heaviness, or cracks in the roof

getting ready (the last wash); mixed media on canvas, 24x20 inches, the string series continues. I hardly slept last night, just laying there with this random dream play going on in my head, so I won't be up to much in the posting department.

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More pictures from the opening of Stories & Tales.

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Have a new story coming out, called Death of a Dictator (My Iggly Education), in the spring or summer issue of Event.

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Speaking of which, I just published an essay called Roman Soldiers in the last issue of Filling Station.

Roman Soldiers

This professor – small, smudgy – came by my office, needed a dozen or so posters. There was some guest lecturer coming to the college, talking about the fall of the Roman Republic. I could already see the short front row of history-department types, the handful of students sleeping at the back.

Do you have any budget? I asked.

Of course not, the professor replied. His complexion was Yellow Cigarette Stain.

Come back tomorrow, I said.

Lazy, vague, uninspired – my mom would call this fuzzy thinking, and on this day of my graphic-design life it led me (more or less) straight to Google’s image-search engine, into which I typed the words “roman soldiers” and hit ‘return’. The Google entity (having been instructed not to filter my results) responded with its usual press-gang dragnet, and many Roman soldiers instantly appeared, but the only thumbnail that jumped out at me came by way of Wikipedia (another mechanized golem, throwing around randomly accurate handfuls of received information like so much sand) and an ad for toy soldiers that I recognized immediately as a full-page jaw-dropper that used to run sideways on the back cover of comic books ...
ONLY $2.25
Fight again the battles of the old Roman Civil War – Roman against Roman!
Or mount your own attack against a town or city. Every piece of molded plastic – each on its own base. Two complete armies, one in blue, one in yellow! Your satisfaction guaranteed or full refund.
Here is what you get:
4 Generals – Mounted
24 Cavalrymen – with Spears & Armour
4 Cavalrymen with banners
16 Spearmen with Shields
16 Archers with bows
16 Slingers
4 Chariots with drivers
4 Working Catapults
16 pieces of ammunition (harmless) for catapult
24 Foot soldiers with broadswords and shields
4 Buglers
The ad was done in primaries plus black, with an electric emphasis on red type over blocks of yellow. Dominating everything is the illustration, showing the moment of impact between two Roman armies as they smash into each other.

For my little-kid brain, that ad was like crack. The illustration is frenetically alive with energy, the entire scene seething with brutality and viciousness. Soldiers storm walls with ladders, their shields held high against the murderous rocks hurled down upon them. Siege towers groan forward. Charioteers careen madly right into the thick of battle. Archers strain at their bows, their arrows blighting the sky. Foot soldiers steam ahead, slashing and stabbing away. The soldier closest to the foreground, in particular, sets the tone for the promised experience – his sword raised in defiance, his howling face nearly insane with rage. This was something more than two war machines merely wound up and pointed at each other; this was some demented, free-for-all bloodlust of the highest order.

But as much as I wanted to, I never did send away for those soldiers. Just like now, it was probably a budget issue (also, I probably understood that my mom – the person who’d have to do all the heavy lifting in any mail-order scheme – would have advised me, in her disappointed way, that the product was most likely ‘crap’). Back then, my thoughts and ambitions often got lost between the spaces of my own imagination. I might have expended whole afternoons in fuzzy conjecture about the accuracy of the illustration. My dad had an entire bookcase full of war books (he’d sign up for some historical series and then never pay the bill; as a result, all of our wars ended abruptly in mid-conflict). The grim pictures found in those volumes were real enough. The Roman soldiers from my ad were too perfect – the lines of their hard anatomy too implacably clean, the hues of their armour too fiercely burned in. Where were the dead? Where were the wounded? Even better, where were the hacked-off arms, or the headless torsos stumbling around the battlefield, spouting fountains of blood?

I soon got my answer. It was Christmas. I was maybe seven or eight years old. My older brother was two grades ahead. Improbably, we got each other’s names in the Sunday School present draw. And what did he buy me? A bag of 100 toy soldiers – plastic Americans from World War Two. I was amazed. Part of that amazement was down to the fact that I didn’t have anything to give him. Again, I have no idea why. No doubt it was the fuzzy thinking – forgetting that I had to get him something, that I had no money, that I had to go to mom. Still, I did feel bad about it.

I felt worse when my brother stole back my bag of soldiers and bit all their heads off. Every rifleman, grenade thrower, bazooka team ... headless. He also removed a few arms and legs, just for good measure. Also, after being so abused in the process, most of my soldiers no longer stood up very well. You kind of had to lean them against things. And while my twisted, prostrate, headless soldiers were not so much fun to play with, they did look very real.

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Oh yeah: I'm supposed to be contributing to the IF theme of "weight".


  1. your heavy string painting is gorgeous!

  2. i love your string series!

  3. "getting ready" is beautiful! ~ Stories and Tales looks great!

  4. that woman's glance over, well-tied to your unique concept/arc is def impressive. but don't leave us hanging for more. alright no more lame puns.

  5. ah you really captured me. nice job!

  6. That painting is stunning. I also like the illustration with the red - very striking.

  7. dreamed about this painting last night.

    her nipple was a splotch of ketchup.

    no interpretation please.


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