Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More on the Bears

Those stone bears were a visual focal point of the dream.  With the right paw by the head and the left paw down, they formed a kind of spiral shape with their posture.  Their fur had been carved in high detail, and in such a way to mirror the spiral -- they were standing on their hind legs, but also the way the fur had been carved suggested a kind of pyrotechnic radiation from their noses -- sort of like their fur was a kind of electric pinwheel.  I wish I had a photo; maybe I can make a drawing.  

2009-03-31 Dream:  Clan of the Iconographer

I was travelling through a long, twisty cave, going from one chamber to another past all sorts of carvings.  One entrance was a small round opening between two very lifelike stone bears.  The both were standing, facing the person entering the cave, in their right paws (held in a fist next to their heads) they held a stone torch.  (I think even during the dream they reminded me of the two statues of the Dunidian from Tolkien.)

Another carving was at the edge of an underground lake; a life sized canoe carved out of a fissue in the ground, with an animal (probably a bear, but maybe a cougar) close by.  

The dream changed into a cross-cultural comparison of heiroglyphs and cave art and modern icons.  I'm not sure what I was looking at here, because various icons and glyphs were moving around in a kind of animation -- I want to say the Egyptian djed pillar got compaired to a speaker icon.  Modern and ancient icons would stack up next to each other.

There was a break of some sort.  I was in a library, except it was also a field of some sort.  I was on a raised dirt road, and to get to the stacks I wanted, I had to go over a short embankment and onto the field.  It was day, the field was dry, the ground was a light brown clay / sand mix (less loam like).  

I was looking through a pile of lexicons and books for a pariticular word or hieroglyph.  I think I was looking for the word for water, or lake.  The field was becomming more and more like a library floor and less like a field.  I found one particully useful book, which had broken up the ancient word to its roots; I set it aside.

Then I was looking at a computer screen.  There were other folks working next to me and we were at a row of about four or five computers, working on sentance structure.  What we were doing turned into a Psychology experiment, because the sentances we were wroking on were things like, "It's me, Jesus.  I'm right here." and then using parabolic speakers to beam the utterance down onto a group of students in the library desks below us (the speaker was disguised as a light fixture -- which now that I think about it, looked like a speaker icon...) 

Monday, March 30, 2009

More Photos

Another photo from the other night.

2009-03-30 Dreams

Dreampt I was Batman (I think)... I was helping someone by following them electroncially... something about an inn, possiblly with Templars... (rats, should have written it down at 4 AM, because I have the impression there was lots of swirly, "I just played with burning alcohol" images).

Mark and I were at an unspecified East Coast city near the ocean.  The dream turned into a Charlie Brown history cartoon, and we were looking for how the Mayflower got to the city, which wasn't on the coast.  I think we were still 3D flesh-and-blood humans, but there were a lot of setting details that were cartoon.

We reasoned that there was a channel to the sea; there was discussion about if the channel opening would meet the ocean over an expanse of beach, or over a rock (?basalt?) shelf.  We chose shelf and managed to find evidence of the channel  (inseart cartoon grahic of Mayflower travelling up channel).  

The channel came out at Brekenridge (which in real life is a mountain resort town in Colorado). Nancy, a friend of ours who worked and lived in Brekenridge with Mark, made a brief cameo appearance to point to a map and tell us the name of city (Brekenridge) where the channel came out.

I think I woke up at this point.  What I've remembered sounds like a rehash of various conversations from yesterday.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Photos of the Egg Shrine of Fire

I decided that the egg I had managed to etch out an opening from would become a shrine to fire. This meant that I needed to get my hands on some isopropyl alcohol. I mean, really, if you're going to have a shrine to fire, you need to have a real flame.

Mark, who is convinced that I'm going to burn the house down someday, decreed that I had to do this outside away from the house. I took a few pictures of the egg before setting everything up, but they were blurry.

I waited for twilight. I set up a large brick near the sphinx. I twisted some copper wire into a stand and set it on the brick. Then I got ready with my camera and tripod. I need to get a smaller tripod or better zoom lens as half way through the process I took the camera off the tripod to get closer shots.

