Monday, December 28, 2009
A Personal Statement for Marlboro College
From the moment I discovered Marlboro College it has held a distinct appeal for me. Even the aspects that may commonly scare prospective students away, from its secluded location to its small size, are attractive: I can't wait to get out of the suburbs and closer to nature, and Malboro College seems as close to the middle of “nowhere” as any college I've considered. Of course, what really draws me to the college is the character of its program: I am looking for academic intensity and intellectual seriousness. Marlboro College appears to be the school that will challenge and empower me to translate what I've learned so far - and doubtlessly the much greater amount I still have to learn - into the foundation I need to accomplish my long-term goals.
I graduated from Cass City High School in 2006, a small public high school in the very rural and conservative heart of the thumb of Michigan. While there were some positive exceptions, I consider most of my schooling there an overall detriment to my education. For various reasons I left the school disillusioned with the role of public schools and skeptical of the notion of “higher education.” My high school transcript is not particularly impressive, however this was and is not so much a reflection of my capacity for learning as it is of the boredom and apathy induced by the atmosphere and academics of Cass City High School, and much less is it a reflection of my desire to learn, which is stronger than ever.
I'd like to think a more important education began for me upon graduation. Almost immediately I started reading voraciously, and within a year I absorbed several dozen works of natural and social philosophy and science. During this period I developed or adopted many positions and beliefs on a range of contemporary problems, and have spent much of my time since writing and further enhancing my understanding of the philosophies and theories behind major social, political, economic, and ecological ideas. While my primary interest has been in political philosophy, I have also read many popular science books on evolutionary biology, anthropology, linguistics, astronomy, human ecology, and physics (which is my current niche of exploration). I am also beginning to introduce myself to subjects I have mostly neglected, including cultural studies, language, sociology, mathematics, computer science, and psychology.
My wide reading has inspired in me many reflections on the human condition, and has caused me to at least question and at best discard many underlying assumptions which I used to take for granted. While I am not nearly as ideologically hot-tempered as I used to be I still operate on the conviction that modern industrial civilization has been organized along lines that are ecologically unsustainable, socially stratifying, and politically and economically unjust. While the world's resources are carelessly depleted; while its wondrous and essential biodiversity is being erased; and while a significant portion of its populations starve or lack (or are kept from) the means to improve their lives, the wealthiest nations thoughtlessly embrace, or at best placidly tolerate, mindless consumer culture, the resurgences of jingoistic nationalism and corrupted religions, hollow social relations, junk popular science, and a polity that is increasingly dominated by the influences of business and finance.
Such is my take on the world as I see it, and my academic plans extend from these thoughts. I feel many of the problems we face today are worsened by a failing public discourse. So it is my ambition to use my new-found talents and understanding, achieved through the rigor of the Marlboro College program, to be a popularizer of knowledge in the tradition of Carl Sagan or Will Durant. I want to come away from Marlboro College in a position both to contribute to my field of study and to improve the public understanding of its subject matter, especially where it is socially relevant.
Though my independent study has been consistently invigorating, it has also been sporadic and somewhat unfocused, and has surely lacked elements that are crucial to a proper, effective education. This realization is what first brought me to the college search in the summer of 2009. Still feeling sour toward major academic institutions, I decided to search out small liberal arts colleges. Thanks to the advice of a friend's father, I happened upon Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives and, subsequently, Marlboro College. It advertised what immediately stuck out as precisely the type of program and environment I wanted to immerse myself in, and that feeling has only intensified as I have read more about the college. I hope to use the Marlboro College experience to coalesce my many fragmented ideas into a proper thesis (or several), and to build the skills I need to make any lasting contributions I can to the advancement of public knowledge and understanding, and by extension the realization of a freer, more just, and more sustainable society.
Next is my "expository writing sample," which is a straightforward analytical essay. It sums up my understanding of the process and role of the US media system. They say that they are looking for something which demonstrates my "social consciousness" so I thought the topic was appropriate, as well as happening to fall within my specialty. It is largely theoretical, and contains no case studies or real-world examples, as I felt they would lopside the essay too much, but perhaps I'm wrong. Also, the title is far too academic sounding and in that way may sound a bit presumptuous. Anyway:
The Social Cost of Market-Based News Dissemination in America
“Information is the currency of democracy” - Thomas Jefferson
Today more than ever the mass news media maintains a significant pressure on, and in certain situations entirely shapes, public discourse in America. It ceaselessly informs the opinions of ordinary Americans on a great variety of issues, from wars and financial crises to fashion and Hollywood gossip. As people become further removed from the realities of modern life – from increasingly esoteric scientific discoveries to the towering complexities and obfuscations of government decision-making – it has become necessary to examine more critically the mechanisms which relay information from the heights of academia and government to the everyday sensibilities of working Americans. Ideally, these mechanisms would operate in a way that enhances public knowledge and democratic and economic participation, contributing to the public interest. These mechanisms exist predominantly as businesses that compete with each other in the market for profit, and it turns out the costs of doing business – the exchanging of audiences for sponsorship – can have significant social consequences.
In a process that began in the nineteenth century with the advent of telegraphy and photography, and that exploded in the latter half of the twentieth, television broadcasting has replaced printed media and radio as the prevailing format of news dissemination in America. According to a poll conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2001, 53 percent of Americans rely primarily on television for their news, while newspaper readers make up only 29 percent of those polled. The shift from print media to electronic media has had a broadly negative impact, warns Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, on public knowledge and discourse in America. Postman argues that television as a media format – as opposed to books or early newspapers - is innately biased toward entertainment values, regardless of the type of program or content aired. He points out that any commercially successful model of television programming “offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend... and is largely aimed at emotional gratification.” He argues that if this model is the most successful in attracting viewers in general, and consequently (and consequentially) the advertisers that follow them, then even news programs must emulate it in order to secure the advertisers' sponsorship. This has meant the cutting of lengthy exposition, contextual analysis, and continuity of content from news programs in an attempt to make them more palatable to a perceived fickle consumer audience. He calls the information that is left over from this process disinformation, and he explains that this is not false information – as might be expected from the propaganda apparatus of a totalitarian state – but “misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.” What results is a necessarily distorted picture of the world, which is presented to the viewing (and voting) public as truth.
This problem is significantly expanded in the case of televised analysis and debate. Postman writes that “in part because television sells its time in seconds and minutes, in part because television must use images rather than words, in part because its audience can move freely to and from the television set, programs are structured so that almost each eight-minute segment may stand as a complete event in itself.” Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky extend this thought in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, explaining that “the technical structure of the media virtually compels adherence to conventional thoughts; nothing else can be expressed between two commercials... without the appearance of absurdity that is difficult to avoid when one is challenging familiar doctrine with no opportunity to develop facts or argument.” In this way the absence of exposition, context, and continuity has the effect of naturally shedding fringe and alternative viewpoints from televised discourse. It also serves to shut out dissenting voices from the dominating avenue of information dissemination, leaving only those that stick closer to traditional or more “moderate” lines of thought.
This is echoed in the central thesis of Herman and Chomsky's book, in which they establish a theoretical set of naturally emerging “filters” that determine de facto newsworthiness. When views and analyses that meaningfully challenge the status quo are denied access to the major channels of information flow for most Americans, they argue, the news media inadvertently end up serving elite and corporate interests. This is not the result of a conspiracy on the part of an interested class, they go on, but is largely an “outcome of the workings of market forces.” These “market forces” are the result of the advertising-dependent business model that dominates large media firms. In 2003, newspapers received on average 80% of their revenues by selling print space to advertisers, while virtually all of the revenue earned by television and radio broadcasters was through advertising. Herman and Chomsky write that “with advertising, the free market does not yield a neutral system in which final buyer choice decides. The advertisers' choices influence media prosperity and survival.” It turns out that “in essence, the private media are major corporations selling a product (readers and audiences) to other businesses (advertisers).” When a news program or network carries subject matter that may be construed as politically radical or harmful to the national interest, or one that considers social perspectives and worldviews that are too far from established societal norms, it risks losing the essential support of its sponsors to other networks and programs that more strictly filter their content. What is left is a situation in which news media companies must decide between presenting a genuine variety of views and analyses on any pertinent but controversial topic or maintaining their competitiveness as mediums for advertisement, and thus their profitability and survival as businesses. The public is then left without ready access to a great deal of relevant information that would enable them to critically observe and affect the actions of their government.
In order to actively participate in - or even to effectively observe - government decision-making, citizens require a genuine range of views and analyses, lest only established or traditional doctrines prevail. It has long been assumed that free access to information is a cornerstone of healthy democracies. As Thomas Ferguson explains in The Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money Driven Political Systems, “to effectively control governments, ordinary voters require strong channels that directly facilitate mass deliberation and expression.” When economic realities constrict the dominant channels of deliberation and expression, citizens must expend considerable effort in order to obtain the information that does not make it through the news media filters, whether by seeking out alternative perspectives on the Internet or in independent magazines and newspapers. This leads to less political participation on the part of working Americans, as "even highly motivated voters face comparatively enormous costs when they attempt to acquire, evaluate, and act upon political information." Consequently, Ferguson argues, this has tended toward more political participation on the part of businesses, whose costs of gathering and acting on information are comparatively low - especially when weighed against the potential benefits of influence over political processes. Ordinary Americans are left behind as power shifts to corporations, which have now come to enjoy supreme influence over the outcomes of elections, concludes Ferguson. If we are to take democracy – of, by, and for the people - as a desirable mode of government, then it follows that the resulting gap in political influence, partially a consequence of uneven access to information, between ordinary citizens and corporations is detrimental to American democracy.
These effects represent a significant market failure – a situation in which the free market has produced an inefficient and socially undesirable effect. Whenever public awareness and understanding of social, political, economic, and ecological problems is limited as a result of natural market processes, a significant social cost has been incurred, one which reduces the public's capacity for meaningful participation in democratic processes. At its worst, the resulting situation is a severe asymmetry of information between social classes and a deficit of democracy. As in other examples of market failure – the most recognized being climate change as a result of unchecked industrial activity – reforms or the development of viable alternatives to the major news media have become necessary to ensure equal access to information amongst private citizens, and by extension the healthy functioning of democracy in America.
