Category Archives: surrealism

Photographica: Storm Edge


Storm Light 2
Shot on the cusp of a massive wind and rain storm. Birds wheeling in massive flocks, trying to find stable trees to land on. The barometer dropping and dropping. That weird ozone feel to the air, like you haven’t entirely awakened…and you know it. The air takes on a slight metallic taste. At this point, the wind hasn’t really started, but it’s on the way. Shortly.

I ride the bus most workdays, but I seldom shoot from the windows. People become uneasy when you take out a camera on public transportation—it’s an artificially private zone, and a camera violates that anonymity (no matter how great Walker Evans is). This, however, I couldn’t pass up. Storms may be massively destructive—and this one did its damage—but the skies…the skies become stunning. To my eye, the thick, dirty bus windows and reflections seemed to add to that feeling of unreality. It feels like a cross between a dream memory and a frame from a Wim Wenders film—low, fast-moving clouds and the magic hour.

There’s a lot wrong with the image. A second earlier or later might have made it a better composition. The exposure’s off. But it kind of works because it’s wrong. It’s close to what my eyes saw, as they saw it. And the image has not been tweaked, other than some sharpening and clarity applied.

I’ve been through worse storms (including a couple of hurricanes), but, still, I knew I’d never see this view the same way, and I pass it five days per week: exhilarating, with just a hint of fear. Where the best pics come from.

[Shot with a Canon 70D, with a 18mm – 55mm Canon zoom.]

 


Revisiting “The Twilight Zone”

Zen PathReading, of late, about one Rod Serling. Writer. Producer. Creator. A man who seemed to have everything going for him. And then….

Yeah, well…and then shit happens. Apparently, he pretty much worked and smoked himself to death, and he died early. Just like his father. A fate that always haunted him. There’s an object lesson for you: sometimes you can’t see the obvious because you don’t want to see the obvious. Or because it scares you too much. And, because you can’t see it, you doom yourself to it. The kind of thing that happens in…the Twilight Zone.

Man. That’s one hell of a voice the guy had. Every writer follows a different process, but, once I hear a character’s voice, a door opens into the story. I can’t explain it—that’s just how it happens for me. And if you hear Serling or watch his work, that voice sticks to you. Pretty soon it won’t let you go. And then people wonder why you’re talking so weird. So ironically. Snapping off every word. Holding for dramatic effect. Like…this.

Which is a kind of genius. It’s a brand. If you like Rod Serling and the strange world he became associated with through his remarkable television show The Twilight Zone, then you know what you get when you hear that voice. The poignant side? With time, that’s all anyone wants to hear. You’re stuck with it. They won’t let you change it and grow. It can also become cruel when your audience tires of that voice. If it becomes too familiar. Some in the audience just wait for Dylan’s old songs. Some won’t listen to the Stones because they don’t sound as good as they used to. Why? They repeat themselves. And because the listeners themselves aren’t as young as their memories.

It’s a tough choice: give people what they want or risk repeating yourself and burning them out. It seems the artists who transcend that operate with very good compasses: they know who they are, and part of their brand is trying new stuff. You like them because you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s likely to be good. It’s said Picasso could own anything he wanted if he could paint it, but he continually tried new forms, excelling at them and putting his “Picasso” stamp on them. Part of Tom Waits’ genius seems lie in the continual search for new sounds. It doesn’t always work, but, a lot of times, it’s very, very good. And there’s always that little bit of that Tom Waits DNA that keeps you coming back. There’s magic, and there’s tragic magic, and you have to risk one to achieve the other.

The Twilight Zone was wondrous. I don’t even think we knew how good it was at the time. I was too young to remember its debut seasons, but I grew up with it in syndication. I was not, however, too young for Night Gallery, Serling’s kind of reboot of The Twilight Zone. By the time that came out in the Seventies, Serling’s outlook had darkened, and the show reflected that darkness. He wasn’t entirely in charge of the program, as he was with The Twilight Zone, and sometimes it slipped into camp. But I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to Night Gallery evenings. (They always seemed to be rainy.) You didn’t know where you would go, and sometimes you went to very dark places indeed. Very dark. Which, to me were the coolest, most mysterious places to be, and very different than…than being a geeky kid in a small town. In the Pacific Northwest. Where it seemed some winters that the sun never made it all the way across the sky. Where the rain and the fog blurred the edge of everything. Blunted the colors. You didn’t realize how fabulously beautiful everything around you was until the sun came out, but sun didn’t last long. I came to like images with a little blur to them. Where you couldn’t quite be sure of what you were seeing. You had to guess, relying on your imagination to complete the picture.

