Interview with Robert Markison
Full Text
March 12, 1997

r is robert markison, the loquatious doctor.

j is me, justin, sufferer of hand woe and faithful student to many.

a is amy, my intrepid girlfriend and occasionally photographer.

becky typed this up for me, for money.

j - mentor/role model

r - mentor/role model is anybody who is a master, man or woman, a master of an art or craft who are professional and sharing. and so these are really dozens of people, literally, whom i've studied with happily through decades.

j - but there's not biographies, popular persons...

r - oh yeah, sure of course, oh yeah, sure. raphael, the paintings of raphael, the man who lived 38 years was one of the greatest artists in history, the anatomical renderings of vesalious, the anatomical renderings of da vinci, isaac newton - newtonium mechanics 1642, the great musical instrument designers of the 19th century, especially adolf sax in belgium who made all the saxaphones, then onto the 20th century where we've got thomas edison, we've got einstein, we've got some profound painters, mostly 19th century painters, but some 20th and a lot of heroes who went against great odds to do something very special and keep it up professionally. and the jazz people, obviously the history of american, the greatest american contribution to culture, i think is jazz and that would be, obviously duke ellington, charlie parker, bill evans, art tatum, john coletrane, eric dolphy. these are a lot of heroes in my pantheon of greats and they do cross a lot of different media.

j - yeah, not so many heroines.

r - some. mary cassat, the pastelist, madame curie, so many women who've done some terrific design, meaning dressmaking, madeline bionet(?) biased gown draping of the 1920s to show how fabric could hang on the bias and a lot of designers who have been women and clothing especially. i mean the niches of women obviously haven't been as broad as men, but yes, a large pantheon of greats and i read biography very often and draw the power from it.

j - ok.

r - now the gem-carving millery, all the allied arts and crafts and music and so on are just simply me trying to get through the raw material of human beings, from feelings to tissue and understanding it from the sewn mind that doesn't stop when i sew in the operating room. it continues to making a suit for myself, its the sewn line and its the continuous coherent line, whether you're sculpting jade or whether you're resurfacing a joint in the hand. this is understanding media, really truly and revering it, respecting it, for what it is and its instrinsic properties.

j - i'm observing the scale here, do you work on rooms or buildings? have you done construction or carpentry?

r - when i was in high school and college every summer i'd work construction just to understand that everything from framing to being an electrician's helper and made panels and circuits and switches and

j - do you speak any foreign languages?

r - yeah, primarily spanish and some french, minimal german

j - i was thinking this summer of either -a - i was thinking of doing construction, donating my efforts to a housing group or learning to speak spanish. can i hold tools and work with hammers and stuff if i've got tendonitus?

r - maybe, if its a warm environment where you work and you're very careful and make very spare balance, you know, kind of ambidextrus, use your upper limbs to a minimum and you'll be fine.

j - ok

r - we're onto inventions and the product, process of invention is obviously nothing more or less than believing in your idea and when you go to concept all the way to market or you just take it a certain distance and then hand it off

j - sure

r - "have you worked on anyone's computer devices?"

j - at this point, i guess in our dialogue, i mean, conceptualize, cuz its hard to think beyond voice-recognition and foot pedals

r - well, yes, i have and i've thought about it and i'm honestly waiting for a company that i think has its heart and mind and talent in the right place to work with me

j - wheew, hard to find

r - right, i'm fully doubting the sincerity and long-term interest of any computer makers of the present time. i apologize for saying that, i think there've been some great starts made in the computer field but i don't think they're interested in something more than selling things and connecting them together


j - what magazines or publications do you read?

r - well, i subscribe, i do to subsribe to macworld and macuser so i can be aware of the apple interface which i still think leads and otherwise its the artist magazine - i get american artist magazine, i get the lapidary journal, which is for gem smiths and swordswiths? and so on, i get, sometimes i get keyboard magazine for musicians and i get, what else, i cut back some. handful of technical kinds of things, shoemakers, guild publications, where i'm in the guild like the somemakers guild, a few of the trade publications

j - no news or

r - well, yeah, just basic newspapers but i'm constantly cruising magazine stores and just looking at things and i subscribe to a bunch of stuff. when i do go on the internet, obviously i'll look at today's news, look at some speciality areas but not spend more than 15 minutes there. i look at it but i don't spend much time there. as far as the typewriter, keyboard, mouse underdesign injurious, where do you see the future, as far as the future of the human computer interface, i think it is going to be a balance between intuition and intuitive use of things, it might even be brainwaves. something other than a keyboard

j - other than fingers

r - yes, other than fingers, definately, more voice, but you have to cultivate articulate speech among children if you're going to have adults that can be productive through speaking and right now we don't have a very articulate adult group of speakers. we have to cultivate articulate apeech which would really mean bringing back debating and some other stuff into schools, that has somehow gone away

j - almost like when they used to teach handwriting

r - that's right. more use of upper, lower limbs in a balanced fashion where you have some fitness and some happiness that comes from it, not just drudgery.

