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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Note on the Blogging of the Writing of the Peer-Reviewed Paper

Three series on this blog I need to finish: The Galapagos Diary, The Extended Phenotype, and The Blogging of the Writing of the Peer Reviewed Paper. I intend to complete all three, but a note on that last one:

My intent was to blog about my research, while posting, and eventually making available, drafts of my work. To say that the first few drafts were gawd-awful is probably not surprising - and neither is the fact that I have not made the doggerel available yet. (I will, though!)

However, the real issue became for me the rapid succession, once I had my pen passionately inked, of drafts that were successful, and which followed each other so quickly that they almost tripped over themselves. Once I knew where I was going, my writing sprinted - and that, and my rapidly approaching deadline, made the orderly blogging and posting of drafts fall off.

This made me think about the nature of change, and brought me back to that august, time-worn, so-called dichotomy, "gradual" versus "sudden" change. Being that my paper ultimately questioned another false dichotomy - the apparent conflict between preservation and conservation in both the archival and the natural* environments - it is appropriate that my experience reiterated for me that both types of change coexist, and in fact, support each other to the point of being each other.

During my period of rapid revision I was writing as "gradually" as I normally did, one word at a time, yet the ideas were coming more quickly. I was still producing drafts one after another, but the time period in which I produced them had become compressed. Part of this was due to my intention to get my assignment done by the deadline, but most of it was unplanned, because in my effort to find a way to say exactly what I meant, I found that I needed to do more, not less, writing, and more, not less, experimenting. It took me by surprise.

What I ultimately produced was not my magnum opus - I'm going to be working on that - but a trimmed down version of only twenty pages (the assignment's limit). Yet in this period of "punctuated equilibrium," as it were, I did not save every draft and thus what is preserved in my fossil record is, well, a series of gaps.

Much change is not visible. As Antonin Artaud stated, "Inspiration certainly exists." However, he did not view it as the literally sudden flash of knowledge from the blue, and neither do I. During the times when I experienced excruciating "writer's block," which also exists (and which is romanticized and used as an excuse too much by too many writers), I nevertheless knew that my brain was working on the problem the whole time. What religious people often refer to as "giving it to God" or others as "sleeping on it" is something that I call "letting my unconscious do the heavy lifting for a while." Therefore, when the ideas finally came, they were not "sudden" at all, but the product of long, sometimes terrified, wandering and thrashing about that I did - both consciously, and not. Artaud hated it when the Surrealists defined inspiration as the passive receiving of messages from the Marvelous (and as Jean Cocteau, not formally a Surrealist, portrayed it in his film Orpheus) - for him, as for me, the Marvelous was the unseen shaping of an idea, gradual until it reached a boiling point, then constructing itself quickly as if time had sped up.

And yet, this rapid output would not have been possible without the gradual, painstaking assembly that occurred earlier. I suspect that the two cannot exist without each other, because the two actually are each other.
*The natural and the human, "artificial" environment being, of course, another false dichotomy.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real Pirates

Ahoy, there! T'is been three months at sea, and I thought ye'd like to know where I'd been gadding.

(Among other places.)

I counted me coins, quit me job, and sailed off for Chicago - that land o' riches - to hang out with a bunch of cutthroats and brigands. (Well, this is from last year, but I liked it.)

Then, turning me ship to the uncharted waters (well, totally charted), I boarded - single-handed! - the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum.

Among me spoils are a suitcase full of vendor literature and several fabulous meals.

Friendly ports for a starved and partched pirate:
Eleven City Diner
Italian Village
Cafe Society
Lockwood Restaurant and Bar

I had lobster for the first time, sauteed in ginger with noodles, arrrg!

But seriously, mates...

After visiting the "Real Pirates" exhibition at the Field, I have a renewed respect for these men. Not that they were boy scouts - they were violent and often bloodthirsty to be sure, but this was a time when a man could be kidnapped and forced to serve on a ship, which offered miserable toil with little or no pay, mistreatment, even beatings, and starvation rations. Going "on the account," that is, joining the pirates, offered a man - any man, and in two cases, women - a leisurely distribution of work (because so many people joined up) and an equal share in the loot, as well as the freedom to sail the world, and drink a lot of rum.

Many pirates were black, escaped or liberated slaves (the pirates boarded many slave ships and converted them to pirate ships), or free men of color unable to ply an honest trade in a prejudiced world. Even a regular, free black seaman could at any time be kidnapped and sold into slavery whenever his ship was in port! Why not, then, join the pirates? Two pirate ships had an all-black crew. Any man, regardless of the color of his skin, could ascend to any position as long as he was qualified for it. Most pirates were in fact experienced sailors. African warriors were especially respected for their fighting skills and alarming presence.

Any pirate, black, white, or native american, was treated as an equal and respected for his skills and courage. This is what is meant by a "motley crew" - it was multicultural. The loyalty among shipmates was strong.

The pirates elected their captain, who had no real power except in battle. In an unjustly hierarchical world at the height of the slave trade, this was a democracy.

Pirates did not kidnap women and tie them to the mainmast - they considered women aboard their ships to be bad luck. Some raped, but most paid prostitutes while put in at a safe harbor. Whole towns came to depend on the economy of piracy to employ their blacksmiths, their innkeepers, their cobblers, and their ladies of the evening - and for protection from raiding ships (often with Her Majesty's blessing). Some, like the tragic pirate legend Sam Bellamy, who as captain of the former slave ship Whydah (which he boarded) is profiled in the exhibit, fell in love with a respectable lady and, being a poor sailor, turned pirate in order to make enough gold to impress her family.

They did not bury their treasure - they spent and gambled it.

They did not batter and burn ships unless the crew put up a struggle, because the pirates wanted the ships. Marauding pirates would fire a warning shot, after which most captains simply surrendered. Once the ship was boarded, some men were forced to go "on the account," but many crew members willingly joined the pirates.

The pirates, after capturing a ship, would ask the crew its opinion of its captain. If he had been a cruel man, he was flogged and even killed. (No walking the plank; they just tied you up and threw you overboard.) But if he had been a kind leader, he was spared and even given a little gold. The former captain of the Whydah was allowed by Bellamy to sail away on another ship with the men who chose to remain loyal to him.

The course of a pirate ship was voted upon by its crew. The crew would also collectively repair the ship after putting in at a safe harbor. To fool passing ships, the pirates would hide and pretend that their huge crew was smaller than it was; some of them even dressed as women. Many of them dressed as dandies, in clothes that they had looted or had won from their shipmates through gambling. Others preferred a simpler garb.

At first, pirates attacked the ships of enemy nations; later, pirates recognized no allegiance to their home nation or any other country. As such, the bounty on them was high, and justice was swift and merciless. They were often hung, but sometimes lashed to the side of the rising Thames until they slowly drowned.

After the end of the "Golden Age of Piracy," slavery would remain legal until 1865, around another 140 years.

Did pirate Sam Bellamy reunite with his true love? Did he finally impress her family with his piles of loot? Legend has it that after his successful raids he was on his way to Cape Cod to meet with her again. Most pirates came to an early, violent end. The only real buried pirate treasure are the ships that went down into the sea. The recovery of the wreck of the Whydah, 300 years after it sank (you'll have to find out on your own what happened to Sam and his friends) began in a library.

A shiver me shimmies to Learning to Ride in the Bluegrass

UPDATED: Scotius brought up Sir Francis Drake, one of those blessed by Her Majesty to go out and act like a pirate on Her Behalf. It reminded me of this charming song, from the only muppet movie that I can stand to watch (mostly because of that snarky knave, Tim Curry, who is a hawt scoundrel in this scene).

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