14 May 2018

memoirs in print, World War II (city library, English language editions)

click image for full file view: Dewey Decimal classification 940.53... (start)
At the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Public Library there are about 42 shelves with books recounting events and experiences of the Second World War. A few are English translations of books whose authors wrote in another language. But most are told by writers whose first language is English. So this large collection, a subset of all English language titles published to date, mostly excludes the point of view and voices of non-anglophone Allies, as well as Axis combatants and others who were neutral or at least not connected directly to either the Allies or Axis leaders. Impressionistically taking a typical shelf of about 20 books, multiplying by 42 shelves, gives a crude estimate of the 840 books available to browse. The ones borrowed by patrons and the ones held in remote storage, thus, fall outside of this simple calculation.
     Thinking of the long process of drafting, editing, and working with a publisher and distributor, it is not an exaggeration to say that for every book that stands on these shelves, perhaps 2 or 3 reached the manuscript (or typescript) draft stage, but never reached the printing press (or maybe vanity press only for private circulation; not public non-fiction shelves of city libraries). And for every book ready for readers to borrow here, maybe there were 10 others that got past the day-dreaming stage and made a start with a chapter or two, but which faced delay or distraction or the author's own demise. Perhaps two or three times the number of "begun, but not completed" books developed in the mind of the potential writer, but never were set to paper - instead left to oral history or recorded in audio notes.
     Speculatively, for every published book that this library purchased, suppose there were 5 others not purchased; 15 others that were complete drafts but which never were printed for sale; 150 others that began to be set on paper but never were completed; and 400 others that took hold in the potential author's mind, but which never were committed to paper. Scaling these numbers up 100 times these speculations would mean for every 100 books of this kind there could be 500 titles to choose from (in print, but not purchased by this city library); 1500 others that were complete drafts that did reach publication; 15,000 that were begun but never completed, and 40,000 that were conceived in the potential author's mind but never took physical form. In other words, each of these approximately 840 physical books is the pinnacle of a large pyramid built of all those potential memoirs that never reached the shelf to circulate among fellow veterans of the War, their relatives and the students of history in succeeding generations.
click image for full file view: Dewey Decimal classification 940.54.. (end)

It would be interesting to know if the rate (per capita) of memoir publication were something similar to this volume of output seen from English language authors, chiefly from the countries of USA, UK, Eire, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the British Empire's Commonwealth countries, for that matter. And so long as speculation and imagination are let loose, it would also be interesting to analytically discern some of the main purposes and effects among authors in the telling and publishing of personal interpretations of events on the ground, as experienced: is there distinct therapeutic value that results from articulating "vast periods of boredom, punctuated by moments of intense violence," as some writers have described armed conflict. Or is there some sense of reckoning or justice and honor that comes from recounting the names and circumstances of others destroyed in the course of events; recording misdeeds as well as documenting other actions worthy of praise. Or is these, above all, some kind of instructive lesson about the great waste of life, resources, social fabric, and harm to the planet's creatures to be set in ink, "lest we forget." There is built-in drama, both comedy and tragedy, in the telling and reading of these pages. But that seems to be a less important function, compared to the several other purposes that may be intended by facing the details, checking facts, and polishing one's prose and verse to make it presentable for publication.
     The demographic shape of the blood-soaked edge of opposing forces is males between age 18 and 25, with a relatively slight number of 17 year olds joining up, and relatively smaller proportion of those above the age of 35. So if most of the published accounts of events and experiences come from this biggest demographic segment, then the images and words will have stuck during a formative or impressionable point of one's life and continued to shape post-war outlook and approach to problem solving. Of course, the ratio of those facing direct risk of life in combat to those who make possible the operation of uniformed military services on air, land, and sea is another kind of pyramid; not a demographic one, but a similar disproportion: every fighting man was dependent on perhaps 25 or 50 or 100 others who produced, organized, and distributed logistical needs both physical and informational. Caring for those harmed, and repairing what is ruined in the clashes, as well as the thousands of record-keepers also were instrumental to putting a pilot in the air, a sailor on a ship, or a soldier on the march. So, if the memoir writers mainly come from those people directly affected by combat, then the 840 books on these shelves is a testament to the will of those motivated and capable of putting these matters in ink. But for every title that is on the shelf and available for circulation among library card holders in 2018, more than 70 years since armed conflict ended, there must have been so many others that have not been published. And for every veteran of these wars and all others, too, many more finally reached a point in their lives and with the passage of time to be able to tell family or friends of some events and experiences that haunted them forever and ever since they occurred. But even more, perhaps, never did feel able to articulate those things that have stuck with them to the end.
     The seven-part documentary series of 2007 by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, The War, uses four U.S. cities as intersecting lenses to tell the stories at home and in the field: Sacramento, CA; Waterbury, CT; Luverne, MN; and Mobile, AL. Condensing the global conflict into personal stories is a huge undertaking that reduces "too much information" into terms that an uninformed viewer, several generations removed from the war years, can understand or at least glimpse a little of. But looking at the 840 titles here on the shelves, patiently waiting for new readers to discover the stories told, it seems that there is much more to understand than what documentary film is capable of expressing.

