Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Fluffy Update

Tuesday I mentioned that Fluffy the cat was sick. She had something wrong with her left, front paw. It didn’t look good at all. She had licked the paw so much that some of the hair on the back of her paw had been washed away. The skin of her paw looked like it had a hole in it. I was afraid something exotic was wrong. Maybe a compound fracture. Maybe she’d been bitten by a big spider and the venom was preventing the wound from healing. Maybe she was suffering some kind of systemic attack from a cat variant of necrotizing fasciitis bacteria. Turned out the answer wasn’t exotic at all. But the problem does have a tiny literary tie in, so I’m going to post about it.

We went to the animal hospital right after I put up Tuesday’s post. The vet took a look at Fluffy’s paw and found the problem right away.

Fluffy is a Hemmingway cat. She is polydactyl. She’s got big feet and more toes than a normal cat.

That’s the literary tie in.

Anyway, Fluffy is a Hemmingway cat with extra toes. A nail on one of her extra left, front toes had somehow grown very long and very curled. Somehow that toe had gotten twisted and the nail had pierced right through Fluffy’s paw. The tip of the nail is what had made it look kind of like a compound fracture.

So the vet unbent that toe and trimmed the nail. Then he trimmed all the rest of her claws. Then he cleaned and disinfected the gash on Fluffy’s paw.

Now Fluffy just has to heal. I give her antibiotics twice a day.

And she has to hobble around with a big green and white bandage on her left, front paw. She looks kind of silly hopping around, but she is being very good about not chewing on the bandage. I haven’t caught her gnawing on the bandage or tape even once.

Which is good because if she had torn off the bandage she not only would have had to get re-bandaged, but then she would have had to wear one of those really silly looking funnel-like neck collars.

So far so good.

I’ve noticed that when I’m in the house Fluffy spends most of her time lying in her cat toy. Sometimes I pick her up, comb her and put her down in the kitchen by her food. Then she eats and goes right back to her cat toy. She looks pretty funny walking/hopping along with the bandage on her paw.

I think that’s why she spends so much time just lying around: She doesn’t want to look funny.

Because I’ve also noticed that overnight when I’m sleeping or during the day when I’m out of the house, Fluffy seems to keep very busy—she uses the litter box, she gets water from the dish in the laundry room, she eats more of her food. She gets around okay when I’m not looking. She seems to be more comfortable getting around when I’m not there to smile at her hobbled gait.

It’s not like I laugh out loud at her . . .

Friday morning we’ll go back to the animal hospital and the vet will remove the bandage and check that Fluffy’s paw is healing okay. He said the gash in her paw wasn’t really too bad and he’s expecting to the find the healing well along. He doesn’t think there will be a need to re-bandage the paw Friday.

So soon things will be back to normal. Fluffy can get back to running around the house all day and I can stop trying to pretend she doesn’t look funny.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hell Is The Eclipse Of Art

Back in the days of flower power, the streets of Berkeley, California, were lined with romantically attired flower children selling tie dye scarves and badly made silver jewelry, resulting, we were led to suppose, from the expression of their creativity. There’s a lady in the United States who has built a media empire on showing people how to be creative by putting wreaths of rosebuds on their front doors and painting their dining rooms pink and yellow. Every week my mail offers me software which is guaranteed, for twenty-five pounds, or fifty, or a hundred, to increase my personal creativity. What can it possibly mean?

Harold Cohen
writing in,Colouring Without Seeing: A Problem
In Machine Creativity

Hell is the eclipse
of art, the shadow of craft
on us, not moving.

Blame nobody, he told himself, lightheadedly.

And then it was in front of him, terminating a vista of weeds and bomb rubble—Milles’s Orpheus Fountain.

It took a man, he thought. Esthetikon circuits couldn’t do it. There was a gross mixture of styles, a calculated flaw that the esthetikon couldn’t be set to make. Orpheus and the souls were classic or later; the three-headed dog was archaic. That was to tell you about the antiquity and invincibility of Hell, and that Cerberus knows Orpheus will never go back into life with his bride.

There was the heroic, tragic central figure that looked mighty enough to battle with the gods, but battle wasn’t any good against the grinning, knowing, hateful three-headed dog it stood on. You don’t battle the pavement where you walk or the floor of the house you’re in; you can’t. So Orpheus, his face a mask of controlled and suffering fury, crashes a great chord from his lyre that moved trees and stones. Around him the naked souls in Hell start at the chord, each in its own way: the young lovers down in death; the mother down in death; the musician, deaf and down in death, straining to hear.

Halvorsen, walking uncertainly toward the fountain, felt something break inside him, and a heaviness in his lungs. As he pitched forward among the weeds, he didn’t care that the three-headed dog was grinning its knowing, hateful grin down at him. He had heard the chord from the lyre.

from With These Hands
by Cyril Kornbluth

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grousing And Werewolf Grousing

I’m not having a good day—the cat’s sick, might have to go to the vet.

And, frankly, I’m having a pretty monstrous summer overall.

I generally try to just suck it up and get on with things. But there is a part of me that is always grumbling, always muttering, always grousing, maintaining an internal monologue of pointless prattle like: Things would be different if I had more money; or Things would be different if I had a steady girlfriend; or Things would be different if I were a published writer.

Blah, blah, blah . . .

I was clicking around the web this morning, however, and I found a piece about a guy who is just about as successful as someone can be, and even he finds himself dealing with unexpected unpleasantness. Even a six-time Oscar winner [!] finds himself grousing about stuff:

CGI Wolf Man? An Upset Rick Baker Shows His Teeth

Published by Larry Carroll on Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 3:10 pm.

Sitting down with legendary make-up whiz Rick Baker is a joy on multiple levels; one of them is simply because he’s refreshingly honest enough to raise a bit of a ruckus when he thinks he’s getting screwed.

“When my parents died, that made it clear in my mind that there’s definitely an end, and it’s not that far away,” explained the 57-year-old, who finished his work on “The Wolf Man” with Benicio del Toro two weeks ago, and spoke to us at Comic-Con about the film. “I don’t want to be doing movies I don’t want to be doing: I only take films I want to take…it has to be something I really want to do.”

As such, Baker took on the flick for the thrill of returning the hairy anti-hero to his Lon Chaney roots – and to revisit his own masterstrokes on such films as “An American Werewolf in London.” Baker revealed to us that the Benicio-to-Wolf transformation seems likely to be created with computer-generated graphics, however, and the film’s producers are robbing him of an honor he feels he has earned.

“[CGI] can be really great, and I think it’s a great tool. But I think we should have been more involved with makeup in the transformation,” he sighed. “Because, basically, we aren’t involved with the transformation at this point. Which is one of the more fun things to do in a movie.”

“At this point, nothing’s really been done [that is permanent],” Baker said of the April 3rd film, which also stars Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. “So, I’m lobbying to be part of that; I’ve been talking to the producers and saying ‘It’s my creation in the end, there’s a certain logic in the design of it. I know it’s different between Benicio’s face and the wolf face, because I sculpted that face. I know how the anatomy changes; I should at least be giving some guidance to the guys who are doing [the transformation in CGI].”

At this point, Baker’s rationale seems to be falling on deaf ears; but as a man who feels passionately about the work that has won him 6 Oscars for films like “Men in Black” and “American Werewolf,” he is refusing to give up.