Then it was time to fire up the shrine. I used measuring spoons to put about a tablespoon of alcohol into the eggshell. This was partly to prevent me from spilling a new bottle of the stuff all over everything and partly to be sure that I didn't slop too much in. Then I lit a match and inched it in.

Foom! The vapors ignited and flame filled the eggshell. It spiraled out into a horn of flame. Slowly, the edges of the eggshell turned black.

I snapped pictures, pausing occasionally to admire the flames snaking up out of the eggshell. Eventually the flame expired. The eggshell was black and there was some unburnt liquid in the bottom which would not re-ignite. So I poured in more alcohol using the measuring spoons.

Finally, I was done. The alcohol made an impressive flame, but seemed to require a lot of maintenance. I found a tea light, pushed it out of its aluminum holder, and managed to finesse it through the eggshell's opening. I lit it and then wished that I had done the candle first, as the eggshell was now black and cracked from the ordeal of containing flaming liquid.

I carried the still burning candle and eggshell lantern back inside. The candle burnt for a few moments longer before the wick dropped out of the bottom of the wax cylinder and sputtered out in the bottom of the egg.

So the shrine is ... finished ? I almost thing that some of the photos I took seem to enshrine a spiritual moment more than the actual act itself, which was cool, too; just different. The end result has some ambiguous metaphorical significance -- it's as if the egg has become a charred symbol of the mind/body/spirit split.

More to ponder later.

John's Writing Guidelines

I figured that I needed to post my writing rules and guidelines. So here they are. I'd like to say that I follow them faithfully, but I don't.

Like many aspects of one's life, you are the one who cares the most about your writing. Not your spouse, not your critique group, and certainly not an editor or your fans. (OK, the fans who might care more about your writing than you do are the kind of fans who require restraining orders.)

A writer's job is to write stories, produce professional manuscripts, send manuscripts to markets, and to collect rejection slips. A writer's job is not to spend time in bars, bookstores, coffee shops, cafes or on-line complaining about writing (or not-writing).

Write well and entertain the reader. Be specific with details; avoid weak words and phrases; use active action to move the plot forward.

Make the reader care about the characters.  Make the protagonist active and show their loves, hates, and dreams.

Make the protagonist's problem something the reader can emphasize with.  All problems are a result of the protagonist's goals being frustrated -- clear goals will make it easier for the reader to identify with the protagonist.

Avoid vague or "grey" words. Specific details are your friends. "He stood outside the building" vs. "Jerry slouched against the blue tinted glass of the Franklin skyscraper." "A bird" vs. "a crooked-beak raven."

Trouble words and phrases to excise from your prose (I once transcribed a person complaining about her life in a café and she used many of the following examples; so if you are writing dialog you can get away with some of these).
  • Weakening modifiers: only, kind of, just, sort of, really, almost, quite, rather. These modifiers signal that you need to choose a clearer word.
  • Words that end in "ly".
  • Combinations of was and a verb: was swimming, was driving,
  • Over-used words that bug me (sigh; yes, I probably want to be a language-cop): swirled (when describing non-liquid things moving in a chaotic fashion), pixilated (when describing something not seen on a computer or television screen), morph (when describing the transformation or metamorphosis of some non-virtual object), orb (my personal over-used word), bloody (as in "bloody hell", used by non-English characters in a generic fantasy or pirate genre, or anachronistically by mediaeval English characters), ridiculous (when used to describe something which is merely over-the-top, inconvenient, or irritating, but not worthy of scorn and ridicule).
  • Redundant phrases: she thought to herself.

Read your prose out loud to give your ear a chance to catch the errors your eyes missed.

Enjoy what you write. Write what you enjoy.

Only you can write the stories that you write. While you can write in their style, this means that Stephen King can only write Stephen King stories and Ursula K Le Guin can only write Ursula K Le Guin stories.

Don't try to write what's "hot." The time lag between when you write it and when it gets published will make it seem dated. And besides, does the world really need another cyber-pirate-vampire (and the people who love them) story?

Don't look for an external muse.  Although the romantic image of The Artiste enraptured by the glimpse of Truth with a little help from absinthe, tequila, Pepsi, or chocolate is seductive, I've found that I am only able to write about my current altered state (and how Truth looks and feels like at that current time) or else about how much I want sex.  Sorry, no sequels to Kublai Khan here. I suppose if I trained to be a priestess at Delphi....

