Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dinosaurs At All The Gates Of Heaven

I can imagine the giant lizards

walking across the glass

that once had been Lake Michigan,

sliding now and then, sometimes falling

and heaving themselves to their feet

with giant lizard sighs. I can see them

tramping over the gleaming surface

in a migration which will lead them

inevitably to all the gates of heaven

as we are all led inevitably

to all the gates of heaven

which await us across the swamp

that once had been the Northern Sea.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Return To Susan Complains

“All I ever wanted was just enough

money so that I could do whatever

I wanted to do and never listen

to anybody about anything.”

Monday, May 29, 2006

Mildred Wept

Mildred built an atomic bomb

from a can of corn, a banana peel
and an old tube radio

she found in the alley.
The NSA confiscated the device

and detonated it
in an underground base in New Mexico.

Distressed at what she had become,

Mildred turned to quilting
for peace of mind. The NSA sent a man

to Mildred’s first one-woman show
and from studying her stitch patterns

they learned how to read a person’s mind
over a cell phone connection.

Mildred wept. She gave up quilting.

For money, she became a waitress.
Her customers all looked like spies.

She often saw them studying
the way she stacked plates or wrote out checks.

Mildred hated big science,
but figured, “Screw it. A girl’s got to eat.”

That’s what sucks with weapons design.

The thrill of creativity
and the inevitability

of expression define the constant,
overpowering seduction.

Eventually, everyone figures,
“Screw it. A girl’s got to eat.”

There’s a saying at the NSA:
Peter Rabbit may have escaped

Mr. McGregor, but he never
could escaped Beatrix Potter.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Kings And Queens Of The Ancient Seas (Part Three)

“Set sail?” I asked. “I thought
at least you would stay the whole summer.”

“We must leave here, now,
to catch the favorable weather south.”

We sat holding hands. “Do you think
you’ll get back this way next year?”

“Dad wants to head for the high latitudes
and make for the capes.”

I spoke, then, without thinking,
desperate. “Take me along. As crew.”

Lisa smiled, but gently.
“Do you know anything about boats?”

“I do know something
about you,” I said. “I know I like you.”

“And you know I like you. Very much.
But the seas demand more

than affection.”

          “Whatever I must know,” I said, “I can learn.”

“Yes,” Lisa said. “I believe you can.
And I believe you will.

I believe we’ll meet again. I believe
I’ll see you around.”

Then she kissed me. She kissed me goodbye.
We kissed, and cried, goodbye.


Lisa’s father weighed anchor
and sailed their junk-rigged ketch to town

to take on final supplies
Tuesday morning. They loaded up,

Lisa kissed me and gave me a present
and they sailed away.

She gave me a rolled-up sheet of paper.
The inside displayed

the western edge of South America
with certain landfalls

circled, tracing their planned itinerary
for the next year.

I couldn’t figure out the other side.
A friend clued me in.

The other side displayed a map, too.
A map of what my friend

called, “Pangea.” Pangea
represented what scientists

suppose all the continents looked like
many millions of years

ago before they broke up
and drifted apart on shifting

tectonic plates. A map
from, in theory, millions of years back.

I like science but I just don’t know
about millions of years.

Last year escapes me, really,
let alone the epochs gone by.

To my teary eyes, the map
of Pangea looked as detailed –

looked as real and utilitarian –
as the other side.

I wanted to ask Lisa.
I wanted to lie back while she

told me all about it.
About maps and territories, and

the present, the past.
About what I think I know and I don’t.

But Lisa sailed away,
leaving me with a map and a kiss.

Some shirts, of course.
And a change of mind. I decided to live.


I cashed in my net worth,
gave two weeks notice and bought a boat.

My net worth didn’t gross me much,
so a friend helped me pick out

a West Wight Potter 19.
“No one will ever mistake her

for an America’s Cup boat,” my friend told me.
“And no French

family ever would want to live aboard her.
But for less than

ten thousand bucks the Potter gives you
nineteen feet of real boat.

If you learn fast, coast-hop carefully
and catch some breaks, this boat

will take you around the world.
You don’t sink her, she won’t sink you.”

So I packed up my passport,
got some shots and wrote down all this.

I put on a cool shirt
and now I cruise with the summer, too.

Now I set sail
for a world I know nothing about. A life

I know nothing about.
This world. This life. The same life, same world,

as the kings and queens
of the ancient seas. These seas . . .


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kings And Queens Of The Ancient Seas (Part Two)


So I learned to make shirts.
By hand or with a sewing machine.

I met Lisa’s parents. And her brother.
And some of their friends.

And I got to spend some time on her boat.
She and her family

lived aboard a forty-foot, junk-rigged ketch
anchored off North Bay.

And I learned that my world
didn’t end where the water began.

I learned that my world
ended at the fabric of Lisa’s shirt.


Sitting on a deserted dock
at sunset, necking, I squeezed

Lisa’s breast through her shirt.
I said, “I can’t believe this occurs

to me now, but someone asked me
what fabric you used to make

these shirts. We couldn’t figure it out.
We thought, cotton, yeah, but

smooth as silk and colored deep,
beautiful, like I don’t know what.”

