The Myopic Generation: An Experiment in Progress

There’s a social experiment in the works, here. It all started with a conversation at the local liquor store. During the latest transaction, the proprietor motioned toward my glasses and mentioned that her daughter had poor eyesight, but she could see 20/20 herself. Why is that, she asked? We discussed the issue at hand, reasoning that perhaps tech was to blame. I promised her I would investigate this matter further, and here I present my findings as provided partly by my own experiences with nearsightedness (myopia) and myriad articles I found online (via tech, of course, further subjecting myself to the further propagation of this perpetual problem.)

Purpose:

To find out why people believe that new generations of humans will have exponentially bad eyesight

Hypothesis:

Muscles typically used for long-distance vision atrophy as today’s technologically-centric humans train their eyes to focus on objects 6-12″ away.

Research:

  • “Children today have grown up with technology always at their fingertips. It seems as if kids learn how to use a smartphone or tablet before they learn to walk. Whether it’s playing the latest game or doing homework, technology permeates a child’s life and does so at a young age. Because this is a new phenomenon, not much is known about the long-term impact of computers or other digital gadgets on pediatric eyes. However, eye care providers have reported seeing an increase in cases of myopia, or nearsightedness. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 34 million Americans suffer with myopia, a number that is projected to rise to nearly 40 million by 2030.ix Although there is no one specific cause for the increase, scientists point to a mix of genetic and environmental factors, including increasing near-range activities such as the use of digital devices, and decreasing exposure to natural light through outdoor activities.x Digital eye strain can also affect children and teens, whose eyes may fatigue after long periods of use. Computers and smartphones are often tied to every facet of a young person’s life—from school to socializing, there is little respite from the constant use of technology. ” (via The Vision Council)
  • “Single-vision minus lenses for full-time use produce accommodative insufficiency associated with additional symptoms until the patient gets used to the lens. This is usually accompanied by a further increase in myopia and the cycle begins anew.” – Martin H Birnbaum (1973), Review of Optometry  (via Improve Vision Naturally)
  • “Modern living has sparked something of a myopia epidemic. Our children are spending more of their free time indoors watching TV and playing video games than generations of the past, and their long distance vision is suffering.

    In China, a massive 76% of lower middle school students are already nearsighted. Education officials now see to it that Chinese students perform eye exercises twice a day in order to tackle the myopia epidemic.

    In contrast, countries whose cultures place more emphasis on sports and outdoor living – such as Australia and New Zealand – have among the lowest occurrence of nearsightedness in the world. The solution, then, is to spend more time outdoors and actually using your long distance vision.

    Like any muscle – even like your brain – if you stop using your eyes they can become weak. If you’re nearsighted, you probably spend a lot of time indoors performing close-up tasks and your long distance vision has become weak. You can correct this by enjoying the great outdoors more frequently and focusing in the long distance.” – Improve Vision Naturally

Background

Studies show that myopia may passed down genetically, or it may be caused by a steady decline in eyesight, due to external environmental factors. In my case, both my mother and father have almost perfect eyesight. They’re parents also had perfect eyesight. And my great grandparents? I’ve never seen them wear glasses, either. I’ve thought this over, long and hard, and the first implication of the onset of my condition is enmeshed in a memory from the age of 2-years-old or so, when I walked outside, taking a breather from the otherworldly confusion ensuing from the TV as my older sister watched Munsters with her friend on TV. I found myself staring at the sun. What pretty colors there were to be found there. After staring at the TV screen, almost believing the world to consist of the grey-scale palette featured on the show, I saw hues of purple interchanged with blue and red and yellow and the whole UV spectrum seemed to open up to me. Who knows how long I let my retina erode at such an early age. You wouldn’t know it to recognize me today, as we have the most fashionable eyeglasses currently in creation (See: Warby Parker, my chosen frames and contacts, of course) but I have myopia. I actually have astigmatism, which means that instead of seeing the horizon as a flat plane, my eyes actually tilt flat planes into 45 degree diagonals. The average human being may see a little fuzziness around the edges, but I see double. Call me four-eyes, if you will, but when I look at the sun today, the glaring heat giant in the sky looks to be 10 times its size, as my eyes blur the multiple versions of the same object into one, without definition, disproportionate in scale.

