Taxonomy

Hired men squat around a hole in the ground. The 19th century gentleman naturalist hefts a dirt-caked seashell and frowns. “It’s certainly a cephalopod, but of what kind? Ammonoid? Nautiloid? Fetch me a glass. If the siphuncle was fossilized, all the easier to tell, but a good look at the septal necks should do the trick.”

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“I wonder what we will call this thing?” he says excitedly.

 ***

The 21st century young professional is halfway done. She picks up her phone, flips through Twitter, skims an article, skims related articles, filters for inspirational image macros, puts the phone down and writes another sentence. She picks up the phone again. She hesitates.

What am I doing? she thinks. It’s certainly work, when I’m working, but it’s not work when I’m not. I don’t ‘go to work’ in the sense that work occurs between nine and five and leisure – whatever that is – occurs before and after. It’s work for fifteen minutes, then two, then twenty-five, maybe an hour, interspersed by periods of not-work. The work/not-work continues when I’m home. My phone blips the same for think pieces and work emails.

What should I call this thing, this ‘not-work’? I can’t quite call it leisure. There’s nothing leisurely about sitting in a cubicle in stiff clothes hunched over a smartphone.

“I’ll look it up,” she mumbles.

In five minutes, she has an answer. “Leaky,” she says. “Leaky leisure.”

Dissatisfied, she puts down her phone. She types another sentence, mouths an awkward portmanteau, shakes her head. She drags her phone from the desk and heads to lunch.

^ This. All of this.

We all agree this thing is bad. Like this smart person that also has internet access and a keyboard, I’m against this bad thing in this very specific way that you’re not.

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It’s entirely symbolic. I haven’t really done anything for any cause other than share links with comments in cancerous agreement (e.g. “This. All of this.”) on social media and send ten dollars to a candidate who will most likely do nothing to fix the issue, particularly in the very specific way people who I think are smarter than me think it should be fixed, but I believe, conveniently, as long as we keep posting imperatives derived from premises in the indicative mood, and then insisting that people aren’t listening when they disagree, or aren’t educated enough to have an opinion on the matter at all, hammer to anvil, something will change. I may not know how and I certainly don’t know what this change would even look like, given that the imperative itself is vague and mostly an exercise in nomenclature, but we all have to do something.

Boar poker, vanishing crabs and the limits of imagination

Brother Eared is a mystic. The Many Worlds have been revealed to him, and he started the tale of his revelation over the past couple of weeks. You can find the comics in sequence here, here and here.

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It’s also possible that he cheats at cards, at least according to his brother Feared.

This chapter will be the longest that we’ve posted so far at Little Grey Pages and the first step into the bigger universe we’ve created. I haven’t done any large scale worldbuilding in a while. The whiteboard above my desk is busy again.

For me, this is the difficult work. It’s why I’ve avoided writing science fiction and fantasy in recent years; it feels much more natural (comfortable?) to write in unfamiliar terms about familiar people in familiar places. When these variables are known and shared, I feel that I better focus on the writing itself earlier in the process.

It’s funny. As artists and writers and musicians, we want to emphasize that the potential of the imagination is endless, particularly to students and novices, and perhaps it is as a starting point. But as you begin to work, the possibilities narrow with each detail, and as the work nears completion, the number of available paths becomes fewer and fewer at each intersection. At the end of Going After Cacciato, Tim O’Brien presents this problem as part of a larger discussion of personal/political obligation in a surreal press conference of sorts held between two of the main characters. I’m reminded of the passage often as I write.

“Even in imagination we must obey the logic of what we starred. Even in imagination we must be true to our obligations, for, even in imagination, obligation cannot be outrun. Imagination, like reality, has its limits.”

Frankly, it sounds a bit nutty to say that we have a duty to the characters we create, that once desert is established by the imaginary actions of one of these imaginary agents, it must be resolved, as if this resolution is a thing in the world. But the debt must be paid. The obligation must be fulfilled. So it goes with melody and contrasting visual elements. When time is a factor in art – in writing, music and film, for example – the resolution can be postponed, but not for too long and not indefinitely, unless that’s the thesis – that the failure must end in failure, that the man will never change, that evil will always exist if not prevail, that contrition does not guarantee redemption, etc. Even then, even the most open-minded of us must admit to some dissatisfaction, even if this dissatisfaction is the point. Sometimes it just feels like a stunt. Art for artists. Art that makes people not “in the know” feel like the joke’s on them. John Cage comes to mind.

I tend to think of my work as a puzzle in the making. Scattered pieces that need to be cut and fashioned to fit together. It feels productive, engaged in a craft. Some are too large or too small. Some, you find, are pieces of another puzzle entirely. But even then, when 97 pieces of the 100 are placed, the last three must be shaped to conform to the arrangement of the rest or else the puzzle will never be solved if there’s a solution at all.

Tree ghosts and Beard Brothers

bbblog1Couple of new posts up this week at Little Grey Pages. We’re back to The Beard Brothers storyline for the long tale of how Brother Eared found the mysterious crystal he wears on his head. But first, the Brothers settle in with a little poker.

I also shared a little excerpt about malevolent tree ghosts on the blog from an old book written by Elliot O’Donnell, a self-proclaimed ghost hunter. Yes, tree ghosts – not ghosts in trees, ghosts of trees.

