David Foster Wallace

It’s incredible, last year in English 325, my professor had given us many pieces by David Foster Wallace. They were filled with a twisting plot, almost of a turmoiled mind. The type of writing was so unique, so individual, that we had a hard time wrapping our minds around it, but at the same time we were shown such a different style of literary production that we were ourselves encouraged to try something out of the norm.

I walked into this reading in Angel Hall on Thursday and they’re reading David Foster Wallace. It was his biography, in fact, and for an hour we listened to his fight with alcoholism and his fight with depression, the room was packed. The reader was also phenomenal, sometimes a story really comes alive with how it’s read. He kept the atmosphere light, breaking up the reading every so often with his own thoughts, inputs, or jokes on his own interpretations. He also had the luck to meet some of the characters in the piece, and as he’s describing his encounters, it’s like he’s reading from a book in his mind. I almost remember the reader more than what he read, he had a way of speaking that sounded like something out of an exhaustively written novel. How can you just pull out a sentence like, “The man was like muscle drained through a filter so that it settled heavy on his entire frame?” How can you see the world, and then communicate it like you’re telling a story, so effortlessly?

As the speaker opened it up to questions at the end, I realized I was way out of my league. Many in the audience had studied the life and works of David Foster Wallace and I was just glad to recognize the name. But more than anything, this session has really hit home something I’ve been meaning to do more–read. Sometimes it’s so easy to say I’m too busy, too tired, but I’ve realized that I really do miss a good book. First book to start with? The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Different Styles Different Writing

As Emily and I are working through our remediation, we’ve noticed how important it is to be flexible and willing to change. Working with a new medium and a new topic and way of presenting requires us to try different things and be willing to continually adjust to find the best combination.

We started off with wix since it seemed to have a very fluid interface that allowed us to manipulate many components of the site. As we’ve worked, however, we’ve realized the formatting doesn’t quite suit our needs in the way that we would like and have now shifted to tumblr. As I’ve been adding captions to our pictures I’m also struggling with how to preserve our site theme of simplicity and visuals, while still capturing the scene and the quote with selectively chosen words. Originally, I had literally laid it out question followed by direct answer. Now, as I try to make the site flow together more, I’ve realized that I can use my writing to set a tone. I can bring in the setting of that person speaking and all of a sudden, the story comes alive. We had an incredible time interviewing people and heard amazing responses. For readers of our site, I want them to have a glimpse of what it was like to be there and how the words were spoken. Sometimes, I’ve realized, it’s not just what people say, but how they say it.

Pants Off

So Emily and I walked around Ann Arbor to collect interviews on people for our Re-mediating project for the first time today. We ask two questions, take their picture, thank them, and then do little dances of excitement as we look at how our project is growing.

I am so pleasantly surprised that people are so receptive to participating. No one we asked has declined to answer our questions or pose for a picture and everyone has taken the time to think up a real answer to our question. In the few short minutes that we have with them, their answers have shown us more of them than I think they realize and it is rewarding to get their insight, hear their opinions, and many times, their unknown advice.

This is exactly what I wanted to accomplish with this project and I am so thrilled it’s pulling together. The insight that we get from just talking to people on the street for 2 minutes maximum has me thinking about things in ways I hadn’t considered. More than 15 times today I’ve done a double take while hastily typing their answers into my phone with numb fingers, because they have managed to frame something very beautifully and very concisely about themselves.

On the flip side, we just meet some hilarious characters. We wanted a picture of one guy with his friends and they told us he just got a M tattoo on his upper thigh. He says, “Do you wan to have it in the picture?” Laughingly, I say, “Sure, why not?” thinking he was joking.

He wasn’t.

He pulls his pants down in the middle of State Street so we can take a picture of him, in his boxers, with his M tattoo.

Go blue.

Software Takes Command

Manovich’s paper on his propositions of understanding and working with this new world driven by digital communication has raised some interesting questions for me.

One of the theories he posits is that in order to use this new technology to its full potential, we need to understand the makings of the software, what happens behind the scenes. But this process is so intricate, involves so many facets, to what degree do we need to understand why and how a webpage is created? If we know just what we need to make it look the way we want it to, is that enough? I’d also like to understand his ultimate reasoning for why. Is it so that we can realize the potential with what we have? Or is it so that we more fully appreciate what it takes to make our communication look the way it does? In either case I can see the merits of both arguments. I’m sure my phone, laptop, and software have so much more capability than I’m using them for, but because I don’t spend the time to read a manual or go behind the scenes, I only scratch the surface of what they’re really capable of doing.

