Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Concert For Crows

A couple of years ago the crows moved into our neighborhood and the mockingbirds moved out. I've always had a fondness for corvids, and my growing intuitive consciousness that birds are dinosaurs made these noisy new folks a point of interest for me.

How many intelligent species live on Earth? It depends on where and how and why you draw the line -- but there are a lot of solid definitions of what makes a person that crows fulfill quite neatly. Language, tool-use, and some level of self-awareness actually do count in my book. They are people so far as I'm concerned.

This winter, I found myself regarding them as aliens, and once I thought of them that way? I noticed them noticing me, and I decided that as a science fiction writer, I had a professional obligation to establish contact.

I began by paying attention to them. And then, when they noticed me, I made it plain that I saw them. I began to greet crows with a, "Hello, crow."

They seemed interested. It's hard to tell, but it seemed as if there was one particular individual who had taken to me.

Then I began to drop a little bread here and a cracker there -- after making contact, not as a means of attracting them. I'd set it on the ground, gesture from it to them, and wait. Most of the time, the crow would come down and stand near the food while keeping an eye on me, maybe giving me a seemingly-friendly croak or two.

A crow started getting in the habit of sitting on the roof of my studio and cawing to the dogs from time to time. If I went and sat on my deck, the crow would fly into a tree in the neighbor's yard that would allow us to look at one another comfortably.

I don't know why I'm using the past tense for an activity that's going on right now.

If I bring a musical instrument out on the deck and play it? The crow hunches up and fluffs its feathers as if protecting itself from the cold or going to sleep and stays that way as long as I play.

So this has been going on for a while, and things are starting to get a little weird. A few months back I was walking down the street and there was a group of crows on the sidewalk. They started to prepare for flight, and I said, "Hello, crows," and they settled down and let me walk right through them.

We have a lot of folks in our neighborhood who are from rural Louisiana or Mexico, and  I started wondering if I was doing my reputation any harm by consorting with crows in public. To folks who still believe in witches and spirits and sendings, it might not look too cool...

For instance, from time to time, a crow -- possibly the crow, larger than most and a little disheveled-looking -- will follow me down the street a ways, flying in front of me and perching, then doing it again after I pass. Two weeks ago, a crow doing that dropped a bread crust at my feet.

I mean, no way, right? I have no idea whether present-giving is inside the realm of possibility here.


This afternoon, I heard bird feet on the studio roof. I step out and play some crude blues and a crow pops up at the edge of the roof, then flies to the tree and listens while I play.

A little while ago, it happened again -- feet on the roof, go outside and play a few notes, and the crow appears, and I concertize for a while. (Paper Moon, Sloop John B, Union Maid, and Let The Sun Shine In on baritone ukulele, if you're curious.)

The whole thing seemed so much like a close encounter that I went inside to tell the missus, who was gratifyingly weirded out. When I went back outside, there were three crows on a building at the end of the block. When I came out, two of them hid, but the third did some weird bowing and neck extending while croaking softly. I greeted it in a friendly fashion, and went into my studio.

When I got upstairs and looked out on the deck, the three crows were perched on my privacy wall, right there. Waiting for me. Two of them flew into the neighbor's tree, while the third -- who I think was my big slob buddy -- stretched out toward me and made these very soft, endearing croaks, black old scaly feet all fidgeting off the edge of the roof as he or she scrabbled toward me. He or she, probably she given the size, let me get within five feet before taking off. I suspect the possibility of physical contact in our future.

I grabbed the tenor guitar -- ADad tuning, which is more fun than you can believe -- and went out on the deck. All three crows were in the tree, seemingly waiting for me, and I did some improvising in major and blues scales, which is something even a bassist can do on an open-tuned instrument. The two smaller crows sat still and listened, while the big one engaged in a series of twists and contortions that had the branch it perched on bouncing around in an amusing fashion. It really felt like having an audience.

I'll have to try and get some pictures. As I've been typing this, they've been flying about and cawing to one another.

The missus is both amused by and concerned about the situation, which is admittedly pretty weird. I can hear a crow on the roof right now, and that one crow knows if they perch on the railing they can see me at work.

What exactly have I gotten myself into?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bad Mood Guy

The cover is really, actually done. From skull to photographs to Photoshop to Illustrator, this has been lurking in my mind since last fall, when I first saw that face...