Let me know what one thinks. Any glaring errors? Considering that I have not attended college yet and most every contributor to this blog has, lemme know if you think these are what a small liberal arts college may be looking for. Thanksss.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Watching Golden Rule introduced me to a wholly new and much more satisfying way to understand electoral politics. That is, elections and particularly party politics shouldn't be seen as indicative of the feelings and intellectual or sentimental trends of average voters, but rather as the shifting organization of blocs of investors (i.e., businesses and the wealthy) in conflict over issues of national policy that make a great deal of difference to their own interests. As I still had many questions, I decided to read the book.1 Having now finished the first chapter, I feel ready to phrase these questions.
The overall question here is "What is the relationship between ideas and events in history?"
By ideas, I mean particularly those we think of as profound, progressive, and as having 'shaped the course of history' - e.g., Abolitionism, Marxism, Human Rights, Constitutions, Capitalism, etc. I don't mean to doubt the impact of ideas at all - certainly ideas make a very great deal of difference to each of us individually. However, I want to plumb the character of the interactions between the rise in prevalence of great ideas and the social conditions that surround them (both as causes and effects). It is not a question that has a direct answer, of course, but I'm sure we can arrive at something more insightful and informative than merely writing it off as 'complicated.'
I think the example of Abolitionism will be best suited to our particular group's interests. Alex has in the past cited the abolition of slavery as proof of the progressive enlightenment of humanity's 'moral compass' over time. He argues that the fact that at one time, slavery was both widespread and largely unquestioned morally, and the fact that it is now only an aberration and condemned by the majority of the world indicates that the populace has grown to realize that slavery is wrong. This is certainly true, but the question for us is whether this idea was the impetus for the abolition of slavery, or whether it is a side effect of other trends that more directly led to the abolition of slavery. As Ferguson points out, the business magnates funding abolitionist groups in the years before the Civil War were the grandchildren of men who thought nothing of the fact that ships they owned were bearing slaves to the New World. And indeed, it is hard for me to believe that some trend towards moral tenderness over the millennia made the idea of abolishing slavery, which has undoubtedly been around in some form since slavery began, suddenly direly urgent to the people of the Northern US.
The answer seems to lie in some middle ground. Ideas are somehow inextricable from political movements, but the movements themselves rely on some more concrete economic driving force. Would be interesting to discuss/learn of the ways the progression of the history of ideas has been thus moved and shaped by economics and political science; to see how ideas don't move towards an ever more complex and accurate and interesting form merely by building on the shoulders of their predecessors.
1. After reading the first chapter of the book, I realized that Ferguson's thesis does not mean that ideologies are not driving forces in politics because they are not capable of doing so, but rather because ideologies are relevant only to real people. The entities driving politics today are profit-seeking bodies investing in politics not to bring about a Utopian state according to any ideology, but rather in order to protect their interests and increase their profits. As Ferguson notes, it is not impossible that the people become major investors in politics, and, in such a situation, the interests of the people would be brought about however they saw fit. This manifestation would presumably correspond to the ideologies of the populace.
Two black cats fight in the street next to the Curly-Q Fries buggy. Their bodies heave under the pale streetlights until one cat flees, a dart shot across the courthouse lawn. I’m driving through a small town bisected by a two-lane highway that meanders through western New York. This town is shaped by migrators--the froth of cars on the highway, and the affluent skiers that drift north on cold weekends, pumping blood into the shops at Ellicottville’s center. Tonight, mine is the sole car on the highway, and the skiers will not come for months. The only discernible life here at this hour is a couple standing together in front of the closed, dimly night-lit stores that sell decorative furniture and fleece jackets. The couple stands in strange juxtaposition with the quaint shops and clean, brick streets--the man is fat, wearing all black, and is maybe 30. The woman has bleached blond hair and dark eye makeup. They embrace under the streetlights and glare at my headlights as I pass.
I have sunk into the rhythm of night consciousness. Mozart’s wife used to read to him while he composed so that his occupied senses would not distract him from the music. The motion of the car and the repetitive, dark-engulfed scenery outside have the same effect on me; my thoughts tumble unfiltered as I watch the road. In particular, I am noticing the details I typically miss--the imprints and debris of people’s lives, like the abandoned newspaper by the drainage grate or the path feet have eroded in the courthouse lawn. Oddly, seeing this town without people is a startling reminder that people exist.
As I drive, the quality of Ellicottville’s streetlights evokes the small, Midwestern town where I spent late elementary and middle school, and my memory folds in on itself. I choke on details--the abandoned house on our street, former object of my obsession; how I would sneak into the backyard and squint through its grimy windows at the darkness inside. And the ice cream shop a few streets from my house that provided a succession of vanilla soft-serve with sprinkles on the days it was too hot to play outside. Specifically, Ellicottville’s streetlights reference a night in sixth grade when my parents and I ate dinner at the home of a boy in my class whose stepmom worked with my dad. Our parents were drunk and the boy Keenan and I asked to go out and play in the dark--permission was easily granted. We collected Calvin and James, classmates in the neighborhood, and roamed the October streets, tumbling through backyards, while careful to trespass only in grass belonging to old ladies James knew or to friends of Calvin's parents.
We hid from one another in the damp boxes slumped on curbs for trash pickup and behind the sequences of shrubs that characterize Midwestern college towns. When desperate to be concealed, we folded our bodies into the shadows of houses and cars, breathless and delirious as we waited to be discovered. Once tired of hiding, we dragged ourselves panting through darkened neighborhoods under the yellow-gray light diffusing from streetlights high above our heads. Passing a familiar video store, James pointed to a flagpole next to an illuminated law firm sign in the parking lot. He lowered his voice and shared a secret: while holding the flagpole with one hand, a person, even a small one, could lean forward, touch the metal base of the sign and receive the mildest of electric shocks. He demonstrated and we followed, delighted by the revelation that electricity had slept under our gazes.
Secrets like James’ peppered our lives then. Once, a neighbor ripped up his sidewalk to make a flowerbed, and I dragged my dad’s shovel over to help excavate. Treasures surfaced in the dirt--toy soldiers, a spoon, a child’s bracelet. My neighbor pulled up a caramel-colored marble, polished it on his shirt and handed it to me. It’s glazed wood, he said. An antique. Worth 100 dollars at least. I never checked the fact, but kept the marble in sacred spaces--in my bedpost (home to the yellow, never-inflated balloon that held the hundred dollar bill my uncle gave me at his wedding), in an altoids tin in my sock drawer, and then in a jewelry box decorated with the face of the Virgin that I inherited from my Catholic grandmother. I always knew where the marble was, and I worshiped the mystery of its past. Then, when grass grew over the demolished sidewalk where it had miraculously sprung from the earth, I made a new discovery--the height difference between the grass and the cement of the sidewalk next door formed a sort of ramp, over which I rode my bike continuously all spring and into the summer.
These secrets were my favorite secrets of elementary school. Whispered accounts of first kisses lost potency after their initial rush, but the visceral excitement of James’ flagpole shock reignited each time my dad and I passed the law firm parking lot on our way to rent a video. While the flagpole and sign were too banal to merit a second look from my dad, my chest warmed with privileged knowledge as we passed. In that way, those secrets gave us power. Our parents could differentiate the highways and navigate the class structure of the university in town, but we knew our environment in intricate detail. We could recite what all the graffiti on the dumpsters near our houses said and we knew which trees were best to climb. This was our independence strategy--the details that structured our lives were alien to our parents, and also benign. We could control them ourselves without help or interference.
But my attention returns to Ellicottville when 219 North turns down a residential street, displaying quaint, modest homes and leafy oaks that are beginning to redden in response to early October. Most of the windows are dark, and I notice that I instinctively search for the lights left on. They tend to be at the backs of houses. Small lamps that illuminate swaths of kitchen or living room--a piano, a leather armchair, a knife left on the table by the sink. In one house, muffled light seeps through an upstairs curtain, and I think: bedroom. I imagine the person who might be inside, maybe a victim of fall insomnia like myself, and I immediately understand how far I am from the childish consciousness of elementary school.
Sometime around puberty, our lives became about people, not places or things. Independence meant embracing the adult ethics to which we were becoming attuned. We learned to structure our lives through more nuanced interactions than those with our physical environment. This enriched us in some ways--friendships were no longer simply conspiratorial--but it impoverished us, as well. For children, social formality was dispensable as long as we had apparent good intentions. We didn't know all the rules, and if we did, we broke them. We talked to strangers, walked on neighbors’ properties, picked their flowers, touched their lawn ornaments, but we were earnest. We were curious and vigorous and unselfconscious in our desires. Truly, we were charmed.
Now, far removed from that, I cannot go back. I can only be reminded from time to time, in places like Ellicotville whose night incarnation accentuates the details of physical environment, of what the world seemed through my childhood eyes. But my consciousness is richer now, and in every place I go, I feel a communion with its humanity more than an appreciation for its sights. In Ellicottville, my sympathy is with the strange couple alone on the street and with the few dispersed residents whose curtained lights indicate that they are still awake. I do not lament this change in me, but as I follow 219 North out of town, the reflections of my headlights on the pavement touch the squares of curtained window light spilling onto the highway. It’s a kind of prayer.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
My feelings about time were the impetus for this post, so it seems appropriate to begin there. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the passing of time. I find it amazing to imagine past moments and future ones, knowing that I will experience them with the same immediacy and vivacity I am living right now. It is somewhat scary to know that the day of your death will arrive just as quickly from this moment as the present did from your childhood. Not that the remainder of your life will even pass terribly quickly, or be any less fulfilling than you hope it to be; the fact that it is true at all that time is inexorable and that there is an end is affective enough in and of itself.
The other idea arose from several quotes I found striking for some reason I didn't quite understand at the time I read them:
"a self-invented word" - as in, a word that invented itself, a word independent of thinkers and writers and, well, inventors of words. I have no idea where I read this.
". . . strange, intimate music which seemed to be submerged in itself, to be listening to itself; . . ." - from Demian, by Hermann Hesse.
These phrases stuck with me, and gained meaning for me as I came to my current superficial understanding of George Berkeley's Idealism. The relevant thesis of this philosophy is that "there are no material objects, only minds and ideas in those minds." That is, existence depends on perception, and it is therefore meaningless to speak of anything as existing when it is not being perceived. As I first grasped this, I recognized its truth as irrefutable but irrelevant. (There is a David Hume quote to that effect, which I can't seem to find at the moment.)
