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.

a - you made that?

r - yeah, i made everything i'm wearing. i made it, i painted it...

a - this is like, my dad wears a hat like that

r - i made it,

a - do you have kids?

r -... i painted it, i cast it out of sterling, i made it out of upholstery fabric, i made it out of gaberdine, i made it out of cotton. do you understand what some of this is about where you draw patterns and you decide that you don't live in modern industrial time full of mass media and mass consumption? because if you do, you have a sickness of identity loss and brains falling out. ok?

a - i gotch ya

r - right. so if you decide that its time to have shoes then you decide that its time to draft a pattern. ok, you don't decide that its time to go to a mall.

j - wow. well then its like a commitment.

r - (to a) do you need a flash for that?

a - no, i have...i have fast film

r - well then its like a committment, good. thank you.

a - thank you, what?

r - its like a commitment; thank you for saying that. because otherwise you're uncommitted and you're only a passive dependent consumer of all the mass crap that everybody else committed to in the sweatshop offshore.

j - but like how long did it take you to make your shoes?

r - it took a weekend morning.

j - a weekend morning? huh, well that's pretty...

r - and how old would i be if i didn't take a weekend morning? do you understand? it's obvious.

j - wow.

r - its so important, so fundamental to human being which was - handle thoughts, feelings, and raw materials well for a whole life cycle then die as opposed to 'let's buy, let's buy things, let's buy. digital crap.

j - do you make clothes for other people or mostly for yourself?

r - i take care of myself and my family when they need it and they're interested, you know, if my daughters want some clothes and then want a beautiful -

a - do you make dresses?

r - yeah, sure.

a - do you make underpants?

r - sure.

j - wow.

a - what kind of underpants?

r - it doesn't matter.

a - do you make bloomers?

j - so you just measure things and just...

r - oh yeah, sure. well, if you can do surgery, which is really working on the human form in all depth, from skin to bone, then first of all, it helps answer your question - are we rolling?

j - yeah, we're rolling.

r - it helps answer your question about why do i have these parallel pursuits, are they frivolous, are they time wasters, or do they carry over evenly?

j - well, not frivolous, are they hobbies or something integral?

r - i don't make a difference, i don't make a distinction between making a wallet

j - ...out of purple leather

r - right, so you know, i make a wallet out of here

a - you made this wallet?

r - of course. what am i going to do, buy a wallet?

j - we were just talking about wallets in...

a - we were just talking about wallets in the elevator

r - right, so what if i spent time looking for a wallet? what does that mean? what is that for? i mean, what would be the point of that?

j - understanding the range of wallet options, i guess.

r - yeah, but your wallet is in your head - you know where the cards go and where they...

a - well, suppose you have a really tight schedule and you don't have time to design a wallet?

r - you don't live, you don't live a life that excludes self-tending. you really don't. you make things here. you make things.

j - did you make your wedding ring?

r - yes.

j - oh, man!

a - did you make a wedding ring for your wife?

r - ah she just, she liked the one that she had and it's fine. no and i don't lay this on anybody, okay you're just asking me questions.

a - but if i were married to you, i'd want you to make me a ring.

r - if you were married to me, you'd be with a free-thinker who loves inventiveness, feels like humans have an infinite capacity for creative refreshment...

j - wow.

r - that we fail ourselves, our identity, our ancestry if we fail to create every day. if we don't get up at dawn, see the sun rise and see light on objects and then render a little bit, paint - whether its a peach or a flower or a landscape or a tree or a portrait, and then if we don't make some music and understand time and music as well as space, then we're gonna live lives that are indeed passive-dependent consumption of mass goods and mass media and its going to be a serious question of when is enough enough. in other words, when are you in traffic to go somewhere and buy something when you should be in the cave creating?

a - the cave?

r - right, and that really means - how do you take care of yourself and/or ask the world to be a surrogate parent? so, if you take care of yourself, then you've individuated, you tend your identity and you can work and live with thoughts, feelings, and raw materials happily, in style. and so my kids will say, "daddy...

a - daddy

r - you have a shoe form for us from toddler to adult and so let's make some real zippy little casuals. and then it's - what fabric, what shape, what form, how much spring in the step, and how are we going to do this? and then it all becomes very obvious, immediately, as soon as you put masking tape on here and then you start to draw a shoe, then you prototype it and if, you know, you want to prototype a shoe, you make a prototype, if its gonna be a canvas shoe, will it have some leather onlay, for example? will it be something like this where you take and upholster your sofa or your setee, or ottoman that you're gonna put your feet up on and do you want to match that? if you've got the fabric. if you're gonna be on the couch, a couch potato, for a minute, you want to be a matching spud, you can do that. but as soon as you don't explore all the joy and pleasure of doing all that stuff, you lose it. that's my feeling. now that's not for everybody and my way is not the only way. but i'm living the life of people centuries know?

j - yeah. you don't see yourself living the life that the future is urging us towards?

r - well, i enjoy it. i've mingled in digital media, to tolerance. that's important.

j - to tolerance.

r - that's really important. because i realized that as soon as you took silicon sand off the beach and turned it into a chip, you did something horrible to the cycle and rhythm of nature. because the rhythm of nature was waves washing over that silicon sand, ok? that's action and repose. which is like this, a series of cycles of action and repose. the wave, the peak, the troth, back and forth, the flow and ebb of tides, natural time and cycles and rhythms. digital time is reversed in so far as it is a no wait state of progressive chip speed increases waiting for the warm-blooded primate to escape natural rhythm and cycles and get into some giddy, frantic, digital squirrel wheel with an ironic plastic object that has no feelings.

j - testify, wow.

r - that's it. and then you add poor design to the digital interface and now you've got an even bigger mess.


j - right, now when you, i mean, this is like, that's quite a stream. have you read to inform yourself on that or is that...?

r - oh, i'm constantly reading. if you don't read a book or two a day or at least a book every other day, you're in trouble. you know that. you want to be reading all the time, i've read up anthropology, sociology, history, politics...

j - what did you major in in college?

r - well, i majored initially, started with english and then went to anthropology and then went to architecture and then went to biology and then finished up, and you know...

j - in four years?

r - right. and then, well, finished in three and half. i cut a half year off so i could go to europe and look at art. and then cut a year off med school, doing med school in three years instead of four without vacations so that i could have a year to think after that. and then went through six years of surgery residency then hand surgery training.

