Tuesday, September 16, 2014


is now available for immediate shipping.

Only 500 copies were printed for the First Edition,
and I can't promise that there will be a second.

A truly Magical deck.

The Circus Arts provide a perfect milieu for the Tarot.

There are stars and roustabouts, successes and failures, dreams and nightmares. The clowns, acrobats, equestrian acts and entrepreneurs, each with their fond expectations or dashed hopes, all comfortably express the truths and secrets underlying the realm of the Tarot. The two worlds merge as seamlessly as if they were meant for one another.

It’s been an eighteen-month journey for me, combining two of my lifelong interests: the performing arts and mysticism. Far from being just an "art deck" or a "gimmick" deck, every effort has been made to create a genuine working deck aimed at practitioner and novice alike.

Here's some of what people are saying:

"I received my deck and it's GORGEOUS!!!
The pictures, the gloss, the stock, just GORGEOUS!!!"

"Thank you for a beautiful deck. I love it."

"Wonderful, the art is beautiful and the concept inspired."


"The stuff of dreams"

"... will awaken some very deep realities in people."

"I love the atmosphere this deck invokes."

"Amazing...  I am looking forward to both using
and showing off my deck whenever I can. "

"Wonderful! Thank you. I can't wait to conjure
up the circus with this fabulous deck."

But don't take their word for it:

Every card in the deck can be viewed at www.circustarot.blogspot.com .


"The attraction of the virtuoso for the public
is very like that of the circus for the crowd.
There is always the hope that something dangerous will happen."
- Claude Debussy.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Haunted Bookshop


Last night, for the first time in months, my dreams were not confused and dark. Last night, for the first time in years, I visited a couple of Magic Bookshops. 

Other than to (very occasionally) visit my friend Ellen at her shop, The Children’s Book Cellar, I haven’t set foot in any bookstore since I more or less deliberately got myself fired from the last one I worked at, The Colby College Bookstore. And that was a horrible experience. I was hired to be in charge of the Trade Books department, but for the first year and a half I was not allowed to do the job I was hired for. When at long last I was finally let off the leash and allowed to actually order books and manage the department, I was undermined at every step by the Insane, uber-micro-managing cow who called herself my boss.

I tried very hard to make the place into A Really Good Bookstore. I figured that I had a license to do this because our clientele, our “community,” was made up of students, professors, and other academia workers — that is, people with brains in their heads. My boss had been blindly stocking (and well over-stocking) every best-seller, every thriller, every piece of crap by writers like Lee Child, Tom Clancy (or rather his ghost-writers), James Patterson (or rather his ghost-writers)… crap that she had been told by the publishing industry that she should stock — none of which actually sold for us. 

I put an end to that as quickly as I could, and instead set about transforming the store into something that I could be proud of. Not “literary” fiction per se, but eclectic fiction that would interest a young audience. Lots of pop culture titles. Games. Art books with an emphasis on the creative process. Eclectic books from smaller publishers. Books on stuff like Haka Dancing that my boss would never have stocked, but which I knew would interest the students. Gaming stuff. “Geeky” stuff. The more esoteric, the better. Over the course of a couple of years, I made that place into the kind of bookstore I used to love to visit, and which has sadly gone the way of the dodo. 

Where my boss would order 20 copies of the latest unsellable thriller (18 of which would then go into returns and make more work for everyone), I rarely ordered more than one copy of anything: on the theory that this allowed me to stock a broader range of titles in less depth.

And all I got from the pencil-pushers, every year, was “Trade Book sales are down, Trade Book sales are down!”

— Like it was my fault that the book industry is killing itself. Like it was my fault that a student would discover a great book right there in our store — and then go back to their dorm and order it from Amazon.

Trade Book sales were going down everywhere. Not my problem. My only goal was in making an interesting bookstore that would draw people in, and you know what? Maybe sales were up in other areas of the store because I was drawing people in with a broader, more interesting, eclectic book selection.

They never could understand that this “Bestseller Mentality” of throwing all your resources into the Lowest Common Denominator basket has killed bookstore after bookstore after bookstore. It’s what killed Borders and it’s what’s killing B&N, because instead of bing the kind of stores that they were in their expansionist phase (when you could go into a new B&N or Borders and find all kinds of wonderful things that the local booksellers could not afford to stock), they regressed and contracted into Big Machines Pushing the Same Old Crap That Everyone Else Was Pushing. 

… which in turn opened the doors for the smaller Independent Booksellers to finally regain some ground and start Kicking Back. Which they have done.

There’s a B&N store not far away from me, but I haven’t gone there in nearly a decade, because I know that it will be the same old crap, nothing unusual, nothing but bestsellers and standards and book-lights. Not at all, not even remotely like the original Barnes & Noble I visited in New York City for the first time back in the mid-‘70s. 

Which was quite close, in a way, to the second bookstore I visited in my dreams last night. I think it had everything. I think it stocked every book that was in print from every publisher in the nation — plus imports. You could go in there and spend an afternoon just browsing, and find an armful of books that you wanted — although of course you couldn’t afford them all. Your brain could not even encompass everything that they stocked. Now that was a bookstore.

Except the one in my dream last night had books that showed the underlying Patterns, the actual design, of the Universe itself. Oh, and — a thick book of pop-up and punch-out jewelry designed by Edward Gorey. Created by him after his death, of course. That’s what Magic Bookshops do: put the impossible into your hands.

The first bookstore that I visited in my dreams last night was a very different sort of place. Its proprietor was a man in white who swept the sidewalk out in front every day, wearing a smug smile on his face and white apron tied around his waist like an old-time shopkeeper. His shop on the corner was so small that for days and days I did not go there, thinking that it could not possibly have anything of interest in stock. 

