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Notes From The Underground

Ahna bogbog du smeepy flan,” as the prehistoric Egyptian potter says in my ultrapunk 1983 story “Buzz.”

I finished a big new painting, Space Jellies. I started out with the dark blak/purple background, then put on small stars by flicking my thumb across paint-laden brushes. The yellow-orange pattern is a kind of shape I like to draw; a hollowed out version of the wall in Cosmic Cliff. Then some bigger stars, and some eyes looking at each other—and the space jellyfish, looking at the orange nebula-creature. For a joke, I added a tiny planet Earth in the top, even though its scale isn’t consistent with the rest of the painting. Alien invasion! I sold it for close to a thousand dollars the day after I finished it. Sold this baby for about a thousand dollars the day after I posted it!

Sylvia and I found a stray praying mantis standing on her car’s roof in the garage.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one in California before.  The mantis—she wasn’t really scared of us—didn’t hurry away, just faced us down.  Sylvia dueled with her a little bit, using a pine needle.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was planning to write a story involving some recent paintings of mine, Galaxies, Outside the Fillmore, Cosmic Cliff, and Space Jellies.

And I did write the story, and called it “Who Do You Love.” But in the end I simplified the story down to 950 words and sent it off to Nature magazine for their Futures feature of short-short SF stories. (Still waiting to hear back.)

The mountains have labored to bring forth a mouse. I don’t seem to have the energy for a long haul. Maybe because I’m old, maybe because some of my energy goes into some problems at home. At least that story is done. And I do like the way it came out. In the end, it’s quite sad. My characters Will and Sue meet outside the Fillmore in 1967 while Quicksilver is playing, he goes off to the Cosmic Wall with her, and when he and Sue come back, they’re old, and Willy’s missed his life—which is how I feel these days. Sylvia likes the story, but it made her cry. My hands and arms and back are sore from typing and painting.

Huge problems getting new lenses for my glasses. Don’t ask. Maybe I can write a story called “New Glasses.” But the so-called glasses are some kind of teep aid, or empathy receiver, or pheromone sniffer, or vibe feeler.

Okay, what’s the kicker? He can sense something unusual. Ghosts, aliens, creatures from the subdimensions. Doesn’t realize what it is, says he doesn’t like the prescription. Gets that addition taken off. Then realizes what he’s lost: something like James Blish’s “Beep,” where you see the entire history of the universe coded up in a star-up beep that your phone makes. So then does something drastic to get that add-on back. But there’s a problem, and he ruins himself, and he’s like the bums in the alley he saw at the beginning of the story behind the glasses store—a bunch of degens known as snorkers.

I was wondering what to paint after Space Jellies, and I sent a copy to my computer hacker friend Chuck Shotton, and he used one of the new AI art programs—Stable Diffusion—to come up with a bunch of variations, and I didn’t really want to copy any of these, but it was cool to see, and at some level it did set my mind to moving.

But not as much as light and shadows on the screen door by the laundry room.

Meanwhile I was still working on getting my new two pairs of glasses. The lenses came, but they had a mix-up and put them in the wrong frames, also the near-vision correction wasn’t quite right.

While waiting, I took a walk on Pogonip trail in Santa Cruz with dear old pal Jon Pearce. Used my new Pixel 7 Pro camera for the selfie.

And then I did start a new painting, but I burned through my supply of black paint, as it was gonna be yet another deep space painting, Jellies Journey. They’re heading for a big star. Maybe it’s romantic, like the star is marriage. Or maybe they’re dying, and the star is heaven.

I ordered more black paint, but it would take a while. Meanwhile I might just start yet another new one? Maybe New Glasses as a painting instead of a story. With the glasses, you see into a different world, right? I might draw a sketch to get the perspective for the glasses-legs. I want the main part to be the view through the lenses…the other world.

(A rogue Koi pond that Jon Pearce showed me in the Pogonip woods by UC Santa Cruz.)

I’ve got a lot of shades of blue to use, so an underwater scene view in New Glasses is possible. That could be the other world. Or an abstraction with critters. Maybe just one lens with blue inside, and the background outside the lens is an arid drought scene, or, better, an office.

