Lazy days mean lazy blog posts.

Is usually make the effort to log into WordPress and blog from my computer, but today is a lazy day. The weather in Blacksburg is definitely October-esque, and what better way to celebrate that than by writing on a blog while eating peanut butter and sitting in your pajamas at home?

There is no better way in the entire universe, I checked for you.

Recently, I’ve been drafting a tap essay using the Tapestry app. Writing a tap essay feels novel in a really interesting sense – it’s not just me learning a new medium, it’s me learning a new medium that the world has never really encountered before. Robin Sloan’s “Fish” really opened the door for the Tapestry to exist as a form of communication rather than just art, and I think that’s kinda neat. It’s just really interesting – you can group a lot of social media together under a “status update” umbrella category, but the tap essay sort of made its own category.

Facebook and Twitter have become so big, their names became the standard? In the same way that we say “can you grab me a Kleenex” versus “can you grab me a paper tissue,” we now say “Facebook it to me.” In that last sentence, it took me a while to even remember what to call a tissue without calling it a Kleenex.

Since Tapestry is kind of sitting there on its own, I think the tap essay could turn into something big. The thing is, it’s been in existence for a while. How long did it take for Facebook and Twitter to bow up? If something doesn’t become exponentially popular in a year or two, will it sit forever unused? Tapestry definitely holds the potential to be a beautiful, effective learning tool, but as I use it today I can’t help but wonder whether my message will be received without using one of the supernova social media tools.

And that leads me to a question – how important to we need to feel before we share a message? If you only had one Twitter follower, how would you tweet differently? If you had no Facebook friends, what would you post?

Then again, I don’t think anyone reads this blog, and here I am. My challenge to us both: just tell your story, and let social media figure itself out.

Anya

- Or The Body  -

But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.
Anya; The Body; Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If I were petty, (or perhaps just lazy) I would simply post this quote and leave it at that. But it is unfair to rip quotes out of their context and just expect people unversed to understand why something, contextless as this is, can be so important to a character.

I have always admired Joss for how he writes his characters. Namely, his characters are people — though, with Anya, that is a little less than true. She’s technically a demon (is this a good time to shout SPOILERS? Okay, spoilers). To top is off, she is, essentially, a replacement Cordelia – not totally Cordelia, of course, but she fills the roll of blunt, at times inappropriate, and generally the fringe member of the Scoobies.

But this speech defines her. It is a fantastic bit of dialogue that I bet my bottom dollar most writers would never think to give a character like Anya. Anya is supposed to be the 1000 year old blonde girl who is a bit on the evil side – better not humanize her in any way. That’s what makes this bit of writing unique.

Anya is terrified. She has never had to deal with the mortality of those around her, because a) she was previously immortal, and b) has never taken the chance to get to know the women she previously avenged. She doesn’t know what to do, so she asks the most morbid questions because she literally does not understand. No one is telling her why or what to do and she literally cannot comprehend the idea the Joyce is gone. And how could she – death was never real to Anya. She asks things like “Will we see the body” and “Will they cut open the body” because she is Anya, and mortal things confuse her, but it is incredibly plain to see that she has no concept of how one operates in grief.

We are meant, at first, to react like Willow does – horrified and disgusted that someone would even say such things about a women they all knew. And that’s why this speech is so important. It humanizes Anya in a way almost nothing else can and carries through the scene (the worry in hr voice when Xander punches through the drywall and ‘could have hit an electrical thingy’ is clearly part of her emotional hangover).

People are never only one thing – they are always changing, always growing in some way. To give a speech like this to a character that most TV shows would treat as a one dimensional cardboard cut out is what cements Joss’ skills (to me at least) in character development. He used emotions we all know – aching sadness and grief – and applied them to a character that would not understand the situation and (much like a child), grows up because, in the end, know one really has the answers she seeks.

About The Process

-Or Visualizing the Writing Process-

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While reading through Toward A Composition Made Whole this week (it will never be finished. I will be blogging about this book until my dying day), I became enamored with the idea of visualizing my writing process. Perhaps it was because Shipka provides such an excellent example of a process map – done by a non English-y person, no less – or because it illustrated the idea that multiple things could impact your writing process, and that those things should be acknowledged, that I latched on to the idea.

So, here it is. Above is a scanned image of a hand drawn process map of my very own, tracking the vague writing process of a project I had in my Fiction class last semester. Now, to the explanations.

