Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Over the weekend we went on a hike to Sweet Creek Falls.

Along the trail there were many blooms and plants.  I saw this fern unfurling and used my camera's macro lens to take a picture of it (actually, this is one of three -- I like this one the best because I managed to get an angle which showed the growth's depth).

The engineering, if that's the right word, involved in packing all the leaves and the stem into a compact disk is incredible.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Vancouver Bell Phone Exchange Building

 Last weekend we went to Vancouver and saw the historic 1935 Vancouver Bell Phone Exchange building.
 I was particularly drawn to the tile work, which reminded me of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
 I liked the way the tiles stacked together and the brick patterns.  There were some specialty bricks which made vertical channels in the building.
 Over the doorway, they placed a Bell Telephone Logo.
I think Eugene used to have buildings with character like this before urban renewal efforts replaced them with American Brutalism concrete and glass cubes.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reading and Dreams

I'm reading Lilith Saintcrow's "The Iron Wyrm Affair," which I'm enjoying ever-so-much more than either "Boneshaker" or that other steampunk-Sherlock novel with zombies which veered schizophrenicly between a science fiction adventure story and a romance.   Saintcrow's story (in the Foster sense) starts out action packed.  She's doing a good job revealing character motivation and back-story by an artful use of change of point-of-view... Although I'm beginning to lose some sympathy for her grim-tough heroine.

Dreams:  Last Wednesday or Thursday, I dreamed that Mark and I were sleeping in our old place.  Only it wasn't exactly our old place.  Our  bedroom abutted the garage.  It was like our bedroom had been moved to the south end of our current garage, and the whole house had moved to Sarah and Gretchen's neighborhood.  The house was old wood, sort of like an old barn.  

In the dream, I woke early in the morning because I heard some sort of sound.  Our silver car had been stolen, and the remains of some beat-up orange car were strewn across the driveway.  The thieves had broken into the garage, too.  

"It's a good thing they didn't use the tools to break into our bedroom," I said.  Although there was something not quite right about the house.  I think Mark and I had some further conversation as we looked around the garage. 

Suddenly, it hit me, and I said, "Mark, this is a dream; our bedroom isn't normally against the garage this way."

"But John," Mark said, "somebody stole our car."  I think we may have had a couple more exchanges where I pointed out that this must be a dream and Mark reasserted the reality of the situation.  .... and the dream went on to other things.

Last night I had a documentary dream focused on me.  The setting was supposed to be Carleton College, but physically, it reminded me a whole lot of Western View Middle School hallways.  I was a whole lot smarter and competent than I probably was back in 1990, and I recall thinking as I watched myself giving user services support that the film must be edited or something.  

A user was having problems logging in, and I was behind a plate glass kiosk, asking diagnostic questions, in a relaxing, reassuring way, with occasional hearty comments like, "Oh, that happens to me all the time" thrown in.  

The dream kind of went downhill from there.  There was something about my paycheck not going through.  At one point The Child appeared and started playing with the office phone, to the annoyance of the operator.  I had made a mechanical exchange that played recordings -- sort of like a hundred mechanical spiders whose legs tapped each other or help messages.  And then the dream turned into a credo dream where I voiced some issues from 1991.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Writing as Spritiual Practice

I read an article by Damien Walter and the big message that I took from it is that writing should be a practice which is approached as a spiritual practice -- something you set aside time to do every day, like meditation or prayer, because it makes you a better person more fully engaged.  There was also some additional benefits, like being a productive, happy writer (instead of a blocked, product-product-product writer).  I'll need to re-read this and think about how I can apply it.

