CPE Reflection

Looking back to when we were assigned the CPE, nearly half a semester ago, I remember thinking: Wow, I could do anything. There are so many possible routes. I started off with too many questions, questions about things that I wasn’t even all that interested in investigating. Then, in our initial discussion, you helped me to gather my thoughts and point me in the more focused direction of taking a deeper look at the way we communicate with others and considering what is different about those relationships because of how we interact.

Then I got way off track for a bit. Started going down the road of writing an introduction for a photography book, getting caught up in what might be said about photos using words. With a few false starts on that idea, I realized that this wasn’t going anywhere, like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole kind of deal.

After that I thought it would be a good idea to engage the neighbor lady—knock on her door, write her a letter, and speak with her on the phone. She had mentioned in one of our conversations that she had been going through old photographs and throwing out the ones of people she no longer recognized. This was intriguing to me, but it turned out I didn’t have the energy to follow through on stopping by before the end of the semester. We’ve spoken several times on the phone since, and I will follow through eventually. I had to let that idea go, too.

Back to what I ended up referring to as “the nature of communication.” It seemed natural to dive into this after all. After Thanksgiving, I started reaching out to friends and asking them about their tendencies—How do they prefer to keep in touch with people? What is it like to doing so through social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, texting and phone calls, letter writing and spending time in person? What is different about the relationships as a result of having so many ways of communicating at our fingertips?

Turns out, people are overwhelmed sometimes. I took a step back and analyzed my personal relationships—What sort of effort was I putting in to staying in touch with my friends? It wasn’t a matter of how great or poor the quality of the friendship is, rather a reflection on how we choose to be active or inactive. Ghosting was an interesting new term that I discovered when listening to a podcast that was recommended to me by a friend during a personal interview.

The images and writing that I incorporated into my CPE are somewhat personal which is why I did not choose to post my project online. The handwritten letters, the email and text messages. I also described a recent social gathering in attempt to capture the sort of interaction that occurs wen we are in the same room with people; what happens when we show up and decide to be present with others. How is that different than using somewhat incomplete sentences to respond to a text message, or simply click on peoples’ photos?

I did not incorporate audio or video like I imagined I might. It made sense for me to stick to the prose. I think I spent quite a bit of time considering other ideas, and then life and my other classes and assignments came down hard at the end, making focusing even more challenging. Time management is something that was a problem for the first time really. I had to hold on to my intention to finish in order to do so. Finishing what we start is what it’s about. I learned that I can only stretch myself so thin, and that in the end it is all about getting the work done. Though my process getting traction on this project was trying, it was an achievement to finish, to pull through. I did this by getting outside of my comfort zone and examining what I was familiar with from another angle and reaching out to others to gain outside insight on the nature of communication.

Johnson-Eiola Response

At the beginning of his chapter, “The Database and The Essay,” Johndan Johnson-Eiola reminds us what writing is: the creative production of original words in linear streams that some reader receives and understands, and that the key question to address is: where does writing some from? (200).

It seems that the focus of many of the readings for this class has been to suggest that writing comes from other writing, texts rely on other texts, and though the push toward what Johnson-Eiola calls “commodification” of writing (as “a depressing trend”) (216), it is symbolic-analytic work that allows us to see the value in new ways of writing in response to the breakdown of textuality (201).

It takes a certain part of my brain to accept this approach to thinking about writing. It’s much “easier” to think of it in terms of originality, as means of creating something that is unique and whole all on its own. The example of “web logs” or blogs (a new etymological fact for me) demonstrates this conundrum in that this format is somewhat defined by the “incessant dispersal—the constant centrifugal force that encourages readers to click links and move away from their current location” of information, which “suggests an ironic reversal of a traditional diary’s attempts to unify the writing subject by making the subject both speaker and listener” (216).

I must admit that the way I tend to read (and listen perhaps) is fragmented in that I notice how my brain picks up on certain sentences (or phrases in dialogue), and holds on to them and derives value from them as separate entities. What I mean is, it’s often hard for me to hold focus with the entirety of a discussion like Johnson-Eiola’s, and I latch onto (receive) certain things he says—specific linear streams of words—and make my own meaning (understanding) from them.

The last example—diary vs. blog—hits home in that sense. My approach to writing, where my writing comes from, is directly related to the way in which I process information. For instance, when I hear something I like I write it down. Often when I see something I like, I take a photograph of it. I capture that one moment in so many words or in an image, and though it merely a sliver of a much larger experience, it still counts and has potential to become something even greater and completely different.

“Meaning derives from relationships and articulation,” our professor, Doug Downs, wrote in the margins of this reading (202). When I saw this, my first thought was that this could be applied to not only our relationship with writing, but with our relationships with other people (and ourselves). Sometimes when I get stuck on the page, I refer to a bit of advice I received from a mentor: Write one true sentence. Easier said than done of course, but to express truth requires articulation. And to be articulate requires our abilities to draw on what it already out there, floating around in a sense, enhance it (capture the essence of it) and send it back out into world.

I will end this blog post with my favorite sentence from this chapter: “Contemporary ideas in our field indicate that writing is not solely an individual act (or even largely), but a social one; new ideas and texts do not spring from the brow of isolated writers, but are developed intertextually from bits and pieces already out there (200).

