1 Art & Apps
The Fibonacci Sequence. You know what is is, right? I had hoped you would, so I didn’t have to explain it because I am not currently up for any Math Teacher of the Year Awards. But I found a site called Math Is Fun (let’s hear it for math!) and there they explain that the Fibonacci Sequence is a series of numbers in which the next number is found by adding the previous two numbers together. So, for example, the series starts like this:
1, 1, 2 (get it? 1 + 1 = 2), 3, 5, 8 (see what we did there?), 13, 21, 34, 55 . . .
If you have the patience for it, you can climb the Fibonacci Sequence up into some outrageously high numbers like 75, 025, 121, 393, 196, 418.
(Bu this is the Art section, right? Stay with me.) Fibonacci discovered this sequence back in the 13th century when he was trying to sort out how fast rabbits could breed. Before long Fibonacci had also discovered that the Golden Mean, which was first formally recognized by Euclid back around 300 and something B.C. (though it makes appearances as early as the Parthenon statues created by Phidias), could be achieved by doing some other wild math called division with his number series. The Golden Mean is said to exist when the ratio between two numbers is “the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.” Yes. It actually says that somewhere, and some people readily understand it. It’s a sort of perfection, mathematically speaking.
But here’s where it gets interesting to those of us now asking, “Will this be on the test?” Not only does Fibonacci’s sequence create some sort of mathematical divinity, but it also characterizes many aesthetically pleasing images, and quite naturally appearing ones, at that. From the golden ratio evident in spiraling shells to patterns of seeds in a sunflower, petals on a flower, the tabs of a pinecone or the spiral pattern of the pokey outside of a pinecone, the pattern is there. Some plants display the sequence in the places where tree branches split off or veins on a leaf spread out. Even honeybees are in on the act.
So, art. Of course, we were talking about art. Artists have long incorporated the Golden Mean. Da Vinci’s paintings show it, as does Dali’s work. You’ll see it in architecture and you’ll hear it in music. And if you have a few minutes, you’ll see the Fibonacci Sequence beautifully on display in the mesmerizing 3D printed sculptures of John Edmark, which, when they spin under a strobe light, practically come to life—in a way that does not require a grasp of history or mathematics to appreciate. Seriously? Put down your abacus and watch this.
2 News & Opinions
Leaving Fibonacci and the implications of his pattern for art and nature, we also know that patterns have implications for poetry. Earlier this year, the state of Ohio named Amit Majmudar at its first poet laureate. Like many poets, Majmudar has a day job. In a recent interview with NPR, Majmudar addressed the matter of patterns in the work he does as a radiologist and as a poet:
You know, it all has to do with pattern. For me, poetry is pattern speech. And at work, as a radiologist, what I’m doing is looking at X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, those all have a certain pattern of normal anatomy. And whether it’s stroke, cancer, trauma, those things disrupt the pattern. … And so what I do is I recognize the patterns of disease. And when I go home and write my poems, I’m basically creating patterns in language. For me, it has this mathematical, musical aspect to it that quickens it into poetry.
If you’re an author or writer, the challenges of marketing your work are a constant shadow looming over you, or maybe it feels more like a little dog nipping at your heels. Facebook has long been a place to promote your book and build your platform, but the ever-changing protocols can be as big a challenge as just mustering up the will to do the work. It’s possible that three free Facebook tools may now be more helpful than ever to put your Facebook platform to work for you: Events, Live Video and Search. Read the article on these potentially helpful tools at Digital Book World.
4 Poetry at Work
As I write this, I’m awaiting the arrival of Alexa to my home—the personality held captive inside Amazon’s Echo, an artificial intelligence personal assistant. I ordered it as a reward to myself for completing a massive, months-long project this week. If you’ve ever had a conversation with Alexa, or Apple’s Siri, or even Microsoft’s Cortana, you know that besides getting helpful information like directions to the tax accountant’s office or giving you a recipe for yogurt cake made with whole wheat flour and fresh Clementine zest, you know that these little non-persons can prove to be quite interesting and sometimes demonstrate a sharp wit. This is because the tech companies developing personal assistant software are hiring writers to create actual characters.
For example, Microsoft’s Cortana software has a “six-person writing team which includes a poet, a novelist, a playwright and a former TV writer.” In order to decide how Cortana might answer a particular question, the team “dug into the backstory, ” just like a fiction writer would need to do. Robyn Ewing, who writes for an AI personality named Sophie, explains in a Washington Post story that since it’s often just as easy for a user to get the information by going online directly, “if the character doesn’t delight you, then what’s the point?” I’ll be sure to ask Alexa some questions about her personal backstory, see if I can find out where she got her start.
