Many travels – Saint Louis

Many thanks to Kate for both hosting me and for taking all the awesome pictures.  Tim gets thanks for hosting too, and Tony gets thanks for driving me to the airport, and Cat gets thanks for just being awesome.

The *new* *improved* attraction of Saint Louis is the City Garden downtown.  Not only does this place have tons of awesome sculptures like the dancy chimes, the rabbits, and the giant-legged starhorse, but it was also chock full of fountains.  Prime fountaining location.  And they actually want you to play in them!

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Bunny!

Bunny!

Bunny again!

Bunny again!

Giant-legged starhorse

Giant-legged starhorse

We also ran off to IL for a gathering with a bunch of Tim’s friends, which was lovely.  There was a nice fire, a delicious hammock, plenty of great people and good conversation, some learning about companion plants, a shrimp boil, and tons of other awesome food to play with.  I did get bitten by mosquitoes quite a bit, and the tent was a bit rough on my ancient bones, but otherwise, a splendid time.  I especially enjoyed playing with my food.

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Finally, on Sunday I was part of the crowd watching True Blood at Cat and Tony’s place.  I had prepared for this, my first-ever viewing, by reading the wikipedia articles and all the online synopses I could find, and filling in my gaps with Kate’s extensive knowledge of the show.  I felt as if I’d seen the whole show from the beginning.  Alas, I had not, a deficiency which Ivy in Portland has decided she will soon correct.  And then I have to read the books.  In my copious spare time.

This concludes my travel section for the summer.  As of now, I am in Portland, settling in, mentally preparing for law school, and generally making a nuisance of myself.  Hooray!

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A Long Memory on Butcher Paper.

There was an article in the news recently about one Frank Calloway: artist, 112 year-old man, and schizophrenic.  While it’s interesting to hear about this man and his history, and to hear the praise of his art, there are other sides of the story that are more important to me.  These do not relate to the nature of his character, which by all accounts is lovely, or to the accuracy and length of his memory, which is substantial and easily seen in his art which exemplifies turn-of-the-century rural life in the south.  More, I wondered what these pictures (obviously serious to this man) on huge sheets of butcher paper might look like.  Here are a few examples that I could find quickly of both the man and his work.

The art itself I’m not sure I would actually qualify as art.  Sure, this guy was entirely self-taught.  Sure, his subject matter is the simple objects and scenes of a bygone age.  There is true worth in that.  Still, I hesitate to cal it ‘art’.  It doesn’t do anything for me.  If it is art, I feel like it’s art that’s not trying – it doesn’t accurately portray a scene, it doesn’t relate to mankind in some way, or convey emotion or an idea.  it doesn’t have a message and doesn’t try to break conventions or perceptions.  To my eyes, it isn’t even attractive.

What does this mean?  Does this mean what this guy is doing is not art?  Is it just a type of art I don’t personally relate to?  Is it just something this guy does that has merit for other reasons?  And who am I, really to judge?  If these works have aesthetic value for any person on earth, does that make them art?

Memory misplaced.

I like to go for long walks.  I like to go for long walks and discover secret things.  Some of the things are secrets of space:  the half-hidden trestle footbridge near the Belmont commuter rail stop, or the rocky and secluded outcrop of pines above a trail at McCormick’s Creek State Park.  Other secret remainders are more portable – the forgotten glove or shoe, a half-inflated dodge ball, the gnarled twists of wood and metal left from an old picnic table or porch swing.  Each secret is a story you will never know the entirety of.  Each place or object is a part of your own secret story, that you choose to disclose or keep hidden from the world.

There can be a sense of loss with these items.  Someone has a lonely glove.  Someone else may have lost the disposable camera that could have kept past memories fresh for them.  Others, with time and change, may lose their favorite space to think, or just to be.  Now however there are internet sites dedicated to the reunification of people and those things they’ve lost.  There’s something unique and inspiring to rediscovering these lost things, even for the discoverer.  Here, at last, is a chance to know a bit about what stories these things might hold.  It is a chance to know a portion of the tale of the lost notebook or the tale of the misplaced monocle.  And it gives the loser the chance to regain some moment of their past, or even possibly some useful part of their current lives.  It is something precious, whether rediscovered or found for the first time.

The three word poem

There is contention (as is typical with art) about what the modern poem should be. When I was an undergrad, a part of my English minor meant I had to attend a number of grad students nad guest speakers read their work. About half of them were poets, and so I heard quite a bit of prose poetry and autobiographical narrative stuff that I didn’t really like. I’m sure most of it I would’ve liked better in a book or on paper. I’m not a highly aural person – I’m much more visible. beside, i feel much of what I like about more modern stuff has to do with the way it looks on the page, rather than how it sounds. I’m not sure if this actually should be the case, but it’s what I’ve mostly been stuck with.

