Oddly Soothed

I don’t think I express my appreciation enough for the words I read remaining still on their pages. I’m not sure if it was the intention of Sooth, by David Jhave Johnston, to evoke this heightened sense of appreciation but, it certainly accomplished that.

In Sooth, the poems presented for reading “float” in a kind of amniotic space. They appear to recede into and return from some depth in the screen. Like water, they ebb and flow. Sometimes they graze, others they assault. Point is, the words are not fixed in place. This movement creates for a different kind of compelling experience with poetry.

Because the words are constantly in motion, each line floating in and out of sight, there becomes no one way to read the poem. There is no linearity here to these narratives. Coherence is what you make of it. In order to make the lines appear on your screen initially, you have to click with your mouse. And, as you continue reading, the lines will keep coming, the “beginning” and “ending” lines just cycling back into the poem until there really isn’t even an entry or exit point anymore. Paired with the rather trippy sounds that play in the background for this poetry, this looping motion becomes almost meditative. I know I found myself focusing more on each individual line if only to try to “catch” it. In a way, I feel like I savored each line of poetry more in this piece than I have with other strictly print-based works.

The imagery that went along with this poetry was also interesting. At least, an interesting choice. I believe there was a Venus fly trap, a woman in bed, possibly some abstract sand dunes, water, a fish in a tank, and what looked like a close-up of either snow or sugar granules. There seemed to be no explicit connections to any of the imagery chosen with the poetry. I mean, I definitely formed my own connections but I don’t think there’s anything in the poetry itself that directly addressed its context as it relates to the imagery. I know I found it weird that the poem titled Weeds did not have the Venus fly trap imagery but that of the woman’s body. This piece seemed to play on and off of our perceptions and associations.

For a moment there, I also thought this piece wanted to play off of our perceptions of communication and of language because the last 2 poems began in French instead of English. I was trying to draw on my 4 years of high school French to get through them before I realized I could just change the language via a little icon on the bottom right hand corner. I made it farther than I thought I would but, anyway….

Sooth utilizes a rather simple interface to engage readers with the text floating across their screens by, literally, making that text float. By giving the poetry actual movement, readers are encouraged to follow the text with their eyes and so focus more on that text than if it what stationary. Readers become immersed, submerged, in the water-like movements of this poetry.

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Dark Dr. Seuss

(And, I thought my piece was entirely too on the nose for current times….)

So, I did not read carefully enough through the introduction for Hobo Lobo of Hamelin and, because of that, I was not aware until my second reading through that it was referencing/ inspired by the tale of the Pied Piper. After I was aware of that though, this piece really came together and I felt like I was better able to appreciate all of elements. And, let’s get into exactly why that is!

Upon first accessing this Elit piece, before I knew about its inspiration, I thought it was riffing on Dr. Seuss–twisting the aesthetic of Dr. Seuss and his picture books into something urban and dark. The illustrations used to guide readers through the piece just seem very reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s work. There are animals mingling with humanesque characters. Odd proportions. A picturesque environment. All distinctive elements of most of Dr. Seuss’s picture books. Mixed with the edgy tone and point-blank language of the story–which discussed “coked-up rats” and the dark underbelly of the bureaucratic/ “democratic” process–I was expecting re-imagined telling of a Dr. Seuss classic now with more cynicism and tricked out with moral dilemmas. No happy endings.

Hobo Lobo sure delivered all of that, riffing on the Dr. Seuss aesthetic or not.

The story here starts out in a rather traditional way. On page 1 (because, yes, we do have pages for navigation in this piece), which is divided into 7 short pages itself, we have our setting laid out and a conflict introduced. The quaint little hamlet of Hamelin is under “siege” by some coked-up rats–just in time for election season. Our dick mayor Dick Mayor (heavily inspired, it seems, by the concept of Big Brother) is freaking out cause he doesn’t know how to get rid of these rats. He consults a psychic who advises him to find the help of a professional, much to the mayor’s frustration. Throughout this whole exposition, illustrations depicting what is going on–with the rats, the mayor, etc.–float by along the top of the screen. And, they are continuous on each page. There are no page breaks. All of the mini-pages on each page bleed seamlessly into each other, an illusion emphasized by these illustrations flowing one into the next. You don’t even feel like you’re flipping pages. This kind of site-structure really creates a sense of a cinematic experience for readers. And, when you do go to the next page and the illustrations do change to a new setting, it’s like a cut-scene.

