Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Squitches!

Lightroom is a lot of fun -- and I think I'm going to try using it on illustrations as well as photos.

I could easily say something here about the vanity of life, and how the only solace it offers is the sensation of one second running into the next like droplets of oil, greasing one's passage to the grave. But that's just moon talk. Let's get into something real, something earnest.

I'm talking squitches.

When I read this cartoon by Julia Wertz, it sneaked into my brain, where it still hides. From time to time something will remind me of this and it will make me giggle. Click here to read the cartoon. You'll want to read it in order to understand the rest of the story.

(You'll also want to check out her site a little more. Wertz has an impeccable sense of the grammar and timing of the four-panel strip. Can't help thinking that she'd have been big back in the heyday of autobiographical comics...)

So my dad Verle, his wife Lisa, my sister Charity, her two daughters Ava and Una, and I climbed in a big old rental van and drove to Oregon for my Grandma Knight's ninety-fifth birthday. I don't know what your family is like, but we're all compulsive wiseasses. Our time together mostly consists of our trying to crack each other up. Well, Charity said something that reminded me of the squitches and I laughed and she asked for an explanation.

In the enclosed environment, the meme spread rapidly. "Where my squitches at?" was the inquiry on everyone's lips. And as the visit went on and the rising tide of sleeplessness and Christianity and not being able to say the word fuck drove us crazier and crazier (our Oregon relatives are lovely people, but are considerably more conservative than our branch of the family), we started getting a little leaky, started mentioning squitches around people who would have serious difficulty parsing the concept.

Then one night Charity took Ava, Una, and myself to see a movie. (The Fantastic Mr. Fox; I have officially given myself permission to dislike the works of Wes Anderson.)

You know those moments when you're exposed to some aspect of our society, and the floor opens up underneath you and you fall spinning through the void screaming, "Our culture is over"? I get those five, six times a day. But when I go to the movies, sometimes I can get them one after another in a matter of minutes, boom boom boom, when I'm watching the ads and previews. It's a multiple orgasm of hate, and few things fill me with more hate than most media directed toward children.

After the movie, when the whole family was in the van, Charity and I tried to explain to Dad and Lisa what made these particular promos so degraded. We were in agreement that the the new Chipmunks movie was about as bad as it gets.

"The worst part was the female equivalents of the Chipmunks. They were these hairy little hoochie-mamas singing If You Like It, Put A Ring On It," Charity said. "I fucking hate that song. I want to kill it and violate its corpse."

"Yeah, they were real gross," I said. "Imagine the area of the Venn diagram where the 'furry' circle overlaps the 'prostitot' circle."

Then a drowsy voice piped up from the back seat; it was my niece Una. She said, "That's where the squitches was at."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cornered


I haven't been posting much lately. I've been feeling pretty terrible, and I decided to eschew public self-abuse for a change.

Well, the missus is going away for a couple of weeks. She's leaving Thursday. This means I'll have the option of celebrating Christmas by getting drunk by myself in the dark, thus fulfilling a long-standing ambition.

In order to try and keep from letting my recent paralytic depression waste the next stretch of free time, I'm going to be blogging on a daily basis. I'll lay out my ambitions for the day, and report on how well I did the day before.

So. I'm still recovering from the road trip, so I'll take it light. Today I'll sign up for next semester's classes, go to the bank and find out about another loan possibility, and catch up on the emails I missed while I was gone to Oregon. (I'll fill you in on this later.)

We'll see how I do. I'm reasonably optimistic, considering.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Oaf, He Ponder

Lisa took this one on Thanksgiving. Interestingly enough, ever since Viable Paradise I've been able to look at photos of myself without cringing. "Huh," I think. "Not bad for a Cro-Mag."

I've been going through it lately. The flu, the onset of my winter depression, a serious shake-up in my artistic self-appraisal, and any number of life-dramas have all hit at around the same time. As a result, I've been unable to function properly for a while now. I'm going to have to drop my classes, which is a massive bummer. I've just lost too much time to make it up.

But I have had time to think productively.

The big decision has been that given my financial circumstances and the state of the novel, I'm changing my priorities. I need work that I can do from my workstation; I think editing and copy writing are my best options. I've been planning on doing the editing program at the UC Berkeley Extension as soon as my novel starts making the rounds of editors and agents.

Nope. I need to make some kind of straight-job my first priority. So next Fall, I start the editing program.

I might feel differently about this if I felt more confidence in the novel, but I've gotten a bunch of critiques from fresh readers recently, and while they vary wildly on the particulars (everything that bugged someone, someone else loved -- this has been an amazing lesson on how little authorial intent counts for), the consistent complaint has been too much deadwood, not enough story.

So I've joined two classes taught by the popular novelist Holly Lisle. One is a free class on plot, the other is an intensive on revising novels. Hopefully, by the time I've finished these, I'll have a better grip on things. Tell the truth, right now I'm not sure whether or not the novel is going to be publishable at the end of the day -- but most first novels aren't, right?

So since my progress on the novel is going to be paced by the course, I'm going to be working on some short fiction. Of course, my recent sale is a source of inspiration there, but I'm also interested in using the shorts as a laboratory to test plotting and outlining techniques. It's all about the skills.

And I've been thinking about my art as well. I failed to complete my report on my trip to the MOMA -- long story short, I found myself respecting most of the work there, enjoying the hell out of much of it, and felt a jealous desire to participate in that world. But that desire was tempered by the knowledge that the work I've done that wouldn't seem out of place in that environment was not the work that pleased me the most, or the work that I most enjoyed doing. While I can pull off fine-arts stuff, I am, at heart, an illustrator rather than a fine artist.

So I came away wondering about what I really wanted from my art.

This feeling was intensified when I was sick and found myself unable to read prose, watch television, or cruise the internet for entertainment. I went through a few fever-addled days of not knowing what I wanted to do, and then I turned to comics and cartoons.

And I was strongly reminded of what had drawn me to learn art in the first place -- and why I've never actually done much cartooning and comics work. (Again, long story short -- I'm not much interested in drawing the same characters over and over and over again.)

So I've been thinking long and hard about what kind of art I like to do, and how to integrate it with my writing. I ain't gonna go into it now -- while I do a lot, I also talk a lot about things I don't do -- but I'm thinking. Thinking hard.

We shall see.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good News!


Well, it's been a while since I posted. I've been sick as hell, with a side order of poverty, garnished with depression, and sprinkled with drama. It's been pretty miserable, not to go into the fascinating and interminable details. The last time I saw my dad, I told him I needed some good news for a goddamned change.

Well. Sometimes you get what you ask for.

The first piece of good news is the birth of Olivia Anita Kendall. She's the child of the missus's younger daughter, Becky Kendall, and her husband Ryan Kendall. (Ryan is someone I'd like to have available for hanging-out purposes. He and Becky are medical researchers -- people who have devoted their lives to saving lives.) While I can't begin to regard Becky as my step-daughter, I definitely see Olivia as my granddaughter. And she's already kind of a remarkable kid, in that...

Well, I'm quite capable of caring for babies, and yes, there's something sweet about a fragrant armful of infant, but I'm not that much of a baby fan. And to describe newborns as 'beautiful' is absurd. For the most part, they're pretty much a form of vaginal discharge that screams and shits. But the photographs and videos of Olivia show a really lovely little person rather than a blood-soaked raisin covered in mucus. Go figure.

She's in New York now, but with any luck her family will relocate in the Bay Area and I'll get a chance to spend time with her. I can hardly wait.