After reading a few articles on the subject, I can’t help but think that while part of our brains have evolved over the centuries (See: Multi-tasking abilities, problem-solving skills, overall sense of urgency and a need for productivity) while another crucial part of our anatomy has devolved (See: Paleolithic-era hunters, scanning the horizon for enemies).

The future generations of humans will focus ever more closely to objects within a foot from their faces, and quite frankly (and this is the sci-fi part of me speaking to you, now) we won’t even have to strain our eyes that far, because we’ll probably have contacts within the internet embedded right in the soft faux-factory-induced-plastic material we’ve voluntarily subsumed into our ocular anatomy by the 22nd century.

There’s also somewhat of a spiritual-awakening trend taking place as we speak. Something about seeing what’s right in front of you… “living in the moment”. These messages are secretly seeping into our subconscious. Why worry about the future when you should focus on the here-and-now? Likewise, that object in the distance? Don’t look at that. It’s not important. Focus on the task at hand. The task! Complete it. Now.

Experiment:

To roll with my childhood intuition (or abhorrence toward wearing glasses), I’ll go two days without glasses or contacts and register the time it takes for me to register a headache, and I’ll use the pinhole method (the natural equivalent to using a pair of binoculars to focus on one object at a time) in favor of letting my otherwise lazy eyes strain themselves to focus on objects close up while I’m wearing glasses strategically engineered to sharpen objects at a distance (counter-intuitive, perpetuating the cycle mentioned in Improve Vision Naturally article.)

On Day 1:

I will read from a book (close-at-hand) and after 20 minutes, will stare out the window for 20 minutes, training my eyes to adjust from their natural (or unnatural, at this point?) nearsighted tendencies to focusing on objects at a distance.

On Day 2:

I should be able to focus on objects farther than 20 feet away, without incurring an immediate headache. I should become comfortable looking into the distance, without immediately finding myself fighting the instinct to grab for my glasses. Reading from a book less than a foot in front of my face should feel as natural as focusing on a rabbit running across the pavement on the street below, more than 20 feet away from the window.

Measurement:

This is a hard one. How can someone measure their ability to focus on objects in the distance, when they have made the habit of assuming said objects are out-of-focus? I suppose it’s all about comfort, yeah? I will go a weekend without corrective lenses, and exercise my eye muscles to focus on objects in the distance. Meanwhile, I will record my observations. Success will be measured by my comfort level at Day 1 versus Day 2. I know this is not a lot of time for such an extravagant endeavor, but I believe that by Day 2, I can train my brain to receive light signals off in the distance, instead of turning on all of the lights in the house so that I may focus on a single object close at hand. The method of measurement will be comfort. I will rate my level of comfort using an eye-strain, pain threshold such as 1 equals “little to no pain” and 5 equals “total annihilation of the senses, beginning with the eyes.”

Conclusion:

I will share the results of this experiment on my Twitter page. Just a short, little, 140-character snippet of my findings.

 

Featured image via Little Four Eyes

Back in the day, short headlines were good headlines

Now, it seems like we have to pack every inch of cyberspace with SEO-expurgated copy, GIF ads, color-BAM!, and sound-WHUM! Until our brains are glitching out in time with our poor, broke back browsers.

Gone are the days when puns were artfully hidden within the tiny folds of a headline precariously placed between what precious little space was available on the physical page.

I, for one, was never all that good at coming up with headlines. By that I mean, I could spit out 10 or 20 phrases, each with words that might stick to the fly paper, but mostly it’s crapola. The best way to come up with a good headline is to stand around with your friends, teeth unconsciously grazing thumbnails, heads bowed in reverent concentration, and whisper things like, “Can you kern that line a little?” and “Try 18.265 pt., see if that does it.”

And the phrases go flying:
“Should it rhyme?”
“What do you think about alliteration?”
“Putting ‘killer’ in front of ‘baby’ makes it seem like Chucky’s little monster infant is out there, stalking the streets, hungry for blood.”

