Saturday, August 30, 2008

Of My Own Making, As Usual

"For a person who doesn't know what they're doing you seem busy, Miss Turtle."

"Arrrghh," is my only frustrated response.

We're sitting in the dark place still, but the pitch blackness has faded a bit. Here and there we can make out a star much like when a cloud cover is spread across the night sky. We are seated at a spot that looks suspiciously like one of the picnic tables in the Forest of My Imagination, but without the forest. There's even a crudely carved "Gryphon loves Turtle" in the table that I'd seen last time we'd had lunch there. No doubt one of the other inhabitants of my Forest did it. The T-Rex is always teasing us about "liking" each other. His is a sixth grade personality complete with toilet humor.

I had a session with my therapist this week where I told him I don't know what to do with my life. I told him I couldn't see the point of it. I told him all about how I wasn't making good use of my time. I told him and I told him. His response was the same as Mr. Gryphon's up there.

A couple of friends have told me the same thing especially after I told them about the swimming, the trip to Europe in November, my eminent return to volunteering with my beloved penguins, working, going to the movies, watching my Northern Renaissance art videos and reading. I'm not doing enough. It's never enough.

What this means is I'm not writing on a regular basis. Well okay, it's true I have been posting here and on my other blog more, but that's NOT working on my novel.

"Your novel will be waiting when you return to it, Miss Turtle." I give him an annoyed look. The lamp that never goes out is sitting on the table in front of us, flame steady as ever. I'm still dressed as Alice with my blue dress and white apron without a spot on it. I'm leaning on the table as the wind continues to blow around us, but somehow the wind is staying outside the lamp light.

"I don't know what to do with it, Mr. Gryphon. I still don't know how to finish it. I'm afraid and muddled so I'm writing this post as a way to get some writing done even if it has nothing to do with my novel. I dread going back to work on it because I have so many damn lists and paragraphs to write about so I can summarize the story. I'm tired of making lists of the character's traits and individual stories within the novel. I want to actually revise the damn thing so I can see how it takes shape. These lists help, but I can't friggin' stand them."

"So stop."

"I can't stop. Each time I work on the preparatory stuff the actual story becomes clearer and clearer. I don't know how people can sustain doing this kind of work, Mr. Gryphon. I truly don't. It's driving me nutty."

Wisely he doesn't respond.

"And I want to work on my other stories too, but again I don't want to do the preparatory work, but how am I to know where my story is supposed to go without all that work?"

"You seem to do fine with these posts, Miss Turtle, and don't tell me The Coda isn't wonderful and enchanting. And that was only a first draft you did with very few revisions."

"Yes, but The Coda is not fit for ordinary consumption. It's not a novel that I want to grow into a page turner. And these posts just sort of come naturally as does the editing. I don't know why it's easier," I shift a little in my seat and roll my neck back and forth. My neck's been bothering me lately. I continue, "I read my first post about you the other day and you have changed a lot. You were a lot more argumentative and unsmiling then."

"I was based on a real person and that person was definitely unsmiling and argumentative at the time," says Mr. Gryphon. He leans against me and stretches out his long legs like he usually does at this picnic table. "In fact, he's still like that."

"I'm distracted, Mr. Gryphon. I went out drinking with some friends. We all got drunk and one of the guys was really flirty. Nothing is going to come of it, I can tell you now but it has made me think about things a little differently." I look at my hands, almost in wonder because I have a nice manicure for a change. The iridescent white/pink nail polish sparkles in the lamplight.

"Is he that same guy you keep writing about?"

"I'll not answer that."

"You're just a tease, Miss Turtle. You'll have people wondering."

"No one reads this blog so I can hide here and say whatever I want."

We sit quietly for a while and I'm getting hungry. This is a luxury trip through my own darkness. Whenever we need anything a pale blue door appears and we open it to find whatever we need, usually a small but well equipped kitchen. I always insist that we sleep out here the darkness just to keep ourselves honest, but even though the ground is hard I still get to lean against Gryphon who is warm and comfortable.

"What do I do? What do I do?"

"Seems like you're doing it."

"I keep thinking I need a creed or philosophy to guide me. Some kind of method to help me reach my goals. Some kind of list or way of doing things. I search and search. I have all these books and some I read over and over, but I don't apply them. None of them fit although sometimes some aspects of what they suggest might work. Then I start all over again, then I don't get anything done and then I'm back to the same question: what do I do?" I'm ready to keep babbling on about this crap, but stop because I've surprised myself. Most of my close friends know how confused I am in general, but not all of them know how I keep going back over and over these same issues, how I've spent years going over them.

