Source: Falcon Thatcher
Prior to this project, I was skeptical toward blogging. As a writer, I held a cynicism in regard to self-publishing, and dismissed it as so much Gen Y trappings. With my first blog post, I immediately saw the appeal of the medium. The interface was elegant, and the product was professional. I posted a link on Facebook, and received a number of views. Caught up in the excitement, I started a personal blog, “Kurt Vonne’s Guts,” a play on “Kurt Vonnegut,” combined with “spilling one’s guts.” I quote Kurt Vonnegut on the blog’s masthead: “Write a poem to a friend. Even a lousy poem.” Kurt Vonnegut said that everyone should be writing everyday, and then throwing it away. The point being, that there’s something in the process that is invaluable. This, I thought, got at the heart of blogging. I published a 9/11 story, commemorating the anniversary, and got that many more views, and even a comment from a stranger who’d found her way to my story without any promotion. In discussing the nature of blogging with my blog partner, Michael, I likened the blog to a clean apartment: it made you feel good about yourself. Christine Rosen, in her essay, “In the Beginning was the Word: The Book, that Fusty Old Technology, Seems Rigid and Passé as We Daily Consume a Diet of Information Bytes and Digital Images,” refers to a college student as saying that he was uninspired having to write a paper for an audience of one, the professor. Students, today, according to Rosen, judge the quality of writing by the size of the audience it reaches. Social media has changed the notion of audience, and publishing, and, indeed, writing. The “clean apartment” appeal of the blog, along with its social nature, and multimodal functions, I quickly learned, addressed many of those issues. “In teaching a creative writing class,” I told Michael while reflecting on this project, “I couldn’t imagine not incorporating a blog.” That’s a lot on the nature of the blog, I know, but as Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”
Ultimately, the project made for a unique experience, with results, I believe, that an assignment of a different nature would not have produced. Indeed, the medium changed the game, but working with a partner was also significant, for it made the experience intimate. Early on in the process, I received an email from Michael, reminding me that our blog was due. The following week, I sent him a similar reminder. In both instances, we were at work on our respective blogs, and would have met the deadlines, but the “gentle reminders,” as Michael referred to them, were indicative of how we were concerned for each other’s success. My tendency, early on in the project, was to concentrate on the reading experience, the process, as a sort of think aloud protocol, while not reporting on the meaning that I was uncovering in the text; even though it was readily apparent to me. Michael, at a certain point, interceded, helping to steer me in the right direction. Reading Michael’s posts, it was immediately apparent that he made a strong real world connection to the texts, perhaps to the extent that it hindered his ability to suspend his disbelief and fully engage in the material. I commented on this several times throughout the course of our blogging, and at the end, Michael, considering his own metacognition, noted that prior to this project, he was not conscious of just how strong a real wold connection he made, and pondered the consequences. Likewise, Michael, knowing that I am a writer, and observing how I connected to the author of my chosen text, literally incorporating Michael Hemmingson into the narrative of “Solid Memories Have the Life-Span of Tulips and Sunflowers,” wondered how I am able to get beyond that and enter the story. Reflecting on it, I reached the conclusion that I don’t know if I am capable of getting beyond it. As a writer, it is my nature to read a text with an awareness of the writing process — for better or worse. Interestingly, we’d identified similar concerns in each other’s reading practice, resulting from different causes. Ironically, considering that Michael and I got along so well, and cooperated so affectively in helping — teaching — each other, we agreed, in retrospect, that, since neither of us actually was made to read outside his comfort zone based on the other’s text, our pairing might have been a detriment to a successful metacognitive blog project. How might the project been different for me had I been challenged by a complex medical text or legal brief, under the tutelage of an expert?
Considering pedagogical applications, through participation in this project, and as a result of lectures and readings related to the course, the tool that I’ve come to more fully appreciate is pre-reading, or activating schema. I open a book and begin reading. What I’m more aware of now, is how, I possess a certain amount of knowledge that may pertain to a text. Through prior knowledge of a genre, or a particular author, or as a result of what I know about a book based on reviews or criticism, I regularly enter a text with certain expectations that aid in the reading process. It may even be the case, in certain circumstances, that this is a factor in my decision about which text I choose to read. Applying this new appreciation, I can see where, for example, when teaching “A Catcher in the Rye” to a high school junior class, a pre-reading exercise along the lines of having the class write about where they would go if they were expelled from boarding school, and didn’t just yet want to go home, could excite them to engage in the text, and more fully appreciate it. Pre-reading, also, has practical implications for teaching students of different levels within a classroom, by creating multiple points of entry into a text, and for ESL students, where you can scaffold their experience, especially with vocabulary exercises. The lecture on teaching ESL students particularly resonates with me. The sensory exercise, of watching the foreign language film clip minus subtitles, followed by the discussion on making sense of what was happening in the class portrayed in the film, was powerful, and the subsequent lesson on teaching vocabulary was very practical.
I have three big takeaways from the project. One, through metacognitive reflection, I was made aware just how central to my understanding of a text, is my sense of visualizing. While recording my video reflection, I realized that it was a single image, that of the protagonist, David, in the guise of Michael Hemmingson, standing outside his car, staring up at the night sky, looking for a UFO, that ultimately made sense of the text for me, and is what I remember — like a snapshot — of the story. Secondly, I’ve come to realize that depending on how invested I am in a text, my repair strategy varies, re-reading a text that I am highly invested in, while forging ahead, hoping to make sense, rather than committing any more time, to a text that I am not as interested in. Thirdly, I’ve become more aware of the strategy of anticipating, where the mind subconsciously explores many different narrative routes while trying to make sense of a story, the direction becoming more clear as the journey progresses. Reflecting on the project, I think it might be useful, in terms of the rubric, to require those involved to visit a determined number of class blogs other than their partner’s, throughout the course of project, and post a comment, hence enhancing theirs, and others’ overall experience.
The fifth act begins with four of the choirboys meeting in the choir room, discussing “helping” Tina. This storyline seems to come out of nowhere — other than Tina’s trying to out Kitty and Artie’s relationship — and surprises me. It employs flashback, showing Tina stuffing her mouth with cake, what passes, I suppose, for desperation in the world of the “Glee” teenager. In the next scene, the janitor is scraping gum off the hallway floor, when the principal (Jane Lynch) approaches, and stresses “Janitor Figgins.” This, we learn, is what happened to the old principal, after the new principal set him up. It’s been a week since my last installment, and I forget how she brought him down exactly, but figure I’ll forge ahead. Next scene is back to the Tina storyline. The boys, to cheer her up, don early Beatles costume and perform “I saw Her Standing There” as a prelude to offering themselves to her as potential prom dates. She chooses one, and thanks them; all better. Commercial break. Act 6. Kurt’s father drives Kurt to the proposal. There is some exposition about their deceased wife/mother. Kurt says he doesn’t know about getting married at such a young age. I’m not sure how he knows what’s about to happen, but again, decide that it’s not really necessary to following the story, so forge ahead. The proposal is made through a big production number of “All You Need is Love.” He accepts.
The final third of the show has left me a little surprised. I was anticipating more closure in relation to the multiple story-lines, but only the proposal story was resolved. Tina and Artie’s story is abandoned, Rachel’s story in left hanging, and Tina’s story seems to have developed out of nowhere. The story line treated most conventionally is that of the principal, where it was introduced, and then revisited, with implications for it to continue to develop throughout the series. Perhaps this is the narrative strategy of the show. I’m curious to watch another episode or two to see if this structure is typical.
Something that I’ve been made aware of through this exercise, is how, when you are not particularly invested in a text, your repair strategy (in this case, to forge ahead) may be different than when the text is more important, either personally or professionally (in the case of the Hemmingson story, in which I was personally invested, my reaction was to go back and re-read, in hopes of making sense of the narrative). I must admit, however, after watching one episode of “Glee,” in which, as I said, I was not particularly invested, my mind is nevertheless anticipating what will happen to these characters. I’m not sure of the psychology, but it seems that, inherent in the reader, is a tendency to anticipate narrative, as if the subconscious mind rapidly explores an infinite number of possibilities, and so when the actual story reveals itself, it makes sense. Of course, storytellers guide us, with foreshadowing and narrative conceits, so that some routes make more sense than others.
The following is a metacognitive reflection on the third and fourth acts of “Glee” episode: Artie, the boy in the wheelchair, can’t help but disclose his relationship with Kitty to Tina, the first person who asks him about it. Coincidentally, the producer and star of the show Rachel auditioned for are lunching in the diner where she recently started waitressing, and she and the rest of the staff perform “Hard Day’s Night” for them, and then Rachel and her friend walk out. Commercial break.
A school bell signals that we are back from commercial break. It’s the first time I’m consciously aware of the bell. Principal’s office. Two coaches divulge their corrupt exploits, as Principal Sylvester enters and proceeds to deliver exposition on how she was made interim principal, and elaborating on her plan to demolish the “office,” and rid it of its “deep ethnic musk,” detailing the necessity of the teams represented by the present coaches being successful in achieving her goals. The cheerleader, Kitty, is outed by Tina in regard to her relationship with Artie, and she offers a heartwarming speech about how she wanted to “make sure” she “really really” liked him, so that she wouldn’t get hurt. Kitty and Artie kiss as the glee club claps. This does not surprise me, though the quick resolution has me anticipating that they may encounter other obstacles because of their, now public, relationship. A school bell dismisses class. Commercial.
Unsure of the male teacher’s confession in the Principal’s office, I rewind to repair my confusion. Upon a second viewing, it’s all perfectly clear. The black woman with the blonde hair is the coach of the cheerleaders, or “Cheerios,” who has a comically corrupt past, while the man is the choir leader — it’s insinuated that he has had “creepy” relations with teenagers, though he seems like a good guy, persecuted more according to his position. The plan is also more clear: the teams, these coaches, must win at Nationals, in order to keep their jobs. The stakes are high, which sets up strong motivations on their part for the school year. I suspect the choir and cheerleaders will be pushed like never before, with some casualties along the way, but will ultimately rise to the occasion, perhaps, “ironically,” with the Principal getting what’s coming to her.
At this point, it is clear to me that the show is mindfully constructed to be easy to follow. There is a great deal of expository dialogue, character names are often repeated, and bells ring, in a Pavlovian manner, to gain your attention when coming back from commercial, and dismiss you when going to commercial. If the text is at all confusing, it’s because it moves along at a rapid pace, and is interrupted by musical numbers that forward the action. What strikes me about “Glee,” is the contradiction within the show, as it trades on being self-referential and ironically hip, while being very straightforward and sentimental. The one requirement of the reader, is an understanding of how the genre of the musical functions, how the show acceptably breaks into song and dance, and how the narrative is forwarded by the answers found within the musical numbers.
The following is my initial blog entry about “Glee.” First, I read the blurb on the DVR recording. The title of the episode is, “Love, Love, Love.” It says that “the cast sings Beatles tunes.” I knew this from Michael’s blog entries. This definitely serves as a pre-reading exercise, as I suspect the episode to be concerned with romance. After viewing the pre-credit sequence, and the first two acts, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what’s going on. There are three story lines, a young actress, dealing with post school auditioning. There is a romance between a cheerleader and a boy in a wheelchair. The girl wants a relationship, but, to maintain her popularity, wishes to keep it a secret. The boy is struggling with his feelings in this regard. Thirdly, there is a gay couple, reuniting after being separated for the summer. One boy plans on proposing to the other.
An establishing shot of theater exterior, where a man hangs a sign for “Funny Girl,” sets up the scene, as a young actress enters the theater. She auditions opposite the star of the show, doing something of a Barbra Streisand imitation. Afterward, the actress overhears a conversation where the star and director say how talented and beautiful she is, but they’re concerned that she’s too young. Breaking from reality, the actress starts singing “Yesterday.” In Central Park, she takes out her cellphone, and looks at a school picture, and I know now that she’s out of school, facing the “harsh” realities of the world. Credits.
Second song, “Baby, You Can Drive My Car,” and the carnival montage I remember from Michael’s log. I recall Michael had a problem making the leap of faith as the show broke with reality. It makes perfect sense to me, however, in that the boy in the wheelchair had just asked the cheerleader if she wanted to go to a carnival over the weekend. At first, I thought that this might have been a fantasy sequence, but after letting it play out, apparently, it’s reality. I am pausing the action to make notes, since I cannot write in the margins. All right, I get it, this is “Fame” for the 21st Century. That is my point of reference, to which, now, I cannot help but compare it. I loved “Fame.” So far, I am put off by “Glee.” Ironically, “Fame” seemed to be about art, while “Glee” seems to be about fame.
The second act begins with the return of the Jane Lynch character. (I know that Jane Lynch was on the show, because she left a show that I loved, “Party Down,” to do it.) Her story line is recapped in VO and flashback as she saunters down the hall of the school. She was a coach, and fired because of a scandal, but she framed the principal, and now is returning as the new principal. It’s apparent that she is a villain. I expect she’ll make the students’ lives miserable throughout the season, adding conflict to several episodes.
One member of the gay couple announces that he’s going to marry his boyfriend, there’s a bit about gay marriage and acceptance, even though everyone seems to totally accept the gay couple. A plan is hatched to unite the choirs from rival schools to perform together, as a metaphor — one of the characters is kind enough to use the term “metaphor” — for acceptance. The students sing “Help” during a montage where they crash the rival school’s choir rehearsal. The sequence ends with the leader of the rival choir, who’s obviously gay, saying they’d be happy to help. I was confused as to how the question was posed, since so much happens visually in a short time. I rewatched it, but it didn’t become much clearer, and so I accept that it was done through the music.
