March 2005

Pure Frivolity

Or, if you get the Deviantart advertisements from that link, let’s try the good ‘ol VCL…

Generally I don’t link to other tales of LJ drama, but this particular tale has me enthralled like a train wreck. Nobody should miss the horror!

There is a bird outside doing an absolutely spot-on imitation of a rotating sprinkler, a series of ticking chirps and then a long run of clicks as the sprinkler ratchets back into position. I don’t know enough about birdcalls to know if that’s a normal bird call for some species that just happens to be uncannily like a sprinkler, or if it’s something like a mockingbird, who are notorious for expanding their repertoire. Regardless, it’s hysterical. Even the timing is pure sprinkler, but there’s a chirping quality that’s bird all the way. I’m sitting in the studio grinning until my cheeks hurt.

One wonders what the point of adding sounds to mimics is. In a lot of birds, birdsong is learned–raise a bird in isolation and it sings gibberish–but they learn some fairly specific songs, albeit with regional variations. But the birds who just add noises–evidentally whole swathes of starling populations have picked up cellphone ring tones in Europe–why? They wouldn’t have any particular meaning, the way that an alarm call does in a wren, they’d just be a familiar noise. I assume it’s probably some kind of “I have a huge song! You know you want some!” thing, without any particular encoded meaning. I know ornithologists have wrestled with this for ages. I just find it neat.


I realize that it’s fashionable in some quarters to claim liberals hate the western world and dismiss much of our past as mere dead-white-males. I know that there are probably plenty of people out there who think that because I detest many elements of our current government that I’m down on all of Western Civilization, or at least America, and assume that I have some kind of historical self-loathing goin’ on.

And yes, I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t large swaths of Americana I find desperately tacky, like NASCAR and the Religious Right. On the other hand, I assume that if I lived in another country, I would also find plenty to be vulgar and in generally poor taste as well. I just happen to live here. So we’ll call that one a wash.

But you know, I really like Thomas Jefferson. He was a helluva guy. I was reading about gardening t’other day, and they included a large section on Jefferson’s contributions to gardening, the gardens at Monticello, and whatnot. He reconstructed the first mammoth. He was one of the last great generalists, like da Vinci, before science became so gloriously complex that it is no longer really possible for a single human brain to keep on top of it.

And you gotta love a man who said things like:

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.

You gotta admire that.

It is spectacular here today. The windows and doors are thrown open, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and things are starting to bud. It hasn’t quite hit the “green haze” moment, when the ends of twigs turn absurd shades of chartreuse and the trees look as if they’re swathed in viridian fog, but we’re only a week or two from it. The magnolias are out in full force.

Being a perverse sort, even as I feel spring twitching along my spine, I find myself missing Arizona. I think it was the bouganvillea at the garden shop, a plant I would passionately love to grow, and cannot possibly. Same with lantana. The full sun deck will become a mostly shade deck in a month or so, condemning sun-suckers to a spindly leggy demise, so I pass them by, with regrets. Suddenly I feel homesick.

I’d like to think I’ve been pretty cheerfully adaptable. I’m pretty good at being happy pretty much anywhere, which is a knack that I realize I’m damn lucky to have. I don’t love the South, and I don’t think I would want to live here permanently–the climate, and the bugs, and the politics are none to my liking, and I have never entirely gotten over the fear that I will take a wrong turn somewhere*, accidentally leave the city, and dueling banjoes will start up in the distance, and they’ll never find the body. And let’s not kid ourselves, a place where people think “hash” is something you make with meat instead of something you smoke is fundamentally an alien landscape. But I am desperately fond of the birds, and my hit parade of defective squirrels, and my container garden, shade or no shade, is certainly more impressive than any I’ve managed before. I am fond of the coffee shop here, and I have some excellent friends. I haven’t had to shovel snow yet. I live within driving distance of one set of parents. It’s not a BAD place. I can see how one would like it. It’s just not really my place.

