(Heads up: This post may not be as put-together as usual due to the holiday weekend and because I’ve been doing research for my thesis proposal >.<)
What Makes a Game???
In class this week, we continued our discussions from last week about 1) games, specifically online/electronic games, and 2) audio and using it as a medium for storytelling. Both lines of inquiry still new to me and a little daunting tbh~
Anyway, to begin with, we watched a video that talked about the different ways you can classify games. Check it:
More specifically, this video talked about classifying game-play via what of 3 aspects–Planning, Practice, or Improvisation–a creator wants to emphasize. As I had never heard of doing this before, I found it to be interesting. I tend to classify what few games I’ve come into contact with along much simpler lines–is it a fighting game? (like Smash Brothers or Mortal Kombat), a strategy game? (like Minecraft or chess), is it a “story” game? (like Assassin’s Creed or The Game of Life), or is it a “silly” game? (like Super Mario Cart or Cards Against Humanity).
Kind of similar but still different. Of course, my simpler classifications don’t necessarily address “combination games” or ones that utilize multiple aspects of game-play which is becoming increasing popular to do (which is a good way to appeal to a larger audience–so long as each aspect is appropriately juggled–but also a super easy way to please no one by trying to please everyone~).
After talking about the ins-and-outs of game-play as a whole, we moved on to discussing what we personally value in a game. In order to do this, we actually wrote out our thoughts on the classroom’s whiteboard. This way, we could see everyone’s thoughts and the overlap. Here are my thoughts:
Even though I don’t play many fighting games, I do find those to be interesting–because of the inherent conflict, probably–and so most of my thoughts about what makes for good game-play revolve around them. I want the ability to level-up or to activate certain “powers” or special abilities and of course I want worthwhile match-ups and an interesting overall conflict. That quality could be broadened to be an interesting story-line period. Most of us seemed to value a compelling story-line–we want to relate to not only the characters but the story they are acting out. (In hindsight, it’s interesting that we all seemed to answer this question through the lens of us playing as characters in a story scenario~)
Other traits that we all seemed to agree were valuable in a game were there being a tutorial mode or else clearly explained directions, being able to auto-save our place in game, and there being an expansive “world” to the game.
Blast from the Past
After discussing game-play, we were introduced to the Internet Archive’s Software Library of MS-DOS Games. Basically, it’s a collection of old online/digital games. We got to peruse the library and experience what is was like to play some older games. Once we got a bit of a feel for them, then we each chose one game we were interested in learning more about. The game that caught my fancy was Alley Cat.
What the screen looks like when you start to play~ (I’m currently free-falling in the upper-left corner >.< But you can see Felicia in the bottom left window!)
According to the info provided in the archive, Alley Cat was a video game released by the Synapse Software Corporation (1981-1984) in 1984. There was an Atari 8-bit version of the game as well (released in 1983). Alley Cat was designed to be an action game “consisting of several mini-games tied together”. According to the Wikipedia article for this game, the several mini-games are:
“In one room there’s a table with a birdcage on it in the middle of the room. Here the objective is to push the birdcage off the table and then catch the bird which escapes from the broken cage.
In another room, there’s a fishbowl which the cat can enter and must eat all the fish while dodging electric eels and repeatedly coming up for air to avoid drowning.
Yet another room contains a huge chunk of cheese with a number of holes. In each hole mice appear randomly, which the cat must catch.
The cat may also find itself in a room with a number of sleeping dogs, some of which have feeding dishes in front of them. The cat must empty each dish without waking up any of the dogs.
In another challenge, the cat must collect three ferns from the top of a bookshelf while avoiding a disproportionately large spider that may lower itself upon the cat from above.”
Now, I feel I should backtrack and provide more info about the actual concept of the game in order for this above list to make sense. Basically, in Alley Cat, you’re playing as a *you guessed it* little black, alley cat–named Freddie–who is trying to reach the pretty white cat–Felicia–who lives in one of the apartments on the other side of the fence from his alley. In the process of trying to find the correct apartment Felicia is in–by jumping from garbage cans to fences to clothing lines to open apartment windows all while dodging the boots and garbage being thrown at you–you’ll end up in many different apartments that all have their own challenges to complete (as you can see from the above list).
According to Wikipedia, Alley Cat has 30 levels of increasing difficulty. Upon reaching level 30, though, game-play can continue indefinitely.
Now, full disclosure, I didn’t get very far trying to complete level-fucking-one. I could barely get Freddie to jump on the garbage cans lets alone get him to jump from clothing lines to open windows.
(Actual visual of me trying to play this game >.<)
So, I would decided not call this an easy game to play. At least, not for someone’s only prior experience in playing online games is Neopets >.>
Don’t let my poor performance deter you though! Have a go at it and let me know how you do?? How would you classify this game??? Personally, I think it’s primarily a practice-focused game (the object to complete a task over and over until it is mastered) though it does have some aspect of planning to it (you’ve got to have a strategy for picking out those windows, you know??? Gotta find Felicia!).
So….What’s the Story??
So, I definitely didn’t have time this week to come up with a full backstory for this game but I did imagine that Freddie and Felicia were both feral cats who lived happily in the alley behind this apartment complex until Felicia was “rescued” by one of the tenants and adopted. That’s why she keeps peeking out the windows–trying both to escape and to tell Freddie where she is so he can come and be with her again. It’s kind of a combination “damsel-in-distress”/”forbidden romance”–’cause male feral cats typically have a bad rep and are less desired for it–story.
