Monday, June 21, 2021

Solstice Ritual

It's officially Summer!  Yesterday, to celebrate the Solstice, I got out of the house before 7 AM and drew a spiral path in the intersection near our house.  Mark wondered why I hadn't drawn it somewhere else, like in a dead end, and at the time I didn't think to chime up, "because magic has to be done at a cross road!"  

At solar noon, I focused sunlight onto a candle, and kept the flame going until the evening.  Then I managed to carry the candle in a small copper cauldron through the spiral.  I quietly hummed "Center of the Sun," to myself as I travelled the spiral (I do miss working with a group and singing songs).  There's typically not much traffic on our street--I had just exited the spiral when a car drove up, which I took as a good sign.  

Afterward, I carried the flame around to the back yard circle and proceeded to have a solitary ritual.  It was more a self-guided meditation and journalling session than actual full-blown ritual, and what I got out of it were some insights,  some affirmations, and cognitive triggers to try to use for when I'm feeling stuck creatively.  

Last February was a particularly dark place, and I fret that the Summer Light hasn't restored me to my regular, energetic, creative place -- and that now that the sun has reached its maximum and I no longer have a smothering oppression wrapped around my chest, there's a nagging feeling that I'm going to plunge back into that numb, misty unworld where stories die on scanty word trails that dribble into bogs.  (I am hoping that a regular work schedule and a return to campus next fall will help.)

During ritual, I asked for the strength and endurance to keep going through the dark part of the year (which seems a little premature, as things typically don't get bad until January and February; but start good habits now, I guess.)   I wrote down the strategies and insights that came to me -- mostly along the lines of "when you recognize situation X, take action Y" (instead muttering "let's pretend to be happy" to myself or just wanting to fall asleep forever).

Then I thanked the powers, opened the circle, and enjoyed the candlelight in the starry evening.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Pre-Solstice Raptor Center

Guapo the Swainsen's HawkThe other day I went to the Cascades Raptor Center.  The last time I went was just before the equinox.  

For whatever reason, the place was packed by 10:10 AM.  I was glad that I had pulled into the parking lot fairly early.  I'm guessing that it was a combination of many of the schools being out, the Olympic Trials being in town, and a recent lifting of some COVID restrictions.   There were lots of little kids, and I could tell when 11:40 hit, because (as I remember from a decade ago) that's typically when they hit the pre-lunch sugar crash.

It was peculiar to be there with so many other patrons.  

Danu the Osprey

Since I've visited, the resident raptors' aviaries have moved around: Banjo has moved up the hill, Amazon's aviary is gone, Kali is living where Dante used to, and Dante lives where Archimedes was.  Other residents have moved, some have passed away, and there are new raptors on the site.

Danu is still chatty and still in her usual site.

Kali the Turkey Vulture

I didn't clear my camera's memory, so I ran out of space for tons of pictures this time around.  I still managed to get a few.

The new thing I learned is that vulture's heads are iridescent.  Kali the vulture's head glimmered like the throat of a hummingbird when she was in the sun.  In the past I've either been below the vultures or the sun hasn't been out, so I've never noticed how dazzling red their head's can be when viewed at the right angle.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Non-virtual Co-workers

Today I went into the office for work.  The last time I went was... you know, I'm not sure—I think it must have been something like last September.  In any case, I was meeting up with a co-worker, who I haven't seen in person since years and years; we were working for separate departments before being blended into our current office.  We were hired remotely.  Our supervisor retired on our first full day on the first of July.  We were meeting up to meet a potential new supervisor.  In person.

I haven't met most of my supervisors and co-workers except in Zoom or over Teams.  Like most of the US, I've been working from my bedroom, dressed in in jeans, slippers, and casual shirts.  The result is that most of the rest of the staff feel a little abstract and unreal.  

Today I shaved, put on slacks, some dress shoes, and a jacket.  I drove to work and found a parking spot on campus, which felt particularly empty because it's the end of the Spring Term.  I walked to the building I've only worked in for maybe a total of six hours over the last year of working remotely.  My co-worker was there ahead of me: I saw her standing near the elevator, slightly turned away from me.  I didn't recognize her at first because she was wearing a mask, I was seeing her from behind instead of in a Zoom frame, and she had legs.  

She must have recognized my voice as I was checking into the building because she turned and said, "John?  I thought that was you.  You're still tall."

