Sunday, August 14, 2022

Story Images

I've tricked out the Secret Writing Lair with a large leaded crystal, and now little rainbows are splashing themselves over the grape leaves and the foliate head.  This is a good thing, as it keeps my my mind off of the rising temperature.  At some point over the next week or two, the grapes will have produced bunches that are sweet enough to eat; we're hoping to get to them before resident night critters do.

Thursday night's full moon was more a meditation than an actual ritual.  I lit some incense, sat in the backyard circle, and listened to the evening sounds of frogs and crickets and the fountain.  Shortly after the moon rose, some neighbors about a block up the street began howling (later, Mark called it a full moon party).  It was kind of cute, but struck me at the time as slightly performative.  

I've continued to play around with MidJourney.  It's great for rendering abstract or general images, but I'm finding it difficult to direct the AI to produce images with a specific narrative that could be used as e-pub cover art.  Either the images become more uncanny as the AI adds extra heads, limbs, or body orifices or else it latches onto rendering an irrelevant object.  An attempt at a Victorian man at a large fireplace holding a chess knight resulted in a horse-headed gentleman with a hearth in his torso.  I think the trick is to not get too carried away by the AI's variations, which tend to become more bizarre and surreal as one goes along.

So, if I wanted an image that  Leonora Carrington might paint, the AI works great; aliens, I'm covered; specific fantasy story characters... well, if they were on fire or undead or extras from The Nightmare Before Christmas, I'd be good.  I did have some success pointing the AI to images to use as a starting point—Capricorn renderings looked more like goats and less like early experiments by Frankenstein.   Creating an image that will convince a reader to read the story, well... that's going to take some extra work.

Practically speaking, there might be a legal issue using AI generated images as cover art, because an AI (or the person using it) can't hold copyright for the image.  I suppose I'll have to look into the difference between using generated images and using public-domain images.

Writing wise... I reviewed some short stories and polished some bits that are more obviously in need of it after a period of not looking.  Another manuscript I looked at either needs to have the character's stakes heightened and the word-count shortened, or else I need to sit back and do some very loose outlining because the manuscript right now feels like an introductory chapter to a longer story.  I can see that my penchant for visual description needs to be reigned in, too,  

And I need to gear up submissions, too.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

MidJourney Near Misses

Well... I've spent more time on MidJourney trying to get an image of a character that doesn't look like he's doing a dark rite by the flame of his orange eyes than I expected.  Since the character is gay, I added "gay" and "romance" to the end of the text and the AI responded the way I thought it might by rendering some shirtless eldritch horrors—and some eldritch horrors with shirts made of the skins of buff Harlequin Romance male models.
I'm using text from a story, and for whatever reason the Dark Fantasy switch must be on.  The text is a quick description of spell casting, although it's more of a charm involving jack-o-lanterns than a full-blown spell.  Maybe the Halloween vibe is too strong.
Oh well. 

I had better luck with an image loosely based on iron pentagon of Mars.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Continuing MidJourney Adventures

illustration of a young man with seven pumpkins
I'm discovering that the MidJourney AI has not been trained in classical Greek and Roman mythology, and that it's more likely to pick up modern cultural references to stories rather than the original myths and legends.  It also doesn't seem to know how to render Capricorn, the sea-goat, and instead of producing an image of a goat with the hind-quarters of a sinuous fish, it's more likely to make encephalitic creatures with crab feet and mutant horns.  I suppose I have to learn how to weight descriptors and choose the right ones.  

Also, if you ask the AI to draw librarians, it will render them as women.  Which does raise the question, why did I choose to have the librarian characters be male in the story.

I'm not sure if I'm having better luck using excerpts from various short stories and seeing what the AI does.  It looks like the AI wants to illustrate a Dark Phantasy, because as I cycle through the prompts, people's faces get more lopsided or sinister looking, and objects mutate into molten, multi-eyed parodies.  I might have to tack upbeat words like "wholesome" or "wonder" to the end to keep the artwork light.

It's also possible that my stories are creepier than I realize. 

So far, this has felt like homing in on a specific character in the multiverse.  Sometimes I get closer to the image of the character, and other times the AI goes in a different direction.   I'm not completely sure, but it's feels more satisfying to have another human come up with story images because there's a real sense of connection via an idea when someone else's art resonates with what was in my head when I was writing.  

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Playing with MidJourney

The latest distraction fun thing I've discovered is the art-generating AI bot "MidJouney."  This has required that I also learn Discord, which I suppose isn't too bad a thing. 

I've been playing around with it over the weekend; the justification for doing so is that I can use it to generate covers for some short stories I've got lying around that I really should publish. 