We know about the effects of constant digital distraction on our brains, even if we don’t always heed the cautions scientists are offering. A new book by Matthew Crawford—former employee of a Washington think tank who now writes and works on motorcycles and published the best-selling Shop Class as Soulcraft that makes the case for the value of trades and of working with our hands—argues that our “hyperstimulating environment is altering our relationships and rewiring—and maybe destroying?—our brains.” But beyond the usual suspects, Crawford goes beyond digital technology to suggest that the bigger problem is the “Enlightenment notion of the autonomous self.” In The World Beyond Your Head, Crawford makes the case for “our shared attention to the world of real things” as the means to stop this destruction of our brains. (New York Times)
The part-philosopher, part-mechanic of Matthew Crawford may be an excellent example of the power of creative cross-training, the subject of an article on 99U by Srinivas Rao which suggests that just like in athletics, cross training in a sport other than your primary one will enable to you build skills (and sometimes muscle) that will affect your primary sport. In creative fields, this can be like a poet who draws or a designer learning an instrument. The writer cites Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit in explaining the benefits for growth:
In his book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg talks about the power of keystone habits. Keystone habits create a ripple effect in our lives. For example, when somebody decides to start running everyday, suddenly they feel compelled to make changes to their diet. They start eating healthier. Then that starts to trickle down into other areas of their life. The discipline carries over.
It’s National Poetry Month. You probably knew that, but as a poetry community, we would be remiss if we didn’t remind you. The month is still young, and there’s plenty of time for you to tweet your poems to NPR and maybe get featured on All Things Considered.
Have you seen our beautiful Casual: A Little Book of Jeans Poems and Photos ebook? It’s a delightful collection of your poems and jeans photos we produced last year. This year, we’ll be producing another ebook and we might feature your work through our Every Day Ideas prompt, featuring poems written as First Line Poem Starters, photos captured in the Poem Pinups prompt or even your #everydaysketches. You have until the end of National Poetry Month (that’s April 30, 2016) to show us your Every Day Ideas for possible inclusion in the ebook.
While we’re talking about the benefits of sensory things (okay, we are, between Crawford above and handwriting below), I’m thinking of this poem by Kim Addonizio which isn’t so much about actual touch, but by the time you have smelled the cherries and the chlorine and the taste of laughter, I’m betting you might have a sense of the rough feel of cracked leather or the rubbery surface of a bathing cap.
I think I detect cracked leather.
I’m pretty sure I smell the cherries
from a Shirley Temple my father bought me
in 1959, in a bar in Orlando, Florida,
and the chlorine from my mother’s bathing cap.
And last winter’s kisses, like salt on black ice,
like the moon slung away from the earth.
When Li Po drank wine, the moon dove
in the river, and he staggered after.
Probably he tasted laughter.
When my friend Susan drinks
she cries because she’s Irish
and childless. I’d like to taste,
one more time, the rain that arrived
one afternoon and fell just short
of where I stood, so I leaned my face in,
alive in both worlds at once,
knowing it would end and not caring.
— Kim Addonizio, author of My Black Angel: Blues Poems and Portraits
Read Wine Tasting in Every Day Poems (and subscribe for your own poem a day)
You know, back when I was first learning to read chapter books, I really did think Ramona was a pest. And Beezus was a little bit of a know-it-all. But Henry Huggins, he was a guy who was just trying to do the best he could, despite the mishaps that seemed to follow him around. I don’t recall the details of most of Beverly Cleary’s stories; I just remember that I read them all, and I probably wrote my share of book reports on them. Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old this week. A handful of other children’s authors paid tribute in a video at Washington Post to Cleary, who is known for her stories about seemingly ordinary children in ordinary childhood circumstances that managed to find humor and whimsy that touched generations of young readers. In a New York Times interview in 2011, Cleary said,
‘I wrote books to entertain.’ She insisted that as a writer and reader, both, she wasn’t interested in moral lessons. ‘I’m not trying to teach anything!’ she said, and then spoke of her own reading habits as a child: ‘If I suspected the author was trying to show me how to be a better behaved girl, I shut the book.’
Even with as many books as Cleary has written, surely, once, she had a first time. That moment when she typed the last line, tore the page out of her old manual typewriter and sent if off to her editor with a little note that said, “So, how’d we do?” The Paris Review has created a wonderful My First Time video series, featuring interviews with authors talking about their own “first time.” Watch the trailer below, or go to the Paris Review to see the full series, including J. Robert Lennon, Gabrielle Bell, Christine Schutt, Tao Lin and more.
9 Reading and Teaching
Do you write longhand or type on your laptop? While many of us claim that we often write better longhand (I find it allows for less distraction, and there’s also research that suggests you’ll write better longhand than on a keyboard). But there’s also new research that suggests that we learn better when we take notes by hand. A study conducted by a Princeton professor showed that whether students took notes on a computer or by writing longhand didn’t seem to make much difference in their ability to recall facts, but that those who took notes longhand performed better when answering conceptual questions, the idea being the difference in how we listen. The researcher found that student taking notes on a computer tended to “transcribe the lecture” where those who wrote on paper were more apt to listen for key concepts and write them down.
And since we’re talking about Beverly Cleary (or at least we were), this would be a good time to point out that while she had a typewriter, she didn’t like to use it. She told the Boston Globe that “I hate to type. When I started writing I found that I was thinking more about my typing than what I was going to say, so I wrote it longhand.” So I suppose that Princeton researcher could have saved a lot of time and just read Ramona Quimby Age 8 instead.
10 Sound ‘n Motion
Ever feel like you’re moving but not getting anywhere? This delightful video for Jane Bordeaux’s “Ma’agalim, ” featuring a penny arcade and a “wooden doll stuck in place and time” might be just what you need. I love the little details, from the sunbather flipping over to the fisherman dropping his line.