In the Music World: Adele

For this weeks blog I want to introduce you all to an artist that I recently heard.  Her name is Adele and she is English.  Her music is so soulful and this quality is what draws me to her.  Her soul mostly comes from her amazingly talented voice that is simultaneously soft and strong.  Her lyrics are also powerful and relatable.  She reminds me a little of Florence and the Machine because both of their voices are so versatile.

Adele’s new album titled ‘21’ was recently the number 1 album in the United States.  She didn’t come from a musically talented family and said she got her inspiration from the Spice Girls.

Her music is calming while empowering.  I have really enjoyed getting to know her music and I hope you will as well.

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

The Incense-Maker

The air is hot and heavy as we traverse the maze-like side streets of Lukang. The buildings are older here, and the only traffic is foot or bicycle. Homes and shops are crowded together, but nevertheless exude an air of cleanliness. Fruit trees are hidden unexpectedly in corners. On the worn steps of a temple squeezed into a dead end are some elderly ladies, smoking and chattering. We approach, waving. We ask, do you know where the H– bakery is? Hmm, they murmur, squinting at one another. Back up that way, one says. Left and right and right again. The others nod in agreement.

The streets turn this way and that. Somewhere along the way a thick, pleasant odour wafts out into the street. There are piles and piles of little black coils lying along the outside wall of a small shop. What could these be, we wonder. We speculate: coasters, maybe? Probably not. Curious, though.

Inside the shop a man is bent over his work. He is making, as it turns out, incense. The man is a master of his trade. He explains his process. The doughy material is pressed from the machine- this is the great black iron beast the younger man is handling- which the shop owner then rolls by hand and coils on a wheel. They are then left out in the sun to harden and cure.

The shop-owner warms to our presence, seemingly delighted explain to us everything.  He does not look up from his work, as he does so, deft fingers working and shaping and creating the coils with startling efficiency.
He has been at this a long time, it turns out, since he was young. All the ingredients are natural, he says, rather reminiscently. He used to gather much of it by hand. It was a family business. But there is also a grim set to his face. Business is not so good now; everything is commercialized these days, and there is competition. We’re surviving, he says finally, and it is silent.

The shop-owner warms to our presence, seemingly delighted explain to us everything.  He does not look up from his work as he does so, deft fingers working and shaping and creating the coils with startling efficiency.

He has been at this a long time, it turns out, since he was young. All the ingredients are natural, he says, rather reminiscently. He used to gather much of it by hand. It was a family business. But there is also a grim set to his face. Business is not so good now; everything is commercialized these days, and there is competition. We’re surviving, he says finally, and it is silent for a moment.

In the end, we feel we cannot leave without having purchased a box from him. This package has little pale gold cones nestled in white tissue paper instead of the black coils, but it is not the point. It is hand-crafted, which is the point. Labor and care have been folded into each and every one of those little cones. Hard to come by, these days.

On the highs and lows of aesthetic criticism

An education in literary criticism and theory — being constantly asked to evaluate and re-evaluate what is considered literary art, art in general and what does it really matter in the end – has its effects on you, despite initial impressions. Curled in an abundantly cushioned chair, I read the wits of Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, and Matthew Arnold — all calculatingly organized into theories on art’s intersection with literature. At times, such as when I am untangling a particularly unwieldy sentence, I think about how these abstractions matter outside of this page, out of this very moment of comprehension? Class becomes suddenly bordering on an existential debate, but the hand of the clock ticks its way to the end of the allotted time, and we shuffle our papers back together, push open the door and step outside to the reality as we know it, seemingly quite disjoint from the experience that had just occurred. What is this that we do on a daily basis? Is there no functional overlap at all? What do you mean you don’t live your life as if it were a silent impressionistic painting?
Over spring break, the regal affair of pinning awards to critically acclaimed movie titles happened for the 80th or so time, and it was declared that The King’s Speech would take home the top prize. Barring some moments of cinematography, choice of wallpaper, and my appreciation for Helena Bonham Carter, I declared to a friend of mine that the movie was overall as fickle as the pedestal it was placed on. Linear, completely easily predictable plots from the onset are prone to become cognitively numbing, and instead of taking the opportunity to turn expectations on its head, it followed its foreseen course like most history channel specials.  If there was a gem, it would have been the mildly endearing relationship developed between Bertie and Lionel, and the confidence and solidarity it has inspired for those with speech impediments. It was cute, and yes, maybe good for us. Yet, if the Oscars wanted to be truly, artistically reflective of our generation — the passion of the decade (which, I admit, may not be their priority) — instead of feeling nostalgic for Britain’s monarch in such a simplistic way, I think it should have turned to the chaotic, messy, psychological and humbly unanswerable turn inward that is depicted in a film like Inception or Black Swan. There are some theorists who argue that a work of art should be emotionally detached, that emotions riddle away any artistic value in a work, that it is base in some way, but I argue the opposite. I think the overwhelming nature of a piece speaks of its quality and that comes from evoking the most complex, irrational emotions that many of us cannot put to words or cause us to realize the insufficiencies of language. It’s this chaotic state of affairs that could never be moralized or logically assembled by a set of if-thens into a neat output.
And while I thought on this during my free, relatively unscheduled time off during the past week, it was then that occurred to me how a class on “Is Literature Art” had weaved its way into my evaluations on how the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had decided on excellence for 2011. It reminded me to ask myself what are my criteria for what counts as good art and then further asked where such notions came from. The bottom line is that, criticism, while being incorrigibly convoluted, has its “perks” when you least expect it.

