A Bad Thing Happened.

April 16th, 2019

January 11.

I watched my husband, inert like a mummy, slide through a CT scanner.

“I don’t know how much of your husband’s brain has died,” the doctor said after the scan was done.

A hospital social worker, who’d come to provide moral support, gasped and looked shocked. I decided not to dwell on the doctor’s statement. Some things are so awful that they either require time to absorb or shouldn’t be taken seriously. There would be plenty of time to panic later.

“We need to perform surgery,” said the doctor.

“Ah. How is that done? By drilling a hole through his skull?”

“No. We’ll go in through his thigh and run a catheter up through his blood vessels.”

Good. I was glad to be wrong, and glad that medicine had progressed past the medieval notions I’d formed while watching Frankenstein movies.

“Do it. Where do I need to sign?”

Later that night, when he woke up after surgery, he could only say “yeah” or “naw”. I wondered what else was gone.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I gently quizzed him about our son, our life, and where he thought he was, receiving yes or no answers in response. He looked shocked when I explained what had happened to him. When he chuckled at one of my dumb anecdotes, I knew his personality was still intact.

Alright. He was alive, not a vegetable, and still himself. The rest could be figured out later.

Two days later, he was taken out of ICU and transported to rehab. It isn’t every day you get to follow your husband’s ambulance down the highway, and thank goodness for that.

 

My goal with hospitals has always been to not spend too much time in them. They’re places you visit if, heaven forbid, someone you know has a serious medical issue. You stop by, listen if the person cares to talk, leave magazines or flowers, and leave before you tire the person out too much. Maybe you take a casserole to the family, walk their dogs, or invite their kids over so the person can have peace while they recover.

Maybe you have to be hospitalized yourself. Again, speaking for myself, the goal is to get in, get your issue taken care of, and get out. “That nasty appendix is gone? Swell – thanks for taking it out before it killed me! Well, I’m in the middle of a project at work, so I’ll just be on my way. Toss me some pain pills, wheel me out the front door, and dump me at the curb.”

However, if you aren’t well enough to go home and you need help becoming independent again, you may get sent to rehab. That’s what happened to my husband. He spent three weeks in this room. When he arrived, he couldn’t stand, walk, speak, or otherwise take care of himself. When he left, he mostly could.

I was initially told he’d be sent to a place about seventy miles from our house. I’d need to be there, particularly during the last week of his stay, and it was too far to commute.

I started making phone calls, shaking people down to see who could watch my son. He isn’t really a child anymore, but he also shouldn’t be staying by himself overnight. That’s when I found out how fundamentally decent the people around us are. Some of the parents of my son’s friends were willing to have him overnight, and one family said they’d even take him for a week, even though it was a huge favor to ask of them. (They already had four sons, and really didn’t need my bottomless pit of a teenager emptying their refrigerator!) Fortunately, my in-laws dropped what they were doing, left their nice beach vacation, and jetted out here to keep my household from descending into savagery.

Happily, my husband was transferred to a nice facility about ten minutes from our house instead. That meant I’d be able to sleep at home and see my son a few minutes at night after spending the day with my husband. I was grateful.

 

I don’t remember asking what his prognosis was or what they were going to work on in rehab, although they may have told me. I’m not even sure I wanted to hear predictions. How is a doctor or a therapist supposed to give a prognosis on something organic and hard to measure like a brain injury? What are you supposed to say? “Most folks get at least a little better. He’ll probably get better until he stops getting better. Recovery usually goes quicker at the beginning then slower as the months go by, but everybody’s different.”

Regardless, the paper tacked to the wall in his room made the goals pretty clear: he was going to work on the skills he’d honed during the first 2-3 years of his life. They were going to try to get him up out of bed, out of a wheelchair, and eating and drinking things that weren’t purees.

 

On his second or third day at the facility, therapists strapped him into a harness that would support his weight, so he could learn to balance and walk again. One therapist steadied him from behind while another manually moved his right leg, which no longer worked. They managed to parody the rhythm of walking in this manner, and encouraged him to try to move his leg himself.

It looked like hard work. These two therapists were lovely people, kind and sympathetic while also efficient and businesslike. One of the bright spots in this mess was getting to meet them. I was also quite fond of the occupational therapist, his first speech therapist, and several other people who worked with us. I’d name them all here and thank them, but I suspect that they’d like to have their privacy respected.

 

The facility also had an exoskeleton. I believe it’s used in more challenging situations.

 

Thankfully, my husband was still able to read and understand spoken language. He was quite aware of the manner in which his brain was malfunctioning.

I watched him test himself, reading words out loud then making more attempts when the sounds coming out of his mouth didn’t match the ones in his head. That struck me as a good sign, another indication that his intelligence and problem-solving abilities were still intact. He also had a good attitude, simply shaking his head, chuckling, and trying again when things didn’t go well.

Sometimes his brain would append strings to each thing he said: “kitchen room, garage room, hall room”. Other times, his brain would get in a loop that could only be stopped by ending the attempt to say that particular word. One day, for example, while attempting to read a list of foods, his brain decided to label them all “sushi”.

If I’d thought about it too much, the situation would have broken my heart. Imagine being a grown, brilliant, articulate man; an award-winning writer, former night editor at a newspaper, and a software architect. Suddenly the only words you can say reliably are yes and no. At times he must have wondered whether it would ever get better. But I never heard him complain or indicate that he was depressed during the entire process. He just kept chugging ahead, albeit with frequent naps.

After he’d been in rehab a few days he managed to convey, through grunts and gestures, that he wanted me to create a hot spot with my phone so he could have internet access for his iPad. Yet more evidence that his intelligence was alive and well.

We had a brief discussion (albeit with grunts and single words on his side) about cognitive psychology.

“You’re going to have some interesting stories to tell once you can talk again,” I told him. “What does it feel like, forming thoughts but not being able to say or write them?”

He pondered my question then, with great effort, drew this picture: thoughts forming in his head and only snow coming out.

