Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thus Spoke… James & Heidi

Based on our class discussions, it’s safe to say that the play Dionysus in Stony Mountain by Steven Ratzlaff wasn’t for everyone. But what is?

Some thought it was too serious while others said it was too long and threw too much information at them (especially during the first act).

I definitely agree that it’s not the kind of play where you can sit back and let it wash over you-- not if you want to get something out of the experience. In fact, I’ve never before attended a play that required more (internal) audience participation. When I walked out of the Rachel Brown Theatre I was exhausted—it felt as though my brain had been doing pushups for two hours. And it was a great feeling.

Most people I spoke to preferred the second act of the two-act play, but it was the first that won me over.

Act two may have been more of a tearjerker, but the idea of fearing mediocrity that James and Heidi Prober (played by Sarah Constible) touched on in the first act is what left me in an emotional puddle. There was something so  heartbreaking about that… something so vulnerable… because I agree that the so-called madness James was experiencing was more akin to clarity. I saw his “madness” as being more in touch with reality, and, given his situation, it brought on the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability and sadness.

Bill Kerr, the director of the play, states the following in the program:

Dionysus is exactly the kind of play that excited me about the potential of theatre to engage audiences at a highly complex level.”

I couldn’t agree more. But the operative word here is potential—you can’t force people to pay attention or think critically (in a theatre setting or anywhere else, for that matter). That being said, I liked the fact that although the play wasn’t for everyone, like it or not, we were all “held captive” and made to listen to the ideas of Nietzsche and Ratzlaff for two hours. Was I able to absorb everything or catch all of the references? Of course not. But the scope of the content was exciting.

The director goes on to say:

“It grapples with society and its institutions by both applying and interrogating the thoughts of Nietzsche with remarkable clarity while, at the same time, engaging us on the directly political level of the here and now, asking most urgently why our society, particularly as played out in the prison, functions as it does whatever our intents.”

Throughout the first act I was scribbling down notes as fast as I could, but not surprisingly, I couldn’t move my pen fast enough to keep up with what James Hiebert (played by Ross McMillan) was saying.

The moment I finished writing something down, another noteworthy idea would spring from his mouth. Here are bits and pieces of the things James said that grabbed my attention:

- Residential schools -- opposite of assimilation

- Morality of slaves --- slave morality enforced by the state

- Self-evident and natural values—what is the source of their morality?

- Artificial life support-- makes people needier

- Purity of intention (until the money runs out) and cancer of compassion

- Would you punish those not responsible for their behaviour? (“on the road with broken wheels”)

My mind is still churning over what James had to say, which is why, contrary to what some of my classmates had to say, I don’t think the play needed more action—if you managed to keep up with James (which was difficult to say the least), all of the action took place in your head. Mental sword fight anyone? En guarde.

I’ll admit I had an advantage going into Dionysus in Stony Mountain because I’ve taken a couple of philosophy classes. 

I learned about Peter Singer, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Carl Sagan, David Hume, Plato and Aristotle. It was certainly not uncommon to hear names such as Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky and, yes, even Friedrich Nietzsche, pop up in conversation.

So maybe that’s part of the reason why this quote from Ratzlaff that appears on Theatre Projects Manitoba’s website caught my eye:

“Nietzsche is a philosopher who grabs you by the throat and compels you to look at things from unaccustomed angles and in strange light.”

Sounds an awful lot like something journalists—and communicators in general—can learn from, doesn’t it?

Friday, April 6, 2012

To Do: Relax

The first day of our four-day vacation is almost over, which makes me realize that not only are the last two weeks of class going to fly by, but summer vacation is going to speed by in a flash too.

There is so much I want to get done between May and August—you know, the stuff that people normally have time for (if they’re not in CreComm).

I made a list of the things I wanted to do during Christmas vacation and that didn’t go so well. So what’s the trick? Another list? Or maybe the key is to just relax… The only problem: lists relax me. I’m a compulsive list-maker, and proud of it.

