Friday, December 25, 2009

Birthday Revisited

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 8:54 PM

Thursday, December 24, 2009
  • 8:10 AM: First birthday present: booze filled chocolate bottles! I think I'll make breakfast first: the bacon is just starting to sizzle...
  • 9:01 AM: Breakfast accomplished. Now it's time for a luxurious shower with Aveda product. And then to the Eugene "Clock Museum."

  • 9:53 AM: One of the chocolate boozes was leaking, so I ate it. Outfit: Purple T-shirt, green flannel shirt, black pants. Too cold for Birkenstocks.

  • 10:09 AM: RT @thaumatrope: Ginger forced the oven door open and freed confection angels. They flew outside, momentarily easing the nibbled ridges.

  • 1:58 PM: Back from the Clock Museum and the Holiday Market. Mark is stepping out for a minute, which means... Time To Burn Frankincense and Myrrh!!

  • 2:03 PM: Hey! Who scrunched up my last charcoal brickette ? Don't *make* me use the gas BBQ grille for my itinerary birthday celebration.

  • 3:52 PM: Oh! I just woke up from an afternoon nap and Mark has made scones. Time for Ceylon tea. I love Mark.

  • 6:46 PM: The entire Dwyer clan (at Mary's) just sang "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone. And they're three hours ahead of us, too.

  • 8:09 PM: Mmmm. Cheese fondue and salad with Gorgonzola croutons. I *so* owe Mark a fabulous birthday in August...

Friday, December 25, 2009

  • 12:04 AM: Should be wrapping presents, but instead I am on social networking sites.

  • 9:58 AM: Oh the carnage! I think I need another Very Large Cup of Tea.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Life as a Second Life Geek.

So okay; I'd heard about Second Life on NPR a few years ago, but I'd never checked it out. For one thing, the computer I owned at the time wasn't powerful enough to render the second life world. Then a writer friend of mine said he was participating in a reading in Second Life and invited the critique group we're both in to attend.

I decided I'd give Second Life a shot. The first thing I had to do was create an avatar, or virtual version of myself. My first frustration with Second Life was that I couldn't just type in my name, "John Burridge." I mean, if I'm going to use Second Life as a vehicle for self-promotion, I want my name hovering over my avatar's head wherever I walk (even if I don't look like a old English soccer goalie). Alas, the name selection process featured a blank for me to type a first name and a drop-down box of pretentious names straight from a Dungeons & Dragons game or a New Neo-Pagan Encounter Group. When I typed in "John", I got an error message informing me all the slots for "John" were taken. In a snarky fit of meta-self-reference, I settled on naming my avatar "Mask Stickfigure." ("No cigar, no lady on his arm; just a guy made of dots and lines.")

I wanted my avatar to look like me. This is a problem, because I have a Prince Philip of France beard, and, apparently, the standard avatars don't have facial hair. I guess it's a good thing that I am a white Caucasian male, because I had a variety of starter avatars to choose from. I thought about walking around as a black man in a power business suit, but went instead as the hip rocker dude -- who looks a little bit like Gra Linnaea. When I tried to give my new body a beard, his cheeks and chin exploded outwards like he had a case of mumps on steroids. It looks like if I want a beard, I have to build one out of primitives (or prims, more on those later), or buy one at the mall....

When one of my old high school friends heard I was going to foray into Second Life, she sent me a message with the coordinates to her Second Life hangout and a collection of coordinates for stores with free objects.

The Shopping Malls. What can I say, it's a mall. Make sure you don't bump into anyone -- which can be a trick if you decide to touch a map and it takes control of your avatar's body and walks you to a store. I explored around the freebie mall, and I've since decided that most of the people I've encountered on Second Life are either super-nice, or are like all the people I left behind in middle school, or else are looking for a virtual swinger's party.

Help Island. I haven't figured out the schedule for the volunteer helpers, or mentors, because two out of the three times I've visited, it's mostly been avatars standing around in outfits from the Matrix texting snarky comments to each other. A few of them use their computer's microphones to audio broadcast. There was that one time when someone was walking someone else walking around in a three-meter-high alien spider body.

I met my high school friend in Second Life, and she introduced me to some of her friends. These were super-nice people -- before I knew it, I had some building permissions to create objects on their plot of Second Life land and some scripts, a new avatar body, and lots of advice. Speaking with them was kind of odd, because after a while, I forgot that what I was looking at wasn't virtual avatars on a virtual landscape. My friend's avatar looks like her, and that helped the illusion. Also, avatars look straight ahead, so if your avatar is directly facing another avatar, it looks like they are staring straight into your eyes. It's a little like being in a bar and getting cruised.

I went to the poetry reading, but only stayed for a few moments before I had to leave. It was really cool, because the reading was held over an audio channel everyone could hear -- which made the event a kind of cross between an open mic night and a call-in radio show.

Somewhere along the way, I learned how to make objects, or primitives. A primitive is a unit object, like a sphere, cube, torus, cone, or cylinder (there is also a special prim type called "sculpted"). Prims may be "painted" with textures so that the look like granite or wood. After a few fumbling sessions where I tried align glass square planes into something resembling an Art Deco lamp (the key word here being "something"), I started looking up Second Life's scripting language in order to build complicated compound objects without having to spend five hours lining up everything.

What I really want to make are the five Platonic Solids and then build lamps in the shapes of the Archimedean solids. I thought it might be fun to put a bunch of upside down pyramids together into a floating upside down pyramid (ala Swift's Floating Island of Laputa). In the mean time, I'd made a bird-bath.

I wanted to make a sundial. There are two difficulties making a sundial in Second Life. First, the sun (and the moon) do not cast shadows, and as near as I can tell, the rendering engine in the Second Life client is not using ray-tracing to create what's on the screen. The second difficulty, is that the sun in Second Life doesn't necessarily move in the same fashion as the real sun. In the case of my friend's place, the sun rises and sets in about ninety minutes. So, there's no way to use the Second Life sun to determine the local meridian, and the solar day is really short. So I built a sundial with a gnomon, and then I had to build a shadow and then use a script to make the shadow rotate around the gnomon.

Meanwhile, on the web, I found a script that would string together other prims into a bent ellipse. It provided hours of fun manipulating sine and cosine functions in order to create necklaces, belts and bracelets. I got really confused trying to rotate cones and cubes in three directions. Oh yes... and I finally learned how to walk up the ramp to my friend's treehouse without plunging over the side and falling into a pool. Of course, all this experimenting around with prims and trigonometry functions was taking away from my writing time.

By this time, I rummaged through the inventory of things I'd been given or gathered from the freebie stores. I changed my avatar's body from the guitar dude to a muscle-bound gym queen. I added a few outfits. The dragonfly wings were fun, but they look very weird when I'm in close quarters and they pass through objects. Then there was the Harley Motorcycle outfit (vroom!), which my friend said was "intense." I think I prefer the Star Trek federation officer uniform over the rainbow shirt because people are more likely to IM "Live long and prosper" at me than to make snarky gay comments. I still don’t have a beard, but my hair is long and grey.

Probably the weirdest thing about my experiments in fashion were dressing -- or rather, undressing -- the avatar. For privacy, I snuck into my friend's treehouse to change. But I kept expecting her to teleport into her house or for someone to walk in, so the whole experience felt like a "naked in public" anxiety dream.

Then I wanted to make an Archimedean Screw. I manipulated a cylinder prim into a spiral, then strung a few together into one long screw, and made them rotate. Then I made a sphere and three rods to restrict the sphere's motion to just up-and-down. The screw would knock the sphere around, so I tried dropping the sphere between the rods. Guess what? The sphere hovered over the rods, not touching them as if the rods and sphere had the same repulsing electrical charge. It was like discovering dark matter. I slowly moved the rod that was within the rotating spiral and gradually the sphere fell between the three rods... and stopped about half-way down the rotating spiral. The spiral would pass through the sphere on each rotation instead of pushing it up between the rods.

Undaunted by earlier failures to make a rotating spiral push a sphere up a track, I made a new spiral, put it in a cylinder, and then dropped a sphere into it. The sphere traveled all the way through the sculpture. So then I started spinning the spiral and cylinder combination, tipped it over at a 45 degree angle (still rotating) and dropped the sphere in the top. The sphere traveled about a third of the way down, then stopped and the spiral passed through the sphere. So. Non-rotating upright spiral-column: a dropped sphere transverses the sculpture; rotating tipped spiral-column, the sphere stops part-way. Clearly, the laws the physics are different in the Second Life universe. I suspect that the rendering engine in the Second Life client is calculating the sphere's physics as if it were a cube and that the spirals (which are solid, but don't have their physical object box turned on) are interacting with the physical sphere.

