04/20/14

Things in the garden #5

Things are going pretty well in the garden here at Chez Bishop. The little orange tree that I hard pruned is going great, the mussaendas like their new spot, the allamandas are growing like crazy (one is about 8 feet tall now, despite being in a tiny pot), and the solandra is flourishing — I’ve got it heavily staked and it seems to have remembered that it’s a giant vine — and I think I can officially say that the rose is a climber. The clerodendrum hasn’t flowered again yet, but it’s otherwise doing well in the shade.

Two of the hibiscus — the maple leaf and a sunny yellow one — had aphids, and after organic measures failed, I capitulated and bought some chemical pesticide, which did the trick. The only plants that aren’t doing too well are, sadly, the daturas. They’re flowering all right, but they’re a mecca for scale insects, and their leaves are consistently yellowed, not to mention covered in those wiggly insect trails. If I can’t figure out how to treat them so that their foliage stays healthy I am going to get rid of them, as even such beautiful flowers don’t make up for grotty-looking plants.

The Mealy Bug Tree still has mealy bug, but not such a terrible infestation, and it’s getting a lot of new growth and putting out fruit, so I guess it must be basically ok. The perfume flower tree has a lot of blooms, and it smells wonderful. It seems to like plenty of water and a decent amount of fertiliser. I would love to have a garden with one (or more!) of these trees growing in the ground to full size.

04/17/14

Alsiso at Lightspeed

Just a heads up to say that my story Alsiso, written for Andrew Hook’s The Alsiso Project and reprinted in That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote, is now available online in the April issue of Lightspeed Magazine. Lightspeed, which publishes both SF and fantasy (it merged with Fantasy Magazine in 2012), is a free e-zine, but if you subscribe or buy their ebooks there’s an exclusive novella reprint in each e-book isssue.

One cool feature of the magazine is its Author Spotlight interviews, where authors get to talk in-depth about their stories. Mine, by Jude Griffin, is here. I must say it felt quite pampering to have a whole interview for one story, and it’s nice to get a look inside other writers’ heads at a detailed level. I’m not one of those people who thinks that the author is dead. I do believe that context and the author’s intentions count for something, and I find my reading experience tends to be enhanced when some of the background to a piece of fiction is filled in.

04/11/14

Safety valve

Re last post, I feel bad when I use blog as safety valve, but there’s no denying it clears the air in my head.

I’ve cast three wax babies today, with a fourth cooling now. My plan is to give them to different foundries, to be cast in different metals (brass and bronze, and maybe aluminium) and see which comes out the best.

These are the best waxes I’ve made so far. They should need far less attention than the ones from the foundry. However, they’re solid. If I want to cast waxes for larger pieces I need to learn the ways of hollow casting — which, as far as my research tells me, means painting the wax into a two-part mould: way more labour-intensive than pouring, though whether moreso than repairing crummy waxes I don’t know. Another other way is to pour wax in and out of the mould, building up layers, but the risk of ending up with very thin sections is greater. A third way is rotational casting using a machine — or, as Stu suggested, securing the mould inside a cylindrical object like a rubbish bin or flower pot and rolling it around. It’ll only do one axis, but that might be enough. Gonna try it!

04/11/14

Happiness for driven people

Self-acceptance: I actually hate the term (or hated it when I began writing this post, though the writing has lanced the boil a bit). It invokes a general image of namby-pamby, fluffy-bunny attitudes, a picture of a well-meaning prat seated cross-legged in a white robe, flower in hand, exhorting one, with ghastly gentleness, to be not a human doing but a human being.

The obvious — and, I think, valid — retort is that without humans doing we’d all still be living in caves.

I grew up viewing myself as a “doing” creature. Study hard, get good marks, try to increase skills in areas where my vocations lay — the whole point of life, as I understood it, was to develop one’s talents and then use them to one’s desired effect. And be decent to other people, as a by-the-way.

And honestly, I still think like that. It might be my natural mindset, not created by upbringing, even if encouraged by it — I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. It’s the mindset I’ve got. What purpose or value does my life have, and how can I be happy, if I’m not improving my skills and achieving goals? Maybe “I” am really a wave on a cosmic ocean of bliss — but if so, I’ve never sensed such an ocean; and anyway, I’m here now, with certain abilities, and things I want to achieve.

So how can I be happy when I fall short or fail, when the way to achievement is blocked, whether by my own innate shortcomings or those of others, or by a lack of resources?

