Thursday, December 29, 2011

WiFi Users Should Use WPA2

US-CERT Vulnerability Note VU#723755 - WiFi Protected Setup PIN brute force vulnerability

Looks like The Bad Guys can break into your wireless network in just a few hours as opposed to a few days.   Time to make sure you're using WPA2.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Lumbering Holiday Tale: The Video

The "classic" holiday tale returns in video.

Snake Dream

I was going on a hike with Mark in the fields and hills between my parents' house.  There was a group of us, but other than Mark, I don't recall who.  I quickly became separated from everyone, and was in a kind of cul-de-sac of blackberries in a field near Bald Hill.

I could hear everyone up on the hill, and I managed to find a trail leading through a lower place in the brambles.  The bramble paths pointed at an old brown cottage one way, and back the way I'd come the other.  I picked my way through the brambles and stepped over a small brook.

The hill and the fields transitioned at this point, I think.  They became less green and Oregonian and more arid, and more like the sonorian desert with cliffs.  I was too busy wondering about the lizard I saw scrabbling up and down a sandy dune.  I had the sense that this was a big lizard because I could see it well at a distance.

I wanted to catch up with everyone, so I headed toward Bald Hill, where I'd heard them last.  I became concerned about rattlesnakes, because I knew they'd like to sun themselves on the rocky slope.  There's a break in my recall, but the next thing I can clearly recall, I was being chased by a rattlesnake and another, smaller snake.  I was running and they were wriggling after me.

I say that it was a rattlesnake, except that this snake was banded black, yellow, and red.  Its rattle wasn't quite like a regular rattlesnakes, it was black and charred looking, like the remains of a log after a fire.

Despite running away, the snakes caught up to me, and then then rattlesnake proceeded to wrap itself around my neck and shoulders and sort of hang out.  I might have been bitten on the hand, but it was more like a grazing bite.

The setting transformed to a busy city street.  It was daylight.  I still had the rattlesnake wrapped around my throat.  I met a writer friend, but she was an amalgam of three different Wordos.

"John," she said, "I saw you from a distance and I said to myself, 'Is John wearing a rattlesnake around his neck?'  And you are!"

We had a small chat.  The rattlesnake might have changed color to something more like a rattlesnake's, and the rattle seemed less like a piece of burnt wood and more like the nestled buttons of a rattlesnake's tail.  I have a strong sense of the snake's coils.  Eventually the rattlesnake got bored or whatever, and shrugged itself off of me. 

I must have woken up or something because I was telling some folks about the dream and A.R. (also from the Wordos) looked at me like I'd just walked backwards on a high wire over a fire and said, "Well. You've certainly made your spiritual connections."


And then I woke up again.

I'm trying to figure out this dream, because I don't normally dream about snakes.  Usually after I cross a stream in my dreams, I encounter a stag or a panther or a raccoon or a white horse.  As a white person of English and Norwegian stock, I'm not grounded in Native American traditions, so I'm hesitant to break out the sage and say (in deep, serious, spiritual voice) Rattlesnake Is My Power Animal. 

But over the new moon and my birthday--both tomorrow--I think I'll be on the look-out for snakes and what they might be trying to tell me. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Is Coming

"... he had that look you very rarely find / the haunted, hunted kind..."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Solstice Fire

Yesterday, I bought some beeswax candles so I can be ready for the Solstice.

Every Winter Solstice, around noon, I like to use a magnifying lens to ignite a match and then set the flame on a candle. From that candle, we light the candles in our fireplace and then watch them as the day grows darker.

This year the solstice is 9:30 PM on Dec 21, so I'm calling the noon of the 21st the Solstice Noon. If it is not too cloudy, stop by with a candle after noon and I will light it with solstice fire. Um, no, I'm not going to sing any Doors songs or do a re-enactment of Rent.

Hmmm.  Maybe I can light the BBQ with solstice fire too....

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Masculinity & Steampunk

Santos Dumont
Wikimedia Commons
 Lately, I've been writing a story set in a world with an alternate history where magic works, it's the beginning of the 20th century, and dirigibles are in the air.  The process has been an integrative one for me, because little bits of history that I've usually not connected in my head have come together.

My story involves a small airship, slightly larger than the one Santos Dumont flew around the Eiffel Tower circa 1900.  (The really big airships, like the zeppelins of Germany, didn't appear in historical skies until about 1910.  Transatlantic and trans-US crossings didn't happen until the 1930's.)  

Lewis Hine, 1920.
Power house mechanic
working on steam pump
.
Wikimedia Commons

Since my characters are American citizens raised in England, they "Remember the Maine!"  It also means they're Victorians.  My challenge writing alternate-history American-Victorians is preserving the feel of culture while writing a gay male character who isn't committing "a sin unspeakable in Christian circles," and a female character more active than Willamina Harker.  (Yes, the Harkers and Count Dracula are from this time period, too.)  I think I can justify some of the characters' cultural expectation by using an alternate history religion that I've played with before -- it helps that instead of a same-sex trinity, the godhead is a gender-balanced quartet. 

So I have to examine how to write masculinity.  On one hand is the "muscular Christianity" that E.M. Forester commented on, with its homo-social prep-schools filled with fine young men learning Greek and honing their bodies with athletic games.  With the alternate-religion of the world, I think I can focus on the strong body, strong mind ethic to help preserve that old English Empire feel.  And since The Father and The Mother of the Quartet are equals, there's less pressure to have a "The spiritually manly man is the head of his household" morality.

Oscar Wilde
Wikimedia Commons
But at the opposite end of the historical definition of early twentieth century manliness is Oscar Wilde, The Aesthete.  In this time period, if one was a refined, nonathletic, aesthete, one was not a manly-man.  And Steampunk, the romanticized version of the industrial revolution, is firmly rooted on the Manly Man in the Steamworks; the Self-sufficient, Burly Explorer; the Civilized Marshall of the Inner-Brute.  The aesthete hadn't marshaled his inner-brute so much as banished it (if he ever had one to begin with).

Anyway... that's been what's peculating in the back of my head.  Now... onto writing the story.   And I think I'm going to try my hand at more Steampunk, if only to try different ways of queering it.




Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oscar Wilde Steampunk Challenge

Last night -- after I had confessed that it had taken me something like four years to realize that the Borg character from ST:Voyager was supposed to be uber-sexy -- I was challenged by and  to write an Oscar Wilde Steampunk story.  There's monetary incentives and fuzzy dice involved.

Anyway, I had started a story on the train to OryCon that was supposed to be Steampunk, and so I've accepted...

Which leads me to to muse on, what makes a story a story that queers a genre?  Shanna's take (from what I can gather after one guest post) is that steampunk is inherently sexy.  But I'm not sure that just swapping out Eve for Steve in a Victorian Era story with Airships counts as queering steampunk.

And then there's the question of how historical to be.  This is the era of Oscar Wilde, Bram Stroker and Gilbert & Sullivan.  Having recently finished Dracula, I can tell you that Women's Equality had not quite made it into the Victorian sensibility (at least as it appeared on the written page).  And society's reaction to Wilde as an aesthetic defined what it meant to be a Manly Man in the late 1800's and early 1900.

And does having a gay male character as the protagonist of a story even make it queer any more?  I mean, sure, in the late 1990's... but that was fifteen years ago.

I'm still thinking about this, but I have a feeling that no matter what, there's going to be an airship called The Peacock.   

Monday, November 14, 2011

OryCon 2011 Redux

Friday

Taking the train is fun, especially if you travel with another writer. But expect that the train will be a little late.