Sorry Felicia >.< that’s kind of my fault too~
I’d love to sit down and write this story if I get the chance but I hope my imagination is good enough for now~
*So, I added my questions to the Padlet and I see that Ayah and Manar have uploaded their answers to my questions (plus another draft of their game that I really need to check out!) but I’m still working on editing the audio. Tbh, it really helps me out that we have 2 weeks to work on this project. Because so many of us are unfamiliar with working with audio, I think it’s helpful to provide us with more time to work on audio projects. The end results of our work, too, I think will benefit from that extra time to spend with them.
*Have you check out the NetNarr Alchemy Lab??? If not, why not??? It’s so cool and it came out beautiful. It’s a great example of how all the different things we’re learning about in class–digital art, Elit, gaming, audio, etc.–cane come together to create a really compelling work of art. More, it’s a great example of how collaboration can facilitate creativity in new and fun and exciting ways ^.^ I’m so happy I to be a part of this project.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the open participants of the NetNarr realm have started their own project and have invited us to participate as well. It’s an awesome opportunity to dabble with some digital alchemy~
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do at first–or if I would have time to do anything–but, miraculously, I’m on it with the time management this weekend and I also had a burst of creative inspiration. I decided to remix-ish an old story I wrote about a year ago that was inspired by a random bot prompt.
Originally, I posted the story here on my blog. Then, I uploaded a reading of the story to Soundcloud that I created using Audacity, complete with some simple sound effects I created crunching tortilla chips or snapping vine charcoal.
Now, I decided to make a pseudo-ish ELit work using Google slides. I would prefer to make it more interactive but I’m kind of working with what I’ve got on hand. A while back, I made a pretty cool and interactive ELit piece using Microsoft Powerpoint which has a lot more features than Google slides and is a bit more user-friendly in that regard (one you get used to the interface and all its buttons, of course). The only problem with using Powerpoint is that it makes the work a download so every time someone wants to see the work, they have to download it to their computer which, really, gives them free license to edit and disrupt it as well
Anyway, I made do and I’m pretty happy with what I came up with. I had a lot of fun find images to play off my work and even more fun editing them as well as playing around with Google slides’ meager selection of animation. I think my text effects, though subtle, are the most powerful editions I made to the work. They play off the spirit of the piece, if you will.
But enough rambling on from me.
Check it out for yourself and tell me what you think~
What the Professors did not know when they turned the whole world into a glass eye is what would reflect back.
See, they made the eyes out of mirrored glass.
Covered spires and lampposts, windows and concrete with tiny, shiny eyes–always watching, always showing. Without pupils or irises, they seem to follow you, act out your life in their little sclera screens for you. Beads of silver beneath moonlight–darkness the only safe place, now.
Reflected back, we saw how small and easy we were to replicate to the world and we hid.
The Professors didn’t like that.
They said if we wouldn’t come out, then they’d come in. The eyes would go in and ours would go out. If we wouldn’t look, then they’d make us see.
For all their know-how, the Professors knew very little. For all their vision, saw very little.
To be fair, once we started to smash their mirror glass eyes, I suppose they couldn’t very well see much of anything.
Still, I doubt they foresaw us picking up the shards of their shattered world and jabbing them into our own eyes. Deep, deep until red gave way to blessed black. Merciful dark. Reflections of ourselves become shadow memory.
What the Professors should’ve known when they turned the whole world into a giant glass eye, is that we’d rather blind ourselves than meet its gaze. Our gaze.
They should’ve known.
You’d know, right? If the world’s mirror were facing you, you’d smash it to bits, right? To forget what you saw, you’d pick up the shards right? To un-know, you’d know what to do, right?
You’d do it too, right?
~Till next time ^.^~
*Check out some more killer stories here. From inside my head to yours ^.^ Sweet screams~
(I’ve rocked a few regrettable interesting looks, huh???)
Images are moments and if moments are experiences, then what experience does the “selfie” capture?
What is the selfie? What does it represent?
Well, that depends.
When it comes to social perceptions, the selfie, like most new digital media, typically gets a bad rep. What did you think society would say???
According to one article in Jezebel, by Erin Gloria Ryan, “Selfies aren’t empowering; they’re a high tech reflection of the f*cked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.” and “Selfies aren’t empowering little sources of pride, nor are they narcissistic exercises by silly, conceited b*tches. They’re a logical technically enabled response to being brought up to think that what really matters is if other people think you’re pretty.”Wow. Did you catch that double “not empowering”?
But, is this a fair assessment of the selfie? Is there nothing redeemable about this new digital form?
The article Ryan write hers in response to begs to differ. In “Selfies Are Good for Girls”, author Rachel Simmons says of selfies,“If you write off the endless stream of posts as image-conscious narcissism, you’ll miss the chance to watch girls practice promoting themselves—a skill that boys are otherwise given more permission to develop, and which serves them later on when they negotiate for raises and promotions.” More, Simmons asserts, “The selfie suggests something in picture form—I think I look [beautiful] [happy] [funny] [sexy]. Do you?—that a girl could never get away with saying. It puts the gaze of the camera squarely in a girl’s hands, and along with it, the power to influence the photo’s interpretation.” This idea that the selfie can be a means of self-promotion and new form of communication otherwise unavailable on a personal scale is echoed in an interview conducted by NPR with digital artist, Molly Soda. Soda says, “I think a selfie is a really, really positive thing, whether or not its art, it’s super positive affirmation of self-love. And taking your photo and putting it on the Internet for the world to see is an act of positivity.” And, of the selfie’s particular dialogue, she says, “When I’m scrolling on my Instagram and I see a photo of a girl that she took of herself and I know she’s feeling really good that day about herself, that makes me feel good and that makes me want to photograph myself, and I think it’s a chain reaction.”