Working with the AI is interesting.    I've managed to create a few images in the blended styles of  Edward Burne-Jones and William Holman Hunt.  I asked it to render tarot cards in the style of Pamela Coleman Smith, and what came out was interesting, but looked more like Crowley's Thoth Deck and a possible portrait of Ms. Smith.  

The AI doesn't appeared to have been trained on Middle Kingdom hieroglyphs, and I'm thinking that its renderings of the ancient Egyptian god Thoth may be pulling more from the Stargate Science Fiction franchise than actual ancient Egyptian images. I might have to try something specific like "man with an ibis head." (which is has led to depictions which are closer to either to Native American Raven or a medieval plague doctor).

I did a fine job with a flying machine over a medieval city.  It makes pleasing images of the moon and architecture, and I got some interesting portraits with the prompt "The Magician Tarot Card by Pamela Coleman Smith."  MidJourney does have a tendency to blend things together into one image unless one is specific—so far my attempts to have the Lord of the Animals and the Greenman dancing have resulted in a chthonic figure in the uncanny valley; "dung beetle hieroglyphs" resulted in images of a beetle with tiny pseudo hieroglyphs on its body.

There's some commands I can embed in the text that I tell MidJourney to build a picture from, and it looks like I'll have to play around with them some more.  

Er.  I mean.  I'll need to enter in some text from some of my stories and see if it comes up with some good cover art.  Yeah. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Ace of Lighters

We join the dream in progress...

(Sexy bits with naked men redacted.)

I was with a group of (presumably) gay men staying at a lodge in the forest and who were going to go into town for breakfast.  The meal was supposed to be excellent in a rustic setting—gourmet, but not pretentious; fulfilling, but not greasy or heavy; simple, but not unrefined.  I think we bussed (or rode a van) to a town that was on a large rocky outcropping (the entire town was built on one gigantic rock).

At the town, we entered a large, bright room where a circle of older women sat.  They were our breakfast hosts, and we thanked them for having us and they had a grandmotherly "aren't these fine young men" moment.  

We filed up some stairs carved into the rock.  The stairway was darker and labyrinthine; at times we were in rocky tunnels.  I found myself in a procession of people, mostly men, walking up through twisting stairways.  The way doubled back on itself, and I briefly glimpsed M.H. in his old red and black cloak as we passed by each other (this was apparently his cameo as he hadn't been in the dream until this point and didn't reappear later).

There's a break in the narrative.  I was either at the edge of a very large pool of water or floating in it.  There might have been stars in the deep twilight sky, but I couldn't tell you if it was dusk or dawn.  A pale hand—I couldn't say if it was mine or someone else's—held a lit lighter about an arm's length in front of my face.  At times the lighter's flame reflected above the surface of the pool, at other times the lighter's flame shone from under the water.  There was a circle of mostly youngish women around the pool's edge.

A chorus of women's voices began to sing (in waking life, they sounded like Bananarama singing a cover of "Spooky"; in 2/2 time):

They / say the moon / in the sky / is a lake / that would rather be a river //
They / say the moon / in the sky / is alive / so love her like a lover.  

A woman (at the water's edge?) began to speak, but at that point the house cuckoo clock in the kitchen began to count 6 AM.  I tried to stay in the dream and remember what she said, but the second cuckoo brought me into the waking world.

When I was relating the dream to Mark, he said the lighter sounded like a tarot card; I agreed, and added something about the Lady of the Lake.  Fire and water together primarily makes me think of the King of Cups tarot card, or secondarily the Queen of Wands.  I suppose it could be the Ace of Flames, or Lighters, but I'd have to meditate more on what it might mean beyond just being a cool image.

Thinking about the previous evening, before going to bed I'd been snacking in my Writer's Grotto, with a solar powered lamp underneath a circular glass deck table (one of four bought to be outdoor ritual tables), so that might have powered all of the circular imagry, as well as suggesting the Ace of Lighters Unquenched by Water.

The labyrinthine caves is a reoccurring dream motif, and I haven't figured out the precise meaning.  In this dream they were a transforming boundary separating the bright circle of elder women from the dark circle of younger women.  I used to have dreams where I would cross a boundary of water and into a magical zone, and lately twisty tunnels have taken on that role.  Sometimes caves turn into Caves of Wonder showing tableaus; maybe M.H. showing up was an attempt in this direction.   Sometimes tunnel labyrinths feel constricting, but this one wasn't. 

