Friday, April 29, 2011

Invisible Marks, Whorls and Fleshed Ridges

Along the surface of things my fingers trail, leaving invisible marks, whorls and fleshed ridges. I used to wonder if we didn't have our five senses would things cease to exist? Is it possible that our five senses construct things to see, smell, taste, touch, hear?

Not true with others, that's for sure, but if we were alone we would never feel the things we might bump into. Without others there's no one to tell us what the world is like. The world ceases to exist and we are not around, not in any conventional space or time. Things in the world turn to misty transparencies each time we approach something: a desk, a wall, the ground. We float, suspended with not even the darkness to keep us dancing. In the end, we might turn transparent ourselves, devoid of softly padded boundaries, while the underbelly of the surface world pours through us in a riot of strange visions and clandestine energies.

One night while slipping in between a state between waking and sleeping, I found myself in a dark place. It was as if I'd slid under my sheet which blotted out everything. Since this was one of those rare times when I knew I was dreaming I desperately wanted to fly away into the starry, foggy night above the city but I couldn't get myself free. I tried willing myself out of that fabric of darkness but had no luck. There was a tickling in my brain, like the recent tickling I felt when I ate fresh ground black pepper in a splendid salad at a dinner party. I felt like those angels in battle who'd been unfortunate enough to be pinned under the great mountains that were thrown on top of them. I realized I wasn't going to get out of that sheeted dark place and reluctantly woke myself up.

There was no getting back to sleep after that.

Every once in a great while strange things happen to me that I can't explain. This has been going on since I was a child. Other than the usual obvious childhood experiences such as the times I saw God, was blessed by Jesus, and saw the shadow of Satan on my wall, other things have occurred. (I've never seen an angel, though. Oh wait, maybe I have...hmm, but I can't be sure so I'll just say I haven't.) I used to be able to choose really great books by walking along the stacks in the library and running my fingers over the spines without looking at them. When I stopped, I would pull out the book and read it. It was always amazing. I was reading all the time and it was becoming cumbersome to find really good books so I started using this method to save time. Curiously, this ability faded once I reached puberty.

One time when I was driving down Highway 101 with my ex, we saw a giant tumbleweed coming towards us on the freeway. Now if you've been on 101 you'd know there's absolutely no reason for a tumbleweed to be anywhere near there, much less a tumbleweed larger than the car. The weed bounced over the car and disappeared behind us. At first, I thought it was just my imagination but my ex mentioned he'd seen it too. I never did figure out what was going on there.

There was also that strange time I was walking to McClure's Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore with the same ex. We were walking down a short path from the parking lot to the beach and when I first saw the ocean I had to stop. Something had changed and I couldn't figure out what it was. My ex inquired as to my reason for stopping but I ignored him. I continued to stare at the crashing surf and a real panic was growing inside me. Something was terribly wrong. I realized the sound of the surf and the actual surf were off by a few moments. As soon as I figured out this sound delay I became incredibly nauseous and almost threw up. I had to look away from water and when I looked at it again everything was fine and I no longer felt sick. This feeling seemed to be tied to the place I was standing in so I spent a few minutes walking back and forth along the path but couldn't recapture that feeling again.

It's probably nothing but most of the clocks in my apartment don't work. My clock radio is always off by 15 minutes no matter what I do (replace battery, check the plug). The previous clock was also off by 15 minutes which prompted me to get the current one. Any clock I put in the bathroom always stops working even the clocks designed to stick to your bathroom mirror. The wall clock here in the living room doesn't work. It's always slowing down until it's off by about 20 minutes. It doesn't matter how many times I change the battery. It doesn't matter how many clocks I replace it with (the current clock is the third one I've tried; I even tried an atomic clock once). Once the current clock stopped working completely I just left it on the wall permanently set to 9:46:44. The two watches I use the most work though I've noticed all my other watches seem to have stopped working prematurely. I even took a couple to have the batteries replaced but they wouldn't start up again. The computer, phone, and tablet clocks are working well, thank goodness.

It occurs to me there's a story in here somewhere.

