La bella figura translates into “the beautiful figure.” For Italians and Sicilians it is all about making a beautiful impression, even if your innermost feelings are in direct contravention to the smile on your face. When I was a little girl, my dad once told me that when I left the home each day, I needed to put all of my problems in a suitcase and to leave that suitcase at home. “No one likes to see a girl cry….no one,” he said. That is how I was raised in an Old World Italian tradition. I stuffed my feelings into my shoes (later my high heels) and presented the best version of myself to the public, proverbial red lipstick and all. I explore la bella figura as well as its falsities and consequences. The project was inspired by my thesis, which is a memoir entitled The Sour Side of La Dolce Vita: My Journey Through Anxiety and Depression.
I will ALWAYS be proud of my heritage, but I think it is time to place it on a white background, face forward towards the light. What you will metaphorically experience is lip gloss reflected in broken shards of glass, which is quite beautiful in its own right…truth usually is if you look at it through an artist’s lens.
Since I last blogged, I have reached a rhythm that is fun. I stopped bashing the computer keys. Patience! Cue “Paciencia y Fe” (Patience and Faith) a song from the hit musical “In the Heights.” I think I have figured out Tumblr, for my purposes. I was able to insert the video I created. It is short and concise. Tumblr doesn’t allow for long videos or audio clips for that matter (I recently learned both lessons the hard way). The Tumblr site is the portal into the whole project, so I am still working on making sure it contains important elements regarding “la bella figura” (making a good impression). I want it to be visually appealing, so I am working on balancing style with content. I’ve also changed stylistic and editorial elements of my WP sites. I will soon step back, take a critical look and revise, as needed.
I really don’t want these classes to end (hence “Please Don’t Stop the Music). I have learned so much from all of you. I graciously thank each and every one of you, including Dr. Zamora (that goes without saying).
Ok, ok. On a normal day, I am an emphatic typer. People who speak to me on FaceTime while I am multi-tasking tell me that I sound like I am angrily bashing at the keyboard. It isn’t true. “That’s just the way I type,” I rejoinder. This is similar to when people tell my father he is shouting, “itsah justah the way I talk.” And that is true too, he is just very expressive. Apple meet tree.
Things went well after Wednesday night’s class. I decided to draw the face of my semi-narrator, Francesca Chillemi (that was not easy, but interesting to do; I decided to use real makeup to color in parts of her face). She’s an Italian model and actress and we share a surname. At present, she lives in New York. She’s the Virgil to my Dante in this project or my Beatrice (depending on how you look at things). I wanted to show that she too crumbles sometimes and can’t keep up her image because of what she is facing: covid-19 in New York City. I decided to have Francesca draw her own face, but it is jagged and unfinished. She’s just exhausted and wants to snuggle with her little girl, but she promises to pull herself up by the bootstraps in the morning. I wrote a poem to demonstrate all of this. I also toyed with the idea of changing to a black screen (like many of our elit pieces); however, that didn’t fit because this project is all about going behind the curtain and exposing the truth behind the Italian construct of making a good impression (la bella figura). There’s nowhere to hide, the white background creates a sort of white flashbulb experience. I like that.
Then things took a turn….After a great Thanksgiving, I went home and decided to tinker with Tumblr. My idea was to create a short introductory piece. I’m a jump in, don’t read the instructions kind of person. I didn’t watch any tutorials. Mistake. I just started bashing away at the keys expecting results. It’s part of the frustration factor that Dr. Zamora talked about. So naturally, I did the logical thing– I kept bashing at the keys [insert sarcasm here]. Then I read a book, The Pianist (not a happy memoir, probably a bad idea to read it before bed). See, I’d already had a difficult week. I’m getting to the point soon (I promise).
Today (Friday), I continued bashing on the keys expecting something different (yes, yes, I am aware that is part of the definition of insanity). I decided to chill out and watch some tutorials to learn the basics re: Tumblr. It’s going better. But at a snail’s pace. Again, bashing the keyboard isn’t going to get me anywhere (mantra).
My plan for the coming week is to complete the Tumblr piece and add in some poetry to my wordpress site. I may also edit, which is intimidating. I see the value of brevity in great art. I learned this in Networked Narratives, which I highly recommend to all students (a course offering in the Spring) We watched shorts by a stunning filmmaker and so much more, Dr. Sava Saheli Singh.