And then yesterday I got an email from Patrick Nielsen Hayden. If you aren't familiar with the name, that's because you're not up on the publishing side of the science fiction and fantasy world. He's an award-winning editor, a real force in the field. He also plays a mean guitar. (His gin-glass-slide slack-key impersonation is of particular note.) And he teaches at Viable Paradise, which is where I met him.

He's decided to pick up one of my stories for Tor.com. This is a pretty big deal for me. No, it isn't print -- but from what I understand, in terms of money and exposure, I'm much better off here than I would be in any of the more traditional venues. And if you look at the writers they've published, well. This is not shabby company. This makes me look pretty good.

And there's extra fun involved. I get to do an audio version of the story. I've always fancied myself as having a knack for such things, so I plan on enjoying the hell out of that project.

As a side effect, some of the sting of my recent penury will be alleviated. I'll be able to get my eyes checked and lenses replaced (Have I mentioned how bad my vision has gotten lately? I honestly suspect I've hit legally blind. I think I'm going to need five fucking pairs of glasses at this point. I should get a bandoleer. The missus is quite concerned and has entreated me to rub my eyebones with cod-liver oil and urine, bless her heart.), get my boots resoled, and possibly be able to afford to get a treat of some sort -- maybe the Michael Shea collection, or the Gasoline Alley compilations.

Okay, everybody. Fingers crossed. My professional writing career has commenced. Let's all hope I don't screw it up.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toward Pretensionism 4




Now, something has to be said about my appreciation for the Lichtenstein piece. I was able to enjoy it because despite the origins of my artistic impulses, in my pursuit of craft I have developed an understanding of and appreciation for more formal values in the arts.

Composition, color, technique -- these all have meaning for me. Before I studied art, they influenced my reactions to particular works, but that influence was on a subconscious level. Initially, my interest was in image and narrative content.

And these elements are still central to my appreciation of the visual arts. But now I'm able to enjoy art on another level. Which brings me back to one of my difficulties with fine art -- it the problem with me, or is it with the piece? Is it possible to reach the point where you can in good conscience reject a work on any other basis than, "It didn't do much for me?"

Here's the rub. In works in any media where content is important, I feel a lot more comfortable passing that kind of judgment. 'Was the content effectively conveyed?' is a question I can usually answer with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

But in an arena where formal values are paramount? I can have an opinion -- but I can't pass judgment. And this leaves me feeling uncomfortable.

So. On to the artworks that brought me to the gallery.

The two exhibits of Asian photography caught my interest, involved me -- but now that a few days have gone by, the only pieces that have stayed with me were a number of works dealing with landscapes as abstract images. I can still call them to mind, still recall the emotional state they evoked. In particular there was a series of photographs of the sun on the ocean that evoked a distinctly nocturnal atmosphere. They were beautiful dreams, and I won't forget them.

But the Richard Avedon show... that was something different. As I said, I was in an emotionally distraught state, and I found many of his works to be shattering. There was a wall of small, fairly conventional portraits that did little for me, and many familiar images, such as Nureyev's foot, seemed clever but trivial after the works that most affected me.

These were the large-scale portraits. In photograph after photograph, one was left with the sense of direct contact with the subject of the portraits. Every physical detail of the people portrayed was mercilessly, almost surgically, laid bare. I was reminded of scientific illustration where the absolute specificity of the subject was the only goal of the image. This was heightened by the consistent use of spotless white backgrounds. Every wrinkle, every blemish, every line generated by habitual facial expressions and every bit of physical damage endured by the subjects was there to be seen, inspected, measured. Everything that could be seen was seen in microscopic detail, in black-and-white, with a clarity impossible in live observation.

These were images of the human animal, wounded, wary, vicious, and unconquered.

The subjects returned the gaze of the viewer -- or the photographer -- with no more mercy than had been shown to them. These were images of successful people, people who had achieved, and they seemed haunted. I have no way of knowing how much of this came from the subjects, how much from Avedon, how much from me, but my emotional response was that these were people who had been shattered by trauma and yet refused to die, survivors of a prison camp or a battlefield. I read the names, the professions -- and it grew on me that the horrific environment that had stripped these people of joy and left them hardened against its unrelenting power was the world of privilege of which I am fearful and jealous. Or, more simply, the world.

Then in a smaller area off of the main exhibit, I found two portraits that nearly brought me to tears in a public space.

Not to go into it too deeply, but some of the most important influences on my writing came out of the social group known as the Algonquin Round Table. When I used the word 'shattering' to describe the emotional state this exhibit induced, I was referring specifically to the portraits of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Levant.

Humor has always been my first line of defense. And both Parker and Levant are best known for their humorous remarks, their one-liners, and in both cases their humor is known for its cutting qualities. These portraits showed their subjects without that armor. The results were heartbreaking, horrifying, appalling.

Dorothy Parker has always struck me as a failed talent. She produced some excellent light verse, a few first-class short stories, and a large body of entertaining critical writing. None of these have struck me as a true fruition of her potential abilities. Like many of my other favorite writers (I use the term 'favorite' as contrasted with 'most respected.'), her story is one of great gifts compromised by lack of discipline, self-indulgence and self-pity, bad habits, and most distressingly, lack of vision.

Ms. Parker's portrait broke my heart. Her self-imposed isolation had left its mark on her features. The set of her mouth, her eyes -- a lifetime of unrelieved bitterness and the kind of misanthropy generated by disappointment in oneself had branded her. It was an unfair portrait. To deny her the consolation of wit was genuinely cruel. This was not a portrait of Dorothy Parker; it was a portrait of her shadow, of a woman stripped of her saving graces.

This cruelty was nothing next to that shown to Oscar Levant. Unlike the other portraits in the exhibit, this one was blurred by motion. Blown up to twice life-size, mouth open, lunging forward with his remaining teeth on display, I was -- and this is my cruelty -- irresistibly reminded of an elephant in agony, bellowing in pain and rage. The image was monstrous, almost inhuman. It was a dying thing, the human animal in defeat, the other side of the first photographs in the exhibit. To associate that image with the gentleman whose witty comments I'd been reading my whole life was a reminder of the inevitability of death and decay, that there is nothing we can ever do to distance ourselves from the traumatic corruption of the body.

After this, I'd had enough Avedon. I was not in a state to re-inspect the works I'd seen once. It was time to move on.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Toward Pretensionism 3


Or How I Learned To Start Worrying When I Stopped Hating Roy Lichtenstein

On Tuesday I had an experience that will have long-term effects on the way I feel about the fine arts. My digital photography class had a field trip to a showing at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I was in, shall we say, an emotionally vulnerable state. I was feeling weak and helpless, and the idea of entering into a temple of privilege was not something that held a lot of appeal for me at that moment. I wandered around the city for half an hour before meeting the rest of the group, and came very close to just going home.

As someone who began to study art with the intention of learning how to illustrate comic books, I've always had conflicted feelings about the world of fine art and just about all of those feelings have been negative. I've felt threatened, overwhelmed, judged, intimidated, mistrustful, and scornful of much fine art, or rather, of the social and academic structures surrounding the actual works.

These feelings are best understood in a context of class. I am a member of the working class, what Tom Wolfe would refer to as a stone prole. While many participants in the fine arts have similar backgrounds, the context of the fine arts is relentlessly upper class.

