Little Alvin Grows Up

Just having a little fun with digital drawing tools again. It’s nice to have art toys, isn’t it. I know that my latest little dragon friend wouldn’t have been hatched, let alone gone through his spotty youth and prime and grown into a fully fledged friendly monster, if I hadn’t had access to such enjoyable and versatile playthings. Little Alvin here is happy to meet all of you.Digital illo: Little Alvin 1 Digital illo: Little Alvin 2

Alvin the Artful

From the day that he was born, he has been drawn to things

That make him want to skip and jump and stretch his wavy wings;

His destiny is in the works and he’s a tool of fate

Designed to entertain, amuse, and if it’s not too late,

To educate his artist friend in how to make him change

From skinny little squiggle lines to something rich and strange,

And older dragon, more mature, more layered, nuanced, wild,

And her, the artist, to more skilled—but happy as a child.Digital illo: Little Alvin 3 Digital illo: Little Alvin 4

Defeating Nightmares

graphite drawingNo matter how impressive and terrifying the monster, there’s always something that can defeat it. Most monsters have their own monsters, when it comes right down to it. Their tormentors may be superior powers, but in truth, it may well be the simplest and smallest, most innocuous detail that thwarts the fiercest monster.

It might even be me.

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Is it his own greed and hubris, or is it a clever prank I pulled that takes down the mighty monster? Not that it matters, as long as I win the day!

Kept at Bay

Greedy little nightmare,

You stole from me an hour

Of sleep that should have been repose

With twisted, dark and sour

Delirium and horror-shows

Of ghosts and ghouls and glee-

Filled monster tales and dragon-scales—

O! Set this captive free!

For if you deign to torture me

Incessant, sleepless grind,

I’ll out you in a rotten verse

And you will lose your mind.

Friendly Dragons

photo montageLight Armor

Not everything that’s fierce is cause for fear,

for strength in a good cause is great indeed,

but not intended to make others bleed;

rather, to shield the weak and persevere

Against all odds, to seek the distant grail,

to lead the way when battle’s all around,

and when it’s won, to hold the conquered ground,

protecting treasures fragile, sweet and pale;

For guardian angels, pioneering, brave

adventurers and stalwart friends in stress,

must keep their fiercest watch and always dress

full-armored, so prepared to shield and save

Us humbler beings and what we hold dear;

Not everything that’s fierce is cause for fear!

digital illustration from a P&I drawing

See? I told you they show up unexpectedly; just after I gave you this messenger in another post, I got the idea for today’s sonnet.

Little Dragon with a Big Appetite

Ever feel tiny? Like everyone and everything else in the world is, by comparison, huge and powerful and towering and you can’t begin to compare, let alone compete? Have you let yourself be measured in comparison with anyone or anything else? Yeah, me too.graphite drawingBut isn’t it worthwhile to break out of that miniscule self-containment somehow? Isn’t the most valid measure of my worth found more truly in what I do as my best self, in what I become over time by growing into a finer and grander version of me? What you see is what you get–for now. And then I plan on continuing my progress as well as I can manage, for as long as I live. That’s all I can promise. With one little [ahem] caveat: I know that the best defense against seeing myself as inadequate to any task is the blessed ignorance of my true inadequacy. So I promise as a small [ahem] part of the larger issue that I will do my best to forget that there is such a thing as the improbable, let alone the impossible, and just get on with living my life, however insignificant it may seem likely to be. [Come on along.]

It’s Not Just Dragon-Breath that Scares Me

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Night Terrors and Morning Madness

How odd, arising in the morning, to look in the mirror’s glass,

To see someone so unfamiliar, so unkind, uncouth and crass,

So ill-mannered and repellant, full of grossness, grease and grunge,

And to wonder how on earth I can begin to clean, expunge,

Remove, ameliorate; to salvage any goodness I could hope

To find in such an unfit carcass; rescue with what bar of soap,

What fell razor or belt sander, what hair shirt, what whips and chains

Aimed at purifying putrid monster madness, would what else remains

E’en resemble who I used to think I was, have any grace?

What relief, when after coffee, I come back and see my face!

Under all of it, thank heavens, lies the self I onetime knew,

With its kindly dragon scales and bony crest familiar: Whew!

Happy Chinese New Year, Y’All!

That’s Texan for 新年快樂 and today is the start of the Year of the Dragon! So in addition to being a big year for my youngest sister thanks to her year of birth, this should be a year of power and prosperity for all, as the dragon is symbolic of not only royalty but is the only truly rare creature in the Chinese zodiac, being supposedly mythical and all. I happen to know where one or two hang out, but then I am kind of special, being a Rat (we Rats won the Emperor’s race between the twelve great creatures, for those of you not in the know).

