Friday, October 23, 2015

Fabric Painting & Printing


Last December I took a stab at linoleum block printing (actually I used some other material that was softer, recommended for beginners).

Walking to work today, I passed a card store and realized it's that time of year again to think about holiday cards and what my design might be this year -- more ambitious than the last of course, so I better get started early.

I just saw an inspiring 1955 Pathé film showing women painting and printing designs on fabric.

British Pathé 1955
Hum...perhaps I'll print on fabric and adhere to the front of the cards? Or maybe I'll skip the cards and print on fabric and make a skirt...or better yet, do both! Matching skirt and holiday cards -- BRILLIANT!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Writing with James Patterson...and Joyce Maynard


Despite not writing a blog post for, whew, almost a year, I have been writing. Writing a short story, a novel, and two plays. In all honesty, I've only tinkered around with everything with the exception of the short story.

That story I actually finished (go me!), and I'm in the middle of a second major rewrite after feedback from a few friends. This will be the first piece of fiction that I'll be submitting -- I'm really to start my collection of rejection letters!!

Maybe I'll soon have a rejection letter of my very own!

I think I might actually finish one of the plays has a full outline and is coming along smoothly.

With all this writing practice and slow improvement, I figured this was the time to take James Patterson's MasterClass. This class seems perfect for me as I have no literary aspirations, but just want to tell a fun story. I am about halfway through watching the lectures. After that I plan on viewing them a second time and doing the writing exercises that come in the accompanying lesson plan.

He's a real sweetheart that James Patterson. He's so encouraging and is clear about what he thinks works -- and it must, the man sells a ton of books. But a better review than I could write, from a seasoned writer, is from Joyce Maynard. I've never heard of the woman, and I am a little embarrassed about that.

Joyce Maynard, photo by Micke

Joyce is charmed by Patterson, but I shouldn't paraphrase her -- simply reference her great article!

I now have read her Wikipedia page and know a bit more about her -- she wrote To Die For! I'm curious to read now to see how similar or different it is from Buck Henry's movie script. 

So although my work life is a bit nuts and less than inspiring at the moment, this month I hope to submit my first story, finish my little play, maybe complete Patterson's course, and start reading some Joyce Maynard. Wish me luck!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014


Once again it's November and time for me to, sort of, participate in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month!
The goal is to write 50,000 in 31 days. 

The mission: "Make no mistake,  you will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create."

It's true that you can't edit your manuscript (to craft a finished novel) if you don't have any content. I love to think and think...and think, but that doesn't make for a lot of editable content.

The permission is to just write and get it all out. Just like the book says (NaNoWriMo's founder Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem!) I can see the results from not stressing about the story and not imposing perfection on my writing, the words start to flow and ideas end up on paper.

Do doubt it's true that 80-well...96.5% of the word combinations are...let's say, poor, there are some gems that wouldn't have been written if the writing was too constrained. Just like conversation, a lot is not very interesting (if written down), but sometimes in conversation a really good, witty comment appears, totally off-the-cuff. The kind of comment that takes you off-guard and leads you to think that you're smarter and sharper than you really are. But if you didn't do all that talking, that golden zinger might not have ever happened. Same with writing.

Carolyn Kellogg wrote a great article in defense of NaNoWriMo for the LA Times blog.

Anyway, I'll this said, my frustration with the process is my inability to write quickly. Writer-friends who participate (and successfully finish) say they can write their daily word count, around 1,600 words, in approximately 90 minutes. Really? I wrote today for about 2 hours and could only get to 1,200. I just can't think fast enough. I still want to participate to get the benefits of a deadline and increase my discipline by writing everyday, but I just can't commit to what I think would take me three hours a day.

I don't want to be left out though, so I've committed to an extremely modest target of 250 words a day. This way I get some of the benefits, but I don't have to forgo eating and sleeping in order to get in my daily word count. It being day 12, my target goal is 3,000 words and I'm up to 4,432. I'm averaging closer to 350 a day and this leaves me feeling accomplished instead of frustrated. And I'm having fun! Yay!

