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{Sun 13 June 2010}   Alone Together
Alone Together

There’s something so poignant about the phrase, “alone together”. It stuck in my head after I saw this CNN video about Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir on YouTube. I presume that most readers of this blog have seen it too. I wonder whether the same phrase at the end of John Vennavally-Rao’s report has also intrigued, delighted and troubled you?

I’m putting down here some random thoughts that haven’t fully coalesced yet into a coherent philosophy, but I’m chasing something/ some things that are hard to see.

The haunting beauty of the choral sound and the inclusive arc of differently coloured faces and backgrounds on the red-curtained stage of cyberspace pleased me deeply. I smiled. I watched it again. I forwarded it to a few friends. I watched it again. I studied a few of the faces — each singing peacefully and unselfconsciously as one can only do in one’s own private space. I felt glad and privileged to have access to those private moments mixed together in an enormous public display that reached and continues to reach across continents and across time. It was/is something precious. I googled Eric Whitacre. I was pleased to read that he’s working on more pieces for the Virtual Choir, perhaps some original work…

And yet, why does it haunt me so? The sense of longing, of reaching out for connection that is communicated to me, the viewer-hearer, is largely a function of the strangeness of the presentation, not of each individual’s communication. Most of the singers look extraordinarily serene, like people absent from the world because they’re in “flow” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990).  People who are physically together when singing together, no matter with how much joy or harmony, don’t wear exactly the same expression as an individual in private rapture. Or didn’t, anyway. As we reach out for connection in this new way, are we inviting others to steal a part of our soul that previously only revealed itself to the walls or landscapes of our private spaces?

Even as I delight in the confluence of digital media that make possible this self-revelatory joining of humans who know nothing of each other besides that all (all of those who are featured, anyway) can sing, I cannot help but be conscious of all those intervening media, “the storage and transmission channels or tools used to store and deliver information or data”. They make the fragile meaning that could not exist if the electricity failed.

But isn’t this just a logical 21st century extension of the artistic process? Artists have always used materials and techniques to transform base material into something else. It’s what artists do. Why does this seem different to me?

Partly, it’s the ephemerality of it — the is-and-notness that flickers on and off at the whim of the switch. Also, it’s the way the human sources are both enhanced by and subsumed in the media. Their “togetherness” is something that the media help us (and them) to imagine. We imagine willingly, but the compulsive clarity of video entices us to go further — to believe, despite ourselves. This mixture of the not-real and the real is disturbing. The putative “togetherness” (not-real) painfully emphasizes the aloneness (real) of the participants. We see each person’s aloneness clearly, multiplied a hundred times in an instant. Usually, we would suspect it only by extension from our own aloneness, when we can risk being conscious of that, and only one-by-one, from the occasional glimpses provided by circumstance.

On the other hand, we also see some elements that inspire us to seek togetherness… that give us hope. Despite our different countries, languages, cultures, genders and body types, we can all sing; we all aspire to make beautiful sounds; we can participate and cooperate to harmonious effect (albeit with the help of a strong guiding and editing hand); we all seek out private time or space to connect with ourselves, we can all be receptive; we can all be gentle. We also all enjoy and depend on similar electronic equipment for our communication and pleasure, so we are patient with each other as we struggle with its vagaries.

As the days passed, my thoughts turned to the creator/conductor/guide/editor — the uber-artist who put it all together. The reach of the work in terms of participants and, even more, of audience, and the fact that the harmony is created in his own private space by one over/above/outside the private spaces of those making the sounds, made me think of him in godlike terms. He is a small god, but with incredibly long digital arms. And now we can all be like him. We “little kings” are no longer held in check by the limitations of our physical resources. We are let loose with the power to make our megalomaniac dreams come true — in a sense — but we pay with the constant awareness of our aloneness.

