Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jurassic Fight Club Part One: A Fossilized Curate's Egg.

Remember the pencil version?

At the suggestion of Brian over at Laelaps (see my blogroll; I'm currently too ignorant to put links inside of posts, as has been pointed out to me) I'm going to give you a rundown on the TV show Jurassic Fight Club.

So before we get into that, let me introduce you to one of my favorite metaphors. It's from a Victorian-period Punch cartoon that shows a clergyman and a lord sitting at a breakfast table. The lord says, "Good Lord, Curate! It looks as if you've got a bad egg!" With a smile like a weasel eating butter the curate replies, "Not at all! Many parts are excellent!"

That's how I feel about things like comics, genre fiction, monster movies, rock and roll, and crappy animated dinosaur shows. You go into them knowing that you've got a bad egg -- but with luck you may scavenge a few excellent bites from the experience. Mmmmm... the Curate's egg. It's my favorite.

Of course I don't have good taste. But my bad taste is exquisitely developed.

So before we go into Jurassic Fight Club, let's take a look at my criteria for this kind of affair. Remember, I'm approaching this from a number of perspectives ranging from student to scriptwriter to artist to loaded dude on the couch killing time before bed.

First off, how much dinosaur do we get?

Next, how often does the show make me want to/actually scream? This divides into some subcategories. Is the science bad? Is the voiceover work irritating? What about the writing? The pacing? The visual quality? Just how badly screwed up is this thing, anyway?

Do I get any new information?

Do we have any good visual moments?

At any point to we receive a frisson of the alien -- a sense of conviction that convinces us that we're seeing something real and strange?

And, finally, how's the violence?

More in part two.

(By the way, I was just beating the shelves for that damned cartoon. If I find it, I'm posting it -- it's public domain for sure and like I said, it's an excellent metaphor.)

Hopefully the last on the shootings.

Hey, all.

Hopefully this is the end of the posts about the shootings. That isn't what this blog is about, after all. But that being said...

My neighbor escaped serious injury. If the bullet had gone one way, spleen, the other way spine. But she's gonna be okay.

My wife is organizing the neighborhood. A news team found out about it and put her on the air last night. She screamed for a police presence on the block, which was immediately followed by a shot of the chief of police explaining why they weren't going to put anyone in our neighborhood.

We had two officers on the block last night. If Karen says a pissant's going to move a bale of hay you may as well clear a space for it.

My reaction to the whole thing? I believe the technical term is paradoxical. I'm pretty much nuts and have been going through a rough patch of the crazies lately. But put me into an actual crisis situation and I calm right down. I've been eating and sleeping. While I worry it is much less of an issue for me than the free-floating anxiety I've been dealing with. No fear; just concern.

I guess I need to live under circumstances where my overdeveloped fight-or-flight instincts aren't overdeveloped. I am just not fit for decent living.

Oh, well.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

She was coming home to her kids.

Tonight after band practice, around ten-thirty, I was in the bathroom when I heard three shots. When my wife and I left the house to find out what was going on we found that our neighbor across the street had been shot. I understand that her chances of survival are good. My best wishes go out to her and her family.

To the best of my knowledge she had absolutely nothing to do with the situation last night.

The details are none of my business and none of yours but she's someone who had at one point hit the kind of place in life that you don't come back from.

She came back. I always had the impression that she did it because she had a kid. And tonight she was coming home from work to her family and someone shot her.

The information I received was random; one person said it was a drive-by, someone else said it was someone at the memorial that's been put up for one of the shooters from last night.

Everything I know tells me that it happened for the sake of shooting; that someone was overcome with grief or rage or stupidity or self-importance or some ungodly emotional cocktail and decided that shooting someone at random was the thing to do. I wouldn't mind being wrong about this.

And now my wife, bless her heart, asked me to put a futon over the window by our bed. Because I sleep next to the window and, again, bless her heart, she cares whether I live or die. It's good to have someone who cares about that.

Right now I care about my neighbor from across the street, with whom I've had a bit of friction and a few friendly hellos. Someone I hardly know. Someone I just saw lying on the sidewalk between her car and her front door. And I care about her kids; when I asked if there was any way I could help with them the police were very kind. The officer I spoke to clearly understood how it felt to want to do the right thing and how sometimes standing back is the right thing. And he understood how that hurts.

