member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Views of a Crime

Some months ago, I began a story on this blog that included a mildly lazy drinker and detective and his sardonic, impatient, and sleep-deprived (female) client. I grew attached to them, and so I continued their story and am now struggling to put an end to the bad guy that preys upon them.
On the new web page (which is still somewhere in my desk drawer) I have decided to create a section of fiction segments: little pieces of bigger projects I'm working on. For that purpose, I asked artist and friend I.M.Lowry to create some illustrations from the prologue to this story, which I'm now calling Views of a Crime. I am really excited about what he created, and I can't wait to show it to you, so I'm posting them here in advance, along with the prologue...

Prologue: Nick and Chloe

By the time the kid comes to me, she’s already half-broken. But she wears broken like a pit bull; she’s a mouthful of glass shards and seven leashes worth of lunging. She’s only spit three words before I’m glad she’s got no weight to her.

“A dream detective,” she spits.

This is how they all come to me: certain I’m a con or a lunatic, but too desperate not to try. And this one is not accustomed to the feeling of desperation.

“Sit,” I offer, ever the gentleman. She ignores me. I shut the door and head to my own seat behind the desk. At the last minute, I decide to keep standing, too. I don’t want this dame towering over me.

“How did you hear about my services?” I try again, allowing my vanity the lead.

“Dr. Saromi.” Her eyes smirk, ever so slightly.

“Dr. Saromi,” I repeat, checking my fingernails. “I was not aware,” I say, finally, “that she found my methods--”

“She doesn’t. That’s why I came.”

“Ah,” I answer.

“What exactly are your methods?” she says, in that same tone of voice. “Of detection,” she adds, just to get that last shard out.

This is actually the part I like. The explanation drives the whole thing right over the edge. Either she leaves in a huff, which is fine, or this is really her last resort, and she gives up, which leaves me to do my work. It’s just a hunch, but I’m betting this one’s at the end of her rope. Though once I start talking, I can feel her trying to stretch it just a little further.

She fails.

“Tea,” she says, finally going expressionless. “You’re going to detect using tea.”

She’s not bad, this kid. These anxiety-ridden types, they have a certain sinuous quality. It’s either very frail or very muscular. And that aggressive flavor, if you can keep your hands close enough to reign it in when necessary, that can be a very nice flavor. I let my eyes rest a beat too long, and I feel her begin to re-coil.

“Tea,” I confirm, hastily. “This is an ancient process. From Asia.”

“From Asia,” she sneers.

“We drink the tea together,” I continue. “Here, in the office. And then when you sleep--”

“Lavender panties,” she says, almost automatically. She closes her eyes.

I pause.

It takes a minute, but she opens them. “Ok,” she says.

“What is that?” I ask. After all, it could be important.
 She continues to stare straight past me at the wall.

“What is that?” I repeat. “Lavender panties.”

“Anger management,” she says.

I wait.

“A visualization. Kind of meditation.” Her lip curls: “Like in Asia.”

I tuck the lavender panties away for later thought. “Ok,” I concede. “So: no drugs, no sleeping aids, coffee’s fine in moderation--”

“I’m sleeping at home.”

“Yes, you just drink the tea here,” I reenter smoothly. With the ladies, this question is always the first one. They’re afraid they might not be able to control themselves. I get up and head to the liquor cabinet by the window. I drum on the top, letting the sun burn some sting into my eyes. Probably I shouldn’t have a shot with her in the room. But it’s also true that I probably shouldn’t continue the conversation without one.

“What exactly led Dr. Saromi to mention me?” I ask, still drumming.

She doesn’t answer. The air in the room promises bad times to come.

“Is the tea in there,” she asks, “or does your end require sleeping aids?”

I drum my fingers. Bad, bad, bad.

“It has to be the same time every day,” I answer. “If this is a good time for you, then we’ll go ahead.”

And I wait.


He’s not even gone long enough for water to boil, but he comes back with two steaming mugs. He sets mine down in front of me and eases into his chair. It’s not just that he’s a slouch, you can see that he dreads this almost as much as I do. I almost feel sorry for the guy.

I look at the pale tea.

“Don’t you want to ask me anything?” I say, trying to help him out.

He drums his fingers some more, this time on the edge of his desk. “Well,” he says, looking pointedly at my tea. He gestures sort of over-casually towards it. “Well,” he repeats, “actually, no.”

I stare.

He returns to drumming.

I sniff at the tea suspiciously. It has no scent. “Are you going to drink yours?” I ask, probably not very politely.

