Category Archives: Looking forward

Space to William Hazlitt

Essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830) observes in “On Going on a Journey” that “the world in our conceit of it is not much bigger than a nutshell…the mind can form no larger idea of space than the eye can take in at a single glance. The rest is a name written in a map, a calculation of arithmetic. For instance, what is the true signification of that immense mass of territory and population known by the name of China to us? An inch of pasteboard on a wooden globe…”

Hazlitt makes the case for several sorts of journeys; if you are headed for a long walk in your own country, go alone, because those who know you will spoil the change of scenery by bringing up the very topics of life you need to escape; when you wander into a new town and meet a stranger, that person is a nonjudgemental part of the scenery who comes to you without preconceptions. But headed to a foreign country, he advises us to take a close friend with whom we can find close relief from the pressures of immersion in everything strange. He closes saying that he wish to have a life of travel abroad, but also want another whole life to spend at home.

Hazlitt would have loved, I think, listening to This American Life’s episode about ex-pat American Kaiser Kuo and others who have lived in China for long periods. Hazlitt would probably begin by being amused at how much we can know about one another today, yet how little we thoroughly process how that information should inform how we view and interact with one another.

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Filed under Inkwells, Looking forward, Technology

Writing: Dead or Alive?

Traditional public school education, in my opinion, has communicated that writing has more value than spoken communication or other forms of literacy, visual literacy in particular. While it is understandable that writing skills have been emphasized in school as far as devoting time to teaching the skills involved in writing, that emphasis has somehow de-emphasized both spoken and visual literacy, literary forms that, in my experience, are more intuitive to human beings. Therefore, in my on-going recent study of visual literacy, I was surprised to read the following statement in Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller:

The Western philosophical tradition has denigrated writing as an inferior copy of the spoken word. Speech draws on interior consciousness, but writing it dead and abstract. (4)

My experience has been that ideas only recorded in speech were considered fleeting, ephemeral, more trivial, than ideas – consciousness – preserved in writing. The reasons this is an important distinction are myriad, but one outstanding reason is that if speech alone draws on inner consciousness in ways that are more alive than writing, speech should be far more considered and less spontaneous.

A discussion of whether speech or writing is more alive is a tangent at best. My real pursuit of study and understanding recently has been the ongoing need to develop critical awareness of how visual symbols are composed. The way they are composed infuses symbolism and structure that allow images to have particularly powerful impact on viewers. To “read” images, viewers need training to recognize the embedded symbols. Thus images and text both live every time someone looks at them – they have the same life in the present as speech.

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Filed under Classic, Looking forward

How I Celebrated International Women’s Day: Voting, Working, Researching, Blogging

I thought my day today was ordinary. Routine. Nothing special. Unfortunately, it was revolutionary.

This morning at 7 a.m., I voted in our town elections for budget issues for the town and for the school district.

I proceeded to work, where I have a contract that guarantees me equal pay for equal work.

I,  freely and without restrictions or restraints, researched information online for and with colleagues in the US and abroad.

Together, my husband and I cooked and ate a meal.

I called my parents and chatted a little politics and a lot of news of family and friends.

I fired up my own laptop and wrote this blog.

Not actively thankful for any of it, until I clicked again, for the second time today on the Google doodle.

Then I remembered. As I had puzzled over a piece of writing at work this morning, I had clicked on the Google doodle, which is how I learned it is International Women’s Day. Using the events drop-down menu, I learned that Boston, the nearest major city to my home, had no events listed on the site. I did find somewhere that someone said it was started in the early 1900’s to honor women killed in a factory fire in New York, but Wikipedia puts IWD squarely in the socialist camp, calling the New York story “apocraphyl.” I decided the idea of acknowledging gifted women is great, and recognizing women for more than being mothers (Mother’s Day) or lovers and friends (Valentines’ Day) is useful idea. And I moved on.

I had clearly missed the point.

So many women on the planet today would have been thrilled to do any of the mundane things I did: vote, or work or find information freely or share household tasks equally and happily with a partner. This is life as it should be. To the men who hold women’s rights or status hostage in one way or another, anywhere for any reason, you have nothing to be afraid of. If justice or love does not motivate you to loosen up, try this. Your own life will only be truly good when you share your world equally with the women in it.

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Filed under Looking forward

Bad Art or Bad Fashion? Fireflies are your media?

Struggling with writing your very own bad poetry? Painting got you down? There may be a day when someone else will come to admire your work. But in case you wonder how bad it needs to be to be truly bad, read on. Rest assured, though, that if you make jewelry out of live fireflies and broken glass, you are in.