Anyway, flipping to page 2 introduces us to our protagonist-of-sorts–a stranger from a strange land rolling into town. And, look at that! This stranger’s–Hobo Lobo’s–is just what the mayor ordered. Hobo Lobo is a jack-of-all trades, a real Renaissance wolf. You got a problem, he can solve it–within reason of course. One of the illustrations depicts a scene where a boy brings their dead fish to Hobo Lobo who can only shake his wolfy head, unable to fix this particular problem. This is where I would differentiation between Dr. Seuss and Stevan Živadinovic (Hobo Lobo‘s creator). I mean, there are obviously many different between the 2 artists and their illustration styles. When I talk about differentiating between the 2, I’m referencing the manner in which the artists present themes. I think that Živadinovic is less subtle with the presentation and, I think because of the medium and content he’s working with, he doesn’t have to be as subtle. He’s not specifically writing for an audience of children. As evidenced purely by the language being used, Hobo Lobo is clearly directed towards an older audience and so more mature themes can be more explicitly expressed.

Continuing, Dick Mayor tasks Hobo Lobo with ridding Hamelin of its rat infestation–for a hefty sum of treasure. Hobo Lobo accepts under the pretense of being paid for his service. The next page of this piece is possibly the most interesting of all of them and so explicitly a reference to the tale of the Pied Piper that I can’t believe I didn’t realize it on my first read-through. Page 3 opens without any words accompanying the illustrations–as there have been up until this point. The lack of guiding words prompts turning the pages to see if you can figure out what’s going on. At around the 3rd or 4th page flip, crickets chirping give way to music–soft before it gets louder as you continue flipping the pages. Rats walking through the woods, ostensibly towards the source of the sound, are illustrated. On page 10, words appear again, posing the question of whether or not rats have wings? An image of a line of rats walking towards the edge of a cliff accompanies this question. The next page cuts the music to something more foreboding and adds a scythe to the illustration. Then, we have this odd collage of animated images that I am not sure what to make of (so, I can’t wait to hear what Katherine has to say on Tuesday night about them).

Anyway, the reference to the tale of the Pied Piper was very clear here–the rats being led to their demise by the hypnotic sound of music (a fiddle and an accordion? instead of a pipe in this case). In my recollection of the tale, I thought the rats were drowned but according to a quick Google search, there are many variations of this tale so the cliff interpretation here is perfectly within reason. I also think it references that idiom, “when pigs fly.” Even though it’s rats, we do get an image of a pig on a silver platter being chased by a chef on one of the min-pages.

After Hobo Lobo deals with the rat problem, Dick Mayor gets re-elected as dick mayor of Hamelin. He, of course, promptly takes credit for ridding the town of its rat infestation. We get a lot of animated images on page 4 that mimic TV sets flickering and lighting up. And, the content of these images seems to be making fun of mainstream media news outlets and their penchant for “stirring the pot” and for reaffirming the images of certain people, like the mayor, as being gold standards of behavior who can do nothing reprehensible. Or, at the very least, mainstream media is not keen to call out public figures for their reprehensible actions even when those actions are and news outlets should. Hobo Lobo watches this all go down, his reflection in the TV screens mimicking my own reflection in my computer screen.

On the next page, Hobo Lobo tries to get recompense for his services–it does not go well. Essentially, the mayor asserts that he saved Hamelin and that Hobo Lobo is a usurper. The animation here on the illustrations zooms in on the mayor’s dick face, turning red as it really focuses on how bulbous the mayor’s dick head is. This emphasized focal point and colour change really communicates a sense of anger.

On the next to last page, we see Hobo Lobo losing his case in court against the mayor–no written agreement = no court in the world will side with you. Got to love the legal process. It’s really there for the little man. The illustrations fade into a radio show broadcast the mayor is doing in which he frames everything he says in his favor and avoids any questions that actually seek a real answer.Dick Mayor is sure to emphasize that all his actions have the people of Hamelin in mind. He only wants to see that Hamelin remains a great place. The radio show hosts decides its time to take some questions from the audience here and the 1st question is about the safety of the children of Hamelin. Dick Mayor reassures the caller that all the children of Hamelin will be safe because they are kept in the mayor’s prayers. He prays for their future, one free from the burdens of “the debts of the mooching class.” Hobo Lobo, who had been listening to this broadcast, kicks the radio, breaking it.

