Monthly Archives: October 2005

40 years

Every five years I get a new installment in the ongoing saga of my college class (it was Harvard 1965), and the Fourtieth Anniversary Report arrived yesterday. I’ve spent quite a few of the last 24 hours immersed in the lives of people I didn’t know, or knew only very slightly, and I’m as much affected by the experience as I was by the seven previous iterations. This time around, the themes of retirement and grandchildren and parental death are much to the fore, with antiphonal threads of travel and health crises, and occasional notes of dissatisfaction with the directions in which the world is headed.
I am surprised to feel so connected with a group of people, my cohort, but at the same time so disconnected from nearly all of them as individuals. My freshman roommates are dead or vanished, and quite a few others I can recall pretty clearly are also gone. It seems that I didn’t have many friends in the class, though there are a few I’d be delighted to see again. I’m amazed to find that two classmates live within 5 miles (and that they’re recent transplants to Maine, as I am), but I’m not sure if hunting them up is likely to be a good idea, since what we share is granfalloonish membership in a fund-raising pool.
Wallace Shawn, yes that Wallace Shawn, wins my award for most eloquent entry, from which I’ll quote a paragraph:

And today, still addicted to the fantasy that we’re better than others and deserve a bit more, we accept with our well-known tight-lipped equanimity (occasionally broken by our well-known inaudible warblings of protest) all the blood spilled and the bones broken by our servants –Bush and the rest– in their effort to preserve our well-merited position down to the last Reunion.

Those I am most curious about are the 50-odd who are listed only with Last known address, and who have managed to escape the vigilance of the fund-raising arm of Mother Harvard. Their stories would be worth knowing.
There are a few whose lives and eloquence I admire, and whom I wish I knew.

Nelson’s Transquoter

Bryant Adams sent me a pointer to a Slashdot article on Ted Nelson’s Transquoter and I’ve been playing with its possibilities, via the skeletal directions available (download the .exe, edit .edl file, double-click .edl and specify that transquoter.exe is the program to use…), but just how to aim it at the desired place in a file is less than completely obvious (how do you count the characters, and the spans, except [ugh!] manually).

It hasn’t yet occurred to me just what I’d want to DO with this, but that’s probably because I’m not really paying attention… I hope for revelation. Which reminds me of the Auden lyric:

Revelation came to Luther in a privy
Crosswords have been solved there
Rodin was no fool
When he cast his Thinker
Cogitating deeply
Crouched in the position
Of a man at stool.

(from Auden’s The Geography of the House, but for many years just a remembered fragment)

and a followup

Stephen Downes’ blog has a pointer to the text of Gardner Campbell’s There’s Something in the Air: Podcasting in Education from EDUCAUSE Quarterly. I’m really glad that I heard it before reading it, and it’s interesting to reflect on how different the experiences are. That’s really a matter of how Gardner reads it –the care he puts into phrasing and timing. The experience is not unlike hearing Lenny Henry read part of the first chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.

Something in the Air

I listen to a lot of MP3s, some of them overt podcasts and others productions that don’t quite fit into the ‘podcast’ rubric as it’s been developed in a year of experimentation. Generally I am most moved, inspired, and informed by audio that has the freshness of conversation, and only occasionally do readings get to me in the same way. When I do succumb to a reading, the charm is largely a matter of the skill in the voice. Case in recent point: Gardner Campbell has a simply glorious version of an EDUCAUSE piece, There’s Something in the Air: Podcasting in Education, published in the Nov/Dec EDUCAUSE Review –not a wasted word in 47:30 golden minutes. I can think of a score of people whom I’d love to nail down and insist that they listen, because if they did, they’d finally get it about the utility and importance of the medium.
But 47 minuteses are difficult to command. The best inducement I can think of is to ask that score of folks to invest 2:30 in an excerpt, in which Gardner is deliciously eloquent on Magic in the human voice, on the Theatre of the Mind, and on the Explaining Voice: “when we hear someone read with understanding, we participate in that understanding, almost as if the voice is enacting our own comprehension…”

Musical Interlude

I can’t praise this enough: American Primitive Vol II from Revenant Records. The liner notes which accompany the two-CD release are a marvel of eloquence and elegant production:

Crucial to the Revenant ethos is the notion of the neglected gem. Our Revenant empire, such as it is, is founded upon the proposition that if the masses reject or ignore it, it just may be worth looking into. Neglected artists may be those ahead of their time, too uncompromising for their own good, whose sense of timing and often decorum was not quite the equal of their imagination. (12)

A special category for neglect is the phantom… Some of these phantoms left behind music of such an otherworldly character that it genuinely retains the power to shock, confound, inspire and sustain today.

