The second week, Lonni (our instructor) suggested we pick up some inspiration pictures of landscapes from her stack, and paint a landscape that included four elements: Sky, stone, trees and water. “If you can paint those, you can paint any landscape.”
When I’d finished the sky, rocks, trees, and water of landscape below, it looked unbalanced. All the attention went to the waterfall. The expanse of bare rock face needed something in the bottom left hand corner to draw the eye. I considered adding a person, sitting there and looking at the cascade. Instead, I chose (no surprise) a dragon. It would make the second painting a companion piece to the first dragon painting. And it gave me a reason to use contrasting reds and golds.
To figure out the stance and the scale, I used a picture of a sunbathing cormorant as a model and morphed it to match the dragon of my first painting. As I painted it, it came to me the creature wasn’t sunbathing, it was displaying. The target of its display is barely visible, a red-gold dot among the trees on the other side of the falls.
A dear friend in Seattle gifted me beginner acrylic painting classes. I love oils, but they sounded so complicated! With lengthy drying times! And arcane processes! Acrylic painting sounded – easier. But not, you know, *easy*. Hence the classes, from Lonni Flowers.
There were about a dozen of us – a good mix of ages and genders. The classroom at UW was a bit small, but well-lit. Lonni offered starter packs of paint/ brushes/ canvas for a token fee. I gladly took the offer. Much of the first session was about color blending: we worked with only three colors, red, blue and yellow – and white. No black, we’d have to mix our own. Then we started work on the already-prepared 8 x 10 canvases. She wanted us to paint sea and sky, and offered a bunch of photographs as inspiration. I picked up one, but then decided to just paint the sky out the window, and add sea from my memory.
This was the picture I brought home at the end of Day 1. “Very calm,” said my friend (who was kindly keeping me company in the class.) Homework was to complete the painting before the next session, next week.
“Maybe I’ll add a dragon,” I said.
It was calm. Reasonably artistic. But… it was too calm. Boring (I mean, for me. I’d admired pictures in the same vein. It just wasn’t what I wanted to paint. Too minimalist.)
So… I tried composing some other ideas. One that I tried (just in Microsoft Paint) was “Haunts.” It was meant as just an inspiration, but I could use the idea and the composition. It had a sort of eerie-Magritte vibe, and maybe I will actually paint it some day.
But it was still too minimalist… I really wanted a dragon. At first I thought I’d paint a golden dragon, to go with the relatively soft grey-blues of the picture. But when I tried, the yellow didn’t cover the blue. It was a see-through yellow dragon. So I added red and brown. And expanded the dragon. Added a rocky shoreline with algae. Then I found the sky looked too blue for the colors I had, so I added some grey and green for a moodier look.
After I’d done all that, I wanted something interesting in the bottom left of the painting to balance the dominant dragon. I painted a pile of golden eggs, two of which were hatching, and some hatchlings swimming in the water. When I took it back to class, I realized the eggs looked like the dragon’s hoard. Using reptilian eggs/ hatching photos from Google Images, I redid the eggs. Now I think they do look like eggs. At some point, I will probably redo the hatchlings in the water. I’m not happy with them.
It’s been a lot of fun. Later, I’ll post about the second class.
It was all over the web – the total lunar eclipse of Jan 20th 2019: the “Super Blood Wolf Moon.”
Super because the moon would be closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit, making it appear 14% larger than at the furthest point.
Blood because it would be a total eclipse, when refracted light around the earth would make the moon look red.
Wolf because the full moon of January is called the Wolf Moon.
Though It was the last total lunar eclipse until some time in 2021, I expected to miss it because of the weather. Monday was cloudy and slightly drizzly here in Seattle.
But. Just in time for the eclipse, the clouds moved out of the way. So I got to watch from my balcony with binoculars. It was superb. I kept calling out to passers-by (mainly people walking their dogs) and most of them turned around, looked up, and were amazed.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, and my iPhone was not very cooperative. Here’s my best shot:
It was written way back, and has been republished several times – and morphed along the way.
The latest iteration is in Mysterion, “an ezine of Christian-themed speculative fiction…” I did a partial rewrite of the story for this version, and I think bringing in religion gives the story additional depth and draws out some of the dilemmas at its heart.
I’ve been hearing about this book for a while now, and planning to read it. I last read the Odyssey decades ago, mainly because I regarded it as part of my education. Whichever translation it was, it was okay but not inspiring.
Finally, I got around to the Wilson translation. After reading the introduction of on my Kindle app, I switched to audio. This is actually the first audio book I’ve listened to, and it made a huge difference. Claire Danes did a great job of narrating it. It really felt like something I needed to hear rather than see, and some of the repetitiveness that might have been irksome in print was perfectly acceptable in audio.