Bizarrely enough, it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t make a full or excellent recovery. I didn’t know whether it would take weeks, months, or years, but I never doubted that it would occur.

In between speech and occupational therapies, the PT people worked on getting him to walk again. This therapist does have a head and a face, but I cropped the photo so as to respect her privacy.

This lyric struck me as amusing in an ironic way.

Dirge-slow versions of pop songs were often played in the dining room, with lyrics thrown up on a screen.  I guess the rehab people were constantly looking for ways to get words to stick in people’s brains.

We spent many hours in the dining room, since it made a nice alternative to sitting in his room all day. I’d bring my lunch, once I was able to force myself to eat again, and he’d eat whatever his hospital-issued offerings were.

One day a fellow patient was groaning and making animalistic noises, sounds that shouldn’t come out of a human mouth. It’s sort of de rigueur on that floor. Maybe it’s even a good sign, being able to make noises on command or even at all.

“Remember that time we were in Maui and we heard humpback whales beneath our boat?” I asked my husband dreamily, for that is what the fellow’s cries sounded like. Later it struck me that I was a bit ghoulish.

Imagine hearing such sounds for hours at a time. That seemed to be the lot of the nurses and other staff. I’d see non-verbal, apparently inert people parked by the nurses’ station, so staff could keep an eye on them. Sometimes there’d be a brief discussion about wheeling a person to a new spot so they could stare at something different for awhile. At mealtimes, staff would hand feed whoever couldn’t feed themselves, gently cajoling them to open their mouths and chew.

The staff did what they could to help people, even when the situations were tragic and probably wouldn’t have a good outcome. It can’t have been easy.

His Pickle Rick t-shirt. I kept him supplied with obnoxious t-shirts in dark colors, knowing that food would probably get spilled on them.

Most of the therapists at rehab were young, in their twenties and early thirties. (The work is physically and emotionally draining, so it probably burns people out fairly quickly.) They see new patients wheeled in on gurneys week after week after week, and are tasked with getting them as independent as possible. On my husband’s floor, many or all of the patients had brain injuries, and a goodly number had communication issues.

I can’t imagine how rough it must be getting a read on a patient who’s in that state, much less connecting with them as a person. Heaven knows they tried, though. I figured that if my husband wore shirts depicting some of his interests – bands, motorcycles, cartoons – it might make it a little easier for them. “Oh, that’s the guy who likes Triumph motorcycles and 80s New Wave bands. Hey, he smirked at me today!”

Maybe it paid off. Near the end of his stay, he wheeled into one of the gyms and a guy yelled “Hey, Pickle Rick is in the house!”

 

Longing to get out. About a week before discharge, he decided he wanted to go outside. To be fair, he did try to communicate this by gesturing at the window, saying the word “open”, and making swooping motions with his hands. I didn’t understand, though. The next thing I knew, he was rolling his wheelchair through obscure areas of the acute rehab floor, looking for heaven knows what. When he saw the elevator bank, he sped up. I stopped him.

“Patients can’t just leave the premises without clearing it with the staff ahead of time,” I told him. “If you hop on that elevator, it’s going to cause a royal stink.”

His facial expression was decidedly unrepentant. For a man who was struggling to form words and sentences, he did an amazingly good job of conveying ideas like “they didn’t tell me that” and “nobody told me I couldn’t”.

The situation reminded of a story his mother likes to tell about his being two or three, heading out for parts unknown on his tricycle, and her having to call the cops to find him. Evidently his personality hasn’t fundamentally changed.

His coworkers were lovely, turning out in droves to phone, email, or send gifts. People he hadn’t heard from in years got in touch, full of encouragement and amusing stories. A couple checked in with me every few days, and offered advice on jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

It was a lonely time, and their kindness made a huge difference in my life.

“Do you want your right hand to work again? Then you’re going to have to use it.”

It’s hard to remember now, thankfully, but the entire righthand side of his body was malfunctioning. I had to constantly prop his right arm up, remind him to not let it flop around, and so forth. Once his speech began to return, he described the way his arm got “turned on” again, with control gradually moving from his shoulder down to his hand. It must have been an odd experience.

 

Getting ready for discharge. Bless the OT people. I gave them pictures and measurements; they gave me a list of changes to make to the house and drilled us on procedures. Should I ever need to do so, I know how to get a person in and out of a shower from a wheelchair, in and out of a bed from a wheelchair, and so forth.

“Have you thought about getting him a motorized wheelchair?” asked a well-meaning relative, before reeling off a long list of other changes that an infirm, permanently handicapped person would, in his opinion, need.

“I think his goal is to not be in a wheelchair at all. I’m following OT’s recommendations otherwise,” I said as gently as I could.

By that time I was on edge from weeks of running back and forth to the hospital, coping with paperwork and bureaucracies while my husband napped, cancelling my participation in projects, running home to check homework and pretend I was a decent mother, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to walk dogs/cook my son’s breakfast/take my son to school, and waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. I’d been sleeping on the couch, when it wasn’t otherwise in use, and I couldn’t remember what sleeping in a bed felt like.

I’d also heard a few too many stories about how Uncle D– never was the same after his brain liquified and leaked out of his ears, no he wasn’t, and that was pretty much it for Uncle D– up until the time he died. While I’m sorry this happened to Uncle D–, who by all accounts was a lovely person, such stories were not in the least comforting.

My husband was using a walker rather than a wheelchair by that time. He was thoroughly sick of wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, blood pressure cuffs, and anything else associated with hospitals. I suspected that I’d have to stash his walker in the back of the car when he was discharged. Otherwise, he might roll down the window and hurl it out on the highway as we drove home. If I even hinted at the idea of getting a motorized wheelchair, he’d probably demand that I stop to pick up a can of gasoline and a book of matches.

“How about one of those elevated toilet seats?” asked the well-meaning relative. “Maybe you should install a grab bar, too.”