j - yeah, not just sedentary

r - that's right. but you don't want to chain your hands. the problem is, in popular culture, punative things always involve restraint of the hands whether its handcuffs or in colonial times stocks and pillaries, or ah, these kinds of things, when the cop gets you and puts you in a half-nelson, with a sort of constraint of hands, and so all we've done is lashed our hands to keyboards now and that's kind of a show of lack of self-respect and buying into the pop cultural punitive aspect of the upper limb constraint to limit the human potential. so you don't want to constrain the human hand since it is our emblem of self, and then as far as the bay area

advice for digital slaves

j - larger, larger scene, what would you say. because i think, you know, get at least a couple hundred people reading this and a lot of them, either, if they're not in the bay area, are those people who are chained to their computers. whether by hobby or by profession. what do we say to them tomorrow if they don't have voice recognition and they don't have all these things, what do we say.

r - we say that they're going to have to work on fitness to become and stay small muscle athletes cause that's how we define them,

j - small muscle athletes

r - they are small muscled athletes. that means a perfect diet, that means shedding stress, that means avoiding bad company, that means staying moist and well hydrated, means keeping your hands warm, avoiding badness, things like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and all of these things that will derail you in terms of the psyche and/or injury the body and diminish your capacity for repetitive work. get plenty of rest, you know, some aerobic fitness program which would be a swim or a walk, should not be weight lifting, should not be forward limb posture pressures and yoga, could be thi-chi, could be qi quong

j - wait, could be yoga or you're including yoga

r - should not be yoga with forward posturing. if it's yoga don't put forward posture or pressure on the limbs. don't balance yourself against the extended wrist or anything like that. as far as... my other advice is so obvious, it's self-tending, self maintanence because you're on your own as far as if you've got a job that's unyielding, certain physical constraints or what you have to do it, and you can't move to management, you can't move to less hands-on

markison's reach j - or dictation or something

r - dictation. maybe you focus on you.

j - what you're saying is more of a health. it's not straighten up your back and get a better chair with more

r - that helps, all the ergononics requirements that are time-tested help - a good chair, never having a head forward or limb-forward posture if you can avoid it. see that box of stuff in front of you called the computer coming towards you, you don't want to go towards it. everything comes towards you, like sitting up straight and properly and your limbs are hanging at their sides, forearms are parallel to the group so you don't have any undue palm-down or pronated posture then you bring stuff to you, that's the basically the premise of feldencris and other and alexander technique - bring great things to you. i mean, you can tell you're in trouble at home if you bend down to drink a glass of water, and you bend over your plate, if you go to things - things come to you. so the extent to which things can come to you as you're sitting upright breathing well, warm hands, well-hydrated,

j - prepared

r - but when you go to things, you're in trouble cause you're just going to lose power

j - that's a great conceptual model

r - yeah, you're gonna lose power, endurance, if you go to things. things come to you, very important. that's important but as far as breaks, you need to take breaks, that's all, it doesn't mean you speed up to go manic phase and then take a break and shut down. you just take breaks. if you have a sit/stand work station so much the better. we're not on earth to sit really

j - yeah

r - we're on earth to walk around and then lie down at the end of the day

j - you know, since i developed my problems with my wrists with regard to computers, i find myself annoyed with even reading books, i mean having to hold books open and sit down or stand up, and i don't know. i've gotten book holders and i find myself moving around every few minutes, i get very restless

r - you sure, you have a book holder, you have a magic arm, you know, things to hold things. if you just walk next door with me, so for example, you already saw this stuff, but you know, i don't have a chair here, i have one of these things where it's, i'm rocking, its an ab and back machine

j - its an ab and back machine. yeah, this is wild. would you recommend this for people to get?