Online Commenting Comments

“The psychologists call it ‘deindividuation.’ It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed.” And, “The implications of those liberties, of the ubiquity of anonymity and the language of the crowd, are only beginning to be felt.”

For me, these two sentences summed up Tim Adams’s article “How the internet created an age of rage.”

It reminds me of a featured article in the latest issue of Outside, that speaks out against cyber-bullying in the form of Instagram comments. I must admit that my first reaction was, “Oh brother. Are you serious? Why are these athletes (who make their living off their sponsorships, who are probably required to have accounts for that reason) taking these comments so seriously?” Well, I decided to try and put myself in their shoes, and perhaps now also Stewart Lee’s shoes, and consider for a moment how I might feel if people asked me how many cocks I had to suck in order to get on the cover of some magazine. I’d probably delete the comment and move on. Cyber-bullying, like a lot of things in life, too, gets old though. And I have compassion for these people who are having to deal with such bologna. What a waste of time it must be to pilfer through comments and delete the nasty ones, for instance. It is, unfortunately, another example of how our world is slipping away from itself.

Of course, I’m still speaking from a position of someone without a social media account. I do have this website though, and if I’m being completely honest, it freaks me out that now people can Google me and pictures from this website pop up. Whatever, though. I certainly don’t spend time worrying about who is commenting what, whether or not they are some internet troll or some asshole in the Bay Area. I feel lucky, relieved, and possibly more accepted because of this perhaps.

It seems to boil down to respect and reputation. It already requires a great deal of energy to maintain character in person, and it seems now we must stretch ourselves even thinner to keep our online lives in tact. Sigh. It’s abstract. It’s complicated. It’s even harder to do, I’m sure, when thousands and thousands of users have access to a comment feed, each one with their very own precious opinion about a posted picture.

I like how this article ends because it stresses that writers need to own their work (and I guess we should count minimal word count comments, too): “Generally, though, who should be afraid to stand up and put their name to their words? And why should anyone listen if they don't?”

People tend to be quick to judge as it is, and being the well-practiced swipers and double-clickers we have become, I believe this bad habit has been silently encouraged.

Let us all strive to become more aware, articulate, and perhaps most of all, nice. 

True Enough

Try as I might, books similar in style as Farhad Manjoo’s True Enough drive me up the wall with their endless real-world examples—reminding me of a genre I was exposed to in excess while in high school, that is, leadership. Incorporating such scenarios are necessary to help the reader understand the author’s angle/point—“how modern communications technology has shifted our understanding of the truth” (224)—but it was an intense, all-encompassing effort, I thought. Style isn’t really the point here, I know.

I found myself particularly drawn to the elements of psychology in the beginning chapters of this book. Selective exposure, as a coping mechanism, for instance. “An idea that goes far in explaining why narratives with so little basis in fact […] can now so effortlessly enter our political discourse” (29).

Farhad’s example of the Dartmouth-Princeton football game was also quite telling of the lenses that we wear in life that are so fixed that trying to watch a game from the perspective of the opponent is almost impossible. I’ve heard before that football is a good metaphor for life, and I like how he simplifies it here: “Football […] is a lot of people doing a lot of things together over a series of overlapping time spans, and the thrill of it is that on some of these time spans there is so much going on that it’s hard to know what’s important and what’s not” (69). It’s a social occurrence, he says, and while it might not seem difficult to digest or form an opinion over a single occurrence, that simply is not the way it works in life or in a game. It’s the “stratified structure” that is responsible for the opposing teams’ reality. “[…] not everyone finds the same things significant;”simply: people are paying attention to different details (70).

In the beginning of the book, Farhad states that “changing your beliefs isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun. Sometimes you have no choice” (30). He ends, “Choosing means trusting some people and distrusting the rest. Choose wisely” (230). This class has prompted me to seriously consider the choices I have made in terms of exposing myself to information/news. For instance: deleting my Facebook account in 2012. What have I missed? A lot, certainly. I don’t have personal experience with Facebook filtering what news pops up on my feed. Am I equally disturbed by this issue as a result? I don’t think so. I don’t have television; therefore, I don’t have that quick easy access to top stories, and tend to be slow to find out. I’m not proud of this, in fact, it’s concerning. I do listen to the radio, and read the paper on occasion, but my computer is my source of news, and I feel as though I have a degree of control over what I look at there. My iPhone, on the other hand, prompts me while in the middle of doing life, when a particularly jaw dropping, usually awful, event occurs in the world, such as an act of terror, stopping me in my tracks, causing me to wonder, What in hell is going on?

Weapons of Math Destruction

Here I go again: making a comment about my approach to the assignment. I looked at the syllabus this morning and discovered that I did not have in my possession Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction; it wasn’t available at the MSU Bookstore when I went there two months ago. Shoot, I thought, I wasn’t planning on going to campus today. When I clicked on the link to the book from our class website, under the required reading section, it took me straight to Amazon. The webpage in front of me said something about how I had a free-trial of Audible available to me, for one month. Perfect, I thought. How nice was that? I didn’t have to leave the comforts of my own home and desk, and I could listen to O’Neil’s matter-of-factness all the way to Belgrade and back, at the barn while I groomed and picked up after my horse (not while riding!), more driving (best if the phone is upside down in a cupholder to be heard over road noise), and even while chopping vegetables and cooking dinner I listened. Two birds with one stone, it seemed. Needless to say, highlighting and marginal notetaking didn’t happen. Though this method is free (until I forget to cancel the at-the-ready subscription), as well as my first go at audio booking, I wonder how effective it is for me. Let’s see.

