Aug 11

Canadian Style

The fog is thick here coming off the water in Nova Scotia. We’re supposed to be out on that water today and I can see from my vantage point that it’s going to be cold and damp, not unlike the fishing excursions I found myself on with my father and brother when we used to boat the rivers and levies of the California Delta. In those days, in the miserable dark, the fog was so thick that dad would be up on the fly bridge, I’d be standing next to dad and my brother would be out on the bow with a light on the look out for logs and rocks and other boats. That particular boat had one of those awful jet drives that were so loud and impossible to control at idling speeds. I think in all the times we went out on our late night fishing excursions we caught perhaps only two or three fish worth keeping. At least that’s the way I remember it. My brother and I had much better luck tying a piece of raw bacon to the end of a string and pulling up scores of crawfish in a quiet slough in the middle of the day.

We’re staying in a large antique filled house from another era. I’m told it didn’t have electricity until after World War II and the gas lighting fixtures are still attached to the walls of the third floor dormitories. The house sits on a finger of land that projects out into the Bay of Fundy where the tides further up the coast can be as large as fifty feet. Here they’re only about six feet but you can see how strong the currents are by the behavior of the sea weed and the way the current ripples around the rocky reefs.

Yesterday we drove up the coast to Digby and Annapolis Royal. A pleasant young gentleman in Digby gave us the quick tourist history of the town. It was named after a British Admiral who rescued British loyalists from “ethnic cleansing” by American revolutionaries during the war for independence. We were proudly shown one of the cannon manufactured by George III and used by the town folk to fire on American ships to protect their precious harbor.

In an effort to learn more about the town we wandered across the street into a used book store and ended up having a very spirited discussion with the proprietor on history, economics and the Wars of Southern Aggression, referring to the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

We continued up the coast and had lunch in Annapolis Royal. Although our intention was to visit the French and English forts we only had enough time to tour the tidal power plant. If we have time tomorrow I plan on going back and taking some video footage.
Aug 11, 2011-9

Aug 11, 2011-9Curious Lizard

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Aug 11

Pen versus Keyboard

The debate rages on, which is mightier, the pen or the keyboard? A flurry of recent articles has been lamenting the demise of handwriting and the inability of the internet generation to read and write cursive script. The arguments don’t simply center on which is the more efficient tool, rather the lines are being drawn over which method of placing ink to page or pixels to screen furthers the creative process, facilitates learning, offers long term benefit to brain development and acts to attenuate the threat of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As narratives go, this one is straightforward. The pen or stylus has a long and storied history dating back to the cuneiform of the Sumerians and the Epic of Gilgamesh, Linear scripts of the early Greeks, Hebrew, Aramaic, Trajan’s Column and so forth through the italic, Spencerian and Palmer revolutions. Asian cultures have elevated the art of calligraphy to a spiritual practice that ultilizes the Four Treaures of Study consisting of the inkstick, inkstone, brush and paper.

The keyboard on the other hand is criticized as a mechanical process that splits the mental focus into two hands and attention between the keyboard and screen, and as a result the creative process is corrupted. According to this school of thought, the process of manually crafting a letter with the focal point of a single stylus upon the page is a more creative and intellectual process than learning to actuate a letter represented by a key upon a keyboard and that the look of one’s handwriting is a window into one’s character.

A recent article suggests that handwriting differs from keyboarding because is activates Broca’s speech area and two other locations of the brain on functional MRI. In China, brush calligraphy is being used as a treatment for attention deficit and moods disorders and a large study performed in Hong Kong has found that elderly persons who engaged in regular cognitive activities including both writing and keyboarding suffered significantly less age related dementia and cognitive decline. One of the outcomes of this research is that we now understand that we process the language of words and letters differently than we process symbolic logographic language. An early form of Chinese language called Kanji uses symbols to convey ideas rather than individual letters. The more modern system of writing that uses individual letters is called Kana. This is significant because it was found that individuals who suffered damage to their language center by a stroke were able to continue to communicate with Kanji but not Kana.

Proponents of handwriting argue that the focus necessary to form letters and words in the mind and produce them in a beautiful display on paper is a satisfying healthy practice. I agree. Handwriting is a wonderful satisfying way to communicate. One of my great joys is using fountain pens to take notes, prepare articles and narratives and to maintain my notebooks and journals.

Information from the scientific and health care communities doesn’t let us pick a winner between pens and keyboards. Both are effective methods of communication, both seem to help stave off the ravages of cognitive decline and both have produced brilliant works of art. As in all things, for there to be a benefit, you have to put in the time and the effort necessary for it make a difference.

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