"You have your new principles. Those are interesting when you consider the source," he says. I redden at his comment. I made a list of Joker principles a couple of days ago, and I must confess I really like them. I've even invited Joker to one of my nightly-before-bed gatherings I sometimes indulge in. This is something I picked up from one of my many self-help books where many of the inhabitants of my Forest of Imagination hang out in my room talking to each other about me and each other as I'm dozing off to sleep. Of course in that particular self-help book you're supposed to imagine your "heroes" around you talking just before you nod off, not your Gryphon, several incarnations of yourself from other times (including your dead self), the T-Rex and a killer clown.

If you think about it having imaginary friends around you talking while you go to sleep isn't all that different from worrying about something over and over or replaying some upsetting event in your mind in the middle of the night. It's just a different thought is all, and a good deal more relaxing.

I spend way too much time alone is what this post is really about.

"Did you like talking to that killer clown?" I can't resist following this line of questioning. Hell, no one's going to read this so why not?

"He was interesting. Untrustworthy, of course, but curiously transparent. He kept changing his back story. He's a lonely person, doesn't like to be bored, but I have to say there's place for him here, at least temporarily, considering how deep your dark side goes," says Mr. Gryphon.

"I invited him because I know he can't hurt anybody here," I say yawning. I'm tired now and it's almost time to walk the dog.

"No, Joker can't hurt anybody, but I have a feeling he might start stirring up some moral dilemmas here if we let him. Think of what a playground this place is for him, Miss Turtle."

"I guess you're right. Maybe I shouldn't invite him here again. Time will tell." My fascination with this character will likely drop off like the other characters I've been enamored with. Few have the staying power to find a permanent home here in my Forest.

I'm embarrassed that this post has degenerated into shop talk, but so what? I write what I write. Some of it is pretty good and some of it is just junk mail. Like this post.

"Time for a snack," I say and the blue door appears in front of us hovering. We open the door and walk into the kitchen which has grown huge in size.

"Speak of the devil," says Mr. Gryphon and sure enough there's the killer clown. I walk into the kitchen and he has used most of the pots and pans. His shirt sleeves are rolled up and his long purple coat is carefully placed on the breakfast nook table in the far corner of the now very large kitchen. There's Tide detergent with oxidizing action boxes on the counter and huge Styrofoam chunks all over the floor. The smell of high priced gasoline permeates the room. It's so strong that the air between me and Gryphon and him is shimmering like the air above asphalt on the hot summer day.

"I thought I'd make good use of this kitchen," says the clown with his trademark smile.

Mr. Gryphon can only stand there without speaking. Neither of us has ever encountered a situation like this and I can see that it will only get worse.

I look at Gryphon. "It can't get any worse than that Tunguska Explosion," I say.

"No, not even this clown can do anything that equals a 15 megaton blast."

"You never know," says the clown and he laughs hysterically. I can see we've got quite the situation to deal with now and I give up getting to bed at a reasonable hour. I close the door behind us. Good thing none of us are smokers.

(Note: I've kept the clown's dialog to a minimum here because I don't really know how to write the cool things he'd say, but I'd be lying if I wasn't dying to listen to him talk.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yes, [I] Can

A good friend of mine asked me in an email yesterday if I was watching the Democratic National Convention. Since I don't have television I haven't been watching it. She says she's been riveted to our nation's politics these last few days.

I've met a guy online (we're just talking) who said he was on pins and needles waiting to hear who Obama was going select as his running mate.

I haven't been following any of this at all. In fact, I'll make a good faith confession here. A couple of weeks ago was the first time I've even heard what Obama's voice sounds like (on some interview).

Before any of you beat the hell out of me keep in mind I live in San Francisco, California and there are plenty of folks around here who are willing to beat me to a pulp with a tire iron because I'm not "political" and "socially" conscious enough. I've even been rejected by men during a date because of it.

However through the power of the internet I have been able to watch not one, but three of Obama's speeches tonight and a music video based on one of those speeches (not unlike the night I watched all of Phelps' swims after he won his historic eight gold medals).

Yes, I can get up to speed on this presidential race. Yes, I can finally see and hear what Obama sounds like. Yes, I can think to myself over and over "Damn, that boy sure looks good on the [You]tube." Yes, I can read 1,000 blogs about what's been going on in Denver. Yes, I can be moved by's music video. Yes, I can avoid getting my head beaten in by my ultra-liberal neighbors. Yes, I can wonder where the hell the Republican National Convention is being held.

Yes, I can.