j - oh, so you, when did you know you wanted to do hand stuff?

r - well, as soon as it became obvious that the most broadly represented body part on the brain surface is the hand. i realized that the psycho-physcial aspect of being and broadly mapped and linked hand to brain was really where we are and why we are. cause we are human, manus hand, manual. and so basically wanted to be clear that i could work effectively on a mechanism that is broadly mapped on the brain because i'm interested and aware of the psychological feelings aspect of the patient's being and health and illness. and i'm comfortable working on mechanism because i practice high craft in so many areas from metal smithing to coppering to...

j - you didn't, you didn't pick that stuff up till after you were already in hand focus

r - well, i, no, i've been doing this for a lifetime - art and craft- equally, art, music, and craft for a lifetime.

j - it's just reflected on your resume in terms of your apprenticeships to these masters or what have you


r - right, right. i did it as a child, my mother was a goldsmith and a seamstress in addition to teaching elementary school.

j - where did you grow up?

r - in washington d.c. and in maryland. and so my mother was very patient, absolutely so, and trusted her art and her capacity to give it to us and she's talked about the fundamental beauty and wonder of using raw materials intelligently and never getting into overconsumption of things.

j - it almost sounds like quakerism or something, i mean, is there a...?

r - it's human origins, there weren't any malls for the cave man

art + science = ...

a - how does the knowledge of art and science inform each other?

r - well, you see, art is really understanding. art is toning your eyesight and understanding space, ok? - teaching your eyes to see and understanding space.

a - ok

r - science is really understanding a rational overlay on time and space - trying to explain, at least quantify, at least reproduce what you've seen, heard, and felt. so that's where the science comes in, so that you can archive the experience of the eyes and ears and other senses. and music has been important because the exploration of music has really been a pure study of time. teaching the ears to listen and studying time through music. teaching the eyes to see and studying space through art. so once you understand the time - space continiuum across music and art then you can understand the human frame of disease: dis-ease, which is a person ill at ease, meaning stress, meaning not fitting into self or world or having disarray internally - which is decay of space over time. all dis-ease is decay of space over time. so once you understand space as best you can, which is two and three dimensional art, and understand time as best you can, which in its pure abstract form is music, then you can very easily have the time/spacial framework to understand a fellow human who's troubled and teach that person, since doctor means teacher in medieval french, medieval latin, and middle english, teacher, teach a person to understand their trouble and hopefully to get out of it. And so that, my job really is to use the very positive frames of musical time and artistic space to get a patient to, at the very best, coexist with trouble, but more likely get out of trouble. I can balance the negative decay time frame and spacial disarray of medicine with my positive musical time and artistic space anytime and if i...

j - personally?

r - yes, but also for the patient cause i'm treating somewhat international population of very creative people right now and these are people at the pinnacles of whatever it is, whether they're symphony conductors, musicians, tailors, jewelers,...

j - all have hand problems

r - all with overuse from too much too often or too many and then they have these problems or acute injury. and the reason i was at sf general for nine years as you see from the resume, i was trained in thorasic abdominal pediatric vascular endocrine hand and micro and so i did it all. so if a kid's hit by a drunk driver and needs his liver put back together, spleen repaired, intenstines fixed, bones wired, i did that and it was really tight time frames in trauma care which was life death and disability --in your face, seven days a week, nine years - after training. and that was wonderful because i could really see the whole aspect of being from the least little baby with a congenial pediatric blockage of the stomach to an old man hit by a bus and dead, not retrievable. so seeing that, in spades, gave me terrific hope that people, if they're awake and alert do well and if they're not, they don't. and since most people sleepwalk through part of life and or into illness, it's a matter of gently awakening people to the enormous creative potential that we have each day.

j - so, is craft your meditation or is there some kind of extra meditation you do, i mean you talk about awakeness, that's exactly what people who meditate talk about, right?

r - that's right and it's a part of it, really a fraction of meditation which is really to have a creative fire that's burning brightly all the time.

j - see that's what i got off on the computer is that i felt like, with the device, with the keyboard, that the computer of today, and if i could afford it, the computer that i would have would allow me to make music and to make pictures, and to...without having to buy art supplies, i would have this one tool that would allow me to forge all these things in dialogue with thousands of people out in the world and the history of arts could be part of my images and this kind of giddy...

r - right

j - you know, and that's why, but, i don't know, so what

r - so you need real world linkages for that kind of function and you have to retreat from the digital quisinart and go back into the fundamental, hands-on, how its done, step by step, of putting together your life, from the ground up. that's why the metaphor of shoemaking is so important to me because i'm building my ease with comfort from the ground up, cause that's why my interface, the shoe, between me and the ground

how to learning

j - now all these people that you study with, like, when you've decided - i want to learn to make shoes - what do you do? when you decide -i want to learn to make shoes - what do you do?

r - you go to the public library and look at the shoe repairman's magazines for the past 15-20 years in hopes of getting something in the classifieds about shoemaking in addition to shoe repairing and then you get onto people in canada or the us or elsewhere, you get to germany where they have these fine little tools so that you can, once you have these various tools that you can work with, you get to sources, primary sources where they forge these things and then you talk to people who actually make things around the world and you say, 'could i come and visit you and see how you make things' and just do it, whether its going and meeting with the cherokee to learn silversmithing...

j - does that mean, when you say meeting with them, that doesn't mean a weekend...that means...?

r - sometimes, yeah, sometimes a weekend, or a day or half a week or something like that, whatever it takes to be absolutely sure that you've gone to a primary source, of somebody who can do something from ground zero. once you are there you know how to get there rapidly, and then you're fine. and it's very reassuring cause i've surrounded myself with people who know how to do things and are infinately positive

j - your patients, or?

r - my patients to a large measure, but my circle of friends: it's comedians, playwrites, actors, actresses, artists, composers,

j - not artisians so much

r - some, some, yeah, certainly some, but people who have really burned a creative fire their whole lifetime despite naysayers intruding. and so the company you keep, assuming you have a solid identity to begin with, is unbelievably important. you want to be with real people who can do real things in a professinal fashion without creative loss and that's what life's about. if you find those people then you have an appropriate group you can call and you can be certain. so if i want to learn the accordian, then i can find somebody to study with and be sure that, you know, i really understand fresh air and so does he. the whole process of learning and being is really one of seeking out the masters on a regular basis.

