A Faraway Look

Daydreaming is amazingly useful. No matter what teachers and bosses and impatient parents may have said over the years (never to me, of course, wink-wink), that pleasant fugue state of seemingly purposeless internal wandering is where a great deal of terrific, very purposeful invention and problem-solving happens. It takes us to inner regions where we are unencumbered by rules, editing, and logic, and can let the what-ifs of experiment and hope play together until, sometimes, they produce brilliant results that endless hours and years of study and labor might never have fostered. How can we expect to engender anything grand if we don’t aim for the seemingly impossible?Photo: Faraway

Consistent study and labor are, of course, quite necessary if we are to be able to even conceive of what exists and how we intend to alter it; to begin with no facts, no tools, no notions of probability or potential will inevitably leave us puzzling fruitlessly for ages before we ever approach a fantastic and outlandish idea, let alone a useful one. But once the seeds have been sown, we can’t assume that there would be no purpose in additional time and imagination spent on divining what to do when they begin to grow as well. The dreamers of the world have nurtured at least as much meaningful and helpful stuff as the mere scientists and scholars and brawny-brained geniuses have done, but with less hoopla, and it seems to me that we should be wary of working too hard to bring fantasists down to earth too soon.Photo: Fruition

Assume, when you see me in an apparently abstracted slide toward the comatose, that I am in fact inwardly journeying toward a dazzling insight or earthshaking invention or two, and leave me in peace. I shall emerge, in due time, bearing the harvest of this grand exploratory trip. Or at least I’ll have had a refreshing nap. I’ll happily leave it to you to determine the value of the difference, if any, between the two eventualities.

Hot Flash Fiction 12: The Marvelous Machine

People traveled for days to see it. The warm gleam of copper and brass on its mysterious curved reflected their own faces, if a little blearily, and they were mesmerized. The ticking and clicking of that machine and its workings’ purr and whirr drew whispered speculation and quietly fearful puzzlement and some observers began to contemplate whether they oughtn’t to summon the constable ‘just in case’ before the process was completed on the morrow. Yet so much study and work and testing had been reported before this debut of the machine that no one was fully prepared to admit so brazenly to such cowering mistrust. So at last, on the appointed Friday, six of the town’s leading citizens—with a few nervous titters and a little confused shuffling and tripping over each other—untied the network of cautionary tapes that had held back the crowds, and everyone surged up in a breathless wave for a closer look.
digital collage

There it was: coming forward on the slow conveyor belt from its central tank was a very small but perfect object of glowing copper and brass curves, ticking and clicking and purring and whirring just like its larger forerunner. It was followed, as the conveyor moved along, by ninety-nine other minutely perfect replicas.

And that is how the world had its first hint of what lay ahead.

The News from Here

My friends, I’m happy to announce that after many years of working toward it and blurting out to people all over the place that I was going to do so, I’ve finally published my first book. It’s on Amazon and can probably be purchased worldwide already, since my youngest sister, the one who lives in Norway, bought a copy earlier today. My first sale, for which I am of course immensely grateful. If you are interested in laying hands on a print copy of this collection of my art and poetry (aimed mostly at childlike grownups, but most of it will amuse clever children too, and hopefully even the occasional clever adult), please head over to amazon.com to purchase, and I’d be delighted if you’ll review it as well so that it will live higher in the Amazon promotional rotation than otherwise.

In any case, I feel a little like a proud parent, even knowing that my offspring will go forth and do ridiculous things once out of my sight, as all good children do.

I thank my regular readers and blog visitors and friends most deeply and sincerely for your gracious and constant encouragement, which along with that of my family gave me the courage and patience to make this first attempt. I should probably warn you that there are a number of follow-up books in the Sparks pipeline (some serious and many decidedly not) that will, if all goes well, make appearances at regular intervals after this. I will of course explore publishing my full-color work soon, but thought a taste of my longtime favorite style of working in black and white, mostly drawings, would be an appropriate way to make my debut. The cover is in color, if that helps.

book cover image

Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking: Drawings & Other Artworks, Tall Tales and Weird Creatures (Volume 1) Paperback – January 25, 2014

New is Not Necessarily Improved

digital illustrationWhat is it about commercial enterprise and marketing that says we need to change everything on a regular basis and that everything newer is better? Have we not looked in the mirror lately?!

Aside from the obvious danger in believing that every tweak a company makes to its products is an actual improvement of it in form or function rather than a logical step toward getting us to buy more from them, there’s the problem of how easily we are led astray by our own hubris. What we see as innovation and a natural extension of expertise that comes with our getting older, more advanced and practiced does not, in my experience guarantee that no further missteps and mistakes will occur. Why, a flood of examples comes instantly to mind. Every era, and every single object conceived and invented and designed in that era, has connections to spectacular failures and dismal disappointments in this regard.

Being lazy and spoiled, I’ll happily replace perfectly repairable things with prettier, shinier ones some of the time, but even in my privileged state I am capable of looking at my briefcase, thinking that I wish it had a strap that made it hug the handle of my rolling travel bag, imagining what it would take in time, money and effort to shop for another and find one that I really liked as well as I like this simple briefcase but had such a strap and then pay what would likely be an exorbitant price for it and thinking instead, ‘what do I have on hand from which I could make a suitable strap that I could then attach to my favorite little briefcase?’ The answer to which real-life question was a length of wide grosgrain ribbon, lapped fourfold end to end and stitched into one heavy piece now the width of the case and hand-sewn onto it. It’s not fancy, but it’s unobtrusive and cost me only a little labor, and by golly, it works.