So, which is it?
Are selfies vain, self-centered, narcissistic, self-indulgent, and exploitative at best? Or, can they be these positive, celebrations of the self–especially for women?
More, are these even the right questions we should be asking? Are they detracting or distracting from what the selfie truly represents? Or, what it could represent? We could argue a moral imperative all semester and never reach any conclusions, in my mind. More, this kind of argument reduces the selfie to nothing more or less than an extension vanity or personal expression. This kind of discussion leads nowhere, to me, and fails to adequately recognize a new genre of digital media, of digital art: The Selfie.
Where’s the Art?
In Soda’s interview, she refers to selfies as “an exploratory art form” and, when discussing whether or not the selfie is art, she refers to “the selfie culture”. Not the phenomenon. Culture. To me, the intersection of culture and exploration finds you in the heart of art.
That said, as with social perceptions, perceptions in the art world typically leaned towards skeptical at best when discussing the selfie. (If we were playing “Sh*t People Say About Digital Media” bingo, I’d have “the decline of culture”, “global calamity”, “millennials”, &, to abbreviate, “tech bad” all marked off from reading some of the “less-credible” sources I came across~)
Anyway, attitudes seem to be shifting away from not even considering the selfie in the realm of art to giving it not only worthwhile consideration but even an exhibition this past year. For anyone who’s familiar with how the art world operates, that’s a huge shift. New genres–which are defined in the art world as forms that, “possess their own formal logic, with tropes and structural wisdom, and last a long time until all the problems they were created to address are addressed (different from style i.e Impressionism, Cubism, Dada)–arise very rarely and curators, art critics, art historians, and art enthusiasts tend to be lukewarm at best when it comes to new genres. (Some never warm up)
So, what’s the word on the selfie?
It seems that despite social perceptions or personal convictions, there is a “selfie-ness” that all selfies share and that is easily identifiable. We all know when we’re looking at a selfie, yeah? In “Selfies Are Art”, an article in The Atlantic that addresses both Ryan and Simmon’s articles, author Noah Berlatsky directly states, “The selfie may be good or it may be bad, but Simmons and Ryan agree that its essence is all one thing or all the other. Aberrations are to be explained away.” More, Berlastsky says, “The selfie is a deliberate, aesthetic expression—it’s a self-portrait, which is an artistic genre with an extremely long pedigree. There can be bad self-portraits and good self-portraits, but the self-portrait isn’t bad or good in itself. Like any art, it depends on what you do with it.”
In the article for the exhibition on selfies, curator Nigel Hurst, when asked if selfies are art is quoted as responding, “The simple answer to that is that everything can be art if it’s followed through by the maker with enough conviction and coherence, and also that enough people accept and believe that it’s art…We’re not saying that the slideshow of a teenager trying out various poses is as significant as a work by Rembrandt, but the art world cannot ignore this phenomenon.”
Now, it’s interesting that both Hurst and Berlatsky, unlike Simmons or Ryan, compare the selfie to a contemporary portraiture. That said, this is a fairly common comparison made. The excellent and enlightening Art Assignmentchannel on Youtube has a rather in-depth video on the subject, comparing self-portraits and self-taken photos to the contemporary selfie.
While a strong case is made for the selfie being an extension or an evolution of the self-portraiture genre and, certainly, being associated with such a prestigious genre with such a long history would be a boon, not everyone is of this mind–myself included.
In a Vulture article by Jerry Saltz, a case is made for why the selfie is its own distint genre, separate from traditional portraiture.
Saltz says, “These [Selfies] are not like the self-portraits we are used to. Setting aside the formal dissimilarities between these two forms—of framing, of technique—traditional photographic self-portraiture is far less spontaneous and casual than a selfie is. This new genre isn’t dominated by artists. When made by amateurs, traditional photographic self-portraiture didn’t become a distinct thing, didn’t have a codified look or transform into social dialogue and conversation. These pictures were not usually disseminated to strangers and were never made in such numbers by so many people. It’s possible that the selfie is the most prevalent popular genre ever.
Essentially, selfies are not portraits. At least, they aren’t just portraits.
(“If both your hands are in the picture and it’s not a mirror shot, technically, it’s not a selfie—it’s a portrait.”)
Aside from technical differences–that the camera is in the hands of the photographer, always within arm’s length (making a hint of the arm a feature of most), off-center subjects, distorted or exaggerated features due to the camera lenses of most phones,–selfies convey a different meaning than a traditional self portrait or photograph.
Selfies are almost always present, too. Traditional portraiture and photography was simply incapable of that immediacy. Even if the selfie shared is from a few years back or is used in a #ThrowbackThursday post on Instagram, there is still this sense of the original posting, this sense of a moment captured to be instantly shared. Selfies are experiences meant, almost always, to be shared, whether with a small audience or a large one. This also means most selfies are not accidental. Of this, Saltz states, “Whether carefully staged or completely casual, any selfie that you see had to be approved by the sender before being embedded into a network. This implies control as well as the presence of performing, self-criticality, and irony. The distributor of a selfie made it to be looked at by us, right now, and when we look at it, we know that. (And the maker knows we know that.)”
In this way, I do find selfies to be empowering, especially to women who have been subjected to the male gaze and all that applies for all of history. Being able to control the perception of yourself, even in such a small way, is an assertion of power. Despite what Ryan says in her article, that element of control is in and of itself what makes the selfie an empowering art form. That selfies can only be responses to a societal standard already in play or that selfies can never be anything other than an extension of this need for validation from others seems like an over-generalization, to me. And, that stance does not allow for the selfie to be looked at as an art form.