I was having some adjustments to seeing her in real life—the only time I've seen her walking, she's appeared to be standing still, with slight swaying, as her apartment moved behind her.  Seeing her move while the building stood still was different.  Later, we met up with another supervisor: the timbre of his voice had made me imagine him shorter than he is in real life.   When he and my co-worker were speaking and trading some contact information for the candidate, there wasn't text in the chat area, and I could see the backs of their shoulders.  

For a moment, I thought I wouldn't remember my desktop's password, but luckily, my fingers did most of the remembering for my brain.  There were a lot of updates to install.  I think that's going to be the metaphor for returning to work.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Last Week of Spring and Hugging

I think I'm hearing the distant roar of an outdoor high school graduation ceremony.

The last few days have been overcast and rainy.  We need the rain, but it would have been nice to see the crescent Moon sweep by Mars yesterday evening.  It seems so strange that we're in the last week of Spring, the Summer Solstice is in six days -- and then the days will grow shorter and dark again.  Oh well, best not to borrow from the shadows until they're actually here.  Better instead to appreciate the slanting northwestern sunlight making the arbor vita glow like green velvet against the steel and slate colored clouds, and wonder how the dying sun will stoke the clouds into coals.  Better to enjoy the cool evening, and growing perception of the trees' scintillating auras as the twilight deepens. 

There was a family birthday party over the weekend -- it was refreshing and weird to have all of us sitting down at the same table and sharing a meal.  Hugging people feels elemental.  Some people when you hug them feel like a river; some feel like knots of wood;  others feel like a layer of sand over solid rock.  Other people hug you like a half-closing door, their frame rigid while a part of them swings -- and you find yourself gingerly holding a doorknob when you thought you were going to press fully into a door to open it.  Some people hug you like they'd hug a cliff, holding on, fingers pressed into crevasses or around anchor points; or they are the cliff, steady and unmoving, while you find a purchase.  Sometimes, you feel the boulder in a person's chest, or the breath flowing in and out and in and out between you.   And some people aren't there yet, holding themselves in some pocket universe that's out of phase with the rest of the cosmos -- when you hug them it's like typing the word "hug" on a keyboard, or hugging them with arms that have fallen asleep, or it's like hugging a shadow.  

I can only imagine how strange it will be to go back to work in an office when it opens back up in September.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Anxiety Dreams

 It's not uncommon for me to find myself awake at 4 AM.  Usually, I blame the cats or the dog or having to go to the bathroom for my "what time is it" awakenings, but today it was an unpleasant dream.  I seem to be having more anxiety dreams lately, where I'm back in old places or with old bosses, but this is the first one where goons tied me up and tortured me to death (they wanted to know where Mark was, and I didn't know).  Luckily (?) I must have been aware enough in the dream that before things got too bad, the dream shifted and I was (possibly) Jamie Sommers (the Bionic Woman) ... but this time the enemy agents had kidnapped my six-year-old daughter and were using her to insure my good behavior for some kind of mind-control experiment.  

Huh.  It's just come to me that prior to all of this, in an earlier dream, I was walking alone on a beach (somehow this was connected to shaving), a little ways away from a group of professors (an amalgam of folks I've known from work at the university).  They were discussing how they had made recent story sales, and what writing projects they were working on, and how the markets were picking up again.  They started out behind me, and as we picked our way over tufts of beach grass and driftwood,  I wanted to join up with them, but they kept walking a little to my left and then they were ahead of me.  I felt left out and jealous of their camaraderie and trudged after them.  Eventually, we all climbed a dune or cliff and re-entered a house.  Everyone trouped through a sliding glass door, through my living area, and then out through another door (I have the sense I was living in an apartment complex or dorm).  I stayed behind and surveyed the living room, which had an undergraduate student decor.  

I fairly sure the second dream is the continuation of a short exchange Mark and I had as I was submitting a short story to a market that I've yet to break into.  

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Market Analysis

I've finally taken a critical look at a handful of stories from this one market that I can't seem to get stories into.  In the past I've mostly just read what they've published, with the occasional jaundiced eye (especially when they publish a list story).  Typically, when I get a "guess why we didn't buy your story" form rejection from this market is the time that they publish something stunning and brilliant.

Probably my biggest mistake is sending them stories over 1000 words.  They'll publish up to 1500 words, but a 400-800 word story is more likely. 

My second mistake is using too elevated diction (I like playing with cool words); I need to keep story diction a notch slightly above conversational unless I'm purposefully making fun of Ye Olde Speech.  The list stories might have "literary" word play and imagery, but the diction in them will still be conversational.