j - so it seems to me like i'm here because you're a master, like i've never run into anybody who does all this crazy sh... I mean ah, wow. so, you know i think, well, markison should be writing books or should be, you know, talking the, i don't know, should be like showing off his shoes, or something, i don't know, you know, like disseminating this kind of, i don't know, i don't want to turn you into some novel item but, i mean, your world view, your productivity rate, your emphasis on creativity is really something, um, i mean, i guess that's why i'm here writing this article, but it's something that's probably pretty important

r - thank you for your confidence, you know, as far important or not, you know i've been trodded down various venues for show and this know...this is. and primary sources*, right away, you know, you always want to read backwards so if i'm looking at...

j - wow, "the foot and its covering"

r - yeah, this is james dowey*, ok so here it is, 1871 in london. now there's only about 50 of these left in the world. but here's a man, james dowey, who talked about the ideal form of a shoe, ok? the bones of the foot, everything you're going to need to make a wonderful shoe for yourself, or a child or whatever. and so this is exactly where i go, i go to primary sources. if they're in an archival library somewhere in or out of town i go and read exactly what people read 100 or so years ago. i mean, its my obligation to myself if i'm going to be pure in my thought process - going step by step, raw materials to finished goods, on a personal basis - to really look at the ultimate history of everything i'm working on, whether its a clarinet forged in 1825 to its current form or whether its a saxaphone in 1845, aldolph sax, belguim, the evolutionary history of all tools and instruments that i deal with.

j - so i think about- well, wouldn't it be great if you could just take the contents of that book or the study of shoemaking and disseminate it down to its distinct parts or somehow craft some kind of tutorial that boiled it down to, you know, not a cliff's notes necessarily, but serving it up in modern language and easy to understand diagrams and taking advantage of the tools we have today for dissemination and publishing.

r - yes, well i understand exactly what your saying and part of it, and i hope i'm not circumlocuting because you know part of it

j - no, i think you're locuting, you're not circum


r - the idea of tools you know, if i want to learn how to play jazz, charlie parker was the greatest jazz player probably ever on alto sax and so if we wanted to..., what i'm leading up to, is that there's a certain amount of dues that have to be paid. and its a question of how painlessly you can pay dues. and so here's charlie parker, on easy to ride.....and there he was playing 1938

[markison plays a recorder along with bird on cd]

so that's dues, you have to pay dues. so did i listen to charlie parker once, who layed it down in the forties, profoundly for all of the rest of the humans who are willing to listen. so i can use a piece of tubing, one two three four five six seven eight nine holes and an infinite capacity for self-refreshment, soaking up brand new information if you're ready and willing. now could i teach people to do what i just did, of course i could, i could teach them from the time they're learning english as children, but would i also take away the search and the hunt and the joy and the flavor of finding charlie parker, the master alto sax player and just woodshedding it with him on a weekend where i just got all this records that were in print, 78s, LPs, and just closed myself in a room for 18 hours and just listened and finally became a friend who was flying in formation like a bird. then we're fine, then i'm done. i've paid my dues in that little venue.

j - its a membership, you have to keep paying your dues...

r - you've got to keep paying your dues, so i've constantly, in parallel dues and profitted enormously, i'm not talking about money, just spiritually from my unwillingness or willingness to fail countless times en route to minimal sucess.

pole vaulting

j - (laughing) what were you like in high school?

r - same way.

j - same way

r - if i wanted to learn how to polevault then i would study the bamboo pole vaulters in china before they got to fiberglass, then i'd go to robert pinnel and bob segrean who had the first fiberglass poles of great controversy in the late 60s , early 70s. and then get a fiberglass pole and then figure out how to pole vault, get higher and higher until it was so death-defying that i felt good that i'd gotten some place and then leave it

j - leave it

r - leave it cause it was dangerous and that's where you understand that as you pay dues there are seasons in life for everything that you're trying to achieve. just like i'd be a fool to start weight lifting at this point in my life. i did it in season, as a child.

j - if you have to take off

a - yeah, i have to go.

j - ok. thanks for taking pictures

a - ok. um

j - i'll see you

a - you'll find me?

j - uh huh

a - ok

j - ok

a - it was a pleasure

r - yeah, sure, i'm not doing anything different from anybody long ago

a - you really inspired me

r - thanks, i did what i could with what was left.

baboon humility

r - but you see, you're getting the point maybe a little bit and i know i don't want to seem mystical about any of this, because its really honestly something i believe fully that we're as good as our capacity to handle thoughts, feelings, and raw materials really well. and so if that's the material of medicine or the material of music or art or tailoring or sculpting or gem work or silversmith, or whatever it is, it's all the same to me, i'm just trying to thoughtfully wend my way through a lot of different media happily.

j - but i mean i guess what's astonishing then is, one your capacity for failure on the way to success.

r - love to fail. enjoy, i truly savor failure. much more than most.

j - but what do you, so is all this, do you have anything to do to relax, i mean what about typical american activities like tv and newspapers and you know, absorbing the stories from other people who

r - oh i'm not ego-centric. i come from very humble place with no arrogance in all of this, i meano i'm not the fount of knowledge, i'm observing stuff all the time, but it's better from a well thought out book, like i showed you, the year 1871, james dowey, then it is from people fighting on cross-fire on CNN. you know what i mean, cause those are people doing some ritual baboon fur picking in a non productive venue, descended the lineage, they're baboons.

j - (laughing) baboons, fur picking, yes

r - right, so i don't like to fur pick and so i always understand where there's true insight, inspiration, cognition, understanding, joy, happiness

creative output

j - do you write?

r - yeah, sure.

j - in a diary?

r - no, i just write when i feel like it.

j - moved on a subject

r - yeah

j - what do you do with it?

r - well i published it, i publish stuff and when they ask me to write an article for keyboard magazine, i publish that for keyboards and keep pianists out of trouble. and i've written a lot of informational stuff. i've written also, and, indeed as we talk we can go way back in the history of digital time and look at october 4, '88, nine years ago and see the thing on...and that was a long time ago, i mean that was probably before a lot of the multimedia stuff was coming out and

j - oh, yeah, sure. they're talking about the joy of the coming of the system 7, yeah, that was a long time ago.

