23 September 2012

"The study of effects, because discontinuous, appear as occultism" 
Dutifully reading my McLuhan this morning, I came across his observation that "the study of effects, because discontinuous, appear as occultism."* How similarly does this statement echo my own thoughts a few years ago. On my Shakespeare course in England I visited Stonehenge with some classmates. Our guide, a self-described "Neo-Druid" with curly springy hair, shared its mystical history as a burial, ritualistic, and commercial hub positioned over intersecting ley lines. These lines imbue the sacred site with power that she proceeded to demonstrate with her L-shaped divining rods that, pulled by their invisible energy, crossed and recrossed as she passed over them.

As skeptics we were immediately prone to dismiss our Neo-Druid guide's assertions as self-fulfilling or occult gibberish, but I couldn't help but consider the veracity of what she was saying. Why wouldn't her experience with magnetic fields, etc. be valid? Mightn't the phenomenon of the rods be based on some natural principle as yet mysterious but perfectly inane? Are we erroneously labeling something as occult because we have not yet grasped the underlying cause, the connection of this process with that process?

But then, why should a natural phenomenon feel less threatening once it has been investigated, labeled, and replicated in some obscure scientific journal, even when quantum chromodynamics is as mysterious to me as chronomancy? Whether justified or not, I feel safe in Science but threatened by Mystery. I still tend towards close-mindedness in such matters—indeed, when our hostess at Kinnersely Castle started on about dowsing, shamins, mugwort, etc, I was reasonably alarmed. The occult is certainly a door I would not like to open, especially since I know it is real based off of an acquaintance's experience (and for that reason I will not go near a Ouija board). I wonder, then--is it the associated traditions that cast practices like dowsing as evil? the practitioners? the purpose?

*McLuhan and McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science (1988), p. 51

P.S. divination can be practical

The Celebration

09 January 2012

It's a certain canine's 14th birthday today.

As he's always been partial to pancakes, Kathryn cooked him a gluten-free one so that his ears wouldn't itch. We lit a candle, sang "Happy Birthday," and watched his 10-second celebration.

Happy birthday, Mr. Reg!

Cold Snap

04 January 2012

It's been unseasonably warm lately, but on Tuesday Winter's true nature finally showed up. Everyone's feeling the chill.

Marshall McLuhan on the "global village"

19 September 2011

Watch as Marshall McLuhan discusses civilization's return to the tribe with the emergence of electric media:

Although the video cuts off abruptly, McLuhan touches upon some of his key ideas in the segment.

The Clock

14 September 2011

As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces uniform seconds, minutes, and hours on an assembly-line pattern. Processed in this uniform way, time is separated from the rhythms of human experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered universe ... Time measured not by the uniqueness of private experience but by abstract uniform units gradually pervades all sense life, much as does the technology of writing and printing. Not only work, but also eating and sleeping, came to accommodate themselves to the clock rather than to organic needs.

--Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

24 August 2011

So that was a new experience.

Tuesdays and Fridays you'll find me at Panera, working diligently on my research from about 6:30/7 to 2; I'm in the back corner by the outlet, poring over Understanding Media and nursing my cup of hazelnut coffee. That's not the new experience--it's my routine. But this afternoon we had an earthquake, our first since 1897 (!). I just thought the guy sitting behind me was shifting and accidentally bumping my chair. When he kept bumping my chair, however, I finally turned around to see if I was in his way or something and felt discombobulated to see him placidly working out of range. Too much coffee, I guess--I could have sworn my chair was moving. No one else looked concerned.

It wasn't until I overheard one lady's conversation that my ears pricked. "...I mean it was shaking," she exclaimed. "I was just sitting in my car, eating chicken, and it was literally shaking...mmhmm...5.8 they're saying..."


So of course, that's all any of us along the East Coast are talking about as we prepare for Hurricane Irene.

