February 2005

Wow, if you ever want to put your brain on a light froth for the night, play Warcraft all weekend, then knock off about nine-thirty and read Stephen King’s “Misery” until midnight.

I have had a copy of “Misery” in the house for about six months, and I have not read it. This is not all that surprising, I have quite a backlog of books, and if a book can’t hold my interest, I long ago decided that my time was too valuable to slog through out of a sense of moral obligation. (Oddly enough, I recall vividly the first time I decided NOT to finish a book–it was so forgettable that I can’t remember what book it was, but the realization that I was bored and that I simply didn’t want to keep reading crept up on me, and then I thought “Well, I could just stop reading.” It was like I had commited a heinous act–stop reading a book? Madness! What was I thinking?! I lookd around wildly to see if anybody had seen me, presumably expecting people to emerge from the woodwork screaming “PERVERT! UNCLEAN!” at such a bizarre notion.

And then I didn’t finish it. And it didn’t gnaw at me. And I have merrily gone on not finishing books to this day if they don’t interest me. A book gets a few chapters, and after that, it is in competition with all the other books that I need to get through, and that’s a pretty broad field.

But anyway. King books do not usually suffer this fate, because whatever many flaws they will undoubtedly have, they are generally highly readable. Say what you like, the man can make you turn pages. I start them at lunch, pick them up again when I decide I’m done working, and plow through until bedtime. However, I’ve been avoiding “Misery” for two reasons. One is that I simply prefer King’s supernatural horror a lot more–regular murder doesn’t interest me all that much. Loved “It” and “Talisman” and “From a Buick 8” and even “Rose Madder” but not so much the plain old egad, the horror stuff.

The other reason is that I suspect in my heart of hearts that if any of King’s book have a chance of REALLY scaring me, it’s one about a crazed fan. Now, I love my fans, I have some of the best fans around, and I don’t honestly know if I’d keep making art if it was a matter of putting it out and hearing only crickets, and not knowing if anybody, anywhere, liked it. It would be hard. And of course, with the art communities on-line being the way they are, sometimes the lines get really blurry between fan and reader and fellow creative traveller, which is all to the good. The posters on the Digger forum come up with stuff about slugs that can make me laugh until I need to run for the bathroom. I am still shocked and touched when people give me things–stuffed wombats, “Ganesha Loves You” pins (which is pinned to my favorite jacket, might I add!) whatever–for no reason except that they liked my art. This sorta thing blows my mind. If anything, I generally feel in debt to the fans, and definitely not t’other way around.

But nevertheless, I think every artist sooner or later probably has experiences with a fan that for some reason is burying the needle on the Creep-O-Meter. And thus this sort of thing is actually scary. Presumably if I had ever been menaced by a St. Bernard, I would find “Cujo” alarming as well.

So anyway, the upshot of all that is that I had a really weird set of dreams of the killing-things-that-just-won’t-die variety. And now I’m all twitchy and drinking coffee. And eager to finish the book, because, as G.K. Chesteron said of fairy tales, the important thing about stories like that is not that they tell us dragons are real, it’s that they tell us dragons can be slain.

But first, work!


Okay, okay…I resisted for quite awhile, but here’s the 10 things I have done (or had happen) that probably nobody reading this has done meme, which will undoubtedly just prove that my readers are at least as weird as I am and have done it all, too.

1. Was born on a naval base in Yokosuka, Japan.
2. As an infant, a sheik offered my mother twelve camels for me in the Cairo airport.*
3. Assisted in de-scenting a ferret (mostly by holding stuff, and later, an unconscious ferret, which incidentally takes “limp” to an entirely new level.)
4. Had a summer job feeding and watering upwards of 3K rats.
5. Took acid and discovered that the only thing on TV was the televised funeral of Richard Nixon and a seemingly never-ending Green Day video, precipitating a chain of events in which I met god. Well, a god.
6. Painted a book cover from scratch in two days as a favor to a desperate art director.
7. Maintained a webcomic for two years (or 180 pages, or probably close to a thousand individual drawings of wombats, if you count all the ones outside the comic too, whichever.)
8. Cut a check for $800,000 dollars. (It was on an insurance fraud claim, with nobody in the company able to check my work. I thought, briefly, “Christ, it’s a good thing I’m honest…” and then, somewhat less briefly “Christ, I hope my math is right.”)
9. Attained fifth-kyu rank in the sword art iaido. (It’s the lowest rank, people, they didn’t even let me handle sharpened objects. It still took a year.)
10. Wandered lost through downtown Detroit, desperately seeking allergy medication, and lived to tell the tale.

I hold out hopes that #2 may be unique, but the rest, I bet SOMEBODY has done…

*I strongly suspect this was a game of “Let’s Freak Out The White Tourist Chick!” rather than a serious offer of camellage, mind you, granted that it was the seventies. My stepfather claims that I have appreciated significantly in value and am now worth twelve camels and a chicken.

