Sunday, January 31, 2010

Things Done; Love Reclaimed

I was telling Joanna my story about how I have a history of not finishing things, and she was having none of it. "What about your blog posts?" she said. "Almost every one is a completed piece." "Well, yeah," I said,"...but I don't finish larger projects." "What about those old artists books and visual journals of yours you've posted? "What about your geography books? "What about your movies?" She was really annoying me. My annoyance made me wonder, Why am I so attached to this story? I suppose because it was the things I didn't finish that drew scorn, when I was young. My favorite--because clearest--example is the Christmas my WASP grandmother sent my sister $100 and me $50, saying my hardworking, ambitious sister had "earned" more. I resisted that judgement, but I felt ashamed, and shame is like tooth pain: it may only be a small part of your being, but its red-hot pulsations take over everything. After talking to Joanna, I started to think about things I have finished, and they are many. They were often outside the system of recognition and praise, however--not class assignments or work tasks. They tended to be things I did for fun. (I put that in the past tense, but that's often still the case.) For instance, when I was an eleven/twelve-year-old horse-crazy girl, I wrote, illustrated, and published (on construction paper) three issues of a horse magazine. I probably felt ashamed I'd only done three. As an adult, I think three is a triumph, working in isolation as I was. We were living in Copenhagen, where the sun appeared dimly for maybe six hours a day. My parents' marriage was falling apart, as was my beloved mother's mental state. I spent a lot of time after school sitting in the dark afternoons holding her hand as she lay on the couch. I'm surprised these magazines even survived, but I found them a few years ago. I should get a scanner, maybe...these'd read better, but anyway, here's a sample. The Horsemans Monthly, February, March, and April, 1973 Of course I could fill in the blanks of the Points of a Horse (below) when I was twelve. Looking at the answer key fills me with nostalgia. These were words of love: mane, fetlock, chestnut, hock, withers. We were in Denmark for a semester while my professor father taught political science for a term. Sometimes on Sundays we went to the Charlottelund racetrack, to watch trotting races, which I wrote about here. The next month, below, I had to print a correction ("Mistake," lower left) because I had mistakenly copied out the steps of a pacer, not a trotter. (I have some dim recollection that there is a difference between pacing and trotting; but what it is, I have no idea.)I can't fill in the crossword puzzle I made up either. Q: "The ____ and the Arabian are the main ancestors of the Thoroughbred." A: The Barb. This was the spring that Princess Anne of the UK was engaged to Mark Phillips, and since Anne is an equestrian (she competed in the 1976 Olympics!), I collected articles about her (below, left) and her horse life--as well as anything else remotely horse related. Three years after I made these, in the midst of my parents' divorce, my father told me he was disappointed in me because I wasn't a genius. No doubt he wasn't at his best when he said it, but I wonder what he had in mind. And why I took it to heart. When I look at these magazines, I see I haven't changed. The wonderful mishmash approach is exactly how I still approach my passions. Would I have ever loved the Internet when I was a kid. I could have had a fantastic horse blog. On the other hand, I love that these are handmade, right down to their Scotch-tape bindings, so I'm grateful I've lived with both technologies. I'm going to be fifty next year. I am entirely ready to perceive myself more clearly. The condemnation of my long-dead grandmother (godblessher) and all the other shaming voices turn into the powdery whispers of powerless ghosts. So, thanks, Joanna, for seeing through my story. I may not be the sort of detail-oriented person you'd hire as a bookkeeper, but I'm certainly capable of finishing things I care about. You can annoy me with the truth anytime.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Starship and the Museum: The Shape of Things

The working title of the personal writing project I've decided to pursue is going to be The Starship and the Museum;
short for the underlying question, "Why do the Guggenheim Museum and the starship Enterprise look like each other?"

Meeting with Joanna today was helpful--and fun.
I was doodling the shape of the starship and the museum--both top-heavy circular objects, and musing what else looks like that.
Joanna said my tornado-like doodle reminded her of starlings in flight.

I'd never heard of this phenomenon before--its called "murmuration." Here's an amazing video of a starlings over Gretna, Scotland.
(The music is Jan Garbarek, from the album Officium.)

And here's an [easy] article from the Telegraph (UK) on the subject:
"The Mathematics of Murmurating Starlings"

A possible subtitle for The Starship and the Museum is
Or, Why Things Look Like Other Things.

I suspect that things may look alike--at least sometimes--because they are responding to the same forces.
The forces of physics, like gravity, say, or emotional forces, like fear; or biological forces, like reproduction.
I really don't know.

But I do know the starlings, the starship, and the museum all are engaged in or suggest the idea of flight.

Joanna told me that when she was writing her dissertation, she kept "idea files,"
into which she tossed anything that related to her research.

I thought I'd use this blog for that-- a place to gather cool stuff I run into
that may or may not directly answer my questions.
Like I did when I was working on Finland and posted all sorts of delightful tidbits I found, almost none of which made it into the end book (no room).

A magpie nest.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Missing Picture: The Warrior

The long post below, on procrastination, has no pictures, which feels right.
But it doesn't feel right to have an altogether pictureless day, so here's a samurai, circa 1870 (from here).

The Warrior made a little ripple in my mind after I posted about Avatar. The Warrior is an energy I've barely paid any attention to, especially not in my self.
Growing up during Vietnam War, I first met the warrior as a muddled and misguided figure, not an attractive picture.

One reason I love Captain Kirk is that he models a kind of warrior I can relate to (sort of)--a goofy one, able to laugh at himself and keep his role in perspective.

A more tragic but good warrior image is in The Seven Samurai, which shows that, in proper balance, the warrior serves the people. A society that centers around serving the warrior is out of whack.

Anyway, as I think about what in the world I want to do next, I want to meet my warrior self more.
I know she's in there, she's just been sleeping.

Getting Unstuck

[Warning: This is post contains no pictures. I don't hold with pictureless posts, but there it is.]

