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Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Hello! We’re glad you’re back for our second edition. After what was most probably a gruelling four weeks for all of us, we thought this edition could do with a little questioning of plans, processes, and the puffs of breath we sometimes forget to take in between. Mary Oliver’s argument of sacred idleness sure didn’t seem as compelling a couple of months ago, but if there’s anything we’ve learnt this year, it’s that banana bread melts into Dalgona quite effortlessly.
So here, she brings you a poem that asks you to take a breather, by slowing down time with her words. It seemed fitting for this poem to be followed up with a comic that spoke of the strange processes one has to go through to learn the importance of just being. Being, that too, in a year that seems bent upon testing our ability to maintain our sanity or retain our sense of purpose.
We’re also happy to include our first facilitator column in this issue as well, which talks about the two schools of thought when it comes to teaching, and indeed learning, at Srishti.
Until next time! 🟡
This frivolous question was asked by the Mad Hatter, at the Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. While the subsequent conversation is hugely entertaining, these two images could easily as metaphors for (at least) two distinct modes of teaching that I see at Srishti, almost harking back to C. P. Snow’s famous Rede Lecture of 1959, “The Two Cultures”.
On the one hand, we have the “Writing Desk people”, who, when they decide to teach, think of what David Perkins calls “Big Understandings”. They think of ways the world works, what models of thinking exist to help us interpret situations, what biases and predilections we have and how a “latticework of models”, as Charlie Munger said, can help us navigate this rising complexity in this world. Their work is characterised by a desire for precision wherever possible, a traceable process to create classroom experiences that “deliver” those Big Understandings. On the other hand, we have the “Raven people”, who prefer to work more on intuition and feelings, and let the individual craft and derive meaning from the classroom experiences. Their courses are fluid and embrace many a nuance. From the outside, the former looks restrictive and straight-jacketed; the latter a whimsical will-o-the-wisp. The language used in the description of each of these sets of ideas also tends to be very distinct.
Most of us have seem to have more of one or the other predilection in our Teacherly Genes. But these are just that: predilections. We need to realize that we are teaching, that the experiences we want to give our students in class are not swung too much either way. We need not be torn between explaining things and admiring things. We can do both.
I think the Mad Hatter had it right: the two Metaphors stand for two intensely human aspects of Life itself: science and art. As John Barrow says, the sciences can illuminate our penchant for artistic creation and the fascination for complexity should draw scientists towards creative art for extraordinary examples of structured intricacy. So Structure on the one hand and Intricacy on the other. Neither by itself is quite capable of reflecting the richness of life around us. Structure necessarily stands outside things, takes aggregates and misses detail; Intricacy dives right in, glues its nose to specifics, and misses the pattern. But each is essential and informs the other, with a mutually beneficial metaphoric light. A light that renders the ideas memorable and indelible in a classroom.
As teachers, we need to stand outside our predilections, as often as we can. In doing so, I believe we reclaim much of what has passed in students’ school years and allow the ideas to repossess their souls and ours. Rather like what Jerome Bruner said with his idea of a spiral curriculum. And so, it is possible to teach Geometry out of Kandinsky, Symmetry out of Thomas Brown’s Godwottery, and Urban Development dynamics using Dire Straits. And go the other way and find fractal sentences in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and to see how organic chemistry lights up Primo Levi’s story, Carbon.
When we do this, we enrich Life. In the Classroom.
Yes, Alice, I’ve marked you present. 🟡
Kowloon Walled City – Illustrated Cross-section | Picture: thisiscolossal.com
1. Written in 1919, this manual for screenwriters says that there are only 37 possible stories. You might also like Kurt Vonnegut’s thesis on the shapes of stories, which inspired this data visualization here.
2. Stories of Kowloon Walled City are endlessly fascinating to read. The ungoverned, densely populated city was easily one of the most surreal places on earth. Here’s an interactive feature on it by the Wall Street Journal and an illustrated cross-section of this real life dystopia.
3. Studio Ghibli released 400 (and more) official images from its classic movies for free download. These movies known for their incredible art and this collection is a delight to go through. 🟡
If your past unit has been anything like ours, storyboarding is something that might have come up. This video essay on how Bong Joon-ho’s storyboards put the film together “… in his mind before shooting its first frame (a working process not dissimilar to that of Western filmmakers like the Coen brothers), which enables him and his collaborators to execute complex sequences such as what the Nerdwriter calls Parasite’s perfect montage.” was not only an incredibly fun watch, but also illustrates (haha) how effective good storyboards can be. Parasite, as you might remember, happened in the first 3 years of 2020 and these storyboards have been published as a graphic novel since then. 🟡
Hello. I’m Shaleen. I’ve never had to casually write about myself, and I don’t think I’ll be very good at it, so forgive me for the train-wreck that’s coming your way.
