Mixed day, today…on the one hand, finished a cover for a book that I’m actually pretty pleased with–had to tackle the “How To Paint Cyberspace” problem, which has stumped much better artists than I. Fortunately you can’t go too wrong with lots of cubes and radical one point perspective, and the end result looks sort’ve Art Deco, which I have no problem with. On the other hand, my poor cat Loki has a bladder infection, which gave me the obligatory Oh-God-Let-It-Not-Be-A-Blockage panic that is generally reserved for the owners of male cats over five, even if, like me, they feed them ungodly expensive urinary-health-formula cat food. Fortunately, it’s not a blockage and he’s in no immediate danger–he’s just got a textbook bladder infection, which is uncomfortable for him and involves a lot of laundry for me. So I’m trying the herbal supplement recommended for cats, and plenty of water…my mother swears by it, but if it doesn’t produce results by next week, it’s into the vet. I’m all for nature and not overusing antibiotics and all that, but the poor guy shouldn’t have to mope around when a straightforward course of somethingorotherclin will do the trick.

The worst bit about animals being sick is that you can’t tell ’em “Yeah, this sucks, drink cranberry juice for the next week and you’ll be fine, it’s nothing, I used to get ’em all the time,” even if it’s true.

Went to the bookstore today, doing last minute Christmas shopping. They didn’t have “The Transparent Society” by David Brin, which is supposed to be a rivetting book about privacy and accountability, and which my husband James really really wanted, so I ordered it off Amazon, and as is inevitable when visiting their seductive clutches, picked up something else as well, a book called “Mother Nature” which purports to be an analysis of learned vs. instinctive maternal behaviors.

Since I don’t like kids and have no plans to have them, it’s probably weird, but lately I’ve been obsessed with the whole question of maternal behavior. I think it’s an outgrowth of my earlier feelings of wanting to do some kind of political art about abortion. In trying to take Pseudo-Manitou’s excellent advice of find some a story and illustrating that, I’ve been gnawing the issue over in my mind for awhile, coming up with storylines, mulling them over, discarding them. There’s plenty of documentation of women who are raped during wars, giving birth, and not realizing on any meaningful level that they have had a baby–they’re in pain, the pain eventually stops, there’s a bloody mess, they clean off the blood, get up and leave. Chimps do the same thing if they’re raised without witnessing parenting by other chimps–they treat an infant like some kind of weird parasite and try to get away from it. In this country, you get girls with no sex education who go into labor in bathroom stalls–the one side calls this pre-meditated murder, but I suspect it’s a lot more akin to what happens to the chimps. In many minds, these women (and possibly the chimps, for all I know!) should be punished for failing to be mothers–the notion being that they gave birth to a child, they’re it’s mother, and they have to take care of it. I think that’s the assumption that underlies much of the abortion debate–you’re it’s mother, you have to take care of it.

The thing is, I don’t think it works that way. Maternal behaviors are learned, in us as in chimps. Your body can get pregnant, the same way your body can get polio or the common cold or any of a number of things we’d prefer they didn’t do, but the mere fact that someone’s knocked you up will not turn a scared, stupid, functionally illiterate sixteen year old into a competent caregiving mother. Except that a large chunk of the populace seems to think it ought to, as if there is some kind of grace bestowed the moment a zygote divides–we actually talk about the “sanctity of motherhood” for god’s sake. So I mulled this over for awhile, and decided that that was the thing that was nagging at me most, the assumption that all women are, by definition, potential mothers. I, for example, am not. Like our hypothetical chimp, I was raised in relative isolation from examples of parenting other than my own–I was an only child, had no fecund relatives, I have never changed a diaper in my life, and I have been exposed to exactly two babies for longer than thirty seconds at a stretch. (My experience is that they seem small, breakable, generate noxious odors and fluids, require constant surveillance, and cannot be reasoned with. This does not make me eager for the joy of parenthood.) I could probably learn it if I made a concerted effort, but it’d cut too much into my painting time.

So that’s where I am–having decided that mothering is a skill one learns, not some state of divine grace that is bestowed promptly to all owners of a uterus–and that women don’t deserve to be punished for not having this skill. And that, I think, is what I’d want any story I illustrated to be about–but the form still escapes me. I’ve mulled over everything from a mini-comic from the point of view of someone ignorant of all details of pregnancy (although my script immediately ran to fourteen pages and made me realize that ‘mini’ is just not in my vocabulary) to an episode of “Irrational Fears” with our faithful chupacabra playing battlefield midwife in the middle of war-torn Sarajevo (rejected due to lack of subtlety–because I hate it when comics stop trying to tell a story and start trying to preach a sermon, and I have no desire to turn Chu into some kind of freakish green Anti-Ziggy.) So I continue to mull. It make take months, or years, or it may never happen or I may be siezed with inspiration tonight at three AM, leap to my feet, and lunge for a pad of paper. The nice thing about being an artist is that you never know when inspiration will hit, but unfortunately, that’s also the part that really sucks.