18 March 2018

Community Performances (civic theater) as social fabric measurement

balcony view of stage at Grand Rapids Civic Theater (Michigan)

One after another the city of Grand Rapids is venue to locally produced stage productions of high quality and wide range of styles and subjects. Before the announcement about switching digital devices to silent or turning them off and the opening scene unfolding with the curtain's rise, one of the leaders for volunteer services and management spoke briefly about audience members committing to season subscription; in effect pre-paying for 6 performances, thus bankrolling the enterprise up-front to meet costs, rather than paying at the ticket gate, one show at a time. She gave a few numbers to capture the attention of audience members who respond to the persuasive logic of numbers: 700 volunteers operate behind the scenes, at the seating areas, in concessions and ticket counter, and in the costumes as actors, not to mention set construction and movement. Only the administrative staff, (union?) musicians, and cleaners are paid. Other costs are performance rights, venue costs for rehearsal and performances, printing of programs and publicity efforts. In the lobby areas are some frames scenes of past productions, along with donor recognition displays with hundreds of names at the various levels of contribution, including individual and corporate sponsors.

The experience of buying a ticket, searching for seating area and being guided the rest of the way by an usher, then sitting down in comfortable but compact theater seats for 3 hours of live entertainment, relieved for a 15 minute intermission, is very pleasant. Certainly the experience on the stage and backstage or in the orchestra pit will be a little more anxious, since there is so much to coordinate: singing, lighting, musical cue and accompaniment, audio mixing and balancing the individual speaking or singing roles (each one WiFi mic'ed) in proportion to the orchestra; sound effects, costumes changed and sets moved, props accounted for and everything placed on tape marks on the stage according to plan. There is make-up and vocal warm-up, last minute changes, repairs or adjustments. Then the movements of the players on the stage, their direction of gaze, their enunciation, and sense of timing with each other  --all this must fit into the complex and delicate threads that form the drama.

The whole thing begins long before the opening night when the subject or title is selected and rights purchased, then the casting and rehearsing, considerations of costume, set design and lighting and sound design, musicians or audio recorded track, publicity, etc all must be taken into account. At last the performance nights arrive and all must be at-ready for each one. The crew and cast come to the venue from the home or workplace (day-job) and perform the piece, then clean-up and go home to rest. The whole magical dance of materials, text, timing, and audience response exists for a matter of weeks and then is gone forever, remaining only as memories of melody, dramatic tension that resolves, or maybe a character that is brought to life with some of the lines spoken that linger in the ear of the audience.

In the days before recorded entertainment, live music and live theater was the pinnacle of cultural stimulation for mind and heart. New ideas were put into the words of characters or the complications of plot. New fashions were on display. New language and social standards were celebrated or tested or criticized. But in the amplified, supercharged sights and sounds today, the theatrical space seems to pale, even as it trumps recorded art with the face to face presence and authenticity it requires. And so it seems that civic theater is a 'canary in a coal mine' for showing the health of a city or town. It takes a lot of effort and imagination to bring all the elements together in public performance. So a place that can sustain live theater, and to some extent live music, does seem to enjoy social fabric that is living and breathing.