A good critique group can provide useful practice for critiquing one's own stories. A bad critique group, or one that is a bad match, will waste time at the least and confuse one's voice at the worst.

Without going too far into the art / business dichotomy; it takes a lot of words (and marketing) before an author becomes "an overnight success." Writing is like acting, singing, or Olympic sports: a few really good folks at the top work really hard for a really long time and make a real living. The rest of us do what we can and get five cents a word if we're lucky. To quote Ursula K Le Guin, "I have won the lottery in that people are willing to pay me for stories that I like to write," and "Writing to make money is a damn-fool idea."

In terms of marketing; if you can spend two hours and write a 1000 word story which results in a $50 payment, that should give you a target for how much time you spend marketing with your electronic media.

Sending e-mail is not writing. Updating your blog, Twitter, Facebook profile, or web page is not writing (although it can be useful marketing).

Set a daily limit; either an amount of time you spend daily actually typing (or writing) or else a word count. It is helpful to have a specific place where you write (and only write). I try to write something every weekday for about two hours (some of this is affected by things I can't control, but still...). I am amazed at my fellow Wordos Devon Monk and Jay Lake, because it seems like they spend a whole lot more time than I do in terms of duration and frequency actually writing.

Remove the things that are between you and you sitting down creating stories. Get regular sleep so you can focus. Eat right so hunger or crashing blood sugar levels don't distract you. Walk around the block or schedule some regular excises -- it's hard to write if you have to go to the hospital.

About every hour, take regular five-to-ten minute breaks from the keyboard to stretch, go to the bathroom, and reheat your tea.

Sometimes life intervenes. Family members get sick. Your car stops working. The sun goes away for 201600 very long minutes. While there are strategies for working around life's little set-backs, stressing out about the negative impact of things out of one's control on one's writing will not improve one's ability to write. Focus on the tasks life thrusts upon you and write when you can. This is both forgiveness for taking care of yourself and family at the expense of writing and an instruction to create and seize writing opportunities.

For some people, writing is The Pearl of Great Price; they sell everything to have this Pearl. Other people have a different Pearl of Great Price (and that's okay). It is helpful in terms of time, guilt, and frustration management to know ahead of time what your Pearl is and act accordingly.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Inside the Egg

Yesterday I started to make a shrine by cutting out an oval hole from an eggshell.  I'd seen pictures in an art book and I thought it would be fun.  I used a box cutter to score the shell and eventually popped out a window into the shell.  Then I had fried eggs.

Cutting out the window left some rough edges that I managed to sand down a little after washing out the inside of the egg.

So now I had a mini eggshell shrine -- or, more accurately, a pyx or reliquary.  I looked through my jewelry box for things that could fit inside an egg. 

And then the following realization sideswiped me:  I'm building a shrine to something out of a craftily-cut egg shell.  But what do I want to enshrine?  Did I really want to enshrine a Disney pin, faux-medieval coin, or LED earring?

So that leaves me a photo of my family.  Grandma?  No -- I'd had an elaborate arts-and-craft Viking good-bye for her, which would seem to be undone by putting her into an egg.   My family?  No -- a static image of my family would be a shrine to the moment they were frozen by the photo. 

In a sarcastic moment I considered putting a small mirror in so I could sing "Me" to the Isis-Istarte chant; but that would be a shrine to my own Neo-Pagan Irritation. 

I could paint the inside of the egg in shades of darkening blue, like Vigali Hamilton does with rock sculptures.  Or black.  Mark would like that: a shrine to empty nothingness. 

I kind of like that, too; except that I would look into the blackness of the egg as a medatative focus or a tool to scry into the future.  A shrine to meditation seems a little too ironic.  A shrine to the future?  I can see myself dusting a shrine to the future, which sounds like a Laurie Anderson song.

So if you see me, one eyebrow slightly raised, a crinkle in my forehead, looking off-center at a small object, you'll know that I'm pondering its symbolic resonances.  And if it will fit inside the egg.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dreams:  Symposia and Dragonflies

I don't know exactly why, but the last two nights I've dreamt I was at some sort of conference.  It's been some flavor of a Neo-Pagan, Woman's Spirituality, or Alternate Orientation symposium.  Usually, I've been aware of a vague sense of unfulfillment or wild irritation. 

