Saturday, January 31, 2015


South African climbing onion at W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory.


There are moments when a line of poetry or a photograph or a song or a few frames of film will remind me of another piece of art. Jung would call these moments synchronicity. Others would call them  juxtapositions or echoes. Lawrence Weschler has a great name for these moments: convergences. But for my own purposes, I will simply refer to them as connections.


Upon completion of reading The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch, the song "Kids" by MGMT popped into my head. I kept hearing the lines "Control yourself / take only what you need from it / a family of trees wanted / to be haunted." These lines are both related to the storyline and are not. I am certain that they weren't based upon the novel, but I've made some sort of connection between the two—or, better yet, it appears that my mind has informed me of some kind of connection it made between the two, perhaps even independent of "me" and informed of the same.

The novel is filled with colossal invasive Plants, which are planted, farmed, and harvested by some unknown extraterrestrials. These aliens are never seen. Instead, only small floating gray orbs, intent on burning up any fauna (including humans) that they find on earth's surface, and larger floating gray orbs, which harvest the Plants later in the novel, are ever seen. And they could very well be the alien lifeforms, for all that the characters (and we readers) know.

But the humans who have survived the environmental catastrophe wrought by the introduction of the Plants, and the ensuing alien slaughter of higher order animals, spend much of their time in the second half of the book living in the tunnels of the roots and tubers of the Plants. In essence, they haunt these "trees." And there are references to ghosts and monsters, even though they are merely nightmares of the mind influenced by the situation. So the lines play in my head.


Tonight, while I was sitting in a school gymnasium waiting for a play to start, I was once again reading Notes on Sea & Shore by Greta Wrolstad. My reading was loose and distracted as people came up to greet me, as I caught snippets of conversation around me, as I recognized some of the elementary kids (in the play as actors) to whom I have been teaching art lessons and drawing techniques once every couple of weeks.

But then about halfway through I came upon lines from a section of the poem that opened up Area X for me right there on that metal folding chair in the third row back from the stage.

"Forget this northern shore: cold and colder by the day, an owl inking the night with its throat." and "When I awaken, I row out to the barrier island where a woman dressed in blue once lived in a wooden house silvered by the sea." and "I have forgotten myself."

I wondered how Greta Wrolstad could have "dreamed" these lines that feel as though they are from a novel that she would never see since she died years before The Southern Reach trilogy was published. And I am in no way suggesting that Jeff VanderMeer "borrowed" imagery from this poem to inform a section of a novel in his trilogy. However, my mind wandered again, and made connections for me and then showed me how those connections functioned—how the "dots were connected," so to speak.


I'm in my second reading of Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, although I'm reading through the books in a different way this time around. Instead of reading the books sequentially—Annihilation, Authority, and then Acceptance—I am reading particular narrative threads. So I started with the biologist's story, which is the whole of Annihilation and the "Fixed Light" section of Acceptance. In my second reading of the biologist and her tale(s), I am noticing things in greater detail than I did the first time through. I am taking more time with the text and my "reader radar" is at a fever pitch. In fact, I think the tension of this reading is much higher than the first, partly because I know what happens throughout her story (and that of the others).

And there in chapter 04 of "Fixed Light" is "the owl."

The final two sentences of chapter 03 are the set up: "I could not say there was anything preternatural or unusual about the island itself. Other, perphaps, than the owl."

I can hear this owl "inking the night" with its call, although I can't find anything in the text that informs me of the same. The owl is a "companion" to the biologist during her time on the island, but she is the one who talks to the owl. The sounds of the owl tend to be the whisper of its wings when it heads off into the night to hunt. And there is plenty of time for the owl to "ink the night" with its cries since it lives into old age and, finally, death, even though those moments don't live on the page like I think they do, like I remember them doing.

But the connection is mine and it is vibrant and vital in its own right.


(In the same way, I can see some of the "monsters" that inhabit Area X and the Plants of The Genocides in a recent visit to Tacoma's W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. One only need look at the strangeness that is a South African climbing onion to "go there" into the dark, indifferent places of VanderMeer or Disch (or Robinson Jeffers or Herman Melville or Joseph Conrad).)

Friday, January 30, 2015


Detail of "My Two Melvilles" by Troy's Work Table. Carport chalking for Friday 30 January 2015.

Green Melville on the left and Purple Herman on the right.


I decided to commission a piece of chalk art for myself. I sketched out the cover photo for a new edition of my My Two Melvilles chapbook. Two "classic" photographs of Melville and chapter four of Moby-Dick ("The Counterpane") provided the basis for the chalking.


