Monday, November 28, 2011

Pocketwatch Follow-Up: Strange Platypus(es)

John Mark Reynolds over at The Scriptorium Daily admits to experimenting with Victorian garb at the office in this article.  Kudos to Dr. Reynolds for pushing boundaries and reclaiming the older aesthetic.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

T.S. Platypus: Strange Platypus(es)

Prufrock tells us that he has "measured out my life with coffee spoons."  I have measured out my life with blog posts.

With December coming on, we will soon witness seven years of "The Platypus of Truth."  Looking at the post history, it seems like 57 or so posts a year has been average.  2007 was a particularly bad year for posting.  2010 and 2011 have been better.  This seems to fit as in 2007 I was struck down with a particularly nasty medical problem that left me in constant and drastic pain.  In 2010, I moved to a much less stressful position in a more laid-back area of the country an experienced a corresponding relaxation of my symptoms.  Since 2006, posts have mostly been about whatever I was reading, playing, or watching at the time.  There have been a few forays into poetry and literature as well.  Readership has been modest with a few spikes where a post was fortuitously linked to by a popular site.

What does all this add up to?  Are these posts only coffee spoons counting out the meaningless hours of a pointless existence?  I don't think so.  Drinking coffee is fun, but it is merely an act of consumption.  Blog posts, even bad ones, are an act of creation.  Animals consume, but people create.  The posts of the last seven years have been, however mangled, an attempt at creation, an attempt at speaking the creative word into the inchoate silence.  In that sense, they are an imitation of the Trinity, or as Tolkien put it: "we make still by that law in which we're made."

Soli Deo Gloria   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pocket Watches and Pushing Boundaries: Strange Platypus(es)

John Mark Reynolds over at Scriptorium Daily notes the death of the wristwatch and muses a bit about the role of conspicuous consumption and nostalgia for the beauties of a vanished age.  Perhaps I have read amiss, but I do note just the slightest tinge of fatalism in the good professor's voice.  It seems inevitable in late modernity that the old, functional, and beautiful should be replaced by the new, functional, and ugly.  Is this really so?  Well, no.  The professor does point out that wristwatches became a jewelry piece every bit as much as the pocket watch had been.  If this is true, then might there be hope that one day our cell-phones will become as aesthetic as a Rolex?  It's a good question, but I can think of another.  If the old item remains functional and beautiful, why can't we as a society choose to retain it?

Walking sticks remained an essential part of any gentleman's wardrobe for centuries thought they served little practical use.  Cuff links remain in use today even though buttons do just as nicely and aren't as easy to lose.  Moving into the realm of technology, newer is not always better.  There have not been any serious modifications to the basic plan of a passenger plane since the 1960s.  We invented the Concord, which can travel a good deal faster, but it wasn't very practical and the old pattern still gets the job done just fine.  My point is, that modern society has not felt itself bound to always discard the old and functional for the new and functional.  Sometimes, as with the Concord, the new isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Other times, as with the walking stick and the cuff link, we retain an anachronism because it is aesthetic and not a particular hindrance to our daily life.

So what's my point.  I wear a pocket watch.  I wear a vest.  I wear hats.  With a bad right leg, I could really use an aesthetically pleasing stick.  More important than that, many young men I know do the same.  Why do we all do it?  It's simple really: the older items get the job done just as well and are more aesthetic and dignified than the new ones.  My pocket watch cost eleven dollars, looks great, and I can still keep my cell phone in my pocket.  An added plus is that when I want to tell the time I don't have to pull out my cell phone in front of my students and bluntly remind them that they are not allowed to use theirs (see Reynolds' reminder that nurses will still need to use wristwatches and ask yourself if you can't think of more, many more, situations that would justify retaining the older and more aesthetic device).  Reynolds wonders in his post if retaining these aesthetic items that have been "superseded" runs counter to the grain of Christianity.  While I can't say anything about personal conviction and household clutter, I would point back to the Genesis mandate.  As humans, we are to rule and subdue the earth.  We are given the job of being Earth's gardeners, that is those who shape the raw materials of the planet into an aesthetically pleasing whole.  Conspicuous consumption, that is buying and making things as a demonstration of personal power and status, does run against the grain of scripture, but making and owning things that are beautiful, all things being equal (and many times they aren't and that requires sacrifice on our part), seems to be a direct fulfillment of the mandate our species was given in the beginning.  This, of course, needs to be done with charity.  If our work standards forbid us from wearing Renaissance clothing, then donning the ugly company uniform is a matter of love-of-neighbor and humility.  However, given that men's fashion hasn't changed very much in the last hundred years, there are plenty of little ways (vests, pocket-watches, walking sticks, hats, cuff links, alternatively-shaped collars, slightly-differently cut coats) to re-aestheticize our wardrobes.  This applies to women's fashion as well, though it takes a bit more effort (and sometimes trips to the antique store).

