Friday, October 1, 2010

PC Chicken for Breast Cancer Stakes

I suppose you're wondering what this is all about. Well, it's a fundraiser for breast cancer. Here's the scoop, and you won't get a lot of this without the background story.

I should not have spent the morning doing this. Rob will kill me for not working on Swill, and I will kill me for not working on the novel or my grammar homework. But if I didn't get this out of my head, I was going to keep waking myself up with the giggles from thinking about it.

See, this is going out onto a child-friendly site. So the question is -- how many of these can Peter post before he loses his nerve in the face of their basic horribleness?

So what I'm doing here is playing PC chicken for breast cancer stakes. My mother actually would be proud of me; I got it from her.

This was fun and easy and I'm wondering if maybe I shouldn't do more along these lines...

And just for the record. My mom didn't just have a deeply sick sense of humor; she died of cancer. So did my grandfather. And so on and so forth. I've got a big fat lump in my neck that's probably a cyst.

Cancer is everywhere, all the time, for everybody. Honestly, if I have to explain to you why unavoidable tragedy is hilarious, you really should steer clear of my stuff.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

State of the Studio

Here's what the studio looked like back when I had hair and a shar pei. I was probably twenty-six, twenty-seven when I drew this. Man, I hated working with watercolor.

So Karen's class started unexpectedly and I'm up here in my bathrobe listening to her say, "Now keep your butt clenched, and sweep from your knee." The ease and relish with which she leads her classes will be swiped and used in the novel...

While I'm up here, I may as well do a post on what I need to do for the studio. Honestly, these posts are more for my benefit than yours... I should just write 'em down in a notebook or something, but here they are.

Anyway. My life has a pattern of big hauls interspersed with long droughts. My response is to sock aside most of any haul for future living expenses, set aside a bit for a temporarily increased standard of living, and then make a few big investments in my infrastructure. So part of what I'm going to do is to improve my studio.

The first issue is the big window in the above drawing. You see how it's filled with a pine tree? They cut that sucker down a couple of years ago and it has been plain and fancy hell. The heat, the light fading my books, the backlighting of my monitor making it difficult and unpleasant to work in the afternoon -- it's been bugging me a lot for a long time. It's also going to be hell of expensive. That window is big, it's set on a slant, and it's over a spiral staircase. Installation hell. But it's time to drag the blueprints down to the store and get the ball moving.

Right now the studio is properly set up for writing, digital image work, and playing guitar and bass. I need to make it work for drawing, painting, using the drum pads and keyboards, and recording music.

In order to draw while at my workstation, I'll need to get a stiff foam pillow shaped to hold a drawing board at the proper angle. This will also allow me to edit manuscripts here instead of in bed, thus ending my paranoia that I'll inadvertently pull a Clarence Thomas and deliver a pubic hair along with the deleted passive tense. "No, I did not mean anything. It's probably from the dog or my wife or something. Stop looking at me like that."

And while I'm at it, I'll have a similar pillow made at an angle suited for holding manuscripts while I'm word-processing revisions. Currently I use a regular pillow folded in half, and occasionally it springs up and hurls paper about to comical effect.

Getting the music station set up properly will be nice. As it is, it's an awkward eyesore that blocks access to the bookshelves and threatens to tip over. I want a stand for the keyboard.

I do wonder if I could get a rolling table of some kind for the computer keyboard and mouse and such, or if there's such thing as a keyboard stand with space for such gear.

I want a folding table of some kind. When I do ink blots and such I go out on the deck and crouch and it hurts and I'm tired of it.

I want to get my working computer hooked into the sound system, and I want to be able to work on our recording computer from my workstation, and I want to have the drum pads and keyboard ready to plug in and play at a moment's notice, rather than being too much trouble to get around to. I've had a low-end pro recording setup for a decade and I can't do anything with the damned thing. Since I'll probably be doing more spoken-word stuff in the future, it would behoove me to be able to record myself.

I'm also going to get a stereo. A real, grownup component stereo that works. I am fed up with buying boom boxes at yard sales. It's hurting my faith in human nature. "Yeah, it's fine, works like new, we just got a new one..." Liars! I know that all the music in the world is available for free on-line, yeah, yeah. But I don't care. I just don't do it, much as it seems like a good idea. So I want to play my stupid old records and CDs and tapes and let the MP3s go fuck themselves.

I need to do something about the floor and I don't know what. But the floor is raw plywood and it's starting to splinter. Any suggestions would be welcomed.