markison side view r - yeah, fine, why not? what would it hurt? they don't have to, but it just depends, you know. they've got a chance to move around and they're fine and i'm rocking back and forth and i can just sit here and have my little headphone on and talk for a while and just breathe and relax and you know, enter some stuff here's, you know book chapter i'm working on and so i just enter, voice enter an outline and then go with text and just relax... and not look at it, not look at the thing. and then as far as holders for various things, this is called the magic arm, vogen makes it, you know and this can put anything anywhere so, if for example i was reading at home or if i wanted to use a mouse and i wanted to tilt it like this so i'm not down like this, i can just go like this and then let it fall, and i just tapped in a screw, camera mounting into some acrylic that i put together you know and a mirror face on it that i could check my own posture with it. but you know these things you'll find in an industrial lighting supply store, photographic camera store

j - the magic arm, you mean

r - the magic arm, yeah. so if i were reading at home for example, i would just have a magic arm, if i were painting or something or i'd just had that, and that's fine so you can put whatever you want on the end of it. or put them in series so if you got more universal joints you can move stuff around

j - yeah! see, i started conceptualizing when i get out of college i want to get some kind of studio and construct some kind of work-space that would involve foot pedals and lots of universal joints to be able to pull things around and pulleys since i have things

r - right, just bring the world to you whatever it is, but have an environment where you can move around, you can shift, you can sit, you can stand, you can be semi reclined, you know, you could be like in a pod, you know, like some animals will recline in a tree, tree branch, that's sort of hollowed out, you know, there's a lot to these postures that you see in nature, especially the rainforest where the animals are semi-reclining in that sort of way

j - yeah

r - but sitting is very artificial and very bad for you cause sooner or later you're going to be in a head-forward, limb-forward posture to get on to some object that's not healthy

j - well, that's what, i can't, as bad as sitting is, sitting in a bad chair is even worse so, yeah,

r - ergonomic things that are tried and true, the chair and the keyboard tray, some other support on a universal set of joints for the mouse or the cursor input device, foot mouse and so on, that makes a difference

j - now i guess you've already run over some of the diet tips, with regards to

r - well, we skipped one, rsi with stress, yes, its true becasue you see what happens with rsi and stress in particular is humans get into a fight or flight response which physciologically is defined as sending blood towards the brain, towards the guts, lower limbs to get ready to flee the frightening stimulus, fight or flight and so you do it at the expense of the upper limbs. there's so much blood in the body at any time, it shrinks blood supply away from the upper limbs that are already strained from computing during a stress state and then you're trying to make things work and endure with a low blood flow state. so stress means shut down the blood flow of the upper limbs, means more pain with muscle tendon strain and other strain

j - fight or flight, sends blood to the legs

r - fight or flight, yeah. the fight or flight response means the organism is galvanizing to either stay and fight with something or flee it, fly away

j - yeah, sure

r - and so you're going to supply your wit, your brain, your sense of, your heart and lungs, you're going to shun it away from your gut, mostly to go down into the lower limbs cause you're gonna run. this is a saber-toothed tiger at the door of the cave metaphor and that doesn't do anything for your hands, your hands will chill out, its like stage fright where musicians have ice-cold hands. worse yet, environmental changes like working under an airconditioning vent and /or any office that's computer intensive will be a cold environment. so the warm-blooded primate gets colder hands almost like frostbite except this is stressbite and cold exposure in a cold computer room, it's only cold to protect the motherboard, at the expense of the warm-blooded primate, you see, so we've got a mismatch of enviroment and end user

j - so you're saying warm hands is one critical...

r - got to, cause warm hands means blood flow and blood flow means vitality and endurance whether its the heart with the coronary, the brain with neck muscles the hands with macro and micro-circulation. you've got to wash in plenty of oxygen and nutrients and you've go to wash out plenty of waste.

j - sure

r - low flow state will not serve well and stress means a low blood flow state means proneness to injury and sustained injury

markison and justin j - now since this has happened i've had, my sister is really into vitamins and stuff and she's prescibed me B-6 and glucosamine sulfate and bromaline or something like that. i mean, are any of those helpful?

r - they could be helpful, sometimes for bone and joint aches and ligament pains

j - but is that what i have, is that what most people have?

r - no. you have combinations of things

j - inflammation, right?

r - that's right but you're ramping up on nutrients that you may or may not have gotten in an ordinary diet as long as you don't take more than a hundred milligrams of B-6 a day, and as long as you don't take more than 500 miligrams three times a day of glucosamine, and as long as you don't overdo it with vitamins, you're ok. the vitamin i like is nature plus, source of life, one to three a day, tending towards one in the summer and two or three in the winter but everybody's different. again, living a vegetarian life is very easy for me to look at the world of nutrients and pick and choose and know what's really needed and not to overdo it

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