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Podcast #113. “Logic, Gnarl, Writing, Painting.”

August 3rd, 2022

August 1, 2022. I was invited to give a plenary lecture at the Bridges group’s “Mathematics & Art” conference in Helsinki, Finland. Over my long career, I’ve used math, computer graphics, writing, and painting as ways to express myself, and to get clearer images of certain things that interest me.  Four eyes, all looking at the same thing. Mathematical logic, fractals, science fiction, post-pop surrealism. It was good for me to give this talk, as I’d never quite realized that for me it’s all the same thing. Before starting up the the audio, open a separate window and open my  blog post for the talk in there, as it contains all the images of my paintings that I used as slides. By the way, this blog post a draft for the talk, and is a lot longer, and is less clearly focused on the unity thing. And now, click the link below to hear the talk.

MP3 for “Logic, Gnarl, Writing, Painting”

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Logic, Gnarl, Writing, Painting

July 30th, 2022

Talk by Rudy Rucker for the Bridge conference on Art and Mathematics at Aalto University, Helsinki, 11am, August 1, 2022. Many thanks to the organizers for inviting me, particularly George Hart, Kirsi Peltonen, and Eve Torrence. For more on my art see my Paintings page. For more of my thoughts, see my books, including my volume The Lifebox, the Seashell and the Soul, and my autobiography Nested Scrolls. For examples of my novels, try The Ware Tetralogy or the recent Juicy Ghosts, which features a character named Anselm, in memory of my distinguished Finnish poet friend Anselm Hollo.

As of August 3, 2022, my podcast audio of the talk is available. 

White Light

As a boy, one of the mathematical notions that interested me the most was infinity. Lying in bed, I’d imagine falling down a well-lit shaft, like Alice on the way to Wonderland. There were balconies on the walls, with friendly men, attractive women, and cute aliens waving to me. I’d keep falling and watching for quite a long time.

I write a long scene like this in my 1987 novel The Hollow Earth. In my novel, my hero and his companions are falling through a 2000-mile-long hole that runs through the outer crust of our Earth, which is indeed hollow, like a tennis ball, with a big empty space in the center. And I did an early painting of the Hollow Earth, and it’s not very good, but itt helped me see the scene in my head. Math art can be a tool for visualization.

Here’s a different Hollow Earth painting, done twenty years later, and I like it better. We’re inside the hollow Earth, near the center, and here’s a giant flying shrig, who is a mix of a shrimp and a pig. My wife says the shrig’s face is my self-portrait.

Those odd things floating near the shrig are what I call krakens. I discovered the krakens in the process of doing mathematical research into higher-order Mandelbrot sets—and I discovered a cool fractal which I modestly named the Rudy set.  Sometimes my math feeds into my painting as well as into my writing.

What is it like to write a novel? I like to say it’s like dreaming while I’m awake. I get into the zone, and then I write down what I see and what I hear in my dream. The dream flows out of my planning and my subconscious and from some ineffable force that I call the Muse.

Painting is a little that way too. As in writing, there’s a feedback between the work and your thoughts. The book draft and the painting canvas help you. You put something down, and look at it and see what it reminds you of. Not in a logical way, but in an intuitive way.

Again, think of the Muse. The Muse is a real thing, not a joke or a poetic fantasy. Part of writing or painting is waiting for the Muse to show up. You invite her in by staying sharp and working on the project.

Here’s another painting that relates to that tunnel I used to fall through. This one involves some ideas I was using in a novel I was writing two years ago, Juicy Ghosts. .

The painting is called The Halo Card. It includes the dream of being weightless in a tunnel, with up and down the same. And my characters, who have toroidal haloes, and their mascots who are little people with Happy Face heads—they’re all from my novel. And, as a third factor, there’s the symmetry you see on a playing card. The symmetry helps the 2D pattern. The symmetry is the math in this one.

I often mix my painting in with my writing. It’s a way of using different parts of my brain. I paint what I’m writing about, and I might get new ideas about what to write. My dream of the novel becomes more vivid.

In comparing painting and writing, there’s one difference that pops out. A novel or a story has a plot, a one-dimensional line. Although it does take time to make a painting, the finial result is a two-dimensional see-it-all-at-once pattern. You might say that a novel is a design in time, and a painting is a design in space?

But maybe that’s not entirely true. Here’s a nice painting called Rush Hour. Inspired by a big traffic circle in Genoa. Space or time? Those categories don’t seem quite right. It’s an integrated spacetime process. Like a puppet show in my head, a dream of what I saw.

And a novel has a spacetime quality too. People speak of a novel as a tapestry of characters and events. After you’ve read a novel, and you think about it, you do in fact see it as a world with things in it, or as a design that you can scan as a whole. So it’s more than one-dimensional after all.

Conversely, there is a bit of a time-bound, one-dimensional quality to experience a painting. You might talk about reading a painting, in the sense that you study it to see how things fit together. And it may be that as you study a painting it blooms or unfolds and you see more levels.