I've already used the term 'temple of privilege.' What I mean by this is... well, think about what a museum or a high-end gallery looks like, what it feels like to be in that space. Vast, airy, quiet, well-lit, impeccably painted and maintained, guarded -- these spaces are temples. One has a sense of reverence generated and enforced by architecture. And this context is specifically the product of wealth. I don't feel comfortable in these spaces. I feel excluded, unwanted, and inadequate. I also feel angry, envious, and resentful.Smaller galleries and public art spaces attempt to mimic this effect with less and less effectiveness as the budget in question shrinks.

When thinking in terms of the allocation of public funds, it's difficult to imagine an aware member of the working classes choosing to support these spaces over education, public transportation, and all of the other obvious inadequately supported elements of our lives. Frankly, it would do more good for the arts to have larger numbers of smaller institutions similar to the art labs of dole-era Britain, where people would be given the opportunity to create rather than observe. One of the great harms mass culture has inflicted on the human species is the transformation of creativity from activity to product, and art spaces such as the MOMA reinforce the distinction between artist and audience.

Art for the working class consists of reproductions. This predates our current notions of fine and academic art by hundreds of years. The nobility and clergy looked at paintings; the peasants looked at woodcuts. This is still the common experience. My introduction to the arts came through comic books, magazines, and illustrated fiction, and these are my primary models. The fact that so much of my work is digital stems from this -- digital art is inherently reproduced art.

Art for commercial purposes, art for reproduction -- these are, like it or not, regarded as more trivial than what we call the fine arts. And much of the time, these works are trivial. The serious work done in these forms is typically first recognized outside of the culture that generates them -- look at the French appreciation of American comics, or European appreciation of Japanese brocade prints. Inside their home culture, those who produce these works are not given the respect afforded to fine artists. And when they are? The sign that they have arrived is that they have a show in a major gallery or museum. Art intended for reproduction is thought of as second-rate. And my intention to work in the arena which is most natural to me has always left me feeling as though I am a second-rater, regardless of how well, how seriously I work.

When my involvement in art led me to study the works of what are referred to as the great artists, I did not have the opportunity to study their works. I studied reproductions of their works. The words of my teachers and my few experiences of museums and galleries made it plain to me that there is very little in common between the experiences of seeing a work reproduced in miniature and seeing it in person. So much of the information in a hand-crafted work of art is eliminated or changed in the process of reproduction that it's difficult to see more than a rough resemblance between the two modes. While it is possible to learn much from a reproduction, the true emotional impact of a work derives from its physical presence.

What this visit to the MOMA really taught me was how much of that experience is dependent on the physical attributes of an art space as well as the work itself. How the grammar of the space informs the dialog between the work and its audience.

As someone with both janitorial and building experience, it's impossible for me to enter a museum without an awareness of the effort and finances involved in its construction and maintenance. The two thoughts this provoked in me were first, that the physical skills involved in keeping the marble, the glass, the chrome and brushed aluminum shining and free of fingerprints, the installation of the drywall, the mudding and taping and painting of the walls and ceilings -- these skills are actually very similar and in some cases identical to the physical skills involved in the execution of a work of art.

The second thought was that the mood, the tone inherent in a museum is found in two other types of public space -- banks and churches. In all these cases, it is a sense of reverence that is inculcated in the individual, and part of this reverence is unavoidably directed toward the privilege that allows these spaces to be constructed.

The feeling that one is undergoing a spiritual experience is not-very-subtly heightened in the MOMA by the use of black marble in the entrance. It's a large room with a high ceiling, but the reflective black walls and floor combine with the dim lighting to make a space that I found both oppressive and visually confusing. I felt a sense of relief when I climbed the stairs and emerged into a space defined by comfortable light and unobtrusively warm colors. An open, pleasant space. This application of discomfort followed by ease is a classic element of an initiation process, and it worked on me.

The first work I noticed was a huge canvas, maybe seven or eight feet tall and nearly twice as wide. It was executed in bright, heavily saturated colors and made use of line and large dots used to mimic the Benday dots of reproduction. I liked it. I stared at it for a while. I looked at the impeccable precision with which the paint had been applied to the canvas -- this showed at least as much skill as had been applied to polishing the marble downstairs. More, in fact. The composition was pleasing. The emotional tone of it was practically non-existent and that was fine. The bland confidence of the piece pleased me.

And when I finally went to look at the plaque and see who had done it, I was muttering (mentally -- I was in a bad mood, not a psychotic one) "Don't be Roy Lichtenstein, don't be Roy Lichtenstein."

It was Roy Lichtenstein.

I've always had a nemesis relationship with Lichtenstein's work. His appropriation of compositions from comic books seemed to be shallow, contemptuous, and artsy in the worst sense of the word. I've even done a large scale print that satirized those paintings, and in researching his oeuvre in preparation for that piece, I found myself actually growing angry at his treatment of commercial and popular culture.

But when I was face to face with one of his works, my reaction was one I had feared for years. I liked it. I respected it. And I no longer felt comfortable with my scorn.

Of course this disturbed me. One of my most important emotional defenses against the oppression I felt from the world of the fine arts has been the feeling, vague at first, that a lot of that stuff was fraudulent.

At first I felt as though that feeling was reflective of ignorance, of an inferior capacity to appreciate art. But when I read an article in Art World magazine about a company that repaired conceptual art, I felt confirmed in my belief.

There were two pieces in particular that left me feeling comfortable with dismissing them without seeing them. One was a pile of Sweet & Low packets that the artist had dumped from a carton onto the floor. A visitor to the gallery had kicked it. The Sweet & Low packets were gathered and meticulously rearranged to duplicate photographs that had been taken of the original installation. And there were doubts expressed about the validity of the piece post-repair. After all, they hadn't been able to duplicate its internal structure!

Hoo-boy.

The other piece was an eighty-pound wad of butter that a sculptor in the Netherlands had jammed into the corner of his studio, up at the ceiling. (Shall we discuss willful eccentricity? Not knowing the artist in question, we shall refrain.) A Spanish collector walks comes to visit, sees the butter wad, and says, "I must have it." Said wad is transferred to a room in Barcelona. Where -- believe it or not, art fans -- it melts.

In the course of reproducing this work, the company in question found that different countries produced butter that melted at different temperatures. In order to properly duplicate the original, they needed to use Dutch butter. And the room it was displayed in had to be refrigerated.

You can understand how the word fraud seemed applicable.

But the sight of the Lichtenstein drove home a thought that had been lurking in in the back of my mind throughout my involvement with the arts.

What if I'd seen the pile of Sweet & Low packets or the butter wad in their intended context? What if I'd liked them?

Was I going to have to abandon the concept of fraud in the fine arts?

(To Be Continued!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Toward Pretensionism 2

A color scheme for Halloween...

Okay, let's start off with something easy. This will draw from the following questions.



How is an artist to find his feet in a culture that is becoming all cultures, where it seems as if everything has been done before and done better?

How is one to process the tsunami of possible influences, goals, and directions now available?

Are traditional modes of art still valid?

Are Modernism, Post-Modernism, and other such movements still valid?

I've run across the statement in more than one place that traditional art forms are over. They're done. They're played out. Because they've been around for so long that everything that can possibly be said in them, has been said.

In my opinion -- and you shouldn't take my opinion too seriously -- it that this statement is hogwash. Balderdash. It's the monkey's bathwater. Bullshit. Utter nonsense. Without any value whatsoever. You with me so far?

Here's why.

