My life, in pictures


1964: I’m born


1965 (age 1): Rusty, the first dog with whom I ever interacted

Part of my mother’s requirement for marrying my father in 1962 was that he buy her a dog – she wanted a miniature Doberman (I have no idea why).  He complied, and bought her one that she named Rusty.  Here I am at age 1, delighting in Rusty’s antics.  Perhaps this was an indication of how at home I felt with dogs – and how long I wanted one of my own:


1966 (age 2):

May 1966: My father’s notes at the bottom of the pictures, discussing how, when he’s at work and tells me to give him a hug, I hug the phone – and how the vacuum cleaner is my “car”:

Thanksgiving 1966:

December 1966, Hanukkah: Three reasonably happy faces, one confused, one scowling. If anything indicates how early the fights between my parents began, it’s this picture.  I can remember all the way back to this tender age, witnessing and (later) being haunted by their screaming matches.

1967 (age 3): Swimming with my father


1969 (age 5): Hanukkah

We looked like a reasonably happy, intact family.  The reality was far different.  It was about this time that I began to realize how much it can hurt to be alive.


1971 (age 7): We moved to Chicago’s south suburbs, but things only get worse

Sometime that year, I believe (and assume after school let out in June), my parents moved us from our increasingly-dangerous home in south Chicago (92nd and Yates) to Glenwood, which borders the Homewood-Flossmoor school district.  From a safety and educational standpoint, this was a very smart, loving move by my parents.  But our family continued to implode, and it was in this house, and on this street, that the bulk of the nightmares in my early life occurred.

It was here that I learned how painful life could be, and how the parents who are supposed to be protecting and nurturing their child can become the very people from whom he needs the most protection.  I also learned how, by failing to teach such a child how to protect himself, they effectively serve him up to predators.

As shown below, it was only a matter of a few months after moving in that things began to tear apart, again.


August 21-22, 1971: Mom’s letters to me from somewhere in downtown Chicago

Several months after moving into our new home, my father kicked my mother out (again).  She was, I believe, living with a friend somewhere in downtown Chicago, and would go get coffee at the restaurant at the Palmer House hotel.  She wrote me frequently while she was away.  Here are two letters I kept, the first of which is just the last page of hers from 8/21/71:



1973 (age 9): Smiling… just before things really broke apart

To look at this picture, taken in the third grade, one would have no idea of what I was enduring at home.  I could still smile.  I seem to remember that this picture was taken just as I developed a major crush on my beautiful teacher, Ms. Struve, at Churchill Elementary School (she was the first of my crushes on dark-haired beauties):


1973/74 (age 9): The picture that signaled the end of my smiles for a long time

If I remember correctly, this picture was taken at a step-in photo booth, for a legal file, in preparation for my testimony at my parent’s divorce hearing – at which I was forced to choose between them.  Or, it may have been taken shortly thereafter.  I’m just not sure.

I can only remember that this period of time was one of the most painful of my life.  It was the climax of my parents’ tug-of-war over me, and the brainwashing and indoctrination to which I was subjected by them, and each side of their respective families, to hate the other.  It was a 24-7 nightmare.


I don’t think I allowed any more pictures to be taken of me for years.

August 1975 (age 11): Just because my parents’ divorce was over, their war wasn’t

Although my parents’ divorce was finalized in late 1974, this letter from my mother’s attorney to my father is pretty self-explanatory. But it only tells part of the story. The rest is a blur of the continuing war between them, with me stuck in the middle, each attempting to indoctrinate me to hate the other. As indicated in this letter, and my memory recalls, my father engaged in this behavior far more than my mother did.


1977 (age 13): My Bar Mitzvah


“And these children

that you spit on, as they

try to change their worlds

are immune to your consultations,

they’re quite aware of

what they’re going through…”


– David Bowie, “Changes”



1977 (13 years old): My brief, unremarkable career in motocross racing

This is me with the motocross bike I bought with my Bar Mitzvah money, for (I think) around $900 – a 1976 Suzuki RM100. You can see the look of quasi-coolness on my face.

And this is me, with my broken wrist, a few months later. You can see the look of anger and defiance on my face – because I sensed something very bad was about to happen (besides the crash, and my injuries).  I was right.

As I describe in my book, upon realizing that my father wasn’t going to act in what he deemed a strong enough manner, the younger of my step-brothers took it upon himself to take my bike, disassemble it, and sell it off for parts at the service station where he was a mechanic (yes, he gave me the proceeds).  It was the first act that would begin a lifetime of mutual resentment between us – and the knife was twisted when he did it again, less than two years later, to my first car.


