Blue Dots: A Taxonomy of Hues

By Michael W. Harris

I Love Blue

I love blue, it is my favorite color by far (with purple a medium distant second), and even better is that the color has a fascinating history in our culture. It is a color that is sad and joyous. It is the color of royalty and the color of the commoner. It is one of the rarest naturally occurring colors and yet is also the color most associate with both our planet and its two most prominent features: water and sky.

And it is a color that has been among the hardest to produce for dyes and pigments until relatively recently. It is a color that at one time was so prized in Western art that artists had it written into agreements how much patrons would provide for them, and it was reserved for only the most import subjects in art: Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

I will not attempt to rehash the history of blue here, but the links to the following YouTube videos will provide a more thorough (and entertaining) recap of this fascinating color:

My interest in the color blue is multifaceted. Historical, philosophical, material culture, and sociological. However, for this post, I will focus on a single aspect: categorical. Continue reading “Blue Dots: A Taxonomy of Hues”

America’s Best Ideas: The Voyager Missions and National Parks

By Michael W. Harris

The Golden Record

A little over three years ago, I wrote a post on why I believed (and still do) that the Voyager Missions and accompanying Golden Record is one of the best things that America has ever done. Part of my fervent belief of this is that the Record presents an aspirational view of humanity and our future. The Record as a goal for us to work towards. And part of why I wrote that, in 2016, as the world was starting to spiral into Trumpian Oblivion, was that it provided a counter to that negative outlook.

You see, I am a cynical person by nature. I have a deep repository of cynicism that I thinly veil with a healthy schmeer of sarcasm. I have, outwardly, lost all belief that humanity can dig itself out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. If a Cylon asked me if I believed that humanity was “worthy of survival,” I would probably (in my cynical view) answer “no” without skipping a beat. I would probably follow up with “Burn the motherfucker down. Honestly I am surprised we haven’t done it already ourselves. Sorry to make you go to the trouble.” And before I could take it back, the missiles would be launched to the strains of “All Along the Watchtower” and “bye, Felicia.” Continue reading “America’s Best Ideas: The Voyager Missions and National Parks”

Pancakes are Love (and Other Lessons Learned from my Grandmothers)

By Michael W. Harris

I still use the copy of the recipe I wrote down while talking to my Grandma Jackie.

There is a line in the 2008 Wachowski’s movie Speed Racer that, even though it is largely a throwaway line uttered by what will soon turn out to be the film’s villain, has always stayed with me: “Pfannkuchen sind Liebchen. Pancakes are love.” Now, Google Translate informs me that that is not entirely accurate, that “Liebchen” actually means “sweet heart,” but I still like the sentiment because pancakes will always be love, specifically the love of my Grandma Jackie. And I can totally hear her saying “sweetheart” to me.

Growing up, Grandma Jackie, my dad’s mother, and her pancakes were something I looked forward to whenever we visited St. Louis or spent our summer vacation fishing at Montauk State Park in southern Missouri, the Harris family’s ancestral lands (at least in the immediate past). In the very best Midwestern tradition, breakfast at Grandma’s was a true feast: sausage, eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, milk, coffee, orange juice, and, of course, pancakes. It is no secret that Midwesterners love their food. The church potluck is basically a cliché for the Methodists and Lutherans, to say nothing of basically inventing tailgating. But our love of food goes beyond needing big meals to get ready for a long day working the farm. In the Midwest, food is love. Continue reading “Pancakes are Love (and Other Lessons Learned from my Grandmothers)”

Inspired By Modding -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TWSBI

By Michael W. Harris

A TWSBI family portrait. Since this photo was taken 3 more have joined the family.

I have been “deep” into the stationery game for a bit over a year now, and I feel like I am starting to hone in on my tastes and figure out what I really like and dislike. However, some things still do surprise—such as just how much I liked writing with a Sailor King of Pen that a fellow Memphis Pen Club member recently bought. I had always assumed it would be way too beg for me, but instead I am now entertaining expensive thoughts. But of all my recent realizations a year in, the most surprising was saying to myself, “You know, I think I could get rid of most of my pens and be happy with just my modded TWSBIs.” Sure, there would be a few others I would keep, such as my so-called “Tier 1” pens, but this was a shocking thought, especially because TWSBI was one of the first brands I tried and quickly decided was not for me. Continue reading “Inspired By Modding -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TWSBI”

Shine on You Crazy Raga: Pink Floyd, Jazz Improv, and Indian Music

By Michael W. Harris

It has been a long while since I wrote anything about music, so I am going to dip my toes back into an idea I have had since the days of teaching World Musics-Asia back at the University of Colorado Boulder: Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” off their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, is a perfect Western adaptation of the Indian music raga form.

Hear me out. I will not argue that they consciously or deliberately did this, I have no proof of that nor do I believe they did. Pink Floyd wrote “Diamond” to be a raga with the same amount of purposeful thought that they wrote Dark Side of the Moon to sync up with Wizard of Oz. Rather, I would just like to lay out my reasoning why it is a great encapsulation of the form, albeit done through the lens of Western musical style and tonalities. Continue reading “Shine on You Crazy Raga: Pink Floyd, Jazz Improv, and Indian Music”

Random Thoughts about Life, Librarians, and one certain Tuesday

By Michael W. Harris

The interior-exterior of Pickler Library at Truman State University

I began, rather unknowingly, my career in libraries one afternoon in September of my junior year at Truman State University. At that time I still had my sights set on a professional trajectory in music, either as a performer or teacher, with bassoon as my stock-in-trade. I mainly began working in the Music and Media Library as a means to earn my work study dollars, and I had an in with the boss because my sister had worked there previously. I would continue to work there for the remainder of my undergrad.

