Jenn Manley Lee


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Music to think by

Like all good geeks, I have made a mix tape soundtrack for my story. You know, the Dicebox thing I do. I've actually made three so far and will end up with five or so by the time I'm done.

The first mix I made back in 2003 and named it "Under and Overture." It's a quick musical mood overview of the whole of Dicebox; the next four mixes are done for each Book of the story. Here are the cover and playlist I made for the CD I made for friends:

It begins and ends with songs from two albums I listened to exhaustively in college and I can can point to as early influences for Dicebox: Jane Siberry's the Speckless Sky and Tom Waits' Rain Dogs. Actually the entire albums are good mood music for Dicebox, supplemental soundtracks in a way. This is also true for Poe's Haunted and Michelle Shocked's Captain Swing.

The origin of the soundtracks are the collection of songs I've long paced to with headphones on while thinking about the story of Dicebox. They either create the right mood for a passage or spark imagery for me. I gradually made note of those I felt really spoke to the story and arranged them in suitable order.

Now, the reason I'm sharing this with you now is that I've been recently been made aware of the website Muxtape (thanks Dylan!) that allows one to share a selection of songs (their mix tape) with the internet. And that's what I've done with my Under and Overture, broken into two parts* by necessity:

Under and Overture, side A Under and Overture, side B

I'll leave this mix in place for a couple of months and then switch it out with the soundtrack for Book 1 : Wander. Enjoy.

* and two accounts, mine and Kip's by use agreement.

Frontispiece for Dicebox : Book 1 : Wander

First off, that is exactly what I based my design for the Dicebox homepage on, the frontispiece of a book. Here are some examples from books from the 1600s:

Ovid's Metamorphosis The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

(Click images for larger views.)

Note the pillars in each example; this is a reference to an architectural frontispiece which "constitutes the elements that frame and decorate the main, or front, door to a building; especially when the main entrance is the chief face of the building, rather than being kept behind columns or a portico." (definition courtesy of Wikipedia)Also note the pair of framing figures in iconic clothing surrounded by all sorts of symbolism.

Since Dicebox was started as a way for me to process stories throughout my life and since the earliest way I remembered getting stories that meant something to me was through books, this was a natural choice for the story's homepage. I will be creating a new frontispiece for each book which will then take up their traditional place in the printed collections.

Now for the symbolism.

Obviously much of it relates to Molly and Griffen but all of it is influenced by the particular Book of Dicebox it fronts. This is Wander, the book of Earth and Plants, the Black book, South, Summer and so on. Hence the black background, the idyllic summer landscape with a prominent mountain and so on. (I did make an entry in my Process Journal which illustrates and somewhat explains how I've organized the four Books of Dicebox and why.)

Before I list the symbols that are Molly and Griffen specific, let me emphasize that they are not opposites; they are partners. I paired the symbolism on this page evenly between them in categories, sometimes it's classically opposing aspects, sometimes they are items the same category, and sometimes they are two parts of an equation.

The Pillars

The capitals (or crowns) are Green Men which also form the masks of Comedy and Tragedy. Green Men make repeated appearances throughout the entirety of Dicebox; there have already been three in this first book. (As this dissection of the frontispiece will be lengthy as it is, I will explore why this figure fascinates me in some other time and place.) Molly's Green Man is comprised of Hawthorne, Griffen's is Alder implying all the further symbolism tied up in those trees. The aspects of Comedy and Tragedy aren't really that character specific, they mostly are announcing a story. I made the decision who got which on who seemed unhappier throughout this Book (it was close).

Topping the Green Men are the Moon and a Beetle for Molly and the Sun and a Bee for Griffen. The celestial symbols are due to their essential presence more than any implication of gender roles or primacy. Molly's insect is a beetle because they are associated with secrets and cycles of awareness. The bee is associated with Griffen for its link to speech and thought as well as the ritual uses of honey. (The Sacred Bee by Hilda Ransome will give all the particulars)

The base of the capitals is an egg-and-dart pattern with a kanji symbol in the center. Molly's character is rou, a root of flesh, a carcass cut open; Griffen's is gua, a root of bone, representing a skull and vertebrae. I chose the egg-and-dart pattern because of the variety of interpretations I have heard of its meaning: life and death, male and female, symbol of Aphrodite (to go with the symbol of Hermes of the top bar) and so on.

The symbols contained in square plaque that begins the shaft of the pillar are very character specific. The dominating center symbol represents their place of origin: Molly is from Korsevei, which means crossroads in Norwegian and Griffen is from Aaleth, an arctic-like planet which has an artificially created green space around the equator named the Ouroboros for obvious reasons. The squares in Molly's represent Earth and the triangles in Griffen's are for fire. The symbol in the top left corner of Molly's is an electrical notation of "ground" which pairs with the on in Griffen's upper right representing "fuse." The symbol in the lower right of Molly's is for salt and Griffen is blocking hers for for sulfur.