I started drawing when I was about 3, like every other Indian kid whose parents push them to take up every extracurricular activity they’ve heard of. When I actually started getting into art was when I was about 15. Pretty recent, I know. But oh well, I have the rest of my life to make up for the lost time.
What really got me into art was the fact that my nonsensical thoughts and ideas looked better drawn than they sounded( because they just sounded dumb) and I started drawing things around me, almost by default, as an attempt to communicate what my words failed to. Again, by default, I started making art using inks, since they’re probably the most accessible material to a 10th grader with truckloads of pens stocked up for the boards. I guess it left a mark (hehe) since I still find myself gravitating towards inks when I’m drawing. If I were to talk about what inspires me, I really wouldn’t have a concrete answer. Some days I could get inspired by a singular speck of dirt on a mosquito wing. On other days, you could slap me in the face with the Mona Lisa and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. What I do know is that mental oopsie-doopsies are a great source of inspiration, one that everyone should indulge in from time to time.
You’d think, by now, I’d have a method to working, but ooh boy you’d be wrong. I’m almost never certain of what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. I always start with a random line or two, tastelessly scratched onto a blank sheet, and before you know it, there’s a bunch of equally garbage lines giving them company.
That’s my art, in a nutshell. 🟡
With cycle one fresh in our immediate memory, I’m quite certain, that I don’t need to convince you when I say, design (or perhaps artistic) processes, can be exhausting. If nothing else, they are definitely convoluted. Ideation from the recesses of phase one is somehow adamantly insuppressible in the third iteration. Some feedback, though well-intentioned, and important, just seems to miss the point. Worse, some iterations don’t even get feedback. Not much can help the frustration when you’re at the peak of this vague process. Apart from, of course, trusting it.
But how do you trust something so uncertain? In a class I had the last cycle, I came across Oliver Munday’s website and from the few posters I saw in class; I was already a fan. They were peculiarly harmonious. After digging further, I could put my finger on the ‘quality’ that I was earlier unable to articulate. It was in his choice of (extremely bold) colours which brought out textures. Yet, most of them were minimalist, in an extremely seizing manner. Some art just makes you forget that it was actually made by another person, and this was it. What exists in pixels now, before our eyes at this moment, once only existed inside the mind of another. You don’t stop to question, how this person might’ve made the decision to use purple with grey, or a key coming through an eyeball. Until, of course, you do.
You can imagine my wonder, therefore, at having found a linked article that answered these very questions. Talking about one particular project of a book cover, he takes us through every up and down, from his excitement at having gotten a project that ‘allows designers to feel like artists,’ to the familiar adrenaline of submitting an unlikely iteration to his client, and what follows, “I waited. Waiting is excruciating work. For the sake of brevity and some preservation of dignity, I’ll paraphrase: the covers weren’t quite right. This is not unusual. I’m long inured to rejection; I traffic in it. But this time the failure was more significant. It stung. I suspect this had to do with the fact that deep down I knew the feedback to be true, but also the feeling that I’d failed the novel somehow.” Through all of this, with intermittent pearls the likes of ‘a cover can never be right; there are only degrees of error,’ he reaches the last iteration of the cover. So, coming back to my original question, of how he decided to put a key through an eye, the version that I was now seeing probably wasn’t what Munday saw in his mind’s eye when he started making it. It probably took him 4 iterations, the wisps of some loosely relevant background reading, and a few sudden opposing directional epiphanies while working on one iteration to get here. It’s just that this information was behind locked doors to my eyes. 🟡
Tales From the road begrudgingly traveled :
a comic in ten parts.
My soul is made of ramen.
3 day old ramen made at 2:00am in the morning while my roommate snores beside me.
Chopsticks dipping in plastic cups sticky with syrup.
Chomping down on thick noodles, each bite a savoury delight.
Plastic cups littering the floor of my room, a mess everywhere
A look in the mirror reveals an orange stain at the corner of my mouth.
I quickly lick it away, revealing my messy hair and tired eyes.
My soul is made of ramen.
The smell of chilli floods the room
Congesting the air in my lungs, the delicious smell.
Windows closed to avoid the chill wind while hot ramen enters my mouth
Burning my oesophagus as I eat it.
My soul is made of ramen.
Removing the pangs of hunger in my body.
Making me forget the work I fail every day at.
Watching old romcoms in the dark night
Sipping on the soup leftover in the almost empty cup
My soul is made of ramen.