Then one day I went up to talk to him, and he ushered me into his shop, and I saw how wrong I’d been. 

The space itself was tiny; no larger than an average bathroom, and completely square. There were four wooden walls all around, with a shelf cut into each wall, and a single book sitting on each shelf. And what books they were!

I can’t tell you now, I literally can’t, because that’s what dreams do. But they were… everything you were ever looking for, everything you ever wanted to know. They were very old, with elegant pen-and-ink illustrations. Ancient maps. Near the corner of the room was a rope extending through the ceiling above. You pulled on the rope, and all four walls sank through the floorboards, while a whole other room came down from above. Four more shelves, four more books for sale. They were large and bound in tooled leather. You could pick them up off the shelves, and just by touching them you became a Better Person.

You tugged on the rope again, and another level came down from above while you stood in place. Three levels, all told. Twelve books altogether. Everything you were looking for, Everything that you needed to Know.

— Freder.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Now Accepting Pre-Orders for TAROT OF THE ZIRKUS MÄGI -- Full 78-Card Deck

Click the Image to Enlarge
I'm now accepting pre-orders for the deck, but please keep in mind that these pre-orders will not ship until all the Kickstarter backers have received their rewards -- probably late September. Thanks for understanding. 

The first edition of the deck is limited to 500 copies. Kickstarter backers cleared out approximately 150+ of those. 

Click here to order. Pre-ordering is being done through Square and PayPal, the deck won't appear in my Etsy shop until all Kickstarter and Pre-Order decks have been shipped.

For details about the deck, including every card image and lots of behind-the-scenes "extras," visit circustarot.blogspot.com .

Thank you all for your support!

-- Frederwww.ducksoup.me

Sunday, August 31, 2014


I have so much on my mind, and there is so much going on, that I can hardly organize it into coherent thought, let alone into a credible, unified blog post. 

GAZA: This is what Religion does to people. If you take either side in the conflict, you are part of the problem. If you look at the photographs and see “demons” in the clouds of destruction, you are part of the problem. Demons didn’t do this: humans did. Both Israel and Hamas are so far in the wrong that they need God himself to come down out of the skies and say, “You two BRATS had better knock it off right now, or I am gonna give you both a spanking that you will NEVER forget.” — Although, would they heed it, if it happened? They might crawl off into their separate corners to lick their wounds, but they would still be harboring hatred for one another. I say again, This is what Religion does to people: it creates whole populations who can never forgive, never forget, and worse — never move on.

FERGUSON: This is what Capitalism does to people. Fergusen is chilling enough if you believe that it’s an isolated incident, but I don’t believe for one nanosecond that it will be an isolated incident. Police brutality is up alarmingly nationwide. Armed military “exercises” are occurring, with little publicity, all over the nation. Local police departments are being issued with Military weapons and assault machines. The one percent have actively begun arming themselves against us. Instead of doing right by the people who work for them, instead of doing right by the nation, they are digging in their heels. At the same time I’m terrified of what will happen if it does come down to armed revolution, because think about it: the only people with guns in this country are the crazy right-wing loony-tooners, the working Republicans who have been enabling the very wealthy to get away with this crap all along. If they take up their arms it will get very bloody, and the rest of us won’t stand a chance.

Meanwhile, production of the Tarot deck is in progress, and I’m more concerned than ever about taking this gamble in our fractured, fragmented Culture. You try to do good work that will make people happy, then you throw it into the cultural well and wait to hear a splash that never comes. That’s been my experience so far, at least. With the mainstream book and music publishers now so far out of the loop and so vary far out of sync with the culture — the merger of Penguin and Random House is nothing less than an apocalyptic event in the literary world, and I’m alarmed that no one has even seemed to bat an eye over it — and more and more and more artists, musicians and writers taking things back into their own hands, the public’s attention is divided in about a million different directions… and this is a problem that goes way, way deeper than just one artist, or a bunch of them, trying to make a living off of what they do well. Our attention is so divided, we are so distracted, that we cannot effectively present ourselves as a unified body of people, as a unified culture… and this is exactly what the one percenters want, it’s something that they can take advantage of to keep us in line, to allow them to hang onto their vast wealth and amass all the more.

And with all this happening, this deepening global war of The Few vs. The Many… all I really want to think about is the new season of Doctor Who. It’s my little cultural hole that I can crawl into to hide out from the rest of the world, an oasis in a world of war. The Doctor is the last true old-style hero that we have left, an Individual who stands for the values of Intelligence, compassion and respect. 

In this truly cataclysmic world, you try to find meaning where you can… and end up just as distracted as everyone else.

— Freder.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

You Are What You Make

Although for much of my life I could not have put it into so many words, or for that matter could not have understood the rationale behind the feeling, I have always believed that that The Creative Life — whatever that means — comes attached with a kind of moral responsibility. So-called “creators” of irresponsible, vacuous, or degrading “art” have always outraged me all out of proportion to the value (or lack of value) in their work; to the point where I come off looking kind of kooky simply because all I could do was explain why I found a book or a film or a piece of art objectionable — not why I was so outraged by its very existence. 

Prime examples would be people George Romero, or Eli Roth, or the people behind the Saw movies. I never wasted even a minute of my life watching their movies, and still I was infuriated by their very existence,

Now I think that I understand. I’m learning, you see, that the world is made of thoughts and emotions, as much as atoms and molecules — maybe more so, because it is thought and emotion that shape the atoms and molecules.

Everything that we bring into the world, no matter how small, has consequences upon the world, and the culture that we live inside. This means nothing less than that, as a creative person, you are responsible for what you bring into the world. 

