Saturday, June 30

blood and fuzzy slippers

three years ago tomorrow, July 1, a space opera called Starcustard was born. three years. eight chapters. it isn't over yet, but we're being forced to take a brief intermission while i escape into another country. we'll be back. in the meantime, here's a little collectible of Act One. go look.

saying goodbye to Starcustard for eighteen months is not going to be easy. in a lot of ways i miss it already. no more throwing unfinished scenarios at each other. no more chewing on character descriptions. no more Gen. no more Tenua. no more slugs, no more slavekids.

our final revision of what we've got so far has been in its different ways almost as much work as the first killer round of proofreading, way back on chapter one. we've fiddled with a few scenes here and there, smoothed over some rough spots, and argued endlessly about font sizes and margins. at long last, Starcustard has acquired a style. that was the most fun part, playing with fonts and leading. i probably annoyed chris to no end with all my finickyness. but we pulled it together. it looks great, doesn't it?

it's got all eight chapters, page numbers, a foreword, and a list of all the music tracks in the front, so you can assemble them into a soundtrack if you feel so inclined. and on the penultimate page there's a little hint at what chapter nine will hold for us, the valiant authors, as well as for you, our patient readers. feel free to get yourself a copy. or if you don't mind reading the thing at your desk off a screen, take it from here.

mr. jordan celebrates the occasion also, over at fatmanintweed.

p.s. if you can spot the font discrepancy on the cover and title page, you're an extremely perspicacious individual. congratulations.

Friday, June 29

middle class

four inches, give or take, off my hair.
it's always a few days, getting used to a new creature on my head. how will this one respond to my comb? will it play nice with my ears?

i got this cool pen for my birthday. it's messy. i don't know how anyone ever used a fountain pen in the olden days without getting their hands all stained with ink. maybe there's a trick to it i haven't picked up on yet.

one week.

oddly enough this feels much more like an approaching beginning than an end. i will still be me. i will still have a pen behind my ear. i know a lot of things will change, but this isn't really and end or a beginning. it's a middle. an interruption, one might call it. a little shift in priorities. eighteen months of an alternate life. i'll turn 24 and 25 in canada. my youngest brothers will turn 12 and 16 while i'm gone. four years ago they turned 8 and 12 and i was in england. am i destined to be out of the country for all these momentous birthdays?

well, birthdays come every year. i've never been to canada before. the little brothers and i will have to get over it. though i hope the one will write to me about his first date.

Thursday, June 28

as numerous as the stars in heaven

"...we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world." ~ Oscar Wilde

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oscar Wilde were on the planet for a only a few of the same years. and they lived on different continents, so i'm sure they didn't talk much.

nevertheless, as i was reading Wilde's the soul of man under socialism and Emerson's self-reliance on the same day last week, i noticed similarities. individualism is the star that lights up both philosophies. but whereas Wilde's individualism appears to be only an art--free expression in a sense, Emerson's is more a matter of virtue, honor, and independence. but both ideas cross over into the other's perspective. "all influence is immoral," Wilde writes, invoking some sort of pattern of righteousness. And Emerson tells us "I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim," forsaking everything else for his own desire.

socialism and self-reliance don't fit together, ideologically. in his essay, Wilde wants the system rearranged, top to bottom, so that there will be no poor and no materialism. Emerson, for all his talk of integrity and virtue, appears to not care about all those poor people. "Are they my poor?" he says. "I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong."

But the same sort of ease appears in Wilde too:
"It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other people want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-sacrifice, which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In fact, it does not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It comes naturally and inevitably out of man. It is the point to which all development tends. It is the differentiation to which all organisms grow. It is the perfection that is inherent in every mode of life, and towards which every mode of life quickens."
In Wilde's essay there are hints of transcendentalism. In Emerson's, small pieces of aestheticism. what worth can these ideals of spirituality and beauty be to us now? has the last century preserved anything of these philosophies?

more importantly, what do i think?

it is very easy to accuse me of being apathetic toward all these causes and ideas that i don't quite understand and perhaps don't quite wish to understand. socialism? are you serious? salvation army? hrm. i, like Emerson want to ask "Are they my poor?" being guilted into being charitable sounds horrible. if one doesn't really care about the plight of the starving people in africa, why should one be made to care? and i hate feeling guilty. but it happens all the time. that Emerson only begrudges the kindness he is roped into giving to people who do not belong to him is some consolation. among his friends and family he was presumably generous enough.

