cringeworthy puerile drivel

September 17, 2016

Hello. It’s been four years since my last post. A lot has changed, too much to cover it feels like. I’m remarried. I have a daughter, Norah, who will be four months old on Tuesday next week. I live in Joplin and teach uninterested high school students about old English literature.

This blog was something I was maintaining in my previous life. It has occurred to me that a new post here might show up for some of the members of my old community, and some of those bridges felt thoroughly burned four years ago. I feel at peace though, and no longer feel the same resentment I felt then.

This place is mine, and I need to continue here. Thoughts of Norah have brought me back. A life is filled with imperfections and mistakes. Some of them will be recorded here. So be it. My dad passed away two and a half years ago last Saturday. He died on a Monday morning in early March. That week the weather broke from winter and was beautiful and warm. Since then my mother has been slowly reclaiming her life and her home and in the process coming across the written scraps and fragments of a life lived. The evidence is undeniable. He wasn’t constant or unwavering. He vacillated. He had his infirmities. We all do.

It has been running through my thoughts lately that I have amassed enough “written scraps” of my own – digital and otherwise – by the age of 32, that by the time I leave this earth for good my daughter will have a great deal of cringeworthy puerile drivel to wade through. Yes, it would be wonderful to appear on record as stalwart and resolute, but let’s face it. I won’t.

She’s sleeping here on the couch next to me. Perfect, sweet girl. I love you. Please never count that among my contradictions.

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My Daily Dose of Humility

September 26, 2012

Annie Dillard on the meaning of life:

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.

TAKHOMASAK of angst.

August 15, 2012

This summer I worked a job at Steak N’ Shake. I have written some about it, but very little, maybe nothing at all, on here. Here is something that I wrote just recently and I thought it worth sharing.

Initially I was disappointed to be put back on drive through for the conclusion of my summer.  However, I noticed these last few days that I have a far greater competence at that particular station than I did at the start of the summer, and this has afforded me some insight into the job—and into people—that I didn’t have before.

Such as:

Many people refuse to engage with or even acknowledge complexity.

In many ways a restaurant menu is like a computer program. It is a series of options that a user can choose from to produce a desired product, i.e. what you want to eat. A menu, if written well, functions like a flow chart. Do you want a burger, patty melt, hot dog, or one of an array of miscellaneous sides? You choose a burger. Do you want it to have one, two, or three meat patties? Two…

And it continues in this way until the customer has isolated exactly what they desire. A good menu does not actually present customers with all of these options explicitly though. Many of the choices customers make are decided simply by what region of the menu their eyes and appetites are drawn to. Obviously, pictures help with this quite a bit.

The thrifty SnS customers are drawn to a portion of the menu prominently labeled: 4 meals for under $4! (all of which total $4.29 after tax). These are combo meals number14 through 17. Numbers 14, 15, and 17 are burgers served with a small side of French fries. Numbers 14 and 15 come with cheese on the burger. Number 17 does not. When I press the button for any of these three combination meals the very next screen to appear on my computer is a dizzying array of condiment options for the burgers.

At this point, working through the verbal menu flow chart, I have to quickly interrupt the customer to ask them what they would like on their burger. Otherwise, they continue with a flood of information that I can’t record until I pass that screen.

“What would you like on that burger?” Or because they often ask for multiple number fourteens at once, “What would you like on that first number 14?” I have to be quick.

“Everything.” is a typical response, or something along the lines of, “No onion!”

I want to be clear that the customer is blameless through this question. The burgers at most fast food establishments have standard dressings and the customer is assuming that ours is the same. They cannot be faulted for this. They aren’t aware that they are working within the confines of the verbal flow chart. They just want lunch. The answer to the next prompt though is the really telling moment.

I say, “That burger comes plain so you will have to tell me what you want on it.”

The worst responses to this are the ones along the lines of “Lettuce, tomato, all that stuff!” These responses are the worst responses because almost without exception the transaction then follows along a path that quickly escalates in hostility.

“Ok, lettuce and tomato. Anything else?”

“PICKLES, ONION…” they rage in reply. What is a lost irony to them is that they often end their order by screaming something like, “AND NO MUSTARD!” Keep in mind that these people cannot even see the screen with the dizzying array of options. They are being forced to express a preference though for each of the standard burger dressings that exist in their mind, which then forces them to contemplate, if only for a fleeting moment, what they think standard burger dressings actually are. They don’t want to do that. “EVERYTHING YOU CAN PUT ON A BURGER, PUT IT ON THE BURGER!” screamed one man. I hope he enjoyed his burger with an egg, French fried onions, and honey mustard sauce.

