Week Three: Writing the Old West

This week, I spent the first portion of my time revising my website. I used a WordPress site for a previous class, but shy of distinguishing between pages and posts and adding a timeline to our page, we did very little to flush it all out. The first things I did this week was to reorganize categories so that my site is easier to navigate for potential visitors. Realizing the limitation on posting single twitter post for my daily creates, I searched and found how to create a category and add tweets which can then be added to a widget that provides a feed for those posts. Accordingly, I created a new page dedicated entirely to my daily creates.

On the daily creates, one was rather simple. I just posted an old photo from a Civil War Museum as a bit of history. The other two were gimp edits. The first, putting a saying on western picture, I just created text, outlined it with a path, grew my selection, filled it, dropped it behind the white text, and moved the white text off center above the created layer to give it an embossed look. The saying I chose about not making bets later provided some inspiration for my character.

The more challenging of the two was to put a western scene reflection on a window; it involved doing things I had not done before or at least using photo manipulating tools I rarely touch.  I cut out the glass in the windows, and I took a few elements that could be seen from inside the window and cut and made new layers out of them as well, the lamp and the picture on the wall, in particular. I noted the different reflections from the interior window trim as well, so it became a layer on its own. I distorted a picture of the OK Corral using transform tools, the way that a window reflection might. Then, using different levels of transparency, smoothing on the light from the lamp, and careful layer order selection, I created a window reflection that has some of the indoor elements from before showing though the window to give it a realistic effect.
The western story analyses were rather straight forward, but they inspired more thought toward my character that I created afterward. The first I chose two stories and sorted out some common elements to investigate the nature of the western literary genre. The second, I used Kurt Vonnegut’s simple story shape analysis to think about how the story I read had been composed, what shape the plot had on the simple graph.

I think the most interesting task of the week was creating my own western character.  A couple of the key elements, that he was a miner turned gambler, but not necessarily the deceitful sort, I had decided on before hand. Inventing him though, was just a matter of sitting down and writing in a way that might explain how and why he was the way he was, as well as revealing something about his internal character. I look forward to the things we will do with the character later in the course as I give him more life.

For the weekly assignments, the first one I chose was to write a letter to my future self. As I detailed in the post, although I dislike writing or even thinking about the future, it is a healthy thing to do at times to make sure I keep to my path in the present.
The two assignments, I was able to relate to the western theme pretty easily. In the first, I wrote a pair of haikus about the joys of eating beans. In the second, I wrote the ending of a story about a gun battle gone horrible wrong.The final writing assignment I completed had nothing to do with westerns, but it did give me important time to contemplate and research every word that starts with x in the English language. It was a very simple story using the alphabet as a guide. The story ending was the most entertaining of the three but they were all fun ways to be creative with words, and in two cases, to get even further into the western theme.

The stoic boy gets the girl


The above curve represents, in Kurt Vonnegut’s mode of story analysis, a representation of the story, “Moment of Vengeance” by Elmore Leonard. In the very early story, they allude to an earlier elevation of the protagonist. I decided to include that because it was discussed, although the associated action was already finalized. Afterward, there is a rapid decent as it becomes clear to the reader that Treat is incapable of preventing Korgeson and his men from taking his wife and Korgeson’s daughter.

That portion is the early fall in the line. After the fall, despite more attempts to break Treat’s resolve, he proves himself to be a hearty, stoic, western hero capable of withstanding, and even combating the adversity thrown at him. His station is, despite external circumstances, the same for that whole portion because he lacks his wife, his sole object. The whole scene against Korgeson’s men is a relatively flat spot despite being the beginning of the climax.

The rise at the end to above the starting point is based on the fact that now, in addiction to getting his wife back, Treat has won the grudging approval of her father so they will be able to live their lives without his interference. Additionally, Treat has proven himself the worthy victor who will do far more than just provide, as Korgeson said that he feared was all Treat was capable of.

What does it mean to be Western?