My goal is to accomplish the above and to do it by extending more grace towards myself (always a challenge).
After much deliberation and further free-writing, I have decided to focus my project on the issue of “la bella figura,” which literally translates into the “beautiful figure.” It means that Old World Italians find it very important to make a good impression, no matter how they are feeling emotionally. One is always expected to put his or her best face forward. When I was a child, my father communicated to me that when one steps outside, one has to put his or her problems in a suitcase and store them away until he or she comes back home. This is the tradition in which I was raised. Never break a sweat (or shed a tear) in public.
This cultural phenomenon is something that I would like to explore in my final elit piece though the medium of presentation and makeup. I’ve already created a separate wordpress site and I have written a poem with hypertext links to relevant documents, photos and songs. I have also taken photos and made two GIFs out of two short videos I took. I am incorporating humor, but I am also being thoughtful about the struggles of keeping up appearances. Authenticity is always of primary importance to me.
I’d like to create a clickable, perfectly made-up face in which I point to each individual feature (eyes, nose, mouth, etc). When the hyperlinks are clicked upon, a corresponding poem will appear. For example, when clicking on the ears, I’d create a poem in which my made-up woman ruminates about all the interior thoughts she hears in her mind regarding her insecurities. I’m thinking about perhaps drawing the face myself and using real makeup products. That could be fun. I would also like to experiment with kinetic text. I don’t know how though and the options shown on the Internet involve extensive coding.
Here is the rub! I do not know how to create such a clickable figure (and I’ve searched). I know several of us would like to use this type of feature and it is important for us to find out what tool we can use. So the sauce is cooking, but I need a spoon to help the process! If anyone makes any discoveries or knows how to do this already (as well as making kinetic poetry/text, please let me know. It’s only fair to share!
It was very difficult and frustrating to navigate to “Hunt for the Gay Planet.” Why so many dead ends? I do like the part where the bartender at a male gay bar tells our protagonist about Lesbionica. That was an interesting twist. But why is Lesbionica so nondescript and ruled by what seems to be an embittered queen who demands female dancers? Where is the celebration? Where is the joyful music? Where’s the joy, period? Is that really all there is?
I think that this piece of hypertext fiction (which can also fall into the category of interactive fiction) is trying to tell us that there is a lack of equity when it comes to gay representation. I wonder myself how many video games exist where there are lesbian characters? I can be dating myself here, but video games always seem so full of stereotypical machismo and explosives.
Speaking of equity, it has been relatively recent that gay marriage was deemed constitutional. It took the Supreme Court that long? Yes, it did. Indeed, homosexuality was deemed to be a crime in some places throughout American history, well into the twentieth century. As of a short time ago, you could get fired for being gay! All of these things are true in other countries! Even when it was not, people could not be openly out and expressive. I think that this still occurs.
There has to be that moment of hesitation where a gay or lesbian person asks him or herself: is it ok to fully share in this circle, to say I have a wife or husband? I know our program is accepting, open and safe. But there are arenas that are just not, period. I’m reminded of the last line of “The Hunt for the Gay Planet: “I am the love that dare not squeak its name.” That’s patently unfair. This type of self-effacement stems from a heterosexual hang-up that still needs to be eradicated.
So how do we work towards equity? Like everything, it is a process. But, there must be representation of gay and lesbian characters in all forms of media, including video games. We are doing better with representation in the arts, but we still aren’t there yet. Then again, gay people shouldn’t be made into proverbial poster children. Furthermore, it does no good to have a gay character in a film and all he or she talks about is sex. That is only one aspect of a gay or lesbian person’s life (the same is true of a heterosexual person).
I think what we need are more stories. It is in stories that we gain EMPATHY. We also need to get beyond the words “lesbian” and “gay” and get to know people. Being homosexual is not a lifestyle! That sounds ridiculously horrendous and flippant. Buckle up people, step into the twenty-first century.
