First of all, thanks to Crystal for finding so much awesome stuff from all of these writers! I found Eula Biss’ piece “Time and Distance Overcome” to be particularly inspiring. If anyone else has ever read her piece “No Man’s Land,” it feels a lot like that, only much more explicitly dark.
I managed to find another of David Shields’ pieces, which was really interesting. It’s an essay crafted entirely out of quotes he found from bumperstickers and can be found here: http://publicprivatelanguages.blogspot.com/2010/05/ryans-bumper-sticker-poem-david-shields.html The link reports that this is the Shields essay in full, but I’m a little suspicious of the source. Having said that, it’s a really interesting piece that provides an interesting contrast to some of what Maggie Nelson talks about in her piece that Crystal linked to, specifically about quotation and individualism.
A little long, but worth the read. If pressed for time, maybe just check out the first few pages. A few of the later pages, and the last page. The style and presentation of this piece is really important to pay attention to, I think.
Here’s a list of stuff I’ve consulted so far. Anything you’ve got in terms of recommendations of things you even think might just help to even think about would be greatly appreciated. Let me give a quick overview of what I’m actually doing before throwing down sources.
Is anyone familiar with Creepypasta? If not, I highly recommend you visit this link (or maybe don’t if you scare easily), but to sum everything up, its a term given to short-form horror fiction that wanders its way around the internet. While there are sites that curate these stories (both good and super terrible), that’s all they do: collect. I want to make a website that looks like a creepypasta curation site, but is actually itself a user-driven piece of interactive horror fiction. By interacting with the site and other participants, a horror experience would unfold depending on behaviors and interactions of individual participants. If you need any more info, I”ll be happy to provide it, but right now I’m looking for anything even tangentially related: stuff about horror, a really scary story you might have read, a weird piece of fiction that presented itself in a very non-traditional way, flash games that are really conscious of user interaction, cool website designs that you like, interesting examples of Internet communities, etc. Any and all help is appreciated. Below are sources consulted thus far:
Various Creepypastas found on the Internet (mostly sourced from 4chan’s /x/ board, Creepypasta.com, and the creepypasta wiki site) Marble Hornets – Youtube Video Series Ted’s Caving Journal Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities Various short fiction of HP Lovecraft
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad Jennifer Egan’s Black Box Fan-made wiki sites (TV Tropes, wiki sites for various fandoms, etc.) Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature—Espen Aarseth
“Why Bother?”—Jonathan Franzen Journey—Thatgamecompany (PlayStation Network game, PS3) Heavy Rain—Quantic Dream, PS3
Raymond Queneau – Cent mille milliards de poèmes “One Chance” – Internet Flash Game The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of the Heart – Noël Carroll
“The Rhetoric of Video Games” – Ian Bogost
“Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood – Michele Morano Dracula – Bram Stoker
Okay, so does anyone else feel like throwing up (in a good way maybe?) when they think about this project? I really hope I’m not alone on this one, because this project is scary.
Anyway, here are the 3 ideas I copied from the email I sent Ray last Thursday night:
1) Exploration of New and Social Media as a “playground” for fiction writers (I’m particularly interested in supernatural horror fiction and “strange tales.” Research could lead to a number of projects, but I’m thinking of a fiction piece that would be designed similar to a viral marketing campaign or something similar that makes use of a variety of media and modes of transmission.
2) Riffing off the theme of supernatural/horror/speculative fiction, criticism has been made about the lack of a monster that resonates with contemporary audiences: we keep appropriating monsters from the historical past (ghosts, demons, vampires, zombies, etc.) rather than creating ones of our own, that belong to our present. So, what would it take to for a monster to have the same cultural impact as the aforementioned enjoyed? What would this creature (is it even a creature?) look like? Why would it engender fear on a widespread, cultural level? What societal anxiety would it speak to, and to paraphrase Jeffrey Cohen’s 7th thesis on monsters and culture, what would it say about us? These questions could drive research that would culminate in an academic paper or maybe even a piece of fiction
3) Working again from the idea of new modes of fiction production, it may be really rewarding and interesting to try to conceptualize, design, and potentially even implement a sort of magazine or ezine (or maybe even a hybrid) for writers experiment with new methods of narration and storytelling to submit and publish their works. Maybe a generalist approach would work for this, or maybe I could even narrow it to a particular genre or type of experimental writing (likely horror or spec fic related).
Now, I’ll come right out and say that I crapped out that third idea because we had to have a third idea. Fortunately, in the shower on Friday before class, I remember I really enjoy gaming in all of its forms (board/card/video/mobile/flash/whatever) and that got me thinking that maybe I could do something with games related to idea 1, and I think I mentioned this in class already. So this is where I’m currently at with my conception of the project, and it’s admittedly vague.
