Ah, to write again! I know I’ve taken quite the blogging hiatus, so I thought I’d pick it up again. I’ve actually been transferring my writing energy to two new projects- one, a wine tasting blog for my Geography of Wine course at Virginia Tech, and two, my experience teaching Spanish at a local elementary school. While I have yet to publish my Spanish thoughts and materials (I hope to in the near future), I do have the wine blog up and running! Check it out hereWhile I have virtually no wine tasting (or wine writing, for that matter) experience, here’s my attempt at getting some. I go to weekly wine tastings for class, and am learning to open my palate and put my senses to good use. Who knew you could taste so much in wine? 




-Or The General Narrative Shifts in Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D -

“I hope they cannot see

The limitless potential

Living inside of me

To murder everything

I hope they cannot see

I am the Great Destroyer.”

- The Great Destroyer, Nine Inch Nails

“I hope they cannot see

Living inside of me

To murder everything

I hope they cannot see

I am the Great Destroyer.”

- The Great Destroyer (Modwheelmood Remix)

If there is one thing I could probably talk your ear off about at this point, its the narrative shifts between Year Zero and it’s companion album, Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D. Since I didn’t have room for this analysis in my Academic Webtext for Writing and Digital Media, I figured I would put some of my thoughts on the remix album’s narrative qualities here.

First off, if you start Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D like I did, and you look through the track listing, the first thing you will notice is that the songs are in a completely different order. Secondly, you’ll notice that The Good Soldier is missing and Hyperpower! has been renamed Guns By Computer.

Why is this important? Well, the construction of albums, especially those that set out to tell a story, is incredibly important to the narrative flow of the music. The tone of each perspective in Year Zero shapes the story, yes, but God Given might not have been half as powerful the first time around if it hadn’t followed up The Warning. Having the songs placed in a different order completely changes the feel of the story as we listen through it. The Great Destroyer feels more like a protest song. The Warning feels soul shattering and terrifying. But, more than that, we are presented an image in Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D of a future actively in chaos. The Beginning of The End doesn’t come until after the riot of My Violent Heart, and it only goes downhill from there.

In Year Zero, on the other hand, we have a sense that things are going poorly, and that The Warning is the tipping point into chaos.

The fact that The Good Soldier is absent from the remix album also speaks volumes to the narrative arc of Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D. Year Zero is an album chiefly made up on perspectives – as illustrated in the dual-perspective of The Warning – and leaving out the soldier’s perspective changes the focus of the story.

The Good Soldier presents listeners with a globalized view on war; a soldier fighting for his country, which fights for a cause they don’t believe in. Leaving that song out makes Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D a domestic album, chiefly, focusing on the chaos that America has fallen into, and silencing the voice of the soldier forced to war. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, this silencing of a voice that is so often ignored (at least after they return from war), but it is a very powerful omission to make.

The story of Year Zero is a powerful one, and I like to think of Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D as yet another perspective on the tipping point. Perhaps, to the content, Year Zero represents the reality – a build up to chaos – when, on the other hand, the reality is that the world is falling apart, and chaos is the norm.

It’s all up to interpretation.

Take the Sky From Me

- Or Why Firefly is Different from Buffy, and How It’s Air Schedule Crippled It Narratively -

Aside from the obvious, Friefly demonstrates a departure from the narrative structure of Buffy. Starting from the episode Serenity, which is the canonical starting point for the series, viewers are thrown into the end of a war that serves as a backdrop and anchor into the setting that Mal and Zoe are a part of. Over the course of the episode, we are introduced to the well established crew – family – of the Serenity, rather than watching the crew form (as with the Scooby Gang in Buffy). All of this would be super overwhelming were it not for Simon, River, and Book, three passengers on the Serenity who get caught up in the crew’s antics. These three characters provide a relatable and stable (or unstable, in the case of River) anchoring point for views to get used to the banter, relationships, and conflicts common to Mal’s motley crew.

The way Firefly was aired, however, ruins this anchoring point.

