"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. " ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, April 28, 2017

Notes Toward a Heroine of Sensibility

"The whole of anything is never told;
you can only take what groups together."

The Notebooks of Henry James

A couple of things happened over the weekend:

First, I had a note from the niece of my dear friend and literary colleague, Celine Carrigan, marking the 20th - year memorial of her passing. Twenty years . . . without Celine . . . it will never seem right.

Second, I had a call from my friend Sandy S - K asking me, on behalf of her studious daughter Rachel, how I used to prepare for my big exams. What came to mind was my typical strategy, suggested by Henry James (above) of taking "what groups together."

In fact, I remember applying that particular strategy when getting ready, with assistance from Celine, for a presentation on "The Heroine of Sensibility" (one of her specialties) -- and I still have those notes! So I pulled them to take a look and see what I had learned and hopefully retained from that study session.

Thus, I begin this post with a shout - out of "Congratulations!" to Rachel on the completion of her M.A. in English / Writing. And I dedicate these musings to the memory of Celine's scholarship and pedagogy. She was a gentlewoman and a scholar, a beloved teacher and a true friend, and a heroine of sensibility in her own right.

~ Heart - shaped ornaments ~ a gift from Celine ~

From the 18th Century through the present day, the heroine of sensibility has animated the British and American novel with spirited introspection and vibrant discourse. Despite lack or loss of legitimate authority in her life, her will is always strong enough to initiate a natural regrouping, restoring order and continuity. She strives for autonomy, self - determination, and a life not entirely bound by acquiescence. Modernist Carolyn Heilbrun suggests a more appropriate designation: "The Woman as Hero."

Such a character believes herself sufficiently in control of the situation at hand; she develops a sense of her own identity as she contemplates and searches for destiny. As with any male hero, the woman as hero struggles with the tension "between her apparent freedom and her actual relegation to a constrained destiny."

All you have to do is google "sensibility," and Jane Austen is all over the place. In chronological order here are a few additional authors and novels that capture the characters and the concepts:

Samuel Richardson / Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740)
My thoughts: Her focus finally shifts from the wickedness around her to a matter of confusion within her soul. She identifies herself as "an enemy she never thought of before." She names her own mind as the power with which she must struggle. Pamela holds out for being treated as a social and economic equal, for unrestricted, unclassed treatment as a human being.

Samuel Richardson / Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (1748)
"Steadily she [Clarissa Harlowe] has refused the marriage he offers: she cannot marry without love, cannot love without honour, and cannot honour the man who, by every action, has ruined his (not her own) honour in her eyes" (Elizabeth Bowen, from English Novelists, 1942). Clarissa transcends the limits set by the novel's world.

Henry Fielding / The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, 1749
" 'Love,' says Squire Allworthy, 'however much we may corrupt and pervert its meaning . . . remains a rational passion' " (21).

Charlotte Bronte / Jane Eyre (1847)
"But Jane, like Clarissa Harlowe, still identifies virtue with the power to keep her fate in her own hands" (Elizabeth Bowen, from English Novelists, 1942).

"As Celine Carrigan notes . . . Charlotte Bronte's heroines, unlike their creator are generally 'free from the burden of imposed responsibility' (214, "Versions of the Governess: Narrative Patterns in Ellen Weeton, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charlotte Bronte." Diss. U of Notre Dame, 1988). They work to support themselves, but do not have others dependent upon them; rather, they assert her belief that work in itself is respectable and healthy for women" (Christine Doyle in Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Bronte: Transatlantic Translations, 140).

from Jane Eyre, Chapter 2: "How is he my master? Am I a servant?"

" 'Unjust! -- unjust!' said my reason."

Jane resolves to achieve escape from insupportable oppression.

Chapter 10: " . . . my experience had been of its rules and systems; now I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils."

Emily Bronte / Wuthering Heights (1847)
"The love in it is relentless, as pure of hope as it is of fliesh. . . . here is the real English dark tower of passion above rationality. Wuthering Heights bears no definite feminine stamp -- though perhaps only a woman could have liberated her spirit so completely" (Elizabeth Bowen, from English Novelists, 1942).

Henry James / Portrait of a Lady (1881)
My favorite thing about Isabel Archer: when she says, "I feel very old." And Ralph responds, "You'll grow very young again. . . ." (Chapter 54, p 471).

