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{Wed 12 January 2011}   Reblog: Story Gardens of Holon
Happy New Year!

New Year, new start… well, that’s what January’s for, no? Due to (lots of lovely) work (for which I am very grateful) and an extraordinary amount of travelling, family visiting and hosting in different countries, six months have whizzed by. Well, here I am again, full of fresh passion and resolve!

One of my new roles this year is Social Media Manager for Poet in the City (PinC). I have begun facilitating the organisation’s presence on various social media platforms, including the new Poet in the City Blog. The engagement with social media involves a learning curve for all Poet in the City volunteers, including myself, so I am looking forward to that, and also to introducing PinC’s very large audience to some of the best digital poetry.

Mindful of my own slow and sometimes reluctant journey from being entirely text-bound to enjoying the delights of digital literature, I would also love to see more transliterate discussion here on TiaTalk, so I’ll start by reposting a piece I wrote for www.transliteracy.com. This was published on 29 December 2010 — sandwiched between two humongously extended public holiday weekends in the midst of the festive season, this date was probably not the best time for anyone to read it, so I’m giving it another go here. Please let me know what you think!

Reblog: Story Gardens of Holon: 3-D, immersive, interactive, social and offline

During our MA studies, it was suggested that digital storytelling is non-linear whereas text-based storytelling is linear, and that engaging with online stories is immersive, active, interactive and social, as opposed to offline reading which is less immersive, relatively passive and often solitary.

Those of us who since childhood have known the pleasures of immersing ourselves in a book, imagining our own versions of scenes described, placing ourselves in characters’ shoes, and engaging our friends in repeated acting out of the stories in our own gardens or living rooms (accepting with good or bad humour the inevitable story variations that arise when actors, props and locations do not exquisitely reflect the text), initially found it hard to accept these distinctions.

In one online discussion with classmates, I said,

I was quite startled to realise that … new media art might be defined by non-linear narratives. Is it always a requirement that the reader not be offered, or be able to choose not to follow, a linear storyline? … when I think about the interactive possibilities of the new media, I can see ways to engage the reader and enable them to contribute, but still have them follow a narrative chosen by the writer.

I went on to say,

I think of the non-linear approach as more ‘poetic’, in the sense of the genre of poetry. The best way to engage with this kind of work is in a meditative frame of mind, where one takes the time to dwell with sounds, images and associations and follow these imaginatively. A poem may, of course, have a strong narrative structure, but much of the pleasure if offers is found ‘along the way’, before one reaches the conclusion or the resolution of any ‘plot’. Even in a linear story, attempts to evoke the emotions and perceptions of characters or of the reader may create ‘poetic’ moments during the story. If one maximizes these moments and reduces the linking narrative, even to the point where it is implied rather than described, one may produce a relatively ‘non-linear’ story (although the idea of story inevitably contains linearity).  I suppose that this is my perception of how Inanimate Alice works. There is a linear chronology, but this is suggested rather than detailed, and my experience as the reader is of poetic moments at intervals along that chronology.

This was my limited view of new media’s potential at the time and, of course, it turned out that there was some sense in what our teachers were saying and we learned to identify and value the different kind of immersion, as well as the relative autonomy, creative freedom and social discourse offered to the reader by many online stories.

However, I still felt that these comparisons, necessary though they might be, could devalue the power of text-based stories. I longed to hold on to them while still embracing video games, MMOGs, cross-media narratives and all the other online possibilities… I did not want the new literacies to supplant the old.  Thus, I was delighted when a recent visit to a Story Garden (“Gan Sipur”) in Israel suggested a way of creating and maintaining a transliterate approach to the enjoyment of stories.

Holon, a large city south of and adjacent to Tel Aviv, has 31 of these Story Gardens. Along with the Children’s Museum, the Mediatheque Cultural Center and various other youth-friendly initiatives, they contribute to Holon’s growing reputation as a “children’s city”. Hana Herzman, managing director of Holon Municipality, and Moti Sasson, Mayor of Holon, are credited with originating and driving the development of the Story Gardens project. They explain the concept further in this video:

Story Gardens of Holon (view on YouTube)

In other words, Story Gardens are landscaped sculpture installations where the sculptures are characters, objects or abstract representations of thoughts and emotions from well-loved children’s stories.