I gently repeated my line about following OT’s recommendations. Inside, though, I was imagining how my husband might destroy such a toilet seat if I left it in his bathroom. Was he strong enough to wield a sledgehammer yet?

 

One day I arrived at the rehab facility and found him wandering around his room, sans walker. This was after weeks of being strapped into a wheelchair with a rear-fastening belt so he couldn’t escape it without help and having the words “impulsive behavior” scrawled on his mobility status sheet. He’d been trained in proper use of wheelchairs and walkers, crossed his heart and promised to obey rules, and therapists had scrawled their names on pieces of paper.

“Where’s your walker?” I hissed. “You’re signed off to stroll around your room with the walker, not run laps in the Olympics. If the nurses catch you wandering around without it, they won’t be pleased.”

He gave me stink eye. It’s amazing how good he is at that.

“Dude, they’re trying to keep you safe while you’re in here. At least pretend to respect their rules.”

He stepped over to the walker, very deliberately lifted it off the floor, and began sauntering around his room while holding it in the air.

Argh. Just … argh.

On the positive side, the rehab staff had gotten him walking again.

Taking a walk the day after discharge. If I was a superstitious person, I would have regarded this double rainbow as a good omen. However, I tend to be crabby rather than superstitious, so I quizzed my husband as we strolled around our humble suburban neighborhood.

“What’s that?” I’d ask, pointing at the objects around us. Sometimes he knew the words, but usually he didn’t. Flower, bush, palm tree, gravel – most of those words were gone, it seemed. I tried to teach him the word flower, but it wouldn’t stick. I became frustrated, far more frustrated than I should have been.

Then I saw a flash of grey out of the corner of my eye. “What type of car was that?” I asked.

He barely glanced at it. “Toyota Corolla.”

“What year?”

He reeled off a year.

“Hybrid or purely internal combustion?”

“Combustion.”

“How many cylinders?”

“Four.”

“Where was it manufactured?”

“Japan, Ontario, or Tennessee.”

Ah. He might not remember the words for plants, but he could still talk about cars.

“Tell me the difference between a solid state drive and what you’d call a spinning rust drive,” I demanded. After that, I interrogated him about the components in PCs, the purpose of load balancers and routers in networks, and how to diagnose various problems. Sometimes his language was fragmented, but he clearly knew what he was talking about.

Got it. He could access the words for the things he cared about more easily than he could things like plants. Alright. Wasn’t that good, in a sense? It was at least a place to start.

Working on an antonym/synonym worksheet. Rehab was just the start of recovery, in many ways.

3 1/2 weeks after the medical disaster began, I was trying to get him to write and speak in sentences. On this particular day, I gave him a verb, asked him to come up with different forms of it, and write some sentences:

“A lover’s walk can never be talked over.
What can this talk be done?
It is with talking that’s lover’s comes deny.”

It was progress. What he wrote was a little odd, but he clearly understood how to structure sentences. He even accessed some new words and used his right hand to write.

7 weeks after the medical disaster began:

“A pulsar is a rotating neutron star formed by a super-massive event. The stellar cores that remained after the supernovae were about one-and-a-half to three times the diameter of Earth. But the mass was about a billion times greater.”

It took him ten painful minutes to pen a couple of paragraphs about neutron stars, including the one above. Still, it was progress.

We’re now sitting at 13 1/2 weeks out. His speech has become more fluid each week, particularly when he isn’t tired. Exhaustion is now his worst issue, but even that is slowly improving.

Life has changed. It isn’t easy yet, and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be able to sleep through the night without checking to make sure that he’s still alive. I actually appreciate it when he snores now, because I can tell that he’s alive without waking up and hovering over him.

But things are better, far better than they were January 11. He’s home, he’s alive, and he was even here to see our son shave the first time. Somehow we’ll adapt and work the rest of it out.

Caught Between Heaven and Hell

December 27th, 2018

I know this couple’s story.

The guy is really nice, despite his appearance – responsible, a hard worker, kind to children and animals. He and the girl hang out and have lighthearted innocent fun together, watching movies and dancing around in the clouds. However, there are religious differences and the girl’s stepmother seizes on them. The woman is increasingly unhappy in her marriage, so she takes her frustration out on the girl. She asks obnoxious questions about the guy’s sexual history, says nasty, angry things about him, and tries her best to break the couple up. When the guy brings the girl roses, the stepmother accuses the girl of sleeping with him, because of course no guy would give a girl flowers unless she’d done that. 

In the end, the woman wears the girl down, and the girl’s father doesn’t do a damned thing to stop her. Who knows; maybe he’s just happy because his daughter is being targeted, not him. The girl has a breakdown, dumps the guy, and does some idiotic things things to escape “home”. She regrets all of it for years, and doesn’t feel whole until she and the guy get back together. He’s turned out great and is much respected in his career jabbing people with pitchforks. He even stepped in as a surrogate father to put a nephew through pitchfork-jabbing school.

When the girl’s stepmother finds out, she shows signs of wanting a second go at busting them up, but this time the girl has wised up. She won’t put up with it. When things escalate some more, this time targeting  her young mutant spawn, she realizes the price of staying in contact with her family is too high.

Oh. Wait. That isn’t the couple in the picture. That’s my story.

The picture was actually inspired by an Artuš Scheiner illustration published in a 1901 edition of the magazine Lustige Blätter. One can see a facsimile of the magazine in online archives hosted by the University of Heidelberg, along with enough grotesque racial stereotypes to make a Klansman get a hate boner.

I think the picture is titled The Fugitive Saint, but I can’t swear to that. I also know nothing about the backstory of the drawing or the events Scheiner was trying to illustrate. However, I found the juxtaposition of opposites intriguing, inspiring enough to want to rip it off create my own version.

I began by posing some digital models on my computer, more or less reproducing Scheiner’s composition. I soon found the positioning of the tail unsatisfactory. In Scheiner’s picture the tail wraps around the angel, embracing her as effectively as his arms. That was the object of merriment and ribaldry in an online group I follow, with commenters identifying the tail as a symbolic phallus. I don’t think they were wrong.

