The Art Of The Written Word

Margaret Shepherd, artist, calligrapher, author, is trying to bring civilization back with the stroke of a pen.

Being essentially uncivilized myself, is anyone surprised that I hadn’t heard of her before now? Writing thank you notes fills me with dread and anxiety. I can count the number of personal letters I’ve written in my life on one hand easily. Complaint letters are my forte, but I’ve stopped writing them too.

I have been on the receiving end of notes and letters that thrill me when I picked them out of the mailbox, so that makes my not returning that joy even more egregious. I’m a bit ashamed of myself right now. Blogging and short emails make up for this not one bit.

Margaret Shepherd’s Amazon Page. You can view more of her calligraphy art (bigger images) at Neatorama. I’m especially fond of what I think of as the “childbirth series” at the bottom of that page. I found this artist thanks to a civilized man who writes The Fire Ant Gazette.

It’s All Beginning To Sound The Same

My Momma used to say that all the music I listened to sounded like just noise. Now I say to my kids that the music they listen to all sounds alike… which makes it similar to just noise.

What will my grandchildren hear? Chances are it will pretty close to the same thing I heard and their parents heard. Both the complaints and the music will likely have this sameness in common.

Though the video below is fairly constrained on an historical time scale, there’s bait in there for several decades. I have to admit, I’m not familiar with a lot of the artists… but doesn’t all the music sound familiar and familial?

Old-fashioned Sounds

Via Megan McArdle, here’s Slate’s In Search of Lost Sounds: Why you’ve never really heard the “Moonlight” Sonata.

Because a lot of people my age grew up hearing more of the old, out of tune upright pianos prominently featuring chipped ivories and a funky smell… than we did well-made, well-cared for, and thus rare, older pianos, it’s easy to understand why we preferred the new.

The story is about the Frederick Historic Piano Collection — 24 pianos made from 1790 to 1928. They are housed in a small Victorian library building in Ashburnham MA and they are featured in a yearly concert series. Hearing one of those concerts and seeing the pianos is one of the most appealing reasons I can think of to visit Massachusetts.

There are several clips in the article comparing compositions by Beethoven, Brahms, and Debussy played on a Steinway to them played on pianos the composers might have actually used. I checked YouTube for more recordings by the pianists playing the old instruments, but didn’t find any. That’s a void begging to be filled.

Fascinating… and somewhat of an indictment of standardization. Heed this, autotune.

Henrietta Lacks, Immortal

It is the vitality of Henrietta Lacks and her descendants that captured my imagination while reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

It’s just a darned good story and it pushes all my “I want to read that” buttons – lively characters, science, mystery, public policy and politics, genealogy, plus a few I’ve probably not yet identified.

When you finish a book with a feeling you know some of the characters, and wishing you could visit further with them, you know it’s been worth your time. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s just that good.

A Fairy Tale Birthday

My granddaughter, Issie, just had the perfect birthday celebration for a princess-obsessed 3 year old.

First, getting to spend three days at an amusement park with the undivided attention of both parents is pretty awesome. What child wouldn’t be having fun? Add to that the attentiveness and playfulness of the Disney character actors.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the adventure:

I thought it was pretty awesome that she wore her Halloween Cinderella dress on one day. I wish I could have done that! I plan to ask her to wear it and tell me Cinderella’s story when I visit next month.

Her favorite rides were the Tea Cups and the Ferris Wheel. I never liked the Ferris Wheel because I didn’t like getting stopped on top during the loading and unloading. This one had a cage, not like the old (ancient?) ones I remember, so maybe it would be better. But I always loved Tea Cup rides.

And it’s such fun to see how much she’s grown On her first birthday, wearing the cake was more fun than eating it!

Elvis Has Left The Building

Of course, I’m a day late in acknowledging what should have been Elvis’ 75th birthday.  I’m always late.

Jim at My Bossier has a short, sweet tribute that reminds me why I originally thought Elvis was a fine and talented performer. It’s a clip of two songs from 1954 sang on KWKH’s Louisiana Hayride show. (That’s the 2nd clip.)

The first clip is of the first time the phrase “Elvis has left the building” was used, from the same radio program a few years later.

Not Recommended, As Well As Highly Recommended

I do not recommend One Second After as a good book to start reading by candlelight and/or a Coleman lantern when the power is out on a cold winter holiday evening.

And now that the lights are back on, I find myself not recommending the book for most other times. It’s not that it contains bad information, or that the plot couldn’t have been riveting, it’s just sappy. This kind of book should be anything but sappy.

One thing I found annoying was the author’s comparisons to the plight of the people after an EMP attack as reducing living conditions to those of medieval times. That is annoying because the situation he describes makes medieval times look good by comparison.

The message that civilization is fragile and must be guarded by those seemingly uncivilized is a difficult one to swallow. It was the same in medieval times… yet completely different because nothing ‘better’ was known.