First of all, I’m intrigued. She seems pretty well-versed in a couple of ideas (pretty big ones), so far, that have suffered destruction. Education, finance, and law. In the introduction she gives an example of a teacher who, until the method of evaluation changed, was a fine educator in a low-income school district. Reports from students and parents continued to be positive, as in years past, but the new data proved otherwise. I thought it was interesting to be reminded of the fact that it is the private, more privileged institutions that engage in person to person evaluations, while the others get grouped together and analyzed by machines. Machines that are programmed to do specific things, things that don’t take into consideration feedback that makes a real difference. O’Neil concluded that this teacher’s poor evaluation resulted in yet another loss for a school district that really needs good teachers, and another gain for the private institution that hired her.

This makes me think about the way MSU asks its students to evaluate instructors. I recall having to do more than select A, B, C, or D…for some professors anyway. It seems to be most effective when the instructor sets time aside during scheduled class time to do this, making it clear to the evaluators the importance of such effort. What about other surveys though? I can’t think of any other kind of online feedback that I really take the time to complete thoughtfully and thoroughly. My patience is so slim, I’ve noticed, that the most I’ll answer is two pages of questions (multiple choice) before I close the windows and shut my computer. For example: Who does Delta think I am? I don’t have time for this. It’s a privilege to travel, I think, to have a computer. Slam. Behaviors...

From what I've gathered, it must be quite difficult to incorporate practical, ethical qualities into algorithms. Thank goodness O'Neil has spoken out and shed light on the ties these algorithms have to injustice in our society. What an interesting/infuriating time to be alive. 

Infographic Reflection

 

Oh boy. This assignment took me right back to design school, and, as you can see, it ain’t my forte. That’s not to say it couldn’t be; yes, this is reluctance by choice. The best part of all this though is that I did enjoy the process. I had an idea on Tuesday—to do something about the USPS—started the “infographic” on Wednesday, and spent the time I allotted to complete the project. Life is busy, and prioritization is a necessary fact.

I made this in Powerpoint. Yikes. I was nearly as shocked to find out that Powerpoint was a viable option for this kind of work, having been exposed to (believe it or not) Illustrator, as I was when I learned what not a big deal it is to steal icons off the internet for personal use. Essentially, however, it worked. Powerpoint, I mean.

I created a “custom” template, an 8.5” x 11” blank slate from which to combine info and graphics. In my mind, I start with color. The palate is patriotic and fairly straightforward, with the exception of the hand-drawn “To Whom it May Concern.” I actually got pretty excited about this idea, and wrote that phrase about twenty-seven times before I said that’s enough. I was using my fat finger. (Too bad I lost the pen that goes along with this backward behaving SurfacePro. That brings me to my next little issue.)

Upon completion of the masterpiece, I saved it for the umpteenth time and attempted to Export it as a PDF. Everything but the “Did you know?” and “To Whom it May Concern” came through in the PDF conversion process. Okay, I said, don’t panic. You can do this. Then I packed up my belongings and paid the Technology Center folks in the library a visit. I was embarrassed to reveal my creation at the time. “See,” I said, “it won’t PDF all of it.” The nice girl behind the counter asked the nice guy behind the counter and they both basically told me to “Google it.”

I sighed silently, and thanked them for their “help.”

“Oh,” the nice guy said, “maybe try the Snippet Tool.”

I already had the door ajar, and looked back. “The Snippet Tool?” I said.

“Yeah, it’s like taking a screen shot.”

“Ohhh. Okay. Thanks.”

After much clicking and tapping and swiping and finding the Snippet Tool, it took me about ten attempts to get the right snip. This turned the Powerpoint into a PNG file which my blog wouldn’t accept as an upload. I found no self-explanatory way to convert a PNG into a JPG. So, I did what any savvy college student would do, and I Googled it. “Open the PNG in Paint, then re-save it as a JPG.” Alright, no big deal after all. It all worked out and I got the assignment done.

Praise for Pariser

On the cover of The Filter Bubble: “Well-timed…a powerful indictment.” -The Wall Street Journal and “Vital.”-Time.com, not to mention, a New York Times Best Seller. I find it mildly interesting that these (and other) reviews come from sources that are so very much at the mercy of what Pariser brings to light, and still to learn about the ways our world is being transformed by the Internet—“Increasingly, it will be the place where we live our lives” (243)—we must read books. I know this is hardly the point, however.

One part of this week’s reading that particularly struck me was this quote by David Gelernter about the importance of educating oneself about our history and relationship with technology.

“‘When you do something in the public sphere […] it behooves you to know something about what the public sphere is like. How did this country get this way? What was the history of the relationship between technology and the public? What’s the history of political exchange?’” (173).

He emphasizes the fact that it is worrisome to have uneducated people in charge of public policy.

We certainly live in an interesting time. Most of us still remember what it was like before cell phones. This class, thus far, has been a reminder to me that it would behoove me to at least feign a greater interest in the online world, in hopes that I might eventually come around and embrace it fully. Or, at least, develop an educated opinion as to why I’m so turned off by it.