Having only a twenty minute history with “Glee,” which, I know by researching IMDb, is in its sixth season, I believe it was fairly easy to inhabit the fictional world, in that the show is seemingly designed so that a new viewer can readily “understand” the material. The narrative is interesting, with much of the story forwarded through musical montages. The thing that makes the show hard for me to appreciate, is its disconnect from reality. Michael talks about this, also, relating it to his real world experience. Though I have a theater background, I don’t necessarily relate the material to the real world, as much as association it with the Disney genre (though it is not produced by Disney), which allows me to make certain inferences, and predictions. What had me so involved with “Fame” was that there was a great deal at stake for the characters. The performing arts high school was an escape from a harsh reality for many of them, the dream of being a performer was vital, and failure was real. In “Glee,” everyone is beautiful, and dressed colorfully, and failure is not getting a Broadway show this time.
A metocognitive reflection on Michael Hemmingson’s short story, “Solid Memories have the Life-Span of Tulips and Sunflowers.” (Video suppliment to the blog post, “Scifi Staten Island.)
A couple weeks ago, on the way to meet my father for lunch, stuck in a traffic jam along the Staten Island waterfront, something caught my eye in an abandoned lot: a giant spider made of aluminum foil. The scene had a ’50s scifi feel to it, and as the cars inched forward, I got my cellphone out of my pocket and snapped a picture. With the traffic moving in fits and starts, as the light at the end of the strip allowed, I pondered the implications of what I’d seen. It could be coincidence, I reasoned, that someone placed this giant foil spider here. Or it could be the work of an artist, or practical joker — a fine line — inspired by the ideal locale. Or maybe it was something much more mundane, lost on me. Or maybe it was something… else…. Why does everything have to be so easily explained? It wasn’t there the next time I drove along the waterfront. Yesterday, I felt the impulse to post the picture on Facebook, with the caption, “Scifi Staten Island.” After I posted it, I thought, “I wonder if Hemmingson will respond to it.” He didn’t. Only one person gave it a “like.” Post a picture of a baby, though, and it gets 36 “likes.”
Finishing “Solid Memories Have the Life-Span of Tulips and Sunflowers,” I’m still uncertain as to what has happened, even though I have relied heavily on the repair strategy of rereading. I’m certain that I will reread the entire story again. Maybe it would help to read it from start to finish in one sitting. I suppose the key line is when David says: “I needed to get more in tune with reality.” Under hypnosis, David recalls the UFO experience. Driving home, he says, “None of it even happened, of course.” No sooner do the words come out his his mouth, he pulls over as a UFO hovers above the car. Recounting his tale to Anne, his girlfriend, she makes light of it, as if this is not all that shocking coming from him. David and Anne come to terms with their relationship, remaining a couple. Curiously, a block of dialogue spoken between David and Ginny earlier in the story, regarding them not wanting to have sex, and being “an old married couple,” is repeated between David and Anne. When David inquires as to Bill, the man Anne claimed she might be in love with, she says, “There is no Bill no more.” Does this mean that she’s dismissing him, or was Bill a construct, real or imagined? Either way, a parallel exists between Helen and Bill, both of whom may or may never have existed.
It would have been easy to explain the narrative through hypnotherapy, a la “Sybil,” but Hemmingson doesn’t tie this story in a bow. Certainly, you can rationalize what happened. Going back and reading the Presidio Park section again, the setting of the prom after party, after the lights appear, and Helen disappears, David returns to the clearing as the cops are breaking up the gathering. The lights could be explained as the lights from the police cars, and Helen’s disappearance, her running away rather than getting arrested. Indeed, David’s whole experience can be rationalized as the effects of a traumatic experience. But then there’s Hemmingson, and his obsession with UFOs. I can’t help but read this story as semi-autobiographical. The image that resonates in my mind having concluded the story is David, on the way home, pulling his car over to look up at the flying saucer. “…a flying, glowing dish appeared, and hovered for a moment over my car, and flew away.” In my mind, David’s expression is befuddled as he stands on the side of the deserted road, looking up at the starry sky. He’s a modern day Don Quixote, chasing UFOs rather than windmills. Something I didn’t realize until this very moment, is that my image of David is actually Hemmingson, as I know him from his many Facebook postings. It is this image which “makes sense” of the story for me.