He almost smiles. “Do you want to dream with me, or do you want me to dream with you?” he asks.

I don’t even want to dissect the question, so I decide to just throw in. I take my first sip. It tastes like it smells, which at least kills one source of anxiety. He immediately looks away, towards the window.

I try to focus on the fact that he isn’t coddling my weaknesses, that he doesn’t try to pull little tears out of me or lip-sync all the standard concerned lines regarding the state of my soul or spirit. I try to focus on his obvious leanings towards being a wise-ass, on the fact that the good calming Dr. Saromi lost all pretensions of self-control at the mere mention of his name. I try to focus on anything other than what this is: me drinking warmed-up nothing with this obviously unhinged individual who thinks we’re going to spend the night together on some other plane of existence.

It occurs to me that I might not look like me when I’m dreaming, and one thought leads to another until I’m snickering in my chair like I’m the one with a weak grasp on my surroundings.

He keeps drumming on the table.

“Should we have a secret handshake or something?” I snigger, trying to regain some kind of control. “You know, what if I don’t recognize you?”

He doesn’t answer right away. He slugs his tea like he’s trying to believe it really is what he wishes it was. Then he turns to me, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, and he says, “I’ll know you. Trust me,” he adds, and he grins, kind of maniacally. “I know what I’m doing.”


Technically, my end also requires no sleeping aids, but really, all rules are just suggestions. The path I walk creaks loudly when unoiled, making the mere idea of detective work a farce. So this lady can smell my medicine. It only means she’s conscious.

From the moment she leaves my office, I begin preparing for bed: I open the cabinet.

If only she had chosen to dream with me, now there would be something to look forward to.


The air is filled with a dangerously medicinal-looking fog, under-lit by an eldritch glow. A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird.

I feel my right brow lift, all on its own. That means I'm curious. But just as I shake off my rather slow thought-process to turn and catch her by the elbow for some questioning, I hear the same wild panting back the way she came. Something in my peripheral vision makes me stop and look back.

A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird. This time, I notice that her lips are also blue, though not the vivid blue of her gown. Her eyes are peeled wide open in shock.

I let her pass. With my right index finger, I reach up and readjust my eyebrow. Just to avoid premature wrinkles. I wait.

A pale woman in a blue gown pants frantically as she passes me on the dirt path, carrying a large, white bird. The bird is undisturbed by the activities it’s been forced to partake in, though its bland gaze as they pass does seem to ask why I’m not doing anything about them.

I snap out my left hand and grab her by the elbow, thinking, third time’s the charm. She immediately starts screaming, really shrieking, her eyes not even taking me in, as wide open as they are.

I let go. She reverts to her earlier behavior.

The wild panting starts up again behind me.

“Well,” I announce gruffly to myself. “This is a swell dream.” A door slams somewhere behind all that fog, unhinging my thoughts. I decide to investigate. She passes me six more times on the path before I realize that I haven’t gone anywhere. She passes to my left, I pass a scarred and blackened tree to my right. Repeat. I stop walking, never having been one to strain my body with useless exercise. Slowly, I turn around in a full circle, looking for anything solid other than the woman, her bird, or the tree. The panting starts up behind me again. A thought strikes me. My head snaps around.

“Say,” I address the bird, “you wouldn’t happen to know where she’s taking you, now, would you?”

The bird stares at me balefully.

“Chloe?” I try again. “You know anyone named Chloe?”

They pass, breathily, neither deigning to respond.

I turn in another slow circle. I mull over the situation. I would probably seek help if this were my recurring dream, too. I might have to myself, actually, if this is all that’s going to happen on this case. Surely, the girl dreams something other than this? I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my flask. Just to limber-up my mind.

Just as the flask brushes my lips, the scene goes utterly black. I can drink in the dark, but I pause anyway. Which turns out to be fortuitous, as the sky fills with an explosion that knocks me back several feet.

Metal screams and something roars, and whatever’s on fire tumbles past in front of me, so close it singes my eyelashes. I screw the top back onto my flask and tuck it away, so as not to lose anything. Then I take a deep breath and turn towards the burning car. A man races up to it from the other direction, screaming something. The sound of his voice is horrible, ragged. He lands on his knees beside the car and begins banging on one of the windows.

I draw a breath, thinking I might suggest a healthier distance from what still strikes me as an explosive device. But he gets up on his own and begins turning in broad, frantic circles.

I watch quietly.

He swoops towards the curb, picks up a large chunk of rock and comes back to hurl it at a different window, shattering the glass. Then he starts shoving himself into the car.