I went to Help Island to try to find someone to ask about spheres and Archimedean screws (pause to imagine kinky/snarky comeback from the Matrix wardrobe department). But those were the days that I couldn't find any mentors. My writer friend gave me some coordinates for some Second Life building enthusiasts, so I may be able to speak with someone wise in the way of Second Life physics. In the mean time, I do have a simple cascade structure for medium-sized spheres built -- but no way to have the spheres returned to the top of cascade.

About this time, I had my first "griefer" encounter. I was (literally) flying around my friend's place when I got an IM from a stranger asking me if I was the owner of the locality (I wasn't), and if I could do something about a Giant Rotating Book and Red Sphere Floating Thingy hovering in the sky. I'd actually seen it, and was investigating it, expecting to watch a new construction project. By the time I tried to do something about it, the GRBARSFT had vanished. I found out later that it hadn't done much damage, but was the equivalent of having one's house spray painted by vandals.

Meanwhile, I've learned that to make interesting objects (say a solid cube with three cylinders removed from it), one has to download a "sculpted texture." Downloading textures costs money. The other thing I've learned is that most builders are playing a version of "Name That Tune" with prims ("I can build the Eiffel Tower in three prims!..") I spent more time not writing researching various free programs that promised to help me generate a sculptured texture. They came bundled with malware.

After cleaning off my computer, I put aside plans to build a perpetual motion kinetic sculpture marble machine, and built a balance scale. I made it big enough to be a Monty Python prop and my avatar nearly got crushed when I made the fulcrum and pans physical objects and the whole collection of objects crashed over sideways. I was glad that I didn't clobber my friend's friend's buildings and holiday ornaments. Note to self: next time try building on a half-meter scale instead of a ten-meter one.

I went back to my original goal of building a dodecahedron. I re-read some of the rotation help pages on the Second Life wiki and found a demonstration script on rotation that used a rotation vector. I think my difficulty is that I'm imagining rotation of objects in the X Y and Z axises as if I were moving them orthogonally, and the Euler motions are non-intuitive. The vector method of rotation (instead of thinking in terms of a theta angle in the X-Y plane and a phi angle in the Y-Z plane) produced results closer to what I wanted. No dodecahedron yet, but I did get a cool decahedral sculpture. The other difficulty in five-fold symmetry is that it's much easier to think (and manipulate objects) in four-fold symmetry.

What I've learned is that it is kind of fun to meet people as an avatar. I also like the idea of creating something in a virtual space and having other people interact with it. I write to get images from my head into others' heads, and Second Life lets me do this also. I like being an amateur designer, engineer and architect. Finally, there's something relaxing about manipulating geometric shapes -- on stressful days, ten minutes with a ruler and a compass is soothing.

I thought maybe I might be able to make some money creating objects in Second Life, but that's probably a pipe dream unless I start developing virtual sex toys.

And, while it's been fun, I need to manage how long I spend channeling a virtual Archimedes instead of writing. I think Second Life has been a nice little break, and building virtual objects is a lot like crafting a story -- noodling around might make something pretty, but going in with a clear idea helps to streamline the process and product.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Reading

Just back from the Wordos Holiday Reading. It was very fun. There was no knee-capping, but there seemed to be a preponderance of cannibalism. I think my "po-em" was well received, and I, at any rate, had a fun time reading it. There were lots of really cool short stories. And good food. Photo credit: Jerry Oltion.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Deck the Halls

The 18 inch gilt plaster angels are on the mantle & the copy of "The Grinch" is resting on top of the other holiday books. It's officially the Christmas season at our house.

We have our holiday picture, and the next task is to write a quick holiday missive...

Oh. And clean.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Creepy Spiritual Valley

The oddest thing about Second Life is my reaction to avatars. I remember instant messaging with Amy and some friends. Amy's avatar is similar enough to what I remember Amy looking like and unconsiousely, I was splicing her real life image onto the screen where she was virtually standing. One of Amy's friends -- who during the course of our interactions morphed from a guy, to a box, a red dragon, a teddy bear, and back to a guy (and several costume changes) -- and I were chatting and I realized that I was building a mental picture of what he looked like based on his avatar. In other words, I expect that if we ever meet (we're living on different coasts), he'd look like his humanoid character (this is in spite of his non-human appearances).

In other words, I'm unconsciously reacting to humanoid avatars as if they were real, even though I know they're virtual. This must be the Second Life version of the self / body dichotomy. Only in this case I have subjective proof of the split. And it's just a little freaky.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Perils of Second Life

For the record, this is all Ray Vukcevich's fault: he invited the Wordos to a reading. Not just any reading, a reading in Second Life, a virtual reality "world" where people painstakingly create avatars so they can be 17 Again (so *that's* what Annie Lennox was singing about).

I've had a lot of really great help learning how not to smack my avatar into virtual walls from my high school friend, Amy Beltaine. I'm still learning how not to walk off the edge of ramps and cliffs. Probably the most (to me) amusing Second Life moment was trying to find a little Pre-Raphealite flame to wear over my head, and engulfing my avatar completely in roaring flames. Then walking around like it was completely normal to be perambulating over a cliff in the middle of a conflagration.

The reading? Oh, yes. I was there, but then family duty called me away, so I only caught a few opening remarks over one of Second Life's audio channels. By then I'd managed to have a little flame hanging over my head instead of being a walking Olympic Torch. I even managed to take a seat without walking into the Christmas tree in the reading room's corner. I'm excited by the prospect of a prose/poetry reading in Second Life because it can make an event something between a podcast and a radio show.

When I got back to Second Life, the reading was over. All that was left was someone's steam-powered duck. Amy was on, so I zoomed over to her house. I met some of her very nice friends, one of them who turned into a dragon. We chatted and they gave me lots of great advice (and objects) and we got to edit birdbath and water primitives (primitives -- or prims -- are the simple polygons the Second Life world is made up of). So I missed a reading, but I got to talk with a dragon (Debbie Mumford will be so jealous) and collaborate on (essentially) a sculpture.

More later...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Where's Mom ?

Look out, John's trying a recipe from the Pre-Raphaelite Cookbook ...

Quck News

On the shoulder front: the stretches seem to be improving my flexibility, but of all the places to feel them, I'm feeling them in my left pinkie and ring finger (okay, and also in some of the usual knots on my left scapula). On nights when I sleep funny (at least I think that's the cause) I have a tension headache the next day.

On the weather front: no snow, but December is starting out appropriately cold.

On the writing front: time to send things out. I'm considering Dropbox as an off-site back-up option for my final version of manuscripts (I already back things up to a RAMstick).

I'm having a bout of writer-self-doubt -- I'm probably about where I should be in terms of number of sales per submissions, but on bad days I wonder about what I'm writing for. Am I a mediocre writer competing with really good writers for slots in magazines and is this a good use of my time? Could I write (ooops, I mean sell) better if I wrote in a different genre? Since (as my friend Kevin Keanan likes to remind us) author pay is a logrythmic power curve, how do I need to re-tool my attitude about "making it" as a writer and my contribution to my family and household.

I was having one of these self-hating moments when my gaze stopped at the illustration for my WOTF story, Mask Glass Magic. On one hand, it's a spooky picture, and Mark has a sensible attitude toward having his husband's spooky illustration prominently displayed on the wall. And, sometimes it feels like a faded laurel. But when I allow myself to enjoy it, I recall how exciting and satisfying it was to have concrete proof that the images in my head had jumped into someone else's mind. Lorraine Schleter, the illustrator, skillfully captured the essence of the story at the moment of its central conflict.

So, yeah. I write stories because I want to get into your head. I write stories because I want you to get into my head. I write stories where the characters choose mystery, beguilement, portents, wonder, awe, connection, majesty, and surprise. Mark would add, and they do the dishes, get some exercise, and eat well-balanced meals.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Irritating Pet Status

Ah yes. The hair.

I wanted to do a re-enactment of a famous print of an Asian woman combing her hair, but what I think I got was some guy trying to get his cat into the vet's.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Photo of the Day

Portrait of the author as a young Jedi. Or Robin Hood. We're not quite sure.

Monday, November 30, 2009

When John Dreams Wagner...

This is what I get for reading A.S. Byatt's entry from "How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors," which included a cover of Norse Mythology....

My sense is that this dream image occurred several times, or that the actions repeated from different dream perspectives. Sometimes I watched a stage with a Wagnerian-style opera on it. Sometimes I was in the opera.

On a traditional precenium stage, figures stood on small platforms before a cobalt blue and purple scrim. The platforms were difficult to see, so the figures appeared to be floating in the air. The precenium was blue shadows. Wavy bars of of yellow light passed like flames over random figures; it never illuminated more than half a face or part of an arm, and never for longer than a few seconds. The setting was the formless, disconnected chaos before the cosmos. People, animals, and irregular planes floated in a disconnected tableau.

