Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Post-Textual, Post-Literate World

Last evening, Jen and I watched a PBS documentary about the history of superhero comic books in the U.S. Near the end of the third hour, the documentary was discussing the current state of comic books and the growing importance of electronic texts and video games in the industry. Todd McFarlane, an artist and one of the founders of Image Comics, commented that he doesn’t care if comic books move to digital forms. He said something like “comic books are simply text and pictures, which we’ve had since the cave paintings. And we’ll always have that.”

Respectfully, I have to disagree with him on that point. I don’t think we’ll always have a union of text and visual materials because that claim isn’t supported by human history. The cave paintings I think he’s referring to are the ones in Lascaux, France. While he’s right that they represent a longstanding human interest in telling stories, those paintings are visual only. That is, they have no text associated with them and were created before our species had written language.

When I was a doctoral student, my focus was medieval English literature. A good bit of the material I studied was created in a mostly illiterate society. In that society, those who had the ability to read, create, and interpret texts were a select class of people. Textual literacy wasn’t available to the masses, and it wasn’t a skill they actually needed to function on a daily basis.

I’m an avid reader and aspiring author, so I would like to think that Mr. McFarlane is right about the longevity of texts. However, I have to say that I think we’re rapidly approaching a time when textual literacy will no longer be needed by the masses. Indeed, I think we’re on the cusp of this new era.

What are the reasons I say this? I was recently emailing with my niece, and I mentioned I was thinking about writing some letters to her kids. She told me they wouldn’t be able to read a handwritten letter and certainly wouldn’t reply to it. She said their “text” messages aren’t really texts at all. They mostly communicate in emoticons, GIFs, and other visual cues via their phones’ messaging feature.

That got me thinking about how people interact with information in today’s society. As many people know, polls indicate a growing number of Americans don’t read even one book a year. I think most people probably get their information from some form of visual media, like a TV, movie, Internet video clip, etc. Newspaper, magazine, and book publishers have seen a decline in the number of printed texts sold. Some of their business has moved to digital forms, but even digital texts aren’t selling as well now as printed materials did in the mid-20th century.

Since so much of our information consumption is via electronic screens, I think we’re rapidly approaching a time when blocks of text (whether printed or formed electronically) will be passé. That is, I think we’ll soon live in a post-textual, post-literate world. Like the medieval world, our coming society will need a small, specialized class of textual experts. After all, some needs to create, read, and interpret the scripts to our video games, movies, sit-coms, and “reality TV” programs. However, I predict the people in that field will be a small, select group of specialists, and most consumers of those forms will be completely unaware that a text is the foundation of the visuals they see. Most people simply won’t engage with blocks of text in any meaningful way.

I think we’re already starting to see that trend. How many people see a movie because the person who wrote its screenplay wrote the screenplay for another of their favorite movies? We simply don’t think that way about writers of screenplays. And yet, we will see a film because of its stars, director, or producers.

New technologies like Google Glass and other coming products make it possible for people to track their daily movements in a visual way. Hardly anyone bothers to write a daily journal in this era. I think that trend will only grow as new technologies make cutting-edge visual media easier for us to create and consume. Those of us who love text-based items will become a small group who get our products from vintage or antique stores specializing in textual media.

As much as I hate to say it, I think text is already dead. We just haven’t erected its tombstone yet.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Shakin' It Up

Earlier this week, I received an email from the company where I work as a contract senior editor. It said the article pools I’ve been working on for the past three years are drying up, and they’re terminating the contracts of a number of writers and editors as a result. I’ve been identified as one of their “top producers”, so my contract will be renewed at its present rate. However, the tasks I’ll be performing may change.

At this point, I still don’t know how many hours I’ll be able to get with them or exactly what I’ll be doing. The changes will happen on or around September 1st. Until now, I’ve been able to work nearly full-time at that contract job, so this news has me a bit on edge. I’d been feeling a little bored with the work, thinking it wasn’t challenging me much anymore. I didn’t expect this, though.

Since I’m not sure what might come out of this, I decided it’s time to get back into the job market. I sent out my resumé on a few jobs yesterday, and I’ll start watching the ads for others. I guess it’s also time to get back to building my freelance business, just in case I’m not able to find full-time employment. I've let that slide a bit recently, since my contract position was nearly full time.

As a middle-aged woman with two liberal arts degrees, I recognize just how tough a road I have ahead of me. I'm hoping I can get by with a little help from friends and family and their connections. I also know that my hard work, perseverance, and sense of humor will be great assets in my job search and in a new job.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An Update

I haven't posted here in a while, and I know that's not the most clever title I could have given this post. To be quite honest about it, I'm at a loss for a topic on this post. But, I'm going to plunge ahead and do some writing, just to see what shakes out.

The holidays treated us fairly well this past year. We didn't travel to see family during the holiday season, but we did meet friends for dinner and a movie on Christmas Eve. That was a lot of fun, and it's becoming a Christmas tradition.

Right after that, Jen caught the flu, which turned into bronchitis. So, our New Year's was quiet and spent at home while she followed the doctor's orders to rest and recuperate. Where the time between then and now went is completely beyond me.