This is a dream, remember, and I’m here first and foremost to observe. It’s not just that I’m an asshole standing idly by while someone else goes through hell.

He drags out a small child. The child is missing important pieces, and is most certainly dead, though it takes the man an excruciatingly long time to understand that. Trying to give him some privacy, I turn away to take in the rest of the environment. It’s odd that no one else has come towards him, but even odder is that no one else is anywhere to be seen. And the street is not just full of smoke, but also enshrouded in a fog not dissimilar to that of the last scenario, with that woman and her ever-patient fowl-friend. I have a hunch there’s nothing past the fog. I visit my flask again, for courage, then take a few brave steps towards the edge of the world.
But just then, the man’s voice returns in a howl of rage. The world goes black. There is a pause, in which I realize I’ve stopped breathing, and then the sky fills with an explosion.

So anyway, it’s a long, bizarre night. And this from the point of view of someone who’s daily grind is the realm of the long-winded and bizarre. Thankfully, it’s not as long as I’m sure it should have been, because my downstairs neighbor calls and interrupts at an unusually impolite hour, even for her, to complain about a leak. My leak, which has entered her apartment, by an unfortunate path ending right over her pillow.

Thus the day begins.


Monday, May 24, 2010

The Old and the New

Ian Lowry is an artist in Elizabeth City, North Carolina with a particular fetish for the clothing, architectural detail, and language of long-past times. He delights in creating his own countries, set in those times, and filling them with a fascinating cast of characters and dark intrigues. For example, the land of Endor, whose rule is decided by the ownership of a certain ornate ocular device:

Baroness Cassilda Devereux Vontalee, Peering Through Her Wondrous Ocular Device, Marveling At The Many Splendors It So Freely Reveals
Cassilda is then shown the door by the next holder of the device, now Emperor of Endor..

Vi Veri Universum Vivus Vici!

...Such a device always seems to be taken from its owner in an unfriendly, rather grim manner... In fact, over a century after the Emperor in the above image (a self-portrait, it must be noted) is found, faceless and dead, an oddly-masked and secretive man begins to weald a dark and mysterious power over the new courts of Endor.

Endor’s Masked Guest

“A mysterious religious leader (a modern Rasputin, surely) has slithered his way into the royal court, and seems (dispite the opinions of the present queen, who seems to worship his every word) bent endlessly towards wicked things.

The Court guest is extremly odd, to say the least. Aside from the hideous mask- which, as far as anyone knows, has never left his face, there are a multitude of other eccentricities noticed by fellow courtiers. He wears only the tattered fashions of a long-dead age, has wild, visibly dirty hair, smells effluvious, rarely speaks, keeps all skin safely covered, and never (at least in public) eats. One of the queen's neices (seen here hurriedly passing the curious man) even goes so far as to claim he doesn't so much as breathe.” 

Grim Masquerade

“The vile masked stranger has convinced his puppet (the Queen) to hold a grand masquerade within the palace. He plans to take Endor tonight, by ripping the Ocular Device (which he in his villainy has so innocently requested she wear) off the unknowing queen's mask and using it to destroy her and her nobles, who have all been so deviously herded within the palace walls under the guise of celebration! Ah, now we see the Queen ascending the courtyard stair to the ballroom veranda. Poor creature, with such blind trust for this wicked demon! The wretched smile upon the monster's mask is at last accurate, for he knows his evil triumph is only moments away.

"But that's not the Queen," one of the courtiers bluntly remarks. "No; she's still in her dressing room. I saw her there myself only moments ago!" There is a stirring in the crowd facing the staircase. The masked wretch suddenly recoils his gloved claw from the woman. "No!" his gutteral voice cracks, "impossible- it cannot be! Cassilda!"”

Endor’s Wicked Emperor Revealed...

The Emperor is unmasked by Cassilda, but he pushes back the crowd by capturing a hostage...

Another interest of Ian’s is the cataloguing and restoration of historic properties. He often travels around with a camera, photographing old residences and other places of interest, both for inspiration and simply out of love and concern for area history. He has thus found intriguing bits of architectural detail for his work and even experienced a run-in with a ghost...In fact, he states on his Flickr page that it had been his intention to study architecture, with the end goal of a profession in historic preservation. The eventual discovery of his intense dislike of maths, however, and his simultaneous increase in interest in peopling the elaborate structures he was already so fond of drawing, led to a change of focus which loosed a unique talent...