A big thank you to Laurel K Pendragon! Visitors to my studio (the poor bastards) are now assured upon entry that Smilegod Loves Them. It’s awesome. Thank you.

(Anybody who missed out on Smilegod may wish to learn more of this peculiar deity at
http://www.livejournal.com/users/ursulav/79081.html because Smilegod almost certainly loves YOU, too.)

Something is draining my feeder in the night.

My feeder–one of those little hexagonal jobbies, with a little trough at the bottom, and a roof on top–is being absolutely cleaned out at night. I don’t mean just the food is vanishing at a surprising rate, I mean it is empty. Not a grain of millet, not a sunflower hull–it’s as if it was attacked by aerial vegetarian piranhas. (“Look out, Bob! They can skeletonize a birdfeeder in under a minute!”) And it’s happening at night.

This has happened before, but now that I moved the feeder to where I can watch it, it’s actually registering–I’ll go to bed, and the feeder will be 3/4ths full, I’ll wake up, and it’s bone dry.

At first, I suspected squirrels. But then I actually watched the squirrels eat on it, and they do a complicated little hang-and-twist routine so that they can shovel food in their mouths–and while they spill as much millet as, say, the nuthatches (little piggies that they are), the little lip at the bottom of the trough catches the majority of the feed before it spills into the great beyond. I watch squirrels on it all day, and it barely affects the birdseed levels–certainly no worse than the birds do.

Also, squirrels are diurnal. Damn.

So some animal is coming at night and eating the birdseed, and doing so in such a fashion that they dump all the seed they don’t eat onto the ground. The doves think this is fine. I am less thrilled, because I want to WATCH the birds, not merely suspect they’re there, somewhere, out of sight.

I’m also wondering what the heck could do it. This would have to be an animal that can climb trees and roofs with equal ease (the previous feeder hung from a corner of the roof with no nearby branches) and that finds birdfood an acceptable food source. Since I suspect they are standing on the tree trunk (or roof), reaching out, and hauling the feeder up at an angle that causes the food to drain out, we are dealing with a creature either stronger or with better reach than a squirrel. That lets out the rat, I suspect–he’s a large, sleek, and healthy rat, and I know that rats are vastly intelligent creatures, but he just doesn’t have the size. He could definitely feed on the feeder, but he’s not as big as the squirrels, and I doubt he could upend it.

My guess is raccoon or possum. I can’t rule out that there’s some freaky Southern thing I’ve never heard of, mind you–I suspect flying squirrels are far too shy to be mauling my feeder, but for all I know, they’ve got the flying vegetarian piranhas mentioned above.

I do not have the capacity to set up infrared cameras. I’d dearly love to, mind you. That would rock. But it ain’t gonna happen. However, if anybody has any other ideas for apprehending (or at least identifying!) the miscreant that don’t require much in the way of mechanical aptitude, I’d love to hear it.

Until then, I suppose I’ll just have to learn what constitutes a day worth of birdfood, and fill it every morning with just enough to get through the day.


A big thanks to my readers who insisted that kids deserved the truth–got quite a nice letter from the teacher of the fourth-grade class, who thanked me for not watering it down, and dug up a picture of “Saturn Devouring His Children” to show those members of the class who wanted to see it. Since I think she’s reading this blog, I’ll say it again–my readers are often smarter than I am (definitely when it comes to kids!) so they deserve the lion’s share of the credit on that one.

And hey, somewhere there’s a fourth grade class who’s been exposed to Goya because of us, and I’m sure that’s something we can all feel a little smug about. *grin*

This Mortal Clay…

My ceramics class has been goin’ pretty well. Throwing on the wheel is not like riding a bicycle, unfortunately, so I am not at all up to my college days, but part of that is that after three years of manhandling clay, I had some serious forearm power in those long ago halcyon days, and could center a great deal more clay. So my lumpy bowls are smaller. They are, however, starting to regain the same shape as before, and Tuesday I carved one in my classic square-on-circle pattern of my youth, and was well pleased.

If I can keep it up, even just going in once a week at open studio, (hopefully twice a week, if I can find another good time to do it) I hope to eventually get up to some good sized jumbo bowls, which I was never really able to do. Unfortunately, I will eventually wind up with more bowls than I know what to do with via this method, but it’ll make Christmas shopping easier. Glazing is tricky, though–they use almost exclusively brush-ons at this place, where I got used to dips–and I managed to ruin three bowls by layering things that did not wish to layer, and getting a truly horrific glaze effect. I will reglaze and refire and perhaps that will help.

The other side-effect of this is that, like the days of old, I am covered in clay. My jeans get clay splatters, (often over the top of the paint.) My boots are clay splotched. My jacket has clay dust in it. James came home the other day and said “Could we try and cut down on the clay on the steering wheel?” Fair enough. I do not mind the clay, because it will wash out easily enough, and I have passed whatever invisible threshold of age or eccentricity that allows you to wear any old longsleeve shirt over any old T-shirt over jeans that have been at the wheel and go out for coffee or books and not worry about whether people are staring at you in stunned horror. Food stains are bad, art stains are badges of honor.