I can tell when the bus is going to come and from which direction. The bus can come from two different directions on my corner and I started out by guessing which direction as a way to pass the time. I learned quickly that if I let myself settle and stopped thinking about it, I could feel which direction the bus was coming in and whether it was coming soon, right way, or in a while. Anybody who rides MUNI knows how unpredictable the buses can be so this odd game has proven to be useful. My accuracy rate is better 90% at this point.

I've thought about attempting a similar game with lottery tickets, dice, card games, or roulette but haven't had the time to try it out.

Years ago, I had boyfriend where odd things seemed happen more often than usual. There were the times I checked his blog and for a moment I would see the shimmering ghost of a blog post about trains that he wouldn't post until a good two weeks later. Why that post? I'm not sure but he did mention me in it so maybe that was the reason. I'd also sent an email to a different guy before I started seeing this boyfriend where I talked about moats and inferiority complexes. It was a sarcastic reply to a mean email he'd sent me and I'd sent it to the guy before meeting this boyfriend. Later, while checking my boyfriend's blog I found an old post of his where he discusses inferiority complexes and moats in almost the sarcastic same way. There were other things but they're too weird to even post here. Needless to say because of these odd things I was convinced that we were right for each other.

That was a bad call.

(Someone is practicing scales on a tuba in an apartment on my street. It's the first time I've heard it. Seems appropriate for this post and my state of mind today.)

During the worst part of my divorce (the first two weeks), very strange things would happen. I kept hearing things falling and dropping in other rooms in the house. I knew these sounds were happening because the dogs would look up too. Sometimes when I went to see what had fallen I wouldn't find anything. Other times I'd find something on the floor that had no business being there. I was in a very bad state, almost suicidal, and not eating or sleeping. I realized after the first few days that I was probably imagining these things falling though the scary thought occurred to me that perhaps I was causing things to fall because of my whacked out state of mind.

I've had two concrete encounters with ghosts though I've never actually seen one. There have been other similar kinds of situations though they've been too vague to explain. All in all, I don't take these odd things very seriously. They don't happen very often (except the bus thing) and are probably explained away by something perfectly rational. Still, I do believe there are things in this world that we just don't understand and so many things are happening below the surface that I can't ignore it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

City Life: Along the Embarcadero, Part 2 (Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf)

Continuing my post of The Embarcadero (Part 1), I walked from the Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf earlier this month.

The walk from the Ferry Building (A) to Fisherman's Wharf (B) is 1.8 miles.

I strolled on the nice walkway on Pier 3 and got this shot of the Ferry Building. People like to come here at lunchtime to stretch out on the benches and read.

Back on The Embarcadero looking towards Fisherman's Wharf. Along here is a stretch of expensive restaurants and more moderately priced bars.

A street sign at Broadway.

I've never tasted chocolate here but I couldn't resist the sign.
I'll have to go back later and check it out.

Alcatraz!! Alcatraz Landing is located at Pier 33 and is where you purchase tickets and depart on tours. The island is only accessible by ferry. I only go there when I have guests but it's a fascinating tour and highly recommended. The cellhouse audio tour is excellent and really brings the place to life.

Ah yes, the parking. Parking near Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf is expensive and can be difficult so plan accordingly.

Approaching Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf brings a change in smells. Right about here you can smell cotton candy. As you closer to the Wharf, this can change to the overwhelming smell of crab and fish, depending on the time of day (usually in the morning and early afternoon).

We locals consider Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf the great tourist traps of our city. I generally don't come down here myself but they are must-see places according to all the tour books.

There's an aquarium here (not the one I volunteer at). I have to confess I've never visited but lots of people do and enjoy it. It's a small aquarium but focuses on the marine life in our San Francisco Bay.

Pier 39 is a full of gift shops, restaurants, and other places to eat.

You gotta love a two-story carousel that plays Gershwin. The carousel is located near the end of Pier 39 as are the world famous Pier 39 California Sea Lions.

