Category Archives: Transience Divine

An animated life

I recently discovered all four seasons of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Netflix, and now I’m fired up about making some surreal animations. I have a particular vision for a series on the life and times of James Rising, born 1618. It would be an inseparable mix of historical research and mythologizing, childhood and adult themes combined in Walt Disneyesque fashion, anarchy and anachronism, set in a surrealist pre-Steampunk world.

I’m envisioning this as an ever growing series of cel-animation episodes. The whole series would be divided into 5 chapters, of which I initially only aim to make a single episode for each chapter. [Really, I just want to make a single episode, but dividing it into 5 segments makes it seem more feasible.]

Here’s the story so far:

Chapter 1: In the shadow of Castle Rising

The Rising ancestors, not yet named Risings, live a peasant life in the Norfolk countryside. But everything is changing in Jacobean era for a young, rebellious youth who runs away to the big city, Norwich. There he falls in some counter-culture Catholic recusants, before realizing that no religion can ensure love. Turning his back on both his old home and his new one, he drives into the horizon.

Chapter 2: The childhood of a Cordwainer

James is born to Risings that have finally made it in the middle class of small-town Beccles. But the world is so much bigger now, and at 18, the other side of the world seems nearer to James than the small-minded village politics around him. A chance encounter with nobility ruins his internship and his reputation, and he finally packs his bags.

Chapter 3: By land and by sea

James hitchhikes to London, through many new lands and strange customs. Along the way, he befriends a world-weary ex-raver, an existentialist dog, and a recurring used-cart salesman. Each offers him the possibility of their way of life, and he barters each one away for passage on the Dorset, bound for Bermuda. After nearly starving on the boat, he’s saved by a rat named Sergeant Buzfuz, who becomes his life-long companion.

Chapter 4: Zeal for the zealots

Ten years of hard labor offer lots of pitfalls, and James’s favorites are drink, women, and religious experiments. He is struggling with depression when a friend’s cult decides to go off-the-grid and they convince James to come and help them. But the boat is wrecked on metaphor-heavy rocks, their cool-aid lost, and life without technology turns out to be pretty tough. The colony gives up, but James and Sergeant Buzfuz, now both bearded and world-weary, stow away on a boat to Boston.

Chapter 5: Englands Old and New

James uses his intrepid instinct for trouble to make a living in Boston. He falls madly in love with a lifestyle where anything is possible, and then he meets Elizabeth Hinsdale. Together they start a family, move to Connecticut, and try to avoid an irate used-cart salesmen. At the deathbed-side of Sergeant Buzfuz, James recounts the dreams of youth and his memories of the future.

Hospital of Transplanted Hearts

I came upon this bit of literary engineering by D. M. Thomas in Best SF: 1969 (ed. Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss). I love the project idea, but I don’t endorse all the content.

  A B   C D E F G H I J K L M N
1
      Body of:
2
      Priest Soldier Whore Gardener Sadist Virgin Psychologist Stakhanovite Scientist Composer Masochist Surgeon</td>
                               