22 August 2011

As I continue to research, I'm re-reading bits from one of my favorite books and re-discovered this passage in which Postman discusses Lewis Mumford's conception of the clock:
"The clock," Mumford has concluded, "is a piece of power machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes." In manufacturing such a product, the clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God's conception, or nature's. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he created.
In Mumford's great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God's supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser.
excerpt from Postman, N. (1984). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books. (p. 11-12).

A Meditation on Labor

12 August 2011

"The contribution that science can make to labor is to render it easier by the help of a tool or a process, and to assure the laborer of his perfect economic security while he is engaged upon it. Then it can be performed with leisure and enjoyment. But the modern laborer has not exactly received this benefit under the industrial regime. His labor is hard, its tempo is fierce, and his employment is insecure. The first principle of a good labor is that is must be effective, but the second principle is that it must be enjoyed. Labor is one of the largest items in the human career; it is a modest demand to ask that it may partake of happiness.

"The regular act of applied science is to introduce into labor a labor-saving device or a machine. Whether this is a benefit depends on how far it is advisable to save the labor. The philosophy of applied science is generally quite sure that the saving of labor is a pure gain, and that the more of it the better. This is to assume that labor is an evil, that only the end of labor or the material product is good. On this assumption labor becomes mercenary and servile, and it is no wonder if many forms of modern labor are accepted without resentment though they are evidently brutalizing. The act of labor as one of the happy functions of human life has been in effect abandoned, and is practiced solely for its rewards."

~an excerpt from I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, pp. xl-xli.

Learning the Fundamentals

08 August 2011

A few days ago I came across this Huffington Post article entitled "Why are Young, Educated Americans Going Back to the Farm?" (found via ColdAntlerFarm). My great-grandmother witnessed the beginning of the transition from farm to city, so it's interesting to witness some reversal only a few generations later. I especially resonated with Kelly Coffman's quote:
"When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter...these things are important."
Returning to the basics is a quest I began several years ago--in fact, it's one of the main reasons I went Wwoofing, and it's why I enjoy making as many necessities as I can, starting as close to "from scratch" as I can. The kitchen is one area I've mentioned before, what with my bread, granola, etc; clothing is another. In a way, even refurbishing secondhand furniture is my way of understanding the items I live with at their most basic level, for nothing has taught me more about the materials and construction of an upholstered chair than doing it myself (and one of these days, I'll actually finish it!*). I haven't bought shampoo or conditioner in years, opting instead to use a baking soda rinse to clean my hair and an apple-cider vinegar rinse to condition it. And on that note, I also make my own foundation, although that is not a necessity. I am even nearly finished gathering the supplies I need to make my own shoes (Andrew Wrigley has a great series on making semi-brogues here).

These little acts are nothing groundbreaking--well, my shoe-making aspirations raise some eyebrows--and they may not hold much significance to anyone but myself. I still use quite a few things I don't understand--like my computer, the Internet, electricity, my car, not to mention the "scratch" ingredients like baking soda, cotton fabric, zinc oxide. There are a few drawbacks to this sort of "fundamental education," too. Time is the major factor, and money can be another. Although I end up saving quite a bit, some of these projects require an initial investment in supplies, and that is an investment I may not be able to make at the time. That is why I am thankful for responsibly formulated products like Desert Essence's deodorant or Trader Joe's multipurpose cleaner. And these little acts don't arise out of any sort of activism--I consider them more thoughtful and cheap than "green." But they do mark my determination to understand more about the things I depend upon, more about the processes city-life tends to occlude in favor of the products.

*this is the major drawback to getting back to the basics: the time it takes to complete these projects

P.S. Agrarian and Neo-Agrarian thinkers articulate the reasons behind this return to the fundamentals beautifully. I recommend I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

This Week I...