I don't know where the song came from.  This was the most lyrics I've dreamed since the 1950's-esque "In Corvallis" dream with the floor-show song, or the French burlesque song and routine "Va-vooom!"  both from decades ago.  Maybe I've been listening to "Agatha All Along" too much (having recently discovered it), but the song sounds more like "Spooky" -- the word play is fun.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Summer Ides

Happy Summer Ides!  This is the time when I try to think about goals for the year in a kind of "I am the arrow that is not aimed" kind of way. 

That's the aspiration, anyway. 

The only problem with being the arrow that is not aimed is that your life can be aimless.  I suppose I need a different metaphor, like "be the target."  There; my daily affirmation can be, "I am the manuscript."  

This is also the time of year when I can write outside in the Secret Writing Grotto, otherwise known as the fort, which is doing double-duty as a grape arbor.  Mark didn't cut the grapes back quite so much this year, so they got a head start and have aggressively covered the fort we built for The Child with vines and leaves.  If the local night critters don't discover them, we might even have grapes in a week or two.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

18 Years

Tomorrow is my and Mark's "wedding anniversary," when we had a backyard garden ceremony.  We've been married eighteen years.  I'm trying to think what the most surprising thing in our marriage is—The Child probably takes first place.  That the traits we have would remain (and grow) shouldn't be surprising, but sometimes it is.

The Moon was full when we were married, and on August 1, 2023, it will be full again.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Activist Judges

The Supreme Court overturned Roe a week ago last Friday and it feels similar to November 2, 2004, when Oregon voters approved Measure 36, which amended Oregon's constitution and defined marriage in Oregon as being between one man and one woman.   Bleah.  Just bleah.  

I never thought that I'd have to break out the old Romanovsky & Phillips song, "Homophobes in Robes."  

On a different topic, a conversation about favorite (and unfavorite) hymns got me thinking about language.  The other month I had misheard a chant as "Dark Moon! / New Moon! / Epic Spaghetti!" — it was really "Dark Moon! / New Moon! / Endings! / Beginnings!"  This hasn't stopped me from chanting the mis-heard version and giggling, and then moving on to "Echo Echo / Amalak!" 

But afterward, I had to wonder why I was dissatisfied with the actual chant.  Part of it was the recorded delivery of it; another part was that it wasn't something like "Tenebris Luna! / Nova Luna! / Terminus! / Initium!" which is a very quick and dirty translation into Latin.  After some more consideration and experiments with phrasing and meter, the third part was that the chant I heard wasn't very melodic.  

Oh well, I suppose this is further evidence that ritual presentation is important to me.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Pre Solstice Musings

It's practically the summer solstice and the hummingbirds are particularly active this morning—I've seen two in the in the first five minutes of writing outside.  Normally, they visit the fountain in the half hour around dawn, and then at noon and sometimes in the very late afternoon.  Today has been the first clear and sunny day in about a week, so maybe they're wanting more water. 

The rainy May and June have broken the drought in the Willamette Valley; unfortunately, the rains didn't make it over the cascade mountains much, so Eastern Oregon remains in the arid grip of severe drought.  

Last Wednesday I was in a terrible funk.  This one seemed to come out of the blue—I don't know if it was sleep related, or a week of rain related, or not enough chocolate, or feeling isolated, or what.  Normally, the burdening numbness like a fist of stone living behind my ribcage only happens in January and February, which I attribute to low light levels.  By Wednesday evening, I just gave in and sat down with a bunch of Saturday Night Live comedy sketches on YouTube—which seemed to help?  In any case, Thursday didn't feel like living in a bleak Eurythmics (Sylvia or Loser or Peace) song.  

I was listening to a pod-cast the other day with Mark, which featured Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the take-away I got from it was when he said, "If your mind isn't being blown at least once a week, your not [reading, learning, or paying attention] enough."  So that's a wake-up call.

On the writing front, I am trying to get back into the groove of writing.  I'm currently working on a short story that needs the dialog and characterization tweaked.  The feedback I got was that the writing was good, but that the character's stakes were not clear and so the ending was confusing or unsatisfying.  

On the graphics front, I've been playing around with five pointed stars and trying to see how groupings other than of ten work.  

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Backyard Wildlife

I continue to work a hybrid schedule, which gives me the luxury of working outside at a table on our backyard deck -- at least when it's not raining.  Hummingbirds and dragonflies visit, which is always a nice diversion.  I usually see the same two hummingbirds, and I think they have a nest in our back hedge.  Usually the dragonflies that visit are red flaming skimmers or blue meadowhawks.  Since the cats consider the yard to be the dog's territory, they don't visit and the local fauna is spared from their ravaging.  I guess that means we'll see garter snakes in a few weeks.

