The Design of Authorship #2

This is the second post in my series of reading and interactive environments over at Jane Friedman’s blog.

I.

The role of reading in American society is changing. We need look no further for evidence than research studies aggregated in books such as The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (or, Dont Trust Anyone Under 30) and Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses that examine the Millennial generation who neither read nor understand the fundamental cognitive structures developed by reading.

It is terrifying to read studies about the negative views of both students and professors in regards to reading. Its even more harrowing when combined with my own experience teaching writing and storytelling.

There are days, it seems, that literate Western Culture is destined for the scrap heap, replaced by a visual, interactive world that requires less cognitive interaction and creates less educated people. (I say this summarizing the research and not as an editorial statement.)

But what if the reading problem isnt as simple as forcing students to read and write more (which we should also do)? What if the problem is that authorship has changed in the digital, interactive age and writers — the keeper of words — have failed to understand their role within this environment?

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How We May Read #1

A few months back, I began writing up my thoughts and research regarding reading and interactive environments over at Jane Friedman’s blog.

I promise very soon Jane that I will return to that endeavor. There’s more to say and my research has been parsed now. Until then, I’m re-posting my work.

I.

In August 2010, I sat down with my friend and colleague Prof. Jennifer George-Palilonis, the head of the graphics sequence at Ball State University’s Department of Journalism, and asked her if she’d collaborate with me on a book project.

However, this wasn’t just a simple book project. This year long project, dubbed Transmedia Indiana, would have multiple layers:

  • We would gather a group of 40-50 students from different majors (journalism, creative writing, public relations, history, theater) to plan, build, finish, and launch the book;
  • The book would be something more than just an interactive, multi-media story — it would extend outside its digital pages and leak into the real world — but the actual book itself would only exist on tablets and eReaders; and
  • This book would use real life artifacts from the Indiana State Museum in a manner similar to the book The DaVinci Code or the movie National Treasure.
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As We May Read

I’m going to begin this little essay with the pitch:

I’m working on a two-year research project that will examine how people read, extract what makes the experience pleasurable, and prototype how that experience can be re-created in a digital environment.

There two reasons I’m doing this:

  • I’ve returned to graduate school, both to update my current skill set and to learn new frameworks for thinking, and this project will be the eventual final project for my schooling; and
  • I believe reading — and storytelling — is at the heart of humanity, and as we move into the digital reading age, I want to explore what that means for us.

If you have some time, please take a few minutes to help me understand how you read today.

My hope is to reach 250 people so that I can create a series of personas related to reading. While I will be publishing this work academically, I will be releasing the results of the survey publicly. (Information wants to be free.)

But I’ll also be sharing this journey with my students (and you) in hopes that they begin to see science, creativity, and school in a different way.

**

In 1945, Dr. Vannevar Bush — the man who founded the National Science Foundation and revolutionized how Americans perceived science — wrote an amazing think piece in The Atlantic called “As We May Think.”

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I Don’t Write Enough Anymore

In the month of October, I promise to change that. At least 3 mornings a week, I’m getting up to write. 

And I’m taking a substantial part of the morning on Sunday to write.

I’m quickly turning into one of those assholes who doesn’t write but likes to talk about being a writer. This is, in the most direct words I can think of, a dick move. 

A Thought On Hearts

I spent the day discussing art, creativity, storytelling, and life with my students. I am immersed within narratives right now, drinking in their spirits. It was during one of those slow moments that I had a conversation, one muddied with the human-ness of emotions and the personal strands that tether us with the ties that bind. 

Nothing in life is easy. Love least of all. As we talked, I was very aware of my heart. Then the world became very clear to me for just a fleeting second.

The heart is the most powerful, creative tool we have. It breaks, it mends, it heals, it longs, it burts, it swells…and it beats until there is nothing left. That is art.

I am not sure what tomorrow brings, or where love ends. I only know that the heart beats until there is nothing left, and it does so without a care or worry that some day it simply won’t.

This is life.

The Writing Process, by Chris Jones

When I teach the Introduction to Magazine Writing class, I make my students read many pieces from the National Magazine Awards. I switch the readings each semester, but one I keep is “The Things That Carried Him,” by Chris Jones. It’s a heart-breaking piece about everyone who comes in contact with an Indiana soldier as he’s killed in action and returned home.

