I'll go with thee to the lane's end... I am a kind of burr, I shall stick. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

I write not to teach but to learn. Rebecca West

drew's writing:

  • "Always Forever Now," Ideomancer volume 13, issue 2
  • "Black Sun," Black Static # 32
  • "Bread or Cake" and "Pride/Shame,"2nd Annual Philadelphia One-Minute Play Festival
  • "Copper Heart," Polluto Magazine issue 5, A Steampunk Orange
  • "The Accomplished Birder's Guide to Overcoming Rejection," Last Drink Bird Head, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • "Another Night With the Henriksens," Player's Theater Halloween One-Act Festival NYC 2008
  • "Hating the Lovers," and "Pipe Down!" Geez Magazine: Thirty Sermons You Would Never Hear in Church
  • "Beth/slash/Nathan," Paper Fruit Blogiversary Contest

Saturday, October 31, 2009

the spookiest place in Philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary is a great example of good intentions gone to hell. The Quakers believed that if law breakers were given enough time in solitary they could commune with their inward light and it would heal them. Charles Dickens visited the penitentiary when he came to Philadelphia and thought the Quakers were out of their minds. He was right, of course--many of their inmates went mad. This is a rare example of the Quakers being wrong about anything. When they went wrong, wow.

I was a production assistant for an independent film that shot at cool crumbling historic sites all over Philly. The film was never released and for that we can all be grateful-- unless you admire the much-maligned nazi sluts from outer space genre.

One of the sites we shot was Eastern State. This was the first time I was inside the (intentionally) frightful fortress walls of the place.

This was before Eastern State was stabilized and opened for the public. The ghosts had the run of the place. I do not consider myself particularly sensitive to the spirit world but I have not been in any location that gave me such a terrible feeling of hopelessness and despair. It is possible that this feeling was nothing more than my febrile imagination dwelling on what I know of the history in the presence of this architecture of confinement.

Even so, I know a terrific ghost anecdote from an actor friend that took place during the performance of a play at the penitentiary. One of the cast was down a corridor listening for his cue. He felt a hand slap down on his shoulder and brushed it off, thinking someone was telling him it was time for his entrance. He realized he was alone. After the play the other actors asked him why he had come on so early and thrown off the scene.

The prison is now one of the best-interpreted historic sites in the area. There's a terrific audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi with input from some of the inmates and guards.

Here's Al Capone's cell:

And I'll leave you with one of the terrific art installations you can see when you visit. The day tour is great, and the haunted house--Terror Behind the Walls--has been rated top in the nation. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

daruma for Jane

A daruma is traditionally given to little boys in Japan, though increasingly there are "princess" darumas for little girls. What you see above is a bastard Western version of a daruma that I made from a Mini Munny. Look at the image on the screen below to see a bona fide daruma:

Next to it is the Mini Munny--here just a doughy homunculus awaiting an identity, which it will receive in a tickley encounter with some dry erase markers from the white board in my kitchen.

Since a daruma is just supposed to be a head only, I should have ripped the body off and thrown it away to make the daruma more accurate to itself and to the occasion of my geographic separation from my friend Jane. She is moving away--losing her is like losing a part of myself, or several parts of myself. An elbow, ear, and prostate, for example. Think how that would feel!

Mini Munny dolls come with a surprise accessory--Jane opened that and enjoyed the virgin surprise. It was glasses! Synchronicity at work!

When you get a daruma, you are supposed to color in one eye while thinking hard about a wish. When the wish comes true you color in the other eye. There are a lot of darumas out there with no depth perception. If Goonies had been made in Japan, the whiny kid who wanted his wish back would have been fiercely erasing the eye of a daruma instead of kicking coins around the bottom of a wishing well.

When you think of it, the angry, wish-kicking boy at the bottom of a well is a pretty good metaphor for our civilization. But the well would have to be an oil well, to symbolize our oily foods, oil-dependent transport, and oleaginous entertainments. I drive a car, so I am in the same metaphorical well I have placed everyone else in.

With its body and movable arms, Jane's is an action daruma. Possibly the first. Perverting one Asian tradition has whetted my appetite, so I may make a sand mandala next and affix it to the ground with spray glue. Death to impermanence!

Seriously, I hate impermanence and resist the notion that accepting it is good for me. It's healthy and natural to rage against any dying of any light. In Japan, if your wish doesn't come true, you may take your one-eyed daruma to a temple to be burned, in a ceremonial surrender of your wish. But, American for better or worse, I will not surrender my wishes without a fight--or at least a long, adamantine sulk.

I wrote "daruma" on the back of Jane's, as you can see above, so she would remember what it was--memory being our final grace against impermanence. If I were a kabbalist, the name on the daruma would animate it to do Jane's bidding--kicking down obstacles and scooping up wishes in its giant doughy arms.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

rose hips and a witch in the family

I had always thought of my grandfather's second wife as a kind of a morose beatnik--she wore black and got my grandfather to put on turtlenecks and grow a goatee and did up his house in a Roger Corman Spanish medieval style with huge metal lanterns and a real halberd leaning against the mantel. All that might have suggested a darkness of spirit beyond mere goth affectations but we mistook it for ambiance.

It was only after the divorce that Vera's occult interests surfaced--in the form of a curse or threatened curse on my family. It would be neat to know more details of this--what tradition did she employ--did she do it herself or hire an expert? Technically none of us believe in curses but I know more than one of my grandfather's descendants has been a little spooked by it. In this, Vera chose an excellent revenge. Real or not, I am thinking of her and her curse today. It is always better to deal with negative emotions in a constructive and open way, but if Vera foresaw the way her maleficence would embed itself in my family's consciousness she was comforted. To that I say, good on you, old girl.

It was from witchy granny Vera that I learned that roses have hips. She took rose hip supplements among a host of other botanical tinctures. This morning I walked into the back garden of the house where my camerado stays when he's in the city, and saw a bobbing bough of roses and hips above my head. The rose hips looked delicious, like crab apples, so, curious, I took a bite.

And spat it out. Though the texture was pleasantly appley--a rose is an apple's cousin--I think rose hips aren't in season yet. Maybe after the frost? The one I sampled tasted like an unripe tomato; the juice was unapologetically bitter and I understood why many believe rose hips to be poison. Because they are loaded with nutrients and abundant in gardens it would be nice to learn how to prepare rose hips. I found a recipe for rose hip mead here and for rose hip jam here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

sycamores give me wood

Jay Z said that being conceived under a sycamore tree made him a more sicker MC. I learned recently that sycamores themselves are sick--but not in a way that enables them to rhyme cleverly. Our native sycamores caught an exotic fungus from a Eurasian cousin; it usually doesn't kill them, but shortens their growing season. So the sycamore is always the first to turn in the autumn.

The aisle of sycamores above is the glory of the Ben Franklin Parkway--which was supposed to be Philadelphia's Champs Elysees but thanks to the invention of the automobile and a tragic lack of vision is mainly an expressway connecting Broad Street to Route 76. Still, it's great to walk through this grove and look at the light on the bark and listen to the wind in the leaves. It makes me feel like my approach to the library is a hallowed walkway to Parnassus.

(The misuse of the Parkway is ongoing--in addition to the parking lot on Eakin's Oval and the recent statue of a fictional boxer adored by idiots there is a another residential tower being planned--this one at the intersection of the Parkway and 22nd).

My dad is a landscaper; he told me recently that because sycamores stand taller than other species people once planted them near springs. I marveled that our ancestors would bother to leave signposts in the landscape that were useful only after their deaths. He said that when he was a boy he knew a ninety year old man who planted an orchard. Although the word virtue has been abused to death by conservatives I would identify that kind of civic-minded foresight a virtue.

More on my mania for sycamores here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

copper heart, or, the perils of cruising

Dudley Masonic watch belongs to a neighbor of mine. If you think Lucky Charms comes in cool shapes, check out the gears on this. Clockwise from the top, they're a trowel, a Bible, compasses, a square, a level, and a slipper. William Wallace Dudley lived up the road in Lancaster, Pa., and started making his patented masonic watches when he was 69. Five years later he was bankrupted by the rise of the wristwatch and had to take a job with a rival manufacturer. Now his watches go for five grand; if you have that kind of change lying around I can put you in touch with the owner of this one.