The project described here, a short story entitled ‘She Was,’ was one of the more difficult writing experiences I have ever put myself through. The drawing of my desk at home as the ‘production space’ was included because the idea was created there. I had been playing quite a bit of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and listening to the band Murder By Death at the time, so ghost stories and human augmentation were on the brain. I drafted a quick character study and left it up on my blog (warning: this post is an early draft and actually quite bad). Then, I forgot about it.

A month or so later, I started rearranging the character study and adding to it so that I could talk to my creative writing professor about it. He….was not impressed with my second draft. So I went back and, using his mark up, rewrote almost the entire piece in a night. Music was ever present, and tea was plentiful. The draft was finished at 4 a.m. on the due date.

The draft was read by my classmates. They critiqued it; later, I sat dow with a story that was too complicated and needed an extra 2000 words for my final portfolio, with critiques that were going to be of no help very rapidly. I put on a rap album on repeat and plowed through a fourth, and soon, a fifth draft. I rewrote that story from scratch about four different times over the course of the semester. I sat in plastic chairs and arm chairs, at desks and on the floor, and listened to rock, rap, and soundtracks over the course of 14 weeks, trying, desperately to get that story written. It makes me proud to see, visually, the conditions and places and things that helped me get through that particular project. It reminds me of how much work I put into that piece, and how much of myself is in it. It reminds me to be proud of it, even though (as I discovered today) it is riddled with typos.

Seeing a process is different than remembering it. I think it’s important to remind yourself of everything that goes into writing, and how not all of it is writing.

Out of all of the things I thought I would read today, Science Magazine definitely wasn’t one of them.

In my Writing and Digital Media class, we’ve learned a lot about the importance of looking at new material in new ways, and today I found myself reading in a sort of multimodal fashion without even planning it. Sometimes, thanks to the host of social networks and forums I find myself browsing each week, I manage to come across great articles that I would have never been curious enough to seek out. This is one of those articles, and I’m glad to have found it.

In 2012, John Bohannon discovered that some scientific publications were being less than academically honest. One company in particular, Scientific & Academic Publishing Co., didn’t seem to exist at all.

After months of e-mailing the editors of SAP, I finally received a response. Someone named Charles Duke reiterated—in broken English—that SAP is an American publisher based in California. His e-mail arrived at 3 a.m., Eastern time.

But Bohannon’s article points at a bigger picture. Apparently, many scientific journals don’t just claim to exist in places they don’t – they also claim to thoroughly review submissions when they don’t. To test these academic journals and their peer reviewing skills, he crafted more than 300 versions of a scientific article riddled with obvious errors and ethical problems. In theory, anyone with high-school knowledge of science should have seen fit to reject the articles immediately. This wasn’t the case.

More than half of the journals Bohannon – or should I say “Ocorrafoo Corange” – wrote to accepted his submission. Bohannon even created an interesting (but also confusing) 3D data plot that shows the submissions, which journals accepted or rejected them and the true location of the companies (as revealed by IP addresses from their email correspondences.) Feel free to view the map here, but be warned: red means accepted and green means rejected, because green means good and rejection is what Bohannon wanted.

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Acceptance was the norm, not the exception. The paper was accepted by journals hosted by industry titans Sage and Elsevier. The paper was accepted by journals published by prestigious academic institutions such as Kobe University in Japan. It was accepted by scholarly society journals. It was even accepted by journals for which the paper’s topic was utterly inappropriate, such as the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Assisted Reproduction.

PZ Myers of FreeThoughtBlogs also stumbled across this meta-experiment, and did more digging than I did while reading the article. Thanks to Reddit user u/OptimalCynic, who just happens to have a very appropriate username in a field full of people trying to get their research published by these supposedly-legitimate companies, I read his article too.

The other problem [with Bohannon's experiment]: NO CONTROLS. The fake papers were sent off to 304 open-access journals (or, more properly, pay-to-publish journals), but not to any traditional journals. What a curious omission — that’s such an obvious aspect of the experiment. The results would be a comparison of the proportion of traditional journals that accepted it vs. the proportion of open-access journals that accepted it… but as it stands, I have no idea if the proportion of bad acceptances within the pay-to-publish community is unusual or not. How can you publish something without a control group in a reputable science journal? Who reviewed this thing? Was it reviewed at all?

Overall, Myers and the rest of Reddit’s comments on the subject agree that peer reviews require actual, thorough reviewing. As someone who spends lots of time reading her own work and the work of others, legitimately trying to better that work and the person’s thought process, this is equal parts amusing and disappointing. I often wonder, as a college student thirsting after a steady career, why people are able to cut corners as easily as this. Forget India, I know 30 students who would be more than willing to review a scientific research article who live within 15 miles of where I sit.