Movies are not just “movies.” Movies are real in the sense that they have an impact on the people who watch them and on the culture as a whole. Like everything else in the world, movies and books and all kinds of art give off vibrations that impact everything around them. Didn’t you feel kind of dirty while you were watching Stardust Memories or Batman Returns? Take that to the next level: a vile, inhuman and outright anti-human movie like Hostel reaches out into our culture whether we want it to or not. By the mere fact of its existence, by the energies that went into its making, it pollutes our culture and the world and turns us all down a darker path whether we are directly impacted by it or not. 

This is why I have always said and felt (not always knowing why, though usually being scoffed at by others for believing it) that someone like George Romero has an awful lot to answer for. In his case, it’s not only his own films that he is answerable for (although they are bad enough), but also the scores of imitators more or less consciously ripping him off with their legions of movies about ghouls (and let’s start using the right word for these creatures, please: a zombie is something entirely different. What Romero made movies about, in his own words, are ghouls) splashing the screen not just in blood and gore but with feelings and vibrations of supreme ugliness.

No culture can endure, for long, the ugliness that these kinds of movies bring into the world. 

It’s not “just a movie.” When you watch a movie like that, your thoughts and emotions are being directly affected, directly infected. Your entire being is being abused, and altered by that abuse.

I’m not saying that artists should only do “nice” work. But when depicting the dark side of our nature, you need to be responsible about it. In my novel See Them Dance I created a whole host of monstrous creatures and let them, for a couple of chapters, run riot. But I never created a monster without creating a competing force for nobility capable of putting them down. 

This is the purpose of Evil in art: to show that we have the capacity to rise above it. The “art” that I’m speaking of creates Evil for it’s own end: as a goal in itself.

What I am learning now is that every thought that we have — Every. Single. Thought. — comes with consequences attached, affects our reality in either beneficial or harmful ways. 

People have reacted to me with scorn when I try to point this out. I actually had one person say to me, emphasis his, “It’s only entertainment!” — As if the whole concept of someone finding entertainment or pleasure in images of other people being tortured to death was not appalling all by itself. 

Free speech doesn’t allow you to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater, and it doesn’t allow to you to be irresponsible. We accept this as a fact in our physical lives — why can’t we accept it in our emotional lives, in our art? The act of making these movies brings negative power into the world, and the people who watch them as entertainment are allowing themselves to become magnifiers of that power. We are seeing the impact of it in our culture.

You are responsible for what you bring into the world: and for what you consume. Just as poison kills the body, the art of poison will kill the mind and soul. 

Maybe this is why The Addams Family have always been my favorite people: they are creepy, they are kooky, they are altogether ooky — but they bring love and family devotion into the world, not hatred and hostility and death. In the words of the transvestite “mother” in the rock musical Hair: “Be whatever you are, do whatever you want to do — just so long as you don’t hurt anybody.”

Depravity hurts, even when it’s “just” in a movie. Depictions of Depravity are the same thing as Depravity itself. It’s not a victimless crime. The whole culture is damaged. And while we can’t license or govern these people out of existence, we can do one positive thing to begin cleansing our culture right now: we can stop giving them our money, our time, our attention, and our bodies as amplifiers of the degeneracy that they are pumping into world. 

— Freder.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mellissae Lucia, Artist, Adventurer, Creator of the Oracle of Initiation, and all-around nice person, recently talked with me about the Kickstarter process for her series on fundraising campaigns. The result is here! While you're there, check out her visionary Oracle of Initiation.

-- Freder.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Magical Thinking

I am one of those confused persons who doesn’t know what he believes, but knows what he doesn’t believe. As an example, I don’t believe in Fairy Stories about a bearded old man who sits up in the clouds, and who takes a personal interest in the affairs of each and every one of us, whilst he is being serenaded by angels. 

On the other hand, there are things not to be believed in, but known. And I know as surely as if it was established scientific fact that there is more to the world, more to the known universe, more to life than meets the eye: and much more than we the living can ever hope to comprehend. This is exactly why the minds of man come up with mythologies, to explain the unexplainable. And while I’m interested in mythology as a subject, I can’t be brought to believing in the gods of the established modern religions any more than I believe in Thor, Zeus or Cthulhu.

Nestled in the realm of the unexplainable is the mystery of our own minds, and the still-unscientifically-defined power that our minds wield in so many different aspects of our lives. 

My mental landscape was, for a year and a half or thereabouts, in the best condition that it ever had been, but by the early part of this year it had begun to teeter. Then came the devastating (not too strong a word) blow that I took at the personally disastrous Maine Comics Arts Festival in early Spring, surrounded on both sides by a flood of death, death and more death in the family, and the increasingly emotionally taxing business of life; by last week, in the wake of my Pandy Bear’s death, I had fallen so low that… I won’t say that I hit rock bottom, but you don’t want to get any lower than where I was. 

While doing research for the new tarot book I discovered a fascinating periodical called New Dawn, and while I don’t believe everything I read there, I do find almost every theory that it discusses to be fascinating on its own terms, real or not. (The writing, by the way, is largely not in the category breathless and unthinking belief, but simply of asking questions and examining potentials). So many possibilities, and sometimes imagining the mere possibility of the possible in this wild uncharted place we call life is an enlightening end in itself… just reading about theory of mind is likely to change your way of thinking, whether you believe it or not.

And a few days ago, the imaginative thought occurred to me that I was under active psychic attack: which attack was having excruciating physical consequences in addition to the damage it was doing to my thinking and my moods. It would be too dramatic for me to believe that I was being attacked by an outside force, by an entity or, in the language of religion, a demon with a mind and will of its own. But it’s eminently believable that the attack was coming from a part of my own psyche.

