Methodology Module: Digital Mapping

For this module, I used TimeMapper to map out some of the fiction that I’d read for my American Realism class last spring by their dates of publication and settings. I thought this might be interesting because survey courses tend to cover a variety of years within a time period, and because this particular movement coexisted with the regionalism movement and local-color tradition, so the settings of a lot of these books are integral to them. 

I would have preferred to present information that worked better as a connected narrative, and utilize one of the more multifaceted tools, because I actually find interactive digital mapping sincerely fascinating and would very much have enjoyed exploring its potential. With that said, I had limited time and still very much enjoyed doing the project that I did.

To view the map in fullscreen on TimeMapper, click here.

Podcast: Social Media and Addictive Design

I made a podcast about one of my favorite things to talk incessantly about when I’m not being recorded: the ways in which continuous use is built into the design of popular social media apps.

For this project, I interviewed my friends Liam Kiely and Eugene Hlaing. Their help is deeply appreciated!

All outside sounds used come from notificationsounds.com

Further reading and sources:

Creativity Module: Interactive Fiction

One of my standard unfunny Writing Center jokes depends on interactive fiction. “The sentence needs to be broken up, but you get to decide how to do it,” I tell people. “It’s choose-your-own-adventure!” Anyway, in this module, I actually made what I grew up thinking of as a choose-your-own-adventure game! Even though the protagonist only goes on an adventure in a very loose sense of the word.

Here’s the finished product. I’m not thrilled about it creative-writing-wise, it’s definitely retreading tired ground. But I do think it was fun to write a pretentious going-to-a-party-and-seeing-an-old-friend type story with multiple endings.

I also tried to use delayed branching as per advice from this article, which was really helpful in getting started with figuring out how I wanted to figure this out. A lot of the options you make at the beginning don’t necessarily dictate the outcome of the story, but they do impact which bits of narration are shown to you and in some cases what choices you get to make.

A fun fact: One of my best friends goes to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and does a lot of digital work, so I texted her I was using Twine to make a story for Digital Studies. It turned out she was also using it right now to make an art project about her experience with OCD.

Another fun fact: this project gave me an excuse to revisit Birdland, my favorite piece of interactive fiction, instead of doing schoolwork.

Also, bonus content: a very unfunny story I made while just starting to get the hang of Twine.

Wrap-up, and more things I learned this week

This concludes our culture module! I’ve enjoyed this a lot; long-form blogging is something I’ve always wanted to give a try, and I think I’ve liked the experience.

My serious digital studies stuff is all in my reflection, so here’s an attempt to bookend my first real post.

  1. That seeing plays your suitemate is doing costume run crew for is even more fun than seeing plays.
  2. That (and this is always the case!), I support our school newspaper and the people who make it happen! (Or: that reading newspapers your suitemate does layout for is even more fun than seeing newspapers.)
  3. That the best office hours leave you with more questions rather than answers. Also, no clue what to write an essay about this weekend. But I feel better about having no clue than the clues I had yesterday.
  4. That getting up early is good, and that so is fall weather.
  5. That, contrary to point #3, so is sleeping in.
  6. That time differences suck, but that getting texts in your morning that your friend who’s studying abroad in Switzerland sends you in her morning has its good points.
  7. That my dad should travel internationally and then “have to” drive back from Dulles in the morning and “be forced to” stop by Fredericksburg and hang out with me more often.
  8. That I might need sleep?
  9. That World War One literature is depressing but fascinating. (Rebecca West, represent!)
  10. That blogging is fun, and that digital studies is a valuable and versatile area of study that I like very much, and that I look forward to doing whatever it is I do for it next.

Songs of summer 2019 (& their vibes)

Sky Full Of Song, Florence + The Machine. Walking in my neighborhood just before one of the many thunderstorms that took the chance this summer to descend upon Williamsburg without warning. Watching the darkness of the clouds above defamiliarize the same-y houses around me. Not knowing if my restless, unsettled feeling is one I’m experiencing of my own volition, or just picking up on the faint promise of lightning the air holds.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”, Spiritualized. This one is easy: high up in a plane to Reykjavik in the early hours of the morning, knowing I should sleep and knowing simultaneously that I can’t. The northernmost parts of the continent fading away into the black expanse of the Atlantic. Far north enough that the light never really dies, watching the thin gold line of the sunrise just over the horizon.