People have suggested to me over the years that I should write my own book.
I like hearing that, but it brings up a bunch of demons, especially the demon of procrastination, with its attendant demonettes of doubt and shame.

I'm always defending laziness, which I experience as a wonderful, open-ended energy that moves, when it moves, at a very leisurely pace.
There's a lot of space in laziness, where anything might, and often does, arise.

Procrastination, though, is like being stuck in a dark closet. I'm supposed to be doing something and I can't or won't, so I just don't do anything at all.
This is a problem.

I. Dead in the Water

My star turn as a procrastinator came a dozen years ago, when I was thirty-five.
I was finishing my undergraduate degree, a tad later than most, and I spent about a year writing a senior paper to fulfill the requirement to graduate with honors.
I wrote 60-some pages of typescript on the development of the Christian theology of death.
And then I never finished it.

I always blamed my failure to finish on the emotional turmoil of having had an affair with my professor.
This was a huge problem, yes. But it wasn't the only factor, or even, with hindsight, the main one. The truth is, there's always a good, legitimate reason not to do one's work, and I always found one.

But really, I didn't know how to bring work to completion, how to work with myself instead of against myself.
Advice to strong-arm myself, to "just do it," never helped--I just balked more.

The other day, going through my visual journals from that era, I came across that unfinished paper. I sat on the floor and re-read it. It's really good, and further, it's incredibly close to done. I probably could have submitted it as it was, or with just a few hours of work to tie it off.
But I didn't.
So, I didn't graduate with honors, just a regular bachelor of arts.
In itself, that doesn't bother me, but I still dream that I never finished my degree at all.

II. Stuck at the Feast

Not finishing stuff is a lifelong pattern of mine. I never understood procrastination (not quite the same thing, but related), much less how to work around it. I just felt bad about it. Feeling bad about who you are is one of the most useless emotions ever.

Recently a friend who has studied Myers Briggs psychology helped me understand my nature better.
To being with, there's a whole tribe of us people who aren't "finishers." (We even get our own letter: P.)
I find this reassuring, and it helps me get over the shame. (Living with shame is like walking through molasses.)

Then, "not being good at finishing things" often comes attached to a whole set of gifts, which I always sensed was true but never heard anyone else say.

For instance, we nonfinishers are often the sort of people who ask wonderful big questions. We just aren't so interested in finessing the details.
Completing projects requires that second part--dotting the i's and crossing the t's. But having a great project to work on in the first place comes from having a hungry mind.

I loved hearing all that. I love people with big appetites for life, for food, for ideas, even if we don't always clean our plates.

But I also love it when people can figure out how to create a whole meal and serve it up for others.
I'd like to be able to do that without feeling like I'm slogging through molasses the whole time.

III. In Recovery

I've s l o w l y gotten somewhat better at finishing projects.
What helped most was figuring out how to work with myself, not against myself.

Working on the geography books series was the first work where I didn't back off when I met my procrastination at professional strength.

One problem is I get Big Picture Paralysis--I see an enormous task and freeze up.
Facing a geography book project, I would feel bad about myself for weeks at a time, while I did everything but write. Then, like a mule, I'd lurch forward and pull full-speed for a while.
Then stop again.

Part of what took me so long was that I spent a lot of time on the flip side of procrastination: indulging in the wonderful big questions.
For my first book, on Turkey, I spent a long time reading about the Byzantine Empire, though I knew it could only get a couple lines in the history chapter.
The books--basically long encyclopedia entries--had no room for cultural analysis. But I adored doing the research, and I'm sure it enriched the books, and my life.

Because I didn't get paid until I finished the books, I was highly motivated. More, though, I very much wanted to put together a decent book.
The day I saw my name in a Library of Congress format for the first time was a good day.
Like so:
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fresca, 1961-
Turkey / by Fresca.
p. cm. -- Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Turkey--Pictorial works. I. Title.
2. II. Series: Visual geography series 2004002619

That first book, it wasn't very good, mostly because I didn't know how to write for young people.
But it is a book, with covers. And between the covers, a beginning, middle, and--tra la!--an end.

Having completed sixteen of them now, I've learned a bit how to break up the Big Picture Paralysis into smaller bits.

Blogging has been a huge help in doing this and in mobilizing me as a writer.
Like the 12-Steps advice to take it one day at a time, blogging is one post at a time.
Writing just one post, something I can do in one day, is a model I can apply to bigger projects.

It also helps immensely to know you are out there, you readers--even the idea of readers gives me some traction in the molasses.
I like that writing is mostly a solitary pursuit. But I don't want to be all alone with it.

Then, finally, moviemaking this past year and a half has opened my eyes to how much easier it is to get things done when I work with other people.
Involving a bunch of people in a project sure increases the motivation to finish the project, because you owe it to them.
But more, I figured out that I can ask other people can do stuff they like and are good at that I'm not.

IV. Quo Vadis?

I got thinking about all this because now the geography series is ending, I have a big open field in front of me.
As I've said, I felt sad at first about not having a new country to research.

Then I started to think--partly because people keep suggesting it to me--that I could start my own in-depth writing project.

(To be precise, people say, "Why don't you write your own book?" But this word, book, makes me hyperventilate, so I'll just say writing project.)

I worry that I don't want to write the kind of book that I think people would like.
I've always felt I could write a pretty good spiritual memoir--about all the good things I've learned from doing stuff the hard way. It would be a lot of work, but in a way, it'd be easy because I've already thought so much about it.
Whenever I write that sort of thing, I get a lot of positive reinforcement.

But it's not what I want to write. Anne Lamott, Pema Chodron, Saint Augustine, et al. have said everything I could say, and more, anyway.

What do I want to write?

Yesterday I sat in the sun in a coffee shop and finished reading Murder in Amsterdam; The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, which I'd started reading while working on the Netherlands geography book.