James gives Isabel traits of himself and of his beloved cousin Minny Temple, who died young of tuberculosis and of whom he said: "She would have given anything to live."

Created late in the 19th Century, Isabel is a modern heroine of sensibility: honest, imaginative, innocent, intelligent, philosophical, presumptuous, reflective, soul - searching -- so many admirable traits! Even so, it is a struggle to order her own life and control her own destiny without being "ground in the very mill of the conventional." Thinking over the ways in which fate and friends have let her down, Isabel suspects that "she might have been a woman more blest."

E. M. Forster / Howards End (1910):
Of course, I have invoked Forster many times over on this blog for his iconic phrase "Only connect! (See Mission Statement, Commonplace Book, King & Queen, Handful of Dust, RedBear.)

Taking a closer look at the hero of Howards End: Margaret Schlegel begins the novel with an awareness of herself, her sexuality, and her lack of inheritance; by the end, she inherits from Mrs. Wilcox a sense of England and a sense of reality that allows her to pass the inheritance on.

Helen to Margaret: "But you picked up the pieces, and made us a home. Can't it strike you -- even for a moment -- that your life has been heroic?" (222 - 23).

E. M. Forster / A Passage to India (1924)
My favorite thing about Adela Quested: "She loved plans" (147). She speaks the truth, makes decisions, alienates everyone, shakes the world, and makes a fool of herself in the cause of justice. Unlike other characters in the novel, she is capable of public heroism. She finds her function beyond the range of her womanhood. As a heroine of sensibility, her innate quest is not necessarily bound by a desire for romance and children. [Likewise Miles Franklin's heroine Sybylla Melvyn in her 1901 novel My Brilliant Career. In the movies, both Adela and Sybylla are portrayed brilliantly by Judy Davis.]

Doris Lessing / The Golden Notebook (1962)
Anna thinks,"That will be my epitaph. Here lies Anna Wulf, who was always too intelligent." Anna and her friend Molly are "free women," but their emotional structure is incompatible with the fragmentation of real life: " . . . the point is, that as far as I can see, everything's cracking up" and our strongest emotions are irrelevant to the time we live in. Despite her notebooks, Anna fears that her words "have no connection with anything I feel to be true" and suffers from a lack of conviction and faith in her own significance. As a heroine of sensibility, Anna wonders "What anonymous whole am I part of?" Furthermore, she is willing to pay the price of seeing whole, including anxiety, exhaustion, and responsibility: "The world would never get itself understood, be ordered by words, be 'named,' unless [she] remained a woman who was able to be responsible" (651). [Likewise Margaret Drabble's character Alison in The Ice Age who must endure for the sake of her daughters.]

Though possessed of many gifts and talents, the heroine of sensibility still makes mistakes; in fact her very self - honesty and introspection sometimes lead her into inevitable error. The woman as hero is not always able to please herself, nor does she escape her share of the world's burdens. Yet her path is made more interesting to herself and to the reader because she consults her feelings and acts from the highest dictates of her intelligence.

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, May 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Friday, April 14, 2017

Prepare Ye the Way

Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 2013
By Kehinde Wiley ~ American painter ~ b 1977

Contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley takes a new look at old classics:
"Wiley frequently engages in gender swapping of roles
for his models -- one example is St. John the Baptist
who is recast as a beautiful young black woman."
Seattle Art Museum

A more conventional rendering of the same subject:
Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1660-70)
Probably by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 - 1682)

See More
Biblically Themed Figures
William Morris - Like Designs

My friend Nancy and I were lucky enough to see the exhibit Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic when it was in Seattle a year ago. We admired Wiley's vision of dislocation and relocation, his imaginative subjects, brilliant use of light, and vivid colors. His vibrant re -imagined John the Baptist (above) expands the gospel and prepares the way for a more inclusive future. For the most part, however, we felt more curious than surprised by the juxtaposition of Old World and New Age.

Nancy said, "I think the reason his new compositions of an old tradition didn't shock me is that I never made any personal connection to the originals. I had no imagination for them. They were too rich, from too long ago, too male -- so I never identified in any deep level with the people in the portraits."

