photo of foggy trees at Bay View State Park

 

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” — Emily Dickinson

(Content warning: spider photo ahead)

Exactly one year ago, i was camping with my parents & my partner at Bay View State Park on Padilla Bay. I had no idea i soon would be moving away from the sea or that when i moved, it would be to this awkward junction between desert, prairie, and forest. 

Moving here was a good idea, for many reasons. I don’t regret it. But sometimes when i am looking at photos of coastal environments for The Deadlands promo graphics, or for drawing reference, a sad little flower sprouts inside me, jailed by my ribs. It’s too dry here; the wilderness is dusty and beige. Everything is too spiny to go barefoot when i hike. Even the rocks are jagged. 

It rained all day Saturday, so i went for a run for the first time since i moved. Even at its wettest, this forest is like a mummy someone put in a jacuzzi hoping it would wake up. It just gets slimy, and then it dries out. It can’t revive.

photo of me looking away from the camera out toward ponderosa pines

I miss dense, wet foliage. Moss dripping from the trees, the scent of black loam and running water, cannibal saplings and ferns spilling out of crumbling nurse logs… even that invasive asshole, Himalayan blackberry, curling in on itself in a thorny circus of leaves and vines. All of it wreathed in fog and mist, so the farthest trees could be ghosts.

My memories of that morning on Padilla Bay remind me of everything i miss about the coast.

morning fog obscuring the farthest-away trees at the beach

photo of me, herding mix Briar, and chi mix Watson all looking out at Padilla Bay from the beach

photo of fog on Padilla Bay at Bay View State Park

silhouette of my herding mix Briar on the beach before dawn

I saw a quote recently that i can’t quite remember. It was something like “I used to think this place was ugly, until i looked closer.” I’ve been trying to train myself to “look closer,” and specifically, smaller.

Putting myself through drawing drills every morning gives me an especially good excuse to wander out and capture flora (and fauna) with my pencil and my camera. These plants are strange to me. I’m still learning them. 

The older i get and the more i read, the more i appreciate the things i don’t know, the thrilling unmapped wilderness of the red pie slice

two plants with long, furry leaves growing very close together

I don’t know what that plant is, but the long silver hairs on it are gorgeous. It’s not edible; you can see where curious deer took a bite out of it and then decided against any more of that particular snack. 

This one grows in our yard in the some of the places where the cranefly larvae (and the inexorable heat) have destroyed the grass. It makes leaves like rabbits make kits, constantly and desperately:

photo of a plant that grows leaves on long stalks, all radiating from a central point

Even the birds won’t eat these berries, which is kind of disturbing. Does anything really need to be that poisonous? Isn’t it overkill, Nature?

photo of red berries growing in a neighbor's yard

I teased this mystery spider (species still unidentified) to get her portrait. Sorry, my eight-legged darling, for poking your web with a blade of grass to mimic a struggling insect. I was waiting for her to come out for such a long time that when she finally rolled out of bed, she gave me an effing heart attack.

dew-dappled spiderweb with its occupant peeking out of her tunnel

…If you take a closer look at the web, you’ll see Darling is a messy eater.

Last, on one of our morning walks this week, we saw some old, dirty spiderwebs on the sidewalk getting ruffled by the breeze. I made it into a .gif:

animated gif of some old spiderwebs getting ruffled by a breeze

I will leave you with a puzzle: one photo in this post doesn’t have a filter on it; the others all have a Photoshop color lookup called “foggy night.” Which one is natural light? 

my chi mix Watson and my herding mix Briar sniffing the corner of a fence, both their tails toward the camera

“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” – Bill Watterson

A few days ago, the dogs and i found a dead skunk.