Each garden (there may be several within a park) is a visually identifiable, cohesive space for one particular story, but offering unlimited points of access and egress.  A path suggests the author’s original linear progress through the story, but nothing prevents the experiencer from being attracted to or seeking out alternative routes through the story.

Thematic and aesthetic cohesion for a particular story is established by having one sculptor per story, so only one artist works with a particular writer or text to interpret that story, but these unique story gardens are then united by tasteful, spacious landscaping in and between each “storyverse”, as though an editor had placed them in an anthology. See some more examples in Yair Karelic’s photos here:

Holon’s Story Gardens (1 of 2)

Holon’s Story Gardens (2 of 2)

Besides the simple pleasures of experiencing the gardens themselves, from an analytical point of view, the collaborative creation and the confluence of literacies here is wonderful.  In creating a story garden, an author’s text is interpreted by a selection committee, a sculptor, and architects, environmental planners and engineers (often in live discussion with the author), and then re-interpreted with great satisfaction by teachers, parents, grandparents and, most importantly, by the children at whom the entire exercise is aimed.  And taking transliteracy a step further… some of the stories have even morphed their way into the world of philately through photos of the sculptures!

And the text is never far from the story experience, despite its outdoor, 3-D, immersive, flexible and very social nature: apparently the most popular books in Holon are those featured in the Story Gardens. They are borrowed from the Mediatheque library and are taken to the gardens to be read aloud or home to be enjoyed again, by parents, teachers and children.

In a recent wide-ranging post, Reading in the Digital Age or Reading How We’ve Always Read, Kassia Krozser of Booksquare muses most engagingly on the technological developments required to facilitate social reading in the online environment, but what struck me is her assertion that reading has been a social activity for much longer than it has been a solitary one. She reminds us that

Social reading is normal reading. …  Even after the invention of the Gutenberg press, the possession of books was outside the reach of most people. …. The tradition of people reading to each other remains alive and well. …  It wasn’t until mass market books became available that reading, as we know it, was identified as a (almost-solely) solitary activity (overall literacy rates had to catch up as well, but that’s another issue).

I sometimes think of reading as “story absorption” to remind myself that stories were not always bound in books, but I am also glad that, at this point in the evolution of storytelling, when “wreading” happens in a Story Garden (because analysis, comment, reinterpretation and embellishment are inevitable parts of creation and of play), texts may still be part of the discussion.



Overcoming barriers to making an online living

My MA project is well under way. Submission date is 1st September, so I will be pretty busy with that for the next six weeks or so. After that, I intend to get back to earning again! The full time year of study has been a wonderful privilege, but I’m tired of not being able to afford things that were an easy part of my life a year ago. A lot of people have had to adjust to a leaner life due to the credit crunch rather than to study choices, but we’re in the same boat in the sense of not being able to look to an employer for income. If I want to make some money, I need to do it on my own, and I want to do it all online.

The topic of how creative writers can monetize content on the web interests all those on my course. There are several barriers to overcome if you want to make money on the web as a writer. For word count reasons, I’ve decided not to include these five main barriers in my dissertation text, preferring to concentrate on guiding writers to think about solutions, but these are what I address.

Barrier 1: Competition from free content on the web.
Anxiety about the future of print media is widespread. Authors, publishers, journalists and editors across the world are scrambling to understand the import of the global access to information and entertainment that the Internet is bringing to increasingly technologically sophisticated audiences. They are desperate to find or develop monetization models that will still pay skilled professionals. Jolyon O’Connell, in weekly news digest, The Week (30 May 2009, Issue 717, 5), summarised as follows:

The Guardian’s Ian Jack thinks the game is nearly up for professional writers. “We are in the twilight years of a certain kind of paid employment,” he writes, “the business of inking words on paper… The fact is that generations are now growing up with the idea that words should be read electronically for free – a new human right…” Because of the internet, writers may end up as poorly remunerated as they were in Shakespeare’s day. Shakespeare, after all, only made money because his plays had paying audiences. … It was in the 19th century, when the British middle class expanded rapidly, that writing became a potentially lucrative job, with Walter Scott sometimes earning £20,000 a year, Dickens making a fortune for Chapman & Hall and the word of God enabling William Collins to buy a country house and a steam yacht by selling 300 000 bibles a year.