An education in literary/artistic criticism and theory — being constantly asked to evaluate and re-evaluate what is considered literary art, art in general and what does it really matter in the end – has its effects on you, despite initial impressions. Curled in an abundantly cushioned chair, I read the wits of Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, and Matthew Arnold — all calculatingly organized into theories on art’s intersection with literature. At times, such as when I am untangling a particularly unwieldy sentence, I think about how these abstractions matter outside of this page, out of this very moment of comprehension. Class becomes suddenly bordering on an existential debate, but the hand of the clock ticks its way to the end of the allotted time, and we shuffle our papers back together, push open the door and step outside to the reality as we know it, seemingly quite disjoint from the experience that had just occurred. What is this that we do on a daily basis? Is there no functional overlap at all? What do you mean you don’t live your life as if it were a silent impressionistic painting?

Over spring break, the regal affair of pinning awards to critically acclaimed movie titles happened for the 80th or so time, and it was declared that The King’s Speech would take home the top prize. Barring some moments of cinematography, choice of wallpaper, and my appreciation for Helena Bonham Carter, I declared to a friend of mine that the movie was overall as fickle as the pedestal it was placed on. Linear, completely easily predictable plots from the onset are prone to become cognitively numbing, and instead of taking the opportunity to turn expectations on its head, it followed its foreseen course like most history channel specials.  If there was a gem, it would have been the mildly endearing relationship developed between Bertie and Lionel, and the confidence and solidarity it has inspired for those with speech impediments. It was cute, and yes, maybe good for us. Yet, if the Oscars wanted to be truly, artistically reflective of our generation — the passion of the decade (which, I admit, may not be their priority) — instead of feeling nostalgic for Britain’s monarch in such a simplistic way, I think it should have turned to the chaotic, messy, psychological and humbly unanswerable turn inward that is depicted in a film like Inception or Black Swan. There are some theorists who argue that a work of art should be emotionally detached, that emotions riddle away any artistic value in a work, that it is base in some way, but I argue the opposite. I think the overwhelming nature of a piece speaks of its quality and that comes from evoking the most complex, irrational emotions that many of us cannot put to words or cause us to realize the insufficiencies of language. It’s this chaotic state of affairs that could never be moralized or logically assembled by a set of if-thens into a neat output.

And while I thought on this during my free, relatively unscheduled time off during the past week, it was then that occurred to me how a class on “Is Literature Art” had weaved its way into my evaluations on how the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had decided on excellence for 2011. It reminded me to ask myself what are my criteria for what counts as good art and then further asked where such notions came from. The bottom line is that perhaps, criticism, while being incorrigibly convoluted, has its “perks” when you least expect it.

Dear Spring, Please Hurry.

spring

It’s that time of year again – “Spring Break.” The unfortunate truth, however, for those of us who will be stuck in this state shaped like a piece of winter outerwear is that it is so Not Spring. Sure, there’s no homework for the next nine days, but there will still be cold and probably another several inches of snow. And, what Michigan winter would be complete without a full-fledged ice storm? Granted, I haven’t heard any reports of ice on the way, but when it comes to Michigan’s winter weather, I’m incapable of being an optimist.  All this boils down to one undeniable fact – I, and I’m guessing a few other Michiganders, am/are suffering from a severe case of Cabin Fever. The only thing standing between me and running around like a madwoman aiming my hairdryer at the snowdrifts outside my door is the knowledge that if I manage to hold onto my sanity and dignity through March, the sun is bound to shine a little more and the world to grow a little greener.

In a somewhat misguided attempt to make myself forget that it’s cold and grey outside, I decided to search for some poems about Spring. While I failed in happily reconciling myself to enduring another month of Winter, I did find a couple poems on poemhunter.com that I would like to share.