This is in contrast with another dream where I was walking through sunlit paths at Reed College, effused with a sense of homecoming (which I don't recall having when I was a student there in the 80's), and photographing dragonflies emerging from their nymph-cases.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Resisting Grumpiness

I've been sort of in a grumpy mood all week.  I'm trying to resist it with the formula, "Character X encounters situation Y and their response is Z," which enables me to enter story critique mode a little more easily.  

Sometimes this reveals parts of my character that I'm not entirely thrilled with. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gnomons and Flickers

I took a few more photos of the sundial the next day at Solar noon. What was gratifying was that most of the earlier measurements I'd made were in agreement with the one I made with the gnomon.

And we have a flicker in our yard.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Routine ?

The last Eugene Winter Crud (I hope) is trying to take over my body.  It's got a toe hold, but I'm fighting it off with sleep (OK, probably not enough as it has a toe hold) and herbal teas.  

I've gotten out of the routine of recording my dreams.  I think I want to get into that again if only because I got a good story image from one of them.  That may be why I've stopped writing them down -- I've been working on the story.  

Hmmm.  Now that I think about it, I see that there are several routines that sort of fell apart the weekend of the 8th.  

Gotta fix that.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Measuring the Sun's Darkness.

A long time ago, when I lived at Arcosanti, I learned how to find True North from Tomiaki Tamura by using a plumb line, string and a drafting compass. If I'm remembering correctly, Tomiaki tacked a small nail into a slab of concrete (there are a lot of flat slabs of concrete at Arcosanti).

I'd always wondered where North was in relationship to our house. I'd done a quick and dirty siting off of Polaris (which is a little off of True North, but will get closer and closer until something like 2093, at which point it will get farther away again). But using the sun is supposed to be more accurate than using just Polaris.

Two weeks prior, I created a work space. I used a drill guide to drill a perpendicular hole into the side of an old crate. Then I pounded a long nail through the guide hole. The idea was to have a completely vertical gnomon coming out of a level flat plane. Then the clouds rolled in and I couldn't test my box until today.

In practice, my nail was a little bent, the drill guide was cheap, and not only was the box old, but it turned out the side that I wanted to use was slightly warped. All of these add in little measurement errors.

I already had a notion that our local solar noon happens around 12:20 PM, Pacific Standard Time (1:20, Pacific Daylight Time). So around noon daylight time, I set the box on the ground in our back yard. Our yard is pretty catty-wumpus, so I used a photographer's level to even out the top (this is when I discovered the top was a little warped).

Next, I used a loop of thread and a yellow colored pencil to draw a series of circles centered on the gnomon. Ideally I would have marked the place where the tip of the nail's shadow touched each circle; but my first circle was too big. I managed to draw a second circle that was even with the shadow. I drew a third circle that I hoped would give me another reading, but it was too small, and the shadow never reached it. Source of errors: having only one set of measurements, changing the angle of the pencil may have created an imperfect circle and the thread may have stretched or moved the gnomon.

Then I waited. The shadow made an elliptical path along the top of the crate and inched toward the east side of the middle circle. Another source of error -- I'm becoming farsighted, and I had to take off my glasses to be sure I was seeing the second point correctly; this didn't occur to me when I marked the first point. When the shadow came into contact with the circle, I took off my glasses, marked the place, and got out my compass.

I used the points where the path of the gnomon's shadow intersected the circle as the center of two other circles. The two points where these circles intersected defined a line which pointed (assuming that all the errors canceled each other out) to True North. I used the nail and a pencil to get a site line and placed two iron stakes at opposite sides of the yard.

As I had suspected from my earlier siting off of Polaris, the house and the local streets are squared up with the cardinal directions (assuming, of course, that my eyeball measurements are accurate). This means that one could use the street curbs in our neighborhood to tell when local solar noon is. And our house.

Oh -- Janet Hart gave me a good suggestion. Ideally, I could use a magnetic hiking compass to take a magnetic north reading and find out how many degrees apart magnetic north and celestial north are. Then, whenever I felt like building my own personal Stonehenge in the backyard, I could line things up with a magnetic compass.

