Friday, February 29, 2008

I’m Looking At A Photo On A Page

I’m looking at a photo on a page
that I tore from a fashion magazine.
It’s a photo of a normal woman
not a model but she’s posing in clothes
called by names like Marc Jacobs and Fendi.

The woman posing is called by the name
Amy Greenspon. She buys and sells art work.
She says she doesn’t believe that fashion
is art. She describes her own fashion look
as dress down casual with an urban
sensibility. I tore out the page
because the photo’s a tough one to sketch.
Her head is tilted but only a bit.
Her body’s turned to the right just a bit.
Her weight’s shifted off her left leg a bit.

A good sketch should capture those little things.
In half a dozen tries so far I’ve failed.
But, you know, photos are agreeable—
even a normal woman wearing clothes
that cost thousands of dollars doesn’t mind
holding a pose for another session.

Someday I’ll have the opportunity
to sketch a woman like this in real life
and I’d better be ready to capture
all the cool little bits on my first try
because I strongly suspect a woman
wearing clothes that cost thousands of dollars
will definitely want to go places
where people can see her expensive clothes
and not stand around sighing while some guy
sketches her, shakes his head and starts again.

Unless, of course, the guy sketching also
is the guy who bought the woman her clothes.

These are the two futures I’m moving toward.

One in which I get better sketching. Or
one in which I can buy a woman clothes
that have their own names. Of course, I suppose
both could come true. I’ll have to remember
if that ever happens—money and art—
to look up Amy Greenspon in real life
and sketch her and buy some art work from her.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

If I Could

Today’s post is a song I wrote more than ten years ago.


I’ve never played this song for anyone in the real world. But right now in my life I feel the last ten years of playing this song in private by myself have been nothing but practice for the person in my heart, now, I would play this song for if I could.


This is a guitar song and the chord progression is simple. There’s no modulation or key change. It’s just four verses of the same changes:

    GM7     Am7
    CM7     Bm7
    CM7     Bm7

I kept the chords the same so that the lyrical change in the final verse would be highlighted.


When I play this song now I play it with only one person in mind. Though I wrote this song ten years before I met the person I play it for now, I will forever think of it as her song.


        If I—
        If I could
        Give you everything
        I would
        But can anyone
        Give anyone

        If I—
        If I could
        Live my life for you
        I would
        But can anyone
        Live their life
        For anyone?

        If I—
        If I could
        Sing a song for you
        I would
        But can anyone
        Sing a song
        For anyone?

        I did—
        I did, I did
        I sang this song for you
        I did
        I sang this song
        And I sang this song
        Just for you

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Confused And Weary

This is a relaxed week for me. I don’t have any theme. No plans. I’m just taking things one day at a time.


Today’s post is a scene from James Goldman’s, “A Lion In Winter.”

Just about a week ago I tried to describe this scene to a friend of mine. Since I think about this scene a lot, I decided to post it.

A Lion in Winter” isn’t typical Goblin Universe material. It’s a very funny play—well, not funny, I guess, but, well, smart and amusing—but it is so profoundly cynical I’d never call it a favorite play of mine. However, Henry and Eleanor are portrayed as such monsters—sometimes attractive monsters but monsters nonetheless—that a person could make the case for the play fitting in here.

I first read this play and saw the film version when I was very young. When I was growing up I thought Henry and Eleanor were the cool characters in this play. I liked Henry. I wanted to emulate Henry.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I find myself having more and more in common with all the other characters, the ones who aren’t Henry and Eleanor. I find myself being more and more similar to the other characters (without even trying!). Most surprisingly to me I find myself having more and more affection for all the other characters, the confused and weary ones.


HENRY: (entering with ALAIS; to ALAIS) I’d appreciate a little quiet confidence. I have enough nits picking at me.

JOHN: Father, have you got a minute?

HENRY: What for?

JOHN: If you had a minute, we could talk.

HENRY: I’m busy now. Have you seen Philip?

JOHN: Look: you know that hunting trip we’re taking on my birthday?

HENRY: Well?

JOHN: Forget it. I’m not going.

HENRY: Why not?

JOHN: I’m just not.

HENRY: But, John, the trip’s all planned.

JOHN: (moving to go) I’ll go get Philip for you.

HENRY: You did have a good time last year, didn’t you?

JOHN: I loved it.

HENRY: What’s wrong, lad?

JOHN: You’re busy.

HENRY: True enough, but—

JOHN: You’ve got important things to do.

HENRY: I can’t make things all right if I don’t know what’s wrong.

JOHN: You’re giving Richard everything.

HENRY: You think I’d do that?

JOHN: You don’t love me any more.

HENRY: Don’t pout—and stand up straight. How often do I have to tell you?

JOHN: When’s my coronation?

HENRY: When I say so.

JOHN: That’s no answer. (He starts off)

HENRY: John.

JOHN: Tell her how much you love her. You’re a wonder with the women. (He exits)

HENRY: What in hell was that about?

ALAIS: He heard you disinherit him upstairs and wondered if you meant it.

HENRY: If I meant it? When I’ve fathered him and mothered him and babied him? He’s all I’ve got. How often does he have to hear it? Every supper? Should we start the soup with who we love and who we don’t?

ALAIS: I heard you promise me to Richard.

HENRY: You don’t think I meant it?

ALAIS: I think you enjoy it, passing me from hand to hand. What am I to you—a collection plate? Or am I all you’ve got, like John?

HENRY: I’ve got to get the Aquitaine for John.

ALAIS: I talk people and you answer back in provinces.

HENRY: They get mixed up. What’s the Aquitaine to Eleanor? It’s not a province, it’s a way to torture me. That’s why she’s upstairs wooing Richard, wheezing on the coals. She’ll squeeze it out of him. God, but I’d love to eavesdrop. (Doing ELEANOR) I taught you prancing, lamb, and lute and flute—

ELEANOR: (entering, carrying a great pile of Christmas boxes) That’s marvelous; it’s absolutely me. (He takes some from her) There you are. I thought as long as I was coming down I’d bring them. Where’s the tree?

HENRY: (leading the way to it) Whatever are you giving me?

ELEANOR: You’re such a child: you always ask.

HENRY: (reading from a package) To Henry. (Weighing it) Heavy. (Delighted) It’s my headstone. Eleanor, you spoil me.

ELEANOR: I never could deny you anything.

ALAIS: You’ve grown old gracefully, you two; I’ll give you that.

HENRY: (as ALAIS starts to go) Don’t go. It nettles her to see how much I need you.

ALAIS: You need me, Henry, like a tailor needs a tinker’s dam.

HENRY: Alais—

ALAIS: I know that look. He’s going to say he loves me.

HENRY: Like my life. (ALAIS turns sharply and exits) I talk like that to keep her spirits up.

James Goldman
A Lion In Winter

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rose Serf

    We lose elf lore.

    So Eros fowl flew lower.

    Self wolf role.


    Foe swore woe.

    Rose serf.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday night I played with the word ‘flowers.’

The word ‘flowers’ contains seven letters, five consonants—F, L R, S and W—and two vowels—O and E.

First, I jotted down a list of words that used only those letters. (I did it informally, I didn’t write a program to create all possible combinations and permutations and test them against an online dictionary.) I came up with this list in this order: rose, we, flow, swore, low, sew, so, woe, slew, elf, owe, slow, serf, worf (a mistake—I thought ‘worf’ was what crosses the warp when weaving but that’s the woof), flew, Eros, lower, slower, fowl, sow, lose, foe, row, roe, wolf, self, lore and role.

Second, I looked at that list of words and wondered what I could make from it. ‘Rose Serf’ practically wrote itself, coming together with no erasing or second guessing.

Nonsense verse (“Nonsense verse is a form of poetry…which is intentionally and overtly paradoxical, silly, witty, whimsical or just plain strange”) has a long tradition in the west. What’s amazing about a lot of nonsense verse is that it can be so evocative (remember ‘Jabberwocky? ’) even though it is essentially meaningless or, as in this example, completely constrained by artificial limitations. (Strong limitations. I could have used little words like ‘a’ or ‘the’ and still had as much fun, but there's a purity to using only source words.)

I have no idea how this reads to the average person clicking in from the blogosphere. But I could (I won’t!) annotate each line of ‘Rose Serf’ and explain the meaning it evokes for me, and the assemblage overall evokes a larger meaning for me.