3
Heart of: Priest     Bending sadly over his enemy he gave him his cup of grace. Absolved by her, he lit a small candle. He told folwers they would rise again if they were holy Religiously he choked evil spirits out of her. She stopped at the laying on of hands. He strove to marry the schizophrenic, whose tongue could not find his name. From his crane-pulpit he made a new heaven, new earth. In a smear of communion-wine: DNA of God. He believed in the triad, three-in-one, one-in-three. Lunchtime eucharist. Her sad, broiler flesh stigmatised. In the waiting flesh he made a vertical and transverse cut.
4
Soldier   He baptised the little ones with fire.   After the fray she withdrew completely exploding bridges. Unimaginatively he heard the insecticides silent rain. Her nails left stripes on arms, epaulettes on shoulders. She made them retreat from the capital’s gates through snow. Bravely he climbed down into sewers where the Resistance lurked. Sagging dugs fed her tenth son to a patriot’s death. On Mt. Palomar: Such multitudes! And more in reverse. Choric Ode Warsaw Ghetto for unaccompanied keening of mothers. She guided the gun barrel between her lips. The enemy on x-ray. We will attack at first light.
5
Whore   He loved all men equally. He did not question their instructions.   Where he planted used condoms, a gard of limbo. Shagging her, he pulled away from the intimacy of a kiss. She hung hesitant at the entrance of unlit alleys. If he were not paid for his skill their souls would feel enslaved. He holidayed in santinarium. Regained health. Inadequate theories passed each other on the stairs. All day at the piano, the spume of notes breaking and idling back. He dreamt he was a jewes in the Auschwitz brothel. Cunningly his hands moved as though we were operating.
6
Gardener   The butterfly evading his touch he mistook for Jesus. Where the shell struck, poppies bloomed from the astounded body. Two roses in the hot-house; one overblown one cankered.   While police raged he cultivated his garden quietly at night. She regretted pollinization by the wind. How could he restore the lost paradise beneath Suicide City? He drilled desert after desert, Planting a future forever receding. By morning, the culture had flowered unrecognizably. Instrumentation of a hot summer’s day, concerto for busy ephemera. The cooked and ate the insecticide-ridden plants. The steering column was grafted into the beautiful girl’s breast.
7
Sadist   He pictured a femal Messiah’s bloodied, heaving breasts. Afterwards, no one found it was only the moon rising over Finland. She left their mutilated bodies in backstreet hotels. The face of the rose purpled, crumpled.   Take me! she said, as the bus left, in church, on the big dipper.</i> He restored naturals to sanity. His skill faltered by an inch in the third story of the skyscraper. Test tube in hand, he stood over the city’s reservoir. He ended all movements with imperfect cadences. She had herself whipped by a reluctant weeping masochist. Religious he refused to cut away.
8
Virgin   He swooned at the snakeflesh of the communicant’s tongue. He did not know if he had died in that attack. She wept at her inviolate purity. Spring congress: nature’s pandering shocked him. She told her daughter You are ugly the world must not see you.   His fingers holding the pencil trembled. His cheeks blushed. He shuddered as the road drill clove soft earth. He shivered at the neutrino cleaving light years of lead. Convent bells over the fields stirred his heart to new modes. He kept himself untouched. Seventy years he fought to save the small tissues.
9
Psychologist   He considered Christ’s over-compensatory Oedipus complex. Bayoneted, he watched his killer’s face. She asked them why they did this. Autumn divorce: psychosis of Kore lengthened. He studied the child’s face. Lying on her lonely couch, she made notes on her case.   He felt for the huge machine’s pent-up sexual energy. He observed the expression on the dog’s transplanted head. At the first performance he watched the faces of the audience. On her couch of nails, she took notes on herself. Skimming the memory cells his lancet found the trauma.
10
Stakhanovite   In his confessional, a camp bed. He wanted to be the firing squad for the world. She frigged the hunover gray morning into cupfinal night. He dreamt himself sole survivor and named Adam. He emigrated to South Africa. She took the veil. He emigrated to the States.   If only nature had covered up its tracks more cunningly. His 999th Symphony was his last. Sketches of the 1000ths remain. He longed to believe in the consolation of Hell. He said We must take out the lot.
11
Scientist   So many worlds! So many galaxies! So many saviors! The silent village forgave him, for not using germ warfare. As her sighs quickened, she graphed their heartbeats. Birds hooded, flowers shut: everwhere entropy accepted. He experimented with the velocity of falling bodies. She feared the Pill, she feared it. Uncertainty: observing quanta changed by his observing. Give me an ideology and I will move the whole earth.   Tone-poem Jodrell Bank. The cracklings of infinite space. Singlehanded she sailed for the atom-test island. He toiled to turn inert mass into energy again.
12
Composer   Through all troubling modulations always the home-key. He wrote a victory march for the refugees to sing. Afire with impatience, she felt its percussive rhythm. Violets muted trumpets, then spring’s full sweet jazz. He looked at the inert score he played with too much brio. Night-music. The wind’s singers clicking sadly her bones. Slowly he collected all the strange lost tunes of the mad. He could listen to the song of a tractor forever. He played moon-light sonata of the cool star’s spectrum.   Dies Irae, Her favorite lovesong. He gasped at the cancer’s unexpected counterpoint.
13
Masochist   As the rope tightened, he offered to die instead. He turned the napalm inwards. She made love for love. He fecundated the Venus flytrap. He lashed a masochist who cried with joy. All night her moist, lustrous eyes begged him not ot rape her. He drove the devils out and into his own Gaderene mind. He toiled to complete the robot which would destroy him. Love bites of laboratory rats. He destroyed his magnum opus. Only God was worthy of it.   He turned the scalpel inward.
14
Surgeon   The one he had lost, not the ninety-nine he had saved. Heart transplant. He sent them to slave factories in the fatherland. She felt the hump on his back with skilled healing fingers. Plantation of transplantation. All members of one body. He said To whip you externally is not enough. Loving her, he allowed her to tenderly emasculate him. For freedom the patient must find her heart grasped by hands. Onto church-rubble he transplanted the factory. Man came: slowly, heart grafted into the universe. Thirty years he cut, sighed, stitched up the white silence. Lovebites in his old diseased heart.  

