Monthly Archives: April 2013

Emily Dickinson, animated

Some time ago I wrote a post about animated textflow poems as a new way to experience poetry. Of course, poems can also be animated in the more usual sense, as in this delightful version of Emily Dickinson’s “I started Early – Took my Dog” (656), created by Maureen Selwood and read by Blair Brown. It is part of the Poetry Everywhere project on PBS.

Overwhelmed by choices

“There is such a thing as doing too much to make your life better. Running, vegan eating, meditating, two blogs, cooking for myself… I think I overwhelmed myself and ended up just feeling like a disappointment.”

Sound familiar? I found the above quote a few months ago at a blog called “Refocus – using 100 words to change my world,” and put it aside for later comment.

This is another downside to all the wonderful information that’s available all around us, the million voices telling us how to improve our lives. Even if we granted that a lot of the advice out there is junk, there’s still a tremendous amount of helpful skills and habits you can acquire, wonderful things to experience, and books that YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST READ. Not to mention blogs that are devoted to drawing your attention to even more cool stuff.

We simply don’t have enough time or energy to experience even a fraction of what’s out there, and that can result in guilt and frustration. Living in a connected world means having to develop a new skill that doesn’t come easily to many of us: the ability to find something new, something that will enrich your life, improve your health, and make you a smarter, better, and more interesting and creative person… and then say to yourself, “This new thing is great… and I’m going to admire it for a moment as it floats on by.” Continue reading

A great description of reading, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history. They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses. Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society. —Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World : Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), p. 357.

The Demon-Haunted World is filled with good insights about thinking and learning, and Sagan, as usual, is highly quotable. My favorite bit: “[Books] allow people long dead to talk inside our heads.” What a great description of reading, and a pithy explanation of why books matter.

Sagan’s skepticism informs his love of reading: Books “permit us to interrogate the past” — and one can imagine the conversation inside one’s head, the reader asking the author, “What do you know and how do you know it?”

Django Reinhardt’s three-fingered genius

Django Reinhardt

Jean “Django” Reinhardt was a promising young musician when a crippling injury seemed to end his chance of having a music career. Born in Belgium in 1910, Reinhardt grew up in Romani (Gypsy) camps near Paris, learning banjo, guitar, and violin. As a young man he and his wife lived in a caravan and scraped by on his earnings from music and his wife’s sales of artificial flowers that she made out of celluloid and paper in their little home.

One night Django knocked over a candle while climbing into bed, and all that celluloid and paper went up in flames. He was pulled from the fire badly burned, and lost much of the use of the third and fourth fingers on his left hand — his fret hand. Continue reading

Switching tasks improves creative thinking

You’re stuck on a creative task. Is it best to keep struggling with it, or to step away for a while and work on something else? Maybe taking a break will help you get the ideas you need. Or maybe you’re just procrastinating.

An article at 99u describes a study in which researchers found that subjects came up with more and better ideas after being distracted from their task with a completely different task.

Continue reading

Art’s nature versus “real” nature

Do you like nature photography? So do I, but today I want to look at how photography can give us a false (or at least incomplete) impression of nature.

I found this picture on Pinterest under “Nature.”

I like it (I want to go there), but in real life you probably won’t see anything so perfect. The flawless shapes and textures, the richness of the light — it’s all been carefully selected and composed, and maybe amped up in Photoshop as well.

I’m not knocking it. If I had taken anything this good, I’d post it here and brag about it. And all photographers distort their subjects — if in no other way, simply by selecting the scene and composing it. It’s already curated reality before the picture is even taken. Continue reading

Seeing music in a new way

How do you “see” music? I’m not just talking about watching a live performance. I’m talking about experiencing the music itself visually. (And If this blog is about anything, it’s about experiencing things you thought you knew in new ways.)

I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of John Coltrane, whose music I’ve often found too abstract for my taste. So he’s a good test case for me. Will the things I talk about below help me better understand and appreciate his music?

First I want to dismiss the idea of obligation — the sense that I should like this music because a lot of musicians consider Coltrane a genius. All art is personal, and it’s foolish and pretentious to try to like something just to seem sophisticated. That said, if all these musicians think he’s great, maybe there’s something really cool about his music that I’ve been missing.

So with that in mind, here are two animated videos of “Giant Steps,” which, I think, transform the song into new experiences. Continue reading