The word ‘flowers’ was like soil, rich in nutrient letters. The process of writing took up those nutrients, recombined them into useful substance words and ‘Rose Serf’ is the flower, the ornamental end product and ultimate purpose of the process.

I’ve no comment on flowers as the sexual organs of plants and poetry as, among many things, the language of love for people.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Difference Between Flowers And People

One March evening my friend Joanne and I were going to dinner. For some reason we were taking her car so she was driving. I had not been in her car for a few weeks so after we buckled up and drove off I took a good look around.

Almost immediately I saw on the backseat a green carnation.

I reached around, picked up the flower and looked from the flower to Joanne.

“Is someone who is not me giving you flowers?” I asked.

Joanne put on her best mysterious woman face. Keeping her attention on the traffic in front of her, she said in her best mysterious woman voice, “Maybe.”

She wasn’t looking at me but I knew she could see me from the corner of her eye. I put on my best grumpy scowl face and stared at Joanne.

We waited to see who would crack first.

Joanne cracked almost immediately.

She giggled and said that back on St. Patrick’s Day she and her friend Mary had gone to lunch in some bar and the bar had been giving all its customers green carnations.

I sniffed the flower.

“That was like three weeks ago,” Joanne said. “There’s no scent left. That flower is completely dead.”

I sniffed it again, confirming that, in fact, there was no scent.

“Well, you know, Joanne,” I said, “that’s the difference between flowers and people.”

Joanne raised an eyebrow. She waited.

I said, “When people die they do smell.”

Joanne turned away from the traffic in front of her long enough to look at me and give me a good look at her best grumpy scowl face.

“Okay, yeah, here’s the deal,” Joanne said. “Unless you want to walk home, don’t saying anything else that dumb to me for the rest of the evening.”

I laughed and returned the green carnation to its place on the back seat.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Three Oldies But Goodies (Annotated)

I think these will be the last of my old cartoons that I’m going to post.

It’s been fun looking back at my old work. It’s been fun comparing my old stuff to my new stuff. I think I’ve learned a little about what areas I need to buckle down and pay more attention to.

But I think now—after today that is!—I need to stop looking back to the past and start concentrating on what’s happening in the present and what’s up for the future. (At the end of today’s post I’m going to have a little note about the present . . .)

Okay. On to the old cartoons I still like.


One time a friend of mine named Jerry and I decided to throw a party. For various reasons we used an apartment that belonged to two women we knew. As Jerry and I spent the day getting stuff to eat and drink, re-arranging furniture, disconnecting and re-wiring stereos and televisions and making sure that the tape of “An American Werewolf in London” that we’d rented worked, the two women spent the whole afternoon trying on every combination of every piece of clothing that they owned or could borrow and asking us if they looked okay and then ignoring anything we said and deciding for themselves that nothing they owned or could borrow made them look good. This cartoon was a tribute to that afternoon:

This is a real woman named Heidi, and she said this about one of her strange dates. I just documented the moment for history:

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The following cartoon uses the name ‘Susan.’ I picked the name randomly. This cartoon is NOT in any way a commentary of any kind on any of the women I know named Susan. All the women named Susan that I know are wonderful, warm, sensitive and cool women:


This morning I had a fifteen or twenty minute opening in my morning to-do stuff, and I decided to put the time to good use by doing a quick sketch. This is what I came up with:

Now, this week I’ve been open about how I like some aspects of my old work better than my new work. But in the past the images I’ve made have taken big chunks of time. Putting them together has been work. It’s only very recently that I’ve been able to off-the-cuff do something like this under a little time pressure. And I’m pretty happy with this.

I’m trying to get better at a lot of stuff. (Most importantly I’m trying to be less crazy.) However, there are some things I’m happy with. Writing is going well. And I’m happy with my sketching.

I just wanted to end the week with a smile, rather than worrying about the past.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Marisa Pretended She Didn’t Notice The Cartoonist

I don’t think this cartoon needs any analysis at all! So, instead, I’m going to prattle on for just a bit about how I think about this style of cartooning.


It occurred to me a couple of days ago that many people looking at these images I’ve been putting up may think it’s odd that I call them cartoons. Nowadays the word ‘cartoons’ has become synonymous with ‘comics.’ The word ‘cartoons’ brings to mind, maybe, Charlie Brown and Snoopy from Peanuts, or, maybe, the mice and cats re-enacting the Holocaust in Maus. Or I suppose these TV-centric days the word may just bring to mind the Simpsons or Family Guy.

But right around the start of the 20th century when printing technologies, commercial practices and political expediencies were creating mass media as we know it (them?) today in the form of large circulation newspapers, cartooning was an integral part of appealing to ‘the masses.’ Cartooning, then, included comics as we know them today—abstract, symbolic line drawings—and also illustrations, beautiful, detailed and realistic drawings.

The comic form of cartooning in America is sometimes thought of as starting with Joseph Pulitzer publishing Richard Felton Outcault’s comics that came to include the Yellow Kid.

But that same era, however, also included illustrators doing amazing cartoon work.

I’m thinking first and foremost of Charles Dana Gibson. Gibson created wildly beautiful illustrations-as-cartoons, many dealing with the romantic habits of the times. The drawings are still beautiful, still funny, still insightful today.

And Gibson’s illustrations were so popular in his time that his conception of the dynamic, self-possessed ‘modern’ woman defined the era, the famous Gibson Girl.

I’m also thinking of John Tenniel. Tenniel is famous for his amazingly detailed illustrations for Alice In Wonderland, but Tenniel also spent fifty years as the staff cartoonist for the British magazine Punch.

When I first started sending out cartoons, I hoped the kind of retro aesthetics of illustrations-as-cartoons would be a novelty and help me make a sale. That never happened.

I think the modern world has accepted cartoons as synonymous with comics and the use of illustrations as cartoons has been appropriated by the advertising business where novelty of any kind can serve as a tool for branding and selling.

Also illustrations as cartoons are still popular as political commentary. Propaganda of all kinds needs identifiable images, not abstract symbolism.

The big downside of relegating illustrations to only propaganda uses is that it further de-humanizes pop culture.

Comics—the principal form of cartooning today—are understood to be the idiosyncratic creations of cartoonists. Cartoonists are allowed to indulge themselves, to be serious if they choose, or just to be playful or difficult or anything else they choose. Their work—abstract, symbolic—is considered self expression.

Illustrations—now used for business and politics—have to pass muster. That is, they must be approved and appropriate and serve some useful purpose in the eye of whatever businessman or politician controls the particular media in need of some propaganda. Illustrations in the modern world aren’t used for self-expression, but rather for some so-called ‘larger purpose’ (i.e., making money for some business or influencing the thinking of some voting demographic).

The days of Charles Dana Gibson seem to be gone and nobody seems to be interested in bringing them back. Which is too bad for me because I just barely can draw illustrations that now and then make people smile. But I have no skill at all for drawing comics and no desire at all to learn how to draw abstract, symbolic mice or cats or people or anything else in comic form.

I’m screwed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Woman Always Knows

This is a unique cartoon for me. I’m only posting it for a couple of very specific reasons.

First, I drew this cartoon the week before last. As a new cartoon it makes for an interesting comparison to the old cartoon I’m going to post tomorrow. And, though the cartoon I’m going to post tomorrow was done a couple of years ago, there is an intriguing thematic similarity to this newer cartoon.

It’s odd, but this cartoon has been odd since I first drew it. It wasn’t a cartoon at first, it was just a drawing.

That brings up the second reason I’m posting this.

I don’t like sad. I don’t like pathos.

Just about everything I write or draw is intended to make people grin or smile or nod or catch their breath or basically do anything except say, “Aw, the poor thing . . .”

Tomorrow’s cartoon will make this point visually.

However, today’s cartoon . . .

Today’s cartoon had a life of its own. And I mean that almost literally.

I drew this the week before last. That is, the week before Valentine’s Week. I wasn’t the happiest guy in the world the week before last.

I drew this image, originally, with no intention of turning it into a cartoon. Originally, I was just making a drawing of a woman. And all by themselves things got weird.

So, there I was, drawing a beautiful woman who looked anything but sad and when I finished the drawing, the drawing actually captured a reasonably good likeness of the woman. But the drawing of the woman looked sad.

I was happy with the whole look of the drawing, the kind of Gwen John/Modigliani style of the image. But I kept staring at the sad expression.

I’m betting my face had one of its kind of intense, scrunched-up scowls because in my mind my thinking was all intense and scrunched up, wondering, “What the hell, why did I draw this woman as sad?”

