October 2006 - A. R. Stone

                     Shunning night, mares hurried
                     reined back by drear vision
                     dark done by; Dawn, ransom
                     dream herd from vile 'suasion!

                     - "Rionnaird Tri N-ard" excercise

Mood of the Month:

As my first month without a job-job since 1997 and before that in 1992, I decided to keep some kind of track of work and thoughts in a public forum rather than my tried and true journals or correspondence. Correspondence seems to be hard on many people and my curiosity is piqued on this. For some, of course, the onus of keeping up one's end of the conversation is too dragging, as it is with all of us at some points, but with some of us more like all the time. But there seems to be something so formal about the written word, as if one should study what one has written because, in the process of writing words down, they become serious. Is this some kind of Johnsonian legacy or a holdover from illiteracy? It might be more that I am flip, blithe and do not take anything I say seriously, said or written. It seems strange to me to be held to one's words, as if they were given in oath even during a casual conversation. How many times has someone said to be, "but you said 'blah-blah'" as if it were a signed statement never to be revised or forgotten or left in some context of the murky past. I know that I irritate people with my irreverance for the word, especially the written word.

Part of this is a legacy of family in that I come from a long line of people who use words like "thingamagig" and get flustered when they're actually called to say specifically what they mean. Some more careful people want words to mean one thing and one thing only whereas that never occured to me and would not have except that I've heard it more than once. A word means what you want it to, well, not exactly that, but they are like gestures, a creative soup to bend and mold to express something, maybe a thought, maybe a feeling, maybe even something there in front of both speakers. I guess it's no suprise that many of my favorite books are old enought to have obscure language or written by linguists or people who think words are fun, like Joan Aiken. But again, it says something more about me that I don't like being pinned down, I don't like being specific rather than gestural, and I like words for their verbage in the same way that I'll grow a plant because I can't find it in the supermarket. I'm more of a Winnie the Pooh rather than a Plato when it comes to words. This is not to say that conversations can't be serious, but I'm intrigued by how a conversation spoken can be casual and the written word is somehow not. All is both, in that one can swear in testimony or choose one's words carefully in a careful situation or one can just blather and have it be more fun. In my long-winded, long-winding way, I've decided to do this blog thing rather than put people under the onus of having to try to come up with some kind of reply, although I'm not stopping letter writing--this is public/private not an exchange, really.

I've also decided not to hold back. I've tried to explain the holding back thing. It's a matter of consideration. I don't usually put myself out or be true to myself because I'm not out there to do that; I'm out there to listen and encourage. It's not to say that people who don't live with me don't have to have some tolerance for verbal acrobatics, not of the serious kind, but of the razzle dazzle sort, like poor Max growing up trying to learn English with a Mom who subbed in words from any language available. Now Max gets back at me with speaking Japanese which I don't know. I don't know what kind of brain I have, but I've decided that if I want to be all over the place, well that's okay. You can skip ahead or roll your eyes or just laugh, which is what I hope, because nothing I do is serious in that way, only serious in that it is life and life is worthy. To not be serious, but to be caring and happy is my goal. Can one be caring and not be serious? Agh! When people get serious on me I want to joke around. Sometimes people grok it, sometimes they get mad as if I were the Zen master with the stick.

Monthly Revelation: (Or can she really be that dumb?)