Here’s a painting of mine with a nice one-dimensional flow to it, moving from the edges to the center. All the critters are flying along spiral paths. Falling into the white light at the center. This painting is interesting to me because it suggests infinity, that is, an M. C. Escher infinity where we squeeze in endlessly many objects by having them shrink as they move toward the center. I gave it a bombastic name: Topology of the Afterworld.

Mathematics has always felt natural to me. Even though I wanted to end up as a writer and a painter, I studied math in college, and I went on to get my Ph. D. in set theory, a branch of mathematics that’s specifically about levels of infinity. A very 1970s thing to study. You might say that set theory is mathematical theology.

And when fractals and the Mandelbrot set came along, we mathematicians really had an idol to worship! The computer is a wonderful tool, and in the 1986s, my family and I moved to Silicon Valley and I switched from math to teaching computer science. It was a very exciting time.

I got especially interested in a type of computation called a cellular automata, or CAs. It started with a journalism gig I had, interviewing people working with CAs. I remember sitting in front of a seething screen with a CA guy, and he looked at me with wonder in his eyes. He said, “I feel like Leeuwenhoek when first he looked through the microscope.”

In a CA you think of each pixel on the screen as a tiny computer in a cell, with all the cells computing in parallel to generate gnarly, natural-seeming patterns. In Conway’s classic Game of Life, there’s simply a zero/one bit in each cell. I got interested in continuous-valued CAs that have a real number in each cell.

I did a lot of work with these analog CAs, and many of them generate a certain kind of swirl. These are called Belousov-Zhabotinsky patterns. My painting of such a process is called Soft Zhabo.

Painting this was a lot more than “dreaming while I’m awake.” With my students I designed a software package to run continuous-valued cellular automata. {You can get it from GitHub; it’s called CAPOW.) And I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours devising new CA rules and looking at the patterns they made.

When I found the particular pattern in the painting above, I printed it out, and painted a version of it. Not that the painting is totally accurate, and that’s good. It’s fuzzy, and tinged by dreams. That thing in the middle; is it a baby seahorse?

Here’s a painting called “The Riviera,” on the theme of the dance of the of the analog and the digital. One of those fundamental yin/yang divides, like male and female. You might say it’s a picture of me and my wife.

I prefer continuous, analog, processes to digital ones, but under the surface, my continuous-valued CAs are in fact being formed by a digital computer. But once I paint them, they’re fully analog again, thanks to the smear of the palette, with its blends of physical paint.

Getting back to formal mathematics, in grad school I was interested in a certain mathematical question called the Continuum Problem. Suppose that alef-null is the size of the set of all natural numbers, like {1, 2, 3, 4, …}. Digital infinity. And c is the size of the continuum, that is, the number of points in space. Analog infinity. The mathematician Georg Cantor proved that c is larger than alef-null.

Cantor’s Continuum Problem asks whether c is the very first transfinite number after alef-null.

It’s a very hard problem! As a matter of fact, and this is an odd thing about higher logic, we can prove that the Continuum Problem is unsolvable. Math as we know it is unable to decide whether there’s a transfinite number between c and alef-null.

So, to hell with proving anything! In 1979 I wrote a science fiction novel about Georg Cantor, his levels of infinity, and a young hippie math professor very much like myself. I called the novel White Light, with the not-quite-serious subtitle: What is Cantor’s Continuum Problem?

The action of the book is that my hero leaves his body and goes to a place like heaven. And in heaven there’s a mountain that’s very tall. Taller than alef-null, taller than alef-one, running all the way out to the supreme metaphysical type of infinity that Cantor called the Absolute Infinite.

Many European churches have stained glass images of God, depicted as an eye inside a triangle. In the US, sad to say, we have our eye-in-a-triangle images on our dollar bills.

Why did I choose White Light for the title of my science-fiction novel about infinity? People sometimes use that phrase to describe a certain type of mystical vision. In grad school, I myself had a vision like this, a sense of a divine One Mind that glows in every particle of being. And I can still see it. The One is like sunlight shining through a huge stained-glass window, or like a cosmic giant whose atoms we are. The White Light is everywhere.

Logic

I already said that writing and painting are like dreaming while you’re awake But, being a mathematician, I’d like to say they’re like doing mathematics. And that’s a little bit true, but not very much.

To write a novel, or paint a painting, you start with imagining a certain world. And you have some characters in mind for your world, or some scenes or objects, although these things aren’t very precisely defined. They’re more like islands glimpsed through the fog. Or maybe like the things in my painting of Arf’s Dream, shown above.

So, once I have my groundwork in place, do I know where the novel will go, or how the painting will end up? No, of course not.

The only way to find out what’s going to happen is to write or paint your way from here to there. And be inspired by all the things you see along the way. To get to a mountain top, you have to walk the trail. You can’t just hop to the peak.

It turns out there’s a result in mathematical logic that more or less proves this. It’s called Turing’s theorem. It says there’s no way to look ahead and predict what a math theory is going to prove. Given some arbitrary statement, there’s no shortcut for deciding whether the statement is probable, disprovable, or undecidable.