I knew exactly what Nancy meant about the remoteness of the entitled figures that Wiley was updating and re - thinking. The formal gentlemen, with swords or on horseback? Whatever life they may have lived in the 18th or 19th century, it was never one that made us think, "Oh if only that had been me!" Or the wealthy, stuffy ladies? Had we ever donned a punishing corset and sat for a portrait with our bosom pushed high and our hair piled atop our heads and studded with jewels? No, that had never been us.

More likely, we were villagers, farmers, or gleaners; women working at a counter, sitting in a cafe, or tending a child. The Wiley exhibit reminded Nancy of some consciousness - raising images from her postcard collection. She wrote" I collected them when a child, and have a tall stack. This one is from some unknown source along the way. It does make me think, 'That could be me! Or my baby in the cotton.' I have been wanting to share them with you for some years now. Finally remembered."

~ Thanks Nancy! ~

~ At the Museum ~
"In the room the women come and go.
Talking of Michelangelo."

T. S. Eliot

Barkley L. Hendricks, Portraitist of a New Black Pride ~ visuals

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, April 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Melancholy and / or Properly Tormented

The Last Full Moon of Winter

Beautiful image
lunar melancholia
framed in leafless twigs

~ Haiku by Burnetta & Kitti

From The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)
By Oxford Scholar Robert Burton (1577 –1640)
"Melancholy, the subject of our present discourse, is either in disposition or in habit. In disposition, is that transitory Melancholy which goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish, dulness, heaviness and vexation of spirit, any ways opposite to pleasure, mirth, joy, delight, causing forwardness in us, or a dislike. In which equivocal and improper sense, we call him melancholy, that is dull, sad, sour, lumpish, ill-disposed, solitary, any way moved, or displeased. And from these melancholy dispositions no man living is free, no Stoick, none so wise, none so happy, none so patient, so generous, so godly, so divine, that can vindicate himself; so well-composed, but more or less, some time or other, he feels the smart of it. Melancholy in this sense is the character of Mortality... This Melancholy of which we are to treat, is a habit, a serious ailment, a settled humour, as Aurelianus and others call it, not errant, but fixed: and as it was long increasing, so, now being (pleasant or painful) grown to a habit, it will hardly be removed."

There are many artistic depictions of Melancholy
to choose from, but I'm going with this one . . .

Melancholy, 1894

. . . because coincidentally, I saw this one recently in Chicago and
was drawn to the solitary girl, as she herself is drawn to the moon.

The Girl By the Window, 1893

~ both by Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944) ~

Without seeing the girl's face, it is hard to know just how sad she is, or if she is even sad at all. However, if she happens to be melancholy, that's okay. As contemporary American writer Laren Stover wonders in her article, "The Case for Melancholy": "Whatever happened to experiencing the grace of deeply tinted blue moods, which require reflection and mental steeping, like tea?"

Stover traces the role of melancholy from Burton's Anatomy (above) to Keats's 19th Century expression of "the wakeful anguish of the soul" to a sampling of contemporary movies, including one of my favorites, the animated Inside Out, in which Melancholy is not just a concept but an actual / virtual character. Stover's article concludes as mine begins -- with a melancholy moon; and as Munch's girl in the white nightdress silently conveys to the viewer: "I want moonlight."

When my friend Vickie shared Stover's article on facebook, I was intrigued by the subsequent comments. Not only is Vickie an academic expert on the topic of melancholy, but she also offered her personal perspective: "This has been my natural humour my entire life. No getting around it, and I'm tired of trying and pretending."

Other friends responded similarly:

Billy Lord: You are loved, dear one, just as you are . . .

Patrick O'Brien: Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy -- Yes! Not a bad little read. Studies have shown we have a base level of happiness (or melancholy) that we return to despite external events. After the initial euphoria, lottery winners quickly settle back to their base level. And accident victims; paraplegics, etc., rebound to their previous level.

Sir-Igor Steinman: Certainly not "blue" as in "blue laws." I always did detect a "slight" limp. I had always assumed it was the weight of the crown, not a rebound from an accident.

Steve Stajich: All kidding aside, I think we must accept wider parameters of human mood or we're doomed to be either up or down, with outsiders attempting to adjust our down cycles into "productivity." See Soma in Brave New World. Jazz singers, for example. We love their art, but do we want to medicate them so that all they can sing is "Happy" or Christmas tunes? Gestalt theory might say, "Ask a squirrel if he feels funky today." Most critters on this planet don't even struggle with mood. [See my post "SSRI's & Walking Upright."]