Kidding aside, and I hope all you don't mind indulging me with this post because it's motivated by feeling guilty at not being more attentive to this presidential race, this is a historic day and a historic moment. We are all on the verge of change and I know we are all hoping it will be for the best. I believe we are on the edges of something good and brave and shiny. We are seeing history not run by us, but walk past us with a billion cameras, reporters and bloggers. Every step, every gesture is happening right in front of our eyes. We may worry about blinking and missing something, but I think what's happening right now is going to be so huge and so bright that it will be visible from way up high. We're in the middle of our chance to reach for something good not only inside us, but for the good of all of us.

Thanks for letting me run to catch up with you.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Dark Knight: "It's All Part of the Plan"

At the risk of sounding like a moony geek I'm going to subject all of you to a post about my current obsession, the movie The Dark Knight. ***spoilers ahead***

For those of you that don't know I'm a woman in my early forties and I have almost no acquaintance with comic books and graphic novels. I know nothing about the DC Universe and even less about Batman except what I've gleaned from random watchings of the 60s TV show and Tim Burton's movie Batman.

At the center of my moony feelings is the late Heath Ledger's Joker. Far beyond just a flamboyant killer clown, the Joker as he was written and performed has mysteries and layers much of which are only hinted at in this movie. I couldn't figure out why I was so fascinated by this character. True, Ledger's performance is amazing, but there's something else going on here and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was.

My favorite Joker quote sums up my interest very well:

Gambol (one of the mob gangsters): "You're crazy."
Joker: "I'm not. No...I'm Not."

I love that line. Sure, the other lines are great but this line, the expression on his face and how he enunciates it gives me chills. I know the Joker's not crazy, but what exactly is he? He says he's an agent of chaos, but is that true?

I was surfing around on the web and stumbled across this post which shed some light on my curiosity. This post explains what I knew instinctively, but couldn't articulate and that is the Joker is a meticulous planner and criminal mastermind, but everything he says and does, even how he looks, points to someone who is insane, "without rules." All the characters buy into this deception (as do people like me who know almost nothing about the comics) and go through the movie without figuring it out. The Joker passes himself off as a "dog chasing cars" and someone who has no plan, but specializes in turning other people's plans on their heads. The truth is the Joker is the biggest planner and organizer in the movie. It takes an enormous amount of work and brains to pull off the things he does even if you are talking about a comic book universe.

Figuring all this out has been a lot of fun. There are other things about this character that are fun such as his happiness at having found an adversary such as Batman and the implication that these two characters could battle each other forever.

Batman: "Why do you want to kill me?"
Joker:[laughs] "Kill you? I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no complete me."

This implies a very interesting relationship where one needs the other even if they are in constant opposition to each other. Conventional ideas state that if you have an opposition, particularly one on the "bad" side, all you have to do is defeat that opposition and it's over. A situation like this makes me wonder about the relationship between the two and how it evolves over time. I suppose this is the beauty of comic book superheroes and their villains as opposed to characters in a novel, for example.

These ideas get my mind whirling and thoughts going, particularly in the context of writing my stories. All books on crafting fiction talk about having conflict and how the story's purpose is to resolve that conflict for the reader, but if the opposition between two forces goes on forever what happens then, what does the story evolve into? I think of comic book superheroes and their villains, the Roadrunner and Coyote, the Lazarus and Anti-Lazarus from the original Star Trek episode "The Alternative Factor." While "Alternative Factor" is considered one of the weaker Star Trek episodes, I recall the ideas of matter, anti-matter, parallel universes and battling your enemy for all eternity being particularly fascinating when I was a kid.

I've gone on enough about the Joker. The rest of the movie performances were very well done, including Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Two-Face, but none were as well done as Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon. Talk about disappearing into the role. Oldman's Gordon is a complete full-bodied character and so well done that he doesn't stand out because he completely belongs in that movie universe.

There's a lot more going on in this movie, but I'll stop now. I'm really looking forward to Dark Knight 3.

Outside the Lamp Light

"What's the matter, Miss Turtle?"

He sounds far away. I don't answer. Instead I'm hiding. I'm hiding my own anger and despair from everybody by posting this here instead of on my other blog.

"Miss Turtle?"

I ignore my good friend. His presence pains me for he was initially based on the person I'm feeling such anger and despair over. Mr. Gryphon has grown into something else entirely, a completely different character of his own but that doesn't mean he still doesn't say things that remind me of that person every once in a while.

I initially created Mr. Gryphon as a way to keep that person around me for a little while longer when the real person was no longer in my life. I needed him to be around me while my heart was breaking.