It has been dead awhile; it’s just bones, fur, and the ghost of its greatest weapon. It’s difficult to imagine anything would have been desperate enough to eat the meat, but it has been picked clean by things bigger than ants, things that have sadly ruined its (very cool) skull.

jawbones of a skunk lying on pine needles 

If i’m honest with myself, it wouldn’t have mattered. I probably couldn’t have removed the reek from the skull anyway. The oils from a carcass soak into the bone if it’s left to decay naturally, and a skunk’s spray binds to proteins. I don’t know specifically if the skunk thiols bind to collagen, but it seems likely.

sketches of a dead skunk's jumbled bones, with some notes attempting to identify the anatomy

The next day, i went back to see the skunk and photograph/sketch its bones. I realized, as i skied down the sandy bank in my tennis shoes, my satchel full of art supplies bouncing against my hip, that i haven’t been on a walk by myself just because i wanted to in so long that the last one i remember is November of 2020: 

upward view of forest featuring mostly dark green with a peppering of yellow autumn leaves mossy rock in a coniferous forest but with a strange bed of deciduous leaves

I feel guilty going on a walk without my dogs, like i’m depriving them of an experience that i owe them. My dogs are not easy dogs; one of them has a psychological disorder often referred to as fear-based reactivity, and the other is the bravest trauma survivor, but he has severe canine PTSD. If i go on walks with them, i’m limited to places i think are safe. 

Places i think there won’t be off-leash dogs, where we won’t have to cross uneven ground with weird or dangerous textures, and where we won’t get warned off by security. Places i’ve already been or that i can imagine without having been there. When we found the skunk, it was the most fascinating non-weather-related thing to happen on a walk for a very long time, maybe years. 

sun behind clouds in a smoky sky

I need to take them places that challenge them; it’s what keeps them healthy and healing instead of slipping back toward fear. Even a “normal” dog can be suspicious or fear what it doesn’t know, so all of our dogs need to know, and know, and know.  And i also need to find those places and that knowledge, because i don’t think humans are so different. At least, i’m not.

my chi mix Watson looking over his shoulder in front of a rising sun my herding mix briar facing a bright sun

An entire year of my life–a year of potential confidence-building and knowledge that could have been gained–dedicated only to safe walks. It’s a little horrifying. In a best case scenario, it was still an entire 1% of my life. If i was a dog, it would be an incredible amount–years–so i’m grateful that with their keen noses, they don’t find our walks as predictable as i do. Still, it’s time to stave off that inevitable familiarity. 

Get ready, dogs. I’m going to find you more treasure. ★

the exposed bones and remaining tail hair of a skunk, lying on some pine needles

cartoon of me carrying a bindle and riding a mastodon

 

What’s up?

I made the decision to severely cut my social media involvement in February 2020. I knew what i wanted to do, but not how. It’s November and i finally have it all together. I made this post to explain that:

  • I will no longer receive notifications or check messages/likes/whatever on any social platform except Mastodon & Patreon
  • I will still update Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, but this will be achieved by a crossposting app and not because i am actively monitoring those accounts
  • Why i am doing this, because i don’t have the spoons to explain all of this stuff to everyone who asks me

Some of my reasons might seem like they’d only be truly served by deleting my accounts. That’s true, but i am grateful for and flattered by every person who enjoys my art, and i don’t want to deprive anyone of something that brightens their day. ❥

If you’re the kind of person who feels like they’re being attacked when someone else has opinions, grab something soft to squeeze. Then read this paragraph like, six times. Please understand that i am talking about me, about my reasons for switching to minimum involvement. I’m not judging you. We all have our own reasons for which platforms we use. My mom still uses Facebook, and i’m obviously not going to trash on her–she’s marvelous. (Hi Mom!) 

Social Anxiety

I have moderate to severe anxiety over responding to messages. Therapy and experiments have strongly suggested that it doesn’t seem to matter how many messages–only how many places they come from. Limiting the “inboxes” is the alternative to moving into a remote cabin in the Yukon and wiping my butt with felted bear fur.

illustration of outhouse + a bear with a bald butt going "rawr!"

I Prefer Open Source

I have always been a proponent of open source projects. When i can, i use them, and if i have the means, i donate. Sometimes i don’t even use them, but still donate!

If you’ve heard the phrase “open source” but you’re not really clear what it means, or you think it just means “free stuff,”  please take a minute to learn about it. 

Open source and other data-sharing and crowd-sourcing behaviors are one of the few reasons that i don’t think humanity should be yeeted straight into Europa’s freezing-ass taint. 

animation clip from Futurama of Fry holding out a fistful of dollars and saying "shut up and take my money!"

