#creativewriting module on experimental practice is coming to an end

Warning> Second draft

This module on the MA in Creativity Writing, I am doing at the University of Salford was fascinating. It was my last one. I managed to RPL one of the diploma stage modules that had a focus on professional practice. I love the fact that they are all 30 credits too as  you really feel that you are learning something deeply and that it is worth it. All modules have been really useful. I have learnt so much. They opened new pathways for exploration, theoretical and applied ones, not just as a creative writer but also academic writer and academic developer. I am already weaving some of what I have been taking away into my work. This course is really showing me the value of cross-disciplinary learning and working and how ideas from one professional area or discipline can travel to another one, become novel interventions and trigger new ideas. Fascinating!

This module introduced me to the concept of uncreative writing. Uncreative writing in a creative writing course? Very strange, I thought. I did not immediately see a point in this. The first task was to type a five page existing text… I thought this is strange and while I did not feel motivated to do this. I did and in the end I recognised by rebellious nature in how I worked on this but also the need to connect with a specific text to do anything with it. It was really important for me and I can see how often we feel disconnected with stuff we are given to read. Interest-driven learning is really powerful and a strong motivator to learn and engage more deeply. My struggle to understand uncreative writing, my readings and the little experiments we did, definitely all helped. I had a eureka moment when I was working on my first assignment after the initial “I have no idea what I am doing”. Actually after a very slow start, I speeded up when I had a more concrete idea what I was going to do. The path to get there was foggy but the sun came out. It was really useful, enjoyable and a rich learning experience. I often lost myself when I was working on it and then made progress much faster than anticipated.
The truth is that the more I read and experimented, the more I started enjoying finding out more about uncreative writing.  I have to say the term conceptual writing (used interchangeable with uncreative writing) did sound more appealing to me, at least at the beginning. The word concept in itself was really saying something about the way we engag in ready-made texts. Conceptually and then we make up rules. I liked that part a lot. Reading some of the work by Kenneth Goldsmith was fundamental in developing my understanding and ground my experiments. Kenneth acknowledges that we have so much text that we don’t really need anymore. Is he wrong? He also challenges our perception of plagiarism and he has been provocative with his own students in this area. Uncreative writing made me also think about open educational resources in a different way and I am writing about this a little article but I am also linking it to creative learning and teaching. Initially, I found it strange that whole thing about uncreative writing. But the idea was to provoke and help us consider alternative approaches to storymaking. To break free from conventions and give us the license to do the un-usual, the radical also and produce creative text in different shapes and forms. We were also reminded through this work that the seeds for our stories could come from anywhere, even from other stories. They often do anyway but we don’t acknowledge this.

The visualiality (is there such a word?) of the text, in poetry and prose, became more important. It is not just about adding nice pictures but more deeply engage with the text itself and more creative ways, even where we position it on the page, the size, typefont, what else we make visible or invisible. I will now critically and creatively, I hope, review some of the stories I have written to push the boundaries a little bit more. I suspect something like this, will be more demanding for the reader and my big question is, will they be ready for it?

I could relate to making the ordinary themes that became extraordinary in Lydia Davis‘ work. Her  condensed stories (not sure this was the term used, maybe synoptic? Also known as flash fiction) brought fresh writing air.

Lydia is very playful with language, I find, and what she explores often reminded me of the things I could consider as a writer for children. In a way I read her stories which I suspect were written for adults as triggers to  re-awakening the child in the reader. This is my personal interpretation with some of her work. She makes the ordinary appear extraordinary. Lifts the mundane and makes it shine. I have been writing picture book stories for a double audience, I think picture book writers/artists do. Despite the fact that we broadly know that picture books are for children, often children that can’t even read, they are really cross-generational creations and have layers and layers of opportunities to engage in diverse readership, if this is the desire of the author and illustrator. But also what stops us from creating picture book stories for adults? While I have only limited evidence brought together through personal explorations into the current bookmarked, I can see that increasingly picture books are more openly written for adult readers.

Perhaps the recent book by Charlie Mackesy The boy, the model, the fox and the horse, signalises a new direction for the picture book market or an additional direction perhaps? In this we are not just encouraged to wander and wonder but also to engage in creative reading (something we also started looking at in this module, see Ron Padgett’s book).