I need to have my light table set up so I can put it fully upright to use as a surface for story blocking, and back to a proper drafting angle. Right now it's at a perfectly useless angle.

I don't have a printer -- but I do have a very interesting idea revolving around the acquisition of one. I'll tell you more about that soon.

And I need to get the lighting situation sorted out. I still don't have a decent drawing/reading lamp, and that's a necessity. And I need to either find out how to get the subwoofer fixed, or get rid of it and put in a shelf instead.

Shwa. Man. And that's not all I have to think about... But when all that's done, the studio will be a better place to work. I've already cleaned the damned thing up, so the worst is over. And honestly? This kind of thing really does make life a little nicer, especially when you appreciate it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

State of the Oaf

Right now I don't feel like taking the time to put up something new, so here's one that pissed the missus off the first time I put it up. "You are not a gorilla!" It's true; gorillas are larger and stronger than I am, and herbivorous.

So. Lately I've been insanely busy. And one of the effects of this is that things have gotten away from me. Well, last week a neat bit of punctuation came up, and now it's time to take stock.

I've been in rough financial shape for a while now. Well, that is undergoing a brief change. My mom's house sold, and I got a nice chunk of money. I'm setting aside enough to pay for my household expenses while I go to school, another chunk for emergencies, and then a few thousand will go toward making some necessary and some luxurious changes in my living status.

So. What do I need to do?

Health Issues

If I join California Lawyers for the Arts, I should be able to get on an affordable health-care program. Between the lump in my neck, my worsening insomnia, constant nausea, blood-puking, and a vague sense of impending doom, I think I'm due for a checkup. Haven't had one of those in well over a decade.

I also need to get into counseling. I've been self-medicating for my mental illness for a while now with surprisingly good effects -- I haven't had a single major mood swing since I began -- but it's clearly not something I want to rely on in the long run. I'm right on the verge of functional, but I think with some advice and focus I can do a little better than that.

I need to see my pain control physician and arrange for a cortisone shot. I hate to do it, it's an admission of my declining condition, but it is there for a reason. My pain is getting worse, and I need to do something about it.

Speaking of which, I also want to get some counseling on getting into an athletic practice. I need a certain amount of physical exertion to be in top form and I haven't been getting it. I bet I could do weight training as long as I never compressed my spine -- lat pulls, bench press, all that stuff should be harmless. But I want to talk to an expert first. Maybe there's some kind of fencing or something that would suit me.

I'm going to break down and get a damned Medical Marijuana card, weird as I feel about that. And of course I have to get my teeth cleaned, and whatever disasters are attendant upon that situation.

And most excitingly, there may be an option for my eyes. My worsening eyesight and worsening insomnia were the two crucial players in last year's disintegration. Well...

Here's the story. A few years ago I read an article, I think it was in an old Co-Ev Quarterly, about some glasses that were being distributed in the third world. The lenses were water-filled plastic, and you could adjust the focus with a syringe. No need for an optometrist, and you could fiddle with the things until you got what you wanted.

I went to the missus and said, "Why can't I have these?"

Well, check it out.

Yeah, it's a thousand fucking bucks for a pair of glasses. Which is nothing compared to having to have four fucking pairs of glasses, which is my current situation. No division in the field of vision. They can handle my astigmatism. No fixed focal distance, so if I want to take in a motherfucking vista I can take in a motherfucking vista!

So that pretty much takes care of my health issues. You begin to see why I've been feeling overwhelmed. Oy.

Next? Probably the studio.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Back Cover

Here we go, folks, another preview of the upcoming Swill. Again, going with the hard-sell theme I'm working for this issue, we establish that a failure to purchase our magazine will make a noted authority sad and lonely. You don't want that to happen, right?

When I met Nick Mamatas at a book signing in San Francisco (I was there to meet some friends and, jesus I disgust myself, network), he signed my copy of Move Under Ground (a note-perfect Kerouac-does-Lovecraft I actually enjoyed more than some works of his models), I mentioned an interview he'd given the Oakland Trib where he'd named Swill as a sign of the thriving East Bay literary underground.

When I told him that he'd bought the only copy of Swill that sold in Berkeley, this is what he wrote. He's graciously allowed us to use it. Plus, ol' Rob gives us a typical dollop of soul-crushing filth, and I engage in some ritualistic chest-beating. Honestly, you'd at least have to leaf through the damned thing after reading this, right?

A Child's Garden of Serial Killers

Here's the finished version of that one I put up the other day. Honestly, would it have killed me to put in a little scrub on the ground? And that shadow is just awful. Still, I dig the mood.