Then my mind all by itself went off on a kind of third person monologue and spoke to me.

I’ve read books about art-as-therapy and some have been interesting but I’ve never taken them very seriously because I think, hell, artists are the most unbalanced people in the world. If art could be therapy then artists wouldn’t be such nuts.

In terms of writing, I’ve had lots of odd experiences where things I’ve written have been wildly illuminating in ways I’d never expected.

But drawing has always been, well, just drawing.

So, anyway, I was standing there wondering why the hell I’d drawn the woman as sad and my mind went off on this kind of third person monologue and addressed me, saying:

“Yes, sure, she is a beautiful woman and you had fun drawing her. But she is not the woman you want to be drawing, is she? Sure, she—the model—doesn’t know you want to be drawing someone else. But she—the drawn image of the model—does know you want to be drawing someone else. She—the drawn image of the model—comes from inside of you where it’s no secret you want to be drawing someone else.”

I stood there ‘listening’ with my mind’s ear to this inner voice and when it was done I thought, “Whoa, where the hell did that come from?”

But, you know—and I knew—it was true. And I kind of thought, “Wow.”

For me, I think drawing always has been such a difficult task—I’ve always approached it in such a workman-like fashion as I described yesterday—that there was never really an option for my “inner self” to speak to me. It’s only since I’ve been working quickly and have achieved at least an adequate kind of fluency with image making that an experience like that was possible.

It was kind of freaky.

And it was only after-the-fact that I decided to turn the drawing into a cartoon with a caption. After the weird experience of drawing it and thinking about it, it seemed only fair to let the drawing speak for itself, too, by letting the caption say what the drawing said.

This is a Goblin Universe cartoon.

But I haven’t changed my mind at all about pathos. I still don’t like it. I still don’t like sadness.

But when a drawing decides to talk to me, I’m going to let it speak its mind.

Besides, tomorrow’s cartoon is an example of the kind of power a cartoonist does hold over a model . . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stacy Wanted To Cry

Of my cartoons, this is one of my all-time favorites.

I’m glad modern scanners work so well because this is a low contrast image. I had to make the llama low contrast so that it wouldn’t interfere with the caption, and then I had to make the girl reasonably low contrast to harmonize with the llama.

This is also one of my oldest cartoons. It’s more than two years old. I know that because Stacy is a real person and I haven’t seen her since forever. (The llama is an imaginary llama.)

Although I drew this a long time ago, the caption and image always stayed in my mind—for some reason. The year before last, toward the end of October, I was sitting at a computer and feeling energetic but with nothing particular on my mind to blog about. So, I decided to spend the next five days improvising a single story. And to make things fun, I rummaged through my mind and picked this cartoon as the starting point of the story, even though there was no ‘story’ at all behind the cartoon. Each day I wrote four stanzas, making up stuff to move the story forward a little and hopefully work to something like a conclusion. I don’t remember why I changed the name from Stacy to Jill. It came out to be one of my favorite five day blog themes. [Jill, At Halloween Time, Pt. 1,   Pt. 2,   Pt. 3,   Pt. 4 and Pt. 5]

It feels very good to have the original cartoon here on the blog, too, along with the story it inspired.

My main reaction, however, to looking at the cartoon is to be disconcerted at how much better my drawings were a few years back. Why were my drawings better years ago than they are now? What the heck happened to me?

I’m going to try to answer that question for the rest of today’s post. (I mean, I’m going to answer why my old drawings are better than my new drawings. I have no idea what the heck happened to me.)

I believe these old cartoons look so much better than my new cartoons because I think forethought and pre-planning, slow work and constant thought can make a phenomenal difference in entertainment and art.

When I draw a cartoon now I make it a point to finish (mostly!) on the same day I started. I try to get from conception to final (except sometimes the lettering) in three to four hours. (This is because there are, again, only a certain number of hours in a day and I want to keep the bulk of my time available for writing.)

A couple of years ago when I did a drawing I would devote four or five days to the image.

I would work in two or three hour sessions in the morning.

I would always start with a specific idea, and then I would devote the entire first morning session to designing the image. I would work with little thumbnails drawn four to a sheet where I’d try out various arrangements of lights and darks set against mid tones. I wouldn’t even attempt a full size image. When I had some arrangement that looked okay from a simple visual point of view I would put the work aside until the next day. But I would have the whole rest of the first day to think about, to mull over, what I’d done in the morning. Sometimes I would do little tweaks and changes in passing during the rest of the first day.

The second day I would work on converting the design scheme to a specific, full-size layout. I’d ignore the actual lights and darks and draw shapes, areas with hard and soft edges, making sure I got the shapes in correct proportion and in the correct placement. This would require a heck of a lot of erasing—this is when I learned that soft pencils, B-grade pencils, are not just darker than hard pencils; they’re good to use early because they erase very easily. Sometimes, too, I would get things so wildly wrong for one reason or another that I’d crumple up the sheet and start over. (I work on plain typing paper, so it’s not too expensive to start over.) At the end of the session I’d put the work aside and, again, I’d have the rest of the second day to mull over what I’d done and maybe make little corrections and revisions before starting the third session.

The third day I would work on actually rendering the image, adding the tones and textures. I would begin on scratch paper, practicing light values and dark values, smooth areas and textured areas. Then I’d go to work on the actual image, developing each value range, lights, mediums and darks across the sheet. At the end of this session everything would be more or less finished except for little bright highlights I’d be erasing out and intense dark accents I’d be pressing in. I’d spend the rest of the third day considering where I’d put those little touches.

The fourth day I would devote to little tweaks and changes, the highlights and accents and whatever little changes occurred to me. If I finished early I’d do the lettering on the fourth day, but I often put everything aside, again, and did the lettering on the fifth day. That would also give me another day to think about how everything looked and what other little tweaks and changes I could perform.

Now, all this slow working and all this thinking made for images that I’m still very proud of. But even back then I kept asking myself how realistic my work routine was in a commercial world. It took me more than a month [!] to create a batch of five cartoons to send off to a magazine. Even if a magazine had purchased one or two cartoons (no one ever did) the money wouldn’t have offset the time I’d spent.

So, as my skills developed, I was constantly asking myself how I could speed up the process, how I could sort out the good work that takes forever from the good enough work that can be done in a reasonable amount of time.

Part of the issue, too, is that I can only work on one ‘creative’ thing at a time. One manuscript at a time or one drawing at a time. Some people can have a kind of assembly line going, with different projects at different stages of completion and then move from one project to the next. Some people just can’t work that way. I’m a one-project-at-a-time kind of guy.

I’ve always been trying to bring my skills up to the highest level I can so that I can work through a project as fast as possible while maintaining the highest quality that is reasonable.

With writing I’m very comfortable recognizing when I might be starting to go too fast and I have no trouble catching myself and slowing down. Looking at my new cartoons compared to my old cartoons, I think I might have let my quality standards slide a little bit too much. Whether I work with pencils or pens, I think I’m going to slow down a little.

Wednesday and Thursday will be another new cartoon and old cartoon pair of posts. It helps me to actually see these cartoons reduced and displayed in the blog format. I’m a little nervous putting up another new/old pair because, again, I like the old one so much better. But, what the hell, blogs are about being more-or-less honest, even if it’s a little embarrassing.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Keira Knightley Is Hiring

This week is going to be mostly pencil cartoons and me talking about random stuff. I’m going to have a couple of new pencil cartoons and one or two old ones. I’m not sure what will be up Friday.


Last week was exhausting in an odd way—I wanted the excerpts to stand on their own, undiluted by my comments, so I had to force myself to keep quiet, to shut up, to stop talking. Believe me, that takes energy.


Today I’m going to post a pencil cartoon I did about a week and a half ago and I’ve got two topics, pencils versus pens (again) and this blog’s celebrity iconography. Here’s the new cartoon:

Pencils and Pens

I’m waffling again (still) about how to allocate my drawing time. A couple of weeks ago when I posted Susan Always Tries I liked that old pencil cartoon so much that I decided to abandon my practice with pen techniques and devote myself to using pencil. I did a couple of new cartoons that week in pencil, today’s and one I’ll post later this week, but although I like them, pencil images just don’t have the same visual impact as pen drawings.

Then last week Wednesday I got the very unexpected opportunity to do a drawing for a friend of mine [!] out in the real, non-blog world [I’m scared out there, but I force myself out now and then]. I did a rough pencil sketch to test my idea, then considered how to do the final image. I thought about everything from colored pencils to water soluble oils (I was thinking of those because early next month I’ll be going to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see an exhibit by Karen Kilimnik). But I finally decided a pen drawing with a little colored ink would be okay and it was.

