The Voynich Finds Its Niche

There’s no point resisting the conclusions of this essay. 

I’ve been fascinated by the manuscript ever since I heard about it as a romantic book-boy out in the sticks. I mentioned it early on in this blog. But I looked at my reproduction around the time I did that post and was disillusioned — how could I have thought the text was a made-up language? It’s merely decorative script-babble. Plus, the mysterious, secret-knowledge manuscript was a lot more common fantasy back in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m almost cynical enough now to put down the Voynich as being too famous for being famous.

Worlds At Once: Guillermo Del Toro at LACMA

Great hunks of the objects presented in this article are currently on display at a special exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And we spent a whole afternoon checking it out. Absolutely overwhelming.

I was amazed how much our fascinations overlapped — esp. up until the start of high school when I was equally obsessed with becoming a painter/comic-book artist and a fantasy writer. (My mother refused to let me take the one art class Park Senior High offered — because “artists starve” — but she couldn’t prevent me from taking English.)

Shortly after I began exploring the, yes, labyrinthine arrangements of rooms and themes, I fell into multiple simultaneous states and experiences:

I was awake and asleep. I relived the dream when I was eight where a giant rattlesnake was coiled in our shower stall and the most hideous creature my imagination ever created blocked my escape into the hall. I was watching TV shows and films that scared me so much I shivered and cried. I was being bitten by the monkey in the rock shop. I was so deep into comics in the sunny corner of my bedroom they felt like films unreeling before me. My father slammed the car door on my hand. I saw a shadow man dancing for many minutes at the foot of my bed. I saw whimsical, slightly scary creatures that nobody else could see scramble across floors and up walls. I poured over stills from horror movies that I longed to view. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad changed my life. Dinosaurs were the perfect obsession because they were monsters that had been real and were hiding somewhere in this current Earth. I was feeding hay to a hippo in a circus that came to town. I was looking at the carcass of a dead sheep as my father skinned it. I encountered Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life. I saw the headlines that a second murder-suicide had happened in our little town in the space of 18 months. I flowed through the hallucinations caused by raw ether when my tonsils were cut out in first grade that prepared me for every drug illusion of my life.

I witnessed a collector who thrilled and gratified my heart.

Like they say, a must-see.

Hard Copy Meant Harder Thinking in Advance

This piece covers all the necessary aspects of this unfortunate dust-up. There’s blame to go around.

But my personal big takeaway is how much whipping out copy at an unimaginable rate has become the norm.

For whatever reason my handwriting has been miserable scrawl from day one (I struggled with it — both my parents had beautiful penpersonship that I much admired and wanted to emulate). So I have scant experience writing in longhand (some poems seemed to emerge easier with that method, but that’s about it). But any type of physical print forced thought before writing.The tedium and time consumption of writing, editing and re-typing is lost on young’uns today, but it made you concentrate harder on what you wanted to say before committing it to paper. The idea that you would not read your article a final time before it went to press was for, well, sub-professionals. Now it’s hit “send” and fergeddit.

I’m less offend by outright vile deeds like the above incident than I am by the endless streams of copy errors that turn up day after day in every publication, online or, sigh, in print.

Bruce Lee — Artist

I’ve been thinking about my late friend Bruce Lee quite  a bit these past few days (I mentioned him before in relation to turning me on to Eddie Harris), partly because I’ve been sorting through boxes of books that go back to my college years and just after, partly because Bruce’s life didn’t turn out the way either of us would have predicted and at least in part that was because the world didn’t turn out anywhere near like what we knew it should.

Bruce was five years older than I was and we met the year after I finished college in Missoula. (I believe someone who reads this blog was with me the day he introduced himself.) He was also the first friend-peer who owned his own house, ran his own business (Butterfly Herbs) and managed to squeeze in an incredible garden.

I noticed Bruce had stored a marvelous painting — a variation on a Mayan mural theme — in his basement. It was quite a long time before I realized and he confirmed that it was his work. He was a gifted artist, but suffered from compulsive perfectionism. Even a few simple line drawings would be agony to turn out, making him tense and uptight and impossible to be around, for weeks.

He was forever vague about the extent of his study and training. He did tell me that he turned against his own creative impulses and destroyed nearly all of his work, renouncing it all. I know now that was a mistake. You could sense at times that he thought so, too. But he was an enormously stubborn person and renouncing the art was part of the official life story, goddammit. May have helped him cope with problems, may have not. Toward the end, he even began to neglect the garden.

But Bruce’s example helped me understand the wisdom of advice on writing that Richard Hugo passed on: insisting on perfect-as-possible execution and pure inspiration is a kind of artistic disease — a way to keep yourself from working. Keep turning out stuff regularly, close to every day if you can, and if it’s garbage, just chuck it and start again. This is by far the finest way to keep yourself ready, so that when you are hit with that pure inspiration, you will be able to execute as close as you can come to perfection.

(Butterfly Herbs has something of an online presence, though I find it odd and sad that it’s hard to discover the place was started by Bruce or that he and John P. Anderson were the creators of the hugely successful green tea blend Evening in Missoula.)