What did the Night Gallery look like? Like an actual gallery, it varied. They hung a lot of paintings in three years. Sometimes, they didn’t turn out that well, and, looking at them now, you kind of shrug, shake your head. Yeah…well, they tried. And they were on deadline. Sometimes they retain their power and mystery. If that sort of darkness interests you (and it’s okay if it does), take a look.

Somewhere in there, Night Gallery stamped me with its mark, and I came to enjoy diving into that deep place where it really gets strange and frightening. I don’t give a damn about slasher pics or much of the stuff that passes for horror. But the fantastic, the uncomfortable, the…haunted, where the hero doesn’t always walk out in the sunshine at the end: it took ahold of me. In some ways, I’ve been writing about ever since. A writer friend says my work is haunted. (Maybe it’s me that’s haunted.) But that darkness, that blur, seems to distinguish my writing and photographs. Maybe that’s my brand.

To me, it just feels like beneath the surface of ordinary life, things remain hidden. Jung called it the unconscious—he was a scientist; so that’s kind of antiseptic. But there’s nothing clean or classifiable about the genuine intersection of the hidden and the ordinary, between dreams and reality. Some pretty good stories happen there. And maybe they show us that the world is not only more complex than we know, but more complex than we can know.

That’s paraphrasing Einstein, whose brand became synonymous with genius. He died four years before The Twilight Zone went on the air. Would he have watched it? I like to think he would have. Marking Twilight Zone nights on his calendar. We’ve come to find that when you take apart the smallest operating particles of reality, they don’t always act as suspected. Sometimes they’re here, but only for the briefest moments, and, in those nanoseconds, they don’t play by the rules. It appears that a twilight zone occurs within every thing. Within all of us. All the time.

There’s something to walk away with…Serling. You did good.

 

 


Boombardment, Episode 19: Dying Without Your Grace

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments could arrive a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 19]

CARMELITA: You’ll fight the killers and crazies and soldiers with their guns? You’ll fight the mothers defending children? Urchins with bony, grimy fingers? Beggars and blown up men on scooterboards? You’ll fight and fight ’til there’s no one left to fight?

The cords wind around them, sewing them into their armchairs. Lights begin to flash. Wind rises.

PLACID: It’s. . .life. It’s time. The way it goes.
CARMELITA: It’s not the way it goes. You can break it. You can let them in.
PLACID: I know them. They’ll kill me.
CARMELITA: You have to lead them, Placid. You’re like them. Understand them. They’ll sense that. Trust you. They’ll be grateful.
PLACID: It’s been going on so long!
CARMELITA: Time means nothing to a leader. They’ll crown your head with laurels. They’ll give you all you want in a way that you deserve. Out of gratitude. Out of love. Reward them, Placid. And they’ll reward you. Give them not the back of your hand, but your palm.
PLACID: (Looks down at the cords.) It’s too late.
CARMELITA: It’s not too late. Get up. Lead them.

PLACID makes a move but the cords tie him in. Lights flash faster. Wind grows louder.