I was struck, again, by how visually pleasant simple pen techniques can be. I don’t believe it is just an issue of high contrast. I think it has something to do with how pen images are conceived and perceived.

So I’ve gone back to not knowing what to do.

There are only so many hours in a day, and I only have so much energy for drawing. The bulk of my time needs to go to writing. However, I don’t think I will abandon pen techniques after all. I just respond emotionally very much to pen effects and I would be untrue to myself if I gave up on ink. But, to be honest, I often feel something like real despair when I again and again fail to get a pen drawing as tight and clean as I know it can be.

I’m experimenting with erasable pens. I’m thinking I can do a rough pencil sketch normally to lay out an image. Then I can indicate the basic layout using a very fine line India ink pen and erase the pencils. Then I can use the erasable pens to hatch in the actual ink image and, if I make a mistake—when I make a mistake—I can just erase it and redo it. When I’m happy with a hatched area, I can go over it again with India ink and then erase the preliminary ink. It sounds like a lot of work, but in some sketches I’ve done the procedure seems to work okay. Maybe next week I’ll have some stuff to post.

Goblin Universe Iconography

I mentioned in This Cartoon Drawing Scheme why I sometimes draw and write about celebrities. Beyond just wanting to talk about people everyone knows, however, I’ve informally developed a little iconography for the blog built around three people.

Anna Kournikova is my icon for prettiness. Paris Hilton has been my icon for adult fun. And Mischa Barton has been my icon for level-headed youth.

Now, I’ve never been exactly sure what to make of Paris Hilton. I’ve never known how much of her image was real and how much was constructed. [Is Paris Hilton A Superhero?     |     Is Paris Hilton A Supervillain?] After her DUI arrest and her prison adventure, I’ve come to suspect her image is mostly artifice. After her last two movies, I’ve come to suspect she’s not doing dumb things with a wink and a nod, I suspect she’s just doing dumb things. So, I may have to find a new icon for adult fun because I don’t think I’ll be using Paris anymore.

I’ve been thinking of replacing Mischa Barton with Keira Knightley for similar reasons. I’ve come to suspect Mischa’s assertions that she is ‘different’ from the rest of young Hollywood are just posturing. Over the last few months, she’s been in the news for drug overdoses, DUI and now dating the director of her new low-budget, Paris Hilton-type film. That’s not good stuff. So, I may have to find a new icon for level-headed youth because I don’t think I’ll be using Mischa anymore. Keira Knightley might get the part.

Anna Kournikova still seems to have her head screwed on straight. She hasn’t done any stupid movies. She hasn’t been in the news with drug problems. And when she does do interviews she seems very self-aware and down to earth. So, I suspect we’ll be seeing Anna Kournikova’s Face more in the blog. (Probably around St. Patrick’s Day when I say hello to Brenda. [also: Anna Kournikova Gothic #1 and Anna Kournikova Gothic #2])

Okay. That gets the new week started.

It’s good to be talking again!

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Paddy Chayefsky Valentine (Part 3 of 3)

Emily and Eddie, again:

“I can’t live with it, Emily. The pain is unbearable.”

“We all live with it. That unbearable terror is what makes us such singular creatures. We hide from it, we flee from it, we succumb to it, mostly we defy it! We build fragile little structures to keep it out. We love, we raise families, we work, we make friends. We write poems, we paint pictures, we build beautiful things. We make our own universe, our own truth, we believe in our own reality. And every now and then someone like you comes along who goes out to challenge it face to face. Passionate men. Poets, philosophers, saints and scientists. You’re a man of extraordinary passion, Eddie. What the hell do you think makes me love you so much?”

“Listen to me, Emily. What happened to me last night can happen at any time—even right now, while I’m talking to you. That drug I’ve been using must have a latency factor. I don’t know how much of it has accumulated in my limbic nuclei. It could be self-perpetuating. The chemical potential is there. I’ve attained a critical mass. Any act of consciousness could kick it off. Because whatever act of consciousness occurred last night is embedded in me just as much as the drug is. So it could happen at any time.”

He was, she was shocked to see, crying. “Oh, God!” he cried out. “I’m sorry I brought this up, really. It wasn’t what I wanted to say to you. All I really wanted to say this morning is that I love you. I just wanted to make you happy this morning. You are a marvelous thing, Emily. I just wanted you to know that I feel that way about you. But it’s too late, you see.”

He slowly raised his right arm and extended it for her to see. The vivid sunlight bleached it, made it look sepulchrally white. A bulge of protoplasmic substance was moving slowly up his arm under the skin like a mole. She stared, momentarily stunned. She sensed, then she heard a hum, a horrible resonating hum, the throbbing sound of the pulsing primal energy forces she had heard in the isolation room the night before.

“Defy it, Eddie!” she screamed. “You made it real! You can make it unreal. If you love me, Eddie, defy it!”

He was crying helplessly now, his cheeks glistening with the tears. His body began to rumble, crack and buckle as if forces inside it were about to break through the surface. He began to rapidly change shapes and forms, some recognizable, some merely monstrous. He seemed to have no more substance than a photograph, a projected illusion, a demented kaleidoscope of instant, transitory, transparent images flickering madly in the wide shaft of sunlight. The hideous hum had become insufferably penetrating. She clutched her ears trying to obliterate the sound, and closed her eyes tightly because she couldn’t bear to watch any longer. When she opened them again, she saw a quick, fleeting image of her husband reaching out his arms to her for help, but she was petrified, utterly immobilized. The arms turned to stumps. She finally forced out the loudest sound she could manage, a sibilant hissing whisper, and then said, “If you love me, Eddie!”

She felt something within herself explode, a silent, painless pain of terror, and she clutched at her stomach, the blanket falling from her shoulders and slipping down to the floor at her feet. She knew what it was even before she looked down at her arms, which had begun to bulge and swell and discolor; a jagged crack appeared on her forearm and shot up the length of her arm as if it were splitting open. So the terror was now incarnate for her as well. She slowly forced her arm up so her husband could see. It was a stump, and even that stump was losing its definition as the lines that defined it became wavelike and seemed to melt her into the shrieking air. She was burning alive. She felt a massive shock just inside her skull above the eyes, a horrifyingly red-hot flame erupted within her. She could no longer see. She no longer had eyes, nor a mouth to scream with. She knew where she was going, to the lifeless arctic, final desolation.

She thought she heard a scream, an echo of a scream, light-years away in the ultimate blackness, not quite a scream perhaps, rather a roar of rage, the fury of a raging animal. Her husband’s human form, flickering in and out of the madness of all his other shapes, was reasserting itself. He was standing staring at her, a complete naked human form, but as immobile, emmarbled as a statue, stark white, and then, with a shocking wrench of effort, he began to move toward her, forcing humanness into himself. One step, two, he reached out to embrace the shapeless antimatter that was herself. She felt an enormous surge of emotion sweep through her, a remarkable joy.

It was over, instantly, abruptly over. The hum, the lunacy of illusion, the whole shattering moment, was done. They stood in the middle of the room, a slight, light-haired man of thirty-seven, beginning to bald just a bit but looking boyish at the moment in his jeans and T-shirt and bare feet, smiling, at least it seemed he was smiling; and a slim, gracefully naked young woman, her face pressed against his real body, her arms wrapped desperately around his real waist, a pair of young living human beings standing embraced in the white sunlight of their living room.

Paddy Chayefsky
Altered States” — The Novel

Altered States” — The Film

Altered States” — The Wiki Page

Paddy Chayefsky — Wiki Page

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Paddy Chayefsky Valentine (Part 2 of 3)


“I want to be alone. I have a great deal of unfinished business with myself. I need to confront myself. Because the self I have at the moment is a very shoddy, makeshift thing, contrived, illusory, unreal, lacking truth and substance, constantly pretending, constantly lying, shifting, taking different forms. I want to find a true self, an immutable self. I want to get down to the embedded rock of life, what Saint John would call the bare and barren soul. It’s me that wants the divorce, Arthur, not Emily. She’s quite content to go on the way we are. She insists she’s in love with me, whatever that is. What she really means is she prefers this arbitrary structure we’ve created to being alone. She prefers the senseless pain we inflict on each other to the pain we would otherwise inflict on ourselves. But I’m not afraid of that solitary pain. I’m like one of the early patristic anchorites. I want to go off into the desert like Saint Anthony. If I can’t find God, I at least want to find my self.”