Lisa laughed, low and throaty.
She leaned back against my shoulder.

“You and shirts,” Lisa said.
“Do you know what the word fetish means?”

She laughed. “My father calls it
Peruvian cotton,” she said.

“We get it from a village
near the coast in central Peru.

A few families there still practice
some very ancient secrets.

The seeds and growing techniques
of the colored cotton. Weaving

the fabric with hundreds of strands per inch.
Good stuff. Pretty. Tough.”

I felt the fabric of my shirt.
“I can’t believe it,” I said.

“I can’t believe big designers
or some big corporations

don’t mass-market this stuff.
How can anyone keep it secret?”

Lisa shrugged. “Good secrets keep themselves.
I wouldn’t tell. My dad

wouldn’t tell.” Lisa put her arm around me.
“And a guy who

likes shirts as much as you like shirts
wouldn’t tell. Would you?” she asked.

I thought about it. Then I shrugged.
“I guess not,” I said. “Not if

the people down in Peru
didn’t want anyone to know.”

Lisa stared closely at my face,
smiled deeply and pushed me down.

“Good secrets keep themselves,” she said.
“See? Good secrets keep themselves.”


A couple of days
after our make-out session on the pier

Lisa and I sat laughing
in my small apartment watching

some bizarre,
professional wrestling show on television.

“In grade school,” I said,
“I used to think this stuff really worked. Once

in a fight a kid knocked me down
and got on top of me. I

didn’t worry because I figured
I could just arch my back

and flip him off, the way the TV wrestlers do.
Nope. Didn’t work.

That guy pounded on me
till a teacher finally pulled him off.”

“No relationship exists,” Lisa explained,
“between TV

and reality.
Even a funhouse mirror can only

reflect something in front of it.
But television can show

anything. Television
can show anything. Anything.”

Then Lisa said something
that took me completely by surprise.

“We cruise with the summer,” Lisa said.
“Tuesday, we set sail south.”

(“Kings And Queens Of The Ancient Seas” concludes tomorrow)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kings And Queens Of The Ancient Seas (Part One)


The kings and queens
of the ancient seas set sail among us still.

I knew one. I did. I loved her
and her kingdom. I still do.

I live differently now
than I did before. Better and worse.

Differently. I mean now
as compared to when I didn’t know

anything about the ancient seas.
Or their kings and queens. Or

the men and women among us
who still sail those ancient seas.


I said, “I really like that shirt.
Did you buy it at the Gap?”

The young woman’s employee name tag
displayed the name, ‘Lisa.’

Lisa smiled.
She said, inevitably, “This old thing?” Then she

surprised me. “I made this myself.
I like it, too.” She turned from

the stacks of paperbacks and faced me.
“Do you really like it?

Or did you compliment my shirt
just to start talking to me?”

I smiled, too, and gave myself
one hot second to come up with

some mid-ground between sounding gay,
saying I did like her shirt,

or sounding like
a jackass pickup artist tossing a line.

“I can’t introspect
that deeply off the cuff,” I said, shrugging.

“Off the cuff,” Lisa repeated,
making a lemon-taste face.

“Now I know why the boss told me
not to talk to customers.”

But she didn’t turn away.
I said, ‘I do like your cool shirt.”

She gave me an appraising look,
plain and open as her shirt.

She asked, “Would you like me to teach you
how to make one yourself?”

Again, I didn’t want to sound gay,
but I definitely

wanted to learn anything
she wanted to teach. “Sure,” I said.

“But I don’t sew much. I just buy new stuff
when old stuff wears out.”

“Do you put on your clothes yourself
when you get dressed?” Lisa asked.

“Usually,” I said. “Of course,
I sit to pull on my socks.”

“I’d say,” Lisa said, “that if
you can dress yourself you can learn

whatever sewing skills you need
to make a shirt. Want to learn?”

“Sure,” I said, again.
I told her my name and offered my hand.

She shook my hand.
“I get off at six,” she said. “Meet me outside.”

(“Kings And Queens Of The Ancient Seas” continues tomorrow)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Something That Sets You Apart

“Jesus H. Christ.
When I was a boy
every little squirt
wanted to be a harpooner
or a swordfisherman.”

Quint, “Jaws

Go forth,
without the help of useless beauty
my little darlings,
with your common face.
Leap shamelessly,
you priestesses of grace!

The dance instills in you
something that sets you apart,
something heroic and remote.
One knows that in your world
Queens are made
of distance and greasepaint.

Edgar Degas, Sonnet V, “Degas And The Dance

“Batman and Robin.
Militant arm
of the warm-blooded oppressors.
Animal protectors
of the status quo.
First I’ll rid myself
of the fur and feathered pests.
And then Gotham
will be mine
for the greening.”