Too, I know the great secret of retail, which is that unless you are naked and painted green, or otherwise REALLY distinctive–I mean, “cross-dressing Ben Franklin with a walker*” kind of distinctive, mere dyed hair and body piercings do not register–the clerks do not see you. They may talk to you, they may smile, they will ring up your purchase, but they do not retain an iota of memory of you as soon as you turn away. They do not care. The only things that are real when you are working retail are your coworkers and the clock. So I do not much worry about wandering around looking like I’ve weathered an explosion in an art supply store. Possibly some day I will pass another threshold that requires I have a certain gravitas in my dealings with the Rest of the World, but god willing, it’s a long way off.

*Yes. He did used to come in the Walgreens in my ancient days of working retail, and buy lipstick. You think I make this stuff up? And arguably, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him either, but people with walkers in the line give you plenty of time to stop and observe details.

Took a nap. Woke up. Had some kind of dream about two shapeshifting blobby things, called the Ragged Thing and the Smooth Thing, (possibly my use of the word “thing” has invaded my subconscious in terrifying new ways) and a boy that one of them had made out of a tyrant flycatcher (a type of bird I’ve never seen, but keep flipping past in the bird book on my way to somewhere else.) Vague and nonsensical. The blobs were evil, but the Smooth Thing kept trying to warn me telepathically, although it seemed really hopeless and depressed, while the Ragged Thing lined up all the locals, marched them out of the laundromat, and convinced them to ride horses off cliffs for no apparent reason.

Possibly this reveals my deep-seated terror that the next time I go to do laundry, I will be telepathical controlled by an invertebrate shapeshifter and made to ride a horse off a cliff. Or, then again, maybe it doesn’t.

At last, art!

I finally found a middle ground that I like–mostly acrylic, but skin tones and additional bits of color added with oil pastel. Seems to be an okay combination.


Two Unexpected Visitors

It’s a great way to wake up, really–stagger forth from confused dreams of orchid pirates* and wander into the living room, to spot a strange bird grazing soggily under the neighbor’s feeder. Much checking would indicate that it was an Eastern Towhee, a new addition to my lifelist and yet another bird that I can plot to find ways to attract.

I set up a platform feeder on the deck yesterday, which cardinals are said to favor. It’s basically a mesh-floored box with low sides, resting on little feet. Cardinals evidentally don’t like to perch to feed. We’ll see if it works.

The other visitor was rather less thrilling (although I do not suffer the same automatic horror that a lot of people probably would) when I saw movement under the platform feeder. Getting down on my knees, I discovered that a rat the size of a squirrel was sheltering under it–he was mostly out of the rain, and had food, making it a cozy spot for an enterprising rat.

I considered this.

Practically speaking, only an idiot would think that setting out assorted grains year-round wouldn’t net you the occasional rodent visitor–prior to this, he had probably simply been picking up food dropped on the ground next to the deck, like the doves and the cardinals, and probably at night. It’s a very dark morning, since it’s wet, and the platform on the deck means more spilled food up top, so it was probably a case of seeing somebody who’s been there all along. I’m backing onto a greenbelt, which is home to urban wildlife–families of red foxes near where James works, and there’s even a deer population in some of the thicker belts in town. We have mice in the house, squirrels in the trees, and possums in the trash. Had I ever bothered to think about it, of course there would be rats.

Other than keeping the deck swept off regularly to make sure that we’re not building up spilled birdseed–which I’d do anyway for aesthetic reasons!–I suppose there’s not much I can do about it. The rat doesn’t appear to be hurting anything–they may go after eggs in the right season, but that’s why birds build nests in trees–and we’ve certainly never encountered one in the house. This doesn’t actually mean they aren’t there, but since I’ve heard no squeaking in the walls, nor found rat-sized poo, I’m pretty mellow–if I don’t see it, I don’t need to know it’s there. And in more practical terms, I hardly think that I could banish the rat–there are large lawns and empty lots and the lush green belt, and a garbage can and bird feeder every house length. This is the very definition of rat -friendly territory. You couldn’t get these guys out with a crowbar.

And of course, as my brain traitorously points out, the rat and the squirrels differ only in terms of fluff, and I am grudgingly fond of my squirrel opera, and I even HAD a pet rat at one point, so begrudging the rat a bite of birdseed, when he hasn’t committed the cardinal sin of house invasion, seems a little extreme.

If we get a plague, I’ll change my mind, but I suppose for now all I can do is keep an eye out.

And having typed that last line, I look out onto the deck, and a female cardinal is sitting on the platform feeder. EUREKA!

*I just finished reading Orchid Fever which deals with the international orchid trade and bureaucracy run amok, so that explains that.

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