Thursday, 22 December 2011

it's beginning to smell a lot like cookies

I do love an excuse to bake molasses cookies! I made up a batch of dough several days ago and have been baking a few every night. The last of the batch got baked last night (which leads directly to bad jokes about cannibal cookies with the munchies, unless you stay focused) and the last ones are sitting on the kitchen counter, calling my name.

Jocelyn... JOcelyn... screw your work, come eat us!

Introduction: done. Lit review: done. Performance analysis chapter: done. Design workbook: KILLING ME. Not the designs - I'm not giving myself an iota of time to work on any actual new or improved designs. I'm just trying to make the silly thing look halfway decent. And man, oh man, is that not my strong suit. I just need to tough it out today and tomorrow, finish it off, and then I can kick back for a few days.

Or I could eat cookies.

Or I could eat cookies and then run out, and bake more.

Or I could tough it out.

OK, maybe tough it out while eating cookies...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

inverse law

The chunk of work I am currently engaged in (read: slogging through uphill through the snow both ways) is my confirmation document. I Freudian-slippily just wrote 'conformation', which is true, in a way. For a year, I've been writing notes to myself, read only by my supervisors and mostly without commentary. Now I've got to put together a document that's intended to be read by someone without access to the inside of my brain. More importantly, it's going to be read by someone who is part of a large institution situated within a centuries-old, global(ish) network of mutual policing and boundary work.

This thing I'm writing needs to accomplish a set number of tasks in a pretty narrow field: it needs to convince a lecturer or professor, with his or her own set of pressures and expectations, that I can eventually complete a PhD in a discipline that this person is not familiar with. And completing the PhD will mean having convinced two different lecturers or professors, one of whom *is* in this discipline, that I won't make them look like jerks if they agree to give me the degree. It's a wild game of whether or not it's in each person's interest, or the interest of their institution, or of their discipline, or of academia as a whole, to put their money on me not being a jerk.

And how do I prove I'm not a jerk, or going to turn into one? By writing sensible, moderately innovative, competent prose about a sensible, moderately innovative, and sufficiently doctoral-level idea.

Well, the bits that I thought were going to write themselves have proven to be absolutely beastly, taking me almost twice the time I'd budgeted. And the bits I'd thought would be the death of me are skipping merrily along in about half the time. This means I'm wildly misjudging *something* - hopefully just my time, and not the quality of what I'm coming up with.

Meanwhile, I've come up with some ideas that seem like they might actually be the first steps towards the kind of framework I've been groping for. And Connie and I came up with something that *could* turn into a crazy fabulous little paper. All we need to do is invent a thirteenth month and we'll churn it right out.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

ho ho ho

The video's finished, at least as far as I'm concerned. There are requests for a couple of small tweaks, which won't be the death of me.

Ploughing ahead on the lit review. The two hardest bits went like a dream, and the bit that should have been easiest is being an absolute beast. It's a lovely, chilly December Sunday, and I'm going to be devoting my afternoon and evening to the attempt to kill the damn thing off. God forbid I have two days off in a row without being deathly ill.

Hopefully I've got a new silver bullet, though. My funding body and I went into London yesterday, an afternoon at Camden Market and an evening of spoken word, Old Me by Polarbear at the Roundhouse. As to the latter, WOW. Wow wow wow. I think I found my knocked-off socks somewhere around Aldwych.

As to the former, we got some frankincense and myrhh and a wee burner, and now the flat has the most gorgeous undertone of scent. Other than mold, that is. Mold, limescale, mildew - those we have in spades, here. Something healing and warming, that's new! If you believe the salesman, I'm about to achieve a new level of consciousness as I slice effortlessly through my tasks.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

oh yeah, I have a degree in that, don't I?

That cold just about knocked the stuffing out of me. I've still got a cough and am dragging around like a zombie more than two weeks after the sore throat took hold. I hope no one else out there gets this thing!

On Monday I finished (pending final approvals) a movie, an actual wee movie! In the years since I got my undergraduate degree in radio/TV/film, I've worked on a feature film, a documentary, and a number of television programs, but always in a supporting role. This marks the first time I've done a video of my own (with help from the lovely Kristen, Connie and Nigel) from soup to nuts since I was in college.

