Confessions from a Flake

I’m a lot of things. Loving son. Yellow-lab enthusiast. List-maker. But unfortunately, I’m also a flake. Every squad has at least one. I’m sure you’re picturing your flake right now. Now, the traditional usage of flake is someone that dips out of plans right before they happen. Now, there are many flavors of flake. I wouldn’t say that I’m one that flakes out of plans with friends (I am, but I’m not going to say it). I’m a self-flake. I’m the kind of guy that will make a big declaration, and then do nothing about it. I’m gonna start watching T.V. in Spanish, I’m gonna try listening to KPop. I’m gonna practice writing with my left hand so I can become ambidextrous. The end result: nada. This isn’t a hard and fast law with me, but it’s definitely an alarming trend that has scientists puzzled.

Thus, when I planned on making a rap song for my semester project, a betting man would’ve called this a flake-in-the-making. Well, that betting man is gonna have to tell his family he lost a lot of money, because I actually followed through! The project is completed and out on my EPortfolio (Click the link to check it out. Please, I need traffic so I can start putting ads). This project has honestly helped me understand how to take a project from start to finish. I think part of the reason I flake out on stuff is because the initial planning stage is usually so rose-colored that when the hard work kicks in it feels like the worst kind of grind. Realism is definitely a helpful tool for a writer, and hopefully I can carry that to my future projects.

My last big takeaway from this semester I that writing can actually be a hobby, and not just schoolwork. I know that there are plenty of people that write for fun, but I never really thought of myself as one. When I wrote, I wrote essays. Some were good, some were bad, but all were grindy. Writing lyrics for this song were completely different. It was engaging and extremely rewarding without even resembling work. I’m gonna try and recreate that energy in my future pieces, and I know that my readers will be able to feel it.

Infographics-When reading is out-of-fashion

For my third and final experiment I wanted to embrace the goal of radically transforming my origin piece. I started this whole journey with a short journal entry, and have tried to transform it so far into a rap song and a forum post. Especially with my second experiment, I have felt as if I am too entrenched in the linguistic mode when I approach my genre selection. Thankfully, a timeless adage came to me: a picture is worth a thousand words. Think about that ratio for a second. I could use just half a picture and already meet the requirement for this blog post I’m writing. That’s efficiency, plan and simple. Thus, I settled on creating an infographic as my third experiment.

In broad strokes, an infographic is a data-driven image that uses effective design to educate its audience. If that wasn’t a satisfying enough description, here’s a link to infographic explaining what an infographic is (now that’s what I call meta!). An infographic is basically the greatest PowerPoint slide in the world. It takes a bunch of dry statistics and morphs it into a palatable visual, as opposed to just inundating readers with paragraphs. The maxims of a good infographic are data density and clarity. Much like an overenthusiastic mother going on a 2-day vacation, a good infographic needs to pack a lot into a small package.

Infographics also lean heavily on the spatial and visual modes as a means on communication. The makers of great infographics understand that, just like getting measles or lead paint, reading is a holdover from the 20th century. In the Internet age less needs to be more, and oftentimes a good picture can express big ideas much easier than the equivalent requisite words. In addition, backing up data with visuals is a powerful instructional tool. Infographics have been shown to be extremely effective in enhancing the appeal and retention of the data they present.

The genre, while clearly effective, is not without its risks. A huge issue with infographics is the misappropriation of the data they present. While these images make it very easy to get your point across, they also provide the less scrupulous with an avenue to present less-than-credible or deliberately misconstrued statistics. In a world where “95% of infographics from unknown sites are filled with distortions and lies”, it becomes paramount for someone making an infographic to double and triple check their sources, and to present their data in context it was gathered. While many infographics do reference their sources, this section is often tagged on at the end of the piece, and connecting a given source to a specific piece of data becomes a Herculean task.

Great example of a hodge-podge of sources that a reader will never follow up on

For my experiment, I am going to take my original journal and turn it into an infographic on caregiver burnout. This direction is a fairly big change in both medium and subject matter. I am moving away from the linguistic mode into a more strongly image driven piece. I am also expanding beyond my individual experience with my patient and addressing a wider phenomenon experience by hospice caregivers. My audience for this piece would be those very caregivers, as they are the group afflicted by caregiver burnout. The piece will also be relevant for coordinators of hospice programs, as it provides insight into difficulties experienced by the families of those requiring care. In presenting my piece, I could potentially submit it to my volunteer coordinator and see what she thinks. Our regular hospice emails make dissemination a non-issue. Overall, this experiment is shaping up to be an exciting new direction for my work!

Positivity on the Internet (no, for real)

The Internet goes by many names, but I think the web is one of the most apt. The Internet creates a network that links disparate groups and can unite those with unique experiences. Online forums are a perfect example. People who may never exchange a word in real life can almost magically create a community and converse on the regular. My origin piece centers on my experience with hospice, and during my brainstorming I wanted to see if I could find an online community for other people with similar experiences. A Reddit page called r/hospice quickly popped up.

What immediately surprised me was the myriad of content and posters. There were short personal entries, most no longer than a paragraph, about hospice volunteers like myself and the experiences and struggles they were going through. There were posts from family members of hospice patients encouraging and informing others about palliative care. There were even posts

Trolling Deconstructed

from hospice employees about fun games to play with patients. I was struck by the sense of community and the fact that so many people had turned to the web as a means of self-expression and connect with others in similar circumstances. A lot of the time I see the online communities as high risk for toxicity and trolling facilitated by the glory of digital anonymity. However, r/hospice and a second hospice board I found were so overwhelmingly positive.

