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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropLast Friday I happened to reference one of my favourite books by Rebecca Solnit, but she's perhaps best known for Paradise Built in Hell in which she pushed back on the idea that people turn into horrible human beings during disasters. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, is promoting the same idea in his book Humankind.

This is the fella who castigated a bunch of really rich people for taking 1500 private jets to listen to David Attenborough speak out on climate change, so I have warm feelings. I can certainly get behind the whole UBI thing—after all, I'm retired, and it hasn't had a particularly strong impact on my desire to make stuff. Granted, that's not much of an argument, but what about the dude who played Halo to finance his graduate studies...that turned out to be surprisingly relevant?

Nor am I particularly surprised that Bregman's dad is a minister, and kind. Lots of religious people are (not to mention the fact that there are some real asshole atheists—they get mentioned by name, in fact...); it's just that like anything that collects power to itself, religion (& politics) attract power-hungry people. He's certainly on the right track with regard to Lord of the Flies not being automatically the direction a bunch of school-aged boys would go; in real life, the marooned kids co-operated.

But I did wonder a bit about the Guardian author, Jonathan Freedland, who is summarizing the book, with observations such as:

Back when we were hunter-gatherers, we roamed peacefully in the Garden of Eden; then we enclosed a square of land, called it our own, invented property and settled down to defend it, wars began and our innocence was lost. Somehow, we have to find our way back to the Garden. Admittedly, thatÂ’s my summary of the book...

Uh, no. That view has been popular for awhile, but it's my understanding that those bands of hunter-gatherers do attack each other (admittedly, modern examples are poisoned by shrinking habitat caused by—you guessed it—more ‘technologically advanced’ humans.) Which doesn't necessarily negate Bregman's arguments; I just get irritated when people are sloppy, as I suspect this reviewer may have been.

(As for sharing as opposed squabbling, I think the former is more likely, especially when people already know each other; and the latter, when they're whipped up with fear. Which is why I loathe reading stories about spies —even though I think it's essential.)

And here's the second image in a series that came out of my glassy bud sharing her ideas about still life with me. Enjoy.


cropThis week's theme is watercolour sketches combined with zentangle-esque doodles.

Can't make any guarantees about the quality, but at least it's a change from all those mice! (Also, I have commissions for beads, so beady-type art should be showing up. Eventually. I am doing stuff with glass, really, I promise.)



cropMore pocket links...What, precisely, is the relationship between creativity and mental illness? turns out to be, a tendency towards depression, anxiety (no surprise there, the two are often linked) and bipolar condition. Interestingly enough the researcher (& author) Andreasen suggests that extraordinary IQ (which to be sure only really measures...how well you do on IQ tests) is unnecessary. It's the weird connections that mark creativity: seeing the world aslant, so to speak. It's a fascinating read, helped by the fact that the author is also the researcher, and therefore explains the reasoning behind her research protocols with a crispness that can be difficult for even gifted science writers to capture.

More focused is The Mystery of why some people become geniuses which explores how head injuries, especially concussions, can open up genius-creativity. Oddly enough the author begins with the case of Eadweard Muybridge, whom I've mentioned before. I'm sure the Solnit biography mentioned the stagecoach accident that changed his personality, but it wasn't the focus of that book. (By all accounts, Muybridge may have turned into a genius, but he also turned into a horrible human being as well: a high price to pay.)

Fortunately, not all people are so afflicted, but I can't help thinking that head injuries (as I have reason to know from experience) do tend to depress the beahviour regulators of those so afflicted: and it's ever so much easier to focus on something to the exclusion of all else if you're not worried about the social consequences. That said, I do think it's worth noting that creativity is not some miracle condition given only to a few: a lot of it is simply having a passion, and the ability—obsession, resources, etc—to follow it.

Ah, focus. For awhile, I was very focused on these fantasy parrots.


cropMan oh man, my concentration is shot. (Or at least it was when I was writing this Sunday. By dint of dragging all these ancient mouse pages out of storage, I'm actually batch processing this week's pages.)

I'm not the only one watching stuff on youtube. The wizard asked me something-something-something mathy, did I know (already forgotten) term for taking exponents of exponents? You know, x to the y to the z? (I haven't done any of this stuff for 40 years, so if I ever knew the term, I've long since forgotten it.) I promised to find the video on 3blue1brown's channel, but got distracted, first by the intro to calculus, and then basic high school math.

Now, I actually feel like I did ok, at least through Algebra I and Geometry. After that, we had Algebra II and finally Trigonometry, and I gamely managed to more or less, sorta-kinda follow along. (I mean, my grades were ok, but there was about a 20% difference between my math and english ACT/SAT scores. And then I flubbed calculus once we got to maxes and mins. Fortunately, I had by this time decided to switch from pre-veterinary science to fine art, so I didn't have to take any more math.

I had a feeling that calculus would lose me pretty quickly after watching a couple of episodes of that, but I didn't make it through one whole program for HS students stuck at home with COVID19 to learn a simpler method for the quadratic equation. Ow. So much for my math skills. It's not that they're not good presentations—I think they're very well done. It's that I've got no attention span and if I'm gonna have to work that hard, I should focus on the projects I've already got going—Japanese, sculptural glass, etc. But if you're wanting to sharpen up your math, I recommend this guy's videos highly.