But now we can all be authors, and publish ourselves on the web: it just doesn’t make money. As Jack says, the age of the gifted amateur is “surely about to return…”

Yes, but that’s not bad, is Chris Anderson’s conclusion in his new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. High quality free stuff is actually good for business; you just need to think creatively about how to persuade people to pay for other high quality stuff that appears alongside it.

Barrier 2: Time constraints

Conceptualising and writing may take the same time as for print publication, but implementing and testing new media content, especially bearing in mind global audiences and different platforms, takes longer. Even presuming you are commissioned, or have a definite target market willing to pay for the product, can you charge enough to justify the time spent? Making time is an important survival skill for the online world, but even with time management and automation of processes, writers making their living in new media (and this may eventually be all writers) cannot rely exclusively on any model of income where earnings are directly related to time spent on work, because those earnings will always be capped by the number of writing or creating hours one can squeeze out of any 24-hour period. You need to sell some things that are not time-dependent.

Barrier 3: The technology
As mentioned above, technology has a time cost, but it also costs money and effort. Hardware and much software, plus time and expertise for learning, implementation and testing across multiple platforms, must be included in the writer’s time and money budgets. The learning never ends: the creative writer who wants to stay at the cutting edge needs to master the latest tools as they come out. On the other hand, posts like the Institute for The Future (IFTF)’s Hello? Most Americans not superempowered IT people (which quotes an Accenture report) and The Mobile Difference report from Pew Internet indicate that most of the potential online audience will not be familiar with the latest tools. Therefore, writers must make decisions about the use of tools depending on their intended audience. If the audience is unlikely to be familiar with a tool, then either it must be abandoned or persuasion and facilitation may be required to help them use it.

Barrier 4: Lack of vision
Despite our excitement at the possibilities unfolding before us, many of us still lack “digital imagination” (a term suggested by Chris Meade of The Institute for the Future of the Book). Publishers and writers accustomed to old print media just cannot see how it could work, financially speaking. There are too many opportunities and we feel overwhelmed by them; we feel we will never master the necessary e-literacy; our concerns about privacy and over-exposure hamper our experimentation. We do not yet have enough case studies comparing online and offline working for us to be clear about which approaches will be both effective and financially lucrative. The only alternative is to look at what others are doing, make some educated guesses and try out various models for ourselves.

Barrier 5: Lack of business nous
Despite the digital medium, in most respects online business is like any other business. Even if none of the other barriers apply to you, a lack of business sense, of the ability to market and sell a product at the right price while keeping an eye on the bottom line, and to keep customers coming back for more and referring others, might scupper your chances of success.

In the mean time, the antidote is to understand that while the media change, the same principles apply online as offline. Writers care more about getting their story out to people, than which form of print they use … why not extend this attitude to the screen? When considering the form your writing takes, why not think of it as choosing packaging for your ideas that is appropriate to the medium? Why not assume that social media provide new ways of doing the same networking done at cocktail parties? To win friends and influence people (and to sell your work to gatekeepers, peers, sponsors, and customers) you still need to convey genuine interest in others. You can stay human while using different media.



{Thu 9 July 2009}   Smooth Red Woman
Smooth Red Woman

Piled under an Italian sky, red marble gleams at me:
“Rosso Ammonico di Verona”, “Rosso Levanto”,
“Rosso Francia”, “Rosso Laguna”, “Rosso Lepanto” …
Seduced, I let the rosy names roll richly off my tongue.
My husband moves on with the guide, but I am enthralled by a red marble woman:

Shining in the sensuous sun, her whole body is deep tongue-texture,
Poised for creamy pleasures.
I cannot pass without caressing her; without sending forth probes
To scan the galaxy of textures just below my reach.
I must stroke her; explore her cool warmth with my fingertips,
Marvel at the harsh practice that produces smooth perfection.
Her delicacy suggests a gentle touch,
But soon I want to lick her, kiss her deeply.
Did she respond to the artisan’s hand as he chipped and chiselled and polished?
Did blood roil in her seething veins?
Did she strive with him to produce this beauty?

My medium’s not marble or any other deserving stone
That earns its right to care by its beautiful existence.
No, my chisel hits flesh, and draws blood, each time.
Its lumpen labour breaks surfaces; bruises.
It’s always amateur art, always a work-in-progress.
I search to expose the beautiful woman,
But each blow chips so little away.