I miss eating dinner outside in the summer. It’s a weirdly specific thing to miss, and yet it’s the thing I’ve been thinking of. Possibly the warming temperatures in some way have triggered it. A lot of the restaraunts in AZ have terracotta brick patios, with huge bouganvilleas crawling over the fencing, and in order to keep the temperature bearable (the city holds in heat like a furnace, so after a certain point in summer, it never gets below a hundred, even at midnight) they have little pipes threaded along the edges of the patios, and every few minutes, they release a fine spray of mist. Because the droplets are so fine, and the air so dry, you don’t get wet, you just get a wash of coolness across your skin as the droplets evaporate before they quite touch you. A lot of places string lights from the pipes, and there’s a generally festive air to the whole thing. I miss that, specifically. I don’t really know why.

Job situations what they are, Arizona may not be in my future until retirement, when I suspect I can at least convince James that I need to be a deranged snow bird and drive thirty-five on the freeway and a hundred and ten down residential streets. That’s…err…thirty-five years off, at least. And I am capable of being happy in Outer Mongolia if there is a games company there. Just every now and then, for some reason, I get this twitch.

*Probably in Raleigh, a city built entirely of wrong turns.

Watching Gimpy the squirrel on the feeder today. Now that it’s warm enough that the male squirrels all have visible testicles again,* I can determine that Gimpy is actually a girl. I would call her Gimpette, but I’ve gotten too used to Gimpy.

It astounds me still how recovered Gimpy is–most times I can’t even tell who she is until she turns and I see the stiff foot. I watched her hang off a tree by her hind feet, sunflower seed in hand, and she doesn’t seem to notice that she’s hanging by a single foot. And they have amazing ankles.

*I was reading last night that evidentally female squirrels have extremely large clitorises, making confusion easy for the casual squirrelwatcher. I suspect from this that Notch may have been a girl as well, although I haven’t seem him/her recently enough to tell.

Swung by the new hardware store that just went in–a monstrous, sprawling beast covering well over a block all on its own. I was there for a bag of birdseed and some suet, but was seduced by bleeding heart and an interesting little shade-tolerant blue ground cover that I have already forgotten the name of, but which I will give a shot.

I’m thinking of getting a birdhouse. I wasn’t too impressed with their birdhouse selection there, but perhaps the farmers market or the flea market will have something. They did offer a bluebird nest house, however, and since bluebirds are apparently suffering untold depredations from invader species down here in the South, and I am fortunate enough to have five that come to the feeder, perhaps I should make the offer. I suspect, of course, that the birdhouse will remain empty and I will get Carolina wrens nesting in the barbecue, because that’s how life works.

Once upon a time, my highest ambition was to live relatively comfortably. Didn’t want to be rich, just didn’t want to always be on the trembling edge of anxiety about how the bills were gonna be paid. James and I have actually, in a modest way, achieved that. And I wanted an apartment that didn’t have holes in the floor. Did that. And as is predictable, my wants have grown.

Now I want a house of my own.

And there will not be a single white wall in it. Even if white would look GOOD. I don’t care. I have had enough of white walls to last a lifetime. I want them in copper and scarlet and sage and blues you can chip your brain on. And since we’re dreaming anyway, no bloody formica. I don’t need marble countertops, but the 70’s faux marble formica in the bathroom of this place would gag a hyena.

A washer and dryer would be nice, too. I can live without another trip to the Wash-‘n-Dry.

And I will have a garden, and there will be sun in it somewhere. I am tired of shade-tolerant container gardening. It’s fine in its place. I just would like to be able to plant something that likes sun, and maybe in the ground for a change. Something tall. Foxglove, or delphinium. I love foxglove. It grows wild in Oregon, and the verges of the roads are overrun with serrated pink spires. I miss that. I would like to be able to attract butterflies, who currently regard my deck as some sort of black hole, because it’s in shade all summer.