In September 1989, our California Sea Lions started hauling out at end of the pier. You can see them piled on each other and you'll hear there barking as you approach. The Marine Mammal Center folks are here to provide information and answer questions. They have a shop upstairs above where the seals are.

At the end of Pier 39 are lovely views of Alcatraz.
You can see it was a windy day when I snapped this picture.

Fisherman's Wharf is located at Pier 43 or thereabouts. There are plenty of restaurants, places to eat on the run, the Wax Museum, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, gift shops, street musicians, In-and-Out Burger, and The Cannery, a sort of gift shop mini-mall.

If you keep walking past the Cannery and cross the street you'll come to this lovely park. There's a lovely lawn and a beach at the other end. It's a nice place to have lunch and take a stroll if it's not too crowded or windy.

As you can see Ghirardelli Square is right at the top of the park. I've been known to come here on rare occasions with friends for lunch. Ghirardelli is full of shops and restaurants. If you go, be sure to check out the famous chocolate shop.

I completely forgot this lovely Bay beach was located here.

Above the beach are concrete bleachers if you don't want to sit on sand.

I walked back the way I came to the Ferry Building and stopped at the park next to Justin Hermann Plaza where I was attracted by the raucous cries of our parrots. Yes, we have parrots here in San Francisco. Apparently, they are strays that got away and have grown into an impressive flock. You would think it's too cold for them but they don't seem to mind.

I've blogged about the parrots before on this blog but I didn't have a 10x zoom camera at the time so I wanted to post a decent picture.

This ends my posts about The Embarcadero. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm planning to do more neighborhood posts in the future.

Thanks for reading.

City Life: Sunset Outside My Apartment Door

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean. Taken April 8, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Kind of Subatomic Musical Chairs

The days and nights flutter by like crisp $100 bills blown by wind through the concrete and steel canyons. I keep wondering where the time goes but have now realized it seeps into the pores of my skin through my blood, bones, and organs, exiting the other side. I am just a sieve, a through way for that the giant wall of water known as Time.

Stuff happens but Time is still in my own mind. This is how we can get around Time, by keeping it in our own heads. We do it in our dreams every night, don't we? My dreams are all nanoseconds and epic generations of stories. Hundreds of years go by in a single dream, my thoughts running to catch up. I grasp at those loose dark veils which trail behind, all pageantry and bridal echoes. I never see the face hidden behind the layers of black lace and sheers. When I have the opportunity, I draw away from there. I don't want to see.

The traffic of my projects zoom by me on this congested road. Everyone is going more than 80 miles an hour but they're following too close. I think a crash must be imminent but there's no rain, not even a bump in the road, to interrupt progress. Again, I'm barely able to keep up. It seems my interests have taken on a life of their own, they seem to be stretching out new muscles, but they know they have to wait for me because I'm their conduit, their channel. Nothing happens until I literally make it so. Until then it's all a massive, incoherent stew.

Unreality and reality are separated by the thin membrane which separates my internal and external selves but I know that wall is just an illusion, something the brain makes up to keep track of everything. This should scare me but it doesn't for I know everything has its place even though it would be just as happy switching positions, playing a kind of subatomic musical chairs. When you have order vs. chaos, many times the order wins. The only reason this happens is because we make it so. Order, like that thin membrane, is just a mental construct, an evolutionary survival mechanism.

I wish I could frisk like any other self-serving person but I'm too painfully aware of my limitations. I've too much narrowness in my vision of things. Too little expansion of mind. No matter how much I fill my head with neat things, it's never enough. I'm surrounded by others who dance in ritual, holding hands, inviting me into that idyllic pastel landscape. They say letting go is the best thing all around. I still doubt them.

Friday, April 08, 2011

the pink church, the pacific ocean, golden gate park

Happened to glance out my window and today the view to the ocean is true and clear
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

2010 Europe Trip: Research For My Novel - Nuremberg

The main reason I went to Europe last year was to do research for my historical novel. It's set in Nuremberg in the 1830s and is based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man who wandered into town one day. He appeared to not understand anything around him, including what people were saying. Eventually he was taken to the jail tower, then was taken in by a doctor who examined and educated him. Kasper said he had been kept in a cell for most of his life and had never been outdoors nor did he have interactions with anyone else, other than minimal contact with his jailer. The day he wandered into town he'd been released with no explanations.

