Thursday, July 31, 2008

a question for artists

Only very recently have I started transfering my drawings from paper to jpg. Even more recently it occurred to me, that errors that were made on the paper, that would not erase without damage to the page, could be corrected quite easily in the Paint program.

For example, the recent self-portrait I did had a small error - a dark smudge - on one eye that shifted the eye's apparent focus. It was more noticeable in the jpg file than in the original drawing. So I started playing around with it in Paint, and made the correction to the electronic version that I was unable to make on the paper version. As a result I no longer look cross-eyed, and I added a little shadow to soften the mouth, so I look less grim.

Is this honest? If the same person does both the original drawing and the editing to the computer file, is it still art?

rain forest

One of the lovely things about living surrounded by woods, is that when the rain stops it doesn't really end. The sound of water falling drop by drop continues long after the actual rain ceases, as all the thousands of leaves in the forest gradually release their burden of rain.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

summer bounty

I am at times astounded by the bounty of nature, especially in a place like this. I grew up in California where rain stopped entirely from the end of April until early October, the hillsides turned brown (some more poetic folks might have said "golden"), and the live oaks and manzanita became coated with grey dust by mid-summer. So I never cease to marvel at the prodigious amount of green growth produced by Kentucky's summer rains. Anything left unmown quickly turns into a jungle of blackberry, wild rose, any many forms of wild flowering "weed."

Several years ago, we had a slightly dry spring, and the maple trees released an unusually large number of their winged seeds. The lack of rain meant that we left the lawn unmown for a bit longer than usual in the spring, and thousands of the maple seeds took root all over the yard. By the time John got the mower cleaned up and ready to go, there were 6" maple seedlings densely packed through the whole yard.

Part of me wanted to let the entire yard go back to forest! We figured the neighbors might object. I talked John into leaving a two foot wide, 10 foot long area next to a walkway unmown. This strategically chosen plot would screen our bedroom window from the road, and provide late afternoon shade for the car.

I called it my experimental tree farm. I have tried, as much as possible to let nature take its course (I have pruned the branches on the side of the walk), and see which trees win out in the competition to survive. As you can see they are are growing quite handily. Those on the edges of the plot have a clear advantage. We now regret that we did not leave several other patches of trees to grow up, especially in our overly sunny backyard area.

On the same topic of things growing with little human input, I put in a few tomato plants this year, in tubs, and have done little about them, other than staking and tying them (a little late). We are now beginning to harvest some of those wonderful, sweet juice tomatoes. We won't get as much as I hoped, because the wet, frequently overcast summer contributed to some type of leave mold that is slowly killing the plants. My guess is before the plants completely die, I'll end up with about twenty tomatoes. Not bad for about 45 minutes worth of work.

Monday, July 28, 2008

one single impression -- faces

"One Single Impression":

The prompt this week (#22) is "faces"


drawn from life
their faces fill the pages
of my memory,
at times bereft of names
or place.

july 28, 2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

file under live and learn

The two larger burners on my stove have been out of commission for a while (one for several years, one for several months). The electrical and plumbing contractors we use (when we can get them), recommended an electrician who worked on electrical appliance (since they don't). So I called him. The guy was at least 75, which is pretty typical; there is a dearth of young people willing and able to go through the training and apprentice to create a new generation of skilled blue collar workers in this region (perhaps everywhere). He came and took a look, and said it was the two switches, which would probably run $50 or $60 dollars a piece.

I said go ahead and order them. A week later he called to say that the switches were in, and came with a helper to install them. When we turned the power back on, one of the burners came on, but the other did not. A few minutes of additional examination and he showed me the problem. The socket into which the burner plugged was burned out and one of the wires had even burned loose and was no longer connecting. My immediate thought -- why didn't he look at this first, a week ago? It was entirely possible that there was nothing wrong with the switch at all.

He made no suggestions about fixing the burned socket, and I made no suggestions either. Just thanked him for the job and paid him the $180 he asked for ($120 for the two switches and $60 for labor and travel) and sent him on his way.

Twenty-four hours after he left the second "fixed" burner stopped working also. Since he never checked the socket on it either, I'm guessing that it has the same problem.

So we are now $180 poorer, and the two larger burners on the stove still don't work. At least the money is circulating in the local economy!

Putting this all in perspective, I have electricity, and I have two burners that are small but work fine. I have a microwave and an oven. I've had less in my life, and I know that the vast majority of humans have less today. I probably wouldn't have even bothered to try getting them fixed if John (who does more cooking than I do) hadn't been complaining frequently about how he couldn't cook properly with just two itty bitty burners.