View more pictures of "My Two Melvilles" HERE.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


"Heartbeat" by Troy's Work Table. Photograph of sunlight through stained glass onto interior rock wall. One hour before sunset.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer.


“I’m not an answer,” she said. “I’m a question.” She might also be a message incarnate, a signal in the flesh, even if she hadn’t yet figured out what story she was supposed to tell.
—page 37, Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer.


Acceptance is the final book of the Southern Reach trilogy. Similar to both of its predecessors, it stands alone fairly well, although it provides (some) answers to questions raised in the first two novels (and some of its own).


The narrative is an alternating mix of stories—(1) Saul, the lighthouse keeper; (2) Ghost Bird from Authority; (3) Control from Authority; and (4) the Director from Authority, who preceded Control, and is also the psychologist from Annihilation. These four stories are woven into a fabric that frames a short piece written by the biologist, the narrator of Annihilation—in essence a continuation of (and conclusion to?) her story.


There are monsters here, although they are more familiar than one would first imagine. And, just as in the first two books, I kept thinking of Lovecraftian monsters they resemble, perhaps as distant cousins.


And then there is Area X. What is it? Where is it? I still keep imagining Pripyat prior to the Chernobyl nuclear accident and Pripyat after. The exclusion zone. An area reclaimed (and in the process of being reclaimed) by nature. A simulation of nature that is slightly off.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


"...and on her head a crown of twelve stars."
—Revelation 12:1


"Fungoid Crown" by Troy's Work Table. Photograph of manipulated environment, natural elements. (All from the backyard.) Mushroom, holly berries, moss, grass.

Friday, January 23, 2015


"Dendritic" by Troy's Work Table. Carport chalking for Friday 23 January 2015.


There were so many things bouncing around in my mind when I went out to chalk.

Last week's chalking, "Fruiting Bodies."  My visit earlier in the day to the W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. The South African climbing onions I saw there. The trees of Wright Park in silhouette reaching for the sky while I ate lunch in my car. The "simple" notion of the weird. Area X from Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. And so on.


View more pictures of "Dendritic" HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Pencil and colored pencil sketch of Anton, prior to his being "immortalized" in sidewalk chalk.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Authority by Jeff VanderMeer.


But lurking behind them might be something even darker and more vast, and that was the killing joke. That the thing catching up with all of them would be even less merciful—and would question them until, like a towel wrung dry and then left out in the sun, they were nothing but brittle husks and hollows. 
—page 315, Authority by Jeff VanderMeer.

Authority is the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy but like Annihilation easily stands alone. Having read the first book was helpful in some ways and was hindrance in others. There are as many questions in this book as the first, and many of them are likewise left unanswered. Many of the facts of that are revisited from the first book don’t match what was learned in that opening volume of the trilogy. And the protagonist of the first book, the biologist, is a minor character in this novel. The new protagonist, even though we learn a few things about him and his origins, is as cryptic as the biologist of Annihilation.


Authority is Kafka, where the nightmare of nothing happens. And everything happens. Unseen. ("Off screen.") Off-kilter. As terrifying as Annihilation, although we take a longer time to get to the horror. Then we realize we have been immersed in the horror all along.


In Annihilation, the (natural) environment was suspect. The team was suspect, but primarily because of the fear provided by the environment. In Authority, the “bureaucracies” of government, military, agency, work, team, and family exist as ways to control and manage our (constructed) environment, and are themselves to be feared. They are as compromised as the “natural” environment of Area X.

And, of course, they don't really control Area X. The control and authority of the Southern Reach over Area X is forced and ultimately false.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.


As I came close, did it surprise me that I could understand the language the words were written in? Yes. Did if fill me with a kind of elation and dread intertwined? Yes. I tried to suppress the thousand new questions rising up inside of me. In as calm a voice as I could manage, aware of the importance of that moment, I read from the beginning, aloud: "Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the sees of the dead to share with the worms that..."
—page 16, Annihilation, in the Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy edition by Jeff VanderMeer.


Echoes of Philip K. Dick: the paranoia.
Echoes of H.P. Lovecraft, especially “The Colour Out of Space.”
Echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, especially, “The Maelstrom.”
Echoes of Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

I cannot help but think of Chernobyl and its "Exclusion Zone"—the apparent pristine environment, devoid of human life, and yet something is wrong.


A mixture of Lovecraft and Poe, with dashes of Dick.


Annihilation is the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy, but easily stands alone. It is a story that doesn’t necessarily need to continue on. It is taut and tense from beginning to end. It poses a myriad of questions, and answers very few. And that is okay. I don’t need most of the answers. I am drawn to the book. I need to flee the book. It haunts.


In fact, after my first reading of Annihilation, I know I will be returning soon. I may indeed have trouble reading the next two novels without returning here first.