Oh, and most of your ideas get shot down in a real newsroom. I’m talkin’ about people cursing each other out. Stress at its peak. Deadlines stretching the time between two minutes like a chasm into which you could pitch the entire orchestra that is your soul’s longing to opine about anything you’re most passionate about, while simultaneously it’s like you’d blink and your story’s past due. Finito. “You’re no longer allowed to write for us.”

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Oh, no, I’m fine. I got this.

Flash forward five years and you’re a different person. You’ve changed with the tides, so to speak, ever evolving with the shifting sea of short attention spans and long-winded titles for articles that might not even have anything relatable in the body. It’s all so marketable now and “Is your landing page up to par?” and “How many clicks did I get today” and “I need more views on my video, so I can look like a badass, like I know what I’m doing and the numbers will prove my worth to all of society!”

Phew. It’s exhausting thinking about how fast things change around here, but really, who are we without change?

I was thinking about this on the way to work today, about Decartes’ clean slate and I’m still trying to figure out which side of the debate I lean towards. Part of me is all, “Mhmm, well, Carl Jung made a point there, with his structure of the Hero’s Journey, like, there’s something to this collective conscious-type instinct we have for speech and predilection towards religion…” So, like I said, still straddling the fence, here. Can people change or are we programmed from Day 1?

“I, too, need structure. A little fucking discipline.”
– Jane Burnham, American Beauty

Overall, I think I miss structure. Though there aren’t exactly enough hours in the day to do everything I was to do (five months since my “resolution” article and I still haven’t learned how to play guitar), but I’m still pretty much free to goof off. And no one’s telling me if I’m doing a good job.

School was degrading at times, depressing at times, sometimes passing through me as if I were made of fog, but at least I had some kind of system whereby I was graded on my progress in life! And college was life for a while, something to focus on, something to believe in. Now, as an “adult”, I’m just making it up as I go along.

It’s kind of like my “profession” in general. We’re all just making it up as we go along. We can show off some analytics and say, “Oh, hey. That’s working,” and “Look, this guy came to our site at 1:05 p.m. through a link I sent him in our eblast and then he purchased an item,” and yes, there are percentages and scenarios and A/B testing, but is that what journalism is about? Being the ultimate crowd-pleaser?

This may be part of my quarterly, semi-silent, psychotic rant phase, but there are times when I, too, feel a sense of doubt. Having read Orwell to pieces, I still can’t help but feel like “slavery is freedom” and when we’re put in chains, we at least have something to push back against, we have a need to find creative ways out of our situations. But, what if your life is like this big net of creativity? How can you tell you’re being creative, really, or are you just assigning yourself the label, wham, bam, thank you, ma’am?

901-On-the-Waterfront
Coulda woulda shoulda

Sometimes I feel I’m being sucked into the tar, and immortalizing these crappy sentences I throw together in some stupendous rage, all because I thought something was interesting (I can’t blog on a consistent basis, because I find random things bloggable, at random times).

But, I mean, is it? Do you like it? Do you? And does it matter much anyway, in the large scheme of things? Part of me feels like I missed a crucial step in becoming a legitimate journalist. I could have traveled more, I could have fought for the rights of the underdog, like I was taught to do through sharing facts and quotes. I could have been another Marie Colvin, who lost her life in defense of pursuing the truth, through any means necessary. Another part of me is sitting pretty, thinking that this life ain’t so bad, and I’m kind of comfy in this chair, though it’s probably making my butt pancake-flat over time.

Who knows. Writing it out kind of makes me feel better, though. I mean, a physical diary just doesn’t quite cut the mustard, when I can satisfy my inner-adolescent’s need to merge tech with words with images and all of the above. Sure, I think I could have thrived in the newspaper world, pre-blogs, but who’s worse off in the end?