If it weren't for the fact that we'd like to replace the entire trailer (and all the appliances) within two years this wouldn't be a dilemma. It seems like a waste of resources (and money) to purchase a new stove top at this point. But its so annoying to listen to John whine about the difficulties of cooking. What to do?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

recognizing limits

My original plan for today had been to travel two hours to Abingdon, Virginia to explore the annual Highland Arts Festival. But last night, after the three hour weekly shopping trip my joints ached so much and I was so tired, I knew that a trip requiring substantial walking was out of the question for today. Instead I will reschedule the trip for next week -- an appointment I had next week got rescheduled for September, so I have more time next week. The thing about RA is that you can live a full life, you just have to recognize your limitations and work with them.

This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as the thunderstorms and rain that was predicted for last night has extended well into the afternoon today, and would have made walking around among craft booths in an open grassy area a bit dicey.

Since I had cleared the decks of "paid employment" as John likes to call it, instead I turned my attention to a household project -- cleaning up and reorganizing bookshelves. While I have the books off the shelves, I've decided get really anal and enter all the information on each book into an Excel spreadsheet. John had already done this for a couple thousand books stored in his study, but the few thousand in my study, the living room and family room have yet to get that treatment. Once complete I will no longer have to run all over the house trying to figure out whether or not I still have a book and where it might be.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

like riding a bicycle...

It has been a number of years since I've drawn a portrait of anyone much less of myself, and I wondered if it was like a foreign language -- something you lose if you don't use it; or whether it was more like riding a bicycle, part of the body memory that never really goes away. [Top drawing is pencil HB4, the bottom is charcoal pencil dark/soft and light/hard]

[updated: My husband showed me how to better adjust the brightness and contrast on the scanner to get an electronic image that was closer to the drawing.]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sketches of Elise White Porter 1970-1981

I took it in my head today to begin transfering to JPEG files all my drawings tucked in several dozen sketch books and folders. I looked at things I had not touched in several decades and found many pictures that I had not remembered sketching. I had no idea that I had so many drawings of my friend, Elise starting with her freshman year (my sophomore year). She just had (still has) the most intriguing face.

These days she's an important lawyer in the Ohio State Attorney General's office and has argued in front of the Supreme Court, but here's what she looked like as a young woman.

Fall 1970

Spring 1971


November 1971


Summer 1975



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

speaking of memes

I think I've finally found a meme that I actually want to use.
It's called "One Single Impression": What I like about this meme is that it is a prompt to write short poems or haiku, something that I have not done in a long time.

The current cue is "Myth," and my first effort is rather pitiful, but perhaps I'll improve over time:

solitary cat myth,
buried under bodies
jockeying for lap.

[revised 7/16/08 - no longer strictly haiku, but says it better]

Friday, July 11, 2008

not yet a meme

One of the bloggers that I read regularly, Punkinsmom at Idle Musings, does something I really enjoy. She reports briefly on one of the books that she has read that week. She goes to the public library every week, checks out a pile of books and reads through them, then chooses one that she thinks is worth commenting upon. A nice idea that might catch on with others.

My big basket of books comes from friends and bookstores rather than the library, and I don't read quite as many books in a week as Punkinsmom does. I don't think I could come up with a review each Friday, but I like the idea of semi-regular reporting on reading.

Right now (for last week) I've been reading my way bit by bit, once again, through Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love originally published in 1973. My love affair with science fiction began with Robert Heinlein's Red Planet a children's book that my mother read out loud to us when I was about 8 or perhaps 9. Several of Heinlein's books for youth, Citizen of the Galaxy and Tunnel in the Sky became favorites in adolescence which I read repeatedly -- I have reread them in middle age and find that they still stand up quite well. I adored the short stories in Green Hills of Earth, and other collections, but I was never fond of Star Ship Troopers with their relentless focus on war with aliens.

Time Enough for Love, like Stranger in a Strange Land is an adult novel, not because of the focus on sex, but because the themes in Time Enough for Love are themes that one can appreciate far more in middle age than one can as a youth. In it Lazarus Long (a.k.a. Woodrow Wilson Smith) more than 2,000 years of age reflects upon his long life, and tells key stories on the themes of love and survival as a pioneer, as he tries to decide whether to undergo rejuvenation for yet another thousand years.

Not as well crafted as some of his other books (especially compared to Stranger in a Strange Land), Time Enough for Love is Heinlein's expression of his own thoughts and philosophy on life and love. Many places in the book he reacts to the feminism of his day (1973). The following quote sums up his views: "Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do make them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, 'equality' is a disaster." When I first read that in 1973, I thought "what an old chauvinist pig." Thirty five years later, I'm not so sure he didn't have it right, because today as then our greatest poverty problem is still single mothers and their children.