r - system 7, yeah right, but its important because of the brief history to get an idea of how its evolved and how its growing on ........533 ok, right, page 20

j - you had a beard?

r - yeah, and by then i had sort of sculpted all of the external internal body anatomy and had all of this scanable stuff available slide onto screen and then digital.

j - oh wow

r - then into three d, two d, digital capture and make little nerve endings look like ju ju bs, but lining it up so that you could do a microsurgical repair of the nerves showing the spread of infections in the hands through stop-frame animation and video works before it became director and a lot of hypercard stacks and all this kind of stuff, to just kind of go as far as i could in the state of the art 1988 anticipating the evolution of digital media for the future. and then, just taking the whole little cabinet of dreams which still exists on various hard disks obviously of lesser capacity than what we've got now and just storing it knowing that i could be a multimedia developer all the way from original art to original music to original text and animated stuff. and i studied animation at sf state, so

j - and then you step back from it

r - you step back, exactly right. and it's not an approach/avoidance. it's approach get deep, get very deep, at the current state of the art, and then back off.

j - dartmouth medical school, alumni magazine, summer '89

r - yeah right, by then i had dissected cadavers from neck to fingertips, and neck to toes, layer by layer and then digitally captured either by video or slides digitally scanned and then went in and did retouches to animate the anatomy and the muscle tendon units and so on and various things and three d sculpted views to show how operations are done in the abdominal cavity

j - in the 80's

r - yeah and so did all the stuff i felt i wanted to and needed to do, and again, that was very productive charcoal drawings scanned in so i had minimal memory requirements cause you remember memory was

j - black and white, bitmaps, sure

r - this time just laying it out for the medical community so if someone wanted to develop multimedia teaching then they'd be able to do that with that current state of the art, which as you can see goes back a ways and so i went this far how to save life or limb in the first 20 minutes of major trauma surgery. saved it, saved it. and so ive got it saved and you're asking why not disseminate and i'm waiting, i'm just waiting to see. so obviously i've written stuff, or stuff's been written about me and the other materials

j - april 1994 keyboard [magazine]

r - right, and the word went out just again from a humble position on my part but with plenty of information about how to hopefully stay out of trouble and the drawings and so on that i did particularly for this and mingled with stories from others about their troubles and all these illustrations

j - wow

r - and then again bringing it out to what does the thumb do on the space bar of a keyboard and so on and you know, preventing trouble; categorically describing all the various maladies of musical limbs and going through it, so they could have it, and

j - its out there

r - yeah, its out there and then as other people have written things, like emil pascarelli and deborah was kind enough to spend a lot of time with

j - you're in the index quite a bit

r - and then, right, so when she writes another book

j - she sends you the proofs, the galleys

r - yeah, so if she wants me to write a little

j - blurb

r - yeah, that's right.

j - so what's the next one called?

r - so this is a forward and this is

j - recovering from RSI

r - so i basically can't, obviously, can't do it all myself but i do a fair amount and all my drawings and this is just what you just looked at and then that book

j - yeah

r - these have been published pretty

j - extensively

r - yeah, i think so

j - we've mentioned a number of arts and you're wearing a lot of art and you've mentioned a lot of art but you've also mentioned pole vaulting and digital media and some of the stuff you've entered more rapidly and withdrawn, so which ones have you maintained throughout?

r - i've maintained art, i've maintained music, i've maintianed craft at a high level and i've maintained an interest in looking at every potentially socially redeeming phenomenon carefully and sometimes becoming a developer within those. but when i really look at the core identity and its formation its again music which is forever, art which is forever, craft which is forever and then everything else is brought through those filters, that view. i will always be doing music, art and craft.

exercise, in season

j - what about physical exercise?

r - well, i'm just a great believer in walking and i think we're such a young country we tend to overdo the fitness idea and dressing up in spandex in front of background music in a subscriber gym and artifical environments. i mean we're basically around to take a swim and take a walk and

j - i started running a little bit. i feel like i like the circulation, upping circulation through my body

r - it's fine and you may be in the running season of your life. and i was and i was a long jumper and leaped as far as i could and did a lot of fun things athletically, competitively, including gymnastics. and so i did a lot of things in season and i'm out of season now

j - right, right, this is ecclesiatics. so, the season is, i just want to be sure that we get to some of the more tangible aspects, the questions in my interview about

r - let's go in the next room

pacing and pianists

j - the questions in my interview, i mean i don't really need to read them but they're a lot about what's going on with interface. i'm coming to this interview from a personal perspective, that is having seen you as a patient, being a person whose hands are screwed up and who's trying to figure out how i can work and why the computer might be such a deadly device or why i know other people who have, well, let me start with this - i asked about art tatum, jazz pianist, why didn't he have problems? why are there people who work for 12 hours on a computer a day for years and never have problems and then (snap) they get them?

r - right. well, the musicians who don't have problems are truly at ease with anything happening in their brain going on through their fingertips without any blocks, whether you're looking at it chinese-wise as chi energy blocks or whether you're looking at it as real uncertainty or lack of trust in self and heart. because the people who do stuff without any hesitation don't get strain. and its when you have moments of either doubt or ritual doing redoing too much too often without the sense and root desire to be efficient in self-expression then you will tend to get hurt if you overdo or redo and so sometimes people, despite the fact that they do beautiful work, just overdo it. so a guy like art tatum was an acknowledged genius and between art tatum and bill evans, these were the two great pianists of history. as far as i'm concerned. everything else is derivitive.

j - ok, that's interesting. huh. well, bill evans is more like the haiku which you were telling me about.