I leave you with a performance by a great artist who is also an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights:
I bought this print years ago. When I was a child, I was always angry that Red Riding Hood was defenseless. But not here. I have just seen talk on the Internet that the magazines are not apt for an AK-47. I don’t know a thing about weapons, so I will leave that up to the experts. Some people may be shocked, arming a child? What kind of monster is she? Relax, everyone. It is a metaphor. I’m railing against the notion of vulnerable people being preyed upon without any means to help themselves against a known menace, like this wolf. See, my opinion is that this particular Wolf in the story has been a problem for a long time and Red just came prepared. Disclaimer: I’m not advocating for everyone to point and shoot. We continue to see how disastrous and unbelievably painful that has been in our society.
In RedRidingHood, an interactive fiction piece, I re-saw Red through a different, feminist lens. Red is not a hapless victim even though at the end, a gun is being pointed at her by the boy-man, skater wolf. Or is that just a poppy-induced dream? After she sees him in the cottage, he does not appear to be like Grandma– he looks like himself, just with a duvet tucked up under his chin. Red has discerned this already. But then in a quick moment, she reclines on the bed and pretends to sleep, but she really has one eye open when wolf-boy-man points a gun at her head. Red seems to have other plans not involving her demise. But what exactly are they? I am curious to know.
I think that Red always knew the wolf-boy-man. He is going to get his comeuppance. When she walks the path to Grandma’s house, she sees him in her peripheral vision with disdain and keeps walking. This fast-walking, bleached-blonde, pants-wearing Red does not have time for his ridiculous skater self. She knows his misdeeds. By the withering glance she gives him, I get a sense that he has done her wrong in some way and that she has become a fighter because of it. He is much bigger than her and on a scooter, yet she evades him in her purposeful, stomping walk. She has plans for him…but later.
The most fascinating part of this piece is the field of poppies. Why is she picking a bunch of poppies for Grandma? There are lots of poppies. Is what we see all just an opium-induced hallucination? Is it an alternate reality of Red’s streetwise self? I wish we knew exactly what happens at the end. It is a dark re-telling of a fairy-tale.
Something in me tells me that Red will not end up shot. I do not exactly know why this is my intuition. I feel she has some very dastardly (but deserved) plans for the wolf. However, the story ends abruptly. Is my intuition right or does she really die? She isn’t really sleeping, but seems to be plotting. I do not think that she’d allow herself to be a sacrificial lamb, if she could help it. Her clothes are really baggy and something seems to be moving inside of them. Is she hiding a weapon to turn the tables? I think that she is.
“RedShift and Portalmetal”
Roja is in trouble and in constant conflict. This image of her navigating herself amongst the sheets of rock gave me a sense of the inner reserves of her power. I don’t think she knows how capable and adaptable she is yet. She is just so graceful and strong. Her raw power explodes across the screen. I admire it so much.
There is no doubt that the poisonous gases of the planet affect Roja negatively. Things are at a near impossible crux and her life hangs in the balance, which is encapsulated by her moving image above. I feel awful that Roja has always had to live a life on the run. But why is this? I understand the environmental push of her having to leave. That is absolutely clear. But does she also leave as a way of evading something internal, as her girlfriend Cora seems to suggest? I think something of that nature has to be in effect.
This piece of hyperlinked fiction was beautiful, but in an heavy and aching way. I loved the shifting red hues of earth, even though they were noxious. The ocean sounds were soothing, even though Roja was in crisis. Paradoxes are powerful.
One thing that really bothered me was this: why didn’t Roja have an adequate supply of hormones? Given the decaying nature of the planet, shouldn’t she have seen to it that she always had these necessities? Maybe there was a shortage in the market? If that is the case, then I understand. But if Roja was negligent, that’s another matter.
In this piece, we see that Roja, as disjointed as her thoughts and as contradictory her behavior was, always wanted to feel at home. It is something that for which she aches; however, she is always being pitted against serious challenges. I don’t have personal or even direct anecdotal experience of this, but that is something that trans women and men must feel before they fully gain their bearings and transition completely. They must still feel discriminated against even after this occurs. Of course they must feel this way; our society isn’t completely accepting. I wouldn’t wish an onslaught of hate on anyone.