Ten days ago, we lost our cat, Geoffrey. He was about 15 and had a lot of health problems that finally got the best of the veterinarians. We'd been treating his diabetes with insulin, but other conditions like pancreatitis and heart disease made controlling his insulin levels a challenge. It's been tough because our cats are the closest we'll get to having kids. We lost our younger cat in November 2011, and now we're cat-less for a while.

We've lived in our current apartment since moving to NYC, and our lease has a clause saying we can't get more cats if anything happens to the two we had. Once we've given ourselves time to mourn losing our boy, we'll talk with the landlord about changing that clause. If he doesn't agree, we'll need to start apartment hunting. I'm sure some people would think that's a crazy reason to move, but it makes perfect sense to us.

We're in a duplex and he lives downstairs, so he'd know if we got more cats. Plus, he's talking about retiring in a year, and he mentioned he might sell when he does. So, we might need a new place to live anyway, even if he does allow us to get more cats.

On a more pleasant note, our 20th anniversary is rapidly approaching. After the whopping big vet bill we just had, we're not sure what we'll do for our 20th. Whatever we choose, I know it will be a great day. Every day with Jen is a great one, no matter what else is happening.

I'm terrible at imagining the future and what it will bring, so I never do well with that quiz about "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I simply can't envision where I'll live or what I'll do for work five years from now. However, I do know that Jen and I will be together then. That's the one thing I'm certain of.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Looking Back at Untrod Paths

One of my passions is hats. Not just any old cap, though. And, not those frilly, frou-frou ladies hats that make such a spectacle on Kentucky Derby Day.

I mean classic hats, the kind of felt or straw hats that graced heads during the golden days of cinema. My personal favorite is a nice felt fedora or Trilby like Bogart, Bergman, or Bacall would have worn. Of course, I’m also partial to a nice straw Panama like Paul Henreid, Edward G. Robinson, or Gregory Peck sported in their films.

What does that have to do with paths not taken? Sadly, quite a bit. A few years back, I bought a gorgeous Montecristi Panama hat from Brent Black, and it’s still the pride of my hat collection. It has surpassed the two Trilbies I own from Lock & Co of London, but I digress.

Anyway, during the process of selecting and ordering my hat, I chatted a fair bit with Brent Black, hatter extraordinaire. Knowing me, the conversation probably included me making a comment like, “I envy you your job. What a great business!” Mr. Black promptly replied with, “Well, why don’t you consider getting into the business?”

From there, we chatted about hatters in New York that I might apprentice with so I could learn to block hats. We even briefly touched on the possibility that I’d relocate and work with him a bit to really polish my skills. The idea petered out, probably because I lacked confidence in myself at the time. This was shortly after the academic world had gleefully pummeled my work and self-confidence.

Now, wounds licked and (mostly) healed, I wonder if I let a golden opportunity pass me by.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter Wonderings

'Twas the day after Christmas,
And the couple surveyed
The pieces of puzzle,
The joint gift they obtained.

The past few years, Jen and I have used Christmas as a time to purchase a gift for ourselves, something we can do together. This year, we bought a couple of new board games since we enjoy playing games like Yahtzee, Risk, and Word Thief. We also bought a Lego set to assemble.

As kids, we both had the Lego building sets, but we never had the specially designed kits to assemble that are so popular now. So, we decided to try building one of the kits together. We chose the space shuttle because we both had fond memories of the shuttle program as kids, and it looked like a set that would challenge us but not be impossible to build.

We started working on it Christmas Day, and we got the shuttle assembled before going to bed. I'm not sure how many hours it took because we really weren't keeping track. We worked on it for a bit, and then we watched a Christmas movie or talked to relatives. Then, we built a bit more.

On Wednesday, we worked on assembling the external fuel tank and booster rockets. Assembling a kit like that was a lot of fun, and it gave us a chance to work together on a project while laughing and joking around. Truly, enjoying an activity together is the best way to spend time with the person you love.

It was also a great way to spend Christmas since Jen caught a Christmas cold. I had a cold two weeks ago, and I was afraid she'd catch it. Either it took a bit or she found some other bug via her colleagues or the train. Either way, she's definitely fighting something. I'm hoping she'll feel better soon.

I also hope she didn't pass it to the friends we saw on Christmas Eve. We had dinner at their house before attending a late showing of "The Hobbit." I'd really feel terrible if they caught her cold since they have friends coming in for New Year's. It's the time of year when lots of stuff goes around, I know. I just hope our flu shots do some good this winter.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Musings on the Holidays

Recently, I haven't written as regularly in my blog as regularly as I intended. That's partly due to work keeping me busy and partly due to pure laziness. Writing a blog with consistency takes discipline, which I don't always have. Writing an interesting blog takes either an incredible amount of conceit (in other words, being in love with the sound of one's own voice) or a "damn the torpedoes" mentality to compel the writer to write regardless of what others think about it. While I admit to both "flaws" from time to time, I don't have either attitude as often as I need it to succeed as a writer. Hence, the frequent breaks in my blogging, which usually coincide with a sense of "all my writing is pure crap." Ah, the vagaries of the creative personality.

