Time Out

Posted by Whit Barringer , Tuesday, November 30, 2010 1:47 AM

If you can't tell by my intermittent posts, I am drowning in the amount of work I have to do. I will be back to normal next week for sure, but until then I'm going to have to drop off the face of the planet.

To tide you over, here are two of my favorite moments from Absolutely Fabulous, a British series that I recently acquired and have started from the beginning.

Don't forget you can ask me shiz at formspring.me/adamantfire. I will have enough time to respond to questions starting next week, so now's the time.

"The Night the Stars Fell"

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, November 22, 2010 11:22 PM

As most of you know, I have been reading part of a collection of nineteenth century daily journals written by an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister as part of my grad school historical research class. [For a better introduction to the work, here is a podcast I recorded with some background.] When I get passed the fact that I'm drowning under the work and the volume of work that still remains pushes me to the brink of my mental faculties, I have to admit that there is a lot in these journals that really interests me. The little glimpses into the life of a rural family and neighborhood in mid- to late- nineteenth century Mississippi can shed a lot of light on the history of our present customs, problems, and ideas, as well as show what we have lost, for better or worse. Subtle references to the present that only a historian can really grasp (e.g. referring to William Jennings Bryan, a very important figure in late and early nineteenth century political history, only as "Bryan," etc.), as well as referring to the writer's recent, local past (which in turn is the distant, obscure past to the modern reader).

One such reference occurred a journal from 1899 that I've been writing on. When eulogizing a man who died, Sam Agnew (the minister) referred to the fact that "Jim" was born "9 years before the Stars fell, which makes his birth year 1824." When I first read it without fully understanding it, I thought it was a Civil War reference. Of course, the Civil War began in 1861, but the connotation with "Stars," especially in that capitalized form, is political. When I came across it again, I decided to simply google the phrase and see what came up. What I found really caught me by surprise.

"The Night the Stars Fell" is a reference to the Leonid Meteor Shower that occurred in 1833. The shower was apparently so intense and awe-inspiring that it became a cultural phenomenon as well. The song "Stars Fell on Alabama," though written in 1934, is actually about the meteor shower. If it's important enough use as a landmark for births and deaths, it is fair to say that the event was a truly spectacular one and very important to nineteenth century Americans.

Here's a link to the song as sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on iTunes, as well as a link to a more complete story about the details of the shower itself.  The picture below comes from the description of the event.

Into the Mind of the Puppet Master

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, November 12, 2010 5:24 PM

Here is Jim Henson's Academy Award nominated short film Time Piece. Very weird, very creative, and, at times, very fun. It's nearly 9 minutes - well worth the time.

Happy Friday!

Listicle No. 1: Favorite Animated Features

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, November 11, 2010 12:20 AM

A long time ago over on VDCC, I decided to come up with a Top 30 animated films list. I didn't actually make it all the way through, not by a long shot, but that's because I have trouble finishing anything I start. I've decided to finally right my wrong and, 2.5 years later, provide the full list here sans commentary. I would disagree with some of my decisions now (for instance, I don't even like - spoiler! - Ratatouille), but the list belongs to a slightly younger, more cultural criticism-minded me.

Without further ado, in descending order.

Stages of Emancipation

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, November 08, 2010 11:00 PM

At this very moment, I am not filled with dread.

Which is saying something, considering I have been been bouncing between apathy and dread, quiet and fear, for a few months now.

Why? Oh, for different reasons. A few months ago, it had more to do with a heavy phase of anxiety and a swirling depression I could not pin down that stemmed from self-doubt and a serious reexamination of who I am as a person. Now, I am looking into my future - the act alone being enough to make anyone pause.

I have two paths before me. One has a job, the other a child's dream.

Ever since I was a little girl, when I made my future job list on wide-rule notebook paper and Scotch-taped it to my wall in my bedroom at my grandmother's house, I knew I wanted to go as far as I could on any route my education took me. "Go until it ends," I hear the voice in the back of my head say. "Go until there is no more path."

But the voice that says that is also the voice of a little girl who is reluctant to understand how the world works, and doesn't want to admit to herself that maybe following a dream for its own sake isn't really an option. Even if I knew how the path turns out, the decision would not be any harder to step off of it and potentially terminate all further progress to the end.

It's the cliche which we all know. You stand in a room, facing your former, younger, more precocious self. She looks at you and asks, "What happened?" And all you can say is "Life." She calls you a sellout, you tell her that you didn't understand how it was when you were her, and now things are different. She says you are nothing like her, you protest but inwardly agree. Then she says she's disappointed, and you can do nothing but shrug.

The road has diverged in my yellow wood, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not going to choose the road less traveled by. Yet I see more divergences in the road I am probably going to choose, and I see a diverse life ahead of me on this path. I see an opportunity to be young for once instead of the adult I've always been forced to be, and that's more exciting than any other prospect at the moment. A chance to be free and cultivate the relationships I've had to let sit and wither on the vine. A chance not to be a cynical angry person that my scholarship has almost forced me to be. A chance to work towards change instead of accepting how things became how they are now as a function of my degree.