My dumb thing for the month was realizing that when people ask questions, they often don't want to know things. This has come up before--I don't hear rhetorical questions; I take them seriously--but I really could not believe that people would ask questions not wanting information. How bizarre. I'm always delighted when something I've done for all these years is completely wrong in some situations. I mean a little more than the "how are you?" situation; when I was told it was not a question, I just thought that was stupid. Why or How would a person ask "how are you" unless they wanted to know? Hm. In my dumb brain, this was just one of those things that has no reason. But this month I discovered that people ask questions asking not to find out your opinion, but to have you confirm theirs! What???? Is this really so? Pat my head and tell me that this can't be so. No, I see you all in my mind's eye shaking your heads because this was basic communication skills 101. Which I missed. In my family, if you were old enough to have an opinion, you got in there and argued, no one asked you questions for you to agree with them. They asked you questions to find out the truth. After a few instances where I got told off for being evasive and lying, I finally learned that I wasn't supposed to give my reasons or my opinion, I was supposed to AGREE! Holy moly! Talk about a trap. If one is taken at one's word and one is supposed to agree--yes, yes, I know, it's not set up to be logical; it's set up to be intimidating. I think back and I wonder how many people I've offended by not recognizing this question as a demand for agreement. In the recent run-in with my ex-boss, I realized and said to him that he was not looking for information. This vanished under his wrath in the silence where I was supposed to admit to all the faults that he lay at my feet, not because they were factual, but because he was laying fault on me and the correct response was for me to ask his forgiveness, which he then would deny to boost his righteous anger. To deny him this opportunity fed his wrath and justified his saying that I couldn't tell him the truth about anything and even my saying "hello" was suspect since I wouldn't agree with this fundamental opinion (only he would get angry to have me call it opinion since it was FACT). Sheesh. But bananas are bananas and suddenly the scene in "The Taming of the Shrew" where Kate finally agrees with her husband that the sun is really the moon and then gets chewed out for that as well makes sense.

How can people expect conversations to be worth anything if they don't honor the basic protocols? There is also a push to take exclamation points out of prose. But is not an exclamation point indicating an exclamation? Oh! she exclaimed. If you start a sentence with how, where, when, who, etc., or invert the verb and noun, is that not a question? Is not a question a request for information? It baffles me that the very people who would jump on me for not being SERIOUS are those who ask questions not looking for information or don't like exclamations...is there a pattern here?

Books of the Month

Anything by Joan Aiken because of sentences like this: "Larmentable Scuddy weather we be having." She has an alternate history series where the Georges never made it to the throne, but writes about James III and Richard IV and Hanoverian plots and the secession of Northumberland--all of it fun and well worth anyone who likes Harry Potter or Dickens.

Anything by Rex Stout involving Nero Wolfe, a polygot of massive brains. He and Archie Goodwin are every bit as fun as Holmes and Watson. The TV version is wonderful and does the books a service. Rex Stout thought Jane Austin was the only woman writer who was better than a man. He was re-reading "Emma" on his deathbed. Jane Austin is like going back in time--talk about subbing books for comfort food! (exclamation) Re-read the "Taran" series by Lloyd Alexander, appreciated again for different reasons, not for writing which I now don't like enough, but for some of the scenes and the character build up over five books. Also re-read some of Baum's work, and disappointed again. He seems to hone things down too much and ends up with a rushed feeling. Re-reading "Ivanhoe" which continues to be a delight. Found out Garth Nix was the zombie king, so I may not read him.

In the non-fiction world, recommended reads are "Solviva" by Ana Edey: a book about greenhousing, but also answers some questions such as "are composting toilets any good?". On a mission, she's a tough read, but I loved looking at the pictures. For those people interested in plants and self-sufficiency. Also in that line are any of the books on Highgrove, the Prince of Wales's estate that he converted into an organic farm. I completely did a 180 on bonnie princie Charlie, whom I thought to be a horse and fox person; reading about Highgrove in his own words was absolutely impressive. I am so glad to have had the oppportunity to revise my thinking on him and what he is doing with his life. If you're cynnical about global warming and all, read about Highgrove. The Prince is almost single-handedly dragging English organics into the the real world. Bravo, Charles! I especially like his humor when talking about the "Royal sewage". He has a similar toilet set-up as Ana Edey--something in our future?

Reading various books by Suzuki Roshi, the primiere Zen man in the US who formed Tassahara and the SF Zen Center. Interesting man, interesting words, very no-nonsense and very clear. I'm leaving off more and more social and philosophical stuff, spending my time on history and practical stuff like weaving, dyeing and gardening. Crafts are fascinating and would take pages and pages; luckily someone else has written more than I'll ever know.