A Time Warp on Pearl Street

Detail of A Time Warp on Pearl Street

Ian describes the drawing thus:
“my original inspiration was a house in the main slum of my town, on Pearl Street (where I got the title street from, of course). It was (still is, actually) a very sad creature, having been altered horridly on the main floors, while retaining its original details on the attic story (those details being of a victorian nature, it should be noted). It was as if it had been skinned alive and left to rot, while its ever-living face was forced to constantly see the gloom around it. It is just one of many such pitiful buildings on the northern end on Elizabeth City- an area once so wonderful, so lovely. This picture, than, is to be a great keen unto them, as well as a call to action from the more caring denizens of the city.

Like most of my drawings, the piece, along with its meaning, has evolved quite greatly while being worked on. My original idea was to show the glory of the past looming grimly over the squalor of the street's modern condition. The people below were to be sad, unpleasant, and vaguely malicious in nature. Perhaps I just didn't want it to be that depressing, though. The final product, then, is much more hopeful:
A young couple (the new owners, naturally) have decided to restore the massive, long neglected and abused mansion. Little do they know, however, that the crowned and finialed upper story of their new home, though boarded up and not entered for decades, houses others- the original residents of the home! Though long dead, they are happily unaware of the truth (or, knowing it, don't really care for it), and live in a vast metaphysical realm in which their mansion is still pristine, Pearl Street is still alive with the beauty of prosperity and comfort, and Elizabeth City still teams with new life and industry!”

Other times, the meeting between past and present isn’t so pleasantly managed:

“Oh, Goodness! Such an Odd Shudder!”

He also delves into old legend and lore, often digging up and illustrating the stories of interesting and powerful women from history. Don’t skip over the title of this next one:

"The Goode Mr. Laurie's Fine Illustratiue Accounte of the Nightly Ransacking of Ye Honour'd Gouernor's Manor-house in Charles Towne by the Euile Pyrate Anne Bonny and Her Dangerous Accoumplice, the Fearfull Mary Read."

“Vile Lilith, Haunter of the Dark”

Again, he shares the thoughts going into his work:
Lilith was, in ancient and medieval times, believed to be the first wife of Adam, before Eve was ever thought of. But she would not agree to be subordinate to Adam, so she left (or was kicked out) of the Garden. She then became a demon, forever haunting mankind. She was (is, if you believe in her, as some people apparently do) forever jealous of humans, a race she was so woefully removed from, and seeks always to destroy the offspring of the man who wanted to control her (Adam). Usually, she did (does?) this by killing young children (in their sleep, typically). In olden times, whenever an infant died, it was blamed on vile Lilith. Even to this day, some people hang talismans around the necks of infants to protect them from Lilith. It has even been supposed that the term "lullaby" actually has roots in the name Lilith, and was originally a musical chant given to children before sleep to ward her off.

The earliest depictions of Lilith (in ancient Mesopotamia) show her as part owl (links to her night stalkings, of course). Medieval artists showed her as a beautiful woman on top, but with a snake's body below (the theme of temptation, as she was often connected in thought with the snake-devil in Genesis). She has also been seen as a Succubus (a female demon that sleeps with unknowing men- the female version of an incubus). In fact, it was believed by some that Lilith was the mother of all demons (these demons being the half-spawn of humans that unknowingly slept with her).

The long dress (far taller than is reasonable) can be seen in two ways- on one hand, it could be hiding the snake body so clearly shown in Renaissance versions of Lilith. One the other hand, it could show a sort of spectral trail- a ghostly echo of the flying night-demon. The claws (perhaps my favorite part) are to show her true wickedness. Like the snake tail, they show her mutation away from humankind. She is no longer of man, but is now a monster, forever cast from the light of God- the claws, then, show show a sort of devolution (plus they just look cool).

Lilith has been seen as a haunter of ruins, so I used a noisome cemetery as her den.

Nowadays, many people actually feel sorry for Lilith (after all, the only reason she got kicked out of the garden was because she didn't want Adam ruling over her). I can't help but feel a little sorry for her, as well. Poor thing- lost forever in damnation. That's probably why I kept her beautiful, and why I didn't give her any wicked facial expression. Rather, she watches the glorious moon, a heavenly body as cold and twisted as her own.

Oh, and the second part of the title ("Haunter of the Dark") is a reference to H.P.Lovecraft's 1935 short story "The Haunter of the Dark." 

Most recently, Ian has moved into the world of color, to great effect.

