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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


(2Dec2011: archive cleaning continues. Also, gotta stop putting in 2014—that's why this post is late.) I've encountered a couple of interesting podcasts lately, so I thought I'd throw this pic of a sunflower up as an excuse to talk about them. The first, while intriguing in and of itself, grabbed my attention for a very personal reason: it was a story from This American Life that I'd heard awhile back (1996, I'm guessing...) I had—still have, really—only one distinct memory from this episode, specifically, Ira Glass, speaking of the intimate relationship between an old woman and her (male) caretaker, ‘He wipes her butt. He wipes her butt.’

Except, Ira Glass never said this. He certainly doesn't repeat the phrase for emphasis. I had forgotten everything else about the show (“Sissies”); certainly the second act which details the differing mannerisms between 1940s men and women (if you are a man, do not tap your teeth with a nail; rest your chin on your clenched fist. What, a regular ole fist won't do? Anyway.)

I had forgotten the first segment was about a gay man, Mubarak; I had forgotten the relationship between him and the old woman (his mother, duh!); I had forgotten the theme of the show (sissies, or more specifically, feminine gay men...we've made some progress since then, yay); and I had certainly forgotten that the narrator was Nancy Updike, not Ira Glass.

Yet such is plasticity of memory that I substituted his voice for hers, and added a repetition to boot. Now, I suppose, when it originally aired, it's just faintly possible that Glass quoted Updike; but if so, I note he provides transitional material in other parts of the broadcast, but not that one. It seems to me either they would all have been included or deleted, so I presume my memory is simply at fault.


I first encountered this concept presented in a scientifically rigorous way in Scientific American. They did the usual thing of people gradually closing a triangle as the months pass, though the experiment that particularly drew my eye as a white child growing up in an increasingly black neighborhood was a drawing of three men, two white, one black, one of whom was holding a knife.

(White) participants in this study remembered the black guy holding the knife...even though in the actual drawing, he was the one being threatened with the knife. My memory, as I have just demonstrated, is suspect but...I think the reason this made such a huge impact was that my eyes slid over the drawing so quickly I assumed the black guy was holding the knife, till I read the text. In other words, my expectations reassembled the drawing in the (mainstream white) culturally acceptable narrative.

That I could make such a mistake, despite my parents’ deliberate choice to live in a mixed neighborhood, despite their (and my) best efforts to be ‘colorblind’, had a huge impact. Whether I made this error, in any event I was convinced that I was, indeed capable of it; and I didn't want to be that sort of person. Perry Mason mysteries only reinforced my suspicion of eye-witness.

I'm not the saintly, kindly type to be able to naturally shed prejudices; the best I can do is try to be aware of them, and take extra pains to counteract them. Thus, I'm always interested in methods that serve to cross-check my memory, such as this experience with a program I heard on the radio a decade and a half ago.

Since I wrote the above, I encountered quite a nice article explaining the mechanism of how memories are made—and remade. Just as an example of the effect, I was certain I'd made the main page that goes with this intro. Nope. I'd only gotten as far as moving the pix in the LocalFlora directory, though the page made a big enough impression that I've thought about it, off and on, for the last five years.

And it's not that exciting a picture. Just one that resonated, I guess.


2010 must have been a relatively dark year for me: I'm digging out a lot of old stuff I made, but didn't feel made the grade back then, and never bothered to post. Or mebbe I was too busy writing fiction, I don't know. At any rate, I'm in a tidy-up mode which is why you're seeing so much of this old crap (such as today's intro).

I suppose the comments below struck me because I've been hearing rumblings of a government shutdown again, and the link below gives a sense, I think, of just how close people felt to the brink, in 09 or 10, when Obama took office. Like many people our household struggled with layoffs, underemployment and uncertainty, though we were very lucky to have savings adequate to save our house. Someone recently sent along a cartoon comparing Reagan and Obama that really angered me, because I'm old enough to remember ole Teflon, and because I really do believe that Obama (and to be sure a number of other folks) averted another Great Depression. That shambles, along with the shame of Katrina, was a legacy of another (ahem) administration.

Reagan, though he did spend the USSR into the ground with the (failed) Star Wars initiative, gave us the Iran-Contra scandal, and promulgated an era unmatched in my lifetime for its focus and devotion on greed and selfishness (the Me Generation), by dismantling the protections that have now led to all those problems Obama (not to mention Elizabeth Warren) have been trying to fix.

Things are still hard for many people. The republican party is still a mess. (Its natural adherents—timid people like me who save everything, take forever to get used to change, and whose go-to approach for any problem to research how people dealt with it in the past—are being driven away by its appalling idealogical purity, whipped up in the base, who were then gathered in by the fatcats who wanted deregulation, and now are paying the price of inviting in all fear-driven feeling.) This gives the Democrats a pass to be lazy, instead of having their feet properly held to the fire (what an awful image...)

Somewhere or other—perhaps a slacktivist thread, or mebbe pharyngula, I encountered this link about the social programs of the 30s and though the guy in general makes my pessimism look like a sunny day, that particular argument about the old WPA really resonated—not least because I have a vivid memory as a child of my mom using those old guidebooks, already by then in the 60s 30 years old, to plan out our car-camping vacations. I think similar monies paid for Thomas Hart Benton's murals of the Missouri Capital —again, I'm distantly related to the artist by marriage, and my mom has two of his drawings after her folks died (they were given to my grandfather, who I guess actually knew the artist), that have hung, usually near the front door, wherever she's lived.