Art of the Month

I often talk about how small things in our lives connect to the larger world: an argument with a boss leads to a talk of all bosses and all employees and why are things the way they are? I am ravenously curious just about everything. Some people think the world of people is motivated by greed or desire or fear, but curiousity is a force, and for me, it is a large chunk of gray matter. I think creativity and curiosity are tied fairly closely. People usually think of curiosity and nosiness or curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge, but curiosity can also be: "what would happen if I did this?" Often with diasterous consequences! So, on with the exploration of life, which keeps me going. Another of my questions of the month was: can anything of value be described without using material or monentary terminology? Try it, it's harder than you think. But the big breakthrough was realizing what my artistic motivation is. Yes, I know, I've only been an artist for more than forty years; so why now to suddenly realize why? Well, it's tied to this whole material valuation thing. There may be four major classes of artistic evaluation (sub in music or poetry or any of the arts). Beauty is first and foremost for many people. Popularity is another valuation that most people like to deny, but many feel that the test of time or the market give a thing it's value. Another is interest whether is it a protest or an argument or a new idea or just something rare; if it sparks interest it can be valued on that. The remaining valuation is usually defined as something to do with god/universe whatever you want to call it, sometimes couched in nice words like Truth. Often just a feeling, this kind of valuation is based on inspiration or elevation or even disgust and antipathy. For some years I have realized that my art had a greater impact seen in a grouping, but did not know why. I think it is because I am trying to channel certain feelings and mind sets.

I started doing large pictures again after the last round of the shell girls in Florida, sparked by a fascination with shells found on the beach on our walks. I had done the round of bookcovers, children's illustrations, and sketches, but wanted to do something large and colorful again. But my experience with the nudes made me want to do something less controversial. I realized as I started thinking about painting that I wanted to avoid some pitfalls that I saw in art. Of course, pitfalls meaning places that some people thrived but many artists ended up flailing. I did a test of some images on a couple of places that had galleries and listed "hits" on various pictures. Inevitably, the sexiest pictures got the most hits. Beauty fell sharply to sexual provocation in the net world. There is nothing wrong with this, just that I did want to be in that ghetto. I thought about doing fairies, but that fell short to my desire to just do people. There are so many images out there that it's hard to try to draw anything without thinking "oh, I'm copying such and such, or this has been done better by someone else." But I decided to ignore that censure and just do something in a style I liked, that of Livemont, Berthon, Mucha and such--Art Nuveau. I decided that one of the "feelings" I wanted to channel was the feeling of affection between women that was common a hundred years ago, but has now been overrun by "lesbian tendencies" which is like saying that women holding hands is as gay as men playing football, meaning NOT! I thought one of the places to start to explore images of affection, compassion and caring would be in depicting groups of women. Thus this picture. I almost tore it up because the style is popular enough to be commercial and thus open to ridicule, but it survived the voice that said: "this looks like a beer bottle label", which it does, but so what? I have to really learn that "so what?" It's hard...

Thinking to go on with in the same vein and do a line of greeting cards or a Tarot deck, I did the second image, another Three card, the Three of Cups. The picture did not want to work. I think I know what went wrong and may do the image over again with all the women looking and reaching up. I wanted to use my knowledge of mythology to do "pagan" cards that are mythologically correct. This was an interesting path to explore, thinking about a Tarot deck, and images of the Triple Goddess connected to certain tree images. The first, obviously, is Rowan, with the Celtic glyph for "l" with is "luis" or rowan. The images were also botanically challenging since rowans vary in leaf size and number from our tiny-leafed American rowan to the larger leafed European, "Sorbus acuparia". The Elder is more standard, a different family, but also bearing the ash-like leaflets in clusters of five, but sometimes more. There is a wealth of mythology connected to number and plants with these odd-number leaflets must have fit into many spells and predictions. In my world, the Trees are matched to people with corresponding characteristics, some of them have hair like the tree or skin like the wood, etc. The elder are a dark people still with Caucasian facial types. I used a very Eurasian model for these pictures and was interested to see that our "eye" tricks us into seeing African features just because the skin is dark. Which is to say that prejudice is a fine line and pretty stupid in that features are all over the place and so is skin color. Some people are on the extremes, but most people are mutts and look like it. So this picture was difficult, and I'm not sure about it. One of the problems was that darker skinned people are usually violet undertones with gold highlights (rather than red and blue or tan and sienna or umber) and in the heavy blue light of this picture, that is lost.