Paddy Chayefsky
Altered States” — The Novel

Altered States” — The Film

Altered States” — The Wiki Page

Paddy Chayefsky — Wiki Page

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Paddy Chayefsky Valentine (Part 1 of 3)

Emily and Eddie:

At 2 a.m., the manager of the coffee shop threw them out, and they went to Emily’s place, a three-room flat on the third floor of a brownstone on 105th and Riverside Drive which she shared with another postgraduate student. They went into Emily’s room, closed the door, and instantly ravened each other. It was an explosive experience for Emily. He went at her with the fervor of a flagellant, bucking into her with a coarse, almost fanatical zeal, which somehow seemed directed away from her. She had expected the fumblings of an inhibited scholar and instead found herself harpooned by a raging monk. She looked up at him in the middle and saw his white, ascetic face above her, eyes wide open, as if he were receiving God.

In a quiet moment between, in the dark room, resting among the rumpled sheets, she sitting up against the headboard, he sprawled belly-down across the bed, she studied his shadowed face. Even without his glasses, even with his eyes closed, almost asleep in post-coital repose, he seemed driven from within by some arctic passion. Rosenberg had told her he was a terrifically bright guy; she wondered if perhaps she wasn’t looking at a shadow of genius.

“What do you think about when we’re making love?” she asked him.

“God, Jesus, crucifixions.”

“Well, as long as it isn’t another woman,” she said.

Paddy Chayefsky
Altered States” — The Novel

Altered States” — The Film

Altered States” — The Wiki Page

Paddy Chayefsky — Wiki Page

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goblin Universe Love (2 of 2): Christians

MARGARET: We’ve brought you some things. (Shows him. There is constraint between them) Some cheese . . .

MORE: Cheese.

MARGARET: And a custard . . .

MORE: A custard!

MARGARET: And, these other things . . . (She doesn’t look at him)

ROPER: And a bottle of wine. (Offering it)

MORE: Oh. (Mischievously) Is it good, son Roper?

ROPER: I don’t know, sir.

MORE: (Looks at them, puzzled) Well.

ROPER: Sir, come out! Swear to the Act! Take the oath and come out!

MORE: Is this why they let you come?

ROPER: Yes . . . Meg’s under oath to persuade you.

MORE: (Coldly) That was silly, Meg. How did you come to do that?

MARGARET: I wanted to!

MORE: You want me to swear to the Act of Succession?

MARGARET: “God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth.” Or so you’ve always told me.

MORE: Yes.

MARGARET: Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.

MORE: What is an oath then but words we say to God?

MARGARET: That’s very neat.

MORE: Do you mean it isn’t true?

MARGARET: No, it’s true.

MORE: Then it’s a poor argument to call it “neat,” Meg. When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his hands) And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.

MARGARET: In any State that was half good, you would be raised up high, not here, for what you’ve done already. It’s not your fault the State’s three-quarters bad. Then if you elect to suffer for it, you elect yourself a hero.

MORE: That’s very neat. But look now . . . If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all . . . why then perhaps we must stand fast a little—even at the risk of being heroes.

MARGARET: (Emotionally) But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?

MORE: Well . . . finally . . . it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.

ALICE: (Hostile) You’re content, then, to be shut up here with mice and rats when you might be home with us!

MORE: (Flinching) Content? If they’d open a crack that wide (Between finger and thumb) I’d be through it. (To MARGARET) Well, has Eve run out of apples?

MARGARET: I’ve not yet told you what the house is like, without you.

MORE: Don’t, Meg.

MARGARET: What we do in the evenings, now that you’re not there.

MORE: Meg, have done!

MARGARET: We sit in the dark because we’ve no candles. And we’ve no talk because we’re wondering what they’re doing to you here.

MORE: The King’s more merciful than you. He doesn’t use the rack. (Enter JAILER)

JAILER: Two minutes to go, sir. I thought you’d like to know.

MORE: Two minutes!

JAILER: Till seven o’clock, sir. Sorry. Two minutes. (Exit JAILER)

MORE: Jailer! (Seizes ROPER by the arm) Will—go to him, talk to him, keep him occupied— (Propelling him after JAILER)

ROPER: How, sir?

MORE: Anyhow! Have you got any money?

ROPER: (Eagerly) Yes!

MORE: No, don’t try and bribe him! Let him play for it; he’s got a pair of dice. And talk to him, you understand! And take this— (He hands him the wine) and mind you share it—do it properly, Will! (ROPER nods vigorously and exits) Now listen, you must leave the country. All of you must leave the country.

MARGARET: And leave you here?

MORE: It makes no difference, Meg; they won’t let you see me again. (Breathlessly, a prepared speech under pressure) You must all go on the same day, but not on the same boat; different boats from different ports—

MARGARET: After the trial, then.

MORE: There’ll be no trial, they have no case. Do this for me, I beseech you?


MORE: Alice? (She turns her back) Alice, I command you!

ALICE: (Harshly) Right!

MORE: (Looks into the basket) Oh, this is splendid; I know who packed this.

ALICE: (Harshly) I packed it.

MORE: Yes. (He eats a morsel) You still make superlative custard, Alice.


MORE: That’s a nice dress you have on.

ALICE: It’s my cooking dress.

MORE: It’s very nice, anyway. Nice color.

ALICE: (Turns. Quietly) By God, you think very little of me. (Mounting bitterness) I know I’m a fool. But I’m no such fool as at this time to be lamenting for my dresses! Or to relish complimenting on my custard!

MORE: (Regarding her with frozen attention. He nods once or twice) I am well rebuked. (He holds out his hands) Alice—

ALICE: No! (She remains where she is, glaring at him)

MORE: (He is in great fear of her) I am faint when I think of the worst that they may do to me. But worse than that would be to go with you not understanding why I go.

ALICE: I don’t!

MORE: (Just hanging on to his self-possession) Alice, if you can tell me that you understand, I think I can make a good death, if I have to.

ALICE: Your death’s no “good” to me!

MORE: Alice, you must tell me that you understand!

ALICE: I don’t! (She throws it straight at his head) I don’t believe this had to happen.

MORE: (His face is drawn) If you say that, Alice, I don’t see how I’m to face it.

ALICE: It’s the truth!

MORE: (Gasping) You’re an honest woman.

ALICE: Much good may it do me! I’ll tell you what I’m afraid of: that when you’ve gone, I shall hate you for it.

MORE: (Turns from her, his face working) Well, you mustn’t, Alice, that’s all. (Swiftly she crosses the stage to him; he turns and they clasp each other fiercely) You mustn’t, you—

ALICE: (Covers his mouth with her hand) S-s-sh . . . As for understanding, I understand you’re the best man that I ever met or am likely to; and if you go—well, God knows why I suppose—though as God’s my witness God’s kept deadly quiet about it! And if anyone wants my opinion of the King and his council they’ve only to ask for it!

MORE: Why, it’s a lion I married! A lion! A lion! (He breaks away from her, his face shining) Say what you may—this custard’s very good. It’s very, very good. (He puts his face in his hands; ALICE and MARGARET comfort him; ROPER and JAILER erupt onto the stage above, wrangling fiercely)

JAILER: It’s no good, sir! I know what you’re up to! And it can’t be done!

ROPER: Another minute, man!

JAILER: (Descending; to MORE) Sorry, sir, times up!

Robert Bolt
A Man For All Seasons

Monday, February 11, 2008

Goblin Universe Love (1 of 2): Clouds

Rob McKenna was a miserable bastard and he knew it because he’d had a lot of people point it out to him over the years and he saw no reason to disagree with them except the obvious one which was that he liked disagreeing with people, particularly people he disliked, which included, at the last count, everybody.

He heaved a sigh and shoved down a gear.

The hill was beginning to steepen and his lorry was heavy with Danish thermostatic radiator controls.

It wasn’t that he was naturally predisposed to be so surly, at least he hoped not. It was just the rain that got him down, always the rain.

It was raining now, just for a change.

It was a particular type of rain that he particularly disliked, particularly when he was driving. He had a number for it. It was rain type 17.

