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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The marriage of opposites

Shakespeare begins Sonnet 116 with the declaration, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments." In real life, some marriages may not be based so much on the coming together of minds but on the attraction of opposites. That's the case for introverts who marry extroverts, as was the case of each of the three authors featured in perspectives-on-introversion.
The two could complement each other, and come, potentially, come up with a better balance than a couple consisting of two social butterflies who always seek out a crowd or two introverts who end up staying home all the time. On the other hand, the two might clash when it comes to deciding how often to go to parties, entertain others, and how many guests to invite. 
The extrovert may push for more social opportunities, which recharge his/her energies, while the introvert may feel stressed by having to constantly make small talk at such gatherings. Is it inevitable that they end up citing irreconcilable differences in divorce court?
Not necessarily.
In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingSusan Cain, who admits to being an introvert happily married to an extrovert explains that being married to one's social opposite can work quite well. The key is to understand the other's point of view and arrive at a compromise that will be a win-win for both. She offers the example of such a couple in conflict over the gregarious husband's desire for weekly dinner parties. His introvert wife dreaded such social situations and wanted to be absent from them, a solution that did not appeal to him. The winning solution was one that cut back the parties to twice a month and that changed the format to a buffet style with flexible seating that allowed the shy wife to select a seat at an edge or within a smaller group that would allow her to opt out of small talk and opt into more meaningful, intimate conversations. Other conflicts over public versus private outlets could be resolved in similar ways.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Views on Boundaries

Personality types and introversion recently came up on one of the online boards I comment, which
made me consider another aspect of the difference between introverts and extroverts. It's not just a matter of people who need to be alone to recharge in contrast to those who need to be around other people to feel energized. There are real differences between the two in how they view the way people should relate to each other, and that can give rise to misunderstanding or the wrong assumptions, and, yes, I'm thinking of a particular incident.

From what I've observed, introverts assume that boundaries should be in place unless otherwise specified, whereas extroverts are more likely to assume the opposite.  Consequently, while an extrovert would assume it is neighborly to drop in on someone, an introvert would rarely do so unless s/he is expressly invited to come at a particular time. That doesn't mean the introvert doesn't like his/her neighbor but that the assumption is that people want to be left alone unless they tell you otherwise.

Now to get to the particular incident of different assumptions of what constitutes polite behavior, here's the example. I had a friend who stayed in the empty house of a neighbor of a relative once. Said relative told me afterward that the friend was shocked at what the friend did. I was imagining all sorts of horrific scenarios and then was told that the really shocking thing was this: the friend did not pick up the mail that was put through the door slot. Now if you're an introvert, your assumption of boundaries would tell you to leave as much of someone else's stuff alone as possible. That would extend to handling someone else's mail that just happened to be delivered through the door. It takes an extroverted mindset to assume that showing such respect for someone else's privacy is a lack of courtesy.

I'm now adding one other example about circumspection with respect to boundaries, as it just happened. I commented on someone's post and referred to a Talmudic story to make my point. Someone else said I was misrepresenting it and said I got the name wrong. In truth, I would do the same, but only if I were 100% sure that the other person got it wrong.In this case, the name I had written was correct. I ascertained it again for myself by getting out the primary source. When I pointed that out, the woman who had disagreed with me had to concede that point and then made excuses for herself that she had just been on a long flight, etc., etc. I understand making mistakes when tired. I do that myself and have even been guilty of making typos I would normally spot. However, I would not ever challenge someone on the basis of at hazy recollection, and then say, well, what do you want from me, I was tired.. That's also part of introversion: being very prepared and very sure before speaking up, particularly when publicly contradicting someone.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Going for the brass ring

Today I rode the  carousel at Hempstead Lake State Park. Counting my daughter (who did not want to go on by herself) and one other kid, the total number of riders came to three. On the round just before ours there were just two riders. I suppose carousels have fallen out of favor, though they actually have a much longer history than I suspected. 
On the cashier's counter was a pile of papers with some more information about the carousel. Unfortunately, the powers that be at Hempstead Lake State Park did not bother to upload that to the park's site. For example, the historic carousel is named for Heckscher  because August Heckscher donated it to the park in 1931. It continued operating until 2001  (though according to this, it faced a crisis in 1981. In 2003, the carousel was taken apart and shipped across the country to Carousel Works in Ohio  for a full restoration at a cost of $400,000. The carousel was put back in place  and once again opened to the public in 2005.