In fact, as the genre has come into its own, “selfie culture” seems to be more about subverting expectations. Or, it’s about questioning expectations. Asking people to see more than is usually expected.
Selfies become more that self-portraits, then. They become invitations to a dialogue, a conversation in which we all participate.
Now, you may say, “Kelli” or “Heltsekffkkfj” whatever the f*ck, right? (idk how you refer to me in your head, if you do) “I don’t even take selfies. How can I be a part of this ‘conversation’ you speak of??? What even kind of conversation is being carried out through selfies?”
I’m glad you asked~
See, whether or not you’ve personally taken a selfie, you’ve seen them, you know people who take them, you’ve seen people take them. Point is, you know what they are. Selfies are almost as pervasive as they are controversial. Or, controversial as they are pervasive?? Think those 2 things go hand in hand. More to the point, you’ve interacted with selfies. You’ve read them or you read them, so to speak, almost daily. I don’t know about you, but I think I’m pretty good at telling a “show-off” shot from a “I’m feeling nice today” one. There’s a different feeling a Kim K. selfie gives off than one of my co-worker Christina, staring straight into the camera with slight smile, yeah? However you categorize selfies–and I bet you do–you know there are differences, differences conveyed only in that slight smile, eyes half looking at the camera, half at some point above it, only in that superior tilt of one’s chin, that glimmer in their eye, that hint of a curvaceous figure in the mirror.
Selfies have a language and we are all fast becoming fluent in it.
Saltz says, “Selfies are our letters to the world. They are little visual diaries that magnify, reduce, dramatize—that say, ‘I’m here; look at me.'” He continues on to speak about what some of his favorite kinds of selfies are: “Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good selfie. I like the ones that metamorphose into what might be called selfies-plus—pictures that begin to speak in unintended tongues, that carry surpluses of meaning that the maker may not have known were there. Barthes wrote that such images produce what he called ‘a third meaning,’ which passes ‘from language to significance.'” Saltz likes selfies that tell stories. That speak of things beyond the literal, beyond just the self in the selfie. Things that are not spoon-fed to readers but that are still present, just below the surface. And, if you care to look, you can see them. “I’m talking about more unstable, obstinate meanings that come to the fore: fictions, paranoia, fantasies, voyeurism, exhibitionism, confessions—things that take us to a place where we become the author of another story. That’s thrilling. And something like art.”
But it’s more than art. It’s all of those meanings just below the surface coming into conversation with themselves and with us. We interpret. We imagine. We investigate. We create. Then, we share.
In this article, Saltz shares a selfie a man took on a trip to Auschwitz. What do you see? More, what do you feel?
It’s not just a selfie, right? There are so many associations culminating in this one imagine that create story that is more than its selfie parts. Maybe you’re horrified that this kid thought it was okay to make a “joke” out of Auschwitz. Maybe you’re not surprised. Maybe you feel something else. Point it, you feel something. You’re reacting to something conveyed. Something was said and you have a response. You are in dialogue with this selfie.
Not all selfies ask us new questions. Some confirm what we knew. Maybe this one confirmed you lack of faith in humanity…. Some ask us just to bask in a moment with the taker of the selfie, to share it with them. To imagine the experience of something. Like this one by astronaut Aki Hoshide :
This selfie, I would say, veers into one of the many categories Saltz identified in his article, the category of “selfie thinking” that he describes only as, “It’s the invisible thought balloon over the subjects. ‘It is totally incomprehensible, even to us, to be us,’ they [selfies] are saying, ‘or to be us, being here.'” In this way, selfies become confirmations of the self and then confirmations of the experience as we bear witness to it. More, as you bear witness to it. Selfies are a documentation of the experience of yourself experiencing something. Selfies transcend questions of vanity and of narcissism when they are allowed to enter this realm.
In this way, selfies capture the experience of the self. More, they capture our experience of ourselves, new digital media allowing them to enter into dialogue with themselves and with the world without.
A Note on Personal Responsibility
All this said, that doesn’t mean the genre is without its faults. It’s new and burgeoning and exploratory and experimental which leaves it open to making a lot of mistakes.
Also, that selfie of the guy at Auschwitz is not a stand-out. In fact, it’s becoming a disturbing trend. While I’m not sure the rise of the selfie itself is solely to blame for this trend, I do agree that it’s facilitating this kind of disrespect and dissociation from reality, from the gravity of one’s actions that social media at large is taking heat for. As mentioned in the article, there’s this growing disaffection and, really, inability to appreciate moments themselves without commemorating them via digital means. Like, things don’t mater or can’t unless they’re shared and validated through that act of sharing. Again, I don’t think the selfie should be wholly held accountable for this. Remember, there is a person behind the selfie.
Anyway, selfies are my go-to photo. Over the years, I’ve taken more selfies than I care to admit. Before I had a smartphone, I was taking selfies with my digital camera and uploading them to my computer like a savage~
Now, all it takes is the right angle and a click.
That said, I’ve always found selfies to be introspective. Especially when you can view many of them in concert with each other, you hear a story. Or, they tell a story–the story of you. I can see how I’ve changed–or haven’t. I can look at myself from many angles~
I can see which parts of my story hit, too. For instance, this is the latest piece of my story:
I know what the caption beneath says but what does it tell you? Even without the caption, would you still get a sense of my message?
I may be biased but I think so.