Some names: Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, Nugrape Twins, Homer Quincy Smith, Blues Birdhead

Names too obscure even for Harry Smith

…The phantom, the revenant, has a special allure. In an age of complete media saturation, where we must, unavoidably, reckon with our artists’ personal minutiae, there is something wonderfully, preversely compelling about art that must stand completely on its own, sand biographical context, since absolutely nothing of any consequence is known about the artist behind the work. It has the quality of a cave painting, except we arguably know more about the personal habits of the creatures who conjured them than we do about our friends Geeshie and Homer. (13)

I am not alone in my enthusiasm: Malcolm at Venerable Music says “There is no easy way to explain just how good this collection is! From the very first track (my first time hearing Homer Quincy Smith), I was completely involved with no turning back. I’ve been listening to these songs all weekend & toward the end of each, I still find myself in true anticipation of the next. The ghosts are evident in this one. Honestly, the best compilation I have heard in while! A true 5-star rating!”

American Primitive Vol I was/is pretty amazing too.

Just so

This one snuck up and clubbed me:

When people die, they leave a giant black space in your life. Or maybe the giant black space is filled with people who have died. Every week, Laura plays an Airwaves Archive, breathing life into recordings of old radio broadcasts. It seems to me that the part of radio that is always slipping away from us is the part that makes it so achingly compelling. We can archive everything we broadcast now, and we do, but we are still broadcasting, sending signals out from transmitters. The airwaves are already an archive, filled with murmuring voices drifting past each other out into space.
Amanda Barrett Fading In and Out

On being Too Far Ahead

Dave Pollard’s How to Save the World keeps poking me with reminders of the Canadian perspective that I so admire –minimally tainted by infection with the global power trip that most Americans don’t even notice, and with lots of basic good sense, eh? His posting yesterday, on being ahead of the times around oneself, gets it just right. And he concludes:

I am announcing the start of a new Movement. It is the Movement of People Too Far Ahead For Their Own Good. Or, for short, the Too Far Ahead Movement. And since most movements have an icon, or a secret handshake, or some other quiet acknowledgment of mutual membership, like the ‘V’ sign of the 1960s Peace Movement, the Too Far Ahead Movement should have a gesture, too.

What might be a good gesture to acknowledge the presence of another Too Far Ahead person? We could use something exotic like the ‘be seeing you’ gesture from The Prisoner. But I’m leaning towards something subtle — say, a simple nod with eyes closed and closed right hand to right chest…

This crossed my bow at more or less the same time I was reading Peter Sandman’s absolutely essential Flu Pandemic Preparedness Snowball. Besides being a super-fine piece of writing, it has a really important point to make about being a True Believer, under the heading “Be nice to the newbies”:

Anyone who has ever been an activist knows how demoralizing it is to start winning. You had this solid “in” group of fellow fanatics. Everyone knew everyone else; everyone knew the facts and the issues; everyone knew how special you all were to care so deeply, to keep plugging away despite your neighbors’ obliviousness. Then you made some progress, and suddenly there were strangers coming to your meetings, asking stupid questions, offering inappropriate suggestions, making everyone uncomfortable, sometimes even usurping leadership… the last two weeks have seen an explosive increase in newcomers to bird flu sites. These latest newbies are in the early stages of their adjustment reaction. Some are frightened and urgent; some are skeptical; nearly all are ignorant. Some of the oldtimers are feeling crowded and a little contemptuous, and it’s showing… As a fellow fanatic put it to me a few days ago: “The mainstream is finally starting to pay attention, and some of the flu geeks are getting upset. They haven’t quite figured out why. They just know they’re in a bad mood.”

Sandman goes on to suggest practical steps and considerations for flu geeks, or (in the general sense) for anybody who awakes to being a person Too Far Ahead For Their Own Good.