Posts Tagged ‘ academic ’

A Compendium of My Freewrites in December 2014

“My medium is words, sentences, paragraphs. And the same rules of good art apply to them there as they do to anything else.”   -December 20, 2014

Introduction

On YouTube, Adam Savage, one of the MythBusters, has a channel in which he does what he calls One-Day Builds. These videos compress around eight hours of Adam working on a single project into a 30-minute or so video. I love these videos because, as a writing teacher, I love watching the creation process regardless of what people are creating. Every time I watch one of these videos I am inspired to create something myself.

This, here, is an attempt to do that same thing, to build something in one day, but with words.

Adam Savage

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I Play a Video Game, and I am Better for It

I’ve been playing a video game lately called BioShock Infinite. Now, I know that by doing so, it makes me just like millions of other people in my demographic. But for me, it was a difficult thing to get into. I don’t like video games for several reasons. I have seen how overpoweringly addicting they can be. I have seen people who have put so many hours of their life into video games that their brick and mortar life has been left unattended and some hefty weeds have grown around it. My wife hates video games for these same reasons, and since the only time I have to play video games must be subtracted from the time I usually spend with her, it makes a lot of sense that she balks at the thought of me having or playing video games. Plus it was $40, which in our budget is a lot.

But BioShock Infinite is different.

First of all, BioShock Infinite is one of the most intricate, thought-provoking, enrapturing (some of you will get that) narratives that I have ever come across. I spent a few of my college years studying fiction writing, and I can appreciate the sheer size of the story this video game tells, and the importance of some of the social issues it addresses. Also, because this is first-person shooter game, I am, in a very real way, asked by the game to inhabit the body of the main character and make decisions for him, and am thus propelled into and caught up in the narrative of the game in ways that I could never be when reading a book.

Ken Levine, the creative director that drove the team that created all the BioShock games, has been compared to Shakespeare in his ability to craft deeply meaningful, mind-bogglingly detailed, and incredibly entertaining experiences, and I feel that the comparison isn’t at all hyperbolic. This video game is something special, and so I have a hard time feeling like I’m just zoning out with mindless escapism when I play it.

Second of all, due to the depth of the experience, I have decided to write a seminar paper this semester. I had read a lot about BioShock just because I admired the creation of something so vast and impressive. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of interviews with the creators and even watched a four-hour walk through video of the game so I see the story. So based on all of that, I decided I would be able to write the paper without playing the game. But I knew to really “get it,” I would have to play the game myself. So I got it, and my wife has been very gracious and understanding in giving me the time I need to play through it, even though she isn’t happy about it.

The paper I am writing this semester is about the ways that BioShock Infinite can educate its players about the complexities of how public monuments and memorial spaces shape public memory. What that means, is that the world created in BioShock can teach the people who play it that the monuments and public displays that our governments create are much more complicated than just lawn decorations in parks, but rather they can have lasting effects on how people remember and talk about the past.

There are several important plot points where BioShock Infinite teaches these lessons, but it is most obvious in BioShock when the two main characters, Booker and Elizabeth, are led through the Hall of Heroes, a display created by the monomaniacal Father Comstock, who created the world of Columbia where BioShock takes place. The Hall of Heroes is a public display reminiscent of what you might see at a major theme park but scarier; think Main Street USA at Disney World, but tinged with overt racism and kitschy but frightening war imagery. In this space we explore how Father Comstock has rewritten the history of two fictionalized versions of Civil war battles, Peking and Wounded Knee, to make himself look like he was the hero, when Booker knows that he was the one that was the hero. Later we encounter General Slate, the only person in Columbia who knows the truth of Father Comstock’s revisions of history, and we see how he has been exiled from Columbia to shut him up.

Moving through the world of BioShock infinite isn’t just about running around blowing the heads off of bad guys (although this does happen), it’s a psychological experience about how the spaces that surround us can shape our perceptions of history and current politics, and how, if given enough power, the wrong person can erase history and reshape it to serve their own purposes. After experiencing these storylines, the player can then begin to look at something like the statue of some war hero on horse in her town square and start to think, “I wonder if that person really did the things that the statue makes me think he did,” or maybe even think, “Christopher Columbus was a terrible person, maybe we shouldn’t have a holiday named after him.” Which is a good thing.

So when I sit down to play BioShock, I have a much better excuse than “I’m improving my hand-eye coordination,” (although I am doing that) I am experiencing a creation so thoughtfully complex that I’m actually learning about how the real world works, why some of the ugliness in it exists, and helps me start to critically analyze things that I had previously taken for granted as I move through it.