A couple of reporters were talking to me this afternoon and they were clearly angling for something bad to say about the police. I can understand this; I grew up in a community with a notoriously racist and corrupt police force and I can clearly see the racist side of law enforcement in America.

But here and now the police have been responsible. Prompt. Courteous. And compassionate.

You know what's kind of fun? Thanking a cop and meaning it. It seems to take them by surprise. And when someone you've never met in your life is obviously despondent and they cling to you and you hold them and they calm down? That's good too. Introducing yourself to neighbors for the first time and speaking in true camaraderie. That's good too.

I need more of these things in my life. But I don't need to have someone shot in order to get them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome to Homicide Central.

Last night I was awakened by a burst of gunfire outside my bedroom window at midnight; it was quickly followed by a second and then the sound of a car driving off. My wife rolled over and touched my arm -- "Was that gunfire?"

It's like the sound of a car crash. Once you've really heard it you can't mistake it for much else. I've heard gunfire in my life, once had the chance to spend an afternoon at a gun range. And this would make the third time I've heard someone shot to death.

Karen calls nine-one-one; the line is busy. She tries again. "Is this about the shooting on Derby?" She wasn't the first to phone it in. People in our neighborhood have gotten a lot more interested in calling the cops about this kind of thing since the last murder on our block.

We had emergency vehicles there within minutes. I stayed in bed; if I had nothing to contribute I didn't want to get in the way. Karen went to find out what was going on; she lives here and she needs to know. We've got different ideas as to what constitutes our business -- in this case I think both positions were legitimate.

The details she returned with? There's a body on the street in front of the house next door. There's a bullet hole in the front window of that house; the glass was double-glazed and the shot failed to penetrate the second pane. That surprised me.

Well, it turns out that there were three bullet holes in that house and the young man on the street was not the only one killed in the incident. It had been an exchange of gunfire and the driver of the car died just a while after he'd left the scene. Word is that there was a dice-related dispute but at this point all I've got is gossip.

When this first happened my immediate sympathies were with the victim and his friends and family; now I have little but contempt for both parties. If you get in a gunfight and shoot up a house with kids in it and then die? Very little sympathy -- and if a bullet had gone through our porch window it likely would have hit me while I slept.

Another bit of gossip -- that the Channel Two news is going to give our neighborhood a new nickname.

Homicide Central.

Agent of Stinky Justice.

My music buddy was looking at what I thought was the finished version of this and cracked up. "He looks like he's taking a dump!" I added the final touches the next day.

This is the kind of thing I should really put on my other site but fuck it. I'm sick and I'm depressed and it's time for me to relax with a pleasant memory from years past. Let's stop talking about art and writing for a while. Let's talk about something that truly serves the soul.

Let's talk about vigilante justice.

I'm very wary of those motivated by the need to deliver justice to evildoers -- because at least in my case it's more-or-less really a desire to do evil. It's the Batman principal -- acting like a bad guy is fun and if you mix in a little self-righteousness it's emotional freebasing.

And that's the kind of thing that impairs judgment. But every so often circumstances, the tides of my psyche, and general ill-will have all come together and I found myself delivering justice.

It's a bad habit and one that I've hopefully left behind me. I really am trying hard to grow up into a semi-functional human being.

Still, the pleasure of acting like a total asshole and feeling completely justified and getting away with... Oooh. What a rush.

Lemme give you an example.

I live in the San Francisco bay area. We've got a local transit system, a sort of yuppie subway called BART. You got your tracks, you got your trains, you got these seats near the door.

You know the seats. The ones that are reserved for needy -- pregnant, elderly, handicapped -- passengers. If you're sitting in one and someone of that description boards, in a perfect world you get up and graciously yield your place.

It's not a perfect world. When I see someone who needs a seat fail to get one I'll get up and guide them to mine, even if I'm not in one of the designated seats. The first time I did this I yelled at the people next to the doors who had sat there like a fl0ck of gargoyles rather than stand.

This made the woman I'd wanted to help really, really embarrassed. I realized that I was doing her no favor. And it bugged me that there was no way to punish those selfish fucks, no way to balance things. This was a seed-in-the-teeth irritation for years.

Until I got a pick and shovel job in San Francisco. Landscape architecture. Got to work with a garden designer who inadvertently taught me as much about composition as anyone I've studied with.