I love this photo! The writer shown here is Evadne Price. I'd love to be writing on my typewriter, but I haven't yet figured out how to re-ink the ribbon and I don't think the tapping would be well received at the cafes where I like to write. It would be fun though to sit in the middle of a sea of laptops and tablets banging away at a typewriter.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I Love The Night Gallery


As it's October and coming up on Halloween, it seems the right time to turn my thoughts to an old TV favorite, The Night Gallery.

People seemed to be polarized about the show: they think it's dated and hokey or they remember being terrified, years earlier, by a particular episode or two, like The Caterpillar or The Cemetery.

What it is that I love so much about this show? I love the opening credits that set the mood: creepy and bizarre with a strong sense of foreboding.

Then there's the framework for each episode--the art gallery: a dark and moody, menacing and creepy place with paintings that hint at humanity's inner, dark fears. And the art! There are a couple I'd love to have around the house!

The Night Gallery being a Rod Serling project is of course about twists and surprises, how could it not? The Night Gallery, as opposed to The Twilight Zone, is much more concerned with the retribution for evil deeds. Like the obsession with the vigilante in the 1970s (an extension of the DIY movement of the period?), The Night Gallery is about just, if cruel, punishment by supernatural "vigilante" forces for those who would have otherwise "gotten away with it;" those who have escaped earth-bound human law and justice.

One of my favorite moments, I won't give away in which of the 44 episodes, is about a man's Sartre-style hell. The devil points out that his particular version of hell, in all its details, also exists in heaven. He further explains to the confused and condemned man that the very place this man finds an absolute hell is in fact another person's perfect heaven, "Think about that." Another wonderful episode deals with the tragic outcome of man, in this case a psychiatrist, toying with life and death for no other reason than to be its master (without an altruistic goal).

I adore the Gothic images and mood.

And I adore the sometimes goofy outfits and costumes. In the case of the vignette Hell's Bells in episode 15 (air date 10/17/71), I think the silliness makes the concept of an eternity in hell that much more effective -- but it could just be me. Who doesn't love John Astin (of Addam's Family fame) dressed up as a...what is he exactly? A Hollywood brand of hippie? And that the glittery pitchfork!

That said, the show's quality is less consistent than that of the The Twilight Zone and the very short humorous vignettes are generally terrible. The idea of humorous vignettes is straight from the Grand Guignol tradition, although it doesn't work here with a few exceptions (The Merciful, Phantom of What Opera?). They could have benefitted from a talented comedy writer with a dark side. These vignettes are so bad, I'm shocked they aired at all and they illustrate the lack of care and dedication of the producer (who was not Serling). The website contains an article that explains that Serling lost control of the show by the second season primarily to producer Jack Laird. Most of the blame for inconsistent quality and the poor comedy shorts is placed at Laird's feet.

For its occasional short-comings, the show holds a special place in the dark recesses of my heart. If you love the dark and bizzare and love seeing murderers, Nazis, and generally evil people get their comeuppance at the hands of supernatural forces than this show's for you. Ignore the dated clothing, or love it, either way relax and enjoy the art in The Night Gallery.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stereoscopic Card in Wiggle-Vision


I wanted to try my hand at creating a wiggle gif of one of my stereoscopic cards.

It worked! How great to view and share one of the cards in my collection without the aid of the specialized viewer!

 An Optical Delusion. 1897

One end of the card reads "Underwood & Underwood, Publishers: New York, London, Toronto-Canada, Ottawa-Kansas" and the other end reads "Works and Sun Sculpture Studios: Arlington, N.J., Littleton, N.H., Washington, D.C." Beneath the title reads "Copyright 1897 by Strohmeyer & Wyman."

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I can never stay out for a whole Nerd Nite. But luckily this month, I did catch the talks by Kasey Smith on Ghost Signs and Rich Schneider on What the Quck? Stem Cells, Skulls, and Evolution.

Ghost Signs took me by surprise (yes, I thought the talk would be about once-living people). Kasey presented the results of three years of research about advertising signs painted on the sides of buildings. As she explained, these proliferated after the post-quake rebuild of San Francisco, but before the spread of billboards in the 1950s due to new printing technology.

