A Tale of Two Flags

A Tale of Two Flags
D. Paul Angel

I am currently reading The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell with Sonia Lal and Katherine Hajer (who has already managed to post an early review of it!). It is a book rife with symbols. Some of which are patently obvious, some of which require more than your fair share of mental calisthenics to accept, and all of which are argued to be universal. So it is with this as a backdrop that we have had a week with more discussing of symbols than I can remember.

The impetus for some of this discussion is tragedy. Nine members of an AME congregation were gunned down while attending a prayer service because of the color of their skin. There is a lot to be said about that event in and of itself, and I have thoughts to share, but they need their own place, and I need a better voice to express them. Soon, though, I hope.

The unintended consequence of the shooting, designed to start a “race war,” is that the Confederate flag has been removed from several State grounds, is no longer being sold at major retailers, and has become anathema to the majority of the population. Its supporters cry that it is a symbol of heritage not of hatred, and that it is simply misunderstood. Which is, of course, bullshit of the highest order.
Most of the monuments in the South which fly the Confederate flag were not erected in the aftermath of the Civil War, but a hundred later. In the middle of the Civil Rights movement. So what, heritage, exactly, was the flag meant to celebrate? Since they were put up during the fight for equal rights, the heritage it invoked was meant to be blatantly, obviously one of racial inequality. A harkening back to a time when the Laws and Lawless were both allowed to prey upon people of color.

But the Memorial itself, say the apologists, is dedicated to the fallen sons of the Confederacy who were fighting against an overstepping Federal government in favor of States’ Rights. But, right to do what? The “rights” of the States to continue supporting slavery. They made no bones about it, unlike the modern Confederate apologists, they expressly state it in their papers, and list it as a cause for secession. The heritage of “state’s rights” was a fight to enslave your neighbors based on the color of their skin. The “heritage” of the Confederate Flag IS hatred.

I have been to the State Capitol in South Carolina and I have seen the memorial to the Confederate flag and Confederate soldiers. It is in the very front of the Capitol, on the street, directly in front of the Capitols steps. Off to the side is a memorial for the people of color who were enslaved, and a history of their suffering, and eventual triumph. One is front, on the street, immediately noticeable. The other, to the side, away from the street, hidden. Neither the symbolism, nor its intent, could be any clearer. The Confederate flag is a symbol of oppression, hate, and racism; there is no justification for it to be flying on government lands. None.

This week wasn’t just about a fading symbol of hatred though. It was also about a symbol of love: the Rainbow Flag, symbol of the LGBTQ community, which has so long been legally oppressed in the US. While marriage equality was a huge victory, discrimination is still, pathetically, allowed in both housing and working. So I expect the Rainbow Flag will continue to require vigorous waving for many years to come until true equality is acheived.

The Rainbow is a simple, powerful symbol. Each color is unique, and yet together they form something bigger and more beautiful than anyone individually. At its heart, the Rainbow Flag is a symbol of inclusiveness. After Friday’s landmark decision, the web is full of avatars that have been “rainbowed.” Many of their users though would not identify themselves as LGBT or Q. And yet, they celebrated with the Rainbow their brothers and sisters who are, because it is a symbol of inclusiveness. It is a symbol for a struggle simply to be acknowledged at the same level as everyone else. It is a symbol that love will eventually win over hatred. So how very fitting then, that it flew its highest to date in week when one of the biggest symbol of hatred our culture has ever wrought was finally dying?

I think this is a week most people will remember the rest of their lives. It was, after all, a week of historical significances. It was also, symbolically, a week that saw the independent rising of Good, and fading of Evil.

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Illustrating “Beyond Babel”

Illustrating Beyond Babel

Here is my illustration full size.  FULL SIZE! Not Life Size, of course, that'd just be silly. CC-A-NC-SA by D. Paul Angel
Here is my illustration full size. FULL SIZE! Not Life Size, of course, that’d just be silly.
CC-A-NC-SA by D. Paul Angel

Beyond Babel was my #FridayFlash piece from a couple Friday’s past. I view the #FridayFlash pieces as an amazing way to explore and try new means of storytelling. I really liked the idea of Beyond Babel, but I can’t say as that I was overly thrilled with my execution of it. (Either meaning.) It should have been told either as an Epic Poem with a consistent meter, or more biblical in much shorter, simpler verses. In the end I didn’t accomplish either, so I think it is one of those stories that I may retell in a different format. I would also invite you to go ahead and try it yourself if the fancy takes you. I know most of my audience is composed of writers, artists, and the shining lights of the Literari, so it may well be up your alley if you are bored or looking for inspiration. The difficulty, of course, will be slogging through the original first.  (But hey, its illustrated now!)

