Too More

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Too many dishes in too small a sink
In a kitchen too cluttered with half-consumed drink
And too many hours I’ve spent unasleep
Reliving promises I’m too tired to keep
Glass constellated by too many flies
Like too-noisy stars in too-lowly skies
The too-timely clock tells me too often how
It’s too late to change into real clothes now
Too soon to recover, too late to go back
Too short a rope to keep on cutting slack
And yet this rope’s too tangled up to unscrew
One aspirin won’t do much, I’d better take two.

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On Technology and the Arts: Poets, Performers, and Computer Programs (FNM231)

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My own research, comparing relative frequency of the types of metrical verses in the poem Beowulf. It wouldn’t have been possible without digital humanities! Or, rather, it would have been possible, but it would have taken a long time.

The intersection between arts and technology is a messy one. I think this is primarily because we humans like to believe about ourselves that there is some kind of uniqueness about consciousness that can only be captured in the human experience. We like to think that digital art isn’t “true” art, that computers can’t possibly write poetry, that we alone are capable of aesthetic. I, for one, do not think that technology violates the integrity of performance art or literature, and I readily welcome the aid of new media in the access and consumption of the old.

My Digital Humanities board was naturally inspired by my research with the Wheaton College Lexomics group. While there, I learned that elements of “writing style” and “voice” could be made into quantifiable data points and could be used to compare the writings of multiple authors, and I had the epiphany that art and poetry are perhaps not as exclusively human as I would have liked to believe. However, digital analysis is not just about shattering the illusions about the nature of intelligent life. It’s also about making literature readily available to a wide number of people by digitizing it and adding searchable tags. Gone are the days when you need to wait weeks for the corpus of Percy Shelley because someone checked it out at the library. Once the records are properly categorized, they can be used to analyze the data and find general patterns that would otherwise have been difficult to find.

I searched for a variety of opinions on the topic, and I did in fact come across a few articles that were openly against digital humanities. The arguments raised in these pieces were mainly coming from the perspective of humanists who think that art is a raw human thing or bitter historians who are angry that their life’s work can now be done in a few minutes by a computer. It’s no secret that I don’t agree with these articles, but I thought I should include them, because once I know what reasons the opposition gives, I know how to argue back.

My New Media in the Performing Arts board was inspired by going to see Charlotte Meehan’s 27 Tips for Banishing the Blues, which used large screens for some of the characters and forced live actors to interact with prerecorded video. I expected only to find articles about people using technology for needlessly elaborate avant-garde tasks for no other reason than to bother traditionalists. What I ended up finding were actually ways that technology makes performing arts and humanities more accessible to a wider number of people. For instance, the Subtitle Glasses, the closed-captioned LED screens at live theaters, and the recording of productions for those who would not otherwise be able to access them. To be sure, I did find many examples of just incorporating technology into theatre for the sake of Doing Something New™, but it is also sort of a necessary part of engaging the audience that is otherwise bored with passive media consumption. Livetweeting and encouraging audience participation are an integral part of generating interest and retrieving feedback.

I had the good fortune of working on this project concurrently with my WheaTalks presentation, which conveniently dovetailed with my boards in a number of ways. Obviously, because I was talking about the use of computers for literary analysis, I wanted to defend the use of computers for understanding the arts, specifically addressing the concerns of those using the argument from consciousness. However, also I happened to be giving a performance. And that performance used technology. I couldn’t imagine giving a lecture on the verse types of Anglo-Saxon poetry without microphones or the divine hand of PowerPoint, fighting against boredom for the attention of the audience from multiple perspectives: visuals, audio, and humor.

I am also grateful to this project for introducing me to my favorite opening sentence to an article of all time:

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What elegance.

Pinterest itself as a social medium leaves much to be desired. It is nice as an archival tool for myself, to keep track of links I’ll never read or shoes I’ll never afford. Then again, I can bookmark pages straight through my browser. Interactivity between members is limited to commenting or liking individual pins, or just re-pinning pins to another board. It’s also a problem for intellectual property; I have noticed many a pin left uncredited and unlinked, left to stand on its own in a cruel and unforgiving fate stagnating at the bottom of a board whose order may never be changed without even a caption to its name.