I dreamed last night, vividly, and with continuity across disturbed periods of sleep, that I was being mentally attacked by a crazed performance artist who had the power to alter every aspect of the world. This person was neither male nor female, but took on, at times, the aspects of both. The dream began with my mother and other close friends coming under the influence of this exotic and powerful artist. There was to be an exhibition of her work: and while attending this so-called exhibition (which involved no displays of paintings or things like that), I suddenly realized that every person in attendance, including myself, was a part of the exhibition, and that everything I did was orchestrated according to her plan, even when I defiantly refused to co-operate. I walked out of the event and shucked off the costume I had forced to wear (a leather jacket, in part); but the artist came after me, and soon the entire world began to change around me, at his whim: the harder that I tried to escape his “art,” the more elaborate it became and the more it entrapped me: as an example, the field I had come into turned into a shopping mall that had no escape: it literally folded and unfolded around me as I sought for the exit. In the end, the only escape I had was to wake up.

So — since I’ve already stated that I don’t believe in demons, and since I have always believed that all of the characters and settings that appear in a person’s dreams are aspects of their own psyche, the message that I was creating my own prison, my own entrapments seems more or less obvious.

The dream came after a roughly thirty-six hour period in which I could feel myself letting go, in which I metaphorically and literally began to start taking some deep breaths, in which the excruciating physical pain that I had been experiencing for nearly a week began finally to abate. I stopped taking all the things that I had been taking, unsuccessfully, to mask the pain and allow me to walk without wanting to scream or cry. I began programming my mind with positive statements. Today I am walking normally without pain, and taking no medicines of any kind. 

I don’t believe it’s a cure-all and I do believe that it’s something that has to be consciously maintained. A cycle of depression and self-loathing seems to feed itself very well, thank you very much, but feelings and thoughts of a positive nature need to be constantly reinforced by exercises from without. When I stopped doing that — that’s when I started to teeter. And so I made myself vulnerable to Events. 

And the Events have been horrible, I must say. This really has been a god-awful year. 

It’s time I started fighting back.

To be fair, I think I come by it honestly: the psychical inheritance I get from my father’s side of the family is one of religious mania, depression, alcoholism, tragedy, austerity and possibly Asperger’s. It is almost purely Swedish and Polish, and all you have to do is watch a single Ingmar Bergman movie to know that Swedes are the product of long, dark winters. Thank Agon that I’m balanced out, at least a little bit, by mother’s creative spirit and her much more colorful and positive family history, which is included, but not limited to, Germanic, Italian, Scots, and British roots. Whereas on my father’s side I am evenly divided into two shades of black, on my mother’s I am very much a brightly colored mongrel. 

I have a boatload of tools to aid the mind in its search for the positive, including but not limited to books, mental exercises, a couple of indoor fountains, and some lovely iPad apps that are genuinely calming in their effect. I haven’t used them in some considerable while. Time I fired up the engines once again and set my mind on a different course.

— Freder.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Where Do i Go?

I guess it's my curse that I can't stop thinking about the future. Worry about what should happen to my kitties if anything should happen to me has been bleeding me since the day Pandy Bear died. And then, this evening, I am haunted by the horrors of having to go back on the job interview circuit.

I have never learned how to answer the question: "Do you want this job?" -- or its incestuous cousin, "WHY do you want this job?"

When the fact is, and I do not consider myself unlike anyone else in this, I don't. The fact is, our capitalist society insists that I must be a whore and suck cocks to keep a roof over my head.

I don't even understand why employers ask this question. Do they honestly believe that anyone would find their life's fulfillment doing work that would bore a halfwit, in the service of a bunch of suited corporate bastards?

The honest answer is, "I have bills to pay and I need to keep a roof over the heads of me and my kitties."

 -- But that's not what they want to hear.

They want to hear that you aspire to nothing in life other than slapping corporate logos onto golf balls.

The real fact of life, when you get into that territory, is that I am so over-qualified for those positions that they should be getting down on their knees and BEGGING me to work for them

Hah -- like that would ever happen in anyone's lifetime.

The truth is they they want you to feel INFERIOR, they want you to feel UNWORTHY, because that's how they DOMINATE you.

And I just don't think I can do this anymore. I'm 56 years old and I have reached a stage in my life where I won't be dominated by the kind of human roaches who work in middle management. It's why I did what I did to get the fuck out of Colby College and out from under the heel of the insufferable Dominatrix who called herself my "boss."

This life is simply not working out for me. The things that I think I do well -- nobody wants those things, this has been made very clear to me now. I can't stop thinking about the future, and wondering what in fuck's name I'm going to do to keep a roof over my head.

A year and a half ago, when I was in therapy, the woman who ran those sessions, whom I adored from afar, said to me, essentially quoting Joseph Campbell, that I should follow my bliss.

And I didn't say this to her, because I knew it would fall on deaf ears -- "Yes, but...

"Yes, but, if i do that, and if I FAIL, then I will be in a worse position than I was before. I will be lost. I will be dead soon."

She wouldn't have had an answer for that. Psychologists deal in pipe dreams.

-- Freder

Monday, August 4, 2014

Forward into the Past

Capote and Hollywoodland, but especially Capote, have almost renewed my faith that it’s still possible to make  good, serious, unsensational movies for grown-ups in a town that has whole-heartedly taken up the tentpole, so to speak, of the blockbuster. We used to call it the “summer blockbuster” because, in the manner of Star Wars and Jaws, the two single movies that changed Hollywood forever, it was thought these pictures would only perform in the summer when young people are out of school. In fact, they perform well year-round, as Lord of the Rings proved, if it hadn’t been proved already.

