Saturday, July 30, 2005

Toys, again and a look at "Star Play"

Likely, I should be reading instead of writing, distracting myself instead of digging in. But the darkness is worrisome. It has the urgency of a splinter. It begs to be picked out, gotten rid of. But it's not a splinter and can't be plucked out with tweezers. It's more like a sore tooth on a weekend. You know you have to wait for the dental appointment, but you can't leave it alone. You keep touching it with your tongue. Owww.
So, yes, I keep dwelling on it, thinking about it, hoping I'll see something I missed, some clue to a fix that circumnavigates the truth of chemistry and psysiology. Some magic mantra, trick of the mind, new insight.
I tell myself that This Will Pass. and Things Will Get Better
I believe this, on a certain level, but it's not the one I'm operating on at the moment. I say the phrases over and over to myself until they become symbols (like 'billion" and "trillion") for concepts that I recognize but can't truly grasp. They are reduced to abstractions and I can't remember feeling good any better than I can imagine a billion.
Is this whining? Admittedly, maybe. The future me who is back in the studio and working won't have much patience with this crap. Perhaps you don't either, and I don't blame you one bit.
Still, I promised to share the good the bad and the ugly---it says so right there on the heading of the journal. I believe it's what you came here for.

I made a wooden sword for Orion, but he was so impatient for it he wouldn't wait for me to paint it. When all else fails, we go back to the toys. Making the toys. Perhaps, deep down, I'm really an elf. That would explain a couple of things.

Here is the painting I was working on in the post last week with Orion. He is not finished with his painting yet, he tells me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Postcard from Lisa

I’ve gone to dark places; spaces where geometry twists itself until returning stretches impossibly longer than the going. Grief lives there, alongside Regret. Those two move quietly, catching us unguarded, or sleeping. They wrapped a smothering blanket around my mind. It’s skillfully made, of patchwork-diamond memories, stitched around every edge with fear. Delicate needlework, so precise, is only possible by familiar, serial hands. Mine.
Others have these skills too.
Chemistry, physiology, genetics,
Ecology, Economy, Complexity.
Each one’s travels are unique.
Everyone’s pain similar.
Something follows behind me, crawling this narrow, crumb-strewn trail home.
See anything yet?
Maybe tomorrow.
Let’s hope.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Bad news, Weird Winds and People Soup

We woke early to hear the bad news from Egypt and to oppressive cloud cover and still, hot, humid air. It feels...forboding.
Last night we had hot winds from the East, which are rare and smell of the Salton Sea. There was lightning, but nothing severe.
Today we'll keep things simple. A little painting, and kids in the pool. Not me though, it's too warm. We were in yesterday and Gurtie came up for a taste. Ummm, people soup.

I'm working on a puppet piece in the studio that I'm eager to get back to. Maybe tonight.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Can't keep the beat

I’m noticing that all the people in this house, and most of the people I’m running into in the desert, are becoming a little, well, mad. Forgetful, irritable, and just off-kilter. It happens every summer but I’ve always attributed it to conspicuous circumstances. For instance, Pete’s stage work is dead (lots of re-runs in summer). He gets the occasional TV poker game (yay), but mostly, a big bucket o' nothin’. I don’t go to conventions in summer because of that, and because the kids are out of school, so I’m not selling much art either.
That and the heat is enough to make one cranky. But, what about the insanity? Is it possible that this summer thing goes deeper? To some primal level? I’m just thinking off the cuff here, but it seems a reasonable direction. Consider the endless days and nights of Alaska. People get weirded out during those periods. Here in the desert, we’re not getting any relief from the heat, i.e., night cools us to a brisk 99 or so. Is it possible that the intense heat is mimicking light in our collective psyche, denying us our normal circadian rhythm?

I mentioned it to Ravyn yesterday. This is just the kind of thing that gets me into trouble---sending me off on some research tangent. Sigh. You can take the girl out of the laboratory…….

Even Gurtie is affected. She sat in my lap for a full minute this morning. But I can't rule out the lox factor.

Any thoughts on this one?

Have a good day, guys. Again, thoughts for friends in London. Damn.

I'm off to make art. Crazy, crazy art.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No Sign of BigFoot

Even at 6000ft, it is still too hot for Sasquatch. So, here are my feet, and the neighbor’s houses, and between us, miles of trees (which makes for good fences).
It is beautiful up here, and very nice to see some respectable trees, but still and humid and oddly claustrophobic, so we come back down to the desert, where, at 7pm, it's 117 outside.

