Issue #149 - The Spaces in Between
The weather this week has been vicious. One of my students complained that when it snows in Pittsburgh, it is without the gentle, softness and magic that you get elsewhere, instead it is harsh, snow falls like torrential rain, chilling you to the bone. I wrapped up warm with a hoodie between my normal clothes and the quilted green khaki that keeps gives me some protection. I wore a mask because it felt nicer to do so, and I’m grateful for a new scarf and some hardy alpaca gloves.
I have also learned to keep my bus pass in the top pocket of my coat so that I can reach it easily, without having to unzip or take off my gloves. The old saying is that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing. When I’m wrapped up, commuting doesn’t have to be too much of an an ordeal.
This week, I started a few new projects, taught my class and tied up a few loose ends. I had a dive into an archive of old photos and files looking for those storyboard images below, and lost an evening, suddenly it was almost midnight.
It’s better being indoors at the moment, much warmer by the radiator.
Teaching & Learning
I submitted two more conference proposals and have my fingers crossed that I may get a hit from one of them at least. I’m due for reappointment this year so I’m conscious that I need to do a little more in terms of public scholarship. I have three papers on the go, two co-written and another all my own work which is in search of a home. I’m interested in looking outside of TEL or Modern Languages for potential publications, so if you know a particular journal that you think might be interested in work at the intersection of STEM and Humanities, potentially exploring concepts in immersive technologies, interdisciplinary teaching, maker-space, or media creation, please let me know.
Writing that list, it still feels like I’m interested in too many things to be a proper academic, where I’m seduced by shiny objects, and have so much admiration for the time, patience and passion displayed by my colleagues who have spent a their time exploring work by a particular author, or take a deep dive into a particular concept or theory. There are threads that I’ve followed, themes that I’m interested in, but also I really enjoy peeking around the corner, or picking up a fad, giving it a shake and putting it down again.
I’m enjoying the Everyday Learning course, we shared ideas through Lego Serious Play and talked about the attributes of good teachers. I do try and model some of this for the students, as its hard not to think about your own teaching when you’re teaching about learning. We talked about compassion and listening, and I hope that I’m getting better at both, I know that I can get overexcited and talk too much sometimes. Certainly I’ve learned how to give students my trust. When we talked about the pressure someone mentioned that it can undermine your own sense of self, especially when you know you can’t meet a deadline, but your internal voice barks at you to keep going and stay up all night, that you internalize those battles in a way that can be troublesome and wearing. It has got to be okay to say that you’re finding things difficult, you have to admit it to yourself first.
Together with a colleague we received a Forward Fund Microgrant from the Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Enquiry. This is to help us get started on an audio piece about a Chickasaw storyteller called Te Ata Thompson-Fisher who attended Carnegie Tech (as CMU was then) in the 1930’s. You may be familiar with her from the recent film that you can watch on Netflix. We are interested in finding out how Te Ata spent her time during her year in Pittsburgh and what it may have meant for her.
I’m looking forward to telling you more about this project as we start to develop it, the grant is going to give us access to some archives and as we start to talk to people we’ll gather material for production later in the year. We are particular thrilled to be developing this as a Studio project, it gives us a greater degree of creative freedom and we hope to produce an immersive audio piece that reflects Chickasaw storytelling tradition, and includes storytellers and artists making currently making work.
I sometimes sit down and wonder what to say to you. Living here in the US, there’s no shortage of shocking awfulness that drifts across the airwaves or slips into your social media feed, just there at the bottom as you swipe up from a tofu recipe or someone falling off a skateboard. I keep wondering what those sudden tonal shifts must be doing to your emotions? Happy, shocked, sad, angry, you move from one to another so quickly. Like Homer Simpson experiencing the five stages of grief in record time. I read Samantha Florieani’s article in the Guardian, and also this brilliant piece by Cory Doctorow on the ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok. I just added that word to my computer’s dictionary, there’s some talk about it on Kottke. I already knew that TikTok uses the mechanic of linger time, even down to micro seconds, but also facial recognition to read the emotions on your face.
When we’re working on new pieces, I always ask students to trace the timeline of emotions a guest or user might experience, even if that sometimes just starts with confusion or amusement before amazement, joy or excitement, or even sadness, dismay or revulsion. I’m hoping that the story we’re telling may have elicit some shift or changing mood, but we want to avoid jumping around too much so that it becomes cartoonish or extreme. Thinking about the emotions of your audience helps you to avoid more didactic or emotionally neutral experiences, which may be the worse.
I enjoy a little intrigue, I like to be charmed, surprised and moved just a little from my center, so that maybe the emotional resonance of a film or book doesn’t hit me until later. We have to be in the long-game for some people’s emotions, it’s clever when that happens.
Lost and Found
I had fun tuning into the band R.Ring’s listening party last night, for their new record War Poems, We Rested which is out today on Don Giovanni Records. You can also buy the album from Kelley’s online store where she usually sells handmade scarfs. It is brilliant, shifting through different tones, from rough and punky, to more expansive, cinematic even, in songs such as Embers on a Sleepwalk (below). I bought a yellow vinyl copy (that came with a digital download), and I’m looking forward to it arriving soon.
I’m reading The Lady from the Black Lagoon, by Mallory O’Meara. It is a biography of Milicent Patrick, the designer who created the iconic monster costume for The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It is a riveting read, the story emerges as a writing of wrongs and tries to establish Patrick’s rightful place in the pantheon of special fx greats.
I always wanted to make a film like this, inspired by similar sci-fi adventures, like those of Ed Wood. I even wrote a script called Centurions, a sort of Alien trying to sort out his love life while being chased by agents, one with a mechanical claw.
My friend Chris, back in the day before he worked on films such as The Bourne Supremacy, created a series of storyboard images to help me get some funding for it, but alas one of the greats that were never made. It took me ages to find these and it was a combination of the wayback machine and the archive of my old blog which is still just about up.
Okay, just a few things to sort out before I head back into work for meetings this afternoon. I can’t decide whether to take the bus or just head in and out quickly, the issue will be finding a parking space.
I meant to say too, that we’ve gone from rain, sleet, snow to brilliant sunshine in a matter of hours, this rainbow appeared to us on Wednesday night and the evening was perfect.
I hope that you’re all doing well out there.
Stay dry, keep warm.
See you next week.