As our Freshman Studies class discussed Kurosawa's film Rashomon, several of my classmates said things to the effect of "What if there is no objective reality?" When put it this way, Berkeley's Immaterialism seems quite invalid. Not logically fallacious, but something that only has meaning within the context of human language and thought and is only true within that context. To say there is no objective reality at all is absurd, since there is obviously something, and subjective things are contingent on some objective thing - the mind itself, if nothing else. Objective reality without subjective perception thereof is easily understood (if not, in deference to Berkeley, logically meaningful or imaginable). And while objective reality may be counter-intuitive in the thick of subjective personal existence, it is quite intuitive in the context of science.
This is the essence of a feeling that I have found to be the most profound and affecting: the illusion of perception or understanding of things-as-they-are, of objective reality. I get this feeling in nature most of all. I find it in the sound of leaves rustled by wind sleeping in a tent at night. Mountains, once they have become vague entities - mere silhouettes - in the twilight, are beings that tangibly flaunt the fact of their Objective Being, the undeniable Fact that they have existed for millions of years quite independent of any perceiving eye. It was partly in search of this feeling that I went to three National Parks over winter break this year.
A more straightforward feeling is "How Strange It Is to Be Anything At All" (from In The Aeroplane Over the Sea). It's something I'm sure we've all felt, but it's worth reflecting on. The fact that an objective Universe, existing unperceived for untold billions of years, developed, through naturally emergent phenomena, beings aware of it subjectively, is unfathomably amazing, for its improbability and for its own innate, ineffable wonder. Lawrence Weschler expresses this much more articulately than I ever could:
"Pop quiz in seventh grade English. The teacher has her class address a simple question in the form of an impromptu essay: What is the purpose of human existence on earth? And she gives the kids fifteen minutes.
She gets a variety of responses, and one of them, from an at-that-time eleven-year-old girl (who, for the purposes of this essay, we will call my daughter, Sara), goes like this:
WHY IS THE HUMAN ON EARTH? I believe that there is, despite the fact that we humans have done so much damage to the world, a reason for our existence on this planet. I think we are here because the universe, with all it’s wonder and balance and logic, needs to be marveled at, and we are the only species (to our knowledge) that has the ability to do so. We are the one species that does not simply except what is around us, but also asks why it is around us, and how it works. We are here because without us here to study it, the amazing complexity of the world would be wasted. And finally, we are here because the universe needs an entity to ask why it is here.""Wonder and balance and logic, indeed—to which one might add beauty and grace. But all of it—and this is Sara’s crucial insight—all of it is for naught (or at any rate for naught in terms of “wonder” and “balance” and “logic” and “beauty” and “grace”) without the necessarily fragile and puny and utterly contingent human gaze.
Why is there anything, ask the philosophers, with their very first originary question, rather than simply just nothing at all? To which might now be added: And why—however possibly could there be—anything as stupendously, improbably, and heart-rendingly lovely as this? But that last formulation in turn opens out upon a greater wonder still, the shivering, shimmering ghost at the heart of the great machine: Given that there is something rather than nothing, why, how does it come to be (after all, how easily could it never have come to be!) (and how terrifyingly easily could it all yet cease to be) that embedded in its midst there is something capable of becoming aware of, let alone appreciating, all that splendor?"
What strikes me about this is that it is wrong, though not in spirit: the Universe very much does not need anything to wonder at it or ask why it is there. If it did, we would be necessary rather than contingent, and there would be nothing surprising at all about existing. Berkeley would, in a small but consequential sense, be right.
The thing that always baffled me, as far back as I can remember, was that I was me and not anyone else. Why I am looking in on the Universe from this little portal of subjectivity and not from yours, or from that of a pre-historic dog? It's not a question with an answer, because its answer is a tautology, but it's baffling for all that. This is, I think, the question that begs the most for me to ascribe meaning to my life - though as it is a moot question, that ascription has grim prospects.
Nested Colons: A corollary: Perhaps the one idea of all of these that you may not have considered before: Since our consciousness is a naturally emergent property of the Universe and a product of evolution, our senses and our capacity for understanding are limited to the side effects of evolutionary necessity. The whole nature of the way we understand the world is just due to happenstance, the least possible attributes and skills and senses we need to survive: we are not "put here to understand the Universe." We try to do so only because we don't have anything better to do. And really, can you imagine anything more worthwhile to aspire to, though we can never achieve it?
Saturday, November 28, 2009
There are book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and that are very often very long.
There are interviews that are also very long.
We will focus on writers and books we like.
We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt.
The working title of this magazine was The Optimist."
I discovered this magazine many months after stumbling across one article in it and being given another by Caitlin. I made the connection idly scrolling through my accumulated bookmarks and realizing I had two articles from the same magazine but didn't know anything about the magazine. Especially in its early days, this magazine was everything I would ever want in a magazine, and a lot of what I dream this blog could be.
It is ostensibly a literature magazine, and during its first few years included many original pieces. There was a heavy emphasis on prose poetry. Each issue included a Light, a Tool, a Child, a Motel, and a Mammal. There was an Idea Share. There are also plentiful book reviews (moreso in the more recent issues). There is a music issue and an art issue each year. The meat of the magazine is in indulgent articles from people like us, except more like our ideal selves than our real selves (at least as writers and intellectuals, that is), regarding things they have done, issues in the world, or, most often, people (usually authors) they are fascinated by. There is also an interview with a philosopher in almost every issue, most of which deal with morality. There are sometimes interviews with Scientists as well.
Each of the links I included in the previous paragraph I feel is highly worth reading. Some are long while others are quite short.
I want to affirm again that this magazine is one of the potential things we would make if we were given the resources. It's beautiful.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Some questions to spark discussion (I can only hope. . . ):
1. Why do poets (and artists in general) take on the limitations of form? Why, for example, would you choose to write a sestina instead of a free verse poem? As poets and artists have moved away from strict forms, have they done anything else differently to accomplish whatever form did for artists previously?
2. Is it better to read a poem independently, judging on its own terms, without taking into account information about the author's biography or historical and contextual references? More specifically, regarding poems in which outside information (arguably) plays an important role in understanding, is there an order in which you would apply multiple approaches?
3. Considering that I didn't like Bishop much, and most of you have probably never heard of her (had you?), what one poet would you suggest for a class like Freshman Studies? It should be something pretty widely accessible, with some depth of meaning, and not too avant-garde, if only because it is meant as a representative sample of "poetry," in order to help students appreciate poetry as a whole, not to show them a cool individual experimental poet.
Also feel free to just post poetry here. That'd be lovely. I am enjoying prose poetry right now; what do you all think of it? To me, it's highly reminiscent of the things Erik Helwig and Alex write, in that it is funny and beautiful at the same time, and in that it is surreal and playful.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Tonight I finished the first term of College. Relief and relaxation are overpowering and washing away stress and discouragement, for the moment. I look forward to spending the weekend and most of my six-week winter break reading and sleeping and writing. I have several somewhat ambitious writing projects in mind:
- A journal letter documenting the psychological aspects of this term.
- A philosophical treatise about objective reality and time, without a real thesis or point - a belleletristic (favorite word of today) piece of philosophy.
- A smut story meant to imitate Lovecraft and also be funny meanwhile.
Speaking of Lovecraft, I've been reading Alex's Best of H.P. Lovecraft in big chunks lately. For some reason I decided to write a "critical piece" on his work, which I've done, and decided it was very poorly executed and not worthwhile in the first place. I will try to say what I said in it in one paragraph here:
I find it interesting to note that Lovecraft's own rational, scientific mindset is discounted and made to seem narrow-minded in his works. Instead of presenting this view in opposition to the depravity of the Horror in his stories, the conflict is instead always between the wholly and inconceivably unfamiliar and the 'wholesome,' familiar world, represented in Lovecraft's historical context by Christianity. This makes sense, however, when one contemplates the reason Lovecraft wrote fiction. He was not merely writing to make money, or to give people cheap thrills: his work is an attempt to Romanticize the latest scientific discoveries, which shifted humanity ever further from the center of a meaningful Universe, discoveries that “all contributed to make the human race seem even more insignificant, powerless and doomed in a materialistic and mechanical universe.”
I went with my mom, Alex, Trey, and Cansu to Shenandoah Books the other day and bought the following Books there: The Virgin and The Gipsy, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, both by D.H. Lawrence, The Conquest of Happiness, by Bertrand Russell, Fatu-Hiva and Aku-Aku, both by Thor Heyerdahl, The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh, The Plague, by Albert Camus, The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, and Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann, as well as a collection of short stories by ETA Hoffmann.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
"Let me share with you my vision. I yearn to be part of something greater than myself, to join in a community of people who radiate life’s energy and vibrate together in beauty, basking in each other’s glow. Life is not something that happens, but an energy to be created and expressed by everyone in all that they do. A genius is just someone lucky enough or determined enough to express their potential at some point in their life. Every one of us is capable of such genius, but like all life, it requires the right environment to develop. Our potential/energy/genius/beauty, it needs nourishment, just like a plant needs light, water, and fertile soil. The essential component is love.
Love is the light, the fire, the warmth which fosters our inner beauty and encourages it to flourish. It is something beyond definition, but I hope the words I use will resonate with your soul, and you will remember something you felt in your life which was love. To show love to someone, means to be willing to get to know them, what they like, who they are, their past, their dreams for the future, and not only accepting them, but appreciating them, and seeking the same love from them. Sharing love with someone creates an open flow in which you can communicate your ideas, thoughts and dreams, without fear for rejection or disapproval. It is that social connection that humans as social beings yearn for, and it is through connecting with each other that we share our potential and power to achieve our dreams and fill our lives with beauty.
So few of us seem to experience true love, we are fooled into believing it is something we can only share with our mate, but we are so mistaken. All is full of love, or should I say potential love, just like the potential energy you learn about in physics. We can, and often do, love our family, neighbors and friends. Sometimes it’s just a smile or saying hi, we only release some of our potential energy, our potential love. But every relationship you have with another human could be as full of love as the relationship you have with your spouse or lover. You could meet a complete stranger, and if you shared yourself with them for one year, unconditionally accepting them for who they are, you would forge a bond of true love with them. We could share our lives, our love with one another, but we don’t. Perhaps we are afraid, afraid that we will try to reach out but be turned away or shot down, not returned the love which we offer. It seems so difficult, but if we lived and grew in a community where everyone let their love radiate and shared their lives with each other, if as children we grew up each day with a daily dose of love from all around us, it would become part of our very essence to do the same.