Copenhagen (Let Me Go), Vienna Teng. Being driven in a taxi, unreasonably cheap due to the depreciation of the ruble, across St. Petersburg. Looking out the window intently, knowing my time is limited; that now that I’m witnessing a home city with adult eyes, I must remember it all. The grand palaces, the worn-down apartments, the horrible driving, the formal fashions of the pedestrians in the streets. Wondering at how, after all these years, I have perfectly memorized not the details of St. Petersburg in June but its color scheme – the gray of it, pale and bright at once, a special kind of northern light.

The Downeaster Alexa, Billy Joel. Sitting next to Gene with Liam behind us, and the rather unfamiliar sense of being a teenager out too late. Rain pouring down around us, blurring the lights of the shops; then the daunting darkness of News Road, made moreso by the sheets of rain around us. Nevertheless, us together, and a song we all know the words to. A gratitude for this summer; a knowledge of more to come.

Sicilian Crest, The Mountain Goats. Driving to work at the end of the summer. The brightness of summer in Williamsburg, heavy heat building up, always, to a thunderstorm of terrific proportions. Here and now, the green light filtering through the trees down the wooded section of Monticello Ave.; the first summer of my life of driving, and just as importantly, of choosing my own music. A belief, founded or not, that I’m heading into a future I want to occupy.

Academic buildings after dark

It’s Tuesday night, which means it’s time for the Most Useless Writing Center Shift Of All Time: 8-9, with two people working simultaneously with me. Every time I come back from an extensive cycle of class, work, readings, and errands and finally collapse on the floors of Ball, only to have to drag myself back down the staircase and over to the HCC, where I know I’ll almost certainly do none of the work I got hired to do for an hour, I feel like I’m committing myself to some Herculean task. Is this a bit overdramatic? Maybe.

But I’m not here to talk about this; I’m here to talk about every time I’ve ended this shift in the last three weeks, the precise routine of it: making sure the Keurig is off and the door is locked, and then walking down the empty echoey space of the north side HCC stairs. College campuses are never really empty, but here and now, after 9 on a Tuesday, they feel more or less close.

Every time, then, I think: I am going to miss this next semester. When I’m smart enough to work out a schedule that doesn’t make me a little bit miserable, I’m going to miss this.

I know this because I have a long history of the memories of staying too late in buildings that grow gradually empty. Last year is only the beginning (or the end) – memories of late-evening meetings in Combs to work on projects, the delightful emptiness of the third floor. Walking back from the HCC, of course, or Dupont back when the honors commons was still in Dupont.

The closing shifts of both of my summer jobs frustrated me immensely; there’s nothing quite like trying to kick customers out so you can go home while fully aware that you have to be retail-polite throughout the whole thing. But after getting my license, there was nothing like the feeling of knowing I was free to get in a car and go home, like driving twenty minutes down the pitch-black forested roads of my town with nothing but a Mountain Goats song and the long extent of my brights for company.

And then there’s the original memory: science olympiad, seventh grade, staying as long as three hours after school tinkering with a boomilever that would not end up working. Late into November and December, darkness would creep in earlier and earlier, and I’d stay later, worry about the competition rising steadily. And then it would end, and I’d walk out into the dim hallways of my middle school: the lights out, the sun nearly down, the remains of its feeble lights casting shadows on the walls. And the echoes, of course, the delight of echoes that come with emptiness.

And even then, I knew: I don’t know why, but I’ll miss this.

It’s not an everyday thing. But I do miss it, every time I descend the HCC stairs after far too long of a day.

Ten places to cry on the UMW campus, ranked (a retrospective on freshman year)

Disclaimer: contrary to this list’s tone, I am a generally emotionally stable person.