So, with that being said… here is the beginning of my summer to-do list:

1. Try some new restaurants… I still haven’t been to Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant, and based on what I’ve heard it sounds like a good place to start…
2. Go to the movie theater at LEAST once… any chance they could speed up production of Anchorman 2? No? That’s okay because I’ve neglected Cinematheque for far too long.
3. Get in some days at the lake
4. Try out the new café at Assiniboine Park
5. Go to the Jazz Festival
6.  Hit up Corydon
7. Fringe!
8. Spend some time in between the stacks at McNally Robinson
9.  I’ve never been to Assiniboine Forest in the summer…
10. Gelato.

Now if the weather’s like it was last summer, I’ll be set…

Thursday, March 29, 2012

True crime

It goes without saying that reading about the events in Mike McIntyre’s Journey for Justice: How “Project Angel” Cracked the Candace Derksen Case was difficult at times (especially from a parent’s point of view), but I’m glad that I read it. The case played an important role in Winnipeg’s history and had an impact that can still be felt today.

I was initially surprised and skeptical about the overwhelming sense of forgiveness and resilience of the Derksen family that was depicted in the book. However, after hearing Wilma Derksen speak at the seminar, all doubt was removed. She is a remarkable woman.

I enjoyed hearing McIntyre and Derksen talk about the book and the case. It was interesting to hear how the project was developed and put together (the story behind the story).

McIntyre offered insight into the challenges of writing a factual, journalistic story that grabs readers’ attention and makes them want to read more to find out what happens nextespecially given the fact that many people are already familiar with the case. 

One of the most interesting topics of discussion was whether or not reporting on crime contributes to the sense of doom and gloom in the world. McIntyre said one of the reasons he believes there is value in writing about and reporting on crime stories is because he sees them as human interest stories.

Of course I think people need to know what’s happening around them, but I’m still torn about where to draw the line when it comes to the sensationalism that is often a part of crime reporting.

Derksen touched on the topic as well when she talked about the tendency to blame the victim. The example she gave was a headline that read: “Child snatched, door ajar.” Her comments reminded me about the importance to be critical of what I’m reading and to pay attention to how the story is presented.

The only true crime work I had read before reading this book included some podcasts and lengthy magazine articles. Reading this book was a different experience. It’s difficult to explain, but I was never completely immersed in the book because I was not used to the “reenactment” of events (being there in the moment) compared to other true crime articles that read less like a novel.

An example is the conversations between Derksen and her husband when they were alone in their home. It’s not that I doubt those conversations happened or that all of the information in the book is factual and accurate, I simply found it difficult to get used to the style in which the book is written. In the back of my mind I kept wondering how the exact words someone spoke in a private moment could be remembered in such detail.

However, what does work in this book (and is different from other non-fiction work that I have read) is the inclusion of excerpts from Derksen’s writing. I preferred reading about her feelings and reactions when I knew that she had written about them herself. Again, this just comes down to my own style preference.

In addition to the excerpts from Derksen, I was interested in reading about the medical reports about Mark Edward Grant and about the court case. I think including this information made the book stronger because it added to the complexity of the case, pointing out that it’s not as simple as a case of a “bad guy doing bad things.”

I also thought the information about jury selection was very interesting, in particular the inspiring discussion about jury duty being a civic duty (comments made by Justice Glenn Joyal, I believe).

I was fascinated by Grant’s defence lawyer Saul Simmonds. I thought including his arguments was an interesting way to provide more information about Grant in a book that mostly focuses on the Derksens.

At the seminar, McIntyre shared a story about how even though there was no guarantee he was going to get an interview, he hopped in his car and drove to Saskatchewan on the slim chance a family he wanted to talk to would agree to speak with him.

What stuck with me about his story wasn’t that he spent over four hours in his car, but what McIntyre did when he arrived in the town. Rather than drive straight to the family’s house to knock on the door, he stopped at a local coffee shop to call the family and let them make the choice to come to him if they wanted to talk.