The huge difference is that we today are not fully aware of the slippery place of civilization that protects us from the demons below. No parent in medieval times would have worried about the availability of insulin, for their diabetic child would never have lived in the first place.

There is the conundrum. The problems of the fall of civilization are due to the rise of civilization. In medieval times, civilization was new. It was not the norm for most, but rather for the few.

So… this book is not recommended for most, yet highly recommended for a few. It is up to you which group you belong to.

Two Blogs That Have Cost Me Money

First is Gene Expression. Second is Assistant Village Idiot. And… I do not want my audience, however limited it may be, to think I disparage either for my monetary expenditure. I don’t call it a monetary loss because it isn’t. Sure, my pocketbook suffers, but my knowledge grows beyond that cost. Result = gain.

Currently I am reading The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, because it was recommended on Gene Expression. This follows several books I was introduced to by the Assistant Village Idiot by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Though I am susceptible to suggestions by those two bloggers, I cannot remember who/where I came across suggestions to From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present
or Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a Cultural History)
— both books that I refer to often.

Do you find it odd that I do not buy books from Instapundit’s or Althouse’s link? Why do you think that is so? Personally, I think it’s because they often recommend books they have not themselves read.

RIP Michael Jackson

Though he touched my life much less than either Farrah Fawcett or Ed McMahon, I feel almost obligated to post about him and his obviously premature death. The premature part is what sets it apart from the other two even though Farrah was also too young to die.

Farrah Fawcett had a disease that’s, in reality, impossible to defeat. While it is a shame that she got it while so young, her death was not a surprise or a puzzle. Her life was much more of an open book to the public, therefore it did not create quite the buzz that Michael Jackson has for the last 20 or so years.

Poor Michael. That’s really all I can say. He apparently had a horrendous celebrity childhood and suffered even more as an adult celebrity. It’s far too possible that he was never allowed to be human. He has my sympathy.

But… none of the three have my worship or can garner enough caring from me for more than this post, acknowledging their celebrity. Really, they were only people I did not know but had heard of. None of them, except Farrah, made the slightest bit of difference in my life and her only contribution was a determination for a few months to copy her hairstyle. Quite unsuccessfully.

If I sound harsh and cruel, then go read the obituaries in any newspaper and tell me you’d hold a candlelight memorial for any of those people you have never met and whose families you do not know.

A Non-Pollyanna Post. (Don’t read if you’re happy).

I’m currently reading The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II and it is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read.

Oh, it’s not overly footnoted or heavy on scientific terms. It’s just that I have about a 40 minute tolerance of the sheer human depravity depicted. It is perhaps more depraved than the holocaust, even though the numbers do not compare. Why is this so? It is because the depravity of the Rape of Nanking was much more personal.

It is the difference between industrial killing and experiencing first hand the spurt of blood and dying moan from each victim. The Nazis, though killing many more people, were not, for the most part, individually involved in the killing of individuals.

I do not mean to imply that assembly line killing is a lesser evil. It is, I think, the greater evil. What I am saying is that is does not involve as many killers and it is spared the grotesque experience of massive blood and guts. The resemblance lies in the requirement of the agreement of many people to acquiesce. The difference lies in the actions of those who acquiesce.

Is it less moral to herd prisoners onto a rail car not knowing for sure (though cognizant of the possibility) that are on their way to die or is it less moral to personally rape, tortue, disembowel, and kill a prisoner? Is there, in fact, a moral difference?

Does the fact that the more personal killing is based on the fact that the prisoners could not be fed therefore they must die (a painful and humiliating death) a more moral position than one that says the prisoners are inferior human beings and therefore must die to preserve a perceived genetic preference?

Why were the Germans prosecuted with the utmost zeal and the Japanese were prosecuted with negligible fervor after WWII?

Which do we rally against? Why has it been so much easier for most of humanity to rally against the industrial style? Is that because our governments are getting bigger and bigger and more controlling?

Or is it because it is simply easier to protest government actions than it is individual actions — even when those individual actions are at the behest of a government?

The bottom line to me seems that individual action is likely to kill fewer people but do so more gruesomely. State actions are much more efficient and bloodless thus more people are killed.

Which is better? Individual violence or government violence? That is one question. There are many others.

The Genesis Secret

The book is due out in the U.S. in a few days. I was fortunate to have been given a paperback of the UK release by my sister on her recent visit to the U.S. When she gave it to me, she warned “it’s gory and graphic, but I think you’ll like it.”

Gory it is. I’d give it a 10 on the gore scale as it is a book that contains chapters you might not want to read while eating. The methods of torture (not necessarily used to gain information, but used to prolong the suffering of death) aren’t new. They are likely accurate descriptions, which is more chilling than if they were made up.

What is distinctly NOT made up is the archaeology in the book. Gobekli Tepe definitely exists and the linkages between it’s location and biblical events are fairly well documented, extremely interesting, and intriguing.