09 December 2017

A little text in Alba -Gaelic words as mute witness

visitor souvenirs, Scottish Parliament Building; hours in English & Gaelic

Prominent Gallic text, labels, publications, seem a bit hollow or decorative (not much Gaelic overheard between staffers, nor at Justice subcommittee; cf. truly bilingual governance, e.g. Belgium or Canada or Switzerland; also India?) to welcome visitors and groups, shop and cafe and exhibit hall. Something in the lighting and smooth surfaces of the sleek 1995 structure that echoes resort or hotel vibe. Full sessions not until 2 pm, but various (sub)committees meet with cctv on some lobby screens (sptv, Scottish parliament tv). To see the organs of government in working order is interesting and a bit of a marvel to see that it does run reasonably well; and that a special debating chamber was created for the purpose of bringing matters to wide discussion and decision making that can be documented and disseminated to citizens. Photo in the permanent visitor display area (click for full image view).
debating chamber on display in visitor reception area of Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh

The lantern speaks silently

click photo for full-size image: Japanese temple lantern in Edinburgh at National Museum of Scotland (12/2017 photos)
 James Douglas Fletcher (d 1927) bought a matching pair of bronze lanterns from a Japanese temple in 1902 (Meiji 35) for his oriental garden on Black Island at Rosehaugh. Moving from the context of concept and creation in Buddhist Japan to recreational private garden stretches the range of meanings of the lanterns greatly. The fact that the ca. 1800-1850 artistic work was away from the natural and man-made calamities of the 20th century allowed this work to live on and speak to today's artists, Buddhists, and gardeners.
Meaning began with the wider context of traditions of lantern makers generally for temples. Some person or group made the decision to cast these, then artisan drafted the detail or was left to his own devices, then recipient of the piece chose a display location. For each generation of priest and parishioner the meaning may have shifted little by little. And for outsiders who were non-parishioners or non-Japanese altogether, then the meaning was simplified to surfaces and shapes alone. The context for creation, worship, and admiration fades away and instead the outsider sees just colors and lines.
Finally, even the transplanted meaning of private ownership on the opposite side of the planet gives way to museum acquisition and display near the entryway at street level. Going from the point of deciding upon a commission In Japan to today in the hallway of the national museum of Scotland is a vast leap, indeed.

01 September 2017

protest march paused at stop light, downtown Echizen-city 8/31/2017

A group of citizens was dissatisfied with the city mayor's handling of the construction plans for the new city hall behind the current 1950 building since the last remaining piece of the Edo Period castle, a section of hand-built stone rampart measuring 3.5m by 20 or 25m, would be dislocated and deconstructed. Filing the freedom of information requests showed that the process was not thorough. The march began with speeches by megaphone in front of the city hall and then proceeded on a circuit through downtown for about 20 minutes on a route that passed the Education Department building and came up to the Shokaku-ji (temple) which hosts the original castle's main gate that was moved to safety when the feudal government transitioned to the modern, parliamentary one in 1867. The march ended at a small city center plaza where the marchers joined the chorus (in English, with lyric sheets) for "We Shall Overcome," and the old-time labor union song "頑張ろう" (ganbarou; 'here we go!').

19 August 2016

collage from 2016 annual Mint Festival, middle Michigan weekend

The second full weekend in August has been the date for the St. Johns, Michigan MINT FESTIVAL since 1985, itself the resurrection of an event in the 1930s to attract the motoring public on the new system of roads and to spotlight the work of area farmers who leveraged the peculiarly fine particles and rich soil suited to growing and processing mint to produce a prodigious percentage of the country's supply of mint oil used in food, drinks, and medicines. This set of photos from 2016 features the highlights of the 10 a.m. parade that begins at Oakview South elementary school and winds its way to main street of downtown St. Johns, the county seat for Clinton County. [source, http://sjindy.com for August 20, 2016]

There are a few photos, also, of members of the high school graduating class of 1966, who were holding their 50th reunion; that is, 2016 marks 50 years since they finished secondary education at age 18. Other events not pictured that form part of the weekend include the music and dance at a couple of venues on the grounds of the City Park, the many private households that alone or with others prepare tables of used clothing, recreation, hobby, and household goods for sale, called variously "yard sale," "garage sale," "porch sale" or "rummage sale." Then what many consider to be the main event, there are scores of crafters, artists, and merchants that rent a space along the shaded City Park to cater to visitors buying souvenirs, snacks, or presents. With so many people in town, other things are scheduled for this same weekend: sports tournaments (kickball, tennis, road race for runner), for instance. Area churches and civic organizations set up food booths to help in their fund-raising efforts, too.