Orion stands at the back door in his flotation vest, while I repeat my instructions:

Don’t touch the door.
Don’t touch the knob.
Stay on the rugs. Don’t step off the rugs.
Go quickly to the shade.

We’ve rigged extra shade with pvc pipes and open-weave cotton blankets, hung like camouflage netting.

I keep thinking that there’s a story in this while I follow Orion on the path of rugs.

The water thermometer reads 95.

There’s this device we can install (next year) that shoots a fountain of pool water high into the air so that it cools upon falling.

It didn’t get this bad last year. I may have to give up my little patch of lawn out front.

Orion takes off through the water. I spend some time stretching----I’m stiff and sore, mentally too. I’ve worked intensely on the Nebula Awards illustration for several days that became increasingly frustrating until this afternoon, in a moment of clarity, I decided to do something I do very, very rarely; scratch it and start over.

Pete said, in reference to filmmaking, know your limitations. The concept I’ve been working on embodies the elements I wanted it to, but doesn’t work for me. I’m out of my area of expertise.

I looked at it for a long time. What’s wrong? It’s a broad view with subjects in the foreground and an expansive background.
It’s not… Why not?
Because I don’t do scenic work often. A style has to develop with experience, over time. This is just the way it is and there is no shortcut around it. I haven’t developed the painting skills or vision for this kind of composition.
Sculpture tends to be more like a close up portrait, or a short story.

I could have finished the current painting to the best of my ability in about four hours. It would be okay--would look fine on a badge or flyer, but the execution is generic. Think “The Watchtower”, think Heimlich poster.

OK. Shit. So, where to go from here?

Know your strengths.

If I’d taken a little more time to think this through before I started, I’d have saved myself many hours of hard work. Measure twice, cut once, all that. But… I didn’t.

I needed to look at what I do best in three dimensions and do that, in two.

I reset. I let go of the work and the hours gone. I walked around and looked at sculpture. I sketched out a new composition. Already I look forward to working on it tomorrow. It looks….cool. It will work.

There’s a throng of ants marching around the rim of the pool. We trace it. It goes nearly all the way around. Hundreds of thousands of ants. What are they doing? We can’t touch the rim without risk of getting stung.
I wash them away. It’s another honest moment. I enjoy being high up on the food chain. We edge ourselves around the pool and splash them out of existance.

Then we float about with no remorse on the water until the sky turns gray, the water gets dark and the bats come out. We dry off before the stars appear.

The night sky would remind me that, in the larger scale, we are the ants. I know this, but for the moment I’d rather swim in the shallows and enjoy my fucking opposable thumb. Oh yeah, and my (relative to ants) big, big brain.

So, tomorrow, I paint with what I know: my limits, and my strengths. It’s supposed to cool down to a brisk 109, but with higher humidity.

I found the story too. I jotted down the outline and put it in my ‘raw ideas’ file, where it will enjoy the same odds of being retrieved as a message in a bottle.

We do what we can.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Run for the Hills

OK, that's it. It's too hot for humans. At least too hot for humans to think, so we're doing what any brave desert dweller does---we're running, to higher elevations and cooler air.

I won't have any internet connection up there, but will take the camera, just in case we see big foot.

Back in twenty-four, or so.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Change in Timbre

For a couple of years (in that other life I mention occasionally) my job was to make karyotypes, the short definition of which is to create a photograph of an individual's chromosomes. Cool, huh? Actually, it sort of was. I'd stain the slides before photographing to make the individual bands of the chromosomes show up. That way I could identify them and put them in pairs, in order. Sometimes, after a long day of karyotyping, I'd leave the lab only to see chromosome bands everywhere I looked. The stripes on my tabby's tail, the pattern in a towel, markings on the pavement or fence posts were like chromosome afterimages on my brain.

Today I got the same sort of effect. It's still too hot to even attempt to cool the studio enough to work, so I worked instead on the illustration for next year's Nebula Award ceremony. I enjoyed working with pencils again. It's a good thing too, because I have some grueling two-dimensional work coming up soon and need to get my 'pencil fingers' back in shape. This time it was a drawing (which will become a painting) with a couple hundred puzzle pieces in it. Now they're everywhere.

Well, at least they're not in groups of three...

My right hand hurts up to my shoulder. Drawing does use different muscles than sculpting, though probably I'm working harder due to lack of practice.

So, I shall have a swim in the dark and look for puzzle pieces out there, else they'll show up in my dreams.

