#6 Why should God care who I love? | Queerskins

The piece Mette chose for her upcoming presentation is Queerskins,  a web-based novel. It is about a young, gay HIV physician named Sebastian, who grew up in rural Missouri and with Catholic parents. Apparently, he died at the beginning of the HIV epidemic. The piece deals with a modern and important topic and I will try to briefly point it out in the following post. 

But let’s start with the first impression 

I have to admit, I was already impressed by the design of the homepage, before I even thought about clicking anything – I loved the fond ( yes, I have a thing with fonds) and I really liked how the page is divided into two parts. On the left side, the reader can explore „Queerskins: A Love Story) (a VR experience and interactive installation) on the right one can find „Queerskins: A Novel“. I looked at both, but as it is more interesting to me, I’m just gonna talk about the novel part.
When I opened the novel. I got confronted with a bunch of pictures and videos, as well as classical music playing. I tried clicking on all of the images and videos, but nothing happened.
The bottom page presents you with the names of the different chapters: Missouri, Mother, Alex, Carlos, End, Bathilde, Jean-Marie and Return. These chapters are divided into numbered parts so in the end one has maneuvered himself through 62 slides (or maybe pages?).


Starting with Missouri, every new page offers different audio files, videos and pictures, as well as „handwritten“ notes/diary entries and (flash-)cards. They all overlap each other which made it quite confusing for the first few seconds. But soon I realized that I could move and drag-and-drop everything on the screen. As I tried to „find everything“ I decided to move everything I had already seen to the left sie of the screen and maneuver my way through the different slides. After Missouri I made my way through all the other chapters and was impressed – I really really liked the story and the way Illya Szilak created this piece of ELit.

Let’s talk about the topic…

Digging through the different notes/diary entries, I felt like I was invading someone’s privacy – but the audio files reminded me more of a documentary (so not really as personal as a diary) – I could even picture everyone in these audio files sitting there and talking into a camera (someone wants to have a guess who might have spent a little too much time watching documentaries on Netflix the last couple of days?)
By talking about Sebastian, we do not only get to know him and his story, we also learn about the other characters.
We meet the mother, who loves her son but her religiousness makes it heard for her to accept her son’s homosexuality; the father who seems to be unhappy and unaccepting of his son and his life, we get to know Sebastian’s first love and his longtime boyfriend as well as others.

Everything they say about Sebastian and all the personal notes we discover during the different chapters makes it possible for us to piece together our own picture of him. To me, Sebastian seemed to feel guilty, somehow torn between his religious upbringing and his homosexuality, which is considered a sin in the Catholic Church. He seemed very caring of others (his time in Africa)  and yet it seems like he does not really fit into the society he lives in.
I am really excited to discuss this piece of ELit in class because I think there is way more to this story than the conflict of religion vs homosexuality.

About my personal project

I started to work on my own project over the last couple of days. My initial idea was to create a small collection of poetry and/or short stories considering a certain topic. I started writing and re-worked some of my already existing pieces, but I haven’t fully decided on the main topic yet. I did some free writing and came up with several ideas, I just need to finally make a decision. As I grew up speaking German as well as French I thought about writing the same poem/story in both languages and creating different shapes with them, making it look like they mirror each other.  French is not the only possible option, I thought about the combination of German-English too. I think I just need to see what makes the most sense to me and how it looks.
Considering the technical implementation of everything I looked at several tools from our list. I tried Storybird, looked at Canva and Notegraphy. But I think I will end up using Adobe Spark – basically just because I have never worked with it before and I’m really curious how things will turn out with it – even though my project might not end up looking like I am imagining it right now.


On “Taroko Gorge”

Taroko Gorge is a national park in Taiwan.

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“Taroko Gorge” is a piece of generative poetry written and programmed by Nick Montfort in 2009. It’s supposed to invoke the feeling of walking through a forest, offering it’s own strict movement and rhythm by which we must take it in. I get the gist, but I’d rather walk through a real forest where I can move at my own pace.

Traditionally, one who reads poetry has had to take it upon him or herself to slow down and read at a tempo that allows for true enjoyment and appreciation. As someone who like to read fast fast fast “Taroko Gorge” felt a little glacial. Then came Snowball, with a pace that stressed me out — I think I just like choosing when the next words appear to me no matter the situation.

In all honesty, I enjoyed the idea of the pieces more than the pieces themselves. It was fun to click through and see how far a re-creation could go and the titles/ideas behind them (Fred and George!!!). I even tried to think of some that hadn’t been done (I won’t share them — they haven’t been done for a reason and that reason is that they’re bad).