This aloneness has always been the human condition, but before these digital joinings in eternally-preserved and universally accessible public spaces, we only dipped in and out of this awareness occasionally. Well, there is no way back, unless we have a Butlerian Jihad in our future. Until then, humanity is working out the Zen of our growth into full and constant consciousness of how we really are — just google the phrase “alone together” to see how much this concept exercises us in the current age.

Published simultaneously on www.transliteracy.com.



{Fri 4 June 2010}   Living in a Digital Economy
Living in a Digital Economy

On Wednesday I attended a great talk hosted by Amplified Leicester at the Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre, Leicester. John Stobart of Harvey Ingram LLP gave an excellent presentation titled “Legal Aspects of Online Business and the Digital Economy Act 2010”. I’ve written this up in more detail on my business blog at http://get-it-write.com, but just wanted to review here my feelings about it.

Of course I feel, as a content creator as well as a content consumer, that I want my copyright to be respected. Although it’s unlikely at this stage that any of my articles, poems, etc. will generate millions of dollars for anyone, including myself, I think I share with most artists, writers or even idea-generators who haven’t yet implemented or will never implement their ideas in concrete form, the desire for at least the bare minimum of recognition by people correctly attributing to me any work or ideas of mine when they publish them in any form.

But I don’t think that the way to enforce copyright is by introducing legislation which penalizes everybody who uses a particular internet connection just because some other user may have used it illegally. This creates fear and uncertainty and will likely hamper creativity. Rather, I think we need a massive education campaign to teach what copyright is, and which emphasizes both respect for original sources by users AND a more generous attitude on the part of copyright holders so that the wonderful creativity which new media has spawned and facilitated is not choked off. Creative Commons is the way to go!

I think my view is shared by most people who work online for a living, even when their income depends on their being paid for their creativity. After the talk on Wednesday, I had the pleasure of lunching with Jayne Childs of Creative Coffee Club Leicester and George Ballentyne of the Leicester Council of Faiths. Like others at the talk, they were more concerned about the potential for heavy-handed abuse of the DEA’s provisions than they were excited about the powers it gives to copyright holders. Copyright is already well-protected in UK law.

Notes

Here is the text of the Digital Economy Act 2010, which is now law.

You may still be able to influence some aspects of its implementation via the current Ofcom consultation on how “to give effect to measures introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2010 (“DEA”) aimed at reducing online copyright infringement. Specifically (they) are seeking views on a code of practice called “the Online Copyright Infringement Initial Obligations Code”. This consultation period ends on Friday 30th July.

For general information apart from the Act itself, the Wikipedia entry is a starting point with its selection of links to external sources.

John Stobart is a partner at Harvey Ingram LLP and specialises in Corporate Finance & Transactions. See http://www.harveyingram.com/biographies/john-stobart.aspx.

George Ballentyne is the Equality & Diversity Officer for the Leicester Council of Faiths. He blogs at http://equalitydiversityofficer.blogspot.com/ and his latest post is about the John Stobart presentation mentioned above.

Jayne Childs is the Project Coordinator for Creative Coffee Club Leicester which is based at Phoenix Square in Leicester. This is the place to meet like-minded creatives in Leicester, or meet them online at www.creativecoffeeleicester.com.



{Sun 18 April 2010}   Spring Poetry
Spring Poetry

“Spring Transformations” was the original theme for Saturday’s reading. I was a little worried that we might end up with a round of sickly sweet “positive” poems, but as it turned out, none of us brought poems specifically to do with change and renewal. These ideas are always associated with spring, along with youth, innocence, idealism and hope, but most of us found poems with “a shadow over them” as the poets looked back with a mixture of pleasure and regret on past springs. Perhaps, as none of us are exactly “spring things” ourselves, we are attracted to poems that have a more complex view of this season.

My favourite amongst those shared was the gorgeous Nocturne of Remembered Spring by Conrad Aiken. This is a bittersweet poem, capturing all of the above themes, but from the perspective of one looking back on the promise and potential of a path not taken.