This first poem by Robert Seymour Bridges perfectly describes the feeling of waiting for the transition to Spring to occur:

Spring

While yet we wait for spring, and from the dry
And blackening east that so embitters March,
Well-housed must watch grey fields and meadows parch,
And driven dust and withering snowflake fly;
Already in glimpses of the tarnish’d sky
The sun is warm and beckons to the larch,
And where the covert hazels interarch
Their tassell’d twigs, fair beds of primrose lie.
Beneath the crisp and wintry carpet hid
A million buds but stay their blossoming;
And trustful birds have built their nests amid
The shuddering boughs, and only wait to sing
Till one soft shower from the south shall bid,
And hither tempt the pilgrim steps of spring.

~Robert Seymour Bridges

Spring

In it’s first stanza, this poem by Robert Frost calls for us to be happy when it is Spring and not to anxiously look forward to the Fall. While the situation here in Michigan now is not exactly the same, perhaps these first lines can be a source of inspiration for patience in our wait for the Spring.

Spring

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

~Robert Frost

Spring

Have a wonderful Spring Break, and stay warm!

Plants are like people

After months of wanting a plant in my room and complaining to my roommate to get me one, I finally got my wish.  His name is Francesco and he is a Wandering Jew.  For those of you who aren’t botanists or who don’t have sacred relations with plants, a Wandering Jew is a plant with long purple and green leaves that grow sporadically.  I like to say Francesco has a mind of his own because of his wild growth patterns.  He is a free man and no mother can constrain him.  He is a rebellious teenager and I just have to let him grow.

Things have really changed since he has come into my life.  First of all, I never feel completely alone anymore now that I have him in my room.  It is a comforting, yet also a weird feeling, like I am always being watched.  He is a living being, so it would make sense that I can feel his presence, right?  He is almost like a child.  I have to water him and tend to him when he is sick (by plucking off his dying leaves).  He would die without me.  He is dependent upon me and I like that feeling.

You know how people say that the elderly live longer when they have plants?  Well, maybe there is a correlation with plants and college students, too?  Maybe they are a stress reducer or a boyfriend reducer…one of the two.

Since he has come into my room he has flourished.  I think I have to repot him soon, he is outgrowing his current one.  I do not know much about plants, but I won’t tell him that.  He thinks I am the best Mom in the world.  He is my first plant child and I look forward to a long relationship with him.

English is Not English is English is Not…

It’s a beloved stereotype of Americans, the idealizing and idolizing of British English (he sounds so smart- he’s got a British accent!). And while we may recognize that this perception exists, it is often hard to see any reason to discontinue it, because it’s not really a negative stereotype, after all, we rationalize. Some Americans see posh and classy; others see presumptuous and ridiculous. But is such conflict really necessary? Is it not possible to simply observe linguistic differences, be aware of them, admire them, be open to the idea of using them interchangeably (or with discretion)? Perhaps it is intriguing to explore similarities and differences for naught but curiosity’s sake.

Sometimes non-American spellings and usages do burrow their way into my writing (perhaps from having read or heard them one time too many), but I don’t see it as putting on airs. Sometimes we’re not pretending to be who we are not, but the awareness of different conventions can be satisfying to know, and irresistible to exercise once in a while. (I prefer grey to gray for aesthetic purposes, but find turning in papers with behaviour a tad excessive.) And however ethnocentric putting British English on a pedestal (or lumping all dialects into one, for that matter) may be, one must admit it can be quite the bit of fun to occasionally pretend at being someone else. Actors can adopt an entirely different set of mannerisms and ways of speaking, often quite well, but it’s not mockery. It’s not pretentious. It’s not ignorance.

Other times, what is interesting is how much English-speaking countries assume each other to be much the same, but for different pronunciations of words. And even then, this can prove a source of surprise and amusement. (“How do you say ‘car’? Oh my gosh, really? How do you say ‘banana’? Say it again! Say it again!”) There are, naturally, usage differences in our vocabularies, and sometimes different vocabularies altogether. More than once I’ve happened upon friends struggling to identify an object because they could not agree upon a mutually understood term. (This is for you.)

Recently, as I was thumbing through one of my textbooks, I came upon a section examining linguistic differences in dialects of English spoken everywhere. While we- or perhaps just I, really- tend to think that most differences in pronunciations lie in vowels (in their roundness or flatness, in length and the position of the tongue, for instance), and perhaps in the treatment of the letter r, it raised other good points. Allophones, sounds that are distinctive to the speakers of a language or dialect and will affect meaning if changed but make no difference to another language or dialect, vary even in English, for instance. What make the sounds of spoken variants of English distinctive from one another are often difficult to pinpoint, but they are there, somewhere.

This has a been a rambling discussion on English. Thank you for following.