 1978 (age 14): A visual indication of how bad things really were

This picture was taken while I was on summer vacation, and was visiting my mother at the Commodore Inn, an inpatient halfway house at 5547 N. Kemore (now Bryn Mawr Care), where she worked as a bookkeeper and office manager.  You can see on my face that something is not right.  Suffice to say that putting a naiive, troubled 14 year old kid on drugs into an environment with adults on the edge of sanity, or with substance abuse problems, and nothing good is going to come from it. My mother never knew what really happened.


1978-79 (age 14-15): Freshman year in high school

High school was a fun, happening, exciting respite from home.  All of a sudden, I was interacting with every type of character imaginable, including stoners, artists, musicians, punks and rebels of every variety.  You can almost see the look of, “I think I’m gonna like it here” on my face, in my freshman ID card.

A focal point of interest: Beautiful girls.  High school opened up a panorama of new interests for me – none of which were more important than beautiful girls.  Being an average-looking guy with a terrible home life wasn’t an asset.  Being artistic, funny and modestly charming, was:

The north building lunchroom at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Flossmoor, IL.


Homewood-Flossmoor High School: “The Wall”

Along “The Wall” of H-F’s north building, before school and during lunch time throughout the academic year, many of the school’s freshman and sophomore cigarette smokers, potheads and purveyors of assorted other substances would gather, under a cloud of pungent, gray mist, partying and grooving to whatever music was coming out of someone’s boom box. This all occurred right in front of the teachers and school staff, who parked and walked by. See the left-most building in this virtual-reality movie of “The Wall” here.

From Wikipedia:

(Age 14-15) Party, party, party

The only times I remember being really happy during this period of time were when I was at a party with my pals (and the girls).  Keep in mind that our “parties” pretty much invariably involved a lot of beer, and a variety of illegal natural and chemical additives:


1979 (age 15): Spring Break at Disney World/Orlando


Winter 1982 (age 18):“You’re an adult now…”


1982: My academic and occupational confusion, as analogized to a key scene in one of my favorite movies, “Say Anything”

When the career counselor at the community college I was preparing to attend asked me what I want to study, I told her I had no idea – but I knew what I didn’t want to do with my life.  But I didn’t listen to my heart, and I didn’t have enough self-esteem to stand up for myself, and try to study art.  Ultimately, I was led to take classes such as accounting, chemistry, business, etc., all of which I knew I had absolutely no use for.

It wasn’t until five years later that I discovered, through a film by my favorite modern writer-director, Cameron Crowe, “Say Anything,” another version of the answer I gave her, as voiced by John Cusack – an actor to whom I was compared many times during that period of my life, in looks and attitude.  In this scene, Cusack (“Lloyd Dobbler”) is asked by the father of the girl he loves what his plans are for the future.  This is something similar to what I told that career counselor:


1982-84 (ages 18-20): Attempts at continuing my education at community college fail

After dropping out of high school in the spring of 1982, and getting a top-tier score on my GED (which was later disqualified due to a technicality, explained in my book), I began attending community college, and did what my family thought I should: take general courses until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

I quickly realized that I was wasting my time, and that I still did not fit in with the traditional classroom setting.   I was still pretty screwed up, bounced around a lot between my jobs and education, and only accumulated sixteen credit hours in basic subjects over two years.  I did learn, however, that I typically do much better in concentrated summer courses than in those that take all semester; it wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I just got bored very quickly with the slow pace of traditional learning.


1985 (age 21): “What Color Is Your Parachute?” showed me the way to my future

Sometime in 1985, someone gave me (or I discovered) What Color Is Your Parachute?  the world’s best-selling career planning guide.  I did all the exercises and, as promised, by the end, I knew what I wanted to be: a graphic designer. Everything the previous 16 years or so had pointed to this, but whenever I broached the subject, my family told me that I needed a “real” career or education, first, then I could pursue my artsy-stuff.  And because I had no self-confidence or self-esteem, and didn’t know what else to do, I listened to them. Until, that is, I did the exercises in Parachute, and I realized for the first time in my life that I had to fight for this, now.

Here is one of the main worksheets that I produced from the lessons in the book, entitled “My Most Enjoyable Job,” which gives a pretty early indication of the broad expanse of my interests – most of which center around the visual arts and problem-solving:

But how does one become a graphic designer with no education?  Alas, the tumblers of the universe, for once, finally clicked in my favor.  A technical school that taught a concentrated, one-year course in graphic design was about to open – just on the outskirts of Phoenix, described below.