That's all I'll say about him for now. You can click on the link if you want more info. As I said my story is based on him but I'm taking quite a few liberties with my novel though it generally follows most of the major events of his later life.

I spent all my time in the Altstadt (or old town) in the historic city center. Nuremberg was heavily bombed during the war and was subsequently rebuilt using the same building materials. The Altstadt is surrounded by a wall with the Kaiserburg (Nuremberg Castle) at the north end.

Of course Nuremberg is known for being the site of the Nuremberg trials and the infamous Nazi conventions and rallies. I made it a point to learn about Nazi Germany before my visit because I was concerned I would become distracted by this infamous history and wanted to be able to focus solely on my research.

I decided on some goals for this visit:
  • Learn about the history of the city (before the 1830s and until 1871 when the unification of Germany occurred).
  • Spend a lot of time walking around and getting a good feel for the place.
  • Find a house. Much of my novel takes place inside a house. Kasper lived in a different house at the time when my story takes place so I'm taking liberties here.
  • Find the location for a pivotal outdoors scene, what I've dubbed "The Walk in the Snow."
  • Find the location of where he came into the city and the place where he was found and attempt to retrace his steps.
I took over a thousand pictures and and something like seven short videos. More than 700 of the pictures and all of the video were taken for research purposes in Nuremberg and Ansbach.

A map of the Altstadt. These maps are all over the historic city center and are very useful for staying oriented even if they're all in German. The Altstadt is quite a small area, you can walk from one end to the other in less than an hour.

I started by walking to the Kaiserburg and taking a slow walk around the Castle. The weather was gorgeous while I was there, even a bit warmer than I'd planned for, and encouraged a leisurely pace.

The gardens behind the Kaiserburg. I had originally thought my "Walk in the Snow" scene would take place somewhere along here.

Part of the Gardens.

As I walked along taking pictures, I realized I was having problems with the idea of this scene happening here. First, I didn't know what kind of access mere mortals would have to these places even if they were well-connected, and secondly, the scene is a conversation between Kasper and his servant. It requires quiet and privacy and I didn't know if that would be possible in this place. It felt too public to me.

I was going to sign up for a tour of the inside of the Castle but realized it wouldn't be necessary since there are no scenes there. I decided it would be far more important for me to climb the stairs of the Sinwell Tower (jail tower) where I believe Kasper was kept when he first arrived in the city.

After wandering around and taking more pictures I stopped at Albrecht Dürer's House, a very popular museum across the street from the Castle. Dürer is one of Nuremberg's most famous sons and was a brilliant artist. I like to refer to him as the rock star of Northern Renaissance art. As I took the audio tour I wondered if I'd found my house but it just didn't feel right.

One of the lovely rooms in Dürer's house.

One of the defining characteristics of the house in my novel is it has to be large. Only three men are living there, not including the servants, but multiple floors and at least two sets of staircases are critical. It's difficult to explain why this is so since there's no practical reason for it but the psychological effect of living in such a house is very important for the characters and Dürer's house felt too cramped to me.

As part of my research on the city's history I walked to Fembo House, not far from the Kasierburg, a historic house which is also the city museum.

Fembo House from the front.

I learned a lot about the city's history and, most important, I'd found the house for my novel. The tour starts on the top floor and there were only two couples around. They left the floor very quickly and I slowly strolled through the rooms taking in all the exhibits and reading each sign carefully. When I was done with the exhibits I continued strolling around and around the floor going in and out of the rooms. I was letting the feel of the top floor sink in, listening to the sound of my steps, noting the air temperatures, and how the light looks in the rooms. I found out later that the top floor is where the servants live and where storage is kept. I was really happy I took so much time up there.

This room on the floor below was used as a ballroom during parties. It has its own dining room outside the door and there's a small kitchen behind me.