On a slightly related note, yesterday I attended the memorial for Anne Warren Smith.  Anne was the mother of one of my high school friends.  She was (which I hadn't realized) very active in the Corvallis folk music scene, and (which I did know) a writer (I took one of her classes around 1997).  Many folks there met her when they were in their teens and had maintained a relationship with her into adulthood.  What struck me was how much guidance and mentoring she was able to provide during her very creative and productive life. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Journal

Working Out:  In a attempt to get back into the groove of things, I went to the gym Sunday and Monday.  Sunday's workout was the standard one, with about 140 calories in 15 minutes on the rowing machine and a session with the weights.  I added dumbbell flys to the mix.   Monday's session was more a maintenance session, with reduced time on the rowing machine (all though at one point I sustained a high burn of 1000 cal/hour for about 30 seconds -- I usually cruise at about 700).  My pectoralis major is sore.

Writing:  Spring Break has swizzled my schedule all over the place, which is not a good thing.

Dreams:  Gah, I keep having stuck in Arcosanti dreams.

Review: An Arrow's Flight

The following is a book review written Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998

       Hitting the Mark in An Arrow's Flight
            a book review by John Burridge

If you were an urban gay man in the '70's, chances are you will like An Arrow's Flight, a novel by Mark Merlis set somewhere between Tales of the City and The Illiad.  If you were not an urban gay man in the '70's, you might find the book, funny, tiresome, depressing and compelling.  Merlis seems to be aware of this when he writes:

"The city, before the war -- to listen to the scattered survivors of those days, you might suppose they think about nothing else.  Kids who come along now are sick of hearing about it.  Why should I add to the overburdened shelves of hymns to that time and that place?  Yet I must:  it will truly be gone the day we leave off singing about it."

The main character, Pyrrhus, is the son of Achilles.  Achilles has died in the Trojan War.  Before the Greeks can conquer the city of Troy, Pyrrhus must be present on the battlefield, along with the bow of Philoctetes.  Pyrrhus knows nothing of this destiny or his father's death, and leaves his boring island home for The Big City.  There, the young prince stumbles into a career as a go-go dancer and prostitute.  After various childhood flashbacks and scenes of burlesque exposition, Pyrrhus is shipped off by Odysseus -- played as a conniving, heterosexual lawyer -- to the island of Lemnos to pick up the bow of Philoctetes and then off to Troy.

Although Merlis has cleverly juxtaposed contemporary times and a bevy of Greek heros, he has taken his cue from the likes of Flaubert and Hardy and provided us with a main character who is a two-dimensional idiot you want to slap for being so bored and directionless.  It is possible that Merlis is trying to deflate the mystique surrounding the ideal male physique by having a walking centerfold as the main character; but I suspect his main reason was that it made it easier to start the book with a grope show on top of a bar in a strip-joint.  Merlis's secondary characters have much more depth and motivation.

What is tiresome about the book is that it occasionally lapses into whining about the now-gone Golden Age of Gay Eros, when men were Fabulous Men, and queens were Bitchy Queens, and the universe as a whole was AIDS-free.  This is forgivable.

Unfortunately, Merlis seems to have spent some time reading Robert Bly, and so we read about Pyrrhus trying on the fabulous armor of Achilles and secretly wishing he was a butch warrior instead of a sissy-faggot.  I spent page after page wondering when Merlis was going to unite the opposite poles of male expression in a culture of shame and introduce us to Patroklos, Achilles' "comrade in arms."  But the butch/femme dichotomy remained to the book's end; we never read about the relationship between Achilles and Patroklos, and Merlis never explores male expression which can be both loving and martial.

What is fun about the book is that Merlis occasionally breaks the narrative and speaks directly to the reader in the same manner as a director of a play stopping the action on the stage to address the audience with wry remarks about the staging, or how much the costuming costs.  I have a weakness for this kind of "I'm telling you that I'm telling you a story" meta-fable, and I recognize that not everyone likes the narrator breaking in every so often with an aside.

What was compelling about the book was that Merlis knows how to write well, and he knows how to write about people in love.  He knows how to write about people with AIDS.  He knows how to write about exiles from the country of the self.  He knows how to use metaphor, although near the end of the book his metaphors acquire an overbearing sheen of Dickins-esque symbolism.