Just as the type of posts on the forum were varied, so too are the conventions of the post as a genre. Some of the guidelines were outlined very clearly in the forum sidebar. No medical advice posts. No protected health information. No memes (a real loss). Some of the conventions

When they say no memes

were less explicit. Almost every post begins with the individual’s personal experience, and leads into either a question or advice. Formatting was not a huge focus of posters, and James Joyce would be happy to know that stream-of-consciousness is still alive and well (though also not a necessity, as some of the best posts were narratives of patient’s last hours that were as clear as they were poignant).

For my experiment, I want to convert my origin piece (a journal entry about my hospice experience) into one of these forum posts. In this class we are supposed to have to freedom to fail spectacularly, but given the positivity of my audience, I have almost no doubt my post will be received well. That said, I do think several elements of this transformation reflect a significant change. I’m moving away from a personal journal entry into something I intend an entire community to consume and more importantly respond to. A forum post is much more organic and alive, subject to change, revision, and unexpected directions. I’m honestly tempted to make a post even if I don’t make this experiment my semester project, because I definitely have stuff to get off my chest.

The Diag Preacher Yelled at Me and other Multimodal Stories

UMMA Screening of the NY Philharmonic

Last Tuesday night, while I was walking back to my apartment, I happened to catch a video screening. Normally I wouldn’t pay too much attention, but you don’t get many chances to watch an orchestra play on the side of a building. I later learned that the U of M’s Museum of Modern Art has been doing a bunch of nightly screenings on the side of the building, and I had caught the beginning of a live performance of the N.Y. Philharmonic playing “Mahler’s 5th Symphony”. I’m not going to pretend I’m a classical music fan. I didn’t even know Mahler was on his 1st symphony. That said, the novelty of the whole situation made me take notice, and trying to view the screening as a multimodal text only made it more interesting.

For one, outside of an introductory screen with expository text, there was barely any use of the linguistic mode. I always consider language, both written and verbal, as the primary means of communication. However, this performance was naturally dominated by an aural mode. Watching artists perform also was a very different aural experience for me, as I consume almost all of my music through headphones. Part of the effect was that the performers body language (gestural mode) was easily conveyed, and that energy got through to me as a viewer. Finally, the choice of screening this performance on side of the UMMA (spatial mode) was an effective way of reaching an audience that normally might not engage with classical music, such as myself.

Guy Preaching on the Diag

Anyone who has been on campus an appreciable amount of time knows that the Diag is not just home to clubs and fundraisers, but also some very impassioned doomsayers. The preacher I saw today didn’t have a giant sign telling me I was living a life of sin, so in my book he wasn’t that bad, and today he actually had a small crowd. I wasn’t sure if they were there out of curiosity (I definitely caught a friend filming on his phone and laughing), or if they really resonated with the whole fire and brimstone thing. Say what you will about this guy, but he was a solid orator. Obviously his speech was firmly in the linguistic mode, but his body language (gestural mode) and intonation (aural mode) are what made him effective. The Bible in his hand was also a strong visual indicator to cement his position of preaching salvation. I also shouldn’t have been all that surprised that he had a crowd, considering the sheer volume of people that move through the Diag every day. His choice of location (spatial mode) was definitely effective, in that even a lousy fisherman can be successful in a river teeming with fish. I wasn’t really looking to be caught though.

Me at the Gym

I’ll preface by saying that overgeneralizations are a logical fallacy, and never apply to everyone. Now that that’s out of the way, let me say that anyone that tells you that they aren’t self-conscious at the gym is definitely lying. I’m not saying that my every waking moment in the CCRB is spent thinking about what other people are thinking of me. However, I do think that the gym is a venue in which comparing yourself with others is inevitable. It’s almost too easy to look over and see what weight the other guy’s pushing, then look at what you’re pushing, and then do some mental math. In light of that, the way I conduct myself at the gym can be viewed as a multimodal performance. The visual mode of what I choose to wear immediately springs to mind (I didn’t wear tanks until a year into working out). Interacting with other gym-goers (“hey can I work in with you?, “How many more sets do you got?”) falls under the linguistic mode. Multiple choices play into the spatial mode. Which room do I do my push-ups in? Do I face a mirror or not? Where should I stand in-between sets? If you’ve ever done a deadlift, or maybe are a fan of loud grunting while curling, then you know that the sound you make in the gym is another variable. The gestural mode is particularly important in between sets. I don’t try and lie down and stare at the ceiling, but rather stay a little tense, tapping my hands to my music, maintaining the upmost focus as I sit on my butt for 2-4 minutes (really depends on how interesting my phone is).

 

Interestingly, all three of my multimodal examples ended up being variations of a performance, though only the Philharmonic was forthright about it. Even though so much of our day-today communication is dominated by the words and speech, only the Diag preacher relied heavily on the linguistic mode. I was also surprised at the consistent role of the gestural mode. Body language so often flies under the radar, but it is undeniable integral to effective communication. Lastly, it’s funny to think about how many elements of our lives are texts. Something as simple as going to the gym fits under the paradigm. There’s really no escaping English class.