Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Respect generates respect

       I have to thank Maria Popova for her site Brain Pickings which does, indeed, “bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.”  I already know I am interested in creativity and the way it manifests and changes given various and advancing technologies, but Maria Popova combines ideas as a “cultural curator and mind at large” that expand my little world.    Her “mash ups” are always food for thought,  as in this one on “Networked Knowledge and Combinational Creativity” which brings together Richard Dawkins, Susan Sontag, Gandhi, and Maria Popova in an argument for choosing and creating norms for “creative labor”: Norms that help us pay attention to each other and use each other gently.  Especially, she reminds us, consider how we value what inspires us—the threads from the vast history of ideas which have stimulated our own thinking.   There may indeed be newness in our contribution, but only because we have been exposed to others.   Is it possible to establish a norm (beyond literary citations) to credit cultural curation of the museums of our life?

A few thoughts:

(1)    I remember a moment in feminist scholarship when we over acknowledged to the point of confession.  Whereas this life history was often separated into Prefaces and Introductions, we referred to it so often in our work that it became essential.  I actually loved this grounding.  I found it easier to pay attention to the scholar when I was invited to know her/him first.  I more easily heard—rather than just listened to--lectures that began with “establishing authority” and not assuming it.  I know the practice was not universally appreciated:  “Get to the point already!”  But the practice made its imprint on me so that I enjoy saying, for example, “I was walking with Michelle when this idea came to me.”

(2)    As a HS English teacher over the last 10 years, I found great student resistance to even informal citation.  This only surprised me because I didn’t understand what mashing was and how in music and poetry and fun and games, internet users freely “borrowed” and combined from each other.  In fact, I was teaching a generation of students who believed and practiced “no ownership” of words and images.  I think, though, that they know from whom they borrow and who borrows from them in a subliminal world of flattery and pride.  This “internet memory” is a new skill internet generations share that I am not privy to.  If I "googled" and found original sources for phrases and paragraphs that I doubted were written by my students, I accused the individuals of plagiarism.  I told them they could be expelled for stealing, that being educated meant entering a dialogue wherein ethical people acknowledged each others' contributions.    

The LANGUAGE of plagiarism is posted everywhere in the public high schools.  Yet this internet generation doesn’t understand the traditional meaning and implications of plagiarism because their world has extremely different values.   

A new norm that could actually be communicated in all the places where people learn and practice being part of societies and cultures would be wonderful.  But, the norm has to be insisted on and experienced by practitioners of all ages.  Respect generates respect. 
(3)    When the same students formally presented their research process and results to their classmates, citation and documentation improved.  With few exceptions, students found it fun—if not worthwhile to others—to recall the “detective” process they engaged in order to come to the conclusions they report.    Noting this, the problem for me became how to get them to isolate their borrowings in their written pages or in the visual images they shared and then to write these acknowledgements down.    The carrot was the grade I would assign the project.   I doubt if they would choose to bore each other with these details if left to their own devices.  Precision is not a value for mashing.  And this is not unique to youth.  Quotations of the masters that are used and re-used are no longer trustworthy either!  See, for example, Brian Morton’s  examination of famous quotations in his Op-Ed article “Falser Words Were Never Spoken” in the NY Times (8/29/2011).
(4)    Ultimately, the solution will lie in a combination of “internet memory” and hyperlinks.  And we will demand a wider knowledge of each creative moment in the world than ever before.  How will we ever keep up with the young?  Should we let go our rigid grip on the technical formalities of academic thought?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ground-up organizing

NATO and Facebook Join Forces in the Global Digital Age screams the Blog headline.  I am reading the Tech page of The Huffington Post on 19 April 2012.  I reread, assuming that the announcement is a hoax, but when I see that the authors are Dr. Stefanie Babst and Elizabeth Linder, I know that it is not.  Not a hoax.   I think not.  Yet the proposed unity seems too practical to be real.  A major political alliance is working with a profitable digital social network.  This ought to be interesting.

According to The Huffington Post, "Dr. Stefanie Babst is NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy";  Elizabeth Linder is Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist for the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions."  And they explain:  "In pursuing our efforts to contribute to this global conservation, we -- two individuals at Facebook and NATO -- have started to collaborate. Because we believe that instruments of diplomacy, no matter how hard or how soft -- or how smart, for that matter -- bring people together."  WOW!  At the end of the blog, a gloss cautions: 

"Their views expressed are solely their own and do not represent the official views of NATO or Facebook."
So what is going on?
The blog is a collaborative post that begins by predicting how this digital age will appear in future history texts for school students.  Delightfully optimistic, the two authors state that history will foreground