I will conceded that Pinterest is lovely in its minimalism, but in that minimalism is lost the capacity for meaningful interactions and getting more information from each link. I have the same problem with Twitter, which in its succinctness forces users to link to outside sources to understand the full context. However, the one great affordance of Pinterest is its emphasis on visuals; unlike a block of text, an image can be instantly absorbed and assessed. As a tool for finding people with similar interests or learning about a given topic, it falls quite short. As a tool for posting pretty pictures of wedding inspirations, it’s probably the best social medium there is.

A Humble Tree Looking for Love

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Name: Quercus macrocarpa (bur_oak)

Age: 271

Height: 124’3″

Looking for: mature, alder women

My self summary: Looking for someone who will treat me right, with pesticide and respect. Last time someone tried to date me, they wanted to cut me open and count the rings. But lately, I’ve been pining for someone. If you think I’ll be yielding, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m not a poor sap, but I’m not seedy either. I was a late bloomer, and I’m not likely to stick up for myself, but I’m close to my roots and I spruce up nicely, and I think the fruit of our labor will be evident.

What I’m doing with my life: Just soaking up the sun for now, but thinking of branching out.

I’m really good at: Converting carbon dioxide into oxygen; photosynthesis; making Vines

Favorite books, shows, movies, food: I’m kind of stumped on this one

Six things I could never do without: carbon dioxide, soil, water, Arbor Day, the sun, landscapers

I spend a lot of time thinking about: Just going out on a limb here, but I think if the time was right, I’d just like to drop everything and start anew.

On a typical Friday night I am: dormant

You should message me if: you think we’d make a great pear

Sonnet for Canned Cranberry Sauce

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Since bread, nor corn, nor beans, nor grand turkey
But puissant cranberry o’er-sways their taste,
Thy ridges, uniform in majesty,
Might render the word “parallel” disgraced.
A proud and noble sauce that shall stand firm,
Corn syrup and conviction hold it well;
A texture for which language has no term,
A little less than jelly, more than gel.
O! How thy armor of aluminum
Protects thee from the cran-less world outside,
Where by the can-opener’s plaintive hum
Thou may be freed, and thou may free thy pride.
No cylinder has more potential than
The cranberry can be within the can.

November 7: Preoccupied by my Own Nothing

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In fifth grade, our class watched an enchanting little Pennies-for-Patients television special called “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?” The twenty-minute animation featured a young leukemia patient, a classmate of Charlie Brown’s never mentioned before and never to be mentioned again. Despite the happy ending, it was an oddly hollow affair. All of us were too old to ignore the concept of death and too young to feel the threat of mortality.

After the film, the fifth-graders walked in line to the library. “I hope I never have to lose my hair, because my eyebrows are so bushy,” she giggled as we leaned against the wall. I was about to remind her that eyebrows are also hair and would not be any more resistant to chemotherapy than a blade of grass would be to an industrial steamroller.

Rather than play the teacher’s pet, I decided to travel the self-deprecation route. “No, you would look fine. Mine are way worse.” We bickered in the hall for a bit over whose objective prettiness would surmount the hypothetical wrath of autoimmune collapse.

If only we knew foreshadowing when we heard it.

***

Seven years and one diagnosis later, a day was organized for her. The color for brain cancer is grey, presumably a pun on “grey matter” and metaphor for the bleak outlook on life that comes free with tumor detection. We planned to decorate the school in green, her favorite color, until her brother informed us that her favorite color was actually pink.

The slogan devised for this event was “Think Pink for Ali Mink,” a delightful rhyming cadence that would have sounded fictional if I hadn’t been living through it. Flyers were posted. Bracelets were made. Sweatshirts were sold. A date was set: November 8th.

She died on November 7th.

***

There are myriad ways I could have found out the bad news. A tearful personal phone call at a timely moment. A handwritten letter from far away. Someone dramatically stopping me moments before I board an airplane that would take them to another destiny. A lachrymose but cinematic kiss in the rain, for good measure.