And that, my friends, was a long time ago!!!

It's also the first time I've ever used non-linear editing. I have to keep explaining what non-linear editing *is* to people who ask, because it's been decades since there's been any other way of doing things. I feel like granpa moaning about how he had to walk through the snow uphill both ways to school!

But still - learning non-linear editing on the job, almost twenty years after graduating with a film degree? I am a poster child for random semi-competencies and non-linear career paths!

The video is for submission to a conference, so I won't post a link now, but perhaps in a couple of months when I learn its fate.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


That describes my every waking (and sleeping) moment since my last post. I woke up the morning after my supervision with a sore throat and now, eight days later, nose chafed and chest gummy, I'm going to attempt to stagger back to the university.

I have, however, managed to write the first section of my lit review. Actually, it's the middle section, the part on performance studies, which I'll be presenting (at radically reduced volume from usual) tomorrow at the Dance/Film/Theatre Research Week. Though of course now there's no department of Dance/Film/Theatre as such, there's just a School of Arts, with a bunch of musicians, a bunch of sound recording people, a bunch of actors, a bunch of dancers, and me. Picture me flopping around like a fish in the bottom of a canoe. Flop, flop.

Handily, the image applies both to my sense of being unlike the others in my group and to my ability to blend in with a bunch of highly trained, super-lithe dancers.

Monday, 31 October 2011


Man, there's nothing like a good supervision. Makes you want to conquer the world! At least until you start sorting through your action points and deadlines and you realise that there isn't enough caffeine in the world to make it happen the way you want it to.

So. Performance. Experience design. Smoosh them together and you get, what? Experience designs for performers? Check. Performances for experience? Roger that. Focus it all on storytelling and voila! Store-form-ience design.

Yep. That'll fly.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

October BLEH

I never can keep track of Octobers. They're like old socks, slipping down behind the dryer and refusing to match up properly.

I spent Friday and Saturday nights frantically taking notes and pretending to be an actual Londoner. My funding body and I went to see all seven performances of Show Time at Riverside Studios. All of the performances were interesting and enjoyable for one reason or another, but three jumped out at me as particularly useful for what I'm looking at.

One of those was practically a case study for my ideas about performing personal stories with digital media and how compelling the simplest presentation of an anecdote can be. And funny! Legs 11, a work in progress by Tom Marshman.

Now I think I should have studied humour, because I'd have more reason to dwell on the funny bits. Spoiling It For Everybody Else by Rachel Mars was engaging all around, but I laughed until tears poured down my face at the KPMG song.

Neither incisive nor comprehensive, my review stops there. Friday night we spent at a swanky hotel in Chiswick, and Saturday night we had the most painless journey home from London I think we've ever managed. Perhaps that's good karma for my introduction (the one to my thesis), the umpteenth full draft of which is currently thumbing its nose at me and daring me to string three sentences together in a way that makes any sense at all. That's where I'll be when I'm not teaching my brand spanky new Digital Storytelling for Research course, piloting this Tuesday.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

blogging like a twitterer

I have precious few brain cells rattling around up there at the moment, but it's been a scandalously long time since I've posted, so here goes nothing.

I've just come back from five days up in Newcastle, visiting folks at Culture Lab, attending the Culture Shock! conference, meeting a new PhD student at Northumbria University, and chilling with the cousin of a guy my ex-husband used to play music with in New Orleans. Yeah, that's not the way I had expected that sentence to end, either.

The Culture Lab folks knocked my freakin' socks off. I can't even process the ways in which my socks are tumbling across my living room floor, in a sort of anti-gravity mode, continuing their knocked-off-ed-ness from hundreds of miles away.

(Someone explain to me why it is that I buy a ticket online for the 11:58 to King's Cross, yet when they decide to cancel that train - weeks ago - nobody thinks to shoot me an email saying my reserved seat is as valid as a tutu on a hippo, and I could have had an extra half hour's lie-in?)

