Tracking An Author

*I meant to post this last week but had it saved in my drafts accidentally*

To be completely honest, I’ve gotten a little bored of Tom Chatfield, so I decided to see if there were any authors on BBC Future, which has published some of Chatfield’s work, that would lead me somewhere interesting. I soon came across an article titled “The Female Code Breakers Who Were Left Out of History Books,” which caught my attention immediately. The article discussed the accomplishments of specific female codebreakers from the first and second world wars, but I was unfortunately ignorant of their existence. Some of the names were familiar, such as Ada Lovelace, but there were others that I had never come across, such as Elizebeth Smith, who helped catch some of Al Capone’s gang after WWI was over. Smith also helped catch Nazis trying to infiltrate the US via South America, the credit for which was taken by a man named Edgar J Hoover and the FBI.

Because I found this article so fascinating, I decided to look up the author, Chris Baraniuk. His website introduces him as a “freelance science & technology journalist,” and he has been published by outlets such as BBCThe Economist, and New Scientist. For next week, I will probably click around some of his articles and see if anything draws my attention in.

 

Documentaries are for dweebs

In the digital media family, the mockumentary is known as the much cooler cousin of the documentary. The mockumentary uses the conventions of a documentary to recount fictional events (rather than real ones); so, it’s often meant to be comedic.

While allowing for a wider array of creative expression than a documentary would, the mockumentary is limited by how entertaining it is. The more entertaining, the larger the audience, regardless of the quality of the social commentary that the mockumentary has to offer. A funny mockumentary on bread could have more of a following than a more serious mockumentary on the opiod epidemic.

A line from the TV mockumentary, “The Office.”

But how do you write a mockumentary?

  1. Determine the discrepancy. The mockumentary, despite its unrealistic nature, is based on the discrepancy between the reality and stereotype of a given subject. The mockumentary is relatable by being rooted in reality. By determining the discrepancy, you begin to develop a sense of what it is that makes the chosen topic relatable.
  2. Characterize the comedy. What kind of humor will your mockumentary apply? Will it be sarcastic undertones, as seen in “The Gods Must be Crazy” ?
    Will it be the straight-forward, subtle humor that characterizes “The Office” ?
    (Pro Tip: click the mockumentary titles for a clip!)
    The type of comedy you choose to employ should be reflective of the audience you have in mind. If you’re trying to appeal to suburban whites, then the sarcastic, simple-mindedness with which “The Gods Must be Crazy” portrays the villagers upholds the expected stereotypes of that demographic. As a result, the movie exaggerates the misconceptions of suburban whites in order to capitalize on the comedic value of said misconceptions.

    In “The Gods Must be Crazy,” a white pilot throws a Coca Cola glass bottle out of a plane. Xi and his village begin to make use of it, after being initially confused by what it was.

     

  3. Plan the plot. Now that you have a topic and you’ve decided what kind of comedy to employ, you’ve got to come up with a story.What is the setting? Who are the characters? What is the goal? Just like any (good) TV show or movie, and mockumentary has to have a plot or purpose.
  4. Script the scenes. I chose to make this a separate point from the one above because operationalizing the plot is very different from the plot itself. Coming up with the plot is the easy part; scripting it, however, is a different story. This is where much artistic privilege and creative license can be applied: details from the facial expression of a character to the number of extras in a scene must all be considered with varying levels of dexterity. If this step were fully realized, it can (and does) take over a year to complete.

This may come as a shocker, but for experiment 3, I’ve chosen to re-work my original piece in the genre of mockumentaries. I wanted my experiment 3 to be drastically different from my previous two experiments, and given that this is a genre I didn’t know existed two weeks ago, I’d say I’ve fulfilled that requirement. However, I also chose to work in this genre because I hope to continue the theme of realistic realization that I began with experiment 2. Experiment 2 transformed my original piece of creative nonfiction into a real, tangible protest song. In experiment 3, I hope to transform my original piece into a mockumentary, in order to continue to make my piece more tangible and applicable to real life.

Just as a refresher, my original piece was a fairytale-like chapter that examined the effects of linguistic hegemony imposed by a Troll on the People. There is a word dealer in the chapter that acts to bridge these two parties; but, in reality, the world dealer lacks a sense of belonging to either party. Experiment 3 will convert the fairytale from my original piece into a mockumentary about the current opioid epidemic. I hope to examine the features of the opioid epidemic that mimic my fairytale. These features include the role of the drug dealers (as the word dealer) as well as that of power dynamics between addicts (the people) and  the systems/institutions that subjugate them (the troll). These institutions/systems of power, such as the legal or health systems, are maintained by average people, and yet, they too are complicit in this crisis.

Heroin.