Having read “The Ice Man,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and other Western stories, both for class and beforehand, some common elements, style, settings, and characters, stand out. As stated in a previous blog, the western genre seems to be the literary embodiment of the prevalent frontier mentality that still exists in the shadows of American mentality, coupled with typified individualist characters that Americans hold in such high regard. In some ways, many of the elements of those stories can be associated with that idea. I chose these two stories in particular because I was interested in the temporal distance between them. The former is a relatively new western, while the later was written by one of the earlier western writers. The commonality between them, then, suggests the immutability of any genre characteristics that they share.

Rugged, tough, and defiant characters are common in westerns. Indeed, in the two stories under review, both protagonists and antagonists in the stories generally match this description. In “The Ice Man,” Victor internally recognizes the smart, passive thing he ought to reply to the immigration office if he wished to be left alone, but decided against it despite the trouble it will bring. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” both Jack Potter and Scratchy Wilson are hard men willing to participate in gun fight, when necessary for the former, and when he is drunk and feels like it for the later. Potter reacts unlike a normal man might, ducking at hiding at the sight of the gun, or even acting in deference toward the man wielding it. He remains steadfast and informs Wilson that it might well be his best opportunity to kill him if he wishes so. In this way, our protagonists are both willing to stare down the odds and face their adversaries.

The taming of the wild is an elements that seems common in western and is associated with the aforementioned frontier mentality. Both stories, each in their own way, represent that struggle. The civilized man, Jack Potter, who was so ashamed that he could have abandoned his sense of propriety and duty to his community in something as personal choosing a bride for himself, must face down the wild, drunken, gun toting maniac with whom is he always willing to do battle. “The Ice Man” keeps one element of the man facing the wild, but turns another on its head when Leonard made the law man the antagonist. Victor still tests his might and courage against bulls, so he is, in that regard, our normal western hero. Nothing of a coward shows inside of him, unlike the dishonest, self-serving law enforcement official. The good wins out in the second story in a unique way, that our protagonist retains his dignity in the face of his opposition. 8 seconds on a mighty bull is more fearsome than a short time in a cell on account of a dishonest law man.

In Westerns, there is generally a clear sense of right and wrong, good and bad. While the characters may all exhibit signs of each of them, their actions are plainly interpretable. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” the antagonist, himself a duality, recognizes his good side at the resolution of the story even if he is personally incapable of understanding it. When he hears about the Sheriff’s marriage, he abandons his cause and lets the sheriff be. In “The Ice Man,” there is very little doubt that the uncouth immigration and customs officer is the bad man, his way of trumping up charges against Victor and his friend makes his nature plainly evident to the audience.

The simple narrative structures, admirable, albeit somewhat stock, characters, the good versus evil, man versus wild, elements of westerns are evident in both stories, despite the differences. Rugged individualism is a mainstay of American idealism, and the idea that there is always something out there that needs civilization to be bestowed upon it still reign in American literature, western and otherwise.

 

Much ado about week two.

This week, while more work than the previous, was certainly more intriguing. I did not carefully read the weekly schedule carefully so I only completed one daily create this week.

It was simply enough, and sort of fun, so I am actually disappointed that I missed the others. The assignments were really good to get my brain thinking more creatively. The whistling a song assignment was simple enough but it made me think about the sorts of things that a good audio assignment might entail, which prompted me to think of what I feel is the beginning of a potentially decent contribution to our group assignment creation.
Writing a story from the perspective of a household tool was a different sort of challenge. It gave me the opportunity to think about writing in a way that my academic career generally does not. It was an interesting bit of self expression, even if what it was expressing was simple and mundane.
My other assignment, which was to put myself in a movie scene was a fun and easy visual assignment. Later I will aim for more challenging ones, but this week I was enjoying dipping my feet into the assignment pool. Describing what I had done and why I had done it added a level of complication, but it was still relatively simple, and again, provided a unique opportunity for self expression.
The about me was probably the most daunting task this week. As I believe I stated in last week, I dislike writing about myself. I decided to keep a portion of what was a digital about me that I made last week and add on to it. The digital history portion, I moved to another posting. I think that the actual about me and the digital section could do with some revision and addition later, so I will keep my mind open for creative ways to add to them.
This week, I also spent some time perusing other people’s work to see what they had done. I only posted one comment this week, but I think the assignments and other tasks in the coming weeks might prevent more opportunity for collaboration, discussion, and interaction. I am still learning to navigate the main site a bit to see what sorts of things people are posting.

