Friday, June 26, 2009

Shifting Consciousness

Wow. It's rare to find something so wonderful and moving on YouTube. The following is a portion of a talk given by Terence McKenna.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Narrow Halls of Pages

It's been many years since I've visited my local library and actually borrowed books (I have been there on a rare occasion to browse and to donate books, but it doesn't seem like a real visit when you leave empty-handed). The library within walking distance from my apartment is the same library I used to walk to more than a decade ago, and visiting seems to call back a ghost of my former self. I enter and can feel some smaller part of me wisp off and eagerly head towards the sections I haunted as a girl, curling up on the floor while eyeing the worn spines and deciding which book to slip off the shelf and into the lap first.

My library card is the very same as the one I carried in those visits, and I'm always a little embarrassed to show it to the librarian. The "signature" in the strip across the front is surely on of my firsts and I can imagine that I wielded the ballpoint pen in my fist like a crayon. It's amazing that all of the lettering was fairly contained in the designated area, but I realize that I've been drawing almost all of my life so I think perhaps I had more manual dexterity than others in my age group. I dusted off that card, metaphorically speaking, and paid the $11.00 fine, literally speaking, I had racked up in late fees which had been stewing in my account all these moons, and got my fix of nepenthe.

This visit I returned home with Tithe by Holly Black and The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint. I just barely have touched on the latter, but I devoured the former in one evening and shortly after did the same with its sequel Ironside.

Black's two novels were just what I was seeking for my recently re-instituted drug habit and as an added bonus provided the brief intellectual satisfaction of being familiar with the fairylore references sprinkled throughout. They were enjoyable in supplying my desired escape, but beyond reveling in the fantasy (Roiben is as drool-worthy as Edward as a male protanganist), I wasn't very compelled by Black's portrayal of faeries. For the most part I felt the faeries were far too human in their actions and squabbles. There is an effort in the books to suggest that the Unseelie Court is not solely comprised of caricatures of villainy and that there is also kindness and wisdom in that realm, as well as treachery and deceit in the opposing Seelie Court, and those who at first seem friends are foes (or vice versa) but I don't feel like that message really saturates deeply into the core of the story.

The faerie character that felt the most true to me was the Kelpie. His "evil" nature seemed to be borne of a fierce, yet innocent fascination with human perishing rather than the contrived malevolence shown by much of the Unseelie Court in the novels who seemed more akin to classic human villains of comic books and cinema, those who know right from wrong and choose their path accordingly: "I wonder about death. I who may never know it. It looks so much like ecstasy, the way they open their mouths as they drown, the way their fingers dig into your skin. Their eyes wide and startled as they thrash in your hands as though with an excess of passion."

Yet, the character of Thistlewitch offers some profound statements on Faery:
So much focus on the egg — it is life, it is food, it is answer to a hundred riddles — but look at its shell. The secrets are writ on its walls. Secrets lie in the entrails of things, in the dregs.

Glamour is the stuff of illusion, but sometimes if deftly woven, it can be more than a mere disguise. Fantastical pockets can actually hold baubles, an illusionary umbrella can protect one from the rain, and magical gold can remain gold, at least until the warmth of the magician's hand fades from the coins.
From these tidbits you can sense Black actually does have a real feel for the Otherworldly, but I suppose it's hard to compose a novel where you can neatly tie in all the loose ends at the end of a few chapters if you're really trying to convey the depth and complexity of Faery (and probably more difficult to market, I imagine).

Monday, June 8, 2009


By the parking area behind my apartment building there is a particular maple tree who has captured my interest. Her figure is not tall and lean as those of her nearby siblings; she is hunched, warped, and turns upon herself at peculiar angles, and yet in my opinion possesses an elegance that her sisters do not. In the frigid days following my own sister's wedding, a bouquet of white carnations lay in my passenger's seat preserved by the cold. It seemed such a waste to throw them away (what good would come of them trapped in black plastic, preventing them from joining the soil?) so I made a gift of them. Hands gnarled like her branches and numbing in the chill night air, I pulled each flower from its crowded foam base and arranged them in one of the maple's holes near the where her roots wind their way into the ground. I smiled and wordlessly thanked her for her company. It was not too long afterwords that this drawing began, and as the unusual features and awkward torsion emerged I recognized the maple tree who greets me everyday when I leave for work and return in the evenings.