The base of the pillars are decorated with the mystical representation of each character's celestial object, interspersed with the stage in the poppy's cycle the best aligns with each; Molly is the Bloom, Griffen is the Seeds.

The Objects

I'll start with the "female" and "male" tools: Molly has the broom for all it's association with protection and controlling influence, Griffen has a distaff as she is the storyteller of the two. Likewise Griffen has a saw given her tongue and Molly the hammer as she is the stabilizer.

Molly's coins at her feet and Griffen's blade are nods to where I feel they are in the classic Tarot categories, thought you'll want to refer to this journal entry as to how I place Swords.

The cat and the crow are the common animals that best represent their respective personalities; is they had familiars, it would be these animals.

Molly and Griffen

First off, I should mention that the color red is their color. As to why, let me refer to my response to Dylan when she asked me on the Dicebox Forum:

I've acknowledged to myself ages ago that Dicebox is, beyond being about Molly and Griffen, a call and response to all the stories I grew up with and ever encountered. So I spent some time exploring certain recurring and dominant themes of classic tales and myths, researching them and forming my own response to them. The hell with Joseph Campbell. You won't see most of this directly addressed within Dicebox--it will be often be even more than subtext, more like 3rd sub-basement text. It's the flavor and my personal unifying force.

Naturally I was going to delve into color symbolism--and this was still when I thought Dicebox was going to end up being black & white. Each Book has been assigned a color as well as other forces. And red is first and foremost blood to me.

I don't think it's any secret that I am interested in female energy and roles in stories, along with other border walkers such as tricksters and the like. Repeatedly, blood is aligned with women and border places. Death, birth, the river surrounding Faerie, blood on the snow, blood in the shoe. And then there's the whole idea of blood as guilt by association. Can't trust a woman 'cause they bleed 3 days a month and don't die of it. (This leads me back to the Southpaws thread--female energy is often associated with the left side, the sinister and dark.) And of course the whole Dicebox-->Peorth-->Womb connection.

And, yes, so far in Dicebox Molly and Griffen have worn some scrap of red, be it shirt, pants trim, knee patch or coat lining. And the red will vary from a maroon to a pink---from dried blood to a blood partially rinsed from a white rag.

Now, all that said, this is a standard I am setting up so I can break it at the appropriate time.

They have their own colors as well, represented by the clothing they are wearing. Griffen has white and yellow, representing air and fire, whereas Molly has yellow and black, for fire and earth.

They are both dressed in idealized versions of the outfits they appear in at the beginning of Dicebox, Griffen being the Victorian fop and Molly the hardy rustic traveller. (side note: Molly's boots are based on those on a statue of a priest and soldier somewhere in New York City, somewhere near Time Square. I can't remember who and haven't found it again on subsequent visits. These were to be the boots she wore throughout Dicebox, but, obviously, I changed my mind.)

Pieces of the same puzzle: the candle and the egg, the lock and the key. These have much more to do with how each keeps their secrets and how the other might discover them.

And, finally, Griffen's mouth is open, where as Molly's is shut, an aspect of this pair that will be elaborated on in the page notes of the very first page of Dicebox.

State of things: May 2006

So here is one of the more boring type of posts that I'll leave open to all, my self-evaluation of where I and Dicebox are at the moment. They probably won't occur too often, they are scheduled for beginning of May and beginning of November. I've chosen those two months for a few reasons, but mainly because these are the months I tend to lift my head up, look around and assess what's what. That's true in just about all aspects of my life, not just art--Kip and I are doing our spring clean and purge this weekend, for example. I imagine it's because May straddles spring and summer and November fall and winter, May is before June, my birth month and November before December, the end of things. (Hm. I guess this might be my Celtic roots showing in Beltane and Samhain.* Eh, I can live with that.) I already did a Private post on May 1st of a laundry list of goals, needs and achievements: such as how many additions I want to make to the cast page by when, where I'm at at filling out the Explication page, reader statistics, etc. This'll actually be more about making actual pages. Also, I'll probably revise and add stuff over the next couple of days.

State of Dicebox as of May 2006

Current page count: 160 (Chap 1: 27; Chap 2: 24; Chap 3: 38; Chap 4: 22; Chap 5: 29; Chap 6: 20...)

I figure I'm about 10 to 20 pages "behind" what with missed and partial updates. I'd like to do a couple of two page updates to ease this, but that won't be able to be even considered until July. I hope to regain at least a one page backlog by then.

Art I'm pretty happy where this is going in terms of quality and execution of mind's-eye intent.

It's been painful going through a learning growth curve for pretty much all of this chapter. Not too much decrease in quality this time out , which is what usually happens when I'm about to jump a level in skill. But everything has been going sooooo slow, especially in the line art, which has forced me to scale way back on background detail a lot more often than I like.