Dr. Pamela Isley, “Batman And Robin

(Coming tomorrow: Kings And Queens Of The Ancient Seas)

Monday, May 22, 2006

How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way

There might be something more important than figure drawing in comicbook artwork, but we sure don’t know what it is! Everything is based on how you draw the characters: the heroes, villains, and the never-ending hordes of supporting stars. Superhero comicbooks are the stories of people, period!

Stan Lee, John Buscema, “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way

Heroes, Villains
And The Never-Ending Hordes Of Supporting Stars

If an artist paints a picture
that looks just like, say, a fern,

the artist, typically,
will step back and shrug and say something

like, “imitation world”
or “trivial illustration” and

move on to other pictures
more closely approximating

creations and image constructs
artists, typically, call art.

If a scientist
works out a recursive algorithm

that mathematically
outputs something that looks like a fern

the scientist, typically,
will lean forward, gasp and whisper

something like, “transcendence!”
or “I’ve peered into the formative

dynamics underlying
the intimate structures of space

and time and permeating
even existence itself” and

move on to redefine
academia and politics

and business and culture
and everything else the eye can see.

Okay. An artist
and a scientist walk into a bar.

The artist gets a drink
from the bartender and finds a chair.

The scientist stands by the door
and delivers a loud, long

speech, saying Crichton’s ‘Jurassic Park’
was the first mass-market

best-selling novel
about chaos theory and its impact

on real life and all those sad people
who believe Brautigan’s

‘Sombrero Fallout’
was really the first are unqualified

and misinformed and extremists
and dangerous hate-mongers

who shouldn’t be allowed
to take advantage of hard working

decent citizens
who get home from a tough day on the job

and just want to watch TV
and buy lots of expensive stuff.

The scientist eventually leaves,
shaking his head and

saying to himself
that the great mass of humanity lives

immersed in a demon-haunted
nightmare world and thank heavens

politicians and businessmen
get their guidance these dark days

from scientists who can face
and deal with life’s complexities.

The artist eventually goes home
with the bartender.

After making love
in the bartender’s quiet apartment

the artist sketches
her sleeping with her head on a pillow.

When the bartender wakes up
and looks at the sketch of herself

sleeping, she says, “But I don’t
look like that. Sleeping or awake

I’m never that peaceful.
And I’m sure as hell not that pretty.”

The artist kisses her
and explains that he draws what he sees.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ashley And The Green Sweater (Part Three)

Nate and Jason grabbed Ashley’s arms. Shelby and Jayjay tried to pulled up the sweater. Ashley fought against everyone, all the while shrieking at the top of her lungs. It took the combined strength and effort of her four friends to hold Ashley in place and maneuver her arms through the sweater’s arm holes. When they finally pulled off the sweater, Jayjay crumpled it up and threw it on the grass.

Ashley immediately stopped struggling and became silent.

Shelby cupped Ashley’s face in her hands. She looked into Ashley’s eyes. “Ashley, are you alright?” Shelby asked.

Ashley blinked, and then smiled. “Of course I’m alright,” Ashley said. “What’s going on? Why is everyone standing around? Why are we by the water? I thought we were posing in the grass. Did you guys change plans without telling me?”

“Ashley,” Jason said, “do you remember what’s been happening the last few minutes?”

“Of course,” Ashley said. Wide-eyed, she looked at everyone. “We were deciding who is going to pose with Nate and who with Jason.”

“Yes,” Shelby said. “Then what?”

Ashley looked puzzled. “Umm, we decided you two would stay with Jason, and I’d go with Nate. Then... Umm… Then—” Ashley broke off. She looked down at the grass trying to concentrate.

“Then you put on that green sweater,” Jayjay said, jerking her thumb at the crumpled ball of green in the grass.

“Yes, my sweater!” Ashley said, brightening.

Jason was grabbing photos of Ashley’s face and the sweater in the grass when a strong gust of wind, oddly blowing toward Loch Ness, blew up and straightened out the fabric of the green sweater. The sweater lifted in the wind and started tumbling along the grass.

“My sweater!” Ashley said. She started to intercept the sweater, but everyone stepped in front of her.

“Let it go,” everyone said.

“But my sweater—” Ashley said, reaching out helplessly past the group blocking her as the fabric blew toward the loch.

The sweater lifted off the grass and with a gentle splash fell into Loch Ness. For a moment, the wind and waves seemed to tug the fabric along the surface leaving a thin white wake. Then, as the material absorbed water, one edge dipped down beneath the waves. The submerged fabric seemed to catch a current. The whole sweater dipped down into the loch. The current must have been swift, because the sweater dived down quickly, and disappeared at an angle into the dark water.

“My sweater,” Ashley said, again, softly.

Jayjay looked closely at Ashley’s back and shoulders. “Her skin looks okay. I don’t see any rash.”

Shelby frowned. “Allergies sometimes affect the nerves directly.”

“Allergies?” Ashley asked. “What are you two talking about? What’s going on? What happened?”

Shelby and Jayjay linked their arms through Ashley’s. “Come on,” Shelby said. “Let’s go fix our hair and makeup. We’ll tell you what happened.” The girls turned and started back through the grass to their camper parked along the road.