I like these big “tentpole” movies and always felt growing up that fantasy and SF were under-utilized genres by Hollywood. There was a time pre-Star Wars and pre-computer when they were simply too expensive to make, and fantasy on the order of The Wizard of Oz was essentially a dead genre. This was the heyday of the little movie and the great auteur directors, and without it people like Woody Allen would never have become the great cinematic heroes that they became. Here’s the thing about Woody Allen: he’s become such a master craftsman that even when he’s working on a completely misguided and wrong-headed piece of tripe like Anything Else (his attempt to pander to the youth audience by re-making Annie Hall in teen drag), he’s still capable of making a movie with a basic level of quality that makes it hard to ignore.

In those days Woody was turning out a classic every year, Lucas released something called American Grafitti (still his best movie, by a long shot, despite a more or less damaging re-cut that he performed on it a few years back), people like Kubrick and Frankenheimer and Altman and Ingmar Bergman and the great, I think under-rated George Roy Hill were still active. Peter Bogdanovitch made a little picture called Paper Moon that was dead-on perfect, easily belonging on any reasonable person’s top-ten list. Even Marty Scorsese took time off from his gangsters and made Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, one of the very few of his movies that I can watch (the other being the dazzling Hugo).

It was a great, great time to be a movie fan, even if you wanted the occasional fantasy now and then.

Now it’s just the opposite, the screen is positively stinking with big budget, serious-minded fantasy pictures, comic-book pictures, and don’t get me wrong, some of them are great. The first Iron Man movie is, I think, the best comic adaptation ever barring Superman I and II, the first Captain America and Thor are right up there, John Carter was a spectacular (and again under-rated) adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs that took something like fifty years to get to the screen. 

But why do we live in a world where everything, absolutely everything has to be either / or? Even the very few “little dramas” that are getting made have some kind of a High Concept behind them, a showy gimmick to draw in the rubes, as if all movies are now sideshow attractions, and the ones I’m going to talk about now are no exception. 

Still, Hollywoodland and Capote somehow made me feel like I was in the ‘seventies again… and for me, that’s a good thing. 

Just about the only thing I didn’t like about Hollywoodland was the bleached dry, parchment paper color scheme that saturates the picture. I know that the filmmakers wanted to convey a sense of the past — but I lived through part of that time period, and I know what it looked like, and it didn’t look like raked sand. 

Which forces me to admit this: although I normally can’t stomach his presence, Ben Afflek actually manages to evoke the manners and presence of George Reeves, the lightweight actor who, much to his own frustration, found success as Superman on television in the late 1950s. He seems to have worked hard to get it right. Even under a fake nose, he looks nothing at all like Reeves, and yet somehow Reeves gets through.

The story of course concerns itself with the circumstances of Reeves’s death by gunshot in the bedroom of his home, during a small party. Was it a lover’s-quarrel accident, a murder or a suicide? — the facts could support any of these; we are shown all three possibilities and allowed to draw our own conclusions (although the picture does draw conclusions of its own). Adrien Brody — who as far as I know has never given a bad performance, even in Peter Jackson’s stink-bomb remake of King Kong, here plays a fictional private detective investigating the case more or less on his own hook, more or less finding his clients as he goes. Diane Lane, always worth watching, plays the wife of a studio enforcer who “kept” Reeves for many years as he tried to find a path into Hollywood, while Bob Hoskins is dirty-down-damn brilliant (and almost unrecognizable) as her not-at-all jealous husband, whose whole approach is “if you make my wife happy, you’re OK, but if you make her cry I’m gonna have you killed.”

The details of Reeves’s later life unfold slowly in flashback form as Brody investigates the case. And the truth is, there’s nothing new or daring about any of this… it’s just a very well-made, well-played little investigative journalist movie, with real sadness at its heart, despite the crazy-goofy-but-true High Concept that it’s hung upon. 

Capote, on the other hand, is on a whole other level of quality. Yes, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman really does seem to channel Truman at times, and gives an oscar-worthy performance if there ever was one, but the entire cast is bang-on perfect here, especially including Chris Cooper, Clifton Collins as Perry, and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee. 

What we see here is Capote’s making and unmaking, both at the same time. He is revealed as a man with a genuine double nature: almost supernaturally caring and empathetic on the one hand (and it’s genuine: not something put on for show, but a real sympathetic connection with and interest in the people he meets from all walks of life) and on the other hand a rapacious snake-in-the-grass who will stop at nothing, including manipulating the events of a murder trial, to get what he wants: and who then who hates himself for having gotten it. 

The Truman Capote of his later life, the man who never finished another book, and who behaved the way he did at parties and on talk shows, who died relatively young of alcohol and drug abuse: the birthing of that man is presented in detail here, and I felt that I understood him for the first time. 

With its lovely, stark camera work and the aloof manner in which it approaches the story, Capote could almost have been directed by Woody Allen in his Interiors phase. The film is treated not as a biopic but as a drama (almost a thriller) with another drama at its heart. I found it haunting, deep and immersive; only the gimmick, the real-life High Concept behind it, differentiates it from the great films of the ‘Seventies. 

— Freder

Monday, July 28, 2014

Good-bye, Mr. Bear.

So many times, working here at the computer, I'd look down and to my left, and Pandy Bear would be sitting or snoozing on the rug there, close by. 

I just realized that that never happened at the Old House. And now it will never happen again. 

Twenty-four hours ago, there was no real sign of trouble. All was more or less normal for me and the quats here in the Still-Mostly-New, Still-Mostly-Different DuckHaus. Pandy Bear had maybe not eaten as much the night before, and yesterday morning he showed little interest in food, which was unusual I must say. Pandy Bear loved his food and food was love. 

(I'm going to have to change my whole way of thinking, my whole way of how my guys get fed... he ate as much as two of his siblings put together. I'm not going to know how to do my chores anymore...)

