Past The Town Of Strange

An archive of Ursulav arts, quotes, fan flailings, and other things she may leave lying about.
Warning: Contains Wombats

The donkey’s name was Quick.

His front hooves were neat and dexterous and opposable, and his back hooves were the size of dinner plates and had unassuming steel shoes. He had a pale grey hide and pale pink nostrils, and ears like enormous fringed fans, and if you lifted up his cowl far enough, you would find large, slightly worried brown eyes, with the devastatingly long eyelashes reserved for beauty queens and large ungulates. He was a small, neat-footed donkey who kept his elbows tucked in and could vanish into a crowd much more easily than a bipedal donkey wearing a yellow robe with checkerboard edging had any right to do.

He had a goldfish in a plastic bag. She was a small, neat-finned goldfish with kinder eyes than are usual among fish. Quick was only guessing about the “she” pronoun. He wasn’t sure how to tell the difference, or if it mattered one way or the other. Well, it probably mattered to another goldfish. He wasn’t sure if the kindness of the goldfish’s eyes was really there, or if he was starting to go—-well, not crazy, per se, but a little off, the way people get when they haven’t talked to another person in a long time, and the things inside their head start to take up entirely too much space. It had been a stressful few weeks. He wasn’t sure how many weeks, but he was definitely sure they had been stressful.

He wasn’t sure of much else, these days, particularly not how the ripe pear and the assassins fit into the whole situation.

He was quite sure that he’d heard the fish talking the first time, though. The other times, yes, it had been dark and a little crazy and if you shoved a copy of the Book of Muses under his hoof, he couldn’t have sworn to it. But that first time, when he’d seen the forlorn little plastic bag laid out on an aging carpet, the fish had definitely spoken to him.

Reverend Mord - July 9, 2014

Today we recall the guppy-fly infestation of 1955. We also celebrate the cure for gastrothropy, and a haiku composed by “Six Notes Returning From The Western Stars.” It is the Feast Day of the Wedding of the Elegant Serpent, and in the garden, there is no rain. Be Safe, and Stay Out of Trouble.

If you go to the House of Red Fireflies, which lies on the banks of the Feverstream, at the end of a road lit by red lanterns and patrolled by irritable spear-carrying mushrooms, you will find the doors open wide. And inside, on most nights, there is a mandrake girl, who is at the center of rapt attention by plants of all species—dryads and leshies and Green Men, twigjacks and briarboys and young squash gods out on the town—and even a few humans who found that prolonged contact with a mandrake’s skin has a hallucinogenic quality, and that she is an excellent listener. She is needed, and wanted, and lusted after, and well-loved.

And once a week or so, she slips away from the House, and goes walking in the woods, and hedgehogs bring her gifts of slugs, and a particular bear, who dens nearby, will sleep with his head in the mandrake girl’s lap.

“There is a large brown rabbit at the bottom of the yard. He is a handsome agouti, paling towards the belly, with erect ears, and the big, liquid eyes of a Japanese anime princess.”

—   Ursula Vernon

“There’s a rhyme that everyone quotes at you sanctimoniously when they learn you’re itching like a fiend, and that is “Leaves of three, let it be.” This is lovely. Have you ever looked at a forest? There’s a lotta crap in there. Most of it is green and leafy. Possibly other people are carefully examining each step to locate the tri-lobed miscreant, but I am a tromper. I wallow through the woods like a bull elk. I love nature, I respect nature, but I am not exactly light on my feet. I am not an elf to go tripping daintily through the poison oak without stirring a leaf. (I bet elves don’t even GET poison oak.)”

In many ways, I’ve always thought the early gospels resemble Jesus fanfic. You all get one character who was cool, and some canonical events, but how it proceeds after that was up to the individual writer—virtually all of the gospels were written long after the historical events, so historical reality didn’t neccessarily intrude much on art. And eventually the New Testament was assembled when a bunch of people got together and read everything over and said “Oh, hell no, Jesus/Judas is totally NOT canon!”* and threw it out. They did this for a LOT of writings. This is not neccessarily a bad thing, because if all the early Christian texts were incorporated in the Bible, it’d be the size of a Robert Jordan compendium and you’d need a handtruck to wheel it around.

Since humans are the same the world over, I would lay money that some of the proto-gospels were crappily written and full of Mary Sue disciples who all had green eyes and Jesus fell madly in love with them and…wait, was that the Last Temptation of Christ? Well, anyway, the point stands. We’re probably better off with a lot of them hitting the junk heap. Christianity would not be notably improved by inclusion of a gospel where Jesus turns into a teenage girl with a telepathic unicorn pet.

Fortunately, many of the writers were dead by the time the editing got involved, so flame wars were difficult to conduct, but I suspect that the discussions at said synods still resembled a highly literate, solemn, and dignified version of the sorts of fights that erupt in any fandom’s literature. I wonder how you write “This suxxx! Snape is MINE!” in Aramaic?

My father, who is an Arizona old-school Republican,* is goin’ to court. For environmentalism. I’m so proud.

