Herre Solsort

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An illustrated true story about our local blackbird. This was something I started over the summer as a 2D/digital painting exercise, but only picked up again a few weeks ago (as something to do that’s not job hunting and Lillie is the Keeper).

I love the self-serious, slightly derpey way blackbirds go about everything. Lots of fun to scribble something together like this. Have fun!

A Christmas Ghost Story

What do you do the night of Christmas Day? When all the presents have been unwrapped, the food eaten and the visits made? There's an old tradition, predating M.R. James and Charles Dickens, and even the author of Gawain and the Green Knight. I think we should bring it back: The telling of ghost stories.

Cantwell had never taken the time. Another version of her would have assumed that she knew what a ghost was. The present Cantwell was rarely the type to bother with abstractions. What a ghost was cost her no more concern than the question of what a friend was. Were either real? Her friends demonstrated fealty on the right apps and were present in person when circumstances required. This sat comfortably enough in place of a definition. Likewise were ghosts considered by some influential people (and what other kind existed–meaningfully existed?) to be a thing one could accept as “real.” Our alternate Cantwell would have said that a ghost was what remained when a person had otherwise died. They symbolized the inevitable loss of beauty and influence that preceeded the grave by so many years (for those who couldn’t contrive to go out on top) but were otherwise nothing more and much less than a person on this side of the ground. The thought of meeting a ghost hadn’t crossed Cantwell’s mind since she had been very, very small, and understood very, very little.

This Cantwell, the present Cantwell, got by with surface glosses in place of understanding. Understanding was a thing that lived in a stillness she simply didn’t inhabit. She felt naked without a constant crush of attention from all sides, like some deep sea chamber that would rupture if brought to the surface.

It came to pass, however, that she found herself in just such an unaccustomed stillness passing the canal opposite Christiansborg. Her devices were as silent as the unseen water below. Given their use during the day’s brief sunlit hours, this was not mysterious, though car headlights somewhere in view would have been more usual. The silence ate at her much more than the darkness and the cold. Thoughts echoed that didn’t feel like hers.

She was not precisely in her right mind, if one can ever be said to be. An unsettled mind is usually crosscrossed between past conditionals and possible futures, in Cantwell’s case none more than 48 hours in either direction, but hers was also occupied with several alternate presents where others had granted or withheld one thing or another.

Cantwell had a place and time to be, and was hating it as much as the remainder of the present void. The city could be any city of sufficient cachet to her; she didn’t speak the language and didn’t care to, for they spoke hers. Places were backdrops, set dressing. The bare black stage around her was growing intolerable. It was, in fact, the longest night of the year.

There was another, opposite her. A ghost.

Cantwell noticed her, and had the unacustomed jolt that noticing her was her first and most fatal possible mistake. In the way that one knows a greyness under a lamp is a human shape, and that a blank oval near its top is a face looking at us, Cantwell saw it out of the corner of her eye. She pretended, unconvincingly, that she hadn’t. Normally, she pretended so effortlessly and so totally that she herself believed it. Truth was, to Cantwell, what others would follow, and the strongest opening move in affecting a truth was to believe it herself. There were fallbacks, of course, on the vanishingly rare occasion of being trapped in a “lie:” crying, screaming, inversion… But belief could only take one so far. Her skills were deserting her, and would not save her.

Across the canal, behind the low railings, the figure matched Cantwell’s pace. There was a sound of footsteps on stone. She knew it was a woman, as she knew it was a ghost. The figure followed. The canal turned, and the figure didn’t. It forded the air at a calm walking pace, at an angle to meet Cantwell’s path. The silence echoed more loudly than the noise. Had it passed through the railing? Apparently. Even looking wouldn’t tell her, and Cantwell was absolutely not going to look. In another context, it could have been a school friend or a colleage from some job quickening step from across a street to trade commonplace words. Here, however, nothing could be commonplace. The grey-black mass took up more and more of Cantwell’s peripheral vision. A second set of footsteps began on the cobbles to her right, matching rhythm. The ghost walked along beside her.