Four or five work versions later I elected to go full circle – or spiral, rather – posing the tail in front of the demon’s personal area so that it would form a more obvious symbolic phallus. Thanks to the lighting, we can’t actually tell the nature of his real anatomy. Given the fallout from the movie The Shape of Water, which involved some wag marketing a personal aid inspired by the sea creature’s privates, perhaps that’s just as well.

I didn’t care for the color of the angel’s dress, so I made a new texture. White is probably traditional for angels, but it looked monotonous. I put her in ice blue instead.

With the major design issues squared away, my attention turned to minor issues such as the shape of the demon’s ears and facial features and the fact that his tail was so dark it could barely be seen. I also found the angel’s hair growing right through his fingers, the feathers of her wings jabbing through each other, and concluded that her halo looked dumb.

With those issues resolved, it was time to give the happy couple a backdrop. This setting is straight from the tradition of ripping off Alphonse Mucha, although someone better able to keep a straight face might call it an homage or use the phrase “inspired by”.

The phases of the moon are from NASA’s “dial a moon” utility.  The planet and the starry backdrop were created in Filter Forge. The final image uses a couple of Photoshop brushes, Ron Deviney’s clouds and Lily Fox’s halos. As usual, everything was composited and retouched in Photoshop.

And that, as they say, is that.

Sure, it’s art, but is it a quilt?

December 19th, 2018

This week the Quilt Show’s blog gave my Cranky Claus a mention. I have the sense that they focus on traditional or decorative techniques, so I particularly appreciate their highlighting this piece. It was created with some techniques that aren’t traditional to quilters and its subject matter has a little bite, more than some of the blog’s commenters cared for.

I’ve never gotten the feeling that Alex Anderson or Ricky Tims, the “names” behind the show and the site, are prejudiced in that sense, though. Their offerings may be more traditional or feature approachable techniques, but that’s simply a matter of knowing their target audience and how they wish to serve it.

I have fond memories of watching Alex’s show, Simply Quilts, when my son was first born. A wide variety of intriguing techniques were showcased; focussing on them helped me keep my sanity while my son was yowling. There was definitely an air of “Why not? Let’s try it!” about that show, a philosophy which has always served me well. I later met Ricky Tims for about a nanosecond when he handed me an award at one of the Houston shows, one of many he’s presented over the years.

I’m fortunate to have been born to a rich tradition of needlework. My grandmothers were accomplished quilters, thrifty souls who saved every tidbit of fabric from sewing clothes and meticulously pieced them together to keep their families warm. My paternal grandmother went a step beyond that, tatting exquisite bits of lace to adorn her dressers and tabletops. I’ve deviated from that path by pursuing art quilting rather than tatting or traditional quilting, but I like to think that my current work continues the tradition of “Why not? Let’s try it!”. 

A few years before I came on the art quilting scene, people were grappling with the notion that one could paint an image on a piece of whole cloth, stitch it, and it would be legitimately a quilt. It strikes me as a logical step: whole cloth quilts with intricate stitching already existed, so why not paint your own image on the cloth first? However, the development wasn’t universally well received. While some embraced the idea, others muttered about it darkly, even going so far as to say that those weren’t “real” quilts and they shouldn’t be accepted in shows.

Since then, I’ve witnessed similar debating each time there’s a new development. I’ve heard grumbling about art quilts whose surface was made from photos printed on fabric. Ditto for art quilts whose surface is made from fabric collage, stitched leather, quilts made from non-fabric items such as plastic fencing, and sculptures constructed from quilted cloth. Now a few of us create cloth based on images we’ve made with the assistance of a computer.

Some are intrigued by these techniques. Some find them repellent and state that they aren’t “valid” compared to traditional techniques such as piecing, applique, or stitching over a whole piece of unornamented cloth. Still others have concerns about subject matter, protesting that certain topics shouldn’t be depicted in fiber.

I hope that aspiring artists, craftsmen, and art quilters won’t be put off by the naysayers and will celebrate their creativity in whatever ways they see fit. It’s a big planet. There’s room for people to work traditionally or to push the margins. I shall continue to do the latter. 

One of my current projects involves a baby dragon who’s gotten up to great mischief. To bring his story to life, I have to create or otherwise obtain models, pose them, texture them, and light them. Even after the scene has been rendered, there’ll be more work to do, hand editing the render. Then I’ll decide whether the image would benefit from being printed out on fabric and stitched. Not everything does. While some images become quilts, others become book covers or have other uses. In a previous life, these would have included advertising or product marketing art.

There’s no “make art” button on my computer, you see. Regardless of the medium or techniques one uses, whether it’s painting or piecing or collage, it takes time and care to create. It’s a laborious process but I love doing it. Creating my own worlds and bringing them to life is intoxicating.

I invite others to try it themselves. All of the resources below are powerful and free:

The Advent calendar

November 27th, 2018

 

My kid is growing up. We aren’t going to break his plate and turn his chair away from the table when he hits 18 (one of my father-in-law’s sayings), but things are gradually becoming different. It’s just a fact of life. Every year, every month, little pieces of your kid’s childhood fall away. One day you realize that you’ve read your last bedtime story. Another day you realize that you can’t remember the last time you griped at him about doing homework. Then, all at once, your kid is hulking over you and you see beard hairs. That’s the stage I’m at now.

Given that and the ephemeral nature of life, it feels important to cherish family traditions. One of ours is the advent calendar, which gives the boy (and the rest of us) a little something to look forward to each day.

My son has long since outgrown things like Lego’s advent calendars, cutesy calendars filled with the likes of bubbles and Silly Putty, and even Trader Joe’s 99¢ chocolate calendars. This year I decided to try something a little different, filling a calendar with sweets ourselves, but I didn’t want to get too elaborate with buying or making one. Instead, I decided to concoct something out of magnetic spice tins.