"Miss Turtle." His voice is loud and clear and I look up into his great yellow eyes.

"It's so futile. You can't force someone to care about you," I say. The words come out in a near growl, strangled by my own grief.

Mr. Gryphon sits back on his heels. Looking at him I am reminded of bookstores and pale ladies. I don't know what happened there. It seemed so clear at the time what was happening, but now it's just a bad joke.

We are still in the darkened landscape. The lamp flickers about 10 feet away from us. I am sitting on the cold ground, leaning against a very old tattered couch. I am just outside the lamp's guiding light.

"What do you want, Miss Turtle?"

"Doesn't matter. Wanting something that's impossible, that the other person is incapable of giving is stupid. Not so smart, Mr. Gryphon."

Mr. Gryphon looks at me for a long time. He is searching for something in me, but I don't know what it is. I recall something about being the best at my kind of writing and how achieving that would make me better than half the people that crawl the planet. I recall being inspired and fascinated by this person. I recall wanting to be that person and that this person represented the very best of what I wanted to be. And I recall all of the adventures me and Mr. Gryphon have been on and these two blogs. I recall learning for the first time that my writing can delight and move people.

I recall writing The Coda, a 52 page story based on the demise of this relationship, and being delighted and amazed by it. I turn away from Mr. Gryphon and I reach out from the inside of myself, I feel the depths of my being pushing and stretching at the confines of my own skin barrier. I reach out far into the world, my heart straining from the effort. I reach and I reach. It's the only thing I can do because wishing and asking and praying won't work. I close my eyes and gradually come back to myself. I'm exhausted from the effort, but I turn towards Mr. Gryphon again.

"Do you want me to leave, Miss Turtle?" His voice is kind and gentle, he knows the pain I'm feeling from this latest disappointment.

"Mr. Gryphon, why is this love looked on with such contempt, or worse, with such indifference?" The tears from straining to reach and reach finally run down my cheeks.

"I don't have an answer to that question," he says. I wince, but I know it's best to leave things there. There are no answers and no responses no matter how much I wish for them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Poll Voting Comments

If I haven't covered a subject listed in th poll, please feel free to leave a comment here. Thanks.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Role of Extreme Violence in Art

I've been wondering about the role of extreme violence in art lately. Clearly there's a place for it, but what use, purpose does it serve?

About Me
The first thing you need to know about me is that I'm definitely in touch with my shadow side and it doesn't scare me. When I was much younger I used to be distressed by my own thoughts and ideas until I started exploring my dark side, primarily with violent films. In fact, and I think I've said this before, if you knew what was going on inside my head, oh about 80% of the time, you would run far away. I'm a dark person even though I'm good at hiding it. People who love me and catch glimpses of it now and then sometimes have difficulty reconciling me as they know me and my shadow side.

After I moved here and was served with my divorce papers I wrote a revenge short story. I made the mistake of reading it to my writing group and I think they had some difficulty with it. We never met again. One woman said I needed therapy. This short story is set in the mid-1800s in Mexico in a town close to the border of Texas. It concerns a story of a good, hardworking man who comes home to the destruction of his family by a gang of thugs. His beautiful wife and four out of the five kids are all dead in the burning house. His oldest daughter, age 9, is missing. What happens next is this good man goes on a massive killing rampage to avenge his family's deaths. He not only kills the gang members one by one, but also their families even if the men have been disowned. His brother who initially helped the man ends up working with the authorities to put a stop to the carnage. The killer takes on a strange supernatural quality and there are plenty of religious references. This story is so gory, violent and graphic that I haven't told anybody of it's existence except the unfortunate members of my former writing group. The process of writing the story was fascinating to me because I really tried to push the boundaries of what I could come up with. I haven't looked at it in years, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately.

Don't worry I'm not posting it here.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
I finished reading this book just a couple of weeks ago which brought up the question that forms the subject of this post. I can't say the book was recommended by one of my bosses, only that he mentioned it a couple of times in our conversations about Paradise Lost.

I would never recommend this book to anyone, and neither would he.

Widely lauded as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century it is a story of a trip through hell. The main character, The Kid, has a taste for violence. At age 15 he joins a band of scalpers in the mid-1800s near the border of Texas and into northern Mexico. The story is based on a real band of scalpers, the Glanton Gang. This is one of the most violent books I have ever read. It also beautifully written. The descriptions are amazing. The main antagonist, The Judge, is one of the most disturbing characters of all time. Whereas Glanton is a mere sullen sociopathic killer, the Judge goes beyond that and even beyond evil because evil implies morality as its opposition and morality is mere speck in comparison to the Judge. It exists, but only in context to the other characters.