Using a number of resources including Google satellite views, she ferreted out these signs and uncovered information about when the sign was painted, about the company and product advertised by the sign, who painted it, and about the building it was painted on. These images here are borrowed from her blog.

She blogs about it at She’s also created an impressive Google map showing sign locations and information.

I am fascinated by obsessions and the people possessed by them. My brain seems to go in 100 different directions at all times, and so I find particular interest in a person that can stay focused on one idea long enough to see it develop into something amazing. As I look through the vast amount of information, so well organized by the map format and her color-coding, I experience a bit of her obsession.

Monday, April 28, 2014



When I say characters, I don't mean the sometimes charming and sometimes not-so-charming eccentrics who populate my beloved city, instead I mean fictional characters.

I enjoy just about everything more when I am involved, a participant. So at some point, as an avid reader, I had to try my hand at fiction. I've written a chunk of my story, but the characters are flat and not well motivated. I have an idea what one looks like -- Maureen O'Sullivan. Adorable, right?!

Okay, one step at a time.What characters do I find interesting and why? One that comes to mind is Cardinal Chang from The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. He has had a rough life. He was injured and disfigured years before. He is clever and has devised strategies to be a success in his profession as a mercenary despite his handicaps. And despite his dubious profession, he is motivated by a noble cause -- to rescue a woman who showed him kindness. I became a bit obsessed by the character and the other characters paled in comparison. I found the book a bit tedious until he appeared.

Today I was thinking, why didn't the other characters in the book interest me in the same way? They were ordinary people trapped in a bad situation. They also had to be clever and not only survive, but discover the plot driving the people trying to kill them. I should be able to relate to these characters and therefore root for them, but they didn't have a noble cause; they simply used their wits to escape from a situation they somewhat carelessly stumbled upon. I could relate to them perhaps, but I didn't have the respect for them that I felt for the Chang character.

The another that come to mind is Valentin St. Cyr from David Fulmer's mystery series.

The setting, New Orleans, and time, 1907, definitely interests me, but Valentin is another example of a clever mercenary (private detective in this case) who is a success despite his flaws and rough past. Hum, I'm sensing a pattern. Am I simply attracted to intelligent, solemn, and damaged detectives? I think that's a yes. The third character that came to mind is another detective. Jane Tennison is a police detective who has to use her wits to solve crime while battling the "boys club."

Her major flaws are in reaction to the stress of her job and her obsession with her work. I see the pattern, it's a certain kind of respect. Certainly, I respect the happy, content person who is a success through intelligence and hard work, but their struggle doesn't excite my emotions. These three characters -- Chang, Valentin, and Jane -- inspire my respect because they solved puzzles under the most stressful of circumstances that few others could solve. They were almost consumed by the hunt for the solution. They sacrifice to crack the mystery and save the day. That really kicks me in the gut.

Next steps? Sitting down and fleshing out many more background details on my characters. Give them character; give them personality and background that would incite my emotions and make me root for their success.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Research and Obsessions


Despite many thoughts rattling around in my head, it's a struggle to get a post out each week. But I am more organized this week than ever, so one step closer to carving out time.

I did discover a great resource last week. A work friend, a certified smarty-pants (aka PhD), told me about the public computers at UCSF. I had found an abstract of two articles from The Lancet, from 1917 and 1926, but I don't have a subscription to these journals of course. But UCSF does! I was able to access the articles and email them to myself - yippe! More resources to feed my obsessions!

The articles are part of my research into the production of artist Anna Coleman Ladd and the tin masks of WWI. These masks are an interesting example of the intersection of art and science - a favorite subject. Using this same resource I also found articles from art journals on Ladd, with a focus on her sculpture (actually not mentioning the mask production). Tonight I'll check out an NPR "All Things Considered" episode on her. Then to start work on a blog post about it all.

Image from YouTube video.

 Image from the San Diego History Center website.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What If... and Boardwalk Empire


The original idea for this blog was to be like a diary, to jot down the thoughts and ideas that rattle through my head. I've had renewed inspiration today to get back to this idea. I love to write researched posts, but my original goal was more modest, and a more "do-able" goal to accomplish each week. Let's see how it goes...