Nate and Jason stood by the water. Jason looked at Nate. “Do we know what happened?” Jason asked.

“Something pretty weird,” Nate said.

“I know what I think,” Jason said.

“What?” Nate asked.

Jason held up his camera. “I’ve got photos of Ashley in that sweater. And I’ve got photos of that sweater being blown by the wind into the water. You know what I think?”

“What?” Nate asked, again.

“I think I’ve got the best damn photos ever taken of the Loch Ness monster.”

Nate laughed. But then he looked back at the cold, dark water where the sweater had disappeared. He stopped laughing and just smiled at Jason.

“You know,” Nate said, “that’s a thought. But if that sweater was the Loch Ness monster, do you think the tabloids will pay big bucks for the pictures? Do you think the tabloids want photographs of a sweater on their covers, with headlines like, ‘Sweater Attacks Supermodel!’ It doesn’t really have that big, bold, life-and-death flavor that sells tabloids.”

Jason exhaled a long breath. “I guess you’re right about that,” Jason said. He scowled at the water, and then shrugged. “We might as well get set up again,” Jason said. “We still have some morning sun left. We can still make big bucks with pictures of supermodels in their underwear. There is always money in that.”

Those pictures we can sell,” Nate said.

They turned and followed the girls back to the camper.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ashley And The Green Sweater (Part Two)

Shelby and Jayjay giggled just at the thought of Ashley breaking pose to tell a joke.

Jason nodded behind his camera. “That’s good, Shelby, good, Jayjay,” Jason said. “Go with that.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Nate said. “No jokes, Ashley. Please. Just pose. Jokes later.”

“Kirk, Spock and Scotty walk into a bar,” Ashley began.

Nate sighed. Shelby and Jayjay stared. Jason continued taking pictures.

“Kirk, Spock and Scotty start drinking heavily,” Ashley continued. “Kirk gets drunk first and kisses Spock and tells Spock he’s always wanted to do that. Spock gets drunk second and kisses Kirk and tells Kirk he’s always wanted to do that. Scotty gets drunk third and beats the hell out of Kirk and Spock and tells the bartender he’s always wanted to do that.”

Ashley burst out laughing at her own punchline.

“I don’t get it,” Jayjay said.

“That’s not even a joke,” Shelby said.

“Okay, can we get on with the pose now?” Nate asked. “Can you just be still now?”

Ashley caught her breath. “Scotty beat up Kirk and Spock,” she said.

“It’s not funny,” Shelby said.

“It is funny,” Ashley said.

Nate looked at Shelby, “Don’t get her going,” Nate said.

“It’s a good joke,” Ashley said. “I made it up. It’s mine. It’s funny.”

“Nate,” Shelby said, “tell a real joke to show Ashley what a joke is.”

“Listen,” Ashley said, “I told a real joke!”

“Is anyone going to pose today?” Nate asked. “Are we going to just write off a morning’s work?”

“Nate, tell a joke,” Shelby said, “and then Ashley will see what a real joke is and we can all get back to work.”

Nate sighed again. “Ashley, will you get back to work if I tell a joke?”

Ashley said nothing. She glared from Shelby to Nate.

“Nate,” Shelby said, “tell a joke.”

“Okay,” Nate said. He thought for a second, then sat up straight on his drawing horse. “The last time I was in Las Vegas, one evening I was standing around outside a casino wondering why my roulette system wasn’t making me rich when a beautiful hooker walked up to me. She leaned real close and whispered that I should take her home. She told me she could show me a real good time. She said her friends called her ‘Listerine.’ I said, ‘Listerine? That’s an interesting nickname. Your mouth smells very fresh.’ She said, ‘Mouth? Is that where you’re supposed to put that stuff?’”

Shelby and Jayjay laughed. Jayjay clapped her hands. “I got that,” Jayjay said.

“See?” Shelby said, to Ashley. “That’s a joke. That’s funny.”

“Oh, you guys are all wet,” Ashley said. She straightened up, completely breaking her pose and looked out at Loch Ness.

“Ashley!” Shelby, Jayjay and Nate all yelled.

“You guys are all wet,” Ashley said, again. “You guys are all wet and I’m going swimming.”

“Ashley,” Shelby said, “that water’s freezing! It’s like forty degrees or something. You can’t go swimming!”

“Ashley,” Nate said, “that water is something like six hundred feet deep! Do not go in the water.”

“I’m going swimming,” Ashley said. She turned her back on Nate and the others and started walking toward the loch.

Nate looked at Shelby, Jayjay and Jason. They looked back. For a split second everyone just looked at each other, then they all ran after Ashley. Jason kept his camera to his eye and continued snapping shots as he ran.

Nate caught up to Ashley first. He put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off and continued toward the water.

Shelby stepped right in front of Ashley. Ashley walked into Shelby, as if she were trying to walk through her. Shelby braced her hands on Ashley’s shoulders and studied her face. “Ashley, are you alright?” Shelby asked.