The first thing I noticed when I walked down to the next floor is the ceilings are quite a bit lower than we're used to and the doorways are low. This is important. Two of my characters are fairly tall, including one of my main characters. His notable physical characteristics includes his height, his posture, and the way he moves through space. He tends to be calm and has a certain grace about the way he moves, and he has perfect posture. In order for these characteristics to work, I can't have him awkwardly trying to get the through the doorway because they are too low so he can't be very tall. My other character is more secondary and it would actually make sense if he were a bit awkwardly tall, at least for this house.

The floors are creaky, you make noise wherever you walk. This is very important because this means you can hear someone coming even if you can't see them, even if it's too dark in the room.

As required, this house has two sets of stairs. I love these back stairs. I spent a lot of time walking up and down to get a feel for them. I should have taken some video.

More rooms on the floor below. I learned quite a bit about the layout of this style of architecture though I don't learn what the style is called. I need to do more research about that.

This model of a house with similar architecture was very useful for visualizing the house as a whole though this version is larger than Fembo House. Ground floor is the entrance hall, first floor are the bedrooms, second floor are the best rooms in the house, rooms for greeting guests, etc., the third floor is where the ballroom is located, fourth floor, only a section of the floor, houses the servants.

Fembo House is located next to other buildings and narrow winding cobblestone streets so there's no garden or stables. There is a courtyard as you can see in the picture above. Not having a garden meant I would have to do some tweaking of scenes during my next rewrite but not having stables and horses was a problem. One of my favorite secondary characters is the Stable Master. I thought about changing his occupation but it just wasn't working. The man was practically born to ride and take care of horses. The smell of horse is seeped into his bones, and the way he walks and his outlook on life points towards his occupation. I knew I had to come up with another idea. Fortunately, the Imperial Stables are right up the street and I knew they would have rented a space there.

This brochure about Fembo House is in German but is extremely useful. You can see my notes on the layout of the floors. There are good photos of the rooms too.

I visited another house later that day, Tucher Mansion, and it has similar architecture though on a much grander scale. The English version of their brochure is very short, only a few pages, and has no pictures but it gives a detailed layout of the different floors and how they were used.

I was going to go back to Fembo House the next day but didn't. I should have so I could have taken more pictures and walked around some more.

I had several maps of Nuremberg but used this one since it was the most detailed for my purposes. I used this map to figure out the route Kasper took when he first arrived in the city and to understand where Fembo House (no. 14 on the map) was in relation to the main square.

Fembo House is located right down the street from the Hauptmarkt, the Alstadt's largest square. There are farmers markets there most days, as there have been for centuries. Since coming back from my trip I've revised some of my scenes so they take place here.

The view of the street from the first floor of Fembo House looking towards the Hauptmarkt. The Town Hall, with the flags, is on the left side.

The Hauptmarkt, also the site of the world famous Christmas Markets.

I was happy I'd found the house but still hadn't found the site for my "Walk in the Snow" scene. I'd decided to find the square Kasper was found in (and it wasn't the Hauptmarkt like I originally thought) and attempt to retrace the path he took to get there.

Kasper came in through the Neutor, or the New Tower Gate. There are Baroque Gardens right across the street, and I thought perhaps I would go there to see if my "Walk in the Snow" scene could take place there but I found something much, much better.

A view of the Gate from the outside looking into the Altstadt.

I walked along the top of the city wall behind the Gate which is really nice. Lots of shady trees, places to sit, and a mini-garden. Most of Nuremberg is surrounded by the huge, beautiful wall and I think you can walk along parts of it.

The lovely garden. When I stepped into this sweet little place I knew I'd found the setting for this very important scene.

A view of the Garden looking at Neutor. This place is important for my characterization of Kasper. It's where he first entered the city and he feels a kind of kinship with this place.

The view looking down from the little garden looking towards the Kaiserburg.

I started to wonder if my walk in the snow actually takes place in the snow. According to my current timeline the earliest the walk can take place is sometime in late October, maybe early November, and I don't think it's snowing yet. I'll have to check the historical weather records. The snow isn't that important but it would make the atmosphere a little more magical.