17 August 2016

What makes anthropology what it is?

veterans' monument, north end of Main Stree, downtown St. Johns, MI 48879
Context of time, place, and within the spectrum of the human condition (relationship to other varieties of culture and language and environment and ideology and material culture).

Text for the master narratives known among the speakers (and/or readers) of a particular language.

Texture that gives shape, feel, rhythms and patterns to daily experience.

And while there are many other social science and humanities traditions now and those found in other places/languages and time, it is anthropology that engages most personally; personal scale of individual lives, and by means of participant-observation, rather than to pretend any sort of pure abstraction or analytical distance from the subjects. Much of the most valuable work is conducted in the field and for extended, even longitudinal periods, during which many relationships are formed that work in both directions: of use and satisfaction (or distress) to the anthropologist, but also a living part of the local people's knowledge and resource pool of social capital to make use of. In the best examples a dialog results with voice of insider and outsider both present in the final form.

11 August 2016

Garage sale - redistributing wealth, meaning, material culture

selling off unwanted, accumulated household possessions - sheltered in garage
After taking a turn near the road to wave the passing cars toward the garage sale, I sat down in the cool shade of this warm August morning and reflected on the tables of once cherished or at least familiar possessions heaped on the tables here and extending outside onto the driveway area. Several houses contributed their items with prices affixed individually, or as a category (hardback books $1 and paperback $0.50 with children's little books 2 for $0.25). This produces a richer selection for those who stop to browse, many of whom are grandparents in search of things for family members. Others are collectors of specific items, or young families who wish to economize by sifting through the "free box" of unpriced items which by custom one should not monopolize, but leave some for others, too. Since most prices are a few dollars, the savings can be considerable if a person buys many things at a garage sale at pennies on the dollar when comparing the price of a used item to a new one, or even to the prices displayed online at Craigslist or Ebay.

The workers function, after arranging everything, is to be social and make their presence known to shoppers by a simple salutation or small talk. This way the shopper is made aware of the surveillance that is present to dissuade any stealing. At the end of the 3 days of selling and replenishing tables with other sale items that did not fit onto the surfaces at the beginning then the proceeds are tallied and  the bits of tape or tags to identify the owner who contributed an item can be calculated.

One part of the experience of spending the day as part of the selling team is to meet acquaintances or friends, sometimes after a lapse of many years. There is moment when a stranger's face or voice slowly trigger memories and in an instant one knows who the person is. Instead of "a person" there is now a named part of one's social memory, complete with past meanings connected to the relationship with that person. It is like the picture turning from black and white into full color at the spark of recognition.

Nevertheless, another part of the day working at the garage sale is to recognize material culture that formed the fabric of one's own life or the world of one's children, for instance. For shoppers they see a power saw, but for you there are memories of the things built or repaired with that tool. For shoppers they see a pair of shoes, but for you  there are memories of some of the places those shoes took you. For shoppers there is a cassette tape with the recording of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but for you there are the many parties where those melodies were played. In all these cases the assembly of personal property first joins the similar items contributed by the other sellers on these tables and in the public eye of shoppers whose main source of reckoning meaning is the functionality of the item (it suits a need, or it fits their imagination) or the price tag. Thus the slight bitterness of seeing what once held a constant place in the geography of one's household routines and mental landscape of memories now drained of meaning and left on a table for strangers to take away someplace. The cumulative result of the many garage, yard, rummage, or tent sales around the town this weekend is that lots of personal property gets new owners and scatters to all sorts of unexpected places for another life of use until finally going into still another garage sale, or into a recycle stream, or possibly into a layer of landfill disposal.