I love Alan Turing very much. In face I wrote a novel where he escapes death, moves to Tangier and has a love affair with the Beat writer William Burroughs. My novel is Turing & Burroughs. Burroughs has always been one of my favorite novelists. In some ways his books are like science fiction.

In my novel, Turing and Burroughs develop a method for turning themselves into shape-shifting slugs called skugs. And eventually they end up in Los Alamos, New Mexica, and have some dealings with the famous mathematician Stanislaw Ulam. Ulam invented the hydrogen bomb—and cellular automata. I had a lot of fun writing about him.

Getting back to the point I was making, if Turing tells us you can’t predict where a math theory will go, you certainly can’t predict where an idea for a novel or a painting will lead. I don’t know what those flying saucers want to do with those two people on the beach in my painting Visitors. Are the people hailing a ride? I’ll never know. And that’s okay. It’s fun to not know.

You write scenes or make marks and ask yourself what they remind you of. And if you don’t like where it’s going, you rub out what you’ve got and try that part again. The process is iterative and interactive. You have to do the work—even though you’re groping in the dark.

But what about making an advance outline or sketch? Well, sure, you can have a stab at this, just to get going. It does help to have some kind of plan when you’re well and truly lost at sea. . But don’t take your sketches or outlines for gospel—they’re just things that you randomly made up. And have no qualms about changing your plan as the work proceeds.

And, okay, some people do make novels or paintings that are predictable? But, face it, those things are no good. Didactic rehashes of tired fables. Propaganda about how the world “should” be. Not worth looking at.

So, wait, is logic worthless? No, no, no, logic is hugely helpful, so long as you don’t expect too much from it. A key teaching is to keep your novels and paintings consistent. Unless, of course, you want them to be inconsistent. But that usually doesn’t go over well.

In my own work I need to repeatedly revise the opening chapters as the later chapters emerge. Why? Because I want to maintain logical consistency. I want the early stuff to match what’s happening later on.

A beginning author or artist might think it’s too much work to insert foreshadowing scenes to prepare for late actions—or to draw in missing body parts, or straighten out a building’s lines. But really it’s not much work at all. Typically, it’s only a matter of inserting a few sentences or dabs of color. It always surprises me how easy this is. It’s only words and paint.

Thinking some more about prefiguring, I remember playing with our children and their cousins on the beach in Maine. I’d use a long stick to draw mazes in the beach sand for the kids to run around in. And as I drew the mazes, I’d regularly have to go back and rub out a piece of the maze wall to make a door—or draw an extra bit of line to close a door that I had. Writing a novel is like this, and so is a painting.

If I’m writing or painting from the heart, I lose myself in a maze. I beg the foggy shapes to tell me what they want to do. I petition the Muse for crazy interruptions and wild detours.

Another interesting thing, which I don’t pretend do understand. When the work goes well it helps to pay close attention to what’s happening in the world around me. When you’re really into it, you start seeing and hearing things that can go straight into your book. You’re like a magpie gathering things for her nest. The world begins dancing with you. Everything fits. Thanks to the Muse.

Gnarl

Chaos theory echoes some of the things we learn from logic. But chaos is a property of the physical world rather than being a property of pure mathematics. It’s often said that a chaotic process has the property that a very small change in the system can lead to a large effect later on. A less well-known know aspect of chaos is that objects in a chaotic system move about in wide-ranging ways.

Perhaps because I’m a Californian, I prefer using the word gnarly instead of chaotic. Gnarly like the grain of a redwood root, or like wild surf at a break, or like the intricate blends of fog and open space within a cloud.

It’s easier to just show you gnarl than to talk about it. Here’s a nice gnarly painting called Self-Portrait With Mandelbrot Set UFO. This painting incorporates a wide range of my concerns. It has a cubic Mandelbrot set that I generated, a man who looks like me, gnarly tendrils, and a UFO that kidnaps cows and people.

Another way to explicate gnarl is to point out what it’s not. Looking at the spectrum of possible complexity, gnarliness isn’t at the high end or the low end—it’s in the middle.

Too Cold. Predictable. Processes that are without surprise. This may be because they die out and become constant, or because they’re repetitive. Think of a checkerboard, or a clock, or a dead person.

Too Hot. Random. Processes that are completely messy and unstructured. Think of the molecules eternally bouncing off each other in air, or a city dump, or a shuffled deck of cards.

Just Right. Gnarly. Processes that are structured in interesting ways, and that are in practice unpredictable. Here we think of a fluttering leaf, an ocean wave, a flame, a wispy cloud, a living organism, or a mind.

The gnarly natural processes are the only ones that matter. Nothing that’s predictable is of any real significance. And randomness is dull. Gnarl is where it’s at.

Gnarly processes are subject to something like Turing’s theorem. If a process is gnarly, there’s no shortcut for finding out what it’s going to do. The only way to learn precisely what the weather is going to be tomorrow is to wait twenty-four hours and see. The only way to know the final paragraph of a book is to finish writing the book. The only way to know what your new painting will look like is to complete it.

