May 2004

Postcards From The Swamp

I’m swamped with work, and I’m living in a swamp. Swamps are the image of the day. I want to paint a swamp court, full of gnarled mangroves and submerged rocks, with elegantly clad newts and possums wearing soggy Elizabethan finery, while tiny winged frogs sing from atop the root-vaulted halls.

I want to do a lot of things, really, but the work-swamp may prevent it, and anyway, if I do get a shred of free time today, there’s already a painting in progress.

The air is like wet vinyl, and the mosquitoes are cruising around with the self-satisfied whine of a job well bitten. I would like to paint mosquitos drinking blood martinis. As it is, I am just slathering campho-phenique on those personal surfaces that were used as a staging ground.

Squirm War 2004 has ended, with a total rout (mine) hundreds of casualties (the bugs) reinforcements (James) and an ultimate triumph of superior technology over numbers (fans and Borax.) We can sleep in the bedroom again. I’m thinking it’ll be at least a week before I don’t wake every thirty seconds thinking “AHHH! Is that a bug?!”

They have things here that I want to call “daddy longlegs” but which have a three inch legspan, in an oval rather than circular pattern, and small mottled spots. And they jump. Daddy longlegs don’t bother me that much, but these things give me the willies.

On the bright side, there is a bumper crop of fireflies this year, and the yard lights up in the evening, looking all magical and Norman Rockwellesque. Then one’ll get into the house and the cat will slap it around. Then it will chase the cat. There is no sight on earth more pathetic than a grounded firefly chasing a panic-stricken cat. “NO! The intermittent glow! It’s coming for meeee!” I would like to paint that, too.

And while I’m wishing, I’d also like a pony.


Well, the day of my birthday was great–sold an original, hung out with friends, had a buddy drop by unexpectedly, bought books–all fabulous.

The day after, unfortunately, was not so fabulous, as my machine, which had been slowly becoming more and more cantankerous, finally was found floating belly-up in the fishbowl, and had to be taken apart several times until James found a faulty memory stick, and then have Windows re-installed. (To be fair, as James pointed out, I had last installed in 2001, and my system ought to be eligable for some kind of award for venerability.)

Today, I reinstall stuff. Since I have gotten virtually no work done this weekend due to that, I am going to spend the next week in a kind of feverish painting haze, made worse by the fact that there is NOTHING that gets the creative juices in hyper-gear like having the computer down, resulting in several painting ideas that I must, must, must paint.

Hopefully this is not going to be some kind of omen for the next year of my life. (I knew an anvil had to be headed this way…)

Well, being 27 is going well so far–two brown-headed nuthatches, which I rarely see, since the white-breasted ones chase ’em off, and what must be a juvenile downy woodpecker being fed by its parent. And having finally refilled and repaired the finch sock, the goldfinches returned at once and are hopping around being gratuitously yellow.

Some snazzy birthday gifts from my parents, mostly tea related, but nothing can top the Encyclopedia, which I read cover to cover last night in glee. So many wonderfully traumatic memories! Woot! The bay-kok, a Cherokee monster shaped like a skeleton with red eyes and covered in thin transparent skin, which would come upon sleeping hunters, cut a tiny, painless slit in their chest, and then eat part of their stomach so that they waste away and die. Jinni, half wolf, half hyena (good lord, maybe that’s what Ed’s tribe is), Leshy and Nuckelavee and Tengu and Tarasques and all the other things that probably helped warp my brain into the peculiar shape it is today.

And my sea hag painting, that I was so delighted with t’other day, met with great approval from my art director, particularly the monkey. And got the next Digger done. So all in all, an excellent morning and a fine start to the next year of my life.*

*Having so blatantly tempted fate, I will now be caught in a freak rain of anvils.


I have the coolest mom ever.

She somehow found–yep–the “Encyclopedia of Legendary Creatures,” that formative text of my childhood which has been out of print for more than twenty years. The text where I first encountered the Thing That Starts With “A”, the ahuizotl, immortalized–or at least dredged up briefly–in my comic “Irrational Fears.” The book that evidentally scared the widdle out of a great many readers as well as myself, judging by the number who wrote to register that they, too, suffered childhood trauma from it. That…is…so…cool.

I swore I was only gonna open one present today, and I’m wowed already.

This is the last day that I will be twenty-six, and naturally, I’m spending it skittering around getting work done and errands run like a nervous salmon with a very poor sense of direction. “Gotta get food…and printer ink…and a present for kid brother…oo! Bookstore! I could get him books!” Found the book of Norse myths illustrated by Rodney Matthews, so that was a score. It’s probably a little old for him, at five, but that never stopped me as a child. Should send him the Narnia books soon. It was his birthday Monday, but I’m bad with dates. I’ve got him two books, but I need to get him a couple more cool things, since the packages from my folks for my birthday just arrived, and there’s an unexpected crapload of ’em.

And now, of course, the temptation sets in…do I open them now, or wait virtuously until tomorrow?

Only one day left on lizard print set auction! (If you can’t figure out Furbid, you can also just e-mail me with an order–it’s a Dutch auction, and I’m not picky.)

I dreamed that I burned to death in hot lava.

Wasn’t all that bad, actually.