“Aren’t you going to-“

“No!” Cantwell snapped, equally surprised to hear her own voice.

“You can’t know how much I hate you,” remarked the ghost, also not making eye contact. Cantwell hustled on, saying nothing. People, other people, would save her. Her silence, far from rallying strength like usual (stillness could also be used offensively as a weapon) resulted only in a gently lengthening sense that she was making herself an object of pity, drawing out the inevitable.

“I don’t need this from you,” said Cantwell, eyes set straight ahead. Her piteousness rose to something like self flaggelation.

“Tonight’s not about what you want. Tonight is about what I want.”

What was this? Was she going to be hurled–hurl herself, but not really–into the canal? Float to be found at late morning light an ugly corpse? Self-killed (so it would appear) without a mark of respectable violence?

“No,” said the ghost.

“What do you want?”

Nothing happened. She wasn’t transported, or overwhelmed with a sudden hallucination. To be truly overwhelmed with something is a rare gift in life, and this was not the night for gifts. Cantwell was no less aware of the cold air up her skirt or the trouble of negotiating each increasingly slick paving stone in her high boots. It was as if a smell from long ago triggered a sudden memory. Cantwell’s emotions were once again in a tiny room overlooking another city. Nana was baking macaroons. Some were red, some were white, and some were yellow. A bowl of blue batter remained. She had done nothing to help, just sat at the table kicking her feet and eating. It didn’t matter. The halo of something was in the air. Little her didn’t understand why everything was good, and didn’t care. Why would a child?

“Shut up!” yelled the ghost. Cantwell was startled, and almost looked over. There was no one else there, but the ghost didn’t seem to be addressing her.

She saw a window. A small, far off, lighted window, on a third floor, looking warm as the finished wood inside, all of it seeming to glow. Was this the only lighted window in view? The last one in the world? “I don’t understand,” she began, but was cut off again.

“Never! Ikke nu, ikke hver,” continued the ghost, to whom- or to whatever. Cantwell seemed to be momentarily forgotten.

“You’re not real. It isn’t real.”  Tears pricked at Cantwell’s eyes. They served no purpose. They weren’t going to move the ghost. There was no one else to help–that much was increasingly clear. Cantwell wanted to control them, but with a dropping feeling found that she absolutely couldn’t.

She still hadn’t looked at the ghost. She wouldn’t. It was the only fight she hadn’t lost. The figure seemed in appearance about her age. A woman. Dressed in something colorless, perhaps warmer, or maybe older. It could have been her doppelganger. It could have been anyone else.

“Wouldn’t you like to know where I’ve been, before I was here?” They walked on in silence for a moment. “I wasn’t an ugly corpse. I know how that matters to you.”

Cantwell couldn’t form the words, but the ghost did for her:

“What do I know about you? No, this isn’t your night for questions.” It scratched its nose. “Not even the rhetorical kind. You tell me: Why were you at your Nana’s?”

“Mom was ripping the apartment up.”

“Right.”

“She was all cut up about some man cheating on her.”

“Her moods are extreme.”

“He wasn’t even my father. It’s not like I cared.”

“I’m taking that away from you.”

“That man? I barely even remember him.” Cantwell stopped herself. It wasn’t that memory the ghost was taking. It wasn’t any memory the ghost was taking. Worst of all, it wasn’t her life either.

“What am I?” the ghost asked.

“You’re a ghost. You’re just a ghost.”

“And what is a ghost?”

“Don’t do this.”

“I thought you didn’t try to understand things. Just the surface, remember? Stay in the flow. It’s the silence that scares you. I’ll bet right about now you’re wishing you were stupider. There are things you don’t understand, but then there are things you can’t understand. That’s what I am. That’s what your ghost is.”