06 August 2011

  • sewed a dress and a fitted shell using my bodice sloper
  • was treated to a farewell lunch at the Carolina Inn by my dear coworkers at the SHC; I'm going to miss these folks and my work there very very much
  • started work on a Stagville exhibit at the SHC
  • visited Historic Stagville in Durham
  • found Make This Look via a comment on Sew Retro; figuring out how to replicate clothing I see in stores is one of my favorite parts about sewing, and many lovely styles are represented on this section of Sew Weekly
  • popped up to Virginia to celebrate Dad's birthday
And here are some lovely posts from around the Web:

A Visit to Stagville

05 August 2011

The SHC has been collaborating with Historic Stagville, and the final project in my practicum is creating an exhibit on some of the enslaved families. On Monday my research brought me down the stairs to the North Carolina Collection in search of source citations, but on Thursday I decided to break from the books and visit the plantation itself.

The hour-long tour takes visitors to the Bennehan house, the enslaved quarters at Horton Grove, and the great barn, all of which are described briefly here. While the Bennehan home was interesting, Horton Grove impressed me with the tangible reminders of slavery. Along the chimney, you can see actual handprints of the enslaved builders who shaped and stacked the bricks. One brick even bears the faint footprint of a child who must have stepped or fallen upon it before it was quite dry. Hart House, too, retains connections to its enslaved past with the Hart family (one of the families I am researching, in fact). As sharecroppers and blacksmiths after emancipation, the Harts were able to buy the house eventually and resided there as late as the 1950s. There are some living in town today who can say they were born in [formerly] enslaved quarters.

If you'd like to peek into Historic Stagville virtually, head here.

Wwoofing Adventures #6

03 August 2011

6 o'clock buzzed in much too soon, but we had to shower, pack, check out, and get to Westminster Abbey by 8. On our bus ride home the night before, Meagan had declared her resolve to attend Holy Communion--a resolve that met with cranky protestations on my part. Nevertheless, we boarded the very empty Docklands Light Railway early that morning, backpacks in tow, ready enough to commence our last half-day in London. LeeAnn departed mid-route for Westminster Cathedral's morning mass, while Meagan and I continued on. Perhaps it was my tiredness--afterall, an introvert who has been enjoying new experiences in a bustling city will get socially, emotionally, and physically tired--but the day was beginning to take on a surreal cast, my present activities dislimned by my anticipation of the coming night when the three of us would embark upon our first Wwoofing adventure. I'd never worked on a farm--rarely even in a garden, never concerned myself with organic practices nor the environment, never stayed with a host-family. Would this be the beginning of something new, the time I could point to later on and say "there the course of my life changed"?

Holy Communion was the best way to experience the Abbey, far better than the cattle-prodded shuffle of paid admission. The greeters did not even seem to mind the backpacks we stuffed dutifully beneath our seats. The service soon over, Meagan and I trekked to Westminster Cathedral, reunited with LeeAnn, and made our circuitous way to Victoria Station. In between settling the finer points of our evening's journey to Kent, I took the opportunity to nab a cup of coffee that provided little of the wanted effect.

The details in order, our departure time duly noted, we set out for Portobello Market for a few hours of browsing. The alarming cost to check our bags at the station dissuaded us from doing the sensible thing and from then on every few steps nagged me with regrets as I hoisted my bag to a less aching position. We finally found Portobello Market (are you sensing a theme with all these "finally found"s?) and, after bumping through crowds and stalls stocked with tea cups and antique watches and faded books, we discovered a stall selling scarves at a reasonable price. Each of us bought a beautiful pashmina and correctly predicted that "we'll be loving them all summer."

The train was a blessed respite from the bustle of London and of the past few days. It was our moment to sit for an hour or so in the relative quiet of the car while anticipating our next adventure. What would our host be like? Would we acclimate? Would we realize that this whole trip was terribly misguided and so dread our remaining weeks on other farms?

Excitement, curiosity, and anxiety mingled in my thoughts as we pulled in to the station.

01 August 2011

Goodness gracious it's August already.

As I gear up for my move, submit my IRB application, finish my practicum at the SHC, and play host to my lovely sister, expect posting to be slower/shorter than normal for the next few weeks.

On another note, others are still going strong in the blogging realm. Joanna of Cup of Jo posted a thoughtful examination of how we talk to little girls. Read it here.