I was in some kind of…enclave is the only word that comes to mind, but some sort of community with a vaguely religious set-up, although not, y’know, weird. And the high priest, who looked like a young biker type (though rather better looking than most of the bikers I know) and I were standing in the temple–I was a scribe of some variety, I think, or else illustrators had a really big function in the church–and everybody else in the enclave was down there too. And the lava was rising because the volcano had just let go, and we were all total goners.

“Well,” said the priest philosophically, “guess this is it. Might as well get it over with quick so we don’t suffer.”

“Yeah,” I said.

The priest wrapped his arms around me, kissed my forehead, and said “Geronimo!” which is probably not the most solemn of last words, and we fell off the altar into the lava.

It hurt, naturally, but not all that badly, a sort of odd shellac of pain up my legs and chest. The odd thing was that it was dark once we fell in. I remember thinking vaguely “I’ll be in shock almost instantly, and I’ll die right after that,” and then it was over in just a dark floaty haze, like falling asleep.

And I woke up a few hours later, sitting next to the priest, who explained rather bemusedly that, while a whole bunch of people accidentally getting burned to death wasn’t any big deal to the gods, the same people jumping into lava in a temple made the gods think it was a sacrifice, so they spared everybody.

We agreed that the gods had no sense of proportion.

“Is —– okay?” I asked (I have no idea who this was, except some female general? I didn’t much like.)

“Yeah, as soon as the volcano started to go, she figured that if she got on the exact opposite spot on the globe, she’d be okay, so she took the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria out to the middle of the ocean.” (Obviously must have been a very tiny planet.)

Then it segued into the moving dream, which is a hideous and easily interpreted nightmare where I am desperately trying to pack. This time I had to pack an entire Christmas tree, all the ornaments, (the Frosty Friends collection from Hallmark) my book collection, the silverware drawer and my watercolors, and all I had were a couple of tote bags and dozens of those red and white fake fur Christmas stockings.

It’s an odd reflection on my subconscious that being burned alive in a temple full of lava is “not bad” and having to pack again is “nightmarish.”

Today, I painted.

And I got in the groove. It happens occasionally. It’s the…thingy. For an hour or two, you can’t lay a stroke wrong. Time sort of wanders off. It’s cool when it happens. It doesn’t happen very often. If I could tap into it at will, they would find me dehydrated, starved, twitching with sleep-deprivation, my wrists ginked up like frost-killed tree roots and my eyes shot with a fine red mesh, sitting in a pile of my own art and/or waste material.

Fortunately for all involved, I can’t tap into it at will, and it doesn’t last for more than a few hours, and leaves me wrung out like an elderly squeegee afterwards, but that’s generally enough. I had only intended to get the painting started–it’s one of the illos for Mongoose–and instead I did the entire piece in one mad sprint. And as I worked, the back of my brain went “Pling! Pling! Twang!” and a teeny voice arose from within the army of three-legged frogs on wheels and wombats wandering around with vague expressions and somewhat horrified lizards, and said “Yes. This is it. This is the style. This is where I want my art to go, at least for awhile.”

And that is an excellent feeling, although I am not sure if I can trust it, since I get loopy and weird when I’m in that particular painting trance, and I sorta wish I could show y’all, the painting, but, y’know, NDA and all. But I’ll post it as soon as I can.

Well, let me see…

I have two weeks to do five paintings for Mongoose. The roughs are done and approved, and I did one last night in a fit of madness–one down, four to go. (I have a niftily fat voodoo sea hag thingy with a screaming monkey to work on today that I’m looking forward to.) And two and a half more Fans! pages. Got one Digger done. And need to do some roughs for a logo design in the next day or two, and more on a heavy metal album cover.

Yeah, I’m busy.

Squirm War 2000 continued unabated in the bedroom, although James says they’re retreating as things dry out. Diotomaceous earth is supposed to work on them, so I’ll try getting some of that, whatever the heck it is, before we lay the carpet back down. All the other pesticides seem likely to kill the cat or the birds, or possibly both.

It’s hot and humid. I’m not turning the AC on today, because I need to leave the windows open in the bedroom, and I’ll be damned if I’m air conditioning all of Cary.

And that is the State of the Ursula today.

Bright Spot

Went into the local UPS store to mail stuff, and grabbed a postcard so that I could write Tom DeLay, as per the meme mentioned earlier. The clerk, who knows me fairly well by now, asked what the postcard was for, and I explained the meme to her.

She pulled out two more postcards, signed for herself and her husband, wrote in their return addresses, stamped all three of them, and handed all three to me saying “On the house, do ones for us, too!”

That made me feel good. I mean, it’s a small thing, but anything that brings people together is good, even if it IS just mutual disgust.

I just saw a young woodpecker!

At first I thought “What the hell?” because it looked like a red-bellied woodpecker with a fluffy gray head rather than the usual red-tan. It had the same tweed back as the adult with it. I was trying to figure out what it was–it was nearly as big as the adult, and I was thinking maybe it was a different species–when the adult plucked a chunk out of the suet feeder and the juvenile scooted over and shoved its head practically down the adult’s throat. The adult continued feeding it for a minute, pulling suet out of the feeder and then holding it for the baby to get at, and then they both flew off.

I feel terribly privileged. I have no idea when most birds nest, so it didn’t even occur to me that there’d be babies in the yard.

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