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Introducing the Tap Essay

Using the Tapestry app has been an interesting experience so far. Inspired by Robin Sloan’s “Fish,” the app allows users to create an interactive narrative. It’s somehow more intimate than turning the page of a physical book, even though the stories are relatively short and exist online. In my opinion, Tapestry is the digital equivalent of listening to a story someone else is telling you, including all of the pauses where they wait for your affirmation to continue.

In order to create my own Tapestry, I’ve come up with several topics that might translate well into what I think is an exciting new format – it’s the narrowing down and selection process that’s giving me trouble. Do I turn an old commentary about Twitter and erroneous citizen journalism into a humorous, snarky tap essay? Do I choose the image-heavy idea about math and beauty in nature? Do I go with the topic I know and love, Dave Matthews Band and their fanbase? What about the more serious route of explaining third-party trackers and the Google Chrome extensions that block them?

Again, my problem isn’t that I feel too limited in Tapestry, it’s the opposite. While only one of these ideas might be good enough to translate into a class project, the rest are Tapestries just waiting to be made. And although these seem like they’re more fun to read than they are to make, I’m looking forward to the process just to see what storytelling can become. It’s nice to think that Sloan’s dead fish inspired so many living, active stories, isn’t it?

Silence is Golden

- Or How Stories Can Be Written Without Words -

The end of ‘Hush,’ the tenth episode of season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most brilliant endings to a television show I have ever seen. It seems sort of obvious, but it’s fantastic.

But let’s start at the beginning.

There are a lot of ways to tell a story, but when someone mentions writing, society has taught us to think of text. Everyone recognizes that Television, Movies, Plays, and even Oral Performance involve writing because it is understood that the actors had to read a written script, or the performer is reading off of a written piece. This leaves out quite a bit, if we are only considering what is written out as dialogue, stage direction, or flavor text (in the case of multimedia presentations, including video games). It leaves out game mechanics, for example, and simple silence. This definition of writing leaves out musical cues, the absence of music, the cinematography decisions, and a myriad other things.

“But E,” you say, “those things aren’t writing.”

No, they aren’t writing in the traditional sense. In the case of ‘Hush,’ nearly the entire episode is silent. No dialogue. Yet, there was undoubtedly writing involved. It may have been in the form of direction on the page, which inevitably gave way to direction on set. Then, at the end, when all the characters have their voices back, Buffy and Riley sit down to have a conversation. There is no music, and, after the initial ‘I guess we need to talk’ conversation starter, there is no dialogue. This is brilliant, and was possibly barely written down (I wouldn’t know for sure, since I don’t have a script).

But let’s go to a more extreme example – the game Journey by That Game Company. Journey is a multiplayer experience in which the two players involved cannot speak to one another. There is no dialogue, flavor text, or reading involved in this game, which provides an interesting challenge to the players. They have to communicate through the game mechanics – drawing in the sand, or ‘chirping’ at one another.

The game itself is based on The Hero With A Thousand Faces  by Joseph Campbell, and is a silent exploration of the stages of the Hero’s Journey. At first glance, it is easy to say that That Game Company did not employ writers in the development process. Yet, at the end of the game, you have most definitely experienced a story. So where are the writers? They are the programmers, artists, character designers, sound designers, composers, engineers, and so on. Each person on a development team must have been aware of the story and feel that the game was supposed to have, and, though they did not have a writer, they wrote metaphors into their mechanics, cut-scenes, graphics, and music.

They told a story.

Writing, I think, becomes synonymous with story telling, but, like most things, we have to think about it more complexly. Writing words is on thing, but people also write code, scripts, directions, etc. and you can convey a story without any written words. Storytelling is more than just text on a page – it is action in a movie, metaphor in game mechanics, silence on the TV screen, and it’s time we recognized the writing is not the sole driver of these things. It’s the story.

Why I Will Never Be a Vlogger

- Or I Am Terrible at Video Projects -

I am a very visual writer. Description is my forte. It is easy for me to site down and visualize a scene – however, it is difficult for me to think in feasible camera shoots and scenes. 

This is incredibly frustrating, because when I am tasked with creating a video for a class, or simply for fun, I begin to picture a really awesome idea. For example, for the video I was producing in Scripting Woes, I had pictured a video in which the narrative synced up with an interesting walk around campus. But when I sat down to think about what I could feasibly shoot, I realized that I was going to have to go much simpler.