And then there are all those folk recordings of the blues. (Which, to bring this post back to 2015, make an appearance in a totally fascinating book I'm reading, David Oshinksky's Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the the Ordeal of Jim Crow Slavery. Muddy Waters served time at Parchman, which was the prison-industrial complex of its day, a very profitable cotton farm in which the inmates were worked like slaves.) So, yeah, I'm glad all those itinerant artists and historians got paid by the government to go out and make art and plays and write tourbooks and collect folksongs and stories. (Some of those songs were about Parchman, and this primary material is one of the things I'd argue brings the book vividly alive. Most of the inmates were men, but about 5% were women:

You talkin bout trouble

You don't know what trouble means (repeat)

What I call trouble

Is a Singer Sewing Machine.

In 1949, Parchman inmates—and this was a huge, self-contained complex—still washed their clothing in tubs, with wash boards, I assume. The women sewing the striped uniforms (and by the way, theirs were vertical, rather than horizontal, like the men's) were using treadle (unmotored) machines. And we know this, cuz Lomax and his ilk collected their songs, and someone photographed them working.)

I'd much rather spend our tax dollars on all that than wars. Against drugs or people. (Or Planned Parenthood.)

Ok, after all that, today's page is a fixup, an index page to collect all the beaded embroidery I've been posting.


Ok, just because I've been on such a downer lately*, some interesting and fun links that are on the happier side—via the Mary Sue, steampunk disney characters; Dustin Hoffman comes to the realization that no, not all women are beautiful, and no, we shouldn't ignore the plain, the poor, the obese (though alas we often do, and yes, I'm as guilty of this as anyone—but at least we can recognize this bias, and fight it); and I hafta say, only in Japan would you have an orchestra of identically dressed performers of theremins embedded in matroshka dolls. ┬áIt so perfectly encapsulates the serious quirkiness of their culture (which by the way has links to a buncha of other fun music, including one of my all time faves, Jimi Hendrix played on the koto-like Korean gayageum; plus Dave Brubeck on traditional Indian Pakistani instruments and Talking Heads on traditional Chinese instruments.

*Wrote this intro back in Aug13. Really liked it, and since today's page is kinda boring, I dug it out:) Or you can check out a cookie recipe.


Happy Autumn Equinox, everyone:)

I made this stub of the page featured today on the last day of September of 2008—almost exactly seven years ago—and decided the first day of fall would be a properly auspicious day to throw it up.

Though we associate fall with the leaves turning colour, most of them, especially those on trees, are still green. So it is here—one red, several green. Someday, I'm gonna have to get back to this:) In the meantime, enjoy.


So I'm in a splendid mood because a) it's a beautiful day; my stash tea order came just as I was down to my very last serving of oolong; and my tama came!!! So many many thanks to Makiko Tada-sensai, who ordered and shipped them to me all the way from Japan. As I've mentioned before, she's a great teacher and a wonderful human being: if you want to take a braiding/kumihimo class, she has my very highest recommendation as a teacher.

And, sometimes nasty, fridayfuglish stories turn out, like the ugly duckling, to be swans. I was so disappointed that this kid, just because he's

  1. a high school student, cuz they've got no rights
  2. brown
  3. with a muslim-ey name

Got handcuffed and taken away for having the initiative to make a handmade, soldered clock and bring it to show his teacher. Because they thought it was a bomb. He vowed never to bring any invention to school again, and who can blame him? And we complain about the crappy state of STEM in this country! But the story has a happy ending, sort of. So all the best of luck to you, Mr Mohamed, and may you invent many cool things.

I don't know whether have the POTUS name-check & invite you to the white house really makes up for all those infractions, but I will say that photography, even relatively straightforward photography, can certainly turn some ugly duckling beads into beautiful swans.


Via boingboing, an essay about game design, specifically environments. This is a topic as a (would-be) sf&f author that particularly interests me because I think good consistant worldbuilding is extremely hard to do. The author's argument specifically is that indie game designers are using techiques from AAA (equivalent to multi-million dollar films, I guess) to explore their particular non-mainstream ideas.

She compares this to 19 ca artists who retained their salon/academic approach rather than the impressionistic techniques (that were mostly being ignored) but turned their attention to the everyday for the subjects of their paintings. Gustave Courbet and Jean Francois Millet were the examples of the Realism movement that I was taught more or less preceded Impressionism, but this author selected Gustave Caillebotte's work for her example.

I certainly agree that no matter how much one is convinced their art is completely new and its problems have never been faced before, observant creators can and do actually find inspiration in older styles, even if in a radically different medium, but I was basically bumping along, admiring the guy's paintings till she got to Paris Street, Rainy Day. Her point was that the post-revolution ‘modern’ Paris was the real subject of this artist's work, and that the city of that period had very much a particular feel to it. (To which I can attest: Brugge and Amsterdam shared many features, though they were certainly distinct, and Paris was very different from either.) Well, yes: La Revolution not only meant widened streets and urban planning, but also swamped the artists in a mindset that celebrated ordinary folks as opposed to the kings, nobles, and heroes that dominated painting hereto.

My joy was recognition: this painting has pride of place in the Chicago Art Museum's (post?) Impressionism collection, and it is wonderful: what I particularly admired was the fabulous impression of water on cobbles, which up close is clearly paint, but at viewing distance (the painting is huge, so you have to stand back from it to appreciate it) is how wet those stones look. To me, the street is the focus, not the people.

Which was the game critic's argument. But the shock of recognition is what I enjoyed. Oh. That painting. (In a sense, I not only got the artist's original intent—mid-19 century Paris, which I've now experienced—but also a meta-layer, the multiple experiences that turned to happy expectation of seeing it as a highlight in a favourite museum.) And now I've seen some other works by the same guy, neat.

This is also one of the pleasures of doing series: you make something, enjoy working with those problems, and so return to it—this pouch is the first of a series of at least 5, for example, and were originally inspired by two other necklaces (i.e. a different medium) in the same colour scheme.

It's a lot of fun.