The pilot episode of “Grimm,” while not a mockumentary, inspired me to look at the realism that subtly finds its way into fairytales.The crimes committed in “Grimm” are based on the fairytales by the Brothers Grimm. “Grimm” details the stories of how normal, inconspicuous people could really be monsters. I hope to elaborate on this point in my mockumentary. In terms of the conventions of the mockumentary, however, I hope to draw upon “The Gods Must be Crazy” and “The Office,” both of which employ a sense of humor I hope to emulate.

“Grimm,” the TV show about how humans can be monsters.

The mockumentary grants me access to a wider audience, as its entertainment value appeals to those who its topic might not appeal to alone. While I am still able to enter the discussion of systematic oppression, it is no longer in the realm of linguistic hegemony. However, I still believe I am entering the same, larger conversation about systematic control via dependance (i.e. on drugs or words). As a result, I will use this genre to communicate this idea to a US audience concerned about the opioid epidemic, or looking to be entertained. I will use a documentary on the opiod epidemic as a starting point, and use its content as a basis to my mockumentary.

How to Handle(r) an Interview

So… how do you write a Chelsea-Handler-Style interview? Great question. While I’d love to call up Chelsea herself and ask, I don’t think she has time for my bullsh*t between her hobbies of liberal rallying and drinking.

Never watched Chelsea Handler? Well you should. She’s sassy, she’s hilarious, she’s blunt, and quite frankly she’s a little scary (I would definitely be nervous to be around her). Not only does she radiate confidence, but she also exudes intelligence. She is informed on important issues that are often brushed under the table. She’s a diehard Democrat, and she harshly challenge those who lean left. On her Netflix show, Chelsea, Handler discusses several pressing issues in a tone that is simultaneously comedic and serious. One issue that Chelsea is extremely adamant about is feminism, and she is a known figure for supporting equal rights. She often brings other supporters on the show such as Gloria Steinem to promote the empowerment of women.

Although it seems almost improbably that individuals out there don’t believe that women and men deserve equal rights – those monsters exist (cough cough Tomi Lahren). I’m sure Chelsea would have quite the mouthful for them. For this experiment, I would like to construct a series of interview questions that Chelsea might ask one of these individuals. I cannot fathom how they would reasonably respond, so for the purpose of experiment three I am simply writing the questions, and possible follow up remarks. I think this (made up) genre would be an interesting way to enter the current conversation of feminism. Cameron and I were discussing how talk show hosts are now more important than ever. As we saw in class, when these hosts discuss important matters, people listen and respond in positive ways.

While I did make up my own genre, there are already some conventions for writing interview questions in general:

  • Do research on the person. Don’t show up blindsided because that’s just embarrassing for both individuals.
  • Do research on the subject. If you are discussing hegemonic masculinity, women’s rights, and feminism, you better know every angle. You should know prominent figures, current events, etc.
  • Know the answers to your own questions.
  • Know your stance on the subject.
  • Start with a light hearted question to get the ball rolling and ease the interviewee into the conversation.
  • Thank them for their time.

To add my sassy Chelsea twist, here are some Handler conventions:

  • Don’t wait for the interviewee to finish their train of thought.
  • Don’t go easy on them – sass is a must.
  • Speak your mind.
  • Continue the questions as a flow. The interview should sound more like a conversation and less like an interview.
  • Delve into the deep questions… I know this disregards the previous point of easing the interviewee in, but Chelsea doesn’t go easy on anyone.
  • Stay true to your opinions – she always does!


Chelsea Handler makes her own rules as she goes. While she has much more authority than I, in this upcoming experiment I will do my best to channel my inner diva in order to spark an important conversation about feminism with an anti-feminist. Watch out – things will get heated.

 

*PSA: I do not know why these gifs aren’t cooperating properly. I am not a tech wiz. I apologize for any inconvenience.

“When a Person’s Personality is Personable…”

Excuse the somewhat irrelevant lyric… I mean, C’MON it is genius. And for whatever reason it popped into my head as I began to think of a title for this blog post (hopefully my group members will kindly shut it down in revision, but until then it stays). Here is the full lyric, for your pleasure:

When a person’s personality is personable / He shouldn’t oughta sit like a lump / It’s harder than matador coercin’ a bull / To try to get you off of your rump. –“You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from COMPANY, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

GENIUS.

And completely irrelevant.

More importantly, I will be using my experiment #3 to try my hand in writing a personal narrative essay.

The personal essay is a form of the genre that I have always been drawn to as a reader. These were the works that I read right before deciding to pursue this minor in writing- mostly essays and essay collections a la Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Solnit and Joan Didion.

This genre is quite broad (over 400 years old) and includes many different forms: diary/journal entry, letters, newspaper columns, valedictions (aka a formal farewell), etc.  They often center around different major themes: ambition, food, death, race/ethnicity, family, disability, etc. There aren’t set rules for this genre, rather conventions of the many forms.

