You Found This Weird Journal
If you got here because you read about it in class, then you're in the right place. And if you didn't... Well, I guess you found it anyways, you snooper.
Journal Entry #13 - December 7th, 2015
I learned a lot more about law this week. Privacy and libel are serious business, and knowing their parameters is important to anyone. More than that, I feel like I learned what my rights are, not only if I ever pursue journalistic endeavors, but just in my everyday life. In other news, I've been working a lot on my finals, for this class and even more for my other class. I have injured my foot for the first time this year, which makes about 8 straight months of no foot injures – an almost record breaking stretch of locomotive health for me. I wrote perhaps the most entertaining thing I've ever written, a rendition of the stone soup story. It's perfect for a kids' book, only I don't feel comfortable doing the illustrations for this one. I feel like I want to get it produced for release next Thanksgiving. The first step will be to find and artist, which I have one line on. Hopefully that works out. I'm really excited about my final for this class. I'm having a lot of fun writing it, and I've got a meeting scheduled with some very creative people on Monday to get some pictures together so I can complete the project.
Journal Entry #12 - November 27th, 2015
This week I have learned so much about media law that I never thought I would ever learn. The reading was so informative, and makes me all the more certain that I don't want to be a journalist. Once you start writing about things that are both true and important, all of a sudden there are a lot of legal issues to consider. Legally binding oral agreements, the threat of libel, law suits, and upsetting the powers that be seem to grow in proportion to the scope of the story that's reported on. Fiction, on the other hand, only involves checking for plagiarism and hurt feelings, and checking for hurt feelings is optional. You can write about things that are true, and nobody cares because the metaphors protect you better than lawyers. Finally over my illness, I'm back to reading The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. It's fascinating, wonderfully explained and organized, and conveys so much information in such digestible segments. I think understanding this material makes understanding anything easier. This book begins with the question “What is the Mind?” and came to a series of concise answers by way of years of talks between professionals from more than a dozen social, and mental health disciplines.
Journal Entry #11 - November 20th, 2015
This week I learned a lot about the values of the AP. The stated goal of the AP is the struggle for truth in representation, giving all sides of an issue equal weight, and conveying facts without opinion or conjecture. I guess I have just always assumed that the goal of news media is to shape public opinion towards the biases of the people who produce the news. I'm not willing to stop believing that. Even in the conscious struggle for truth, most if not all people subconsciously want to be right. We are heavily biased in favor of what we already know or think we know, in favor of our own opinions, and in favor of our personalities. With this in mind, it is all the more important that the AP try to hold to values of complete truthfulness.
Week 2 (or is it 3?) of debilitating illness is starting to wind down. 80% of the way through a course of antibiotics, the cold-morphed-into-bronchitis-morphed-into-double-ear-infection is beginning to give in to the mighty forces of modern medicine and ridiculously rampant fluid consumption. I learned that staying home sick with a sick seven year old and a healthy four year old who wants to Play! is not restful or healing in any way.
I went to the urgent care when the ear infection swung up into full force within a day, and had a really good experience. I usually dread doctors visits of any kind, but this time it was fine. The whole visit took less than 20 minutes, and the doctor was actually friendly and funny. In retrospect this is probably what made me over-confident that taking my daughter to the doctor would also be easy. Instead, going to her doctor's office immediately after school, waiting for an appointment for an hour with two bored young children, and then spending another hour with a doctor who aid more attention to her stomach ache than her ear infection ended up being par for the course. Her stomach, incidentally, only bothered her because of not getting a snack on the way to the doctor's office.
Journal Entry #10 - November Friday the 13th, 2015
I don't know what I learned this week. I think I've entered into that tacit fugue where the subconscious processing of all the reading I've been doing inside and outside of class is beginning to take more energy than the elucidating aspect of my mind is able to recognize.
I had an amazing dream about the difference between being alive and retaining the experiences of having been alive. It's been pretty consuming.
I dreamed that I was a Frankenstein's Creature type of being created by the military, a reanimated conglomeration of organs and tissues, altered by virally-induced gene therapies to be stronger, tougher, and more durable than the humans whose parts I was constructed of. I had done terrible things in the service of duty, but like a child, I could not remember what had happened, what I had done. I only knew that the soldiers I served with were afraid of me, and that it would be my duty to dispose of their bodies after my commanding officer had murdered them. Having been built in the service of the military, I had never known that decisions could be made outside the chain of command. I was infected with a will of my own while trying to evict a civilian from the path of an atomic tsunami (a tsunami carrying fission powered vessels with breached reactors). I then went AWOL, helping survivors of a climate disaster wracked world rebuild their lives and communities.
At the same time a scientist had genetically engineered a fungus that could envelop and duplicate the nervous systems of humans. It would enter people's bodies through their eyes or other orifices, killing them and assimilating their consciousnesses into a vast fungal body spreading over the surface of the world. I tried to protect my new community from the fungus. In terror, they pleaded to me to help them, but I couldn't be everywhere, and they were picked off one by one. Because I was of a different construction, I was impervious to the fungus' attempt to assimilate me. I was eventually left alone, the last human on Earth, even though I wasn't even properly alive.
We are all alone in our selves. When people immerse themselves in media, they are attempting to interact with that fundamental aloneness- to ignore or mitigate it through distraction, to seek relational meaning in community, to lose individuality in the unity of the bandwagon or mob or herd...
The format of the sermon, of the exemplum, connects the audience to a message by enveloping, enwrapping, their consciousness in the flow of story. In this way every media product is an act of mercy, and an act of violence. Mercy in the attenuation of the aloneness that is inside all individuals. Violence in the subjugation of one mind to the thoughts of another.
Journal Entry #9 - November 6th, 2015
This week I learned just how over-scheduled I am, and how much a little thing like a cold can tip the balance. Unfortunately, it was my schoolwork that suffered most. With only dial-up internet at home, the file uploading due this week just wasn't possible before the deadline. Luckily though, there wasn't much actual work this week.
I have fallen into a slump with my extra-curricular reading with the sickness as well. I've started reading Blue Ocean Strategy and The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology, but I'm proceeding super slowly. They're both exciting books, it's just hard to keep my focus when I have to blow my nose every 10 seconds.
Journal Entry #8 - October 30th, 2015
As a reverend and an artist, I was thrilled to learn about the sermon structure. I spend an entire morning wandering around downtown Brattleboro- meditating and surreptitiously planting tulip bulbs in neglected weedy corners between the concrete- hunting inspiration. After about four hours of this I settled on a topic for the first sermon I would ever write: Uncertainty.
I wrote it with some anguish to fit all the important details and tone and emotional charge into a scant 200 words. Then I read the example posted in class that accompanied the assignment. I realized just how much more newsy the intent of the assignment probably was. Apparently I had written an actual sermon, not just an essay in the format of a sermon. I became disheartened and sort of moped about it while I muddled through the daily chores – tampering with thermostats, fixing door latches, and generally killing snakes before picking up the kids from school.
When I got home, I sat down at my computer and hammered out another attempt at the assignment, trying to be a little more newsy. To be honest, though, it was more along the lines of The Onion than The New York Times. I ended up with a comically ironic, conspiracy freak laden, 166 word, press item that made me laugh out loud. I still felt like I didn't have anything I could actually turn in.
Finally I wrote the one about the flash flood in Wimberly. I wasn't most happy with it, but it seemed to fit the assignment best.
Here are the other two:
Uncertainty is often paralyzing, and we spend a lot of energy trying to avoid or prevent it. And yet uncertainty, mystery, is the only guarantee the future holds. Even though uncertainty can be uncomfortable, it's ultimately the source of all the richness we experience in life.
It's the surprises, good and bad, that make life full. Life will always be full of uncertainty, like the first sailor.
This was a long time ago, you understand. Some guy had clumsily lashed a few fallen logs together. The rocking of the waves and his raft were new and strange, and before long the current carried him far from land. Clouds and mist rose all around, and he became frightened. He couldn't steer, couldn't see land; he had absolutely no idea where he was or what he was going to do.
Then the sun started to go down.
The mist surrounding this first sailor began to glow like golden fire. It faded to orange, then pink, and his fear transmuted into the most thrilling, amazing, awe-inspiring wonder.
He had these experiences in his life that were unheard of. Ask yourself: Is uncertainty threatening? Or is it a reason to live?
We've been hoodwinked. The multi-national economic oligarchy world shadow government has doomed us all. These unknown figures wield unimaginable power.
A comprehensive media black-out was initiated this week for a revolutionary new medical breakthrough. Though it is unknown what the nature of the breakthrough was, sources say that it would have been sufficient to end all threats to human life from disease. The shadow government's arson and media black-out on the friendly, human-loving research facilities came as a surprise to the researchers, who were found huddled together underneath some bullets. Only one crack-pot employee of the facility survived the assault, and was not consulted in the unreported news story on the incident.
Understand that nothing of consequence that happens in the world will show up in the news. Our oppressors own all the media content. But now, for the first time, is our chance to stop them. Now we know the truth. Buy Bayer aspirin, and all your problems will resolve themselves instantly and painlessly forever.
Journal Entry #7 - October 22nd, 2015
This week I learned a lot. A LOT.
I never realized that the sermon structure is pretty plainly supporting some of my favorite works of fiction ever. It's a structure that I have been aspiring to understand for years, and I just got it this week.
The concept of the protheme of a sermon is huge to me, and it's opened my eyes as to the idea of culturally valid references. While The Bible was big in Medieval Europe, just try using The Bible as your common valued resource today, and you will definitely alienate some audience members. Meanwhile, appealing to young idealists with a quote from the Dalai Lama, or quoting Milton Friedman to a crowd of economists are likely to hold at least a little attention. Try crossing those references and just see how quickly people stop listening.
Also, I've started learning a little more in depth about appreciative inquiry this week, and I'm still on the Daniel Kahneman roller coaster.
The big insight from Dr. K that relates to this week's classwork is that humans are uniquely prone to understanding “causally linked sequences.” We like stories. Stories make sense to us. No statistic will ever impact us as meaningfully as a story that implies that statistic. And if it does, it will manifest in a misdirected fashion, warped by behavior that doesn't understand statistics.
Stories run on the willing suspension of disbelief. Generally, anyone hearing or reading a story is going to have a certain willingness to suspend disbelief. That all depends on the opening act, however. If the parable of your story is following a credible appeal to a culturally valued source, the audience will be primed to believe, receive, and agree with your story and its conclusions. Open a story with a reference to a culturally devalued source, and you can expect the audience to be primed to resist.
Journal Entry #6 - October 16th, 2015
This week I learned a lot about image.
The whole point of the inverted pyramid seems to be that people as a whole can't take the time to invest attention in anything. Giving the most information in the first sentence of paragraph doesn't have to be dumbing it down, just taking it easy on peoples limited time. I looked at a lot of magazine articles to see how they were organized, not for content, just for layout. I was ashamed to have to admit that the only ones I had any interest in reading were the articles with the nicest pictures.
I've started reading Daniel Kanhneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. I'm only into chapter 4, so I haven't gotten everything yet. The main lesson that this has brought for me regarding media writing, is about what he calls “System 1.” This is the intuitive, impulsive, quick and dirty kind of attention that tells us things like, “there's a snake!” or “Read this article!” This system only cares about the image, not the content. I expect from what I've learned here, that the choice of images added to the assignments of my classmates and I, rated for clarity and contrast, will probably have a positive correlation with the assignment's readability irrespective of the writing content.
Journal Entry #5 - October 9th, 2015
This week I learned that I probably never want to be a reporter. I guess I already knew that, but I learned it a little more clearly. I like the idea of production, but the guidelines for AP seem strict. Also, I guess I have no real journalistic integrity maybe?
There seems to be a certain “holding to the unembellished truth” aspect behind these guidelines. I'm sort of all about embellishment of the truth.
Outside of that, I've been learning about appreciative inquiry, sociorationalism and generative theory. I can definitely see how the production guidelines that the AP uses can tie in to that.
AP guidelines seem devised to stop the personal opinions of news producers and reporters from impacting public opinion of news events. According to the principles of appreciative though (and generative theory), just the way the question is asked already frames the context, bias, and assumptions inherent in the inquiry. This is also true of news reporting. Objectivity in news reporting is nearly impossible, despite the best intentions of the broadcast guidelines.
However the reporter and the producers view the story they report will come though in subtle ways through word choice, voice tone, pauses, facial expressions and micro-expressions, placement in the flow of stories, or other (sometimes barely perceptible) elements. Now understanding THAT is interesting.
Journal Entry #4 -September 30th, 2015
It seems like the focus of the inverted pyramid style is two-fold.
The first aspect of the focus of the inverted pyramid style seems to be prioritization. The writer attempts with this style to put the most important things first, and that makes the big assumption that the writer is capable of knowing what is going to be most important to their readers. For factual journalism that might be a safe assumption met by the W questions (what, where, why, etc...). The more subtle and intertwined the topic, the more it seems like this style could compound basic value misunderstandings.
Aside from the historical purpose of the style for getting through rickety telegraph lines, there seems to be a competitive aspect of putting the lead out front. Competition for people's attention to get the meat of a story is central. Giving the most important details first ensures that those details get through the noise between the source and the reader. This competition implies either disinterest, or other lack of focus on the article. Cutting through that noise is the essence of attention grabbing writing, strong narrative, and just being appealing to an audience.
I've learned that I have a natural distaste for any competitive action. Even bringing up the possibility of competition fills me with the urge to flee. With this in mind, I'm really trying hard not to discount the inverted pyramid as coarse, simplistic, and outdated.
I've also learned that my prejudice against news media is much deeper than I believed. Each of the articles I read this week lead me to think less of the contents of the article than to my own speculations about machinations behind the article. Each article I read fills me with not the W questions of the article content, but of the intentions of the writers or influencers that created the articles to steer public opinion, of why they would hold those intentions, and what other more primary intentions lay behind them.
Journal Entry #3 -September 23rd, 2015
I think I'm learning something related to this class about short attention spans. I think my essay is too long for what it is. I tried to be as concise as possible, but the essay still feels over stuffed.
Brevity is everything in media, huh?
I think that maybe the comic book text bubble of 1-9 words is the maximum size of ideas that people can handle easily (as opposed to the 20-40 word average that I prefer). I guess that explains why I like reading scholarly articles and other people don't. I don't want to over-simplify or use analogies that misrepresent what I think are important points.
I picked a complex issue, and my reasoning might not fit into the 5 paragraph format for this topic, though it seems like any topic should be at least meaningfully summarizeable in a 5 paragraph essay.
Where's the line between dumbing it down and keeping it concise?
Also, I read Getting to Yes this week. Negotiation on merits makes so much sense, and it seems applicable to media writing in the sense that audience interests need to be taken into account for media tone and topic. Essentially a media story is a negotiation between what the writer thinks is fair and what the audience is wiling to accept. Every writer makes an offer, and the audience members either agree or disagree with that offer.
I also was introduced to the concept of reactive devaluation through Getting to Yes. It was only mentioned once, but it was a big deal for me. It made me consider source valuation more thoroughly, which definitely plays a role in media writing. If someone reads an article by Ben Boyarko, they're likely to discredit any information in it due to either never hearing of me or due to their familiarity with the kinds of weird deformed art I usually make.
Source valuation, and reactive devaluation in particular, seem like a ripe aspect to consider for story flavoring, audience emotional connection set-up, and plot reversals.