In the mythologically correct world, Birch falls into the "Spades" caste, or trees that have airborne seeds, usually with wings rather than fluff, are connected with swords, arrows, and weapons that "pierce" unlike the Elder who are water trees that sucker badly and are partially poisonous and medicinal or the rowan that is a flowering tree related to trees with thorns but is classed under "clubs" or "wands". This is a vastly complicated system that has taken me many years to unravel and is still up for some controversy. Silver birch falls into this caste, while the sister tree, the downy or river birch seems to be more of a "cups" tree. But I had a riveting vision of three warrior maids lying in a bed of leaves with their white hair entertwined all with the golden skin of birch wood, related genetically to the Scandinavians, who honored the tree more than the Brits. These women were to represent not affection (rowan) or magical inspiration (elder) but the wisdom and discernment of the mental caste that swords is related to: air, wind, high places, thoughts, judgment and war and the pursuit of esoteric philosophy. In my world, metal is an abomination, associated with outsiders, so the girls here have flint tipped arrows. But the misconception is that without metal war did not exist, which these girls contradict with their leather armor and their wood and stone weapons. The way of the archer is more ancient than the way of the swordsman, and the mental states connected to it are often sought after by current archers mostly of Eastern nations like Japan, but also in the West. There is something evocative about the flight of the arrow that cleans the mind of petty concern and I wanted to show that in a gestalt image like this.

Well, back to a male image. I told Max that I wanted to promote images of "maleness" without falling into one of the other BIG pitfalls of Fantasy art, the swordfight. When I want Sword and Sorcery, Frazetta is it and I shall never surpass him. I thought to do all the aces of the deck, first as images of women with vines or withies and then I thought that that was another pitfall, showing women "trapped" or engaged in vining plants. So why not a male image? Since the four-fold caste system of the Tarot mapped onto the major alliances of Trees, I thought that the aces should represent the "power" tree, Willow/Cups/Water, Holly/Wands/Fire, Ash/Swords/Air, and Oak/Disks/Earth. So in this red image of the Rosa canina or "dog" rose common to Britain, I thought at first to put the Holly, but then decided to play upon the dog rose as a wolf rose and show an Animal shaper of the "wolf" variety with a ghost image of the wolf rather than the Susan Seldon Boulet Amerindian images of shapeshifters and shamans. I realized that in drawing I am heavily guided by intuition and so this image emerged despite any "planning" type thoughts that made me want to be the director. The fun is in seeing what happens and to expect something and not get it is an unhappy artist. So the "wand" or staff emerged sprouting from the ground as holly wood (which is almost white) with the briar. There is some controversy about the briar, but as a fruiting "tree" with thorns on this red background it is in the fire caste with the other "feeling" images.

What I wanted to do here was show the arms. Artists have a hard time painting maleness, whereas the female is usually depicted with the hourglass form and child-like features. Women draw men usually more effeminate, not understanding the differences; men often draw men with weapons. Of course (and I'll not rant) anatomy classes don't help with male anatomy and female models. Almost everthing between the two genders is different, with a good portion of people falling somewhere in between to confuse everything. Dimorphism is exploited but in strange ways. When I see men, I see arms. In their faces I see the brow; in their bodies, I see the arms. Most women, even jocks, have rather thin arms. Some men do too, but not compared to women. So to depict a Fantasy male without getting into the beards and swords and armor ghettos, I wanted to show the arms and hands of a woodcarver, who this character is. I cannot abide characters who do nothing, so most of my characters are involved in making things or doing things like healing or breeding--the one thing about Jane Austin that I always find strange and somewhat disappointing is that people don't DO anything; they collect rent or putz around. I'm very working class in that I like people defined by what they do, so a wood carver would have to be marked by arms and hands. Not too hard in a man--I've known man men who were short or otherwise thought themselves less "macho" but had incredibly sinewy or muscular arms and hands covered with veins. The human machine at it's finest. But, again, I'm not sure about this picture. I have to resist the urge to just rip up everything and try to fix stuff in PhotoShop or just live with it and go on to the next picture.

Outside the world of art, I'm regaining my inpsiration to write, but write what? I feel lost and directionless without a big project, like my life is just going in circles. But I'm enjoying being (un)self-employeed due to Sky's generosity. My time sense has changed and I'm enjoying larger chunks of time like the change of seasons.

Here are some photos by Sky of our first big snow!

© 2006, A.R. Stone