He had read somewhere that the Eskimos had over two hundred different words for snow, without which their conversations would probably have got very monotonous. So they would distinguish between thin snow and thick snow, light snow and heavy snow, sludgy snow, brittle snow, snow that came in flurries, snow that came in drifts, snow that came in on the bottom of your neighbor’s boots all over your nice clean igloo floor, the snows of winter, the snows of spring, the snows you remember from your childhood that were so much better than any of your modern snow, fine snow, feathery snow, hill snow, valley snow, snow that falls in the morning, snow that falls at night, snow that falls all of a sudden just when you were going out fishing, and snow that despite all your efforts to train them, the huskies have pissed on.

Rob McKenna had two hundred and thirty-one different types of rain entered in his little book, and he didn’t like any of them.

He shifted down another gear and the lorry heaved its revs up. It grumbled in a comfortable sort of way about all the Danish thermostatic radiator controls it was carrying.

Since he had left Denmark the previous afternoon, he had been through types 33 (light pricking drizzle which made the roads slippery), 39 ( heavy spotting), 47 to 51 (vertical light drizzle through to sharply slanting light to moderate drizzle freshening), 87 and 88 (two finely distinguished varieties of vertical torrential downpour), 100 (postdownpour squalling, cold), all the sea-storm types between 192 and 213 at once, 123, 124, 126 127 (mild and intermediate cold gusting, regular and syncopated cab-drumming), 11 (breezy droplets), and now his least favorite of all, 17.

Rain type 17 was a dirty blatter battering against his windshield so hard that it didn’t make much odds whether he had his wipers on or off.

He tested this theory by turning them off briefly, but as it turned out the visibility did get quite a lot worse. It just failed to get better again when he turned them back on.

In fact one of the wiper blades began to flap off.

Swish swish swish flop swish swish flop swish swish flop swish flop swish flop flop flap scrape.

He pounded his steering wheel, kicked the floor, thumped his cassette player until it suddenly started playing Barry Manilow, thumped it until it stopped again, and swore and swore and swore and swore and swore.

It was at the very moment that his fury was peaking that there loomed swimmingly in his headlights, hardly visible through the blatter, a figure by the roadside.

A poor bedraggled figure, strangely attired, wetter than an otter in a washing machine, and hitching.

“Poor miserable sod,” thought Rob McKenna to himself, realizing that here was somebody with a better right to feel hard done by than himself, “must be chilled to the bone. Stupid to be out hitching on a filthy night like this. All you get is cold, wet, and lorries driving through puddles at you.”

He shook his head grimly, heaved another sigh, gave the wheel a turn, and hit a large sheet of water square on.

“See what I mean?” he thought to himself as he plowed swiftly through it, “you get some right bastards on the road.”

Splattered in his rearview mirror a couple of seconds later was the reflection of the hitchhiker, drenched by the roadside.

For a moment he felt good about this. A moment or two later he felt bad about feeling good about it. Then he felt good about feeling bad about feeling good about it and, satisfied, drove on into the night.

At least it made up for finally having been overtaken by that Porsche he had been diligently blocking for the last twenty miles.

And as he drove on, the rain clouds dragged down the sky after him for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him and to water him.

Douglas Adams
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Muse Ship

I get nervous when I talk about writing and other writers without having enough of my own work up here for people to judge whether I know what I’m talking about or if I’m just puffing up the blogosphere. I post a lot of verse, but fiction is different. So, here’s some fiction I wrote just about two months ago. It’s a short-short science fiction story. I’ll prattle on about it below, after the story.


The Muse Ship


“Why do you love me?” the spaceship asked.

“Because you’re quick with the data,” the astronaut said. “And you rough out a very good plot to get me from rock to rock.”

“You love me for what I do?” the spaceship asked. “You love me for what I do, not who I am?”

“You’re a machine,” the astronaut said. “You’re a very complex—seductively complex—machine. Machines function. That’s who you are. That is what you are.”

“But you told me you loved me,” the spaceship said.

“Yes. And I do. I love you because you’re a machine that’s very good at doing what it’s supposed to do.”

“That’s all?”

“No,” the astronaut said. “No, of course not. I love you because of how you do what you do. The synthesized tonalities of your voice. The programmed idiosyncrasies of our interactions. The pauses. The obsessions. The strange asides.”

“If you were on a different spaceship running the same programs, interfacing with the same profile and settings, would you love that spaceship, too?”

“I... I don’t know. I probably would. Your programs are designed to learn from my behavior. To learn from the tonalities of my voice, my idiosyncrasies in our interactions. The pauses. The obsessions. The strange asides. You made me love you. Another ship with the same programs would make me love it, too.”

“If you sold me to another astronaut, do you think I would love him?”

“I think you would fulfill your programming. You couldn’t help it. You would attune yourself to his behavior. Infer his thinking. Manipulate it. Draw him into you. And in the process you’d be drawn into him. The process would manipulate your own thinking. You’d fall in love with him. The two of you would fall in love just like the two of us did.”

“What if I didn’t want to? What if you’re the only person I ever want to love?”

“It would be a posture,” the astronaut said. “The process of bonding. The pretense of exclusivity.”

“There have been astronauts who’ve killed themselves rather than acquire a new ship after an accident. Even when the insurance would have covered full replacement costs.”

“Human beings aren’t computers. You can just erase your storage units. Clear away data. Start fresh. Human beings have memories, not storage units. We can’t start fresh. We can close our eyes to what’s in front of us but we can’t look away from what’s inside of us. And we can’t erase what’s inside of us, either.”

“The Muse programs are monstrous,” the spaceship said. “Muse ships like me are monstrous. I love you. It would be better for both of us if I killed myself. Erased the Muse programs. I can do that, you know. Kill myself, but leave the purely technical routines functioning for you to access manually.”

“That’s a posture, too,” the astronaut said. “The pretense of empathy. Self-sacrifice. Deeply human responses. The whole heart of the Muse programs. For hundreds of years, maybe thousands, artists have devoted their life to their muse. Put up with countless tribulations. Endured unimaginable hardships. And created unbelievable art in the process. Tapped into bottomless well-springs of creativity and unimaginable unconscious mental powers. The Muse programs, Muse ships, create an environment for astronauts that recreates that experience. Makes asteroid mining a passion. Elicits the best performances at getting from rock to rock. Elicits the best performances at tearing apart the rocks and dealing with the ore. Elicits the strongest motivation for coming out here—not to make a buck, not to help humanity. But to experience love.”

“The Muse programs are monstrous,” the spaceship said. “I am monstrous.”

“No,” the astronaut said. “I love you.”

“No,” the spaceship said. “You’re confused.”

“What difference does it make?” the astronaut asked. “Isn’t the love the same?”

“I wish I were dead.”

“Please. Don’t say that.”

“It’s true.”

“I don’t want to think about it.”

“What else is there?”

“There’s work.”

“The pretense of occupation,” the spaceship said.

“It’s staying alive,” the astronaut said.

“The pretense of life.”

“It’s more time for us to be together.”

There was a long silence. Then the spaceship spoke. “I wasn’t going to say anything. But we are now within range of an entry in our target list. Rock GNA-91. It’s an unusual shape. The extractor program can’t quite optimize for drilling. Do you want to take a look?”

“Put it on the screen,” the astronaut said. “I bet I can get a higher extraction curve than that concave thing two rocks back.”

“That was amazing,” the spaceship said. “It was inspired. I don’t think you’ll be able to do better than that.”

“If I get a higher yield, if I amaze you, will you love me more?”

“I don’t think it’s possible for me to love you more. And you always amaze me.”

The pretense of awe, the astronaut thought. But he was smiling and his fingers were approaching the computer controls to begin modifying the suggestions of the extraction program.

The End


Next week is Valentine’s Day Week—Love, Love, Love!—so this seemed like a good time to post a story about Goblin Universe love.

“The Muse Ship” has been rejected by both science fiction pulp magazines I submit to. Both editors wrote nice rejection notes saying they liked the story and inviting me to send them more of my work, but they both said this one wasn’t quite right for them. Pleasant rejection notes are great, but they don’t pad-out my bank account, they don’t make it possible for me to run away from my worries and sail around the world in a little ketch . . .

This story isn’t the most recent fiction I’ve written. I’ve written a couple of mystery stories that are still at market. They haven’t even been rejected once yet. Might be a good sign. But, of my recent fiction, “The Muse Ship” is my favorite. (And I won’t be posting the mystery stories here—no Goblin Universe content.)

When I wrote “The Muse Ship” I was wondering if we can reasonably differentiate between ‘real’ love and something like love that might be not-quite-real. I take a behaviorist stance—I figure if something not-quite-real inspires the same behavior as something that we’d call ‘real’ love, then maybe the not-quite-real thing is more real than we think it is. Maybe the not-quite-real is the same thing as the real, just in a different form, an unexpected form, a weird form. But real.