Reading the book now, I realize that the first time through, I skipped over a lot of the "boring" details. Now I see the genius in those details. If humans ever do venture out among the stars and become pioneers again on frontier worlds, the sections of this book where Heinlein, though Lazarus Long, describes in depth exactly what equipment one should take and the issues one should consider (about pack animals, wagons, scouting, water, and many other things) for successful pioneering, ought to be required reading.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

don't you just hate it when...

...all the wall outlets in your kitchen stop working, and you can't get an electrician to come for days (counting down three at this point). [We've got a utility extension cord strung across the house to keep the refrigerator running.] hurt your foot stepping on a dog toy, and it doesn't get better, so three weeks later, after your husband nags you and nags you you finally go to the doctor. Only your own doctor is on vacation and you have to go to the walk in clinic, where it takes 3 hours out of your afternoon, only to have the result be -- nothing in the x-ray, no sign of anything wrong, no explanation. [So now I feel like a hypochondriac and a lazy lie-around, but my foot still hurts to walk. Go figure.]

...your reading glasses are always in the other room -- even when you have two pair of them!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

lovely television

Don't quite remember whose blog introduced this to me this week (if it was one of my readers -THANKS!), but here's a great site for those who love television: There are full episodes of many TV series, both current and classic. The first three full seasons of the Mary Tyler Moore show are to be found there. I watched the very first episode, and had fond nostalgic feelings for my youth. I also watched a full episode of the Science Fiction Channel series Eureka. The few times I've watched that show I've loved it, but have difficulty getting it straight when it is on and catching it. Now I can at least see some of the second season episodes on my computer.

The only draw back of computer watching is of course sufferin' the bufferin'.

Check it out, maybe you'll find something you really want to see.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

don't you just love words

I have become fascinated in the last six months with memes. They are every where in the world of blogging. I know some people whose blogs are entirely composed of memes, a different one for each day of the week.

Although the context made it immediately clear what "meme" meant in the blogosphere -- a pattern or concept for a blog post that many people copied and used simultaneously (like "Thursday Thirteen" or "Friday Skywatch"), I do not remember ever having seen the word "meme" before I encountered it in blogs this past year.

I wondered if perhaps it was related to the concept of schemata from psychology. A schemata is a mental principle or structure around which an individual organizes their experiences in order to make sense of them.

Yesterday I searched the various dictionaries in our house, looking for the word "meme." It did not exist in the 1941 Webster's Collegiate Dictionary that I inherited from my mother. [A really wonderful dictionary that even includes the meanings of common English first names - which was how I learned that both the first and middle names on my birth certificate meant "a lily".] The word could also not be found in my prized Random House Unabridged Dictionary from 1983. [Even at 50 percent off I spent more on that then any other book I've ever purchased, especially after adjusting for inflation.] Even my husband's American Heritage Dictionary from 1991 does not contain the word.

Today, I took up the question on the computer, beginning with the Merriam Webster digital dictionary John got me for my birthday just a few years ago. [There's a hard back bound dictionary that came with the CD, but it's in my office 15 miles away.] Sure enough, the word meme appears in my digital dictionary, which states that a meme is "an idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture" and that it originated in 1976, from the word mimesis which means imitation or mimicry. The word meme also appears in French where it means "same." The phrase "tout de meme" in French means "all the same" and its used the same way we'd use the phrase as a disclaimer at the beginning of a sentence, a synonym for "nevertheless."

A bit more exploration on the Internet, reveals that "meme" in its current American usage was coined by British, evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins considered meme to be the cultural analogy of "gene" the biological transmitter of information.
Richard Dawkins's [sic] term for an idea considered as a replicator, especially with the connotation that memes parasitise [sic] people into propagating them much as viruses do.
Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine to produce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.
The term is used especially in the phrase "meme complex" denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organised belief system, such as a religion. Source: meme. The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing. Denis Howe. (accessed: July 05, 2008).

Further perusal of the memes on the Internet, expands the concept of meme in two directions: 1) a phrase, idea, image, video, etc. that "goes viral" and is transmitted all over the Internet, replicated in thousands or even millions of places; and 2) an organizing framework, set of questions, or task that bloggers borrow and use to express themselves through a standardized formula.

The first form of meme appears to date back to 1996, to the early World Wide Web, and one of the first memes of this sort was the "dancing baby" a simple animated gif file. The television series Ally McBeal contributed to the spread of this meme. I was unable to find similar information about the early blog memes, but one or two blogs or weblogs can be dated back to 1994, with the term "weblog" being coined in 1997, and shortened to "blog" in 1999. The first blogging software and hosting sites appeared in 1998 and 1999. So its likely that the first blogging memes appeared about the same time.