First off, here's a hypothesis of mine. When a particular form of behavior shows up repeatedly throughout human cultures, throughout the span of time, throughout the world, it might not be a bad idea to see if there's something about it which essential to human nature. A view common in Post-Modernist thought is that everything is essentially cultural. To ignore our fundamentally biological nature, to assume that the human mind is not a function of the human body, is reflective of a retrograde mindset, a profound ignorance which is difficult to respect.

The picture, the story, the song -- these all answer human needs which are physically built into us. It is possible to consciously reject these forms, but to do so is to isolate oneself from the mainstream of humanity in a way which can be unhealthy. And I've noticed that frequently creators or critics who are relentlessly avant-garde in one arena will be surprisingly retrograde in another -- or will have personal tastes that are strongly at odds with their own work.

The song, the picture, and the story satisfy us -- and for most people, they prefer to have art that is reflective of their times and their experiences. I like to expose myself to a wide variety of cultural influences, but as a creator I am dedicated to working with the material provided to me by my life, my times, my experience of the world.

The story, the song, and the picture are vital, living means of communication that spring from deep roots -- they are intimate reflections of the physical nature of our minds. To disavow them is to render oneself unable to speak truth.

We are living in a period strikingly different from any other in human history. We are experiencing things no one has experienced before. The amount of information and the rapidity of change we live with are increasing on a daily basis.

No one has created works about the current human experience until now. And the old forms are old because they work for us. To constantly seek radically new methods is a dead end -- and one that is specific to our culture.

To seek the new is an essential artistic impulse, but it's one that has been short-circuited. To flee commercialism, to flee tradition, to flee the predictable, the comprehensible -- try as you may, your attempts to do these things will be co-opted before you can blink your fucking eye. We've developed an art culture capable of commodifying quite literally anything you can create. How much is Picabia's canned shit worth these days? Transgression for its own sake is over.

But just because something is a creative dead end, that doesn't mean it lacks value. All experiments teach us something -- and an open-minded creator can gain much from the study of flawed or limited works.

I may speak poorly of Post-Modernism. There really is no clear and functional definition of the term, and there is a lot of nonsense associated with it -- but I have learned a few things from it. There are times when a work of art may be more enriching when regarded as a social construct as well as an entity in itself, for instance. It's now a truism that works outside of the traditional Euro-centric canon of older academia are worthy of examination. Let's not throw the monkey out with the bathwater.

(That said, there are a lot of dead white male Europeans who fucking rocked, and who have legitimately earned their position in world culture.)

Most importantly, Post-Modernism recognizes that the world is changing, that our attitudes and beliefs shape our perceptions of reality in ways that we can only escape through radical experience or dedicated self-criticism.

As creators, most of us are adrift. Our cultures are shifting, untrustworthy things. As an American, I come from a nation that's younger than the bars in which many people drink -- and the popular culture of my country has infiltrated virtually every other nation on Earth.

The current interpenetration of cultural influences can act against the sense of personal identity which enables an artist to work with confidence and power -- it goes hand in hand with the feeling that everything's already been said and done.

But to say that one should or should not make use of the techniques and approaches of previous artists is foolish. All artists exist in a continuity of influences. They may act in reaction to those influences or they may embrace them, but no artist has ever sprung fully blown out of a cultural vacuum.

Right now we have more different kinds of art readily available to us than at any other time. To reject any of them on the basis of being tired or worn-out is absurd. "Can I use this? Does this speak to me? Does this tell me the truth and can it help me tell the truth?" These are the questions we need to ask, not, "Is this overdone? What's the next thing?"

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by what has gone before, we need to embrace it, examine it, and find our individual ancestors. Speaking for myself? The musicians of Mali are my ancestors. The printmakers of Japan are my ancestors. The pulp writers of early Twentieth-century America are my ancestors.

I have many ancestors, and the more I look at the history of the arts, the more ancestors I find. The history of art is not a burden to me; it reaches out to give me the tools I need to speak my truths.

We are unique. We are in a new world, and when we wake up tomorrow morning we will be in another new world.

We have lost tradition, or retain it as a pose. Transgression has become a tool of commodification. The search for novelty has become shallow and reflexive.

What do we have left?

Truth. The human constants. Our lives as we live them.

These are enough, because they have to be enough.

Rather than feel overwhelmed by the works of the past, by the vast history of human creativity, we should take pride in them. And we should be willing to go to the effort of creating works that will be part of that history, so that those who follow us can benefit from our lives long after they've ended.

Should the species live long enough, our time will be studied.

Do you want the art of our time to be regarded as the trivial creations of a confused and troubled people?

Or do you want to have our time and ourselves reflected in works worthy of their place in the history of the arts?

I want the latter. And I work hard with the desire to participate in the arts as an equal to those who have gone before me and who will go after me.

That is what makes me a Pretensionist.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Toward Pretensionism 1


Observation. Creation. Pretension.

So I'm going to break one of my rules today. Since I got back from Viable Paradise, I've worked on the novel first thing every morning. But yesterday I finished my current batch of line edits, and right now the missus is in bed sick. She finally fell asleep after a night spent wrestling with some respiratory illness -- lots of hacking, snorting, and snottery of diverse sorts. I've got a manuscript downstairs I want to get off to the Windblown Coalition today, but I don't want to turn on the light and risk disturbing her.

And I've been up since three, thinking about pretensionism. (Also trying to drive the songs Oh, Mickey and Twilight Zone from my mind. Hatin' the eighties right now...)

Long-time readers know that I've been wrestling for some time with my sense of identity as an artist. The events of the last year, year and a half have changed my attitudes toward myself and my work radically. My communications with Glendon Mellow and more recently Catherine Schaff-Stump have crystallized my thoughts, and now I feel as if I have a basis for explaining things to myself.

I always say that I don't know what something looks like until I draw it, and that I don't know what I think about something until I write about it. I've been fixating on this issue recently, and I've realized that it's time to write an artistic manifesto. I may well repudiate it at a later date, but I am on the verge of being able to explain my intent -- and let's face it, us insecure loudmouths love our manifestos. And I've always wanted to be part of an artistic movement. Now that I'm engaged in a number of artistic communities, I'm thinking the time has come. And if no-one else is gonna make a big-ass pretentious gesture, it may as well be me.

So for the next while I'll be blogging as a means of exploring my thoughts, making them more concrete. Afterward I'll organize my ideas into a real manifesto, but for now I'm engaged in a process of exploration.

Why Pretensionism?

Let's face it, labels are fun. They're also useful. To name something is to claim it -- and literally, that's what pretension is. It's the act of claiming something. Pretensionism is, in one sense, my personal claim to the status of artist. It's my hope that it may allow others to feel more comfortable in making that same claim.

It's also a reactionary statement. For the last while, I've referred to myself as pretentious. That's because I've thought of myself as a fine artist, as a literary writer, and I've become willing to make that statement in public. And I've had a few people tell me, "Man, you've got balls to say that about yourself." Others have acknowledged some pretension on their part.

That's because in my culture -- which is a big component of the burgeoning monoculture -- to call someone pretentious is to insult them. It's interpreted as a claim to a station which you haven't really achieved. From below, you look like a snob. From above, you're gauche.

But pretension isn't about making a false claim. It is (hit the dictionary) about making a claim, true or false. You can be pretentious and right at the same time. Or, as Dizzy Dean said, "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up." Yeah, the name Pretensionism is a reactionary statement -- but if the culture pushes you, if you're marginalized, fucking push back.

If you want to claim you're a Pretensionist? Then you're in the club.

So Where the Hell is this Going?

