Halloween Reflections


Halloween is really my favorite time of year. I like Halloween the way that a lot of people like Christmas. Not to make a pun, but there’s a spirit to Halloween that makes me happy.

But, the last couple of Halloweens before this one were off. It seemed to have become the time of year when something would go wrong that would spoil the enjoyment. And this year it was heading the same way, until I decided that things would be different.

In a very real, but somewhat metaphorical sense, I began this correction by slaying a vampire. And believe me, when you are standing over the creature, spike in its chest, heavy mallet in hand, and its final blood all over you, the sense of release is utterly concrete.  When you realize that it absolutely will never rise again, will nevermore bring its seductive evil into your life, things change. The darkness that had crept into all the sunny spaces dissipates rapidly. Without the vampire feeding on you, the sun is once again warm and welcome. The good things you’d begun to shun are again available and open. Peace returns, and with it, hope and love.

When it comes to Halloween, it’s all about fun, costumes, parties, and sharing all of that with like-minded people. And one of my favorite places for Halloween is Villain’s Tavern in downtown Los Angeles. Always good live music, unique mixology, and people who are there for a great time. It doesn’t hurt that the whole place has a vibe that mixes Gothic, Victorian and steampunk elements, as well as really great bar food.

I had decided some time ago that this Halloween, I would be Tony Stark – the billionaire super-genius who, in movies and comics, is Iron Man. But rather than go as the superhero, I went as the man. Robert Downey Jr. has made the character an icon, and I was easily recognized. It took a minute, but I got used to people addressing me as “Tony”.  If you aren’t familiar with the character, he has a round, patterned light in his chest, which is a power supply for his heart.

My Tony Stark, complete with fusion-reactor heart.

My Tony Stark, complete with fusion-reactor heart.

My companion, decided she would go as a dead tree. Being a fashionista as well as a visual artist, it was, to say the least quite stylized, and she was very lovely.

Of course, we met some hilariously fun people.

IMG_20131101_002920

I’m not sure what she was, but it was colorful and weird. Her friend was, apparently a ninja, and a good one, as you can barely see him in this picture:

Yes, there really is a person there.

And the band was fantastic. A bit blue-grassy, but with an edge. Great vocals, fantastic musicianship. Yes, a one string washboard bass as well.

Inventive drinks like “Belladonna”, “The Fatal Hour” were delicious and strong.  So, for once, Halloween was a solid fun experience.

But I wasn’t stopping there. A while back, I’d gotten tickets to LA’s largest gaming/comics/cosplay convention, Comikaze. And that went down today. It was tremendous. So many incredible costumes (which is the main thing I go for). Superb people watching.

Again, I was Tony Stark. and this crowd loves Tony Stark. Because the Iron Man character is popular and has appeared in movies like The Avengers, with many other popular characters, lots of people wanted their picture taken with Tony Stark. Everybody was having a great time just looking and being seen, and indulging themselves in an unashamed geek orgy.

So, for the rest of this musing, I’ll just present to you pictures from the Con. But first, a word of wisdom: If you don’t like how your life is going, step up and change it. The fiercest monsters have only the power you give them, and you can simply take it back.

I wish you a fine Halloween, this and every year.

Random girl bounced up to get a picture with "Tony".

Random girl bounced up to get a picture with “Tony”.

EXTERMINATE!

EXTERMINATE!

Tony Stark, Iron Man

Tony Stark, Iron Man

Doctor Who was very popular.

Doctor Who was very popular.

Blurry, but had to include. This little kid in his Iron Patriot costume yelled "Tony! Tony!" So I knelt down and told him, "help me! Use your palm repuslor!"

Blurry, but had to include. This little kid in his Iron Patriot costume yelled “Tony! Tony!” So I knelt down and told him, “help me! Use your palm repuslor!”

The Amazing Daenerys Targaryen

The Amazing Daenerys Targaryen

Poison Ivy and...?

Poison Ivy and…?

Amazing detail - a real movie-magic costume.

Amazing detail – a real movie-magic costume.

