From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beginnings (11)—Civil Twilight

[a] Rural twilight
You didn't really think I was going to forget the morning, did you? Civil twilight has two dimensions—a fade to darkness as well as a lighting of the stage (it is gradual, like an energy saver light bulb). For those of you who have spent significant time in the wee hours, you know the images. Looking out into the darkness, all you can see (I am assuming a semi-rural vantage point for the moment) are the distant lights of a large city, if one is close enough. But things begin to change when the sun reaches eighteen degrees below the horizon (astronomical twilight), then twelve degrees (nautical twilight), and then civil twilight begins—about thirty minutes of it—when the sun is six degrees below the horizon.

[b] Light on Mt.Tai
Only the late sleeper thinks that light begins with sunrise. There are twisting, colorful shafts of light for up to two hours before the sun peeks above the horizon. What sunset is to the Hawaiian Islands (and I mean "tourism" and "commodification" here every bit as much as I mean "aesthetics), sunrise is to Mt. Tai in China's Shandong Province. It is the "eastern mountain" of the cluster known for over 3,000 years as the "five peaks" (五嶽).

[c] Lone pine light
From the perspective of Chinese cosmology, time begins again every day on the eastern peak, and that fuzzy calendrical idea has become the stuff Watching the sun rise on Mt. Tai is a growing industry, and every day, all year 'round, thousands of people stand shivering (it is cold in January...and in July) as they watch the glimmers of light appearing over the flat, Shandong plain. It is a thing of beauty, to be sure, but equally a thing of cosmic regeneration—at least in the bookish sense of early Chinese philosophy.

[d] Repast
But like the time just before dark, the half-hour just before sunrise is about more than aesthetics. All over the world, the day is starting up again, following the ancient rhythm of rest and labor that even a 24/7 global economy cannot shake completely. For every patron of a late-night Thai food stand near the Broadway watering holes (or Grand Slam special eater at 3:00 a.m. at Denny's...anywhere, even in Tokyo), there are tens of thousands times more people asleep in bed, following a "natural" circadian rhythm.

[e] Start-up
As the Thai food eater tucks into bed, the last sound she might hear is the chirping of birds. After that, strains of light start to appear on the horizon, and early risers start their days. The time before full sunlight is filled with a different kind of energy than we saw with dusk in the "endings" post yesterday. There is a gradual re-booting going on, and it comes in the forms of chugging engines, creaking docks, clanking milk pails, and (let us not forget) those start-up sounds of computers and cell phones.

[f] Van Gogh morning
If you were an anthropologist of morning, you might notice sounds more specific to this time of day than most others—showers, toasters, coffee makers, and the distinctive tone of morning radio and television. No less than in the thirty minutes before complete darkness every evening, there is a sense of urgency. In almost every case, it is more pronounced than at night, when most people (aside from cyclists, farmers, and campers) have temporal options, and a day of deadlines has passed...until tomorrow. The urgency of morning is etched into our society, and can be found in novels, poems, plays, artwork, advertisements, and menus (to name only a few).

It is a beginning in the precise definition of this Round and Square series—a profound (and daily) challenge of getting stuff started after a period of calm. Light and sound (they are related in more ways than you might realize) have everything to do with it.

Oh, and the lambs like it, too.
[g] Morning spring
[f] Urgency

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