More than you ever wanted to know about memes!!

Sufferin' the bufferin'

Pet peeve: Suffering the buffering -- being in the middle of watching something exciting in streaming video and having it suddenly stop for the buffering to catch up.

Friday, July 4, 2008

best fourth of July memory

1977 Troutdale, Virginia, doing research for my masters thesis on community change; research which included participating in 4th of July parade, and eating homemade chocolate ice cream. Title of picture: "sticky fingers"

everybody, peace on earth

A great organization TEDS, makes available free to anyone, a wide range of talks and performances on science, technology, arts and music. I was particularly struck by this musical performance of two songs "Everybody" and "Peace on Earth" by songwriter, musician, singer Raul Midon.

P.S. sorry about the commercial, wasn't anyway to avoid it. I'm not trying to promote the product.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

music and politics

I've come across something quite interesting, a blog belonging to a band Max and the Marginalized, that writes good music on current political themes. If you are not a liberal you probably won't like the lyrics. Their most recent song, expresses their concern that recent pronouncements by Barack Obama make them question whether or not he is the candidate for which they hoped and should support. Sentiments that I admit to having myself.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

some days no one dies

This might just be a case of moving from the sublime (see today's previous post below) to the ridiculous to some people, but I would maintain not.

I first heard of Dr. Who from a college friend who was exposed to exposed to British television growing up in Malaysia and Singapore. I first watched Dr. Who, when PBS stations around the nation started airing the series. At the time (1983) I watched the PennState Public Broadcast station out of State College, PA. I became a devoted fan, especially of the Tom Baker years, but of the whole corpus of Dr. Whodom. some of my fondest memories involve Dr. Who watching sessions with friends.

So it was with great excitement that I renewed my acquaintance with the Doctor when the series was reborn, and the Science Fiction channel picked it up for American viewers, four summers ago.

I was quite taken with Billie Piper as the Doctor's companion Rose in seasons 1 and 2 of the new Doctor Who. But I think that the two part, two hour episode that aired this past Friday, Forest of the Dead ranks as my all-time favorite episode. It was heartwarming to learn that some where in his future the Doctor trusts someone enough to share with them his true name.

amazing grace

We joined Netflix back in March, an excellent decision for movie lovers in-the-middle-of-nowhere. Since one pays a flat monthly fee, the more movies you see, the better deal it is. This has encouraged us to take a chance on a lot of things that we might have passed by when we not only had to pay for each movie, but also, because of the distances involved, often ended up paying late fees for each film, whether we watched it or not.

The movie Amazing Grace is one of those films that I didn't take a chance on before joining Netflix -- it had been out on DVD for quite some time before we joined. It went on my list, like three or four dozen other films that have come out in the past few years, but it wasn't high on my priorities. When it came, I set it aside for almost two weeks. Then Sunday afternoon John and I sat down to watch.

Amazing Grace is an amazing film. We learned so much from it that we previously had no idea about. I did know that England had outlawed the slave trade and then slavery itself decades before the U.S. Civil War. But I had no idea how that had come about, or who had been responsible. After seeing the movie, I found a review from the New York Times when it first came out, and I have to disagree with the reviewer on one point -- just because the movie doesn't show William Wilberforce kneeling and praying or going to church or reading the Bible doesn't mean that the film doesn't clearly convey the depth of his religious feeling or that his convictions about the evils of slavery were rooted in his evangelical Methodist religion. Although Wilberforce was the most public face of the movement as the member of Parliament responsible for presenting the laws -- over and over again, year after year, until he was succesful -- the film does an excellent job of showing that Wilberforce was part of a group of dedicated anti-slavery activists that included among others to Thomas Clarkson.

For those who do not know (as I did not) the title of the film comes from the hymn, which was written by John Newton, a former slave ship captain who experienced a religious rebirth, and became a minister, ultimately renouncing slavery. The movie depicts Newton as having formed Wilberforce's views on slavery, but a bit of research on the net suggests that the relationship may have been the reverse. That is was Wilberforce who helped draw Newton into his anti-slavery position.

In any case, the hymn Amazing Grace was informed by Newton's journey from sin (as a slave ship captain and all that life entailed) to redemption. No wonder it is one of the most beautiful hymns in the English language. I may not be a Christian, but I still find it to be one of the most moving, evocative pieces of music I've ever experienced -- especially when played on the bagpipes, as it is at the end of the film.

It doesn't matter whether you are religious or not, Christian or not, this is an intelligent and moving film that I highly recommend.