This Week I...

30 July 2011

  • finished (as much as one can say "finished") fitting my bodice sloper; it's only taken me three years
  • transcribed a letter written by a UNC chemistry professor in 1861; although it contains all-too-familiar references to lost friends and loneliness, Kimberly writes with a fair bit of humor as well, especially when discussing his limited fare and the garrulous Mrs. M--
  • drafted my first sleeve sloper using Donald McCunn's How to Make Sewing Patterns (1977); I broke into smiles when I beheld my finished pattern, and the amount of ease I added made for a perfect seam when sewn. It seriously brought joy to my heart! Unfortunately, it's not very comfortable when I move my arms, so it's back to the drafting board...
  • composed a PSA for UNC's WXYC radio advertising the Civil War Day by Day
  • finished my first draft of CWDxD's classroom resources page (update: see the page here)
  • ate lots of peaches and strawberries
  • boosted my HTML vocabulary with new linking codes
And here are some noteworthy posts from this week:

Disembodied Information

29 July 2011

It was not until the advent of the telegraph that messages could travel faster than a messenger. Before this, roads and the written word were closely interrelated. It is only since the telegraph that information has detached itself from such solid commodities as stone and papyrus.

-Marshall McLuhan
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), p. 89

How does the disembodiment of information affect our perception of it?

Wwoofing Adventures #5

27 July 2011

By that morning, our third day in England, I could feel myself adjusting to the time change and even to life as a tourist. We had much to do in this our last full day in London--tour the British Museum and the British Library, search out our midday meal of fish and chips, breeze through Regent's Park, and arrive at the Globe Theatre in time for our much anticipated production of King Lear*. LeeAnn was also itching to return to the theatre set exhibit at the V&A, having stumbled upon it only five minutes before it closed the previous day. She lives and breathes theatre. With all that, we also rather hoped to take a jaunt through an open-air market before the show.

Such are the unrelenting plans of the optimist.

Although the Museum proved surprisingly difficult to find, we selected the exhibits we wished to see with relative ease by confining ourselves to the 100 Objects tour on the first and second floors. As an English major, however, I made sure to visit the Brownings' wedding rings again, and we all paused before the Elgin Marbles with Keats's famous poem, "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles for the First Time."

As I wrote during my last visit, it was amazing to set eyes upon things--statues, tools, jewelry, pottery, &c--that have existed before the momentous events that we have defined as history, touched by the hands of those completely different from our own. So many of these things were created before the incarnation of Christ himself, the Lord and Savior of the world. Shadow of a magnitude indeed.

taking a breather at the British Museum
But time waits for no one, particularly the traveler, and we found a small restaurant serving the next item on our agenda. The three of us disappointed the waitress by ordering only one (albeit large) plate of fish and chips and mushy peas to split among us, relying on its full fat content to hold us through to a light supper before the play. After our grocery-store meals of bread and cheese and fruit, it felt good to sit down in an classy establishment and eat a hearty meal. We even ordered a dish of hazelnut ice cream (to split of course) in a moment of delighted spontaneity.

Thus refreshed, we wandered further through London in search of the Library which we found only after a good deal more twists and turns past boiled-peanut vendors and souvenir tea shops. We ended up forgoing Regent's Park, in spite of my stubborn remonstrations, wisely concluding that it would be foolish to hurry across London in order to rest at the Park. Part of traveling is figuring out what you have time both to do and savor; capability is only half the equation. Nevertheless we did speed through the unimaginable riches of the British Library--Queen Elisabeth I's signature, Shakespeare's handwriting, Jane Austen's desk--in order to return to our favorite haunt at the V & A. In our rush I neglected, once again, to take my picture on the incredible book bench. We breezed through the theatre exhibit buoyed by LeeAnn's pure delight before snatching bread and cheese from a convenience store by the station (not knowing what kind of gory interpretation of King Lear was in store for us, we wanted to keep our fare light). Then, situated just across the Thames from the Globe, we found a bench and pulled out my tiny Complete Works of Shakespeare to review the play.