This book is staggeringly violent and yet it is necessary to this story. Why is that so? Why have these extremely disturbing descriptions? Why have these character do these things? What is the point?

I once had a conversation with a friend of mine who couldn't understand why I went to see a play at Berkeley Rep call The People's Temple. It was about The People's Temple and the Jonestown massacre that took place in 1978. He asked me why I insisted upon filling my head with such a subject matter. At the time I explained to him it was about reconciling a event that terrified me when I was kid. I also told him it was a good learning experience for me in that it reminded me how easy it is to get caught up in a cult and perhaps in other group ideas.

I don't know what the role of Blood Meridian's violence is, at least not right now. I can't say I learned anything from reading it except to say that I saw myself becoming numb to it after a while, and more importantly, that this fact did not bother me at all.

They're going to make a movie out of this book. Ridley Scott is supposed to direct. How the hell they're going to avoid an NC-17 rating is beyond me. Even if you tone down the violence, many of the images are so awful and integral to the story that cutting them out will make for a different story altogether. And it will take nothing less than an Oscar caliber performance to bring the Judge to life.

Man Bites Dog (dirs. Belvaux et al.) 1992
I watched this Belgium film years ago because I was curious about a film that had a reputation for extreme violence and had been banned in four countries. It's about a camera crew that follows a serial killer around while he talks about and practices his "art." The main character, Ben, is charming and engaging. The movie, thankfully filmed in black and white, is an interesting commentary about reality TV and an exercise in blacker than black satirical comedy. Towards the end the camera crew gets caught up in Ben's activities and they go on a rampaging slaughter. Funny, gruesome and very disturbing. Ben's charm really pulls you in and you can't help but think that he's really not that bad until the the men's activities begin to escalate. Although this film has not made the 10 ten lists of the most disturbing films of all time, it is occasionally honorably mentioned.

Now what did I learn from watching that movie? Was there anything to learn? Did I even like it? I don't know. I did like it and I thought it was interesting and very well done but I have not seen it since viewing it that first time. In a way I don't have to because most of the film has managed to stay with me all these years since. Is that a good thing? It's certainly a positive commentary for the people who made the film.

I don't recommend it, by the way. I don't think it's necessary viewing for most people.

Bosch, Bruegel the Elder and the Isenheim Altarpiece
My favorite kind of art is the Northern Renaissance, and my favorite painter is Hieronymus Bosch. I find his visions of Paradise and Hell and his grotesque creatures to be endlessly fascinating. As my art teacher used to say "everything is going to Hell according to Bosch." His visions of Hell depict people being tortured and tormented. Along those same lines is Bruegel's astounding painting The Triumph of Death. Bruegel was inspired by Bosch and this painting shows people being killed by an endless army of skeletons. All social classes are represented here and it even shows a common form of execution at the time being broken on the wheel. Grim, awful and relentlessly fair, this is a fantastic painting.

I learned about the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald not too long ago. It is a huge piece (approx. 105 x 120 inches) in several panels painted between 1512-1515. When the main panels are closed it shows a disturbing crucifixion scene, probably the most disturbing I've ever seen. Mary Magdalene and Christ's mother Mary are in their usual postures of grief and agony (the Madonna is supported by John the Apostle). John the Baptist is there with a bleeding lamb. The crucified Christ is much larger than the other figures in the painting. His body is covered with sores and his face, hands and feet are tortured and twisted. His arms look like they should have broken a long time ago. Having looked at plenty of crucifixion scenes over the years because of the kind of art I love, I can say that seeing this painting up close (on a learning DVD) for the first time made me have to look away for a moment. The teacher described it as "shocking." And it is.

My second reaction after looking at it closely and pausing my DVD was the thought "that is so incredible." The rest of the altarpiece has some strange elements to it such as the angels playing in an orchestra for the Virgin and Child on the inside of the panel (one of which features an oddly feathered Lucifer looking ruefully up at God the Father) and other things. Clearly the purpose of showing such a shocking crucifixion scene was to bring home Christ's agony as he died for our sins. It's very effective for that. It made even me, who doesn't really believe in organized religion, think twice it.

My gushing about these art works aside, and descriptions, I do wonder about the role of violence in these artworks. In Bosch's paintings the role of violence shows people being tormented in Hell for their sins and perhaps work as a deterrent. Bruegel's painting, in contrast, shows that while Death is inevitable, it is also indiscriminate and oddly fair. Grünewald's extraordinary altarpiece reminds people of Christ's sacrifice in a terrible way.