Another picture of gnarl. It’s called Jellyfish Lake. It’s a scene I saw while snorkeling in the actual Jellyfish Lake near Palau in the South Pacific. Overwhelming. All I could to was look—and revel in what I saw. The scene found its way into my novel Mathematicians in Love.

Gnarly systems have certain patterns or behaviors that they tend to form. These are called strange attractors. The strange attractors form a skeleton of order within the chaos.

When you go to the beach you don’t see a lumpy cloud of air and water above the beach. You see waves. The formation of waves is a chaotic attractor for the system of ocean and shore.

More particularly there will be certain characteristic patterns you see in a certain locale. These are more specialized chaotic attractors. If, for instance, you’re looking at the surf near a spit at the beach, you’ll notice that certain patterns recur over and over—perhaps you keep seeing a double-crowned wave on the right, a bubbling pool of surge beside the rock, and a high-flown spray of spume off the front of the rock. This particular range of patterns is a specific strange attractor.

Looking up at the sky, we note that each day’s strange attractor of cloud patterns relates to that days heat, humidity, and wind. And the strange attractor of a bonfire is highly dependent on what is burning, and on how long the fire’s been alight.

As I’ve said, gnarly chaos is a way to think about your own process of writing or painting. The processes are unpredictable. But, being a chaotic systems, you have certain patterns that you like to form. These patterns are your strange attractors. Your attractors have to do with your experience and your personality and your habits. Your develop a style. People can recognize your work.

From time to time a gnarly chaotic system undergoes a sea change, a discontinuity, a revolution. When your writing or artworks change and you enter a new period, you’ve switched to a different strange attractor—a different style or mode. Perhaps a flying jellyfish comes to your treehouse to announce the change. The painting is The Sage and the Messenger. It was a model for a story I wrote with Bruce Sterling.

And in the world at large it often happens that some event pushes the society’s chaos toward a new and different strange attractor. We hop from one strange attractor to another. The new strange attractor is different, but yet it’s generated by the same human needs: to eat, to find shelter, and to form families. From such humble rudiments doth history’s tapestry emerge endlessly various, eternally the same.

This painting is Pinchy’s Big Date. A silly painting. But fun to look at. Maybe Pinchy and the California Girl are two different strange attractors. Which one’s lap will you sit in?

Cyberpunk and Transrealism

Cyberpunk and transrealism are styles of science fiction writing. Being G. W. F. Hegel’s great-great-great-grandson, I have a genetic predisposition for dialectic thinking. We can parse cyberpunk as a synthesis. Cyber + Punk = Cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk expresses a goal regarding the coming symbiosis between humans and machines. People’s minds will be upgraded, rather than being degraded to zombie level. People will remain interested in sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Robots will rise to our level, rather us sinking down to their level.

One might say that you people gathered here are cyberpunks. You’re fusing math and art!

Here’s Finnish covers of my early 1980s cyberpunk novels Software and Wetware. Where it all began.

There’s another modern SF movement I’m associated with: transrealism. In a transrealist novel, you write about your immediate experience, but intensify the writing by throwing in SF notions.

Nostalgia is time travel, the oddness of strangers means they’re aliens, spiritual freedom is the ability to fly, intimate conversation is telepathy, political advertising is parasitic mind control, space travel is moving to a new city—and so on.

One doesn’t glorify the main character by making him or her be powerful, wise, or balanced. Actual people are gnarly and unpredictable, this is why it is so important to use them as characters instead of the impossibly good and bad paperdolls of mass culture.

And your paintings can show the world around you, but somehow elevated to a mythic status. I call this one The Parable of the Chickens. I don’t know what the parable is, but it looks deep.

If you turn off your news feed you can re-enter the human world. You eat something and go for a walk, with your endless stream of thoughts and perceptions mingling with nature’s gnarly inputs.

Cyberpunk and transrealism are paths to a revolutionary SF.

Art and literature are more than entertainment. They can be tools for changing the world.

 

Spacetime Fix-Up, or, Time’s a Goon

June 1st, 2022

I recenlty read Jennifer Egan’s great novels A Visit from the Goon Squad and The Candy House. She uses an interesting style.  These novels are what writers call “fix-ups,” that is they are sequences of collaged-together stories with overlapping casts of characters.

After the fact, the writer might pretend they did this on purpose, but that’s not usually true.  They wrote what they could, in whatever order worked at the time, and with much sweat and tinkering they patched the stories together. This said, when you’re doing a fix-up, the project does at some point take wings and fly and it becomes clear which chapter needs to be written next.

I know this process well, because that’s how I wrote my recent novel Juicy Ghostsas a fix-up. And the novel I’m trying to write next is for sure going to be a fix-up.