“I saw, on my last day at Pinewood [Studios], some of the work they were doing – and I wasn’t crazy about some of the direction it was going in,” he said, citing an example. “They had things right in front of me that they weren’t seeing. For example, we have between our canine teeth four teeth; dogs have six teeth, and The Wolf Man has six teeth between his canine teeth. They had some illustrations they did, scans of the makeup and some transformation things, and they had the actual canine teeth drawn [in the wrong stage of the transformation].”

“It’s like “Those aren’t the teeth. The teeth are in here,” he explained, pointing to his own mouth and explaining that del Toro’s character would have too many teeth for a human. “And they said ‘Really? It doesn’t look like it.’ And I’m like ‘Well, 1,2,3,4, you can just count’.”

Softening himself a wee bit, Baker said the Comic-Con response to the film’s panel was enthusiastic, and he hopes Joe Johnston-directed film will turn out fine. But on behalf of the horror geeks who will someday freeze frame every inch of such a movie, Baker won’t settle for anything less than perfection.

“Mind you, they had just started, and it’s unfair to say they wouldn’t have caught that down the line,” he admitted. “But like I said: I know what the changes are, I know what they should be; I’ve done this. I kind of changed the way transformations were done in films with “American Werewolf,” and I’d like to have a chance.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Black Slip: A NASCAR Mystery

I don’t know any women who cuddle
with a glass of wine, their television,
and spend the evening alone with NASCAR.

I know a woman who watched the Brickyard
wearing just a black slip, shaving her legs,
fixing her hair and putting on makeup.

I said, “NASCAR folks are pretty friendly.
Ever been to a race? Meet the drivers?”

She laughed, slipped on a dress over her head.
As she straightened her dress, she made a face
and looked at me watching in her mirror.

She asked, “Why the heck would I want to meet
guys who drive cars for a living? They’re like,
you know, pizza delivery guys without
the social good of delivering food.”

I smiled, looked back at the television.
They were a hundred and fifty laps in.
The race was almost over. The TV
was about to show the running order
when the woman, prepared for her evening,
hit the remote and switched off the TV.

She grabbed my hand. She said, “Come on. We’ll give
the kid who parks our car a bigger tip.
He’s making a living driving cars, too.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

“The Fountainhead” Versus “The Phantom Of The Paradise”

Women, artists and businessmen.

“If you consider the behavior of the world at present and the disaster toward which it is moving you might find the undertaking preposterous. The age of the skyscraper is gone. This is the age of the housing project. Which is always a prelude to the age of the cave. But you are not afraid of a gesture against the whole world. This will be the last skyscraper ever built in New York. It is proper that it should be so. The last achievement of man on earth before mankind destroys itself.”

“Mankind will never destroy itself, Mr. Wynand. Nor should it think of itself as destroyed. Not so long as it does things such as this.”

Gail and Howard at
the end of “The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead

“The Fountainhead” is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand. It tells the story of a young woman named Dominique who marries a guy named Peter. Peter is rich, handsome and apparently is the most brilliant architect of his generation. A few hundred pages later Dominique discovers Peter is a bit of a dud, so she leaves him and marries a ruthless, successful businessman named Gail. A few hundred pages later Gail’s business empire is rocked by union troubles and scandals. At the same time Gail is having business trouble, a former classmate and former friend of Peter, a guy named Howard, is getting his life together and getting his career on track. The world is starting to realize that Howard, in fact, is the most brilliant architect of his generation. So Dominique leaves Gail and moves in with Howard. The novel ends, then, with Dominique riding up in a construction elevator at a New York site of what will be the tallest building in the world, a magnificent structure designed by Howard. The elevator lifts Dominique up higher and higher. The rooftops of the smaller skyscrapers fall away. Soon she sees only the horizon where the ocean and sky meet, and then she sees her husband, Howard, waiting for her at the top of the tallest structure in the world.

And they all live happily ever after.

Well, not everyone. Peter, ruined, goes off to spend his time painting pictures even he doesn’t like looking at. Gail, ruined, goes off to manage the local newspapers he still owns. But Dominique and Howard get the spandex jackets and sunglasses and get to live happily ever after.

The Phantom of the Paradise

“The Phantom of the Paradise” is a 1974 musical movie written and directed by Brian De Palma, with music and lyrics by Paul Williams. It tells the story of a young woman, Phoenix, who falls in love with a composer named Winslow. Winslow has written a ‘pop cantata’ based on the Faust     mythos. Winslow hopes to sell the cantata to a businessman named Swan so that Swan can use the music for the opening night of his new nightclub, the Paradise, with Phoenix singing the female lead. But Swan steals the music and has Winslow killed. Swan re-writes the cantata as a weird combination of bubble-gum music and punk rock. But Winslow, not really dead, just badly mutilated, returns as the Phantom of the Paradise. Opening night, Winslow kills the singer performing the corrupt version of his music. Phoenix goes on and sings one of the songs as Winslow originally wrote it. Phoenix becomes an overnight sensation and the Paradise becomes famous for the unbelievable “show”—a real death and then an amazing song.

Swan tracks down Winslow and reveals that he, Swan, has actually sold his soul to the devil. And if Winslow will also sell his soul to the devil, Swan will arrange for Winslow to be able to re-write his original cantata completely for Phoenix and then Swan will put on the show as originally conceived by Winslow. Winslow agrees and sells his soul to the devil. Phoenix, believing Winslow is dead and that Swan was responsible for her becoming a star, falls in love with Swan and agrees to marry him. Winslow, eavesdropping, can’t bear seeing Phoenix with Swan, so he kills himself by stabbing himself in the heart.

Swan goes to Winslow’s body and removes the knife. Winslow is still alive. Swan explains to Winslow that Winslow can’t kill himself because he’s made a deal with the devil and he must complete his part of the deal by re-writing his cantata for Phoenix.

Only now Swan is planning the biggest rock and roll show ever at the Paradise. The cantata Winslow wrote will serve as a wedding show for Swan and Phoenix, and then Swan plans to stun the world in the ultimate rock and roll act, by having an assassin murder Phoenix during the show.

Winslow discovers what Swan is planning. During the big show at the Paradise, Winslow stops the assassin. Then, live on stage, Winslow stabs Swan. Swan, dying, ages and physically becomes the aged and ugly monster his deal with the devil had prevented people from seeing. With Swan’s deal voided, Winslow’s deal with the devil is voided, too. The knife wound in Winslow’s heart opens up and gushes blood. As Winslow falls, dying, his mask falls off. His face twists to the side and Phoenix sees that the ‘Phantom’ was really her love, Winslow. Winslow dies. Swan dies. Phoenix, realizing the tragedy unfolding around her, falls to her knees sobbing hysterically.

Nobody lives happily ever after. The only people wearing spandex jackets and sunglasses are the customers at the Paradise who continue to dance and sing as Swan and Winslow die. They’re just there for the show. And they got a show.

It’s interesting that of these two things, these two creations, “The Fountainhead” continues to be a dynamic thing, continues to influence people. If I remember right, I’ve read that bookstores typically sell more copies of “The Fountainhead” every year than they sell of the average new release book. And just a few months back there was an art show in New York where one of the canvases was an oil painting taken from a scene in the film version of “The Fountainhead.”

The almost classical tragedy of “The Phantom of the Paradise” has disappeared, but the very explicit love-and-romance-are-capitalism-for-the-heart-and-mind of “The Fountainhead” lives on.

It is, I suspect, the nihilism of the old beatniks and hippies rooted, grown and blossoming around us.