30 July 2016

Your rent is overdue, what to do?

middle-Michigan, mid-July 2016
A relatively high proportion of dwellings in this county seat of 7,000 persons are rental properties; either because building wealth by owning houses is a favorite route, or because the income base includes lots of people with too little savings for mortgage down payment or weak credit scores, or all the above.
     The past several weeks this apartment has been a hotspot for 19 or 20 somethings, including a baby or toddler. The comings and goings seem to be at all hours, with a variety of vehicles parked next to the one car that seems to be there most consistently. Perhaps the overall laxity of time schedule also extends to use of space, and control of money and material goods, too, since visually there seems to be disorder.
      And then suddenly all activity stopped and the “Demand for Non-payment of Rent” form shown here with two colors of highlighter applied was duct taped to the front door, signed by the landlord.
     During the past many years a dozen or so renters have come and gone; some with children, others without. Some with pets, others without. The longest-term residents seemed to keep things visually in order and seemed to have followed a repeating time schedule. The shortest-term residents did not.
     What does it mean that the scenes here display lack of control of material things? The litter, loud shouts and profane punctuations were a source of irksome nuisance to me; but perhaps that reveals more about my (Middle Class, bourgeois) frame of reference that comes from long years at college and in white collar work places than it does about the world view for normal, or at least acceptable, standards of life among the young renters here.
     Not all young people show such little concern or control of time, physical space and materials, credit, currency, or personal reputation. So perhaps this laxity of boundaries is idiosyncratic rather than historically true of the present generational cohort, or true of this developmental state, or true of people less well-educated by formal classroom training.
     Whether idiosyncratic or a wider trend, it seems consonant with other “anywhere, anytime” and mobile communication trends that disregard the old boundaries that define one’s schedule, method of conducting one’s life, expectations of self and regarding others. In place of landlines there is the cell phone. In place of broadcast TV there is view on demand. In place of sit-down meals at fixed times and places there is take-away or solitary eating. All of these examples contribute to a sense of fluidity, relativism and desire-driven decision s instead of ones dictated by circumstances or rules or propriety or precedent.
     For the people who used to live at this location, the reality of being locked out and being labeled risky tenants is sinking in. Personally relaxing the old boundaries may work in a world of one’s own making, but everyone else still has to follow society’s old rules still on the law books.

24 July 2016

summertime, public beach on a hot Saturday afternoon

Crystal, Michigan (postal code 48811) is in the middle of the lower peninsula, in the northeast corner of Montcalm County, about 6-7 miles from Carson City in neighboring Gratiot County. The beach front of the public beach, just 150 yard from the small town's Main Street includes a small sand beach, a few tables and benches, and on the hill top a little ways from the water's edge is a public park with fixtures for grilling food with self-supplied charcoal, along with picnic benches, a shelter with sturdy roof and paved floor with room for 7-9 picnic tables if the weather is inclement.

Around 5 p.m. many of the visitors have had their fill of sun and water, socializing, seeing others and being seen. So a few benches and tables begin to open up for others to occupy them. A steady parade of cars, pickup trucks, bicycles, (ruggedized) golf carts stream past on the road that circles the sand-bottomed, shallow shore lake. A handful of boats from the surrounding houses, cabins, and cottages have motored over to this side to drop anchor in the 3-4' water to swim, read, talk, play loud music, and so on. A few dogs on leashes go in the water accompanied by their owners. So recreation takes many forms, but peace and quiet for thoughtful reflection will have to be found during other hours of the day, perhaps from 4-8 a.m.

22 July 2016

Profusion of twilight cellphone zombie walkers - cell phone game, "PokeMon GO"

trawling the sidwalks to catch Pokemon shown on the mobile phone screen

About a week ago the national radio carried a story of people congregating at odd places and times around San Francisco in pursuit of particular creatures to add to their own phone's collection of PocketMonsters, poke-mon. Thanks to the wonder of electronic (download) distribution of the game, now for a few days I have noticed individuals, pairs or a handful of (mostly school-age) people strolling up and down the mainstreet sidewalks, parks and other locations with cell phone held in front and occasional glances down to detect desireable Pokemon triggered by the phone's GPS location reported.