A burl is a term used to refer to an abnormal, fast-growing, bulbous arboreal growth — something almost akin to a tumor. They are typically caused by some sort of stress either resulting from fungus, insects, or sometimes by human involvement and disruption. Burls can often grow to be quite large and many times trees die from their burden. Yet what otherwise might be regarded as misshapen and diseased is highly sought by woodworkers, for beneath the crumpled bark covering the burl like a scab is wood whose grain is intricately whorled and nearly liquid with motion. Certain varieties of burl wood can command high prices. It adorns items of expense and opulence, and can often be found in the interiors of luxury cars and as veneers on fine furniture. This contrast of appreciation for its outer and interior forms is represented by the ornate Roccoco border. In a strange reversal of how our society typically operates, it actually is what's inside that counts and the outer form is not usually so well-regarded.

It is also a statement about how we might wish Otherworldy creatures to perpetually appear versus how they tend to truly reveal Themselves. Contrary to today's vision of Faerie as represented by the cherubic winged sprite in the upper right corner, faeries were often strange and grotesque — and yet their homely visage did not preclude them from being respected and revered:
The representations of fairy and demon familiars found in early modern encounter-narratives reflect the animist culture of the rural village, as opposed to the theistic culture of the cloister or oak-panelled study. [...] [A]mong the common folk of this period, the assortment of spirits which came under the umbrella term of fairies — bizarre and sometimes ridiculous-looking as they were — possessed the numen of sacred beings, and as such were objects for devotion. [...] This devotion was not only reserved for the beautiful and/or noble fairy monarchy and other spirits who conformed in some way to stereotypical Christian notions about sacred beings [...].1

I thought it was very important to anchor this piece in the real world where this tree actually grows. The background is very closely based to the actual location where this Maple spreads her branches. She would not hold the same poignancy were I to draw her in some enchanted glade where a glittering unicorn might nibble her leaves as that is not where she belongs. If we cannot find beauty where we are, there is little hope of truly finding it elsewhere.

Media: black ballpoint pen, ink, acrylic, pen & ink
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 inches

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Wilby, Emma. Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits. ISBN 1-84519-078-5. 226.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Life in Progress

Above is a photo of two pieces in progress. The figure on the left has been in such a state for much longer than the one on the right, which will hopefully be completed in the not-too-distant future. Like these images, my life seems to have been halted mid-course.

For the past year or so it has been a constant struggle to find the hours and energy to delve into the work I feel like I was meant to do. As a result I've found myself in a deep depression which deprives me even of the desire to work, forcing me into a vicious cycle which just keeps pushing me farther and farther away from where I wish to be.

At one point the situation was so bleak I ended up being dependent upon a drug for weeks to make it through (not a drug in the conventional sense as it's perfectly legal, requires no doctor or psychiatrist to prescribe, and the dealers include your friendly neighborhood Barnes & Noble and Borders, but a drug nonetheless). You probably are familiar with it: a hefty series of four books centered on a love triangle between a vampire with a conscience, a werewolf, and a clumsy human. Seriously, this saga, which shall remain unnamed, is a far cry from literature — it is a highly-addictive substance specifically designed to target and mentally incapacitate a select range of females (basically anyone who felt like a social outcast in high school which is a pretty large demographic). It was escapism of the worst kind.

My full-time day job is a necessary evil as it pays the bills, but while it once seemed content to remain in the space allotted to it (approximately forty hours a week in a generic office building) it has grown insatiable in appetite, demanding to take over my attention and identity. It wants to be the sun around which the rest of my life revolves. I'm taking steps to extricate myself from the increasingly hostile environment but I don't know how long it will take to regain some sort of healthy balance. In the meantime I'm trying to find some perspective and inspiration to hold onto so I don't lose myself completely. Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese" has become a holy mantra, and I pour over the images in my mind each in turn like the beads of a rosary.

In tribal and pre-literate societies illness was often believed to be a result of a loss of essence. Personal turmoil can entangle the soul or cause it to wander away, but it can also be stolen or deliberately mislead by clever sorcerers. It was one of the shaman's many tasks to journey into the Underworld to retrieve the soul that had been lost (or taken) and reunite it with its waking self, thus restoring a person to wholeness. I need to reweave the connections with my guides so that I can find my soul again.