A final word and then I'll end.  The goal of all this is not to become worldly or produce a set of Christian Aesthetes.  Poverty is beautiful; our Lord blessed it.  Better is the little portion where the Lord is present than to dwell in Herod's palace with all its splendor.  Our goal should not be to store up for ourselves treasures on earth.  The problem is that we often think that this means if we're living in an ugly palace, worshiping at an expensive but functionalist church, and wearing designer, but not ostentatious clothing, then we've somehow kept the Lord's commands.  This is not real poverty, this is conformity to late modern democratic, functionalist, culture.  In addition, poverty and careful husbandry of the Lord's resources should never be incompatible with aesthetics.  A peasant's cottage can often be a highly aesthetic space when the peasant is allowed to improve it with his or her own efforts.  Medieval monks took vows of poverty but produced amazing illuminated manuscripts, invented several varieties of top-class alcoholic beverages, created the strawberry, and generally beautified and enriched their living space and all the lands about it.  They were poor, but they remembered that they were still gardeners.  May we remember that ourselves.  God have mercy on us and make us wise.

N.B. -This argument presupposes that there is some real meaning, however difficult to deduce or agree upon, to the words "beautiful" and "ugly."  If these words merely mean "what I like" and "what I dislike," then we must concede that all of the above is pointless.  We might say the same for the words "good" and "evil," and "true" and "false."  If this is the case, then we should take a cue from the "Iliad" and realize that life, the universe, and everything are ultimately meaningless including this discussion.  Everything, in that case, really boils down to naked or covert displays of power.  If that is "true," than I can make no more effective reply than to deny whatever argument you make, accuse you of merely trying to assert yourself under the false pretense of rational argumentation, and assert my own preferences more loudly.  It may be "true" that there is no Truth, but we can hardly have an honest, rational discussion about it if even one of us starts with that as a premiss. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

On Whiteboard Art: Whiteboard Platypus

So, I like whiteboard art.  I use it in the classroom and post it on my blog.  I've been working on my craft for several years now, and thought it might be time to record a few thoughts.

Whiteboard art is a limited medium.  Expo markers, my preferred tools of the trade, only come in about twelve colors (at least that I can find.)  They don't admit of blending in the way that chalk or pastels do.  The fact that adding a new line to an existing line with an Expo marker can erase it also provides some unique challenges to drawing and shading.  Filling in solid objects is a real bear.

Given these constraints, whiteboard art lends itself to cartoons, pointillism, and impressionism.  Getting into the right mindset for the latter two techniques can be a little rough at first, and I recommend stepping back from your work frequently in order to get a sense of the overall effect.  Spending some time with a volume of impressionist paintings also helps.  As far as cartooning goes, I recommend getting into a web-comic or two.  They're free online, so there's no problem with accessibility or cost.  They also tend to be a little more realistic than what you find in the Sunday papers while rarely sporting the frustrating complexity of many modern comic books.

As a final note, the guys over at Wheatstone's The Examined Life are my real heroes when it comes to technique.  The videos they put together using time-lapse and whiteboard art are amazing.  Nothing gets the creative drive going like a little inspiration, so if you're going to attempt any whiteboard art, I recommend checking out what these guys are doing to get the creative juices flowing.

That's all I've got right now.  If anyone has anything to add, don't hesitate to jump in.

Monday, November 07, 2011

William's Europa: Whiteboard Platypus

 All Images Copyright James R. Harrington 2011

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Platypus Lectures: Academic Platypus

I was able to attend the annual Providence Classical School Pursuing Wisdom Colloquy this weekend.  This is the first Providence Colloquy I've attended.  As with all events that Providence hosts, the Gala in particular, I was thoroughly impressed.  Below are some of the things that impressed me in bullet point:

-The plenary speaker was Dr. Ronald Grosh, whom I've heard speak before.  Dr. Grosh is always a great catalyst for discourse, and this time was no exception.

-The coffee house and all the catering for the event was truly first-rate.  The Providence parents are smart, capable, professional, and run an extremely tight ship.  The speakers' dinner was also excellent in terms of food, location, service, and the extended amount of of time given to the speakers to socialize, re-energize, and network.

-Quite a number of Providence students were present working behind the scenes to make things happen.  They were well-dressed, polite, and efficient.  Beyond that, however, I was impressed by how many of them were willing to sit in on the break-out sessions and discuss with the speakers afterward.

-The quality of the attendees was abnormally high for a teacher's conference.  The conversation in the breakout sessions and throughout the weekend was professional, energetic, and intelligent.  It is a credit to Providence that it draws such people to its Colloquy both as presenters and attendees.

Those are my thoughts so far. If you're in primary or secondary education, or even just interested in it, may I heartily recommend next year's Providence Classical School Colloquy.