2:00PM-3:00PM -- Hawthorne Political Systems in SF

Political Scientist and Anthropologists and Cultural Historians throw your stories across the room when you over-simplify The Evil Overlord's Government for the same reasons that Physicists do when you Do the Kessle Run in 2.5 Parsecs.



3:00PM-4:00PM -- Story Outline in an Hour

Give the character something they love, threaten it, and then imagine worse things. Mileua, Idea, Character, Event will filter how you show the story.



4:00PM-5:00PM -- Gender and Writing

Write complex characters. As a writer and as a reader, you have basic assumptions about men and women. You can use your writing to explore gender (and the other) but make sure to write a good story (that challenges peoples' assumptions) without being preachy.



5:00PM-6:00PM -- Designing believable archaeology and anthropology

Do your research. When doing your research on another culture's religion, make a note of if the material is written by a believer or a non-believer.



6:00PM-7:00PM -- FOOD!



7:00PM-7:30PM -- Endeavour Awards



Saturday

9:00 AM - Wordos Breakfast

More Food.



10:00AM-11:00AM -- Spicing up Your Hero

Heros are people who pick up the mess that other people would rather not so that nobody actually steps into the mess. Heros are not always Knights of Light, so much as they are folks working against the Dark; anti-evil doesn't always equal good. Your hero doesn't have to be the point of view character. Give your hero weaknesses; give your hero a dirty secret. Be aware of the biases that filter a hero's perceptions (we all have them). Be aware of how being a hero will affect how they interact with culture (i.e. Awful Good).



11:00AM-12:00PM -- Using Social Media to get Published

Social media is like a Con on the internet that never shuts down. Decide how much you want to share with people and then use that to make a connection with your readers. Don't bitch about people. Make sure that you use cross-posting so you so you limit the time you spend on social media.



12:00PM-1:00PM -- My Villain is Too Mwa Ha Ha. Help!

The villain is always the hero in his or her own mind. Make sure that the reader can see the motivation behind the villain's action so the villain's actions don't appear to be violent or evil just for violence's or evil's sake.

Oh, also: Dracula is Evil because he is a perversion of the Christian rite of Communion and a being operating outside of the circle of God's grace.





1:00PM-2:00PM -- Alien Etiquette

An alien culture can be broken down into Morals (what's right and wrong), Manners (how an individual acts and reacts in situation), Money (how they trade), Monogamy (is it a good idea or not), and The Marx Brothers (what is funny).

Make the alien POV an emotional reaction to something.



2:00PM-3:00PM -- Hawthorne But I thought it was perfect!

Play nice. Being part of a critique group is to practice critiquing manuscripts (easy) so that you can see how to critique your own (harder). A good critique group will have procedural rules to protect people emotionally; the foremost being, critique the text, not the person.



3:00PM-4:00PM -- Writers of the Future

Writers of the Future is a great beginner's market from which to launch your career. It's the most money you'll be paid for a story for quite a while. Regularly submitting to Writers of the Future is a good way to start good writing habits. It's cool, it's validating, it's network building. And... remember, have a What Next Goal ready for after you win.



4:00PM-5:00PM -- The Physics of Magic

Figure out how magic is used in your world, is it via words, or objects, or ritual or Divine Intervention, or...?

A good magic system will have limits -- the cost of using magic is prohibitive, magic spells are too specific to be of general use, and magic should be bound by a set of consistent (possibly logical) rules. If magic is unlimited, the story turns into wish fulfillment.

The use and limitations of magic should aid the story's flow.

Editors want New And Different Magic Systems, but not too new and different.




Sunday


12:00PM-1:00PM -- The Unique Challenges of Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy, which has some cross-over with paranormal romance, can trace its roots to detective and noir genres. It's an exploration of being outside and The Other. When writing Urban Fantasy, its helpful to think of the magic (and the magical culture) in the story as being a part of the story's main culture (which makes it alternate history), a sub-culture within the main culture, or an unknown element hidden from the main culture.



1:00PM-2:00PM -- Podcasting Primer

Decide how often you want to podcast (daily, weekly, monthly...) Decide if you want to podcast for fun (friends and family) or to build a fanbase (readings of your work) or as a soapbox/forum or ... a mix of all of these.

How often you podcast will affect your choice of podcast host - if your podcast becomes very popular, you may run into streaming issues (and be charged accordingly).

Skype is very difficult to get good sound quality from. Record in a closet or under covers to help dampen sound. Use a windsock or make one to cut down on pops in speech. You'll need to do post-recording production clean-up of hisses and pops if you want a good product.

Podcasting can eat up your life (just like other social media).




Post OryCon

When -- ahem -- new writers wish to push their mystical autobiographical science-fiction mystery thriller manuscript upon you hoping that you can back-door it to a Famous Editor (or wave a magical writing pen over the manuscript and turn it into solid writing gold) a good answer is, "Well, my editing rates are..."

Insert post-signing -- ahem -- discussion about the virtues of Scrivener here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

OryCon 33 Schedule

Here's an incomplete OryCon Schedule.  Of course, it appears that several of the panels I'd like to attend happen at the same time (mostly on Saturday).  And I need to figure out when I'm going to eat.  An additional complication is that I won't be staying at the OryCon hotel, but at another venue several blocks away....

Friday

Arrival at PDX train station: 11:35 AM  -- insert possibly late train and figuring how to take the Green MAX to The Portland Doubletree here (...find stop 7763 and take it to stop 8343, Lloyd Center/NE 11th stop).


12:00PM-1:00PM
  • Alaska Pros At Cons Jess Hartley, Cat Rambo, Dave Howell
  • Hawthorne Twisted history Paul Guinan, Mary Robinette Kowal, EE Knight, Irene Radford

2:00PM-3:00PM
  • Hawthorne Political Systems in SF Rory Miller, Elton Elliott, Jim Fiscus, Andrew Nisbet, Mike Shepherd Moscoe
  • Idaho Drowning in slush Grá Linnaea, Leslie What, Lizzy Shannon, Wendy Wagner


3:00PM-4:00PM
  • Hamilton Workshop: Story Outline in an hour David D. Levine, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Mult/Holl Cover Art in the Age of E-books EE Knight, Jim Pavelec, Carolyn Nicita


4:00PM-5:00PM
  • Broadway Running conventions Rick Lindsley, Suzanne Tompkins, [unlisted]
  • Hawthorne Theme Grá Linnaea, Karen Azinger, Bill Johnson, Richard A. Lovett
  • Lincoln Gender and Writing Cat Rambo, J. A. Pitts, Rhiannon Held


5:00PM-6:00PM
  • Idaho The fine art of description David W. Goldman, Bill Johnson, Devon Monk, Alma Alexander, Victoria Blake
  • Madison Protagonists vs. Antagonists Mark J. Ferrari, Adrian Phoenix, Sheila Finch, Louise Marley
  • Ross/Morr Designing believable archaeology and anthropology Rhiannon Held, Rhiannon Louve, Pat MacEwen, [unlisted]


6:00PM-7:00PM
  • Idaho Organizing a Successful Critique Group Bruce Taylor, Sonia Orin Lyris, Garth Upshaw, Ray Vukcevich

7:00PM-7:30PM
  • Mult/Holl Endeavour Awards Jim Fiscus, Sara A. Mueller, Devon Monk, Sheila Simonson