My third mistake is sending them sword and sorcery fantasy.  Although they publish fantasy, it feels like they have a sci-fi or near-future preference.  The fantasy they do publish seems to be urban fantasy or magical realism or fantasy poking fun at fantasy tropes.

From the sample stories I looked at, I'd say a common theme is "discovering someone (or something) is not what it first appeared to be," with connections to "what makes a person real?" and issues of social equality (i.e. dealing with some "-ism").   Another common theme is post-apocalyptic or a end-of-the-world setting.

Finally, the ending has to be strong, preferably with an epiphany -- oops, I mean a sudden discovery.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Queer Books

For Pride Month this year, I've been posting photos of myself prominently holding up book covers of books from the gay male and queer theory section of my library.  Then I've posted little mini-reviews or summaries to Instagram > Twitter and Facebook.   My plan was to do a book a day for the month.  We'll see if I have enough books -- I'll be including books that overlap the NeoPagan and Gay Male/Queer community as well.

In a way, the books were my gay (and to a lesser extent my NeoPagan) community, especially over the long time period during which I was navigating my sexuality and sexual preferences in several small town settings.  I've discovered that my library doesn't have much in the way of gay male / queer theory past about 2000.  I've also discovered that some of my books haven't aged well.  My sense is that in the 90's, thinking about gender and orientation was much more binary -- so authors were focused on essential gay male consciousness, or on if they were assimilating too much into heteronormative ideals.  There was an awful lot of focus on gay men's (supposed) low self esteem, which in tern led to risky, promiscuous behavior, which in tern contributed to the AIDS crisis.  I'm not even sure if gay male low self-esteem is still even a thing.   Don't get me started on Iron John in Drag.

It's possible one reason I stopped purchasing queer theory books is that I found Mark, and I didn't need any theory anymore.  Another reason is that I kept hoping to find the gay male equivalent of Starhawk, but instead I eventually discovered Ronald Hutton.  

Monday, May 31, 2021

Flowers, COVID, and Angel Lovers

It's the last day of May.  It occurs to me that we're just past the mid-point of this eighth of the year, and we're closer to the Summer Solstice than the May-Day past.  The poppies, yellow irises, and foxgloves are blooming.  I can hear the hummingbirds zipping around somewhere.

It's slowly dawning on me that, as of three days ago,  I'm now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  It feels so weird.  On one hand, the CDC says I can do a whole lot without a mask, like go to the dog park.  On the other hand, it feels like going through an airlock without a space suit without one.  Stores and work are still requiring them, so it's not like I wont be completely maskless anytime soon.

I've just finished reading, "Into This River I Drown," by TJ Klune.  Although I knew it was queer-friendly didn't realize it was a Lambda Literary Winner for Best Gay Romance.  It reminded me of Susan Trott's "Sightings," only with a kind of Iron John emphasis on fathers, and hunky gay angel sex scenes sprinkled throughout.  

It started out like a memoir, turned into a mystery/crime story, and by the end turned into a meditation on fathers, faith, love, and sacrifice.   The whole idea that love = sacrifice challenged me because it felt Old-Testament-Abraham-and-Issac, but it was consistent within the framework of the book's "my boyfriend/lover is the town's guardian angel" premiss.  (I would have preferred love = a gift, and sacrifice = a choice to not do something in order to do something else, but that's my preference.) 

The writing was excellent, although I did notice some of the romance tropes driving the main character, Benji's, decision making process -- he'd get mad at the drop of a hat and then fight with Cal, his angel lover, for what seemed like plot-driven reasons.   Also, there were romance genre moments of "I'm just a small-town, 21 year old mechanic; why would a 200 year old red-haired, hirsute, muscular, well-endowed, angel (with perpetual stubble) ever want me?"  On one hand, not having them would have given the book a wish-fulfillment-porn feel; but on the other hand, it felt like Benji picked up the romance-genre equivalent of the idiot-ball at various times.

The memoir feel gave Benji, the narrator, a way to go back and forth between the past and the present, effectively giving him a limited-omniscient POV.  It also enabled Klune to weave themes and phrases into the narrative that had quick pay-offs for the reader without having to start the story with Benji's parents' childhoods.  

I should read sections of it again and look more closely at the mechanics of the story. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Small Stellated Dodecahedron




The latest adventure in not writing playing with graphics is a stellated dodecahedron.  Someone posted a picture of a marble floor mosaic from the Basilica of St Mark.  I'd seen it before, and I decided that I could probably copy it.  So I dug out my compass and ruler, constructed a pentagram, and went forward from there.

