Portraits and prospectus

Tomorrow is my prospectus defense.

I have to say, I’m much calmer than I thought I would be.

In fact, I went through a brief period of guilt because I wasn’t as nervous as I thought was appropriate.  As though there is a certain level of nervousness you have to hit, or everyone will know think you failed to take your prospectus defense seriously, like an academic should.

I got over that pretty quickly…but then I entered a brief period where I was nervous that I wasn’t nervous.  Like I had lulled myself into a false sense of security, and as soon as I got into the room with my advisors, everyone would find out I was an imposter who didn’t actually know anything about the dissertation project at hand.

This phase took me longer to push through.  I had to do some intense mental work to convince myself that, actually, I know my project inside and out.  I have my prospectus memorized, to the point that I can see some pages of it as though they are photographs.  I spent months painstakingly building each component, fashioning each segment as a celebratory and transparent explanation of my ideas, and constructing chapter outlines that introduced with enthusiasm the story I wanted to tell.

Imposter syndrome runs rampant in academia, but here’s a tip:

It’s ok to admit, on occasion, that you’ve put in the time, the effort, the work, and come out on the other side with something of which you are enormously proud and about which you are knowledgeable. 

Really.  It’s ok.

So, once I hit that place of zen, and I felt culmination and determination washing over me, I decided to channel that feeling into some art projects.  Namely, I’ve been meaning to draw new portraits for Marc and Elliot for about three years, and I decided it was time.

The results are even better than I hoped.  I think my determination transferred into my art, and the portraits that emerged show ‘the boys’ at their most determined, as well.  They wear it very differently, but with self assured beauty, each.

I drew Elliot first:

20140202_100206This is a portrait of Elliot round about 1851–he’d be nearly 34 years old.

By age 34, Elliot co-owned the literary review and monthly editorial that he started working at as a 14-year-old press boy in 1832.  The primary owner, Mr. Yorke, had moved back up to Scotland, and left Elliot in charge as Editor, which meant Elliot had to pull himself out of his introversion and learn how to charm people into buying subscriptions and giving up the details of high-society literary life.  He found it exhausting, but he was proud of himself for managing it, in the end.

In this portrait, I imagine him taking a brief moment to stand outside his offices and soak up some rare sun as it poked through the industrial smog.  His eyes had started to give out on him by his late 20s (rough childhood), and by the time he hit 30, he had resigned himself to glasses as part of his person, hence the cavalier dangling spectacles.  And if you look closely at his right ear, you’ll notice he’s sporting a small hoop earring.  Her Majesty’s Opera Company had pierced his ear back when he was performing as a tenor lead, and he decided he liked making that a part of his person, too…mostly so he could pretend he was a pirate.

Signs of quiet happiness across his features come, 100%, from the constant support and love from his family.  He and Marion were going on 15 years of marriage, and Jon, their lovely little genius, was going on 12 years old.  Elliot also took comfort from his partnership with Geoff, which was going on 17 years, and at this point they were plotting to send Jon off to a very early entrance at UCL, followed by scientific voyages, a la Darwin–that precocious young scientist who had started to publish some findings from his five year stint on the H. M. S. Beagle.  Marion was on board with university, but Elliot and Geoff were still working with her on the ‘giant ship taking my baby boy all the way to Africa’ part.

Anywho…that’s Elliot.  He is awesome, and I love him.

Enter Marcus:

20140202_100244This is the counterpart portrait–although, Marcus is a bit older, here.  He’s 40, which places the portrait in 45 B.C.

Marc is a badass.  Obviously.  Look at that intense stare and wicked tattoo.

(To be clear, there’s no evidence that he had tattoos in ancient Rome…he just wanted them now.  The top half with the geometric pattern and leaves is based on Etruscan pottery designs, and the swirling bottom half is based on Maori tattoo art, designed by his ghost friend, Matiu.)

The story of Marc’s political and military life is pretty well known.  By the time he was 40, he had worked as the assistant to Cato, governor of Cyprus, who he looked up to as a father and philosophical role model.  Cato was a Stoic, and Marc sort of cherry-picked which aspects of that world-view to follow–Marc is incredibly steadfast in his beliefs and focused in his work, but he likes wine and good lovin’ way more than Stoics were supposed to.  He had also served as military commander in Cilicia and Macedonia, establishing himself as an incredibly kind and compassionate conqueror who believed in personal liberties…as long as you did what he said.  He was a well known conservative politician (aligned with the Republic…duh), and had worked his way up through the financial ranks of the Roman magistracy, making himself a fabulously wealthy man in the process.  By 45 B.C. he had also survived an intense battle with some sort of pox illness, fought in the Roman Civil War, received a pardon from Caesar, and accepted the role of praetor, to begin the following year.

Personally, though, the historical record is quieter.  And this is where I was able to infuse some flexibility into the story of “Brutus” and bring him down into the realms of sympathy.

In 45 B.C., Marc divorced his first wife, Claudia, and no one knew why.  Everyone looked at him like he was a crazy person, because she was known across Rome for her unimaginable beauty.  And then he turned around married his cousin Porcia, entering into a partnership that was more intellectual than it was sexual.

The more I thought about this, the more it became clear to me that Marc loved men.  I hesistate to say he was “gay” because the term is anachronistic, and he doesn’t use it in reference to himself.  But if you read his personal life through this lens, things make much more sense.

So, is my Marcus–Elliot’s Marcus–really the Marcus Junius Brutus of history and legend?  Yes, and no.

I’ve celebrated his political, philosophical, and military accomplishments, but I’ve also allowed his personification to take some twists and turns that I have no way of historically validating. For instance, no record shows that he lost a lover named Aulus in his campaign in Macedonia, or that the “private friend” he took with him to Cyprus after the assassination was his husband Rufius, an inheritor of Etruscan artistic talent, mystical connection, and father to Little Ru.  But together, Marc and I have determined that those men existed and that they loved him.

That’s why I call Marc, Marc.  He’s not “Brutus” to me.  He’s a lover of Rome, of his companions, of Porcia, and of Elliot and their children.

And also of dinosaurs.

After I finished the portraits, I realized that somehow…despite the fact that Elliot has been around since I was 19, and he and Marc have been married nearly 3 years…still, somehow, I have failed to display their portraits somewhere in my home.

How I managed this exclusion for so long, I have no idea.  But, I ameliorated the hell out of it.


My main men get a whole section of wall in my meditation and writing room, where they can daily inspire me with their stories and impressive self-possession.

Here’s to them.

Historian, novelist, musician, and imagination professional.

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