As we’ve learned in PR, nearly everything boils down to respect. The same can be said with all professions, including journalism. We’ve heard from a few journalists who made a name for themselves by trusting their gut and not crossing that ever-changing line of how far is too far. I can only imagine how hard it is to balance what you need for the job (and what sells) with treating others the way you would want to be treated and knowing when to back down (or step up).

I think one of the things that can be taken away from this book is that once the spotlight fades and the headlines about a case are no longer in the newspaper, there are still people who have to live with the aftermath of the stories that to many of us will never be more than: “I heard about that. Isn’t it awful?”

I’m always interested in seeing reports that revisit cases/families/events after they’re no longer in the headlines. It can be easy to distance yourself from what you’re reading in the news and forget about the people who have to pick up the pieces. An example of this revisiting is the book Black Fire that Lindsey Enns wrote (for her IPP) about the fire that killed two Winnipeg fire captains five years ago.

Sure, it’s important to stay on top of what’s making headlines (what’s more immediate than a newsfeed on Twitter?), but take the time to think about the stories behind the stories, too.

 * Beverly Rowbotham’s kids don’t have a mother.

 * Although Graham James is in jail, his victims still have to get up each morning and live their lives forever impacted by his crimes—whether it’s front page news or not.

 * I can’t even bring myself to think about what Victoria Stafford’s family is going through.

* And, as we all know, life goes on for the Derksenswithout their first-born.

So what am I trying to say? I guess that gory details and court trials aren’t the end-all or be-all of crime writing. As I mentioned, the voice of Wilma Derksen was a constant reminder in McIntyre’s book of the lasting effects of this case and how they impacted her family.

As a result, the book was able to go beyond court transcripts, police records, newspaper stories and other media coverage to explore “behind the scenes”—things that many people might not think about. Taking the time to think about these things will make us more informed and more engagednot to mention better writers and readers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What kind of tired are you?

Done and done. The magazine is handed in and the proposals have been submitted. CreComm has lived up to the March Madness that we were warned about at the start of second term. These past two weeks have been the most grueling since starting the program but one thing that’s made getting through a little easier is the variety of projects. From a 20+ page PR proposal to a travel advertisement, it’s nice to be able to focus on different things rather than grinding away at the same thing day after day.
That’s not to say I’m not glad it’s the weekend. I’m mentally and physically exhausted (to the point where coffee has lost all of it magical healing powers). It’s a please-just-let-me-collapse-on-the-couch-and-order-a-large-pizza-and-not-move-for-the-next-three-days kind of tired.
It sounds strange, but it’s also a good kind of tired. I’ve accomplished so much in so little time and the best part is that I have some pretty great projects to show for it.
The term’s not done yet, but I hope that we’ve at least navigated our way through the trickiest part. Fingers crossed it’s smooth sailing from here....

Friday, March 9, 2012

IPP perspective

I spent the last three days watching over 60 presentations of amazing Independent Personal Projects.

A year's worth of blood, sweat and tears went into the projects that included videos, books, EPs, flash mobs…. (the list goes on). It was great to see the final products, but what I enjoyed most was hearing about the evolution of the projects.

Remembering to roll with the punches and navigating unexpected roadblocks (like a collapsed lung) is going to come in handy when it’s our turn to complete our IPPs. The presentations succeeded in instilling an equal part of fear and inspiration in me (I’m hoping the fear will fuel the inspiration).

During this “March Madness” it was nice to have some perspective on how far we’ll come in such a short period of time because in exactly one year it’ll be us at the podium... and I can’t wait.

I’ve finally settled on an IPP that will require me to beef up my video skills (and by “beef up my skills” I mean develop any at all). But you know what? I’m excited. Many of the students who chose a video IPP last year admitted they had no idea what they were doing when they started, and their projects turned out just fine. More than fine. Incredible. So fingers crossed the same happens for me.

Congratulations to all of the second-year CreComm students on a job well done!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tick Tock

Where has the time gone?

It’s hard to believe we’re in the final stretch of first-year Creative Communications because it feels as though we just started… until I look at how far we’ve come.

