My wife's BA is in the Arts. In her 20s, this translated into a three-year stint in Colombia and Ecuador and some fantastical encounters with a Don Juan-type brujo. The extended South-American residency became entirely self-financed by selling paintings and drawings in galleries sponsored by the Colombian Consulate of Bogota. It's been the only period in her life when making and selling art became a self-supporting exclusive life style. But the dream of an artistic career rather than hobby stuck. Forward by a few decades. Ivette is currently preparing research for a novel that'll double as her Masters thesis in Transpersonal Psychology with an emphasis on Expressive Arts. For the last two years, this Masters program through the Edgar Cayce institute in Virginia Beach had her submit numerous art projects. They would be graded, then returned. Some of them ended up being art quilts where textures and colors of textiles replaced her usual oil, acrylic, water colors, pencils and brushes. Ivette's fully manual and minimally equipped ancient Singer sewing machine with the two stitches finally became the limiting factor. Hence this weekend found us shopping Santa Fe for a sewing machine.

We were fortunate enough to find a speciality shop whose owner really knew her stuff. She carries the Japanese Janome brand which Ivette's on-line research had identified as the class leader. The proprietor also runs sewing/quilting classes in an adjacent class room. Every purchase is accompanied by free maintenance and unlimited free instructions on how to use the machine one has purchased from her. Talk about service!

Very generous with her time and advice, Deane ran us hands-on through various machines until we had fixated on a model that best matched Ivette's current and anticipated needs though it was somewhat outside our budget. The proprietor then mentioned that a workshop in Santa Fe 10 days hence would use 40 brand-new machines of this exact make and model. Being used after just a week's worth of seminar practice, they could no longer be sold as new. They were thus available pre-sold for a very attractive discount, with the non-sold machines traveling onward to the next public event in Pueblo/Colorado.

Now miraculously stretching our budget just slightly -- and nothing compared to what I spend on cables alone -- we committed to one of these machines. Just for the heck of it, we then asked the lady to run us through the $6,000 Rolls-Royce model of the line. This gets us squarely to the point of today's piece. Talk about fully accessorized. This beast incorporated every imaginable gizmo, including
computer interface via memory cards that transfer computer renderings to the onboard DSP board to have the machine duplicate it as fully automated embroidery, beginning with automatic needle threading and ending with automatic thread cutting. The resultant sample works in the store were technically perfect but clearly lacked the soul and energy of the mostly hand-crafted pieces Ivette had hanging at home.

This begged an important question. At what point does a machine become an impediment to artistic self expression? Masters in any creative segment can fashion memorable pieces with relatively primitive tools. Unimaginative dilettantes with even the most sophisticated machines will create mediocre pieces. In fact, one could argue that certain limitations within the tools force an earnest artist to discover creative handcrafter's solutions that will be unique and couldn't be easily duplicated by machine if at all.

Spinning this notion out farther, what about a powered pepper grinder with centrally mounted Halogen beam "to show the way"? Don't laugh, The Sharper Image hawks innumerable such ridiculous gizmos [right]. How about the latest craze in refrigerators whose LCD display alerts you to impending shortages in your milk and egg supply and remind you that your Buffalo chuck is about to go bad? Talk about technology dehumanizing its users under the guise of elevating quality of life. If you can't assess what to put on your grocery list by opening the door to your fridge, you really have a serious problem. It's called letting machines do the thinking and planning for you. That's allowing your intellectual capacities to be castrated.

Smart homes with their fully automated interfaces for security, lighting, HVAC, voice recognition commands and such only further undermine the vital challenges of a fully incarnated life that stimulate its owner's intelligence and attention on a mundane and daily basis rather than delegating such tasks to machines. Who really needs this stuff? It's the world of the redundant gizmo. Depending on your view, the entire home theater surround-sound craze is no better. Who decided that the visual action which is strictly in front of you required auditory accompaniment
localized behind the viewer? Do 7 or 10 speakers really add anything of true significance to the virtual storytelling experience - that is, beyond cheap whiz-bang effects to hide the fact that the story is weak and the plot hackneyed? What is it about the desire to replace the communal, occasional and thus special experience of movie going with sitting by one's lonesome at home and in the dark? What is it about a HighEnd stereo system mated to a discreetly mounted flat panel display that doesn't already deliver the same essence, albeit in a far more décor-friendly, living-room-happy implementation?

A small 27-inch screen mated to superior sound is emotionally far more compelling than a huge screen with mediocre sound. Alas, the general trend of this sector is for larger and larger screens with more and more smaller and smaller speakers. The general public rightly rejects the notion of 5 or more monkey coffins turning their living rooms into loudspeaker cemeteries. Why they don't simultaneously reject the notion of needing more than two speakers (perhaps augmented by a subwoofer if they're small bandwidth-restricted speakers) is beyond me.

Are the major consumer electronics kairetsus, televisions networks and Hollywood embroiled in a nefarious plot to turn the average industrialized Westerner into a rabbit hypnotized by the television snake? Millions spend more and more unproductive, non-creative, non-interactive time being glued to the tellie to be told what to think, believe and buy. It prevents people from discovering native talents
and become creators. Instead, they turn into consumers and are ragingly proud of it. If they live in an underdeveloped part of the world, they can't wait to become consumers. A large color television tends to be at the top of their dreams. So the dehumanization process is in full swing. Add the skyrocketing infertility figures and it seems that we're happily set to kill off not only our spirit but the future of our race as well. Who would have thunk that buying a sewing machine could have such bleak and dire consequences? I shall leave the sewing to Ivette, thank you very much [see above]. Deane already warned me that the creative spark fanned by art quilting tends to put a smile on the woman and eventually, the hungry husband into the kitchen. It'll be sauerkraut and schweinesültze then, with beer for breakfast and semmel knödel for dinner. Things in our creative household could be far far wurst. Did I mention that in the 20 years I've lived in the US, the television was never once connected to any broadcast? I don't believe I missed out on anything I couldn't have done without and been the better off for it. Ditto for The Sharper Image catalog and Home Theater!