Now that that is out of the way though, I can share my excitement with you! I illustrated my own story! When I was in school (far too many) years ago and computer graphics were still more promise than delivery, I thought it would be cool to illustrate my novels. Not necessarily a graphic novel, per se, but the old school kind of illustrated texts in which each chapter opens with a drawing inspired by it. I think it was more common in the 19th century, but I really enjoyed reading books that had them.

Years went on though, and this particular dream slowly faded with so many others. (There are, after all, very few best selling authors playing professional football on their off days from being a fighter pilot.) In the recent few months though, I’ve been thinking of illustrating my works again. While I regularly read the funny pages growing up, I hardly touched comic books. So the advent of graphic novels has been slowly re-introducing me to the world of graphic story telling. Throw in the plethora of fantastic webcomics now available, and I started thinking of combining my own writing with my own illustrations.

This was actually the genesis of the drawing class I took. So it was exciting for me to actually create a piece for my story. As it happens, Beyond Babel was written the day before my class, so the idea was incredibly fresh. It was also fun explaining to my classmates just what in the hell I was drawing! See, I wrote this story about building a second Tower of Babel… Luckily my class is both awesome and supportive.

The critique though, is that even though I am happy with it in many ways, I am still not capable of capturing what’s actually in my mind. I know that will come in time though, I just have to keep working at it. There are still some things I need to do to this for it to be truly finished, but I am proud enough of it as is to share. I need to add a shadow for the tower, and some more details in the foreground to better convey a sense not just of size but of immensity. But not much else, which is also very cool.

When I get it not just finished, but finished finished, I’ll update the image on the story itself and give you a side-by-side comparison. Until then, its all about the practice!

Final Drawing, George Rogers Park

Final Drawing, George Rogers Park

Taken with an iPhone 6+, the there were shadows on the page, so that is why there is some mottling.
The old iron foundry tower at George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego. In a river. With a tree and figures too. Just go with it.

So I didn’t even manage a week of posts! Knowing myself, and my life, this is neither surprising nor worrying; it is just going to happen. So instead of (more) navel gazing, how about I just go ahead and tell you what I did yesterday instead?

I drew.

Yesterday was the penultimate meeting of my Drawing 131A class at Portland Community College. It is also the first credit class I have taken since the 90’s! I have a lot to say about my goals, the class, and drawing, but since those are enough to fill their own blog post in and of itself you will just have to be patient. And to think, this whole time you were waiting for it and didn’t even know! Spooky.

So yesterday our class met at George Rogers Park in Lake Oswego. We had from 9:00am, more or less, to 2:30pm to create a final project. We could use any medium, any subject matter, and any form; i.e., Representational, Non-representational, or Abstract. I did an abstract piece using only pastels. Abstract in that it looks like actual things (contrasted with Non-representational) and the things are not realistically portrayed (as opposed to Representational). The tower in the river is actually the remaining structure of a 19th century iron forge that still occupies its plot. Of course I chose to place it smack dab in the Willamette River, which is only a stones throw away. (Assuming you remembered to equip your sling of course- but I digress.) There are also figures in the water, apparently praying to the stone keep, whilst ignoring the largish tree behind them. The inspiration for them was a group of older women who were exercising on the lawn in front of the iron foundry as I drew it. It was cool watching them actually. They would do a lot of stretching and then randomly harmonize “Ah’s.”

Metaphorically it could well represent man’s worship of technology and development at the sacrifice of nature. For even as the tower prospers, the tree falters. Of course, in fairness to these little uniformly garbed figures, I did place the tree in the middle of the Willamette as well. So, I can’t really fault the figures then if their  inclinations towards their Creator is more WTF than PTL, and if they’d rather focus on the thing that (slightly) more belongs in a river. If you happen to see any other metaphors, symbolism, or deep philosophical resonations within the piece, please let me know! I would love to share them with the class :-)

Finally, I am both very pleased and very disappointed in the piece. I am pleased because this is the end result of 10 weeks of class. I have learned a lot, progressed significantly, and am unlocking new areas of my creativity. I am just starting out, so it makes sense that what appears on the page is not going to match what is in my head. I’m disappointed because even though I know all the above to be true about my limited skills, I am still struggling to accept it in myself.