 Pictures and some more details about its history are in About article by . What's interesting about the major restoration is that it truly lived up to its name. writes that in the decade between 1951 and 1961, eight of the original horses were replaced by aluminum ones. During the restoration project 10 years ago,  those replacements were taken out. In their place "four original Illions carved horses that had been found in storage, as well as two Illions horses that were taken from a carousel in Pennsylvania, and two new horses that were carved in the Illions style by Carousel Works, Inc." were put in their palce. 

The handout at the carousel also gave some general history of carousels, which is easier to find sourced online. Specificially, what we consider a plaything of children -- and the young at heart, of course -- actually started out as an exercise in knightly combat. Wikipedia covers that in its entry on carousels:

The word carousel originated from the Italian garosello and Spanish carosella ("little battle", used by crusaders to describe a combat preparation exercise and game played by Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the 12th century).[3] This early device was essentially a cavalry training mechanism; it prepared and strengthened the riders for actual combat as they wielded their swords at the mock enemies.
By the 17th century, the balls had been dispensed with, and instead the riders had to spear small rings that were hanging from poles overhead and rip them off. 

The same point is made in a NYC report posted online  in connection to a carousel in Queens (which wasn't in operation when we visited the park a couple of years ago). Starting out with an eye to SEO, the NYC report includes all variant on name and spellings: "including carousel, carrousel, carousell, carousal, carosello, merry-go-round, roundabout, and steam riding galleries. " However you spell it, the mechanism dates back to the 16th century:  "Following Henri II’s unintentional death during a jousting match in 1559, French horsemen began practicing with straw and wood figures attached to rotating circular frames."

The NYC report includes  this  citation: 
Much of the information found in this section is found in Frederick Fried, A Pictorial History of the Carousel  (New York: Vestal Press, 1964, various editions), Lisa English, “Roundabout,” Metropolis (July/August 1990), 57-69, “Forest Park: The Carousel,” viewed at  Also see Richard W. Johnston, “The Carousel,” Life (August 27, 1951), 100ff.; Robyn Love, “The Painted Ponies of Queens: Celebrating the Magic of the Carousel,” poster, City of New York Parks & Recreation, 1995, LPC files; Eric Pahlke, Treasures from the Golden Age: East Carousels (forthcoming, 2013). It is worth noting that most essays and books that are devoted to carousels lack specific citations and references to primary sources. 

In the Hempstead Lake State Park handout, it explained that the brass ring that used to adorn carousels represents what the knights tried to catch as a test of skill. That was later adapted for riders of the ride for amusement around the beginning of the 18th century, according to the NYC report cited above.  The oldest one still around is in Germany. It was built in 1780, and there is more information about it here

As for the power used to propel the carousels, according to the NYC report,  the rides were first moved by serfs, then oxen. Later carousels incorporated steam power. In 2011, GE set up a solar powered carousel at South Street Seaport that it called Carousolar. But the ride was not intended as a permanent fixture in New York. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Telling a story through letters and posts

Don Quixote is the work that many identify as the first modern novel, a work distinct from epic romances or other high-brow treatments of fictions that were considered worthy of poetry rather than prose.  Of course, that was not an English work, but a Spanish one. The novel genre only arrived in England nearly 2 centuries later, and often the stories were told in the form of letters. 
Epistolary novels are set on the premise of the narrator, telling the story to a correspondent. Samuel Richardson opted for the epistolary form for both Pamela and Clarissa in the 1740s About a half a century later, Jane Austen used that form in Lady Susan.  Some decade or two afterwards, Mary Shelley framed the story of the archetypal mad scientist, Frankenstein, in her novel of the same name by having the story related by the sailor who picks him up on his sea voyage in letters to his sister. However, as the novel gener took off during the 1800s, most dropped the epistolary device, even if they were written in first-person. 