The criteria NPR says that a judge once applied to obscenity is that you know it when you see it, and the same thing applies to bad art. However, in their story about MOBA, the Museum of Bad Art, NPR staff quote Michael Frank, the head of the museum, who manages to get a working definition:

“What we look for are pieces of work that are produced in an attempt to make some sort of artistic statement — but clearly something has gone wrong. There has to be something about it that makes you stop, and very often wonder why the artist continued down the path to produce what he or she did.”

Since the veritable chain of MOBA installations is in nearby Massachusetts, I put them on my to visit short list. But I couldn’t resist checking to see if there other halls of fame to being totally bad. Lo and behold! The Bad Fads (who sort of cheat, since they include some fads that are not really bad (Frisbees) and admit that “bad” can mean “good” if you are in the right generation) and 10 weird museums offered by the Daily Mail, especially if you are into parasites or funeral carriages.

The best part of my quest to verify the fascination with the bad turned up this piece of evidence that that fascination is not at all new. When I read the dateline, I did a double -take:

By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.  March 14, 1909, Sunday

Museum of Bad Taste; Horrible Examples in Art to be Shown at Stuttgart

The Stuttgart museum was to collect items that departed from good taste, “fresh freaks” that dared “improper use of materials, offense against construction ideals, and anomaly decorative effects.”  I had to find out. What were these materials? Did the museum still exist? How offensive could one be with improper materials engaged in decorative anomalies? Can you say rodent on a skateboard?

Thankfully, Gustav E. Pazaurek has put order and articulation by clearly defining bad taste. Spoiled materials are definitely bad, as are live insects and apparently using them to imitate something else is absolutely off the table. Yet, while “functional lies” are sins, for sure, I have to disagree with this rule: “Obtrusive, abnormal shapes and proportions that detract from the clarity and familiarity of a traditional, functional form. ” To show why this is a rule meant to be broken, take a look at Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man, I. Giacometti’s tall, gaunt man with his slightly tired stride communicates a spiritual search, one that is often solved by breaking the rules.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Looking forward

Planning in the face of risk

A local woman running for election told me she had worked on many campaigns, but when it came time to canvas for herself, it seemed much harder. People who answered the doors asked, “What are you going to do ?”

Candidates have to believe in themselves to the degree that they plan as if they know they are going to win. It is the same confidence professional athletes, elite doctors, and other accomplished people have that allows them to have the steel to weather the vetting process that precedes victory.

When I look at http://change.gov/ I know that this was not thrown together the day after the election. In the face of stiff competition, President-Elect Barak Obama continued to encourage us to campaign, which somewhere, someone was tooling away at this website. This shows that, win or lose, he had the vision, the confidence, the willingess to do what it takes to succeed during a time when the rest of us dared not think beyond election day. It is the why the rest of us could say, “Yes, we can.”

Log on. Participate.

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Filed under Looking forward

Choose your relevant search results or let the machine do it?

Every time Beth tagged a great link for me on del.icio.us I wanted to thank her or comment. That thought hung around my head for a while, until I found diigo.com through a twitter.com post. I installed the diigo toolbar, but since I only have one other person using it with me so far, it isn’t as much fun as I had hoped. I imagined that the knowledge benefit from social networking with bookmarks would grow exponentially with the extra capabilities of notes and highlighting that diigo offers.

Then Beth sent me lumifi.com, which alleges that it reads the results for me and selects the relevant parts. This is the part that has me concerned. Do I really want to let this thing do my research for me? How much will it cull out or leave in? Sorting through piles of results means man is required to think. Sorting through piles of results often tempts me down paths of distraction. I am concerned but will investigate.

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Filed under Classic, Just thinking, Looking forward, Tools of the Trade

Public Libraries Must Live

Take a look at a fascinating slide show that shows both old grand libraries and new grand libraries. I love them all. The show poses the question of what libraries should look like now as Washington DC struggles with a decision about what to do about a fairly modern building whose design doesn’t work well in the digital age.

As I thought about the slide show and the interesting comments by each slide, I formed several opinions:

  • It is good to have a monument to knowledge in our cities.
  • These monuments should not intimidate people, but welcome them.
  • They should become gathering places even more than they are now, hosting perhaps spontaneous groups of citizens who get together to do, say, an MIT Opencourseware course together – libraries could become spontaneous universities!
  • Writers groups should have homes in libraries.
  • Places for quiet reflection should be a mainstay of libraries.

If libraries cultivate the social side of learning, they will have a market beyond the year 2019, the date of their predicted demise. Investing in a place for specifically intellectual exchange will remind us to stay civilized.

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Filed under Environment, Looking forward, Technology