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Starting the Week on Sunday

Monday, November 19, 2012

1. Narrative Notes
2. Reading Remarks, in three subsections

I. Narrative Notes

I went to bed as late as I usually do, but as if often the case when sleeping in a strange location -- on the road at a motel or a hostel, etc. -- I found myself fully awake earlier than usual. Even when I told myself, "I want another hour ... or two" I couldn't return the slumber.

The dogs were part but not all of it. And so I got to enjoy a crisp, bright morning.

Seeing as Sunday morning is not that far removed from Saturday evening, I decided to have ice cream for breakfast. And now that carton is gone and no longer a temptation.

A tasty, chocolate and peanut butter temptation.

Plus: now it cannot sneak up on me later in the day and ambush me with hidden calories ... I knew exactly what I was getting when I lifted spoon-full after spoon-full to my mouth.

Dog-sitting is not all sugar and spice and everything nice: someone or someones had a couple accidents on the hardwood floors. And a certain someone else has an annoying habit of marking his territory (which he does even after having been outside recently).

Then at noon 'Sunday brunch prompt writing' arrived, and even if the group was on the small side, we had a nice, casual time. I arrived with no ideas; the prompts barely helped. But that can be an advantage, as I did not sit and down and try to force the prompts to fit a story I wanted to tell (or the other way around). I was, however, thinking of Lessing's Laocoön and a section on painting vs. poetry. It's all a pre-semiotic theory and not as nuanced as it could be, but "it is what it is," as the meaningless saying goes, and it's furthermore an astute analysis.

We should be careful about mixing form and content; it's analogous to deriving an "is" from an "ought" (see also: the naturalistic fallacy) though not identical. Even if we grant that a work of art is mimetic or more loosely "representational," we should not conflate the form of that representation with what is represented; the limits of painting or or language should not constrain *what* we paint or write. There parts of Lessing's analysis, though, that fit here. Painting and poetry are different as media and one of his early points is that we should not try to derive one from the other or set up one as primary, the other only a pale reflection, even if from time to time historically one or the other has been considered the 'main' art form. But Lessing's analysis then considers how they are different in fundamental way, and setting aside for a moment the 'materials' they employ -- pigments vs. words, for example -- there's another 'how' in which they diverge. With a painting, so Lessing, you have a flat, two-dimensional representation, perhaps of a scene, and so arranged side-by-side spatially we have the portrayal of objects and their visual traits. The eye either takes it in all at once, scans one direction to another, or is perhaps guided toward a focal point, usually somewhere off-center. There is no explicit sense of 'time' in a painting; you 'get' time by arranging successive scenes in successive paintings, if that's what you want/need. Words, however, are, regardless of verse structure or more concrete attempts at visual formatting, arranged from a beginning to an end spatially, and it takes time to read them. Verbs have tenses, and adverbs of time permeate our narratives; poetry (epic poetry for Lessing, that is ... specifically the Aeneid and Iliad) relates successive events arranged in time, and there is no timeless 'now' or similar. In a later section Lessing does not berate but does critique the poet who spends too much time with words attempting to 'show' all the detail we get at a glance in a painted image; he likewise takes to task the painter who tries to relate too many events in a single painting.

And this has been a long digression.

But the 'point,' if there is one, is that in thinking of Lessing before writing today I wanted to focus less on description. No whole sections, paragraphs, or even sentences were dedicated to describing visual layout, attire, or physical features. For years slavish dedication to the English teacher's old writing mantra, "show, don't tell," has left a sour taste in my mouth. There are degrees to showing, degrees to telling, but far too often reliance on "showing" in prose (or verse!) pads word counts only and is a crutch when there is nothing to say because nothing is going on.

As in this digression.

Now one dog snores behind me, and two slumber amidst six pillows, mostly silky pink and floral, on a pale futon sofa.

So goes my evening.

II. Reading Remarks

A. I had several other sections ready to write, but a few things happened along the path from intention to realization. First, I realized I'd written more in the first section than I'd intended, and instead of editing it and then writing more for the other segments, I decided to leave the existing text as is and excise the others until later.