Capitalism and nihilism can co-exist. But genuine tragedy is kind of the opposite of nihilism. Nihilism is the notion that everything just is. The notions of good and bad, in fact standards of any kind, are all delusions to the nihilist. But genuine tragedy is all about—at its most simple—bad things happening to good people. Genuine tragedy requires us to understand that there are such things as good and bad people. There are such things as, well, good and bad things.

The biggest most interesting tragedy of the modern world is playing out around us all without too many people even noticing because, for the most part, most people simply don’t believe in tragedy as a concept any more.

I opened this post with a quote from “The Fountainhead.” I’m going to close the post with a song from “The Phantom of the Paradise.” This is what Phoenix sings, when she becomes an overnight sensation:

Our love,
Is an old love, baby
It’s older than all of our years
I have seen in strange young eyes
Familiar tears

We’re old souls
In a new life, baby
They gave us a new chance to live and learn
Some time to touch old friends
And still return

Our paths have crossed and parted
This love affair was started long...
Long ago
This love survives the ages
In its story lives are pages...
Fill them up
May ours turn slow,

Our love
Is strong love, baby
We give it all and still receive
And so with empty arms
We must still believe...

All souls last forever
So we need never fear
A kiss, then I must go
No tears
In time we kiss

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My “Year Of The Cat” Fantasy

A while ago I posted on retiring my fantasy about singing “Diary” with Alyson Michalka on the David Letterman show.

I’ve got an even older fantasy, however, that is still one of my favorites. This one is about me singing Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” with Tori Amos somewhere in Africa.


I like songs that are “story” songs. And I like songs that allow two singers to alternate singing. I’ve found that many cool songs that aren’t explicitly written for two voices can be re-arranged for two singers. That’s what I’ve done with “Year of the Cat.”


This fantasy begins with me on a small sailboat, doing coastal cruising around the world.

Round-the-world cruising is an interesting topic among sailors. So many sailors have made round-the-world trips and then written books about their cruise that for many years now some sailors have been joking that their goal is to be the first person to sail around the world and not write a book about their cruise.

But most round-the-world trips involve big, blue water passages. You make the trip from continent to continent doing a month-long (or longer!) blue water passage where you live on provisions and never see land until you get to where you’re going. And, for blue water passage-making, you need a boat that will stand up to the ocean because when you’re out there—on ‘the outside’—there usually isn’t anyone you can call for help.

I’ve always thought it would be fun to go round-the-world following ‘the longest coast’—that is, going north and south, up and down the continental shelves all the way around the world.

There’s a great book called “The Hidden Coast” which is photographs of the coastal areas many sailors miss because their boats are built to stand up to blue water pressures and can’t even sail into shallow, coastal waters.

So I’ve often dreamed of taking a well-built small sailboat around the world very slowly, enjoying all the beautiful coastal views many sailors miss.


Back to my fantasy—

Sailing down the east coast of Africa in my little sailboat, I get to some yacht club and Tori Amos is there doing a celebrity vacation thing.

Some evening I’m sitting around my boat playing guitar and Tori is walking by and she stops to listen. We strike up a conversation. I have a little electronic keyboard handy so I invite her to play along. We harmonize a two-person version of Al Stewart’s “The Year of the Cat” and we both have fun.

[Shrugs] These are the kind of fantasies I have. There’s not a lot going on inside my head. Mostly it’s just pleasant stuff like this.

The version of “The Year of the Cat” Tori Amos and I sing and play goes like this, with me singing the regular type lyrics, and Tori joining in for the italic parts:

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
I was strolling through a crowd
Like Peter Lorrie contemplating my crime
She came out of the sun
Her silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain, and she said,

“Don’t bother asking for explanations
I’ll just tell you that I came
And it’s the Year of the Cat . . .”

She didn’t give me time for questions
She just locked up my eyes in hers
I followed till my sense of ‘which direction’
Completely disappeared
By a blue-tiled wall
Near a market stall
There was a hidden door
She lead me through, and she said,

“These days I feel my whole life
It’s like a rhythm running through
The Year of the Cat . . .”

When morning came I was still with her
And the bus and the tourists were gone
I threw away my choice
When I threw away my ticket
So I had to stay on
The drum-beat strains of the night remained
In the rhythm of the new born day, and she said,

“You know someday you’re bound to leave me
But for now you’re going to stay
In the Year of the Cat . . .”

[instrumental verse, then Tori sings:]

“The evening came so cool
There was a white light
The full Moon on the sea
The air was incense and patchouli
We stayed there
To find what was waiting inside
The Year of the Cat . . .”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Beethoven On Gilligan’s Island

If Beethoven were on Gilligan’s Island, who would he pair up with romantically?

On Gilligan’s Island, the only explicit couple is Thurston and Lovey, Mr. and Mrs. Howell. However, late in the show’s run I think most fans suspected the producers were hinting that Ginger and the Professor kind of liked each other, and Mary Ann and Gilligan kind of liked each other.

Who would get together with Beethoven?


My first thought, of course, is that Beethoven is an arts & entertainment guy and such people generally stick together so you’d have to think Beethoven and Ginger would become an item.

But then my second thought was more cynical.

Beethoven is a fine arts guy. People in the fine arts know which side of their bread is buttered. And they know where the butter comes from. People in the fine arts keep their focus on finances so probably Beethoven would spend all his time courting Mrs. Howell because she could subsidize his career off the island.

Ultimately, however, I remembered that love is strange and very often successful couples are composed of individuals who superficially have little in common. Couples are often the last choices anybody would suspect. On Gilligan’s Island, then, perhaps Beethoven would find happiness with the simple farm girl Mary Ann.


However, once I got to thinking through this stuff, I wondered more about the whole entertainment world connection of Beethoven. I’ve never heard speculation about Beethoven’s sexuality, but entertainment world mythos is that everyone in that culture is either gay or bisexual.

Perhaps Beethoven would become captivated, entranced even, by the youthful, guileless, enthusiastic charms of Gilligan.

Or maybe Beethoven would be one of those masculine, tough kind of gay guys. I don’t know what real life is like, but in movies such men are often portrayed as being attracted to soft, pudgy paramours. Remember the rapacious hillbilly in the infamous “Deliverance” scene, choosing Ned Beatty over Jon Voight? Beethoven might very well want to go for walks to the other side of the island with the Skipper.

Of course, the fine arts influence might trump even the basic sex drives. A gay Beethoven might spend all his time courting Thurston Howell because gay people in the fine arts world know, too, which side their bread is buttered on and Mr. Howell could buy a lot of butter.

And I’m guessing love in the gay world is as strange as love in the straight world so couples in the gay world are probably often composed of the last guesses anybody would make. On Gilligan’s Island, that probably would be a love connection between the science-oriented Professor and the art world Beethoven.


So, there you go. Logic and rigorous thinking don’t seem to be too much help with this question. There are reasonable back-stories that makes sense and lead to Beethoven hooking up with any of the castaways on Gilligan’s Island.

It’s a tough call.

Maybe it’s a Rorschach kind of thing.

What you see as the most likely pairing depends more on what’s going on inside you as what really is happening on Gilligan’s Island.

If I personally were script editor for the castaways, I would make it a season long story arc. I’d have Beethoven tentatively get involved with just about everyone—in one way or another—then I’d have him pick someone, make a play and be soundly rebuffed. Then he could stay immersed in his music. And the island would be a reasonable microcosm for the reality of Beethoven’s famous romantic difficulties, his fascination with the unattainable and his ultimate failure on the stage of romance.

Or I’d have him hook up with Ginger.