When I closed the book, my heart was full with what a great job the author, Ian Buruma, did writing about one of the hardest questions of our times--how can we live together in a world of shifting, dissolving borders--borders between nations, between cultures, between economies, between individuals...

He has that beautiful kind of stretchy mind that can understand--and help you understand-- different people's world views--from the Dutch Muslim kid to the right-wing politician.
And he makes it a good story too, which you don't have to be an expert to get into.
Makes you want to weep with gratitude.

So, I'm sitting there in the coffee shop, and I feel a wave of longing:
"I want to write like that."

Immediately all the reasons I can't write like that appear, including this problem I have finishing things.
This morning, though, I woke up and full of energy to start exploring a question that won't leave me alone ever since I wrote that series of Star Trek and 1960s Design:

Why, WHY? does the Guggenheim museum look like the starship Enterprise?

This is not a question about Star Trek, this is a question about the forces that shape--literally shape--our lives, our sense of selves. Further, it's a deeply personal question because it's about the shape of things--buildings, housewares, clothes, cars--that formed and molded me, growing up in the 1960s.
Most of all, it's about the shape of ideas, which shape our selves.

The exciting thing about this question is that I don't know the answer.
I know a lot of people I could ask for help though, and I thought, well, what if you go out and start asking them?
So I called Joanna and asked if she'd help me start thinking about how to think about this.
She said yes.

If I break this Big Picture down, really it's just a series of blog posts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Avatar Lacked

I went to see Avatar for the special effects and because I liked James Cameron's Terminator 2. The special effects did not disappoint, but everything else did.
What a sodden lump the movie was, a big pile of warrior worship.

What it lacked entirely was any sense of humor.
A little irreverence.
A buffoon.

They got the Hero all right, but they got the Hero formula wrong.
There's supposed to be a funny, bumbling sidekick or an incongruous pair to lighten the load, like
R2D2 and C3PO;
the Terminator and the boy;
or Caldicott and Charters (right, in Hitchock's The Lady Vanishes).

Without them, the hero's self-seriousness is insufferable.

I've walked out of two movies in the last twelve months.
One was Avatar. The other was Year One.

I actually kinda liked Year One--a spoof of those mighty-tales-of-prehistory movies mixed with Bible epics.
I laughed at its irreverent humor, poking sticks at sacred cows.

Like this scrap of dialogue:

High Priest: "Behind these doors is the Holy of Holies, earthly domain of the gods. A place so ineffably sacred, so powerful, that he who enters is instant death."
Oh [Michael Cera]: "Who cleans it?"

I left, though, because it was full of stupid poop jokes designed for ten-year-old boys. I was bored.

Wonderful plantlife aside (I did love the plants! weren't those jellyfish/milkweed ones cool?), Avatar also bored me.
And scared me a little too. Warrior worship scares me. The blue people seem to be a mishmash of the Masai, the Maori, and the Marines.

I am not into warrior tribes.
I don't think I'd do well in them at all.
I'm with Samuel Beckett, who said he just wanted to sit on his ass, fart, and think of Dante. This won't cut it in a warrior tribe.

Did you notice, the blue people didn't have any books?
Or anyone who was less than a perfect physical specimen?

I know why we are nostalgic for nature--we in the overly industrialized world never get tested physically at all.

But I don't want to get tested. I'm not such a fan of Natural Selection, which is what all that "nature keeps the balance" hoo-ha boils down to.
I'm pretty sure I'd be among the first Nature would select to eliminate.

I don't want to wrestle a dragon and bend his will to mine. I don't even have a driver's license.
Sleeping in hammocks hurts my back and makes me seasick.
And when the tribe goes climbing up vines to reach the sky islands, all I could think of was how I couldn't do the rope climb in first grade.

You know people like me would fall off those pretty tree limbs as children and everyone would say how sad it was but that it was the will of nature.

These blue guys didn't want roads and medicine.
I want roads and medicine.

I like modernity.
It means a society that can afford to support losers like me and the Dude.

I want the mess of democracy.
I don't want to live in a tidy Spartan society.
As bink commented to me, it wasn't Sparta that left us the ancient Greek comedies.

I don't want to be part of any tribe that doesn't include Jack Black.

Left: King Leonidas, of Sparta, the first guy to say "Bring it on!"
Right: Avatar

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Advice to Writers (and Other Creative Types)

I. The Purpose of Advice

Advice is worth squat, in terms of teaching us what we don't know.

NOTE: I'm not talking about advice on stuff like how to change the mechanism in your toilet tank, which I recently had to do.
[Doesn't this toilet flapper look like a certain starship?]
That's not advice; for people like me, that's lifesaving.

No, I mean "Advice on How to Live the Creative Life," specifically advice to writers.

It's good stuff, but its purpose, I'd say, is not to advise us.
Rather, its purpose is to be a
permission slip
marching orders
affirming mirror
of what we already know. But that we don't credit enough, or are afraid to act on or commit to.

When it comes to advice, most of us are like Rose, Olympia Dukakis's character in the movie Moonstruck: we're looking for a reflection of what we already sense is true.

Rose's husband is having an affair, and she goes around asking everyone why men chase women. She suspects it's because they fear death.
People give her different answers, which she brushes off. When someone finally says, "It's because they fear death," she is elated.
"That's it!" she says. "Thank you for answering my question!"

We like to give advice for the same reasons, eh?
We get to shore up the constantly eroding shores of our beliefs.

If both adviser and would-be-writer need to say it and hear it a million times, it's not because we don't know it but because somehow we don't do it.

I mean, come on: what possible use could it be to advise writers to set aside time for writing?
That's not advice.
That's stating the bloody obvious.

Unless you're a blithering idiot, you've figured out that you have to sit down and write to be a writer, and that means taking time for yourself.
Time you don't have because you have a baby/job/sick parent/dry houseplants/dirty hair that all legitimately need attending to.