r - that's right, i think. but everything else is somewhat derivitive, and it's ok to be derivitive, if you can improvise you're fine, if you can't you're in trouble. and really again in darwin's universe where fitness is really defined as making it through potential struggle and ups and downs, based i think on creativity and improvisational skills. if you're hammering away at a keyboard and you keep trying to drill in a word and you're brain isn't filled with Roget's Thesaurus of synonyms and you don't have (snap) an instant new word, different word, just like me playing the little recorder flute thing for you, i had a gazillion ways to get from point a to b and c and back and frankly it didn't matter, it didn't matter at all, honestly

j - yeah

r - because i've paid my dues in chordes scales, rhythm harmony

his hand problems

j - but you've had hand problems

r - yes

j - because

r - the total aggregate of everything that i've done in my life, accepting my own fate and responsibilty in the course of it, in other words, i've had some mild left carpal tunnel sydrome for 12 years documented twice by electrical studies but wasn't severe enough to warrant release of the nerve

j - surgery

r - right. but i wouldn't deny it if it were necessary, i'd have a trusted collegue do it and that'd be fine. but i have a different sense of what life's all about. i accept the fact that we die in pieces, we start to decay in pieces, when i lost my hair towards the end of high school a little bit and then on through the twenties and then there's what you see now, except now gray through the 30s and 40s and its ok, that's all ok. because i've seen life, death, and disability again - its very hard, very hard

j - i would imagine working in an emergency room, losing your hair would be....

r - i'm very grateful to be alive every single day. there's nothing to make me regret it. and the shirt on my back is made by me. and that's a wonderful, reassuring, soothing every way to be.

j - so, let me ask you that about making stuff, you don't make the fabric you use.

r - no, i don't, except the felt. i do hand felting from carded wool from sheep.

j - ok

r - that's a scandanavian felting technique where you take take a washboard, some soapy water, some beautiful, sheared, clean, carded wool. then you rub it around and dip it in to make a matrix of felt. and then you make garments.

j - yeah, so you don't


r - i don't mill fabrics. you can't be absolutely pure in everything. cause, like i'm a vegetarian. have been long term, don't plan to go towards the animal kingdom any time soon.

j - no fish even.

r - don't need it. and so, which is great, fine, wonderful, i don't throw meatless energy at 20 feet of gut, trying to absorb undigestible goods. and so i've got plenty of creative energy cause i'm not throwing it at a gut level of primitive churning around to try to bring life back from a dead animal or product.

j - but sometimes i eat meat because it's got more substance, it makes me feel more full, it makes me feel like i have more animal energy to draw from.

r - again, my way is not your way. my general sense is that all dead animals resent it.

j - they do, they do, they do fight it, yeah, hum.

r - but it's ok. my way is not your way. i just avoid bad habits like nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine, animal products.


j - did you ever go through like a drug phase, like in exploring?

r - i have avoided all that stuff, because i thought it was not going to produce what i was trying to produce which is creative output, means rock solid in a number of contexts

j - yeah, rock solid.

r - i want to be a professional and that really means in the operating room being within lots of millimeter tolerances and there's no room for any intoxicants, ever, in the life span of a surgeon as far as i'm concerned. you take on a way of life, it's not plug in-plug out. you could define life as a path and a way, to see and learn and do, and so you don't need to have anything that's going to alter your set of senses that you use very carefully. you understand that, its okay, you just say no, that's my own precious view and again, my way's not the only way. i just think that creativity and improvised behavior and good company is what life's all about.


j - so what what then about the computer, i mean it's really taken hold, it's clearly going to permeate the household and the office even more so.

r - the market test for computing was the captive audience captivated by television. to what extent people would sit in front of the box and a screen and maybe have their family and friends around, its true that once chips came in then it would be a seller's market for computers. and that's what happened. and then as soon as they added a little interaction to it, it became more captivating. and so now what we have is captive folk who are tending now to think and say the same things based on prompting from the screen. and so people in a chat room coming out of kenya are not talking about the beautiful natural dyes that make kenyan fabric, they're talking about, where can i get a pair of nikes, cheap? which is ok but the homoginization and erosion of human identity that flows from linkages is significant. and so if you've had identity to start with, you'll be cautious about the wear and tear that it takes on identity period in human species.

j - well, i've seen digital space as a place for myself to create

r - that's right, and i don't knock it at all, cause you understand we're birds of a feather to some extent as far as you've seen that i had to more than fiddle with this stuff to get all this teaching material down and then i make a statement. but i'm cautious about it, got to approach avoidance with it, which is really to tolerance, to tolerance not having a web page, not having... people can find me - i've never advertised me a day in my life everybody's found me and i'm grateful for their confidence, and yours including - i will never advertise under any circumstances ever. i will never do that. and that's good because i know that i'm not putting myself out as mass goods. i accept the fact that the media will take me out, and i have been on things that you saw, you know, macniel lehrer, smart questioning coming from good interviewers. and again i appreciate the confidence. my role, if there is one, in society is to gently nudge people to do better with themselves and in the case of computers with the interface, cause computers are dreadful design on a good day. and if that's true, why are they and why are they still?

j - yeah, why are they still?

r - and this is based on, if you saw the triumph of the nerds on kqed, it was about the evolution of the computer, starting from the homebrew computer club that you know about onwards to things that suddenly had a keyboard and later had a mouse once they took the thing out of xerox parc and apple put it together

j - and doug englebart and all that

r - yeah that's right,through the 60s on. all that stuff was really making the human primate end user an afterthought. they wanted a binary system with rapid switching devices and then the primate who operates it is an afterthought. human factors have limped along because the average industrial designer/ engineer has never dissected the human body and/or seen it in health and disease.

j - but here we are and we're aware of it and you're here right, so do you work and do you take that knowledge you have and work in conjuction with people who design, the engineering end of things?

r- it's there for anybody who's real and reasonable to call me and say, we have a project at the drawing board level and we'd love to work with you. i'm available for that, i have been used in various ways where people have tried to buy my endorsement for a shrinkwrapped shitty(shady?) product

j - oh, that's a little different, yeah right.