Journal Entry #2 -September 14th, 2015
I learned that I have a pretty good grasp on punctuation, even though I still feel a lingering, unproductive distrust of the em dash. I just don't see why there has to be such a sharp distinction over that extra 2 millimeters, but I guess size matters to a lot of people.
Is level of concern for properness of punctuation is a cultural thing? In thinking about Black Lives Matter this week, issues of cultural currency keep coming up in my mind.
I understand how the impact of having a standing and shared communication code or system pretty much makes or breaks consensus. The idea of mutating communication codes though, can get hung up in the rigidity of standardized codes like proper punctuation. Just think how many more people would trust something written in textspeak so much more than something written in AP English (and vice-versa) (and why).
How big can choice of punctuation be? Can dropped commas make something more trustworthy as well as less trustworthy?
Outside of class this week, I discovered a lump on my back, on the tip of my left shoulder blade. I thought that maybe my wings were finally descending or whatever, but it turned out to just be a tumor. I tried not to be concerned about it, am still trying not to be concerned about it, but it made me feel a flush of fear about cancer that I had never honestly felt before.
This week I also read The Starfish and the Spider, which I recommend to anyone studying business. The book was all about decentralization, its power, its identifiers, and its differences from centralized organization. I don't want to spoil the ride for anyone who wants to dive into it, so I won't give too much away –(!) just that it was life-changingly informative.
It gave me a few clear ideas about how I can decentralize some of my endeavors to make them more effective, rewarding, and successful. It also let me know why I can't decentralize too much.
Journal Entry #1 -September 4th, 2015
I have avoided journal writing and journalism.
It may be because the truth is always so much more slippery than fiction. In fiction there are absolutes, and they behave as one would expect them to behave.
The cowboy with the white hat has no more than one smoking gun, and the executive in the black suit has no more than one bright point in his character. In the cold world of facts, or the sweaty, palpitating, internal world of feelings, mutable indefinable rationality circulates. Everyone has done both good and bad things in their lives. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Everyone makes decisions, changes their mind, feels important, and dejected, and righteous, and...
And then it gets all slippery.
Whenever I try to define things out from under the protective metaphors of fiction, there are invisible assumptions and hidden forces that move reality just out of reach. In fiction the world becomes as you define it. Without form, or substance, or a pre-existing shared reality, words are all that make truth. They condense the unfathomable vastness of every moment, of all the moments, down to a thin stream of symbols that the mind can handle.
In that pre-existing shared reality that we do have, the shared dimension is even suspect. The meanings of the symbols we use are always shifting and changing. What meaning each little information artifact we have created to define the world actually has is different for each artificer. Everyone knows the truth, but each of us has a different set of meanings in mind for the word “true.”
With all that out of the way, I'd like to report that fall has arrived on the mountain. The slumbering dragon of summer has awakened and flown off to its winter home, leaving the pavement still hot and the bare soil of the garden dry. Now the writhing, cool, many tentacled beast of September is pulling itself across the land. It brings the many birthdays that my family celebrates this month, three different school schedules, and an arsenal of fall chores as bustling burgeoning cargo, and it drags behind a frenzied anticipation of winter to come as a gauzy memory from a dream.
My family has just spent the first month living alone in our home in over a year, free from both seasonal and omnipresent house guests. A trio of fine new graphic novels has arrived in the mail from their long-announced pre-order. I have a growing schedule of trainings at both my new jobs, accompanied by a greater fear that both of them will find me unfit to perform my duties. I built a space ship powered by acorns, and then dyed myself green for my four year old son's birthday.
And as I am beginning this last term at CCV, I wonder if I'll ever do anything of any lasting value in my life. Is transferring to a bachelor's degree program even a good idea? Will I ever find a career that I can stick with? Will my writing ever be good enough that I can just write for a living? Is there any way that I actually can leave the world a better place than when I found it?
Reality is always a mystery story, and I have always preferred space westerns.