This video clip shows a few people trawling for the imaginary menagerie at the downtown park where the former train depot was located. https://goo.gl/photos/Suii4VazRyYoyFs59

Some came on skateboards, others on bicycle, car or on foot. Altogether there were maybe 15-20 young people between the ages of 11 and 20 gathered in the fading light of the Thursday night, around 9 p.m., July 21.

06 July 2016

Afternoon drum circle and dance ring near the Bay

The summer breeze kept things bearable on this Tuesday of the 90th National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. Walking past the screened and fenced performance space for ticketed audience members, the sounds from the MC and drummers floated on the air, less than 50 yards from the lake shore where the west branch of the Grand Traverse Bay meets the land.
See also the man in ceremonial dress walking toward the venue soon after the lunch hour,

From an historical point of view, this amplified, ticketed, fenced form of an old undertaking for young and elderly alike has some family resemblance to what may have been done 50 years ago, when WWII was still in living memory of lots of people; or 90 years ago when the Cherry Festival got started; or 250 years ago when Native Americans moved more freely around the lakes and rivers of this part of the world. Who knows, perhaps one summer long, long ago there were similar ceremonially dressed dancers and drummers not far from Grand Traverse Bay.

Ancestor Investigations Performed Here

This curious sign above the side-by-side computer stations along the wall nearest the bookshelves that have been dedicated to genealogical study and reference materials caught my eye. It would be interesting to measure the extent of interest in ancestry among people in various societies: immigrant countries like Australia, Canada, USA, South Africa, as well as most of Latin America would seem to have the most urgent motivation to learn about family lines before, during and since the moment of immigration. But perhaps even among non-immigrant countries there are demographic patterns in the study of one's ancestors; for example, it could be keenest among those with landed property or those poor in cash, but rich in ancestry, noble or ignoble.
click for full-size image: "Ancestor Investigations Performed Here" at library

There are several building materials available for making meaning of one's life, the aspirations projected for one's children, and the longings for continuity to one's ancestors. One's life meaning can come from achievements, worldly and economic on the one hand, or more intangible markers on the other hand. One's purpose can come from one's occupations and preoccupations, whether they are gainfully paid and require vocational training, or whether they are avocational in nature. One's significance and consequence can derive in peer respect given and received, or rooted instead separate to peer approval or disapproval, governed and estimated instead by other measurements attained. One's direction in life can come by benchmarking one's peers or one's (extended) family members to show one's position relative to theirs: adhering to the precedents or on the contrary purposefully not conforming to those patterns.

Looking at the many journals, newsletters, reference books of ships' passengers, marriages, deaths, census and church records, in principle all names since record keeping began (and earlier still when the reference book brings data from overseas sources before that) will appear in one or more of these publications. So one should be able to identify and trace all appearances of a given soul from first instance to final disposition. And by this same logic, those of us alive today, will be recorded in various forms so that future generations may discover our presence in publication form the same way.

While there is hardly a crowd of hobbyist or professional researcher filling the space of this specialized treasury of names and dates, still there are many who do have some degree of interest in one or more lines of their own families' trajectories that intersects with the living descendants contemporary to the genealogist herself or himself. These quiet shelves hold the answers to many peoples wonderings about who they are, who they could be, how their lives measure up to those before (and by implication, too, measuring up to those who will follow in turn).

books, beaches, imaginary worlds

¨Books can take you places¨ used to be a catch phrase at libraries, Public Service Announcements, summer reading programs, GED and alternative education promotional posters, and so on. It is still true today, but the phrase is not so much in circulation these days.
[click for full size image: display top of cabinets on 2nd floor of Traverse Area District Library to promote reading at the beach: 6 July 2016]

Whether the printed page appears in pocket-size, magazine size, serial or all in one edition hardback or softcover the cultural significance is the same: one or more authors, and likely one or more editors pored over the manuscript (seldom written by hand; so more true-to-say typescript) and then a chain of technical experts and logistical processes connect the finished work with the final distribution in print or electronically for reading on portable electronic device. There is the technology of inks, papers, the graphic design to interpret the title and story inside, the pricing and promotional efforts by marketing specialists. There may be price points for book launch, then the rates at brick-and-mortar retail sellers, a 2ndary market for used books online and at stores, and the tertiary market of yard sales, free boxes and donations.

