Tag Archives: History

Literature and Modern Teaching

Literature is on my mind this week. I have had a lot of time on my hands with little else to do but sort books on Goodreads. As I add books I have read over several decades and rate them, date them, sort them, and check for similar titles I have though of recent conversations about historical pieces of literature and entertainment such as plays. I studied a fair amount of literature and language over the years and read a lot on my own. As someone that enjoys reading of all types and the development of language I am interested in more than just the story in what I read.
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A book is a product of the time leading up to it and of the cultures that impacted the author. It is also a product of the language and history of the author. I write in the English forms I learned. I learned to read in Old English with books like the King James Bible, then authors like Rudyard Kipling opened my mind to other perspectives on the cultures of the people I knew. I read everything I was allowed until I left my parents house, then I just read everything that struck my fancy. When I took literature classes we read the classics in a way that feels a little like the way churches teach scriptures.
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Classic and historic literature is presented as the shining example of how to write and what literature is as opposed to modern books. But literature is writing with enduring merit not just any historic piece that survives and not automatically discarding anything new. Some pieces are worthy of study because of their historic significance. Others are prime examples of the language of the time (as far as we know.) Some showcase the culture at the time and others protest the culture at the time. The difference can grow confused the greater the distance from present.
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What I see however is that classic literature does not mean better. I do not mean because the language is old and hard for many modern readers, that just takes the time and willingness to adapt. I refer to the continuous development of culture, language, writing forms, and moral understanding. In the same way that I grow and change over time, giving up attitudes and behaviors when I learn better; I expect culture to grow and art forms to grow. As artists we develop our skills on the knowledge and examples of the past. The masters of the past are our foundation. We strive not just to be different and new but to grow and develop, to reach people with a well developed understanding of our craft.
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I do not accept the attitudes of the past as acceptable because they were common at the time. Some authors were opposed to them even then. Yes, reading the pieces is important. Understanding them in the context they existed is vastly more important. However, I do not want to emulate them. Language has changed. Culture has changed. I am a product of a mixed tapestry of cultures, languages, people, and teachings and am not as much a product of the mass culture around me as a touchstone of oddities from our time. My writing shows the perspective of one observing the culture and interacting with it as not quite a part of it. I see this same phenomena in some classic literature.
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We can appreciate the skill of a writer that opened a genre or questioned their culture but we do not need to feel they are an example of what to be. They are a signpost of change, a piece of history to be understood, appreciated, and improved upon. Dismissing modern writing as less than because it uses modern language, modern concepts, experimental forms, new genres, or is in electronic form only does us personally and all of society a disservice it shows a blindness to the purpose of writing. Those methods, thoughts, and examples from the past developed the communication tools. Those are the tools of improving culture and writing. History and experience are the foundations of new literature to be. Shakespeare is held up as a shining example now but was written for the masses entertainment. It was the soap opera of the time not the high brow art. Sherlock Holmes stories were a newspaper serial and are a favorite sample from the time.
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Literature can come from any genre or culture and in any form. Quality writing is not limited to the past or to what publishers approve of. This is a topic I love to explore and discuss and as it keeps coming up I may well return to it again soon. But for now, I leave you with the thought that we should read broadly and consider each piece in it’s context and with it’s purpose. Remember the story behind each author and think how does it touch the audience. If it does not reach a broad audience it will only survive in a limited circle. So a piece that is considered a literary achievement by the university but that people just aren’t drawn to has no place in the world of literature. It did not achieve the goal of communication and connection and cannot endure. Quality writing is in the tone and reach not in the approved words and form.
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Meditation Series – part 1: Intro