Many people have tried to define “human nature”, saying people are inherently this or inherently that. People are not inherently good or bad, but we each have an amazing potential for both. Boys grow up in the ghetto of Los Angeles, are given the identity of a blood or a crip, and become soldiers. Killing is a part of everyday life, they and adapt to it and become accustomed to it. But even then, nobody likes it that way, they would get out of the hood if they had a chance. Nobody likes facing the threat of death every day, the will to live is certainly a part of human nature. If inherently we all want the best for our own lives, if that is part of human nature, the only way we can do that is not through competing and fighting, but through caring for and sharing with one another. If that is true, then the behavior most beneficial and desirable to human nature is that of love. The sharing of our love energy with one another provides the base on which we can build our dreams and make them real, enriching every fiber of our lives with beauty.
This abundant love energy serves as the fuel for our creative energy, and our pursuit for perfect beauty. It must be understood that before we can exude beauty in all that we do, we must first have that equivalent abundance of love. This energy field of love, in essence is a spiritual connection of humanness, since really love is the sharing and expression of our humanness with each other. If we are so deeply connected with this spiritual force of humanness, we can all the more easily connect with nature, and imbue our human energy and beauty in our interactions with it. Everything we do is an interaction with the nature around us, whether it’s growing a plant, throwing a ball, or painting a picture. We can channel the energy we receive from love into these actions and interactions, into everything we do. The concept of “art” is exactly that.
A song is more than just a collection of sounds, and a painting is more than paints on a canvas, it is a manifestation of our humanness/human energy in a natural physical form. The more we are in touch with our collective and individual humanness through love, the more and easier we can express this energy in balance with and cooperation with nature’s energy and create beauty in all we do. Beauty is a harmony and balance with nature, and an expression of our harmony...." and then I stopped for some reason and had to do something else I guess. I never went back and reformatted it or continued it :/
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Q. What is Science?
Before moving on, stop and think through this for a minute. Develop a provisional definition of Science. Write it down.
My initial definition from class: Science is the rigorously skeptical search to establish what we can regard as objectively true, independent of perceptual or emotional or other bias.
Things a definition should do, and how my definition fails to do them:
1. Establish qualifications dividing things that are science from things that merely seem to be.
I fear mine is too rigorous - should it be explicitly expanded to include the kind of interpretational or contextually unique truths produced by sciences like sociology, historical analysis, and political science? What "rigorous skepticism" implies and how it is obtained practically must be explained in order to very specifically exclude all things that do not meet those criteria.
2. Establish that Plato's Republic and other works that apply logical reasoning in pursuit of Truth in metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, etc, are not Science. As David Edgerton says, "a definition of science needs to define the nature of the knowledge not the means of its creation only." Why would a hypothetical work that, unlike the Republic, used a logically rigorous and thorough scientific process to discover what the true nature of Justice is, not qualify as Science?
I am intentionally refraining from trying to fix these flaws in my own definition. I want you all to create your own definitions, and then we will hopefully critique each others' and arrive at a few serviceable definitions.
A. As defined by the British Science Council after a year of deliberations, "Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence." Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not Science. (Will anyone appreciate this reference?) Sarcasm aside, however, does this definition meet our criteria? Do you accept it?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The influx of good posts has served as jumper cables for my carbody.
I will say something relevant to dreams because that's where we started:
A month ago I went to Ontario to visit my parents for the first time since I moved out in July. A week after I got back, I had two odd dreams within a few days of each other. In the first, my dad beat me up. He punched and kicked me until I couldn't move, and I woke up crying, and feeling humiliated and furious. Then a night or two later, I dreamed that my mom had a psychotic break and I needed to call 911 but she was hoarding all the phones and I was terrified she might hurt me or herself. I woke up crying and feeling inconsolably panicked.
In an offhand conversation, I told my boss, an anthropologist, about the dreams. She was so unsurprised that it didn't even occur to her to be surprised, which surprised me because I was shocked by the dreams. (Untangle that sentence for ten points.) She said that she had some of her worst nightmares between high school and college. This type of experience is so common that anthropology has a specific name (I forget it, though) for such transitional periods and the feelings and actions they evoke. Actions: in a phase of life with few established rules and rituals and little external structure, we must create our own rules and rituals. Thoughts: we must distinguish things as either sacred or profane by ourselves, and we experiment with making profane that which was once sacred (friends, family, ideas...). We do some of these experiments in dreams. Hmm...
I thought that was an interesting take on a phenomenon we're all interested in.
Incidentally, I have heard the phrase "the sacred and the profane" a lot before. And I know it's fairly common, but does anyone know where specifically I would have heard it repeated in literature? I'm thinking either Anais Nin or Henry Miller? Help?
Thursday, October 29, 2009
This artist statement [in progress] is specifically for my fibers studio class, but the thoughts that filter through my work in that medium also factor into my other practices and my general view of relationships, interaction, and the movement of the world. This is my first draft.
When considering the collection and recording of texts, it is notable that:
The amount of text that is displayed in the inbox screen must be directly reflected in the personal title of the recreation of the text.
The word breaks and usage of letters, numbers, punctuation, and grammar must all be taken exactly from the source message to preserve the integrity of the original message and the person and moment and development associated with said message.
The date and time of each message should be noted and charted so as to give context and keep the text in its most original form with the basic information set given.
Organization of text messages should not necessarily tell a complete story or work as a straight narrative; however, there should be an implied emotional record or chart of development supposed with the relationship between receiver and each corresponding person sending the texts.
The format of fibers makes texts, a distant and impersonal communication tool, a bit more personal and attempts to reclaim them, the connections they represent, and/or the emotions previously filtered through a technological fog. Printing makes reference to the impersonality and the mass of superficial communication made available and exploited by texting and technology in general, but the use of hand-written letters with the associated time involved with etching and printing does again what embroidering or stitching the texts does: it adds a touch of humanity. This is alienated humanity, though, since it comes directly from the receiver and attempts to fill the pits left by senders. Texts are still seen through my particular history, experience, and DNA and selected because of the way these things tint my view of each. Because the texts the viewer might see are selected, the viewer’s sense of reality or narrative or even function is warped and detached, fitting the overall theme of the work despite its seeming attempts to calm this reality, or even fight it. Each text still feels a bit out of place… lonely, even.
This in no way explains the mindset of today or the disconnect I associate with it. I, having lived only in this century, have no real means by which to accurately make a claim about mindsets past, and so have no way to compare them to the present, or define the present by them. Even so, it is my impression that any sort of zeitgeist right now is a disconnected, unfocused, and lonely one. I mainly explore this through communication.
Despite ourselves, we aim for it. We wave our hands, distort our faces, speak, write, scribble, touch. We share things. We make.
The key in it all seems to be communication.
We can’t help this; it’s programmed into us to communicate, to connect, and in doing so, to stay alive and reproduce. Every emotion is set in brain waves and bodily balances. Every social experience, experiment, and impulse can be broken down into basic chemicals and survival of the species. We make friend groups, essentially, for survival and to fill our ‘trust’ quota, another safety mechanism. We romance for the sake of species continuation. We hold family bonds because groups are safer units and give us support systems. We search for identity as a means of understanding ourselves, sorting others, and measuring compatibility and associate ourselves with specifics to facilitate this. So, we continue to interact, despite the emotional wear-and-tear and the continued failure to truly connect with another, which we’re programmed to long for, search for, and possibly even think we’ve found.
Focusing simply on language, our attempts to communicate with each other, to understand, be understood, and through this, connect comes across rapidly. Everything has a written reciprocal. Documentation, receipts, records, lists, poetry, science books, street signs. We write and we read and we type and we hit “enter”, and in the fractured attention and narrative of our current day-to-day, we see this as communication. We accept this as connection. But at the same time, there is a feeling. There is a longing, a yearning for something we feel we’ve had before or something we feel we deserve, we need. This is because, despite our attempts, the lists mean nothing. We still cannot understand each other. We have only ever been ourselves and that is where our experience lies and so, to us, being ourselves is what it is to be human. To me, Caitlin is human. Caitlin is humanity. Caitlin is my understanding of us as a species. But even so, we can hardly understand ourselves. What a ludicrous thing it is to then suppose we can understand others. What you can’t understand, you can’t really know, and you can’t really be connected with. We are solitary creatures tricked by our bodies into believing otherwise. Nobody can truly be understood or understand. We have different histories and different genes and everything has a mental inflection or fluctuation. Language alone allows for interpretation and supposition and we fill in gaps with assumption and bend words and sounds based on what we know or feel or have experienced. All in all, what we have is just enough to get by. Our emotions get the better of us and we give meaning to even little things. We hold on. We continue to try to communicate, and through that, to connect, and we hold tight the things we feel we have connections with and the things we think represent connections we have with others. This goes beyond physical hoarding associated with OCD and magical thinking and into emotional hoarding and organization and classification of our lives and structures and emotions and all the people we see as involved in these things. So, despite our essential loneliness and separation from each other and the very physical aspects of the world, we continue. It’s all we have, and it’s the closest thing we’ve got to knowing, and knowing, attempting understanding, is the closest we’ve gotten to each other. This search, this longing, this attempt is in every word, letter, and sound. It sits on the curve of every line and balls under every vocalization sliding past our tongues. It’s in everything I say today and all the sentences I’ve ever strung or will string, and when the mufflers of miscommunication are removed, it blares from every keystroke of this document.
Please, I want you to know me. I need someone to know me.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Some play scales,
Or gentle runs.
We play a single note,
The only note,
The bass note of our scale.
A supporting role,
Only the support role.
With their warm up
Fast and lacey.
And our warm up
Slow and strong.
Our building up often
Ends in an unheard peak.
Their prowess is flaunted
In flowing technique.
While we tubas wait
Buried far beneath,
But our role immerges
Once the true note is needed,
For it will not be the top
But the bottom that sounds.
The dead man had one wish;
His funeral was to be happy.
Musicians, dancing and plenty
Of drinks and drugs to go round.
But with their hearts
And his body in pieces,
No one felt it appropriate
To celebrate his demise.
Until the priest in ethereal gown
Examined the body and announced,
‘This man never had a soul,’ relief
Spread and the drinking commenced.
Permits were attained and
Hallucinogens were spread
Amongst the living until the dead
Joined the crowded dance floor.
The dead man began to DJ, playing
Songs of the dead layer with the deepest
Beats to which the dead dancing the lead
And the living pulsed like marionettes.
The neighbors ordered the police
And the church to end this abomination,
But no laws were broken or sins committed,
The proper permits had been filed.
When the funeral took to the streets
neighbors, police and church all joined,
Drinks in hand and narcotics in system,
Dancing to the dead man’s unholy beat.