Other poems shared included:

  • Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, From you have I been absent in the spring, a poem of longing where the lover declares that despite the spring all about, winter remains for him while he is separated from his lover.
  • Men ask the way to Cold Mountain (scroll down to read stanzas 6-8) by Han Shan. This does not seem to be a spring poem, but perhaps a reluctant spring is implicit – the reader spoke of a resonance with the feeling of deep-seated cold when the summer is not able to break the ice of winter.
  • Spring (8 Haiku) by Ben Gieske, a whimsical, funny and tender poem that is also of remembrance, of one or several springs.
  • A series of Spring Haiku by different poets, accompanied by photographs, curated by Ray Rasmussen. The Haiku poems sparked quite a discussion about Haiku and even inspired some sharing of poems written by the various participants.

We rounded off the evening by watching Michael Radford’s Il Postino, a funny and touching delight that was good to revisit as I’d last seen it many years ago. I was quite surprised to discover that in fact this story about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s friendship with, and inspiration of, a humble postman on a remote Italian island is fictional… I suppose I believe so much in the power of poetry that it seemed to me perfectly plausible.

(Update 19/04/10: ) The Haiku shared included this one that I loved and which I can share now with the permission of the poet:

Drowning the day’s sorrow
Back and forth
The swimming pool

© Nitzan Marinov, Spring 2007



{Sun 28 March 2010}   Warm Winter Poetry Reading
Warm Winter Poetry Reading

Given the sparseness of my snowy post and my subsequent apparent absence from the blogoverse, you’re forgiven for thinking that winter got the better of me and I didn’t make it through! There’ve been times, given the !*&#insert-curse-here*~&! weather in the UK over the past six months, that I didn’t think I would.

But, contrary to appearances, I have actually been around, lurking and learning and adding my two cents’ worth to a few other web projects. I’ve also been having some offline fun, such as the poetry evening we hosted at home on 30th January.

This event came together quickly due to last-minute cancellations for the scheduled reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. We didn’t have enough people to read the play, but we still wanted to do something Shakespearean. I asked each person to bring a favourite Shakespeare sonnet, with another poem, by any other poet, which addresses that sonnet’s themes. It worked brilliantly – the selections delighted us with their variety, yet there was a strong sense of unity because of the Shakespeare connection.

These are some of the poems that were paired:

Because there were only six of us, and because the readings were much shorter than when we read an entire play in an evening, not only could we have a sit-down dinner instead of a buffet, but there was also much more time for discussion and for diverging along delicious poetic and non-poetic tangents.

Speaking of delicious… I created a new soup for the dinner, which went down extremely well and had everyone demanding seconds. As I’m not the world’s best chef, this was something of a culinary miracle, so, for posterity, here’s the recipe:

Tia’s Green Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients:

1 large leek (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 whole broccoli (chopped)
1 whole cauliflower (chopped)
5 celery sticks including leaves (chopped)
6-8 peeled carrots (unless the peel is sweet, then use it)(chopped)
1 large pkt spinach
1 pkt “salad or stirfry” leaves
1 can green flageolet beans

4 tsp vegetable stock granules
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 bayleaf
sea salt (to taste)
olive oil
1.5 litres water

In a very large pot:

1. Fry leek and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes
2. Add broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots and stir-fry for a few minutes.
3. Add spinach, “salad or stirfry” leaves, vegetable stock granules, mixed herbs, bayleaf, sea salt and water and simmer for about twenty minutes. Add more water if the mixture doesn’t look right, or if you cook for a bit longer, but the goal is to keep the soup really thick, so don’t overdo it.
4. After twenty minutes, add the green flageolet beans with the liquid from the can and cook for another five minutes.
5. Remove the bayleaf and use a hand-blender to liquidize the soup to a thick, smooth consistency.

The result is an amazingly creamy, tasty, green soup. I finished preparing this two hours in advance and then reheated it to serve and it was great.



