Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Process Writing: "You May Ask Yourself, Well, How Did I Get Here?"

I’m comfortable with writing reviews for The Index, leading Naked and writing album or show reviews. I just wrote my first piece for Kalamazoo Local Music on the Fretboard Festival contestants. It felt completely natural.

Yet writing for this class has been much more strenuous than writing research papers or history essays this quarter.


Maybe it’s the over justification effect: getting a grade, an extrinsic value, removes the intrinsic value I place on writing. Writing is an conversation, just organized and it runs one-way. It keeps my brain together; I carry a journal wherever I go.

Regardless, it is all part of a larger theme of feeling uncomfortable.

For one, I never reviewed a book before. Art exhibit? I mean, those reviews for The Index may have had a “but” statement, though a lot of it was summary, description, and more of a look of how an exhibit came to be.

So what was my process when it came to reviewing something I lack sufficient knowledge and/or experience to feel comfortable and confident?

I took a lot of notes, then I threw them on my computer screen.

I did exactly what Amy Waldman’s described when she visited our campus. I dumped everything, and then I clumped quotes, themes, observations, and inferences together in order to make sense of out chaos. I filled in gaps, deleted some phrases, and tied in other clumps, and, somehow, a rough, rough draft appeared before me.

The live performance piece flowed right out of me. The first film review was not so bad--after we received feedback and I knew what to look for.

But after a bit of struggling after reviewing a journalists’ work, an art exhibit, and a book, I realized one of my problems is that I find my “but” statement too late. And it’s not a big deal to take it and place it at the top, but by then I usually ran out of my time or caffeine to sufficiently edit the other bits so my thesis would ring throughout my piece.

From jotting notes in a dark movie theater to joining a tour with elderly folks, this class has been uncomfortable. And I mean that in the best possible of ways. Challenge by choice: you have to immerse yourself in uncomfortable situations in order to grow.

I learned that opinions are expensive, and they must be bought thriftily and concisely with words. These are the days I’m cashing my checks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Divine Comedy with a Mandate of Heaven

China's favorite dissident, Ai Weiwei, is making a rock album.

Dubbed "Shen Qu," or "Divine Comedy," the album will trace back to the 81 days Ai spent in prison without a charge. When he was asked to sing by guards he realized he never sang before and that the only songs he knew were revolutionary songs.

From the New York Times blog Ai stated he's mixing pop and rock with heavy metal. I'm curious whether his characterization of "heavy metal" traces the likes of Black Sabbath, the industrial feel of Nine Inch Nails, or if its something more dissonant.

There's a good chance that any modern piece of music referencing Dante will sound echo prog rock (Radiohead's Hail to the Thief comes to mind), but Mr. Ai will be collaborating with friend and artist Zuoxiao Zuzhou, who has been called China's Leonard Cohen.

The album will be referencing issues and politics surrounding the modern Chinese republic from the blind rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng to web censorship. A few months ago Elton John dedicated his concert in Beijing to Ai Wei Wei, further infuriating the Chinese government. After Elton John's comment, China's culture ministry requires all foreign performers to have at least a university degree.

Shen Qu will be released in three weeks, according to his interview with Reuters today.

My Submission

Out of 5,000 contestants the single winner in submitting a design for the Ground Zero memorial is a Muslim architect named Mohammad Khan. A born Muslim who ate pork, dated Jews, and never prayed. In wake of 9/11, the governor’s aid said “all over the Muslim world they’ll be jumping up and down at our stupidity, our stupid tolerance.”

Or at least this is what Amy Waldman hypothesized in The Submission. As a former New York Times journalist, Waldman utilized sharp details, but as a novelist she employed themes to tell a bigger truth out of fiction. While initially confusing with the emergence of new characters, The Submission worked so well as a novel because it doesn’t feel like a work of fiction.

Weaving the mixed narratives of an architect, a widow, the chairman of the memorial project, an immigrant, and a sleazy journalist, the different perspectives become alarmingly confusing. Though the novel built compelling tension from the very instance when Khan was announced winner of the contest, she introduced jumped perspectives too often that the characters could not fall into place quickly enough.

Once past this initial confusion, Walman projected her characters with varying motives. As a result of their different backgrounds, and placed within the context of vulnerable post 9/11 America, she crafted characters with purpose. She painted the image of juror and recent widow Claire Burwell with moral authority when defending Khan’s right to win the contest.

In another instance, Burwell’s influence dissipated when a fellow jury member told her to “get over it.” At this point she began second guessing herself, as Waldman wrote “In a comic book, power would be leaking from here like a liquid.”

The theme of doubt and self-image ran throughout the novel, as evocative analogies tied themes between characters. Khan out of his self-consciousness, he shaved his thick beard when supplying his photo to the submission.

Though many of her are New York elites, from the likes of chairman Paul Rubin and Burwell, she captured the stress of an America in peril. From her different characters’ perspectives, she raise questions during America’s insecure social climate. When threading Rubin’s doubts of the memorial project as controversy of having a Muslim name goes on, he reflected on his country, “it would take more than a new memorial to unite it.”

Amy Waldman combined her skills of reportage with novelist detail in The Submission to