  1. The women’s bathroom on the third floor of Combs Hall. This one is a calm, comforting, more-or-less clean space. The real draw, though, is that it allows young English majors to take refuge in the imagined idea that at least they’re crying in their field of studies. “I’m surrounded by literary studies in my time of woe,” they can think pretentiously. 
  2. The bushes behind Campus Walk, directly to the right of Lee Hall. Yeah, this one was improvised, which is why I’m giving it points for creativity. It was the last day of freshman Welcome Week, I felt embarrassed about crying in public, so I hid back there and called Gene, opening the call with “Hi, I’m crying in the bushes.” Not my proudest moment. Not a bad story, either.
  3. Your academic advisor’s office. On one hand: Dr. Scanlon is one of the most eloquent and encouraging people I’ve ever met, and her office is well-decorated and comfortable. On the other, here’s a scene. I say: “I’m getting up at eight tomorrow to go to office hours.” My suitemates, simultaneously, reply: “Are you going to cry this time?” The moral of the story: don’t be like me.
  4. The staircase leading from the gym to Arrington. This happened because my Lingustics 101 professor told me immersion-based language education was screwed up. In a Canvas comment. As #3 covertly establishes, sometimes I cry when authority figures are nice to me! The sun was shining and it was pleasantly cold. Frankly a good and cleansing time; a positive on-campus crying experience.
  5. The little benches behind Combs, by the broken sundial. It’s kind of like crying in the bathroom of Combs but more picturesque. More poetic. It makes you feel as if you’re a character in a Victorian novel and your fiancé has just thrown you over. 
  6. Your dorm room. Points off for originality, but nobody can claim this is not a reasonable and comforting place to cry. I can make tea whenever I want and make bad decisions involving snacks. Why do I leave this place again? 
  7. A hall-style shower. A pretty boring choice, but the level of anonymity and midrange privacy it provides, especially towards the middle of the night, makes it a practical one. Last year, the one time I stooped to this was made slightly cursed by the fact that 1. All the Russell showers feel a little bit like someone’s been murdered in them, and 2. A fire alarm went off shortly after. 
  8. The parking lot behind Dupont. There’s a very easy way to avoid this one: when you end a relationship, don’t do it right outside the HCC. Was freshman year me okay?
  9. The steps of Combs. I don’t actually remember why this happened. But I wonder if I’ll have covered every base of Combs by graduation.
  10. The women’s bathroom on the top floor of the University Center. This one’s just kind of boring. Boo hoo, who hasn’t cried before, after or during, a meal. Nobody cares. Also they’re nowhere as nice as Combs.

The only video on the Internet

It’s hard to find someone my age that did not at one point have a strong dedication to ‘a Youtuber’ or, at the very least, Youtube. And when our attention spans got too short, we moved on to Vine and then, by necessity, Tiktok. What I’m saying is: I might be among the last members of Generation Z who believe that ‘let me show you a video’ is a sentence I almost never want to say, and certainly don’t want to hear.

I realize that saying things like ‘there is nothing less fun than huddling around a phone with your friends’ makes me sound like I’m thirty years older than I actually am. And I don’t necessarily believe there’s nothing less fun than huddling around a phone with your friends. Among my suitemates, for instance, ‘Watch Abby Swipe Left On Tinder Men’ can be quite a fruitful source of entertainment.

No, I just think there’s nothing less fun than huddling around a phone with your friends and watching a video you don’t even think is funny.

I can’t say I’ve never shown videos to anyone. My friend Gene and I once spent about an hour showing his boyfriend our respective favorite Chris Fleming videos. But I feel as if the rest of the world should catch up with me on a little questionnaire I do in my head whenever I consider Showing Someone A Video:

  • Do these people share my sense of humor?
  • Are these people I see regularly and can talk to whenever I want?
  • Is the video reasonably short?
  • Are we in the mood for this?

And now let me throw all this away and say that today, while eating dinner with Gene and Liam, I stopped dead and said, “You guys haven’t seen Shatner of the Mount, have you?” with no regard to what the mood of the moment was.

Here’s the background context:

It’s possible that I’d unironically like to know where to cop this shirt.
  1. The widely accepted convention is that even-numbered Star Trek movies are good and odd-numbered Star Trek movies are bad. This convention can be debated if need be, but,
  2. Movie Five (Star Trek: The Final Frontier) starts with a camping trip, and ends with the crew of the Enterprise finding God. Also, Spock has a secret brother who runs a cult!
  3. During aforementioned camping trip (during, in fact, the first shot of the movie), Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain.
  4. This was William Shatner’s directorial debut.
  5. He was apparently taken enough with this scene to film an entire DVD commentary to explain why, precisely, Captain Kirk was climbing a mountain.

And here is what happened when remix artists Fall On Your Sword got their hands on this commentary.

So why is he climbing the mountain?

That’s all, thank you. One last thing: I don’t know what it says about me, but I have played this on repeat while doing work multiple times. Something about it motivates me. Go figure. Maybe William Shatner’s desire to hug the mountain (to envelop the mountain. he wants to make love to the mountain) inspires me. Or maybe it has the delightfully fast-paced, strangely catchy energy as They’re Taking The Hobbits to Isengard, with an added element of delightful obscurity.

Either way, this is why we need bad movies, and why sometimes we need to break our own rules in re: watching videos.

Love/hate relationships with nineteenth century children’s novels

Question: why did saying ‘ragequit’ go out of fashion? Sure, it has associations with the unfortunate tendencies of 2009, but I think it filled an important lexical gap. Anyway, today I ragequit watching Little Women (1995).

Here’s my review of the first hour and a half of the movie: its actors are lovely (young Winona!) and its adaptation of a book I think isn’t given enough credit for being difficult to adapt is really quite admirable. Some of the book’s most potent moments of pure joy, of deep unhappiness, and of the ultimate center of warm familial comfort that so many people remember it for are well-captured by it. The choice to give extra attention to the March family’s progressive politics (influenced, of course, by the Alcott family’s own) feels heavy-handed in some moments but poignant in others.

The movie adapts the tone of the book very well, really, and maybe even improves on it, if the moralistic narrative voice of the novel is a dealbreaker for some. It bursts with the same kind of bright, open-hearted sincerity. So no, I think Little Women ’95 is a bad adaptation. Maybe it’s too good: it captured and then hurt me in the same way the book did.

Not as a kid. And not because Beth dies. There’s a difference in the book between cruelty that Alcott recognizes as cruel, and cruelty that, if she ever recognized it as such, she does not frame as cruelty in the text.

I said ‘not as a kid’ because, while I read most of Little Women at age ten and liked it, I never invested myself in the narrative like I did after reading it for American Realism class last spring. Maybe it was sort-of being an adult, or being encouraged to think critically about the text, or the handy critical theory at the back of our edition. But where I could stay detached from what bothered me about the other books, this one stuck in my head. A coming-of-age children’s novel intended to teach digestible moral lessons, and I couldn’t get rid of it at age nineteen.

It’s a text full of paradoxes. Even as Alcott herself never married, she nonetheless married off all three of her living protagonists. And even as a woman who made a living writing, she lets her economically self-sufficient writer protagonist retreat from her dreams, recover from writing ‘morally corrupt’ sensation stories into soft, ‘feminine’, familial accounts.

Jo March is at the center of these paradoxes, really. Generation after generation of bookish girls with desires for grand adventures saw themselves in her, but her beloved incarnation is not her final one. Writing does not ultimately sustain Jo; it’s marrying an old professor and running a school out of her dead great aunt’s estate. Are we supposed to think she’s happy? Are we supposed to think she would have wanted this all along?