My nephew Embry Rucker III stopped by. He’s a total pro photographer, and he appreciated my Leica Q2…as he has one too. I was shooting with Leica while the cousins and our kids were growing up, and Embry was imagining those old film days when you basically just took one picture of something, or maybe two, and you didn’t know if they’d come out, until days or weeks later. Great to see Embry, such a likeable guy. Brilliant and self-deprecating.

Thinking about the New Glasses painting, I took a photo of what I wanted instead of drawing that sketch. With just one glasses lens in the composition, I get a nice big area to work with. And outside the lenses, we see bookshelves in the background, mais oui.

I emceed a presentation at the Los Gatos Library bylocal mad transreal journalist Gary Singh reading from his awesome assemblage of columns, Silicon Alleys. Sylvia organized the event. Gary’s basic message was: Everything is interesting. Even a transmission shop on San Carlos Street, San Jose. Let the Zen in.

Next afternoon the box from Blick Art Materials arrived, and I had black paint, and I got back to work on Jellies Journey. Right away I screwed up the jellyfish’s surface design, making them look like flowers. But next morning I fixed the painting, and finished anohter day after that, and it’s great.  I looked at jellyfish photos online to get in the groove. As I’ve said before, painting is all about ruining it, fixing it, ruining it, fixing it. Until you’re done. Somehow the oscillations seem wider than when I’m writing something.

I did a thing with the green border around the jellyfish eyes. The target star has a dot of green at its center. And my signature is green as well. This connects with them heading for green earth in the previous painting Space Jellies.

By now I have a series of six space paintings. The live galaxies, the Fillmore, the saucer party, the cosmic cliff, the invasion of the space jellies, and space jellies on a journey. I almost feel like I could write a longish story about the jellies. Something more that that short-short “Who Do You Love” that I sent to Nature.

Rudy, Penny, and their three kids came down and we all carved pumpkins. Funny how each carving is so different, and so much an eprsession of the carver’s psyche.

I wonder if I could write a new story with the jellies. POV, a man and/or woman who are “eaten” by a space jelly, that is, they’re subsumed into the creature and “ride” it through the galaxy. I’d still like to work in that Norwegian dinghy regress thing I used to think about it. And include our old dog Arfie.

Continuing my obsession with the new Webb telescope’s deep space photos…here’s some galaxies 3 billion light years away. The universe is thought to be 14 billion years old. So these galaxies are from the eleven billion year mark.

According to the NASA page, the area of sky subtended by this image is about half a grain of rice held at arm’s length. The images are warped by gravitational lensing, that is, by the space curvature caused by masses in the neighborhood.

How could Einstein have figured all this out? Not even using a computer. Just pen and paper and staring off into space. What a mind.

These days I find constant succor in the vastness of the cosmos, and in the true tininess of myself.

The other day I was telling some people that I think death is nothingness. And a woman corners me and tells me about a guy she knows who had a near-death experience with the light and the tunnel and the dead relatives and this proves that death isn’t real. I’ve heard that tired routine a hundred times by now. And I came up with my answer.

They say near-death hallucinations prove there’s life after death. Catch: you don’t know that you see that stuff after death. And you can in fact see that same damn show on shrooms or acid. Doesn’t prove jack shit. What if death is lights out & cut to black? Accept it. And if there’s more, fine.

As I wrote this minirant, I’d kind of forgotten that I have a detailed roadmap to SFnal personal immortality in my most recent novel Juicy Ghosts.. But that’s just a story I made up for fun.

I do still believe in the universal One Mind. You merge fully into it, and your self is gone. I figured this out a very long time ago, walking in the Keith’s pasture with my dear pal Niles Shoening in the suburbs of Louisville, looking at bubbles moving around under the thin ice on a little creek. It was January 1, 1963. Almost sixty years ago. I describe this moment in my transreal novel, The Secret of Life. “Conrad and Hank” are transreal stand-ins for Rudy and Niles.