F U C K  N A Z I S

Corporate-owned social media sites encourage white supremacists and other contentious groups to participate because they increase “engagement.” In their ToS the site will disclaim it, but in practice, they are loathe to actually ban such activity.

The First Amendment is about the government allowing free speech, not private corporations profiting off of volatile bigotry. This isn’t a free speech issue; it’s absolutely about making money, and outrage makes them a lot of money. Merely scrolling past the ads on these platforms is generating revenue for them, and… 

I. just. can’t.

cartoon of Twitter mascot ordering me to argue so it can make more money

[ETA] Nipples

You know exactly what i’m talking about, Tumblr. 

But seriously, social media platforms love selling ad space to companies who attack the female body image. Not thin enough, not smooth enough, not light enough, etc. They’re quite happy to tell women how impossible their bodies should be. And while what’s considered “obscene” is a complex topic, i’m not comfortable with Western, primarily American, parameters as the default.

The standard that nude photography/drawings can be art until a nipple is visible a woman’s nipple is visible is what i personally consider obscene. The only difference between male and female nipples is that occasionally a baby sucks milk out of some of the female nipples. If that is sexual to someone, i don’t want to be on their side in like… anything. Wtf?!

Humans Shouldn’t Be Products

I also can’t ignore companies making humans into commodities, encouraging them to use all their real information in a viewable, sellable, hackable format. The numerous negative effects are well-documented if you care to search for them, but here’s a selfish one that should bother everyone: identity theft is increasing. I dunno, using your full name/birthday/high school/job and being publicly linked with people who have your mother’s maiden name, all in one easy shopping location for grifters, has never seemed like a wise plan to me? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

To be honest, though, the worst part for me is the algorithm sharpening its claws on our personal posts so it can more effectively market to us. This constant refining of the ad machine results in people posting something they need their friends to know, and those friends not seeing it. I’ve missed the deaths of pets, diagnoses of cancer, suicidal ideation, and other really important moments in friends’ lives because they trusted that everyone following them would see what they said, and well… we didn’t.

cartoon of the Facebook and Instagram logos discussing how to make money off of people in distress

The socially irresponsible decisions made by Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, etc. weigh on me. I don’t believe in the culture they’re creating, and i definitely don’t want to leave that garbage festival behind for the kids i love, so it’s important to me that i try not to support that behavior. My decision will probably hamper my success, because artists and writers are now expected to do a bunch of PR or no one will find their work, but i’d rather starve a little than stop fighting against this putrid machine. 

 

So why are you using this Mastodon thing?

Mastodon is not perfect, but it is the best option i’ve found so far. 

The big reasons are that it is decentralized (no one “owns” it) and it doesn’t necessitate preying on its users’ privacy for funding. There are myriad other reasons that Mastodon is a great system to support, and since they do a good job selling themselves, i’ll let them (relax it’s like 2 minutes): 

Mastodon officially is anti-Nazi. Because it’s open source software, of course some Nazis have tried to use it. You can read about how that worked out for them here. (TL;DR: servers–called “instances”–that allow white supremacists to shriek their filthy clickbait garbage don’t get listed and most other instances block them).

It’s not for everyone, as this op-ed points out. Then again, if you are someone whose identity is political whether you want it to be or not (like, oh say, a pansexual genderqueer in a 2-decade-long same-sex relationship), don’t you want the option to socialize without constantly being reminded that there are very loud gun-toting assholes hoping for civil war so they can murder you for sport? My adrenal glands are withered husks at this point!

No other social network has such a slick “content warning” tool or the community culture that uses & values it.  If you’re a minority like me, maybe Mastodon isn’t a “safe” space, but it’s certainly a calmer, more respectful one, and bonus, no one is making money off of people threatening to kill us.

Maybe some day i’ll feel differently about all of this, but for now, you can add me on Mastodon @inkshark@mastodon.art, you can e-mail me at gutterkitty|@|inkshark%.)net, or if you want to be a patron of the arts for as little as $1/mo, you can join my Patreon.  ❥