I find The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers similar.

Many are in horror and avoid writing into books but actually, from the years of working as a translator, I felt the need to add my own marks to the books I translated and read and this never left me. I just think this could be a way to engage more deeper with what we read and making sense of it but also start a dialogue and debate with the material, the story. Don’t know if anybody else feels like this.

Another similar example, is the picture book Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh. What a powerful story that is. This book was gifted to me by Paul Stacey, the Executive Director of Open Education Global at the recent Open Education Global conference in Milan in November. How did he know that this story would touch my heart? Paul didn’t even know that I was on a creative writing course and write picture book stories…

What this module also helped me to see, is that the stories that I wrote are more poems than prose. Maybe there are poetic stories. I definitely need to work more on them. To break free from tradition a little bit more, to make them exciting textually and visually as well, but beyond the classic or traditional text and illustration arrangements. Ali (2013, 4) says characteristically

“Writing is a way of thinking, the poem itself offers the best form of structure. It invents its own rules under the making: Neither line, nor form, nor diction or syntax is taken for granted by the writer. It is an anarchic piece of text that lives between boundaries.” (Ali, 2013, 4)

The story in a box I created for the first assignment, my interpretation of an existing  picture book as an act of uncreative writing is perhaps such an example, but also the board game I developed earlier in another module based on a picture book story. I had the opportunity to mix in crafting, which was an interesting addition and added a very different feel and dimension to the final output but also to the process of making the box and what was in it and the arrangement of the story and artefacts. A story does not need to be told or shared in a 2 dimensional artefact, the traditional book format.

During this module it was fascinating to see where we were all taking the materials we immersed ourselves. We experimented in very different ways. It was really insightful and refreshing.

Both assignments have been submitted (I think we are getting feedback for the first one next week). I  am waiting patiently for feedback and marks, while at the same time I will start thinking about a possible final project over the Christmas holidays. Just random thoughts in my head at the moment but something will emerge, I am sure. Something that will stretch me further. Something that will challenge me. Maybe a series of short poems or stories inspired by Lydia Davis but for children where the protagonists are neither humans nor animals… what could they be?

Thank you to both my tutors, Judy and Scott, on this module and the whole programme team as well as my peers for their valuable input and support.

References

Ali, K. (2013) Genre-Queer: Notes Against Generic Binaries. In: Singer, M. and Walker, N. (eds.) Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction. London: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional.

My uncreative writing experiment is coming to an end… a new beginning

the original and my uncreative interpretation

It has been a fascinating journey. What a challenge. I didn’t really think I would get so much out of “uncreative writing”. We have been experimenting with “ncreative” or conceptual writing, I can relate more to the second term… as part of the MA in Creative Writing and the experimental module I am doing this term. Looking back, I remind myself of my youngest, who when he was little used to say “I don’t like it? What is it?” or the other way around, I can’t remember now.

How can “uncreative” writing ever be a feature of creative writing? This did sound dodgy, but actually, my immersion into different forms of uncreative writing through authors who have done a lot of work in this area (especially Goldsmith but also others) and my peers on the course, progressively I started becoming less skeptical. It just didn’t make any sense at the beginning and often “uncreative” writing pieces looked random, random arrangements, random radical and unconventional representations that just didn’t make any sense. It seemed that yes, the new output was a new form but why? Well, there is a why and this is key, I think, in “uncreative” writing. A deep and critical and imaginative engagement with an existing text can produce a new form of creative output that stands well on its own. That has been detouched from the original. In a way, the process reminded me of translation, but it is something very different. But it is a translation or an interpretation perhaps. A focus on certain seeds we find in an original, that speak to us in a unique way and we, the “uncreative” writers, conduct a study or inquiry into these and what they could mean, or what they do mean to us. This study leads us to some findings, like any study does and it is really fascinating.

So basically by not being creative one can be really creative. It does sound strange, but I have experienced this myself…

I decided to study “uncreative” writing on the picture book Pandora (Turnbull, 2016). My final output is Pandora’s, an artifact in a box.  Both are shown above in the picture. I have reflected in detail on the creative or uncreative process, step-by-step, my dilemmas and ideas and how it all came together, as well as the features of the box and what is within it.