Clearly the people who commissioned these painting as well as the artists felt it was necessary to depict violence of this type. I suppose some could argue that those times were more violent than our modern times, but I wonder if that is true.

I have none. Many people I know, particularly people I really care about, say such violence is over the top and unnecessary. It is not necessary to fill our minds with such images. To bring these things to the forefront of our consciousness does not add anything. And yet such violent depictions persist. It's easy to say that violent depictions in art during the Renaissance was a necessary way to educate people and to help them focus on being devote and righteous, but what about today? I wonder sometimes if such extreme violence is not so much a mirror of our society, but merely an expression of our individual shadow sides. We all have a dark side and some are more in touch with them than others. Or rather some, like me, find it necessary to be in touch with our dark sides.

I welcome your comments. This is a really interesting subject for me and would love to hear what other people think.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Flamingo Managment

"The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo."

"Why are you quoting from my favorite book, Mr. Gryphon?" I stop what I am doing and look up at him.

"Because it seems to me this is part of the problem. Flamingo management," he says. Mr. Gryphon is leaning up against a large monolith. We are in a dark place with a bunch of large stones surrounding us. They are rather like the stones at Stonehenge in scale and placement. The sky looks dark, but not from the night nor from storms or clouds. It's just dark.

I am leaning down over a large stone slab attempting to strike a match. The wind howls around us in a vortex. I can even see the savage trails of wind blowing around us. The invisible made seen. In this place the wind doesn't effect us all that much with the exception of a few icy gusts here and there. I have three matches and I'm attempting to light the first.

The passage Mr. Gryphon refers to is in Chapter VIII entitled "The Queen's Croquet-Ground." In it Alice is attempting to play croquet where the flamingos are the mallets and hedgehogs are the balls. Each time she tries to strike the hedgehog, though, the flamingo just turns and looks at her.

"Miss Turtle, why are we here?" A dark shadow appears on the horizon in the distance. Mr. Gryphon is looking at it and he has asked me this question with a distracted air.

"You're supposed to read my mind, Sir. Why do you always ask that question?" I ask. I've managed to get match lit, but it blows out again. I put the spent match down and pick up the second one.

"I only ask for the benefit of our audience, Miss Turtle." I can tell by his voice that he is still looking at the shadow. I look at the second match carefully to be sure of its wholeness.

"Am I Alice now?" I've been wondering this question for a while considering the mass confusion I've been feeling about my life and what I'm supposed to be doing with it. For example today I was wondering if my life will be the same as it is now. I mean, in five years will I still be sitting here at my computer writing these odd stories? I suppose that wouldn't be a bad thing, but I worry that I will still be confused and made helpless by the ever growing feeling of indecision I feel on a daily basis. Alice was lost in Wonderland, BUT and this is a big one, she kept moving and exploring even with her confusion and even among some threatening situations. I have not, I suppose.

"I thought everything in those blasted books are you and more." I do not look at my seven foot tall half-lion, half-eagle friend. This truth makes me uncomfortable as I don't want to think about my being suffused with such madness, is true. They are all me and more.

"Strange how we identify with certain things. I suppose I could identify with less interesting things such as the lives of Paris Hilton or Brittany Spears. God, help me if I saw myself in those train wrecked lives."

"It's only a different train wreck, Miss Turtle, even with all its critical acclaim and 'for the ages' status amongst world literature."

I've managed to get the second match lit and smile. The dark shadow is coming and I can see Mr. Gryphon is concerned, but I am not. I am not worried for a change even though I don't know what is going on right now. Darkness, icy wind and that old ominous feeling permeates me but to no effect. My match has been lit and there is no blast of wind. I reach down to the ground next to the stone and pick up an old lamp and light it. I get the cover on before the light can go out. I put the last match in my apron pocket and hold the lamp up for Mr. Gryphon to see. I am still smiling.

"The man's lamp, is it? The lamp the demon gave him that would never go out?"

"The very one, Sir. Since the light is out and the man is no longer here we must assume he found his way out of that dark purgatory."

"That is encouraging because we're going to need it," he says as he looks towards the shadow coming closer with alarming speed. What little light is left is going out as the shadow approaches. The only thing visible is the pitch black beyond. Mr. Gryphon steps closer to me and reaches out his hand. I take it as the darkness blots out around us like an invasion from the vacuum of space. I take a deep breath and look back. The stones are still there. I breathe a sigh of relief.