CARMELITA: Placid? Placid!
PLACID: It’s the law!
CARMELITA: It’s a lie, Placid. It means nothing. You can do it.
PLACID: It’s too hard!
CARMELITA: No, Placid. It’s so easy.
PLACID: They’ll kill us! I’m afraid!
CARMELITA: Don’t say it!
PLACID: It’s too scary! We need them!
CARMELITA: Don’t say that! Don’t let them know!
PLACID: It’s too hard! It’s too scary! We need them back!
ARETHA/CORNO: We don’t want to come back.
CARMELITA: They don’t want to come back.
ARETHA/CORNO: We been wrong too long.
PLACID: You have to come back! They’ll kill us if you don’t!
ARETHA/CORNO: We’ve come. We’ve gone.
CARMELITA: This is wrong, Placid!
PLACID: We’re scared! You have to take care of us!
ARETHA/CORNO: We can’t see the way for you.
PLACID: You have to! We’ll die! We’ll die without you!
ARETHA/CORNO: We have ended.
PLACID: We’ll die without your grace!
ARETHA/CORNO: We want but silence.
PLACID: But they’ll get in! They’ll get your stuff! Your dress and your pipe!
ARETHA: My dress.
PLACID: They’ll carry it off! Cut it up for bandages!
CARMELITA: Placid!
CORNO: My pipe.
PLACID: Your pipe and your shoes! Come look at your shoes!

Lights flash violently. Wind howls.

CORNO: My suit. My tie.
PLACID: It’s yours! See? Come back and take it!
CARMELITA: This is wrong! This is crazy!
PLACID: But you want him.

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 16: Sometimes a Pipe is Just a Pipe

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments could arrive a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 16]

CARMELITA: I see him on his boat. Wearing his thick sweater, his plush woolen trousers. His hands upon the wheel. Steering. Turning. The prow cutting the waves. The spray. He’s standing in the sun. He’s standing in the sun, and he’s got that smile. Wind catching his hair, but he’s got that smile. The brilliant, too-large teeth. The trembling lips. His eyes squinting at the sun, at the wind, and you see through his eyes. You see tomorrow. It’s bright and it glistens in the wind, sharp and brilliant with promise. Oh yes. It’s right there in his eyes. In his smile. It’s there. There. It is right there. It’s still there. Oh god, it’s still there. Here. It’s here. He’s still here! Dear lord, he’s still here!

CARMELITA’s breath breaks into moans. PLACID continues reading. In the background and from opposite ends of the stage, ARETHA and CORNO slowly emerge from darkness. Dressed like PLACID and CARMELITA in Act I. Distant. Cool in shades. They are invisible to PLACID and CARMELITA. Everyone should be in place just as CARMELITA is about to orgasm. Suddenly, she stands.

CARMELITA: No! No.

Carefully, she places the pipe back in the rack. She grabs the carving knife.

CARMELITA: It’s here. The beast is here. I can smell it. Thought the smell was something else. Placid. Placid!

CARMELITA walks in front of PLACID, and cuts his paper in half.

PLACID: What the hell was that?
CARMELITA: Stock split.
PLACID: You know what that was? That was the newspaper. That was the last newspaper. There won’t be any more. That means we’re out of news. We won’t know what’s going on.
CARMELITA: What’s happening is–
PLACID: Wind.
CARMELITA: Wind? What wind?
PLACID: Winds of change. Yeah. Winds of change blowing. We got to be ready. Gotta be prepared.
CARMELITA: Or what?
PLACID: Or else we get blown away, babe. Plain and simple.
CARMELITA: A regular hurricane.
PLACID: That’s right. We’re right in the eyes and–
CARMELITA: Eye.
PLACID: Huh?
CARMELITA: Eye. Hurricane’s only have one eye. Go ahead.
PLACID: We’re right in that eye. Here, it’s calm. Real calm. But out there, right out there, it’s the worst midnight on the worst road of the worst winter. Believe you me. Right out that door it’s trees pulled out of the ground, roof tiles flying like hatchets, little girls and their dogs carried off.
CARMELITA: So we stay in the eye? We never move because of this hurricane?
PLACID: No. The hurricane shifts. Today it’s here, tomorrow it’s over there. And the eye moves with it. The stuff. We got this stuff now.

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 15: Phosphorescent Love Lines

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 15]

CARMELITA’s handling of the pipe becomes a caress.