The Pretensionist Manifesto is going to concern itself with the issues relating to a sense of artistic identity, including but not limited to:

What makes a person an artist?

How do we cope with the schism between high and low art?

What is the role of the marketplace?

How is an artist to find his feet in a culture that is becoming all cultures, where it seems as if everything has been done before and done better?

How is one to process the tsunami of possible influences, goals, and directions now available?

Are traditional modes of art still valid?

Are Modernism, Post-Modernism, and other such movements still valid?

What is the role of appropriation in the arts?

Of what real value is art, both personal and public?

Can the act of artistic creation be regarded as a legitimate form of labor?

How can one function in a system that is clearly unstable, a world that is unmistakeably on the path to disaster?

How does one reconcile personal and public art?

What are worthy artistic aspirations? Worthy artistic values?

These questions are inherently subjective. They will not produce answers. They will provoke opinion. And my opinions will be oriented toward providing me with a basis to work well.

Yeah, I'm talking about producing a philosophy of art, when my knowledge of art history and theory is far from complete. But this is not really art theory. It's the product of a working artist, intended to support and encourage both myself and other artists.

It comes from inside an experience growing out of a post-post modernist world, a digital world, a world where the boundaries separating times and cultures are being shattered, rebuilt, stirred, and confused on a moment by moment basis. We are living through a phase change, a singularity. The monoculture is emerging and the apocalypse is threatening. This is my attempt to engage them both forthrightly, without blind optimism or reflexive pessimism. To find a way to work productively and effectively in a world whose future is unimaginable.

Of course that's pretentious. I am, after all, a Pretensionist.

Monday, October 26, 2009

About the Novel

Here's the cover I've used for print copies over the last few years. Maybe it's time to do a new one, one that uses grown-up design instead of this punk stuff.

Before I left for Viable Paradise, I printed up a copy of the novel and had it spiral-bound. I started doing line edits on the flight to Boston; this morning I finished them. I still have to incorporate quite literally thousands of pages of crits from my writer's groups, and The Homework Club has just passed the halfway mark in the manuscript, but the bulk of the work is now done; I'll be able to start revising this week.

This got me thinking about the novel, and the impact it's had on my life. I never intended for it to be this big. My original idea was simple; I wanted to tell an M.R. James-style story about a haunted garage band. This was in 2004.

The story got out of hand. The first version was the longest piece of fiction I'd written at that point. The criticism I got from the original cast of the Monday night group was that the naturalistic scenes were good and the supernatural scenes were good, but they didn't seem to belong in the same story.

At that point I was strongly focused on short fiction. I was at the start of the learning curve, and I needed to be able to experiment. So I set the story aside as a failure, and went on to do other things.

But I kept going back and pecking at it. It was the first fiction I'd written in 'my' voice, the voice I speak with. (The voice of this blog, actually...) When I picked a setting for the initial story, I used the Santa Cruz of my late teens and early twenties, and used myself as the narrator. As I said, I kept pecking at it from time to time, inserting more and more autobiographical details.

After a couple of years it was apparent that I was working on a novel. It became the focus of my creative life without any conscious decision on my part. I had to do it; it was a compulsion.

I've written about this before, but for those who missed out on those hysterical self-pitying posts, I've got fairly serious psychiatric issues. During the years I spent in Santa Cruz, I was suicidal. I was also hallucinating. If I were to literally write about my experiences, it would be like a more depressing version of Communion, and Whitley Strieber's already written that one.

That's something that a lot of people have a hard time with. I've seen Strieber called a liar in print more than once. While I do not believe in the physical existence of visitors from another planet, I can assure you that people do have these kinds of experiences. When you experience a break from reality, its form is shaped by your culture. Other people would have seen Jesus or spies or a dead relative.

These experiences are not without value; the trick is to accept them in a way that allows you to continue to interact with conventional reality. (Which, like Gibson's cyberspace, is a consensual hallucination in its own right.) Because I've had these kinds of experiences, in order to write literally about my life I'm obligated to include elements of the fantastic in my work.

Anyway, at a certain point I realized that the novel was a conversation with three participants. One was myself, the writer. I was addressing myself-the-young-nutbar, telling him to hold on. Telling him he was of value. Telling him that things would get better.

I was also addressing -- shall we call it the feminine principal or should we be honest and say 'every girl in the world?' I was saying, yeah, I'm a man. I'm a big, hairy, trash-talking dangerous stinking animal. Please, tell me there's room for me in world fit for you.

It wasn't until I went through my epiphany at Viable Paradise that I realized the core story I was telling. A wounded man is healed through his determination to be worthy of love.

Writing that sentence brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. That's not just the story of the novel. That's the story of my life. What I hadn't expected was that the novel itself would be an agent of healing.

Part of this has occurred through the act of writing itself; I've come to understand myself in a way that would not have been otherwise possible. I've come to realize that I'm much more of an intuitive person than an intellectual one, for instance. By regarding the protagonist of the novel with sympathy, I was able to begin the process of having sympathy for myself -- and without that grounding, my recent transformation would not have been possible.

Beyond that, it's changed my relationship with the missus immeasurably. After my back went out on me, she'd begun to regard me poorly. She hates it when I'm weak, and my inability to find a place in the world due to my disability led her to a certain attitude of contempt. It wasn't that she was going to dump me, but she was permanently impatient with me. To be blunt, she had no respect for me as a man. Which, naturally, went hand-in-hand with my contempt for the masculine, and my loathing of it in myself. We weren't in a downhill spiral, there was a lot of good in our relationship, but it was deeply flawed.

But a couple of years ago, she started reading the manuscript on impulse. She couldn't stop. And when she got to the end her reaction was to be furious that she didn't have the whole story. (I treasure the image of her shaking the manuscript at me and saying, "Look at these pages! They're double-spaced! There's hardly any words here!")

After that, her whole attitude toward me changed. She saw something in me not just worthy of love, but worthy of admiration. She saw value in the work I did, and in my dedication to my chosen art. (She still wishes I'd focus entirely on writing, but I think she's coming to understand that it's just part of the creative stew and that I need to do everything I do.) As a result, our relationship has grown, deepened, and strengthened. And again, her changed attitude helped make it possible for me to grow.

So now I have a new hope for the novel, one that goes beyond being readable or salable. I hope that some of the healing that the book is about, that the book has given to Karen and myself, carries through. That in some way it can be an agent for positive change in others. That it can make life better for someone else.

Part of me feels like an idiot for feeling that way. But the rest of me is working hard to try and make that hope come true. Every comma, every word, every tiny detail is there to bring that sense of hope, of growth, of healing and love to the reader.

Plus, there's a knife-fight with a two-headed dead guy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Apatosaurus Louisae 10

There we go. Now the background has a little something going on, and it sets the figure off properly. That's it. This time I'm really done.

I swear.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Apatosaurus louisae 9

Okay, I lied. I needed to fiddle with it some more -- the background was simultaneously oversaturated and boring. It failed to support the figure. But now I'm done. Really. I swear.

Now I'll go take a shower, and wait to play bass.

Apatosaurus louisae 8

Now that's more like it! I'm calling her done. Now I won't have to suffer paleo-guilt the way I did when I blew my Anomalocaris!

And I've got to say. How on earth do people who work in traditional media cope with the issues involving these kinds of fine-tuning? It would drive me mad.

Now I need to work on the Pretensionist manifesto. You heard me; I've finally decided to start my own fucking movement.