The dead man began feeding
His music into the city’s P.A.,
And soon the dance of the dead
Stole away the lives of the living.
The dead city had only one wish;
Their funeral was to be happy.
Musicians, dancing and plenty
Of drinks and drugs to go round.
My shyly uttered stutter
Your overwhelming confidence
My unexpected reply
Your money paying for me
My fiercely burning loneliness
Our silhouettes intertwining
This is why I loved you.
My lack of your phone call
My veil that couldn’t hide two
Your perfectly white suburbia
My baby tearing my flesh
Your perpetual overtime
This is why I needed you
My hope for one night of rest
My endless shitty diapers
Her lilac perfume on your shirt
His first word being daddy
This is why we left you.
Pieces of Her Life
Her cassettes carry
Another soul’s story
Across time and out
Her car stereo leaving
Us together listening
To a playlist of life.
Her music played on empty ears
We were busy crafting plans
To meet again. These brief moments
Were barely enough
For me to catch a glimpse;
Of her hacked short hair
Of her broken smoker’s voice.
Lacelike smoke traces
Her perfectly flawed self.
Her black lined eyes reflecting
My own fragmented form;
Comfort clothes still thick
With my husband’s cologne.
These things do not translate
Into phone lines. No. They need
To be taken in lifestyle wise.
We that kiss forbidden.
My one vice in an otherwise
Wholesome lustrous life.
Beauty of his eye guarded,
I stay sheltered from my true
Calling; my love that meets
Me when he’s a far away.
Horizon violated by the sun
Signals that our time is up.
My children need a mother
So with pieces of another’s
Life playing over the radio
We drive the long minutes
Back to the reality of life.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
We live in a world where people and nature are ceaselessly abused and exploited. An overwhelming amount of people live in absolute poverty and die of hunger and disease. These people are paid less than a living wage, barely surviving in conditions often worse than slavery. They are removed from the lands they have lived on for millennia, displaced by urban development or wilderness preservation sites. Numerous species are going extinct, the rainforest is getting smaller, the desert bigger, and we are spewing toxins into the air, land and water at an alarming rate. We are using such an excess amount of resources that we may soon have nothing left, driving ourselves to extinction.
It seems obvious that solving these problems should be a top priority, but the system which has the most power to fix the world is the one which is doing the most to destroy it. This system is the dominant global culture of materialism, in which possessions and profits trump all, and it is spreading faster and faster to every corner of the world. It’s a monster which feeds on the worst of human qualities: greed. It’s our insatiable greed which pushes it to grow ever larger, and it sees anything which hinders its growth as a threat; even those who would try and heal the wounds we have inflicted upon our planet are shunned by the powerful and shut out from mainstream media.
Nonetheless, great advances have been made at the grassroots level, depending on generosity and social power instead of greed and economic power. Pro-poor conservation seeks to let endangered environments be maintained by their native inhabitants, who have lived in them symbiotically for ages. Ecological economics seeks to reform the economic systems which have catalyzed materialism so that they recognize human needs other than material wealth as also being significant. Simple living has been advocated as a more fulfilling alternative to the cycle of hyper-consumption that the masses are being herded into. Fair trade has sought to remedy the injustices done to the global south and bring the world into closer solidarity.
Yet the selfishness of those in power, the establishment of materialism, has made its counterattacks to each of these. Environmental protection has been taken up, but in a way that hordes the land as a precious commodity for the wealthy, removing the indigenous peoples to create a pristine wilderness getaway. New ideas and values like ecological economics have been mostly shut out of conventional education by corporate domineered universities. Advertising and consumer culture retains its grip on peoples’ minds, using the farce of overpopulation to cloak the true problem of overconsumption. Fair trade is equally swept aside, kept unfamiliar to the public by the profusion of advertising of unfair goods and kept off of the shelves or overpriced at the typical markets.
Corporate power is a formidable rival, but this power is centralized in the hands of the few. If the hands of the many worked together to topple the greed and selfish of materialism, it is we who would be the giant. But people don’t turn their greed into generosity that easily. It takes a spiritual conversion of sorts to get people to care about more than just themselves. And if all the dominant forms of the media are owned by corporations, how will the people most isolated from these grassroots efforts ever be reached? An understanding of the issues the world faces and the possible solutions to these problems is not so difficult to achieve, but gaining the wisdom of how to shift the world into a new state of being seems nearly impossible. Perhaps it can only be done little by little.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Apparently one of the Aboriginal Creation myths talks about Creative Spirits walking around the earth and singing the world as it is today into being; if I understand correctly, singing things from the Dreamtime (a sort of spiritual combination of the Force and Plato's World of Forms) into "reality." The paths these spirits took during this process are called Songlines. The spirits then went back into the earth or went into the sky to live as stars, and left the care of the earth to the Aborigines. This care consists of the singing of songs to "keep the land 'alive.'" "In singing they preserve the land/story/dreaming of their ancestors, and recreate it in their oneness of past, present and future."
When the English colonized Australia, and eventually drove the Aborigines from their native lands, this process was prevented, and in an Aboriginal interpretation, this is why the land is dying (there was a noticeable drop in the health of the ecosystems of the Western Desert after all the nomadic tribes there had been removed); the cause of ecological collapse in the world as a whole is because the Songs are no longer sung.
Apparently, Dean Pertl once interviewed 60 people, of whom 40 independently described the sound of a didgeridoo as "the sound the Earth would make if it could sing." This would be quite fascinating, if it weren't a quote from something or other, which it seems to be.
The other thing of interest, especially to this community, was the discussion of authenticity. It seems that some people in the didgeridoo community in the West insist on using real Aboriginal instruments, mimicking their sounds, and trying to be "authentic" and, I guess, not appear to be stealing real culture and altering it in ways that might seem disrespectful. This is in contrast to the spirit of Aboriginal culture, which is concerned with sounds (so using a plastic instrument instead of one made of wood makes sense if it sounds better) and mimics things in the player's life; for an Aborigine, this would include dingos, kangaroos, etc, but a Westerner living in a city would have an extremely different palate of noises to mimic.
There has also been a movement to call didgeridoos (an onomatopoeic name made up by European listeners) by an "authentic" name; however, since they are called different things by different tribes, and since each tribe uses different materials and techniques to construct, no one "authentic" name would describe the whole family of instruments. Any one name (Yirdaki, for example) would be accurately applied to only one particular type of didgeridoo, and wrong for the rest.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
This evening, we had an incredible performance that illustrated some of the things I am really coming to enjoy about Lawrence: its cosmopolitanism and, somewhat less tangibly, a sense of play, of living a good life (I am a sucker for language like this, sorry; there is a quote from our former President that says something along the same lines, that at Lawrence the point of education is not learning skills or facts, but learning how live a life). Our Dean of the Conservatory, Brian Pertl, is a trombone and didgeridoo player and throat singer and conch player and etc. He and my percussion teacher, Dane, performed a piece by Lawrence Ferlinghetti with a theater man and a bass player at convocation.
The concert tonight was occasioned by a visit from Pertl's teacher, Stuart Dempster, who fits the same general description. The wikipedia article credits him for introducing the didjeridoo to North America, which is kind of cool. More importantly, though, he is a really vibrant, zany, playful man and this comes through in his playing.
When we entered the room, there were trombone players standing all around the edges of the room, scattered among the audience. Dempster stood in the center of the room, and from there introduced the first piece, which he called "Lawrence Trombone Universe." The piece originally had a different name, and was written for a smaller number of trombones to take advantage of the acoustical properties of the Cistern Chapel, an abandoned two million gallon water tank that boasts a 45 second reverberation. Before playing, Dempster had the audience hum an F, and hold that pitch throughout the piece. The trombones were then called in one by one at Dempster's nod as he spun around in a circle. He did this gradually for the entire piece, signaling the musicians to move from one repeated pattern to the next, starting with that F drone, building to a climax with somewhat more motion, and returning to the drone.
The next few pieces were done from on stage, with Dempster, Pertl, Dane, and another man playing accordion. The pieces they did were certainly weird, the kind of ambient, improvisatory music that some people like to deny acknowledging as such (music, that is). Some people may have a hard time getting past that, especially reading a review like this, without being able to see for themselves. This kind of music benefits enormously from being heard live, where your concentration is relatively undivided, and the acoustics can take their full effect. More importantly, though, is the sight of the performers and how much fun they are having.
There were several pieces in this mold, with Dean Pertl and several trombone students holding drones on didgeridoo while Dempster and the accordion player played over top. Dane had a messy (in the best way) setup, one of those one-man-band style "alternative drumsets." He was sitting on a cajon, which he played with his right foot, had a bell loop on his left foot, and switched around between a rain drum, a shaker, and a variety of "toys" from a big suitcase to his right. Dempster switched back and forth between trombone, conch, and his own pile of toys.
Another piece, along the same lines, featured Dean Pertl on a Dungchen. The instrument had been sitting on stage the entire time, about 2 feet high, a big bell with elaborate metal ornamentation. For the piece, he opened it up like a telescope, into 5 sections, as you can see in the picture. This is what it sounds like. He also did some throat singing in this piece. You can hear what most of this sounds like in these two videos of Pertl and Dempster.
The audience was asked to participate again in the next bit, an ode to a rainforest. We did the old rain trick, starting with rubbing your hands together, snapping, then patting and stomping, while they played droning didgeridoo and made animal noises. IGLU, our Improvisational Group, played with them next, doing what was easily the most abstruse, sparse piece of the night, for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing. Dean Pertl then performed a didgeridoo solo accompanied by Dane. Dane did a tambourine solo (very impressive) while everyone else vacated the stage.
The solo was cut off when the lights went out, and 4 glowing eyeballs came on stage, making odd growls and screeches. They came out into the audience, turning on and off sporadically. This last piece was written by Pertl for Dempster's 70th birthday concert, and he constructed the didgerdoos for it himself. I should add that while some of the didgeridoos they played were real wood or bamboo, most of them are the new plastic ones that just look like black pipes. To these were added backlit eyeballs controlled by a switch under the player's thumb. This is probably one of the zaniest things I had seen done in a "classical" context, until the end of the recital.
They resumed their normal stage setup after this, and did a final improvisatory piece like the ones before. However, this time, both the accordion player and Dempster got up and first went back and forth, fighting with sounds, circling around chairs and jumping at each other. They snuck back behind Pertl, still seated, and Dempster climbed onto a chair, pointing his bell at Pertl's head. Pertl then stood up, and he and the accordion player fell on the ground and died as the piece ended, with Dempster still frozen, also dead, on his chair.