There’s about that far-off look that’s almost contemplative, thoughtful. Though the camera is angled below me, my head is still tilted, to the side so that my hair angles downward. The camera may be pointed up but I’m being dragged down. There’s the straight line of my mouth. The glow of my painted face that is at odds with the flat look in my eyes. Then, of course, there’s all the deep, black Xs slashed around my head, creating a disconcerting halo that also conflicts with the overall glow of my face. Even without saying anything, I think it’s clear that I’m experiencing a conflict of emotions. Maybe I’m battling something? I think the question is there and that is the power of the selfie in action, the art of it. T
his selfie is the story of me in this moment, performed by me–maybe–but definitely lived by me. It is the embodiment of an experience. One that I wanted to share–not because I can’t appreciate what I feel and the moment I live in or because I need someone to validate it for it to be real but because I do appreciate my moments and believe there is something worthwhile in allowing them to be shared experiences. So many people are afraid to be vulnerable and I think the only way to overcome that is to show that everyone feels it.
Selfies are vulnerable.
They are our faces. What’s that expression, “save face”? Selfies literally do not allow you to spare any part of your face, let alone save it. It’s you, for all the world to see. It’s what you want to say about yourself for all the world to hear. That’s such a vulnerable position to put yourself in. I think we need to appreciate that more. We can by not dismissing selfies outright and reducing them to only one thing and instead by trying to listen and to read between the frames and to always understand there is a person behind at the heart of?every selfie~
*Missing a collection of pics of people taking selfies? Here you go. I didn’t cover it in my post but this a big thing people do now–take photos of people taking photos. I suppose some people think it’s meta. Others just like being assh*les–which is, granted, fun sometimes. Some might fancy they’re making social commentary. What’s your stance?
*Selfiecity is a project that’s investigating the selfies of 5 different cities, using a mix of theoretic, artistic, and quantitative methods. It seems like the project is interested in what implications of the selfie can be applied to a larger context, such as a city. It’s a very informative site and the essays seem well-researched and contrived. I wish I had more time to explore the site for my work but I highly recommend checking this site out!
Drumbeat batters breeze bare-knuckled. Bloody, if it could. Tut-tut-tut transforms the atmosphere into something tormented. Tortured. Just a sliver shy of a scream.
I sway to the sound, skin soaking in its scathe. Absorbing the maim and claim. The tug and tear.
In the thick of the crowd, illuminated by a mix of fire and faint moonlight, a figure fights the drum’s beating. Twists sharp turns to thwart possession. To prevail. A losing game.
Once lured in, that’s it.
Other figures clap, pound flesh till the night seems alive with its own rhythmic pulse, thrumming steadily through the battered air. A grunted chant rumbles in time.
Somewhere, deep in the wood surround, a wolf howls. Tears at night’s skin. A territorial call if I’ve ever heard one. A victorious brag. I grip the skin I’m in. Tame growl into grumbling chant. Return sight to the light bathing those gathered in shades of dark red.
The dancer nearest flame, so deeply red they’re shadow on smoke, throws back their head–theirs and the bear skull that swallows it whole. An echoing, bellicose bellow–growl–silences both flesh and drum beat.
Another deep sound, the wolf.
A last, me.
Closely, I watch the dancer shed the bear skull. Slide claws as long as fingers from their hands. Keep the grizzled pelt wrapped ’round their wide shoulders, though. For warmth, maybe. The skin in place ’round their meaty waist.
Two figures donning wolf skulls and matching hides separate from the crowd as the lone bear dancer returns to it.
Beats begin their battering blows once more. Less heavy. More lean. Like wolf meat. Night’s pulse picks up in a low thrum, a lower hum. Faintest scream.
I track the bear dancer as they cut through the crowd, one toothy smile at a time. A short laugh or two. My rhythm mirrors theirs. Overtakes it. Sleek. Light. A slow skulk. Steady hunt.
We meet where the edge of the crowd kisses forest fathoms.
Bear Dancer slashes a charming smile across their face, distinctive jaw jutting upward with its self-assured slant as if to display the many scars crisscrossing sensitive skin like trophies. One rather deep cut is still raw. Fresh. I curl my fist.
A grin of my own begins to stretch flesh. Tempt tearing. Bear dancer’s widens in return. Devours his face.
“Hello,” he steps into my sway. “Like tonight?” I nod, grin sharp enough to put Bear Dancer to shame.
“You dance good.” Another growl tamed into something softer. “It’s striking,” I motion to the pelt on his back. “your form.”
“Yes.” He preens, fingering the fur. I swallow fury. “A lucky catch, bear. Usually, they keep to their caves.”
“Ah?” I drag him back to me. “Where’d you get the bear then?”
“Clearing by Slim River.” His voice is proud. “Mama and cub hunting. Hare, probably. I got Mama first in the side with my spear. When she charged, I got her in the head with my handy ax. She clawed, though.” He taps his scarred chin. “A fighter.”
“Huntress.” I correct.
“Yes.” Bear Dancer nods, looking grave. “Very fierce. The others threw many spears till she went down. The cub though,” Bear Dancer’s grin returns. “was easy. Little fella. A club to the head.” Bear Dancer swings his arm past my face. “Dead.”
“Dead.” I repeat, dead, stepping back into forest, spiny nettles brushing bare skin. Swirl my hips. Bear dancer follows. “Poor boy.”