“Checkmate, or the Queen’s Revenge”

Again, the Hitchcock-like affinity for sneaking a self-portrait in arises: the piano-player here is the artist himself. This drawing is another meeting between present and past, as the underhanded machinations of characters from Ian’s own city of Endor play out on a stage in the Lowry-Chesson Building, a piece of Elizabeth City’s history built by his great uncle. The title given to the illustration was the title of a play actually shown there in 1898, which he found reference to in some old papers. The building has recently been refurbished and once again plays host to the arts, as the center for the local arts guild.

And, of course, concern for the well-being of old structures and the stories and lives behind them, along with a creative temperament naturally leads to distaste for wanton destruction, such as that unleashed by the war machine...

“The Great and Terrible Airstrike” (please click the link!)



There will be a gallery showing of Ian Lowry’s works opening July 2nd in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. But if you can't make it there, I recommend a visit to his Flickr page, where you can ogle the incredible detail of his drawings at a much better size.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


All the photos in this post are by Flickr user Aki, whose talent has convinced me that Iceland is, in fact, paradise...

Lundadrangur, Dyrholaey
"Island with the Hill Door"
photo by Aki

The island is, of course known for its volcanoes, not only the most recent one, but also the much worse, world-changing eruption of Laki in 1783. One really beautiful thing that results from such eruptions, though, is the creation of new life, like the island Surtsey. Surtsey is one of the youngest islands in the world, and it became a part of Iceland when it rose from the depths of the ocean through near-continuous volcanic eruptions in the 1960s. For five years, the island grew in shape through the underwater explosions, until finally the fires settled. Even now, no one is permitted on the island except for scientific study of new life formations....However, puffins began colonizing in 2004.

This little island got its name from Surtr, a Norse mythological Giant or "fire Jötunn." In the epics, he arrives with a flaming sword to do battle against the god Freyr, and after that battle, it is told, "that the world will be consumed in flames, yet afterward the world will resurface anew and fertile, and the surviving gods will meet again" (Wikipedia). A mini-performance, then, was the creation of the island Surtsey.
Wikipedia says about the word Jötunn that it "might have the same root as "eat" (Proto-Germanic *etan) and accordingly had the original meaning of "glutton" or "man-eater", possibly in the sense of personifying chaos, the destructive forces of nature." A good volcano god, then. Later these Jötunn evolved into the nature spirits known as trolls (a name which means "magic").

Gullfoss Waterfall "Golden Falls"
photo by Aki

It is not just volcanoes that Iceland is "unusually suited for," however. It also has many very powerful waterfalls.

Gullfoss, by Aki

photo by Aki

And here is Reynisdrangar, which is made of basalt sea stacks:

photo by Aki

According to folklore, these sea stacks used to be trolls, until they were caught outside in the light of dawn. Many stones with human-seeming features in the Scandinavian countries are said to have formed this way. Trolls can be tricky, and if a man allows himself to be lured by one the elegantly-dressed females wandering around in the forest, he may only return decades later, with no memory or direction. Often, insane...

And for those of you who love blue as much as I do...

photo by Aki

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Will Survive of Us

“To see the light we must first acknowledge that we are in the dark."
--Dominic Rouse

“What will survive of us is Love”

In an audio file on his website, Rouse explains some of the thought process behind this image.

“‘What will survive of us is love’ is the final line of a Philip Larkin poem entitled an aranbole tomb (?), a poem inspired by a medieval tomb found by Larkin in an English church, on which was a life-sized carving of a knight and his lady lying side by side and hand in hand. And the final verse reads thus:
‘Time has transfigured them into untruth/ The stone fidelity they hardly meant has come to be their final blazon. And to prove our almost instinct, almost true: What will survive of us is love.’
“It is true, is it not, that for which we will be best remembered are our acts of passion, of love? And yet, there is no earthly reason why we should love at all. Because to love is to be vulnerable. And the only place outside of Heaven where we can be safe from the dangers of love is Hell. Without love, this planet would indeed be Hell. And I would rather live in a one-roomed hovel on the outskirts of Paradise than in a luxury penthouse apartment in downtown hell....
Love is no preparation for life at all. Love is the culmination of it.”