The last page of this Elit piece is a direct reference to the tale of the Pied Piper. Because the mayor did not pay his debts, Hobo Lobo led all the children out of Hamelin and trapped them in a cave. Lesson learned, right Mr. Mayor? The animation on this last page is that of a steady stream of children, illustrated as if playing and having a grand ol’ time. Slowly but surely they slide across 1, 2, 3 pages, disappearing into the open mouth of a cave. Hobo Lobo’s wolfy shadow can be seen. Demon-like creature pull and prod at the rock above the entrance to the cave. Once all the children are inside, Hobo Lob’s shadow disappears and the demons disappear too, the rock they were prodding finally falling in place, trapping the kids inside. The last mini-page of this page depicts Hobo Lobo covering his face, obviously ashamed and begrieved by what he had to do. Possibly exhausted as well.

Overall, I think Hobo Lobo of Hamelin is interesting re-imagining of the typical storybook tale. And, it is fascinating to see how the pop-up book medium can be articulated in an electronic space. Despite none of the illustrations being able to physically enter your space, the use of animation is still able to communicate that sense of the story entering your personal at times. Also, there is the added element of sound to this piece which I also think helps this piece enter your personal space. Hobo Lobo is a very creative exploration of the power of sound and animation to create a very visceral reading experience when no physical elements exist.

 

Finding the Right Words

To an extent, I think we are all aware of the editing of ourselves we do. Whether it be in regards to how we write or how we dress or speak or move, I think we all are aware of the compromises we make in our conduct. Oft, these compromises are made to spare feelings–our own or another’s. So, in a sense, the way we edit ourselves is actually an exercise of our power. It is how we exert a measure of control over otherwise nonsensical, uncontrollable existences. Excuse me, though, if that is getting a little too deep. I just know that, in regards to my own interactions with the world around me, I make plenty of compromises. I hold my tongue. Restrict. Constrict. Contain. Toe the line but never cross it. Scratch down words then scribble them out. Replace them with the “right” ones. The ones that understand and accuse no one. The ones that seek abnegation in place of self- actualization.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there are rules of conduct in this world. And, every role you assume has its own tailor-fit code. This is how it has been for a very long time–something I believe Emily Short and Liza Daly’s First Draft of the Revolution captures considerably well. In this work of ELit, the ways in which we compromise and edit ourselves are explored though an interactive, letter-constructing interface. Readers of this piece assume the role of 1 of 4 different letter-writers and are then able to “revise” or “review” or “construct” letters based upon the unique concerns presented to them according to which letter-writer’s role they are assuming. All of those option are in quotations (i.e “review”) because, while there are certainly many responses to different revisionary suggestions, all of those responses are provided by the interface. So, readers don’t get to generate their own, entirely unique responses. Though, sometimes, you do get the option to erase a line entirely from a letter which I would argue, to a certain extent, allows some level of personal contribution to the piece–through exemption, oddly enough (i.e refer to the mention of abnegation above).

Anyway, it is very interesting to see how each role you assume imposes its own concerns on your psyche as a reader.For example, when I “was” Henri, I definitely felt more conservative with what I wrote–like I was withholding information in order to preserve some of my own concerns. Whereas, when I “was” Juliette, I felt more manipulative while I was choosing my words–revealing or not particular things depending upon what would get me to my own ends. The ends justify the means and all that. So, I viewed secrecy in different ways depending upon which role I had. And, this was definitely not a conscious decision. It’s only afterward, thinking about how I chose to conduct myself, that I realize these distinctions. Which, I think is also reflective of real life–there are many roles we play whose rules are just intuit or inherent now. When I’m on the train, I immediately curl inward–shoulders hunched, bags close, legs crossed. I’m trying to take up as little room as possible. And, if I someone still brushes shoulders with me, I apologize. Especially if they’re a man. Even though I don’t always want to–because it’s not always my fault–I’ve been taught to be small and apologetic first. Men, not so much. Man-spreading is every bit the issue you’ve heard–lots of space on public transportation devoured without thought by the male sex. Because, taking up space is not ingrained as a taboo in them. It is not an ever-conscious concern the same ways in which it is for me as a young woman. My role dictates conscious concern. Though, as I said, sometimes that concern just becomes so embedded that you no longer pay it much concentrated attention. It’s just something you do. Which, is what happened for me in First Draft of the Revolution.