8:00PM-9:00PM
  • Ross/Morr NASA Fashion Show


Saturday

9:00 AM - Wordos Breakfast

10:00AM-11:00AM

  • Hamilton Spicing up Your Hero Rory Miller, Dianna Rodgers, Chris Lester, Karen Azinger, Kami Miller
  • Hawthorne Steampunk: Victorian marvels of science fantastic Irene Radford, Janet Borkowski, Laurel Anne Hill, Guy Letourneau, Mary Lou Sullivan
  • Jefferson/Adams Playing God: Apocalyptic storytelling EE Knight, Victoria Blake, Daniel H. Wilson
  • Lincoln How to Find an Agent Jess Hartley, Camille Alexa
  • Roosevelt So you want to be a writer? Devon Monk, Ken Scholes, Jim Kling, Louise Marley
  • Ross/Morr Research for alternate history: Mining real history for good fiction. Alma Alexander, Steven Barnes, Jim Fiscus, Nisi Shawl, Bob Brown


11:00AM-12:00PM

  • Alaska Using Social Media to get Published Mary Rosenblum/Mary Freeman, M.K. Hobson, Chris Lester, Cat Rambo
  • Broadway Funny Horror Fiction Scott Allie, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Victoria Blake

12:00PM-1:00PM

  • Hamilton My villain is too mwa ha ha. Help! Jess Hartley, Kami Miller, Chris Lester, Sara A. Mueller, Adrian Phoenix
  • Idaho Science Fiction as a Tool for Social Change Rhiannon Louve, Brenda Cooper, Grá Linnaea, Edward Morris, G. David Nordley
  • Madison The structure of writing S. A. Bolich, Devon Monk, Jason V Brock, Richard A. Lovett, Victoria Blake


1:00PM-2:00PM

  • Broadway Alien Etiquette Mary Robinette Kowal, David W. Goldman, Judith R. Conly, Ann Wilkes, Louise Owen
  • Idaho Writing Formidable Women Steve Perry, Scott Allie, M.K. Hobson, Adrian Phoenix, Karen Azinger, Victoria Blake
  • Mult/Holl EE Knight - Reimagining Vampires and Dragons EE Knight


2:00PM-3:00PM

  • Hawthorne But I thought it was perfect! Mary Rosenblum/Mary Freeman, Grá Linnaea, Bill Johnson, Joan Gaustad, Richard A. Lovett
  • Mult/Holl Intro to Steampunk Lorien Stormfeather, Diana Vick, Janet Borkowski, Mary Lou Sullivan


3:00PM-4:00PM

  • Roosevelt Writers of the Future Ken Scholes, Aimee C. Amodio, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Grá Linnaea


4:00PM-5:00PM

  • Lincoln The physics of magic Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Devon Monk, Karen Azinger, Scott Allie, Howard Davidson


Sunday

12:00PM-1:00PM

  • Hawthorne Spaceships, Colonists, and Castaways David D. Levine, Camille Alexa, G. David Nordley, Krista Wohlfeil
  • Idaho The unique challenges of urban fantasy Devon Monk, J. A. Pitts, Adrian Phoenix, Mary Robinette Kowal, Rhiannon Held
  • Jefferson/Adams Creatures of Magic Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Judith R. Conly, Vonda N. McIntyre, EE Knight

1:00PM-2:00PM
  • Roosevelt Podcasting Primer M.K. Hobson, Laurel Anne Hill


.... Departure will be tricky.  I've got a train ticket for the 6 PM train, but domestic bliss would be better served if I changed it to a 3 PM train... so on one hand, there are a few last panels that I could squeeze in, but on the other hand I may be too fried by Sunday afternoon to take any of it in.   Oh well.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Machine of Death - Keep hanging tight, everybody

Keeping my fingers crossed that my story will be one of the 35 stories out of 2000 to make it into the Machine of Death anthology: Machine of Death - Keep hanging tight, everybody This will be an interesting twist on Halloween.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

This is Halloween !

I was so singing, "Making Christmas" last night during the photo session when I took this shot.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gearing Up for Halloween

If we only take out one or two things a day Mark won't get Halloween fatigue.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thinking of OryCon

I'm going to OryCon in a few weeks.  I haven't been in a few years, mostly because it's in Portland and it's kind of expensive.  I'm looking forward to seeing folks.  As soon as I know what my schedule is, I'll post it (I have a feeling it will be pretty flexible). 

My fantasy is to take the train up on Friday and then come home by train Sunday.  Amtrak has an annoying habit of swapping out the train for a bus.  Not that the buses are old and smelly or anything, but you really can't walk around on them and it's harder to pretend you're on the Orient Express.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Cafe John


The weather was nice enough that I wanted to have some tea at Cafe John. I also wanted to write... and somehow that didn't happen. Today is one of those days where just as I sit down to write the phone rings, or a ton of other little distractions crop up. Like blogging. And tea. And e-mail. And more little distractions. 

Yeah, the Writing Directorate's motto is ringing in my head... and now I have to finish my tea and go run yet another little errand.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Feel Geeky

(Cue the Sondheim!!)

I feel geeky!  Oh so geeky!
Can't be sneaky how geeky I feel! 
And so techie, that I hardly can believe I'm real.

(la la la la la la la la!)

(bridge)
Point your cell phone
at that pixellated QR tag
What can that infograhic be ?











Just a little link
Just a little tale
Just a little bit about ME!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Domesticity

Today was a deep-cleaning day.

Actually, it's been a deep-cleaning few days.

Domesticity began Thursday night, when Mark and I planted a magnolia tree. Okay, Mark did about 90% of the digging and I helped move the tree from the back of his truck and into the back yard. We're pretty pleased with the tree, which is evergreen, and which should provide some extra privacy between our breakfast nook and the backdoor neighbor's house.

When I haven't been gardening (or writing), I've been cleaning up my office. My office is a closet. Literally. I moved my grandfathers old oak desk out of the closet, and it made a big difference. I suppose when I get around to replacing the ancient Windows98 desktop and its mondo CTR, I'll have even more space. I suppose that I should retire the machine, but I have a ton of old Illustrator files on it that wont run on any of my other machines. Oh well, it's there and available, and I am looking forward to more writing sessions actually in my office.

Sunday was cleaning day. We cleaned the kitchen, the bathroom, and the living room. Well, okay; Mark did most of the work while I moved things around. And did dishes. And vacuume out the fireplace (we only light candles in it, so I don't know how it got so dirty).

And then it was time to cook. I started the rice. Just as I'd turned the burner on, I got a phone call from a friend. We were discussing the logistics of next our next visit. As I gazed across our clean living room, I became aware of a layer of haze floating about four feet off the ground. It was like the fog was trying to come into the house. I excused myself from the phone conversation for a moment, walked into the smoke-filled kitchen. A white plume rose from the cast iron pan filled with boiling bacon grease on the front burner (note to self, RR and RF mean two different thing).


I picked up the pan. It was still smoldering, so I naively blew on it to try to stop the smoke.

With a foom and a whoosh, the bacon grease burst into flame.

 I laughed, because it was kind of funny, and took the flaming pan outside.

Eventually, I did get back to my phone call.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Last Hurrah at Cafe John

October has come, and with it have come the heavy rains. Today is an exceptioin, so I'm outside at Cafe John enjoying one last moment of sunshine. Then I'll roll up the indoor/outdoor carpet for another season of Very Grey Days.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sale to Twisted Tales Anthology


I discovered last week that I managed to sell a 66 word story to Delving Press. It will join 65 other similar dark stories in an anthology called "Twisted Tales."


From the Delving Press website:

  Twisted Tales  is a collection of 66 stories that will terrify and creep under your skin like a flesh eating virus...each story is only 66 words in length, but like the the microscopic size of ebola will eat away at your subconscious and seep into your dreams when the lights are low and the sounds of darkness frighten your every sense...