The recital ended with another audience participation thing. Dempster decided to do this on the spot, telling us to take the "happy baby" pose (a yoga position, which he demonstrated) in our minds, and play with noises. He came out into the aisles and barked and growled and interacted in a very silly way with the audience, who responded in kind.
Monday, October 5, 2009
I was an exchange student in Istanbul through Rotary Youth Exchange, I met Adam this summer at a conference and he told me about this blog, so here I am. I am from MI, and right now I am studying International Relations and Diplomacy in Madrid, Spain.
I am really looking to start discussing various global and/or social justice issues and build some ideas with people who have the same interests. I'd type more, but my hand is kind of messed up right now for some reason, so instead of finishing my introduction properly I'll leave it as a cliffhanger.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
I am in college and am a very busy man. I would very much like to find time to write a journal about this time, and post it for discussion with all of you. However, I haven't found this time yet, and in the meantime, I would like to share a bunch of nice links I have been shown in the past few months.
This is an interview with James Turrell, a very interesting light artist. He was referenced by Barry Lopez in About This Life, and so I went looking for information on him.
As ever, many of these I found (and am now stealing) from Rachel Leow. She now has a new site, incidentally, that aggregates all of her on the internet.
This is a short book review that summarizes quite well how I feel about the part "spirituality" - for lack of a better word - should play in our lives. The awe we feel at the Universe sometimes, the astonishment of merely being alive, is a beautiful feeling and something we can and ought to cultivate, but there are no conclusions to be drawn from it. It is incommunicable, an increase in understanding that can not itself be understood rationally. I feel this is important.
These are just some nice, very surreal pictures.
If any of you are interested in education theory or philosophy, this book is an interesting compilation of subjects "important young internet intellectuals" feel are vital to a 21st century Liberal Arts education (which, of course, is the only kind of education worthy of the name ;)).
Shane showed me this radio program a while ago. I haven't listened to many episodes yet, but it is a good popular science kick when that is what you would like. One of the episodes (on Time) included a sample of "9 Beet Stretch," Leif Inge's renewal of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It was electronically stretched to last 24 hours, and is a very interesting ambient noise now. I enjoy listening to it, especially at night.
Alex posted this on facebook a while ago; it has samples of about a dozen collections of beautiful photographs, most of them related to science. There are 4 from each set, but they each have links to the photographer's website. They are all exceptional.
Some of you know who Courtney Rabideau is; for the others, suffice it to say that she went to school in Cass City with us. However, I don't think any of us ever spent much time with her. She is eminently worth knowing, though, and seems to me a kindred spirit of girls like Sylvie and Rachel (I speak of her as though I actually knew her, which is interesting). I am shocked to realize I never invited her to this blog or my personal one. She has just recently started her own blog, and I thought perhaps some of you would enjoy reading it.
This video got forwarded to our percussion studio a few days ago. It is kind of silly pop science stuff, but the last few minutes have some really fascinating high speed footage of a snare drum and a cymbal being hit and vibrating.
Here there are horrifically haunting children, very worth perceiving.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
There are pictures available on facebook; Alex was going to and still might upload bigger versions into the appropriate narrative points in this post, which would make things easier for all of you.
Thursday, July 16 - After assembling all the supplies to be found in Cass City, we set out for Ann Arbor. On the way, we stopped at Shane's dad's house, ate wild berries and garden cucumbers, and picked up a pot and some other items. Driving down was uneventful, listening to Grizzly Bear. For some reason, we couldn't find a restaurant open on the way down, however, and everyone was very hungry by the time we arrived, around 12:30 AM. Alyssa recommended that we go to Kroger and pick up some food. Alex bought, and we ended up with a frozen pizza, kettle chips, and 3 quarts of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. We arrived at Alyssa's Fancy Apartment, and settled in. Sarah Howard was already there, using the Internet. We ate pizza and ice cream and talked about Schrodinger's Cat.
Friday, July 17 - We woke up late the next morning and headed by bus to downtown Ann Arbor, where the art fair stalls were located. The boys and girls quickly separated, largely because the girls had seen the first section of the fair already and were moving faster. There were a lot of great artists, really innovative and provocative things, and overall it was a much more rewarding experience than the Plymouth or Cadillac art fairs, the ones I had been to before. We collected business cards from exceptional artists, including many photographers (international photographers; that is, they all photographed "travel" subjects, like Italy, fog on mountains in China, cottages in England, etc), a space photographer who built his own telescopes, a Latino diorama maker, an outsider artist named Doug Odom (a group favorite), and several cool craftspeople, like bookmakers and hat felters (?).
We also went for a time to Borders and looked at various art books. Of special note to us was "A Collaboration with Nature" by Andy Goldsworthy, which inspired our own erstwhile nature art attempt later in the week. At some point in the bookstore, Trey called to tell me he and David Jansen were coming down and would be there in a couple hours. When they arrived, we took a walk through the last booths we hadn't seen, and then went out to eat at Jerusalem Gardens. We went out for ice cream afterward at Stucchi's. Trey and David left after that, and we went to the Dawn Treader Used Book Store. I bought Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Hesse's Rosshalde, Peter Hoeg's The History of Danish Dreams (on Sylvie's recommendation; thank you very much), and George Eliot's Middlemarch (a nice old copy for only $1). Alex bought A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, which was his preferred reading for the rest of the week. That night, we watched Frankenfish in Alyssa's living room.
Saturday, July 18 - We had nice bagels for breakfast the next morning, and tried to get in touch with Jeff. Finally, a meeting was arranged at the UM Art Museum, which we toured together briefly and without much interest, for whatever reason. We had wanted to go to the Shaman Drum bookstore, as it was their final day in business and we expected some good deals, but the selection had already been picked clean and no one found anything. We ate at Seva, the vegetarian restaurant, and then Jeff had to go. One more used bookstore, the "Rare and Used Bookshop," was perused then. I got Richard Fortey's Earth, a popularization of geology and plate tectonics in particular, About This Life, by Barry Lopez, and "Chomsky on Miseducation." Alex got an Quantum Theory for Beginners and a copy of the Once and Future King.
At this point we hurried back to Alyssa's apartment to get our things, and then left for Beverly's. Beverly's party was a nice if rather hectic time; we got to see JT and Laura again, for the first time in a year or so, and talk to them. We were on a team together for Beatles trivia, and lost quite well, saying some of the silliest responses. We left early, around 10, and drove up to Saginaw. Once we got there, Shane and I attempted to watch "Dead Ringers," but Erik came home and interrupted us and took us to Denny's for a snack.
Sunday, July 19 - Shane and I woke up and went to Meijer's around midday to purchase all the things we would need. We bought a few camping supplies, like flashlights, a 5 gallon water jug, and the invaluable MaxDeet bugspray, and a large quantity of dried, boxed food. The total was $155. We went to Subway for lunch (Laura works there, and JT suggested we go visit her; however, she'd called in sick and wasn't there). Alex got home from work soon thereafter, and we packed up and left.
We got to Interlochen early enough to buy tickets and then go wander around for a while. I showed the campus and the lake and some ducks, and then we sat down for the concert, talking to Harrison Apple in line. The concert, WYSO with Chris Thile, was opened by a small brass ensemble playing Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland, which was thunderous and brash and wonderful. Chris Thile came out then and performed Bach's Partita in D Minor as a solo, and then with the orchestra played the first movement of his mandolin concerto. His musicianship on the Bach was incredible. After the concerto, he played several more solo selections, this time bluegrass and traditional songs with vocals as well, including his closer, Brakeman's Blues. The orchestra closed with Appalachian Spring, which they performed impeccably, rich and full and overwhelmingly beautiful.
After the concert, we walked back down to the beach and sat on the edge of the pier while the sun set. Gabe and Max were back from Detroit soon later, but Max had gone in to Traverse City to a bar with Chris Thile, so Gabe took us to Picasso to drop off our things. Sam Reese came in and invited us to the Minnesota Building for hanging out, and so we spent a while there, reading and playing ping pong and meeting people. One of the dancers from last year, I believe the one who went out with Ian Wright(?) was there and apparently had like dated JT's new Best Friend from Saginaw. Kind of an odd experience.
Max got back around 1, just as I was deciding to go to bed. We met him in front of the Maddy Building, and walked to the car to get sleeping bags with him. We talked a bit in the dorms then, and then settled into the computer lobby in the second floor of Picasso and slept.
Monday, July 20 - We woke up at 7:30 or so. I spent a few minutes cuddling with Max in his bed and saying goodbye to Gabe and Sam Reese. Then I made my boys go eat breakfast. The cafeteria adult gave us a $2 apiece discount on a rather mediocre breakfast because I am an alumnus. We left then and drove all the way to the Porcupine Mountains State Park.
We noticed the affluence and tourist-friendly beauty of towns like Charlevoix and Petoskey, and the palatial hotels and golf courses. One interesting joke for the week was picked up at a pharmacy in Petoskey. We went in to go to the bathroom, and while I was waiting outside in the car for Alex to purchase some tea and Shane as asleep, Alex heard the cashier woman tell the old woman in front of him in line about her brother-in-law, who, while hiking somewhere near a cliff but not by the edge of it, miraculously fell off the edge and died, even though he wasn't walking anywhere near the edge. Other than that, there was nothing interesting the whole day. ;( I had to stop once about an hour into the drive and nap for 15 minutes. We didn't arrive until after 9. Once we were registered, we parked at the bottom of the steep hill leading up to the Lake of the Clouds, our intended campsite area. We got all our gear arranged, tied on ramshackle to fallen-apart and brand new and somewhat used backpacks, and stumbled towards the park. Thankfully, a kind couple in a pickup truck let us sit on their tailgate as they drove up the road.
The scenic overlook at the Lake of the Clouds is located on a cliff 700 ft from the valley encompassing the lake itself, where we had planned to find a campsite. The trail is slightly steep and treacherous at night, with plenty of roots and rocks to stumble upon. However, it is a breeze going down as long as you are careful, as gravity does much of the work for you. After spending a few minutes resting and gazing out over the Lake of the Clouds, we made our way down the hill, in twilight muted to darkness by the tree cover. The first campsite we happened across was the first one past the bridge across the swampy river flowing imperceptibly West out of the Lake itself. The site had a fire ring and a bear pole like all the rest, and a toilet, a rare luxury we never ended up needing (there was a much nicer indoor compost toilet at the scenic overlook just a short climb away). We settled in for the night, just setting up our tents (one domicile and one for storage) and falling asleep.