but to take responsibility for the entirety of the world's ills? impossible. "Thy love afar is spite at home," Emerson writes. it is too easy to subscribe to this cause and this ideal and forget about your brother. yet even the claims of a family interfere with this thing called myself. i must tend to my siblings, i cannot tend to my own dreams. unless, miraculously, the desire to serve others and the desire to be my own person coincide. on the other hand, in Wilde's opinion "And while to the claims of charity a man may yield and yet be free, to the claims of conformity no man may yield and remain free at all." i can donate all i want to some far flung charity, as long as i don't try and wear another person's hat.

so there is some middle ground, we hope. you can't be yourself if you lock yourself up in a box. and you can't be yourself if you are forever worried about other people, what they think, how they survive. poor is just an adjective, isn't it? just like blue-eyed or apathetic. we wade through all these adjectives, picking up ones we like and trying to brush away the ones we don't. it's a mess.

these two essays were published 50 years apart. we can't go back and ask their authors what exactly they meant in them, or if they really believed all that stuff they wrote. we must find our own truths. adopt our own stars.

Tuesday, June 26

chocolate-loving walruses

so.... a while ago mr. jordan posted a fascinating description of an amazing new toy.

terrifying, isn't she?

not as terrifying as this:
i know she doesn't have a mouth or eyelashes, and no, she doesn't talk. but just look at those eyes. those wiry arms. little organza is going to glare at you and wave her twiggy fingers at you in an everso dramatic manner.

chris suggests i use the scraps of my stylish green fabric there to construct little offspring-slugs. but if i did that i'd want to build miniature skateboards for them. and sew hideous mohawks to their heads. and that just might be a little too much.

so we might say this is organza before she marries mr. nousu and populates his spaceship with grungy punk slugs. this is organza before she has access to endless gobs of cosmetics, bottomless piles of fuzzy slippers, and string after string of false eyelashes. this is organza as a slimy fat debutante, flirting her way disgustingly across the galaxy.

i'm going to stuff her in an envelope and mail her to the kid who dared to dream up such a monstrosity. maybe he'll introduce her to her sixteenth cousin four times removed, jabba.

Monday, June 25

letters

i'm writing letters today. it's always a good idea, if you'd like to get letters from people while you're off in a different country, to write them letters first.
i'm also making further use of my nice calligraphy pen. practicing my lettering, trying out different angles, different curves. i have a project in mind. the shape of it is still settling.
i love my own handwriting in all its forms. is that weird? i've always loved writing letters too. composing my thoughts and then sending them away into someone else's hands.
my list of people to write letters to is not so long. certainly i could add to it. anyone out there in the world want a sample of my scribbly handwriting?
{ all photos saving this last one have been borrowed from a few cool people on flickr }

Thursday, June 21

baked into a pie

there is a large black and white photograph of my mother and I. I am somewhere around two years old. she is making bread, cradling the telephone on one shoulder, and carrying my soon-to-be first brother. I am eying the camera and wearing a shirt with the word hawaii on it. my hair is short and I look, like I usually look in pictures of me under the age of six, like a boy. the curls of the phone cord are stretched out between us. the bowl she is using is the same yellow plastic bowl that has always existed in our kitchen.

this photograph was taken by my uncle. I don't know why I like it so much, but in my mind it is an iconic thing. my mother on the phone, mixing bread dough. and me standing there, our eyes and faces so similar. really her eyes are brown and mine are blue, but you can't tell in this photograph.

I haven't always been close to my mother. it is my father that seems to match my temperament more exactly. it is my father I've always wanted to be more like. my mother has just been there, mixing bread dough, talking on the phone. I've taken almost everything about her for granted because she has, like that yellow plastic mixing bowl, always been there. and so much about her is ingrained in me. the thick brown of her hair is the same as mine, though she keeps hers short. the shape of her chin is my chin, though she smiles more readily than I do. her voracious reading habits are my voracious reading habits, though she prefers nonfiction.

or maybe I don't know my mother that well. I love to look at pictures of her from before she was married. her hair was long then. she wore lovely dresses. she looked thoughtful.

I don't know if I'll ever be making bread and talking on the phone at the same time with a two-year-old at my side. the world I am in is not the world my mother lives in. but somehow I feel like everything I am is contained within her, just as the earth is contained by the galaxy. whatever I am it is just a little speck of what she is.

Tuesday, June 19

after dinner mints

I've been making postcards. glue and scissors, photographs and magazines, cardstock and rubber stamps and sometimes our barely-functional copy machine. a very astute person might recognize bits of that lettering which I cut out of a beautiful veer type catalogue. I sent a handful of my postcards to some nice people in chicago a few days ago, and they sent me this:
it's a covered journal made and embroidered by a person named Beth. pretty interesting. I never have enough paper to deface, so this is good.

oh, I also got a sticker from coudal. too bad I sold my car last week and have nothing much to stick it on.