My contribution was to pass on the advice that a counselor once wisely told me: "You're a writer; you're supposed to be sad." Not to mention a couple of my Modern British professors at Notre Dame: one who reminded us every semester that we were called upon as students of literature to be "properly tormented human beings," and the other who lectured regularly on "the ache of modernism" -- an ailment from which we all suffered.

What, after all, is a writer's life without a dose of despair?
from Dear Committee Members (p 68)
by Julie Schumacher

“The world is a hellish place, and bad writing
is destroying the quality of our suffering.”

Tom Waits

“I drank to drown my sorrows,
but the damned things learned how to swim.”

Frida Kahlo

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
David Bowie

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?
Holly: No. The blues are because you're getting fat, and maybe it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid, and you don't know what you're afraid of.
Do you ever get that feeling?

from the screenplay ~ Breakfast at Tiffany's
based on the novel by Truman Capote

After thirty, a man wakes up sad every morning,
excepting perhaps five or six, until the day of his death

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I never wake without finding life a more
insignificant thing than it was the day before.

Jonathan Swift

"Life is only on Earth. And not for long."
from the psycho - science - fiction movie Melancholia

So, it seems that no matter the century or decade, whether you're young or old, whether it's a "Melancholy Moon" or a "Melancholy Baby," from cradle to grave, in order to be a properly tormented human being . . .

"You've got to win a little, lose a little,
always have the blues a little. . . . "

Haiku by Basho
Gravestone at Cedar Grove Cemetery
University of Notre Dame

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, April 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ "Always Have the Blues a Little"
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ides of Whatever

Posting a day late in honor of the time - honored
historic and historical Ides of March.

I came across this mysteriously annotated sugar packet when cleaning out my backpack the other day. How can I explain it? I searched my mind but drew a blank. It seems that once again I've written a note to myself yet completely forgotten what it was that I intended to remember. I can only assume that at some point in my travels, a stray thought crossed my mind -- something about "The Present" -- and, having a pen in hand but no paper, I jotted down a note to myself on the nearest portable surface -- thank goodness for the ubiquity of sugar packets!

It wouldn't be the first time! A friend of mine at Notre Dame asked me once how I could write down so little, and I assured her that I would retain what I needed to know. She couldn't believe that sometimes I didn't even have a notebook, and she liked to say that if I suddenly needed to write something down, I would just reach back and tear the label from my tee - shirt and jot down a word or two for future reference. I never really did that, but I liked that story!

Alas, despite my best intentions, I am unable to interpret the sugar packet message, sent by my very own self from the past into the future, never to be understood in the present. I am not alone, however; Joan Didion's journal entry -- "dinner with E, depressed" -- suffers the same indecipherable fate:

Who is E?
Was this "E" depressed,
or was I depressed?

Maybe one day my sugar packet message will reveal itself to me. Was I thinking of a gift for someone -- a present to purchase, wrap, send, or bring to a party? Was it perhaps a self - actualizing reminder to stay focused on the time at hand, to live in the present moment. One thing I know for sure, I will never solve this riddle by staring at the sugar packet, so I think it is about time to move on to some poetry about time.

So often we are impatient for time to pass. Years ago, in a book from childhood, I read a story that warned against such impatience. I have lost all the details -- title, author, plot; yet one scene has stayed with me, though I can no longer recall the names of the characters: the grandchildren are piled into a one - horse open sleigh, riding over the river and through the wood with their grandfather. Excited for their destination, they start wishing they were already there, but the grandfather warns: "You must never wish the time away!" How often that line has come back to me!