Enough navel-gazing. We're currently in the midst of the holiday season and all its joys and stresses. I like the holidays because they're full of good memories from the past, as well as good food and extra time with the love of my life. Some of my favorite memories from the past are school holiday concerts when I was in my high school's chorus, as well as earlier Christmases when I was still little and in love with the spirit of the season. And, each year is a chance to build new memories with Jen.

Holidays in recent years have been good, although I think a number of family and friends might doubt that. Both Jen and I come from families that tend toward what I term as "big productions" at the holidays. That is, both our families do lots of decorating for the holidays, with big trees, fancy little touches throughout the house, large meals, parties, and so forth. In contrast, we don't put up any decorations, really. The one exception is an "Old World Santa" my mother made for us. He looks like the Dutch Sinterklaas and comes with a Zwarte Piet, which Mom crafted in honor of Jen's Dutch ancestry. That duo comes out each year.

As for fancy meals with lots of people, Jen and I tend to shy away from those kinds of holiday parties. That's partly because neither of us is really the "party" type. We don't enjoy being in crowded, noisy rooms full of people. We prefer smaller, quieter gatherings, and we often shun even those to spend time at home. Frankly, my favorite place to be is wherever she is.

One reason we tend to avoid big gatherings is that we can't really relax around other people and be ourselves. Instead, we both feel a need to behave differently when we're around other people, especially if the people around us are mostly straight. When we're around other people, neither of us exhibits those little intimacies that most other couples (whether gay or straight) seem able to display. We don't casually touch one another on the arm or shoulder, not even if we're trying to get one another's attention. You certainly won't see any hugs or quick pecks, even if we're around some of our closest friends. That's probably why so many people assume we're sisters, rather than a couple. We just don't display the kind of connection people expect from a couple, and we don't have many gay or lesbian couples in our lives to socialize with.

If we're around our relatives, It's even harder to tell that we're a couple.The old joke about acting straight is a part of our lives when we visit family. Ironically, we've been out to all of our immediate families for nearly twenty years (ever since coming out together), and yet we still "straighten up" when we're around our parents or siblings. That's probably a holdover from the early years when we were trying to get our families to accept us, and now it's just an old habit we can't change. It does, however, make us hesitant to spend long periods of time around our families since we can't really relax and be ourselves with them. That inability to relax, especially during the already-stressful holiday season, keeps us from braving the travel nightmare that a holiday trip would require.

In reading back over this post, I'm a bit surprised at the direction it took. I certainly don't want anyone to feel bad or to make it sound like we don't enjoy the holidays or our families. We absolutely do enjoy the holiday season and being around family. It's just that our holiday celebrations are usually much quieter and more private than the ones we grew up experiencing. Since moving to New York, we've added a few new traditions, like dinner and a movie on or near Christmas with a friend of mine from graduate school and her husband. We also like checking out the big tree displayed at Rockefeller Center, along with the holiday windows at places like Macy's. And, we've added our own tradition of ordering Boudin's sourdough bread from San Francisco for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

As a couple who chose not to have children, it took us time to figure out what the holidays mean to us and to design celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's that are meaningful and satisfying. Much of the holiday "spirit" and expectations for holiday activities revolve around young children and family gatherings or big parties of couples, and none of those activities really resonated with us. I think it took us both reaching a sense of being "comfortable in our own skins" (which seemed to coincide with our early thirties) before we really felt like our holiday celebrations gave us what we wanted from them. At least, I know it worked that way for me.

Some of my old friends from childhood are starting to face "empty nests" with their kids in high school and college. I have a feeling they'll soon find a need to change their holiday plans, and I'm interested to see the kinds of celebrations they'll design after their children are grown.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Shift in Focus

Thus far, November has been an interesting month. I heaved a sigh of relief last week that the 2012 Presidential campaign finally came to an end, which also meant an end to the flood of campaign commercials. Living in New York City, the local networks play ads for New York candidates, New Jersey candidates, and Connecticut candidates. I’m so glad I won’t see those people’s names or faces for a little while. And, I’m certain I speak for a lot of political junkies when I say I’m quickly reaching the point where I hate all politicians and all political parties equally. The Citizens United decision was a fiasco, and it’s time for a Constitutional change that outlaws the SuperPACs and corporations buying elections.

But, I digress. Politics is absolutely the last thing I wish to discuss this week. Instead, I’m looking at a shift in focus as a writer in my creative work. This shift was prompted by my attempt to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year. I’ve tried this in the past, typically with dismal results. This year, sadly, was no different. I quickly found myself behind in the word count by the first weekend. A 2-day migraine this past week ensured that I won’t be catching up this month.

Between NaNoWriMo and a mystery writing class I took about a decade ago, I have a few different novels in various stages knocking around in a drawer. Slowly, the idea is dawning that writing a novel may not be the right move for me as a writer at this stage of my career. I recently saw a suggestion for poets to try writing a poem a day for a poetic version of NaNoWriMo, and somehow that project seems more attainable than cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days does. Therefore, I’m going to shift focus starting tomorrow morning and work on writing a poem a day until mid-December.

What challenges have you attempted recently? How did they turn out? If you weren’t successful, how can you reshape the challenge so that it’s more attainable?