In class we talked about the idea of “remix” and if a remix is a form of creativity. This is something I’ve gone on about before, and will tackle again now: OF COURSE IT IS! I’m a strong believer that no story is truly “original.” As Nora Ephron famously said: “Everything is copy.” Copy as in imitation and copy as in a piece of writing; this works two ways.

Why is it we have the same general fairy tale plot in a bunch of different countries under a bunch of different names? “Clueless” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” are both re-workings of Jane Austen. “10 Things I Hate About You” is Shakespeare and who knows where these writers got their ideas from in the first place. We could argue the ideas of remixing vs paying tribute vs stealing vs copying vs being inspired by forever, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking a set idea and expanding on it.

So often I’ll see something and enjoy it only to later realize it’s based off of something else. I probably would’ve enjoyed “Fred and George’ if I saw it first, but seeing it’s roots makes it even more fun and smart to me.

So yes, I think remix is a form of creativity. And I liked the remixes (or the idea behind them) better than the original.


The “discovery and invention stage” should be constant in all of our lives, right? I want it to be for me at least. In terms of my final project I’m set on my “Instagram Curator” idea and I’ve already started writing the text that will accompany it. Tools that I’ll use will include Instagram as main platform, a webpage that showcases my photos and the text in a way that appears like a normal instagram feed (I need to figure out the logistics behind this), and Google Calendar/email/photo editing apps. I’m having so much fun already, and can not wait to see how it all turns out!

Finally: I don’t think we dived into the idea of memes as e-lit enough last week. Let’s talk more about this everyone. Please?


Queerskins

This might be my favorite piece of e-lit so far. This might be the most intriguing piece of e-lit I’ve seen so far. At the ‘work website’-webpage I barely glanced over the work “transmedia”. I know I’d read / heard it before, but couldn’t quite place its meaning at that moment — but, oh boy, did I get a nice reminder of its definition.

Going through Queerskins: a novel, I was introduced to a means of presentation which I hadn’t considered as an option so far in our classes. Each division of chapters hold their own number of medias used to present the story. These options are either, short snippets of videos, excerpts of written diary entries, or — sometimes even — a few still photography. These different medias are all combined in to a single piece in an effort to instill atmosphere and presenting a story through the reader placing themselves in the character’s place — instead of simply presenting it as one would in a strictly written piece of media. And as far as I’m concerned, it worked. It seems to me that video clips is the most frequently used form of presentation in this piece, but the choice to make them short and narrated gives the illusion that they’re just as much diary entries as the physically written parts of the piece. This is sort of ingenious, because the author is basically feeding the reader the same story with two different medias which is made so similar and intertwined between each other that the reader is offered various choices that still are very similar to one another. The diary entries are a nice break from the more frequently used video clips while people usually think of video as a welcomed break from reading, only here it’s reversed.

The content of Queerskins, at its face value, seemed to me to be limited in its nature — but once I got past the Missouri chapter I started to realize how big the picture actually was. I was drawn to the story of Sebastian and the way in which it was presented. It got my brain going and I was able to pour some of the inspiration I gathered from this piece into my own project for the class. Although I didn’t finish Queerskins, I did bookmark it so that I could come back to it at a later time, after all, I think I could learn a few thinks from the execution of the presentation in this piece. There’s certainly a great deal of things I would like to add to my “wish list” regarding my own project.

My own project:

Mia proposed that I consider a hypertext tool named “Inklewriter” to see whether or not that’s a media that I can use for me project. Although I’m not entirely satisfied with its “somewhat” limited functions, I’m thinking it’s at least a safe choice for me to be able to use to flesh out the content. I’ll more than likely feel like the visual and atmosphere aspect of the piece would be lost — unless I did some severe changes to the setting altogether.

The way I look at it now is I have to focus on the complicated design of the pathing system to the piece. There’s a red line through the content that the reader is supposed to follow, and then there’s the multiple diverging paths that lead to extra information and extra choices. I need to find a way to make all of that intricate content flow naturally while it’s also manageable for someone like me who’s never tried to work with either Inklewriter or Twine before. I’ve done some research into Twine and I’m starting to think that Twine might be the right option for me, but I need to play around with it more before I can tell.