Odin stood on a platform hanging in the middle of the stage. In the versions of the opera I was participating in, I was Odin's apprentice / assistant / Fricative (not quite the title used in the dream, but it works in waking narrative). I might have been Baldr (I don't know why). Other times I was in the audience watching.

My job was to urge Odin on his work while messaging his back and stomach to raise his heat or "frenzy" (again, not the right word, but neither is berserkergang). Sometimes I think we were both clothed; sometimes I think (only) I might have been shirtless, the spotlight making stage glitter sparkle on my white shoulders. (Cue pensive oboe and flute duet like an aurora over the string section.) I remember Odin's solid abdominal, back and shoulder muscles. In any case, we were on stage performing an opera. Because I was raising Odin's frenzy, I was getting hot as well, and I cried out in some kind of prophetic, erotic trance (no, I don't remember what I said).

At last, Odin reached out and grasped a cosmic serpent writhing over our heads. The flitting yellow lights focused on him. The serpent straightened and turned into Odin's rune-covered spear. (Cue orchestral surge led by the horn section, probably with kettle drums.) Stage left, the shadowy figures coalesced together; their strangely shaped platforms spinning around a common center to come together as a circle. Yellow and green light illuminated what was the Earth (or Midgaurd), with various heros standing on a circular platform. Odin and I stood in the center, at the top of a tree (which I can only assume was the World Tree). Other areas of the stage came together as locations from the Norse cosmology.

And I woke up with the overture to Tannhauser in my head.

No, I'm not usually drawn to Norse Mysteries. Yes, I went to bed asking myself for dream guidance. No, this isn't the first time I've drempt an erotic encounter with a deity. Yes, Jesus is a better kisser.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pre-birthday Ruminations

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. I will be 45. (45 is still the new 35, right?) In a couple of ways, I'm not looking forward to it. I guess it's not so much an aging thing (although I would appreciate my body not spontaneously falling apart like it seems to be lately)... so much as a dark tea-time of the soul. OK, maybe that's "not-quite-as-light mid-afternoon snack-time of the soul" -- but instead of chocolate it's one of those "chocolate" snacks made with too much paraffin that make you fart at socially inopportune moments.

Yeah. That kind of crisis of the soul.

Various friends remind me that life is filled with ups and downs, and that for me 45 is the new 25. (15 was also offered, but I think I'll pass.)

Anyway, part of me recognizes that I have little to complain about, and that crises like this are a little indulgent. Still, late at night, I seem to be channeling my inner Antonio, the Merchant of Venice... and then I listen to Pink Martini sing "Jai déjà passé un bon moment. Un bon moment autrefois."

I need to work on changing that inner sound-scape to Miss Peggy Lee singing, "Is That All There Is?"

Or maybe something by the B-52's (do they do Peggy Lee covers?). And then I need to write something and limit my use of using social networking services.

And plan a birthday party. Something with dancing. Something with little snacks. Something with stars. Something with music taken from the Christmas tree growing music from The Nutcracker, the Aquarium movement from Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals, or Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Or maybe a day spa... anyone know of a good John Mall I can visit?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


On the shoulder front. My shoulder is improving. Sort of. I have more mobility and less pain, but probably not as much as my PT wanted. At least I haven't gotten worse. So now I get to do stretches five times a day. Time to set the cell phone alarms...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New from the Fronts

On the dream front: I was in my regular body, but I was also in high school, too. I think I went to a cast party at somebody's house. The house was on the very top of a very large mountain, and the host's name was "Bear." Bear was a classmate, not a grizzly or other ursine, and I didn't think about his name until after I woke up.

At some point I was trying to leave the party. I pulled out a shiny iPhone (which I don't own in real life) and I couldn't quite remember my (folks') home phone number. I got a lift from someone else, and we started down the mountain when I realized I'd left my phone at Bear's and had to go back.

The party had died down at this point, and lots of snow was falling. The four or five people still in the house were partied-out or sleeping / about to rest.

The mountain was like a world or city unto itself, and I think at some point traveling over its snow covered highways turned into a kind of James Bond movie.

On the shoulder front: My sessions with a physical therapist are almost over. I guess he's done everything that he can, so now I do about four or five stretching exercises three or four times a day and wait for my shoulder to unstick. Oh, and make sure I sleep with about three pillows so I don't wake from fitful sleep with a tension headache.

On the holiday front: They're almost here. After some reflection, I've decided that it's normal not to be wildly excited about Christmas on November 22.

On the writing front: This is the time of year when I need to push myself so that when February roles around and I really have to push myself I don't have any "make-up" work to do. This leads to ...

The job front
: I have to start looking for some income (no, we're not in any danger of losing the house, we need more cash fluidity). I'd hoped that between Writers of the Future 2007 and now I'd have sold more short stories; but I haven't. (Insert writers' angst here.) So it's time to polish up the resume.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The John Emporium

The building surprises you when you stumble across it, and at first you suppose it is a Greek revival folly -- but then the Art Deco figures in wall niches between narrow grilled windows look vaguely Egyptian. Cypress trees in giant pots line the roof. Plain white columns front the three story edifice. A few of them lay on the courtyard ground to provide seating; their broken bases serve as tables.

The entrance's huge brass and bronze double-doors are thrown wide -- bass relief priests and priestess in geometric headgear line the doors' insides, and seem to watch over the portal. You enter. Monotone grey hexagons, flanked by black and yellow triangles, tile the foyer. Etched decagons, squares, stars, and octagons interweave on frosted glass panels set into the walls. Music from a concert harp draws you forward.

The foyer opens onto a circular atrium. Two ramps -- tiled in sinuous designs -- coil around the atrium to the rooftop garden. Small curved concrete benches nestle in the larger curves of planters filled with eucalyptus and giant gunnera. In the center, a silver clepsydra indicates the hour. On top of the water clock, a signpost supports six simple arrows of green, dark blue, red, black, silver and purple.

The arrows point to six archways surrounding the atrium. Each entrance leads to its own sanctuary of commerce.

Green as peacock's emerald eye

A simple wire stand in front of the entrance holds an iridescent green placard, which reads "Tableau Vivant." Inside this place, Tiffany lamps illuminate displays of jewelry inspired by ancient Greek and Roman jewelry, medieval art, Art Nouveau and Art Deco -- silver wires; hematite beads; sprays of diamonds, emeralds, sapphires; cloak pins; bracelets -- lining the walls. Pre-Raphaelite robes -- cloaks of velvet, veils of silk, cascades of silver bells -- and Edwardian jackets adorn mannequins. The place is resplendent with vests, cravats, and cavalier gloves; boots, belts, and suspenders; feathers and pendants. Hats, yes -- and diadems and crowns, too.

At the back of the room, two stage hands move scenery into position for a bride, while a photographer shines a spotlight through a grill to create zones of shadow and light onto the stage. Other customers wait for their turn on the runway.

Blue as star-filled cobalt sky

Before the archway of the next place, silver letters on a blue placard read "Subtle Machinations." The starry heavens are reproduced on the ceiling. Pendulum clocks stand sentry along the room's perimeter. Just inside, a young man and a woman play Senet. Their quadrant of the store holds Lewis chessmen and other chess sets. Arrayed behind them are other games: backgammon, circular and hexagonal chess, Alquerque, Go, Fidchell and Tafl.

Across an isle, an attendant winds one of many silver pinned, glass cased music boxes with a filigree key. Other spring-driven automatons rest nearby. Next to these are Antikythera mechanisms, models of Stonehenge, and other orreries. Telescopes, sextants, and star charts hold court beneath a hanging model of the solar system. The final quarter of the store is magnetically driven mobiles, leaded crystals and chandeliers.

And glow-in-the-dark star stickers.

Red as bard's most crimson rose

A round, tiled table, like a small stone dais, has its station before the store entrance. On it twist glass tubes and retorts filled with water and mint leaves over a low flame. Before this alembic a red sign reads, "Quintessence." The room inside is lined with wood cubby holes filled with dark bottles and shiny canisters. Small clear glass jars of coffee beans -- used to clear patrons' pallets between aromas -- sit at stations scattered throughout the room. The left hand side of the place is filled with balsams, unguents, oils, potpourri, and aromatics. The right side is for infusions, teas, tinctures and tisanes. An island counter holds retorts and flasks; teapots and tea sets; bath salts, bees wax, incense briquettes, candles and candle holders.

Five stations, each furnished with a large reference herbal, are staffed by attendants knowledgeable in the ways of blending aromas, moisturizing, exfoliation, simple massage, and the wonders of chocolate.