“Most of us are pretty mouselike in our information habits” (223).

Online privacy is something I keep in a small pot of worry on the back-burner. This summer, for instance, I received a letter in the mail from a school in Washington—through which I had taken a class online two years prior—saying that they were sorry, but their system had been recently hacked. So…I wondered, and still wonder, does that mean my SSN is on the loose? They offered me a free year of fraud protection, but I was skeptical.

If I can help it, I don’t buy things online. I hate the fact that I use a credit card as much as I do, knowing that I’m being tracked, that I can be found this way. I even hate that to print out assignments for school I email the documents to myself (Gmail), and login using a computer on campus (going through the two-step verification process every time) to take care of that business. There is no way a Google verification code is protecting me. Or is it? It’s really hard to know. Impossible probably. I should just buy a printer, I guess.

I am interested to learn more about how other countries are dealing with the negative consequences of personalization, and what it takes to create a strong, transparent code of ethics that everyday people, businesses, and hackers alike are committed to. Sounds like a pipedream to me, but at least we are (I am) waking up to the cold hard facts of our environment and behaviors.

“Like goldfish that grow only large enough for the tank they’re in, we’re contextual beings: how we behave is dictated in part by the shape of our environments” (174).

Capture "My" Experience, Seed Planted

Filters, patterns and interconnectivity. The readings and videos for this week bring to light the history of where things stood the year I was born—1990—to where we stand today in terms of sending and receiving information, and how our world is shaped by filters, or Amazon and Google. 

While there is much that can be said about Pariser’s chapters, I wanted to discuss something he brings up in chapter 3, “The Adderall Society,” in particular. 

Filtering isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been around for millions of years—indeed, it was around before humans even existed. Even for animals with rudimentary senses, nearly all of the information coming in through their senses is meaningless, but a tiny sliver is important and sometimes life-preserving. One of the primary functions of the brain is to identify that sliver and decide what to do about it. /In humans, one of the first steps is to massively compress the data (Pariser 84).

As a writer, it seems as though one of my on-going challenges is to say more with less. How concise can I be without losing the meaning of what I’m trying to say?  I’m curious, and pessimistic, to what extent the information we receive through the web is on par with “sometimes life-preserving.” Thoughts? Surely, I’m being close-minded.

Though I appreciated the brevity of Eric Berlow’s talk, I must confess that it left me scratching my head. If it weren’t for the visualizations used in his presentation—props to McCandless—I would have been entirely lost. He says, by zooming out from a complex problem, the better chances we have at zooming back in and simplifying. I wonder how this might be applied to the limitations of our conciseness.

Pariser left us pondering the accessibility of open-mindedness in our day and age.  “[…] the filter bubble can dampen creativity […] by removing some of the diversity that prompts us to think in new and innovative ways” (Pariser 98).  This is just as applicable when we consider our presence as human beings offline.  He goes on to say, “being around people and ideas unlike oneself is one of the best ways to cultivate this sense of open-mindedness” (Pariser 101). Yeah. It’s probably true. Shut-ins run out of interesting things to say pretty quickly. Unfortunately, to get the work done that truly matters in a writer’s world is another story…

I find it fascinating that there is such a strong push to somehow make the online world as offline-esque as possible. Of course, it will never be the same. That would take the fun right out of both “places.” For instance, I like to listen to something other than the dryer hum and bang in the other room while I get my work done. I like Billie Holiday’s voice, the purr of slow jazz helps me slow down and feel. Mark’s Spotify was playing via Bluetooth, a real bad playlist featuring the genre: Cuban lounge. Unbecoming covers mostly. So, I got up from my desk and switched the system to “CD” and replaced a burned Jimi Hendrix CD with Billie Holiday. Now she’s singing and I can get back to work. That process is something I enjoy; it’s much different than interacting with the internet and Mark’s iPhone to alter my environment.

Back to the screen, McCandless says that people are “demanding of visual information,” which correlates with the fact that “sight is the fastest sense at our disposal.”  As writers, as communicators, this is something we must become proficient at incorporating into our work—hence, the Infographic and Critical Photo assignments we have coming up. I’m considering an essay about how people plate their food. More later

 

My dinner last night.  Elk, bacon, beef burger with pumpkin ganoush, mustard, pickles avocado and fries. 

My dinner last night.  Elk, bacon, beef burger with pumpkin ganoush, mustard, pickles avocado and fries. 

Hayles, Goetz, Slavin, Pariser

Last semester when I returned to the world of academia, I was surprised that I was being asked to read so many long-winded articles on my computer.  Of course, I figured out that I could, with a little additional effort and money, print the texts out myself and carry on with my reading assignments.  I must be old school, but I know I’m not alone.  I must also sound like someone who gets easily distracted…

I did read “How We Read” on my computer, however, and I’m glad for that as it aligns with the purpose of our discussions for this week.  I thought it was interesting how key points were highlighted, and was conscious of my reading behaviors (and distractions) as I made my way through the piece.  Skipping or skimming through elaborations and examples is something I tend to do.  Ultimately, I want to get to the end and be done with the reading so I can read what I want to read on my own time.  That’s how my brain works, and again, I know I’m not alone. 