This whole thing really just started because I wanted an A+ on my headline test

And now that we’ve got THIS out of the way, there are a few things I’m tossing around up there in my noggin. It’s like playing Hot Potato with blog ideas:

  • On Reading Translated Works
    • Focusing on Truck Stop Rainbows by Iva Pekárková
  • Kombucha Tea
    • Guess the fermenting process is good for your gut. Does the same go for drinking beer, or what?
  • Is it just me or is the 50s-style of singing crooners coming back with reinforced, warbling vigor?
    • See: Tripswitch, others
  • The Future is Unclear–Literally
    • Inspired by a conversation I had with the proprietor at my local liquor store. She observed that her children have bad eyesight, but she sees 20/20. Is there some link here, between focusing on iPads and books (she said her daughter’s a READER!) allowing the muscles that propitiate foresighted-focusing to atrophy from disuse?
  • Nielsen Data
    • The nation is watching itself watch itself watch itself watch itself
  • 10 Ways to Kill Time at the Office While Simultaneously Staying Productive
    • I have some weird ideas for this one, for sure
  • The Cure is coming to town, June 7
  • Lab Girl – a book I want to read

Well, that’s pretty much it for now. I feel like a career hot-air balloon that’s finally descended back down to Earth to gather up its skirts and take a little cat nap.

Maybe this weekend, I’ll take up the keys and drop some knowledge on ya! ‘Til then.

understand
I’m not bald, okay? I shaved my head. Do you understand?”  – Kill Bill

 

Featured image via A Blogger’s Corner

What Type of Tree is That? 10 Topiaries Found in the Wild

Arbor Day (April 29) is only 10 days away! Now that it’s nice out, why don’t you take the kids on an educational outing through your local nature trail to celebrate? You might not be aware of this simple fact, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different tree species thriving throughout the United States. Each have their own individual average lifespan, some grow flowers, and others produce spindles and cones instead of leaves and flowers. If you’re looking for a brief glimpse into the wide variety of topiaries thriving all over America, here is a handful of trees you might be most familiar with:

 

blackgum-black-tupelo-27Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Description: Medium- to large-sized (50-100 feet) deciduous tree. Alternate, glossy leaves (2-5 inches long), generally elliptical in shape, turn bright scarlet in autumn. Male and female flowers are small and greenish white. Abundant fruits resemble dark, elongated blueberries (to 1/2 inch long), with rigid and bitter flesh.

Habitat: Uplands, well-drained valleys and woodlands, though the variety known as swamp tupelo thrives in soggy bottomlands.

Distribution: Southwestern Maine west to Michigan and south to Florida and east Texas

Points of Interest: The nondescript flowers of this otherwise highly attractive tree are an excellent nectar source for bees, producing a very popular type of honey. Black tupelo is also commonly known as blackgum or sweetgum.

 

southern-magnoliaSouthern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Description: Medium-sized (60-80 feet) broadleaf everygreen with a pyramidal crown. Glossy, elliptical leaves are large (5-8 inches long and 2-3 inches wide), as are cup-shaped, fragrant flowers (6-8 inches across), comprising six or more creamy white petals. In autumn, conelike pods break open to release red seeds.

Habitat: Bottomlands, low uplands, and coastal plains in moist, temperate regions

Distribution: Eastern North Carolina south to central Florida and west to east Texas

Points of Interest: The state tree of Mississippi, the magnolia is named for Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), a French botanist who influnced the work of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), the father of the modern system of botanical nomenclature. Linnaeus honored Magnol by naming this genus after him.

 

Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa)

monterey cypress

Description: Medium-sized (60-80 feet) evergreen, often with an asymmetrical or flat-topped crown. Bright green, scalelike foliage has blunt tips. Rounded cones (about 1 – 1 1/2 inches long) have a short barb on each scale. Grayish bark becomes furrowed with age.

Habitat: Rocky, exposed coastal headlands

Distribution: Only two native, unmixed groves still exist (both in Monterey County, California), but the widely planted tree has naturalized in other parts of coastal California

Points of Interest: accustomed to the Pacific’s unrelenting winds and salty spray, the Monterey cypress is now a popular windscreen, ornamental, bonsai specimen, and–in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa–source of timber. Naturalists estimate that it can live to 200 or 300 years.