Gurtie update: I left the room for a bit and came back to find her sprawled out over the pages I was working on, doing her best to edge them off the table and onto the floor. Gee, I think she's beginning to like me.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We hide, like turtles...

Stephanie Hilpert is a poet who lives here in Palm Springs. Stephanie has a unique way about her that most people don’t get at first and some, never. After you get to know her and learn that she has interacted most of her life with a father who is wont to rants, lives (by choice) on the streets in and around the desert cities, and occasionally wears aluminum foil on his head, you begin to appreciate her. MTV produced and ran a piece about this relationship in 2000. Her “Daughter of a Rogue” was published as a chapbook by Green Bean Press. She is looking for someone to publish Daughter and other poetry in her body of work and is putting most of her efforts into work on a screenplay about her father. If you get to know Stephanie, well, you love her, both because of and in spite of the blinding chiaroscuro that surrounds her.

It’s officially one hundred and twenty degrees hot here today. I think of Stephanie on days like this. She is likely out looking for her father somewhere on some edge of town, with a cooler full of iced water in her car.

Here is an excerpt from “ Daughter of a Rogue”





It's 6:42. Once again we all retreat into the water, which is amost too warm, but we're grateful for it. Blue is a good color for disappearing into.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Here is an unfinished form, paper mache on armature. A lot of the puppet pieces I do start out looking a bit like this. I'll be sending this one to my friend Pam in Redondo Beach. Pam does amazing things with beads. I thought she might like to make an amazing bead costume. She said she thinks she'd like that too. I told her to go 'hog wild' and do whatever she wanted. She'll send it back, and based on what she's done, I'll paint and sculpt hands (and most likely things in them) and we will have a full-blown collaboration.
I'll take photos of the stages and post them here so you can see the results. It will be fun, I think.

White Queen on Her Square-Detail

It's been quite some time since I've made any of these 'paper doll' figures. Not that I haven't wanted to, but I've been way behind schedule. I started this one months ago, and it has sat patiently in the studio, gathering dust. Finally today I am finished.

White Queen on Her Square

The sculpture is 25 inches tall and the base is a very old chess board which actually, was the inspiration for the sculpture in the first place. It was really satisfying to do something so very gothic, and so completely monochromatic.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

In Praise of Doing the Day Job--nearly a sermon

Day Job is the label we aspiring, creative types give our ‘real jobs’ to send the precise and clear message that ‘we are more than we appear.’ Some, so afraid of being mistaken for a mere cashier, waiter, computer technician, dental assistant, or file clerk, reflexively blurt out that they are ‘really’ artists, actors, writers, acrobats or musicians, which annoys disinterested customers and offends coworkers who actually are cashiers, waiters, computer technicians, dental assistants or file clerks. A job is a contract---while we’re in it, we are it, no matter how talented we may be or how much Vonnegut we’ve read. Conversely, serving coffee at Starbucks doesn’t make a pianist less of a pianist. I’m thinking, it could actually make someone a better actor---keeping a straight face while asking $9.85 for two coffees probably takes real talent.
If we constantly remind ourselves that we are capable of more than our day jobs we can become resentful of the job. Sound familiar? Of course. We should all be in well-lit studios, with top-notch equipment and an adoring assistant, making masterpieces! Why aren’t we? (We all have our own reasons. Figure yours out for yourself, get over it and move on.)
So, these attitudes---resentment to apathy--- only can keep us from performing the “day” job as well as we could, thwarting potential pay increases or advances that might allow us the well-lit studio, or supplies, or classes that would make us better artists. Are we afraid that if we do a really good, honest, informed job of selling audio equipment or packing boxes it will diminish us as artists? Why? We can do both. Our brains are plenty big enough.
For me, it seems to take a lot less energy to concentrate on what I’m doing (e.g. paying bills, cleaning the studio, chauffeuring the kids) at the moment than to be wishing I were making art instead.
That’s not to say that I’ve never been inspired while scrubbing pots. It happens. I jot it down and get to it later. Sometimes I’m frustrated that I can’t just drop everything and start welding armature. But, once in a while it is possible, with a little creative re-arranging. Picking up my son from daycare can’t wait. Folding the laundry can, as can seeing a movie with friends. It’s all about choices. We can be flexible and moderate, mostly, and go hog-wild, once in a blue moon, just to keep sane. ( A supportive spouse, friend, or offspring can be a real help here.)
Except for an imaginary few, professional artists have day jobs too. The paying jobs are not necessarily the inspired ones. Maintaining a studio requires a lot of work that isn’t remotely artistic. The same balance applies. We can easily fall into the trap of ‘saving’ our energies for our personally inspired works so we end up holding back our best. I would imagine an artist who has moved through many phases of work, asked to go back again and again, to the unicorns he began with, or a successful musician who has evolved styles and is required to play old favorites over and over, must have to make a real effort to perform these 'jobs' well.
Is it possible that by ‘holding back’ on our day jobs, just slogging through, counting the hours until we get out and on to work that is ‘worthy” we are cheating ourselves of satisfaction and self worth? If the day job is so tedious or stressful to us that we just can’t motivate ourselves to do it well, then maybe we ought to think about another day job.
This is ancient advice, I know, and may not apply to you. Perhaps tomorrow morning you’ll drive to a great location to be greeted by adoring supporters (and fresh coffee with gourmet Danish pastries) and begin work on an inspiring, fulfilling project that will better the world we live in and pay you lots of money and only enhance your artistic goals. Good for you.
For the rest of us, maybe we should apply ourselves to the tasks at hand with a bit more effort, with a little more enjoyment, and see where that leads us. Not because it’s the ‘right ‘ thing to do, but because it just makes more sense than slogging.
Tomorrow I'll work on projects posted on a list on the wall. I may glance longingly at the mock up of a new “inspired” kinetic piece sitting on a corner shelf, but I’ve promised myself I’d take a few hours “off” on Wednesday to work on that one.
Tonight I’ll load the dishwasher, fill out insurance forms, order supplies and give Orion a bath. Tomorrow I’ll make my own coffee and skip on the Danish and remind myself that the things on my list are worth doing well, though I'll definitely be looking forward to Wednesday.