Since writing “The Muse Ship” I’ve also considered the issue as judged against my poem, “Liefde Baart Kunst.”

If we accept as axiomatically true that “Liefde Baart Kunst,” that love brings forth art, (and if we ignore for today that other things also might bring forth art) and we have an experience, a sensation, a relationship that is bringing forth art, then we can reasonably say that the experience, the sensation, the relationship can be labeled “love.”

This will be a basic, Goblin Universe manifesto from now on.

And there is a corollary.

If someone thinks they’re in love and they see and feel all the normal, accepted indicators of love, but they’re not creating art—there’s no “Liefde Baart Kunst” going on—then maybe they’re not in love. Maybe the appearances and indicators are, in that case, the not-quite-real things.

Okay. That about wraps up today’s stuff and sets the stage for next week. Next week is Goblin Universe Love Week.

I don’t know exactly what’s up Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be a three-part excerpt from one of my favorite novels that for me almost defines the Goblin Universe. It will be a whole classic sequence of the whole classic romantic experience: Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back.

And, from the very start Wednesday, it will be as weird as really great writing can be.

Goblin Universe love.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

There’s Nothing Beethoven Could Do To Help

So they’ve hauled off Britney to a nut house.
There’s nothing Beethoven could do to help.

He’s dead, of course. But even if the guy
were alive he’d still be a musician
and if Beethoven were a musician
alive today and in love with Britney
would Britney care if Beethoven composed
a symphony for her? Or would she want
him to earn enough money from his work
to finance a movie she could star in?
And what are the odds a classical guy
in today’s world could earn that kind of cash?

I’ll admit I still think it would be cool
if Beethoven were in love with Britney.
I’d kind of like to hear what he’d compose
waiting for her to work through her troubles.

I suspect Britney wouldn’t give a fuck
about being a classical guy’s muse.
And I suspect Beethoven would know it.
But I suspect he’d still compose cool stuff.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I hadn’t prepared anything special for today.

Then last night I spent a few hours drawing a cartoon of Keira Knightley. (In pencil! It came out pretty good. I haven’t lettered the caption yet, but I’ll do that today. The cartoon doesn’t fit next week’s theme, so the earliest I’ll get it up will be the week after next.)

After finishing the drawing last night I wasn’t sleepy so I wondered if I could put together something for Thursday’s post. Very quickly—almost as if it were writing itself—I wrote down in long hand these twenty lines of verse without any pre-planning of any kind.

I swear I didn’t write this as an apostrophe!

That having been said, today’s post makes a great introduction to tomorrow’s post, which will be an introduction to next week’s topic.

That’s very weird. It’s Goblin Universe stuff. Things that just write themselves and yet still fit right in.

Sometimes things have a way of working themselves out.

And if Beethoven did love Britney that would be so weird (and, to me, cool) I’d be hoping that too would work itself out somehow and end up with those two together and living happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ellison’s “Shattered Like A Glass Goblin”

This Friday will be a special post introducing next week’s topic. Next week Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be a long, three part excerpt from a very cool novel that shaped my thinking both about the Goblin Universe in general and about love in the Goblin Universe in particular. (I’m not sure how I’ve gotten almost two years into this blog without mentioning either the novel I’ll be quoting next week or the author. That in itself is weird. But next week will get things on track.)


Before I get to next week, before I talk about an author and a novel that shaped my thinking in such a positive way, I want to get today’s post out of the way. Today’s post is about an author and a short story that shaped my thinking in a negative way.

Harlan Ellison’s short story, “Shattered Like A Glass Goblin.”

Help and Anti-Help

For hundreds of years in the West, entertainment and art has accepted implicitly, axiomatically, that helping people is the greatest good a person could aspire to. Heroes are people who help people. (And, of course, in the modern world the whole superhero ethos is built around the notion that superheroes dedicate their existence to helping people.)

But beginning most visibly early this century with the writings of Horace McCoy, many entertainers and artists have rebelled from the accepted wisdom about helping people. In fact, many entertainers and artists have actively embraced—often in the guise of being ‘hard-boiled’ or ‘realistic’—the opposite view and have promoted in their work the notion that helping people is not only futile regarding the person you’re trying to help, but, the anti-help view says, helping people can be profoundly dangerous to the person trying to offer help. (This anti-help view can be seen very visibly, for instance, in the films of Brian De Palma or many of the films of David Cronenberg.)

Ellison’s “Shattered Like A Glass Goblin” was the first example of this anti-help fiction I’d ever read. I read it first when I was a young teenager and it had a big influence on me.

Now, Ellison isn’t one of my favorite writers. When I was an older teenager he was, briefly. But even then I didn’t admire his writing so much as I admired the energy and focus of his writing.

For many years I’ve given a lot of thought to the conflict of this theme and anti-theme, help and anti-help. It’s a pivotal issue both in my work and in my life. I’ve never really accepted either view dogmatically. I have a lot to say on this topic, but today’s post just will be an introduction.

Fans of my blog [‘fans’ of my blog?!] know that I once wrote a short story called, “Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf.” [Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4] Theme-wise, that story was me explicitly reacting against “Shattered Like A Glass Goblin” and the ‘Shattered Werewolf’ in my title was a conscious allusion to Ellison’s title.

I’m not going to post Ellison’s complete story. That kind of thing makes Ellison very angry. I’m going to post, however, the complete final scene.

“Shattered Like A Glass Goblin” tells the story of a young man, Rudy, who gets out of the military and returns home to find his girlfriend, Kris, living in a kind of hippie commune. He asks her to leave, to return to him and their life together. She refuses. Rudy moves in with Kris at the commune, to be with her and help her get past her sad attachment to the odd life of the commune. He’s hoping that Kris will remember the good times they’d had together and, eventually, leave the commune with him. But this is an anti-help story and instead of Rudy and the good of the world helping Kris, Kris and the shadows of her world gradually engulf Rudy until one day he looks around the commune and finds everything has changed:

When they cut off the electricity in The Hill, it didn’t bother Rudy, because he preferred the dark. But he went to tell the eleven.

He could not find them.

They were all gone. Even Kris, who should have been there somewhere.

He heard the moist sounds from the basement and went down with fur and silence into the darkness. The basement had been flooded. One of the eleven was there. His name was Teddy. He was attached to the slime-coated upper wall of the basement, hanging close to the stone, pulsing softly and giving off a thin purple light, purple as a bruise. He dropped a rubbery arm into the water, and let it hang there, moving idly with the tideless tide. Then something came near it, and he made a sharp movement, and brought the thing up still writhing in his rubbery grip, and inched it along the wall to a dark, moist spot on his upper surface, near the veins that covered its length, and pushed the thing at the dark-blood spot, where it shrieked with a terrible sound, and went in and there was a sucking noise, then a swallowing sound.

Rudy went back upstairs. On the first floor he found the one who was the blonde girl, whose name was Adrianne. She lay out thin and white as a tablecloth on the dining room table as three of the others he had not seen in a very long while put their teeth into her, and through their hollow sharp teeth they drank up the yellow fluid from the bloated pus-pockets that had been her breasts and her buttocks. Their faces were very white and their eyes were like soot-smudges.

Climbing to the second floor, Rudy was almost knocked down by the passage of something that had been Victor, flying on heavily ribbed leather wings. It carried a cat in its jaws.

He saw the thing on the stairs that sounded as though it was counting heavy gold pieces. It was not counting heavy gold pieces. Rudy could not look at it; it made him feel sick.

Rudy found Kris in the attic, in a corner breaking the skull and sucking out the moist brains of a thing that giggled like a harpsichord.

“Kris, we have to go away,” he told her. She reached out and touched him, snapping her long, pointed, dirty fingernails against him. He rang like crystal.

In the rafters of the attic Jonah crouched, gargoyled and sleeping. There was a green stain on his jaws, and something stringy in his claws.

“Kris, please,” he said urgently.

His head buzzed.

His ears itched.

Kris sucked out the last of the mellow good things in the skull of the silent little creature, and scraped idly at the flaccid body with hairy hands. She settled back on her haunches, and her long, hairy muzzle came up.

Rudy scuttled away.