The use of that piece of advice isn't that it imparts information but that it gives us a permissions to be selfish, to take like a toddler.
If you're not brave enough to be selfish, you probably aren't going to create much personal work.

If I were to give advice to myself or any other writer/artist/creator, that'd be first:

No. 1. Cultivate Selfishness
No one's going to give you what you need to write, and probably no one's going to thank you for taking it.

And second:
No. 2. Take Your Life Seriously.

(Ooh... already I'm getting that rush people get when we write lists of advice--makes us feel like we have a clue. Could be addictive.)

II. The G Element

Here's what I think:
Hard work--making time to write and all that--is 99 percent of success.
So, by all means, let's take time to write, read, research...

But if you don't have that mysterious 1 percent of the G element (grace/genius/guts), you'll just be a hardworking success no one reads tomorrow.

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."
— Arthur Schopenhauer

Is there anything we can do to cultivate the G element?
(Sheesh. This sounds like a crap bestselling book.)

Well, I think there is.

We all have some genius---the Roman term meant one's guiding spirit:
the genie in the bottle.
We all see something no one else can see:
what it looks like when we look out of our eyes.

The genie feels all warm and floaty and protected its confinement, like a baby growing in the womb.
So, how to get the genie out of the bottle?

I think we know, even if we don't want to.
We could probably all write a list of advice--advice to ourselves.

So, here's my Advice to Myself and Others Who Would Pursue a Creative Life.
(The first 2 are above.)

3. Get Into Yourself
The only--only--raw material we artists have is our selves. We may work on paper, bronze, musical notes, binary code, wool, whatever, but the matter is our own being.
Attend to it.
As a friend who is a huge proponent of therapy says, "Do your work."

4. Get Out of Yourself
After we've mined our past, done our therapy, written our memoirs, we might want to look around.
We are not alone.

This may be a special challenge for Americans.
It was for me.
NOT because Americans are a mutant species of humanity, but because [relative] privilege and geopolitical isolation on a huge continent are like lube--they reduce the friction of rubbing up against others.

5. Get Over Yourself
It's human to get attached to stuff we make.
Get over it.
Criticism is hard to take.
But here's a weird thing: praise is not necessarily any easier.

For me, praise triggers more of the shame-and-blame cycle than criticism. Because praise makes me want to figure out what I did to deserve it, and then keep doing it.
If this isn't a killer recipe, I don't know what is.

Criticism makes me retreat to my bed.
But if/when I get up and write again, I know it's because I want to, other people's criticism notwithstanding.

6. Figure Out What Success Means to You
If you want to make money as a creator, say, praise/criticism will be a good guide--like an invisible electric fence.
It will give you a shock when you go outside its perimeters.

On the other hand, if authenticity is what makes you happy, take this fence too seriously and you'll imprison yourself.

Once when I was out for a walk, a border collie came rushing out of her unfenced yard, up to me. Her person called her back, explaining to me that there was an invisible fence, but
"She's learned that if she runs fast enough, it doesn't hurt."
The woman's golden retriever had stayed happily within the yard.

It pays to figure out what type you are.
A golden doesn't thrive without boundaries. If you need them, put them in place.

Western culture tends to hero-ify those who rush through borders. Or else it shoots them as they try to get through.
But that's rubbish.
It's who you are that determines how tightly you need to be held or how much open space you need.

7. There's No Right or Wrong Way; Its Your Way All the Way

This--self-determination--is an element of all the above steps, but it deserves to stand on its own, because it's hard to believe. Or, it has been for me. It's been hard for me to grant this truth to others; but that's key too.

8. You Have Genius
Believe it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Illustration Friday: "Wilderness"

I. The Third Person

I've noticed bloggers posting "Illustration Friday" art, but I didn't know who generated the themes. I never looked into it until I enjoyed having an assignment of sorts from Art Sparker (yesterday's "Books").

The prompts come from Illustration Friday dot com, "a weekly creative outlet/participatory art exhibit for illustrators and artists of all skill levels." (Doesn't seem to include writing or film.)

This week's theme was "Wilderness."
So, back to the lake I went, to try again to film those evocative cross-country ski tracks.

I keep thinking I'll create some beautiful abstract film.
But meaning and story will keep insinuating themselves.

Ansel Adams says there are always at least two people in every photograph:
the photographer and the viewer.
I'd add a third:
that person who wanders into the scene or comes up and asks, "What are you doing?"

Usually The Third Person gets cut out, but here I left him in. (Oh, it may not be clear--I am lying flat out, face down to film this.)

Wilderness; Or Not (48 sec.)

II. The Only Purity Is Death

And, because we've been discussing Romanticism, I poked a bit of fun at Mahler's Symphony no. 5. (I know it from the opening of Visconti's film of Death in Venice.)

Romanticism is great stuff, but it always cuts out that third person who ruins the Purity. Artistically this is OK, if a little limited; politically, the search for purity becomes deadly.
I'm not a Romantic.
Much as I may love some of it--and I do love this Mahler symphony--I always see the Monty Python side of things running alongside.

III. Paint By Numbers

Editing this flick this morning, I was influenced by A Single Man, which I saw last night. Colin Firth was terrific; but director Tom Ford, the fashion designer, was a little heavy handed. At first the movie is beautiful, but it becomes a pastiche of Calvin Klein ads and Fellini films.

One of Ford's tricks is to shift the hues to signal emotional connection. Effective the first couple times, but after that it became schmaltzy.
So, for fun I gave my opening scene a little rosy tone too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Prompt of the Week: Books

After waking up too dejected to make a micromovie yesterday --or even to do my dishes-- I ended up making two.
And both because of other people.

First, Kellie sent me Dutch sprinkles, which were like tiny percussion instruments drumming their little feet demanding to be filmed [they're in the post below].

Then, Art Sparker repeated her prompt for this week: "books." (On Thursdays, she links to people who take up the prompt.) Books! I had to create something new for that topic.
So, here I am at a local café...