What I would like to do here is reflect on the whole experience, what I learnt from it and how such an approach could perhaps be used in practice… do I dare to say, my creative writing practice as well as my academic development practice.

What did I learn?
Well, uncreative writing really exists and it can be a really powerful vehicle for creative writing and I suspect development more widely. We almost never start with a blank canvas. Our ideas have their roots in other people’s work… many, often don’t want to admit this as they think it is a weakness… well, it isn’t. It is important where ideas come from. Making novel connection between ideas is being imaginative and resourceful that will drive creativity and innovation in whatever we do. This is no different in uncreative writing. I felt that my initial resistance had perhaps more to do with the perceived randomness of outputs, from my side. But, I didn’t step away from it. I was patient and open to strange ideas, ideas I wouldn’t really consider. And I think this is key. Especially when we are critical, especially when we are dismissive, we may miss valuable learning opportunities. I have seen this so often in the context of my work. As a playful and creative academic developer, I have experienced resentment when modelling more unusual approaches to learning and teaching. I know that we need to listen especially carefully when we disagree, when we dismiss, when we don’t understand something or somebody. I did stick with it and the conversations we had in class and the readings I have done, also helped,  but most of it the experiment itself. Doing it myself. Learning through making, literally. And writing through making. It could be that it came naturally to me to turn a flat 2 dimensional book into a 3 dimensional adventure. I often use objects and models in my teaching. I suspect I was influenced by this, but also I felt that the digital tools I was using did not help me connect with the same depth with the story and my study. So I soon distanced myself from these. It has been fascinating. Working with our hands, thinking with our hands is still, and will always be a powerful medium. To be critical, we also need to be creative at the same time and that requires a portion of experimentation and play. Play with ideas, play to make novel connections, play to get it wrong and start again, play to change direction, but also play as a creative pleasure. I feel that I did all this as part of the project. I actually think that my own playfulness was the driver of this study. Initially it didn’t lead anywhere, I felt lost and just couldn’t get it. But then something happened and I broke free from flat paper… that was truly liberating. Originally, I tried to stick far too close to the original idea, the original text and the images, but when I conceptualised my interpretation, I could start seeing the path I would take. My wings started growing. I had no idea from the outset where this would lead me, but I have also been flexible during the process and did not ignore my inner critical voices to make decision and have to acknowledge that some of my ideas were rubbish. But they did help me better understand what I didn’t want to do, so the experimental and playful part of giving them a go was extremely useful.
I also learnt that uncreative writing enabled deep engagement with a text. I suspect this could be any text. In my case it was a picture book. Turning the story into an(other) artifact using specific uncreative writing techniques, opened my eyes and my mind to new possibilities.

My (un)creation itself in the shoebox looks a bit rough and rustic, definitely messy!!! … handmade and it is. It also looks unfinished and not refined… and it is. I have no problem with this looking back now, while originally I felt this needs to look and be perfect, polished. It isn’t. It is messy and chaotic. And when I freed myself from perfection and tolerating imperfections and mistakes (even celebrating them?), it is when the study started growing.

Is it a re-connection with the ancient myth of Pandora’s box? I did find hope… like Pandora did in the ancient myth but also Turnbull’s (2016) Pandora. Now the box belongs to everybody.

So how could I use uncreative writing in my own practice?
I am on this course as I have a special love for picture books. Using and writing or better, creating picture books in an unconventional way is appealing to me. And  I think it would be for publishers too but most importantly for (young) minds who engage or we want to engage with picture (book) stories. Increasingly, it is recognised that picture books are not exclusively for children who often can’t even read… I have started exploring the use of picture book stories in academic development and my story about feedback that I also turned into a board game was perhaps a starting point for this. Using uncreative writing approaches when working conceptually with picture book stories that are relevant to my work, could be a way to engage academics more deeply and help them think and reflect and change? There is no point in reflecting just to reflect. It is the doing that matters, the change that reflection can bring.