“I want to go swimming,” Ashley said. “I wanted to tell a joke and I did. Now I want to go swimming. And I will. Leave me alone. Why shouldn’t I do what I want to do?”

Nate, Jason and Jayjay stood behind Shelby.

“What’s gotten into you, Ashley?” Jayjay asked.

“Why shouldn’t I do what I want to do?” Ashley asked, again. “Leave me alone.”

Everyone exchanged glances. Nobody knew what to say. Then Jayjay pointed. “It’s that ratty sweater,” Jayjay said. “I bet Ashley is having some kind of allergic reaction to the fabric or some chemicals in it or something. She can’t think straight. It’s the sweater. Let’s get her out of it.”

Shelby and Jayjay immediately grabbed for the bottom of the sweater.

Jason glanced over his camera and looked at Nate. “Nate, do you think?” Jason asked.

“I don’t know,” Nate said. “I don’t think—”

The instant Shelby and Jayjay touched the bottom of Ashley’s green sweater, Ashley began screaming.

(Ashley And The Green Sweater concludes tomorrow)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ashley And The Green Sweater (Part One)

It was a scene that only could have existed in the high fashion world.

Three nearly naked supermodels were helping each other adjust their diaphanous lingerie and the two men present weren’t even looking at them. Jason, the photographer, was fussing with his camera, trying to seat a new lens properly. Nate, the illustrator, was setting up his drawing horse, which was a kind of wooden bench with an easel built-in one end and drawers in the seat to hold his art supplies.

The sun wasn’t up yet. A breeze off Loch Ness was cool and the water contributed that deep, peat smell that gave the air a solid feel to it, almost like the aroma of a full glass of strange, fine wine held directly under the nose and swirled. In the middle of the loch, seagulls had located a school of fish. The gulls were cawing and splashing as they dropped down to pluck their breakfast from the dark water. The grass where the five people worked was damp with morning dew, but not unpleasantly wet.

The supermodels had tended to their hair and makeup in the van parked alongside the road. They finished final adjustments to their lingerie, and then looked to Jason and Nate.

“Look,” Shelby said. “Again it’s the girls waiting for the boys. And we’re the ones standing out here in the cold morning air with no clothes on. Even when we don’t have a crew and we have to do our own hair and makeup we’re still stuck waiting. Are you two ever going to be ready?”

“We’re ready, we’re ready,” Jason said, still not looking up from his camera.

“I’ve been ready for hours,” Nate said, still tightening a knob on the side of his drawing horse.

Jason finally looked up. “Okay,” he said. “I need two of you with me. One of you goes with Nate. You girls can decide who goes where.”

“Can I wear my green sweater with you?” Ashley asked Jason.

Shelby and Jayjay made faces at each other.

“No ratty green sweater that you found in the trash is going to get photographed by my camera,” Jason said.

“I didn’t find it in the trash,” Ashley said, pouting. “You know very well I found it blowing in that field. And I washed it. I laundered it twice. And it’s not ratty. It’s beautiful.”

“Girl, you can wash that thing in acid and I still wouldn’t wear it,” Jayjay said.

“I think it’s cute,” Ashley said. “It is chic. Nate, will you draw me in my green sweater?”

“Green grass,” Nate said. “Green field in the background. Your green eyes. Yeah, I think I can make a nice picture out of that. But you’ve got to arrange the sweater so that I can still see your panties and as much of your bra as possible. The straps, at least. And maybe the side of the cup through the sweater’s arm hole. The lingerie people are paying for this little outing.”

Ashley ran over to their pile of supplies on a blanket behind Jason and located a carefully folded green sweater. She pulled it over her head, and then ran to Nate, threw her arms around him and kissed him. “You are a wonderful artist,” she said. “This green sweater will make your best picture ever.”

“Yes, yes, sure” Nate said. “So long as you can stay still and stop talking while you’re wearing it, I will love your green sweater.”

Jason and Nate had set up their locations about ten yards apart. They were close enough to use each other in the background, if they wanted to, but far enough apart so that by looking left or right they could have a clear view of Loch Ness and, across the water, the ruins of Urquhart Castle as a backdrop.

As the morning session got under way, Jason began talking constantly, prompting Shelby and Jayjay to change expression slightly or shift position slightly, to look this way or that. Nate had talked Ashley through arranging her green sweater precisely so that her panties were visible below and her bra’s strap and one cup were visible in the neck and arm holes.

“Got to keep the underwear people happy,” Nate said.

Shelby and Jayjay worked silently, responding to Jason’s directions and the click of his camera’s shutter. Ashley took her pose and stared silently as Nate raised a pencil and began searching out contour lines in a workable composition.

“Something just occurred to me,” Ashley said.

“Ashley, when you talk,” Nate said, “your lips move. You’re posing. Don’t talk. Don’t move.”

“No, really,” Ashley said. “Something just occurred to me.”

By Jason, Shelby looked over at Ashley. Shelby’s eyes were wide, watching Ashley break pose and talk during a session.

“Ashley,” Nate said, “you’re talking and moving. Break’s in twenty minutes. Let things occur to you during the break, not during the session.”