This is hardly an original idea. The web is full of tutorials for jamming decorative paper cutouts into the likes of Ikea’s magnetic spice tins or Wilton’s 2” favor tins. Heaven knows we couldn’t figure out how to cut out a paper circle otherwise.

I opted to buy a set of 24 tins off Amazon. For decorative inserts, I Googled terms such as “horrifying vintage Christmas cards” and picked out the strangest images I could find. That led to an hour’s worth of shrieking and cackling, with my calling the boy to the computer with screams of “You will NOT believe what I just found!!!” There’s some seriously weird stuff out there such as the ones in these articles, “Have a Creepy Little Christmas …” and “10 sinister Santa Christmas cards”.

One doesn’t have to go for creepy and weird, of course. One could decorate tins with religious iconography, traditional Christmas themes, or the remains of last year’s cards. Creepy and weird just fits our household, right down to the cigarette-smoking Santa from the 1936 Lucky Strike ad.

The boy has declared that he’s pleased with the result and can’t wait to start prying the tins open. So far the tins are clinging to the refrigerator door just fine and haven’t exploded all over the kitchen floor. We’ll see how long our luck holds out. We don’t have toddlers or a Labrador retriever, so that improves our odds.

Give me a sphere with hair

November 26th, 2018

My quest began with a case of hives. Thanksgiving night, I awoke with raised, itchy red areas splashed across my body and ferocious itchiness on the soles of my feet. Okay, whatever. Something I ate nailed me – yes, I know the likely culprit. I got up, popped an antihistamine, and got out an ice pack. No biggie, except for the fact that I knew I’d be wasted the next morning and I’d probably have to beg off walking the dogs, which isn’t fair to my husband.

Sure enough, the next day I was doing a good imitation of a character from Walking Dead. I lurched over to my computer, gagged down some coffee, and poked at links on YouTube. Maybe a music video would bring me back to life.

One link was labeled “Anthony Kiedis farts and everyone runs away (funny!)” I clicked on it. It had a promising beginning, with John Frusciante clutching a carton of milk while indulging in a vigorous round of pocket pool. Soon Anthony Kiedis grinned, said “look out, look out,” and began windmilling his arms, presumably so his intestinal joy could be shared with everyone. Frusciante and another guy evacuated. Flea, focused on generating horrible noises with a keyboard, ignored the whole thing.

Meh. It wasn’t really side-splitting but it was alright, I guess. I’ve witnessed similar savagery when boys get together at my house, with guys pointing their posteriors at each other and making sounds reminiscent of a howitzer or a duck being stepped on. On one notable occasion, the action resulted in a door being ripped off its hinges. I ended up showing a couple of boys how to reinforce screw holes with wood glue and toothpicks.

I was vaguely ashamed of myself for watching the video, though. The fact is, if you follow most people around long enough, they’re bound to do something odd or embarrassing. Most of us are just lucky that onlookers don’t have a camera so such moments aren’t recorded. Shouldn’t I be using my time a little better? For example, maybe I could tackle the problem of making fur in a 3D program, which hasn’t gone so well the last few times I’ve tried it?

That’s the thing with some of the tools I use. Many are developed by people who have a neat idea they’re pursuing, out of the goodness of their hearts or in the hope of piecing together an income. Maybe they have a background in software development and testing; maybe they don’t. Even if the application isn’t crawling with bugs like the underside of a rock, documentation can be uneven, the likes of a fellow mumbling through a video on YouTube or popping up to address users’ anguished pleas on some obscure forum. Did he just poke a button or not? What does the button with three tiny squares on it do compared to the button with four tiny squares?

Even tools sold by companies that have a reputable facade can be uneven: Say, that upgrade looks great! What the — what happened to all my custom presets? They just disappeared! What? To fix it, I have to move around some invisible files in an obscure directory? Am I going to need to dip into Unix? Fine. Fine. I’ll just have a cup of coffee and browse through commercially available 3D models while I think this through. Say, that’s an awesome model of a tarantula. And it’s on sale for forty cents and it comes with presets to grow hair! Where do I sign up? Take my forty cents, suckers! Oh yeah. Just let me download this baby and I’ll do some wicked things with it. What the … how do I make the hair grow? Did I just pay forty cents for a model of a bald spider? Argh!

What most of us want is smooth workflow, so when we set out to do something we can. When I’m in the midst of a project, I don’t want a big troubleshooting orgy. I want to know how to grow fur on my 3D tarantula and I want to know how to simulate fluids so it can ooze drool or spider juice or whatever the heck it is spiders do. 

That means that every once in awhile, I have to sit down, fiddle around, and take some notes.

The last time I messed with growing fur or fibers was in Blender. The results were comically awful.

I’d like to think it went a little better this time. I started out by growing hair from a sphere. (Hey, you never can tell when you’ll need a hairy sphere.) I only crashed the program six or ten times before reaching this point, which is about par.

Another experiment, this time growing fur from a model of a squirrel. It turned out that when I changed the squirrel’s pose after creating the fur, the fur didn’t follow the pose. That’s one of those things whose cause isn’t necessarily obvious the first time you run across it, then becomes clear.

I thought the image was amusing, though. It looks like the squirrel is having an out-of-body experience, or maybe doing something vulgar with its fur. Sometimes mistakes are fun.

This one shows fur grown on commercially available model of a wolf. I had to try this because I saw a bunch of pitiful forum posts on the topic. It worked out okay. (Except for the fact that if I look at the upper lefthand corner of the picture, the cloud texture is mirrored, which makes it clear that the whole picture is synthetic.)

No, I don’t know why the wolf has a rubber squeak bone. I just make the pictures; I don’t always understand them. Maybe the wolf got bored. Maybe it wanted to take something home to its pups. 

Regardless, many thanks to Anthony Kiedis’ intestinal rumblings for inspiring me to learn something new.

Another experiment, albeit unrelated to growing fur: making tattoos.

What’s that? The picture is too small to tell what the card looks like? I’ll complain to the management for you. Oh – that’s me.