I was also struck by the social and moral code underlying the story, some of which was discussed in the introduction. King of Liars is an honorific. So is Sacker of Cities. Everything depends on the favor of the gods, but while their favor can be courted – mainly by animal sacrifices – it is not reliably given. The King is very much the boss, until he’s dethroned and someone else takes over.
We celebrated New Year’s Day with a drive up to Skagit Valley to look for swans. It was a lovely drive – no rain, not much traffic, a good pause at Donna’s renovated Truck Stop – and yes, we found swans.
There weren’t as many this year as there had been the year before – or maybe the timing was wrong. But we did find two sizable flocks, as well as a few lone pairs flying around and grazing. I think they’re tundra swans, but not sure.
We had a pleasant lunch at a Thai restaurant – one of the few open on New Year’s Day, then walked along the river for a bit. It was pretty cold, so we didn’t stay out long. Lovely way to start the New Year!
Mom’s turquoise-blue saree morphed into her silver Battle Station uniform. She pulled us in for a long hug before rushing out the door. She’d be needed in the Situation Room with all the other Telepaths.
Recent college graduate Jerry Patel wants to manage a motel. He and his boyfriend Peter visit one that’s listed for sale. But the Chicken Monster Motel is no ordinary hostelry.
The story originated in a mix of the images and ideas: Baba Yaga’s house, family relationships as children grow up, the generational changes in values among immigrants to the US. What happens with my stories is that layers of commentary get packed into a few words and an often lighthearted plot, and it can take me months or years to unpack what I’ve written. In this story, for instance, whether the mother is a supporter or enabler depends on the viewpoint.
The Churail and the Crow was published in Asian Birds and Beasts anthology from Insignia (2018). I’m not sure of its eligibility, though, because it builds on a flash story earlier published as “Lena” in Ruthless People’s Magazine. It’s gone from 1000 words to >2000 words, but it’s built on the same armature.
If you’re reading for awards, I’d be delighted to have mine considered.
ETA: It’s not on the cover… but it’s still a gorgeous, perfect illustration!
ETA2: It *is* on the cover, of the E-book edition. (Fireside comes out monthly in e-book, and quarterly in print. So it’s the cover of the October e-book but not the Quarterly. See the last picture below.)
I was *even more thrilled* to discover that my story was on the cover, with an the illustration by Saleha Chowdhury! Thank you Fireside, and Saleha, you nailed it!
I grabbed the kid away as the thing ricocheted against the ceiling, fizzed, and exploded. “Ritika! That’s so stupid!”
But before I could scold her properly, the sound of divine footsteps echoed in the hall and inside our heads. We froze…
In a continuing exploration of the Thornton Creek Natural Areas, we went today to Beaver Pond. It’s actually two patches of preserved wild area in the middle of apartment buildings, homes, and office blocks. There’s a delightful forest with a nice little trail through it, that starts on 8th near 105th, (Northeast) and across 8th. I wandered through it and saw what I think was a mountain chickadee, also two separate guys who seem to be camping there. (Later, in roadside bushes, I saw a song sparrow that was quite bold.)
Between 105th and 106th, there’s the actual beaver pond. The pond is connected to Thornton Creek via some culverts and a tiny open roadside pond – and that’s where, today, I saw a beaver, around 7 p.m.
I’d met a lady who was clearly looking for the beavers. She lived around there, I think, and had been observing them for a couple of years. It was she who pointed at this unlikely place, and said she’d seen beavers there before.
And while we were talking, and she pointed out where she’d seen them, this beaver surfaced. But before I could take a photo – it heard our voices, and went under in a swirl of water. So the photo I got is of the beaver’s wake, not really the beaver.
In Seattle today I wanted to go into a forest, but didn’t want to go too far. That’s how we ended up at Thornton Creek – specifically, the section called Licorice Fern natural area. It was a delightful creek valley, quite small (less than a half mile from the trail entrance to where it climbed up – via a metal ladder – to the road). But it was a veritable jungle, full of all kinds of plants at every level, and going through it felt like an adventure. Aside from a few too many insects near the actual creek, it was lovely.
It was definitely a hike, though, with paths uneven and marshy (logs and planks had been put in to help keep shoes dry) and plants trying to take advantage of the opening and obliterate the trail. I’d recommend jeans rather than shorts and long-sleeved shirts, mainly for insects.
I didn’t see many birds, though I think they’re there. One bird I heard and then saw was a Steller’s Jay, yelling its head off I guess about this hiker in its woodland. (Which may be why I didn’t see any others!) I thought I heard a woodpecker, and I found a feather which may have come from a barred owl.