Perhaps there’s a metaphor about that in there too?

88x31Both the text and the image of my drawing are posted under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial license.

The Sasquatch Under the Bed

The Sasquatch Under the Bed
D. Paul Angel
812 Words

Edited 10:34, 5 June 15 I changed how I handled identifying the Sheriff in the narrative. I think it flows better now and makes more sense to boot! There was no substantive change to the story itself though. – DPA

“An escaped serial killer? In Little Rondewoke no less? The shock!”

“For a week now! A week!

“Mayhem Magruder on the streets!”

“Heads are going to roll all right, but whose?”

“And the children? Won’t anyone think of the children?”

Mr. Peters was only just aware of the teachers next to him and their conversation. With his grant falling through at the last minute, he’d have to teach Summer School after all, and he wasn’t sure how many slots were left. He just knew it was already going to be a tight couple of weeks without this.

“Don’t you think Peters?”

“Huh? Sorry, could you repeat that?” blurted Peters, his name pulling him out of his reverie.

“Hhmph. Just like Tommy Thudberger buying time! I posited,” began Mrs. Carlton eying Peters carefully, “that that vulgar man must have shaved his beard and hair by now as way of disguise.”

Peters shook his head, “Frankly I’d be shocked if he were still here. I’d bet he’s not even anywhere near Upper Rondewoke at this point.”

As the rest debated Peters’ contribution, he again let the conversation drift away as he began trying to plan his Summer schedule. Soon enough the lunch bell sounded, ending the covnersation and leaving Peters scrambling to pack his stuff. Even though he wasn’t late to his own class himself, it was close enough to earn a couple of suppressed grins from the class. Ah well. Thank God for show and tell though. That way he could finish his schedule while he “graded papers” as the kids did their presentations.

He nodded in all the right places and said, “nice,” “good job,” and “excellent” enough that the kids didn’t notice how little he was paying attention to their various flowers, toys, and prized possessions. So he didn’t quite perk up in time when Tommy Thudberger was explaining why his “Show and Tell,” was really just a, “Tell.”

“The Sasquatch might be able to trust you,” Tommy said to his dubious audience, “but he can’t trust them.” Peters realized the only “them” in the room was him, so he started listening again. “He’s tall, and super, super hairy! And he’s all orange with grey stripes. I reckon its why most people miss ’em in the woods. It’s that camel-floss stuff.”

“That’s, uh, camouflage Tommy, and I need to check in at the office real quick. Everyone stay in your seats as Tommy finishes, OK? Go ahead Tommy, I’ll be right back.” Peters walked slowly to the door but once he was certain the class couldn’t see him he sprinted down the hall to the Principal’s office. Who was luckily also the Sheriff’s brother.

“Tim, I need you to get Denise on the horn right away!”

“What’s going on Peters?”

“During show and tell Tommy Thudberger began describing the ‘Sasquatch’ under his bed. Lots of hair. Orange, grey stripes…”

“Sweet Mary n Joseph in the Kitchen its gotta be Magruder!”

“That why I’m here and meeting your sister there. Tommy’s my student after all,” he added before Time could verbalize any protests, “I’ll have Perkins watch the kids.”

Soon enough Peters and Tim were walking up to Denise. Every single car the Sheriff’s Department had was on the street with their lights flashing, even as every last deputy tensely watched the Thudberger house. Peter’s knew that Tommy’s Mom Lacey never missed a chance at the spotlight, but he didn’t think she’d be enjoying this at all if she was home.

“Hey there Deni- I mean, Sheriff Tompkins,” Peters corrected himself after her glare. They dared not move any closer, grateful for not having been shooed away.

“This is the Rondewoke Sheriff’s Department. We have you surrounded Magruder, come out with your hands up.”

The Sheriff waited a few beats, and just as she was raising the bullhorn to her mouth again, there came a loud, gargling roar. Before anyone could say anything, a huge hairy figure was suddenly ducking its way through the doorframe. Its whole body was covered in a long, long coat of orange and gray fur.

“Dammit,” Peters heard the Sheriff mutter even as he heard himself exclaim to no one in particular, “Holy shit it’s a Sasquatch!”