Literature classes are not my strong suit.  Don’t get me wrong; I love reading.  But as soon as someone tells me I have to read a specific book and analyze it, it’s as if my brain shuts off and I go through the motions with my eye balls and turn pages while gleaning very little.  It’s sad.  I want to get better at close reading.  I think it’s something I recognized a long time ago, and my skills have since remained, for the most part, underdeveloped. 

Hayles discusses the various kinds of reading and poses this question: “What transformed disciplinary coherence might literary studies embrace?” (78)

It seems to me that MSU, or at least WRIT 371, is right on track with what Hayles suggests.  Print may be declining, but it’s never going to go away.  Therefore, it makes sense that students and educators alike take a comprehensive approach and embrace both sides of the coin.   

I watched Goetz’s TED Talk for about twelve minutes before I became bored and started clicking on other tabs I had open on my computer.  Occasionally, I’d click back on the “T” tab and see him pacing around on the stage.  The subtitles omitted his use of filler words I noticed.  I experimented with pressing the mute button and just reading the text.  Interesting, I guess. 

I found Slavin and Pariser’s TED Talks to be quite enlightening.  Pariser’s point that it is not just Google and Facebook who are “flirting with filters,” it’s a widespread web issue.  Yikes.  He makes such a beautiful point, and I hope that Google, in particular, has taken his advice to allow users some control over the information that they receive.  I look forward to reading and learning more about this soon…

If I haven’t made this clear by now, I’m just not that into spending time on my computer.  Tough tiddlywinks though, right?  My website and blog for this class is my online presence.  (Yes, I am aware that this fact might shed light on a few things that I don’t really feel like getting into here.)  I do claim to be open minded though, and this is helping. 

Reflection

Initially, my idea was to go around and interview people about how they felt about change in Bozeman.  But, no pun intended, things change.  Especially so during the creative process.  During the first bit of class time we were given to work on our projects, I typed up a script.  Plan B.  When the time came to make the movie, I followed the outline quite closely for the most part.  (Some scenes were omitted for the sake of time.  3 minutes happens fast.)  I was not anticipating this, as I tend to be the sort of person who makes a grocery list and forgets to bring it to the store.  In doing so, I noticed how it pays off to organize your thoughts before starting a project.  Of course, much of what makes this short film mildly amusing are the impromptu moments, like the extreme Wisconsin accent I end up using, or the active involvement of the two dogs.  When I compare this approach to that of my prose writing, it seems to be more relaxed.  I didn’t bend over backwards trying to get every last sentence perfect.  Rather, I limited myself to 10 scenes.  I wrote out the dialogue in italics, and below it I included bullet points about what I hoped the camera would capture.  The simplicity of the script felt good in my hands.  It was comforting to know it was there, keeping me on track.  Some of the lines surprised me, at how appropriate they felt, when I actually read them aloud for the movie.  And how timing them just right with a particular scene amplified the intended effect.  I wish I could say that I didn’t intend for it to be a satire, maybe deep down I didn’t, but from the get-go in the writing process that’s where it went.  When it came time to add a song, Dido was the only artist that came to mind.  First, I thought “White Flag.”  Mark plugged in his external hard drive and found the album Life for Rent, waiting desperately to be used.  I saw “Don’t Leave Home,” and said, “That’s the one!”  I have a PC, but I am more of a Mac person when it comes to doing anything other than opening Word documents.  He let me borrow his computer, his iMovie.  Mark was the camera operator.  That, too, happened on the spot.  I was imagining doing most of the actual filming, because I like that sort of thing and do it on occasion.  But the script sort of lent itself to me being the actor/narrator.  It was a cool experience for us, and honestly something we are happy to have done.  The sentiment surrounding our life in Bozeman is that it is somewhat fleeting—at least living where we do.  One thing I’ll add:  This is a rookie film, for sure.  The editing is appropriate for the style, I think, but it could be refined.  I like that it’s not perfect.  What’s something I know now that I didn’t before?  I really liked writing and directing this short film, and look forward to making more.  If even just for the sake of posterity.  To take clips of video is one thing, but to compile them and create a living breathing finished product is quite another.  Now I feel like I have the confidence to try something new.  Maybe I have what it takes to leave the premises.

IMG_0403.jpg
The script.

The script.

A Weekend Away

I was gone all weekend, and if I don’t get the basics down right here right now, I’ll forget.  It was too good to forget.