Here, the (innocent?) girl faces the task of crossing what could simply be a parlor, but what might be, in fact, a dangerous moat, a patch of quicksand guarded at one end by a hungry, heartless alligator--jaws open and waiting. She does not know, as she is blindfolded. Perhaps this is her house, and should seem familiar. Perhaps the alligator is simply a her father having a bad day. But are you aware that alligators eat their own children? One of the aspects of surrealism is the placement of familiar things in unfamiliar settings, or the juxtaposition of familiar things in an unfamiliar way. And what that juxtaposition or placement tells us, in the end, is said to be some truth we did not previously realize or were not previously conscious of--a surprise that was always there. Here, the small child, dressed to be precious and cared-for, stands on the brink of nothing more frightening than the next room in a very large house. The placement of the alligator and the blindfold, however, bring out something else. The familiarity of one’s own home is not actually a guarantee of safety, for, as Helen Keller told us, “there is no such thing as safety.” And, there are things that are completely natural to this world which act with unbelievable viciousness and speed (an alligator, as Jaba-the-Hut-like as it might seem, can move up to 30 miles per hour over a short, straight distance such as this one), intent on ending us. But the title of this piece keeps us on track: “What will survive of us is Love.”

The blindfold is a fascinating symbol which can remind us of so many things. There is the childhood freedom of a game: spinning round and round blindly, then swinging the bat to get the candy or pin the tail of the donkey. There is no fear in that blindness, only the giddiness of guessing. Keeping that sensation seems key to all the most amazing discoveries in history--that wild, fearless, excited stabbing motion, that sense that what I want will be there, because I’m grasping for it. The lack of seriousness. I’ve written here before about how blind we are to most of reality, as we have been trained all our lives to see only certain aspects of it--how many gorillas wander by us each day, unnoticed because our focus was elsewhere?


“To be a surrealist means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen,and being always on the look-out for what has never been. Rene Magritte (1898-1967)

The blindfold here reminds me of a story I stumbled onto when reading about the life of St. Lucy, who gouged out her own eyes because they attracted the unwanted interest of a man. In the tales of her life, she is able to see even without her eyes, because of the very faith exhibited in that act. More recent science has uncovered cases just as miraculous, for example that of an autistic girl, blind from birth, who walks around unaided, making a little chirping noise as she goes, which she somehow uses as a sonar, as in the case of bats. The phrase “blind faith” seems apt, here. You move forward not because you know it’s safe (note the meaning-ladened snake and the vulture), not because you know what’s ahead, but because you want to move forward. The act itself ends up being somehow larger than the result.

“Tree of Knowledge”

Lenswork Magazine, an unbelievably high-quality photography magazine, has made available a folio of 15 of Rouse’s works, which you can purchase here. On the site, you can see the photos at a much better size (recommended).

“Dance for No One”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Little Blue Ship

the little blue ship

The Little Blue Ship

So, one of the things that has kept me busy over the past month is the development of a website, which will be located at It’s not ready yet, so no need to follow the link, as nothing’s there... The image, however, and the explanation of the name, are here. **Update! The page is live!

Since 2000 BC, people have hauled boats on carts through town for festivals led by questionable kings. The Ancient Greeks honored Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, the Romans called in the New Year with their version of the same god, Bacchus, and the Teutons honored their fertility goddess, Nerthus. During the times of slavery, it was a slave who headed the ship, worshipped as King for the day, in an act that turned the world upside down in much the same way revelers do now during the Mardi Gras parades. From as early as 1135, this ship became known as the Blauwe Schuit, the Blue Barge, and it became filled with marginally criminal refugees who had banded together as a Guild, normally the standard of ethical conduct and workmanship for a particular trade, and let loose in an otherwise unacceptably sinful and raucous celebration.

By the end of the Middle Ages, there was another use for such a ship.

"In 1517 Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. He, like other protagonists of the Reformation, doubted the value of good deeds as a ticket to heaven. The insane, together with the cripples and beggars to whom one could also demonstrate one’s brotherly love, thus lost their religious worth. From being necessary, they now became undesirable. They began to be cast out.
The number of prisons grew, and workhouses were introduced, where the mentally ill were shut up alongside thieves, beggars and those unwilling to work."--16th Century Paintings, by Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen

Around this time, Hieronymous Bosch painted his famous Ship of Fools, and a mythology grew up surrounding it of ships like that one, floating down all the major rivers, carrying the mad, the impoverished, and the unwanted from shore to shore, always rejected and pushed back out to sea. Foucault used that image, and the records of a few incidents in the Germany of the 1400s which gave credence to that mythology, to explore the idea of the liquid form of madness, the mind adrift, the man outcast and lost in the “moving chaos” of the unknown territory beyond the established boundaries of civilization. And Foucault had, of course, his own understanding of what was to be called “mad--” in his writings, he often pointed out that what was crazy to one person, in his society, was old hat to another, in a society far, far away. For example, in the preface to his book The Order of Things, he writes:

"This book first arose out of a passage in [Jorge Luis] Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that."