But that’s just me. I like women who have a comprehensive self-image.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Painting For The Pope

If I ever had to write the screenplay for a movie where Harrison Ford would star as the first American Pope, I would call it, “A Painting for the Pope.”

It would be the story of the Pope commissioning a painting. The Catholic Church used to do a lot of that kind of thing. It still does, of course, but since hardly anybody in pop culture cares about paintings and even fewer, probably, care about Vatican patronage, nobody really sees what the Church commissions.

This would not be a normal Church commission, however . . .

This would be the story of the Pope—the first American Pope—commissioning a painter to create a painting for the Pope’s private study. (Throughout history, of course, the stuff Popes have done in private has been wildly more interesting that what they’ve done in public.) The Pope—Harrison Ford as a senior citizen American Pope—would commission an artist to create a painting of the woman the Pope had an affair with when he was a divinity student. She is older, of course, as is he, but she is still beautiful and now she is married to a famous businessman.

And the Pope would insist the commission be undertaken by a specific artist—the artist who, years before, had also had an affair with the woman when the Pope had been a divinity student and the artist had been a struggling young artist who was friends with the divinity student and the woman had been young and in love with passion itself—the passion of the young divinity student for God, the passion of the young artist for art and her own passion for love itself.

The Pope, the artist and the woman would not have seen each other or spoken to each other since their youth.

The artist of course would first refuse the commission. The woman of course would first refuse to pose. Then there would be lots of melodrama, lots of soul-searching, lots of looking longingly off into the distance as everyone remembered back to the days when their passion was a hands-on thing and not just phantasmagorical memories.

And eventually the artist and the woman would reconsider. There would be wild and intense confrontations between the woman and the artist. The woman and the Pope. The woman and her businessman husband.

And everyone would sort of realize that passion doesn’t go away. Passionate people don’t stop being passionate people. That not doing the painting wouldn’t change the fact that the passions of youth don’t go away with age, they just become, kind of, submerged. And the artist and the woman would come to see themselves as part of something larger than the both of them, larger than the three of them.

They would see themselves as manifestations of passion itself. They would see themselves as flesh-and-blood incarnations of the love that—each in their own way—meant and continues to mean so much to them. And they would not be able to refuse to participate in the painting because it would be a chance to immortalize their passions.

And they would see themselves not just as individuals living out lives shaped, defined, by their own passions. They would see themselves as contemporary versions of star-crossed lovers, like any number of star-crossed lovers in the past who’ve lived and died in obscurity, like any number of star-crossed lovers in the future who would live and die in obscurity. But they would realize that the situation around them gave them the opportunity to create a kind of icon to the whole notion of passion and love. Three figures on a global stage—the Pope, the businessman’s wife, the now famous artist—could create a painting, an image, that would forever embody star-crossed love made real, even if momentarily. Dreams made real. The fires of passion and love made tangible. A kind of relic that would move into the future and forever be an example to the future that the incomprehensible can become real. Rarely. Through great suffering. Through the dedication of excruciating lifetimes. But the magical can become real.

And the artist and the woman would create a painting for the Pope.

Nobody would live happily ever after. But there would be a wildly cool painting to move into the future for everyone.

If I ever had to write the screenplay for a movie where Harrison Ford would star as the first American Pope, that’s the story I would tell.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Devouring Memory

A writer uses memories the way a jewelry maker uses rare metals and precious stones.

A less charitable view—a more Goblin Universe view—would be to say that writers use memories the way vampires or werewolves “use” hapless victims: they devour, digest and draw sustenance from them.

Potāto, potäto.


Jacqueline Jackson is a woman who writes books for kids. But her books are almost always fun for adults to read, too. Jacqueline has four children of her own, four daughters, Demi, Megan, Jillian and Elspeth. Many of Jacqueline’s experiences with her daughters end up in her fiction. Because all four of her daughters themselves love books and love writing, the girls sometimes have something to say about how their mother uses her own memories. Here is Jacqueline writing about a particular memory, with comments from Megan:

A couple of years ago I came across a box of chocolate-covered insects in a gourmet store. I thought it’d be a good joke to give them to the kids, they’d have fun taking them to school and showing their friends. So I bought the box and wrapped it and put it under the Christmas tree. I’ll let Megan proceed, for she read this bit and informed me scathingly I had it all wrong. Actually, she should start sooner: I’d written, “You could see the bees in the candies, and the ants,” and she wrote in the margin, “You couldn’t! They were wrapped in tinfoil and even when you opened it you could only see ants.” Well, as she continues:

“Demi said, ‘They’re real.’

“We laughed. ‘They’re malted milk,’ we said, and we argued a bit but Demi showed us hers—indeed, ants, that hadn’t been covered—floating mangled on hard chocolate. We were stricken but it was done, and after all, they were good. (It was too late for the sink, both of us had swallowed.)”

That last sentence was because in my account I had Jill running to wash her mouth out when she discovered her mistake. It just goes to show that if the event happens to you, your memory is apt to be more accurate than other people’s, even your mother’s. In defense, I hasten to add that I didn’t expect the girls to think the chocolate-covered insects were fake, and eat them, although there are, of course, cultures such as the Australian aborigines that relish insects. And Saint John there in the wilderness lived on locusts and wild honey; it always used to turn my stomach, back in Sunday School, to think of him munching down those creatures like potato chips.

from Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail,” by Jacqueline Jackson

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Thirty Year Old Mushroom

Actually it’s a thirty-one year old mushroom . . .

I’ve been cleaning out my house. I mean, cleaning out my house. Up in the attic I found two old paintings I made when I was seventeen years old. One was too large for me to scan. The other just barely fit on the flatbed of the scanner I use.

Over the years, I’ve posted drawings and colored drawings I’ve made. But I’ve never posted a painting. Partly that’s because although I’ve done some painted sketches in the last few years, I haven’t actually painting a real canvas for a long time. Also it’s because I think of Impossible Kisses as a literary blog and while drawings can complement prose, paintings—in my mind—deserve to be the center of attention. (When they’re painted by real painters, I mean, not by animation-wannabes like me.)

But a blast from my past—one from the vaults—is a different story. I don’t mind posting a painting I did when I was a teenager. Plus, it’s sort of a Goblin Universe kind of image.

This is an acrylic painting on a 9" by 12" canvas board. On the back, I signed it and dated it November 10, 1977. I remember painting this—and some others very similar—but I have no specific memories of my thought process. I remember quite a bit about the techniques behind this image, but almost nothing at all about the thinking behind the image. I’ve never assigned titles to my paintings, but I’m guessing this would be something like, ‘Mushroom on a Dark and Stormy Night:’

First I’m going to talk about what I don’t remember.

I don’t remember why I painted the mushroom dead center on the panel. As a teenager I’d been interested in photography for a long time so I knew that, compositionally, centering a subject was not a good thing to do.

I don’t remember why I painted the foreground and the background as completely separate planes, disconnected.

I don’t remember why I painted the mushroom green. So far as I remember, I’ve never seen a green mushroom. And so far as I know, mushrooms don’t even grow green—green is chlorophyll for turning sunlight to energy but mushrooms grow in the dark.

And I don’t remember why I painted a mushroom at all. I don’t have any particular mushroom jones, but at that point in my life I did paint quite a few mushrooms in some odd settings . . .

I do remember quite a bit about the techniques I used to make this painting.

When I was a teenager, I was a very big fan of the techniques of Nancy Kominsky. I didn’t—then—think much of her realistic, kind of sappy images, but I very much liked the way she created a wide range of paintings using only one or two palette knives and a very straightforward methodology.

