Shadow – a poem

I realize this poem may feel a little dark and despairing. I’m hoping the paradoxical sense of transcendence will come across as well.


A blank philosophy
filling the wounded spots
shields her invisible threads
with so many mysterious whispers.

From the unseen to the known,
a path is carved
in pure uncertainties.
echoes the hollow.

The bottomless pit,
appendage of my father,
rolls out a black carpet
of useless, toiling ways.

If I told you how the wind,
in deep, encrusted caves,
moves in reeking stutters,
obliterates the culmination of
years of brave defiance,
would you see
with eyes of sorrow,
or hear
a voice of shame?

The shadow creeps relentlessly
and I,
in tangled weathers,
engulf the dark that snares me.


Copyright © 1992 Marian Buchanan

The Children in Jesse’s Dream Skirt – Part 3

Joining in (or not)

Jesse tells his dreamThis is a continuation of the exploration of the differences between the two versions of the children’s story, Jesse’s Dream Skirt. I’ve covered the daycare children’s initial reactions and then the group discussion initiated by the teacher. Now let’s find out what happens next.

In both versions, the discussion ends on a note that makes Jesse feel better. In the magazine version, after Sarah calls him brave, he looks around and sees “everyone smiling.” It’s not a realistic scenario, since it would likely take more than what Sarah said to convert the naysayers in the group. In the book version, though, the discussion ends with “so many of the children” talking at once that Jesse can’t tell who’s saying what, but everything he hears is positive.

In both versions, it’s at this point that he tells the children about his dream and how he and his mother made the skirt.

In the magazine version, the teacher then reminisces about Continue reading

The Children in Jesse’s Dream Skirt – Part 2

Why does it matter to them that Jesse’s wearing a skirt?

This is a continuation of the exploration started in the earlier posts in this series, and particularly the previous one about the daycare children in the Jesse’s Dream Skirt story. I mentioned there were several differences between the two versions of the story, relating to one or more of the following: Continue reading

The Children in Jesse’s Dream Skirt

Overview, First Reactions, and the Dynamics of Shaming

I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that there are differences between the two versions of the story Jesse’s Dream Skirt. I’ve already covered the differences in the way the mother is portrayed. Now it’s time to look at the two different versions of the children and how they react to Jesse wearing a skirt to daycare. This will take several posts, but let me first give you an overview.

Jesse's Dream Skirt illustration by Marian Buchanana - the children talking

Continue reading

Jesse’s Mother – two ways of parenting a gender-non-conforming child

Jesse tries on his mother's dressIn the children’s story Jesse’s Dream Skirt, the main character is a little boy who likes to wear skirts and dresses – in other words, clothes that the society he lives in considers to be appropriate only for girls.

We can leave for another time the debate about where such an idea comes from and how arbitrary it is. For now, I just want to look briefly at the issue of how a parent can be supportive of a child whom some would call a “pink boy” — a boy who is “gender non-conforming.” Continue reading

The “Orphan Works” copyright threat

I only recently found out about the plans to reform the U.S. Copyright Act, and about the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry asking visual artists for comments. Luckily, there was still time for me to participate in the process, and I received much of my information through the website, on a post titled Your Copyrights Could Be Undergoing Drastic Changes! – Orphan Works Discussion Deadline 7-23-2015

It’s taken me a couple of days of drafting and editing to compose my submission, but I’ve managed to finish it and send it in through the online form before tomorrow’s deadline. Phew!

This is a subject that matters very much to me, since I make my living through my art and I feel strongly about how my works are used — and how I don’t want them to be used! Copyright protection is paramount to my livelihood and moral rights as a creator.

The submissions will eventually be published on the website, but I thought I’d also publish mine here. The preferred submission format was PDF, so that’s the format I’ve used. You can read it here:


Any thoughts?

A better version of Jesse’s Dream Skirt

Magnus issue #2

As you know from my previous post, Jesse’s Dream Skirt is a children’s story about a little boy who wears a skirt to daycare. But did you know there are actually two published versions of the story?