Another interesting part he explores is the role of technology in our culture and the different venues that we can now use to express our culture. What does this mean for the development of our culture? Does it mean it will grow and change faster? Looking back, there are always major periods in history on how people think and is defined by what is important to them at that point in time. Looking back in 200 years, will we see these phases happening more quickly and will it have something to do with technology? When we transfer our ideas so frequently through digital means, new movements can spread like rapid fire. Case in point, the Arab Spring, other revolutions around the country, and even elections have spread throughout the world at an astonishing pace, and I wonder how much of that gets captured into a part of our permanent identity.

First Upload into Eportfolio

I’ve finally copied my repurposing paper onto my eportfolio, worked out the kinks of all the links, decided on a layout, color, font, size, and now it’s up there.

http://beixili.wix.com/livelaughloveshare#!stories/cnhu

It’s amazing how much time I need when I’m given so many choices. Just choosing the proper layout for my story pages and how I wanted them displayed took a good half hour. Did I want the pages to show directly? How many transitions did I want and how many table of contents? Rather than cluttering one page, I decided to keep it simple on each page but with many pages. There are so many details and facets to change, I’m not sure I’ll ever be done tweaking the colors, changing the pictures, or finding a layout, but it feels good to see your own site up and running, with pieces that have gone through drafts and are now officially available over the Internet.

But what I’m really interested in, is their really a difference between reading on paper and reading on a screen? You always hear people who say, “I’m old fashioned, I like turning the pages of a book, feeling pen and paper.” Is this just a habit or is there something more to it? Having a physical piece to handle may make it more tangible, more real, more relatable? Or is the internet, with our eportfolios as an example, a way to counteract this movement, to show that things can be just as real and it doesn’t matter what the medium is? How do we get those who are not familiar with this new age of technology, comfortable with everything that is out there? Maybe it’s evolution, gradually, the only people left will be those that grew up with computers and screens and the time of paper and pens will be something like a myth. A time of books that had real pages, pens that had real ink, and children who didn’t understand the meaning of “eportfolio.”

Raining on My Parade

Writers hardly suffer the consequences of weather.

If it’s snowing, we bundle up with a blanket and hot chocolate. If it’s sunny we can bask in the window pane of light cast on our coach or venture out into the grass. If it’s windy, we watch and write behind closed doors and sound walls. If it’s rainy, we sit it out.

If writers become multimodal, we hardly have the same luxuries.

For our remediation, our intention was to enjoy the crisp cool air of an October Thursday, to solicit the wise sayings of those who may be wandering Main Street. Instead, we were greeted with the sheets of rain, cloudy skies, and red rain boots that aren’t uncommon to Michigan Fall. Needless to say, we beat a hasty retreat and penned in a rescheduled date.

As we use more of our environment, actively engaging it in our pursuits, we are, at the same time, constrained by that which we want to interact with. How do you define a writer? What if you write by putting together a collage of pictures, by capturing the world around you? How much do we integrate before we cease to be independent writers and just an observer of the world? Is there a boundary, a line? Or are we really just the same thing?

Digital Rhetoric

Digital rhetoric, as Eyman remarks, is something that we’ve all been doing without really stopping to identify what it means. It’s interesting to see how he attempts to build a definition after the fact, and how the more he tries to define it, the more he realizes it is actually a compilation of multimodal works that is constantly shifting and that can apply to an immense variety of works. He has still, nonetheless, been successful at creating a foundation for the structure of digital rhetoric, and has caused me to think a little more on what digital rhetoric actually applies to. Is it any medium other than writing that tries to do the same thing as writing? Would you classify web-based advertisements under this banner of digital rhetoric?

Hicks’ interview with his daughters follows this idea, and illustrates it in a much more real life application. When asking the generation that has grown up with digital technology, effectively engaging in digital rhetoric everyday, they have a very fuzzy, broad, vague idea of what it means. Is digital rhetoric too academic? Will this term eventually shift into some type of layman’s term, popularized on the street? When his daughters are probed further and asked to expand, they are actually quite detailed in how digital rhetoric applies to their everyday lives, so the concept exists, but maybe not the terminology.