A gallery in real life

“Elstir’s studio seemed like the laboratory out of which would come a kind of new creation of the world: from the chaos made of all things we see, he had abstracted, by painting them on various rectangles of canvas now standing about on all sides, glimpses of things, like a wave in the sea crashing its angry lilac shaded foam down on the sand, or a young man in white twill leaning on a ship’s rail. The young man’s jacket and the splash of the wave had taken on a new dignity, in virtue of the fact that they continued to exist, though now deprived of what they were believed to consist in, the wave being now unable to wet anyone, and the jacket unable to be worn.”

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, Proust

I like to think I make art, sometimes, but all of my work exists only in this virtual Neverland. My works can be seen, but only through a glorified microfiche scanner, and if you choose to look to the right tiny speck. I wish I had a studio like Elstir’s where people could wander, with real hands tilting back real physical picture frames.

There’s a magic in printing things out, like a spell that reincarnates from the spirit-like 1s and 0s. Flame and I have over a dozen hand-picked photo albums from our various trips, ready should anyone care to open some memories. I want similar momentos for my projects. I thought for a while of building a converter that could represent the structures of code and data as intricate art. But no converter would see the beauty that I see in my own work.

So, I’m thinking of just printing and binding my papers (completed, whether published or not). I’m not above making them into mugs instead, or making blown-up figures etched in canvas. But the first step is to leave them leaning one on the other, and see if anyone takes a peak.

Paper Fish

I have fish! Two lovely creatures, my current obsession. I have not had an aquarium since I was 14 (when, at my height, I had tanks’ worth), but my new tank is at the center of our London flat.

Flame knows that I love animals, but her allergy to cats has killed any pet plans until recently. She finally consented to one fish per paper I publish. Since I’ve only published two papers since coming to London, I get two fish. Let me introduce them:

Paige is a Pearl Gourami. You can see her center stage, above. She’s a bit of an attention hog, but she’s beautiful and knows it. I got her for a paper on a model I helped build, named Mimi-PAGE, so it’s no surprise that she’s a model.

Robbie is a Red-tailed Black Shark (not an actual shark sadly). He’s quite shy, and you can just see his tail behind Paige. He inches along the gravel, propelled by his flaming tail, and I got him for a paper on transportation in Nairobi.

As I get more fish, I fully expected to be in a constant publication race against their perishing, but I didn’t do my research. Given the opportunity, Paige is going to grow 5 inches long and 5 years old, and Robbie is going to get 6 inches long after 9 years. And by the time Robbie comes of age, his instinct for territory is likely to be the terror of any other paper I try to publish.

23andme, Part I

Flame got me a 23andme genetic testing kit (report? procedure?) for Christmas! I’m excited to get some cliffnotes to my user manual, but I was surprised at how daunted I would feel. Preparing my saliva sample felt fatalistic, like each spit was nailing closed the possible; though, I suppose it was just a knock on the door to the actual.

I’m afraid of what I’m going to see. I got the genetic health option, and one of the items on the list is Parkinson’s, with which I watched my grandfather slowly die. That alone tells me that I have a chance that I’m predisposed– do I want to know that it’s definitely waiting in my future? I want to want to know.

On a happier note, I get to find out my paternal haplogroup. From an uncle’s genetic test, I know that my mother’s side comes from the lost land of Doggerland. And I think that my Y-chromosome comes from the east coast of England, but the story is so murky against 300 years of being American that I’m really curious what I’ll find.

Part II when I learn more!

Eclipse 2017: You can’t fake that

Totality is different! I’m back from eclipse-viewing in Southern Illinois, at a secluded wildlife refuge just 3 hours from the point of maximum eclipse. This isn’t my first eclipse, but it’s my first total eclipse, and I’m still in awe.

I trekked through a little wood to a languid river, with fish jumping at gnats, butterflies and dragonflies, a white crane and a raccoon that came up to check me out. I got out my picnic and book and enjoyed the perfect blue sky.

About a half-hour after the partial eclipse started, I noticed the air cool. The sky looked a shade darker, and contrasts softer. Even at the height of the partial eclipse, all I could notice without the glasses was like a minor dimming of the sun.

And then, totality. I was looking through the filter glasses as the crescent dwindled away, one moment appearing not to move at all, and gone the next. Through my glasses, the sky was completely black. I took them off to a touch of beauty: a blazing one-ring, hanging in the sky, like the sun had been plucked out and just a hole left behind:

Total eclipse

(That picture is doctored, combining two real pictures I took, but it’s closer than either to what it was really like.)

It was suddenly twilight. The empty circle in the sky was sharp, perfect, and delicate. I was transfixed, until I noticed beautiful colors on the horizon, like the pink of sunset. I edged to the water to get a better view, not realizing what the colors portended: as I found my footing, it was suddenly bright again, and the eclipse was over:

Eclipseset

But after a day of listening to podcasts in the car of a changing world and the ever-growing potential of fake news, the eclipse gave me hope. Our grasp of reality can seem so tenuous, but we understand that the sun doesn’t just dim. You can fake a lot, but you can’t fake this.

Laser-cutting Rythmomachy Board

This wedding is going to be the culmination of a dream I have had for almost 2 decades: Finally, I will have a professional-grade set for playing Rythmomachy, the Philosopher’s Game!

I have been having so much fun laser-cutting for the wedding, and putting together activities like a massively distributed crossword puzzle. Last week’s inspiration was to laser cut a board and pieces for Rythmomachy, and I want to share them with all of you.

What is Rythmomachy, you ask? I call it “Chess on steroids”, and one medieval scholar said,

Pythagoras did first invent,
this play as it is thought:
And thereby after studies great,
his recreation sought.

Here I just want to share my design for a board and pieces. You too can have this for your very own:

It took about 1 hour on the Berkeley laser cutter I was using. The design is in two files:

Download the board Download the pieces

I thought to put etchings on the board to tell you how to set it up, since this has always been one of the greatest barriers to starting a new game.

Also note that every piece has a version colored dark and light. These need to be glued back-to-back. Each piece starts out as one color, according to the etchings on the board. If it is captured, it’s flipped over and becomes the other player’s piece.

I put some foot pads on the back and set it up to be flipped closed:

Enjoy!

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