Even on a cloudy day.

Next time, I will have to see about getting an unwarped piece of wood, an extra-straight, extra-long pipe (longer gnomon equals greater precision) and I'll have to figure out a way to use lasers!

Monday, March 09, 2009


St John the Divine door detail showing Jacob Wrestling with the AngelWell, it's official. I've withdrawn my membership from the Unitarian Universalist Church.

When I first joined, I was really excited. I'd thought I'd found a spiritually-mindful haven from the usual Eugene Neo-Pagan scene. During the honeymoon phase it seemed like the UU's were interested in Neo-Paganism. I connected with Rev. Caroline Colbert, who had a Yoda-esque Berkeley Grandma Vibe and who could turn a political rally into a religious gathering in less than five seconds. But then she left, and I realized that people's interest was at a "spiritual tourist" level.

UUCE wasn't so bad, really; it's just that the rational folks I'd be interested in covenanting with are the ones who don't speak about [insert deity name here] in public and the the ones who are interested in Neo-Paganism are either superstitious anti-intellectuals or else they're Really Into The Goddess (No Men Allowed). And then there's the Protestant "Sermon-Sandwich."

Mark would chime in, "You're the common factor in all your failed relationships." So maybe I was off-putting in some way that turned folks away from ritual events. People here like pot-lucks a lot and I think I'd rather visit a dentist than be forced to attend one (do you know how many times I've accidentally eaten a Deadly Red Pepper at one of these pot-lucks?). And I'd be the first to admit that I had the unrealistic expectation that UUCE would provide rabbinical opportunities to discuss Neo-Pagan theology with Margot Adler clones -- so maybe that got transmitted somehow as impatience or exasperation.

What this has taught me is that
  • The dominant spiritual vibe of a city cannot be escaped by changing churches.
  • I must have a idiosyncratic take on Neo-Paganism that makes participating in group ritual difficult.
  • Bitchiness can be a useful tool to codify one's theology, but it makes for dreary reading. And...
  • I value time spent with my family or writing than I do time spent with most Neo-Pagans (or UUs).
So now I feel like I need a Single-Again Girl's Night Out so I can go out, have a few drinks, and then hook up with some new religion on the rebound. Maybe I'll worship Ursula K. Le Guin. Hmmm, no; I think there has to be a leather vest and a motorcycle involved. Oh well.

Actually, I will go back to being a solitary Neo-Pagan practitioner, which is what I'd been prior to 2006 (and have been, really, for the last year).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Not Exactly a Proust Moment

This morning was a learning experience.  I met some writer friends and we had a writing session in a cafe.

Of course, I'd forgotten that whenever I try to write in a cafe, I invariably find myself near the loudest, most-in-need-of-therapy patron in the place.  It probably didn't help that A) she was loud (did I mention that?), B) I tend to "go to the distraction", and C) I'd forgotten my iPod. 

A friend of mine has a great way of looking at characters.  He uses the formula, "The character experiences X, and their response is Y."  (i.e. The author realizes he's sitting next to a needy loudmouth, and his response is to wish she would finish her coffee and leave.)   It's great for finding passive characters or character thinking errors.  

So I started to write down what she was saying (hey, she's six feet away from me and easily a fourth of the cafe can hear her every utterance).  Eventually I got tired of transcribing her travails and moved chairs.  

This evening I did a quick edit of the transcript. Seeing what words and phrases, especially the ones she repeated ("I was so embarrassed," "It's just..."  "So I'm going to pray for...") was fascinating not only in terms how dialog reveals character, but also because she used phrases I've rooted out of my writing.  If I want to add variety to my dialog, I'll have to see about revisiting "bad" words and phrases.

Finally, she did leave, and I rejoined my writer friends.  

Her replacement was a relativelly quiet computer consultant.  On a cell phone.  Advising about internet porn.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dream:  Dysfunctional Alaska Family

we join the dream in progress...

I was five foot eight, slightly overweight, with curly hair, a mustache, and of Mediterranean comlexion.  I and my wife worked for a company in Alaska.  My wife was small, wiry, and intelligent (I have a sense of red pumps or a red coat).  We made a lot of money in Alaska, in a company town where everyone worked for our company (I have a sense we were IT people; I don't know what the company did in waking life).  