I don’t have the editing capacity, or the camera skills, or a mind for cutting a film together.

 

When I have to downsize an idea, usually the first iteration or so of that project is not…great. At least in my eyes. But there is a difference in movie making – you don’t really get drafts. Sure, we had to turn in a rough cut a week before the final was due, but, at that point, you basically have the idea down and people simply suggest what shots you need to film or music you need to get. We didn’t have time to redo the entire thing.

I get overambitious and end up with something that I feel is subpar compared to the ideas floating around in my head, because I don’t get my safety net of ‘first drafts can suck,’ and I lack the skills to a) write a decent script and b) film anything more complex than simple establishing shots/action shots. And I have to spread this video around – this subpar, simplistic, not all that great video. I know my inner critic is worse than reality, but I have to side with it in this case. I am terrified of other people seeing this – not because of the subject matter, which is pretty personal, but because I am worried about the quality as compared to everyone else’s video projects.

Clearly, a job as a story editor is not in my future.

If @Horse_Ebooks isn’t real, what is?

Is nothing sacred? Two days ago, the New Yorker broke a story revealing @horse_ebooks’ true identity. The internet’s favorite horse is NOT an automated spam account, it’s the work of Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender. Since then, news publications like Salon.com, Buzzfeed, the New York Times and CNN have chimed in with articles and tweeted responses to the unmasking of @horse_ebooks’ authors. Here are some reactions from Twitter that might put this announcement into perspective (for those of you who are giving your screen a strange look.)

@TheAVClub: “Everything on the Internet is a lie: @Horse_ebooks was a ‘conceptual art’ piece all along avc.lu/1alpc8b”

@paezpumarL: “It’s unfortunate the horse ebooks thing happened this week because it’s been a ‘EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO MUCH’ week.”

As it happens, @Horse_ebooks was indeed a conceptual art piece put together by Bakkila and Bender, who revealed their work in order to promote their next project. Was @horse_ebooks  an extremely long-con that worked nights as a viral marketing scheme? If so, they lost a lot of credibility and respect in the process by being arrogant jerks to a reporter who was trying to help them out. To quote the horse, “unfortunately, as you probably already know, people.” In my opinion, disrespecting a journalist who is spreading the word about you is a really rude move. The Washington Post also posted an article about artist Burton Durand, who created Horse Ecomics. This, in my opinion, is the true loss we’re experiencing by losing the mystery behind @horse_ebooks.

The mention of Durand and Horse Ecomics helps pave the way to the point I’m trying to make about art and hoaxes. So does this tweet by Twitter user Dave Lozo.

@DaveLozo: “I hope the point of horse ebooks was to show how something intentionally dumb can gain popularity by people pretending to understand it.

Let’s take a quick trip back to 1944 Australia. Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of a literary/art publication called Angry Penguins, is working on publishing his next issue of his journal. Harris named the publication after a poem he had written himself, the narcissist. He also stirred up lots of drama with Angry Penguins on campus at the University of Adelaide by angering fellow students by publishing anarchist sentiments. Enter Lieutenant James McAuley and Corporal Harold Stewart – the masterminds behind the Ern Malley hoax.

These two mediocre traditionalist poets, both in the army and stuck in the Victoria Barracks with lots of time on their hands, decided they would be the ones to teach Harris a lesson.

McAuley and Stewart essentially did the same thing that @horse_ebooks did – they created bizarre poetry from random lines of text and published it as authentic works of art. However, when Ern Malley’s true nature was revealed, the response was different.

After the prank was revealed, the hoaxers said their work had no literary merit – and that was the point. Harris, however, stuck to his guns. Whether they liked it or not, he asserted, McAuley and Stewart had written their best poetry, their only poetry of real genius. The assumed persona of Ern Malley had liberated them.

The subsequent issue of Angry Penguins largely was devoted to analyses of the poems – with contributions from Sir Herbert Read, Geoffrey Dutton, Reg Ellery, A.R. Chisholm, Brian Elliot, Adrian Lawlor, Albert Tucker and many more.

Whether they intended it or not, the creators of @Horse_ebooks made poetry that we, as an online public, connected with. We loved seeing random words from ebooks come together to form strange, if not poignant, pieces of wisdom. To paraphrase what Dave Lozo said, something made to be intentionally stupid can absolutely gain popularity by being filtered through our streams of media. And that’s not a bad thing.