On the Gurtie front: I tried the picking up thing again. I thought I heard a purr for a moment but I think maybe it was vibrations from the fridge I was leaning against. There are several packets of rejected 'kitty treats' on the counter, but I'm pretty sure she ate one of the "Cosmic Kitty" nuggets. She is looking at me askance these days, possibly wondering things, likely just waiting for the sound of cellophane ripping. These looks could be considered an improvement, since she usually only looks at my feet, but I'm not counting on it.

Have a good Monday.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

a Gentle Passage to Recognition

It is my pleasure to announce here that Lisa's sculpture, Gentle Passage, has been nominated for a 2005 Chesley Award.

And it looks like i was the one to break the happy news to Lisa, because when i congratulated her during an online conversation Saturday (speaking of internet interaction, heh), all she could manage in response was a surprised sort of "huh?"

i'd tell you all to 'vote early, vote often', but you must be an ASFA member to vote, and balloting ends on July 12. Hmm i wonder if it's enough time to join and then vote.......

Friday, July 08, 2005

My thoughts are with the victims of the recent attacks in London. Some lives were lost and others broken.
Phillip is about to go to Iraq, where he will see terrible things. Alison is fast learning how hard it is to manage on one's own. Aubrey is just at the edge of seeing the darkness people are capable of and Orion lives at the center of a sunlit, toy-filled world where everyone loves each other.

I try to keep focused on the work. On good days, it helps put things into perspective. On really good days, it helps others put things into perspective too.

Aubrey and I went to Starbucks for iced coffee. (yes, baaaaaaah, I know) Seven-fifty for two coffees. More than we spent on books we 'rescued' from the thrift store.
Aubrey stirred her frappacino, "So, my fat cells will never go away."
"Yeah, but they can get smaller."
"But, they will always be there. Just sitting there....waiting for a cookie."

Speaking of coffee. It's high time for some. And to go make art. Because, really right now I don't know what else I can do.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Secret Geometry. Regarding unexplored places. July 2, 2005 mixed media 8 x 11 

Gurtie update, new stuff, more noise

So, everyone is home and things are at nearly normal noise level. This is a good thing. I've had enough thinking and am ready to make new stuff. Even better, both Pete and Aubrey came home with stories.

I picked Gurtie up this morning. She wriggled, so I put her down. I tried again about an hour later, same results. I thought about rubbing my fingers with ham, had a flash image of a pork chop necklace and decided against the ham. But I did try again a few minutes ago. (I even brushed my teeth first---just in case. ) She wriggled again. So I kissed the top of her head, put her on her favorite chair and swiped the fuzz off my lips.
Maybe I'll try this again tomorrow. Or not. We'll see.

Ravyn says possibly we'll have a video of "Fate be Nimble..." up soon.

Don't forget about the Tiny Stories project. We're still accepting stories.