In any case ...

... Ms. S. and I enjoy watching 'Elementary' ... partially because we have to wait so long for any new episodes of 'Sherlock' and we'll take our Holmes where we can get it ... him ... you understand. But although it's not a particularly strong or revolutionary show, it has grown on us. And the chain is just that it features Aidan Quinn.

Quinn was in HBO's (loose/abbreviated) adaptation of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (2007), which then led me to revisit the 1970 book by Dee Brown. Chapter 13 was of particular interest because it deals with the Nez Percés, Chief Joseph, and Idaho. Brown's book has been criticized for being one-sided, though that was the author's intent in many regards, but it's still a good read and a good starting point for further reading (and there is a limited bibliography included).

See also:
- The Bozeman Trail in Dee Brown www.univie.ac.at/Anglist

- Dee Brown.."Writer/Historian" brainsandcareers.com/php

B. Of current renewed interest are light-weight markup languages (something it would be nice if a certain site offering blogs would support ... just saying). The reasons are multiple, I suppose. For example, by working on one of my own projects I was drawn back into looking at the details of Wordpress, from there to themes, and from there to template files and HTML (version 5, more specifically).

And when thinking about HTML I think about producing HTML without writing it. I've been writing it since 1996, which is longer than most and not as long as some. I try to avoid tools that produce their own butchered version of it (I'm looking at you, word processors), but I'm fascinated by tools old and new, such as LaTeX to HTML tools (e.g. TeX4ht, LaTeXHTML, and TTH), that try to convert from one format to another. A lot of the old utilities were rather procedural and relied on a great number of regular expressions. Often they were Perl scripts or similar, and rather fragile. They did not age well.

But what's fascinating now are things like Markdown (and dialects and extensions, like MultiMarkdown), and a couple more Python-oriented languages, like AsciiDoc and rST (reStructuredText), or even txt2tags. I've been working on Django projects (off and on) since 2007 and Django has always provided template tags for converting from Markdown and a few other formats to HTML (so that you store a blog post, let's say, as Markdown in the database, meaning you write and edit Markdown, and then convert it to HTML when you render the webpage). Wisely they are removing these particular Django features in an upcoming release ... not because they aren't useful, or such, but because Python, in which Django is written, already has its own support for various lightweight markup languages, and so it's better to let developers just import and use those rather than [1] go through a Django abstraction layer that [2] requires the Django team to support another layer of code.

What I recall now is that of course I'm interested in using a variety of such languages in a project I've been working on for a while, but what got me thinking about them again the other day is that when I write notes for myself these days in a text editor I find myself using a Markdown-esque syntax (especially for headers, so I can subdivide my notes). Which is only relevant to me because I *wish* I were using rST's syntax instead, as it's the language I wish I were 'fluent' in.

See also:
- reStructuredText docutils.sourceforge.net

- AsciiDoc www.methods.co.nz/asciid

- Daring Fireball: Markdown daringfireball.net/proje

- Textile textile.sitemonks.com/
- txt2tags txt2tags.org/
- Pandoc johnmacfarlane.net/pando

C. Ms. S. decided to visit this evening after all, though she just left to return home -- the cats there need some attention, too -- a few minutes ago. We got a nice thirty minute walk in; town was quiet and we only passed one other pedestrian. The stars were gorgeous and bright, but since I was walking I couldn't really stare at them and stargaze.

Ms. S.'s parents have three cats now ... they all come and go as they wish. But one of them, sort of a tabby Manx, sticks around the most. One of the 'sisters' introduced herself to me the other day; she was the last of the animals here for me to meet. She spends sunny afternoons upon the sun-facing steps. Sunning herself. Especially on a Sunday. And her sister, the ornery part-Siamese, has been mostly heard, not seen. But the Manx was in the house this evening, and Ms. S. and I caught hold of her ... as she was rather skittish, due, perhaps, to the dogs seeing her as a chew-toy.

But now I have a new best friend, and my reputation as The Cat Whisperer is secure.
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