So why go through all this? Why bother going all the way to Europe to do research on a novel that might never get published? And why bother looking for a real house to set the story in? Wouldn't it be easier to make all this up? The answer for me is no, it's not easier. True, I have a good imagination, and I could say I'm doing this because this story is based on a real person but I'm certain that I would do the same thing with all my stories if I could whether they're based on history or not. The reason is because I'm too locked into my own mindset and I make too many narrow assumptions about what a place could and should be like. The original draft of this novel was also set in a large house but the architecture was completely different and not even close to accurate. This has a profound affect on the story and the characters. Finding real places to base my settings on helps me go deeper into the story world.

Also, I've noticed when I write a story my characters and their relationship to the space around them and the setting is very important because it affects how they are. Because most of the novel takes place inside the house this is doubly true. Even many of my settings in my strange story on my Fainting in Coils blog, FailSafe, were based on real places.

I'm very happy I'd found what I was looking for on this visit. I was in Nuremberg for three days and spent all my time strolling around the Altstadt. I took a side trip to Ansbach, about 30 km away. This small town is the setting for the last part of my novel. The point was to get to know these towns and I felt I did just that. I'd really like to go back to Nuremberg in December during the Christmas Market for a couple of days and then spend at least 2-3 days in Ansbach again.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Late March Junk Mail

Here's what's happening with me:
  • Sleep, that warm fluffy fox, remains elusive. I haven't been sleeping since I put my dog down. Most days I average between 3-5 hours a night. I get up in the late morning and fuel myself with tall soy mochas with no whipped cream, then feel wired and jittery until the late afternoon. Many times I'm hopped up on caffeine, lots of sugar, and not much food. I don't take drugs or drink when I'm feeling this way (except the caffeine or sugar) but believe me, I've been considering it.
  • I'm back into writing fiction, thank goodness. I'm still working on my historical novel and have been trying to go to my writing group at least once a week. The writing group, Shut Up & Write at, has been invaluable. The more I go, the more productive I am.
  • Current projects which should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog: logging all the Korean films I've seen so far in my Master Notebook (I'm more than halfway through the list), logging all the films I watched for the Akira Kurosawa film survey, gleefully frolicking my way through the TV anime series Fullmetal Alchemist (I'm still watching the 2003 series, though I've made it to the second season), reading the plays of Federico Garcia Lorca (I've read three so far and will be reading more later when I receive the books from Amazon), continuing to learn about Luis, Dali, and Lorca's relationship for my Luis Bunuel film survey, and I finally finished reading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
  • Regarding Ender's Game. I grew up reading Card's short stories but never read his novels. This one, Ender's Game, is a classic and its reputation for being brilliant is well deserved. I keep wondering what the hell is wrong with me, though. I don't understand why it's taken me this long to get around to reading it. What is my problem?
  • I'm done with my History of European Art DVD lectures. It's taken a while (a total of 48 lectures at 30 minutes a pop) but it's been a wonderful overview. My next set of DVD lectures will be about The Long 19th Century, history of Europe between the late 1700s to the early 20th Century.
  • I'm still not going to regular movies as a way to save money (except I Saw The Devil, see recent post). I've found there are very few films I need to see on the big screen though I love the cinematic experience. There's a ton of movies I haven't seen yet, including many Oscar films.
  • As I've mentioned to a couple of my friends I worry that I'm overloading myself with all this brain food. I do need fuel for writing and engaging in all these different interests really makes me happy but I worry about it all the same.
  • I'm attempting to try out a self-publishing model using my weird story FailSafe as an experiment. This will entail setting up my own website, creating a pdf of the story, writing additional side stories, and getting FailSafe into hard copy. It's been a slow start, mostly research on what others have done, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes. The point is not to sell FailSafe but to go through and learn from the process. I may ask a couple of you good readers to take a look at and comment on the website, pdf, hard copy, etc.
  • I still don't have a job but I'm looking for one. Blah, blah, blah.