And then there’s the marriage question itself. Jo doesn’t marry Laurie, you know. Last year, reading the book for class, I made an Instagram poll: “Jo should have ___”, with a sliding scale of “married Bhaer” to “stayed single” to “married Laurie” filling in the blank. Scores and scores of girls who had read the novel as children slid it all the way to the end; a few did the middle, and I wonder if they’re the ones Alcott would have been secretly proud of. No attachment to Bhaer seemed to be present, though I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.

This December, Saoirse Ronan (my favorite actress) will play Jo in Greta Gerwig’s second shot at directing. I wonder at what it means that the trailer’s framing device seems to draw attention to what one could call ‘the metanarrative of Jo March’ – that as much as Alcott resented the widespread interest in who Jo marries, her love life has remained a major talking point of fans for the remainder of her life.

coming December 2019, to break my heart again

Beth dies and Jo doesn’t marry Laurie. Generation upon generation of disappointment and unhappiness about the second part of the book. It doesn’t align; the death of a beloved family member is not at all equivalent to not marrying your best friend. And it’s easy to dismiss it as silly; the nineteenth-century origin of ‘shipping’, ignoring the more important aspects of a character. Personally, I do think there’s a certain power to Jo’s rejection of Laurie – one that is instantly undermined by the end of the book.

Opinions on shipping aside, I think when enough people cared about it this deeply, and maybe still do, it’s not worth tossing aside. Maybe it’s not just about ‘shipping’ it’s that people see more than they think they see, and more matters to them than they think it does. Here’s Jo and Laurie, after Jo submits her stories to be published for the first time:

“Well, I’ve left two stories with a newspaperman, and he’s to give his answer next week,” whispered Jo, in her confidant’s ear.
“Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!” cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again […].
“Hush! It won’t come to anything, I dare say, but I couldn’t rest till I had tried, and I said nothing about it because I didn’t want anyone else to be disappointed.”
“It won’t fail. Why, Jo, your stories are works of Shakespeare compared to half the rubbish that is published every day. Won’t it be fun to see them in print, and shan’t we feel proud of our authoress?”
Jo’s eyes sparkled, for it is always pleasant to be believed in, and a friend’s praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper puffs.

Little Women, Chapter Fourteen (via Project Gutenberg)

Does the marriage part matter, really? Are generations after generations preoccupied with whom Jo marries? Or are they only chasing after the moment when she seems happy and free? How much of that is the divide between the great loss the family suffers in the form of Beth – is it even fair to think Jo can recapture this youth?

And do I really have the right to criticize Alcott right now? She’s making me break what I think of as a central rule of English major-ing: fictional characters are not real people, do not think of them as such. Here I am, chiming into generations of over-identification.

But here’s the final thought: Alcott is dead, and her choices are her own, and maybe all I can do is close out of Young Winona Little Women after Meg gets married. Pretend they stay the little women of the book’s first half, happy and free, on the very cusp of nineteenth-century female adulthood. Just able enough to still get away with being the people they want to be.

(Image used originally in Vogue’s Why Little Women Is Still The Best Christmas Movie)

Five scenes from last week

My view from walking to work on a Tuesday evening

Three weeks into sophomore year! (Three down, thirteen to go? Time’s moving too fast.)

It’s been an interesting set of weeks; at some points, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been at college thus far, whereas at some I’m too busy trying to keep track of everywhere I should be to feel anything other than a strong sense of fear of the future. So for my first blog post, I’m going to take to personal/reflective blogging and look through the last five days, trying to figure out what it is about each day that I ought to remember in the future.

Monday: how much self-questioning does it take to establish yourself as an English major?

I think this week has been one for tracking exactly how it is I feel about myself and my place in a classroom setting, particularly during my discussion-based literature classes. It’s not that I want to single-handedly arrive at the unifying meaning of what a text means; I like these classes specifically for their discussion-based collaborative aspect. But I do feel an overwhelming sense of inadequacy whenever I feel like I haven’t lived up to the ‘standard’ of comments made in class. The self-criticism I experience whenever I say anything that I feel doesn’t elevate or hold up to the level of discussion we live in class is not observed or noticed by anyone else, and it’s its own form of self absorption. So, sophomore year lesson #1: cut it out.