It’s foolish to make fame or acclaim the foundation of one’s happiness — that’s a no-brainer. But what about achievement itself, the pleasure of a job well done, the attainment of a goal, even if nobody noticed — that’s ok, right? Well, no, because failure and frustration are so common. Success may be small and hard-won, and it may not come at all, no matter how much one strives. Make success the sole or chief prerequisite for happiness, and happiness will be scarce. At least, that’s my experience.

I want to achieve things, and I want to be happy while I’m trying. This may be asking for the moon.

I can think of a couple of solutions:

1. Stop wanting to be happy.

2. Derive happiness from self-respect based on effort, irrespective of achievement.

3. Fluffy bunny time: find joy in dewdrops and birds and things. Like myself for who I am, whatever the blazes that means.

All of the above would involve rewiring my mental house — somehow. And none of them appeal. When I dig right down to it, I believe my happiness (not talking about anyone else’s) should come with strings attached. I don’t want to be as valuable and worthwhile if I fail as if I succeed. There’s something not morally wrong, but still somehow wrong with that idea. Perhaps my pride feels offended. Yet when I try thinking about any other person in this way, I see that I’m the one who’s wrong.

I assume I’m not the only person who can’t stomach the usual self-help platitudes, and has little time for religion, yet senses — or knows — that my interior attitudes are doing me no favours. How can ambition and striving coexist with some sort of fundamental contentment and kindness towards oneself?

03/28/14

Bricks in the Wall

Moving forward with Mino:

angus_spread

Here’s the test I did to make sure the maze can be cast ok. It seems fine:

maze_test_mould

maze_test_wax

And here’s Plague Doctor bird. (I’ve since smoothed his hat a bit, as the rough texture was a bit too different from the rest of him.)

dr_bird01

dr_bird04

Once Mino’s maze is finished, that will be the last of the pieces I plan definitely to take to Loncon. There might be a couple more, but with foundry schedules I’m not counting on it. Also, I’ve strained a ligament in my pinky finger (while repotting a plant), thanks to which piffling injury I’m somewhat restricted in the use of my right hand, and will be for several weeks. I wanted to finish blindfold guy, but he’s made of hard wax and I need ten strong fingers for him, so he has to wait a while longer. (I know he looks nearly finished — for a bodiless guy — but those were Pan’s hands, so I have to make them again.)

03/26/14

The plastic unheimlich

I spend a fair amount of time in, or else revisiting, a state of mind whose exact definition I grapple with, but which might be called an Edward Hopper state of mind. I associate it with plastic, gas stations at night, childhood memories of Barbies and Intellivisions, brick bungalow houses in the dark with life boxed in window lights. It is least associated with environments where time, history, and practices invested with imaginative meaning are visible, so I’m not likely to feel it in a church, or in an old house full of the souvenirs of someone’s life.

I don’t think I engage with this state very much — if at all — in my work, either in writing or art. I’ve tried writing it, but can’t find narratives for it (though, heck, I can’t find narratives for lots of things). It’s a boring state, yet one imbued with a lurking, immanent frisson. Silence, or minimal speech, is one of its typical qualities; conversation tends to dispel (literally dis-spell) it.

I doubt it’s a sculptable state. Installations might be able to convey it, but not body-oriented sculpture, whether figurative or abstract. Bodies, figures, characters, are if not incidental to it then subordinate to it, absorbed by it, like debris inside an amoeba. Painting and photography, media with capacity to depict rooms and buildings and effects of light, convey it best; the flatness of these media is also an advantage, flatness being one quality of the state itself. Even if figures are a focus of the composition, they will be anti-portraits, possessing some kind of charge, but not the charge of warm-blooded life.

Trying to describe this tate without resorting to images, I come up with “tension between the homely and the unhomely.” But “tension” isn’t the right word, although tension is present. It’s more like coexistence, which is interesting in the context of Freud’s “uncanny”, or “unheimlich”. I assumed “unheimlich” simply meant “unhomely, unfamiliar”, and so it does. However, “heimlich” doesn’t only mean “homely”; it also has a second definition, which can be found in Freud’s essay on the uncanny:

Concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know of or about it, withheld from others. To do something heimlich, i.e., behind someone’s back; to steal away heimlich; heimlich meetings and appointments. … The heimlich art’ (magic). ‘Where public ventilation has to stop, there heimlich conspirators and the loud battle-cry of professed revolutionaries.’ ‘A holy, heimlich effect.’ … ‘learned in strange Heimlichkeiten’ (magic arts).

