Ask Me for the Moon

I immediately gravitated towards “Ask Me for the Moon,” by John David Zuern. Anything regarding the night sky enchants me and reminds me of this quote by Zara Ventris, “I am a child of the Moon being raised by the Sun in a world walked by stars and a sky drawn with flowers.”

As I begin my journey, there appeared a black screen again, now is this a pattern I am noticing about Electronic Literature, or do authors prefer a black background? To think about it, if I created my own E-LIT piece, I would undeniably use a black background. Black just gives the work a mysterious feeling, not knowing whether the piece will be dark, complex, simple, or rich.

White letters appear on the pitch-black screen, fading in and out, making it hard to read, because they disappear so quickly. Still, each word I read is beautiful, to say the least, “Waikiki by night, out to see the moon, this is what you see…” and then what you see is described “Of hope and work, castles in the sand, palaces of purchased love, troves of stolen sleep.” I love that, the short snippet that I did catch of the poem reminded me of my trip to Jamaica last summer, the beautiful beaches and resorts, where we go to enjoy, but it is not a vacation for the people who live and work there. I remember talking to one of the tour guides, and he said we don’t want out children going to school; we want them to find a job so one day they can work up to a job at a resort and or be a tour guide.

As the poem comes to an end, Waikiki’s skyline appears on the black screen. It isn’t colorful like one would have imagined, but black and grey, metaphorically portraying the loss of sleep and the hard-work the people endure. At the bottom of the skyling, a college of photos appear, three of which spell Waikiki, one has an image of a palm tree, and the last one shows a photograph of waves with a person standing before the waves. As you browse through each image, you can hear something along the lines of a person breathing heavily, or is it the sound of waves? I believe it was the sound of breath because the word breath was used plenty in the poems.

As you click each image, it takes you to a place with more photos. This is when the reader becomes independent, we get to choose our own path and navigate through the pictures and turquoise words. As I click, I see more white words appear, smaller poems that turn into larger pieces of text pieces. Zuern captures his essential ideas of his work in these more extensive texts; in one, I learned about the Hawaii culture and how the state maintains rights over the Hawaiian people and their culture. I also learned how the beaches we Americans so wholesomely enjoy are restricted to the Hawaiian locals. We discover the dark truth about workers’ lives behind Waikiki’s resorts through the poems and texts. We are constantly reminded about the hard work the locals do at night to maintain the resorts us tourists enjoy.

I love this piece; I was a little annoyed though, because I couldn’t go back to the poems; they moved so quickly, very swiftly, the words morphed into one another, one line I caught that I love, went something like this, “Will you shelter me the way I shelter you, Does the world belong to us as the moon does?”

Fly Me To The Moon?

I first remember viewing Ask Me for the Moon on my personal search for an elit text to present to the class. However, my first interaction with this text was just a skim. I didn’t get to dive deep into it like I did this week.

Ask Me for the Moon starts off like the beginning of a movie. The black screen and fading captions seemed so familiar. I’ve watched so many movies that began with various captions. Some of these captions would state things like “based on true events”, “the scenes depicted in this film are purely fiction and for entertainment purposes only”, or sometimes just a quote that related to the theme of the film. Ask Me for the Moon does the latter. The captions provided relate to the theme of the elit text.

As I began navigating the text, I tried to analyze each group of fading words. However, the text moved too fast for my liking. I kept wishing I could pause the introduction of the text in order to carefully analyze the text. I found myself feeling like I was missing out on really important parts of the text. When I finally made it pass the introduction text, I was introduced to sound. The sound I heard as I hovered over a sign marked “Waikīkī” was reminiscent of a wave but also an echoed room with wind blowing through it.

The quickly fading text continued throughout my navigation of the text. However, I soon realized that the themes of the captions related to the excerpts that would come next. My favorite excerpt was about the transition of land in Hawai’i. The text begins with “Our ‘aina, or lands, are not any longer the source of food and shelter but the source of money”. This section made me think about the commercialization of Hawaii. To many Hawaii is just a tourist destination but to native Hawaiians it is a home constantly being destroyed by the tourism industry. Places that were once sacred to natives have been turned into tourist hot spots that they are denied access to.