When I read the Free Grassy Net piece that was linked at the end of the piece, I gained some perspective into Roja. The introduction said that Roja was a Native woman of color. Native Canadian women being exposed to high levels of mercury, a deadly metal? That is extremely scary and reprehensible. I am glad to hear that there are resistance groups and that a disability fund has been established, yet how far will those funds go?
I expected “Letter to Linus” to be warm, just by reading the title. I have been influenced by the gentle voice of reason that is Linus, Schultz’s cartoon character in Peanuts. He carries around a fuzzy blanket. Even though he gets hectored by his sister Lucy, he is not mean-spirited. He always seems to have good advice for Charlie Brown, who always seems to be plunged into a childlike form of existential questioning.
Experiencing this piece of literature was not warm. It was apocalyptically freezing. We are talking about the appropriation of words here! The piece is an exhortation for another Linus (a poet/writer) to get onto the scene and sort out madness of word gobblers, commercial entities that seek to patent words and hold them hostage. To a lover of words, books and knowledge, this is very frightening.
The genre of the piece is interactive fiction, because it allows one to click on hypertexts (or rather, sides of a hypercube) to advance the story. The author, William Gillespie, defines a hypercube as “a work of electronic fiction based on the structure of a cube. It comprises six pages, each of which links to four others.” The backbone of the story is comprised by the center cubes, which are the action verbs “cut, shut, blow, break, take, and lock.” These appear in pink in the center of the cube’s interface. The other sides surrounding it contain the hyperlinked words in blue boxes. The story has a kind of rhythmic pulse to it so I would categorize it to be poetry.
We never learn the author of these letters to Linus. Is that because he has had to write in a secretive fashion to evade the money train society that has come to appropriate words? From the very beginning of the piece, the heart sinks due to a feeling of desolation. It seems like there is a brief lull in the war to steal words. There are featureless figures who are hiding in the corners in silence. Libraries are “culverts.” I get the sense of a dark alley at night: a place I do my best to avoid if I am alone.
Poetry is so scarce that it needs to be “squeezed from stones.” Several lines stemming from the hyperlinked phrase “out the public” conjured a dystopian view: People “in decrepit basement rooms, gather daily or train, recite the alphabet backwards and forwards in seconds, write in complete darkness, memorize dictionaries/ When necessary, you ration a single poem so that it lasts for weeks, having disciplined yourself to read only a word at a time…”
This affected me deeply. One of my favorite books is The Book Thief. I immediately thought of the protagonist, Liesel Memminger, learning and savoring the alphabet like a hard lemon candy and then luxuriating in the few books she received and those that she stole. The context for this work is Nazi Germany, where books were burned at will and catching people with certain types of literature could literally mean death. Liesel is one of my fictional heroes. The thought of someone having to hoard words and books is heart-breaking and it also raises my ire. I also get a sense of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Yet, there is real gunfire being falling from the sky when “up the revolution” is selected. The interior has been bombed out: it is practically a shell. Words seem to be shotgun shells. They can be used offensively and defensively. The letter writer explains that he wants to be hired as a writer and that his parents “bought him English as a graduation present,” but it is an “outdated” version. This word appropriation has been going on for a long time indeed! What peaks my interest is this–> This invisible writer to Linus is anti-establishment: he plans to keep writing “as long as there is a potential enemy somewhere.” What happens if he flips though? What if his intelligence, his word-mastery gets coopted by Linguatech, “the aggressive young company that patented language?” That is scary. Writing should not be a tool of an “exclusive club.” It should be free like air. But what if Linus’ letter writer gets tired, has no food in his stomach and weakens? He can be flipped. Everyone has to have a weakness.
Although this work was extremely dark, I appreciated it greatly. It taught me to appreciate freedom of thought and expression. I now realize that they must be defended vociferously and not taken for granted.
To date, this piece of interactive electronic literature has stir-fried my brain the most. Myakovsky’s futurism and Monad, Inc.’s conception of virtual reality collide. It appears that the artists of Myakovsky’s time eschewed the traditional arts in favor of technological advancements and urbanism, yet at the same time they subscribed to art of human feeling and emotion (quite a contradiction).