Before it was picked up by the feminist publishing collective Lollipop Power, the story was first printed in 1977 in a “socialist journal of gay liberation” called Magnus. The magazine only had two issues before it folded, and the story appeared in issue #2. Continue reading

Jesse’s Dream Skirt – the Project

Jesse loves to wear things that whirl, twirl, and flow. How will the children react to him when he wears a skirt to daycare? This project starts with a children's book but goes beyond. Jesse's Dream Skirt, was written by Bruce Mack (a.k.a. Morning Star), illustrated by myself, Marian Buchanan, and published by Lollipop Power in 1979. Decades later, it has become a classic. I’ll be chronicling the making and impact of the book, (including the backlash), making some artwork available for sale, and welcoming your input on where to take it from here.Jesse loves to wear things that whirl, twirl, and flow. How will the children react to him when he wears a skirt to daycare?

This project starts with a children’s book but goes beyond.

The book, Jesse’s Dream Skirt, was written by Bruce Mack (a.k.a. Morning Star or morningstar), illustrated by myself, Marian Buchanan, and published by Lollipop Power in 1979.

One of the things I’ll be sharing here is a chronicle of the making and impact of the book. Continue reading

Harriet Dushane Penniman Patterson Buchanan

Who is it who has such a long name? My mother. The “Buchanan” at the end came later, when she married my father, but even before that, it’s a bit of a long name. This photo will give you a sense of why she inherited family-names-as-middle-names from her family roots. (Does anyone still publish announcements like this? Is there even such a thing anymore as this kind of social column? I imagine she would be around 18 in the picture, so around 1939.) The caption says:

Miss Patterson, debutante daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Patterson and granddaughter of George Dobbin Penniman, will leave for New York February 13 to visit her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Sioussat.

If you’re interested in her mother’s side of the family, there are some genealogy books on the Pennimans, published in the 1980s, that are now available for digital borrowing from Her mother, my grandmother, was Harriet Wilson Dushane Penniman, given number 147.192.413 in the numbering system used in the books. So my mother would be number 147.192.413.1 (and I would be 147.192.413.13).

It was because she had such a string of long middle names herself that my mother gave me and my sisters no middle names at all. Since the culture’s convention is for women to take their husband’s last name and men to keep their own, my parents figured that my sisters and I would have our last name as a middle name if we ever married, and gave my brother one single middle name, a family name from my father’s side of the family.

My mother was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 17th, 1921. She died in France in May 2001.


Mousey - oil painting by Harriet D.P.P. BuchananI wanted to write up something very special about my mother today, to honour and celebrate her on her birthday, but I find myself at a loss for words. Let me give you a glimpse of her through this painting instead, a portrait she did of me when I was 8 years old.

She signed her artwork in various ways — her full name was Harriet Dushane Penniman Patterson Buchanan, which is a bit long and she never included it all. This painting, she signed simply Buchanan. It’s called “Mousey” for one very obvious reason, but I think perhaps also for another. When I was 8, I had a pet mouse to whom I gave that very straightforward (some would say unimaginative) name. Here we are, Mousey and I, in our quiet, gentle little world together. My mother took some artistic liberties in giving me lighter hair than I actually had at that time — I had gone from blond to brown at around age 4 — but I think she really captured something of the mousey shyness I experienced (sometimes painfully so) at age 8.

This is obviously not the first work she ever did, and not her only style. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art as a young woman and although she never became well-known as an artist, she continued to paint and draw her whole life — well enough, I think, to deserve a little late recognition.

Someday I’d like to show you more of her paintings, sketches, and pen-&-ink illustrations, and there’s also so much else I’d like to say about who my mother was as a person, how she impacted me as her daughter and friend, and how fond of her everyone else who met her seemed to be as well. In the meantime, I thought sharing this oil painting with you would give you a glimpse of her talent, and help me lovingly celebrate at least this one facet of her, on her birthday.