He has solar panels on his house, on the principle that if you live in Arizona, it’s a waste not to. They’re not huge—basically, they heat his pool. His homeowner’s association told him to take them down. He pointed to the law on the books saying that no homeowner’s association can prevent the putting up of solar panels. They got an attorney.

One of the many hereditary traits Dad and I share is that we are mellow, almost catatonically laid back people, but if you manage to piss us off, we have been known to get just a wee bit stubborn. Which is why Dad located the attorney who took the last case of this sort all the way to the Supreme Court, and who is willing to do it again.

So now, Dad’s in the newspaper (he was on the front page!) and his phone is ringing off the hook with other people suffering from HOAs, and he’s writing letters to the editor in wounded tones saying things like “If we’re supposed to reduce our dependance on foreign oil, what’s better than free sunshine?” and generally enjoying the heck out rousing the rabble.

It’s unlikely, of course, that this second case would actually go clear to the Supreme Court, but Dad’d do it if need be, being a believer in the principle of the thing. (The thought of 200K legal fees if he lost gave him pause, but Mavis, who’s intestinal fortitude I have praised before, said “No. They Have Annoyed Me.” This is the sort of ground where angels fear to tread.)

—   Ursula Vernon
Reverend Mord - July 7, 2014

We remember the third appearance fo the Black Beast today. We also remember Alistair Whetsmith, and record the words of Farmer Colin McGrath. It is the Feast Day of St. Alder, and in the garden, there is a nest. Be Safe, and Stay Out of Trouble.

Packing—as better people than I have observed since before the invention of the cardboard box—is a disorienting experience.

It’s not the packing itself, of course. The big thing to get packed around here is books, and that’s pretty easy stuff, a little spatial jigsaw puzzle, accompanied by a small but rosy glow when you manage to get the exact proportion of paperback to hardcover and the box fits together into a neat solid without any awkward square holes or narrow canyons just a smidge too short to wedge another paperback. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you have to wedge a stuffed wombat or a bookend into the aforementioned holes. (Candles fit in there pretty well, but I gave up on candles awhile back, realizing that no matter what current decorating wisdom may be, the only time I considered candles appropriate was in the middle of a blackout.)

No, the disorienting bit is the bare walls, the bare bookcases. We get used to the topography of our rooms, no matter how cramped and cluttered that may be. We project ourselves into them. Humans have a wonderfully malleable sense of body space, as anybody who’s driven a car can probably attest. We expand our mental space to fit. For awhile, our brain is willing to graft the car onto our personal space. Our sense of self extends out to the bumpers. If somebody tailgates, we feel as annoyed and cramped as if they were standing an inch away, possibly more so—if somebody’s standing an inch away, we get confused, whereas if somebody’s tailgating, we KNOW they’re an asshole. How often, when doing a tricky bit of parallel parking, do we say “How does the car look over there?” compared to “How am I lookin’ over there?” Our sense of what space we are occupying is gloriously stretchy in that regard, and routinely encompasses our clothes, our vehicles, our weapons. (Considering this, I can easily imagine an alien species that would be congenitally bad drivers, lacking the malleability of mental projection. They probably wouldn’t be too keen on clothes, either.)

To a lesser extent, I think that happens in the house. Not to the same extent—if a car drove into the house, I wouldn’t yell “That bastard hit me!” the way I would if a car drove into my car. (I would yell many other things, most of them not suitable for mixed company, mind you.) But still, the altered topography of the house has a kind of mental echo. I look up, expecting to see a plaster fish and a tower of DVDs, a wall of multicolored paper spines, and I see a bare wall and a bare bookcase, and I feel a little unsettled, as if the blank spot is inside my head, too.

I could go for the cheap metaphor and compare these mental holes to missing teeth, but it’s not quite right. If you’ve got a hole where a tooth used to be, you’re poking it with your tongue approximately once a nanosecond. These bare spots are tricky. Once I’m not looking at them, I almost forget they’re there, and then I look back, and wham! once again, bare plaster, bare bookcase.

—   Ursula Vernon

My attempts to get a good night’s sleep were in no way enhanced by Athena’s decision to beat a mouse to death under my side of the bed at about 6 AM.

She’s been getting more and more successful at mousing lately. I don’t know how. My mental vision of the inside of Athena’s head is a kind of vaulted bone cathedral, columns of mandible and cheekbone soaring upwards to the arching buttresses of sinus cavities, cobalt light streaming in through two rose window eyes, the floor cleft by irregular stairways of palate and spine. It’s an open, airy place, in which the lone brain cell, clad in tiny monkish robes, solemnly reads out the liturgy, and paces through the vast emptiness, lighting tiny synapse-torches and praying to the God of Cat Brains* and hoping in quiet desperation that some day they’ll send him an acolyte.

And yet, somehow…she catches mice. Go figure.

—   Ursula Vernon

“You know, one of the best things about my life is the fact that I can call people and sob “I’m having an art supply crisis!” and they will come and take me to the art supply store to get my sepia. Whether this is a sign that I have wonderful friends or that I am unbearably pitiful when deprived of paint, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.”