Several times, I’ve found that if I’m disappointed with how some sort of creative work has turned out, if I put it away and take it out again later, I like it more. Here are some photos I took awhile ago that I thought were pretty mediocre at the time but that I like now.
A Softer World is my favourite comic, web or otherwise. It’s not updated anymore, but its memory lives on in its archives. The format is simple: three panes, one or more photographs (sometimes it’s the same photograph cropped differently in each pane), and some text in a typewriter font. There is no plot, though there are some recurring characters and definitely some recurring themes. The text can be thoughtful, philosophical, funny, bitter, or all of the above.
My favourite edition of the comic is titled ‘he had a trustworthy smile.‘ It speaks to my soul with its combination of weighty (nuclear war) and whimsical (carnivals). (The first two panels are cars driving in a tunnel and say, ‘After the war, the fallout drove us underground. “Follow the tunnels toward the light,” our president said. The final frame is a close-up of a carousel horse and continues the quote: ‘Toward the smell of cotton candy.’) I’m interested in post-apocalyptic stories and love all things carnival: cotton candy, caramel apples, carousels, Ferris wheels, balloons, etc. This comic excites my imagination with thoughts of a secret carnival beneath the earth standing as a stark contrast to the bleak world above. It even represents hope to me: having the grim reality of nuclear war greeted with the news that there is a hidden haven waiting for you sounds pretty incredible to me.
This isn’t the only edition that deals with hidden worlds—the title comes from the third installment, which starts out, ‘In the caves behind my house I found a softer world.’ Then there’s number 107, where mirrors are broken in an attempt to climb into another world. These desperate searches for another reality really hit me in the heart, even though I may not agree with the man in number 3’s reasoning or have the same experience as the bemasked inhabitants of number 107. I grew up loving Alice in Wonderland, which obviously also involves another world that is similar yet markedly different. I think I am always trying to create that softer world for myself. I know I won’t find one in a cavern or underground tunnel, so I try and surround myself, physically and online, with my own reality. It’s my safeguard against the harsh realities of life. I do try and confront the truth as often as is healthy—I’m not drowning it out altogether. I just need a reprieve sometimes.
Inspired by the final frame of my favourite one, I snapped a few shots of a carousel and then a Ferris wheel for good measure. I just got this camera and was experimenting with the exposure triangle. I was especially interested in the motion of light, and I found a few locales that sang to my carnival-loving soul.
This next one is called Carousel Delirium. I used a longer exposure time and slowly rotated the camera. Incidentally, “delerium” is one of my favourite words.
Here are some with crisp lighting and shorter exposures:
And another one with a longer exposure to imply movement.
Below is a poem I recently wrote, “The Scream.” Above is a companion painting I made afterward. Edvard Munch’s painting of the same name was a partial inspiration. Both the painting and poem represent a departure from the kind of work I have done before, which has been heavily edited and polished. I tried to write in a more stream-of-consciousness manner and did not edit the poem after I quickly wrote it. The painting, too, was done in this manner—quickly, without fixing it up. I think I have a lot of filters for my expression, and I am trying to express myself more frankly with less fear.
The painting and poem are more emotional and less philosophical than previous things I have shared. I am nervous to share them because of this, but I figure the emotional content is nothing to be ashamed of and it would be good for me to speak and share with fewer cumbersome filters. Make of them what you will! And as always, thanks for reading.
To scream is to push out the white elastic goo of your ribcage
To push your face between them, mouth open à la Munch.
To pull them down like taffy, escaping, entangled.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was recommended to me by a friend as we were polkaing at a Sadie Hawkins dance. The English translation by Fitzgerald, though the most popularly referenced, has been described as “freewheeling.” The spirit of the original is supposedly preserved without being a literal translation. I think it’s interesting that the text is part translation, part creation.
I don’t know all of the details of how much of the original text was preserved—I know that the original was also in quatrains (“Rubaiyat” itself means “quatrains”), but I don’t know if, for example, the rhyme scheme is the same. In other translations, the rhyme scheme is either AABB or AAAA, but in Fitzgerald’s, it’s AABA. I actually really enjoy this rhyme scheme because it feels like a doubling back, a surprise reverse: the third line has a different rhyme, and so you expect that the last line will then rhyme with it (AABB), but it then actually refers back to the first two lines. It provides an interesting effect and a sort of tension in a way: that third line is a maverick line with its own rhyme.