Um, or look at an outdated mouse.


cropEveryone has their time-wasters during the coronavirus pandemic; mine seems to be doodling while watching youtube essays. I've watched some of hbomberguy's stuff before—he and Lindsay Ellis, whom I really enjoy, are evidently friends—but was in the mood for some major doodling, so took on his nearly 2 hour(!) takedown of Sherlock. (At first I was afraid he was gonna criticize the whole concept of Sherlock Holmes, but no, just the BBC show. This was good, because I'm very fond of the character. In fact, one of my treasured books is a 1907 edition of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, given to me by a cousin once removed whom I never thanked, something I bitterly regretted after he died; I wish I'd been exposed to—not the proper protocol, I did know that— but some directions on how to word such a thing sooner, because it wasn't that I was unwilling, but that I was unsure how to do it without being stupid or insulting. So, a little late:)

Dear Cousin George:

Thank you very much for the Sherlock Holmes books. I really like these stories and am so happy to have my very own copies, that I can read whenever I like. I especially like that they are so old! This one from 1907 is very nearly the same time as Sherlock Holmes himself, which is really cool. Plus, I like really old books like this. I have one from 1897 called Wild Animals I Have Known by Earnest Seton Thompson, and it's my oldest book. I got it at Little-Read Books.

sincerely yours, etc etc

110 minutes is kind of a large chunk of time to devote to someone ranting about a program you might not have cared for or seen, but I can distill large chunks into the following, because I have similar feelings:

Stephen Moffat, it must be conceded, has written some brilliant Dr Who episodes, but he's also sadly inclined to being a sexist asshat;

Why, oh why, cannot modern interpretations of the canon accept that Irene Adler outsmarted Sherlock Holmes?

The thrust of Hbomberguy's criticisms is that the original Sherlock Holmes stories worked because they were self-contained; in fact, because most of them were short stories, there was no time to get bogged down in extraneous crap. (Having reread some of the originals, I'll note that while they were certainly self-contained, Watson commonly during introductions would refer to other stories documented only in his files, but temptingly described to us readers, partly to establish more continuity in-universe but mostly as a framing device to set off this particular story as especially worthy of being told. Sometimes, one story would even briefly allude to a prior one. So within the limits of the format Doyle too tried to keep people tantalized; it's just the greater constraints of the magazine market of that era prevented it from getting out of hand.)

Moreover, Doyle did write longer works, most notably for me (because it was my introduction to the character) The Hound of the Baskervilles. (There were several of us in a 7th grade reading group: I wanted an animal story, whereas they all wanted a mystery. The teacher, attempting to satisfy everyone, chose this book, which was a complete failure as an animal story, but a marvelous introduction to a fascinating character and somewhat antique language. I adored it. Everyone else hated it.) I'll note one aspect that nearly all modern adaptations fail to address is that we've become so jaded that it's not at all obvious the originals were often supposed to be atmospheric horror as well as mysteries: this is lost, again, in the modern focus, as HBomberguy suggests, on the cleverness of the eponymous character.

I'm as happy as the next frustrated feminist to hate on Moffat, but I think part of the problem is that, just as broadcast TV meant that old series had to have self-contained episodes, now that people can easily re-watch (or worse binge-watch) previous episodes in a series, the fashion is for these interlocking arcs, so as to keep viewers engaged—because nowadays there is a lot more competition than simply the three network channels (plus the Canadian one if you were lucky) that were on offer during my childhood. In this observation, I have the unfair advantage of having lived through that era of TV; whereas Hbomberguy finds the cartoons and children's films of the 80s a mysterious lost time. Ah ha ha ha ha....I was a young adult trying to find a job back during Reaganomics (the same reaganomics that made full-length toy commercials such as the Transformers possible.) Ye good ghods, the 80s. I suppose some day kids born in 2030 will be mourning 2020, but so it goes.

Anyway. By the late 80s I was done with television, and still haven't really got back into it, even its newer more modern incarnations. But the fact remains that recordings—first VHS, then DVDs, and now especially streaming have meant a seismic shift in the way people consume their stories.

The biggest problem HBomberguy identified with Sherlock was that Moffat &co kept trying to do the ‘can you top this twist’, and that gets old fast. I agree that a lot of the times, the clues were opaque. Unlike H, I rather appreciated what he called the ‘overproduction’ —all the cool special effects of showing text to indicate Sherlock's thought processes: I first saw this sort of thing in a Korean film, and I rather appreciate how what is in effect a manga/manhua technique has percolated back through to western cinematography. Also, I'm not very good at figuring out mysteries, so I kind of like having my hand held;)

But fundamentally, story-telling is a collaboration between creator and consumer, and if there's no respect for the latter...well then, you've got a mess. And that, basically, is what HBomberguy argued happened to Sherlock. In their efforts to keep people engaged with new multi-season arcs, they ruined the show. (And just to be contrary, I think Cumberbatch is a perfectly fine actor, but the American version, Elementary, in my opinion, stunk worse. Waaaaaay worse. Because Sherlock at least was depicted, personality wise, rather like the original—moreover, so was the relationship between Watson & Holmes, which is kind of the core of the stories; but the American version featured an obnoxious, drug addicted jerk and his unwilling babysitter. Ick. I'm all for interesting variations, but making both characters so unappealing and so untrue to their canon personalities was a bridge too far. That said, I gather the US version lasted nearly twice as long and is highly regarded, so clearly lots of other people found plenty to love. Good on them.)

Aaaaaand here's a stripey mouse.


cropToday's intro is short and sweet, this little explanation of how COVID19 particles typically spread, written by an epidemiologist even before the virus really got going.. It's already gotten a lot of love, but I figure more won't hurt!

Also, we're back to mice, but the good news is this week should completely clear out the backlog. Today I have a cute little tessellated mouse. Enjoy.