It’s Christmas card time again. I make my own cards every year, even though it would be more sensible to go to the dollar store, fork over a couple of bucks, and send out a set of bland images of puppies wearing Santa hats.

This year’s card has a Santa on it. It’s one of those design-by-committee, bang-it-together in a weekend things. I grab everyone in the house, plop them down at the dining table, and glare at them until ideas come out. This year, all of my own concepts were influenced by current events and were pretty dark. My husband finally rolled his eyes and said “Santa is on a beach. His sleigh is up on blocks and he’s put a for sale sign on it.”

Fine. I could work with that. I decided that Santa was kind of a Viking surfer/biker dude under that suit, and one of the things he really needed was a full sleeve tattoo. That meant I had to do research by looking at numerous photos of shirtless, tattooed men, which was a great hardship.

I fell in love with a norse dragon tattoo from Sacred Knot. Wouldn’t something like that – exactly like that! – look great on Santa? Yeah. Unfortunately, that design belongs to them, not me, which meant I had to go draw my own.

I’d never drawn a tattoo before. Most of my drawings were awful. I comforted myself with the knowledge that on the printed card, the tattoo would only be an inch across. Also, many real-life tattoos are awful, a hodgepodge of miscellanea acquired over time rather than a cohesive design created by a tattoo artist. If the tattoo I made was ugly, I’d simply tell people that Santa got it as a bet when he was drunk. Long nights at the north pole, boredom, some elf tossing, an excess of mead … it could happen.

After some unsuccessful fiddling around with pencils and a light box, I sat down with my iPad, an Apple Pencil, and a copy of Procreate. My husband put something on the television, maybe Forever, and began waxing philosophical about the program being a metaphor for marriage. I filled a glass with spiked eggnog, grunted at his comments at the appropriate times, and opened a picture of my Santa’s chest and arm on a layer in Procreate. I began to draw, a process complicated by the fact that several glasses of eggnog had made my eyes cross and my body grow floppy. I drew a reindeer, a Vegvisir in case Santa got lost, and for good measure I threw in some random knotwork and Nordic patterns. Soon I had a design, although I couldn’t tell whether it was any good – nor did I care.

“Whaddaya think?” I grunted at my husband, holding out my iPad for inspection.

“It’s fine,” he said, not bothering to look at it.

I exported the tattoo layer as a PNG, sent it to my desktop machine, and once I was sober enough to lurch to my computer, I layered it on my Santa scene in Photoshop. “Procreate and an Apple pencil,” I crowed, “easiest drawing process ever!” Or maybe I belched and moaned about how I’d drunk too damned much eggnog. I can’t remember.

The texture on Santa’s trunks was inspired by men’s garish floral board shorts, particularly the ones plastered with hibiscus. I reasoned that Santa would wear something similar, only in a pointsettia pattern. After running a fabric simulation on the trunks to make them fall just so, I plunked a mystery drink in Santa’s hand. I also ran a fabric simulation on the clothes chucked in the sand behind his chair, so they’d sink down messily.

Details like that are important. I like to think people are subconsciously impressed by the care I put into my work in the split second before they mutter “Eh, there’s no Jesus on this card” and chuck it in the trash.

Ho ho ho.

The Trouble in Paradise

November 20th, 2018

IQF Houston took place a couple of weeks ago. That’s normally cause for celebration, but my attention has been on the fires in Malibu and here in northern California. Still, my understanding is that it was a great show; I’m sorry I missed it.

The OURstory exhibit, spearheaded by Susanne Miller Jones, debuted there. I have a couple of pieces in that exhibit but alas, we aren’t allowed to release photos just yet. One can get a little sense of the exhibit from this story in the Houston Chronicle, which features interviews with a few of my fellow artists.

I confess that I got my back up a bit when I read a comment that exhibits such as this one are “political” and that IQF Houston should leave them out of its shows. Why are celebrating human rights, religious freedom, or fair labor practices regarded as political? Why are those things controversial? What’s the counter position – that the medium of fiber should only be used to depict warm, fluffy topics such as kitty-cats hiding in pumpkins or children playing on the beach? Should we be celebrating the views of Strom Thurmond circa 1948?

The exhibit will be traveling. I do wish people would go have a look at it before judging it. The work in it is heartfelt. I was told that one of my pieces “moved people to tears,” and I imagine that was the case with much of the other work as well. I worked hard on my pieces and I know that my fellow artists did as well.

Another of my works, Cranky Claus, was out in the main section of the show. It’s one of my personal favorites since the Santa in it is such a thuggish type, not at all the sort of person you’d want to have come down your chimney or roam around your house while you were asleep. I hope visitors enjoyed it or at least were mildly horrified.

 

Leaving Home: Launch of the Apollo 8 and several other works from the Fly Me to the Moon exhibit are on display at the Johnson Space Center as part of the Apollo 7 & 8 50th Anniversary Exhibit. They’ll be there through December 13.

 

From the San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 15

Meanwhile, Malibu and a chunk of Northern California have been on fire. I live down at the south end of San Francisco Bay, about 200 miles away from the fire that took out forest land and the town of Paradise. The morning after the fire started, I went outside to walk the dogs and the air was thick with smoke. “Wow. Is that from the fire north of Sacramento?” I asked my husband. Yes. It was. 

Air in Sacramento November 15

We’ve been battling bad air ever since, air that leaves me coughing and with a sore throat if I stay out in it for long. We’ve essentially been housebound for the past two weeks, and that’s with the fire 200 miles away. However, our inconvenience is nothing compared to what the people closer to the fire have faced, or the tragedy of losing homes, loved ones, pets, and wildlife. “Remember, that smoke you’re complaining about breathing is someone’s house – or worse,” pointed out a newspaper commenter.

The stories of horror are abundant, and the survivors’ paths to recovery are just beginning. This story in the L.A. Times tells about people sheltering in vehicles or tents in parking lots in Chico, huddled together for warmth. Winter is coming. Soon the weather will turn harsher, cold and wet, and many of the people don’t have the financial resources to move, much less rebuild.