I wonder who got my postcards... maybe I'll never find out.

Monday, June 18

something else

all i write these days are lazy little book reviews, it seems. i've got to fill the next few weeks with more than that, so here we go.

chess and the economy.

maybe it's all my dad's ranting on the bondage of society and the illusion of true self-reliance, maybe it's because i just sold my car, but anyway i've been thinking a lot about business and selling things. it seems turning a profit is so close to taking advantage of your neighbor. you know what they need, what they don't have, and you're charging money for it. you're making a living off whatever it is another person can't do for themselves. is that always a fair trade? is it always a willing compromise? i'm sure it must have started out that way. i'll raise the cows while you tend the sheep and we can let joe down the road grind the wheat. that way we all have something to do.

in chess there is almost always a winner and a loser. there's always a stronger player who can take advantage of the shortsightedness of his opponent. there's dad who knows more tricks than all of us put together, who takes his time and thinks about every possibility, who simply will not be beaten. it's perfectly fair that he always wins at chess. none of the rest of us have as much practice.

so today my family wants to make a living. but there are so many things we can't do for ourselves. there is no room in our yard to grow pumpkins or keep chickens, so we must pay other people to do these things for us. perhaps this is easier, but it's nowhere near as fun.

chess has a lot of rules. those pieces can only move so far, or in a certain way. the chessboard is only so big. there are many choices to be made. tradeoffs. if i get a chance i'm pretty sure i'll take your queen even if that pawn behind her will take my knight next move. if i can't save my last bishop i might check your king with anything i possibly can, just to buy myself more time. it's all about anticipating consequences. playing everything out in your head before you even touch the first piece.

dad can see further ahead than we can because he's played more chess matches than we have. but if we knocked down our neighbor's fence and built a chicken coop out of it, there would be some problems. if we stopped cashing those paychecks and ran away to live in the mountains, would we survive, without this spacious house or its well-stocked pantry?

you have to take what you can, i guess, and pay someone else to manage the things you aren't able to at the moment. it's a trade. a stalemate.

Friday, June 15

the world is quiet here

{ illustration by Brett Helquist, borrowed from thequietworld.com }

i love reading aloud. i discovered this fact while trying to keep myself awake as i made my way through Milton's Paradise Lost. since then i have read aloud half of Jane Eyre to a roommate and various pieces of books to siblings, from Gormenghast to Neverwhere.

recently i've been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events to my brother. this series is one of the rare cases in which i've resisted reading something purely because of all the hype. i saw the film but don't remember it. i've picked up copies of the books in various friends' houses, wondering if i really should read them after all. i grew out of long series like this one quickly, and i harbor a slight prejudice against their insidious habit of repeating themselves at the beginning of every installment about who the characters are and what they were last doing. but i figured, if i were reading them aloud to a brother, that i couldn't be blamed for choosing silly books of my own volition. i figured it was a perfect excuse to see if these books were really any good.

to be random (and because the library doesn't always have all 13 of the silly things at once) we started with book the fourth, The Miserable Mill. today we finished book the tenth and began book the eleventh. they are silly books, but sometimes the silly is brilliant. they are kid's books, but sometimes that simplicity is endearing.

altogether i think the execution of the series is admirable. there is mystery, there is comedy, and while there is also a great deal of tedious suspense, there is also a subtle and because subtle, sweet, morality about it. in book ten the unfortunate orphans discover the remains of a library, where the motto 'life is quiet here' is carved over the entrance. Mr Snicket goes on to ramblingly describe this philosophy, and predictably it resonates, i'm sure, with all people who like to sit and read. it reflects a human need for solitude and meditation and quiet places to think about things. it certainly reflects my hatred of too much noise. that by itself has made reading these books worthwhile to me, hype or no hype.

reading aloud is not a totally quiet activity, but it does require a bit of peace if it's going to work. i have tried to read to my brother over the insanity of our breakfast table. useless.

Saturday, June 9

art for art's sake

the line i used for my title today is one of my favourite things that the great detective Sherlock Holmes ever said. he wasn't in the mystery business for money or vengeance or even to show off his skills. there are mysteries. and you've got to solve mysteries.

another quote, this from Austen's Pride and Prejudice:

"...you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own..."