So when faced with an impressive collection of books like this, it is worth remembering what is implicated far in the past when author(s) cherished an inkling of a story and finally months or decades of life experience later produce a draft to work its way to the printing and distribution stages. And the implication stretches equally far in the opposite direction, too; toward an indefinite future in the life cycle of a particular edition, or maybe extended with multiple reprintings, as well. But in the release of the camera's shutter, that long timeline from conception to final disposition of a book is frozen momentarily to display the impressive cumulative result of many hands and minds.

17 June 2016

Humble trash bag contains myriad decisions of design, usage, discard in the secret life cycle of things

weekly solid waste collection
The weekly collection of solid waste at the roadside of one’s house is a convenience that has been provided for more than 50 years. But there was a time before than when a person stoked a fire in an empty 55-gallon drum or “burn barrel” as we called them. People would burn their fallen leaves, and discarded kitchen scraps in a backyard pit, too. Houses with a fireplace might routinely feed newsprint and other paper and wood scraps, and later plastic, too, on the fire grate. But now each week we hear the sound of the compacting motor as it presses the bags of refuse into a solid mass that will be disgorged at the landfill site (or ‘long term storage solution’ as an acquaintance jokes, since little of it actually biodegrades in the layered environment starved of oxygen needed by bacteria to consume waste) about 18-20 miles distant.

Regarding the cycle of mass design, production, distribution, marketing, purchase, use, and eventual disposal, there are design decisions all along the way. First there is the invention, which is a solution to a perceived or existing problem. Materials must be created and capabilities tested to suit the uses in question. There may be a desire to offer a product at more than one price point, based on name or brand or materials or colors. Selling in multiple language markets must be taken into account as well. Then at the opposite end of the life cycle of a thing there comes a decision point when the owner must either discard, destroy, sell or give to another owner, or recycle if the materials have some reuse. By the time it appears in a bag at the side of the road, so many decisions over the thing have passed: from conceiving a product, executing a design, producing, distributing, marketing, maintaining, repairing or discarding in some manner. Thus the bag of rubbish at the side of the road is a sort of palimpsest with layers of human decisions in and on it.

Another gas station to feed your car's appetite for fossil fuel

Like some Jurassic dinosaur, the yellow arm of the excavator digs down into the property adjacent to the Kroger grocery store that recently was purchased in order to build a store-branded fuel station to give food shoppers an incentive also to buy their fuel under the same brand name. The height and visual bulk of the machine is maybe the size of a T-Rex and puts the surrounding cars into relative scale, as well as the person in the background.

14 June 2016

kindergarten to 5th grade; at last the graduation ceremony!

There were many proud parents, grandparents, friends and other family members on hand at the cafetorium (cafeteria by day, auditorium by night) to celebrate the conclusion of elementary school for these 5th graders (1st grade begins at age 6, so most of these will be 11).
     The weather outside was not overly hot, but the confined space soon warmed up the event. Things began with the procession of the 2 classrooms of 25 to 30 students each.

The program included a list of names, a few group photos from this year's field trips, and then the order of events for presenting awards.

order of events in the ceremony (click picture for full size)
Most awards had just a handful of the 50 or 60 kids to be recognized. But a few required 2 or even three rows to form at the front. As each name was read the the kid approached the Mistress of Ceremonies to collect a certificate, the audience gave their applause. At the end, one final applause for the entire group was given. The awards with many certificates were (a) safety patrol, and (g) Presidential Academic Excellence. In this last case only a few kids remained behind, passed by in the roll call; conspicuous not for being awarded, but the opposite, for lacking this award of their peers.
Safety Patrol Award (crossing guard) for serving 12 weeks or more in all weather

At the conclusion of the clapping and certificate presentations, the 5th graders filed off the stage and around the edges of the room in order to view the projected slideshow of the school that had just ended. Following that each kid was given a mini-This Is Your Life episode (a few slides: baby photo >grades 1 to 5 photos; one or two family event photos, and so on). Thanks to the emotive music, it was easy to feel caught in the rapid flow of time being presented and to realize how quickly the days have flown - sort of a digital mono no aware (Japanese aesthetic of transience and the nature in everything, quite apart from the way we frame things)

Holding a ceremony for those leaving behind the elementary school is not so old a custom as it is in Japan, for example, and it dates to 2000 or so in this small mid-Michigan town. For the middle school the practice perhaps began earlier. But awards and recognitions, along with a gown and hat with tassel belongs most historically to high school commencement ceremonies to launch a young person into the world; these days very commonly to higher education or further training, but not so frequently a few generations earlier, for example, in the 1940s or earlier.