“What?” Sheriff Tompkins snapped, turning to look at him with scorn. “That ain’t no Squatch. It’s just another damn Wookiee coming to steal hydrangeas. They like some damn Wookiee crack to ’em.”

She turned her attention back to the house and the bullhorn, “Off you go, Wookiee! Go on git! Back to Kashyyyk with you now. And don’t you think I don’t recognize you Lochacca! Git!”

Peters, thoroughly overwhelmed, found himself sitting on the street’s cool pavement. “So, all this time… Sasquatches were Wookiees, and Wookiees are real…”

“The Hell you talking ’bout?” the Sheriff demanded. “Squatches like azaleas. They hate hydrangeas. What the Hell kind of teacher are you?”

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Blue Milk Special – ****

Blue Milk Special
By Leanne and Rod Hannah

* * * *

Star Wars came out when I was in First grade. Other than having a squirt gun for a blaster and a whiffle bat for lightsabre, there was actually very little of the movie that I remembered. I did have a decent collection of Star Wars toys, but I was vague on the plot points themselves (there’s a George Lucas joke in there somewhere…) This was a time before even VCRs, let alone DVD’s or the Internets; a time also known as 99.9999% of all human history- but I digress. The point being that there was no way to see the movie again, so my fading memory of it was simply that it was awesome and I loved it.

Then, one fateful Saturday morning whilst watching cartoons, my brother and I saw a commercial for The Empire Strikes back. I vividly remember asteroids, TIE Fighters, and us racing outside screaming at our parents in excitement. Blessedly a showing of The Empire Strikes Back necessitated a re-showing of Star Wars, and this time I remembered things. I was a little surprised at the things I had forgotten, like the Jawa’s Sandcrawler. I remember them because I distinctly remember trying to draw them after the movie.

Soon enough Return of the Jedi came along and the Trilogy came to a nice clean end, never to be explored again. OK, so that’s not exactly true. But for most of us who grew up with Star Wars, such was the way of life until the late 90’s. During that time I would watch and rewatch the trilogy courtesy of VHS. I never got into the Expanded Universe though, and I never watched the movies with “growed up” eyes. It was always for the fun and nostalgia that came with the experience more than the viewing.

Well, now that I am slightly older, there are an awful lot of blemishes that become ever more clear on the beloved trilogy. As a writer, I have to acknowledge the influences that have shaped me, and I think its necessary to really explore them, to understand how they influenced. Some of these influences should probably be explored in their own post (*cough* Buck Rogers *cough*), but Star Wars was definitely a huge, early influence.

The question then became, how do you balance exploring the work in what it meant to you, whilst simultaneously understanding its shortcomings. And, how do you do so in a way so its is neither a thrashing of your childhood enjoyment, nor mere apologizing for things that not just ought to have been better, but readily could have been better. How do you accomplish that in a way which is simultaneously positive, reverent, and critically insightful? Besides booking a ticket on the Mutual Exclusivity Express that is.

You read Blue Milk Special. Duh!

It turns out that Rod and Leanne Hannah have already done this in comic form. Even as you laugh, you remember the nostalgia and sheer enjoyment of the movie from your childhood. Many of Rod’s blog posts which accompany the comic detail aspects of the movie from a story-telling point of view, as well as incorporating the odd bit of trivia and deleted scenes.

Particularly compelling is Rod’s discussion of Leia. As an homage to Carrie Fisher, and the demons she carried with her during these times, Blue Milk Special (BMS) takes to drawing Leia as always smoking. It seems just a sight gag until you understand their reverence for the duality of Leia and Carrie. Leia takes great pains to comfort Luke over the loss of Obi-Wan, even though she just lost her entire planet! A huge emotional tragedy that is never given much chance of exploration. So the BMS Leia smokes because she has turned to it as a way of easing her pain, a la Carrie’s in real life struggles, of which she has been deeply honest.

There is more of course, and even as they close in on 700 comics, they are not yet through Return of the Jedi. That is partly because they chose to also cover some of the ground laid down by the Expanded Universe such as Splinter of the Minds Eye, a novel betwixt Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. I had never heard of it before, but after seeing the BMS treatment of it, I recently checked it out in Graphic Novel format for perusing.