My transition from winter to spring is a little rough this year. Which means, I've had three major mood collapses in the last four weeks. I can go from the best of moods to the worst within a second or two; it's possible to see me physically change when it happens. My posture, my facial expressions -- I'm a very emotive person, people around me tend to be strongly affected by my moods, and this state makes me a toxic presence.

The first time it happened, it was a jerky process. I could feel different areas of emotion becoming engaged; fear would spark anger and grief, and feedback would occur. It felt like a circuit, and left me with a strong intuitive impression that these three emotions have become so entangled in me that it is difficult to experience them independently.

The next two events? It was more like turning on a machine. I simply got sucked into the emotional vortex. I've been able to minimize the drama, and that helps. Last night I was able to keep from freaking out entirely, and was even able to get some sleep. I am learning to handle myself better.

But the emotional surge is more overwhelming than it has been in the recent past. It's as though something has built up, and needs to be released -- but I suspect that it's an old addictive pattern being triggered in response to stress.

I've recently come to recognize a common pattern to many of my behaviors -- exert myself to the point of exhaustion, to the point of blanking out my personality. I've done this through manual and intellectual labor, exercise, drinking, drugging, eating, meditation, media binging, and especially through emotional excess.

That is the secret of my mood swings; they produce a powerful narcotic effect. It is literally a form of endogenous opiate addiction.

And now that I've written that statement, I can see the irritability that foreshadows a mood swing as akin to a drug craving, or a sensation of withdrawal. It's not the same thing -- in fact, legitimate irritation can lead to irritability and then a mood swing if I'm in a vulnerable state.

And that is the central problem in my life. What is the cut-off point between sucking it up like a mensch and struggling to maintain the emotional space I need in order to feel at ease?

Especially when the struggle of getting my way is actually a lot more difficult for me than simply letting myself get swept away in the emotional surf. One requires action, and engagement in conflict; the other simple acquiescence. Which would you rather do, especially if you're feeling miserable?

The real issue is the underlying anxieties that have me feeling the need for anesthesia.

Those would be simple; fear of failure and fear of success, and all lusts and resentments pertaining thereto.

I'm nearly fifty, I have a bad back and the kind of psychiatric conditions that could get me a room in an institution any old time, and I have no marketable conventional skills. I don't have a degree, my resume looks like a doily, and I'm too articulate to be convincing as a candidate for disability. To quote Rabelais's last words, "I have little, I owe much, the rest I leave to the poor."

I don't fear failure; I fear that I have been a failure for some time, and rightfully should have departed from the lives of those dear to me when it was possible to do so without causing to much fuss. I fear that failure is a wheel that has crushed just enough of me so that I can't crawl from under, and the slow squeeze is still to come.

And my fear of success... Well, it's gonna sound absolutely idiotic, but I don't know success, I don't understand the concept, and it makes me fretful.

I know this seems odd, petty, obscure, whatever. But maybe someone out there understands that, "I can't even begin to imagine what it's going to be like," is a terrifying fucking statement.

Right now, I have a whole series of specific chores ahead of me, and they all end in contact with people I don't know. That picture at the top of the post? When I'm done with Swill, I need to contact journalists, bookstore owners, and other people involved in the small press.

And I'm so close to done with the novel it isn't even funny. It's really down to a few weeks worth of work.

And then I get to send out queries to agents and editors.

When I'm done with that?

I put together a proposal for a gallery show based on Swill, which would include the Bonelands series and a lot of other large-scale full-color works in addition to the Swill art proper. Then I begin the laborious and incomprehensible task of finding out which galleries might go for my stuff. (The Boneroom, to start out with, of course...)

And then there's my growing commitment to memoir and performance, which slots in there somewhere -- I suppose I haven't mentioned it yet, but I've decided that my performance work is going to be a book at some point. So I need to find more venues so I can get the material out there properly -- it takes the pressure of an audience to get this shit right.

That's just the stuff that's actually in play, that has a substantial body of work attached to it.

I mean, given that, what would success be like? What the hell am I?

(I'm an idiot who hits Publish instead of Preview. This is the kind of post I've been deleting all winter, but fuck it; it's up now!

At least I know what I'm writing about in the next rambling, disoriented post...)