Black as forests under snows

The grey placard has black letters with white shadows reading "Evocations." Black and white tiles adorn the floor. One side of the entrance is a café with a dark granite counter inlayed with squares of hematite. A small fire burns in the corner hearth, surrounded by large Arts and Crafts chairs and small tables. Tapestries depicting personifications of Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, and Astronomy hang on the ends of shelves -- which hold tomes such as Gerard's Herbal, Newton's Optics, the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, Sagan's Cosmos, CG Jung's Red Book, reviews of MC Escher and museum surveys. A reading table holds the current editions of various periodicals. And a magnifying lens.

A seventh shelf displays blank books, paper making tools, and binding supplies; embossers, flower presses, stamps, ink pads, brushes, paints, and punches; calligraphy nibs, glass pens, and inks., and ink pads. An attendant in a black apron, his white shirt sleeves rolled up, inks metal typeface at a small press, overseen by an arc of manual typewriters.

"Yes," he tells you when you ask, "We do have Wifi here."

Silver as Dianna's argent orb

The harpist in front of the shop packs her harp away and is replaced by an oboe trio. Egyptian columns, topped with capitals sculpted as the face of cow-headed goddess Hathor, flank the entrance. A music stand displays a grey placard with silver embossed letters reading "Harmoonia." Inside, large prints taken from Robert Fludd's De Musica Mundana, into which cows have been playfully inserted, adorn the walls. Wall tiles show variations on cats with fiddles and cows over moons.

Arranged roughly by age, musical instruments -- rattles, sistrums, crumhorns, harps, kalimbas, drums, glass organs, hurdy-gurdies, whirling plastic tubes, synthesizers -- fill the shop. A small dance floor lays in the middle of the area. LEDs in the floor display dance steps. Blank sheet music, tuners and tuning forks, batons, rosin, and other supplies are on display next to a light board which turns the playing music into a cascade of sine waves, bouncing dots, and color washes.

The attendant encourages you to sing your own light show.

Purple as Time's amethyst robes.

Before the entrance of this market, a weathered stone hand holds a purple placard which reads "Ozymandias." A tile meander leads you into the store and a labyrinth of gazing globes; statuary, both antique and modern; stone and stainless steel obelisks; path luminaries, and weather vanes. Benches of all sorts for the weary are scattered throughout.

You follow the tile maze past kinetic sculptures and Archimedean solids of wood, glass, silver and steel spinning lazily near burbling fountains, illuminated misters, and indoor waterfalls of etched glass and textured obsidian. Armillary spheres and sundials -- bowl, pierced gnomon, and garden -- stand station within the winding aisles of merchandise. Wind chimes sound infrequently.

Beneath a lair of gargoyles, the attendants mix small amounts of concrete for a class of aspiring backyard sculptors.

❧ ❧ ❧

Back in the atrium, you find a bench and lean back against its companion planter. The water clock's sounds mix with the oboe trio's music. You feel a little like a swimmer who has beached on the shores of a swift river.

A middle-aged man walks out of the green store with a walking stick and you wonder how you missed those. A boy with a spinning LED toy dashes by you; you don't recall seeing his whirligig for sale, either. At the bistro there is a young couple, heads inclined as they read a green, leather-bound book together.

Next time, you decide, you'll take one venue at a time, coming back regularly to make little discoveries. Who knows, perhaps next time you'll meet another explorer.

Deb Layne on Polyphony 7

Here's the latest on Polyphony 7 (from Deb Layne):

In 2002, the Polyphony anthology series debuted. Conceived as a short fiction venue for stories that would skate gracefully across the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, and literary fiction, it was quickly recognized as the standard bearer for cross genre work. Since then, the series' six volumes have become a vital, unique collection of voices in literature of the fantastic.

Polyphony has been twice nominated for a World Fantasy Award and the stories therein have been featured in several "Year's Best" anthologies, along with garnering accolades from several award judges and committees. Polyphony authors range from multiple-award-winning seasoned writers to the previously unpublished. The series is truly a melodic interweaving of many voices: old and new, speculative and literary, heralded and unknown. Polyphony has not merely crossed literary boundaries, it has reformed and redefined them.

The harsh economic climate threatens to kill this vital series. Wheatland Press is asking for your help.

The authors have graciously made concessions to make Polyphony 7 a reality. They've agreed to a reduced pay rate to see the volume published. Now we need readers.

In order to publish Polyphony 7, Wheatland Press must receive 225 paid pre-orders via the website by March 1, 2010. If the pre-order quantities cannot be met, Polyphony will cease publication. It's that simple. The preorder link is here: (mid page)

If the preorder number is met, then Polyphony 7 will be published on or about July 1, 2010.

We have heard from many in the SF/F literary community that Polyphony is a vital part of small press publishing. We agree, but we cannot continue without your support. We hope that you will support our fine authors and their art by becoming part of the Polyphony community and pre-ordering a copy of Polyphony 7.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ten Hours

This weekend I spent a lot of time sitting in front of a gas fire with a giant clock over the mantle piece. Between napping, trying to write and thinking a little about Jung's Red Book, I had a vision. If decades are like hours on a clock, my life's at 4:30 PM (assuming we start at Noon), and if I live to be 100 years old, that would be like going to bed at 10:00 PM. There's something sobering about compressing one's life that way. But there's also something nice about knowing that I still have five and a half "hours" left (and about four and a half of those will be productive assuming I inherit my maternal grandmother's longevity genes).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reactiongs CG Jung's “Liber Novus"

Last night I stumbled onto news about CG Jung's "Liber Novus" or The Red Book and got weirded out.

First there's the title, "The Red Book," which sounds like what I call my "Book of Art." Granted, using medieval-esque titles for self-produced works like computer manuals started out as a joke.

Then I started looking at Jung's drawings and the calligraphy and it looked kind of familiar. The dream-like quality of Jung's illuminations reminded me of some of my own dreams, and some of my drawing in my own little Books of Art remind me of his (much higher quality) works.

But the clincher were the conversations he had with the characters in his book. For a while in the mid 1990's, I was experimenting with a story character who I would imagine spoke to me while I wrote things down.

The whole thing felt like a -- wait for it -- huge synchronicity. Or a déjà vu.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, since I'm familiar with guided meditation or ritualized day dreams and it sounds like Jung used his "active imaginations" in the same way. Still... on one hand it sounds like Jung was a little crazy when he was in the thick of his book. On the other hand, it seems like the hype around the book fuels the romantic notion of the "insane creative type."

Ultimately, what does The Red Book mean: is it just a famous person's personal journal; is it indicative of a particular psychological or cognitive process; or does it hold some kind of cosmic road-map that could help folks navigate their lives?

And I should be honest. I sometimes daydream about my collection of journals someday being mass-produced while interesting pages are on display in a museum. Maybe my freak-out is a form of hero-identification.

Still... the images are compelling and familiar.

On the shoulder front: my shoulder seems slightly more stiff than when I last visited my physical therapist. He's given me a new stretch to do.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Common Neo-Paganism Questions John Gets Asked

Q: What is Neo-Paganism's theology?

There is no one theology. Neo-Paganism is a 21C, primarily Occidental, urban or suburban religious trend which views the universe as a living and sacred system of choices and consequence, with a little bit of random chance thrown in. Neo-Paganism borrows celebratory, communion, transformative, and meditative techniques from a variety of traditional Pagan, contemporary indigenous, and 19th and 20th C occult sources. It is a continuation of social trends with roots in the Age of Enlightenment and especially Romanticism.

Q: Are all Neo-Pagans earth, moon or sun people; is this a denominational difference?

No. Some pagans are sea people, and some are Tree Huggers. :-) I think a better question might be, "Are all Neo-Pagans Goddess Worshippers?"


Generally, Neo-Pagans gather -- ideally for ritual, celebration, and communion -- at eight points in the year. Four are on the equinoxes and solstices, four are between the equinoxes and solstices. Sometimes they gather on the nights of the full moon.

Neo-Paganism is an umbrella term for polytheistic, immanent, Earth mystery religions such as Wicca and Druidism. Wicca itself has several branches based on founders of differing methods. Some also include Heathenism: An umbrella term for religions (i.e. Ásatrú, Odinism, Forn Sed, and Theodism) based on the "Northern Mysteries" of Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, with practices gleaned from the Eddic Sagas and other material sources.

Neo-Paganism should not be confused with indigenous Paganism (such as Shinto, Native American, or African practices), or with historical Paganism (such as pre-Christan Rome). In my experience, Shamanism seems to straddle Neo-Paganism and occult technique (as opposed to ceremonial magick, a technique used by many Neo-Pagans, or a High Mass used by Catholics).

At the other end of the spectrum from Neo-Paganism would be "New Age" practices and beliefs, particularly those which seem to view angels, devas, faeries, candles, and crystals as personal delivery-folk from a cosmic mail-order catalog.