Despite periodic lapses into nostalgia over the sexual freedom of the '70's, Merlis does a good job of mixing elements of destiny, love, shame, coming of age, sex, and gay identity into his retelling of Sophocles' Philoctetes.  In an era where authors are frequently re-writing "historical novels" in the image of the political movement de juer, Mark Marlis's An Arrow's Flight offers a cockeyed reflection of contemporary gay consciousness in the late 1990's.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Farms and Greenhouse

The other weekend we visited a friend's farm.  They have a kind of portable greenhouse built right on the rows of produce -- I think these are peas.

I like this photo because of the regular geometry of the greenhouse structure, the rusty texture of the stakes, and the organic feeling from the ground.  Also the cross-beams on the top of the beams looked vaguely like Golgotha, or at least like the telephone poles in John Roger Cox's "Grey and Gold."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Summary of Forster's "Aspects"

I read that in the 70's Ursula K Le Guin had read EM Forster's"Aspects of the Novel" and that is was her go-to resource whenwriting.

Having just finished it, I think A) Forster read a lot of non-Science Fiction (it was 1927), and B) this isn't a "how to" manual.  

I wish he had spoken more about HG Wells or Frankenstein, because I would have liked to see more examples of applying "Aspects" to science fiction novels.  What was useful about "Aspects" is that Forster is always returning to the relationship between the novel and the reader, and the demands each make on the other.

The last three aspects Forster writes about (see summary below) wereparticularly vague, and Forster is using the terms prophecy, pattern, and rhythm in idiosyncratic ways.  In a conversation I'm having, someone has said that rhythm (and prophecy and pattern) are British and particularly Fosterian ways of approaching the (Science Fiction) novel.  

The Aspects of the Novel Are:

        Curiosity:  "And then?"
        Sense of time
        Sense of space
        Story voice:  for the eye, for the ear?
         human feeling and a sense of values
         Surprising -> Round character
         Convincing -> Round character
        Intelligence -> Mystery
         things which are not and implying the supernatural
         mixing the ordinary and the extraordinaryProphecy
         "Prophecy - in our sense - is a tone of voice."
          Universal themes
          Requires the reader's
                 Suspension of the Sense of Humor
          The shape of the story, plot, and characters.
          The gestalt expression of the novel which 
          releases or liberates it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

More Slippery Tree Trunk Dreams

Happy new moon, Spring Equinox, and total Solar Eclipse over Greenland.

Dream:  I dreamed that there was a flood.  In the first part of the dream, I was flying over the flooded river as it wound through wooded hills and cliffs.  It was day, and overcast.  At one point I was flying over the river with a dragonfly.   There were campgrounds on both banks of the river.  I had the feeling that you wouldn't notice the campgrounds until it was night and fire pits would show how just how many campsites were packed together.    A little farther downstream, the pines' lower branches had been cut back, and you could see how many fire pits there were between the dark colonnades of trunks.  It must have been off-season because I was the only person there.

The river went into a canyon, and I flew up to a window where a bunch of shops were built into the cliffs.  The shop I peered into was a dusty apothecary.  I have a notion that I spoke with some folks there, but I also have the notion that there was no one there.  In waking life I'm reminded of the alley way in the mediaeval section of the Oregon Enchanted Forest.

There's a break in the recall... but I was in Corvallis, I think, this time with Mark, and we started out a an apartment or something we were renting.  We walked out onto a log-jam to look at the flood.  The flood was receding, and the trees were moving again.  I was standing on a slippery trunk in the water.  I think Mark was swimming, and I might have started to swim as well.  I was a little anxious the trunk I was standing on would shift and pin me in the river.

We swam the river or something, because we made it back to our apartment and then the river had really gone down.  I think I must have flown over or swam the river, which was a loop, about three times.

This is the second time this week where I've had to navigate a fallen slippery log spanning a river.

Working Out:  Hmm. I need to engineer a trip to the gym this weekend.