I followed her general procedure almost religiously. (Come to think of it, now—thirty-one years later, when I paint, I still follow her procedure almost religiously and I still very much like using only one or two palette knives and a very straightforward methodology. Nancy Kominsky has colonized my brain!)

I would have used a brush to cover the canvas with an umber wash. I would have divided the canvas into thirds vertically and fifths horizontally. Then I would have used a brush and thicker umber paint to sketch the background and foreground. Then I would have used a palette knife to mix up three values for each local color in the painting—three values for the background, three for the stem, three for the cap and three for the underside of the cap. Then I would have used one or two painting knives to apply the paint, making an effort to get dynamic with the application—just strokes, dabbles, stipples and scratches—but to keep the application itself simple and unobtrusive at the same time.

Back then I used only Liquitex acrylics. [Liquitex has a very cool 50th Anniversary site.] I still like Liquitex paints. I believe they’re still the only paints that include full Munsell color information on every tube of paint. The conscious part of my brain likes having those numbers available. Nowadays I would paint with water soluble oils as a first choice because you get the same color intensity as acrylics but much longer drying time, more time to fix mistakes—or take advantage of ‘happy accidents.’ And if I were going to use acrylics I’d first reach for Winsor & Newton acrylics. Their paints have a unique texture—and smell!—that I like a little better than Liquitex. But I still like Liquitex!

It’s been fun looking back at this old painting. It’s made me miss the whole process of painting the Nancy Kominsky way. If I were going to create backgrounds for animation, I’d consider doing paintings in this fashion.

And I’ll be honest: Part of me would very much like to sit down (actually, back then I painted standing up) and do up a few more paintings like this right now. There are a couple of ‘cloud-scapes’ I’ve been wanting to paint. I’ve been wanting to paint a scene of the container of zinnias next to my house. And one or two other things. But I don’t think I can reasonably budget any of my time right now to puttering away painting. It’s one of those things with—so far as I can see—no hope for ROI (return-on-investment) of any kind. I think I have to be sensible, right now, and budget my time very thoughtfully.

But, you know, in my deepest secret soul I’d like to be painting . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fireflies (Not Synchronized) In My House

This summer the fireflies have been putting on beautiful shows in my backyard almost every evening. It’s very easy to see how Victorian types may have mistaken these insects for fairies. Their bodies hang down from their wings and look, in the evening shadows, very much like little winged humans fluttering about, glowing.

Oddly, this summer—unlike any other summer I can remember—I’ve been finding fireflies inside my house. This isn’t a bad thing, really, because I’m not afraid of bugs. But it’s a bit of an inconvenience. Most bugs that I find in my house I just smash. They have their world, I have mine. They should stay in theirs. But for a couple of reasons I regard fireflies as kind of magic, so I don’t smash them. I carefully catch them—usually in a paper cup—and carry them outside and release them.

I give fireflies a break first of all because of their connection to the fairy world. Every time I see fireflies in my backyard I imagine myself as some Victorian British eccentric looking around and seeing a whole different world fluttering around behind my house, a world of fairies and magic and endless unknowns that all will be exciting to learn about and categorize and tell the rest of the world about . . . Those were the days. Arthur Conan Doyle even got involved in some of that stuff . . .

Another reason I like fireflies is because contemporary scientists who study ‘emergent order’ often look to certain species of fireflies that flash either all at the same time or in patterns. This is called phase synchronization. Scientists don’t know exactly how hundreds or even thousands of insects with no connection to each other manage to get their lights blinking at—more or less—exactly the same time. But it is supposed to be a remarkable sight. Entire hillsides or shorelines flashing like high-tech light displays and it is only fireflies doing what comes naturally.

There are some fireflies who do this here in America—like those of North Carolina—but mostly you read about this stuff happening overseas. I’ve read the most about such fireflies in Southeast Asia.

In fact, one of my fantasies is sailing along some coast on the way to Cocos Keeling and as the gentle evening breeze ghosts my little sailboat along, I will sit back holding the tiller, my girl will lean against me, and we’ll both look to shore and watch the fireflies putting on their amazing show . . .

Yeah. It’s a good fantasy because it’s relaxing and cool and also it’s a way of sorting out potential girlfriends. Not every woman you meet—believe it or not—finds such a fantasy inviting.


Almost predictably the thought that not all girls would be entranced at the thought of cruising along a Coral Sea coast looking at glowing bugs reminds me of a song.

Here are the lyrics to Jacques Brel’s famous [famous?] “Bachelor’s Dance” song:

The girl that I will marry
Will have a heart so wise
That in the hollow of her eyes
My heart will want to tarry

The girl who will be mine
Will have skin so soft and tender
And when it comes December
Her skin will be my wine

And me I'll love her so
And she, she will love me
And our hearts burning slow
For at least a century

Through the window of life
We will go as girl and boy
To become man and wife
To become one with joy

No, it isn't you
The girl that I will marry
No, it isn't you
The girl who'll marry me

The girl that I will love
Will have a house of grace
All painted white, and there my soul
Will find its hiding place

The girl that I will love
Will do her vigil keeping
And late at night she'll tell me of
The children that are sleeping

And me, I'll love her so
And she, she will love me
We'll make a present of our love
To us and destiny

And we will take the sun
To dress our love in gold
For soon our youth is gone
For soon we must grow old

No, it isn't you
The girl that I will love
No, it isn't you
The girl that will love me

The girl that I will marry
Will age with happiness
For she will have a fireplace
And all my tenderness

The girl that I will marry
Will age without a fear
And like the wine grow mellower
With every passing year

And me, I'll love her so
And she, she will love me
And we will write a song
For all the joys that used to be

And when we leave this earth
Our eyes still filled with love
We'll send a flower down to hell
And up to heaven above

Ah, won't she come to me
The girl that I will marry
Who will she be
The girl who'll marry me

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Frank Frazetta’s Pencils

The fountain pen provides a wonderful, convenient on-the-spot drawing instrument. Combine the fountain pen with a sketch pad and you’ll have a portable studio. Wherever and whenever you find yourself with even a few minutes, you can react spontaneously to all the visual stimulation around you.

Unlike the ballpoint pen or roller-tipped makers, the flexible point of the fountain pen offers a line that responds to your individual touch. The amount of pressure you exert on your drawing surface will create a thick and thin line of an extremely personal nature. This results in differences similar to those of your individual handwriting. Anything that helps separate your work from another artist’s is important to making your statement that much more personal.

When my instructions in class were still met with moans and groans, I would introduce the work of Frank Frazetta, a popular artist and a close friend. Frank, Angelo Torres, and I were part of a small group of young men who played ball and hung around together in Brooklyn. We also shared drawing interests and occasionally attended life-drawing sketch classes at the Brooklyn Museum and the Art Students League.

Frazetta had little formal art education, but he was a “natural” from the very start. Invariably, someone in our classroom would approach him during the break, look over Frank’s shoulder, and ask him about his drawing materials. Some of them actually attempted to buy his “miraculous media” with which he had captured the living form so beautifully and effortlessly. Frazetta never understood why anyone would want to buy his chewed-up pencil stumps!

“They don’t even have erasers!” he said incredulously.

How absurd to think it was the drawing instrument and not the artist’s hand that was responsible for remarkable drawings.

I like pencils. I mean, I like pencils.

I own, literally, hundreds of pencils.