What do I earn by being? By being what I am,
What my mounds, my cracks, my crevasses dictate I must be?
The right to be tossed aside, dismissed, like inferior stone,
Or to be reshaped (misshaped) into something unrecognisable.
My capillaries and crannies are not lovingly polished to reveal their textures.
No, smooth is different for warm-fleshed bodies.
In the world below the marble mountain, there is no real red.
I have spent much life on the effort to be equal:
I could not fashion a man’s sword for myself,
But, with assiduous application of all man’s expertise,
I do not age, have no cramps, show no blood.
My tampon fits discreetly in the palm of my hand.
I am a smoothed-out person, with a smoothed-out life.
No wo(e)-, just -man.

But, inside me, blood breathes and surges.
When the moon is full, it calls and urges.

Why do I fear that place where the Goddess waits?
“I am a woman,” I cry, “See my wedding ring, the pink coat,
The love of roses, the plucking of eyebrows, the Brazilian!”
I don’t want to go to No Man’s Land, where the Goddess waits;
That place where, she says, my name is Woman.

But I hear her calling, “Come, give me your hand.
Let’s wander down the river of blood.”



The Loquat Tree

Following the “film of  your life” exercise in our Memoir workshop with Jonathan Taylor, one of the next instructions was to create ” the photo of your life” by choosing one of the memories to “write a passage describing minutely where you were, what you were wearing, what was around you (scenery, furniture, wallpaper, carpets, flowers, etc.), who else was there, what happened, what was said, and so on. Be as detailed as you possibly can. If you can’t remember details, make them up.”

I found this exercise interesting  because it caused me to doubt the accuracy of my memory, and also because it engaged my interest in research!

One thing that struck me as I read the question and looked for instances in my descriptions to answer it, was that I have absolutely no memory at all of what I was wearing at any point.

I had decided to write about climbing the loquat tree, but as I tried to describe the texture of the bark, and its smell, I suddenly wondered whether I was remembering it correctly, so I looked it up on Google. I found very many sites giving descriptions of “Eriobotrya japonica”, with varying assessments of the size of the mature tree, the number and prevalence of its varieties and fruit colours, and contradictory descriptions of it as a “shrub” or a “tree”.  I am sure that the tree in our garden in Northcliff was very large; clearly it had been there for many years (although a smaller tree may be “large”, when one is seven years old, of course, but I know that it was climbable).  I am also sure that it was not a “shrub” – I remember a  large single trunk, although it was vertically ridged, so possibly the individual “shrub” branches had grown together over many years. This is possibly why I found hand- and footholds to enable me to climb. The shrub-like growth of the higher branches may also be why I remember that it was not very comfortable to sit in the tree for long periods of time (as I sometimes did in other trees).  Suddenly, simply “remembering” is not very simple at all! But the discoveries I make during the process are intriguing, and I see why it may be necessary to “make things up”. Even if I base my descriptions on research, so that they are “likely” to be fairly accurate, that does not make them into my own memories.

Anyway, here’s what emerged:

————–

My hands slid over the bark of the tree, seeking purchase. The bark was smooth over the sinuous vertical ridges of the separate boles that had grown together long ago to form this wide trunk, but split in places by small lumpy outcrops or the base of a broken-off twig.  I loved the occasional harshness that pressed against my skin, and the smell of the dust disturbed by my hands as it mingled with the strong oriental perfume of the few white flowers that had not yet given way to fruit. As I found a handhold, then another, then a foothold, I entered the world of the tree, leaving sunshine and everything else behind. My goal was the sweet orange-yellow globes that I could see hanging amidst the shiny dark green leaves above me. I heaved myself up, scraping my tummy against the cool wood as I stretched for branches small enough to hold onto securely. It was only when I had settled, breathless, into the sharp fork between two of these branches, that I noticed I had grazed my knee. It wasn’t sore. I studied the greenish-grey dirt around the broken skin. It must have rubbed off the tree bark as I climbed. Then, as a shaft of sunlight played across my shoulders, I lost interest in the wound and looked again towards the golden fruit. Placing my left foot uncomfortably into the sharp fork beneath me and the right on a knot in a neighbouring branch, I seized the branch in front of me with both hands and stood up. From this position, I was able to reach up and break off a cluster of the fruit. I had done it! I noticed that I could now see through the leaves into the lower garden. Apart from the fact that the grass was fairly short, there was no sign of human habitation or civilisation. Inside this tree, clutching my prize, I was king of my own wild world.



et cetera