Even so, we sometimes wish for the time to fly. The Here and Now can drive us a little crazy -- making us tense, so to speak! It might be that you are not really into the Ides of March, or the Ides of He Who Must Not Be Named, or the Ides of Whatever. Maybe March just isn't your favorite month, as was certainly the case for one of my favorite Philadelphia columnists Karen Heller (now of the Washington Post). In her humorous essay "Nine days to go," she gloomily describes the final days of February:
You must not fight February but embrace it like the cold, wet, aging testy, mangy, drooling gray mutt that it is. February is here to make us appreciate May . . . How can you love May when you haven't Februaryed in grand style? And so we wallow and we wait knowing that only this month could deliver a comeback, a punchline, a headache as nasty and wicked and ugly as February.
~ from the Philadelphia Inquirer, mid 1990s
Poet Leonard Orr shares the negative sentiment, suggesting "daychotomies" or "weekectomies" to get through the offending times, going so far as to eliminate entirely The Month That Must Not Be Named. Even the title offers some alternatives to the Present Tense:
Past Tense, Future Tense
My naive calendar has so much sadness now
I could not stand it. Little did I know,
little did I know. I snipped away the foul days.
I completely excised whatever was that
month after February, its name I will not mention.
If it comes up accidentally, I drown it out
with whirling greigers and stamping feet.
turned out far better, though individual days
when we could not be together, these I carefully
snipped away, performing daychotomies,
weekectomies, and sutured the ragged sad edges
together, wetting the wounds as needed
with my abundant fluids, all my excess. I expanded
those few times we were together, those dates
receiving hour - augmentations; I botoxed my tongue,
the tips of my fingers, to seal inside me those
recollections of you, the spectacular aerie,
the tiny bits of time, ticking, always ticking.
May and the first days of June, little did I konw,
little did I know, so wonderful and blissful,
joyful in my last days, my running out of sand,
and now these blanks of time, soggy, unprinted
months with no days, no light, no passionate glowing.

(emphasis added)
~ Leonard Orr ~
from his collection Why We Have Evening

Political Post Script for
The Ides of Trump

My postcard messasges:
1. Stop Gerrymandering
2. Protect Planned Parenthood & Roe v. Wade
3. Don't Build the Wall
4. Remember the traditional motto of our country:
E Pluribus Unum
5. Honor the Statue of Liberty:
"Give me your tired your poor . . . the homeless . . .
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, March 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Work, Play, Wordplay

As Far As the I Can Sea

For cruise reading earlier this month, I took along Lolita, which has been on my "to read" list for 40 years or so. After the first few pages of Humbert Humbert's clever alliterative word sequences, I thought back to the time when I set out to write a paper about Work, Play, and Wordplay in the short story "Araby." I never tire of re - reading this story of illusion and disillusion:
"The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens . . .

"I answered few questions in class. I watched my master's face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play. . . .

"My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the old saying: 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.' "

James Joyce ~"Araby" ~ Dubliners ~ 1914
"The career of our play" -- there is just something so pleasing about that phrase and the use of "career" to mean a crazy path -- not a life - work trajectory. Even though I know that Joyce meant play, I still thought of work -- as does the boy's uncle. After all, the narrator of "Araby" is a very serious boy, earnest and task - oriented, who merges work and play. He is not looking for fun at the bazaar, he is on a quest.

Likewise, I know the boys in the story were rushing headlong around the neighborhood -- careering. But perhaps they were also tilting and veering -- careening. Work Play Career Careen. How enmeshed are these linguistic connections? Word Detective explains the etymology:
Although “careen” and “career” as verbs are often used interchangeably today, they are, in fact, quite separate words. Strictly speaking, “careen” [Latin root = “carina" = “keel of a ship”] means “to lean over, to tilt,” while “career” [Latin root = “carrus” = “wheeled vehicle”] as a verb means “to rush at full speed” (with implications of recklessness). . . .

“Career” as a verb meaning “to move at full speed” is actually the same word as the noun “career” meaning “profession or course of employment or activity.” . . .

Interestingly, “careen” and “career” began to be used interchangeably only in the early 20th century, just about the time people noticed that a motor car rounding a curve at high speed (“careering”) tended to tilt quite a bit (“careening”). Purists still draw a distinction between the two words, but it’s really a losing battle at this point.
At long last I realize what would have saved the day for my rejected paper proposal -- having read Lolita 35 years ago instead of waiting until now! If only I had done so, I could have bolstered my argument with numerous examples from Nabokov, the Master of Wordplay! Some of my favorites:
43: "Monsieur Poe - poe," as that boy . . . called the poet - poet

43, 81: a swim in Our Glass Lake . . . Hourglass Lake -- not as I had thought it was spelled

50: she denies those amusing rumors, rumor, roomer

53: Haze, Dolores . . . dolorous and hazy

54: creeping . . . crippling

57, 60: Humbert the Hummer . . . Humbert the Hound

60: Carmen - barmen . . . barmen, alarmin', my charmin', my carmen, ahmen, ahhamen . . .