Thursday night we landed at LAX.  Once we found our ride and boat captain for the weekend, we headed straight for In-N-Out for cheeseburgers, prepared “animal style.”  I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea at first because of the little predinner party Mark and I had for ourselves on the plane—Flaming Hot Cheetos and Krispy Kreme Donuts—but it turned out that more cheese flavor was okay.  We stayed in Laguna Beach, ocean side, at a friend’s place.   Fly boxes came out at the kitchen island, new reels were set up.  Midnight beach sprints and skinny dipping.  In the morning, we loaded up a cozy black Audi with a surplus of small items and gear and headed to the marina.  We were going to Catalina Island on a white open style fishing boat, four of us, in pursuit of catching anything from sharks to lobsters.  At one point, early on, I jumped off the bow into water diluted with chum slick.  That’s lingo for shark bait, straight up.  I guess about four hours of waiting around for five gallons of this stuff to hang off the back, melt and disperse through holes punched by a large rusty flathead screwdriver is what it takes to maybe catch a shark.  We were there only long enough to grill some sausages and drink a few beers.  No bites.  Flooring it to the island, we stopped once for a shark sighting.  A hammerhead or blue, or mako.  I still think hammerhead.  We cut a wake for a school of, must have been, a hundred dolphins.  Wind-blown, hungry and so far, skunked, we cruised toward land and waited for the Harbor Master to assign us a mooring for the weekend.  We ate Korean short ribs for dinner with special sauce wrapped inside pieces of lettuce.  We stayed in little cabins with bunk beds; it felt like we were at summer camp.  Next day, we rented dive equipment—Mark and I—and a little later I did my first un-guided dive since becoming certified last winter.  I panicked just thrice at sixty below.  We were down there, supposed to be looking for lobsters, not fiddling around with equipment issues.  In California, you’re not allowed to tantalize the lobsters to lure them out of crevices.  You must get lucky in your hunt.  We did not.  But a captain knows better than to let his crew go hungry.  He and Mark went out free diving and speared two fish.  A sheepshead and a barracuda, an afternoon sushi treat on the boat.  Dinner was more fish, but cooked this time, two ways, on the grill and stove.  Scallion pancakes dipped in an enhanced ponzu sauce.  Ice cream and black berries.  Sunday morning, we hit up the two hot spots nearby where we stayed on the island, and nothing.  The wind had picked up, the areas were getting a lot of pressure and it was unproductive fishing.  We headed for a cave.  No takers for cliff jumping, but all of us snorkeled in and around the cave for a while.  I have the most vivid, beautiful memory of my experience free diving through a narrow shoot.  No footage to prove it though.  Complete darkness to sunlit kelp patties at the end of the tunnel.  I could think of nothing else.  Then, on our way back, we ran into a pack of four killer whales.  I’m not kidding.  At a certain point, it became clear they were annoyed by us following them, and one charged directly at our boat and flapped its tail.  We can’t say for sure what was being said, but the behavior felt aggressive.  We let up after a while, after the initial shock of this unique experience wore off, and pushed on through the deep blue swells.  More dolphins.  Then, as we approached Newport Beach, the Blue Angels were in the sky making seamless patterns, even the occasional heart.  Southern California was alive this weekend.  People were out having a good time, us Bozemanites included.  Fishing, alone on the break wall or with friends, family in all sizes of boats.  We docked and unloaded the many small, mostly damp items into carts, cleaned the boat, and drove back to Laguna feeling dehydrated, sunbaked, and still in awe of all the things we saw.  I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing, over and over again, while watching the blue light fade to only what the moon provided.  I watched the video clips I took over the weekend, having made a point to document it in this way.  Not because I thought I could get away with creating a completely unrelated to Bozeman topic for my A/V short project, but because I wanted to remember the experience in a new way.  For a while (years), I had steered clear of using my iPhone much for taking photos, etc.  (Broken lens I didn’t get around to repairing.)  I upgraded my phone last week, the impetus being our assignment due at the end of this week.  I am coming around; I was experimenting.  Still in my party dress, I put all of these videos into the iMovie app on my phone and relived the weekend in under 30 minutes.  What an amazing resource.  But I can’t help but to think about everything that didn’t get captured.  In those video clips, in this reflection.  A lot.  A whole helluva lot.  As a writer, to me, this consideration is terrifying.  If I don’t write it down, even just the bits and pieces of what it was that I can manage in the moment, or when I make the time to do the work, then it will eventually become lost.  Of course I haven't quite figured out how to deal with all of these large files, but here are a few snippets in photo form anyway.  The trick someday will be to capture the essence of a time in as few words as possible.  Or one image.  One short clip.

Words spoken by Captain:  "Fish are opportunistic.  They cruise around."  

In that way, I'm a lot like a fish.

Dolphins galore.  You can't see them, but they're there.   Photo:  Mark Portman

Dolphins galore.  You can't see them, but they're there.   Photo:  Mark Portman

Secret Location.

Secret Location.

Power at dusk to a very small town.

Power at dusk to a very small town.

McCloud Response

This weekend I attended the Architecture & Design Film Festival at Tippet Rise Art Center located in Fishtail, Montana.  Being there felt like landing on the moon, some two hours from Bozeman.  My boyfriend and I took a few back roads to find the 10,000-acre ranch, and after it was all said and done, the adventure was proof enough that the beauty of life is in the journey, the getting there. 

We saw two films.  Strange and Familiar featured a new wave of architecture on Fogo Island, design that celebrates the history and culture of a place.  The visionary behind the project, Zita Cobb, sought to bring new energy to the island through the thoughtful juxtaposition old and new styles and concepts.  The main building is a 29-room inn, including an art gallery and restaurant, meant to be a space for outsiders to come and visit a place created by insiders.  The architecture intentionally tips its hat to the coming together of, well, the strange and familiar.  As my mother recently reminded me, “The beauty of life is in the contrast of things.”  This isn’t far off from something Cobb said in the 54-minute film: “We only know who we are in relation to the other.”

This is an ever-present theme for me this fall, in my life inside and outside of the classroom. 

