Monday, April 24, 2017

Four Copies!

Praise the day! bink just successfully printed 4 copies of our Trump-time ABC zine Baby's First Resist/story on her printer. (Image registration had successfully resisted us at the Xerox machine.)

(They're kind of expensive to print--all that black ink--so we're going to put the zine online. Soon!)

Try, try, again, afresh afresh afresh

Bloody hell [she says in fake Britishness], I schemed but utterly failed not to turn into a pudding while writing over the winter. 
I repeat myself, but I keep marveling at how it gets harder at mid-life to pop back up like a bouncy toy--more like dragging yourself out of bed, requiring a gigantic effort of will. Not my strong suit.

I chant the last line of this poem, the only Philip Larkin thing I like (that I know of) to GET MYSELF MOVING this morning, off to the YW after mumble mumble months away and sampling many springtime brews.
Ugh. Here I go.

"The Trees"

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again 

And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

by Philip Larkin

Accidental Compositions (Science March)

bink took this photo with an accidental Renaissance nautilus-shell-swoop composition at the MN March for Science:

Not a Renaissance composition, but I accidentally lined up bink's Robby the Robot sign, below right, with the St Paul Capitol, revealing the secret source of all domes (like Chariots of the Gods!):

This side of the sign get as much attention as EVE on the other side, but at least one marcher loved it---he took its picture and walked off repeating, "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!"
That's from the Lost in Space (1965–1968) robot, of course: here.
The original Robby the Robot appeared in Forbidden Planet (1956).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Maybe I am an artist?

I met this woman, Emily, on the light-rail platform on the way to the March for Science yesterday. I looked more closely at her beautiful, double-sided sign and asked her,
"Are you an artist?"

 I was pleased that she simply said, "Yes."

I told her the question baffles me, and she said it did her too, that she says yes, but feels uncertain because she doesn't make her living off it...

I decided I was just going to say Yes too, if anyone asked me at the March if I were an artist, which, in fact, several people did.
They mean what I did:
This isn't your first rodeo, is it?

And it's absurd to let money define the matter, when so few people who make art have the business acumen or even the desire to make their living on their art.

Better to use this as an indicator:
I was impressed with the opaque white Emily used on her sign--she told me it's a Pitt marker by Faber & Castell, and I want to run out and buy one.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

#March for Science MN

Spock was indeed the correct image to paint on a poster for the Science March, which one woman told me was the Nerd Prom--tons and tons of people commented on the poster and took photos--but no one loved it as much as one little boy loved bink's EVE poster--she lowered it, and he actually clung to it, reluctant to let go...

 MPR included a photo, below, in their online gallery; that's bink with a slice of EVE on the far right.

Oh, neat, I see the Star Tribune-showed my Spock too, posing with Capt. Jean-Luc Picard!

About ten thousand people came out on a gorgeous spring day to march to the MN Capitol.They were very polite--and tidy: one volunteer trash picker-upper told me she was finding only old cigarette butts to pick up.

I was too busy holding my sign to take careful photos, but here's a selection. 
I was bit disappointed there weren't more pop-culture signs, but I learned sciencey things by asking people what their signs meant, like, 212º is the boiling point, and the square root of -1 is nothing ("not a real number"), and there are only 118 elements, and stuff like that.

But there was Casablanca

A guy in a Star Trek uniform was carried a fantastic Rod Serling Twilight Zone + Trump mashup :

There is no other planet for bees.

 Both these marchers wore T-shirts that said
…also Tang & Pikachu, I guess

"Let's Go to Space" was my personal favorite:

Science March Saturday: Open the Door

Leaving to take the bus/light rail to the Capitol in an hour.
You've seen my Spock & Dalek poster.

I'm taking my camera, hoping to see lots of pop-culture references. 


So--I ingested another weird cultural product this week. I decided by "weird" I mean human behavior I don't recognize.

After watching Sweet Smell of Success, I read The Reader (I've never seen the movie), by Bernhard Schlink, 1995, a novel about a German teenage boy in the 1950s who  has an affair, reads aloud to, and falls in love with a woman in her thirties. 


Later, as a law student, he attends a trial of concentration camp guards---she is one of them.

Turns out she's illiterate, and her efforts to hide it out of shame has shaped her life--including taking the guard job because she was about to get promoted at a factory into a management position where her illiteracy would be exposed.