I have graphite pencils. Pastel pencils. Watercolor pencils. Colored pencils that are wax based. Colored pencils that are clay based. Charcoal pencils. Thick pencils, thin pencils, hard pencils and soft pencils. I even have some high tech pencils that dissolve in water and look like an ink wash.

My thinking and use of pencils has changed a lot over the last few years.

Back when I used to spend days and days creating a single cartoon in pencil [“Stacy Wanted To Cry”] I tried many different types and brands of pencils. But I eventually settled on using only Derwent graphite pencils. I used to do endless stumping and erasing to create careful value ranges and gradations. Every brand of pencil I tried—except Derwent—eventually started looking dirty and clumpy as I worked and re-worked the graphite on the paper. But Derwent remained beautifully clean, pure and smooth. I don’t generally recommend one brand over another, but in my experience for very careful, very demanding work Derwent is uniquely well made.

However, that being said, over time I moved away from spending hours and hours spread over many days on a single image. I tried to loosen up, to accomplish useful results more quickly.

Now I find myself almost never using a pencil that needs to be sharpened. Now, in fact, I almost never use “art” products but stick to simple materials that I can find in office supply stores. Most office supply stores sell a wide variety of mechanical pencils in a range from .5mm through .9mm. That makes a nice range for scribbling through to fine, detailed work. And, although these pencils are invariably sold with a medium hardness graphite, I do make a trip to a real art store now and then—craft stores don’t cut it—and I buy little packs of soft and hard graphite sticks in .5mm, .7mm and .9mm sizes. I use that rather than the stuff that comes with the mass-market pencils. The quality of the graphite on paper after even a little stumping and erasing isn’t as great as Derwent pencils, but it is generally okay. And I really have become accustomed to not having to sharpen the mechanical pencils. I don’t want to go back.

My favorite pencils now are Papermate Clicksters. They come in colors (the pencils I mean, not their leads). They hold the graphite sticks very firmly. And they have a great feel in my hand. I’ve only found them in .5mm and .7mm sizes so I also use some BIC varieties of mechanical pencils to get .9mm points. I’ve found it pays to try many different types of mass-market mechanical pencils because some simply feel awful whereas some feel great.

I’m pretty happy using mass-market mechanical pencils.

For color, now, I generally use oil pastels or mass-market ink markers or even art store inks or paints of one variety or another.

But I’ve got a whole cabinet full of a dozen or more different kinds of pencils that are great, but when you use them they need to be sharpened.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.

Normally I think of myself as very happily living in the past. But there are some aspects of the past I feel no imperative at all to re-visit.

I don’t want to go back to sharpening pencils.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vic Mizzy

A few months ago I was talking to someone on the internet about the death of Alexander Courage.

(Who was Alexander Courage? Well, everyone remembers the theme from ‘Star Trek.’ How many people know who composed that music? People like me know. Alexander Courage composed the theme music from ‘Star Trek.’ And ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.’ And a lot of other cool stuff.)

I know that not because I’m a music buff—although I do like music. I know stuff like that because, as I mentioned in passing once, I’ve always thought it was a good idea to develop and maintain a skill set that would make it possible for me someday to create a complete animated movie all by myself. So, I know a little about drawing. I know a little about lighting and photography. I know a little about performing. I know a little about editing. And I know a little about sound design and music.

Technology makes it possible, nowadays, for one person to put all those kinds of things together and actually make a movie. Not, of course, something of Pixar quality. But something cool. (I’ve got a number of original ideas I’d like to try out, story-wise. But even though I’d try to make my first projects as commercial as possible, in the back of my mind I’d be thinking of them as training exercises, preparing me to someday make an animated film called, ‘Ophelia and Hamlet.’ I’d tell that story right . . .)

But, anyway, not long ago I was talking on the ’net about Alexander Courage dying and the person I was talking to [laughed] and said that he was getting worried about Vic Mizzy.

Now I generally figure people like me are supposed to at least recognize names when I hear them, but I didn’t remember ever even hearing the name Vic Mizzy before. So I checked into it. And—damn it!Vic Mizzy is a very cool guy that I should have known all about.

So I’m giving him his own post here on IK!

First of all, Vic Mizzy is a composer who wrote the theme songs for famous TV shows like ‘Green Acres’ and ‘The Addams Family.’ Of course, in my world, that is more than enough right there to make him worthy of a post. But Vic Mizzy also did something very, very special:

Vic Mizzy wrote the music for my favorite haunted house movie of all time: “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

I’ve seen my share of good haunted house movies. Kubrick’s ‘The Shining.’ ‘The Legend of Hell House,’ from Matheson’s novel and script. Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting.’

Those are all great films that have amazing, memorable performances and scenes.

But I wouldn’t really describe them as ‘fun’ movies.

‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ is a very fun movie and, more than just being fun, it strikes me as a kind of ‘complete’ movie. It has memorable performances—a good villain, a good love interest, and, of course, Don Knotts as the bumbling ‘hero.’ It has memorable visuals. And the music is creepy, entertaining and memorable.

‘The Legend of Hell House’ is probably my favorite ‘serious’ haunted house movie—I’ll always remember the great Roddy McDowall’s character being asked how his tortured involvement with the haunted house had ended and he simply looked over and said something like, “If it had ended, we wouldn’t be here now.” But the movie had such a lame ending that it kind of spoils the earlier thrills once you know how trivial the ‘big’ payoff will be.

‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ works all the way through—It doesn’t set out to be more than an entertaining bit of cinema but it succeeds at that amazingly well.

And, with the organ music being so pivotal to the story and the story telling, Vic Mizzy’s work plays a big part in creating the movie experience.

Vic Mizzy. Very cool guy.

Vic Mizzy Wiki Page

Vic Mizzy’s Website

Monday, July 14, 2008

Friday I Visited A Haunted House (A Befuddlement)

Our friendship is a haunted house story.

At first it was a cottage. A refuge.
Tea in the kitchen. Ice cream on the porch.
Cool conversations in the library.

Then it was odd sounds from just out of sight.
A cold breeze but all the windows are shut.
A book no one’s reading falls off a shelf.

Then it was empty. An abandoned thing.
A shape. Hollow. House-shaped, but just a shape.
We walked outside it. Looked in. Stayed away.

Then it was a strange, silly memory.
We stood outside. Looked in. Dared each other
to go inside. One last walk through the house.

We held hands. Walked in. And ran out screaming.

Friday, July 11, 2008


As in science and other things I do, I expect to measure progress in decades. But as we enter Mathematica’s third decade, it feels as if it’s just now really getting started.

What we’ve already built is incredibly solid.

What will come next is made possible by everything that has gone before.

Stephen Wolfram, June 23, 2008
Mathematica Turns 20 Today

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Trouble At Yerkes Observatory

Oh, Trouble, set me free
I have seen your face
And it’s too much, too much for me

Oh, Trouble, can’t you see
You’re eating my heart away
And there’s nothing much left of me

    I’ve drunk your wine
    You have made your world mine
    So won’t you be fair
    So won’t you be fair

    I don’t want no more of you
    So won’t you be kind to me
    Just let me go where
    I’ll have to go there

Oh, Trouble, move away
I have seen your face
And it’s too much for me today

Oh, Trouble, can’t you see
You have made me a wreck
Now won’t you leave me in my misery . . .

Not too long ago I described myself as something like a supervillain without a supervillain’s fortune. I still suspect this is a pretty accurate description of me, but trouble these days is a widespread thing.

Yerkes observatory is having quite a lot of trouble, too. This is intriguing to me because Yerkes would make a great supervillain’s lair.