The above collage was inspired by my favourite stanza, number 46:
For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
I’ve mentioned before that I especially love imagery and metaphors in poetry, and I think that is why this stanza, which has particularly rich examples of both, stands out to me. I also like the word “phantom” (and similar words, like “spectre” and “phantasmagorical”). The stanza also brings up ideas of subjective and fallible perceptions of reality (most people probably wouldn’t say that life is only a shadow show, but are they right or just clinging to illusions?) and the very nature of existence.
I also included another translation of the same quatrain plus a different quatrain that I like:
Would you that spangle of Existence spend
About THE SECRET—quick about it, Friend!
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True—
And upon what, prithee, may life depend?
This one I like because the questions it poses are interesting: How important is it to find the Meaning of Life and is it even possible? What is Truth and how do you even find it? Does THE SECRET, the meaning of existence, itself exist? What value is there in searching for it? Also, on a less existential note, it uses another word I like, “spangle.”
The collage also features some dictionary pages with relevant words; cut-outs of some pictures from one edition of the book; and some splashes of gold, purple, and blue paint. I try to make art intuitively without trying too hard to make an audience feel a specific thing. I like creating unintentional juxtapositions that nevertheless do create some sort of meaning. This combination of paper scraps, when I look at it now, gives me the feeling of a flurry of thought (all of the different texts) and vivaciousness (the brightly coloured paint and thoughts of seizing the day that the poem can inspire despite its sometimes fatalistic sounding lines) with a touch of serenity (the sleeping figure and thoughts of ceasing to be overly concerned about an inherent meaning to life but instead choosing to simply live).
1. What is your interpretation of the featured quatrains?
Here are some snapshots of flowering trees I took with my instant film camera at a local park. I had seen the flowering trees from the road and wanted a closer look. As I walked alone around the gigantic park, the first lines of Keats’s poem “O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell” came to mind: “O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,/Let it not be among the jumbled heap/Of murky buildings….”
When I lived in Utah, spring seemed to mean more because of its contrast with the bleak winter months (in comparison to southern California, where seasons don’t differ very much); colourful blooms peaking out of the snow made me smile and were a welcome change to the uniformity of winter. I love flowers and greenery and I missed them during winter, so springtime rolling around always made me happy.
These trees reminded me of the ornamental pear trees in Utah with their showy white blooms. Although they didn’t appear after a snowy winter, they were a reminder of that excitement I would feel when the pear trees and other plants would start blooming again.
I lay under one of the flowering trees to get a photo of the branches standing out against the brilliant blue sky. Later lines from the Keats poem seemed appropriate: “let me thy vigils keep/’Mongst boughs pavillion’d.” I love how the light made silhouettes of the branches and made the colour contrasts more dramatic.
I didn’t intend mimicry when I took it, but the next photo reminds me of Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms. I think it’s kind of neat that it’s like a real life version of a painting, like the painting is coming to life.
The phases of the moon are the main thing I remember from an astronomy class I took. This moon, for example, was supposed to be a waxing gibbous, but the impreciseness of the crayon obscures that. But trust me–it’s a waxing gibbous. (My favourite moon phase is the waxing gibbous, but my favourite moon phase name is actually the waning gibbous. It sounds like some sort of curious little creature.) Ever since I took that class, I look up into the sky with interest at night to see what the current moon phase is; the class taught me to appreciate its beauty more.
E.E. Cummings is one of my favourite poets. The first poem I read of his was “in Just-” which was in a poetry anthology I used in English in eleventh grade and which I immediately loved. Since that time, the love for his work has only grown.
I was leafing through his book Tulips and Chimneys trying to find lines to use for some sort of art project. After I found a couple about the moon, I was inspired to create this. I first traced the moon, using a cup to create a waning gibbous, in white crayon and then added some stars. I next used a black watercolour cake to paint over the crayon. Finally, I typed up the lines on my typewriter, cut them out, and glued them on the sky.