A miner described an entire phantom forest springing up deep underground:

 “Ghosts,” he said, when I asked him if he had any experiences with the supernatural whilst engaged in his underground work. “Ghosts! Yes, but of a nature you don’t read about in books. Me and my mates, when working in a drift at night, have heard the blowing of the wind and a mighty rustling of leaves, and have found ourselves surrounded on all sides by numerous trees and ferns that have suddenly risen from the ground and formed a regular forest. They have not resembled any trees you see now-a-days, but what you might fancy existed many thousands of years ago. There has been no colour in them, only a uniform whiteness, and they have shone like phosphorous. We have heard, too, all the noises, such as go on daily in forests above-ground—the humming and buzzing of insects, and the chirping of birds; and shafts and galleries have echoed and re-echoed with the sounds, till you would have thought that those away above us must have heard them, too.”

But not everything in O’Donnell’s world is undead. He claims there is another category of strange ghosts, the “neutrarians”:

These neutrarians are spirits that have never inhabited material bodies, and are only to be found in very remote and isolated districts, where the soil has rarely if ever been disturbed. They are invariably antagonistic to all forms of animal life, probably, because, if they were created first, which is quite feasible, they regard man as an interloper, and, probably, also because they covet man’s body and are jealous of him… Neutrarians vary considerably both in appearance, habits and constitution. Whilst some can apparently reveal themselves at will, others can only do so by stealing vitality from human beings or animals… Belonging to [a] species that cannot manifest itself without drawing vitality from some form or other of animal life…

There are only a handful of other mentions of the word “neutrarian” on the internet. Two of them are in O’Donnell’s books, the one linked above and The Banshee:

I myself know of several Banshee hauntings in which the phantom certainly cannot be that of any member of the human race; its features and proportions absolutely negative such a possibility, and I should have no hesitation in affirming that, in these cases, the phantom is what is commonly known as an elemental, or what I have termed in previous of my works, a neutrarian, that is a spirit that has never inhabited any material body, and which belongs to a species entirely distinct from man.

“Neutraria” is an imaginary nation state in the South Pacific, but its Neutrarians are democratic socialists, not grotesque phantasms, unfortunately. I’m assuming that O’Donnell made up the word to describe these beings. Perhaps it’s derivative of neutral or neuter? Neither alive nor dead, incapable of ever being in either state? Maybe it just sounds cool.

Catching up

It’s been a good seven months. Most of my efforts outside of work have been concentrated on two new loves in my life: the Little Grey Pages project and my son Arthur. He turned one year old on the first of July. My silence here on the blog marks the point at which he started truly interacting with his new world. He changes daily and I change along with him.

Little Grey Pages is going strong. So far this year, with the help of Crow and others, Red Panda still runs free in Washington, DC.

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Brother Weird Beard created a need no one knew they had.

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Oscar got a haircut with a mind of its own.

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Henry and Harriet have just begun to dig into the mysteries of Fretter’s Creek: fiery mountaintop rituals, ghostly pruners, haunted corn mazes and phantom fauna.

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On the Little Grey Pages blog, I started a series of posts called “From the Bookshelf”, where I dig up old readings related to the comic or story posted that week. When Heather was drawing up the “Big Haircut” storyline for The Rescue, I thought it would be fun to share Aristotle’s ideas on friendship as love of a second self.

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But most of the work I’d like to do on that front will be more obscure – clips from old storybooks mostly forgotten, hidden among the millions of scanned pages on sites like Google Books and Gutenberg.

We have lots of new material in the works. As we’ve gotten our footing with the characters and where they’re going, the story arcs will be a bit longer. For example, in the case of Fretter’s Creek, I have a few more short stories to share before the main arc begins, which will read more like a serial novel than a series of discontinuous vignettes.

For the comics themselves, I usually write up a description of each panel on each page – what happens, who says what, etc. and then draw a mock up. The last step is probably unnecessary. My sketches are so awful that I have to sit down with Heather anyway to go over what’s on the page, but she gets a kick out of my terrible drawings, which may be the main reason why I keep doing them. It’s great fun working together to see our little worlds come alive.

In the flux I’ve been working on other projects when I can, focusing more on revision and planning than actual writing. In the fall, I completed revisions on the novel I drafted last year and have written an outline for the rewrite. But I need to find the time and the “feel” again. Part of the issue is a lack of daily practice and long form writing. But it’s as much a reading problem as it is a writing problem.

So I’ve set out a stack of books on the nightstand. Some to help find that feel for writing well: short stories by Raymond Carver, Middlemarch, Notes from Underground, Death of a Salesman. And some to remind me of why I chose to be a writer in the first place: Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Out of the Silent Planet. I’ve read mostly philosophy texts over the past couple years, trying to find a bit of context for our current political and cultural climate, and while those ideas have provided new perspectives useful for fiction, I’d rather not find the tail-chasing writing quirks of philosophers cropping up in my work. I spend enough time fighting the tech writer’s tendencies.

Rain comes at sunset. The first few drops fall in the last light of day. Time to settle in again.

A haunted town and a questing dog

There’s a few posts up at Little Grey Pages that I haven’t linked here. Fretter’s Creek started on the last Friday of our launch week, and while the story will occasionally take the form of a comic, the majority of it will be written and illustrated. Fretter’s Creek has several non-linear ties to the novel I’ve been drafting, and I’m really looking forward to telling the tale of this spooky little valley.

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The other two posts, Chapters 1.2 and 1.3 of “The Rescue” dig a little deeper into Oscar’s origin story, which will be the main spine of the storyline for a while, interspersed with little side stories and anecdotes along the way.

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Escape from DC

crow dcThere’s a fugitive loose on the streets of DC! The chase begins today, with the first chapter of “Red Panda and Crow” on Little Grey Pages.

We’re thrilled with how the launch has gone this week, but we still have prints and stickers to give away on our Facebook page…

Been thinking about a little escape from DC myself lately. If only I had wings…