Something that makes Jennifer Egan’s books particularly tasty is that she doesn’t respect the standard first-to-last time flow.  The stories aren’t in a strict order.  And, in this vein, she’s sometimes introduce a character, get them going, and then tell you, almost as an aside, how the character is going to die in twenty years. As you keep reading, you get a sense of being an angelic spacetime observer, studying these little lives from a higher plane.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that, in today’s blog, my photos are not arranged in a logical chronological order…they’re lined up in the sequence that emerged, more or less at random, from the three or four programs that I was using to prepare the images…and rather than go and correct this, I’m just going to “do an Jennifer Egan” and let the events line up as they may.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I don’t want to rearrange them because (a) it’s too much trouble and (b) it might be more interesting this way.

By the way, Jennifer Egan’s title for  her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad is based on a line used by one of her characters, “Time’s a goon,” which is taken to mean that time is goon in the sense of a thug or underworld enforcer, a hard guy who pushes you around. And “goon squad” is a definite phrase used for groups of such mercenaries, particularly as deployed as pro or con union disputes.

But I’ve also seen goon being used to describe a clumsy fool or loser or clown. Possibly in describing time, we might think of it both ways.  I mean, why would time be bullying you…time has no particular purpose or desire or program. Maybe time is just forever barging in and toppling you plans.

Time might be a bully who’s a dumb clown. Forget not the aching yearning of nostalgia. The rue over false moves. The hunger for old high points. There it is. It might be that the passage of time is an illusion. And Egan does a good job of conveying that sense.

In his novel Rabbit Redux, John Updike gets off a great line: “Time is our element, not a mistaken invader.” We’re swimming in time. Or floating. Like fish.

Re. the nature of time, here’s a relevant passage from my book The Fourth Dimension, relating my final conversation with the great logician Kurt Godel.

We talked a little set theory, and then I asked him my last question: “What causes the illusion of the passage of time?”

Gödel spoke not directly to this question, but to the question of what my question meant — that is, why anyone would even believe that there is a perceived passage of time at all.

He went on to relate the getting rid of belief in the passage of time to the struggle to experience the One Mind of mysticism. Finally he said this: “The illusion of the passage of time arises from confusing the given with the real. Passage of time arises because we think of occupying different realities. In fact, we occupy only different givens. There is only one reality.”

 

One new development is that I’ve been organizing my author archive.  This means the marked-up drafts of my novels, notes for the novels, and scrapbook-type journals from the old days.  Looking through one of pasted-up journals I found a funny drawing of our dog Arf sleeping and having a dream, shown above.

228. Arf’s Dream. Acrylic, 30″ x 40″, May,  2022.

I decided to turn Arf’s Dream drawing into a (considerably simpler) painting.  The painting I stuck to the things that a dog would for-sure dream about, that is, dogs, other animals, flies, and fleas. And we have lots of small fence lizards around these days. The cow is an extra, as our daughter Isabel, who lived for awhile  in Wyoming, had an Arf-like dog named Rivers. The star of the dream is a cute pink poodle.

Here’s our beloved underground artist friend Paul Mavrides.  Sylvia and I hadn’t seen him since before the plague, but last month we dropped in on him in SF.  Was so nice to see him face to face.  We walked around his neighborhood with him—near Valencia and 20th Street—which I hadn’t done for a few years.  Kind of stunning how gentrified it is.  The formerly crumbling buildings are all tidied-up and covered with fresh paint.  Bizarre.  The sidewalks are new, and the people on them tend to be tech-ish 30-year-olds, quite unlike the scurvy old dreamers like Paul and me. The nearest coffee shop was full of bright pastel plastic tables and chairs, with a giant printed menu on the wall.  So weird. The Future!

On another visit to SF we watched granddaughter Jasper peform with her dance school, in a hall at For Mason.  Wonderful views of the GG bridge before and after the show.

The other day Sylvia and I were on Angel Island and one of rangers told us that they named this strait “the Golden Gate” because of how it looks as sunset.  This was even before the Bridge.

We saw a very cool show by the couture artiste Guo Pei in the Legion of Honor museum in SF.  She’s from mainland China, kind of nice to see, as we know so little about high modern art in China. Although by now she has a shop in Paris. Those shoes, by the way, aren’t resting on display props—that’s just how high their soles are.  And dig those cake-frosting skirts.

Another Guo Pei…I think these dresses are made of strips of leather, or maybe of plastic. Why do we worry about meeting aliens from other worlds, when we’ve go so much going on right here.

Nice to see such a happy, friendly mummy.  It’s all good.  Where is when?

Another week, we hit the Monterey Aquarium.  They had a couple of shows on (a) the Deep and (b) Tentacled creatures.  Sadly these two shows were pretty crappy; the overwhelming majority of the displays were—hello?—video screens rather than animals in tanks.  I did love this old old print illo, though.  Our friend the ship-eating Kraken.

And I dug this little guy, one of my totem animals, the cuttlefish. Or maybe she’s a squid.  I love how demure and tidy they look when the bunch up their tentacles into a point.