OK, time to test the theory that the purpose of sleep is to make sense of our waking experiences. If it's true, I'll bound out of bed tomorrow morning with a brilliant new take on my thesis. Either that or that hippo ballerina will be back.

Monday, 19 September 2011

beer for thoughts

Naming our informal reading group back when it started a few months ago wasn't easy. We knew it needed to include the word 'beer', and we knew it needed to convey something of the intellectual nature of our pursuit. We got as far as 'beer' and 'thoughts' and called it a day. Thankfully, we show a little more tenacity when it comes to selecting and discussing readings.

Today it was Susan Leigh Foster's Corporealities. I took Sally Ann Ness's chapter on ethnography, embodiment and memory; Jinny took Geidi Gilpin's chapter on disappearance; Melina and Eva took Mark Franko's chapter on male critics of female dancers; and Connie (the non-performance person) took chapter one, Susan Leigh Foster herself, on how a ballerina sticking her leg up in the air becomes a phallus. There were a few thoughts batted around, though not so much as a drop of beer. Clearly, we need to stop meeting in the morning.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

I haven't been on holiday this whole time

Two weeks of cycle camping through the Netherlands, Belgium and a bit of northeast France - this was the holiday my husband and I had this year, and we felt like the whole thing was one big sham for lack of hills! What it lacked in inclines, though, it made up for in wind and rain. Five sunny days. Out of fourteen. In August. Sigh. I guess that's five more than it might have been.

Key takeaways:
1. The Netherlands is PURE BLISS for people trying to get around on two wheels and sleep in a tent. It's like they built the nation's infrastructure just for us!
2. Belgium seems, from geographical and ideological proximity as well as reputation, like it would be more of the same. It is most emphatically NOT. Hideous surfaces, fast roads, cycle paths that lead to dead ends, and barely a campsite to be found. God bless the folks at the boys summer camp (which is marked on the tourist map for what reason, exactly?) who let us stay there when all else failed!
3. France. Even the moules are better (sung to the tune of the Air Supply song that you hadn't heard in decades and will now have running through your head for the rest of the week).

Then a week of work and then a week Student Volunteering at MobileHCI in Stockholm. It is perverse what a brilliant time I had, schlepping boxes and wandering the halls of Münchenbryggeriet. Can I invent a university just for us, so we can all hang out some more? And I propose Nacho in the role of DJ-for-Life.

Then a week trying to catch my breath before giving a talk today on my research to the very, very kind sociology PhD students here at Surrey, who gave me some excellent feedback. Two weeks til Newkie! (Think 'no sleep' and 'Beastie Boys' and hopefully it will drive 'Even the Nights Are Better' from your poor, abused mind.)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

exercise in intermediality

Anyhow, the best current reflection of the state of my mind and the state of my project - precious little difference between the two at this point - comes from my afternoon tweets. Here they are, in reverse chron, of course:

Was right the 1st time! Freaky genius! Somebody get me a patent application (and some psychiatric assistance)
4 hours ago

Yep. Gone. Not such a freaky genius idea after all. But maybe...
5 hours ago

Doing the I Am A Freaky Genius dance. Humour me, it never lasts long
5 hours ago

I would describe the freaky genius idea, but then I'd have to kill you. What I *can* tell you, Meestair Bond, is that it's an application that originated in an attempt to do reverse augmented reality. Thankfully, that's not exactly where it ended up!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

makin' a movie!

As proof that all things come full circle, I'm about to spend the day making a movie! Well, capturing the first of 2 1/2 days' worth of footage that will be turned into a short film, hopefully to be submitted to CHI 2012. No pressure, then...

I'm thrilled A) because this is fun, and B) because I get to stare up close and personal at the workings of a series of focus groups and co-design sessions. Plus it should give my mind time to ponder something else besides the Great Imponderable, which is the unholy conglomeration of post-it notes stuck on the interior doors at my flat in an attempt to map out the introduction and outline to my project. I was hoping that in one giant leap, I would go from post-its to fully formed picture of the way ahead. Instead, I went from post-its to a giant glop of indecipherable scribbling on three pieces of A3. There was much more than I thought I'd have of the sort of middle-granularity stuff, and a lot less than I'd hoped of the big picture, connected-to-theory stuff.