A couple things happened this week that made me realize just how quickly this year has flown by.

First off, the applications for a new crop of Creative Communications were due this week… we’re CreComm rookies no more.

And second, one teacher told us to take a look at the most recent assignment we finished and compare it with the first one we handed in at the beginning of the year.

That was easy because frankly there was no comparison.

Before I was accepted to this whirlwind of a program I read the blogs of some of the then first-year students  (who are now, of course, in their second year). In one way or another, a word kept coming up: confidence.

Some wrote about confidence in terms of how much their writing had improved. Others said they never thought they would have had the confidence to go after their dream jobs but all that had changed for them…

I think I understand where these students were coming from. Yes, it’s true your whole life becomes CreComm for two years but based on everything I’ve learned in such a relatively short period of time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Business of Mickey

I’ve had a little time to unwind over reading week and was lucky enough to spend a day at Disney World.

I’ve been to the world famous amusement park before, but this past week was the first time I’ve visited the Magic Kingdom since starting Creative Communications. This time around my eye was drawn to the branding of the world famous park.

First off, I can’t wrap my mind around the sheer scale of the Disney company. From the products (Mickey ice cream, bottle toppers, towels, clothes, hats, umbrellas, playing cards…) to the advertisements and slogans (“Let the memories begin”, “Where dreams come true”, “The happiest place on earth”)… It’s mind-boggling. And very well organized.

As fun as the attractions are, I couldn’t stop thinking about what goes on behind the scenes. Disney World is like a series of cities, each with its own hotels and even a monorail…

I was more preoccupied with trying to figure out how the business of Disney operates than riding Splash Mountain.

Does anybody know of any behind-the-scenes documentaries about this behemoth of a company?....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Measurable reactions

I thought I was impressed by yesterday’s seminar presentation by Philippe Leclerc, the Interactive Communications Manager for the City of Regina…. and then I checked out his website. Now that’s impressive.

I learned a lot about what he had to say about using social media effectively and in particular, what social media can offer in terms of measurability and getting immediate feedback. It was the first time it really clicked for me that social media can be a tool for gathering information, rather than just pumping out information (as targeted and focused as that information may be).

The “citizen engagement” aspect of social media also really intrigued me. I sat beside a classmate yesterday who had called up a city department because she was trying to find out some pretty basic information. From what I gathered, she was transferred to at least three different people and had to make at least four separate calls. By the end she had landed right back where she had started and was talking to the same confused person she had called in the first place.
Now, I’m not saying the people on the other end of the line weren’t polite and helpful, but the whole rigmarole seemed…archaic. And exhausting. And I wasn’t even the one making the calls.
An hour later I was listening to Leclerc as he explained that questions or concerns posted on the City of Regina Facebook page are generally answered quickly and efficiently right online. And not surprisingly, people are appreciative (as noted by the measurable happy face results in Leclerc’s charts)….
After the seminar I texted one of my best friends who lives in Regina.
Me: We just had a City of Regina guy talk to us about social media. Apparently you guys are quite the social media users.
Him: We’re movin at the speed of light over here.
Agreed. And it's about time we caught up.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Uptight writer

This week three things that Creative Communications students were told to work on included:
1.     writing skills
2.     writing skills
3.     and writing skills

I think writing falls under the category of if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Blogging is a good way to exercise the writing muscle. One of the reasons I like it is because it’s conversational. I think a good blog post makes you feel as if the writer is talking to you.

When it comes to journalism, I have a tendency to write in a style that’s understandably more stiff and formal. But I was pleasantly surprised this week when our journalism instructor said, “Make people laugh. That’s good writing.”

Of course there are some things that just don’t fly when you’re writing about something serious. You need to adapt to the format and audience you’re writing for… after all, writing a research proposal is different than writing a restaurant review.