I switched to InkScape once I saw how the design is basically pentagonal rotations.

and added some etching lines.


I'm not sure which version works the best.  I like the etching lines--especially when the design is viewed from a distance, but I think the solid colors work better because the optical illusion of the triangle placement makes it look like I used more than six shades of grey.  

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Three Hares

 I've been fiddling with the Three Hares icon.

The trickiest part has been choosing a color combination that doesn't make the hares' ears disappear into the pattern.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dream: Sun Rain Dance

 I was at the end of a traveling dream, which involved painting small toy mascots onto the side of a train.  I am unsure, but the mascots were supposed to go with a team (a dance team?) somewhere.  I was somewhere vaguely institutional, like a dormitory or a hotel.  

I was going to, or had returned from a shower; the shower complex was a hexagonal or octagonal building on a concrete slab in the middle of a wheat field.  In the dream, I was upset about something, so I walked a short distance from the building and into the field.  My hair was half-way down my back.  I was barefoot and only wearing jeans.  I was slightly more buff (more like less flabby) than I am in real life.   

The sun was about a handspan off of the eastern horizon, beaming light and heat over the golden field.  At the same time, it was raining, and rain was running down my hair.  The sun and rain limned my chest and arms.  I was sad-disappointed-angry-resigned (the cause has not come to me as I'm writing this).  And I began to dance, a kind of sweeping dance, my hair trailing behind me.  Slow, pulsing music played (not any song I recognize waking), something with a World Beat that may have involved a clarinet.   I jumped into the air and flipped, in slow motion, staying in the air for ten seconds or more.  (My sense waking is that it was like I was a silk dancer, only without the silk holding me up.)  My shadow on the ground all curves.  It crossed my mind that if I were dreaming, I'd be flying.  I rose in the air about five feet and slowly spun out my feeling; my feet slightly above me as I turned above the grain -- the light and rain on my body, my hair trailing, my shadow whirling arcs.  

...and then I woke up, having overslept.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Roses Are Red

I had planned to make paper valentines using the plotter-cutter, but when I had the machine cut out "Happy Valentines Day", the letters were too small and swirly for the paper not to fatigue and mangle the letters.  I suppose there's a reason Army-style letter stencils are so popular.  

I did end up with some screens through which to shoot photographs.

So, here you go.  I think this second one of Aiofe came out the best...   I think.


Oh....  Right....  Ahem:

 Roses are red / Valentines is a jinx
Validation through couple-hood / is marketing that stinks.


Thursday, February 04, 2021

That Moment When...

 ... you're working on creating heart shapes for a Valentine's Day project and the next thing you know, you've created a barn owl.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Reynard the Fox

I've just finished Anne Louis Avery's "Reynard the Fox," a retelling of some medieval Flemish fox fables, told within the frame of court intrigue and trials.  It's well written, but it wasn't the book I expected.  The eponymous Reynard is an anti-hero, a scoundrel in an animal kingdom of flawed nobles, who is far more dangerous and deadly than the kindly Old Fox of Avery's charming and poignant Twitter microfiction.  So I was unpleasantly surprised when Reynard tricked Bruin the Bear into a kind of medieval industrial woodworking injury, followed by a gang beating.

I paused after that scene, but pressed on.  Unfortunately, this was the first of a handful of bloody, disfiguring, and disabling -- if not fatal -- acts of mischief Reynard manipulates his animal opponents into.  While "Reynard the Fox" isn't exactly GrimDark, it is Red in Tooth and Claw, and I was glad that I had not gifted this book sight unseen to my preteen relatives.

After some consideration -- starting with musings on Punch and Judy, which I've always found creepy and disturbing -- I've concluded that the Reynard stories are in the same vaudeville, slap-stick vein as Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam.  Or Foghorn Leghorn and his nemesis, Barnyard Dawg.  Or Itchy and Scratchy.  Actually, a lot like Itchy and Scratchy.

I feel like I'm missing something, especially after reading so many rave reviews.  Maybe I'm just supposed to sit back and enjoy Avery's rich language.  Maybe I'm supposed to respond to the medieval fables like the "Bring Out Yer Dead" or the "Vorpal Rabbit" skits from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: yes, it's shocking, but laugh, because the disconnect between the mortality and the nonchalance is also funny.  Or maybe I'm suppose to feel Grimm schadenfreude that various animals are getting their just desserts in the same way various step-relatives and witches do when the nail-lined barrels, red-hot dancing shoes, or gingerbread ovens appear.   Aside from Sir Isengrim, the Wolf, maybe I'm missing the cultural context of animals' symbolisms, which would ground me in their stories.