Revisiting Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics for the second time, the first time was in graphic design school, has brought to my attention many great reminders.  Here, for the sake of space and time, I will focus on themes I encountered at Tippet Rise and how they relate to our reading. 

“We see ourselves in everything,” he says (33).  As ridiculous as this sounds, it is true.  Puffy clouds against a blue sky so easily become shapes of animate subjects, of animals or faces.  He pushes the fact that the simpler the visual, the more likely the observer is to respond because there is a greater chance that she will relate, or see herself in the image.  One of the risks of applying too many details in comics, according to McCloud, is that the observer may be “far too aware of the messenger to fully receive the message” (37).  The other side of the coin here is not to be ignored, for it is just as significant when it comes to communicating with an audience.  Instead of two dots for eyes, a line for a mouth and a circle encompassing these marks to create what we recognize as a face, “Other characters were drawn more realistically to objectify them, emphasizing their ‘otherness’ from the reader” (44).  Power, then, is at the fingertips of the creator, and before we can put this to good use…McCloud helps us to understand. 

The second film we saw was called Bending Sticks, and featured artist Patrick Dougherty.  He creates incredible sculptures primarily with willow saplings.  His passion for this specific material was inspiring, and reminds me of another point made by McCloud.  “The mastery of any medium using minimal elements has long been considered a noble aspiration” (83).

Much like Dougherty limits himself by using sticks, as a writer, I would say that my approach to the craft of writing is limited by language, words.  Rather than get hung up on this fact, discouraged, or feel as though it is necessary that I incorporate more of the five senses into my work through a variety of mediums (film, photo, music, etc.) I recognize the great challenge of it all.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am a woman with many passions.  There is a place and time for film, photography and music.  But I do believe that words alone can be enough. 

Someday…I’ll get there.

My dad's famous "smiley man."  This hardly looks a thing like him, but to me, it's just as much a photo.

My dad's famous "smiley man."  This hardly looks a thing like him, but to me, it's just as much a photo.

Me at Tippet Rise.  Photo:  Mark Portman

Me at Tippet Rise.  Photo:  Mark Portman

Daydreams.  Patrick Dougherty's commissioned sculpture at Tippet Rise.

Daydreams.  Patrick Dougherty's commissioned sculpture at Tippet Rise.

Bernhardt and Wysocki Response

Change is a common theme within both Bernhardt and Wysocki’s pieces.  Bernhardt suggest that we should “view the rhetoric of visual design as an evolving art” (75).  Wysocki states that “reading in our time is changing” (125).  I’m rarely convinced that newer is better, or that the latest and greatest is required by any means, but it certainly feels like there are some undeniable expectations floating around out there for us as writers.  As newer technologies, specifically computers and design software, like that of Adobe and Mac products, enter our frame of reference, it is important that we learn how to use the tools available to us. 

Many years ago, I was a Visual Communication Design major and, because of this, much of Wysocki’s chapter, “The Multiple Media of Texts:  How Onscreen and Paper Texts Incorporate Words, Images, and Other Media,” felt like a nice, longwinded review.  I do, however, appreciate how both authors assumed the role of teacher, explicitly stating the terms for this “new” approach to communication. 

I was most interested in the concept mentioned by Wysocki, of the immediacy of images and how they give the reader/observer a much quicker sense of the genre (123).  It is our duty to create an experience on the page—a task burdened with infinite possibilities, or so it can seem.  Through the many questions she provides for analyzing pages and screens, the main point seems to rest in that it all depends on how well we (bother writer and reader/viewer) observe (159).  With all the possibilities at our fingertips, however, it is no mystery that some designs are plainly better than others.  There are principles, methods, and endless things to consider.  In my opinion, it boils down to aesthetics. 

“Seeing the Text” was a refreshing article.  The subject matter leads me to comment on my tendencies as a student approaching the stack of four (one for another class) printed articles on my desk—from a visual perspective.  Compared to the Wysocki chapters, I was more inclined to reach for Bernhardt’s first simply because of the way it looked on the page.  The text is slightly larger, and it is accompanied by a welcoming amount of white space.  It doesn’t appear noisy and poorly copied, like the Wysocki chapters, and with double-sided printing it is still easy to turn the page and continue where I left off with better flow.  I don’t have to flip the packet of pages 180 degrees each time I finally make it through two pages of written text printed onto one.  It’s a matter of limitations and presentation, and I don’t mean to sound too critical.  But it is a valid point, and one that resonates with Bernhardt’s push for a more visual approach to written texts.  I enjoyed his perspective because it considers how we experience reading texts.  He recognizes that choices of layout and design matter a great deal, and compares this with the “current rhetorical paradigm,” one that, especially in academic settings, seems stuck on the five-paragraph essay arrangement to get a point across.  This sort of linear progression is restrictive, and perhaps not always as effective as it could be. 

A professor from another class last week said that readers are always looking for a reason to not proceed.  It’s part of our nature.  I am a firm believer that life is too short to read texts that flop after the first few pages.  Sometimes the author fails to capture the essence of the piece in the very first sentence.  No thanks.  I’ve plenty to keep me busy when it comes to worthwhile texts. 

