(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March — about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
For more than a year now, I have been involved in a postcard writing/mailing project with folks in my connected circles, mostly through the CLMOOC clan. This year, a subset of the Postcard-ers is doing Data Postcards along agreed-upon theme (So this month, it was “love”).
Yesterday, I gathered up a bunch of postcards that had arrived in the last week or so, and took a picture. We like to share out, if only to show arrival. You can see a woodcut postcard of Woody Guthrie, and a 3d keychain (and 3D shovel!), and messages about art and collaboration. And a mallard duck.
Then, yesterday afternoon, just after I posted my collection of recent arrivals, I received this gem of a postcard, and poem, from another friend, Sandy, in my mailbox. She and I connect in other spaces, such as the current Networked Narratives. Sandy does a whole other kind of postcard adventure around a magical art theme (I think). Her postcard — right from the beautiful colored handwriting on the envelope — was a work of part, and her poetry was pure beauty.
I’m lucky to have found my way into such a creative tribe.
I grabbed out phrases, and met those words with images. The reader moves at their own pace, so the Zeega may not be in sync. That’s OK. I think the Zeega is a poem in and of itself, influenced by but different from the original.
You can move and read and listen at your own pace.
(NOTE: Some browsers don’t like Zeega because of “unsafe scripts.” This has to do with Terry hosted a version of Zeega on his own, I think. You can click on the option in the URL bar to allow the scripts to be read by your browser.)
I was happy this week when a handful of folks in the Networked Narratives course took up my invitation to join me in writing a Folded Story. The idea is that you only see the fold above you as you write and then you pass it off to someone else (sort of like an Exquisite Corpse story).
The result, after 25 folds and about 10 different writers, is very strange, and I would argue it is an example of a networked narrative — a collaborative story written and told across time and space, with technology as the platform for telling the story. (The word cloud above is built with the words from the folded story).
Take a listen to the story. I narrated the whole thing, reading from start to finish all of our folds. I added a little music beneath it, just to keep the five minutes of story moving along. It was strange to read in one sitting, from start to finish.
So there you are, holding the thread and wondering whether to pull or not. The thread leads to something beyond your eyes. You stare at the thread. And then you pull. You feel it tug back three times and then a warm hum springs from the thread as it begins to sing. The words are faint at first, like the far away tinkling of cheap wind chimes, but the it becomes clear, ” This is not the beginning of the story. This is merely an obscure edge of the tale.” The wind chimes continue to shimmer. Out of the music, something appears. Paper, with burned edges and forgotten words. You read it aloud and the language is runic and foreign, full of sigils and elementals, EarthAirFireWater. The sounds at first are glossolalia, speaking in tongues. Meaning transmutes from lead to gold and a measure of understanding rises, “So say we thus: Within these words, within this fire, within this alchemic mixture, we discover the truth of the hermetic motto “As above, so below.” Turtles all the way down never swimming in the same time stream twice. Nothing to be had but to start pulling on the thread and following it into the labyrinth. It felt like you were tugging against something. So you pulled harder, knowing that the tail of the tale was still in play, even if it remained invisible beyond the sight line. One final tug of the thread and the world around you unravels. You watch as plants are replaced with twine, earth with yarn, and people with string; yet they all seem to maintain their form. The people notice you are not from their stringy world. They walk over to you and Touch your slender form. Your straight back and gentle hook is perfect for this stringy world which often becomes a net, a filter, a sort of flexible valve of ideas. You grip whatever you can hold on, searching for substance. There. You sense how this one story might spring forth others. You twist it counter-clockwise, surprised by I was surprised by a single CLICK! What?? This is a triple barrel lock, how could I not crack the code? All those lessons in safe cracking, gone to waste. All those hours studying codes, deciphering, hacking, tracking. But wait, I heard something… It was a tiny metal on metal sound–I recognized it right away–deep in the tumblers a nano cricket from the lab was worrying apart the intricate mechanism. Someone had planted the nano bug Its tiny clanging told me it was dangerously close to interfering with the network’s mainframe. One nick could shut down all central processing. Reserve power won’t be enough to sustain our work here. The bug has to be found and extracted. Fast. The bug started to burrow, deeper and deeper. It’s main food was bits and bytes, tasty morsels not found on the surface. It devoured the 1’s and 0’s trying to pass its fat body. Lost words for the child’s bedtime story. It feasted on and on until it disgorged what seemed to be a book, a bound contraption of words and magic. Its binding was wire mesh, nearly collapsible. You yank at the dangling thread. The whole thing expands into place. You stare and wonder at the title: An Alchemist’s Manifesto. Your mind races. Within seconds you are compelled