 

cherry_escarpment_blk150Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Description: Medium- to large-sized (50-100 feet) deciduous tree with glossy, elliptical leaves (206 inches long). Tiny, white flowers, arranged in 6-inch-long cylindrical racemes, appear in late spring. Edible cherries (about 3/8 inch in diameter) turn almost black when ripe.

Habitat: Woodlands, fields, roadsides, and bottomlands

Distribution: Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario and south to central Florida and Texas

Points of Interest: As a premium-grade hardwood, black cherry is second only to black walnut in value. The fruit, once used to make pemmican, is now commonly found in pies, jams, and liqueurs. The bark and leaves contain a form of cyanide, which can poison livestock. Wild cherry syrup, made from the bark, acts as a sedative and cough suppressant.

 

holly_american150American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Description: Small- to medium-sized (usually under 30 feet) broadleaf evergreen with a dense crown, often broadly conical or pyramidal in shape. Leathery, elliptical leaves with spiny teeth stay on the tree until the spring of their third years. Berrylike fruit turns bright red when mature; each “berry” contains about four small nutlets.

Habitat: Humid areas, including bottomlands, understory of mixed hardwood forests, and coastal dunes

Distribution: Southeastern United States, as far north as Massachusetts and as far west as Texas

Points of Interest: Settlers quickly endowed this New World species with all the Christmas symbolism associated with English holly. The state tree of Delaware, American Holly has the distinction of being the world’s hardiest broadleaf evergreen tree.


American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

american-hornbeam

Description: Small, shrubby tree (up to 35 feet), often with a twisted or multiple trunk. Toothed, ovate leaves and unisexual flowers are similar to those of birch trees, but fruit is quite distinctive, consisting of paired nutlets, nestled in leaflike bracts, hanging in clusters 2-4 inches long.

Habitat: Bottomlands and the understory of hardwood forests

Distribution: Southeastern Ontario, southwestern Quebec, most of the eastern United States, and south to Mexico

Points of Interest: American hornbeam has extremely tough, heavy, close-grained wood, but its small size makes commercial harvesting impractical. In fact, this species is often eradicated as a weed in forests managed for timber production–despite its role as an important food source for beavers, squirrels, deer, and birds.

 

Sugar Maple (Acer saccahrum)

Description: Large deciduous tree with a dense, rounded crown, growing up to 100 feet. Palmately lobed leaves (about 5 inches long and slightly more across) turn brilliant shades of red, orange, or yellow in autumn.

sugar maple

Habitat: Cool, moist uplands and forests

Distribution: Southeast Manitoba east to Nova Scotia and south to eastern Kansas and North Carolina

Points of Interest: The state tree of New York, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, sugar maple is one of the most commercially important hardwoods of North America. Its durable and often strikingly grained wood is harvested for use in flooring, furniture, and other items: and its sap, which has twice the sugar content than that of other maple species, is harvest for maple syrup production.


Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

Description: Largest tree on earth (in terms of mass), sometimes exceeding 250 feet in height and 20 feet in trunk diameter. Evergreen scalelike foliage has sharp tips. Fibrous, reddish brown bark may be 2 feet thick at the trunk base. Egg-shaped cones are 2-3 inches long.

(PC: Yosemite Online)

Habitat: Mixed coniferous forests, generally from 4,500-7,500 feet

Distribution: Western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada

Points of Interest: Giant sequoias’ longevity is as impressive as their bulk; many are believed to be over 3,000 years old. From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, these mammoth, ancient trees were logged extensively, prompting John Muir to opine, “As well sell the rain-clouds, and the snow, and the rivers, to be cut up and carried away if that were possible.” Today, the sequoias outside national parks (about 50 percent of the population) remain unprotected.

 

dogwood_floweringFlowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Description: Small (usually under 40 feet), attractive tree with a broadly spreading crown. Deciduous, ovate or elliptical leaves turn red in autumn, as do berrylike fruit (poisonous to humans). Flowers comprise clusters of tiny, yellow-green petals, each cluster bordered by four large, white (or pinkish) bracts.