I wanted to learn more about Myakovsky in order to understand this piece. He was in his formative years when the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 came about. He was excited for advancement and he eulogized Lenin. Then came WWI, which disillusioned the world because of its senseless, brutal violence. I think that this had to have influenced Myakovsky’s personal life and his art. He seemed to cling to love and to life, yet his life was complicated by these very same things. Then another blast came into his consciousness: Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s goal was to stamp out all the literati and to allow nothing but self-serving propaganda about the great Soviet State to be disseminated. This was a blow to Myakovsky and he committed suicide in 1930. I question if he really did this or if Stalin’s henchmen got him. It wouldn’t be the first time. I would have to dig into the forensics of the issue in order to give a more informed opinion about this.
Reconstructing Myakovsky is such a puzzle. There are so many disparate parts to piece together and frankly, it is overwhelming and confusing. The part that I found most stunning and on a sort of parallel with Russian futurism was the video by Monad, Inc. in favor of constructing a Virtual Environment, where the human being (as we know it) is vitiated. This is on par with Russian futurism’s drive to laud technology. But, Monad takes things really far. I watched the video, voiced over by a cold robotic male voice, four times in disbelief. I know this is interactive fiction, but still! Replacing human experiences so that the elements of chance are eliminated, no more misunderstandings in language, etc? Constructing a purely virtual world where the human is completely disposable? Look at what damage the human has done in the past: war, pestilence, terrorism, etc, the video elucidates. I may be wrong, but I see a little neo-Dadaism here. In any event, Monad’s world really revolted me, even though it was meant to underscore human absurdity and how participation culture has thrown a wrench into reality; therefore, away with the humans! The strange thing is that I can see a push to eliminate the human so that technology can do more of the work that society allegedly needs: i.e. algorithimization. Scary.
I look forward to class to discuss these very unique pieces.
Alice is anything but inanimate. She is alive, like this punk rocker girl (Sidenote: I know Nirvana is not punk). Something about the piece made me think of punk– of a kid rioting out to find her place. That is what Alice was doing with her Istories, albeit in an arguably more subdued way. I like to think that there are quieter punks in our environments, with just as much to say.
But then, she finds a home in England. It’s old and cramped, but it feels like home. Alice has been displaced a lot. I wonder why? Was one of her parents a business entrepreneur? Is she an Army brat? I believe that the introduction said that she was originally from China. But is she Chinese by birth or is that where she happened to be born? It is all very cryptic.
Alice’s cryptic origins do not take away from the beauty of this piece of interactive fiction. Alice is just a 14-year old girl doing what most 14-year old girls do: trying to fit in. I remember that stage of my life: trying to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, act tough to mask angst and laughing along with my high school tormentors.
Alice makes art and she does a beautiful thing: she shares it! She is wonderfully creative, sentient and just longs to build up memories in England so that she may have nostalgia too, one day. That is why she likes the beat-up kitchen in the “skinny house” in which she and her parents live. Alice is a girl after my own heart. I felt displaced at that age, despite never having lived out of my home country.
Alice takes a dare from her friends and ends up on a small perch, the old iron stairs having collapsed underneath her. She hangs in the balance. What a great metaphor for teenagedom! But I wonder what happens? We never find out. Her friends entreat her to climb higher so she can possibly be on surer footing. Why don’t they call the police or fire department for help? Dial 999, kids! I think that the author of the piece leaves us without a resolution on purpose. He wants us to feel ill at ease. Mission accomplished!
I really enjoyed viewing the different places on Alice’s map (home base in this interactive fiction piece). She is young, but she secretly longs for years on her life so that she can feel settled. I wonder what happened in Moscow? That is when things changed, she said. Clearly, this teenage girl has had a lot of upheaval. Her dangling from the iron perch is a symbolic manifestation of this. All of this happening, just when she started to get comfortable. Yet, isn’t that what growing up is about? I’m really rooting for Alice and I know that she will be safe, because she is here to tell her story. I just crave more details about her rescue. For example, was she injured? That concerns me.
I enjoyed navigating this piece very much. I loved to learn that Alice had friends from around the world, including Brazil, Taiwan and Egypt. She seems to appreciate culture a lot. Such is the heart of an artist!