“Please!” Cantwell looked, but there was nothing there. “Please!” The memory was just as fresh. The moments in that kitchen. True to her word, the ghost hadn’t taken the memory. Cantwell could remember every detail with painful accuracy. Only the feeling was gone.

At some point it had begun to snow. Cantwell continued on to her appointment, in that wooden room on the third floor.

14th Century Funeral Monument

Illustration commissioned by History Live! North East for an intriguing history project: To 3D print a life-sized sculpted knight’s tomb.

English funerary effigies like these began to be produced in the 14th Century in immitation of the Continental style, with locally-sourced alabaster in place of imported marble. According to Rachel Dressler, the waxy translucency of the stone was prized for its immitation of flesh, and “spiritual aura” in the light. History Live! North East is working with the University of Maine to create a modern reproduction of such a monument as an educational outreach tool. Sponsors (and I must recommend becoming one) can see their own coat of arms added to the base of the sarcophagus.

Gingerbread Parisian Cafe


Make up some royal icing. Split it up; dye one batch red, another green. (Keep a bunch white.)

Cut your graham crackers to size per the pattern above. I found that using a sharp paring knife that I kept wetting (since graham crackers turn to mush when damp) and a lot of patient, repeated cuts over the same line worked well.

Royal icing turns to goo with a very small amount of water added. Take some of your red and some of your white; add a little bit of water to each. (Not too much, or you’ll soak the graham crackers, and, well, mush.) Spread the color on the cut pieces as above. Leave them to dry a couple hours.

Cut a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate Hershey bar into bricks (4 per rectangle). Glue down the 3 floor graham crackers to the work surface with royal icing. Wet down some more royal icing, adding black food coloring if desired, and spread it out for mortar. Lay down the chocolate bricks, leaving room for the cafe walls to go in.

Once the walls are dry, start gluing the pieces together, as shown above. Use an extra piece of graham cracker propped up with leftover bricks for the bar. Soak some Mike & Ikes in warm water to remove the outer coating. Mix & match to fill the bar with bottles. Wrap the mini LED lights a few times around the ceiling of the first floor to light the interior. Leave some extra light wire trailing off to string up as hanging lights.

Add details: Mint chocolates on leftover bricks for tables. Green tip-frosted plants. Mint planters with green tip-frosting plants on top. More Mike & Ike bottles. Candy cane light posts.

IMDB Trivia for “Hoof-Town” (2002)

One of Disney’s last traditionally animated (2-D) films, with the exception of all characters’ photorealistic CGI hands.

Ranked #5 on AFI’s 50 Most Based Movies.

A third act was completed, but cut from the final film.

Besides the nine credited screenwriters, several Disney senior managers were personally involved in rewrites well into the final week of production. This allegedly explains the otherwise incongruous exchange during the Blowhole Beach chase where Lilly and Mulligan say: “Fuck you, Brent.” “Fuck you, Christine.”

Nominated for the 2003 Best Animation or Musical Oscar, but lost to Dreamworks SKG’s “Captain Hookworm” (2002).

The first and, to date, only film produced in Disney’s proprietary 17:1 “Hyper Widescope” format. Following negative reaction in theaters, the film was heavily cropped for home video release, explaining why most action and dialogue take place offscreen.

Work on the film was fully rebooted and all prior work scrapped after one of the original directors failed to properly kowtow to chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Princess Boneable was created specifically to add a new Disney Princess to the roster. She has no lines, but to date is the only Disney Princess to kick another character in the face without apparent provocation.

The running joke about Dr. Grooventein being back to “Teabag Iz’ey’s balls” was not scripted, but the result of clever audio editing around David Ogden Stiers’ constant improvisational muttering in the recording booth, often over other actors’ lines. No one named “Iz’ey” appears in the script, nor is Ogden Steirs known to have been officially hired for the film.

Body count: 56, and one undead boat.