It hasn't disappeared altogether, though, modern treatments tend to mix the letters with narrative, often from different points of view, as in  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Some contemporary novels substitute emails for letters and sometimes also throw in texts or social media style updates in telling their stories. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a novel that is relayed solely through tweets, possibly grouped under hashtags rather than traditional chapter titles. 

But I wonder if anyone has attempted to tell a story through an online community bulletin board. I know that some reveal an awful lot about their lives through their posts -- about having children, having financial difficulties, attempts at getting a job, attempts at getting a loan, divorce, and calls for outright handouts.  That's all from one person's posts over the past 3 or 4 years. For writers of fiction, I thought that such an account could  form the central line of a narrative from which several key characters branch off. 

Related interest:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Yorkers are far more honest than the folks in DC

I was thinking about this today. You know, New York gets bad rep, but I believe that people in Washington DC are less honest than people in the Big Apple. As it turns out, the Honest Tea test proves my hypothesis. Not only did 80% of participants there fail the honesty test, but one person even stole the rep's bike! And NY turned out to be much more honest than people predicted. heck out the infographic for a quick overview. To see it contextualized by more information about the test, see   Oh, and beware of people from our nation's capitol. Perhaps the lack of integrity so often found in politician seep into the water there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cuts and shurgs: observations on RSC 2008 Hamlet

 I finally saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) 2008 stage of Hamlet, which is available in full online free (completely legal) here.  Nearly all productions of Hamlet make extensive cuts because the full play would run around 4 hours. That's what Kenneth Branagh aimed for with his film version. The run time for this one is just over 3, and like many adaptions, there is no Fortinbras at the end. 

This is meant as a video version of a stage productions, so it is generally limited to what you would see on a stage without film enhancements. The notable exception to that is the use of camera views that I believe was used to replace the effect the live production had achieved in placing a large mirror in front of the audience. That generally works well, particularly as reference to ubiquitous CCTV cameras that would be familiar to people around London (making their way in NYC now, as well). 

Some reviewers didn't care for another camera effect: that of actors addressing it directly when speaking some of the lines, particularly Hamlet for some of his soliloquies. I remember having the same reaction many years ago when watching a BBC performance of The Merchant of Venice in a Shakespeare class in college. Then I found it distracting, though not so much here. I believe that the reason why we find it jarring on a screen is that the close-up makes it seem rather like breaking the frame of the actors within a play when they come face-to-face (as if on a video call) with us. When you would see it on the stage, it would be far less intrusive because of the physical distance between the performer and the audience. 

David Tennant is engaging with some of the same mannerisms he brings to the the Doctor's character, though without the sideburns. I found some of the mad antics a bit much. (Admission of personal bias: I'm give to understatement rather than overstatement and do read Hamlet as an introverted intellectual)  They must have been the  director's idea, as Ophelia did the same kind of thing. 

I didn't really care much for Ophelia who didn't get to convey any emotion other than hysteria and madness. When calm, she was rather wooden. As for stripping down  to her underwear for her madness, some pointed out that it was inconsistent with the description of her drowning, which is attributed to the weight of her water-logged clothes. That's a good point.  I can think of two possible defenses for the direction here, though I wouldn't have gone that route myself. One is that Ophelia's mad entrance is described as entering with her down. For Shakespeare's audience, that would have been seen as a state of undress, as a properly put together young lady would have her hair contained. To achieve that in modern terms, the hair alone wouldn't cut it. Two: in King Lear, when Edgar assumes madness, he strips off his clothes, so that typical mad behavior in Shakespeare.

  I didn't like the way the Mousetrap scene was done -- overly crude and in-your-face kind of obvious. I suppose they thought otherwise the Shakesperian double entendres would just fly over the audience's head.  There is also the bit of anachronism of male actors for female roles when the play is set in modern times, though I suppose that may be meant to contrast the more realistic contemporary look of the production we are watching with the artifice of the players' performance.

One thing that I liked in  that scene was the transference for the cameras. Hamlet rebels against being caught by the cameras and then uses one himself in recording the play and catching Claudius' reaction. 

The king's reaction is much calmer in this production than the way it comes across in other. He carries a lantern over to Hamlet and shows him with a shake of the head that he knows that Hamlet knows, and he's letting him know that he knows. That may be going just a bit far, given that Claudius resumes the pose of liking Hamlet for the fencing match, and why would Hamlet go along knowing that he knows that he knows?

What I liked in the last scene was a kind of closing the circle visual. The cut Hamlet put into his own hand after speaking with the ghost, remains a reminder for a while with a bandage. At the end he transfers the same cut -- also on the left hand -- to Claudius. That makes the actor's controversial shrug a bit more understandable, as he is already poisoned. 

As we don't have the textual ending of Fortinbras, the play ends with Horatio's emotional farewell to his friend, who has died in his arms. That makes it a rather more intimate death than one that would get the royal honors that Fortinbras said he would bestow on the prince of Denmark. 

Overall: I wouldn't go so far as some who claim this is the definitive Hamlet for the 21st century, but it's one that most people would probably enjoy watching.  I suppose that each generation has to endure assumptions about how Hamlet is to be made accessible to them. At least this one doesn't open with a summation like Laurence Olivier's opening to his film version: "This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind." 

Speaking of how the generations reinterpret Shakespeare's play, you can watch a sort of companion to the production video, Tennant's exploration of the play's enduring popularity also available online  (note the video is just a tad out of sync).

The most striking thing for me in that video was seeing the rare first editions of Shakespeare housed in the British Library handled  so casually -- no gloves. When I had to use books in the New York Public Library's Arents Tobacco Collection, I had to be more careful with an Oscar Wilde typescript.  But I was a mere student at the time, and one of my Grad Center professors was a disciple of  Stephen Greenblatt.
Back then New Historicism was still, well, new. Greenblatt's appearance in this video indicates that his approach is not quite mainstream.  Shakespeare is subjected to biographical details inserted into understanding his plays with the Hamnet/ Hamlet connection. The name of Shakespeare's son who died in childhood was Hamnet, which does sound an awful lot like Hamlet, but is not quite the same. It's hard to hear the difference  in the video which accepts the connection as a given. It's Greenblatt's argument in "The Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet." Some of the argument is rather forced, but I won't get into all of that here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Poetry: the difference between practice and art

I gained new appreciation for Stella Gibbons' masterpiece, Cold Comfort Farm, over the weekend. I didn't reread it; I recollected the heroine's order to her protege, Elfine, to stop writing poetry. After looking at the collection of poems my put together in my daughter's high school, I can really appreciate that point.

So what's the problem with the poetic outpouring of high school students? I'm sure there are some gifted writers who do produce poetry worth reading in their teens. I'd guess that some of  Emily Bronte's compositions were written before she was 20 and are worth reading, as are the works of John Keats who produced some of the most beautiful poems in the English language at a very young age. 

However, most high school level writers do not achieve that level of art. I was thinking about why that is. For one thing, I doubt many labor over an individual poem for hour to achieve particular effects. Instead, what they seem to do, is hope to come across as deep or emotional by inserting "silent screams" and other imagined reaction to violence, persecution, or loss. 

I know there are some students in the schools who have experienced major trauma. A few of them have lost parents to cancer or even a more sudden fatal illness. Some have been through cancer treatments themselves. But no one is writing about real pain that they've experienced. Instead, they imagine a situation they only know about second-hand. That's the problem.

What is poetry? That nearly as big a question as "what is art?"  I don't offer a full answer, but when you set out to define the type of poetry classified as lyrical, which focuses on feeling rather than events, I'm inclined to agree with Wordsworth's definition of poetry from the Introduction to Lyrical Ballads:  “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”

While it is possible to write about what you have not actually experienced and to even depict some of the emotion effectively, you'd have to be a pretty accomplished writer to pull it off in novel or play form. But for poetry, it would only work for a poet with great powers of empathy to depict feelings s/he has not actually experienced. Very few can carry that off, and that certainly applies to high school students who may otherwise consider themselves good writers.Tacking on stock descriptions to convey angst only emphasizes that the piece is not about a genuine emotional experience. 

Thinking of the type of literature that relies on second-hand sensations also reminded me of a pivotal point in  Little Women.   Within the novel Louisa May Alcott shares the story behind her coming to write this type of book. The professor she ends up marrying tells her to give up the pulp fiction and write about something real. Like Jo, Alcott had made money selling "blood and thunder"  tale, s But those stories (and I've read one or two that were published) are not truly memorable in the way the  Little Women series or Eight Cousins are. (Likely she would have been altogether forgotten if she had not moved onto the books for which she is known today, much like Ann Radcliff would not likely be in print at all today  if not for the references to her The Mysteries of Udolpho in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. )

I wish the teacher who serves as the guide for the literary journal in the school would adopt the professor's approach and encourage the budding writers to look for the real rather than the tragedy of larger proportions that they can only imagine. Or for the truly brilliant writers, she can offer satire, something like "The ruin of my hair" as a sort of modern take on Pope's "The Rape of the Lock." It would be a greater challenge for them to keep up the heroic couplets than to just string together sad-sounding word in free verse, and they can offer a humorous look at themselves rather than a pseudo-look at someone else.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Notes on Amazon's 100 books

Amazon put out a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, with the possibility of voting on selections on Goodreads. Lately, I've become rather disenchanted with lists like these. Just over a week ago I started to read the books I had not yet read on another list and was the opposite of impressed. So I may not rush out to get the 15 or so books I haven't yet read on the list right away.

I noticed that there is some bias toward relatively recent works (nothing earlier than Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in contradistinction to The Guardian's list of 100 greatest novels, which includes works like Robinson Crusoe and Clarissa) as well as quite a bit of children's and YA literature.

The children's literature includes excellent choices:
Goodnight Moon (which I know by heart)
Where the Wild Things Are
A Wrinkle in Time
The Little Prince
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though I prefer Mathilda in some ways
Alice in Wonderland
A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Golden Compass was engrossing, but the series does peter out, and I believe I gave up on the third book of the trilogy.
With respect to The Phantom Tollbooth, I've seen it recommended elsewhere and so started reading it fairly recently. While it certainly packs whimsy and some charm, I didn't feel compelled to finish it, and I really do tend to finish the books I start.

Noticeably absent here: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Not much surprise in YA selections like:
 Harry Potter 
Hunger Games,
The Fault in Our Stars
The Percy Jackson books I haven't read, but my daughter in the target age group really enjoyed them.
Lord of the Rings

We get some typical high school reading selections that have become canonized, though, perhaps not quite as great as their reputations like
The Great Gatsby (see
Catcher in the Rye

But I agree that every teen should read
 Fahrenheit 451
To Kill a Mockingbird

Other excellent choices include:
Man's Search for Meaning  (I blogged about it here)
The Stranger
Ellison's Invisible Man
One suggestion I'd have for great novels that raise serious societal issues is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I was struck by seeing a special category for The Handmaid's Tale as speculative feminist fiction. I know that the novel has been the subject of debate over categorization. Is it science fiction or not? Another interesting thing about it is that it has both made the banned and required reading lists of schools. The inspiration for this novel, 1984,  is on the list, though I don't see the alternative dystopian vision, which offers quit a few parallels to , Brave New World.
Fahrenheit 451

Interesting choices in the novel category include:
The Age of Innocence, though I also like The House of Mirth
Of Human Bondage, the author is a master writer, though his far from happy stories would not be everyone's cup of tea. Speaking of which, why nothing by Hardy, like Tess of the D'Ubervilles  or Jude the Obscure? 
Yes, I have a bias for 19th century English novels, and I would definitely add on at least:
Wuthering Heights
Jane Eyre
and from the US: Huckleberry Finn 

One other addition I'd make to what I consider recent literature is The Princess Bride.