Layout and panel composition has taken a big jump: a couple favorites are the second panel of page 9 and the first panel of page 14. Good sense of space and things in it.

People have commented on the new use of close-ups. I credit most of this on my new practice of doing my roughs at 7.5" x 10" and then scaling those up 130% to 9.75" x 13.125" for the finals. I have a natural range of size I draw faces at (say, .5" to 2.5") and when I did my roughs 1 to 1 with the finals I never pushed the size enough.

Also apparently of note is the line quality this chapter, which I partly credit the oil pencils Clio turned me on to back in October. They seem made for my method of drawing and building line.

Color has been progressing quite nicely. Not only has the Cintiq been speeding things up, but I've come to know when to keep it simple and when to get fancy. I need to do more extreme color play like page 3.

Production speed

Layout and roughs These are taking longer than I thought they did previously. It might be the new attention to layout and that growth curve or I simply misremember or am off rhythm. My feeling are that they should only take two hours if alone and concentrating, complete in an evening of socializing.

Pencils I might be returning to normal speed, but it might be too soon to tell. the last five panels of page 19 took me an evening to do, about 4 hours for eight figures/faces, which seems right.

Colors Getting real damn fast. Page 18 took me only six hours to scan, clean-up, letter and color. A simple page that I'll touch up someday to be sure, but still, very pleasing. That's mostly the Cintiq making the difference there.

There. I'll see where I'm at in November.

*Additionally, Kip has pointed out that this follows the school year, which doesn't really resonate with me per se, I think more September and June have a different set of emotional responses to those. But I can see it's merit, and as I pick up on a mass emotional wave, it could affect or reinforce my responses to May and November.

Wheels within wheels

Here I illustrate the main organizing principals of Dicebox with charts.

These charts sum up the result of my initial work when I returned to working on Dicebox ten years ago this summer. I actually came up with the name Dicebox the day Ella Fitzgerald died on June 15th 1996. Before that, the story of Griffen and Molly existed under a slew of half-hearted names.

The new name spurred me on and I proceeded to begin filling my first source book on what the heck I wanted to do with this story. I began by organizing it around certain events I knew were going to take place and then very quickly came to the idea of four books, already entangled with the four elements, compass points and seasons, though all was very much in flux as to what went where.

That I'd settle on an organizing principal of 4 isn't too surprising as it has the most significant reoccurrence in my life and so is the most compelling to me. Of course one can make just about any number the most significant; one of my favorite parts of Foucault's Pendulum is when Lia calmly explains this to Casaubon.

And though I did a lot of research in finding out the associations of various cultures and belief systems, I was and am most interested in how I, personally, combined these various aspects and why. I even gave in to my lifelong "erroneous" alignment of the tarot suites: aligning wands with air and swords with fire, instead of the vice-versa or "correct" way which just feels wrong to me. I'm okay with this; Rider and Waite are hardly have the first or last word on the tarot and I've seen earlier examples that "support" my way of thinking.*

I'm always pleased when any of my alignments coincide with an existing systems, like the Mayans pairing East with Spring, South with Summer, West with Autumn and North with Winter. Not that any of their other associations sync up with mine.

And what's all this for? Mostly just mental touchstones, something to chew on and launch off of when I need to. I'm not interested in saying "and this is what winter is all about" but seeing what aspects of winter reinforce the mood and flavor of the story of Book 2 (pretty damn well I must say).

The first wheel diagram are the main principals that interest me; I have further associations not listed here: Chlidhood/Adolescence/Adulthood/Maturity, Beggars(Thieves)/Hunters/Soldiers/Pilgrims, Fae/Furies/Gods(Angels)/Ghosts, Dawn/Midday/Twilight/Night and so on. The second is simply the humors, because it amused me, I guess.**

One of the reasons of my earlier post was to find out why I organized the humors around the compass the way I did. Clearly I latched onto the element associations and let all else follow. Which is true for my main wheel as well; I organized the four basic points of sex along with which element I felt it worked best with, not paying attention to wether any particular aspect would be directly aligned with its opposite. But then, I don't really believe in the "opposite sex" so there you go. (And clearly I never bought into the idea on Mother Earth.)

Though I'm mostly interested in the organizing principal of 4, though I always have in mind 5 and 3 as well.

It's easy to get to 5 when one includes self, the center or the inner as well as the four cardinal directions north/south/east/west or front/back/right/left

The 3 planes of existence, hell/earth/heaven, birth/life/death or down/level/up.

This should all explain why the opium poppy is my axis mundi. Or not.

*I'm absolutely not saying that I'm right, they're wrong. Just saying that it doesn't work for me, even after having plenty people explaining to me why it works for them.

**Many posts here will be, "now what the hell did I mean by that?"