Speaking of screens, here’s Sylvia lit by one.  I love the Georges de La Tour quality of the image; I’m talking of the 17th C painter who’d get intense chiaroscuro effects by posing a model near a small flame in a dark space. We had a great room at the Seven Gables Inn in Monterey overlooking the bay.

226. God is a Log. Acrylic, 24″ x 18″, May,  2022.

Based on a photo I took.  The isolated log os on the Santa Cruz beach. I rolled the log into the surf a few times, and eventually it always came back out. Something about the individuality of the log struck me, the “thingness” of it.  And, being the kind of person I am, I thought about the notion that god is in every object, everywhere, all the time.  God is a log!

Here’s a good honest for-sure octopus. I’ve heard it said that in some sense a lot of her brain is in her tentacles.  So much distributed computation going on to move those incredible things around.

And a shark in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s giant kelp tank, which is a great as ever.  When I was teaching at San Jose State, I had student who was a SCUBA diver and he had a job swimming in the tank and squeegeeing the windows from the inside.

Bikes for rent.  I love beach businesses. So catch-as-catch-can, so sandy.

Lover’s Point at sunset with the giant bonsai of the Monterey pines.

We always like visiting the Anderson museum on the Stanford campus next to the Cantor Museum. They have a particularly nice Jackson Pollock, Lucifer from 1947. Funny how nobody else ever really adopted this style. Uniquely his.  I like to look at it for a long time.  It’s so much subtler than one might initially think. So hard to  dance this web of chaos.

Classic shot.  The bird brings the stone to life.

A Willem De Kooning, Gansevoort Street 1949, from the Anderson collection.  Particularly fine, with rich color and animation  Resisting any attempt to tidy it up and flatten things out.  So nice when there’s extra colors at the edges of areas. This is the one we’d take home.

The Stanford Cantor Museum has this big wardrobe kind of thing with glass cases an with drawers you can open.  All full of exquisite bric-a-brac that the Leland Stanford family accumulated.  Here’s a quadruple hourglass.  Like…why?  Days, hours, minutes, and seconds?  Different time zones? To be passed out to synchronize?

I know I’m overdoing it with photos of art…definitely it’s a case of shooting fish in a barrel.  This is a piece of a painting called January 1977 by Frank Lobdell. Such yummy colors.  I learn so much about  how to paint by looking at paintings.

226. Birding. Acrylic, 28″ x 22″,  May, 2022. I wanted a “bird” painting. We had a birdfeeder outside our bedroom window, and I’d been looking at the birds a lot. Very loosely speaking, these three birds, top to bottom, are a junco, a nuthatch, and a blue jay.  Plus an ungendered birdwatcher. For whatever reason, this painting took me a long time, with about seven layers. And then a couple of weeks later, I went back and did one more layer, retouching the person’s hair, and making the background more irregular.

Giant steel Serra sculpture at the Cantor. We like to run around inside it with the kids.

Someone please stop me.  A final hit from Ye Olde Curio Cabinet.  Owl, Bellows, Bong, Bell Jar.  Whoah, Nelly!

The rhapsodizing connoisseur.

The frikkin’ lobby.  Getaddahere alreaady.

An early 1980s poem I found in one of my scrapbooks.  I think I was working on my novel The Secret of Life at that time. And working on my relationships.

Awesome mural in the Mission near Precita Park. Love the hoo-doo man with his multiple hand pases. Hell, who needs a MVSEVM!

Another scrapbook find. 1986. We were nearing the end of our time in Lynchburg, VA, about to move to the promised land of  California.

I did my “Early Years of Bitter Sturggle” in Lynchburg…wrote about six books there.  Living on about $20K a year with a family of five.  It helped a lot that Sylvia had a  teaching job.

Anyway, I didn’t know if anyone was even reading my books, and then our of the blue these three earnest young guys showed up at my “office” (in an abandoned builiding) and one of them, Todd Michau, gave me this wonderful drawing he’d made of a four-dimensional object.

The kind of picture I never got tired of shooting…lines and planes, vaguely higher dimensional.  This in the restaurant on Precita Park, we were waiting to meet Rudy Jr.

Here I am in my painting clothes. Even better than torn jeans.

225. Saucer Clam, Anchor Shrimp, Conger Eel. Acrylic, 24″ x 22″,  April, 2022.

I slopped on some blobs to see what I might make of them.  Added some legs to the blob in the middle, and then filled in a buff white background around the blobs so the images would pop. I went for an ocean theme, with a touch of saucers; for instances, the clam at the top is a double-domed UFO. The thing in the middle is talking crustacean with broadcasting antennae, like a reporter.  An anchor shrimp.  I put a touch of magenta in the shrimp’s mouth to pep it up. Otherwise I stuck to cadmium orange, plus gray and blue.  The thing at the bottom is a string of UFOs merged to make a  long, wavy mouth. A conger eel—whatever that is.

The view from Burton High School in San Francisco. Someone we know is a student there.