I'm happy because this was a fun story to write, I can now say that I write horror (who knew?), and I'm in an anthology with Damon Kaswell and Alethea Kontis.  ... and I pretty much had the same reaction Alethea has on her blog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall 2011 Equinox Coast

Mark said we should go camping.








We went to Cape Perpetua.






Cook's Chasm is near Cape Perpetua.






Captain Cook sailed here in 1776.






The tide was high when I took these pictures.








There was a lot of foam on the waves. It was windy, too - so the foam would blow off the top of the waves. Which was a little gross.




The previous day, we'd stopped by about two hours after high tide. The waves were off, or so the Park Ranger said, and so the spout didn't spout.




You still had to watch out for sneaker waves, though.



Friday, September 23, 2011

Lessons from Critique

I recently put two stories, back-to-back, through the Wordos critique table. One is a near-future science fiction short story and the other is set about one hundred fifty years in the future.

What struck me about the process this time is how I (sometime fail to) balance world-building between setting description. What the table told me about one of the stories was that I was using too much exposition to describe the future society's terms of kinship. One analogous example would be if I were writing a century ago and spent a few pages describing the intricacies of an oil change station. We're really used to the idea of engines and oil and gasoline, but how would you write about it to people used to horses and carriages? In any case, the draft of that story is probably a "Wikipedia story" that is slightly exhausting to read.

This leads me to the other story, which had a "Dictionary of Obscure Usage" passage. This is a problem I have because I'm a word geek, so I like to use obscure words, words' tertiary meanings, and awkward phrases because they have special (humorous) meaning to me. During a Twitter exchange about vocabulary, it was suggested that I may be writing old school science fiction, which was more puzzle-oriented.

The most important thing I learned from the critiques was that I needed the reminder that authors don't go out of their way to confuse readers (usually), and even a confused critiquer has something useful to say (um, usually).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sheep on My Head

The dream took place in a combination of the hill where I grew up and the Monroe Park neighborhood where Mark and I used to live. I've a disjointed memory of the sequence, but I think it went like this.

There was something about Kelly KMHK Ducat coming to a college, which was simultaneously Corvallis and some place like Sisters, Oregon. Although the city was on a narrow green ridge, the college was Oregon State University. There was something about helping a guy find a job while a bunch of us sat in a large wooden bar / REI.

There was a shift.

Mark and I were living in a smallish house in Eugene. There was an animal pen in the yard, with a horse, some sheep, and I think a goat. I remember the inside of the house was dark, and it reminds me in waking of the old house we rented. Sarah, our old landlady appeared at one point to say hi and perform some sort of maintenance task involving moving the animal pens around to consolidate them.

I think there were gunshots in the distance. There was a radio broadcast warning residents to stay inside, and something about the gunshots being from only one gunman.

There was another shift. I was walking around on top of the hill where I grew up. I had one of the sheep on my head. I remember recalling a college in-joke that was a riff on a Bette Midler routine: "Oh God, don't let me wake up in the morning and want to put a sheep on my head." I don't remember exactly why I had a sheep on my head. It was a pretty big sheep, but I didn't feel that it was heavy. Its stomach rested on the top of my head, and its legs draped down on either side of my shoulders. I think Mark and I had a dog (not Pickles the beagle), and the dog was frisking about, too. I'm not sure where Mark had gotten to.

After wandering about for some time, the sheep became restless. It sensed something calling it from over the hill. I let it off my head, and watched it and the dog bound away, up and over the crest of the hill... and I woke up.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dreams of Dreaming

I dreamed Mark and I were on a hike in the coastal or cascade mountians.  It was a sunny day, and we were following a large creek or small river as it cascaded over medium sized boulders.  Oaks and maples and other decidious trees lined both sides of the stream's banks.  It wasn't cold, but I have a vague sense that there was ice on the river, or at least an image of thick ice.

The river went underground, and Mark and I followed it.  At first the tunnel was rough and rocky, with basalt boulders in the middle of the water and rising up around and over us.  But slowly I noticed concrete here and there, and then we came to a chamber which was mostly concrete with textured gravel embedded in it.  It was darker, but not pitch black; there must of been lights somewhere, because the sunlight coming through some clerestory windows wasn't enough.  The sound of the river reflected off of the rocks and concrete.  A tile compass set into the concrete floor showed which way was north.

We were in some kind of park ranger station.  Through a window, I saw a stone turret or observatory sitting on the top of the structure.

There was a dream-shift, and suddenly we were at someone's parent's psychometric lab.  I didn't catch anyone's names; the son was twenty-something.  The building stayed more or less the same, except now it was a laboratory for measuring brain activity.  In the middle of the room stood a large (think two vans parked side-by-side), silver, gourd-shaped, curved sort of diving-bell thing.  Voluneneers, who I think had been other hikers from earlier in the dream, entered the dream bell (what I've just now decided to call it), laid down, and two paper-back book sized metal boxes mounted on the inside measured your brain waves and made pictures.  Either the interior or lights on the boxes were dark green.

At one point, I was visiting with Professor Mom while she collected data.  On a screen, we saw people's hypnogogic imagery.  Someone turned into a star fish, which then got eaten by some other sea invertebrate.  I started singing, "Looking out on city streets / all she can see..."  and Professor Mom joined in while green-hued images unfolded before us "... are the dreams made solid / are the dreams made real / all of the buildings, all of the cars / were once just a dream in somebody's head / she pictures the broken glass / she pictures the steam / she pictures a soul / with no leak at the seam."  It was a bonding moment.

I think I woke up momentarily.  In any case, there was another dream shift.

I was on a campus.  The tone of this dream was more anxiety-driven, as I was supposed to be going on a field-trip to Portland and the instructor -- possibly Professor Dad from the earlier dream or maybe a new, different instructor --  of the class hadn't really arranged it and I was supposed to take a take-home test for the same instructor, but I didn't know how long it would take.  And, I had agreed to show up in the Professor's lab to be a subject for more nueroimaging. 

There was some sexual tension, too; Mr. Professor had a necktie with a spear-wielding centaur on it.  The lines of the centaur were green-black, with artistic use of line length.  But the necktie was also a tattoo on his chest.  His tie at times was skin colored and part of his body (Oh, dear -- I'm thinking Freud would love this...).

The narrative of the dream gets a little muddled here.  There was something about wanting to share a funny dream about Laurie Anderson with people, but not remembering what was so funny about it.  At one point I gathered up some folks for the experiment, the only person I remember was a high school friend named Linda Claypool, who I haven't seen since the 1980's (although we see each other on Facebook).   We follow-the-leadered back to the lab and then got ready for the experiment.

This kind of hurt because they pinned electrodes to my head.  I also had some on my palms and a few on my spine.  There's not too much more to the dream except I had the curious sensation of sitting in the lab, electrodes on my head and hands, as a kind of demonstration for the other students and being aware that I was also dreaming in my real bed.  A lab assistant said, "His hands are growing lax."  My dram right hand was hanging down below the lab chair.  My right hand was also was curled by my face, close enough to feel my breath.  "He's entering stage two sleep."  And I felt my real breath go in.  And out.  And in.  And out....



Saturday, September 17, 2011

We join the dream in progress...

I was part of a four or five-man expedition.  I was a 17th century explorer, possibly from England.  I seem to recall that we were dressed in furs, like early fur-trappers.   I think it was early spring; in any case it was dry and cold.