Yerkes observatory is more than just an observatory. Yerkes was the first modern observatory ever built, the first observatory designed from the ground-up to be not just a shelter for a telescope but rather a complete center for astrophysics research. It isn’t just a dome, the observatory complex includes lab spaces, technical workshops, living quarters and other facilities. (A complete and entertaining—big science is funded by rich people and rich people bring not just money to their patronage, but oddball politics and social maneuvering—history of Yerkes is: Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution)

Almost from the start, however, astronomers and physicists didn’t much like Wisconsin winters. And, compared to mountain-top locations, Wisconsin skies are not the best for serious observing.

Yerkes set the style for future observatories—big glass and wide-ranging support facilities. But the dynamics of observing quickly shifted the world of astronomy west to locations of high elevation that delivered steady seeing and hundreds of clear nights per year.

The University of Chicago has tried to sell Yerkes over the last decade or so. Every deal has fallen through because developers simply cannot run Yerkes as a research institution and every deal has included re-development plans for the land surrounding the observatory which Wisconsin residents are unhappy with. I believe UIC currently is hoping to continue to run Yerkes as a kind of science ‘out-reach’ facility, doing tours and tourist stuff, classes and photo-ops.

But I suspect, sooner rather than later, as has happened, sadly, to a great many lesser observatories, Yerkes will be sold and ‘de-constructed’—I don’t imagine the main dome and telescope will be discarded (although a great many observatories and telescopes have been destroyed over the years). I imagine the land around the main building will be turned into housing developments and the main building and telescope will become simply a tourist attraction.


But if I were to acquire—through supervillain guile or whatever—a supervillain fortune, I have resolved to save not just myself, but also Yerkes observatory.

I will preserve and subsidize the facilities as originally designed, as an astrophysics research center. A great deal of astrophysics nowadays is built around computers and scientists can sit at computer screens as comfortably in Wisconsin as anywhere else. (Well, given an appropriate heating budget and an appropriate support staff they can.)

Just as Yerkes re-defined astronomy as astrophysics more than a century ago, with proper funding I think Yerkes could re-define contemporary astrophysics by bringing it into line with Wolfram’s “new kind of science” approach to research.

And, while the scientists are working away in their laboratories, I will be in my office somewhere deep in the heart of the complex plotting away at my supervillain schemes. And sometimes late at night I will take my supervillain-type beautiful sidekick into the main dome and raise the floor to the big refractor’s eyepiece and dazzle her with big glass views of the heavens.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Losing Cool

One time at a chess tournament the guy I was playing wasn’t very good so during the times when I was waiting for my opponent to move I paid a lot of attention to other matches going on.

The most interesting match of the round was going on right next to me.

My friend Al, a very good player, was playing someone who also was very good. Their game was going slowly. The opening had progressed with almost no exchanges and the mid-game had evolved into a complex struggle for control of the center.

Time ticked away as Al and his opponent carefully considered every move.

In tournament chess, players typically get two hours to make their first 40 moves. (Each player is timed independently. Their clock only runs when it is their turn.)

Al and his opponent were both taking their time, but Al was taking more time. As my own game dragged through a routine mid-game and end-game, the match next to me remained mired in a complex mid-game as my friend Al’s clock edged closer to the two hour mark.

I actually slowed down my play so I could continue to watch the match next to me. I was not in time trouble, so I just pretended to be thinking carefully about my moves.

When the two hour mark came around for my friend Al, the flag on his clock—those were the days of mechanical clocks—tipped up, worked past the warning period and fell as he continued to think carefully about a move.

Although the position on the board was evenly matched, my friend Al had lost “on time.” His two hour allotment of time had run out before he reached his 40th move. Al lost. He and his opponent stood up, stopped their clocks and shook hands. But after talking a bit, they agreed—just for fun—to finish playing out the game without the clocks, just to see how the mid-game would work out itself.

That was the first time I ever saw anyone lose a chess match “on time.”

It’s difficult to describe the shock I felt watching Al’s flag fall. I quickly finished up my game. I won, and went outside to get some air. I never even bothered to ask Al who won his game when they played out the position.

When I did talk to Al later, I asked him what the heck he’d been thinking of. I said, “There are lots of ways to get moves out when you’re in time trouble. You can concentrate on advancing pawns. Or you can do even exchanges to simplify the board. Why did you let yourself lose on time?”

Al took a breath and just kind of shrugged. “The position was so beautiful,” he said, “that I didn’t want to spoil it with, you know, techniques. Everything was so complicated and pure that I thought it was better to just let things run their course, and lose, rather than to muddy up the beauty of the game with trivial moves just to get out from under time trouble.”

“But you lost,” I said.

“Yeah,” Al said. “One game. But I got to play it out. It was worth it.”

I’ve always remembered that tournament. I have almost no memory at all of how I did in my other matches. But I remember the match I played sitting next to Al. And I remember his game and our talk about his game. I think about it often. And not just when I’m thinking about chess or games in general.


Southern Cross,” by CSN

Got out of town on a boat
to the southern islands,
sailing a reach
before a following sea.
She was making for the trades
on the outside
on the downhill run
to Papeete.

Off the wind on this heading
lie the Marquesas.
We got eighty feet of the waterline
nicely making waves.
In a noisy bar in Avalon
I tried to call you.
But on a midnight watch I realized
why twice you ran away.

Think about—
Think about how many times
I have fallen.
Spirits are using me,
larger voices calling.
What heaven brought you and me
cannot be forgotten.

I have been around—
I have been around the world
looking for a woman-girl
who knows it will—
who knows love can endure.

And you know it will—
And you know it will.

When you see the Southern Cross
for the first time
you understand now
why you came this way.
Cause the truth you might be running from
is so small
but it’s as big as the promise,
the promise of a coming day.

So I’m sailing for tomorrow,
my dreams are a-dying.
My love is an anchor tied to you,
tied with a silver chain.
I have my ship
and all her flags are a-flying.
She is all that I have left
and MUSIC is her name.

Think about—
Think about how many times
I have fallen.
Spirits are using me,
larger voices calling.
What heaven brought you and me
cannot be forgotten.

I have been around
I have been around the world,
looking for that woman-girl
who knows it will—
who knows love can endure.

And you know it will—
And you know it will.

So we cheated and we lied
and we tested.
We never failed to fail,
it was the easiest thing to do.
You will survive being vested.
Somebody fine
will come along
make me forget about loving you

at the Southern Cross . . .

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Rogue Blossoms

That’s another thing about gardening: You make bets with Fate.

Spring Planting And A Beehive Update

A little more than a month ago I did my spring planting. I planted marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, daisies and moss roses in ground plots and a couple of containers.

Progress has been, generally, good. But not great.

The daisies haven’t sprouted at all. The moss roses have come up thinly. The ground plots of marigolds have come up thinly. The lines of cosmos have sprouted, yep, thinly.

The two containers of marigolds and zinnias are doing best of all.

I’m afraid I may have failed to thin the sprouts enough. There may be two or three too many plants in each container, but I never have the heart to pull up the little guys right after they sprout. I’m trying to help along the crowded containers by giving them extra water and plant food.

But all my carefully laid planting was beaten by a marigold plant that somehow went off on its own.

The first flower, the first blossom to bloom, in my garden this year was a marigold plant in one of my ground plots. But instead of being in the line I’d planted at the front of the plot, the plant to bloom first was a seed that somehow got tossed or washed way to the back and way to the side of the little rectangle of land. The plant to bloom first is growing by itself, deep in the shade of a rose bush, directly in harm’s way by the opening of a rain gutter’s downspout.