In completely, totally, and utterly unrelated news, I tripped over this at VCL the other day, and after my rant about fat animals, (and because I love Anna’s work) I couldn’t resist sharing this little gem.
Hopefully she won’t mind…Check out the rest of her VCL gallery if you haven’t ever done so, or I’ll sic peeing vampire bats on you or something.

Peace!

Random Factoids

Did you know that in order to be able to drink half their bodyweight, and still fly, vampire bats have to urinate continuously while feeding?

More importantly, did you want to know that?

That has no bearing on what I’ve been doing lately, but I had to share. That’d put a real damper on the whole vampire mystique…”Leesten to ze children of ze night. Vat beauteeful music zay make. Sheet! Exzuse me, ze blood, eet goez right through me…”

Updated web page. Updated comic. Ranted for half an hour to a captive audience–namely my husband, who brought it up, the poor bastard–about how there’s never been any proof of a truly matriarchal human society, no matter what sloppy scholarship feminists put out in the seventies, and how the belief that men and women should be equal is a perfectly legitimate one that does not need hideous travesties of anthropological invention to back it up, *insert obscenities here* Just because our ancestors never did it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it. Toilet paper is a good thing too, and it’s goodness oughta be self-evident without theorizing, on the basis of insanely flimsy evidence, that tribes during the Ice Age must’ve invented Charmin first, but that it was supressed by chauvanistic anti-toilet paper forces.

Societies with matriarchal lines of descent are few and far between, but they do exist. Truly matriarchal societies, however, are incredibly rare to the point of nonexistance, and tend to occur only under insanely specialized conditions, if at all–even the few Native American societies held up as “matriarchal” usually have male chiefs and all-male religious traditions, which doesn’t sound like a feminist dreamworld to me. There is absolutely no concrete evidence of a widespread prehistoric matriarchy that can’t be explained in several dozen other, much more plausible ways. This is not to say that women are inherently subservient (and I will pummel anyone who says it is!) but one’s desire to promote one’s belief in sexual equality is absolutely, positively, under no circumstance, excuse for sloppy, romanticized science.

Really, I don’t usually rant about such things with quite such frequency–most of my life is a relatively staid world of chunky tapirs and working out Art Deco cyberspace sigils. I think my moral and ethical buttons are just getting pushed repeatedly this week. I blame sunspots.

My husband woke me up with this article which filled me to no end of glee, mostly because David Brin’s writing always fills me with glee, and if you haven’t read his annhilatingly cool article on Star Wars (which included the unbelievable ‘fix’ that actually cleared up almost every hole in the plot–pity they’ll never use it) then you should do so, because it’s a delight.

It’s not a rant about the flaws of the movies over the books, because anyone who is willing to expend time and energy arguing that there SHOULD have been twenty minutes of Tom Bombadil singing “hey-nonny-nonny-whatever-the-hell” needs to get out and get some fresh air and maybe take the crayon out of their nose, nor does it get bogged down in the percieved racism of Tolkien, which, while YES, the orcs are always bad and YES, the elves are always good, is not something to alert the ACLU about because, fer cryin’ out loud, it’s a movie, not a blueprint for future society. They’re slicing the genitals off three-year-old girls with dirty razors in Ghana, for Christ’s sake–go deal with that before you ask people to boycott a bloody fantasy epic because the orcs are mean. Um. What was I saying? Oh, right. Even though the headline is rather sensationalistic, it’s actually a fairly sympathetic handling of Tolkien, who was, after all, a product of his time and place, as are we all, and is more of analysis of the context in which the books were written. And his points about the Lord of the Rings being a Romantic epic are, I think, well-taken, and god knows, I agree that it’s better to be a snide and disaffected net-weirdo in this day and age then to be a snide and disaffected serf farming dirt in ages past. And yet, I feel that the essential point is that wizards and warriors and Romantic heros and so forth are really cool and thus valuable as fantasy, so long as we don’t get all weird about it.

Being that fantasy is pretty much my job–other than the occasional murder mystery cover, I essentially make money by illustrating other people’s fantasy lives or selling ’em chunks of my own–the whole topic is one near and dear to my heart, and LOTR is sort’ve the foundation myth for what I do. And it’s nice to hear it discussed without being taken TOO seriously, the way that too many such discussions inevitably go. Brin’s down on the elves. I approve of that. Elves are fantastic if you want to bonsai the forest, but I imagine they’d get really really annoying really quick. (I gotta say, I thought they did a fantastic job on Elrond in the movie, just for that reason–the Matrix agent bit was icing on the cake. “The worst thing about humans…mister…Gandalf…is the smell.”) Right, I’ll shut up now, I just wanted to share.