I refreshed Facebook. The first algorithmically-relevant update I saw was from a classmate, an old Girl Scout friend I think. The message spoke of a brave girl, gone too soon, and concluded by asking Ali to rest in peace.

I refreshed the page again, and a few more messages of a similar nature piled up on top of it.

I refreshed again. There were exponentially more, every time, as friends of friends found out and followed suit. Dendritic branches, six degrees separated, unfurled across the screen. I read every one.

After about fifteen minutes of this multiplicative cycle, my mom knocked on my door, which was odd, because it was open. She entered, glasses removed for enhanced tear-wiping. I felt the conspicuous dryness of my own face.

“Did you hear about Ali?”

I tried to make my voice sound sad. “Yeah.”

“I was just going through photos of her for tomorrow, and I realized what a big part of your life she was, she was there for everything.”

I tried to make my voice sound nostalgic. “Uh-huh.”

“I hope you’re doing okay.”

I tried to make my voice sound like someone else’s. “Yup.”

I was sure numbness was just the local anesthetic before the intravenous sorrow.

***

I suppose I always assumed she’d come back. There were little pockets of cautious optimism littered so liberally that from far away the future looked flush with the hopeful, but as it drew nearer we saw they were just impressionistic dots imitating solid color. Like the empty desk for Mink in Physics Honors, right in between Mangili and O’Hara, her name on all the official Class of 2013 paperwork, the homecoming queen title she earned by unanimous vote.

No one taught class that day. The November concert was cancelled. In a small school, one death was a one percent mortality rate of the senior class before graduation day. There was a lot of hugging and a lot of crying. I don’t remember much else.

In philosophy club, we had our discussion topic conveniently picked out for us by circumstance. Our advisor asked if we wanted to move the desks into a circle. No one moved. The desks stayed in neat little math-class rows. Everyone briefly shared their grievances, none of which stood out from a standard Hallmark sympathy card.

I saw freshmen who hadn’t known her crying in the halls. I thought, I must be more entitled than them to miss her, I have more of a right, but I wasn’t using it, so I let them have it.

***

The wake was held three days later, on Veteran’s Day. A day to remember those who have fallen and honor those who are still here. Though, the living ones get more of a benefit out of it than the dead ones.

The ceremony was in the same square as the annual parade. I changed out of the wool marching suspenders and into a pair of too-big stretch pants, artificially hemmed with safety pins, not that the pants knew the difference. I kept the stiff high-school-colored band shirt, as requested by the family, with a little pink A pinned to the front. My own rosier scarlet letter, A for artifice, absence of anguish. Not there as a friend, just another member of the band.

The line to enter the funeral home weaved around the parking lot and wound along the side of the road. We waited with nothing more to do than watch everyone else wait. As we were about to step over the threshold of the funeral home, my mom asked “Are you ready for this?” It never occurred to me that I wasn’t. It never occurred to me that others might be emotionally unprepared to face a vast quantity of flower vases and picture frames and one long, wood box.

***

I wore my hypocrisy cloak everywhere. I was afraid to take it off. I said prayers I didn’t believe. I expressed emotions I didn’t feel. What other people called “grief” and “loss” and “tragedy,” I only felt guilty about not feeling worse. Preoccupied by my own nothing.

I pocketed my nihilism to write prose and poetry about her, proclaiming that she’ll always be watching over me as an angel and that this good green earth will never forget her beautiful legacy of courage and grace. And that she was “taken too soon,” but by whom or what was left ambiguous, and how long it would have been before “soon” had elapsed  a mystery.

“She was such a big part of your life. You must really miss her,” they said. I wasn’t sure, but at least I had a large enough vocabulary to pretend.

***

Twenty days later, I was in the hospital. The surgical procedure had been scheduled months in advance, unlike Ali’s death, or perhaps much like it.

The anesthesia mask was placed over my nose and mouth my a gloved hand. Immediately my breathing slowed. My limbs fell asleep, and I couldn’t perceive when they went numb. Feeling floating. Above room (above earth pas d’énergie

Suddenly the glove readjusted the mask on my face and a trace of cold, sterilized air percolated under the mask, and ecstatic with illicit ventilation I was back in my body again. Paralyzy puppet arms, lace /up like sneaker by .shoestring IV bow-knot tubes

The mask readjusted and I got another tiny jolt of unadulterated air. My eyes shot open and I was back in my body again before concern dropping eyelids eyelids eyelids. Still blackness zero’ nothing somehow quelque-chose spiraling in befractaled-rotations/ i missed her i did) want to SLEEP.

what-did-she feel when (she) left. this place

Before I could cry, I was unconscious.