To simply what’s going on in idea 1, I’m interested in the ways we can use things like New Media or non-traditional media (like board and card games) to tell stories in ways that haven’t really been explored that much, in ways that force a reader to change how he or she reads and experiences a work of fiction, that is specific to the medium or various media an artist/writer/developer/designer constructs for him/her. While people have written flash fiction with the help of Twitter, for example, the endeavors I’ve happened across have felt forced or gimmicky, and I think this is because these writers are trying to adapt social media to the ways the already know how to write. This makes perfect sense and I don’t begrudge them for doing things they way they tried. But I’m interested in how these new and rarely explored avenues can shape the way we write and more importantly, tell and experience stories. I want to create something like Ted’s Caving Journal (which will terrify and anger you should you choose to read), or Journey, or Marble Hornets does.
This is where project 4 (also known as shower project) works its way into the post: I would like to look at some successful (and not so successful) attempts to create these news ways of telling stories, and perhaps design a story of my own. I foresee a number of challenges that come along with this project, including but not limited to technology and personal learning curve limitations, available time to commit to the project, the issue of creating a convincing story and then presenting it in a convincing medium, avoiding gimmicks and other negative buzzwords that rear their heads in scathing reviews of bad movies/music/tv/anything/everything, etc. It may even be possible for me to work bits and pieces of idea 2 into this project; a monster story where the medium is the monster could be an interesting (the more I write the more pretentious this gets) way to approach the “story” of the project. Who knows? Gotta start somewhere. At the end of the day though, I’m interested in the intersection of narration, reader experience, story, and new and non-traditional media.
For me personally, being able to design, write, implement, and publish a horror story through something like a cooperative/collaborative flash or mobile phone game that makes use of a variety of media to not just help the story move along, but to create the entire experience, would be a really cool way to end this minor and my time at Michigan; it would combine some of the most important experiences and thoughts I’ve had in these last four years into what I could honestly say would be a capstone. In retrospect, every step I’ve taken in my long, winding, and oft frustrating journey through my undergraduate education has pointed me toward this project. But that doesn’t make the idea any less terrifying. I’m happy with the seeds of ideas I have here, but anything anyone can add to help them grow would be greatly appreciated.
Talking about medieval literature and literary criticism/theory
Being a writing tutor (I think)
Writing blog posts in order to proscrastinate (not saying the posts are good, just saying I’m great at using them as self-destructively as possible)
A couple other things
Things I am not good at:
Writing my statement of purpose for grad school
Many other things, but I would like to reemphasize that I’m super not good at writing my statement of purpose. Cool? Cool.
So I’m at the Asia Library again, doing battle with my statement of purpose once more. It’s going better than it did last time, and I feel like I’m actually making progress. Which is good. The problem is, it still isn’t done. And I’m not sure when it will be. Remember how weird it felt to write about yourself, trying to market yourself for this minor? Multiply that times infinity, and then throw in the fact that admission to these schools could very well determine the next forever of your life, and you’ll understand how this feels. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but then again, maybe I’m not. I thought I could knock this thing out the same way I did my undergrad admissions essays: all in one go, while listening to terrible top-40 music on repeat in order to motivate myself to finish faster (thanks again, Boys Like Girls and Taylor Swift!). Obviously, this has not been the case.
It’s funny, the thesis I’m writing, which is supposed to be somewhere between 40 and 6o pages by the middle of March, seems like an infinitely easier task to manage that a few paragraphs about why I’m ready for grad school. How does that work? The obvious answer would be that I legitimately don’t understand my purpose for pursuing graduate studies yet, but that’s not the case; I know exactly why I want my PhD. I want to teach. I have this romantic, horribly cliche’d fantasy of becoming Chaucer Clerk from The Canterbury Tales, locked away in a tower of knowledge-tomes, studying away until I the time comes for me to share my discoveries with others, and hopefully inspiring them to nerd out in much the same ways that I do. “Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche” and all that jazz.
To probe the question further, I want to teach because it gives me an opportunity to study things I’m interested regarding literature (non-canonical literatures and genres, medieval English vernacular texts, intersections of digital rhetoric/online ethos and new modes of fiction production) and then discuss why these things might be important to us, as scholars, and perhaps even more widely, to our culture (whatever that word means). As a college professor, you kind of get the privilege of controlling what’s taught, and thus what is (and more importantly, isn’t) learned; you’re an arbiter of the dissemination of Knowledge in a very real way. That’s a lot of power, and I personally feel like it’s being wielded ineffectively in a lot of ways, in a lot of literary scholarship. If I were a professor, I would have the opportunity to open people up students’ eyes to texts, writers, movements, and genres they may not otherwise encounter. That’s important to me, but I think it’s also a rant for another time.