CARMELITA: Corno. What a name. Cornpone. Cornball. Quick with a joke. Oh yeah. That time in her bed. Some joke. Guess he treated me decent. Decent as she did. She could be nice. On occasion. Course, she needed me. She had everything she wanted, everything she thought she needed. She ended up more alone than she’d ever been. Blindsided by the unanticipated: she didn’t need a maid. She needed a friend. Oh, but Corno. He couldn’t let that go. What if, finding a companion, she didn’t need him? What if she found other ways to be? Found the conduct she revered was as arbitrary and capricious as that she disdained. Why the very foundations of this house might tremble! So Corno just. . .rearranged the players. Put you over there, me over here. Did what he did best. What we all loved him for. He “took care” of things. Problem was, we loved him best when he “took care” of someone else.

CARMELITA begins rubbing pipe against her face, her neck.

CARMELITA: The way she looked at him in those days, Placid. You should have seen her. Her eyes, alive. Had to see him. All of him. He knew it. He had the thing. The magic. He knew and wasn’t afraid to show he knew. Not like ones who never knew, or ones who kept it inside. He shone. In a way that said we all could shine. As long as he shone brightest. I still smell him. His library, his den. His smell through the carpets, books. This pipe smells of him. Not his tobacco. Him. I imagine his hand against the bowl. The way his hand loved the things he held. The way love glowed trailed from his fingertips. Phosphorescent love lines drawn upon all he touched. Upon my skin. When he touched me.

CARMELITA slips the pipe down her neck. Lower. She slowly sinks behind PLACID’S armchair.

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 14: Thoughts Traveling in Straight, Efficient Lines

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 14]

CARMELITA: What am I worried about? We got all this stuff! Got a hacksaw and a tire iron and a hi-res panel screen and a convertible and a wet bar and a garlic press and a Lear Jet and all of David Bowie’s records. Got Classics comics and Cliff Notes. Got a flutter in my left anterior ventricle, so I get to take these purple and white pills that make me feel nice and everybody treats me gentle. Got government bonds and municipal bonds and junk bonds, the whole collection. IRA, ERA, MIA, CIA, PCP, EI, EI, O. Let’s do something! For God’s sake, let’s do anything! Let’s. . .go somewhere, see something, get into trouble, save ourselves, make love, make war, make extended negotiations leading to partition of our shared territory, wait twenty years, and reunify amid much fanfare! Let’s do something, do something, do something! Wall Street sucks! Wall Street sucks! (Screams.)
PLACID: The market’s shaky.

CARMELITA repeatedly stabs the air with the knife. Takes off her shoes, places them side-by-side on the table, and stabs the knife into the table so it stands between the toes of the pumps.

CARMELITA: Die, die, die, beast!

CARMELITA picks up CORNO’s pipe.

CARMELITA: Maybe I should take up the pipe. What do you think? A woman smoking a pipe, that’s rare. A mark of distinction. Women acting like men, stretching boundaries of freedom. Suit. Bowler and arm garters. Yass, yass. I think I feel different already. Forceful. Controlled. Thoughts travel in straight, efficient lines. Not muddled up with curves and loops. Why, there’s so much I can do with this pipe. Conduct a meeting. Declare closure. Shred documents. Paint out faces. Rearrange atoms. Nullify time. Why, there’s nothing I can’t do with this pipe. Nothing except. . .things I would have no interest in doing anyway. You there! Bend over and grab those ankles!

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 8: Terms and Conditions

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 8]

CARMELITA: Exposed to unrelenting cold, the body’s spring unwinds. Heat slips from the head and limbs to maintain the essential machinery of the torso. Fingers and toes freeze first, so solid they can be snapped like dry twigs. Hold them over an open fire, they cook. That’s why rescue teams work with the safest source of heat they carry: their own bodies.

ARETHA moans.

CARMELITA: They strip naked and lie with their stricken companions until the warmth passes from one body to the other, forming a reciprocal circuit. Life ensnaring life. Reeling it back. A wet kite, drawn home on a fraying thread.

ARETHA cries in pain and begins coughing. CARMELITA shifts so she cradles her. Above, a star field appears.

CARMELITA: Feel the air, sharp, filled with glass? I tried to warn you.

ARETHA coughs hard, coming to consciousness as CARMELITA rocks her.