The next three years. Continue reading “Random Thoughts about Life, Librarians, and one certain Tuesday”

chapter one {Prelude and Earth’s Death: Depression and the Apocalypse}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

Melancholia is a difficult movie…no…a brutal movie to get through. It is a punishing two hours and fifteen minutes in which all the moments of rest and humor come in the first thirty minutes. And this includes the eight-minute montage of slowly moving, beautifully rendered, pseudo living paintings that culminates with the end of the world, all of which is set to the strains of Richard Wagner’s Prelude from Tristan und Isolde. It is a hard movie to watch, and is even harder to recommend.

I guess the upside, if there is an upside, is that if you can’t get through the entire film, at least you know the ending: the world ends. But how the film gets there—how it slowly builds as all mirth and joy leaves its world, and the viewer and characters are stuck in a claustrophobic, opulent country castle as the world grapples with apocalyptic happenings (and yet, you see nothing of that outside world on-screen)—is masterful to watch. It just isn’t enjoyable to view. Continue reading “chapter one {Prelude and Earth’s Death: Depression and the Apocalypse}”

chapter one {We Were Just Listening: The Search for Connection}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

Yes, this is a picture from my trip in 2015. It was a beautiful day in the high New Mexican desert.

In March of 2015 I visited a dear friend of mine in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during my university employer’s spring break. I was almost two years out of my PhD and had started getting the acceptance letters back from the library school programs I had applied to after making the jump from adjunct teaching to library work. It was a great trip, but because of my friend’s job, there were a few days in which I was left to my own devices. On one of those days I made a trip to a place very familiar to many science nerds like myself: The Very Large Array (VLA).

Nestled in a valley and ringed by mountains to cut down on interference from other radio signals, the VLA is some fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, and is widely recognized for its appearance in the 1997 film Contact. Despite the 2 ½ hour drive from Albuquerque to the VLA, I still spent some three hours on site, walking the grounds, staring up at the massive dishes and trying to visualize the sheer scale of the array and the science conducted there: peering into the depths of our universe, searching for black holes and quasars, probing into the fundamental questions of creation, and, of course, being used in the hunt for intelligent, extra-terrestrial life. Continue reading “chapter one {We Were Just Listening: The Search for Connection}”

chapter one {Free of Time: Temporality, Memory, Love, Loss, and Choice}

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

I knew I wanted to see Arrival from the moment I saw the first trailer. I wasn’t familiar with director Denis Villeneuve’s previous films, but Arrival promised to be a visually stunning, thoughtful science-fiction film. Something that has been sorely lacking in the genre, at least amongst the traditional mainstream fare.

For those in need of a “brief” refresher, Arrival is the story of Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, who is one of the world’s foremost linguists. The movie begins with what appears to be a flashback to Louise playing with a daughter, who is then absent for most of the film, the audience is led to assume the daughter is dead, except for apparent flashbacks, and we see “present” Louise in a very solitary and somber state. Quickly, world events take over as twelve alien ships arrive on Earth, and Louise joins a team of scientists trying to establish contact. The big twist is that the aliens, or heptapods they are called, communicate in a language in which their words appear all at once rather than in a linear string, as in human communication. The upshot is that because the heptapods communicate in such a fashion they it causes them to perceive time not as linear but all at once, via what is called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. And because Louise is learning to read and understand heptapod, she also begins to have the same perception. This is when we, the audience, understand that the daughter that we believe has been haunting Louise’s memories is actually the daughter of her and another scientist, Ian (played by Jeremy Renner), and this is the moment they meet. In other words, because of her newfound fluency in heptapod, she now perceives past, present, and future as one. However, she also now knows that her and Ian’s daughter is doomed to die from a rare disease, and yet still chooses to begin the relationship with Ian. The question lingering over the ending of the film, though, is if she actually has the choice in that matter or if our lives are fixed. Continue reading “chapter one {Free of Time: Temporality, Memory, Love, Loss, and Choice}”

chapter one {encounters with the Other} – an introduction

Note: This post is part of my on-going “hauntology project” series. You can find all posts in this series using the category “hauntology.”

The ability to create an empathetic response in an audience member is one of art’s greatest powers. It forces a viewer, reader, or listener to consider something from a point-of-view other than their own and can even create a change in attitude within them. And if an artist can do this while also building sympathy with something alien to the viewer, creating empathy for something truly “other” to the viewer’s world, all the better.

Sometimes that something alien is literally an extra-terrestrial, or at least something so foreign it might as well be of another world. How we change after encountering the Other can only be described as “apocalyptic” in the literal sense of the word: an uncovering. While today we usually associate the word “apocalypse” with the end of the world, or some world altering event, it literally means a “revelation or disclosure,” such as the biblical Book of Revelation—or in Greek “Apokalypsis Ioannou,” John’s Revelation. As such, an encounter with the Other can be an apocalyptic moment because it can be revelatory about ourselves, both the audience surrogate on screen and our actual selves. For the sake of clarity, I will label these two types of apocalypses as either a revelatory or catastrophic apocalypses. Continue reading “chapter one {encounters with the Other} – an introduction”