“There were two.” He leans close as if revealing a secret. “Cubs. Two of ’em. Always with Mama but not this time. Very odd.” He quirks his head. “Bears don’t usually keep more than one. Too hard to feed. Keep only the strong one…. Wonder where the runt is? The little fella cried out after he was hit. Almost like a scream. Maybe–”
“She heard.” I finish with too much gnash. “The sister?” Bear dancer gives me a confused look and I reach for his hands–the ones that were wearing Mama bear’s claws–settling them on my waist.
“Yes.” Bear dancer tightens his hold on me. I lead us further behind branches. Beyond the fire light’s creeping reach. “You know the story?” Now, I quirk my head. Take another backward step. “About the sister cub. That she’s one of us. Child lost from the tribe long ago. Found by bears. Clothed in their skin.”
“I hadn’t heard.” Another step. So close.
“Not from ’round here?” Bear Dancer asks. “Was wondering…. You look familiar but can’t place face.”
Finally. Trees give way to open space. A clearing. Nearby, a watery babble replaces drum beats. Flesh beats. Moonlight overtakes flickering flame.
“It’s not my usual.” I brush Bear Dancer’s hands off me and he tilts his chin. That fresh cut. Shiny red beneath the moon. I flex my fingers. Feel nails sharpen. “Face.”
A swipe of my claw to the head and Bear Dancer is down. For brother.
I’m on him before he knows what hit him, my lithe body now heavier. My skin, fur. Much better. Weight settles on my shoulders–my skull no prop large enough to swallow a head whole. Bear Dancer’s. I stare into his wide eyes, grizzly reflection in their glisten. I can’t smile anymore so a snarl will have to do. Recognize me now?
“S-s-skin-n-w-w-wwalk-ker-r.” He accuses.
No, a growl like a laugh rumbles in my cavernous chest. I told you. Huntress.
A claw finds purchase in the mark Mama carved so I’d know and tugs. Jaw gone before Bear Dancer can scream. Then, claws like little spears and teeth like ax blades find flesh. Tear. Bite bone, too, creating their own beat, own chant. Rhythm.
And, when the song is done, I toss my head back. Scream. Tear the night in two. It’s no victory screech. No brag. Nothing celebatory. It’s a warning. An announcement.
The battle is mine.
*Side note: those last words are coincidentally my first thoughts in the morning…. Weird. ^.^
Anyway, that means I finally got around to playing with sound. And, to being frustrated by it.
That said, I didn’t really feel a strong pull towards any of the not-to-do-list prompts. I did really like reading one of my works aloud in class this past week, though. So, I decided to run with that and record myself–again–reading my story. Only, this time, with some added sound effects to set the mood. Create an atmosphere.
It was noteasy.
Audacity seems like a simple, user-friendly interface until you start piling on the different sounds and then it get complicated. (see, uncooperative) Adding a sound here or there moves everything else out-of-place. And, cutting something is a very, shall we say, hellishdelicate process. Always, always listen a few dozen times after every little change to ensure you’ve done what you intended is all I want have to say. Always.
Without further ado, why don’t you take a little listen to the fruits of Shadow Girl’s many frustrations~
(Can you guess what I props I used to make the sound effect? Yes? No? Maybe? All will be revealed in this week’s reflection~)
This is the same story I read in class and, to be honest, it’s a favourite I’ve written so far.
In class, I talked a little about the inspiration behind a lot of my work. But, because I was kind of nervous speaking in front of everyone, I only discussed one aspect of my work–that I like writing girls who are as cruel as their world has been to them. More, I enjoy writing stories about female characters who’s motivations are not responses to a patriarchal influence. My girls are violent or disturbed/disturbing in and of themselves.
But, there is more to it than that.
For many years, when I was young, I was silent. Silenced by some unspeakable things that happened to me. It was very hard for me to speak because I didn’t feel like I had a voice of my own. More, I didn’t feel like my voice was mine. It belonged to someone else who preferred my mouth shut.
It’s taken many years and lots of intervention for me to realize my own preferences. For me to speak as I please. Still, though, I struggle to do that–speak at all. Break the silence. It’s not easy to exercise something you didn’t believe you had the right to for a long time. Often, I worry I come across as disengaged or uninterested, maybe unimpressed, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In my writing, I think my feelings obvious. On the page is where I began to rediscover my voice so I think it makes sense that it is where you can hear me clearest. But, I wish I could find my voice just as well beyond the edges of the page.
That’s another reason why I don’t like to speak aloud–I don’t sound the way I do in my writing and I so desperately want to. Hearing the difference between what I’ve written and how I voice it frustrates me. It sounds like a disservice. Sounds disappointing.
In class, though, it was an unexpected surprise to hear that people liked how I read my work. Apparently, my soft tone paired with my “brutal” words created a discordant, eerie harmony that actually worked really well. Which, is something I never really considered–that my gentle from disuse, honestly voice could add another, meaningful layer to my writing.
Forgive the long preface but that other aspect of my work I didn’t mention in class is that most of it is an exploration of trauma and how it informs one’s future interaction as well as its, overall, lasting impact/effect on one’s life. It’s a focus of both my written and metals work. Specifically, when it comes to my metalwork and jewelry-making, I like to create wings–in case you haven’t noticed.
(Really, in case you haven’t)
To me, making these symbols of freedom out of a fixed medium transforms them into a profound statement. Emblems of what could be or could have been but isn’t or wasn’t.
They become almost escapes.
It’s an inherent contradiction I hope I can continue to finesse in my art.
Getting back to the writing, though, I think that discordant harmony I was made aware of fits in appropriately with my overarching theme–something I would never have known if I hadn’t spoken up.