Q: What draws a person to Neo-Paganism?

I think it depends on *when* one is drawn to Neo-Paganism -- individually as in age and culturally as in which decade. I always felt closer to "god" in the woods than I did in the Corvallis Episcopal church, and in 1985 I decided Neo-Paganism was a better match for my spiritual needs.

Other reasons:
- The Christian church is
+ too restrictive
+ says everyone is a sinner
+ tool of Dead White Guys
- To freak out one's family
- To do spells and perform magick
- To find a significant other
- To find a religion that is one's own choice, and not blindly inherited

Q: Do you use / do divination, magic and crystals ?

Pausing to remember that Starhawk cautioned about [Neo-Paganism] becoming "mindless idiocy." ...

** Divination ... I know a minister who says, "Scripture is everywhere, pay attention." Divination works the same way on the premise that everything is connected to everything else (a universal application of Sir James Frazer's law of magical contamination). The universe is seen as being governed by fate, fortune, and choice -- things are like really complicated clockwork, but there's some wiggle room; so it helps to pay attention so you know what actions to choose.

Divination methods with Tarot cards most western Neo-Pagans use today are derived from the turn of the 20th century methods developed by the Golden Dawn (Waite, Mathers, Levi, Crowley, Regardie). Other older methods involve drawing tokens (runes), casting yarrow sticks or coins, or counting birds/clouds/leaves/whatever during a particular span of time. Oh, yeah... dreams and visions -- um Oracal at Delphi. Er.. and Astrology... yeah... a 2000 year old compendium of Egyptian and Babylonian star lore.

My sense is in the past the "results" of various divination methods were more clockwork; these days, folks are likely to say that the results are more a reflection of the future (or of the hidden present) *at that moment*. Sort of like a weather report.

I've done Tarot Readings -- it's possible that I've unconsciously stumbled onto a cold-reading method. I've also had a few "spooky action at a distance" readings. I find they work better when they're for other people than if they are for me. My experience is that the cards suggest things to me, so I'd call them a focus aid.

About once every two to three years I have a dream that seems to predict the future -- but it's always about little mundane things (like seeing a foyer of a house I've yet to visit) and I never realize the prediction until after the fact. I wish they'd tell me things like when the stock market is going to crash or who will be president.

I would add that divination is simply one more method to gather, organize and analyze data about one's relationship with others, the environment, or deity. It's always good to cross-check your information sources.

** Magic (sometimes spelled Magick) is the art of using voice, body, song, dance, prayer, props and poetry to imagine a desired outcome, coupled with actions to manifest that outcome. But you have to really want it, and you have to be willing to work for it. And action works a whole lot better at getting something done than staring into a candle's flame.

Starhawk writes about Magic: "A spell is a symbolic act done in an altered state of consciousness in order to cause a desired change." AND... "Spell casting is the lesser, not the greater, magic; but the greater magic builds on the less. 'spells are extreamly sophisticated psychological tools that have subtle but important effects on a person's inner growth." AND ... In one sense, magic works on the priciple that 'it is so because I say it is so.' ... For my word to take on such force, I must be deeply and completely convince that it is identified with truth as I know it. If I habitually lie to my lovers, steal from my boss, pilfer from supermarkets, or simply renege on my promise, I cannot have that conviction."

Dion Fortune (Violet Firth) writes about magic: "Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will."

** Crystals.... are pretty. I think Mdm Blavatski started the thing with crystals when she imagined Atlantis as a super nation of magical technicians. But now that I think about it, what is the history of the crystal ball? Hmmm. Dr John Dee... 1550...?

I had a collection of tumbled crystal stones that lived on a window sill most of the time. Occasionally I would put one in my pocket if the mood struck me... Oh, yeah. OK... I do have a basalt rock with a natural hole in it that I found on the beach which I call "The Lodestone of Atlantis". A friend said that it looked like something a charlatan would wear, so I immediately found a thong for it. I wear it for rituals and on days when I think I'll need extra help staying calm and clear headed.

Q: Where does "magical power" come from?

When I'm feeling secular, I'll say that these are all psychological aids. When I'm feeling woo-woo, I say that these things are influenced and influence subtle patterns in a spiritual dimension. When I'm feeling somewhere in between, I'll say that my brain is somehow picking up subtle information not necessarily psychological.

Q: What is Samhain?

Samhain is an old Irish word for a"Celtic" festival taking place sometime midway between the Autumnal equinox and the Winter Solstice. I put "Celtic" in quotes because historical Celts ranged over Ireland, Spain, Gaul (France), Germany and parts of Eastern Europe over a time period beginning around 300 BCE to the 12th century (or later depending on if you think Christianized Celts are still Celts...) . So when someone says something is "Celtic", one should ask, "Yes, but what kind of Celtic?"

In "Celtic" tradition, Samhain is the last harvest when everything's stored, the herds are culled for winter (to make their feed last until Spring), and -- at least in theory -- it's the hunkering down time before things get cold and nasty and someone dies of influenza.

Sometimes Samhain is called the "Celtic New Year." The veils between this world and the Faerie World (or the world of the dead) are thin, and beings may wander between the worlds. Supposedly, it's a good time for divination because it's a kind of inter-calendary, limbo time. Sometimes people who have died in the previous year are remembered (ala Día de los Muertos).

Because I think using Old Irish terms for a borrowed "Celtic" folk customs is cultural appropriation, I prefer the term "Ides of Autumn" to indicate this particular time of year.

Q: Why does Neo-Paganism ignore logic, focus on anecdotal evidence, and is particularly "woo-woo?"

My preferred way to ask this is, "Why does it seem like so many Neo-Pagans are refugees from Math and Science?"

I think this is a Eugene-specific, but American-general phenomenon. The three or so British introductory books I've read stress a more balanced approach to spiritual / magical practices and keeping good records. However, Neo-Paganism's roots in the Counter-Enlightenment placed extra value on the emotions and intuition, and I think this tends to attract emotional and intiutive people to Neo-Paganism's ranks.

Q: What are five beginner texts and why?

This is a really hard question because most of the beginner texts I've read are really dated, or not "beginner" texts, or should have the good bits gathered together into a primer.... Sir James Frazer, Andrew Lang, Margaret Murray have contributed a lot of -- er -- dated research which has crept into books on Neo-Paganism and Neo-Pagan Theology and have yet to be rooted out. And although I might lose my honorary lesbian status by saying so, ditto Merlin Stone and Riane Eisler... and Maria Gimbutas.

Here's my picks:

1. "Drawing Down the Moon," by Margot Adler. The standard overview of the Neo-Pagan movement in the United States by an NPR reporter and practicing Witch.

2. "The New Encyclopedia of the Occult," by John Micheal Greer. Quick and easy introductory articles that seem well researched. Greer has an eye for "the emperor has no clothes" which shows up in his writing. Good alternative to Hutton's "The Triumph of the Moon (which is not a beginner book)".

3. "The Druidry Handbook," by John Micheal Greer. Accessable, well researched, no "pedigree bullshit." Introductory rituals and methods. Great annotated bibliography.

4. "The Mystical Qabalah," by Dion Fortune. Written in the archaic style mastered only by the English in 1935, this is an attempt to integrate Eastern philosophies with the practices and wisdom of the Hebrew Qabalah. Has some interesting explorations of the ethics of magic and the psychological boundaries between magical reality and delusion. Dion Fortune is the author of the phrase "all the gods are one god, and all the goddeses are one goddess, and there is one initiator," and "magic is the art of changing consciousness at will." Fortune established the concpet that polarity -- especially sexual polarity -- is a magical force and that (heterosexual) sex is sacramental. She's also a product of her time, so she's classist, racist, and homophobic; her writing style is chatty and gossipy, and I find that if I read her with a Monty Python accent I enjoy her books immensely. . . . and if one wants to understand the magickal theory behind most Western Neo-Paganism, one has to read this book (it's more accessible than Alestar Crowley, and it's possible that "A Garden of Pomegranates" by Israel Regardie -- which I haven't read -- might be a better choice ).

5. "Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions," by Starhawk et al. Simple language and fun activities... even if it is a little gynocentric (my pet peeve). Starhawk, the "American Witch," introduced me to Wicca, and she'll always have a special place in my heart; but she's really focused on the female reproductive system (which I don't have) and she's adopted the Persephony Myth as her own personal story (which does get tedious after the third book). Starhawk's fatal flaw is that she is a novelist -- while this allows her to communicate complicated ideas with powerful images, she sometimes reasons by analogy or presents her imaginings as actual fact.


In terms of Wicca, which is the tradition I'm most familiar with, books tend to be focused either on ritual, spells, and the neopagan calendar; or they tend to be historical / sociological / archeological.