Ashley giggled. “Too late,” she said. “It’s already happened. I want to say something.”

Now Jayjay was watching, also. Jason took the distraction in stride. He ignored Ashley, and simply shifted position slightly to get a better view of Shelby and Jayjay with their profiles set against the dark waters of the loch.

“Tell you what,” Nate said. “You silently rehearse what you want to say for the next twenty minutes. Then, at break, we’ll all listen very carefully.” Nate continued sketching, continued searching for acceptable edges and boundaries.

Ashley giggled again. “No. This can’t wait. It won’t wait. I won’t wait.”

Nate’s hand stopped moving. The pencil tip wavered a fraction of an inch above the paper.

“I want to tell a joke,” Ashley said.

(Ashley And The Green Sweater continues tomorrow)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Approaching Loch Ness 2: The End Of Fashion

… So, that’s why we’ve come to the end of fashion. Today, a designer’s creativity expresses itself more than ever in the marketing rather than in the actual clothes. Such marketing is complicated, full of nuance and innovation – requiring far more planning than what it takes to create a fabulous ballgown, as well as millions of dollars in advertising. In a sense, fashion has returned to its roots: selling image. Image is the form and marketing is the function.

Teri Agins, “The End Of Fashion

Scientists are always asking new questions, probing for additional facts, and seeking to learn more. Among the scientists’ key questions and basic data is their aim for a better understanding of man, his origin, his relationship to the animal kingdom, and the animals’ origin. Every time a new species or a new variety of animal is discovered, more light is thrown on these questions.

Roy Mackal, “The Monsters of Loch Ness

(Coming tomorrow: Ashley And The Green Sweater)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Approaching Loch Ness 1: The Monsters Of Loch Ness

… I conclude that a population of moderate-sized, piscivorous aquatic animals is inhabiting Loch Ness. These animals are moderate in size relative to animal life in general but large when compared to the known freshwater fauna. This seems to be the most adequate and reasonable interpretation of the data, even perhaps a conservative assessment – conservative in the sense that it is a single, simple hypothesis in accord with established physical and zoological scientific principles. It is in marked contrast to some of the tortuous attempts to explain parts of the data by unique, far-fetched coincidences and circumstances; these efforts have generally avoided the idea of an animal explanation at all costs, straining not only the data but also one’s credulity.

Roy Mackal, “The Monsters Of Loch Ness

Increasingly, brassiere sales depended as much on promotion as on effective design and manufacturing. Women were faced with many choices of brand and styling, and manufacturers had to advertise in an up-to-date manner to survive. The techniques of advertising were becoming more sophisticated, with human-interest appeals and a clear presentation of one main “reason why,” an attempt to introduce the reader to the finer points of a particular brand.

Jane Farrell Beck, Colleen Gau, “Uplift: The Bra In America

Friday, May 12, 2006

Return To The Other Way Of Making A Frankenstein’s Monster

(From the point of view of goblin studies, the so-called Opium Wars from the nineteenth century were pretty damn interesting. Over the years, I’ve written fragments of a long story about a guy named Roy Rumpslapper, a TV clown, who comes to believe that, for all practical purposes, the Opium Wars in fact never ended. Roy comes to see the contemporary world playing out the same dynamics that were at work a hundred and fifty years back. In this excerpt, Roy talks with Dr. Shirley, who makes a bit of a speech about frame-based media and human consciousness.)

“Look, Roy,” Dr. Shirley said, “as we sit here talking, my unconscious mind and yours are busy creating memories, dredging up associations, forming provisional conclusions, passing judgments, preparing possible comments, all that stuff and much, much more. In fact, the unconscious mind is normally running at very high speed behind the scenes doing all manner of work. The human unconscious is very busy. That’s the natural way the mind works. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” Roy said.

“Okay, that’s the start” Dr. Shirley said. “Now, consider a person sitting in front of a television or in a movie theater. As you probably know, too, these visual media are what is called frame based. That is, the illusion of motion, of continuous images, is created by flashing anywhere from about thirty to seventy individual still frames per second onto a screen. But we don’t see still pictures. Our brains interpret the changing pictures as continuous motion. You have heard of this?”

“Of course,” Roy said. “That’s how we can pause movies and TV shows, right, because they’re just made up of streams of still pictures?”

“Exactly,” Dr. Shirley said. “Now, a thing called subliminal imaging has been extensively studied. We know that viewers can react to a single, individual frame embedded in normal projections of thousands of images. We know, therefore, that it is the brain itself which is, so to speak, stitching up, the individual frames and sending consciousness the perception of continuous motion. And this brings up an interesting question. A pivotal question. The key question. While the brain is busy transforming still pictures into the perception of continuous motion, is the unconscious mind still able to do all the typical behind the scenes processing that we know a normal, human unconscious mind performs?”

Roy Rumpslapper said nothing.

“Making memories, forming associations, creating conclusions and judgments – if a human being is, so to speak, besieged, by thousands of images every minute, will the brain continue reacting the way a normal human brain reacts? Or does a person watching TV or sitting in a theater become an entirely new kind of consciousness, something different from you and I talking right now?”