There’s a new anthology in the Insignia series of Asian-flavored speculative fiction: Asian Birds and Beasts. Here’s the cover, with the same styling as the previous five anthologies. It’ll be coming out August 20th, 2018 as an ebook.
I’m thrilled that one of my stories will be in this one. Here’s the table of contents:
‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh
‘The Star Ball’ by Amy Fontaine
‘Raising Words’ by Stewart C. Baker
‘Apsaras’ Dance’ by Kelly Matsuura
‘Ravens’ by Russell Hemmell
‘The Azure Dragon’ Lorraine Schein
‘The Churail and the Crow’ by Keyan Bowes
‘Vermillion Nights’ by Joyce Chng
My story is a sort-of-reprint – it’s a greatly expanded version of a flash piece first published as Lena. I’ve always wanted to flesh out that story, and I’m happy it found a new home.
Some years ago, I started an experiment – making little graphics representing each of Shakespeare’s plays in a 400-pixel square. The idea was to make an image that would represent the play to people who knew it, in a minimal way. Some are more minimal than others…
The first three, which I published on my then-Livejournal and have copied over to this blog, were Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet. Those are here: Shakespeare’s Thumbnails.
I’ve been watching the African American Shakespeare Company’s productions when I can for some years now. They used to operate out of a building on Filmore, a small intimate theater which gave a sense of being in an art theater. They no longer have that space, and this year they did Richard III, starring L. Peter Callender, in the War Memorial Opera House’s Taube Atrium theater. It’s a more traditional space, at least as it’s set up now. Tickets are $30. It attracted a pretty big audience, I think every seat was taken.
I thought I knew the play, but apparently not well enough. I found the first half a bit confusing and had trouble keeping track of who was who and what was going on exactly (though of course the broader action and themes were quite clear). It wasn’t helped by the acoustics. After the intermission, though, it came together very well indeed, and I found it gripping.
The set included a sort of catwalk parallel to the stage edge, which, with the front of the stage, was the area of action. The setting was projected onto a back screen and a movable screen mounted on this catwalk, so scene changes were effortless… a picture of a stone wall representing the tower, a palace interior, and outdoors sunset scene for the battlefield. The ghosts that appear to Richard and to Richmond the night before the battle were in video projected on these screens.
I tried to take a photograph of the first scene to include in this blog, but the ill-mannered woman sitting next to me slapped down my hand. I’m not clear why. The announcement had prohibited flash photography and video, but I was doing neither. Anyway, I didn’t pursue it. It wasn’t that important. (The picture I’ve included is the latest in my “Shakespeare’s thumbnails” series.)
For me, the standout performance was that of Queen Margaret (played by Beli Sullivan), the widow of the late king Henry VI. Her fury and curses formed the backbone of the play, even though she actually appears in few scenes. In fact, something about the production tilted the emphasis toward the royal women: Queen Margaret; the Duchess of York, the mother of the Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence, and Richard III who caused the death of both his brothers; Queen Elizabeth, the widow of Edward IV and mother of the murdered princes; and Anne, daughter-in-law of Henry VI and later Richard III’s reluctant wife. Their stories carried the real emotion of the play.
A couple of days ago, we drove down from Seattle to San Francisco down the I-5. Soon after we entered California, Mt Shasta quite suddenly nudged around the shoulder of the hills, then floated above the road like an apparition of a mountain, growing larger and larger…
The Tiptree auction was a hoot. I always attended when Ellen Klages was the auctioneer in a spirit of stand-up comedy, and after she retired, the role was taken over by Sumana Harihareswara. Sumana’s made it her own, and it was a lot of fun. Best item: An inflatable pink vinyl fish skeleton, where the bidding started at $2 and made it to… I don’t recall: $200?
The Guest of Honor speeches were wonderful. Saladin Ahmed spoke about his grandmother, who was an activist, matriarch, and the heart of the family. (His speech is posted to his Patreon page, here.) Tananarive Due spoke of Afrofuturism, activism, and literature as a way of fighting for a better world – together with regular activism. (That speech is on Youtube.)
Here I am, at Wiscon 42! Yesterday, I met with a friend who’s moved from the Bay Area to Madison, where the lower cost of living allows for a transition from biotech to full-time writing. We had a pleasant dinner and ended up in a smoke shop run by a delightfully nerdy guy who stocked some splendid glass and fabric art. (There were dragons. And a Rick and Morty version of a thangka.)
Today was the Wiscon kick-off with the guest of honor readings at the wonderful bookstore, Room of One’s Own. Unfortunately, Tananarive Due couldn’t be there because between her teaching schedule at UCLA and the flights from the West Coast, she’d need a time-turner. Saladin Ahmed was there, though, and gave a warm and self-deprecating introduction. Then he read a short story that was a comical yet moving play on the Indiana Jones trope.