Digital Me

This about me is a little different than my other because I want to focus on my internet and digital experiences. I came of age with the internet and consider myself rather tech savvy. I had an AOL when that was the thing and grew up using yahoo messenger. My original myspace account user ID is in the first hundred thousand or so, although I am not quite sure why I know that. But, I readily admit that the latest generation of social networking and internet use has left me behind. I am, therefore, enthusiastic about DS106 because it will help me gain the tools to get caught up on using the internet as a medium. Mostly all I use social networking for now is participation in a handful of political and philosophical debate groups and keeping up with my friends and family at their various locations around the globe. I had a twitter… but I never got around to doing anything with it, maybe now that will change.

Hopefully at the end of the course, I will have developed the tools I need to utilize my degree in online environments and open up avenues for my professional and personal aspirations as well.

What is a country that I have heard of…

For this assignment, creep on a movie scene, I originally thought it would be a good idea to put myself in a horror movie, maybe even cover myself in blood or something. Although this was admittedly easier, it is, to me, somewhat more entertaining. After I decided against a horror film, I thought a Tarantino movie would be a good idea. I was going to make myself into the cop in the trunk in Reservoir Dogs, but none of the images contain both the characters and the officer. So, I went with this iconic image instead. Imagine, if you will, that Samuel L. Jackson just came along with a gun and an armed compatriot and started eating your Big Kahuna burger. I tried for a look of apprehension in the photo, which I had to take specifically for this image because of the angle, but I think the angle obscures the wonderful face acting that I had done.

Process wise, it was all rather simple. I found the image, took note of the angle of the character in the picture, and had someone snap a photo from the appropriate angle. I added the scared look for a nice touch. There was one take of the photo where I looked more scared, but the angle was bad so I discarded it. It was harder to recreate that look than I imagined. After that, I added the face image to gimp, added a transparent background, cropped it around my face and saved it as a layer. Then, I added the face layer to the scene image, resized it, flattened it, and voila!
I am entertained enough with the results that I think I will make this my facebook profile pic for a while…

scene

Plot twist.. or flip.

For the assignments, I like to just click the random button and see what comes up until something sticks out. For this one, monologue of a household tool, I read the normal assignment, had a thought that relates to my life, and decided to use the assignment to reflect that thought, however mundane it may be. I was writing about an everyday object, after all. The interesting part of the story, to me, is that is gives me a new way to look at and outwardly express that simple idea. What might be a complaint or gripe because an opportunity for unique story telling.  So, without further ado..

Lost in Space: A Cramped Unfamiliar One

This is not my home. I don’t even know how I ended up here. All the other contraptions here are keeping to themselves, but I am sure they are giving my dirty looks. It doesn’t matter anyway, not one cares what they think. They could never do what I do, rescuing objects from the fire and such. That one is pointy and small, I don’t know what anyone would want with that… and that one looks the same but much larger; I think it might be dangerous. I smell something going on out there, I suspect they will come after me very shortly… but how will they ever know where to look? Last time I took a shower, those small creatures brought me here; that seems like days ago now.
I really just want to be home, and to be quite honest about it, I am scared. I think I smelled the burning smell yesterday, but no one came. What if they found someone else to do my job? It isn’t like there is unemployment for things like me…. I will just end up stuck here forever… or worse. If they really did meet someone else, I might end up going with all those boxes, and paper, and old food, to whatever hell it is they run off to on Tuesdays and Fridays.
And now I smell the smell again… What is that sound, though. I don’t want anyone reading this to get too excited, but it sounds frantic. I hear banging, shuffling, movement, and that burning smell is intensifying. It smells like buttermilk and flour, with a hint of maple off somewhere in the distance; no way they can solve this one without me. I know they are coming, I just hope they make it in time. Being lost in the darkness most of your life is bad enough, but being lost in this foreign darkness is so much worse.
It is all happening so fast now, the noise got so much closer. There was some discussion between the big one and the little ones, it sounded frustrated. Now I smell a new smell, like a fruity sort of lotion one might use on their hands… Finally! I know it is ok now, I can feel the sliding and rolling underneath me, and the space is illuminated. I just need all these other guys to move so that she will see me. It is times like this when I despise being so flat, but how could I do my job if I wasn’t? Time to wrap this up for now though, it is only a matter of time before I am removed from here, off to work. I will need a shower when I am done again, but hopefully I find my way back home after the shower this time.