After reading each excerpt, I was provided with the opportunity to click on one of the blue highlighted words in text. Words such as “beaches”, “land”, and “resort” were highlighted. Once I clicked on one of these words, I was taken to an excerpt that was centered around the word I selected. Overall, I enjoyed this piece. Initially I was a bit annoyed by the quickly fading words. However, by the time I got to the end, I realized that the words are moving just as fast as the waves of beaches do and I need to take in whatever I can while I can.

Mindfulness and Awareness in Window and Ask Me for the Moon

This week’s readings were a reminder to be mindful and aware of issues both big and small. I’ll start with Window by Katherine Norman, which focuses on the small issues. I was slightly disappointed when I tried to view this piece, as I could only access the video of the it and not the website for the work itself. Just as I did last week while reading Bots and Trope, I questioned the best way to preserve electronic literature without stripping it of its meaning. The video shows the basic functions of the piece and demonstrates how to navigate it, but the interactivity of electronic literature is a big part of what makes it unique and significant, so viewing passively via video prevents the reader from discovering the full depth of meaning. 

Despite these limitations, I found a clear message in Window: be mindful and present in each moment, and find beauty in the mundane. As its name suggests, the piece centers on an ordinary view from a window, with ambient background noise as its only audio. The reader can mouse over the white dots that litter the glass or move them across the screen. 

When the dots are manipulated, text appears, describing everyday events and sounds. For example, phrases like “the spoon against the bowl” or “a cat, demanding” appear as lines of poetry, suggesting there’s meaning in the mundane. (As a side note, as soon as “a cat, demanding” popped up on my screen, my own cat jumped onto my desk to beg for attention. She really likes looking out windows, so she was a big fan of this poem.)

Towards the end of the video, some longer lexias appear, describing simple acts like making bread or commonplace images like a “nameless tree.” These detailed descriptions in conjunction with the sounds emanating from the window force the reader to take note of everyday pleasures and to recognize their importance.  Oftentimes, our lives are so busy and hectic that we forget about the little things that make living worthwhile, so Window is a good reminder to take time out of the day to be present and enjoy the moment.

Ask My for the Moon by John David Zuern is a lesson in a different kind of mindfulness; this poem raises readers’ awareness of the plight of the indigenous workers in Waikiki, Hawaii. The poem immediately orients readers in space with an image of the neighborhood’s simple white skyline over a pitch black background. The dark color, so different from how most people would imagine beautiful and sunny Hawaii, sets the poem’s mood. White words flash across the screen—if you look away, you might miss the message. This construction is reflective of one of the major themes of the poem; it’s easy for tourists to remain ignorant of the laborers’ plight if they’re not actively seeking to confront it.  

When the words disappear from the screen, a row of green images appears. Readers can click on these pictures to find new lexias of flashing white words interspersed with the occasional academic or philosophical passage. Lines such as “the sign of your arrival is your ebbing hope” create a melancholy tone and suggest Waikiki has a dark underbelly.  Excerpts from Karl Marx suggest that the capitalist tourism industry is taking advantage of the hospitality workers who make Waikiki such a popular destination, while other passages explore the negative effects of colonization on native Hawaiians.  

Throughout the poem, there’s a strong anti-colonial sentiment. Lines like “fragment of a world burgled / its greetings looted” suggest that Americans have stolen Hawaii’s land and beaches and appropriated its people’s customs and traditions. In another line, Zuern writes, “guest approaches host.” The word “host” conjures images of a parasitic relationship in which the tourists are sucking the life from the land and its people.   

It’s difficult to find the end of the poem; at one point, I reached a lexia I’d already seen, so I thought I’d read everything. Of course, there was still more poetry to explore, even after I was directed back to the home page. When I clicked “revisit” at the bottom of the webpage, I discovered still more lexias that I hadn’t seen my first time around. Does this structure of endless possibilities and exploration connect to the themes in the poem? Perhaps the endless loops reflect the endless cycle of abuse that oppressed peoples experience. Regardless, this poem heightened my awareness of the major issues facing the people of Waikiki.