Pandy Bear. Mister Bear. Mr. Pand E. Bear. In the mornings, when I was wiping the floor around where the Quat Fud dish sits, he'd be right there in in my way, I'd say, "Geddoud of my way! I have to clean right where you're standing!" and then I'd say, "O Mister Bear, you're a good bear," and kiss him on the top of his head.

But last night he didn't come into the kitchen for dinner at all. THAT set off the alarm bells. I found him under the dining room table, breathing hard. I gave him a pet and said, "O Pandy Bear, don't you want your dinner?" and turned back into the kitchen to finish putting the stuff out.

When I looked back into the dining room, he had obviously tried to get up and follow me. But he was lying on his side, a few feet closer, gasping for air. 

And I knew. I've been through this a few times before. I knew, and I started sobbing right then and there.

After Mom died, he spent days and days wandering through the old house, yowling his head off, looking for her. But she wasn't there and she was never coming back. 

Pandy Bear was big and fat and dumb and adventurous and cute and infuriating and loving, and he was not a quat who could be ignored, he lived large. 

In our last years in the old house, maybe he sensed how wrong things were going. Mom had frankly Given Up, and I was keeping myself well-pickled to numb the pain -- of what was happening to her, of being responsible for her, and of having to spend the bulk of my days working in a job that I hated for an evil harridan of a boss who did everything in her power to make all of her employees feel worthless. I was no different, I wasn't special, I just handled it worse than anyone else on the staff. 

In those years, Pandy Bear would "mark" the house everywhere that he could. I was always having to clean up his puddles around the house, against the walls. The basement door was his favorite spor -- all the paint had worn away from his urine, the mat had peeled away, the door itself was warped.

That stopped only after we moved here into the new DuckHaus. Once in a while he'd lapse... nut I see now that was probably more my fault than his. 

I tried to sleep beside him on the floor last night, but after three hours of that my legs were cramped, my back was kinked, I couldn't take it anymore and moved onto the living room couch. Every hour or so I'd wake and check on him: sometimes he had moved, sometimes I thought he was already dead. But when I shone a light on him I could see him still breathing, hard.

All three of the other cats spent the night in that room, with him. They knew. It was only coming on towards dawn when the girls came in and sat on me while I slept on the sofa.

The damn cat was such a split-personality type when he was a young man. He was probably the most affectionate, the most people-focussed cat in the place... and yet he would lay in wait, and whenever he saw an opening -- VOOM! Out the door he went! -- and from then on there was no approaching him. He wanted nothing to do with people. He was singing "Born Free" in his head.

He would disappear for a week at a time. Every once in a while we might catch a glimpse of him in the brush a half-mile down the road, but he would not let us approach him. We could tell that he wasn't eating: grossly fat when he escaped, by the time he let us get ahold of him he had lost so much weight that he was practically svelte (and very beautiful). Only when he realized that he was going to starve to death outdoors would he let us catch him. And then, once safely back indoors, he would once again be the most attentive people-focussed quat in the house. Of course, he'd also pile the weight back on in nothing flat.

Just now, I looked around and couldn't find my other Guy Quat, Whitey. Pandy and Whitey were kind of pals. While the girls slept with me upstairs every night, I'd oftenimes come down in the morning and find Witey and Pandy Bear snuggling together on my TV chair or on the rug. I looked and looked and Whitey was nowhere downstairs, which was really unusual, I finally found him upstairs, wandering around in the back bedrooms where Pany Bear sometimes crashed on the hottest days, 

This morning -- Pandy Bear seemed a little better, but he was still breathing hard and I just knew that I had to get him to the vet. I picked him up and hugged gave him a smack and in spite of how terrible he must have felt, he still managed a soft purr.

I put him in the carrier.

As soon as he got into the car he started raising a fuss. He actually escaped from the carrier. Thankfully, the vet is only about a block and a half away -- a real blessing of living in town. When we got there, I decided to just carry him in, in my arms; he was out of the carrier anyway, and it would be nicer for him maybe, and he was so weak, how much trouble could he be?

Well -- when we got in there, he forgot all about the weak part. He went berserk. Yowling, thrasjing, clawing. He peed all over the waiting room seat and all over me and when I got up to try and find dome paper towels he shot pee all over the floor and when I turned again he peed all over two ladies who were waiting on the bench beside me. They started screaming and I said "sorry, sorry" and ran out with him into the parking lot. I took him back into the car and shoved him into the carrier. 

When I turned back to head inside, I saw that one of the vet techs had followed me out. She said, "We'll take you in right now."

Inside the examination room, the vet said something to the effect of, "His last great act of defiance," and I thought to myself Damn it! Damn it all!

Gawd, at one time my mother had something like thirty cats in the house and as many outdoors. And we loved them all. Every single time we lost one it was a blow. In the end a terrible sickness swept through both inside and outside cats and only the hardiest survived. I must have buried dozens of cats that year. From then on, it was never more than three or four outdoors, four to six in. So -- I have faced cat grief before. I must have buried dozens of cats in my lifetime. But I wasn't alone in those days, I didn't have to do it all alone.

Sure enough, Pandy Bear was all worn out by his antics in the lobby. He lay on the table gasping for air. The vet jabbed a needle into his chest and the syringe filled with a thick, viscous fluid heavy with blood. "That's not good," he said.

No shit, Sherlock.

They took him into one of their fancier rooms and gave him oxygen, The vet kept jabbing him with the needle, but now nothing came out. I thought Stop it, stop it! but the vet was clearly puzzled. He admitted that he didn't know exactly what was happening, but he knew of several possibilities and all of them were fatal. He said, "We can do a chest x-ray and you can spend beaucoup bucks, but even if we figure out exactly what's happened, it's going to end the same way."