Firefly’s first official episode, according to Fox, is The Train Job, which, in order of filming and production was the second episode. In this version, all viewers have in the way of anchoring is a short series of clips from the first episode narrated by Book, and even that doesn’t fully explain what the hell is happening. The bar fight does little to explain Mal all that much (though, he is a rather complex character, so not a whole lot of introductions are adequately going to explain Mal), or Zoe, or Jayne. Or Wash, for that matter. Simon and River are already established parts of this small community (though they are still outsiders) and Book is really…full of questions.

This, understandably, leaves the audience confused.

In any good work of fiction – book, television, movie, or otherwise – it is vital that you give the audience what I have been calling ‘anchors.’ These are concrete details about the setting, the main characters, or the plot that the reader can latch onto before they figure out how the universe they are entering works. In Firefly, the passengers Mal picks up are anchor characters – they are just as confused and out of their element as the audience is. When thrown into a show where the anchor characters have already been explained in an unaired pilot, the audience is left groping for a handhold and are let down. This causes them to abandon the story except for a few heroic cases (the original Browncoats).

To avoid turning this into a rant against Fox, I will end on this - Firefly is a weird story. It is a non-conventional mash up of the Sci-fi and Western genres and a mash up like that requires narrative anchors, or the story will never float. Joss seemed to have provided those anchors in Serenity, which where then not provided by the cable network. The situation surrounding this show is, of course, complicated, but some of the blame (I think) on why it failed is because the airing order and dates provided by the network ruined the narrative construction of the series.

Tap That

With all the new touch-screen technology out today, even traditional forms of writing are becoming more modernized. Take, for example, the traditional academic essay. Times New Roman, 8.5×11,include sources at end. Prompt to be announced.

Depending on the theme, this piece has more than enough potential to die right there on the page, scanned lightly under the eyes of the teacher. Emotions are non existent. Images are reduced to 12 point font adjectives.

But what if there were a way to give new life to these compositions? What if what was written deserves more than this MLA-styled jail cell?

There’s a new app called Tapestry that turns essays into a tactile and visual experience. Made for use on touch-screen devices such as the iPad or iPhone, the “tap essay” lets readers pace themselves when going through the essay.

Stories ranging from 2-screen, animated gif jokes to statistic-laden informational essays fill The reader physically taps (get it?) the screen, advancing the story. The catch though, is that once tapped, the screen doesn’t turn back. So pay attention.

Personally, I found the format to be annoying, as the tap authors are able to do pretty much anything to make the reader wait for the text- such as having to tap for every word to appear, in some cases. After creating my own though, the style grew on me, and I experimented with pauses, sizes, and emphasis.

Check out my finished product on Tapestry- Cleverly Malicious Graffiti: Civil War Edition

Curious about Tapestry? Try it for yourself; it just might surprise you.

Every so often, a new app surprises me.

As it turns out, you can download and use iPhone-specific apps on your iPad. I found that out this weekend when I downloaded Snapchat and began to add my friends and family. For those who don’t use Snapchat or aren’t aware of the application, it is a photo and video-sharing application.

But Jess, you might ask, why not just send someone a picture or video text? That’s a great question, I’d respond. One that plagued me for a while. Snapchat was designed (with certain shady intentions) to completely erase the video or photo you send after a certain amount of time. So if you send someone, for example, an ugly picture of your face, and you don’t want it to be around forever, you can set the snapchat’s time limit to 5 seconds. After that, it’s like it never existed.

In it’s own little way, Snapchat is trying to solve a privacy issue that has grown since the age of digital media sharing. I really don’t want to open the floodgates of a discussion about digital privacy, but I will say this – I’m glad the app has started some discussion. Sure, having the ability to send gross pictures of yourself to friends without fear of embarassment is fun, but this app goes beyond that. Snapchat is making it safer for you to be vulnerable online and over text/multimedia messaging systems. Snapchat says you’re in control of what you send, and you don’t have to let your mistakes rule you. It says hey, you may not look your best today, but we’re not gonna remember in ten seconds so it’s fine.

That, my friends, is the beginning of a great friendship – a friendship I didn’t expect to want in the first place.

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.

About The Process

-Or Visualizing the Writing Process-


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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 11.59.43 PM

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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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.

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.