Apatosaurus louisae 7


I finally got a few minutes (well, a couple of hours) to finish this off. I did a modified photographic background; it sucked, so I stuck with the simple gradient.

It's entirely possible that I'll wind up feeling unsatisfied with this, but for now? It'll do.

Newsflash -- I'm not satisfied with the color. It looks washed-out to me. I'll spend some time on adjustments soon. Maybe.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Apatosaurus luisea 4


Zach Miller pointed out that the bare teeth in the last version were currently regarded as improbable, so I gave Louise here some lips. The tracing vellum I'd been working on proved resistant to erasing, so the original now looks awful. I redrew the mouth on a separate piece of paper and PhotoShopped it in.

Now the question of the day -- will I be able to make Illustrator do what I want, or will I be rescanning and rePhotoShopping at a higher resolution?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Apatasourus louisae 3


Tomorrow I'll 'ink' this in Illustrator, then take it over to Photoshop for coloring. It came out better than I expected; the color's gonna help a lot.

That's it for today; now I'm off to go up to Telegraph and hang with my buddy Aubrey for a while.

Apatosaurus louisae 2


Next up: the finished pencil drawing.

Setting up this stereo was a good idea; Zappa, Louis Jordan, Brian Eno, Roger Miller, and Jimmy Cliff have helped keep me on track.

But.

The CD player is definitely screwed up. But I think there's another unit in the shed I could use instead. I'll check it out tomorrow.

Wish I knew where my tapes were. Remember tapes?

Apatosaurus louisae 1

Time to liveblog another piece of art. Stay tuned for periodic updates over the afternoon. Of course I haven't put the drool in yet. You think I'm kidding? There will be drool.


So I got a late start today. It's a Sunday, and I played music until late last night. I also spent some time this morning setting up my (seemingly defective) yard sale stereo. The CD player makes these little hiccupy pauses from time to time; maybe if I level it things will improve.

But I knew I had to at least get started on this. I may or may not finish it today; I've got to call it quits by four-thirty. But I've at least got a start.

So I figured I'd do something nice and simple to compensate for my atrophied draftsmanship. Here's the head of an Apatosaurus louisae, drawn from a photograph of CM 11162 that I found in Glut's Dinosaurs: The Encyclopedia. I know we don't get to call it Brontosaurus anymore, but this is still my first sauropod.

Now to firm up the details.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grandma and Me



So I'm in the process of revising a short story for purposes I ain't gonna tell you about. It's one of the two stories that I submitted to Viable Paradise. The original ending had to be ditched, it's still got some virtues and it hangs together fairly well on its own. Here's a brief glimpse of me and my Grandma Jean, back when we lived together. And yeah, this really happened. I was twenty-three, she was in her eighties... I miss her. I miss her a lot.


SALT FLATS


The previous Sunday Grandma decided to take me to the city, down the highway that cut through the salt marshes. There was a white hill of salt on the horizon and all the cars had their headlights on.


“I hope you stay,” I said. “I don’t want you to go. But that’s me being selfish. Honestly, if I were in your shoes I wouldn’t think about it for a minute. Just imagine what kind of wildlife they’ve got out there, what it’s like to see things from space…”


“I know,” Grandma said. “It’s just that… well, it hardly seems real.”


I nodded. “Uh, huh.” I felt something shift inside and opened my window for safety’s sake. There was a moment of silence.


“You know, you’re right,” Grandma said. “This isn’t the kind of opportunity you can turn down.” She turned to me, smiling. “I’ll go and you’ll be fine, won’t you?”


I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”


“Good,” Grandma said. “That’s good.” The next few miles went by in silence. “So Amy sent you another letter.”


“Yeah,” I said and discreetly emitted a little gas from Saturday’s drinking binge. “I can’t believe what she wrote. She said ‘I know I’m causing you great pain but I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to change my behavior in order to accommodate your needs.’” I could see the sentence laid out in the beautiful little calligraphic loops of Amy’s handwriting. My throat hurt. “I mean, isn’t that what courtesy is? Not deliberately hurting people? And she’s upset because I don’t appreciate the tender romance she’s picked up since she left to go to school and then she asks me to write her more often. I thought we were going to be forever. I’m like a bug on a pin. God, I’m an idiot.”


“Oh, those marshes smell awful,” Grandma said. “Roll up your window.”


There was no way I could explain beer farts to her. I couldn’t even say the words in her presence.


After a few moments Grandma broke the silence. “This isn’t the end of the world, you know.”


“I know,” I said. I wish it were. I wish it were the end of the world. I wish it were the end of me.


“Listen,” she said in a tone of flat anger that I’d never heard before. “When I was your age I fell in love with a young man. He was a pilot and that was when pilots were something new, when they were heroes.” I could hear her voice warm at the memory. “He had a mustache and he was… Oh. I loved him so much and when the war came he went to England to volunteer in the RAF. That’s when my hair went white. When I heard that he’d died. After that I let your grandfather marry me.”


My painfully inflated bowels roiled noisily.


“That’s what life is like,” Grandma said. “Everything good goes away and you feel sad and angry and it never stops. All you can do is be nice. That’s all there is.”


I felt a sensation of pressure. The world constricted around me like shrink wrap around a box, airtight and closing in. I squirmed in my seat and looked out at the salt flats, the rushes emerging from the brown water in bunches, the red-winged blackbirds and ducks and egrets. I stifled in the brimstone stink that filled the car. Grandma wasn’t supposed to be like me.


She thought God was love.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Return from Paradise

I am too pooped to come up with a new image, so here's an old one. I drew this in pencil while on a picnic. I had to do something to avoid the missus's hippie friends. The background was done in Photoshop. The missus's dad bought a big print of this, which took me aback.

So here I am. I got back home on Sunday night, and it's taken me this long to find time to post here. There are two reasons for this: one, I'm so tired you would not believe. I did not actually sleep at Viable Paradise, but I did pass out for a couple of hours every morning. It's going to take me a while to stop nodding off every couple of minutes. I almost fell out of my chair a number of times in class this morning.

The other reason is that I've come back with a whole new work ethic, among other things. From now on, I write in the morning, and I work until I've accomplished my goals. Everything else comes after that. So you'll be seeing a bit less of me on the internets. It's all good, though.

I'm not going to give you the whole story. Non-participants may find the following irritatingly vague, but I've been informed in no mild terms that what happens at VP, stays at VP.

That said, this was a genuinely life-changing event for me. I went into this with semi-grim expectations. I figured I was going to be put into my slimy little place, tough-love style. I was ready for that.

I will admit that I had fantasies. Daydreams. Well, the daydreams came true, every last fucking one of them. And then things got better. Aside from my relationships with those I love, this was the best thing that's ever happened to me.

But as I said, I went in with some serious trepidations. I posted them on the Viable Paradise board, and found that I wasn't the only one who was worried. Lemme run my concerns by you, and tell you how they actually worked out.

What if I get lost?

Air travel is something that most people can do drunk. It was nowhere near as hard as I was afraid it would be. And once I hit Martha's Vineyard, I was wrangled by experts.

What if my back goes out on me?

This was nowhere near as bad as I'd feared. First off, I was extremely protective of my back. Things got bad enough so that for the last few days I did lay down on the floor for most lectures, where my belt dug into the top of my pelvis -- shoulda taken it off, but I still had illusions of dignity -- but I came out of it okay.

Plus, I gobbled pain pills like Tic-Tacs and washed them down with bourbon. If it's good enough for Elizabeth Taylor and Jim Morrison, it's good enough for me.