Let me try and make my point as transparent as I can – sometimes it’s nice to be duped into believing something is more serious and poignant than it is. Sometimes the little things that we encounter in our lives, whether they be pieces of art or random sentences that enter our consciousness in some way or another, become big things that matter to us. If @horse_ebooks isn’t real, what is? The fun we had in following him. The days that were brightened when a tweet inspired laughter. The idea that art, however it is manufactured and inspired, can mean anything to us. In the words tweeted by the horse himself, “We speak and breathe everything.”

Making Our Composing Process More Visible

I just finished reading Chapter 2 of Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole. In this chapter, titled “Partners in Action,” Shipka discusses how people have begun to take their thinking and composing processes for granted due to the useful tools that we call “technology.” She refers to tools we use, such as the telephone, and how we tend to forget all of the processes that go into making a phone call and being able to communicate with people. Her general point is that we need to go back to basics and think about everything that goes into completing tasks. For example, when working on a project, we should consider how we came up with our ideas and shaped them into a complete composition, such as sketching out ideas, brainstorming on paper, writing concrete rough drafts, reading aloud, peer editing, and much more. If we lose sight of these things, we start to only see the final product, but this may not even begin to represent everything that went into a work.

I think that in order to make our composing process more visible, we need to keep track of the original ideas that go into our final product. We should not forget all of the tools that we have used. We also need to consider how these “technologies” have shaped our works, whether for better or worse. The point that “We tend to move from ‘looking at the technology as an addition to life to looking at life through that technology’” is quite accurate. We forget that we are even using technology at all. Maybe then, it is important for us to keep a journal as Catherine Latterell suggests. This will remind us of how often we use these tools to shape our compositions, and that way, we will make visible the entire process that went into it. For example, I could account for all of the tools I used to write this post. I began with the physical book, I took notes on a piece of paper using a pen, and I used my laptop to pull up a word document to write a draft. All of these tools shaped my process.

Shipka’s ideas are extremely representative of how composing has become. We need to take a step back sometimes and look at everything that affects our thinking process. We should especially take into consideration which technologies are changing our lives in general.

Mind the Tech

- Or How To Properly Acknowledge Your Tech -

“Once [technology] becomes ‘woven into the fabric of daily life’ every once-new technology seems natural, and therefore somehow ‘inevitable,’ and it becomes tough to imagine living in the world without it.”

-Jodi Shipka

We’re back, ladies and gents, to talking about technologies and how they impact writing. Specifically, I would like to focus on the fact that we don’t really ‘see’ the technologies we take for granted, and how lecture-like this post is sounding.

Let’s change that.

So, while struggling perusing through Jodi Shipka’s book, Toward a Composition Made Whole, I was struck by the above quote. Do we really not notice the technologies we use once they become common place? Certainly, it does become harder to imagine a world without, say, desktop computers. But how can we not be fully aware of the technology we use and how it limits or improves the way we work?

Shipka provides a compelling example to back this statement up: If you were to call one of your friends, you likely would simply describe the event as “I called up El and screamed about space for an hour” (well, maybe not that dramatic, but, hey). You would not sit down and list out the reasons that call was made possible. For example, you likely would not say, “Thanks to electricity, phone lines, cables, a dial tone, ring tones,a numbered key pad, etc., coupled with the fact that the person I was calling and I are both fluent in the English language…” and both have an appreciation for space and functional knowledge of it’s basic structure, as well as both being invested in space, I was able to call El and scream about space for an hour.

So, quite literally, you would gel over the fact that electricity and technologies that go into phones helped you accomplish a task. In that sense, I do believe that we have a tendency to forget about the role of technology in our day to day lives. I do think it’s important to realize this, and maybe spend some time thinking about how each technology we take for granted affect our ability to function in the world we live in. I also agree with Shipka’s observation that, were we to take the time to think about how we use technology, and how it affects not only our writing, but how our bodies are involved in our writing, it can help us imagine new ways of thinking about ‘texts.’

There is one thing I disagree with, however, and that is the idea that technology completely fades into the background. Now, I am speaking mostly about writing ‘tools’ – pens, paper, word processors, mobile devices – and not the things that power them, so perhaps my idea is a tad limited. But I feel as though I am constantly reminded of how technology influences my writing. When I write with pen and paper, I am always aware that my chosen tool is slower and less precise than my word processor. When working with Microsoft Word (and, therefore, procrastinating on the internet), I feel as if I can’t write anything and am wasting my time. Perhaps I do not notice the tool itself, but I do recognize it’s effects; I think everyone, in some way, recognizes the effects of a tools they use when producing texts. Or, perhaps, I am simply optimistic about the amount I think about the technology in my life in relation to how others think about their own tools.