My only concern as a groundling was my [lack of] height, and I feared being squashed behind some tall broad man for the two or three hours of the play only catching the occasional "Wherefore..." or "Bethink..." As it was I needn't have worried, for we wedged ourselves in right next to the stage--within spitting distance of the actors, as they say--sufficiently drawing us into the play so that we even forgot our tired feet. At one point, characters from the play processed up to the stage and passed right by us.

Unfortunately, the Birds' Nest is a ways away from London proper, and by the time we left the Globe that evening the few Underground lines linking us and Deptford were closed, some right as we entered the station. One staff member took pity on us, however, and directed us to a bus stop serving the last bus to Deptford. I write "directed" kindly, for minutes of circuitous wandering failed to reveal what he had glibly waved us toward. Spurred on by terrible visions of taxi fares (which I admittedly supplemented with the idea of walking to Deptford in spite of the rather rough area in which our hostel was situated), we at last found the bus stop where I discovered I had lost my Oyster card**. Now, I am the sort who obsessively checks for my keys before shutting my car door and checks for my library or credit card before getting in line; all through London I kept my Oyster card easily accessible, only reassured with the occasional pat to verify that it was still in its proper place; this, therefore, was especially frustrating. Frenzied rifling, desperate coin-counting, tears, the odd "damn it," &c, however, and I finally found it just as the bus pulled up. We arrived at the Nest an hour later.

*Never actually been a fan of King Lear--in fact, for the longest time this play represented everything that repulsed me by Shakespeare; but such was the 2008 summer schedule at the Globe
**Underground and bus fare

a conversation

25 July 2011

I originally wrote this as one of last week's bullet points, but it got too cumbersome for the format. Here's more about that little reminder...

In all honesty, I have been angry for a long time (for reasons I may share eventually so that others may relate and learn), and it came to a head on Sunday when my simmering resentment erupted in a flurry of questions, accusations, declarations. I told God everything on my heart with unedited and alarming frankness. As others have said, the important thing is to keep talking with God, especially during those times you absolutely don't want to talk. So I talked. And I yelled. And I cried.

And I did it all again on Monday. Why, why would you do that? I asked him. Why?

Does God have to explain himself to man?

Pause. What?

Does God have to explain himself to man?

A mess of concepts and hints of passages I'd read long ago impressed themselves upon me, reminding me of God's awesome, exalted nature.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Who then is he that can stand before Me?

Who has given to Me that I should repay him?*

I don't deserve an answer, and I don't even deserve to be satisfied. God is working out his will as he sees fit, for whatever reason. But it is also his prerogative to love me, for whatever reason. I heard from God in the sense that he pointed me to his unchanging truth in Scripture; he brought to mind whispers of passages I've read years ago, all the more humbling because I was in no mood to reflect or to receive. God does not have to give an account of himself to man, nor is he required to explain his actions. He is God, and what he does or allows I have to accept without necessarily understanding it now (and this, I believe, is what one calls "faith"). I am also his beloved, which for reasons unknown, is his prerogative (and this, I believe, is what one calls a "relationship").
Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
What if God, although willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And he did so to make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom he also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As he says also in Hosea,
"I will call those who were not my people, 'My people,'
And her who was not beloved, "Beloved.'" **

*see Job chapters 38-41 in full (one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible). This part is ridiculously hard to convey, and impossible to convey accurately and without sounding like a mystical epiphany. Out of a nebulous impression I have attempted to pluck discrete bits, define them with words, and string them into the sequence required of narrative. To put it in McLuhanesque terms, I have struggled to convey an oral, all-at-once impression in the sequential medium of print. Anyone who's had that flash of intuition and then have attempted to jot it down but utterly failed to capture it may relate.
**Romans 9:20-25

This Week I...