"Proofreading a Manuscript" (55 sec.)

(The publisher I freelance for still proofs on paper, which I like.)

These micromovies surprise me. I thought I'd make nothing but sci-fi special effects, and instead Romanticism keeps sneaking in.
Maybe it's something about working with film on its own--not trying to tell a story--and film loves moody light?
I don't know.

I'm reminding myself of me at seventeen, when I read The Sorrows of Young Werther in bed recovering from an illness, on codeine, and was entirely satisfied with it--and me.
Not a Captain Kirk stage of my life, at all.

I'm surprised, but I'm pleased too, to meet this side of myself again.

*heads off to kitchen sink to tackle the dishes*

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dutch Sprinkles

What a lift!
I just got a box in the mail from my friend Kellie (thank you!). It included chocolate sprinkles from the Netherlands.
The Dutch don't strike me as particularly weird, but I do think it's kind of weird that they eat jimmies as a bread topping.

I wasn't even going to make a micromovie today, but this gift inspires me.

"Dutch Sprinkles" (34 sec.)

Dutch sprinkles are called "hagelslag," which means "hail."
These Kellie sent are not just any hagelslag--these are "Oranje feesthagelslag" and come in a special tin commemorating Queen Beatrix's twenty-five years on the throne--"25 jaar op de troon"--in 2005.
So, they're five years old now, but they still taste pretty good--because they're really chocolate,
not that nasty plastic stuff we in the USA get sprinkled on donuts.

Fun Fact: Dutch people eat about 30 million pounds (14 million kilograms) of hagelslag per year on about 850 million slices of bread.

*considers long life ahead without need to write "fun fact" sidebars*
*wipes eyes*

In which I meet Bill, in someone else's dream.

Jen wrote to me recently:
"OH YES! I just remembered I had a dream about you: I dreamed Leonard Nimoy had a garden party and somehow you and Dan and I were there.
And Nimoy called over Shatner, saying, "This wonderful woman is one of our biggest fans!" and they both hugged you, and I grabbed my camera and took a picture. : ) I think this can only bode well for you!"

I feel like this really happened... in some dimension.

I sent in the Netherlands ms yesterday and today I feel that post-completion slump. Will pick up soon. And will do the huge pile of dishes soon too.

Monday, January 18, 2010


A local theater is showing British film noir movies on Mondays, and tonight I went with friends to see the gorgeous The Third Man (1949) on the big screen for the first time.

It's a movie about shadows--in history, in personalities, and on screen.
When I got home, I grabbed my camera and went back outside to catch some shadows myself.

(Making these micromovies is showing me how much I have to learn--like how to keep the camera steadier. Sorry, this is enough to make you sea sick.)

"shadow" (19 sec.)

The music is the famous zither theme from The Third Man.

It's 20 degrees F outside so the snow makes a lovely crunchy-squeaky noise when you trod on it.

Building Site

I was eager for full darkness to arrive so I could go film the laser-intensity lights at a nearby building site, which I'd noticed the night before. The huge construction is wrapped in sheets of plastic and nylon too, against the cold, like something Christo would do.

When I got home with the footage, its beauty reminded me of Beethoven. I don't know enough about music--or how to talk about its emotional vocabulary--to say why.
Something noble, yet a little sad, about seeing the underlying structure?
Like the bones of a cathedral.

"Building Site" (3:04 min.)
Beethoven: Symphony no. 7; second movement

I spent a long time trying to get this under a minute. But, you know, that time limit is just an artificial construct of mine. I finally accepted it needed to be longer.
I left the original audio on, for the traffic sounds, but reduced the level.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Buona Serra

I was sad last night, knowing the Netherlands will be my last geography book, now that the publisher is ending the series.

I'm not super worried about finding a new job (well, a little bit); I even think it will be a good thing--an adventure--to get out there and do something new.
I'm just plain old sad I won't be spending such in-depth time with another country.

Anyway, I was feeling so low, I almost didn't go to Mark & Ann's Moonstruck dinner last night--a group of Catholic friends eating spaghetti and watching a favorite movie, Moonstruck.
I'm glad I went.
It cheered me up and gave me something ungloomy to film.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Miffy and the End of the World

I. Miffy
I'm that close to being done with the Netherlands ms.
Today I found my favorite Dutch thing yet: Miffy (left), by author/illustrator Dick Bruna.
Like the Netherlands in general, she doesn't charm me quite as much as Finland's weirder Moomin; but she's pretty OK!

Her dress signifies that she is a member of the royal House of Orange. Or else she has dyed it in carrot juice because the Dutch cultivated the sweet, orange carrot in the 1600s.

Before the 1600s, carrots were mostly white or yellow, and tasted bitter. You can look this up on the World Carrot Museum site.)

II. The End of the World

[I had written here about my work changing, but it was edited for legal reasons. Suffice it to say, I am no longer going to be writing geography books, as I have off and on for the last 6 years.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

end of the day

I've been filming at night--things look more beautiful in the dark.
Tonight I walked out onto the frozen lake to shoot cross-country ski tracks. But when I got home, it was the serendipitous lights in the background that fit my mood:
and so, a bit of Brahms before bed: Intermezzo for piano, opus 117, no. 1.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two Machines

[These are micromovies no. 4 and no. 5.]

What are these two machines?
They are common; but I'm not sure how obvious their identities are here.
Clue: I filmed them at the library.

I'll leave the answer in the comments.

(16 sec.)

I am interested in "found special effects": things that already exist in everyday life but seem really amazing when you take them out of context or manipulate them a little bit.
Sort of like how when you stare at a toothpaste cap long enough you start to see its miraculous beauty.

I duplicated the central clip in the movie above, and then increased and decreased its speed. And got a headache for it, too.

(18 sec.)

I'm especially proud of this one because I made the sound for it, which is new for me. While filmmaking is highly mechanized, I like the idea of keeping it as handmade as possible.