My worksite was at the end of the line so when I got on BART I was always able to get the seat I preferred, an end seat facing forward. But I almost never kept my seat for more than three stops. The train filled fast with commuters and almost every day there would be someone who really did need my seat more than I did.

The seats next to the doors filled first and the strategy there was for the stereotypical white guys in suits to open their briefcases in their laps -- "Can't move. Important business. Didn't even see her."

I hated those fucks. Using self-importance as a shield from fundamental courtesy is unacceptable. But taking them to task for their behavior was unfair to the other people involved.

Now let's go backwards a little. Like I said, this was a pick and shovel job. There's a particular kind of red clay around here that is dense and sticky -- hit it a lick with the blade of your pick and it would shear off a loaf that would cling until you tapped it off -- it would not fall from the pick.

The dust from that clay would gradually build up on me over the course of the day until by quitting time I looked as though I'd been made from bricks. I looked like The Thing.

And of course what was plastering the dust to me was sweat. I sweat like an athletic pig or a Tennessee Williams character. After eight hours of hustling bags of cement up and downhill, digging trenches, placing rocks, etc? I left a trail of sweat drops on the sidewalk as I walked.

So this is the scene. The BART train is full but there are only one or two people standing. The seats near the door are filled by disturbingly stereotypical white guys in suits, briefcases open and papers in hand.

The door slides open at the next stop. An elderly pregnant handicapped woman gets on and looks in vain for a seat. When it becomes clear that she's being ignored I get up, edge apologetically past the person who was unfortunate enough to have sat next to me, and go offer the open seat to the needy party.

Then I lift my arm and grab the bar over the seat that should have been hers. I lean over the passengers. And into those grails, the open briefcases, those ennobling chalices of commerce...

I crumble, I flake. I drip. I radiate raw stink. And I stare down at the tops of their heads with a feral grin pulling hard at the corners of my mouth. Waiting. Hoping. Wishing for someone to say something so that I could explain my position in a proactive wall-to-wall fashion.

It never happened. I don't recall anyone even making eye contact. But I bet things would have gotten conversational if they'd had laptops back then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Damned Novel, part Four.

I'm getting sick of this image and yet here it is again. At least I've got something to bitch about.

So at that point I started writing the last volume. And I got a good ways into it and trashed what I'd done.


What had happened was that I'd set up some situations and characters that weren't gelling. Large chunks of classical and Scandinavian mythology were crowding their way into a one-room unfurnished cosmos.

So I tried something that had blocked me every time I'd tried it before. I sat down and started working on an outline.

There's a dispute regarding outlining and both sides of it are dead right -- in a limited way. The outliners say that it's stupid to start a trip if you don't know where you're going. The free writers say that outlining is for hacks. There are even rumors that some people will mentally outline a story and then claim they'd written it without a plot. I ain't got the balls for that.

My position has come to be an ecumenical one. I free wrote at first but then when I was totally, utterly at sea I sat down, reread everything, took notes, and made a list of all the dangling plot threads. Then I figured out how to tie them all together.

And then I had a solid outline for the third volume. At which point I realized that I'd save myself a hell of a lot of revision if I went back to the beginning and made the first and second volumes line up with everything that was going to follow.

More than two hundred manuscript pages of notes and outlines later I started in on the job. This was the point at which the setting and characters really congealed; the mythological characters were transformed into my characters, the workings of the fantastic elements became thoroughly locked into the story...

I just hit the sixty-thousand word mark this week; I'm aiming for a hundred, since I read on John Scalzi's blog that Tor likes their manuscripts to weigh in at a hundred thousand words. Fine with me; that's about the length the work seems to want. Volume three is solidly outlined; volume two has a solid ending but the story still needs some massage.

When the first volume's done I'll give it one more massage (compress chapters two and three into one chapter, finesse the details foreshadowing Matt's metamorphosis...) and then send it out to fresh readers. After that it'll be one last line edit and off to the rounds of agents and publishers.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you say. But what's it about?

It's about rock and roll. It's about what it means to be working class in America. It's about art and artists. It's about friendship, especially the friendships between men and women. It's about both mental illness and visionary spirituality.

It's about the stories we tell about ourselves and each other. It's about love and anger and self-destruction and how people need each other, help each other, and use each other -- and how these categories tend to have blurry margins. It's about the nitty-gritty details of drug use and cleaning toilets. It's about uninsured trips to the emergency room.