Roy Rumpslapper again said nothing.

“There is a final point to consider,” Dr. Shirley said. “In terms of our physical bodies, if we repeat some physical motion many times, our bones and tendons and muscles become grooved to that motion. Literal physical changes take place which facilitate that motion. That’s an actual modification that happens to our physical body. Well, it turns out, mental processes have their own form of change, of adaptation, that is called habituation. Ways of thinking, patterns of functioning, become facilitated as pathways of neural activity become slightly favored due to electrical potentials canalizing certain sequences of neurons. The brain itself makes very real adjustments to the way it works.”

“Normal human brains,” Roy said, “have a lot of unconscious activity going on.”

Dr. Shirley nodded.

“Watching frame based media,” Roy continued, “requires a lot of mental functioning to create the perception of continuous motion out of still images.”

Dr. Shirley nodded, again.

“If the brain is busy turning still pictures into moving pictures, it might not have enough gray matter left over to do the normal, unconscious stuff.”

“That’s right,” Dr. Shirley said. “And when people spend time forcing their brains into this mode of operation, their unconscious becomes habituated to suppression. Such a person will condition their unconscious to stop processing memories, stop making associations and judgements. At least in the normal, behind the scenes way a regular brain functions.”

“You are saying,” Roy finished, “that television and movies –”

“I am saying,” Dr. Shirley said, “that television and movies cause brain damage. Or, more precisely, brain alterations. They are mechanisms for changing human consciousness.”

“It’s unthinkable,” Roy said. “Someone would have noticed this. Someone would have –”

“Of course people noticed,” Dr. Shirley said. “That’s why television and movies have been pushed to the center stage of our culture. Because people have noticed. It’s just like, well, just like the way politicians and businessmen used opium in China last century. They knew what they were doing back then. They know what they are doing now.”

Roy Rumpslapper nodded. He asked, “Who is doing it?”

Dr. Shirley laughed. He said, “Who isn’t?”

Thursday, May 11, 2006

“…We Hadn’t Gathered Them From Aliens…”

Several years ago two graduate students and I submitted a paper to a scientific journal. The paper described an experiment in which we had used a biomedical recorder to monitor electrical activity in the brains of several groups of adult men while they performed a language task. This activity was traced on chart paper as a series of waves, referred to as an electroencephalogram (EEG). The editor returned our paper with his apologies. His reason, he told us: “Frankly, we found some of the brain wave patterns depicted in the paper very odd. Those EEGs couldn’t have come from real people.”

Some of the brain wave recordings were indeed odd, but we hadn’t gathered them from aliens and we certainly hadn’t made them up. We had obtained them from a class of individuals found in every race, culture, society, and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought. These often charming – but always deadly – individuals have a clinical name: psychopaths.

Robert Hare, “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World Of The Psychopaths Among Us

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

“Consciousness Not Necessary For Thinking”

As we go from simple to more complicated aspects of mentality, we enter vaguer and vaguer territory, where the terms we use become more difficult to travel with. Thinking is certainly one of these. And to say that consciousness is not necessary for thinking makes us immediately bristle with protest. Surely thinking is the very heart and bone of consciousness! But let us go slowly here. What we would be referring to would be that type of free associating which might be called thinking-about or thinking-of, which, indeed, always seems to be fully surrounded and immersed in the image-peopled province of consciousness. But the matter is really not that clear at all.

Let us begin with the type of thinking that ends in a result to which may be predicated the terms right or wrong. This is what is commonly referred to as making judgments, and is very similar to one extreme of solution learning that we have just discussed.

A simple experiment, so simple as to seem trivial, will bring us directly to the heart of the matter. Take any two unequal objects, such as a pen and pencil or two unequally filled glasses of water, and place them on the desk in front of you. Then, partly closing your eyes to increase your attention to the task, pick up each one with the thumb and forefinger and judge which is heavier. Now introspect on everything you are doing. You will find yourself conscious of the feel of the objects against the skin of your fingers, conscious of the slight downward pressure as you feel the weight of each, conscious of any protuberances on the sides of the objects, and so forth. And now the actual judging of which is heavier. Where is that? Lo! The very act of judgment that one object is heavier than the other is not conscious. It is somehow just given to you by your nervous system. If we call that process of judgment thinking, we are finding that such thinking is not conscious at all. A simple experiment, yes, but extremely important. It demolishes at once the entire tradition that such thought processes are the structure of the conscious mind.

This type of experiment came to be studied extensively back at the beginning of this century in what came to be known as the Würzburg School. It all began with a study by Karl Marbe in 1901, which was very similar to the above, except that small weights were used. The subject was asked to lift two weights in front of him, and place the one that was heavier in front of the experimenter, who was facing him. And it came as a startling discovery both to the experimenter himself and to his highly trained subjects, all of them introspective psychologists, that the process of judgment itself was never conscious. Physics and psychology always show interesting contrasts, and it is one of the ironies of science that the Marbe experiment, so simple as to seem silly, was to psychology what the so-difficult-to-set-up Michaelson-Morley experiment was to physics. Just as the latter proved that the ether, that substance supposed to exist through-out space, did not exist, so the weight-judgment experiment showed that judging, that supposed hallmark of consciousness, did not exist in consciousness at all.