As for the text, I appreciate imagery, and the lines
the moon is hiding in
full of all dreams,
evoke some lovely images. The moon being “full of all dreams” is very romantic and mystical and lovely.
in a parenthesis!said the moon
is rather Cummingsian (Cummingsesque? Some other word?) in its use of punctuation, spacing, and whimsical wording. The moon said, “Ta-te-ta,” but what did it mean by that? Was it in a parenthesis because it was an aside, or something not necessary to know?
I have spent much time sad without channeling it into anything (relevant information: I have major depression). There are long stretches of time I can’t remember very well because I didn’t write about how I was feeling or leave any other sort of expression of it. All I can vaguely remember is that I was sad, and the nuances of that feeling are forgotten.
I want to try more to express myself artistically when I’m feeling well or bad alike. I don’t want to heap even more expectations on myself when I’m obviously already not feeling well, so instead of saying I should do it, or need to do it, I will try to just point out to myself that it will be helpful for the future, to keep track of time and to create some sort of tangible expressive artefact.
Recently, I did attempt to qualify my mood with a collage. It is called Not knowing in her fear what to begin with, full of sad apprehension, she expected some misfortune.
About the title: several years ago I bought a Russian grammar book from a deeply discounted used book sale. I like using book excerpts for collages, and my intention was to find interesting phrases to use (and find out how to write them in Russian!). The title was a sample sentence in the book. This was a gem of a line to find as it was so representative of how I was feeling.
In the top left is a page from the book Hang in There! written by Lucille Boesken and illustrated by Fran Kariotakis, copyright 1972. It’s one of those books that is sincere and means well (it reassures you of the book-giver’s friendship, for example) but contains dismissive language like, “Tomorrow your worries/And troubles will ‘scat’/Just trust and believe/It’s as simple as that!” I chose the page because I felt it was descriptive of having depression, and there was a certain satisfaction to just including that one page without the syrupy “encouragement.” I think the sad sun is an interesting image–I’ve only seen drawings of suns with faces that are either happy or neutral. I feel like this sun could be a symbol of me–maybe because I can smile and be extremely friendly and laugh sometimes, but then I have extremely hopeless and despairing moods too, sometimes simultaneously. Someone who only knows the happy-mood me could be surprised that I actually have serious depression. You don’t expect the sun to be sad.
The gas mask is there as a symbol of horror (for example, of what awful things humans can do to each other) and fear. The hearts and definitions reflect the connotation of the heart as the centre of emotion. They are part of a dictionary page that is layered on another dictionary page, this one missing the definitions for ‘worriment’ and ‘worry’ (and replaced by the collage’s title in Russian). ‘Worriment’ and ‘worry’ are toward the bottom left (pasted on top of the Hang in There! page to add to the sentiment of the rain not quitting and cares pressing you down).
Underneath that is a couple of scrap excerpts from the E.E. Cummings book Tulips and Chimneys, from the section entitled “La Guerre” (“the war” in French). One of the poems in this section is “Humanity i love you,” which actually expresses the opposite as it progresses to the last lines, which are the ones I’ve included. (What interesting bookends to a poem: “Humanity i love you” and “Humanity i hate you.”) I do tend to obsess about seemingly insignificant things, but part of my being depressed also includes a heaping helping of existential angst and despair about the state of the world.
In the middle, above the gas mask, is a selection from a book of proverbs and quotations. The full quote is, “He who is virtuous is wise; and he who is wise is good; and he who is good is happy.” Messages like this, conflating virtue and wisdom to happiness, have hurt me–because then what are the implications if I’m chronically not happy? Luckily I don’t internalize those messages as much anymore, but I definitely used to–especially when I first started feeling down and didn’t know the cause. I thought I must be doing something wrong or must be a bad person. When I see thoughts like this, it still angers me a little though, which is why I pasted the word ‘lie’ beneath it, along with synonyms (it was from a thesaurus page).
This simple collage packs a powerful meaning to me. Represented are aspects of depression that affect me, like chronic worry about day-to-day things (‘worriment,’ ‘worry’) as well as worry about the state and nature of humanity and how flawed and unjust the world can be (the gas mask, “Humanity i hate you”). Perhaps I should make some photocopies and hand them out to strangers who nonchalantly ask how I’m doing but don’t really care about the answer. That is how I’m feeling, buddy. Thanks for asking.