70: the dreadful, mysterious, insidious words "trauma," "traumatic event," and "transom"

71: I might blackmail -- no, that is too strong a word -- mauvemail

77: ecru and ocher and putty - buff - snuff

92: Campus, Canada, Candid Camera, Candy . . . Canoeing or Canvasback

112: Anyway, something abdominal. Abominable? No, adominal.

114: "Ensuite?" . . . "Ansooit . . . "

118: not Humberg and not Humbug, but Herbert, I mean Humbert . . .

118: "I think it went to the Swoons," said Swine . . .
Unfortunately, as with Catcher in the Rye, I came late to Lolita. Otherwise, I might have used Nabokov's examples of connective wordplay to substantiate my own: work play career careen. Or as Humbert Humbert himself might have elaborated: Career Careen Cartoon Cardoon. If one well - placed word brings to mind another, follow the connection and see what happens! Who knows what truth may be revealed by the time you reach then end of the chain? Never mind the naysayers and killjoys; no vocabulary connection is without merit.

After reading Lolita at sea, it is now time to re - read Reading Lolita in Tehran. No doubt, thanks to my new, improved understanding of Nabokov, many previously missed connections will fall into place. Coincidences are always there for the taking. Connections are always there for the making.

". . . to the Bermudas or the Bahamas or the Blazes."
(Lolita, 36)

Wordplay from previous posts . . .

Len Lent Lentils

Cat, Bat, Batman, Batuman, Batground

Annecharico, Carrigan Carrillo, Carriker, O'Kereke


Cerebral Typos . . .
When I meant THOUGH, I added a final "T" and typed THOUGHT.
When I meant THIN, I added a final "K" and typed THINK.


Gerry's Cruise Reading:
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, March 15th ~ "Beware the Ides of March!"

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ "Short Books for a Short Month"
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Date With Data

St. Augustine, Florida ~ Artist's Rendition at the Doubletree

Just before Valentine's Day, I had the good fortune to attend one of Thornton May's Value Studio 45 workshops in St. Augustine. The focus of the conference, with an opening presentation by Gerry McCartney, was "What's the Big Deal About Big Data?" Typically when I travel with Gerry, I wander around visiting nearby historical houses and art museums, but this time I had my own lanyard and identification badge -- "Literary Blogger" -- and attended every session.

As a warm - up exercise, Thornton asked each table to write a few sentences containing the word data. Our group went first, and as each sentence was read aloud, an impromptu data poem began to take shape, beginning and ending with a reference to everyone's favorite near - human android:
Data is my favorite character on Star Trek.

Data is the new bacon.

What can I make the data do for me and my company?

We need more than data divas;
we need curators across the enterprise / curriculum.

If you're not using data, you're not going to last.

My data will call your data.


Data About Data

Data Search = A Meeting With Google

Data is the lifeblood of everything.

Data can be real, perceived, or fake.

Crime has a lot of data.

Failure to trust data leads to error - prone human override.

Decisions require correct data points.

Avoid incorrect assumptions about data.

Do not ignore data that contradict preconceived notions.

Will Big Data go away like TQM?

Data can tell you where your assets are located.

Valuable Data Point: crunch it up and eat it;
internalize, digest, embody.

If you want your data to matter,
your data people have to matter too.

Data is more than just a way of validating
existing plans and assumptions.

Data has a a story to tell.
Are you willing to listen?
Are you able to act?

Table one stole our Data Sentence!

Henricus de Alemannia Lecturing his Students
from Laurentius de Voltolina, 1350s

Gerry entertained the crowd with slides of a classroom from the past and an office from the future. You'll notice that the classroom of today is little changed from what we see here 665 years ago: a lecture delivered from a front podium to rows of students, some alert but others whispering, chatting, sleeping, gawking aimlessly, daydreaming!

The mid - century office from a long - ago future catches the fashion but misses the fundamentals. The streamlined, aerodynamic look of 1947 may seem silly and non - functional to us; yet, how could those fanciful designers of 70 years ago have foreseen our cell phones and laptops?