r - and that's basically the essence of the giddy computer marketing arm. they say let's run it by markison if we have his stamp then that might mean it's user friendly and i'm not the underwriter of the human body, and i don't hold myself as the ultimate authority on this stuff, but ive just seen all the mistakes made so often repetitively and in the occassions where i've invited industrial designers to chat on my nickle for lunch, just to say 'why are you making these mistakes' with hand intensive

j - yeah, again and again

r - middle finger intensive, hand intensive, twisted limb intensive interfaces - could you would you? are you interested in learning something? but they 'ah well things are going pretty well right now, its ok cause we can write off 15 plus percent of end users and the other 85% of a big market are ok'

j - so they don't get stressed out and they don't have problems yet

r - that's right and so it's really a question of where were shoes, again, i keep getting back to shoes, we didn't define left and right shoes until the mid 19th century, we didn't define shoe patterns until the 19-teens and '20s standardized for men and women and children, so now in the latter 20th century we still don't have the two tenants of industrial design which are choice and or adjustability for keyboards and the whole setup and everything else. we're willing to enslave the most broadly represented body part on the brain, the human hand, to a cursor pointing device. i mean, when Elias howell was working in the sewing maching in the 1860s he said, let's have a foot treadle so that we don't wear out the upper limbs making black fabric, with a foot treadle. when the automobile was invented it could go plenty fast, with a foot pedal. and so we haven't even done things that would be appropriate for the end user. we're not even thinking about it, it comes from bits and pieces from small entity inventors,

j - yeah, exactly

r - who are ultimately infringed by well capitalized big companies as their ideas are diluted. and as a gargage guerilla, meaning an inventor who can really solve problems in a gargage, i'm sensitive to the fact that it's not a good time to be an independent free-thinking inventor in america. it was, during the time of the founding fathers, but now its a very predatory environment

j - hmm.

r - and so most things are done in a quick and dirty fashion, plenty of capital behind it and then they're made offshore where no there's no prayer of prototyping adquately for people of all sizes, shapes, ages, abilities, disabilities. and so if you can't have the learning lab onshore where we make things that are really intelligent and look 5 -10 -20 years ahead, then we're going to be hideous - fated to recreate bad designs, which in some cases can be career-shortening bad

j - and what we're also going to have is a burgeoning hand and wrist specialist profession of all the people who are working to heal all the people who are crippled from the use, the overuse of their hands and arms. as soon as i developed my hand problem, i've been approached by a woman who told me to strap magnets onto my wrists, it'd be the way to address my problem and as well i've had little electrical currents sent through my muscles and i mean, burning needles with herbs on the ends, i mean, you know....

r - and i don't like to see that, my goal, as you've probably gathered, is not to be needed. my goal is not to be needed. i mean some practicioners in the allied fields of medicine will say, yes i can help you with accupuncture three times a week in perpetuity and then when you die, i give you a price break. and that's not good and as a patient passive-dependent consumer of your knowledge or hands-on technique, so again, its partly not information that can presumably get people out of trouble. and if there isn't a good interface to go back to, then it's a question of, do you offload the limbs to the voice for example, do voice-recognition at a halting pace? do you incorporate little hands-free mouse for the foot with a foot mouse? and what do you do if you're going to be mingling in the digital arena? can you dictate to handle information and have someone come in and take the dictation? so it's raised basic questions but until we get to the true design issue of how do we make a good interface, and really think it through. again, you know, you've got a 7 year old in elementary school with a grown-up full-size keyboard and some pushy teacher says, learn touch typing and he's trying to spread a little finger to perimeter keys. then you understand there's ignorance in the whole process and so on an anthropological level, and again the reason i studied and study anthropology is to see that some basal joint where a joint in the wrist 45,000 years old in the context of 1.2 to 1.8 million years of hand-wrist evolution. the new kid on the block, subject to battery, if i had an iq of anything would i make a space bar that thrashed this new joint in the human hand and then wore it down in the middle age person, mostly women, needing sometimes joint replacements? or would i rethink, how do you make space between words? i mean there are many things that could be done that are not being done that are really not expensive to do. and so seeing these constant mistakes with some hope and naive optimism as i was a multi-media developer in the late 80s, i'm losing faith in the capacity of industrial designers to design for humans. and that really means, do we become the dumbest species in history, self extincting by the destruction of the upperlimbs?

j - plug in, plug out, yeah

r - well, do we self-extinct through loss of the upper limb capacity and it took us so much evolution to get to the human hand, do we devolve based on dis-abling design? and that's the issue - are we too stupid to design happily to maintain brain hand linkages in a divine, precious system so that we get what we deserve because we're idiots?

j - this sounds like a manifesto or something that you would raise from the

r - well, these are gentle, gentle questionings about who we are and how we do things

j - well, 35% of american homes have computers now

r - right, well, we don't have one at home

j - oh, really

r - yeah,

j - but you have two at the office

r - right, one for voice and one for running the front end of the thing and i'm not doing any multimedia development until i see that there's a reasonable interface for a guy who's more than half-way through his life with carpal tunnel syndrome to get back there and make more stuff, meaning me. so i'm not going to do much computing at all in the foreseeable future until i see that the interface...

j - you mean pen and voice aren't enough to get you back on?

r - no they're not, no

j - i can't

r - all my media, you know i do all my media in real charcoal and airbrushing, and pastel, and all that, sculpt clay, but i just don't like to sit in front of a computer. i don't like to stand in front 'em, kneel in front of 'em, i don't like to get near 'em. i mean i do it to tolerance cause i'm still academically active and publishing chapters, and some articles. i don't like 'em. and i'm very grateful that i've cultivated dictation skills so that all the words can be me on the dictaphone and somebody comes in and transcribes it onto a computer

j - then they're the ones...yeah, i started doing dictation but then i think about, then i'm asking other people to bear my injuries for me.

r - that's right, you do that. and you have to figure if there's any bartering you can do.

j - hm. well, what then, you read my questions i guess, i run into people who have hand problems, work through them, they get worse and then they're cut open more than once. they're getting lots of cortizon shots. the prospects are dim for people who, not only are working with poor devices, but need to work with them for money and can't work with someone like you who is enlightened and going to open up, you know...

r - well, ok, going down the list just so we're sure we haven't missed anything. and i'm on your list right now. ask if it was playing music that encouraged me to work with hands and why have i specialized in hand/wrist and i think i've mentioned that -

j - you mentioned that, yeah

r - ...the most broadly represented part of the human brain...