My Friday started out with getting a rejection to a workshop in June.  I really should learn to not read e-mail first thing in the morning when I get up to write.  One practical annoyance is that I had to clear a week's vacation with The Day Jobbe before I applied, and now I'll have re-schedule.  On the plus side, I'll save some money on airfare and childcare.  I was looking forward to a writing's vacation, and I'll have to see if I can figure out a DIY workshop for myself.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Stories, Masculinity, and Entertainment

"What is your story about masculinity?" you ask.  "What does it mean to be a man?"  

Why should I tell you?  To heal the community?  Shall I, as William Blake puts it, tear up the garden of desire and fill it with churchmen saying "Thou shalt not?"  Should I fall into the trap of sharing my stories and risk contributing more bricks into the edifice of the orthodoxy of men? 
Because there is a Church of Men.  You have to move through its pews orthogonally, like a rook sliding over the black and white squares of a chessboard.  Here's our saints in the stained glass windows:  Crafty Odysseus and Telemachus, the good son.  The Magician, the Lover, the King, the Trickster, the Wounded Healer, and the Siberian Shaman.
In the special niche for the opera queens, gym-dandies, and the leathermen, the stained glass windows show ancient Greek aristocrats, samurai lovers, and The Native American two-spirits.  Here's the icons of gay male martyrs, starting with the Sacred Band of Thebes and ending with Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, and Matthew Shepherd. 

At the altar is our holy of holies:  the erect penis with its foreskin whole and testicles packed with the seeds of life; the cock, the dick, the boner.  Our pride.  Our pleasure.  Our bodily vehicle of grace.  Our pointer pointing out desire and informing ourselves and our interactions.

But if you jump over the pews, if you step on the cracks between the tiles, the next time you try to enter, you'll find the church doors closed behind tangled briars, and you'll have to be satisfied with catching snatches of hymns being sung by the people inside.

The mainstream hedges and censors the male narrative with taboos to keep it safe for women, children, the old, the uninitiated, and the naive.  If I name my power as a man, what will the mainstream's response be but to tell me, "you must acknowledge culture's authority by only talking about manhood and manliness a certain way -- a precisely specific and controlled way -- and in certified safe spaces."  The mainstream will take my stories of manliness and maleness, but box them up into neat packages, conferences, and performances so I may be sold pieces of myself -- for the greater good, of course.

So forget you, and forget the mainstream.  I'll share my stories with you -- that's what this blog is for -- but you can't have my definition of what it means to be male.

Some Relevant Links:


The Genders:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Processing Kumbaya

I went to hear Nancy Holder speak last night about writers, editors, and the writing process.  Much of what she said I knew on some level, and it can be instructive to hear something said in a different voice.

I appreciated what she had to say about how writers are always looking for meanings in things, especially rejection slips, invitations to anthologies, and requests for rewrites -- and how they need to remind themselves that a rejection slip is just a rejection slip.  

She shared how she starts the day with breakfast and yoga, then a quick review of the day's agenda and goals, and then the creative stuff.  As she gets tired through the day, she switches to editing and the tasks that don't require creativity.   I liked how she didn't beat herself up when her output was low, she just re-adjusted her goals until things could improve -- in other words, she had a plan for managing productivity and didn't just sit there, hating that she was not feeling productive. 

Writing: After speaking with some other folks (and realizing I was rehearsing my distress) about the Men's Story Project, I've decided that this is too much like group-therapy-as-performance, what I want to say can't be said in a seven minute time slot (which works out to only 700 to 800 words), and that participating wont address my needs.   I might put a version of what I've written up here.

Dreams: Thursday morning I dreamed that I walked by a old wooden house that was for sale.  It was day, and the overcast sky was beginning to rain.  The house had a large central area, possible with a fire place and brick chimney as its central support.  There was a bookshelf visible through the large widows, and I imagined twelve-foot high shelves. 

I was going to bike to Corvallis, but the rain was heavy, so I wanted to drive instead.  I was going to take the car I usually drive, but Mark needed it, so I ended up taking his stick-shift.  