ARETHA: It’s so cold.
CARMELITA: Not now.
ARETHA: I can’t feel my limbs.
CARMELITA: Then feel mine.
ARETHA: I’m floating.
CARMELITA: We call that life.
ARETHA: There are pinwheels. Sparklers.
CARMELITA: Good blood from our hearts.
ARETHA: Weight. Heaviness.
CARMELITA: Terms and conditions.
ARETHA: Who are you?

CARMELITA becomes subservient. She sits up, concealing herself with the coat. The stars fade.

CARMELITA: Just the maid, ma’am.
ARETHA: Speak up.
CARMELITA: The maid, ma’am. Your lady in waiting.
ARETHA: What are you doing in my bed?
CARMELITA: The phone ma’am–I shut the phone off. I didn’t want you disturbed.
ARETHA: I requested this?
CARMELITA: You asked for sleep.
ARETHA: So you took the initiative, on your own, to remove the phone from its cradle. Genius. Suppose the call came? Suppose Corno called, asking for…for…needing help. Needing coffee? Pipe tobacco? You know what it means, should he run out of pipe tobacco? What could happen? Driven from the castle. Lost in the storm. Tracked by assassins, some maniac with a tire iron. Enemies hide everywhere. In the faces of children. The whispers of innocents.
CARMELITA: Ma’am…you were so…tired.
ARETHA: You presume!
CARMELITA: Dead tired. You must remember.
ARETHA: Of course, I…. I need not remember every little thing. That’s we have staff. Report!
CARMELITA: Mr. Corno, gone, as you say. Gone in the cold. And you unable to sleep, unable to rest. All the household hears you pace. We try not to listen, but your heels ripple like drums.
ARETHA: You were…concerned? For me?
CARMELITA: All were! The butler chews his nails. The footman paces. The cook sniffles. Trying to hide it, he blames the onions. And me, most of all! That’s why. . ..
ARETHA: Why? (ARETHA touches CARMELITA’s lips.) You love me. Oh. Carmelita.
CARMELITA: The red capsules. I took them from the medicine cabinet.

[To be continued]


Thinking About "Bombardment"

In 1991, at the start of the first Gulf war and in a terrible fury, I sat down and began work on “Bombardment.” I wanted to write something that would examine the divide-and-conquer “cultural war” politics going on at the time, where the powerful and wealthy played upon the predjudices of the poor to frighten them into acting against their own interests, as well as the real war in the Middle East, which I could barely beleive was truly happening. At the same time, I also wanted to capture the feeling of history rolling irresistably over all of us, no matter what our status was.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to write some beat-them-over-the-head message play; I was much more interested in how these things made me feel and, in turn, made the characters feel. So I ended up placing these half-archetypical/half-realistic, wounded, suffering people in this sort of dreamscape, where a battle ensued between masters and servants, played out both in terms of power through status and sexual domination.

In terms of action, the play goes like this….

Corno, a sort of wounded king/strongman, has been cast from his home by Arethea, his queen/wife, because he has been caught being sexually indiscreet with Arethea’s maidservant, Carmelita. As Corno plots to recover his position, Althea seduces Placid, Corno’s hit man/fixer, to plan to murder Corno. By the end of the first act, one learns that Carmelita and Placid have planned a double-cross all along and murder Corno and Althea, assuming their power.

In the second Act, Carmelita’s personality begins to disintigrate as power begins to paralyze her, and when she tries to break Placid from the cycle of power, betrayal, and fall, Placid’s paranoia takes over, and in fear, he implores the ghosts of Corno and Althea to return to resume their power and protect him. The play ends with Corno, Arethea, Carmelita, and Placid physically entangled in a web in which none of them can break free.

As The Clash wrote: anger can be power. Bombardment went on to be nominated as a Finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

So why does the play haunt me now? Are we back to where we were? Do we have to set the Middle East aflame every time a Bush gets in office? Santayana famously said those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, but it seems all of us, in thrall to those who cannot remember the past or refuse to heed its lessons, are doomed to see these savage kabuki dramas endlessly repeated.

At the time, I wondered if the ending of Bombardment was too pessimistic. Now I’m afraid I got it exactly right.

Paul Tibbets died today. He was 92. He was the commander of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was reported he had no regrets and slept well at night.