1986 (age 22): I completed a graphic design training program

For the first ten months of 1986, I attended and excelled in a concentrated graphic design program at the new Al Collins Graphic Design School (now Collins College) in Tempe, AZ, and received this certificate:

The struggle to get a good job in graphic design, however, would take another three years, for a variety of reasons – one of which was that this certificate was not nearly as valuable as I and my fellow students seemed t to think it was (there’s a lot more to this story).    But once I broke into the field in January 1990, my career took off like a rocket; see my resume’ and credits below, and my professional website:

Jon Sutz Resume & Credits

Plus, between the 45 semester hours (950 clock hours) I received from ACGDS and the 16 from Glendale CC, I was advised I could have gone back to college and started mid-way through.  I may still explore this option at some point, even though I’m now 25 years further down the road…

1990 (age 25): I get my first big break in multimedia – and love struck (but I struck out)

As I describe in my book, shortly after getting my big break in multimedia in 1990, I fell completely, head-over-heels in love for the first time in my life.   But there was a problem: we worked closely together, although not for the same firm, and if our working relationship got screwed up, our careers would follow. Through a series of unlikely events and decisions I made, I kept everything inside.
Bob Dylan: “Shelter From The Storm”
How she made me feel:
Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

What I saw:
Peter Gabriel: “In Your Eyes”

1993 (age 29): My own little version of Jefferson’s “Head and Heart” letter

Thomas Jefferson, one of my great heroes, did the same thing, in regards to the second great love of his life, Maria Cosway.  We both could keep things in no longer, and penned soulful letters to the objects of our love.  Both were met with the same reaction, but for different reasons.

This was one of my big life lessons, about which I write in my book: to never again let an opportunity like this go unexplored, and unarticulated; to take the chance, because love is a gift.  I messed this up, badly, by denying what I was feeling, and not wanting to expose her to the pain, shame and humiliation that had defined my life until shortly before I met her.

Here is a summary of Jefferson’s letter, and why he wrote it:

Late 1996 (age 32): I gain the first realization that none of what happened to me as a child was my fault – and I am validated, in part, by “Good Will Hunting,” which came out a few months after my mother passed away (April 1997)

I did have one moral breakthrough during this period, though. A few weeks before she passed, I was putting her to bed, and told her I wanted to talk to her about something. I told her that while I can forgive much of what she and my father did to me, and allowed to be done to me, there are some things I can never forgive.  Forcing me, as a little boy, to choose between them was one of them; the others I still can’t talk about.

I think she knew that it took me decades of learning to build my self-confidence from scratch, of accepting that none of what had been done to me was my fault, of learning to think for and stand on my own, to be able to say such a thing to a parent on their death-bed. Because after looking into my eyes for more than a few moments – as we were both welling up with tears – she quietly said, “I know.”

She passed away a few weeks later, on April 22, 1997, as a result of a heart attack she suffered during her first blood transfusion.

Validation – through a film, of all things

Later that year, I felt somewhat validated in what I did when I saw a similar route of denial, replaced by the courage to begin healing, depicted in the climax of the movie “Good Will Hunting.”

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is an extraordinarily bright young man, yet he is destroying himself with alcohol and violence, and no one can figure out why. Later, upon reviewing the evidence of the sadistic physical abuse that Will’s father inflicted on him, his therapist, Sean (Robin Williams), keeps repeating to him, softly, “This was not your fault.” Will keeps saying, “I know” – but it’s clear he cannot accept it; that all these years, he’d been assuming that somehow, he was the cause of, or was at least somewhat responsible for what he suffered. Finally, Sean helps him to accept that he was not to blame; that it was, in fact, not his fault. And at that moment, everything in Will’s life changed.

As a multimedia designer-writer and film buff, I consider this scene to contain some of the best writing, acting and direction ever captured on film. And for me, it was a crucial moment of affirmation:


Fall 1997 (age 33): Trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life

After mom passed, I took a trip to Arizona, and then California, to try to figure out what to do next with my life.  After more than three years of caring for her 24-7, I could finally breathe and had zero immediate concerns.  This picture was taken at the Golden Gate Bridge, while I was visiting my former colleague (and now animator) Louis:




This fateful day not only changed the world in general, it changed my life in profound ways.  In the address box you can see that this issue of TIME was addressed to me in Ft. Lauderdale.  That was soon about to change, too.

This fateful day not only changed the world in general, it changed my life in profound ways. In the address box you can see that this issue of TIME was addressed to me in Ft. Lauderdale. That was soon about to change, too, thanks in part to the inspiration I got from the example of my friend Megan – my “gypsy butterfly.”


December 18, 2001 (age 37): Leaving Ft. Lauderdale for Charlottesville, VA

April 7, 2002: I adopted Shayna



Shayna looking back. A phenomenon I am not ready to discuss quite yet (August 2013).

At left, Shayna can get into the trash.  At right, she can't.

At left, Shayna can get into the trash. At right, she can’t.


February 26, 2006: My truck was wrongfully repossessed after I filed for bankruptcy. Note on the lower right, after the truck was returned to me (at the bank’s expense), a statement, “Sorry this happened.” Right.


The townhouse I moved into on August 3, 2002, and the amazing view from the back deck. That night is when I had the first serious accident of my life, in that very complex, which turned everything upside down.