Ummm... yeah.

Ummm… yeah.

Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent.

Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent.

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How Often Do You Get 36 Times What You Paid For?


On the other hand, would you buy a rover that, in 9 years, has “roved” only 22 miles, or about 2.3 miles per year?

I think if it’s Mars that is being roved, you just might.

NASA’s “Opportunity”, the little rover that could, has passed it’s ninth year of operation, is going strong, participating right now in the exploration of the rim of an ancient crater on a planet that is, on average, 225 million kilometers from earth (about 140 million miles). An enormous distance. So far away, that light takes over 12 minutes to reach Earth. Imagine that: point your light at somebody, and switch it on. While looking directly at you, it still takes 12 whole minutes for them to see that you’ve turned on your light. Imagine sitting there for 12 minutes, while the light speeds toward you, finally touching you.

Opportunity was part of a pair of Mars rovers that landed on the planet nine years ago. And now, embarking on its tenth year, the rover has exceeded its original, planned mission duration of three months. Thirty-Six times longer, than planned, and rolling right along. Right now, the crater it examines might provide information about a possible older, wet environment than seen in earlier missions.

Originally, Opportunity was planned to roll just 2000 feet (600 meters), around the small Eagle Crater, where it landed. It is a testament to good science, great engineering, and the incredible care of the scientists, technicians and, yes, even managers and bureaucrats, who took this from concept, through design, fabrication, launch, space travel, landing and deployment — and who have since operated, for nine years, a robotic explorer who’s every move is carefully scripted. It is a staggering achievement. And one that continues to deliver, as Opportunity has long since passed from its original mission, onto roving across 22 miles of Mars’ surface, examining a series of larger and larger craters – going deeper into Mars’ shrouded past with each mission.

As a technological accomplishment, it is difficult to fully appreciate. And NASA has always been far more results-oriented than the typical government agency (it has to be). But this isn’t the first time NASA (and, by extension, JPL, various contractors, etc.) have given us more than we expected. Rarely (very rarely) is there a serious failure, as they are terrible and spectacular when they do occur. But more often, things get done,  missions are accomplished and, occasionally, they are exceeded, by far.

Another example would be NASA’s long ongoing interstellar mission. That’s right: “interstellar”, as in “between the stars”. Not just our planets. Not just our entire solar system, but interstellar. And this mission launched, and has been continuing, for over 35 years. But wait… it gets better. We don’t have just a single spacecraft on this long, interstellar mission — we have two. These are the two Voyager explorers. Launched in 1977, both of them are now further away from our Sun than is Pluto. They are, in fact, now crossing the boundary between our very solar system, and the broader part of this galaxy, between stars.

And yet, when they started, their purpose was to fly by and around Saturn and Jupiter. And this they did, discovering Volcano’s on Jupiter’s moon, and many astounding details of the rings of Saturn. And if they had then fallen silent, their purpose would have been achieved, and their mission would be a complete success. But NASA had designed and built very well, indeed. Despite being tiny, and having very little propulsive capability, they could be jockeyed into positions that used the powerful gravitational forces of the planets themselves so as to be slung into new missions. Contemplate that – new missions, designed, calculated, and then embarked upon – a whole new set of challenges for NASA and JPL in particular. The exact and correct calculations boggle the mind, and yet, were done with sufficient accuracy to allow one of the two Voyager spacecraft to then examine two more planets! Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune. It is so easy to write that, yet these are two planets, previously were only seen as lights in the sky, or as disks on a telescopic image. In all the time since, those two planets have not been re-visited.

And now, over 35 years later, both probes are literally pushing our knowledge ever outward, beyond the very influence of our most familiar star. It is impossible to evaluate how much more was gotten than was paid for. Such merely financial comparisons pale, and sound ridiculous when put into context, for we, as the body that is Man, are doing one of the very few things that seems to be embedded in the most intimate part of our existence. Something that goes beyond any mere number or price.

We are exploring! And perhaps quite literally, new worlds await.

 

The Friendship Law


In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster wrote what is still the only definition of “friend” that I believe is correct:

One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.