Habitat: Understory of mixed hardwood forests

Distribution: Southern Ontario east to southwestern Maine and south to east Texas and northern Florida

Points of Interest: While humans admire its ornamental qualities–over twenty cultivars of this lovely tree are now sold commercially–wildlife appreciate this native species for its high-fat, calcium-rich foliage and fruit. Flowering dogwood is the state tree of Missouri and Virginia.

 

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

live-oak

Description: Broadleaf evergreen of only medium height (to 50 feet) but with a massive trunk (diameter of 4 feet or more) and widespread crown (150 feet or more). Dark green, elliptical or obovate leaves appear leathery with a glossy sheen. Acorns with deep, rounded, scaly cups reach maturity the first year.

Habitat: Coastal plains, barrier islands, sandy areas (including dunes), and marsh borders in temperate regions

Distribution: Southeastern coastal states, from central Texas east to Florida and north to Virginia

Points of Interest: Characteristically drapes in Spanish moss, live oak is the state tree of Georgia and a majestic emblem of the Deep South. Its revered status may explain why its strong timber is no longer used for shipbuilding or other purposes.

 

Can you tell these trees apart? Quiz your friends, or impress your coworkers with your new knowledge of trees, the next time you take a stroll along wooded walkways with them.

 

Descriptions come from the Sierra Club’s Knowledge Cards, printed by Pomegranate Communications, Inc. Photos from Yosemite Online, North Carolina Forest Service, and Drawing from Line to Life. Featured image via Southern Pride Tree Farm, Inc. 

Simultaneously published on KING’s official blog

Who wore it best? Elle Fanning is the new face of Neon

Smash Gia with Plush and then you’ll feel the heartache evinced by the dismal conclusion of the trailer for The Neon Demon.

The Fanning sisters aren’t typically typecast, and Elle’s role in The Neon Demon supports the string of strange parts she’s played thus far. Most recently, she played a transgender boy in About Ray. She also played alongside Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, and she was amazing in Super 8, in particular where she spontaneously zombied out, reminiscent of the talented Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive when she transforms into an entirely different person for a minute while auditioning for a role, then pops back out to normalcy. It’s eerie.

The girl can do anything. It’ll be a trip to see her delve into the life of a supermodel, to see just how “dangerous” she can be in one of my favorite movie genres of all time: The subversive hyper-meta fiction that could be a microcosm for the very industry the actors are currently enmeshed in.

neondemon
via COMINGSOON.net

Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, The Secret Life of Altar Boys, Sucker Punch) is another actress featured in the film. The Daily Mail says the two girls get into it in the bedroom. Perhaps Elle is following in her sister, Dakota’s, footsteps in pursuing a same-sex relationship on-screen.

Keanu Reeves (Generation Um, Johnny Mneumonic) is a main character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film, along with Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), and Carey Mulligan (An Education) as well.

There’s blood and glass and glitter all over the trailer, therefore somebody’s gonna die (my money’s on Malone. She almost always ends up dead, or missing, in her movies.)

I don’t think I can express how excited to see this film, but The Neon Demon is slated for release June of this year, so we won’t have too long of a wait to witness this train wreck of beauty and madness.

 

Featured image via iHorror.com

Is it your destiny to be a modern day alchemist?

vodka-weed
Pictured: Cannabis-infused vodka. Now, wouldn’t that be something? (via sousweed)

Are you an alchemist at heart, growing bored of drinking the same old peach-flavored vodka and looking to make your own? Or are you that RPG’er who buys out every magical shop in town before NPCs can “grow” their crops back? Now’s your chance to let your freak flag fly… in real life.

Traditional Roots Healthcare brings together the best of both worlds while helping you channel your inner holistician. The company hosts events where you can join a small group of like-minded herbalists in creating vitamin-infused booze, salves, tinctures, and other homemade remedies.

You can schedule an appointment to meet with a dietary counselor, as part of the nonprofit’s business plan, or you can RSVP to the party and take home potions you make yourself.