Jonathan Alexander’s blog is a further exploration into the norms and boundaries of this new mode of publishing. He uses the example of a teen who committed suicide after his sexual relationship with another male was published online by his roommate. In words and paper, we hardly slander people in the ways that this video did. It seems we have come to unspoken rules in literature that are being bent and broken by those using the digital world as a medium, to the fatal effects of certain victims involved. So how do we balance the act of free expression and protection? Anything is fair game now, news is 24/7 and definitely not local, we are privy to information, but is there such a thing as too much information?

Liz Losh’s piece has me wondering an interesting question. If we can only define things after having experienced it, how do we know that the definition is correct? Or even that it’s still relevant? What if by the time we define something, the experience has already shifted and our definition is obsolete? Especially with something such as the digital interface, that changes with the click of a button or the uploading of a picture, the same landscape is hardly the same after a few hours. As I’m going through these blogs, they are all providing frameworks to somehow understand this new term, some structure to confine it. But what if we built into its definition, the very change and flexibility that it stands for?

 

Sweetland Writing Center

Last week, I went to my first appointment with a Sweetland counselor and found it very, very helpful.

Instead of jumping straight into my pieces, we talked a long time about background, the purpose of the assignment, and where I was coming from. Only after that did we begin to go over the pieces, in which he pushed me to think of all the different possibilities that a story could present. Wanting to turn my memoirs into fiction, he showed me ways the story could develop and allowed me to question myself on how much I wanted to develop it in certain directions.

He also gave an incredible tip in setting up characters. I was finding it difficult to write in new tones or voices, and he said sometimes that is most true for particular characters in a story. As a suggestion, he recommended basing those characters off someone in my life that I was very familiar with, someone who’s personality I understood quite well, and to use their thought process for my characters, allowing creativity to make its own changes. This was a way to build distance between me and my writing and to allow for the opportunity of multiple voices from one author.

The appointment allowed me to go back and revise my stories, radically, again. I think this repurposing assignment has been the single assignment where I’ve done such comprehensive, completely new revisions every time. My stories come out looking almost heads over tails new, but somehow, I’m not upset that it’s changed so much, rather, excited that I can see it becoming more well-rounded and can only hope that the development continues.

Remediation

I’m pretty excited to try this Remediation project, especially since Emily and I will be working together. The two of us have different skills, but combined, we can really create something interesting. The theme of our project is going to be on looking at life in new ways, stopping to take time and see what’s around us, and finding what’s inspirational for each person. There is such a plethora of opinions and perspectives available to us on a daily basis, and unlocking this potential is what our project will be centered around.

Our audience will be people our age and our subjects will be people that you could encounter any day on the street, and maybe not spare them a second glance. This will be about really looking at our environment, uncovering all the learning opportunities that are available in each person that we have the potential to meet, and harnessing it in a form that can be shared with other people.

At this stage in our lives, we are achieving milestones and making decisions like none we’ve made before. It could be called a quarter life crisis. Seeing what other people have done, hearing their recommendations from their own experiences, and applying that and introspectively looking at ourselves, could offer the insight that we need to redefine ourselves and help us make these decisions.

Communicating with Less

Last week, I participated in my first Twitter Chat for the Ross School of Business. The goal was to answer questions on the spot and to provide a little insight into not just our community, but into the resources that we offer.

Having only tweeted a meager 20 or so tweets in my very limited tweeting career, this was not my usual cup of tea. As the hour ticked by, answering questions in 140 characters became an entirely new form of writing that I had to adapt to. How in the world do you say everything you need to say in such a short character count? Thank goodness it reminds you exactly how many letters you have left.

And then I’m left to wonder, do those people with the questions actually get the response and the answers that they were looking for? In business, we always center on short, simple, and concise. Tweeting has got to be as concise as you can get. But do we achieve the balance of content with brevity? What if, one day, we all learn to communicate in less than 140 characters? Will it be because we’ve said all we have to say or because we simply don’t have anything to say to each other?

As we incorporate more and more social media into our lives, I’m starting to wonder exactly how it will actually define our lives. Will we set the rules for our own communication, or will our communication set the rules for how we live?