I think what Bernhardt proposes is brilliant, and highly relevant to the opportunities and challenges we face in contemporary, digital rhetoric.  He walked the talk in his piece by giving us a visual example of the wetland fact sheet, and pairing it with a concise description of the essay format we have all grown used to and often bored with.  The new possibilities are inspiring when we think of how we might reframe written texts.  For instance, “it may not be useful to speak of paragraphs at all, but of sections or chunks” (73).  There is certainly something to be said for writing more like we speak, that is, if we have learned how to speak well (77).   

Walter Fisher Response

The “rational world paradigm” compared to the narrative paradigm suggests that, in a traditional (Aristotelian) sense, argument is at the heart of what it means to be human.  Fisher does not deny the usefulness of this approach in many cases, however, this essay, “Narration as Human Communication Paradigm:  The Case of Public Moral Argument,” emphasizes a more pragmatic way of appreciating human communication (376). 

Storytelling is an undeniable aspect of how humans make sense of the world.  “The character of narrator(s), the conflicts, the resolutions, and the style will vary, but each mode of recounting and accounting for is but a way of relating a ‘truth’ about the human condition” (381).  To me, this suggests not only a more practical approach, but also one that is inherently more inclusive and open to individual perspectives.  “The actualization of the narrative paradigm does not require a given form of society” (383).  Fisher notes that the development of ethics and values occurs naturally through narratives, “a capacity that we all share” (384).  Therefore, it is not learned.  Because narrative rationality is highly variable, it opens the door for interpretation, thus, critique (385).  This is, of course, a beautiful thing.  It makes room for the individual and its complexities. 

Fisher’s main concern in this essay surrounds the issue of “public moral argument” and how the narrative paradigm might be more effective for understanding the way people behave and make decisions based on values.  “From the narrative paradigm view, the experts are storytellers and the audience is not a group of observers but are active participants in the meaning-formation of the stories” (390).  This seems like a worthy attempt to bridge an important social and political gap right now in our country—the interaction of “experts” (or those in positions of power) and lay persons. 

Fisher summarizes his argument for the narrative paradigm here, “people are reflective and from such reflection they make stories of their lives and have the basis for judging narratives for and about them” (392).  From our experiences we cultivate values, opinions and ideas—an ever-evolving process, such is life.  Due to the disproportionate ratio of experts to the rest of us, it would be unfair to say that one has better reason than the other. 

I’m curious to explore further “what makes a story better than another,” and how can one be truer than another (393)?

Stanley Fish Response

As I sit here and attempt to digest Stanley Fish’s chapter, “Rhetoric,” and how within it seems to be a debate regarding membership to the species homo seriosus or homo rhetoricus, I realize that this is about getting the right sort of juices flowing rather than identifying with one or the other. 

Fish references authors from the fields of philosophy, science, and economics to demonstrate that there is a practical need (or desire) to pursue truth, and ultimately, many ways to skin the rhetorical cat.  Kuhn’s proposal of a "‘neutral observation language’" for scientific research is yet to be achieved, still “unavailable,” for instance (130-131).  Almost as if saying—it’s a nice thought, but impossible.  Situations, context and the infinite possibilities of interpretation line up with J. L. Austin’s view on the importance of appropriateness that “words must match the world, and if they do not they can be criticized as false and inaccurate” (131). 

Perhaps then, the point is less about achieving a universal language, and more about the approaches we take to better understanding our naturally flawed ability to communicate.  It begs the (possibly rhetorical) question:  Why is fairness a worthwhile pursuit?

The contradictory nature of rhetorical study opens many doors.  It allows each of us the opportunity to stake our own claims, much like Fish and those he references.  Our individual interpretations are relevant, though they may be overwhelming to consider.  This inescapable subjectivity inspires a narrowing of focus which provides some relief for me, now, as a student of rhetoric. 

“‘Rhetorical man is trained not to discover reality but to manipulate it.  Reality is what is accepted as reality, what is useful’” (127).  I’m curious to learn more about the relationship between rhetoric and achieving a sense of power and control, how through manipulating the language available to us might transcend the inevitable and existing limitations. 

Open Road, Open Mind

This is a photo from the day I drove to Sturgeon Bay in Northern Michigan this summer, one of my happy places.  It's pulled over on the side of the road to signify that it's time for school again.  My freedom to roam will, for the next 9 months, not feel so free.   Nevertheless, I'm excited to be a senior at Montana State University and to pursue my degree in English-Writing.   I keep a journal, write songs and stories, collect dialogue and recently got my feet wet with travel writing in Mongolia.  Staying busy is never an issue!  If I don't have my head down writing, I'm out and about--on my motorcycle or horse--exploring the open road before me.   This blog, for now, will specifically relate to one of the classes I'm taking:  Digital Rhetorics and Multimodal Writing.  

This is a photo from the day I drove to Sturgeon Bay in Northern Michigan this summer, one of my happy places.  It's pulled over on the side of the road to signify that it's time for school again.  My freedom to roam will, for the next 9 months, not feel so free.  

Nevertheless, I'm excited to be a senior at Montana State University and to pursue my degree in English-Writing.  

I keep a journal, write songs and stories, collect dialogue and recently got my feet wet with travel writing in Mongolia.  Staying busy is never an issue!  If I don't have my head down writing, I'm out and about--on my motorcycle or horse--exploring the open road before me.  

This blog, for now, will specifically relate to one of the classes I'm taking:  Digital Rhetorics and Multimodal Writing.