Silence is such a hard adversary to conquer. Especially when doing so feels like a betrayal. I mean, silence is an old friend. The oldest of mine, even. An integral part of me. And yet, it’s not. It’s a companion I didn’t choose for myself. Still, though, they’ve always been there. Like a crutch. Like a friend.
Our relationship is one of attrition.
Living with trauma is attrition–a back-and-forth tug-of-war with yourself. No matter on which side ground is lost, you feel like you are playing a losing game. It’s, like I said, contradictory a lot of the time.
It’s calm, too, sometimes. Inside. When it’s stalemate. Usually, deadlock occurs when I’m writing or in the metals studio.
Writing and creating from that silence is revenge. It is opening a mouth that was preferred shut. It is telling a story I was supposed to keep secret. It is traitorous. It is truth.
If a lot of my work seems coarse or vengeful that’s because it is. It is my vengeance. These girls I write in these vicious worlds are meant to articulate the sorrow and rage trauma sows in the heart it broke. That most of these stories end on the crux of closure or with a tinge of something at best bittersweet/disappointing is not a mistake. It is for your contemplation.
Anyway, personal introspection/rambling aside, I imagine incorporating readings of some of these short works in some digital storytelling format with my metal projects. I think telling my stories with my own intonation and in my own voice is necessary for meaningful communication. After all, it is what my body of work sounds like to me. Me. It sound like me.
Something else I’ve also discovered since reading my work aloud is how similar my vengeance sounds like confession–like honesty starving for listeners. Hungry to be heard almost as much as it is ravenous for revenge.
When it comes to confession, I know, it’s best to be all-in. To be unapologetic. To be brave. I want to be.
If nothing else is heard, I hope that is.
Speaking of listening, I’ve recently been introduced to a great podcast.
My Favorite Murder is all about these two freakin’ awesome chicks discussing, you guessed it, murder–a decidedly morbid interest/fascination of my own. My friend @libraryguy introduced me to this delightful show as one of their entries in our own little March Madness competition. We dubbed it #marchmacabreness/#marchmorbidness and, since we’re both connoisseurs of the creepy, horrific, and otherwise disturbing, the object of it is to see who can freak out the other more each week with some deep, dark internet find/fave. Well, at least, that was the object. It’s kind of turned into us just sharing freaky sh*t with each other back and forth.
That’s beside the point though.
Check out the podcast! It’s not so much about employing sound itself to tell story, I’ll admit, but the way the hosts structure their conversations and use tone to convey different feelings is worth appreciating. And, the content is killer. It’s to my tastes, at the very least, so take that for what you will….
***Got that featured image up! A recent, horror-esque drawing of my hand in charcoal ^.^***
“See.” Auntie would hiss, breath-half mist-half piss–spit splattering across my face like soggy freckles. “Don’t you see?”
Spittle soaking deep into bone, I’d bob my neck up down. A metronome kicked on its side. But that was never enough.
My compliance meant nothing till it suffered. TillIsuffered.
Till I looked.
“Can’t you see?” A banshee-screech that bounced off mirrored glass like my small skull in Auntie’s gargantuan grip. Bang. Bang.
“I see.” My raspy exhale fogged the glass.
“See what?” Bang.
“I see a sister slayer.” Yours. “Mommy murderer. Blood traitor.” The worst kind of betrayer. The kind thatbathedintheirvictim’sbloodandcriedoutin wailingvictory.
“What else?” Auntie pressed–my head harder into my fisheye-like reflection.
“I see,” I swallowed. Chewed the tip of my tongue. Bang. “a pretty dress.”
“And,” Auntie dragged the consanent across her crooked incisors. “what do you say?”
“Thank you,” Bile slid down my throat. Spit settled on my face. “Auntie.”
I was released with a huff that coated me in another spray of slimy, grimey, salted spit. TastedlikeMommy‘s tears. Probably. I wouldn’t know. Won’t. I sagged into myself.
“Good boy.” I’mnot.
Satisfied, Auntie would slink off and I would scramble back from smudgey glass. Smooth my hands down silk. With fingertips, find frills, find something like-comfort-but-not-quite in the edges.
What? Auntie’s spit simmered on my skin. My fists clenched frills flat.
Boy. Bang. Good. Bang.
Auntie comes to see that for herself. Eventually. She has no choice but to.
Not when my shoulders brush the height of hers. Not when my eyes meet hers on an upward climb. An ascent.
The few photos kept reveal Mommy had a good head above Auntie. My good head, now. Theonly good thing about me, according to Auntie.
Still, Auntie takes me to the mirror. Stands me before myself and demands–See.
See what you’ve done to your mother, boy. To me.
Auntie reaches for my lengthy curls–for leverage–but the bang is already echoing in my ears. The spit already boiling fresh on my flesh–each drip of dribble like a teardrop at the corner of two lids kissing. I flutter.
Auntie is against the glass in a spin that twirls my skirt.
“See.” It isn’t a hiss. Nor, an order. It’s the slightest, crunchy-squish of a hard-shut eye opening. Blossoming. Ricocheting ad infinitum off mine and Auntie’s super-imposed reflection.
“See.” Frills brush Auntie’s skin like eye lashes, gentle but coated black so they curl. “Can’t you see?”
Another bang and she does. She looks and–
“I see.” Of course, Auntie spits it–in our shared face. My glassy-eyed part of the reflection doesn’t relent. though. Not now.
“What?” Bang. Red joins spit. “Auntie, what?”
“I see,” She huffs when struggling only intensifies red. “a sister slayer.” Mommy’s. I bob my head. Auntie’s lip curls sharp. “A Momma’s bo–” Bang. The mirror cracks.