Which leads us back again to the ancient practice of drawing a ship through town--on wheels--led by those who are usually not heard from, not listened to, even, often, not looked at. On that ship, on that day, they are kings and queens, and they may be happy, and wealthy, and wise. The custom is a reminder that all that we see as solid and normal is, in fact, fluid and changing, both in time and space. What we find ridiculous and hideous now, for example (slavery included), was not to be questioned once upon a time. And the burka tells us something about the role of space (the boundaries of a culture). And now modern physics tells us that solid matter itself is not solid at all, and that much of what we see, we have simply decided to see, our culture and upbringing have taught us to see--and it may not be there at all. I’ve written here before about the passing gorillas we miss when it’s been implied that their presence is unimportant. So, this one day of the year--couldn’t it be more?

During World War II, Hendrik Nicolaas Wekrman established the journal The Blue Barge with three other friends. They printed, among other things, tales from Martin Buber’s Legend of Baal-Shem, illustrated by Werkman, as a direct act of resistance and a source of inspiration to those suffering under the Nazi regime. For his efforts--his artistic efforts--Werkman was executed by firing squad April 10, 1945.

The Legends of Baal-Shem includes an entire section entitled “Ecstasy,” in which it is said: “In ecstasy all that is past and that is future draws near to the present. Time shrinks, the line between the eternities disappears, only the moment lives, and the moment is eternity. In its undivided light appears all that was and all that will be, simple and composed. It is there as a heart-beat is there, and becomes perceptible like it.” Here, ecstasy is paradise, and those that insist on the renunciation of joys in this world also will not enjoy them in the next--is that not the renunciation of paradise? and so the mad who are lost in the fevers of ecstasy are closer to god than we are....

The Blue Ship, then, symbolizes all that we do not understand but which brings joy; unbridled passion, the creative instinct, the explosion of insight in a moment of thinking “outside the box.” It is also rebellion, revolution: it is hope where hope seems lost, and joy where joy has been forbidden. It is the creative act, opening a door where once there was a wall.

the driver and his castle

In this Blue Ship, Agwe stands at the helm, steering the wheeled ship through time. From somewhere underneath his collar, the stairs rise up to enter the castle of his hat, where a princess waits, and where we get the first hint that he might be facing the wrong way, as the ship’s masthead is holding her torch in the opposite direction. On the other side of the ship, Erzulie lovingly faces the direction her husband suggests, but her eyes slide to take note of the wise owl that pulls them via a ribbon of clouds, the other way.

Center stage is the Tree of Life, the Tree of Enlightenment, the Germanic Yggdrasil, which holds heaven and earth together. It is the crossroads between the living and the ancestors, between the devotee and the Voodoo Loa; it is the seat of Legba, who must be called on first before any other deity can be contacted.

Agwe’s boat is made, filled with treasures, and pulled on wheels through town and all the way to the water’s edge, where it is offered to him and his wife, Erzulie. I have talked about them here many times before, so I won’t repeat myself, but here I am remembering that Erzulie herself requires, on her sacred days, that we forget the logic of economics and the limits of poverty, sprinkling expensive perfume on the ground, cooking lavish meals, wearing and offering finery and jewels. She requires that we take the time to make ourselves beautiful, to make our offerings beautiful, to remember that each motion and act is an art, more of an art than the finished product, and that it matters to take the time to make something gorgeous.

"Her generosity is so natural that one is caught up in her exuberant innocence, believing, with her, that all is good, is simple, is full-blown. It is in order to feel this that the serviteur indulges her extravagant demands, for if what is so difficult for him is so normal for her, that very fact confirms the existence of a world in which his difficulties do not occur... He conceives of Erzulie as fabulously rich, and he neither inquires into nor explains the sources of this limitless wealth, as if by such disinterest he becomes himself freed from concern with sources and means. He shares her impatience with economies, with calculation...Erzulie moves in an atmosphere of infinite luxury, a perfume of refinement, which, from the first moment of her arrival, pervades the very air of the peristyle, and becomes a general expansiveness in which all anxieties, all urgencies vanish. The tempo of movements becomes more leisurely, tensions dissolve and the voices soften, losing whatever aggressive or strident tones they may have had. One has the impression that a fresh, cooling breeze has sprung up somewhere and that the heat has become less intense, less oppressive." --Maya Deren

Erzulie turns the world upside-down in this way: she brings ease and luxury and peace through the sheer, innocent expectation of them. And she rides away on this little blue ship, where we don’t internalize the order and logic of society, where we are not limited by time or space, and where we can go in many directions at once and never be lost.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Birth of Green

I know I've been shamefully absent here, and I plan to make up for that really soon, but there are a couple of projects going on that I'm struggling to complete...

