Jordan Peterson Interview

Jordan Peterson interviewed me last year (Seder-Masochism was not yet finished when we spoke) and finally the video is up. We talk about the Old Testament, religion, art, inspiration, and copyright, among other subjects.

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Seder-Masochism Progress Report

My two goals for 2017 were to bicycle 5,000 miles, and to finish Seder-Masochism. I have 30 miles to go on the first goal, slowed down by mysterious health problems (for which I’m about to undergo a series of invasive tests). But the second goal keeps getting farther away.

I have all the pieces made, and they’re pretty good. The musical numbers are entertaining, and the “Our Father” scenes, based on recordings of my own father shortly before his death in 2012, worked remarkably well.

Scene of Our Father

Our Father

But the overall story isn’t holding together. In fact, it’s hard to tell what the overall story is. I set out to retell “The Passover Story,” but what is that? It’s Exodus. But it’s also more than Exodus, and far less. I tried structuring the film around the Passover Seder, and the result is incoherent. Perhaps because as a story, the Passover Seder is itself incoherent, its popularity and persistence due to early indoctrination and strict rules rather than narrative quality.

So now I’m looking for the story again, at this rather late stage. The narrative quality of the Book of Exodus itself is dubious, but it does contain at least one strong story: the going out, the leaving, the separation, the exit, the Exodus itself. I thought a lot about the meaning of Exodus a few years ago when I animated Death of the Firstborn Egyptians (the solo clip of which has become rather popular, at over a million views on YouTube alone).

Even as the mythological Hebrews exited mythological Egypt, the mythological Firstborn Egyptians exited Life, led by the profound power of Death – who is the Abrahamic God Himself, according to many Haggadot. According to the ancient Egyptian conception of Death and the afterlife, this was not necessarily a tragedy; in fact it would have meant something entirely different to the mythological Egyptians than it does to us. Still an Exodus, but from another point of view.

And that’s where I’m returning to seek my story. To Abrahamics, the Exodus is the story of going forth from the “narrow place,” from cruel slavery to freedom. But what were they exiting, really? According to them it was slavery, oppression, and, worst of all, the worship of false idols. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” commands Yahweh in Exodus 20. How does this story look from the point of view of “other gods”? Specifically, goddesses?

Patriarchy celebrates Exodus as a triumph of civilization. But these days I question the value of civilization, since it’s (we’re) killing the planet and perhaps our souls and minds as well. The popular myth, amongst anxious environmentalists like myself, is that Once Upon a Time humans lived in harmony with nature, gathering and hunting, attuned to the natural world through animism and reverence for the Great Mother. There followed a Great Fall: Agriculture, and its attendant sins of property, hierarchy, and slavery. With the plow we were expelled from the Garden, and things have gotten worse ever since. Genesis in a nutshell.

Exodus is a different angle. This time the Great Mother isn’t a nurturing Garden, but a suffocating oppressor. Man isn’t expelled; he escapes. All those (formerly) animistic spirits are now ridiculous and evil idols. The sacred snake becomes the demonic serpent. Nature and fertility become disgusting things to be controlled. Yeast – spores of Life in the very air – is loathed and mastered through the fetishized Unleavened Bread. This loathing and mastering continues today, as we continually kill Life in the soil with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. (My 4,970 miles of cycling mostly took place in Central Illinois, the heart of the agri-desert, where yesterday I rode past tanks of ammonia being dragged through denuded fields.)

What does Exodus look like from the point of view of the Goddess? She was in Egypt as Hathor, Hekket, Wadjet, Nut, Maat, Isis, and others portrayed already in Moses Goes Down. She was elsewhere in Mesopotamia as Ishtar, Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” and other mis-named or un-named “idols.” She was in Europe. She was everywhere – all humans conceived the divine as female, long before the invention of the male God.

The Golden Calf (Return of the Goddess) from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Watching Man walk out on Her, going forth from revering Nature to enslaving and killing it – would she even want Him back?

So I’m currently trying to articulate the Exodus from the Goddesses’ point of view. I hope it works. I’ve put a lot of effort into Seder-Masochism so far, I’d hate for it to be a BIG FAILURE WITH NO COHERENT STORY. Then again, I may end up with a coherent story that is despised. If my current storytelling angle succeeds, even more people will hate it, especially men. But that I could live with. Releasing a weak, incoherent film would be harder.