It's funny---I have no formal knowledge of filmmaking, but I see that within a few days of making these micromovies, I'm already applying my philosophy of aesthetics to them.
Basically that is, I never want to get too far away from scratching in the dirt with a stick, at least in theory. If that makes any sense.


(29 sec.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Infinity Café Flicks, no. 2

I am light-headed with love for this project of making a series of movies less than a minute long. Among other things, a year and a half after I bought it, my videocamera now feels like a friend instead of a tool. (It took an even longer time--about 4 years--before this happened with my computer.)
I decided to name my micromovie productions Infinity Café Flicks (links to my Vimeo page).

"Life Support Systems" (24 sec.)

bink gave me this l'astronave (starship) nightlight for Christmas.
I left Star Trek playing in the background, thinking I would delete the sound later, but a phrase Spock says caught me; so instead of muting the audio I duplicated the voice and layered it over the sound track.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Micromovie No. 1: Wall Light

I am entirely entralled by Dania's Movie a Day.
For me, her (usually) wordless, almost motionless brief films offer liberation from the tyranny of meaning.
(How revealing. Now you know. My brain will not stop assigning meaning to every damn thing. But it slows down when faced with abstractions. I find them restful.)

I couldn't wait to start my own movie sketchbook, so here's my first:
the sunlight moving across my bed and wall this afternoon.
It's 13 seconds long.

NOTE: This is a movie, not a slideshow. Each scene is filmed in real time, it's not a series of frozen photographs. I suppose it would look the same if it was, but the experience dissolves differently in the mind when you know you are watching a series of filmed moments.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Idiosyncratic Star Trek (TOS) Web-Bibliography/Link List

NOTE: I know I missed many wonderful stuff out there--if you have suggestions, I am open to updating this list. Please let me know! But I don't aim to compile an exhaustive list: this is just a personal webliography.

* * * Also, I only follow 1960's Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).

For the motherlode of William Shatner photos, visit zainin666's photobucket. As of this date (10/1/14), she has posted more than 5,000 photos of the man there:

Fanfic Update 2015
 An Archive of Our Own (AO3) provides 28,817 works in Star Trek, 4,471 of which are works in Star Trek: The Original Series

"A fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks, like fanfiction, fanart, fan videos, and podfic"

The Radiology Technician Schools posted "Top 50 Blogs for Trekkies" (
I'm familiar with many of the blogs, but mostly they're either more commercial, more actor/star focused, or more techy than I'm interested in.So, I finally did something I've been meaning to do: I trawled all of L'Astronave's 227 posts tagged "Star Trek" TOS (The Original Series) for some of the good stuff I'd linked to.
Among the 33 links I chose to pull out, the only one the radiology guys (I'm betting they are guys) and I both listed is My Star Trek Scrapbook (#3.1, below).

Just like you can tell a lot about a person from her bookshelves, weblink lists are also revealing--especially for a fandom like Star Trek's, which generates thousands and thousands of possibilities.
My links reveal that I am most interested in:

1. Captain Kirk (Shatner), in all his sexy, silly, self-confident splendiferousness

2. The inventiveness--especially if humorous--of fans who love Star Trek, as expressed in art (all sorts), video, and creative nonfiction (but not particularly in fiction)

3. slash (exploration of the erotic tension between Kirk & Spock, or K/S)

4. wondering "Why?" about all of the above

In the name of full authorial disclosure--and because bink suggested it--I'm starting with my autobiographical Star Trek vid, Star Trek, My Love (In My Life)

^ I made this summer 2008, but I see it could almost fulfill an assignment for Henry Jenkins's grad seminar in 2010 [see no.16 in the link list below]:
"Students will write a short five-page autoethnography describing their own history as a fan ... how you became invested in the media franchises that have been part of your life, and how your feelings about being a fan might have adjusted over time.")

You can also watch this in Russian, translated by J. L. Paparazzzzi for RusCon '09: Стар Трек, любовь моя ("Star Trek, My Love," in Russian).

And, finally, here is my Annotated, Illustrated List of Star Trek Sites I've linked to since I watched Star Trek again for the first time since the 1970s.


UPDATE 2016:
Star Trek tagged on TUMBLR

1. Look at His Butt
( "The podcast where LT and JK, two geek babes, talk about Star Trek, science fiction, books, TV, the Internet, sex toys, and William Shatner's butt."

The Shatner Butt Girls (right) are Lene Taylor and Jungle Kitty.
Look at His Butt is sort of a clipping service/clearing house, a Guardian of Forever of Kirk/Shatner blogs. Probably everything I link to here has been mentioned on LAHB at some point. (That's how I knew about the 50 Top Blogs in the first place.)

2. Live Journal's ontd_Star Trek
For hot-off-the-press fangirling, every so often I stop by this blog. Though they are mostly about 2009's ST: XI, the reboot, which I'm only tangentially interested in, the energy of the community is a lot of fun, and there's some Shatner action there too. 

They are already counting down the days until the next movie, Star Trek: XII (theoretically June 29, 2012).  
("ontd" = oh no they didn't/ "GQMF" = GQ [magazine] mother-fucker, i.e. guys like Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine who are hot enough to grace GQ, and, by extension all Star Trek fans.)

3. The Captain's Blog (

Started in 2007 by Uppercase Gallery, in Calgary, Canada, to accompany their Shatner Show, an exhibition and book of 76 illustrators' and artists' responses to what Shatner has meant to them.

3.1) Oh yeah, and My Star Trek Scrapbook ( "Since around 1971, when I was first bitten by the Star Trek bug, I have been collecting all sorts of items for my scrapbooks; photos, articles, ads, and more."