Monday, April 16, 2012

Walking On-Line

After spending my two to three hours on-line each morning, I walk for exercise and enjoyment.  The exercise is calorie burning, I hope, but is mainly for increasing muscle strength in limbs under-used due to spine and nerve injuries. Because I need not walk for speed, enjoyment is primary—a delightful reversal that came with retirement.  And at least twice a week I treat myself to the Schuylkill River Walk where I pretend I am in Paris walking along the Seine.  There, enjoyment takes one or more of (1) browsing the sights and smells en route, (2) thinking, and (3) talking with a co-walker.  Lately I have been thinking about the many individuals I see who are taking cell phones and internet devices for a walk, a multitude that includes loners, groups, and both dog and baby walkers.  I think the callers probably can double task with looking around, whereas the texters may be playing a blind kinetic game.  I feel compassion for the dogs and babies who are missing out on interaction with their significant others of the moment.  What do young children learn from this pattern, I wonder, but look!  The two over there—younger than 10 years old for sure—are also walking their texts or texting their walks!  

I brought up this problem here earlier this month in "Muse . . . ."  which was inspired by a poem  Today I am inspired by new ideas, anecdotes, and scientific language from Stephen Marche's essay “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” in the May 2012 on-line issue of ATLANTIC magazine.  Mr. Marche's analysis includes an examination of recent studies on social connectivity and loneliness. 

I now see the problem is really a paradox that we ourselves create. 

The paradox of social communication in our times is this: When home alone we use social networks to talk; and when out in society, many of us turn on a device and pretend we are home alone.  It is as if we enjoy the selves we send out for others to know much much more than the physical self who could be right there.  Does this absentee friendship fulfill an ego need for absolute image control?  Marche addresses "narcissism" as the flip side of a popular new brand of loneliness that Americans both create and  regret.  Social networks do not create isolationists, but they do take the tendency to a new--and to  this reader--dangerous level.  

I am among the endangered; I could disappear from real life entirely without anyone noticing!  I enjoy using Face Book partly because my confidantes are long distance.  (Though my cell has its free hours, I have not broken the "long-distance taboo" to actually use it.)  I live alone and have a life-long hermit tendency that I indulge now in retirement. I luxuriate in solitude, in the days that go by without hearing the phone ring, in lurking on-line with all messengers disengaged.  And I am caught up in "The Last Big Waves" of danger as well: I watch senseless and endless TV and play hours of silly computer games.  One good thing--a point made more poignant by reading  "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely"--I play Scrabble on-line with actual people, and they would notice within a few hours if I did not play my turns. 


Friday, April 13, 2012

The Big Idea

I recently enjoyed "What’s the big idea?" by Jennie Erdal, an article in Financial Times that came into my google reader today.  Her question is literal, not idiomatic, and it is the same question that teachers routinely ask when creating a unit or learning activity.  For teachers, it means what idea/concern of the real world does an activity and all of its resources explore?  For Jennie Erdal, the question is whether novels are philosophical anymore in the sense of writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, James, and Kundara--or if they give up philosophy for intricate plots.  More simply put: Are philosophical novels weak on plot and therefore boring?  The implication is that for a book to have a "big idea," it must contain long passages to explain the underlying theories being illustrated by the characters in action. 

Frankly, I loved Anna Karenina and The Brothers Dostoyevsky and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  These Big Books and others had characters who suffered magnificently in the face of dilemma.  I loved the microscope held up to situations, or rather, the enlarging and dramatizing of the emotional situation so that a microscope was not necessary at all to get "the big idea."  Today I find that this type of romantic tragedy bordering on naturalism remains in luscious mysteries by P.D. James and Elizabeth George and fantastic science fiction by Sheri Tepper and Octavia Butler, among others. Most recently, students tell me they find it in Twilight, Harry Potter, and in the Hunger Games--and otherwise they do not like to read..  

In the classroom, the big idea need not be inferred from the elements of fiction, but may be explicitly stated in advance.  The classroom then is the laboratory that tests out and debates the idea through a series of instances--fictional and non-fictional--presented by both teacher and students.  Ultimately the learning community uses its experiences to examine "the big idea" itself and how it shapes perceptions, events, and artifacts.  While students become Socratic, they also become structural engineers who examine how various events and artifacts in their environments are built on implicit ideas and are, therefore, able to strategically choose the degree of implicitness or explicitness of  "the big idea" in their own work.  If they are fast enough.  Whether or not they can keep up, students and teachers learn the value of time, and how one thing cannot quite be resolved before the next must take its place, as in "We only have 3 days for this."  The possible learning is profound, but the pace undermines the progress.  Those sensitive to what they are not quite grasping can become quite defensive, irritated, angry, squashed, rebellious.  Is this what the Financial Times author is ultimately noticing?  What's the big idea of living like this?  Is this breakdownof community the real big idea?