I read a short meme about Star Wars shortly before going to bed, and so I dreamed I was Luke Skywalker (or at least his role), either on Endor or else on the DeathStar.  There was something about child Leia living in a cartoony witch's gingerbread house while I attempted to get Ben Kenobi to take a more active role in fighting the Empire.  (No, I haven't watched any of the streaming StarWars shows.)  At one point I was jumping from the top of floating 'droid to another along a long, tall hallway so I wouldn't run into personnel -- I wondered at the time why this was effective and why no one was sounding alarms as I flew past many security cameras set high in the walls.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Musings During Pride Month

John holds up a copy of "Bad Gays: A Homosexual History."
It's hard to believe that we're half-way through June already!

The weather has been chilly and damp, and people have been calling the month "Junuary."  While the grey has made seeing the morning alignment of Five Planets, or the Full Moon's conjunction with Antares difficult, I appreciate the cooler temperatures.  The flowers, I think, would like it to be warmer, as most blooms up and down the valley appear to be about two weeks behind their normal blooming times:  our irises were delayed in May, and the poppies are about a week into their openings.  

COVID has put a kibosh on various social gatherings.  First The Child caught it, probably while he was hanging out with friends; then he gave it to Mark.  Luckily they had very mild cases.  We all worked or went to school remotely.  I slept on the couch, usually with Cicero.  

Mark and I were going to go to a Pride Event at the Cascade Raptor Center, but since he was still sick and I had a close exposure by dint of sharing the house, we cancelled.  Once everyone was better, we were going to go to a family event later, and then I had a potential close exposure from a co-worker; we cancelled that because my folks are in a high-risk category.  I'm thanking my younger self for the second booster I got five weeks ago.

I'd like to go to Portland Pride—it's been about twenty years since I marched with Corvallis's After 8 group—but it's probably not the best idea from a COVID standpoint.  Mark's never been into it, and there's always a Father's Day Family Obligation that conflicts with it.

I suppose there's Eugene Pride in August; maybe COVID levels will be lower.  I wish... we had gay friends in this town we could go to Pride events with (one way or another we've dropped out of each others' lives).  I also wish I felt less like an outsider at somebody else's party when I go.  Well... if there couldn't be an outdoor (socially distanced) dance with actual dance music (instead of rhythmic noise), it might be fun if there was a tent with a carpet, black tea (or lemonade), books, and scones.  I suppose what I want is a Pride Salon Booth.  But one must consider that August in the southern Willamette Valley can be oppressively hot and arid, especially if we get a heat wave, which makes outdoor afternoon events unappealing.  Maybe it should be an ice cream salon.

On the reading front, I'm currently (and slowly) reading "Bad Gays: A Homosexual History."  When I skimmed it, it seemed like it would focus on particular queer folks.  I was hoping that there would be more contrasting and comparing of homosexual heroes, villains, and anti-heroes, like Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, or Hadrian and Antinous.  And the title suggested that sensational acts of wicked gays would be featured; sort of like the "Uppity Women" series, only more scandalous and over-the-top.

Actually working through it, though, it's more about class theory; the book's not focused on same-sex desire so much as it is a meditation on the concept of gay identity's essentialist, binary roots in colonialism and capitalism.  The complicated men (and women) named in each chapter aren't the book's subjects so much as they're indices for particular moments of cultural classification in mostly European and American eras.  Despite a sprinkling of catty remarks, I found myself thinking, "I must paint a factory next!" and "It might be in some dreary Socialistic periodical," as I read it.   (At least "The Raspberry Reich" was funny and had more sex scenes in it.)  I might skip to the concluding chapter, because I think the authors might have something interesting to say about existing as erotic beings outside of a system of either/or.   

[2022-06-20 edit:  They didn't; the book concluded by restating its thesis that queer / gay liberation has failed because it has not addressed the underpinning colonial and capitalist binary constructs—normal and abnormal, masculinity and femininity, Occident and "other," white and non-white, empire and colony, and moral and immoral—used by the ruling and bourgeois classes to control the worker classes.  If they suggested an alternative modality for queer people to live their queer lives, I missed it.]

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Hummingbirds and Kabbalah

I managed to take some new photos of the local hummingbirds.  This requires arising at 5:30 (at least) in order to be in place when they appear for their morning fountain frolic.  

It's been rainy here for the last month, which means the morning (and evening) alignment of planets has not been visible.  I have found myself more attracted to staying in bed, even on those days when it has been relatively clear and the morning skies visible.   I may rouse myself for the impending conjunction of Mars and Jupiter—but it appears the conjunction coincides with the increased likelihood of overcast skies.