What if nobody likes me?

This was so not the case -- and this was the real breakthrough for me. The amount of affection directed toward me still has me on the verge of tears every time I think about it.

When I decided to attend, I knew that I was going to have a major neurochemical event of some kind. The descriptions of the experience that I read on line made it clear that, well. What I told the folks there is that the only difference between VP and a cult initiation is that they let us eat protein. I was not kidding -- sleeplessness, lack of solitude, a rigid schedule, lots of rituals -- this was way cult. Which is another way of saying that it was an initiation rite. A passage. It was, honest to golly gosh, tribal.

So I knew I was gonna have some kind of major emotional reaction at some point. But when it came? It wasn't what I'd expected.

I was laying on the floor listening to a lecture on the business end of being a working writer. And the unnamed speaker was talking about the importance of having a good spouse, and how you needed to pull your share in the relationship. "Don't be the bass player in a rock band," was one of his/her statements.

Well, as it happens, I play bass. And I recently had a moment of self-doubt in which I approached the missus and asked her if I was a worthless fucking parasite. (I may not have phrased it as delicately as that...)

Her response, lord love her and I certainly do, was to get pissed. I mean really pissed, like I haven't seen in the last fourteen years. And her response was basically, how dare you say that about my husband!

And when I remembered the fierceness of her loyalty and support of me, all of a sudden the kindness and appreciation I'd been shown over the course of the week flooded in on me and I was so tired, so stressed, so worn raw, that I had no defenses. People liked me. They cared for me. They wanted the best for me.

And more then that. They were grateful for me. I was a good person to be around. For the first time in my life, rather than seeing myself either in terms of my shadow side or my skills, I saw that I was a really nice person. Someone who doesn't hesitate to make sacrifices for others. Someone who cares, and who tries to act on that caring.

I've always admired sweetness and sought to protect it in others. And all of a sudden I saw the sweetness in myself, and I couldn't hide from it.

My whole approach to life has been based on self-loathing. If you've been reading this blog from the start, you've run across a few really unpleasant posts that hint severely at this condition. I've almost been institutionalized for a condition that pretty much comes down to hating myself.

Laying on the floor, listening to the lecture, I realized that I didn't hate myself any more. That all of a sudden, among the throng of voices in my head, there was one that said, "You're a good person. You're loved because you deserve to be loved."

It almost fuckin' killed me, got to say. I lay there on the floor and while I wanted to run off somewhere and weep, the lecture was too good, to useful, for me to abandon. So I pulled out my hankie and dabbed at my eyes and tried not to make a public spectacle of myself.

But while I lay there, another voice kept coming into my head. How am I going to live if I don't hate myself? What is my basis for existence? This question terrified me. I knew how to live with the constant desire to destroy myself, but this was so weird and alien and threatening...

There were people who were happy to talk to me about this. Who helped me through the first few hours.

And it turns out that it's actually easier not to hate yourself. I'm starting to realize that it takes a hell of a lot of energy to maintain a constant state of revulsion towards oneself. And I'm also realizing that many of the things I find most repellent in myself are borne out of insecurity. It'll take a while, but I think I've got a shot at growing up now.

It certainly took me by surprise.

And just for the record, I was only mean once during the course of the whole week, and I was mean to someone who a) asked for it, b) could take it, and c) really should have known better than to hand me a straight line like that. I can easily resist sexual temptation because I love the missus. I can resist tasty foods because I'm not a snacky fellow. But I cannot resist a straight line. Mektoub.

What if I'm not enough of a science fiction and fantasy fan?

This worked to my advantage. I may not have known about the slang (although I can now define squee, squick, and cracktastic), may not be hip to the games, the fanfic, all that stuff -- but I was able to hold my own as far as the literature goes.

Tell you what. I have no idea where my work is going to fall, (see below), but I officially declare an alliance with fandom. They are my people, and now I know this. Everyone was funky-fine.

What if I'm too (insert profanity) pretentious?

Hey, I pulled it off. I'm just pretentious enough. When I spoke of my feelings that I was a literary writer, they seemed to think that it was a reasonable claim.

What if it turns out that I am a complete fraud?

Such was not the case, he giggled. The single weakest compliment I received on my writing was, "Thank you for being a very good writer." It was made clear to me over and over in no uncertain terms that I got the goods and I got 'em in spades. And then the stakes were raised.

Look out, world. Here comes the oaf.

What if I'm not the special bunny?

At one point, I told someone (cough Hugo winner cough) that I was making chili-dog casserole. (Click here for the recipe. It's the funniest recipe you'll read all day, I promise -- and it'll tell you how to make something really cracktastic.)

After telling them that yes, there would be gobs of melted cheese and nacho rings as well, I took off. The individual in question called after me, "I might love you best of all."

(Chili-dog casserole can do this. I am not kidding. And of course, the statement wasn't true because they love all their children equally.)

At this point I had no barriers, and before I knew what was coming out of my mouth, I said, "That's because I'm a special bunny. Everyone should feel that way about me."

Behind me came a chorus. "You are, and they should!"

What if I'm not as smart as I think I am?

One dude there referred to himself as 'a bear of little brain.' He was pretty fucking smart. The range of knowledge these people had on tap was intense. History, science, every area of trivia you'd care to imagine.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. And I never felt intimidated, because I knew that they could always ask me something about dinosaurs.

What if I was only accepted in order to give John Scalzi the opportunity to extract a hideous revenge in recompense for the criticism of Old Man's War I put up on my blog?

What happens in Viable Paradise, stays in Viable Paradise.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Viable Paradise

My first venture into the exciting world of hypernurbs. When Galactus throws a teaparty...

So I'm probably not going to be doing a lot of blogging this next week. I'm off to attend the Viable Paradise writer's workshop on Martha's Vineyard. Seven pro writers and editors, twenty-seven other neophyte writers, and me.

Due to a combination of class deadlines and general paralysis, I am nowhere near as prepared as I would have liked to have been. My query letter is flabby, I have no synopsis, my outlines need work... but fuckit. They aren't expecting me to spring the damned novel on them anyway.

I am frightened of the trip, I'm looking forward to the workshop. It'll all be fine. I'm certain that once I'm actually in the process I'll feel great. It's the anticipation that's killing me.

So now I have to cut my hair, then head downtown and have a copy of the current draft of the novel spiral-bound.

I'll do one set of edits on it on the flight in, then go over it again on the flight home, then do at least two chapters of revision a day until it's all done. At that point it'll just be a matter of sending it through Homework Club for the final polish.

And at that point I'll be working on the next volume with the Monday night krew. That's going to be tricky. I've finished the first volume, I have a solid outline of the third, but for the second all I have is a bunch of scenes that have already been written (yeah, I've written a couple of drafts of volume two already -- but things have changed so much that most of that work is going to be discarded), and a list of all the shit that needs to happen. I need to organize this into a real plot.

I suspect that what I learn at Viable Paradise will help me with that.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Primitives 3

I just don't have time to fiddle with this anymore. Just have to bite the bullet and send it off.

Still, I am actually kinda pleased with this one -- I can easily see doing a little comic strip or animated bit with these suckers, especially if I add a few more characters.

Primitives 2

It's starting to take on the oddest kind of life. This kinda makes me thing it's taking place on the Serengeti of Misfit Toys.

Definitely starting to feel the love part of the love/hate relationship with 3D.

Primitives 1


Modeling and posing complete, now all I have to do is come up with lights and textures. More later.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Almost Gone


Two floating idols regard each other malevolently over the world they've created...


