This post represents a return after the longest ever abandonment of Artichoke since we started talking together in 2004. We have grown so distant this time... I feel like we have both been bottled and preserved in formaldehyde
That the demands of the day job find me blog “pickled in perpetuity” ... sharing a “a kind of tuberous pallor, something like that of a parsnip.” Is a desperate situation ... I knew this for certain when a friend in Italy, who finds Artichoke unreadable, Skyped me to plead that I restart my conversations with Arti... “if only so that that poor Jane Gilbert who has sat there for ages can move on ... “
Today is a public holiday In New Zealand ... it is Labour Day ... and it marks carpenter Samuel Parnell's refusal to work more than eight hours a day in the 1840’s. The irony in celebrating Labour Day in 2008 is that I don’t meet too many people in the day job who can claim to meet Parnell’s yardstick of eight hours a day. Everyone who has a job in the 21st Century seems to be working much longer than eight hours a day and this doesn’t seem to be a high income or low income thing. It makes me wonder what New Zealand would be like if we were all compelled to work to Parnell’s eight hour rule.
In deference to Parnell I have eschewed the ictpd exit milestone and spent the day offering unwanted advice to the rest of the household – advice on how best to stake a tomato plant, how best to unleash your inner rock hero in Rock Hero III’s Legends of Rock, how best to groom Scarface Claw without being dobbed, how best to get fit by cleaning the bathroom, and how best to purchase a stuffed ferret on TradeMe.
Once my advice had been roundly rejected it was safe to settle down with my latest Amazon must read - Dry Storeroom No.1 – The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey.
Fortey is highly entertaining, he has good stories, he plays deftly with words and ideas, "All our lives are collections curated through memory".
He has a great eye for people their eccentricities and whimsies. His behind the scenes anecdotes about the characters and exhibition history at the Natural History Museum are totally compelling. I especially enjoyed the new learning I got from his arguments balancing the value in Linnaean binomial nomenclature against PhyloCode – or the case for the inconsistencies of the common language of “people like gardeners or bird watchers or fungus forayers” versus the case for the efficiencies in the strict logic of cladistic phylogenies.
But it was the parallels between how the museum staff coped and didn’t with the changes that introduced a business based management, accountability and performance outcomes and how teachers have coped and not coped with the same stuff that made me smile. Fortey manages very astutely to value both camps in his analysis.
One of my favourite Fortey characters is Leslie Bairstow - who started work in the Department of Palaeontology in the 1930s and managed until retirement to publish absolutely nothing. He may not have been publishing but he was not idle, he was filing ....
And because it is Labour Day and I can step away from work for a moment I can see analogies between Bairstow’s filing of string into different boxes and my linking of wikispaces data into the tables in the exit milestone template. How much of what I do is in truth “too small to be of use”?
And then that makes me wonder about stuff that I do that is "too big to be of use".
There are some interesting Auckland Museum games being played out in the New Zealand Herald today regarding what is too big to be of use ... I note that the photo caption in the online version of the newspaper is quite different from the provocative and misleading caption in this morning's paper version where the photo and caption gave the distinct impression that the statue (1.8m high) when standing on a table would stand as high as the Weta workshop staff members head and shoulders. It is a great article for students exploring critical literacies to unpack ... and it is not just the photo caption that was dodgy ...I am going to build the article into a media assignment for students to use with Henry Jenkin's Five core questions
• 1. Who created this message?
• 2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
• 3. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
• 4. What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
• 5. Why is this message being sent?
and all this makes me think ... How important is it to find the right scale for what we do? Does everything we do, or anything we do, need to be of use? Who determines what is of use?
Fortey's book is the perfect Labour Day read in that it has allowed me to indulge in all of these wonderings about the scale of how we spend our time in the day job ... and I have done this in the context of one of my most favourite places ... the museum.