Mr. Darcy says this to Elizabeth Bennet, and i'm thinking about it today in terms of concocting fictions. i've been wondering about the sort of writer i am. i've wondered this before. how can i answer that question? the writer i am has a lot to do with the things i write about and how i write about them, and writing is one of the things that in turn defines the person i am. but still, i am separate from my art. it's just a thing i like to do.

not many of the things i have done in my life can match up to the adventures i give to my characters. i've never run away from home. i've never killed anyone. i've never stolen anything. i've never had amnesia. all of those carefully (or not so carefully, as the case may be) crafted motives are not a part of who i am.

yet... when building a realistic and meaningful character out of your own brain, how can that character not bear slight resemblances to you, its creator? its opinions and actions will have sprung from within you. if you've never had amnesia, where does that come from?

it's been said that human beings are the only creatures on earth who can hold two contradicting thoughts in their head at the same time. so i can express and opinion that isn't quite my own and put it into the mouth of a completely fictional person.

the next question is, of course, how responsible am i then, for the effect of those words? once they leave my pen they aren't fully mine anymore. anyone could take them and quote them and use them to advocate whatever they feel like.
i painted this. i wrote the scarcely readable 'act innocent' up there in red pen. i cut the words 'french kiss' out of a magazine and glued them down on top of that acrylic mess. i don't fully relate to the opinion expressed there. my personal views on kissing aren't laid out at all clearly in this piece of art. i'm taking delight in expressing an opinion that isn't exactly my own. art to me is expressing any old thing just because maybe it looks cool. it's provocative. it's interesting. for fun.

after all, once you start having real reasons--reasons above and beyond the joy of it--to create art, it's not the same.

Tuesday, June 5

hinted at

i read this book the first time when i was in england. graphic design was not even a sprout of a thought in my head.

reading it again after having finished a degree in technical writing and digested a lot of other junk about design and rhetoric both, it makes me wonder what i got out of it the first time.

back then the name jan tsichold meant nothing to me. art was a thing i did during church to amuse myself. ideas were just things with which to populate dreams, not currency. i must have read the book for the reason i read a lot of strange books... pure curiosity.

now that design has eaten up such a lot of my attention i was able to appreciate much more all the implications of this book. now that i've graduated from a state university myself, i also appreciate the academic atmosphere Mr. Kidd wraps his plot up with.

i remember making thoughtful notes on the bits of curriculum in the book.

1. Left to Right
2. Top to Bottom
3. Bigger than and Smaller than
4. In front of and In back of

interesting. now that i think about it, i wonder how much influence my reading of this book three years ago had on my approach to technical writing, rhetoric, and graphic design here, in the future. perhaps it laid down a bright red carpet into this different way of thinking. perhaps it romanticized design just enough that i looked up and fell into a great infatuation with it.

i don't think i like the book more or less than i did back then when i first picked it up. it is still interesting for the same reasons. its characters still spark with strange and alien sparks. its tone is just as irreverent and insightful. its title pages are just as weirdly laid out as ever.

favourite bit:
"Always remember: Limits are possibilities. That sounds like Orwell, I know. It's not--it's Patton. Formal restritions, contrary to what you might think, free you up by allowing you to concentrate on purer ideas."
~ W. Sorbeck (The Cheese Monkeys)
go read it.

{picture borrowed from Amazon, i think }

Monday, June 4

green apples

i taught my last web design class this morning. summer is upon us, chewing on people's brains.

everyone needs reminding, from time to time, that the rest of the world doesn't think quite the same way that you do. teaching isn't the only way for such reminding to take place, but it is one way in which your ability to cope with the frustration of all those other minds and how they learn is pretty crucial. they way i learned web design is not the way anyone else learned it, or should learn it. the world changes from minute to minute and so do the people in it.

i still don't know much about the way other people think, but i've learned a bit of patience. i've also had to forgive myself. there are a lot of important things i didn't teach as well as i could have. there are things that i didn't teach at all. there are things did teach that i didn't feel really sunk in.

i never did talk the school district into recognizing the virtues of mozilla firefox. i didn't get into image editing at all. my students never fully understood the point of external stylesheets. will they remember the four little principles of design that i taught them?

but what can i do? an hour a week every monday... that's not so much. they will have to go out and keep learning on their own, without me. they'll have to find their own friends to build websites for and their own relatives' servers to host things on.

i learned a lot of vocabulary. before, i never had to know what the right terms were for html attributes and css syntax, but i wanted to teach it all, so i had to hammer things like selector { property: value; } into my head. and i had to explain it fifteen different times fifteen different ways, for the kids who missed last week or came in late, or just don't remember what css stands for anyway.

you can't rush things. you can lecture your students for an hour on why the font tag is evil and useless, but you can't force them to see what web standards are all about even over the course of a four month class. they'll see it when they want to see it. when they need to. i'm just a tool. a doorway.

no, not even a doorway. a small key in the rusted lock on a gate in the middle of a falling-down picket fence, bordering a long stretch of wild garden.