I had hoped that on a camping trip with no artificial lights or computers, we would be subject to the whims of the (capricious and unpredictable) sun, and go to sleep at a reasonable hour, and thus wake up at one, so as to get a lot of good things done. However, no matter how tired we ever got, we always kept each other up until a normal hour, around 2 or 3, with stimulating talk or gossip or tickling or cuddling or massages or other activities.
Tuesday, July 21 - Thus we didn't awake until around 11. Alex and I went in search of water. We walked over a mile down the trail running beside our campsite to the nearest stream (the river we had camped by having been deemed too slow-moving to be healthy even after boiling) and filled our plastic jug with about 3 gallons of river water. The little stream we found, about 4 feet across, was covered in water striders, casting oddly bulbous shadows on the riverbed. Alex carried the jug back, with his trained muscles.
When we returned, we boiled an entire pot of water and made delicious Meijer organic oatmeal - very filling. After eating, we took an exploring walk around a part of the Lake shore - Shane fell asleep on the banks and then we went back to camp, collecting wood to maintain dry in the supply tent. We then went back to bed and napped until 6. We then got up and made soup, which was also delicious.
We cleaned up camp a bit (though not enough, apparently) and headed up to the cliff. The climb back up was far more arduous than the trip down had been the night before. We went off the trail a couple times to the cliff edge to exult and take pictures. Shane harvested four harebell blossoms from the edge of the cliff and we folded them into the pages of Barry Lopez's About This Life. We spent a short time at the top of the cliff, in what would become our habitual hangout: a slightly acute crevice just over the edge of the brick wall built around the scenic overlook proper. Alex, however, soon grew paranoid about some foreboding black storm clouds beyond the south side of the valley. We packed up our things and headed back down to camp.
Alex convinced us to put all the dishes out, in hopes that they would fill with at least a little bit of drinkable rain. We had eaten some granola bars and of course other food by this time, but instead of putting our trash up the bear pole where it belonged, we merely went to bed. It never really rained, and only a few drops of what did fall made it through the trees.
Our First Grate Tragedy Occurs
A raccoon family spent the night trying to get at our food, locked away in Shane's puptent. Shane was at first afraid it was a bear, but we went outside and drove them off with barking noises. They came back several times during the night, and eventually we tired of scaring them off.
Wednesday, July 22 - In the morning, we discovered they had ripped a hole in the front of the tent and actually broken one of the carbon-fiber poles (Shane claimed they were unbreakable, a Space Material). They pulled out the following food, making a mess and ruining them: spaetzle, sourdough bread, raisins, 3 granola bars (eaten entirely), 2 packs of oatmeal, a bag of granola (eaten significantly), a bag of soup. Luckily, we had brought way too much food, and were left with still a little bit too much after sharing these items with the raccoons. From then on, we always used the bear pole. Shane was slightly upset about losing his tent, though.
We decided to spend the day hiking out to Lake Superior and swimming. We climbed the hill, walked down to the car, and drove first to the store, where we got soft-serve ice cream and Alex a soda. Then we filled our water bottles at Union Bay Station, including the big jug, having decided that we would pay the $8 a night to park the car up at the scenic overlook the rest of the week (the walk up that hill and the ambiguity about our campsite was the reason we didn't take potable water in to begin with). Not knowing when we'd get back from our hike, we went to buy our parking passes right away. Between the trailhead and the ticket booth, we saw a young black bear on the side of the road. We didn't get a very good look at him, however.
We parked at the Lake Superior Trailhead, which is where we had left the car before. Apparently it is accepted that people who don't want to pay the car admission fee park on the side of the road there. A big doe was walking around the trailhead. She was a bit shier than the one that had walked quite through our campsite earlier that day, but still seemed quite comfortable with us.
The trail goes through really beautiful old, open, high forest for a while, mostly flat, old riverbeds and soft leafy soil, and then arrives at a big boulder with a bench. From there, the path is made of bare shale angling up into the air. A rather uncomfortable and unusual path, impossible to walk without shoes. The ground was scrubbier there, and there were several more large boulders with benches, where we stopped to rest. From these you can see Lake Superior over the tops of lots of scrubby trees growing in gravel. Beyond that, a flat shore section with healthier trees.
The hike was probably 3-6 miles in. It hits the coast of the lake at a very extensive campsite, which had a number of sweet chairs made of flat shale chunks arranged around the fire ring. We sat and rested there, eating granola. Then we climbed out on the rocks that were our erstwhile beach. They were big sandstone or shale or whatever sedimentary rocks, with periodic layers of other rocks conglomerated within. They pierced the lake at angles. We tried to force ourselves into the frigid water, being careful not to slip and die on the sharp and algae-covered rocks. We each stayed in only long enough to completely wet ourselves. Words cannot communicate the coldness of this water. All agreed that we felt cleansed and refreshed by our bath, however.
We dried in the sun on our rocks, and then dressed and headed back. The trail was longer going uphill, of course. We rested often, having the best discussions. The conversation the entire week was a shifting canvas of science (mostly ecology, physics, and earth science), math (quantum mechanics and Flatterland), sex (at night, in the tent), Shane's mind, and lots of bullshitting about erosion (our ad hoc deity for the trip), bears and their employment under the DNR (for use as wireless routers, prostitutes and trail guides), etc.
We went back to the store for more ice cream and to fill our water bottles again. On the way back to camp we stopped at an old mine and peeked in. It may have been 6 or 8 or so by that time. We had given up time for the week. We spent the rest of the night on our cliff, shitting around, talking, and eating peanut butter on bread from the store. We also decided to make nature art, inspired by the book we had seen in Ann Arbor. Alex suggested a stream of red rocks leading from a drain in the brick wall off the edge of the cliff. We worked on that until it got too dark, and then lied down on each others' chests and admired the stars. Once it got dark, Shane tried to hype us into a hyper-alert terror for the walk back down to camp. We ended up just really awed by the stars, though, instead. The Milky Way is not as clear as in the pictures, but it is very visible and quite beautiful.
Shane: Lying with starry reflections on our minds, shoulders supporting another's head; this is life. With a cliff drifting closer as twilight fades thicker into clear beauty. A stripe of stars above, from peak to peak, proves everything you ever learned in science class, and yet defies the quantitative. Shifting winds fade into . . . These simple things fill our already-overflowing minds to the brim. , but careful, else our wonder cause us to forget our bodies, kicking down the river of red stones laid over our cliff home. Nature art, we called it as our shirts stain red with rusted dust, to be lain inch by inch our river flows resisting logic, gracing ridges with lakes and valleys with tributaries. But as our banks fade into monochromatic twilight you lay with me and we look up into starry skies. The influence of the Earth shows with bats and satellites crossing the celestial. The night flows shifting as we cross from silver to unknown with forest darkness pierced only by the beams of our electric lamps. The primordial fear fades as lamps are quieted and our eyes fall prey to auditory beauty. Why do we forget that moments away a symphony of the night plays just as grand as the beauty of distant song?
Our beds hard and cold are what greet us to the plastic house, but we resist telling stories and overall bullshit between the three of us no one lies cold. This is our life with discussions of philosophy mixed with that of our sex lives. We are woken by tourists terrorizing our forest's beautiful silence. One by one we stumble into our favorite morning urination stations. The grunt of an empty stomach reminds that there is food to be eaten so bear poles are wrestled until a foggy mind manages to overcome, but the duty of our meal needs a flame. Soon wood . . .
Shane has to finish typing this out at some point. . .
Adam: The valley and the forest become much more spiritual to me at twilight and at night. I have one feeling I associate with the Microphones that I get at this time, listening to the wind in the trees and imaging how eternal that sound is here. Here and at those moments it is easiest to feel the emptiness of the solipsism, to know intimately and intuitively that these mountains, this forest, the wind and rains that shape and shake them, have truly been here for many thousands of years, observed by only itself. Berkeley may have been right, but it is hard to make that knowledge mean anything here (even more than in most places :)) It is a land that "listens to itself," and being here, one feels the depth and breadth of its long, self-sustained existence.
Thursday, July 23 - Shane also has more to type in here but I will summarize what I remember of this morning for the sake of getting this published; shane, you should still oughta fill this in sometime (no pressure though), and I'm sorry to do this without giving you time, etc, but I feel it should be published; most of it is done anyway.
This morning we woke, performed our morning duties of peeing, getting food down from a pole and cooking it (oatmeal, if I remember correctly), and climbing up our cliff. Before deciding on a fixed destination, we drove to Ontonagon in search of raspberries. We ended up with 6 plums instead. Alex finally remembered that he thought the Enclave he had discovered and claimed on his first visit to the UP with his family the previous summer was on the Presque Isle River. This convinced us to set off for it, so we drove out and parked our car and walked down to the river.
The river here is wide, its flow as always jerky, drifting lazily across long shallow expanses and then gushing down steep and criss-crossing falls. We jump and scramble our way across, finding the paths erosion has left us. There is a childish sense of play, of joy, in this - the risk is a necessary ingredient - and even an element of competition. The river has a curious spirit; it is not as calm and deliberate as the land we had become accustomed to at Lake of the Clouds. We know an awe at its age, of course, and in seeing the pools and perfect swirls in the rock worn away by unimaginable volumes of water, it is impossible to think the world is 6000 years old.
We meet a couple, once from Millington, and take their picture. They return the favor. I feel a slight tension, real or imagined, due to the contrast between us, young radicals clambering across the swells, and them, presumably rather placid, conservative middle-aged Christians.
We follow the river all the way down to the lake. Its beauty intensifies as you reach Presque Isle itself, which the river does not actually split to accommodate (making Presque Isle in truth a peninsula). Rather, in the summer at least, the North side blocks the river with a large rock amphitheater: Alex's Enclave. Since the river is forced into a more narrow passage south of the Isle, the water there intensifies, creating countless perfect circles carved out of the rock along the banks by swirls of water. The Isle itself is of course small, and covered by only conifers, which provide a soft bed of needles.
We spent perhaps 45 minutes in the idyllic, intimate perfection of the enclave, taking pictures, eating granola, and absorbing. The water in the enclave (a tiny lagoon, perhaps) contrasts the river and lake with its intense tranquility. It is immobile, less the occasional water strider or fish ripple. The east side is bare shale, while the south side, sloping down from the Isle proper, is vibrantly green. The juxtaposition of intensely green ferns and mosses over gray shale never lost its power over me after all the places we found it. The water obscures a tree trunk crossing the lagoon just under the surface. To the north, there is a steep hill, littered at the bottom with the gray carcasses of fallen trees, victims of landslides. The layout of the banks of the lagoon allow only a hint of sunlight to betray the outlet and Lake Superior's presence to the West.