Not that I intend to make my own replacements for, say, outmoded electronics when they no longer work. Because my new versions would be guaranteed to be failures, given my complete lack of knowledge or skill or anything related to them in the world of electronics, and I would have lots of nonfunctional electronics, a lot of things not done that should have been done, and a bunch of annoyed people around me wishing I’d just suck it up and get the equipment that would put me back on track. I am an accomplished fantasist, but I don’t go so far as to delude myself that I can make everything better than it is in its current form.

Not all upgrades are legit. Some of them are full of bugs or their new formats are not nearly as appealing and user-friendly as their predecessors’. Not all growth is positive. Noxious weeds grow, after all, and so does the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, which as you can imagine is not nearly as cute as it might sound in the Little Pigs’ tale.

Yet ranting about it is pointless other than as a vent. And much more good than ill comes from change and growth, it’s true. As a tiny example, while today’s pictorial illustration may not be high art by any stretch, it was made by using a combination of tools that I’ve only recently begun to embrace, and it was fun to make. An end in itself? No, and far from ideal and flawless as a Thing; I have new methods and am beginning to work on a new set of skills to use them and improve them, but I’ve a long way to go. But I don’t have to be all better, i.e., perfect, for the process to be worthwhile and the me that’s also in progress is an improvement if only because I am working on making change. I am happy when I can get up the nerve at any point to learn, to try, or yes, to become anything that I am not already firmly entrenched in being, because it’s worth striving to improve even–maybe especially–when the odds are against it. My evolution will always be slow and full of sideways and backwards steps, but I’m pretty sure it beats stasis.

The More Things Change, the Less We Stay the Same

photo montageIn the dark on an airplane, I heard a click and it was accompanied by a quick flash of blue-white light. What followed was far more startling, though: first, a softly chattery rasping sound, repeated twice, rapidly. Then, the realization that I was hearing film being wound. It really wasn’t all that long ago that I’d’ve seen and heard these things without even taking note of them. But the world has changed dramatically, and all the more so have we within it.

It’s been a long time now since any flash of blinding light from an unseen source or any sound, however soft, of indeterminate mechanical movement has become the instant focus of suspicious thought.

Longer still, I realize, since I’ve been in the presence of anyone using a disposable film camera. That, of course, is what it was. It’s remarkable enough to have one appear like that and be struck by how long it’s been since I started expecting to only be around people taking photos that never need developing, shooting them with no sound, or with a distinctly artificial click, with their phones and digital tablets and pens and eyeglasses. Weirder still to realize how few years ago it was in reality that those disposable film cameras were on the cutting edge.photo montageThat is precisely, though, the way of the world. New ideas, inventions and technologies arise and supplant the ones we knew. The pace is ever more relentless and extreme. We fear the new in the instant of its inception, and seemingly minutes later, have forgotten even the existence of the old. One day’s science fiction is the ancient history of the next.

As always, I’m left in the wake of these little cataclysms wondering: what of today is soon to be obsolete? What strange marvels that are yet undreamed lie waiting in tomorrow’s dark? And where, in the midst of them, is the place I’ll occupy?photo montageI know that eventually I’ll lie forgotten in the jumbled janitor’s closet of history, as virtually all things and people once useful or known or loved eventually do. But like most animate beings, I do still harbor a whisper of hope that at least one person will remain for at least some little time after I’ve gone, still able and willing to remember me, if not as significant or laudable, at least as well loved during the short while that I lasted. With that, I think I can go off and return to dust happily.

How Clouds were Invented

Clouds have long inspired a lot of fantasy, and though I’ve enjoyed many a day of lying around imagining what I saw in the clouds–creatures and inventions of all sorts–I’m quite certain I’m far from alone in entertaining myself with this pastime. A frequent identification of clouds by a great many of us aficionados, too, is the spotting of sheep among them. Whitish, puffy and fluffy, sometimes seen in herd-like groups and sometimes seeming to wander aimlessly, clouds and sheep both inspire a bit of dreamy invention in me.

Contemplating the possible relationships between them is just as delightful to me as noticing their simple visual resemblance. My current dream is that once-upon-a-time, there was a gentle old wizard meditating in a meadow, and he found that despite his lovely surroundings and his peaceable and contemplative nature he couldn’t quite get to the point of having the restful nap he so desired. Couldn’t, that is, until he conjured some of the nearby sheep to float around him like sweet woolly zeppelins, whereupon he closed his eyes in quiet ecstasy and drifted off himself into ethereal sleep.digital illustrationSilly, I know (and potentially having some logistical issues attached), but I find the image somewhat comfy myself. Since it’s nearing 3 a.m. as I write this, I do believe it’s a fine time to test whether simply savoring the image might not get me appropriately sleepy. I’ll get back to you on that. Eventually. Though I might be just a little woolly-headed on my return.

Animal Crossings

I know not what the relevance

Of tortoises and elephants

And tapirs, panthers, malamutes

And goats in my dreams constitutes—

I only know that when I sleep,

This is the zoo I tend to keep,

And if it lends to such pursuits,

It may include a thousand sheep.