Digital: A Love Story
I can’t help feeling like the John Doe in this piece is a teenager. I believe that there is a warning in the interface: don’t run up your parents’ phone bill! This interactive fiction work reminds me about what I have heard about the early days of cyberspace. John Perry Barlowe and his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” comes to mind (https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence). The Internet was squarely a place for innovative exploration. It is ironic that it was originally an invention of the defense branch of government (DARPA), which is explained in the work.
“Digital: A Love Story” is set five minutes into the future of 1988. This was a time when Bulletin Board communication was common. I’ve never engaged in it personally, but I imagine that it was a pretty exciting time for kids like John. The idea of being able to reach out to someone remotely must have been such a thrill.
Yet, I wonder, was Emily real? Or was she someone who pretended to be someone she was not just for the lulz (https://www.cyberdefinitions.com/definitions/LULZ.html). From what I have studied about cybersecurity, a lot of hackers were white hats and they did not try to inject malicious content into the Internet. Then again, if Emily is impersonating herself and trying to get to John through poetry, it’s a little sadistic. I wouldn’t be pleased if I were a teenage John. I guess that was part of the thrill in a way.
These pieces seem to skim over the surface of the brain, much like a silk pillow case skims your head as you lie down at night. But that is where the comfort stops. With those We Love Alive and Icarus Needs are strange, mysterious, and weird– veritable bits and bytes of unreality.
With Those We Love Alive
I was stupidly excited for this piece. The introduction said that players got to draw sigils on their bodies. I saw some of the great images that people drew on their arms and legs. I was set to go with my ballpoint pen. What did I miss? I didn’t get a prompt to draw anything on myself. Was I supposed to draw the pink and purple words on me? But that doesn’t seem possible. It wasn’t in sync with what other players experienced!
Perhaps I was led into a different, non-drawing labyrinth because of my birth month, which was that of the “Broken Coffin.” The prompt told me that my real name was Sparna Umdof. I got to the agent of the Skull Empress and she told me that I was an artificer: “You make things. You were noted perhaps from your showings and sometimes victories, in the festivals and now you are going somewhere.” I was seriously thrilled. I’m an artist and I’m taking a journey? Let’s go, creepy Skull Empress and all!
Before proceeding, I’d like to underscore that the Empress was very disturbing. I got a sense of what was supposed to be female empowerment, but it was ugly and strange. If the Empress were a fruit, she’d be a rotting peach, strangely sweet-smelling, yet still revolting. She was still irresistible to behold, like the colorful, but old candy in Coraline. If the Empress were a person, she would most definitely be the haunting Miss Havisham of Dickens’ Great Expectations– a sweetly rotting human confection that is dangerous.
On to the journey! Oh the claustrophobia, literally, when I picked a choice that indicated that I was having trouble breathing! When I was offered the different breathing exercises, it was quiet uncomfortable because the sense of breathless confusion continued.
Honestly, I felt trapped during the entire game. I kept looping back to the same choices. True, the music was hauntingly beautiful and the ombre colors were a treat, but I didn’t get a resolution! Is that the point? I felt rather depressed, like I was circling the drain of the abyss somehow, despite the bright colors of the interface. The palace grounds took me to some dark places where there was a promise of renewal, yet a hard to describe wrong turn of events. Something happened that led the paths and cities to be barren. It made me very uncomfortable. It was almost as if I were visiting the barren remains of an apocalypse of a sort.
It was as if a dream were being deferred as I went through the piece. The Skull Empress had her palace grounds, but they did not really symbolize positive growth. It was just like going down a well, darker and darker and more unfamiliar as I continued to click.
Icarus’ wings were plucked off before he came alive in this game, chopped up and put in the lovely container above to melt. I just did not get it. He was in search of Kit and they were both in a dream. That was good surrealism. I liked it. But what really happened during the game? I did not feel like my clicking resulted in anything whatsoever. Is Icarus just the gaming embodiment of a fait accompli? What was I supposed to learn? That video games can melt your consciousness and leave you feeling like you are in a fugue state? Let me be clear, I was not mad at the simplistic interface. But I wanted the game to go somewhere. It was over in a flash. Icarus really needed a long, restful nap. I think that this game was his hallucination. Perhaps the fact that I did not have an android to download the proper elements had something to do with the difficulty with the game.
Icarus definitely seemed to be in a labyrinth of some sort, as I believe he was wandering around his apartment in the dream.