But this late in the game, that may be its fate – it’s up to the Goddess.

“Creative Freedom” for Ton

Creative Freedom

A Hundred Dollar Drawing.

I video’ed myself drawing

Here’s the drawing:

Oct24SLOW

Inktober 2016, October 19-22

I noticed some artist and animator friends were posting drawings with the hashtag #inktober. This is the sort of thing I never do. But it had been years since I’d respectfully drawn with ink on paper, and I kind of missed it. So I ordered myself some different brush pens, and the day they arrived I sat down and drew these:

"Flight"

“Flight”

No warm-ups, no practice, just bam, out they came.

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve drawn in this style, with ink on paper. I’ve avoided it due to burn-out from drawing daily comic strips. Advice to you kids: turning something you enjoy into a daily job is a great way to make you hate it. I quit my last daily comic, The Hots, in 2003 (before that I did another mainstream daily, Fluff, and before that was my self-syndicated weekly Nina’s Adventures, the entire archive of which you may download here.) I guess 12 years is enough time to recover from style burn-out, at least a little.

“Inktober” has a list of “daily prompts” and I decided to just follow them:

"Squeeze"

“Squeeze”

 

Squeeze_BW

“Squeeze” processed in GIMP to function as a black and white illustration. This is from the same photo I took with my cel phone. No scanner needed, apparently. Welcome to the future!

"Big." I'm really liking that Uni Mitsubishi brush pen, more than the nylon hair brush pens I used to use professionally. It'll wear out fast because it's a compressed felt tip, but it sure is clean and easy to use.

“Big.” I’m really liking that Uni Mitsubishi brush pen, more than the nylon hair brush pens I used to use professionally. It’ll wear out fast because it’s a compressed felt tip, but it sure is clean and easy to use.

"Big" cleaned up. in GIMP, sans scanner.

“Big” cleaned up. in GIMP, sans scanner.

"Little"

“Little”

"Little" cleaned up in GIMP, from that same cell phone photo.

“Little” cleaned up in GIMP, from that same cell phone photo above.

I actually did 2 versions of "Little." The one I posted before was outlined with the double ended Uni Mitsubishi felt brush pen. This one was with the Pentel Pocket brush. Never thought I'd choose a felt over nylon hair brush, but there you go.

I actually did 2 versions of “Little.” The one I posted before was outlined with the double ended Uni Mitsubishi felt brush pen. This one was with the nylon hair Pentel Pocket brush. I have less patience for messiness now, I guess.

Honestly I’m enjoying this so much right now I’d kind of like to take on an illu$tration gig while I’m still fresh. Too much of that and I might burn out again, but right now it would be fun.

Name the mascot

copyright monster

I just drew this. What’s its name?

The closest I come to “storyboards”

Frogs-'storyboard'

Dvorak Diary #3: Introvert

On a recent trip to Trivandrum, India, I decided to try learning to touch-type in Dvorak (after decades of hunt-and-peck in QWERTY). Here I share some excerpts of my “Dvorak Diary”.

Biogradska_suma

Thursday, January first, Two thousand fifteen

Yesterday I awoke with a clear and simple melody running through my head, a really good and catchy one. Then I had breakfast with ____ and it was gone. This is why I am an introvert: I want to hear the music in my head. It’s like a wilderness preserve: clumsy tourists wander off-trail and step on the delicate wildlife, killing it inadvertently. They don’t mean to but the endangered plants and animals don’t care; they don’t survive on good intentions. I miss my melody. It lived so easily in my head yesterday but couldn’t survive another person. Habitat loss. Like the Sitka Deer, much of the life in my head needs a wide range. I am an increasingly grumpy forest ranger, responsible both for the needs of the tourists and the wildlife. The former endanger the latter so I want them to just fuck off. But I need tourists for some reason, like were it not for tourists the forest would be razed for a housing development or mine or parking lot.

Transmission

Transmission_10fps2

Embroidermation Test 3

We had a little breakthrough at Gray-Paley* Labs, doing trapplique with the embroidery machine.