While I believe this encompasses everything about friendship, including the friendship that is part of a romantic relationship, it can, sadly, lead to a conflict. The conflict between “desiring his/her company”, and “seeking to promote his/her happiness”.

Sometimes, without anybody doing anything “wrong”, the relationship itself can become harmful to one or both parties. We’ve all seen it in various ways. But when both parties are also artistic, it seems to me that there are two ways, and two ways only, that the romantic friendship and relationship can interact with that creativity:

  1. Each person can inspire the other.
  2. One or both person can sublimate their artistic energies in favor of the relationship.

(1) is, frankly, heaven. One can barely keep up with the “muse effect”, and perhaps some of one’s best work will be done.

(2) happens when something (and I don’t know what) changes for one or both persons. The first symptom is difficulty getting to creative works. “Good reasons” appear that keep one from them. A “lack of inspiration” eventually is claimed as the reason. But it is not the reason. If one is fairly objective and observant, one sees that something about the relationship has become parasitic, for that person, on their creative energies. It is a terrible corruption.

But for one with that need to create, to channel the energy that appears when one is “in the zone”, seeing this destruction in one you love is painful. And it is painful precisely because of the friendship that underlies the connection. One truly desires the other’s company and their well-being, but sees that doing so is now harming, not “promoting” the other’s happiness.

And, unless one is very, very weak, there is a single course of action that truly embodies the friendship, and at the same time, perforce reduces it. It is an awful conflict, but failing to resolve it will eventually lead to resentment and possibly even hatred. Ignoring the conflict for selfish reasons will only increase the conflict and wreak further destruction on both people.

But doing the right thing (or perhaps the only thing one could actually and certainly do) in such cases is painful, and remains so.

Perhaps Webster’s definition of “friend” is more than a mere definition. Perhaps it is almost a natural law of living, sentient things. A law of friendship so intertwined with survival, that one incurs this punishment of pain for violating it. Friendship should be about affinity, closeness in thought and person, and true desire for the well-being of one’s friend, and the willingness to act on these matters. And so it is. When conflicts twist and bend this simple truth, it hurts.

Perhaps there are better solutions than reducing the relationship. The ideal one – that escapes me utterly – is for the conflict itself to vanish. If the relationship, simply by being, is harming one’s creativity, how is that being made to happen? I don’t have an answer, but therein lies the best solution, somewhere. It is something internal and intimate within the person.

Friendship is valuable. It is not easy to willingly have less of it.

These are lessons learned this year.

Creative Projects – Goings On


Well, there’s some fun stuff happening.

An outline and partial script for a graphic novel that I wrote 3 years ago finally has a GREAT artist. I mean super-awesome. This is no short project, but a full novel, covering some pretty dark stuff. I am sure we’ll be working on this most of 2012, but hopefully I will be able to post a thing or two.

A new project has come up for Comfort Zone, my improvisational, free jazz/avant garde duo. Along with dancer/choreographer Rebeca Hernandez (yes, that is how she spells her first name), we are planning a full-length (about 1 hour) performance for early 2012, with 5 movements of dance and music. We will have several additional musicians, and Rebeca will have her dancers in a choreographed piece, with structured improvisation for the music. The working title (and for good reason), is Alchemy. Comfort Zone has backed up Rebeca and her dancers in several site-specific performances in Los Angeles, always to good results.

Comfort Zone, in the meantime, continues to create and record new original music, with a growing collection that is bound to lead to a second album before too long.

And I continue to dribble out musical pieces as Chinese Goblin Factory. The most recent, named “11/11/11” was made… well, you know. I’ve had requests to extend this short piece to a more full length, and am considering that.

All this, and I participate in the experimental/improvisation group, The LA Collective. This assortment of adventurous musicians, under the careful guidance of flutist and musical mad scientist Ellen Burr, meets twice a month, and is planning one or more performances in 2012. More as this develops.

And that, as they say, is everything that is fit to print. I hope your year is progressing well, as we move into the holiday season and toward a new year.