Follow Traditional Roots Healthcare on Facebook to receive notifications for upcoming events, and you might just find your next-door-neighbors are kindred spirits. Maybe they’re busy brewing up the next batch of locally-made moonshine, and maybe there’s a dash of a little something extra in it that helps you sleep, cures anxiety, or detoxifies your adrenal glands.

Upcoming Events

New Moon Infusion
April 7, 7 p.m.
Suggested Donation: $20

  • Infuse wine and liquor with herbs
  • Provide recipes for other useful infusions
  • Set an intention for spring and how this ties to the element Wood in Chinese Medicine or Aries in astrology

Tonics, Tinctures, and Brews
April 10, 1-3 p.m.
Suggested Donation: $20

  • Salves
  • Tinctures
  • Bulk Herbal Formulas
  • Essential Oil Blends

 

Featured image via The Key of Kels

Helen Mary Horty, the best surrealist of this century

In offhanded homage to Vincent van Gogh (today is his birthday, they say), I present to you another surrealist artist. Her name is Mary Helen Horty. Though she received a degree in art from the University of Minnesota, she is renowned for her paper collages.

Rifling through the miscellaneous pieces leaning against the back wall of the Bearded Mermaid shop near downtown St. Paul, my fingers came to a full stop upon sight of one of Horty’s collages. It is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I’ve seen some weird stuff in that shop. I actually have a total of three works of art from the Bearded Mermaid, and I catch myself looking at her’s more often than I’d like to admit.

Looking at this piece, depending on your hunger level, you see three identical stacks of spaghetti, leading the eye to the backside of a woman digging vigorously into the depths of her icebox, then maybe you see the egg yolk floating in space in the panel above her. To the left, there are similar iterations of a woman in the stages of getting dressed for a night out, she’s holding her hair up and she’s smiling at the viewer with a look of commercial ambivalence, much like saying, “Mhmm? You like it don’t you? Ech, well, I don’t care how you think I look, I’m frickin’ ravishing, and I don’t particularly like you anyway.” And there’s a jade jaguar walking down a staircase, a layer above the top half of a man’s silhouette, staring out into a pearlescent sunscape.

I couldn’t find this one online, so here are some of her other amazing works:

Though everyone has their own opinions as to what makes a great piece of art, I say the good stuff sticks with you. You may see a cantalope in real life and think about how its likeness is represented alongside a lightbulb in Horty’s “Fruitful” collage. The images are burned into your mind’s eye, and while you’re making a pot of spaghetti or just falling asleep, you think about distinctions in the art you’ve seen. You’re constantly glancing over at it, hanging there on your wall, just to make sure it still exists, that you didn’t simply dream about someone somewhere someday stealing the breath from your chest, making you think, “Gee. I never would have thought to put that there. How did she do that? Where did she get these ideas?”

Background

Mary Helen Horty was born in 1923 and began working in ceramics, then weaving, then painting, until she gravitated toward paper collages, leaving this life in 2005 with a house filled with artwork and a husband, Thomas, who she had been married to for 60 years.

From the St. Kate website:

“Ultimately, since all images are found, they depend on chance or some mysterious affinity between images. A montage cannot be carefully planned in advance because, as new images surface to tempt me, a work is constantly changing through trial and error. This state of flux continues until I somehow declare a work ‘finished.’ “I am often surprised! If asked why I use certain combinations of images, I can only reply, ‘Why not?’ ” – Mary Helen Horty

And here’s her Wild Rice Casserole recipe that my fiancé found online:

Mary Helen Horty’s Wild Rice Casserole

Savory wild rice dish with sausage mushrooms using real wild rice.
Ingredients
1 lb. fresh crimini mushrooms
1 ½ lb. Italian pork sausage (½ hot ½ sweet)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 C. wild rice, uncooked2
¼ C. flour
½ C. heavy cream
2 ½ C. chicken broth
1 t. salt
½ t. ground thyme
Instructions
Clean and slice mushrooms. Chop onions Remove sausage casings, sauté meat, keeping it in chunks3. Sauté in batches, remove and drain on paper towels. Sauté onions and mushrooms in same pan. Return sausage meat to pan and set aside. Cook rice (thoroughly washed) in boiling, lightly salted water for 12 minutes. Drain and add to sausage mixture. Mix flour with cream in saucepan over medium heat and stir until smooth. Add chicken broth and cook until thickened. Add salt and thyme. Combine with rice, sausage mixture. Pour into large casserole (9X13). Bake, covered, 40—50 minutes in pre-heated 375 F. oven. 1 Mary Helen Horty was a talented montage artist, a knowledgeable horticulturist, a great cook, a superb hostess, and my dear friend for many years. 2 Using lake-harvested wild rice makes a difference, if you can find it. The oxymoronically named “cultivated wild rice” now grown in paddies and harvested like a farm crop, does not have the same chew and texture of the real deal. Real wild rice is a grass—the plants growing wildly in the shallow borders of Minnesota lakes and harvested by local native tribes in canoes, beating the rice with sticks to capture only the grains that are sufficiently mature and ready to dislodge and fall into canoe side baskets. Read any online descriptions or store packages very carefully. The commercially farmed version is not bad, mind you, just not as good. 3 I do not recommend buying uncased sausage meat which may seem like a time saver, and is sometimes cheaper. Unfortunately, it breaks up too much while cooking, like ground beef.

 

What an amazing woman, she was, that Mary Helen Horty. Hope you enjoyed this little stint of an exploration into the life and artwork of the Minnesota artist who may not still physically reside in St. Paul, but her spirit lives on in these pieces that are strewn about in the homes of art lovers everywhere.

Oh, and happy Vincent van Gogh day. You won’t be forgotten either, you fascinating individual. We’re still thinking about you guys, so chin up, there. We’ll see you soon.

Moon Shot: a documentary about daring to do the impossible

Now that government-funded space travel is no longer in the public vocabulary, private citizens are taking matters into their own hands while competing for the XPRIZE lunar landing competition. The project began in 2007, and JJ Abrams just released a nine-part web series called Moon Shot that goes behind the scenes and shows the world who is taking part in the competition.

You can watch every episode, here, on the XPRIZE site.

Google presents XPRIZE or Moon 2.0

XPRIZE’s giving 16 private teams the chance to win a shot at $30 million in funding for their space expedition to the moon. There will only be one first-place winner, but each team had the chance to be featured in a part of the Moon Shot series.

To win the prize, the teams must design a lunar lander that can travel a minimum of 500 meters on the surface of the moon–and they must have high-definition video and images to prove it.

The complete roster of teams was announced in February 2011, but was open to anyone with a little bit of money and a lot of ambition. The XPRIZE website states they have “…teams ranging from industry experts to well-funded high school students who don’t know what they can’t do.”

Basically, XPRIZE wants to see what people will come up with, whether they’re rocket scientists or not.

It’s not about the money

The competition isn’t just about the money, though. The purpose of the competition is to spur people into action, to believe they can achieve the impossible, and shake the concept of space travel down to the foundations as a result.

There may even be a chance that the teams will spend more than they win, as we saw with the 1927 competition for the Orteig Prize. Charles Lindbergh was the first man to make a transatlantic flight. He dared to go 55 hours without sleep, without food, just to accomplish something no one had ever dared before. This feat Wiley Post to fly around the world in seven days, back in 1933, among other amazing journeys that inspired people across the globe to pursue their dreams.

lindberg
Front page of the New York Herald on May 22, 1927 declaring Charles Lindberg’s first transatlantic flight via Airsoc

Moon Shot, the documentary

Moon Shot is not a documentary leading up to an ultimate conclusion, such as we’ve seen with regularly-televised competitions like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. The purpose of JJ Abrams’ documentary is to enliven the human spirit and highlight the individual personalities embarking on a quest to reach the moon.

As of now, there is no official announcement date for declaring the winner; frankly, only two teams have signed launch contracts and they plan on making the journey sometime next year.

For now, we’ll have to watch Moon Shot to get familiar with the crew, then cross our fingers and hope our favorite team actually makes it to the moon.