Christian fundamentalists and young earth creationists are going to hate this book. While the link between Gobekli Tepe and the Yezedis is somewhat tenuous as presented, the idea of the evolution of ancient religions and myths is not. If Gobekli Tepe is “the Garden of Eden” of old, it’s certainly been upgraded many times.

It’s been well over a month since I read this book and I still find myself wondering about ideas and simple facts brought up in it. Whether you love it or hate it, this book will likely stay with you. 

Sunday Cruising

If you’re not reading Behind The Stick every weekend, you’re missing out. 

Amba is blogging hot right now. Just keep scrolling, you’ll find everything from anthropology to zoology. Her comments are very good too. Just skip any made by me.  

Art and Mirrors.

Men and Belly Button Lint.

Sippican Cottage (whose furniture I want) is running a series called Whose House. Check out the essays while you’re there, he’s always interesting.

Having trouble comprehending the magnitude of the bailouts, stimulus, and budget? Assistant Village Idiot puts it into perspective.

How the International Space Station Crew prepares and eats peanut butter and honey.

Lucy in the Sky with Lemons.

Let’s end on this note: Follodor and Farts.

I’ve Been Incomputicado And Here’s What I Missed

An impending wedding! Congratulations to Althouse and Meade.

An impending birth! Congratulations to Talina and N. Do not worry about not having the perfect nursery setup. My father tells me that his youngest stepsister did fine with a dresser drawer as bassinet. It’s the love that matters.

Interpret the data for yourself, but to me it says that older folks who majored in the humanities know more about the fox and the grapes than anyone else. Now, before you start thinking that older folks who majored in the humanities are smarter than anyone else, consider that the grapes might have been sour.

I won’t even pluck my eyebrows.

Obviously, I have missed more, but this is where my attention span ends.

Friday Night Beer Drinking Links

Most of the people I know who drink beer don’t need any excuse other than beer exists. However, at least for the first link, having a beer or two makes some things more palatable. Or not.

“Could it be the worst food product ever?” The answer is in the comments.

What better place on the web to visit while having a beer than Behind The Stick? To make it even better, What are the odds? comments contain a nice list of movies to put on your Netflix list for future Friday nights.

There is not enough beer in the universe for this — The Ontology Of Voltron, not Transformers — to make sense to me.

Tea Party first. Save the beer for the after party!

Do you doubt sometimes whether drinking beer is useful? Do you doubt the aesthetic effects? Here’s proving you have nothing to worry about: The Beer Can House.

In Promotion And Defense Of The Arts

Our house is on a dead end street. When my youngest was growing up, there were four girls her age who lived nearby. Three of these girls took ballet lessons at the same studio. Being the stay-at-home-mom on the street, I took care of transportation to and fro the ballet studio.

I was also heavily involved in costuming the dancers, so my time while the girls were learning was spent in the costume shed. I learned more about fitting and sewing in those years than all others combined.

This adventure began when my daughter went to see “The Nutcracker” with the neighbors across the street. We’d been living here for less than a month. My daughter came home with brochures, prices, and class schedules that evening. She was in the third grade and took the initiative to approach the dancers and find out what she had to do to become one of them. Yes, I was impressed.

But this was the child who was interested in everything and wanted to do it all. I told her she had to narrow her after-school activities to two things — we could not do it all. She decided on ballet and violin lessons. If only she’d chosen something inexpensive like Girl Scouts or 4-H!!

I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. We spent a year’s college tuition on a violin, but she had the experience of playing a solo accompanied by a full orchestra.  She played with her orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Really, how may non-professionals can claim that?

Ahh… ballet. My daughter, as a junior ballerina, never had a chance at the role of Clara in “The Nutcracker”. She would have been damned good in that role… but she was not professional material. I hope that her realization of this did not take too much enjoyment away from her role as one of the core dancers of the company. The star may shine, but if the core is weak, the production suffers.

As chauffeur to my daughter and two of her friends, three times a week to lessons, more frequently when a production was imminent, the three girls often forgot I was there. They were in the 8th grade, when one of them told about a classmate who had done drugs and broken his leg.

The amazing conversation that followed was exclamations of how none of them would be so stupid because if they broke their leg, or even sprained an ankle, Mrs. XXX (ballet teacher) would never forgive them.

I never felt so much a part of a community as I did then. I am by nature a loner, not a joiner. In fact, I had many arguments with Mrs. XXX about costumes. She will always be a hero in my mind because she had such a fantastic influence on my child.

As a parent, I think my child would have naturally had the guts, or whatever you may call it, to resist the path to degeneracy, but I am f0rever grateful to her dance teacher for making it easier for her. And to her violin teacher, who trusted her to babysit her infant. There’s not a better measure of trust of one’s character than that.

This post is dedicated to all the music and dance teachers who instill the best in their students, whether they become stars, or not.

Thanks, Mrs Mills :-)