Fall Dog Bombs the Moon

On jobs and dogs: Having them, loving them and letting them go.


It's been almost 2 months since I've sent one of these out. It's been busy, the world seems to speed up this time of year and it's started to wobble. So I have no big essay this time. Just a collection of observations and things I've been up to.

Trying to find a through-line for these items led me to remember two conversations I once had, years apart, but centered on the same question: If you were an animal, what would you be?

When I was fresh out of high school I think, in the summer before college, I was asked to help a friend in a ritual ceremony. There was a medicine man there- a shaman I guess- and while he was preparing me, he asked me what animal I would be. Being young and insecure and vain and wanting to impress him deeply, I said with conviction that I'd be a cat. At the time to me, cats were sleek and dark and magical (and I probably had very recently read issue #18 of Neil Gaiman's Sandman.) I knew as soon as I had said it, that I was wrong. He knew it too and his disappointment overran the levees of his face. I believe he felt bad for letting me see that, and gave me the opportunity to correct the situation by asking me what kind of cat I'd be. I attempted to save face by saying "an alley cat" and he smiled down at me and nodded. I had come round to the second best answer, and it seemed to satisfy him enough to not kick me out of the ceremony.

Maybe an alley cat is the closest that cats can get to being dogs.

And then years later, the same question came up with one of my teachers and I smartly did not answer. I admired him more than most anyone and was still far more insecure and vain than I had hoped to be at that age and I wasn't about to risk his disappointment.

But he offered up that he would be a dog. Not a house-kept dog, a dark brown or black mutt. He saw himself in a desert- padding on the sand towards the sun, casting long shadows. Always outdoors, digging up food and loping around sniffing things. Curious and lean, Always moving. Never satisfied to lay down, never satisfied to be fed by a hand.

There's something clean about that. Being a dog like that.

Anyway, enjoy.

Part 1: The Moon

Until march, I'm a teacher.

This is my new job at Vistamar Academy, a small private college-prep high school. Thanks to a wonderful person I worked with 20 years ago in the coffee shop of a now-defunct book store chain, I'm filling in for a teacher on paternity leave. I still have my other job, which means for a while I'm burning the midnight oil at both ends, as the famous saying goes.

My classes are in 3D Art and Digital Media so my daily routine consists mainly of helping kids create, design and build things, and then helping other kids create, design and draw things with a computer.

You see, if I woke up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (that still had the power on) and a feral, dirty child (who had been birthed by a family that after 12 years, died of radiation poisoning) came hungrily circling around my campfire at night and I took him in and tamed him until he would sit back on his haunches when I asked, the first thing I would do is make him wear a little sailor suit with short pants (because that's adorable and anachronistic because in this world, the seas have all boiled away.) But right after that, I would probably teach him to build things and draw on a computer. So it seemed like too good a gig to pass up. 

I've been there a little over a month and it is great. The school is modern, the facility is large and they build it out as the school's needs arise, so it has an open and in-process feeling, there's an undercurrent of potential in the spaces. It's philosophy is progressive and reinforced daily by the staff and faculty who have a mandate to challenge and engage in a way that will make these kids lifelong learners. They all work together to accomplish this and I didn't really think schools like this existed, or that I'd ever have an opportunity to be involved with one. It remains to be seen whether it turns into something long-term, but for now I feel pretty lucky- stuck between two jobs that I enjoy- and I'm trying to remember to appreciate the feeling.

Part 2: Bombs

Tony and I (as Sanguine and Shiny) were lucky enough to participate in a show put on by Sofar Sounds, a world-wide volunteer organization committed to putting on intimate shows (for lack of a better term) where the crowd is urged to put away their phones and pay attention. These shows are highly curated and well attended and the onus is on the performers to not suck. It can be intimidating, especially if you're like me and rely somewhat on the fact that the majority of the crowd will be preoccupied. We doubled the risk by starting our set with 2 songs that we had never played live before. Sofar posted one of them to their youtube channel (including my fairly cringe-worthy intro story) And you can enjoy it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRR-XT1-59o

Part 3: Fall Dog

I had to put down one of my dogs last week. The 2nd edition of this newsletter featured a bit about what these animals have taught me the last 10 years..

We always joked that she was less a dog and more of a victorian lady in a fur suit. She was prissy and eccentric and could never figure out the right place to go to the bathroom. She had raced 8 times in her previous life and she won once. She had terrible breath and a cigarette burn on her rear haunch (it's not uncommon for trainers to use that tactic to get them to run.) And I've never seen a bigger heart than when she came back from doing a couple of laps around the yard, her chest heaving and gulping air, her lips pulled back in a panting smile. I think about that one day that she came in first- how she must have looked- and how they treated her. I know it's not true, but sometimes I myopically feel like I was the only one who understood her.

I love this picture of her, passed out after she spent a half hour digging a hole to nowhere in the flower bed. I keep thinking she's in her spot, lying on her bed in the living room. Her last 3 weeks were tough on her and I think I can hear her breathing heavy out there. Or maybe after 10 years together, my ears aren't used to not hearing her yet. Sadly, I'm sure that will fade.

I miss her a great deal, I've still got this guy though.

Prologue: so that you don't feel I've been lazy.

I'm still trying to sketch often. I've moved to these character-driven pieces, that I make up stories for after the fact. They have obtuse names like "Transcendent Finn" The Carp Queen" and "The Gulf Widow". I guess it's starting to look like they all come from the same place and maybe they intersect with this painting and this one. Or maybe these are the things that the people in those paintings dream about; their legends or pantheon. Maybe after 15 or so of these, I'll try Dan Harmon's story breaking model and see if anything comes out of it. In the meantime, I'm just drawing. Trying to get immersed in the details; rendering the textures, the costumes and shoddily gluing together little bits of things from a box.

A Harpie erupts with Rocketroses. I bet you didn't know that when Harpies die and hit the ground, their heads split open and rocketroses emerge like those time-lapse videos of seed pods they showed you in science class. They fire into the air and spread out, taking root around the body and growing tendrils that devour the carcass. Or, I just made that up.

The Carp Queen, the Golem Sister and her half-breed. I don't know about the Queen but I do know the Golem Sister. And I think I know who the half-breed's father is.

The half-breed looks human, but his expression is always that of a sleeping boy. His skin is clammy and pale, like wet clay. He bruises easy and lately, he's taken to hunting. The Carp Queen keeps him like a pet and his mother, if she can grasp the concept, doesn't show any signs of jealousy.

The Gulf Widow caught between memory and imagination. I know where that plane ends up, that's about it so far.

Transcendent Finn sets out on a journey in his newly gained aspect as The Traveler. Finn wears the protection of The Traveler, one of a number of aspects that can be won, bought or earned.

This is getting kinda Pokemon, so I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

And finally:

I recently looked through the archives of this newsletter and was reminded of this essay from last year about the most underrated (or overrated) artist of our time.

We've had a lot of new subscribers this year and with Christmas coming up, It seemed apt to offer it back up.

Feel free to share the holiday spirit found inside with anyone you think may enjoy it.

That's it and thanks for reading. I hope you are all well. My best to you and yours this season. Here's to next year.


As always there is an archive for this newsletter at  nealvonflue.com/newsletter/newsletter-archive. And if you know someone who might appreciate these, please forward it along to them.

I'm always interested in hearing your perspective, I think you just hit "reply" up there somewhere...