I couldn't help it I started sobbing.

Most of the time, Pandy Bear lived downstairs and didn't explore the upper reaches of the house. I think this is because he had been trained, in the later days out in Albion, by my new kitty Honey who adopted me the night that Mom went into the hospital to have her leg chopped off. Honey thought of the upstairs as being Her Domain and she protected it assiduously, for a young little kitty.

That restriction relaxed when we came to the new house, but still it had taken hold in their minds. Even so -- as I mentioned above, in the hot of the summer Pandy would seek out the coolness of an upstairs guest room, and I would sometimes find him curled up, perfectly happy, on the studio bed.

And every now and then -- and surprisingly often in the past few months, Pandy Bear would appear in my room at bedtime, and PLOP himself in beside me, purring like a chain saw that needed oil. Sometimes in the middle of the night I'd turn over and -- THUMP! -- there he'd be, a large blob right beside me.

Whitey is clearly very upset. He's running around the house looking for Pandy Bear, and when he sees me he comes running for a hug. He's wanting a lot of attention. And the truth is, the house does seem awfully large and empty now. When we moved in there were six of us: Pandy Bear and Spooky and Whitey and Patches and Honey. Spooky -- who was in chronic ill health and frankly made my life a living hell with her uncontrollable bowel movements all over the house -- was the first to go. I buried her in the back garden and put one of my mother's wooden, painted flowers on her grave.

In the old days, the vets used to protect us when we had to put an animal down. They'd shoo you out of the room, assume without asking the business of cremation, and we would leave there, shell-shocked and empty-handed. This young man was not about sparing anyone anything, and was anxious to get on with it. He gave Pandy Bear a shot to relax him. Then he shaved Pandy's left front leg.

Pandy already looked half-dead, except that his whole body was heaving with each breath, and gobs of bubbly clear fluid were pouring out of his mouth.

And I can't help but think of the last time I saw Mom, in the middle of the night, in an empty hospital, lying on the bed with her mouth open in an ugly way. Her hands were already cold and her upper body was already stiff when I touched her shoulders, and she was getting noticeably colder to the touch by the second.

The vet said, "He doesn't even have a vein left." He stuck the needle in and a few seconds later Pandy Bear's breathing just stopped.

They put him in a garbage bag. In a GARBAGE BAG! They put my Pandy Bear in a fucking GARBAGE BAG.

So then I took him home. I had to change all my clothes and take a shower because he'd peed all over me. Then I went out and found where Spooky is buried, cleared away the weeds, and dug the hole. I couldn't bring myself to take him out of the garbage bag. As it was I had to fuss unpleasantly with how I arranged him in the hole. I piled the dirt back on, and -- almost exactly three years after I'd done the same for Spooky, almost exactly to the day, put one of my mother's wooden, painted flowers on his grave.

It's pouring rain outside tight now. I know that I should read all this crap over and make some corrections and stuff before I post it, but I don't want to and I'm not going to. I'm starting to get condolence emails and in at least a couple of them, stated only implicitly, are the words: "Don't drink?" -- well, hell yeah I'm going to drink and have already started. Hell, yeah. Sometimes it doesn't matter how it might affect your health.

I just looked down and to my left and Whitey is right here beside me. He wants a hug and so do I. The only hugs I get are from cats, and most of the time they are given to me reluctantly! So...

I think of the classic Irish song that Van Morrison sings so well, "Carrickfergus." I'll say no more, 'til...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Congratulations to LOAC -- and a Fine Memorial

I'm pleased as can be to hear the best possible news out of Comic-Con this year: my friend Bruce Canwell and his partners at The Library of American Comics (I've tooted their horn here a time or two before) swept the Eisner Awards, winning in every category in which they were nominated. It is very much deserved, as anyone who has enjoyed any of their great books can attest. It's particularly gratifying that Genius, Illustrated, the second volume of their monumental biography of comics great Alex Toth, and possibly the deepest and personal project that BC has worked on, copped two awards. Kudos to them all -- but I'll let them take up the story from here, at their website.

It's even more pleasing to note that Bruce was able to get a nod of affection in to our mutual friend Howard, who died earlier this year as mentioned on this blog. I'll let Bruce tell it in his own words:

"Dean was in San Diego, and last week we had discussed what to say if we won in any given category. For the Alex Toth book in the 'Best Comics-Related Book' category, I suggested Dean could talk about the overall scope of the project (five years of work, almost one hundred thousand words in close to a thousand pages), but what I most wanted him to say was this …

"'We'd like to honor two persons who are now sadly no longer with us: Alex's third wife, Christina Hyde -- who charmed everyone with her kindness, generosity, and gentle humor -- and Howard Downs, who was a great fan of Alex's, and of good comics everywhere.'

"… Which is exactly what Dean said, while accepting the award.

"As I told Dean last week, it's folks like Howard who have kept the industry going year after year, making possible events like Comic-Con and awards like the Eisners. So last night a ballroom filled with comics creators/publishers — as well as talent from animation, TV, and movies — got to hear Howard's name as he represented all those folks. I was pleased to be able to give him that opportunity, because I was proud to call him my friend."

Well-done, Bruce, all the way around. And thanks. I'm still crying.

-- Freder.

The Light and Dark of Kickstarter

The past month and a half has been a roller-coaster of gratification highs and self-esteem lows, of future-dread and kindnesses, of having too much to do and not enough to do, of drinking and sobering up.

Kickstarter will do that to you. The folks who run the service suggest that you should not run a project longer than thirty days, because it “creates a sense of urgency.” I would go one step farther and say that you should keep it down to that length because by the time it reaches Day 40 you will be so profoundly sick of the thing that you would gladly give up all the proceeds just to be done with it.