... while below them, their creations wage war for survival. Man, this project is giving me the dickens.

Dag. Before we get into the main part of the post, you'll never guess what happened. I just rescued a hummingbird. I'm out back in the studio the missus and I share. As you know from previous posts, I've got the upstairs and she's got the downstairs.

Well, the missus was giving a class to a private student when she heard a fluttering noise from one of the high windows and saw what she thought was a baby bird. I came down to look, and when it fluttered into sight it was a hummingbird.

I opened all the doors and windows while Karen fetched a duster on an extensible pole. At first she was swiping randomly, which worried me. Those little suckers are delicate. So I had her go upstairs and put the duster through one of the cutouts in the wall so she could see what she was doing and just startle it rather than brush it.

This worked. She chased it to the next ledge over, and then to a lower window.

I ran and grabbed a stool so I could reach it. 's funny, but there's a brief passage from the novel that applies perfectly here. "There are times when animals can tell that you want to help them; it doesn't happen often, but when it does they will endure whatever you do to them."

Of course there's no way to know what the animal's actual reaction is (I suspect this is true of dogs, probably not in this case), but there have been a number of times in my life when animals in need have gone completely passive while I've helped them.

In this case, when I slowly lifted my hands, the bird opened its beak once, then stayed still as I picked it up and cradled it in my hands. Its body was twisted to the right, where its wing stuck out, feathers disheveled. It was panting and seemed in great discomfort. I thought Karen had smacked it a good one, and decided not to tell her about that part. I thought the poor little thing was a goner.

When I got it outside, I wondered for a moment if there were an animal rescue center that would cope with an injured hummingbird, or if I should just put it out of its misery. I needed to know how badly it was hurt.

So I took its right wing in between thumb and forefinger, and gently stroked its length. As I did so, its feathers straightened out. The bird stretched the wing, and it folded neatly in place at its side.

The bird's entire physical conformation changed instantly. Instead of the crumpled little ball of fluff I'd picked up, it was neat and lively, green feathers shimmering in the sunlight. It bounced to its feet and took off in a straight line at top speed, chirping loudly as it went into the tea-rose bush.

Bird don't know, bird ain't grateful. I'm the one who's grateful for that moment, and that's good enough.

Got to say, I've been going through it. The approach of Viable Paradise on top of the drama I've been going through lately (had a mercifully brief dream of my mother-in-law's death last night) has had me in a state.

(And the difficulty I've been having with my 3D class hasn't helped. I have a compulsive need to excel in my classes [been a straight-A student since my return to school], so my sense of just-not-getting-it is driving me nuts. I just keep telling myself I used to feel the same way about vector graphics and now they're second nature to me.)

It's not Viable Paradise itself. My meeting with Chia and Chris (and the inimitable Dan) left me feeling entirely at ease. I feel completely confident about things now. Hey, it's a completely structured environment where the focus is on one of my areas of strength, surrounded by people I'll probably really like. Frankly, if my whole life could be like that I'd be a happy man. Go ahead and send me to prose prison.

But all of the associated preparations have me feeling absolutely terrified. Not a phobic reaction -- but something on that scale. You know, the occasional accelerated heartbeat, hyperventilation, that kind of thing. Honestly, when the missus made me get a prepaid cell phone, holding that thing in my hand made me panic.

See, there's all this... grown-up stuff going on that I've been insulated from my whole life. Cell phones? Plane tickets? Shuttles? I know it sounds stupid to real people, but I've never dealt with any of this stuff in my life and have regarded the ability to do so as some sort of god-given gift.

I know as soon as I'm actually doing it I'll be fine. I'm good at dealing with things that are actually happening.

But living with stuff hanging over my head? It kills me. Fucking kills me. As the missus said, "You need tsuris, and if you don't have any, you'll find a way to make some." This is all too true.

Thank goodness for Karen. She's really rallied around me, jabbing me in the ass to take care of business, taking things out of my hands when I'm falling apart, and doing it all with love and respect.

And it just dawns on me that I did the same for her when she was dealing with her mother. This is something we've been teaching each other for a long time now.

It's funny. Love is something, and friendship is something. But the skill of knowing when and how to take care of the other person and to allow them to take care of you is a whole separate thing. And right now I'm so grateful that we've figured that one out.

So I've decided to keep working on my 3D homework today and tomorrow, and that'll have to be it. Even if the project above isn't as polished as I want it to be, even if I have to take a grade hit, I have to put my novel first.

Because on Saturday I'll organize my novel's manuscript, put all the critiques I've received into order, and print a copy of the work as-is so I can use my plane time to do a line-edit and overall reading of the book. I realized that at least one crucial dramatic moment was skipped due to my familiarity with the plot (it's when the protagonist realizes who's haunting his house), and I have to wonder if there are any others.

I'm not gonna have my query ready to go. Maybe I'll have a chance to work on it at VP.

It's Thursday. I leave the house at 3:30 on Sunday morning.

I'm almost gone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Sinister Hand

My sister took the family out for fondue last night. Good times.

I've always had a strange relationship with my left hand. Among other things, it's tried to kill me.

If you've ever seen my handwriting, you've gotten a look at one of the clues. I've been told it's diagnostic for someone who's been switched from left- to right-handed. This has given me trouble over the years. I've given up entirely on cursive and have printed everything throughout my adult life. I can't even read cursive, really.

On the other hand, there was a period of time in my youth when I tried to teach myself to write two different things at the same time, using both hands simultaneously. I wasn't able to pull that off, but I did find that I could write the same thing with both hands at the same time, writing mirror-wise with my left hand.

After a while, it was just as easy for me to write mirror-wise with my left hand as normal fashion with my right -- easier. My writing was neater, even if reversed. And when I was doing this I could read my backwards writing just as easily as the conventional stuff.

More aggravating have been the times when I've tried to work a combination lock unsuccessfully. I've had times when it's taken me more than twenty minutes to figure out that I'm doing it mirror-wise with my left hand.

When I was in high school my brother and I were part of a study that investigated underachievers, students whose performance wasn't in line with their abilities. The woman conducting the study was horrified at my developmental asymmetry and strongly encouraged me to engage in practices that would treat my right and left sides identically. For instance, my right arm swung when I walked but my left arm didn't. She insisted that I consciously swing both arms to the same degree.

Things hit a peak when I was going nuts in my early twenties. For a while one of my chores at work was making notepads. There was an old papercutter in the basement and it was a monster. It had a three-foot solid iron handle; if you stacked two reams of paper under the blade, the weight of the handle sheared through them as if they weren't there. Shhhp.

So when I worked on the papercutter, my left hand recognized opportunity. My right hand would be under the blade neatening a stack of paper when my left hand would sneak up and pull the safety knob, releasing the blade. The iron handle would swing down and smack me upside the head and I'd jerk my right hand to safety.

This happened three, four times a week over the course of six months or so.

A couple of years later, after I was considerably more stable, I was walking with my brother and we were talking about that study we'd been involved in. I said, "I'm sick of fighting with it. If I'm asymmetrical, I'm asymmetrical. I'm not gonna make my left hand swing; it can do whatever the hell it wants."

And then, with no conscious action on my part, my left hand started to swing...

We've gotten along much better ever since. I think the time I spend typing and playing music helps -- these activities give the left hand a chance to do something smart and work in concert with the right hand.

Still, it's a little weird to know you have more than one person in you -- and they don't always like you.