The rise of texting, email, and short ‘n sweet forms of communication should have given rise to a whole new spate of brevity in poems. This should be a new age of rediscovering the haiku and re-crafting it for English in a new way. Why don’t people really use the language and make three word poems? You could write them faster on your cell phone than a novel. They could be funny, they could be commentary, they could be reflective, they could be wise, or raunchy. But mosst of all they would fit a new idea of brevity and force.

There are a number of questions I have regarding the form such poems would take. Would every word have to be over three syllables? or would that defeat the purpose? Would rhyming or some form of rhythmic structure need to be enforced? Would rules of reflection (nouns to the outside, adjective in the middle, or vice versa) be observed? Or would strict SVO construction be the rule?

So many permutations. So many possibilities. Please, give comments/suggestions/first attempts. It is our duty, not to shake our booties, but to recreate the poem. I’ll go first:

earth

heaving

scoria

Or here’s a funny one:

Cheese

Nugget

Flying

‘Gong’ and other Cow-Mooing music soon to be a hit!

As I am an artiste of the literary variety, I have an undying faith in the supremacy of humans in art and creativity.  While some elephants paint pictures and some apes can type stories, I typically relegate this type of artistry to the level of a three-year-old child.  It’s beautiful and wonderful if you love them – otherwise, it’s really so much mess.  As for the sci-fi theories and hallucinations about the eventual dominance of the machine mind, I’ve thought of them as just that – dreams and unrealistic theories.  Being alive at a time when machines have failed to accurately predict even the next days’ weather, I fail to believe in the ability of other machines to predict art, love, popularity, and any number of other things.  They all require an equally broad range of factors taken into account and there are limits, even to machines.

In addition, what happens to personal preference?  We’ve seen the way amazon and other websites have taken advantage of correlations between our preferences and those of others to suggest new things we might like.  We’ve seen the transformation of marketing from a wide audience (a la the 50s) to a specific narrow range of humanity in a specific area of the media or time slot.  We’ve seen models being developed to predict our behavior, but that does not determine our response in every case.  I love fruit, especially raspberries, but hate blueberries.  Corina loves vegetables, but detests peas, which she calls flavorless and squashy.  These things would probably be unpredictable in a general analysis of my eating habits and preferences.

So to the science of predicting new pop favorites and hits is far from perfect.  Though many companies are currently using software like Hit Song Science (HSS) to tweak and predict ratings on albums and songs soon to be released, the software remains imperfect.  One little test had a hit predicted from a song by Gong, some 70s band that included cows lowing.  Yum.  Still, it’s interesting that we’re coming to rely on models like this for marketing and analysis.  On one hand, it may give more power t the customer, if the indicators are accurate.  On the other, does it limit or grow our expression as artists?

Combustible spacecraft.

I like origami.  It’s simple, has clean lines, and builds on the idea that something can come out of nothing – voila, here’s a third dimension.  Also, it probably appeals to my OCD side.  The concept of something being folded and creased EXACTLY in half is somehow soothing.  Plus the paper itself is usually pretty, delicate, and colorful, and therefore attractive to the eye.  And there is a sort of science to it – the idea of space manipulation and the arrangement of the folds are very structured and mathematical.

However, the idea of origami masters teaming up with scientists and professors in Japan to launch a paper airplane from space for re-entry into the atmosphere seems a bit weird to me.  True, the Japanese are scientific enough to conduct a variety of heat and wind tests on their model paper plane, and due to the lightness of the paper plane, do not expect them to build up enough friction to burn up upon re-entry.  However, I still have some trouble as to how this concept will be helpful with other re-entry vehicles.   Will designs be more paper-airplane-shaped?  Will they do additional launches in which paper will play a role in bringing goods back down to the surface?

My recommendation – send a hot dog down inside the paper airplane.  I’m sure the resulting scorchy dog will be very scientific and revolutionize  the way we think about re-entry and the upper atmosphere.

Easter

It seems that the Lenten season for me has been an altogether odd time. I’ve withdrawn somewhat from church activities and found it increasingly hard to get input and help from the 20s/30s group I’m supposed to be moderating. Also, the continuation of cold, bad weather have made me less eager to go outside, despite the lengthening of the days. Perhaps I’m on my own little time apart in the wilderness, but it seems that Lent should be a season of getting closer to God, and I feel I’ve failed that in isolation as well.