That's just looking forward, though. Looking back, I see some of the darkest moments of my entire life. The moments when I've felt most alone, most betrayed, most inept. Not all of that was because of the actual pursuit of my degree, but it has all in some way or another been triggered by my being here. There are a lot of moments I can't take back. There are a lot of words for which I can't apologize. I have lost so much ground so quickly, only to clamber back up the path to get to where I stand, and even now where I stand isn't safe. Going forward, and away from this, seems like the only sane option. Yet running doesn't erase the past, and the suffocating memories that I associate with some of my time here have not destroyed me. Even before I step forward, no matter my decision, I know I have to make peace with myself, lest I regret whatever decision I make.

I don't have to be damned if I do or damned if I don't, but it's hard to see exactly how to go on without regrets. Making each step a sure one takes time and effort and patience, and I feel so short on all three. I feel like a tightrope walker. While I've never had a lesson, every step has, in its own way, been practice.

I have not gotten to the point of being able to look my former self in the eye and honestly say, "This isn't a compromise. This isn't cynicism. This is the best." Until I get to that point, I will still be an off-and-on ball of anxiety. But I think I'm getting there, which is the best I can ever expect.

Wikiventures!: 20 Different Abstracts, 20 Different Illustrations

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, November 05, 2010 6:52 AM

Recently I was looking up the word "raconteur" when I came across the Wikipedia article for storytelling. The picture used to illustrate the article was Millais's The Boyhood of Sir Walter Raleigh, which depicts a seafarer or sailor telling Raleigh tales about the sea.

This is something that is in general taken for granted, but is actually a really interesting and cool thing that Wikipedia does. If asked what I would use to illustrate a concept like storytelling, it might take me a while to come up with something half as good as the Millais painting, but because of the power of crowds, an illustration was found that really struck at the heart of what storytelling means.

So I decided to perform a little experiment. I came up with a list of words, random at first, then increasingly thematic, and tried to answer the question "What illustration was used to best evoke the epitome of the abstract concepts at hand?" In each case, I have used the first picture displayed next to first summary text on each page. The results are below the fold.

Annotated iTunes No. 2: Sounds of Studying

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, November 04, 2010 1:14 AM

I almost always listen to music while I work. It breaks the silence and blocks out white noise. If I'm alone, it makes me feel not so. If I can't get away from other people, it makes me feel not so crowded. It's the best aid I've found for my wandering focus (that gets worse whenever I'm near anything electronic).

I have many study playlists in my iTunes that fit different needs. Only specific types of music go into each. Here are some incomplete lists of the artists I listen to (it would take me a helluva lot more time to write down everything) in certain scenarios. My hope is that a) you'll see new music and b) be inspired to try adding some new music to your routine. If neither (a) or (b) happens, then I've still done another Wednesday post, and all is not lost.

1. Reading/Writing - Soft music without words.

Artist Examples: Arms and Sleepers, The American Dollar, Tycho, Boards of Canada, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, Sparrows Swarm and Sing, Instrumental Soundtracks (e.g. Heavy Rain, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, The Incredibles, UP, ), anything covered by Vitamin String Quartet, Apocalyptica, and some classical music (Delius and Gerswhin make appearances).

Specific Songs: "Blue Orb" from W <3 Katamari.

2. Editing - Soft music with words.
Artist Examples: The Fray, Little Dragon, Iron & Wine, Fleet Foxes,

Specific Songs: "Tea Leaf Dancers" - Flying Lotus, "Aqueous Transmission" - Incubus, "Duvet" - Boa, "The Rat" - Dead Confederate, "Disintegration" - Lewis and Clarke (cover of The Cure).

3. Composing (gathering sources, outlining, etc) - a mix of soft/hard music without words.
Artist Examples (in addition to everything listed under #1): Flying Lotus, Loné.
Specific Songs: "Make Love" - Daft Punk.

4. Time Crunch - hard, fast, or trance-inducing music without words or with repetitive word sounds.
Artist Examples: Daft Punk, MSTRKRFT, Flying Lotus, Junk Culture.
Song Examples: "Pjanoo" - Eric Prydz, "The Falling" - Sparo.

5. Creative Work - a mix of genres that follows no particular rhyme or reason, but has a lot of intense creativity in the music (the philosophy being that that creativity inspires creativity).

Artist Examples: Broken Social Scene, Coheed and Cambria, Passion Pit, Florence + the Machine, Tokyo Police Club, Drive-By Truckers, Hold Steady, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, RJD2, Panic! at the Disco, Frou Frou, Imogen Heap, Radiohead, Phoenix, Sufjan Stevens, The Dear Hunter, The Wombats, The Felice Brothers, Mos Def, Matchbox Twenty.

Specific Songs: "Kingdom of Rust" - Doves.

6. Repetitive Mindless Work - Set to random and hope for the best.

"Drunk" is probably a more apt descriptor than we truly realize.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, November 01, 2010 10:28 PM

I'm too bogged down to do anything meaningful tonight, but I do have some ideas for the next time around. For now - my favorite of the Drunk History videos on YouTube. There are a good handful on there. If you decide you like, my suggestion is to start from the first (with Michael Cera as Alexander Hamilton) and work your through.