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

j - what about anti-inflammatories?

r - i think they're over-prescribed and overused and the hidden problems are liver and kidney problems, the more obvious problems are stomach problems and they're just going to cover up immflamation, not really good for you and unfortunately the knee-jerk response of many practicioners who treat repetitive strain injury is to splint and drug the patient 'til they go away

j - the patients or the problems right? so what about arnica?

r - it can be helpful as a topical anti-inflammatory

j - yeah, that's one thing that i found great, cause i never use advil ever, but i use arnica all the time

r - can be helpful. absolutely, worthwhile. ok so "you're trained as a western doctor alternative medicines or treatments

j - well that's what i've asked, just some of the vitamins, arnica, stuff like that

r - that's it, that's it, ok so you've run into people

j - i've asked about this, we've covered this

r - i don't say there's no place for steroid injections and i don't feel there's no place for surgery, but, i operate on a small fraction of patients with repetitive strain or cumulative trauma and it's gone. as far as a national listing [of hand doctors]? no, we have the american society for surgery in the hands and frankly not all of us are interested in cumulative trauma or repetitive strain.

j - yeah

r - and it is debated, even within the field of upper limb specialists as to whether it exists other than the unhappiness of people who don't like their jobs. i mean in the worst polar biased view on repetative strain is just simply complaining people who are unhappy. and it's all psychological and minimally physical.

j - well, regardless of the problem, right, that's what, that's that key,

r - it's a problem...

j - so how do you answer that

r - it's a problem that won't go away and every cumulative trauma is a psycho physical matter. the psyche lead the person into either the wrong job or just too much of it. and then the physical aspect of it was, are they cut out to do that particular work? and not everybody's cut out to do every job. not coincidental that football players stop when they're 30. there's some things, you just run out of touchdowns, you run out of the keystrokes, you run out of something. that's either ok or not ok depending on how you put bread on the table. but i think some people are geared to doing it long term, as you mentioned art tatum, some people are not. and it's really a matter of how you handle information, and how much brain, how much hand,

j - yeah

r - you dont want to endlessly enslave your hands to activity that's not productive. more brain, less hands, i mean at anything - whether you're a musician or,

j - or very much like you said, haiku, so hm

r - that's right, you express yourself with minimum words

j - it's a question of, so, you know, i have friends, they all say, 'oh, my arms hurt', you know they're working, i tell them 'ok, take breaks, you gotta take breaks, you gotta change your behavior' - now, but is that, when you're working on the computer and your hands begin to hurt, what do you do then? is that the time to go see a doctor, is that the time to..?

r - no, no, unless its a lingering problem where it doesn't go away overnight, and doesn't go away over a weekend then you might see someone. taking breaks is sage advice, staying very moist, well-hydrated so at least you take pee breaks is very important... and shedding stress, learning how to breathe, learning some form of medication that can be on the spot - just right there do it - close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, imagery of warming your hands so they're fit to work, unraveling muscular tension between neck and fingertips, understanding how much the keyboard stuff is necessary and how much it is not. cultivating ambidexterity for use of perimeter keys, being able to get alternative devices like the split keyboard or perhaps the foot mouse, whatever. whatever you can do to offload upper limbs and not enslave them, again repeating some of the things we've already said, but just think if you're still intense that you're way forward with head and limb that you're going to start to crush nerves and vessels and above and below the collarbone and if you start to do that, by head and limb forward postures, in the name of getting toward the box, and the keyboard, and the mouse, then you're in trouble

j - but when are you doing permanent damage? is that an issue?

r - it may be an issue and its just a question of how long symptoms linger. if they linger more than overnight, and it's night after night after night, then you may be doing some damage, but the problem is, on a scientific level, its not quantifiable, you can't go in and take tissue, run it under a microscope and see obvious inflammation. when you take tissue out of these limbs, it generally doesn't show anything and so it's hard to know, except for the psycho-physical aspect of being

j - yeah, there's no external signs of this kind of stuff, right?

r - right. there are aches and pains and when aches and pains get to be more than that, and they linger, then you're going to have to fundamentally change your ways and that's very vague and not quantitative. as far as permanent damage, i've now had follow up since 1982 when the IBM PCjr was mass distributed, that was 15 years ago, in '82, so now, 15 years later i've seen people who've made good changes and are doing fine but most of them are not at the pre-injury computing level.

j - oh, i see

r - nor do they seek to be because they see it as the fire and the cause and the injury.

j - i've shifted my behavior enormously since, i've gone, i try, i first, i healed somewhat after i saw you and then i tried to return to that level and that was wrong and i injured myself again and so now what i've done is i've moderated my behavior to shortened sporadic, you know, well breaked, well hydrated use of the computer but it doesn't seem like, i'm not seeing results in weeks, it seems like months or years from now until the pain ....

r - you get RSI and it's foolish to think that six months is going to do it, its more like one to two years like tennis elbow is one, two or three years. if you want to naturally heal tennis elbow in one, two or three years,

j - wow

r - and so most people in this giddy phase of impatience and no weight state with rapid chips don't understand good old patience and good old natural time but its there and it takes a long time

j - but i can't think of what i could do to be creative or to be productive without my upper limbs.

r - right, would that you had asked that question before you go into intensive computing. we don't know what we've lost 'til we're losing it. and so you're in a position where your self-rescue can be a good steady one cause you're a smart guy. people who aren't smart have fewer options and so you really have to take stock of identity, iq, and whole history - you know where you've been, where you are and where you will be

j - but i think i could take up sculpture but i don't know how that would be for my hands or i could take up house...

r - depends on the medium, depends on the medium, if you're doing fine little sculpture and you know, you're working in a warm media where you're not doing cold stuff, throwing it on a potter's wheel. you could do some sculpture, certainly you could

j - so i have to consider, if its not fine motion, right, it's not

r - some of it, it's not going to be relentless fine motion, you can certainly do sculpture with some tools and there are videos on how to use them

j - but gripping a hammer, building a house - that wouldn't be...? i mean all these things, i guess anything in moderation becomes ok?

r - more power tools, yeah more power tools. there's some wonderful power tools out there, i mean .....use a screwdriver

j - what about learning the piano? i thought about learning the piano.

r - yeah, but if you're learning the piano, you know, here follow me and then we got to close off

j - yeah sure you bet this is the last series of questions i think.

r - yeah sure but you know if i were going to

j- or the guitar for that matter

r - yeah, right. if i were going to do piano, then i'd get a synthesizer where i had something reasonable so that i could go, instead of this i could go like this , and then go and i'm looking at it and the rest will be dark. and you see what i've done here, i mean i'm not even playing it but i know exactly what i did, i know the blacks, i know the whites, i know relative positions of fingers and i could sleep on what i just did, good or bad. and that would be the end of it. so then i've really learned something and really looked at it infinite number of times since its self-storing and self-recording so then i don't have to do this ritual, oh well god i didn't do it didn't do it didn't do it, i'd say, yeah,that was 20% good. i flunked 80%, lets go for 30% tomorrow.