They were near the end of the pastures now, and Nina [the dog] was running back toward them. The two boys squatted to wait for her, squatted and watched the bubbles beneath the ice, ice patterned in ridges and blobs, clear here and frosty there. Toward one bank, the ice domed up. A lone, large bubble wobbled there, braced against the flow. Smaller bubbles kept arriving to merge into that big bubble, and it, in turn, kept growing and sending out tendrils, silver pseudopods that pinched off into new bubbles that were swept further downstream.

Nina came panting up, pink tongue exposed. Her breath steamed in the cold air. “Good dog,” said Hank, patting her. “Hey, Conrad, let’s go back. Lehman’s mother’s giving an open house today. Maybe your parents will let you come.”

“Wait,” said Conrad, struck by a sudden inspiration. “The life-force. Each of us has a tiny piece of the life-force, and when we die it goes away. I’ve got it figured out. There’s a big pool of life-force—out there.” Conrad gestured vaguely. “It’s like that big bubble under the ice, you see. And each of us is a little bubble that can merge back in.”

“Like a soul going to heaven,” said Hank. They were walking now, headed back toward the houses.

“And the big thing is that once a little bubble joins the big one, the little bubble is gone,” said Conrad. “The soul goes to heaven, yes, and then it’s absorbed into God. The drop of life-force slides into the big pool. Isn’t that neat, Hank? Your life-force is preserved, but your personality disappears! I’ve invented a new philosophy!”

Still riding high from his big first f*ck, Hank felt no need to burst his friend’s bubble. “It’d be cool to major in philosophy next year. Find out all the answers and then become a Bowery bum.”

That’s literally and no kidding what my pal Niles and I wanted to do when we were 17. Study philosophy and become Bowery bums—getting drunk every day for the rest of our lives. Hitch your wagon to a star! So clueless.

I took a big hike up a hill near our house, up through underbrush.

Cool view of a tree through a hole in the trees. A “new glasses” kind of view. God looking down at Eden.

I have this growing sense that I might be done writing. This fall I finished this other story that I had been revising for a couple of years: “The Sea Pig and the Sun.” It was rejected by Asimov’s for “Too much exposition.” The Lightspeed zine is closed to submissions now, F&SF has turned down the last umpteen stories I sent them so why bother. And I can’t face going the rounds of smaller zines. Also there’s the complicating factor that the first half of this particular story already appeared in the small, wonderful, but now-defunct zine Big Echo as “Everything is Everything.” So with high hopes I posted this orphan tale on the Medium site in the form of a table of contents “episode guide” to eight segments of the story. So far it’s gotten less than ten readers. Oh well.

Our friends from the old days in Geneseo, NY, stopped by. Lee and Susie Poague. Lee and I had our first professor jobs the state college in Geneseo. Susie and Sylvia were bearing children and starting their own careers as academics. Wonderful to see Lee and Susie …we had a dinner outside with candles, the table like a promontory above the dark seas of time.

We hit the fabulous Anderson collection at the Cantor Museum at Stanford. Dig the monumental Serra sculpture Lee, Susie, and me here with our human shadows. The sculpture is made of two giant steel S curves. Susie and Sylvia.

I’m having more and more fun painting. Although just now I’m once again waiting for an another delivery from Blick Art Materials—this time it’s canvases. I do have one very small canvas; might use that. Hard to believe I’ve made twenty paintings since January of this year. Over the years, I’ve sold 94 of my paintings—and that’s kind to believe too, especial because, as usual, I see myself as a total imposter.

But now I need to move some more product. I’m running a sale with insanely low prices. Krazy Eddie style.  Check out my Paintings Page.

Low prices do seem to help. I know painters who price their works at $3,000, and I don’t think they sell many. Better, I think, to drop the prices down and get the work into circulation. Preparing for the (eventual) posthumous spike in prices, followed by inevitable museum show.

Even if I drop writing, I might have a new career as a painter. Why not? Even though I can’t get it together to find a gallery. But the mail-order marketing does seem to work pretty well.

Why not be a collector? Like this guy.

One Response to “Notes From The Underground”

  1. geebot Says:

    Heavy, real, touching. Keep on keeping on – you can always just keep writing blog posts. Missives in to spaaaace! We’re out here.

    This made me chuckle: “Preparing for the (eventual) posthumous spike in prices, followed by inevitable museum show.”

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