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”

It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens

By Michael W. Harris

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim Purple Cosmos. I love this pen, but it is probably the most FOMO purchase I have made.

It is hard to be a fountain pen enthusiast and be of modest means. Budgets are really tight and FOMO is strong with the endless parade of pretty limited edition pens in swirling colors. You naturally want to get ALL THE THINGS, but rational thought, your bank balance, and the crushing reality that you can only use so many pens and inks in a lifetime (and you cannot take them with you) will, hopefully, bring one back down to earth. So, what is one to do to keep the fountain pen/stationery passion alive and well when you cannot plunk down $900 on a new Visconti at the drop of a hat? How can the stationery junkie in search of their next fix get it while also on a budget?

Some find that rush in the form of cheap Chinese pens bought from Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. Fun to explore, easier on the wallet, and many times mimicking the hot trends of the larger or more expensive brands (looking at you PenBBS faux Conid), these can be a way of exploring different aspects of the hobby without breaking the bank. Continue reading “It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens”

chapter_0: haunted cinemas {part ii – hauntological foundations}

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

Hauntology is a seemingly straightforward concept, yet it can be fraught with complexity and misunderstanding. As mentioned previously, French philosopher and deconstructinist Jacques Derrida first coined the term in relation to the fall of Communism in the early 1990s. In a piece for The Guardian, Andrew Gallix wrote that, “Derrida argued that Marxism would haunt Western society from beyond the grave.” The word itself is a play on the word ontology, which is simply the philosophical study of being and existence, and Colin Davis argues that, “[h]auntology supplants [ontology by]…replacing the priority of being and presence with the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive.” Hauntology is literally that: the haunting of our present by that which came before, the past lingering on after it has passed. A ghostly apparition right behind us, in the corner of our mind’s eye.

While I generally hate the word nostalgia, especially in our current cultural age wherein I feel it is overused in reference to our wave of ‘80s themed/tinged shows, I think my favorite brief definition of hauntology, also coming from the Gallix piece, is that it is a “nostalgia for all our lost futures.” To me, this nicely sums up how hauntology works for me on both a personal and global level. When I reflect on the past, on choices, forks in the road, and what I had hoped my life to be and what I wished for the future of our world, my haunted sense comes from those “lost futures.”

For me, a haunted film might make me reflect on my own possible lost futures, or maybe those of humanity, much like my reaction to The Tree of Life I described in part one of this chapter. It came as I was deep in my PhD work and questioning and comparing myself to my grandfather. Would I ever start a family, or does my personality preclude that in an age so obsessed with outward performances of self. Regardless of the film, something about it rips me out of the moment and thrusts me into a ghostly otherworld of the specters of the past and future, like some sort of trippy Christmas Carol. Continue reading “chapter_0: haunted cinemas {part ii – hauntological foundations}”