But the little marigold sprouted, dug in its roots, survived the shade and rushing rain water, and grew strong, fast and blossomed before any other plants in my garden.

Cool plant!

“. . . the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

Ian Malcolm

Monday, July 07, 2008

Monster Types

I think there are three monster types.

Some monsters you can fight. But some
monsters you can only run from.
And some monsters are such monsters
that you can’t fight or run away.
Some monsters—raging zombie hordes,
shifting swarms of mutant insects,
insidious bacteria—
can overwhelm anybody.

The plot, then, must be built around
how the hero confronts sure death.

That’s what aesthetics is: It’s life
in the abstract. The many parts
of one’s self reduced to hero
and some supporting characters.
And how the hero faces death—
death, that is sure, unbeatable—
can be us in situations
where every choice we have is bad,
where we know part of us will die
and we—readers of our own life—
want the story to be worthwhile
before we open the next book.

Heroes die, but there are more books.
Parts of us die, but life goes on.
But plots, characters, settings change . . .

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Harp-like Strings Inside The Piano

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man

Don’t it always seem to go
That we don’t know what we’ve got
Till it’s gone

They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

Big Yellow Taxi
Joni Mitchell

Legend is that Joni wrote that song about the death of her father.


I haven’t written much about death. One of my unpublished [damn it!] novels is a vampire novel. In my monster story, when the hero’s girlfriend is killed, becomes a vampire and is killed again, the hero, Andy, decides that he no longer wants to live himself. He resolves simply to walk into the underground lair of the vampires and allow them to kill him. When he is there, however, confronted by the monsters, literally face-to-face with death, he finds himself fighting back, struggling against the vampires, against the death he thought he’d welcome. Friends of his—Robert, Ginger, Cheryl—follow him underground and join him as he fights.

This is the final moment of the novel:

... The thing that hit the floor made very little noise. As Andy stepped over the remains, the clothing collapsed onto disintegrating bones.

Cheryl stood over the body of the second female vampire. The piece of wood Andy had tossed to her protruded from the vampire’s chest. A complete cross hung limply in Cheryl’s hand. Her flashlight lay on the floor next to the other dead female vampire.

Andy slowly moved his light from the vampire corpses to the cross in Cheryl’s hand. She turned to look at him. The circle of light moved to her neck. Andy touched the skin of her neck. Under his fingertips, Cheryl’s skin was warm. She raised her free hand and touched the inside of Andy’s wrist. Neither said anything. They felt, they listened to, each other’s pulse.

A strobe light flashed.

White lights danced above and around them.

Andy and Cheryl looked up. Expression returned to their faces.

Ginger, with Robert steadying her, stood taking pictures through the hole in the floor. Policemen with silver crosses dangling from their necks and shotguns and flashlights circled the hole.

“Man,” Robert shouted down, fixing Andy in a flashlight beam, “you’ve got some kind of serious problem.”

The strobe light on Ginger’s camera continued to cycle and flash.

Cheryl looked down. She saw the remains of the piano on the floor. With a sweeping motion of her foot, her toe struck the harp-like strings inside the piano.

Andy shook his head at Robert. “No way,” Andy said. His voice was rough as his throat recovered from the vampire’s strangle hold.

Cheryl kicked again at the strings.

“Life,” Andy said, upward, “is for the living.”

from “Too Weird A Romance of Corruption
By Mark Warrian [that’s me]

I guess I’ve written a little bit about death.


My Mom passed away Wednesday. She died peacefully in her own home, as comfortable as possible in her own room. Her beloved cat, Fluffy, was sleeping nearby.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

2008 2nd Quarter Index

June, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008 -- Rerun: In The Realms Of The Unreal Right Here

Friday, June 27, 2008 -- Pink Floyd Laughter

Thursday, June 26, 2008 -- Haunted

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 -- “A Concept That I Felt Was Right”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 -- No SOB

Monday, June 23, 2008 -- Sparrow And Moon

Friday, June 20, 2008 -- Relentless

Thursday, June 19, 2008 -- Diagnosis

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 -- Doctors

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 -- The Underlying Theme

Monday, June 16, 2008 -- The Autographic Value Of Photographs

Friday, June 13, 2008 -- The Act Of Making Was The Prayer

Thursday, June 12, 2008 -- Unicorns

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 -- As Far Away As Can Be

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 -- The Cusp Of Chatting

Monday, June 09, 2008 -- Wildflowers Out Back

Friday, June 06, 2008 -- Half The Zodiac

Thursday, June 05, 2008 -- The Moon In The Evening Sky

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 -- Sheldrake: Orchestras To Planetary Systems

Tuesday, June 03, 2008 -- Sickness

Monday, June 02, 2008 -- Change

May, 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008 -- No Time, No distance

Thursday, May 29, 2008 -- Libra And The Light Polluted Sky

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 -- Libra And The Alchemical Sky

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 -- Cocos Keeling Is Calling

Monday, May 26, 2008 -- Brian May—Old News But Good News

Friday, May 23, 2008 -- Mars Almost In The Beehive

Thursday, May 22, 2008 -- Let’s Go To The Library And Scare Ourselves

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 -- Open Clusters And Colorful Doubles

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 -- The Season’s First Monarch

Monday, May 19, 2008 -- Spring Planting And A Beehive Update

Friday, May 16, 2008 -- Horoscopes Without Dates

Thursday, May 15, 2008 -- Whispering On The Moon

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 -- Pumpkin Mars In The New Myth Sky

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 -- Terre Battue

Monday, May 12, 2008 -- Bad Kites (Recruitment Literature)

Friday, May 09, 2008 -- I Am Here

Thursday, May 08, 2008 -- A Jamie Update

Wednesday, May 07, 2008 -- Orange Lindsay

Tuesday, May 06, 2008 -- Like A Monster

Monday, May 05, 2008 -- Astronomy And Impressionism

Friday, May 02, 2008 -- Break A Leg

Thursday, May 01, 2008 -- Dobsonian

April, 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 -- Mainstream Violence And Women

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 -- A Short Ode To A Quick Sketch

Monday, April 28, 2008 -- Checking In With The Gods

Friday, April 25, 2008 -- “Boat Names” and Pilate’s Question

Thursday, April 24, 2008 -- My ‘Driving Miss Shelly’ Story

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 -- My Litter Box Story

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 -- My Eric Von Zipper Story

Monday, April 21, 2008 -- Just Got Back From Feverville, Kansas

Friday, April 18, 2008 -- If Beethoven Were A Fish

Thursday, April 17, 2008 -- One Degree Of Richard Brautigan

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 -- Something Strange Here, Something Almost Magical

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 -- Alone In The Dark

Monday, April 14, 2008 -- Three Recent Monster Movies (Plus One)

Friday, April 11, 2008 -- Where’s Polonius? — And ‘Trixie’

Thursday, April 10, 2008 -- Where’s Polonius? — And Jasper Johns

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 -- Memories As Sacred As Stained Glass

Tuesday, April 08, 2008 -- Beard Talk

Monday, April 07, 2008 -- Where’s Polonius — And The Real Emma Peel

Friday, April 04, 2008 -- Rocks And Mirrors: Scenes That Never Return

Thursday, April 03, 2008 -- Looking Back At Butterflies From Atlantis

Wednesday, April 02, 2008 -- Politics, Philosophy And Hillary Duff

Tuesday, April 01, 2008 -- 2008 1st Quarter Index