I zoned out driving, because I became aware that I was driving up a small hill on a muddy gravel road. The road ended in a cul-de-sac, with about seven 1970's ranch-style homes in a huddle with goats, horses and chickens.  Since this wasn't Corvallis, I was going to back-track and figure out where I'd turned wrong.  Except the car turned into a horse, and wanted to see the other horses.  Then it turned into a goat.  "You stupid goat!" I said, as it left the road and clopped over rotting and slippery oak that had fallen across a small river.  I was not surprised by the car's transformation.

There was a break.  I was in a shop or boutique of some sort.  N.K.H. was there and we were discussing manuscripts.  I think J.L. was there and N.S. was with her.  I think we were discussing a tarot card reading.  Or maybe the manuscript was a reading.  

There was more about jumping into a wide river and rescuing toys that had fallen in.  And Mark appeared.  And then the dream moved on to be some kind of 50's flapper girl spy thriller.

Tuesday Morning Dream


The recall on this is fuzzy because I didn't write it down right away.

This might have been a stuck in a labyrinth dream, or a meeting the relatives in a mansion dream.  I'm not sure.  There was a gathering -- it might have been a family gathering, but I don't recall any family members.  I was in a large house.  Or maybe a large boat house.  I remember that there was a large lake, and wooden floors or decking.  

The dream started out in the day, but the part I remember the most was at night.  The sky was clear and star-filled.  

A 30-ish woman and man were there, and they wanted something from me, like a deed or some money.  The woman filled a medium-sized glass votive container with a beeswax candle and some glittery powder.  I remember her using the candle as a kind of pestle and adding even more glittery powder to the mix than her partner had.  

When she lit the candle, it started to melt, and the glittery powder became a melted resinous mix of beeswax and something like myrrh.  It smoked, and the smoke made us all drunk.  All over the edge of the lake, candles in bowls and glass jars lit up and were reflected in the water.

I think there was some dancing involved.  There might have been crystal visions, but I've lost these.  

Finally, a prim woman with a striaght, blonde, pageboy haircut came up and confiscated the candle, saying it wasn't against the law, but that the woman had used too much of the glitter powder.

The sun came up, and I realized we had partied through the night.  I was standing on a wooden deck overlooking the water.

And then I woke up.  I had thrown my arm over my head, and it had fallen asleep. I carefully used my other hand to gently bring my arm to my waist, and then the pins-and-needles came as feeling returned.

Writing:  I'm working on an essay that is turning into a memoir.  I'm thinking that this is more self-therapy than writing, and I need to re-focus on the various manuscripts (and deadlines) looming.  My feelings toward the piece are complicated; on one hand, I want to tell my story, on the other hand, it's possible that it could be incorporated into therapy-as-performance.  On the other hand, when Mark and I provided material for WYMPROV to perform our "when we first met" story, it was funny.  When I work on this, I get a little angry how various community aspects of being gay and being a dad have manifested as acts of exclusion... and ultimately, the performance would be for the men's community... and it seems that they want stories as entertainment and celebration, not stories of alienation.  With a big group hug at the end... and  then things will continue unchanged.

Working Out:  Went to the gym Tuesday afternoon.  Did 130 calories in about 12 minutes on the rowing machines.  Did the usual lat-pulldowns and freeweights.  Didn't do the dumbbell, but I did do some extra inclined pec flies.  I suppose I should look at a book or something so I can give the real names of the excersises.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Forster and Fantasy

Working Out:  Friday I did 125 calories in about 15 minutes on the rowing machine, followed by my regular array of cross-wire lunges, dumbbell lifts, lat pull-downs, triceps pulls, and suspended curl-ups.  I felt the lunges Saturday where my shoulders connect to my pectorals.

Writing Theory:  Some folks looked at my latest science fiction story.  It was warmly received, with the comment that the plot needed to be stronger, and that it's currently a one-character story.  Since the plot isn't a self-vs-self plot, it might be helpful to make some of the other characters more three-dimensional, or "round" as E.M. Forster would say.