I view the genre as a combination of personal storytelling, and a sort of amateur philosophy. The combination of conversational and lively first person point of view with the act of “formal” writing (i.e. writing, re-writing, researching, editing, synthesizing… going through all the motions) makes for a fully realized and unique piece (unlike a blog which is personal and reflective but traditionally not given as much time and weight).

Recently, I read an article in The New Yorker about how popularized the personal essay has become. Each of the titles mentioned seemed to be one-upping the last with shock factor- a cliché I hope to avoid entirely. I think the main problem for these essays is the lack of specific audience. I hope to avoid the “first person industrial complex” by answering a specific question for a specific audience.

The question at hand: When did I become so obsessed with product and material success, and how is it hindering me as an artist and person?

A bit loaded, as of now, but I think it is a universal question that pops up in many a creative individuals’ mind.

Among the overwhelming amount of possibilities, I’ve decided to roll with the idea of doing an essay that might appear in a newspaper/magazine column. My audience will be creative individuals who may be struggling with the pressures of being “successful” in a creative field.

Think a little bit of NY Times Modern Love, without the focus on external relationships and love, meets Cheryl Strayed’s advice column, “Dear Sugar” (an online advice column that was published as a collection in the novel Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar)*. With this form in mind, I’d like to approach this question using the following conventions:

– anecdotal introduction: Hence the personal in personal essay. The personal narratives I admire use an authentic personal story, or observation, as an avenue to discuss/question/analyze a more specific human experience. These authentic stories earn a writer credibility and trust whilst also serving as a great hook.

– humor: Even in the darkest of times, often more in the darkest of times, humor is a universal language. The personal stories that deal with the heavy stuff often use a humorous approach- it is human to dilute the struggle with some giggle.

– relation to a larger theme: In this case, success (and general happiness/well-being).

– not terribly long in length: Modern Love posts are fairly short, whereas Strayed’s advice columns varied in length. I am going to make it a goal to keep it between 1,500 and 2,000 words.

– conversational tone and unique voice: More formal than a blog, but as casual as you would see writing done in a print publication. Ideally, if it were actually a column someone would be able to recognize my writing style from another essayist. (Hey, this kinda ties in my irrelevant lyric… but not really).

Hopefully, this genre choice will allow me to join the conversation of the benefits of process-oriented creative work by sharing my own personal experience with “The Process Project” (my origin piece was a reflective journal entry on how my work on the project affected me as a student, performer and person, making this the least radical of my experiments, but I think it will serve it well).

*One little exception: I will not be addressing anyone specifically, as done in the “Dear Sugar” advice column. 

Blogs N’ Such

For my third experiment, I’m writing a blog post to discuss paid leave. Blogs are great for a lot of things. They lay at the peculiar intersection of personal and private writing – a tricky spot to be in. Blogs are like online diaries, at their heart. They’re usually expressive, rather than informational. And this happens in flux because of this issue of audience. Blogs have issues communicating their points if they don’t properly consider who they’re writing to. Usually, the more expressive and personal approach means a more niche audience. It takes a lot to be universally engaging without being trite. This genre can fail its author if not handled well. It provokes self expression to a certain limit of alienation of a potentially passive audience. To avoid this issue, here are some pointers.

Use plain language.

Be deliberate with your prose. Write as if talking to a close friend. Not that you have to make yourself super vulnerable or whatever, but be consistent and honest with your dialectic to most comfortably deliver your message and let the audience know your voice/thoughts.

Understand your audience.

Blogs can be personal – I know. But remember that folks may actually be reading. Different choices in writing work in different situations, for different people.

Stay focused and have a point.

Really personally, occasionally rambling writing can be great. Sometimes (usually) it can be a bit much. If you’ve ever read Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, you might know what I mean. People can get lost in your train of thought. Your thoughts may sound cohesive and logical in your head, but that doesn’t always translate when written, Dave. If that’s part of your style or point, fine. Just know I’ve probably started skimming. Anyways…so ya…be careful. *deliberate rambling*

Consider your position within the conversation.

You’re presenting one voice, your own, to be among many others. Your blog post is a monologue in part of an ongoing conversation. Think about who you are within the context of the discussion. What does your perspective mean regarding your point, other people’s points?

I’m trying to step into the blogosphere, as a voice in an ongoing conversation that I arguably am not meant to be in. But, that’s part of the point. Blogs are a mean for people to share their take, express oneself and understand one’s situational relations with others. So in this case, I’m expressing the voice of an ally – a role that my blog post is going to show is important. I’m writing a blog post, leaning on the blogosphere community of people who think they aren’t part of this discussion, but who I’m saying should be. In doing so, I’ll try to write to the presumably male third party, to make the point that paid leave is everyone’s issue.