Some time ago I did a lesson on meditation for a multi part series. Recently I decided to update it for posting here in a parallel series to my ongoing Bug restoration. This will develop and dig deeper into each section but starts with an overview of the class as I wrote it.
Meditation is something used to some extent by most paths, practices, by many religions, and many people outside of religion. I am going to briefly cover what types of meditations are used and describe some of them. I will have a more detailed descriptions of a few, especially those I personally use or have received instruction in. If you know more about any of them, please share, none of us know everything about all of them or even any of them. This is a foundation and general information designed only to fuel imagination, interest, and understanding to prompt further research and experimentation. Meditation is intensely personal for many people and should be understood in that context. Also, it is an incredibly old practice with a lot of varied research attached both for and against. There is a lot of history and cultural relevance to the many forms of meditation. My personal forms are a blend from the cultures that have impacted my life, just as my blood is blended and my path is blended, they are very specific to where I am and what I am doing.
A complete meditation practice will combine active and passive forms. How often you should do it is discussed in every practice but it relies on your ability to know when you need it and your dedication to a consistent practice. You are best able to know the state of your self. frequent and regular is best, but do not berate or punish yourself for your available time and focus. It is something that develops itself with use. Consider short but frequent sessions interspersed with fewer long sessions that allow you to fully immerse in the experience. you will find more time for it when you are doing it regularly. Be consistent but be open to life and self, doing otherwise is counter to the very process.
So what are the types of meditation?
Note, that there is some overlap between the categories I list here and this is not exhaustive but most others will still fall within one of these. These are broad and cross lines so they are only a starting point.
Eye open meditation. 
These include gazing (including candle) and most active meditations. A common one you may recognize is zentangle.
Active meditation.
These include walking, Tai chi, yoga, work, gardening, repetitive action, swimming, art, doodle, writing, chanting, dance, martial. When considering the mental state these also include guided, sound, chant, and other focused and directed forms of meditation. This section is pretty self explanatory and you can see how these will overlap into other categories.
Focused attention. 
These include sound, manta, zazen, Loving Kindness, Chakra, Kundalini, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong, guided, spiritual, Primordial Sound, tea, visualization, mandala, Heart Rhythm, and chant. You may know gong or bowl meditation, or guided meditations, but most people will recognize the chant meditation form. Many awareness exercises and mindfulness exercises fall into this category.
Open Meditation.
observation of thought or function of self, mindfulness, Vipassana, some types of Taoist, Heart Rhythm, and Yoga Nidra. This can be a hard one to pin down in the mind of many people but is actually widely used on a small scale. Most types, if not all, will also fall into another category.
Blank or effortless.
Self-Enquiry (“I am” meditation) of Ramana Maharishi; Dzogchen; Mahamudra; some forms of Taoist, some advanced forms of Raja Yoga, Choiceless Awareness, and Pure Being. Probably the clearest way to describe this is the open becoming one with the true nature and true being. There is a focus on the true nature but you are not focused, you are open. It is not empty mind meditation but it can sound like it at times. Some people include empty mind in this category and make the distinction on the deeper levels of understanding.
Note.
I do not personally recommend the forms of meditation that use mind-altering substances. The practice is to develop your awareness, your self, your connection, your peace, your focus. The use of mind-altering substances in other practices or trances has a long history and purpose but in this case of regular practice to develop and clear yourself it is not in my observation conducive to the purpose you are working toward. There are descriptions of those methods available elsewhere if you are interested, I will not be discussing them here.
So, what is the base difference in some of these forms of meditation and why would you choose them?
Think of the focused forms that have you focusing on a specific thing, be it a word, idea, breath, action, object, whatever, they are a form of concentration and focus development. They calm the mind by focusing all processing on a single thing. All sensation is focused on one thing. All emotions are focused on one thing. It is openness through a calm developed out of repetition and attunement. A sound will resonate in your body and mind. A light will fill your mind as you look at it and feel it. A word will fill your consciousness through your focus. Each of these allows you to develop the empty mind, the focus, and the peace by allowing you to learn how to let sensations and thoughts pass unhindered and without impact. The mantra stills the normal discourse of the mind and resonates in you. You are detaching from the external world through focus on something like a mandala. Art is used in many focused meditations and active meditations.
Mindfulness, empty mind, Vipassana, and observational meditations are different in that they are not focused. they are open and observing everything that occurs. they observe and release all thoughts, sensations, emotions, and responses. They are for many a development from the focused forms. You are being present in yourself and in the awareness of what is happening in yourself. Some medical practices teach these forms for pain management. Zen and empty mind are emptying your mind and sensation. You are not so much being aware of these things as letting them go. You are working to have the state of emptiness and openness not impinged on by thoughts, sensations, emotions, actions, not by anything internal or external. Vipassana does focus on breath but not in the same ways that the more focused forms do. It is a focus in order to empty. A distinction not clear without feeling it. You are, in these forms, detaching both from the external world and from your response and judgments of things. You let thoughts and sensations go without judgment or response, and clear your mind by not focusing or judging. They often start focusing on breathing to reach the state of empty calm.
Active meditations can be focused, blank, open, and may be done either eyes open or closed. Active meditation first bring to mind such things as walking, yoga, tai chi, dance, or other full body activities but they can be painting, drawing, writing, washing, cleaning, and any number of other things. If you have trouble with the stillness of some types of meditation, active meditation may give you a place to start but it is usually recommended as a later stage not a starting point. It is a later step to draw your whole being into the process in a new way. It is very important o stay focused and clear and not be drawn away by your body, surroundings, or the activity. An active meditation can be a good start in many ways but it can be hard to work on the completeness of the experience using these forms.

