Totems: What Are You Passing Down To Your Children’s Children?





If you ask my daughter, these are the names for love. Pesyk is puppy in Ukrainian, and Emma is half-Ukrainian. Perhaps it’s even a bit dominant, because my half is so watered down with varying shades of Anglo-German Celts. So when she informed us that the pink puppy’s name was Pesyk, that made sense. Eventually she would cute-ify it into Pesun, and Pesunchik. Shyush was a development that happened around the age of two. She started saying this word to every dog that she passed, no matter the size or cuteness. Every Doberman, Shih Tzu, or Schnauzer got a squeal of “SHYYYUUUUUSH!” It was her way of saying, “I acknowledge your doggy-ness. You are loved by small girls in pink. We are one, you and I.”

At some point, I’m not sure when, it got expanded to cats. There was one weekend, where my mother’s cats were unable to sit in peace for five seconds, because Emma would descend upon them with a hail of “SHYUSHY-OOOOOOSHIIIII-OOOSH!!” As she got a little older, this tapered off, and we heard less of it, or at least it became less of a loving battle-cry. She still says it, quietly, sometimes whispered as she says goodbye to Pesyk in the morning before going off to school.

Seeing her with her puppy lately has me thinking of the totems we carry with us, and the art we make. I love small things. I bought a Vespa because I loved the style, but I also bought it because it was tiny. I wanted to ride something that was ridiculously small for me, because for most of my childhood I was bigger than other kids, and felt like Mongo in relation to my peers. So even back then I gravitated toward tiny toys. I loved LEGO, and I would spend hours trying to build the perfect tiny spaceship. I loved small things that fit into bigger things, so naturally, my favorite toy for a time was the tiny black Starcom shuttle that attached to the bigger shuttle, which had a cargo bay you could load with another tiny cargo loading ship. I carried either the shuttle or the loader everywhere for a time. We go through phases. At times it was a Transformer (Ravage, the tape cassette panther), at others it was a Secret Wars Dr. Doom figure.


Linus had his blanket, Indiana Jones had his hat. We will all, at some point in our lives, have something that we hold onto that brings us focus, or security, or a sense of power in a world where we can feel powerless and confused. Sometimes it’s a reminder, like tugging on a rubber band around the wrist to resist a craving for sweets. Sometimes it’s a ribbon we wear to memorialize a friend who died.

When I started making Milo Pocket Art, this was what I had in mind. Sure, I wanted to make a toy, but more than that, I wanted to make something that people would hold in their hand and remember to be still and enjoy the stillness. Clouds have always been calming to me, and holding a cloud in the palm of my hand or seeing him sitting on my nightstand feels like a way to connect to that calm.

After I made the first run of Pocket Art a few years ago, I kept one of the first finished pieces in my jacket pocket, as a reminder of what I hoped to bring to the world. And with this current run, I’ve done the same. Milo is my totem of peace, and I hope he brings a little of that to the life of every person who reads his tales.


There’s a literary history of things that belong only to one person, and of people putting bits of themselves into the things they hold dear. Thor’s hammer can only be lifted by one who is worthy, (currently, Thor can’t even lift it), King Arthur was the only one able to pull the sword from the stone, and more recently Harry Potter’s world is filled with wands that call out to their owners, and horcruxes which hold a portion of a wizard’s essence. People who don’t necessarily believe in ghosts sometimes still believe in psychic residue, where a house or an item has picked up on a particular charged moment in time, or the emotions of a person who lived there.

Do you ever wonder what scenes might play out in your house long after you’re gone? What part of you might be left behind on that locket you wear every day? What totems do you carry with you? What emotions do you feel when you hold them? Do you feel like you’ve poured yourself into any one item you own? Do you still have the teddy bear your godmother gave you when you were a baby? If so, do you feel like losing it would be losing a bit of yourself?

In the things I make, and the art I create in this world, I like to think that a little bit of the joy that went into the creation rubs off on the people who take the pieces home. And if a book, or a piece of art, gets passed along to someone else over the years, I hope all the accumulated joy gets passed down with it. It’s cool to imagine a happy avalanche of Milo-shaped warm-fuzzies landing on some kid generations from now.

What avalanches of happy are you sending to your descendants?

Do you wanna start one now?




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