Tuesday: Bread?!

I hate my Tuesday writing center shift. I took a lot of effort to sign up for ones that weren’t all booked, because I assumed this gave me a greater likelihood of getting appointments. Here’s what I did not consider: not a lot of people want to go to writing center appointments at 8 pm. So it certainly feels pointless sitting there sometimes, and my job almost never feels pointless.

But when I arrived back, the nighttime campus was pretty, and two friends who happened to be in the HCC had walked me home, and when I finally showed up on the third floor of Ball, my suitemates were baking bread. Baking bread in college! A consideration: baking bread isn’t difficult once you know the rules, but the process itself seems daunting enough that plenty of people (myself included!) have never bothered to give it a shot. Continued consideration: how arbitrary are the boundaries between what we can and cannot do?

Wednesday: Late to fencing club, in jeans.

“I kind of don’t want to go to fencing club,” I said, by which I meant “Gene, please tell me you also don’t want to go to fencing club,” by which I meant “I am so tired, and I am preoccupied with everything I’m doing or should be doing, and as exciting as holding swords sounds, I also really hate doing things I know I won’t be immediately good at.”

Gene said, “I don’t know, I’m really invested in this,” which meant, “Suck it up and give it a shot.”

Then I was thirty minutes late anyway, because a writing center appointment got held up. (Side note: I kind of love saying that. I kind of love loving my job.) Instead of sneaking in, I walked in conspicuously; instead of standing back and watching, I had to ask permission to join a group of beginners, I had to watch them have to stop and repeat their introductions to the basic steps of fencing. At one point, their leader looked over at me and said, as a side note: “By the way, jeans? Not recommended next time.”

And somehow there was no mortification. In part it was that I was there with friends; in part, that the entire fencing club seems to consist of the nicest people on earth. But a good portion of it was that I was finally working on something I’d realized a few years back. In Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock, I first encountered the idea that embarrassment was one of the most potent destructive forces in the world; one that led us to sabotage ourselves, and to hurt the people we loved. I wouldn’t have done any of this just a year ago. This contains some element of hope.

Thursday: Unrelated things impact one another. Who knew!?

That’s a very general statement. But consider this: on a whim, I left work a few minutes early to attend honors meditation for the first time. I had a lot of things I needed to not think about: work, and social life, and whether I was worthy of being in the classes I loved most, and the fact that my approved honors service project had changed times to conflict with work. And then at meditation, I ran into Dr. Slunt, cornered her afterwards, and walked away with the email address of the director of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, and ideas for a service project I liked much better than my original one. I’m not even sure what this one means. “Do one thing you wanted to do, and you’ll end up doing something you needed to do but were scared to”? Or, better: don’t be scared of doing things. Thursday is when I actually set up my domain, too. I hate looking at it right now because I know it looks nothing like it’ll look like in the future; however, look back at Tuesday and Wednesday. Sometimes you have to make bread, or go to fencing practice, or maintain an ugly domain knowing you’ll one day maintain a pretty one.

Friday: lessons applied.

I got up a half hour earlier than I wanted to to do a little speech for some freshmen (some freshmen who didn’t seem to want to be there very much) about the value of making writing center, and walked away knowing that, at the very least, I had done a good speech. I heard Dr. Scanlon talk about the things that punishment methods say about the drive (misguided drive?) to reestablish society and pretend it was never disturbed in the first place. I heard Dr. Haffey introduce us to critical theory surrounding A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which somehow made me like said book a little bit more. I wrote a blog post (hi!) and I went downtown with two dear friends, where I bought two three-dollar dime store Star Trek novels. And I went the honors service learning reflection, and said very corny but sincere things at the risk of everyone else assuming I was a very corny and insincere person.

Things about sophomore year so far: it moves fast; outside perceptions of you are uncontrollable; new things are scary; the possibility of failure and rejection is scary too. Things about today: none of these things got to me today on a level that stopped me from enjoying it. Things about the next year: hopefully, this pattern will carry on.