NaNoWriMo has begun!

November is National Novel Writer’s Month.  So far, I’ve had two days, both of them weekend days, to compose and I’m already sadly lagging.  I’ve written 2,958 words, and I should be at 3,334 words.  What does that mean for you, dear reader?  Most likely that in the coming weeks I’ll be ridiculously slack about posting things to my blog.  However, as recommended here, I may also begin posting extra-juicy story tidbits for your reading pleasure.  It seems like a reasonable idea…

Anyway, hope your Halloween weekends were grand!  For Gina, here’s a short tidbit:

For Halloween Mabel decided to be a unicorn. We don’t know how she stumbled upon the ridiculous idea. She had no predisposition towards that particular creature – I was the one who had collected them as a little girl. She thought it would be easy I suppose – get a white horn, wear a white outfit, and you’re set. Not thrillingly creative or corny, but fun enough for her. Mabel tended to stick to more traditional costumes anyway.

Of course my childhood interest meant I had read and researched and generally knew much of what there is to know about the mythical beasts, so I was able to ‘help’.

“Did you know that actually unicorns can be made?”

“No, but I really don’t think it’s that relevant to the costume.”

“Well, evidently the ‘horn’ of many animals, such as cows, is really a tooth that turns and grows upwards. If there’s some genetic variation or disease-related reason that one of the teeth doesn’t grow like it’s supposed to – poof, instant unicorn.”

“Where do you think I should look for a horn, anyway? The Garment District? Or would someplace like I Party be better?”

“It happens quite frequently among deer. Maybe it’s an issue of poor nutrition.”

“Really, Sammie, FOCUS. I need assistance.”

I smirked. “You could always just cut the horn off a stuffed toy.”

A sad end.

A body found off the coast of Brazil was recently identified as that of the flying-balloon-man priest, the Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli.

While this ending was expected, with such a long time passing since the man was last heard from,  I still find it sad and slightly depressing.  So instead of lingering on that, I’d like to turn to something more positive, namely, what did we learn from these events?

There are several possible lessons.  Should we learn that balloon take-offs, even with careful preparation, are dangerous? Probably.  Should we refrain therefore from this and other ridiculous practices just due to potential danger?  I should hope not.  This man had a sense of joy, and a sense of responsibility.  I hope that those of us still living would be able to combine both as effectively.

My brain, your brain.

I barely remember the one college Calculus class I was required to take to complete my undergraduate degree.  I could say it’s because I wasn’t really interested in the class – it was only a requirement, not a passion.  I could say it was because i wasn’t applying myself, or because the lecturer who taught it was from Eastern Europe and i missed half of what he said in trying to puzzle out the first half of the words coming out of his mouth.  I could say it was because my first semester of college I barely slept and calc was just another place to rest my head for a few weary minutes.  But the truth is something far more far-reaching – I never saw math as a worthwhile skill.

I have a poet’s soul.  I can listen to a physics professor talk about the wonders of the universe or an inventor talk about his new Idea, or a designer talk about a current project and be totally enthralled.  But I am more enthralled with the words, the person, and the passion they show than the ideas behind them.  I do have my own curiosity and love of learning.  I do still have some interest in the less word-oriented aspects of life.  But to me they remain subject matter, rather than goals in and of themselves.

A part of this preference is probably due to old prejudices.  Language is a female sphere.  Hard sciences are male.  Despite the growing numbers of girl students doing just as well as boys in analytical subjects such as math, there remain underlying preferences that are not necessarily based on ‘natural’ tendencies.

There have always been questions as to whether or not boys are predispositioned or socially conditioned toward certain subject matter.  Obviously boys and girls are biologically different.  Most likely certain parts of our brains either start out different as well, or at least adapt differently due to slightly different bodily functions.  At the same time, there are countless ways in which that brain function is identical, or at least very similar, between a wide variety of individuals.  What then does it mean that most engineers are still men?  What does it mean that I consider myself a nerd, but still feel superior to the science nerd?

If there is a brain difference between girls and boys that makes one or the other less strong in certain sciences, that’s one thing.  There will always be outliers anyway.  But I would guess the difference is more ‘personal preference’ than actual skill.  And if so, are we as a society telling our sons and daughters to value very different skills and even modes of thinking?

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?

The Rights of the Dead.

When someone says ‘dead body’ the resultant thought image could be gristly.  But death is the inevitable fate we all share.  While some types of death are perhaps more unfortunate than others, the end result is the same.  In considering this result, people all over the world have had different responses.  While some of them, such as the ancient Egyptian belief that the soul or ka returns to its bodily housing each night, regard the body as a necessary part of the afterlife, others count the husk immaterial after death.  Those beliefs should be given equal respect, despite the needs of those still living.