On the reading front, I've been reading a history of Kabbalah.  It's not so much about the mystical system as it is about the men (and it's been pretty much all men) and movements associated with it.  As near as I can gather, the typical repeating cycle of events over two millennia is something like,  "a scammer or scholar (we're not always sure which) with bi-polar disorder, mild schizophrenia, or migraine headaches has a mystical revelation while studying or expanding upon the teaching of Kabbalah, proclaims the advent of a new age or else proclaims themselves a new messiah, garners zealous admirers,  has a run-in with the religious or secular powers, and is jailed or exiled."  There's also a lot of book-banning and book-burning.  1666 was particularly MAGA-meets-Life-of-Brian.

On the dream front, I haven't been recalling my dreams so much; the bits that do come through feel like they're part of a gritty comic book or science-fiction series, like spy chases or ensemble fight scenes; or else they're unsubtly erotic.  

Monday, May 16, 2022

May 2022 Lunar Eclipse

Yesterday was an eclipse full moon.  The sky was partly cloudy, and there were some sprinkles, but it was clear enough that I set up the backyard circle for a solitary ritual (with patchouli incense!) and did a tarot card reading for myself.  This particular eclipse was supposed to be especially good for divination (and sex magic!).  

I laughed when the first card I pulled, representing my general state, was the Moon.  I grunted when the second card, representing obstacles, was The High Priestess reversed.   The following seven cards were mostly swords and pentacles, and I'm still trying to figure out what they mean as a whole -- but it's along the lines of challenge your unconscious assumptions to make sure they jive with reality and then actually do something.  I think--this reading was one of the more disjointed ones.  I probably should have done a Celtic Cross spread instead of the past-present-future spread that I used, or reframed my question as a yes-or-no question instead of a what-should-I question.

After the ritual, I grabbed my camera and went up the hill to see the eclipse.  There was a bank of clouds on the horizon, so the actual 8:29 moonrise was obscured.  The eclipse totality was to begin shortly.  

When I got to the reservoir, there were about a hundred people there.  I walked through crowds of milling people, cyclists, and shrieking children to the eastern end of the reservoir, to where folks with tripods, telescopes and cameras were.  I thought maybe I'd see some astronomy friends, J&C O, but they weren't there.  Neither was the moon.  

The sky was still light, and it seemed as if the eastern clouds and haze became more substantial.  After a while, folks perceived an orange glow in the grey overcast.   A hush fell on the crowd as people adjusted telescopes or peered through the vapors between trees.  Then someone started playing an electric guitar battle or something and the clouds thickened.  

Shortly after full totality, the clouds drew away from the moon enough to make it visible.  Everyone appreciated the orange color.  And then a limb of cloud would obscure the moon again.  Focusing the camera was difficult; the moon wouldn't be out long enough to confirm the focus, and between the clouds and dimness, the best strategy was to focus on a star (once it was dark enough for them to be visible) and then swing the camera back at the moon — assuming it was visible enough to find.  

I think I got about five passable photos of the moon out of about eighty.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


Ugh.  I don't know if I ate something wrong, or if my stomach was upset, or if I doom-scrolled too much before going to sleep, or what, but I had the most unpleasant nightmare I've had in some time.  I've only read a synopsis of "The Squid Game," (thankfully) and this dream felt like that, with the added thrill of being called into some kind of final death-match even after I'd already been crushed to death by a falling object.  I suppose it was like being in a Hieronymus Bosch hell.

So I woke up around 4.  My usual response is to mentally cast a protective circle and invoke the four directions until I can drift back to sleep.  I keep hoping this will let me slide into lucid (or at least magical) dreaming; nothing so far, but it does have the benefit of keeping my mind from either focusing on what woke me up or doing the liminal-dark anxiety tizzy.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Circle of Ash

Dream fragment.

Mark and I lived in a house near the top of the hill where my family lives.  I recall more about the location of the house than I do the actual house, which was a little south of the crest of the hill.  I was outside the front door, possibly in the front drive, and I might have been floating.  It was a sunny afternoon and the trees were green and leafy.

Mark came out of the house.  He had an 8.5 by 11 inch paper (or papers) that he'd set on fire, and as the paper burned, it turned to black, curled, ashen fragments.   The paper was white, and curled slightly at the top; I don't recall if anything was written on it, or if it was old mail, or a bill, or what.  The fire was along one edge of the paper, and blackened it.  The ashes flowed off of the smoldering page and formed a ring of black ashes floating around me at a little over an arm's distance.   The point-of-view changed to a slow orbit around me, just outside the floating clumps of ash.

In the dream I thought this was cool, and I wondered exactly I might use a circle of black ash in my next ritual.

And then the dream went on to other things beyond my recall.