Monday, July 04, 2005


I have a confession to make. I do not love my cat. I treat her as though I love her. I rub her head, scratch her back, detangle her summer fur and call her inside every night. Perhaps because I don’t love her, I spoil her with treats, like an indifferent grandparent who sends gifts by courier. She returns the favor, plays her part as a beloved cat with aplomb. She dutifully claws up my favorite chair, licks the shower floor, rolls around on my unfinished drawings and is faithful to ensure that every black garment I own is properly fuzzy with fur. She turns her nose up at the bacon I just fried for her because I was out of her favorite treat; ham.
But she never brings me lizards. Not like Paddy, who at his heyday, would bring me all sorts of lizards, mice, birds (sometimes just the head---he had little self discipline when it came to birds) and the occasional squirrel. But this wasn’t why I loved Paddy or why I still do, though he’s been gone for years.
Paddy and I had stories.
Not so with Gurtie. She was a rescue from the pound. Her file says she was found, beaten and starved. I took her because she had a nick out of one ear from an old injury, V-shaped. I wanted to give her a good home. I have. But we have never connected in any meaningful way.
I wonder sometimes if the part of Gurtie that could connect with a human was shut off in those bad times before I met her. I wonder if I haven’t made the right noises to open it again, or if she never had that part in the first place.
But mostly, I wonder if it matters whether I love my cat. Possibly I take better care of her out of my sense of obligation than if I truly loved her.
I remind myself that love is a verb, and a choice. That if I continue to try, the emotion will find me. After six years, it has not.
Is it really so important that I love her? After all, it’s not what I feel that matters, but what I do. I can make the choice to give her good care, because it’s the agreement we have. We’re like an old couple from an arranged marriage, honoring our contracts with bland consistency and acceptance. We are secure.

Tonight Aubrey will return from Georgia and Pete from upstate. I’ll be very happy to have them both home, but I think I’ll always remember this sweet, quiet week with Orion. I feel as though I’ve spent a week immersed in bright blue water. I’m reading William Golding’s “Darkness Visible” and when his character, Matty, experiences a moment of clarity I excitedly said “ I KNOW THIS!! I GET THIS!” Matty, staring through a shop window at a crystal paperweight caught in sunlight, has a moment of pure vision where his fragments of knowledge assemble themselves into understanding. This week has been such. I only hope I’ll be able to recall it later, in the midst of the bustle of household and studio. We’ll see.

As always, thanks for reading. Have a good July 4th and be safe.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Yesterday morning I dropped Orion off at daycare. He was excited. They've been spending their mornings-- singing their songs and reciting the alphabet and reading flash cards-- all while splashing around in a circle of wading pools. He's picking up words. In the grocery store he'll excitedly shout out 'fish', or 'water' or 'milk'. We've been reading together at night. Pretty soon he'll be making sentences and by then, linear thinking will have set in and his other processes will be lost. The world will seem a more predictable place to him. Cause and effect.
On the other hand, books will become much more than objects.
They will be larger inside than out, places he can step into at will.
Doors close, doors open.

I picked up Ben, who was treating me to the day's first showing of War of the Worlds. We hit a thrift store on the way. I found several hard covers in beautiful condition each for one dollar:
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
Darkness Visible by William Golding
The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Driving Blind by Ray Bradbury (I already have, but will be nice to give)
Blue Afternoon by William Boyd
and a book for Aubrey---Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

We sat in the darkened theater, enjoying the anticipation, almost like waiting in line for the roller coaster. You hoped the ride would be good. You could only go once, for the first time. (I'll be seeing this one again on Tuesday, with Aubrey.) I wondered what kinds of movies she'd be seeing as an adult, and what might be on screen when Orion is older. I wandered, for a minute into the possibility that things would be changed and there wouldn't be theaters all over showing films that cost millions of dollars to make. Things could go very bad, very fast. I think of that line in "Road Warriors"...."remember lingerie?" Oh, I hope not. The larger view can be daunting.
Maybe these thoughts are products still of the recent earthquakes. Maybe it's my haunting pessimism----things have been going well for us in America for a long time now. Too long? I'm not planning to go around worrying about things I have no control over, like earthquakes. Maybe it's because we live in a desert, thinly contained by artificial means. Maybe it's because it's summer, when we are acutely aware that both adults in this household are self-employed artist types, skimming by.
But mostly I think it's because Phillip got his deployment orders for Iraq in September and I am brave only by reminding myself that I am no different from thousands of other scared parents.

I can never seem to escape the feeling that we all live in a house of cards.

Carpe diem