Plus, sometimes it’s freaking cathartic to blow up a zeppelin.

What brand of writer am I? What brand of reader am I asking you to be?

As I sat here spewing out words trying to figure out what to write today, I discovered I have at least three distinct voices that I switch among as I write. These “voices,” which really come down to subtle shifts in word choice and stylistic differences, are mutually exclusive: they don’t mix and they don’t blend. I only write in one at a time, but I can switch among them many times in a piece of writing, and sometimes even schizophrenically within sentences.

As a rhetorician, I know that these constant shifts in voice mostly happen because I am constantly changing who I envision my audience to be. I don’t know who is going to read this (if anyone), and I don’t know what you the reader (if you are there) wants most from me. So instead of sending out surveys and holding focus groups about my writing, I have to do some guess work about who you are. Are you at home in your underpants reading this while your wife plays WoW in the other room? Are you adjusting your $400 glasses as you read this on your macbook pro in a dust free room? I don’t know, and I’ll never really know. So I have to just make some choices and then write in a way that asks you to be a certain kind of reader. In other words, I have to make some choices about who you are and treat you like I want you to want yourself to be treated. (Did you follow that?)

Anyway, here are the three voices I found that I write in based on who I think you are: my journaling voice, my academic voice, and my blog voice.

My journaling voice is the voice I mainly use to write on 750words.com. It’s a private voice that I really only use when I am writing to myself, and/or perhaps to some reader who cares about who I am deep inside, like maybe my wife. But even then, I don’t share all the I write in my journal voice to her. I use this voice mainly to self-evaluate and reflect (most of the time to beat myself up and call myself a failure. TMI?). I include a lot of personal information with this voice, and it tends to get melodramatic and maudlin. This journaling voice that a lot of us write in is so hilariously inappropriate in public that these people have created in international fervor for people sharing it openly. My journaling voice is what I use to write nonsense or warmup, or sometimes even to write a draft. But I make sure to leave only a small trace of it in my finished product.

Next I have my academic voice. This voice usually comes out when I am overly aware, even self-conscious, of an audience, and so I emphasize (or even feign) my authority in the subject I am writing about. I purposefully leave out almost all personal stuff because I imagine an audience who wants only to be informed and not bogged down by my emotional carry-on items. I imagine an audience that “privileges reason over emotion,” or something like a college professor that I didn’t get along with. In this voice I use really big words and dense sentences. In my last post, when I used the word asynchronous, I was writing in my academic voice.

The saddest thing is, I have grown so comfortable in this voice (which most people hear as terribly starched and cold) that it comes out naturally in my daily speech, to the detriment of my ability to carry on a normal conversation. I can’t make chitchat at parties unless I am talking to other academics who have a similar ailment. Being in college for eight years has hurt my ability to just talk normally to people. And I know that when I write that way, I turn people off.

When I write a blog, I try to stay away from my journaling voice and my academic voice as much as possible because both have a way of making people feel uncomfortable. That’s what my blog voice is for. I imagine that the audience reading this (you, good sir or madam) wants good information; they want it fast and easy, and while they are reading/learning, they want to be entertained with wordplay and jokes. That’s who I imagine you are and I am making my best effort to give you what I think you think you want. When I am writing in this voice, I am aware of consonance, assonance, puns, and humor. I am asking myself things like “how do I spice this up?” or “what pop culture references can I make here?” Once I know I have a foundation of good thought, I need to appeal to (what I think are) a certain audience’s sensibilities.

These voices come both as I write and as I revise. I usually draft in my journaling voice, and then over-correct into my academic voice, and then (hopefully) revise into my blogging voice. But it’s almost never that clear-cut, and I almost never am as aware of these voices as I am pretending to be right now.

On top of all of that, I also have to ask myself what brand of writer I think that I am and which parts of which voice are going to portray me in that way. Am I polished and perfected? witty or dry? Am I professional and sophisticated, or am I messy and sincere and vulnerable? As I switch among these voices it’s like I am trying on different costumes, looking in the mirror, and evaluating if it feels right.

Answering these questions for myself, I start to come up with my writing brand. I am vulnerable, messy, (hopefully) thoughtful, and (hopefully) kinda funny. In order to present myself as the kind of writer I want you to think I am, I have to find the balance among these three voices to sound that way.

What’s your writing brand?