Gerry's discussion of how 21st century technology has infused the workplace and the classroom environment was followed by presentations on a lively range of topics, from "DNA Cybersecurity to The Five Languages of Love; from "Data in Food Service" (the business of selling an experience and creating a memory) to "Data & Golf" (predictive data applied in the immediate moment); from a brief history of the ATM banking in Las Vegas to the constant concern of "Data Protection" -- reminding me of the time a few years ago when we got a call inquiring if we were cool with paying $5000 for some dresses in Paris! My first question -- are they my size? Alas, we declined the purchase! Now, how did someone in Paris get our credit card number? You'd be surprised!

Coincidentally, I had just been reading about DNA -- not the technological kind but the biological kind -- in the book that I had brought along for airplane reading: The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead by contemporary American novelist and essayist David Shields. In a meandering combination of autobiography, biography, statistics, and favorite quotations, Shields describes the biological, practical, and existential nature of the human genome as a massive data storage and retrieval system:

The body is, for all intents and purposes, the host, and the reproductive system is the parasite that brings the body to its death.

As the biologist E. O. Wilson says, "In a Darwinian sense, the organism does not live for itself. It's primary function is not even to reproduce other organisms; it reproduces genes and it serves as their temporary carrier. . . . the organism is only DNA's way of making more DNA.

. . . According to Luc Bussiere . . . "For humans, this might seem counterpoductive because we don't want to die young. We want live long lives. But for animals [yes, including humans!] the goal isn't living longer; it's to reproduce." The survival instinct and the reproductive instinct are opposed.

. . . You can't choose not to have children and thereby gain extra years of life by redirecting your resources for reproduction into efforts at self - maintenance. Your genes make you disposable but have not left you the flexibility to choose to live a longer life by not propagating them.

A mortal animal is a germ cell's way of making more germ cells, thereby optimizing the likelihood that they fuse with germ cells of the opposite sex. The continuation of the germ line is the driving force of natural selection; longevity of individual animals is of secondary importance. Animals are selected through evolution for having physiological reserves greater than the minimum necessary to reach sexual maturation and rear progeny to independence, but once this goal has been accomplished, they have sufficient excess reserve capacity to coast for a period of time, the remainder of which is called your life span. . . . There's really only one immutable biological law, it has only two imperatives, and it gets stated in dozens of ways: spawn and die. (124 - 128)

. . . as Michel Houellebecq writes . . . "chromosomal separation . . . is in itself a source of structural instability. In other words, all species dependent on sexual reproduction are by definition mortal." (206)

As soon as your reproductive role has been accomplished, you're disposable . . . nature has little interest in what happens next . . . physiological resources go into reproduction, not into prolonging life thereafter . . . The individual doesn't matter . . . We're vectors on the grids of cellular life . . . Aging followed by death is the price we pay for the immortality of our genes. You find this information soul - killing; I find it thrilling, liberating. Life, in my view, is simple, tragic, and eerily beautiful.
(211 - 213)
~ David Shields ~

Maybe that's the Big Deal About Big Data!

"Data has a a story to tell.
Are you willing to listen?
Are you able to act?"


In conclusion, many thanks to Gerry
for bringing me along and to
~ Thurgood, Thurman, Thurston, Thornton ~
for inviting us to Studio 45!
[Can you tell that I've moved on from David Shields
to Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita?
More on that next time!

Posting late due to distraction of the high seas . . .

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, February 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Age of Aquarius: It's a Sign!

The Constellation Acquarius ~ The Water Carrier or Cupbearer
Photo from Astrology Zone

The Age of Aquarius is both an astronomical and an astrological event. A new age begins, every 2,150 years, each time that the Sun rises in a particular constellation on the morning of the vernal equinox. The transition is imprecise: some say the shift from our current Age of Pisces to the popularly anticipated Age of Aquarius occurred in 2012, while others set the year at 2597.

Looking up at the cold, dark January sky, I wonder about the prophetic words that echo down from the ancient texts and into the songs we sing today. For example, the popular yet melancholy "It Came Upon Midnight Clear," written by Edmund H. Sears in 1849:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise, and cease your strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

Fans of Grey's Anatomy will remember Sixpence None the Richer's beautiful haunting rendition, so different from the usual arrangements by Richard Storrs Willis or Arthur Sullivan. Sadly, Sixpence doesn't include the visionary final stanza, my favorite:

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
[or "By prophets seen of old"]
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
[or "Shall come the time foretold"]
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

I'm similarly drawn to the line in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing": Late in time, behold Him come [more on this hymn next year].