Theo improved stitch quality within the Ziz, but for some reason our registration between layers is always off. As you can see, the machine stitches the registration borders 1-2mm apart on the bottom, while they’re almost exactly lined up at the top. We can’t get our satin stitch quite on target, because the registration step is always slightly off from the satin stitch step. We discovered the machine thinks the files are slightly different sizes. It’s Theo’s challenge to figure out why, since everything is exported from Mathematica at the same resolution.

Even with these problems, the trapplique is a big aesthetic step forward in the project, and if we can work out the remaining technical kinks I’ll be able to make a 12-frame cycle/12-panel quilt soon.

This teal-on-blue iteration used wool batting on the bottom layer, making it the puffiest trapplique by far.

*Graley? PaleGray?

Embroidermation Test 2

Sequel to Embroidermation Test 1.

Theo Gray and I bought a 10-needle embroidery machine to pursue a dream of embroidered animation. Existing embroidery software sucks too badly to do the automated shape-to-stitch conversions necessary, so Theo found a way to use Mathematica instead. This is his first full test, created in Mathematica, exported directly via an Embroidermodder file conversion program as DST files, stitched on canvas (which made the edges kind of jaggy) and photographed. No loose threads were clipped in the making of this video.

My Tile Obsession Will Taper Off Eventually

I can already feel it slowing down, which means I’ll have to find something useful to do soon. Meanwhile I wanted to see the morphing tiles as a 2-color map. Easier said than done: Flash crashes every time I try to convert the various symbols making up the outline into “shapes,” so I had to export a PNG and use the clunky old paint bucket in Photoshop. There’s an ugly thick outline I added to close gaps, in order to make said paint bucket work. But at least my 2-color curiosity is now satisfied.

It reminds me of the far-more-awesome M.C. Escher Metamorphosis poster I had in college. And although the thick outline and various other flaws make not-print-worthy, yesterday I made a color version that is:

I ordered a few yards of it from Spoonflower. I can’t wait – once I start quilting this stuff I might get re-obsessed for days!

More Zizzy color

Slight improvements? Or exprovements? Either way, I’m still fiddling and posting the Ziz as it develops.

I’ve only just learned that if you post a work in progress, everyone wants to tell you how to change it. Not once did I request advice, but advice is clearly what I’ll get if I post unfinished work (or finished work, come to think of it). I’m free to ignore any or all of it; everyone on the interwebs is just talking, they don’t have any power over me unless I give it to them. I can “take what I like and leave the rest” – and sometimes someone offers something useful. (Of course praise is always useful! It’s like water and sunshine to a plant.) Instead of criticizing the critics, which was my initial impulse, I’m remembering that it’s my choice to post these W-I-P’s, and my choice to accept or ignore people’s “helpful suggestions”, and that I’m actually in control here.

If I can learn to do that here, I’ll be better at living with criticism elsewhere. As my daily prayer says:

…forgive us our criticisms
As we forgive those who critique against us

So whether you’re criticizing or praising or ignoring what I post here, I’m benefiting by getting a little stronger and growing up a little more. And hey look – a ZIZ!

Birdy Ziz

This one has a beak and a different mane, a whole new head design actually. Also: dotted lines everywhere.

In case you’re wondering, all these modifications aren’t in pursuit of the Perfect Ziz. Any of the ones I’ve made so far would be plenty adequate for storytelling, and my motto is, “Adequate is Good Enough.” No, I’m just pulled along by curiosity right now. “What would happen if I did _______?” This kind of open-ended fiddling gets a lot of us artists in trouble – it’s addictive, and also “safe,” not risky like designing a whole new character, or actually telling a story, or moving on and getting a project finished. Hence my motto.

That said, I’m indulging myself right now. Plus I’m getting great exercise ignoring criticism, something I’ll have to do lots more of in the coming years.

Free Motion quilting at NY Maker Faire

I’ll be demonstrating Free Motion quilting and embroidery at the NY Maker Faire September 17 & 18 (next weekend):

Maker Faire
New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th Street
Queens, NY  11368-2950

Come on down and say hello!

My little Janome, which I'll be bringing to Maker Faire