The grand observation here is that in order for a person to receive exactly what they want they have to make quite a few decisions. They have to engage with complexity. What is revealed though when the process is begun is that few people are actually willing to make those decisions. Perhaps because when it comes right down to it people don’t actually know what they want. The person who is trying to guide them through this process (me) is causing them psychic pain and all in the name of being accommodating.

… I’ve noticed that people are particularly conflicted about onions.

Digital Portfolio

July 30, 2012

So I made this the other day, but only just realized that a permanent link to it wasn’t appearing here on my home page. This is just a short collection of pieces that I have assembled that are digital pieces that I have composed.

Portfolio! Visit me!

July 28, 2012

Story Telling: Always Surprising

July 27, 2012

For my polished piece for 725 I revised the first draft of my digital story assignment. The video I titled Overboard! details a near death experience I had when I was 21. In the narrative I describe how after my junior year of college I attempt a sort of Jack London odyssey and went to Alaska and worked on a commercial fishing boat. Near the end of the summer I had an accident one morning on deck and was thrown overboard and nearly died. It is my trump story.

I know it’s a good story. I’ve told it so often that I have the details of it fairly well rehearsed. Many of the turns of phrase that I use in Overboard! sound off the cuff, but that is simply not the case. I have told that story so often that those phrases have been crafted in my mind over many years. In truth, I was kind of sick of telling it.

That’s why initially I recorded myself telling a very different story about another experience I had that same summer in Alaska. I started by writing out this other story, but that was taking way too long. I decided to just sit down and tell it and I would record myself. I started talking, recording all the while on a dictation app on my phone. At a certain point I looked down and noticed that I had been talking for 21 minutes straight. That wouldn’t do. I sighed and resigned myself to the composing of a draft of what would become Overboard! That story was far more succinct and I had it much more rehearsed in my mind than the one I initially started with.

What happened when I actually created Overboard! surprised me. Yes, I had told that story so often that I was sick of it, and yes, the turns of phrase that are used in the telling of it usually sound stale to me. But that wasn’t the case with this telling. I think that happened for a couple reasons.

The first reason is that I actually rarely get an opportunity to tell that story in its entirety. I tell it most often in social settings where a ten minute monologue wouldn’t work well. People want the gory highlights and they want to move on, and that’s usually what I deliver. When that happens, a lot of the drama and intrigue in the story is lost. Plus, the composing process—when we give it our full attention—is always exciting and surprising. Something new will come out every time. While I thought I was sitting down to trot out the same rehearsed lines, when I actually started to concentrate on the event in my memory things came back that weren’t the rehearsed pieces. There are details in Overboard! that I don’t think I have ever shared with another human being before now. That is exciting.

The second reason is that this was an opportunity to tell this story to loved ones once again but this time with the aid of certain visuals. Details that I know I have talked about before with my wife or my mother now suddenly received big reactions. “Now I understand what happened!” I expected the visuals to help make a more engaging story, but I was surprised by how much they deepened the audience’s understanding of events.

I’m proud of my effort with this piece. To create it I gained a good working knowledge of two programs I have never encountered before: Audacity for audio editing and iMovie to create the overall piece. Audacity especially impressed me. It is easily the most powerful and intuitive audio editing software I have ever used. A lot of my revision effort for the second draft focused on cleaning up the audio of the narrative, getting rid of verbal filler like “um” etc. I also added in a couple more visuals and swapped out some existing ones for ones that provided more dramatic effect or just simply conveyed what I wanted in a simpler fashion.

Is easily created media good media?

July 18, 2012

So yesterday in class we were assigned to create a digital photo story. We weren’t given much more direction than that and Keri and Kathy are clear about how that is intentional. They want us to explore platforms and the process on our own and learn from the experience. Here are some of my thoughts on what happened.

First off, in the morning we created a small digital photo essay. Kathy listed several programs that we could use, and I chose Animoto. I had heard the name Animoto before, but I had no prior experience with it. It’s web-based and extremely easy to use. I mean extremely easy to use. Animoto is not a program. The better term for Animoto is ‘wizard’. You pull it up and a sequence of screens prompt you to first choose background animations, load pictures, load music, and then that’s it. You’re done. And like many other slick web-based platforms they remind you at every turn that more options and features are available with the paid version of Animoto. Primary among those paid options is the ability to create a video longer than 30 seconds!! The result of my effort in the morning is a 30 second long video that looks amazing. Here it is:

http://animoto.com/play/kiaHWhRyt1XX2C09uf5rfA?utm_content=main_link

When the afternoon came around we set to work on creating a more substantial digital photo essay. I chose to create a larger version of the one I was working on that morning with Animoto, but this time I ended up using iMovie. Unlike Animoto, iMovie is not web-based. It is a much larger, much more powerful program that actually takes some knowledge to use effectively. While my morning video lasted for 30 seconds and took ten minutes to make, the video I made in the afternoon was approximately 2 and 1/2 minutes long and took the entire afternoon to create. Here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN52LCOACm4&feature=youtu.be

So my reflection on this process is this: Animoto is crap. For people who don’t necessarily care about contributing new and original things to the world or have any kind of personality to speak of it’s perfect. If you care about being original and creating something that is distinctly you then choose a different platform. An obvious parallel to this is what is happening right now with digital photo sharing websites. A friend of mine commented recently to me, “I used to take really cool pictures, and I still do, but so does everyone else, and they don’t have any of the technical knowledge I had to work so hard to attain in order to take those images.” Manipulation of images is reaching a level of sophistication now that applying color filters and other visual effects is a matter of clicking a check box. And in the case of programs that produce larger works such as Animoto what is being produced looks very attractive, but is it really charged with the personality of its creator?

Here is a short and simple example of what I’m talking about. When using iMovie to create my digital photo essay I used an mp3 of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” which was about 2 and 1/2 minutes long. I set all my photos to display for a duration of five seconds and consequently had a presentation that lasted much longer than the background music. I painstakingly shaved a few seconds off of certain photos, made editorial decisions about what photos were necessary to advance the ‘story’ of my wedding day and which were pointless or redundant, and through that process I thought deeply about what I wanted to accomplish with my composition. I created a small and subtle emphasis on my wife through the piece. Photos of her are displayed anywhere from a second to a second and a half longer than photos of me. Once I was finally done, Keri noted that the piece ended neatly with the end of the music, and she asked me, “Did you press the button that does that automatically?” My response was immediate and pained, “There’s a button that does that?” I could have saved a lot of time, but had I done that, I would not have paid the level of attention to my piece that I did. And really, I wouldn’t like it as much as I do now. That’s worth something. Certainly worth the time I spent. When our media is produced so easily, is it as meaningful to us? I wonder.

Podcasts

July 16, 2012

Today in class we created podcasts and worked on revising them. To do this I used Garage Band to cut some of the superfluous details of our piece. Here is a link to what we produced: http://owpdigitalwritinginstitute.wikispaces.com/Brendan+Cooney+-+Podcasts

July 16, 2012

For our first composing assignment in 725 I was partnered with Julie Morris and we were assigned to create a podcast that would convey some of our thoughts on digital writing. Rather than create two podcasts, one showcasing Julie’s thoughts and one showcasing my own, we recorded one conversation between the two of us using an audio recording application on my phone and that served as our podcast. In our conversation we started by discussing digital writing briefly but then quickly segued into Facebook and the ways in which teachers and students interact on it. While we agreed that Facebook is a form of digital writing, we both agreed that it is not the ideal platform for students to use to fully experience what digital writing entails. We concluded our conversation about digital writing by discussing what kinds of digital writing outside of Facebook that we would like to get our students to engage in. We agreed that it would be writing that would require students to engage with ideas that stand outside their typical, social quotidian lives.

When we described to Dr. Franklin what we had created (our recording was approximately 14 minutes long) she encouraged us to pair it down some. I think that I will omit some of the discussion of Facebook in the interest of keeping our podcast more relevant to the topic of digital writing and its purpose in the classroom.

Digital Writing = Impermanent?

July 16, 2012

To me digital writing is the staggering (and increasing) volume of correspondence that is now being published online. This includes blogs and wikis, online forums of any kind where users write posts. When I think about this I think about some things I have read recently by Nicholas Carr that talks about the technology of communication and its advancement through the ages. Carr makes the insightful point that text itself was once a new invention. The curious effect of the invention of text is the permanence it gives to communication, permanence that was lacking in speech. As time passed and technology advanced, the permanence of our communication warranted a term with a little more weight, publishing. The advent of the printing press in the 16th century especially made publishing a powerful way to disseminate ideas throughout the human species.
Now in the 21st century we have the internet which makes the power of publishing accessible to every man woman and child who has access to a computer. While many people, and especially many educators, appreciate how rapidly the internet is changing the world we live in, I don’t know that many of the people at the helm of our education system fully appreciate how this technology is similar in many respects to the technology that was already at the disposal of mankind.
When Carr talks about the impermanence of human speech, he is correct that the printed word lends a much greater level of permanence to our communication. It becomes thought that can endure through the passage of time. I would argue, or amend, Carr’s observation by stating that the internet and digital writing is characterized by less permanence than our previous technology of tangible bound books and publications. I think the sheer volume of writing that is being published online every day now means that a lot of it is being lost as time progresses. Few to no people are looking at our writing from the past (How many people are looking at our writing that we are currently producing?) and our online communication is taking on the same qualities of impermanence that our speech has and has had since the beginning of human history.