Category Archives: Ruminating

Progress of a sort

Truth will set you free!

Truth will set you free! (Photo credit: savebradley)

I’m back in the US after nearly 24 hours on a plane. Well, I’ve been in the US now more than 24 hours after spending those 24 hours on a plane, and jetlag isn’t hitting me as hard as I thought it would, but that may be due to the nap I took a few hours ago.

Hours. Hours and hours and hours.

I’m supposed to be working on an article for an academic journal. It’s due on the 21st. The outline is solid, things are filling in, but it still feels very intimidating. I’m aiming at 4000 words, with a max of 5000; 3500 – 4000 should adequately cover what I’m trying to express.

Which is about truth, and lies. Stories are made-up things. Phillip Pullman has said more than once, and with different words, that stories tell truth with lies. And that’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, the difference between truth and fact. Truth can sting independent of fact; fact is hard and cold and unyielding, something that sometimes yields as much comfort as warming words. Lies are a deliberate alteration of fact, but their relationship to truth is not as dualistic.

But let’s say you’re listening to a bunch of people. Interviewing them, really. Because what you want to do is listen to their experiences, find the truth in the fact, the memories and moments that resonate, and then use that to anchor a wholly fictional tale about a completely made up person in emotional — and to some degree factual — truth.

Where are the boundaries in this process? What ethical considerations need to be taken into account? And how does a writer monitor those things, make sure he or she is riding the straight and narrow, at least enough to cause the least harm? And how much harm is too much, and to whom?

And there you go. That’s what the article is about, except I neglect to mention the role of reflective practice which is another entry entirely. With luck, I’ll have this ready to go by the evening of the 21st. Right now, it’s slow going, but at least I don’t have blank-page paralysis, which happened to me for the first time in my life just a few months ago. Shocking.

Anyway, back to work for me.


People are internally self-contradictory. We’re not the same from day to day. You might catch me on a bad day and I’ll growl at a kitten. Most of the time I’m rendered a speechless wibble of goo.

Take a given event, get a bunch of people to watch it, and then ask them afterwards what happened. Forgo meaning for now, just ask for the passage from moment to moment, reasonable amount of detail.

No one person will ever completely agree with another. Like the men groping an elephant anc oming to different conclusions, human experience can only capture so much. We have environmental factors that stop us — maybe an obscured line of sight, maybe we’re at the epicenter and are too dazed to get the whole picture. We have internal factors, too. Culture, personal philosophies, perhaps a nasty break-up the night before.

This prism of perception of experience, it’s not a feature, it’s a bug.

Using more than one medium to tell a story is just like this. You got the trunk storyline, you got the foot storyline, you got the tail. And one person — the audience, the reader, the watcher, whatever — that person gets the joy of discovering things. They get to poke around, find something, gain some clarity. Or maybe muddy the waters.

In my mind, this is a great way to get around preconceived notions.

My project will have a broad audience, and it includes people who are going to have some very solidly formed opinions on immigrants. Opinions which aren’t very, let’s say, compassionate toward them. I think, if I do things right, transmedia vectors will keep them around. Because invariably someone will share their point of view.

This is also a challenge for me. Because I’m going to have to think like people that make me very, very itchy. Well. Empathy goes both ways, I suppose.

Studies and Resolutions

So, as I think I’ve said before somewhere around here, I’m currently a doctoral student at Queensland University of Technology. It’s not precisely a PhD (in fact, it’s called a Doctorate of Creative Industries).

I have never had to think like this before. It’s a completely new plane of thought. I like it, I do, but it’s exhausting in the same way a new exercise regimen is.

I am also thoroughly unaccustomed to being considered, and treated as, an expert (at least in a professional sense). I’m so constantly on the edge of putting my metaphorical dukes up, ready to defend my position on just about anything, that having a slew of very intelligent, insightful, and supportive people being nice to me and acknowledging the value in what I say is just bewildering.

And it’s a wonderful rush to get questioned not to knock me down, but to actually query my ideas. Mush ’em around a bit. Find new leads, close off old ones, or develop them further. Help other folks bolster theirs, or bring focus, or contrast.

I am just not used to this.

And it’s great.

My only problem, as it always is, is time management. I’m eating better mainly because it keeps the brain-fog sleepies at bay. But sleep deprivation is a beast that can’t be tamed by staying off the sweets.

Again, as I mentioned somewhere in a tweet or Facebook or something, I have learned that blogs are a perfect acceptable, and even encouraged, form of qualitative research. This provides a nifty solution to two things at once: one, I’ll actually write things here on a regular basis. I’ll have to; a lot of the stuff boiling up in my head gets lost in the slew of notebooks I have lying around. (Speaking of which: is Evernote worth it? Reviews and personal anecdotes welcome in the comments.)

Two, I’ll have a chronological breakdown of the thought processes surrounding the research and practice going into making Project 1. I’ll cover just what Project 1 (and the subsequent Project 2) is in a follow-up post.

This said, I have some caveats. Well, I have one for now, reserving the right to add more as I see fit. This place will be a bit of a mess. I am not, by nature, an organized person. You’ll see blather show up in here that may have very little relation to a well-thought out idea. Feel free to skip those; I’ll find a way to tag them, or mark them in the title of the post. But I recommend you actually read them. I expect they’ll be fairly short — I tend to think in bursts of static — and they may have insights that you might find useful, even if the first thing you think of is how strongly you disagree.

Because that’s okay. What matters is that it got you thinking in the first place.

Words that stopped me

So, in vague connection with my doctoral work, I stumbled upon game writing. Blogs, mainly, talking about games, being a gamer, the big things at the moment like the unacceptable ending to Mass Effect 3 and the enormous disappointment of the rape-as-tougherning-up strategem in the Tomb Raider reboot.

I have to think about these things critically, now. I’m mining them for direction, for hints, intuition. There are answers out there that will help me sharpen up my final project. And I need to wade through this stuff, good and bad.

Now, before I started reading up on these things, I never knew the name Tim Rogers. He’s a video game developer (and founder and director of action button entertainment — not a member of You Am I) who writes the occasional entry for Kotaku. He rambles — and when I say “rambles,” it’s not in the pejorative. He ties every aside with a gossamer thread like spider silk; subtle, invisible, but strong as a mofo. As I read through his articles, I found myself sharing many of his viewpoints. But what got me completely was the heart in his written thoughts.

And this line in particular stopped me dead (see whole article here).

“Labeling anyone for any reason, in any capacity, is a misdemeanor of the heart.”

I — I just — this should be required learning for everyone. Honestly.

Engines of drama

I’m thinking of posting more fiction in here, vignettes, episodes, the like. I haven’t read or written much fiction since graduating from Columbia in 2001. There are a number of reasons for that, but one of the ones I came to grips with happened when I was home with family over March and April. When I was in high school, and angry with the world as high schoolers are, I chose to do things my way by writing things. Usually novel length things that may or may not have turned into anything publishable, which isn’t really the point, anyway.

The point is this: I read fiction to escape. It sounds obvious, yes, but that’s what it was. It was an escape, a way to bide time, a way to be in a place I preferred instead of the onerous real world with its minutiae and obligation.

I reverted to my 16 year old self for the length of April. Honest. Fortunately I was self-aware enough to watch it happen, and take the opportunity to understand it, because this turns out to be the sledge the rest of me rode when I really began writing.

Before Tom Waits married Kathleen Brennan, he was well on his way to becoming a drunken-sot stereotype who sang only one kind of song, regardless of how masterfully he wrote and rendered them. And the way he got there was by being that drunk, by doing some really unpleasant and horrible stuff. And he came to the conclusion that you don’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they feel.

Well. I didn’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they felt, or to write the damn things down with any semblance of versimilitude.

The problem with my 16-year-old methodology was that I went on the ride, completely and unreservedly. If I was reading something really devastating, I’d be devastated. No wish or desire to be in the real world at the dinner table having steak and potatoes. Same if I were in the middle of a hellacious scene. And I cracked that wide open while I was home, a world of sensation and hurt and awe that I hadn’t gotten near in decades because I couldn’t aford that kind of disconnection, not when rent and utilities were on the line.

The trick here, see is that these powerful feelings — they’re what make something real. They don’t have to be front and center (in fact, they’re less effective if they are), but they need to be there in the distance, casting a pallor or sepia wash over the scene they inform. A stage play scene is all emotion and the push-pull between two or more characters. A good scene, anyway. A compelling scene.

So what I’ve been learning, over the past few weeks, is how not to squelch that powerful emotionality. Instead I’m trying to find a way to harness it, or surf it, keep it from commanding me and still being able to let it do what it needs to and have it inform the work I create.

It’s friggin’ hard.

But these past weeks have been illuminating. I’ve had characters crop up that I really feel invested in, that I love no matter how rotten they are, and I find myself wanting to know just what they’re going to do next. This bodes well for the latter parts of my degree, but for now I need to be a bit more academic and things are getting a little out of hand.

Well, I can throw my arms up and drown, or I can learn from what’s happening. So off I go. And hence the little bits of fiction here and there. A safe outlet, small doses to relieve the pressure cooker without derailing the missions at hand.

A brief note

Still here in the US. Things are still serious, but we’re fighting it as best we can. These days are looking pretty good, and for that I’m grateful. It’s hard, sometimes, being so far away from home.

Home. Tricky subject! I think of a lot of places as home, simultaneously. I guess it’s a mark of the 21st century that this is a common situation. I’m here at home with family; I left my husband back at home. And home is where many of my friends are, where I spent nearly 14 years of my life.

So. Leaving home for home, but not for a couple of weeks. Once I’m back in the southern hemisphere, I aim to update at least once a week. Might be a bit spotty in May, but pick up by June. That’s the hope, at least.

In the meantime, here’s a four year old photo of the Sydney Opera House I took after catching a Judith Lucy show.

I had to sit on some steps and rest my elbows on my knees to get this shot. I think it was a half-second exposure. This was taken, believe it or not, around nine at night.

So much to do, so little time

Well. I’ve still got several days of European trip to recap, an Ars Magica game to gently construct, a doctoral program to get ready for, and by the beginning of next month I’ll be headed back to the US to help out my family for a few weeks.

I’ve been numbing my mind a bit with SWTOR, to be honest. The reasons for heading back to the US so soon after returning to Oz aren’t positive ones, though I sorely wish they were. And there’s the mildly building stress of going to school for the first time in eleven years.

Yeah. I’ve been numbing my brain a bit. I feel a little guilty about not writing at least the travelogues, but when it comes to something so reasonably easily accomplished, it feels like an overwhelming insurmountable thing. Couple that with realizing I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in my initial PhD proposal, and I collapse into a little gravity well of worry.

Well, I’m built for worrying. It’s innate. Like breathing. Inhale, fret. Exhale, brood. Repeat. This plays a huge role in how I make decisions in my life, for good or ill, but that’s its own post.

I don’t have any photos to share with you for this post, since I’m at work and don’t have any images on a thumb drive (I’m posting during my lunch break!). But I will try very hard to compose another entry for you all tonight, complete with pictures. It’ll probably take my mind off things, to be honest.

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