BUT THERE. I SAID IT. HUZZAH. So, why the hell can’t I do that in my statement of purpose? I have no idea. Oh well, I guess I’ll keep on trucking for now, cross my fingers, hope for inspiration, and then maybe something miraculous will happen. But if all this grad stuff doesn’t go as planned, I guess it isn’t the end of the world. After all, someone has to write pun-riddled titles to movie and tv reviews. Actually, does anyone know how to get an interview for something like that? I may have found my calling.
Josh Kim is an English major at the University of Michigan, where he is steadily losing his mind.
It’s 5:52 PM on a Sunday evening. I’m in the Asia Library on the 4th floor of Hatcher, in a room set a ways back from the rest of library. It’s outfitted with a number of comfortable (but not too comfortable) chairs, there’s a little blue and white mock Ming style vase in the corner, and there are even windows that afford a lovely view of the asphalt on top of the building and the icky-looking grey sky above it. This is a surprisingly awesome place to get stuff done. So, why is the document open on my screen still blank?
See, I’m writing my Statement of Purpose for grad school applications. These really aren’t hard: you say why you want to go to grad school, why you’re qualified to go to grad school, what you want to work on, and who you want to work with. There. Simple. Shouldn’t be a problem. Right? They wouldn’t be if I didn’t have to write them. I haven’t moved from my spot in 5 hours, and still nothing’s set in digital ink. While I know I’ve probably done worse in the past, this somehow brings my rocky relationship with writing to a brand new low; the longest statement required of me on an application is 3 pages (double spaced, no less). This sucks.
When I wrote my Why I Write paper last year, I focused my essay around how very much I hate writing. I know, maybe not the greatest move to open with for someone seeking a minor in writing, but hear me out. Writing is by and large the hardest thing I have to do on a regular basis with regards to academia. In my entire academic career, nothing has even come close to making me feel as stupid as writing does. There are no right answers (just better ones), there’s no handbook to tell you what to do (because let’s face it, Strunk and White are about as useful to writing as something absolutely useless is to…well…anything…see how tough this is?). There’s only you against yourself, and I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’m kind of mean. You know that little voice you’re supposed to have inside your head that quietly cheers you on, saying nice things like, “You can do it!” and “You’ve got this!”? I think I got that little guy’s evil twin, and he’s never louder than he is when I’m writing. And now that grad school is in the picture, it feels like he’s talking through a megaphone. Why wouldn’t I hate this? Yeah, it feels nice to be done with writing, but getting there makes me question if its even worth it. As one of my personal heroes Dorothy Parker famous observed, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Shouldn’t things get easier with time and practice? Why does writing get to be different?
At the end of my Why I Write paper, I talked about how I felt like Sysiphus when I write, doing something painful, something futile, something oddly punishing over and over again for eternity. But there was a glimmer of hope in that statement, because maybe one time when I rolled the rock up the hill, it would stay put. That optimism is more or less gone. That’s not to say I don’t think I’m not getting better at writing, or that I think I’ll stop getting better. I won’t. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate it my whole life.
Joshua Kim is a future professor of English literature and composition. He fully realizes the irony of this, he promises.
This post probably won’t be all that substantial, but I’ve got to get it out somewhere. Also, it’s really only tangentially related to writing, but bear with me.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been gathering my application materials for the English Honors program. The main pull of applying for honors to me was how it enables me to write a senior thesis next year, under the watch of a faculty member of my choosing. I’d long given up on the idea of being an honors student, as I was under the impression that one has to be a student in the Honors college in order to participate in English honors. Late last semester I found out that my understanding of the matter was (thankfully) wrong.
However, admissions to honors isn’t easy, and it’s pretty strongly discouraged to apply this late in the game (I, like I imagine many of the rest of the writing minors, am a second semester junior). In addition to applying late, I have accomplished exactly none of the required coursework. I figured the best way to show the English Honors department that I’m capable and worthy of admission was to show that a) I could handle the course work, b) that I had a thesis topic in mind, and c) that I had an adviser all lined up and ready to help me through the year long process. I registered for two honors seminars (one of which also counted as my theory course, yet another component of the honors program) and talked to the only professor who seemed capable of helping me through my topic. I’m not sure if I should name names or not, but trust me, she’s awesome. I set up a meeting with her, told her my plan and waited for her response. With a resounding “absolutely,” she agreed to be my thesis adviser, and I had a solid plan of attack for my application. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I hit a major snag.
See, the professor I want to work with, though wonderful, isn’t technically a professor at the university; she’s a lecturer. It hadn’t occurred to me this may end up being problematic, but since I’d asked this professor to work with me at the end of December, things had been a little touch and go between us and the administration. Even after meeting with the director of the Honors English program, I didn’t have a solid answer on whether or not I could actually work with who I wanted to work. “I’d like to say yes, but the issue is above me,” I was told. The only thing to do was sit around and wait.