And I will put up bird houses. And more bird houses. And a bat house. And if I get insanely ambitious, a little froggy pond. Although it would probably prove a breeding ground for mosquitoes, requiring fish, which would die, requiring constant restocking of fish. Perhaps moving water. My stepfather can build a mean fountain when he’s got found a rock he likes. Perhaps I can commission one. And a giant stone fish somewhere! Yeah! And no cement cherubs!*

And perhaps a rocket car. Because that would be cool.

*While I am opposed to cement garden objects d’art, I confess, if I ever found a cement wombat, I would probably break.

Victory! The math is all done.

Hmm. It would appear that I made probably 80% more net last year than I did the year before.

Das’ pretty good. I mean, it’s still a pretty paltry sum–particularly granted that I’ve been doing it for years and work weekends–but we’ve gone from “kissing the poverty line” to “I could live on this if I was in a studio apartment with no car and no cable and ate mac and cheese until I got scurvy.”

‘Course, I’m gonna be nailed to the cross on self-employment taxes now, but I’m mellow.

I’m sure I’m not making half of what I would if I worked a real job, but still, there is at least the appearance of making financial headway. And that makes me happy. It is possible to make a living as an artist! It just…takes awhile.

Edit: And having just engaged in all that backpatting about my success, I spend over a minute panicking that my graphics tablet is broken, only to eventually realize that I am trying to use the stylus on my sketchbook. *sigh* Art: It’s All Some Of Us Are Good For.

Math looms on the horizon.

This morning, I have to add up all my reciepts for 2004 before taking them to my beloved tax weasel tomorrow.*

This involves math.

Simple math. Addition kind of math. Easy math. Calculator math. But nevertheless, a vast and staggering quantity of it, a banal task of repeated tedium and checking of work unmatched since high school or this time last year. It looms there, lurking a bit, like the silent monolith of 2001. It waits for me, so that it can either terrify me with the quantity I spend on art supplies, or, worse, the quantity I didn’t spend, and which is thus subject to taxation.

I do not resent paying taxes. Much as I hate Dubya (and believe me, I hate Dubya with a fierce and burning ire) I am nevertheless quite glad of government and things like road upkeep and public schools. I would prefer less money in nonfunctional missile defense shields and more in health care for the uninsured, I don’t like the way a good chunk of my taxes are spent, but nevertheless, I’m fine with my role as taxpayer. Hell, I’d happily pay a good bit more if it meant free health care, or better environmental protections. And I don’t get the cushy money-taken-out-in-advance kind of taxes, I get the “hit with a bill for a few thousands dollars come April” kind of taxes. This isn’t fictional money, this is money I’ve actually met and gotten to know and am buddies with. And yet, I’m still pretty much okay with paying it.

But I hate DOING the taxes. Pick up the forms, and immediately, you feel like a criminal about to be hauled away, unless you can fill out the paperwork ABSOLUTELY CORRECTLY explaining your alibi. There is a hideous sense that you have already done A Bad Thing by earning money. And despite all laws of logic, you still have some horrible sinking feeling that you will somehow manage to owe more money than you have actually made.

This, if you ask me, is why private accounts in Social Security are doomed to failure. A great swath of humanity is terrified of money and paperwork in combination and approach it with dread, when we think of it at all. We do not thrill when we fill out Section C. We put off Section C as long as we possibly can.

By, for example, blogging about it.

Edit: The cat, on the other hand, loves tax time. EXCITING BITS OF CRINKLY PAPER! WOOGHHHAHH! One of my business expenses is currently battling her across the floor, soon to be stashed in some obscure crevice, so that when I eventually move out of this place, I can find it and reflect briefly on that mat I bought at AC Moore many long years ago.

*I heartily recommend the services of the tax weasel for all artists. Yes, it can cost a few hundred bucks, but it’s so much cheaper in terms of piece of mind than trying to do ’em yourself.

I tried to look this up, and couldn’t.

Then I thought “Hey! My readers are geniuses, right?”

PhP-Nuke. I wanna make collapsible menus on the gallery sidebar. I have no idea how to make a collapsible menu. (Hell, I’m probably doing good to make a menu at all! Is anybody familiar with PhP-Nuke and can tell us?

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