Still, it's hard to find equivalency between Bruin the Bear having his back flayed to make a travel bag and Daffy Duck getting his bill shot off.  The medieval retelling is more explicit and gruesome, whereas the modern cartoon violence is either screened behind a dust cloud or fence, or the Loony Tunes characters pick up their bloodless body parts and pop them back into place with little consequence.  Other comparisons, say, between Sir Tybert the cat getting partially blinded and maimed by angry peasants and Sylvester the Cat getting mauled by a pack of angry dogs protecting Tweety Bird are a closer fit. 

I had the same difficulties with the animal characters' motivations as I do with Sampson's in the biblical story of Sampson and Delilah:  someone tries to trick you into danger multiple times, and yet you still believe them, or even love them, and they lead you to ruin.  This is more a function of fable (and dream) -- where-in the characters' motivations are bound more closely to the plot needs than to their emotional and metal desires and abilities -- than it is a shortfall in Avery's writing.  

Between scenes of wickedness and trickery, there are luxurious, sumptuous descriptions of the countryside, clothing, jewels, and feasts.  I actually laughed during the description of King Nobel the Lion's multi-day festival.  Avery clearly renders medieval concepts such as Boethius's Wheel of Fortune and the calculus of forgiveness, sin, and animal nature.  Her language is an accessible mix of medieval, Flemish, and modern English; it's a bit like reading Shakespeare, but not having to stop and puzzle out some of the more antique or tertiary meanings of phrases.  Should you want it, there is a delightful glossary to consult at the end of the book.  

The hardback copy I purchased is sturdy, with magazines of quality paper and a plum colored ribbon to use as a place marker.  And there are oodles of footnotes. Who doesn't like footnotes?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Sleep and Dreams

Lately my sleep has been spotty.  I think some of the problem is the restless cats and dog who sometimes sleep (mostly) with us, or who park in the wrong part of the bed (or on me).  For whatever reason, I'm finding that I frequently awake around 3 or 4 AM; sometimes my shoulders or other joints are sore and I need to flip over, sometimes I'm blink awake thinking about work, or stories, or music lyrics.  If I'm particularly restless, I'll move to the couch so I don't wake up Mark with all my tossing and turning.   

It feels a little unfair; supposedly, everyone is sleeping much better now that Joe Biden is in the White House -- perhaps my unconscious hasn't caught up with the political news from NPR.   The other possibility, based on the increasing frequency of daytime naps,  is that my circadian rhythm is shifting to a weird, bimodal mode between diurnal and nocturnal.  

The other day I had a dream that I was supposed to be performing the harp along with a dream woman who is an amalgam of some Reed friends and various co-workers.  I want to say they were playing the accordion, kalimba, banjo, or other folk instrument.  

I didn't write the dream down at the time, so I've lost the detail settings other than it ended up in my old High School.   At some point, I realized that I wasn't wearing a Covid-19 mask.  Then I had set my harp down somewhere and didn't have it.   The dream progressed -- I think there was a locker room involved -- and the next thing I knew, I was standing at the school auditorium doors wrapped in a towel.  The performance had already been going for about five minutes, and the dream woman was alone on the stage, gamely plinking out the melody of some tune that I was supposed to be accompanying her with harp and voice.  If I went to retrieve my harp -- and clothing -- I'd be even more late.  I started to turn away from the door, then changed my mind and marched down the aisle, with only a towel wrapped around my middle. 

I have a sense a spotlight picked me out.  I jumped on stage and caused quite a stir.  "Hi everyone!" I said.  "You know those dreams you have where you're in public and you're suddenly naked?"  Semi-nervous laughter from the audience.  "Well, today's sort of been like that -- but at least I have a towel!"  

My sense is that the woman was kind of glad that I'd finally shown up, in a "finally" sort of way.

A bunch of six year olds ran up to the foot of the stage, and one of them said, in the breathles, excited, and bossy manner of six-year-olds explaining something that everyone should know, "You know, there's a way that you can wear a towel," and proceeded to demonstrate with her dress how to Gird Ones Loins.  

And then the dream went on to other things.

This morning I dreamed a poem.  Unfortunately, I don't remember what the poem was about other than a vague notion that it was about politics and gender identity, possibly in the mode of an Old English epic.  Or something.  This is probably what I get for flipping through the introduction of a monograph about Sappho before turning out the light.