Furthermore, I would love to work with children in primary schools and run workshops using uncreative writing approaches to put their imagination on fire and let them experience the power of reading and learning through making. Even to use “Pandora (Turnbull, 2016) and my (un)creation. How could this uncreative writing study be used in a workshop setting? What about all the broken items within it? What conversations and debates would it generate? There is definitely also scope for using such an approach  in secondary schools but also in higher education I feel, where often playfulness is not harnessed (enough)… and it is seen as childish… we are all about stats and metrics in higher education, (often) not by choice… very sad and disappointing, disheartening actually.

… I started by using “uncreative writing” but nearer the end it became uncreative writing… I felt it was wrong to correct this. It also shows the distance I traveled, from something that was out there, far away from me, to something I did and now can relate to, it is something that is becoming part of my writing process… it seems.

Thank you Scott, Judy and my peers.

References

Goldsmith, K. (2011) It’s not plagiarism. In the digital age, it’s ‘repurposing’, 16 Sep 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 58, Issue 4, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Uncreative-Writing/128908

Turnbull, V. (2016) Pandora. London: Quarto Knows.

It does look and is messy… not sure the photo helps

… and then I found this…

… and this

… as we said almost no ideas are new ideas 😉

Uncreative writing is actually creative!

I had a eureka moment. I have to admit that I did struggle with the concept of “uncreative writing” or “conceptual writing”. Maybe the term conceptual writing is actually closer to what it really is and “uncreative writing” is a provocation but a confusing one as I felt that I need to suspend my creative juices (not easy…) and become just a copier to say this mildly. It also doesn’t feel right to copy somebody else’s work and not acknowledge where ideas come from. This has always been a no no for me and now I was challenged to actually do this, not even accidentally but deliberately.

During the week we went to a six-form colleague. There were some art students there. One of them was working on the following. A copy of a photograph to which she added layers. Was this “uncreative art”? Seeing it happening in front of my eyes, really helped me make the connection to “uncreative writing”. And while I struggle with this term, I seem to prefer it from “conceptual writing”… very strange.

For the current module, experimental practice, “uncreative writing” is at the heart of it all, to challenge us, to stretch us, to make us feel uncomfortable… all things that I am doing in another context of course… so now it is my turn to actually feel it in my body and my soul.

Being organised and strategic (yes, strategic), I wanted to start early working on my assignments. I also don’t have that much time! Another factor that is important to mention as it defines my engagement and using every minute that I have is important so that I get the maximum out of the course and learn something useful that will help me become a better writer. There is only limited time we all have… how can we stretch it so that it goes further?

For this module we have to do two assignments, both have a very open brief and this can be a good thing, as we know but also feel disorientating… I think I sort of know what I will be doing for the second one, a hybrid piece I decided, but the first one needs to be submitted at the end of November and the pressure is on. Not much time to be creative or uncreative? But that can be a good thing. We need to use the time we have. My original idea was linked to Brexit tweets (#brexit), to curate everyday two until the end of October (I even had a special hashtag #cn_uncreativewriting…) when we suppose to break up from the EU (avoiding to use break free, as I feel that this is an illusion, anyway). But it has been far too painful and soul destroying to even curate the tweets. So I gave up after Day 4, I think. Also there were some indications that it might not have been a useful project… The good thing is perhaps that I went in a circle and came back to picture books and after some initial experimentation that was very close to the little stuff we tried in class, I think my ideas are growing into a specific direction. The discussions in class were really fundamental to find that direction and feeling less lost and unsure what I could do. These discussions helped me realise that “uncreative writing” is not that uncreative. In the contrary. It is a deeply conceptual process, one that connects the author-curator, if you like with the original author in a very special way. When that link, hook, is not there, not sure if we can talk about “uncreative writing” or “conceptual writing”. But are we always aware of this link or hook? I don’t know.

I went back to one of my favourite picture books “Pandora” by Victoria Turnbull, which I also used in one of my earlier modules but in a very different way. What I now had in mind also reminded me of what I did in my last module where I used the same heart of the story in three different ways: 1. picture book (with images I created) 2. longer story, just text 3. board game I developed based on the story. Were these acts also “uncreative writing” activities? I am wondering now. When I did them, I sort of felt that I was self-plagiarising… but maybe I wasn’t.

