Further Updates, and Into the Summer


— 5 graduate Cultural Studies projects

— 22 Media Studies term papers

Not bad. It’s not out of the question that I could be done by Monday.

As usual, though, the nearness of the finish line is resulting in my slowing down rather than speeding up, distracted by thoughts of what I’m going to get to do once I cross it. And here’s where I could use your help. Because I figure if I get the internet to think about this problem for me, maybe I can concentrate on my grading instead.

Unsurprisingly, the problem has a long history, detailed below the fold, for the intrepid.

Here’s the deal: I’ve gotten a collection of smallish grants that I’m using to do some retraining. I want to move back into multimedia work, on the production side, a desire sparked in part by my desire to move forward from the old project (which focused on the relationship between the novel and television) into a new one (imagining potential relationships between or hybridizations of the novel and the computer), and in part by my ongoing interest in the possibilities that electronic textuality presents for the survival of academic writing. In part, however, this change in direction is sparked by a kind of critical nervous breakdown that I’ve suffered this year, which has left me quite convinced that the further writing of scholarship on my part would be (a) utterly pointless, and (b) doomed to failure.

To put that more positively: I want to make something.

A bit of backstory, perhaps. My undergraduate degree is in English, with an emphasis in creative writing; at the time I was very heavily focused on fiction. I went on to do an MFA in creative writing, focused on playwriting and screenwriting. Afterward, I did time in Hollywood, working as the assistant to the director of creative affairs for a major studio’s television wing; I read and wrote coverage of the made-for-TV movie scripts that were so bad no one even considered making them, and generally decided that I hated the industry with a passion. And really seriously hated being chained to a desk, with regular hours, and business attire, and so forth. And I had the vaguest sense that I wanted to go back to writing, but didn’t have enough imagination to figure out how to do it from that position, and didn’t have the guts to let myself work some McJob and just sweat the writing out.

So back to grad school instead. During the doctoral program, I worked for several very significant multimedia companies, but it was clear that my “real” work, the work I was studying to do, was scholarly in nature. And I have no regrets about that choice — I’ve loved the work I’ve done for the last 12 years, and I’m thrilled with the position that I’ve managed to make for myself, particularly the part of it where I now have tenure and can roughly do pretty much what I want. But twelve years is a long time to let the creative impulse lie fallow, or to channel it in only scholarly directions. I need to let it run free a bit. And over the course of the last year, at the worst moments of that critical nervous breakdown, I realized that the things that I was doing that were really making me the happiest, the things where time just vanished as I got completely sucked into the work, were all web production oriented.

It’s taken a while to sort out how to begin such a transformation, but I’ve managed to sketch out the beginnings of a path, at least. I’ve written a couple of grants, one for some equipment (the computer alluded to in a previous post) and one for some retraining. And I’ve actually gotten both of them. The equipment money is easy to spend, but the retraining money is a little harder, and here’s where I need some input.

I’m going to be spending some time this summer working with the Labyrinth Project folks, studying their production process and so forth. And I want, by the end of the summer, to have sketched out a multimedia project that I’ll take up during my spring sabbatical. But I also need some technical retraining, to get (in some cases back, and in others, for the first time) up to speed with the key production packages and technologies in use today.

My questions:

— What are the indispensable packages that I should learn? I’m assuming Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash, but what else?

— Is Director dead? Or would it still be useful to learn?

— As to programming languages: the only language I’ve ever formally studied was COBOL, way back in college. (Yes, I’m old. Shut up.) I’ve basically taught myself HTML and CSS (though the latter only imperfectly). From a cursory look around, it seems like it would be useful for me to get familiar with PHP and MySQL. What else should I pick up?

— What are the best (and I suppose by “best” I mean quickest) ways of learning these things? I’ve got funding, so I can do this through short courses, if that’s best, or whatever. But what have you found to be best?

I’m excited by these prospects, to say the least, and looking forward to looking forward. Of course, the first thing I’ve got to do is finish grading, so back to it.

5 thoughts on “Further Updates, and Into the Summer

  1. I would consider learning a video editing program also–like Final Cut or something simpler like iMovie. I think the easiest thing to do is learn some of the stuff online, for the basic functionality and then start actually working on something at which point, you might need an actual class (a 1-3 day thing). Julie-of No Fancy Name fame might have some good suggestions for where to take these classes as I believe she teaches some herself.

  2. Oh, yes, of course! I meant to add Final Cut to the list. (I’ve poked around enough in iMovie that I feel like I know what I’m doing there, sorta.) Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. oh my… considering i’ve wasted my undergaduate degree from pomona on this stuff thus far, where can i begin?

    (by the way, the turing word i had to type in is ‘against’ — how apporpriate)

    photoshop just lets you manipulate images

    illustrator lets you, for the most part, draw stuff

    the extent to which you’d need to ‘learn’ either app is ‘how much of this can i arguably train a monkey to do?’ — unless you want to be incredibly artistic and learn painting or design first, these are very task-oriented applications

    i hate flash, i despise it, but it paid off most of my college loans. most of my friends have written books on it — depending on what you want to do with it, i can suggest a book

    director is not dead, but it should be. a lot of people are dumbing down their director projects and using flash. others are using conventional programming languages. some really cool projects like processing.org have taken up the middleground area between flash and more advanced languages. max msp is more audio oriented, but there are ‘hooks’ into using graphics.

    as to which languages, i say this: php is for dummies. you can do a lot with it, it has everything and the kitchen sink, but it is poorly designed and has no standards — so learning programming through it can be an issue.

    for text processing and manipulating perl (perl.org) is the way to go. perl also separates different types of data structures with markers ( $string_of_characters _or_number , @ordered_array , %indexed_hash_or_dictionary )

    i find programming in python (python.org) to be the fastest to write and easiest to look at. it’s also one of the fastest interpreted languages.

    i’m not even going to bother getting into compiled languages.

    my suggestion would be this: pick up a ‘php for morons’ book. read it, don’t think about it, get familiar with the concepts. then spend some time with perl — you can slice and dice text with it (it can do anything, really, but is so good for text) and really get to explore or quantify whatever texts you want with it.

    then, i’d look at python, which is clean and simple, and very good for integrating multimedia work.

    of course, there’s also learning that imovie/final cut, which is indispensible

    things to look at:

    mit’s media lab

    nyu’s itp program

    people to look for:

    ade ward

    casey reas (ex mit)

    golan levin (ex mit)

    i could probably make an exhaustive list of people places and projects if you’d like.

  4. Somehow I guessed you’d have opinions about this, Jonathan. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestions — they’re quite helpful.

  5. oops.. i should have mentioned–

    ucla is trying like crazy to beef up their media program

    they’ve been in this battle with a program in barcelona, whose name keeps escaping me, to entice people to join their staff

    the ucla program though is here: http://dma.ucla.edu/

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