j - but its much more studied, its much less the rote action of pounding the piano, much more the consideration of , huh, ok

r - that's fine, that's why i got that, its wonderful, beautiful, beautiful .... but its self recording

j - its a yamaha what?

r - TSR420

j - and what? i guess to have email but you don't spend more than 15 minutes a chunk on the internet?

r - yeah, a day, or every other day 15 minutes maximum online.

j - like surfing the web or something. cause this interview is for a website and part of the website is where people can read the article and then put up a question or something like that, saying 'oh dr. markison, 'i read this, but what about this?''

r - it's going to be tough to respond to any of this and i feel bad about it

j - well, i didn't ask you to respond because i know how taxing your time is

r - can't do it, but, i can't open the floodgates to letters and email right now. i'm too busy, but in reference to some articles, the keyboard article, you know, some other stuff might be helpful and that's in the cv. as far as other ways to get through, you know there are online things and i don't frankly agree with a lot of stuff you see sore hand and other things that are kind of on-line groups for repatative strain injury. some of the stuff's interesting, some people are just angrily flailing around about their limbs, but i, i hope to write more and my input will be more evident in deborah quilter's forthcoming book and that's a few months away 'living with it, recovering from it'. if there are any people out there who are really interested in design and really want to think about how to design, i might or might not be interested but i'm constantly looking for people who are smart enough to know that they know nothing. and that's when you really meet a smart person, they admit they know nothing and they're willing to start at ground zero and learn. and in my own thinking, my own sign, i think of a glimmer of intelligence is that i'm willing to wake up every day and know that i know absolutely nothing. and unfortunately there's too much hubris and too much conceit and arrogance in big industry right now. with their "not invented here" syndrome and everything else, to say, 'we don't know anything and we're proud of it. let's learn something, let's go back really to the beginning

j - and we can offer ourselves

r - nobody'll do that any more. too much proprietary knowledge has only lead to injury,

j - too much what?

r - proprietary knowledge, you know, smart people say, 'oh we've got the goods on everything already and it all starts here'. we don't need to look outside

r - that's a dangerous way of being i think. we are where we are with poor industrial design in the field of computing because too many people thought they knew a lot. and none of them knows anything, any day of the week. that's why the relentless learning. constant curriculum, constant pick your syllabus, go to primary sources, hopefully find some living masters and study in enormous depth before you put your hands on anything. then you're fine. i didn't make a pair of shoes until i studied the history of shoe-making. until i watched a lot of shoes made. didn't do it, i didn't play the clarinet until i really listened to benny goodman, artie shaw, the great classical clarinetests, i wouldn't do it, i'm not going to do anything until i've really surveyed the landscape. that should be the way we learn and be as far as i'm concerned.

j - i'm much more of a, i'll try to make a purse and that'll be my way to understand purse-making

r - that's good, that's good but you can do a lot of hand use - abuse - overuse

j - by not precognising?

r - forethought preceeding actions, that's the way

j - i can deal with that, wait - when's your birthday?

r - august 29th

j - what year?

r - oh, i can't tell you that

j - oh, you can't? well, you graduated...i'm just trying to...

r - 1950: mid-century

j - wow, huh.

r - i'm very grateful, by the way, for being alive, i really mean that.

j - i know

r - in the most sincere sense. i'm probably one of the happier people you'll meet despite what i've seen. and the ultimate gratitude for simply being alive, shrinking away, in a rude impatient world. i'm very happy to be alive and a lot of people don't say that everyday, with or without aches or pains

j - with or without aches or pains. and you have one daughter?

r - 3 daughters - 5, 8, and 10.

j - wow

r - and they're wonderful, creative free-thinkers which is what i want.

j - wow. well, congratulations. here we are. thank you so much for your time.

r - yeah, sure, you know its a pleasure, justin. now just send me the stuff, a hard copy or whatever...

j - a hard copy, yeah, right. i've got about an hour of tape here, maybe a little bit more and i'll give this to someone and they're going to type it up and then i will, um, probably edit it and put it in sequence, put it in articles with amy's photos and then see what comes out of it and i work for this magazine, i'm self-published mostly on the internet but i do this work for these people because its a different venue, broader venue so i think what will probably happen is that selected quotes of the interview, the short digestable chunks will end up on their site and then a couple months later i'll put more of the entirety of our talk

r - which magazine, say?

j - oh, its called electric minds, you got a press kit, right?

r - no i didn't

j - yeah, you did, they said they sent you a media kit

r - do we have an electric minds media kit? maybe i didn't know what that was

s - electric minds what?

j - electric minds media kit.

r - ok

s - uh uh

j - it was a white folder with a, i could actually show you the logo but anyway

r - don't send me another one if you did

j - ok

r - sorry

j - so you do have a problem with paper? what would you say like your one problem is? i mean, you've got your hubris, you got your...

s - keeping his office organized

r - lots of problems

j - keeping your office organized?

s - keeping his office in there, organized. no, i'm just kidding.

r - i think the, uh....i won't say anything. i'm happy to be alive.

j - (laughter)

r - how's that?

j - hey, that's great

s - i could tell you some things

j - well, sure, that's why the interview's over, right? ok

r - tell you the truth, its patients unlike you who don't want to be well and don't want to do well - people with self-destructive impulses who carry it into the office and want me to be mom and dad and take care of them cause they've failed to grow up, individuate, develop identity, heal themselves, stay well and so only a small fraction of patients really honestly want to ask questions you've asked of yourself so what i don't like is people who really don't want to be at their best because they're copping out on themselves in the worst possible way and they're always self defeating.

j - well, do you tell all your patients about your clothes and your pottery and your musical instruments?

r - no, no, no.

j - because...

r - i look into their minds and hearts and try to figure out what they need and what they can handle

j - what they can achieve, yeah

r - that's right. because my way is not the way but anybody can do what i've done.

j - whew. thank you yoda. wow. okay, so i might be in touch if there's a title i can't clarify and if you have any thoughts that, you know. ok, thanks.

markison | hands | body | justin's links