** History / Sociology / Archeology

Ronald Hutton
The Triumph of the Moon -- If you want something more pithy than Drawing Down the Moon (or even if you don't) I highly recommend this book.Very dense history of the development of paganism, starting with the general movements of the English Enlightenment and Romantic eras, narrowing down during the Industrial Revolution and Modern eras to focus on specific occult scholars and students. Ends with an examination of the influences of Aleister Crowley on Gerald Gardner, and Gardner's subsequent development of Wicca.

Witches, Druids and King Arthur -- especially the first chapter "How Myths are Made."

Ancient British Paganism

Cynthia Eller
The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory -- Wildly sarcastic, but it addresses some unspoken core feminist values embedded in American Wicca. Excellent companion to "How Myths are Made."

Grahm Harvey
Contemporary Paganism -- Sort of a 1990's British/European version of Drawing Down the Moon

Carlo Ginzburg
Ecstasies. -- Translation of 1989 work tracing the history of pogroms against lepers, Jews, and non-Christians in Europe by an examination of court records. Questions the Murray thesis of the Burning Times. Examines records of self-identifying witches and other occult villagers who have ecstatic, mystical experiences.

William G. Dever
Did God Have a Wife -- Dever argues that there is text and objects in the archaeological record supporting the theory that families worshiped a goddess, Asherah, at family shrines in 11th century BC Israel. Further states that Asherah was a fertility goddess, most likely worshiped by women, and that Asherah was Jahweh's consort.

Watshington, Peter

Madame Blavatsky's Baboon -- A review of the doings of H. P. Blavatsky, Master Koot Hoomi, Annie Besant, William Judge, Charles Leadbeater, G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, and Krishnamurti. Spanning the time of the rise of the English Empire, the fall of the Russian monarchy, the decline of English colonialism, and the rise of California-style demagoguery, this book veers between comic and melodramatic turns.

** Ritual and Magical Theory

Bonewits, Isaac
Real Magic -- A master's thesis written in the early seventies. Sometimes a little too cute, it attempts to codify magic into a scientific paradigm.

Fortune, Dion (Violet Firth)
Psychic Self-Defense -- Lots of anecdotes of the psychic doings of the English Occult Jet Set. In between some of the quaint racism and homophobia is good advice for determining what kind of experiences one is having, and what to do if the experience is a bad one.


Spiral Dance, The -- A discussion of spells, rituals, and ethics behind the women's spirituality movement.

** Wiccan Theology

Farrar, Janet and Stewart
Witches' God, The -- Attempts to reexamine the role of male deity within Wicca. Very dualistic and concerned with polarity, and therefore heterosexist. A good overview of various cultures and gods.


Truth or Dare -- An detailed discussion of the workings of our hierarchically based society, in which the forces of power-over and power-with are examined closely.

Dreaming the Dark -- A discussion of the workings of power upon the fields of sexuality and politics. Includes a discussion on the ethics of magic.

** Earth Sciences

Heath, Robin
Sun, Moon and Earth -- A wonderfully illustrated book and a great introduction to the motions of the sun and the moon across the sky. A must read for anyone wishing to make their own observations of the seasons. Very accessible.

News Flash

On the health front: my shoulder is still stiff. I think it's improving. I've been congested the last few days, but I have no fever.

On the story front: I just finished a science fiction story I could send to Analog, but it needs critique. I also sent out a boatload of stories via e-mail and US Postal Service. I really should write a novel now, since that's supposedly where authors make their bread and butter.

On the recreational reading front: I haven't finished "The Age of Wonder," and since it's a new book, I have to return it to the library. Sir William Hershall and his sister, Caroline, were very interesting people. I guess I'll have to sign up for the book again.

On the religion front: Today has been the day for religious discussions. First a flurry of e-mails about Karen Armstrong, faith, logos, Origen, Celsus, and fundamentalism. Then a request by a high school student to interview me about Neo-Paganism.

On the weather front: The rain has knocked off most of the leaves from the trees and is busily trying to send them down into the city drains. Mark says that none of the leaks around the chimney seem to have returned.

On the truck front: Mark's truck blew out a spark plug. He put a new one back in, but wonders if other spark plugs will blow out at some random time in the future. He is kind of wishing that he had participated in the cash for klunkers program.

On the social network front: I've turned LeechBlock back on on my Firefox Browswer. It prevents me from staying on Twitter for more than ten minutes per hour and blocks me from Facebook for large chunks of time. My productivity has improved accordingly.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Flu and Friday

No more vivid dreams the last few days.

I've been reading, "The Age of Wonder." Sometimes I have to skim through the minutia of who was drinking with whom. Where the book works, it's really interesting. I especially like the section on William Hershel, and I have fun imagining what it must have been like in 1800 when the size of the solar system (and pretty much the known universe) doubled with the discovery of Uranus.

The other aspect that I find striking is how little the author mentions the American War for Independence -- so far I've read about King George a little and the apprehensions between the British and the French. Ben Franklin has only been touched on as a Francophile.

On the shoulder front: my shoulder is still stiff; I'm slowly getting more flexibility.

On the writing front: I've finished two short stories, and now I need to get them mailed out.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Dream: Hasty Stag Knight

The dream's setting was the middle ages. The people were dressed in long robes that made me think the time was around 900 AD. There was a large stone castle (which now that I think about it, is anachronistic, since mostly stone castles didn't appear until about 1100-1200). The village hugging the walls of the castle was made mostly of stone with thatched roofs.

The main characters in the dream were a lady, her twenty-something son, and a forty-something knight. The lady reminds me in waking of Agnes Morehead as Endora from Bewitched. Her face was roundish, and she had long hair ala Princess Leia wrapped in loops on either side of her head. Her robes were layers of lavender and emerald silk. Her son was newly knighted. He had silvery armor, with a stag crest on his helm. I think his talberd was brown. The older knight's main attribute was that he was guileful -- his armor wasn't as shiny as the other's and his gear more worn.

I have the impression that the lady had advised her son to not be hasty, or to think carefully, or even possibly not to trust the older knight. She seemed to be a ruler in control of the countryside, but also slightly vexed (in that way that Endora always was).

The two knights were having a kind of mock fight on the wide, gravelly shore of a flat river. Aspens grew on the far shore. The rocks were mostly white. The young knight was pretty invincible. The older knight couldn't best him. So the older knight tricked the younger one into taking off some of his armor for another round.

I have a very strong image of the younger knight holding his helmet like a shield. The bronze stag kneeling on the top blocked a sword swing. The older knight was supposed to pull his blow, but ended up deeply slicing the younger knight on his upper right arm.

The younger knight went wild with pain, fell onto the river rocks, and screamed for someone to please help him take his armor off. The older knight walked away.

There is a break in the dream narrative.

(Pause to imagine a fade-over of the lady and the river.) The lady had caused her young son's sword to be taken across the river so that it would not cause further troubles while he heeled. I have a strong vision of a door with a rounded top, with a circle window in the top, set in a river stone frame buttress sticking out of a stone house (it's difficult for me to figure out how they built an arching, half-circle roof out of river stones because I don't recall seeing mortar).

A man, presumably a healer, stepped out of the door and along a cobbled street...

...and that's all I recall.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Porch

We were going to have a pirate gallows at some friends' house and a Halloween Party. But instead, fever hit our house (103.3F) so we're quarantining ourselves.

Mark made a bunch of grave markers and added decorations to them.

I like the foil wrap that he glued to the front of one of the graves. It looks even better in the dark.

Here's the Celtic Cross I made. I was not quite as industrious as Mark and used sidewalk chalk to give it a marbled look.

As usual, we hung a bat on the front door.

It's not what you think.

Someone pointed out that the ghost carved on the side of the pumpkin looks like a gathering of Southern bigots. It's a ghost. Popping out of a grave. The cross was supposed to look like one of those Celtic crosses one sees in a graveyard.

If this were going to be some kind of political statement, the ghost would have been a Unitarian Universalist, and instead of a cross there would have been a Burning Question Mark.


We went on a tour of the Pioneer Cemetary in Eugene. Eugene Skinner, the city's namesake, is burried here. Some of the graves are very old, and have stones that folks could order from a Sears (I think) catalog. This one struck me. Hope is in a box, but is the curtain opening or closing? It's all very Pandora. If you step back, the stone looks like an open mouth with eyes were the curtains are being gathered.

Near the entrance, some crocuses were sprouting up. Usually, these flowers appear in May. But these October blooms look like they're starting a procession to someplace far, far away.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Unhappy Shoulders

The other day I lunged after something without thinking and inflamed a muscle in my shoulder. My physical therapist is not happy. I've also been slouching my shoulders when doing a particular stretch... so my therapist wants me to remember to use better posture. My arm has been sore, so I've been holding it in my lap -- this is a tight position and undoes the work of all the stretching exercises I've been doing.