Pandora goes back to the ancient myth of Pandora… we all have heard it and it is about hope. But also a box… the box or the idea of “Pandora’s box” gave me an idea about the book Pandora and what I could do. I will break free from the idea of a picture book as a something that is flat and predominantly two-dimensional… yes, I will be re-creating or (re-)conceptualising this book in a box… and specifically a shoebox… now just need a box to get started. Feeling that my “uncreative block” is disappearing and I feel eager to start working on this. I am very excited!!!

I am now on a hunt for a shoebox. The right shoebox. Got one on Saturday but I felt that it was too big (for shoes size 41!!!). Now looking for a kid’s shoe box…

Other good news>>> I was accepted on The Golden Egg Picture Book Programme to start in September 2020.

 

typing like mad… but don’t know why… creative writing course, year 2 starts

After successfully completing the Pgcert stage of the MA in Creative Writing I started last year at the University of Salford, I am now ready for year 2. Feeling very excited but also worried that I won’t have that much time as I would like to… so need to be really organised and use the time I will have available wisely. Started doing this and looked at the assessment already but still a bit in the dark exactly what I will have to do and the first assignment will be in at the end of November (a big conference then in Milan so need to be super organised!!!). Hopefully things will become clear(er) in my first class this week and I will be able to make a start with that assignment at least. I do sound very strategic…

We got a few tasks too to complete before this week’s class. BTW, I am doing the Experimental Practice module this term. I love the fact that the modules are 30 credits and not tiny ones. You actually feel that you do a good amount of work and get something for it.

I have to admit that I had to read the first task a few times to make sure I was doing the right thing… we have to type a text by anybody, any subject, that I guess interests us a little bit at least without changing any of the language, anything. I spend some time finding the right text. Was I too picky? We haven’t been given any more clues about what we will do with the text, so in the end I picked a few shorter articles from a recent magazine Adam bought be about knitting. I have been knitting since last winter but am still unable to make anything else beyond scarves…

I found it very boring to just copy the text and type it in a word document. Now imagining how it would be to type it on a typewriter… I didn’t think of changing anything but because I picked texts that were of interest to me, it did help me keep going. But as time progressed I became lazier and lazier… I have to admit. It worried less and less about any spelling mistakes.  And about half way through I did question if I need the text to be single spaced… I would need to type in so much text…  I needed a shortcut! So I decided to switch to 1.5 space and instantly I was almost done. Relief! Typing was over soon. I was amazed at the speed as I was copying and almost written completely blindly without looking. I sprinted towards the end and was typing faster and faster… Now thinking that it may be a (nice?) exercise to write blind folded. Don’t know why but this idea just popped into my head.

But I do prefer writing my own words instead of copying. There is natural flow and freedom. I felt restricted by this activity and like a robot who would just copy what was there already.

So the five pages are now ready and I can’t wait to see what we will do with them this week. Need to remember to print them but not double sided, I suspect. There are loads of things you could do with these texts and I guess, as this module is about experimental practice that is exactly what we will do. Will take a pair of scissors with me and some colour pencils. Just in case. Often inspiration for a story comes from an experience, something emotional we connect but maybe this will show us that inspiration can come from anywhere, even a text we have no connection to beyond a tiny interest perhaps in the topic.

Looking forward to seeing the new group. Most of the people I started last year, will have finished the full MA by now as they were doing it full-time. I am going slowly… I have no choice.

Already thinking of one of the assessments and as it is a creative piece, I have a picture book trilogy in mind I started writing and editing (no polishing yet!). I hope this will work so that I can progress this project and become more experimental in my creative writing approach.

Also need to watch the following http://www.ubu.com/film/goldsmith_sucking.html No idea what it is about yet. Watched it now, in advance of the session and it is fascinating. A valuable introduction into Kenneth Goldsmith’s work and perspectives on creative or uncreative writing and the claim that creative writing is far too conservative, still. Looking forward to the session today. Will also get his book about uncreative writing. Will be facinating reading.

Happy Week 5 #creativewriting

I can relax a little bit as I feel that I have found what I will do for my first assignment. Assessment does create stress! If we don’t fully get what we have to do or even get a sense that we can do it.