But never mind that for now! Time to finish my tea and try to resurrect my BA in filmmaking!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

good supervision

I had one of those blissful days on Monday where the supervision (a.k.a. meeting with my two supervisors) goes really well, and everything is positive and promising and clear, and I can barely sleep for all the excitement. And the next day I dive in to tackle what now seems so thrilling, so doable. And that night I realise that if I want to live up to all these thrilling and doable ideas I have, I'm going to have to give up sleep for the next two years and still not come in on time. And then it's two days later, but instead of being totally overwhelmed and depressed, I've got my newly revised to-do list to cling to. So somehow, magically, the bliss from Monday hasn't been turned upside down.

I've managed to either do or legitimately remove almost everything from my to-do list, which was bearing down on me most hideously up until a week or two ago. I just have to try to stay on top of my reading list - to which I've added about a dozen articles in my quest for the answer to a single question, which has taken me all day, and remains unanswered.

Why am I still smiling? Why do I enjoy this? Somebody smack me. Maybe a sharp blow to the head will make me want to buy a TV instead of pursuing a PhD that's obscure even to me. Then again, maybe it will just give me a headache while I read.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic

OK, first thoughts on last night's performance:

1. I should know a lot more about Robert Wilson before saying anything. That said...

2. Whenever she needed to speak or sing, Marina displayed surprisingly 'bad' stage presence - which is NOT bad, as she's hardly set out to make a name for herself as a suave theatre-type! What it did was give a little bump, a little underlining, to every time she opened her mouth in the story of her own life, which I think ended up having a brilliant effect.

3. Nobody, but nobody, could possibly get away with speak-singing lines like 'Salt in my wounds', in what amounted to practically a baritone, channeling Edith Piaf - factorial - in a military uniform, with her long hair shaken out down one shoulder, in a thick Serbian accent, on a dark stage. Nobody except Marina Abramovic. And, I bet, nobody but Marina Abramovic after a couple of hours of setup as to the horrors she has lived through. Decontextualised, in front of an ignorant audience, I shudder to think the response it would have received.

4. For a piece predicated on staggeringly slow movements, repetitive sounds and movements that echo the durational nature of her own work, the time flew by. If that's not an achievement, I don't know what is.

5. Often, an element that seemed completely cryptic would be explained in the very next section, so that if it were possible to play the performance backwards, it would be a series of illustrations of whatever Willem Defoe had just said. Like crashing head-first into a piece of furniture.

6. What visuals! Damn! Damn damn!

7. Further entertainment was provided by the three kids I eavesdropped on. They were watching the whole thing on shrooms. Entirely too funny.

8. For long stretches, Marina would be sitting stock still, staring at the audience, and we of course could stare right at her. I wonder how many people actually did for any amount of time, and whether any felt the sensations that have been reported, and that I can imagine feeling myself, when sitting across from her one-on-one? Seems like a playground for theorising on presence, right there. I only thought of it when I noticed I was essentially giving up this opportunity to have that experience with her by being continually distracted, if that's a sensible term to use, by what was happening on stage. But then I realised I felt nothing looking at her other than interest and respect.

9. I have to admit, the best anecdote from the evening is how I stood two feet away from Björk.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

even for an extrovert...

...this has been a tiring week, and it's set to get even more tiring!

Tuesday I spent the bulk of the day at the Live Art Development Agency Study Room, which is a fantastic use of a (dare I say slightly uncomfortably) small space. They've got books, taped performances, interviews, materials, articles, and all sorts of ephemera from live art and performance art of all stripes. I could spend a month just wandering through the coolest of the cool and barely feel like I've scratched the surface. The staff also gave me some good ideas of people and performances to look into, must better than any search engine. It's in an old school building on Arnold Circus, an area that as I understand it has been recently renovated. Successfully, I'd say, because it's cute as a dang button, and just a few blocks from the most exquisite hot salt beef bagels with mustard, fresh and cheap.

Makes getting the train back to Farnborough a less than thrilling prospect...