We were in a partially explored valley, where we had discovered a mostly deserted village.  The houses of the village were brown wood cabins raised up on stilts or, in one case, a stone foundation.  We crept slowly through the village, wondering (and dreading) if we would find anyone.  (In waking life, the houses were in too good of repair for them to have been empty for longer than a month or two.)  There was a sense that we might be walking into an ambush.

We walked up the steps of a stone foundation to one house, and discovered a family of natives: a husband, wife, and at least one teen.  They were dressed in red and brown clothes.  I want to say their clothes were made of wool; pants,  pull-over shirt, moccosans, and vests.  

We gathered from them that they were not the regular residents of the village, and that they were just now leaving.

I really had to pee, and I entered the house looking for the bathroom.  (Which now that I'm thinking about it in real life, should have been either an outhouse or a garderobe).  I turned around a bare corner intent on finding a place to pee and stumbled across one of the true natives of the village darting behind a kind of secret panel.

Pretty much the whole village had retreated somehow into the foundation of the house.  The villagers wore rough furs, and seemed more primitive than the other folks we'd found.  "Here are real cave-men," someone exclaimed.  We were very excited at the discovery of this group of people.

There was a little bit more, which I don't quite remember, but the gist was that different neighboring tribes sent their children to this village to be trained to lead.  Or something.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Free Dead Peacock

We join the dream in progress...

I was walking through a field west of 35th Street in Corvallis.  The grass was long and golden.  I think I may have been walking from my parent's house to Church.  (In the 1980's I used to bike along a path running through the field.)  The day was bright, but neither hot nor cold.  I have a vague recollection that there were cows or goats or some other kind of cattle in the field.

As I was walking, I was on a rough path which ran along some briars.  In the middle of the path was a dead peacock, with a little sign:  "Free Dead Peacock."  The peacock must not have been dead long, because it still looked pretty good.  I was weighing the merits of pulling feathers out of it -- I was (suddenly) wearing my new purple Venician scholar's cap, and a bunch of peacock feathers would look really good in its brim.  On the other hand, it was kind of gruesome to pull feathers out of a dead peacock just lying there in the middle of a path -- even if it did had a sign announcing its availability. 

I decided to leave the peacock body alone.  At that point, the peacock started breathing.  It wasn't dead after all.  It pulled itself up and started walking about the field.  Where it had been, it had left behind one peacock feather.  I had a very strong sense that this was my reward for my choice.

I think there was more after this, possibly taking place in the church, but I've forgotten it.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Sermon on Evil

Stephanie, a friend of mine, gave this sermon in Second Life. I wasn't able to be in-world to hear her, and I wish I had. The title pretty much sums up the topic:

UUtopia Service and Sermon 9/8/2011 - Positive Thinking and The Law of Attraction: How They Are Used to Oppress Individuals and Perpetuate Evil

I guess the Power of Wishful Thinking Errors is everywhere.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day Weekend 2011

This weekend has been a writing one.  I've managed to finish up two manuscripts which needed endings.  I am hopeful that September (at least after Shrewsbury) will be a month where I can be more disciplined with my writing -- my writing muscles have gotten flabby. 

My night-time reading has been "Tales of the Dying Earth."  I can't say that I'm enjoying it much.  It is entertaining to learn where the term "prismatic spray" came from.  And it's supposed to be one of those genre classics.  But man is it pulpy.

I can't tell if it's misogynist or if everyone is treated like a sexual commodity; I think it's supposed to be titillating.  The fight and torture scenes are just icky.  As near as I can tell, everyone in this world is wearing either A) boots and a cape, B) metal bracelets, C) a leather harness, or D) nothing.  It's like The Dying Earth is some sort of BDSM party... and suddenly, the Heavy Metal magazine springs to mind. 

In terms of character, so far we have Powerful Male Techno-Wizards, these can be good, evil, or insane; a cast of animal-men and demons acting as an id chorus; and women, mostly decanted from vats -- the ones not decanted seem to be beautifully evil seductresses or old and ugly.

One thing I could say for "Tales" is that it could win an award for baroque language.  All of the excesses are described in lavish, poly-syllabic detail.

I think I'll jump ahead to "Rhialto the Marvelous", which was written in 1983 (instead of 1950) and might have, uh, less pulp.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Norton Gulch Beetle

We went to the coast. Camping was smokey, noisy, fun! ('Cause I'd unpacked my adjectives...). At Norton Gulch, we discovered this very large beetle. I think it was a "gold bug" because it looked like the beetles I used to see at Arcosanti. Mark thought that it had gotten blown way off course, and we both agreed it looked bemused at being on the Oregon coast.

More pictures once I wash all the smoke and sand out of my hair.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dredging Memories with the Ile de France

I'm slightly weirded out. I was looking at this web page about the Ile de France, and I looked closely at a picture of the more modern funnels of the ship.

Suddenly, I'm re-living a memory and I'm seeing black sooty smoke coming out of a grey funnel. Although I would have called it a smoke stack at the time. The stack leans backward, and my memory is of just the top. I don't remember the ship -- or whatever -- it was attached to... although trying to recall more, I have a sense of a pipe railing with three horizontal pipes.

I think this is a memory of a trans-Atlantic crossing in 1967, so I would have been three. It's also connected to a memory of my grandmother's hand, she's wearing a jacket or blouse with turquoise sleeve and some kind of chunky bracelet. Actually, all I can remember is her forearm (turquoise sleeved) and her hand, which is on a round dial on a rectangular box. How do I know it's my grandmother's hand? I don't know, but it is.

These memories make my head feel funny. It's almost as if the engrams live in a space between my temples.  Maybe some day I'll see if I can be hypnotized to recall more about the trip.  Until then, I guess it will have to remain part of a collection of funny stories things I got into when I was three.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Last August Musing

The dog days of August are upon us.  Last night was one of the first nights there wasn't a midnight breeze to blow through the house and cool it down.  This morning the house resounds with the whir of large box fans near the windows.  It feels like being aboard an aircraft -- either a dirigible or a turbo-prop plane -- but it's worth it because two fans have managed to cool the house down by seven degrees down to 72F in about an hour.

Not a whole lot from the Dream Department that I'm comfortable sharing.  This morning I suddenly remembered last night's dream and started laughing.  I did what with who?  At least it's kind of funny instead of icky.  And it was in a cool forest house made out of stones half-set into a hill.  I'm still trying to figure out what the dream means. 

My writing discipline has gone out the window.  This week's goal is to actually finish one of the several unfinished manuscripts I've got in my pile.

But first, the Day Job.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Good Submission Advice

 I think I need to add this to my list of writer's advice:

BOOK VIEW CAFE BLOG � Things I wish I’d known: In hindsight I should have realised then that if I didn’t like any of the stories in a magazine, then that magazine is not one I should have been sending stories to.

It's a variation of "Write what you love; love what you write."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Go Ask Alice...


There was an Alice in Wonderland themed party. I was going to go as a playing card, but I didn't get my act together; so I went as the March Hare instead.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mice

It's the Season of the Mouse. I don't know why -- either it's the record cold Summer, it's mouse-kit time, or we've been extra cavalier with open doors -- but we've seen a bunch of mice in our garage and our kitchen.

Saturday, we watched a young mouse darting back and forth in the rosemary bed. Then it skittered across Café John, jumped up on the concrete foundation of the house, and ran along the south flower bed. We tracked it by the quivering sweet alyssum, tomato and strawberry plants.

And then the mouse was so bold as to sit there, watching us with one eye as it nibbled a ripe strawberry. Who knew that mice and slugs have something in common?