It's about life after death -- and how the afterlife is affected by the population boom. It's about monsters and roaring ghosts, farm animals and parents who are becoming quite strange under the influence of Lamarckian evolution. It's about the cosmic being whose duodenum is Heaven's waiting room. It's all about the valve.

But it turns out that if you ignore all the knobs and doohickeys the story itself is an old and familiar one.

"A troubled young man falls in with roguish and unpredictable companions. Through them he leaves his old world behind and travels to a new one, a world full of visions and wonders. While in this world he finds love, undergoes transformations, gains strange powers and in the end uses them to save both worlds."

One Last Thing...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Confronting the Crisis Before it Becomes Current.

I've got the skeletal diagram for this and a standing pose in my big sack of drawings. Note the pattern -- loosely based on the saddle-shaped markings of the big constrictors. Also note the bite in the spines on the back -- I got the idea from an Edmontosaurus skeleton with a likely-Tyrannosaurus bite in about the same spot.

The finished version was executed entirely in Expressions, an under-rated and under-used vector drawing program. I was going for the feathered edge of comic-book style inking -- it didn't quite come off but there may be cause for further experimentation.

So school starts up and I assume that I'm going to fall back into a nice rut. It hasn't happened. Since I've got an enforced couple of days off I've had time to think about how I'm stepping on my dick here.

What it is, is the two classes that I'm taking are both very important and are designed to cater to my bad habits. Me, I'm an institutional type -- give me an assignment and a deadline and you'd better make the assignment hard and the deadline soon. Those are the circumstances under which I function best.

But in both classes -- have I mentioned the classes? Digital Drawing and Digital Printmaking -- have substantial amounts of self-paced tutorials that you're intended to do at home. No specific dates, no deadlines, no homework associated with them.

I know what I'm like -- I tend not to do that shit. But getting past that is something I need to do. I also need to start working in my sketchbook again, get those visual chops sharp.

So what I need to do is spend a little time every day in the sketchbook and working the tutorials for Photoshop and Illustrator.

But I also need to get the novel back on track. I just have not been writing enough the past couple of weeks. I'm on the downhill slope for the first volume and I'm anxious to get it out to a fresh set of readers.

What's derailed me? In order; first this site, then the Bonelands art show. I need to do a post a day on the site -- to do two posts a day for a week or so and then burn out is typical Sean.

So I need to get myself a daily slog going. Fuck getting the show together in three weeks -- the show is not the first priority. First comes the novel, then comes learning Illustrator and Photoshop, then comes the show, then the sketchbook, and then comes the blog. And none of them are disposable.

Just start doing a little every day, oafboy.

And a note for the curious readers (You weren't listening, were you? I spotted that prairie dog lift of the head when the word readers appeared...); alas, my fever failed to reach the fullest pitch of delirium. As a connoisseur of the indeterminate states that border consciousness I was eagerly anticipating the moment when my inner sea would catch me in a hot red wave and dash me against the jagged shores of the Isle of Madness so as to cause me to wake writhing hallucinating and drenched in perspiration; instead I just seem to be getting better. Oh well. Can't have everything.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sick and Blathering.

I really hate those drop shadows. They make the difference between art -- or at least an honest attempt -- and design crap. I'm dumping them before I print this.

So I'm roasting with fever, my face tight and swollen and ready to spit fat at the touch of a fork. Karen's dad had it and then she had it and now I have it and I'm sick and my brain presses painfully against the bone spurs that line the interior of my too-small cranium. Readers (I hope it's okay if I call you readers; an imaginary audience will do me good in an imaginary way, like zinc or vitamin C.), I understand that you don't really need details about the snot.

Readers glance at the monitor and then at the bagel/muffin/roti sitting too close to the keyboard, crowding up against the morning's beverage, angling for a nice spill into the Medusa-locks of the power strips. We certainly do not.

Well, if you're interested I've got lots of details, rich and vivid, impressions in all the major senses including the vestibular, every note and particle snot related. But I shall refrain.

Now isn't that better? But it looks somehow partial, nude, as though it's a background for something rather than being a completed piece...

Damnit. Maybe it's the double hexagon that makes the top image look so fucking tacky. Maybe the drop shadows do work.