I'd love to hear what other people think should have been added to or omitted from the list.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Hopping around history

Did you know that the brother of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln saved the president's son's life at a train station in NJ? That is one of the interesting points of history that you can pick up in the very readable  book, Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History 
Really, you don't have to be a history buff to enjoy reading about Andrew Carroll's travels to the sites of historical significance.

A good part of Carroll's focus is on the historical figures who are largely forgotten. They include Irene Morgan and Claudette Colvin,  African-American women who refused to give up their seats on the bus before Rosa Parks did.

However, not all historical people featured in the books would be considered forgotten, for he spends some time on names that are preserved in history books. For example, nearly everyone has heard of Alexander Fleming, though Carroll devotes quite a bit of time to describing how penicillin came to be  mass-produced in the USA (secret ingredient, cantaloupe mold). An interesting note, though, is that the author's mother recollects meeting Fleming when he came to Long Island, and gives her own impressions of the man and his wife.

One of the things we learn from this is if you are quiet and unassuming, you likely will be largely forgotten by history -- even if you develop the vaccines that save millions of lives every year. That's the story of Maurice Hilleman. Other doctors' contributions and sometimes questionable methods are also featured in the book, which hops around the country to cover the spots associated with particular people, events, or artifacts.

After reading Carroll's account of boating around Hart Island and relaying what his guide told him about it, it's interesting to see that there is now Hart Island Project with the goal of making "the largest cemetery in the United State visible and accessible so that no on is omitted from history."

Speaking of historical projects, Caroll's book is meant to be part of a larger project, which shares the title:
Launched in 2008, HERE IS WHERE is an all-volunteer initiative created by the Legacy Project to find and spotlight unmarked historic sites throughout the United States. Many of these forgotten places are where significant events occurred, and others are connected in some way to remarkable individuals—from the Native Americans, explorers, and pioneers who first set foot on this land to the pioneers, patriots, inventors, artists, and activists who transformed it.
The only thing missing in the book -- and the associated site, as well -- are pictures.Though I do like taking my information in through text, I kept expecting to see some photos because Carroll constantly refers to taking pictures along the way. So where are they? I figured perhaps it wasn't economical to work them into the book, but he, surely, could have posted some to the site. No, none in sight. If you don't intend to put in the pictures, don't keep talking about taking them.  Still, the book is worth reading, much more to my taste than most books on history.

Related interest:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The book on the exhibit

A few weeks ago, I visited the New York Historical Society's Armory Show exhibit. Though it opened in 2013 for the 100 year anniversary, you can still catch it until February 23, 2014 (and if you're a Bank of America credit card holder you can get in free, January 5 and February 2 courtesy of the Museums on Us program)

 There is an audio guide for the exhibit, but it is really difficult to take in all the details of the politics behind the show from that information. It became much clearer when I read Elizabeth Lunday's The Modern Art Invasion: Picasso, Duchamp, and the 1913 Armory Show That Scandalized America.The books clarifies the differences in various types of modern art and the reactions they aroused.

 One of the things I found striking was how responses spread in 1913, through poetry, of all things. Lunday explains (p.80) that it would have been the "Twitter" of the day. "Where today's individual tweet and caption photographs in response to popular events, in the 1910s they wrote poetry -- vast reams of it, on every subject from the weather to fashion, foreign wars to the suffrage movement." The number of rhymes devoted to the Armory Show made it the equivalent of the subject an internet "'meme'" today. The book includes a few examples of such rhymes.

While the subject is the Armory Show, the book follows up on development in the modern art world throughout most of the 20th century and touches on major figures in American art whose fame came laer. One figure who currently looms large in the art world and did sell a painting through the show is Edward Hooper. But it wasn't the show that made him a success. He didn't sell another painting until another decade had passed. Lunday follows up on him briefly, as well as other artists whose names have became associated with modern art -- or the reactions against it.

Related posts: