Category Archives: communication

Words Fall Short

To me, the centuries are yesterday’s wind
I’ll show you the thoughts of ages past
of people gone
of weak and strong
of all who wield a pen.

I am the language of the mind
I am the road thoughts travel down
ideas and feelings
reasoning and reaction
through me is the closest minds can come.

I can’t show you everything.

I can’t bring you the sweet spicy scent of sensitive fern in July sunshine, a smell that is summer and woods and past and light and life.

I can’t bring you the feeling that comes when you hear the wind whisper through a million pine needles in a forest of ancient evergreens.

I can’t make you understand the peculiar squish of moss between your toes, the weird fuzzy sharpness of astringent chokecherries in August.

But I am the language of the mind. A dark, silent, scentless, sensationless inner world that is alive with more than senses could give. I am the bricks and mortar of your world. I am your stories, your thoughts, your memories…

Memories. Those strange things I never quite understood.

Not Made for a Classroom

“We’ll create this project for an imaginary client.”797266

“Here are the instructions, now get started on your film.”

“Imagine the client wants this type of design. Think about the audience, and start researching.”

As a senior Communication major, I’m starting to notice a pattern in my class projects: that is, a glaring absence of an actual client and real world experience. There are reasons for this absence, and perhaps the most significant is America’s widespread mindset that education is synonymous with a classroom setting. This is strange—and inaccurate—and tends to result in practice-based subjects getting the short end of the stick.

My major is attempting to straddle the line between practical professional development (which you learn only by doing) and academic rigor (which isn’t related to practical skill—for example, think of these master writers and filmmakers who didn’t learn their craft in college). In my opinion, a four year COM major should be made up of at least two years of legitimate real-world on-the-job high-stakes achievement—maybe like trade school—as well as the option of a media theory course. In order to add academic rigor, COM majors should pick a separate subject to specialize in (bio, psych, physics, sociology, history, tech, etc.) so that they’ll have a pool of knowledge to draw from when creating media.

We’re trying to train communicators, right? Is being able to explore within a sheltered environment for four years really a beneficial experience, disconnected from real clients and all the associated challenges of working with them? When do you learn how to deal with humanity—the demanding client, the client of prolonged silences, the client who can’t make up their mind? Many communicators are freelancers. These are legitimate concerns.

On the other hand, some subjects do seem to fit right into the classroom environment. In my personal case, I’m only motivated to learn mathematics while in a classroom setting. However, when I think about this I start to wonder . . . I know a few students who take joy in learning math on their own, and they hardly get anything valuable from these classes. Is it possible that classrooms are made specifically for those who are not already accomplished in the subject area?

A classroom is an academic arena. It’s a place for ideas and arguments to grow as they encounter one another, a place separate and distinct from the outside world. Sometimes it’s a padded starting ground for those who are beginning to learn their craft-based professions, but no matter your initial writing ability or your filmmaking ability (graphic design is a bit of another story in my opinion), the classroom will not be an ideal skill-honing environment. In fact, I don’t think people with professional communication aspirations go to college to learn their trade (at least I hope not…), but rather to get a broader base of knowledge, new experiences, a respected credential, and practice navigating the world as an adult.

Lessons from a Podcast

In new media class this spring, I wrote and recorded two podcasts. The first podcast was about a subject I’m incredibly passionate about—homeschooling—and the second was about a more casual, fun topic—the sounds animals make at night.

Overall, my second podcast was reviewed as better than the first. This rating may have been related to my integration of sound effects and audio editing, or my imitation of David Attenborough when describing animals, or just the usual improvements that come with a second try. But I think something much deeper is at play.

It’s hard to discuss subjects that one feels extremely strongly about. Usually, I’m quite a reasonable person, but when it comes to homeschooling (which I love) and public school (which I hate, perhaps more than I should) it’s easy to make me bristle. These deep-seated opinions grew from personal experience, so they’ll be very hard to uproot. In fact, I don’t want to change. And until I accept that there may be other legitimate views in the world, it’ll be hard for me to discuss this subject in any reasonable manner.

On occasion, I’ve attempted to write about methods of schooling, but often find myself overcome in a flood of emotion. I never dared bring up the topic in college, surrounded by folks who grew up in public schools . . . until one day in new media class. I took a leap forward and decided to make a podcast about homeschooling.

The podcast came out all right, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a strained undercurrent is still there. Luckily for me, my professor was supportive of homeschooling in general, yet much more balanced in her views. She helped me temper the podcast.

I think this is one of the only ways to begin to curb extreme bias. To first get to know other real live human beings, and then later, once you’ve gained respect for the person in general, be surprised to realize that they have different opinions than you.

Overall, my lesson from a podcast is this: some things can’t be written about, can’t be talked about, can hardly be thought about unless you’ve tempered your emotion towards the subject. Passion is a wonderful thing in writing and podcasts, but when you have so much of it that you can’t even imagine what it’s like to be someone else—that’s when you hit a roadblock and a disconnect with the reader. That’s when it’s time to make a podcast about animal noises instead of lifestyles.

Podcast: 5 Noisy Nighttime Animals You Should Know

 

Your Character from a Distance

I’m shortsighted. I first donned glasses in third grade and they’ve only been getting thicker since. The glasses work pretty well, but at a certain distance away, things start to get fuzzy. That’s when I can’t identify people by their faces anymore.

When I’m walking across campus between classes, I start to rely more on other 248_e_e_walking_1600recognizable features to identify people I know. Gait. Hair color. Body size. Clothes. Any defining feature that’s more visible than those subtle facial details we’re all so miraculously talented at recognizing.

I have to pay a bit more attention to these non-facial attributes than most folks, because of my short eyesight. It’s really very interesting, the differences I get to see in people. What does a gait mean? There’s the basics of walking faster or slower depending on your rush, but everyone has a different default speed and style. Bouncy, twitchy, wobbly, solid, labored or energetic . . . a gait is just one aspect of a person’s style of movement. What does the body language mean? A storyteller (or anyone, actually) could go wild imagining interpretations of these everyday clues.

“…I could tell from the way his fingers moved that his favorite color was green.” –Siri Keeton (Peter Watts), Blindsight

How do you tell who someone is from a distance? You’re only seeing an abstracted version of who they are—a simplified, distilled version, still filled with evidence of personality. Think on this, all you storytellers out there, as you get to know your character. Take 5 minutes now, and find out how your character walks, moves, and the meaning underneath. Draw on your life experience interpreting body language. Show me your character from a distance, in the comments section below!

Why I Say I Don’t Like Graphic Design

There’s something about graphic design that’s a little different from writing or movie-making. Something that makes me say I don’t like it, though I’ve long had an affinity for writing and movies.

What is it about design, then? I’ve chosen a college degree with a hefty load of graphic design involved, and it seems like people everywhere need designers—for print media, for the web, for logos, for special events. Everyone needs designers. It’s a practical skill, an applied art. But it lacks a spark of magic.

I’ve read books that make me forget where I am, that transport me to different times and places and even into a mind with different ideas than my own. I’ve seen movies that do the same for me. But design—design is interesting and beautiful, but flat. It lacks the power to hijack my mind and take me into a different world.

That’s why I say I don’t like design, even though I often enjoy it. I love the creative decision making, the challenge of arranging elements just right, and the satisfaction of a design job well done. But design only looks back at me from the page. It doesn’t come alive and suck me into a story.

The Medium and the Message

Teaching the science-art of media production, be it writing, video, or graphic design, has always seemed to be a slippery thing to me. Despite my reservations, teachers everywhere have managed to break down these intuitive crafts and teach them well; the first step is always to draw a solid distinction between the medium and the content it carries.

I think separating media from content is an excellent thing. It allows me to critique your story structure, your editing, or your color scheme without tearing into your personal philosophy. But as a communication student with an interest in producing media, I think we sometimes overemphasize the importance of good structure – the key to a great presentation is, after all, a great message.

Reagan

I’ve learned a lot in my year and a half as a communication student, but I’ve heard very little critique directed towards the content of my projects. On the one hand, I love this situation – it means total creative freedom on my end to choose what to talk about! But that’s not what communication is. Communication demands content that an audience finds relevant. With this in mind, I think we should devote at least a little time – not too much, mind you, but a little – to finding out what the audience wants to hear, rather than always how they want to hear it. A little market research could go a long way.

As it turns out, history class, not a communication class, was where I received my most solid content critiques. It was refreshing to hear someone else’s perspective on my arguments and ideas once in a while, and reinforced my hopeful idea that what I say matters.

Great presentation is an excellent asset! But a communicator also needs a great message.

Lessons from Design: Foreshadowing

What do graphic design, music composition, and writing all have in common? A lot more than I thought . . . a whole lot more.

In graphic design class last fall, my professor said this to me:

Put a few photos on your title page. Not full photos, not so I can actually tell what they are. Just give me a glimpse of what’s to come beyond the cover.”

Foreshadow, in other words. Give your audience a clue about what’s going to happen. I didn’t realize it then, but this principle is central to every type of communication—visual, musical, and textual. It’s key to telling a story, to pulling the audience forward by tantalizing them with the promise of withheld details.

Take music, for example. Oftentimes, a theme will appear early in a less developed form, and grow into something more later on. The song Love Drunk by Boys Like Girls is a great example of this – the intro is a quiet foreshadowing of a section which appears later, at about 3:00. This foreshadowing and return to the intro pulls the song full circle.

Similarly, foreshadowing is a key part of good writing. Readers love the feeling of realization when an early element continues to thread its way through the story. Any book that includes fulfilled prophecy incorporates this principle, though there are many different ways to foreshadow.

So whether you’re designing visuals, or trying your hand at music, or writing any story at all, remember to include a whisper of what is to come.