Auntie gasps, splattering crimson in our splintered reflection. It’s splitting down the middle. Like a large eyelid.
“See what?” Like glass, my voice cracks. Auntie can’t stifle her snicker. Bang. Bang. Bang. She stops. “You see Mommy’s what?”
“–aughter.” Auntie spits between a newly chipped tooth and mouthful of shards. I crook a brow and she tries again, “Daugh…ter.”
“What else?” I roll her limp head till she’s staring straight at the split separating as it joins. “What else do you see?”
“Blood…” Her gurgle hides her reflection’s eye beneath a red coating. Again, a try. A cry. “blood…tr…blood-y….dr….ess….”
She slumps into herself like one lid folding down and I rise from her like the other lid sliding up.
“Thank you, Auntie.”
My fingers find wet frills, edges soaked in and dyed a colour they’ve always been afraid of. Blamed for. A colour I’ve not worn since my first and only–till now–victory.
What would Mommy say?
I wipe the glass before my eyes till I peek through red. Split open and smiling. Fingertips brush the toothy slash.
Hope you enjoyed reading ^.^ For more twisted and delightfully disturbing tales, check out my Killing It tab~ I usually most twice a week.
**This is the painting in the Featured Image for this post. Saw it at a recent trip to the Whitney Museum in the city and–fell in love–but also felt like it would be perfect for this sweet vicious little story**
All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
~ Edgar Allen Poe
Mama went in her sleep.
How she wanted. How she dreamed.
Death is an illusion. An imagined end. Mama rasped toward her own foreseeable ending, breaths short and shallow. We don’t live here. We live inside. When you dream, my little ghost, look for me. I will be there.
So I did.
When Mama moved on from here, I searched–inside. Reached into the recesses. Haunted my hollow spaces, hoping for a familiar specter. A lingering trace, no trick of longing.
What I found, though, was smoke and mirrors, fogged glass stretching for as far as the eye can fathom. A maze of murky reflections and, wailing through it like a willowy wind-chime in a gale, Mama’s voice, beckoning.
I’m lost, little ghost. A hazy figure in the fog. I reach for it till fingertips kiss frigid glass. Help me find my way. Cold stings skin. Just a smudge. Please. It hurts.
Mama wasn’t a beggar. A bargainer, yes, but never desperate. If she ever appeared as such, it was an act. A performance. A scheme. Artifice. Those smoke and mirrors.
See, in the waking realm, Mama was a magician. I, her faithful assistant. Mama lowered the curtain and I disappeared. She held the saw and I split in two shards.
Defying death, Mama would tell the evening’s adoring audience, her top-hat tipped to stymie applause. is child’s play. A dream forgotten upon waking. A little ghost, her hand on my shoulder, proud. of who you were. If asked nicely, they’ll return. Show you how to remember. How to escape.
Please.Mama calls now, from deep within mirrored halls. Come.
So, like a faithful assistant, I do. I split in two.
I follow the sound of Mama’s imploring cries, her delighted giggles when I hit a dead-end. Hunt the hush of footfalls, discordant echoes off emptiness. Raindrops tap-tap-tapping the glass in out-of-tandem staccato. Pitter-patter-pat. Like a taunt.
Hiding was an acquired skill of mine–from Mama. Crouching in crawlspaces, tucking limber limbs from suspicious, searching sight. Mama taught me all I knew. Every trick…
Or, so I thought.
Suddenly, a shimmer through the fog–the sparkly band ’round Mama’s trusty top-hat. I give chase. Pat, pat, pat–around sharp corners, down splintering corridors, a tinkling of… bells? in my ears. Maybe wind whistling through chimes….?
A silvery glint twists left. I clip my shoulder veering after it. Hear an explosion of clinks and of tinkling–feel a tingling run up my arm. Realization dawns. It’s glass. The sound is glass. Broken bits and pieces flinging through the air.
The mirrors are shattering.
I pick up my pace. Ignore the jagged fragments gnawing at my heels, biting into the tender flesh. This is not the end. Mama promised. There isn’t one. Not in my dreams.
At last, the top-hat is in reach. I thrust out a numb arm. Snag the hat by its brim. Tug it close for safe-keeping to my chest.
Immediately, silence falls.
Across the void to me. Then, the quiet stretches from where I stand, top-hat in hand, to the lone mirror before me. For once, the glass isn’t fogged, my reflection only a vague impression. No, now, when I look in the mirror, I find Mama.
She stares at me, a smile slashed from ear to ear. Her hand is outstretched and, after a measured moment, I move forward to meet her.
Fingertips caress glass, warmth seemingly radiating from within. Mama’s….my eyes glance from my recently captured prize back to my face. Put it on, they suggest. Then, little ghost, you’ll remember.
So, ever-faithful, I raise Mama’s glimmering top-hat to my head.
A perfect fit. I tip the brim.
As if in approval, Mama nods. My breath hitches. In my ears, a ringing–no, a pounding. Inside, Mama said. I will be there. I fall to my knees. Mama does the same.
Defying death is…. a little ghost of who you were. My hand brushes a shard, fingers its cracks, its poignancies. My reflection begins to tear. They’ll… show you how to escape.
“Little ghost… Little ghost… Little ghost…” Mama reclaims my fracturing focus, her grin splitting–sawing–her in two. It’s just the crack. “Are you there?”
“No,” Slowly, back and forth, I shake my head. The fog has cleared. The curtain lifted. Dream dissipated. I clench the shard in my grip till it cuts. “I’m here.”