An E-Mail Exchange

The Oaf: I thought I'd run this by you before I posted. If I wind up writing about the girls often -- and if I don't, how will I steal all their best lines? -- I'm gonna want some pseudonyms for them.

The Sister: Go with it, and just consider them your resource to exploit.

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I've been walking my younger niece home from school on Thursdays and Fridays, and spending some time with her and her sister before their mother comes home. On Friday we had a little conversation that pretty much tied my brain into knots, and I suspect I have a good deal more cerebral trauma ahead of me.

I'd made some passing reference to clowns that set the whole thing off.

"Clowns aren't funny," she said. "They're scary."

"Well, you're right," I said.

"Once there was a clown who really, really liked cub scouts." Her voice was perfectly dreamy -- she'd slipped instinctively into once-upon-a-time mode.

And I basically crapped my pants. Where the hell did she hear about Pogo the Clown?

"He'd take care of the cub scouts and take them camping but sometimes..." And there was that sweet little smile as she strung me out just a little bit, playing up the suspense. She's still in elementary school, you know. "... sometimes he'd whisper to one of the scouts and tell him they could be special friends and he'd show them special things. And then when they were aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall alone the clown would do something horrible to the cub scout and then kill him."

Oh, brother. On one hand, there was part of me going into full-on panic mode. I punched the red button and screamed Your tiny niece is a serial killer freak! This has to be your fault! Lower periscope! Dive! Dive! Dive!

Then, I also had a sense of relief that she was looking at the situation with that kind of analytic thought. Behind her words was an assumption -- if a grownup offers you special things and secrets, do not motherfucking trust them. I was glad, glad, glad that she had that suspicion.

And then on the other hand, part of me was going, Fascinating. You're watching history turn into folklore right before your eyes. This is the evolution of Märchen for Motherfuckers, and this kid is a bellwether. I've been listening to some Native American folk tales that are basically all about scaring the crap out of kids so they don't kill themselves by doing stupid shit, and the kid is telling me exactly that kind of story.

And then on the other hand (my mind is a hundred-handed monstrosity), I was, more than anything else, amused in very particular way. See, it was hard to be that worried by this because, well...

"I know another story."

"Oh, really?"

"There was a man? And he gave these people drugs and made them kill people. And the last lady they killed?" You cannot imagine the glee smeared out over her milk-white freckled face. "She had a baby in her stomach."

That's not how Charlie tells it. According to him, it was all those crazy sorority girls. I didn't say that out loud, though. I wasn't going to panic just because this copper-topped gamine was au fait with John Wayne Gacy and the Manson family. I needed a little more information before I could react. "So where did you hear about these guys? Was it on TV or something?"

"No, my sister likes scary stories."

And that changed everything. My social conditioning was wrong, my instincts were right. What might seem like a horrifying aberration was actually predictable, standard behavior for someone in my family. I was younger than my nieces when I was checking out books on shark attacks from the Richmond Public Library, spending hours staring at the gaping wounds caused by bites, pictures of body parts fished from stomachs, storing up fuel for the series of nightmares and hallucinations that would rock my late teens and early twenties.

So right now I'm working on a little lecture on the subject of eyebleach, of garbage in/garbage out processing in the human brain. Let the girls know that someday they're going to look at a picture they'll wish they could unsee or read a story they'll wish they could forget without setting them up to expect it. This kind of chat all too easily turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I want no part of that.

Freaking out about this kind of thing does no good. I read a decent book on the subject of children's fantasy lives called Killing Monsters by Gerard Jones. He said the best thing I've heard on this subject -- it's both foolish and destructive to regard the fantasies of children as having any power in and of themselves. A fantasy is a fantasy, and it's usually best to just play along. She's a good kid with a good heart. This doesn't actually mean anything. She's just testing the edges of the human experience.

And this isn't coming from an adult feeding it to them. They're going out and finding it, the same way I was able to find photos of animal maulings, war atrocities, and sideshow freaks when I was their age. I didn't even have the internet, and my world was bursting at the seams with inappropriate information.

Let's face it. It's not a G-rated planet, and expecting smart, curious children to remain innocent is dumb. Hiding things from them is simply a way of letting them know what kind of research they want to do.

This is an aspect of liberty that is troubling and also unavoidable. To allow a child a healthy degree of freedom is to embrace risk, and well. She's one of us. A member of my family. Which means she's got a morbid sense of humor. Which means this probably is my fault.

Her birthday's coming up this week. I think I'll get her a wood chipper.