For now, I'll merely ask, How late in time? When shall this mystic, cosmic time come to pass? Must we wait until "the year 2525"? Or has it perhaps already come and gone, lost somewhere "in the mists of time"? The once and future dispensation. Or, as the kids used to say when they were little, once a time before.


A Song for Dawning

Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In
Sung by The 5th Dimension (1969)

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in


A Song for Evening

As Tears Go By
sung by Mary Ann Faithfull (1964)

It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me
I sit and watch
As tears go by

My riches can't buy everything
I want to hear the children sing
All I hear is the sound
Of rain falling on the ground
I sit and watch
As tears go by

It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Doing things I used to do
They think are new
I sit and watch
As tears go by

Andrew Loog Oldham / Keith Richards / Mick Jagger


Whether or not the Age of Aquarius has arrived,
the zodiacal month (January 20 to February 18) certainly has.
Some of my relatives were born under this sign,
but I'm not naming names:

Click to see more of these astrological funnies,
including my own sign ~ Gemini

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, February 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Ornaments from Meg & Resolutions
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ Barbara G. Walker on Christmas
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"The wishes are old, old . . . "

Heading Home by British Artist, Darren Dearden
Picture on our Christmas card from Gerry's Auntie Jan

Vintage Poem & Calligraphy by Gerry's Great Aunt Pol

For this Fortnightly, I offer an assortment of New Year aphorisms to guide you in the formulation of your Resolutions for 2017. "How are they all connected?" you might ask. Here's how:

The priest tells Jackie that we humans are granted just enough -- enough whatever: curiosity, motivation, hope, responsibility -- to jump (or crawl) out of bed and get the coffee going.

Brian Andreas says to pour that coffee into the cup and hold close all that it represents -- a new day, a new year, a new chance, a renewed invitation to love.

Great Auntie Pol reminds us nostalgically that everything old is new again, and everything new is old.

Cousin Dan sums it all up in a sympathetic parable: for whatever is lost, something remains; for whomever we lose, many others remain on the path with us.

And speaking of that path -- Newsies offers a word to the wise: ours is not to run away, ours is to embrace!

Assorted Wisdom for the New Year

~ From Newsies ~

When you go somewhere
and it turns out to be the wrong place,
you can always go somewhere else.
But if you are running away, Jack,
nowhere is ever the right place.


~ From Jackie ~
Film Script @ Indie Wire
Priest [portrayed by actor John Hurt]: There comes a time in your search for meaning, when you realize -- there are no answers. When you come to that horrible, unavoidable realization -- you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you simply stop searching.

I have lived a blessed life. And yet every night when I climb into bed, turn off the lights, and stare into the dark, I wonder -- is this all there is?

Jackie: You wonder?

Priest: Every soul on this planet does. And then, when morning comes, we all wake up and make a pot of coffee.

Jackie: Why do we bother?

Priest: Because we do. You did this morning, and you will again tomorrow. God, in his infinite wisdom, has made sure it is just enough for us.

Brian Andreas says it this way:


And in conclusion,
A New Year's Meditation
from my nephew Dan:
So here's the thing, guys: We're all glad to see 2016 end. It was a hell of a ride; we lost so many talented people (and yet we still have Ted Nugent for some damn reason), had to watch Britain pass an utterly boneheaded motion to leave the EU, and then had to watch America top that with a glib "Here, hold my drink" by electing His Holiness, The High Cheez-It.

But is it all bad? I mean seriously, look at it objectively. There are plenty of indispensable people whom 2016 didn't claim: George Takei, for instance, or Nathan Fillion, or Buzz Aldrin, or or or or or -- I could go on, and we can all take comfort in the fact that if I did, it would be a REALLY long list.

As for political issues, I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never seen so many people unite against a common enemy. (Scratch that; I've seen it once before, in the weeks following 9/11.) We've all gone out of our way to help each other out, to support our friends and family when they need it; and underlying all of that, there's been one simple statement: You are not alone. We're all in this thing together, and to quote Shepherd Book: "Only one thing is gonna walk you though this . . . Belief." We have to believe in each other, and in the simple idea that things can get better.

Yeesh, pull up your boots, it's gettin' deep in here. ;) Okay, enough of that. Happy New Year!

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, January 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading