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For almost a month now I’ve been very slowly reading Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor.  The Husband heard about the book on 3 Quarks Daily and I’ve been curious about Taoism and Buddhism for a long while now.  One of the things I’m enjoying about the book is the occasional brief meditation exercise slipped into chapters here and there.  For example, from the “Becoming” chapter:

“Sit still and come back to the breath. Center your attention in the rhythm of sensations that make up the act of breathing. Let the agitated mind settle, then expand your awareness to include the rest of the body. With calm alertness gradually increase the field of awareness until you encompass the totality of your experience in this moment: what you hear, see, smell, taste, and touch, as well as the thoughts and emotions that arise and fade in your mind.”  (p. 69)

Meditation is one of those things, like painting, that I really, really hope I learn to do someday but at this point in my life such activities require a focus and patience that I do not seem to possess.  Not that I’m giving up hope!  In fact, I have tried a couple of Batchelor’s little meditations and actually found them very helpful.

Which brings me to the second book I’m reading right now — An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin.  I won’t go into whether it’s a good book or not, I’ll just say this: I love this book so far.  I love how Martin writes about looking at art, wanting to own art.  I have re-read this one paragraph several times already:

“… paintings are layered… first, ephemera and notations on the back of the canvas. Labels indicate gallery shows, museum shows, footprints in the snow, so to speak. Then pencil scribbles on the stretcher, usually by the artist, usually a title or date. Next the stretcher itself. Pine or something. Wooden triangles in the corners so the picture can be tapped tighter when the canvas becomes loose. Nails in the wood securing the picture to the stretcher. Next, a canvas: linen, muslin, sometimes a panel; then the gesso – a primary coat, always white. A layer of underpaint, usually a pastel color, then, the miracle, where the secrets are: the paint itself, swished around, roughly, gently, layer on layer, thick or thin, not more than a quarter of an inch ever — God can happen in that quarter of an inch — the occasional brush hair left embedded, colors mixed over each other, tones showing through, sometimes the weave of the linen revealing itself. The signature on top of the entire goulash. Then varnish is swabbed over the whole. Finally, the frame, translucent gilt or carved wood. The whole thing is done.” (p. 81)

The same day I read this beautiful passage, the Husband and I went to our local art museum to see a show that just opened – Andrew Langoussis: What Was, Is, and Will Be.  I was stopped in my tracks by paintings as tall as me like this:

Siena Apartment, Andrew Langoussis

And especially this:

Street Noise, Andrew Langoussis(you are hereby encouraged to click through and look at the large size image…)

And as we wandered through the gallery, I realized that taking in images like these was the closest I came to meditation.  Perhaps that’s why the passage from Steve Martin’s book stood out for me so much — it captures something of the viewing process, viewing experience.  And if you look back and compare the quote from Batchelor with the quote from Martin, you might see a sort of parallel in the way each writer walks the reader through a series of layers in awareness.

“This moment was a secret among the Avery, the Scotch, and Lacey, and she saw clearly something that had eluded her in her two years in the art business. In a few minutes of unexpected communion, she understood why people wanted to own these things.” (p. 57, An Object of Beauty)

The last time I specifically remember being enthralled with a painting like this was when Marty Maehr had some pieces up in a little gallery in downtown Urbana.  I love the splash of his colors and shapes.  How could I think about everyday distractions when following lines like these?

Marty Maehr Paintings

It’s that frantic time of year between Black Friday and Christmas morning, when the overwhelming question coming out of our media boxes seems to be “What are you going to buy?” with the very clear assumption that you must buy SOMEthing.

I have a long-standing love/hate relationship with Christmas.  I prefer to celebrate the Winter Solstice instead and I wish I could ignore the whole gift-obsessed culture of the holiday season all together.  At the same time, I end up getting a new holiday CD every year, I love it when people wear Christmas hats to work, and I think decorating for the season is way super fun.

Over the past few years I’ve been struggling to come up with my own holiday customs and rituals.  This is the first year Mark and I will spend the holidays together as a married couple and now I feel the setting of traditions to be even more important.

Recently I met someone who gave me a wonderful idea.  A retired schoolteacher is meeting with Mark once a week for a writing group.  She’s an incredible, sharp-as-a-tack woman.  The writing she brings each week is short stories — often true stories from her own experiences.  Some of these she hopes to develop into a children’s book, others are simply stories to pass down to her grown kids and their kids.

Think about that.  Stories to pass down.  Real life, this-happened-to-me stories.  Do you know how your parents met?  Do you know how your mom/dad broke a leg at 10 years old?  Do you remember when you first learned the truth about Santa?

We lose so many stories, and yet there is such a wealth of incredible, personal stories out there in our families, among our own friends. How awesome would it be if we exchanged short stories this year in lieu of store-bought gifts?  I would be THRILLED if someone gave me a story.  It’s a beautifully satisfying gift on all kinds of levels — the obsessive collector, the curious busy body, the affectionate relative, or the estranged long-distance friend.

In a way, that’s what people were doing with the old custom of holiday family newsletters.  A friend of mine used to write us all a poem at the end of each year that summed up her adventures for the past 12 months … and it usually rhymed!  I’ve already asked my parents to just give me a story – any story – for Christmas this year.

Sure, writing a story is harder than just picking up something at a store … or is it?  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to sit at home, looking out the window, composing a little memory on my computer than go outside in the cold, drive through slushy crazy traffic to a crowded store or mall, and figure out which knick-knack will not be completely useless to the gift recipient.

My only regret is that I didn’t start asking for stories sooner.

I fall prey to the New Year’s reflection & introspection tendency as much as anyone else. It’s been a strange week of having to look backward in order to look forward.  I’m applying for jobs and trying to beef up my resume and cover letters, but doing so requires going back through my scattered paper and digital memories to assemble a list of Great Things I’ve Done To Convince You To Hire Me.

But the memories are all mixed up, so with the records of job projects there are also notes from the personal side of life.  In my paper journal for last year, I found this entry:

—————————————–

Monday 29 October 2007

While waiting for a bus home, I imagined that aliens had asked me what I would like to see happen in the world, what would I want them to do if they were set on doing something to change us.

I would ask the aliens for a moment which required a build-up.  For several weeks beforehand, people might find themselves planning trips, slightly adjusting their routine, changing their routes home from work.  Then one day, the Moment comes.  At this Moment, everyone in the world will turn and see beside them the person they will love all their lives, and they will recognize this person for who they are, what they will mean to each other.  All around the world, people will embrace, introduce themselves, or laugh to find they’re standing next to their spouse and had the right answer all along.

I don’t believe we each have one specific “true love” person out there.  I think each of us has the potential for lifelong happiness with a variety of people, but circumstances will only put us in contact with very few of them… hopefully at least one of them.

What the Moment would do is open our eyes and finally reveal to us something we might have already known, or something we would have never suspected and been oblivious to otherwise.

It’s the oblivious possibility that bothers me.  What if I’m walking by my person on the street and not even seeing who it is?

————————————————-

Now, over a year later, I would amend that wish just slightly.  I wish for a Moment in which we all have a eureka moment and realize what IT is that each of us are so gosh-darn good at, and we’ll be able to use that knack to be helpful, productive, and happy.  I think both wishes are pretty similar — they’re simply about finding some missing piece of information about ourselves.

Things I want someone to make for me:

Popabrella

Popabrella

1. a camera umbrella that attaches to the tripod mount but still allows me to attach any tripod, too

CHECK:  someone has already made this!

2. a program that gives me slick graph reports of my iTunes library, kind of like Trends in Google Reader or like this guy’s pie chart or something that combines all these programs together with easy GUI goodness.

Which artists do I have the most music from?  Which artists do I skip the most often? What are my top genres by frequency in playlists? I need to know these things.

It’s my last term in library school.  It will be a term full of job hunting, packing, pre-moving, farewell-ing stress.  With that in mind, I’m conflicted about which classes to take in my last semester.  I will only take 2 in order to spare myself any sort of pre-graduation melt down.  But …

But …

But … which two classes?  This is where your outsider / experienced / ironic perspective comes in handy.


Class:  Understanding Multimedia Information: Concepts and Practices
Description:

Designed for those with an interest exploiting multimedia information in web and electronic publishing projects, students will be introduced to the theory behind, and the tools associated with, a wide variety of audio (e.g., MP3, WAV, WM9, RealAudio), graphic (JPEG, GIF, PNG, etc.), music (MIDI, GUIDO, etc.) and text information formats (e.g., PS, PDF, etc.). After completing this course students should be empowered to make intelligent choices in selecting appropriate multimedia formats to match particular design requirements. A mix of lectures, demos and hands-on work. Students should have access to a personal computer upon which they can experiment on their own with downloaded multimedia software tools. Students must be competent in basic computing including the installation and configuration of software packages. Must understand basic HTML and simple web site construction tools (e.g., FTP, text editing, etc.).

Pros:
It’s on-campus!  (as opposed to online classes, which drive me nuts.)
It will give lots of hands-on experience with cool stuff.
It’s visual.  I definitely think visually, that’s something I’ve learned in grad school.
Seems like it would be pretty good for any future job.

Cons:
It’s on-campus.  If I get a great job that starts before May, and I need to move early … what do I do?
I’m a little worried about downloading lots of programs to my computer.  My sole computer.  My must-last-for-a-couple-more-years-at-least computer.


Class: Administration & Management of Libraries & Information Centers
Description:

Designed to explore the principles that govern how organizations and institutions work, this course provides a foundation for and introduction to the theories, practices and procedures involved in the management and administration of libraries and information centers.

Pros:
It’s online, so I could move before the end of the semester if need be.
Administration is a necessary evil in libraries, apparently, so I suppose it would be good to know about it.
Other students have told me there is a grant-writing exercise involved, and that would be really, REALLY good to know, me thinks.

Cons:
It’s online.  Someone shoot me.
The very terms “administration” and “management” make me twitch.


Class:  Document Processing
Description:

An introduction to XML-based document processing technologies and standards appropriate to electronic publishing. Leveraging descriptive encoding in standard formats (XML, SGML, HTML), industry-standard styling and transformation technologies (XSLT, CSS) can be deployed within layered systems to create and maintain formatted publications on and off the web (in HTML, PDF and print). Course participants will build such a system on an open-source platform. Issues to be covered include processing architectures (batch, server-and client-side processing); “vertical” publishing formats such as Docbook, DITA, NLM/NCBI, TEI; validation and quality-assurance methods and technologies; ancillary production pipelines (SVG graphics, RSS/Atom feeds, “galley proof” versions); document metadata and aggregation; and the role of proprietary publishing applications.

Pros:
It’s online, so I could move before the end of the semester if need be.
Lot’s of techie acronyms, which come in handy for impressing people.
I’m even interested in these acronyms!  I took a weekend TEI workshop and loved it, so many of these things sound really interesting and useful.

Cons:
It’s online. Someone shoot me.
I know myself well enough to know that I bore easily with techie acronyms. Especially if I’m just doing the same thing with them over and over again.  But if the activities in the class are varied and challenging, I’ll have a better chance of staying engaged.  But I won’t know till I’m in the class, of course.
I want to work with training people more than training programs, so is a class like this really up my alley?


Class: Library Buildings
Description:

Studies the library’s physical plant in the light of changing concepts and patterns of library service; analyzes present-day library buildings (both new and remodeled) and their comparison with each other as well as with buildings of the past; examines the interrelationship of staff, collections, users, and physical plant; discussion supplemented by visits to new libraries and conference with their staffs. A two-day field trip is required.

Pros:
It’s on-campus!
I’ve been interested in this class since my first semester but never fit it in.  I could feasibly fit in next semester.
Architecture! It doesn’t get much more visual than that.  I love, love, love the nuances of buildings.

Cons:
It’s on-campus.  If I get a great job that starts before May, and I need to move early … what do I do?
Will I really have a need for this kind of information?  I’m going into special libraries, not public or academic.  Is that short-sighted of me?


My Sunday

Originally uploaded by Librarienne.