OK. Fine. 
Great point that our private motivations drive us sometimes way more than larger political ones.
(Am I going to the Science March because I want to make a political point, or because I really wanted to paint a poster of Spock?)

But she also ends up letting a group of Jewish women burn in a locked church when she could have unlocked the doors---and I don't see how being ashamed of illiteracy in any way justifies or even explains that, as the book sort of implies it does.
Or, at any rate, the boy/man seems to think it somehow makes her forgivable, because he reads and mails books on tape to her after she's imprisoned.

I just don't recognize this.

I recently got an email from a former friend in CA---I'd ended the friendship a couple years ago because she was so rude to her step-daughter.  I'd called her on it, as have others, and she wouldn't even see it.  It doesn't help the step-daughter, but I couldn't continue to be friends with this person.

She wrote a chatty note at Easter, saying she'd love to hear from me, but I just couldn't stomach it.
And I can't see how this fictional man could stomach intense contact (when you read aloud, don't you have the listener in mind?) with a woman who burned people alive. 

There's this Big Question the woman asks the judge at her trial:
"What would you have done?"

And that's a great & important question to ask ourselves before we judge anyone in history, even Nazi prison guards.
Aren't there circumstances when we would have done the same, slipped into moral numbness, etc?

I can see taking a nasty job to hide a personal shame; I can see doing all sorts of murky moral things; but imagining standing outside a building on fire full of girls and women screaming as they burn, it seems really bloody easy to answer that question:

And if I didn't, I wouldn't think I was innocent.

And if you didn't, I wouldn't send you presents in the mail.

So, the book fails, though I don't condemn it for trying to grapple with the moral burdens the post-Nazi generation bears.

In fact, that's part of my motivation for going to the Science March:
I often think, with Sappho, that people in some future time will think of us.

How will I look?
I figure the least I can do is once in a while stand up and say,

I mean, geez, I don't even have any personal shame to protect.


I'd hoped to take paper copies of the ABC zine to the march, in case I ran into people I know, to give to them. Yesterday bink spent all afternoon carefully laying out the pages on the computer and printing master copies.

This is the end-page---with my bug-mice versions of me & bink:
We were so happy...
but when we Xeroxed the masters at FedEx, they didn't align, front to back.

A patient staff member spent an hour helping us--frustrated, we ended up saying we'd come back with a flash drive, but in fact we both felt we'd rather just forget it, plunk the whole thing online, let it be. Easier... and free.
We'll see. (I do like it better as a zine you can hold.)

OK, off I go! Happy day to you!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Strange Smell

A while ago a friend asked me "What's the weirdest thing you've seen in fandom?"

I had a hard time answering because the things humans do don't usually strike me as weird. Disturbing, yes--like cruelty; stupid and self-defeating--all the time; kinda kooky, sure. 
But weird means something more powerful than merely "kooky" or "strange"... 

Let's see... what's weird?
Hm... Well, Jonathan Winters is weird. He thins the line between humor and horror almost to nothing.

1:55 "Mr. Bushmat's Trip to Yellowstone"

(Dean Martin is a rotten straight man here.)

Last night I watched a movie that seemed weird to me: 
Sweet Smell of Success. It was made in 1957. 

Come to think of it, lots of other 1950s movies strike me as weird.
Like All That Heaven Allows (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1955), when the "older" woman's children get her a TV set to distract her from her "younger" gardener. (Jane Wyman & Rock Hudson). 
Nice sapling there, Rock.

Look, little china coffee cups in both movies! Maybe that's what's weird? Even Sweet Smell's Mr. Destroyer-of-Lives J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) drinks out of these dinky cups.

But, no. It's the sexual repression of this era that feels so weird--there was something especially tense about the fifties: the movies are full of overwrought drives pressing against glass windows. It's like if they act on their desires, the Communists will come busting through.
 All That Heaven Allows ^

Splendor in the Grass (dir. Elia Kazan, 1961, still with that fifties feel) is another weird one: 
Natalie Wood goes mad because she can't have sex (with Warren Beatty).