"No, we aren't in purgatory, then," I say, "Instead, we or rather I am lost. The features of the landscape are the same, but the light has gone out." I sit on the stone that I'd found the matches on.

"What now, Miss Turtle?" He has sat down next to me. The wind is dying down a little and I can hear the beyond, murmuring and whispering to us.

"You mentioned something about flamingos earlier, Mr. Gryphon, and you are quite right in your observation. The task now is to find the flamingo and the croquet ground. That shouldn't take long. It's around here somewhere."

"Can't manage that bird until we have it in hand," he says. I hand him the lamp, get up and smooth out my skirts. I double check to make sure the match is still in my pocket. It's amazing how you find you don't need certain things, how lightly you can travel when it's all said and done.

I lead the way walking away from the stones. Mr. Gryphon follows silently. After all, he knows this is my crisis, my confusion.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Abelardo Morell

Years ago I accompanied my ex to a conference in San Diego. He would have to spend two days in a hotel conference room while I knocked around San Diego by myself. The first day I went to the zoo, of course, and although the weather was cool, I had a lovely time photographing and sketching the animals.

The second day I wandered around Balboa Park going from one museum to another. One of the museums I went to was the Museum of Photographic Arts and they were featuring the work of Abelardo Morell, a photographer born in Cuba. If I recall this was at least ten years ago and Morell had a lovely Alice in Wonderland exhibit going on. The photographs were charming. Here's one near and dear to my heart:

The Mock Turtle's Story, 1998, by Abelardo Morell

As charming as these Alice pictures were my real attention was caught by his camera obscura photographs. He turns an entire room into a camera by selecting one with a view he's interested in, places black tape over the windows leaving one 3/8 inch hole which provides light for the picture, focuses the lens outside the window, stops down the maximum depth of field, opens the shutter and leaves for about eight hours. The result is the view is shown projected onto the wall, but upside down in true camera obscura style. The same principles are used to make pinhole cameras. When I took my photographer class in high school we learned to make and use a pinhole camera and I took several interesting pictures with it.

I was fortunate enough to purchase the print below at the museum in San Diego, now bent and yellow around the edges. It's still in good shape, and I'm finally going to have it framed. I say I'm fortunate because I haven't been able to locate another one anywhere.

Manhattan View Looking South in Large Room, 1996, by Abelardo Morell

I used to have this picture in my office and it was always a pleasure to see people's reactions to it. Inevitably, most people would blow right past it, but if they were repeat visitors eventually they would be arrested by this image. No one had any problems recognizing the New York city skyline, but they couldn't figure it out and would stand there staring at it. One of the eeriest things about this image is you are looking at Manhattan during the day, but there's no traffic on the streets. This is because the exposure time is about eight hours and anything moving in the picture will not show up.

If you want to see more of Mr. Morell here's a website. His photographs of ordinary household objects are also wonderful such as falling coins, spoons and pictures in his house.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Head Case

So I'm in my usual state of confusion only this time it seems worse. I've been feeling so empty lately. I look at my life. I see it for what it really is. I get depressed, but don't know how to change it, or even if I want to or need to.

What my life really is an extraordinarily stripped down situation. Somewhere in the back of my mind years ago I decided what I really wanted was to live and work here in SF and set my life up so I can write all the time. This goal has been and continues to be accomplished.
  • I don't have a significant other to worry about so I can spend hours writing.
  • I don't have kids (similar reason).
  • I live alone.
  • I don't watch TV.
  • I have a giant 32" computer screen so my Word documents are HUGE.
  • I have a good job that pays well, and this is really important, and I don't have to work a lot of overtime. I get to go home at 5:30 pm on most days and have yet to work the weekend. Unbelievable.
  • I have this blog which has given me the courage and excitement of realizing the pleasure of having an audience and it has taught me that my writing moves people.
  • I don't have a lot of hobbies although I can find some just around the corner there.
  • SF is supposed be a good "writing" city.
I'm not writing lately. I tried to set a schedule, but I backed it off. I get lazy. I'm really tired. It's 8pm and I don't know what the hell I'm going to eat for dinner. I wanted to go see "Dark Knight" again, but I have to wait until the weekend. I feel cold and empty. I'm not productive at all and I don't what the fuck to do with myself.

I set everything up the way I wanted to and I'm not embracing this grand gift I have of a good steady income, a lovely City and time. Sweet, precious time. I have a ton in my life and I'm squandering it.