I can feel a throbbing line from my scapula to the underside of my elbow. It hurts and wakes me from sleep. Endothermic crystallizing packets are now my friends.

More Pumpkin Ghost

Boo! (Again!)

Just to make sure everyone knows. This is a ghost popping up out of a grave with a cross marker on it. I am not making a political or racial statement. It's just a ghost!

Pumpkin Ghost


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Her Name Was Lola...

I was going for something between "Huzzah!" and "Happy Halloween!", but I think this photo turned out kind of "Copa Cabana."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Self-Therapy for Orpheus ?

Last night was the Wordos Halloween Short Story Party. After a quick round of business, we sit back, eat snack food, and read each other 1000 word stories. The theme this year was "parties" (I modified mine to include "gatherings"). Stories ranged from pretty funny, to macabre, to downright creepy.

My science fiction story surprised me. I'd originally thought I'd write a sarcastic send up of the recent Sedona Sweat Lodge Tragedy - something snarky about plastic shamans and prosperity theology. Partway through creating the manuscript I realized I was writing a diatribe and switched gears. The deadline loomed and I wrote snatches of the story between preparing for the Shrew's memorial and other family obligations. I forced myself to stop re-writing the beginning and get to the end, which I think I wrote very late at night in bed. Tuesday morning before the reading, I ruthlessly (sort of) chopped out 500 words to make the story fit the reading format.

Tuesday night. My turn at the podium came. I hauled my laptop with me and began the story. As I got to the end, and I started to choke up. I'm loosing voice control and tears are threatening. "Great," I'm thinking as I'm trying to read the ending. "People are going to not understand what I'm saying, and I'm going to look like one of those writers who is overcome with the brilliance of their own artistry. How professional."

Sometimes, a writer will put personal truth into a story. In this case, I drifted into a story resonance through a kind of word association game induced by focusing on the writing-under-deadline process. I hadn't had a chance to read it aloud in its entirety. I don't read my stories so much as perform them, which triggered a catharsis.

In some ways this seems worse - writing as self-therapy. I want my stories to get into the heads of other people, not be a vehicle for me to work through my own issues. But on the other hand, stories are supposed to have heart, an "ah ha!" moment, a place where they speak to a listener's truth. After some reflection, I'm afraid I wrote a typical John story: someone muddles into danger, but mystical music somehow (we're not quite sure how, but it was also a religious experience with dense and obscure philosophical meaning) saves the day by calling them back. But I hope I wrote a story about searching, a story about being lost, a story about family, a story about being found.

Sigh. I guess I have to go watch The Wizard of Oz and Moulin Rouge now....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Illustrating for the Shrew (and Me).

I felt like I needed to do this. So...

I cleaned up the memorial design for Leslie from yesterday.

Once the design was in, it was fairly easy to make a black-and-white outline version.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Remembering the Shrew

It is with the greatest of sadness that we announce the passing of Leslie Engle, the owner and guiding light of Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire, early this morning (Oct 16, 2009). Leslie started the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire nearly 15 years ago with her husband Ken (who died three years ago). Quite simply, Leslie was The Shrew. There will be a memorial service on Saturday, October 24th (2009). Details will be posted on the Shrewsbury website,

Leslie once told me that she was born in an airplane flying in the air during (I believe) the Blitz of London. This made it difficult for officials filling out her birth certificate. Somehow the circumstances of her birth seem appropriate for someone who became the founder of the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire.

The first time I met Leslie was at her home -- the Shrew Box -- before the very first Shrewsbury Faire. I'd been encouraged to play the harp for the Faire, and I was nervously showing her my Society of Creative Anachronism costume. I'd been to a Renaissance Faire in Minneapolis, and I was anxious that I wasn't really up to her theatre standards. Leslie was wreathed in cigarette smoke, grace, and calm -- I've been busking and harping ever since the first Faire.

In the early years of the Faire, Leslie (and Ken) put up with my latex velociraptor puppet side-kick, Vaal -- eventually allowing Vaal to facilitate Shrewsbury business meetings. Leslie appreciated the puppetry involved, and gave me tips for roaming a faire with one (Vaal got some outfits to be more "period.")

Somehow, Leslie decided that Shrewsbury needed an Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. I remember she and Ken taught a bunch of us the dance -- a procession with deer horns on poles -- in a park. That was the only time I've ever seen Leslie relax her Deeply Ingrained English Sense of Privacy to engage in a hippy/mystic/woo-woo moment. She leaned her back against a park redwood in front of a stick of burning cedar incense. Seeing her so as we learned the Bromley struck a chord of illumination within me. It was a magic moment.

Making the magic happen. Leslie always spoke about making the magic happen at Faire, whether it was drawing a guest into a short moment of theatre with a "Good morrow, and how fare you?" as they entered; or drawing them into a simple dance; or (in my case) simply believing strongly enough as I harped that I really was from another time and place and that my harp could return us there -- at least until a cell phone (or a bag pipe) interrupted.

Leslie was a kind of den mother to the Shrewsbury players, and I think she always was where ever she went. She believed in the power of chocolate and tea. I remember sharing a good laugh with her about the time she was helping some poor (probably very drunk twenty-something) waif who had called her, stranded, for a ride. Leslie was reduced to enunciating the following command: "Look. Around. You. What. Do. You. See?" I was in tech support at the time, and the parallels were hilarious.

But sometimes I think she let herself get worn out -- and this was always evident after the Faire. And each year it seemed she got more and more wrung out after the Herculean effort of willing the Faire into existence.

We loved her for allowing us to play in her faire. Slowly, it became our faire, and Leslie became our Elizabeth I, our Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Lake, our patron saint working miracles behind the scenes. And although she was very shy, and it tired her, she would appear on the days of Shrewsbury Faire -- in later days on her electric horse Malaprop -- to be our luck-piece, our rallying point, our example of working the magic. I learned the best thing to do when I saw her during Faire was to keep walking, wave a secret wave, and not try to give her anything.

I loved her humor. I loved her wit. I admired her devotion and perseverance for making her dreams come true. I will miss her mentoring -- she was a wonderful listener with thoughtful and encouraging insights. She helped me deal with being newly gay, thirty-something, and single in Corvallis, and she always made a little time when I would call her and say, "I just had this dream and when I woke up I had a feeling I should tell it to you."

I'd like to think that if Leslie were here right now she'd somehow catch our collective gaze. She'd smile, and then she'd say, "Look around." We'd look at each other and she'd add, "Look at the magic around you. Now go play faire."

I will. But I think I need to re-read O'Shaughnessy's Ode a few more times.

Good-bye, Leslie, and safe journey.

❧   ❧   ❧   ❧   ❧

Delenn: "Strange. The galaxy seems somehow smaller now that all the First Ones are gone forever."

Sheridan: "It feels like the magic's gone now."

Delenn: "No, not gone. Now we make our own magic. Now we create our own legends. Now we build the future."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shoulders and Socks

Quick shoulder update. Woke up this morning with a lot more flexibility. I can actually turn the steering wheel of a car with my left arm, which is an improvement from this weekend.

On the dream front: Mark and I were in a shoe store shopping. They had a machine they could feed your socks into, and the machine would un- then re-knit your socks (one sock at a time). I was wearing mis-matched socks at the time (a red and a white one) and they came back clean and satiny.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Corn Maze Photos

We went to a local farm with some friends to run around in a corn maze. Afterward we visited the pumpkin patch. It's a local tradition we've been doing for about a decade.

Last year we discovered that the pumpkins in the field were put there by farm hands. I suppose this makes some sense given that the nights usually drop below freezing and the pumpkins would get mushy. But the transport of the pumpkins from the fields to a warehouse and back into the fields doesn't have the same romantic appeal.

In the past we've gone later in the month. This year we went earlier and had better weather. There's lots of farm animals there, too. I like to photograph the horses (and carts) and this year we had to be a little more careful not to spook them (we were in a place the horses weren't expecting us).

Lava Lamp!

Happy new moon ◯

I found my green Lava Lamp up in the attic. I plugged it in last night, and I guess it needs some cooking (or something) because it's not quite flowing the way it should be. Last night it seemed like the stuff at the bottom was a giant convecting blob at the bottom with no larger blobs reaching up to what looked like a floating brain at the top. Occasionally an oily drop would condense off of the brain. I'm not sure if the solution is too hot or too cold, and the web sites I've read suggest gentle heating and cooling to fix things -- if fixing is indeed possible. Resisting the urge to slowly turn the lamp upside down.

In shoulder news... man, my shoulders hurt. I think I woke up about five time last night because my left arm was in an uncomfortable position. Half of my scapular, trapezoid, and biceps want to stretch and the other half really don't. Which reminds me, I need to do my stretches...