22 July 2011

  • decided on Sunday afternoon that I wanted to sew a fitted summer dress and set about drafting a bodice; of course, I got hung up on fitting. For some reason, my fitting nemesis is the upper bust area, and the same wrinkle shows up in every bodice pattern I try, one that radiates from the outer shoulder in toward the bust. No amount of fiddling seems to mitigate it--believe me, I've tried pinching out length through the chest, adjusting the shoulder slope, pinching out width through the center, pinching out width through the shoulder, pinching out the dart and rotating it to the bust dart...The closest wrinkle pattern in the books appears under the heading, "Full Bust Adjustment," which I know is not my particular problem! Is this wrinkle inevitable? Should I quit fussing and just sew the damn dress?
  • finished a new page on the Civil War Day by Day blog about the First Battle of Bull Run (fought exactly 150 years ago) and started drafting a page directed toward teachers (which I am really excited about doing as this meshes closely with my hoped-for career)
  • confirmed my research adviser for the Fall (and my last semester at UNC
  • listened to my Pandora station based on one of my favorite bands, Hem
  • started running regularly; I was never a great runner, but I used to enjoy running 3-4 miles a few times a week. Now I'm s l o w l y building up stamina by running for bits of my usual 2 mile walks
  • got a timely reminder--more about this on Monday... 

Wwoofing Adventures...resumed

20 July 2011

My mom and sister's return from England has reminded me of my own most recent trip in the summer of 2008. I originally started this blog to document the adventures of my two college roommates and me as we Wwoofed our way through the UK. Internet access was too sparse during our trip, and since then other events and nonevents have crowded out my original intention. I did, however, make a start at blogging it, and that is the narrative I would like to resume over the next few months. In deference to the blogger's predilection for alliterative posts, I have scheduled my Wwoofing accounts for Wednesdays, tentatively.

Catch up on my Wwoofing adventures with my introduction, narrative #1, #2, #3, and #4, and look for the next installment in a week!

This Week I...

16 July 2011

  • focused upon staying hydrated--I pour my 64 oz of water into a big pitcher and drink it down through the day
  • baked baguettes and my new favorite Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal loaves
  • noted Gertie's new online sewing class with great interest; while the bustier bodice is not something I see myself wearing (I prefer loose-fitting tops), the light couture techniques she teaches look immensely valuable and that these techniques are taught in one place, convenient.
  • nourished my ever-growing hair with a gross but effective avocado mask (note: link opens a video) and finally trimmed my ends. Also, I noticed another grey hair!
  • perused the minutes of the Philanthropic Society available through University Archives; topics under debate in the 1860s include "Who influences society more, man or woman?" "Will the North and South ever be reconciled over the issue of slavery?" "What has the greater influence over man, wine or women?" and "Is it ever moral for the Confederate army to fight on the offensive?"
  • am listening to Alison Krauss and Union Station's Paper Airplane--my favorite song is "My Love Follows You Where You Go"
  • nabbed a 20% off coupon for filling out the Colette Patterns survey (now closed), and I have my eye set on the Macaron
  • continued weeding in preparation for my move
  • continued my interminable thesis research; I finally set a schedule for finishing it, which is helping me to keep moving and not get bogged down on certain parts
And I have enjoyed these posts from around the Web:
  • Have you seen this project, Her Five Year Diary: a day-by-day transcription of one woman's life from 1961 through 1965? It's new to me, but I am going to start from the beginning and catch up. You can find out more about it here.
  • Gertie continues the discussion of sewing muslins (started on BurdaStyle here) and, as usual, inspires a variety of opinions. I, for one, almost always sew muslins (mock-ups) since I tend to draft my own patterns, and they do allow me to practice new techniques with little fear. I don't, however, usually use actual muslin but instead get cheap cuts of fabric from thrift stores (ugly prints or those with polyester in them, out of which I wouldn't make actual clothes)
  • I found a wonderful sewing blog, Frabjous Couture (who posted the original muslins post on BurdaStyle)
  • I loved Kathryn's simile, "like when a comedian's last joke falls to crickets." And look at this bovine invasion!