The Birth of Green

(If you press the image, then hit "all sizes," you can see more detail, for example the scenes in the doorway, or the feathers...)

Story by Vesna:

Some people believe the Green always existed, born at the same time as the other colors.
Some people don't ever think about it. They would just say: "The color is here now, so why does it matter when it was born?"
Some people are curious.
For you, here, now, the story unfolds.

In the Kingdom of Artisania, there was a Black forest. In the middle of the Black Forest, there was a Blue castle. It was built a long, long time ago and it still exists today. 
Princess Zoe loved everything in the Blue castle: the Blue stairs and the Blue plates, the Blue rooms and the Blue fountains, the Blue flowers and the Blue birds. 
She was painting and she painted Blue even the things that were not Blue, like her brother's hair. She loved to drink tea from her Blue cup, sit on her Blue rocking chair and imagine the world outside of the Blue castle. 
For Princess Zoe the Blue was not just the color, it was fluidity, a movement, a life. For her the Blue was not a destination or a history or a decoration, it was a way to go.
Now close your eyes for the moment remember the Blue and step into...

The Yellow Sanctuary was not so far away. It was on the hill at the north side of the Black Forest. There was a Yellow brick road around it and the walls inside were painted Yellow. The hill was covered with Yellow dandelions. Goddess Vesna took care of the Sanctuary. She would give shelter to the travelers: make them Yellow sweet dandelion honey tea, give them clean Yellow blankets and plant a sunflower with bright Yellow petals in the garden to honor every visitor.
For Goddess Vesna the Yellow was not just the color, it was the Sun that she worshiped, a brightness, a warmth; a happiness. For her the Yellow was not a destination or a history or a decoration, it was a way to go.

One day Princess Zoe decided to go out and explore the Black Forest. She set out on the trip with a Blue backpack and she brought her Blue cup, because she felt something magical would happen if she did. That same day Yellow Sanctuary was visited by travelers from China. They came in search of the sweet dandelion tea, to please their Emperor who was keen to try it. They brought with them "Pai Mu Tan", White Peony Tea. To honor her new visitors Goddess Vesna set up festive Yellow tables outside and brought out new Yellow cups. She served teas with Yellow Honey and everybody was having a good time. The chatter from the crowd was echoing through the Black Forest.

The Blue cup led Princess Zoe to the Yellow Sanctuary, pointing the way like a compass. She joined the others in the tea ceremony. Goddess Vesna was very curious about the new visitor. She liked very much the Blue color that Princess Zoe brought with her. It was fluidity, a movement, a life of the Blue that blended so well with a brightness, a warmth; a happiness of the Yellow.

It was a magical day in Artisania.
There was a flow of the Blue, there was a ray of the Yellow and a new color was born, the Green.

For Princess Zoe and Goddess Vesna the Green was not just the color; it was a magic of friendship, a beauty of new discoveries, a never-ending joy of creativity.
For them the Green was not a destination or a history or a decoration, it was a way to go.


Notes from zoe: this tea seemed to me to take place in a dream-world. So for this painting, the two kingdoms are in the same place at the same time, which sort of de-solidifies things--through the doorway, you are seeing the yellow kingdom, pieces of it floating in honey, before time or space have put them in their "place."
The flowers in the windows are peonies. According to "a contemplation upon flowers," Asclepius, the son of Apollo, was physician to the gods. "Because of his great knowledge of herbs and healing, he was called Paeon, meaning helper. Thus, the early doctors were called paeoni because of their affinity with that early healer and because of the use of the peony plant in their practice..."
The association of peonies with the moon suggested it as a remedy for lunacy (an old name for the peony was Rosa Lunaria), as well as nervousness, epilepsy, and liver obstructions..." Peony root beads were strung together to ward off illness and evil spirits through the 19th century. So again, this garden Vesna and I are building is filled with remedies for insanity--the insanity of this world, that is, by the creation of a more magical one, one where many, many new things are possible. Here, the peonies creep in through the "window" in this indoor/outdoor space somewhere between the blue kingdom and the yellow sanctuary to drip their essence into the tea.

But I had an additional reason for adding the peonies. Vesna and Silvia and I have recently made some attempts at Remote Viewing, the practice of sending and receiving images telepathically. In her first attempt at "sending," Silvia focused on an image of white and red peonies from her garden, which I saw as bursts of bright white light. So here are her peonies--and here are the three of us enjoying tea together on some other plane...