And, while I appreciate the attention of this piece to reality, I found myself irritated at certain points because I had to revise all of the letter sometimes instead of just parts of it. The piece would not let me send the letter if I did not edit some lines. Sometimes, there were multiple choices of revision and you could just settle for one and the piece would let you move forward but other times, if there was only one suggestion for revision, you had to take it in order to send the letter and progress. For example, one of Juliette’s letters started with, “Do you think I am so stupid?” and I really wanted to keep that as the first line for that letter but the piece would not allow me to progress without erasing that beginning entirely. To me, I did not think it was so outlandish for the material that was being addressed in the letter itself but I guess that was just my interpretation. To me, that was a perfectly acceptable reaction for a young wife finding out about her husband’s bastard child and then being spared as know the knowledge were not perfectly clear. Like, who did Henri think he was attempting to for one second pull the wool over Juliette’s eyes? Juliette knew long before Henri’s letters even began to broach the suspicion. At least, I believe she did.

Perhaps, the role Juliette had to play struck a chord too close to home for me as a young, female reader myself. That, “Do you think I am so stupid?” is a kind of sentiment about a lot of things I’d definitely like to feel more comfortable expressing and so, maybe, I imprinted that on Juliette. Maybe the role she is in does not allow for such liberties with language. Maybe I just want it to.

Overall, I found this piece to be a rather compelling exploration of how the roles we are made to assume compromise our abilities to freely express ourselves as individuals. The ending (I experienced) I found to be a bit rushed–like, I have questions about the bastard son! Is he really on his father’s side now? What became of the country friar? And, of Bernadette? Did she come to live with her son in Paris? What was her story? The Countess, too? What does she know about magic and the rebellion being stages against it and the aristocracy? Like, this could be a book! ….Well, it was a book. At least, it was presented in a traditional kind of book format with pages to turn and plot points which is unusual for more contemporary pieces of Elit–which this one is (2012).

I think this piece lends itself to a lot of speculation. And, a lot of intrigue, of course. I think the letter-writing interface really communicates this idea of “seeing behind the curtains.” Discovering how a trick is performed. Which, interestingly enough takes away some of the magic but does have its own mystique nonetheless. There is something deeply personal about writing letters. It carries this connotation of divulging, of revealing the otherwise unstated. And yet, here, we see that is seldom the case. Even in our seemingly personal spheres, we are still subject to outside influence. Prisoners to circumstance, even. I think this piece gets you to contemplate the ways in which you strip your own freedoms from yourself and why. While I don’t think this piece encourages direct confrontation with the status quo of conduct, I do think it invites readers to think about why they don’t speak their minds as oft as they no doubt want to.

“Be brave. No remembers a coward.” ~ Something I wanted to tell Juliette sooner but something I think she learned nonetheless toawrds the end of the piece.

 

#NotAllAcidos

So, for it being my first netprov experience, I think Thermophiles in Love went pretty well. At least, I believe I learned a lot more from the experience than I lost. I don’t think I was negatively impacted in any way by participating in this netprov. I definitely had and, I guess, still have some expectations that were not entirely met–but, we’ll get those.

Anyway, going into this TiN–I’m abbreviating it from here on out–I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. Aside from the brief tour we got of the site in class on Tuesday night, I wasn’t all that clear on how the whole experience would operate. To be honest, I was sort of assuming that this whole netprov thing would be a very “organic”, free-form experience. I mean, it’s improvisation, right? Too many rules would impinge upon that aspect.