We've put out some traps in the house. But I'm thinking that it might be time to get a cat. And by cat, I mean a lean, mean, bat-catching machine like Mâtchka was. Muriel was an okay cat, but... well... she was a kind of odd, needy thing. She got points for being able to climb ladders -- but almost instantly lost them for never being able to figure out how to get out of the loft she'd climbed to (at 3:43 AM). And the poor thing had never been taught how to catch mice; in our old rental, she'd just look at them quizzically as if they were curiosities from another epoch.

Mâtchka automatically got cool points for being black except for a small white patch on her chest. She had the hauteur thing down. She could upstage anyone on giving a tour of Arcosanti simply by displaying herself in High Egyptian Cat style. And yes, she was able to catch bats.

Sigh. I know it's wrong to want a new cat just like Mâtchka. We kind of like our cat-free life. Still, sometimes....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Brief Survey of Faerie

The other day at Wordos, I was going to give a short presentation on Writing Elves and Fairies. I took copious notes from Tolkien's On Fairy Stories. I collected various research books, anthologies, and fantasy paperbacks. Alas, when it came time to give my mini-lecture, I discovered that my notes were not in my bag of Books about Fairies, and so I had to improvise wildly.

I said I'd post my notes.  So, without further ado....

Dwarves, Gobblins, Dragons, Trolls, Elves and Fairies have been written about for a very long time. There are several approaches to take when writing about Faerie, Elves, and Fairy Magic, and each of them has their own merits. Tolkien writes that the words elf and fairy are equivalent, but that fairy is a Tudor word popularized by authors like Spenser, Shakespeare and Drayton. Tolkien makes a distinction between fairy stories, dream tales, and adventure, wonder- or marvel stories. More on Tolkien later.

One early source about fairies are the Child Ballads. The elves in these ballads tend appear suddenly and steal people away -- babes, maidens, queens and poets alike. Some are summoned by blowing horns, like Isabel's Fairy Knight; some appear beneath special trees, like the Queen of Fairy before Thomas the Rhymer; others pierce their victim's hearts with darts, like the Elfking in King Orefo.

Or these stories use the fairies as boogie-men in cautionary tales for children. One example is the Kelpie that takes the form of a horse and tricks children into riding it, whereupon it jumps into the nearest pool or river and drowns them.

The old stories present the folk of Faerie as strange to or unmoved by human morality or desires. They are elemental and tricky like thunder and lightning, or a rip-tide in the ocean.

Then there are the fairies of the Mabinogion, the Arthurian Romances, and the lays of Marie de France. In these, knights summon otherworldly lovers by blowing horns, ladling water out of fountains, or putting on rings. Typically these fairy women aid the knight in a quest or redress some wrong done by a mortal court. Or else the knights camp out in an old haunted castle and risk being eaten (or worse) by an ugly, riddling spirit woman who usually turns into a beautiful bride by the time morning dawns and the knight has solved three riddles.

These medieval stories present fairies as foils to the mortal courts, and even the Courts of Heaven and Hell. The fairies are both friend and foe simultaneously -- dangerous as chaotic beings living outside the walls of civilization and beneficial as magical helpers. Treating with them requires navigating taboos and prohibitions alien to mortal custom. Almost always, the mortal breaks the rule -- they open the forbidden door, they speak the fairy lover's name, they taste the brew in the cauldron -- and bring ruin, wrath and lamentation down upon themselves.

Tolkien theorizes that after the age of Enlightenment, Faerie began to be depicted in the language of rationality and science. Elvin glamour became finesse. This led to a kind of "domesticated" fairy, the Flower Fairy.  He places the blame for teeny-tiny fairies dressed in flower petals with deelybopper antenna squarely on Drayton's Nymphidia.

Between Drayton, Spenser and Shakespeare, the fairies became agents of satire, allegory, and the author's plot needs (the fairies made him do it!).  Sometime around this point, elves and fairies begin to be relegated to the nursery and peasant wisdom. In 1889, this (according to Tolkien) prompted Andrew Lang to complain in the Lilac Fairy Book, "these fairies try to be funny and fail, and try to preach and succeed."

Another rationalization is to explain fairies as "savage" Northern European tribes of pygmies or Picts, long ago driven into the hinter-lands by the Romans or other civilized peoples.

From the flower fairies and anthropological fairies, it's a short jump to Puck of Pook's Hill, and Rudyard Kipling's "Puck's Song." In the song, Puck sings about the rise and fall of human empires and cities. We get the sense that the fairies are long-lived, and will continue to exist long after the last human ruin has crumbled. Kipling's Puck is diminutive and pointy eared, and he appears by accident after some children perform A Mid-Summer Night's Dream on Mid-Summer Night.


Now we get to Tolkien. The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings. On Fairy Stories. In his essay, Tolkien says of the Elves: "Elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered..."

He says of Fairy Magic:
  •  "The part of magic [faeries] wield is power to play on the desires of [man's] body and heart."
  •  Fairy magic satisfies the desire to survey space and time and commune with other living things.
  • Fairy magic enables the realization of imagined wonder.
  • The magic of faerie re-enchants the familiar with its wonder-ful connection to the natural, as opposed to mortal magic which is concerned with willing power over nature.
He says of Fairy Stories:
  • There's a distinction between myth and history. Historical people and places become attached to mythic ones. 
  • Fairy stories are mythic tales.
  • Fairy-tales confound Comparative Folk-lore's list of correspondences and story element concordances.
  • Fairy stories are mystical toward the supernatural, magical toward nature, and the beings of Faerie regard mortals with pity and scorn.
  • Fairy stories contain prohibitions.

And of Faerie in general: Faerie cannot be caught within a net of words.

In Tolkien's works, Elves are so connected with Nature that they appear "supernatural." Their immortality sunders them from humankind, who is given the gift of death. This makes the Elves weary preservers of nature. Tolkien's Elves are also caught up in Tolkien's theme of the One Ring of Power, which is "Absolute power corrupts absolutely"; therefore, Tolkien's Elves have the unenviable choice of watching the nature and world they love and are intimately connected with fade away, or becoming corrupted by power that could preserve it.

Tolkien set the mold for the fantasy genre.


Since Tolkien, there have been a few other approaches to Elves and Faerie.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fairies in The Mists of Avalon (1982) are beings that inhabit a kind of parallel world. Faerie, such as it is, is portrayed as an other-worldly haven for an enclave practicing the old ways of Goddess Religion. It is a mist-filled place removed from the advances of Christianity and male-centric civilizations. The Fairies who do appear seem part-and-parcel of a magical, parallel-realm accessible only to those with The Sight. This realm, or possibly The Sight used to see it, is malleable to observers' expectations or state.

More modern Faerie seems to have pushed the immortality, removal, and indifference so far that it suffers from a kind of stasis or arrested development.
Prince Shadowbow (1985), by Sherri S Tepper, shows a Faerie that is fragile and must seek renewal through the more vital mortal world.

In War for the Oaks (1987), by Emma Bull, the folk of Faerie seem drawn to human music and movies to such an extent that the mortal protagonist asks the Queen of the Unseelie Court if there isn't anything she hasn't stolen from a movie. They seem to not understand love and death.

Patricia C. Wrede's Snow White and Rose Red (1989) presents a renaissance England fairy court, with magical court intrigues. One of the story's arcs concerns the nature of the connection between the Mortal and Faerie realms. "Mortal lands are our stability," says Wrede's Fairy Queen, "Without them we would fade to mist and shadows."

Ellen Kushner, in Thomas the Rhymer, (1990) has the Queen of Fairy tell Thomas that Elves are drawn to Humans because they burn bright, with a kind of fire which sustains them. Later Thomas opines that Fairies are bad liars because living in Faerie has blunted their ability to invent. In one of her last appearances, the Queen reports that she cannot change (and possibly cannot love because that would require change).