While all the sessions so far have been extremely valuable and opened windows to new worlds, this week’s session really helped me to connect with my love of picture books. While we didn’t really look at any of them, I did in my own time as I found it useful to relate the theory about happiness as articulated by Ahmed (2010) to these. The module so far confirmed to me that I learn best when I can combine theory with practice. With something that interests me as I seek to find applied patterns of the theory and make meaningful connections. I read the whole book in advance of the session and two other ones by Ahmed, but after the session, I felt that the discussions we had with Caroline and my peers really helped me deepen my understanding about happiness and unhappiness further.

Also, finally knew what I would be doing for my first assignment and confirmed this with Caroline. I actually had written the first draft over the weekend, in advance of our session about happiness and before I confirmed with her that it would be ok. I just couldn’t stop myself. Did I just had a feel that it would work? I immersed myself into the picture books and the theory. It was fascinating what I was discovering. I felt like an archaeologist… sort of. My original plan was just to make a start with the essay over the weekend, maybe 500 words max, but I wrote over 3500… I was pleased I had written that draft before we discussed happiness in class. It really helped me further deepen my understanding about what I had read and what I was discovering in the picture books. So I soon started editing. And reading studies about the literary form of picture books more generally. I can’t stop now. I find it all hugely exciting and invigorating.

… C.S. Lewis is right… “ A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest. ”

So what is Ahmed’s happiness work all about? I articulated my understanding of her theory in my essay through analyzing three contemporary picture books. I love the picture books I selected:

Pandora (Turnbull, 2016)
South (Duncan, 2017)
The bear and the piano (Litchfield, 2015)

My interpretation in a few lines>>> Pandora an ex-killjoy with a pessimistic outlook, the Fisherman in South, an initial happy migrant but then a melancholic one similar to the Bear, indicate that creativity enables us to live happiness in the moment when we are immersed in it as a basic emotion, but that there is a real desire for something else and that is experiencing happiness as a social emotion, something that is shared with others based on a common value system.

More in the essay.

Ahmed’s work definitely gave me the language to articulate what I was discovering. Ahmed’s work is serious stuff. I had no idea what I would discover in the three picture books. I analysed the text and the illustrations. And they are right. The main vehicle to communicate emotions seems through the illustrations. Now, I am unsure if I will I ever again read picture books in the same way as before writing this essay? And what about writing my own stories?

I worked on the essay systematically and am now ready to share the draft with somebody who would be interested in reading it. Just would like to see if what I have written makes any sense to anybody. Could also share with the writers… I follow one of them in Instagram (Litchfield). But would he reply?

I have also, because of the above, that emotions are mainly depicted through the illustrations, been thinking about illustration and that I should perhaps step out of my comfort zone and do a little bit of drawing regularly and see if I can warm up to illustrate one of my stories. In all three picture books The writer was also the illustrator. Now that I have the draft for the first assignment ready, I am thinking about the second one. This can be a creative piece I have written. Thinking of my refugee story in English and the Greek translation and one more I will do, the German one. A new challenge for me as I haven’t used my German for nearly 20 years in my capacity as a translator.

Through a clip on youtube, I discovered Goodreads.

Looking forward to next week.

References

Ahmed, S. (2010) The promise of happiness. Duke University Press.

Duncan, D. (2017) South. New York: Abrams.

Litchfield, D. (2015) The bear and the piano. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Turnbull, V. (2016) Pandora. London: Quarto Knows.

The picture books I analysed

Week 4 money, money, money #creativewriting

This was hard and this is what I said when asked at the beginning by Dr Chris Vardy. when he asked the whole class.

I thought the previous sessions and materials were difficult but this was super hard. Learning is. It is never just fun. Reading all these texts about finance and economy or mainly finance from four different theorists (Ferguson, Jameson, Arrighi, La Berge) was a real challenge. Hard to follow and digest. I am still trying to. Making notes on the sheets of paper helped. I definitely wasn’t able to follow them by reading on screen. The discussions in class were useful and made some of the concepts clearer. I am pleased I had read everything in advance. The discussions in class really showed how we can co-construct knowledge through questioning, active listening and sharing ideas to develop and move out our collective understanding forward and into new directions. The text analysis of specific passages was a valuable strategy in this process. Much better than any Powerpoint could ever do… as we were all engaged and actually immersed in the texts. Thinking as an academic  developer, I am wondering if some of the questions could be discussed in smaller groups? What difference would this approach make?