3.2) Shatner's Toupee: The Definitive Oracle
Riffs on this important topic, 
"And while in my lifetime I've seen science make extraordinary inroads into solving the most complex questions of life, after all this time I admit that I am thrilled that there are some things that forever will remain a mystery. For example, do I wear a toupee?"
--William Shatner, Up Till Now: An Autobiography 

A motherlode, added 2015: 
An Archive of Our Own (AO3) archives fanfic from 18,000+ fandoms!
It provides 28,817 works in Star Trek, 4,471 of which are works in Star Trek: The Original Series

"A fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks, like fanfiction, fanart, fan videos, and podfic"

4. Invisible Planets ( is fan fic from Jungle Kitty (half of Look at His Butt, above). A good place to start, as she posts Recommendations and other links, though they are now a few years old.

5. Live Journal's ontd_Star Trek hosts FRIDAY FAN ART/FIC/VID/MISC posts. The post for January 8, 2010, has 92 comments with links, so this seems a good place to start looking for current stuff (generally slanted toward the new crew).

6. Rude Person Stories--literary parodies of bad Kirk/Spock fan fiction (badfic)--are the only fanfic I have wholly loved. Written in the style of Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad, they are are hilarious, and inspired my own Dido/Aeneas Kirk/Spock Virgilian mashup.

7. The Fanlore wiki also has some links in its entry on the fandom of Star Trek: The Original Series.


8. Anna Francesca's playlist on youTube is good place to start. She's created a veritable archive of Star Trek vids.
Anna, displaying the kind of generosity common in ST circles, but even more of it, has gathered together 200 music vids, 400 non-music vids, 120 slash vids, vids of Star Trek actors in non-Trek roles, and more. (She links to her other loves too, such as Sherlock Holmes.)Anna, who is devoted to Spock prime, makes fine vids of her own, and unusually thoughtful ones too ( My favorite is Spock - It's a Sin, about Spock's complex relationship with his father.

9. Trekspeare: Shakespeare in Star Trek
From the blog "Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!" Bully embeded 20 Shakespeare-related Star Trek youTubes (not fanvids; only half are TOS) on April 23, 2009.

+ I list other favorites on my youTube channel.

[You could start with Anna Francesca's Star Trek Slash Playlist on youTube]

10. Mortmere (, is my favorite vidder, for her quirky tales of what Kirk & Spock get up to during slow shifts on the Enterprise.

11. Gin (
One of her best, imho, is her remix Slash Trailer--Star Trek III: The Search for Spock-aside from the music, it's unadulterated canon (straight from the original source material).

11.1) Imaginary Sanity (
With the above 2, she forms a sort of triumvirate of slash vidders. Margaret suggests "Hot N Cold".
Imaginary Sanity 's old blog on blogspost has some links to other slash sites. In 2010 she moved to Live Journal (

12. But I am not insulting anyone, I think, to say that no one has topped the excellent editing of the in/famous vid Closer, by T. Jonesy and Killa, which proposes a [disturbing] answer to the question, "What if they hadn't made it to Vulcan in time?" (during Spock's Pon Farr) and sets it to the Nine Inch Nails' song "Closer."

[Killa did not want her vids on youTube, they were all uploaded by other people. Issues of theft aside, I'm glad they did. (Ownership is a fuzzy issue, as we fans all "borrow"--or "poach," to employ Henry Jenkins's {no. 17} word--other people's work to make our fan vids...) "Razzle Dazzle" ( nails Kirk's hocus pocus charm on the head.]

SLASH [not video]

13. "The Big List of K/S Cliches"
For my money, everything you need to know about slash fan fiction is summed up, tongue-in-cheek, in this list by Jungle Kitty (of Look at His Butt).

14. All Your Trek Are Belong to Us
The funniest, most exhaustive look at kinky K/S, by Laura Goodwin, who states:
"Kirk and Spock: Not only are they lovers, but they are kinky as hairpins. HERE'S PROOF!
...Bear in mind this is an adult humor site featuring parodies of TOS (especially K/S) fanfic, Star Trek (the show), Gays, and BDSM people. I utilize broad, unsubtle caricatures toward comic effect, for entertainment purposes. Mistakes are probably intentional. If you don't think this stuff is hilarious, don't blame me: maybe you just don't get it."

15. "The Erotic Space"
The text of a talk given by Sheenagh Pugh (, at the Cultural Exchanges Conference at de Montfort University on March 1, 2006 (Slash Fiction Study Day) From the intro:
" I soon found that almost everything written about fan fiction was from the cultural, sociological or media studies viewpoint: as often as not, it boiled down to "who are these strange people and why do they do it? ... I wanted literary criticism of fan fiction as a genre, and since there didn't really seem to be a study from that literary viewpoint, I had a go at writing one, which turned into The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context (Seren, 2006)."
(Pugh is a poet and novelist who also blogs about writing on Live Journal: Sheenagh Pugh's Writing Blog.)

16. "How to Watch a Fan Vid" (Sept. 18, 2006), by Henry Jenkins (#17 , below), was written in response to the interest in the fan-vid "Closer" (no. 12, above) is one of the best things ever on fandom and slash.

ACA-FANS [Academic Fans]

17. Confessions of an Aca-Fan (
The blog of the prolific and highly readable Henry Jenkins, a professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California.
He's also the author of Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (left), and more.

Momo points me to H.J.'s exemplary syllabus, with reading list, for his graduate seminar Fandom, Participatory Culture, and Web 2.0 (Jan. 9, 2010). Wow. (How's this for a clever title: "Cunning Linguists: The Bisexual Erotics of Words/Silence/Flesh"?)

Lots more on Organization for Transformative Works' peer-reviewed journal, Transformative Works and Culture (TWC).
"TWC publishes articles about transformative works, broadly conceived; articles about media studies; and articles about the fan community. We invite papers in all areas, including fan fiction, fan vids, film, TV, anime, comic books, fan community, video games, and machinima."
18. Star Trek Studies Online
Catherine Grant's blog Film Studies For Free ( "brings you its Enterprising link list of freely-accessible, online Star Trek studies." A list of live links to academic works with words like "performativity" and "liminal" in the titles.