Another old drawing found in my scrapbooks, from around 1985. I used to make lunch for the kids, and, toward the end, especially for Isabel, who was the only one still in grade school.  Lunch in a brown paper bag, and I liked to draw something on the bag every day.  Isabel and I though this was funny, and we had a library of certain standard motifs.  Curious Cow, Arf the dog, Pig with flopy ear, Diploma, Book of Morman (who knows why), UFO, Snail, Ant, and so on.  It was nice of Isabel to let me keep doing this, and not be too embarassed.

Rudy Jr. had a big birthday last week.  We went walking in the headwaters of Los Gatos Creek. This overpass like a doorway to Rudy’s future. Time is a goon.

223. Visitors, or, Hailing a Ride. Acrylic, 30″ x 24″, March, 2022.

This is a painting when I wanted to kick out the jams and go wild with UFOs, including a type that has its lower edge tipped up and an eye peeping out. I’m thinking of a primordial beach here, kind of an Adam and Eve scene.  They’re holding up their fingers as if hailing a ride.  Their heads are illuminated by the higher light emanating from those giant UFOs.

Another find in my old scrapbooks. The idea is that the nerdy tech worker on the right dreams of having a svelte female collaborator. Note that her “head” is a section of the cubic Mandelbrot set with a chic topknot.

Last week Sylvia and I met our friend John Pearce at went down to Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz.  Jon and I walked over to the Boardwalk amusement park and I recklessly acceded to Jon’s suggestion that we ride on the Giant Dipper roller coaster.  Dig the automatically taken photo of me.  I’m not pretending to scream.  I was screaming in a disturbingly low and hoarse voice for a full two or three minutes.

Just for old time’s sake, here’s Sylvia and the kids at our rented cottage in Kauai in the late 80’s. I was trying to shoot in self-timer mode, which hardly ever works, thus the back of my head on the left.

Morning light on a crystal vase, ahh.

As I think I mentioned, we were on Angel Island this weekend for RRJr’s birthday.  Sylvia and I rode a little tram around the island and caught this fab view.  To my eye, the binocs look like a robo observor. That little ring at the bottom might be his mini UFO.

A small Fresnel lens on display at the Angel Island headquarters.  Isabel’s arm inside it. Love the warp.

On the tram tour, we saw some old dorms and offices from the immigrant-processing days.  The buildings now somewhat hollowed out.  I like this creepy staircase to the windowless window. The patchy plaster. Time is a goon.

Jingle Jangle

April 6th, 2022

Ten or fifteen years back Bruce Sterling told me that the blog as a communications medium would die. And I felt he was wrong; I was like, “I’ll never stop.”

But by now I do like tweeting a lot. The haiku-like comression of a tweet with a single image, yes. And most recently I’ve been using Medium to post excerpts from my voluminous works.

But the blog still has a place. I line up a few dozen of my recent photos or paintings and rant about whatever comes to mind.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have an iron-clad rule that there never needs to be a clear and literal connection between my texts and my images. Surrealism is the law of my land.

One a good day, the jingle jangle of texts and picturs congeals and things fit. Here we go.

This is a reflection I saw in my TV screen after a nap. I take a lot of naps these days. I’m 76.

Sylvia always has a stash of sticker ads for son Rudy’s monkeybrains.net, the very ISP that hosts this very Rudy’s Blog that you’re reading. She posted in good company outside Whale City Bakery in Davenport, CA, this week.

Up at Four Mile Beach, I grabbed a crude photo of a slightly put-upon surfer. The shadow of his board is nice and sharp.

Always gotta get one more photo of rocks and water. The pocks on that stone! The tangles of light ‘neath the water. Last week I had a horrible freaky dream that I was repeatedly turning into a tangle of writhing light. Please wake me!

“Los Gatos Hills” acrylic on canvas, March, 2022, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve been painting really a lot lately. I’ve hardly been writing at all ever since I published Juicy Ghosts. Well, I wrote one short story that I sold to Asimov’s.  It’ll be appear this summer or fall. But other than that, nothing. I’ve been distracted. But the muse of Painting is still with me, and I’ve been cranking them out. I’ll work a few of them into this post.

Sylvia and I are restless these days. We drove over the foothills east of San Jose to get to a Berkeley-run ag farm near Grant park. Spotted a large herd (also called a “sounder”) of wild pigs. So great. I didn’t initially realize they were wild, and I got too close before taking my photo…so mos of them are more or less running away.

A great gnarly oak tree on the farm near Grant park. It has a face on it, right? With its tongue sticking out.

Branch with an S-curve on it. I painted a group of these recently. And I added in the trees’ roots.

“Spring Oaks & Roots” acrylic on two 30” x 24” canvases, February, 2022. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The California oak trees are quite different from the ones back East. And I can see many of them from my window, and around my neighborhood. I love the gnarly way they twist and turn. They’re long-lived trees, and they grow slowly, and—I suppose—they “think” a lot about which direction to grow next, so often they “change their minds” and veer, creating these wonderfully gothic designs. We have several species of oaks. Some keep their leaves all year long, almost like holly. But others shed their leaves in the fall, and sprout new ones in the spring (which starts in January or February).