What did stick with me is that it appears that the economy has been reduced to finance (is this because capitalism is the only economic model for some time now and a reality we seem to be unable to escape?). It doesn’t seem to be a good thing… in my little world as we seem to have stopped questioning the fundamentals of an economy.  And the current status quo helps the rich get richer and pushes the poor to and off the edge. Inequality is amplified and opportunities too, but not for all. Just for the privileged. And according Ferguson (2009) it is the lack of education we should blame that basically a large proportion of the population is financially illiterate. But this also feeds the current system and is convenient for the few who are as they directly benefit from this reality. What else do I remember? We are moving rapidly away from making money through producing something. Money is now made through investing in stocks for example, turned into capital and converted back into money. This works again for those who know how to play these financial games. Games was not mentioned in any of the texts but it just popped into my head as it is tempting for the wider masses to get involved in the stock market for example but if you don’t know the rules of the game,and if you are not a confident and competent player, you will soon loose everything in your quest for the “good life” you all you will experience cruel optimism (Berlant). what is the real value of money? Is it power? are there other ways to gain power? And why are we after power anyway? Does power, or perceived power, give us the opportunity to make change happen or stop it?

One of the authors put a case forward that actually finance is not evil, it is actually what drives innovation, I think it was Ferguson (2009). It is interesting, but not surprising that it is the privileged who say this. I need to read more to better understand the world of finance and economy. The papers I read provided a useful trigger and food-for-thought into an area, I am not sure I would have explored otherwise.

I am glad I didn’t skip it as I do feel that I learned a little something that will help me in my critical reading and creative writing. I am sure it will. It definitely raised my awareness and showed me that I can confront my fears and actually surprise myself relate it to my own experiences in my own little micro cosmos.

I have continued thinking about the first assignment and thought I was getting somewhere, when I was told that looking at thee theories is too much. Is my thinking far too complicated? I can see how capitalist realism, cruel optimism and the quest for happiness somehow fit together and are present in contemporary picture books. I got some books out of the library about happiness and inclusion (Ahmed) and suspect that this is the direction of travel for this first assignment as I do see that a positive future is often presented in picture books. I have been re-reading some of them and bought a few more and will over this weekend select which ones I will use. Then writing begins.

Essay idea: How is the quest for happiness (Ahmed) experienced in contemporary picture books.

References

Ferguson, N. (2009) The Ascent of Money: A financial history of the World, London: Penguin

 

Week 3 Fresh visions for alternative futures wanted #creativewriting

Our third session and I did sit next to the ladies I felt I knew a little bit. Don’t think this is a bad thing but also liked the suggestion to reach out to other people. I mix my students up all the time and it is a good thing to open up to new people and their ideas. And the class seems to be now more diverse than in week 1. It is interesting that the back row, this is were I am sitting as well, is participating a lot. Usually, but not always, you have the naughty students hiding at the back. Maybe naughty in this case is more outspoken? A little bit? I am sure things will change as the weeks progress. I sat there as I wanted to blend into the background but this seat also gives me a good view of the whole classroom. Sitting at the font does not appeal to me as I would have my back turned to my peers in the current furniture arrangement. It doesn’t feel right. Could we sit in a circle? The rows don’t encourage movement and more dynamic classroom interaction. I feel.

We discussed Capitalist realism (Fisher, 2009) and Cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011) and I would definitely not be able to participate without having done the readings, even if my head did hurt at the time. I was fascinated by the discussions we had in class and the questions asked by Caroline really helped us think deeper and see connections between ideas and concepts but also our everyday realities. One of my peers made a statement saying that capitalist realism seems to be more a reality than a theory. This was an interesting angle to consider. I guess it may be a sign when theory becomes fully integrated into practice and is lived. The implications of capitalism realism for the individual and society appear to explain a series of mental health problems, the raise of instability, insecurity and anxiety. We are angry. And the outlook is grim. For the many.