Speaking of Forster, I've been making my way through "Aspects of the Novel."  The aspects are story, character, plot, fantasy, prophesy, pattern, and rhythm.  I'm enjoying the bon mots scattered throughout the essay.   I've just gotten to the fantasy section, and as near as I can tell, what we call "the speculative element" is what he's calling fantasy.  I'm hoping that he'll use H.G. Wells as an example of what he's talking about--he's not talking about science fiction much since this is a collection of talks given around 1920--but at the moment he keeps referencing authors like Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens and currently he's talking about "Ulysses."  

It's been useful to see his formulation of what a novel is, and in terms of the story I just turned in, I think he'd say that it has focused on the character of my protagonist at the expense of the plot.

Friday Journal

Wiritng:  Woke up several times in the night -- I'm blaming the cat.  And then The Child.  Got up at 5:30 (The Child had already arisen because this is not a school day).  Tried to write, but was yawning my head off.  The short story I'm working on has stalled, so I started looking and thinking about the mechanics of the plot.  I realized that while the story is working on dialog and main problem, it needed a prohibition for the main character to break and a then have to work through.  I wrote about 200 words in about fortyfive minutes, then stumbled back to bed.  I'm thinking I should have arisen at 3:30 or whenever the cat woke me the first time...

In other news I'm working on an essay to submit to the Men's Story Project.  On the first hand, it's not really writing; they want men to tell their stories in a performance.   On the other hand, writing essay is a nice change from writing fiction.  Back on the first hand, what they really want is memoir... and this looks like it's going to turn into Heart Circle on Stage, which means Group Therapy on Stage.  Jumping over to the second hand, gathering up and summarizing personal stories that illustrate my take on "What It Means To Be A Man," makes me excited and angry -- so passion is informing my writing... but the cynicism and snark levels are high.   Maybe I'll just do a naked interpretive dance.

Dreams:  Wednesday night I dreamed I was trying to save (The Child's?) large koi.  There were two in two medium sized, very clear fishbowls, but something was wrong with the water, and first one and then the second started to swim sideways, then they were both belly up and gasping in the water.  They didn't have sand or castles or bubblers or anything.  Maybe there was chlorine in the water or it was the wrong temperatures.

Thursday night I dreamed I was fallowing Mark and LGL through a very involved building. We walked through a black-and-white tiled cafe, and I got held up swing dancing with the five or so waitresses there.  Mark and LGL kept going, and I followed them down a spiral staircase.  When I got to the bottom, it ended in a floor, with nowhere else to go. After a moment's thought, I rotated the staircase on it's axis and as the bottom stair turned back, it revealed an opening in the floor through which the stairway continued.  There was some kind of glowing, magical world at the bottom, and the dream continued...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday Journal

Writing:  Some mail tracking.  Some essay editing.  Set a new rejection record: two rejections within 15 minutes of each other.

Working-out:  None.  I haven't been to the gym in two weeks!  Eeek.

Dreams:  I dreamed I was in a wood, traveling along a path.  I think the cat must have been batting my face as I slept, because I dreamed about having to use a flashlight to stave off boars and baby boarletts.  I wish I remembered more of the dream, because it was long and involved.  Somewhere near the end of the dream, I was traveling with a group of people and a very tall conductor gave me a long train ticket with tokens from earlier in the dream tied to it.  Receiving the ticket with all the tokens was emotionally significant, but I'm not sure why.  I really don't remember what they were, but my sense is they were things like buttons, twigs, a finger-sized bone.    


Working-out:  Did a re-introduction session.  Just did about 60 cal in about 7 minutes on the rowing machine (I want to avoid pulling something in my legs).  Skipped the lunging exercises on the weights on strings machines.  Did do lateral pull-downs, triceps pulls, and some dumbbell work.  Also did some hanging crunches from the power-station thing.   I'll have to see if I can engineer a Friday afternoon session that's more my regular session...