Anyhow, then Wednesday to Friday I was at EVA London 2011, a conference on Electronic Visualisation and the Arts. The title sounded promising and the paper abstracts sounded intriguing, so thanks to a wee pot of money from Surrey's Dance/Film/Theatre department, I was off. Now, I'm new to the whole academic conference experience, so I'm the first to admit I don't understand the subtleties and complexities of these things. But I have to admit that I came away from three solid days of interesting, intelligent talks by interesting, intelligent people... and I'm still a little unclear as to what EVA is all about. I suppose that's a good thing, as an interdisciplinary-type researcher, to find a very interdisciplinary-type group of researchers to hang out with for a few days. Being at peace with change, at one with the liminal, comfortable in the many skins you're in. Something like that. Yep. Plus there was a girl there from Los Altos, proving just how small the world really is.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Manchester International Festival for The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic. I've heard odd things tweeted about it... and then Thursday I get to turn a whole nother year older. Whoopee for me!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

audience, audience, audience

It's been a very audience-focused week. Monday I spent the entire day in a training session on giving presentations at conferences. The instructor kindly declined my description of myself as a 'weirdo' for  enjoying opportunities to give a presentation, but did agree that it made me a bit of a rarity in her sessions. And what a day! Loads of fantastic advice and really useful feedback for all kinds of situations involving speaking to people you don't know terribly well.

Then Wednesday we had an internal presentation by our resident graphic and brand designer, Kristina Langhein. I half-knew, half-trusted that she did good work, but I had no idea how good. Wow. She's done some really lovely and thoughtful stuff over the years.

Now, I can give presentations. I can talk for England. I can even do a lot of the conceptual work involved in things like brand design. But if you want to see my weakness, ask me to do graphic design. I tried putting together a one-page invitation to my birthday dinner. Copied-and-pasted photo: check. Event information, centred, each piece of information on its own line, in a readable font? Check. I then sat there staring at the page for a good ten minutes, trying to think of anything at all to make it look more like an invitation and less like a picture perched on top of some text. After ten minutes I gave up and sent it out.

My lack of skills don't bode well for any future posters I might have to create. Then again, I do sit next to a brilliant designer. And she likes dark chocolate. Hm...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

hello summer

I'm back on the horse! Not to be confused with having a monkey on my back. More like the horse that threw me from a precarious height onto a rocky, muddy hillside spangled with goat shit and stinging nettles. That's the horse, and it took me a few weeks to clean myself off and find a way to get my foot in that high, high stirrup. But now I've got the rein in my hands, and even if the great beast will insist on going his own sovereign way at his own sovereign speed, at least I get to make something out of the view along the way.

In other words, I had a supervision yesterday in which I didn't make an utter ass of myself.

Now if only I could work a zebra into this post, my equine metaphors would be complete.

It's still windy as hell, I'm in long sleeves and a jacket at 2 pm, and an hour ago it pissed down rain. But for about four minutes out of every five, the sun is shining, and I can feel my fingers. God bless summer in the UK! I think I just might survive my first year (knock wood).

Monday, 20 June 2011

ok fine here I go

I vowed to myself I would blog this whole PhD process, and apparently, step one of that vow was to decide I didn't know enough to start blogging yet. Well, I still don't know a damn thing and realize every damn day that I know even less than I did the day before, but it's been nine months. Nine months! If it was a baby, it would be hatched by now. I'd be up all night worrying about it and running around all day chasing after it... not unlike my life right now. At least I'll be finished with it in three years instead of 18.

So - my project. I'm using performance, along the lines of performance art/live art, to inform new methods of interaction with digital media to support live, co-located, conversational performance of travel narratives. This plan hasn't changed much since I started, but it feels like I've been to the moon and back in terms of my focus, and how I thought it would develop, and what angles I thought I might take on it. Right now I need to clone myself at least twice, with one clone doing nothing but read, day and night. That clone needs to snort No-Doz to choke down one more article before sunrise. Know what? I dig reading. I dig reading theory. I dig reading crazy theory and imagining what I can do with it.

I am a geek.

Let's see how long before I post again!