jungle”
Contrary to what his name might suggest, Mike is not a sort of “Mowgli” character out of something along the lines of Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel The jungle Book. Nay, Mike’s unusual moniker is in fact a reference to the urban jungle that often surrounds and defines his interesting line of work. As a child Mike saw his father lose his position as a high ranking corporate executive for one of Stockholm’s leading snowboarding companies, Alpha Snow. According to legend, Mike’s father was the man who coined the slogan “Snow: it’s our thing” for Alpha Snow in 1984 when the company was just beginning to make a name for itself. Shortly after this, however, because of his embarrassing lazy eye and penchant for slightly off-color jokes, Mike’s father was released from his position and Mike and his family were forced to scrounge for food in the stinking alleyways of Stockholm’s slums. Clutching a maggot-infested turkey drumstick in his tiny clawed hand and crouching in the corner of an abandoned Stockholm sewage plant, Mike vowed revenge upon the man who had disgraced his father and his family.
Through an odd turn of events a few years later, Mike caught the eye of an “entrepreneur” by the name of Eli Cody while his family was performing cheap carnival tricks for money on the streets of Segovia, Spain. While his family juggled pins and knives and all manner of other objects, Mike would make his way through the crowd, pick-pocketing as he went. When Mike shuffled up along side Cody, the man snatched the young lad’s hand and drug him away from the crowd. “Follow me,” he said, “and you will no longer be forced to live this life of disgrace.” Doubting the stranger’s outlandish offer, but being too alarmed to resist, Mike ran away and accompanied Cody to Bejing where the old gentlemen taught Mike the fine art of covert assassination. Yes, that’s right, Mike is a trained, professional killer, but not of government officials or international terrorists. Given his horrendous childhood and the pain inflicted upon him by pompous corporate pigs, Mike bills himself as a gun for hire specializing in facilitating mutually beneficial corporate deals by eliminating troublesome CEOs and business tycoons. In short, he’s a corporate assassin. Unnamed sources have divulged that for years he has longed to leave the business, for the blood on his hands has simply become too thick with guilt. However, he still has one final target- one last trigger to pull: the one that will eliminate Adrian Rutger, former CEO for Alpha Snow.
Jeremy: aka “Jez”
Born into a life of privilege, Jeremy spent summers vacationing and “working” at his grandparents’ vineyards in France: the famous Madirian vineyards. With a wine bottle sloshing violently in each fist, Jeremy whiled away the time by stomping grapes in gigantic wooden vats to the catchy sounds of French pop music blasting away on a small transistor radio. As the light gradually faded in the west and the last dying embers of the sun stretched her fingers out into the darkening sky, Jeremy would prop up his purple-stained feet and watch the carloads of young women approach his personal wing of his grandparents’ estate. The nights there were filled with cries of ecstacy; the excess of pleasure was beyond description. Countless children were fathered out of wedlock. It was a life that some consider a myth: Hedonism at its finest. However, as is often the case, the excesses of youth often lead to a sobering adulthood, and by the time he was 22, Jeremy had decided that fulfilment did not reside in the flesh but in the spirit. He traded his wine bottles for a staff and his purple-stained feet for ones that were coated with sand and mud. In a desperate attempt to find inner peace, Jeremy set out to walk the entire coastline of France in order to seek a deeper meaning to life.
Eleven months later, having nearly completed the 2000 mile journey and finding only loneliness and despair, Jeremy’s frustration got the best of him and he angrily kicked at a discarded football (soccer ball) that bobbed along in the calm summertime surf. The ball, deflated as it was, soared through the air with speed and grace, and sailed smoothly between the pillars of a distant pier. And with that, Jeremy had found his calling. He had not known it at the time, but his years of grape-stomping had prepared him for a career as one of Europe’s most prominent athletes. Knowing that success was eminent, Jeremy changed his name to avoid the staggering costs of child support and soon moved to England. Before long he was the most talented player in the UK, and to this very day he still celebrates each victory with a smooth glass of wine straight from Madirian vineyards.
The Last Smuggler: true identity unknown.
Little is known about this mysterious character, but rumor has it that he spent his youth sailing the Caribbean on a small yacht captained by his lesbian mother of strong Jewish descent, delivering packages of cocaine and heroin to island drug lords. At the insistence of his domineering and tyrannical mother, the Smuggler’s childhood was spent in quiet isolation away from other youths, and as a result he became accustomed to reading mounds of intellectual literature written by some of history’s greatest philosophers. Nietzsche, Plato, Aristotle, Kierkegaard, Blake… The Smuggler read them all and digested all of their ideas until he was positively bloated by the works of these great minds. However, rumor has it that in a not-so-unforeseeable error, the young lad accidentally concocted a devilishly sinister Kool-Aid punch brimming with cocaine instead of sugar. Needless to say, this is the day that changed the Smuggler’s life. While still an intellectual marvel, this elementary-aged drug binge cost the man his ability to concentrate on a single subject for more than seconds at a time, and now he is regarded by many as a sort of mad genius. Like the Summoner from some modern and demented Canterbury Tales, he is a man filled with knowledge but resides in a deranged and twisted state of mind. Some say he killed a man with a plastic fork for talking to loudly at a motion picture show. Others claim to have seen him at a pub in London’s trendy east end devouring dishes of nothing but Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Some say he occasionally impersonates Jimmy Buffet with great success, while others say he claims to be a lesbian living in a man’s body. Still others merely report him as being beyond any description or definition whatsoever. Who (or what) is this modern marvel? The world may never know.