Well, fast forward to today. I was finish up an interview about the writing minor in Sweetland. On my way out, I managed to run into this professor of mine. She was with a student, but stopped mid conversation in the hallway to flag me down. “Hey,” she said. “I heard from Jennifer. I can be your adviser.” I actually let out an audible “YESSS” in the middle of the center, which in retrospect was probably pretty inappropriate, so sorry to anyone who was trying to conduct a tutorial. I just couldn’t hold it in. Ever since the idea to apply to English honors seeped into my brain, all I can think about is how excited I am to write this thesis. I’ve read books on my topic, I’m doing a ton of non-required reading, I’ve gone to talks related to my topic in order to get ideas for sources–what I’m trying to say is that I’m a huge dork and I’m so glad I’m this much closer to getting to write this crazy thing that’s spiraling further and further out of control in my head on a daily basis.
I still have yet to be officially admitted to the program, but now that I know that all my proverbial ducks are in a row, I think I’ll just have it that much easier. Now all that’s left to do is write my statement of purpose.
So, I kind of dropped the ball on blogging regularly throughout the minor. My bad. Sorry Naomi : ( I’ll be better in the future.
But I’m here now, and I’ve got to say, this feels good. Last semester, I was immersed in writing 24/7 (three lit classes paired with three writing classes will do that to a person, apparently). The amount of writing I did over the four-ish months of the fall semester is a little staggering, and after it was all over I felt mentally exhausted. For some reason though, that feeling of exhaustion is almost preferable to what I’m experiencing right now. We’re about five weeks into this semester and so far I haven’t had to do a single substantial piece of writing. And that sucks.
Don’t get me wrong—I love slacking off and taking it easy as much as the next person, but when I’m not writing, I feel like I’m wasting away. You’d think being a peer tutor would help with this, but my tutoring sessions actually seem to exacerbate these feelings of stagnation. Seeing other people writing and working through interesting ideas they have on a diversity of topics just makes me wish I was doing the same. And I’ll get back to that point, eventually. But my first big deadline doesn’t come until February 24th, right before spring break. That’s absurd to me.
In my “Why I Write” paper from last semester, I talked a lot about how I have a love-hate relationship with writing. True, it’s an enjoyable activity that engages me and gives me a forum to present my thoughts much more eloquently than I could ever hope to with my oral communication skills, but writing is also super hard and oftentimes oppressively time consuming. I mentioned how writing always made me feel like Sisyphus, constantly pushing that awful rock up the hill, only to have it fall all the way down again at the end of the day. The story felt right to reference because I never feel like I can win with writing; there’s always something I would have liked to change or said differently, something that I should’ve edited out, something I should’ve expanded on further. As frustrating as those feelings are though, they beat the hell out of sitting at the bottom of the hill, staring at the rock, hoping it’ll reach the top on its own.
So I guess I’m glad I’ve been reminded to regularly contribute to the blog. Spring break is still a long way off, and I don’t want to turn into a pre-Dorothy Tinman of writing in the time between then and now. The can of oil is sitting right in front of me, so why not use it?
Sidenote: SO glad to see the Winter 2012 cohort is using animated gifs in their posts. It makes the blog feel so much more lively (not that it felt dead before, by any means).
Because my portfolio IS FINALLY FINISHED. After trashing four designs, going back and forth a thousand times about how to best get my site to be a real site, countless cups of coffee, 21.5 straight hours (post design-nixing), and about 3000 lines of html and css, it is finally done. It looks like Alex beat me to the punch for using a zombie image to describe what I look, so I’ll go with this gem from Community instead.
Like with most projects in this class, I really struggled to lift off the ground. My biggest breakthrough actually came when I completely messed up what I was working on. That screw-up became the foundational design for my portfolio and one of the few times I’ve been thankful for my clumsiness. I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am with this portfolio. It’s not what I wanted, it’s better. I’ve made sites before, but this is easily the one I’m most proud of. I feel like what I imagine new dads feel like (okay, maybe not that good, but I’m riding a pretty huge high right now).
If there’s anything I feel like I want to work on more, it’s the actual pieces of writing. But that’s always the case. I never feel like a paper is finished. I’m sure a few days from now, when I check my site out again, I’ll find glaring errors and nitpitcky little flaws alike, but for now, this is a success. My portfolio shows who I am as a writer, and also a little of who I am as a person. Coming off the coattails of what I thought was a complete failure (i.e. my remediation project), this is just…gah. It’s awesome. I love it. Or maybe I just love that it’s done. I don’t know, my eloquence is failing me tonight.
Exiting the gateway course, I’m just surprised at the amount of work we’re all capable of producing, and the fact that it’s quality is pretty impressive. This class has been an ultimately rewarding (though also thoroughly frustrating and exhausting) experience, and I’m glad I got to be a part of it. I guess all that’s left to say is good luck with the rest of finals week, thanks for making the semester so enjoyable, and see you all (hopefully) in the capstone course!