Not that I’m giving up the proceeds at this point. 

Which brings me to the news, in case you hadn’t already heard, that the Kickstarter funding to pre-sell enough of my Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi decks to pay for its publication has ended on a positive note, and the deck will soon be produced. I’m actually over the moon about this, and have, I hope, been profuse enough in my thanks elsewhere … but this post isn’t about thanking the people who made it happen, it’s about the painful process of getting there, in case you or someone you know is thinking of launching a Kickstarter project themselves.

If you do take one on, the very first thing you need to know is: be emotionally prepared. Even in the best-case scenario, running a Kickstarter project is a fast way to drive yourself completely stark staring mad. 

If you have never exhibited signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior, don’t worry, you’ll get yours running a Kickstarter project. You will have to force yourself to stop checking the tote board, so to speak, every five minutes, and then you will have to fight despair when nothing happens for several days. You will start looking enviously at the other projects — the ones that succeed in the first five hours, or get 9,287 percent funded with two weeks left to go — and you will begin to wonder if they've sacrificed their firstborn children to Zarkon the Space God in order to get the results that seem to be escaping you. 

You, yes you. Kickstarter will rip what little self-esteem you have out of your bleeding chest, throw it on the ground and stomp on it — even while it is applying little daubs of salve provided by the kind and good people who go to the trouble of supporting your project. If you’re at all like me, even the ultimate success of the project will seem like a hollow victory, in part because of all the angst you’ve been through to get there.

Running a successful Kickstarter campaign, or so the pundits say, requires you to get out there and market. Market, market market! Shake those trees! Spam those blogs! Gather as many Facebook strangers as you can and blast them with marketing posts! What are you waiting for? MARKET!

But again, if you’re like me, you may be beyond uncomfortable with that whole marketing thing. And your discomfort may exist on many levels. First — you’re a consumer yourself. You’ve been marketed to and at and you know how annoying it is. And you don’t like to annoy people, do you? I don’t — well, at least not like this, under these circumstances. You’ll go through the motions and send out those press releases and shake those trees, but you’ll hate yourself the whole time you are doing it. The stress will start to exhaust you. You will want a drink at the end of the day, and if you already have a drinking problem that one drink will turn into twelve. Under the influence of alcohol you will feel more at ease with the whole marketing thing — but for Zarkon’s sake don’t market when you’re drunk! I did… and I made some enemies and lost some backers.

It’s a circle of humiliation: you hate yourself for what you are doing, so you drink yourself some courage and then you do things that make you hate yourself all the more. 

All this time spent on “marketing” means that you won’t have the time to get any actual work done. Whether it’s writing books or making music, whatever you do that got you to this point in the first place — all that will come to a screeching halt. And you will feel even worse about yourself, because a month and a half is going by and you will have no actual work to show for it.

The exact nanosecond that you launch a Kickstarter project, the waters around you will suddenly fill up with Kickstarter sharks. They all want to help you — for a price or a piece of the action. “Our focus on flash traffic.  We are a marketing firm that focuses on driving large waves of highly targeted traffic to your page.”

Even if all the claims from the Kickstarter sharks are true, which I doubt, you’d best think long and hard before you take on any “helpers.” Can they actually reach the specific audience that you need better than you can on your own? Can you even afford them? Keep in mind that Kickstarter / Amazon scoops a whopping ten percent off the top of your project if it is successful. Also keep in mind that at least six percent of your final backers will “error” or otherwise fail to come through on their “pledges.” Have you planned for that? Every service that you add on to make your life “easier” will slice another wedge out of your pie. That’s what happens when a service like Kickstarter is successful: a whole bunch of other “businesses” pop up around it, trying to figure out how they can get a piece of that action. Most of them are about as reliable as a drunk on a bad day.

Remember, the whole point of the thing is to help make your dream come true. You’re not in it to make other people’s financial dreams come true.

I dislike the basic terminology that Kickstarter uses and spent a lot of time trying to explain to people that I was approaching it from another direction. The Kickstarter terms “pledge” and “reward” make the whole thing sound like Public Broadcasting, which asks you to give them money for something that you’re going to get anyway. In my case, I was using Kickstarter to take pre-orders for a specific product, in order to make its publication possible. To my way of thinking, my customers were not “pledging” and “getting rewards” — or “backing” some potential project that might deliver only air… they were ordering a specific product or products and getting — or will get, as soon as it’s printed — what they pay for. The deck itself was actually offered at a discount price over what the final retail will be. 

I guess what I’m getting at here is that, by definition, the terms that Kickstarter uses are implicitly shady… and I was trying correct that. The Kickstarter terminology is appropriate for a percentage of the projects that run there, but not for a lot of them, and not for mine. 

Battling people’s perceptions like that becomes even harder when people get there for the first time and see some of the other projects that the service allows to run. The goofiest one that I saw in my latest month-and-a-half spent there was from some gaming nerd in England who had used up all his time in World of Warcraft — and wanted you to pony up money for him so that he could continue to play his game. Say what? Why is Kickstarter allowing dumb-ass “projects” like that to go up?

The one thing that I enjoyed about the process was something that I learned about from backing another project. I saw that the person running that project was using his own project updates, in part, to help promote other people’s projects that he found worthwhile. This seemed like a good and civil and polite thing to do, and it also allowed me to discover some pretty cool creations, a couple of which I backed myself. In my updates to my own supporters, I talked about other tarot-related projects, and about some Burning Man art pieces that looked fascinating and wonderful. It was nice, after all, to discover that at the heart of such a cynical and difficult money-raising process, there was a tiny core of citizenship and civility. I just followed the lead.

— Freder
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