to consume the words revealed to you. Page by page is devoured by your soul until you are, at last, filled with the knowledge of a thousand years. When the last word from the last page is written, then you will know. Until then, you must find new ways to intuit your inner life, making it connect with the randomness and fragmentary experience of this so called world. For what is the network effect, but a schizophrenia born of distraction. You know truth of course, you just need to pull the telescope from your pocket, reverse-engineer it into a microscope, and then find the focus. You know that. Find focus. You fiddle with the ****, turn the crank and another world arrives. Something is moving on the surface. Something quite extraordinary. Not one thing, but a multitude of beings, moving in coordinated fashion. They seem to be communicating with you, and somehow you are understanding their message of hums and whirs. Minute sounds that somehow converge into meaning. These creatures have something to tell me. Something important. Their meaning is fuzzy though. I get glimpses of an idea. Nothing totally clear. But, I think they’re trying to say truth exists though it can be hard to see. Though it may just be a tiny bit or a little it. Thing is you can view from so many different perspectives. Up top or down below. From the right or left with the light casting shadows just so. You never know but you have to go in, you have to answer their questions. You’re going to get up there on the witness stand and tell the truth as you know it. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth about what they did on the 4th of July. And if you don’t know the “they,” then you don’t know the truth. But you know there is time. There’s always time for the story to unfold or take a new turn, even a new beginning — like when you come into an improv performance and have to re-imagine what you missed. Every of us has our own beginning, and then we cross paths. Or not.
I have used this Fold that Story site in various online collaborations and, well, you never know. That’s why it’s perfect for Networked Narratives. So, come join in. The way it works is that you only see the “fold” (what the other person wrote) just before yours. You can’t see where the story started or earlier folds. So, the story zigzags quite a bit. I’ll share out the entire thing when it is done (I have it set at 25 folds).
I was able to join a “studio visit” video hangout yesterday afternoon with the fine folks over at Networked Narratives and the strange (compliment!) minds behind what is known as Netprov. Essentially, Netprov taps into the possibilities of digital and social media spaces to create a sort of “networked improvisation.”
You can read more about the Netprov idea at the website, but these points stuck out at me, in reading and listening to the Rob Wittig and Mark Marino (I didn’t talk much in the Hangout because Mark and Rob had so much to say, and it seemed best to give the Kean graduate students time to ask questions):
Netprov creates stories that are networked, collaborative and improvised in real time
Netprov is collaborative and incorporates participatory contributions from readers
Netprov is designed for episodic and incomplete reading
When somebody makes a fake Twitter account of an object or a critter — that is Netprov
When somebody creates a make-believe event and blogs about it in real time — that is Netprov
They gave some examples from OccupyMLA to a sort of flash mob project on Twitter where a group people pretend to be watching a television show and live-tweeting it to a I Work for the Web fake campaign against the tech companies using users’ sharing to make profit. There are other, stranger, odder, cooler projects at their site, too (including a recent 5-gender dating Netprov project. Do I have that right? Really?)
Here’s what I am pondering now, asked by Mia Zamora in the visit: how does a Netprov parody and satire move beyond humor and into changing the real world for the better? (This is part of Mia’s continued reference to “civic imagination.”)
Rob and Mark, both college professors, say Netprov can and Netprov does, because the satire element forces the “actors” to be attuned to the why and what they are doing, and that often brings to the surface deeper cultural constructs. Rob also talked quite a bit about the “fake news” element of our media world, and how projects like Netprov can showcase the absurdity of the PR-spun alternative realities that politicians and media like to spin (as well as that lone person in their basement, pumping out fake news for clickbait profit).
Bowling Green Massacre, anyone? (Maybe the new administration is pulling off some epic, large-scale Netprov on us all? I shoulda asked that question in the hangout).
Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.
Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.
Hey #NetNarr – What’s So Funny about Peace Love and Remix?
The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).
First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).
Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.
Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.
And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.
Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),
So, I am on another meander .. trying to parse out the possibilities of Twitter Bots as a means of digital writing. And wondering, is it? I don’t rightly know. Thus, the meander.
I’m on this line of inquiry thanks to the Networked Narratives crew, and one of the paths revealed during the recent “studio tour” with Leonardo Flores, whose work with generative Twitter Bots sparked some interesting annotation discussions.