And James Dean literally squirming with desire in the Ferris wheel in East of Eden (also Elia Kazan, 1955) [supposedly Dean decided not to pee beforehand, to convey that distracted discomfort]:

The sexual element in Sweet Smell, however, would still be weird today:
Middle-aged powermonger Hunsecker is obsessed with his fragile nineteen-year-old sister, Susan (Susan Harrison), and the whole plot revolves around him trying to break up her engagement to Steve Dallas (Martin Milner).
He's always stroking her fur coat...
So, that's uncomfortable, but it's more than the sexuality that's weird about the movie...
What was?  Well, when I got to the end, I was baffled: What is this? Why did they make this movie? I felt I was missing something. 
And I was. 
When I read about it, I see I was missing the context:  the movie was specific to a political situation: it was like a documentary about Walter Winchell and other columnists, who operated like political bosses.

Oh, OK. It's not as weird if I know it's about specific political figures.
In fact, that opens it up: 
Hunsecker is like Trump--he's all about twisting the truth to gain power and to humiliate people.
Also Trump has a sexual thing about a young female relative of his.

People like that attract creepy people who suck up to them like eyeless worms. Tony Curtis is great as the parasite.

These guys really had something--they were great together in Trapeze (dir. Carol Reed, 1955) too. That was more of a romantic relationship---a different kind of tension. Works either way.

Astro & Eggplant

Astro watches Maura grill eggplants to make baba ganoush.

Maura & bink got temporary henna hand tattoos---with red/brown henna.  Did you know black henna has some intense dye in it that can cause terrible allergic reactions?


bink & Maura's magnolia tree is in bloom.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Umberto Eco, Starsky & Hutch, and the "Shiver of Innovation"

I was handing over a dollar at a used bookstore for a Starky & Hutch paperback from 1978, and I made some sarcastic comment about it being a classic.

The clerk replied, 
"The Italian scholar Umberto Eco said Starsky & Hutch was one of his favorite TV shows."

"You're kidding!" I said.

"It's online, you can look it up," he said.

So I did.
From a Paris Review interview in 2008:
Columbo's dog & Umberto Eco share an interest:
Eco liking Starsky and Hutch cracked me up, partly because this blog has tags for both, but mostly I was amazed because while Starsky and Hutch (Glaser & Soul) generate a lot of erotic chemistry and are great at running and jumping, the rest of the show itself--its plots, characterization, etc.--is terrible.
Of course, that doesn't matter to a fan who doesn't care much about the story (which they already basically know anyway)--they are watching for exactly that eroticism or action or whatever it is that interests or pleases them. 

And it turns out, that seems to be what Eco's getting at in his essay I just read, which I found googling Eco and S&H:"Interpreting Serials" in the Limits of Interpretation: Advances in Semiotics (1990). 
Eco wrote, "Seriality in cinema or television is motivated less by narrative than by the nature of the actor himself," 
and, "Even the most banal narrative product allows the reader to become by an autonomous decision a critical reader…".

That's modern fandom! 
An engaged fan (what Eco calls a "smart reader" of culture, as opposed to a "naive" one) of a pop-culture product like Starsky & Hutch chooses to become a critical reader of what is a banal, repetitive product. She is, Eco say, "not a victim of the strategies of the author" [e.g. media producers] but "evaluates the work as an aesthetic product and enjoys the strategies implemented..." 

Engaged fans are well aware they are doing this re-evaluation--they may say simple things such as, "I know the show is terrible, that's part of the fun", and many have a sophisticated understanding of how mass-media production and manipulation works.

And Eco goes on,
"We know very well that in certain examples of non-Western art, where we always see the same thing, the natives recognize infinitesimal variations and they feel the shiver of innovation." 

LOL! Yes!
The media "native" combs the text of a repetitive, seemingly almost meaningless show like Starsky & Hutch for infinitesimal variations and reads meaning in them--or into them (they "innovate" meaning--very shivery)--quite consciously. 

Eco asks--this is 1990,
"What should we think about the birth of a new public that, indifferent to the stories told (which are in any case already known), only values the repetition and its own microscopic variations? … Ought we to expect for the near future a true and real genetic mutation?"

Why, yes. Buckle your seatbelt, it's going to be a Tumblr.

He ends "Interpreting Serials" with this fun thought experiment: What would people in the future make of Columbo, if they had only one surviving episode,  as we now have only a few surviving Greek plays?