In terms of my IPP (see previous post), I’m going back and forth between doing something for radio or writing for print. I think I originally dismissed the idea of writing a book or a series of articles because I wasn’t thinking outside of the box--I was only coming up with “serious” topics to be written in a “serious” style. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but now my sights are set on something a little…. funnier. I have to remember to breathe when I write, or rather to let my writing breathe. Does that make sense? Probably not.
I think I’m going to put some other advice into practice too: write what you know.
More on the evolution of my IPP to follow….

Friday, February 3, 2012

Radio girl

A 28-hour day would sure come in handy these days… especially with talk of IPP (Independent Professional Projects).

What type of project would you want to spend a year of your life doing? The advice I’ve heard from former CreCommers is to choose something you’re passionate about. Something you want to spend your time doing… otherwise it’s going to be a long, long year.

I thought about writing a novella… but had no idea about what to write about (hardly a mark of passion...or maybe a sign that I have more thinking to do...).

I can’t draw or take pictures to save my life, so that’s out.

Then it came to me--I’m a radio show/documentary junkie and listen to CBC and NPR as much as possible. For a long time, my dream job was to work for “This American Life.”
Photo by: http://goo.gl/Qa1J7
 So maybe that’s the direction to go in… a “personalized” radio doc… hmmm…. That’s something I could get excited about. "Stay tuned” for more as I figure it all out…

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pants on fire

I was checking out PolitiFact’s Twitter feed last night as I watched the GOP debate….

What is PolitiFact, you ask?
Source: http://goo.gl/q6zD0
“PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners to help you find the truth in politics.”
Basically, they go out and examine statements made by US politicians and “anyone else who speaks up in American politics” to see whether or not the statements are true.
The best part of it all is how PolitiFact rates the accuracy of what politicians say—they use a highly scientific tool called the Truth-O-Meter.

The Truth-O-Meter uses a scale consisting of:

Mostly True
Half True
Mostly False
Pants on Fire (my favourite)
Source: http://goo.gl/S2ZjV
I thought a blog post about Truth-O-Meter was timely given the focus we’ve had this week on critical thinking and media law. Does this sound familiar, CreComms?:

Truth-O-Meter is based on the concept that – especially in politics - truth is not black and white.

PolitiFact writers and editors spend considerable time researching and deliberating on our rulings. We always try to get the original statement in its full context rather than an edited form that appeared in news stories. We then divide the statement into individual claims that we check separately.
When possible, we go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts.”

It’s a website worth checking out, and one that I would spend more time looking at if I had those extra four hours in my day…

Friday, January 20, 2012

What's your mission?

This week I was asked to write a mission statement in my public relations class. Seems like a fairly straightforward assignment --- but it wasn’t a mission statement for a business, organization or group… it was a mission statement about me.
I didn’t know where to start. Should it be light-hearted? Should it be serious? Should it be about my professional life? My personal life?
I had all of ten minutes to write it, so what I handed in wasn’t exactly a masterpiece.
But it did get me thinking.
In general, a mission statement should be short and easy to understand. It should also identify the purpose, business and values of whatever you’re writing about.
Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
The “problem” I have is that I want to be and do everything. I’ve made leaps and bounds in terms of what I want to do with my life career-wise since starting the Creative Communications program, but I still find it hard to settle on “just one thing.”
I understand that I can do an array of different jobs and roles—which is good news, but that doesn’t make it any easier when sitting in a class with the clock ticking and a mission statement due in a matter of mintues.
All that was going through my mind when I was trying to write it was different lines from movies and books:
Derek Zoolander: Who am I? 

Derek's Reflection: I don't know.
Mr. Mayer: You should have been a lawyer, Miss March. 

Jo March: I should have been a great many things, Mr. Mayer.
Terry: You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.
You can only imagine how difficult it was for me to complete the branding assignment for my advertising class last term (What’s your brand? What do you offer? What do you stand for?).
But I’m happy to say that despite having little time left in the day to ponder about grand philosophical questions about identity (see how I tied in the theme of the blog here?), I am happy to report that I’m figuring it out.
So, what does this have to do with mission statements? A lot. You gotta start somewhere and, it’s cliché, but figuring out who and where you want to be is just as much about figuring out who and where you don’t want to be.