{Wed 6 January 2010}   Snowy Delights
Snowy Delights
Yes, the weather’s awful and it’s hard if you’re out on the road right now, but Eyal and I are snugly (and just a tad smugly) working from home today! The view from our house is so lovely and so different from usual that we just had to take these pics!



A transliterate feast with Romeo and Juliet

“What are you doing over the festive season?” You often hear this question at this time of the year, but “Taking part in a Shakespeare reading” is not often the answer! It might seem a rather “boffinish” thing to do, as our youngest reader, Lizzi, remarked, but we will remember the Romeo and Juliet reading that we hosted on Saturday 19th December as a highlight of our festivities (and only a tad boffinish!). The company and the food were as great as those at Capulet’s feast and the text as rich as ever, of course, but besides these essential elements, we also enjoyed seeing the Fonteyn and Nureyev ballet version to Prokofiev’s gorgeous score (Royal Opera House, 1966), as well as the Shakespeare Readers’ Group’s Facebook facility, on our new wide-screen TV.

This transliteracy experiment in bringing together voice, text, dance, music and screen was a first for this group, but in fact the clash and/or conflation of literacies is a continuous process, one that went on as much in Shakespeare’s day as in ours. One member, Irene, pointed out a few words in the text that were possibly innovations by Shakespeare, reflecting the time’s great excitement about language experiments as writers took inspiration from Europe and the Renaissance. These words dismayed or delighted the audience then, sometimes for different reasons than they do the same for us now. Then, these innovations were challenging because they were new; now, they are challenging because they are archaic, which may yet dismay some and delight others! It struck me that part of our enjoyment arose from the unique mix of literacies called up between us as we sought to share a pleasurable experience.

A requirement for participating in the group is “the ability to read English aloud fluently”, an ability all our readers possess to greater or lesser degrees. But each also brings different perspectives, experience and skills. One might say that each possesses a variety of literacies. Some have English as a second language and place emphases differently from first-language English speakers. The impulses of their primary literacy call our attention in new ways to individual words and to the iambic poetic flow of Shakespeare’s English. Some are academics who revel in explication and analysis of difficult or unusual portions of the text. Some intuitively inhabit their characters, bringing them alive through vocal variation that responds to each event in the story. Some are older and voice the concerns of older characters with an empathy that is not yet available to the younger readers. Some are dramatists who read even Stage Directions with a conviction that enables us to see and feel the context of the action. We learn from each other.

Each time we took a break from the reading, we watched the ballet. There are inevitably losses and gains in the process of transliterating the familiar story of the star-crossed lovers into the languages of music and dance. Some modifications to the storyline might disappoint, for example when scenes are left out or conflated, but other changes might delight when they richly express implicit characterization, emotional interplay or actions sometimes only hinted at or briefly mentioned in the text. The introduction of Juliet and the Nurse, the balcony scene with Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s rejection of Paris and the final death scene are examples of wonderful choreography and dancing that carry the audience right to the passionate heart of Shakespeare’s poetry, without words.

A new literacy for the group is that of relating to one another on-screen via Facebook. Everyone who attended had responded to the invitation via Facebook, but with varying degrees of comfort depending on their familiarity with the tool. Many had struggled to find their way back to the Event page to see the Links and find the scripts. For this reason, I presented a brief Facebook overview to demonstrate the difference between the individual’s Profile (using mine as an example), the Shakespeare Readers Group and the Romeo and Juliet Event and to explain the import of leaving comments on each of the different Walls. We also looked briefly at the new Facebook Privacy options, to allay fears about publishing one’s data to the world.

This move to organising the readings via Facebook Events has become necessary for several reasons. It is quicker to monitor attendance and dramatically cuts the number of emails to and from individuals that I as organiser previously dealt with. It also facilitates an ongoing sense of community which is otherwise fragmented between meetings, as the group has grown to over twenty people, not all of whom can come to every reading. There is also interest from people outside the UK who cannot attend readings but would like to participate in discussions. For instance, Eva, a member in Italy, shared our anticipation before the event by posting a link to a blog post she wrote in 2007 about Shakespeare’s possible models for the Romeo and Juliet story in the real city of Verona.