…shall be spent with books and birds. If I could give you the sounds that go along with this picture, you would hear all sorts of birdcalls and the scamper of squirrels chasing each other on the trees. And with this backdrop, it won’t worry me a bit that I leave for Quebec in less than a week with $20 to my name. In fact, I think it will be much more exciting that way.

lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” … wordled by yours truly

Not long ago I discovered a blog of historical photos called Shorpy, named after a young boy who worked in a coal mine.   Many of the photographs are black-and-white, many from the 1920s — my favorite decade of all decades.  Today’s photo is very apropos, considering I went to my first dance class last night.  None of the dancers in this photo look all that thrilled, granted, but who knows how long they’ve been at this dance marathon.  My favorite part?  The outfit of the guy on the far left.  I would love to dress like that.

Dance Marathon 1925

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I still have a couple papers to finish up for the term, but I’m already fantasizing about the books I’ll read this summer. (If you didn’t know I was geeky by now, you haven’t been paying attention.)

I was all set to start my summer with The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, but over the past week I’ve been thinking about Thoreau’s Walden — which, of course, we all read in high school, right?

Well, sure, I did, but I don’t remember anything from high school.

I do remember the line “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” I conjure that up every day. It’s been especially strong this week after hearing a quote on Writer’s Almanac that made me long to strike out on some mountain hiking trail and lose myself in the woods for a while, even if that is impractical and unreasonable:

“Personally I believe that man’s fascination for art lies in our unsatisfied desire for identity. I believe that our unarticulated longing for freedom, our painful and impractical and completely unreasonable longing for freedom derives simply from the fact that we are shut up inside that system of apparent necessities which is called our personality…”

— Johan Borgen (Words Through the Years, 1966)

Looking at my blog today, I realized there was a theme going with my Google Reader shared items.  As I write this, the five posts displayed in my blog’s sidebar are:

All of these blog posts are information about getting, managing, directing information in order to get more information.  I’m not really conveying that as well as I’d like… basically, I think they’re going around in circles.  Have you ever seen a little kid spill a bunch of ice cubes, and every time he/she bends down to pick an ice cube up and put it back in the glass, another one falls out of the glass?  And if they don’t realize what’s happening, they can get into a sort of hypnotic daze – dropping and picking up the same ice cubes over and over as they all melt.

Thing One & Thing Two

Sometimes I see the internet as a playground full of little kids with ice cubes.  It’s a weird conflict for me, as though I have two opposing personalities.  One personality – we’ll call Thing One –  only values things that are REAL and SENSORY and capable of demonstrating their value/effectiveness/quality by being touched, tasted, or seen without a monitor.  The other personality – Thing Two – enjoys keeping up with blogs, building wikis, tweaking CSS code, mapping out a file structure, and so on.  Sometimes Thing One gets fed up with Thing Two and wants to storm off in a huff of self-righteousness.

Thing Two picked out the blog posts I mentioned above because they seemed really interesting and beneficial to information science-y types of people… you know, like the people who get degrees in this stuff.

Thing One took one look at those posts and threw her hands in the air.  “What’s the point?” she asked Thing Two.  “It’s all nonsense, like American currency.  None of this information about information actually goes back to anything real.  There’s no physical original behind any of this.  It’s all just words.”  Thing Two smiles and shrugs.  Thing Two knows that most of this Web 2.0 stuff is more about people and personality than what those people and personalities write, but she doesn’t know how to explain that to Thing One, who just left for a walk anyway.

With Spring coming on strong here in Illinois, Thing One is getting more and more restless.  She suspects that Thing Two’s interests and activities will not really amount to much in the long run.  A wiki/blog/website can be deleted and no one might be the wiser or better for it having ever existed.  A tree can grow and grow and grow by itself, offer shade, offer fruit, and when it dies it becomes healthy compost for the next round of living things.  This is Thing One’s outlook.

Thing Two – the more soft spoken of the two, by far – doesn’t think these things are going away any time soon and wants to find a balance between the invisible data world that she lives in and the physical, tangible world that Thing One inhabits.  But she needs to find it soon or Thing One might run away and join a commune where they don’t even have electricity, much less silly things like these glorified paperweights known as “computers”…

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