The watch is to illustrate the first paragraph of my recently-published story, Copper Heart. It's my notion of a queer steampunk working class Poe, viz:

On a night when the city was flogged by rain, when spring dawned like an invader, when all of Philadelphia cowered before the onslaught of March, Lester Clay was seized by agents of the Bureau of Affectional Rectitude and taken into custody. Lester knew better than to be out after curfew, knew better than to be fishing for cod-—as he called it--given the recent spate of ordinances against public lewdness and homosexualist conduct of all flavors. But he had emerged onto Richmond Street after a double shift at the iron works cold, sweat-sodden, and spent, to behold a red haired beauty bright as a hurricane lamp in the storm, just standing on Richmond.
Lester knew that if he went back to the boardinghouse he would be out in the downpour looking for the boy before twenty minutes had passed. The youth loitered in the rufescent glow of an apothecary’s doorway, and the moment Lester took a step toward him, lit off into undulating curtains of rain. Wasn’t it always the red-haired ones who could stir, not only Lester’s sex, but the sclerotic heart within him? And this one had something no other had—-a warm, mesmeric glow, as if the boy’s thick chest hid some cunningly wrought secret, investing him with an occult incandescence.
Heavens! What happens next? Something racy, I'll wager. Find out here.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

permaculture at Woodford Mansion

I followed the signs from West River Drive through Fairmount Park to the recycling center for free mulch. On my way back I found myself at Woodford Mansion, one of Fairmount Park's historic houses. Woodford has a collection of colonial era furniture that is unusually large and varied--worth seeing even if that's not your thing.

I had been here in the spring for a job took me to a lot of the lesser known historic sites in the area, and was excited to learn that the Philly Orchard Project had started a permaculture garden on the grounds.

Permaculture can be defined a few different ways--some very capacious, others more practical. I would describe it as a method of farming that requires minimal effort and offers maximum yield. A permaculture gardener starts her garden at her doorstep, relies on perennial plants that return unaided, and designs her home and yard so that time and climate become her servants.

When I visited Woodford in the spring, the curator told me there was a plan to expand the garden to double what had just been put in. Exciting! Here's the plant list for Phase I:

And here's the layout:

I adore the signs they've put up with some of the species. For an information fiend like me, this is dope:

I think it was in the book 1491 that I read that the reason there is such a high percentage of fruit and nut bearing trees per acre in the South American rain forest is because indigenous people cultivated their environment by selecting for those trees. My dream is to buy a property somewhere and plant a luscious food jungle all around my house. I look longingly at the many vacant lots on the north side of the city and imagine the good food that could be grown there. It's encouraging there are people in town who are excited about permaculture.

Two more pictures:

That's a gooseberry. When I was little I thought gooseberry tart was possibly the funniest phrase in the English language.

And this green feathery cloud is what asparagus becomes when you let it run riot:

Friday, October 02, 2009

i am curious steampunk

I asked the photographer Nadya Lev if I could reproduce this beautiful photo here; Nadia is a progenitor of Coilhouse, which I dare not look at too often lest I lose many hours. Rather than attempt to describe the magazine I'll link you to their mission statement. I've been hanging on to Nadya's steampunk hunk for a while not sure when I should premiere him. He seemed too suave and sleek a thing for my little scrapbook.

Today's the day! Polluto's Steampunk Orange issue is now available. My story, "Copper Heart," is a queer mash-up of Clockwork Orange with Poe's "Berenice." I love the cover art for this. Obsessed with imagery here, so I get very excited when something I'm in looks pretty:

Of all the new genres that have arisen in the past few decades steampunk is the only one I've attempted to write in. I make free with old surrealist, gothic, and magical realist tropes in my writing, but when I write in the steampunk genre I become a rule-follower. More established genres seem a bit more resilient, I don't imagine that they'll be harmed if I use them roughly. A budding genre requires more delicacy.

You don't want to be the guy who slaughtered steampunk.

The definition of steampunk I rely on is the one given on Jeff VanderMeer's Ecstatic Days blog by guest blogger Catherynne M. Valente. It's given in the form of an admonition. Here's a sample:

If you’re going to go prowling for tophatted villains at night, seek out the pure stuff, the real, filthy, ugly, euphoric sludge at the bottom of a spoon, because that’s the Victorian era, that’s steam power, that’s a world shredding itself to death on the spindle of industry, hoping to wake up to a prince in a hundred years.

I'm sure my pre-Raphealite heroes would find it odd and unsettling that I'm interested in all the early-industrial imagery that so horrified them that they constructed a life and an aesthetic in opposition to it.

Maybe good steampunk is steampunk that honors and shares that horror.

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