The Kavad of a Sacred Geometer

Suzanne Wind Gaskell has hit one out of the park on this exhibit at Wesleyan University. She’s built and illustrated the Kavad of a Sacred Geometer, a study of the geometry and training of a traditional, non-literate artisan in a mathematical tradition. I did not hear her talk, unfortunately, but this object is an occult and esoteric masterwork, as well as being a mathematical wonder.

A Kavad, for reference, is a storyteller’s box or shrine from India or Pakistan. It’s a small box, in this case somewhat smaller than a portable sewing machine case, that has a number of doors, drawers and compartments. In a traditional kavad, these panels are illustrated with scenes and characters from a storyteller’s repertoire. By degrees, the storyteller would open the box to an audience, and the audience members in appreciation would put money in the kavad’s bottom drawer. Once fully opened, the kavad could be a shrine of the Rig Veda or the Upanishads, a life of Muhammad or some Islamic saints.

Ms. Gaskell has taken this form — the kavad, for a non-literate storyteller to explain epic tales to a largely non-literate audience — and created a mathematical treatise. The kavad she’s designed and built is covered inside and out with mathematical proofs and complex geometric constructions; the money drawer is filled with almost-talismanic painted tiles showing traditional floor layouts and iterative techniques of geometrical layout. The inside panels explain points, lines, and circles, the vescia piscis and more. The innermost compartments show the relationship between a vibrating string and musical notation, and contain two dimensional and three dimensional explanations of the five platonic solids. Panels on the back and top demonstrate how the one side of a polygon iterates from a triangle to a square to a pentagon, all the way out to a decagon.

It’s singularly awesome. Awesome in the old sense of the word, “struck down or filled by a sense of awe”.

And of course, I want to build one. Because this is a storyteller’s tool par excellence, a simple cube that, when opened, reveals itself to be no less than a shrine of the building blocks of the universe. Figuring out what to put into a kavad, and figuring out how to build one, represents a deep mastery of many subtle and powerful matters.

David Kelley: Creative Confidence

I love this video.

• MRI machines are scary to kids.
• How do we make them less scary?
• Make it a pirate ship.
• Get creative

What I don’t like is that he describes the process of getting over your fears of getting creative in terms of “touching the snake” — helping people get over their phobias.  It’s a great analogy, of course, and it’s totally accurate.  I don’t wish to deny that.  But he doesn’t give us a sense of how HE walks people through the process of begin non-creative, to being sort of creative, to being amazing.

Of course, that’s what he and his team at IDEO are selling. That’s what they are dangling out on offer to all of us, especially those of us who are willing to pay: he’s offering a process for us to learn how to be that creative, and unlock that level of creativity in others.

But he also offers a story of how a teacher, or a fellow student, helped shut down this creative process in one of his classmates. It’s the story that he began with.  I can’t tell you how many creative people I know who HATE school, or HATED school — they felt their work, their ideas, their very right to make art was under attack all the time.

And it shows.  It shows in the basic contempt that people like Bill Gates have for school, and for teachers.  Sure, he wants to reform the system: massively, substantially, radically.  But he wants that kind of reform because he regards the system as fundamentally broken.

David Kelley doesn’t express that same level of contempt here; I’ve heard him speak in more intimate venues, too, and he’s got this same gentle style, this same overall mission. But the urgency with which he and Bill want to change, to reform american schools to allow more creativity — no, not merely to allow, but to manifest creative capability — is palpable.

It’s going to be the biggest shock to the educational system yet. Because ultimately, it will grow the home school movement at exponential rates; it will break smaller public schools and more traditional private schools; and it will shatter overly rigid colleges and universities.

A magician’s modern toolkit

Over at Blood and Bone, there’s an article today about resources for Technomancers.  He (she?) is writing for a magical/occult audience, but there’s a powerful list of tools that make a huge difference it keeping yourself organized as the very model of a modern magic practitioner.  It’s an interesting list of tools, and I’ll be downloading some of the suggestions. As I’ve noted here, I find the ability to use the tools of magic and magical mindset to be very useful in thinking about alternate ways to be a teacher, and a teacher of design thinking. Not all of these tools are going to be useful to all my teacher friends, but I can’t recommend the first few from Blood and Bone enough:

General Software

• Evernote is becoming absolutely critical to my process.  I drop all kinds of things into it: photographs I admire, graphs and charts, design process diagrams by other authors and other schools, scripts and lesson plans, to-do lists and materials-acquisitions list (for the DLab).  The ability to access ANYTHING in Evernote, almost anywhere – phone, web, iPad, desktop computer, is a godsend.
• Paper by fiftythree.com is becoming my go-to drawing program.  Drawing and diagramming is becoming so critical to my creative process that I can’t imagine trying to be a teacher, or a design thinker, without drawing. If you’re not drawing, you’re losing half your audience. If you’re not encouraging your students to draw — on paper, on computer, wherever — you are failing to be an effective teacher (Side note: if you don’t know Dave Gray’s “Forms, fields and flows” yet, if you haven’t COMMITTED THAT LESSON TO MEMORY, so you can give it to anyone, anywhere in the world, in 10 minutes or less, you are failing to be a 21st century teacher.  In my opinion, not humble at all.
• DayOne Journal app for iPhone, iPad, and desktop machine is my go-to journal application.  I should use Evernote, I know, but I find the process of starting a new document in EverNote for a journal entry to be clunky and difficult.  It’s probably the case that all of us teachers should be journaling a lot more than we do — which kid said what, on what day, and when, and to whom.  It’s difficult; we have other things going on; we have plenty of other demands on our time.  But we live in a digitally connected world, and we have to be prepared to justify grades, more and more,
• Gradekeeper is my tool of choice for keeping a grade book.  The fact that I can have it on my desktop and my iPad is a godsend; if I could get both versions to work from a common iCloud file, or from a server cloud storage area like Evernote, that would be awesome. For now, I work files back and forth between two places.  Brilliant and useful, though I wish the reporting features were more robust. What magicians would use this eminently teacher-centric software for, I don’t know, but it’s tremendously useful nonetheless.
• I also use the To-Do list program on my phone, as well as the voice recorder, for making recordings of things I’m trying to memorize, or to make audio notes while driving (and today I used to to record another chant, which I’ll post over at Tumblr shortly, as I did with the first [Hey, WordPress... Tumblr doesn't charge me a fee to post or present audio files... you do.  What are you going to do about that?]).

Magical Tools

I use Astrolgo (http://www.gandreas.com/iphone/astrolgo/) as my astrological tutor and charting tool. It’s a little more expensive than using astro.com, which is free, but I find it very helpful, and it’s easier to set up for someone like me who’s trying to learn more traditional astrology.

I’m using Sleep Cycle (http://www.sleepcycle.com/) as a way of tracking how many hours I’m sleeping, and how close I am to dream state, and how frequently, each night. I’ve had a REALLY irregular sleep schedule for more than a decade, and I’ve found that I need to fix my sleep schedule in order to get good habits for dreams.

I use the Mindfulness Bell by Spotlight Six Software for timing meditations.

I use TouchTarot for iPhone so I don’t have to carry around a Tarot deck with me all the time. I find that it gives me just as many reversed cards (A LOT … more than anyone else ever seems to get) as a regular deck does, which suggests strongly that I’ve got some things to fix in my life, or in my relationship with Tarot, or both.

I use Brian Browne Walker’s version of the iChing for consulting the Book of Changes. I don’t like it as much as my casual paperback book, but it’s not bad.

What’s the point?

There’s a couple of occultists reading who are already thinking, how am I going to use a grade book program? Or even just a grade book? and not in an ironic or self-conscious way. That’s just the kind of people occultists are. They think through the implications of questions like that, and even if they never come up with an answer, they will have thought about it.

But I imagine that the teachers are hard-pressed to think of something they would do with any of the digital/magical tools I mentioned. What would I use a Tarot program for?  I can hear several of my teaching colleagues asking that question. Why do I need to know what planetary hour it is, or what a horoscope is?

Leaving aside the question of whether or not these things are useful because they work (because our scientific material philosophy argues emphatically that they don’t work), I’d argue that these magical tools are all useful ways of slowing our brains down. We teachers are asked to do more and more, often with less and less, and we’re rarely cultivating the kind of mindset that allows us to understand the data we’re collecting or seeing the big picture in a kid’s understanding.  The information provided by occult tools is not exactly random, and not exactly freeform.  It opens up new paths of comprehension and new ways of seeing things. A magical mindset, practiced well enough, fits together odd data points collected by the unconscious as well as the conscious mind, with a set collection of perceived wisdom consulted in a selective way, and the result is…

insight.

Taiji Day 75: Shuffle the Order

This morning I was able to perform the three elements of taiji forms I know, all from memory — Five Golden Coins, Taiji form, and now Eight Pieces of Silk. Was Eight Pieces entirely correct? No it was not.  But “good enough”?  Yes.  I’m discovering, thanks to the design work at school, and the creative exercises I’m doing for Frater RO’s class (belated birthday shout-out to him!), that I’m OK with “good enough to start” and with “good enough to move on”.  Practice is the thing that makes OK into great, and that means… shuffling the order.

OK, here I am, guy in my early forties (my colleague says I’m actually 105, but since each year working in a middle school reduces your actual age by 5 years, I’m really only 63), doing taiji every day. But if you do the same form, and the same order of moves every day, for years… you stiffen up just the same as if you did nothing.  The reason is that the postures are the same, and you’re doing them the same way. Maybe a little better each day, but you’re not breaking up the tensions that those same moves put on your body, or in the same way.

So vary the order of your elements:

• Taiji, Five Gold Coins, Eight Pieces Silk
• Taij, Eight Pieces Silk, Five Gold Coins
• Five Gold Coins, Eight Pieces Silk, Taiji
• Five Gold Coins, Taiji, Eight pieces silk
• Eight pieces silk, taiji, Five Gold coins
• Eight pieces silk, Five gold coins, taiji…

and so on.

I did the one in italics, above, yesterday, and felt nothing.  Today, I did the one in boldface above, and sweat hard from the results.  The Hermeticist in me notes that there are six possibilities in the list above, but seven is a beautiful number in Hermetics, and it would behoove me to learn one more element for my taiji practice: The Way of Energy, or stillness, as represented in this book. I’ve got the book, I’ve studied it, and it’s damn-hard.  Standing still while your body buzzes with energy like thousands of ants crawling all over you, yikes and wow.  But doing it once a week would bring me to seven, and it feels right…  Maybe for Sundays.