Facebook is clearly useful in these ways, but I had not appreciated to what extent this particular new media literacy might have a direct impact on our appreciation of the plays themselves, until one of our new members, Anna, posted a link to this write-up of a student project that views Romeo and Juliet as “A Facebook Tragedy” of competing social networks which “contains an emphasis on the bonds between kinsmen and family. The play focuses on both honoring these bonds, and the consequences of breaking bonds.”

Shakespeare offers all the fascination of the archaic and unfamiliar to those who are keen on historical mysteries, but most of his enduring attraction is due to the aptness of his themes for every age and the up-to-date voice with which he has always spoken on issues close to the human heart. This powerful communication has demanded translation into almost every world language and transliteration into every conceivable medium (live theatre, music, dance, film, TV…), with each translater or producer creating new metaphors in order to stay true to the old themes in their new medium. In our networked age, it should not surprise us to find Shakespeare alive in Facebook too!



{Wed 16 December 2009}   When Orality met Literacy…
When Orality met Literacy…

I’m trying hard to articulate for my new business site (still under construction) what exactly it is I do for a living. My clients will be glad that this whimsical meditation probably will not end up on my Home page, but, for some reason, this is what filled that space today!

One day, young Taran was hunting lizards and rats in the desert with some friends. They trod softly and whispered as they walked, so as not to startle their prey. With practised ease, they stalked and circled, wasting no motion as they whirled their slings and released precise, stony death upon their unsuspecting lunch. The sandy crags were abundant with surprising life and by midday their belts were bulging with enough fresh meat to feed their entire tribe that night. With time on their hands, they ran eagerly to where they knew they could find water and shade, to sit and sing until the sun retreated from its ravaging.

As they approached the glistening desert lake, Taran spotted a woman sitting in the shade of the only tree at the oasis. Their tree. Their oasis. Her silverine hair rippled in the breeze as she bent forward. She was making strange marks in the sand near her feet. He confronted her:

“Who are you?”
She smiled, “I am Shanaya. I am a writer.”
“What is a writer?”
“A writer is one who writes. As I am doing here… writing.”
“What is writing?”
“Ah. Writing is …. the rendering on a surface of symbols representing sounds or words.”
“Hmmm. That’s… interesting… I suppose. What is writing for?”
“Writing is for communicating!”
“Communicating what? To whom?”
“Anything! Everything! To anyone! Or even to a machine!”
Taran did not know what a machine was, but he tried to make sense of what she said. “So if I make some marks on a surface to represent some sounds or words, I’ll be communicating?”
Shanaya smiled mysteriously. “Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that!”

She went on to explain about sentences, paragraphs, spelling, grammar, punctuation, reading, target audiences, lexicons, assumed knowledge, style, translation, record-keeping, letter-writing, creative writing, technical writing, analytical writing, history, plays, poetry, novels, short stories, newspapers, film, TV, computer programming, e-mail, blogging, online networking, texting, e-poetry, hypertext writing, video games, multimedia stories, cross-media narratives, Alternate Reality Games and transliteracy.

It was a long day.



{Mon 23 November 2009}   What is Transliteracy?
What is Transliteracy?

Well, theoretically, I should know the answer to this question as this is what I studied in my MA over the past year. I have now graduated (with distinction) with an MA in Creative Writing and New Media from De Montfort University… but I’m still asking!

The term was introduced to the UK by Professor Sue Thomas and she and some other new media gurus have worked long and hard to refine the following definition:

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

It’s a good definition that covers a lot, but its implications and ramifications lead to further questions. See my post on Transliteracy.com for some of these.

I ended the post with a link to a video about a fascinating artwork that future generations may hold to be a significant transliterate artefact.