An interesting article.

Who is a Scanner?

“Intense curiosity about numerous unrelated subjects is one of the most basic characteristics of a Scanner. Scanners are endlessly inquisitive. In fact, Scanners often describe themselves as being hopelessly interested in everything (although, as you’ll find out, this isn’t so). A Scanner doesn’t want to specialize in any of the things she loves, because that means giving up all the rest. Some even think that being an expert would be limiting and boring.

Our society frowns on this apparent self-indulgence. Of course, it’s not self- indulgence at all; it’s the way Scanners are designed, and there’s nothing they can or should do about it. A Scanner is curious because he is genetically programmed to explore everything that interests him. If you’re a Scanner, that’s your nature. Ignore it and you’ll always be fretful and dissatisfied.

It’s a whole new way of thinking, I know. And much of the world doesn’t see Scanners’ behavior as admirable or even acceptable. But it wasn’t always this way.”

Are You a Scanner? By Barbara Sher

 

Harvard University Harvard Art Museums Forbes Pigment Collection

At the Harvard University Harvard Art Museums Forbes Pigment Collection, many of the world’s rarest hues are preserved. Just don’t ask Narayan Khandekar, director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, what his favorite color is.

 

The materials collection, at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, MA, houses thousands of pigments, including some of the world’s rarest. Dragon’s blood, mummy, Indian yellow: these are but a few flashy highlights from the museum’s collection

Edward Forbes began what is known as the Forbes Pigment Collection after acquiring a decayed Renaissance painting in 1899, embarking on a path that shaped art conservation in America. Read about the legacy of the Harvard Art Museums pigment collection via Artnet news: http://hvrd.me/MkIf300QWc8

Materials-collection_Photo-Zak-Jensen_3346

Birthday!

Two posts this week because of a special event – my birthday!

So today’s focus is birthdays, friends, and supporting things we care about.

First for the birthday of a good friend and former boss, Director of a wonderful non-profit organization: Dr. Kathleen Hudson at Texas Heritage Music Foundation shares my birthday!

Visit her site and check out the education, stories, music, and interesting things they do – tell her happy birthday!

Mahatma Gandhi was also born on this day – one we should all remember.

As a birthday present to myself this year, I will soon be starting a new job as Office Manager at a non-profit near my home that runs a preservation garden, education programs, and is a simply amazing jewel of a place to visit: Peckerwood Garden. Check out their site if you are looking for something to visit in the area, it is pretty central between Brenham, Magnolia, Houston, and Katy, in Texas.

Now, for some other important figures from history:

Nat Turner – leader of a major slave rebellion in Virginia was born today

King Richard III of England, Isabella of Naples Duchess of Milan, Saint Charles Borromeo Italian cardinal, numerous composers and writers from around the world and a general from both the Union and the Confederate armies also were born this day in various years.

Julius von Sachs, botanist/naturalist; a German president; William Ramsay; Francois C Schlumberger; a Russian commander; Christopher Clarkson; Premiers of Austria and India, Ron Meagher; and many painters were born today.

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh of Sinne Fein; Rex Reed of Texas

Waheed Murad of Pakistan; Yuri Nikolayevich Glazkov and Vladimir Ivanovich Kozlov, USSR, cosmonauts; Lord Davies of the Welsh National Opera; Vernor [Steffen] Vinge; Jo-el Sonnier, Rayne La, country singer of Louisiana; Eric Peterson of Canada; Donna Karan, Fashion Designer; Ayumi Hamasaki, Japanese singer share my birthday.

Persis Khambatta, indian actress in Star Trek and Sting were both born today.

George Meegen, from England, who walked 19,019 miles from Argentina to Alaska (wow) was born today.

Sigtryggur Baldursson, Icelandic drumme and Aziz M. Osman, Malaysian actor and director share a birthday with me, a few playmates, many cricketers, and lots of actors.

One other worth mentioning is Bernie Merai (spelling is wrong I know) a man from my childhood that helped feed my interest in art and interest in how it could be used also shares my birthday.

There are footballers from around the world and people I could name for some time but suffice to say HAPPYY BIRTHDAY TO ALL OF US!