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Pandemic Fugue Mode

In December, 2019, I had the lenses of my eyes surgically replaced by soft plastic lenses. My own lenses had gotten cloudy and dark over the years. I was delighted by how rich colors became, seen through new eyes. Maybe I’d been painting with such bright colors because my vision was dim? I held back from painting for three months, and in March, 2020, spurred on by the onset of the Covid-19 plague, I started again.

“Pandemic Triptych” Three acryclic paintings on canvas, March, 2020.

Turns out that now I’m using even brighter colors! Working at a fever pitch, I painted a Pandemic triptych. shown above. Left to right, Infection, Panic, and Peace. The initial panel, Pandemic #1: Infection, shows a tumble of heedlessly festive micro-critters, spotted with itchy dots to suggest disease. I already posted an individual image of Infection alone in my March 17, 2020, post, so I won’t repost it here. Instead let’s go to the 2nd one.

“Pandemic #2: Panic” Acrylic on canvas, March, 2020, 30” x 40”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

In Panic, I went wild, hitting a nice strong abstract-expressionist style, with super-intense colors. I created some delicious shades of orange by mixing cadmium red and the lesser-known diarylide yellow. In all three of the Pandemic panels, I started by setting blobs of paint from my palette onto a damp blank canvas, along with gobs of heavy gel medium. And then I freely smeared, going for gestural brush strokes, and not letting the colors mix together and get muddy. To bring order, I outlined choice passages of action painting, and filled the extra parts of the canvas with flat colors.

I think Panic looks, overall, a bit like a face with holes in it. But some of the smaller areas look like faces as well. Those two pink patches at the bottom might be a hapless Covid-19 victim’s lungs. Or buttocks. Or shoulders. Or neck. Hard to be sure exactly what’s going on…and that’s the fun of it.

While I was painting Panic, it started hailing like a mofo. Really heavy hail, like somone was dumping beads of ice onto me. It felt great, I felt alive, I wasn’t thinking about disease. Got a photo. My art studio in the hail. “Be it e’er so humble…”

“Pandemic #3: Peace” Acrylic on canvas, March, 2020, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

For Peace, the third panel of Pandemic, I wanted a sense of recovery. As before, I smeared around some blobs of paint from my palette, and then I outlined them, and added fields of violet and orange. The central shape is perhaps a bit like a holy baby or, looked at more abstractly, like the famous mathematical form known as the Mandelbrot Set. For more info see my Paintings page.

Every day, there’s clouds in sky like cabbages in a field, patches of shadow and sun.

My month of March is slipping by.

The Derby Girls celebrate Pi Day!

Grateful to see old posters from pre-March 17, reminding of the days when there were events. You can order take-out food as well, but no movie theaters, no coffee shops, no library. In terms of my habits, there’s especially no place outside the house where I can write on my laptop—at least until the unpredictable (like me) March weather clears up, and then I might sit on a bench to write in the little Los Gatos park by the post office.

The virus is so global, very strange. I don’t like pandemic SF novels, and now I’m in one.

Long and winding road.

We go for a big walk in the hills every day or three. We walked in Almaden Quicksilver Park the other day.. This photo fills my heart to overflowing, the winding road, the patch of shade, and on the hill a great oak I visited in years gone by… Sob. I’m reacting to being cooped up.

Still shopping in the supermarket, but just once a week. Picking up takeout food every now and then. Supposedly you can get supermarkets to deliver to you, but actually they can’t, as they’re all booked. And introducing a third-party take-out-food delivery person only seems to add a danger-stage.

A perfect Platonic cloud.

I have a friend who claims they’re getting total strangers who aren’t even stores to deliver groceries to them. Anonymous food-people who you’d never think of buying food from in normal times. Old crab that I am, I suspect my friend isn’t actually doing it. Just talking big. Whole new vistas of finger-wagging have opened. But why would I stop stop buying normal, clean, authorized food from real stores?

Fantasy rap: I engage an indie food-purveyor and…a seedy coughing man shows up three days late with a half full bucket of garbage that he found an alley, sun-ripened, and he keaves it outside me door, I never actually see him, just hear him coughing, and he’s charged my credit card $400 bucks plus a $40  tip…

Big balls!

Thing is, I treasure our weekly trip to the supermarket, a touch of normality. So I’ll keep going there, but now, sigh, I’ll be all obsessive-compulsive and wipe everything off at home and, sigh, wear a facemask in the store, although that’s a look I really really dislike.

The anonymous faceless mass of humanity thing. Zombies, ants, puppets controlled by chips implanted in their skulls. Never forget that crisis is an ideal opportunity for the oppressors.

Saw a good sunrise anyway.