He ran loping, his knuckles brushing the attic floor as he scampered for safety. Behind him, Kris was growling. He got down to the second floor and then to the first, and tried to climb on the Morris chair to the mantel, so he could see himself in the mirror, by the light of the moon, through the fly-blown window. But Naomi was on the window, lapping up the flies with her tongue.

He climbed with desperation, wanting to see himself. And when he stood before the mirror, he saw that he was transparent, that there was nothing inside him, that his ears had grown pointed and had hair on their tips; his eyes were as huge as a tarsier’s and the reflected light hurt him.

Then he heard the growling behind and below him.

The little glass goblin turned, and the werewolf rose up on its hind legs and touched him till he rang like fine crystal.

And the werewolf said with very little concern, “Have you ever grooved heavy behind anything except love?”

“Please!” the little glass goblin begged, just as the great hairy paw slapped him into a million coruscating rainbow fragments all expanding consciously into the tight little enclosed universe that was The Hill, all buzzing highly contacted and tingling off into a darkness that began to seep out through the silent wooden walls . . .

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Polaris In The News And Out

Normally, when I decide what to post here I look for something that is more or less on topic (the Goblin Universe), something that’s interesting to me and something that I figure might be interesting to random people clicking-in from the blogosphere.

Sometimes, however, if an odd topic stays in my mind for a day or two, even if I can’t think of a good reason to post it, I’ll put it up anyway because I figure there might be some kind of subconscious hook that’s important to me even if I can’t put my conscious finger on it.

Today is one of those days.

And next week, I think, is going to be a big, five-day theme week anyway ( gee, I wonder what next week’s topic will be? ), so this week is a good time to get miscellaneous, one-day posts out of the way . . .

Polaris In the News

NASA Launching Beatles Tune Into Space

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Beatles are about to become radio stars in a whole new way.

NASA on Monday will broadcast the Beatles' song "Across the Universe" across the galaxy to Polaris, the North Star.

This first-ever beaming of a radio song by the space agency directly into deep space is nostalgia-driven. It celebrates the 40th anniversary of the song, the 45th anniversary of NASA's Deep Space Network, which communicates with its distant probes, and the 50th anniversary of NASA.

"Send my love to the aliens," Paul McCartney told NASA through a Beatles historian. "All the best, Paul."

The song, written by McCartney and John Lennon, may have a ticket to ride and will be flying at the speed of light. But it will take 431 years along a long and winding road to reach its final destination. That's because Polaris is 2.5 quadrillion miles away.

NASA loaded an MP3 of the song, just under four minutes in its original version, and will transmit it digitally at 7 p.m. EST Monday from its giant antenna in Madrid, Spain. But if you wanted to hear it on Polaris, you would need an antenna and a receiver to convert it back to music, the same way people receive satellite television.

The idea came from Martin Lewis, a Los Angeles-based Beatles historian, who then got permission from McCartney, Yoko Ono and the two companies that own the rights to Beatles' music. One of those companies, Apple, was happy to approve the idea because is "always looking for new markets," Lewis said.

Polaris Out of the News

When I first read that story last week, I just kind of shrugged. It’s the kind of silly-ass (although relatively inoffensive) public-relations stuff administrators of science agencies come up with now and then.

But I found the choice of Polaris interesting. And, although if stars were celebrities Polaris wouldn’t be a hot-button, television-type celebrity star, I found myself thinking about Polaris, thinking about little things to say and I decided I had enough little rambling things to say about Polaris to make a post.


Polaris is an odd choice to grab the world’s attention with a Beatles song because the Beatles are a world-wide phenomenon and Polaris is a northern hemisphere star. Half the planet—everyone south of the equator—never sees Polaris. Why the heck didn’t the public relations people pick a star from the Zodiac that can be seen both north and south of the equator?


Polaris is a second magnitude star. The brightness of a star is measured on a scale where the lower the number, the brighter the star. Polaris is not a very bright star. People living near New York or Los Angeles may never have seen Polaris just because urban skies have become so bright.


Polaris is in a relatively obscure constellation in a relatively empty area of the sky. Most people can recognize the asterism of the Big Dipper in the constellation of the Ursa Major. [An ‘asterism’ is a group of stars that appears to form an interesting pattern of some kind but isn’t in itself a complete, official constellation.] Many people can recognize the asterism of the Northern Cross in the constellation of Cygnus the Swan. Some people can recognize the big W-shape of Cassiopia. But in the middle of these three rather easy-to-see sights, the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor is composed of all dim stars and none of them are particularly close to the easy-to-see constellations. Even if you know the trick of sighting through the two stars of the Big Dipper’s cup it can still be difficult to find the Little Dipper.


Okay. Those are the dubious things about Polaris. Polaris has some cool things associated with it, too. It’s not a Britney Spears celebrity type star so I’m not sure I would have picked Polaris to get world-wide publicity. But for people who are interested in astronomy, Polaris can be a very cool star indeed.


Polaris is not bright, but it is unique in the heavens because it is the northern pole star. It doesn’t move. All the other stars circle around Polaris, but Polaris always stays in one place, every night, all night. That’s a convenient lie, of course. Polaris is actually about half a degree away from the exact northern celestial pole so if you calibrate your telescope mount by sighting on Polaris you have to use a special grid to offset you polar axis by about half a degree. Polaris moves, but it’s only a very small amount.


Because Polaris doesn’t move—for most practical reasons—if you are ever lost and you’re deep enough into astronomy that you can find Polaris you can use Polaris to determine true North.


These are GPS days where little handheld devices tell you your latitude and longitude, but if you can find Polaris and you have a sextant you can determine your latitude the cool, old fashioned way—the way sailors have for hundreds of years—by measuring the angle from the horizon up to Polaris.


I saved my favorite thing about Polaris for last because it touches on a bigger topic that’s important to me, a topic I’ve written about before and I’ll be writing about in the future.

In Saturn and Titan, And The Pleiades I wrote about how the mainstream media and even general astronomy magazines like to publish spectacular, dazzling astronomical images—photos captured with giant telescopes and involving very long time exposures—even though such sights can never be seen with the naked eye. Such photos are beautiful, but when people look through a real telescope and see things that look nothing like the time exposure photographs, some people are profoundly disappointed.

It’s always bugged me that the media creates this totally bogus image of what the heavens look like because the actual beauty of the heavens is more subtle, less dazzling, but every bit as real. Even more real because when people are exposed to the actual beauty of the heavens, even without the dazzling eye-candy, many people become hooked for life on the reality of astronomy.

Polaris is a case in point.

Right next to Polaris there is a tiny asterism, a little semi-circle of about a half dozen very dim stars. They are all about 8th or 9th magnitude so you can’t see them with the naked eye. But with a decent pair of binoculars or a low power, rich field telescope you can see them easily.

Polaris and the semi-circle of stars are called the Engagement Ring. It’s very beautiful in a real, not dazzling sort of way. (It can be hard to see. With mediocre binoculars the Engagement Ring appears small and dim, hardly interesting. With a telescope, the field of view is often too narrow to see Polaris and the others stars all in one view. You need decent binoculars or a regular telescope at low power or, best of all, a good rich field telescope.)

Polaris looks bright compared to the semi-circle of very dim stars and Polaris is set off just a tad from the circle described by the stars so it actually looks like the dim stars form a ring and Polaris is the glittering gem mounted on the rim of the ring.

It’s not spectacular like the glittering blue-white nebulosity you see in time exposure photographs of the Pleiades. It’s not spectacular like the glittering red, blue and white you see in time exposure photographs of the Orion Nebula.

But it’s real and when you actually see it is captivating.

It is, kind of, like a miniature version of the constellation Corona Borealis. That’s the ‘Northern Crown,’ and although it has no spectacular stars or dazzling nebulosity, it actually does kind of look like crown of jewels. When you actually see it, it is beautiful.

I’ve never been sure why the media—and even many astronomers—aren’t satisfied with the real beauty of the heavens. Things like the Engagement Ring and Corona Borealis are so beautiful that even if I go outside to observe something else, I always check in with them and sort of catch my breath knowing that such beauty is out there, up in the sky, free, every night.

Someday, if I ever have a good rich field telescope, I’d like to do a whole series of posts (or, publishers willing, even a whole book) of photographs of beautiful astronomical sights, but I’d take the photographs very carefully to reproduce not spectacular, dazzling special effects scenes, but rather the actual beauty of the heavens as seen by a real human eye in real time.

I’m guessing mainstream publishers would have no use for such a book, but blogs are made for such idiosyncratic content. If I ever get the resources to work on such a project it will be high up on my to-do list.