As Freud says:

among its different shades of meaning the word ‘heimlich’’ exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, ‘unheirnlich.’ What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich. (Cf. the quotation from Gutzkow: ‘We call it “unheimlich”; you call it “heimlich.”’) In general we are reminded that the word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other. what is concealed and kept out of sight. ‘Unheimlich’ is customarily used, we are told, as the contrary only of the first signification of’ heimlich,’ and not of the second.

Is this hypostatic binary un/heimlich just a German linguistic accident, or is it a fact that the known is always lined with the unknown? Since there are limits to our knowledge of anything, the answer must be yes. Perhaps my Edward Hopper state of mind is the lining showing? Accumulations of meaning — figuration, portraiture, evidence of history and memory — may be the fastenings that hold the garment tight and stop it from turning inside out. I want a more nuanced word than “meaning”, too — weight, soul, story, substance? — but maybe that’s just my prejudice against the kind of people who go around all the time talking about finding meaning in life.

However, a scene or an object can be utterly unfamiliar, completely unhomely, but not at all uncanny. I seldom experience the Hopper state while on holiday, which I think is because holidays usually take in locations with intense concentrations of meaning — famous, historical, religious. Perhaps one could draw a distinction between the foreign uncanny (when it does occur) and the uncanny familiar. The former tends to be frightening, the latter something like melancholy.

Freud goes on to say:

When we proceed to review things, persons, impressions, events and situations which are able to arouse in us a feeling of the uncanny in a particularly forcible and definite form, the first requirement is obviously to select a suitable example to start on. Jentsch has taken as a very good instance ‘doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate’

My instinctive reaction, the usefulness of which I am not sure, is to think that perhaps my Edward Hopper state is one in which I have doubts (only in the form of uneasy emotion, without accompanying thought) as to whether I am alive. But that isn’t, or isn’t always, the whole story.

For my uncanny example, rather than a lonely urban scene, I’m choosing a bottle of nail polish:

nailpolish

This object has, for me, an uncanny quality. At risk of sounding pretentious, it defamiliarises nail polish. Firstly, the nail polish itself is unnatural, a festively industrial confetti. Still, in an ordinary bottle, it would pass unnoticed. If the makers of the lid had stopped at the embossed rose bud, the effect would have been prettily cheap. But they went and stuck that lurid, electric pink-mauve rose on top. Is it gorgeous? Is it awful? I can’t say. I do like it; yet I find it disturbing. Perhaps it has an aposematic quality, a warning of poison or other danger. Perhaps one of the animals within me is reacting to it; yet I couldn’t describe the disturbance as being anything like fear. I want to call it “misplaced recognition”, or “displaced recognition”, as if I were seeing the bottle but recognising something else.

When we find something uncanny, and can’t say why, are we experiencing the reaction of one of our mute interior animals, maybe not even a mammal, but something older and simpler, whose attitudes are part of us, but inaccessible to the light of our reason, like locked catacombs in our psyches?

Freud chooses Hoffmann’s story “The Sandman” as his example of a stimulus that arouses feelings of the uncanny. He makes the point that it is not the automaton Olimpia but rather the fear of losing one’s eyes that produces the more uncanny effect upon the reader. (But is this really uncanny / unheimlich, or just scary?). He then goes on to relate this fear to the castration complex, at which point his obsessions and mine part company. Still, in relating the experience of the uncanny to this “infantile factor”, he makes the point that the factor in question, in other instances, may not be fear, but a wish or a belief, such a child’s wish for its toys to come to life, or belief that they are alive. As I wrote above, I don’t find the uncanny in its familiar register to be frightening, but rather closer to melancholy. The melancholy may only be an undercurrent beneath fun or pleasure, too.

Nostalgic, maybe? No, not really. Perhaps a shade in the same band of the emotional spectrum, but, if so, a pining without any warmth: an emotion whose colours are neon and whose textures are without, and resistant to, time’s patina.

(ETA: in Part 2 of his essay, Freud writes: “[I]t is possible to recognize the dominance in the unconscious mind of a ‘compulsion to repeat’ proceeding from the instinctual impulses and probably inherent in the very nature of the instincts — a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character, and still very clearly expressed in the impulses of small children; a compulsion, too, which is responsible for a part of the course taken by the analyses of neurotic patients. All these considerations prepare us for the discovery that whatever reminds us of this inner ‘compulsion to repeat’ is perceived as uncanny.” Could this be why I find franchise stores somewhat uncanny?)

03/18/14

Mino and Faun

Little Mino’s about as finished as he’s going to be. Just gotta build that labyrinth…

angus04

And Faun — or as I’m starting to think of him, a child who got lost in the woods and never came back. I’m hoping to have him available in two or three patinas — green/brown, black, and possibly gold.

faun_spread