Setting aside the insane, baffled thrashing—in some ways the lock-down is peaceful. There’s never a deadline, none all day, and no plan at all. I take my as longs as I feel like it for my little projects and tasks.

Weird light forms on our stairs, rich with mathematical interest.

At least we have the backyard. I nap a lot. And paintings, writing, social-networking, and watching TV. We Love the 2003 series Slings and Arrows on Acorn. So grateful when I find a series we can watch. I started watching this cartoon series on Netflix, by Matt “Simpsons” Groening, Disenchanted. Love it. All the little odd jokes that his writers stick in. The richness of the wit. Sylvia spurns this show, so I use my earphones.

California barn like old Kentucky, whar I was born and mostly raised.

The other day there was a little sun, so we drove east of San Jose, over the Diablo Range foothills, to the valley with Grant Park and took a long walk in grassy fields. A few poppies are out…many more will be blooming next month. No cows, per se, but much evidence of cows. Only saw one other person, and he was fifty yards away. Unfortunately he was mowing along a fence line with a leafblower, sigh, shattering the longed-for calm. But we walked a little further and it was just us and the plants and the weather, the fractal trees and the fractal clouds.

My haul of hail.

Still trying to wrap my mind about the pandemic and the shelter-in-place. The days feel so looooong. I’d like to start writing a new story or, I should be so lucky, a new novel.

My story “The Mean Carrot” is online in this hip zine Big Echo. It’s pretty funny, at least my idea of funny, and with some heavy aspects as well. Also I finished and mailed off “Mary Mary,” a novelette, but who knows when the editors will look at it. Both of these stories fit into my Juicy Ghosts cycle.

With a sculpture in the San Ho museum, back in the days when we did things.

You can go online to read or stream a podcast of me reading my first story in the cycle, “Juicy Ghost.” The tale may be good for your soul if a certain noxious public figure has frayed your nerves till they’re ready to snap!

Dig this double fractal, clouds and trees.

As above so below.

Looking around our house in, as I keep saying these days, “my copious free time” (which is a phrase I picked up decades ago from a song by Tom Lehrer) anyway, I came across a beloved old book, a gift from daughter Georgia, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa. It contains this wonderful haiku by Issa

Insects on a bough
floating downriver.
still singing.

That’s the story of life isn’t it? We’re the insects of course on our (possibly) flowering branch, floating downstream to who knows what (probably destruction), and yet we chirp and saw, making noise, hello hello hello.

Poppies of the Golden State.

On the back flyleaf of the book I found a penciled transcribed haiku of my own.

 Old house cozy haze,
My friend shows me
his aquariums.

I think I originally wrote it in the winter of 1976, during the winter of 1976 in Geneseo, upstate New York, where I had my first job teaching math. The friend was Don Drake, younger brother of Dan Drake, also a friend of mine (and I think a former student as well). Big snowstorm that year, four feet deep, much forced isolation. Drake lived a few doors down, on the second floor, and took me up to see his bank of aquariums, at least three of them. I think “cozy haze” suggests that I was high. It was one of those scenes that sticks in my memory like a stained glass window in a dark cathedral, and I come back to to over and over again, both awake and in dreams.

Don Drake fixed our family up with an aquarium of our own. We kept it beside our TV. Our two-year-old daughter Isabel loved it, and would look in it a lot. Her first word was “Fish.”

My office in Lynchburg.

March 22, 2020, was my 74th birthday. March 22 was my 74th birthday. Two times 37.

I was 37 in 1983—a time of renewal, a year after I’d lost my teaching job in Lynchburg, Virginia. I’d embarked on a hot run of writing books on my Selectric typewriter, working in the office I’d rented in an abandoned building at 1324 Church St. in downtown Lynchburg.

I used to bring the typewriter home in my car every evening so the bums (who occasionally broke in) wouldn’t steal it. In March, 1983, I was finishing my big book, The Fourth Dimension, and that summer I started Master of Space and Time. Half a lifetime ago. I wrote six books in four years, 1982-1986. One of the high points of my life, that period, though I didn’t quite realize it at the time.

Ah, the romance of the Early Years Of Bitter Struggle!

In free days, 2019, spending a night at the famed Hi-Lo Diner and Motel in fabulous Weed, California.

This year, by way of celebrating the end my second 37 years in our cooped-up condition, dear Sylvia phoned up seven of our nearby neighbors, and they gathered on the street outside our front door, everyone staying six feet apart, and when Sylvia led me out, semi-unsuspecting, they sang Happy Birthday, with my neighbor Gerault and his son playing trumpet and trombone. So touching.

Speaking of brass, we saw this posse at the 2020 Women’s March in January.  

Anothe recent treat was a Zoom group video talk with the family, the kids and grandkids, 7 tiles, and it was really nice. I’m thinking the video-conferencing trend will carry on past the pandemic.

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