One would think this would be an occasion for an outpouring of sympathy and relief efforts, with FEMA swooping in and the POTUS making statements of compassion. Instead, we have people camping out in parking lots, with no idea where they’re going to go or how they’re going to put their lives back together. Instead, the current POTUS initially threatened to withold federal aid. He conveniently “forgot” or ignored the facts that California supplies more federal funds than it uses, much of forest that burned was under federal management, with funding for maintenance cut by him and the Republicans, and the town that burned leaned Republican. When he visited the burned remains of the town, he couldn’t remember its name, even when reminded. Instead he mumbled deranged nonsense about maintaining the forest by raking it, like the people of Finland do theirs. The citizens of Finland weren’t aware they’d been doing this, and were understandably surprised.

This behavior is not a surprise to me – like all good con men, the POTUS has contempt for his marks – but it is still a disappointment. I’m sad to see people defecated on by the man they voted for. One would hope he’d care about them, if not the rest of us. But he doesn’t. He cares only for himself and perhaps his oldest daughter.

Remember the people of Pleasure – I mean, Paradise – in your thoughts and donations, and shore up your resources and your neighborhoods. Get to know your neighbors, keep a reasonable amount of emergency supplies on hand, and have a plan for sheltering in place or evacuating yourself, your pets, and your family if necessary. Support the people and organizations who provide emergency services.

There will more disasters, particularly as global climate change accelerates. The reality TV personality currently occupying the Oval Office and his administration will be no more capable of responding to them with compassion or practical assistance than he was this one. The only things he can reliably deliver are self-interest and harsh, threatening remarks when people are grappling with grief and fear.

We have each other, at least. Right now, that’s about all we can count on.

Father of the Year

October 29th, 2018

Pizza, baby cage, grenade … the stuff of childhood. When my son saw this he shrugged and said “This is normal”. I think he was kidding.

There’s also a cup of coffee and a doglike creature, two elements which keep finding their way into my work over and over again. One might begin to suspect that I like coffee and dogs of all types.

I’m amused at the notion that a palpably evil creature, a Prince of Darkness type, can’t keep his kids in line. However, I’m a little disturbed that the violence of the outside world is creeping into my work. There are some horrifying things going on in the United States.

I live in a comparatively pleasant section of Silicon Valley. In the main, people in my neighborhood are more focussed on changing the world and making things than attacking each other over cultural or philosophical differences. But once the violence and hatred escalate, nowhere is safe. Fear and suspicion inexorably creep into everyone’s lives.

Journalists, sometimes risking their own safety to share truth with the rest of us, are reviled by the current regime. “The Fake News Media, the True Enemy of the People,” caws the regime’s leader, a man who is apparently unclear on when and how to use capitalization. Assassination attempts have made against public figures. People have been slaughtered at their places of worship, murdered or abused for being the “wrong” color, and school children have had orange-sized holes blown through their bodies with assault weapons.

Meanwhile, the person at the head of the regime preaches the religion of violence. And boy, do some people love that doctrine. I’ve seen people I used to love and respect become instruments of hatred. I’ve watched them turn their heads and pretend not to see. Some of the worst I know are the old white men who served in the armed forces during the Cold War. They really should know better when confronted with the reality of Russian collusion and propaganda concocted in Macedonian boiler rooms. But they don’t. They refuse to see it. Gosh, no; they could never be taken in by disinformation. And by the way, keep your hands off their Social Security and keep those filthy, murdering “illegals” out of their country, the one given to Christian white people by God.

Are others waking up? I don’t know. I used to believe the best about people, in the main. I thought most differences were a matter of people having diverging notions about how to improve the country. Even if I disagreed with them, I could at least respect them for having principles of some type.

Now I believe there’s a core group that lives in denial, or is so filled with hatred that setting the world on fire is just fine as long as brown people and liberals go down with it. They’ll lose their businesses due to trade wars, have crops rot in fields due to lack of immigrant labor, die due to lack of health insurance, and maybe have their children or grandchildren cut down in school by an evil, deranged gunman. But it will have been totally worth it.

The father in this image is inept and overwhelmed. But evil as he is, at least he has the decency to find the mayhem around him disturbing and not incite more of it.

It’s tragic when a man-eating demon is more humane and ethical than a prominent world leader.

Excursions 2

October 25th, 2018

This is one of my 3D renders which I edited extensively, trying to give it a painterly quality.

I spent last night trying to do that with Procreate on my iPad. It didn’t go well. Today I beat on it a different way. I’m happier with this result. Mind you, I may change my mind in a couple of days when I look at it again – that often happens – but for now I’m happy.

Why is the lady hanging out stark naked around flower bushes? Uh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a classical image in the style of ______? Her washing machine broke and she ran out of clothes?

When I was posing the figure, I just liked the the play of light against her bare skin. If my extended family can spend their hours shooting up derelict cars with machine guns and crashing airplanes into power lines, I can jolly well pose naked women next to flowers.

 

Closeup showing the brush strokes on the flowers. I did considerably less brush work on the woman, since I want her to “pop” against the background.

Feet. Again, the feet themselves aren’t as heavily modified as the plants around them.

 

For the sake of contrast, here’s what the same area looked like before editing it.

Stuff I’ve been listening to while working:

Enjoyed the song and the visual homage to Raymond Pettibon. Also appreciate the way Anthony Kiedis has that mildly stern look that comes with parenting, the “I was up at six a.m. throwing damned eggs in a frying pan, trying to find clean underwear for my kid, and extracting chewed-up homework from the mouth of a dog” look.

 

Thank you, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The subject matter of those songs has nothing to do with my digital painting, but I’ve been enjoying catching up on their music. I particularly admire the creativity of their videos.

Excursions

October 23rd, 2018

Placing this here for posterity. Not sure whether I’ll take it any further.