After the reading and the Q&A, I wandered around the bookstore for a while. It’s the kind of place I’d love to be accidentally locked into for the night – room after room, filled with carefully selected books. As I was leaving, I saw a copy of Rati Mehrotra’s book, Markswoman, in the wild. (I already have a copy, so didn’t buy it. It’s an Asian-flavored fantasy with some marvelous world-building and good characters, and I enjoyed it a lot.)
A friend recently took me to an amazing exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). It was called Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty, and the concept and design were by Robert Wilson.
What was special was that the display was presented as a series of 10 rooms, each one themed to a particular experience with the wall coverings, especially composed music, and customized lighting. It started in a darkened room painted all black, displaying one perfect – black – vase. It was meant as a space for meditation, and the music was punctuated by what sounded like a falling pencil, but I was later told was Wilson himself dropping a chopstick.
The next room was wallpapered with a customized design of evenly-spaced precious objects such as vases and pins and other beautifully-made luxury products. In a chicken-wire enclosed space, the pictured objects were displayed in the center of the room. Room 3 was a display of court robes, including the emperor’s own robe. They were exquisitely woven and embroidered. I am into textiles and textile art, so I spent some time just trying to understand the artistry and techniques here.
Room 4, painted a dull blue, had a glass case with a 2000-year-old bronze statue representing the common man. He faced the Emperor’s throne in Room 5, painted red with a dramatic and fearsome dragon. This might have been my favorite room.
The rooms on either side had religious art – Buddhist on one side, with five statues; and Daoist on the other with three hanging scrolls in a darkened room that represented a cave.
Room 8 was a contrast, representing the decorative role of women. In a room lined with silvered mylar, the central display was of more gorgeous robes, head-dresses, and furniture.
It also had a pair of “lotus” shoes that went on a woman’s bound feet. A little child’s coat, delicately embroidered, was a reminder that the children also lived in this environment of beauty and constraint.
The next room, Mountains of the Mind, contrasted mountains carved of jade with a custom wallpaper that at first glance looked like the spectacular limestone mountains of Guilin (which I’ve actually seen, many years ago). But on a second look, the mountains are made up of apartment blocks, office towers, and factories, some functional, others dilapidated.
The brochure for the exhibition suggests that mountains represent the divine and spiritual in China, and the idea of retreating to the simplicity of the mountains was a dream of courtiers and Emperors. The wallpaper seemed to contrast that idea with the impacts of economic progress and perhaps the opposing dream of material prosperity.
At the center of the room was a glass case with a simply exquisite very long scroll, apparently woven of silk and enhanced with paint and maybe embroidery. I pored over that for a long time.
The final room I found anti-climactic. Set up in contrast to the darkness of the first room, the idea was “Lightness” and it was painted white with bright even lighting. A single exquisite white jade vase was on “display.” I put display in quotes, because it was behind what seemed to be lightly frosted glass, and was high above my head. I could barely see it; it was like a ghost of a vase. Which was a shame, because by the picture in the brochure, its detailed carving is part of its beauty.
Recently, I was reminded that birds are descended from dinosaurs. It’s easy to imagine pterosaurs mixing it up after watching birds attacking other birds…
CROW V. GULL
I’ve often watched crows harassing owls and hawks, using their maneuverability to stay out of reach. Usually the larger bird’s trying to get away while the crow chases it.
But the other day, I saw a crow harassing a gull. The gull was about as nimble as the crow, so instead of a pursuit, it became an aerial dogfight, with the gull after the crow as often as the other way around.
It went on for quite a while before the gull dropped down to a rooftop.
OSPREY V. GREAT BLUE HERON
I was visiting friends in Minneapolis in their lovely lakeside home. We were sitting on the dock at sunset, when we heard series of loud harsh squawks. It was a great blue heron perched in a tree, being attacked by an osprey.
We watched the osprey diving at the heron, the heron trying to spear the osprey (with sound effects). At first we thought the osprey was after a nest, but no, when the squawking heron gave up defending itself and took off across the lake, the fighter plane osprey followed it. They landed in the trees across the lake, and we lost sight of them. (And I didn’t even think to take pictures…)
When I googled it, it turns out the ospreys do attack herons, though I’m not clear if as prey or as rivals.
I was hanging out in someone’s backyard on a recent afternoon when I noticed some tiny moths flying around. One settled on a small tree, and I got a photograph.
And because the internet is wonderful, sitting right there I could search for a match on my phone. It’s Oecophora bractella, a European moth that seems to have established a population locally. It was first seen in the US in Seattle in 1998. It lives on decaying wood and fungus. That seems right; a tree was cut down in this yard a few years ago, and the logs are still there, gradually decaying.