We headed back up river then, passing a man who told us we could get all the way up to the next insurmountable falls, though there were "a few hairy spots." Shane stayed behind, exhausting the last of our camera battery taking experimental pictures of falling water. Alex and I forged ahead, examining as we went the exquisite patterns in which the shale had crumbled away. We found various little marvels on the banks along the way:
- A tree, fallen horizontal over the river, split perfectly in thirds, with room to stand up in between.
- A wall where the shale crumbles into cubes smaller than your pinky-nail, covered in cobwebs filled with the final molt exoskeletons of adult stoneflies.
- The curved high wall where the bank rises into the cliff of the falls. The floor is littered with massive chunks of fallen shale.
- The side streams of the falls, where the water moves with little enough force to allow slime to cover the wet black shale. The water follows little slime tails, so that if you drag the slime to one side or another, the water will fall along the same path.
Shane reached us soon after we'd gotten to the end there, and then we hurried back to Presque Isle to catch the sunset and get out before dark; we had neglected to bring flashlights from the car. The sunset was obscured by clouds, but the sky a bit further above the horizon still bore that distinctive pastel-vermilion glow.
A few families dabbled in the cold water. We skipped stones and then Shane became distant and romantic. Alex and I waded out and looked for interesting rocks. We left before it was very dark, and got back to camp.
Friday, July 24 - We awoke to a rainy Friday morning at about 11:30. I had left both my sandals and my shoes outside, and they were soaked, so I refused to go outside. Alex joined me in this, and we spent the next few hours reading and cuddling in the tent. Shane, however, had gotten up and walked up to the compost toilet on the cliff to shit. When he got back, he cooked us rice-a-roni for breakfast and ate in the tent with us. He convinced us to get up, that the rain we were still feeling was merely blowing down from the leaves anyway. Alex decided we should see Summit Peak, once considered the highest point in Michigan (until the discovery of two "obscure" mountains in the Huron National Forest).
The decision was motivated by the fact that the highway through the park goes almost all the way up to the peak. We hiked up our cliff, got in the car, got ice cream at the store, and drove to the trailhead. There is a short hike up to the observation structure on the top of the peak. The view is nice, though not particularly impressive for any superlatives. We did see a soaring falcon and some nice clouds (we had also seen a bald eagle twice from our cliff perch).
From there, we continued west on the highway to the Little Carp River Trail. Overlooked Falls, the name from which we had taken inspiration to come here, lay on the Little Carp River, about 100 ft. from the road. We spent about an hour picking our way downstream. The discussion was now more heated than normal, focusing on cultural relativism and the value of Liberalism in the context of non-Western cultures. Shane argued for the inherent value of culture and cultural diversity and accused us of arrogance and limited perspectives. Alex and I argued for Liberalism as an objective good that could benefit any culture without removing its uniqueness. We found some raspberry bushes on an islet, almost as far as we ever ended up going. Most of them weren't ready to eat yet.
We came back on the trail and did in 20 minutes what had taken us an hour to do on the river. We saw three trees with interlocking roots, that had been ripped out of the ground, with the big blackness of soil-around-roots sticking up vertically into the air. The trees in the park consistently showed the effects of the fierce Lake Superior storms.
Upon returning to our campsite, we made our treat dinner, the last meal we would eat in our campsite, Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese, and then roasted marshmallows. Shane tried and failed to make mashed potatoes with the flakes we had brought, and the rest of the box ended up in the fire. We ate, cleaned up, and settled down to sleep.
Saturday, July 25 – We had intended to get up early, at 9, but it was rainy again, so we slept until probably 1 instead. Packing up was disgusting in the mud, but we made quick work of it. The hike back up the hill was not as hard as we'd feared, as we'd taken some of our things up in a previous trip the night before, and we had no food left to haul. We ate in a small diner in Ontonagon, charging the camera battery meanwhile.
After eating we drove up to Houghton and found a really cool JT-esque bookstore with lots of random things on the first floor, like Indonesian idols and pot paraphernalia, thousands of books on the second floor (mostly trashy paperback romance and sci-fi) and a porn section on the third. I bought the Iliad, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Roughing It, by Mark Twain, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Seven Short Novel Masterpieces, and Lolita. Alex got Barbara Ward's Spaceship Earth, What is Science?, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Affluent Society, The New World of Physics, and Kon Tiki. Shane got The Second Sex and a compilation of Liberal Thought. We crossed the bridge into Hancock and spent an hour wandering there, eating ice cream cones and gazing. The whole area feels like Fargo (the movie) to me. Everyone is Finnish, too.
It was cool and there was nothing to do, so we decided to find a coffeeshop somewhere to hole up and read for the evening. We wandered about for awhile, finding several closed down businesses, and ended up at Cyberia Cafe in Houghton. I read Barry Lopez's About This Life, Alex his Philosophy of Science book, and Shane finished Off The Map. At the closing hour, 11 o'clock, we decided to use the time remaining before we were normally tired to get some driving done. Shane and Alex both desired to go to Copper Harbor, so we drove there.
It was during this drive that we discovered our mice. During one of our trips back to Ontonagon, while waiting to be let through a one-way road passage in construction, we saw a mouse scurrying around on the ground by the back left tire of the RV in front of us. When the RV was let through, the mouse couldn't get back on in time, and was left behind. In order to not kill it, I drove slowly, and apparently gave it the window it needed to climb into my car. So that night, driving in the dark and the fog, with rain splattered on the windshield and the hood of my car, we saw little mice scurrying about in the crevice where the windshield meets the hood. They would emerge and scurry about for a bit and then go back down to hide in the depths of my engine.
No one spoke the whole drive, respectful of the enchanted and thickly intimate atmosphere. We listened to the 2nd Imaginary Symphony for Cloudmaking as low-lying clouds encircled our car and slowed us to a more appropriate pace. The world became as big as our car and the dense enclosing wall of trees immediately to either side, a shifting veil of fog revealing and then obscuring the road ahead.
The town was as a haunted New England fishing village, bathed in fog, dead save a few bars, and with a creepy aura, almost a presence of its own. Shane became somewhat paranoid about it, even, and him and Alex kept reminiscing about the Silent Hill games all night. After deciding it would be safe to park and sleep in the lot for people to leave their cars when they take the ferry to Isle Royale (an option for our next camping trip destination), we parked and took a walk. It was quite palpably scary to stand on the boardwalk and look down in the darker-than-inky abyss of Lake Superior in the harbor, as though it would hypnotize us and we'd fall in in spite of ourselves.
Having seen all we could think of to see in Copper Harbor at that hour, we returned to the car and talked each other to sleep, Shane stretched out along the back seat, Alex reclining in the passenger's seat, and me with my head in his lap. We listened for a while to bad middle-of-the-night talk radio on my radio flashlight, which receives little enough signal to make everything sound creepy. We fell asleep to the sound of mice running along the sides and on the roof of the car.
Sunday, July 26 - I woke up stiff, slightly sore on Alex's stomach around midday. Once everyone's head was cleared a bit, we organized the car and drove around looking for a restaurant. There were three: two diner/bar places and one fancy tourist restaurant. I chose the latter, despite financial concerns, and we found that the prices were actually just as low as the diner we'd eaten at in Ontonagon the morning before, if one was smart. It was delicious food, and the only place other than Bennigan's that I've found that serves veggie burgers.
After stopping at a small trinket/bookstore, we left Copper Harbor, stopping by the small cemetery on the way out, and headed for Tahquamenon Falls. The drive took us back the same way we had come, through L'anse and Marquette and Munising. Shane stopped us in Munising and took us to two small mirror-image caves carved out of the sandstone by two waterfalls. They are his favorite waterfalls, and though not large or tall or powerful, they fall delicately, with grace, and have an intimate but also awesome setting.
Before leaving Munising, we stopped in a bookstore Shane and Chantel had frequented during their previous stay there. Shane cites it as the bookstore that helped him fall in love with bookstores. Alex was the only one to find any books (another Barbara Ward). We got hand dip ice cream and left.
We arrived at Tahquamenon Falls around 9. They were a good time, but we were chased away by mosquitoes. Instead of stopping somewhere to sleep, I decided to drive all the way back to Saginaw that night. We put on Of Natural History, in the dark, and didn't speak until the Mackinaw Bridge. The mice were still there and moving around outside at that point. We decided to stop and eat in Mackinaw City, and stopped at a random restaurant called the Blue Water Grill.
Shane stayed in the car talking to Tess while Alex and I went in and got a table and ordered. Alex noticed first that the waitress had an accent, so I then asked her where she was from, and got into a nice conversation. Her name is Agne, and her and the busgirl are from Lithuania, in Mackinaw City on work exchange through a private agency. We talked with her over the course of the night, until the kitchen closed and Shane finally came in to eat our leftovers.
She asked if Alex and I lived in Mackinaw City or if we were staying the night there, and Alex later said she was probably going to invite us out if we had been. I told him the only place they would invite us was clubbing or drinking, and he was skeptical and accused me of generalizing and being prejudicial. I asked her if they had found many things to do to keep busy or been able to meet people here, and she said that while there weren't any clubs here, they found bonfires and parties to go to. She went on to say that they didn't have much free time, as they were both working like 11 hours a day and were constantly tired. They had made one trip to Chicago, however, and were working a lot to be able to travel once more before they return to Lithuania in September (they were here from June to September). I left her a $20 tip to support their endeavors, and she was very excited when she saw it. I was frustrated at myself, because I could only remember the names of Tallinn and Riga, the capitals of Lithuania's neighbors Estonia and Latvia, and not Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. She was impressed, either way.
These kind of events are the things that make me hypothesize wildly about mystical ideas like God and predestination. They are really bizarre instances of synchronicity, coincidences, and are really nice aspects of life.
We drove back to Saginaw and slept soundly until the next morning.
Monday, July 27 - Shane and I drove back to Cass City rather early but not too early the next morning. We spent a few hours on the somewhat overwhelming task of emptying the car, sorting things out, throwing away trash, cleaning and drying things, and cleaning the car. Shane was incredibly kind and vacuumed my car for me while I sorted all of my junk.