I've just completed season three of Boardwalk Empire. So much drama and violence and interesting characters that I think the rest of this week, I'll stick to YouTube videos of animals on trampolines.

The main takeaway though is situations. The BE writers now have a set of characters that have been set up pretty thoroughly in previous seasons. They can now drop those characters into one interesting situation after another and see what happens: what if... Most TV does this to a greater or lesser degree, but it really jumped out at me in this season of BE.

We think they know a character well. Then using the anything-goes drama of a show like BE, the writers get to take the characters farther by seeing them act in bizarre and extreme situations. We do this in real life; we learn more about our friends and family when we see how they react to new situations and challenges. Although hopefully for us, we'll never be confronted with the extreme level of experience that TV characters usually endure. TV, like BE, is a playground for putting characters through their paces. Writing is a way to ask ourselves what would I do if... I met an alien, wrestled a lion, was abandoned in a strange city, found a box of money, fell in love... It's all a big, super fun, "what if" game.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Don't Think I Can Watch "The Exorcist" Again


A friend and I got on the subject of The Exorcist at a recent gathering. A movie night to rewatch the film was discussed. I admitted I'd been interested in seeing the film again, but I'd need some serious company.

I started thinking again about what I like so much, what obsesses me so much, about the film. It is the story, not the shock. It is the struggle with the loss of faith and the unexpected opportunity to renew that faith by facing evil. The existence of evil would provide strong evidence if not proof of the supernatural. The character Father Karras enters the situation as a sceptic, a position strengthened by his weakened faith, so in order for him to be convinced he was facing true evil, and not just a young girl with mental problems, he would need to be faced with an incredibly extreme experience.

Regan MacNeil, the possessed girl, is then simply a catalyst, a vehicle for evil to act on the lives of the characters. Comments I've read on a few blogs reveal that people think the horror is laughable, that Regan's antics are crude and silly. They're missing the true story.

Actor and playwright Jason Miller played Father Damian Karras. Miller began his career writing the play That Championship Season for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Miller was so wonderfully intense as Karras. He conveyed the gravity of his struggle without appearing ridiculous. His face effortlessly conveys the burden he carries: guilt, grief, loss.

Despite my obsession with the character of Father Karras, the other main characters in the film, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), Lt. William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), also experience evil, although their story doesn't feel as compelling to me as Karras'.

For Karras and the other characters, the menacing presence of the demon is only partially visual. The voice performance and sound editing, mixing a melange of sounds with the voice of Mercedes McCambridge is astounding. The demon speaking with Linda Blair's voice might not have convinced anyone of his existence. Without McCambridge, the scenes would certainly lack impact as heard in these cool clips comparing the voices of Blair with McCambridge.

These thoughts lead to what I fear about the film. With a clear head, in the clear light of day, the film is intense and fascinating, but at night time, when I seem to be psychically vulnerable and my rational brain is half asleep, I can't stop seeing frightening images in my head. I can't stop my brain from obsessing on the danger (mental danger more than physical) of things outside the realm of the rational. My struggle is with my "lizard brain" (my emotional brain). I realize real people and real situations (illness, accidents) are the true threat, but my emotional brain is still haunted by what is not real. I don't believe in ghosts rationally, but I still expect one to be standing in the hallway when I round the corner in the dark.

This image of Karras' mother, who suddenly appears in place of Regan and the chaos of the room, is powerful. The image is simultaneously frightening, eerie, and melancholy.

I am also vulnerable to images pop into my brain and refuse to leave at night, in the dark; images like those in The Exorcist. When it came to memorable images, these people knew what they were doing.

Holy crap! Look at that. Don't tell me you're not compelled to turn away. If all you see is an actor in makeup, I envy you. Truly, I envy you.

Here is Eileen Dietz, the face behind the make-up. What a nice-looking lady. But seeing her photo doesn't reduce the impact of the image of her in scary make up...for me.

The more I considered these thoughts, I realized that while I love talking about the film, I am not interested in seeing it again. I want to contemplate the story and the drama without refreshing the frightening images that will play through my head when I least want them (i.e. heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night). So I think I'll continue to reminisce on my memories of the film and be satisfied with the half a dozen viewings. They're enough to last me a lifetime.