Julian Jaynes, “The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Susan Complains

Susan complains that all the good men are
always turning out to be married, gay
or Illuminati homunculi.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Other Way Of Making A Frankenstein’s Monster

The other way of making a Frankenstein’s monster involves
just as much work but of a different nature from robbing graves,
stitching together bits and pieces of various people
and then running electricity through the mess. That way, true,
you get something human-shaped and animate, something useful
in its own way. But why put up with all that grubby work when
a more clean, white collar methodology can generate
an equally Promethean product? Start with a whole man
or woman – a real, fully functional guy or gal – and take
away bits and pieces, disable prime aspects one by one,
until you transgress some strangely attractive basin, until
you negotiate some dark, fractal-assed cusp that separates
that which obviously is from that which is not really so.
Each way creates a lump that works. The second way, however,
frees you from grave robbing and tiresome sewing. And the only
electricity you use the monster buys. To watch TV.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Jamie’s Ghosts

At the Oak Lawn public library
where Jamie works
there are big rooms and small rooms,
doorways, windows and ghosts.

Where Jamie works
from the corners of her eyes
she sees things that are not there
when she looks straight at them.

At the Oak Lawn public library
ghosts are looked through and walked through
like doorways and windows
to places you cannot go or even see.

Ghosts are like the big rooms and small rooms
but they are shadows of rooms locked forever
at the Oak Lawn public library
where Jamie works.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ghost Fishing In America Freddy


“What did you do to your arm?”


“I burned it in English class.”

Wes Craven, from “A Nightmare On Elm Street

Punitive ghosts like steam-driven tennis courts
haunt the apples in my nonexistent orchard.
I remember when there were just worms out there
and they danced in moonlit cores on warm September nights.

Richard Brautigan, from “Loading Mercury With A Pitchfork

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I’m Standing At A Broken Window

I’m standing at a broken window, my hand against the crack.
Outside, there are lights below in the darkness. Did someone throw
a stone? Was it a bird? Did some imperceptible earthquake
flex the frame just enough to fracture an invisible fault?
I’m standing at a broken window, my hand against the crack.
Should I go back to bed? Should I go outside and look around?
Should I be angry? Maybe curious? Concerned? Should I pray?
Should I nail boards over the window now that the glass is cracked?
I’m standing at a broken window, my hand against the crack.
Outside, there are celebrities and farms, animals and wires,
car crashes and flower gardens. In here there’s a bed and night stand
with a lamp, a closet full of clothing, a television,
a calculator, a guitar, some books and a doorway out.
I’m standing at a broken window, my hand against the crack.
The glass is cool under my skin. The crack is sharp. I didn’t
feel any pain but a drop of blood is running down the glass.
The blood is a dark shade of red running down against the night.
I wish some crazy serial killer would lure me outside
so I could go out for a big, dramatic fight. Or I wish
I was so tired I could flop back on my bed and go to sleep.
I’m standing at a broken window, my hand against the crack.
It’s night, I’m bleeding and I have no idea what to do.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hamlet And Gertrude Talk About A Ghost


How is it with you, lady?


Alas, how is’t with you,
that you do bend your eye on vacancy,
and with th’ incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep,
and as the sleeping soldiers in th’ alarm
your bedded hair like life in excrements
start up and stand an end. O gentle son,
upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?


On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares!
His form and cause conjoined, preaching to stones,
would make them capable. – Do not look upon me,
lest with this piteous action you convert
my stern effects. Then what I have to do
will want true color; tears perchance for blood.


To whom do you speak this?


Do you see nothing there?


Nothing at all; yet all that is I see.


Nor did you nothing hear?


No, nothing but ourselves.


Why, look you there! Look how it steals away!
My father, in his habit as he lived!
Look where he goes even now out the portal!


This is the very coinage of your brain.
This bodiless creation ecstasy
is very cunning in.

Hamlet, III iv

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tina At The Window

Tina got up and walked to the window.
The darkness outside reached in and touched her.

Kennedy said in a free, democratic society
artists are not engineers of the soul.

Tina went out and confronted the darkness
where sharp things flashed and cut the moonlight.

Ruskin said all that is good in art
is the expression of one soul talking to another.

Tina died in the night. Her blood sprayed out
a blacker shade of red than the darkness.

Cézanne said there is a logic to color
that is logic but not the logic of the brain.

Tina died. We watched. And we watch again,
excessively aware of Tina dying, again.

Barzun said genuine learning ends
with a forgetting that leaves one possessing new power.

Tina went to the window to look outside.
We look outside, too. To learn. To forget.

Cézanne said nature is more depth than surface.
We stand with Tina, and fall into that depth.