His description of Columbo is so fun--I have copied the last paragraphs:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Astro Resist/story

Astro is the cover model for Baby's First Resist-story--the last of several titles for our ABC book (and I know it's the final one because now it's been inked).

Astro is the most attentive dog I've ever known---here he is checking on what his person bink is doing in the bathroom sink (she's washing off the resist):

Each illustration, though drawn by one of us, is truly a collaboration--we spent more time kicking around ideas of how to illustrate some of the letters than we spent making the illustration itself.
We mostly used pop-culture references, but for the cover decided to use something personal: Astro. 
I traced onto a board my photo of Astro running around with my sock, bink added a streamer, and I painted the wash-away white parts--bink did the final steps of inking and washing (because we're doing these at her house and the paint and ink have to dry between steps, and I'm not there for all of that).

It needs some tweaking. bink scans and makes the final touch-ups in the Pro-create program on her iPad [here displaying some of the other pages]:

This has been a great Despair-Management-in-Trumptimes project. It was meant to be a quickie-project to do in the two weeks I was waiting for the editor to return my book, but it's taken closer to two months--that's been a good thing.

We're almost, almost done.
Today bink printed all the  illustrations and made a mock-up of the final zine. It looks better than I'd expected--like I said, it'd started as a throw-it-together project but ended up taking a lot of brain and hand work. I'm really pleased with it, in fact.

Hm. What shall we do next?

UPDATE: Maura just sent me this photo. I like Astro, Astro likes me:

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Are You an Artist?"

"Are you an artist?" someone asked me, again.

Are you?

I'm really not. 
I draw pictures, like kids do, because drawing is fun: I just never stopped when I grew up. It's not a huge part of how I express myself––that would be words.
But I guess I'm into it.

That's me ^ on the shore of Lake Superior in 1992, drawing with a burned stick, and me yesterday, touching up the ABCderian.

There's this too, which I posted a few years ago. Whatever I am, seems I've been it all along.

Science March Signs: THE DALEK'S REPLY; Mr. Spock's Head Hurts, Thinking of Trump

UPDATED: I finished painting my poster for the Science March (Earth Day, April 22).  
On one side, Mr. Spock ponders the state of Science in the era of Trump. 
                                               Now, on the other, a Dalek replies:

Spock's full quote, from Star Trek episode “Space Seed,” 1967, is, "Insufficient facts always invite danger, Captain."  And how 'bout that? Without even trying, I now have three entries under "Spock & Trump".

bink's, in process below, is EVE holding a seedling, from WALL-E, with the slogan, THERE IS NO PLANET B:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wash-Away Wall: Come Over!

Still working on wash-away illustrations with bink for our Trumptime ABCderian, Baby's First Resistary. 

Do you know this photo, below? 
I ask because I don't know how well-known it is, and whether we should include an appendix of explanations-- my librarian soul always says, yes, add documentation.

I had used Humpty Dumpty to illustrate "W for Wall" but decided I wanted a positive example rather than a warning, so I did it again, using the above photo (by Peter Leibing) of nineteen-year-old Conrad Schumann defecting from East Germany by jumping over what would become the Berlin Wall, in the first days of the wall's construction in 1961. 

People on the Western side called to him, Komm rüber! ("come over").

There is a benefit that comes from making physical art---I have to pay close attention. Even just copying it, I enter into an image more than if I just stare at it.
And by using my hand on paper, I contact it differently than I do when I manipulate an image on a computer. (Not better, just different.)

Copying the photo I noticed all sorts of details--his boot on the wire--is he pushing it down so it doesn't snag him, or is that a photo illusion? and, especially, though I didn't include them, the onlookers in the background. 

Here's bink washing off my resist (the high spots are washable white tempera paint, the ink, of course, is waterproof):
it's like reaching into the Cracker Jack box--half the fun is the reveal.

 The results almost always need a little touch-up.
We need softer borders, not harder ones.

Visiting the Gorn

The Gorn lizard captain was never happy living with the other toys in their Castle of Peace here, so I donated him to Diamonds Coffee Shop, which has several Star Trek TOS toys among other toys & things, including a model of the original Enterprise hanging from the ceiling.

The Babars (Baby Babar lives in Celeste's purse) had bonded with the Gorn, however, and on Sunday I took them to visit: