Excuses, Excuses

Why the light blogging here of late? Could it be the looming article deadline, quickly approaching? Or perhaps the conference paper on the horizon?

Could very well be. Could be both.

Between these two projects, I find that I’m running low on words. You know those days of writing where you’re just rearranging your five favorite terms over and over again? Epistemology + digital video + pedagogy + YouTube = conclusion to section. Add a verb or two. Move on.

When I can get out of my head a little, I’m noting some curious observations about writing process. Here’s the deal: I am co-writing this article. Which is due in a week. Not “about a week”, mind you, an actual week. The two of us have been diligent for sure, meeting weekly since January, reading, writing, discussion, drafting, revising, etc. Despite our plans to finish this thing by the first week in March, however, we find ourselves looking at the upcoming deadline like deer in headlights. Part of this could be that neither of us is a person who tends to get things done far in advance. But I prefer to think that it also tells us something about the process of collaborative writing: it takes longer. You would think that I’d have known that going in, but it didn’t really occur to me. What I’ve discovered is that when you’re writing with someone, you’re negotiating and discussing all the time. Which secondary sources to use and why; how much space a particular piece of the argument should occupy; the particular ways that data should be interpreted; style; etc. And that’s all the stuff that we actually articulate. I’d venture that there is also always a secondary level of negotiation going on non-verbally: should I just take the lead on this part?; am I slowing us down?; is my expertise relevant here?. Essentially, there are all of the interpersonal elements to negotiate as well. Is it any wonder that it takes longer than writing an article alone?

Meanwhile, note to self: next time I assign a group project to students (I’m looking at you, film class!), I need to give them ample time to work through not just content, but interpersonal stuff as well. It would probably also help if I could get them to move across the street from one another, and assign one person per group to be the baker who provides snacks for each meeting. And then someone to do the group’s laundry and grocery shopping while they get their article written—I mean project done.

So what’s the collaborative writing payoff, if it creates deadline problems? Well, there’s the obvious: two sets of expertise, two readers, two thinkers. If you can truly work collaboratively, you can pool your ideas, which ideally become greater than the sum of your two parts. [I’m not necessarily making this claim for our work, you understand, I’m simply saying that it’s possible.] It is certainly the case that I know more now than I ever would have about the history of composition and rhetoric as a field than I would have if I had not worked with my present co-author. Less obvious: knowledge about your own process, by way of watching someone else’s. I’ve always known that I’m a balky writer; it takes any number of rewards and punishments to get me off the starting blocks. [Embarrassing confession: once, as an undergrad, I wrote a 20 page paper on Gerard Genette’s Narrative Discourse in a single day by tying my leg to my desk chair. Sad, but true. There was much cursing involved, and gnashing of teeth. And if we see our own sins at the time of our death, that paper is coming back to haunt me.] My co-writer seemingly has none of these problems—she’s happy to produce reams of text as a way of figuring out her ideas. Why has this never occurred to me as an option? Writing as process of thinking rather than as record of perfectly formed idea?! Preposterous!

I suppose the response to the article will be our litmus test for the success of our collaborative process. Regardless of the editor’s view, however, I’ve got a whole new bag of tricks to experiment with when writing my conference paper. Carnivalesque discourse + interpellation + new media = …

Paging Dee Snider

I’m behind in my critiques of television commercials. After the unofficial theme song of my hometown got taken over for a Viagra ad, I thought I would just let them all go by me without comment. Honestly, I thought, what could be worse?

Never, ever think that to yourself. It only brings the “worse” out of the woodwork. So there I am, the other night, watching Food Network, of all things, and I’m not really paying attention to the commercials. And then I hear the strains of a song I recognize. Hmm, now what is that? I know I know this song; this is a cover, where do I know this from? There are peppy young women singing it, it sounds a bit like a cheer, but that’s not right… What is this? Sweet fancy Moses, it’s Twisted Sister! It’s “We’re Not Going to Take It”! But it’s being sung by girls? Peppy girls? Not these guys?

Talk about dissociation.

Once I figured out where the song was coming from, I actually started to pay attention to the commercial. And it’s this one, for Yaz birth control pills. ?!! Seriously, you have to see it to believe it.

Oh to be a fly on the wall for the conversation among those guys above as they decided to let the company use their song. I imagine it went like this:

“Gee, if only we had some way of making our old song relevant again. (adjusts leopard arm corset.)”

“You know what I think would do it? Having girls sing it! That would really bring new life to our totally masculine rebellion rock anthem! (rats hair.)”

“Right! That would do it! And you know what women really need to rebel against, in this day and age? PMS. Nothing is more oppressive to women than that. They’re not going to take it, man! (snaps wristband for emphasis.)”

“You don’t think that someone would mistakenly apply the idea of ‘not taking it’ to the pill itself, right? (fiddles with patches on denim vest.)”

“You’re worthless and you’re weak!”

And thus, the endless recirculation and decontextualization of 80’s music continues. What do you want to do with your life?

I Knew It Was Only a Matter of Time…

No, this isn’t a post about the havoc wreaked by Daylight Saving Time (although there is a considerable amount of that), neither is it a confession that I stayed in New York past my allotted time (although I was very, very tempted, camped outside the Magnolia Bakery, eating cupcakes and watching the person wearing a giant chipmunk suit dancing around in the Marc Jacobs window. God, I love New York!). Instead, it’s a post about fan fiction.

So if you’ve had the unfortunate luck to be around me for any amount of time at all this year, you’ve probably heard me wax rhapsodic about the joys and wonders of fan fiction. Really. No sarcasm at all here. Over the summer, I bought the Buffy the Vampire Slayer box set on DVD on a lark, started watching it as a break from the hard work at DMAC, and randomly looked around online for “what was out there.” Nine months later and I’m contracted to write an article about Buffy fan video. Stay tuned. [What I actually said to myself was “gee, this will be so far from work that it will be a mental vacation. It will be great to watch something that I don’t feel like I’m ever going to write about.” Oh, life-irony. You’re so clever.  Joke’s on me, I suppose.  Har har.]

The point of this is that I’ve been reading a LOT of fan fiction in my spare time. Is there some dreck out there? Sure. Does it bring up all kinds of questions about copyright? Perhaps. Is it a totally impressive, renewing-my-faith-in-the-human-desire-to-create, deeply communal practice engaged in by hundreds of people? Yup. Sure is. Let’s not forget: Buffy went off the air in 2003. Whedon stopped writing her life then, but the fans continue on. Not a week goes by that I don’t read something in the Buffyverse that blows my mind, either because of the author’s inventiveness, or the careful and considered feedback given to her, or the characterizations and/or re-imagining of the “canonical” episodes. [In fact, this week I’m fascinated by the inscription of feminine sexuality—but that’s another story.] And when you have this experience, over and over again, you begin to realize that it’s not an isolated event—this is an amazing phenomenon, period. These communities are both deep and broad; the authors slip between the fictional and the personal, the fecundity of their imaginations allow them to slip even across fandoms and to take their readers with them. For the record? Lots of loyal Buffy fans also dig Supernatural and Veronica Mars. Who knew? [And a better question: what’s the connecting point across these shows?]

So there I am, poking around on LiveJournal communities, reading from story to story, and I see it: heads up, Kate L! Torchwood fan fiction, complete with icons. In retrospect, it’s totally obvious: cult BBC show with lots and lots of ambiguous sexual behavior? It’s practically a set-up for fan fic authors—the equivalent of popcult catnip. And since Torchwood is pulling both plot points and images from Buffy (not to mention actors, as the appearance of James Marsters–a.k.a. Spike in the Buffyverse–in the first episode of season two), it shouldn’t surprise me that this is a combination that appeared early, and I expect to see it more and more often.

However, isn’t it amazing how fast a fandom is born? Torchwood is about halfway through it’s second season in the U.S., and we’re about a year behind the Brits. So, at most, we’re talking about a two year television phenomenon, yet a quick google search for “Torchwood fan fiction” yields 485,000 hits. ?!!!

I’d love to see someone track the scatter pattern of a particular fandom from patient zero onward. How many episodes before the first fic emerges? How fast do communities form? Are they largely comprised of fans from other shows? At what point do questions of canon emerge?

Time Flies

I vaguely remember a moment during which spring break (or “mid-winter recess” as we call it in the snowy Northeast)was actually a break. In college, for example, I’d flee Redlands for home and spend 11 days sleeping late, hanging out with my mother, and partaking of the wonders of Vegas cuisine and bingo with the elderly.

Now, however, break means “write like hell, because it’s the last chance you’ll get.” How sad is that?! Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to have time to write and think about what I’m writing, and I’m doubly grateful to have an article pre-accepted at a journal and a conference paper coming up. But I dearly miss the break that is a break from work, not just a break from the other parts of my job.

But lest I feel too sorry for myself, K and I have planned a trip to Metropolis for a few days. For K, I think this is our film and architecture trip. Apparently, we’ll be seeing Violent Saturday at the Film Forum, and this newly-renovated building, both inside and out.


Finally, we’ll be taking in the 59th Street Bridge, in homage to the comparison made in the Looking at Movies textbook we’re both using this semester.

All of this is well and good (if a bit much to do in a couple of days). But if you’re a careful reader, you’ll note a pattern to the above. Because as much as I love Frank Lloyd Wright and the Film Forum, none of this is really my bag. But therein lies the problem: what does one do when one goes to the big city? To me, New York is like the smorgasbord; there’s so much going on that I never know what to do. I see that Eddie Izzard is working out his new show—that’s guaranteed to be a good laugh. Should it be the Whitney Biennial? Or the old standby: hours at the The Strand? What’s good enough to function as the break in the work of break?

What’s your favorite NYC gem?