These previous four stories share Terri Windling as an editor. All though they they are long-lived or immortal, partake of magic, and have a separate fate from humanity, "Windling Elves" do not appear to have the Tolkien Elves' supernatural connection to the natural world -- their magic stems from their removal from the natural world; their other-worldliness is rooted in by their inability to understand moral emotion.

I'm almost forgetting Charles de Lint -- his Elves of European descent are close to Tolkien's; his expansion on them is to have them interact with Native American nature spirits.

And I've almost forgotten Brian Froud's Fairies. I want to be flippant and call them Muppet Fairies because of Froud's influence on the movies The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I admit my own ambiguity of feeling toward Froud's Fairies. On one hand, I love Labyrinth for the stunning visuals, artistry, and costuming. But I used to have a friend whom I used to share the tag-line "Love me, fear me, do what I say, and I will be your slave forever" as a joke. I feel the same way about Dark Crystal, only I loved the intricate freaky magic -- even if it was hard to find just one joke in the overwrought melodrama. If I were pressed, I'd say that Froud's art in general is in touch with Faerie as wonder; Labyrinth is in touch with fairy as trickster; and Dark Crystal is in touch with a "wholistic" politics and aesthetic.

Oh yeah, and then there are the D&D Elves.  And Hobbits.   Um... I think these count as humans with pointy ears.  With the copyright filed off.


To summarize, Faerie illuminates our relationships with and attitudes toward nature, civilization, modes of thought, and the human condition.  The Realm of Faerie has ranged from the Elemental, to the Outlandish, to the Preserving Sanctuary.   Faerie magic shows us how we love, what we fear, and how we die.

When I write about Faerie, I want to partake of the Tolkien essence of it.  I want my Elves to shine a different light (and shadow) on the truth.  I want them to reveal the wonder of the connected world.  And I want the reader to risk peril in the hope of transformation.  

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

First-Order Approximation Plots

Sometimes when I look at a manuscript, I find it suffers from what I call first-order approximation plots.  They aren't bad plots exactly, but they're plots that have either stalled out without resolving or they're too well worn.  The language can be beautiful and the words can flow, but in the end, if the plot isn't working, a the result is an unsalable manuscript.  Here's a list of what I see most of.


Wish Fulfillment Daydreams - There's absolutely nothing wrong about imagining nice things happening to nice people, except it makes for a flat plot.  (Yes, I want a star cruiser and cool magic powers, too.)  In most short stories, conflict and the reaction to conflict reveals character, and most wish fulfillment manuscripts have very little (or easily overcome) conflict.  This type of plot frequently suffers from a passive telling of events instead of an active unfolding of action.  Not to be confused with the The Revenge Fantasy.

Driving To The Plot - A big flag word in this type of manuscript is the word "decided," as in "He decided he would go to the store."  ...And then the manuscript spends three or five paragraphs describing the trip from point A to the store.   Getting to the store may seem like a character's problem, but it isn't.  Another flag word is "wondered," as in "She wondered what it would be like to walk on Mars," followed by supposition or a wish fulfillment daydream.  The problem with Driving to the Plot is that the reader has to wade through three, five, or more pages of exposition, back-story or description before we learn what the character wants, or a precipitating event threatens something the main character loves.  Get us there sooner.  Get her on Mars! 

Satire - There's confusion about what satire is.  It's not simply making fun of something.  It's not even being sarcastic about mainstream society (the aim of sarcasm is to hurt someone or something).  Satire aims at fixing a wrong by taking a person's, institution's or society's  quality or qualities, magnifying them until they're way over the top, and then writing  about them.   I think sometimes authors are worried that they're going to offend somebody, and wind up calling a manuscript "satire" as a defense.  Or they are being sarcastic.  In any case, they shouldn't have to call it anything and let the humor and social commentary speak for the piece.

The Angry Young Man Manuscript - Pick a cause, or make one up.  Now have your characters act at low capacity but nevertheless achieve the cause's goals just before dying, or fail miserably in a very un-cheery way just before dying.  I'm trying to imagine Ursula K LeGuin writing an Angry Young Man Manuscript, and the closest work I can think of is The Word For World is Forrest.  If you must write an Angry Young Man Manuscript (and I know you must), try to make it as layered as Ms. LeGuin's.



My Characters Are All Capitalized Stereotypes - "The Business Man stood over The Crone and smiled a wicked smile.  But before he could evict her, The Child rode in on A Big White Horse with a bag of gold."  Okay; I haven't read something this vague in a very long while -- yes, it may be clear in the author's head what The Business Man looks and sounds like, but all I know is that he's a male character somehow connected with a business of some sort.  The problem may be that the author is trying to be ageless and dramatic.  Or maybe they're relying too much on Jung's collective unconscious.  The cure is to remember two things: 1) specific details are your friends and 2) give your characters names as well as descriptions.


This isn't  an exhaustive list - for that you can get lost at Television Tropes or at the Turkey City Lexicon - but it's what I see the most of.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mammoth Art

When Mark and I were in the modern art wing of the Portland Art Museum, we passed by a neon sign that read, "Five Words in Orange Neon". This was one of several pieces that reminded me of Tina Howe's play, Museum.

As we were waiting for the elevator, Mark noticed the sign and said, "This is not a mammoth -- For all we know that's what all those cave painters were thinking."












This struck me as funny on many levels and I giggled. "I love you," I said and pulled Mark closer.

Cars Alluring; But Is It Art?

For our anniversary, Mark and I went to see The Allure of the Automobile at the Portland Art Museum.

The phrase that sums up our experience: It was a car show. And by "car" I mean million dollar vintage race cars or vehicles that really only fit two people (and their suitcases).

After looking at the fifteen or so cars, we decided that we were looking at craft and history, but I wasn't sure that we were looking at art. Mark (and I) had hoped that there would be original draft designs on display. And I'd hoped that we'd see more radiator cap tops and sculpture. I think the show would have benefitted with the inclusion of other period objects, so we could have seen how the cars' aesthetic was interacting with the aesthetic of the time. "Well, I guess this is like looking at jewelry," Mark said.

After about ninety minutes of looking at cars, we took a break to the modern art wing. This was mostly because I was having trouble wrapping my (admittedly pedestrian) art appreciation brain around the concept of car-as-art-object, and I figured that if I looked at things like eighteen inch black plastic cubes, video loops of sunsets set to the Apocalypse Now movie soundtrack, and pictures of dumpsters taped over with silver tape (I'm not making this up, you know), I'd be able to go back to the car show with a better appreciation for the artistry.

I fell in love with Mark all over again as we chortled our way through the Modern Wing. On our way back to the cars, we gave a detailed artistic critique of the way the metal etching on the elevator walls made organic reflections of the lights. And then we were back with the cars.

Going off to view alternate art didn't quite work. I was still mentally contrasting and comparing Allure with a show consisting of Kitchen Aide mixers all lined up on artistically lit pedestals.

I made a few sketches.

One thing I noticed about this show that was different from other shows was how (ahem) aggressive everyone was with photographing (they didn't exactly say, "Get out of my way!" but they didn't say "please" either). The photograph frenzy was strange, like being on a kind of birding expedition -- and I guess when I've been in museums before, people take pictures of the art. At Allure, as often as not, people would have their pictures taken as they were standing in front of cars, sort of like one would have one's picture taken with a recently-caught trophy fish.

I enjoy photographing objects in the Egyptian wing of the MET. So I can understand the thrill of phonographic acquisition. Still....

