In a true “better late than never” fashion, it’s that time of year. Forget Hellweek, this is

FINALS WEEK

Keeping up with tradition dictates that I put off gobs of assignments until the last possible moment, and even then, I stumble or limp to the finish line in my attempts to get them done. For our Week 14 assignments in DigiLit class, we were asked to put together a digital story entailing a metaphor about learning: how we learn, what we think about learning, how we teach, something along those lines. I thought about this one for awhile (obviously). How do I learn? What do I think of it? This isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about. What defines me as a learner? How have I made it to where I’ve made it?

Then it clicked. Without discipline, routine, and determination, I wouldn’t be the learner I am. These components sound strikingly similar to another facet of life that I take almost no part in. The irony of my metaphor is palpable, but I felt it was the best one that fit. Rather than go the Powerpoint or YouTube route with my digital story, I decided to roll with something I’m a bit more fond of: the Podcast format.

For the lazy or time-constrained among you, here’s the story transcribed into text:

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Learning is a workout routine.

Not literally, mind you. If I know anything, it’s that exercise and I get along together about as well as fire and kerosine.

No, no, learning is a mental exercise. And not in that “Lumosity.com” kind of way. Your avenue, whether it be a classroom, books, or the internet, is your gym. Learning, much like physical activity, is a process that requires strict discipline, definitive goals, and oddly enough, variety.

I have friends who are weight lifters (the protein shake and Facebook memes kind), and they have a very methodical process. Each day consists of a warm-up, a workout of a different particular group of muscles, a cool down, and the maintaining of a strict diet designed around whatever their particular goals might be. Need bulk? Protein all day, everyday: chicken breasts, eggs, steaks, etcetera. Most will give themselves one rest day a week so their bodies don’t completely rebel and shut off completely from the immense stress.

Learning, I’ve found, is almost exactly the same. Learning will not just come to you out of the blue. You need to dedicate yourself to the process. Randomly surfing through Wikipedia articles doesn’t count, either. If you want to learn about something, you must discipline yourself to do so.

When I was in middle and high school in Alliance, Nebraska, marching band was an extremely popular activity. It reached across the boundaries of “cliques,” uniting the jocks, geeks, and stoner kids alike under a common banner. As you can probably imagine, trying to teach 100 pre-teens / angry teenagers how to march in time, let alone play an instrument, was nigh impossible. For band director of 33 years Dick Rischling, however, anything less than perfect was unacceptable. Dick Rischling was a man who would go for a 2 mile run and smoke a cigarette every step of the way. The man provided us with gems such as, “I love conflict! I win them all!” and “I hate cymbals, they sound horrible.” Every morning at 7:30 AM, a half hour before classes started, all 100 of us would show up, line up on a practice field in the rain or snow, and march with Dick Rischling barking commands from a megaphone. The man taught us to stand up straight, carry ourselves with some dignity, and above all: discipline. This discipline is something I’ve carried with me throughout my schooling career. Without it, I doubt I would have reached any level of success. In order to do well, you have to want to do well. You have to want to improve to improve.

Once discipline is instilled in a learner, different learners will find that they have a different “core group” of muscles that are already strengthened: some people are naturals at maths and sciences, but awful at humanities. Along this same vein, different people have different primary methods of learning. Some are auditory learners, preferring to listen to lectures or podcasts, while others are strictly visual, favoring note-taking and reading. Others still are “hands on” learners, better at learning through a “do as I do” method of teaching. While it’s natural to want to focus on your best attribute in terms of subject material, just because exercise is routine doesn’t mean you should forego adding variety to your workout. At some point, you will plateau. You will reach a ceiling that will seem impossible to break out of, and the best way to continue is to try something different before returning to that plateau. This is why weight-lifters rotate the muscle groups being worked on each day: an immensely powerful upper body is useless without the leg day to support it.

By identifying which style of learner a person is, they can also best figure out how to approach these different subjects. With the internet, there is no shortage of resources for learners of all strengths and weaknesses. If weight lifting isn’t your strong suit, maybe cardio is more your thing. Maybe yoga or some type of martial art is your best avenue. Take whatever learning style is best for you, and apply it to all subjects. See what works and what doesn’t. Identify and improve upon your weaknesses, even if only minutely.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is that the principle of “use it or lose it” applies just as much with learning as it does with physical exercise. Your brain, the supercomputer that it is, is going to deem skills or knowledge left unused unessential. The way to avoid this is to stay in practice. Remember to review the concepts you already have a firm grasp on, while continuing to strive for new improvements.

While you won’t be seeing me in a gym anytime soon, it is undeniable that the same dedication and persistence found in a good workout regiment can be used just as effectively when building the most important quote muscle unquote of all:

your brain!

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Accipio

If you haven’t gathered yet, I love graphic novels. I’ve chewed through a lot of them in my time here at CSC, and while they almost never lack depth or material, they’re usually pretty easy / quick reads. I’ll usually give one a quick pass-over for the sake of the plot, then re-read it slower to better admire the artwork. Either way, it never takes more than an hour.

Except.

Nate Powell’s “Swallow Me Whole” stopped me dead in my tracks. I actually had to re-start it just to make sure I hadn’t fallen off and misunderstood something somewhere. This one is thick, not length wise, but material wise. It’s one of a select few graphic novels I’ve actually had to chew on, and one with an ending that is only remotely clear.

Nate Powell Photo Copyright – Nate Powell

Going Mental

“Swallow Me Whole” deals with the tale of two step-siblings with a dying grandmother and parents that are quick to write off their childrens’ mental instability. Ruth, diagnosed with OCD as well as a form of schizophrenia, hears insects and other animals speak out to her, beg her to be their liaison, their ambassador to the higher world. Perry, also schizophrenic, sees a wizard appear atop all of his pencils, sending him on “missions” that produce fantastic drawings. Both siblings have a grandmother who is expected to kick the bucket relatively soon (who actually stays with them for several years) who also shares some form of mental illness – she is constantly traveling back in her mind to her youth, when her husband was alive and she was an avid painter.

The tale is a hard one to swallow, pun fully intended. Ruth, after outbursts at school, is eventually diagnosed and medicated for her disorders. Perry never does. Perry’s illness, since it results in a creative outlet, isn’t considered illness. Ruth’s non-conventional (for the stereotype of her sex) interest in insects and biology further her along toward medication. The book throws everything on the table: gender stereotypes, mental illness (and its societal stigmas), adolescence, dysfunctional family, the works. It isn’t for the feint of heart by any means. Nor is it an “easy read.” The ending is both tragic and ambiguous. It’s never spelled out for the reader, ala Inception, we are only left with pieces that we have to put together ourselves. A great deal of why this book is so difficult to digest lies in the artwork. So that’s where we’re headed.

wut Photo Copyright – Nate Powell

A Lot to Swallow

Powell’s artwork in this piece is hard to wrap your head around. The entire novel takes on a disconnected, dream-like quality with strictly black and white artwork. Powell doesn’t rely strictly on white as a backdrop either, obviously – there are gobs of black ink in this book. Speech bubbles are distorted and hard to read, stream-of-consciousness thoughts are splattered on the page, and we are treated constantly to perspective shifts as they happen: one moment, Ruth is looking at a vent grate on her ceiling. The next moment, insects are pouring out of it. The unpredictable, dissociative nature of the illnesses Ruth and Perry suffer from are reflected heavily in the artwork. I can’t speak for anyone else, but at times, it became extremely difficult to follow.

Though the tale is about both Ruth and Perry (and memaw a bit, as well) it definitely follows Ruth more often. She goes through stages of silent coping with her disorder, to ignoring it, to even accepting and “embracing” it (which leads to some poor choices and behavioral outbursts), and eventually, being consumed, swallowed whole, by it. The artwork becomes more chaotic as Ruth’s mindset changes. The book culminates in a swarm of insects, and from there – well. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

This one has my brain revving at full speed. There’s a lot to digest, a lot of pieces that need put together (but are all there), and a lot to be said. Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. There’s definitely a story to be told here, and there are a lot of things to be said. If anything, it made me think. Still has me thinking. I count that as literature any day.

Insania

Well, it’s that time of year again. I want to pull my hair out and mash my face into a wall until it resembles little more than poorly-prepared hamburger.

Yes, folks, it’s the week before finals week, or what we here at CSC have dubbed HELLWEEK.

Andreas Levers Photo CC-by Andreas Levers, cue AC/DC track here

Blood from a Stone

I’ve learned a lot of things about myself during the duration of my independent learning project this year: namely, I’m shitty at self-motivation. Terrible. Awful. Etcetera, etcetera. I had an open field to walk through, my own path to choose, I could choose literally anything that I wanted, and I still couldn’t motivate my damn self to get the job done. I’m not proud of myself, especially with Ms. Fish absolutely schooling every challenge I’ve thrown her way and making leaps and bounds in her own project.

Why was this so difficult for me? I suppose I could have chosen “wrong.” I can only wonder how it would have went differently depending on what else I had chosen. Some have hypothesized that the reasoning for my terrible time-management and procrastination issues has been that, at the end of the day, regardless of the freedom been given to me, the independent project was still a project. Still an assignment. Desperately as I’ve tried to stave off “senioritis” and continue waking up each day with gusto and a “go-get-’em” attitude, I haven’t. I have what I deem the “fuckits” really bad. Every assignment coming my way right now isn’t, to me, a learning opportunity. It’s a hoop to jump through. I’ve done this continuously for nearly 16 years. I know the in’s and out’s, and I’m fed up. Suggestions for grad schools are pouring in like water from every angle, and my answer (at least for the time being) is a resounding go to hell.

Peter P Photo CC by Peter P

Post-Haste

You’d think that with the aforementioned “senioritis” I’d be excited for the next chapter in my life. I’m not. I’m as bitter and cynical as ever. I’m about to graduate after 4 years of hard work, get a piece of paper legitimizing said hard work, and… what? Then what? I work the same minimum wage job I would have without that piece of paper? I have some fancy titles to put on a resume for an entry-level position in a job where I’ll be expected to eat shit consistently for years until I progress into something even remotely worth my time and effort? I pay back the federal government for helping me pay for an education that largely consisted of re-hashed high school courses? Some people get nervous pre-graduation. I’ve become lethargic. Dangerously so. My band isn’t playing, stories aren’t selling, and I’m in a pretty bad state of mind if you couldn’t tell from the bulk of this post.

The best, and worst parts of my independent learning project have come from my lovely teacher, Ms. Fish. I say best because I get to see the exuberance and passion she feels for the subject. I get to hear tails of shenanigans in China, dreams of going back, and the interesting change in perspective another culture provides. I say worst, because I have by no means made it worth her time. I haven’t dedicated the energy, shared the passion, or made the improvements I should have with such a capable teacher. She wouldn’t ever say so, she probably wouldn’t even think so, but I’ve let her down. Here I sit with a broken understanding of a language, due 100% to my own shortcomings. For these things, I’m sorry.

The longer I wallow in this pool of doubt and cynicism, the more I realize that these are things under my control. I can choose how to react to poor book sales and gigs un-booked. I can choose how to respond to impeding deadlines and being a first-gen graduate in my family. I’ve chosen poorly.

How do I make up for these things? How do I pull myself up out of this? This isn’t how I usually am. That much I know is certain. I suppose this is the proper time for an abstract image with some inspirational text on top.

BK

Much better.

Agonio

As a general rule of them, I don’t hop onto Facebook app bandwagons, or many Internet ones for that matter. As much as I hate to admit it, I think I’m a hipster at heart. I will not accept your CandyCrush or Clash of Clans invite, I’m not gonna play online poker with you, and I’m sure as hell not going to make BitStrips of myself doing my Independent Learning Project.

…Wait.

filefile5741728-117577335_1-v1file

1. The master and the student at work.
2. Tones aren’t Jeff’s strong suit.
3. Jeff studies.
4. and isn’t ready to graduate. 

Okay, so I’ve been wrong before. As part of this week’s Digital Literacy class, we were asked to take a look at several possible online tools for visual art making (comic strips, infographs, etc.) and after some digging, I found the most user-friendly and one of the most customizable to be *heavy sigh* BitStrips. I’m sure you’ve seen them on people’s Facebook walls. Usually I’m pretty annoyed with them. The art style is a bit too cartoony for my taste, and often they’re just nonsensical statuses about lunch or what was on American Horror Story last night with little point.

Though, as I’ve said before, technology = tool, tool = up to the user, and after a few classmates made blog posts illustrating their Independent Learning journeys via BitStrips, I thought I would give it a whirl. Ashamedly I admit, I actually had some fun tinkering with this tool. The settings / props / facial expressions are all customizable, limbs are movable, it’s actually really intuitive. What I suspected would be just a selection of pre-constructed images actually has a lot of different options. Characters have actually a lot of options as far as customization goes, with the exception of outfits (I don’t think I even own a blue shirt).

So now the question is, does this have applications outside of mindless meandering / time killing online?

Creative Control

The answer is, yes! Students are going to dick around on FB and the like. This is a proven fact of life in 2015. The fact is that comic generators, infograph makers, etc. flex students’ creative muscles while requiring them to think somewhat situationally. Someone making an infograph needs to have research and statistics done to put anything down in a coherent manner. Comics require (albeit very little) semblance of plot as well as dialogue; essentially, storytelling skills. Tools like this could be used as a fun alternative for traditional research projects or narrative exercises.

On top of the creative building going on, tools like this also teach general tech skills. Unsure how to use a tool properly? A Google or YouTube search can easily yield tutorials. These tools require a general knowledge of how to use either smartphone or computer technology, something that not entirely everyone has. If students can bolster creative thinking on top of learning how to use technology that will be most likely required in higher education as well as a workplace, I count that as a win-win.

Picturae

Ms. Fish, my better half, is a total package – smart, funny, patient with me (this one’s the most impressive), and a huge nerd. I have the “gamer girlfriend” that the Internet claims to be a mythical creature. Her preferred addiction is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called Final Fantasy XIV. The game allows her to talk to / play with people in real time from literally all over the world. She’s got a group of friends in a group (called a Free Company in game) that are all tight-knit, and no, none of them are the fabled “creepy 90 year old guy playing as a girl to pick up chicks online.”

These connections between people, “real” or no, are a small part of what the Cory Doctorow-written and Jen Wang-illustrated graphic novel “In Real Life” is about.

jen_wang_irl_page-600x817Photo Copyright – Jen Wang

Another World

“In Real Life” follows the tale of Anda, a high school girl who’s just moved to Arizona from Cali, and is doing her best to adjust in the new school. She’s got a fistful of friends, equally nerdy as her, interested in gaming and D&D. She’s in classes learning to be a game programmer, and one day, a guest speaker arrives talking about Coarsegold Online. The speaker is a high ranking officer in a guild made up of only girls, dedicated to helping new people out and improving the community of players. Anda accepts a low-level position in the guild (after some cautionary words from her mother about creepy people online, blah blah technology scary blah), and quickly befriends another higher-up in the guild named Lucy. Anda inadvertently discovers that Lucy makes real-world money in game by hunting down and slaying other players – gold farmers. Gold farmers are players, usually from other countries, who dedicate all of their playtime to the same menial tasks to make in-game money, so they can sell it for real-world money. It allows those with extra cash to spend to skip the long, tedious processes of improvement, and that pisses Lucy off. Anda helps Lucy with these endeavors until she actually speaks to one of the gold farmers, and finds out that this is what they do for a legitimate living in an office building in China. 12 hours of gametime as work, no benefits.

“In Real Life” is a complex tale in that it’s about much more than just gaming, and it’s not a generic coming-of-age tale. It’s about international relations, economics in particular. Anda sees a strike going on at her Dad’s company, and inspires her Chinese friend Raymond to do the same so they can be given the proper benefits for their work. It’s a tale of introspection: Anda loves the game because she can be any number of things she feels she can’t in real life: a leader, a hero, a warrior, etc. Raymond and his plight inspire Anda to take real-world action, to make a difference both in the game she loves and the real world.

Bonus points to the tag-team of authors: they’ve done their video game homework. Many books / movies / tv shows with Video Game-centric themes either rely on the “dorky gamer” tropes or stretch the realities of games and the technology so stupidly out of bounds that any real gamer turns their head in disgust. The in-game system is lovingly based off of real games, and gold farming in other countries is a very real thing in our world.

InRealLife-COMBINED_100-681280VVVVVPhoto Copyright- Jen Wang

Different Strokes

Wang does an excellent job of differentiating in-game and out-of-game artwork. Anda isn’t some hyper-sexualized character in game, nor is she quintessentially thin or “scene” looking in real life. She’s average, as are nearly all the real-world characters. The real-world style is somewhat darker and less colorful, lines are bolder, and scenery is about what you would expect. In-game the art is light and extremely colorful, scenes are grandiose and ornate, and characters are all extremely unique, including, but not limited to, elves, pixies, and a talking penguin. The jump from fantasy world to real world is impossible to miss, but both art styles are fantastic. Wang avoids the tropes that often come with “gamer” girls in graphic novels: no hyper sexualization, no extremely unattractive “nerd” caricatures. This is life, plain and simple.

Fans of gaming will obviously be more inclined to enjoy “In Real Life,” but the story is compelling enough that non-gamers should give it a try. It’s pretty friendly about easing new people into the lingo and crazy world of online gaming, it’s pretty hard to get lost. The tale is an inspiring one about friendship, economics, and taking action. Give it a whirl.

See you online!

Ludus

There’s a fundamental flaw in this society in the sense that people, young boys in general, are heavily discouraged from sharing feelings. Emotions aren’t for sharing. Bottle ’em up. Be tough, be stoic, don’t waver, and don’t care.

But, what if you literally couldn’t unbottle your emotions? What if all of your thoughts and feelings were trapped inside of you, aching for an avenue out, and you couldn’t set them free even if you wanted to?

Enter David Small’s “Stitches.”

David Small Photo Copyright – David Small

Tale of the Tape

David Small’s “Stitches” is a memoir, a story of his childhood and an abusive, repressing family (who have reasons for the things they do, regardless of whether or not they’re “good” reasons). David Small grew up in the Mad Men era of the 1950’s with mom, dad, and a brother. Mom’s language was silent anger: door slamming, quick to physical discipline, and quiet, reserved frustrations. No language. Dad was a radiologist who was relatively scarce when it came to home life, and older brother was an older brother; enjoyed tormenting David, exposing him to crude things in Dad’s medical textbooks, etc.

David’s passion lies in artistry. When he needs to escape, needs to express, he draws. Feelings aren’t allowed in the Small household, so David finds his moments wherever he can: sock-skating through the halls of an empty hospital, getting lost in his imagination, and reading (when his mother isn’t busy burning his books.)

David is a sickly child, prone to respiratory infection and irritation, and it being the grand ol’ 1950’s, Dad sees fit to treat these problems with x-ray radiation. It isn’t surprising when David develops a lump on his neck. What is surprising is how long it goes untreated. When it is finally treated, what is expected to be a routine, one-time surgery turns into a limbo of two surgeries, interspersed with unexplained kindness from his family members. David, needless to say, has cancer. He doesn’t know, however. Not even when he awakes to find a giant suture on his neck, and a missing lymph node / vocal cord. David’s ability to speak has been taken from him in a home that already allows no expression.

As the story progresses, David grows into his own. His repressed feelings and inability to speak lead to a resentment for his abusive family members. Throw in an insane, old-world fire and brimstone grandmother, and a closeted lesbian mother who feels no love for her family, and you’ve got a seriously broken household.

Stitches is about expression, or the lack thereof. David’s mother is silently angry and abusive because she is lashing out at the family / life she didn’t want. David’s father avoids his family like the plague via work or a punching bag in the basement because his perfect nuclear family is the product of a lie. Both boys are reserved and a bit twisted themselves because they are unallowed any forms of self expression. It’s a true-life 1950’s suburban nightmare. As the story rolls, David learns the truth about his family and how they feel about him with the help of a therapist, and decides to run away to pursue his voice, his dreams.

David Small 2 Photo Copyright – by David Small

Sketches

The art style in this book is both parts beautiful and disturbing. There are moments, such as the panel to the right, of great intricacy in detail. Faces are never lacking powerful expression (and if they are, it’s on purpose) The style comes across as a hybrid between sketch art and scribbles. The more horrifying the image, the more disturbing the feeling, the more the art style dives into chaotic scratches. 1950’s suburbia is depicted as drab and hopeless – the entire book is in a grayscale that makes it all seem like a memory at best, bad dream at worst. Small himself wrote and penciled the book, and the pages ooze with resentment toward a family that didn’t care.

The book doesn’t seem like an attempt to reconcile with bad memory. Small’s mother (as well as grandmother), and his older brother are all highly villainous characters, but are not without their motivations. David’s father is drab, practically a shade in the background. Expressionless and unfeeling. Small depicts his therapist as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, helping him find his way through the maddening rabbit hole that threatens to consume him.

Sketches is not a book for the squeamish or the feint hearted. It’s a powerful, almost unbelievable tale that stands as (whether intentional or not) a cautionary tale against the dangers of bottled emotions and unfulfilled dreams.

Somnia

Weird at last, weird at least, god almighty, weird at last.

Commonplace Books Photo Copyright – Commonplace Books

Story Time

When I was a wee lad, my mom would read me Goosebumps books before bedtime (explains a lot, right?) Being read to then created images just as vividly in my mind as reading itself did. When I got older, I obviously fell out of touch with being read to – I’m an adult, dammit! I can read my own books!

Well, turns out, being an adult has literally nothing to do with it. Make a 6 hour commute (one way) every two weeks with only country and gospel stations at your disposal, and you’ll find something to pass the time in a big fuckin’ hurry. I decided to give a few e-books a whirl, ones by Stephen King which I had already read, but it had been a few years. Why not, right? What I wasn’t expecting was to have images play in my head, just as vividly as when I read, just as vividly as when I was a kid.

What a revelation! In between Stephen King books, I would tune in to NPR for as long as I could get the signal. All Things Considered and This American Life became staples of my journey – and major sources of news for me as well. Something clicked in my head, here: I can listen to these people talk about things.. Podcasts are usually just people talking about things.. I think I’ve got something here. But where do I start? There are literally an infinite number of podcasts on an infinite number of topics, and some people just are not interesting enough to listen to.

Welcome to Nightvale. Figuratively and literally. Short version: Imagine “This American Life” from a community radio station in a small desert town in the Twilight Zone. Ms. Fish and I have been tuning in for several months now, and this addiction is far more rewarding and less expensive than crack. The most intriguing thing about Nightvale: It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a continuous, ever-extending plot line. It’s a story. It’s a book that comes to us chapter by chapter. There are characters that appear continuously, plot lines that have ran (and continue to run) since the beginning of the cast almost 3 years ago, and a wide and interesting array of voice actors. Nightvale has become so ridiculously popular that they go on tours regularly, performing live renditions of shows, and have a novel coming out in October. Pre-order on lock.

Scottish Libraries Photo CC-by Scottish Libraries

Application

Certain classrooms in the U.S. are utilizing podcasts as tools – why bother forcing students to slog through classics if you can give them a story they’re interested in? Podcasts give stories that students can most likely better relate to. They can listen to podcasts while doing other activities. I know several people that would be more inclined to listen to a podcast as a homework assignment than read 85 chapters of Great Expectations. Digital storytelling as a medium, whether we like it or not, can appeal to students who rely so heavily on tech more than a conventional book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ink and paper, but e-books are a thing, it’s still an e-book, the second half of that phrase being book. Pen-and-paper elitists can get right the fuck outta my face wit dat.

That being said, it’s significantly more difficult to take notes in the margins of a podcast. Unless you can find some pretty interesting readings of said classics (which I hate but are necessary at times), students may miss out on some pretty important literary / story milestones if classics are skipped in favor of podcasts. Digital storytelling allows for an infinite realm of creativity and access, but also allows some pretty garbage material through. Many podcasts are poorly-written, gimmicky, or recorded through something that provides the audio quality of a potato. Quality control is an important consideration.

When it comes down to it, I’m of the opinion of “whatever you can do to get students interested jesus go with it why would you give up that opportunity.” The less students rolling their eyes in angsty disgust and actually engaging in something, the better.

Fabella