19. The Politico-Cultural Economic Analysis of Star Trek (
The course description/syllabus of a college course offered in 2006 by Dr. Satya J. Gabriel, Professor, Economic Department, Mount Holyoke College offered a J-term Star Trek-based course:
"This course introduces students to political economy, post-structuralist methodology, and the application of economic theory to an important body of cultural artifacts. These cultural artifacts are the Star Trek films and television series."


20. Live Journal Icons by Mrs Spock (
She also explains something about how to make icons--a very popular fan-art form--if you scout around, and she blogs on Live Journal too: Spock Is an Elf (

21. Edward Gorey's "The Trouble with Tribbles" ( by the most excellent cartoonist Shaenon Garrity.
I always thought this episode was a little too cute. Garrity remedies this.

22. "We Has Tribbles and Also Troubles" (
The LOL Trek (LOLcat talk applied to Star Trek) version of the episode "Trouble with Tribbles".
Cuteness put to good use.

23. Star Trek Fan Art (58,958 pieces, as of today) at at Deviant Art (

24. "Whipped Kirk" (right), one of the photoshops by bink, my Fly Off The Wall collaborator. Many more of them, featuring her wire-haired fox terrier Joop, turn up in bink's ST vids:
Star Trek: So Fluffy and Star Trek: Dog Gone

24. b3ta's Shatner Image Challenge (
19 pages of fan art in response to the challenge: "The new Star Trek film [2009] is out, and it's great. The only problem is it completely lacks William Shatner. So let's see Shatnerised movies: Shatner on the Roof, The Good The Bad and The Shatner, Indiana Shatner, Shatnerman! SHATNER!"

25. Mortmere's Live Journal blog (
Only a few "photo manips" (photoshopped images) here, but they're all good.
I used this one (left) in my Virgil Kirk/Spock parody vid.


27. "Captain Kirk's Bulging Trousers" ( by Mark Simpson (, Feb. 26, 2003,
A smart and funny homage to The Captain (there can be only one): "It was Shatner's Kirk, with all his magnificent flaws and vanities, however, who made "Star Trek" more than just another canceled '60s sci-fi series. He saved the show from its own appalling virtuousness --or, to put it more pretentiously, he was the Dionysian bass line to Roddenberry's Apollonian synth music."

28. "William Shatner, You Are a Very Special Guy" by Chris Michael, May 22, 2009,

Simpson's article (#27) explains the appeal of Kirk, this helps explain the baffling appeal of The Shat.

29. Autistic Trekdom, by Matthew Baldwin, The Morning News, May 15, 2009, (
An interesting take on Spock, by a writer who is father to an autistic son: 
"In the latest Star Trek movie, Gene Roddenberry’s message of diversity takes on new relevance as more people are diagnosed with Autism. ...As I watched this film last Saturday, and Mr. Spock walked onto the bridge with his stiff demeanor and his formal language, my initial reaction was: 'Oh man, that guy is so Asperger’s.'"


30. You can watch all the original episodes online at
 CBS: Classic Star Trek (, in the USA anyway. As of 2015, you have to be a CBS member, but you can get a 1-week free trial.
Many are also on youTube now.

31. Transcripts of all TOS episodes ( Not full screenplays with names and directions, just dialogue. Can be handy when you're looking for a certain phrase.

32. Trek Core
The almost miraculous (to those of us who grew up pre-Internet, anyway) multimedia site Trek Core has screencaps of every episode, audio clips, and more for every Star Trek series and movie, including Star Trek: XI, which is where I finally found this still (right) of Pine sitting like Shatner, at the very end.

And finally...

33. L'Astronave (
Oh, hey! That's me!
My personal favorite is "Captain Kirk's Parted Lips". I wrote it before I read Simpson's "Bulging Trousers" (no. 27); but we come to awfully similar conclusions because, well... Kirk is all that.

The one angle I took that I haven't seen elsewhere is my series of 17 posts setting Star Trek's look in the design context of its times, from the shape of bras and Jell-O molds to Op Art and Sputnik:
Star Trek and 1960s Design.
I still think this should be a shiny coffee table book.
My proudest moment came when I noticed the uncanny similarity of the Guggenheim museum and the Enterprise.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Video Sketchbook

Every so often I go wandering around blogspot, looking at bloggers who list on their profiles some of the same favorites or interests I do.
Yesterday I found Dania at A Movie a Day (we both list The Lives of Others).
She's a filmmaker who makes and posts a video sketch every day. They are very short--less than a minute. Some feel very Zen, some ironic, some are autobiographical (I love the one of her bookshelves).

Some put me in mind of Alfred Stieglitz's abstract photographic studies, like the cloud series "Equivalent".
Right: "Equivalent" 1930
"The theory of equivalence... was infused by Kandinsky's ideas, especially the belief that colors, shapes, and lines reflect the inner, often emotive "vibrations of the soul."

Dania describes her blog:
"I'm in a funk and need to get out. I have no problem watching a movie a day, but find it more and more difficult to get my video projects done. Work or scheduling issues seem to keep getting in the way.
An artist I know set out on a project to make a drawing a day as a way to deal with these problems. I've decided to use a Flip camera and iMovie to make one short video sketch a day. Some narrative, some not, hopefully some interesting. We'll see what happens when there are no excuses."

You know, when I got my videocamera in August 2008, I immediately started working on an ambitious film (the 8 min. Orestes and the Fly). I've barely played around, visually, with my camera at all. (I think partly because I've always been so attuned to words.)
Now I want to stop and experiment, independent of the need to communicate a narrative story.

I can't do anything (shouldn't even be blogging this) until I finish the Netherlands job, but when I do, I want to start a video sketchbook too. Maybe not a daily one, but I want to mess around and find my own visual vocabulary.
For now I'll just keep taking photos of the books by my bed, which form weather patterns of their own.