Certainly, Twitter Bots — which are programmed to release writing or images or something from a data base at random or programmed times — are numerous (as I found when I started looking for them with new eyes) and funny and entertaining. Some bots mesh together ideas from other sites, creating a hybrid tweet. Others are original material, parsed together in odd ways. Some bots take on personalities from history, using archived texts as source material. Others are like programmed memes, making political fun of something through satire and sarcasm. Some are stories, unfolding in small bits over time.
Right now, I am following Mia Zamora and Alan Levine’s suggestion at Networked Narratives to “follow some bots” and see what happens over a few days time. I created a Twitter List of various bots that I have found (and feel free to follow the list if you want or you can ask Flores’ HotBots Bot to recommend Bots to follow based on your question or theme), and find myself dipping into the narrative stream now and then. It’s not a great strategy because the bot tweets are all mixed up, like a book whose pages have been put into disorder.
What I am wondering about in the larger picture, though, is this: can I make and launch my own Twitter Bot?
Yesterday, I started working on a Twitter Bot to send into the NetNarr twitter stream and I think I can pull it off, but I have been struggling with what would I want that bot to say to the world? What database might it mine for words and ideas? What message? Is my act of making a bot share writing out to the world an act writing?
More to come …. tomorrow, I will write about my bot experiment.
Here’s mine, called Even Dead Ends are Starting Points.
She heard the sounds of the guitar, and the song came suddenly. Melody. Words. Harmony. She hurried out to meet the musician, only to find it was an audio recording of a photographer setting the mood for his shots. Still, she kept singing. Even dead ends are starting points.
What’s so intriguing about this kind of visual-inspired writing with somewhat random images is that while you are choosing each of the five images, they are come from a very limited pool of choices. There’s nothing outright that seems to connect the five pictures you end up choosing … except the story unfolding in your mind as you are making your choices.
So part of the fun with the Five Card Story concept is making that narrative leap — weaving that invisible thread – that wraps each disparate visual together into a tapestry of remixable story. You have to ride your inspiration forward, and go beyond the literal. It’s a creative challenge.
I find that the first image chosen is the most important, as it anchors the narrative. But so is the last image, I guess, as it ties up the story. In writing, I find myself staring at each image, wondering about what I don’t see with my eyes (and maybe do see with my heart). I’m trying to determine what narrative is stubbornly invisible at that moment, and then try to tease it out.
Earlier today, I shared out an invitation to annotate a video by Leonardo Flores and the Networked Narratives folks who hung out with him. (You can still annotate the video). It helped that we have a two-hour winter weather delay this morning, so I immersed myself in the NetNarr experience. As I was thinking about how best to reflect on what I learned and heard, I wondered if (given Flores’ interest in digital poetry) I could use my own comments to create a poem about the theme of the Studio Visit, as I knew it, from afar.
I did create a poem. You can read it — Mapping Out a Field of Possibilities — over at Notegraphy. What I think, for me is interesting, is that the discussion about the use of “twitter bots” to “scrape” text from tweets and create something new raises all sorts of questions about what is writing when algorithms are in place, and who owns the writing (and does that even matter on a digital canvas?).
Here, I made myself into a sort of “human bot,” scraping through my own annotations and musings (along with quotes from others in the session that I had pulled out into the margins) to make a poem. I am not a bot. I just played one here sometimes. So, would the poem be any different if I had been a programmed Twitter bot and had done the same thing? Such interesting things to wonder about, right?
Another point: I would have liked to have had more time to add other layers to the writing — to create audio linked on top of the words, perhaps, or maybe, shifting the poem’s stanzas into Zeega for a multimedia compositional experience or maybe layering links to the people whose words I, eh, remixed for the poem, an associative anchor to people from the poem. I might still do something.
As it is now, the poem is experientially flat, even as it is read on the screens. The poem is merely words on the “page.” I’m not suggesting that this kind of writing is not exciting or interesting or valuable (certainly, it is) but I continue to be curious about how to push writing into new directions.
Part of the “spine” of the Networked Narratives adventure is a series of “studio visits” with practitioners and others of digital media and digital storytelling. But these seem to likely happen during my teaching hours. Not so worry. I am using Vialogues to annotate yesterday’s studio tour with Leonardo Flores, as the crew chats about digital poetry and electronic writing.
You can annotate the video, too. Just come over to Vialogues, log in and as you watch the Hangout, add your thoughts to the margins of the video. It’s all about the conversation.