Social Media Stories

In the span of the 7 years since 2010 when I first opened my Facebook profile, I have not made a single extended post. On the other hand, like everyone else, I’ve seen my fair share of the self-inspiring, reflective blog-like statements. Personally, I think they’re actually more interesting than the quick selfies, indignant one-sentence status updates, or endless meme tags (which, as much as I find them amusing, it’s only for a split second). Maybe it’s because the big load of text looks more like a story that it catches my eye more easily. Though, I know that’s the majority opinion for people, but these kinds of long, introspective posts are becoming more and more ubiquitous.

 

Requirements of a Facebook Post:

Have an attention-grabbing first sentence: If you’re flipping through Facebook newsfeed, presumably on a phone, you need something that screams for attention under your thumb. Stop. Click on the blue, See More to hunt for something a little bit more contemplative. And usually it is.

Example #1: “Freshman year wasn’t what I was hoping for and it wasn’t what I expected.”See More

You click, and there’s the rest of the story. If you want your friends to notice your monologue, you better have something to tie them down amongst all the memes and other not-so-special snowflakes littered in social media.

 

Know that it’s very, very public: This is a key difference between a Facebook post and the more formal writing settings I’ve worked in up till now. With essays or short stories, the audience always ends up being people who inevitably seek it for themselves to some extent: professors grading my papers, poetry and fiction enthusiasts who pick up literary journals where I’m published in, people who like reading blogs that I’ve contributed to. In essence, they’re interested based on the subject, and genre of the work I’m doing.

But now look at Facebook. Assuming I’m not a celebrity with a bookmarked public profile, my audience is simply anyone who has taken the grace of FB friending me. Some of these people are high school friends who haven’t seen me in years. Some are old middle school teachers. Some are people in my Tue-Thur ACC 301 class. My audience is characterized by my network, not so much by their interests.

Rather, they’re more characterized by mine, by which communities and spaces I’ve chosen to engage in. So I need to know that, in being open with my opinions of stereotypes of the people around me, it’s subject to the judgment of all those whom I’ve ever said a passing hello to on the Ann Arbor streets, back home in Troy, or have had the deepest heart-to-heart low-key therapy sessions in the car with.

Do I care about them?
Yes.
Especially if it’s something personal about my life.
Which it is.

Especially if the opinions I voice are about the people I see every day. I need to tread carefully, for risk of offending them. Depending on how much I care, that is, again.

I had a friend who came out as bisexual on Facebook last year. At the time, one late evening, I was doing homework, had fallen asleep at my desk, then woke up to blindly scroll through newsfeed. Then I see the his post through half-blurry vision. “Obligatory Social Media Post About A Closet:…”

Example #2. Also with an interesting opening sentence. And subject to the opinions of his family, relatives, friends (old, new, and those flirting the gray areas between acquaintance, okay friend, and confidante), and any other random person he’d allowed his profile viewable to.

Knowing that, I have to know that in a Facebook post, I have to be cognizant of what people might think, (or what I don’t care what they think). It’s directly tied to my image among people at my level. Personable. Real. Direct.

 

Be candid: Again. Be personable. The people you address in a thoughtful Facebook post are people you may see on the streets in an hour or two. If you falsify yourself, there is always someone who knows that you lied. That it’s a façade. Granted that social media is already a melting pot of 75% fakeness anyways, with the prettiest things at the top of the page earning 50+ likes and the most boring scattered among the memes with 1-2 likes each.

The ugliest also get a lot of attention, but again, they come up in these kinds of posts often. That’s the kind of relatability that garners a lot of likes, loves, reacts, etc. too, depending on how you word it.

Example #3: “SINCE everyone has something to say or jokes to make from ill-informed people or reading past statuses without asking questions. Maybe because you think you know something about me or just want to live in ignorance…”

Calling out other people’s BS is always one kind of “ugly” that I can respect. Hats off to you, #3.

 

Have a conclusive, What now?: To finish off, you want to sound completed by the end of it. You need something that says to all the random readers of your life, yes, I got a motive for posting this to the social media realm. With me, perhaps I receive the satisfaction that by calling out to the people whom know me, the people who are immersed in the exact environments and stereotypes in cultures I speak of, I’d tell them honestly a truth, just mine. Not fact, but just an opinion. Or if I don’t have quite a definitive positive ending, I can complete it by admitting my incompleteness, my unsureness of the future or how that affects my days going forward. In that sense, I have another kind of conclusion.

“I don’t know what’ll happen after this…But I know that I’ll be searching for new things. And I will be okay.”

 

Proposal: For my experiment, I want to attempt writing a Facebook post of my experiences going through different communities while in college, in a rather objective way. Kind of like an extra short critique of the kinds of stereotypes I see in each space I’m familiar with (business, art), and where I see myself personally fitting in with it, and where I feel the distance. Conclusively, I want to make a statement on whether I feel, at the end of the day, if it is okay that I don’t fit in any place completely. Hopefully, other people can relate to that reality.