My wife, daughter, and I had flown to the 48 states for a Christmas holiday (or else we were moving).  My daughter was about five, lanky, in purple tights and a felty-dress.  

I remember wandering around an airport terminal.  There was a gift shop; I remember glass windows and an articulated gate of silvery metal bars.  

For some reason, child custody became an issue.  I'm not sure if my wife was leaving me, or if working for the company was bad for our girl -- in any case, I was trying to think of a way to get custody.  An opportuninty was provided when our daughter announced she had to go to the bathroom, so I offered to take her.

The bathroom door was outside, so the two of us went through a heavy metal door to a facility in a short, squat concrete tower.  More articulated gates ran along the inside of the bathroom walls, and I managed to lock the two of us in (and my wife out).  This was a good thing, because the police would become involved.

I jumped into my wife's point of view.  I had been waiting for my husband to unlock the bathroom for a while.  Somone was on it, so I decided to go get some food.  The restaurant was dark, but decorated for Christmas.  

I remember thinking that the dining room in Alaska was much nicer and more exclusive.  I couldn't figure out my husband was doing.  (Or else the dream became confused, because I as the wife didn't want to continue working for the company because it wasn't the best for our daughter.) ... and the dream wound down.

03-02-2009 People Dreams

I was at Reed College.  It was pre-registration for the last semester of my senior year, and there was some problem with the number of credits I had, so I was wandering around on the second floor of Elliot Hall trying to talk with the Registrars.  Then I went into the basement to see about lining up work with Gary Schlickheiser (the director of Academic Computing when I was at Reed in the 80's).  

I wandered in the basement; it was still the Psych Department (although I think the deparment has moved since).  I'm not entirely sure how, but I was outside, on top of a snowy (melting), muddy hill.  Wood and currogated metal shacks.  Or else the TV room at my folks.  Keith Packard and Bart Massey were there, soldering things and dismantling little, two inch long grey triangular components.  

I figured out a way to squeeze the plastic triangles to make them open, but we weren't sure if this would fly with Gary.  Anyway, we ran out of triangles, so Bart started picking up the large rocks lying around and placing them in a twelve foot circle in the mud (somehow this was related to working on computer equipment).  

I walked down the hill, and suddenly I was driving (or else I've spliced two dreams).  I remember looking at a road map.  I started out returning some computer equipment, but changed into meeting the Wordos.   

The Wordos were meeting in a restaurant/diner  in Corvallis with lots of glass windows.  I walked up to the place, looked through the glass and saw a bunch of square tables had been pushed together, and that manuscripts and plates had been abandoned.  Somehow I knew that everyone had followed Jerry Oltion to an empty parking lot nearby for a demonstration.

As I walked closer to the lot (which was fenced in by a slatted chain link fence), a toy rocket lifted up over the fence and crashed into the sidewalk on the other side of the street.  There was a group exclaimation and more fireworks launched.  Between the slats, I could see everyone circled around Jerry.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Scenes from an adventure dream:

I was at a console, looking at a map of the world. I was demoing the console for a man (and I have a strong feeling I should remember, but I've lost the recall). The console was two monitors and was a kind of search engine. I was testing it by typing in "Arthur's Sword", "Stonehenge", and "Pyramids of Egypt." I think there were a few other sites, and the console would help me to find places and see if they lined up in any way (I am reminded of Google Maps "Get directions" function or the shortest distance between two points function). The console couldn't find Arthur's Sword.


I was in a cathedral or a castle or some other kind of large stone building. It might have been near the beach. I was walking along a kind of stone causeway which led to recessed chambers in a wall (or cliff). I discovered a hidden stone statue frieze by pulling a claw on a rod set near ?a fireplace? along the causeway. When it was pulled, stones flipped and opened in the chamber behind the fireplace, which revealed human-sized statues of the Egyptian pantheon.

My sense is that these statues had hidden levers in their arms (or something) which further opened trap doors set in the chamber.

Conjuction Photo

Here's a photo from Friday night's conjunction of Venus and the Moon.

I dreamt that I was JS Bach... if I can remember more I'll post it (unless I manage to get up before my family, it's difficult to get to the computer to write dreams down before the recall fades).