But, that free-form, very ambiguous aspect of the space, for me, surprisingly, wasn’t totally a win. Essentially, in TiN, you are asked to assume the identity of 1 of 5 different cells and then start a dialogue. And, all you get is a little blurb about each gender and about the site–each day also only has minimal direction. Which, all of this freedom together, I would usually appreciate. It’s just, for this particular experiment and what it seems to want to accomplish, I felt like all of the freedom and ambiguity worked against it, in a way. This netprov wanted or, rather, wanted to invite participants to explore gender and/or identity on a deeper level. Then, take what was learned and see where or how it applies in your “real” (IRL) context. But, in reality, gender is, sadly, not so ambiguous. At least, in the mainstream. Gender is called a social construct because it is very structured and not widely accepted–yet–as fluid. So, I felt like there was a large disconnect between this netprov and what it was hoping to do. As I was trying to immerse myself in the narrative of this space, I found myself wishing there were more boundaries to challenge or push against. I felt like that would’ve made the netprov more poignant–allowing people who may never feel stifled by an imposed identity like gender in real life to feel imposed upon and squished into a box. I feel like I elaborated upon this idea more in a comment I left on one of the last day threads:

2016-11-07

 

**I hope this is legible. Otherwise, check me out on the, “Share Your Experience as a Netprov Player” thread on TiN**

Basically, that was my only major complaint about the experience–that I felt it could’ve benefited from imposing more constraints on its participants. I think that would’ve encouraged more and deeper thought on the role of gender in our real-life society.

Anyway, moving along…. Something I noticed and sort of used to distinguish between different participants–aside from their genders, which I’ll get to in a moment–is who was using more “sciencey” lingo and who wasn’t. Some cells/characters were throwing around a whole lot of biologic/scientific/chemical terminology and some were sticking to just personifying the cells–essentially remaining very “human-like” in their expressions. I think this is something you can see very clearly just browsing through the thread titles on the forum. “Peptidoglycan thickness doesn’t matter…right?” vs.  “Never trust a person who isn’t having at least one crisis” Very different interpretations of cell- activity and of how the roles were assumed. (I found it difficult to participate in the more sciencey threads because, there, I really wasn’t familiar with the lingo. I don’t know the specific names/classifications of bacteria or the particulars of how they survive. At least, not a enough to be clever about them in a forum. So, I tended to avoid those threads.)

I think this brings us to the genders themselves now. Overall, I felt like there was decent selection of characters to choose from. I mean, like I said, they were all so broad so you could really make what you wanted of them. Which, I think, led to some confusion on the threads–everyone only had a vague idea of each gender . So, you could vastly different interpretations of each gender. For myself, I chose to be an acido and I interpreted acidos to be rather vain and self-absorbed. Overly concerned about their reputation and about whether or not they’re the center of attention. But, some people interpreted them as daredevils or as more altruistic, holier-than-thou types. So, it was interesting to see how people interpreted the stuff from the blurbs–“Always aware of being seen because you stand out” and “The Magnificent 7 rolled into a 1.” I believe there were like 2 different acidos that were trying to start cult-like followings in the threads. Acido_Ecoli and acido_tamorous? Something like that. And, there was this cell called Jason, I think, who also tried to do something similar.  Like, how very little time it takes folk to start trying to organize a belief system to fill a perceived power vacuum….smh.

Anyway, I felt like most people tried to stay close to what the blurbs said for each gender. Aside from a few outliers who were advocating for the dismantling of the system (on like day 2-3, like come on guys? at least wait till closer to the end to try to start an uprising/revolt/revolution/whatever), most participants in this space seemed game to stay on point.

That said, once the dates were started and the threads created for them, it seemed like the number of participants in TiN was halved. Like, so many of those date threads were deserted–maybe 1 or 2 comments at most. At least, for my 2 dates, I was the only cell that commented or bothered to try to create a scenario. To try and work with the few parameters we had to create our dates. None of my quadmates ever made an appearance. And, I noticed that it seemed like an admin for the side did most of the pairing up. So, what was the point of even having Mesos if they weren’t going to do their one job–to pair up quads? I don;t understand what the point of them was. To me, it seemed like toward the end of this netprov, the ball was kind of dropped. Also, I feel like people were fine interacting a large, public forum space. But, once it was narrowed down to like 4 per a thread, people lost their comfort and didn’t want to put themselves out their anymore. Which, I understand and I think is typical of online spaces in general–people talk a big game when their audience is infinite but get real quiet in one-on-one scenarios. That dates made the experience on TiN more personal and, consequently, more uncomfortable. At least, that’s my take on it. I’d love to hear what my classmates have to say (aside from Richonda and Katherine because we’ve already talked a lot about the site and ended up finding each other rather quickly on TiN afterwards).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia: Cell Mitosis