And why should an old Norsk-descendant-living-in-north-Texas like me care about Dragons and Chinese calendars? Because I find all sorts of cultural treasures from all sorts of rich cultures fascinating, and why wouldn’t anyone. It’s an ecumenical sort of thing with me: most cultures have at many levels interests, beliefs and strengths that are not only worthy of examination but surprisingly held in common by many, if not most, others–simply under different names–and I think it’s tremendously impressive and endlessly intriguing to learn how our seemingly diverse nationalities, languages, customs and faiths ultimately intertwine.

Have you ever looked at a piece of Folk Art and thought that it might come from East Africa somewhere–but then thought that it might equally have come from the hands of Inuit artists or Suomi ones, dwellers in Oceania or Croatia or maybe somewhere in the heart of Syria? It’s amazingly frequent that one comes across such remarkably strong commonalities across cultures and borders that it takes a veritable forensic investigation and examination to determine a thing’s true origins. In many cases we learn along the way that in fact the point of “origin” for a single word, object, or idea as we know it was the end point of a long and winding journey through many cultures and across many borders.

That’s a mighty long-winded way of saying that it’s only natural in my view that I should be happy to learn more about and celebrate other nationalities’ and other people’s most fabulous and fascinating attributes.

The other aspect of my personal interest is simpler, perhaps: some of my Norwegian ancestors lived and worked in China in pre-Communist years and founded a school that is still flourishing under the care of Chinese teachers and administrators. For all that I deplore about the darker sort of “evangelism” practiced by many missionaries under the guise of Christian faith (and perhaps others), this kind of mutual interchange of ideas and contribution of efforts strikes me as among the best in any relationship and one I’m happy to recognize. My mother’s cousin, at the time the Norwegian Ambassador in Beijing, took my visiting aunt to the school a few years ago and they were welcomed like some sort of heroes returning from the mists of time on their arrival merely for being descended from the school’s founders, so I think it safe to say that this was seen as a more positive influence than some.

And finally, my love of things Chinese comes from wonderful friends who either are Chinese by birth or descent themselves or have spent joyful time immersed in China and Chinese culture. One such couple would be my “extra grandparents” the wonderful Talbert and Ella, who had also lived with great happiness for years of missionary work in China. Again, I know both from their deeply gentle and thoughtful natures as surrogate grandparents and from the fact that they were in the first party of Westerners actually invited to return to the Chinese interior after the flowering of détente, that this was a true love for them. The plain yet happy upshot in my middle-American life was that as a young girl I was taught by Talbert how to hold my chopsticks properly, grew up eating genuine and very humble stir-fries in my Norwegian-American home because Ella shared her know-how with Mom (long before Americans ever knew of any Asian foods more authentic than Chop Suey and Egg Foo Yong as defined by westernized restaurants), and I was regaled with tales of a magical kingdom that was surprisingly real.

When we lived outside Chicago for a couple of years during that time, a highlight was a dinner Talbert and Ella took us to at a classic hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant of the truly authentic sort, where Talbert chattered in Mandarin with the delighted owner and ordered us an unforgettably delicious feast. The owner was so taken with us that when he discovered that our party there was coincidentally on my (11th?) birthday, he came out and very ceremoniously presented me with a whole packet of chopsticks bearing a series of characters meant for good fortune, and even wrote them down. Such was the delight of the occasion that I can still show you that slip of paper. I made a little graphic out of the characters too, and will share that with you as well, as a token of my good wishes to you for this year. And most of all, because China, through its beauties of people’s shining souls, its art, its rich and almost infinitely ancient culture, its fabulous food and its dreamlike diversity has been such a gift to me all of my life, I wish all of you a very Happy Chinese New Year!

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Happiness! Prosperity! Longevity! Peace!

 

And since I know you’re still wondering, yes, I did go and look up the local dragon. It’s not so much that they’re shy, but being both rare and royal, they’re understandably a little bit protective of their privacy. This particular dragon was lounging around with a unicorn friend and just let me have a quick peep, seeing that it’s His Year, so I could report back to you with confidence that it’s going to be a grand one indeed.digital image from a P&I drawing

Dragons Aplenty

Just because we are so sophisticated, so soigné, so exceedingly modern and advanced, we regularly assure ourselves that we have nothing left to fear and know everything that we need to know. This, of course, is sheerest hubris and hypocrisy, not to mention a steaming heap of pre-composted compost.

With every supposed advance comes a whole phalanx of new demons and monsters of every stripe, tailor-made to frustrate our every effort to be cool, calm, collected and couth. And every chink one of those new dragons makes in our homemade armor is perfectly designed to let in a healthy herd of all those beasts and daunting trials we so hoped we had slain or at least left behind. Such is our nature; such is the nature of purported progress. I suppose scary monsters will never be extinct.

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I'm Wilfred, and I'll be your monster for today . . .

Three Little Words

Three words strike fear into the heart

And with a sense of doom impart

Their horrors in the modern breast—

On hearing them, we grow distressed

And fear for love and life and limb

And see our happiness grow dim—

There is no palliative retort

When we are told: Call Tech Support.