“Oh, how sweet,” some might say. No. That dachshund may look as though he has a friendly grin on his face, but this is a scene of unparalleled viciousness and peril. The dog is part of the neighborhood doggie mafia. At night he shakes down the locals for protection bones. Anyone who fails to hand them over risks having their pumpkin rolled – or worse.

A couple of weeks back, I went to a quilt show with a mutual friend of Kathy Nida’s. She isn’t fond of social media (or, as I prefer to describe it, antisocial media, since using it means I don’t have to interact with people face-to-face) so I’ll just call her “V” to preserve her anonymity. That works. James Bond had an M and a Q, so I can jolly well have a V.

“Your work is too nice,” she said, or words to that effect. Maybe she described it as sweet. She was referring to the distinct lack of angst or strong themes of any type in the work I had on display, as opposed to Kathy’s work, which tackles all manner of social, environmental, and other ills.

I tried to explain to her that Kathy is a machine and I’m not. I don’t mean that as an insult to Kathy, but it’s true. She can knock out a drawing, enlarge it, trace it onto Wonder Under, cut out five jillion pieces of fabric, and make a piece of fiber art in the amount of time it takes me to stroll to the bathroom and inspect the blackheads in the creases of my nose. If I create an art quilt, I’m usually with it for at least a couple of months, depending on its size and complexity.

I do create more serious work, but it usually isn’t related to me, personally. I function better when there’s some distance between me and serious topics, particularly if I’m going to spend much time with them. A couple of such pieces will be public in a couple of weeks.

 

An experiment. Sometimes I muck around with facial simulation. I’ve found that I can make someone who’s interesting-looking fairly easily, but I find simulating a specific person much more challenging.

I haven’t posted any of the experiments with my son’s face. That’s probably for the best. Imagine coming home from a rough day at school and there’s this thing on your mother’s computer screen, something that looks as though your skin and your features were removed from your skull and laid out flat.

“Hi sweetie! How was your day?” I sing out. “Say, I’m about to wrap this skin texture around a model I made of your head. Do you want to see?”

No. The answer is no. No one wants to see that.

 

My friend V mixes liqueurs, which she donates to various fundraising efforts. Sometimes she lets me sample her efforts. I may have been doing some, um, sampling when I worked on this.

No, I don’t know why a guy in leather underwear is hanging out on an alien planet. He should just be happy that I didn’t decapitate him, plunk him in front of a star field, or pair him with a woman who’s in mid-swoon/experiencing severe gas pains. Such is the state of certain genre book covers, which I’ve created a few too many of.

 

No, I don’t know why his monster is so unhappy. Hungry, maybe? Doesn’t like the color of his human’s wig? Or perhaps his self-respect is suffering because he’s been plunked in this scene.

It’s fantasy. Anything is possible.

Pacific International Quilt Festival, 2018

October 16th, 2018

 

 

Last week I went to the PIQF, which is a grueling 6.5 mile drive from my house. My piece Do Dragons Like Cookies? received this award, which I very much appreciate.

I’ve had pieces with 3D/CGI surface designs sell, be published, and tour. However, this is the first time one of them has received an award. That’s a welcome milestone.

 

Unless I mount an exhibit of 3D/CGI surface design or enter an exhibit for quilts featuring hungry dragons, I imagine PIQF will have been its last public viewing. I don’t much enjoy shipping things out to different shows – I prefer having work in exhibits that travel and stay gone for a year or so. I hope that those who saw it enjoyed it.

I always enjoy PIQF; since it’s so close, it’s a relaxed, fun show. Getting everyone’s work together so it can be studied at a size larger than that of a computer screen is a lovely, communal activity. It always drives home the vast range of aesthetics and skill levels out there.

One exhibit I greatly admired was provided by the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Quoting from their website,

“Through a series of hands-on workshops in schools, prisons and community centers across the country, SJSA empowers youth to use textile art as a vehicle for personal transformation and community cohesion and become agents of social change. Many of our young artists make art that explores issues such as gender discrimination, mass incarceration, gun violence and gentrification.”

The pieces are powerful, with quite a lot of heart. It’s incredibly sad that not only are adults having to face the issues depicted, but youth are too. They literally can’t escape them and, unlike adults, are powerless to vote or politic for different policies. However, they can engage in peaceful protest and statements of their concerns by creating artwork. They’re following a noble tradition utilized by, among others, women who wanted to vote, citizens concerned about the Vietnam war, auto and mine workers, Quakers who found the slave trade abhorrent, and the original colonists who didn’t appreciate taxation without representation.

Twitter Tantrum, Carina Cabriales

The words on the quilt weren’t invented by this artist. They’re quotes or messages from a sitting elected official. Given the hate-filled, foul-mouthed, bigoted, misogynistic messages this person spouts on a daily basis, this quilt is extremely restrained.

Learn more about the quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

One block from Activist ABCs, Bianca Mercado

See the entire quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

Exit Wound, Audrey Bernier

A portion of the artist’s statement:

“Did you know that the exit wounds from an AR-15 are the size of an orange? That means regardless of the shooter’s aim, if he hits anything he’s going to do severe damage – more often than not, fatal damage. I titled my quilt “Exit Wound” as a reminder that gun control in all communities is a social justice issue that deserves action and conversation.”

The Atlantic published an excellent article on the topic of AR-15 wounds. It’s written by a radiologist who dealt with victims of a school shooting.

 

One block from Agency.

Learn more about the quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

Protect & Serve: EVERYONE, Chloe Gorski

This piece concerns the disproportionate killing of African Americans and invites viewers to add the name of someone who was a victim of police lethal force.

“As of the summer of 2018, 38% of unarmed citizens killed were African Americans.” This is about three times the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. No, not all cops are trigger-happy bigots. Just enough that if the outer 1 mm of your body is a different color from that of a white person, you live in fear.

To see more quilts, view an exhibition schedule, or find out how to help, visit the Social Justice Sewing Academy website.