Today will probably be one of the nicer days of Autumn; the rains and very cold weather are in the next days' forecast.

Off to the Corn Maze!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Moon, characters, fall and shoulders

Second PT visit for my shoulder. The good news is that the exercises I've been doing have restored some mobility in my shoulder. The bad news is that I probably haven't been doing them enough. I'm still managing pain with ice -- this morning my arm kind of felt like electrical current was running through it. If the pain becomes too bad, I've got some acupuncturists recommendations.

Autumn is here. In the morning the rising sun burnishes a maple on the other side of the fence. And the acorns are falling out of the oaks. No frost yet, but we've taken in the cherry tomatoes, and just yesterday I found three strawberries ripe for the picking.

This morning, despite not being a morning person, I got up at 4:30 AM PST to watch the L-CROSS crash into the Moon. For some reason I thought I'd be able to see a flash or a dust plume or something. My eyes weren't through cleaning themselves or something because looking up at the sky that early was like looking at a movie with dirty contact lenses. I did see a shooting star in Taurus, though.

In other developments, I've been playing with UFT-8 characters, like ♬ ✈ ❂ ❊. I'm looking forward to being able to write (☉♑ Happy Winter) or (☥ Back from the MET) or include the moon phases: ☽ ◯ ☾ Or it's a Mercury Retrograde Day: ☿ʶ Or start singing old Sound Garden songs: ☀ I wish that Egyptian Hieroglyphs were part of the UTF-8.... but it looks like I'd have to include a character set somehow. But if I'm really clever, I can figure out a way to use ❧ in bullet lists.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009

Is It Art Yet?

I'm working on a seasonal photo.

I'm not sure how well it's working.

I have three favorites.

But I may re-shoot this if I can use a pipe-cleaner for the body.

Caption Contest

...and stretch.

I suppose that it's a good sign that the part about PT that hurt the most this morning was when I forgot about my arm for a moment and opened the front door as I was arriving. Okay... and discovering what my deductible is. The stretches my therapist did felt kind of nice.

Good news: I have "frozen shoulder" or encapsulitis. No one really knows the cause and it usually goes away. PT and some special stretches will accelerate the healing process. Bad news: my shoulder will probably hurt and have limited mobility for up to a year. Worst case scenario: surgery will be required to convince my shoulder socket tissue to release its death-grip on my humerus bone.

Off for some ice. And my stretch regimen.

In slightly related news: this morning, I dreamed that I was swimming around in a very large pool with a yellow canary on my left shoulder. I forget why I was taking care of a theatre's yellow canary this way -- instead of walking, everyone in the dream was swimming / flying.


Shoulder update. I'll be seeing a physical therapist today. I've filled out about eight pages of questionnaire. I can't help but think of a medical joke my friend Laura once told me, where some explorers were captured and given the choice between "Chi-chi" or death; the last explorer -- after listening to the horrific screams of his fellow explorers who have chosen Chi-chi -- chooses death. The final line is the leader of the captors exclaiming, "He chose death. But first... Chi-chi!" I think the humor has something to do with western medicine's methodology. After reading Jay Lake's posts on PT, I think "Chi-chi!" will be one of the least likely things I'll be saying while my arm is getting manipulated.

In slightly related news, I decided that the shoulder meds I was taking were making me too loopy for the amount of sleep they were supposedly giving me. The first few days they really did help me to sleep mostly through the night, but I must have gotten used to them because I started waking up in the middle of the night. So I've stopped taking them, and I can feel my short-term memory returning. Man, I am so thankful I don't have really chronic pain -- I'd hate to spend decades in a medicated haze.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Limits of Enlgish and Song

My latest flash fiction has me thinking about language and what I want to write. I'm not sure, but I think I want to be some kind of Neo-Pagan Phillip Pullman. I was going to say Neo-Pagan C. S. Lewis, except I share many of Pullman's critiques of Lewis's religious fiction.

The manuscript in question was critiqued by the Wordos Tuesday night. I think most people enjoyed some of the ideas, and some of the language, but there were some loaded pronouns (Eve, Adam) that threw people out of the story. One of the characters (an Aslan figure) sings everything. It's important that he sings everything. The only other popular characters I can think of who have sung their dialogs are Aslan (from The Magician's Nephew) and The Mother Thing (from Have Spacesuit, Will Travel). Judging from last night's critiques, I'm neither C. S. Lewis nor Heinlein.

I've been able to write alien dialog, but last night's manuscript had a definite feel of "lost in translation." Looking at it, and during the writing process, there were a couple of points where I felt the limitations of English. One really clunky thought was to write a glyph and then have a footnote with a translation. Another thought was clunky exposition explaining how the character is always singing.

It's too bad that I can't use color... or make the character's dialog appear as a matrix of words and notes. Hmmm. Or maybe it's easier for me to imagine the piece as an opera.

I guess if it ever turned into a pod-cast I would vocode that character's words (or whatever it is they did to Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking's voices in that one "song" of theirs).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Update.

This morning started out as a bothering kind of day involving working around other people's schedules and telephone menus -- and very likely a sick switchboard operator, given how long after eight AM the "our offices open at 8" message greeted me.

Now I'm working on some special awards for the Wordos. For the Most Stories Sent Out to Paying Markets, I'm working on an icosidodecahedron. I'd hoped to make some of the faces have postage stamps on them, but the paper I used is probably around 20 pound weight, and the tabs bent when I tried to slide them into eighty pound construction paper. I'm thinking the icosidodecahedron will have a "crown" of stamps.

The rains are gearing up and we may have a thunderstorm tomorrow. I'll be glad; Mark has sanded down the kitchen door so it will close, but the crack in the wall probably won't close up until we get enough rain.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Song Are We Singing?

Here are some of us from the Pearwood Pipers singing at Shrewsbury Faire main stage. I'm guessing that we're singing "Of Beare."... no, we'd have ale mugs. Maybe we're singing "Ah Robin," and about to swap girlfriend stories. No... looks like we're singing different parts. Oh well, we had fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dreams and Shoulder Meds

Lately my dreams have been very present and at the same time difficult to recall. "Present" is the closest I can come to the description of how they've been different the last two weeks -- I was going to say "more real," except all of my dreams feel real to me. I was going to say "less removed," except, now that I think about it, the point-of-view of the dreams really hasn't changed that much, being about the same ratio of me watching the dream as if I were watching a movie or TV (or floating above myself) to me dreaming the events happening to me.

Snip One: It was day. I have an impression of red rock cliffs. I was flying in my black and purple cloak. Sometimes I have to really concentrate on flying to do it; sometimes there's a sense that my cloak is operating like wings; sometimes I have to flap my arms. This time, I was flying as easily as walking.

Snip Two: It was early morning. I was outside in a kind of swamp or jungle, only not very humid. I saw a white heron with a subtle blue glow fly by; a trace of light around feathers and wings. It joined a whole flock of herons in a small, mediaeval, wooden sailboat behind me.
Together with all the other herons, a blue glow lit the white sail. The boat flew into the air with all the herons in it.

Snip Three: In another, very convoluted dream, Cher was a sort of Storm character (from The X-men). I was a cross between Wolverine (X-men) and Batman (Batman). Lots of fight scenes. Cher/Storm was abducted by The Bad Guys and made into serve as a kind of sexual dynamo powering their (hey, this was a dream!) Evil Mind Control Country Music.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I just got back from the faire and most everything is unpacked.

Most of the lows involved me discovering the limitations of my shoulder -- the most serious being that I can not do all the hand motions to The Shark Song.

The highs:
  • Dancing the Bromley at 7:45AM in the fog Sunday Morning (and freaking someone out who thought they'd slept through the fair opening). Probably the best moment was at the end, when I turned around, the Bromley was winding up, and the seeing sunbeams through the trees and fog.
  • Finding the (unfortunately $300) crown and being encouraged to model it. Sometimes being a Capricorn is enough of an excuse to wear one.
  • Discovering (the morning after) that The Shark Song has somehow become a Shrewsbury Tradition.
  • Singing madrigals, both with the Pearwood Pipers and with a Mob of Willamette Valley madrigal singers.
  • Although I couldn't dance the Bromley properly this year, there was something satisfying about seeing a look of je ne sais pas on a guest's face and flitting over to them with a Bromley Flyer just as they were turning to a neighbor to ask "What are they dancing?"
  • Shouting instructions during the various opening and closing parades along the lines of "SMILE!" or "BE HAPPY!" or "WAVE!" or "THIS IS FUN!" while walking (and in some cases, skipping, backward).
  • Seeing many friends I only see once a year.
  • Seeing the bright constellations early this morning (mostly Orion, but also Cassiopeia, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Monoceros, and Taurus).

Whew. Off to sleep.