I started with three of those trees here. And then I decided to do a second canvas—with the roots. To liven things up, I put tiny pairs of eyes on the roots. I sold this one two days after I posted it Wish it was always that way! The saucer paintings tend not to sell as well.  I think maybe people worry that if they hang a painting of saucers, then their friends will think they’re crazy.

Inside a more or less abandoned barn on this Grant park farm. Love the cracks between the planks, and the high window, and the dangling rags. Like a cathedral.

An underpass outside the barn. Cows use it. I’ve photopgraphed the underpass before, but I need several tries to get some of these things right.

“Golden Eyes” acrylic on canvas, May, 2020, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Rooting around in my basement art storage, I came across this painting that seemed not to be listed on my paintings site. The unusual thing about it is that the background is completely done with some metallic gold acrylic paint that I had; I think someone had given me the tube, and normally I wouldn’t use metallic paint, but this time, what the hell.  I like the way it came out.  When I’m at a loss, I can always cover a canvas with UFOs or with eyes.

Another familiar scene: I tossed a rock into a small pond on this hill behind our house called Saint Joseph’s hill. I’m always trying to get the ring of ripples right.

I like this ever-more-rickety shack in these woods, and I like to say that it’s a bus stop…like a Twilight Zone bus stop, and if I stand there long enough, a barely visible bus will pull up and carry me off to the afterlife. Thus far I’ve managed not to stand there long enough. But it’s coming.

Another often-treated motif of mine: a certain giant aloe near a weathered and rusted barn. Old California.

“Visitors” acrylic on canvas, March, 2022, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

On this one, I kicked out the jams and went wild with UFOs. I like to paint a certain type of UFO that has its lower edge tipped up and an eye peeping out. I’m thinking of a primordial beach here, kind of an Adam and Eve scene. But as kind of a joke I have them holding up their fingers as if they’re hailing taxis. “Adam and Eve Hail a Ride.”  Their heads are illuminated by the higher light emanating from those giant UFOs.

Visiting the farmers market off Alemany Avenue near Bernal Hill in San Francisco. Vintage spot, with more-or-less permanent murals depicting the goods that might be sold in the slots. This was at one time the honey booth.

For a zillion years a show called Beach Blanket Babylon played on Green Street in North Beach in SF. And finally it closed, and this winter they’ve had a kind of acrobatics show called something like “I Love San Francisco.” Sylvia and I managed to go; it was fun. Not overly difficult moves, but everyone lively and joyful.

For reasons unknown they dragged an antique phone booth into the show. How important those things used to be.

Enter the  unicyclist in the overcoat. Sylvia and I were so happy to be out and seeing something live.  What a weird couple of years it’s been.

I made my way to Castle Rock Park south of Los Gatos and walked to a great bluff.  Lots of madrone trees, all wriggly, and with bark like an animal’s skin.

This one in particular was insanely gnarly. With a little stub like a beak. I made a painting of it.

“Bumpy the Tree-ee” acrylic on canvas, January, 2022, 28” x 22”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Sylvia makes quilts, and she’d just made a really pretty one.  And I was thinking it would be nice make a harmonious patter of colored squares.  I would have put patterns into the squares like Sylvia does, but that seemed to hard.  So I had a grid, and obviously I was going to put some critters on it.

And I had in mind that the painting could in some way represent the next novel I’d like to write.  And I wanted to have three kids in it, so I put them in.  And for the main critter—I used that small madrone tree from Castle Rock Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I made friends with the tree (a they, and not a he, she, or it).  And visualized them as being a character in my novel too,  I gave them some extra gnarl.

Not just a  tree anymore—a tree-ee.  Name?  Bumpy, because of the way a madrone feels when you run your hands along its smooth orange bark.

Down at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, we saw kids crawling around like deep-water starfish on the giant concrete rip-rap jacks that stabilize the point by the harbor lighthouse.

Love this lighthouse and the jacks.  Each of them has a number on it.  Always wonder how they got there.

My Swarthmore College roommate from Senior year stopped by.  Gregory Gibson, well known as an author in his own right.  We used to love to get drunk together and talk about being writers. We made it!

Sylvia says I look “wider” than Greg now.  Not exactly fat but…wide.

I often walk up on Saint Joseph’s Hill behind the Jesuit home, and they have a special mound of metal waste.  I’m constantly photographing it, always trying to get the perfectly illuminated and perfectly focused shot.

And here’s eager, alert daughter Isabel and her kind husband Gus at this spot. Love the big waste container and the palms too.

The other day I was scanning photos out of the old family albums. Look at this photo of Rudy Jr, a few moths old, so cheerful, and not much bigger than my foot. Happy times.

Isabel and Rudy and Isabel wearing colanders like WW I helmets.

And number-one daughter Georgia uneasily viewing the changing of cousin Siofra’s diaper. Siofra’s Irish mother Noreen used to call them “nappies.” That name always cracked me up.

Moire patterns, the overlap of present, future, and past. What lies ahead?


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