12 June 2016

14 years old - The award ceremony to conclude Middle School, 8th grade

Middle School awards assembly for the 8th grade, the future high school graduating class of 2020
overview, click for full size image (2-frames, stitched panorama)

On the final days of the school year in June, parents and friends are invited to an awards ceremony. At the middle school the 6th and 7th graders meet separately, one after the other, during the school day. But for the oldest students, the event takes place after the workday for most families, starting at 6 p.m. It runs about 90 minutes.
     The program bulletin with spot color on double-sided, single sheet in 7 pitch font size included sets of recipients who paraded onto the stage expeditiously to collect handshake and word of encouragement, plus certificate or other token. Groupings included a locally conceived program called LINKS for peer to peer support, particularly to match confident kids with ones discouraged by academic, social, emotional or other difficulties (73 names, mainly girls).

Next was the Perfect Attendance Awards (missing just 3 hours of the entire scheduled school year (13 names), with one of these asterisked to indicate perfect attendance during all 3 years of middle school. Third came recognition for 8th graders who served as student councilors (6 names). Next were 7 kids who met under the auspices of the local chapter of Kiwanis Club #707 in order to plan and carry out good works in Builders Club. Three students were selected by staff and teachers for special mention in making the school run well, being helpful to teachers, staff, and peers. The academic excellence awards recognize the 47 students who averaged 3.85 during their 3 school years at the middle school. The Foundation for Excellence T-shirts were reserved for the 17 kids whose cumulative GPA for the 3 years was 4.0 (thanks to bonus points; extra credit, and so on). There were 27 kids recognized for doing well in both 2 of 3 sports seasons this past year, and maintaining 3.0 GPA (and being nominated by their coach, too).

Then there was a prize for fundraising prowess (selling magazine subscriptions to family, friends, co-workers brings a partial rebate to the school for its expenses). High sellers were promised either 1000 of tuition at colleges and universities found on a list, or for the very highest sellers the promise was for 2500 toward tuition. The final award was for one boy and one girl at the discretion of the principal, from among nominations made by teaches and staff.
Refreshments (cookies and punch) followed after this first hour of clapping and extolling excellence, to be followed by recap photo story of the past 7 months at the school, projected on the big screen in the cafetorium (cafeteria + auditorium: doubles as stage area).

The motto for the school, staff, teachers and students, found printed on the back side of the program page, reads "Working as a team to build the future!" So the sense of direction is what is to come, but depends on the constructive efforts of today, and not a solo effort, but one that joins many hands. The metaphor of construction project can be extended by comparing the durability, safety,and stylish and high functioning results for well planned and well built work, by contrast to the performance coming from shoddy work, lack of craftsmanship, and ill thought through plans. Excelling in one's work and the fruits of those labors can take many forms, particularly among middle school students, where their bodies grow bigger, take on new shape, and identities are tried on within one's reference group and pool of expectations in a given family, community, or school culture. Dream suddenly spring into mind, are inspired by others, or may be sparked by learning experiences of reading, observing, discussing, or completing certain assignments.
     The minds and hearts of these young people often are open, impressionable, and inquisitive. Much like the way a blueprint comes to life at the earliest stages by staking the land and hanging string to mark elements to be placed or built, levels to be straightened, and so forth, so too for young learners - they build their own ambitions, boundaries and self-definition first from gossamer strands which are easily stretched, tried, changed, or torn asunder. A kind word, and encouraging response, and welcome smile all can move the creation of self from the fragile threads to something quickly to grow solid and increasingly well defined; something which others can see, react to, and thus affect the builder's next steps.