Whether your fandom is limited to getting, “It’s a trap!” references or encompasses the millions of words filling the Expanded Universe like the Midichlorians at a Jedi picnic, BMS has something for you. Due to the nature of copyrights Rod and Leanne can only do BMS as a labor of love, fitting it in amongst their paid works. But the key word is love, and it shows throughout the strips. I would highly recommend you not only check out BMS, but also the personal websites for Leanne and Rod which highlight their talents.

You won’t be sorry.

Well Sh!t

So, I am literally only a couple posts into this write-every-day-and-post-it-challenge and I am already realizing the error of my ways. Sort of. I posted the review of the Wheel of Time series, even though I didn’t feel that great about it. Nor did I particularly feel all that pleased with Wash is My Co-Pilot. I was working on today’s piece about the webcomic Blue Milk Special when I realized what the problem was.

I’m trying too hard.

Simply put, my brain keeps saying, “This is non-fiction, engage Undergrad Essay Mode in 3… 2.. 1.” And I did. So instead of talking about things I like, or enjoy, or simply need talking about with you, dearest of dear reader, I am talking at you. I’m right smack dab back in 500 word essay land, with the introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs (one for each point in the introduction of course), and a nicely rounded conclusion tying it all together. It is an academic marvel and I have no doubt if and when I go back to school I will do just fine with it.

But it’s not what I want to do here right now. Because this is meant to be me, being me. And that means throwing out such tried and true grammar rules as not starting sentences with, “but,” “because,” and/or “and.” That’s what I mean by trying to hard. I’m not looking for a grade, I’m looking for an outlet. I’m looking for a way to share the randomness that is the 3D Venn Diagram that I call my brain. In a nutshell, WordPress, let alone the Internets, doesn’t need another voice droning on in logorrheaic bloviation. So from here on out, I shall strive to not be that voice.

Wish me luck!

PS- Please don’t wait on me to get my shit together to read Blue Milk Special. That link goes to the very first one! I’ve already done the heavy lifting for you! And, once you read what I have to say about it, you’ll want to click it anyways. You can trust me: I’m a writer.

PPS- Yes I will go back through and likely redo my WoT and Wash pieces, but for now I’m going to keep on keeping on!

PPPS- Yeah, I’m not really sure what that’s supposed to mean either, but just like slashies, PS’s ought’n to come in 3’s.

The Wheel of Time Series- * * *

The Wheel of Time Series
By Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

* * *

I made it through! Have no doubt, finishing the Wheel of Time (WoT for short) series in its entirety is a daunting task. There are 14 books total, and I am fairly certain the shortest is over 150,000 words. Needless to say, a lot goes on. At its core, it is the the story of three boyhood chums from the same little village in the backwoods of nowhere. Rand, Perry, and Mat soon enough find their lives not just turned upside-down, but to a great extant no longer even their own. They go from being simple villagers to leading the “light” side, or good people of humanity against the forces of darkness in the Last Battle.

It is the epitome of epic fantasy, and Jordan was not the least bit shy of being overly descriptive. There are many complaints of this online, mostly as to the repetitious nature of many of these descriptions. There are, after all, only so many times a woman can smooth her dress! (Although, in fairness, its not like said dresses would have had pockets either :-) ) I enjoyed the descriptions though, and found that it made for a vivid read, a la the obvious influences of Tolkien.

For having been started so many decades ago, the WoT universe is ahead of its time in many ways by having strong female characters. That being said, WoT has a LOT of characters. It is not a series you can read or and there or you will be completely lost when you come back to it. I know. I tried. In the end I read them one after the other and it took about a year. I had a couple short breaks, but it really was a marathon.

The question then becomes, is it worth the time? The answer is an unqualified maybe. The first 11 books were written by Robert Jordan, the definitive creator of the series. Jordan succumbed to cardiac amyloidosis and the series ended up being finished by Brandon Sanderson. There is a noticeable change in the last three books. Sanderson did an amazing job in following Jordan’s lead and being honest to his characters, without trying to be Jordan. The net result is that there seems to be just as much description in the final three books, but far more happens in moving the plot along.

The middle books can definitely be a slog, and I have talked with angry fans because of it, but the end books I really do think make the journey worth it. Indeed after I finished the final book, A Memory of Light, I actually kind of wished it had been longer. At the end of the day, if you liked Lord of the Rings and enjoy Fantasy, its worth the time. If you’re on the fence about Fantasy, then I’d say no.

Overall I give it 3 out of 4 stars. ***