I have PMS.

*listens to the fading footsteps of half her readers fleeing into the night*

No, seriously, this won’t get messy. No gory details, I promise. I have that rare and weird form of hyperactive creative PMS that strikes every few months, which means that I’ve turned out a heckuva lot of art in the last few days, and will culminate in an eventual collapse into a bag of potato chips and ranch dip. Mmmm….ranch dip….

Err, right. The results are that I’ve been practicing my exaggeration and foreshortening lately. They always say that you’re supposed to be able to render correctly before you can distort convincingly, and I’m finally at the point where, whether or not I can render correctly, I at least think I can, which has given me the confidence to play around with a couple of exaggerated pieces lately, which I’ve quite enjoyed doing. I dunno if the results have any great artist merit–they started out as a “big pants” kind of lark, and we all know what they say about the big pants thing–or are even any more lively than my usual, but I’ll share ’em anyhow.

Kirin Eating Ramen
Shrunken Head

and, for Raynflower, because she’s right that there are dozens of lemur species other than the ringtail:
Aye-Aye

Score!

This morning was “Pack the Christmas crap up” day, characterized by the boxing and the strapping and the labelling and the hacking apart of large pieces of cardboard to make art mailers, and the age-old question of “How tightly can I scrunch a stuffed rhino so that I can shove it in a box with a stuffed elephant and a stuffed tarsier and wedge the whole thing shut through liberal use of packing tape? And while we’re at it, how many stuffed animals can dance on the head of a pin?” And then, of course, there’s the last minute Divvying Of The Art Amongst The Relatives, a sort’ve musical chairs where you put paintings that didn’t sell with people you couldn’t buy for. At first, you nobly attempt to match art to friends and family based on shared affections, in-jokes, themes, and species preferences, and then give it up and just send all the ones with nipples to people who don’t have kids.

But in the midst of this annual chaos came a happy surprise, as I waded through the closet searching for a box suitable for the plush safari, and pulled out a box labelled “Art–Crap–Misc.” (I believe in truth in labelling.) Opening it up I found the usual array of cheap (and dry) markers, scraps of leather, a container of gesso resembling the Great Salt Lake in miniature, and for some odd reason, a half dozen rooster tail feathers.

At the very bottom was a heavy square halloween candy bag. Curiousity piqued, I pulled it out, opened it up, and discovered the first forty issues of the “Books of Magic,” which I didn’t know I owned, residing in solitary splendor (and pretty fair condition, too) in a box unopened for the last six years. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be descended in an unbroken line from the Pilgrims to have unexpectedly cool stuff lurking hidden in the closet, even if it’s not exactly ‘Antiques Roadshow’ material, and at the very least, gives me something to read now that I’ve gone through all the Discworld books yet again.

More things that should have words, but don’t–for example, the nagging guilt when you have failed to update your webpage recently. Or the nagging guilt mixed with vague defiance when you have failed to update your webcomic in the last week. Then, of course, we’d need a word for the short-lived sense of relieved accomplishment when you actually churn out a page, although it’s so short lived that, like many super-heavy elements with twenty syllable names, it’s only possible to detect it by the by-products it leaves after blinking out of existence.

Regardless, those by-products could currently be detected in my vicinity, if one had an electron microscope, say; and a particularly agonizing dungeon crawl in this morning’s gaming session allowed me to storyboard out the next five pages of my comic “Irrational Fears.” Now I just need a word for that sinking sensation that occurs when you realize that what was originally gonna be a ten or fifteen page lark is steaming toward thirty pages. Still, a story takes as long as it takes, sometimes longer, particularly, when you have no bloody idea what you’re doing. (But it’s all worth it for that equally nameless, but warm and fuzzy, deeply astonished feeling when total strangers come up to you and say “Man, I love the thing with the chupacabra!”)

The latest installment of that thing with the chupacabra

The Middle East is historically a hotbed of all kinds of trouble, and I think in the U.S., even leaving aside Dubya’s recent schtick, there’s a lot of sort’ve undirected hostility at the entire region, which runs the gamut between thinly-veiled racism, and an exasperated “For the love of god, can’t you people just get along!?”

However, out’ve that region, in addition to such niceties as the zero, astronomy, and a lot of the roots of Western civilization, came what I think is some of the finest poetry ever written, the works of the dervish Rumi, one of which I tripped over more or less at random a few hours ago, which caused me to renew my love-affair with the man’s words.

You have said what you are.
I am what I am.
Your actions in my head,
my head here in my hands
with something circling inside.
I have no name
for what circles
so perfectly.

I could go on and on, but I won’t, except to say that everybody owes themselves a read through the works of Rumi, either on-line or if you happen to pick up the spectacular ‘Unseen Rain’ collection. My parents read his poetry at their wedding. He was one of the greats, and he could do it in a dozen lines or less, too.