***

x. x. x. x.

The Last Infomercial

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(scene: Sandra, Jamie, George are in what appears to be a kitchen. Or maybe not. Everyone is over-acting, and speaking very deliberately as if they know they are on-camera.)

SANDRA
Wow, there’s nothing I love more than a nice bowl of cereal in the morning! (she tries to open a bag of cereal, but it rips and cereal flies everywhere, and she looks defeatedly into the camera) Oh no!

JAMIE
Classic Sandra! Here, let me get the milk. (tries to pour the milk, but slips and pours too much in) Not again! If only there was a better way to pour milk. (shrugs at camera)

GEORGE
Another breakfast ruined! (starts walking toward them, trips over own shoelaces) Jeepers! I’m so sick and tired of my shoelaces always coming undone! I wish there was something I could do about it.

SANDRA
What a mess!

JAMIE
(shaking head slowly) This is no way to start my morning.

GEORGE
(still on the ground) There’s got to be an simpler way!

(all wait expectantly for a narrator to tell them about a helpful product)

VOICEOVER
(gimmicky as-seen-on-TV product voice) There is no product for you.

SANDRA, JAMIE, GEORGE
What?

VOICEOVER
That’s right. There is no better way. You are doomed to struggle.

JAMIE
But how is that possible? (puts a handful of dollar bills and coins on the table) I have $19.95. (puts another few bills on the table) Plus shipping and handling.

SANDRA
(suddenly holding a phone) I’ve already entered “1-800.”

GEORGE
I’m ready to revolutionize the way I start my day!!

VOICEOVER
Revolutionize? What is there to revolt against?

SANDRA
(gets up and walks toward camera as if to plead with the narrator) But surely there is a simple, affordable product that can help- (she trips over an extension cord that wasn’t necessarily there before) Again?! Those pesky extension cords are always in the way, endangering the health of me and my family! Isn’t there an easier way?

VOICEOVER
You always took the easy way out in life. That’s why you’re here.

GEORGE
(still on the floor) That’s it! I’ll just take a trip to the “As Seen On TV” section of my local consumer outlet. (pats pockets) Now where did I put my keys….? I’m always losing them! How can I stop misplacing my important items? (shrugs at camera)

JAMIE
All right. I can do three easy payments of $29.99. (take out wallet, looks for bills) My wallet is always so disorganized! I wish there was a way to keep it neat.

VOICEOVER
No amount of money can get you out of this.

(all are still speaking with overly-affected infomercial voice, but there exists a subtext of genuine emotion restrained under a mask of presentability)

JAMIE
I just can’t live like this anymore!

GEORGE
I’m fed up with this.

SANDRA
Isn’t there anything we can do?

VOICEOVER
Want to atone for the sins of your mortal life? Negative karma got you down? Try… purgatory!

(screen changes to word-art logo that says “ETERNAL SUFFERING,” powerpoint gradient background, and the words ORDER NOW!!! with a 1-800 phone number)

VOICEOVER
Unlimited warranty, no money down. An investment that will last… forever!

(the various voices of Sandra, George, and Jamie can still be vaguely heard:)

My keys aren’t in the cereal box.

Loose extension cords are a safety hazard.

Credit cards, loose change, and checks all jumbled together– such a mess.

What a waste of milk!

Temperature Disparities in the Library, Described in Shakespeare Quotes

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Lower Level Stacks: “Harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood”

Archives Level: “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude”

Periodicals Level: “Now is the winter of our discontent”

Main Level: “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages”

First Mezzanine: “If only to go warm were gorgeous”

Oversize Art Books Corridor: “Oh, heat, dry up my brains”

Second Mezzanine: “FOR THOU HAST MADE THE HAPPY EARTH THY HELL”