I’d love to discuss all this, so please feel free to comment either here on TiaTalk or on Transliteracy.com.



Safety obsession makes UK unsafe for normal people

I was going to post about how uncomfortable it is becoming to live in the UK, because one risks being declared a criminal if one responds spontaneously to a child, whether in greeting, helping, comforting or challenging, … but I’ve just read an article that says it brilliantly.

So please read Jenni Russell’s article ‘Crazy law leaves a child out in the cold’ in The Times Online: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6898212.ece. I very much agree with her assertion that the “insistence on the importance of distrust is eating away at our society. ”

She doesn’t describe yet what campaign might be appropriate, but offers her email address, presumably for suggestions.

Addendum (17:07) I emailed Jenni to let her know I had blogged about her article. She replied today and included the following suggestions for action each of us can take right now:

” I think we have to start both by changing peoples’ minds ( we don’t need more laws- terrible things will sometimes happen, and we can’t eliminate risk) – and by lobbying politicians. It’s worth writing to your MP and to Ed Balls and Jack straw now, before Singleton reports on his review in December. Most of all its worth lobbying the Tories, especially Cameron, Chris Grayling, Dominic Grieve and Michael Gove. The Tories want to do what the public wants – we have to let them know. Best wishes, Jenni ”



Notes on reading Shakespeare aloud for fun

It’s hard to believe two years have passed since we lasted hosted a play reading in London (Antony and Cleopatra). Now that my MA is finished, I can return to pleasant pastimes like this, so we’re looking forward to our next reading, of All’s Well That Ends Well, on 3rd October.

The Shakespeare-interpreting part of my brain was decidedly rusty when I first plunged into the text a couple of weeks ago, but the fantastic production we then saw at the National Theatre went a long way to lubricating it. If you can’t get to London, then check out NT Live, an initiative to broadcast the play to cinema screens around the world on 1st October 2009.

While preparing for the reading and allocating parts, I’ve made the following notes to encourage the readers, new and old:

  1. Adopt the attitude that this is a workshop rather than a performance. We’re figuring it out together as we go along. This is why we don’t allow spectators—we’re all in it together.
  2. Don’t hurry.
  3. Keep in mind your character’s basic motivations and role in the story. If you don’t have time to pre-read the whole play, or even your own part/s before the group reading, then make an effort to read at least a character summary. There are many resources online; one example is the Hudson Shakespeare Company which offers a good Character Directory.
  4. Remember the play is for the stage—much of the meaning should be conveyed visually, so use the stage directions to help you imagine the scenes, the actions and the tone of the exchanges… e.g. whether indoors or outdoors, who is present, how many are present and what they are doing—there are differences between the pomp and ceremony of a royal court and the intimacy of a private exchange in a parlour, between men’s voices in the rough and tumble of the battlefield and women’s voices in a safer setting in town, between an address to an equal and an address to a subordinate.
  5. Therefore, when reading Stage Directions, do so clearly, with appropriate emphases, to assist the group in imagining the scene. Note: Do not read the words [Aside], [Reads] or [Sings] – we leave it to the reader of the part to convey that they are speaking quietly to avoid being heard by someone in the scene, or that they are reading, or singing.
  6. Use the punctuation. Respond with appropriate emphases to exclamation and question marks. Pause with full stops, commas and em dashes—they give you and your hearers time to absorb what has just been said, and they help you make sense of the sentences. Don’t pause at the ends of lines unless punctuation says you should.
  7. If you realise by the end of a sentence, a paragraph or a poetic section that you have misunderstood it and placed emphasis incorrectly and you feel you could improve it with a second reading, by all means read it again. This is not required, but it’s perfectly acceptable in a workshop: you can re-read it yourself or invite someone else to have a go. Of course, we don’t have time to analyse every word or even to understand every sentence, but if you think the particular sentence you’re struggling with is important to understanding a conversation or a plot development, everyone else will welcome the repetition too.


et cetera