Friday, January 16, 2015


"Fruiting Bodies" by Troy's Work Table. Carport chalking for Friday 16 January 2015.


Charcoal, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, Crayola neon sidewalk paint.


Inspired by the descent into the "tower" in the opening pages of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.


I took some liberties with what Jeff describes. This is an extreme closeup of a scene, pivotal to the rest of the novel (and to a lesser extent, the two novels that follow).


The "tiny hands," "golden nodules," "spray of golden spores," and "curling filaments" are all as I picked them up off of the page and imagine them.


The "meat and chaos" is mostly mine. It's an interpretation of what is happening to the biologist (the narrator of the novel) as she descends into the "topographical anomaly" that she calls "tower" and the others call "tunnel." For me, the "meat and chaos" is as physical as it is psychological. It is the tower walls. It is the later meetings with the anthropologist and the Crawler. It is experience and encounter.


For more pictures of "Fruiting Bodies," please visit HERE.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Trees. Clouds. Saturated colors. North Hill of Puyallup. Morning of Thursday 15 January 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015



My dad bought me this kid's neon paint kit for Christmas. It's intended to accompany sidewalk chalk. It contains three colors of (mostly) concrete-friendly paint (neon blue, neon yellow, neon pink), three sticks of sidewalk chalk, a paintbrush, a small roller, and a paint pan.

I'm looking forward to what I can do with these paints in the carport the next few weeks, as well as at Frost Park in late spring, when the weather dries out a bit!


Trees. Field. Fog. North Hill of Puyallup. Morning of Wednesday 14 January 2015.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Trees. Fog. North Hill of Puyallup. Morning of Tuesday 13 January 2015.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Trees. Fog. North Hill of Puyallup. Morning of Monday 12 January 2015.

Friday, January 09, 2015


"Dad, why does your chalking always have to be so creepy?"

—The Child, on viewing the latest carport chalk art.


"Indigo Man" by Troy's Work Table. Carport chalking for Friday 09 January 2015.


Like Anton, Indigo Man is a character in The Nightingale's Stone by David Mecklenburg. Unlike Anton, however, the Indigo Man is a human, although a human who has been battered and abused and marginalized. He has found his place in the world, even if it is a liminal zone—working as a dyer of cloth in a birch forest.

His world is one scented with the piss used to activate the indigo and one of loneliness. He has been cast aside in some sense, but he is no monster. The difficulty of drawing him was in drawing his "deformities," thrust upon him by an abusive father, while allowing him to maintain some dignity.

As I read the novel, Indigo Man feels wild to me, perhaps even mostly naked. Perhaps only wearing stained breeches. But there is actually nothing in the text to support such a conclusion. So, I decided to draw him in sixteenth-century peasant garb. I think it a nice counterpoint to his "ruined sockets," "mushroom nose," "broken jaw," "harelip," "scarred cheeks," "shredded drum-skin of his face," hand that dangles uselessly, and "bandy legs." For me, it makes him less monstrous. Or, as the novel has it: "He was no monster, but only the culmination of mankind." (134)


You can view more pictures of Indigo Man HERE.

Saturday, January 03, 2015


When is it that King Saul becomes as though Grendel?

When is it that his heart turns toward murder, his hand toward taking the life of the beloved?

When is it that he becomes the monster who will break his own laws with the witch of Endor, who through her (and against her wishes) will summon forth the moaning spirit of Samuel?

Friday, January 02, 2015


"Anton" by Troy's Work Table. Carport chalking for Friday 02 January 2015.


I've been thinking about the monstrous a lot lately. Monsters are everywhere.


Goya's Saturn Devouring his Son. Picasso's Minotaur, in his various guises. Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. ("I am Groot!") The various indifferent amoebic jellies of the Cthulhu Mythos—Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, et cetera. The Deep Ones. The beasts of the Old Testament—Behemoth and Leviathan. The beasts of the New Testament—the Beasts, the Four Horsemen, the Dragon. Jormungandr, world serpent, and his brother Fenris the Wolf. Grendel. Polyphemus the Cyclops. And so on.


Anton is a troll (for lack of a better term to describe him) from The Nightingale's Stone by David Mecklenburg (and featuring Ada Ludenow).

Anton is illustrated in the novel, by the author, but I still decided to try my hand at him (only by referring to the text).


I like Anton's "old world" monstrousness. He isn't a monster of the modern age—infecting or irradiating or driving one mad. No, Anton is a monster of story and song and appetite. He wants to eat. He needs to feed. He wants to play with his food for a while before he eats it. He wants to stave off his loneliness, even if only momentarily.


You can see more of "Anton" HERE.