Individualism and competitiveness seem to thrive in expense of collaboration and community and the collective. Everybody is in there for themselves and media, mass and social, feed that hunger to stand out, be seen and admired for a polished self and a synthetic or fabricated lifestyle that comes with it. The ‘me me me’ culture seems to be turning into an epidemic. Many examples were mentioned in class that erode not just our economy, politics (Brexit was of course also mentioned), our society but also our everyday human relationships.

While Mark Fisher explains in detail the negative effects of capitalist realism and makes a case evidencing that culture, literature and education have been subsumed by it, I am not sure that he offers an alternative, a viable alternative. To what extend did he have an alternative in mind when he wrote this book? The imperative need for an alternative is there but concrete ideas seem to be absent. Maybe there are none. Maybe this is the reason why people cling with nostalgia to the old, a distorted reality that lives in their dusty memories, a mushy salad of experiences and fantasies.

But do we want to dismantle the status quo? And who is “we”? I don’t think it is everybody, all… all of us…I think it is still very much us and them, or them and us. And the distance between us is widening and deepening as we speak…

What role does/can literature and culture more generally play to (re-)imagine new realities and provide not just a glimmer of hope, which is soaked in passivity, but can grow into collective empowerment, participatory revolution? For me, one of the problems is that we see politics and economics completely detached from culture. And the chasm is growing. We allow it to grow. It seems to be convenient for some… for those especially who try and shower us with nostalgia of the glorious past that never was while harvesting their capitalist fruits from all of us. And we don’t even realise that this is happening or we allow it to happen as such practices have been normalised.

I still felt sad about Mark Fisher, his depression and how in the end he took his own life. Capitalist realism appears to have been his lived reality and perhaps he experienced a form of cruel optimism and the idea of “good life” crumbled in front of his eyes and he no longer could see an alternative, not even in his fantasies…

While we had these open discussions I kept thinking about children’s literature and specifically picture books and if or to what extend these present spaces to dream up new realities. I started searching for signs of capitalist realism (Fisher, 2009) in stories, picture book stories. The Bear and the piano by David Litchfield came to mind… I feel that the story also has elements of cruel optimism and the “good life” (Berlant, 2011). How does the bear save himself from falling apart? From crumbling? If the bear in the book can do it, what stops us?

While the discussions were really insightful, I kept coming back to the essay I have to write…

Assessment 1: Essay

For the first assignment, you should offer specific literary or cultural examples that you have approved with the module tutor who covered the topic  that you are interested in.

Specific questions have been provided and included in last week’s post.

I know now that my secondary sources can children’s books, even picture books. The plan is to start putting some of them together and then carefully identify which ones I could use. Vicky, my children’s literature buddy from the course, says that she does that first before tackling an essay and it does seem like a wise strategy.

Possible secondary sources so far…
Andros, C. (2018) The dress and the girl. Abrams.
Litchfield, D. (2015) The bear and the piano.

Need to check the VLE now and do some reading for next week.

Update over the weekend?
I started reading for next week, before the weekend began… I had a question mark as I wasn’t sure what to write. How to write it. The reading for week 4 is very heavy, but in a different way from what I have read the previous weeks. It focuses on financial forms in literature after the financial crash. The book, Scandals and Abstraction by Leigh Claire La Berge is the one I am reading online at the moment. I think it doesn’t help that I am reading it online. I feel that I am getting closer to the text when I actually hold a printout or the real book in my hands. I struggle to connect with this one exclusively online. I have used snippet to get some bits of the pages I have read so far, so that I can print them out and make some notes on these. This will help a little bit. I suspect the week 4 post will be short. I am already looking forward to week 5 (emotions and happiness through the work of Sara Ahmed) and suspect that this will provide food-for-thought for the first assignment. Could I also link to cruel optimism and capitalist realism? I see hopeful visions articulated in contemporary picture books that contrast with capitalist realism and cruel optimism and would like to explore this further. Are fresh alternative visions  present in contemporary picture books? I need to articulate this question a bit better and share with Caroline. See what she says and then make a start with my first assignment.  I am re-reading some of my picture books (well, we had bought most of them for the boys when they were younger) and identify the themes that emerge from these.

picturebooks

Sunday picture book readings…

References

Berlant, L. (2011) Cruel optimism. London: Duke University Press.

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. Is there no alternative? Ropley, Hants: John Hunt Publishing.

The following made me think…