Take for example an untimely and suspicious death.  Autopsies are required, investigations must proceed, and the corpse or the soul of the departed might be materially harmed by such invasions according to some belief.  Should the needs of society in this case outweigh the individual’s need?  And what of disagreements on how a person should be buried, even within the remaining family?  Or what of the famous dead?  I doubt Mao wanted to be preserved and stared at for decades, or that Shakespeare wanted people to come stare at the spot in the floor where he was once placed.  But who can speak for the dead but living descendants or the public, and who knows that wishes are being fulfilled?

And yet there are people who seek to reclaim what they can from loss, not only for those left behind, but for the rights of the dead themselves.  Take the work of forensic anthropologists in Peru recently.  A massacre site that may (or may not) contain bodies of Shining Path rebels was uncovered that certainly has bodies of children.  DNA testing is being used to identify which bodies might be from families who escaped complete slaughter.  Those remaining will then have time to grieve, knowing for certain the fate of their lost ones.  But what is most telling for me in this article is fear that they will not be able to identify those whose entire families were killed in the slaughter.  To me, that says these people have rights, even in death: a right to justice, and to have the crimes perpetrated against them known.

It reminds me of Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.  There is a way that people become enveloped in the past that the book illuminates, both against their will and better judgment and as a matter or curiosity or morals or any of the other forces that spurs us to action.  Still, within this work as well there is a sense among several characters of the right of loss, the right of those dead who have no one else to speak for themselves.  It’s haunting, in a way, this ultimate fairness we can’t seem to extend to the people we live next to.

Why I’m not your next pop *STAR*

One of the things I like to do is try new things.  I like a wide variety, which is what led me to strange foods, new places, and whole worlds of fun.  I’ve tried the usual trendy sports – snowboarding, rock climbing, white water rafting – as well as more traditional pastimes – knitting, carpentry, gardening.  Heck, I even tried to learn to play viola, despite my fumble fingers.  And I haven’t broken anything yet.

Part of that drive is why I started my photoblog.  I can take pictures!  I can…write stuff!  It’ll be grrreat!  Unfortunately I’ve been neglecting it recently with all the other stuff I’ve been doing, and I have about 50 pictures I want to upload and wax poetic about.  Alas, it has suffered from the second part of most of my new activities – a dying off of interest.  Like so many things – the computer game I started making in China for my sisters, the still life I was doing to learn how to paint with oils, the novel/ screenplay/ autobiography/ terrifying monster of wonderfulness I was going to write with Gina – it has fallen out of my range of vision.  But I will get back to them all – someday.

My new project of ridiculousness is all Gina’s fault.  We were in the car, and she responded to my dumbness about something-or-other with “you should write a song about that”.  Bad Idea.  Now I’m off on the Gina Song Project, and I will not be deterred.  I will have lyrics, I will have music that actually sounds good, and I will have a video to include (but not limited to: a) unicorns b) dragon books (not actual dragons, just dragon BOOKS, mind you).  I’ve already thought about how to include the unicorns, and I think my book will be called Dragon Heads, because that’s not a real book that I know of and it sounds funny.  I think the video will also need to include a bathroom stall.  And with that, I’ll stop giving away all my good ideas.

So far, I’ve produced the basic structure of the song, but I need some serious work on building up the lyrics with instrumentals.  But I’m learning, along the way.  What I’ve learned so far is that contorting your body like a monkey knot to be closer to the built-in microphone does not improve your singing ability.  I’ve also found that such contortions put odd pressures on your lungs and make it much more difficult to sing in key.  Finally, I’ve learned that however much you love them, steel drums do not go with every song.  The Gina Song Project is going to have to take a step back from the islands and rethink.

I’m Mr. Yosuke Nakamura

What do a veterinary hospital, a policeman trying to be friendly, and the rooftops near Tokyo all have in common?  All of them were involved in returning one lost parrot, Yosuke, to his home.  Similar to Dory Finding Nemo, this particular parrot had learned its name and address through excessive repeating.  His family had actually be training him to talk to strangers and repeat the necessary information for the past two years, in the event he escaped his cage and was lost.  The plan worked successfully, and the smallest Mr. Nakamura is safely back at home in Nagareyama, near Tokyo, after an overnight stay at the veterinary hospital where he announced his name and address.

What was most curious about the situation was the parrot’s refusal to talk to the police, despite his training to speak to ‘anyone willing to help’.  The policeman who first found the bird on the roof of one of the Nakamura’s neighbors, says he tried to be friendly, but that the parrot was unresponsive.  Did the family have some sort of fear of the police?  Had the parrot been watching too many cop shows?  Was he waiting in vain for his lawyer to appear before questioning?  Or is it something more simple?  Did the family train the bird only to respond to people touching it, or only to those who might have had more familiarity with birds?  Could they have trained something into the parrot without realizing it?  An interesting question into the mind and education of birds.