My favorite car was the sting ray because it looked just a little bit like Luke Skywalker's land speeder. Mark's was a 1930's Chitty-chitty-bang-bang style car. I liked how the headlights on some of the older cars had magnifying lenses built into their glass, or how designs (like a candelabra) were etched into the bulb's glass. A few cars had hinged wrought-iron-looking bumpers, which was cool. But the award for most interesting goes to the car with a third, swiveling headlight stuck in front of the radiator.

We left the car show and went upstairs to look at the silverware. I really looked at those 17th-Century chocolate pots and tried to imagine that I was looking at the cars. But it wasn't the same -- the cars didn't have clawed feet, or labyrinths of leafy bronze vines coiling around Titans. The cars looked like tanks, or teardrops, or women's breasts, or phalluses, or airplanes, or cellphones. They weren't even SteamPunk. I guess cars fall into the same category for me as all those endless Madonna With Child portraits from the renaissance.


Afterward, we had dinner at The Portland City Grill. It was fun because we were thirty stories high. We ate good food while looking at Mount Hood. We got to watch skateboarders on the roof of a parking garage beneath us, and also the gyres of a red-tailed hawk.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Seven Years Annerversary

Seven years ago -- August 1, 2004 -- Mark and I had a Ceremony of Marriage. Our families and friends attended the outdoor ceremony, which was held in our landlady's backyard garden.



It was purely a ceremony -- Oregon's constitution had recently been amended to forbid same-sex marriage. (And, reviewing notes, it appears that West Nile Fever had yet to make it to Oregon.) Aside from things like the car, the house and joint checking, we haven't really registered with legislative bodies.

Mark was particularly handsome that day. Some days -- just the other day, in fact -- I'll look at him and fall in love with him all over. And on the other days, the hard days, I repeat my part of the vows: "As the Earth and the Moon dance around the Sun, so I braid my life with yours."

And thinking about Mark, who will probably make a gagging sound when he reads the above, I suppose that I should prepare the Ultimate Love Gift and start the laundry and the dishwasher.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Microdrones

This was in the news a few weeks back:

Microdrones, Some as Small as Bugs, Are Poised to Alter War - NYTimes.com: "The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined.

“It’s a growth market,” said Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer."

On one hand, cool! Robots!  On the other hand, these are war toys, and some folks would like to see them being tested in Easter Oregon.   What I want to know is, why isn't the department of agriculture working with microdrones to improve farming and ranching techniques?   Or why isn't the parks service using these to monitor forest fires?  And could microdrones become the guardians of the very young and the very old?  Or deliver pizzas?

Late July 2011 Update

Hmm. The day job is cutting into blogging time. So some quick updates:

Monday, July 18, 2011

2011 June 30 - Thursday

After the third or fourth time I'd sung, "What's that on your head? / A wig!" Mark finally asked me why I was channeling the B-52's. I smiled and said, "I like to call my wig, 'Olana'." Because it was true, we were driving off to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and the magical family mansion of Frederic Edwin Church, Olana.  We'd first discovered Olana last January, and between Mr. Church's over-the-top writing about it and all the sumptuous interior designs we knew we had to go.

As we crossed the bridge over the Hudson, we saw the square tower rising over the trees on an overlooking hill.

After a brief snack in the parking lot, we walked to the carriage house, which now serves as the museum and gift shop. The house had lots "gingerbread" on in, which made Mark wonder which came first, the houses in San Fransisco or Olana. Then we saw the main house.

I wanted to take photographs, but they weren't allowed inside. I wanted to sketch, but sketching wasn't allowed, either.

Mark and I probably won the Gay Men's Laser Eye Award for Interior Motif Recognition. The house was filled with chachkies from Egypt and Damascus. The whole house, especially the yellow Central Hall, was designed for family nights of children's plays and guests' tableaus. Everything that wasn't imported from the near East was designed or painted by Church. One picture frame that stuck with me was based on decagons and star zelige. Upstairs, there were samples of imported tile work Church had probably used for the exterior.

The funniest moment was learning that the meticulously stenciled Arabic script in Mrs. Church's office was complete gibberish. The most useful factoid -- he sandwiched black paper between clear and amber glass to create a stained glass window effect.

The servant's quarters were much more plain but still nice; even the utility stairs were wide with low risers.

After the tour I photographed the outside of the building. The day was mostly sunny, and it was just after the sun had passed through the local meridian. Olana strikes me as one of those buildings that demands being photographed ninety minutes within sunrise or sunset. There are so many rich details tiled or carved into the walls that navigating the contrasts proved to be an almost insurmountable challenge for my camera's light meter and auto-focus.

I also sketched some of the curiously shaped windows. Mr. Church had fun working out the brickwork and the geometry for the keyhole shaped casements.

More photos here: John's Olana Photos





After Olana, we went to a Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park. Mark called it a McMansion of its day. Whereas Olana had been a grand family chateau, Vanderbilt was a family hotel. Olana was welcoming like a Vegas show; Vanderbilt was welcoming like an Edward Gory Chase - I fully expected an urn to thud into the earth next to us.

Our Vanderbilt guide was a Park Ranger. She had long blond hair and used the word "costed", as in "it costed twelve million." I can't decide which part of the tour was funnier, learning that Mrs. Vanderbilt died in Paris on a shopping trip or the following exchange as the tour guide and I were speaking about Olana and I pulled out my sketchbook. TG: "Oh, are you an architect?" Me: "No, but I play one on TV." TD (Obviously missing the 70's TV commercial reference): "Oh, are you an actor?" Me: "No, I'm just a computer geek." (Note to self: jokes based on 70's culture only work with people born between 1950 and 1970).

Our Park Ranger Guild was less formal than our Olana Docent, and let us wander on the floors more. Although the French Empire chairs and tapestries and sculptures were cool, the most interesting thing to me was how the natural convection of air from sub-basement tunnels up through the skylights allowed for fairly good 1880's air conditioning.

After the mansion tour, Mark and I walked through the garden. Mark surveyed the landscaping and made a few note for how we could respond to our neighbor's recent construction with layered plantings of bamboo, lily, iris, and shrubbery.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 June 29 - Wednesday


This was Playland Day! Family fun since 1928!






Visiting Playland is a Dwyer Tradition. When I first met Mark's family, one of the very first things we did was go to Playland. I'm not sure when they moved into their current house, but previously, at one point in the 1960's, the Dwyers, then a family of three, lived near the old amusement park.




I enjoy the rides (although I would have enjoyed a few more had I been wearing my contacts), but what I like about Playland are some of the old attractions from the early 1920's. The Dragoncoaster is a mostly wooden roller-coaster. Part of the attraction (?) is that people were shorter back then, so sometimes it seems like I'm about to be decapitated by some of the wood beams in the ride's structure. I think what I like are some of the old posters for the Dragoncoaster; but the really cool thing is that the operator controls the ride with a Really Big Lever -- I think it's about four feet long and it looks like you need to work out a little to move it.


The architecture of Playland has an Art Deco feel to it. I like the light tower at one end of the arcade.








But what I remember most about Playland is the carousel -- it's from something like 1910. I had romanticized the horses, because reviewing the pictures I took, there's something frantically wild about these ones. They all are pulling hard against their reigns, and their eyes have a sad, terrified, or calculating cast.

They reminded me of the carousel from Something Wicked This Way Comes, and in my storyteller's mind, I wonder what invocation has bound these beasts to the wheel -- and had it been some wicked enchanter's trap or had it been a well-deserved punishment?


We stayed until the park closed.