Queerskins (+ update on my own elit)

Queerskins
Queerskins is an elit by Illya Szilak from 2012. It is a hypertext story using javascript and having audio. Under tech notes it is stated that the piece works best in the Chrome browser. After the web design classes I had, I know that when creating websites it is important to make sure they work well with all (popular) browsers. Therefore I decided I would use Firefox to see if I would discover any issues.

According to the author’s statement, Queerskins is “partly based on Szilak’s experiences as an HIV physician” and “tells the story of Sebastian, a young gay physician from a rural Missouri Catholic family who dies at the beginning of the epidemic.”

Click here to discover Queerskins on your own: http://www.queerskins.com/#title

As I opened the website, I got the choice between a love story and a novel. Since I do not have the equipment needed for virtual reality, I was left with one choice – the novel.

I open up the novel and see several pictures and movies along with the names of the chapters at the bottom of the screen. The pictures and movies expanded when hovered over, some more than others. Clicking them does nothing, so I clicked on the first chapter at the bottom of the screen instead.

After the page loads, I see several videos, a letter or diary entry and a note stacked on top of each other.  And because I chose another browser than recommended, I had to open it in Chrome to see if things were on top of each other there too. They were. So obviously it was done on purpose. It seems like it does not matter very much which browser is used.

The rest of the story goes by the same way. Each page presents you with images, movies with sound and letters/notes. You drag things around to dig out everything and get information. It kind of feels like you are going through someone’s personal stuff, either their room or just the stuff on their phone or computer. For people who like to explore and be nosy without risking being caught, this way of exploring a piece of elit is kinda fun. Now I am not nosy myself, but sure, at times I can be curious just like anyone else. This way of discovering elit was interesting.

All in all, this elit has many chapters – probably more than most actual books that I have read. And honestly, I cannot say I watched all the movies or read everything. Therefore I cannot claim to know the whole story this elit tells. But I do look forward to learning more about it in class tomorrow.

So, did I like this elit? Kind of. I liked the way it had chapters and movies with sound telling some parts of the story, and diary entries/letters telling other parts. But the layout felt messy to me and made the elit more difficult to discover and making sure you did not miss anything. There might be a good purpose behind it, but considering the amount of chapters it creates a lot of work for the reader if determined to find everything.

The story, from what I gathered, seems interesting and has different themes compared to the other elits I have discovered so far. I like variety, so that is a good thing.
Update on my own piece of elit
I have decided upon several changes since my last blog entry.

First off, I was recommended to try out Inklewriter instead of Twine. I first tried out Twine and found it a bit difficult to figure out, but still manageable. Inklewriter is without a doubt more user-friendly though. Also, it seems the need for coding is not as present with Inklewriter as with Twine. However, I am concerned with the possibilities for customization and design when it comes to Inklewriter. My design skills using css are limited, but I think maybe I would prefer using what css I know instead of using a default design from Inklewriter?

However, Twine’s set-up and way of showing what you have done so far seems very messy and hard to keep track of. With Inklewriter it seems much easier to keep track of what I have done and not. Therefore I think I will end up Inklewriter after all. However, if anyone knows of customization possibilities when it comes to design – do tell! Maybe I just did not watch enough tutorials…

Another change is that I last time wrote that the story would consist of poems with clickable words, where the reader clicks a word within the poem and is taken to a new poem and so on. However, I started thinking and decided that this would not be very interactive and would make the reader feel like their path was chosen more at random than actually making choices. Therefore the story will be made up of poems telling most of the story itself, but with consequences written after the poem and then the reader will get to make a choice on what to do next (usually two choices, but sometimes more and at times only one). This means that the poems still will be a bearing element of the story, but more interactivity. I think the reading experience will be more fun this way, as well.

I have started mapping out the story, and as I have went along I have had to write a few new poems as well as making various versions of a few of them to fit the storyline (depending on which choices are made). I will probably have to write even more poems as I go on with mapping, but for now I have several I have to fit in somewhere. I have also started writing down choices and where in the story they happen, and which consequences will happen with which choice.

I am not done mapping yet, but as I map it out I also get it into Inklewriter so I will not have to do it later at a time where I have started to forget ideas. It also makes it easier for myself to see the progress I make, which I find very inspiring and motivating. Therefore, my elit is an actual elit and in working order – up to a certain point. It is FAR from finished.

Finally, the elit has a working title. It will probably be changed sooner or later, but for now it at least has a name. It might stick, it might not. We will just have to wait and see. I usually do not name things until they are finished, to make sure the name fits well – but a working title could be useful I guess.

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