 I believe that the big ideas are not sacrificed to plot, but changing into plot.  The big ideas are pressured by space and time into the action of questioning itself.  Back to "Dubito, ergo sum"?  Not quite. This seems an intermediate stage before those who are unwillingly unemployed take back "the big" question, those who are squeezed out of the Picture of Progress in Industry, Faith, and Knowledge  make themselves heard.  Will this be through the fictional form?  Not yet, or not evidently.  

When I read those luscious novels of yore and even later ones like Animal Farm and 1984, I had the time.  Now at the later end of life, I have time to read again and also to write.  Publishing, however--on paper and in binding--takes resources and time.  The internet is less expensive and travels faster. Maybe, then, the next type of philosophical novel is already up there twittering around the world in instant translation or in pictures of the quietly growing Occupy Movement or on Face Book or everywhere.  If we are among the romantic who are longing to hold the magnificent philosophical novel in our hands and our hours, it is possible that we will, like Miniver Cheevy, miss it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Muse with yesterday's NPR poet of the news

At last the Internet is before my eye,
the actual world merely the consequence
of the search terms I supply.

Looking up, I see information in the sky:
not just birds but related stories and comments
from readers of the Internet before my eye . . ..

Above are the first two stanzas of Craig M. Teicher' poem "Through The Google Glasses: A Villanelle,"  a response to the proposed Google computer screen to be worn as eye glasses.  The idea of wearing such a shield reminds me of Oscar Wilde's famous proclamation that "life copies art" and also brings to mind the overused response to travel and special events from participants in the marijuana generation, "I don't remember; I was high."  I wish the people I see in my daily outings were simply where they were and not attached by electronics or by drugs to elsewhere.  

I wonder how Google's new product and mobile electronics as used in developed countries is influencing creativity and especially literature.  William Shakespeare and August Wilson and other playwrights who were simply where they stood had no trouble seeing "the particular" against the background of greater events and all of history and the universe.  Will those attached to elsewhere be able to place their virtual location amid a steady attachment to their present location as well as to larger locations and philosophies?  Will they have authority, or forever be part of a viral reality of tweets and emails?

The new science fiction represented in such films as Inception predict a dire connection between corporate economics and technologies cut loose from an old house or an original place of origin.  Art as representation leaves the moment of the phenomenal and enters a world of melting boundaries.  Essence proceeds existence but neither truly matters at all.  Paradoxically, the individual character becomes amazingly important as he/she/it struggles to matter.  Does his, her, or its "aura," exist in the universe at all?  Does the universe . . . ?  Had I not completed my undergraduate philosophy major in the 1970s, I might know the terms for discussing post-existential, post-phenomenal, post-post-modernism.  

Meanwhile, I see immersion in technologies as a double-edged sword: One Side has us making cutting-edge combinations of ideas and joining creative collaborations of people not otherwise possible.  The Other Side cuts us off from the environments that need our stewardship, nurture and awareness in order to sustain human life. Together, in the double-edged sword, they are addictive like psychedelic drugs and music.  "Do you remember?" we might ask. "I don't," comes the answer.  "I was connected."

Monday, April 2, 2012


Is publishing my latest scribbles to a blog and to face book--and calling them poems--shameless self-promotion?  It is, at least, courage, though I may live to blush another day. 

I was thinking about this while reading Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's Blog  "Unselfish Self Promotion" on 21st Century Collaborative.  This is the brilliant site that accompanied my learning and application of Web 2.0 while a teacher during the last several years.  Now, I read it to help me think about the transformative power of learning communities.  Sharon justifies self-promotion because it is necessary for collaboration in positive change, in fact she shows that what we may shy away from as self-promotion is a necessary sharing of ideas.  This is the dialectic of discovery in any field.

When I put forth my writing, however, I do not think it will make the world a better place.  I know writing poems and sharing them will make my own world a better place for this while, that it may lead me to recognize my next ministry.  And it may not. 

I have pushed publishing on my students in the past so that they would experience the possibility of influencing others and being influenced; so that they would experience the equality of their own choices and articulation among myriad others; so that they would consider the possibility of the public and caring exchange that can be the best feature of democracy.  Am I to be less demanding of myself? 

My students trusted me to keep them from embarrassing themselves, and that is the partnership I am missing at present.  I fear the labels that cause readers/listeners to turn away.  I feared turning away myself as a teacher--feared having a delusion that a student might already be set in stone and not worth following through the changes that experience can bring.  Looking back at my teaching, I think this is the best of it: that I encouraged writing before knowing the truth, before the possibility of contradiction was past.  Imagine walking forward in the dark without fear, without reason to fear. Not so easy.

Can I be a teacher to myself?  I have moved past the outbursts of obscenity and anger of youth, the iconoclastic rhetoric of extreme positions.  I think subtlety, satire, and skepticism may be left--but nihilism is gone.  That leaves hope.  Shamelessly publishing is the next necessary step, before I definitively decide that this mind here (that is the mind of a learner) should be silence, before I know beyond a doubt that I have something to offer.