I get scared. So scared that something will happen (such as a catastrophic injury, Armageddon, breast cancer, a bad morning commute) and I will look back on these five years as a period of time that I squandered. Such a sin! Such an affront! No one is allowed to set up their lives like this and not follow through. I should be drawn and quartered.

Sigh. This evening I wondered what my life would be like if I gave up on writing altogether. Sure, I'd still keep this blog since it's the most productive aspect of my writing life, but other than that why not give up on my stories?

There are a million reasons and none have to do with making the bestseller list or even getting published. Hell, none of them have to do with anybody reading my stories and novels. It's all about me. The biggest reason is the thought of giving up the stories inside me, rolling around like so many silver balls waiting to be juggled, is that I need to know how those stories turn out. I need to know not only what happens to the character, but who the characters are. I can't let the stories just shrivel up and die inside me without seeing the light of day. It seems like the gravest sin of all. It seems like a direct affront to whoever is in charge around here. It seems like doing something like that would cause a giant fire bolt to nuke out of the sky and leave nothing but some singed clothes and my sneakers behind. Creation is the ultimate blessing.

I am tired and I don't know what to do. I'm burned out, but I don't know from what. I need a lot of things. I need to go eat and go to sleep. I wish I knew what to do after that. When I think of giving up writing I can't even imagine what I would do to fill in the time. I feel so damn uncomfortable right now. What do I do? What do I do?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Today's Swim Lesson

I sprained my ankle a couple of weeks ago and haven't been swimming so I was a little worried about today's swim lesson. There were a number of factors to overcome, the most prominent in my mind was my fear of walking down the concrete stairs from the roof of Mission Bay where the pool is to the women's locker room.

Today's swim lesson was great. I'm learning to do alternate breathing; right now I'm in the habit of turning my head to the right side to breath. Getting into the habit of turning to the left side has been difficult especially without the enough practice. While it still felt "weird" it felt much better than it had been and for the first time my neck doesn't feel stiff after swimming.

Even better was the progress I made in my underwater swimming. I have to swim underwater from one end of the pool to the other on one breath and learning to do this has been very difficult. I'm learning in a 25 yard pool during my lessons and the pool I practice in is 20 yards. Today I made three quarters of the way across the 25 yard pool on one breath. That's the most I've ever done and I'm so happy about it. I never thought I'd be able to master this skill, but here I am almost there!

It was a great swimming day. Oh, and I made down the long flight of concrete stairs on my sprained ankle with no problem. I just took it slowly, one step at a time. No hurry and no worries.

"Why So Serious?"

Back on December 27, 2007 I did a post entitled YouTube Fun and part of that post included the first "Dark Knight" trailer. I was intrigued by Heath Ledger's Joker and was really looking forward to seeing it.

Not too long afterwards Heath was found dead as we all know.

Having sat through my second viewing of "Dark Knight" this evening I remain as I was the first time I saw this movie the weekend before last: sad. For here wrapped up in a 27 year old package was the very epitome of promise. I was so looking forward to what this wonderful actor would become after seeing him come so far in just a few years. I liked Heath very much in his earlier roles, particularly in "Knight's Tale", even though it had an odd soundtrack and was fluffy. In fact, I've owned "Knight's Tale" since it first came out on DVD. I also liked him in "10 Things I Hate About You" though I don't own that one. This movie surpassed "Knight's Tale" in its fluffiness but, dammit, there's a place in this world for fun and whimsy and Heath was doing his part to bring it to us.

When I saw "Monster's Ball" I must admit that I really enjoyed the movie until Heath's character killed himself. Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton turned in great performances, but I stopped liking the movie so much after that. I thought Heath did a great job in that performance and still think of his character's last line to his father sometimes:

Heath's character Sonny: "You hate me. Answer me. You hate me, don't you?"
Billy Bob's character Hank: "Yeah, I hate you. Always did."
Heath's character Sonny: "Well, I've always loved you."

The fact that I still think of that line after all this time on occasion is a testament to Heath's performance.

Then I had the enormous pleasure of "Brokeback Mountain" for both Heath and Jake stunned the hell out of me with their performances. Heath was phenomenal, but as I told a couple of people, we believed in that love story and without Jake we would not have have been so moved by the way these two characters loved each other.

I was so excited about the Joker. Heath's Joker looked like a completely different character altogether. He didn't disappointment at all. In fact, I can't take my eyes off him. Sure, I just spent two plus hours watching the movie again, but I came home and started watching the trailer again. I just want to see more Heath!!!

It's so sad. And wonderful. We are all very lucky to have this performance.

Next up, I go see "Dark Knight" on the IMAX screen. I know I'll really enjoy that too.