Not too cold to whistle…

So, when I came across the can’t get it out of my head assignment,  I instantly knew what song I would choose. It has literally been stuck in my head for weeks, and last night I actually sat around wondering why it has been there so long. I like to remix it with baby applicable lyrics (I am not very good at it) and sing it to my daughter. This was much easier because all I needed was the tune. My next step in life is to figure out how to record myself whistling without hearing my breath and such…

 

Anyhow, I don’t know because I am not quite in my youth, and I listen to music that is older than me, but I think the song is highly recognizable even if I had butchered the whistling, and not to brag, but I didn’t. Anyway, I hope that for anyone that listens and recognizes the song, they get it stuck in their head as well so that I am not the only one. For anyone that can’t figure it out and is really curious, the answer is here.

Westerns: Don’t Carve that Tombstone Yet

The western genre, perhaps, is the narrative representation of the frontier mentality that has been a mainstay of American ideology for the last two centuries. It displays rugged individuality, bravado, masculinity, and personal and moral triumph over all that the cruel and wicked world has to offer that Americans have loved. Not to age myself, but one of my earliest film memories as a child was watching The Lonesome Dove miniseries with my grandfather. I’ve also read a dozen or more Louise L’Amour novels, although I am more fond of his non-western works.

Along with the diversification of American popular culture, the Western may seem to be on the way out, or so some journalists believe. While it may be in a state of decline, there is still quite a bit that the Western Genre has to offer American audiences.  The rehash of The Lone Ranger might be a better indication of a decline in Johnny Depp’s career than that of the entire genre. As Michael Agresta noted, Django Unchained and True Grit demonstrated the stamina of the genre in 2013 when he wrote his article. More recently, the Hateful Eight and Diablo haven’t met much critical or box office success, despite the former being a rather entertaining movie in my opinion, but The Revenant has demonstrated though both the box office and Oscar nominations there there are still more fish in the Western Movie barrel. But it takes more than a familiar name (here’s looking at you Scott Eastwood) to attract broad audiences. The days when any film maker could churn out another western and expect moderate success have long since vanished, as they will with all constantly rehashed film ideas (bye Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, and watch out Marvel), but some ingenuity, a compelling storyline, and a smattering of notable actors, there is still hope for Western films.

Week One: Baby Steps..

The first week of the course, because of my apprehension after a precursory glance at the course work, was a bit intimidating. After getting started though, I realized that it was all relatively simple, for now, and maybe even somewhat exciting. I always hate writing about myself so writing my intro was, as expected, a bit awkward; I took it in a different direction though, so it was not the experience I expected.
The western theme invoked a bit of a negative reaction at first until I read about the genre and wrote my reflection about it. After some thought, I realized that westerns had actually been a big part of my film experiences, and even my reading experiences, and that it might be fun to participate in that tradition.
I think the moral of the week then has been to avoid what I have been told is “contempt prior to investigation” and give things a chance. Nothing about the experience of the first week was bad at all, but I allowed my first, very limited, impression to shape my actions, and now here I am writing this reflection post at the last minute. I think the thing that I need to take away from the first week most of all, then, and I have always had this issue with online course work, is not to put it off. This is particularly true for this course. The last thing I would want is to be in a rush and barely finish an assignment that I found exciting simply because I put it off until the last minute.