According to co-co-Director Sam Marshall, Lilly Pikachu is not a fox but an Antarctic explorer from the human world in an elaborate, anatomically-correct costume.

Held the record for most co-directors on any Disney film at 18. (Soon bested by “Salmon” (2004) with 93.)

Most of the artists with traditional hand drawing skills were fired as production neared completion, often forcefully while still at work. See Goofs: Sudden vertical lines/characters disappearing.

The song “Suck My Kiss” was later recorded by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Produced under the title “Tuesday I’m Eating” as a lower cost “B” project alongside the  expected box office smash then titled “Hoof Town.” When the original “Hoof Town” performed poorly, the titles were switched to the confusion of most moviegoers, in order to chalk it up as a win on quarterly financial statements. (The original “Hoof Town” was later released on home video as “Monkey Spanks: Private Eye”.) This explains why neither a single hoofed animal nor a town appear in the film.

Drew the ire of many Conservative Christian parents’ groups for being a movie.

Feature film debut of singer Sasha Turpworth. Turpworth was discovered at a dick sucking contest in Miami Beach, FL.

As a result of contractual obligations and poor timing, the requisite Broadway adaptation opened the same day as the theatrical release, resulting in an infinite recursion of royalty payments between the two Disney divisions. Still ongoing to this day, these payments make it both the highest grossing and greatest financial loss of any Disney film.

First bulimic character in a Disney animated movie. (“Herbie: Fully Loaded” was a live-action film.)

Foreign titles: “Animal Feet Amok” (France), “The Wacky Animal Village” (Germany), “Hoofs: Being an Exploration of Numerous Amusing Things That Happen to Several Anthropomorphized Animals Near a Somewhat Tasteful Bus Depot” (Brazil), “Tits” (Finland).

Howard Pauls, key animator on Spunky Sally, has not been seen by any current member of the Walt Disney animation staff. The last of Walt’s famed Nine Old Men, Pauls exchanges work through a gap under his locked office door. Some suspect he is long dead and it is the room itself producing the drawings.

“Truundelhorn” is a real brand of Hungarian truck, although they have not been sold with anti-Semitic slogans on the hood since 1993.

Similarities have been noted between the plot and that of Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” in that neither has one.

Roger Ebert admitted that he was high on mushrooms while reviewing the film, but did not feel it altered his opinion meaningfully.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers the second-longest racist tirade by a former “Seinfeld” cast member in a Disney movie, and the third longest in any animated movie. (See Trivia for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996) and “Bee Movie” (2007).)

Musician Morrissey was brought in to give the film “some indy cred,” but was replaced by Alan Menkin when it was realized Morrissey had died in Paris in 1998. He was not rehired when it was discovered that he had not died in Paris in 1998.

Reunites actresses Annie Potts and Elizabeth Perkins for the first time since “Lesbian Sorority Blood Inferno Part 5” (1982).

Hidden Mickey: Beneath the word “SEX” in the underwater rave scene.

David Schramm recorded all of the lines for Based Barry in March of 2001, before being ordered whacked by Disney management in November of that year. Reginald VelJohnson was brought in as a last-minute replacement.

George Clooney, David Thewlis, George C. Scott, William H. Macy and Linda Carter were all considered for the role of the ottoman.

Daveigh Chase, Colm Meaney, Nicolas Refn and Jaden Smith were all considered for the role of Peter Pubgoer, which eventually went to all of them.

Panorama: The Frog Pond, Boston Common

Boston, MA.

Stitched together in Hugin 0.7.0 from 15 iPhone4 pictures. Mercator projection.

(Please forgive the delay since last posting a panorama. I’ve shot several, but been unable to produce any usable output with Hugin 2010.4.0 or Hugin 2011.0.1-Beta 2. It may simply be a question of Hugin growing more particular about its input, while my fascination remains the unpredictability inherent in building a panorama up from numerous low-quality images. I’ve admitted defeat and fallen back to version 0.7.0.)