Tonight he tweeted The Writing Process, and I thought it profound enough to share with you:

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The Summer of Run: “Earned” 3

I am putting the finishing touches on my fifth essay from The Summer of Run, a 4,000-word piece about the three most important life lessons I’ve ever been taught (by men other than my father, that is).

Strangely, this has been the hardest essay to write, taking nearly 14 hours of writing, editing, and thinking time. And that just gets me to the draft stage. Here’s my favorite portion of Act 2, a story about the moment I decided to quit baseball after 11 years:

I thanked him, repeatedly, and declined. Resigned, he shook my hand, and watched me leave.

As I walked out the door, my stomach dropped to the floor and the voice inside me begged me to turn around, but my pride wouldn’t let me. I’d made my decision, I thought, and that meant following through. I’d run track my junior year, but I’d already decided I’d return to baseball in my final year, an idea Coach readily accepted when I approached him about playing at the start of my senior year in high school.

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Plow on Boy

My writing career was less than six months old in 1995 and things were not going well.

I’d botched an interview with Jim Carroll. I’d choked a brief encounter with Hunter S. Thompson. I quit my job at Cincinnati CityBeat, a local weekly where I was writing news. Instead, I wanted to write features. I wanted to tell stories.

So I did. Quitting that job made all the difference in my life. But one of the luckiest finds was a local Cincinnati band, Plow on Boy.

As it happened, I worked with the lead singer, Niki Buehrig (she’s Niki Dakota now), at the York Street Cafe in Covington. This was beneficial for two reasons:

  • She’s one of two songwriters in my life who have moved me; and
  • Her band was voted Band of the Year in 1995.

Since I worked with her, she asked the other weekly in town — Everybody’s News — to let me write their profile.  I still have it…down in Texas. But that’s not important now.

What’s important is this. Her song, “Pastoral,” has haunted me since the first time I heard it 15 years ago. How haunted? When I lost the only version I had in 2000, I freaked out and tracked down her old bassist Mike when I was in Cincinnati and had him burn me several copies of their old work.

I’ve lost touch with the group – Niki, Chris, Mike and Toby, mostly. I do catch up with them every once in awhile. But Niki’s words, the band’s melodies, and “Pastoral” follow me.

Now, hopefully, it will follow you. With an extra bonus track, “O.K. Then,” just for you.

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So New: In Which We Write in Cafes (39 of 90)

I’ve been derelict in my writing.

I wish I could say that I haven’t been avoiding it, but the reality is I’ve let my life and school get between me and the words. It’s created a weird angst within me, the calling that usually comes before I cut the reigns and find myself roaming the countryside looking for what’s next.

I’m trying very hard to avoid that this time. I have a good life here in Indiana and the opportunity to do some amazing work.

So my former student Tiffany dragged me out into the city for a night of writing at cafes. Her charge: find us places to wander throughout the city. I have to say: she did an amazing job.

Our first stop: Henry’s on East Street. (See my Yelp review here.)

The ever-diligent Tiffany had printed directions for us, which we promptly ignored as we got lost. We somehow turned a 1-minute walk into a 20-minute escapade, although truth be told those are usually the best times. Only the ominous skies kept it from being entirely enjoyable.

But we made it inside before the rains came.

We plugged in and started working at 3:30 and stayed until just before closing at 7 pm.

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Fear + Loathing

I find it difficult to concentrate these days. My mind is wandering back to days gone and forgotten now. The bad old days. When life was more interesting. Seat of the pants.

The first writing professional writing assignment I ever had took me to Louisville for a poetry and writing festival put on by Ron Whitehead.

I went to see Jim Carroll reading from The Basketball Diaries. At the reading: Hunter S. Thompson. In the back. Smoking that long, thin cigarette and drinking out of a martini glass.

But I’ve written this story before and the further I get away from it the less the story entertains me. The years have passed. I’ve put together some good stories. I had a good run through.

But I never stopped to ask myself where I was running.

Until now: when I look around at what I’ve put together. And I feel old.

Not in the way that my body has fallen apart or my mind is gone. I’m young, healthy, vibrant. Mostly. Enough so that I get up every day pretty happy with where I’m at in life.

So not in that way.

But my stories. They are old. They stopped. Somewhere they stopped being new.

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