But there are still touches of grace and contemplation. At a recent classical concert I attended, I realized how much beauty there has been in the name of religion. Looking at the Western world, I see music, painting, and architecture all developed for the glory of religion. I think about Eastern thought, developed alongside religious practice. I think about the way politics and religion have mixed, both for the betterment (Mother Theresa) and the detriment (the Crusades) of mankind. True, these things probably could have happened even without religion, but it’s uplifting to think something I like spurred those good parts. At that same concert, I found out that Mike didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘hosanna’, which I translated as meaning ‘praise’, or something similar. I was not all that sure about a concrete definition myself, so I decided to look it up, and it does mean praise or acclamation.

Also the concert reminded me about what I know and love about my home church.  I miss the Christmas Eve services with the sactuary lit only by the light of a thousand tiny small candles.  I love the symbolism of taking those tiny lights back with us into our lives – I never want to blow mine out.  Next week I will once again miss our congregation ending the service by singing the Hallelujah Chorus.  The thought of all those voices lifted in song, a powerful wave of sound and togetherness, moves me.  While it’s true that some of us sing better than others, the general cacophony does serve to blur out the flaws any individual voices might have.  Mostly we’re on-pitch anyway – I’ve heard the musical rending that is Chinese church, and I’m not afraid to renew my amazement at our combined voices in the face of that.  Despite our individual shortcomings, for moments like that chorus on Easter Sunday we are all of us beautiful.

But in the end I’m left with nagging worry. Are these little moments enough? Is my life singing to God or with God, or am I just going through the motions? A part of that is guilt I feel from shirking responsibilities that are becoming onerous, but a part of it runs deeper as well. I never want to be the type of Christian who goes to church, gives some money, and thinks that’s enough. I want to learn. I grow. I want to never stop questioning my life and really dig into what it means. I want to feel filled up in faith, and a part of that means continually losing and then reaffirming my relationship with God. Without some of that slipping, there’s no contrast to tell me where I stand. Still, the times in my life like this one when I’m not exactly where I want to be still leave me feeling shaky and unstable in myself.

The ‘International Language’

Some people may think the only international language is love.   Wrongo, punks.  What kind of person loves someone they can’t even talk to?

Nope, the real international language is art.  Some of it is international because without words it expresses a deeply held belief or invokes a powerful emotion.  Some of it is international because it has value and meaning to a wide variety of cultures and countries around the globe, even if that meaning is not exactly the same everywhere.  Some of it is international because no one really understands it, in any country.  Regardless, art serves to connect us, whether through response to it, esteem for it, or rejection of it.

A more specific  example can be seen here, relating to the specific art of classical music.  Now, whether or not you are a fan of classical music (or of the NY Philharmonic), the idea of a symphony being a bridge between two very different and often opposed cultures is inspiring to me.  it reminds me of that famous World War Christmas, when both sides stopped fighting and just sang carols back and forth in their disparate languages.  There is a respite, a gift, and a connection we share in music that has power and deep meaning, something of significance that I hope we can learn to develop.

There are studies that show calming effects due to music, and it is also thought to improve brain function in the elderly by stretching parts of the brain that are not typically or as frequently exercised. There has even been some success in the area of music therapy and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Finally, this article paints an even more hopeful picture of the relationship between sound and better health.  Too bad I didn’t see this long one first.

Though it seems like similar types of music are processed by various people in similar ways, musical taste remains a hallmark of individual personality.  Why is this?  Is preference in some way linked to who we are, or who we want to be?  Does the emotion/memory/endorphin rush sparked by music look the same, or mostly the same, in all of us?  Or is some part of that response to music colored by our own preferences, or tastes?  Could music, over time, affect who we are, and if so, does it provide some evidence to a true ‘generation gap’ due to what type of music is popular in our culture at a given time?

A little more music.

It seems that once I get going on a topic, I just can’t stop.  So I was pondering music a bit more today, especially about the typing of songs.  All genres of music seem to have a few things in common that are almost archetypal.  There is a certain type of song that I can’t quite define – longer, more melodious perhaps, with longer note lengths and a slower beat – that seems more reflective and/or sad.  This can be true of any music genre – pop, country, folk, indie, R&B.  Even rap is more reflective and sometimes sad when it’s slower and more ponderous.  Even Chinese Opera is.  Why is that?  Why is a song with words I can’t even understand, or a song with no words at all, automatically interpreted as mournful or pensive by my brain?  What are those little wirings and firings in our head or genetics that get us all to think and feel these same things?  And how did they come about?

I get on a similar kick about language.  There are obvious parts, like onomatopoeia where a word sounds like the noise it is representing, that make sense.  But most words we use are strictly arbitrary.  Why is tree called ‘tree’ instead of ‘bush’?  In this case the words are strictly based on how you were brought up, what you heard as a child.  Still, isn’t it interesting that despite these early categories and distinctions we learn to make, there are universal constants in music and perhaps in other arts that transcend them?